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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
Chapter 7: 2000 words and counting
Hero Posted on 3/25/2012 7:32:33 PM
Chapter 6 Chance and Choice: 3,600 words and counting
Long Lost Brother Posted on 4/21/2010 2:57:30 PM
Chapter 5: 0 words and counting.

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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note: First, I'd like to apologize for the length of time this chapter took to complete. To be quite frank, it was a bitch to write. I struggled with pretty much every scene. Right now, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that it's finally finished and hoping to Merlin that the next one isn't quite so difficult to write. I'm sure you'll be with me in that hope.

Anyway, thank you to all those who have reviewed and posted in the forums here. I greatly appreciate all your support and encouragement. Also, I'd like to give a thank you to Christine for her help on the chapter and an especially big thanks to Maggie who has been with me every step of the way on this chapter as I struggled through it. Now, without further ado, I give you...

Chapter 5: Freshly Turned Dirt
“Morning sleepy-head,” he heard her murmur before feeling her lips press against his.

Harry moved his lips sluggishly against hers and pulled her body close to his, basking in her warmth as his mind continued to awaken along with the rest of his body. He pulled his lips away from hers as he made some startling discoveries. His hand was finding a lot more skin than he was accustomed to, and what fabric he ran across had a strange feeling to it that he eventually deduced to be lace.

He met her eyes and took note of her coy smile. Slowly he brought his hand up and lifted the blanket off their bodies. His eyes travelled down her face and to her chest and froze at what he saw.

“Happy birthday, Harry,” Ginny whispered into his ear. It took a long moment to tear his gaze back up to her face and only because her giggle finally broke him out of his stupor. “Do you like it?” she asked. There was a naughty tone to her voice with a tinge of nervousness shining through.

He nodded vigorously.

“Sorry you didn’t get to unwrap it,” Ginny said, and Harry shook his head vigorously to dispel her of any such notions of apology. “Or maybe you still can.” That was when the last of his functioning brain cells went on strike.

They had only recently re-begun their physical explorations of each other. Almost immediately after that first pleasurable encounter, they had learned about Alicia, and it had simply not felt right to continue along as if nothing had happened. That had lasted a couple weeks until they woke up in a similarly compromising position and let their hormones do their thinking for them, but their clothes had always remained more or less in place, and he had certainly never seen her wearing anything like that.

Not that he had much to compare it to, but this was, without a doubt, the best birthday ever.

******

“What is the status of your work in the greenhouse?”

Neville looked up from his plate and across the table to meet his gran’s gaze. “Of the seventeen samples, three are thriving, four are living but only just, and the rest have already wilted completely.”

She nodded imperiously, though the action failed to faze him as it had for most of his life. That was just the way she was. “Very good. I had my doubts about all this Herbology business, but as Professor Sprout stated, you have a gift for it that should not be left to waste.”

“Thank you.” He smiled at the praise and inwardly chuckled at her distinct change in tune as he tucked back in to his lunch. He had been trying for the past two years to convince his gran to allow him his own greenhouse at the manor. She had been opposed to the idea from the very start, citing a variety of reasons including cost and the indignity of a wizard of his standing mucking around in the mud, but he had persisted despite her staunch refusals. Begging and pleading would get him nowhere. If it did not work when he was young, there was no possibility of it working now. She had even resisted Professor Sprout’s entreaties on his behalf, and he was greatly amused by the professor’s response to his stubborn grandmother even as he felt the bitter disappointment at the professor’s failure to talk sense into the formidable woman.

Then he came up with a plan. He had lived with his gran for over fifteen years before he finally began to understand her. She was not one to be swayed by emotions but cool logic, so that was what he set out to give her. He outlined exactly what he hoped to accomplish in his independent summer studies and what he would need to make it possible. He went even further into the realm of sheer theory on where he hoped his research and experimenting would eventually lead him, and how it could gain him respect from the magical community. Augusta Longbottom always responded well to that which would earn the family respect.

He still found his gran’s formal nature off-putting, but he felt as if he finally knew how to speak with her without feeling inherently inferior. Perhaps that was just a part of growing up.

“Could I see the results?” she requested.

Neville raised his eyebrows in surprise and had to stop himself from openly gawking at her. Despite her acquiescence to the request and inquisitions into the progress, she had never shown much of any interest in the work itself. Perhaps he did not quite have his gran figured out just yet.

“Sure,” he replied automatically, his mind still trying to process this latest development.

“Well, finish up your lunch,” she ordered. “You can show me your work as soon as you have had your fill.”

He nodded his agreement in a daze and returned to his meal. They finished lunch in silence and set off for the greenhouse. He led the way down the foyer toward the back of the house when a piercing ring shattered the stillness of the air.

“The wards!” his gran exclaimed.

He reached for his wand and turned, finding his gran heading in the opposite direction with her wand already drawn. Neville turned and trotted after her. “Gran!” he shouted in an attempt to get her attention, but she paid him no heed. “I have a Portkey to Hogwarts,” he announced. “We should take it.”

She stopped in her tracks and turned to him. “And where did you manage to get a Portkey?”

“Harry gave it to me,” he answered. “He gave them to all his students.”

He saw her eyes light in sudden understanding and wondered at it for a moment before pushing the matter aside. “Very well,” she conceded. “I am loath to leave, but I can feel the wards already failing, and Death Eaters never attack unless the odds are heavily in their favour.”

Neville blew out a breath in relief and fished the necklace out of his robes. He held it out, and his gran put her hand over his, trapping the Portkey between their palms. “Sanctuary,” Neville stated.

He felt a slight pull at his navel that promptly vanished. He looked at his gran with wide eyes. “Anti-Portkey wards,” she whispered, her eyes distant. A wave of energy swept past them, and the house shook with a loud boom. The Death Eaters had arrived.

******

Harry grinned widely as he blew out the candles on his cake, not even bothering with a wish after the morning he had. A round of applause swept across the table as Ginny handed him a knife and proceeded to wandlessly vanish all the candles. He cut the cake and handed out pieces to everyone before digging into his own, briefly meeting Ginny’s eyes across the crowded table. Fred, George, Angelina, Katie, Lee, Remus, and Tonks were all there, the presents they brought piled on the table waiting to be opened after they finished the cake. It was perfect.

As he set down his plate and fork, Fred and George yelled, “Presents!” As they reached into the pile and handed him a neon-pink wrapped box, a beeping blared from the lounge.

Everyone froze. Harry met Ginny’s eyes, and as one they raced to the map with the others close behind.

