The Great Hall
Neville’s strange behavior aside, being a part of Dumbledore’s Army again filled Ginny with more happiness than she had felt in months. She could feel her worries about her family, Harry, Hermione, and the rest of the Order of the Phoenix weighing less and less on her with every meeting. It was easy to stop giving in to fear when she felt like she, too, was fighting back. So far, they had successfully distributed more than fifteen flyers bearing news bulletins among the students, thanks to Luna’s father. Every week he sent her long, rambling letters bearing a secret code that only he and Luna could understand. She explained to a very curious Ginny that as a child, she had liked to speak in secret languages with her parents, who had thought it quite a useful pursuit and encouraged it.
Luna spent hours poring over the letters. She would make a few pages of notes that were ultimately revealed to be a list of names of missing Muggles and wizards, or an announcement of the appointment of a new Ministry official, or a clipping explaining the activities of the Muggle-Born Registration Committee. She would then give the notes to Ginny, who would quickly print and duplicate them during meetings of Dumbledore’s Army. She gave them to the members of the D.A., and in turn they would spread them secretly around the school. Ernie Macmillan quickly came up with several clever ways for them to hide the flyers in plain sight. He folded them into his classmates’ lost textbooks, left them under chairs in the Great Hall, and stuffed them in suits of armor and behind statues.
The Carrows, enraged that news was starting to leak in under their noses, did their best to uncover the source of the bulletins, but had had no success in obtaining a copy; Ginny had cleverly used Vanishing ink—within twelve hours of their distribution, the ink would disappear permanently. Tonight, she and Luna sat at a table at one end of the Room of Requirement, working on the newest letter. The others were lazily practicing Stunning each other, but were, for the most part, sitting around on the cushions and chatting. Luna wore a very concerned expression as she circled words and letters on the rather short note from her father.
“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked.
“Nothing,” Luna said vaguely. “Daddy must have been busy this week, that’s all.” She turned the parchment over to Ginny. “It’s ready.”
“Thanks,” she answered, taking it. She watched Luna wander over to where Neville sat. He glanced up and caught Ginny’s eye; she looked away quickly. They had avoided talking about his attempt at kissing her, though they had remained quite agreeable (if a little distant) towards each other. She frowned, starting to copy out Xenophilius Lovegood’s coded note. Luna was right—it was quite short this week.
“Erm—attention! Hey, everybody?” Neville said loudly, standing up. “I—I was thinking. We’ve been reviewing our old spells for quite a while, and Luna’s going to try and teach us a Disillusionment Charm next week. I—uh—I think we should talk about what else we want to get done. Seamus?”
Seamus stood up. “Tomorrow night I want to break curfew and write on the walls in the Great Hall. The Carrows would have no way of getting it down before people saw it at breakfast.”
“Saw what?” Parvati asked.
“‘Dumbledore’s Army Lives,’” said Seamus proudly, spreading his hands before him as though he were unveiling a piece of art. “It’s a great signoff, isn’t it?”
There was an appreciative murmur.
“You want us to reveal ourselves so soon?” asked Padma.
“If we expect to get anything done, it’s about time,” Ginny said from across the room. “These flyers are only going to do so much. But here, I have a small change.” She had finished writing the latest newsletter, a list of names of the missing, and brought the sheet to Neville. “That way, we can connect the graffiti with our papers. It’d be like one big reveal.”
“Dumbledore’s Army, Still Recruiting,” he read with a laugh. “That’s brilliant, Ginny! Really—”
“It’s like…rising from the ashes,” Hannah said slowly. “We’re still here, they can’t get rid of us.”
“People are going to start talking,” Parvati said excitedly. “They’re going to know we’re here!”
“McGonagall’s going to kill us,” Neville said to Ginny, who looked away awkwardly.
“She’s been expecting it all along,” Lavender said dismissively. “She cornered me over a month ago and asked. But that doesn’t matter, anyway, none of the teachers can legally ask us about it—not even the Carrows!”
There was a great deal of laughter at this realization; by their own rule as they had stolen it from Professor Umbridge, the Carrows couldn’t interrogate anyone from Dumbledore’s Army. This, of course, wouldn’t stop them from trying, but it seemed a humorous prospect.
“Right—so, I think what we should do is this,” Neville said. “Seamus is going to divide everyone into pairs. Mixed Houses,” he said, spotting Ernie as he reached for Hannah’s hand. “That way if we’re caught, we can break off in any direction and retreat to the common rooms without attracting trouble for the whole House.”
