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Love Breaks The Noble Spirit by Hippothestrowl
Chapter 36 : The Better Part of Valour
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Chapter 36


The Better Part of Valour



Garth Stradley was young and very nervous. He had been anxious all through Potions. By the time the lesson had drawn to a close and his fellow students had finished clearing up and began to disperse, his hands were trembling. The boy lacked the nerve of a Gryffindor - though a Hufflepuff does like to finish what he begins. And when someone of the stature of Hannah Abbott asks for help you can only say yes. She had also insisted he have a solid alibi if challenged by a prefect for tardiness. So here he was - quivering like a Flitterbloom tentacle.

He rolled up his sleeve, and leaned his arm down at the side of his cauldron just before the dull yellow potion it contained bubbled over. His shout of pain surprised even himself and he pulled himself away. That part was not pretence.

Professor Slughorn looked up from packing away papers in his bag. "Stradley! My dear boy!" The big man moved quickly to inspect the injury. "This is not like you - not like you at all to be so careless. Why, I regard you as perhaps the brightest of my second-years. What were you thinking?"

"Sorry, Professor."

"No matter. Just a scalding hex. I'll fix you up with a Dittany salve and no permanent harm done."

As Slughorn applied the healing ointment, Stradley asked tentatively, "Professor, curative potions would seem a rather... fascinating avenue for study."

"Ho! A budding healer - interesting choice Stradley! You'll need to make sure your cauldrons don't bubble over though, if you want to work at St. Mungo's one day!" Slughorn chuckled as he dabbed at the youth's arm with the Dittany.

"Yes, sir. But specifically, could there be potions for infections and fevers and suchlike?"

"Of course - Meadowsweet does both and very easy to enchant too!"

"Really? So it might be produced within the space of an hour?"

"An hour, you say, Stradley? Your patient might be delirious else dead by then!" Slughorn snorted. "Three minutes. Any self-respecting healer could whip up a vial of Meadowsweet in three minutes."

"So there might be time right now? I'd very much like to see how it's done, sir."

"What is this for, Stradley? You're not feeling peaky, are you?"

"Knowledge is fascinating, sir."

"You're quite right. Very well then, but it won't last. A draught of Meadowsweet stays potent only briefly once enchanted."

Stradley's expression clouded over. "And then, sir?"

"Why it reverts to as it was: a mere medicinal herb. Oh, it can help a little but it is very weak without magic."

"It reverts? So it could be enchanted again?"

"Oh yes. Travelling Healers generally have a vial ready and charm it as needed."

"Thank you, sir."

...

Neville cursed aloud the Five Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. The things he was most in need of, magic could never supply - he'd never thought of it that way before. When his gran had taught him the five 'peas' as she called them, it had not seemed relevant to the life of a four-year-old. 'Provisions' had always been available at meal times and there were always 'People' around: family and friends. As for 'Precious Objects,' he had had no need of money and diamonds were mere shiny beads. If he had a stomach upset or fell and scraped his knee then there would be a suitable 'Potion' for the occasion. As for 'Philosophy', he never knew what it meant and was annoyed because it didn't seem to begin with a 'pea'.

"Knowledge, perception of what we do not know," his gran had explained.

"What don't we know, Gran?" he had asked.

"That's the problem - we do not know!" his gran had replied cryptically.

Neville cursed the Exceptions again and tried to stand. The Room seemed to sway about him and sweat broke out on his forehead. He took off his hot, stuffy robe and flung it away. Still using the broomstick as a walking staff for support, Neville hobbled painfully to the door and paused. Should he risk it? His stomach growled yes but common sense said no. It was now evening and Hannah had not shown herself all day. He felt resentful. Then he hated himself because he felt resentful. Then he resented that he felt obliged to hate himself. Both reason and trust agreed that she would help him if she could - but his innards snarled angrily, 'No she won't; her belly is full and her leg doesn't throb with an unhealthy ache and stab her with fire when she tries to walk.'

If only his wand could produce the fifth pea then he would have some knowledge of what was happening in the world. But then, he thought, the Carrows could simply cast a spell to find out where he is. Merlin! You-know-who could find out where Harry Potter is.

He stopped cursing the Exceptions and went and sank back into his hammock. The Room had tried to be helpful in its limited way. A clock had manifest on a shelf to remind him that dinnertime had come and gone without him. Ernie's wireless had appeared beside it - though Neville did not know how to work it. There was a nice picture and a mirror on one wall and a bookcase stood apart in its own space but contained only story books. All these things might help to pass the time but were of no practical use - except perhaps the looking glass. Now Neville could count the other injuries to face and body incurred during his escape - scratches, gashes, a puffy black eye, bruised ribs and elbows - and generally feel sorry for himself much more efficiently than without his reflection.

He stared up at the ceiling. It was whirling ever so slowly and he felt nauseous. His stomach was rumbling once more and he found himself replying to its protests. "What do you know about it, anyway?" Over the next hour, this strange conversation with his intestines began to turn nightmarish. The walls began to close in; the Room, perhaps, thought he did not need so much space. His clothing became soaked in sweat and the hammock was engulfing him like a beetle in a newly-sprouted Crawl Pod. He struggled. He was trapped, being digested! Forcing himself upright, he gasped for air. He dug in his pocket and fumbled out the water bottle, clumsily scattering loose change to clatter noisily across the wooden planks.

"Curse the Exceptions!" he shouted. He was back to that. Of all the Exceptions, the only one he had was of no use - a few coins which he could not even spend on food in his isolation! He stared and laughed hysterically; the room was tilting and they were rolling back to him. Coins roll back to you when they are of no use to you! Perhaps I've discovered a new F-- F-- Filophosy! He swayed, passed out and collapsed from hammock to ground.

When consciousness returned his hazy, swaying vision was filled with a huge shiny gold disc. He lay with the side of his burning, throbbing forehead pressed to the rough splinters under him - yet lacked the will to move for over a minute. It took him that long to recognise what he saw. Of all the fallen coins, it was his fake D.A. Galleon that lay so close to his puffy eye. He groaned, and it was not entirely his aches and pains that caused him to do so. The fifth pea. If he didn't know what was going on out there then Hannah didn't know his condition - didn't even know how to enter this newly-formed Room! Had she perhaps been trying to get in, thinking it was the D.A. training room? It was his responsibility. Only D.A. leaders could pass instructions down to the lower ranks using the coins. Likely Hannah couldn't contact him. Of course! That was why Luna had to send Audrey in response to his request for information about Draco. Her coin would not have survived her imprisonment. And even if Ginny or Hermione had made her another, she was not an active leader now. His mind began to spin as he tried to think how it worked and what to do.

