Swearing softly to himself, Neville Longbottom looked around the corner, trying to gage a safe route away from his pursuers. Not that anywhere was safe, not since Vol — He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, he corrected himself — had taken over the Ministry, Hogwarts, and, essentially, the whole of Wizarding Britain.
It was his own fault this time, his being on the run. Him and his mouth. But he just couldn't do what they'd "asked" him to do. He snorted to himself at the thought of the Carrows asking anyone to do anything. He reckoned his asking Alecto how much Muggle blood she had hadn't helped his case, either; his refusal to curse another student was just one more mark against him. There had been no way he was going to cast any sort of curse on that girl, a third-year Hufflepuff whose only crimes were being half-blood and looking at Amycus Carrow the wrong way. The fact that he was supposed to do the Cruciatuson her had just sealed the deal for him. The Carrows seemed to get a perverse sort of joy from ordering Neville to use that particular curse, and he'd vowed at the beginning of the year that that was something he'd never do. He could never have lived with himself if he had.
He looked carefully up and down the corridor one more time, and, seeing no one, stepped out from his hiding spot. He winced as he moved; Crabbe and Goyle apparently held none of Neville's reticence, and they had been rougher than usual during the evening's detention session. Like the Carrows, those two bumbling idiots seemed to enjoy torturing "disrespectful" students with a whole range of curses.
Neville had known for some time now that his freedom at Hogwarts, limited as it was to begin with, would come to a swift and painful end. They'd been content to let him be, at least somewhat, during the first term, until he, Luna, and Ginny had decided that Harry really needed the Sword of Gryffindor more than Snape did. They would've made it out with the thing, too, if it hadn't been for Filch and his damn cat. But Snape had been notified and the three of them had found themselves in detention in the Forbidden Forest. The graffiti in the corridors and the disruptions in the Great Hall, all caused by members of Dumbledore's Army, operating under his, Ginny's, and Luna's leadership, during Harry's absence, didn't improve his reputation with the Death Eaters.
At Christmas, Death Eaters had strong-armed Luna off the train in an effort to control her father. Neville reckoned that they also thought that they'd be getting the added bonus of ridding themselves of one of the leaders of the DA, that Luna's loss would cause them to lay down their arms and stop their resistance. They hadn't known Ginny or Neville, though. Luna's capture had just made the two of them more determined than ever. Ginny had told him that Harry, Ron and Hermione were doing something important to win the war. That fact wasn't news to Neville; he'd always known that was the case, and he knew that while Harry might be the Chosen One, there was also a part for Neville Longbottom to play in this war.
Ginny had gone home for Easter break and had not been allowed to return. He knew enough about Molly Weasley to know that Ginny hadn't had a choice in the matter, even if she'd protested the decision until she was blue in the face. Truth be told, he'd considered not returning, too, but, after a long talk with his gran, he'd decided to go back to Hogwarts. There were people there who needed him.
Even though he didn’t have Ginny and Luna to help him plan anymore, Neville's attacks on Snape and the Carrows hadn't slowed down after his return. In fact, if anything, he stepped them up. He'd learned ways to sneak around the castle and had befriended some of the house elves in the kitchens. Many were still loyal to Dumbledore, and they were more than happy to help where they could.
A few weeks after Easter, in a clear attempt to control him, they'd gone after his gran. She'd escaped—he had the letter to prove it in his breast pocket—and life around Hogwarts had gone from uncomfortable to dangerous for Neville Longbottom. In just a few short hours, Snape and the Carrows went from throwing taunts and curses to torture, to throwing curses to kill. Which is why Neville currently found himself hurrying along the corridor of the seventh floor, heading towards the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy.
