Not as long a chapter as last time, but a lot fewer walls of exposition. Updates may become a little more sporadic, as I'm reaching a wall with this particular story. We'll see, though.
Neville had wondered how long it would take to notice any substantial change to Hogwarts's policies, but the moment he stepped into the Great Hall, one became fairly obvious.
"Luna," he said, taking a seat at the Gryffindor table, where Luna was being given a small berth as she went about eating her breakfast.
"Good morning, Neville," she said, offering him a smile. "Eggs?"
"Um, sure," he said, taking a scoop from the offered platter and adding some bacon. He was about to inquire about her presence at the table, but he remembered skimming over a line in the pamphlet about houses being allowed to dine at other house tables (to encourage inter-house relations). Naturally, Luna would want to take advantage of the opportunity to get away from her housemates. "How are you this morning?"
"Quite well," she said, taking a bite of her porridge. Neville noticed hashed browns, chunks of cinnamon roll, bacon, and what looked like coffee mixed in. Apparently, her taste in food was as eccentric as her personality. "Although…my herbology gloves have come up missing," she sounded only mildly disappointed. "It's the first class of the day, so I'm rather hoping they turn up."
"Did your classmates take them?" he asked.
Luna looked thoughtful. "That's a possibility," she said. "There's also the chance that it was a phalangefer."
Neville blinked, lost on that word. "And what's a phalangefer?"
"Small creatures with five hands and no feet," she explained. "Their whole bodies are covered with fur except for their many hands, so they need gloves to keep warm. If it was a phalangefer, I wouldn't be mad."
"But what if it was your housemates?" Neville asked. Luna gave him a dreamy smile.
"It's all in good fun," she said. She went back to her porridge, and Neville tucked in to his own breakfast, but occasionally, he would glance over to the Ravenclaw table, where a few students were not so covertly glancing over at Luna, sometimes whispering to each other and laughing.
He didn't like that one bit.
"Seamus," Neville said as the pair plus Dean made their way to History of Magic (which Dean had grumbled was the worst possible start to the school year), weaving through the crowd of students that were getting in what social time they could before class began. "You said you and Michael Corner were friends?"
"We grew up near each other," Seamus said. "I don't know that we're friends now, but we used to be close before Hogwarts."
"Right," Neville said. "D'you think you could talk him into helping out Luna?"
"What?" Seamus gaped at him. "You're still on about that?"
"She's being bullied," Neville pressed. "They stole her herbology gloves, and she's got it first class today."
"Then she can borrow someone else's," Seamus said, shrugging. "Problem solved."
"That's not a permanent fix," Neville said. "I already loaned her mine, but next it'll be her shoes or a textbook, or something."
"Tell her to talk to Flitwick, then," Seamus countered.
"None of the students would own up to it, and you know that," Neville frowned, folding his arms and glaring at Seamus. "And if they found out she told, they'd just pick on her worse."
"Why are you so hung up on this girl?" Seamus asked. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you fancied her."
"Seamus, can't you just ask Michael?" Dean asked, piping in for the first time, his voice calm and collected. "I mean, if someone's getting bullied, you should help out, right?"
He shook his head in exasperation, looking up at Neville (who had gained quite a few inches of height over his friend during the summer) and sighing.
"Fine, I'll talk to him," he said, "but why are you so bent out of shape?"
"Because it's not fun to be bullied," Neville said as they stepped into Professor Binns's room.
Or…it had been.
"Good morning," a very real living person said, sitting at the long-disused desk at the front of the room. He looked to be in his sixties, as his skin was wrinkled with age, and his silvery hair was wispy at the top of his head. Nonetheless, he had kind brown eyes that regarded the three new arrivals warmly. "Please, have a seat."
"Who d'you reckon that is?" Dean whispered as they moved to sit down.
"New professor?" Seamus said, and Dean rolled his eyes.
"No, really?" he hissed. "Wouldn't've thought of that? But who is he?"
"Were you three even paying attention during Dumbledore's announcements?" Parvati asked as they sat, and the three shook their heads. "That's Barnabas Bagshot. He's replacing Binns."
