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Gryffin

Things That Can Be Taken Away From You

Title: Things that can be taken away from you
Author/Artist: redsiodaslair
Recipient: shiiki, for the springtime_gen exchange
Character(s): Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Ginny and Ron Weasley, Minerva McGonagall
Rating: PG-13
Word-count/Media: ~ 6,500 words
Warnings (if any): Implied violence, dark themes and deaths.
Summary: For five warriors, considering moving away from Hogwarts after the battle also means leaving something of themselves behind, willingly or not.
Betas: Huge thanks to queenb23more. I owe a limb or two to magglenagall and aattilatehbun were sweet enough to give me feedback. I also corrected a canon error and a few things, aargh.

All remaining mistakes are mine.



Things that can be taken away from you

I hope the leaving is joyful; and I hope never to return. Frida Kahlo

1. Boundaries

Nearing the conclusion was a wretched feeling, almost as awful as the wait.

Now that it was about to materialize before her eyes in what remained of Hogwarts, Ginny Weasley wanted to go back in time and never have wished for it. The tips of her fingers trailed on her cheekbones as she wondered what to think of the strange spectacle of Voldemort’s power diminished by the shadow of doubt.

Around her, known and familiar faces shone from sweat and tears. Some jaws clenched, some mouths gaped. A young man with vaguely familiar features was staring at her apart from the circle formed around Harry and Voldemort.

He reminded her of someone. Wasn’t he a friend of Bill’s? Or perhaps one of Charlie’s old schoolmates?

The man mouthed words she wasn’t sure she’d read right on his lips.

I’m sorry for your loss.

She shivered and brought her attention back to Harry, angry at the odd timing of this anonymous wizard’s kindness. It had been unimaginable hours since, and manifestations of sympathy felt surreal. Grief, she believed, should be a private event, experienced within oneself and shared with a selected few.

But her beliefs had been shattered one by one, like the glistening crystal globes of Professor Trelawney. Against her will, Ginny had worn grief as she fought for her life, held hands with the wounded, help to move the dead before being denied the chance to take action while Harry faced his destiny.

Her numbness must have been visible in those hours when the castle thundered from spells and cries. Well-wishers had touched her, muttered words of pain and comfort, and she’d read pain or pity in their features.

She could have said, ‘Thank you’ and appreciated the thoughts. She could have nodded in silence.

Instead, Ginny had moved away hastily.

The challenge had been to keep herself whole - evading her thoughts and feelings to concentrate on what had been set in motion. Grief floated upon the fighters, and the astounding weight of the lost lives smothered her.

The world had crumbled around them and Hogwarts followed through. Ginny had the distinct impression that the battle had a mind of its own as it trashed its warriors back and forth in tides against the castle.

‘You won’t be killing anyone else tonight,’ Harry said to Voldemort, and she whole-heartedly trusted him.

Some wizards around her had already abandoned him to his faith and had closed themselves up. They had fought, they had lost someone, and they were choosing to look away. Perhaps hiding behind her hands and hoping for the best was a valid reaction.

Ginny found herself incapable of doing so. Harry had died once before, and yet, still stood before them all. She would take her chances, anguish be damned. This battle had proven to be ruthless when dealing with regrets.

Ron’s fingers clawed deeply on her shoulder, and despite the insignificance of the pain, she slipped away from him. Her hopes for Harry to live brought her to the edge of herself. It would bite her a few weeks later, above all the things that faded into Harry’s triumph and Fred’s funeral. She would stare over Ron’s shoulder when he’d take the fancy to hug her. She’d face guilt right in the face for not having understood her brother’s need to be reassured.

However, as she stood and waited, life had not allowed this possibility yet. Before her eyes, Harry swiftly jumped like she had seen him do so many times during Quidditch practice, no broomstick beneath him to outline the impressive arch of his catch.

There were no cheers, no Snitch. His life hung in the air, and eyes boggled when his hand clasped the wand. She lost herself in the sobs, the laughter, the formidable pulsing energy that brought Hogwarts from the dead.

Harry lived, even if his eyes opened on alternate possibilities.

Hogwarts was still standing, even if it had been eviscerated.

Voldemort had died but, Ginny noted in a daze, not every suffering ended with him.


2. Old ways


From all the things that could have awakened Neville Longbottom, his voice did.

His gasp saved him from a paralyzing nightmare, one that stranded him into witnessing faceless students falling from the sky in a morbid stream. A few seconds passed before Neville reasoned himself into relaxation, only to feel the deep stillness in the room.

