In the morning when Neville walked into the Dark Arts classroom, he was met with spiders, jars and jars of spiders. He stopped in his tracks. The sight hit him like a slap in the face. "Crouch," he whispered. Neville never ever thought of his fourth-yearteacher as Moody or fake Moody like some kids did. That would be an affront to a wizard who had once been his parents' friend. No, fourth-yeardefense was Crouch's class to him, and Crouch's class was something he could never think of without feeling sick, wretchedly sick.
Neville stood frozen, blocking the doorway to the classroom till people began to push him from behind and Seamus asked him what the problem was. Staring at the rows of jar-entrappedspiders, Neville let the other students pass. Carrow was imitating Crouch. Whether because they were both using some kind of Death Eater teaching method or because Carrow knew Crouch, and had taught him -- or learned from him, Neville didn't care. What he did know was that Crouch and Carrow were links in the same chain that led from one to the other. The spiders just made that more obvious than ever.
He knew exactly what Carrow was going to do.
Neville walked to his seat, set his book bag on the floor and waited. Seamus and Ernie both leaned over and asked him if he was all right.
Zacharias Smith looked at them and said, "What are you worried about? Neville acts odd like this all the time. You must have noticed by now."
Neville ignored all three of them. Carrow was stepping forward to begin the class and he wanted to keep all his attention on the man. He glanced at Neville, meeting his eyes before he began.
Just as Crouch had done, Carrow shook a spider from a glass jar and enlarged it with an Engorgement charm. Only instead of cursing the creature, he lectured about it to the class, drawing attention to its ugly hairy legs, small stalked eyes and pincer mouth. The spider had been caged with a doxy, a human-looking creature, as small-minded as it was. The spider caught the poor thing and started to bite and siphon the life from it. The doxy looked human enough that the sight was horrifying and offensive. Carrow discussed what the creature was about to do, the action of its pincers and the poisons in its bite.
Then Carrow did what Neville expected him to do. As Crouch had done, he cursed the creature with the Cruciatus Curse. Neville glanced away. He already knew what that curse looked and felt like.
When Carrow finished, the spider rolled itself up in a ball. "Didn't we get what we wanted?" Carrow asked the class. "Spider can't eat the doxy can he? No, he doesn't want to do anything now but breathe."
Carrow poked the spider with the end of his wand. It stayed curled up, defensive and twitching. He shrunk the spider and the doxy back to their normal sizes and swept them both into their jar.
"Fear and pain knocks everyone down, whether they're vermin or wizards," Carrow said. "The best way to get what you want from anyone is to Cruciate them – no lie." He pointed his wand at the class. "Are you going to be the one who's holding the wand, or the one who gets it? That's the question. Power comes out of a wand, and with the right curses you can control anyone." By now, he was looking right at Neville. "Or break them -- permanent and that's pretty damn broken, believe me." Carrow smiled a taunting, smug little smile.
When Carrow smiled, Neville decided that he had been one of the Death Eaters who'd gone to the closed ward to laugh at the Longbottoms. Neville was sure Carrow was laughing at them now. All of them, Carrow, Malfoy, the Lestrange woman, they all thought his parents'condition was funny.
Carrow was explaining how to Cruciate, but Neville didn't bother to listen. Instead, he planned what he would do next. Students were standing up all around him. Carrow had ordered the class to grab their own spider, Engorge it and then practice the Cruciatus Curse upon it.
Neville put his wand into his book bag, locked it in and sat in his seat with his arms crossed.
After a guilty glance at Neville, the Dumbledore's Army students followed the others to the front of the classroom to fetch their spiders. Neville shrugged.
He watched as the class began to curse their spiders. Most made half-hearted attempts that achieved nothing. Lavender and Parvati talked quietly, while their spiders stood frozen under a Body Bind hex. They pretended to be trying the curse when they thought Carrow was looking. Ernie had his wand pointed at the monstrous looking thing, but Neville doubted he was actually trying to curse it.
"Neville, don't be a pain in the hole, a bug is a bug." Seamus had noticed what Neville was doing. "Have a go, please. We all hate the creatures," Seamus said. He made real attempts to curse his spider. Neville thought he was trying to keep Carrow from noticing what Neville was doing.
