Casualties

Wed. 19 June

Harry Potter was dreaming. He floated in a haze of semi-aware thought. Among a deafening brightness of sensory isolation he perceived a central idea like a point of darkness on a brilliant horizon.

This was a dream.

Grasping to that awareness like a life preserver, Harry directed his attention outward. The endless void stretched to the corners of his mind.

He had heard once that to know you were dreaming would be to become a god of a self-contained ephemeral universe. He would be able to do anything. To fly. To revive the dead. To turn back time and undo past mistakes. He would give anything...

Harry Potter was dreaming.

As the fog of disorganized thought slowly cleared, Harry gained greater access to his episodic memory, orienting himself based on his last known location and situation.

The Ministry. It had been night. Tuesday, maybe. He had gone after Sirius, because Voldemort had had him! No... that didn’t seem right. Voldemort had pretended to have him. Because he wanted the prophecy. Harry shouldn’t be alive, but Professor Dumbledore had stopped Voldemort. Fought with Voldemort.

No!

Harry lurched awake in a terror. He was in a hospital. St. Mungo’s. A deathly dread possessed Harry as his mind reached for higher levels of consciousness. Sirius was dead. He had gone through the veil. Harry had killed him by trying to save him.

And Professor Dumbledore was dead. Harry could recall, the surreal moment when Voldemort and Dumbledore had frozen with their arms grappling each other. A deep penetrating cold had spread throughout his body. The sensation had lasted for what seemed like hours but could only have been minutes. Then the cold in Harry’s centre had dissipated and both Dumbledore and Voldemort had collapsed.

Sirius Black—his godfather and the closest Harry would ever come to family—was dead. Professor Dumbledore—his most powerful protector—was dead. He was alone... again. Harry felt his eyes burn. He felt the tears gather. It was now a foregone conclusion that he was destined to destroy everything and everyone that he loved. Harry let the tears fall. His voice unaided yielded a gut-wrenching cry. There was a nurse. She raised a wand. Time became fluid. He slept. Woke. Spent most of the time half-conscious.

Finally the haze cleared and Harry realized what needed to be done. Who else had been hurt? How bad? Ron and Hermione, Ginny and Luna, Neville, and even the Order of the Phoenix. If any of them had been injured or worse, it was because of him. Harry’s heart clenched in anxiety and pain. He had to know.

Harry carefully sat up in bed, rotated his legs off, and stood up. He felt a little shaky but not bad, really, considering. The hard floor felt cold through his hospital slippers. Harry wasn’t connected to an I.V. but he did have a muggle-style access line in his left hand.

Harry padded across the room and opened the heavy door to the hall. He looked up and down the corridor for a nurse station. There, at the far end to his left, was what looked like a desk. Harry walked down the hall feeling less and less shaky until he came upon a slender witch sitting behind a desk filing a large stack of papers.

“Hello.”

The witch startled, her hand clasping her chest.

“Oh, goodness! I didn’t see you there, sorry. Mr Potter, do you need assistance? You don’t need to get out of bed; you can use the pull rope at the head of your bed to call the duty nurse.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize. Do you know what room my friends are in? Ronald Weasley or Hermione Granger? I think they would’ve arrived with me.”

“Yes. Your friends arrived with you. I’ll check on room numbers, but you really should rest, Mr. Potter. Worry about your own health first. I’ll have the duty nurse come by. Is there anyone we can contact for you to let them know that you are alert?”

Harry hadn’t really considered this. Not really. He had killed both of them.

“Mr. and Mrs Weasley, I guess.”

“Ah yes. Arthur and Molly?”

The nurse turned and opened a file drawer placing the papers into a nameless manilla folder. Harry couldn’t help but observe the ample cleavage it revealed. Leave it to his adolescent hormones to recover first. It did give him a chance to read her name tag: ‘R. Martin’.

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“Oh. They were around earlier today checking on you. I’ll have the support staff let them know that you’re awake.”

Harry thanked the witch and walked back to his room. He kicked himself for not asking which of his classmates had been admitted. Or at least how many. But clearly some had. Bellatrix had tortured Neville for sure, but how bad? As Harry reached the door to his room he felt his sense of dread deepen. He hadn’t seen Ronald or Hermione or Ginny after they had been split up.

* * *

There came a gentle knock on Harry’s door. Arthur Weasley entered Harry’s hospital room.

“Mr. Weasley.”

Harry’s face brightened at the familiar presence.

“Hi, Harry.”

Arthur picked up one of the doctor’s stools and set it down next to Harry’s bed. He sat down looking grim.

“Harry, what do you remember about last night?”

Harry was hesitant to answer. He didn’t want to remember. There was so much of his continued existence that Harry had placed on the scale to be weighed against the pain and suffering he had caused. The lives he’d cost.

“I, um... the ministry...”

The rest of the explanation, the rest of the implicating details, froze in the back of Harry’s throat as if speaking the words would make the truth they described more real.

“It’s okay, Harry. Last night the order was summoned to the ministry. A contingent of death eaters had broken into the department of mysteries. Dumbledore and Voldemort were both found dead next to your unconscious body. Moody is examining the scene even now to determine what we can about what happened. Harry. You should know... Sirius fell through the veil of souls.”

He remembered. He remembered Bellatrix’s cold sneer as she hurled the death blow. She had seemed almost surprised at her success. Harry was trying to hold back tears. There was no point in showing feelings when they wouldn’t change a damn thing. He was responsible for at least three deaths. He did not deserve sympathy or even pity. But he had not been alone that night.

“What about the others?”

“Oh… uh… Miss Lovegood is fine. She got a little scratched up, but otherwise she’s fine. Um. Ginny broke her ankle. Hermione’s fine, physically...”

Harry could tell that Arthur was keeping the worst from him. Delaying the bad news as long as possible.

“What about Ron?”

From the way Arthur repositioned himself Harry could tell that this was it. Something had happened to Ron. How bad was it?

“Harry… you need to understand that none of this is your fault.”

No, no, no, no, no, no. This isn’t what you say when everything is going to be fine. What had he done?!

“Oh god.”

Harry’s heart dropped into his stomach.

