Seamus and Parvati came down the following morning. I hadn’t slept, so my emotions were still all over the place, but I was happy to stand back and let Parvati check on Neville, while I recounted to Seamus what had happened.
Apparently my homemade bandage was the best I could have done for him in the situation, although I think Parvati might have just been trying to spare my feelings. Nonetheless, I was definitely a lot less panicked by the time we’d moved Neville into the hammock and given him something to drink. I cleaned the blood off my hands and raked my fingers through my ponytail, trying not to think of how supremely terrible I suddenly realised I must have looked when they came in.
“We told no-one else to come here,” said Seamus. “They’ll only get caught, and that’d be bad news for everyone.”
“If people are coming from the basements, there’s a passage that means it’s quite easy to get up here without being seen,” I suggested.
“The Carrows will be on high alert with Neville disappearing on them,” Seamus shook his head. “There’s just no point in risking it.”
“So I suppose we’re laying low for a while, then,” I said, and when Seamus nodded. I sighed and sat down on the floor.
Parvati sat down beside me, placing a comforting hand on my arm. “You look tired, Hannah,” she said gently. “Maybe you should sleep in here for the morning.”
I hid my face in my hands, flinching slightly at the shot of pain that cut through my injured hand. I couldn’t decide which was more suspicious; not turning up to class at all, or turning up to class exhausted and clearly distracted. I looked over at Neville, wondering if I’d be any use to him if I stayed, and paused – a second hammock had appeared by his. Looked like the decision was made for me.
After Parvati surmising that there wasn’t much more she could do for Neville until they raided the Infirmary for some sort of potion, and Seamus promising to talk to Ernie to see if he could get some food to the Room of Requirement, they left me alone with a sleeping Neville.
I was curled up in the second hammock, fast asleep, when I awoke with a start, to find that Ernie hadn’t come alone.
“Sorry,” he whispered as he helped me out the hammock. “She insisted.”
For a second I thought he was being oddly wary of Susan, until my bleary eyes landed on the other new figure in the room: Megan Jones.
“Um… we brought food,” she said a little hesitantly.
I smiled at her, shooting a side glance at Ernie to assure him it was okay with me.
“And I’ve got some clothes for you,” Susan handed me some robes, fresh underwear included. Typical Susan.
“And I brought a fresh t-shirt for Neville,” Ernie added, raising an eyebrow. “Although it doesn’t look like he’ll be needing it any time soon, eh?”
I glanced over at Neville, who was still asleep.
“Seamus didn’t say exactly how bad it was,” Ernie went on. “Just that it was his chest and that there was more blood than he cared to look at that early in the morning.”
I smirked weakly, folding my arms over the fresh robes, very aware that my own were stained blood red in places.
“What time is it?” I asked, rubbing my still-tired eyes.
“Lunch,” answered Susan, setting me down on a chair that had apparently appeared while I’d slept. She whipped out a comb from her pocket and released my hair from its scruffy ponytail, then set about making me look presentable. “You need to come to classes this afternoon, Hannah.”
“Professor Carrow said that if you are as sick as we made you out to be,” Susan explained. “Then you should be in the hospital wing, and not hidden away in our dorm, as we said you are.”
“Professor McGonagall said the same thing in Transfigurations,” Megan spoke up. “But she said it like… sort of like she knew you’d be with Neville. Or at least, not sick in your bed.”
I nibbled on the corner of a sandwich, really quite hungry but set upon leaving plenty for Neville. I only had one more class that afternoon, but it was Muggle Studies. I wouldn’t be able to get back in the Room of Requirement if I left, but if I didn’t show up for both Carrow lessons…
Four heads swivelled around to look at Neville, who was causing his hammock to swing precariously as he struggled to get himself up. Ernie, who was closest to him, immediately went to help, but Neville shook his head, jaw locked in determination. More and more of a Gryffindor every day.
