The next several weeks flew by, with the only highlight being that second Saturday, when Neville's broom arrived with the morning post. It was hidden inside a long rectangular package, but anyone with a sufficient imagination could guess what it was. There was a folded up piece of paper attached to it and Neville snatched it off the package before Kestrel could grab it, unfolded it and read:
"Congrats on being made Seeker, Neville!
Also, glad to hear that Kestrel is doing better too. McGonagall asked me to send along your broom since you'd need it for Quidditch. This is a large privilege you've been given, Neville. There hasn't been a first year allowed to play Quidditch at Hogwarts in over a century. Don't take it for granted.
Now that the serious bit is over, since your Gran and I are so proud of you (your mum would be too) we decided to kip together with Sirius (he insisted) and got you a bit of a gift to celebrate. DO NOT OPEN this in the Great Hall. We want it to be a surprise for the rest of the school at your first game. I have no doubt that the students are already guessing what this is, they just don't know the make of it.
Remember keep it a secret!
Congratulations again and lots of love from me and Gran,
Neville did as requested and resisted the temptation to open the box and see what was inside. Instead he placed it under the table between the feet of himself and his friends. They were all practically vibrating with excitement and couldn't wait to get back to the Common Room, to see what kind of broom it was.
There spirits couldn't even be dampened when Malfoy and a few of the other Slytherins strode up to the table.
"How're the hands Longbottom, pathetic how you can't even brew a simple potion."
Neville ignored the insult and replied congenially, "My hands are fine, thanks for the concern Malfoy."
"What's so important in that package that it you can't open it for everyone to see? Or maybe you're just too embarrassed to open it?"
"No, not embarrassed. I was just asked not to open it here. I can say though that it's really thanks to you, Draco, that I got it to begin with. Cheers mate!"
Other than that slight hiccup the rest of October flew by for the four friends, Draco never found out that they were the ones that jinxed him. It turns out he had been hit by the secondary trap they had lain on the stairs leading down to the dungeons, since like them, he had not turned up for the duel. Draco getting hit by that prank had also served the unexpected dual purpose that he was not able to spread the rumour that they were cowards, since every time he tried to speak the only thing that came out was rainbow foam, and by time it had worn off he had completely forgotten about it.
It was now Halloween and in Charms class the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were learning the levitation charm, with mixed successes all around the room. Some of the Ravenclaws had already managed to levitate the feathers they were using, and Hermione, Harry, and Ginny had also managed it. Neville was prodding at his feather in frustration and Kestrel was trying to balance hers on her nose instead. Next to Ginny, Ron was waving his arm back and forth in an overly exaggerated motion, almost hitting several people behind and beside him.
"Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practising!" squeaked Professor Flitwick, as he walked around the room, using stacks of books as stepping stones. "Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick. And saying the magic words properly is very important, too. Remember Wizard Baruffio who said 's' instead of 'f' and ended up with a buffalo on is chest."
Once he was on the other side of the room, helping a few Ravenclaws, Ron scoffed as he waved his wand again. "I don't see how saying the words proper is going to help much with this ruddy spell."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well let's see, I've been saying it right, and my feather's floating. Were as you think you're saying it right and yours is not. So, what conclusion do you draw from that, brother of mine?"
Ron grumbled and swished his wand again, "Wingardium Leviosar."
"No, Ron. It's Levi-O-sa, not Levi-o-SA." Hermione said with a shy smile.
The redhead boy just scowled at her. "Well if you're so clever you do it then."
"O-okay." She pushed the sleeve of her robe up a little and deftly swished and flicked her wand. "Wingardium Leviosa!" The feather Hermione had been practicing on floated up, up, up towards the ceiling, swaying softly back and forth.
"Well done, Ms. Granger, take a point for Gryffindor."
"Thank you, Professor Flitwick."
Ron huffed as Ginny gave him a haughty look as she set her feather to floating again, moving it over to tickle her twin on the side of his face. "Gerrof it, Ginny!" Kestrel and Harry joined in Ginny's laughter, while Neville continued to try and get his feather to even twitch.
It was a chilly wind that followed them on their way down to Herbology from Charms. Just as they entered the courtyard Kestrel wrapped her scarf around her face, so that only her eyes were showing. "I hate the cold, it's stupid."
Even though her voice was severely muffled, Harry had no problem understanding her, it was an old complaint. He rolled his eyes at Neville who was walking on his other side. "Yes, because that's intelligent."
"Shut it Potter, or I'll hex you so hard you won't be able to sit for a week."
Ginny, who was walking with Ron just behind them, giggled as Kestrel made a rude gesture in Harry's general direction. She then turned back to Ron, "She's not that bad. She's just trying to fit in."
"Yes well, if she wants to fit in she should stop trying to be an insufferable know-it-all. It's a wonder she has any friends."
Ron and Ginny almost tripped as Hermione shoved her way between them, hurrying across the courtyard, and into a corridor that would lead her back into the castle. Ron hastily covered his head with his hands as Ginny and Kestrel whirled on him, wands raised.
