It took ages, but at long, 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.
“We’ve been studying, Professor,” Lavender said calmly. “We didn’t realize how late it was.”
Professor McGonagall shut her eyes for a moment, and did not respond to the lie. “You are waiting for Mr. Finnigan, aren’t you?" she asked quietly.
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, along with two others, who are missing," Professor McGonagall said stiffly. "I have been sen—I am here to ask my students if they know anything about why he may have been down there, and who the others were."
Her eyes raked over Neville's disheveled hair and incorrectly buttoned pajamas, and Ginny's bathrobe, thrown hastily over her rolled-up jeans and jumper. "Do the four of you know anything that might…account for Mr. Finnigan's presence in a restricted area after curfew, or who may have been with him?" 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 again and nodded. "Well, I can see that I've woken you in the middle of the night, and that you had nothing to do with this. I'm sorry, I should have known—"
Ginny gaped at her. “P-Professor!”
“Yes, Miss Weasley?” Professor McGonagall looked thoroughly upset.
“I—we…” Ginny stammered, looking helplessly between Neville and the others. If she told the truth, owned up to attacking teachers, then Snape would force McGonagall to tell him, and she and Neville would inevitably be delivered to the Carrows. But if she lied further, she would never, ever be able to alleviate her conscience, knowing she had abandoned Seamus, no matter how angry he would be that they turned themselves in.
Professor McGonagall was staring at her as though pleading her not to say anything. Ginny drew a deep breath.
"Er—Seamus sleepwalks, Professor," said Neville suddenly, cutting Ginny off. "Has for years. One time I woke up and he was pushing me out of my bed. He went to sleep early, tonight, said he was tired…but he could’ve walked out of the tower before we all came down to the common room. I…er…don’t know why he’d be with anybody else, though…” He looked at the girls for support in what Ginny felt was a rather weak story.
"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."
“See, he could’ve done it when—when we weren’t paying attention,” Neville insisted. “He acts like he’s awake—”
Ginny shot him a shut-up-now look, for she could see the gears turning in Professor McGonagall’s mind.
"So, maybe he was sleepwalking, Professor," she said slowly. "We’ve only been down here a short while, we could easily have missed him. 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 go to bed 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.
"Lavender?" Parvati asked, for she was staring at the ground, unmoving. 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 Lavender.
"He didn't need the hospital wing, Professor," Lavender said, her voice shaking. "Seamus wasn't hurt, the last time we saw him."
Professor McGonagall nodded, looking pained beyond belief. "I know, Miss Brown."
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 a sudden, violent anger at the Carrows. 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.
"I have been assured that 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." She met Neville's eyes, "I may not always be able to intervene, but I can and will do my best to protect those students who may suffer from afflictions like Mr. Finnigan's." 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?"
There were three mumbled, apologetic, "No, Professors,” and Ginny felt a pang in her heart at the sound of their defeated tones. 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, her 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 as though trying to clear it of water. She couldn’t quite believe what she had heard, but…
"I think she joined Dumbledore's Army."
Ginny was preoccupied and exhausted when she missed breakfast and arrived just on time to her double Dark Arts lesson the next morning. Her fingers were closed tightly around the Galleon in her pocket, waiting for Neville’s message that Seamus had returned to classes. She chose her usual chair and sat gazing out of the window for nearly a quarter of an hour before she finally perceived a distinct change in the atmosphere of the classroom.
She looked up; all of the other Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were staring at her, and so was Amycus Carrow. Her heart sank a little. She knew she ought to have expected trouble.
“Got yer attention now, eh, Weasley?” he asked. Ginny blinked. “You heard me right. The Cruciatus Curse is pretty important nowadays, and the headmaster reckons it’s time you all learned to use it.”
Because her brain could not comprehend what she was hearing, Ginny blurted out the first, foolish thing that came to mind. “That’s illegal!”
Amycus gave a growl. “Yeh tellin’ me how ta run my class, Weasley? Think ya know better?” He was bearing down on her like a massive animal.
Ginny glared back at him, just as fiercely. “No, sir,” she said coldly.
“I think Weasley here just volunteered herself to go first,” he said nastily, facing the class. He looked at Ginny and barked, “Up!”
Her heart gave a sickening heave. She dragged herself up, legs full of lead, to stand before Amycus at the front of the classroom.
