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A Squib's Story by Lissa

Format: Novella
Chapters: 12
Word Count: 31,261
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild Violence

Genres: General
Characters: Neville, OC
Pairings:

First Published: 08/02/2005
Last Chapter: 08/02/2005
Last Updated: 08/02/2005

Summary:
Violet Brown lives in the shadow of her witch sister, Lavender. This is the story of a Squib: a minor embarrassment, an unspoken disappointment, a fifteen-year old girl without a country.


Chapter 1: Chapter One
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A Squib's Story

A work of fanfiction based on the world of JK Rowling

a/n This fic was written post- OotP, but pre-HBP.

Chapter One

It is unspoken but is always in the air, alongside the dust motes and the faint smell of lavender, her mother's favourite scent. Violet is a guest, a boarder, a stranger in her own home. She has a bed to sleep in, three squares a day, and clothes to cover herself. Not the satin robes her sister wears, but utilitarian Muggle clothes that more suit than flatter her. She doesn't blame her parents, at least not in ways she can admit. Nor does she blame her beautiful, vivacious, magical sister, who can't help how she was born any more than Violet can.


She doesn't know what to blame her circumstance on, but she knows one thing for certain: she is a Mistake. She never speaks this word out loud, for fear someone's eye might flicker or mouth twitch in a way that would unwittingly betray agreement. As long as it is unspoken she can continue living in this house, where her main purpose seems to be to stay out of the way and not remind her parents of what she is. This is not to say her parents are cruel; they're simply a witch and wizard who don't know what to make of a daughter that might as well be a Muggle. She makes them uncomfortable, and she'd sensed it from an early age. Her sensing it had made them even more uncomfortable, and so on, so she mostly stays in her room and reads. Sometimes she does an unobtrusive bit of housework to assuage her guilt, to ease her own discomfort by contributing how she can. She knows it's illogical to feel guilty for being a Squib, that it's no different from being born a girl, or with brown hair or freckles. She knows it isn't her fault. She feels guilty anyway.


Her wand sits on a shelf collecting dust along with other mementoes of childhood - a bride doll, a medal she received in primary school for something she can't remember, and a picture of her only true friend, an older girl named Becky who'd moved to Ireland. She sometimes catches a glimpse of the cherry wood and feels a faint twinge, not so much at the thought of wielding it, but to have the ability to wield it. What she doesn't know is that her mother, an artist, had made this wand herself in a fit of pity, and it wouldn't lift a feather if even Lavender yelled "Wingardium leviosa!" at the top of her lungs. She doesn't know that the core of her wand, which usually houses a unicorn hair, phoenix feather, or something equally exotic, was nothing but empty space.She doesn't know that real wands choose their owners, and that only the most self-loathing of the bunch would have chosen her.


Her glories are trivial. She might receive an A in a dull subject like Composition, but what's that compared to Lavender's O in Transfiguration? Violet gets a vague smile and a "good job;" Lavender gets a party with all her lucky, giggly, oblivious witch friends. Again, no one's fault. Violet doesn't have any friends; her relationship with Becky has been reduced to the occasional breezy letter. Becky has a boyfriend. Becky is going to University. Becky is a Muggle. She is, in Violet's eyes, as lucky as Lavender.


The day Lavender had received her Hogwarts letter, two years ago, was both the best and worst day of Violet's life. Mr. and Mrs. Brown seemed to come to life that day. At last they had a daughter they could understand, could take to Diagon Alley for more than just an ice cream. The house itself seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and no one really noticed Violet fall into the shadows. She felt safe. The silence wasn't so loud anymore. Maybe she could relax.


But something did happen. Her father, a matter-of-fact, live-for-work kind of fellow, had caught sight of her one day and asked her to drop out of school so she could clean his office at the Ministry of Magic. He'd said this in the voice one might offer a dog a bone, clearly expecting her to jump into his arms and say "Thank you, Father, I've reason to live at last!" For this is what Squibs are supposed to do in the Wizarding world, accept bones like they're steak. A lifetime of mute drudgery flashed before her eyes. In this world, she might as well be a house-elf. Why should she accept that? Why?


So instead of gratitude she'd given him a look that would freeze ice and said she intended to take a Muggle job when she turned sixteen, and work extra hard in school so she could get in to University. This was a thought that had not occurred to her til that very moment, and one she had no idea how to actually achieve. She didn't fit much better in the Muggle world than the Wizarding world, but maybe she could learn to. Maybe one day she could laugh at the notion of witches and wizards. Maybe one day she'd mean it.


She sits on her bed studying a textbook diagram of the human body, wondering if there are biological differences between magic folks and Muggles, and which one she'd more closely resemble. Perhaps the cruelest reminder of her fate is that her entire identity is based on a negative: "not magical." She always thinks of herself that way because it seems to be the only way to think. But that brief conversation with her father had sparked something within her, something that fifteen years in her uncomfortable household had muffled. Her father had finally spoken the unspoken. And it hadn't killed her. She didn't fall apart, or cry, or have any of the reactions she'd constantly replayed in her head. Words that should have destroyed her had made her stronger. Maybe there was more to Violet than just lack of magic, after all.

*****************************************
a/n This is a bit of an introductory chapter. Adventure, excitement, and really wild things to come! Oh, and some Neville. :)


Chapter 2: Chapter Two
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Chapter Two

Violet sits at her scuffed, ancient desk, feeling fortunate, for once, that she's in school. Her English History professor drones on, but his words wash over her like music. Anything, she reminds herself, is better than emptying wastebaskets at the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, where her father works. Once he'd found a finger, and had no idea whom it belonged to...



She is making an effort to fit in at school. She has abandoned her baggy jeans and sweatshirts for preppy khakis and blouses, which make her feel like she's in uniform for the Gap Army. Now she's working on smiling, which feels unnatural and makes her teeth seem five times their normal size. She talks to her fellow students with an disarming mix of timidity and determination. She realises how difficult it is to call attention to yourself after you've been avoiding it the last fifteen years; rather like having a spotlight suddenly appear on you while in the lavatory. Her fellow students are polite, if bemused, and she notices teachers staring in her direction as if trying to figure out who she is, and why she's taking notes in their classroom.



She wonders if she's making any progress toward becoming a Muggle. She's fascinated by Muggle devices and conveniences; they're foreign to her, yet somehow less so than her family's magical ways. She can't turn a toadstool into a teapot, but perhaps she can learn how to program a VCR.



After listening in on schoolmates' conversations and making regular bicycle expeditions into Muggle London, she'd determined she had to have a stereo, a computer, a television, and a particular brand of trainers. Her parents, who unconsciously wondered if they could make up for a lifetime of neglect with these simple requests, were happy to oblige. They didn't relish pushing her further into the Muggle world, but guilt can be a very powerful motivator.


Violet pedals into a funky shopping district full of antiques and used bookstores. Her jaw is sore from the incessant smiling, so she treats herself to an ice cream soda before going into a small, dimly-lit bookstore. The clerk, a distinguished-looking middle-aged man who is also the owner, looks up and smiles. Violet gives him a brief but genuine smile in return. "Hello, Mr. Caswell."



"Good day, Violet. Looking for anything in particular today?"



"No, just a browsing day."



"Ah. Well, let me know if I may be of assistance."



Violet nods and disappears into the cramped but well-organised maze of shelves. She has always loved books, even textbooks. Even the magical books in her parents' study hold interest, though she tends to skip the ones about spells and potions and focus on the sprawling historical texts and wonderfully illustrated guides to magical creatures.


She selects three books and takes them to the counter - an encyclopedia of Muggle music, a guide to British football teams and players (she has never cared for Quidditch), and a novel that lightheartedly chronicles the life of a fifteen-year-old Muggle girl. She considers these research projects, even the novel. Perhaps she can learn something from the fictional girl, whose jaw probably never aches at the end of the day.



******************************************



Lavender sits at her scuffed, ancient desk, wishing she is anywhere but at school. As Professor Binns drones on, she glances sideways at her best friend, Parvati, and rolls her eyes. Parvati, who is almost telepathically tuned in to her friend, catches it and giggles, covering her mouth quickly. Hermione Granger, who can also seem telepathic in a somewhat less endearing way, turns around and frowns at them. Lavender gives her a wide-eyed look of innocence. She likes Hermione, but honestly! Having classes with her is like having to contend with two teachers.


Parvati shoots Lavender a smirk, and Lavender knows what the topic of their after-school conversation will be: Hermione's outfit, which she just knows consists of a sensible blouse, sensible skirt, sensible socks and sensible shoes beneath her sensible robes. She's going to turn into a lonely, cat-obsessed librarian if she doesn't watch out, Lavender thinks. Shame, too, she's really quite pretty...



Lavender drifts off, mentally making over Hermione with cosmetic and hair-straightening Charms (the only ones, apparently, she hasn't bothered to learn), and dressing her in the form-fitting designer t-shirts and jeans she and Parvati usually wear under their robes.



Hermione's face fades away and is replaced by that of her sister, Violet. A pale, sullen face, dotted with freckles, framed by what can only be described as mousy-brown hair, which usually hangs in a low ponytail. Her clothes are all black, grey and baggy, the sort that give no indication of when they have last been washed. Lately, though, she has been dressing more respectably. Still dull as dishwater, but an improvement.



With these thoughts come familiar stirrings, a mix of guilt, unease, embarrassment and love. She loves the big sister she never talks about and rarely talks to, loves her in the cautious, tentative way you might love an elderly relative who smells of mothballs and insists on calling you "Charlie."



Sometimes she leaves little notes for her, sprinkled with glitter and bearing perky messages like, "Have a great day! Thinking of you, your sister, Lavender." She had found one of these in the trash once, but it hadn't been crumpled up; it seemed to have been placed there gently, with care. Sometimes she wonders what goes on in her sister's mind. Other times, she's just as glad she doesn't know. Not because she is afraid of Violet, not really. She knows Violet doesn't hate her, but she doesn't think she loves her, either. And Lavender, perhaps due to all the attention lavished on her as a child, is the kind of girl who always needs to be loved.



She is also, aside from all the sparkle and chatter and gossip and vanity and boys, a girl who genuinely cares for those close to her, even if they are very far away. She wants everyone to be as happy as she is, and doesn't understand why that isn't always possible. Oh, she's heard things, but she doesn't care that her sister can't do magic. It's not like she's missing a head or developed tentacles, as her Great-Uncle Pinkerton had done after an unfortunate incident involving a potent Polyjuice Potion and a sushi bar. He had been an honoured guest at Christmas dinner every year until he died (though he always refused to eat the seafood). But what would happen to Violet once she left home? Would she return to the Brown dining hall each December, or would she disappear into the crowd like she had never been there at all?



Lavender, overcome with emotion, begins filing her nails.



******************************************



As Violet pays for her books, she notices a sign taped to the register: "Help wanted, please inquire."



She takes a deep breath. "Mr. Caswell?"



He glances up from the receipt he is patiently filling out from a faded, yellow book. "Hmm?"



"I was wondering about the job?" In an effort to cultivate her rather flat voice, she has acquired some unnatural inflections, such as a tendency to lift her voice at the end of each sentence. Sometimes she emphasises random words in the middle of sentences, as if reminding herself that she needs to emphasise something.



"Ah, yes. I am looking for a part-time clerk for the late afternoon shift. My mother's condition has worsened, and I need to leave early to care for her," he explains.



"Oh, I'm sorry."



Mr. Caswell smiles. "Quite all right, old girl will be fine... now, the position would be quite ideal for a student, would it not?"



"Yes... I suppose so, sure." She emphasises the word "so."



"Well, if you'd like the position, it is yours. You come with the highest recommendation."



"Um... I do?"



"Indeed. You are the rarest and most prized of all customers - a browser who actually buys!" He pauses, apparently savouring this remark. Violet smiles at her shoes. "Also, you are the only one to inquire. So you see, you are perfect for the job."



Violet starts to laugh, and it catches somewhere in her throat, causing her to cough violently. "Are you all right? Oh, dear, I'll go find some water..."



He bustles into the back of the shop. Violet's coughing subsides and she stands there, utterly miserable. I'm bloody hopeless, she thinks.



He returns and hands a chipped mug filled with water to the red-faced Violet. She drinks, more out of need to occupy herself than anything else. The water soothes her raw, scratchy throat so she drinks it all, returning the mug to Mr. Caswell with a self-conscious smile.



"Better?" he asks.



She clears her throat. "Yes. Thank you."



"Well then, can you start tomorrow?" He smiles as if there has been no break in the conversation. Violet stares. Are all Muggles this kind, this forgiving? Do only magic folk demand a level of propriety and near-perfection she can never hope to live up to?



It strikes her then. It's obvious, perhaps, but not to Violet, whose upbringing has pretty much revolved around the philosophy "Magic: good; no magic: well, not *bad* of course, just not quite as good as magic." The Wizarding world prizes shielding its identity, protecting its bloodlines, above all else. Violet isn't a threat but an oddity, a three-legged cow to be put out to pasture. Muggles look at her and see an ordinary if shy teenager, but were she to start talking about her family of witches and wizards (particularly Great-Uncle Pinkerton), they'd surely laugh or turn a deaf ear. The Wizarding world might be more demanding, but prejudice exists everywhere. And if that's true, then kindness must exist everywhere, too. Only by making peace with both worlds can she find peace in her life, whatever it might have in store. Failing that, she'll at least find some comfort in trying.

She smiles. "I can start now."

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Chapter 3: Chapter Three
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Chapter Three

Thomas and Hyacinth Brown had realised something was off about their first child when she was about three years old. It wasn't anything she had done; more like what she hadn't. Both parents could remember when, in early childhood, they knew they could make things happen. Hyacinth had shattered her sister's batfish bowl during a particularly violent tantrum. (Lucky for the leathery batfish, it had been able to take flight until her father charged in and yelled, "Reparo!")



Thomas had been playing in a sandbox on a calm spring day when a sudden sandstorm erupted. When questioned, he said he'd lost a Bertie Bott Bean he'd been *certain* was double fudge in the sand, and had wished for the sand to fly away so he could find it. (The Bean in question was later found in a flowerbed fifty yards away, and had the dog who'd eaten it been able to talk, he would have reported that it was, in fact, mud.)


Nothing like this happened to Violet. Not when she was three, not when she was seven, not ever. While this doesn't in itself assume a non-magical child, there were other, intangible indications. Was it her eyes? Did they lack a certain sparkle, a certain knowing look? Was it her face, which was pale and full and suggested nothing more magical than vanilla pudding? There wasn't exactly anything out of the ordinary about her, but... well, that was just it. It's said that those who know can sense the presence of magic; perhaps they can also sense a magical void within an otherwise charged atmosphere.



They'd been uncertain at first about Lavender. She was a truly beautiful child with golden ringlets and bright blue eyes, rarely seen without her silver fairy wings, woven with actual strands of silken fairy hair, that had been bestowed on her at birth by her grandmother. Once they thought they saw her hover slightly above the ground while wearing these wings, but when they looked again her feet were firmly on the ground. There was no further evidence until she received her letter, but-



"There's something special about this child," her grandmother had stated, peering into the bassinette while two-year-old Violet sat on the floor, banging blocks together.


Suddenly Violet had shouted, "B! B!," holding one of the blocks out as far as her arm could reach. She received a polite laugh of appreciation for her "baby talk," and the three adults returned to cooing into the bassinette. No one noticed the block, with an intricate letter "B" carved into the wood, roll out of sight under an armoire when Violet dropped it.



Perhaps a tiny seed had been planted in the two-year-old's mind that day, a seed that had taken root and blossomed, against all laws of nature, under the ground.



xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



Violet has given up smiling, and is very happy about it. She has gained an air of serenity over the past year, which has come partly due to the realisation that true happiness doesn't manifest itself in the false displaying of one's molars. She knows young ladies are *supposed* to smile; she's spied Lavender and Parvati practicing theirs in mirrors often enough. But Wizards don't seem to care if Squibs smile (or are girls, for that matter). In the Muggle world she has become known as a "brain," which to her signifies a grudging respect, and the freedom to do whatever she wishes with her face. Consequently, she has become a bit prettier.



She tries to keep these things in mind as she grips, white-knuckled, the seat in front of her. She has never ridden on the Knight Bus before, and it is doing nothing whatsoever to quell the butterflies in her stomach. In fact, she now has a dull headache, heart palpitations, and several very angry butterflies on her hands.



She has always felt more unease than curiosity about her sister's school. What would prevent some fourteen-year old "wizard" from launching a particularly nasty curse at her while she stood there, defenceless? Kids are cruel enough as it is; whose bloody-minded idea had it been to *arm* them? But she is sixteen now, not far off from University, and she does not want to carry an irrational fear of teenagers with wands with her. Besides, Lavender is suffering from a- probably- painful- and- really- not- at- all- funny hex, and is currently laid up in the Infirmary, which is the purpose of the visit.



The bus drops them without ceremony in Hogsmeade, where her father explains they can get a carriage up to the castle. "Are those thestrals?" Violet asks, as one pulls into view.



Both parents blink rapidly, seemingly at a loss. "Thes... how... well, I never really thought about it, but..." Recognition dawns in Mr. Brown's eyes. "Of course, You saw Uncle Pinkerton die, didn't you? How curious. The only one of us who can see them..."



"I do have magical blood, you know."



"Yes, well." He clears his throat. "Remember, we have decided to keep this business quiet. Anyone asks, you stay home to take care of your mother. None of your Muggle University talk..."



"But Mum's not even sick!"



Her mother reaches over and awkwardly pats her hand. "Believe me, dear, it's much easier this way."



"Won't they know anyway?"



"Perhaps." This is, apparently, the end of the conversation.



They are greeted at the door by Filch, the caretaker, and his cat, who Violet reaches out to pet. "Ssssss!" Mrs. Norris hisses and takes a swipe at her before scurrying off.



"She don't take to strangers," Filch says. It is not an apology. "Come on, I'll show ye the way." He turns and stomps off without waiting for a response.



Mr. Brown puffs himself up. "I was a student here myself, Mr. Finch. I am certain I can remember how to find the Infirmary."



Filch shrugs. "Suit yerself, then. And it's Filch. Argus Filch."



"Yes, that's right. Come, Hyacinth, Violet?" He leads them down a corridor.



Five minutes later, they are hopelessly lost. Mr. Brown mutters something about changing staircases. By lucky coincidence, they meet none other than Madame Pomfrey, who tells them the Infirmary is around the corner. "Just how I remembered it," Mr. Brown says with a nod.



"I'll be right back, I'm just nipping off for a potion!"



"We're Lavender Brown's family," Mr. Brown says.



Madame Pomfrey manages to convey the utmost sympathy. "Yes, she's right in there. She's awake now, poor thing. I'm sure she'll be delighted to see you all!" She dashes off, tossing Violet a curious glance over her shoulder.



Lavender lies in a lump in a small bed, the blanket pulled up around her neck and her back to the door. "Did you find it?" she asks.



"It's us, dear," Mrs. Brown says. "We were so worried! How are you feeling?" She kneels at Lavender's bedside. Lavender doesn't turn around.



"'m fine," she mumbles into her pillow. "Thanks for coming."



"Now, darling, would you turn around and look at us, please? I'm sure it can't be as bad as all this."



"But it is!" the lump cries.



Violet hangs back by the door. Her hands are like nervous birds so she stuffs them in her pockets.