“We could do with some of those Shield Cloaks from Fred and George,” said Michael ruefully.
“I haven’t got much of their stuff,” Ginny said honestly. “Skiving Snackboxes and Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder…oh, and half a box of Decoy Detonators.”
“That’ll do for now,” Neville said. “We’re going to set the prefects together. They’ll be responsible for keeping any teachers on guard away from the route to the Great Hall.”
“Seventh years are on tomorrow night,” said Ernie.
“Malfoy,” Ginny muttered darkly.
Neville nodded. “Right. So…it’ll be Malfoy and Parkinson, me and Parvati, Ernie and Hannah, and Anthony and Padma. In that case, I’d like those last three pairs to stick together and be in charge of creating the distractions. Anyone whose name wasn’t in there, pick a partner not in your House.”
Susan looked at Michael Corner, who nodded agreeably, while Terry and Lavender exchanged nods. That left Seamus with Luna, who gave him a vague smile, and—
“What about Ginny?” Parvati asked.
Ginny had been so absorbed in watching everyone else that she had not noticed she was left partnerless. She swallowed. “I’ll keep a lookout. I’ll get everyone in and out of the entrance hall while the rest of you are running decoys and keeping the teachers busy.”
“By yourself?” Neville asked. “I don’t think—”
“I can do it,” Ginny insisted. She felt a little thrill of excitement at the very idea. “I’ll lead everyone to the Great Hall and keep watch while they write on the walls.”
“Without being seen?” he asked.
“Trust me.” She looked around, hoping for someone to give her a vote of confidence.
“She can do it,” said Ernie suddenly. “If there’s anyone I’d want running lookout, it’s Ginny.”
“Yeah, Neville,” said Parvati. “Let her do it.”
Ginny blushed, but looked hopefully at him.
“All right,” Neville said at last. “Let’s do it.”
The next day passed in a blur of excitement for Ginny, but unlike the day they had broken into Snape’s office, the anticipation was not colored with fear. She behaved herself to previously unheard-of degrees, smiling in a sickly way at Alecto Carrow’s face all through her double Muggle Studies lesson, and chuckled to herself at the thought of what Fred and George would say if they could see how amiable she was when Amycus threatened her entire class with a detention for not sitting down quickly enough. She bolted down just enough dinner to keep her alert for the rest of the evening and ran up to Gryffindor Tower. Parvati and Lavender were waiting for her.
“Do you have the Decoy Detonators?” Parvati asked.
Ginny threw open her trunk, rummaging around the bottom beneath her spare robes. “Yes—here.” She thrust the brightly colored box into Parvati’s hands and kept digging, producing a second box. “And here, Lavender. This is called Indelible Ink. You’re to give this to everybody else going into the Great Hall. Make sure they don’t spill it on themselves, it’s permanent. It stains your skin and the Blemish Remover won’t work on it for twenty-four hours, so it’d be an easy way to get caught.”
“Right,” Lavender said seriously.
Ginny sat back on her heels, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “We want all of this done in under ten minutes.”
“We know,” Parvati assured her. “It’s going to be fine.”
Ginny nodded distractedly, staring into the depths of her trunk.
“Er…okay…come on, Lav, let’s find Seamus and Neville,” said Parvati. She closed the door behind them as Ginny continued to sit on the floor. She reached numb fingers into her pocket, feeling for the only object she carried with her at all times besides her enchanted Galleon and wand. It was a photograph of Harry—the one she had torn from the Daily Prophet weeks ago. She smoothed it out in her lap. He blinked sheepishly up at her, and she smiled. They were going to make him proud.
Resolved, Ginny reached into her trunk, pulled out her last small amount of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, and tucked it into her pocket with the photograph, and hurried off to the boys’ dormitory. When she entered, Ginny’s heart constricted. She had seen this room before, when five people had lived in it. Now, it was down to Seamus and Neville—Parvati and Lavender sat on the end of Seamus’s bed. Ginny’s eyes lingered for a moment on the beds she knew had been Harry’s and Ron’s. Dean’s West Ham football poster was gone from the wall, and like in Ginny’s dormitory, the empty spaces took up more room than the occupants.
“Our duty starts in an hour, at eight.” Neville said, drawing her out of her reverie. “You’ll signal us at exactly eleven, Ginny. I’ve sent everyone else the message to meet in the Room of Requirement before then.”
Seamus had taken the inkbottle from Lavender. “This is brilliant,” he said. “Tell your brothers from me they’re the greatest.” Ginny grinned.
