"I have never been so ashamed to be a Gryffindor as I am right now!"
The speaker had her back to Neville and Ginny but they knew the voice was McGonagall's. The pale, silent faces beyond her told them that their common room had witnessed a frightening broadside from its head of house. All eyes swivelled to Neville and Ginny as they entered through the portrait hole and seeing that signal, McGonagall whirled around, fury writ deep in every line of her features.
"YOU TWO! - With me - now!" She stomped past them and out.
Neville had just time to see Seamus slashing his hand across his throat to warn him they were both for the chop, before turning to follow the professor. Never had he or Ginny seen her this angry. Filch approached in one of the corridors "Your visitor, ma'am? Is--?" but McGonagall stormed past him as if he were not there and the bewildered caretaker stared open-mouthed after them, his question unfinished.
McGonagall's office was, as Ginny expected, tidy and well organised; not a book or a quill was disarranged; even the glowing coals in the fireplace seemed to have been neatly positioned. The only thing out of place was the half-open door leading into a back room which McGonagall quickly closed and muffled with a charm - but not before Ginny glimpsed Gylda playing Spell-Spills on the floor. With her was a tiny child clutching a doll. Ginny wondered how and why McGonagall had smuggled in visitors. Was her mother there, out of sight? Some parents, Ginny knew, liked to visit Hogwarts with their offspring before deciding whether they should attend - but why this year of all years?
Ginny caught a whiff of dragon leather and the chair behind the desk creaked and squeaked as McGonagall dropped into it. The professor slammed her arms flat ahead of her on the desktop, hands gripping the polished walnut. The single candle on the otherwise empty surface guttered for a few seconds then recovered, illuminating the teacher's face as a fiery, flickering mask. She looked for all the world like a lioness preparing to spring on her prey. And 'spring' seemed the right word, Ginny thought, for the elderly teacher remained silent except for heavy breathing - as if gathering herself, coiling herself up. Ginny exchanged nervous glances with Neville but he looked as puzzled as she felt.
"I need... your help." McGonagall let out a long exhalation of air as she looked at them both. This was not the sermon that either of the two youngsters had been expecting.
"Professor...?" said Neville. His voice was surprisingly steady considering that inside he was trembling.
"Miss Brocksby and Miss Pyke." McGonagall had declared it as a headline.
Having prepared herself at the desk, McGonagall now abandoned it and went to the window gazing out, apparently perplexed as to how to continue. Neville and Ginny waited. They looked at the two chairs placed in front of the desk, glimpsed sideways at each other once more, then mutually decided to remain standing.
Finally, McGonagall uttered a biblical flood of words as if to make up for her earlier hesitation, "They cannot remain here but I see no way to help them to leave - short of duelling to the death with three Death Eaters. Frankly, I am at the end of my tether.
"Almost everyone will be leaving for the Christmas holidays next week - even the staff. Nobody wishes to remain with those..." McGonagall tailed off and Ginny had the impression she was stifling some unspeakable words.
"Do not doubt for one moment that I would be unable to force an escape; the Carrows are very average duellists from what I have heard. But I would be quickly replaced and you would have a new Death Eater to teach you Transfiguration. That must remain my last resort.
"I - will - not - have - those - children - here - beyond - this - term!" McGonagall pounded her fist into the opposite palm as she stressed each word and her countenance was frightening.
Neville spoke almost inaudibly in a trembling voice, "We're sorry about--"
McGonagall swept on, ignoring, or perhaps not hearing, Neville's attempted apology, declaring to herself perhaps, more than her audience, "My first duty is to the school and to the Order! There is a storm coming, make no mistake about that - and I want to be on hand when it breaks!"
She steadied herself and her focus came back to the two students in front of her.
"Then there is the problem of providing a safe house. None of the Order members is suitable. Tonks and Lupin - well, they will have their hands full; the Weasleys--" She eyed Ginny as she said this, "are being watched; Mundungus is out of the question; Kingsley is now on the run..."
"Mr. Shacklebolt? He's--?" started Ginny.
"Yes - sadly he was uncovered by a taboo curse and your father, Miss Weasley, is now the only reliable contact we have within the Ministry. So that leaves only Miss Lovegood's recommendation. Owls are not safe. The Floo network is monitored... Miss Weasley, do you know if Madam Rosmerta would be willing... and able... to take two youngsters into her care? Otherwise, I still have time to visit Hogsmeade myself today to see her."
Neville butted in, "Hannah says that Madam Rosmerta is really eager to help. She's very upset about being forced to help Draco under the Imperius curse. She'll grab at any opportunity to make amends - to prove herself! And she has several connected rooms hidden by charms."
McGonagall looked closely at Neville for a few moments. "Very well, then... But there is still the immense difficulty of smuggling them both out. As I'm sure you are well aware, the Carrows are now testing everyone, including myself, for unexplained magical effects - both coming in and going out of Hogwarts. Transfigurations, Polyjuice, Conjurations..."
"Can you not open the gates yourself, Professor?" asked Neville.
McGonagall's eyebrows elevated themselves several notches. "Disenchanting Apparition pockets within Hogwarts is one thing, Longbottom, but any breaches or raising of Hogwarts defences is immediately brought to the attention of the headmaster. I will only open them if I have to break out myself with the children."
She looked at the two Gryffindors for a while then resumed her seat behind her desk, beckoning them to sit down in front of her. "Which leaves you two..."
"Us?" Ginny was crossing and uncrossing her arms awkwardly. Neville was trying to stop himself nervously twiddling his fingers.
