"Lessee… and next Tuesday I'll get caught in a house-elf riot in the kitchens, and be trampled to within an inch of my life."
"Good call, Ron, Hermione'll be proud."
"Shaddup, you, concentrate on that quidditch accident you're having on Thursday. Why'd we decide to take this class again, anyway?"
Ron hunched over his parchment, quill scratching noisily as he put the finishing touches on his divination homework. Astonishingly enough, he and Harry had both scored O's on their Divination O.W.L.s – which effectively locked them into another year of putting up with Trelawny. Ron tossed his quill down and leaned over to look at Harry's assignment.
"Oy, you've still got three days left! Slacking off, aren't you, Potter?" Ron smirked.
"You swiped my lethifold idea!" Harry protested irritably. "That's the only reason I'm coming up short!"
"Oh, just throw something in about You-Know-Who and she'll eat it up," Ron said airily.
Harry stiffened. "No," he bit out shortly. "Don't joke."
Ron flushed. "Aw, you know I didn't mean anything by it, Harry. There haven't been any attacks all year. Maybe he's gone into hiding again."
"And maybe he's just waiting for the right moment," Harry muttered angrily. "Like Halloween, or Christmas. Lovely Christmas present, wouldn't you think? A nice big Dark Mark over Hogsmeade?"
Now it was Ron's turn to blanch. "Okay, I won't joke anymore. You don't think he'd really attack Hogsmeade, do you, Harry?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but a soft thump from the girls' staircase brought him up short. His head jerked around warily; this particular conversation didn't need eavesdroppers.
"Who's there?" Ron asked hoarsely. "Hermione – is that you?"
There was no answer, but a small red-haired figure emerged from the staircase, ignoring Ron and Harry as she shuffled across the carpet.
"Ginny!" Ron gasped, relieved. "Don't sneak up like that, Gin, you gave us as scare."
Ginny didn't answer; she didn't even spare him a glance as she moved from one armchair to another, patting each one experimentally on the back as she passed. The expression on her face was blank, and Harry felt his stomach drop suddenly.
"Ron," Harry said urgently, "I don't think Ginny's awake just now."
"What?" Ron exclaimed. "She's not – she's sleepwalking again? How can you tell?"
"Ron, look at her face," Harry said, exasperated. "Does she look awake to you?"
Ginny's eyes swept over them blankly, not registering their presence. Ron shivered. "No… no, I see what you mean. Bit spooky, isn't it?"
"You've never seen her do this before?" Harry asked.
"'Course not. I've always been asleep when she went out for a stroll. Mum told me about it, of course, but I've never actually seen it myself. You have, then?"
"Yeah – one night at the Burrow. She tried to break through the window—" Harry stopped, suddenly, his eyes widening. "Ron – we're not exactly on the first floor here. Check the windows, quick!"
The two boys darted to the arched windows that lined part of the common room wall. They hurriedly checked that the latches were fastened. Harry watched Ginny warily; the last thing they needed was for her to try to throw herself out of Gryffindor Tower.
"What's she doing?" Ron whispered, watching his sister make her way aimlessly around the common room.
"Looking for something, I think," Harry answered. "Your mum said she was trying to get out at home – maybe she thinks she's back at the Burrow, and is confused."
"Well, she's not jumping out any windows, that's for sure," Ron said fervently, his eyes still trained on Ginny. "Can you imagine the Howler I'd get from Mum then?"
Ginny paused by the couches, a frown creasing her face, and turned her unseeing stare around the common room. The two boys held their breath as her gaze passed over them, but she paid them no attention. Instead her eyes lit on the portrait hole, and her expression suddenly cleared.
"Ron, she's leaving the Tower!" Harry cried, suddenly understanding her intention. "We have to stop her, there's no telling where she'll go if she leaves the Tower!"
"How?" Ron asked. "Do we wake her up or something?"
"No – no, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to wake up a sleepwalker," Harry answered. "Your mum just sort of – guided her back to her room. Took her elbow and talked to her really quietly, and led her back up to bed."
