Chapter 28

Nearly two weeks after Harry's miraculous awakening, Neville Longbottom leaned a hip against the metal footboard and waved around the most recent copy of the Daily Prophet. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley sat on the same side of the bed even as Draco Malfoy lounged in a chair on the opposite side. A shaggy black dog draped himself up and down the mattress, his back pressed against Harry's blanket-draped, outstretched legs.

In the hospital bed, seated with a mount of pillows at his back, Harry Potter enjoyed their visit during one of his increasingly frequent waking periods.

"Word's out about the curse," Longbottom said. "And the cure. And the labyrinth and the atrium. There's a three-page article in here, with interviews and photos and everything."

Hermione nodded. "I overheard Professor McGonagall talking to the Headmaster. They're constantly having to chase reporters off of Hogwarts grounds. I even heard them talking about how they had a devil of a time this morning keeping Platform 9 and 3/4 clear for the students to board the train. With everyone returning tonight on the Hogwarts Express, it will only get worse!"

"At least the Dursleys aren't here anymore." Harry shuddered, remembering one of his earliest awakenings to find the horrendous trio glaring down on him as though his survival had been a personal insult aimed specifically at them.

"Speaking of the Dursleys. Okay, Malfoy." Ron rose from his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, and spread his feet wide in an unmistakable 'no one is going anywhere until we get answers' stance. "Tonight is the New Moon. Time to 'fess up. What did you do to the Muggles?"

"You do realize, part of me wants to leave you all in the--hem--dark." Draco looked from one Gryffindor face to the next. Satisfied that he'd yanked their chains as only a loyal Slytherin could, he chuckled at their various glares of pique and ire. Even the dog huffed and grumbled as though insulted. "However, I must admit, I am as curious as you to see the results. It will be amusing, if nothing else."

"Draco Malfoy," Harry Potter said, "what did you DO?"

"I cast a spell developed by the Dark Lord himself--" Four Gryffindors gasped in horror and one dog yelped-- "To reveal Muggle relatives of Muggle-born or half-blood witches or wizards. It seems he has a special fate planned for Muggles such as that. At the next new moon, any Muggle touched by this spell will ... " Draco's grin was positively wicked. "Well, let's just say, they won't need to turn on any lights. Their very blood will shine a silver-blue."

"They glow in the dark?" Ron said. A giant grin spread across his face. "Wicked! This I just have to see!"

"And how do you intend to do that, Ron?" Hermione said. "The Dursleys have returned to--" The young witch glanced toward the Slytherin and decided against naming the exact location, saying instead, "to their home. We can't go there and no one, especially Harry, wants them to come back here."

Draco Malfoy reached down into his book bag and withdrew a foot-square mirror lined with unadorned silver. He admired his own pale, immaculate reflection for a long moment before passing the mirror over to Harry.

"Despite our recent improvement in relations, I doubt you want a Malfoy to have access to your 'loving sanctuary.' You'll need to get someone else to help you cast the revealing spell."

Hermione stared toward the ceiling, at the last of the evening's sunbeams, for several seconds before pinning Draco with a glower hot enough to fry bangers. "How can we cast it if you don't tell us what it is!"

Malfoy lidded his eyes and leaned back onto two chair legs, his shoulders braced against the infirmary wall.

"Keep your knickers on, Granger. Weasley probably knows it, but I doubt a Muggle-raised wizard or a mud--muggle-born like yourself will recognize it."

Ron perked up. Staring at the mirror, he asked, "You mean the Reflecto charm?"

"I know that one!" Hermione said even as the last rays of the sun faded and the wall torches flared to life. "It turns every piece of glass within the same room as the target into windows that someone with an attuned mirror can see through. Parents often use it to keep tabs on smaller children in other parts of the house, to make certain they aren't getting into any mischief. It requires the participation of someone who considers the residence to be home."

Harry sighed and stared at his own reflection. His skin, while no longer rosy pink, was still tender to the touch and void of all but the sparsest hair. The combination of tender skin and new hair growth definitely played havoc on any attempt at wearing regular clothes. His head sported growth that in the Muggle world would have been referred to as a buzz-cut. The lightning-bolt scar on his forehead stood out red and raw in stark contract to his milky complexion, still pasty from his long illness.