"I have consulted Professors Flitwick and Sprout and neither can find a stealthy way past the Hogwarts magical defences - which is as it should be I might add. You, however, have proved yourself resourceful in the past and I'm hoping you might have some ideas." Her tone conveyed the impression that she did not really have much hope at all.
Ginny was shaking her head but Neville said firmly, "We'll have to discuss this and let you know, Professor. If we can work out a plan--"
"There's no time!" snapped McGonagall. "They must leave today. That blitherin'... That is, Mr. Filch blundered into my office earlier and saw Miss Brocksby. He assumed--"
"Who?" asked Ginny, thinking of the child she had seen in the other room.
"Miss Emma Brocksby - who did you think we were talking about?"
"Emmy? That's Emmy!" cried Ginny. "I knew she was only seven but... she's smaller than I thought."
"The reality is a bit of a shock isn't it?" said McGonagall, then continued, "Mr. Filch assumed she was a visitor. There is a chance he might mention it to... someone. At any moment... A concealment charm will not be enough should the headmaster search my rooms..."
McGonagall rose again and began pacing. After looking at one another for a third time, Ginny and Neville stood up and their eyes followed the professor back and forth.
Finally, it was Neville who spoke, "Professor, we can conceal them - at least until we can come up with a plan..."
"Where?" McGonagall stopped pacing and faced Neville but there was not much hope in her expression.
"Can't say - best not to say," he added hastily before continuing. "Nobody will find them where we hide them; the Castle itself will make sure of that."
McGonagall did not feel insulted; she was impressed. "And they will be together?"
"I've observed in just the short time they've been together here that they do tend to support one another. Let me explain..." McGonagall paused before continuing.
"Gylda Pyke often gets imagination and reality confused - but she is very willing and that makes her vulnerable. But understand this, she has a good moral sense of right and wrong and is not so timid when her path is clear to her. The Sorting Hat knew what it was doing when it placed her in Gryffindor.
"I had cast charms upon both the girls at the start of term to make them, shall we say, less noticeable - but it was not infallible." Again she paused.
"You should secure their belongings from their dormitories - it must appear that they left Hogwarts sometime this weekend. Frankly, with the charms in place, the Carrows might not notice their absence for a few days."
She thought for a while longer before continuing.
"Very well, then Mr. Longbottom, if you are certain you can conceal them until we can find a way to get them to Hogsmeade..."
She countered the silencing spell on the side door and just as she was opening it there was a peel of giggles from the two girls within. Gylda was delicately hovering the final critical spill from the jumble on the floor.
"How'd you keep doing that!" cried Emmy. They both fell silent as they noticed the door opening.
"Girls, Miss Weasley and Mr. Longbottom will escort you to a safe place for now while we... find you a new home."
"Thpell-Thpills?" said Gylda impulsively, her mind still absorbed in the game. She looked longingly at the puzzle box lid.
McGonagall sighed. "You can take the Spell-Spills - you might be needing something to pass the time. Books too, I shouldn't wonder." She looked at the two older children who nodded their affirmation.
Emmy and her doll were concealed with a Disillusionment charm and McGonagall escorted them all part way. Ginny ran off to get food from the kitchens while Neville led Emmy and Gylda to the wall outside the Room of Requirement. He strode back and forth, thinking hard of their need for a room suitable for two young girls to remain hidden for a while. And entertained! - and that nobody else can ever find! he added in a hurry as a door began to emerge in the stonework.
The room was sunlit from a cheerful, but false window and the primary colours reminded Neville of his old nursery. There were shelves of books and open-lidded boxes overflowing with games and toys. A couple of doors led to a shared bedroom and bathroom. The box of Spell-Spills crashed to the ground forgotten...
Harry's scar was prickling again. His hand went instinctively to rub it then he glanced to see if Hermione was watching. She was sitting hunched up in her chair as usual, withdrawn into herself. A book lay half-open against the tent wall at her side as if it had fallen there.
He turned to look at the fading daylight that still crept into their shelter, pressing his palm against his forehead to ease the pain. There was nothing he could think of to comfort his friend. Years of living with the Dursleys had not taught him how to express the compassion he felt.
Two days before she had accepted they should visit Godric's Hollow. Harry still felt surprised she had so readily agreed. But he had wanted to leave yesterday while she had insisted on waiting while they 'worked out a good plan.' But he couldn't pester her, not while she seemed so fragile. He had to be patient - give her time to think it through.
He went to the tent entrance and looked out. Hermione had seen frost the day before. A sudden icy breeze made Harry step back into the tent and he closed the flap. He shuddered then sighed. If only they could get a move on. There had to be something he could say... He drew a breath to speak but whether Hermione sensed that or whether it was coincidence, she spoke first.
"Harry, we've got to be extra careful," she began, looking up at him from her seat. "I think a middle-aged couple would be less noticeable, don't you?" She examined him closely, perhaps expecting some objection but Harry was nodding; he would agree to almost any conditions just to get going.
To be sure, she repeated what she had said the day before, "You-know-who will be focused on spotting someone who might be Harry Potter - if we're lucky perhaps they'll only look out for a single, younger man. But they'll be used to families and older villagers meandering about the village so--"
"Yes, I'm not disagreeing, am I, Hermione?" He immediately regretted that he sounded impatient and seeing her bite her lip he tried to soften his words, "Good idea, actually."
Apparently mollified, she continued, "And when we rehearse--"
"Harry, I told you before - we need to practise Apparating and Disapparating together under the Cloak - to polish it up so we know exactly what we are to do. Not only going there - I mean so we can depart rapidly if we have to. It would be disastrous if we got split up."
