Neville had hurried back toward the castle, his mind reeling, thoughts coming in fast-forward like a videotape in a faulty VCR. He hadn’t noticed crossing the threshold of the Entrance Hall. He hadn’t registered passing the Great Hall, where a few students were still finishing their dinner. He couldn’t even remember coming up to find the others in the library. Yet there he had ended up, and now he was following in the wake of Harry Potter, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood as they sped through the hallways toward the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.
“Did he say what he was after, Neville?” Hermione asked, almost jogging to keep up with the longer strides of the males as she brought up the rear, at Neville’s elbow.
“Yeah. Harry dead.” Neville shuddered. “He says they’ve got my gran, and they’ll kill her.”
“They’re probably lying,” Hermione said soothingly. “Your grandmother is a very vocal witch, in constant contact with the Ministry. Her disappearance would not have gone unnoticed.”
“He might have been taken by the Sneaking Arch-Parasite,” Luna offered. “No one would have noticed him.”
Any other day everyone’s eyes would be rolling about now, but for once Neville seemed to take her words seriously.
“Not helping, Luna,” Harry tossed back over his shoulder. Just behind and to his right, Seamus asked, a note of trepidation evident in his voice, “What are we going to do, Harry?”
“Take him in,” was the blunt answer. “Let the Ministry get out of him what they can. Might lead them to Voldemort.” At the back of the group, Hermione realised that when he said ‘they’, he really meant ‘me’. He was still driven to go and find the Dark Lord himself, and she secretly suspected that he would try and leave her and Ron behind, no matter how much they might try and dissuade him.
“What did I miss?” Logan Ozbourne asked as he rounded a corner and fell into step beside Harry. He was wearing a new jacket, and the blood and scars he had had the last time they had spoke were gone. He still had the faint sterile smell of hospital on him, and Harry immediately knew that was where he had been.
“We’ve found Votari,” Harry answered, not looking at the taller teenager. “We’re going to apprehend him and wait ‘til the Ministry arrives.”
Logan nodded. “Have you alerted them?”
“Not yet,” Harry shrugged. Slowing to a halt, he turned to Hermione. “Hermione, would you mind taking care of it?”
The look on her face told Harry that his plan to keep her busy wasn’t going to work. She stepped forward, looking more incredulous with each step. “You want me to go send an owl while you go fight a dark wizard? You don’t have to keep me safe, Harry! I can take of myself!” She spat the last words, no further than an inch from Harry’s face.
“I know you can,” he said quietly. “But there’s no way I’m letting you get hurt. Ron would never forgive me.” He turned to walk away but the hand on his arm made him reconsider his plan of action. Logan looked ready to step in should he be needed to break something up. Seamus looked concerned. Neville and Luna seemed to be in a different place entirely, and Dean looked as if he should have brought popcorn.
“I’m not afraid,” she said with a low voice that was full of venom. Unexpectedly, Harry placed his hand on top of hers and gave it a small squeeze. “I know you’re not, but you’re the brains here. If we don’t come back, at least you can figure out something else. Please, go take care of the owl,” he implored. For a moment Hermione’s mouth hung open, but then she turned her eyes to the side and reluctantly nodded.
“Thank you,” Harry whispered, voice full of relief. He turned to Logan. “Take her to the Astronomy Tower when she’s done,” he requested. “You’ll be safe up there.”
“I can help you,” Logan said.
“Help her,” Harry replied, as the other four males and Luna headed off into the dark corridor, leaving them alone.
Before they went much further, Harry turned to Luna. “Luna?”
“Hmmm?” Luna seemed distracted, but then that was nothing new.
“Can you go up to the hospital wing and keep an eye on Ron? I don’t want him doing anything stupid if he finds out about all this.”
“You want me out of the way too, don’t you?” The Ravenclaw asked, eyebrows disappearing under her messy blonde fringe. With anyone else Harry might have tried sparing feelings, but he had a strange feeling that it wouldn’t bother Luna too much either way. “Yes,” he said simply.
“Okay. Bye,” she said as casually as she would at the end of a trip to the park, and skipped off in the opposite direction. Harry, Neville, Dean and Seamus exchanged a quick look that only Luna could elicit, then continued toward their fateful destination.
Ron paced back and forth between the beds, trying to think of some way he could get out of the medical wing without being stunned or being forced to serve time in Azkaban. Nothing seems to come to mind, until he heard the door swing open and Luna Lovegood stepped out of the shadows.
“Hello, Ron,” she said cheerfully.
Surprised didn’t quite do it justice, but Ron was willing to go with that assessment of his frame of mind. “Alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you,” Luna spoke serenely as she fingered her wand. “Thought you’d like some company.”
“Is that why you’ve got your wand out?” The two slowly circled each other, neither willing to make the first move that both knew was coming.
“Ooh, are we going to duel now?” Luna asked, sounding excited. “I expect you’ll win. I’m not very good at it. I do hope that Madam Pomfrey doesn’t come back before you finish, or you’ll be in trouble, I would think.”
“She’s gone?” Ron asked.
Luna nodded cheerfully, her platinum hair shaking violently. “I told her that Professor McGonagall needed to see her. I thought that was clever of me.”
Ron nodded, trying to conceal his intent. With the old hag gone, he could finally bust out of here, find Hermione and save her from his nightmares… from Logan. Only one thing now stood in his way, and she was staring right at him.
“Luna, I need you to step aside and not tell anyone I’ve gone,” he uttered, trying to sound threatening.
Unfortunately, Luna shook her head. “I’m sorry, but Harry told me to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. And he’s been so nice to me, I’d hate to let him down.”
His patience waning, Ron’s mind screamed DUELAGO! The silvery blade erupted from the end of his wand, its corona a faint blue. “I won’t ask again, Luna,” he said desperately, stepping towards the door slowly.
Yet she moved to her side and blocked his path, her own blade leaping to life. “Neither will I.”
In a flash Ron’s blade came crashing down toward her head. Sidestepping the blow, Luna swung her wand at Ron’s midsection, but his own dodge to the side negated the threat. Her stance now open, she was unable to convincingly block his next swing, so she improvised by slashing it down towards the floor.
Ron stepped around her, blocking her knee-height swipes before turning and swinging his sword-arm around in a blind hack at her head. She ducked, sending him careening off to the side, where he stumbled away from her as she advanced.
“Why do you need to get out of here so bad?” Luna asked, her tone casual, as if making conversation with someone she was in an elevator with.
Ron raised his wand-blade over his head, ready to strike. “You wouldn’t understand.” With that, he stepped forward and attacked Luna’s high block. It crumpled under his power, and she staggered back. In a deft swoop, Ron turned and thrust his blade backwards.
A sharp intake of breath, and the sound of a body slowly collapsing to the floor, sent a sharp chill through Ron’s heart. He quickly extinguished the blade, and bent down to feel for her pulse. It was steady and she was breathing. Good, it was just a stun.
He lifted her carefully onto the nearest hospital bed and tenderly placed his hand on top of hers briefly.
“I’m sorry, Luna,” he whispered before turning to the door, exiting, and breaking into a run.
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