Title: The Last Mudblood [v. 2.0]
Rating: PG-13 to R
Characters: Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, Lavender Brown
Warning(s): Character death. Violence. Language. Allusion to rape. Dark themes.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: ~10K words
Summary: The war is over, and Voldemort has won. Harry Potter is dead. Neville Longbottom is a Death Eater, and together with Draco Malfoy they lead a manhunt for Hermione Granger. It's really that simple. Or is it?
Beta: None. Read at your own risk.
Note: This is a HBP-compliant remix of the fic which was originally written for icandobetter's "Voldemort Wins" challenge in October 2004. Now with no added footnotes! Neville's last line of dialogue is swiped directly from Star Control 2.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
"Bring him in." Lord Voldemort's cold voice resonated through the dark chamber.
There they stood, a score all told, wearing dark cloaks and Death Eater masks. Neville shifted his weight uncomfortably. His Dark Mark was burning, and he rubbed his forearm surreptitiously. The heavy cast-iron doors swung open, and a bent figure of a man stumbled in, ushered by two masked men along the corridor formed by the ranks of the Death Eaters. Unlike the Death Eaters, the prisoner was not wearing a mask. Neville regarded one of the Death Eaters who were escorting the prisoner -- he held himself straight, but walked with a bit of a swagger. There was something vaguely familiar about that swagger, but Neville didn't have time to reflect on it, because the Dark Lord spoke again.
"So. Here you are, my little serpent. Any last words before your judgment is pronounced, traitor?"
Neville bent a little bit forward to try and make out the prisoner's face. The Death Eater beside him turned his head towards Neville. "Don't break ranks," came a hiss from under the mask. Neville straightened up. Voldemort spoke again.
"Why did you do it? Why? You could have had the world beside me, you could have had everything? Why did you give it up? Answer me! Imperio."
The prisoner started shaking slightly, but made no answer.
"Ah. You think you are being brave, churl? Perhaps we should bring that ridiculous Sorting Hat in here to see if you'll fit into Gryffindor at death's doorstep?"
The prisoner stood very still, and spoke no words. Neville patted at his Dark Mark absent-mindedly.
"Snivellus, they called you, a sniveling greasy git, did they not? They mocked and humiliated you, made you feel worthless, and yet you betrayed the trust of your Lord and played spy to that old fool. Where is your precious Dumbledore now, Severus?"
Neville shivered. The death of Dumbledore had been altogether unexpected, and the Dark Lord had been displeased, as he had wished to see him suffer. Dumbledore died of - presumably - grief when Harry Potter's body was thrown from the top of Hogwarts Castle and landed with a sickening thud beside the bleachers on the Quidditch pitch. Dumbledore took one look at the broken, lifeless body of the Boy Who Had Lived, and had fallen just as he stood there. There was no funeral or ceremony - their corpses had been hauled into the Forbidden Forest and left to rot. Voldemort spoke again and Neville snapped out of his reverie.
"You really thought you would get away with it, didn't you? You thought you had picked the winning side. Crucio."
Snape toppled to his knees, his back unnaturally straight, but he made no sound. He merely twitched uncontrollably. Voldemort laughed harshly.
"Let this be an abject lesson to all of you. No one escapes my vengeance. No one can betray me and live to tell the tale. Avada Kedavra!"
A flash of green light erupted from the Dark Lord's wand, hitting Snape square in the chest. Snape remained impossibly straight for a split second, and then toppled sideways, and moved no more. Neville felt an odd twinge of satisfaction then, it comforted him strangely to know that his former Potions master could never torment him again.
"The trial has concluded, the sentence carried out. Remove this filth. You may carry on with your duties. I shall expect you all back here in a week's time, and mind that you bring me good news." Voldemort rose from his seat and strode towards the back of the cavern. After going four paces, he turned around and made a series of hissing noises, at which a great serpent issued from under the Dark Lord's seat and followed in his wake, as he turned to walk away once more.
The Death Eaters began to file out of the chamber to reach the castle grounds -- the castle's location was secret to all but a few trusted members of Voldemort's inner circle, and the only way to get there (and leave there) was through Portkeys held by said members. Neville followed the Death Eater who had hissed at him before, falling into step beside the swaggering prison guard. As they left the castle and reached the lush green lawns in front of it, Swagger removed his mask, revealing a shoulder-length mane of silken silvery hair. Draco Malfoy.
Neville removed his mask as well and peered up at the other young man, grinning easily.
"Why, it's Longbottom. What a pleasant surprise. I didn't think you ever made it to the meetings, Neville." Draco drawled with a smirk.
"Hullo, Draco. Was it you that caught the traitorous scum Snape?" Neville asked.
"No, it was Blaise and Pansy that caught him, trying to sneak onto a boat headed for the shores of France. He was supposed to be meeting those filthy half-giants there, the former Mistress of Beauxbatons and that insufferable oaf Hagrid. My team wasn't able to intercept them, unfortunately, but at least we got Snape." Draco spat the name like it was a curse.
Neville sneered. "You weren't at the headquarters today; there was a sighting of the Mudblood Granger near Hogsmeade."
"Oh? What would she be doing there, do you know?" Malfoy stepped closer to Neville, lowering his voice. The two of them were in charge of tracking down Hermione Granger and stopping the band of renegades she was reported to be leading. She was the only surviving Muggle-born witch who hadn't been Obliviated to relieve her of all memories of the wizarding world, replacing them with fake Muggle memories.
"No. We think she might be trying to retrieve Potter's body, or whatever's left of it, from the Forbidden Forest. I don't see why, really, Potter's wand was taken and snapped before they hauled it away, and he didn't have anything else on his person that might be of interest." The Dark Lord himself had taken an interest in Hermione Granger, and was very keen to see her brought before him for judgment - since reports started pouring in of a renegade pack of wizards who still opposed Voldemort, he deemed that she was to be found and destroyed. "The Last Mudblood," she was called by all and sundry. She was considered highly dangerous and unstable, and the wizarding community had been advised to exercise constant vigilance.
"She probably wants to give him a proper burial," Draco sniffed with disdain. "As if half-breed scum deserve proper burials. But then, she is a Mudblood. There's too much Muggle weakness in her, sentimental rubbish. We'll catch her soon."