Mr. Brown strides over to the bed. "Enough of this silliness, young lady. You're worrying your mother. I assure you, I've seen far worse things than..."



"All right!" Lavender sits bolt upright in bed. She looks like she has been in an epic food fight, and lost. Her face and arms are covered with red, blotchy, occasionally pulsating bumps. They look both painful and itchy, and ever so slightly like macaroni. Fresh tears stream down her cheeks.



Violet has never been fonder of her. As Lavender notices her by the door, Violet smiles in what she hopes is a soothing, bedside sort of way. Lavender turns to her parents and screams, "What is she doing here?"



"She is part of the family," says Mr. Brown, in the manner of one who is carrying great weight on his shoulders but will soldier on, regardless.



"I didn't even let Parvati see me like this, and she's my best friend!"



"I'm sorry," Violet speaks up. "I asked them to let me come."



"Why?



Before Violet can answer, Madame Pomfrey bustles in with a bottle of buzzing, steaming, yellow something. "Here we are, dear. Professor Snape just made a new batch, fresh from the hives!"




"I have to drink... that?"



Pomfrey nods crisply. "Essence of bumblebee is the only known cure for the Bee-sting Hex. I asked him to make it extra potent due to the, ah, extreme nature of the case."



"Of all the times Neville could have picked to be powerful, he has to do it to my face!"



"Now, you know Mr. Longbottom didn't do it on purpose, and he feels perfectly awful. I do not approve of the things that Moody fellow lets go on in his classroom, but nobody asks my opinion, just asks me to clean up the mess..." She measures yellow goop into a glass, shaking her head. "All right, here we are, dear. This will take some time to work, now, and it might sting a bit, but by morning you should be as pretty as ever!"



Lavender smiles weakly. "Thanks, Madame Pomfrey." She drinks, making a face so horrible that everyone looks away politely.



"All right, then!" Mrs. Pomfrey takes the glass. "She'll probably want to sleep in a bit, but you're welcome to stay with her. Lovely of you to come all this way, Mr. and Mrs. Brown. So few parents make the effort."



Mr. Brown gives a dry chuckle. "Well, Lavender's owl home implied she was at Death's door, and once we received your account of things we had already decided to come."



"Of course it's always nice to see our daughter, and to return to dear Hogwarts," Mrs. Brown gushes.



Pomfrey nods, smiling, then turns to Violet. "And what about you, young lady? I don't believe I've seen you before."



"Ah, terribly sorry, Madame Pomfrey," Mr. Brown cuts in before Violet can reply. "This is our other daughter, Violet."



"Nice to meet you, Madame Pomfrey."



"And you, Miss Brown. Tell me, why haven't I seen you around Hogwarts?"



"I, uh..."



"She stays home to help my wife," Mr. Brown says smoothly.



"I also work in a bookstore." Mr. Brown shoots her a glare, which she ignores.



"Oh, I see. Well." Madame Pomfrey smiles, too polite to press the issue.



Lavender, meanwhile, has fallen asleep. "Perhaps Violet would like to see more of Hogwarts than the inside of an Infirmary?" Pomfrey suggests cheerily.



"I would," Violet says a bit nervously. She wishes she could get the image of people lurking around corners with wands out of her mind. The state of Lavender's face hasn't helped any. She hopes she doesn't run into this Neville Longbottom; he must be some kind of powerful Dark wizard.



Violet's parents show her the Great Hall, various empty classrooms, and a Gryffindor Quidditch trophy with the inscription "Thomas Brown, Beater," which causes Mrs. Brown to coo in a rather adolescent manner. She then suggests visiting the Gryffindor Common Room.



They have not forgotten the way to Gryffindor Tower. Unfortunately, no one is milling about who can give them the password.



"Avast, ye scurvy curs!" a voice calls.



They turn around and come face - to- sword with the portrait of Sir Cadogan and his pony, who is lying under a tree, snoring. "What happened to the Fat Lady?" Mrs. Brown inquires.



"She's off at some hen party. Left me here to stand guard. Have at thee!" The tiny knight waves his sword with more enthusiasm than skill.



Suddenly Madame Pomfrey rushes up the corridor, flushed and out of breath. "Thank Merlin you're here... come quick! Something seems to have happened with the potion... Professor Snape is trying to sort it out, but... Lavender is asking for you..."



"Let's go, Hyacinth. Violet, stay here, please."



Violet doesn't argue. The appeal of her perfect sister's malady has worn off, and she appreciates the time alone to work through her thoughts.



But she is not actually alone. "I challenge ye to a duel!" Sir Cadogan barks.



"Um... no thanks," Violet says. "I left my sword at home."



"Ah! Hand-to-hand combat, then!" He brandishes tiny fists. "Put 'em up!"



Curious, Violet walks up to the portrait. "Who are you?"



"I am Sir Cadogan the Brave. I warn ye, don't get too close!"



Violet gets a bit closer. "You aren't half as frightening as the portrait of my Great-uncle Pinkerton," she tells him.



"Back away before ye lose your pretty head!"



This disarms her. She looks around to see if someone is standing behind her, a bump-free Lavender, perhaps, but the corridor is quite empty. "I'm not pretty," she tells him. "I think you've spent too much time with your horse." The pony opens an eye and snorts affrontedly.



Sir Cadogan absently pats him. "Nay, ye're not the prettiest I've seen pass this way, but I'd not turn ye away. And watch how you speak about my pony." He throws in another "scurvy cur" for good measure.



"Thanks. I think." She realises she is standing uncomfortably close to him. "Hmm. I don't suppose you'd let me in?"



"Password, please!" he barks. So much for her feminine wiles.



"Scurvy cur?"



Sir Cadogan blinks. "Well... how in blazes... oh, bother!" He swings open and she climbs inside, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart.



The room is decorated in rich tones and textures of red and gold. A fire blazes in the hearth, and it strikes her how cosy this room must seem to everyone but her. She feels a chill as half the heads in the room turn to look at her. She does a quick wand scan and, seeing none, relaxes just a bit.



A bushy-haired girl walks purposefully toward her, smiling. "Hello, I'm Hermione Granger. Are you, um, another one of those transfer students?"



"No. I'm Lavender Brown's sister." She shakes Hermione's proffered hand. Hermione has quite a grip.



At this Parvati glances up from the boy she was engaged with. "Hello, Violet," she says politely.



"Hello, Parvati," Violet says just as politely. Parvati returns to the boy.



Three others have joined Hermione in the Welcome Wagon: a gangly redhead, an aw-shucks-looking boy with glasses and black hair, and a timid round-faced boy whom she likes on sight.



"This is Ron Weasley." Hermione indicates the redhead. Violet nods.



"This is Harry Potter." Hermione indicates the aw-shucks boy, and Violet gives a little gasp of recognition. Even she knows who Harry Potter is.



"Very nice to meet you, Harry."



Harry clears his throat. "You too. Er." He seems thrown by her lack of fawning and scar-gawping.



"And this is Neville Longbottom." Hermione indicates the round-faced boy.



Violet screams.



Chapter 4: Chapter Four
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Chapter Four



Neville screams.


A toad flings itself from his pocket and lands on Ron's head; Ron screams. Violet covers her face and cries, "Please don't curse me!"


Ron, having divested himself of amphibians, mutters, "Blimey, she's even weirder than Lavender."


Hermione, of course, speaks up, peering at Violet like she's a particularly ticklish Arithmancy problem. "Why on earth would we curse you?"


"Yeah, this isn't the Slytherin common room," Harry says with a slight snicker. Ron snorts. Neville holds Trevor protectively.


"Quiet, you two! Are you all right?" Hermione asks.


"Yes, I... it's just, Lavender..." she stutters. I'd think someone put a Tongue-Tied Idiot Curse on me if I wasn't like this all the time, she thinks miserably. And Neville really doesn't look all that dangerous. Is it possible he did hex Lavender by mistake?


"What about Lavender?"


"N...Nothing. I'm just worried about her, is all."


"Oh, of course!" Hermione's eyes are full of sympathy. "It must be dreadful to see your sister in that state. I'm sure Professor Snape will have the antidote ready soon." She lays a comforting hand on Violet's arm.


Violet smiles. "Thanks." She doesn't know what else to say. Any minute one of them, probably Hermione from the looks of it, is going to ask her why she doesn't attend Hogwarts.


Neville catches her eye shyly. "How... how is Lavender?"


Again, Violet doesn't know what to say, so she repeats something she heard Madame Pomfrey say. "Professor Snape is tending to her."


Neville's watery eyes widen. "Oh... is he, then? Well, that's go... good." He swallows. "Please tell her I'm very sorry. She, um, wasn't taking visitors last time I checked, so I couldn't tell her myself..."


Violet smiles slightly, partly in response to the boy's good-naturedness and partly due to her folly in suspecting him of Dark motives. He's about as Dark as Lavender's bathrobe, which is to say, pastel pink and fluffy. "I'll tell her."


Neville seems appeased, or as appeased as Neville can seem, anyway, and they all take seats around a table scattered with open textbooks. Ron shuts "A Standard Book of Spells, Grade Four" with evident relish. At last he has a viable excuse to put off studying.


"You don't go to Hogwarts, do you, Violet?" It's Harry that asks.


"No, I... I stay home to take care of my mother."


"Oh, I didn't realise she was ill!" Hermione says.


"Yes, it's um, one of those very silent illnesses. Undetectable, almost."


"Lavender's never mentioned it. She must be so worried! It's not healthy to keep things like that in..."


"Hey!" Ron exclaims. "Maybe that's why she got so bothered when Trelawney made that stupid prediction in class the other day. You know she believes everything that old fraud says."


"What did she say?" Violet asks.


"Something about..." Ron screws up his face.


"Doom befalling her house," Harry puts in.


"Or some such rot," Ron agrees.


"Um," Violet interjects. "What?"


"The Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney," Hermione explains. "She says stuff like that every day. It's nothing to worry about."


"Oh, yes. She's Lavender's favourite teacher, I think. She talks about her all the time, what a great Seer she is..."


Hermione makes a scoffy sound. "That woman's about as much of a Seer as my uncle's blind old bulldog!"


Ron laughs. "Good one, Hermione."


Hermione smiles primly. "Anyway, now that we've established that Doom isn't befalling anyone, is this your first visit to Hogwarts, Violet?"


Violet nods, wondering how much she should say. "I've heard a lot about it from Lavender, though." She bites her lip.


"Weird she's never mentioned a sister." Ron, whose life consists of almost nothing *but* siblings, finds this a very foreign idea.


"Well, we're not really close. The age difference and all." Violet is distressed by the ease with which she can lie. It makes her want to yell the truth from the rooftops and damn the consequences.


"You don't go to school at *all*, then?" Hermione seems horrorstruck by this idea.


"I get, um, private tutoring."


"Wish I could get private tutoring," Neville pipes up.


"Sometimes I wish I could go here," Violet says, realising she means it.


"I think it's wonderful how loyal you are to your family," Hermione says. "Although I don't think it's entirely fair to expect you to give up your education."


Violet shrugs, uncomfortable. "I don't mind, really. So, what are your favourite classes?"


They all start speaking at once, Hermione going on long after the others have finished. Violet lets their words drift over her, relieved she is no longer the centre of attention.


The topic switches to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which Violet has overheard her parents discuss in passing. "The first task is only four days away," Hermione explains to her. "Harry is one of our champions. I hope Lavender is... sorted out in time!"


"I know she'd hate to miss it."


"Are you and your parents staying?" Harry asks.


"Oh... I don't think so. I have to get back to sch... er... sketching. Yes. I like to sketch." She tries not to let her voice convey that this is news to her.


"Oh, then you must meet Dean Thomas! He's a wonderful artist." Hermione looks around, apparently for the artistic Dean.


"That's all right," Violet says quickly, standing to go. "It was lovely meeting you all, but I should get back to my sister."


"Of course. Nice meeting you, Violet. I hope you visit again." Hermione gives her a warm, genuine smile, and she feels a vague but distinct ache somewhere between her stomach and her heart.


Harry, Ron and Neville also smile and wish her well, and she smiles without thinking in return. As she and Neville lock eyes, her heart suddenly lurches to the side, like a cardiac roller coaster. Violet waves and walks swiftly out of the Common Room, so the only one who sees the first tear fall is Sir Cadogan.


*******************************


Lavender is buzzing, Snape flapping, Pomfrey cooing, Mrs. Brown squawking, and Mr. Brown hooting; the Infirmary resembles nothing so much as an aviary gone mad.


"Everybody quiet!" No one had noticed Professor McGonagall slip into the room on her catlike feet. As soon as they hear her dulcet but deadly brogue, the room falls almost completely silent.


"What is the meaning of this noise, in the Infirmary, no less?"


"Dreadfully sorry, Minerva," Madame Pomfrey pants. "But as you can see, we have a bit of a... situation here."


McGonagall peers down at Lavender, who is yellowish and still buzzing softly. "My word, what happened to you?"


Everyone starts talking at once. McGonagall holds up a hand. "One at a time, please. Severus?"


Snape steps forward. "I believe this can all be traced back to the Longbottom boy, Minerva. That boy never fails to break new ground in the field of ineptitude."


Lavender speaks up. "It wasn't Neville's fault, Professor McGonagall. We were practicing hexes in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and..."


McGonagall suppresses a smile. "Yes, I believe I see where you are going, Miss Brown. But surely... Mr. Longbottom couldn't have..." she gestures at Lavender.


"The potion backfired," Snape admits grudgingly. "I'd never seen such a peculiar case of the Bee-sting Hex before. I can fix this, but it will take time."


McGonagall sighs. "Very well. My sincerest apologies to you, Mr. and Mrs. Brown. I assure you this sort of thing doesn't go on... too often."


Mr. Brown gives a false-sounding hearty chuckle. "Oh, this is nothing compared to my days at Hogwarts! Once I turned some greasy-looking fellow into a penguin. Ah, those were the days..."


Snape shoots darts from his eyes, but says nothing. Great bloody Gryffindor git.


"What's going to... bzzz... happen to me?" Lavender speaks up. Her slightly insectlike eyes bulge with anxiety.


Madame Pomfrey takes her hand. "We'll get you sorted out, don't you worry. What you need now is a good rest. I think it's best if everyone leaves now."


Snape and McGonagall look relieved. Mr. and Mrs. Brown nod resignedly. "We need to fetch Violet, anyway," Mrs. Brown remembers. "I hope she hasn't gotten into anything."


"Mum?"


"Yes, Lavender dear?"


"When you see Violet... tell her I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to... bzzz... yell at her. I was just... bzzz... embarrassed."


Mrs. Brown smiles. "I'll tell her, dear. Sleep well."


**********************************


Mr. and Mrs. Brown are unable to find Violet, which is probably due to the fact that she is sitting in Dumbledore's office, sucking on a lemon candy. As she launches into her lie about staying home to take care of her mother, Dumbledore stops her.


"There is no need for false words within these four walls, Miss Brown. I know who you are, and I am, in fact, delighted you are here."


"You are?"


He nods. "How are you enjoying your brief magical education so far?"


"It's... different than I thought it would be. I didn't know if I would like this place or not. No offence, of course," she adds hastily.


"None taken. I believe you were about to give me a compliment anyway, were you not?" His eyes, of course, twinkle. Violet, who has never seen twinkling eyes, is rather captivated.


"Hogwarts makes my school look like a dismal squat brick affair. Not that it didn't anyway. I mean, more so."


Dumbledore nods, playing with one of his many desk toys. "So often the special ones never set foot in Hogwarts, which is a terrible shame, as it is part of their heritage."


"Special ones?"


"Yes. I believe you would say 'Squibs.'"


"No offence, Sir, but I'm about as special as a sack of potatoes."


"Are you really? I wonder, how many people have a chance to explore both the magic and Muggle worlds? There is much more to magic than casting spells, Miss Brown, just as I've been told there is more to Muggles than watching football on television."


"You know about... television?"


"I do, yes. But so few in the Wizarding world do. Do you not see your unique position, Miss Brown?"


"I suppose I do. But I've never heard of a Squib who was particularly successful."


Dumbledore puts down his toy and folds his hands on the desk. "I never said it was an easy road, did I? But the potential is there. It is up to you what you do with it. Ah, was a lucky coincidence I ran into you today!" Something in his voice tells her it wasn't exactly a coincidence. "You're always welcome at Hogwarts, Miss Brown. I hope you'll return, and we may discuss this further." He stands, smoothing his voluminous robes. "Now, then! I'll just round up your parents, as I'm sure they're wondering where their daughter's got off to. You may talk to my bird if you like."


"Um... eh?"


He indicates a sleepy bird on a perch that Violet had assumed was stuffed. "That's Fawkes, my Phoenix. He enjoys good conversation."


Violet manages a smile. "Great. I'll be sure to tell him all about my life, then."


"Excellent!" Dumbledore gives an odd salute and sweeps out. Violet gives a little snort of laughter. The man could rather use a sense of irony, she thinks.


Violet approaches the Phoenix cautiously. "Hello... bird." Fawkes doesn't stir. Well. Violet starts looking absently around the room, and spots something of interest almost immediately.


The Hat is sleeping. It sits, in all its faded, threadbare glory, atop a rather high shelf. Not so high, though, Violet thinks...


Violet knows exactly what this Hat is; it is the aspect of Hogwarts that intrigues her the most. A Hat that can tell you who you are just by sitting on your head! No wonder all the Wizards and Witches she knows seem so self-assured; they've been left little room for identity crises. When in doubt they can think, "I'm a Gryffindor. I am brave."


Does she dare? Well, she rationalises, according to Dumbledore's little pep talk, this is exactly the sort of thing she should be doing. She steps on a little spindly-legged stool and grabs the Hat.


The Hat blinks, she swears, sleepily. She decides to let it get its bearings before she puts it to work. After a moment, she takes a deep breath and puts it on her head.


"Hello, there," the Hat says into her ear.


"Hello," she says out loud.


"No need to speak. I can hear your thoughts," it says. "Hmm..." If the Hat wasn't on her head, she would have seen it squinching up its face in concentration. "There is something different about you."


I'm a Squib, she thinks. I don't know if you can sort me or not, but I'd like to know... something about myself.


"I see... a Squib, interesting... well, I'll give it a go. I can't actually sort you though, you know that."


I know, Violet thinks.


"You are not a Slytherin," it informs her. "Nor a Hufflepuff." Violet exhales loudly. She'd been certain it was going to say Hufflepuff. Not that she knows much about any of the Houses, but from the way Lavender speaks of Hufflepuff, it sounded like the kind of place she'd end up. "I see bravery," it continues, "but not the dashing-about-with-swords sort. I believe Godric was rather specific about swords." Violet gets a sudden image of Lavender and Parvati wielding swords and stopping to check their makeup in the reflection, and stifles a giggle.


"I heard that," the Hat says. "I remember Miss Brown and Miss Patil and I assure you, they are Gryffindors to the end." Violet shudders suddenly. "Yes... I see intelligence, and a desire to prove that intelligence to the world. You would be prime Ravenclaw material."


Violet smiles. "Thank you, ah... Mr. Hat. I'm sorry for waking you."


The Hat, were it able, would have doffed itself. "My pleasure, Miss Brown. And remember, your Sorting is only a guideline. Your true identity must come from experience."