“He’s alive, Harry. But he’s hurt. He took a nasty curse pretty well head on. He’s unconscious and for now that’s probably a good thing. The doctors are still working on him.”

Arthur swallowed hard.

“Stupid. I am so stupid.”

It occurred to Harry that he might for the first time understand how Dobby felt about failure. It was perhaps fortunate that he was in no condition to abuse himself.

“Hermione knew.”

He felt his eyes burning. She had warned him, had recognized the danger. He hadn’t listened. Arthur placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry... Like I said, it was not your fault.”

That’s what he was required to say, Harry decided. Silence passed between the two for a few seconds before one more name surfaced to his attention.

“Neville. What about Neville? You didn’t say anything about Neville.”

“Neville is recovering. He was subjected to the Cruciatus curse. Quite severely it seems. He and Ron will both be staying in the hospital for a while.”

“Where is he? Can I seem him?”

“Which one? Ron or Neville?”

“Both… Right now Ron, I guess.”

“ICU room 117.”

Arthur stood up.

“If you have no other questions for me. I want to get back down to Molly. But Harry, just let me know if there is anything I can do.”

Harry shook his head. If Ronald really was hurt, and as badly as it seemed, then Harry would not be asking the Weasley family for anything for a very long time.

Arthur turned back at the door.

“Oh, and Harry? You should probably talk to Hermione first. She needs to see that you are okay. She’ll be in the ICU waiting room with Ginny and the boys.”

* * *

Harry stood outside the ICU waiting room. He could see through the narrow window to the left of the door the shapes of Fred and George sitting and talking quietly and then further back on a small sofa Ginny and Hermione clearly supporting each other. Harry took a deep breath. It was his fault. Hermione was going to hate him. Hermione and Ron had finally breached the wall that had kept their rivalrous friendship from transforming into love. It was serious, Harry knew. The two of them had disappeared too many times for something not to be happening.

Harry took a deep breath. It wouldn’t be any better five minutes from now. Harry gently opened the door to the room. All eyes shifted to him as he entered.

“Harry!”

A chorus of greetings circulated the room.

Hermione stood up and slowly walked over to Harry. Her eyes were looking for something in his. She stopped two feet short and then more or less jumped the last two feet embracing Harry in one of her infamous attack hugs.

“Oh, Harry. Are you okay? We were so worried. With Sirius... And Tonks told me about Dumbledore…”

Hermione’s breath sounded ragged. Harry gently set Hermione back down on her feet and backed away putting his hands on her shoulders.

“I’m definitely not okay, Hermione. But I think I will be. How are you holding up?”

At this, Hermione broke down into complete sobs again burying herself in Harry’s chest.

“It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

Ginny came up limping gently behind the distraught Hermione. Her ankle was bothering her.

“She’s decided it’s her fault Ron’s injured. She’s wrong, of course.”

This was apparently a point of contention.

“It. Is. My fault. I left myself open to attack. Ron stepped in front of that curse and took the full brunt of it because my back was exposed. If I had been more careful, if I had paid more attention to you in the D.A., then Ron would be standing here with us. But he isn’t and...”

Harry saw where this was going.

“And that is not your fault, Hermione.”

Harry pulled her away from him to look directly into her eyes. Her returning gaze was lost and searching.

“Hermoine, if anyone is at fault, it’s me. I believed what Voldemort showed me. I led us there. I was duped, and you even warned me.”

“Oh, now don’t you start.”

Ginny rounded a pointed finger right at Harry.

“You don’t get to claim responsibility for hurting Ron. That responsibility falls on Dolohov alone and I will make him pay. The two of you will stop blaming yourselves right now because it’s not helping anyone!”

Hermione looked down for a couple seconds and then back up, this time more composed.

“Have you seen him?”

“Not yet. Mr. Weasley said he was unconscious so I came here first.”

“Let’s go then.”

Hermione opened the door and held it for Harry to exit.

“He’s just down the hall.”

The hospital was eerily quiet as they walked.

“What about Luna and Neville? And the Order?”

Hermione kept her view straight down the hall perhaps to hide the tears that Harry could see falling on her cheeks.

“The Order came out mostly unscathed. Luna’s fine; her father took her home as soon as she was released. Neville’s physically fine, but only time will tell what the psychological effects will be. They say he’s still in pain now.”

“Is he awake?”

Hermione shook her head.

“Sedated.”

Hermione stopped and stood in front of the door to Ron’s hospital room.

“Now Harry, I need you to listen. It looks bad, and the doctors say it’s worse; so prepare yourself.”

“I have to see him, Hermione.”

Hermione nodded and opened the door allowing both to enter. Ron lay in a standard hospital bed. All-in-all he looked whole except that his whole body was covered in purple bruises. There was an I.V. bag filled with some kind of potion connected to his arm.

Hermione followed Harry’s gaze.

“It’s a blood replenishing potion. They have to keep giving him more. Whatever this spell is, he’s still losing blood even though he’s not bleeding. According to the doctors there is massive internal damage and for now all they can do is just keep him stable and let him heal as best he can.”

Harry walked over to Ron’s bed and placed his hand on the rail.

“Jesus Hermione, what did Dolohov do?”

“No one’s exactly sure. It presents like a small explosion went off inside the body. And also something keeps drawing blood out, a vampiric curse of some kind.”

Harry felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. This was way worse than he imagined. He lost his footing and nearly fell. He lowered himself into a nearby chair. His hand went to his forehead but for once it wasn’t his scar.

“What’s the prognosis?”

“Just wait and see.”

Harry could see that Hermione’s calm exterior belied a person in frantic turmoil.

“They don’t know if he’ll recover.”

Hermione sat down next to Harry. Her hand found his and they just sat thinking of all that they had accomplished together with Ron. All the experiences. The adventures. The arguments. Time passed slowly as though some cruel deity wished to draw out the pain for its amusement.

“Hermione. Where are your parents? They should be here.”

Hermione was clearly unprepared for this query about her own well-being.

“Oh, they did come. We talked it over and they are willing to let me continue studying at Hogwarts if only because Voldemort is gone now. I am going to stay with Ginny over the Summer so I can stay close to Ron.”

