Misgivings

Mon. 1 July

It was a cacophony—each insect calling out to it’s mate and every leaf rustling in the wind. The clicks and murmurs that form the pattern of human speech bled into the din of nature. The pungent smell of dirt and fertilizer mixed with the saccharin scent of Hannah’s perfume. The gentle breeze was sand paper upon his cheek.

Neville Longbottom stared at the back of his eyelids. The last suppression charm had been at least partially effective when he was discharged from hospital and even then the stark light of day had been painful. Now—two days later—the charm was gone. Surely the bright morning light of his garden would be too painful and Neville was already overwhelmed with the deluge of stimuli coming from his other senses.

But today had to be better. He would not humiliate himself again. And he could not continue to hurt his friends. Hannah was plenty capable with make-up, but she didn’t wear it to bed so when Neville had seen Hannah this morning curled up in his bedroom chair, he couldn’t help but notice the light blue and purple blotch that was all but obscured by the slight scaly texture upon her cheek.

He had done that. There was no other reason for Hannah to conceal it and it wasn’t there yesterday. Neville felt the deepest shame—a black hole in his gut. Not only was it his work, she hid it from him to protect his feelings. Neville felt moisture gather at the corners of his closed eyes.

But that was why he had to endure now. He was now a burden. He had spent his life trying to find higher ground—to stay above the rising waters—to be self-sufficient and give back to his friends rather than vice versa—as a Longbottom should.

Neville was now a burden.

And feeling that burden weigh upon his eyelids Neville lifted them open. Bright spears penetrated his cornea washing away the black with searing white. A pair of irises contracted reducing the flood to a manageable flow. The white dissolved to patterns of light and dark. Coloured gradient filled the cells of grey and Neville’s mind coalesced the packets of information into a recognizable picture.

Hannah.

“Neville!”

Hannah’s face showed concern. He should console her. A few words would go a long way, but the racket assaulted his ears and the idea of adding to it hurt. But still. He wouldn’t cause Hannah distress when he could prevent it.

“I’m okay.”

While the concern remained, Hannah’s tension resolved to a more relaxed worry which hurt far more. Why did her wide eyes make Neville want to hide? Why was his reaction tinged with resentment? It took a moment, but Neville was actualized enough to recognize it. That look. It was pity.

It was a confirmation of Neville’s greatest fears. He was weak. Insignificant. Incapable. And everyone knew it. Hannah knew it.

The hue of the world was over-saturated. An explosion of unnatural tone. Hannah’s lips were flush with red, her eyes and hair a brilliant gold, and the sky framing her face a bold blue. Her cheek was a subtle blend of all three.

The moisture that poised at the corner of each eye cohered into a first drop. And then another. And then more. The tears traced lazy lines down his cheeks.

“I’m sorry...”

The words came out funny as Neville held back against the lump in his throat that threatened a sob.

“Oh, Neville. No, it’s okay. We can come back out later. Or tomorrow. Whenever you want.”

Hannah’s face disappeared from his view ostensibly to wheel him back inside. Neville let the leaden doors of his vision close.

No. She didn’t understand. It was not her responsibility to absolve his mistakes. He could give her that at least.

“It’s not that. You don’t have to hide it. The bruise. I don’t remember what happened but I can pretty well guess that I did it. You don’t have to hide it. Please.”

Neville felt a hand upon his shoulder. He tried not to flinch, but he must have failed because the pressure retreated quickly. Most physical contact still hurt—not like it had in the hospital, but it was still there. He knew Hannah was trying to express support and he didn’t want her to feel bad for trying.

“Neville.”

Hannah was back in front of him. He opened his eyes once more. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small compact. From one compartment she retrieved a miniature wipe. That look of pity was back in her eyes and Neville quailed at it. As the layers of foundation and blush came free of her skin the extent of the injury was clear. It was much larger than Neville had thought.

“Okay. No more deception. I’m sorry, I just didn’t want you to overreact. You shouldn’t feel guilty.”

Neville felt guilty. Of course he did. But there was no point in arguing about it.

* * *

Why did they have to be so big? Harry looked from one piece to another. Was gigantic wizard’s chess a thing? Like a common thing?

Harry stood in the centre of the Longbottom manor garden chess board. It was different but also similar in ways to the chess board that he and Hermione and Ron had played across during their first year. Even then, the whole concept seemed over the top.

These pieces seemed more statuesque and less like moveable pieces of a game board, but Harry had a nagging notion that they could come alive at any moment. He of course shouldn’t worry about that. Not because inanimate locomotion wasn’t possible, but mostly because her ladyship sat on a bench a handful of meters away and had demonstrated control over her manor. And then again, maybe they were just statues.

Harry had never been very good at chess, wizard or otherwise. That title by rights belonged to Ron. It’s not that Harry had never won against Ron, but it didn’t happen often.