"Bagshot?" Neville asked. "Like the woman who wrote A History of Magic?"
"I think so," Parvati shrugged.
The second bell rang, and Professor Bagshot stood, smiling at the assembled students. "Good morning, everyone."
They class mumbled something that sounded like a collective greeting, and Bagshot chuckled indulgently.
"Ah, I sympathize," he said. "Summer's over, first day back, and you have to sit down to a history lesson. But, hopefully, I can make history sound more interesting than Cuthbert Binns," he said the name with distaste, moving to the blackboard. "Now, for those of you that may not have been paying attention during the feast," he tugged out his wand and tapped the blackboard, "my name is Barnabas Bagshot. Yes, like the woman that wrote the textbook. She is my great-great-auntie, bless her. It's thanks to her that I learned anything about history at all."
"So, you didn't like Professor Binns, either?" Ernie Macmillan asked, raising his hand. Bagshot scowled.
"Well, no one liked him," he said. "In the nearly two centuries that he's taught, not one student moved on to his N.E.W.T. course, and I've heard of several aspiring historians up and leaving to go to Beauxbatons or Durmstrang because Binns made the subject of history so boring."
A few students chuckled at this, but Bagshot shook his head. "I can see the irony, but all the same, it's tragic that such a wonderful subject can be rendered so trite by the wrong teacher. But that's the past, and not the interesting kind."
Another chuckle, and Bagshot moved back to the board. "Now, let's see if we can find something important in history that didn't have to do with goblins."
"I like him," Dean said. "I wish they'd sacked Binns sooner."
"Yeah, like before we even started in this place," Seamus said.
"Or before he died," Dean countered.
"Or just never hired him in the first place," Neville said, and the other two nodded emphatically.
"What's next?" Dean asked.
"Potions," Seamus grumbled. "History and Potions in the same morning. Someone hates us."
"Hey, think positive," Dean said. "Maybe they sacked Snape, too."
The other two laughed as they trotted down a stairwell, turning and almost running into a slight blonde figure, who stopped at the last second, inches from Neville, their noses practically touching.
"Luna!" Neville said, smiling at her. Luna smiled right back, making no move to back up.
"Neville," she said (her warm breath smelling like chocolate, oddly), holding out a set of gloves. "I wanted to thank you for loaning me your gloves. We were handling shrivlefigs, which are apparently corrosive if handled without them. I would've had a rash on my hands for a few days."
She said all of this with a detached air, as though she were in fact talking about someone else that she didn't particularly care about.
"It's no problem, Luna," Neville said, stuffing the gloves in his bag. "If anything turns up missing, let me know. And…don't let anyone push you around."
She blinked, smiling a bit wider. "I have to go to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Farewell, Neville Longbottom."
She moved past him and strolled off, her blond hair swaying as she walked with a slight bounce in her step, almost skipping.
"She's not one for personal space, is she?" Seamus pointed out, and Dean chuckled as they continued on their way. "Still, I dunno why anyone would bully her. She's harmless. Weird, but harmless."
"Some people are just cruel blighters," Neville said, shaking his head, and the other two nodded.
"Too right," Dean agreed.
They made their way down into the lower levels, the air growing colder and mustier as windows gave way to portraits, the occupants greeting the students as they strolled by. Seamus ducked behind Neville as they passed a familiar portrait of a flower girl in a frilly white dress, Dean and Neville laughing as the girl spotted him anyway and blushingly gave him a shy little wave.
Finally, they reached Professor Snape's room, Neville unable to stop the familiar sense of dread that always accompanied any encounter with the menacing teacher. He clung to the slim hope that Snape actually had gotten the sack and their new teacher was as kindly and welcoming as Bagshot.
However, as they took their seats, his hopes were dashed by Snape striding in, looking not unlike a vampire as his robes billowed out behind him. For some reason, Neville though he looked even more sour than usual, his mouth curled in a snarl as he glared out at his students, even giving the Slytherins a death look. The reason for his extra vindictiveness was revealed when Dumbledore strode in behind him, eyes twinkling as he smiled brightly at Snape. The students whispered amongst each other as Dumbledore conjured a rather plush-looking armchair next to Snape's desk and sat himself.
