Disclaimer: I disclaim.
Notes: I've actually been finished with this chapter of "The Replacements" for a long time. It was posted to my list when it was done and now I'm finally getting around to uploading it to fanfiction.net. Everything in this fic was done before Order of the Phoenix came out. Most of it was written more than a year ago. Though my Ginny and Neville mesh well with the canon versions, my Cho is now entirely off. But I like her better this way, anyhow.
I haven't written anymore since then and I don't know if I will since I've lost my outline for this fic (my computer has died) so don't really expect updates any time soon. I'm sorry. But if it makes things better, there are other fics I'm working on and you can find them on my list. Please join and say hello. It'll make me happy.
Recap: Harry, Ron and Hermione have been kidnapped by evil-not-dead Professor Quirrell. Ginny, Cho and Neville go to find them in the Forbidden Forest where Quirrel goads Neville until he eventually uses the killing curse. And action!
Part IV: One More Makes Four
Everything stood still. Cho watched intently as Quirrell fell to the ground next to the unconscious forms of Ron and Hermione. He didn't move. She knew he never would again.
"Neville..." Ginny began, her eyes wide and her breathing ragged.
The sharp snap of breaking twigs in the distance cut her off. "Oh my god, someone's coming," Cho breathed a fear more powerful taking than she had felt before taking hold.
The Killing Curse was illegal. Using it on any wizard, no matter how evil, earned you a nice cellblock in Azkaban.
Neville didn't move. He didn't hear. He didn't see. His eyes remained glued to the corpse in front of him and his still smoking wand. What had he done? He hadn't thought, he had just... done it. Like it was the most natural thing in the world. He felt like he was going to be sick.
The heavy footsteps were getting closer. Cho and Ginny grabbed Neville by the arm and hauled him into the thick underbrush to hide. They didn't need to tell Neville to be absolutely silent. He still stared, transfixed by the sight of the body lying in the center of the clearing. There wasn't a mark on him. If you didn't know better, you'd just think he was asleep. Or maybe he was unconscious like Ron and Hermione. But there was a difference in the three bodies: Ron and Hermione were pinking up while Quirrell looked
to be getting paler and paler by the moment.
Neville wondered if he was cold yet. Morbid curiosity bubbled up in him. He wanted to go see. Cho and Ginny held him back. Someone was entering the clearing now. He'd be seen.
It was a very large someone. He stood almost as tall as some of the trees and his hands were as large as trash can lids. "Hagrid," Ginny whispered. She wanted to run to him and tell him everything. Hagrid wouldn't turn Neville over to the Dementors. He could help them. He could lead them out of the forest.
"They're ov'r here, Professor!" Hagrid called to someone. Ginny immediately recoiled.
Moments later, Professor Dumbledore himself appeared. He wore a dressing gown and looked very tired. His eyes ran over the scene before him: Quirrell dead. Two students unconscious. Harry Potter gone.
Hagrid touched a large hand to Quirrell's neck, feeling for a pulse. "'e's dead."
Dumbledore nodded grimly. He expected as much. He glanced around the clearing. His looked straight at the bush that the trio were hiding behind. For a second, Ginny thought that they had been seen. But Dumbledore said nothing and returned his attention to Hagrid.
"We'll get these two to Madam Pomfrey," Dumbledore said as he conjured stretchers to put Ron and Hermione on.
Dumbledore turned to leave, the stretchers floating in front of him. Hagrid lifted Quirrell into his arms like he was a rag doll and followed after them.
Cho turned to Ginny. She was still breathing heavily. "We should follow them. They'll lead us back to the castle."
Ginny nodded. "Come on, Neville." She prodded him like he was a child. Neville didn't respond. But he trotted after them like a good boy.
But I'm not a good boy, he thought.
The rest of the day went very slowly for Cho Chang. All of Hogwarts was buzzing with the news that the great Harry Potter was missing and that his two best friends were unconscious in the hospital wing. Most assumed Harry had run to fight some great battle. She heard some first years saying that he was going to come back with the Dark
Lord's head on a platter. Cho had barely restrained the urge to throttle them.