Pansy Parkinson, her face screwed up into a mix of distaste and fear, turned half-awayfrom her spider and pointed her wand shakily at it. "Crucio," she said in a half-whisper. She wouldn't have frightened Neville at nine, when he had been frightened of everything.
Blaise Zabini made a feeble attempt, and then announced that he was too fond of spiders to curse them. He turned in his seat to watch everyone else.
Carrow smiled at Blaise indulgently. He was a favorite student. "Don't worry," Carrow told him. "We'll be doing other animals soon. Ones you will like less."
Theodore Nott, whose spider jumped at him, leaptout of his chair into the space between the desks, bumping into a girl who had fled her own spider. He cursed the creature from the aisle. It twitched in pain, not as badly as Carrow's had, but he hadstill hurt it.
"Have you lost your wand?" Carrow asked, from behind Neville.
"It's locked in my book bag," He replied.
"Unlock the bag and get it," Carrow croaked.
"No, I'm not doing the lesson. I refuse -- for obvious reasons." He'd rehearsed the words ever since he locked his wand in his bag.
"Cuts a little close to home does it? Don't want to learn the spell that put mummy and daddy in the mad house, do you?"
Parvati gasped. So did Pansy. Blaise laughed a quick short laugh.
Carrow's voice hardened. "Well, that means nothing. Grab your wand and get to work. Or are you too busy stealing from your Headmaster to do school-work?"
"No," Neville repeated. It was easy, he had no need to blunder and guess what to do. He crossed his arms.
Carrow stared at him for an eternity. He looked ready to explode, like his eyes were about to pop out and his hair blow off his head. He marched to the front of the room, grabbed a jar and emptied it onto Neville's desk. The spider ran around, confused and agitated while Carrow engorged it. The creature was huge and ran very close to Neville's crossed arms. A girl, who Neville thought might be Hannah Abbott, squeaked behind him. He wanted to jump up and scream, or sweep the hideous, hairy thing away from him. He stopped himself. Images of it flying through the air only to land on Lavender's or Parvati's hair passed through his mind.
"Pick up your wand and curse that creature now," Carrow ordered.
Neville had an urge to wrap his sleeve tight around his arm, brush the spider onto the floor and then stomp all over it. He was perfectly willing to squish its insides out.
"Neville, it's only a spider," Seamus whispered from beside him.
"Engorgio," Carrow said, enlarging the spider even more, till Neville could barely stand to look at it.
Though, to be honest, the spider was no worse than the trolls he'd had to spend many a night with in third year, when he'd slept in the corridor because he'd forgotten the Gryffindor passwords. This creature was a lot smaller. His eyes on the spider, Neville reached down and picked up his book bag, a move that made Carrow think he'd given in.
"Now that's a smart boy," he said.
Neville opened the bag and quickly swept the creature inside, locking the bag behind it. It was the cleverest thing he had ever done. He dropped the bag on the floor next to his seat and looked up at Carrow.
Neville wouldn't have thought it was possible for Carrow to be angrier than he'd been before, but he was. The man lifted his wand arm and Neville knew he was going to be cursed. He had an urge to put up a shield charm but of course, without a wand he couldn't. Neville raised his arms in useless and, ultimately, ironic self-protection. Carrow cursed his fingers off his hands.
Neville stared at them; the palms resembled a useless paddle, like the pads of a cactus. He thought of Moody and his missing eye and leg, cursed off by dark wizards. He worked very hard to keep from screaming.
His mouth was closed but he could hear screaming, and then he realized it was someone else, but he couldn't tell whom. He was too shocked to pay attention.
"Stay away from Pomfrey," Carrow ordered. With his wand he wrote on the walls of the classroom, Students hexed as punishment are not allowed in the Infirmary.
Neville's hands lay palm up on the desk. He stared at the alien pads that they had become.