"I need a place where I can be safe, where I can stay permanently if necessary, where the Carrows or their supporters can't find me. I need to be able to keep them or anyone who supports them out," he whispered to himself as he walked back and forth in front of the tapestry. He'd thought long and hard back in September, when he, Ginny and Luna were discussing whether they should reorganise the DA. Where they could meet was a major question on their minds. The Room of Requirement was an obvious choice, but they remembered all too well that Umbridge and her Inquisitorial Squad had managed to invade and disrupt their meeting. It took some thought, but Neville finally realised that you just had to be very, very specific about what you wanted the room to do for you. If you didn't want anyone "non-friendly" to be able to get in, then you needed to say so. It had worked so far. As far as he could tell, the Carrows had no idea where they were meeting. Then again, those two were known for being a few Knuts short of a Galleon, so maybe it shouldn't have surprised him as much as it did.
Panting, he grinned in relief as the door opened, and he slipped inside just as the sound of pounding footsteps and shouting voices reached him. He leaned against the door as he listened to the commotion going on outside, looking around at his surroundings as he did so.
The room had decorated itself in Gryffindor red and gold, with a large banner hanging beside the entrance. There was a hammock hanging in the corner, covered with red and gold bedding, a small bookshelf beside it. A table with a comfortable-looking chair stood in the corner opposite the hammock, and beside that was a door leading to a room that contained a toilet and sink, While it wasn't luxurious by any means, it would meet his needs perfectly well. The fireplace beside him contained a fire that was crackling merrily in the grate, lending welcome warmth to the room, and over the mantle hung an empty portrait frame.
He stepped away from the door and sank gratefully into the chair, resting his head in his hands. He was safe, at least for now.
He awoke in the hammock, disoriented after a restless night. According to the clock that appeared when he wondered aloud what the time was, he'd been in the room nearly twelve hours. Swinging his legs over the hammock edge, he ambled his way over to the loo, taking care of his business and splashing his face with water before making his way back to the chair.
He had no idea what he was going to do next. He was trapped inside Hogwarts with no way to get out. There were Death Eaters outside, actively trying to kill him. He had no food and couldn't rely on either the Room or the house-elves to provide him with some. He allowed himself a moment of self-pity before standing determinedly. He was a Longbottom, and Longbottoms never gave up.
Resolutely, he headed over to the bookshelf, noting the Herbology and gardening books mixed in amongst the ones about Defence. He took the nearest one, Defence for the Defenceless, off the shelf and began to read.
He had to stop several hours later, distracted by his growling stomach. He hadn't eaten since breakfast the previous day—one of the Carrows favourite punishments was denying wrong-doers meals, and Neville was one of their favourite wrong-doers to punish this way. He'd been forced to skip lunch yesterday because he'd looked at Pansy Parkinson the wrong way, whatever that meant.
He closed the book, marking his spot with the piece of parchment he'd been taking notes on, and tried to think of a way out of his predicament. He couldn't ask the house-elves. If Dobby had still been around, he would've called him; the little elf was fanatically loyal to both Dumbledore and Harry, and, by extension, Neville, since, in Dobby's eyes, he was continuing their work. But Neville hadn't seen the elf for several weeks, and he couldn't bring himself to ask any of the other elves. He'd stopped going to them for help after he learnt that several of the creatures had been punished severely when it was discovered that they'd been helping him. The Carrows didn't brook such disobedience from their servants lightly and had since expressly forbidden them from giving any student any food outside of regular mealtimes.
The Room was amazing, but it didn't provide food for some reason. He, Ginny, and Luna had discovered that earlier in the year when they tried asking it for something to eat while they were planning their theft of the Sword of Gryffindor. So simply asking the Room for food was out as well.
He could, he supposed, relay a message to the rest of the DA and see if one of them could sneak him some food, but that was a last resort. If someone gave him food, it would mean that they were giving up part of their own meal, and the portions were meagre enough as it was, unless you were a Slytherin. The Carrows made sure “their own” were fed very, very well while the rest of the school basically starved.
He let his head hit the table in frustration. I need to eat. Not just today, but for as long as I'm stuck in here. There has to be some way to get some food that doesn't rely on house-elves or the Room to provide it.
