13 January 1998
"Hey, Gin, can I have one of those Decoy Detonators?" Neville asked, and Ginny handed him the box, tugging on a black velvet Shield Cloak and tying her long hair into a knot that was hidden by her hood.
"I'm telling you, we've got to travel lighter," Seamus said, shaking his head as he lifted his own hood. He had refused Shield Garments and other supplies from Fred and George's store (courtesy of Ginny and her skillful charmwork on her trunk to hide them from detection), but all three of them would be unrecognizable beneath their hoods.
"I'd agree if we weren't trying to do this without the others, Seamus," Ginny said. "But Lavender and Parvati have to be our covers here, and we don't know how much of the rest of the Army we can trust anymore." She'd had a sinking feeling in her stomach about this mission all day long, and it worried her that she couldn't seem to shake it.
Seamus scowled, but shrugged. He reached into the box and withdrew a bag of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. "Happy?" he asked.
"Ecstatic," Neville said sarcastically from where he stood near the window of his and Seamus's dormitory—well, really, it was the seventh-year boys' dormitory, but Neville and Seamus were the only ones left, just as Ginny, Lavender, and Parvati were the only sixth- and seventh-year girls who remained. "We just need to be careful, Seamus," Neville continued. "Especially since we don't have Luna anymore."
Ginny looked down sadly, and an uncomfortable silence fell.
"She's okay," Neville said in a low voice after a moment. "She's fine, we'll get her back soon."
"'Course we will!" Seamus cried suddenly, clapping Neville on the back. "Now, c'mon, it's nearly eleven."
"Hey," Lavender said, poking her head in the doorway. "The common room just emptied out," she whispered. "And you all need to be more quiet, I could hear Seamus on the stairs," she said, looking at Neville. "All set?"
Neville nodded, looking between Ginny and Seamus. "We stick together, right?"
"We know, Neville," Ginny assured him. Then she smiled, trying to sound confident. "Come on, have a little faith!"
"Hear, hear," Seamus said, and Lavender grinned.
"Parvati and I are all ready to head off anyone who comes looking for you," she said.
Neville nodded. "Okay, okay, everybody back by midnight, though, if we do get separated—"
"Neville," Ginny said, putting a hand on his arm and hoping she sounded more convinced than she felt. "We've got it. We went over it plenty of times. Trust us."
"I trust you all fine," Neville said. "It's them I don't trust." He jerked his head to indicate the Carrows, who were undoubtedly on their curfew patrols and itching to catch students out of bed doing—well, exactly what this tiny fighting faction of Dumbledore's Army wanted to do. Then he shook his head. "Okay, let's go." He led the way down the boys' stairs.
"Good luck," Parvati whispered as Lavender joined her by the fire, and Ginny, Neville, and Seamus slipped out of the portrait hole. Thankfully, the Fat Lady was sleeping, and did not notice when the five of them hopped out of the common room into the corridor.
Neville took the lead, just as planned, and Ginny took her place on his left, while Seamus took the right. They hurried down the seventh-floor corridor in silence. At one point, Neville stopped, looking confused when they met the end of the corridor, which branched off in two different directions.
"To the left," Ginny whispered, looking around. "It's the Emeric the Evil statue, near the Room of Requirement."
Neville nodded and hurried onward, down the left side. Before long, they had passed the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, and had still not encountered either of the Carrows, Mr. Filch, or even Mrs. Norris. Still, Ginny couldn't push back her feelings of unease.
"Neville," she whispered suddenly, pointing. "That's it. Fred says it goes straight to the entrance hall."
"Okay," Neville said quietly. "Go on, Ginny."
The boys kept lookout while Ginny opened the hidden door with a few careful taps of her wand. "Okay, it's open—"
There was a sudden yowl, and Neville leapt backwards, shoving Ginny into the statue.
"It's that bloody cat," Seamus hissed, quickly pushing Neville into the secret passage and dragging Ginny after him.
She hurried inside, just catching a glimpse of Mrs. Norris's tail as she whipped out of sight around the corner, looking for Filch. Ginny slammed the door and sealed it quickly, and then followed Neville and Seamus down a steep, spiraling staircase, her heart pounding with fear. There was no light, and they were forced to run in complete blackness.
"Wait," Seamus panted, after several minutes of frantic hurrying through the dark. "Wait, Neville, stop—light your wand, I can't see a thing—"
Neville finally stopped, and Ginny sighed in relief, slumping against the stone wall. She raised her wand and muttered, "Lumos." Her wand tip ignited, and now she could make out Seamus, who was panting heavily a few steps below her, with Neville, who had just lit his own wand. Ginny sank down on a step, massaging her heart.