Violet nods, removing the hat and placing it back on the shelf. She'd received more life advice in one day from a dotty old wizard and a hat than her parents had given her in sixteen years. She settles into a squashy chair, wondering why she still feels uneasy.



Chapter 5: Chapter Five
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Chapter Five



Half a year later, Lavender's bumblebee episode has become a mere anecdote, and a hush has fallen over the Wizarding world. No one knows for sure what happened; all they know is, the Tri-Wizard Tournament had ended with two champions and one of them, Cedric Diggory, had paid with his life. Dumbledore, on the word of Harry Potter, is claiming that Voldemort has returned and had caused the boy's death. Dumbledore has loyal supporters but others, like Thomas Brown, have grown increasingly skeptical.



"Fudge insists there is nothing to worry about," he tells his family every night at dinner. This is, to him, the end of the debate. But Lavender believes Harry and Dumbledore, Mrs. Brown doesn't voice an opinion (which of course means she disagrees with her husband), and Violet tries to separate fact from fiction with very little information at all.



It is a tense time, and for most, denial eventually overrides fear. By the end of the summer the Ministry has things under control, and Harry Potter and Dumbledore have been all but discredited. What no one sees are the battles that occur daily in certain households, battles based on pride and fear and uncertainty that have the power to rip families apart as surely as Voldemort does. One such battle shakes the foundation of the Weasley home; a more subdued standoff drags on between Seamus Finnegan and his Mum; and a third, unspoken war wages on at the Browns'.



Violet, who has both kept and been kept from the Wizarding world most of her life, suddenly finds herself in the middle of a storm. She knows about Voldemort just as she knows about Harry Potter; these things transcend the line between magic user and Squib. She has taken a side, if only in her mind. She bases it on little more than an opportunity to show silent solidarity with her sister, and her ardent belief that Minister Fudge, a frequent dinner guest, is a high-functioning baboon.



She knows what War is. She knows she is in as much danger from this abomination of a wizard as the rest of her family, perhaps more so, unless she decides to leave and sever ties forever. She agonises over this. Why should she suffer the trials of the Wizarding world when she can reap none of the benefits? What is keeping her here? The threat of War, with its permanent mark of death and destruction, inspires hate in some and love in others. She doesn't know if the feeling is mutual, but she feels, well, related to her blood kin for the first time she can remember. When the time comes, the time when they will need to band together as a family or die, she wants to be there.



She supposes she has made her choice.



She wonders if the War will be over in time for her to go to University, and whether there will indeed be any universities left standing.



*******************************************



Lavender has had the dream so often lately, she is beginning to wonder if it is a dream at all.



It's always the same. She, Parvati, several classmates and teachers and for some reason, Violet, have formed a line around the exterior of Hogwarts, trying to hold off an encroaching flank of Death Eaters. They're matching them almost spell for spell (except for Violet, who is holding a wand like an epee, as if expecting to fence the Death Eaters into oblivion), when suddenly He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named appears. The Death Eaters seem to double in rank. Lavender watches helplessly as Seamus Finnegan, Colin Creevey, and Professor Sinistra fall to the ground around her. She doesn't know if they're alive or dead, all she knows is she has to keep fighting. She points her wand at the mass of black robes, shouting random curses and hoping some of them hit home. Tears stream down her cheeks til she can hardly see, but she fights on, Parvati on one side, Neville on the other, and Violet slightly behind. They catch one another's eyes and, amazingly, smile...



Lavender wakes up, breathing heavily and drenched in sweat. Why does this keep happening to her? Are these dreams a product of her anxiety, her belief that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned? Or are they something more significant? Exhausted, she falls into a restless sleep.



The next time she has the dream she is awake, and she doesn't remember it.



**********************************************



Lavender returns to Hogwarts on September First, while Violet stays at home. Her school does not have Repelling charms around it, unless you count the smell from the cafeteria, so her mother has insisted it's too great a risk for her to return. As much as Mr. Brown doesn't hold with the idea of Voldemort's return, he holds even less with Muggle education, so he lets his wife have her way.



So Violet, caged in her own home, begins spending all her time on her computer. She discovers a way to finish school without ever leaving her room, and signs up immediately. She doesn't know if it will impress the University people, but she figures it's better than nothing. Whatever might happen in the Wizarding world, Violet feels the need to keep her options open. Maybe Dumbledore was right when he said she was lucky. She knows how big the world really is; one could fit the entire Wizarding world into a thimble, relatively.



Lavender's owls home become increasingly agitated, then stop altogether. Lavender has a flair for the dramatic, but it's unlike her to stop writing at all. Mr. Brown, who knows all about and approves of the changes the Ministry has instituted at Hogwarts, says she's probably "in a snit" about all the new rules. "Those children are used to having free reign," he says. "When presented with a little discipline, of course they're going to rebel. Luckily, Dolores Umbridge is on the case. Very sharp woman, Dolores."



When Lavender comes home for Christmas break, she is strangely subdued. As her mother questions her and plies her with hot chocolate, the tears start to flow. "Oh, Mum! We have this positively horrid new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor! Dolores Umbridge." She shudders. "You should see what she WEARS... pukey pink sweaters with HEADBANDS, if you can believe..."



"Now Lavender, I don't believe even you would be sent into tears over some unfortunate fashion choices. Just what is going on at Hogwarts?" As Mr. Brown is spending much of the holiday at the office, she feels she can speak candidly. Violet walks into the kitchen, helps herself to some hot chocolate, and joins them at the table.


"What's wrong?" she asks Lavender.



Lavender sniffles. "This disgusting old hag we have for a professor! She... she practically threatened Professor Trelawney, it was barbaric! She tried to hide it, but she was almost in tears... Parvati and I tried comforting her by telling her about these awful dreams we'd had, but she was too distracted to pay attention. Oh, Mum, what if they... s-sack her!"



Mrs. Brown reaches out and pats her hand. "Now, now, dear. You don't think someone who's been teaching for that long is just going to be sacked, do you? Dumbledore would never stand for that!"



"Something's wrong with Dumbledore, Mum. Hogwarts has gone all funny and he doesn't even do anything!"



"Hmm..." Mrs. Brown looked pensive. "I'll ask your father about this. I think he knows more than he's telling. I can't promise you I'll find out anything, but..."



Lavender smiles, and hiccoughs. "It's okay, Mum. Thanks. I missed you so much!" She flings herself into her mother's arms. After a moment she wriggles free, glances to the side and says, "I missed you too, Violet."



Violet almost chokes on her hot chocolate. "Oh! I, ah, missed you too, Lavender."



Lavender looks like she's about to say something monumental. (Either that, or hiccough again.) She wipes her eyes.



Her voice trembles slightly. "Mum, Violet... I think we should talk, don't you?"



*****************************************



The Browns sleep well that night. Violet is the last to fall asleep, her mind buzzing. Why hadn't she and Lavender talked ages ago? What had prevented them? It had to be more than just the dominating presence of their father, or the apparent spinelessness of their mother. What had made two sisters afraid to even speak to one another?



She replays the conversation in her mind. The requisite apologies and tears, then the parts that hold true meaning for her. The three women admitting they believed Voldemort had returned, and sharing their fears, out loud, for the first time. Lavender's in-depth discussion of a group Harry Potter and his friends had formed to teach students *real* Defence Against the Dark Arts. The pride she felt for her sister. Her desire to help, however she can, being met with understanding and gratitude instead of laughter. Their concern over what was happening at Hogwarts, and what it might mean for the rest of the world, even the Muggle parts. Would it have happened the same way, or at all, if Voldemort had remained a shadow? Violet decides not to think too hard, lest it destroy her newfound confidence. She wonders how she can feel so good and so afraid all at once, and finally drifts off to sleep.



The War at home has reached a truce; the one outside is about to begin.

********************************************



Chapter 6: Chapter Six
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Chapter Six



When Lavender goes into the trance, everyone but Parvati and Professor Trelawney assumes she is faking. Trelawney recognises it almost right away, and Parvati believes in her friend as much as she believes in the Sight. Others, including Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, roll their eyes and try not to snigger (a failed attempt, in Ron's case).



"My dear!" Trelawney swoops down upon her, grabbing a small hourglass from a shelf. Lavender stares straight ahead, words tumbling from her mouth almost faster than she can speak them. Trelawney plunks the hourglass down in front of her and recites, "Recordum!" They are surrounded by complete silence. Even Ron seems to have grasped the gravity of the situation.



Lavender speaks the same phrases in a continuous loop for about five minutes. It is her dream, and more. Much more. The expected words, such as "War," "Voldemort," and "Harry Potter" still elicit shudders, and the unexpected, such as "Neville," "Violet," and "Parvati" elicit raised eyebrows and puzzled glances. (And, in the case of Neville, more shudders.) When she's finished she slumps forward. "Finite incantatem," Trelawney says quietly, sealing the hourglass and slipping it into her pocket.



Lavender sits up, blinking rapidly. "Professor...?" She stares, wide-eyed, touching her face as if making sure she's still there.



Trelawney leans close to her, speaking in the soothing tone a mother might use with a new baby. "Do you remember what just happened, my dear?"



Lavender shakes her head. "No..."



"It's all right, child." She clutches her chest. "My stars, it's more than all right! You've had a vision." She straightens herself and gazes out, somehow holding the entire classroom in her stare. "A vision of a great battle - a final battle." Never let it be said that Sibyll Trelawney doesn't have a flair for the dramatic.



"Do you mean... am I...?" Lavender can't bring herself to speak the words for fear they aren't true.



"Yes, my dear. It is my belief that you are a Seer." She smiles.



The class comes alive with the requisite whispers and murmurs, which Trelawney effectively shushes. "Tell me, Miss Brown, did your grandmother have the Gift? Your great-grandmother, perhaps?"



"I... I don't know. My mother's an orphan, and my father doesn't speak with his kin."



Trelawney sighs. "Well, nevertheless. Class, it is my belief that we have just witnessed a Prophecy, and that the Wizarding world has been blessed with a novice Seer." Her eyes brim with pride. Parvati squeals and hugs her friend. Lavender smiles but seems a bit shell-shocked.



"I don't remember any of it," she says softly.



Trelawney is suddenly serious, and not her usual lofty, gazing-into-the-orb brand of seriousness but a down to earth certainty that commands attention. "I believe we have a bit of a sticker," she says.



The class looks on expectantly. "You see, children, a Prophecy is meant to be heard only by the Witness, and the people who the Prophecy involves. When one has honed their Gift, through years of experience, things like this can usually be avoided... not that you have done anything wrong in the LEAST, my dear!" she assures Lavender, seeing her stricken expression. "But you see, you are not supposed to remember what you have Seen. And neither are those of you who the Prophecy doesn't concern. However..." She sighs. "This is a rather, ah, unusual Prophecy, as it concerns a large number of people. Of you. And, well, I just don't know what to do!" She slumps heavily into a flowered chair, fanning the incense-laden air. "My goodness, does it seem hot in here?"



"YES!" a chorus of voices, mostly male, exclaim in unison.



Parvati shoots dirty looks all around. "What do you mean, Professor?" she asks gently.



"I mean... oh dear, an educator should not have to shoulder such burdens... an abomination, really..." She wrings her hands. After a tense, quiet moment a look of determination comes into her eyes. "I am truly sorry, my dears. But I believe this is for your own good."



She points her wand, closes her eyes, and whispers, "Obliviate!"



**********************************************



Violet sits in her self-proclaimed Fortress of Solitude (ah, the joys of Muggle literature), wondering what to do next. She has already finished her "schoolwork," straightened her room (picked up two socks), and painted nails no one will ever see. Toe and finger. Clearly, she is running short on options.



She pads downstairs to the empty kitchen, fixes herself a cup of tea, and absently scans the "Daily Prophet" that has been left on the table. Since last year's tragedy at the Ministry there has been more speculation than news, but at least they've stopped reporting on the progress of Harry Potter's nervous breakdown. Voldemort is back at work; there have been Muggle killings that bore his mark, as well as the sudden, suspicious deaths of an old witch and wizard who had helped put several Death Eaters in Azkaban. Everyone is trying to go about their daily routine, despite the looming fear of what may come. What else can be done during the quiet stirrings of War?



A headline, accompanied by a large, unflattering photo, catches Violet's eye:



'Umbridge Resigns in Midst of Scandal'


"Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and former High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, has resigned her post rather than stand trial before the Wizengamot. Ms. Umbridge has been accused of myriad offences during her tenure as High Inquisitor, including an attempt to use an Unforgivable on a student, which would mean life in Azkaban if convicted. She has also been accused of Conspiracy to Withhold Evidence in the matter of Lord You-know-who's return. Minister Fudge has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of Ms. Umbridge's actions. He is not currently charged with a crime, though he has been detained by the Fashion Police on numerous occasions..."


Violet frowns. She's never quite understood what the Prophet is on about. But faced with the horribly lifelike image of Dolores Umbridge, pink bow and all, she feels a pang of sympathy for what the Hogwarts students must have gone through. The woman, indeed, resembles nothing more than a petulant, absurdly beribboned toad.



Toad... the word brings up a not unpleasant memory, but one she's not certain she wants to explore. A cosy room... a group of friends... a warm smile... a shy glance... and a toad. She feels the familiar lurch in her heart. She wonders if she'll ever see any of them again. In particular,the boy and his toad. She allows herself a moment to dwell on his name. Not his sweet face, or his soft voice, or the jolt she'd received when their eyes met; these things aren't safe, even in her own mind. But a name... nothing more than letters arranged in a certain pattern. What harm can that possibly do? So she gives herself over to one moment of bliss.



Neville...



*********************************************



Professor Trelawney brings the sealed hourglass to Dumbledore, who takes it with a small nod. He seems neither surprised nor expectant, merely accepting. "I'll pass this on to the proper authorities, Sibyll. I commend you for your quick thinking. I take it you will sign as Witness?" She nods. "And... the others?" he prods delicately. Trelawney gives a small nod.



Dumbledore's smile gives the intended consolation without the slightest trace of happiness. "Sibyll, you know the rules of Prophecies as well as anyone."



"Oh, but Albus... it was terrible..." She seems to deflate a bit in her chair. "And strange, too."



Dumbledore frowns. "Strange? How so?"



"It did not involve only one of my students, it involved all of them! And Miss Brown spoke... as if she was there."



Dumbledore's frown deepens. "The Seer was present in her own Prophecy?"



"I believe so, yes." Trelawney briefly closes, then reopens her eyes. Gone is the ethereal fortuneteller who floats around her parlour classroom, and in her place an aging, frightened woman who by the looks of it would prefer the future to stay put, thank you very much. "You see, Albus, it involved almost my whole class! So by rights they are all privy to it. Or none are." She gives him a meaningful look. "I... considering the sensitive nature of it, I thought it best to..." She closes her eyes and tries to swallow the lump in her throat.



"You made a choice, Sibyll. That is all any of us can do. I am not convinced, from what you've told me, that we are dealing with a Prophecy at all. You did what you felt was best for your students, and they'll suffer no worse effect than a slight gap in memory." He sighs. "I know it is your Gift, Sibyll, and I've nothing but respect for it, you know that, but... sometimes I would simply rather not know what the future holds. I find it's enough keeping up with the here and now. Wouldn't you say?"



He expects her to defend her Sight, her livelihood, the long line of Seers she's descended from, the value of Divination when properly interpreted... Instead she hangs her head and murmurs, "Indeed it is, Albus."



This must be a humdinger of a Prophecy, Dumbledore thinks.



*******************************************



Violet has been reduced to reading her horoscope when a face appears in the fireplace. It frowns, reflexively, upon seeing her, then clears its throat.



She looks up sharply. "Oh! Hello, Mr. Weasley. My father's at the office."



"I know. I'd hoped to speak with your mother." He seems flustered but controlled, like flyaway hair under a hat.



"She's in her workshop, Sir."



He sighs. "Can you pass along a message, please?"



Violet feels a stirring of irritation. Does he think her incapable of repeating a simple sentence? "Of course, Sir."



"Tell her..." he swallows. "Tell her the Ministry has been attacked. We don't know how, or what..."



"My father...?"



Arthur Weasley's face softens. "I'm sorry, Violet. That was very insensitive, and I hope you'll forgive me. Your father is unharmed, as are all of his colleagues. I believe someone sustained a bruise to their upper arm, but..." The head gives the impression of shrugging. "Let us be thankful the Ministry was built to withstand... well, just this."



"So you think it was Voldemort?"



He takes a split second before answering. How much does this girl know? How much should he tell her? He is used to dealing with Muggles, not Squibs. "Yes. We are almost certain of it."



"Do you want me to get my mother?"



"No, Violet. Thank you. I must go... much to do..." the head disappears.



Violet goes off to tell her mother, then pauses. For this one moment, news of the Wizarding world rests squarely on her shoulders. As long as she holds it, she is important.



After a moment she knocks on the door of her mother's workshop. "Come in!" she calls.



Violet walks in, and nearly staggers under the scent of every type of wood that exists in the world brought together in one small room. "That smell!" she gasps. It's not so much unpleasant as extremely potent.



Her mother looks up from her latest carving, a rocking-unicorn for a child's playroom. The unicorn nibbles playfully at Mrs. Brown's hands as she works to perfect the lines of its horn. "What smell?"



Violet blinks. "Never mind, Mum. I've... I've something to tell you."

**********************************************



Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
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Chapter Seven



Violet knows Muggle post is slow, but this is ridiculous. After receiving no communication for the past year, two letters suddenly arrive in the cobwebby mailbox on the same day. One, judging by the postmarks, is five months old, the other ten. Eager for... well, anything, she rips the first one open.



"Violet!," it begins. "I've not heard from you in ages! How have you been?



Myself, I've been just.. oh, how do I say it? Thrilled? Overwhelmed? Scared out of my bloomin' mind? Yes, it's true... Franklin has popped the question! Oh, Violet, I know our relationship has lost a bit of, how should I say, oomph, but my wedding simply would not be complete if you weren't there. It would not. I do hope you'll give it some thought.



What have you been up to? Well, school, of course, right! But hopefully something else. Anyone special? Oh, I used to hate when people asked me that, but if you DO I know you'll be glad I asked, right?



Speaking of school, I'll be leaving University when Frank and I get married. Why not wait, you ask? Well.... I can't! I simply can't! Oh, I hope someday you know love like this. I hope someday everyone does! Do you know where you'll be attending University yet?



Well anyway, please know that I miss you and not a day goes by that I don't think of you, truly. The wedding will be held sometime next June; we've not yet set a date. Frank's family has all sorts of, I don't know, boat trips and the like planned, so... well, I've nattered on long enough. If you're still reading this dreadful excuse for a letter I hope very much to hear back from you! Wherever our roads may lead, I hope we can always be friends.



Love,


Becky xoxo."



Violet catches her breath; she feels like she's run a sprint. She looks back at the letter and laughs a little. Is this what love does to you, she wonders? Becky had always been spirited, full of ideas. A perfect complement to her own reserved and quiet nature. She imagines the sparkle in her friend's green eyes, the flush that spreads across her cheeks and slightly clashes with her red hair.



Having no idea how to answer Becky's request, she turns to the second letter.



"Dear Violet,



How have you been? I was delighted to receive your letter, and regret my delay in responding. However, my mother had just passed away, and death seems to bring nearly as much obligation as it does grieving. But, the business of life goes on, and writing to my favourite (and yes, only) employee is indeed a pleasant way to return to business.


