The Sugar Quill
Author: jncarlin  Story: A New Alliance  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Ariana—inner monolgue

Author’s Note: This was originally written for Omniocular’s August challenge (2007) on LJ. Thanks to Logical Quirk for giving it a final proof-read.

 

 

 

A New Alliance

 

Ariana had lived with her brother for as long as she could remember. She had a vague recollection of having once been in other rooms in other houses, but for decades now she had hung peacefully in her cozy frame over the fireplace in her brother’s sitting room.

 

In that room she had watched Ab grow from a brown-haired young man first opening his own business, to the gray-haired, wizened and gruff old man he was now. But all along the way she was there for him—listing to him vent his concerns and worries, his frustrations and fears. Always, she would cheer him up by humming a happy tune or by singing one of the wordless songs she loved to invent.

 

When he was younger Ab would sing along with her, and they would create their own quirky harmonies together.

 

Ariana had another brother who would come to visit from time to time, but he wasn’t like Ab. He wouldn’t talk to her, or sing with her. He would only look at her and smile a sad smile with a faraway look in his eyes, like his mind was somewhere else.

 

The last time she saw her oldest brother, he had looked worn-down and fragile, and his smile for her had been full of pain. He hadn’t been to visit in a very long time.

 

Ab was beginning to have the same worn-down look about him. He came up from his bar every night and sat heavily in his chair, staring silently at the fire, and holding that new mirror of his, looking into it as if he expected to see someone other than himself looking back out at him.

 

He rarely talked to her anymore, and he never sang. Not even her happiest tunes could cheer him.

 

Ariana loved her brother very much, and wanted more than anything to help him, but she didn’t know what to do. Things were not looking good at all.

 

~~~~~~

 

Aberforth sat before the fire, staring up at the small mirror on the mantelpiece. He still wasn’t used to being upstairs so early in the evening, but with the curfew in place there was no point in keeping the bar open past sundown. The only customers he’d have got after dark were Death Eaters, and he’d grown tired enough of dealing with them and their ilk in the daytime—he didn’t need to be troubled with them at night, as well.

 

Besides, he was getting old. And old people should go to bed early, to rest their tired bones, shouldn’t they? Except his bones weren’t tired yet. He still itched to be up and about, pouring drinks and listening to the latest gossip.

 

He coughed, and reached for his glass of beer. He never used to be much of a drinker, but after Albus died he found that a little drink was the only thing that helped him to sleep through the night.

 

He looked back up at the mirror, and wondered, not for the first time, whether or not Dobby had got the Potter boy to safety. Surely there would have been news, or even a celebration, if he’d been killed. He must be safe.

 

Ab couldn’t help but hope that Potter was somewhere far away—over the Channel, or even across the ocean. Too many kids had already had their lives ruined by the war. If Potter was spared, than Ab has done his part. He’d done enough.

 

He looked down at the fire. The folks from the Order kept trying to contact him—to get him back in the fight; but he wanted nothing to do with it. He’d done his part the first time around. This time, he was sitting things out. The Order was finished. The war was over. There was no point left in fighting.

 

At least, that’s what he told himself.

 

Then why did he keep looking at that God-damned mirror? Why did he even keep the bleeding thing? He’d fulfilled Albus’s last request, and done what he could for Potter. So why couldn’t he just throw the damn thing away?

 

He took another gulp of his beer, staring down into his glass, watching the way the firelight filtered through its murky amber depths.

 

He didn’t like the answer to his question—but he couldn’t deny it. Every time he’d looked at that mirror and seen a flash of those green eyes and scruffy black hair, he’d felt a surge of hope. And he’d liked that feeling.

 

He knew he should have given up on hope a long time ago, but he hadn’t. Hope was in short enough supply as it was; so if that mirror was going to give it to him, then it was worth keeping around. Wasn’t it?

 

He rose to his feet, walked over the mantelpiece, picked up the mirror, and returned to slump back down in his chair.

 

He stared deep into the mirror, willing something to happen. He could use a little hope, tonight.

 