"Are you okay?" she asked, and they nodded. "I don't think anyone's following us," she said, looking up behind her. It appeared that the stairs on which they stood were fixed firmly inside a wall—there was scarcely enough space for Ginny to hold her arms out without touching cold, damp stone.
"D'you reckon Filch and the Carrows know about this passage?" Seamus asked.
Ginny bit her lip. "That stupid cat found us so quickly, I…I don't know," she said. She looked at Seamus, who seemed to be thinking hard.
"Well," he said finally, looking between them all, "Only one way to find out." He smiled slightly. "I'll go first."
Neville squeezed to one side and allowed Seamus to take the lead. They followed him, slowly, this time, down the stairs. Down they went, lower and lower, until Ginny started to feel dizzy. She tried to peer over the iron railing of the stairs to look up, but couldn't see anything, even with wandlight.
"This is mad," she said. "I can't believe I never knew this was here."
"It's sort of a one-use-only type of place, though, isn't it?" Seamus commented.
"Yeah," panted Neville. "We have to figure out if we can use it to get back up, too."
"It'll work, Neville," Seamus insisted.
"We must be nearly there," Ginny said, after what felt like ages of spiraling downward. "We were only on the seventh—ouch!" She walked straight into Neville's back as the stairs abruptly ended.
"Ow, sorry," Seamus said, massaging the back of his head where Neville had walked into it. "I think we found the way out, though," she said. Ginny raised her lit wand and saw a wall of stone, with no handle or marking of any kind.
"How do we get out?" Neville asked, holding his wand higher to cast more light. "Is it a dead end?"
Seamus grinned and pushed against an enormous stone, directly where a doorknob could have been had there been a door. To Ginny's surprise, slowly but surely, as though it hadn't been disturbed in years, a portion of the wall began to silently swing open. They all quickly extinguished their wandlights and began to creep forward to the threshold of the hidden door. Seamus peeked out first, then looked back and nodded.
"It's safe. No one's here," he whispered.
Neville grinned at Ginny, who didn't return the smile but reached into her pocket for the Indelible Ink bottles, handing one to each of them. Seamus took his and quickly slipped out the hidden door, heading for the stairs he was about to graffiti. Ginny drew her wand and started to tiptoe after Seamus. She pressed herself against the wall outside the door, sliding along it to her destination. She spied Seamus's shadow slinking up one of the enormous staircases as she hurried to the main doors of the castle.
The entrance hall was dead silent. The only sounds Ginny could hear were those of her own breathing and Neville and Seamus's soft footsteps. She looked around; white moonlight was breaking through the storm clouds that had been building all week as she and the others had been planning. It spilled across the floor, the only illumination in the room, draining everything of color.
For a moment, without explanation, Ginny thought longingly of Fred and George and their Wildfire Whiz-Bangs, filling the entrance hall and the skies all around the castle with mad rainbows in every shade imaginable. Then she sighed, and mentally shook herself, stepping away from the wall to face the doors.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw Neville and Seamus, who were just getting ready to begin their graffiti. Then Ginny unscrewed the cap on her ink and drew her wand. She was just raising her wand to write an enormous letter D, when Neville yelled. Ginny whirled around, pocketing the ink and drawing her wand in a flash, as all the torches in the entrance hall blazed to life.
"What the bloody hell's goin' on here, eh?" roared Amycus Carrow. He stood at the top of the stairs with Alecto, who had her wand pointed at Seamus. Ginny's heart stopped; Seamus had nothing on him to protect himself, and she was too far away to help—
"All of yeh—you two—get over here!" yelled Alecto, as Amycus aimed his wand directly at Ginny. She swallowed. The Carrows hadn't recognized them yet, so Ginny's mind began working furiously to come up with a new plan. She took a slow, careful step forward, catching Neville's eye. He was not far from her, along the same wall, so he did the same.
"Come on, come on, we haven't got all night!" Amycus bellowed, yanking Seamus up by the scruff of his collar.
Slowly, Ginny and Neville arrived at the staircase together and began to climb. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Neville's hand twitch—Ginny raised her wand and yelled, "Expelliarmus!"
"Oi!" Amycus yelled as the spell shot past; he fired a Stunning Spell at Ginny, who ducked.
"Stupefy!" yelled Neville, and his Stunner went straight at Alecto, who jumped aside. Amycus released Seamus, who fell down the stairs, but rolled quickly to his feet, plunging his hand into his pocket.
