One more DA meeting was organised before we would break up for Christmas. We hadn't managed to get as much havoc wreaked as we'd hoped to, but we'd been a little distracted by the harsher punishments thing. We'd been too busy stopping younger students from getting themselves killed to concentrate on much else.
But there was a bit of a dent in attendance.
"Where's Neville?" I asked Ginny. "And Seamus?"
"And Parvati and Lavender," Susan added, appearing over my shoulder. "All the seventh year Gryffindors."
Ginny shook her head, apparently just as lost as we were, but looked anxious enough to confirm that we were all coming to the same conclusion.
"They must have been kept behind by Alecto," Luna voiced matter-of-factly.
"Seamus already got it pretty bad in Muggle Studies yesterday," said Padma, furtively watching the door.
There was a moment of nervous silence, until Ernie shook his head. "Well, it's no good just standing here waiting for them."
"We should go help them," said Colin Creevey. "Break them out."
Ginny nodded, but just as she opened her mouth to speak, we all felt the coins in out pockets heat up.
"Will be there. Don't come. Guarded,
" Michael read aloud. "From Neville?"
"Must be," Ginny was frowning at her coin. "Guarded? What does that mean? What's guarded?"
"I guess it means that Filch is patrolling outside the room they're in?" Terry suggested.
"Yeah, but we can take Filch easily. Why wouldn't he want us to help?" Ginny mumbled, still looking at her coin as if it would give her an answer.
"Maybe we should just... get on with the meeting?" Susan suggested timidly. "I mean, he said they'd be here."
"They're coming now, actually..." Luna suddenly announced, and before anybody could turn to question her, there was a noise at the door and in came three beaten Gryffindors.
Padma immediately hugged her sister, Susan rushed to Lavender's side, and Ernie gave Seamus a gentle clap on the back. I exchanged a glance with Ginny; no Neville.
"Are you guys okay?" asked Colin. "What happened?"
"I never thought I'd say it, but I actually miss Professor Umbridge," Parvati mumbled. She had three cuts on her cheek that looked like a cat had attacked her.
"We had a bit of a disagreement with Mr Carrow," Lavender explained. Her nose looked slightly swollen, and there was dried blood over her top lip.
"Aye, I don't think he'll be putting us on his Christmas list this year, no," added Seamus, whose black eye had returned, along with a few more cuts, and three just like Parvati's that had slit through his shirt at his shoulder.
"Some of the Slytherins thought it would be funny to goad Seamus and Neville into getting themselves into trouble," Lavender continued. "But then... Pansy Parkinson started on about Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so..."
"Hermione's our dormmate," Parvati defended rather matter-of-factly. "And Lavender and Ron dated, and I went with Harry to the Yule Ball, so naturally-
"You two got involved." Ginny finished, actually seeming quite impressed.
"But where's Neville?" I finally blurted out, having been trying hold it in to wait until they brought it up.
"Still back in the classroom." Seamus answered gravely.
"Then let's go get him!" Terry decided, drawing his wand.
"No," Seamus said quickly, wobbling slightly on his feet with the shock of his own immediacy. "No, you can't. A load of Slytherins are stood guard outside the classroom, and Amycus is in there too. Decided her brother would have to share his toys."
"So... how did you guys get out?" puzzled Anthony.
"They let us go," Seamus explained. "I think they kept us as long as could. Maybe they just got bored, I don't know. But Neville... you know the graffiti that was on the wall a while ago? They said that Neville's handwriting looked just like it."
"That's ridiculous, you can't tell handwriting from memory like that!" Terry cried. "And anyway, it was paint, so-" He cut himself off when he noticed the way people were staring at him. I couldn't help but smile at him, even amidst all the worry. "I- I'm missing the point, right... sorry..."
"But we can still help him," Ernie insisted. "We can take on a few Slytherins!"
"I'm not so sure, not in the state we're in right now," Ginny reasoned, although it seemed to pain her to do so. "Look, Seamus can barely stand; we're all injured, we're all tired, and we're all a bit blinded our own emotions right now. Meanwhile, those Slytherins are at the peak of their fitness, and even if we did get past them, what could we do?"
"Ginny's right," Michael decided. "Both Carrows are in there. They'd stick a wand to Neville's neck and hold him hostage before we could even get through the guard."