“Neville,” Harry spoke more to himself than anyone else. He had just written to Neville yesterday, he thought idly to himself, to wish him a happy birthday. He turned around and faced the others, clearing his mind as he did so. He swept his eyes across the group and nodded. “Right. You lot stay here,” he commanded, gesturing to the twins, Angelina, Katie, and Lee. They immediately began to protest, but Harry held up his hand. “Until we can trust you to be able to watch out for yourselves, you’ll only end up distracting the rest of us.” They fell silent but did not seem any happier for it. He met Ginny’s eyes as she stepped to his side. Grabbing her hand Harry turned to Remus and Tonks. “Let’s go.”

He dual-Apparated himself and Ginny outside the wards of the Longbottom Estate and immediately knew something was wrong. The house’s wards were no longer there, but a few others hung in their place – most notably anti-Apparation and anti-Portkey. He turned his attention to the house and immediately noted the number of people within and the multitude of spellfire. A soft crack signalled the arrival of Remus and Tonks, and Harry turned quickly towards them.

“Anti-Apparation and anti-Portkey wards,” he stated in a deadpan voice. “They’re still inside.” He let that sink in for a split second before continuing. “That means we can’t leave inside the wards either, so be extra careful.” He gave Ginny a pointed look, and she nodded her head mutely. “Right, come on.”

He set off for the destroyed front door at a run and both heard and felt the others following. As he crossed the threshold, he heard a familiar voice shout, “No!” A pained scream followed, and Harry tore through the manor as quickly as he could, paying little attention to the route he took as he focused on the magical auras to guide him. The scream cut off suddenly as Harry came upon an open set of double doors leading into what appeared to be a grand hall. The sound of jeering voices drifted out into the hallway as he approached the doorway.

He held up a hand to the others who were just now catching up to him and Disillusioned himself. Peeking inside, he spotted a knot of about a dozen Death Eaters at the far end of the room hovering over a fallen form. A second body lay forgotten near the group, and Harry immediately recognized her as Neville’s grandmother. He began to make out the words of the Death Eaters, taunting Neville about his parents and grandmother. Harry stuck his head back out the door and whispered to his companions, “Disillusion yourselves and get into position, but wait for my signal.”

Without waiting for a response, Harry turned and held a silencing spell around himself to mask the sound of both his footsteps and his breathing as he ran towards the group of Death Eaters.

“When we’re through with you, they’ll give you a nice bed right beside your parents,” one voice jeered.

Crucio,” another voice called. Once again, Neville’s screams echoed throughout the house.

Harry fought the urge to rush as he began to circle around into the line of sight of the Death Eaters. They were distracted by their torture, but he did not want to be too obvious and risk giving himself away. Neville was in a vulnerable position, and he needed to get his friend out of their before any permanent damage could be done.

As soon as he got a good angle, Harry sent a Concussive Curse right into the figure holding the wand on Neville. He was close enough that none of the Death Eaters were able to react in time to the sudden burst of spell-fire. A silent Accio pulled Neville away from the Death Eaters right as the curse struck, erupting in a blast that left his ears ringing as the semicircle of Death Eaters were all knocked several paces back. The target of his curse was not so lucky. He was lifted clean off his feet and landed hard on his back, his head slapping against the marble floor. He did not rise.

The blast, more bark than bite, gave him the precious seconds he needed to pull Neville away from danger. The others began casting spells moments after the blast while the Death Eaters struggled to recover their wits. Harry spotted another pair of double doors at this end of the room and blasted them open, pulling Neville out into the hall. That would at least afford him a modicum of safety. As he turned back into the room, he was forced to duck a Killing Curse and began a rapid fire of curses in retaliation.

He was kept in a perpetual state of motion to avoid the curses being fired at him from a duo of Death Eaters. Their propensity for Unforgivables left Harry with no choice but to dodge rather than shield and kept him on the defensive as he worked out a strategy. His constant movement all but nullified the advantages of the Disillusionment Charm, but he was left with no other option.

“Behind you,” an unfamiliar voice called out. One of his opponents turned to quickly shield himself from a pair of spells, and Harry used the brief interruption to press his advantage. He sent a wide burst of flames at the distracted Death Eater, forcing him to form a hasty shield as he turned back to Harry. While he was blinded by the fire encompassing his shield, Harry followed up with a series of high-powered Blasting Curses. The Death Eater was smart enough to keep his shield up, but Harry attacked relentlessly as he sidestepped a Cruciatus. He began mixing Cutters, Stunners, and Bludgeoners into the mix. Ducking an unknown purple curse, Harry slipped a Hammer into his stream of curses. It was a pretty harmless spell on its own, feeling like little more than a solid punch should one hit you. When it encountered a shield, however, it had a rather interesting effect.

Mixed in with his other spells, the distinctive, deep purple of the hex, slammed into the Death Eater’s shield, jarring the man’s arm back with a painful pop. Harry’s follow-up Everbero knocked him back into the wall where he slumped down, unconscious.

Rolling out of the way of another Killing Curse, Harry began trading spells with his remaining foe as he tried to take in the rest of the battle. Ginny, Remus, and Tonks were all still Disillusioned as far as he could tell, making it difficult to follow the rest of the action, but only four Death Eaters remained standing.

With only one Death Eater concentrating on Harry, he was able to hold the offensive, while his opponent was forced to hide behind a shield. No shield could last forever, though, and Harry had much more power and endurance at his beck and call. It was only a matter of time before the Death Eater faltered and fell to Harry’s follow-up Stunner. Another Death Eater had fallen while he was distracted, and the remaining two were just bolting out of the room as he turned. Luckily, they came out the opposite door he had pulled Neville to and were heading in the opposite direction.

Just as he was about to give chase, Remus’ voice stopped him. “Don’t bother going after them.” The man cancelled his Disillusionment Charm and reappeared before him, and the two girls quickly followed suit. Harry gave Ginny a quick, relieved smile as Remus continued. “While you were in such a rush to be off, Tonks and I remembered to grab some of those trackers you made.”

“And I just so happened to stick them to the hem of their robes,” Tonks put in.

Ginny approached him, and he gratefully took her outstretched hand in his as a shuffling noise drew his attention. He spun quickly, putting himself in front of Ginny, and holding out his hand ready to attack. Neville was leaning heavily against the doorframe as his eyes took in the state of the room. His gaze stopped on his gran, and Harry received the distinct impression that the world for Neville had narrowed to the very spot where his gran lay. He was so focused on her body that the rest of them may as well have not existed.