XXXX XXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX
Neville hooked his wrist through his book bag and marched out of the classroom, without a look behind him. The other students let him go by before they made a move to leave themselves. Everyone, even the Slytherins, sat too shocked to move. Lavender had never seen a teacher hex a student before. She didn't think the others had either; she could hear them murmuring nervously around her. Behind her, Susan asked Hannah in a whisper if she thought the spell had been a Dark Curse, and if that meant Neville wouldn't get his fingers back.
Lavender couldn't believe that even Carrow would take a student's fingers permanently. The professor stood smiling in the front of the room, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He told every one to shrink their spiders, put them back in their jars and return them to the front of the class before leaving.
Lavender walked to Charms with Seamus and Parvati. They tried to hurry, hoping to catch up with Neville, but were slowed by students who stopped them to ask if they knew what had happened. The entire time Seamus whinged to Lavender and Parvati, asking why Neville had to get himself in such trouble over a spider. "A spider, a damn spider," Seamus repeated, until Lavender wanted to hit him. When they reached Charms, they found the doorway clogged with kids from other classes, who were watching Flitwick try over and over again to undo the curse on Neville's hands. Fellow students from Charms class were watching too, standing in a circle around the pair.
"Has Longbottom brought trouble on himself again?" Snape asked, as the crowd at the doorway parted to let him into the room.
"Look!" Flitwick gestured wildly toward the cursed hands. "Look what Carrow did to a student. I can't fix it. I've tried, even, since I called you."
Snape glanced down at Neville's fingerless hands. "Well, that is a novel solution to the danger Longbottom poses to a class," he drawled.
Flitwick's head snapped up, jabbing his finger at Snape, he said, "This isn't funny! You… Him!" Flitwick stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Carrow push his way into the room. Pointing his finger now at the piggy-eyed man who stood panting in front of him,he yelled, "He has to lift it. That's why I insisted he come here. He has to lift this curse."
"You wanted me?" Carrow wheezed to Snape, ignoring Flitwick entirely.
"Flitwick has complained about your choice of discipline," Snape answered.
"What I do in my class is my business," Carrow replied, with a twisted smirk at Flitwick.
"It's my business too, if he can't do the work in my class. How can I teach him if he can't hold a wand?" Flitwick held up Neville's fingerless palm as he spoke.
"He refused to do his work in my class!"
"Refused!" Snape raised an eyebrow. "Unable more like it. Longbottom is incompetent not insubordinate. I think you'll find the assignment beyond his very limited capabilities." Snape sneered over his hooked nose at Neville, who stood there red faced and frowning. "Yes, I'm sure Longbottom was incapable of performing the task you put before him," Snape said, with a nod.
By now, Lavender would have been screaming. She wondered how Neville could just stand there. Was he so used to nastiness that this was just another day for him? She looked at him closely; his eyes, distrustful and bitter, shifted from Snape to Carrow and back to Snape, as if he expected one of them to hit him with another curse again.
"But as absurd as the idea is, we are required to teach him or to at least attempt the task," Snape said, with a regretful look at Carrow. "I'm afraid that we must restore Longbottom's fingers."
Snape made removing the hex look easy. The students gave a collective sigh as Neville's fingers came back. Lavender glanced at Flitwick; the Professor had tried hard to help Neville and had failed. He had asked Carrow to heal Neville. Did Carrow and Snape have magic that he didn't?
Flitwick gestured at Snape's left arm. "I never realized the Dark Mark could be so useful," he said, bitterly.
Neville wiggled his newly returned fingers. "Thank you, sir" he said quietly to Snape.
Snape gave Neville a sour look and then said to Carrow, "Punishment hexes may not interfere with class time."
Carrow smirked all the more. He pointed his wand at Neville. "You," he said, "detention with me this afternoon."
That evening,the mood in the Gryffindor common room was tense, not at all like the triumphant feeling that followed the theft of Gryffindor's sword. Exile in the Forbidden Forest after stealing a legendary weapon from the head's office felt like an adventure. The theft had style, like a prank Fred and George might play. But to be hexed – hideously, frighteningly hexed by a leering nutter of a professor because you refused to torture a spider – that was mad, grim and scary, not an adventure, no, not a fun adventure at all.