"Expelliarmus!" Ginny screamed again, as Seamus dropped a handful of glittering black rocks—
Blackness engulfed the room, and Ginny began to run back down the marble stairs towards the hidden door in the wall; she couldn't see, but she could hear Neville and Seamus on either side of her. They had nearly made it to the door, and if they could just make it inside, they would get back to Gryffindor Tower safely—
Something grabbed at the hem of Ginny's cloak, and she fell hard, smacking her head on the flagstones. She tasted blood in her mouth and her vision went black before she was suddenly aware that she was being dragged to her feet. The Carrows had apparently recovered from the Instant Darkness Powder, for Ginny could feel Alecto's breath on her neck, though she couldn't turn her head; she was having trouble keeping her eyes focused, and was unsurprised to see a trickle of red on the side of her cheek. Her wand lay on the floor.
Amycus yanked Ginny's other arm. "Let's see who's under the hood, eh?" He raised his hand to Ginny's face, and she tried feebly to pull away.
"No!" Neville screamed, but he was drowned out by a roar from Seamus, who charged Carrow and tackled him about the waist.
"Stupefy!" Neville cried, knocking out Alecto instantly so that she dropped Ginny to the floor. Neville ran forward and seized Ginny's wand, then picked up Ginny herself.
"Go!" Seamus yelled, wrestling with Amycus. "Run, both of you, I'll be fine!"
"No!" Ginny moaned, reaching out for him, but Neville was stronger, and he was dragging her towards the hidden door.
"Filch is coming, I have to save you!" he said.
"We can't split up, you said we can't!" Ginny cried, fighting as hard as she could to break Neville's grip.
"We have to!" Neville insisted, as the wheezing figure of Mr. Filch appeared at top of the stairs.
"BOTH OF YOU GO, NOW!" Seamus roared, as he landed a punch into Amycus's doughy stomach; both of their wands lay forgotten on the floor, near Alecto's feebly stirring body.
Ginny looked at Neville, who was trying to keep her on her feet,, and then back at Amycus and Seamus, who were still fighting, and Mr. Filch, who was now at the top of the stairs—
"Okay," Ginny said at last, and she reached into her pocket and dropped a Decoy Detonator. The resulting explosion was enough to cover them as Neville half-carried her to the staircase. They hurried in and sealed it, but did not yet try to climb the stairs.
Ginny sank to the floor, breathless, and pushed back her hood, wincing as her finger brushed a large cut on her forehead. Her head was pounding with pain, but she pressed her ear to the wall, straining to listen for any sound from the entrance hall.
"Lumos," Neville whispered, and his wand lit.
They were both silent for several moments, until Ginny looked up at Neville. "D'you think—"
Seamus's scream was bone chilling, and Ginny nearly leapt out of her skin.
"Move, we've got to move," Neville said loudly, bending down to help Ginny to her feet and dragging her up the staircase. Up they climbed, and the journey seemed so much shorter this time—perhaps it was just because Ginny's mind was moving so quickly, swirling sickeningly with images of what had just happened and the pain of her injury—before long, though, they stood before the hidden door at the top of the stairs, panting and heaving. They collapsed onto the top steps, and Ginny buried her face in her hands.
"We shouldn't have separated," she moaned. "We shouldn't have—"
"Seamus and I couldn't have taken on all three of them with you hurt," Neville said, laying a hand on Ginny's shoulder. She shrugged him off. "He's going to be okay, Ginny."
"How do you know?" Ginny demanded, looking up at Neville, and feeling her eyes burn with tears. "You keep saying that about Luna, too, but how do you know? We don't even know where she is, Neville, no one does! She could very well be dead, and you know it!"
"You don't believe that," Neville said quietly, though he looked frightened.
Ginny sighed, exasperated. "What if we just lost Seamus, Neville? He's not exactly a favorite of the Carrows, why should they be afraid of hurting him? Ah—" she had touched her cut and winced.
"He's fine," Neville said firmly. "He said he'd come back. He'll come and find us in the common room. He might already be there."
Ginny shook her head, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes. "I don't know how much longer we can do this, Neville."
"We've lost so many people already, and we just…we don't know who to trust anymore…" Ginny trailed off. Then she sighed. "I know we've got to keep fighting, and…I know I will, but…sometimes it seems like it'd be so much easier if we just gave up."
She felt Neville's hand on her shoulder.
"Of course it'd be easy if we gave up," Neville said. "But it wouldn't be right. We have to keep fighting, or what's it all been for?"