It coiled around him, suffocating him within its rings.

‘Well, well,’ Neville exclaimed aloud, his voice unpleasantly high to his ears. ‘Everything’s fine.’

The Room of Requirement offered back a feeble echo of him raking his throat. He was alone – a stupendous occurrence after several weeks of shacking up with a growing number of refugees.

While many wizards had handed a helping wand to the teachers who had taken it upon themselves to make Hogwarts less of a battlefield, Neville had groggily retraced his steps to the Room of Requirement, just to prove Ron Weasley’s assertion wrong.

The Room, Neville hoped, couldn’t be destroyed.

He had paused on the threshold. A sole red hammock swung gently in the middle of the impressive space, as if the Room had waited for him, and him alone. Its desertion had already let staleness inside.

Neville had understood early on that the Room’s power did not outgrow the magic or brains of Dumbledore’s Army. It gave material answers to the ones who had asked for tools when taking on something greater than them. Perhaps the Room had provided the DA with invisible but precious instruments, too. Neville had heard the inspired and philosophical discussions held while half-sprawled on cushions or in the boys’ showers. He’d heard the passionate debates, the worry for those who dared to take a stance, and the determination to save them from the consequences.

He’d heard it all because he was often in the middle of them, moderating with one hand and encouraging with the other. First without Luna Lovegood’s wise insights into the Carrows’ probable actions, then missing Ginny Weasley’s natural ability to control a crowd, Neville had felt lost. He’d chosen to keep his feet firmly on the ground, in case some students got carried away and tried to make heroes of themselves.

The Room had been more than generous with him. Neville had given some thought about it. Perhaps he had a special affinity with its fickleness because he’d understood at an early age the muted qualities of hoping and wishing. Hoping required, at the very least, possibility. Wishing, Neville had figured, meant being delusional enough to believe in one’s will to hold a tad more than personal power in rewriting the past, tracing the present as well as shaping the future.

Delusion or not, waiting in action for Harry to return had been hope. Keeping everyone safe from the Carrows had been a wish.

The Carrows wouldn’t need to be countered anymore. It had been taken out of their hands with a swish of Harry’s wand.

The Room had proven not to fail him, even when he needed it for a mundane purpose. It had provided him enough peace to crash into sleep like others had fallen in the line of fire. But now that he was awake, unease overcame him.

‘It’s over,’ he offered aloud to the ceiling. ‘It’s over.’

His heartbeat strong and quick, Neville took a sharp intake of air, his eyes scrutinizing the obscure and imperturbable vastness over him. The discrepancy between Dumbledore’s Army’s siege and the feeling of agonizing duration it had imposed over them had hit him when exchanging a few words with students who had not been locked in Hogwarts.

The dark rings under Hannah Abbott’s eyes spoke for themselves. Dean Thomas sounded like he’d been to hell and back.

Even if a few months weren’t a long time, merely a speck of dust along the way of a long lifeline, it had been a year of misery for all of them. At the very least, the DA had the Room of Requirement. Many Muggleborns hadn’t been that lucky.

Neville swung his legs over the edge of the hammock and flinched, dizzy from moving briskly. The surrounding silence was disconcerting, especially after thunderous efforts to end Voldemort.

He wasn’t sure he enjoyed it. No more sniffles. No more words of comfort sleepily muttered from the edge of a hammock to another. No more hiccups and chocked sobs. No more tiptoeing from one side of the Room to the other. No more fabric squeaking under bruised and restless bodies.

Neville’s mind roamed again. He ignored his guts twisting. He stood up and moved decisively to the door.

There would come a time when he would walk the corridors at night to bring students back to their dormitories, a time he’d ignore he had become a teacher and sneak off from his quarters to try to open the Room of Requirement again. Old wounds would have smoothed out by years passing, love, and enduring friendship. When this moment would come, he’d face impassable walls and regret his youthful haste. He would ponder how much he’d changed for the Room not to obey him anymore.

That time would come indeed. But a few hours after the Battle of Hogwarts, Neville took a hard look on the gently swinging hammock and the deserted space, and he hoped with all his heart to never need to lay foot in the Room of Requirement again.

3. Marks

Voldemort was dead. The Death Eaters had been defeated. Nevertheless, Luna Lovegood inspected every turn before stepping into the next corridor.