When he finally got his feet flat on the floor, he looked around, nodding his greetings at the others, then offered me a half smile. “No point hanging around here when I’ll just be asleep or whining about my chest or asleep,” he said, still hoarse.
“Does it hurt awfully?” Megan asked suddenly.
Neville’s eyebrows jumped up a notch or two. “Er, well, it’s not the nicest feeling, no…”
A noise came from Ernie that I recognised as him restraining laughter, and I stood up, raising my eyebrows at Susan.
“Well, lunch is about to end,” she instantly announced in a slightly forced voice. “Oh, your books! Megan, will you come with me to get Hannah’s bag? And then we can meet her and Ernie at Muggle Studies.”
Megan, her dewy eyes on Neville as he shuffled toward the food, nodded. Susan waited for a second, then cleared her throat. “Um. Megan?”
Megan blinked and looked over at Susan, then reluctantly followed her out the door with a “hope you heal quickly!” for Neville.
Ernie, of course, immediately let out a great big snort of laughter when the door closed behind them. Neville, over a glass of water, looked surprise.
“Mate,” Ernie chuckled, shaking his head. “You’ve got fangirls.”
Neville choked a little on his drink, wincing slightly as he coughed. “What?!”
Ernie simply continued to shake his head – almost reverent – and even I had to laugh.
“She’s a nice girl, is Megan,” I pointed out. “And she’s a recent member of the DA.”
“Maybe this is why,” suggested Ernie. “She joined for him! Perhaps we should take advantage of this?”
“Make him look nice and pretty,” I nodded encouragingly. “But make the wounds more obvious-“
“A cane, maybe?”
“We’d have members flooding in from every angle!”
Neville just looked between us, face blank, which only made Ernie and I even more amused. But I had to go and get changed, so there was no more time to be amused before we had to leave for class and I had to leave Neville alone.
That was the last time I properly smiled until the battle.
So Neville kind of moved into the Room of Requirement, and the Carrows were left clueless about where he’d disappeared to. Snape even made a rare appearance in the corridors the next day, between classes, although we couldn’t figure out why – it wasn’t as if we could sneak off to check up on Neville whenever we wanted anyway. We were all being watched too closely to do anything out of line for the first few days after Neville disappeared.
Luckily for me, most of the attention was on the Gryffindors, which meant that I could sneak Neville some food every night. I couldn’t get much to him, though, without becoming suspicious, and since I was the only one visiting him – with the occasional exception of Susan, Ernie, or even Megan, if they came with me – it can’t have been much fun for him. However, Terry, Michael, and Anthony did manage to swipe a few potions from Madam Pomfrey’s store, so his chest was healing fast enough.
On the fifth day of this routine, Lavender and Parvati approached me as I was leaving the Hall after dinner, my pockets stuffed with food and a bottle of pumpkin juice, just in case I didn’t get a chance to visit the kitchens.
“I still don’t think it’s safe enough,” I automatically said to Parvati, as she’d requested to come with me to the Room of Requirement twice already.
“No, it’s not that,” Parvati shook her head and hooked her arm around mine, Lavender doing the same on my other side as they fell into step with me, walking nowhere in particular.
“We were just wondering,” Lavender began, rather too innocently. “How you were.”
I narrowed my eyes, looking from one to the other. “Specifically?”
Lavender appeared somewhat relieved to have an excuse to get straight to the point. “Specifically,” she said. “Regarding boys. Or men, as I suppose we’ll soon have to start calling them.”
I looked automatically at Parvati again. Ah. So she’d figured out that she wasn’t the only one who liked Neville. Yet she, unfortunately, had not figured out that I was trying my best not to like him like that. I bit my lip. Would she believe that I was genuinely taking a great big giant metaphorical step back from him? Or, as big as I could, provided I was his only source of food at the time.
Parvati took my silence as her cue to continue.
“It’s just that… my sister told me… something.”