Hermione Granger had been caught once, by none other than Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father -- this was back when Harry Potter was still alive. He tortured her with the Cruciatus curse for several hours in the Hogwarts dungeon to get information about Potter's whereabouts, but she wouldn't talk. Lucius left her locked in a cell, intending to return later to try again, but when he'd returned, she was gone. Lord Voldemort had had control of Hogwarts Castle by then, it was four days before Potter came to challenge him for the last time. Everyone was so preoccupied with Potter and the Prophecy that Granger was forgotten until her ridiculous attempt at a revolt.
Neville grunted again. "I don't understand how she ever got away. Could you go over it with me once again? I need to make some notes; I might have to question the blood traitor Weasley again, but I shouldn't like to request permission to visit Azkaban on frivolous grounds."
"Of course, Neville. Let me find Father, he has a Portkey to get us out of here. We can go straight to headquarters and talk; I've got time tonight."
"I'll wait here," Neville said, and watched as Draco walked away, swagger back in his step. Neville leaned against a willow tree, kicking the grass at his feet with a booted foot. The tree bark felt cool and refreshing against the back of his head, and he turned his face sideways to feel it on his cheek. It felt a little like a cat's tongue, Neville reflected. A slight breeze blew from the north, and Neville breathed in deeply, tilting his head back to take in the star-studded sky.
Suddenly, a noise came from his left, and he whipped his wand out, turning sharply. He saw a mouse making it through the grass, heedless of its peril leaning against the willow tree. Neville waved his wand lazily, concentrating. The mouse stopped moving, and Neville walked over and picked up the snuffbox he'd just Transfigured from the mouse. It was a perfectly ordinary snuffbox, and it didn't have a tail or whiskers. Grinning, he pocketed it.
All the years of participating in the DA under Harry Potter's tutelage had really paid off for Neville, he reflected. In their sixth year, Harry had been obsessed with making Neville succeed at doing defensive spells, and the rigorous routine had helped Neville get much better at his other spells, including Transfiguration and Charms. He was still quite rubbish at potions, however, but there was no more Potions Master to rub that in his face. Neville bowed his head, smiling privately, but looked up a split second later as he heard his name called from the left.
"Longbottom! Neville! Come on, I found Father, he's on the other side of the castle, he says we'd better not keep him waiting!" Draco yelled.
Neville detached himself from the willow tree, using his right elbow for leverage, and trotted off towards Draco, who had already turned and was walking rapidly towards the castle wall. Neville caught up with him a moment later, and soon they were rounding the corner of the castle, heading towards Lucius Malfoy, who stood on the cobblestone sidewalk beside an ornate statue of an angel, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Hurry, boys. We are entertaining the Notts tonight, Draco, will you be joining us?" Mr. Malfoy asked, fixing his son with an inquisitive stare.
"Father, I don't think I can quite face the Notts after what happened to Theodore," Draco answered, bowing his head.
"Never show weakness, son, haven't I taught you anything?" Lucius Malfoy glared disapprovingly.
"And I've been a willing pupil, Father, but I do not wish to be charged by Theodore's father again. The man seems to think that it was somehow my fault that Potter killed his son. What was I supposed to do, throw myself in the way of Potter's Killing Curse?" Draco was sneering now, upper lip curling in disdain.
"Ah, of course, I'd forgotten all about that incident. Yes, I suppose it's better if you do not attend tonight's soiree." Mr. Malfoy reached into his pocket.
Draco turned away, moving slightly closer to Neville, and softly muttered something distinctly resembling "You'd forget about your head if it wasn't shoved so firmly up your arse," but before Neville could even look incredulous, Lucius Malfoy spoke again (he seemed to be entirely oblivious of the fact that his son had spoken).
"Here it is. I shall take us to Malfoy Manor, and from there you'll be able to Apparate into headquarters." He held out a thick black leather belt, and the two boys grabbed onto it. Neville felt the now-familiar jerk behind his navel, suppressing the temporary bout of nausea that invariably hit him when using Portkeys as transport. A moment later, thery were on the grounds outside Malfoy Manor. Neville bowed his head before Mr. Malfoy, and Draco did likewise, then the older man had set out with long, sure strides towards the intricately wrought iron gate.
It was a double gate, with an oriental-looking dragon on each side, their tongues connecting in the middle. Neville watched as Lucius Malfoy performed the numerous unlocking spells on the gate and the dragons. Half a moment later, the gate was shut again, and Malfoy senior was headed towards the sprawling mansion on the grounds. Draco elbowed Neville in the ribs. "C'mon, let's Apparate to headquarters."
Neville carefully concentrated on the office of the headquarters for the Mudblood Manhunt, and a moment later he heard an ear-splitting crack! that seemed to appear first in his left ear then quickly zoom around his head and echo in the right ear. Apparating was certainly less painful than taking Portkeys, Neville thought. The office, which was on the sixth floor in the renovated Ministry of Magic building, was a mess, with rolls of parchment strewn about everywhere, and maps covering every bit of wall. The village of Hogsmeade was circled with a thick red line on one of the larger maps; Neville had drawn the circle just that afternoon. Draco collapsed into a chair and put his feet up on the adjacent table, unceremoniously pushing a heap of parchment aside and causing an assortment of quills to flutter to the floor. Neville watched the quills fall as he took a seat at his own desk.
"I swear, my father doesn't know anything about priorities," Draco spat venomously.
Neville looked up at him with a smirk. "If you want, you can stay at my flat tonight, in case the Notts' visit is too lengthy."
Draco grinned, and shook his head, just as Neville knew he would. "Nah, I'm going to Blaise's -- he's throwing a party for the Slytherins in our year." He ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his temples lightly. "You'd be welcome to come, if you want, you're as good as any Slytherin," he added imperiously.
Neville shook his head, "Thanks, mate, but I need to get some sleep. I haven't had any since the Hogsmeade sighting yesterday; we combed all the shops and the Shrieking Shack, and then I had to go to the trial. I need my beauty rest, after all."
Draco chuckled with amusement. "Why, Longbottom, I never knew you had it in you. Vanity, my favourite sin."
Neville grinned back, and scratched the back of his head absentmindedly with the tip of a quill he'd picked up in the meantime. He rummaged among the parchment, fishing out a blank scrap, and pulled an ink bottle from his desk drawer. Dipping the quill into the ink bottle, he wrote the date at the top of the parchment. "Right, then, I promise I won't keep you long."
Draco nodded, twirling a lock of silvery hair on his index finger distractedly.
Neville squinted at him. "So, back to the day Mudblood Granger disappeared from the dungeon. You were at Hogwarts, right?"