Finally, Neville pushed himself off the doorframe and began staggering towards her body. He dropped to his knees at her side as Harry stood torn, unsure if he should interrupt Neville’s reverie or let him have a few minutes.

Finally, after a long moment, Harry walked over to Neville and placed a hand on his shoulder, saying, “I’m sorry, Neville.” The words sounded weak and hollow as soon as they left his mouth, but he knew there was nothing else he could say.

Neville looked over his shoulder and shook his head. “You did all you could. Thanks – for coming, for saving me.”

Harry just nodded his head.

“They put up anti-Portkey wards,” Neville stated as he turned back to his gran. “We tried to escape using your Portkey, but…” he trailed off and reached out to grip her hand. Harry turned away for a moment, but he did not want to leave his friend alone. Neville needed his friends now more than ever. He stood by Neville’s side and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze as his friend said goodbye to his grandmother, the woman who had raised him.

A series of cracking sounds drew his attention, and he turned his head to see Ginny standing over a pile of broken wands. She met his gaze for a moment, and Harry could see the compassion shining in her eyes as she took in Neville kneeling over his gran. Remus and Tonks came up beside Ginny a moment later, and Harry saw that they had all the Death Eaters bound in ropes and lined up.

“We need to send a Patronus to Dumbledore,” Remus stated uneasily after a moment.

Harry nodded his head and turned back to Neville, giving his shoulder one last squeeze before he let go. Neville leaned down close to his gran, and Harry looked away to give him a moment of at least semi-privacy. Neville stood a moment later and turned to face everyone.

“Ginny,” he greeted solemnly, “Professor Lupin, and…”

“Tonks.”

“Tonks,” Neville added with a nod. “Thank you.”

Ginny waved his words away and rushed forward to envelop him in her warm embrace. “I’m so sorry, Neville,” Harry heard her whisper.

Neville did not reply as far as Harry could hear, but he returned the hug and took a moment to centre himself as Ginny stepped back and to Harry’s side. Harry took her hand in his as he watched his friend struggling with his emotions.

“Do you have any relatives you can stay with?” Remus asked when it looked like Neville was back in control.

“Well, there’s my Great Uncle Algie,” Neville began. “But I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I –“

Harry squeezed Ginny’s hand and shared a quick glance with her. She seemed to read his intentions and nodded her head with a small smile. “You can stay with us,” he interjected. Neville stopped talking abruptly and turned to Harry with a look of surprise. “I bought a house, and there’s a spare bedroom. We never use it. It’s yours if you want it.”

“At least stay with us for a few days,” Ginny added when Neville did not immediately reply. “You can decide what you want to do for the rest of the summer after that.”

“Thank you,” he stated, and Harry could see that he was feeling overwhelmed at the moment.

He just nodded in reply. “Anytime, mate. That’s what friends are for.” He turned back to Remus and Tonks. “We have to get out of the wards before we can leave, so give us a minute before you call in the cavalry.”

“What about my gran?” Neville asked, turning back to look at her body.

“Don’t worry,” Remus replied. “We’ll make sure she’s taken care of, and we’ll be in touch soon so that arrangements can be made.”

“Thanks, Professor.”

Remus just nodded as Harry led Ginny and Neville out of the house and beyond the wards. Taking a moment to ensure no one else was around, Harry stated, “Harry Potter lives at 165 Magpie Lane.”

“What?”

“Just repeat that in your mind,” Harry explained. He gripped Neville’s shoulder with one hand and still held Ginny’s hand in the other as he Apparated them all to his home.

They arrived home to an anxious group of people who were quite relieved to see them. The festive mood that greeted their return died quickly as the others learned the news about Neville’s gran. Harry gave Neville the quick tour ending at the spare bedroom where Neville would be sleeping. He tried to convince Neville to join the rest of them out in the lounge, but Neville begged off saying he was tired and just wanted some time to himself. Not wanting to push, Harry nodded his acceptance.

When he returned to the group, Harry first checked the map for any signs of the two Death Eaters that got away. When he could find no trace of them, Harry settled down on the sofa beside Ginny and with her help gave a brief account of the battle to the others. “Well, this is utterly morbid,” Ginny inserted into the silence following their recap. She pulled back from where she was cuddled next to Harry and turned to face him. “I know this probably isn’t the right time for it, but you still have a pile of presents to open, and it won’t be your birthday for much longer.”

Harry frowned as he looked from Ginny to his other assembled guests. He fought down his initial instinct to refuse. They had gone to the trouble and expense of getting him gifts. The least he could do was open them. “All right.”

The mood was subdued for a birthday party. Even Fred and George were relatively well-behaved – or at least relatively quiet in their shenanigans. Harry thanked them all profusely as they left for the evening with assurances that their training would resume on schedule the next day.

When their guests had all left, Harry walked over to the door to Neville’s room and hovered for a moment debating whether or not to check in with him before ultimately walking back to the sofa and sinking down next to Ginny. It was always nice to have friends to talk to, but he also knew that he often preferred solitude at a time like this – especially when the wound was so fresh. He would give Neville tonight, if that is what his friend wanted. Tomorrow they would talk.

He and Ginny, by unspoken agreement, waited quietly for Tonks and Remus to return. Tonks never did, but Remus eventually turned up.

“Tonks had to go into the Ministry,” he explained. “It was a bit of a mess to sort out. Much as I hate to admit it, the fact that the Longbottoms are such a prominent Pureblood family draws a lot more inquiry than an attack on a Muggleborn or even Half-blood would.”

Harry nodded his head absently. Blood prejudices ran deep in the Wizarding World. But it was not the ministry’s reaction that he was interested in.

“Did you have any trouble with Dumbledore?” Ginny asked.

He sank down heavily into the armchair opposite the sofa. “I think he may be suspicious of me, but he didn’t say anything about it and didn’t ask any questions. The Order has been unofficially trying to keep an eye on your friends’ houses, both for their safety and in the hopes of spotting you, so it’s possible that he took it as a chance encounter, that we managed to stumble across you as the attack was occurring. He’s too shrewd to blindly accept mere coincidence, however, so he likely has deduced I’m in contact with you.”

Harry just nodded his head. “I sent him a letter a week or so back,” Harry told him. He had not previously spoken of the letter to anyone but Ginny. “I haven’t heard back yet, but I suppose it’s possible that he took some of what I said to heart.”

“And what did you say?” Remus queried, leaning forward and peering at Harry intently.

