Chapter One: The Final Year
The Hogwarts Express lurched forward to draw away from Platform 9 3/4, just as it had so many times before. Neville Longbottom had taken the trip only about a dozen times, a small fraction of the train's total trips, yet it all seemed very familiar to him. The lurch, the whistle, and then he were moving forward. This would be one of the last times he would make the trip.
He watched the platform go by, looking for his Gran. He found her, standing at the end by herself. He waved as he passed, but couldn't tell if she saw him. Then she was gone, along with the rest of the platform, and all the other families seeing their children off.
He slumped back in his chair, alone in his cabin. His truck was stowed under his seat, but besides that his cabin was empty. He had looked to join some of his friends, but didn't see any of them on the platform or on the train. He had seen a flash of red hair getting on the train that might have been Ginny Weasley, but he hadn't been able to find her.
"I'll go find them later. They must be on the train." For now, though, Neville decided to rest. The trip to London had been exhausting. The whole summer had, really. Ever since Scrimgeour had died, Gran had been a lot harder on him than usual.
"Don't you think it was an accident, Neville," He recalled Gran admonishing him. "Mark my words, it was the Death Eaters that did it. I would never in my life have thought Pius Thickness would be one. He never seemed to have any ambition, but it's no coincidence that he replaced Rufus, mark my words, not at all, not at all." Neville didn't want to believe his grandmother's words. Didn't even want to think about them much, but they made too much sense to ignore. It frightened him that the Death Eaters would move so openly, and at such a target. Neville had fought Death Eaters before, but they tended to stay in the shadows. When they came out, it was usually briefly and in disguise. To publicly install one of their own as Minister of Magic- even if they weren't publicly taking credit- was a big step for them.
Ever since then, Gran had fretted over him far more than usual. She wouldn't let him out after night, carefully checked his incoming and outgoing mail, and wouldn't let him take a Portkey unless she made it herself.
"Yes I know it's illegal," Gran snapped when Neville brought this fact up. "But there's more important things at stake here. I'm not going to put you at risk over some law. That's how they killed the Diggory boy, with a Portkey." Neville knew more about that incident than Gran did, but knew arguing with her would be futile.
"They know you're friends with that Potter boy," She'd said another time, as thought it were all Harry's fault. "Don't think they won't come after you, because they will. In a heartbeat. If it weren't mandatory, I wouldn't even let you go to school this year. I'm more than capable of teaching you myself." But then her voice softened somewhat. "You be careful this year, Neville. There will be Death Eaters at the school this year, you can count on it. Keep your head down. Don't give them any reason to notice you. Don't give them a reason to… do… anything…"
"Keep your head down, Neville," Well, that was something Neville could do. Sometimes, he wanted nothing more than to keep his head down, but something always seemed to make him have to stick his head up.
This year would be different though. This year it was far more serious. Neville already heard stories of people being taken, or disappearing. Other stories too, more horrible ones. Mainly Muggle Borns and Half-Bloods, but Neville wasn't foolish enough to think they wouldn't come for a troublesome Pureblood.
Neville must have been thinking for longer than he intended, because the witch with the food cart was knocking on his compartment door. He waved her off. All his thinking hadn't left him with much of an appetite.
Two familiar faces shuffled into view as the witch went down the train. His face lit up as he recognized Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood, two of his good friends. He expected to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione following them, but no one else came.
"Hullo Ginny, Luna," Neville greeted as they walked through the door. "It's good to see you."
"It's good to be seen by you," Luna said dreamily, looking around the cabin. From anyone else, Neville might have wondered if she was flirting with him, but he knew that was just how Luna was. Her long pale hair hung strait down her back like usual, but she only had one of her radish earring in today. A copy of the Quibbler was tucked under her arm. The Quibbler was the only magazine or newspaper Gran read, or allowed Neville to read. He had been of age for several months now, so technically he didn't have to listen to her… but since Neville had no where else to go, he had to live with her and obey her rules.
Ginny, on the other hand, sat down without a word. Neville couldn't resd her expression, but the way some of her red hair drifted in front of her faced suggested anger.
"Ginny? Are you ok?"
"Oh, I'm just lovely, Neville," Ginny snapped. Her expression softened moments later. "I'm…"
"Ginerva has a lot on her mind," Luna put in.
"Don't call me that," Gunny snapped again. "I'm just anxious. I have no idea what this year will be like."
"Do you really think it will be all that different?" Neville asked.
"Of course it will be different!" Neville felt his cheeks grow warm and Ginny's response. "You-Know-Who has taken over the Ministry, Muggle-borns being sent to Azkaban or killed, people are disappearing and they're saying Harry's a criminal! And now Death Eaters are in charge of Hogwarts!"
"What? D-Death Eaters?" Neville stammered. "In charge?" He'd expected something, but for them to be in charge…
"The Carrows are teaching there," Luna explained. "One is teaching Muggle Studies, the other Defense Against the Dark Arts."
"Defense Against the Dark Arts?" Neville actually felt slightly relieved. "So it won't be… it's not Snape this year?" Neville would take any Death Eater over Snape. Well, almost any.