“We’re just gonna have a li’l demonstration,” he said, smiling evilly. He turned and paced away, giving himself more room, and Ginny shut her eyes. He was about to use the curse on her, she knew it…she steeled herself, clenching every muscle in her body—
Horrified gasps echoed around the room, and Ginny opened her eyes again. Amycus stood directly before Ginny, still grinning, and between them, curled at their feet, lay—
“Seamus,” Ginny whispered. Amycus had just pulled him out of the office door that stood adjacent to the classroom. Seamus’s hands were bound and he was gagged, his flesh bruised and scraped all over, but he was awake and very, very angry. She could practically feel his hatred for Amycus radiating heat in every direction.
Ginny herself was experiencing a sudden, blinding pain that she could only attribute to the rage pounding in her head. The room seemed to be spinning around her. All she could see was Seamus’s eyes, swollen and puffy, staring into her own.
“Take out yer wand, Weasley,” Amycus said, in a sickly sweet voice. “Go on, now.”
Ginny could only gape at Seamus.
“Do it,” Amycus barked.
Seamus stared at her and blinked once, slowly, moving his head as though he were nodding. Ginny shook her head, but he narrowed his eyes. Just do what he says. Confused, her fingers shaking with suppressed fury, she obeyed.
“The first thing ye have ta know about the Cruciatus Curse,” Amycus said, adopting an alarmingly professorial tone, “is ye gotta enjoy it…” He drew his own wand, meeting Ginny’s eyes.
He swept his wand through the air so quickly that she couldn’t even react before Seamus was screaming and writhing, choking against his gag—
“STOP IT!” Ginny screamed. “STOP!” She looked out at her classmates, who were all gazing in shock at what had happened, and were obviously too frightened to intervene. Amycus lifted his wand and gave a menacing chuckle. Seamus lay on the floor, panting and shaking. Ginny shoved her wand in her pocket. “I won’t do it,” she said angrily. “I won’t, and you can’t make me.”
But for some reason, a look of deep satisfaction was spreading across Amycus’s misshapen face. “Fine then, Weasley. C’mon, we’re going to the headmaster.” He hoisted Seamus up by the scruff of his neck and flicked his wand to release the ties on his hands and mouth. Seamus dropped into a chair, rubbing his wrists.
Amycus barked at the class, “Anyone who moves gets it next!” He seized Ginny’s arm and dragged her out into the corridor. “Think yer clever, Weasley? Think yer brave? Ye didn’t bank on us catchin’ Finnigan there, eh? Didn’t think ye’d get caught last night?”
Ginny kept her mouth shut as the gargoyle in front of Snape’s office leapt aside. She felt stupid; she should have expected that even the Carrows would be able to figure out who had been with Seamus, and that they would do anything to have the chance to punish her. Amycus shoved Ginny into the office and grinned gleefully at Snape, who was sitting at his desk, and had not looked up from the parchment he was perusing when they came in.
“Here, headmaster,” he said. “I got one of ‘em already.”
Ginny frowned, deciding to play stupid. The less she pretended to know, the better off she and Neville would be. “One of what?”
“Silence, Miss Weasley,” Snape answered in a bored voice, still not looking up from the parchment. “May I ask what makes you think she had anything to do with Finnigan’s activities last night?”
“She was tryin’ ta protect him, just now,” Amycus grunted. Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes, and he gave her a hard shake.
“Now, Professor,” said Professor Snape, looking up at last. “Let the girl speak. You have something to say, Miss Weasley?” His black eyes glittered with malice, and Ginny’s heart clenched with fury. He was teasing her, pretending to be on her side, and he wanted to make sure she knew it, to make sure she knew that he was about to pull the rug from beneath her feet, no matter what she did or said…
She drew a slow, deep breath and studied him for a moment. “Only that I don’t understand why refusing to torture my classmate is a bad thing.”
“I’m afraid the nature of your lessons is not to be dictated by you, Miss Weasley,” Snape said silkily. “You are to obey Professor Carrow’s orders in his classroom.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Ginny said, a flame of anger leaping up to lick her heart. “You approve of using Unforgivable Curses on teachers, don’t you? Guess it was only a matter of time before you moved on to us—”
“Hold your tongue,” he snapped, but Ginny could tell she had hit a nerve. She glanced up to the portraits of the headmasters, who were watching this scene with great interest. Dumbledore was in his golden frame, awake, but staring gravely at his own interlocked fingers. Rather than giving her strength of purpose, however, the sight did nothing to assuage her anger—did he not see that everything she was doing, the whole reason that she stood there, in very real trouble, was for him?
“Were you aware that Professor Carrow apprehended Mr. Finnigan in the midst of an attempt to vandalize the entrance hall last night, Miss Weasley?” Snape asked. She lifted her eyebrows, adopting a look of genuine surprise.