“A lot,” Harry said with a shrug as he struggled internally to form a response. “I called him on a lot of his actions of late and told him I’ll be fighting in this war with our without his help. I said it was about time we started working together instead of wasting our resources trying to counter each other.”

Remus nodded his head and gave Harry a warm smile. “Ever the optimist,” he quipped.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Someone has to keep their eyes forward if we’re ever going to stop this war.”

“No one can accuse you of not doing your best to work towards that goal,” Remus agreed. Looking around the room he asked, “Where’s Neville?”

Harry jerked his head towards the bedroom. “He wanted some time alone.”

Remus nodded solemnly. “That was a very good thing you did, offering him a place here. He’ll need his friends to get through this.”

“I know,” Harry agreed, running a hand through his hair.

“I suppose you would know better than most,” Remus acceded.

“You and me both,” Harry countered.

”I should probably get going,” Remus stated after a short silence. “I’ll stop by tomorrow with an update on the arrangements.”

“Thanks, Remus,” Harry said. “I know Neville will appreciate that.”

As the door closed behind him, Harry and Ginny slipped almost reflexively into each other’s arms. Harry inhaled deeply the flowery scent he had come to associate as uniquely Ginny and squeezed her tightly. “I love you,” he whispered and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

“I love you too, Harry,” she replied with a kiss into his neck.

Harry sighed as they held each other for a long moment. He gave a long glance to Neville’s door, reaffirming his vow to give him this night. If Neville did not emerge on his own by the time they finished their morning workout, he would just have to go and drag him out.

******

As it turned out he did not need to oust Neville from his self-imposed isolation. When Harry and Ginny returned from their morning workout, they found him lingering just inside the training room.

“All right, Neville?” he called.

Neville turned around and walked towards them, stopping to lean against the doorway as he seemed to take in their appearance. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thank you both for yesterday. I wouldn’t have lasted much longer if you hadn’t shown up when you did.”

“I’m just sorry the Portkey wasn’t able to get you out of there,” Harry stated. “They’ve been using Portkeys themselves to escape, so I figured they wouldn’t ward against them. Yours is the first place I’ve seen where they’ve done so.”

“You did all that you could,” Neville assured him. “But how did you know we were under attack?”

Harry studied him for a moment before jerking his head towards the map on the wall. “Those necklaces were more than just Portkeys,” he explained as he led Neville over to the map.

“Harry linked them to this map which shows us where they are and also alerts us if the Portkey is activated,” Ginny supplied from behind them. “Quite ingenious, really.”

Harry looked over his shoulder to meet her gaze for a moment before turning back to Neville. “It was really just modified from something my father and his friends made while they were at Hogwarts.”

“It’s brilliant,” Neville whispered as he studied the names scattered across the country.

Ginny smirked triumphantly at him as Harry looked at her. “I’m off to shower.”

Neville waved over his shoulder with his eyes still glued to the map as Harry tracked her progress out of the room. “I’m going to get started on breakfast. Make yourself at home, Neville.”

Neville turned away from the map and held Harry’s gaze as he said, “Thank you, Harry – for everything.”

“There’s no need for thanks, Neville” Harry said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I know what it’s like to not have anywhere to go. I used to spend my whole summers waiting for the day I’d get an owl from Ron saying I could come to stay with his family. Some people seem to think blood counts for everything, but it doesn’t – not really. Some people are blessed with wonderful families. Some of us have to build our own, one step at a time.”

“I never realized things were that bad for you,” Neville stated, a far-away look in his eyes.

“I didn’t exactly advertise the fact,” Harry responded. “Not even to Ron and Hermione, though we were close enough for them to realize that not all was well with my relatives.”

Neville’s gaze refocused on him as he spoke, “Gran wasn’t the easiest person to grow up with, but, for as long as I can remember, she’s been my only family. I know she loved me, but I also know how hard it was to have me around as a constant reminder of my father. Sometimes she found it difficult to separate us. I don’t think she was aware of it, but I think deep down she wanted me to be just like my dad, to replace him in her life. Almost like my dad would live on in me or something.”

“That must have been hard,” Harry commented, “knowing you could never be who she wanted you to be.”

Neville nodded his head, not meeting Harry’s gaze. A heavy silence settled over the pair before Neville asked, “Was it like that with your relatives too?”

“The opposite,” he replied, shaking his head. “They hate magic and anything connected to it. Nothing would have made them happier than if I turned out to be nothing like my parents – a squib without an ounce of magic. Of course, I know now that even that would never have been enough. Even if you had been the exact spitting image of your father, it would never have been enough to fill that void.”

“I know,” Neville said, finally meeting Harry’s eyes. “As much as I wished I could, I realized that it was impossible.”

“We can only be who we are. No more, no less,” Harry stated. Feeling the need for a lighter topic, he said, “You ever been in a Muggle house before?”

“No,” he answered with an abrupt shake of his head. “I haven’t.”

“Come on, then,” Harry said, leading him into the kitchen. “If you’re going to be staying with us, you ought to learn how to operate some of the appliances. I can teach you the basics while I make breakfast.”

When Ginny rejoined them, Neville was bent over the stove turning one of the burners on and off in fascination while Harry was dishing up their meal.

“Isn’t this amazing?” he asked of her.

Harry laughed. “Yes, yes, Muggles are rather ingenious. Now come on, and let’s eat already.”

Harry caught a quick shower after breakfast and settled onto the sofa beside Ginny with a book in his hand. “We usually use this time to do a bit of studying,” he explained to Neville.

“Er – I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Neville started, red staining his cheeks as he paused momentarily. “How – uh – how long have you two been living together?”

Harry shot a glance towards Ginny to find her looking back at him with her eyebrows raised in surprise – a look Harry guessed was mirrored on his own face. He had never considered what their living situation would look like to an outsider, but now that he thought about it, he could see exactly why Neville was seemingly uncomfortable and curious about it.

“A few weeks,” Harry answered, turning back to Neville. “We didn’t exactly plan it this way, but some extenuating circumstances arose…” he trailed off, looking to Ginny and grasping her hand. “And while I regret the events that led her here, I’m quite pleased at how things turned out.”

“Me too,” she agreed with a sly smile that slowly slipped from her face. “Though I really didn’t like what led me here.”

Harry gave her hand a squeeze and turned back to Neville. “I had been planning on getting a house since last summer so that I wouldn’t have to go back to my relatives and so that I’d be able to hide from both Dumbledore and Voldemort.”