"Pay me no mind," he said quietly, noticing the mutterings. "I am but a fly on the wall at the moment. Severus, you have the floor."
Looking as though he would rather be swallowing broken glass with a pinecone chaser, Severus Snape practically growled his next statement.
"It has been put to my attention that my teaching methods are lacking in…positive reinforcement," he sneered, and Neville felt himself involuntarily shrink back. Albus Dumbledore was a brave man for bringing about that sneer and smiling as though he hadn't a care in the world. "As such, from this point on, I will endeavor to be…fairer in conducting my classes from now on. Now," he pointed his wand at the board, and a list of ingredients appeared. "Turn to page 252 and follow the instructions to brew a hair-raising solution. Should you have any questions, feel free to…ask for help. Begin…."
And thus began one of the most bizarre experiences of Neville's short life. Snape prowled about the room as per usual, but absent were any scathing comments, any insults, or (in the case of the Slytherins) undue praise for work that would normally kill someone. At one point, as Neville was about to add his rat tails, Snape swooped in and observed his cauldron.
"Longbottom," he said, his voice noticeably subdued. "Rat tails are added after pholcus thorax."
He strode off, and Neville consulted his instructions, finding that he had indeed skipped a step. But where was the biting voice? Where were the comments in the vein of "dunderhead", "nitwit", and "useless lump"?
"I'm not dreaming, am I?" Dean whispered as Neville dumped a handful of pholcus into his cauldron. "This is really happening? Snape is actually bearable to be around?"
"I don't feel like a figment of your imagination," Seamus said, pinching himself with one hand and Dean with other. Dean quickly smacked his hand away, but the motion had caught Snape's attention.
"Thomas and Finnegan," he said, stern but clearly trying to fight the usual venom. "Settle down and back to your potions."
"Yes, sir," Dean said, and they both hurried to continue.
The real shocker came about halfway through class when Lavender Brown tentatively raised her hand, earning shocked stares from most of the class. Snape slowly made his way over, the look on his face demonstrating quite accurately how little he wanted to be doing anything close to helping a Gryffindor.
"Um, Professor, my potion is bright blue, and it's…supposed to be…green…."
Staring at the potion for all of five seconds, Snape looked back up Lavender. "You forgot to add the powdered bat teeth. Fortunately for you, the…mistake is fixable. There is a section beginning on page 627 that will explain how to fix simple mistakes in potion-brewing."
He turned and continued on his way, leaving a completely stunned Lavender in his wake. It was a full minute before she realized she had a potion to fix and hurriedly marked her page before turning to the one Snape specified.
"This…is bizarre." Dean shook his head wonderingly.
"Too right," Seamus nodded.
By the end of class, everyone had finished the potion and spooned samples into a flask. Neville's wasn't electric blue as the book had specified it should be, but it was a nice shade of cerulean that he believed was close enough. Lavender had managed to turn hers aquamarine, at least.
"Clean your supplies, and…have a…satisfactory day."
Neville froze on his way to the cleaning station, Dean bumping into him from behind. Severus Snape wishing his class well? Well, "satisfactory", but from him, that was like a sobbing farewell.
As Neville left the room to head to lunch, he hear Dumbledore ask Snape, "Now, Severus, was that so difficult?"
"I think Potions is going to be my new favorite class," Seamus said through his laughter as he assembled himself a sandwich at lunch. "That was the most bloody hilarious thing I've ever seen in my life."
"I give it two weeks before he pops a vein," Dean added.
"Two days, more like."
"He won't last his next class."
Neville, meanwhile, was watching as Luna poured soy sauce over a croissant, adding sour cream, red pepper, and carrot slices before carefully cutting it into even pieces and eating it with a fork. She caught Neville's stare and smiled, chasing her bite with a drink of chocolate milk.
"Would you like to try some?"
"Oh, um, no," he hurriedly replied. "I…don't care for sour cream."
She nodded in understanding, and Neville went back to his chicken. "So, how's class going so far?"