The Summer.

“Hermione, I just realized, I don’t know where I am going to go. With Voldemort dead, I never have to go back to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. But Sirius is dead, and Dumbledore is dead. And honestly, I can’t stay at the Burrow. I can’t show up every morning and remind them of why their son is in critical condition in the hospital.”

“Harry, Molly and Arthur don’t feel that way. They think of you as a son. And I’d hate to think of you staying at the Leaky Cauldron again. But maybe Professor McGonagall can give you a place at Hogwarts for the Summer.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully.

“I think I’d like to visit Neville for a while if you don’t mind. I haven’t been by yet.”

“I think that’s a great idea, Harry. But I am going to stay here. And don’t push yourself too hard. You’re currently a patient here too.”

Harry and Hermione both stood and briefly embraced.

The two locked eyes.

“Hermione, regardless of what Ginny said, you’re still blaming yourself, aren’t you?”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“Then consider it something we can work through together.”

Harry gave Hermione’s hand one last squeeze.

“Neville’s in room 127.”

* * *

“Hello, Mr. Potter.”

Harry’s stomach jumped into his throat as he whirled around to face the new speaker, a venerable but formidable looking woman, with grey hair and an unadorned wooden cane. His back was now to the door of room 127.

“L-lady Longbottom?”

“That’s still me last I checked. There is no need for trepidation, young man. I don’t bite. You can go on in. But he’s fully sedated. The doctors are hopeful he’ll make a full recovery, but it will take time.”

Harry opened the door and entered Neville’s room. Harry walked over to the foot of the bed. Lady Augusta Longbottom strode into the room each step punctuated by the clack of her cane upon the floor.

“Can it be so bad? It was only a few moments and then he went on fighting for several minutes.”

Augusta smiled kindly.

“The human mind is a funny thing, Mr Potter. It can flex and bend and anticipate and delay, but it cannot go forever without handling the consequences of its environment. I imagine that while you were battling, Neville’s mind was singularly focused on the goal of everyone’s escape. When circumstances allowed, his mind began to process everything that happened.

“The Cruciatus curse is as evil as they come. It directly stimulates the pathways in the brain that experience pain. And because it works like that, it is limited only by the caster’s power and the target’s capacity for pain.

“Bellatrix Lestange specializes in the Cruciatus curse and in pain. To her it is an art. Neville’s mere moments under her ministrations must have been the essence of hell itself. And then there is the added insult. Every twinge of pain would bring forward memories of Frank and Alice, Neville’s parents mind you. When Neville was only one year old, they were tortured by Death Eaters until permanently insane.”

“Yeah. Neville said something about that. It was Bellatrix herself that did it, right?”

Augusta turned a newly appraising eye upon Harry.

“So Neville told you? How about that. You must really make an impression upon him… Yes, Madam Lestrange was present that night, but there were four Death Eaters and no one knows who is fully responsible. In my mind they all are.”

“Neville only mentioned Bellatrix.”

Augusta chuckled.

“Neville has fixated somewhat on Madam Lestrange. No, it was a group of four. Bellatrix is married you know. So it was she, her husband Rodolphus, his brother Rabastan, and then Barty Crouch Jr. who you had the unfortunate chance to meet during the Triwizard. I wish I had insisted more strongly that Frank and Alice live in Longbottom Manor. The wards on the manor are strong and in such times... Well, I do think Alice’s optimism was misplaced, but you’re not here to listen to the regretful musings of an old woman.”

Augusta carefully lowered herself into the sitting chair in the room.

“Mr Potter. I do not relish living alone, and Neville is going to be in this room for at least a few days. Arthur Weasley has given me reason to believe that you are wont for a place to stay. If that is so, please, come stay at my home at least until Neville is released. I could use the help and you won’t be alone. I am sure Miss Abbott will be around as much as she can. She and Neville have a thing you know, not that either will admit it. And Hannah will bring Susan for sure. And probably others. Hufflepuffs the lot of them.”

This last statement was accompanied by an eye roll that communicated Lady Longbottom’s opinion of said house.

“Lady Longbottom?”

“You can call me Augusta, Harry”

“Thank you for your offer. I think I would like to accept it.”

“Good. Then get yourself back to bed so you can be hale when the doctors do rounds tomorrow morning.”

* * *

Thu. 20 June

Hermione sat at one end of Lady Longbottom’s dining room table. Along the sides of the table were the faces of people she trusted and respected: Harry, Arthur Weasley, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Amelia Bones, Augusta Longbottom, and Madam Malkin. Also present was Severus Snape. Minerva McGonagall sat at the head of the table. When the professor had invited her to the meeting Hermione hadn’t understood why she should be present. But seeing the look in Harry’s eyes the reason was self-evident. If anyone could convince Harry...

This was going to be a disaster.

“As acting headmistress of Hogwarts I have asked you all to meet because we must discuss how Hogwarts and the Ministry are going to proceed from here together. I hope by now it is clear to everyone that Albus was quite correct about Voldemort’s return. Yet, the Ministry has been slandering Albus and Mr. Potter for nearly a year now. Given the current situation I believe some are considering calling for the resignation of Minister Fudge.”

Director Bones sat back in her seat with an expression of shock.

“Minerva, we cannot possibly go through a resignation right now. Dumbledore’s passing has left the Wizengamot in turmoil. And with the chief warlock and Voldemort both dead there are two huge power vacuums that are going bring in elements unknown. To even consider attempting to unseat the Minister right now is to invite chaos.”

Harry leaned forward to interject.

“But surely the people will call for his resignation when they learn of how close we came to open war with Voldemort.”

“Foolish, as always.”

Snape’s quiet malice caught the attention of the room.

“Our young Mr. Potter needs it spelled out for him. Perhaps Miss Granger can bring it down to his level.”

Hermione did not wish to rise to this bait but perhaps it would be best coming from her.

“Harry, we’re considering if the public should know about Voldemort’s return at all. It’s sure to cause distress and destabilization that can be avoided by simply continuing on as if Voldemort never came back to power.”

Harry stood up his ire rising.

“You can’t be serious!”

Harry turned to the Director.