Neville nodded his head and cast his gaze about the room. “Feel free to check out the shelves, see if anything catches your interest,” Harry offered. “Remus is supposed to drop by later with an update. Maybe afterward we can go and pick up some of your things, if you want.”

“That sounds good,” Neville responded as he wandered over the book shelves lining the wall next to the map.

Harry shared a quick look with Ginny before picking up his book and starting to read.

Their studying was interrupted shortly thereafter by a short burst of ethereal song followed by a flash of fire. He jumped off the sofa even as his brain recognized phoenix song. A fiery bird emerged from the ball of flames and circled the room, trilling softly. Harry held out his arm and the phoenix swooped down to alight gently on the offered perch. “Hello, Fawkes,” Harry greeted.

Fawkes trilled in reply, and Harry took note of the fact that the bird was standing on only one leg. He held out the other to reveal a roll of parchment clasped in his talon. “Thank you,” he said, reaching up with his other hand to grab the missive. He dropped the letter onto the sofa to rub his fingers through the phoenix’s feathers.

Fawkes gave another trill before launching into the air and disappearing in another burst of flames.

“Was that Dumbledore’s phoenix?” Neville queried.

Harry nodded. “I sent him a letter over a week ago; I’m surprised it took him this long to reply.”

“But I thought you said he couldn’t find you here,” his fellow Gryffindor pressed.

“Dumbledore can’t,” Harry explained. “Fawkes, on the other hand, is another story. I’m not sure whether or not he’d be able to bring the headmaster here, but I suspected he’d be able to find me here or else when I left the house and suggested Dumbledore use him to send his response.”

“Well, read it and see what he has to say,” Ginny inserted, holding the roll of parchment out to him.

Harry accepted the letter and sat beside her on the sofa. He held it out in such a way that she could read as well should she wish to do so.

Dear Harry,

You have no doubt been wondering when or perhaps if you would receive my reply. I will be honest with you when I say that, upon my first read through your letter, I was shocked at your suggestion that I turn to Fawkes to deliver this reply when I had on several occasions turned to my friend for aid in finding you, only to be rebuffed time and time again. I was unsure whether he would not or could not help. I now know. He was not impressed when I chastised him for withholding such information from me nor when I demanded he take me to you straight away.

I fear for your safety everyday. You have proven more than capable of taking care of yourself; this I cannot deny. However, your insistence in rushing to every attack made against one of your students places you in grave danger. I do not doubt these words will fall on deaf ears, but please allow an old man to say his piece.

You raised many points in your missive and asked many questions. I fear that any answers I can provide to you will be wholly inadequate, but as you so eloquently stated, we cannot expect to be perfect. All we can do is try.

I do not, as you might hope or expect, have a grand design for you. There is no guide to follow on your road to confront Tom. There are no methods I can offer you to guarantee his defeat. I have only suspicions and educated guesses, though, with all false modesty aside, my guesses are far more educated than the average person’s.

You asked me what power you possess that the Dark Lord knows not, and my answer was love. Love is what saved you from death. Tom has never considered love to be anything but a weakness and never conceived that such a force could stop an unblockable curse. Even now he underestimates the power of love, believing that with your blood flowing in his veins that whatever power your mother’s love and sacrifice provided you has been nullified.

I believe he is wrong. I believe the power of your mother’s love continues to live on in you today, and I believe your own very nature has kept it alive all these years. Despite the similarities shared in your childhoods, you never lost your capacity to love. No, your ability to love, if anything, exceeds that of most your age. You love so fully and completely, and that love empowers you. There is no offensive spell powered by love; it will not provide you a curse capable of defeating Tom. Perhaps it was hopelessly naïve of me, but I never intended for you to fight in this war – at least not while you were still a student. I had hoped to prevent Tom from returning at least until you were fully trained. When he returned at the end of your fourth year, I hoped to limit his influence and shield you from the realities of war for as long as possible.

I do not need to tell you the extent of my failures. I was unable to convince our world of Tom’s return and spent more time fighting political battles with the Ministry than I did countering Tom’s actions. I failed to keep you informed and left you susceptible to Tom’s manipulations. I fear I failed you yet again in sending you back to your relatives last summer. I suspect it did not take you long to come to the decision that I would continue to repeat my mistakes in my treatment of you. I have found myself curious as to how exactly you managed to teach yourself the intricacies of wandless magic in such a short span of time, but now is not the best time for such intellectual inquiries.

I will be honest and state that it is still my desire to prevent you from continuing to put yourself in danger by engaging Death Eaters. I also understand that my desires hold little sway over your actions. Moreover, I would be hard-pressed to stop you even if I could find you, and given your recent assent into legal majority, I would have little ground to act upon. There comes a point in every man’s life when he must admit defeat. There are some battles worth fighting to the bitter end; this is not one. Continuing to fight against each other would only further hinder our cause, and you are correct that we can accomplish much more if we work together.

The ball, as the youth say, is in your pitch. You know where to find me, yet I have failed utterly in all efforts to locate you. You offered me an olive branch, and it is only fair that I offer the same. I realize my recent actions have left you little cause to trust me, but I offer you my solemn vow that, upon our next meeting, I will do nothing to stop you from returning to your current residence. I hope my word is enough to assuage any doubts you may have about meeting with me. Should you require further assurance, you know where to owl me; otherwise, my door is and always shall be open to you.

With my sincerest regards,
Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore


Harry looked over at Ginny to find her still reading. He turned to find Neville no longer sitting across from them. He must have been distracted while reading the letter. It took only a moment to locate him by his magic in the loo. By the time he turned back to Ginny, she was looking up into his gaze. “What do you think?”

Harry frowned as he thought it over. “It sounds like he’s coming around.”

“Do you believe him?” she pressed.

“I don’t think he’s the type of person to break a vow,” Harry replied thoughtfully. “I mean, I know it’s hard to take him at his word right now, but I don’t think he’s a bad person. He’s just made some poor decisions lately.”

She nodded her agreement. “I know. And I know how much we need him in the war. I just don’t particularly want to have to deal with him myself.”

Harry gave her a sad smile and squeezed her hand in support. “I can’t say I blame you. I’ll set up a meeting with him in a few days, and we can take things from there.”

With that decided he went back to his reading only to be interrupted again by the arrival of Remus. He had gotten in touch with Neville’s Great Uncle Algie who requested Neville’s help in setting all the affairs in order. They were planning the funeral service for tomorrow, so Neville decided to stay with his uncle for the evening despite Harry’s offer to ferry him back and forth as needed.

