Actions

Work Header

ion on the hill

Work Text:

the woes assailing human life are many,
the forms of woe diverse. and happiness
is rare and rarely comes to light on man.

--Euripides, "Ion".

--

the ironic thing about it was, Neville was always terrible at Divination.

--

Harry was sitting by the fire when Hedwig tapped on the window, shrieking and wailing loud enough that he nearly fell against the grate in his haste to jump up. She came in, wings heaving, and stuck her leg out. A number of letters were attached, but she picked one in her beak and thrust it in his hands so quickly Harry knew it was bad news.

Everyone else was thundering down the stairs by the time Harry had on his travelling cloak and his Firebolt in his hand. Someone else might have replaced their broom, but Harry's had sentimental value. "It's from Neville's grandmother," he explained, stuffing toes into shoes. "We've got to send for Dumbledore. It's important. Use whatever means."

The Death Eaters were unsure enough of themselves that they weren't attacking until full nightfall. Remus and Kingsley glanced out the window, and their faces paled. The sky was a brilliant shade of orange, the sun rapidly setting, and Pendle was over an hour by broom, easy.

Hermione was sorting the other mail Hedwig carried. "Can we Floo it?"

All things considered, it was incredibly lucky that Remus was around that night - almost too lucky. Afterwards, no one asked what might have happened if they hadn't left in time. He said, "I know where to go," grabbed the Floo powder, and stepped into the fire.

--

When they were still in school, Harry never even considered visiting Neville in the holidays. He and Neville were never that close, and even if they practically shared a birthday - a more important fact than in most cases - Harry never went. He'd never seen Neville's house, and only met his grandmother twice before.

She was waiting by the fire, wand outstretched, when Arthur, Kingsley, Harry, Remus and Hermione tumbled onto the hearth. Remus stood, and wasted no time. "Have you packed?"

"Neville is upstairs." The woman was astounding. She had boarded up the windows, set a dozen traps by the fireplace, and still hadn't lowered her wand. "Who are all these people?"

"Harry and Hermione went to school with Neville," he started. "Kingsley is an Auror. Alastor is out of the country."

She nodded. "Fair enough."

When Harry opened the shaky letter, there were only two lines written on the parchment. One was, "We saw Rodolphus Lestrange while shopping for scones for tea," and the other was, "Neville and I are the only ones here." She had signed her name with a proud flourish, but the quill had shook enough that it was visible, the anxiety in her pen. Harry didn't have to ask any more; Sibyl Trelawney disappeared just last week.

--

No one ever knew how Voldemort found out Sibyl was the one who made the prophesy. And no one ever knew how he managed to worm it out of her. Perhaps it was just a matter of digging through her memories, one by one, ripping them out of her skull until he found the one he wanted. It was apparent when he did, however, because they attacked the house at night and if half the Order wasn't sleeping in Neville's downstairs hall, it was quite likely they would have flattened the neighbouring towns and left before anyone could have done a thing.

--

"we have to--"

Neville's grandmother, fists on her hips, stuck her chin out. "No."

Harry and Hermione were sitting on the stairs, hands clasping the banister. The floor was well worn, but immaculately kept. Neville was still in his room. "What do you think?" Hermione whispered.

Harry shrugged. Ever since Dumbledore had told him that Neville was going to be next, he hadn't liked to think at all. "It'll be tight." He looked up the half-flight of stairs. "I don't like it."

Hermione and Ron lived abroad. Nothing was ever official, which pained Molly no end. Since their graduation, the both of them had tried to be as low key as humanly possible. It made them good watch dogs; half of what Ron and Hermione did was simply watch people. It was a lot harder than it sounded, really, since whoever was trailing the Lestranges couldn't go after them for fear of giving too much away; Harry knew he couldn't do it.

--

one time, seventh year, Neville cried. He broke down, head in his hands, certain - certain - he'd fail every exam he took and never get to do what he wanted with his life, and people would compare him to his parents his whole life and he'd never measure up. "And I could have done better," he moaned, scrubbing tears from his eyes. "I think sometimes that, I can't."

Harry was shocked to later find out. Neville had been there when his parents were, broken. the two of them walked such a fine line.

