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Chapter 21: War Childs

When everyone was back at Hogwarts to start the new term, Harry expected to hear a lot of rumours and gossips about the absence of Jacinta Malfoy. As Dumbledore said, she had been transferred from St Mungo’s to Hogwarts at the end of the holidays, but she was still in the hospital wing under the care of Madam Pomfrey. Still it was the second time she wasn’t able to attend classes and no one knew why. As Harry and his friends were the only ones who knew about what happened to the first year, the assault by her father was one of the few well kept secrets within Hogwarts’ walls. The only sign that still pointed to the incident was the bruised face of Draco Malfoy, undoubtedly the price he paid for trying to help his sister. Harry was still convinced that Malfoy had ordered Crabbe and Goyle to beat his own sister up the first time and he didn’t feel one bit sorry for his Slytherin nemesis.

As he promised, Sirius had visited Jacinta at St Mungo’s together with Harry. They didn’t talk with her about moving with them or even the trial that was coming up as they didn’t want to scare her. Instead, they talked about everyday things as school and Quidditch. Jacinta had looked anxious when Sirius entered her room as the adults who had been in her life up to this moment hadn’t exactly taken great care of her.  The fact that he was with Harry, however, together with the reassuring and calm demeanour Sirius had over him, reassured the girl greatly.

The fifth years weren’t blessed with an easy start after the holidays. The classes themselves weren’t really getting harder, but the homework load had even increased opposed to last term. Despite the fact that he was extremely busy keeping up with his schoolwork, Harry did keep making time for Dumbledore’s Army. Hermione had come up with a very convenient method to inform all the members of their next meeting without having to inform everyone in person. She enchanted fake coins with the Protean Charm, so that when Harry changed the date on his coin, it would immediately change on all the other coins too.

The first DA meeting was scheduled for Thursday night and when Harry and Ginny arrived in the Room of Requirement, together with Ron and Hermione, they saw almost everyone was already there. The DA had been an enormous success and although there hadn’t been need for their services yet, the meetings were the favourite time of the week for all of the members. Harry silently hoped that Dumbledore would never need them, but if he did, the DA leader knew they would be ready. The members had improved immensely over the last term, most significantly Neville Longbottom. The Gryffindor Prefect had always been self-conscious about his magic. Being named Prefect by Dumbledore, however, had given his self-esteem a boost and his skills had improved noticeably during the DA meetings.

Harry spend the first half hour of the meeting revising everything that they had been practicing before the holidays and to his happiness he saw that his members seemed to have remembered everything he taught them.

“Alright everyone!” he shouted. He waited until the last Stunning spells and jinxes had died out before he continued. “Good job everyone, really.” he praised. “I see that you have all mastered the basic duelling skills. We will keep practice duelling during our meetings, but I think you guys are ready to try some of the more advanced stuff now.”

There rose some exciting murmurs.

“Okay.” Harry said. “Do you all know what the Patronus charm is?”

Nearly everyone nodded, but Dennis Creevey said he hadn’t heard from it. Harry realized that Dennis, only a second year, had never seen the spell in class. As he came to think of it, he hadn’t either. Remus Lupin had taught him how to produce a Patronus back in third year, because Cornelius Fudge, in all his wisdom, had stationed Dementors at Hogwarts to protect the school from Sirius Black. Tonks had talked about it in her Defence Against the Dark Arts class, but they had never practiced the spell. Harry realized he was the only student he knew of who was able to produce a corporeal Patronus and he hoped he didn't start to early with it.

“Alright Dennis.” he said after shortly hesitating. “The Patronus charm is very advanced. When you are able to produce a fully-fledged Patronus, it will help you to ward off several dark creatures as Lethifolds, but most importantly, Dementors.”

“That will come in handy now they have sided with You-Know-Who.” Seamus spoke.

“I can’t believe the Ministry didn’t see this coming.” Luna said dreamily. “The Dementors were bound to betray them. They are of the same gender as Popperknockles.”

“What are Popperknockles?” Lee Jordan asked, genuinly interested.

“Never mind.” Hermione said quickly, before Luna could answer. “Go on, Harry.”

Harry realized he had been staring at Luna after her strange interruption and quickly regained his composure. “Okay right.” he said. “The incantation is Expecto Patronum. A Patronus is actually kind of an outward projection of happiness, so when you cast the spell, you will have to think of a happy memory. It will have to be powerful, so think of the happiest memory you can imagine.” He paused a minute while everyone thought of a good memory. “Now I don’t want you to think that you will master this spell just as quickly and easily as you have most of the other spells. I can’t express enough how advanced this is. It took me long to even produce a silver mist and weeks before I first produced a corporeal Patronus. There are a lot of fully qualified wizards who are not able to do it.”