His parched throat caused him to cough suddenly and drops of sweat fell upon the Galleon. It seemed to stimulate him to effort where will had failed. He groped for his wand, tapped the coin to tell Hannah how to get into the Room, then sagged back to the wooden boards, his mind dragging through harsh deserts and racking dungeons. And yet there was not too long to wait - though it was not Hannah Abbott that entered. It was a headless shadow-gremlin.

Panic engulfed Neville as the gremlin crept cautiously forward towards him. It seemed to sense he was now too weak to move. One leg - his good leg - was still half-enfolded in his hammock, the rest of him sprawled clumsily on the floor next to his wand. It was only inches away but it might as well have been on the moon.

Furthermore, the creature had its own wand and, babbling in some incoherent dead language, was using it to produce a poison. Neville knew it must be a poison because a gremlin was hardly like to make him a cup of tea - nor to force it down between his lips as this one was doing; even his gran didn't do that.

Neville gasped, choked, spluttered, sprayed, and finally, at the invisible hands of the persistent beast on his throat, he swallowed. As he awaited death, the creature's body seemed to transform itself into a sinister, ragged robe, a decapitated, living Dementor.

"Stradley - I'm Stradley. Call me Garth," it was saying. Crazy talk. "Hannah sent me."

Now 'Hannah' was a word that Neville understood. It was like a cool hand upon his fevered brow. He blinked then croaked unintelligibly, "Is Hannah okay? Is she safe?" The room's rotation slowed to a stop and came back into focus. He tried to sit up but failed. The dark robe helped him.

"The Carrows have recruited more Slytherins - made them deputy prefects," said Stradley, as he offered a water bottle to Neville. "They're watching all the sixth and seventh years everywhere they go. Even first and second-years get challenged in the corridors sometimes - pockets turned out, that sort of thing - but not so much as the older students, especially Gryffindors." There was great respect in his voice when he spoke of Neville's house. "Hannah couldn't shake them off so she asked me. Lent me her Galleon - I'm an honorary D.A. supporter now!" He sound excited and proud.

"What time is it?" Neville asked, half to himself - he was looking towards the clock as, with help, he rose weakly from the floor and slumped onto his hammock to lounge, half-sitting, against the wall. He didn't want to lie down until he was sure the whirling pit was not going to return to torment his brain.

"Nearly eleven."

"You're out of curfew! How are you--?"

"Hannah Disillusioned me. I've been concealed outside for four hours! I tried everything she said to get in. Nothing worked until I got your message a few minutes ago. I was scared you'd be dead."

"Me too."

"No, I mean, my first D.A. assignment and suppose I accidentally killed the leader because I couldn't open the door!"

"Yeah, sorry - I needed a hideaway. I made it so Carrow supporters can never get in. Unless you think you need that, you can't either."

"So... you trust me?"

"Bound to - you couldn't get in if you supported them," said Neville. "Let's take a look at you... Garth." He pulled himself more upright then countered the concealment charm. "But why the old rags?"

"The robe--? Oh, yes, sorry - it's yours."

"Mine? You sure?" said Neville. "It's all ripped."

"Wasn't me!" Stradley hesitated. "Have you looked at your trousers? And your pullover? Come to that, have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently? You look like you've been trampled by a herd of overweight Hippogriffs."

He took off the robe and laid it on the hammock by Neville's side. "I found it on the floor. I thought you might be scared if you saw a potion unstoppering itself and I didn't know how to undo the concealment charm myself."

"Thanks. I wasn't scared at all by the headless robe." Neville gave a wry smile as he looked over the youngster. "What's in the back pack?"

"Your bag for one thing - shrunk down. Hannah said you'd know how to restore it to normal size. Seamus filled it with your essentials - socks and things, I guess. Oh, and food. Not much, it was all we could get."

Neville helped him off with the pack and was soon chomping enthusiastically on a large meat-and-potato pie which he heated first with his wand. The younger boy breathed in the aroma and watched him hungrily. Neville paused.

"How long did you say you had to wait? You've missed dinner haven't you?"

Stradley nodded but refused when the pack was offered to him. Neville began to appreciate how much had been done to try to help him. He resumed eating but with less gusto.

Garth said, "Food's one of the five exemptions to Gamp's Law, did you know? We call them the five peas because they're the only greens you don't have to eat."

"Yeb, 'dell be 'bout ib subtibe," munched Neville.

"They watch us at meal times and Hannah's worried nobody can get to the kitchen again - they've set sentries outside now. She barely got away with this."

The vigorous chewing sound stopped momentarily while Neville absorbed this news. "So...?"

"Better ration this - might be enough for a couple of days."

Neville looked into the pack. There was half a loaf, a pork pie, a few more items that might last tomorrow. How could he make that last two days? He was so hungry he could eat the lot right now. He dug a little further. There were two little baked jacket potatoes and some cold sweetcorn salad all wrapped in two handkerchiefs with hems neatly-stitched in yellow and black. He recognised the handiwork - and the meal was Hannah's too. It became very personal all of a sudden: the way the potatoes were sliced diagonally, the thoughtful pinch of salt in a sweet wrapper. This was from her own dinner. He looked away so Stradley did not see his eyes shining with emotion.

"And then...?" said Neville hoarsely. "When this is gone?"

"Don't know."

Neville resumed eating, but more slowly, as if that might make it last longer.

Stradley looked around. "This is great! So this is where the D.A. meet?"

"Not like this, but yes. So... Hannah's alright? What about--?"

"She's sitting up, waiting to Undisillusion me when I get back. Well, waiting up to hear if you're okay really. She's worried sick. Done nothing but try to think how to help you."

Neville gulped the last of his pie and took another swig of water to hide his mixed feelings of gratitude and shame. It didn't last long until hunger drove him to reach for a chunky jam tart.

Oh - I nearly forgot - I've a message from her." Stradley held out a tightly-wrapped scroll.

Neville dropped his tart back in the pack, rubbed jam and pastry crumbs off his hand onto his tattered robe and lunged for the parchment.

"I've gotta go," said Garth.

"What? Oh yeah."

Neville recast a concealment charm on the youngster who shuddered - still unused to the temporary cold sensation. "Remember, it's not invisibility - it's just camouflage."

"I know. Hannah told me."

"Stay in the shadows. Don't stand in front of torches or lanterns or--"

"I know. Hannah told me."

"And don't get too near--"

"People - yeah, I know, Hannah told me."

"Watch out for--"

"Revealing spells - yeah, Hannah told me that too."

