Neville Longbottom was really getting quite tired. With Professor Dumbledore's manipulations laid bare, events had rapidly spiralled out of control. Ron was trying to pretend that everything was fine and normal, but such a delusion wouldn't wash with Neville.
He shared a brief smile with the newly-resuscitated Hermione. After her run-in with the basilisk, she had developed a kind of anxiety around the library, and had taken to studying in the common room instead. Neville sighed. If only that were the worst of it. If only Ginny could walk into the room without Hermione trembling.
The walk to the marble staircase went by almost without Neville noticing. He had thought, foolishly, that bringing down these demons might make their lives better. Lord Voldemort was dispelled from Quirrell. The basilisk was dead and the diary destroyed. Yet now two of his dearest friends, the pillars of his friendship group, seemed set on never speaking to each other again.
Neville never would have imagined himself being happy that Harry was not around. Even now he felt as though a part of him were missing, without his best friend's infinite energy and casual sarcasm. But though Neville was loathe to admit it, this was preferable to the fog of enmity that descended whenever Harry and Ginny were in the same room. He could feel their resentment of each other like ice on his bones whenever they saw one another. For the two people he had thought impossible to separate to become so bitterly opposed... It was crushing.
Harry was gone, now. Again. This time to train. To perhaps finally be prepared for the next in the unending stream of horrors that lay in their path. Neville hoped it would be enough. But he could not know. And so he continued down the stairs. For as well that he could feel the emotions of his friends, he could feel something else. Something that called to him. A promise.
At least Harry seemed to be doing well. That was how Neville consoled himself, looking at the tattered remains of what had once been the fastest group of friends he could have dared to imagine. Harry was being trained as some mystic warrior monk, gaining abilities that seemed incredible even to a wizard. He had presumably applied some of this ability to his studies, for he had caught up in them with apparent ease even without Hermione conscious to help him, or Ginny willing...
So easy for his thoughts to spiral downwards. Almost as easy as his feet. Neville smiled slightly to himself as he left the staircase, soon finding himself in front of a portrait of a man in heavy plate armour. A man who somehow had interfered twice where disaster might otherwise have struck, with no obvious motivation. Unless…
"Mr. Potter," said Neville.
The portrait stared at him through his visor.
Neville stared back.
"Nobody has called me that in a long time," said the man.
"Books have longer memories than men," said Neville. "Also I guessed a little bit."
"Indeed," said Potter. "Tell me, how did you figure it out?"
"You knew Gryffindor," said Neville. "You hinted as much. And I figure there's not many well-known friends of Godric Gryffindor who would have told Harry not to rush into a fight, back in first year. I figure there's a well-known person in Hogwarts history who might be quite wary of swords."
The man raised his hands to his helmet.
"Avitorius Potter," said Neville. "Scarface."
The helmet came off, and Neville's breath caught.
The face beneath was handsome, with shaggy auburn hair and deep brown eyes. But the face was cleft almost in two by a deep scar that ran over the left eye all the way to the jaw.
"I helped you," said Potter. The tone was neutral, but Neville could tell that the man was upset.
"You did not have to prove me right," Neville pointed out. "I think, because you know I'm not here to make a fuss of who you are."
"Perhaps," the man agreed. "But if you are here for what I believe you are, you brave, foolish child, I think perhaps you should know who exactly you are dealing with. My father, after all, was not stupid. He did not wander blindly into this arrangement. He was a warrior, my father, and with such power gathered here he knew betrayal was inevitable. His lineage is recorded in no literature. His wife's name lost to history. His son attending the school he built as a common-born orphan, to later be cast out and shamed for dishonouring his patron."
Neville's feelings had led him back to this portrait. They had not warned of what he might learn.
"Then Harry..." Neville whispered.
"Wields the sword he was always meant to hold," said Avitorius Potter. "By every law of man. And my father's final victory is complete. He has won the war for legacy."
