Chapter Twenty-Eight

Epilogue and Author's Notes

FIVE YEARS LATER: 2nd MAY, 2008

They had started out as solemn affairs, what most people thought of as 'proper' memorials with wreaths lain, speeches given, and prayers intoned about lives snuffed out too young, but as the years had gone on and those who survived were increasingly old enough to have say in how their friends were remembered, they had taken on a far different feel. By rights, they felt, the annual remembrances should be the victory party their friends never had, an opportunity to give thanks for the lives they had been willing to give for one another, and most of all, they had unanimously decided to make at least their gathering a wholly closed affair, even if some of them were required to put in an appearance at various, more public obligations.

There would be, they had decided, no more journalists nosing around for reminiscences or 'poignant moments' that made every tear a risk, no more gawkers come to see the people they'd read about in this newspaper or that magazine, no more morbidly curious strangers or posturing do-gooders. Just them. Just Dumbledore's Army at the simple granite column that bore the names of the fallen on the edge of the Hogwarts grounds, quietly tucked away near the gate at the patch of deliberately still-shattered wall where the first of the night's dead had fallen.

At first, their gatherings had rung heavily of tight-lipped defiance, but as they had begun to settle more into their own lives, it had relaxed more and more. True, there had been a retreat into fresh grief the year that Summerby, Utterson, Winchcombe, and Zeller were added to the long list they had so naively thought complete, but there had thankfully been no more since, and the memorials had continued indefatigably towards their current form.

To an outsider, it wouldn't have seemed a memorial at all, but rather a party or cookout of some kind, a score of young families scattered across the lawn on bright blankets, hampers of food spread wide as children ran and played in and out through the adults. It was only if you were to look closer that you would see that all of the adults were within four years of the same age, realize how many were horribly scarred, even missing parts of their bodies entirely. It was only if you listened that you would hear how many of the children's names were echoed on the silently carved stone.

The dead were far from forgotten, but it had become an event for the living, and the spring sunshine was warm and bright as Neville turned to exchange a deep smile with the only other man in their already tight-knit circle who truly understood how priceless it was to see so many of them there. "So how does it feel, being out?"

"Lovely, 'tis, one day parole or no, but ah, Fearless Leader, what I really miss is me wand. Nothin' makes ya appreciate Scourgify like one o' these." Seamus made a face as he wiped ineffectively at the gooey mess spread across his son's face and shirt, and Neville laughed, drawing his own wand to tap the boy's chubby cheeks with the very spell his friend had bemoaned.

"Just wait until he's a little older," he teased. "This is nothing, but you still should have known better."

"Cake's soft!" Seamus protested, shifting the baby to rest in the crook of one arm as he wagged a finger at him. "Ya shouldn't have had no reason go spittin' it up all o'er, ya shouldn't." The rebuke did not appear to have the desired impact, and Thomas simply replied with an impressive spit bubble before grabbing his father's finger in both hands and jamming it into his mouth, prompting a martyred roll of the blue eyes. "See how well he listens, do ya? Six months old and a bloody terror he is already!"

"Well, he might look like Sue, but he's definitely yours," Neville agreed. "Seriously, though, soft or not, good rule of thumb is that until he's at least got teeth, anything he eats should come from his Mum, one way or another."

One fair eyebrow raised, and Seamus glanced from his friend to where Hannah was attempting to coax Ernie into taking a few steps for Ginny, while Peggy and Trevor appeared to be deeply engrossed in the dissection of their own lunches rather than actually consuming them. "This, then, would be from your vast and encyclopedic knowledge of children, I'm assumin'?"

"Three to one, mate," Neville grinned, then leaned in closer, dropping his voice low to keep his next words between the two of them. Well, technically three, but Thomas was not yet precisely a threat when it came to gossip. "Don't start spreading it around yet, but we're thinking there might be another one in January, too."

"Merlin's tears, can'tcha give the poor girl a break?!" Seamus shook his head in mock scandal, then winced, glaring at his son again as he yanked his finger away. "Mouth like an effin' dragon trap, ya got! I'd like be keepin' all ten o' those, if ya don't mind."

Neville chuckled again, reaching out to take the squirming, dark-haired baby while he dug in the pocket of his robes for a moment before pulling out a pacifier and extending it, along with his wand, to Seamus. "Here. I won't tell if you'll just clean that off for me, and we'll give him something else to gnaw on for a while." There was a pause as the little maneuver was completed, and soon Thomas was working away happily, his eyes already beginning to drift lazily in the first signs of an impending nap.