No one knew what had really happened. She desperately wanted to talk with Neville and Ginny about a plan of action but they had been separated almost as soon as they had returned to Hogwarts. They ran off to Gryffindor tower hoping not to be caught out of bed in the middle of the night.
She had seen Neville briefly at breakfast. He wore the same lost expression. All the other Gryffindors thought it was because his friends were hurt. Cho wanted to throttle them too. Couldn't they tell when he was going through something major? She had heard that
Neville had a disaster in Potions and that Snape was furious, mostly because Neville hadn't even sniveled when Snape yelled at him. He didn't even appear to hear the professor. Obviously, this got under Snape's skin as he rather enjoyed tormenting young Neville. But Cho didn't have Potions with Neville or with Ginny, as they were all in
different years, so she couldn't be sure the story was true.
Ginny hadn't been seen all day. The entire Weasley clan had rushed to Hogwarts when they heard that Ron was still blacked out after being placed under the Cruciatus Curse. There were rumors that all the Weasleys couldn't fit in Madam Pomfrey's office, which Cho thought were just mean.
The bell rang announcing the end of the final class of the day. Cho ambled determinedly down the hallway, pointedly ignoring the shouts of her Ravenclaw friends and trying to put the mountains of homework out of her mind. She had to find Neville. Maybe she could convince him to tell a teacher what had happened. Things couldn't go on like
Eight Weasleys stood somberly around the unmoving figure on the bed. Ron hadn't stirred since the night before. Neither had Hermione. Molly Weasley sniffled loudly. Professor Dumbledore had just informed them that her that her son had been under the Cruciatus Curse. Her husband put a comforting hand around her waist. The boys
bowed their head in respect. Even the twins didn't dare crack jokes at a time like this.
Ginny wiped a tear away from her eye. She looked into the scared faces of her family and felt nothing but shame. She couldn't shake the feeling that this was all her fault. She had failed to help her brother when he needed her most. Her mother sobbed into her father's
shoulder. Ginny sighed. She hadn't been able to bring herself to tell them what had really happened.
The word `coward' kept dancing through her head. She froze. She was a coward. And what was worse, Ron was paying for it.
His face was pale. Other than that, he didn't look hurt at all, just like he was sleeping peacefully. But wasn't that the point of the Cruciatus Curse? It was the worst torture know and there was no messy clean up.
"We'll leave you all alone," Dumbledore said solemnly. He ushered
Madam Pomfrey outside the heavy door.
For once, the Weasley children were quiet. There wasn't anything for any of them to day. Arthur stroked Molly's hair trying to sooth her hysterical sobs. The boys shuffled uncomfortably. They had put her through a lot of the years and they had seen her cry before. She was a very emotional woman. But it was never like this. She looked so
tiny and frail like whatever was hurting was hurting her too.
At Molly's strangled sob, a single tear ran down Ginny's face. She couldn't help thinking that if she had been faster or smarter or better then none of this would be happening. She had made her mother cry.
Ginny felt a strong arm wrap around her shoulders. Now she couldn't stop the tears. They were trying to comfort her after what she had done. She couldn't see through the haze but she recognized the arms of Charlie immediately. His callused hands were rough, but oddly reassuring against her bare arms.
"Shh," he whispered. "Ron'll be all right, Gin."
Next she felt Bill's long hair tickle her face. "Please don't cry." But she couldn't help it. All the stress and pain of the previous evening was falling down her face.
More arms enveloped her. This time she identified Percy's glasses pushed up against her neck uncomfortably. "3 out of 4 persons who survive the actual torture of the Cruciatus Curse manage to continue living, healthy, productive lives," he said knowledgably.
Neville's parents hadn't, she thought.
Then two identical hugs completed the red, large mass of Weasleys. "Come on, Gin," said Fred. "Ron's been hurt before. He's always ok."
"Yeah," George piped up. "He'll wake up and we'll feel like gits for ever worrying about him."
