The Secret Passage
“Wow,” said Neville. “That’s…a lot of stuff.”
Ginny nodded. “Fred and George reckon we should carry on, and they lend their full support, provided we’re a bit more careful about catching detentions.” She picked up a small device from the pile of Weasley products she had just presented to him, Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender. “These are the newest Decoy Detonators. We’ve got a whole bunch of Skiving Snackboxes, too.”
Seamus sniggered. “I think I feel a bit of Umbridge-itis coming on.”
They were in the Room of Requirement, waiting for the rest of the D.A. to arrive. Parvati and Lavender, who had been perusing the shelves full of Defense Against the Dark Arts books, came over to examine the small mountain of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes merchandise that lay at Ginny’s feet.
“How did you get all of this in?” Parvati asked in amazement.
“Fred and George,” said Seamus and Ginny in unison.
“Where are they?” Neville asked, looking at his watch. “We’ve got a little less than an hour before curfew.”
“Macmillan gave me one hell of a glare when I reminded him to show up,” Seamus said, looking unusually concerned. “I thought it was just him being a fussy little…”
The words were barely out of his mouth when the door of the room opened, and they all looked around. Susan Bones, her eyes red and puffy, crept in, looking very nervous.
“Hi, Susan,” said Ginny, rising warily.
She gave a weak smile that disappeared immediately. “I, erm…well…the others wanted me to—to tell you…they can’t make it,” she said.
Ginny stared at her. “What?”
“Ernie, and Hannah, I mean…and some of the Ravenclaws,” she mumbled. “They’re…not coming.”
“Not coming?” Neville repeated, his voice rising. “Why not?”
Susan mumbled something about being busy, and she would not look up from her shoes.
“Well, maybe we should—I dunno—reschedule,” Ginny suggested.
“I—I don’t think that’ll work,” Susan blurted out, and then she looked upset with herself. “I’m really sorry,” she added. “I—I’d better get going…”
“Susan, wait a moment!” Lavender cried, hurrying after her, but she was already out the door and gone. Lavender let the door swing shut and faced the others.
“What was that?” Parvati asked. “You don’t think they’ve been scared off?”
“After all that fuss Ernie made about not being frightened?” asked Lavender. “Hardly. And nothing’s even happened yet to frighten them!”
“What, then?” Ginny asked, racking her brains for an answer, some kind of explanation. “Are they angry about something?”
“Maybe they really just couldn’t make it,” Parvati said, shaking her head.
“No, if that were true, they would’ve just told Neville during the day,” said Lavender. “They sent Susan, she was their messenger…”
“There’s something going on that they’re keeping from us,” Seamus said angrily.
“Seamus,” Parvati said, as though she didn’t think this was very likely. Ginny, however, had to agree with Seamus. Why else would the rest of Dumbledore’s Army have chosen to abandon the meeting? Anger was bubbling in her heart.
“I’ll get Macmillan, I swear,” Seamus muttered. “He’s put the rest of them up to it.”
“You don’t know that, Seamus,” Parvati snapped. “And we can’t start fighting amongst ourselves. Let’s just—look, let’s just try again another night—”
“No,” Neville said suddenly, and they all looked at him. His expression was cold and set. “Ginny and I wanted to call this meeting for exactly this reason, to get us all back together again. I say we carry on. If they’re going to leave us in the dust, then fine. That’s their problem, not ours.”
“You’re kidding,” Ginny said loudly.
“No, I’m not,” Neville responded, even louder. “We’re trying to make this work. Either they’ll get on board again and tell us what’s going on, or they won’t. We can’t make them do anything they don’t want to, but we’re not powerless without them.”
Silence met this pronouncement. This was the most ferocious that any of them had ever seen Neville, and Ginny had a feeling that their conversation in the Great Hall, as well as having two weeks to ruminate on Luna’s kidnapping was precisely what lay behind this new attitude.
“Now, I think we should stick to what we know we can do,” Neville continued, starting to pace back and forth. “Graffiti on the walls is a great idea, because they can’t get rid of it and everyone sees it, so I want to do the entrance hall.”