There was definitely something to be said about seeing and believing, but Luna knew better than to underestimate the complexity of the human mind’s idiosyncrasies, counting hers. Even if she had witnessed up close Voldemort’s power over them wilting and vanishing in a split second, even if she was certain there were no more traps or Death Eaters lurking in the nooks of Hogwarts, how arduous it was to acknowledge in all of its extent the gigantic reality of being free.

Luna chuckled lightly, only to wonder why the walls of Hogwarts gave her back such a sinister interpretation of her relief.

She peeked into a feebly lit passageway before engaging into it. Voldemort might be dead, but the memories, the sights and sounds of combat had newly come alive and were still young in her mind.

They would ripen, she trusted. They would become objects independent from her mind, and she suspected she’d had to be careful not to deceive herself in the process.

Obviously, others would try to manipulate and alter the memories of the events.

Her shoes squealed when she took another turn. Truly, she’d been sheltered from the worst. Being imprisoned in the dark for weeks had been less daunting than risking one’s life every day. From the moment the Death Eaters had erupted on the train and Disapparated her against her will, she knew she would live, whatever they hinted and cast her way.

The two men made ostentatious menaces. They wanted her to be afraid, and they obviously had not suspected she’d had a few months to meditate on how cruelty, to be effective, necessitated for its victim to see what was coming his way.

While being very poor impersonators of professors, the Carrows had at least taught her something.

Throwing someone in a murky cellar was more of a cop out than a well-thought plan, she’d figured. She held onto that thought until the anxiety of being plunged into darkness unexpectedly slithered into her plan of keeping her cool.

The first time it rose in her, she’d fumbled in the obscurity to find Mr Ollivander’s hand and she held it for a while as he whispered words of comfort.

She pretended she was doing it for him, and his silence had been enough to precipitate her confession. She admitted she was afraid, as irrational it had seemed. When Mr Ollivander’s fatherly compassion and slight fingers weren’t enough to keep the demons from obscuring her inner resolve, she’d close her eyes as a provocation and chose the darkness of her closed eyelids instead of the one being imposed upon her.

Darkness, she’d repeat to herself, is first and foremost a state of mind.

Luna slowed down as she turned another corner. The Room of Requirement was close, and she trusted that Neville would be around. If she had access to such a secure and unfailing place, she would have rushed to it.

The Room wasn’t hers. There was no home anymore. The Quibbler’s quarters had been burned to the ground and invaded by salamanders.

Luna walked on centennial rocks that defined the very edge of a cliff.

She made a resolution not to look at the wreckage everywhere she laid foot. Everything that rose had to fall, of course. She never expected Hogwarts to follow the same rules.

Luna cried out when Neville appeared before her and almost knocked her to the ground. Her shoulder hit the opposing wall, and she quickly pushed her back against it.

‘You scared me!’ Luna exclaimed in surprise. ‘I was looking for you but not expecting you to appear in front of me. I guess I’m still jumpy.’

‘No need to explain.’ Neville reached out for her. She gladly pressed his hand between hers. ‘I thought you went home,’ he added, his voice dull, as if he had just woke up.

'I am home, for now.' Luna opened her arms on the desolation around them. 'I cannot exactly go home or anywhere else, for that matter.'

Neville nodded distractedly. She pulled closer, taking a hard look at the deep marks on his face. Again, she regretted that two random Death Eaters took away from her the liberty of choosing to fight alongside her friends. ‘The Carrows certainly did want to scare you, didn’t they? I’m glad they didn’t succeed.’

‘They sure wanted me to disappear.’ He chuckled, and his eyes met hers. ‘I reckon it’s like you said, Luna…they were weakening our resistance, one member at the time.’

She nodded. ‘They had no imagination. But they’ve been neatly tied up. Oh, your grandmother was looking for you.’

‘Oh.’ Neville flushed. ‘I – I went for the Room. I must have fallen asleep there…I’ve got no idea what time it is…’ He shook his wrist. ‘My watch stopped working.’

‘It’s night already.’ Luna took a few steps into the corridor, and Neville followed her. ‘I was hoping to find you around to give you the message. Your grandmother accompanied Michael’s parents to St. Mungo’s. He’s been hit by a rather nasty Memory spell, and she said they might need some support. I think it was a very kind thing of her to do.’

She did not need to turn back. She held her tongue. Some observations didn’t need to be worded.

‘I see,’ he said, moving briskly in front of her. Light reflected in his eyes when he glanced her way. ‘Have you got any news from your father?’

‘He’s safe. He’s already working on a new publication from the basement of a long-time supporter as I understood it from his Owl. I believe that means he’s all right.’