She rose from her chair and took a few steps while she thought for several seconds. "And we go when it's dark - not too late of course or we'll be out of place - but as soon as it gets dark in the early evening." She muttered something to herself about being less noticeable.
"You're really worried about this trip, aren't you, Hermione?"
"Of course I am!" Now it was Hermione being snappy. "You should be too. We've done nothing but think, think, think, about where horcruxes might have been hidden - and about where the sword could be. Don't you suppose You-know-who and his supporters are giving just as much effort if not more to wonder where you might turn up? Think about it, Harry!"
Harry grimaced but again nodded his agreement. "So... who do we go as?"
"While we're still near a town, I'm going back to that supermarket again tomorrow. I'll get some hairs from the most boring-looking middle-aged Muggles I can find; that'll be easy enough. Not tall - so we can fit under the cloak and--"
"Make sure they're not mixed up!" cried Harry. "I don't want to be an old woman!"
"Well, neither do I." There was a rare hint of a smile on Hermione's face as she looked at the Basilisk-slayer's alarmed expression. "Don't worry, I'll take care. Harry Potter - an old woman? I don't think so!"
"Ginny, I know it's early," said Hannah, "but I got you this self-inking quill for Christmas."
Ernie and Hannah were back from Hogsmeade stashing away supplies in the Room configured for their D.A. meetings. Neville wondered about Emmy and Gylda's room but he knew the Room of Hidden Things also coexisted happily all at the same time so he was not concerned.
Ginny delighted in testing her quill, labelling everything in sight.
Hannah turned to Neville. "Quick-draw holster. Look - got your name on it..."
"That's great!" Neville strapped it onto his forearm under his robes while Hannah looked on uncertainly.
She scrutinised his face closely to sense his reaction. "I was hoping to give you something more personal but..."
Neville flung out his arm and his wand popped out into his hand automatically. He flourished it a few times and it disappeared again. He turned to the girl with a smile and took her in his arms. "You're my something more personal, Hannah."
Ernie poked his forefinger in his gaping mouth and mimed vomiting to Ginny who groaned, "Leave it out you two!"
"Oh - show them what your dad got you, Ern!" said Hannah, breaking off from what promised to be a lengthy kiss - much to Neville's disappointment.
"Your dad? You saw your father in Hogsmeade?" said Ginny.
"No, no - he owled me the Galleons to get this. It cost a fortune." Ernie seemed unembarrassed by his family's wealth - nor did he brag. Ernie reached up and slid his shoulder bag off and down to the ground. It conjured extensions that seamlessly merged into itself and the whole opened up as a wide, waste-high leather duffle bag full of compartments and hung with many side-pockets.
"It's a Trunkate," Ernie said proudly.
"A what?" Ginny frowned.
"A Trunkate. It's enchanted. Look..." He swung it over his shoulder again. The bag vanished its extensions and shrank immediately to a smart tube bag that hugged neatly down to his hip, almost like part of his body. The yellow and black leather became finer and was embossed with the Hufflepuff crest.
"Light too - I believe it can take half your luggage - and it fits very comfortably." He spun it off onto the floor again and it extended instantly and opened.
Ernie reached in and heaved out a large, curious device that made Neville's omnioculars look simple. Its casing sported a multitude of dials, switches, knobs and buttons. He laid it proudly on a table. "Tada! Guess what?"
"A Muggle wireless?" said Ginny. "My dad's got about three in our shed."
Somewhat deflated and surprised, Ernie tried to recover. "Ah yes, but this one's enchanted - or it will be when I've figured out Lee's instructions. It won't work within Hogwarts' protective magic otherwise."
"What's it do?" asked Neville.
"Lee Jordan? You've spoken to Lee?" said Ginny.
"Well, not directly - it came about fourth-hand. Rosmerta gave it us - but--"
"What's it do?" repeated Neville, examining all the twiddly bits.
"They light up - see that dial there?" said Ginny airily, "It lights up and you can move that pointy thing along."
"Is that all?" said Ernie, crestfallen. "I thought it did more than that."
"Let's see then," said Neville.
"Erm... It doesn't do anything now. As I say, it's not yet enchanted - only way I could bring it in past the Carrows. Nothing can work unless it's enchanted can it? Stands to reason."
Ginny had quickly lost interest in the radio. On impulse, she stepped into the now empty bag and tried to crouch but she was far too big. She looked at Neville.
"Ginny! - you don't think...?"
"Worth a try," said Ginny. They explained the plight of Gylda and Emmy to the other two,
"Gylda's never going to fit in there," said Neville, "but Emmy might."
"McGonagall can transfigure her--" began Ginny.
"Won't work," said Ernie, emphatically. "We thought about smuggling in stuff but it doesn't conceal magical effects. We tried - the Carrows spotted the self-inking quill immediately. That's why we..." He tailed off and looked at Hannah who picked up where he had left off.
"My dad had got us some more wands but..." She hesitated. "We chickened out in the end and left them with Rosmerta. And we only brought potions labelled like other, more innocent magical supplies. That's why we were a bit late getting back - Rosmerta rebottled them - we didn't want the Carrows detecting magic in Pumpkin Juice. Which reminds me - food!" She handed over a couple of packs of cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs to Neville and Ginny.
"Oh you shouldn't..." Ginny began. She looked rather uncomfortable.
"S'alright! I know you can't get out - there's always next year," said Hannah. "You can treat me to a butter beer in the Threebees."
Neville too, felt awkward. "Gran and me - we'll go Christmas shopping when I get home. I'll try and owl you something, Hannah or..." A sudden thought struck him. "Are you on the floo network at home?"