“That’s pretty exposed,” Lavender said. “It’s easier to get caught down there.”
“At least we’d get caught doing what’s important,” Seamus interrupted firmly. “Maybe that’d remind Macmillan of a thing or two…”
“Will you drop it with Macmillan?” Neville said shortly. “We’ve got to plan this down to the second, if there are only five of us. I think it should be just me and Seamus, and the girls will—”
“Not with my stuff, you don’t,” Ginny said, just as loudly as Parvati and Lavender.
Neville glared at the three of them. “Ginny, you can’t get caught again, and Parvati and Lavender, you two don’t have any idea what could happen if you get caught.”
“We’re not scared,” Parvati said fiercely, folding her arms. “And in case you’ve forgotten, we’ve both had detentions with the Carrows!”
“It’s not a question of being scared,” said Neville exasperatedly.
“Neville, you and Seamus have gotten in just as much trouble as I have,” Ginny insisted. “There’s no reason—”
“Quiet!” Neville shouted. “Now listen. You chose to let me be your leader. So let me make this choice. I don’t doubt anybody here, but we all need to agree on a plan, or we’re going to fall apart.”
Ginny stared at him.
“Now, I’ll compromise. Seamus, Ginny, and I are going to go through the castle. Parvati and Lavender are going to arrange our cover,” he continued, more calmly. “We’re relying on you two in case anything goes wrong, and to help us in and out of Gryffindor Tower.”
Parvati nodded once and nudged Lavender, who shrugged, still looking a bit put out.
“Ginny, you’re right,” Neville said, turning to her, “It’s unfair of us to take advantage of your stuff. But you’re going to be the first person we get out of the way if there’s trouble, because you’ve already done enough for the rest of us. I’m no leader if I don’t protect everyone I can.”
Ginny flushed red, but nodded.
“Good,” said Neville, clapping his hands. “Let’s get planning.”
After that night, the remains of Dumbledore’s Army stopped using the Room of Requirement. It was much more convenient to plan in the mostly-empty dormitory that Seamus and Neville shared, which also meant that their meetings could go as late as they wanted without interruption or fear of being caught by the Carrows on a patrol. Ginny immediately asked Fred and George for the best ways to sneak about the castle, which they obligingly provided, recommending a little-used staircase at the rear of the castle that seemed to be frequented only by the occasional house elf. This staircase would lead them directly to a hidden door in the entrance hall, near the kitchens and the Hufflepuff common room.
Hogwarts, meanwhile, was facing the worst combination of sleet and snow that Ginny could ever remember hitting the school. For three solid weeks, Herbology lessons were dreadful and cold, and Care of Magical Creatures was cancelled entirely. This made it incredibly difficult to visit Hagrid, or even see him, for it seemed that the Carrows had banned him from the Great Hall—that, or he simply had no desire to spend any more time in their presence than was required of him. It did not take long for the students to notice that Hagrid’s chair had been removed from the staff table entirely. It was with ill ease that Ginny looked out of the window in Gryffindor Tower every morning so she could be certain that smoke was curling out of his chimney, and know that he was all right.
“Did you have Dark Arts today?” Neville asked, startling Ginny out of a reverie. She had been watching Hagrid, bundled in his furry overcoat, work in his garden through the snowy window of the common room.
“Er—no, why?” she asked.
“Carrow keeps going on about some ‘new material’ he wants to cover, but he’s waiting on the right time,” Neville said, looking uneasy. “And Malfoy and the Slytherins seem to know what it is.”
Ginny lifted her eyebrows. “That can’t be good.”
“You know they haven’t given out any detentions yet?” he asked.
“Really?” She was surprised. “Why not?”
“Seamus reckons they’re waiting on the right time,” Neville said again. Ginny felt a prickle of unease. “Whatever it is, though, it’s scared the daylights out of the younger kids. The waiting is worse than having it happen.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Ginny broodingly, heaving a sigh.