Neville quickly stood, grabbing his wand off the table as he did so, and whipped his head around, trying to find the source of the voice. It sounded soft and sweet, like a small child's, and was not at all familiar to him.
"Over here, silly," the voice said, sounding slightly amused. "Above the fireplace."
Neville's eyes went to the fireplace, travelling upwards until it found the once-empty frame over the mantle. It now contained the portrait of a blonde girl, who was wearing a flowing white dress. She had strikingly blue eyes and looked to be around thirteen or fourteen years old, save for the expression on her face, which implied that she was much younger than that.
"Erm, hello," he said tentatively. Seeing that there was no threat, he lowered his wand slightly.
"My name is Ariana. What's yours?"
"Neville," he said, blinking at the incongruity of the introduction. "Neville Longbottom."
"Hello, Mr Longbottom. It's nice to meet you," she said simply.
"It's nice to meet you, too," he said, nonplussed. He stood there beside the chair for a few minutes, waiting for her to speak again, but she just looked around the room, her expression childlike.
"Erm, Ariana?" he said tentatively.
"Yes?" she said, looking at him again.
"No offence, but…why are you here?" he asked. While he was glad for the company, her presence didn’t do anything about his need for food.
"Oh. Aberforth sent me." She gave him shy smile.
"Okay," he said slowly, trying to wrap his mind around the conversation. "Who is Aberforth, and why would he send you to me?"
She blinked at him. "Aberforth is my brother. And the passageway opened." She said it simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Passageway? What passageway?"
"The one behind my portrait. Aberforth sent me to see what was behind it. And since I found you, you should come with me. He'll want to meet you."
"Ariana? Are you all right?" Neville heard the echo of a voice coming from behind Ariana.
Ariana turned in her frame, and Neville noticed a shadowy figure behind her. "I'm fine, Ab. I met a nice boy. His name is Neville Longbottom."
Neville raised his wand again at the sound of the deep voice coming from behind the portrait. He could hear footsteps coming closer, and he looked around for a place to hide. He was still looking when the portrait swung open, revealing a tall, grumpy-looking man with a beard and long grey hair. He wore spectacles, which glinted in the light of the fire, revealing bright blue eyes. Neville thought that he looked somewhat familiar, but he couldn't connect a name to the face.
"Longbottom, is it?" The voice was gruff, and the man's gaze was assessing.
Neville nodded curtly, keeping his wand trained on the intruder.
"You're the one that tried to steal the sword from Snape." It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement. Somehow this stranger had heard about that.
Neville nodded again.
"Put your wand down, boy. I mean you no harm." Neville bristled at being called a boy but gazed at the man steadily, his wand still in his hand, as Aberforth stepped through into the room; his eyes narrowed as he examined the furnishings.
"What is this place?"
"Why does it matter?" Neville finally asked. He was relieved that his voice didn't crack when he spoke. The only thing keeping him from hexing this man was the fact that the room was set to only allow "friendly" people to come in. He just wasn't certain if that only applied to the main door to the room or if this other, new entrance was covered by the restriction as well.
Aberforth raised an eyebrow at him. "It just matters, boy."
"Not good enough. I think you should leave." He gestured towards the portrait hole with his wand, his eyes never leaving Aberforth's face.
Aberforth's eyes narrowed. "I know we're in Hogwarts, Longbottom, I just don't know where. I need to know if we're safe from the Carrows and Snape." His face darkened at the mention of the current headmaster. "Or if I need to worry about them getting to my pub through that entrance there." He jerked his head towards the portrait hole behind him.
Neville relaxed slightly at the bitter tone of the man when he mentioned the Death Eaters. There was obviously no love lost there. "We're in the Room of Requirement, and they can't get in, not as long as someone who doesn't want them to stays in here."
"You certain?" Aberforth asked suspiciously.
"As certain as I can be. They haven't been able to get in yet, and we've been meeting in here all term."