--

Harry and Hermione slept in Neville's room, because the house was only a cottage, really. The rain dripped onto Harry's blanket steadily. When the far-off crack of someone Apparating woke him up, his toes were icy, wrinkled. He shoved Hermione, then Neville.

They didn't catch a single one of them in the act; it was just a mess of hoods and robes and curses. Neville fared well enough. He snarled when Harry grabbed his arm; Hermione, cowering under the mantle, looked at them desperately. Harry knew they had to get out of there, now. battle never got easier; simply quicker, and quicker still, as if the world was ever so gradually speeding up to make up for the events going on in it.

A burning candlestick crashed to the ground, getting wax on his grandmother's floor, and that was the last thing Harry saw of Neville's house. It was another image burned into his mind.

They retreated, of course.

--

It wasn't, perhaps, a surprise that Neville's grandmother couldn't outlast six of Voldemort's Death Eaters. She did, however, blind two - Harry hoped permanently - before they took her down. A flash, and it was all over; Remus yelled, "the portkey, now!" and they vanished, reappearing in the middle of the Scottish highlands seconds later.

"We have to get out of here," Remus said urgently.

Neville was clutching his measly possessions, thrown together in a bag. Hermione was bleeding. He took a shaky breath. "Where are we going?"

Kingsley was already surveying the sky for possible incoming trouble. The portkey could be traced. They had to get out of there. "Harry, take Neville and get to town. Hermione, you go back to Ron. I'm going to get Dumbledore to meet you. He'll have to let Neville in."

Neville didn't ask anything else. His fingers were stained and he was limping, and his bag was covered in dirt from where they fell. He just said, "it's a good thing I passed my Apparation test last week."

--

They dropped into town, and Harry walked the whole thing up and down before letting Neville come out from the bushes. Just last month, after they escaped with a portkey, Voldemort was waiting for them. "All right," Harry said, nervously. This wasn't at all the way they did things. they should be gone. "I guess, let's get some breakfast. There's a pub that takes wizard money at the end of this row. We know the owner, he'll let us in."

Neville followed, face a dreamy mask. The sky was barely light again, and Neville's grandmother was lying dead in her house, the Dark Mark floating above the roof to awaken neighbors. Hopefully no one would understand the significance until they could get back over there and clean up the mess.

They sat at the bar. "I didn't, really think," Neville started. The eggs were runny. "When Dumbledore owled like that out of the blue, and said that Gran and I might be in danger."

Harry stared hard at his plate. This was going to be hard, even harder than accepting that Percy's death - still a fresh wound, despite the last year - was not going to be the last. "Trelawney predicted that someone born in our month was going to kill Voldemort," he told Neville. There was no way to sugar coat it.

Neville picked at his food. "Our month?"

"That's why he's been trying to kill me for so long," Harry said, hollow. The more often he said it out loud, the more ridiculous it sounded. Because of a prophesy, Voldemort tried to kill him, guaranteeing that Harry would try to use any and every means to stop him. It was stupid. "He thought the prophesy meant it was me. But it could have been you, too."

Their final N.E.W.T. seventh year had been Divination, and Neville had failed. He managed to get by in everything else, and when all was said and done, Divination was not the most important subject to pass. He later told everyone he was a bit relieved - at least it wasn't a fail in something like Transfiguration. No one looked at how you read tea leaves.

"You knew." The toast was cold.

"Yep."

Neville sighed. "She was so stubborn," and he leaned over the bar, scowling. "She ordered us all to stay in the house, even if we could have been away before--" He broke off.

Harry hated to say it. "You can't go back. We, someone can go and get her, and close the house up, but Neville, you have to keep yourself safe."

"Is that what she told you?" He swivelled around, angry. "When she sent me upstairs to pack, is that why? She wanted to tell you to protect me? I can protect myself, you know."

It was, in fact, exactly what Neville's grandmother had said to them. She wanted to make sure that her grandson was safe. They promised because they needed him alive anyway, and begged her to leave before anything happened. When she refused, everyone but Remus couldn't understand - he just accepted it, and said he'd sleep in the hall.

Remus joined them in the pub, and ordered a German beer. Harry smiled, watery. "For breakfast?"