"Snape? Snape's the new Headmaster."
For a moment Neville couldn't speak. Snape? Headmaster? Neville felt lightheaded. After all the grief Snape had given Neville, after all the years, Neville thought it more likely that Snape would get sacked, not promoted. And he…
"He killed Dumbledore!" Neville blurted, his eyes suddenly watering.
"And he's a cruel, biased git," Ginny added, though that seemed to pale in comparison. Yet she sounded so much like Ron as she said that, Neville nearly laughed in spite of everything.
"So where are Ron and the others?" Neville asked, eager to change the subject. He wouldn't worry about Snape any more than he had to.
"We're not really sure," Luna said. "They vanished at Bill and Fluer's wedding, and no one has seen them since!"
"What do you mean, they vanished?" He directed the question at Ginny. As much as he liked Luna, it could be hard to get a strait answer out of her sometimes.
"We got a warning from Kingsley about people coming to the wedding. About the Ministry and Scrimgeour. Harry, Ron, and Hermione Disapparated. I don't know where to." Her expression darkened. "Dad knows where he is, but won't tell me." Neville noticed Ginny had said Harry's name, not Ron's. Years of trying to understand girls told Neville that Ginny really did care about Harry.
When they had first gotten together at the end of the previous year, Neville had felt a little strange. He'd had a crush on her during his fourth year, when they had gone to the Yule Ball together. She met Michael Corner that night, and they had started going out shortly afterwards. Neville had been sad, though he knew from the start Ginny never had feelings for him. And when they broke up, Dean Thomas asked her out after that, but with Harry it was different, he could tell. Harry was actually his friend. He hadn't said anything- what difference would it have made? Besides, it wasn't like he still had feelings for Ginny… it was just still a little weird thinking about it sometimes.
"I'm sure Harry's doing something very important," Luna said. "And he needs to do it in secret."
"He took Ron and Hermione with him," Ginny said bitterly.
"But didn't you two break up last year?" Right away Neville could tell he'd said something wrong. Ginny stared at him, and her face seemed to shift between sadness and anger. Before he or Ginny could say anything, Luna spoke up.
"I suspect he may be in Iceland. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was seen there you know. He's trying to recruit the Crumple-Horned Snorcacks to his side. It's right in here somewhere…" Luna picked up her copy of the Quibbler and began to flip through it. The headline read "Potter On The Run In the North!" and had a picture of some footprints appearing in the snow accompanying it. "My dad has one of their horns you know…" Neville never got to see the article, however, because someone else came into the compartment.
"Well well, if it isn't Potty's friends!" Draco Malfoy hadn't changed at all since Neville last saw him, save that he might look a bit paler than usual. "Longbottom, Looney, and his little girlfriend too! Crabbe and Goyle, hulking behind him, let out several low, guttural laughs.
"Get out, Malfoy," Ginny said. "You're not welcome here."
"I see a spare seat," Draco said. "You can't stop me from sitting where I want."
"I don't think there's enough room for your friends. They're rather large," Luna observed off handedly.
"Maybe you're right. With Longbottom in here, I'm surprised there's room for anyone else!" Crabbe and Goyle roared with laught, and this time they were joined by a high, shriller laugh. Neville saw Pansy Parkinson standing in the hallway. "Come on, we'll stop crowding them." More laugher as Draco and his goons began to walk away. Draco turned to follow, but stopped at the doorway to look at Ginny. "Remember, little Weasal, you don't have any brother to throw me in closet or vomit slugs at me. You're on your own this year."
"I can handle myself, Malfoy," Ginny said, getting to her feet. "And don't you dare let me catch you talking about Harry again."
Draco let out a sharp laugh. "Or you'll do what?" But Ginny already had her want out. Draco backed away and fumbled for his own wand, before stumbling against a large man with a pale, twisted face. Draco looked up and the man and dropped his wand. The tall man looked down at Draco, and then into the compartment.
"Is there a problem here?" His voice, oddly familiar, made Neville think of jagged ice. Draco picked up his hand and turned slightly toward the tall man, but not enough to meet his eyes.
"No, no problem," Draco said quickly. "I was just leaving." Draco stashed his wand and darted down the corridor after his friends. The tall man looked into the compartment once more before closing the door and walking off.
"Did that man seem familiar?" Luna faced the window as she spoke.
"Antonin Dolohov," Ginny said. "I've seen his wanted poster. He's a Death Eater." She paused for a moment. "He killed my mom's brothers."
"I'm sorry…" Neville started, but Ginny interrupted him. He was going to mention Dolohov had broken his nose, but it didn't seem to measure up to the loss of two relatives.
"It's ok. It happened before I was born. I never knew them."
"Oh." Neville looked out the window. For a while they rode in silence. The only sounds came from the train, and Luna flipping pages in the Quibbler, occasionally making marks in it with a quill she produced from behind her ear.
"We need to do something." Ginny finally said. It sounded like she'd been holding it in for a while.
"What do you mean?" Luna asked, not looking up from her magazine.