Draco shifted in his seat and recrossed his legs on the desk. "Yeah. I was sent by Father to bring the Mudblood for another round of interrogation. I didn't see or hear anything unusual on my way down to the dungeons, nothing at all -- by that time school was already out for summer and Dumbledore was holed up in his office, waiting for Hero Potter to come rescue the world."
Neville smirked, and wrote some notes on his parchment. "Then what?"
"I reached the cell where the Mudblood was being held and unlocked the door. At first I thought she was collapsed in a corner, as there was a dark shapeless pile in the northwestern corner of the cell, but when I approached the pile, it was just old rags with a cloak thrown over them."
"Were the rags there when the Mudblood was first brought there?"
"I don't know, you'd have to ask Father. He locked her in there in the first place. She had been wrapped in that cloak when he threw her in, he didn't want her dying of hypothermia before he'd had a chance to question her again. At any rate, Granger wasn't there."
Neville nodded, and scribbled "L.M." in the margin beside his earlier notes. He leaned back in his chair tiredly, rubbing his forehead with the back of his left hand. "Do you know where the blood traitor Weasley was around that time?"
Draco arched a white eyebrow. "Which one? There must have been at least eighteen foul offspring in the Weasel clan." He smirked, eyes glittering malevolently in the soft candlelight.
Neville smirked back. "Potter's best friend, of course. The other Weasleys were all dead by then, if I'm not mistaken."
"I don't know where Ron was, but he was being hunted. I imagine he was with Potter, though the circumstances of his capture would suggest otherwise."
Neville nodded. Ron Weasley had been caught while trying to sneak into this very building, not too long after Potter's death, and he hadn't known that Potter was dead then. When his captor delivered the news, Ron seemed to lose all will to move of his own accord, and let himself be dragged off to Azkaban pending further questioning.
"So it could have been Weasley, then. Him and the Mudblood had... something, didn't they?" he asked Draco.
"Ugh, gross, Longbottom. Don't even go there. It's sick enough thinking of the Weasel family breeding, I don't want to think about a Weasel rutting with a Mudblood. But there were rumours of something, yeah." Draco conceded, seeing that Neville was giving him the evil eye.
Neville sighed, and scratched another note onto his parchment. "Looks like I'll have to get permission to visit Azkaban, then. If it was Weasley that got Granger out of that dungeon, he might know where she's holed up."
Draco sat up suddenly. "Hey, have you tried the old headquarters of Dumbledore's Order of the Addle-brained Mudblood-lovers?"
Neville flinched slightly. "Yeah. Unfortunately, we can't get in there -- or even near there -- at all."
Draco heaved his legs off the desk and sat up even straighter. "Why not?"
"It's protected by a powerful Fidelius charm. Dumbledore was the Secret Keeper, and he's the only one who can give away the location of the Order. Unfortunately for us, he also happens to have dropped dead before anyone could get that information out of him." Neville frowned.
Draco chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully. "So if Dumbledore's dead, there's no way you can ever get in, not even if you get the actual location out of Weasel?"
Neville nodded. "However, if Weasley takes us to the location, we can simply decimate the entire city block. The place may be protected by charms from being seen or plotted, but it's still there. If we wreak death and destruction on the entire city block, that place will be brought down just the same as the Muggle buildings."
Draco looked at Neville in wonder. "Are you sure you were sorted into Gryffindor?"
Neville squinted at Draco and made hissing noises. Draco laughed and got up, circling the desk and crossing the room to a shelf with a bowl of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans on it. Draco grabbed a handful, and brought the bowl over to Neville. Neville picked out five Beans and placed them on the desk beside his quill. He pressed his palms to his temples in an effort to concentrate. "I detest the paperwork," he sighed, pulling a green request slip from a stack of parchment on his desk.
"Mmm, strawberry. You need permission to go to Azkaban?" Draco inquired, chewing on a Bean.
"Uh-huh," Neville mumbled, filling out the request slip laboriously.
Draco popped another Bean into his mouth, bit down, and grimaced. "Horseradish," he clarified, spitting into the bin at his feet, then continued: "Well, get that filled out quickly and I'll get you a signature tonight, if you don't want to deal with the clamouring unwashed masses tomorrow. As I understand it, everybody and their horned toad wants to visit Azkaban these days, since we chucked so many blood traitors in until further notice."
Neville blinked at Draco, grabbing one of his Beans and chewing on it. It was chocolate. "How are you going to get a signature?"
Draco wiggled his fingers at Neville in an almost girlish manner. "Hello? Pansy Parkinson is my friend, and her father is in charge of the Azkaban guard. Get that filled out and I'll get it sorted."
"Wow, thanks, Draco," Neville mumbled, bending down and scribbling furiously on the green parchment. When he was finished, he blew on the parchment hastily and waved it around in the air impatiently, waiting for the ink to dry. Draco was pacing the room restlessly, glaring into corners and generally resembling a caged lion. It was a favourite party trick of his, women absolutely melted when he did "The Captured Dragon." Neville chuckled inwardly, figuring that Draco was practising before tonight's party.
He decided that the ink was sufficiently dry, rolled up the parchment, sealed it with a soft wax seal and used his family ring to imprint his insignia onto the wax. Neville was very proud of that ring, it was a hefty chunk of sterling silver with a thick top engraved with the Longbottom crest. His Gran had given it to him after his parents perished in the St. Mungo's fire a year ago. Neville tensed slightly at the thought of his parents, and shook off the thoughts firmly. He handed the small roll over to Draco, who clicked his tongue appreciatively, inspecting the insignia on the seal. Draco Malfoy was a sucker for tradition, no question about that. The blond boy winked at Neville and disappeared with a loud Crack!
Neville stared blankly at the map of Hogsmeade that was directly in front of him, and popped another Bean from the desk into his mouth. It tasted (and worse, smelled) like horse manure. Neville almost choked, and spit the stinking brown mess onto the desk, surprised. He'd never gotten one of those before, and Merlin knew Neville was fond of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. Neville shook his head, took out his wand, and muttered Scourgify, pointing at the desk. The mess vanished, and Neville remembered his snuffbox. He took it out of his pocket and put it on the table.