******

Harry and Ginny arrived at the funeral early and sought out Neville, wanting to make sure their friend was all right. They found him with two wizards and a witch who all appeared to be contemporaries of Neville’s gran, and Neville appeared relieved to see them.

“Thank you both for coming,” he said to them, accepting Harry’s handshake and Ginny’s hug.

“Of course we’re going to be here, Neville,” Ginny stated. “We’re your friends.”

“And you are still coming back with us, aren’t you?” Harry added.

Neville nodded with a small smile. “Yes, and thanks, again.”

Harry waved him off. “That’s what mates are for. We’ll get out of your hair as I’m sure you have things to do.”

“Actually,” Neville spoke, causing Harry to pause mid-turn and face him again. “If you don’t mind, would you… It’s just that, we don’t have much family, and, as you can see, no one even near my age,” he said, gesturing to the elderly wizards and witches behind him. “It would mean a lot of you’d stay and sit with me during the funeral.”

“Of course.”

“We’re here for you, Neville,” Ginny added. “Whatever you need.”

“I appreciate it. More than I can say,” Neville replied.

Harry smiled, knowing that no amount of denials would stop Neville from showing his gratitude. “Any time, Neville.”

In truth, Harry felt a little awkward standing with Neville and his few remaining family members as guests began to arrive, but it was a small burden to bear compared to giving his friend whatever support he needed. When he saw a distinctive shock of red hair, though, he began to fear the worst. He knew the time would come when he and Ginny would need to face the rest of her family, but now was not the time for such a potentially volatile meeting.

Ron did nothing more than nod his head at Harry as he went to greet Neville. Mrs. Weasley, on the other hand, had eyes only for her daughter. Ginny could do little but brace herself for impact as Molly Weasley rushed forward and swept her into a crushing embrace. Harry met Mr. Weasley’s eyes for a moment as he walked toward his wife and daughter, clasping a hand to Ginny’s shoulder as she was still enveloped in her mother’s arms.

When she eventually let go of her daughter, he noticed tears in Mrs. Weasley’s eyes. She seemed to take a moment to compose herself before turning her attention on him. She hesitated a moment before drawing him into one of her trademark, bone crushing hugs.

When she stepped back a moment later, an awkward silence settled over the group. Mrs. Weasley took a deep breath as if she was about to speak but stopped when Mr. Weasley laid hand on her shoulder. “Now is not the best time for this, but perhaps after the service you two would be willing to talk?”

Harry turned and met Ginny’s eyes for a long moment. He did not need Legilimency to read her conflicted emotions. Turning back to her parents, Harry replied, “Of course.”

Nodding rigidly, Mr. Weasley ushered his wife to their seats, and Ron stepped up in their place. He, too, gave Ginny a tight hug and then held his hand out to Harry. He gripped it without hesitation.

“It’s a good thing you’re doing for Neville,” Ron commented, jerking his head towards the boy who was greeting another new arrival.

Harry shrugged. “I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go and no one to go to.”

“I reckon you do,” Ron replied. “Mum and Dad weren’t too bad, were they?” he asked, half turning to include Ginny in the conversation.

“No,” Harry replied as Ginny glumly inserted, “They want to have a talk after the service.”

“I’m guessing you don’t plan to come home?” Ron asked. When Ginny shook her head, he winced in sympathy. “Mum’s gonna flip. She’s barely been holding it together since you left.”

“Yes, well, she wasn’t exactly blameless in my leaving in the first place,” she retorted.

Ron held up his hands in supplication. “Hey, I’m not saying she wasn’t. I’m just telling you what to expect.”

“Thanks, Ron,” Harry said. “And thanks for sticking up for me to Bill too.”

“How’d you hear about that?” Ron questioned.

“We – uh – kind of ran into him a couple weeks back,” he explained. “Let’s just say he hadn’t changed his position and that he didn’t care what you or the twins thought on the matter.”

Ron shrugged. “It’s not that I enjoy thinking about it, but I trust you. I know you wouldn’t do anything Ginny didn’t want you to do, and if you tried, she’d probably do far worse to you than I could.”

“You’re probably right,” Harry admitted with a smile.

“Damn straight he is,” Ginny helpfully inserted.

“Well, I should probably get back to Mum and Dad,” Ron stated. “I’ll see you guys after….”

“Yeah, see you,” Harry agreed.

“Bye, Ron,” Ginny added.

With a little wave, Ron turned and made his way to where his parents were sitting, and Harry turned back to Ginny and reached for her hand, interlocking his fingers with hers. There was still the looming conversation following the service, but thus far things with the Weasleys had gone well.

Seeing that Neville was not currently occupied, he tugged Ginny’s hand lightly and headed towards him.

“How did things go with your parents?” he directed at Ginny.

She shrugged. “The battle has been postponed until after the service.”

“Sorry,” Neville said in reply. “If it weren’t for me…”

“Honestly, Neville,” Ginny interrupted. “You’re just as bad as Harry, trying to take responsibility for everything that happens around you. It’s not as if I intended to avoid my parents for the rest of my life.”

“What she’s trying to say,” Harry added, “is that it’s no problem. We want to be here for you. Truth be told, we expected this to happen, with the Weasleys and…”

“Dumbledore,” Neville interrupted.

“Yes,” Harry agreed, nodding.

“No,” Neville stated, shaking his head. He lifted a hand and pointed behind Harry. “Dumbledore is here.”

“Oh,” Harry responded, his thoughts derailed. Slowly he turned around, letting go of Ginny’s hand in the process and met the eyes of his headmaster as the man approached.

“Harry. Ginny. Neville,” the wizened wizard greeted in turn, focusing his attention on Neville at the last and offering his hand. “I’m terribly sorry for your loss, my dear boy.”

“Thank you, sir,” Neville responded.

“It is bittersweet that it is at such times that we are often brought closer to those around us that it comes accompanied with the loss of someone we hold dear,” the headmaster intoned. “But it is always heartening to find you have friends you can rely on when things are most dire.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” the boy said, turning his gaze to Harry and Ginny. “I couldn’t ask for better friends.”

“I dare say these two are unique in that regard,” Dumbledore concurred. “Again, Neville, you have my most sincere sympathies, and, should you have need of anything, do not hesitate to contact me, and I shall offer whatever aid I can.”

“Thank you, sir,” Neville said. Harry was slightly shocked when, with a simple glance and nod in his direction, Dumbledore walked off without another word. He looked at Neville and then to Ginny to find his feelings expressed plainly on their faces.

“Perhaps he really was sincere,” Harry commented after a long moment of silence.