"Hmph. Damn Death Eaters are everywhere. In my pub, out on the streets of Hogsmeade. Can't escape the bastards."
"I've noticed," Neville said dryly.
"You going to drop that wand, boy, or are you going to keep me hostage all night?"
“That depends. Are you going to tell me who you are?”
Neville watched as Aberforth eyed him, keeping his wand trained on the intruder.
“Aberforth. I’m Aberforth. I run the Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade. Now, are you going to drop that wand, boy?”
"Oh. Right. Sorry." Neville lowered his wand and backed away from the old man. "Erm, do you want to sit?" He gestured towards the table and chair and missed the way Aberforth's eyes widened when a second chair appeared.
"The Room of Requirement, you say?" Aberforth looked more interested as he gazed around the room.
"Yeah. It pretty much gives you what you need…or at least what you ask for. I was running from the Carrows and Snape yesterday and asked for a safe place, where they couldn't find me, and this is what I got."
"Has it got any limitations?"
"You can't take out anything that appears here. And it can't produce food, as far as I can tell."
Aberforth looked sharply at him, and Neville felt like his eyes were boring through him.
"When was the last time you ate, boy?"
"Wait here," Aberforth said sharply as he turned on his heel and clambered through the portrait hole, pulling Ariana's portrait closed behind him.
"Like I have a choice," Neville muttered. He sank into one of the chairs and looked over at the portrait. "Your brother's a little…odd."
"I think he's very nice," she replied hotly, her arms crossed over her chest.
Neville gulped. "Of course he's nice," he replied. "I just meant…" He sighed deeply. "I'm sorry, Ariana. That was a very rude thing for me to say. It's been very hard for me lately, and I'm tired and hungry. Will you forgive me?" He lapsed into silence and looked hopefully at the girl in the portrait, who nodded grudgingly at him right before she swung open and allowed Aberforth entrance again, this time bearing a large tray of sandwiches and butterbeer.
"These should hold you for a while. Got a preservation charm on them," he said gruffly, setting the tray on the table, then looking at the clock and grimacing. "Bugger. I need to get back. Call Ariana when you run out of food, and I'll bring you some more."
He turned to leave and was halfway through the portrait hole when Neville called his name.
"Aberforth, wait!" he said, stepping forward.
"What is it now, boy?" the older man asked, turning his head to look at him.
"I haven't got all day, Longbottom."
"Thanks, Aberforth. For the food," he said lamely. The old man gave a curt nod and clambered through the hole, Ariana's portrait swinging shut behind him.
"Good-bye, Neville," she called over her shoulder as she started down the tunnel with her brother. "Maybe I can come visit again?"
"I'd like that," he said, lifting his hand in a half-wave.
He dropped his hand as they disappeared around the corner and wondered at his good fortune. He had a safe place to stay, food to eat, and someone to talk to when he was lonely. It had been an interesting twenty-four hours.
A battered and bruised Seamus Finnegan joined him in the room five days later. Then came Anthony Goldstein, followed closely by Ernie Macmillan. The room changed to meet the needs of the new occupants, adding hammocks, new house banners, and, when Lavender Brown arrived with the Patil twins, showers and tubs were added, making a proper bathroom (the girls had been quite disgusted by the fact that the boys hadn't seen the need to wash until they'd arrived). The D.A. were still running covert missions, rescuing those who needed it, but when Justin Finch-Fletchley barely managed to drag a seriously injured Michael Corner into the room after he'd been caught releasing a first-year from the chains in which she was imprisoned, Neville decided that it wasn't worth the risk anymore and called a halt to those kinds of operations.
Over the next week, Neville became very familiar with the tunnel to the Hog’s Head, and Ariana became what he would call a friend, if a portrait could be such a thing. He'd learned from Aberforth that while she was fourteen when she died, her personality was more like that of a six-year-old, and he'd started looking at her almost like a younger sister. He knew it was weird—she was just a portrait, after all—but that's what she reminded him of. It was also an odd thing for him to climb through the hole behind Ariana's portrait and walk beside her image through the tunnel, but he shrugged it off and learned to accept the possibility that magic could do more than he knew.