“The people must know. Voldemort still has supporters at large. The Ministry lied to the public and hid their own incompetence. We can’t leave a government this corrupt in power. I agree with Professor McGonagall, Fudge must go.”

“Minister Fudge, Harry. And I actually agree with Amelia.”

Harry turned to Minerva with a look of disbelief.

“Professor, if we don’t tell the truth of Voldemort’s return then Professor Dumbledore dies a discredited fool in the eyes of history. Sirius dies a wanted criminal.”

Harry pointed to the wall indicating the outside world.

“And what is to stop this whole disaster from arising again with another dark wizard? They haven’t learned anything. I won’t stand for that.”

Minerva wrung her hands while considering her response.

“Harry, this is why I called this meeting. I don’t like it either but for the common good, for social stability, we need to keep all of this strictly secret.”

“And you all feel this way?!”

Harry’s angry gaze passed over those present. Some nodded and some just held his gaze.

“Hermione?”

Hermione looked directly into Harry’s eyes. His fury was unveiled and terrifying but she owed her friend honesty.

“Yes, I agree.”

Harry deflated as though all the air had been let out of him sitting back down unable to continue arguing.

“So this whole gathering is just to convince me to keep my mouth shut.”

“To be fair Harry, I called the meeting to discuss how Hogwarts and the Ministry can work together to prevent a panic. We need to work out how we will respond to the press when they come and ask because they will. You know what Rita Skeeter can do and she’s not the worst.”

Amelia leaned forward.

“Mr. Potter, if it’s any consolation, Sirius Black has been posthumously cleared of all charges. It’s going to be kept quiet, but legally his name is in the clear.”

Hermione placed her hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry, the Minister for Magic must be re-elected by affirmation of the populace at least every seven years. That will be this upcoming January, so I am sure he could be convinced to step down quietly at that time.”

Hermione pointedly looked to Amelia intending to communicate that this was expected. Amelia responded only with a carefully neutral smile. Hermione turned back to Harry.

“Fine.”

Harry looked down the table again.

“I’ll stay quiet about Minister Fudge but not about Umbridge. I won’t stand for any agreement that allows her to stay in power.”

This time is was Arthur who replied.

“Harry, Dolores is a bureaucrat, she was hired into the civil service not appointed or elected. I know she was unpleasant. Fred and George haven’t let up about her. But there are laws that protect her position and without a recognized disciplinary proceeding there is no way to remove her position or salary.”

“So transfer her into a basement closet. I don’t care! But her influence over other people must end here and today.”

Lady Longbottom always quiet and poised chose this moment to interject.

“Neville has mentioned Madam Umbridge with some regularity in his letters but I fail to comprehend the animosity you hold for her. Education requires discipline, a property no longer universally found in institutions of learning. It is all fine and good to ‘relate’ to your charges, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the instructors to provide what their students need not what they want. Surely this is all the inquisitor pursued.”

“Harry. Show them.”

Harry locked eyes with Hermione briefly before raising his right hand. There were some gasps as those present read the words traced in scar tissue on the back of Harry’s hand.

I must not tell lies.

“Harry, did Dolores do that to you?”

Minerva’s wide eyes were locked on the accusing words.

“Yes. You weren’t in a position to help, Professor. And Professor Dumbledore wouldn’t see me. She’s evil, Professor.”

“This is a waste of time.” Snape’s cold voice cut through the silence. “No one here cares at all for Madam Umbridge. It seems sensible to limit her influence as much as possible regardless of Mr. Potter’s opinion.”

Harry looked at Professor Snape and the professor maintaining his customary scowl replied with the slightest of nods. Harry put his hand down and Hermione grasped it in both of hers.

Madam Malkin spoke for the first time. Hermione was still puzzled at her presence since she represented neither the government nor the order. Perhaps she represented the guilds... but did knowledge of Voldemort’s return spread even that far?

“I would be remiss if I did not explicitly clarify that I have no position on this. I am just observing on behalf of interested parties.”

Professor McGonagall looked to Madam Malkin and then exchanged a strange glance with Professor Snape. If Hermione’s analysis was correct, Professor McGonagall was not exactly sure why Ms. Malkin was present either.

Minerva took a deep breath.

“Augusta. Thank you for letting us meet in your home, an official venue would have been awkward.”

“Of course, Minerva. My home is always open to those who serve in such vital capacities.”

“I wanted to discuss another matter regarding Ms. Marchbanks. Griselda came to me after the events of this week. With the decline of the Minister’s power and the reduced influence of Madam Umbridge, she would like to petition for re-entry into the Wizengamot and is seeking support of sitting members.”

* * *

The meeting broke about an hour later and the attendees departed. In the end Augusta was left in the company of Harry, Hermione, and Arthur.

“Harry, do come visit, please. Molly has already asked after you several times. She’s worried about you. Oh, and Dumbledore’s funeral has been scheduled for Sunday. Also, Molly and I will be hosting a wake in Sirius’s honour on Saturday at the Burrow. And Harry, after you’ve taken some time, try to have some fun this Summer.”

“Thanks, Mr. Weasley. I’ll try.”

Harry’s reply sounded hollow.

“And with that, Hermione, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back home.”

“Of course. Goodbye, Harry. I’ll see you Saturday.”

Hermione embraced Harry one last time and then left with Arthur for the Burrow. As Augusta watched them go she wondered exactly how the world had come so far. Had she ever been that young?

“Harry. It’s a little early but I am going to pop off for a nap. Feel free to look around the manor. Oh, I believe Hannah Abbott will be joining us for dinner. I’ll be updating her on Neville’s condition.”

“Does Neville have any other family?”

“No. Voldemort and his followers saw to that. Neville is the last of my line. He is the last of my grandfather’s line.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“You saw him this morning just the way I did. He’s suffering... But yes, I think he’s going to be okay. Neville will be sixteen soon and— well so will you as it happens. I had forgotten that you two were born so close together. When Neville turns seventeen in a little over a year, he will take up the mantle of Lord Longbottom. When he’s ready, I hope to pass the Longbottom seat and votes in the Wizengamot to him.”

Augusta looked at Harry. So young.