"I'm not going up into the girls' dormitory," Ron protested. "Do you have any idea how much trouble we'd get into if those alarms went off? And that slide?"
"Would you rather let Ginny get loose in the castle?" Harry pointed out. "You're her brother, Ron, and a prefect besides. No one's going to yell at you for putting your sister safely back in her room – or at least getting her started in the right direction."
Ron looked uncomfortable. "But – but what am I supposed to DO, exactly? You're the one that saw Mum deal with her last time, not me! What if I wake her up? What if she won't be led? You're coming, too, Potter, I'm not doing this alone."
"Fine!" Harry muttered. "Just take one of her arms, and lead her back to the staircase. Hopefully she'll take the hint – I'd rather not brave those alarms if I don't have to."
The two boys advanced cautiously on Ginny, who was lurching blindly toward the portrait hole. Harry reached her first, and tucked one hand under her elbow.
Ginny whirled on him suddenly, her expression panicked. "Don't touch me!" she cried hoarsely, looking through him with that eerie half-awake expression, defiance lacing her alarm.
Startled, Harry took a step backward, letting go of Ginny's arm. "Ginny?"
"No, Tom – don't touch me! Stay back, leave me alone, you can't hurt me anymore… I'll hex you, Tom… don't touch…"
Ron threw an arm around Ginny's shoulders, and she buried her face in her brother's chest, refusing to look at Harry. Numb with shock, Harry met Ron's eyes over her head. They stared at each other for a long moment, and Harry retreated backwards a few more steps.
The portrait swung open without warning, and Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore stepped into the Gryffindor common room.
"Mr. Weasley… Mr. Potter… I see you've apprehended our wayward young fifth year for us. Well done." Professor Dumbledore smiled benignly down at them.
"Professor! She – she won't let me near her!" Harry cried. "She called me Tom!" He bit his lip, and wondered why it bothered him so much. He wasn't like Tom Riddle – he wasn't!
"Minerva, perhaps you should escort Mr. Weasley upstairs to put his sister back to bed – with the appropriate alarms disabled, of course," Dumbledore continued, ignoring Harry's outburst. "A dreamless sleep potion might be in order, as well. We'll speak to Madame Pomfrey when we get Miss Weasley settled."
Professor McGonagall nodded curtly, and herded Ron and Ginny up the stairs to the girls' dormitory. Harry watched them go, dismay still clearly written on his face.
"We've had wards placed on Miss Weasley's bed and dorm room this term, of course," Dumbledore said conversationally, jerking Harry out of his thoughts. "She sets them off anytime she crosses them while not fully conscious. It lets us know she's left her room at night. And the Fat Lady has promised to take note of any nighttime wanderings this year, so she can report to Professor McGonagall the instant Miss Weasley leaves the Tower. It was rather fortunate that you and Mr. Weasley were still awake, however – I don't know how far Miss Weasley might have gotten before we could get here."
"Professor – why did she call me Tom?" Harry pressed, still upset. "I don't look much like him – why did Ginny mistake me for Riddle?"
Dumbledore looked down at him. "You do have dark hair, Harry. I expect that's the only thing Miss Weasley really saw at the moment – one tends to get a bit shortsighted during nightmares, you know. I expect she was very focused on Tom Riddle, and saw who she expected to see. That doesn't mean she links you to Tom Riddle consciously, Harry – just that you look a little bit like him, and that's enough to frighten her in her unbalanced state."
"Unbalanced?" Harry echoed uneasily.
"Yes, Harry – Ginny's not in control when she's sleepwalking. She sees what she expects to see, and nothing more. I wouldn't worry too much about her mistaking you for Tom Riddle," Dumbledore said gently. "I expect when she's awake, she knows that you're nothing like Voldemort."
Dumbledore smiled benignly and gave Harry a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "You should get some sleep, Harry. Ginny won't be wandering any more tonight, I assure you."
With a last reluctant look toward the girls' dormitories, Harry sighed and began to climb the stairs to his own room.
He wasn't like Tom Riddle. And Ginny, of all people, should know that.