A few of the first years bubbled around the room, unaware, while the older students brooded. The Creevey brothers and Sloper peppered the three seventh years with questions about Neville's run-in with Carrow. Ginny, who was supposedly studying, would at every answer, jerk her head and listen with intense interest before returning to her book. The boys kept at the questions until Seamus lost his patience, and shouted at them to stow it.
At last, Neville stepped in and stood watching them for a moment,looking stooped and weary, his book bag dragging on the ground behind him. He gave a haggard half-smile to Ginny, who rushed forward and grabbed his hands to check his fingers, and then pulled him deeper into the room.
"That was a lovely stunt of yours, today," Seamus said, angrily.
Neville shrugged, and walked over to the fireplace to grab a textbook that lay on the mantle. Peakes, who had been sitting by the fire, jumped up to give Neville his seat. Neville leaned back in the soft chair and closed his eyes for a minute, holding his hands up to warm them. Then he shook himself, sat up straighter and started to leaf through the book's index.
Seamus stalked over andgrabbed the book from him, and searched the inside cover for his name. "This is my book," Seamus said as he tossed it back to Neville. "You don't even have your own copy. You and your gran wouldn't buy it,remember? Longbottoms don't do dark curses."
Neville sighed. "That was a mistake. There's stuff in here we'll have to know. I'm looking for remedies. If they're going to hex us, and we can't go to Madam Pomfrey, then we'll need remedies of our own." He smiled bitterly, and added, "even if Snape won't let them use hexes that interfere with class."
The thought was not cheerful. Lavender reckoned everyone in the room was resolving to never be hexed.
Seamus rubbed his hands over his face. "Today in class, the spiders – why Neville? All that for spiders?"
"It's about more than spiders, Seamus," Neville said quietly.
"Tell me -- what is it about then?"
"You know what it's about," Lavender said. "We all do." She started up the stairs to her dormitory. She needed to get away, she was bone tired. Watching Neville in class made her think about his parents, and thinking about Neville's parents reminded her of her own, and the danger they were in. Dark Arts was heading in a terrible direction. She saw choices coming and they all looked bad.
Two days later, Lavender walked into Carrow's class, afraid of another confrontation between him and Neville, but nothing happened. Carrow asked if Neville was ready to work and when Neville refused, he sent him to a seat at the back of the room, separated from everyone else. Neville sat there set apart, arms folded, wand packed away, watching everyone else take lessons in the Cruciatus Curse from Carrow. They repeated this arrangement at every class and at the end of every class, Carrow gave Neville a detention. After every detention, Neville returned to Gryffindor tower, strained and exhausted.
Knowing Neville sat behind you while you learned to Cruciate felt damn uncomfortable. Doing something you knew was wrong, and were even a little ashamed of, in front of someone who refused to do it on principle was embarrassing. Some people reacted by ignoring Neville, refusing to look at him during class, and avoiding him outside of it. Other people glanced his way constantly, trying to gaugehis reactions to what they were doing. Some people managed to do both, avoiding Neville but at the same time, covertly watching him.
In the end, most kids decided that Neville was right – for himself; after what happened to his family he could do nothing else. They admired him for his stand, but weren't going to follow it. They saw no reason to risk punishment from Carrow over small things like spiders. In class, some pretended, acting as if they tried to do the curse and failed, even as Carrow began to expect and demand success; while others believed it was hypocritical and squeamish to worry over a creature that they had many times stepped on, or smashed with a shoe. They cast the curse and made their spiders writhe in pain. Every class Neville sat watching those who pretended and those who didn't.
Lavender was sitting in the common room talking to Parvati when Neville returned from a detention, and took the seat by the fire that the Gryffindors kept for him on detention days. Ginny joined him and put up the irritating charm she used whenever she didn't want her conversation overheard. The charm's insect-like buzz blocked all sound, but Lavender could see Ginny pleading with Neville, gesturing at others in the room and at Neville, himself. He looked mulish as he shook his head and answered. Lavender had never known that Neville was capable of looking mulish but there he was doing it.