There was a beat of silence, in which I'm sure all of us were imagining the scenario, until Ginny spoke up again. "What do you think, Luna?"
Luna appeared to dwell on it for a second, then, "I think that if he told us not to go, then we shouldn't. I'm sure he knows what he's doing."
"That's what I'm worried about..." I muttered anxiously, although really I knew that Michael was right. Charging out on a rushed, disorganised attempt at a rescue mission was not a good idea.
And so we conducted the meeting without Neville. We discussed one more small rescue mission for the last detention of the term, which the Ravenclaw boys had already mostly figured out between themselves; Ginny and Luna outlined a few rough ideas of what we'd be getting up to after Christmas, and they were just finishing off with a few tips on keeping safe during the holidays, when there was a bump at the door.
Then another bump, as if somebody was groping for the handle. Half of us had our wands out and poised when the door fell open and in through it stumbled Neville.
At first glance, he almost appeared to be drunk. He missed the door handle as he tried to close the door behind him, half doubled over, and merely fell against the wood instead. But when Ernie went to prop him up and Neville looked up at him, we saw that one side of his face was coated in blood. Ernie's eyes widened, but he caught Neville as he began to fall, wrapping his arm around his shoulders. Michael - the only other person in the room who was anywhere near as tall as Ernie and Neville - gave them a hand pulling Neville (who seemed to be struggling to remain conscious) over to a bed of pillows on the floor that Luna had conjured.
I gasped, watching him sink weakly into the pillows, his eyes closed, but held back to let Ginny and Luna sort him out.
After a moment, Ginny looked back over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows at me as if wondering why I hadn't immediately rushed over. Too distracted to even feel embarrassed, I brushed past the fretting Creevey brothers and knelt down beside Neville. Luna was at my arm, fiddling with her cork necklace; it was almost like she was nervous. It was odd - I'd never seen her show any sign of fear or weakness before. It certainly wasn't comforting.
"Hey," I said gently to Neville, softly landing a hand on his cheek to brush away some blood. His eyes were still closed, but his face flinched just enough at my touch for me to know that he was still conscious, and he could still hear me. "What happened to not being reckless?"
The very corners of his lips flicked upwards slightly, and I felt tears begin to brim in my eyes at the sight of him trying to smile for me.
"This is serious," I heard Seamus say to Ginny behind me. "Madam Pomfrey-"
"Madam Pomfrey could lose her job if she gets caught helping us again," Ginny sighed. "She already got into trouble for helping Jimmy Peakes the other day."
"Right," said Terry, nodding. "We need to keep around as many friendly faces as possible right now."
"But Neville's is the friendliest face of the lot!" I argued, looking back at them. "We need to-"
"Neville?" I turned my attention back to him instantly, my voice cracking slightly.
"I'm f-fine, Han... Hannah..." he mumbled weakly.
"Of course you're not fine, you-"
"On t-top of the w-world..."
I laughed shakily, giving his nose a jokey little poke. He sheepishly scrunched it up as much as he could and, my cheeks heating up quite considerably under the weight of thirteen other pairs of eyes, I very carefully pressed my lips to the tip of his nose.
"We'll sort him out as best we can," Terry assured me. "I'm sure that all of us combined can fix him up sufficiently until he gets home for Christmas and his Gran can take a look."
"We can fix you, Neville!" Luna agreed brightly. I shot a slightly watery grin at her. She, smiling amiably like she hadn't been worried at all, took my hand in hers then turned her curiously glazed attention back to Neville.
I followed her gaze to his pale face, patterned with cuts and scars and bruises, and found myself blinking back tears. With my free hand, I pushed back a strand of his hair that had stuck in some dried blood on his forehead. His eyelids fluttered slightly and opened a crack until he was peering up at me. I noticed his adam's apple shift as if he was trying to swallow down his pain, and I attempted a comforting smile for him.
Then Luna let go of my hand and I felt her get her wand out beside me. Reluctantly, I got up and backed away to give her and Parvati - who were both rather good with healing - some space to work, very grateful when Ernie wrapped an arm around me, his other around Susan's.
"We should, um... we should finish the meeting..." said a very out-of-sorts Ginny, who suddenly didn't seem herself at all.