He waved his wand, concentrating on the snuffbox, and a moment later, he'd Transfigured it back into a mouse. Neville grinned with satisfaction. Transfiguration was always one of his most difficult subjects, and being able to do it so well was immensely satisfying. He waved his wand again, and pocketed the snuffbox once more. He'd been careful to make sure the snuffbox wasn't perfectly transfigured both times, as if he was too good at it, he wouldn't be able to make it into a mouse again.
Neville wandered around the office, straightening out stacks of quills and parchment on the various desks, making the maps hang just right on the walls. He bent down to pick up the quills that Malfoy had dropped earlier, and noticed a pink sheet of paper that said "THE HOUSE OF BLACK" on it in big letters, followed by several dozen exclamation points. He checked the desk from which the paper had fallen -- it was a spare desk, so there was no way of knowing who had written the note. Neville folded the note carefully and put it into his pocket. Suddenly two loud cracks split the air behind him, and he dropped the quills he'd been gathering, causing them to flutter pell-mell onto the desk.
"Well, this place looks better than the last time I saw it," a drawling male voice quipped. Neville turned to Draco and was n't particularly surprised to see Pansy Parkinson with him, seeing as there'd been two Apparition sounds. "Hi, Neville," Pansy cooed, smiling at him. "Draco tells me you don't want to come to our party, how come?" she simpered, batting her eyelashes. Draco rolled his eyes and slapped Neville on the shoulder. "Don't pay attention to her, she's a flirt. She knows perfectly well that you would be more than happy to come if you didn't need sleep." Pansy pouted, and swatted Draco lightly on the back of his head.
Neville grinned, and raised an eyebrow quizzically at Draco, who produced the green roll of parchment from the pocket of his robes. "Sorry it took a bit of time, but Pansy here couldn't leave without her "face" on," he mimicked, raising both his eyebrows until his forehead was a mess of wrinkles and making an exaggerated pout with his lips.
"Ugh, Draco, stop doing that, you look ridiculous," Neville laughed in spite of himself. "Thanks for the signature, you two. It's time for me to hit the sack if I hope to make it to Azkaban tomorrow."
"Sure you don't want to come and stay for a spell?" Draco asked from under Pansy's arm, as the girl was unsuccessfully trying to put him in a headlock.
"Certain. Thanks for the offer, though." Neville concentrated on thoughts of his flat, heard the familiar succession of cracks in his ears, and he was in his living room.
Sighing, Neville detached the Death Eater mask from his hood and flung it into the armchair beside him. He fished out the pink slip of parchment out of his pocket and took off his cloak, throwing it on the sofa. Walking over to the fireplace, Neville muttered "Incendio," pointing his wand at the firewood, which ignited immediately. Neville tossed the pink slip of parchment into the fire and collapsed onto the sofa, which was magical and immediately adjusted to his form. He inhaled deeply, going over the evening's events in his head carefully and slowly, fiddling with his family ring absentmindedly.
He straightened up, planting both feet on the floor, and balanced his elbows near his knees, burying his face in his large hands. He sat motionlessly for a while, hiding his face, listening to the merry crackle of the fire. After about 20 minutes of sitting in silence, Neville walked over to the fireplace and fingered the Floo powder that was set out in a bowl on a small metal table. "Good thing they're not watching my fireplace," he muttered. He was very well-connected at the New Floo Network and knew for a fact that his fireplace wasn't watched -- he had to pull a few strings and Obliviate a few people, but he got what he wanted. Neville chuckled bitterly, thinking back to Malfoy's wondering whether he, Neville, would belong in Slytherin. "Now I would, Draco. Now I would," he said out loud.
Neville shook his head and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. He tossed it into the flames, stepping in, and loudly said "Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place." He tucked his elbows firmly into his sides, hands balling into fists instinctively. Neville's always hated travelling by Floo powder, and even more so since the fire at St. Mungo's destroyed his parents... he didn't have time to finish the thought, because he'd arrived at his destination. He tumbled out into the living room, coughing and wheezing -- he'd been holding his breath the whole time he'd been in motion.
The door to the living room came open, and Lavender Brown stood in the doorway, wand at the ready. She saw Neville and lowered her wand immediately. He looked at her pitifully and she rushed over to him, hugging him clumsily, wand still clutched in her right hand. She distanced herself from him for a minute and took a long look at his face.
"Neville, you look terrible. What's happened?"
Neville just held on to Lavender and looked into her eyes, trying to find his grounding in them, like he used to be able to. She looked at him calmly, but he could see her tears already, it was no use. He clutched at Lavender helplessly then, burying his face in her shoulder, having to bend down at an awkward angle, and not caring one bit. It wasn't sexual, it wasn't even anything resembling the manifestation of an awkward crush. Neville didn't have time to think about crushes. He just needed to be hugged right then, and Lavender was there. Neville whimpered into her shoulder and she stroked his hair lightly, just like Gran used to do when Neville was very small, before he was suspected of being a worthless Squib.
They'd been standing like that for about five minutes when a shrill voice called, "Aren't you ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?" Neville and Lavender broke apart and ran to the drawing room. In a cushy red armchair, there sat Hermione Granger, dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, knitting. There was a large wicker basket at her feet, full of multi-coloured miniature hats decorated with bobbles. Neville smiled warmly at Hermione.
"Poor Crookshanks, that witch said he'd been in there for ages; no one wanted him," Hermione said, looking up from her knitting. Crookshanks, who had been sitting inside the basket amidst the elf hats, jumped into Hermione's lap and curled up. Hermione paid him no heed. Neville's smile faded. He turned to Lavender.
"No change?" Lavender shook her head sadly. Neville sank into a chair opposite Hermione's and watched her knit. Clickety-clack, clackety-click -- went the needles. Hermione didn't even seem to be paying any attention to what she was doing, yet the elf hat under the needles was turning out to be quite decent. After all, Hermione had had lots of practise in the past years. She hummed tonelessly under her nose, looking around herself, occasionally stopping to peer at Neville. Lavender sat down cross-legged on the floor and buried her face in her hands.
Neville wished there was something he could do. Ever since he'd brought Hermione, broken and bruised, to the doorstep of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, she hasn't been herself. The bruises and cuts on her body had healed themselves -- she was a witch, after all, Muggle-born or not. Her mind, however, seemed to be gone completely. She retained basic hygienic practises, proper table manners, and her ability to knit, but she didn't understand a word people said to her, and while she did talk sometimes, they seemed to be scraps of conversations she had in years past. Neville knew what had done it to her -- it was Lucius Malfoy, using the Cruciatus curse on her. Hermione shared a fate with Neville's dead parents, and white-hot anger flared up inside the boy again.