“I have something to discuss with you, but if age has taught me anything it is that everything has its time and also that rest is important. Can you handle lunch for yourself? I don’t keep house elves, but I was given to understand that you can cook.”

“Yeah, if I can find the kitchen. Your home is so large.”

“It is mostly just old and dusty. The kitchen is just down the hall through that door.”

She pointed Harry at the nondescript servant’s entrance.

“I shall be at the Ministry this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon, so you will be on your own for a while, but I shall be home this weekend.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Good. This old woman is going to lie down now.”

* * *

“Mum!”

Hannah Abbott had had enough.

“Mum! I am not wearing this. I am not attending a formal ball.”

Hannah looked in the mirror at the evening dress her mother was insisting she wear. This was ridiculous. Hannah’s mother had spent almost thirty minutes putting up her hair.

“Now, dear, Lady Longbottom runs a proper house and her guests must be properly dressed.”

“Mum, I am already late. I look fine.”

Hannah’s mother sighed and looked over her daughter. She raised her hand and ran it down the side of Hannah’s face.

“Yes, you do look nice.”

Hannah swatted at her mothers hand.

“Stop that! I’m not six, I need to go.”

“Just be back by nine, please.”

“Yes, Mum.”

Hannah reached her bedroom door.

“Is Susan still visiting tomorrow?”

“Yes, Mum.”

Hannah was at the end of the hall.

“Are you going to clean up the bathroom before she gets here?”

“Yes, Mum. I need to go.”

Hannah was just entering the den.

“Okay, go.”

At least the hearth was already lit.

* * *

Hannah had been waiting in the sitting room of Longbottom Manor. Apparently her ladyship was not back from the Ministry yet.

Hannah let out a long bored sigh.

And waited.

A thump from down the hall made Hannah jump. It was followed by a crash of metal that sounded like pans or pots or something and then a yell of pain. Hannah got up and opened the sitting room door.

“Lady Augusta?”

A low moan came from just down the hall near the dining room. Concerned, Hannah hurried down the hall.

“Lady Augusta, are you okay?”

Hannah came around the last corner and stopped dead. There, sitting on the floor in a pile of scones, was Harry Potter.

“What are you doing here? ... Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. I fell.”

“I’m glad you didn’t hurt yourself, but what in Merlin’s name are you doing here?”

“Oh. Lady Longbottom invited me to stay until Neville gets out of hospital. She said you were coming for dinner, but I think she’s running late.”

Harry got up and brushed the crumbs off his trousers. He looked mournfully at the lost scones.

“Sorry, I need to clean this up.”

“Are you making dinner?”

“Yeah, well, sort of. I’m not used to carrying food down so far from the kitchen to the dining room.”

“Why don’t you use the footman?”

“What footman? I haven’t seen another soul since Lady Longbottom left.”

Hannah led Harry back into the kitchen and showed him a box on the wall.

“It’s magic, silly. You place food inside one box in the kitchen and it appears in the other box in the dining room.”

“Oh! Brilliant! Yeah, I’ll use that.”

“Tell you what. I’ll clean up the mess. You go finish up. What are we having?”

“Cottage pie.”

“OOo! Very classic. Lady Augusta will approve.”

“I hope so. Thanks.”

As Hannah left to clear the mess of scones she reflected upon what she would be telling Susan later.

* * *

Lady Augusta rolled her neck all the way around from shoulder to shoulder. She was definitely too old for this. Lord Malfoy had attached a rider to the Knockturn Alley development budget to officially define ‘magical’ as a person of at least half blood status. It had taken hours to sort that out. Augusta removed her hat and Wizengamot over-robe and looked at the mantel clock. Dinner would need attending to and Hannah was probably already here. Augusta walked over to the sitting room door and proceeded into the hall. Voices rang out clearly from the dining room. Hannah’s high laugh was easily recognizable.

“I don’t care. Those ‘Potter Stinks’ badges were ingenious.”

Then Harry’s voice.

“Yeah, I suppose. Super annoying though.”

Was that the scrumptious scent of food?

Augusta walked down the hall to the dining room archway and was met with the most welcome view she’d had in days. Laid out across the table was a proper English meal. Time for a little fun. Augusta prepared her best stern tone.

“Mr. Potter, I did not ask you to make dinner!”

Hannah and Harry stopped talking at the latest arrival. Augusta schooled her creeping smile as Harry’s eyes turned wide. She almost felt cruel.

“I’m— I’m sorry, ma’am. I thought it would be helpful...”

Unable to hold the scowl a giant grin spread on Augusta’s face.

“And that it is, Harry. I was just ruminating on how famished I was. When I saw the table I couldn’t help but have a little fun with you. How long did you spend on this?”

“Well it was just the cottage pie and scones at first, but then you were running late and Hannah arrived and we just kept adding things.”

“Have you left the pantry bare?”

“No, ma’am, and I kept a list of what I used.”

Augusta nodded approving.

“Well then, let us not waste such a phenomenal meal.”

Augusta walked over to her chair just off the head of the table and sat down. Harry and Hannah began passing food around.

“Lady Augusta, shouldn’t the chair at the end of the table be yours?”

Augusta caught Hannah’s glance of concern in Harry’s direction. She needn’t have worried. The lady of house Longbottom was not made of glass.

“No, Harry, that seat belongs to Lord Longbottom who has not graced this hall in many years. But someday I hope Neville will sit there.”

“Sorry.”

Harry looked down clearly trying not to appear upset. He was thinking about Neville’s injuries. Poor boy. Hannah caught Augusta’s attention.

“How is Neville? Last I heard he was still unconscious.”

Augusta took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be fun or easy for anyone.

“Hannah, I told you that I wouldn’t sugar-coat any of this for you. ... The doctors let him wake this morning. Apparently to determine how much psychological help he is going to need. Neville woke up screaming. He recognized neither me nor Harry. The doctors examined him and put him back under sedation. However, according to the doctors, he is actually progressing acceptably. He is under endurable but significant pain. Like I told Harry, the Cruciatus is as bad as they come. Arguably worse than the killing curse. You need to prepare yourself, dear. Neville could be different after this.”