At first, Ariana only came when he called, asking for more food or drink. On the third day, she started to visit on her own. Because of that, she was there, ready to fetch Aberforth, when Neville needed help caring for first Seamus' and then Michael's injuries.
So it wasn't much of a surprise when Ariana appeared in her frame, asking for him. They'd welcomed their newest resident, Terry Boot, earlier that day, after he'd made a scene in the Great Hall that set the Carrows after him. He was in the middle of relaying his story—an outlandish tale involving Harry, Ron, Hermione, a Gringott's vault, and a dragon—when she appeared and called his name.
"Neville, Ab sent me. He needs you."
"Excuse me, Lavender," Neville told the girl he was talking with. When she nodded, he left her there holding Seamus' hand while they listened to Terry.
"Hi, Ariana," he said, smiling at the girl in the portrait.
"Neville, you need to come with me to the pub," Ariana told him. "And I think you should hurry."
"Erm, all right. Let me tell someone where I'm going," he said, wondering about the urgency. She often sounded impatient, but there was something different about her request this time.
"Hurry, Neville," she called again. "It's important."
"What's the rush?" he asked her once he'd clambered through the portrait hole and headed down the tunnel with her.
"Harry Potter is talking to Ab," she said matter-of-factly, skipping a few steps ahead of him. "Come on!"
Neville stopped. "Wait. What? Harry? Are you sure?"
"'Course I'm sure, silly. He said his name." She walked back to where he was standing. "C'mon, Neville. We need to hurry. There's another boy there, too, with red hair—"
"Ron?" Neville asked incredulously.
"I think that’s what he said his name was. And a girl. Um. Her…Herm…." Her brow furrowed.
"Hermione?" Neville offered.
"Yes!" she said happily. "That's it. They're talking to Ab right now. But Ab wants you to come right away."
Neville started walking again, picking up his pace, hardly daring to believe that what Ariana said was true. She'd never lied to him as far as he knew, but mentally she was more six than fourteen, and he knew young children tended to exaggerate. Still, he followed a few steps behind her, watching the light at the end of the tunnel grow larger and larger, watching four figures appear there: Ab's familiar shock of white hair, a tall red-head, a shorter figure with bushy brown hair, and a man with familiar messy black hair, although it was longer than he remembered ever seeing it before.
Ariana must have sensed his excitement as they approached. "Told you!" she crowed. "I told you it was Harry Potter!"
"You did," he said, grinning broadly. "You were right. Thank you, Ariana."
Letting out a roar of delight at seeing them, Neville climbed through Ariana's portrait hole, jumped down from the mantelpiece, and yelled, "I knew you'd come! I knew it, Harry!"
A/N: The last paragraph is almost a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, American Hardback, pg 570. I just changed it from Harry's point of view to Neville's.
Fortify: to make strong: as a: to strengthen and secure (as a town) by forts or batteries b: to give physical strength, courage, or endurance to c: to add mental or moral strength to.
Keep: one that keeps or protects: as a: fortress, castle; specifically : the strongest and securest part of a medieval castle b: one whose job is to keep or tend
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the many people who helped with this. First, of course, are the fantabulous ladies who looked this over and whipped it into shape (and who also happen to be three of my very favourite people in the whole wide world), Sherylyn, OhGinnyfan, and Katieay. Seriously, y'all, these ladies are made of awesome. Thanks also go to Parakletos, who set me straight when it came to a bathroom vs a loo vs a toilet. There's a difference, did you know? :P And finally, I need to thank some folks on my f-list on LJ: Katieay, Magnolia Mama, Kokopelli (who taught me a new word), Arlene (who taught me a tiny bit of Spanish), Sherylyn and OhGinnyfan. They helped me find the proper words to convey what I wanted in the title: a sense of both strength and safety.