He'd gone undercover immediately after the death of his parents in the St. Mungo's fire, visibly denouncing Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix, making his Gran turn him out of the house and nearly everyone turning their backs on him. He had gone to Malfoy Manor and made a right little speech about how if incompetent Mudbloods weren't allowed in the wizarding world, his parents might still have been alive today. He strung together a lot of little white lies while expertly avoiding the major issue that his parents had been in St. Mungo's because of Death Eaters. Nobody asked, either, because Neville Longbottom turned out to be a very talented actor. Like any exclusive clique, the Death Eaters were hungry for validation, and Neville gave validation aplenty to those who would listen. He had practised his interrogation speeches painstakingly in front of his bedroom mirror; he'd learned to say the word "Mudblood" without flinching; he'd learned to be at ease and laugh with the people he hated most.
The only people who knew that he wasn't a Death Eater by conviction were Dumbledore, Harry, and Hermione. His passionate opinions on the importance of purity in the wizarding world, his seemingly ardent fervour to do everything and anything to eliminate the Muggle-borns and blood traitors had earned him a reputation among the Dark Lord's supporters, and when Neville requested the Dark Mark, he was granted an audience with Voldemort himself. By this time, Neville was very accomplished at Occlumency, having been instructed by Dumbledore for many months prior to his integration into Death Eater circles and he was able to avoid having Voldemort suspect that anything was amiss. Neville received the Dark Mark that day, and donned his Death Eater hood and mask for the first time.
Draco Malfoy had been at Neville's induction ceremony, and he had come up to Neville afterwards, extended his hand, and offered his friendship, citing bygones. Neville detested Malfoy from the bottom of his soul, but he knew that despite his youth, Draco had influence, and could be very useful to Neville. He'd shaken hands with Draco Malfoy and he spent that night crying softly into his pillow, his quiet sniffs and sobs echoing in his empty flat. Neville was completely isolated from the world as he'd known it, and he was absolutely terrified - terrified that he wouldn't be able to keep up the charade. However, he did turn out to be an excellent actor, and he had an uncanny knack for subterfuge and disinformation. He derailed the Death Eaters' plans left, right, and centre, and they kept writing it off to "Potter's blind luck," which was "bound to run out one of these days."
Neville was utterly alone. Not that he'd minded, people had generally ignored him most of his life, except if he chose to tag along on an adventure and got himself injured, then people took care of him. Neville wasn't a dull or stupid boy; he knew that he wasn't very popular, and he knew that he'd never have the spotlight, nor did he ever want it. He had simply been desperate to be a force of change in any way, he'd been desperate to make sure that his parents' plight and their deaths were not in vain, that the people responsible for killing his parents would pay dearly, and know what they're paying for.
When Hermione was taken by the Death Eaters, Dumbledore was already trapped in the Hogwarts castle, and Harry had gone MIA from both DA and the Order, Neville knew that things were about to come to a head one way or another. Either Harry or Voldemort would win against the other, and that would mean either the end of the war and his total exoneration by Harry, or the beginning of a greater war, and him, Neville, working in tandem with Severus Snape to achieve the impossible. Thinking of Snape made Neville flinch right now. He'd just been experiencing a kind of pleasure at knowing that Snape had died; there was a perverse pleasure in watching Snape be tortured and executed. Neville had feared and perhaps even hated Snape during most of this time at Hogwarts and he supposed that perhaps lying down with dogs did give one fleas.
Neville had changed over the months that he'd been a Death Eater. The mild enjoyment of watching Snape die wasn't his first indication, nor would it be the last, he knew. He'd experienced a cool detachment from everyone around him since his parents had died; he felt like he was watching everything around him unfold from the sidelines, an idle observer and not a participant. He had found himself actually enjoying the company of Draco Malfoy on those occasions that they were working together at headquarters or out in the field. The very thought of enjoying the company of someone who could laugh and have fun and act like a spoiler brat so easily while all around them there was war and despair made Neville shudder inside. He looked up at Hermione, who had finished knitting the purple elf hat and was now studying several bunches of wool, trying to decide on a colour. She must have felt him looking at her, because she looked up and gave him a beatific smile.
"It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, and make the 'gar' nice and long," she said, beaming, and turned back to her wool. She picked out the canary yellow and started knitting yet another elf hat, nimble fingers manipulating the needles as professionally as you please.
Neville bowed his head, then looked over at Lavender. She was still sitting on the floor, but no longer hiding her face. She looked at Neville and smiled weakly. Neville thought about the day that he showed up at the front door of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, carrying Hermione in his arms. He'd knocked on the door, and Lavender opened, mouth open in a worldess "O" of surprise, then started reaching for her wand determinedly. "No, please, Lavender, please - Hermione - she needs help, I can explain, Please..." Neville had gasped, and Lavender had faltered. "Look, Lavender, I know where this place is! You know the rules of the Fidelius charm! Just let me in and I'll explain!" Neville had looked at his former housemate pleadingly, and she'd stood aside, letting him carry Hermione over the doorstep.
Him and Lavender had a long talk that night, after they'd tended to Hermione's injuries and put her to bed. The Muggle-born witch was unconscious the whole time, and they hadn't even thought about what the torture might have done to her then. Lavender became Neville's confidante and only ally on the side of the Order; Harry and Ron were gone, Dumbledore was trapped at Hogwarts. Then Harry had fought Voldemort and lost, Dumbledore had died, and Ron was nowhere to be found. Neville still didn't know what Ron had been looking for at the headquarters. Hermione had woken up and she was not Hermione any more. Lavender moved into Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, to care for Hermione and to be there for Neville when it all got too much for him. They both sat near Hermione for hours at a time, trying to talk to her, whispering her name softly, to no avail. The first thing she said when she woke up was "It's S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare."
She then stormed through the house, finding the wicker basket full of wool with two knitting needles stuck in one of the rolls, and began the knitting. In the weeks since Voldemort had won, she must have knitted several thousand hats -- Lavender emptied the basket every once in a while, taking the hats upstairs, where Buckbeak once lived. No one knew what had become of Buckbeak the Hippogriff. Lavender supposed that Ron had taken him, but where Buckbeak was now that Ron was in Azkaban, no one could tell. Neville sighed, and told Lavender about his day, and about his conversations with Malfoy. He'd been leading the Mudblood manhunt on a wild-goose chase ever since it had begun, and it seemed to make Lavender happy to hear it. Hermione, upon hearing Malfoy's name, looked up, frowning, and her two friends looked at her, holding their breaths.