Hannah’s eyes were wide. Augusta hated hurting her like this, but the truth wouldn’t change just because she lied about it to protect Hannah’s feelings. Hannah nodded slightly but looked down at her plate. Augusta let the rest of the meal pass in silence.

* * *

Hannah finished washing the dishes. After Harry got up to clear the table she had insisted on doing the clean-up since he did most of the cooking. But really she just wanted some time alone. She placed the last plate back into the cupboard wiped down the counter and headed out of the kitchen turning off the light.

She could hear Harry and Augusta chatting lightly in the sitting room. She stopped just outside the door. What if Augusta was right? What if Neville was different? It didn’t matter, did it? He needed her to stand beside him more than ever. He deserved it.

Hannah took one last step and opened the door simultaneously adopting her well trained polite smile.

“Well, everything is cleaned up. I told Mum I’d be back by nine so I should probably go.”

“Before you go, dear, can you show Harry the guest bedroom? I haven’t had time today to get out the sheets or turn down the bed.”

She was really tired but one did not turned down a reasonable request of the Lady Longbottom.

“Sure, ma’am. Harry, the guest bedroom is just down the hall this way.”

Hannah and Harry walked down the hallway in silence. Hannah stopped at a door and opened it to let Harry into the guest bedroom.

“The bathroom is just across the hall. You probably found that already. The pillows and linens are in this closet and you can set the temperature and relative humidity of the room here.”

Hannah and Harry worked together to get the bed ready so the work went fast. Harry tucked in the last corner and Hannah sat down on the end of the bed.

Thoughts of Neville cycled in her mind. She couldn’t get them to stop as though her neurons had tied themselves into an unending loop.

“Do you think she’s right?”

“Who do mean?”

“Lady Augusta... about Neville being different after all of this.”

“I don’t know, Hannah. But Neville… he kept going. In the Ministry, I mean. He was cursed, he was tortured, and then he just... kept going. I don’t think we would have made it out of there without him. I think Neville, at his core, is stronger than just about anyone. So I don’t know if he’ll be okay, but if anyone could be… it would be him.”

Hannah nodded. She didn’t really know how she felt about it, but it was reassuring that Harry was hopeful.

“Thanks, Harry. I’ve got to go. Uh, Lady Augusta is going to be gone to the Ministry for most of tomorrow. Why don’t you come over to my house? Susan is going to visit so we could hang out.”

“I’d like that, thanks.”

Fri. 21 June

Harry slept late. Never had a bed felt so soft and warm. He could stay here all day long. Never again think about the world. Think about…

No, not yet.

Harry’s defensive hedonism was interrupted by a gentle knock. Augusta’s voice sounded muffled through the door.

“Harry, it’s Augusta, I just wanted to let you know that it is eleven o’clock and I am stepping out to do some errands before the Wizengamot session this afternoon.”

“Okay, I should get up anyway.”

“I am going to take lunch out so don’t go throwing another banquet. I’ll cook tonight. And Hannah said you might visit her. She said they have lunch at one o’clock and that you would be welcome. The floo address is on the mantle. Leave a message if you are going to miss dinner.”

“Sure. But if something comes up and I need to contact you sooner, how should I reach you?”

“Just ring the Ministry central line via the floo and ask for me by name. If the bureaucrats are good at anything it’s efficient systems. I’ll see you tonight, Harry.”

Harry got up and into his bathrobe. As he walked to the bathroom to relieve himself he planned out his day. Shower, dress, write a quick letter to Hermione, and then floo to the Abbott’s. But first pee. Definitely that first.

* * *

Susan sat at the kitchen table with Hannah. They had talked all morning about what each knew of recent events, but now that lunch was approaching Susan felt nervous.

“Sue, why are you fidgeting? It’s just lunch.”

“I am not. These pants you loaned me are just uncomfortable.”

This was objectively true, but Susan had to admit to herself that she was, in fact, fidgeting. Why was she nervous? Susan had had classes with Harry since first year.

“Those are my best retro pants. If you don’t like them, then I want them back.”

“Girls, does Harry have any allergies? I didn’t think to ask.”

Hannah’s mum, Esther, always worried over these things.

“Mum, I have no idea. He didn’t mention it, and I’m sure he would have.”

Susan ignored the familial banter that followed instead turning her attention inward. Susan had always had an interest in Harry. He was orphaned by Voldemort. He was raised by his aunt and uncle. He didn’t like all the attention he garnered. In many ways Susan and Harry were the same. But Harry had never shown any interest in her. He was always busy having adventures. Once in Susan’s life she would like to have an adventure. Maybe even experience the thrill of a real duel. But these thoughts were not appropriate. For a Hufflepuff or for a proper young lady.

Pressing down the resentment that Susan felt at the smothering boredom of her life she started a new topic.

“Hannah, Auntie Em says that Harry was there when Dumbledore died. That he saw Voldemort.”

“Ms. Bones, language!”

“Mum, he’s been dead for years. Why can’t we...”

“Not in my house!”

Hannah’s attempt to intervene was cut short.

“Challenging the Dark Lord is how Susan ended up an orphan.”

Susan blinked at this, struck at the implication that her family had been murdered because they dared utter the name Voldemort.

“Besides, The Prophet clearly reports that Dumbledore died battling and subduing Sirius Black. God rest his soul, but I’ll sleep better at night. Dumbledore did a great service to society. But I’ll not have any of this Dark Lord nonsense spread around my house.”

Hannah stood up and faced her mother.

“Could you find it in yourself to be polite to my friends?”

Susan had seen this play out before. Hannah’s mother never backed down from anyone and least of all her daughter.

“I did not mean to offend anyone, but flights of fancy are what get good people into trouble. Keep your nose down, Hannah, work hard, and you’ll make something of yourself. That’s good advice for you too, Susan. Now sit down. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Susan smirked. Hannah’s mum thought some truly unique things.

“Thanks, Ms. A.”

A bell sounded in the den.

“Ah, that’ll be Harry.”

Hannah got up and went to the den.

Susan quickly took one last look over herself. Stop it. She was not twelve and boy crazy. Esther brought the finished lunch to the table still in the pot and set it on top of a pot holder.