"Of course! - How else do you think I get to Kings Cross?"
They smiled at one another. Perhaps the holidays need not mean complete separation after all.
A light dusting of early snow had feebly whitened the outer slopes around Hogwarts the next morning. Luna was excited, her worries pushed to the back of her mind. She hadn't heard from her father for a week but while she had watched the first flakes lazily drifting down she had spotted Audrey near the trees. The great owl was unmistakable, even from the Ravenclaw Tower.
Luna shrugged on her travel cloak in the Entrance Hall. It was not long after breakfast but there were already plenty of early risers heading to the gates to spend the autumn term's final Sunday in Hogsmeade again. Christmas shopping, she thought to herself, enviously. She looked around for Edmund Trevett. He usually kept a lookout for her but she supposed he must have gone into the village with the others. She decided to chance it and headed around in a great circle towards the Forest.
It was only when she was far away from the Castle and the thin snow became more apparent underfoot that she noticed the other footprints as she glanced back.
"Edmund?" The Disillusionment spell was perfect camouflage against the bland whiteness that sprinkled the wintry grasses.
"You shouldn't go out alone, Luna - you know that." It was Edmund's voice. "I could have been anyone."
Luna resumed her walk. "I thought you must have gone to--"
"Hogsmeade? Not while I'm on duty," he grinned as he hurried up to her and began to walk alongside and slightly ahead. It was the first time she had heard him smile - though she couldn't see it. He continued, "Now next year when we--" He became darkly serious suddenly, as if remembering why he was there. After almost a minute he said, "I helped carry her out, you know."
Luna stopped walking and looked at where the young man's outline now faintly shimmered against the treeline. "What was she like?"
Edmund sighed. "Oh, rather timid - till you got to know her. Long, fair hair - not quite like yours but..."
"But I do remind you of her a bit? I'm sorry, Edmund, truly, I am."
Edmund tried to change the subject. Although he often watched out for Luna in the corridors of Hogwarts, he did not have many opportunities to talk freely to her.
"Luna, why do you keep challenging Alecto in Muggle Studies? It only annoys her and you get punished. I can't protect you there."
"It's because she says very silly things. It's curious to pretend that Muggles are filthy and ignorant and inferior, don't you think?"
"I agree all but the last. You're a Ravenclaw; you should understand why wizards are superior to Muggles - even so, I think my dog is inferior but I don't mistreat her."
"Muggles are not at all like dogs!"
"I didn't say that - but they can never be our equals can they?"
Luna laughed and shook her head. "You might as well suppose that women are inferior, mightn't you!"
"Haven't you noticed? - most of us are physically weaker." Luna put her head on one side and smiled.
"Physically? What does that matter? they're just as intelligent and as magically powerful as men - how can they be inferior?"
"Muggles believe it - some, anyway. One of the few things that Alecto said rightly. I said we should feel sorry for Muggle ladies but she said they're all worthless trollops. I said that's not a nice thing to call someone so she called me one so I said that proves what you say is untrue so she said detention at eight."
They passed the first trees at the edge of the Forest. The snow had not been heavy enough to penetrate this wind-sheltered space so she could no longer see his footprints. Luna ignored the large owl that perched on a branch above them. She pushed on a little further until they were out of sight of the Castle behind the trees. Edmund countered his concealment charm and Luna looked closely at his face before speaking.
"I've a few... animal friends - you probably think I'm foolish making friends with inferiors." She stressed the last word but it was not really sarcastic. She opened a small cloth bag at her waist and began pulling out chunks of meat and casting them to the ground as she walked in a large circle.
Surprised by her comment, Edmund replied, "Not at all, I'm friendly towards my dog."
"Oh - what is she?"
"Bobo? She's a Basset Hound."
Luna's laughter tinkled through the trees. "Bobo? A Basset Hound? I expected a Wolfhound called Nightslasher."
Now she did see his smile. It was rather sheepish but at least it was a smile.
"Here's another friend of mine," said Luna, indicating a broad, low tree stump. She sat down on it to wait and Edmund sat beside her.
The breeze was in the wrong direction; only one Thestral came to the feast. It stayed partly-hidden behind a large bush for a while but its white, shining eyes were unmistakable and its great black leathery wings remained lifted, ready for flight. Eventually it folded them and crept from cover, timidly sniffing at the nearest hunk of beef before seizing and eating it. Luna watched it curve around, keeping its distance from the one human it did not know or trust. It cautiously ate two more pieces of the scattered meat before silently wandering off and disappearing among the trees. The cold air did not seem to trouble it despite its lack of fat and flesh, Luna noted.
They talked for another half an hour until they felt the chill themselves. Edmund cast a warming charm to blanket them. Eventually, Luna decided no other Thestrals were likely to come that day and rose to walk back.
"I have one other friend - but she's very shy of strangers..." She smiled serenely at Edmund and he nodded.
"Of course. I'll wait at the edge of the trees. Think she'll come then?"
"Oh, I'm sure she will."
"Good, then it won't be a complete waste." He wandered off out of the Forest and Luna stared at him curiously until he was lost to her sight.
Audrey flew down immediately so Luna scrambled to recover the message she bore. She read it with a mixture of delight and anguish, ruffled Audrey's soft, downy feathers for a while then bade her goodbye.
Neville showed Hannah and Ernie how to enter Emmy and Gylda's safe room. Ginny thought it amusing that the window now displayed a clear night sky with crescent moon - even though more snow clouds were threatening out in the real world. It seemed motherly of the Room to protect its occupants from the harsh realities beyond its magical perimeters.
