I shook my head, wiping furiously at my face with the back of my sleeve. “I’m fine, it’s okay,” I insisted, backing off from Ernie and Susan’s onslaught of care that started up as soon as they got me into Ernie’s dorm. “What about you? Are you all okay?”
“Yeah… I mean, nothing much happened,” Ernie replied, shrugging. “Filch wasn’t in his office and it was just us and a few other Hufflepuffs. We’ve been back for a while. Now, are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Oh, you know what I’m like,” I dismissed, for I didn’t yet know for certain why I was crying. “I always get a bit emotional when things get… well, I’ll fill you in later. We need to go to dinner now.”
“Hannah-” Susan began.
“No, come on, it’ll look suspicious if certain people don’t show up for dinner. It’s the last part in the plan-"
“No, Hannah, you’re bleeding,” Susan cut firmly across. “I’m pretty sure that’ll look more suspicious than anything.”
“I’m- what?” I frowned in confusion, but when I looked down at where Susan indicated, I saw a scarlet line of blood cutting across my left wrist and down onto my hand. My sleeve was torn, and now that I realised, I spotted a couple of singe marks on my robes as well. Apparently I hadn’t realised how close a few of those spells had been.
“I’m fine,” I repeated, almost on auto-pilot. “I’ll quickly get cleaned up and we’ll go. It won’t be noticeable; it doesn’t hurt.”
Ernie and Susan exchanged a glance, but seemed to understand that we had to complete this last part of the plan. And, after I washed and changed where necessary, we sat through a tense dinner in the hall, silence between us, the rest of the hall alive with chatter and the occasional squeal of Catherine Wheel.
Later, we sat in the boys’ dorm room and I explained what had happened – except, this time, ‘we’ was not only myself, Ernie and Susan, but Wayne and Liam joined us, and we’d invited Megan to come too so that she wasn’t the only seventh year in the dark.
“And then he promised he’d be fine,” I finished up after it felt like I had been speaking forever. Throughout the whole recount, I twirled my Galleon between my fingers, but although it had been abuzz with Seamus, Terry, and Ernie reporting back to each other as much as they could, there was nothing from Neville. “And then he went one way down the corridor, I went down the other, and Amycus chased him and then I got back here…”
As I trailed off, I looked around at my housemates, suddenly feeling much as I had done on the night Neville, Ginny, and Luna had been caught trying to steal the sword of Gryffindor. Surely there was more I could have done? Hearing it back, from my own mouth, it definitely sounded like I should have insisted on staying with Neville and fought with him. Looking into the eyes of my housemates, it felt like they were thinking the same thing.
“So it was Parkinson who hurt your hand, then?” Ernie asked gently.
“Maybe… I don’t know,” I mumbled. “It could’ve been anything. She won’t remember it, either way. Neville made sure of that.”
Did Wayne and Liam just exchange a glance? There was a beat of silence in which I’m sure they were all wondering whether to voice what they were thinking. But they didn’t need to.
“Um, is there anything else I’m needed for?” I asked quietly, trying not to let them hear the lump catch in my throat.
Ernie shook his head, looking a little surprised, but Susan muttered something about Transfigurations homework.
I shrugged, getting up off Ernie’s bed. “I doubt they’d still be hoping we’ll somehow all ace our NEWTs. What is she going to do, send me to the Carrows?” I smiled sadly, giving Susan’s shoulder a grateful little pat as I passed her on my way out. “I’m going to bed. Wake me up if you hear from him, yeah? Night.”
But as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t get to sleep. I gave my Transfigurations homework a go, but was too tired and distracted to complete anything. It was the same story with reading and even counting hippogriffs, which just ended with me losing count and instead imagining the Carrows setting a rabid hippogriff on Neville.
I was still awake long after Megan and Susan came up to bed. I would find out the next day how the others had done, but since Seamus had been communicating with Ernie perfectly well, and Terry hadn’t reported any missing Ravenclaws, everyone but Neville seemed to be okay.
Because everybody but Neville had had somebody to look out for them.
I turned onto my stomach and buried my face in my pillow. Luna would have helped him. Ginny would have helped him. Merlin, Parvati would’ve helped him if she’d been given the chance! Neville had changed, everybody knew that, but he was still just one person and even the most heroic heroes needed help. Why, then, had I just let him go? Was I simply a coward?