Neville paused. "Tell Hannah... Tell her... I'm thinking of her."

"Sure. You can probably tell her yourself soon enough anyway."

"What! What do you mean?"

"I told you, the Carrows are coming down hard on the ringleaders - watching them, sort of threatening. Everyone's at risk really. They don't care anymore. Hannah reckons you'll have to squeeze in two or three more soon. Seamus and Ernie are desperate."

After Stradley had gone out and Neville was alone, he stared around the Room . Just when I thought... How we going to fit...? And feed us all?

"We need FOOD," he said aloud and very firmly then, more submissively. "More hammocks?" Nothing happened.

With the pack in his arms, he got up without thinking and had limped to the table before he realised his leg wasn't hurting much at all - just stiff and aching. He emptied the bag's contents onto the table top and examined the supplies - all sensible food that Hannah knew he liked.

The clock ticked on its shelf by his ear and he glanced at it. It would soon be another day but what then? He turned to the radio. If Ernie has to run away and turns up here, maybe he can--? Can what? Listen to some music while we both starve?

He glared around the confined space. "Don't you understand? Humans need FOOD? It's a requirement and you're supposed to be the Room of Requirement." He sighed and went over to the books but they were still just stories - tales of adventure and romance but why would anyone need those? He grimaced again at his image in the mirror then moved on. The portrait was pretty enough but ridiculously large for this small room - and how long can you keep looking at the same picture? The portrait smiled at him as usual but the girl in the painting didn't speak. She seemed rather wistful and distant - not the best of company for someone trapped in solitude. Conversation and contact were needed. What else? The Room's contents were few indeed.

Hannah's message was remembered then and he pulled it out of his pocket, sat down in the chair beside the laden table, and began to read:

Neville, I can scarcely tell you how much I'm troubled. If you can think of anything, anything at all, any way I can help you, then you know I will.

Things got worse after you disappeared. The Carrows were furious. Snape's still not around - Ernie thinks he keeps visiting the Ministry or reporting to You-know-who. Seamus thinks he's spending time with Draco - fixing him up with potions - he says he looks slightly better. I think Snape's doing all of those. Either way, the Carrows can do what they like. They say no food for any students from tomorrow until the sky writing is removed from the Great Hall so I've told Eloise to get rid of it. Did I do right?

Me and Seamus and Ernie and most of the suspected D.A. are being tailed by prefect deputies everywhere. Sometimes it feels like there are more deputies than students! We're not sure if it's to see if we contact you or they intend some trap for each of us - perhaps both.

I had to ask Garth to try to get food and healing to you. They don't watch younger students that closely. Even so, I daren't ask him again - it's too dangerous. I'm lost. I really don't know what to do next.

I love you so much.

Your Hannah


Neville read the fear and despair in the last sentences and tears welled up in his eyes. He looked across at the hard-won supplies on the table and despised himself for ever thinking they were meagre. Appetite was replaced by more subtle feelings. The thought of Hannah and his other friends risking their lives to supply him while he sat here in comparative safety made him so embarrassed and so fearful for their welfare he could not sleep that night. If only he could do something - anything - to help them.

He paced most of the night. Some of the time he spent studying the books to see if there was some hidden secret - but they were just what they seemed: story books. They were all tales that might have appealed to him some other time but not here, not now. He sighed as he squeezed Tales of Bewitched Treasure back onto the packed shelf then began to walk up and down again, mind racing round and round wondering what to do and why the Room seemed to have let them down.

He must have lain down exhausted in the early hours for he awoke mid-morning in his hammock. There was the bread, a little butter and milk - even a few tea bags in the pack but no... He stared. A toasting fork and a teapot now lay upon the table. Had they fallen out of the bag? Or had the Room provided them? Of what use were they without - he spun around and looked at the wall torch. A few minutes later he was crunching hot buttered toast and swigging hot gulps of tea heated by his wand. The curious sense of normality lifted his spirits. He felt sure the Room had helped; what else might it do? If only he could speak to it?

After finishing breakfast he went again to the large portrait. The young girl rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked at him inquiringly.

"Are you able to... Can you tell the Room I'll be desperate for food soon - and there may be others?"

She smiled, turned away, and began to walk into the black background painted behind her.

"Wait! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to offend--" Neville blinked in disbelief. The painting was swinging open like a door; behind it was a deep, shadowed niche in the wall - he could not tell how deep. He hesitated, then stepped up into the dark hole.

It might have been an act of faith the led him into the void but brass lamps flared up immediately they were needed to reveal a lengthy earthen passage. He followed it for a while then used the Four-Point spell, "Point me!"

Neville stopped. The tunnel led in the general direction of Hogsmeade. Stepping out into its main street in daylight was not something he wanted to risk. He looked back towards the tiny room he had left - a room with little food today and likely none tomorrow. There was no choice. He resumed the journey.

It was a strange walk and a long one. Neville began to wish he had left a message behind him in the Room. What if he never returned? Far ahead the passage seemed to come to an abrupt end but within that gloom was another door much like the one he had left. Neville pressed onward until he reached it then swung it cautiously open a crack.

"Took your time, didn't you, boy?"

...

Because of the decree limiting gatherings of students to no more than two, Hannah and Ernie kept a few paces ahead of Susan and Leanne as they came out of their common room the next morning. Theo Nott and a younger Slytherin were standing guard outside the kitchen entrance and eyed them suspiciously as they passed but Susan and Leanne had dropped back further in anticipation.

"So, everyone ready?" said Hannah to the others as soon as they were out of earshot and the other two girls had closed up again. "And take no chances - only small pieces of food, right? Not a single slip-up."

"Wish I'd had more time this morning to practise the delicate spell movements," said Ernie.

"You were fine last night," said Hannah.

"Still..."

"We're all a bit nervous. It's understandable," she said.

Ernie glanced back at the other two Hufflepuff girls who nodded in agreement. "We've all got Charms after breakfast. We tell Michael and Seamus then - but we must be careful they--"

"Yes, we know, Ernie, we know" said Susan, rolling her eyes, "prefects at the back of the class, watching."

"I'm only rehearsing it in our minds so there's no mistakes," he said. "Hannah, did you decide who'll take it to Neville?"

"They don't suspect me, yet," said Leanne. "I've got a free period this afternoon. I'll go then." She kept glancing back nervously to make sure no Slytherins were coming up behind them. As they neared the Great Hall entrance, Seamus and Parvati were descending the main stair and they hurried over to be nearer the Hufflepuffs but without joining them.

"Save what food you can for Nev now and at lunch. Tiny amounts - make sure you're not seen," said Hannah, "We're pooling resources. Leanne's going to get it to him this afternoon."

