Someone was watching him, he could feel it.

Neville's fingers tightened on the handle of his wand as he scanned the thick foliage carefully, looking for the glint of an eye, the fold of a robe that would give it away. There. The edge of a shoe peeked from beneath the glossy dark green leaves of the Flutterby bush, and his wand flashed out with lightning speed. "Levicorpus!"

There was a shriek and a rustle of branches as his would-be attacker was hoisted swiftly into the air, dangling now at eye-level by one ankle. He was filthy, caked in mud, but he was giggling madly, the round cheeks brightly flushed, and Neville sighed deeply. "Hannah!" he called. "Do a head-count! You've lost one!"

A moment's pause, and his wife appeared at the kitchen door, hands on her hips as she regarded the dangling two year-old. Her lips were set in a long-suffering frown of exasperation, but her eyes were dancing as she exchanged a look with her husband, then turned stern again as she faced the child. "Tiresius Michael Longbottom, you are a mudball! And what have I told you about stalking Daddy?"

"Nuffuh!" The boy exclaimed joyfully, wrinkling his nose and letting out a series of snuffling noises, his chubby hands crooking into a paddling, digging motion.

"Ah," Neville nodded knowingly, "well, love, that explains it. I only thought I caught a little wizard. Apparently, we have been infested by baby Nifflers."

"Nuffuh! Nuffuh!" Terry nodded enthusiastically.

"I see…." The scowl cracked, and she could no longer hold back a smile of amusement as she extended her own wand, floating the toddler to suspend in front of her. "Well, we all know what happens to Nifflers, don't we, Terry? They get baths."

"NOOOOOOoooo! NO BAF!" His little face contorted in an anguished wail, and Neville nodded solemnly.

"Oh, absolutely. With soap."

"No baf! No baf!" The boy's brown ringlets scattered mud in all directions as he shook his head furiously, and Hannah reached out, flicking a spatter of it off Neville's robes.

"I blame you for this."

"What?" He gave her his best innocent look. "The kid or the mud?"

"Both." She shook her head, then kissed him on the cheek. "If I remember correctly, you were the one that started the whole idea of playing Niffler in the first place."

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he shrugged, "Ernie couldn't remember where he and Trev had buried Peggy's gobstones when they were playing goblins, so I thought I'd enlist a little help."

"Because summoning –"

"Did not occur to me." He slipped one arm around her waist, nuzzling her golden hair. Terry's sobbing protest had faded for the moment, as a beetle had landed on his arm, and he was poking at it in fascination, the prospect of the dreaded b-word forgotten in the simple distractibility of the very young. "I'm useless without you, Hannah, you know that. I don't know how you manage it – leave me alone for a weekend with five children, and – TERRY, don't EAT that! Not food! ACCIO BEETLE!"

The beetle, somewhat the worse for wear, shot from between the boy's lips, its demise completing as it impacted directly against the front of Neville's robes. Hannah was fighting back giggles, and she was losing badly. "Oh…dear…well, at least you don't work at the Ministry."

"These never stay clean long anyway," he gave a rueful smile, brushing only half-heartedly at the remains of the beetle. "We're doing Mimbulus Mimbletonia today."

She made a face. "You're leaving your robes at the door, then."

Neville raised one eyebrow, giving her a suggestive smile. "Really?"

For a moment, she looked as though she were about to scold him for his cheek, then her smile deepened, the emerald green of her eyes seemed to darken, and she leaned in closely, her breath warm against his ear as she flicked her tongue lightly against the side of his neck, making him shiver. "Definitely. But grade papers or something and get here after nine so all of the beasties are in bed."

"Yes, ma'am," he nodded, then checked his watch, "but I'm going to be late if I don't –"

"Go ahead." She gave him another quick kiss, then flicked her wand again, letting Terry drop but catching him expertly, wrapping him in a tight cocoon of her apron before he could get so much as a speck of mud anywhere else. "And don't forget, we've got dinner at the Potters' tomorrow, and the Prophet sent an owl; they want to do a piece on the epidemic of hackleweed on the east coast, and they've asked for an expert opinion."

"I don't have time for an interview, but I'll drop them a line, thanks. See you tonight." He kissed her back, then turned on the spot, concentrating on his office. There was a moment's darkness and the squeezing, stretching sensation that never quite became routine, and then he was there. Quickly, he gathered up a few extra textbooks – someone always forgot theirs – protective goggles – someone always broke theirs – his notes, and the pile of cuttings for the first homework assignments he would be handing out, then hurried down towards the greenhouses at a jog.

The class was already waiting when he got there, and in the front row, a tall young wizard crossed his arms, his hair flashing red with annoyance before settling to this week's vibrant canary yellow. "Late again, Professor?"

"Less than a minute, Mr. Lupin," he replied evenly. "And your first assignment today is that the next time you write your families, I want you all to apologize for ever having been two years old. Especially if you ever had insectivore tendencies."

Several of the students exchanged looks of confusion, but he did not explain further, instead turning to the cactus-like plant on his desk and gently, carefully stroking the pustule-covered branches. It had been his for almost twenty years now, and it knew his touch, thrumming with what was very nearly a purr. "Now, does anyone know how I can do this, and what I'd get covered in if I didn't do it right?"