"You utter prat!" Ron quickly decided that it would be in his best interest to get to the Greenhouses and the safety of Professor Sprouts watchful gaze.
Hermione did not show up for Herbology, or lunch, or any other class after that. Once class had started, McGonagall questioned Ginny and Kestrel where Hermione was. They quickly told her, though left out Ron's name, that someone had said something to upset her and that she hadn't been seen since before Herbology. McGonagall scowled but said nothing as she went about helping those Gryffindors and Ravenclaws that needed it.
As soon as their flying lesson was over and still with no sign of Hermione, Ginny and Kestrel gave their things to Harry and a waiting Neville and went off to find her.
"You better be prepared to apologize once they find her Ron."
"Yeah, mate, Neville's right. You do not want Kes holding a grudge. Girl's vicious when it comes to revenge."
Ron gulped loudly and paled as they made their way up to the Tower before heading down for the Halloween Feast.
Thousands of live bats hung from the walls and ceiling, wings fluttering, while a thousand more swooped over the tables in low black clouds, making the candles in the pumpkins stutter. The feast appeared suddenly on the golden plates, and instead of the usual meal of roast beef, chicken, steaks, and the like, there were mounds of cakes, and pastries, and candies. There was easily enough candy to put anyone into a sugar coma for the next several weeks. The Great Hall seemed to be filled with more noise than was usual as the students filled their stomachs, and pockets, with candy.
Neville asked Lavender Brown if she had seen any of her dormmates. "Well yes, last I saw Ginny and Kestrel were still up in the girl's toilet trying to convince Hermione to come down to the feast." Neville thanked her and went back to his own supper.
Harry and Neville kept an eye out for the three girls, hoping that they would make it down for some of the feast, but sticking a few of the various treats into their pockets just in case.
Ron was just helping himself to thirds when one of the doors at the back of the castle swung open with such force that the crash they emitted as they hit the wall, echoed throughout the room, throwing the Great Hall into a stunned silence, as everyone turned to stare at a harried Professor Quirrell.
"TROLL! Troll in the dungeon!" He paused in the space between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables to catch his breath. "Thought you ought to know." With his warning delivered the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor promptly feinted, head only just missing the Ravenclaw bench.
The previously noisy Hall began to fill with noise again, though this time with the sounds of panicked children screaming instead of their joyful laughter. As panic began to grip the students, Dumbledore rose from his seat, wand to his throat. "SILENCE!"
Every person stopped and turned to stare at the aged Headmaster. He continued speaking in a loud but much calmer tone of voice. "Prefects you will lead your housemates to their Common Rooms, in a calm and orderly manner. Teachers to the dungeons." Those conscious members of the staff swiftly exited the Great Hall out through a side door, and various Prefects began calling out orders to the younger forms.
Percy's voice cut through the din of the other houses and commanded the attention of his charges. "First years form a line behind me. Stick close now, I don't want anyone to get separated."
They quickly and efficiently started to make their way out of the Hall when a thought suddenly occurred to Harry. "Percy!" Harry shoved his way up to just behind the Prefect. "Percy. Kestrel, Ginny, and Hermione are missing."
"What, where are they?"
"Lavender mentioned earlier that they were up in the girl's loo on the fourth floor, but they might not be there now. Hermione was really upset earlier and took off. After classes had let out for the day Ginny and Kes went off to find her. We haven't seen them since." They had reached the marble stairs that led to the main stairwell at this point.
Percy was pale as he shook his head. "There's nothing to be done for it right now. I'll get you lot back to the tower then go and look for them. As long as they are no where near the dungeons they should be fine."
"That's not good enough! That's my sister –"
"That's my sister too, Potter! If you think I am not worried you are sorely mistaken. Now get back in line." The Prefect snarled as they hit the second floor landing.
Harry dropped back to walk beside Neville who gave him a look. Harry nodded and as they passed the statue of Grendel the Glorious, they ducked out of line and hid behind it, no one noticing as they were all too concerned with their own safety. Once they could no longer hear the sounds of their housemates the stood and hurried back down to the second floor and dodging down the corridor ran up the west staircase, a rickety, narrow stair that clung tightly to the wall, and took it up to the fourth floor.
They smell that greeted them as they turned down the hall that the girl's toilet was on told them that the troll was no longer in the dungeons, if indeed it ever had been. The troll was snuffling at the air, feet scuffing across the rough stone of the floor, as it dragged a great dirty club behind it.
The watched with bated breath as the troll ducked its massive head into the girl's loo. At first there were no screams and the boys began to hope that they girls had already left. A piercing scream tearing through the empty hall dashed the boys of that happy thought, and they raced into the washroom, ducking in behind the troll, plastering themselves against the wall next to the destroyed door.