Seamus looked sceptical but agreed. "But how long can we keep this up for before we're spotted?"

"We've worked out some moves using concealments spells. We'll explain later."

Even as Hannah spoke, three Slytherin deputies, hovering just inside the Great Hall doorway, spotted them and came out. "Ten points from everybody!" gloated one of them, a spotty little girl with a twisted grin. "No more than two students together in the corridors."

"We're not together are we!" protested Parvati. "We just happen to be reaching the Great Hall for breakfast at the same time! Anyway, you're not a full prefect - you can't deduct points."

"We report to the head boy and girl," scoffed another of the Slytherins. "They take our word for it."

"Yeah, well Zabini and Greengrass are both dumb enough to take the word of creeps like you," said Ernie, tiredly, without thinking.

The scoffer eye's flared. "Right - that's another ten points off for disrespecting Blaise and Daphne. Of course, they might want to double that when I tell them." He looked no older than fourteen and his arrogance as he casually examined his fingernails was hard for Ernie to take.

"Might as well take the lot since the points have no value anymore do they?" said Ernie, and his sneer matched the other's for sarcasm.

"You're right," and the scoffer's voice dredged up an even deeper contemptuous tone, "so we'll make it detention then. See how you enjoy an hour with Vince and Greg tonight! Maybe I'll turn up and watch the show!"

He laughed when Ernie's face blanched and the Slytherin turned back into the Great Hall with his two companions.

"Who is that little runt?" hissed Susan to Hannah as they took their seats for breakfast amidst a noisy scraping of chairs in the otherwise quiet chamber. "Maybe we should teach him a lesson."

"Baddock. We daren't risk anything at the moment - it's too dangerous." Hannah turned to Ernie. "You alright, Ern? Take no notice of him."

As all the students began eating the quietness was disturbed by a clatter of cutlery and crockery but Ernie remained silent, jabbing at a sausage with his fork.

"Ernie?"

"I can't do it."

"What?"

"Can't do the detention. Not without Mandrabane."

"Ernie," said Susan. "You've got no choice. If you don't they'll--"

"I can't take it. Not like this."

Hannah was delicately slicing up her fried bread into squares but only half of them were being eaten. "Ernie - your wand. Like we practised."

"What? Sorry, yes." Ernie had his wand up his sleeve. He aligned it to Hannah's plate - it was more natural to have his arms half-folded and pointing that way than at his own plate - and he used a concealing spell upon the fried bread squares as Hannah gripped them one by one then dropped them invisibly down into a big apron pocket on the front of her robe while her hand went to her mouth and she pretended to eat.

"How's it look?" she said.

"It looks natural enough," said Susan. "I'll give it a try now. Ready, Leanne?"

"We can't go on like this though," continued Susan after a while, as she cut more toast into strips. "Not enough to feed a pigeon, let alone Neville."

"It'll look more when it's all together and with dinner as well," said Hannah, but without conviction. She sensed the footsteps of a prefect deputy patrol behind her and she took a real crunch of bacon sandwich without really enjoying it.

"It's not just for a few seconds," said Ernie, softly. "They inflict the Cruciatus sometimes for minutes - it's unbearable - and not just once. I spoke to Michael. I can't face what he went through. You know his arm was broken? Well then they--"

"Don't say it! I don't want to hear it!" snapped Hannah. "Anyway, that was for releasing a first-year from the dungeon - yours is just detention for--"

"Hannah! Check your Galleon!" Leanne looked excited. "It's Neville!"

Hannah had been so preoccupied with Ernie's plight that she hadn't noticed her D.A. Galleon getting warm in her pocket. She was unsure about pulling it out without being noticed; it felt as if every movement they made was being scrutinised. "What's he say, Leanne?"

"He's found food!" she whispered hoarsely.

"Can't have!" said Susan. A prefect was looking directly at her from beyond the next table so she held up a large slice of toast in front of her mouth and dropped her voice to an even lower whisper, "What's the actual words?"

"Good news. Have now got food supply," said Leanne, glancing down to her lap in the shadow of the table. She looked up at the others to see their reaction. Hannah looked startled and unsure.

Ernie's face had lightened. "That's it, then. I'm joining him."

Hannah whispered loudly out of the corner of her mouth, "Ernie, we should wait. We don't know how much he's found."

Ernie thought for a while.

Hannah continued, "We carry on as planned until--"

"I'll take it," said Ernie, finally. "After charms, as agreed, instead of Leanne, I'll take the food to him that we've collected."

"But I've got a free period," said Leanne. "Haven't you got History?"

"Yes, but Michael and Padma have got Arithmancy. I'll go up behind them to the seventh floor then slip away if the coast is clear. I'll take a chance - see what Neville's found. Then decide whether to dodge back down to History using a concealment spell. Binns won't even notice. If Neville's found a way to conjure food then I'm not coming back."

The group fell silent for a while then Susan spoke. "What about us, Ernie? We need you."

"We look to you as Huff leader," added Hannah, quietly.

Ernie flushed with embarrassment and stared down at his knees, struggling within himself, then said resignedly. "Okay, I'll... I'll see what Neville says. Then... come back."

Leanne spoke, "No, Ernie." She looked at the other two girls. "Ernie's done his duty. Things are different now. It could be any of us next."

"Well, we can't all run away and hide forever, can we! Be reasonable!" snapped Susan.

"Susan, that's not fair," said Hannah. "That's like saying you think Neville ran out on us! Anyway, it can't be forever - it just can't be."

"You still think Harry Potter will come back?" said Leanne.

"Neville keeps saying so - and I believe him."

"You only believe him because he's your guy," said Susan.

"He's the chosen one, Harry Potter is. He'd never desert us. We have to be ready."

"You're just saying what Neville says," said Susan. "Anyway, we can't use the Room to practice duelling now, can we? Ernie, we need you here. You have to come back."

"You don't get it, do you!" snapped Ernie, excitedly. He lowered his voice at the sound of an approaching patrol. "If Crabbe and Goyle get hold of me, I might not be coming back!"

"What do you mean?" said Hannah, when the prefect deputy had passed them.

"Michael nearly died. It could happen. He thinks from what they were saying... You have to understand they were... taunting him... humiliating him. I won't say what. They, Crabbe and Goyle - and some other Slytherins - the Carrows think their Cruciatus curse is good enough now to run their own detentions. You think the Carrows are bad? Crabbe and Goyle are just dumb brutes. The Carrows do it as punishment or to find out information and in obedience to You-know-who. They enjoy it, yeah, but Crabbe and Goyle do it ONLY because they enjoy it!"