“Yeah, we’re eating in the kitchen.”

Hannah’s voice came back from the den. Harry and Hannah came out of the den and into the kitchen area.

“Hi, Harry.”

Did that sound too eager?

“Hi, Susan. How is your Summer going?”

“Oh fine. Auntie Em has been telling me some of the details of what went on in the Ministry. It must have been horrible.”

Well that was a stupid thing to say: of course it was horrible. Harry’s face predictably clouded.

“Yeah. And it was my fault really. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Mrs. Abbott sat down having finished serving the food.

“Harry, I’m quite sure it wasn’t your fault. A child such as yourself cannot be responsible for such serious events. It just means that the adults in your life didn’t do their job to protect you.”

This was the flip side of Mrs. Abbott’s infantilizing approach to parenting. Esther looked directly at Susan and Hannah.

“You two remember that the next time you think I’m being unfair.”

Susan noted that Harry looked uncomfortable, but he didn’t say anything about it.

“So Harry, Hannah and I were going to go out today. Would you like to come along?”

“What are you planning to do?”

“Uh... “

Susan glanced to Hannah for guidance.

“Susan and I want to do some shopping.”

Harry’s eyes lit up.

“Diagon Alley?”

“No, actually a more muggle kind of shopping. Maybe we’ll go by the mall.”

“Sure, I honestly don’t have anything better to do.”

Susan reflected on this tepid response with a small amount of disappointment, but what did she honestly expect inviting a boy ‘shopping’.

“We’ll go after lunch then.”

Susan was careful after that to keep the conversation strictly neutral. Harry was obviously still hurting and it wouldn’t do to cause another incident with Esther.

* * *

Harry walked down the middle of the road just outside the Abbott household. After donning their packs Susan and Hannah had all but tore out of the home. Harry realized that he hadn’t prepared for the eventuality of needing British pounds. He had a couple galleons and handful of sickles, but that wouldn’t do any good at a muggle business.

“You know, I don’t have much muggle money on me.”

Hannah smiled at Susan and bumped her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, if you want to buy anything I’m sure Susan here would be happy to spot you some.”

Susan blushed mildly. Harry was obviously missing something. Maybe it would be best to change the subject.

“Is your Mum always like that?”

Susan snorted and answered before Hannah could.

“Yes. Esther is always exactly like that.”

“Huh… So where are we going to shop?”

This time Hannah snorted.

“We’re not actually going shopping. We’re going to the muggle cinema. My mum doesn’t stand with such nonsense, so I didn’t tell her. The picture is something about tornadoes.”

“Oh… Is that really a good idea? Not telling your mum where you’ll be?”

Susan started giggling.

“What?”

“Oh, I reacted the same way when I first started coming over to visit Hannah. This is just the way Hannah’s family works. Even Mr. Abbott does it.”

Hannah put on a mocking voice.

“‘We’re just children after all.’”

Hannah and Susan both laughed at this.

“Well this will be nice. I’ve never been to an actual cinema.”

Susan stopped walking.

Harry turned around as she dropped behind.

“What?”

Susan’s furrowed brow expressed concern.

“I thought you were raised by muggles.”

“I was.”

“You were raised by muggles and you’ve never been to a cinema?”

“Well, we did go to a drive-in once. But I spent most of the time getting snacks for Dudley, my cousin. I really didn’t have a lot of opportunities for fun and leisure.”

Harry didn’t know how much to share. His pre-Hogwarts life was very much a downer. Like something out of Matilda.

Hannah shook her head.

“Who are these muggles? You sound like you were treated like a house elf.”

This time it was Harry who snorted at the funny if accurate analogy.

“Well, that’s not entirely inaccurate. I cooked, cleaned, and they didn’t like giving me new clothes...”

Harry glanced between the two girls faces of disbelief hoping that his comment would inject levity into a situation that made him feel vulnerable and awkward. When that attempt did not pan out he went on.

“Look, I didn’t like it, but it’s over now. I don’t have to go back there any more.”

Susan and Hannah shared a look of concern at the cruel indifference they inferred from what little Harry had shared and then started walking again.

“Well, if you’ve never been to an actual cinema before then you’re in for a treat. The station’s right over there.”

* * *

Susan watched as Harry rubbed his ears.

“That was amazing. I had no idea something could be so loud.”

They had just stepped out of the cinema.

“Well it’s still early. Hannah, how about that curiosities store. You said the stock was unique.”

“Yeah, it’s just down the block. But remember, the lady who runs it is a little weird. I always feel like she knows more about me than she should.”

As they walked along the footpath, Susan relished the memory of sitting next to Harry in the cinema. His arm resting next to hers had been exhilarating though it was unlikely that Harry noticed at all.

“Is she a muggle, the proprietor?”

“As far as I know, it’s pretty rare for a magical to run a muggle business because of all the muggle rules and regulations. It’s difficult to hide who you are.”

Yeah, Hannah was probably right. Auntie Em had told Susan about several muggle businesses that had to be shut down due to risk of violating the secrecy statute, but also there were support services for providing muggle documents that would appear valid for just these sorts of scenarios.

The three stepped up to the shop. The façade was plain and the window was filled with old books. A simple sign over the door read ‘Artemis Moon Antiquities’.

“Come on, the sign says it closes at five.”

As they stepped into the small shop, a bell over the door rang alerting the proprietor to the presence of the new customers. A female voice called from the back.

“I’ll be up in just a second. Have a look around and let me know if you have any questions?”

The ground floor clearly comprised books of all kinds. There were stairs that lead to a second level. Hannah started off for a section of bookcases labelled ‘Travel.’ Harry headed off to a section labelled ‘Occult’. Susan in examining the available choices decided upon ‘Law’. Many of these books were seemingly worthless: ‘Tax Code 1976’, ‘Parliament after the Great War’. Also present were staples such as ‘Black’s Law’ and ‘Parliamentary Procedure’. Susan was about to pick up a copy of ‘The European Union - Dangerous or Definitive’ when she saw Harry standing stock still holding a book and looking like he’d seen a ghost.

Susan walked over to Harry.

“Is something wrong?”

Harry held up the book he was holding.