The older students, perhaps driven by a need to atone, had pooled together a few goodies and these puzzle books, trinkets, and confectionery, as well as regular food, sandwiches, buns, and pumpkin juice, were pulled slowly out of the voluminous Trunkate one by one - as if Ernie was Father Christmas handing out gifts.
Ernie checked again the child-safe label on the inside of his bag before inviting Emmy to try stepping into it.
"Yes! Plenty of room!" cried Neville. "Try bringing your knees up, Emmy then your head should just about be low enough."
Ginny could see a frown beginning to appear on Gylda's pudgy face. Yet no matter how many times he tried, whenever Ernie swung the bag onto his shoulder with Emmy crouched inside, it remained full-sized; unwilling or unable to shrink with a living creature within it.
Neville stopped him eventually. "Thanks for trying anyway, Ern."
They stayed with the younger children for a while after that though the atmosphere was flatter than Ernie's bag, shrunken or not. Only Gylda seemed pleased with the outcome. Perhaps she had dreaded being left in the room alone.
Because some of the D.A. members had visited Hogsmeade during that Sunday, it was not until evening that a full meeting was called. Both Luna and Neville were present at the same gathering for the first time since before Halloween. Edmund Trevett was still quarantined and not yet allowed at meetings with other members so Padma and Michael had escorted Luna.
"We need our best minds on this," said Neville, looking round at the rather unpromising expressions on everyone's face after he had explained. "We need ideas; I don't care how outrageous they are, anything is up for consideration. How do we get these youngsters away to safety - out of Hogwarts and to Rosmerta's?"
There was silence broken only by faint mutterings. A few of those present stared blankly at Neville. Some had their faces screwed up tight, hoping that a solution might occur to them. Luna had gone off by herself into a corner.
"Luna?" said Neville.
When Luna came back she was smiling but they could see she was really sad. Her eyes were shining. She blinked a few times then spoke, "Daddy can save them. He's very clever, you know."
There was a pause as if expecting her to elaborate then Neville spoke, "How, Luna? How?"
"He will come. He will take them safely away."
"When?" said Ginny.
"One day next week. It depends on the weather you see." She handed Ginny the message she had received. Ginny read it to herself,
My lovely Luna,
Ginny told me she is worried about you.
I will arrive in a few days to rescue my Luna. Be ready.
P.S. We have got bramble stuffing for Christmas day!
"It just says he'll be here in a few days," said Ginny. "He does know he can't just walk in the gate and take you away?"
"He'll know what to do," said Luna quietly. "After all, we wrote the Quibbler article: Hogwarts' Darkest Days together."
"And he'll be able to take Emmy and Gylda too?"
Luna hesitated then said, "Yes. I'm sure he can get them to safety."
"Then why so sad?" said Ginny, gently.
Luna looked at everyone gathered there. "I won't be able to see my friends ever again."
She turned slowly away and walked towards the exit.
"Luna!" cried Neville. "We'll all meet up again, somehow." He spun around. "Padma! Can you go after her please?"
Padma flounced after her somewhat huffily.
"Frankly," said Michael, glaring at Neville as he reluctantly followed Padma, "We're beginning to wonder if all this is another weird Loony daydream. I'm getting a bit fed up with it myself, as well."
After they had gone out, Neville looked at Ginny. "It's that damned curse! We have to--" He turned to Hannah. "I meant to ask you - that page - the one from the pagan book - did you keep it?"
Hannah looked bewildered for a few moments at the abrupt redirection of the discussion. "I, erm... No, I don't think... No, we left it on the desk. It should be still up there on the desk."
"It's gone. Snape has it then," said Ginny, with finality.
Neville jumped in quickly. "After we had... finished, he went up there and we're sure he must have taken it." He turned to the others.
"Right, you lot - another mission. We need to recover a page of a book from Snape. He stole it from us. We need ideas."
Zachariah Smith said, "A page from a book? What for? You expect anyone to sneak up to the headmaster's office and nick it? After what happened before with the sword? Why?"
"It might help us with Luna, you wally," snapped Ginny.
"I know how to do it," said Hannah. "I know how to do it safely."
All eyes turned to Hannah and her cheeks were burning. She averted her gaze from Neville. "I know a spell to... swap pages. I can--"
"It was you that mixed up Neville's book!" shrieked Lavender.
Neville stared back and forth between Lavender and Hannah.
"Just a bit of fun," said Hannah in a tiny voice. "I can undo it!" she added hastily. "I always meant to undo it."
"Oh no harm done, Hannah," smiled Neville. "I had a laugh about it."
Lavender shrieked again, "What! What happened to I'll hex your nose up your--!"
"I was only joking," Neville cut in quickly. He snapped at Ginny to change the subject. "You got the pagan book then?"
"Back on the shelf," said Ginny, walking over to the books that were rather untidily arranged against the side wall. She recovered the book and they all gathered around.
Neville whispered something in Hannah's ear and she giggled. She riffled through the book until she found the picture of Snape in the cooking pot, thought a moment, then cast a short spell. The page seemed to tear itself out - but it was a different page. It was the page about the Chapel room.
"Where'd the cooking pot go, though?" said Ernie.
"Wherever the headmaster keeps his secrets!" laughed Hannah. "I'd love to see his face!"
Ginny had grabbed the page and read it out loud.
"One of the finest pagan shrines was on the fifth floor of Hogwarts Castle. Though very small, the heathen shrine was used for several centuries by a few students whose families still clung to the old ways.
"The Harken Tapestry records the conversion of the shrine to a chapel for more general use in 1413. Sadly, the chapel door was permanently locked after a tragedy very shortly after as a memorial.