The girls stared at Ernie.

"They'll break me, Hannah. They'll break me. I know they will." Ernie was struggling inwardly with his fears, in need of support and understanding yet ashamed to appear weak before the girls.

"What about Draco? He's back now," said Susan.

Hannah looked up and followed Susan's gaze. Draco was back in his usual place beside Crabbe and Goyle - but somehow he was apart, withdrawn. "He's still got a prefect's badge I see."

"But you can see from their attitude that he doesn't influence them like he used to," said Ernie. "Death Eater families don't respect the Malfoys anymore."

"We can't all just hide away or they've won! We have to keep resisting," said Susan and her voice was very bitter. "They killed my aunt."

"We understand, Sue," said Hannah, softly. "I know how you feel. They killed my--"

"Oh, Han, I'm sorry - I forgot about your mum for the moment. I'm so sorry." Susan looked aghast at Hannah but Hannah just nodded grimly.

They all lapsed from conversation for a while. There was a very faint murmuring all around as if numerous covert discussions were taking place around the Great Hall but looking about, nothing obvious was to be seen. Here and there was a hand covering a mouth or a head averted downwards. Pools of silence flowed ahead of the ominous patrols of prefects and deputies wherever they went in the chamber then the soft mutterings resumed in their wake.

It was evident that Hannah had used the break in the discussion to think through her own feelings for she said, "I cannot believe that Harry, Ron, and Hermione have simply run away and are going to spend the rest of their lives hiding. They'll be looking for opportunities to strike back and so will Neville. There's a time and a place for action and a time for discretion - waiting sensibly for another opportunity. Ernie, you've served the D.A. well - no doubt about that. Now is a good time to do the sensible thing and wait for further opportunities to serve."

Ernie looked very grateful for Hannah's support and relief showed in his face. There was sadness too and it was shared amongst them - as if it were, perhaps, a permanent separation. They had been friends since their first day at Hogwarts. What would the future hold?

...

"The tormented faces of gold seemed almost alive to the reckless adventurer yet, taking no heed of his companion's entreaties, he dropped his wand and stretched forth both greedy hands to take the evil plunder."

"Unbelievable!" said Neville to himself aloud. The sound of a door opening caused him to lower Bewitched Treasure quietly to the floor without even a bookmark and to take up his own wand. He swung his legs over the edge of the hammock and sat up, listening intently.

"Ernie!" Neville was on his feet in an instant to meet his friend.

"Alright, Neville?" said Ernie.

"Yeah," smiled Neville. "You?"

"I'm good." They grinned at each for a few more seconds then Ernie added, "Brought some food."

"Take the seat. I'll sit on the--" As Neville gestured towards the chair at the side of the table, he noticed for the first time a second chair on the other side. "I'll take this other one." Ernie sat down too and slipped his bag under the table.

"Did you get my message?" said Neville. "About the food?"

"Yeah, but we were already collecting and thought we'd let you have it to be safe till we know how much you've found."

Neville grinned again. "There's a tunnel."

Ernie stared. "What!"

"Leads to the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade."

Ernie looked around. "How?"

Neville got up. "It's totally brilliant! The Room made it. See this blank picture?" He stepped over to it and swung it open. Ernie noticed his limp but Neville continued excitedly before he could say anything, "Leads right into the landlord's sitting room! And guess what?"

Ernie shook his head.

"He's Dumbledore's brother! His name's Abe and he's been making me meals."

"But... That means we can escape!" cried Ernie. His features began to lighten; then he noticed Neville staring at him.

"Escape to where? To do what?" said Neville. He sounded slightly miffed.

"Well, I..." Ernie tailed off. "I mean, we can't stay here forever can we! Can we?" He looked closely at Neville, noticing for the first time the marks and bruises on his face alongside the older, familiar scars.

"We?" said Neville.

"Oh, I was... going to ask you..." Ernie looked around the little room wondering how to say it. "I was set up for a bad detention tonight." He looked at Neville's expression. "Well, you can imagine what that'd be like with no Mandrabane and no healing potions and Crabbe and Goyle free to do whatever they want."

Neville continued to look blankly at Ernie, digesting what he had said.

"Well, I'm damned if I'm--" Ernie's defiant attitude suddenly collapsed like a rotten pumpkin before a Graphorn stampede and he continued in a murmur with his face lowered, "Truth is, my nerve broke."

"And you want out? Is that it?" said Neville. "Good for you! I'd like to see their faces when you don't turn up!" He gestured towards the far wall which seemed curiously further away than he had thought. "We'll set up a--" There was already a second hammock there and the wall hangings were the yellow and black of Hufflepuff. "Yeah, well - that's your bunk over there."

Ernie was up on his feet now. "So it's alright then? I can stay?"

"Course you can! Hope you like romantic adventure stories because..." The bookshelf now seemed to extend further but Neville didn't investigate. "Whatever you need..."

Ernie wasn't listening. He was looking around the small room and muttering aloud, "This is fantastic! This is just fantastically brilliant!"

Neville looked surprised and took another look himself. "Well, there's no windows and not a lot of--"

"My wireless radio!" exulted Ernie, dashing over to it like he had found a lost brother. "Still working, is she?"

"All I got was flickering lights and a few crackles to be honest. I don't know how to operate it."

"Well, we'll have to try to guess the password, of course," said Ernie, not a bit downcast by Neville's failure. "We're in touch again, Neville! We're not done for!"

"Done for? Of course not!" laughed Neville in astonishment.

"I mean - there's hope after all!" cried Ernie. His grin threatened to crack his previously-sombre features.

"Hope - of course there's hope!" shouted Neville. "We'll make new plans. Figure something out. Continue to resist. Keep fighting. We'll win!"

"We could..." Ernie's eyes met Neville's and he knew his own must be shining with relief. "We can do sorties from here! Protest work if we're careful! I can still help the others! We're not abandoning them at all!"

Neville frowned at the suggestion. "Definitely not running out on our friends! I was thinking tomorrow of going out so I can get back into the old Room - you know, the D.A. room. We'll be needing all our old potions and spare wands and lockers and--"

There was a creaking and heaving noise accompanied by a slight fall of dust from the board-and-beam ceiling, and they looked around nervously. The panelled wall with Neville's hammock had pushed itself back further and the elongated far wall was now spurting a stack of shelves which were pushing the ceiling higher. Popping into display along the shelves were the contents of the old D.A. stores. An extra lantern sprouted on a bracket to illuminate two lockers that had appeared on the floor below the lowest shelf.