"Twitchy little ferret, aren't you Malfoy?" Hermione intoned acidly, knitting a blue hat now, the yellow one on top of Crookshanks in her lap. Lavender smiled sadly, and Neville shuddered. For all the loss of mental functions, Hermione seemed to see right through Neville, for what it was worth. He had a plan, a last desperate plan to help Hermione. Neville had given up all ambition to end the war or even aid in ending the war - the Order was no more, there was no one to help them. They'd just have to make do on their own somehow in the new world where Voldemort had the power and purity of blood was a prerequisite for being part of the magical community, at least in England.
Neville knew the gist of what Voldemort's plans were. He knew that he intended to let things go back to business as usual -- instead of destroying all the Muggle-born and half-blood witches and wizards, he'd simply Obliviated them (Neville thought bitterly about Dean Thomas and little Hannah Abbott) and planted false memories in their minds about their lives since they'd entered Hogwarts. The idea was actually Neville's, who had a conversation about it with Draco. Draco had told his father, Lucius, who had a lot of clout with the Dark Lord since serving time in Azkaban for him.
The Dark Lord thought it was an ingenious idea, because it would cause much less alienation in the wizarding community than simply killing all the Muggle-borns and the Half-bloods. The Dark Lord's plan didn't include merely the magical community in England - not at all. He wanted power over everyone - wizards, Muggles, goblins, giants, and all other sentient creatures. In England, the first phase of the war was drawing to a close. The decimated wizarding community was cowed into submission and too fearful of Azkaban to oppose Voldemort openly or otherwise. Next, the Dark Lord had set his sights on the Muggles in England -- he would seize and hold power over them in such a way that they needn't find out about the wizarding community at all. Voldemort's business was corrupting the hearts of Muggles now, and all the plans at the New Ministry were being drawn according to this.
No, Neville wouldn't be able to stem the tide of change that threatened to eventually sweep over the entire world. But he could try and help those near him, even if he could not be with them all the time. He felt personally responsible for Hermione's plight, because dammit, he was a Death Eater, and he could have prevented her torture by Lucius. If he had sat down for ten minutes, he could have come up with the perfect glib lie about why Hermione shouldn't be hurt in any way. But he'd been too busy elsewhere, and he wasn't even aware that Hermione was captured until she'd already been thrown into the cell. He'd rushed to Hogwarts then, stealthily crept into the dungeons and taken Hermione out. He had a Portkey with him that took them right to the doorstep of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Then Hermione wasn't herself anymore and Neville felt like he was losing himself in time.
"Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!" Hermione said sharply, and Neville jumped in his seat, startled. Hermione looked disconcerted for a fleeting moment, and she levelled her gaze on Neville, ceasing the clickety-click of her knitting needles momentarily. Her eyes widened with unmistakable recognition and she looked like she was on the verge of saying "Hi, Neville!" but the moment was gone, and she smiled blithely, going back to the (now maroon) elf hat. Neville heard Lavender release her breath in a shuddering gasp.
"You saw that, didn't you, Neville?" Lavender asked.
"Yeah. Yeah. I did." Neville frowned.
If he'd had any doubt before, now he was firmly resolved to carry out his plan. He stood up abruptly and realised just how tired he was - his vision suddenly darkened and he was on the verge of passing out. Neville steeled himself and extended his hand to Lavender, helping her get up.
"Do you have any food?" he asked sheepishly, and the girl broke into a wide smile. She hugged him impulsively, then went over to Hermione's chair to tell her that she was leaving for a little while and that she'd be right back. Hermione kept humming her tune, which sounded awfully similar to "Weasley is our King," and her nose bobbed along with the clackety-click of her knitting needles.
Lavender turned and looked at Neville "I think she understands, you know?" Neville's eyes filled with tears, and he nodded, unable to say anything. They went downstairs to the kitchen, tiptoeing past the row of house-elf heads on the wall and the portraits. At the row of house-elves, Neville paused, noticing the head of the last Black house-elf, Kreacher. He hadn't believed the stories until he saw. He'd heard that Harry had physically strangled Kreacher in a fit of drunken rage, blaming him for the death of Sirius Black, then he'd severed the house-elf's head and hung it on the wall.
Neville looked at the wretched creature's face, which differed from the other elf heads on the wall markedly - its eyes were bulging out even more, and it had an expression of surprise rather than extreme smugness. There were bloodstains around the head on the wall, and despite all the gore he'd seen with the Death Eaters, Neville felt nauseous. Kreacher had no plaque, instead, below his head, the following message appeared in an angry scrawl, scratched into the very paint: KREACHER KILLED HIS MASTER
Neville wondered whether the death of Sirius hadn't been the reason why Harry couldn't defeat Voldemort. Perhaps he'd been so overcome by bitterness and blind anger that he didn't really care whether he defeated Voldemort or not. Everyone had known about the Prophecy, and Neville thought he could understand if Harry had decided that they could take their Prophecy and shove it. Neville knew about losing parents, and near-parents. Neville thought about Harry Potter then, as he'd seen him when he saw him first on the train, when he'd caught the Snitch in their first year - picture after picture of a smiling, triumphant Harry zoomed in Neville's head. His heart felt like it was being squeezed by an invisible fist, and there was a lump in his throat that felt entirely unwelcome. Neville kept walking into the kitchen, picturing Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, and everything that he'd had to endure throughout his years at Hogwarts.
He must have been wearing an absolutely gloomy look when he walked into the kitchen, because Lavender's smile turned to a frown immediately upon seeing his face. She put down the loaf of bread she'd been cutting and came over to Neville. Cupping his face with her hands, she tilted his bowed head so that they were looking into each other's eyes. "What is it, Neville?" she asked softly. Neville looked into her eyes and suddenly saw his own reflection, tiny and altogether insignificant.
He felt small and useless, and above all he was filled with unending pity for Harry Potter, whose life had ended because people cared too much. Harry cared too much about Sirius, Dumbledore cared too much about Harry. The road to hell was truly paved with good intentions, Neville thought. He embraced Lavender fiercely, taking comfort in the warmth of her body, pressing the side of his face to the top of her head. When he finally let go, Lavender's eyes were misty.
"I just remembered Harry, Lavender. Our Harry - the way he used to smile."