‘And don’t you want to be with him?’

She ignored the question when something drew her attention. To her silent invitation, Neville marked a pause when they stopped before a half-crumbled wall. Luna replaced a portrait, tapping it inch by inch with her index finger, until it stood straight.

The child on the painting addressed her a smile. ‘That’s much better, don’t you think?’ Luna murmured, grinning back to the smallish figure.

‘You haven’t answered, Luna.’

She spun on her heels. Neville was waiting her reply with a frown. Her heart swelled up with gratitude and sadness. She had missed his concern, even if she wouldn’t know where to begin in explaining what kept her roaming the corridors.

‘I didn’t answer because I cannot find anything worthy to say.’ She shrugged. ‘It is hard to explain, truly, but I’m not sure I want to be around my father right now.’

Luna loved having friends, despite the conflicted feelings they never failed to raise.

They always wanted to hear the hardest answers.

4. Faith

Ron Weasley aimed a kick at the door and pounded it hard.

He hadn’t hit the heavy door nearly strongly enough. His foot made contact with the wood again.

Blasted castle. BAM. Blasted war. BAM.

As much as his toes hurt, reality stung harder. He stood in Professor McGonagall’s office, astounded by what just happened. In a mess of Floo Powder, Harry and Hermione had unexpectedly gone their separate ways - ‘just for a few hours’ they both promised, their faces haughty and pale.

He’d tried to listen to their explanations and understand. He’d failed: he hadn’t been competent enough to find the right arguments to keep them from leaving Hogwarts…even if it was tentatively ‘just for a few hours’.

Ron thought Harry looked mad, and it hit him that he’d expected his friend to be free, to look free when he’d be standing before the rest of his life.

Tired, sure. Stunned, of course. Ron had simply hoped for Harry’s shoulders to move down a couple of inches. Since Voldemort had died from the Elder Wand, Harry’s hair stuck up as if he’d been caught in some hazardous wind event. His eyes kept on roaming everywhere, not really stopping on the people who spoke to him, avoiding faces and eye contact.

‘There’s somewhere I need to go back to for a few hours,’ Harry had pleaded as he stared down to his tattered robes. ‘I need to do this. I need – I need to go there. I swear I will back - it will be fine, mate.’

Ron didn’t need reassurance for Harry’s capacity to defend himself. He acknowledged that Harry had messed up by not understanding what he’d meant. His mate had slipped away from his objections, leaving Ron with a bitter taste of abandonment.

As for Hermione, she’d suspended herself from his neck, whispering something about the need to go home -- to see home -- before joining him at the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole (‘I’ll camp out, Ron, if necessary. I don’t want to be a burden to your parents.’), and when she stepped into the fireplace right after Harry, whispering she’d be as quick as Muggle transportations would allow her to, his anger fizzled. He couldn’t be mad at her.

He looked down to his shoes, frustrated that he had been unable to say what blistered his mouth. They probably thought he could shoulder himself on family. They would probably have done just that, if they’d had any.

But Ron needed them, egoistically. Fred was dead, and he needed them to help him face the reality of it.

Sure, he’d fled them a while ago. He’d left them because he’d been half-mad with the Horcrux dangling next to his heart. What was he supposed to do? He hadn’t given much thought to how he should have dealt with it. The impulse had been powerful and explosive, an impetuous act of self-preservation, and leaving them had been the only idea he’d had come up with.

And now they just left him, and he wondered if the power of something he thought had been destroyed still dangled from their necks.

‘We have to go, Ron.’ Ginny spoke from a corner of the office, and he jolted before facing her.

He’d almost forgot her presence. His sister had not uttered a word to help him keep Harry and Hermione at Hogwarts. She had listened to their frantic speeches as she stood in a shadowy part of the room, her face inscrutable.

She had not even voiced a goodbye.

Ron turned again to the door, unable to make his voice less sour. ‘Yeah.’

He heard ruffling behind him, and he wasn’t surprised to feel the warmth of Ginny’s hand cupping his elbow. ‘Mum and Dad are waiting for us at home. We need to go. And you heard Mum, didn’t you? She specifically asked Harry and Hermione to come home. They know they’ll be welcome. You know they’ll come.’

‘Yeah.’ His forehead touched the door, and he considered banging his head for as long as needed to fall into oblivion.

He should be triumphant. He should be boasting the end of this hellish year. Yet, the aftermath of the battle felt like rushing into a beginning with no refreshing transition to catch his breath.