“I think we should go tomorrow night,” said Neville.
She stared at him. “You mean to do the entrance hall?”
He nodded. “They’re getting worse and worse the longer we wait. I don’t know what Carrow’s on about, but whatever it is, it’s scaring people, and that’s exactly what they want. If we let them keep at what they’re doing, let them think they’ve gotten rid of us, then we’re just letting them win.” Neville furrowed his brow. “They’ve already scared off half of the D.A. We can’t let them think they’ve got us all.”
“We don’t know if that’s what happened to Ernie and the others,” Ginny reasoned, though Neville ignored her. “But if you want to go tomorrow night, you’re our leader. You make the call.”
He drew a deep breath. “I do,” he said.
“Fine,” Ginny nodded. Her stomach gave a little twirl of—was it happiness, excitement at the idea of action at last? “Let’s do it.”
“Hey, Ginny, can I have one of those Decoy Detonators?” Neville asked, and Ginny handed him the box, tugging on a black Shield Cloak and tying her long hair into a tight knot.
“I'm telling you, we've got to travel lighter,” Seamus said, shaking his head as he lifted his own hood. He had refused the other supplies from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, 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 it’s not a choice, not without more people. Take more, now.”
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, tying on his hood. “We just need to be careful, Seamus. Now come on, 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 you 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. "We've got it. We went over it plenty of times. Trust us."
"I trust you all fine. It's them I don't trust," Neville said. "But fine. Let's just get going." He led the way down the boys' stairs after Lavender, Ginny and Seamus on his heels.
"Good luck," Parvati whispered as Lavender joined her by the fire, and Ginny, Neville, and Seamus slipped out of the portrait hole. 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 near the statue of Emeric the Evil, by 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.
"Neville," she whispered suddenly, pointing to a narrow, shadowy opening in the wall at the end of the corridor. "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 lit her wand and peered into the tiny staircase that was wedged within the castle walls themselves. "Okay, it's clear—"
There was a sudden yowl, and Neville leapt backwards, shoving Ginny against the wall.
"It's that bloody cat," Seamus hissed, quickly pushing Neville into the passage and dragging Ginny after him.
She hurried inside, just catching a glimpse of Mrs. Norris's tail as the cat whipped out of sight around the corner, undoubtedly looking for Filch. Ginny didn’t wait a moment longer, but followed Neville and Seamus down the 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 again, 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. At least an inch of dust lay on the step beneath her feet.
"D'you reckon Filch and the Carrows know about this passage after all?" 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. Was it her imagination, or were they moving on a diagonal, as well as a downward spiral?
"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. “Makes sense, if it’s for the elves…”
"Yeah," panted Neville. "We have to figure out if we can use it to get back from the entrance hall, though."
"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," he 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.
Ginny grinned at Neville, who didn't return the smile but reached into his 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 swirling all week long. It spilled across the floor, the only illumination in the room, draining everything of color.
For a moment, Ginny remembered, with a horrible jolt, the nightmare she had had at Christmas. She saw a flash in her mind of the ruined entrance hall, and of Luna’s dead body. Then she 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, and unscrewed the cap on her ink. 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’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 had a terrible feeling that their only way out of this situation was to the Carrows. She took a slow, careful step forward, catching Neville's eye, and she could see in an instant that he was thinking the same thing.
"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 his ear; he fired a Stunning Spell at Ginny, who ducked.
"Stupefy!" yelled Neville, and his Stunner went straight at Alecto, but missed her by inches. Amycus released Seamus, sending him tumbling down the stairs where he rolled quickly to his feet, plunging his hand into his pocket.