Now Ron lay in hospital in a bed. Harry hadn’t had an opportunity to check on Ron’s condition since last Sunday at the funeral. Hermione hadn’t sent back an owl yet, but she probably would soon.

And then there was the Wizengamot and all of the politics it comprised. In some ways it felt like a chess board, with some unseen player moving pieces in faints and gambits. But who were the players and who were the pieces? And what of his seat in the Wizengamot? Why hadn’t Dumbledore told him about it? Was it simply not relevant? Or was Harry just another pawn in Dumbledore’s master plan?

Because now that Harry thought about it, it was obvious. Dumbledore had played white and Voldemort had played black, but now both players were dead. In the absence of a greater directing force, the pieces had begun to move themselves. White was in chaos—pieces moving against each other, blocking each other. But not black. Lucius and his compatriots were making well thought-out political moves.

So who was playing black?

“Lady Augusta?”

“Yes, Harry”

“On Friday, we heard the results of the MIR act vote, but not the selection of the new chief warlock. Who was it? Is it Lady Bones?”

Augusta stood up and walked over to Harry.

“The Wizengamot is never without it’s pomp. The votes were collected under lunar-seal. The ballot will remain uncounted until the opening of the new session. The first business of the session will be unsealing the ballot and determining the new chief who will then preside over the remainder of the session.”

“So we have to wait.”

“For the official count yes, but don’t get your hopes too high. Lady Amelia will garner enough votes to avoid embarrassment, but it is unlikely that she can win. The vote on the MIR act has shown a new divide between the common houses and the more liberal of the noble houses.”

“If it isn’t Lady Amelia, who do you think will be elected?”

“I don’t gamble Harry, but the smart money would be on Abelsted.”

Harry shook his head not recognizing the name.

“Lord Nott. That was Lucius’s nomination and he seems to hold the greatest influence for now. It could be worse. Lord Nott follows tradition and has little compassion, but he is mostly fair in his political dealings.”

It seemed like her ladyship had more to say so Harry let silence reign for a few seconds.

“The real risk, I fear, is in Earnest Forthright. He’s unabashedly progressive to an extent that makes even Amelia uncomfortable. He has no respect for tradition and while I think him an honourable man who wants the best for the people, I worry that he might tear down the institutions that have held our small society together for centuries.”

Harry was not convinced. It seemed to Harry that stepping into the world of magic for all its majesty and wonder was still stepping about a hundred years back in time.

“Maybe a little cultural revolution would help.”

Augusta chuckled.

“You’re still young Harry. The world opens up and you cannot see beyond the horizon. If any lesson can be learned from history it is that little good comes from radical rapid change. Only painstaking, back breaking, boring incremental steps towards a good end. Progress is a mountain slope: difficult to climb, treacherously easy to fall.”

Harry did not begrudge Augusta her opinion, but his hackles were raised by the implication that a young person could not understand the difficult truths of reality. He was going to be requesting autonomy from the Wizengamot. Didn’t he deserve some consideration for that?

Perhaps sensing that she had caused offence, Augusta continued.

“But do not concern yourself with the calcified views of an old woman. There are many battles to fight in the days and years to come. And your voice will be among those leading the way.”

She was talking about the future. Harry wasn’t used to thinking about the future. So much of the past weeks had felt like floating down a river just letting the current take him where it wished.

“Is he really gone?”

“I’m sorry, dear. Who do you mean?”

“Voldemort.”

Professor Dumbledore had told Harry at the end of his first year and the ordeal with Quirinus Quirrell that Lord Voldemort could return in a number of ways. Was he really gone this time, or was it just another respite waiting for the blade of his fate to snap its bond and fall?

“The Dark Lord will not return. I have no way to guarantee it to you. The world of death is semi-permeable to magic, but there is a threshold past which none has returned.”

It wasn’t convincing.

“He already did it once.”

“No, Harry. Mad-eye examined the Ministry atrium in depth after that night. He found evidence of dark magic—a specific dark magic—that tethers the shards of a torn soul to objects of our world. If the body dies, then a portion of the spirit still resides in a substitute vessel which can be returned to a magically reconstituted body.”

“Then he can return.”

“You don’t understand, Harry. Death is permanent even if the living can sometimes see into it. This dark magic—Merlin forgive me. Harry, I must ask you to swear to me that you will never reveal to anyone what I am about to share with you. Not Neville, not Susan, not even Miss Granger.”

Harry would’ve agreed to anything to hear Augusta’s next words. If Lord Voldemort were truly gone, then Harry could close an entire episode of his life.

“It’s called a Horcrux. Do not look it up. Do not ask anyone about it. A Horcrux, Harry, is a portion of the spirit attached to an object that can outlive the casters body. So he-who-must-not-be-named never returned from death, the part of him that remained alive was given a new body. Harry, anyone who knows about Horcruxes must also know that it is a deathly living. There are only a handful of cases documented in the Wizengamot record and every one was a narrative of misery and regret. This is not a way to live forever. It is a way to die forever.”