“All right, all right, let’s focus,” Neville said, sounding harassed.
Parvati laid a hand on his arm. “Neville, it’s going to be fine. We’ve got it planned down to the minute.”
Neville met Ginny’s eyes nervously, and she knew that he was thinking of their break-in to Snape’s office as well. “That’s what worries me.”
The five of them went downstairs and arranged themselves in would-be casual positions around the common room. Ginny sat down at a table with Seamus and opened a textbook, trying to focus on her essay for Professor Sprout on the Venomous Tentacula. At five minutes to eight, Parvati and Neville left the common room without looking back at Ginny or anyone else.
When the portrait hole swung shut, Seamus caught her eye and grinned. “Got the flyers?”
She nodded, not looking up from her work, but lifting aside one of her books to reveal the stack of her printed newsletters, all signed with: Dumbledore’s Army, Still Recruiting.
“You have to be careful tonight,” she said under her breath, as a group of fourth years passed by.
“So do you.”
Ginny shrugged. “They haven’t left me bleeding and tied to a tree.”
“Ouch, Weasley,” Seamus laughed. She stared at him seriously. “Okay. Don’t get worked up.”
Two hours crawled by. Mercifully, thanks to the early curfew, the common room was empty by half past ten.
“Okay, we’ll go together,” Ginny said to Lavender and Seamus. “Quiet as you can, all right?” They clambered out of the portrait hole, past the snoozing Fat Lady, who barely twitched as they scarpered out of sight down the corridor.
It was only a few minutes to the Room of Requirement, and they were greeted by Terry, Michael, Susan, and Luna. Lavender showed everyone the Indelible Ink, and Ginny approached Luna.
“Sure you know how to do this?” she asked.
“We’ll know when I try,” Luna answered brightly, drawing her wand. “Lavender, you’re first.” Lavender, looking a little apprehensive, came to join them. Holding her tongue between her teeth, Luna rapped Lavender hard on top of the head with her wand.
Little by little, Lavender began to blend in with the bookshelf behind her, and Ginny knew that the Disillusionment Charm had worked.
“Wow,” said Seamus, staring somewhere around Lavender’s neck. “She’s gone.”
“Brilliant, Luna, really great,” Ginny said, patting her shoulder.
“That’s weird!” said Michael. “Are you really going to show us how to do that?”
“If you’d like,” Luna said amiably. She looked at her watch. “We’d better pair off. It’s nearly eleven.”
Ginny reached into her pocket and pulled out her Galleon. She tapped it with her wand, and it glowed brighter, radiating heat, until it said: READY. Luna was moving down the line, Disillusioning people.
“Good work,” said Ginny when she had finished with Seamus. “I’ll do yours.”
Luna faced her and closed her eyes. Ginny concentrated and raised her wand—a moment later, Luna had melted into her surroundings. “How peculiar,” said her voice. “Lovely work, Ginny.”
Ginny nodded in a satisfied way. She was not going to be Disillusioned; she had to be able to provide silent signals for the others. This was risky, but it was the best plan she had been able to come up with. Everyone else was searching for their partners.
“Lavender, where are—oh, there—”
“Oi, hands off, Boot,” said Michael’s disgruntled voice.
“Seamus, are you there?” asked Luna.
“Ouch, Luna, that was my foot!”
It was a bizarre sight—or lack thereof. Finally, at precisely five minutes after eleven, with everyone properly paired off, Ginny felt the coin in her pocket heat up again. She pulled it out and consulted it. Neville’s message was short: GO.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s move. I’ll lead—watch for my signals, and don’t get ahead of me.”
Quietly, she opened the door and slipped out into the corridor, ducking behind a suit of armor. A moment later, she saw the door shut.
“Ready,” she whispered.
“Check,” said Luna. “All clear.”
Very slowly and calmly, Ginny began to walk down the hall, aware of the six people quietly tiptoeing behind her. She hugged the shadows; once she had asked Tonks about her training to become an Auror, and that had been her advice—people look away from the dark because they don’t want anything to be there. All the same, Ginny gave a nervous swallow, the memory of her attempt to steal the sword of Gryffindor searing through her brain. They met no one as they crept down six floors to the entrance hall, which was dark but for a few flickering torches. Moonlight streamed across the floor, illuminating the open doors to the Great Hall.
“Good luck,” she whispered, feeling six people brush past her. “You’ve got seven minutes.”