"Expelliarmus!" Ginny screamed again, as Seamus dropped a handful of glittering black rocks. Darkness engulfed the room, and she 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—they could come up with a lie—
Something grabbed at the hem of Ginny's cloak, and she fell hard and so quickly that she couldn’t even put her hands out to break her fall. With a nauseating crack, she hit her forehead on the flagstones and tasted blood in her mouth. Her vision went black, for how long she couldn’t tell, before she was suddenly aware that she was being dragged to her feet. The Carrows had apparently found their way through the dissipating clouds of Instant Darkness Powder, for Ginny could feel Alecto's breath on her neck, though she couldn't turn her head; she was having enough trouble keeping her eyes free of spots and bursting lights, 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, and this time, his spell hit Alecto full-force, 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, 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 hard to keep her on her feet, and then back at Amycus and Seamus, who were still fighting, and Mr. Filch, who was now halfway down 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, but shallow 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 he got a—"
Seamus's scream was bone chilling, and Ginny nearly leapt out of her skin.
"Move, 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 narrow doorway 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 done this—we attacked teachers—this is all wrong…we left Seamus…"
"There was no way we could have taken on all three of them," 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? They’re not going to have any problem with punishing him once they get his hood off, and you know it. Ah—" she had touched her cut and winced.
"He's fine," Neville said firmly. "He’s going to be fine. But they’re going to come looking for us any minute, and we have to get safe."
Ginny shook her head, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes. "This was a mistake, Neville. I—I thought we had it planned…"
“We did have it planned,” Neville answered angrily. “Don’t back down now, just because it went wrong.”
“Maybe McGonagall’s right, maybe we need to stop,” Ginny stammered, unaware of Neville pulling her to her feet, as Seamus’s screams echoed in her ears. “We can’t do this…”
“You’ve got head trauma, you’re not making any sense,” Neville muttered, heaving her arm over one shoulder. “Shut up for a minute. We can’t stay here.”
“It’d be easier if we stopped,” Ginny rationalized, and now she was beginning to hear the foolishness of her words. “Much easier…”
“I’m going to put a Silencing Charm on you in a minute,” Neville hissed. They were halfway down the corridor to the Fat Lady, and he was panting with the effort of trying to hurry her along to safety.
“Much easier,” Ginny mumbled. Her head hurt badly…she would like very much to lie down…to pretend as though she hadn’t cursed a teacher…to pretend that she was safely back at home, with her mother’s cocoa and her father’s camera…
But part of her brain still seemed to know that she had a head injury, and that she needed very badly to get help…somehow, getting to Gryffindor Tower and getting back in her right mind were inextricably linked…
“Tailfeather,” Neville panted at the Fat Lady, who swung open hurriedly.
“In, get in,” she hissed, nearly shutting herself on them before they could squeeze through the portrait hole and tumble to the floor in the common room.
"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, they’re looking for you," Lavender was saying to Neville as she handed him his clothing.
"What did you do?" asked Parvati, helping a still slightly disorientated 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 holes over his sweaty t-shirt as Ginny sank down in an armchair, pulled off her shoes and hid them beneath her seat. Lavender hurried over and began applying essence of dittany to her cut. Ginny winced, her head giving a nasty throb, but allowed her to wipe the blood away and arrange her hair to hide the wound.
"Where's Seamus?" 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 okay," Ginny said softly, meeting Neville's eyes.
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 fine," Lavender said, with an air of great finality. “Give me your wands, both of you,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Why?” Neville asked, passing it to her.
“Aguamenti,” she murmured, and a short fountain of water shot from the tips of the two wands onto the fire, which sizzled and popped. “There. Parvati, give me the Charms book, quick—”
“We came up with a plan when the portraits started talking,” Parvati was explaining quickly as she dropped textbooks in each of their laps, along with a few pages of handwritten notes. “The three of us are helping Ginny with a Charms assignment…if they check your wands, you’ve been practicing Aguamenti.”
“If they’ve caught Seamus, someone’s bound to come looking for you both,” Lavender agreed. “Ginny, sit up…”
Reluctantly, she pulled herself up in her chair. Her mind seemed much clearer, though her head ached. She opened the Charms book in her lap and took her wand from Lavender, who sat down on the hearth and looked at Parvati and Neville, indicating that they, too, should sit.
“It won’t be long,” Parvati said, glancing at her watch. “They must’ve seen it was him by now…they’ll be looking for you two…”