I was barely a foot inside the common room when Ernie pounced.
"Where have you been? What's going on?"
"What do you-"
He pulled me further in, to the corner of the room, and suddenly Susan was at his side. "Don't play dumb with us, Hannah Abbott!" she warned, and as she did, Ernie pulled out his DA coin, holding it up for me to see. The message I'd sent to warn Ginny, Neville, and Luna that Snape was going to his office - I hadn't just sent it to them. The whole of Dumbledore's Army must have seen it.
"I... I can't tell you!" I sighed, unable to bring myself to lie to them anymore.
"Hannah, if they're about to get caught anyway, then we're going to find out." Ernie reasoned.
I still hesitated, "Then... you can wait."
"Hannah," Susan hissed snippily, grabbing hold of my arm so that I couldn't walk off. "If we've been used as bait, then we deserve to know-"
"You haven't been used, it- it wasn't like that!" I sighed.
"Michael and Terry nearly got caught, you know," Ernie informed me gravely. "Michael's shirt got caught on the corner of a desk, Terry went to help him... Filch must've only seen the back of their heads, but he was really close to catching them."
"Are they okay?" I asked immediately.
"Fine," Ernie shook his head dismissively. "Everybody did fantastically. Although apparently not well enough to keep you guys safe..."
"What happened, Hannah?" Susan asked, and there was a twinge of gentle desperation to her voice, almost a plead.
"I... I... oh, not here!" I finally conceded, glancing back at the entrance of the common room as if expecting to see Neville walk in and dramatically accuse me of ultimate betrayal. But Ernie was right; they were going to find out anyway soon enough.
Susan and Ernie exchanged a triumphant grin and, ignoring the oddly lonely sensation that struck me at that point, I followed them to Ernie's otherwise empty dormitory. They sat together on his bed, but I, feeling endlessly restless, paced at the foot of the bed, wondering where to start.
So I told them. I gave them all the information I had been given, only omitting the more personal parts about me being part of their team and them not wanting me to include anyone else. I didn't think that Ernie - who, as much as I loved him, had always been the type of person who craved inclusion and hated being left out more than anybody I knew - would appreciate that. When I finished recounting what had happened as far as I knew that very night, there followed a pause in which I couldn't bring myself to properly look at either of them. I felt guilty for having kept this secret from them, but possibly even more guilty for telling them now.
"So, do you think they got it?" Ernie eventually asked. "The sword, I mean."
I looked down at my hand, at the coin I'd hardly been aware of clutching for the past half an hour, and sighed. "I don't know," I said quietly, then turned my gaze to Ernie and Susan. "But if they did, and they got out, then they'd have to be miracle workers - Snape was heading right for them."
Ernie nodded understandingly, and I dropped down onto his bed with a faint smile, pleased that they both seemed satisfied with what I had told them. My voice was beginning to wear thin by then, and all the stress and the emotions of the night had begun to catch up with me, but I tried to shrug the weariness off to ask what had happened at their end.
"Like Ernie said, everyone did really well, from what we saw," Susan responded, although she seemed a little distracted. I assumed she was still trying to process everything I had just told her. "They reacted just like Ginny said they would."
"Yeah, and we definitely need to write a thank you note or something to Fred and George," Ernie smirked. "That darkness powder stuff was perfect for the job."
"Michael and Terry didn't seem at all worried about nearly getting caught," added Susan. "Michael just said something about never liking that shirt anyway - we only saw them briefly before we came back here."
"Probably the adrenaline. Hey, you know who surprised me tonight?" Ernie suddenly said, turning to Susan. "Lavender Brown. Did you see her? I never expected her to be so focused and determined like that."
"Well, Parvati was one of the people in detention, wasn't she?" I pointed out. "Parvati has been Lavender's best friend for years. I'd probably react the same way if either of you had ever been in trouble."
Ernie grinned, and Susan put her hand over mine, giving me a slightly watery smile. There was another small silence, and then when Susan spoke, her hand was back in her lap with its pair, and she was gazing at them intently.
"Do you... do you think the Carrows will know anything about Justin?"
Ernie and I looked immediately to each other, both of us with mouths slightly agape, and I wondered if my face suddenly looked as pale as his. I felt sick. I thought about this often, as I'm sure the two of them did too, but none of us had ever said anything like that out loud in front of each other before. We all knew that it was unlikely that the Carrows would know of him unless they were about to catch him or if... if they already had...
But before I could even begin to fathom a reply, one of the other boys from Ernie's dorm stumbled in. There was a rough red patch under one of his eyes, a mostly healed injury from the last time Amycus had been in a bad mood. Thank Merlin that the next day would be a Saturday, because neither Carrow would likely be in a particularly cheery mood.
Susan and I climbed off Ernie's bed and he followed suit, giving us each a hug goodnight. This was new; as affectionate and tactile as my friendship with Ernie was, he and Susan had always been sort of pushed together as friends by myself and Justin. Clearly, the evening's events - and possibly the fact that I had been spending more time with other people - had brought them closer together.
"It sounds like you did great tonight, Han." Ernie murmured into my hair as he hugged me.
"That's because you heard the story from my point of view." I replied, a little jokily, although in reality, in the process of recounting the story, I had convinced myself that there was more I could have done.
But apparently sleep wasn't on the agenda that night. Susan and I had gone straight from Ernie's dorm to our own and gotten changed in silence, then lay flat, sleepless, in our adjacent beds, as we listened to everybody else go up to bed. It was a while before I heard Susan's breathing pattern change and deepen into slumber, and I was left alone to worry.