Ginny blinked, looking down at her hands, thinking of Ron, Harry, and Hermione…Colin…Justin Finch-Fletchley…Tonks and Lupin…her own family…
"There are too many people counting on us," Neville said, as though he could read her thoughts. "Ginny, there are only a few of us left, but we have to keep going."
Ginny let out a long, slow breath. "I know all of that," she said quietly. "That's what I've been telling myself for ages. But…that's not always enough, Neville."
Neville looked down. "Then…what about you?"
"What about me?" Ginny asked, frowning.
"What do you want?" Neville raised his wand, studying Ginny's face carefully.
"I…" Ginny stopped. "I want…my life back. I want…my brother, and my best friends, and Harry back. I want my parents to be safe, and I want Hogwarts back," she said. "I don't want to be afraid anymore."
"Then that's what you're working for, Gin," said Neville.
Ginny stared at him for a moment, frowning. Then she set her jaw and lifted her chin. "Come on, we have to get back to the common room. The Carrows'll come looking for us soon."
Neville smiled and stood. Supporting herself against the wall, Ginny got to her feet as he opened the hidden door. They hurried back to Gryffindor Tower without being seen.
"Oh my—what happened?" Parvati demanded, as Ginny pulled back her hood to reveal her cut. "That looks horrible—Lav, the dittany—"
"Put on your pajamas, quick, one of the portraits said that the Carrows are furious about something in the entrance hall," Lavender was saying to Neville.
"What did you do?" asked Parvati, helping Ginny into her bathrobe and taking the Shield Cloaks and hoods to hide them.
"We got caught," Neville said, buttoning his pajamas in the wrong hole over his sweaty t-shirt as Ginny sat down in an armchair, yanking off her shoes and hiding them beneath her seat. Lavender hurried over and began applying essence of dittany to her cut. Ginny winced, but allowed Lavender to wipe the blood away.
"Where's Seamus, Neville?" Parvati asked, as she stuffed the incriminating clothing into a cupboard by the window.
Neville bit his lip, looking at Ginny. "We had to split up, and the Carrows caught him. Ginny was hurt—"
"He'll be back," Ginny said confidently, meeting Neville's eyes. "He promised he'd be back, so we'll see him soon."
There were several beats of silence.
"He charged Carrow, and gave us time to get away," Neville said.
"I'm glad you did," Parvati said at last.
"Seamus will be back soon," Lavender said, with an air of great finality. She sat down on the hearth and looked at the others, indicating that they, too, should sit. "He'll get away from them, I know he will."
Nearly an hour later, however, Ginny still sat in her chair, tapping her foot on the hearthrug and frowning at the dying fire. Lavender was curled on the hearth near Neville's armchair, and Ginny sat in the chair beside Parvati's. No one spoke, but every few moments, someone's eyes would flicker over to the portrait hole.
Suddenly, at long last, the portrait hole swung open, and Ginny was first to her feet. She ran over, ready to catch Seamus by the shoulders, and was therefore stunned to see not Seamus, but Professor McGonagall, in her nightclothes.
"P-Professor," she stammered. "W-what—"
"Miss Weasley, may I ask what you are doing out of bed at this hour?" Professor McGonagall asked angrily. Then she saw Parvati, Neville, and Lavender, who had all risen as well, and her mouth went very thin and tight, and she sighed. "I assume," she asked quietly, "That you are all waiting for Mr. Finnigan?"
Ginny didn't say anything. She looked over her shoulder at Lavender, whose eyes were wide, and Neville, who swallowed.
"Where is he, Professor?" Parvati asked softly.
Ginny looked at Professor McGonagall, and was surprised—if she didn't know better, she could have sworn that she saw her chin tremble. "Professor?" Ginny asked quietly.
"He was found by Professor Carrow in the entrance hall," Professor McGonagall said stiffly. "I have been sen—I'm here to ask my students if they know anything about why he may have been down there."
Her eyes raked over Neville's disheveled, incorrectly-buttoned pajamas, and Ginny's bathrobe, thrown hastily over her jeans and t-shirt. "Do the four of you know anything that might…account for Mr. Finnigan's presence in a restricted area after curfew?" Professor McGonagall asked. Her voice seemed to falter a bit, and she looked as though she truly didn't want to know the answer.
Again, no one spoke.
Professor McGonagall closed her eyes and nodded. "I can see that I've woken you all up in the middle of the night, and that you had nothing to do with this. I'm sorry, I should have known—"
"Seamus sleepwalks, Professor," said Neville suddenly. "Has for years. Er—one time I woke up and he was pushing me out of my bed." He looked at the girls for support.
"It's true, Professor," said Lavender immediately. "He's set off the Smoothing Charm on the girls' stairs three or four times at least."