"Gryffindor..." said Neville. "I am only a child. But I have fought at the side of your heir against forces that would have destroyed all that was built in your name. And I will do so again."
"That you will."
Avitorius Gryffindor certainly sounded a thousand years old then.
"I may not be ready," said Neville. "But I petition to be the next steward of Hogwarts. To fight and die for this school, for its students, and for the future of my nation."
"Brave and foolish," said Avitorius. "My father would have liked you. He would not have given you stewardship. Do you even know the responsibility? What it would entail?"
"In the end, does it matter?" said Neville. "I should already have died in its defence."
"It matters because you are not ready," said Gryffindor angrily. "To give up a part of your soul... We will not allow a child so young to make the sacrifices of stewardship. But we will aid you."
Neville closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "What would you have me do?"
The secret passageway seemed to wind down and down forever. Nothing existed to mark it as any different from Hogwarts' many other passages, and as he continued ever downwards, Neville's head began to spin from the sheer repetitiveness. If he ever gained true mastery of the broomstick, Neville swore he would carry one everywhere he went. Yet even as he began to despair at the apparently infinite number of steps, the staircase opened out into a hall. Neville knew from the moment his foot hit the floor that this was somewhere special.
Though it would have to reside a hundred metres below the school, the hall must have been as large as the Great Hall above. Its purpose, at first glance, might have appeared to be as a museum. Rows upon rows of artifacts filled the place, varying from armoured robes to heavy books. Neville noted them, but stifled his curiosity, for at the centre of the room was a clear island, bathed in a dim golden light. This, he knew, was the true kernel of the hall. A pedestal at the very centre caught most of the golden glow, which shimmered curiously over it. Cautiously, Neville approached.
He was ten paces away when he froze, crying out in shock. For surrounding the pedestal, radiating to the four points of the compass, were gold engravings upon the granite floor. The first, as Neville approached, revealed quickly to Neville exactly where it was that he stood.
Hér álecgaþ Salazar Slytherin
Brégnes ecgaþ ænig méce
Eardede háwian hundtwelftiġ seofon wintera
Even as Neville looked at the words, they shimmered and shifted.
Here lies Salazar Slytherin
Fear sharpens any blade
Lived to see one hundred and twenty seven winters
Neville had stumbled upon that which generations upon generations of scholars never found - the final resting place of the Hogwarts founders. Much as he wanted to stand and pay his respects, however, at such close range the pedestal called to him with a near-irresistible pull. Set into its surface was a basin, filled with perfectly clear water. Reaching out, Neville submerged his hands in the water, finding it pleasantly cool. The golden glow about the area intensified the moment his fingers breached the surface. For a moment, there was nothing. The water did not so much as steam as it flashed straight to boiling and back again, searing Neville's flesh and making him clench his teeth together so as not to scream. But the pain brought clarity.
In that moment, Neville felt a wellspring of power flooding his very being. He had been bound to Hogwarts' own magic. Stranger still, Neville could feel the strength of the castle spreading from the pedestal, energy radiating away like a vast spider web. And this focus was being fed from four distinct cores around him. Neville stared at the graves, silent and undisturbed. This room could never be breached. More than the founders' bodies were at stake - this hall held the power source for every ward and enchantment on the castle grounds. Lifting his hands from the basin, Neville blinked slowly.
His hands were completely dry.
Stewards of Hogwarts had to give up part of their soul, Avitorius Potter had said. Neville took a deep breath, and went to kneel at the grave of his patron. The treasures of the hall could wait.
Harry wasn't sure what he had expected Jedi training to be like. Of course he had thought back to Luke Skywalker fending off a drone with a lightsaber while his eyes were covered, or free running through the swamp jungles of Dagobah, but Master Jinn had implied a fair bit of academia and philosophy. So it was quite the surprise to find himself, on the eighth day of his expedition, holding a handstand.
"Feel the Force flowing through you," said Master Jinn. "The ground beneath you, the air around you... The Force connects you to everything."