Neville looked again at Ernie. "You're right - it is fantastic. Just fantastically brilliant!"

...

Over the next two days the Room became more than just a hideaway. It was now the D.A.'s new headquarters for coordinating and organising their efforts to support one another and other students. It was not safe to hold full meetings - a sudden absence of twenty or thirty students would definitely be noticed in the current climate - but a reliable method was developed for single members to enter the new Room. All common room exits were watched by prefects or deputies overnight and absences from meals in the Great Hall would likely be noticed. All excursions outside were now limited and closely observed. The least risky time was in transit between a lesson and a free period. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw students could appear to be going to their common rooms on the seventh floor without arousing suspicion; Hufflepuffs could feign a trip to the reading room in the north wing.

Hannah was the first to visit. Without a word she ran forward and clung silently to Neville for several minutes, her chest heaving with emotion. Ernie pretended to busy himself with his wireless. Neville stroked Hannah's back and whispered soothing sounds in her ear. He knew now how much she had suffered with worry during their separation.

"We'll find a way, Hannah," he murmured. "They'll never beat us in the long run. Good will prevail. Ginny used to say the prophecy means Harry really is the chosen one and he will succeed. We must have faith in him. Must trust him. He won't let us down."

"But will he--"

--been quiet of late but that's a good sign.

Hannah felt Neville's body twist in her arms as he turned his head towards the sound of Ernie's radio. "It's Fred! Fred Weasley!"

How so, Rapier?

Because we know that He-who-should-be-ashamed and his daft cheaters tend to keep quiet with embarrassment when things go wrong for them, that's why. Not heard them bragging about much recently have we?


Ernie and Neville laughter was amplified by their relief at hearing the sound of others openly taking their side and even Hannah released a giggle despite the tears in her eyes.

Thanks, Rapier for your sword-sharp wit, your pointed remarks, and your cutting innuendo.

Finally, for parents worried about their kids, remember to contact your local Potterwatch watchman. If you don't know who that is then ask friends and neighbours you can trust - someone in your area will know. We are starting to organise PUSH - Parents United to Stop He-who-must-not-be-named. At this time, PUSH is bringing parents together to see how we can support all the children of the magical community, whether they be in hiding, on the run, or at Hogwarts. Together we are strong! And always remember: Harry ... is ... our ... best ... hope.

Next password is Amelia. That's Amelia. This is Potterwatch signing off.


Hannah fussed over Neville's injuries for the next forty minutes of her free period and they exchanged information and news before they reluctantly parted - yet with increased hope in their hearts for themselves and their friends.

For the rest of that week, Hannah and Terry acted as liaison between D.A. members and those hidden away in the Room. There were more of them now. The heads of house: McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick, seemed to have a good idea what was going on. Michael Corner was urged by Professor Flitwick to remove himself, suspecting he would not survive a detention after his previous ordeal. Anthony Goldstein was in a minor fracas with a Slytherin and thought it a good time to disappear too. The Patil twins and Lavender were discovered by Theo Nott talking together about Harry Potter. When he insisted on searching them, Padma threw some darkness powder at him and the girls ran away, hand in hand, under its concealment - just as they had practised. The more restrictions were imposed on students then inevitably there was an increase in violations and more trying to evade the worsening punishments. Another dozen went missing in three days. All found their way into the Room and the Room obliged by expanding itself to accommodate them.

Only Susan Bones still was uncertain and sometimes hostile to the idea of 'abandoning' the remaining, thinned-out students and she and Hannah had several quarrels about it. It seemed a point of family honour with her to 'stay until the work is done' no matter what. No member of her family had ever quit the task in hand and neither would she. Susan Bones would remain at the front line and try to serve.

Meanwhile, in the hideaway, the camaraderie deepened between the occupants because they were all, as it were, in the same boat. Indeed, the wooden walls encouraged a sense of being in a very large ship's cabin. Hammocks now also hung from the ceiling and from an upper deck that had grown along the walls. Once the girls had arrived then the Room extended itself to add a bathroom and all house colours except Slytherin now decorated every spare wall space. The single bookcase had become several - a modest library to suit every guest's needs - and Ernie's radio quietly provided music as well as information.

Prefect deputies were still focusing on patrolling the corridors during the evening and night in the belief that D.A. members would not have time to do much between lessons where they were watched entering and leaving classes anyway. Common rooms, the school library, the Entrance Hall - all the general areas were well-guarded. Yet still the deputies were overlooking the journeys from lessons to free periods.

Susan Bones, determined as ever to continue the D.A. resistance, was nevertheless, not one to take foolish risks - she needed a spare wand from the Room. She had been begging Hannah for two days now but there had been no opportunity.

"You're putting this off on purpose," she complained quietly to Hannah at lunchtime. "Neville doesn't want anyone to do anything at all. Just because he's not involved he thinks nobody else is capable."

"Susan! That's not true!" said Hannah. "McLaggen diverted Alecto's laundry only this morning, you know that! Leanne and Eloise are replacing pages in library books with protest pages. Neville will approve simple graffiti too but--"

"When then!" snapped Susan, glancing anxiously towards the staff tables. She needn't have worried. The Carrows were absent more often than not and Snape had not attended meals in the Great Hall for well over a week.

"I've not had a chance have I?" said Hannah. "Don't you trust me? Want to examine my schedule? Don't you think I want to see Neville any chance I get?" She pulled out her time table from her bag but Susan waved her off.

"Alright! Alright! but--"

"Have you asked Terry? He's not covering as many subjects as I am so he goes to the Room more often than I do."

"How? Can't get near Ravenclaw's table with these deputies watching. I've been trying to hang about in the corridor to have a word with him but you know what the deps are like - keep moving you on." Susan looked down despondently at her sandwiches. "It just feels like it's all fall--"

"It's not all falling apart! Don't keep saying that," said Hannah. "It's difficult, yes, but we've got to think long term. It's not just us. We're all leaving school at the end of this term anyway. It's the younger kids who'll take over the D.A. in future years. Rommy's older now than Harry was when they started the D.A. and Nigel Wolpert is--"

"Which is why I want to do what I can while I'm still here," moaned Susan, trying a bite of tuna salad but not really tasting it.

Hannah looked down at the schedule she still held in her hand. "I've got Herbology this afternoon - I'll have a word with Terry there. Otherwise, my own next free period is... two more days."

...

Padma hushed Parvati; everyone in the Room always stopped what they were doing when they heard the door opening.

"It's only Terry," called Seamus. The Room had so enlarged itself now that the many hangings and hammocks obscured the door from most of their views. Padma relaxed. "Okay, carry on with the chants, Parvati."