"Oh, Herbology was great fun," she replied in a faraway voice. "One girl complimented me on my new gloves. I told her they were yours. She seemed to think that meant that we were dating."
Neville choked on his pumpkin juice as he took a drink, coughing but managing to avoid spitting. Next to him, Dean clapped him on the back almost absently as he and Seamus went on about quidditch.
"A-and what did you tell them?" Neville asked. Luna blinked slowly.
"I told them that I wasn't sure if we were dating," she said. "I don't know anything about relationships. Are we in one?"
"W-well…." Neville felt his face heating up. "I mean, we're friends, Luna, but…people usually know each other longer than we have before they start dating. I mean, I barely even know you."
"Likewise," Luna said, completely at ease despite what Neville would think was a very awkward conversational topic. "I would like to get to know you more. You seem nice."
He smiled at her. "You seem nice, too, Luna. A little…odd, but nice."
She gave him a dreamy little smile, going back to her meal, and Neville did the same, though he knew now more than ever that if Seamus didn't talk with Michael, he would do it himself.
Following lunch were Charms and Transfiguration, which were par for the course, though both professors seemed to be just a little out of sorts, likely due to the noticeable absence of Hermione Granger, whose quick study of just about any spell under the sun had set the bar for the class before. Without her to aspire to, the class seemed almost listless, trying to pick up the slack but just unable to.
What with the distractions in his previous classes, it was the first time the absence of his three friends really hit home. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were gone, and it was a coin-toss as to whether they would ever be back.
Just as Neville was sinking into a bout of melancholy, however, opportunity struck. As they were exiting Transfiguration, he spotted Michael Corner leaning against a nearby wall, chatting with two other Ravenclaws whose names he couldn't place. Glancing at Seamus, Neville gave him an elbow to the side and pointed to Michael.
"Yeah, yeah," Seamus said, shaking his head. He made his way through the crowd to Michael, Neville and Dean on his heels. "Michael."
Looking up, Michael gave Seamus an amiable smile. "Alright, Seamus? Good to be back, eh?"
"Good enough," Seamus replied. "Listen, we were hoping to have a word with you, if you don't mind."
He glanced at his two friends, who shrugged. "We were gonna grab an early dinner anyhow," one said.
"Alright, I'll be on down." He turned to Seamus. "I know one of those new lounges is nearby. We can talk there."
Another of the changes to Hogwarts was the addition of many student lounges. Old classrooms that had been long disused were converted to hangouts for students to study, work on homework, or simply relax. Any member of any House was allowed, making them much less restrictive than the House-exclusive common rooms.
It was in one such lounge that the trio convened in with Michael, finding a circle of chairs in the corner while a Weird Sisters song played in the background. Nearby, a group of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors were playing some board game, though Neville couldn't determine which.
"So," Michael said, glancing at the trio in turn, "what's this all about?"
Seamus glanced over at Neville, raising his eyebrows, and the message was clear. Here he is; tell him what you want.
"Um," Neville cleared his throat. "Do you know Luna Lovegood?"
"Loony?" Michael asked, smirking. "Yeah, all Ravenclaws do. They had a firstie initiation this year where they had to nick her gloves."
The smirk was all it took for all of Neville's nervousness to evaporate. "You shouldn't pick on her like that," he said, and Michael's smile faded.
"Aw, don't be like that," he said, chuckling. "It's all harmless. Just in good fun."
"It's not fun to her," Neville pressed, unconsciously sliding forward in his seat. "How would you feel if your gloves came up missing? Or your shoes? Or your cloak? To see all your housemates laughing at you while you look for it, knowing that they know where it is and they're not telling you?"
"Don't get all preachy," Michael said, scowling now. "I honestly don't even think she cares."
"I care," Neville said. "You should lay off her and tell the other Ravenclaws."
"You her bodyguard or something?" Michael asked, laughing, and Neville felt his hand clench into a fist. Dean seemed to notice as well.
"Nev…" he said warningly, and Neville stood.
"Forget it," he said, glaring down at Michael, who looked mildly shocked. "I don't like to stereotype Houses, but maybe you do belong in Ravenclaw. Not an ounce of courage."