The cover was stamped with a one word title: ‘Occlumency’.

Susan’s voice dropped to an excited whisper.

“Harry! Did you find that here?!”

“Yeah. I read the first couple of pages. It outlines the process for learning Occlumency. It doesn’t look anything like what Snape did.”

Susan had inherited a razor sharp ear for inconsistency. Just like she had noted that Harry’s inexperience with the cinema didn’t fit, this latest parcel of information failed to fall into place.

“What do you mean? Snape doesn’t teach Occlumency. It’s not even in the standard curriculum for students at Hogwarts.”

Harry was obviously on the verge of tears. Susan recognized that she was on egg shells. She didn’t want to upset Harry, but Occlumency was a controlled trade craft and if anyone, even Professor Snape, were teaching it without authorization Auntie Em would be keenly interested.

“Last year, Voldemort started appearing in my dreams. There is... was I guess... a strange connection between us. Professor Dumbledore felt that I was in danger if Voldemort discovered that connection and used it against me. And... that’s exactly what happened.”

Susan placed her hand on Harry’s shoulder. A single tear rolled down his cheek. Susan didn’t have the details of that night, but Harry was carrying a heavy burden and Susan felt for him.

Harry shook his head like he was trying to shake off a fly.

“I don’t know. He had Snape teach me Occlumency, but it didn’t really seem like teaching at all. He just invaded my mind over and over. He saw things that should just be mine... and I never did learn anything.”

“Merlin. Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Harry’s voice took on a slight edge.

“No. You be sorry for Neville. For Dumbledore. If I’d really learned Occlumency then Neville wouldn’t be in the hospital right now and Dumbledore would be alive. Sirius would be alive. Ron wouldn’t be hurt.”

“I’ve heard some about that. But Harry, if you hadn’t been in the Ministry that night then Voldemort would still be on the loose. Right? He would still be killing people. Who knows who he might have killed.”

Susan shivered. Like someone was walking over her grave.

“I know and I know it’s not really my fault but it still feels that way. And I don’t want anyone to invade my mind like that ever again.”

Susan scanned the first page of ‘Occlumency’.

“It looks like a legitimate book. I say, buy it. We’ll work on it together.”

Susan smiled at Harry. The vulnerability of the returning smile melted Susan.

“What are you two birds looking at?”

Hannah had gotten curious. It didn’t help that Hannah knew about Susan’s interest in Harry and used it against her at every opportunity. Susan handed the book to Hannah.

“Whoa! This looks real. How did it end up in a muggle book shop.”

“I am buying it for Harry.”

“You don’t need to do that, Susan.”

Susan had played this hospitality game before and few could beat her at it.

“Harry, after what we just discussed, I insist.”

Hannah gave Susan a wry glance and Susan responded with her best mind-your-own-damn-business look. Hannah smiled and handed the book back to Susan.

“Are we ready to go? By the time we get back it will be dinner time.”

“Yeah, just let me buy this.”

Susan walked to the proprietor who was now manning the register.

“I’d like this please.”

The proprietor looked at the book and then back at Susan.

“8 pounds 50.”

Susan handed the appropriate amount to the lady who gave Susan an appraising look.

“You be careful with that book. It is not as much nonsense as the rest of that section.”

“Thanks. We will.”

Susan, Hannah, and Harry left the shop with Susan still shaking off the sensation that this shopkeeper was more than any everyday muggle.

* * *

As her newest customers departed the shop, Artemis reflected on how the turns of fate continued to play with her. She was completely cut off from the magical burrows of London and her tongue was restricted by powerful seals. Despite her exile none other than Susan Bones and Harry Potter himself had walked into her shop. So many years without any connection. So many years serving the Banríon in two different causal realities. And he walked in looking every bit as he did so many relative years ago. Young, arrogant, idealistic... and hurting.

And then to chose that book. Of all the books in the store, he would pick the one that she had carried with her on her return. The causal effects of that guide upon its new owner could not be predicted in any reasonable fashion. Artemis knew that she should inform Paradigm. Warn them that the lines of destiny had been knotted. But then again, good riddance. If she couldn’t have her family, which was the only good thing that ever entered her life, then to hell with the future.

* * *

After arriving back at Longbottom Manor, Harry and Augusta enjoyed a simple dinner while Harry filled Lady Augusta in on his day. He was about halfway through the meal when Augusta abruptly stopped eating.

“Harry, I have two things we need to discuss but I am procastinating.”

Harry set his silverware down.

“First, Harry, I have successfully delayed a decision in the Wizengamot on the basis that you are busy with funerals and memorials to attend. But at the start of the next session of the Wizengamot one of the first matters decided is likely to be the matter of your guardianship.”

“What do you mean?”

Harry brought his full attention to bear.

“Harry, Dumbledore was your official guardian as far as magical society is concerned. With his passing, you will need to be assigned a new legal guardian until such time as you turn of age.”

Harry sighed.

“Do I get any part in the decision?”

“Legally, no. But you will be allowed to make a statement before the chamber. I’ll help you prepare for that. But you should be clear on what your preferences are.”

“Honestly, I’d like to be my own guardian. I basically have been for a long time anyway.”

Augusta nodded.

“We can try, but you’re not even sixteen yet. It would be highly unusual for the Wizengamot to emancipate you.”

“Okay, I’ll think about it. You said there was a second thing.”

“Yes, Amelia and I have been taking it in turns to mentor Neville, Susan, and Hannah in the operations of the Wizengamot. Neville and Susan are guaranteed to inherit seats, and Hannah is likely to. Would you like to join them?”

“Why? I won’t have a seat in the Wizengamot.”

“I see... I thought Dumbledore would tell you. The Potter family does have a seat in the Wizengamot. It doesn’t wield many votes, but the seat was inherited from the Peverell family—in the twelfth century if I am not much mistaken. The votes don’t go very far, but you would have a voice on the floor of the chamber.”

“I— really?”

“Yes, the House of Potter is quite old and well respected.”

Harry thought about this for awhile.

“I need to think about this more. Can I tell you later?”

“Absolutely, the current session ends next Friday. You’re welcome any or all of those days.”

“Okay, yeah, it sounds good. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”