Harry felt his heart fall. The hope that he was free of this menace cracked and crumbled. Voldemort would not have created only one.

“Hold on, Harry. Alastor was able to detect faint traces of magic that reached far out from the Ministry atrium. He followed several of these trails and found many strange objects. A diadem that we believe belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw was found deep inside the room of requirement. One trail led to the Lestrange family vault, but he couldn’t get inside. And one led to a very large and very dead snake. There were others, and every one that we could inspect was dead, but had been a Horcrux.”

“How?”

“We don’t know—not exactly. Albus performed a ritual of deep magic, Moody said that much. Whatever it was, it cost him his life. Albus would not have given his life easily. I think Voldemort is gone.”

“But you can’t know that!”

Harry was upset.

“The professor said that there were ‘ways’ plural for him to return. He might come back. What about the prophecy?”

Augusta’s gaze was gentle.

“And the Sun might not rise tomorrow. We live in deluge of uncertainty. Why do you think the Ministry keeps prophecies secret? ... It’s to make sure that very few know what they say. There is a good chance that no one alive today knows what that prophecy said.”

“That doesn’t help. There might have been a clue to what would happen. Now I’ll never be able to know what was in it, what my destiny is.”

“Welcome to life, child.”

* * *

Neville was exhausted. The more exotic plants of the outdoor garden were thriving and Hannah had done a magnificent job of maintaining them. In fact, it felt good to be among the familiar shapes and smells.

Everything was dialled up to eleven. The leaves were green and the sky blue. Neville had begun to take in the beauty of the overly vivid world around him. It seemed that the secret was to give up on focusing the world. Stop fighting the powerful streams of stimuli and just let it wash over you.

It really was beautiful.

She was beautiful.

Hannah sat at Neville’s feet just taking in the same sights and smells—just holding Neville’s hand—just being there.

Something had changed. In the hospital—even last night before dinner—Hannah had had an air of tension. But now, whether it was temporary or not, she seemed relaxed. Neville could imagine what the sun rays filtered through the taller plants must feel like to her. Not the uncomfortable heat that he experienced, but a gentle warmth evocative of life. He could imagine the feeling of the breeze sifting through her hair.

Hannah was for the moment at peace. And Neville was taking vicarious joy in it.

He hurt. He was tired. He didn’t see how he could live like this for more than a few days.

But she didn’t. And she wasn’t. And maybe she could.

And if she could, maybe he could.

One day at a time.

* * *

Tue. 2 July

Luna Lovegood woke to a bright ray of sun falling across her face. Daddy had never believed much in technology particularly when simpler more natural methods persisted. And little was more natural than the sun.

It was still early. The summer sun was an eager riser and much the better for all that a day comprised. Breakfast would be first. A few years ago, the chores would have started with feeding the animals, but after Mother’s death Daddy hadn’t the heart to care for them. Luna had had to sell them.

Those days had been dark. Daddy would go long periods without speaking. He would sit without moving for hours on end. Mother had been his light, his purpose. And in the annihilating abyss of her loss, Daddy had fallen.

But those were days past, and over time Daddy had brightened and regained his purpose in a new passion. Daddy had taken a walkabout in Sweden. A last attempt to find something he had lost. He came back with field journals full of details about an amazingly elusive creature he coined the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. His eyes were lit again and that meant more to Luna than any field journal.

The Quibbler wasn’t new even then, but it found new life in publishing the details of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack and other magical creatures that Daddy had found. He always said that there was a world hidden in plain sight all around us. It waited for those who would look, and then look again, and then still yet look again. It was these special few to whom would be blessed insight into an underworld filled with tiny magical beings that controlled the weather, the seasons, and even the patterns of life and death threading through the ecosystem.

Luna believed her father. He wouldn’t lie to her and so much of what he described made sense. Why else would one tree thrive and another rise bare into the spring?

But Luna couldn’t see what her father saw. He was a genius, a autodidact prodigy and if Luna could attain even a fraction of his insight then she could be proud.

And maybe he would be too.

Xen wasn’t reserved with his praise; but in recent months he had withdrawn. The evenings when they would sit by the fire and read from the great and under-read philosophers had waned and in its place... absolution.

It was time for breakfast. The window next to Luna’s bed was east facing and her father’s was south facing. She would have an hour or so before he was awake and hungry.

* * *

“Luna, dearest. I need to submit today’s edition of the Quibbler. I’ll be gone for a couple hours.”

Of course. This was a standard part of life in the Lovegood household.

“Can you run the wash through while I’m gone? And the weeds have gotten into the gurdyroot again, can you handle that?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Xenophilias stopped at the door to pull on his cloak and grab his scragglewood cane.

“Good girl. Keep the home fires burning. I’ll be back in good time.”