She very swiftly gave us a last few bits of advice and tips, two of which were repeats from earlier, then went very quiet for a moment, until, "Please don't let what's happened to Neville tonight dissuade you from returning to the DA after Christmas. What's happening inside this school, it's... it's nothing compared to what might be going on outside. I know we all listen to Potterwatch, but... it's different to the reality of what's happening out there..."
"We know, Ginny," Colin Creevey replied simply. "We're a family now. Stronger when we're together, just like Neville says. None of us are going to leave no, right guys?"
There was a grave consensus of agreement from the rest of the group, and Ginny gave a weak grin.
"But... what did they do to him?" asked Dennis Creevey, whose little shoulder was now being used as a railing for Seamus to lean against.
"They threw a few curses at us that felt like we were being punched," said Lavender. "And some that were like clawed whips..."
"But they were furious at Neville," Seamus added. "I don't know if they were adamant that he did that graffiti or if they suspected that he was a leader of the DA anyway, but... aye, they got some Slytherins to Crucio us during class, but I guess they got Nev again themselves.
A double Cruciatus from two Deatheaters? I felt sick.
Parvati looked up from tending to a cut on Neville's arm as Luna very carefully ran her wand over the wound that had flooded his forehead.
"He tried to protect me," Parvati said, voice thick. She looked between Seamus and Lavender, "That first curse, did you see? He was brilliant," she looked down at Neville, whose eyes were closed again now. "You were brilliant."
Neville just stirred slightly in response as Luna got to her feet, looking like she'd done all she could. "He just needs rest now, I think." she announced dreamily.
"Although some Healing potions wouldn't hurt to speed up the process," added Parvati.
"Madam Pomfrey keeps them under tight deal in her office," Ginny shook her head. "Fred and George always had issues with it when they were testing products."
"We can get on that," offered Terry. "Michael and I aren't bad at quickly brewing potions. It won't be particularly strong if we've only got one night for it, but it's better than nothing."
"And it should be easier to steal ingredients from Slughorn than it was from Snape," Anthony pointed out brightly.
There was a stirring from Neville again, and as he tried to speak, Parvati lowered her head to hear him better. I felt myself tighten slightly.
"He says it's getting late," she repeated for the rest of us.
"Right. Shall Michael and I help carry him upstairs?" offered Ernie.
"There's no point in moving him," Ginny decided. "You all right here for the night, Nev?"
Neville gave a tiny nod and an attempt at a smile.
"I'll stay with him." I decided abruptly.
"Me too," said Seamus. "I ain't being left alone in my dorm. It's weird enough with just two people as it is. Besides, I don't really fancy the trek up to the tower right now."
Ginny hesitated for a moment, her eyes on me, but quickly seemed to realise that I wouldn't be dissuaded and nodded.
The others began to leave, in pairs or threes as usual. Everyone left Neville with a "get well soon" or a "hope you're okay" as they went, Luna leaving a kiss on his cheek, until just a few were left.
"Are you sure you'll be okay in here?" Susan checked.
I nodded, shrugging, "I want to be here for Neville." I said earnestly.
"But... I mean, he'd have Seamus..." Ernie protested rather weakly.
"Ernie," I said firmly. "I'm staying. Look, it's your turn to go. I'll be fine. Goodnight, you guys."
I watched them go with a small frown; I had expected Ernie to put up with much more of a fight than that. Wondering if he had finally learnt to stop being so protective or if, for some reason, he actually wanted
me to stay with Neville, I turned to bump into Ginny.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "I'm sure Neville really appreciate this."
"I'm not doing anything special," I shrugged again. "Besides, Seamus is-"
"To be honest, I think Seamus might just be staying here to avoid the loneliness of having a dorm all to himself; he's really been missing Dean," Ginny admitted, and we looked over at him and Neville on the floor. "There's storage space over there, I bet if you look in there, you'll find pillows or blankets or whatever."
"I don't really foresee much sleeping," I sighed, then immediately blushed and hastily added, "I- I mean... I mean because I have to keep an eye on him, y'know..."
"He'll be fine," said Ginny, clearly trying to swallow a smirk for my benefit. "Terry's coming back tomorrow morning with the healing potion."
I nodded, smiling gratefully, and she pulled me into a quick hug, before leaving the three of us alone for the night.