"Meaning me." Harry took a deep breath, held it, then released it in one hard rush of air. "Okay, Ron. Show me what to do."

A storm raged in Little Whinging, Surrey, visible through the partially opened curtains of the Dursleys' living area. Around the room, Vernon and Petunia offered gracious, somewhat unctuous, smiles to their three male guests, all upper level businessmen by the cut and color of their suits. The bored expressions on the visitors' faces proved the Dursleys were not the penultimate hosts they thought themselves to be.

"Oh, gracious, what a terrible storm." Petunia's saccharin-sweet voice dripped with false sympathy for her guests. "I do hope none of you have to drive very far in this horrid weather."

Visibility through the mirror was broken down into five distinct images, as there were five pieces of glass in the living room angled to face either Petunia or Dudley. As either of the two Muggles moved into and out of range of any picture frame, mirror, or reflective glass surface, another "window" would open or close on the surface in Harry's hands.

In the Hogwarts hospital wing, Harry muttered, "It would never occur to her to offer to let them stay until the weather passes."

"If you were one of those three," Ron said, pointing to the unknown Muggles, "would you want to stay at the Dursleys any longer than you absolutely had to?"

"Good point, Ron. Very good point."

The power flickered at Number 4 Privet Drive as Dudley vanished into the kitchen to sneak another quarter of chocolate cake slathered in double-chocolate icing and colorful sprinkles. The outage lasted only a fraction of a second, not even long enough to unset the kitchen's electric clocks, yet his parents gasped and stared at him in mounting horror.

In that fractured second, Dudley Dursley glowed like St. Elmo's Fire.

"Umm, son." Vernon Dursley did his best to appear concerned and solicitous as he excused himself from his guests and moved into the kitchen. "I believe it might be time for you to head up to bed."

"Bed? 's way too early for bed. 'n I'm still hungry."

At least, everyone listening assumed that was what he said. The actual words were warped and muffled by the rather large wad of chocolate cake with icing that filled the large boy's mouth and smeared across all of his chins.

Vernon leaned in close to whisper into Dudley's ear, "There's something strange going on. That kind of strange. Go upstairs before any of them notice. Go on, son."

"Think he'll get out of the room before the power fails again?" Ron asked.

"I certainly hope not," Harry answered.

"The spell is on the woman, as well," Draco said, "which you might observe, they haven't noticed yet."

At Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, Petunia hurried to switch on every downstairs light and lamp, as though that might prevent another power outage. In truth, her rush to flood the house with electronic light succeeded only in overloading the fuse and throwing the breaker.

At that exact same instant, lightning struck the nearest transformer, throwing the entire neighborhood into total darkness.

Someone screamed. It might have been Vernon, whom the outage caught still trying to shepherd his whale of a son up the stairs, tempting him with the contents of the cake dish. It might have been Petunia, who caught her own glowing reflection in a wall mirror. Or it might have been any one of the three guests, who no longer looked bored, but rather scared out of their wits by the two shining apparitions.

In an otherwise total blackness, Petunia Dursley's stick-thin figure glowed a silvery blue, as though she'd been drenched head to toe in a phosphorus liquid. Dudley, with so much mass, threw off enough light to read by.

The three guests stampeded for the door, almost bowling over Vernon who tried to stifle their fears and salvage any business connections he could from the disaster.

"Oh, merciful Merlin, it couldn't have worked better if we'd planned it this way," Harry said, a hand pressed to his ribs to lessen the ache. All around him, students and dog rolled around, laughing. "Malfoy, you're a genius."

Draco arched an eyebrow in Harry's direction. "Can I quote you on that?"

Harry shook his head. "I'll deny saying it until my dying breath."

"Just as well. No one would have believed me, anyway."

"Hsssst!" Hermione's warning cut through the laughter. "Someone's coming!"

Harry shoved the mirror beneath the mound of pillows even as Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey stepped around the curtains. Behind them, Remus Lupin peeked around the curtain, grinning at each of the students and waggled his fingers at Harry before stepping out from behind the obstruction.

"Well, Mr. Potter. From the sound of all the laughter coming from in here, I would say you're feeling much better than in days past." The mediwitch stared at him hard enough to make her patient wiggle in place. "Do you think you're up to a few hours in the Great Hall? I understand tonight's welcoming feast is going to be quite interesting."

"You're releasing me?"