I understand completely why you needed to leave my employ; there is no need to continue your profuse apologies. I hope we can keep up a correspondence, and that this finds you and yours well.



Regards,


Victor Caswell."



Violet feels the unpleasant prickle of pooling tears. She'd thought Mr. Caswell was angry at her, had spent hours berating herself and cursing stupid bloody Voldemort for making her abandon her fledgling life. But here were her friends (all two of them) still in existence and thinking of her somewhere out there, after all.



She'll decide what lies to tell them later.



*******************************************



A week later, a woman named Arabella Figg is found dead. This sends the Brown family into a panic, for reasons which everyone but Violet seems to grasp immediately. Thomas Brown sits his daughter down at the kitchen table, while Hyacinth puts on some tea.



"Mrs. Figg was a Squib," he explains, the slight tremor in his voice the only outward sign of his emotions. "We don't know why she was killed; she seemed to be living a quiet life as a Muggle in Surrey. But we do know this: she was killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. He left his Mark over her house." He clears his throat. "Though it might be a coincidence, some at the Ministry believe he could be targeting Squibs." His face is illuminated by a brief flash of fear, then quickly returns to business. But Violet sees it. "Do you understand me? We believe you are in danger."



Violet nods, slowly, trying to take in the words. "Yes," she finally says. "But I don't understand why. Why me? Why not Lavender and all her O's in Transfigurations? To target me is... well, rather laughable, isn't it?"



"Well..." Mr. Brown sighs. He is not used to having these sort of conversations, especially not with his daughters.


"His image of a perfect world is one he sees as 'pure.' That is to say, no Muggles, no Halfbloods, no magic users born of Muggle parentage, and... no Squibs. While Squibs seem to have pure magical blood, they run the risk of producing 'less-than-pure' offspring. And also, probably, he just doesn't like them very much." He sighs, running a hand through his short, graying hair. "He seems to be following the same pattern." Mr. Brown glances over at his wife. "Tea almost ready, dear?"



Mrs. Brown murmurs assent just as the kettle starts whistling. Mr. Brown looks back at his daughter, seemingly having lost his train of thought.



"What do you mean by pattern?" she asks, wondering how she can discuss this so calmly, as if taking notes on a history lesson.



"The killings that have occurred lately follow those that occurred during his first rise to power. Random Muggles, a revenge killing, and a Squib."



"Who was the first one?" she asks quietly.



"A man by the name of Fletcher Dubose. He'd left the Wizarding community completely, was the captain of a small fishing boat. But You-Know-Who knew seemed to target him specifically. This is a man who is not a man at all, a creature who kills for fun and the most twisted purposes imaginable. We have reached some understanding of his motives in the attempt to prevent future killings."



Violet nods. "Do you really think I'm in danger?"



"We don't know. But clearly, we can't be too careful. There is only one place we know you'll be safe. I've talked with Headmaster Dumbledore, and he's agreed to let you stay at Hogwarts. You'll be serving as Madam Pince's assistant in the library."



Her mother pours them each a mug of steaming tea, and joins them at the table. "We know your love of books, dear."



"I... I don't know what to say." Live at Hogwarts? Work the sort of menial job she'd always objected to? It seems her fate as a Squib is pre-destined, after all. She knows she should be grateful. They're trying to save her life. But for what purpose? To fetch books for the little witches and wizards? She sighs. If the alternative is dying a pathetic, futile death to fulfill the purpose of an evil Dark Lord, she supposes being an assistant librarian won't be that bad. "I'll go," she says. "Though I doubt I'll be able to use it for University credit."



When her parents realise she is joking they laugh, softly. Life has become far too serious not to.



*****************************************



Lavender chews listlessly on a celery stick. It's only lunchtime and she already feels like she's been up all day.



"Ooh, Lav, you're so lucky," Parvati gushes for the umpteenth time. "You must do a reading for me!"



Lavender sighs. This is not the first time she has received this request. Ron Weasley had even asked her to read his eggs that morning at breakfast, but that might have been a joke.



"I don't know," she says, wondering why no one, not even her best friend, has noticed how tired she is. "I'm not sure it works that way."



"What do you mean? Professor Trelawney is always reading tea leaves, or gazing into the Orb..."



But I've never felt so weird after I've done those things, Lavender thinks. I've never felt like my skin is about to burst after looking at soggy leaves or vague, hazy shapes. She doesn't remember her vision, but she remembers her dreams. And she's not had a restful sleep in weeks. "I'll give it a try," she finally says, wondering whether Parvati wouldn't do just as well reading her own tea leaves.



Though Professor Trelawney had successfully erased the Prophecy from her students' minds, she couldn't help but inform them that she believed Lavender was a Seer. So rarely had she seen anyone with such a pure and vivid Sight.!



Parvati frowns. "You okay, Lav?"



"Yeah. I'm just really tired."



"Ooh!" Parvati points gleefully. "Look at what Loony's wearing!"



Lavender looks. Luna Lovegood is walking by wearing, for no apparent reason, blue, fuzzy bunny ears. She seems perfectly happy about it. "Funny," Lavender says.



Parvati giggles loudly, and in Luna's direction. "Hey Loony, would you like my carrots?"



Luna turns around, vaguely. "No, thank you... oh! Carrots, that's funny!" She throws back her head and laughs.



Parvati wrinkles her nose. "So, I'm curious, for what occasion does one wear rodent ears?"



Luna smiles. "It's my rabbits' anniversary today, actually. So kind of you to ask, no one else has..."



Parvati sniggers. "Well, wish them a Happy Anniversary from me, will you? Why don't you give them this is a present?" She makes to throw a carrot at Luna, but Luna's too quick for her. She catches it between her teeth.



"Phanks," she says. She takes the carrot out of her mouth, tucks it behind her ear, and ambles off. Parvati hoots with laughter.



Lavender doesn't join in. She sees fighting... bodies... is Luna among them? Why can't she think straight anymore? "I need to go lie down," she tells Parvati, hurrying off without waiting for a reply.



*******************************************



"Dear Becky,



First, let me congratulate you on your engagement. I'm sorry it took me so long to respond, but something seems to be wrong with our post delivery. Anyway, I'm very happy for you!



Mum and Dad have decided it's best I change schools, and I look forward to the challenge. I don't know where I'm going to University yet, but I may put it off for a year. I think I'd like to travel; Mum's always said it's the best education a girl can have.



You asked me about a "special someone." Well, as a matter of fact, there is someone, but nobody knows about it, least of all him. He goes to the school I'm transferring to, so I hope to get to know him better. I'm not good at this stuff! I wish you were here to put makeup on me and such. I'm hopeless.



Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to make the wedding. There's a lot going on here, family stuff, you know. I do miss you, though! I've packed the photo Mum took of us at the beach the summer before you left, remember? Somehow I don't think I could face the new school without it.



Well, I guess that's all. I know you'll probably be too busy to write back for a while, but I hope we can stay friends, too. If you fall in with a bunch of married ladies, that'll be okay too. Just try not to forget about me or talk too incessantly about things like dish soap, okay? (That's a joke.) And I know this might sound weird, but look out for strange guys in cloaks.



Love, your friend,


Violet."



Violet writes a vague reply to Mr. Caswell, then leaves both letters in the mailbox, hoping someone will come along for them before too long. The postman only seems to remember their house exists about half the time. Of course, Violet is the only recipient of Muggle post.



Her trunk is packed. It contains: several hand-me-down robes, books, the picture of Becky at the beach, her wand, and various personal items. She's ready to go. Whatever that means.



*******************************************



They take the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade once again, and the thestral-drawn carriages up to Hogwarts. This time, they are greeted by Professor McGonagall.



"Welcome to Hogwarts, Miss Brown," she says in her crisp brogue. "And good day to you, Thomas, Hyacinth." They exchange pleasantries. "We were not certain where to put you, Miss Brown, but Madame Pince has kindly offered to share her sleeping quarters. We've moved an extra bed into her spare room."



"That sounds fine, Ma'am," Violet says, not sure of the proper way to address a dignified old woman in a pointy hat.



McGonagall smiles kindly, as if sensing her unease. "Please call me Professor McGonagall. Your sister is a student of mine, and I've been told you're a good student as well. We hope you'll use this as an opportunity to expand your magical education. No matter that you can't use a wand, there's no excuse for not knowing your heritage."



Violet smiles. This doesn't sound so bad, actually. She is always at her most comfortable when behind a book. "I'd like that, Professor McGonagall."



She awkwardly hugs her parents goodbye. "You'll be fine," her mother says softly into her ear. "Lavender has agreed to show you around, and you can always talk to a teacher if you need help, okay?" Violet nods, a bit impatiently. Now that she's here, she's eager to get settled in.



The halls are empty as Professor McGonagall shows her to her room. Classes must be in session, she thinks. She wonders where Neville might be, then tries to dismiss the thought from her mind. As if he would ever look twice at a Squib! (She fails to remember that he did, indeed, look twice at her.)



She leaves her personal effects in her tiny, trapezoid-shaped room, changes into one of Lavender's old robes, then follows McGonagall to the library, her new workplace.



Madam Pince isn't particularly pleased to have an "assistant," but seems to have grudgingly accepted the situation. "You can shelve those," she says curtly, indicating a towering, wobbly stack of books.



"Erm," Violet says. The books have titles like "What Not to Do With Stumpwort;" "Improve Your Breath With the Mentos Charm, and Other Beauty Tips from Witch Weekly ;" and "So You Want to Be An Auror? Good Luck!" She doesn't have any idea what they mean, no less where to shelve them.



Pince sighs impatiently. "Just look at the codes! Honestly, I don't know why I can't just Levitate them back to their shelves like I used to..."



"Because as you well know, Madam Pince, George Weasley sustained a concussion from 'The Big Thick Book of Magic Stuff' and was unconscious for two days!" McGonagall reprimands her.



"Yes, that was a pity." She arranges some quills on her desk muttering, "I was aiming for Fred."



McGonagall pretends she doesn't hear, and turns to Violet. "You see, all you do is look at the code on the spine. That will lead you to the corresponding shelf."



"Oh!" Violet stifles a laugh. The Hogwarts library uses the Dewey Decimal System. "I understand."



"All right, then. I'm needed in my classroom. If there's anything you need, you may come to me. I'm Lavender's Head of House, so I suppose I'll be acting as yours, too." She gives a brief smile, and strides off.



Violet stands there. Madam Pince ignores her, which she supposes is better than the alternative. With a resigned sigh, she gets to work.



*****************************************



Sitting with Lavender and her Gryffindor friends reminds her of the time she accidentally sat at her school's Popular Table and was asked, ever so politely, to leave. This time her presence is tolerated, but she doesn't feel any more comfortable. Lavender's uncharacteristic silence has only made Parvati more shrill, the two boys on her other side talk incessantly about Quidditch, and she keeps glancing down the table to where Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville are sitting.



Suddenly there is a cacophony like she has never heard. A rush of birds fly into the building like a sixties horror film, and she finds herself reflexively ducking her head and screaming. Of course, everyone starts laughing, except Lavender, who nudges her sharply. "It's just the owl post!" she whispers fiercely.



"Oh. I'm sorry," Violet says. And she is. The last thing she wants to do is embarrass Lavender.



Lavender smiles. There are dark circles under her eyes, which Violet makes a note to ask her about. "It's okay. It's just... a lot of odd things happen around here, and I hope you won't be screaming at all of them."



Violet grins in spite of herself. "What if there's a strange man with a chainsaw standing over my bed, may I scream then?"



Lavender giggles. "No, only if it's a strange man with a wand."



The sisters' conversation is interrupted by a shocked gasp from the other end of the table. "Oh... how dreadful!" someone says. Violet looks down the table and recognises the speaker as Hermione Granger, who starts reading loudly from a newspaper.



"Explosion at Muggle University kills dozens, injures hundreds. Lord You-Know-Who seems to be behind the attack- honestly, why can't they just say Voldemort!" Several people, including Lavender, cringe. Violet holds her breath as she waits for Hermione to continue. Somehow, she just knows... "Yesterday, an explosion rocked Trinity College, one of the biggest Universities in Muggle Dublin..."



Violet leaps from the table, runs to where Hermione is sitting and grabs the paper from her hands. Hermione is too shocked to react.



Violet scans the paper, breathing heavily. On the very last page she finds the list of Voldemort's latest victims. ...Ashley, Monica; Ciernan, Mary; Eddleby, James; Grogan, Rebecca...



Violet cries out; a choked, awful sound that echoes through the Great Hall and comes back to her sounding as broken as she feels. Her knees give way and she falls. She never feels herself hit the floor.

***************************************



Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
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Chapter Eight


Violet lives in a small space. There is room for a narrow bed, a nightstand, a closet, and her trunk. There is no room for thoughts to stray, for a mind to wander, for any unwanted feelings at all. An expansive room might invite expansive thoughts; a narrow room allows one to stick to a narrow purpose: breathe. Breathe deeply enough to fill the lungs, but not so deep as to fill the mind.


She hasn't left her room in days.


The truth is, she hadn't thought much about Becky since Becky had moved away. Her best and, let's face it, only childhood friend and she'd forgotten her, like an old photograph left to gather dust. Her eye strays to the photo still propped on her nightstand. No... she hadn't forgotten her. Does that make it any better?


She is startled by a knock on the door. It isn't time for the house-elf to bring her dinner, and no one else seems to care. (That isn't exactly true. Lavender had come to see her but she hadn't felt like talking, and Madam Pince had stopped by to inform her that "Books don't shelve themselves, you know!" Violet bit back a retort that yes, they do, but they apparently injure innocent bystanders en route.)


"Who is it?" she calls. Her voice sounds like a hinge in need of oiling.


"It's, um, Neville. Neville Longbottom." She hears a muffled but distinct croak. "And Trevor," he adds.


She can almost see him blushing through the door. Why... now? She sighs. "Okay, um, just a moment!" She hurriedly pulls her lank hair into a ponytail and throws on one of Lavender's robes over her pajamas.


She opens the door. Neville stands there, looking like he is supposed to be selling something but has forgotten what. One of his pockets is bulging and moving; she sincerely hopes it contains Trevor. Is that a toad in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? The line springs to mind unbidden and she stifles a giggle, causing a fresh wave of depression to wash over her. How can she think vaguely sexual thoughts about amphibians when her dearest friend has just been murdered by Voldemort? How can... oh bother, how can anything be happening at all? Life is absurd, and hers doubly so.


Neville just stands there. "Can I... ah, help you?" Violet cringes before the words are out of her mouth.


"Oh!" A sort of quavery smile. "I just wanted to, ah, see if you were all right."


"Well, I'm... yes, I'm all right." When people, wizard or Muggle, ask if you're all right, they don't really want to know if you're all right. They just want you to say you are. One of those oddities she'll never understand.


Neville clears his throat. "What I mean to say is, ah... I know you're not all right, and I just wanted to say that that's all right. I mean..."


Violet gives him an encouraging smile, even though she doesn't really know what he's on about. His face looks wonderful. Her memories hadn't distorted him; she hadn't idealised his kind face, or soft voice, or gentle manner. "It's all right," she says. Then she laughs.


Neville looks startled. "Wha... why are you laughing at me?"


"Oh! I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at... both of us, I suppose. The way we keep saying 'all right.'"


"Oh." Neville smiles vaguely. "All right."


They both laugh, nervously. When they're finished they look anywhere but directly at one another.


"I caught you," Neville says suddenly.


"Er... eh?"


"When you fell. After... well, you know. I caught you before you hit the ground."


"Oh. Then I should thank you... Neville." It sounds odd using his name, just like that. Do all moments tinted by romance feel so surreal? Perhaps only when the 'romance' is imagined, she thinks drily. "So... well, thank you."


"You're welcome."


There seems to be nothing else to say. Or maybe -


"Um, ah," Neville says.


"What is it?"


"Look, I..." He clears his throat again, for good measure. "I know what it's like to lose someone. I didn't want to see anyone, or do anything. But... well, I just thought you might be ready to see someone. That's all." He clasps his hands behind his back.


"That's really kind of you," Violet says. "Now that you mention it, it does feel good to talk to someone. Especially someone who isn't Madam Pince."


Neville laughs, a small chuckle from somewhere in the back of his throat. "Well, I guess that's all." He moves to leave. "Unless..."


"Unless?"


"I was thinking, you might want to have dinner in the Great Hall tonight."


Violet blinks. Is he asking her out on a date... in the cafeteria? (Cafeteria, Great Hall. Whatever.) Or is he just generally concerned for her well-being, and not wanting her to go mad alone in a little room, particularly one shaped like a trapezoid? "Yes, maybe I should...." She sighs. She'll never be able to see the Great Hall without seeing that newspaper, without remembering that dizzying rush in her head...


"I know it's hard," Neville says. "But the sooner you get on with it, then..." He seems to be working to convince himself. "Well, the sooner you can get on with things, I suppose. Life, and all."


"You're probably right." She smiles. "Thank you for catching me," she says softly.


Neville says, "Anytime," and immediately stares at his feet. "Guess I'll meet you there, then."


Violet assumes he is speaking to her and not his shoes. "Okay."


She takes a moment after he leaves, chuckling a bit in spite of herself. What a terrible conversation! Why does she feel so... good?


Such irrational thoughts can only mean one thing.


****************************************


Who is that woman? Lavender asks herself over and again, both in waking and dreaming life. For her, the two have almost merged.


The dream has become more vivid, yet more enigmatic and altogether more frightening. Why has she been cursed with the sort of specific knowledge no Seer is supposed to remember? Such as, the world as they know it is going to end. What is she supposed to do, roam the corridors of Hogwarts with a sandwich board shouting, "The end is near! Repent!"?


She spends a lot of time in bed. Someone (i.e., Pansy Parkinson) has spread a rumour that she is pregnant. Lavender immediately regrets spreading that same rumour with Parvati about Blaise Zabini the previous year. Lavender regrets a lot of things lately.


The dream-woman is clearly important, yet all she can remember is the swish of a cloak, and a mirthless, throaty laugh cut short by - what? And why is she trying so hard to remember? She doesn't want to know! She wants to return to the simple days of searching for doom at the bottom of a teacup. How naive she has always been; how naive Parvati still is. If she knew what it was like to truly See... But someone does. Professor Trelawney does. Why can't she go talk to her favourite professor, the woman she has near idolised for three years?


The dam breaks. The answer she has been avoiding rushes into her conscious mind. Professor Trelawney is now in awe of her. And afraid. Afraid of her power and what she has Seen. Someone might claim the professor is jealous of her student's Gift, but Lavender senses that nothing is farther from the truth.


So why is she trying so hard to remember? The answer is simple enough: because she has to. This is more than a Prophecy, it's a warning. A message. But from whom? And why?


Lavender's hair hangs limp and unwashed, and her robes have a stain from breakfast she's failed to notice. Her face is free of cosmetic charms, her nails bitten to the quick. It's no wonder Parvati has taken to spending her free time with Padma, her twin. And it's no wonder Professor Trelawney lives alone in a tower, rarely descending to fraternise with those who only see what's directly in front of them.


Violet, she thinks. I ought to see if she feels like talking yet. She won't understand a thing that's going on, but maybe that's just what I need.


*********************************************


Violet is dressed, her hair is clean, and she is sitting beside Neville Longbottom at the Gryffindor table. She has no idea if she is on a date, so of course decides to pretend that is the last thing on her mind. She senses the other students are uncomfortable having her there, especially in Lavender's absence. Where is Lavender, anyway? she wonders.