"Hullo, Terry," called Neville from his hammock. "What's new?"

Terry anticipated the question that would inevitably follow. "Hannah's fine before you ask. Sue needs a spare wand - she wants approval to do plain graffiti in the side corridors. Hannah thought you'd agree."

"Sure," smiled Neville. "Do you know which wand she prefers?"

"Erm... It's a little diddy one she said. Applewood. I'll find it - then I'm going to stay a bit - do my homework. It takes the pressure off, being in here I mean. No bloomin' prefects likely to show. My last period for today was free so I'm done until tomorrow. What you up to, Parv?"

"Padma's idea. We're soaking Mandrabane directly into fabric and trying to charm it so it can be retrieved when needed."

"Wow! Does it work?"

"Not yet," smiled Parvati, ruefully. "We're trying a variant of Tergeo to syphon it off your robes and into the mouth but--"

"Ew... Sounds gross."

"You'd be glad of it if--"

"I know! I know!" laughed Terry, plonking himself down in a spare chair. "Anyone got any biscuits?"

"Guests don't get food," said Neville, who had been listening in. "Abe's getting irritable as it is with nearly twenty of us to feed. You can get plenty to eat in the Great Hall - we can't. We don't get luxuries like biscuits anyway. Help yourself to a glass of water though."

"Gee, thanks. Guess I'll just have to eat my own chocolate cookies then..." He fumbled about in his bag and pulled out a small sack of mixed biscuits. He was pounced on by about fifteen people before his first bite...

It was over two hours later that Terry, homework finished, lay back in a spare bunk, listening to the music on the radio and thinking about Eloise. She was the only reason he hadn't joined the others permanently in the Room. Not that he had been threatened or had any good excuse to go into hiding, but the hideaway appealed to him. Maybe there's a bit of Slytherin in me, he thought lazily. But then anyone with a brain would want to escape the prison-like atmosphere of Hogwarts. He knew it wasn't smart to stay in the line of fire just because of a girl - but Eloise was different. She--

"CHARITY! It's Charity!" cried Ernie. The music was replaced by an excited announcer who seemed hardly able to compose himself enough to be intelligible.

...that's what John and - what they said! We ... checking again but ...

"What this about, Ernie?" called Neville.

"Dunno."

Don't think. Hold on everyone... Still getting it. ... Don't know if anything was stolen.

"Sounds like another Death Eater raid," said Seamus. "Could be serious."

They have? ... We confirm they escaped! THEY ESCAPED!

"Azkaban? Could it be Luna's dad?" said Neville, standing up and moving over to listen better. "Who else do we know in prison?"

This is great news! They ... escape that's the main thing!

"WHO! You great--" cried Seamus.

"Shush!" called Padma. "Just Listen!"

Everyone was moving in closer. Terry reluctantly dragged himself off his hammock too. It would soon be dinner time anyway, he told himself. He stretched and yawned.

--'rry is safe, thank Merlin. This is ... my hands are shaking!

"Why?" demanded Seamus.

"did he say, 'Harry' or--?" said Neville.

Also ... yes, we can't confirm any of this but... the others are safe too. Hard to believe really. Have we got ... else at Diagon Alley to check it for us?

"It's not Azkaban," said Michael.

We can't stay on much longer though... Listen, everyone, far as we know they all escaped. We're fairly positive but ... confirm. Got to confirm. Make a note of the next password. It's Cedric, repeat, Cedric.

"Oh, come on! Are they closing down?" cried Padma.

"Shush!" said Seamus.

Okay, for those listeners who have just joined us... We have a report that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley successfully broke into Gringotts' Bank late this afternoon. We do not know--

His voice was drowned out by shouts of approval from everyone in the Room but who just as quickly fell silent to listen further.

...purpose or if they took anything. It has been surmised that it must be something precious, something special to help in the war. Must be. One moment, please...

"Hold on, everyone," said Neville. "It's not confirmed."

It was what? A dragon? Seriously?

"What's he say?" said Terry.

Listeners, you won't believe this but the story is that all three of them escaped on the back of a dragon and flew away. Our contact said the building was very badly damaged when they burst out.

"This is a joke, surely?" said Ernie, doubtfully. He tapped on his wireless set with his wand as if that might explain but the transmission seemed to have ended abruptly.

"Didn't I say!" cried Neville. "I told you they're not just hiding out - they're working something out!"

"Could it be the Ministry making this up to discredit him?" said Ernie.

"Ministry? You mental? Makes them look stupid doesn't it?" said Seamus. "The most wanted Undesirable No.1 Harry Potter robs the bank and still they can't catch him!"

...

Late for dinner, Terry rushed headlong into the Great Hall and stopped, just within the doorway, gasping for breath, to survey the scene. He was bubbling over with excitement yet everyone looked so normal, dully starting on their meal as if nothing had happened. Didn't they realise how momentous this... They don't know! He could contain himself no longer.

"Harry Potter's robbed Gringotts bank!" he bellowed.

Every face turned towards him. "He was with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. I think he must have got into You-know-who's vault! Why else would he break in?" He beamed joyfully at the Ravenclaw table but everyone in the chamber was listening to his rapturous announcement as if he were not making sense. He looked across to Eloise at the Gryffindor table and shouted excitedly, "That's not all! The three of them escaped on the back of a dragon!"

The shocked silence lasted only seconds then questions were being hurled at him from all directions except the Slytherin and staff tables. "When?" "How?" "Why?" "Who says so?"

"In the last half hour! It's only just happened! Harry, Ron, and Hermione broke into Gringotts Bank in Diagon Alley! Dunno how they--"

It finally sank in what he was saying and it was as if a great pressure valve had been released. A thunderous roar of delight drowned out the rest of what his announcement as the long-oppressed students rose to their feet, clapping their hands and stamping their feet in exultation. It was a blow against their despotic overseers, of that no one doubted. Hats were thrown high - and a few plates and goblets too. Professor McGonagall was on her feet too, waiting a while for calm to be restored. She did not have long to wait. The silence that suddenly fell should have alerted Terry but he was slow to react. A cascade of punches from behind fell upon his back and shoulders. He cringed down, trying to cover his face and head from the attack with his hands but without success; Amycus Carrow was too powerful for him.

"LIES! ... DAMNED ...LIES!" bellowed the flush-faced Death Eater as he beat Terry down to the floor, each blow emphasising his words. "POTTER ... IS ... NO ... MORE ... THAN ... A ... COMMON ... THIEF!"