Ginny shook his arm with concern. ‘They’ll come back, Ron. You know they will. You know them.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Ron!’ Ginny pushed him slightly, forcing him to face her. ‘We need to be home.’ She paused, her expression fading into a despair that angered him. ‘Don’t you want to be home? With us?’

Home. He’d dreamt of it. He’d longed for it on cold nights, after dreadful conversations. He’d never wanted it more than when he thought he’d never see it again.

Ron certainly wanted to go back home…the one he expected to exist until he’d become a grumpy old bugger. He wasn’t sure how he’d be proficient to deal with what had replaced it.

‘Yeah, sure.’ He raised his hand before Ginny exclaimed herself again, this time her face reddening in frustration and something else he didn’t want to look at too closely. ‘I just want to say goodbye to Nev and Luna, if that’s all right with you.’

Ginny stepped back, losing her fire in an instant. ‘Of course. I’ll go with you.’

The corridor leading to the stairs was full of rubble. They stepped over the smaller stones and went over the other ones by straddling them before Ginny pointed to something on the floor, a small object covered with dust.

A laced trainer laid in the middle of the corridor. Ron kneeled down in front of it. His sister’s hair brushed against the top of his head as she looked over his shoulder.

‘Padma was missing a shoe when Luna found her. We should bring it over to Professor Flitwick. Perhaps her parents will want to have it,' Ginny muttered.

Ron bit his tongue. Why parents would want relics of their deceased child? Why load themselves with more proof of their loss? Why care about a stupid trainer?

It made no sense at all. It was rubbish, like all those things that swamped the castle.

Yet, Ron couldn’t order his legs to stand up and move past it. Ginny sniffed and bended forward, her right arm embracing him. Her forehead touched the back of his shoulder.

Tiredness washed over Ron when he felt her weight against him. He patted his sister’s hand and grabbed the shoe by its laces. ‘Yeah. Yeah, we should do that.’

Ginny’s mouth grazed his ear. ‘You know, if they’d known how you truly felt, they wouldn’t have left. Everyone’s-’ she sniffed, ‘everyone’s messed up.’

‘You and me….we aren’t messed up,’ Ron muttered. His mind turned blank. ‘We aren’t.’

‘We are,’ Ginny whispered again as he stubbornly stared at Padma’s shoe. ‘Everyone’s who’s fought here is bloody messed up, Ron. You’re just too stunned to notice how much.’

Ron scoffed as the trainer swung gently from his hand like a pendulum. Padma, he decided, had the smallest feet he had ever seen.

His sister was right. It was time to leave.

5. Heart

Shouting pierced through the silence looming over Hogwarts, and Neville followed his instincts.

He firmly grabbed Luna’s hand, and they rushed down the stairs.

At ground level, standing right where Neville had witnessed Lavender Brown plummeting from a higher level, Professor McGonagall was unsuccessfully trying to make herself heard by an agitated middle-aged man. Neville couldn’t help but to admire her poised and imperial manners as she spoke soothingly through the man’s imprecations.

After his angry tirade, the man’s hands flew in the air. ‘Can someone – anyone – tell me where the hell is my daughter?’

Neville had heard that cry plenty times before, during many aching hours when parents and relatives rushed from one side to the castle to the other, looking for their children. He had seen the Patils, elated at first that Parvati had come through unscathed, only to howl when she weepily gave them the news about Padma.

It rammed him again. He had heard the sunken hopes too many times. The man’s obvious anguish was a fearful sight. Neville felt his stomach clenching.

He’d heard enough for a lifetime.

‘Let’s move away,’ he whispered to Luna, pulling her back. ‘I don’t think we should be here.’

To his surprise, Professor McGonagall briskly moved away from the man and gestured for them to come closer. ‘Neville, Luna…I’d appreciate you coming here, please.’

'Where is my daughter?’ the man cried out again, oblivious to their presence. ‘Where is Daphne? You are in charge, as I understand it - you’re a bloody teacher - you should know where she is!'

The man had to stop to breathe, and Professor McGonagall took it as an opportunity to cut in.

‘Mr Greengrass, I wholeheartedly understand your worry.’ She raised her hand, and Neville gulped when he saw her slight quiver. He had seen her on her feet since the ending of the battle, and he wondered if she’d had the time to rest. ‘We will find her, wherever she is. It must be a misunderstanding. Most Slytherin students left Hogwarts before the beginning of the battle. Daphne must have followed through.’ Professor McGonagall turned to Neville. 'Would you, by any chance, have seen Daphne Greengrass somewhere?'