She notices Parvati giving her an especially dirty look. This isn't a major source of surprise, though Parvati has never been outright nasty to her. She looks down at her meat pie, wishing Neville would say something. She is starting to feel more than a little ridiculous.


Suddenly she feels a kick under the table. She flinches in annoyance. When it happens again, the heel digging in sharply this time, she glances under the table. Of course. The only girl in the vicinity wearing black high heels is Parvati. Then she notices a piece of folded paper beside her own scuffed, ancient loafers. She grabs it and straightens up, giving Parvati a questioning look. Parvati gives a slight, perfunctory nod. What is this all about?


After a quick glance around, she decides it's safe to read the note. Neville is enthralled by his potatoes, and everyone else is chatting in a way that makes it seem like she, specifically, is being ignored. Schools are all the bloody same, she thinks, unfolding the note under the table.


In purple ink: "Meet me outside after dinner, I need to talk to you. What is the matter with Lavender? Does it have anything to do with you being here? By the way, there seems to be plenty of room at the Hufflepuff table."


Violet stifles a laugh. Parvati clearly wants the Gryffindor table to be the Popular Table, but Violet senses that isn't possible at Hogwarts, that there will at least always be room there for someone like Neville, if not someone like her. The thought cheers her. She gives Neville a benign smile and Parvati a rather poised nod.


When everyone is more or less finished, she taps Neville gently on the shoulder. "Thank you for coming for me," she says softly. "It meant a lot to me, really."


Neville smiles broadly, revealing a small bit of potato skin stuck between his teeth. "It's good, isn't it?"


Violet nods. "It's the same food I had in my room, but somehow it tastes different out here."


Neville eyes her thoughtfully. "I'd like to know what it's like," he says.


"What what's like?"


"You know, being a Squib. My Gran said... well, until I got my letter, she thought I was one. And for a while, even after I arrived here, I thought I might be one, too. That they'd made a mistake. But, tell me, is it as dreadful as Gran said it is?"


"Being a Squib? No, not really." Violet shrugs. "Other than feeling a bit awkward wherever you go, but..."


"But I feel that, anyway," Neville says with a shy grin.


Violet smiles. "Yes, perhaps I would, too. Hard to say."


Neville clears his throat. "Um, would you maybe like to, ah, take a walk or something sometime? I'm really curious about... you know. I mean, I've always thought Gran was a bit full of hot air, if you want to know the truth..." he looks happily scandalised to have said this.


"Okay, I'll tell you all there is to know about being a Squib. We'll have to find something else to talk about on the way back, though."


"May...maybe we can talk about what it's like to be a wizard who was almost a Squib."


She smiles. "Deal." She feels a tap on her shoulder, and turns around. Parvati, looking like she owns time. She turns back to Neville. "How about tomorrow?"


"S...sure. I'd like that." The smile on his face is tentative; the one in his eyes is radiant.


Violet excuses herself, and Parvati leads her out to an empty corridor, her dark eyes flashing. She folds her arms across her chest. "I assume you know what is going on with Lavender."


"I don't, actually. I don't know why you'd think that. I'm here because Voldemort murdered a Squib. That's all."


Parvati makes a scoffy sound. "That's all, is it? That, and sitting at our table, and making a date with Longbottom, of all people..."


"Who said it's a date, and what on earth is it to you?"


"You don't belong here, Violet. We both know it."


Violet blinks. "Do you want to date Neville?"


Parvati laughs like she's just heard the funniest joke in her life. "Honestly, you're even thicker than I thought! Neville Longbottom? Why, he's practically a..."


"A Squib? Then we're perfect for each other, aren't we?" She turns to go, but Parvati stops her.


"Wait, Violet!"


Violet turns around, and sees something in Parvati's eyes that makes her pause."What is it, Parvati? Shouldn't you be talking to Lavender?"


"That's just it! She won't talk to me! I thought it had something to do with you, but..." she sighs. Violet realises with alarm that she is on the verge of tears. "I'm sorry. Really, I am. I've never known... how to act around you, you know."


"I know. The feeling is mutual."


"It's just, I miss Lavender. Something's wrong, and I don't know what it is."


"Well... this is just a wild stab in the dark, but might it have something to do with the return of Voldemort." She feels a sudden jolt, and cringes for the first time when saying his name.


Parvati's eyes soften. "He killed your friend, didn't he?"


Violet nods. "My Muggle friend, Becky. I hadn't seen her in years, but..."


"I'm sorry." Two tears spill down her cheeks. "I don't know what's going on, our teachers don't talk to us, my best friend won't talk to me, and I don't even know if I want to be a Seer anymore! Everything's different, and I don't know what to do."


"I don't know what to do, either. I grew up half in one world and half in another, and most of the time felt like I was nowhere. I feel as out of place here as everyone seems to think I am. I'd like to go home, but I don't even know where that is."


Parvati looks pensive. "There is no home until all of this is over."


Violet nods. "I feel that here, too. A sense of being suspended in time, waiting... and all I can do is shelve books for the cause." She snorts. "My friend is murdered, and how do I fight back? By shutting myself away because I know I can't fight. This war has affected me as much as anyone else here, and I can't even bloody defend my friend's life!" She leans against the wall, grasping for support. Her breath comes short and ragged.


Parvati slowly walks over and puts an arm around her. Both girls are crying, and both are silent. They stand there for several long minutes, tears streaming down their cheeks. Finally Parvati whispers, "You will fight. When the time comes, we all will."


This is Lavender's messy, bloody Prophecy condensed in two simple sentences. But Parvati hadn't Seen the future, she'd felt it. She'd felt it in Violet's angry words and quivering shoulders, and in her own resolve to see this thing through, if only to have the opportunity to feel right, and happy, again.

********************************************

a/n Oops, sorry about girl!Blaise.



Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
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Chapter Nine


Violet returns to her room to find Lavender sitting on her bed, huddled in a blanket. She looks awful, and Violet immediately understands why Parvati was so upset. She sits down gently beside her. "Lavender?"


She looks up. "Where were you?"


"At dinner," Violet says. "Um, Neville came and got me." She tries to keep her mouth from flicking up at the corners. Lavender clearly didn't come here to talk about boys.


Lavender's eyes are red and ringed with dark circles, yet she still manages to cock an eyebrow. "Neville Longbottom?"


"Yes. He wonders what it's like to be a Squib."


Lavender nods. "That makes sense, I suppose."


"Anyway, what's going on? You look..." she frowns. There is really no polite way to describe how Lavender looks.


"Awful," Lavender finishes. "I know. And I'm not here for anything specific, really. I just can't talk to anyone else right now."


"Anyone in the Wizarding world, you mean."


Lavender nods. "We can talk about anything. We can talk about..." she smiles. "Neville, if you want."


Violet blushes. "Perhaps, after you've had about twelve hours of sleep," she says.


Lavender yawns. "Is it that obvious?"


Violet nods. "I should probably tell you that I was just accosted by Parvati in the corridor outside the caf... Great Hall. She's really worried about you. I don't think she's doing very well either, but she keeps it inside and takes it out by being really rude."


"And throwing carrots," Lavender says. She sighs. "Hogwarts isn't usually like this, you know. It's usually well, fun!"


Violet smiles in spite of herself. "That Voldemort sure is a party pooper."


Lavender laughs, stopping almost as suddenly as she started. She looks down, examining her bitten nails; several have dried blood crusted in the seams. "Violet..."


"What is it?"


"If I go to sleep, I see people die. And it's not just a dream. It's real, and if I don't remember something I've supposed to have seen, it's going to be a lot worse."


Violet blinks. "That's... wow." (She's always hated herself for being the sort of person who speaks inadequately in a crisis.)


"I can't tell anyone. I can't even look at anyone, even though I don't remember specifically who's going to die. I mean, how do I know I'm not looking at a ghost?" Tears stream down Lavender's cheeks, and Violet puts an arm around her. "That's something I never considered about being a Seer, that I'd be conversing with ghosts on a daily basis..." she breaks into a sob, and Violet, helpless to bring true comfort, merely holds on.


Lavender takes her hand and squeezes it. "You're there too, Violet. I don't know how, or why... but we come through it together. I can tell you that much."


"Come through... what?"


"The final battle," Lavender says simply.


Violet falls silent. There are many questions she could ask, but she doesn't really want an answer to any of them; she doesn't want to know the whens, wheres, whys, hows and whos. Finally she asks, "How can you know these things and not try to change them?"


"I don't know enough to change the course of a war. All I have, really, are images. But there is something I'm supposed to do, some reason for all of this. It has to do with a woman I keep seeing in my dreams. If I can find her, something terrible will be averted."


"You need to sleep," Violet says. "I know it must be awful to have real-life nightmares, but you're not even going to make it to this war if you keep on like this. And how can you figure out who the woman is unless you see her in your dream?"


Lavender nods, slowly. "I know. And I'm sorry to put all this on you. I mean... I'm really sorry about Becky."


Violet smiles softly. "Thanks. I guess I'm part of things now whether I want to be or not."


Lavender's eyes widen. "That must be why you're there! In the dream! I couldn't figure that out, but... it must be because of Becky, right?"


"Well, maybe, but how can I fight a bunch of wizards and witches? Evil ones, no less? I'd have to be daft."


Lavender decides not to bring up the image of Violet fencing with her wand. She shrugs. "There must be a reason." She stands, stretching. "Thanks for listening. Really. I hope I didn't scare you too much."


Violet smiles. "Nah, it's good to know what's going on. Even if it's really, really terrifying."


Lavender laughs a little through her tears. "I'm glad we talked."


"Yeah. Better late than never, I guess." The two sisters hug and Lavender goes back to her dorm, promising she'll try to sleep.


Violet sits on the edge of the bed, thinking. She doesn't move for a long time. What's stayed with her most is the unprecedented amount of human contact, physical and emotional, she's had this day. She's been underground for so long her eyes are still adjusting to the light. And what a time to finally surface; to go from dim, to light, to dark in a space of mere weeks.


******************************************


The next morning she returns to work in the library, feeling alternately thrilled and terrified throughout the day. Had Neville Longbottom known he was the cause of such emotion, he might well have stayed in bed.


Violet changes into Muggle clothes after dinner, throwing a knitted shawl over her plain shirt and pants. She doubts she'll ever feel like anything but an imposter in Lavender's robes, and it's always a relief to peel them off at the end of the day.


Neville isn't there when she reaches the entryway. She supposes "after dinner" was a rather vague meeting time, but neither of them are really old hands at this sort of thing.


Finally Neville rushes in, red-faced, out of breath and puffing. "I've lost... Trevor..." he pants.


"Oh, no!" Violet exclaims, not realising that poor Trevor spends more time lost than found, anyway. "Where did you see him last?"


"In my room," he says miserably. "Well, in my robe pocket. I, uh, went to change and when I looked back, he was gone!" He's also changed into Muggle clothing; corduroy trousers, white shirt, and a slightly snug sweater-vest. She wonders if it's in her honour or if he feels more comfortable this way, too.


Violet attempts to be comforting, not exactly her strong suit. "I'm sure he'll be okay. Maybe he just wanted to, er..." She racks her brain trying to think of something a toad might want to do. "Go find a lily pad," she finishes lamely.


"That's frogs. He's a toad."


"Oh, right! Sorry."


Neville tries to smile. "It's all right... I'm sure he'll turn up, he always does." He doesn't look entirely convinced of this. "It's just, I always worry that someone might... squash him. Accidentally." He swallows.


"I understand. You can look for him if you like. We can always talk another time."


"No! He's okay, really. Maybe he'll turn up in, ah, the girl's dorms again..." he clears his throat.


Violet isn't sure how to respond to this, other than, Hurrah, I've not been stood up for a toad! Instead she just nods.


"Let's go before it gets too chilly," Neville says.


Violet pulls her shawl around her shoulders before stepping out into the early autumn chill. "Where shall we go?" she asks.


"Have you seen much of the grounds?"


"No, not at all. Just the carriages and such." She shudders involuntarily.


"I don't like the carriages, either," Neville says softly.


"Can you see... them, too?"


"The thestrals? Yes... but how..."


"I can see them because I saw my Uncle die," she explains. "And I have magical blood, though I don't know if that makes a difference. Probably a Muggle who believes they exist could see them as well as I can."


Neville looks thoughtful. "Maybe, if they'd seen someone die."


Violet nods, hoping there will be a way to get off the subject of death.


"Over there you can see the Forbidden Forest..." Neville points vaguely into a dark, wild mass. "And right outside of it is Hagrid's hut. He's the Gamekeeper and Care of Magical Creatures teacher. And over here," he says, pointing again, "is the lake."


"Yes, I saw that coming in. It's lovely."


"There's a Giant Squid in it," he says.


"Oh," Violet murmurs, her hopes for a romantic stroll around the lake rather dashed by the phrase "Giant Squid."


"I don't think it's dangerous, though. Would you like to see it?"


"Er... the squid?"


"No, the lake."


"Oh, yes. Of course."


So it happens that they do take a stroll around the lake, Neville's toad anxiety and Violet's general anxiety momentarily forgotten.


"It wasn't til this whole business with Voldemort that it really struck me I had a family," Violet says, ignoring Neville's cringe. "Before that, they were just sort of people I lived with. But sometimes I still think, when all this is over, I'd like to live a normal, Muggle life."


"What is Muggle life like? I can't imagine."


"It's nice, really. Especially if you can't do magic. I mean, I already miss my computer, and CD player, and television... don't you ever get bored?"


Neville shrugs. "Not really. We have the WWN, of course, though Gran always insists on listening to opera, or some daft old witch going on about how dreadful Wizarding kids are compared to the good old days."


"...Right. I think I'll take the telly." Violet grins.


Neville grins back, then looks thoughtful. "She's always on my case about how I forget things, and lose things... which is true of course, but I don't think she likes kids very much, anyway."


"I hope this isn't too personal, but... the thestrals... is it your parents you saw?"


Neville shakes his head. "No. They're alive. Physically, anyway." He looks down.


Violet bites her lip. "I'm sorry. I shouldnt've asked."


"No... it's okay. You realise that in all the time I've been here, no one has ever asked me about my parents? A few people know, because they saw us at St. Mungo's, but..." He shrugs. "I guess I don't mind talking about it so much anymore."


"Was it... Voldemort?" He nods. "I'm really sorry."


"Yeah. So am I."


"What happened?" Violet asks softly.


"They were tortured." He swallows. "With the Cruciatus curse."


"Oh!" she whispers. "That's dreadful. I'm sorry."


Neville looks into the distance, a stoic mask of remembrance on his face. "They were tortured until they could hardly speak. They don't remember their names, or what they did, or what they liked for dinner or even their own son." He bites his lip. "They were great Aurors, you know. Maybe it's best that they don't remember. Though I wish..."


Violet takes his hand and tries to catch his gaze. "What do you wish?"


Their eyes lock, and the world, a world that contains once-loving parents imprisoned in their own minds, clicks gently into focus. For this world that allows such unthinkable cruelty also allows the promise of new love, and hope. "I wish that they remembered me," he whispers.


"Maybe they do. Maybe they just can't communicate it in ways you understand."


Neville smiles slightly, and they come to a stop, slowly, as if testing whether the other will follow. After a brief awkward moment, Neville takes Violet's other hand. "I'm glad you're here," he says simply.


"Right now, I'm glad I'm here too." And she smiles, a smile that turns the leaves a brighter shade of red and gold and warms the air where they stand.


Her first true smile.


"I..." Neville looks down. "I've not had experience with... you know... girls..."


"Me either," Violet says, blushing horribly when she realises her mistake. "I meant boys, of course."


Neville's shoulders shake with silent laughter, and Violet feigns offence. "Puh!" she says. This just makes Neville laugh harder.


Finally, he stops. "Violet," he says.


"Yes?"


"I want to kiss you."


"I'd like that." And she finds herself enveloped in cotton and wool, his warm breath against her lips and then the kind of tenderness she has only imagined late at night when everyone is asleep. He smells of fresh earth and wood crackling in the hearth; his lips taste like caramel and Christmas morning. She has never felt so safe, and so close to home. Wrapped in his arms, she can't imagine ever letting go.


When they finally break apart, it is nearly audible in the crisp, still air. "Wow," Neville breathes.


"Wow," Violet agrees.


"I hope we can do that a lot," Neville says.


"Is there a rule that says we can't do it again now?"


"If there is, I forgot."


*******************************************


The year goes on much the same. Violet and Neville spend as much time together as they can, and eventually the ensuing taunts die down to a dull roar. She is still a bit uncomfortable at the Gryffindor table, but at least Neville divides his attention equally between her and his potatoes. Lavender returns to something like her former self, but Violet realises it's probably more out of self-defence than anything else.


Many of them sense something bubbling below the surface, even those who haven't yet been touched by fear or death. They study their lessons (including "extra credit" with Harry Potter), memorise their spells, and try to convince themselves that the biggest thing they have to worry about is their N.E.W.T.S. All they can do is hope that whatever happens will happen quickly, and not bring bad news to their door. All they can do is wait, and find the joy that remains in the diminishing hours. All they can do is try to be young for one more year.

*******************************************



Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
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Chapter Ten


Few things rest heavier on one's mind than the words they least want to hear, and in the case of Neville Longbottom the words were these: "I don't want you seeing that girl anymore."



After a summer of writing his girlfriend, Violet, where she was vacationing with her mother and sister, he now has to tell her it's over. He can't tell her he doesn't love her anymore, because that isn't true. He can't tell her the truth, because... well, because the truth is just too awful. How can his Gran, a woman who rallies against Death Eaters and everything they stand for, be so bloody-minded about him dating a Squib? Does she imagine it's catching? Does she fear he's finally escaped being a near-Squib only to lose his tenuous grip of his powers?



Neville is no longer the trembling, stuttering boy that arrived at Hogwarts almost six years ago. He is still forgetful and somewhat clumsy, but he has stood up to his Gran and others on numerous occasions. This, however, is not the time. This is a time when people rush to see what's on the front page of the Daily Prophet, only to turn away moments later. A time when the merest Muggle accident provokes Ministry suspicion and investigation. A time when you don't question your loved ones, for fear they might not walk through the door again.



But wait, a little voice in Neville's head says, isn't this just the time one *ought* to take a stand? Who am I, if I'm not learning to fight? What good are all the spells and curses I know if they're spoken with a hollow voice, from a hollow man?



But he can't defy his Gran. He just can't. Not when she bravely faces the sight each month of her son, Neville's father, lying in a hospital bed. Not when she lays a comforting hand on Neville's shoulder as he tries to speak to his unresponsive mum. Not when he knows that deep down, she loves him.



********************************************



For the first time in her life, Violet stands on Platform 9 and 3/4, preparing to board the Hogwarts Express. It is Lavender's seventh and final year and Violet, at nineteen, feels uncomfortably foreign amidst the stomping, hooting, gossiping teenagers. She seems to be the only school employee who is taking the train; perhaps she would feel less awkward were she a solid, commanding sort of adult figure like Professor McGonagall.



Her mother hugs her and Lavender good-bye, and they climb aboard the steaming scarlet train. It looks like a life-sized toy, Violet muses, the sort of thing you might expect to see fanciful circus animals riding on...



