Hermione entered first, she knew just how badly things could go had anyone but her or Ron gone through the door. She opened it carefully, asking Pansy to give her a couple of minutes to talk to Neville, to make sure it was safe for her and the younger children to enter without a bunch of wands aimed their way.
The portrait swung behind the last of the underage children that had occupied the room just as she entered, she looked around, the room had not yet shifted to accommodate their smaller numbers, now there were less than thirty left to fight. Most of them her friends. She looked around quickly, trying not to dwell on what was going to be until she sought out Neville. Neville who, out of anyone she knew, was as brave as a Lion. Neville who had stood up to them back in their first year. Neville who she knew, if she gave him reason to, would offer anyone a second chance. She held onto that hope as she called him over.
"Neville," She panted. Everyone turned to look at her.
Neville looked back, noticing the door still stood on the wall behind her, his brow creased. "Huh - uh yeah, what's up Hermione?" He asked somewhat distractedly. "Where's Ron?"
Hermione glanced back at the door, chewing the inside of her cheek. She needed to be fast. "Look Neville we don't have a lot of time okay so I need you to listen to me and trust me, you said everyone in this room is on Harry's side, right? On our side? That everyone who can enter is an allie?" Her voice was full of hope but there was a desperation to her tone, biting away at her words.
"I-um, yeah" Neville agreed. "I said that. That's how the room works. The room will only open for the side of the light."
"Right then," Hermione said with a nod. "I'm going to need you all," she said as she glanced around the room, making sure to make eye contact with as many people as possible. "To keep an open mind. We bumped into someone in the kitchens and we agreed to help them. I can testify that they are, without doubt, on our side. Do you trust me?"
It was just as Neville nodded that they felt the room shift, the three house emblems moved to accommodate the Slytherin house crest before the door swung open and Pansy Parkinson stepped through, a small child and an elf following in her wake.
Hermione turned to Neville again. "She was trying to get the younger kids out to safety but had no way of doing it, we found them holed up in the kitchens. We said we could help them, the elves are going to escort them home."
Neville nodded dumbfoundedly as he stared at the witch, the children filling in behind her, crowding around her as if she were their only safety net.
It took a couple of minutes for everyone to make it through, Ron taking up the rear and the door closing behind him before anyone spoke again.
All eyes were on the group of newcomers, they looked terrified, the thought that these students, on the side of the light, might not help them, might kick them back out of the only safe haven there was clearly etched into the lines on their skin. Some were trying not to cry. One was having trouble breathing.
"Right,"Neville said, bringing himself up to full height and pulling himself together. He walked towards the painting once more and opened it up. "This will lead you into the Nag's Head, Aberforth lives there, nice fellow, tell him I sent you and he'll make sure everything is okay. Be warned it is dark in there but I promise that's that hardest part." He said with a smile as he gestured into the dark entrance.
The younger children turned to Pansy for confirmation, was this a trick was the unask question they all wanted an answer for. Pansy looked to Hermione and Ron for confirmation. A nod was all it took to know this was safe, this was their way out and so she helped usher them through, one by one in single file. One elf then one child, one elf then one child and on and on it went until Pansy said her last goodbye, and the last elf, who had kept himself hidden until now, appeared from behind his charge. Kreacher gave Hermione a wide smile, she was his and no wizard could take that from him. Not even his master. Kreacher walked forward, placing his boney little hands in Hermione's and squeezing hard before he walked towards the painting, ready to see his child home to safety. Eventually Pansy gave her last hug and let the painting close behind them. They were gone.
Nobody moved nor spoke, the room was deadly silent as Pansy took herself to the nearest wall and collapsed against it, her body shook as tears flowed. Hermione recognised those tears. It was relief. She had taken this burden on for who knew how long? She had kept these children fed and safe in school, probably throughout the entire year. She had been their mentor, confidant, friend. And finally, finally she had gotten them to the safety she had promised so many times. Hermione turned away, tears in her eyes at the scene before her. She couldn't cry, not today. Once she started she knew she wouldn't stop. No, crying would be saved for later. For when everything was over.
