The True Gryffindor
“Ouch,” Angelina said, scowling as Alicia tied the sling around her arm. “That hurts, Al.”
Alicia was in no mood for her complaints. “Well, as you can't use this arm, and you refuse to just stay with the other wounded,” she muttered tensely, “You're at least—”
“Alicia.” Angelina was a little shocked.
Alicia closed her eyes. “No. I know. I'm sorry. You want to fight.”
“I want to stay with my family,” Angelina said fiercely, adjusting the sling around her neck. “What's left of it, anyway.”
Alicia nodded. “I know.”
Angelina sighed impatiently, looking around the Great Hall. There were about thirty fighters left; the injured had been taken to a safe room, as had the bodies—Fred's body. Angelina pushed the image away; she was only at half of her best right now, and she had had to fight Madam Pomfrey tooth and nail to be allowed to remain with the fighters, given her condition.
“Drink that,” Alicia said, nodding to the bottle Angelina held. It was a Blood-Replenishing Potion. “You're looking pale again.”
Grimacing at the bitter taste, Angelina downed the potion in one and set the bottle aside, reaching into her pocket and drawing her wand. “I wish Harry would get here,” she said, sitting down against the wall as she felt the warm rush of her own blood flooding her cheeks. Her eyes flickered over to Professor McGonagall, who was deep in conversation with a wizard in dark blue robes. Angelina was fairly sure he was called Kingsley.
Alicia nodded, sliding down beside her. “I'd really like a plan.”
“How long have we got?” Angelina asked.
“About two minutes.” Alicia bit her lip, jiggling her leg nervously. “But…Ange, do you…do you feel that?”
Angelina frowned. “Feel what?”
“It's like…something's wrong, like something bad's about to happen.” Alicia looked very worried. “I don't like this. I haven't seen—”
The doors of the Great Hall banged open, and everyone spun, or leapt to their feet; wands came out everywhere—and then they saw that it was Hermione and Ron, sprinting down the length of the Great Hall.
“I feel it now, Al,” Angelina said softly, rising. Foreboding was turning her stomach into lead. “That's not good…” All eyes in the hall turned to the conversation happening near where the staff table normally stood.
Hermione, her eyes full of tears, was whispering anxiously to Professor McGonagall, while Ron stood beside her, white as chalk, his eyes vacant and horrified. Professor McGonagall clapped a hand over her mouth, just as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, followed by Bill, George, Percy, and Fleur Delacour, joined the knot of people. Mrs. Weasley seized Ron's arm, and he murmured something to her; she turned white.
“What's going on?” Angelina barked, and suddenly, everyone in the Great Hall was looking at her. She caught George's eye for a moment and cleared her throat. “Somebody tell us!”
“Where's Harry?” asked Susan Bones, from the other side of the room.
Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, about to speak, but she couldn't seem to find her voice. Hermione had tears pouring down her face now, and all of the other Weasleys, as well as Kingsley, looked incredibly upset. And Angelina knew the answer. She looked at Alicia in mute horror.
“Now what?” Alicia whispered.
Angelina looked down at Alicia's watch; they were over their hour now by almost ten minutes.
Professor McGonagall, meanwhile, had raised both hands. “I want—I want everyone to begin work on defensive spells around this room—our time has run out—”
“We're fighting again, Professor!” shouted Oliver from the back of the hall, and nearly everyone in the room echoed him in agreement.
“I don't think that will be necessary, Mr. Wood,” McGonagall barked.
“He's not just going to let us live,” Angelina said loudly. “He can't. Not now.” Professor McGonagall stared at her. “Think about it,” she continued, becoming angrier. “We all know what Harry's done—he went and—for us. For all of us. You-Know-Who's an idiot if he thinks we'll just let that go. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not going to sit in here and wait for them to get in!”
“Hear, hear!” shouted Neville hoarsely, and he too looked close to tears. Everyone in the room was staring seriously, fiercely at Professor McGonagall, their wands drawn and their faces set.
Professor McGonagall stared at the small crowd. “All—all right.” She swallowed, and opened her mouth to speak again, when the terrible voice filled the air for the third time that night. Angelina tried to cover both of her ears with just one arm; it was torture to listen to him speak.
“Harry Potter is dead.”