“Can you show us?” Parvati asked eagerly.

Harry thought of Ginny and him on the couch in the living room at Grimmauld Place. “Expecto Patronum!”

The silver stag jumped out of the tip of his wand and galloped around the Room of Requirement. The members of the DA automatically began applauding. Harry grinned. “Okay, let’s see how you do.”

The rest of the meeting was spent by practicing the Patronus charm. Harry wasn’t surprised that only a few people were already able to produce a silver mist that lasted more than a few seconds. Nobody, not even Hermione, managed to produce a corporeal Patronus. Although Harry had warned them not to expect too much too fast, he saw that a lot of members were feeling disappointed.

“Don’t worry guys.” he encouraged them. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. We’ll keep working on it until everyone gets it right.”

He dismissed the meeting and the members started gathering their things to leave. The members from Gryffindor sat down in the soft chairs that had been placed in a corner of the room, accompanied by Luna. They talked about Voldemort and the war for a while.

“I don’t understand.” Dean said suddenly. “You-Know-Who is back right? He has all his powers again. Why doesn’t he show himself in the open?”

“We believe he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself.” Hermione said after a quick glance at Harry.

“Yeah I could believe that.” Dean agreed. “But everyone already knows he’s back.”

Colin nodded. “I would understand he would want to keep quiet if the magical world didn’t know about his return, but there’s really no point now, is there? The Ministry knows about it and they are actively looking for him and his Death Eaters.”

Hermione didn’t really know what to say and looked at Harry. The latter shifted uncomfortably in his chair and hesitated. Finally he said: “We believe Voldemort doesn’t want to start an open war before he has done something.” He ignored the winces and protesting shrieks accompanying his mention of Voldemort’s name. “Something he wasn’t able to finish last time.”

“What do you mean?” Dennis asked eagerly.

Harry remained silent. He didn’t want to tell too many people about the Prophecy. He couldn’t just assume that every member of Dumbledore’s Army was as loyal as Ron, Hermione and Ginny or even the twins. On the other hand, this were his friends and if anyone within Dumbledore’s Army was completely trustworthy, it was them. Before he could say anything, Luna interrupted his thoughts.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” she said matter of factly. “Voldemort wants to kill Harry.”

Harry looked at his Ravenclaw friend dumbfounded. That was the last thing he expected to hear and on top of that she said Voldemort’s name. She was the only other student he ever witnessed to do that.

Luna looked around her and smiled when she saw seventeen surprised faces staring at her. “It’s only logical. Voldemort wanted to kill Harry when he was a baby. He not only failed, his power was also broken. Voldemort must think that Harry is some kind of threat to him and he probably wants to kill him before he tries to take over the country.” She looked expectantly at Harry.

Harry nodded. “That’s more or less what we were thinking.” he said softly. A long silence followed.

“How the hell did you figure that out?” Lee asked them.

“It’s quite simple.” Luna said. “It’s important to know your enemy. And I think Voldemort is pretty easy to read.”

“Would you stop saying his name?” Ron snapped.

Luna smiled at him, apparently not caring about his rudeness. “Why? It’s just a name, you know.”

Ron glared at her, but Harry said: “She’s absolutely right. She should be asking you why you don’t say his name.” He had never understood that habit in the magical world. “It’s kind of ridiculous to be afraid of a name, isn’t it?”

Harry looked at his friends and saw that they were looking confused. They had all grown up with the habit of saying You-Know-Who or He Who Must Not Be Named instead of Voldemort. They had never asked themselves any questions about it.

From that day on, the members of Dumbledore’s Army always called Voldemort by his name. Harry noticed that Muggle-born students like Hermione, Justin and the Creevey brothers had actually little trouble with it. He supposed that they had, just like him, thought it strange not to say his name, but didn’t to fit in with the magical world. The purebloods on the other hand had learned not to say his name from the moment they could talk and it wasn’t easy to quit the habit.

Saturday started off great. When Harry and Ron came downstairs in the common room, they saw that Jacinta Malfoy had been released from the hospital wing. They invited her to go downstairs for breakfast with them and Ginny and Hermione. When Harry and Ron left for Quidditch practice the younger girl grabbed his arm and whispered: “Thank you. For everything.” She gave him a quick hug and returned to her seat.

