He hasn’t seen us, so I release my boyfriend’s hand. Poor Ernie will have enough to deal with; he doesn’t need to know that Justin and I are together. He spots us, smiles happily, and beckons us over. As we move forward to greet our old friend, I am suddenly nervous. It’s been so long since we’ve seen him.
I wonder what life’s been like for Ernie. Very rough by all accounts, but none of us have had it easy. Life in the Leaky Cauldron has been … interesting … as the twins like to say. At least after tonight, I won’t have to listen to any more sly innuendo or avoid any more groping hands while I’m eavesdropping on Death Eaters in the pub. After tonight, they’ll know which side I’m really on.
One of them killed my mother, and one day I’ll find out who it was.
Ernie shakes Justin’s hand and then offers his hand to me.
‘Hello, Hannah,’ he says. He’s grown a couple of inches and he’s finally taller than me. I know that his lack of height has always bothered him, and I’m glad that I changed out of my heels before coming here.
I step past his outstretched hand and hug him tightly. I feel him tense. I probably should not have done that. Ernie has always been so formal and proper, but these days I’m used to the cheery informality of the pub. I hope that I haven’t made him feel uncomfortable.
‘It’s been a long time, Ernie. It really is good to see you,’ I tell him. It has, and it is; it’s more than a year and a half since my mother was murdered.
There is no time for any small talk. Kingsley Shacklebolt takes charge begins to assign defensive positions to everyone. I hope that Harry knows what he’s doing. No one seems to know why he is here, or what we’re doing. All we know is that he is here. The rumours are that he’s following Dumbledore’s orders, and we need to keep Voldemort out of the school.
This all seems a bit improvised to me but, I remind myself, the resistance has been improvising wildly for almost a year. Perhaps this has something to do with the break-in at Gringotts.
“Who needs a plan? Just make it up as you go along.” That’s what Fred and George used to tell me. Even Kingsley seemed to agree. The only time I met him was when he spent a day instructing me on eavesdropping techniques. His version was more serious, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”, but it’s the same thing, really.
The Weasley twins are standing at the front of the hall. Fred winks at me, nods towards Justin and leers. They haven’t changed.
I haven’t seen the twins since the Death Eaters raided their shop at Easter. It took the Death Eaters until then to realise that Ron was with Harry. What idiots! Until the raid, Fred and George were regulars in the pub, exchanging information with me and dropping off equipment. Fred could be a bit mean sometimes, and George could be a little crude, but they are both sweet. I’ve missed them, somehow, despite the gloom they managed to bring a bit of cheer to the Cauldron.
‘Hey, gorgeous!’ Fred shouts across the hall. ‘You’re with me. You don’t want to get lumbered with some lugless oaf.’ That’s typical of Fred, but I know what he’s like, if he’s not going to be with George he’ll need someone to keep an eye on him. I smile at Ernie and walk over to join Fred’s group.
‘You can come, too, Justin,’ Fred adds. Justin winks at me.
‘I’ve got something I need to do, Fred!’ Justin shouts. ‘Let me know where you’re going. See you later, Ernie.’
Poor Ernie looks astonished. He always took charge when we were at school, but did he really think that now we’re back we’d be following his lead?
I know where Justin is going. He’s hidden Colin Creevey in a broom cupboard on the next floor, kept him out of the way because McGonagall ordered him to leave. I don’t really know Colin, but Justin does, and Justin likes him.
Last year, Colin managed to warn a lot of the Muggle-borns, including Justin. Like Justin, Colin has been fighting Umbridge and the Death Eaters from the shadows ever since he went on the run.
Kingsley assigns us to guard duty. We are given one of the secret passages to guard, and we are there for a very long time, doing absolutely nothing. We feel the castle shake and hear the battle raging outside, but where we are, nothing is happening. No one attempts to enter through the tunnel. I stand and watch and wait. I have nothing to do but worry. I haven’t seen Justin, or Ernie since the battle started and I hope that they are both still safe.
A bespectacled redhead runs along the corridor towards us. This, I realise, is Percy. I didn’t just eavesdrop on Death Eaters in the Leaky Cauldron; I listened to the twins too. For months, they talked about their brother, they plotted all sorts of horrible things to do to “Percy the pillock,” but now, surprisingly, Fred is pleased to see him.
‘There are Death Eaters on the upper floors, Fred!’ Percy shouts.
‘I’ll give you a hand, Perce,’ Fred replies. He is obviously bored and orders, ‘Lee, keep this lot here, guard the secret passage.’ With that, Fred is gone.
So we wait. And wait and still nothing happens, then George arrives.
‘Seen Fred?’ he asks.
‘He went upstairs with Percy,’ Lee Jordan and I speak together. George hurries away. I look at Lee, and he looks worriedly back at me. There is still nothing happening here, the castle is shaking, and everyone else is fighting.