Parvati stopped talking to watch the argument. "Some in Dumbledore's Army are worried about Neville -- about all the detentions," she whispered. "Others think he's wrong for challenging Carrow openly. They say DA actions should be done in secret. They think he's putting the DA at risk."
Neville's stand hadn't stopped Dumbledore's Army from working. Just last night they'd hung signs, reminding everyone of the killings of Muggle-born patients at St. Mungos. Lavender wondered if Parvati had been behind them.
"They didn't talk that way when he, Ginny and that Ravenclaw girl stole Gryffindor's sword," Lavender answered.
"That's not the real reason they're angry," Parvati said, with a knowing look. "Neville won't even pretend to do the curse, and doesn't think they should, either. They want to be cleverer than that. They think he's blinded by what happened to his parents."
The buzzing ended as Neville and Ginny stood up. Neville was making his way out of the common room, and Ginny was walking with him to the door when Seamus stopped them. Colin, Denis and Sloper looked up from playing cards to watch.
"Did you get him to agree?" Seamus asked Ginny, who told him to ask Neville himself. Seamus spun around to Neville, who watched him with the same distrustful,bitter look he'd given Snape many times. "Everyone is free in Carrow's class to do as much or as little as they can stomach, short of hurting other people. Is that right?"
"I reckon that's what will happen," Neville said. His face was pink, whether from anger or embarrassment, Lavender didn't know. "But I don't like it. No one should be doing anything Carrow wants."
"So you're right and the rest of us are wrong?"
"What will you do, Seamus, when Carrow orders you to curse something you care about? When he expects real pain? What will you do when it's people in front of your wand? Because it's going to happen. He won't stop at spiders."
"We'll fake it."
Neville raised his eyebrows. "Fake it – How can you fake it?" he asked. "You don't even know what that curse looks like on a person. You can't fake it." His voice was tense, but he spoke calmly, like he was explaining the rules of a game. "Do you think rolling around screaming will be enough? When that curse hits a body it's -- it's lifted in the air, all twisted and bent. How will you fake that?"
Lavender froze inside herself. Her mind pulled back, like she was standing at the edge of a canyon and would fall if she moved an inch. Neville knew what happened to a body while the Cruciatus curse was hitting it. She didn't want to know how he knew, but she suspected.
"Carrow knows what this curse looks like," Neville reminded them. "He's done it many, many times."
"Neville, faking it now will get us some peace for a time," Parvati said, quietly.
Before Neville could answer, Seamus piped in angrily, "I think in class, you put your wand away because you're afraid of that curse. You're afraid you'll like it too much."
Neville gave Seamus a look of shocked disbelief."'Course I am," he said. He opened the round door, stopped and said again, "Of course I am," and walked out.
That night, Lavender lay in bed thinking about her family. Her parents would be disgusted by Carrow and his class. That she had to even sit in class and listen to a person like him or his sister shocked them. The things she had done to protect the family would horrify them. But how far would they want her to go to protect Jane or William? Lavender didn't think even they would know the answer to that question
In one of her tarot spreads, the Two of Swords had come up. A blindfolded woman holding two crossed swords, she'd made Lavender think of self-protection, but now she wasn't sure. Since the day that Mr. Patil had come to explain the danger, she'd asked herself how to protect her family. She'd made the plan of hiding and of taking no risks, but sticking to that plan was getting uglier and uglier. The Two of Swords was a card of opposing choices. Standing up or protecting her family; was that the choice before her? Was that her only choice?
Two days later, when Lavender walked into Dark Arts, she was met not by spiders in jars but by mice in cages, and an order to take one to her desk. Like Neville had before, she froze. She couldn't take one of these mice, not knowing what would happen to it. One curious little brown one sniffed with its sensitive nose and quivering whiskers at the bars of its cage. All Lavender could think was that in a few minutes that little animal would be suffering horribly.
"Go on," Carrow growled. "Grab one. We don't have time for this, girl, grab one."
Lavender stood unable to take a mouse but unable to walk away either. Carrow stuck his face in hersand said, "If you give me trouble, I will make you very, very sorry."