"Is that all?" said Neville.
"Well, we know it's the fifth floor - that narrows it down a bit," said Hannah.
"Harken - wasn't he the wizard who enchanted the Trysting Stone?" said Ginny, delving in her bag for the old log and clipping she had copied in the school library. She had read it all many times but she read it through again. "Yes, it's him! Likely he was a pagan wizard. The Stone was a pagan meeting place! So... what's it say again?"
"The Harken Tapestry--"
"Oh Merlin! I know where it is!" cried Ginny leaping to her feet. "Got to be!"
She dashed out leaving the others bewildered. Neville and Hannah ran after her. Seamus looked around at everyone and grinned. "Looks like the meeting's over!"
"Hold up, Ginny," panted Neville, as he and Hannah leapt two steps at a time upwards to the fifth floor. They followed her along the lengthy passageway that turned towards the dead end with stairs going up on the left. Ginny walked towards the far turning that looked like a recess.
"This is where I found, Draco - where the boy ghost was," she said to the other two as they rounded the corner. Ginny ran to the stone steps that lay before the long, half-bricked-up balcony window and peered out and down. She could just about get her nose above the blocked-up lower half. "Look - I told you - you can see where it was blasted!"
Neville clambered onto the top step and looked out but it was too dark to see much. There was only one wall torch at the turning into their corridor and its light barely reached the broken stone parapet outside. He strained harder to see, pressing his forehead against the cold glass. He thought he saw a faint flicker just off to the side from where he was looking but it might have been the torchlight quivering...
Without warning, a white face with angry eyes was silently head to head with Neville and he stumbled backwards off the steps with a cry. Its mouth was agape showing cracked, yellow teeth and Hannah shrieked as the pale, tortured features glared at her from the dark glass - then it fled.
"Thurgis Bowett!" said Ginny, herself a little shaken. "See the big ruff?"
"Ruff? I was too busy looking at its face!" cried Neville. He went to hold Hannah who was shaking as far away from the window as she could get. He could hear Ginny muttering.
"Big ruff... Makes sense... He was hung and stretched. Didn't want me to see his neck..."
"You spoke to... that?" asked Neville.
"He was pretending to be Adgar Stockley."
Ginny was still half-muttering to herself. Neville took his face out of Hannah's hair and looked forward. He saw Ginny staring at the end of the short section of corridor; she was murmuring, "It was here all the time, right in front of me..."
She advanced on the dusty old tapestry that drably hung there and began to examine it carefully. The cloth was almost to the height of the ceiling and the cords which supported it sagged badly such that the lower end of the tapestry trailed on the floor and had severely frayed. Ginny was reluctant to breath - she could smell the dust and the musty, decrepit material stank with age.
"That's the Stone," said Neville from further back and looking at the faint shape outlined on the ancient fabric; no colour was left but brownish greys and greyish browns. Hannah, still in his arms, turned to look.
"Neville, Hannah - help me with this." Ginny pointed to the lettering she had only vaguely worked out before when she had been interrupted by the boy ghost.
"Rejoice in love..." said Neville, hesitantly.
"Let me," said Hannah. She pulled out a piece of parchment from her bag and began writing down what letters she suspected and any similar possibilities. She became so engrossed that the other two left her to it.
"Does she ever give up?" murmured Ginny.
"She never gave up on me, that's for sure," smiled Neville.
"Got it!" said Hannah, turning to the other two. "This has been added to the tapestry much later, you can tell! It's a warning!"
"Rejoice in love already bloomed,
And pray for sure it not be doomed,
Guilt be thine, and thine alone,
That thrusts this curs'ed trysting stone"
"Shouldn't that be 'trusts'?" said Neville.
Hannah went back to the tapestry to check. "No, definitely, 'thrusts.'"
"That you are erm... are not guilty," said Ginny, "- because you only touched the stone - you didn't thrust your arm through like I did. That's the whole point isn't it? Normally, for the full tryst, you push your arm right through and grasp your lover's hand?"
"But where does this get us?" asked Neville. "How does it help Luna? Has she been affected at all?"
"There must be more," said Ginny, looking afresh at the tapestry.
They spent the next hour exploring every square inch of the tapestry but apart from a few exultations and exhortations here and there, they found no further information that was readable. The tapestry was in a very distressed state; if there was anything more written on it then likely it was lost to history. Hannah was on her knees but the lower part of the tapestry was crumbling in her hands.
"What if it's written on the back!" cried Neville, suddenly.
Hannah laughed and turned up the bottom corner. "Tapestries are woven - it's the same on the back as the front except mirrored." She smiled up at Neville but he was not smiling back.
"Hannah, you wonderful, wonderful girl!" said Neville, slowly - looking down at her and over her shoulder.
Hannah's face went hot and she averted it to look at the back of the fabric. "I thought it was obvious really." Apart from it being slightly brighter and slightly less grey, the weave was an exact mirror of the front - there was no backing silk.
"The wall, Hannah - the wall."
Hannah turned her head. There was stone edging in the wall behind the tapestry. It was bricked up but clearly there used to be a doorway there.
"The Chapel!" shrieked Ginny, coming round Hannah's other side to get a better look.
Their attempts to gently remove the tapestry ended in much of it being torn amidst clouds of choking dust - but there, behind where it had hung, was a blocked-up, arched doorway.
"Looks like this was blocked up much later," muttered Neville. He ran his finger over the mortar.
"Well it couldn't have been earlier, could it?" smirked Ginny. "It was done in medieval times."
"No - much later as in... last week!"