Unfortunately, the day did not end as great as it began. When Harry arrived in Dumbledore’s office for his private lesson, he received some unnerving news.

“I am afraid that Voldemort has found a way around the blood protection, Harry.” Dumbledore said.

“What?!” Harry exclaimed. “Is that even possible?”

“I am afraid so.” Dumbledore said gravely. “It is an ancient potion. Naturally, Voldemort has instructed Professor Snape to brew it for him. He does, however, lack one very important ingredient.”

Harry could already guess what ingredient Voldemort needed. “My blood.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Unfortunately, that has not only put Voldemort in a tight spot, but us as well.”

“How, sir?”

“He has instructed Professor Snape with the task to obtain it from you.” Dumbledore said sombrely.

Harry felt his heart sink. He only saw three options. Snape would have to refuse to perform his task and openly show his allegiance to the Order of the Phoenix, or he would have to tell Voldemort the task was impossible to fulfil, which would probably mean his death. Or…

“He has to do it.”

Dumbledore looked up at Harry, but didn’t seem surprised. “I expected you would say that.”

“It’s the only way, isn’t it? He can’t refuse without openly showing his loyalty to you and the Order. The Order would lose its only spy.”

Dumbledore nodded slowly. Harry knew that his headmaster had also arrived at that conclusion before he told Harry about it, but he didn’t want Harry to do it. On the other hand, Severus Snape was an extremely useful spy. If they lost him, it would be a major setback for the Order of the Phoenix. Sending another person to try to infiltrate Voldemort’s inner circle would be too dangerous.

“Are you sure about this, Harry?”

Harry remained silent for a minute. He had really relied on the blood protection. He knew he was in danger, but he had always felt kind of safe, knowing that Voldemort couldn’t hurt him. For a moment he felt as stupid as Goyle for even considering giving Voldemort exactly what he wanted. But it seemed to be the only way. Then he nodded and was already preparing himself for the lecture he would receive from Ginny and Hermione.

When he arrived in the Gryffindor Common Room later that night, he saw that it was already empty. Almost empty. Ginny lay curled up like a cat in front of the fire, obviously waiting for him to get back. Harry sat down on the couch and put Ginny’s legs on his lap. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Ginny smiled. “How was your lesson?”

Harry decided he’d better get it over with. He braced himself and told his girlfriend about the potion and Snape.

Ginny narrowed her eyes. “That’s ridiculous, Harry. You can’t do that.”

Harry gulped. “I already did.”

Ginny sat up straight at once and looked at him outraged. He saw her ears turning slowly red and braced himself for what was coming. “You already did? What were you thinking? You couldn’t at least talk to me about it first?”

“There was really not much to talk about, Ginny.” Harry said. “I had no choice.”

Ginny growled. “I can’t believe Dumbledore made you do that.”

“He didn’t make me do anything. He didn’t even suggest it. I did.”

“You suggested it?” Ginny shrieked and Harry realized he had said something stupid again. “You just decided to give up the only protection you have against Voldemort and you didn’t even think to discuss it with your friends or – I don’t know – your girlfriend?”

She jumped up from the couch and glared at him. Then, without another word, she marched over to the door that led to the girls dormitories and disappeared out of sight. Harry sighed and leaned back into the sofa. He suddenly realized that he had his first real fight with Ginny. He decided he didn’t like it one bit.

The following morning Harry told Ron and Hermione about the potion and Snape. They didn’t like it either, nor the fact he had acted without talking to them, but seemed to understand better than Ginny. Harry didn’t see her all day until she walked into the common room late Sunday night, with her broom over her shoulder. Harry was the only one still awake in the common room, accept for the Creevey brothers. One look of Ginny in their direction was enough for them to quickly disappear to the boys dormitories.

“Hi.” Harry said warily.

“Hey.” Ginny said while she sat beside him. She felt slightly guilty when she saw Harry’s cautiousness. “Look, I’m sorry I lashed out at you yesterday.”

“That’s alright.” Harry mumbled.

“I know you really had no choice.” Ginny continued. “But you still should have talked to me first. I’m your girlfriend, Harry, you can’t decide everything on your own.”

“I know I should have talked to you, Ginny.” Harry said. “You’re right. You are my girlfriend. I guess I’m still not used to it yet.”

Despite the fact that they had been going on for almost a year, Harry still felt as a rookie when it came to relationships. Ginny was his first girlfriend after all. He didn’t even go as far as a kiss on the cheek with any other girl. Except for Hermione of course, but that didn’t really count.