“Perhaps.” Ginny shrugged noncommittally.

He did not blame her one bit for being less than charitable towards the headmaster even despite his apparent change in behaviour. Were circumstances less dire, he would be much more hesitant to make amends with the man as well. As it was, though, he had little choice, and, at least for the moment, things were looking about as well as they could.

It was at that moment that he saw Hermione arrive. He watched her warily, wondering whether fate would allow him to avoid a third consecutive potential confrontation. She approached Neville first and pulled him into a fierce hug. He could hear the whisper of exchanged words, but they were spoken softly enough that he would have had to strain his ears to listen in. After a long moment, Hermione stepped back and gripped Neville’s arm briefly before turning in his direction. “Harry,” she greeted coolly, “Ginny.” She strode on past without any further ado, and Harry was left momentarily stunned at her frosty demeanour. By his books, he had every right to be upset with her, not the other way around. One glance at Neville, though, and Harry put the matter out of his mind. Now was definitely not the right time to worry about such things.

Seamus and Dean arrived together shortly before the service was scheduled to start and found seats beside Ron after greeting Neville. It was only at that point that he realized Hermione was not sitting with the Weasleys. He was unable to give much thought to the matter, though, as it was time for the funeral to begin. He and Ginny followed Neville to the front of the room and seated themselves at his side. Harry had never been to a funeral before, magical or Muggle, but he imagined there was probably not much difference between the two. He had never known any witches or wizards to be particularly religious. They celebrated Christmas and Easter, and that was about all he ever saw to signify any sort of religious belief. Nevertheless, a vicar conducted the bulk of the ceremony until family and friends were given the opportunity to speak about the deceased.

A couple of Neville’s elderly family members spoke briefly about the formidable woman whom they were laying to rest. Dumbledore said a few words about the influence she had held within the Ministry and the reforms she had helped to push through in her life. Neville declined to speak, and when no others volunteered, the vicar concluded the ceremony.

A procession was formed as they all followed the vicar, who was floating the coffin in front of him, onto the grounds of the manor. After a short walk, they entered a small, family cemetery. A few more words were spoken before the coffin was lowered into the newest grave. The family was called forward to levitate the freshly dug earth back into the hole. The dirt was separated into piles, one for each of the family members to add their piece.

Nothing more was said as Augusta Longbottom lay in her final resting place. Gradually, the crowd began to return to the manor. Neville stood rooted beside his grandmother’s grave, Harry and Ginny his shadows, not more than two paces behind him. Eventually, even the minister and the rest of the family departed. When just the three of them remained, Ginny stepped forward and put a hand on Neville’s shoulder before turning him and pulling him into a hug. Harry stepped up as she released her embrace and clapped Neville on the shoulder, giving him a reassuring squeeze. “How are you holding up?”

He took a deep, steadying breath. “I’m okay,” he stated. “It’s just,” he paused, searching for the right word, “final now, you know?”

Harry nodded, though he honestly could not exactly relate. While he was no stranger to losing loved ones, he had never buried any of them. He was not sure which was worse.

“Do you think you guys could give me a few minutes?” Neville asked after a long moment.

Harry shared a quick look with Ginny, and they immediately agreed. “We’ll be inside whenever you’re ready,” he stated before they turned and began the short walk back. Harry kept a focus on Neville’s magic as they walked away, wary of leaving him out there alone so soon after the attack.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were waiting to pounce as soon as they reappeared. They were ushered into a mostly deserted corner of the room. An awkward silence descended over the quartet as nobody seemed eager to begin. Finally, Mr. Weasley cleared his throat as he adjusted the collar of his robes. “Your mother and I owe you an apology,” he began, speaking directly to Ginny.

“I could offer you any number of excuses as to why we agreed to what Dumbledore proposed, but in the end, we were both aware of what an invasion of privacy we were endorsing, and we did so anyway. While we may have had the best of intentions, that does not excuse our actions. You are our daughter, and our first duty is to protect you, and in that we failed. To the extent that you felt you had to run away from your own home to ensure your own safety.” Harry could clearly hear the pain in his voice as he confessed his sins and could not help but feel for the man. Ginny’s flight from the Burrow had obviously affected him deeply.

“We’re so sorry, Ginny,” her mother pleaded, her regret and sadness written across her face.

Ginny gripped his hand tightly at her father’s emotional display. Harry squeezed her hand comfortingly, as she cleared her throat and responded. “I forgive you. Both of you. I know that you did what you did because you were worried about Harry, and while I do not agree with those reasons, I guess I can understand why you might feel the need to do whatever you could to find him.”

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shared a relieved smile at her words. “Molly and I have always viewed you as a part of our family,” Mr. Weasley said, turning his attention to Harry. “We have been worried about you ever since you disappeared at the end of term. We don’t know what you’ve been doing since then, or even for the last year, and we don’t know why you felt the need to hide your actions from your friends and family. But you’re a good man, Harry, with a good heart. I don’t know how you knew Ginny was in distress, but when we failed our daughter, you were there for her. I can never thank you enough for that.”

Harry just nodded his head, not sure what to say in response to his words. “Molly and I talked at length before today, hoping that we would have a chance to talk with you both. More than anything else, we want you to come home, both of you. I promise there will be no questions asked. Whatever you two have been doing this summer or last term, it’s not as important to us as the two of you yourselves. We just want our daughter, and you, Harry, back home with us.”

Harry could tell that this had been well-rehearsed. And Mr. Weasley was definitely the right one to make this plea. While he loved the Weasley matriarch, she had a tendency to be overbearing and had difficulty treating her children as anything but the children she had spent so many years raising. Mr. Weasley, on the other hand, seemed to always know when to approach his children as a parent and when to approach them as adults, which only served to make it all the more difficult to say what needed to be said.

“I can never thank you and Mrs. Weasley enough for all you’ve done for me,” Harry stated honestly. “You’ve been more like parents to me than anyone else in my life, and I hope that I can always continue to count on you in that regard. However, as much as I love the Burrow and your family, I can’t take you up on your offer.”

“Neither can I,” Ginny added, and Harry could see the heartbreak in her parents’ faces.

“But,” Mrs. Weasley burst out loudly, but Harry held up a hand for silence, simultaneously casting a quick privacy ward so as not to draw attention.