Harry tried to do as he had been taught - to let go of his conscious thoughts and allow the Force to guide him. But even as that wordless voice grew louder, so too did the burning in his muscles. Harry hit the ground with a grunt.
"It's really tiring," Harry said. "I'm sorry."
Master Jinn shook his head, smiling. "With what muscle do we use the Force?"
"We don't," Harry said automatically, grimacing as he did so.
"It is through your mind," said Master Jinn. "This is the first reason why we train Jedi from a young age. You have learned to see the world in a certain way, and it is difficult for you to change your perspective. If you are ever to make use of the connection you have, you must learn to let go your conceptions of the physical world."
"How?" said Harry, flabbergasted.
"How do you accomplish anything truly new?" said Master Jinn. "Study, introspection and practise."
Harry chose not to point out that he didn't know what introspection was, but from the nature of Master Jinn's smile he didn't think he had to. And so he set himself to practising.
There came a point at about an hour in where Harry began to feel that he was simply going through the motions. He fully expected Master Jinn to stop him then, but the man simply watched. And Harry's mind wandered. He went back to his grand journey through the stars, and visions of the Milky Way. Rocketing past galaxy after galaxy, Harry found the familiar spiral of the galaxy far, far away. But this time he was entering much closer to the galactic core. As the stars spread wide before him, and planets became discernible, Harry instantly recognised the buzzing planet-city of Coruscant, with countless ships forming what could pass for a dust cloud around it.
But just as Harry was getting a good look at the bustling galactic hub, he was propelled away as if by some hyper lightspeed pistol. From planet to planet he bounced, at speeds that made even him want to retch if he looked at the wrong things. But all the while, the dark heart of the galaxy loomed larger - the black hole. So large was it, and so brilliant were its ejections, Harry almost didn't notice himself slowing down. But he had come upon a cluster of smaller black holes, and these lay directly in his path. Moving too fast to possibly evade them, Harry barely had time to gasp. Time and space warped around him, and Harry saw the shallow path, bordered on all sides by certain death.
Gravity pulled him through the unholy formation, accelerating him even further beyond the realms of feasibility and catapulting him out at the other side. Many star systems lay in front of him now, but there was one that held significance. A star that somehow meant everything.
It loomed ever larger in his vision, searing his mind with pulsing fire, until Harry veered off violently. He was plummeting through the atmosphere before he could register its Earth-like features. There was no burning re-entry. Harry simply punched through the cloud cover like a particularly large calibre bullet, the lush, green ground suddenly approaching much too fast. Faces began flashing before his eyes, too fast to recognise. And just as Harry hit the grass, a pulsing blade of plasma erupted in brilliant purple.
Harry collapsed, hearing several pronounced thuds around him. A squirrel-like creature squeaked and scampered away.
"What did you see?" said Master Jinn gently.
"I think..." Harry muttered. He was seeing the strange images everywhere as though they were burned onto his retinas. "I think there's somewhere that we need to go."
Aaaaaaaaaaand it's done. The sequel will be arriving soon enough, and will open on a world quite meaningful to the Jedi Order :)
zmanjz: Yeah, she wasn't prepared for this at all; neither of them were.
Gellert99: Occupational hazard when you're a kid in this world :/ Don't count her out though, she's taken a lot of blows in quick succession. Thanks for the review :)
stars90: Well I'm looking at their cards and it's nothing flattering. But Qui-Gon is too empathetic to box their ears, and Hermione's in a worse mental state than Ginny right now so it doesn't mean much yet :)
Artarais1991: She has so many sevens in her bloodline it would be more remarkable for her not to be exceptional. And there's a passage earlier in the story where Ron and Ginny talk about the Weasley lineage and the potency of Weasley girls, especially when they are seventh born. I mean there's a lot to this but that's much of what's been explained so far :) Thanks for the review.
Dragon Man 180: Hahaha, I think Hermione will be fine. She is Hermione.