"Hey, I've got plenty of courage!" Michael said, also standing.
"Then why do you need to pick on others to make yourself feel stronger?" Neville asked, turning and striding out of the room, Dean and Seamus on his heels.
"Blimey, Nev!" Seamus said, sounding amazed. "You looked ready to deck him!"
Just as quick as his anger had formed, it evaporated, and his legs suddenly felt very shaky. He stopped and leaned against a wall, taking a deep breath. "I think I might've been," he said, shaking his head. "People shouldn't…. A House is your family. You shouldn't do that sort of thing to family."
"Hey, we agree, Nev," Dean said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Look, Michael isn't the only Ravenclaw in our year. Terry Boot and I kinda talk once in a while if we run across each other in the library. Wanna see if he'll help?"
With one last ragged breath, he nodded and stood. "Yeah."
Immediately, Neville knew Terry was a winner. Despite knowing Dean only as an occasional library acquaintance, he greeted him like an old friend, smiling wide and marking a spot in his book before shutting it and giving Dean his full attention.
"Something I can do for you, mate?"
"This is about Luna," Dean said, nodding toward Neville. "Nev's worried about the bullying thing."
Terry sighed and shook his head. "Mental, that. Yeah, she's odd, but some people just are. My aunt, bless her soul, has twenty-five bonsai trees, all named, that she talks to like they're her children. Things were never the same after the accident…."
"All the same," Neville said, "we were wondering if you would be willing to help her out, stand up for her, talk to the other Ravenclaws."
He shrugged, shaking his head. "I can try, but I dunno how many I'll be able to convince. She makes an easy target."
"Well, what if you made her a harder target?" Seamus asked with a shrug. Neville blinked, a brilliant thought coming to mind. He stood, and the other three looked at him curiously.
"Do what you can, please," he asked Terry. "I've got a letter to write."
The days passed quickly, and before Harry knew it, he had been in school for nearly a week. Time seemed to fly by as he spent his days in such a typical American high-school environment that, had he not been learning proper transfiguration wand movements and Latin verb clauses, he would be convinced that he wasn't even attending a magical school. Days were spent hard at work pursuing his education, while afternoons and evenings were spent playing quidditch at the school field (which was open after school hours until dark), sitting at home doing schoolwork or playing video games (often with Ron, and Harry, had even started inviting Benny), or simply spending time with Hermione.
However, his nightmares continued, and were steadily worsening. Some nights, he dreamt himself standing in a large anteroom, speaking in a smooth voice to a room full of men in black robes, preaching about the importance of blood purity and keeping muggles in check. Other nights, he did…terrible things, to muggles, to wizards, to his own followers.
"We can safely assume that you're dreaming you're Voldemort," Hermione said, typing away at Harry's computer while he and Ron paced in the background. "But are you just remembering things he did, or is this happening right now?"
"Dumbledore thinks it's happening right now," Harry said. "He thinks…he might be back."
There was a grim silence at that statement, and Ron voiced the question they were all thinking.
"Dumbledore's looking into it, he says," Harry replied, and Hermione sighed.
"We'll look into it, too," she said determinedly. "Dumbledore may have good intentions, but…sometimes, I don't know if he really thinks his plans through."
"What d'you mean?" Ron asked, sounding confused. "He's Dumbledore. He always knows what to do."
"Sometimes it may seem that way," Hermione said, "but hiding the philosopher's stone behind a puzzle three first years could figure out? Hiring a professor who just happened to have Voldemort sticking out of his head. And I was the first one to figure out that a basilisk was attacking everyone last year? The man's missed a few steps in the past two years."
Ron fell silent, looking oddly thoughtful. Harry stepped up behind Hermione, looking over her shoulder at the computer. She smiled back at him, and he ran a hand down her cheek.
"Hey, you," she said softly, and Harry grinned.
"Hey, yourself," he said, leaning down and kissing her cheek. "Anything?"
"Well, I checked Magipedia, and the only magic that can cause one person to dream about the other's actions as consistently as you are is…a soul bond."
"The way you say that, it sounds bad."
She sighed and shook her head. "Harry, a soul bond is…not an easy process. The whole ritual takes about three hours, and I doubt Voldemort had that kind of time to spend with you."
Harry let a humorless laugh at that, peering at the screen. According to the article, soul bonds were old, old magic, dating back to before the Greek empire, even. It had fallen out of practice several hundred years ago due to the many complications of bonding one's soul to another.
"Soul bonds were nothing to fool around with, eh?"
Hermione nodded. "It was classified dark magic and only used by truly obsessive or overly-controlling lovers, and it never ended pretty."
"What would happen?" Ron asked.
"Most often, the bonded pair would go insane," Hermione said. "When you're soul-bonded to someone, you're always aware of their presence, no matter how far away they are; you're never truly alone. Eventually, it led to feelings of paranoia, resentment, and even outright hatred. Imagine always knowing where I was, Harry, feeling angry when I was, sad when I was, not knowing whose emotions you were really truly feeling. Sooner or later, all soul-bonded pairs would snap under the pressure."
"And then, what, kill each other?" Ron asked, and Hermione shook her head.
"If one of the pair dies, the other does, too," she said.
"That's insane," Harry said.
"Wait," Hermione said, scrolling down. "There's a list of related articles."
Glancing at the screen, Harry saw, Pureblood Marriage Customs, Dementors, Horcruxes, Ghosts, and Fidelius Charm.
"Click on the horcux one," Harry said.
"Mail call, Fredward," George said, trotting into the apartment, sifting through the stack of letters retrieved from the postbox. "Another one from Lee, one for Gin-Gin, Percy from his lovely lady."
"Oh, any nudie pics?" Fred asked, standing and moving to his twin's side.
"Inconclusive," George said, handing the letter off to Fred. "You do the honors."
A low yowling met their ears, and they rounded as one to see Ron's mangy cat staring at them with wide yellow eyes full of distrust. The little monster always seemed to turn up when they were plotting any sort of mischief (even the fun kind!), though it rarely did more than stare at them with eyes full of judgment and other negative emotions.
"Oi," Fred said, moving to nudge the cat away with his foot. "Shoo, devil-cat."
"Oh, leave the cat," George said, tossing the stack of letters onto the table except for one. "We have fan mail."
"Oh?" Fred turned, curiosity piqued. "From whom?"
"Neville Longbottom," George muttered, ripping the letter open and scanning it. "It seems one of his friends is having trouble with bullies. Remember Luna?"
"Aw, she's a good kid," Fred said, peering over his twin's shoulder to read the letter. "Bullies like those 'claws give us honest pranksters a bad name."
"Too right," George agreed, pausing as he reached a certain line in the letter, a grin splitting his face.
…wondering if you had any ideas on booby traps or trigger spells that would help convince them to leave her alone…
"Well, well, looks like little Neville is growing up, Georgie boy," Fred said, having just reached the same line. "And he seems to have embraced our favorite adage."
"Don't get mad," George said.
"Get even," Fred finished.
"What's this game called?" Ginny asked through her laughter. Nearby, Heather lay on her bed, reading one of the twins' old Muggle Studies books from Hogwarts.
"Day of the Tentacle," she said. "Gin, this book is ridiculous. I mean, look at this guy! He's wearing pinstriped pants, hunting boots, and a leather jacket over a polo shirt!"
Ginny giggled and spun the chair at Heather's computer desk to face her new friend. "That's what wizards in England think muggles wear."
"I mean, they wear that stuff, but not all at once!" Heather laughed.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well, what do muggles here wear?"
"The same thing the magicians do," Heather said with a shrug. "We use the same money, the same clothing, and most stores have magic and non-magic locations. Even Wal-Mart."
"Wal-Mart?" Ginny asked absently, clicking a few items on the screen. "How do I get this fat lump to move? I think I need that sweater he's on."
"You gotta look around for a bit," Heather said, standing. "Anyway, you wanna go do something? There's a mall a bus ride away from here. It's nothing impressive, but we could get you some real 'muggle' clothes," she even did the air quotes on the word "muggle".
"Oh," Ginny smiled, her heart sinking a bit. "Well, I can go along, but I don't reckon I'll be buying any clothes."
Heather smirked at this. "You don't reckon?" she even did a passable English accent, moving to Ginny and tugging her to her feet, taking her hand and pulling her from the room. "C'mon, my sexy English companion. Maybe I'll spot you some money so we can dress you like a proper American magician."
"Mail, Master Sirius," Dobby said, bowing and placing a stack of envelopes on the coffee table. Lounging on the couch, Sirius reached for them and sifted through a few. He tossed aside several ads and coupon books before reaching a thick envelope that was clearly from across the pond. Besides the usual international stamp, it was thick yellowed parchment and bore the official seal of Gringotts.
"What's this about, I wonder?" he muttered to himself, ripping open the envelope.
To Sirius Black, Patriarch of the Black Family,
This letter comes to you in regards to vault 942, former property of the Lestrange family. Due to your newly reinstated status as Lord Black following the Ministerial ruling clearing you of all charges placed against you on 2 November, 1981, you are now the rightful owner of the vault and all contained property. This decision was made in light of the knowledge of the Lestrange family's association with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and subsequent imprisonment.
Please find enclosed a form acknowledging or refusing this transfer, check the appropriate box, and sign your name. The form will find its way back to us.
Sirius felt a grin growing on his face, and he actually chuckled, surprising Dobby as the elf dusted.
"Master Black is amused?"
"Extremely," Sirius said, thinking of the look on Bella's face when she heard that every ounce of gold she had to her name belonged to him now, along with whatever dark contraband she had in her vault. "Dobby, can you write up a letter for me?"
"Dobby would be delighted, Master Sirius!" the elf said, hopping in place before cracking away to get a pen and paper.
Who knew what sorts of dark and dangerous crap Bella and that psycho of a husband kept in that vault. Best to simply have it disposed of.
He was just settling back into watching Cops (one of the most amusing show's he'd ever seen) when a door down the hall burst open and chalk-white Harry charged into the room, looking torn between terror and rage, followed by Hermione and Ron. Immediately, Sirius was on his feet and in front of his godson.
"Sirius. I-I think I'm a horcrux…."
He knew technically nothing had changed. He was just aware now what the true nature of his connection to Voldemort was. Even so, he felt…different now, like some sort of malevolent presence had settled in the back of his mind. Maybe the little chunk of Riddle's soul that had latched onto his was reacting to Harry's awareness of its presence, maybe having an evil little laugh at his distress.
The sudden mental image of a tiny Voldemort laughing like a chipmunk did amuse him for a brief moment.
"Seems like an odd time to crack a smile," Sirius said, causing Harry to jump. "Sorry, the door was cracked."
"No, it's okay," he said, sitting up on his bed. Glancing at his clock, he realized he'd been lying and staring at the ceiling for two hours. "Just…thinking."
"Don't worry," Sirius said, grinning. "There's a way around this, I'm sure. Hermione's all over that internet, and you're all going to the library after school tomorrow, right?"
"She seems to think that since it's a soul-based problem, soul-based healing will fix it," Harry said with a nod while Sirius moved into his room and sat in his "gaming chair", as Benny had dubbed it during his last visit.
"That makes sense," Sirius said. "I remember, back in the day, your mum mentioned that a lot of other magical cultures actually have 'soul healers', who sit you down and guide you through some sort of meditation."
"She was muggle-born, though," Harry said, glancing over at his godfather. Sirius smirked.
"Harry, before she was even finished with first year, she rivaled some of the pureblood Ravenclaws in sheer knowledge," he said. "That girl lived in the library."
"Sounds like Hermione," Harry chuckled, and Sirius nodded.
"James once said, 'Potters always attract the smart ones. It counteracts our inborn thick-headedness.' Given the past couple years at Hogwarts, I'm inclined to agree."
Harry rolled his eyes. "As if you have room to talk, Padfoot. Moony told me the Marauder's Map was your idea."
"With lots of encouragement from your father," Sirius defended himself, smirking "He came up with the name."
Harry fell silent, staring up at the ceiling with a small sigh. "How would he have reacted to all this, Sirius? If my dad found out that the most evil dark lord in nearly a century had somehow stuck a bit of his soul inside his body?"
Sirius was quiet for a moment, a faraway look in his eyes as he gazed at Harry's wall, before he spoke. "He wouldn't have stood for it," he finally said. "James Potter was a lot of things, Harry. Arrogant, self-centered, but a good man. One thing he wasn't was anyone's soul vessel. He would look for the quickest way to get rid of the soul fragment short of jumping off the Astronomy Tower."
"But what if it comes to…me having to – "
"Don't even think like that, Harry," Sirius said sharply, his eyes hardening as he glared at his godson. "Don't you for a minute thing that I want to see my godson, the child of my best friends, off himself because he thinks it's for the greater good. If Voldemort resurrects himself, if he has already, even, we'll kill him. And if he comes back from that, we'll kill him again. As many times as it takes for him to realize that we don't bloody want him alive, we'll put that bastard back in the ground. And I forbid you from dying at any less than two-hundred years old. Consider that my first official act as your legal guardian. You are forbidden."
Harry felt a lump in his throat even as a warm feeling rose in his chest. "Forbidden, hm?"
"Absolutely," Sirius said, standing. "Now, dinner's in five, and Ron and Hermione are coming over, so get ready."
"Right. Thanks, Sirius."
"You needn't have gone through all this trouble, Neville."
"Luna, I'm your friend," Neville insisted as the two of them walked along the corridor leading to the Ravenclaw common room, followed closely by Terry Boot and his girlfriend, Sue Li, who was sympathetic to Luna's plight but had been unsuccessful in convincing her housemates to stop picking on the blonde. Sue was of Chinese descent, though she had no trace of the accent, being a third-generation Chinese-British. "Friends help each other when they're having problems. Don't you want your housemates to leave you alone?"
She blinked once, a distant look in her eyes (though Neville supposed they looked distant quite often) before giving a nonchalant shrug.
"It would be nice if my things would stop coming up missing," she said. "But I have a friend." She smiled at Neville. "They can't take that from me, at least. Not without some amount of trouble, I suppose."
Neville felt his face heat up. "Alright, Terry, did I give you the list of spells?"
"Yep," Terry said as Sue held the paper up. "Sue will go with Luna and help her ward her chest and her wardrobe."
"Thanks, mate," Neville said, passing him a rather sizable bag as well. "These are something Fred and George call Occulas. They're like something called a video camera?"
"I know what those are," Sue said with a wide smile, pointing to herself. "Muggle-born."
"Well, he thought you should stick them around the dorm to see if you could catch who was taking her things," Neville said. "He said they're charmed to look away during, um…private moments."
"That's handy," Sue said, taking the back from Terry. "Consider it done."
"Thanks again, you two," Neville said.
"Thank you," Sue said with a smile.
"For caring enough about Luna to do something about all this," Sue said. "I'm glad that she has you to look out for her."
Neville felt his blush deepen and shrugged. "Just helping out a friend."
They reached the corridor leading to the Ravenclaw common room, and Terry and Sue shared a look.
"We'll go on ahead," Sue said. "I'll scout out the dorm, make sure none of the other girls are watching."
"See you later, Nev," Terry said, and the pair made their way down the corridor, leaving Luna smiling up at Neville.
"Um," Neville said before Luna stepped closer, standing on her tiptoes and pressing her lips to his cheek. Stepping back, she smiled, and though there was certainly no visible change, Neville thought he saw something new in her expression.
"Good night, Neville Longbottom," she said, her voice a breezy whisper as she turned and skipped off, her long blond hair flouncing in her wake.
Long after she had gone, Neville was still standing in the corridor, a hand going up to brush his cheek.
"Goodnight, Luna Lovegood…."
I went through so many different endings with this chapter, including an awkward relationship talk and/or an actual kiss. But Luna kept drifting out of character during these little talks, and it all seemed to be moving a bit too fast. So, Luna decides to thank Neville with a little kiss on the cheek.
Reviews are always appreciated.