Ginny smiled for the first time that day. She took Harry’s hand. “Well in that case, I think you need to practice as much as you can.”

She leaned in and pressed her lips softly to Harry’s. After she pulled away, Harry said: “So we’re okay then?”

“Oh yes, we are.” And together they sank down onto the couch.

The day after Harry and Ginny’s one year anniversary, Gryffidor’s second game of the Quidditch season was planned. They would be playing Hufflepuff. The expectations after the demolition of Slytherin in the first match were sky-high. Hufflepuff had lost their first game against Ravenclaw without a chance. After the graduation of their captain, Cedric Diggory, the team had fallen apart. The new captain, Zacharias Smith, didn’t live up to his predecessor.

“And we’re off.” Lee Jordan shouted excitedly as Madam Hooch threw the Quaffle up in the air. Smith immediately grasped it and ten seconds later, Ron was beaten for the first time in his career.

The game went on and it became clear Zacharias Smith had given quite a pep-talk before the match. The Hufflepuff Chasers were easily outmatching the Gryffindor Chasers and despite some spectacular saves from Ron, the score quickly rose to 80-10 for Hufflepuff.

When Katie scored the second goal of the match for Gryffindor, Harry spotted the Golden Snitch. It was flying after the Gryffindor goalposts. He glanced over at Summerby, the Hufflepuff Seeker. He was floating over the stands where the teachers sat and obviously hadn’t spotted the Snitch yet. Harry raced towards the goalposts. The Snitch sped off towards the ground. Harry dived sharply. Stebbins who had seen Harry was racing towards him from the other end of the pitch. When he finally spotted the Snitch, it was already too late. Harry pulled up from his dive with his fist triumphantly raised in the air.

He was met in the middle of the pitch by the rest of the team. Angelina hugged him tightly and said: “You saved us once again, Harry. We were getting slaughtered out there.”

Despite the fact that the performance of the team wasn’t at all that good, Gryffindor was now comfortably in the lead for the Quidditch Cup.The party in Gryffindor common room again lasted until late in the night.

Life had never been more busy for Harry. Between his classes, homework, Quidditch and private lessons with both Dumbledore and Snape he barely had time for anything else. He spend as much time with Ginny and Ron and Hermione as he could, but he barely had time to hang out with his other friends. Therefore it took him quite some time before he noticed that Neville was acting rather strangely. He barely spoke with anyone but Luna, who was his best friend. He never participated in classes, didn’t talk to anyone in the common room and the only thing he did during the meetings of Dumbledore’s Army was work. That was of course the point of the DA, but the members generally considered it also as a time to have fun with their friends.

When Harry asked Ron about it, his friend merely shrugged. “I don’t know, mate. He’s been kind of depressed lately. Ever since we came back after Christmas actually.”

“Maybe we should talk to him.” Harry said.

“Already did man.” Seamus said as he was listening from his bed. “We’ve been trying to get something out of him for weeks now. He still just talks when you start a conversation with him, but when you ask him what’s wrong he shuts down.”

The mystery of the behaviour of Neville Longbottom was quickly joined by another mystery. The behaviour of another sixth year. Harry had noticed that Draco Malfoy seemed to have distanced himself from his friends. He still sat with the Slytherins during classes, but Harry had encountered him by himself a couple of times in the hallways. Those encounters also weren’t accompanied by the usual insults or taunts. Harry wondered if he maybe was not a copy of his father after all, but then he thought of Jacinta’s face as she lay in St Mungo’s and was reminded by the fact that Malfoy had sent his goonies to beat his own little sister up.

There was a new Hogsmeade weekend coming up, but first, on Friday night, there was another DA meeting.

They were still working on the Patronus charm. Everyone, even Dennis Creevey, was now able to produce a silver mist that didn’t vanish immediately, but Harry was still the only one who could produce a corporeal Patronus.

Harry walked around the Room, inspecting and helping his classmates. He inadvertently admired Neville’s dedication as he saw his sweaty face. Suddenly a silver otter formed itself in the middle of the room. There fell a silence.

“I did it!” Hermione squealed. “I actually did it!”

The whole room burst into applause. Harry grinned broadly. “Great job, Hermione. Brilliant!” he said as he patted her on the back. Hermione reddened slightly as he whispered: “I never doubted you’d be the first.”

After the meeting Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione were talking about their plans for Hogsmeade the day after when they were approached by Angelina Johnson.

