Ernest Robert Walter Macmillan looked anxiously down his house table as the younger children were led away. His fellow Hufflepuff students were showing their support for Harry. He was very pleased, as many more than he’d expected had chosen to remain behind.
That was very good. It troubled him that there were only two of the original members of Dumbledore’s Army, himself and Susan, at the Hufflepuff table. The Ravenclaws had four: Terry, Michael, Anthony and Padma. Ernie felt that this reflected badly on his house, but there was no doubt that they were better off without Smith. Zacharias Smith was a liability and the undignified, cowardly way he’d fled the room when Professor McGonagall had announced the evacuation had certainly been an embarrassing sight.
Smith’s behaviour reflected badly on Hufflepuff House, but Ernie consoled himself in the knowledge that Smith was not the first member of the DA to turn on the group. The Ravenclaw girl, Edgecombe, had betrayed them two years ago.
Smith had been excluded from the DA this year at the request of both Neville and Ginny. Ernie—admittedly with Susan at his side—had personally demanded, and been given, Smith’s DA Galleon. Smith had been extremely unwilling to hand it over until Susan had threatened him with a particularly unpleasant hex which, she claimed, she’d been taught by her Aunt Amelia to use on “boys who tried to get overly-familiar.” Ernie had no idea whether the hex even existed, but he certainly wasn’t going to do anything to upset Susan, just in case it did. Neither was Smith.
Then Ernie saw them, the two people he’d hardly dared hope would return. They were standing at the back of the hall, smiling uncertainly at him. His best friends were here.
Ernie smiled back at them and beckoned them over. A pure-blood (himself), a half-blood (Hannah), and a Muggle-born (Justin), they had been friends, inseparable, ever since their first year. He’d always been—unofficially of course—the leader of the trio. Muggle-born Justin needed the guidance of a well-connected pure-blood like himself, and Hannah was such a nervous, eager girl. Always ready to assist, but always needing help and reassurance.
Only a few weeks into their sixth year, Hannah’s mother had been killed by Death Eaters and she’d left Hogwarts, never to return. Justin, of course, had been around through the remainder of their sixth year, but it wasn’t the same without Hannah. Two people were not a trio, and Susan—the other member of the DA and, like Hannah, a half-blood—had always ploughed her own furrow. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, Susan had never really appreciated the friendly advice of a well-connected pure-blood like himself.
Justin, very sensibly, didn’t return for his final year. He was a Muggle-born, and this year there were no Muggle-borns in the school. The few who had boarded the train at the start of the year had been removed from it before it even left Kings Cross and taken to the Muggle-born Registration Commission. No one knew where they’d gone after that; Azkaban was the rumour, but Draco Malfoy had gleefully hinted that their fate had been much worse than that.
Ernie had managed to contact Justin and Hannah a couple of times during the year and he had learned what “the Resistance”, as they called themselves, had been doing. They had re-located Muggle-borns, destroyed Ministry files, fought, and spied. Hannah, quiet little Hannah, had been eavesdropping on Death Eaters while working as a barmaid in the Leaky Cauldron. She’d been at the pub almost since she left school; it was almost unimaginable.
This year he had been stuck in Hogwarts, helping those other clever and resourceful pure-bloods: Neville, Ginny, and Luna, as they tried to stop the Carrows from torturing the younger kids. Susan had helped, too, and they’d recruited a few other Hufflepuffs, but it hadn’t been the same without Justin and Hannah. Susan, unlike Hannah and Justin, would often question his leadership. But now, at last, after almost two years, the trio were reunited.
Hannah had been slightly taller than him when she’d left. He’d finally overtaken her, though only just. But she’d grown, too, outwards, not upwards. She’d cut her hair, it was now shoulder length and it suited her. She looked a lot more self-confident, too. That, presumably, was because she’d been working behind a bar for such a long time. The girl who was only just sixteen when she’d left school was now a curvaceous young woman of almost eighteen, and her barmaid’s robes made the fact obvious.
Justin was wearing a Muggle shirt and trousers. He too looked a lot older than his eighteen years. His hair was as untidy as ever, but he looked so much more mature and certain of himself. Suddenly, Ernie felt like a schoolboy in their presence.
‘Good to see you, Ernie, old boy.’ Justin smiled as they shook hands.
‘It’s been a long time, Ernie. It really is good to see you,’ Hannah whispered in his ear as she ignored his outstretched hand and hugged him, pulling him firmly into her curves.
Their catch-up conversation was cut short as the Order of the Phoenix took charge and began to organise the defence of the school. As they moved forwards along with the other Hufflepuffs, waiting to be given their assignments one of the Weasley twins looked across.
‘Hey, gorgeous!’ he shouted. ‘You’re with me. You don’t want to get lumbered with some lugless oaf.’ With an apologetic smile, Hannah hurried over to join Fred Weasley. ‘You can come, too, Justin,’ the twin added.
Ernie was astonished; he’d expected that the three of them would stick together, just like the old days. But his friends had not been to school, they had been in the outside world, making new friends and new contacts; “networking”, Justin had called it in the one letter Ernie had received from his old friend. He watched jealously as Hannah went to join the Weasley twin, who greeted her like an old friend. Justin remained with Ernie, but only for a moment.