"Only for the evening," Poppy cautioned. "I want you back in this bed the instant the feast concludes. Sooner, if you feel weak, dizzy, nauseous, lightheaded, or faint."

Remus smiled down on him. "And I am to make certain you follow these rules. So, are you ready to escape?"

A hitch of the werewolf's left arm brought everyone's attention to the student robes and loose-fitting trousers he carried. A pair of Harry's shoes dangled by their laces from his fingertips. A tube of socks stuck out of one shoe.

"Am I ever!"

Professor McGonagall shooed everyone except Remus and Poppy from the area, giving Harry privacy for one final medical exam and to change out of the one-sided hospital gown.

Fully clothed and more than ready to get out of the hospital wing, if only for a few hours, Harry gladly accepted his friends' help toward the outer doors.

"Potter, what is this mirror?" Harry and his fellow students shared a quick glance toward one another before sprinting through the exit, trailed by one very puzzled werewolf. The last they heard before passing beyond hearing distance was Madam Pomfrey's voice, saying, "Why, it's the Dursleys--what on earth?"

The walk from the hospital wing to the Great Hall sapped most of Harry's recovered strength. Only by leaning on Ron and Remus could he make the distance. By the time they reached the massive oak doors, the returning students had already filed in and found their places at each house table.

A buzz of sound greeted Harry Potter's entry into the Great Hall. Whispers filled the space and hands pointed his direction from every table in the room. Harry froze, uncertain whether he wanted to draw any more attention, especially attention derived from something so foolish as throwing himself in the path of an unknown curse.

"Hey, look." Ron pointed to the head of the Gryffindor table, where a sea of red-haired people sat grouped together. Every figure there waved in joyous welcome. "It's Mum, Dad, Charlie, and Bill. Fred, George, and Ginny are with them. Hey, even Percy's there. What're they all doing here?"

"And there." Hermione pointed to a guest table set off to one side of the faculty places. "Aren't those the researchers and doctors from St. Mungo's, the ones spending so much time in the atrium?"

"My ... my Gran is here, too." Neville swallowed a lump of anxiety as he spotted the witch with the vulture-topped hat seated at the end of the guest table. "What's she doing here?"

"I'm sure it can only be a good thing," Harry tried to reassure his yearmate.

Remus leaned in and whispered into Harry's ear, "Looks like everyone's ready to eat except us. Let's get you all to your seats so they can begin, all right?"

Harry and his companions settled into their places, with Snuffles curled up at Harry's feet, Draco reluctantly separating to sit at the Slytherin table and Remus to sit in the last empty space at the guest table beside Mrs. Longbottom. The buzz of voices rose to a deafening pitch, echoing and re-echoing off the ceiling until no one could understand a single word anyone else said.

Minerva McGonagall's knife rang against a crystal goblet, exhorting silence. Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, rose from his chair and motioned for everyone' attention. The boisterous echoes receded, leaving only the last hum of glass before vanishing altogether.

"Might I have a moment of everyone's time? Yes, good. Thank you so much. Through the auspices of the Daily Prophet, most of you are somewhat aware of events that occurred here over the holiday vacation. I will not reiterate them, save for this. Were it not for a fortunate discovery made by a single Hogwarts student, we would not this night be celebrating another student's return to health." Dumbledore smiled benignly on Harry. "Rather, we would be gathering to mourn a tragic passing."

Dumbledore motioned to the short, dumpy witch who sat further down the faculty table. "Professor Sprout?"

Blushing furiously, the Herbology professor and Head of Hufflepuff House rose from her chair and tried to meet everyone's eyes. Finding that far too uncomfortable, she settled for looking with joy on Neville Longbottom and the other Gryffindors seated near him.

"For discovery of the atrium garden and, to date, over one hundred thirty species of plant and animal that were previously assumed extinct, I award 50 points to Neville Longbottom."

A round of applause rippled through the Great Hall, centered most on the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. The counters showed Gryffindor within 5 points of taking the lead for the House Cup. Only Ravenclaw stood higher in the count.

Before the clapping and chatter could subside, a tall, thin, hawk-nosed figure in black rose from his place further down the faculty table. Silence rippled outwards until every voice fell silent.

Severus Snape glowered out over the assembly. His sour expression stated quite clearly his desire to be anywhere but there.