She was raising her eyebrows like I knew what she meant. I didn’t. My arms were beginning to feel quite uncomfortable between the two girls. I knew that both of them had matching gashes on their arms – results of refusing to participate in Dark Arts class – but they always covered them up with their sleeves. I kind of felt a strange sense of respect for them that they could focus on these kinds of things with everything else going on; they were dealing with it in the best way they knew. With gossip.
“Something to do with me?” I asked, suddenly finding myself only too happy to engage.
Parvati nodded, but apparently Lavender just couldn’t wait any longer, “You and Terry Boot,” she said in a stage whisper. “He asked you out, didn’t he?”
I opened my mouth, hoping a quick lie would jump in it, but I’d never been too lucky in that area, and nothing happened.
How did Padma hear about that? It definitely wasn’t from my end, as I hadn’t even told Ernie or Susan, so either Terry had told Anthony or Michael and they’d blabbed, or he’d told her himself. Did that mean I was okay to admit it?
I unhooked my arms from theirs and stopped. They turned to look at me, stood side by side, eyes wide with anticipation. I wondered how they would cover their arms when the weather started getting warmer in a couple of weeks.
“Listen, I… I’m not really comfortable talking about this.”
“So it did happen?” pushed Parvati.
“And you rejected him?” added Lavender.
“No! No, I didn’t reject him; that sounds so…” I stopped myself, not wanting to cause Terry any embarrassment. “It happened ages ago, anyway. What does it matter now?”
“Word on the grapevine-“ Lavender started.
“By which she means my sister,” pointed out Parvati.
“-is that he still likes you,” Lavender finished. “A lot.”
“And where did Padma find that out?” I asked warily, really truly deeply wishing I couldn't presently feel my face getting warmer.
“Apparently he goes on and on about you,” disclosed Lavender. “Hannah does this, Hannah says that.”
“Well, I don’t think Padma quite meant it like that,” Parvati corrected, grinning fondly at her best friend. “I think she just meant that Terry likes to… drop your name into conversations every now and then. Like in the way Slughorn likes to casually mention his famous friends.”
I wanted to protest, to roll out a list of reasons why their conclusion was most improbable, but I knew they’d be stuck on this now. So instead I just shook my head.
“Right,” I said shortly, “Well, thanks for… filling me in, but,” I patted my pockets. “Deliveries to make…”
With a small smile, and not waiting for their responses, I turned and headed in the other direction.
They’d somehow unwittingly walked me quite far from the basements, where Ernie was waiting for me in the common room. To avoid Slytherin territory, and also maybe to give myself some time alone to process what I had just been told, I went the long way back.
Apparently I’d forgotten why we didn’t walk around the castle on our own anymore.
“You,” a grey voice hit me in the back of the head with the accompanying noise of a door opening. “Pockets.”
I turned to look at Argus Filch, his face twisted by age, hatred, and suspicion. His scratty cat followed through the door he’d just come through, twisting insistently around his ankles.
“Your pockets are stuffed,” Filch grunted. ”What is it, Mrs Norris? Empty your pockets, girl.”
I silently pulled a wad of tissue from one pocket (which had food hidden in it) and a bottle of pumpkin juice from the other. Mrs Norris’ beady eyes were glued on the tissue package. Filch’s face twisted a little more.
“A midnight snack,” I told him.
“I’m sure it is,” Filch growled, hobbling closer. “But not one for you, is it, missy?”
I kept my face as blank as possible, “I might share some with my dormmates, sure.”
“Don’t you play dumb,” Filch warned, gripping my wrist. “You’re feeding that boy who disappeared, aren’t you? Where is he?!”
“Disappeared?” I echoed innocently. “But people don’t just disappear.”
Filch’s lip curled and Mrs Norris hissed as he roughly tugged on my arm, making me drop the juice. “Your life could be a lot easier if you just tell me where that rat is now,” I could feel his unclean breath on my face. “Or you can continue being difficult and give me something to do this evening.”
I only silently tried to pull my wrist free.
And as Filch pulled me into the room he’d just left, the food fell from my grip and Mrs Norris darted for it. Filch was muttering about “the glory days”.