I rolled onto my side and stared at the DA coin that sat on my bedside table. It still hadn't changed. I had no idea what had happened to Neville, Ginny, and Luna; if they escaped or been caught, if they had Gryffindor's sword or not. My head was swimming with what more I could have done, ways that I could have delayed Snape further or distracted him from going back to his office.
It barely felt a second after I had closed my eyes when I was opening them the next morning. I lay still and listening to Megan shuffling about, fussing with make-up and perfecting her hair. I never understood why she bothered - we all saw each other everyday anyway, sloping about in our uniforms on our best and predominantly worst hair days.
I made a small, involuntary groaning sound and lifted my covers over my head, but a hand stopped me, and I looked up to see Megan's dark hair hanging over me.
"Don't go back to sleep," she said shortly. Megan had never liked me, and liked Susan even less (although we were never quite sure why) but even though she wasn't a particularly good friend, I couldn't say she wasn't a good dormmate. "You'd better get up or you'll miss breakfast. Everybody else has already gone down."
I mumbled my thanks, but didn't move until she had gone. Then I slowly tore myself from my bed and rose unsteadily to my feet. I was usually very good in the morning, but apparently my lack of sleep the night before had left me pretty lethargic and, even though we didn't always wait for each other, I couldn't help but feel a little annoyed that Susan and just left me.
So, very much struggling for any hope of a good mood, I got changed, shoving my DA coin and my wand into my pockets, and sloped off on my own, my feet leading me automatically to the Great Hall. The morning air felt colder than usual, curiously thinner with the halls so empty; but I was pleased that I didn't have to force a smile until I was heading for the Hufflepuff table, trying my best to shrug away my grogginess.
But as I slipped down into the seat beside Ernie, offering him a distracted greeting, I brightened very slightly as I noticed that Neville, Ginny, and Luna weren't chained up at the front or something, but rather together at the Gryffindor table, the latter sporting a bright blue jumper patterned with - what appeared to be - a mural of grindylows. Was it possible that they hadn't been caught? Was it possible, even, that they had managed to escape with the sword?
"Are you okay, Hannah?" Ernie asked, looking at me slightly anxiously.
"Me? Yeah, I'm... fine, yeah," I shrugged, a little confused. "A bit tired, but... fine, thanks. Why?"
Ernie cast a brief glance over to the opposite side of the table, where Susan sat, wearing the same puzzlingly concerned expression as Ernie. I shifted a little guiltily for not noticing her before, tucking my hair behind my ear. She looked just as tired as I felt.
"I tried to wake you up earlier," she said warily, tapping her fingernail on the handle of her teacup. "You wouldn't budge."
"Oh, er... sorry," I replied. "I didn't get much sleep last night."
"I know." said Susan, looking at me with her eyes stoic, hard, as if she was willing me to admit to something I wasn't aware I'd done.
"Hannah," Ernie said gently, placing a hand on my arm. "Susan said, er... she said that you seemed to be having some pretty bad nightmares last night."
Susan glanced about to check that no one was listening, and even though all were thoroughly distracted by their own conversations, she leaned towards us as much as she could over the table and lowered her voice.
"You were kind of... writhing about in your sleep," she explained. "Looked like you were in pain. And then you sort of screamed a little bit - not loudly, I think I'm the only one that heard. Everybody else was still asleep. But then you... you kept speaking. Saying stuff... about your mum..."
I remained blank for a second. I did dream about my mother sometimes, and they were rarely ever at all pleasant, but they weren't generally accompanied by writhing or screaming. I thought I had gotten all of that out of the way within the first few months after she was killed. I didn't actually remember having a dream that night. In fact, I didn't think I'd even slept long enough for there to be one.
"I don't remember having a dream last night," I told my friends honestly, unsure how to feel about the fact that Susan had told Ernie before saying anything to me about it. "Sorry for keeping you awake, Susan."
Susan opened her mouth to protest my apology, but closed it immediately when the creak of the large oak doors closing pierced our ears. All heads turned to look at Filch, who, with his cat Mrs Norris at his heels, had apparently been stopping people from leaving the Hall for some time now. Then all heads swiveled to the front, where Snape had gotten to his feet. The whole Hall seemed to tighten.
"I'm sure you've all heard about what happened last night," he began, dark eyes sweeping the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw tables menacingly. "A group of students broke into detention and freed those being punished inside. Unfortunately, these students' faces were not seen, and we thus could no identify them."
I felt my heart rise a little. Was it possible? Was it really possible that we had gotten away with-
"But the organisers of this childish disruption were captured," Snape continued, his face unchanging as my heart dropped. "And they shall be punished accordingly. Luckily for the rest of you, this episode has not ended without consequences for everybody. Clearly, the punishments you have been receiving so far has not been enough to discourage-"
Whatever he said next was drowned out by a ripple of frightened mutterings across the hall. Beside me, I heard Ernie hiss something like, "Is it even possible to get any harsher?"
"So myself, and those in charge of punishment, Professor Carrow and Professor Carrow, have naturally deduced that more severe punishments shall be required in future," Snape concluded simply. "This is your warning. Do what you are told, and nobody needs to get hurt."
With this, he gave a very slight nod to Filch to open the doors again, and sat back down in the Headmaster's seat. On one side of him, the Carrows were looking even more hideously smug than ever; on his other, McGonagall's lips were thin and her jaw set in refrained fury.