And then he was gone.

Luna sighed. She missed her father when either he or she was away for long, but these stolen hours alone in an otherwise empty home... there was a lightness to it—a release from expectation and a joy in just being oneself without filter.

It wasn’t really fair. If Luna was truly herself around anyone, it was Daddy. Maybe it wasn’t an experience easily rationalized, but Luna basked in the aloneness.

She really should start on the laundry. It wasn’t just clothes. The sheets and curtains needed to be washed today and that job would take several hours, but for now Luna would steal a moment.

Gabrielle’s letter!

He had taken it last Friday and Luna hadn’t had the courage to ask for it. This was the perfect opportunity to get it without the need to ask and remind him how he came to have it.

Okay. But she should do her work first. Go get the letter and leave it in her room, and she could read it later once the work was done. That was fair.

Luna all but ran up the stairs. It wasn’t against the rules to go into Daddy’s room but it was weird when he wasn’t around. The door opened noiselessly. Most likely the letter would be in the nightstand with the condoms. Luna felt a little dirty at that thought.

Oh well.

Sure enough lying atop the unmentionables was a stack of three letters the median of which was the telltale pink used consistently by Gabrielle.

Luna slipped the letter out and quietly returned it to her room. It tempted her just lying there on her bed, but Luna knew the value of hard work. It was how everything got done. The letter would still be there when she went to bed if not sooner.

She couldn’t really tell why, but Luna picked up the letter and placed it just inside her pillowcase.

With an internal shrug, Luna returned to her chores.

* * *

It was a quarter to nineteen and Daddy had yet to return. Late days such as these were not unheard of but they were unusual. It was difficult to keep dinner warm and fresh when one didn’t know when it would be served. He could have left a message, but of course Daddy didn’t trust the floo network.

It was controlled by the Ministry Department of Teleport and Transit and that meant it was controlled by the Minister and his handlers. There was no guarantee that Dolores Umbridge or some other bureaucrat wasn’t listening to each word.

Still, what harm could a simple considerate call hurt?

Luna still hadn’t read Gabrielle’s letter. No real reason why except that by the time the chores were done she wanted to wait until bed when she would have plenty of time to read and consider what Gabby had to say.

But thinking about the letter had sparked in Luna a new idea. A possible compromise between her father’s plan to keep her home and her plan to return to Hogwarts.

Hopefully an amiable discussion over an infused cup of tea would bring things home.

* * *

Luna stared at her tea cup. Daddy’s mood was good. That was the problem. She knew that this was dangerous territory and that changing her father’s mind would either be impossible or as easy as a suggestion. It simply was impossible to know which of these roads he would tread.

“Daddy, I have a question.”

Xenophilias gave a reassuring smile to his daughter.

“Of course, dearest.”

“We talked about how you didn’t want me to go back to Hogwarts, right?”

Daddy’s smile evaporated.

“Yes. And I am decided on this. We needn’t discuss it further.”

“I understand. I thought of another possibility.”

Daddy looked down into his mashed potatoes perhaps trying to divine how he should handle his daughter. She had been causing him so much trouble lately. Luna felt guilty but she couldn’t just live inside this house forever.

“Back when Mummy was alive. We used to live in Avallen during the winter. I would always attend the Paradigm school with Gabrielle. They have a secondary program. It doesn’t align completely with Hogwarts, but it is an excellent program. And because Mummy was a member I would still be eligible for the education program.”

He didn’t respond. Didn’t make any indication as to his opinion of this at all. He just stared at the table.

“I would be away from Hogwarts, and I would have to say goodbye to Ginny and Neville and Hermione. But maybe I could still have other friends.”

He didn’t look up, but Daddy did speak.

“Stop.”

He raised his eyes just enough to connect with Luna’s. He didn’t look angry. He looked almost sorry.

“Luna, when we spoke before I thought I was clear. It is not a problem with you, dear. It’s my fault. I have failed in my responsibility to inculcate within you a discerning judgement.”

He paused for a painful number of seconds, but Luna knew this was not the time to interrupt. The last thing Luna wanted was another escalation like last time.

“I need you here—where I can watch over your development directly. You are becoming a beautiful young woman and with that comes both beauty and danger. You are too trusting; and while in the past your friends used you to further their delusional plans, you’re lucky that’s all they wanted from you.”

Ewww. That felt so wrong. The mere idea that her friends—her father presumably meant Harry and Neville—that they would take advantage of her in that way was disgusting and inconceivable.

But Daddy was right that she trusted them. All of them. Was she blind to it?

“You’ll stay home and learn with me where you are safe.”

No. He was wrong. But he was also Daddy.

“I understand.”

* * *

Luna slowly pulled the pinafore over her head. She shook her hair free of it and tossed it in the hamper on the side of her room. She unbuttoned her lace-trimmed blouse from top to bottom and shrugged it off as well. She kicked off her shoes and sat down to remove her leggings.