Hermione was crouched down under the sinks, trying to remain as small and unnoticeable as possible, while Kestrel threw rocks at its thick, gray hide, trying to get it's attention, so that Ginny could crawl out from underneath the wreckage of the stall. Neville joined in with Kestrel and began throwing the sweets and cakes he had shoved into his pockets. The beast paid no mind to either of their efforts, and zeroed in on Hermione's shaking form. Ginny pulled herself out from under the wreckage, red hair ruffled and smudges of dirt tracked with tears on her cheeks.
The troll took a step towards Hermione, and Ginny and Harry both reacted simultaneously. Ginny grabbed the nearest piece of wood and swung it hard into the back of one of the troll's knees and Harry leaped on the trolls back, pulling himself up using the monsters sad excuse of a vest.
It turned slowly to glare down at the two Gryffindor girls as Neville motioned for Hermione to move over to him. Just as Harry made it to the creatures head, it heard Hermione slip on a chunk of sink, and it spun back around quicker than thought possible for a creature of its size.
Harry grabbed a hold of the few hairs on the trolls head and gave a vicious tug as Kestrel and Ginny yelled the only spells they could think of "Rictusempra!" The tickling charm did nothing but making the creature scratch at its arm.
Harry pulling on his hair however was a bit more noticeable, and it reached around and grabbed Harry's leg, pulling him around to dangle in front of its face. Harry fumbled with his wand nearly dropping it in his haste to remove it from his pocket. He aimed his own spell at the troll's legs, "Petrificus Totalis!" The spell bounced off harmlessly much to his dismay.
Just as Harry was making peace that this was the way he was going to go, Hermione's desperate cry of 'Wingardium Leviosa' cut through the air. They all turned to watch as the trolls club, floated out of his hand and up above its head. The creature stared dumbly at it as the charm was cancelled and the club crashed into its face. The troll staggered, dropping Harry as it reached up to clutch at its nose, Harry wasted no time in scrambling over to the wall and out from under the creatures now staggering feet. It stumbled a bit more before letting out a groan and toppling over crashing to the floor, head facing away from the smashed in door way.
Before the five could even begin celebrating that they were in fact alive and not troll food, McGonagall ran into the destroyed lavatory followed closely by Percy, Quirrel and a limping Snape.
"Good Heaven's. What happened here?" She demanded, ignoring Professor Quirrel who had taken one look at the troll and fainted again. All five of them started talking at the same time, each one trying to be heard over the others, until the Transfiguration Professor called them to order.
"Enough! One at a time if you please."
Hermione voice was shaking when she spoke but it was clear. "It's my fault Professor. Kestrel and Ginny had come looking for me when I didn't show up to my afternoon lessons. They were trying to get me to come down to the feast. We were just about to leave when the troll came in. They were next to the door way so it didn't see them when it came in."
Snape turned the full force of his sneer onto Harry and Neville, who were both staring at the slowly spreading wet stain just above his right knee. He glared at them and they both dropped their gazes to the floor. "And what are your excuses Potter? Longbottom?"
Harry addressed his answer to McGonagall. "Don't punish Percy, Professor. He told me that once we got to the Common Room, he'd go find a teacher and go looking for Kestrel and Ginny. I'm not sorry I disobeyed though. If we hadn't the girls might've been dead by now. So if you're going to give anyone detention, it should be me."
"And me, I came along willingly. So if you have to punish anyone it should be me and Harry."
McGonagall stared at them hard for a few moments, nostrils flaring and skin pale. "5 points will be taken from the both of you, for disobeying the instructions of your Prefect. And 5 points will be awarded for each of you. For sheer dumb luck!"
The only thing that they could do was gaze at her in shocked silence. They'd lost ten points but gained 15. "Now you will follow Mr. Weasley back to the Tower. No detours, the Halloween feast will be continuing back in the Common Room. Understood?"
"Good. Off you go then."
They quickly filed out behind a scowling Percy. Harry felt immeasurably guilty for getting the Prefect in trouble. "Look, Percy, I'm really sorry I didn't listen to you. I had no business going after a troll, but –"
"Be quiet Potter." He snapped irritably. Ginny looked like she wanted to snap at her older brother, but Harry waved her off.
It wasn't until they were almost at the Portrait Hole that Percy spoke again. "Thank you, Potter for saving Ginny. I know you only went because Kestrel was –"
"I would have gone even if it had only been Ginny, or Hermione, or anyone else if I had known that they were there and they hadn't had known about the Troll! Ginny's my friend just as much as Kes is."
Percy stared down in astonishment at the much smaller boy, who stared up at him reproachfully, with green eyes blazing. The two stared at one another for a few moments more before Percy finally nodded and gave the password to the painting. "Go on and get yourselves some supper. You are not to mention this little escapade at all. Most of the school will know by tomorrow anyway."
They all nodded and filed into the Common Room, heading for the table that was groaning under the weight of so much food. Once they had what they liked the made there way over to there usual table.
There were joined by Hermione for a few minutes, she was looking at all of them, a certain shyness and uncertainty about her features. "Thank you, for saving me."
"You're our friend Hermione, there's no need to thank us." Said Ginny, "But you're welcome all the same." Hermione gave them all another quick smile then hurried off to get a plate of food for herself.