Neville and the rest of the group watched on in shock as Ron walked over briskly, settling himself down next to the ebony haired witch and put his arm around her. The pair heard the intake of breath around the room as Pansy buried her head in his shoulder but nobody said anything more, they let him comfort her whilst she needed it. The questions would come later surely.
Hermione faced Neville and opened her mouth, about to say something though she wasn't sure what when all of a sudden they heard something. They turned towards the painting, the noises getting louder. Voices, they had figured, and more than one, more than two even.
Everyone edged closer, wondering who was about to step through when the door swung open and Molly Weasley marched on through, her entire family, besides Ron and Percy, clamouring behind her to get inside. They walked with a spring and a bounce, they were ready for what was to come.
Hermione rushed forward, throwing her arms around the Weasley parents unceremoniously before the rest of the siblings, Fleur included, engulfed her at every possible angle.
"Oh, Hermione!" Mrs Weasley cronned, pulling the younger witch away so she could survey her, "you are entirely too skinny, child! But dear Godric am I glad to see you, now where is my boy?" She asked, just in time to turn towards Ron. Ron who was still sat next to Pansy, bewildered at the sight of his family. Not having really expected to see them, especially his parents.
"Mum..?" He whispered, pulling his arm from Pansy and dragging her to stand with him, entwining their hands before she could pull away.
"Oh Ronald, my baby, you're here. And look at you! You look well, and your leg?" She asked, a hint that she had seen the paper.
"I got it fixed," he replied with a wide smile, his hand still firmly in Pansy's as his family engulfed the pair. He wasn't sure if they even noticed Pansy was there but he wasn't about to bring it up either. He just held her tighter, unwilling to let her go. "Ho-how did you get here? How did you know?"
"Good to see you, son." Arthur said as he hugged his son.
"Neville sent word through the D.A coins," Ginny replied as she pulled herself free. "The Order are on their way as we speak.
"Now, are you going to tell me who your friend is?" Molly asked him.
Ron turned flame red as he looked between Pansy and his family. He wasn't ashamed of Pansy but he never imagined things would go like this, he wasn't prepared. Thankfully he was spared the ordeal of explaining when the portrait swung open once again and out stepped Percy. He sighed heavily and slowly backed away as his family found a new son, a new brother, to interrogate.
He couldn't deny he felt for Percy, the guilt was written all over his brothers face. The shame and horror of what he had done, what he had put his family through. His parents. He took time to explain what happened and his family listened intently before engulfing him as they had Ron and Hermione.
Nobody noticed the door reappear on the wall again as Harry snuck back inside, taking a stand next to Hermione and eying Ron and Pansy speculatively.
"I'll explain later," Hermione said quietly.
"Hermione, I know I'm the least observant person in this room but, in case you didn't notice, they're holding hands. I think even I can figure it out for myself." Harry said with a laugh as they watched the Weasley clan love on each other.
It was then that Molly spotted Harry and, as she was want to do she pulled him in just as she had the others. He was, afterall, an extension of her family and she had done nothing but worry for him since he left. "Oh I'm so glad you're here and safe Harry," She gushed as she squeezed him just a little bit too tight though he didn't care. He knew Molly and the Weasley's loved him and he loved them for how they had accepted him and Hermione in to their family so easily. He hoped things would stay that way when they found out the secrets they had both been holding. His eyes connected with Ginny's as she stood behind her mum. She smiled at him, a friendly welcome smile that said she was glad to see him and he smiled back, happy in the knowledge that things between them were fine. More than fine even.
The door behind the painting had remained open, the darkened corridor bleak and echoey, all that could be heard were the footsteps of the elves and their charges as they made their way through the tunnel to their destination, made their way to relative safety.
"Ow! You little bugger, I'll get you back for that later!" They heard a familiar voice echo through the tunnel.
"Kreacher jokes Master. Kreacher gives Master kick and laugh!" The elf's voice rang out.
Harry and Hermione sighed, realising who was about to enter the room next, knowing they were safe but tensing up, knowing what was to come.
"You better hope I don't see you again you little…" the voice of Sirius called but this time it was jovial, playful. There was no malice to his words, just a good old ribbing between Master and elf.
Finally Sirius and Dean stepped through the open door, the room had become deadly silent as everyone awaited their arrival, wondering who was about to join the side of the light.