She took a deep breath and held it until she felt ready to burst. Then she let it out as an uncontrolled vibration against her lips.

It was late. She was tired.

The letter could wait, but Luna had worked so hard all day that not reading it now seemed a bit of a cheat.

Luna lay down on her bed and kicked down the blanket so she could slip under it. She realized then that she had forgotten to wash her own sheets. It had slipped her mind with all the thinking about Gabrielle and Avallen.

Oh well. She had endured worse and she wouldn’t forget again next week.

She slipped her hand into the space between her pillow and its case and slid out the envelope. She inserted her finger into the pink fold and gently pulled. The red seal submitted with a tiny pop. The folds of text slipped out and into Luna’s hand.

‘Dear Luna.’

The words were handwritten in Gabrielle’s flourished script.

‘I hope this letter finds you well. It has been too long since you have been to visit and we didn’t have many opportunities to catch up during the Triwizard Tournament. I feel bad about that, but Fleur was so busy as a champion that they had us running all kinds of hours.’

Yes, other than seeing Gabrielle at the opening ceremony and after the second task, Luna hadn’t been able to get to her. Luna regretted that, but understood. If the stories that Hermione and Harry had shared were even half-true, Gabrielle likely had barely a moment spared from tasks and training and interviews.

‘Fleur is still smarting about losing the competition. She says that every turn seemed to go wrong for her, but mother always reminds her that one of the contestants that made it to the end came back dead. That usually shuts her up.’

Apolline was always that way. In some ways, she had been closer to Mummy than Luna was to Gabrielle. They were both constantly pushing the limits of societal acceptance. Daddy had been so much less uptight then. It was sad what happened to Cedric. More so that everyone lied about it, except the Quibbler of course.

‘I suppose it’ll be summer there when you get this. We don’t really have seasons here as you know. It’s nice to avoid the winter, but I do sometimes miss a day on the beach just soaking up the vitamin D.

‘Oh, I suppose, I should tell you. You saw me at the Triwizard in Beauxbaton garb. I was offered early admission based on how quickly my magic is growing in. Apparently, I am way ahead even for one quarter veela. So I was moving back and forth between France and Avallen, but then I found out I had been accepted into the Young Members of Paradigm program. So now I live here most of the time.’

Luna was not a person to be easily impressed by accomplishment—effort and attitude were far more important. But to be accepted into Young Members at Gabrielle’s age... Luna was terrible with dates and Gabrielle looked much older than she was... nine or ten? It was unbelievable. She had to be one of the youngest members ever.

‘I live in a dorm now with the other Young Members and the Matron. It’s so cool. Perenelle makes sure everyone stays in line, but I kind of like the discipline.

‘I’ve been making friends, too. The next youngest member is Michael. He’s eleven and he already has a position as intern and special assistant to the Banríon! He works with Lady Red herself!! Everyday!!!’

Gabrielle’s love of exclamation marks aside. Luna could empathize. As exciting as Michael’s opportunity might seem to Gabrielle, Gabrielle’s opportunity seemed at least as exciting to Luna.

‘I think he likes me.’

OOo. Luna’s interest was piqued. Gabrielle was at that age when boys became interesting as a status symbol.

‘He seems to be making excuses to stay near me. We end up on the same assignments. And...

‘I think I like him, too.’

Mmmm. Gabrielle seemed quite taken with the boy, and he did have impressive credentials, but Luna took a note in the back of her mind to advise caution in her return letter.

‘I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I can’t say I dislike the attention. Perenelle says that brevity is the stewardship of your audience’s time, so I should end this before I start to ramble. You know, more.

‘Please write back. I must know how things are for you and your father.’

‘Truly yours, Gabrielle.’

Luna desperately wanted to write back. But she was so tired now that it would have to wait. Tomorrow was another day. Another script, another play.

* * *

Wed. 3 July

Daphne wasn’t sure her opinion of the Nymphwood Café. Not to get her wrong of course, the coffee was spectacular and the service was unobtrusive. But the greatest joy in partaking in a cup was quietly watching the world go by and slipping out of the constant stream of duty. The patio of the café opened directly onto Diagon Alley and as a result the hustle and bustle was a little too close to reach the objective joy of a quiet seat in the morning sun.

That didn’t really matter though, because Daphne wasn’t alone. So this wasn’t a retreat.

Pansy sat on the other side of an intricate stonework table and was just in the process of returning to a forward facing position having retrieved a cup of tea from the server.

“Daph. Do you still perform the Occulto Potentius?”

Of course she did. Daphne’s mother would go ballistic if she ever found out that she was skipping the ritual. But why would Pansy want to know or care?

Not bothering to wait for Daphne’s answer, Pansy gestured to herself.

“I’m not sure if I am doing it right any more. I remember Adelaide saying that it was dangerous to check. But if I have been doing it wrong for years then I may as well stop wasting my time.”