Screams echoed through the Great Hall, and Angelina felt a sudden wave of dizziness.
“He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone.”
“Oh no, no, no,” Alicia had burst into tears. Angelina looked over to where Professor McGonagall, staring directly ahead, stood with the Weasleys and Hermione, who all looked horrified. Ginny was frozen to the spot, her eyes wide and her mouth half-open in a silent cry of shock.
But murmurs of anger were rumbling through the hall, as well. “Liar,” Oliver spat, and Angelina had to agree with him. The terrible voice was still ringing through the air.
“The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you, and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must be no more war. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman, or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family.”
Angelina looked around. People whose eyes were full of tears were shaking with fury, shouting out insults to the disembodied voice that coiled through the air. She saw Neville Longbottom staring directly up at the ceiling, his face scarlet with anger.
“Come out of the castle,” said the voice, “kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together.” A ringing silence signaled the end of the speech.
“Is there any way he’s lying?” someone shouted. No one replied; the answer seemed clear.
“What are we going to do?” called Hannah.
Angelina stepped forward, blinking back tears. “I’ve already said I'm not giving up!” she shouted, her voice shaking only slightly. “It's not my place to say it for the rest of you, but I know I'm not going to build anything with that monster. I won't. Not after tonight.” And for a moment, she caught George's eye, and the contact was burning, intense.
“I won't either,” said Dean Thomas loudly. He stood suddenly and stepped up to join her. “Not a chance.”
“Nor me,” said Seamus Finnigan, rising.
More voices were joining Angelina, crying out in agreement. George was still staring directly at her, and the rest of the Weasleys were looking fearsome. Hermione had stopped crying, and she and Ginny stood together. Luna Lovegood joined them, taking each of their hands.
“We shall go and meet him, as he requests,” said Professor Flitwick, who stood near Angelina. This silenced the entire hall at once. He seemed to be speaking for Professor McGonagall, who looked as though she no longer could; her face was carved in stone.
Neville had finally spoken, and everyone looked around at him in shock. He took a few steps away from his grandmother, his face set angrily.
“It's not safe to stay holed up in here,” he said loudly. “They'll just come in after us. And Angelina said it. I don't want to wait for them to come here. I want to go and meet them, face to face.”
“Neville,” said his grandmother, looking shocked.
“I want to go to them, I want them to fear us,” he continued, ignoring her. “Because Harry or no Harry, we know we're in the right, and a part of them knows it, too. They’re scared of us. I believe that we can do this for everyone we lost tonight. I won't let them die for nothing.” There was another long period of silence. Angelina stared at Neville, utterly stunned, and she was not the only one.
“There was a time when he didn't know one end of a broomstick from another,” murmured Oliver.
“No kidding,” Angelina whispered back.
“Well said, Mr. Longbottom,” shouted Professor Flitwick. “Come, wands away,” he said. “We must at least put on the appearance of an armistice.” Angelina swallowed hard and looked at Alicia and Oliver, who were watching her anxiously.
“Perhaps you should stay,” Alicia said, but she shook her head.
“I'll be all right,” she promised. “I’m just wishing we had a plan.”
“Aren't we all?” Oliver asked.
Professor Flitwick was leading the way out of the Great Hall; the thirty or so fighters followed her, but someone was hanging back. George was staring at her, waiting for her to come along. “I'll see you out there,” Angelina said softly to Oliver and Alicia, and she hurried to join him. She took his hand in her uninjured one, leaning close to his missing ear. “I'm here,” she whispered. He didn't seem to be able to speak, but he nodded once, squeezed her hand, and they walked together to the entrance hall. And for now, it would be enough.
On the twentieth of June, nineteen years ago, Edgar Bones and his entire family had been murdered before Minerva's eyes. On the first of July, seventeen years ago, she had heard of the deaths of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Caradoc Dearborn, eighteen years ago. Benjy Fenwick, twenty-one years ago. Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Albus…
James and Lily Potter, the thirty-first of October—seventeen years ago.
At a nudge from Filius, Minerva swept her wand through the air, and the heavy doors of the castle opened creakily. The last hour before dawn was misty and gray, though whether that came from the cloud of dementors that hovered behind the approaching band of Death Eaters remained to be seen.