"How are we supposed to just go to school when all this is happening!" Ginny said angrily. "Harry's missing, You- Know-Who's on the move, Death Eaters at Hogwarts and on the train, and they just expect us to act normal! They won't even tell me anything, not Harry, not Dad, not-"
"My father has told you everything he knows," Luna said. For a moment Neville thought Ginny would shout at her, but she held herself back.
"I won't keep any secrets from you, Ginny," Neville said, trying to calm her down. "And look, we had to come here. They would have tracked us down if we didn't. You know what it's been like."
"I know, Neville, I know. I just wish more people would keep me in the loop. I have an idea though," She said.
"You do?" Neville regretted asking right away. Whatever Ginny had in mind, he knew it wouldn't be something nice a quiet. He was supposed to keep his head down, he wasn't supposed to…
"Dumbledore left Gryffindor's sword to Harry in his will," Ginny explained. "Scrimgeour wouldn't let him have it. But it's kept at Hogwarts, in the Headmaster's office. I think… I think we might be able to do something, at least," Ginny said.
Neville didn't want to agree or disagree, so he nodded to himself and said "I wonder why Harry would need the sword?"
"I hear it can shoot lightening," Luna said. "Long ago one of Godric Gryffindor's sons trapped a lightening monster in it. Elerctificus Hryunculus."
Neither Ginny nor Neville could think what to say, so they lapsed into silence again. The silence was shorter this time, as Neville saw some distant lights out the window, and soon realized what it was.
"Hogwarts!" He said aloud. Ginny twisted to look at the lights, and Luna scooted closer to the window. Together they watched as the lights grew brighter and brighter. He had seen the sight a number of times, and it always filled him with a sense of both dread and excitement. Both feelings were accentuated this time. It felt more like the time they flew to the Department of Mysteries at the end of his fifth year.
"Hopefully this year won't end up like that," Neville thought grimly. But with Death Eaters on the train, Death Eaters teaching class, Snape is charge and Harry no where to be found, he wasn't sure how likely that would be.
A few minutes later Ginny and Luna left to change into their school robes. Neville hauled his trunk out from under the seat and did the same. He was pleased to find his robes from last year actually fit slightly better. Gran hadn't let him go to Diagon Alley to get new ones. Gran also wouldn't go out to eat, and only let Neville eat food she had made. As Neville hated her cooking, he only ate enough to get by, and had lost a considerable amount of weight.
He finished dressing just as the train pulled into the station. The corridor quickly filled with students, dragging their trunks and luggage along with them. As he exited the train, he heard the familiar voice of Hagrid calling for first years. His voice was comforting. Not only was it a small dose of normalcy, but Care of Magical Creatures had been one of Neville's favorite classes. He was nice, genuinely nice. Snape had always been mean to him, and he had a feeling that most of the other teachers were indifferent to him, or that they pitied him. McGonagall seemed to believe in him, at least, but she had always been distant. Hagrid seemed more like a friend.
"Neville! Is that you, mate?" Neville turned to see Seamus Finnigan's face face smiling at him. "Blimey, you've lost some weight, haven't you?"
"I guess," Neville said. He was glad to see Seamus, but was distracted by the crowd Seamus had broken away from. He had spent the train ride with Ernie MacMillan, Michael Corner, and Hannah Abbot.
"Well good for you." Seamus clapped him on the back. "You hear? It'll just be the two of us in the room this year."
"Really? How come?"
"Well, Harry's on the run from the Ministry or something," Seamus said. Neville noticed a copy of the Quibbler sticking out of Seamus's robe. "And I heard Ron's taken up with Spattergroit. Not sure if I believe that, mind, I think he's with Harry. But either way he wasn't on the train."
"What about Dean?"
"Dean's on the run, too. He's not too sure about his bloodline, and didn't want to take any chances. I think a cousin of his or something might have been sent to Azkaban. He got an owl out to me, but he couldn't write much."
"Wow." The slight illusion of normality shattered. Suddenly nervous, Neville looked around and started walking toward the thestrals-drawn carriages.
Seamus followed him, and they saw Ginny and Luna climbing into a carriage. They rushed to their carriage and climbed in after them. Seamus said his hellos to Ginny and Luna as he climbed in, then reached to close the door. As he did, Michael Corner appeared, and asked if there was any room.
"Sorry mate, we're all full," Seamus said, and closed the door. "Nice enough fellow, but he rubs me the wrong way, a bit." Ginny made a harrumphing noise that implied agreement. "He joined us about halfway through the train ride. Nice enough, like I said, but…" He trailed off and shrugged. For the rest of the carriage ride, they listened Seamus talk about his summer. He told them about the last time he saw Dean, at his birthday party just over a month ago. Ginny told Seamus several things, but stuck to the story of Ron having spattergroit, and didn't mention anything about Harry's quest or Gryiffindor's sword.
They arrived at the school itself as Ginny finished talking. Luna went to join the other Raveclaws as they filed into the school. Neville saw Michael Corner walk up to her and strike up a conversation before losing them in the crowd. When he looked away, he noticed Ginny had been glaring.
And then they were all shuffled inside, and Neville's last year at Hogwarts officially began.