She is torn from this fantasy by the most blatantly unpleasant voice she has ever heard. "Who... are you?" it drawls, managing, somehow, to make the word "you" drip with sarcasm.



Lavender finishes stashing her trunk and turns around with a glare. "Don't you have first-years to intimidate, Malfoy? I'm sure they'll be mighty impressed by your size."



"Friend of yours, Brown?" He indicates Violet with the merest tilt of his neck. The voice, and neck, belong to a lean, medium-height, blond boy whose mouth seems permanently etched in a smirk. Violet imagines some girls might find him attractive. She has to fight a near-overwhelming urge to punch him in the face.



"This is my sister, Violet. You might recognise her from the library. That is, you would if you ever looked up from those... books you read." Lavender crinkles her nose.



"Are you insinuating something, Brown? Or did you catch a whiff of that perfume you're wearing?"



"Har! Well, as much as I could spend all day doing this, I'm dying for a pumpkin pasty. Excuse us."



Violet finishes stashing her trunk and follows Lavender down the aisle. "Who was that?" she asks.



Lavender shrugs. "Your typical slimy Slytherin. Dra-co Mal-foy. I can't believe he used to intimidate me!" She laughs at the folly of the child she used to be, not so long ago. "Hermione told us he goes to the library almost every chance he gets to study up on Merlin-knows-what. She and Harry and some other Gryffindors have been watching certain Slytherins, since all those Death Eaters escaped from Azkaban." She continues in her hushed tone. "And I'm not surprised he didn't recognise you. Malfoys aren't the sort to notice the help unless they drop a book on his toe or something."



Violet nods absently, not even objecting to being termed "the help." "I may have seen him," she murmurs. "I just stack stuff though; I could be replaced by a well-trained orangutan." She peers into each compartment to see if Neville is inside. The uneasiness she's been holding in since he's stopped writing rises to the surface. Surely, if anything had happened, it would have been in the news...



Lavender stops at a compartment that contains Parvati and a girl Violet doesn't recognise. She turns to Violet. "You're welcome to sit with us, but I'm sure you want to go find Neville." She smiles. Parvati holds in a snigger; the other girl doesn't.



"Okay," Violet says, with a vague wave. She continues along. Where is Neville? Might he be looking for her?


She finds him sitting with some of his friends she'd gotten to know over the course of their courtship: Harry Potter, his girlfriend Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood, who is wearing an indescribable hat (though if you had to describe it, you would probably say "iguanalike").



On one side of Neville is a pile of chocolate frogs, on the other, a pile of chocolate frog wrappers. He looks distinctly nauseous; his face is nearly as vivid a green as Harry Potter's fabled eyes. "Hi Violet," he says chocolately.


"Hi, Neville." She smiles warmly. "Oh dear, there doesn't seem to be any room left." Violet hopes that someone (most likely Luna, as Harry and Ginny are otherwise occupied), will take the hint and find somewhere else to sit.



But Luna merely looks up from her grainy newspaper and nods, as if wondering why she's bothered to speak the obvious. Harry and Ginny continue doing... what they're doing. And Neville? He blinks up at her, looking rather unattractively like Trevor. "I'm sorry, Violet," he says quietly. "I'm sure you'll be able to find a spot, though."



Violet doesn't see him swallow the lump in his throat. She doesn't realise that his bleary eyes are due to more than chocolate haze. She feels rejected, and left with the sense that something isn't quite right. She trods back to the compartment where Lavender and Parvati are sitting, feeling oddly defeated. I'm making way too much of this, she thinks. So we don't sit together on the train. Big deal. He could have at least seemed a bit... unhappy about it, though...



With these thoughts weighing on her mind, she hardly notices her first and only ride on the Hogwarts Express. Instead of soothing her nerves, the steady rumble of the engine reminds her that she has come too far down the tracks to ever return to the life she left behind.



*********************************************



Outside the fortress of Hogwarts, a War rages. Two top Aurors have been killed, one gravely wounded, as well as several Ministry workers. And these are just the victims that appear on the Daily Prophet front pages, accompanied by glossy photos and rememberences from half the Wizarding world. Countless others have been lost, names that will in fact be counted but remembered by none but those who miss them. Charles Abbott. Francesca Boot. Alicia Spinnet. George Weasley. Becky Grogan. The remembered and forgotten victims alike played their part in what is to come; they will live forever in the body of War.



The days, weeks, months drag by in a blur of books, meals and sleep. It helps, Violet thinks for the hundredth time over, that Neville had cried when he broke her heart. She believes that his Gran hadn't wanted them together; it seems like just the sort of thing a woman who wears a vulture on her head would do. What she doesn't believe is Neville's weak-willedness and lack of emotion. She'd believed Neville to be a young man gathering strength, on the brink of coming into his own. How had she misjudged him so badly?



Or had she misjudged him? Can he simply be using his Gran as an excuse to not have to commit to life with a Squib? And if so, can she really blame him? Her rational mind tells her it's no good to rehash these thoughts over and over. But the less rational part of her, the one that seems to have come to the fore lately, replays it again and again and wonders if there's anything she could have done differently. Anything other than making magic, that is.



When the first snow falls, Violet has begun to heal. There is very little of the excitement that the first snowfall and the holidays usually brings. There is speculation that the War will be over soon after Christmas; surely, it can't go on much longer. So Christmas has become little more than a milestone, a mark to get past so a sliver of light might be visible around the corner.



But, as things so often do at Hogwarts, that's about to change.



***********************************************



Dumbledore tings his fork against his goblet one night in the Great Hall, about a week before Christmas. "May I have everyone's attention, please? Yes, that includes you, Mr. Weasley."



Dumbledore's tone is light, so the room descends into a sort of relaxed hush. "In light of recent events, we have decided to keep students here at Hogwarts over the holidays. We have spoken to your families, and they have agreed this is the best course of action. I don't think I need inform you that many of them are, at this very moment, engaged in dangerous activities that might change the very course of history. The least we can do is give them the comfort of knowing their children are safe within the walls of Hogwarts. We encourage you to send as many gifts and cards home to your loved ones as your owls can carry." He clears his throat in an effort to break through the low rumble that has spread through the room. "Now, in much cheerier news, your professors and I have decided to reprise the Yule Ball that was held three years ago, during the Tri-Wizard Tournament..."



Immediately, excited yelps burst from every table and echo off the cavernous stone walls, exaltations not only of joy but of relief to finally have something to cheer about.



No one notices the girl sitting quietly at the Gryffindor table, letting the news absorb slowly and wishing for nothing more than the ability to Disapparate, just once. She stares steadfastly into her steak and kidney pie, willing herself to not look at Neville, and for him not to look at her. Because she'll know if he does; she'd feel his gaze through thick fog a hundred miles away.



But nothing happens. The days go by, and nothing continues to happen. Violet agrees to go to the ball in a group comprised of Lavender, her boyfriend Seamus, Parvati, her boyfriend Dean, Padma, her boyfriend Anthony Goldstein, and Anthony's friend Terry Boot, whose sister had been killed by Death Eaters. Violet had insisted Lavender not set her up, so the quiet, grieving Terry seems a logical choice for her "date."



Violet goes through the motions in preparing for the Ball. She always has and probably always will feel out of place in fancy clothes and makeup. She compromises by wearing Lavender's last-season dress robes, putting her hair up in a simple twist and wearing no makeup but a simple lip gloss. She understands that Lavender, Parvati, and Padma's ritualistic grooming is somehow therapeutic, but it doesn't feel natural to her. Who cares, anyway; it's not like she'll be arriving on Neville's arm. She's resolved to appear stoic if he and his date walk by. Perhaps she'll laugh extra loud at something Terry says, though Terry is unlikely to say anything very funny.



The Gryffindors and Violet meet the Ravenclaws outside the Great Hall. They are late, of course, but no one seems to mind. Violet feels plain but comfortable. She smiles familiarly at Terry Boot; he is a regular visitor to the library. His dress robes shine with newness and care, but his face is pale and dull and he looks five years older than his age. Violet wonders what either of them are doing here when there are perfectly good books to be read.



The eight of them join Harry Potter, Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at a large table draped with holly, ivy and merrily twinkling lights and topped with miniature Never Melting Snowmen. The Hall looks magnificent: eight towering pine trees adorned with living fairy lights stand at various intervals, while swatches of similarly decorated greenery hang from every door and window. Mistletoe has been placed choicely in the corners; Violet averts her eyes. The fleeting, ghostly sensation of Neville's lips haunts her until she wills it away. She'd read once that one should never stand under mistletoe, anyway, though she can't remember why.



The boys go off to get butterbeers, and Violet greets Hermione, the library's best customer.



"Hi, Violet. Lovely of you to keep Terry company."



"Oh, yes... so how is Viktor?"



"I assume he's fine, though I don't see him often enough to certify it." Her fond smile, and the ring that shines from her finger, belie her annoyed tone.



Violet grins. She would never have imagined Hermione, as much of a bookworm as she, engaged to Quidditch star Viktor Krum. But Hermione has lost none of her cleverness to love, and seems to have gained stores of happiness and confidence.



The boys return, laden with drinks and good-natured cheer. Even the subdued Terry has a soft smile on his face. It seems Dumbledore's plan has worked. The horrors of War have been temporarily forgotten, and when the survivors look back on this night it will seem like the time of their lives.



The evening goes by in a blur of flickering light and shadowy dark, black silk and green velvet, flashing cameras and sparkling goblets. The sights and sounds wash over Violet. She makes no concerted effort to find Neville, and doesn't see him anyway. The others in her group dance at a non-stop, almost frenetic pace, though Ron and Hermione sit out the slow dances. The best of friends, they have come to the dance together in the absence of their loves. They seem to laugh quite a bit over something that happened at a dance in Fourth Year.



When left alone, Violet and Terry act overly polite and attempt to strike up some kind of conversation. It seems comfortably unspoken that neither wants to dance, so they sit and drink and watch the festivities. They could be perfect strangers, or an old married couple. "Lovely decorations," Violet says, mentally smacking herself when she realises it's the second time she's said it.



Terry looks around. "Yes, they still are," he agrees, smiling slightly.



Violet chuckles. "Sorry," she says.



Terry shrugs. "Don't worry about it. I appreciate your lack of solicitousness. Someone in your family dies, people think they're doing you a favour by reminding you of it day and night."



Violet nods. "Same can be said for... er, never mind." Violet tries to focus; how many butterbeers has she had? Probably a few less than Terry, which means entirely too many.



"For what?"



"Oh, you know... a broken heart."



"Oh... oh!" he exclaims, as if just realising that Violet is the girl who had been, and no longer was, going out with Neville Longbottom. Neville, once known for being nearly a Squib, has now become known in student circles as Harry Potter's best DA student.



"I'm sorry," he says lamely.



"Me too," she says, despising herself for comparing her relationship woes to Terry's tragedy.



Terry chuckles, and tosses back his butterbeer. "Well, we're a cheery pair, eh?"



"This room is so full of cheer, someone needs to balance it out."



Terry laughs. "Shall I get us another round?"



Violet shrugs. "Sure, why not?"



While he's gone, Violet glances around the ever-dizzying room. Where is Neville, anyway? she wonders. Is it possible he didn't come at all? Is it possible he's alone in his dorm, feeling sorry for himself and regretting the day he ever decided to break up with her? Is it possible he might...



Terry returns with the drinks, sloshing them slightly as he sets them down on the table. He sits, and raises his glass to Violet. "A toast," he says.



Violet raises her glass tentatively. "To what?"



Terry shrugs. "To anything."



"To anything!" Violet exclaims. "To... possibilities."



Terry smiles. "To possibilities." Oh, she thinks, what is that look he's giving me? Does he think I meant...?



Terry merely resumes his contented drinking. Moments pass in silence. Then: "Would you like to take a walk around?" he asks. "See all those lovely decorations up close?"



Violet grins in spite of herself. "Sure, all right."



They walk along the outskirts of the slow-dancing couples. Violet doesn't recognise the song that's playing but Terry seems to, and he starts humming along. He smiles. "Nice, isn't it?"



Violet smiles back. She isn't certain what he's referring to but agrees that it is, in fact, nice. All of her is feeling rather nice at the moment. She knows it's the butterbeer, but she doesn't care.



Suddenly, Terry takes her hand and pulls her into a corner. "Let's dance," he whispers. Violet feels herself being drawn into his arms and doesn't resist. How lovely it is to be touched again, to feel herself come to life in someone's arms. She rests her head on his shoulder and almost, but not quite, succeeds in remembering he is not Neville. At the end of the song, Terry glances up and gestures slightly. Violet has no sooner followed his gaze then she feels his lips on hers. The fleeting sight of mistletoe and the abruptness of the kiss sober her up enough to pull away. "No," she whispers, just as something lands, quite unexpectedly, on her head.



She screams. Terry looks at her and yells, "Agh!" Something has clamped on to her head, something with the suction of an octopus, something that looks for all the world like a small grape with tentacles.



Luna Lovegood strolls by, serenely balancing a goblet on her head. "Nargles," she says with a vague nod. "You really ought to be more careful."



*************************************************



The Nargle incident seems a good excuse for the weary adults to bring the Ball to a close. Some couples, like Violet and Terry, say goodnight and plan to head back to their rooms, but for many, like Lavender and Seamus, the night has just begun. The air rings with talk of festive walks in the snow and ensuing snowball fights, and merry little Professor Sprout agrees to stand watch outside. As groups begin exiting the Great Hall Dumbledore yells, "And remember, the Forbidden Forest is, in fact ..."



He is interrupted by a loud scream. At first Violet figures someone else has found a Nargle, but when she hears several first-years start crying she pushes her way out into the corridor.



She gasps. It is the stone wall she passes every day on her way to meals, but she is assaulted by the sight and smell of blood before she can decipher the dripping message:



You thought you were safe at your precious school


But your lives will end on the mistake of a fool


MERRY CHRISTMAS!



All is chaos. Older students attempt to calm the young. Violet instinctively takes a weeping first-year into her arms. Ron and Hermione, the Head Boy and Girl, charge to the fore and try desperately to calm everyone down. Finally Dumbledore makes his way into the corridor, followed closely by McGonagall and Snape.



Dumbledore reads the message. He appears calm, but the observant can easily see the sadness, and weariness, in his eyes. But not fear. Never fear.



He, Snape, and McGonagall join Ron and Hermione in front of the crowd. There is silence, of sorts. "I know what this message means," Dumbledore says in a quiet voice that somehow manages to carry all the way to the back of the crowd. "I ask the prefects to please lead all students back to their Houses. You must not travel beyond your common rooms until further notice. That is all."



Dumbledore turns to go when Hermione taps his arm. "Sir? What does this mean, exactly?"



Dumbledore glances at his star student, who even now has a look of eager curiosity. "Well, it appears, Miss Granger, that we have a traitor within these walls."



Almost everyone looks at Snape.

********************************************



Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter Eleven


Snowflakes land on her eyelashes and dot the countryside, giving her the impression of standing in a snow globe. Please, she feels herself pray, let it keep falling; let it blanket what has happened here today. But they must be cold... so very cold... why doesn't she feel anything? Why is everything still but the lightly falling snow? Why is she all alone?


Black shapes fading under white. Quiet that would be peaceful were it not screaming. Afterimages of green light, bodies falling; some crying out, some silent. And that laugh, that laugh of lifeless triumph, as if Death itself had won...


NO!


Try again. The laugh... a swish of black... gone. Concentrate! What is happening? How can she prevent it? And why can't it stop snowing stop SNOWING, damnit! If she could only see... maybe she could...


See. She understands. She goes to a place in her mind that sees more clearly than her eyes, a place unclouded by snow or dark or anything but... but what?


Her own resistance. Concentrate, now! She hears the laugh. "Turn around!" she yells. "Or are you afraid?"


The woman rounds on her, and she Sees. But she feels no relief, only a growing sense of terror. Why haven't the lights stopped flashing? Why are people still screaming? Why is everything the bloody SAME?


She sees Violet coming toward her and calls out, "Did you bring your wand?"


"Yes," Violet says, and though she is suddenly beside her it sounds like she's half a world away.


"Use it!" she shrieks.


Violet stares, wide-eyed, and the carnage goes on... PARVATI! NO! Why is she powerless to stop this? What use is this bloody great Gift if all her friends are going to die, anyway?


There is a flash of light, and someone falling, in slow-motion...


"NOOOOOOOO!"


Lavender wakes up, screaming.


***********************************************


Parvati, Hermione, and Violet, who has been staying in the Gryffindor dorm since the night of the Yule Ball, stare concernedly at their pale, sweaty, sleep-soaked friend.


"It was just a bad dream," Lavender tries to reassure them. "I seem to be prone to them."


The three girls exchange glances. Parvati and Hermione suspect she is lying; Violet knows she is. Lavender takes a moment before she speaks. "Don't worry, I'm all right," she says. "I need to talk to Violet alone."


Hermione nods, but Parvati shoots Violet an icy stare. Great, Violet thinks. Just when I'd convinced her I was no competition for Lavender's friendship! Of course, I am family; that ought to count for something.


The two girls return to their beds, and Violet sits beside Lavender. Lavender takes Violet's hand and squeezes it, clearly more from nerves than affection. "I saw her," she whispers.


"Who... oh!"


Lavender nods. "I think I understand now, what I need to do."


"Who is it?" Violet whispers.


Lavender shakes her head. "I can't tell you. I can't tell anyone, even Dumbledore. Especially Dumbledore. It would change the course of the future, and who knows what would happen then?"


Violet frowns. "But... you can change the future?"


"No," she whispers. "I already have."


**************************************************


They awake next morning to a light snowfall, and news that the Ministry of Magic has been "compromised."


The Gryffindors and Violet are breakfasting in the common room, the brightly-dressed house-elves having used their magic to bring great trays of food up to the tower as though they weighed no more than a feather. Hermione smiles briefly at the elves, and they smile, a bit bashfully, back at her. One bows and exclaims, "My greetings to you, Miss!"


"Greetings, Lummy, and you don't need to bow. I didn't do anything that shouldn't have been done centuries ago!"


Lummy smiles. "Lummy is just expressing his thanks, Miss Hermione. Lummy loves his job and his pension plan and his brand new socks!" He starts to bow again, then catches himself mid-bend.


"How's your wife's cold been since I gave her that scarf, Lummy?"


"Oh, Muzzy is much better, Miss, much better, thank you for asking!"


The other elf, wearing a red sweater with a moose knitted on the front, finishes setting up the food and fire. He taps Lummy on the shoulder. "Gilly and Lummy mustn't be bothering the wizards anymore..."


"Don't be silly, Gilly," Hermione says. "You aren't bothering us at all. Thank you for bringing breakfast, it looks delicious."


Lummy and Gilly grin broadly (Gilly is rather sweet on Hermione), thank her again for nothing in particular, and back out of the room. Gilly can't resist one more bow.


Hermione shakes her head with a fond smile, and starts to say something. Ron cuts in. "I know, I know. SPEW!" He rolls his eyes.


"It isn't 'SPEW', Ron, it's..."


"We know!" half of Gryffindor choruses.


"Well, honestly, don't you prefer the house-elves this way?" Hermione asks.


There is mumbled agreement that house-elves in moose sweaters are, indeed, slightly less scary than house-elves in dirty tea-towels. The students pile food on their plates and settle in various spots around the room, taking in the cosy fire Gilly had set in the hearth and making nervous chatter. Clearly, everyone is thinking about the traitor and clearly, it's the last thing anyone wants to be thinking about.


