Dean changed the bandage on his cheek, wincing in pain. Just one more "reward" for being a Gryffindor—for being Harry Potter's friend. In the beginning, it had been enough to know that his friend was out there, fighting, finding a way to stop Voldemort. Lately, though…. It just wasn't enough. He sighed and grabbed his school bag. It was back to Hogwarts tomorrow. He wandered down the hall, past his sisters' rooms and into the living room. His mum and step-father were there, talking in low voices. "Alright?" he asked, setting his bag on his trunk.
"Dean…we need to talk to you," his mum said.
They shared a glance. His step-father, Gary, cleared his throat. "I don't know much about this world of yours," he said quietly. "But I know something big is going on. Something that's…leaking into the world your mother and I know."
Dean nodded and squared his shoulders. He'd been waiting for this, and he'd face it like a man. He'd known it would happen—the day when they decided that having him around was just too dangerous. "Yes. That's true."
"I found this before we moved here," his mum said, passing him an envelope. "It's from your father. I don't know what it says…or if it will help at all, but I thought you should have it."
"Oh," he said, taking the envelope.
"We can give you some privacy," Gary said, standing. He and Dean's mother left the room then.
The weight that had been growing in Dean's chest since the takeover at the Ministry, doubled. He waited until he heard the click of his mother's bedroom door before opening the letter.
As I write this, I'm sitting in your room next to your crib. I'm wondering if this is the right thing—for a man to leave his child in a world at war. I love you, but the time has come for me to make an unbearable decision. I have to leave you. Magic is real, my son, as real as evil. And put together, those two things can tear the world apart. Every day I spend with you is a day the Death Eaters get closer to you and your mother. This, I cannot allow. I have no idea if you'll be a wizard—I think you will, but I can't be sure. What I am sure of is that this is not the last time. Our side will win, but we won't stop evil and hatred for good. Another war will come, perhaps in your lifetime. When it does, you will have to make hard decisions. You will have to protect your mother, and possibly others, from something they can't fully understand. When that time comes, I hope you'll understand why I did this. I hope you find that you can forgive me for leaving you. It may be that you have a similar decision to make. If so, don't despair. You will see the people you love again, as I fully believe I will see you again. I love you dearly.
Dean crumpled the letter in his hands and slid to the floor, crying. He stayed there for a long time, until all the tears were gone and a sense of cold emptiness had filled him. Then he got up, smoothing the paper against his chest and tucking it into the front pocket of his backpack.
He didn't sleep that night. He stayed at his desk; two drawing notebooks open in front of him. He filled them with comics—stories of his time at Hogwarts, an explanation of what was happening now. This was his goodbye. He explained, through pictures, about Harry, and Voldemort, and Cedric and Dumbledore and the rest. It would have to do for his older siblings, and maybe they could explain to the younger ones why their brother hadn't come home from Hogwarts that year.
Sun was filtering through the window by the time Dean finished. He'd filled a book and a half, and exhausted more pencils than he cared to count. He was too tired to cry—too tired to feel anything but that same sense of emptiness and loss that he'd felt last night.
"Did you sleep at all?"
"I'm sorry. We didn't mean for it to upset you. We just thought it would be better if you read what he had to say."
Dean waved off the apology. "Don't. I'm glad you gave it to me."
There was a pregnant pause as the two men looked at each other, unsure of how to continue. Finally, Dean picked up his notebooks and handed them to his step-father.
"I've tried to explain everything in there," he said. "I need you and Mum to look through it, and then give it to the kids when they're… when they're ready to understand."
"Please. It's all I can do. I might not…I might not ever get a chance to explain it to them myself. Why random grown men beat me up over the summer…or why you and Mum looked so relieved when I made it back from Hogwarts safely last year. So this is all I can do."
"And one last thing, before the rest of them wake up…. Please don't write to me this year."
"What?" Gary asked, brow furrowing in confusion.
"I'll figure out a way to get in touch with you lot, and let you know that I'm safe, but we can't use owls like normal. They're too easy to track. You and Mum and the girls should be safe…she's changed her name since my school records were written, so it's not like they'll find her under Thomas. I don't think anyone will bother you, so long as I'm not around. I'm going to send my things along ahead of me, and Apparate to King's Cross today. That way…no one will see you with me. You'll have to back me up on that—I doubt Mum will be pleased."
His step-father looked stricken at this. "This is real, isn't it…?"
Dean nodded. "'fraid so."
They shared a look again. Finally, Gary put a hand on Dean's shoulder and said, "Come on downstairs. I'll start making breakfast."
"These students will report to the Transfiguration classroom after breakfast," Alecto Carrow read.
Dean stared hollowly as the Dark Arts professor (he used that term loosely) read names. He glared down at the Gryffindor first years, silently warning them not to fall apart should their name be called.
Dean sucked in a deep breath, but kept his face passive. She'd be alright. It was just more questioning. Maybe she'd get Slughorn, who used Veritaserum instead of the Cruciatus curse.
There it was. The moment he knew would come since he'd left the house on September first. He caught Luna's eyes across the Hall and tried to smile. He found that he couldn't.
The students, save those on the list, lined up and marched out of the hall twenty minutes later. The Carrows came down from the teachers' table and rounded them up.
"You, you, you, you, and you, follow me," Amycus said. "Lovegood and Thomas," he spat, "You two go with her."
Dean and Luna followed Alecto out of the Great Hall, not daring to look at each other. They weren't being taken to the dungeons…. Dean, his newfound cynicism kicking in, figured that it meant something worse was in store for them.
"Snape is waiting on you," she said, leading them to the Headmaster's office. She knocked twice on the door and stood behind them.
She gave Dean a prod in the back, and he walked forward. He stopped just inside the doorway. "No." He put his arms out, blocking Luna from entering.
"Just like a Gryffindor…. They always want to make one last show of bravery," Bellatrix said. "Come now, little lion…we won't hurt you. Much."
Another Death Eater grabbed Dean by the scruff of his neck and yanked him into the office, as Alecto pushed Luna in after him.
"We're going on a little trip," Bellatrix said, Summoning their wands from them. She grabbed hold of Luna and pointed her wand at him. "Be a good boy and come over here."
Dean stood next to her, face blank. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of any emotion—not even anger.
In the dim light of the dungeon, Dean could barely make out the words of his father's letter. He'd kept it with him at all times during the year…. It didn't exactly comfort him, but its words were true. He winced as Luna stirred in her sleep and curled into his side more. Any slight movement hurt. He'd been impressed at how she'd held up that day. Going back to his letter, he read one line over and over again.
If so, don't despair. You will see the people you love again, as I fully believe I will see you again.
He wondered if his father had truly believed that. He certainly didn't. He believed very little at this point. He was going to die in this basement, but he was going to die protecting the Raveclaw in any way he could. She was all he had now, because he would never see his family again.