"Anyway…" Neville had become well accustomed to having to stop and start adult conversations around the demands of small children, and it was no effort at all any more to remember where they had left off. "We're actually stopping after this one, to be honest. We've talked about it, and four's really the number we'd both like. Proper big family, but not like the Smiths or the Weasleys, you know? Hannah doesn't know how Megan copes with five. What about you and Susan? Think you'll have more?"

"Don't really know," he admitted. "Whole thing's still a bit odd, 'tis. We weren't really plannin' none o' this, but…" Seamus trailed off, looking around them at the clustered families, and his expression was unreadable, his voice soft when he finally continued. "Ya move on, ya do. Ain't nothin' else to do, or life, it goes on without ya."

He looked down, twisting the end of the ponytail he had allowed to grow long again - though Neville had made a point of never asking why - and a faint, mournful smile quirked one corner of his mouth. "Lookin' 'round here, seein' how everyone's grown up, makes me think I proper did meself o'er, it does. I mean, there's girls here what were still workin' on getting' tits when it all happened, and now they're mothers with kids older than mine and careers and…but then the what ifs, they've this way o' turnin' funny on themselves. Like if I had kept me head, what o' the Diabhal Dubh, and would I've ever found Sue if I weren't servin' me time, and would she've ever moved on, and what o' me Tommy…."

Seamus shook his head, clearly at a loss for words as he brushed the back of his fingers across the soft little head, but no words were needed. A new baby might bring all the world to circle around the mother for the miracle she had created, but there was something inexpressibly astonishing about fatherhood as well, something you couldn't understand unless you had experienced it, and something he was grateful he could now share with his best friend. To know that you had been half of that miracle, to see yourself however strongly or faintly reflected in another human being that held you in such innocent trust when your hand could surround their entire tiny head, their whole body on the length of your forearm…it was at once terrifying and thrilling, and Neville nodded knowingly.

"It all comes together in the end," he said quietly, handing Thomas gently back. "I mean, I've always believed that, but once you've got kids, you have to. There's got to be some kind of higher plan, because we're all making it up as we go along, but you just can't look at them and –"

"-- Say it's anythin' but 'zactly where ya'd want to be if every bit o' it - tears and all - had been told ya from the – t'hell?!"

Neville spun, and though it had been years, his reflexes were as sharp as ever as his wand came up along with dozens of others across the grounds, all aimed directly at what had caught not merely Seamus' attention so dramatically. They were birds - two ravens, he could see now - huge and glossy black, plummeting down out of the sky in a near-suicidal Seeker's dive straight for them, and he jerked back as one missed him by inches, the other flapping to a barely-controlled landing at his feet. A scroll of parchment had been tied to one leg, and it lowered its beak to pluck away the cord binding it there, gave a loud caw, and then was gone.

It hadn't taken off again, there had been no flash or crack: its message delivered, the bird had simply stopped being, and his hands were shaking slightly as he knelt to retrieve the tightly-foiled scroll.

"You too?" He startled at the voice behind him, and Harry was there as he stood, the lightning scar on his brow creased as he frowned, holding out a scroll that was the twin of Neville's own. "Do you suppose we should be worried?"

"Probably just something to do with the anniversary," Neville said with forced confidence, slipping his wand beneath the wax seal to crack it open. "I mean, today of all days is not a weird time for someone to send something to the two of us, even if the method was a bit…odd."

He unfurled it now, tilting his head curiously as he saw that it wasn't properly a letter, but the top half of what looked like a torn page from a book pasted to the larger parchment. The ink was faded, it looked several years old but not ancient, and his curiosity deepened as he saw the date at the top, written like the rest of it in a thin, spidery, old-fashioned hand that seemed vaguely familiar in a way he couldn't quite place.

21 March, 1980

A gasp broke his attempts to decipher the delicate writing, and he looked up just in time to see Harry's knees buckle beneath him, Ron barely managing to catch him before he would have collapsed completely. His face had gone deathly white, and his green eyes were perfect circles of shock as he looked up, holding out his own letter so that Neville could see now that it bore what was unquestionably the bottom half of the same page. "Dumbledore!"

"What?!" Ron reached past him, and his own mouth dropped open as he looked at it. "Blimey! That's his, all right! What's he doing sending you and Neville letters from the great beyond?"