Ginny wasn't sure how long they stayed there. She only remembered how safe and warm she felt with all her brothers around her. It was like being inside a bubble where no one could hurt her. She was sorry for ever disappointing them and she was determined to make sure it didn't happen again. They were Weasleys after all, and when another Weasley was in trouble, goddamnit, they did something about it.
When Bill was fired from his first job, Charlie found him a gig doing research about dragons.
That time that Ron had accidentally drank that stuff that turned his face purple, the rest of the kids drank it too so they matched. So what if they all were purple for a few weeks?
When kids used to make fun of Percy for being a nerd, Fred and George released ants into their homes. You just couldn't insult a Weasley like that and get away with it, even if Fred and George did call Percy a nerd every few minutes.
The Weasleys looked up, completely unashamed of their group hug to see who dare intrude on their quality time. Madam Pomfrey stood gingerly on the threshold of the door.
"Ron and Hermione need their rest now," she turned to Ginny's parents. "And the Headmaster would like to see you all in his office."
One by one, the Weasleys filed out of the hospital wing as if it were a funeral procession. Finally, only Ginny and Madam Pomfrey were left. The older woman looked at the girl with compassion.
"They should be fine," she said without Ginny even having to ask. "But tonight is a critical time." Ginny nodded. "I'm going to get some medicine in the back room."
"Can I talk to Ron for a second?" she asked tentatively.
Madam Pomfrey sighed. "I don't see why not. Yell if you need anything."
Once the nurse was out of sight, Ginny kneeled down next to Ron's bed. She reached a hand out to touch his head, brought it back then decided it would be all right to touch him.
"Ron," she murmured as she ran her fingers through his hair. It was exactly the color of hers, almost eerie in a way. "Don't worry. We're going to get Harry back."
A loud crash from the back room made Ginny jump. Madam Pomfrey must have dropped something. She turned back to her brother. A powerful wave of emotions swept over her. She was guilty and ashamed but also resolute.
"I'm sorry we failed last night. It's my fault that you're here now. If I could've...If I hadn't..." she looked away. "It should've been me. If it were you kneeling here right now, I'm sure you'd know what to do. I bet Hermione would've already figured out where Harry is." She heaved a sigh, her voice wavering slightly. "We're not as good at this as you guys are. I mean, let's face it, last night was a total failure. Harry's missing, you and Hermione are unconscious, Neville's freaking out, and I'm... I'm a wreck."
She stopped and removed her hand from Ron's face.
"I always wanted to be like you." Her voice was barely audible. "But I think that was my problem: I'm not you. I'm sorry for trying to steal your thunder. So, I'm going to try to make it up to you. We'll get Harry back and we won't fail. I promise."
She leaned over and kissed the top of his freckled head.
"Ginny?" said a weak voice.
Ginny jumped. Her heart beat a mile a minute. "Ron?" she hissed.
"No..." it was the voice again. It was dull and pained. It came from the other bed.
"Hermione!" Ginny leapt to her feet and rushed over to the other girl's bed.
"What happened?" Hermione asked feebly.
"Don't talk. I'll get Madam Pomfrey..." Ginny rose again but Hermione placed a limp arm on hers.
"No. I want you to tell me." Ginny sat down again. Her face must have betrayed the fear and shame because Hermione asked abruptly, "Where's Ron?" The brown haired girl became rigid with fright.
"He's in the next bed. He's all right. Just unconscious." Ginny tried to pacify her.
Hermione's head fell back against the pillow, only relaxing slightly. "What about Harry?"
"He's gone. Voldemort has him." The older girl closed her eyes. Ginny thought she saw them well up with tears but couldn't be sure. "I don't know what to do... We don`t know where he is." Then a thought occurred to Ginny. "What would you do, Hermione?" she asked.
"I'd probably try to convince Ron to go tell a teacher," she sighed. "But it wouldn't work with him and it probably won't work with you." She took another anguished breath as if she were forcing herself to stay awake through the next few moments. "Go upstairs to
Harry's dorm. If anyone asks what you're doing say you're getting something for Ron. Go into Harry's trunk. There's some things you're going to need..."