Except Hermione, of course. The elves had brought Daily Prophets to everyone who subscribed, and Hermione had grabbed hers as though it contained winning lottery numbers.


Ron looks over her shoulder as she reads. "Compromised!" he exclaims through a mouthful of cakes. "What does that bloody mean, compromised? Why can't they just speak English?"


"It means," Hermione says, "that something is wrong at the Ministry, and they're not going to tell us what it is."


"Well, I could have thought of that," he mumbles.


"I'll ask Professor McGonagall when she comes by with our assignments," Hermione says primly.


Gradually, the chatter turns to speculation. "It is *not* Professor Snape," Hermione says with a sharp glance at Harry. "Think of all the times he's tried to save your life! And all the times you probably don't even know about!"


"Calm down, Hermione, or someone's going to think you're sweet on him." Hermione looks around and catches a mischievous smile on Dean Thomas' face. She raises a brief eyebrow before returning to her reading. Beside Dean on the sofa are Parvati, Lavender and Seamus, all balancing plates of food on their knees. Violet sits in an armchair, eating quietly and watching. She watches Lavender as the conversation about the traitor proceeds, but Lavender's face shows nothing. No recognition. One name after another goes by, with "Snape" registering as little emotion as "Hedwig." (There had been a loud, nervous round of laughter when Ron had tried to implicate Harry's owl).


Violet feels a strong rush of love, and pride, as she watches her sister. How brave and strong she must be, at her core, to have borne all this for so long. She knows that she, herself, would have fallen apart long ago. What Lavender's face, always beautiful, has lost in innocence, it has gained in character. She looks as secure she always has. Violet can't help but feel comforted by this. It's true, she thinks, what the Sorting Hat had said: Lavender was a Gryffindor to the end.


"Constant vigilance!" Violet is snapped back to reality by Harry's Mad-Eye Moody impression, which elicits more hoots of laughter. Violet sighs softly. It's obvious why everyone is laughing: because absolutely nothing is funny. The cabin fever that has already set in does nothing to quell the tension.


When Professor McGonagall stops by with their assignments, she is disappointedly tight-lipped about the outside world. "Let me remind you," she says, "that our first priority at Hogwarts is still your education. The Daily Prophet is not included in our curriculum, and for good reason. A quality education consists of facts and ideas, not rumour-mongering." She pauses, and her expression softens. "Of course, if we learn anything relevant we will most certainly tell you. We are not educating you in order to lock you behind doors. But as of now, your safety must come first." She half-turns to go, then faces her students again. "Your families would want it this way."


When she is gone, several students burst into, "MY family wouldn't bloody well want it this way!" and the like. The forced laughter is suddenly replaced with forced bravado; no one seems able to express what they are really feeling. No one really knows what is happening, though almost everyone knows what's *going* to happen. They don't know, except for a rare few, what part they will play in it all.


Violet stares into the roaring fire, unwilling to rest her gaze anywhere else. Far across the room, Neville sits quietly. What is he thinking about, in this time of fear? She knows, she thinks, all too well, and it is an answer that few would arrive at or understand: revenge. Above all, she worries about him. No - above all, she misses him. No - above all, she has just about every feeling for him that a human being can possibly have, and she is bloody sick and tired of holding them all in. She stands decisively, not quite looking in Neville's direction but already seeing him in her mind's eye. She sees the worry on his face, and the underlying rage, and the tenderness that lies beneath, even still. She understands that no one will ever understand him like she does. As she starts to go to him, her hand unwittingly caresses the lifeless wand she'd tucked into her jeans pocket. That's odd, she thinks. She'd put it there without even thinking...


Before she is halfway to Neville, every light in the room flickers and dies.


*******************************************


There is a great whooshing sound, as if a hundred thousand generators have all been turned on (or off) at once. There is an unspeakable darkness, then an unspeakable light. A light that illuminates Hogwarts with the concentration of lightning, yet there is no accompanying crash of thunder. There is no sound at all. Then all is still.


Except for the screaming. There is screaming from the kitchens, from the staff room, from the Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff common rooms, and even a bit of dismayed shrieking from Slytherin (which turned out to be from Pansy Parkinson, who had stuck her mascara wand in her eye).


The doors to each locked room open simultaneously. The students look around in panic; no one seems to know whether to stay or flee. In each house but Slytherin, the members of Dumbledore's Army cluster together to formulate a plan. This is the moment they've been both awaiting and dreading. Without thinking, Lavender takes Violet's arm and pulls her into the conference.


Violet fleetingly wonders if she is to be the Water-bearer in this Army. It would be all too fitting. But no one asks her what she, a Squib, is doing amongst them; Lavender's hand melds her to them as good as gold. She merely stands there, breathing, and not hearing a word anyone says. Dean and Parvati, who'd been assigned to look after the younger students, take their leave and attempt to form the mass of trembling first and second years into something cohesive and safe.


And they wait.


Before long, figures rush in with candles. Everyone readies their wands until they spot Dumbledore's beard and McGonagall's tartan scarf in the dim glow. "Everyone, come with us! Quickly, there is no time to spare!" Dumbledore shouts.


The Gryffindors file out in amazingly organised ranks, and McGonagall flashes Harry, Hermione and Ron a small, grateful smile.


The Gryffindors march side-by-side, holding the hand of the person beside them and keeping their wand ready with the other. They, along with Professor McGonagall, are left in a very large room while Dumbledore repeats this process with the other Houses.


"What is this place?" Violet whispers to Lavender.


"The Room of Requirement," Lavender whispers back. "It changes into whatever suits your purpose. We usually hold our D.A. meetings here."


Violet nods. The Room has turned into a magical War Room of sorts, lined with charmed shields and body armour, frightening-looking spiked wands, books on magical combat and, in the very farthest corner, a closed, dusty cabinet.


"Excuse me," Harry says softly, disentangling his hand from Ginny's. He gets up and walks over to the cabinet, and by the time he returns, so has Dumbledore with the Hufflepuffs. The Room accommodates them unquestioningly.


Violet's heart pounds in her throat. She is still thinking about Neville, though perhaps partly because she doesn't know what to think about anything else. Lavender has her eyes closed and clearly doesn't want to talk, and Violet is certain that no one else wishes to discuss matters of life and death with a Squib. At the most important time of her life, she alone is unimportant.


No! she thinks. I want to fight, too, not sit here feeling sorry for myself. She glances around, desperately trying to catch the eye of someone who might talk to her. Hermione, perhaps... no, talking animatedly with Harry Potter, best not interrupt... Having scanned the heads in front of her, she turns around...


... and meets the deceivingly calm eyes of Neville Longbottom. Their gazes lock, much as they did on the first day they met, and there is no escaping it now. Violet opens her mouth to speak and finds that nothing comes out. What do you say to someone when you want to help fight a war with them, but they've broken up with you?


"I'm sorry," Neville says softly.


Well, that's a start. Violet wonders what sort of apology this is going to be. It could be an "I'm sorry, and I want you back" apology, or it could be an "I'm sorry I was such a prat" apology, or it could be an "I'm sorry I'm such a prat, but I'm going to continue being a prat and I just thought you'd like to know" apology. She waits.


"I have a world of things to say to you, Violet," he whispers.


"Better hurry then, before the world ends." Violet bites her lip. She hadn't realised such anger had been coiled inside her throat.


"Right," Neville says. "Well..."


The doors burst open and a stricken-looking Dumbledore storms in, followed by a group of students that includes Luna Lovegood, Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot. This must be the Ravenclaws, but...


Dumbledore stands before the assembled students, flanked by McGonagall and the stunned-looking Ravenclaws. "I have some..." Dumbledore's voice breaks and he looks down, twisting his robes between his fingers. "I have some very unfortunate news."


*******************************************


The professor who had caused the virtual storm by removing, with the help of several dedicated Slytherins, some of the protective wards around Hogwarts, stands in a corridor in a cold, limp sweat. "What have I done?" the professor thinks. "And why?"


The professor feels dulled once more and has no desire to analyse, only to... what? A vague sensation that lurks, seemingly always, in the back of the professor's mind takes hold. "Oh yes, of course. Kill Harry Potter." What an odd thing to forget...


*******************************************


The news that three Ravenclaws, along with their Head of House, had been struck down in their own common room, slowly sinks into the minds of the horrorstruck students. Several, including Parvati, weep as random hands squeeze their shoulders dutifully. Those who haven't experienced personal loss seem merely dumbstruck. They know a War is going on, but...


Hermione Granger, a tear streaming down her cheek, raises her hand. "Professor, how on earth did they get in?"


"Whoever is responsible had inside assistance." He glances downward, in the direction of Slytherin. "Several protective wards that have been around Hogwarts since nearly the day of it's founding have been destroyed. I don't know how they did it; *I* couldn't have done it." He sighs heavily, running a hand through his long grey hair. The room swells with panic, and he holds up a hand to try to suppress it. "As long as we are in this room," he continues, "we are safe, merely because we need it to be so. I don't know who the traitor is, but I would bet my very life that he or she is not present in this room."


The students look around eagerly. The only other professor in the room is McGonagall. "It pains me to say this," he continues, "but I ask that you not trust anybody outside of this room. Except for Professor Snape, of course, who is occupied... elsewhere." He clears his throat. The room seems to cry out in disbelief. He *still* believes in Snape, even now?


"Where is everyone else?" Hermione asks.


"I assigned the other..." here his throat catches again... "the remaining other professors to stand watch at various points around the school. I know now that one has likely betrayed me. Betrayed us. But that person has carried out their assignment, and I doubt they'll be inviting any more trouble just yet."


Where are the Slytherins?" Hermione asks.


Dumbledore sighs. "They're gone. I imagine many of them have joined the group outside."


"Outside?" This time, Hermione is not the only one who asks.


"Yes," Dumbledore says calmly. "There is a very large group of Death Eaters assembling around Hogwarts as we speak."


Beside her, Violet hears Lavender give a little gasp. And she realises that up to this moment, none of this has seemed completely real. Even after Becky's death, Voldemort had been something far away, something that happened to other people. But it seems it's all really happening: Lavender can See, there's going to be a terrible bloody war, there is such a thing as magic, and there might even be a Santa Claus.


And all Violet can think is, What the hell am I doing here?


*******************************************


It is the Gryffindors, of course, who lead the charge, in a moment that is nothing less than tailor-made. Even lacking swords, rushing out into the snow without gloves, hats or boots to face the mortal enemy is what Gryffindor is all about.


And Violet finds herself smack in the middle of them. She sees the bloodlust in the eyes of those closest to her, Lavender, Neville, and Parvati, and wonders if it might in any way be mirrored in her own. The glistening, half-frozen tear on Parvati's cheek reminds her that Parvati has lost her twin sister. She will never see her again, and all she has to find comfort in is this battle. For Violet sees that in their eyes, too: an odd contentment. She is certain hers do not reflect that.


The Death Eaters, emerging slowly from the Forest, wear thick dark robes, and masks that look suspiciously furry. The smugness their warmth affords them is almost palpable in the chill air. But the shivering Gryffindors are unaffected. Flanked by Dumbledore, McGonagall and about half the members of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff House, they advance as if fulfilling their destiny.


The battle starts slowly. Violet tries to hide in plain sight between Lavender and Parvati, hoping that the girls will do their best to shield her, and wondering why the hell she'd been pushed into the fray in the first place. Not that she'd resisted, she admits to herself. Would she rather die a hero's death on the field than live the rest of her life knowing she'd done nothing? But how can she die a hero's death when she can't even use her wand? And, perhaps most importantly, why does she even *have* a wand? Such are the thoughts of a Squib during times of crisis.


And so it goes that Violet stands in the middle of the greatest battle the Wizarding world will ever know, feeling incurably silly.


As the battle intensifies, she eventually stops feeling silly or cold or much of anything at all. While her group is doing quite well, as are the advance flank of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and McGonagall, she finds that dodging and hiding are perhaps every bit as tiring as actually fighting. She wonders if anyone would blame her, or even notice, if she ran back into the castle and closed the door behind her. Of course, whoever had murdered those Ravenclaws had to still be in there. Such a person probably wouldn't think twice about cutting down a Squib, so she feels safer on the battlefield in the midst of her friends.


Curses are yelled, lights flash, smoke erupts from wands, and a Death Eater falls to the ground. Violet knows he isn't dead. She knows about the Unforgivables, and that no one on her side would use one. As the warring bodies begin to encroach on one another, the air is so thick with spells that no one can even tell who is hexing who. People on either side continue to fall, some stunned, some petrified. Wands are lost, robes are scorched and in a few cases, odd appendages appear. Violet notices that Lavender keeps looking around wildly. None of the other professors are anywhere to be seen, including Snape; nor, Violet guesses, is Voldemort. She wonders where the great Dark Lord is while his minions are out in the snow fighting for him (though admittedly, in cosy fur-lined War gear).


And then it happens. A black-robed figure appears in the doorway of Hogwarts, and begins making its way toward the field. No one notices, not even Lavender, as a particularly cruel Death Eater has chosen the moment to hang Colin Creevey upside down in midair. Ginny Weasley stuns the Death Eater, releasing the spell, and Colin drops unceremoniously to the ground. The figure advances.


Out of the corner of her eye, Lavender sees. "No!" she screams, and gets her wand blasted from her hand in reply. The figure laughs, a throaty, mirthless laugh, and turns away with a swish of her robes. And still no one, engaged in their own skirmishes, notices.


Not even when the figure trains her deadly wand on the back of Harry Potter.


Lavender stands alone, trying in vain to locate her lost wand. She can't yell, no one will hear her. She doesn't see Colin Creevey fall to the ground once more, followed by Seamus Finnegan. She doesn't know that the Death Eaters are closing in, and that they have begun using Unforgivables. Her only focus is preventing their final moment of victory.


When Violet appears beside her, she isn't surprised, not really. So it comes to pass, she thinks; a thought she will have many more times in her long life. "Violet!" she screams above the din, pointing. "Use your wand!" Violet's eyes follow Lavender's finger. "Point your wand at that woman and yell, as loud as you can, 'Expelliarmus!'"


Violet looks at her like she's lost her mind, but readies her wand anyway. She looks tentatively at her sister. "It's okay, now do it fast!" Lavender yells.


Violet points her homemade cherry wand at the poised figure and yells, "Expelliarmus!" The wand flies from the would-be killer's hand just as she'd begun reciting "Avad-", and lands high in the foliage of a majestic Sleeping Maple. The tree, which keeps its leaves all year round by hibernating, opens its eyes, yawns, and goes back to sleep.


The woman is sent to the ground by a Stunning curse, from none other than Neville. Her hood slips from her face, which is twisted in rage and confusion. "Oh, Professor, I'm so sorry!" exclaims Neville.


"Don't be," says Lavender. Having recovered her wand from underneath a bush, she rushes up to Neville with Violet and Parvati in tow. "She was trying to kill Harry."


Neville frowns. "Why would Professor Sinistra want to kill Harry?"


"I don't know," Lavender says. "But perhaps it would be better if we discussed it late - PETRIFICUS TOTALICUS!" An invading Death Eater falls stiffly into a snowbank.


During a quiet moment, Lavender whispers to Violet, "Put your wand away. It won't work again."


"But how...?"


"I don't know. I just know that if you try using it again, you'll probably get killed."


Violet tucks the wand back into her pocket.


And the air around them seems to freeze. Not out of cold, though it is that, too. The air seems frozen in expectation, and maybe even a little fear.


A figure glides from the forest, a figure who exudes a crude sort of grace. A figure whom everyone is immediately aware of, regardless of what they were engaged in. In short, a figure wearing particularly dark, thick, furry robes. Voldemort.


And everything stops. In the stillness, it's suddenly very easy to tell the living from the dead. The living respond innately to the Dark Lord, even those lying motionless on the ground. He commands worshipful praise, or grudging respect, or fear, disgust and anger, all of which emanate from those still able to feel. The latter three swirl around Violet's group until they're nearly as visible as their breath in the frosty air.


Violet hopes that Lavender doesn't realise Seamus isn't moving. Not now....not yet.


It seems everyone knows their role in this scene. The Dark Lord has come to face one opponent, and any interlopers will be swatted like unfortunate flies. Violet glances around at Lavender, Parvati and Neville. The four smile ever so slightly at one another, eyes blurring. Lavender takes Parvati's hand, and Neville takes Violet's.


Harry Potter walks out to meet Voldemort.


Voldemort pulls back his robe, and there is a collective gasp. They'd heard he no longer appeared human, but nothing could have prepared them for this. Neville squeezes Violet's hand. Violet promises herself to think about that later, and probably for a very long time. Or maybe, she just won't let go at all. She squeezes back.


"Well then, Harry," Voldemort says, addressing him as though they're old mates. "As my assistant has failed me-" he glares at the still-Stunned Professor Sinistra - "it appears I'm going to have to kill you myself."


"Awfully sure of yourself, aren't you, my Lord?" Harry spits the title mockingly into his face.


Voldemort pulls a wand from his robes. Yew, thirteen-and-a-half inches, with a phoenix feather core. Harry pulls a sword from his. Gleaming silver, with huge glittering rubies on the handle. And big. Really, really big.


Something in Voldemort's eyes says he's seen this sword before.

**********************************************



Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter Twelve



The battlefield is nearly bloodless. The sight of the clean, still corpses unsettles Violet almost more than the battle itself. Who wants to be sent into the afterlife without a mark upon them? It seems almost a mockery of death. Their blood should stain the pristine snow and sink deep into the earth below. Violet doesn't realise that only someone familiar with Muggle forms of murder would entertain these thoughts. It had never occured to her that Wizarding death would be so... tidy.



There is just one dark patch on the field, one life which was allowed to bleed out in all its glory. Most of the survivors avert their eyes from the corpse of Voldemort. There are only three who'd hated the Dark Lord so acutely in life they wished to see him in death.



Harry Potter kept looking after the fatal blow was delivered, well after his friends had turned away, after the great shiny sword had vanished from his hand as mysteriously as it had appeared. The look on his face reminded Violet of her mother's after finishing a long, painstaking project: relief, satisfaction, and a kind of disbelief that his hands had been the cause of it all.



Neville Longbottom had looked squarely into the Dark Lord's eyes in their final seconds of life. In them he saw the agonising pain that his parents must have felt, he saw the Dark Lord stripped of all power and pretense. He saw him as human. It was an image that would both console and horrify him for the rest of his life.



No one on the field saw Severus Snape, hiding in Hagrid's cabin with a small group of Slytherins, look upon his dead former master with the closest thing to satisfaction that would ever cross his sour face. Not relief, for even though his spying days were over, the prejudice that accompanied them would follow him for the rest of his life. But it was a price he was willing to pay. After all, his charges were alive. They would grow up to embrace everything that Slytherin ought to be: power, ambition, greatness. They wouldn't live a misguided life or die for a foolish cause like Voldemort. They would find success and raise families, and live for no cause other than their own. Severus' life had not been in vain, after all; he had kept alive all that was right and good about Slytherin.



Once Voldemort sunk to the ground and lay still, there was an odd silence. The survivors expected the Ministry to turn up at any moment, to storm in and attempt to put their lives back together the way only officiousness and red tape can do. To dull their senses with the rhythm of routine.



They're still waiting.