Neville frowned, replaying in his mind the leaving of the Slytherins and the younger students. It had been raucous and messy, but Daphne Greengrass' tall silhouette and light hair had not stood out for him, as preoccupied as he’d been by the upcoming doom hovering over Hogwarts.

'I didn't see her leave,' he said, mentally trying to retrace his steps.

And then it hit him and he opened his mouth, struck by a thought. ‘But-'

'But what?' Mr Greengrass pressed on, taking a step before him. ‘But WHAT?’

Neville took his time to answer back, wondering how to phrase the awful possibility to the bewildered father. How much had the parents known about what happened between these walls? How much did they need to know without blaming other professors? 'She – Daphne - I’d heard she’d been into detention, a few days before…before….'

Professor McGonagall tensed up. 'When? When was she taken into detention?'

'I couldn't say exactly,' said Neville earnestly, his throat tight. 'I’ve been living in the Room for a while. Seamus relayed us a rumour...Seamus could perhaps -’

Professor McGonagall laid a hand on his shoulder. The coldness of her fingers through the thin layer of his shirt sent a shiver down his spine. ‘I’m afraid Mr Finnigan is in St. Mungo’s and in no state to speak. What do you know, Neville?’

Many members of the DA had fallen. Neville had seen the blue bolt erupting from an anonymous wand, hitting Seamus straight in the face.

He complied at Professor McGonagall’s encouragement, his mouth dry. ‘Daphne didn’t obey the Carrows’ orders, so I heard.’

'Didn't obey whom?' The man was now obviously nervous as a bead of sweat slipped on his temple. Neville thought the Carrows’ reputation must have made it through. Daphne had a younger sister. ‘My daughter would never disobey. She is a very reasonable-’

‘Reasonable has nothing to do with what students just went through,’ Professor McGonagall interrupted him curtly.

‘Daphne probably refused to use the Cruciatus Curse on a student.’ Luna tapped her chin. ‘What do you think, Neville?'

'That was the rumour.' He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. 'Seamus was told that one of the Carrows came for her at the end of class.'

It felt unreal, after everything that had happened, to recount rumours that used to mobilize them for hours. These were the things they were supposed be recounting later on, things they’d remember in many years, not hours after Voldemort’s defeat.

Daphne had been forgotten in the mayhem caused by Harry’s return.

‘Yes, they must have removed her.’ Luna nodded, oddly content. ‘Removing. That’s how they worked.’

Professor McGonagall clicked her tongue. 'As for myself, I haven't seen Daphne at all. We should try to send some Owls and perhaps check with Poppy Pomfrey at St. Mungo’s or even-’

‘She might be in the dungeons,’ Luna suggested. ‘Many of the detentions occurred there.’

‘I’ll go into the dungeons,’ Mr Greengrass said grimly. ‘I believe this is the way...’

Professor McGonagall seemed very tired all of a sudden. ‘We would have seen something, I dare to believe. If she’s here, we would have-’

'I’ll search the dungeons, Professor McGonagall.’

Neville looked her in the eye. He hoped his glance was telling enough. He had to be the one looking for Daphne. The importance for Mr Greengrass to be looking for his daughter above the ground, within the living and the wounded seemed to Neville of the uttermost importance.

Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow without missing a beat. ‘Mr Longbotton will go into the dungeons, Mr Greengrass. He has been there before.’

‘I’ve been there.’ Neville held firmly the man’s stare. ‘A lot of us have been down there in the past months.’

6. Mind

The dungeons seemed to Luna like a giant maze, an incongruous image she had never conjured when moving down into them for her Potions class. They unravelled before her feet, and she wondered why she’d never noticed how low the ceiling was.

The dungeons opened up to her like a trap. She stepped into the first corridor with precaution, lending an ear against the first door she touched.

‘Daphne,’ she called out unconvincingly before pointing her wand at the lock. ‘Daphne, tell us where you are.’

The dungeons looked like the bowels of a monstrous creature. A door creaked open. Luna regretted not having Ron and his nifty little light device with them. The beam coming from the end of her wand wasn’t nearly enough for her to feel what was truly light.

She took a few steps forward, her heart strumming in her ears. Neville has already walked to a third door. ‘Locked,’ he mumbled before she heard a clicking sound. ‘Nothing. Daphne! Are you in here?’

The dungeons seemed to Luna like the last place she should be wandering. She swallowed hard, her knees shaking under her.