‘I’m going with George,’ I tell Lee, and I run after George before Lee can make me stay. Lee can’t leave now, he only has three frightened and inexperienced sixth-years to guard the passage, and they need him.
There are more and more explosions outside. The castle is groaning like a wounded beast, and in a way it is. I have followed George through a bewildering maze of secret passages which I never knew existed and I find myself running along a corridor on the seventh floor. We reach a junction when a soot-blackened someone wearing singed school robes slithers to a halt in front of us. It takes me a moment to recognise him. It’s Draco Malfoy, of all people! He looks like a terrified little schoolboy. George hesitates; I don’t think that he’s recognised Malfoy under the grime.
‘Don’t hurt me! I’m on your side,’ Draco snivels, but I don’t trust him. He’s looking at me curiously; he is trying to recognise me. I’m not the first-year girl whose pigtails you used to pull until I cried, Draco. I’m not that “fat, useless, Hufflepuff half-breed”. I haven’t been her since the DA was formed, I think to myself. I have an overwhelming urge to hex him and I find myself hoping that he tries something sneaky. But he doesn’t.
‘I haven’t got a wand,’ he begs.
George Weasley looks at me; for some reason he still hasn’t recognised Malfoy. It’s probably because he always wore immaculate robes and was superior and sneering. Now he’s filthy, frightened and wretched.
‘Draco Malfoy, Slytherin,’ I tell George. ‘He’s a creep; he was in my year.’ Malfoy stares at me, startled. He still doesn’t recognise me, but years of insults boil up inside me. ‘He’s the one who almost killed Katie with that cursed necklace,’ I add vindictively.
Justin and Ernie told me all about that. They wrote to me after I’d left, and told me all about Draco’s betrayal of his school last year. He almost killed Katie, and Ron Weasley too, and he let the Death Eaters into the school. That’s when the Headmaster was killed. It’s a miracle that there weren’t more deaths.
George doesn’t hesitate. He thumps Malfoy in the eye, knocking him to the ground. It’s a good solid punch; I’ve seen a number of fights in the bar and I know that Draco will have a real shiner of a black eye after that punch. George looks down and realises that Draco was telling the truth, he does not have a wand. He steps over him. I follow, we turn the corner and see…
We see the unimaginable, the incomprehensible. Malfoy’s henchman, Gregory Goyle is bending over the body of Fred Weasley, rifling through his robes. Fred is dead, there is no doubt. I feel sick.
This cannot be real.
‘Fred?’ George screams in horror, ‘No! Fred! Leave him alone!’
George moves forwards, firing hexes blindly down the corridor towards Goyle.
Malfoy is behind us, I remember. I spin around, preparing to defend us, but Malfoy has fled. I wonder if he killed Fred.
If he did, he’s a dead man!
Goyle is cowering, hiding behind the rubble which is strewn across the corridor, but he is not firing back. Why not?
He does not have a wand, either, I realise. How could either of them have killed Fred if they don’t have wands? Why don’t they have wands? But this is not the time for questions.
George’s grief-stricken aim is terrible. I step alongside him and aim carefully. Goyle cowers and dodges into alcoves. He drops to the floor and slides backwards as we advance. There is an Acromantula advancing towards us. George laughs madly. Goyle is trapped, stuck between us and a giant spider. He’s lying prone behind some rubble; he cannot escape! Then, suddenly, he is gone. He dives sideways, an ancient and solid looking broom in his hand, and leaps through a gaping hole in the castle wall.
George screeches in anger and charges after him. I don’t follow; instead, I concentrate on the rapidly approaching Acromantula. My Blasting Curse sends it crashing back down the corridor and against the wall. Its legs twitch for a moment and then it lies still.
I run along the corridor and grab George. He’s leaning precariously through the hole, a tempting target for anyone outside. I pull him back inside moments before a curse flashes through the cavity. I drag him away, back along the corridor, back to the body of his twin.
‘He had a broom! The coward got away!’ George tells me, as if I hadn’t witnessed Goyle’s escape. Then he begins to cry. He cries wild, uncontrolled and uncontrollable tears of rage, grief and fear. He is bereft. I know how close the twins are. I’ve watched them in the pub. He slumps into my arms and I hold him tightly.
I say nothing. What words of comfort can I offer? “I’m sorry”? Of course I’m sorry, but those words are not enough, I know that. I lost my mother twenty months ago and even now I know that no words are enough for the sudden, inexplicable and violent loss of a loved one. No words can ever be enough.
So I simply hold him tightly until Percy arrives with Mr and Mrs Weasley. The sight of this grieving family is too much for me to bear so I flee the scene and leave the Weasleys to their grief.
I must find Ernie and Justin! I must be sure that they are safe.