"Uh—oh, yeah, I remember that," Parvati said quickly. "Dean Thomas said he once saw Seamus walk across the common room and head for the portrait hole, too. He would've left Gryffindor Tower if Dean hadn't stopped him."
"Maybe he was sleepwalking, Professor," Ginny said. Professor McGonagall's eyes widened as she looked down at Ginny, who was nearly a head shorter than her. "With only Neville in his dormitory now, it'd probably be pretty easy for him to walk out without anyone noticing. We can all tell the headmaster the truth, if we need to—tonight, if you like."
There was a murmur of assent from the others.
"Is that where Seamus is, Professor? With Professor Snape?" Neville asked.
Professor McGonagall did not answer, but stared at Ginny for a moment, then looked to Lavender, Parvati, and Neville in turn. She seemed to be fighting very hard to restrain herself from speaking her mind. Finally, she released a breath.
"Thank you, Miss Weasley," she said quietly. "I am sure I can speak to the headmaster about Mr. Finnigan's sleepwalking. I do seem to remember dealing with this once or twice before, now that you mention it." She drew herself up and blinked rapidly several times, looking between the four of them, steeling her expression. Ginny smiled slightly. "Now, I suggest you all return to bed, since I so rudely woke you, while I—I return to the hospital wing to see to Mr. Finnigan."
Ginny's stomach lurched, and in the corner of her eye she saw Lavender clap both hands over her mouth.
"Professor," Parvati gasped, but Professor McGonagall raised both of her hands.
"To bed," she barked, though there was now a distinct quiver in her voice, and she would not look any of them in the eye.
Ginny hurried over to Lavender and Parvati, leading them to the stairs to the girls' dormitories, with Neville right behind them. When they had just started to climb the girls' stairs, however, Lavender stopped, several steps below Ginny and Parvati.
"Ginny?" Parvati asked, for Ginny had hidden her face, ducking her head to hide behind her hair. Suddenly, she turned and faced Professor McGonagall, who was still standing before the portrait hole. Neville, who was on the boys' stairs, stopped and looked at Ginny.
"He didn't need the hospital wing, Professor," Ginny said, her voice shaking. "Seamus wasn't hurt, the last time we saw him."
Professor McGonagall nodded, looking pained beyond belief. "I know, Miss Weasley. I know."
Ginny looked down as Lavender bit her lip, her tears spilling over, and Parvati placed a hand on her shoulder, glancing at Ginny, who was scarlet in the face and shaking with rage. She looked to Neville, who was gripping the railing of the boys' staircase so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
"Can we—" Ginny began, but Professor McGonagall cut her off.
"Mr. Finnigan will be back in classes by tomorrow, Miss Weasley," she promised. "Madam Pomfrey is taking excellent care of him, but I cannot allow any of the four of you to leave Gryffindor Tower after curfew. I may not know your—" she met Neville's eyes, "—sleepwalking habits, but I can and will do my best to protect those students who may suffer from afflictions like Mr. Finnigan's. Do I make myself clear?" Her sharp, beady eyes met Neville's, Parvati's, Lavender's, and finally, Ginny's.
"Yes, Professor," Ginny said quietly, and the others nodded. Professor McGonagall nodded sharply, and she turned on her heel.
"Good night, Professor," Parvati called suddenly.
Professor McGonagall turned and looked at them again. "Good night," she said softly. "No more sleepwalking?"
"No more, Professor," said Neville in a low voice, and Ginny stared at him, shocked by his defeated tone.
Professor McGonagall was silent for a moment, glancing at Ginny and the other girls before returning her sharp gaze to Neville. Then the corner of her mouth twitched, only momentarily before it disappeared. She nodded sharply and turned on her heel again, exiting the portrait hole.
Just before it closed, however, a familiar voice floated back through the portrait hole and across the common room.
"What a shame."
Neville and Ginny stared at each other, as Lavender and Parvati gaped, astonished, after Professor McGonagall.
"Someone's looking out for Dumbledore's Army," Neville said, looking pleasantly surprised.
Ginny shook her head. "I think she joined Dumbledore's Army." And, in spite of everything that had happened, and everything that she knew was still coming, she smiled.
HOLY COW. Look at all that. Let's call this a preview for the story I'm kind of sort of maybe planning for the flipped-perspective Deathly Hallows. :) Love you all, and miss you madly! I'm almost done with term, so I'll be writing like a madwoman VERY soon! This is also an entry for Fanfiction Idol, Fanfiction's Got Talent, and Strictly Come Writing competitions. Whew. Hope you like it.