Neville’s voice came from a room, eerie and disincarnated. ‘She could be elsewhere, you know.’

She glanced his way. Neville, her brave and unbreakable friend, was already out there, already knocking on another door.

Luna couldn’t see his face, only the pale fabric of his shirt. ‘She’s not.’

‘She could be,’ Neville said as he busted open the door to another room.

‘I don’t think so. I think she’s here, somewhere, in the dark.’

Perhaps she had been wrong about the two Death Eaters. Perhaps dark rooms were the best place to hide someone to be sure they’d be wounded without getting dirty.

‘How do you know that?’

Dark. Hot. Rank. The memory of cold fingers, slight and dry.

‘Darkness breaks the spirit.’ Luna crouched to the ground, breathless. Sweat prickled down her neck. ‘It breaks the soul. It makes you mad, wishing for light.’

Neville’s voice floated to her. ‘Yeah…I don’t know. The dungeons stink, for sure.’

Luna was surprised to hear her voice exploding so fully in the dark. ‘I have to get out of here. I have to get out of here, quick.’

There would be a time, she predicted to herself as she hid her face behind her hands, when she’d stand into darkness with all her might, all senses acute and alert. Her serenity would lead her to solve the mysteries of the Snorkacks.

She would vanquish darkness, of course. She would reason it.

But that time had yet to come.

7. Edge

As soon as he had laid foot in the dungeons, Ron heard Luna’s voice and pounced forward, Ginny at his heels. When Professor McGonagall had seen him hopping down the stairs, she’d grabbed him by the sleeve, urging him to go with Neville and Luna as they searched for a Slytherin student in the dungeons.

Ron had run without thinking, shoving deep into him the urgent need to leave.

They had found a student all right, but not the one Professor McGonagall had wanted them to bring back. Luna was crouching against a dusty wall, her lips trembling under the beam of lights erupting from their wands.

‘I’d like to get out, please,’ Luna said shakily, her eyes on his shoes. ‘Would you be so kind as to help me out, Ginny? Unless you happen to have your lightening device with you, Ron?’

Ron searched for his back pocket, rather surprised. ‘Of course.’

The Deluminator casted a warm glow in the dungeons, and Luna took support on the wall to bring herself up. ‘That’s so much better. I need a minute.’

‘What’s wrong, Luna?’ Ron pressed as she leaned against him.

Ron had never considered that Luna could look defeated. ‘That’s a hard question,’ she whispered, pained. ‘But I’ll tell you because I know the answer. I’m afraid of the dark.’

Ron stared at her, astounded by her unsteadiness as she wrung her hands, shaking her head with incomprehension. ‘My mum used to tell me that darkness is a state of mind. I’m starting to believe she was wrong. It catches up with you.’

As Ginny embraced her tightly, Ron made sure the light never left Luna’s face.

They all had to get out of there, quickly. They all needed to put some distance between Hogwarts and themselves. He had to get them out of there.

They stood silent for a minute, and Ron said, in a sudden inspiration, ‘I don’t know if it will make you feel better, but I reckon you aren’t afraid of the dark, Luna. You’re afraid of what’s hiding in it. We all know how that feels.’

Her feeble smile convinced them she was well enough to move forward. Ginny held on to her, and Ron held the Deluminator high until he heard Neville yelling.

There would come a time when Luna would surprise Ron by recounting in her tenth book, By Night: A Naturalistic Understanding of Fear in Magical Creatures, how smart he’d been by giving her the keys to shaping her theory. He’d flush deeply when he would read about that.

Time would play tricks on Ron’s memory. He couldn’t remember saying those words to her.

At all.

9. Illusions

Minerva McGonagall walked briskly towards greenhouse number three, wiping the drizzle from her forehead.

Pomona Sprout’s Patronus had found her as she was resting her legs, an hour following the sudden eruption of Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley announcing they had found Daphne Greengrass, followed closely by Neville Longbottom and Ron Weasley carrying the distraught girl, famished and shaky, up from the dungeons.

She’d felt again the blister of failure. She’d been roaming the castle, working magic as much as she could, only to face the giant task on hand. What waited for her in the next months was unrelenting work. She’d have to spend every minute researching, questioning her choices of spells and protection, but also navigating through the bureaucracy imposed by the Ministry.

Perhaps they all had a chance. Shacklebolt had been one of her smartest students, most preoccupied by the ethics of Transfiguration.

But she had missed a student.