Okay. So this seemed straightforward, but it was unusual that Pansy had never found cause to check on this before.

“You’ll need to remember if your gates are left-spiralled or right-spiralled?”

Daphne’s gates were left-spiralled which was a major pain. Left oriented gates were outwardly biased which made the Occulto Potentius difficult and made inverting the gates dangerous. But if Pansy was right oriented...

“Your mother said I was right-spiralled.”

“Okay, then it’s easy. Do you remember practising the manipulation of your gates before we started doing the ritual daily?”

“Yes. Of course. We did it for weeks.”

“Good. Then all you have to do is carefully and briefly invert your first gate. But hold on.”

Daphne got out her wand. A right-handed gate inversion wasn’t going to be particularly dangerous, but an abundance of caution was always advisable.

“Protego.”

Daphne felt a slight flow of magic leave her and a tingling sensation tickle her skin. You know. Just in case.

“Okay go ahead.”

Pansy closed her eyes and appeared to focus inward. The seconds stretched. One. Two. Three. Four... until Daphne was about to stop her. But before she could, the table promptly shuddered and cracked cleanly into five pieces.

“Looks like you’ve been doing it right.”

Daphne tweaked her wand simultaneously dropping the protective ward and beginning to repair the table.

Pansy’s face was full of a rueful smile. Like her success in testing herself was an unfortunate joke at her own expense. Maybe she was thinking about Draco.

“Have you been by to see Draco?”

Pansy just shook her head. Daphne knew that the two had broken up last year, but this whole thing couldn’t possibly be over losing Draco. The narrative was that she had broken it off (but of course that would always be the case if Pansy were telling the story). But behind a necessary veil of indifference Pansy would surely want to know what had happened. Daphne would in that situation.

“It’s a terrible business really. Mother says he fell down two full flights of stairs in Malfoy Manor. It ripped him up pretty bad. He’s been in St. Mungo’s for days.”

Pansy—still completely silent—looked down the avenue hiding her face from Daphne. So, she was concerned and didn’t want Daphne to know. Good. Sometimes it was easier to believe that Pansy had no emotional connections whatsoever and it felt good to see that she was a person too. Did that make Daphne a bad person—enjoying the sight of Pansy’s pain?

“Apparently he’s out of the woods and will recover fully. He has to be monitored due to the amount of Skele-Gro used to rebuild shattered bones.”

This time it was Daphne who looked away. Unsure if her next statement was wise.

“You should go see him. It would probably cheer him up to see you.”

Pansy finally turned back to Daphne with the typical neutral expression. The classic Pansy resting bitch face which Daphne knew was not a resting expression for her at all. Her voice was eerily calm and devoid of emotion.

“You know why that isn’t going to happen.”

Daphne knew some, but it seemed like there must be more.

“Daph, do you know how I can get in contact with Harry Potter? I have a pretty good chance coming up, but it’s a bad time. I need to talk business and the only place I am sure to meet him will be at the reading of Dumbledore’s will. So... any ideas?”

Business. With Harry Potter? With a walking death wish? Harry Potter was never anything but trouble. Daphne worked hard to avoid him in general, so she had no idea how to contact him.

“Sorry.”

But something tickled the back of her mind.

“So is that what was going on at the memorial service? You were attempting to get Potter’s attention?”

That was about as banal an explanation as Daphne could have expected. It was a relief really.

“Yes. But then the weasel girl got in my way and blew that up. She’s so self-righteous. Like if she hates pure-bloods enough it’ll make up for being one.”

Daphne had to chuckle lightly at this. The Weasley family was a case study in why not to concede power to the outside crowd. The Weasley family was still blood pure at least for the most part. But their influence and power had diluted to impotence. The Prewett family had propped up the Weasleys for years until the Prewetts met the deathly fate meted out by the Dark Lord and his followers.

It was perhaps a just irony that the last blood of the Prewett family now only found refuge in the line of Weasley.

“So what do you need Potter for? He’s not sophisticated enough to accrue his own influence.”

Pansy shook her head.

“I don’t know. Father seems to think that his voice could hold weight for some members of the Wizengamot that used to follow Dumbledore. He hasn’t said it explicitly but that seems to make sense.”

Alright maybe. But the boy-who-lived would need a lot of fixing up to be any kind of useful voice in the Wizengamot.

Well...

Maybe not. Harry didn’t seem like much of a leader or speaker, but his words at both the school and public memorial services had been powerful and the rumours about the D.A. indicated a Harry Potter that wasn’t just a clumsy hot headed Gryffindor.

“So does Aster want to align with the liberal houses or the lesser houses?”

Pansy shook her head again.

See that was the thing about the Wizengamot. They didn’t have parties in the sense that greater Great Britain did. But there were general idealogical groups around which lines could be drawn.