Lavender burst into tears. They embraced again, and soon they were both sobbing quietly in the kitchen of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
Upstairs, Hermione stopped her knitting and a shadow of fear passed over her face, and she heard Harry's (Harry, no, please, not Harry!) voice screaming indignantly about being left out of everything, and the raucous laughter of Fred and George (both killed by Death Eaters in their joke shop) as Mundungus Fletcher (tortured and killed by Death Eaters) told them a story about purloined toads. She suddenly saw Ginny (gang-raped and left for dead by Death Eaters) rolling Butterbeer corks on the floor for Crookshanks, and Ron... Hermione's face snapped back to her bland expression and she went on with her knitting. The wool was bright red this time, and the strings of it looked like so many rivulets of blood on Hermione's hands.
Downstairs, Lavender wiped her eyes as she placed a plate with some loaves of bread and marmalade in front of Neville, smiling apologetically. "We weren't expecting company," she said between sniffs. Neville smiled weakly and patted the chair beside him, inviting her to sit down. "I don't know when I'll see you again, Lavender. I might see you tomorrow or never again," he said seriously, using a butter knife to spread a thick slab of marmalade across a piece of bread.
"I have to do something, there is one thing that I think might help Hermione. But it's dangerous, and I might not succeed. So if I don't come tomorrow, then I'm most likely never coming back."
"Please don't. Hermione might still get better. You saw her today, she almost had that Hermione look in her eyes!"
"Yes, Lavender, and I think I know what caused that look. I can't tell you what I'm planning, because I am not even sure myself, but in the event that I am caught and somehow they find out about you..." he shuddered, then continued: "If they find out about you they will come for you and they will destroy you both. They won't care that you're a pureblood. Hermione's wanted, I've told you all the stories I fed them. You'll just be seen as aiding and abetting. If I don't come tomorrow, please get Hermione out of here, take her someplace safe, someplace they won't find her."
Lavender nodded feverishly. "I hope you come back, Neville."
"I hope so too, Lavender."
They finished the impromptu dinner in silence, and headed back upstairs. Neville did not look at the grotesque head of Kreacher as they passed it. Neville walked into the drawing room and kissed Hermione on the cheek. He whispered "Good night" in her ear, and carefully picked up her wand, which lay useless beside the bunches of wool. Neville put her wand carefully in his pocket and straightened up. Hermione barely looked up from her knitting. Neville looked at the wicker basket, which was filled nearly to the brim by now, and fished out the blood-red elf hat. He regarded it for a moment, then pocketed it. "For good luck," he told Lavender, who gave him a half-smile. He kissed Lavender on the cheek too, and went into the living room. Throwing the Floo powder into the dying fire, he said the address of his flat, and seconds later he was home.
Neville picked up his discarded cloak from the sofa, reached into the right pocket and fished out the snuffbox, setting it on the coffee table. He took Hermione's wand and the red elf hat out of his pockets and placed them beside the snuffbox. He lowered himself onto the sofa and cast his cloak about himself, using the armrest for a pillow. He lay awake for several hours, looking at the three things in front of him, his vision blurry, because tears were running down his face for all the smiles that had been left behind. When Neville finally fell asleep, he did not dream.
When Neville woke up the next day, there was an eerie silence all around him and he was filled with a sense of foreboding and dread that nearly overtook him. He felt weak and listless, and it was with great effor that he got up from the sofa, staggering. His neck ached horribly from the uncomfortable angle of the armrest. Neville shivered and put on his cloak. He picked the Death Eater mask up from the armchair where he'd flung it the previous night, attaching it to his hood. He placed Hermione's wand and the snuffbox in his left pocket and reached inside the cloak to retrieve his own wand, putting it in his right cloak pocket. He fingered the red elf hat with a wistful expression on his face, remembering the story of a second-year Gryffindor at Hogwarts who had pulled the Sword of Godric Gryffindor out of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat.
Neville reached into his right pocket, fumbling past his wand, and found the rolled-up permission slip. With the air of a swimmer who's about to take a dive off a 20-foot height, Neville Apparated to Azkaban, the wizard prison. He immediately felt the coldness of the Dementors attacking his very soul, and he cast around for an especially happy image to keep in mind. The only thing he could remember was the dazzlingly radiant smile of Harry Potter, Gryffindor Seeker, when he'd caught the Snitch in the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin match. He filled his entire mind with that image using what he'd learned in Occlumency, and he suddently had the desire to grin stupidly at everyone and everything around him.
He walked up to the guard at the front door and presented his permission slip. The guard motioned for him to attach his Death Eater mask and allowed him inside. Neville found himself facing a seemingly endless hallway; on either side of him there were several dozen wizards sitting at desks, looking more like scribes than like guards. One of them rose and approached Neville, raising his hand in greeting. Neville nodded in return, and the guard motioned for him to follow, taking his permission slip away. They walked for what felt like miles until they reached a door marked with a number in the runic system, at which Neville had never been particulartly talented. The guard opened the door and motioned him inside. Neville walked in, and the door slammed behind him.
Ron Weasley was sitting on a low cot, looking every bit the hounded animal but still scowling. Neville removed his Death Eater mask, and Ron didn't hesitate. He flung himself at Neville, snarling. Neville had the advantage of being well-fed and not under the influence of the Dementors, so he was able to restrain Ron. The other boy struggled violently in Neville's grip, and Neville was having trouble keeping Harry's smiling face in his mind, seeing so much hate reflected in the redheaded boy's eyes.
"Listen to me, Ron. Just listen," he hissed urgently.
Ron wasn't having any of it, though -- as soon as Neville's grip on his arms loosened a bit, he started trying to break free with even more fervour than before.
"Bloody hell, Ron, do you want to help Hermione or not?" Neville got straight to the point. Ron was taken aback, however, and stopped struggling. "What do you care about her, Death Eater? You're not worthy of speaking her name."
"My name is Neville, and yes, I'm a Death Eater. However, I'm also the Death Eater who's going to get you out of here so you better listen up."
Ron snorted viciously, but didn't struggle any more. Neville let go of him, and the taller boy flung himself on the cot violently, looking mutinous. "You'll get me out of here? Why? So you can make a sport of me with your friends, like you did with Ginny?"