"Credit must go where it is due. Even to a Gryffindor. For numerous acts of bravery which either directly or indirectly saved the lives of a fellow student and ... a faculty member of this school ..." Red-faced and reluctant, Snape tugged at the collar of his robes, "I award fif--ung--fifty points each to--Slytherin save me--Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom."

Snape fell back into his chair with a grateful sigh. Stunned silence from every table, students and adults alike, followed his announcement. Snape's scowl, if anything, darkened. The silence pervaded until a single whisper from the Weasley section of the Gryffindor table murmured, "Merlin's beard, that I've lived to see this day."

The chamber exploded with noise.

Dumbledore let the raucous behavior continue several minutes before finally lifting a hand to silence the din. In the resumed stillness, the Headmaster gathered up and opened a scroll that sat on the table beside his plate.

"I have here one last reward, this one also to Mr. Longbottom. I won't bore you all by reading the full missive. Suffice it to say, this is a letter of merit from St. Mungo's for Mr. Longbottom's contribution to the increased care for their patients. Along with this letter comes a 1,000 galleon reward to go toward the completion of his schooling in whatever post-graduation branch of wizardry he may wish to pursue."

Neville stared bug-eyed and stunned as each professor offered their points and accolades. He held his composure until he laid eyes on his grandmother. Tears poured down his cheeks--her nod and smile of approval were the finest rewards of all.

"Now." The Headmaster set the scroll aside. "Fine words though they are, it is now time to eat!"

At Dumbledore's single clap, enough food appeared on the tables to make every board groan under the weight.

"So, Neville." Seamus Finnigan nudged his yearmate. "We've read what the papers have to say. What really happened?"

Neville stared first at Harry, who motioned him to carry on; to Hermione, who said it was his story to tell; to Ron, who shrugged and said he'd rather the Gryffindor version make the rounds before the Slytherin one; and finally to Remus, who smiled and nodded.

"Well ... I guess it all started back at the start of the year, on the day I disappeared."

" ... so that's when Hermione found the exit just in time. We slid down this wild slide, zipping this way and that, all three of us yelling our heads off, until we burst through a wall of greenery to land smack against Hagrid's legs."

Hermione at last said, "I must admit to being initially puzzled by the discrepancies of the secret chamber."

"What discrepancies were those, Hermione?" Dean Thomas asked.

"Well, first off, despite all of the Ravenclaw clues, Rowena Ravenclaw was not known for her gardening. That was more Helga Hufflepuff's personality. Rowena was more known for animals than plants. Second were the dragon motifs all around the main door and over the exit hatch. The deep gouges in the stone were caused by what looked like claw marks. And third, all of those deadly traps are overkill to protect a greenhouse, even one so spectacular as that one. However, such traps and security would not be overkill to either hold in--or keep curiosity-seekers out of--a dragatorium."

"A dragatorium?" Neville whispered.

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find that Rowena Ravenclaw raised dragons in that room, only for someone else to come along later to put it to another use."

Professor Sprout, who had spent the last week in a cloud of ecstasy over the room's contents, pulled Dumbledore aside and whispered, "Do we tell Longbottom that two of the plants he found, when combined, are key ingredients in a drought for curing madness?"

Albus tapped the Herbology Professor's hand. "Not yet. We'll know in a month or so. If we can help his parents, we will tell him then. If we fail, his hopes have not been raised in vain. Besides," the Headmaster eyed the grinning boy, his own gaze bright with calm pride, "his day is as full as he can stand at this moment. Let's let him enjoy it."

Professor McGonagall sighed. "He's a true Gryffindor after all."

Dumbledore nodded. "A true Gryffindor indeed."


A/N: WHEW! Finished at just over 51,000 words and before Book Six is released! I never thought I'd meet that deadline, at least. I started this story well before Book Five came out, so it's been an AU for some time now.

Still, I hope everyone enjoyed it. I firmly believe that Neville Longbottom has some major role to play in bringing down Voldemort. There's a reason he is in Gryffindor.

Thank you all for following this story to its conclusion. I have begun working on another HP fic, a form of Super!Harry -- Voldemort really should research the bond between them before he goes around trying to increase his own powers. I'm waiting until the next JKR story comes out to line up my facts with canon, but I hope to post the first chapter soon after, if there's any interest in reading it.

Again, thank you all and Happy Reading.