~~~~~

 

Neville sat curled up in one of the chairs that the Room of Requirement had so kindly provided him, reading a defensive spell book and doing everything in his power to ignore the biting hunger in his belly.

 

After scanning the same page with his eyes for the third time in row without remembering a single word of it, he sighed and tossed the book aside. It was no good.

 

He was hungry. He was really hungry.

 

He stood up and started to pace. He couldn’t let it end like this. The D.A. was too important to the school—too important to him. He was the last leader of Dumbledore’s Army left at Hogwarts, and if he didn’t keep up the fight, who would?

 

Neville had never thought of himself as a leader, but within hours of learning that Harry, Ron, and Hermione weren’t coming back to Hogwarts, and after seeing Snape and the Carrows take charge of the staff during the start of term feast, he knew what he had to do.

 

As soon as Ginny and Luna had agreed to help him restart the D.A., he had thought things would be simple. Ginny was a natural leader—she could take charge. And for a while, she did.

 

But something changed after Christmas, when he got word of Luna’s capture. Before then, the D.A. had always been about principle: about standing up for what was right. After Luna was gone it became something much more—it was personal.

 

The other members, including Ginny, had noticed the difference and had turned to him for leadership more and more as the months passed.

 

But now, like Ginny, he’d been driven into hiding.

 

The D.A. needed him! The school needed him! His friends needed him! How could he help them when he couldn’t even fill his own belly?

 

In frustration he pulled his fist back and punched a bookcase hard. It wobbled slightly and Neville winced, shaking his hand. That wasn’t the smartest thing he’d ever done.

 

Neville ran his fingers through his hair, and tried to really think. It was hard to focus on anything other than his hunger, but he needed to come up with a solution.

 

Seamus and two other D.A. members had told him that they wanted to come with him when he went into hiding, and Neville felt certain that it wouldn’t be long before one of them tried to join him. But if he couldn’t feed himself, how could he feed anyone else? House Elves were out of the question—they were under the command of Snape. All Snape would have to do was ask them a few questions and they would lead him straight to Neville.

 

And asking other students to steal for him was too risky. He wouldn’t have them putting themselves in harm’s way for his sake.

 

So that left him right where he was: hungry, and frustrated. Not to mention the fact that he was cut off from any news beyond the school.

 

He pulled Gran’s letter out of his pocket again, rereading her words of encouragement. She was proud of him. She believed in him. They all did. He couldn’t let them down—he had to find a way to keep fighting.

 

He started pacing again. What he really needed was an outside contact. He needed someone from beyond the walls of Hogwarts to supply him with food, news, and contact with the people leading the resistance in the rest of the country. They could coordinate—work together from inside and out to prepare for open revolt once Harry came back.

 

On that point Neville had never wavered or doubted. Harry would come back. And when he did, Neville would be ready. But how?

 

He ran his fingers through his hair again, and took a deep breath. It was time to talk to the Room.

 

It was a long shot—there had to be a limit to the Room’s power, after all. But it was the only thing he could think of.

 

“What I need,” he said, his face tilted up to the towering ceiling, “is a way to get in touch with someone in the village—someone who wants Harry to succeed as much as I do, and who is willing to help Harry’s friends here in the castle. And I need a way for that person to smuggle food and information to us. Please?”

 

His eyes darted around the Room, looking for anything new that it might have provided.

 

And there is was—on the west wall. A large picture frame, holding a painting of a long, dark tunnel.

 

~~~~~~

 

Ariana felt strange. Something had changed, but she wasn’t sure what.

 

She looked around the room carefully, but all was just as it should be. She looked at Ab, but he was still staring at his mirror and drinking his beer, just as he had been moments earlier. So what had changed? Was it her?

 

She had never spent much time looking around the painting that surrounded her. It was just an empty grey stone room, and had never held much interest for her in comparison to Ab’s cozy sitting room. For the first time in more than a decade, she turned her head and looked at the room behind her.

 

Where a blank stone wall had once been painted, there was now a tunnel, stretching out far into the distance, ending in a small point of white light.

 

How remarkable.

 

She looked back at Ab for a moment. He seemed to be falling asleep. He wouldn’t miss her for the few minutes it would take to explore this strange new tunnel.

 

She turned completely toward that faraway light, and walked down the tunnel.

 