“I know you like to think of us both as kids,” Harry continued, “and maybe we are in some ways. But it doesn’t matter. This war won’t wait for us to grow up. Voldemort has been targeting students – my students – and I’ve made it my responsibility to protect them. I haven’t been perfect; we wouldn’t be here if I had. But I’ve done the best I can, and I’ll continue to do so. And I’ll continue to do everything I can to stop the Death Eaters and Voldemort from hurting any innocents. Maybe I shouldn’t have to. Maybe this shouldn’t be my responsibility. But the fact of the matter is, it needs to be done, and I’m the one who’s doing it.”

“I’m not leaving Harry. I may not be at his level,” Ginny interjected as he trailed off, “but I’m well above any other students at Hogwarts, and I know I can hold my own against most of the Order members. I love you both, but this is something I need to do.”

“You two may think you’re all grown up, but you are still just kids,” Mrs. Weasley stated, visibly reining in her emotions as her voice warbled dangerously. “You may not be our son, Harry, but you’re as good as. And you, young lady, are our daughter. Our underage daughter. You may think you need to stay with Harry, and you may think you need to go out fighting Death Eaters, but that’s not up to you. We are your parents, and we want you at home. We’d prefer it if you came willingly, but it is not up for discussion.”

“Molly, we talked about this,” Mr. Weasley interrupted with a stern note of warning in his tone.

“Oh yes, we talked about it,” Mrs. Weasley responded, her voice becoming loud and shrill. “We talked about approaching them as adults and allowing them to choose, counting on them to make the right decision. Well, they’ve made the wrong one, Arthur, and I will not stand here while my only daughter disappears again.”

“We also talked about what would happen if they did not agree, if you will recall,” he responded harshly, surprising Harry. He had never heard Mr. Weasley talk like that, especially not to his wife. He turned back to them and continued in his normal, calming tone, “You have to understand that this has been very hard on us, and we want more than anything for you two to come home. I can certainly understand your reticence, and I know that no matter that you, Ginny, are still underage, we cannot truly force you to come home with us. That’s not the way we want things. We don’t want you to feel like a prisoner in your own home.”

“Thank you, Daddy,” Ginny replied, her voice oddly shy sounding.

He smiled warmly if a twinge sadly and held his arms open. Harry let go of her hand as Ginny stepped forward into his embrace. Harry watched father and daughter for a moment before Mrs. Weasley’s expression caught his eye. An immense sadness was painted across her face as she stared at the hug being shared between her husband and daughter. While her insistence upon coddling them as children frustrated him, he hated to see her looking so devastated.

Harry’s ears perked up as he heard the murmur of words being exchanged between the pair. He refrained from actively trying to listen in until they separated. As she left her father’s arms, Ginny immediately turned to her mother. “Mum?” she said with a questioning lilt in her tone.

For the second time that day, Mrs. Weasley hesitated. She focused her gaze on Ginny for a moment before finally her countenance cracked. A stifled sob escaped, and she stepped forward and encased Ginny in her warm embrace. “Oh, Ginny,” she cried. “My darling baby. I will always love you. I just miss you so much and worry for you.”

“Take care of her,” Mr. Weasley stated from his side, and Harry was marginally startled at how close he was, having not noticed him walking up next to him.

“I will,” Harry vowed, turning to look him in the eye. “I love her, sir. I will not let anything happen to her.”

“If there is one thing I trust, Harry, son,” Mr. Weasley said, “it is both your resolve and ability to do just that.”

Harry nodded gratefully, a little taken aback at the faith Mr. Weasley seemed to have in him. Turning back to the Weasley women, he found them just separating.

“I know we can’t talk you into coming home for good, but maybe we can entice you into coming for dinner,” Mr. Weasley said as he walked back to his wife’s side, grasping her hand between both his own.

“I’ll make all your favourites,” Mrs. Weasley added.

Harry smiled and turned to Ginny, seeing his own feelings mirrored in her eyes. When they turned back, Ginny said, “We’d love that.”

Harry gripped Ginny’s hand as her parents smiled at their acceptance. Something niggled in the back of his mind at that moment, and he took stock of himself and his surroundings. His eyes and ears revealed nothing, but a moment later he realized what it was. Neville’s was no longer the only aura he could detect outside the manor.

Ginny turned to him worriedly as he stiffened, and he uttered one word to her before bolting from the room. “Neville!”

He sprinted out onto the grounds to find Neville standing guard over his grandmother’s grave, shielding it and himself from Blasting and Bombarding curses from a trio of masked figures. In a brief lull in their fire, Neville was able to return with a Stunner. The Death Eater was sluggish to respond to the attack and fell to the red spell. The other two continued their attack on Neville without paying any mind to their fallen ally. Harry sent a deluge of Stunning Spells towards the remaining two as Neville continued to shield. He managed to catch both of the remaining Death Eaters who made no move to defend themselves, no matter that they should have been able to see the spells coming in their peripheral vision.

He slowed his all-out sprint into a jog as he continued towards Neville who was huffing heavily as he remained standing with his wand held up in defence just in front of the freshly turned dirt of his grandmother’s grave. “Are you all right?” Harry asked as he approached.

Neville nodded. “I’m fine,” he said, still catching his breath. “They didn’t seem all that smart or skilled, just kept shooting spells at the grave.”

Harry nodded, having thought they were rather incompetent as well. Their lack of reactions to their return spells made him think there was more here than met the eye. A drone of voices caught his ear as other guests began pouring out of the manor, presumably following Harry’s hasty departure. Leading the charge was Ginny, who had at least a fifty yard lead on the others. She slowed to a walk when it became apparent there was no danger left.

“What happened?” she queried.

Harry jerked his head to the three fallen figures. “They were attacking the grave and not very mindful of anything else. I have a feeling they were either new recruits or, more likely, under the Imperius.”

“Neville, Harry, are you all right?” Dumbledore asked as he strode up to them.

Harry nodded as Neville replied, “Fine.”

The headmaster nodded as he continued past them towards the Stunned Death Eaters. Harry immediately sprung into step beside him. “I suspect they’re not real Death Eaters,” he said as they came upon the bodies.

Dumbledore turned and regarded him for a short moment before turning back to the Death Eaters. As he knelt down to remove the mask of one of them, Harry felt his necklace heat up. Grasping the cord in alarm, Harry turned around to see Ginny fingering hers as well. He met her eyes briefly before turning back to Dumbledore. “I have to go,” he said, quickly rushing back to Ginny and Neville.

“Stay here,” he said to Neville and then turned to Ginny. “Meet you at the map.”

He Apparated directly into his lounge, and Ginny appeared at his side a moment later. Tonks and Remus entered through the front door seconds later as his eyes locked in on the flashing name. Fred Weasley. Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes was under attack.

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