The seats in the Wizengamot could be drawn between the noble and common seats and further between the traditional and liberal noble houses.

The house of Parkinson had until now been loosly aligned with the traditional values that Aster’s father had been a proponent of protecting. Rule by the educated elite. Maintenance of established social order and normative behaviours.

If that was changing then Aster Parkinson could single handedly shift the balance of the Wizengamot.

But how would he do it?

An alliance with the liberal noble houses like Bones, Longbottom, Hallow and others would be easier to maintain because there would be fewer parties involved, but gaining the support of the common houses could earn Parkinson support of the general public which would be good for business. It would be hard to do both, because there was a natural conflict between the interests of the noble houses and those of the common houses, but the Parkinson’s owned a rather large business empire centred around and reaching out from the textiles industry. A loss of political power might be balanced against a greater gain of economic power.

By the time Daphne had finished considering all of the implications, her coffee was cold.

* * *

“So, Neville. Tell me about these last two days.”

Nathan Soulager sat in a surprisingly comfortable armchair across from Neville in his wheelchair. The clock mounted on the mantle piece of the sitting room of Longbottom manor kept time in the silent void.

Neville’s case was troubling Nathan. The damage to the sensory pathways had been severe and strong over-sensitivity was to be expected, but it seemed that Neville was holding back.

“I am doing okay. There haven’t been any more incidents like on Monday.”

See that was the thing. Neville clearly was having trouble processing sights and sounds. Nathan was sure that he was in pain, but Neville wasn’t reaching out for help.

“Neville, it is possible to wait this out. To let time do the hard work and just suffer through it, but I want you to consider that your physical burden might seem lighter if you shared your emotional burden. So when I ask you to tell me about these last two days, I want to know how your are feeling and what you’ve been thinking about.”

The artificial smile that Neville had plastered on his face went away replaced by a more honest expression—exhaustion. Good.

“Doctor, I really am fine. I just need to get better so that Gran can stop worrying about me. And Hannah, I think this has been totally unfair to her. She’s not getting any rest and it shouldn’t be her job.”

Nathan saw a small crack in the door.

“So you feel like everyone’s here helping you and you aren’t helping anybody. Do you think you’re selfish?”

“No! Well... maybe. I don’t know. Harry got hurt too, but he’s making meals and doing laundry. He got better immediately. I wonder if I am just weaker than he is. Susan, Hannah, Harry... they’re all spending their Summer on me. It’s seems like a waste.”

A waste. That was concerning. Helping other people was a laudable cause. One that Nathan had chosen for a living. If Neville thought that such a pursuit was a waste, it might be because he felt himself unworthy. There was no bottom to such a hole.

“You aren’t weak, Neville. Statistically your physical progress is spectacular. At this rate you’ll be out of that chair by the end of the week. I wasn’t told all of the details of what happened to Harry, but I am aware of another young man whose injuries continue to confine him to hospital. Is he a weak person?”

Neville had a defensive streak something he clearly shared with his Grandmother. Nathan saw her eyes reflected in the look of outrage on Neville’s face.

“No! Of course not. Ron was hit with a serious curse and he was trying to save someone else. Who knows what would have happened to Hermione if he hadn’t intercepted that curse.”

“So he was attacked with a powerful dark curse while he was trying to save someone. While he was defending his friends. Sound familiar?”

Nathan let that sink in. Under normal circumstances the human mind took credit for positive outcomes and placed blame elsewhere for negative outcomes. However, it was not unusual for this internal compass to flip polarity in the wake of a traumatizing event.

Neville had been violated and his agency removed. He’d had unimaginable pain inflicted upon him and now felt that the world was not safe. That he wasn’t strong enough to cope with it.

Neville still hadn’t replied and if he really was feeling worthless then Nathan didn’t want to let that spiral.

“You said that your friends helping you is a waste. Why do you feel that way? If it had been Harry and not you who was attacked, would you want to help Harry?”

Neville was upset. His mind came tumbling out in a mess of words and phrases that conveyed a part but not all of what he meant.

“Yes, of course. But Harry is amazing. He’s strong. He’s the boy-who-lived. He fought Voldemort and lived. He will always do great things because he is a better wizard than I am. I’m a disaster. A disgrace.”

Another word. Disgrace. It was true that a person could be disgraced as an individual, but usually the term was used in reference to shame cast upon a group by a member (e.g. he brought disgrace to his Quidditch team).

Knowing Neville’s history—and the history of the Great Wizarding War—it was fairly clear that Neville was thinking about his parents. Alice and Frank Longbottom were hardly footnotes in the war. They were no Harry Potter or Albus Dumbledore, but any basic purveyor of history would know their story.

Neville felt he had to live up to that. And to the living example of Lady Augusta Longbottom. Any failure to do so was a crime against his family. Against his parents. Nathan wasn’t prepared to unpack that with Neville yet. It would be better to move on to something positive that Neville could get lost in.