~~~~~~

 

Neville approached the new painting, and examined it curiously. How was a painting supposed to help him? If it had been a portrait, maybe it could help with communicating to the outside. But an empty tunnel?

 

As he continued to study the painting, a small movement caught his eye. He watched carefully as a spot at the end of the tunnel grew until it became the clear image of a blond girl with wide blue eyes walking toward him. He watched until she was so close that her torso and face filled most of the frame.

 

“Are you here to help me?” he asked.

 

The strange girl nodded in affirmation.

 

“Do you have another portrait somewhere else?”

 

She nodded again.

 

“Is there someone there who’ll help me? Can you carry a message for me?” he asked hopefully.

 

She shook her head no, but started pointing animatedly at the edge of her picture.

 

Neville furrowed his brow. Was there some sort of message written in the picture? Or on the frame?

 

He stepped forward, squinting at the painting, and feeling along the frame. As he grasped the right edge of the frame he heard a faint click, and the painting suddenly swung forward on hinges, revealing a narrow passageway behind it.

 

Neville’s eyes widened in surprise. How could this be? The special enchantments only existed within this Room—so how could it create a passage that led elsewhere? Or did the magic extend throughout the castle, only fully manifesting itself here in the Room? Or, perhaps, the passage had been there all along, and he had finally discovered the way to reveal it?

 

Neville shook his head. This sort of speculation was more suited to Luna—or even Hermione. What mattered most was that he had asked the Room for help, and this was how it had answered. It hadn’t let him down yet, and he didn’t think it was about to start. Whatever lay at the end of that passage was the answer to all his dilemmas. Now it was up to him to go and find it.

 

~~~~~~

 

Aberforth could hear Ariana humming again. She still tried so hard to cheer him, bless her heart. He looked up to smile at her, and then darted to his feet in surprise.

 

The blank wall behind her had been replaced by a long tunnel, and she was skipping toward him, humming happily. What’s more, someone else was walking along behind her.

 

His jaw hung open in wordless shock. What in Merlin’s name was going on?

 

Once Ariana had resumed her normal position in the frame she stopped humming just long enough to flash him a toothy grin and wave. Immediately her portrait swung out from the wall to reveal what could only be the entrance to a secret passageway, with a disheveled young man in Hogwarts robes crouched in it, staring out at him.

 

Where had that passage come from? It wasn’t there when he started renovating the Inn so many decades ago—and he should know, as he’d rebuilt that wall himself.

 

The strange young man—looking rather worse for the wear—coughed uncomfortably, and said, “Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I come in and have a word?”

 

Aberforth couldn’t stop a snorting laugh from escaping his lips at the utter surrealism of the situation. “Come on,” he said, gesturing with his arm.

 

The boy clambered awkwardly down to the ground, leaping a little to avoid the fire. He dusted off his tattered robes, and then looked Aberforth steadily in the eye, with a strange glow of confidence and trust.

 

“So who the ruddy hell are you?” asked Aberforth.

 

“My name is Neville Longbottom. I’m a friend of Harry Potter, and I’ve come here to ask for your help.”

 

~~~~~~

 

Of all the people who the room could have chosen, the barman of the Hog’s Head was certainly among the last Neville would have guessed. He just had to trust the Room. He had asked it to connect him with someone who wanted Harry to succeed—someone who would help one of Harry’s friends. So no matter what Neville thought of the rather disreputable old man, he must be on Harry’s side, and he must be trustworthy. So without hesitation, Neville introduced himself.

 

“Who?” said the old man, staring at him through a mop of lank grey hair.