They stand outside instead of going in by the fire, because they don't want to leave the dead. They shiver without noticing. Someone had gathered blankets, gloves and scarves, which are shared between the groups of huddling students and teachers. Professor Snape, who had emerged with his Slytherin charges, takes a toll of the dead. He and the Slytherins are greeted with icy stares. They keep busy and pretend not to notice.



Missing from the field are the wounded, Madame Pomfrey and Luna Lovegood, a novice Healer. The small infirmary can't hold everyone, so they spill out into the corridor, in order of the severity of their injuries. Most gravely wounded are Colin Creevey and Albus Dumbledore. Colin relinquishes his place in line so that the dying Headmaster might be saved, and in doing so gives his life. A Gryffindor to the end...



Dumbledore, having been hit with a Dark curse he'd had no knowledge of and no defence against, hangs between life and death. The Lestrange woman had done it, lashing out in blind fury after the death of the Dark Lord. Neville had tried to kill her afterwards. Had tried to, but couldn't, instead whispering "Petrificus Totalicus" as the woman just stood there, smirking. She didn't care if he killed her or not; her life had ended along with her Lord's. She'd simply wanted to watch the boy squirm.



Violet had been proud of him.



Bellatrix Lestrange lies frozen and bound alongside her fellow Death Eaters. Several students and teachers had died, but only one Dark wizard: Voldemort himself. Violet wonders about the justice of this as she stands clustered with Neville, Lavender, Parvati, and Dean. The Death Eaters used the Death curse, she thinks, but my side didn't. Only Harry had taken a life, but not with words. Would he have used the Death curse if he'd had to? Could he have? Could Lavender have? Could I have, if I were somehow granted power again?



Power. Power like she'd never felt, like electricity shooting down her arm and into her wand. Or had it been the other way around? Is there such a thing as a wand so powerful that even a Squib can use it? But Lavender had said it wouldn't work again...



She glances at her sister, who is being supported by Parvati and Dean. Lavender's face is frozen in numb horror, and Violet can only imagine what she's thinking: Why didn't I See Seamus? Why couldn't I save him? Why had my Prophecy spared only Harry Potter? Violet realises that being a Seer is one of the most awful jobs she can imagine. She would rather clean the wastebaskets at her father's office.



Professor McGonagall, after conferencing with the remaining teachers (except for Snape, who continues to move among the dead), decides it's time someone take charge. The elderly witch seems to have aged ten years in the course of an evening, and her steady brogue trembles slightly.



"I needn't remark on the tragedies that have occured here today, nor the concern I feel for Alb... for Headmaster Dumbledore. The question is, what do we do now? How do we move forward from this, now and the rest of our days?" She looks out, straightforward and moist-eyed. "I ask that you all move into the castle. There is nothing that can be gained from standing here contracting frostbite. Wait for us in the Great Hall. Build a roaring fire, and have the house-elves prepare tea and nourishment. Take care of yourselves, for you're still very much alive."



Hermione raises her hand, and a flicker of amusement nearly crosses the weary Professor's face. "Yes, Miss Granger?"



"But what about you, Professor, and the other teachers? Surely you're as susceptible to frostbite as we are?"


"Don't worry about us, Miss Granger. You know about the various Warming spells as well as anyone."


"Oh, yes... of course." Hermione turns toward the castle. There seems to be nothing else to say.



The cluster of Violet, Neville, Lavender, Parvati and Dean tread silently toward the castle. All hold on to one of the others' hands, connecting themselves to the group. How quickly they've become a family, moving ever closer toward each other, trying to close the gaps left by Padma and Seamus.



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Outside,the death of Voldemort and capture of Death Eaters has resulted in great celebration, but inside it's brought only heavy, claustrophobic silence. Too many of their own are gone for them to appreciate the fall of Voldemort. It's too soon. Too raw.



Classes have been cancelled, and N.E.W.T.S. rescheduled for the summer. As long as Albus Dumbledore lies suspended in time, so does Hogwarts.



Not that tragedy hadn't befallen the outside world as well. Voldemort had had an "agent" at the Ministry, just as he had at Hogwarts, and as a result the Ministry had been "compromised." (This being the word Minister Fudge had dictated to the Daily Prophet to describe the obliteration of the southeast corner of the Ministry.) The culprit had been captured before he could blow the whole place sky-high, but the distraction had served its purpose. While the Ministry tried to put itself back together, the Death Eaters marched on Hogwarts.



What they couldn't count on was Lavender Brown, the seventeen-year old novice Seer, or her nineteen-year old sister, the Squib. They would never know what had happened, but they'd have a lifetime to think about it in Azkaban.



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After a long, uneasy week filled with alternating tears and silence, a miracle happens: Albus Dumbledore wakes up. The news rings joyfully through the school, and while it can't bring back the dead, it does breathe some life into Hogwarts.



Madame Pomfrey fusses around him.



"Poppy, I assure you I am quite capable of feeding myself. Now please, put down the spoon!"



Madame Pomfrey looks properly embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Sir, it's just that... oh, I'm so glad you're back with us!" She enfolds him in a hug, neglecting to put down the spoon and getting strained carrots in his long grey hair. "Oh, Sir... I'm so sorry!" She tries rubbing the carrots from his hair, and only succeeds in ingraining it so deeply that he resembles an elderly Weasley. The two look at each other and laugh.



Eventually, Dumbledore's expression turns serious. "Poppy... how bad was it?"



Madame Pomfrey sighs. "It was bad, Sir. Our losses were great. Of course, one loss would have been one too many..." The faces of the dead flash through her mind, one in particular. She will never tell the headmaster about the Creevey boy's sacrifice. He wouldn't be able to live with himself.



Dumbledore pats the Healer's arm, and sighs. "I would like to say that at least this has come to an end, but evil never truly ends, any more than good does. It's folly to think the world will be sunshine and lemon drops now. We mustn't let down our guard - ever."



Madame Pomfrey nods. "I'm afraid you're right, Sir."



Dumbledore allows a slight smile to cross his lined face. "However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't allow ourselves... some relief. I do believe we've earned it." He pauses, and Madame Pomfrey stays silent. "How is Harry?" he finally asks.



Pomfrey's voice drops to a hush. "His injuries were slight, but he has sequestered himself in his room. Refuses to see anyone, even Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger."



Dumbledore sighs heavily. "Yes, I imagined it would be this way, if the boy survived at all. He has blood on his hands. That is not an easy thing to live with, even in times of war..." He sinks into thought, and Madame Pomfrey wonders about his old wartime days, when Grindelwald was defeated.



"Mr. Potter will come to me when he's ready," he finally says. "I'll not push him. However... I do wish to see the Brown girls."



Madame Pomfrey looks puzzled. "Lavender Brown? And the Squ... and her sister?"



"Indeed. Please inform them to come see me as soon as possible."



"I... of course, Sir. Oh, Sir, the students are just so happy that you're back with us. As are the teachers, of course. And myself... oh dear, I'm babbling. But it was dodgy there for a while. I thought..." Her voice catches. "Well, I'll go fetch the Brown girls, then."



Dumbledore nods. "Thank you, Poppy. And for the record, I'm glad to have myself back, too." His eyes shine with their customary twinkle, and Madame Pomfrey walks out with a smile on her face.



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Dumbledore welcomes the rather awestruck sisters to his hospital room. "Please, have a seat," he says.



Lavender smiles nervously. "I'm so glad you're all right, Headmaster. I was almost certain you'd pull through, but..."


She looks down, her fingers twisting the folds of her robe.



"Don't worry. I'm certain my death will warrant a prophecy of great magnitude."



Lavender looks up to catch the smile on Dumbledore's face. "Yes, I'm certain it will, Sir! I mean..."



"Just do me one favour, Miss Brown. When my time comes... don't tell me. I'd like for it to be a surprise."



Lavender's eyes widen slightly. "Of course, Sir."



Dumbledore glances at Violet, who has been sitting quietly. "I expect you have a question or two on your mind, Miss Brown."



Violet nods. Her mind is bursting with questions, but in light of everything that has happened, she's been holding them in. If her life as a Squib has taught her anything, it's the importance of timing. "My wand," she says simply.



"Yes... cherry wood, I believe? May I have a look at it, please?"



He guesses correctly that Violet is still carrying her wand. She hands it over wordlessly.



Dumbledore takes it in his hands and holds it gently, like a new baby. If Violet didn't know better, she'd think he didn't know what to expect.



After a moment of examination, and complete lack of response from the wand, he asks, "This wasn't purchased at Ollivander's, am I correct?"



Violet frowns. "Ollivander's?"



"No," Lavender cuts in. "Our mum made it, actually. She's an artisan."



"Ah yes, of course!" Dumbledore looks quite excited. "You see, Miss Brown, this wand doesn't have an ounce of magic in it... and yet, it seems to contain the most powerful magic of all. Most extraordinary."



He hands it back to Violet, who looks at it like it might be a fire-breathing salamander. "What do you mean? How could I do magic, Sir?"



"I understand," Lavender says softly.



Violet turns to her. "What is it?"



"It's because mum made it, right, Sir? Mum made it with her own two hands, and... and..."



"You're on the right track, Miss Brown. Unlike any of the wands at Ollivander's, which are made with great skill, this wand was fashioned purely from love."



"Oh," Violet says, wishing she could think of something more profound. "You mean, my mum's magic made it work."



"No, not exactly." He smiles. "I'm about to have a similar conversation with you that I once had with a very special and celebrated young man. A boy who learned at an early age that some of the most powerful magic on earth can't be learned from books; it exists in all of us, Muggles and Wizard folk alike, and it's the most powerful magic I've yet to come across. And I've come across some pretty powerful magic. Do you know what it is?" he asks gently.



"A mother's love," says Lavender.



"That's exactly right." He smiles. "Sometimes the heart is so powerful, it can do things that defy the mind's logic. Turn dark into light, give magic to a Squib... even save the life of a baby boy, lying in his crib."



"You mean Harry Potter, don't you?" Violet asks. "That's how he survived Voldemort. His mum saved him."



"Yes. And this same magic, older than the most ancient, dusty tome of spells - older even than myself! - powered your wand."



Violet looks down, embarrassed. "Please, don't compare me to Harry Potter."



Dumbledore looks surprised. "Why ever not? The two of you have a lot in common."



"Er..."



Dumbledore takes his glasses and a Daily Prophet from the bedside table. Perching the glasses on his nose, he examines the newspaper. "Yes, this is the right one. Though I expect it will be one of many."



He holds it up. Lavender gasps. Violet sighs. "That's a terrible picture," she says.



Dumbledore nods cheerfully. "It's quite large, too."



On the front page of the Daily Prophet is a picture of a thirteen-year old Violet, her hair in pigtails, accompanied by the headline, MORE TO SQUIBS THAN MEETS THE EYE?



"Oh, Merlin," Violet groans. "I don't want to read that."



Dumbledore hands her the paper. "I understand. But someday, I think you will. Or at least, your grandchildren will."


His eyes twinkle. Violet wonders if that ever gets on anyone's nerves.



Lavender covers her mouth and starts giggling. Dumbledore, who was going to pass on his sympathies for Seamus Finnegan, decides that now is not the time. Instead, he feigns a yawn.



Lavender and Violet stand hastily. "I'm sorry, Sir, you must be dreadfully tired," Lavender says.



He nods. "Yes, dreadfully. But, before you go..." The girls pause at the door. "I want to commend you both on your bravery during the battle. You are a credit to this school, and your community." He smiles at Violet. "Whatever community you may choose."



Violet smiles a little, tucks the newspaper under her arm, and follows Lavender out of the room.



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A week later, Dumbledore is greeted with a standing ovation as he walks into the Great Hall. He stands at the staff table, between McGonagall and Snape, and tings his goblet with a fork for silence.



He smiles encouragingly out at his students, his eyes skimming over the empty chairs. "It is wonderful to see you all!" he exclaims, to more applause.



When it dies down, his eyes grow more solemn. "However, we are not complete, are we? And we can make no effort in moving toward wholeness again until we honour those who are gone."



The Hall is silent as he continues. "So before we celebrate the resolution to this war, before we think to the wonderful future that I hope lies ahead of us all, let us take this time to remember the dead." He looks down for a moment, and clears his throat. "In Hufflepuff House, let us remember Susan Bones, Lionel March, Zacharius Smith, and the first casualty of this war, Cedric Diggory." The students bow their heads.



"In Ravenclaw, we remember Padma Patil, Mavis Rothman, Timothy Connell, Filius Flitwick, and Veronica Sinistra." He pauses. "If such things can be measured in degrees, I find the death of Professor Sinistra particularly tragic." His voice rises above the escalating murmurs. "Consider the irony that she was murdered by Voldemort for being a traitor to his cause, while in this very room she is considered a traitor to our cause. Surely, we have more capacity for open-mindedness, and forgiveness, than Death Eaters. Surely you can understand that Veronica Sinistra did not wish to harm Harry Potter, nor any other student at this school. Lucius Malfoy did. In perhaps the finest moment of a dark life, he confessed to casting Imperius, absolving my friend and colleague of guilt. That's good enough for me, and I hope it's good enough for you, too." He lets this sink in, then continues. "I will, however, have to see to the Charms around the chicken coop. We really can't afford to lose any more livestock to sinister messages."



Relieved murmurs are heard throughout the Hall. There had been much speculation as to the source of all that blood...



Dumbledore continues. "While Slytherin House suffered no casualties, due to Professor Snape's... timely shielding, there are many empty places at the Slytherin table." He does a quick scan of the table. Malfoy's seat is empty, as are Crabbe's, Parkinson's, and Zabini's. Only Goyle remains in that section, looking alone and somewhat more confused than usual. (He had been raiding the refrigerator at the time of the Great Battle, and had, as a result, missed the whole thing.) "And for this I ask myself, why? Why are half the members of one of my school's Houses in Azkaban, or fugitives from the law? Is there something I, or any of us, could have done to prevent this?" He looks out. "The answer is, no. No more than I or anyone else could have stopped young Tom Riddle, fifty-odd years ago. One's true essence always shows itself in time. But I do not want anyone in this room to think such evil is the essence of Slytherin. Those remaining here today are proof of that." He turns to the Slytherin table. "I commend you, and your Head of House, for standing up for what you believe Slytherin should be. You have done your house proud."



This is met with hesitant applause. Dumbledore continues. "In Gryffindor, let us remember Colin Creevey, Rachel Madigan, Alex Patchett, and Seamus Finnegan." Violet squeezes Lavender's shoulder. "As you live your lives, pursue your careers, raise your families, let them live on in you, in your memories and deeds. And remember, only by moving forward, not dwelling in the past, do we allow them to come with us. So in short: live!" He bows his head, to thunderous applause. "One more thing, then I promise you we will eat. I simply want to say how proud I am. You met danger with courage. You defended not only this school, but the way of life we hold dear. And you prevailed in the end. But I want you to know that even if you hadn't, the pride I feel for each and every one of you would not be diminished in the least. You showed your character, and I feel great satisfaction that I have taught you what is important. Yes, victory is the goal, but never the cause. Remember that. And remember too, that in war there can be no true victory, only resolution. Voldemort has been defeated, but evil lives on. There will always be battles to fight. Sometimes we'll win, sometimes we won't. What's important is that we do what we feel is right." He smiles.



"Now, who wants turkey?"



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"Dear Violet,


"I never realised how quiet it would be here without you. I guess some people don't have to talk much to fill up a room, they just... have a presence. I've always felt that about you, Violet; I just never had the courage to say anything. Well, anyway, I'm sorry. I know that may seem like an odd thing to say now, but I needed to say it before I see you again. I've needed to say it for a long time, but the timing wasn't right, what with the war and all...


Yes, I miss Seamus horribly. I can't even face the thought of looking at other boys, which is something I never thought I'd say! Maybe someday, but... right now I'm really busy with my studies. Merlin, I can't believe I used to dream about being a Seer. It's not exactly how I fantasized it would be, but honestly, I love it.



I had an interesting conversation with mum the other day. It seems that her grandmother was a Seer, and so was dad's! I wonder what the odds of that are? Anyway, I asked Professor Trelawney about it, and she said it might mean I'm a Prophetess, which is a sort of extra-powerful Seer. My first response was, Brilliant, more bloody work! But I don't mind, really. And I kind of like that I'm not supposed to understand it all. It makes what happened to Seamus make more sense, that it didn't make any sense. Oh hell, now I'm not making any sense. Well, maybe you know what I mean. If I'm going to see the future, I still want there to be some life to live, you know? Some surprises. I guess Dumbledore was right. He always is, the smug bast... kidding!



I know you don't know Harry very well, but I saw him the other day and he asked about you. Wanted to know how you were handling being the World's Most Famous Squib. I told him you didn't stick around long enough to fully enjoy the, er, honour, and he kind of smiled and said he knows the feeling. He then said something odd about going off to Scotland to raise sheep, but I'm sure that was just a joke because he's scheduled to join the Ministry as an Auror next year.



Well, I hope you're having a great time at University. I always knew you'd do something great, you would-be Ravenclaw nerd. Kidding! Say hi to Neville for me when he visits.



Lots of love,


Lavender xoxo."



Violet puts down the letter and a tear rolls, rather sneakily, down her cheek. She feels a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong, love? Everything's all right at home, I hope."



Violet smiles, sniffing loudly. "Everything's fine. I just... miss Lavender." She grins. "I really do!"



Neville looks on in mock scorn. "Well, I suppose I'm not good enough, after I travelled all this way..."



"Puh!" Violet hits him with her notebook. "You flooed in right down the street!"



Neville grins. "And seeing you is well worth the trip." He sits beside her on the campus lawn, under a wide shade tree. His face turns serious as he takes her hand, and she lays aside her notebook. "Really, Violet, I don't see how I can ever make it all up to you... for what I did."



"Neville..." she bites her lip. "I'm not going to lie and say you didn't hurt me. I'm trying to understand why I don't find it harder to forgive you. I suppose it could be your boyish charm, but..." She smiles. "I don't know. Maybe allowances ought to be made in terrible times, like war. And maybe... if love is true, it will survive and rise from the ashes."



Neville smiles, leans toward her, and then they don't say anything for a bit.



"Violet," he whispers, when they come up for air.



"Hmm?"



A tear rolls down his cheek. He makes no effort to wipe it away. "I have no excuse for how I behaved. All I can say is, my Gran is the only family I've ever known. My only connection with my parents. I wasn't ready to risk losing her. But I see now that I wouldn't have lost her. She may be disagreeable sometimes, but she's family, and I'm her only link to her son. I just can't believe I risked losing you in order to figure that out. " He looks miserable. He looks, for the last time in his life, like the Neville Longbottom that had arrived at Hogwarts, scared and awkward and searching for his lost toad. It can take a while to get over something like that, even when the rational part of you knows you've outgrown it.



"Neville, I'm happy. And I want you to be part of that, no matter what happened in the past. I want you to be part of my life."



Neville stands, pulling Violet up with him. "I want to be part of your life. More than anything. It seems like I've never wanted anything else."



"Me, too. I've wanted it ever since... well, you probably don't remember, but ever since the first day we met."


"In the Gryffindor common room..."



"I screamed at you not to curse me..."



"And you scared me more than I scared you!"



Violet laughs, and Neville pulls her in for another long kiss. "You remembered," she whispers.



"I never forgot."

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a/n I hope you enjoyed this story. All feedback is appreciated!

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com