When she was satisfied that she was alone, Ginny hid herself behind one of the statues that flanked the doors and watched the great marble staircase for any signs of life. She looked down at her watch, hardly daring to move. The group inside had four more minutes.
Suddenly, on the upper landing of the sweeping staircase, there appeared two figures, dimly lit by the torchlight.
One of them gave a sudden sneeze; it was Neville, giving Ginny the signal that all was clear. That meant that the other figure had to be Parvati.
Ginny didn’t peek out from her hiding place, just in case, but she was beside herself with excitement. The other prefects were keeping the teachers busy, and all was going right. She looked down at her watch. There were only thirty seconds left…
Suddenly, a cold hand seized hers.
Ginny nearly screamed; she had not been expecting Luna to come so close to her. Heart hammering, she muttered, “Everyone here?”
She felt Luna squeeze her hand again—yes.
“Follow me,” Ginny whispered. She crept out of her hiding space, keeping an eye on Neville and Parvati, who were ambling away from the upper landing casually, their backs to Ginny.
Clinging to the shadows, she followed Neville and Parvati, leading the way down the corridor. They turned a corner, and she stopped, waiting, holding her breath—Neville sneezed. Ginny nodded and crept forward.
Ginny’s heart stopped. She spun about, her eyes darting all over the corridor for the Disillusioned people behind her.
“Scatter!” she hissed, and a moment later, she heard the soft rustling that she knew meant Luna and the others had run off. Ginny looked around—the nearest hiding space was behind an enormous vase, halfway down the hall.
“What’re you up to?”
Alecto Carrow’s voice was alarmingly close. Ginny bolted, reaching the alcove as she heard Parvati and Neville’s footsteps heading down her corridor. She jammed herself behind the vase and froze in a crouch, not even daring to breathe.
“We’re finishing our patrol, Professor,” said Parvati’s voice. They were much closer now, but Ginny couldn’t chance a peek to see just how close.
“Ya should’ve finished this floor,” Alecto said suspiciously.
“Er—” Parvati stammered.
“We did this floor last, Professor,” said Neville firmly. “We nearly forgot about it.”
Ginny closed her eyes, holding her breath. She didn’t move. There were several beats of silence.
“Get on with ya, then, on with ya,” Alecto said coldly. “And mind it don’t happen again.”
“Right—sorry, Professor,” said Parvati. A moment later, Ginny heard the sound of hers and Neville’s departure.
She sucked in her breath further, hoping Alecto would leave soon, and not inspect the corridor. Ginny didn’t dare move for almost a full five minutes, straining her ears for the slightest noise—Alecto seemed to be pacing back and forth.
A moment later, however, she heard the sound of Alecto’s footsteps stumping away down the corridor. Nonetheless, she did not move for another five minutes, emerging only when the lighted torches in the corridor had dimmed, signaling an end to the prefects’ duties.
Quickly and silently as she could manage it, Ginny darted for the nearest staircase and rushed up seven flights to the corridor that would take her to Gryffindor Tower.
“—Want to go with you!”
Ginny nearly gasped in fright—she would recognize that voice anywhere.
“How many different ways do I have to tell you I’m not interested in taking you?” Draco Malfoy hissed angrily.
“Draco,” Pansy’s voice whined.
The voices were coming closer, from just around the corner of the corridor where Ginny now stood. She looked all around for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere in sight. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest—her only choice was to run as far from Draco and Pansy as she could.
“If I’m only getting one trip to Hogsmeade out of the Carrows, then it’s hardly likely that I’d take you, now is it?” said Malfoy coldly.
Ginny bolted, sprinting off down the corridor, looking for anywhere she could hide.
“Is this about Daphne Greengrass’ sister?” Pansy demanded angrily. She and Malfoy had rounded the corner, but Ginny was far ahead, already turned down a new hallway. “That little—”
“Shut up, Pansy,” Malfoy said suddenly.
“Don’t talk to me like that!” said Pansy, her voice rising hysterically. “Why are you—?”
“I said shut up—I think I heard something.”
Ginny froze, looking wildly around for somewhere to hide. The closest place she could even hope of reaching was the Room of Requirement, at the end of the corridor. She could still hear Malfoy and Pansy behind her, ready to turn the corner and stumble across her. Without thinking for another moment, Ginny took off, reaching the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy in seconds.
Let me in! she thought desperately, pacing rapidly before the blank stretch of wall three times—and then the door appeared.
“I don’t see anything, Draco, come on!”
Malfoy and Pansy had appeared, just as Ginny flung open the door. She leapt through into the darkened room and closed the door quietly as possible, crouched beside the handle with her ear pressed against the wood.