Ginny groaned. "Snape! - but why?"
"The door was permanently locked but likely we could have opened it," said Neville slowly, trying to think what it meant.
"So he made sure we couldn't get in - but why? And why use modern stones? He could have made it blend perfectly," said Ginny, running her hands over the impenetrable blocks. "So near and yet so far."
"So.. we... He didn't want--" Hannah jumped excitedly. "Listen, he doesn't know about our Room - the Room of Requirement. Perhaps he thinks we've just been looking for a secret room we can use for D.A. meetings!"
"I think you've nailed it, Hannah," said Neville, "and he... he's rubbing our noses in it! He made it obvious so we know he did it!"
Neville sighed. "But what do we do now? Windows? What did it look like from across that little courtyard?"
"Don't remember looking at windows," said Ginny. "I suppose we could break one of these windows and climb out on the balcony..."
"Not with that... thing out there!" shuddered Hannah.
"Let's try round the corridors - see if there was another door," said Neville.
"Neville, we'd have seen it by now..." said Ginny, rolling her eyes but Neville was already striding away with Hannah following.
"You realise where we are?" said Hannah slowly.
"Yeah, in a fifth-floor corridor," said Ginny.
"No - yes - we normally come the other way round so you don't recognise it." She pointed down a side corridor. "Look down there."
Neville looked and scratched his head. "All looks the same to me..."
"That door down there is the meeting room where McGonagall's been giving us Apparition lessons - but we're at the other end of this corridor."
Ginny was the first to run; the others were hot on her heels. They burst into the meeting room and looked at the far end. There was a suggestion that a dais or small stage had stood there once. The back wall had several recesses and narrow supporting stone pillars. Between two of them was the possibility of an old doorway, two feet above the floorboards.
"But this is all solid stone too," moaned Neville. "We're no better off."
There was a sharp snap and Neville spun around. "Hannah?"
"McGonagall has left the disenchantments in place," said Hannah from way across the other side of the room. "Probably difficult to keep setting them up and removing them for every session."
"Now wait a minute," said Neville, somehow trying to assert himself. "You're not thinking of going through there are you?" He pointed back at the wall.
"No, I was thinking more that WE are going through there!" said Hannah.
"We can't be sure the disenchantments extend that way," said Ginny.
"Then no harm done," said Hannah. "I'm going anyway. If Gryffindors are too scared then let a Hufflepuff lead the way."
"You think we can do it?" Ginny asked nervously. "I've only Apparated once - and that was only a step forward."
"Well, this is only a few steps. Oh for Merlin's sake! There's no difference! It's just as easy to go through twenty feet of solid rock as twenty inches of space! You with me or what?"
They hesitated, thinking of the pieces that had been shredded off Hannah when she first tried going through a wall. Neville looked at Ginny and rubbed his nose meaningfully. After another sigh from Hannah they finally shuffled uncomfortably to line up on her left.
"Listen," she said. "If you can't be really determined to do this for Luna then I don't know what else will make you determined. Think of Luna! That's what being determined is all about - think about something important then you'll feel really determined to Apparate."
She looked at Neville. He lifted his chin and squared his shoulders. Hannah looked at Ginny on her other side who nodded.
"On three then... One... two... three!"
At Ginny's first and only Apparation it seemed the room had instantly moved back a step but this time she felt oddly squeezed through blackness. She swayed slightly as the compression let go. Cold stone underfoot told her that a shoe and part of a sock was missing but otherwise she felt whole. The darkness lifted and her eyes began to adjust...
An ethereal blue-green radiance, a primeval glow, reminded her of the Slytherin common room but this light was much softer and gentler. It bestowed its grace upon every surface of a strange scene. The room was no more than half the length of the meeting room they had left. Against the far wall rose a low, white-clothed altar adorned with a simple wooden grail. A pewter candlestick on each side of it cast pools of orange and yellow to add warmth to the illumination. Before the altar knelt two silent, motionless figures and to Ginny they appeared to have frozen in that pose. But the plainness of the altar front beyond the couple disguised their translucency and only slight movements of their silvery surfaces indicated a ghostly nature.
As the youngsters' gaze fell upon these twin spirits they had an impression of intruding into something intimate, sacred, and ancient. Ginny sensed Neville sinking to his knees and Hannah with him. For a few moments Ginny resisted, but a growing sense of wonder touched her heart, melted it, and she, too, yielded her stance.
A fragrance less rich than incense soothed every breath and the hushed, sustained notes of an angelic chorale caressed their ears. The small woodland creatures depicted in the fine stained-glass windows browsed amongst the branching lead cames like a slowly-flowing, multi-coloured stream.
Presently, the heavenly choir lapsed into silence and the figures arose and turned to reveal the sad expressions of a maiden and a youth. Their attire looked Elizabethan and Ginny, getting up off her knees, knew immediately who they must be. She stepped forward; Neville and Hannah moved with her.
"You're Adgar and Ellyn."
"We canst not aid thee," said the ghostly youth as the couple glided towards the three. "Why didst thou not believe the tapestry warning!"
"It w- was hard to--"
The maiden now spoke and her voice, though faint, was firm and insistent. "Our mourners didst sew, at our entreaties, that none but us would e'er suffer so again."
"We grieveth for thine lost love," said Adgar, looking directly at Ginny.
"But he's not lost! He's fine!" cried Ginny then swiftly added with a sideways glance at Neville and Hannah, "...at least, I'm sure he must be. He has to be!"
"The curse, as venom, taketh with certainty in its own time," said Ellyn.
"No!" shrieked Ginny. "It can't be true!"