"It's not a letter," Neville replied, and now his hands were shaking, he could feel his own face falling pale, and as his eyes skimmed the lines more and more easily as they adjusted to the handwriting, he began to agree that Harry, prematurely or not, had displayed precisely the right reaction. "It's from his diary…it's the day he heard the prophecy, it's…"

He licked his lips, and he couldn't go on, but Hermione was there now, looking over his shoulder, and her hand flew to her mouth with a little gasp that told him she must have reached the same part he had. "Harry, you were deliberately chosen!"

"Is that all?!" Seamus exclaimed, glancing between the two men incredulously, Thomas having somehow managed to fall asleep on his shoulder in the middle of the sudden upheaval. "Ya had us thinkin' it were the end o' the effin' world! We all know he were chosen…coincidence it is with why folk call him 'The Chosen One,' maybe?"

"Maybe so," Hermione conceded, "but according to this, unless Harry's half contains a pretty radical change of mind, it was never Riddle who chose."

THE END

This story is dedicated to my grandfather, who always taught me that life can only be taken one day at a time, and if you're never ashamed of who you are or what you believe and always have faith, you'll never need to be ashamed of anything else.

It is also dedicated to you, the remarkable reader who was willing to step so far beyond the comfort zone of anything resembling a 'normal' Harry Potter fanfiction for some 220,000 words. I dragged you through the underbelly of Belfast, the nightmare of Druim Cett, the Oweynagat and Avalon and back again, twisted you through space and time, and you stuck it out. My proverbial hat is off to you, not to mention that I owe you my thanks, as a story unread is meaningless.

There are, however, several others who must be thanked as well:

VegaBlack, who has been with me on every step of this journey with her honest opinions and insightful understanding of Neville ever since this whole universe was a series of one-shots on . Thank you, you are truly Constance Reader.

Ceirdwenfc, who has put up with endless hours of my authorial whinging and moaning, and who has served as my sounding board and the voice of reason no matter how far I dragged these young men from anything resembling the beaten path. I apologize in advance for every post-it the plot bunnies this has spawned will cost you, and I didn't mean to suck you into another pairing, I swear.

Sarah, who helped me determine how to condense the entire Arthurian metaverse into something cohesive. I still say that you make very Hermione noises when you are in deep geek mode, and I love that we could chat so casually about Tennyson and Brythonic myth.

Supergreak, who talked me down at four in the morning from the episode I had while writing the first battle of Druim Cett. You are a truly good-hearted person, and will be an officer I would be proud to serve under.

Mintcloud, who reminded me that above all power they may have to tell the writer's story, the greatest power of the written word is to make people feel that they are journeying beside the characters, experiencing their joy and pain. The dragon was for you.

J.K. Rowling, for creating the universe that this theoretically spawns from, for originating the characters of Neville and Seamus, as well as so many others, and for providing such a rich inspiration.

The true geniuses on whose shoulders I have stood, however, are nameless: the bards and wandering minstrels, the firelit storytellers who first spun the Dullahan from the night shadows and the Banshee from the cry of the wind. I have plagiarized your unnamed legends shamelessly, but I hope that you know it was done only in respect and love, and isn't, indeed, the essence of what you did to take and build and pass along? I hope that people will seek out more of the Irish myths after reading this, because I assure you, the originals are far richer than the pale references I scattered in my own narrative.

As for the Troubles and everything in the Muggle world of Belfast, I only wish it were fiction. But truth is often just as jarring, and the RHD, the Kimberly Bar, the PIRA, fathers shot execution-style in the bedrooms of Ardoyne and young men outside the nightclubs of Ballynafeigh, schoolgirls awakened to fiery hell and eight year-olds buried...these things were and too often still are real. Like so many conflicts, it is impossible to say at this point which side is truly right or wrong, because both have gone so far beyond any claim of righteousness, but I have done my best to show both the human hearts and inhuman monsters who inhabit this world.

And that sometimes, the truth can be that a man is neither, merely a shadow of the gray, hung between life and death on a noose made of the choices of others unless his own choice is made, the same choice that is powerful and very real magic in all of our hands: the choice not to exist, but to live.

I hope you enjoyed "Sluagh," and I hope you will read again when the story of Neville and the D.A. continues in spring of '09 with the third novel of the DAYD trilogy, "A Peccatis."

Respectfully Yours

Andrew Blake a.k.a. Thanfiction