‘I thought they’d expelled me if I didn’t do what they wanted,’ Daphne had muttered as she brought a cup of water to her lips. ‘I just wanted to get out of here.’

Thank goodness Poppy had Floo’ed back from St. Mungo’s. Thank goodness she had found a cooperative Healer to take charge of the girl as well as of the father.

Minerva had stared at the students numbly before Ron had taken upon himself to leave. ‘I’ll be back when you need help, Professor. I reckon everyone at home will want to contribute. And Harry, of course, and Hermione too….But for now Ginny and I, well…’ He had stared at his sister before rounding her shoulders protectively. ‘We really need to go home.’

‘You should all be going home,’ Minerva had declared, showing them the way up to her office. ‘There will be a time for rebuilding.’

Neville and Luna had been the last to leave, the Lovegood child murmuring something about how needing time to rebuild would give everyone time to grieve. ‘Will Hogwarts reopen in September, Professor?’

Minerva had been saved from answering vaguely. Luna had disappeared into the fireplace, bound to meet with her father.

She finally stood before the greenhouse, assessing its heavy damages. Minerva pushed the door open. ‘Pomona?’

Pomona Sprout was half-slumped on a chair, her breathing audible behind her hands. Around her, devastation: it seemed like every pot had been crushed to the floor. Some plants were wiggling in hopes to flee the greenhouse by cavorting on the ground, hopes to which Minerva cut short by sharply closing the door behind her.

The glass-panelled ceiling had been struck open in several places. ‘Oh dear,’ Minerva said tentatively as she looked up. ‘Oh dear. You cannot expect to be fixing all of this now.’

‘Yes, you told me last night. I should visit my sister instead of helping you here.’ Pomona looked upon her hands, her eyes bright from determination. ‘Are you trying to get rid of me?’

‘Of course not.’ Minerva manoeuvred between broken tables. ‘We all need time to think. It will prove salutary.’

‘Yes.’ Her colleague snorted before wiping her cheeks with the back of her hands, leaving a streak of dirt on her cheeks, a belated war paint. ‘But we have a destroyed school and teachers wondering what to do next. I know you have been thinking about leaving. I won’t let you doubt your actions. Hogwarts needs you.’

Rain fell harder into the greenhouse, and Minerva breathed in. Perhaps truths would sound less frightening when voiced outside than when reverberating in the abandoned castle. ‘I’m an old goat, truly. I fancy myself into thinking I can leave. But I can’t. The sad truth is that I cannot leave Hogwarts. I won’t.’

She couldn’t fool herself – she was an aging woman, and her stubbornness in making Hogwarts whole again would be criticized and attributed to the obstinacy of experience upon which youth sneered.

She could never bring herself to move on if she didn’t feel, in earnest, that she couldn’t do something more for Hogwarts and its students or for their memories. It was deep in her, unavoidable, rooted at her core. She’d seen so many faces clenched in determination. She had seen students suffering, crying, hurling, taking power, fighting for something bigger than them, bracing choices she made for the first time when she was twice their age.

She owed it to herself to be worthy of them, every single one of them who had left to never return.

Hogwarts had been a silent witness to their youth, but the castle held her life within its walls.

The time would come when it wouldn’t mean much anymore. She would then be another portrait in the Headmaster’s office.

But obviously, she thought fiercely as she straightened up, the time hasn’t come yet.

‘Old goat might be a bit mean.’ Pomona’s wand traced a graceful arabesque, and one of the ceiling’s glass panels reformed itself in a crystalline chime. Soon, rain gently tapped against it, and its soothing sound filled the greenhouse. ‘But if this old goat’s incapacity to let go is the reason why students flock back without fear next September, so be it, my dear. So be it.’

Comments

Oh gosh. You really spoiled me with your reviews. Thank you!

Since it was part of an exchange, I really can't take credit for rounding these characters together. Shiiki - who is a dear and an imaginative writer - requested a story that would bring these characters together. I played with several scenarios - including pentagrams! - but this one felt more organic to me, and I'm happy that you enjoyed how the story moves along. I was hoping for a sinking feeling - triumph, tiredness, dread and then...yes, horror through insignificant details. I'm glad it came through.

As for those little hints into the future, I'm really happy you enjoyed them. :) I like to believe that things are indeed taken away from us, but they do come back to us in another shape, if we can read between the lines.

Again, thank you for your kind words. There are so much dramatic possibilities after the battle, and I'm so glad we all get to think about it through the eyes of writers...so many different povs, so many details and so much feeling. Yay for fanfic. :-)