 

“Neville Longbottom. I go to Hogwarts. A few years ago Harry Potter started a secret defense group called the D.A., and I’ve been looking after it for him while he’s away. We’ve been carrying out acts of sabotage and sedition against Snape and the Carrows all year, but we’re in a tight spot.” Neville went on to describe all that the D.A. had been doing, as well as the kinds of torture its members were facing. All the while the man’s blue eyes grew wider and wider.

 

Finally, Neville told him about what they’d tried to do to his Gran, and how he’d been forced into hiding. “Others will be joining me soon—I know they will. And the Room can give us most of what we need. Except for food—and contact with the outside world. That’s…that’s why I’m here.”

 

He took a deep breath, and smiled as hopefully as he could at the old barman. “So…do you think…maybe…you could help us?”

 

~~~~~~

 

Ab stared at the Longbottom boy incredulously. He’d hardly have believed the wild tale of an underground army at Hogwarts and Death Eaters torturing students if it wasn’t for the deep gashes and large blue and purple bruises marring the lad’s face. All through his speech the boy kept repeating that he needed to keep the school ready for Harry—that he and his “army” needed to be ready when Harry came back.

 

Didn’t the damn fool realize that Harry wasn’t coming back? At least, not if he knew what was good for him.

 

They were just kids. A bunch of crazy kids who had no idea what kind of odds they were facing.

 

Yet, as he stood there listening to Longbottom rattle on about his harebrained adventures, Ab couldn’t help but feel a swelling in his heart—the same sort of swelling he’d felt every time he’d glimpsed Harry in that confounded mirror. It was hope.

 

Longbottom was absolutely overflowing with hope. So when he looked at Ab with that nervous grin on his face, asking for nothing more than a little food and a connection to the outside world, how could he turn the kid down?

 

Ab sniffed, trying hard to contain his emotions. He glanced back up at Ariana, smiling down at the both of them.

 

“So how…how in Merlin’s name did you make that passage?” He pointed at the portrait, and Ariana waved at him again.

 

Longbottom shrugged. “I thought it must have already been there.”

 

Ab shook his head. “No. I know for a fact it wasn’t.”

 

Longbottom looked up at Ariana with him. “Then the only explanation I can think of is that the Room must have made it. Maybe even the castle made it. Hogwarts wanted us to meet. It wants you to help me.”

 

Ab raised an eyebrow at Longbottom’s sincerity while making such a ridiculous statement. But what if the boy was right? Stranger things had happened. “Hogwarts wants me to help you, does it?” he asked, looking the boy in the eye again.

 

Longbottom nodded confidently. “I’m certain of it.”

 

Ab raised a hand to rub his beard absently. What harm would it do? The kids certainly seemed to need help, and if he didn’t give it to them, who would?

 

“So what do you and your little band of rebels call yourselves, again?”

 

“The D.A.,” replied Longbottom. “It stands for Dumbledore’s Army.”

 

Ab’s breath caught in his throat, and for the first time since Albus’s funeral, he felt tears prickling in his eyes.

 

He coughed, looking down at his feet long enough to regain his composure.

 

“Well then,” he said, looking back up at Longbottom. “It seems you’ve come to the right place. My name just happens to be Dumbledore.”

 

He held out his hand to boy. “Aberforth Dumbledore. I’m very pleased to meet you, Neville Longbottom.”

 

Longbottom smiled, his eyes shining with moisture. “And I’m very happy to meet you, too.” He took Ab’s hand, and shook it firmly.

 

~~~~~~

 

Ariana watched as Ab fetched the young man some food and sat him before the fire. After eating his fill, the lad talked animatedly long into the night.

 

Ariana didn’t pay attention to what was said. All that mattered to her was the constant twitching at the corner of Ab’s mouth—it was just the way he always looked when he was trying to stop himself from smiling.

 

She grinned and hummed softly to herself, this time not to cheer Ab, but only for the sheer joy of the music.

 

Things were finally beginning to look up.

//
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