Ginny ran as fast as she could up to her room. Her footsteps echoed throughout the vacant hallway. She didn't stop to say anything to anyone especially her family. She knew they'd worry if they knew and she didn't want that. She just wanted to finish this. She was supposed to meet them in Dumbledore's office, they'd probably notice she was missing soon. She had to move fast before they would have a chance to stop her.
No one questioned her as she rushed over to Harry's truck and easily unlocked it with a charm she learned from Fred and George. She plunged her hand inside, pulling out item after item. Normally she would be interested in what Harry kept in his trunk, but today she didn't care. Anything that wasn't what Hermione had told her to find, was of no consequence.
There, finally, there it was. It looked like just a regular piece of paper. But according to Hermione it was much more. Ginny silently cursed herself for not thinking to pick up the Invisibility Cloak back in the Forbidden Forest. She didn't remember seeing it lying on
the ground when they left, so that meant that someone must have picked it up. But she knew it wasn't Neville or Cho either. So that only left one person: Dumbledore.
Ginny cursed again. He'd never give it back to them. At least, not for what she had planned...
Neville looked down at his hands. There was no blood. His hands were no different than they were yesterday or the day before. They were just the same old hands. The same old hands that were capable of murder.
He looked away quickly. He couldn't stop thinking about it. Every sound, every image brought him back to that clearing. That god forsaken clearing. He couldn't bring himself to go back to Gryffindor tower because that was the home of the brave.
Neville didn't feel brave. He felt sick mostly.
So he sat alone in the empty Transfiguration classroom actively trying to think of nothing at all. Sweet nothing. The way you could when you were just a regular teenager. Days ago he could sit around and think of nothing for hours on end. Oh, to stare off into space
He closed his eyes trying to shut it all out. It didn't help. In his mind, Ginny was screaming; Quirrell was laughing. He didn't think Neville would do it. He didn't think Neville had it in him. Neville wished he didn't have it in him.
He wanted to get it out of him.
His shaking, bloodless hand flew to his mouth as he ran to the trashcan and vomited into it.
Neville felt a soothing hand rubbing his back as he emptied his lunch into the can. It was Cho. She looked at him with worried eyes. He couldn't stand it. How could she still care after what he did? He looked away.
"You didn't do anything wrong." Her voice begged him to see reason.
He slumped to the ground. "I killed a man."
"Everyone thought he was already dead," she pointed out.
"So that makes it ok?" he demanded angrily. "It's all right to kill dead people. See, I wasn't aware of that rule."
Cho put her hands on her hips. "Neville..."
His anger slipped away when he looked in her face. He couldn't be mad when he was with her. It was replaced by a bitter remorse and sadness. "I wonder if I can get a cell next to the people who tortured my parents..." his voice trailed off. He looked off into
the distance. He wasn't seeing Cho anymore. He was seeing the Dementors of Azkaban. They weren't nearly as pretty as Cho or as nice. But it seemed like he'd be spending an awful lot of time with them very soon.
Cho stood up abruptly. She was horrified at the idea. How could he think something so horrible. "Neville! You're not going to get sent to Azkaban for killing Quirrell," she shrieked.
He laughed wryly. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter who it was. Even if he were a big, blue, four-armed guy. He was still another human being. And using one of the Unforgivable Curses on another human being buys you a one way ticket to Azkaban."
She gasped. "No," she said fiercely. "We're not going to let that happen."
"You don't get it." He shook his head. She found herself noticing how different he was from the awkward, goofy Neville Longbottom she had know yesterday. She had never seen someone with so much pain in their eyes. "I killed him. No matter what happens after today, I still killed him. He's dead because of me." He slumped back against
the wall as if the wall were holding him up. "Dead," he repeated.
Loud laughter rang throughout the room. Cho and Neville's head snapped up in unison to see an ever smirking Draco Malfoy standing in the open doorway. "Did I hear you right, Longbottom? You killed a man?"