"Stinksap?" guessed a girl. "And you've earned its trust, right?"

"Exactly, and Stinksap is very aptly named. Actually, the first year I had this little fellow, I decided to poke it with my quill, and I managed to douse an entire train compartment really very impressively. Drenched a half-dozen people and couldn't get the smell out of my robes for days. But we're going to be covering that in a lot more detail this year, along with a lot of other plants that can be either incredibly interesting or really pretty dangerous if you don't watch what you're doing. You guys are fifth-years now, so you're old enough to play with the big kids."

"What are the big kids?" Lupin asked eagerly.

"Venomous Tentacula, Devil's Snare, Snargaluff…" he grinned, "…the good stuff."

Another girl in the back row stretched her hand high in the air, waving it to catch the Professor's attention. Neville nodded to her. "Miss Tenser?"

"Yes, sir…is it true that you used those to fight Death Eaters? I read in Hogwarts: A History that plants were used in the defense, and I know you were –"

"Nice try." Neville chuckled, then paused, coming around the desk to sit on the front edge, one leg crossed casually over the other as he looked across the bright young faces glowing in the golden September light that poured through the glass walls of the greenhouse.

"I've been your teacher since Sprout retired in your second year, and since…oh…" he paused in a moment of mock-contemplation, "…I guess about two minutes after I started, I've been getting questions about these –" Neville tapped a finger against the scars that ran diagonally across his cheeks, "—and about the war. And I've been telling you that you're too young, that I'll tell you later. Well, I'm being honest. I've been holding out to make you want it more, because I'm going to quite frankly bribe you."

There was a shuffling of benches as the students leaned forward, some eagerly, some with looks of suspicion. Neville's smile widened, and he reached into his pocket, pulling out a gleaming gold coin. "Does anyone know what this is?"

"Is that one of the real ones? From Dumbledore's Army?" Adrian Wood gasped, the young Seeker's eyes widening in awe.

"Yes, it is. Still works too…although these days, my wife usually just uses it to tell me I left something at home," he acknowledged. "But I made this deal with my last two O.W.L. classes…everyone who's been carrying marks enough that I think they'll pass, I'll tell them the whole story. Not what you get in Hogwarts: A History. Not what you'll find in old copies of the Prophet. The real thing. A lot of people would say you're too young to hear it, but the way I see it, if half the witches and wizards who lived it were your age, you're certainly old enough to know about it. It'll take all day, but one of the advantages of teaching Herbology is that we get to do field trips when I say, and it'll be the last day or two of school, so it won't be a problem clearing your schedule."

A murmur of excitement rippled through the class, and Teddy Lupin raised his hand again. "All we've got to do is pass?"

"I expect you to do your best, and I'll grade accordingly if I think you're not really trying, but yes, that's the deal," he nodded. "Acceptable or better, and you get the story of the whole year."

His eyes fell on a girl in the second row. She was sturdy yet slender, a rustic beauty with long, dark hair and her mother's sweet, pursed mouth, but she had her father's hazel eyes, and Neville's smile turned bittersweet. "And this time in particular, Miss Macmillan, I'm going to make sure to tell it right."

ooo THE END ooo


The majority of the characters, situations, and elements of this story are the intellectual property of J.K. Rowling and are derived wholly or in part from the "Harry Potter" series of novels published in the United States by Scholastic Books. They are being used here without consent or permission by Ms. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended, and the author has derived no profit or compensation from their use, which is intended for entertainment purposes only. All wholly original characters and elements are the property of the author.

"Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness" has been a truly massive undertaking, far more than I ever imagined when it began. It has wound up at more than 247,000 words, which is far longer than the novel which originally inspired it, and I have my readers to thank for this. You have stuck by Neville and the D.A. for over two months, through all the ups and downs of this wild ride. I am aware that following such a story is an effort and a dedication just as much as writing it, and I want you to know that if you have gotten this far, I truly thank you, and would love to hear from you. This is the first thing I have ever written, and I am always delighted to know that others have read it, whether they loved or hated it.

It is my intention that you have laughed occasionally, maybe even cried, and I would hope that at least once or twice, it has made you think. The characters you have followed through this story were almost all originally background people in the Harry Potter books, but even the people in the background of our lives are still people, and everyone has a story to tell. The D.A. certainly grabbed me by the keyboard and demanded to tell theirs.

This story, however, is not dedicated to my readers, or to a group of fictional, if – at least to me – compelling teenagers. It is dedicated to the real-life soldiers who gave their time and effort to help me with the psychology of war. Many of these young men and women are as young as eighteen themselves, and they are not fighting with wands and hexes on the grounds of an imaginary wizarding school. They fire real bullets and shed real blood on the very non-fictional battlefields of the Muggle world even as you read this, and their courage, their sacrifice is too often ignored because they do so out of our daily sight.

If you have admired the bravery of the young witches and wizards in this story, know that I have based a great deal of it – especially what a young person goes through in battle, what it is like to watch a friend die, what it is like to prepare for your own death when you have barely begun to live – on these real heroes. Go ahead and drop me some feedback if you want, but I would also ask that the next time you spot a young man or woman in uniform, take a moment to shake their hand. Their truth is much greater than fiction.

-- Andrew a.k.a. Thanfiction

Fool in Charge

Author: Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness