An Author's Note:
Welcome to chapter twelve.
December 13, 2010
The Army Assembled
Before any of the dozen-plus people could blink, Harry had swept his wand before himself and Hermione and muttered an incantation that erected an eight foot wide magical shield. The people before them wore heavily black traveling cloaks, and Harry guessed they were snatchers – but if they were, they were damned clever ones; the wards he and Hermione had erected were not inconsiderable, and it seemed to Harry that anyone clever enough to get past them wouldn't be left a snatcher – Voldemort would want their explicit loyalty. Anyone who could get past the wards would have to be a Death Eater.
He held the shield steady. "Who are you?"
There was no response, the group of witches and wizards – or at least Harry assumed them to be both wizards and witches; but frankly it was impossible to tell gender with their cloaks on and hoods raised. All that mattered was that they were quite evidently armed.
He saw Hermione, out of the corner of his eye, raise her own wand.
"Who are you or I attack!" Harry shouted at them, and then, with a growl to remind them, added: "If you're Death Eaters, remember Severus Snape, remember the Carrows."
"We're not Death Eaters," a commanding voice said from the rear. Harry knew that voice...
Neville Longbottom lowered his hood, and he made his way to the front of the crowd. "Hiya Harry, Hermione." He smiled, but sometime in the last six months the light had gone out of his eyes, and he'd grown years older, decades maybe. He didn't look like the Neville Longbottom he and Hermione had known from school. He looked old.
"Neville!" Harry shouted. "What on earth are you doing out here? And who's everyone else?"
"Harry!" Hermione said sharply, her eyes wide and stern. Harry got the message.
"Right," he raised his wand again. "Neville Longbottom, where were you the day Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and I visited Mr. Weasley at St. Mungo's?"
Neville gave a bark of a laugh, and Harry was at once reminded of Sirius. Is that what Neville, under the influence of war, was becoming? "The Permanent Spell Damage Ward, St. Mungo's, with my parents and gran."
Harry nodded, and he lowered his wand and dropped his shield. "Okay. Now answer – why are you here?" He realized, without caring, how harsh he sounded.
"We've come to find you, of course!"
Harry was unnerved. They'd come to find them? Why? How? It was the latter he asked. "How did you know where to find us?"
Neville pulled something small and metal out from a pocket of his robes. It was Dumbledore's deluminator. The one he'd given to Ron. "This. It led us to –"
"Where did you get that?" Hermione asked sharply.
"Well... I thought..." Neville seemed to be having difficulty with his words. "I thought you guys sent it to me. I mean, the note, it was from Ron."
"When did you get that, Neville?" Harry demanded, and he could see in Neville's eyes that his conversation was not going in the direction he had anticipated.
"I – well, six weeks ago? Seven? I don't know – it wasn't very long ago. But Ron – he can tell you." Neville seemed to notice something was wrong. "Where... Guys, where is Ron?"
Harry closed his eyes, and his lips tightened. He cast a slow glance at Hermione, but then faced Neville again to speak. "He left."
"What – what do you mean 'he left?'"
"He left," Harry repeated. "A while back. I don't know how long ago. We have trouble keeping track of time out here. He left us."
"But – but why?"
Harry shrugged, and he shook his head. "Doesn't matter, really. I don't even really know why, I guess. He just did. He left awhile ago. I guess about six or seven weeks, if that's when he sent you that. He never came back."
"I..." Neville seemed at a loss. Ron had left? Ron? He and Harry and Hermione had been the closest friends at Hogwarts, and he'd left them alone out here, in this wilderness? Where was he now, if not with Harry and Hermione? They had all assumed, all the Gryffindors, that the trio was together like they'd always been.
"You haven't heard from him otherwise?" Hermione asked. "He left a long time ago. I thought he'd have gone back to Hogwarts. Could he be at home? At the Burrow?"
Neville looked bewildered. "This is the only message I got from him – this thing, this deluminator, he called it, with a note that said I should use it if I needed to." Neville was quiet for a moment. "If Ron went back to the Burrow, Ginny doesn't know about it. I saw her three days ago, when term ended."
Ginny... The name cut into Harry like a knife. She wasn't with them, then.
"Who are the rest, Neville?"
"What?" he looked surprised. "Oh – the others. Right. Hoods, everyone," he said to them, and they all, almost in unison, lowered their hoods.
Half a dozen Gryffindors, a few Hufflepuffs, and a couple Ravenclaws stood before them. All students, former classmates. Lavender Brown was there, and the Patil twins, Collin Creevey and his brother Dennis, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, Ernie Macmillan and Justin Finch-Fletchley and Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones and Terry Boot stood there before them. Notably absent was Harry's favorite Ravenclaw.
"Where is Luna?"
Neville looked pale. "We tried to... to stop..." Neville looked incredibly grave. "They took her, Harry, from the Express at the beginning of the year. No one knows where she is."
Harry's heart stopped. 'They took her... no one knows where she is.'
"Oh god..." Hermione said beside him.
Harry swallowed. Hard. Luna was dead. He was sure of it. If she couldn't provide information to Voldemort and the Death Eaters – and Harry knew she couldn't, and if she could, she wouldn't – then they would have killed her within hours. Voldemort didn't take prisoners unless he could use them.
Harry nodded, and he swallowed again, trying to release the tension in his throat. "What do you all want? Why are you all here?"
"We've come... to fight, Harry. We want revenge – all of us. Most of us've lost family to this thing, and we've all lost friends. We want revenge, Harry. We want to join you – whatever it is Dumbledore's got you doing, we want in. We want to fight back – we want revenge."
"There's no way," Harry said. "There's no way. Look, everyone, I'm really sorry you've come all the way out here, but there's just no way."
"And why not?" Harry was surprised that it was Lavender Brown who shouted. "We were Dumbledore's Army!"
"This isn't a DA operation. This is me and Hermione, and, well, it was Ron too, but now it's just us. And it has to be that way."
"It doesn't have to be that way – you've just decided. It's arbitrary," Lavender shot back. Harry was surprised at her vocabulary – he'd thought 'arbitrary' a bit beyond her reach.
"What we're doing is incredibly dangerous – more than anything we ever did at Hogwarts, or when some of us went to the Department of Mysteries in fifth year. It's the most dangerous thing anyone could possibly be doing right now, and there's no way I'm letting you all come with me."
"We can fight, Harry," Neville insisted. "We've had a lot of practice, since the Death Eaters took over everything. DA sessions are nightly. All of us – we can fight as good as anyone. We can fight."
Harry then did something impulsive. He cast his wand at the ground they stood on, and they went flying into the air like a bomb had gone off at their feet – and as they fell, shouting, Harry managed to disarm half of them.
"No you can't."
Neville rose to his feet angrily. "We can!"
"I knocked you all to the ground with onespell before any of you had raised a wand!" Harry was fuming now. "You think any of you – or all of you together – you think you could take down Snape, or either Carrow? You think you can duel Bellatrix, Neville, and walk away from it?" He was growing angrier. "You think you can fight him?"
Lavender Brown had straightened herself up and was looking angrier than Neville had. "We weren't ready!"
Harry launched at her. "You think the Dark Lord will wait til you're ready? He'd kill any of you before you could blink! No – none of you stays. Having Hermione here is already too many people who might die – I won't add twelve more."
"We won't go," Neville insisted. "We're fighting – and we can either fight with you... We can either fight for you, or we can fight alone, and they'll pick us all off, one by one. Is that any better? We are Dumbledore's Army! And we have trained for this, Harry! We aren't leaving – we will follow you to the ends of the earth – what about that don't you understand?"
"You won't!" Harry roared. "Did any of you see what happened at Hogwarts, with Snape and the Carrows and me? Did any of you!"
"We all did, Harry, except a couple. Dean and the Creevey boys, and Justin – they were all in hiding, but we reached out to them and that's why they're here with us. But everyone else – Harry, we were all there. We all saw."
"Then you saw what this war, this thing has made me!" Harry was beginning to lose himself again. "You think I'll let that happen to any of you? Have any of you ever killed a man?"
Hermione placed her hand on his arm. "It's okay," she whispered, so quiet only he could hear. "Everything's all right."
He took a breath. They all looked at him like he'd gone mad. And maybe he had – maybe that's what this journey had made of him. Madness. But he calmed himself enough to make his case. "Does anyone know what's become of Draco Malfoy?"
Neville nodded. "We know he's a Death Eater. He never came back to school – I hear he's been on a few of the attacks at Diagon Alley in the last couple weeks."
"He hasn't," Harry said roughly. "I killed him. A month ago, at Godric's Hollow. I blasted off half his arm, and then I killed him." The army assembled before him looked shocked – he'd killed a Hogwarts student? "I won't let any of you become what I've become. I won't let you all become murderers and killers – I won't let you find out for yourselves how much easier the second time is than the first, and how much easier the third is than the second.
"There are things in this war I must do alone. You want to do your part? Go back to Hogwarts. Keep up the DA meetings. Get stronger, get faster – get better at this. And when the time comes, when it's an all-out assault, you can fight with me. But until then – until that black day, Hermione and I are in this alone."
"We can't go back," Neville said loudly, angrily. "None of us can." He got very quiet then. "They got my gran, Harry. They killed her."
The blood receded from Harry's face, and Hermione gave a small gasp.
"We'd been causing a lot of trouble at school," Neville continued, "and they knew I was in charge of it, mostly, and a few weeks ago they came after me. But I hid in the Room of Requirement, and they couldn't get in. And so they killed my gran instead, Harry.
"I don't have anywhere to go. None of us does. Snape and Carrow – they're still in charge there, and they both know who we are. All of us." Neville paused. "Do you know how they administer detention now? It's not lines anymore, it's not Filch in the dungeons. They use us in Dark Arts class so the others can practice the Cruciatus curse. Every one of us's been tortured by them – by our own classmates, even.
"I had to do Ginny once. It was the most awful thing I've ever done." Neville looked like he himself was beginning to lose control. "I won't go back, Harry – none of us will. We've all lived with it long enough. We've sat in school long enough, we've waited long enough – it is time for blood, Harry!"
Harry was quiet for a long moment. "What I'm doing isn't exactly... Hermione, what's that word?"
"Thank you. What I'm doing isn't exactly conducive to a group atmosphere. And even if you were to join us, I would never be able to tell you – ever – what Hermione and I are doing out here. This isn't about killing Death Eaters, or attacking Voldemort. This is the long game, Neville, Parvati – everyone. We won't be out staging counteroffensives in Diagon Alley or assassinating the Minister of Magic."
"And why not?" Neville asked. Harry gave a short laugh, but Neville was serious. "I mean it – why not counterattack at Diagon Alley? Why not assassinate the Minister?"
"Because this isn't about killing people, Neville," Harry said shortly. "Draco Malfoy died because he and some other Death Eaters attacked us in Godric's Hollow when we were there for another purpose. Gellert Grindelwald died because... it doesn't matter. We aren't going on killing missions, we're –"
"What do you mean about Grindelwald?"
Harry stopped. He shouldn't have mentioned... "Hermione and I – we went to Nurmengard, and I... I killed him."
Suddenly everyone was staring – staring like they hadn't before. Staring like they hadn't since sixth year when everyone called him the chosen one and no one had seen him lose himself against Snape and the Carrows.
"You – you killed Grindelwald?" asked Neville incredulously.
Harry nodded solemnly, but solemnity did not rule the moment. Suddenly the crowd Harry had knocked into the sky and onto the ground was cheering, and Harry felt sick.
"Stop it. Stop it, all of you." They did not. "Stop it!" He brandished his wand, and he was pointing it at Neville, who seemed most jubilant of all of them.
"STOP!" Hermione screamed, and everyone went quiet.
"It wasn't like that," Harry said angrily, lowering his wand. "It wasn't anything to cheer. He was an old man, and he helped us. But he said the Dark Lord's name, and he invoked the Taboo, and he came for us himself. And Grindelwald had helped us, but he didn't want him to know what he'd told us, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to withstand torture, he knew he'd tell. And he begged me to kill him. He begged me." Harry was teetering on the edge again. "Has any of you been begged to kill someone? Someone who'd just helped you? Someone who, it turns out, might be the reason any of us ever survives this war? I killed him, and he begged me to! It wasn't noble, or glorious or triumphant or any of that – it was murder, it was killing an old man who was afraid of torture and the secrets he would tell. He was a defeated old man who saved us all, and I killed him. I killed him - and you cheer! You cheer murder."
Neville looked thoroughly put in his place. He looked like a puppy that had been berated and reprimanded and told it was very, very bad. "I – Harry, I'm sorry. We all are."
He nodded, his teeth clenched. It would be dark soon. "You all need to be leaving. You'll want to disapparate before –"
"We aren't going, Harry," Neville said resolutely. "Look – you left, and I understand you probably had to, and you didn't have any choice, but you left, and Hermione left, and Ron did too – and do you know who that left in charge? Me. Me and Ginny – we're in charge of the DA.
"But Ginny's got a family she has to go home to, she's got a family she has to be there for, she's got a family she can't desert to come fight the war. And do you know who that leaves? Me. I'm in charge of the DA now, Harry – and these people, all of us, we are Dumbledore's Army. But Dumbledore's dead. We all saw him. And that means we're yours now.
"We are Potter's Army, and we won't leave. We've come to join you, we've come to fight – because we can't sit in school and watch our friends die or be tortured, we can't sit in school and wait for news that our families have been killed. We've come to go to war, Harry, and we're coming with you, and we're going where you lead, whether you like it or not!"
Harry looked very serious for a moment, but Neville thought perhaps he had gotten through. "I... I need a moment," Harry said. "Hermione?" He motioned toward the tent. "A word?"
At her nod, he reached a hand around her back and directed her toward the tent. But he had only gotten a few steps along before he was stopped.
"Harry..." Neville whispered.
"I just need a moment, Neville, and then –"
"No, Harry – look."
He turned, and beyond the crowd, a hundred feet or less away, stood a pack of half a dozen adult wizards in ragged robes, searching wildly for signs of activity.
A/N: This has been sitting – in a drawer, so to speak – for ten months. I'm in limbo with this story; I don't know whether I'll continue it, or start anew, or give it up entirely. But I figure I've kept this to myself long enough. I have another couple of chapters written, after this one, and those will be posted in time.