“I saw your garden outside. Did you grow all of those plants? That was Dittany wasn’t it. That’s almost impossible to grow in this climate.”

It was an obvious compliment, but it was also completely true which made it the best kind. Nathan had the brownest thumb a man could be born with.

“Yes. You’re welcome to take a handful of leaves. I’ve found that it is particularly effective when reduced and mixed with Goosegrass, Rue, and Motherwort. A touch of peppermint will help with the smell.”

“Really. Motherwort, of course, but I’ve never combined Goosegrass with Dittany. I’ll have to give it a try. It truly is a wonderful talent you have Neville.”

Neville smiled meekly not sure of how to react to such praise.

“Neville, you’re doing great. So I am going to go raid your Dittany and see who else I can bother. I promise to be reasonable, but I have one piece of advice for you before I go.”

Nathan stood up and grabbed his bag before turning back to Neville.

“If you are worried that you are a waste of your friends’ time and effort, I suggest you ask them about it. It might seem awkward, but you’d be surprised how illuminating it can be.”

* * *

“I need some ideas.”

Susie Q was looking to Amelia with more than a little trepidation. Her earnest visage wavered slightly in the candlelit interior of Amelia’s study.

“They’ve all been stuck on the manor grounds for days. I feel like we need to get out and have some fun. I was thinking of going to Ajji Majji with Harry and Hannah and others this weekend, but I don’t think Neville will be ready and he needs to get off the grounds.”

Amelia felt a strong sympathy for her adopted daughter. Susan’s loyalty to her friends extended well beyond the Hufflepuff standard. And it sounded like the group did need a day out.

“I might have an idea, but are you planning on coming home sometime soon or should I have your closet moved to Longbottom Manor. It’s been four nights that you’ve been away. I’m starting to think you don’t like me.”

Amelia punctuated this with a grin followed by a slight pout.

Susan laughed. Amelia knew from experience that her face was not one that expressed the ‘pout’ well. But levity was her intention so it all worked out.

As the moment of humour subsided Susan explained her absence.

“No. It isn’t you. Hannah and Augusta really can use my help. Neville still needs a lot of direct care and they aren’t getting much sleep. I just want to help out.”

That was understandable. But Amelia wasn’t sure that Susan was being honest with herself. At least not entirely.

“Are you sure that it doesn’t have anything to do with a young bespectacled boy whom you’ve had a crush on since about six.”

Susan blushed a deep red. Amelia chuckled at Susie’s expense, but then remembered why this could become a problem.

“Susan, I don’t want to meddle in any feelings that you might be developing but we will need to discuss this...”

Susan’s blush was now adorned with eyes of anxiety. Amelia felt a little bad getting into Susan’s personal life. She was becoming such a young woman and deserved a generous measure of privacy especially after overcoming all the obstacles that life had thrown at her.

“But it can wait until after this weekend.”

Amelia reached into the left drawer of her desk and retrieved four stiff rectangular cards. She handed them over to Susan who took a few seconds to figure out what they were.

“Quidditch tickets?”

“Yes. I was planning on taking you and Hannah and Neville to a game but with everything going on I decided to let it go. But since you are looking for something to do I want you to take them. The game is tomorrow so you’ll have to arrange travel as soon as possible.”

Susan’s face lit up.

“Oh thank you, Auntie Em! Harry will be so excited.”

* * *

“You are here to care for my Grandson, Doctor. I will thank you kindly to stay outside of my head.”

Augusta Longbottom was angry. This Doctor had been invited into their home, but not into Augusta’s thoughts and emotions.

He stood across the conservatory path blocking Augusta’s view of some beautifully blooming Asphodel’s.

“I assure your ladyship that I would never intrude upon a person’s thoughts without informed consent to perform Legilimency first. To do otherwise would be a violation of my oath as a doctor and of several ministry laws.”

“I need no such assurance as any such unauthorized attempt would result in your immediate ejection from my home. Trust me I have several methods for accomplishing this.”

Some of them were even survivable. No, despite the innocent look upon his face ‘Nathan’ as he insisted on being called was very much inside Augusta’s head. Legilimency or no.

However, Lady Augusta’s position required her to make accommodation for the inconsiderate nature of some common wizards. And both Hannah and Harry had spoken well of ‘Nathan’.

“Doctor. Believe me when I say that I understand why you wish to analyse me. You wish to know as much about Neville’s environment and relations as possible to provide the best care. I don’t need that particular speech.”

Augusta paused to take a deep breath.

”That said please respect the boundary I am drawing here. I am quite capable of caring for myself and for Neville’s everyday needs. Focus your efforts on repairing the damage to his psyche and then—with all due respect—please get out of my home.”

She stood up and prepared to leave the room.

“If you’ll excuse my rudeness, I have important duties to attend to. Thank you.”

And without waiting for a reply, she walked out of the room.