"Bowett hast taunted us these many years!" cried Adgar. "Only thine own demise canst tilt this dark cup from thine lover's lips." He turned his head towards Ellyn. "As did my beloved for me."
"You fell... on purpose?" said Neville, incredulously, looking at the maiden.
She turned swiftly away and her long gown flowed palely behind her. With her back turned she sighed. "Alas, 'tis so. My sin mayhap, doth trap me in penance here forever."
Adgar spoke, "Thine act, that layeth down thine own life that I shouldst live - canst be no sin, Ellyn."
At the sound of his voice, she turned and came back to him.
He continued mournfully, "Mine be the sin - to follow thee. For thine own curse had endeth with thine parting. No, mine act was selfish - to love thee more than life..."
Ellyn turned to the visitors and never had they seen such sorrow in anyone's eyes. "Wedded were we to be, here in the same good light as the trysting day."
"Bowett didst scoff once the deed wast done," snarled Adgar. "Mayhap didst think I wouldst surrender mine life first - that he might take Ellyn for his own." He bowed his head low. "And mayhap I doth wish I had..."
"Never!" cried Ellyn. "Eternal penance with thee weigheth less than a mortal yoke to such as he!"
Hannah glanced worriedly towards the stained glass windows but saw there only the woodland creatures who now stood silently listening.
Adgar saw her glance. "Evil canst not enter this sacred place. He forever haunts the court below where none now tread; the Bloody Baron will ne'er give him leave to dwell elsewhere."
"But a loving sacrifice should not bring punishment - it's not right!" said Hannah. "Why can you not go on? What holds you here?"
Ellyn stared sorrowfully at Hannah. "Our troth doth chain us here. Our hearts didst ever yearn to marry so. Such desire bindeth. I didst choose death to save my beloved e'er we wed - thus canst it never be."
"So my death is the only thing that can save Harry?" said Ginny, faintly.
Neville turned. Ginny's face was pale and cold in the eerie light. "Ginny! What're you saying! You can't be thinking--"
"Harry MUST live - you know that!" she said.
"Worse there be than death," said Adgar. "The black curse bringeth evil in guises many."
"Then... he might not die?" said Ginny.
"Alas no - in its stead he might suffereth that which most he doth fear." Adgar shook his head as if he had had long years to contemplate his own fate.
Ginny sank to the floor, her face lowered.
"No, Ginny! I won't let you!" shouted Neville. "I'll... I'll lo- lock you up! I won't--"
But Ginny was murmuring to herself, lost in some inner hell of guilt and fear. "Poor Harry... All that he has gone through... He wasn't even there. Didn't have a choice. It was me - I did it."
"Snap out of it, Ginny!" shouted Neville, shaking her by the shoulder.
Hannah spoke, "I don't understand - weren't we trying to help Luna?"
Neville stared at her for a few moments then turned to the ghosts. "We have another friend. She became very ill. We thought it was because I touched the Stone..."
Ellyn spoke, "If thine arm reached through--"
"No, I only cleaned away the weeds!" said Neville. "I never put my hand right through the hole - but she was unwell whenever I went near her after that!"
Ellyn turned to Ginny who was still lost within herself on the floor.
"Ginny!" said Neville. She looked up. Her face was sick with worry, her eyes dark with pain.
The maiden spoke. "Wast thy lover ever in thine thoughts?"
Ginny turned to the ghost, nodded, and said tearfully, "Always."
"Think thou!" said Adgar, "At the tryst! Search thine heart! Who thinkest thou of?"
"Why, Harry of course!" cried Ginny indignantly, and rising to her feet again. "He's the only one I've ever cared for."
"You were shouting at her," said Neville quietly.
Ginny turned to look at him. He was gaping upwards, searching his memory. "What?" she said.
"You told her to stop interfering," said Neville. "You were angry. Told her to leave you alone!"
"Who?" said Ginny, wiping a hand across her eyes.
"Luna," said Neville. "You weren't thinking of Harry at all - you were furious at Luna."
"You said it yourself, Gin - the Stone reads your feelings. When Harken enchanted the Stone he expected lovers to only be thinking of each other at the moment they hold hands. The same must be true for the curse."
"But the Stone... helped me," said Ginny. "It removed all my doubts and fears about Harry and me..." She could not tell them about Harry's kiss, that special kiss that took place at the Stone from which point she knew that all was well.
"Ginny," said Neville, "Everything was always alright with you and Harry. You just believed in the Stone so much it made your realise there never had been any cause for doubt, don't you see?"
"I never told you this," said Neville, "but from the moment you used the Stone, I became completely besotted by Luna; saw her in a different light. I could talk to her more freely. Don't you remember? I asked you to apologise to her?"
Neville looked at Hannah who appeared sceptical. He said, "I won't pretend I didn't already fancy Luna - but she seemed more and more wonderful from that moment on."
Hannah scowled and said rather pompously, "Magic cannot create true love."
"Exactly! That's what I'm saying. I was bewitched."
"But why would the curse do that?" asked Hannah.
"So Luna would fall even more in love with you," said Ginny, "- and be hurt more when you fell for Hannah."
"But I really do love, Hannah!"
Ellyn, who had been listening closely to the conversation, spoke up, "The curse floweth as water which doth follow these earthly contours yet reshapeth them to its purpose. It steers our loves and hopes by its persuasions to their end in a dark sea." She looked closely at their faces then added, "Your friend doth suffer now yet sails to a still greater peril."
The two young ghosts turned, and hand in hand walked back to kneel before the altar. There was nothing to mark the passage of centuries; not even the candles burnt any lower.
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