Susan’s breathing was heavy in the bed beside mine. I thought about how Neville had looked when he had tumbled into the Room of Requirement after having been kept behind class to be tortured. What would they do to him now if they’d caught him?
Trying to dispel the thoughts, I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could. The doubled blackness only led me to think of the Instant Darkness Powder now in my bedside table drawer. He’d probably have been able to get away easily if he’d had that stuff. I hadn’t needed it at all; the Carrows weren’t smart enough to think of baiting Neville with his friends. And surely he wouldn’t have fallen for those kinds of tricks anyway?
I rolled onto my back again. Our basement dormitories were silent but the castle always seemed to feel awake these days, always tensed, always poised, ready for whatever this oncoming fight brought. The Room of Requirement always made it feel like the castle in the fight.
The Room of Requirement. I sat up, pushing back my hair, which had been thoroughly mussed up by my restless tossing and turning, from my face. I was right: the Carrows weren’t smart, and Neville definitely could have outwitted them if he’d had the chance to think for a second. He always seemed so on top of things these days that it was difficult to tell whether or not he actually had a plan, yet there was a chance…
But if he’d gotten out of there safe, why hadn’t he contacted anyone? I’d almost forgotten the coin embedded in the palm of my closed fist, but it still hadn’t changed. Could he have lost his coin, or could it have gotten damaged in the fight, or…?
I sat up, rubbing at my tired eyes, and looked over at Susan. I considered waking her up to get a different perspective on it, but I didn’t want to deal with her trying to comfort the guilt out of me. Besides, she’d only tell me to think about it in the morning, or else not to worry about it at all, that it was out of my hands now.
“But what if he’s hurt…” I breathed into the darkness, still looking at Susan as if she had really spoken to me.
He wouldn’t be able to do much if he was lying half-conscious somewhere.
I swung my legs out from under my covers and sat on the edge of my bed, taking one more second to think about it, staring at the drawer of my bedside table. This was stupid and complete unlike myself and Susan would kill me if she woke up now. I looked over at my shoulder at her, fast asleep, then over at Megan, who was merely a lump of bed covers moving up and down to the steady rhythm of her breathing. I was sick of thinking.
In one swift movement, I grabbed my wand, the Darkness Powder, and pulled a cloak on over my pyjamas. I shoved my feet into my quietest shoes and, hurriedly tying my hair up, I crept silently from my dormitory, through the common room, and out to the basements.
I was vaguely aware of most of the castle’s secret passages being filled in at the start of the year, but thankfully, the one I needed just then seemed to have eluded even Argus Filch himself. I silently thanked Harry Potter’s inexplicable knowledge of secret passages and my own paranoia as a fifth year, as I tiptoed through the basements and down the secret passage that came out by the Room of Requirement.
Voices. Distant and indistinguishable, but not distant enough for my liking. I extinguished the tip of my wand and hid behind the statue that held the opening of the passage. I waited for a while, listening hard, convinced that as soon as I stepped out, I’d be caught. The voices didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I couldn’t wait much longer.
But, of course, as soon as I went to move, footsteps began to echo around me, and from around the corner appeared Professors Sprout and McGonagall. Sprout seemed more fraught than she’d been all year, McGonagall unnervingly downcast. They were speaking in low voices, their heads together as they walked.
“-nothing we can do, Minerva? Nothing at all?” The look on my Head of House’s round face almost had me running out from my hiding place to embrace her.
“We’ve been over this a thousand times,” McGonagall said evenly, although with a tender touch to Sprout’s arm. “Putting ourselves in danger isn’t going to help the children if it just means that they’ll only replace us with more like those despicable siblings.”
“But Neville Longbottom-"
“Longbottom isn’t a child, Pomona,” McGonagall shook her head, her voice inadvertently growing a little stronger. “He’s been underestimated for too long, by too many. He and his friends knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. We did as much as we could tonight."
“It only all seems too small,” Sprout replied regretfully. “We’re being beaten into a corner, Minerva.”
“I shan’t be beaten anywhere,” McGonagall proclaimed, bristling slightly. “The time will come when we must step in. Ridiculous as it may seem, I reserve great faith in the post-posthumous actions of Albus Dumbledore.”