"Well isn't this a nice surprise," Sirius joked as Molly pulled him into a hug.
"Dean, Dean! You're ALIVE!" Seamus shouted, pushing his way to the front of the crowd to see his best friend. He had heard the radio. Had known Dean had been captured but no new information had been released and he had worried for his best friend. The pair didn't hesitate to hug one another and nobody dared comment either.
Behind the pair the room continued to fill, Remus and Tonks, Kingsley, Dedalus Diggle, Elphias Doge, Lee Jordan, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet and on and on people came. There were older people, from the original Order, members of the D.A and allies from all over coming to fight. It was an impressive bunch, an intimidating lot and together they had the combined magic that Merlin himself would fear.
Everyone was welcomed with open arms, some had been in hiding for many years, some had been captured and escaped. Everyone had their own story to tell, their own wounds to bare.
The room was abuzz with excitement in the air, friends and family held on to one another as stories were shared and scars shown. That was, of course, until the painting opened once more and more people entered.
Everyone turned as they heard Ariana's painting open. Hermione held her breath, knowing what was about to come. She wasn't sure who was about to enter the room but she could only guess and none of the combinations in her head was going to go over well. She moved forward, Harry following as they pushed their way to the front of the crowd. Ron copying from the other side of the room where he stood with his family, still pulling Pansy with him. They were in sync. They knew.
And then the door opened and the all noise, all movement, ceased within the room. Everyone turned to look at the newcomers. The two blonde's who stood on the threshold, their wands holstered and worry etched on their faces. It was clear the walk through the tunnel had not been an easy one, that all of their fears for what may await them at the end had gone through their minds repeatedly.
"Malfoy? Greengrass?" Someone called out though Hermione couldn't be sure who since she wasn't paying attention. It hadn't been spat like an insult. It was a question, a shocked question as it passed the owners lips.
Draco turned to the voice, "nice to see you too, Finnegan." Draco said, tipping his head in the direction of the Irish boy.
"What are you doing here?" Neville asked, glancing towards Harry, Ron and Hermione, a speculative look in his eyes.
"The same thing as the rest of you, I suspect." Draco answered.
Everyone was confused and not a word was said as the pair continued to stand in the doorway.
"You know the rules Nev, mate. If they can get in they're on our side. You said so yourself." Ron reminded his friend.
Neville nodded, the words running through his head and the two Slytherins that stood before them had never computed as a possibility before. He scratched his head. "I-uh-I guess I did say that."
Ron sighed, his shoulders relaxing as Hermione reached out for Draco, entwining their hands and pulling him close. Harry, stood beside her, did the same with Daphne.
"Woah there!" Neville shouted as he watched the scene unfold.
"Sweet Salazar!" Pansy screamed as she watched Daphne kiss Harry on the cheek.
"What in Merlin's name?" Seamus cried.
"Sorry mate," Harry said, turning to Neville and the rest of the room. "We wanted everyone to make their own opinions first but I can assure you Draco and Daphne and anyone that comes through that door are on our side. I don't care what colour robes they wear in school, everyone in here is here for the same reason."
"Yeah," Neville nodded, a smile forming. "Yeah, I get it. But you know, when this is all over you lot owe me some answers." He joked with his dorm-mate.
Harry laughed and just as he did Luna and Theo entered the room. This time there were no hostilities and Luna was pulled away from her boyfriend as friends from every house engulfed her. Pansy finally pulled herself together, pulling Daphne away from Harry, checking Draco was in fact real and making sure Theo was in one piece as Willow, Astoria and Aberforth came through the door.
"I left a note," Aberforth said to Kingsley. "Just in case any stragglers turn up so they know how to get in."
"Wise." Kingsley replied. "So, what do you make of this lot then?" He asked his old friend.
"They seem genuine enough and if Black and Potter say they're decent then they're decent. That's all I need to know. The lot of them looked more like rabbits in headlights than deadly snakes when they arrived at the pub though!"
"Think they were expecting more of an uproar. People to put up a fight. But as you say, if Harry agrees then that's all there is too it." He replied, the pair looking over to the trio and their group of Slytherin friends as everyone mingled together, the room filling once again with excited chatter about what was to come.