“Why, no, sir,” she said politely. “Professor McGonagall did mention that he’d managed to leave Gryffindor Tower, but…well, he’s sleepwalked for years, I would’ve thought Professor—”
“Finnigan—doesn’t—sleepwalk,” Professor Snape ground out furiously.
“Oh, no, sir, he does,” Ginny assured him earnestly. “It’s been a real problem—”
“Leave us, Carrow,” Snape interrupted suddenly, his eyes flicking over to Amycus. “I need to have a private conversation with Miss Weasley.”
“But—what about—” Amycus whined, but Snape raised a hand, cutting him off.
“I assure you, her transgression in class will be punished with utmost severity,” he hissed at Ginny through his crooked teeth. “Now go.”
Grumbling and sour, Amycus stumped out of the office, leaving Ginny alone with Snape. She wasn’t quite sure whether her previous experience in this office was making her feel braver, or if it was simply the anger beating so furiously in her heart that she was a bit lightheaded, but she decided to speak first.
“What are you going to do, let him teach some of my friends how to torture me?” she asked viciously. “Good plan. Really clever. Lets you out of doing anything too scary, doesn’t it?”
Professor Snape was leaning back in his chair, one hand held over his mouth. After a few moments, he lowered it. “I would think, Miss Weasley, that given your current situation, you might not be so utterly stupid as to break my rules a second time. I believe I gave you an idea of what I was willing to do to intervene the last time you were brought into my office.”
“Hm,” Ginny said thoughtfully, tapping her chin. “No, I don’t think so…got a pretty good idea of what your friends like to do, but…you know, I think you just slithered right out of doing any of the dirty work yourself…imagine…”
She was goading him, speaking more disrespectfully to a teacher than she would ever dare, but every poisonous word felt like a bit of revenge, for Dumbledore, for Harry, and for Seamus, whom she had abandoned…
“Let’s not play games, Weasley,” Snape said viciously. “You know precisely what happened in the entrance hall last night, because you were there. Who was with you? Patil? Brown? Longbottom?”
Ginny set her jaw and looked out of the window, deliberately ignoring him.
“Very well,” he continued furiously. “You are to receive two days of detention for disobeying and disrupting Professor Carrow’s lesson. He will determine the manner of your punishment—excuse me?” he demanded, for Ginny had just coughed slightly. Snape was watching her, his eyes wide. “What did you just say?”
She blinked slowly. “Nothing, sir. I was just thinking how nice it must be to be the headmaster. Lets you avoid doing anything yourself. It’s convenient. And cowardly,” she added, under the guise of another fake cough.
Snape’s face was slowly turning an ugly shade of red, a vein throbbing in his temple. “Get out of this office,” he hissed. “Now. And be grateful you aren’t worse off, because next time, Weasley, you will not be so fortunate.”
“Yes, sir,” Ginny retorted, turning on her heel.
She was so angry that she barely paid attention to where her feet carried her. She was halfway back to the Dark Arts corridor when she walked straight into Neville, who was having a hushed conversation with Parvati and Lavender.
“Ginny,” Parvati gasped. “You—you haven’t seen Seamus, have…? Oh, no…”
Ginny grimly told them the story, but when she got to Professor Snape giving her detention, Neville, for some reason, had a look of dawning understanding.
“Carrow just got all of us in Muggle Studies,” he explained. “For stupid things—not getting our books out fast enough, that sort of thing! And then she spent that rest of the class talking about the new punishments, to try and scare us. Whatever McGonagall said last night, they didn’t believe it. They’re using us to set the example.”
“It’ll be one really good example if we get dropped in front of the Slytherins to get tortured,” Lavender whispered, terrified. “Imagine letting Crabbe and Goyle use the Cruciatus Curse on you!”
“Those two don’t know which end of the wand is the one where the pretty lights come out,” Parvati said derisively. “Malfoy or Parkinson, though…”
“At any rate,” Neville cut across, “We know what their new plan for dealing with us is—teaching us how to hurt each other to make us behave. And we know that Seamus is all right.”
“Carrow wasn’t even interested in him after he got me,” Ginny said. “He’s probably getting patched up in the hospital wing now. He wasn’t seriously hurt at all!”
“That means he’s probably going to be demonstrating with the rest of us,” Neville said darkly. “McGonagall must not know what’s going on—”
“She will, though,” Ginny said. “And it’ll be bad when she finds out.”“Bad for them, you mean,” Parvati said. “I’ll let that slime Malfoy curse me any day, as long as I get to see McGonagall lose it at somebody other than us.”