“As do I,” insisted Sprout. “I only wish that our time to step in wouldn’t be so delayed in arrival. My seventh years were catering to a particularly distressed venomous tentacula on Monday that could have come in great use…”
And in the gentle bobbing light of their two illuminated wands as they walked past, I saw the tight line of Professor McGonagall’s mouth curl slightly into a wry smile.
Their voices faded out quickly as they turned into another corridor, and after taking a little longer to hide, for safety, I ducked out and hurried down the corridor, my shoes making a minute sound against the floor that echoed excruciatingly in the empty silence. Hoping and wishing and praying that I hadn’t made an idiotically risky mistake, I paced before the spot where a door should have been.
I need to find Neville… I need to make sure he’s okay… I practically shouted the request in my head until I turned and stopped to face the door that had appeared.
If he wasn’t he in here, what was I going to do? I could probably make it back to my dormitory safely, but then what? Neville wouldn’t have been able to make it all the way to the Forbidden Forest without getting caught, I was sure. If he wasn’t in here, it would mean that they had caught him, and… and then I didn’t even want to think of what they’d do.
As my trembling hand turned the knob and pushed the door open, I felt a flash of how angry I’d been with him earlier; how he kept something from us, put us all in danger, but mostly, that he didn’t trust us to stick with him and help him. But then I thought of the kiss he’d left on my nose.
For a second, I thought the room was empty, and I felt panic begin to rise in me. But then there he was, in a heap on the floor that I had initially mistaken for a pile of robes. Then I felt my stomach lurch.
There was blood. A pool of it by his head, and he was hardly moving.
Suddenly running through blurred vision, I rushed to his side, letting the door fall shut beside me and my wand fall from my grip as I fell to my knees and tried to roll him over.
“Neville…” I moaned, shaking my head. “No, come on, don’t… don’t do this… you’re fine, look, on top of the world, remember?”
He was breathing, but he didn’t stir as I shook him. I pushed his hair back, feeling a bit of a cold sweat on his forehead. His face was battered, but the only blood from his face was a gash on his cheek, just below his eye, but that didn’t seem too deep, despite the redness that suggested the eye was going to blacken.
“Please… please, Neville, just… just be okay, please,” I mumbled as I lifted his head and blindly checked through his hair for a source of blood, as though if I kept talking to him, he would somehow wake up and assure me that everything was just fine and dandy.
The hand that wasn’t in his hair brushed over something warm and damp as I shifted. I looked down; blood had soaked through his cloak. Holding my breath, I lifted the cloak and found his shirt torn, one side of his chest covered in blood. It looked like they’d been aiming for his heart.
My eyes stung and blurred again and I seemed to lose control of what I was doing. I was sniffing and trying to shake him awake and gasping for breath and then, for reasons that my brain hadn’t caught up with yet, I was trying to tear my cloak, but I wasn’t strong enough, and I touched his tender face and begged him to be okay and I was shaking my head and trying to wipe away my tears but there was blood on my hands. I reached back and snatched my wand from where I’d dropped it, then used it to tear a length of material from my cloak.
The only thought I had that seemed to make sense at that point was that there was too much blood on the floor or on his clothes or my hands and not inside him. So, still crying and shaking and gasping, I struggled to take his tie off and peel his shirt away, wrestling his arms free of the sleeves. Then I wrapped the material as tightly as I could around his chest, keeping pressure on the wound. But then what? It wasn’t enough.
I looked around the room, dim and fuzzy at the edges. Surely there was something in a Room of bloody Requirement that could help!
But what good would it do? If there were muggle rememdies, I wouldn’t know what to do with them, and if there were books on Potions or spells that would help, I couldn’t do any of them. I was useless at all that; healing spells were always so delicate and intricate that I’d probably just end up making him worse. I was completely useless.
“What am I supposed to do?” I gasped between sobs, one hand still keeping pressure on the wound, the other holding his. Nobody else could come down until the following morning, and even then, it would be difficult – Filch and the Carrows would be on high alert for their missing student and because of the fireworks stunt. “I don’t know what to do.”
If anybody else had been in there, it would be fine. If anybody else had been with him back with Pansy, he’d be fine. This, I thought as I squeezed his cold fingers and my tears dropped onto his makeshift bandage with the softest ‘thud’, was all made so much worse by me. And I didn’t know how to fix it.
“I don’t know what to do…” I sobbed into the dim silence.