‘I’ve got something I need to do, Fred,’ Justin shouted. ‘Let me know where you’re going. See you later, Ernie.’ With that, Justin turned and slipped out from the hall.
Ernie was bewildered and bereft; he didn’t know what to do. He found himself standing in front of Professor McGonagall and a tall black man named Kingsley whose blood status he didn’t know. The man placed Ernie and Susan, together with two sixth-years from Ravenclaw, a boy and a girl, under the command of a tall bespectacled redhead. Their leader, Ernie was pleased to discover, was Percy Weasley, another of Ron and Ginny’s brothers, Percy was a pure-blood and a well respected former Head Boy.
The five of them headed out into the grounds. They were simply supposed to be watching, warning others if anyone approached the school, but once they were outside things quickly became chaotic. They found themselves surrounded by a dozen trolls. Percy fought bravely, they all did, they managed to stun three of the trolls but they were still outnumbered. When the Ravenclaw girl was seriously injured Percy ordered them to fall back. During their retreat the Ravenclaw boy was hit by another of the trolls and slammed against the castle wall.
That was when Percy Weasley lost his temper. Three of the trolls were killed by the troll-axe Percy levitated and sent spinning towards them. The remaining half-dozen fled, with the axe still chasing them. Susan took the injured girl to the Hospital Wing and Percy and Ernie went to find the fifth member of their group. They found him, but he was dead. Ernie looked down at the boy’s broken body in horror, and vomited.
“Just call me Tommy,” the Ravenclaw boy had said. Ernie suspected that Tommy was a nickname and the boy might be a Tompkins, or Thomason, or Thompson, but he didn’t know. He had failed to save the boy, and didn’t even know the unfortunate victim’s real name. This, he felt, reflected badly on him.
Together, Percy and Ernie moved the body into the castle, leaving it in the Great Hall. While Ernie desperately tried to discover the boy’s name, Percy disappeared back outside.
Ernie followed after Percy Weasley as soon as he could, but he was unable to locate him in the darkness and was forced to take cover next to the castle wall. As the battle continued, he quickly lost track of time. Spells flew everywhere and it was difficult to discern friend from foe. At one point, he almost hexed Justin.
‘Have you seen Colin?’ Justin asked as they took shelter behind a wall.
‘The little Muggle-born Gryffindor?’ Ernie asked. ‘Professor McGonagall sent him home.’
‘He didn’t want to go. I brought him to Hogwarts for the fight, Ernie, because he’s DA, like us. We stick together, you know that. I had to go and fetch Colin from his house, because he can’t Apparate. He’s still here somewhere. He’s as safe here as anywhere, because he couldn’t get home from Hogsmeade anyway. He was hiding in a broom cupboard until the action started.’
‘What happened to him?’ Ernie asked.
‘That’s what I’m trying to find out, Ernie. Professor Sprout wanted my help, and now I’ve lost him. He was with Lavender Brown and the other Gryffindors the last time I saw him. Have you seen any of them?’
‘No,’ Ernie admitted, feeling even more useless.
That was when the Acromantula came, and they were forced to retreat. They managed to blast their way past the Acromantula, and back towards the doors to the Entrance Hall. They were only about fifty yards from the doors when Justin shouted, “Dean!” and went sprinting off somewhere. Ernie tried to follow, but lost his friend in the darkness.
Finding himself alone again, Ernie tried to take stock of his situation. This was not what he’d imagined. There was more blood and death than he’d expected, and he was not the leader of a brave band of Hufflepuffs. He was simply a lost and lonely young man. He was fighting, because he knew that it was the right thing to do, but he was scared.
Lost and alone, Ernie moved cautiously through the grounds. He kept his head down, and fired off spells whenever he could, but he was feeling discouraged and despondent. Suddenly, he heard two familiar voices in the smoke and gloom behind him.
‘Are you going out with him?’ an Irish-accented male asked. ‘You were holding his hand, I saw you.’
‘He is a very nice boy, isn’t he?’ a sing-song female voice said.
As he was listening to this odd battlefield conversation Ernie felt it, the creeping cold, the thickening mist and the sense of dread. Dementors, lots of them!
‘Seamus, Luna, over here!’ he ordered, and they came, as he knew they would. Luna waved and smiled happily, proving to Ernie that she was definitely the craziest person he knew. Seamus Finnegan was grim-faced, blood-spattered and fierce-looking. The three moved forwards, wands at the ready. There were Dementors everywhere, draining the vitality from the place. Harry, Ron and Hermione were struggling to defend themselves against the overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Luna called out encouragement to them. She turned and gave him a dazzling smile.
Ernie looked in amazement at the Ravenclaw student. Luna was still smiling despite the horrifying lethargy being spread by the Dementors. She wasn’t crazy; she was simply incapable of giving up hope. She was ridiculously optimistic. Ernie smiled at Luna and raised his wand.
‘EXPECTO PATRONUM!’ he shouted. His boar Patronus joined those of Luna and Seamus and the Dementors fled.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ Ron began, ‘you just saved —‘ *
Then the giant came. Ernie leapt aside and was suddenly alone again. But now, it didn’t matter, Ernest Robert Walter Macmillan, pure-blood of Hufflepuff House, had helped to save the life of Harry Potter. He was not a failure. He might even get a medal.
Author’s Note: * quote from Deathly Hallows, page 522, UK Edition.