"PROFESSOR CARROW, I MUST PROTEST!" McGonagall's voice was powerfully amplified by magic directly at Carrow who recoiled, clutching at his ears in pain.

"Perhaps you can explain," continued McGonagall while Carrow was recovering, "How Mr Potter can be a thief if this story is a lie? Which is it? And if he has entered the bank then he must have had good reason! Either way, it is no excuse for such a gross exhibition of violence against a Hogwarts' student! We do not use violence as a form of punishment at this School!"

"None o' your beeswax you old lunkhead! I 'ands out punishments, not you," snarled Carrow." He turned to the assembly and strutted up and down between the tables. "Listen 'ere, you lot! Potter's a 'ardened, worthless criminal! This proves it! 'Is 'ed 'll be 'anging on a spit soon enough. Get on with your eats - no more o' this row! Detention for anyone as speaks on it, again!"

Whether it was his own fury or whether McGonagall's voluminous spell had disoriented him for a while, Carrow seemed to have forgotten Terry who tried to slip out the doorway. His way was blocked by Professor Snape.

"Not so fast, Boot!"

Carrow whirled around at the sound of the headmaster's voice but before he could speak, Snape had grabbed Terry painfully by the ear.

"Am I to understand, Boot, that you are trying to evade punishment?" drawled Snape.

"Thought I'd already been pun--" whimpered Terry.

"Silence!" cried Snape. He looked slowly over Terry's bloody face and hands which were already puffing up with bruises. "Crabbe! You will escort Boot to the Hospital Wing. You will remain there until these minor injuries are cleaned up. Then you will ensure he attends detention with Professor Carrow to deal with as he... sees fit." Snape looked across to the Slytherin table but Crabbe was already approaching him. Snape glared at him then continued, "I will hold you responsible for this miscreant. No more than one hour should suffice for healing treatment. I want him fit for detention."

Snape thrust Terry forward and he stumbled into Crabbe's arms. "Get him out of my sight!"

Terry could hardly believe his luck. Did Snape really think someone as slow-witted as Crabbe would be enough to guard a desperate, practised D.A. member? Or that he would 'come quietly' to a detention with Carrow? But perhaps Crabbe was not as dumb as Terry supposed - or more likely he had been instructed well.

"Wand!" cried Crabbe. "Take it out nice and slow... Accio wand!"

He sniggered like a child once he had Terry's wand and gave him a big push in the back in the direction of the hospital wing. "I'm watching you closely, Boot."

Terry pretended to limp, trying to gain time to think what to do. He had felt sure he could take Crabbe while he had still got his wand but now he wasn't so certain. They had climbed the grand staircase and were well along the first floor corridor before he remembered. He had practised movements and spells thousands of times in D.A. sessions, but this was for real. He stopped, turned, looked the surprised Crabbe full in the face and hoped and prayed that Susan's tiny spare wand would work well enough for him from his cupped hand. It did.

"Stupefy!"

Crabbe swayed slowly down in a daze with a puzzled expression on his face. "But... I've... got..."

"Stupefy!"

The second time made doubly sure. Terry retrieved his own wand from the stunned Slytherin then dragged him into a shadowed alcove where he tucked Crabbe's feet up sideways so his legs didn't stick out. At least he would not be noticed by anyone glancing down the corridor. He extinguished the nearest wall torch for good measure. All he needed was to gain a few minutes time.

When he entered the Room of Requirement for the second time that evening he shocked them all by his changed appearance. Ernie, who was still trying to tune back in to Potterwatch, left his radio and fetched a potion from the rack. As he did so, the Room stretched itself a little and another hammock sprouted between two wooden pillars. Everyone gathered round Terry to find out what had happened.

"Opened my big mouth in the Great Hall about Gringotts," said Terry. "The Carrows haven't been there much this week so Amycus took me by surprise."

"So you're staying?" said Neville. "How'd you get away?"

"Snape turned up as well. Made Crabbe take me to the Hospital Wing. I stupefied him in the corridor." Terry started to grin but winced from the pain. He took off his robes and shirt. His arms and shoulders were bruising up badly as well as his hands and face. There were gasps from the girls at the extensive injuries. Ernie dabbed him with Dittany.

"I'd love to see Snape's face when he finds out you escaped!" smirked Anthony. "His own fault he put Crabbe to guard you. Crabbe of all people! Honestly, Terry, I don't know how you could tell the difference whether he was stupefied or not!"

Everyone laughed but there was some respect for Terry too; not everyone had blooded themselves yet in real combat no matter how dim-witted the enemy.

"Still, that was your first real duel. Kept your nerve, then?" said Seamus. "Bet that felt good!"

"Yeah, it did. The practising really does work. In fact, it was easier than practice - not really a proper duel at all. He had his wand pointing right at me but he thought I was going to talk to him - didn't know I'd got this other wand!" Terry retrieved the tiny spare from his school robe and held it up. "Remind me to thank Susan."

As he got dressed he asked Ernie, "any luck? Find out any more?"

"No - I think they can only broadcast for a limited time in case they get caught. Then they have to move. I doubt we'll hear Potterwatch for a few days. But I'm going to try again tomorrow anyway because Gringotts is such a big story."

Terry sank down into a chair. "Any of my biscuits left?" The sheepish faces, particularly Lavender's, told him there weren't. "So, what do you guys do all day?"

"Talk, practise a bit," said Seamus. "Pad and Parv are working on a potion thing." The girls nodded.

Michael continued, "Wizarding Radio. Music and news about... well, you know. Then there's books..."

"Yeah," cut in Neville, "tons of them." He gestured at the bulging shelves. "Whatever you need - I guarantee you'll find it there if it's available from..." He hesitated. "Wonder where it gets them from? The Room can't create knowledge. Or does that only mean new knowledge?"

They chatted for an hour or so. Terry told them the reaction of the other students in the Great Hall when they heard the news and how Carrow almost burst a blood vessel. The atmosphere had been lifted somewhat by the news of Harry Potter's daring venture and by Terry's success.

"You planning anything, Neville?" said Terry. "Like a mass raid on Carrow's office! Teach him a lesson?"

Neville looked preoccupied.

Lavender said, "We shouldn't be taking unnecessary risks, should we Neville?"

Neville didn't answer. There was a lull and everyone turned to their leader. There was a puzzled look on his face that was trying to grow into a smile. The portrait girl had returned to the Room's picture frame and was beckoning to him.

"Neville?" said Terry.

"Excuse me a few minutes. Abe wants me for something. Won't be long."

As he stepped up into the hole behind the portrait, Lavender called after him, "See if he's got any biscuits - poor old Terry missed dinner."

—oOo—


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