Remus Lupin. Sirius Black. James Potter. Lily Evans.
Remus. Sirius. James. Lily.
Names, faces, memories of laughter and voices and sights rang through Minerva's mind. She did not know what was wrong with her. Why she couldn't make her brain work the way she needed it to? Why were all of these faces coming up when she needed to think, to plan? Filius was at her side, urging her to concentrate, but—
Remus. Sirius. James. Lily.
The Bones family.
As if it were not a part of her, Minerva felt her hand slide her wand into her pocket; it would not do to have it out, as though she were a threat, and her fingers brushed against her wedding ring and Elphinstone's watch. The watch…it was still there, cool and smooth and ticking softly. In a flash, it came to her.
Elphinstone had come to visit, or so he had said. Minerva knew better; this was not merely a social call, at this time of the afternoon in the middle of the school year. This was Albus, wanting someone to look in on her, and she was not pleased about it.
“Tell me,” Elphinstone had said gently, leaning forward to touch her hand.
Minerva glanced at the window, where she could hear the joyous shouts of students, given a special treat and let out of lessons to play outdoors.
“It's not their fault, but they don't really know what they're celebrating. They don't have any idea that a boy, who, just two days ago, had two loving parents, is now all alone. They don't know they're celebrating the deaths of two people who were barely older than they are.”
Elphinstone had stared at her, stricken. “That's not so, Minerva.”
“No,” she had whispered, her voice trembling. “Of course it's not—but it is how it feels. I looked at my fifth years this morning, and I remembered suddenly that they were first years when Lily and James were here…”
Elphinstone had looked down sadly. “We've lost many like them. It's cruel.”
“It should have been us, not children like Lily and James Potter,” Minerva had snapped. “Or Molly Prewett's brothers, or Dorcas Meadowes. If I had had the chance, if I thought I could have saved Edgar Bones, I would have taken that curse in an instant, I swear it—”
“Minerva, that's enough,” Elphinstone had said suddenly. Minerva closed her mouth, a little surprised. “There's been enough sadness these last few years, and there's going to be more later on, but for now, you—you have to leave your regrets where they lie.”
Minerva stared at him.
“The celebration is as much joy as it is pain and grief. It's costing us all something to be happy, now, but we can still be happy. Do you understand me?”
Minerva's chin trembled, and she nodded. “I do,” she said hoarsely, blinking and quickly dabbing away a tear with her handkerchief.
Elphinstone stepped forward and took her hand. “Good.”
There was a hulking, huge person with the Death Eaters, too small to be one of the giants. Then, Minerva realized that they had captured Hagrid. The figures crept out of the mist, sending it swirling away. Faces became clearer. Yaxley, Dolohov, Travers, Greyback, Bellatrix Lestrange, the Malfoys, both looking ill and upset, and then Voldemort himself came floating forth. A vile black serpent, the same one that had attacked Arthur Weasley, lay coiled around Voldemort’s shoulders.
Names, faces, dates. They flickered in front of Minerva's eyes. Nymphadora Tonks, Remus, Sirius, James, Lily, Dorcas Meadowes, Fred Weasley, Colin Creevey…but where was Potter? Could Voldemort possibly have been lying, trying to deceive them into leaving the castle?
And then she saw him, and she could not stop herself. The scream emanated from her core, from her very bones. It was as much a part of her as the lungs, the heart, the stomach that all turned upside down at once. It had lain dormant in her for twenty-five years, waiting, waiting, growing with each new horror, and it would wait no longer—
Hands restrained her, and she realized that she had leapt forward, trying to run for the body of the boy who lay dead in Hagrid's arms, in a sick joke that had him in tears of abject sorrow. Arthur's hands, Bill's hands, Fleur Delacour's hands—they held her back, pulled her behind the line of remaining students and staff, and Molly seized her tightly in her arms, a gesture that was an embrace as much as it was protection. Minerva's shoulders heaved. She could not cry, she had no more tears to shed, but she sobbed, heartbroken, as Bellatrix Lestrange laughed at her.
Neville gaped at the dark mass that was Harry’s body, lying prone in Hagrid’s arms. Next to him, Hermione had burst into tears.
“No!” she screamed, in synchronization with Ron, whose roar of anguish was painful to hear.