“There’s nothing here, Draco! We should have been back ten minutes ago,” Pansy’s voice whined. There were several beats of silence, and Ginny could almost see Malfoy’s pale eyes narrowed suspiciously at the blank wall where he knew the Room of Requirement ought to be. Oh, why hadn’t she remembered that he knew where it was?
“Fine,” he said at last. “Let’s go.”
Ginny listened to their retreating footsteps and breathed a sigh of relief. Then, a pair of hands seized her shoulders, and she started to scream—and then a hand clapped over her mouth, cutting her off. She kicked and stomped her assailant’s feet, fighting to get away—
“Ginny! Ow! Ouch, you lunatic, it’s me! Lumos!”
“Neville,” she gasped, as a wand tip ignited, revealing that she had taken refuge inside the D.A.’s darkened practice room. Neville stood before her, panting as he held his wand aloft.
“Who did you think it was?” he demanded.
She shook her head. “You’re supposed to be back in the common room.”
“Parvati and Lavender helped me sneak out,” he explained. “I’d heard back from everyone but you that they got safely to their common rooms, and I thought you might’ve been caught after Carrow cornered me and Parvati. I…” he blushed, looking down at his feet. “I wanted to…help you. If…you know…you needed it.”
Ginny was feeling rather hot around the collar. “There’s not much you could’ve done,” she said, annoyed. “Now you’ve put yourself in more danger, coming here instead of just waiting for me.”
“How was I supposed to know?” he asked, sounding hurt. He pulled his Galleon out of his pocket. “You’re supposed to send a message if you get into trouble—you especially!” Then he paused, stammering for a moment. “I—I mean, you were the only one who wasn’t Disillusioned! You could’ve taken the fall for the whole thing! What would they have done if they’d caught you?”
“Well, they didn’t, Neville, and in case you haven’t noticed, I can handle myself,” Ginny snapped.
“Right, that’s why you ended up here instead of Gryffindor Tower!” Neville retorted.
“That wasn’t my fault!” she burst out. “Malfoy and Parkinson were out-of-bounds after duties ended, hanging out next to the Fat Lady! I would’ve been fine if they hadn’t been there! Merlin’s pants—I’m not a first year! You’ve got some awful idea that I’ll just up and expire on the floor if I’m not holding someone’s hand for safety!”
“No, I don’t,” Neville said quietly.
“Are you sure? Because sometimes you act like I’m made of glass,” she answered, now feeling hot tears sting her eyes. “And I can ignore it, because I’m used to it—that’s what I’ve got brothers for. Hell, that’s what I’ve got Harry for, half the time, but when I’m doing things that I’m more than capable of dealing with on my own—that will only get more complicated when I have a handler,” she spat at him, “I really kind of hate it.” Feeling tears fill her eyes to her great fury, she turned away from Neville and marched over to a chair that had appeared, sitting down.
He was quiet for several moments, unmoving. “That’s why I took you to the ball, you know.”
Ginny hastily wiped a tear from her cheek. “What?”
“I took you to the Yule Ball because you were a lot more independent than I was,” said Neville. “You were a lot tougher than people saw. It’s why I liked you. It’s…it’s why I do like you.”
It felt as though a hand had seized Ginny’s lungs and started squeezing. “Neville,” she said. “I—I know…he’s not here…but—I’m with Harry.”
Neville was staring at the floor. He nodded. “I know. That doesn’t stop it—how I feel, I mean, but I get it. Well—I sort of do,” he said. Then he sighed. “I’m sorry I’ve got us in danger tonight. You’re right, this was my fault, you could’ve gotten back on your own.”
Ginny folded her arms uncomfortably. “It’s not that big of a deal,” she said. “Come on, we should—”
“I’m sorry I tried to kiss you, too,” he said. He came over to where she sat. “I shouldn’t have done it.”
Ginny sighed and stood, arms still crossed. She looked up at Neville. “You definitely shouldn’t have,” she agreed. “But you did.”
“I’m really sor—”
Ginny held up a warning hand. “Worse things have happened. That’s it. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.” Neville nodded, still looking morose, and she gave him a smile. “Really, Neville, it’s okay.” He gave a slight grin. “Let’s get back to the common room before another patrol comes our way,” she said, striding to the door and placing a hand on the knob. She paused, turning back to Neville. “Oh—you probably shouldn’t try anything like that again, though. You’re my friend, but I will absolutely hex you.”