Neville winced. "I wasn't even a Death Eater then, Ron, remember? But whatever - you want to blame me for everything that's happened to your family, you can bloody well go ahead, after I get you out of here." He fished out the elf hat from his pocket and offered it to Ron. The bobbles swung a few times, then stopped. Ron's eyes suddenly glazed over and he looked as though he was about to cry. He grabbed the elf hat from Neville, crushing it in his fist.
"Where the hell did you get that? What have you done with Hermione?"
"Hermione knitted that yesterday. In the drawing room of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place."
Ron gasped. "He knows, then?" His jaw tightened.
"No, 'he' doesn't know anything. I know. I always knew."
Ron could only stare. Five minutes passed, and he looked up at Neville with an entirely different expression on his face, one of hope and anguish in equal measures. "Snape." he whispered. "You're doing the same thing Snape is doing."
"Was doing. Snape is dead."
Ron's face crumbled, which was a rather startling reaction to someone who knew Ron's opinion of Snape. "Blimey, Neville, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry, damn it!" Ron sprang up from the cot and threw himself at Neville, only this time it was an embrace.
"Ron. We dont have a lot of time. I believe Hermione needs you, she's very ill, Ron. She's not... herself" Neville said, disentangling himself from the other boy's embrace. Ron's face was wet with tears. Neville led him over to the cot and sat him down, the image of Harry's smile brightening in his mind even more.
Neville extracted the snuffbox from his pocket and put it on the cot between himself and Ron. He started speaking urgently, knowing that the guard would soon check in to see if everything was all right. "Look. I need you to listen very carefully right now. I know that your mind is weak from the Dementors, and I know you are filled with despair. But please listen carefully, OK?"
Ron nodded wordlessly.
"This snuffbox - I'm going to turn it into a mouse." Neville proceeded to do so. The mouse he'd picked up outside Lord Voldemort's castle last night looked no worse for the wear, but much more frightened. Neville seized the animal in his left hand, where the mouse squirmed unhappily.
"Now I'm going to turn you into a mouse, and then a snuffbox, and I'm going to put you in my pocket."
Ron gaped at him. "Are you mad, Neville? You can't Transfigure a person into a snuffbox!"
"That's right, you can't. But you can Transfigure a mouse into a snuffbox, and you can make sure that it doesn't turn into a dead snuffbox. You just concentrate a little less on converting living matter to nonliving matter, and you're OK. This mouse," - he stuck the animal under Ron's nose, which promptly wrinkled - "This animal was a snuffbox twice. I can do it. I just need you to trust me."
Ron sighed heavily. "Well, it's either go with what the nutter says and have a shot at getting out, or rot in here. Fine, Neville, do it. But if I die, I'll come back to haunt you."
Neville didn't laugh. He pointed his wand at Ron, and Transfigured him into a mouse -- Hermione suddenly remembering Draco Malfoy the Amazing Bouncing Ferret had slid that piece of the puzzle into place last night. Ron the mouse had a smattering of red patches on his back. He sat on the cot, blinking furiously, seemingly frozen with fear. Neville pointed his wand at the Ron mouse and Transfigured it into a snuffbox, taking care not to be too accurate. The resulting snuffbox had whiskers and a tail, but Neville didn't mind - the Dementors would sense a non-sentient, barely living thing, they wouldn't see its whiskers. He put the Ron-snuffbox into his pocket, along with the red elf-hat, and reattached his Death Eater mask. Releasing the wriggling real mouse onto the floor he slammed himself hard against the door and yelled "IMPEDIMENTA!"
The door swung open and the guard rushed in, looking around wildly.
"The blood-traitor is an unregistered Animagus!" Neville bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Turned himself into a mouse and - THERE HE GOES! STUPEFY!" The jet of red light issuing from his wand hit the fleeing critter right in the midsection, and the mouse flopped over and lay quite still.
"WHAT KIND OF BLOODY PRISON IS THIS?" Neville yelled angrily. "YOU DIDN'T CHECK IF HE WAS AN ANIMAGUS? HAVE YOU IDIOTS FORGOTTEN THE BLOOD TRAITOR SIRIUS BLACK?"
"Sir, we're sorry, sir, we didn't even think - a Weasley - they never... so sorry..." the guard stammered pathetically.
Neville advanced on the guard dangerously. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the other guards were rushing to see what the commtion was about. He whirled to face them. "Which one of you is responsible for checking prisoners' innate abilities upon admission?" Neville tried to think of every single thing that's ever made him angry and soon felt himself shaking with real anger. The guards looked taken aback.
"Which. One?" Neville hissed, a sound made even more menacing by the Death Eater mask.
One of the guards stepped forward, and stammered "There isn't any one person, sir, please - whoever is on duty."
"I WANT TO KNOW WHO WAS ON DUTY WHEN THIS PRISONER WAS ADMITTED!"
"Which prisoner, sir?" the braver guard ventured politely.
Neville strode over to where the mouse lay on the floor and picked it up by the tail. "THIS prisoner, you half-wit! He's an Animagus! Transformed himself into a mouse and tried... to get... away!"
There was a collective gasp from the guards.
"Now he's DEAD! I shot a Stunning spell at him, hoping to just nick him, but I hit dead centre; now he's dead, and how do you suppose I get my questions answered by a dead man?" Neville stomped towards the guard who'd been outside Ron's cell door. The guard backed away from him slowly.
"The Dark Lord will NOT be pleased by this! Out of my way, incompetent fools! I must speak with my superiors. I'm taking the corpse as evidence." He waved the mouse in front of the braver guard, who flinched.
"But- sir- we didn't-"
"SILENCE, BLATHERING TOADIE!" Neville swung his cloak around him and stalked down the corridor, muttering under his breath, the dead mouse swinging by its tail in his right hand. Neville's soul sang. He'd gotten away with it. The mouse in his hand has been Transfigured several times, which is all that they could lift, evidence-wise, and they'd conclude the same thing he "concluded." A dead Animagus could never be reverted to human form if he or she died in their animal form. Ron Weasley was dead to the world, but alive for those who mattered most. Inside Neville's mind, Harry Potter looked at the Snitch in his hand and broke into an infectuous, dazzling grin.
In the drafty drawing room of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, Hermione Granger, the last Muggle-born witch in England who had any shot at getting her magical powers back looked up from her knitting and peered at Lavender Brown, who'd set aside the book she'd been reading when she heard the clickety-clacking noises subside. Hermione looked at Lavender for a good minute, then said: "That's the trouble with Quidditch, it creates all this bad feeling and tension between the Houses."