Worst of all was Ginny, whom Luna was physically restraining. “Harry! HARRY!” she screamed, fighting viciously to get away. She sobbed brokenly; Neville had never seen anything so horrible. “HARRY!”
Others of the thirty fighters still standing began to yell, began to shout Harry's name, began to scream and swear at the Death Eaters, but Neville said nothing. Harry was dead. He, Neville, had probably been the very last person to see him alive—to speak to him…
And Harry had given him an order. He looked directly at Voldemort, feeling hatred and fury pound in his veins at the amusement that danced not only in those awful red eyes, but in the laughter and expressions of the Death Eaters around him.
“Old woman!” Bellatrix Lestrange crowed, pointing at Professor McGonagall, and Neville had to restrain himself from drawing his wand. He was so close to getting her—he had been hunting for her all night, ready to face her at last…but he forced himself to refocus, to concentrate on his goal.
It was huge. Many feet long and thicker than his arm, it was apparently unprotected, slithering freely around Voldemort's neck. The jeers and taunts of both sides grew louder, and Voldemort did not see Neville's unbroken stare at the creature…Harry's last order…he could do it…he just needed the right spell, and one clear shot…
“SILENCE!” Voldemort shrieked, firing a spell directly into the air, illuminating the dawn sky, and Neville felt his throat constrict, as he knew everyone else around him did. “It is over,” Voldemort hissed. “Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!” He flicked his wand; Hagrid was forced to do his bidding.
Harry's body lay still and unmoving on the bloodstained lawn. It occurred to Neville how very small he was. He always had been.
Voldemort spread his hands wide, gesturing to the body as though he were presenting them with a great gift, and began striding proudly back and forth. “You see?” He shouted. “Harry Potter is dead!” The Death Eaters gave a great shout of laughter. “Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!”
“He beat you!”
The spell on Neville's throat lifted, as Ron, tearstained and shaking, whether from rage or fear, Neville couldn't tell, stepped forward. A great chorus of shouts rose up, Neville among them, like a pride of lions roaring agreement. Then another spell closed Neville's throat, and he actually choked—so did many others—his eyes watered, and he lost sight of his target for a moment as he doubled over, coughing. When he recovered, he straightened up, and began edging away from the crowd. No one was paying attention to him. All eyes, including those of the Death Eaters, were on Voldemort…
“He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds,” Voldemort said viciously.
Neville was judging the distance between himself and the snake…thirty feet? How far could he get on just the element of surprise before the Death Eaters realized what was happening? One good Severing Charm, and he would manage it. He drew his wand, held his breath, and waited for one moment, as Voldemort gave an evil smile. Neville didn't believe him for a second, and he knew that no one else did, either. Harry had died for them. He had died for them, and he had given Neville instructions. It was now or never.
“Killed, while trying to save himself—”
And Neville sprinted forward across the lawn, drawing his wand as he ran. He thought, DIFFIN—
An Impediment Jinx hit him hard, and he gave a cry of pain. He landed on the ground, less than ten feet from his goal. He had lost his wand; it had flown out of his hand. He could see Harry's body, could see his face behind the round glasses, still and unmoving.
“And who is this?” Voldemort hissed. He had caught Neville's wand and cast it aside, taking a few gliding steps forward to tower over him. He did not dare look back at the crowd, where his grandmother stood with everyone who mattered to him. Neville prepared to answer Voldemort viciously, but he heard a cackle of mad laughter. Bellatrix had hurried over, and she was looking down at him with wide, glassy eyes. “It is Neville Longbottom, my Lord!” she shrieked, still giggling. “The boy who has been giving the Carrows so much trouble! The son of the Aurors, remember?”
The mention of his parents was like a jolt of electricity to Neville’s heart.
“Ah, yes, I remember,” Voldemort said softly, his eyes lit with recognition as Neville staggered to his feet. He looked round. His wand was twenty feet away, but he still had to kill the snake. Then, Voldemort spoke to him. “But you are pureblood, aren't you, my brave boy?”
“So what if I am?” Neville retorted, every muscle in his body tensing.
Voldemort gave a humorless smile. “You show spirit and bravery, and you come of noble stock. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom.”