“Is everything alright with Neville?” she asked. She nodded towards the wall with pictures, where Neville stood by himself. At first, there only hung a picture of the Order of the Phoenix, but the members of Dumbledore’s Army had decorated the wall with many pictures that were taken by Colin Creevey during the meetings.

“He’s been acting a bit… strange lately.” Hermione said softly. “We try to get him to say something, but it’s like he wants to shut himself off from us.”

Angelina nodded slowly. “We should go talk to him.”

The small group walked hesitantly over to Neville. Angelina put a hand on his shoulder. “You want to talk, Neville?”

To the surprise of the other four, he nodded. “She escaped.” he said softly.

Angelina looked at the younger student compassionately. “I know.” she said. “But she will pay for it. I'm sure about that.”

Harry didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Suddenly, Neville seemed to realize that they were there too. He looked down and said: “Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“The Death Eater?” Hermione asked.

Neville nodded. Harry looked at Angelina and said carefully: “Wasn’t she the one who…”

“Who killed my parents, yes.” Angelina completed his question. She looked at Neville as if asking for permission, who nodded. “You remember when I said Bellatrix Lestrange was leading a little group of Death Eaters after the fall of Voldemort to search for him?”

“Yeah...” Harry said slowly. “You said they went after Aurors, because they believed the Ministry knew where Voldemort was.”

Angelina nodded and looked over at Neville. He shuffled his feet and said: “My parents were Aurors too.”

Harry felt a heavy weight fall into his stomach. Neville had been raised by his grandmother. He knew that, Neville had said so himself, but he had never wondered why. And now he knew. Neville was an orphan, just like him. His parents were killed when he was just a baby, he couldn’t have been much older than Harry was when he lost his parents.

“They were – ” Ginny stammered. “They were killed too?” Neville slowly shook his head.

“They weren’t that lucky.” Angelina grumbled.

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked. Her voice was not much louder than a whisper.

“Bellatrix Lestrange was convinced that my parents knew where V-Voldemort was.” Neville said. “So she tortured them.” He paused and gulped. His voice was shaking when he continued: “She used the Cruciatus Curse on them. She was determined to torture them until they would give her the information.”

Harry’s head was spinning. Ron was white as a sheet and Ginny and Hermione had tears in their eyes.

“They knew nothing.” Neville said harshly. “They couldn’t give her what she wanted, so she kept on torturing them.” Tears appeared in his eyes too. Angelina put a comforting arm around his shoulders. “Until they snapped.”

“They – “ Harry whispered. “They snapped? But you said they weren’t killed?”

“They weren’t.” Neville said. “They’re still alive today, but they don’t even know it themselves.” They looked at him dumbfounded. “They have lost their minds. They are at St Mungo’s. On a closed ward, because they are a danger to themselves and others.” Tears were now streaming down his face. “They don’t even recognize me.”

Harry felt sick. He looked at the photograph of the Order of the Phoenix and saw Frank and Alice Longbottom, smiling and waving happily at them. Not knowing what they would have to endure later. He stepped to Neville and gave him a firm hug.

“I’m sorry, Neville.” he said. “I can’t believe we never knew.”

“I didn’t want you to know”, Neville said calmly. “I was afraid of how you guys would react. I had a hard enough time to fit in here as it was.”

Harry looked at Ron and saw that his best mate felt just as guilty as he did. They had always liked Neville, but during their first years at Hogwarts they had often teased him and laughed with him. They never bullied him or anything from the sort and it was always good-natured, but they knew Neville had a hard time fitting in back then and they could have done much more to help him.

“They are heroes, Neville.” Angelina said firmly.

“I know they are.” Neville answered. “Gran told me a lot of their achievements during the wizarding war. I’m proud to be their son. And I’m glad I told you. I just don’t think the whole school should know about this.”

They all nodded. They knew exactly what Neville would have to endure from the Slytherins if they knew about his parents.

Harry looked at Neville and Angelina and knew that these two people had suffered just as much at the hands of Voldemort as he himself had. He had always thought he stood out because of his past. Sure that scar on his forehead meant that he was unique in his way, but he now knew that the war had touched many more lives. There were so many more people like him and Angelina and Neville out there. He just didn’t always know about it.

When he stepped into bed that night, he made a vow. It was all because of Voldemort. He had ruined so many people, in so many different ways. He had to be stopped. Harry knew he was far from ready to fight him, but he knew that one day, he would. I’m going to kill you, Tom, he thought, as he turned on his side. I promise you I will kill you.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war” – Plato

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