Lavender took the most unappealing mouse she could find: a greasy looking gray that squeaked constantly. From her seat, she could see Carrow bully every student that entered the class into taking a mouse. Some looked sick at the idea, but they did it anyway.
It took longer than usual for everyone to take their seats and quiet down, but Carrow didn't seem to mind. He stood at his place leering and smirking. She glanced over at Neville. He looked grim and angry, his hands braced against the desk as he watched the class sit with their cages.
"We're moving on today. Don't worry if you couldn't Cruciate your spider. That doesn't mean you can't do a mouse. This game you can join at any time. I've known some who did a human on the first go." He smiled a horrible, twisted smile. "Taking it in steps just makes it easier, teaches you how to Cruciate anything, even them that you didn't think you cared about."
Lavender stared at her mouse; she couldn't hurt it. Her brother had pet mice. He loved them and carried them around the house all the time. It drove her mother crazy because she was afraid they'd get loose. Sometimes they did, which Lavender had always thought was funny. She'd had a pet mouse herself when she was a kid -- and rabbits and birds. Would she have to torment them, too? The mouse was squeaking again. Even if she didn't hurt it, she would have to listen while other people hurt theirs. Did mice scream? She didn't know, but she'd heard a rabbit scream,and she didn't want to hear that all around her.
Carrow looked across the room to Neville. "So Longbottom, are you working today?" he asked, still smiling his horrible smile.
"No," Neville said, "It's disgusting."
"You must really enjoy your detentions, boy," Carrow bellowed at him. He turned his attention back to the class. "Keep your mice inside the cage while you work on it. We don't want them running around the room." This was just work to him. He might have been Flitwick or McGonagall giving normal instructions in class.
"I'm stuck over here in protest, and so should everyone else be. Everyone should be here," Neville said to the class.
The students kept their eyes on Carrow, who laughed. "It looks like you're all alone there, boy," he said to Neville, who stared, frowning back at the class.
Suddenly, things were clear to Lavender. She remembered the tarot card in her spread, the Nine of Wands. She hadn't seen it when she'd laid it out, but she saw it now. The Nine of Wands stood firm, defeated but resolute. She could help him. That was the message of the card. That was the power she had. She didn't help before, but she could now. She could join Neville and stand up to Carrow.
Lavender had no power over whether or not Kenneth, or anyone else turned her in. She couldn't keep the pig who had given her a fake ancestry from getting hercaught. Nothing she did changed anything that they did. She could hide and hide and abandon her friends, and sell herself an inch at a time and they could still betray her. But that didn't matter, because Lavender's actions wouldn't make them turn her in either.
Sheknew she wasn't getting stronger by obeying Carrow, but shrinking and growing weaker every moment she played the mouse with him.
"None of you should be doing this," Neville repeated. "All of you should be here."
"He was right," Lavender whispered to herself. "I should be there." Feeling the pull to just get up and join him, Lavender decided to act. She stood up, before she could talk herself out of it and grabbing her mouse cage, unwilling to leave the creature to its fate, scurried over to Neville.
He was grinning at her, absolutely grinning. She grinned back like a conspirator. When she reached him, feeling like a child who had won a race, she turned, still grinning, to the rest of the class. Parvati and Seamus were following, stooped a little, like they were pushing through a storm and being beaten byrain, like they expected to be hexed at anytime. Susan and Hannah jumped up too, with Ernie at their back. Eloise eluded Zacharias, his hands missing her shoulder as he tried to stop her from following the others.
Padma walked over to join her sister, her head high. "Terry told me it wasn't the time yet, but I didn't listen," she whispered to Lavender.
The rest of the class stared at them open-mouthed, while Carrow screamed and bellowed. He raised his wand and dropped it again. "All of you kids are having detention," he shouted, glaring at them. "And you will be sorry then. By Merlin, you will!"
None of the nineseemed to care. Lavender didn't. They were together and that felt like enough. Lavender thought of the leaves that sprouted from the wands on the tarot card. The wands were sprouting life. She was coming alive. She felt like a chick escaping its egg, like she was stepping out of a cave, out of hiding, into the sun and the air. Lavender felt powerful. She felt like her parents would be proud.