The pronouncement rang in Neville's ears, and in that moment, he realized the truth. Voldemort was little more than a madman, who genuinely believed that Neville—of anyone, Neville—would willingly join him. He was seized by a desire to laugh in his face, and had he not been so paralyzed by anger, he would have.
“I'll join you when hell freezes over!” Neville roared, and never, never before had he felt so deeply connected to his parents, the people who had given everything they had for him. “Dumbledore's Army!” The shout caught Bellatrix, Voldemort, and most of the Death Eaters by total surprise. The Silencing Charms would not hold anyone who stood on the steps of Hogwarts, and their voices joined with Neville's.
Voldemort fired three loud cracks from the end of his wand, trying desperately to quiet them again, and cast another Silencing Charm. He succeeded, but Neville's throat did not close the way it had before. Something was wrong. Something was stopping the spells from lasting…
“Very well,” Voldemort said, stepping forward, so that the snake was within Neville's arm's reach. He cursed inwardly, unable to move without drawing Voldemort’s attention.
“If that is your choice, Longbottom,” said Voldemort quietly, though he knew that everyone could hear every word he spoke, “we revert to the original plan. On your own head be it.”
He flourished his wand and there was the sound of shattering glass from within the castle. Something limp and dark, made of some soft, worn material, fluttered down from high above and landed in Voldemort's pale white hand. He shook it, raising it for all to see. It was the Sorting Hat. Neville frowned, thrown off by this behavior. What was going on?
“There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts School,” said Voldemort loudly. “There will be no more Houses. The emblem, shield, and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone.” The red eyes turned on him. “Won't they, Neville Longbottom?”
The spell came before Neville could react, and his whole body went rigid and became rooted to the spot, but something felt different. Neville could feel his feet, his legs. He just had to force them to move. He could break the spell! Why could he break the spell?
Voldemort forced the Sorting Hat over his eyes. “Neville here…”
He could still hear Voldemort's muffled voice, but concentrated all of his energy against the curse, alternating between wiggling his toes and thinking hard, trying to get the Sorting Hat's attention, to make it wake up.
Come on, help me! You said I was a Gryffindor, you said I was like my parents!
“…foolish enough to continue to oppose me.”
Neville felt a rush of cold air wash over him. He didn't know what was happening. He couldn't see, he couldn't hear anything but screams of horror—what was going on? He fought harder against the Body-Bind Curse. Then one of his feet moved.
Out of nowhere, the earth began to shake with what felt like footfalls. Had the Hogwarts fighters charged the Death Eaters? Neville didn't understand, he was still fighting desperately to free himself. Whatever example was being made of him had been cast aside as the pounding footsteps got closer.
Roars from the giants echoed in the air as someone screamed, “DUMBLEDORE’S ARMY!”
That was it. Neville wrenched free of the Body-Bind, ripping the Sorting Hat from his head. It was on fire, but he was miraculously unburned. He looked up and saw hundreds upon hundreds of reinforcements, more defenders of Hogwarts, charging up the lawn. The centaurs led the pack, firing arrows wildly. Neville saw Voldemort directly before him, shrieking orders to the Death Eaters with his snake coiled around his neck.
Pure instinct told Neville to reach for the Sorting Hat, and he did. To his shock, his fingers closed on something solid, something heavy and made of cold metal. He drew it out of the Hat. It was a sword.
In slow motion, Neville whirled around with it clutched in his hands, as though he had practiced all of his life for this single moment.
The snake's head was off in one clean cut. Its body tumbled to the ground, and Voldemort gave a horrible scream of fury, turning his wand on Neville—but then Neville was blasted backward, off his feet, by what felt like a bubble that came from seemingly nowhere. He landed thirty feet away, out of Voldemort's line of sight.
“HARRY!” shouted Hagrid, and he too seemed free of his spell, taking swipes at Death Eaters and looking around desperately for the body that, Neville was sure, had already been trampled. “HARRY—WHERE'S HARRY?”
Neville bounded to his feet again. Voldemort had already charged toward the castle, drawn by the curses that were flying at him from within the doors. Reinforcements, the citizens of Hogsmeade and families of the Hogwarts students, centaurs and thestrals, were circling round the Death Eaters, forcing them into the enclosed space of the castle.
And Neville, his task completed, ran after Bellatrix Lestrange, who had just disappeared inside.