"I feel like I could use it."

Neville swung his legs over the bar stool, getting ready to stand up. Remus put a light hand on his arm. "Not yet."

"I can't just sit here," and Neville pulled away. "Where am I to go?"

--

Dumbledore took over some time around seven in the morning, and Harry got to make his escape. He Apparated into London, and went to the Ministry to let everyone know that Neville was taken care of. Someone would have to go and fetch the body, before the Muggles got wind of it.

"Fine," and Dawlish flipped through a charmed steno pad, "I'll have--"

and Harry cleared his throat. "I'll go. It should be safe enough. I'll port it straight to the, the funeral home."

--

Ginny bumped into him going out the Ministry's doors, and declared, "when you get home, you'll have seen everything. Neville and mum are baking for tea."

Harry wasn't listening; he grabbed her hand, swept her into someone's office on the third floor. They had five minutes of desperate kissing before he had to tug away. "I have to get to Neville's."

"Want company?"

The only thing, taking his Auror exams, that Harry had problems with was creating portkeys. Moody sat him down, sent him to places all over the world, and forced him to create portkeys to return home again. In those two harrowing days - he found himself face to face with a tiger, a mountain lion, a black bear, and what looked like Aragog's cousin - Harry mastered portkeys faster than he thought humanly possible. Being presented with the option of being stranded in the wilderness gave him a real push.

He thought, in the end, that perhaps his inability to get around portkeys was some lingering fear about what happened with Cedric, toting his body back to his parents. It was ironic, too, that in the end, a portkey was the only way to transport the dead back anywhere. He found himself doing it more and more.

He locked the door of the Longbottom cottage, put an unbreakable charm on the windows and doors. Now that it stood empty, the house was safe from evil threats - they just had to protect it from the normal incursions of weather, childish vandals. Nests of birds and bundimun. There was always something.

--

Neville took the news he had to stay inside relatively well, all things considered. "We must keep you in reserve," Dumbledore said gravely. "You understand what is at stake here."

It was possibly the harshest way to put his destiny possible - reserve. Runner up. It was all right. Remus leaned forward. He didn't look grave or solemn. He looked unhappy. "We need you, Neville."

A picture of his parents was on the little table in the Black family parlour; the people in it didn't move much, even though they could. Since moving in, the Order had slowly but surely reclaimed the house, and placed meaningful little trinkets all over. Frank and Alice were legend, and friend. Neville nodded.

--

Dinner was sombre, quiet. Neville was going to take the back bedroom on the third floor, the one so recently vacated by Dung. Molly had taken great satisfaction in giving his bedroom away. Harry had kept his little room on the top floor over the years, because he could see over the tops of houses.

"More potatoes, dear?" Molly said, and shoved the plate towards Neville anyway.

They didn't have much to say; during dinner, no less than five people popped in and out of the room. Harry twice had to get up himself. Remus came in, came out; Ginny came in to chat, but didn't sit down; Bill came in to say goodbye. Molly's fingers gripped her fork a little deeper. They got two owls, one from Diggle, one from Dumbledore, and finished half the steak and kidney pie. Harry ate in silence.

Molly and Neville started talking about his Gran, and the place he grew up. It turned out Molly had family near his village. Harry felt better knowing at least one other soul was going to be shut up with her.

--

Neville was allowed out of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place only once more, and that was the following morning, just before sunrise, in order to lay his grandmother to rest.

It was perhaps the most widely publicized funeral of the month, and was completely fictional. While everyone gathered in Pendle to pay respects to an empty coffin, Neville and Dumbledore stood on a little hill, overlooking his house, and said goodbye.

"I'm sorry it has to be like this, Neville," and he put a hand on his shoulder. "She was an amazing woman."

"it's her own stupid fault." The sky was getting brighter; they had to be gone before people might see their outlines from the village below. Neville never did see the sun full on anymore. It was all hiding in twilight. "she didn't want to leave. She just wanted to protect the house."

"She wished to make a stand," Dumbledore said, softly.

they didn't leave anything at the gravesite, not even a flower, in case it alerted someone to its presence.

--

"How have you managed?" Neville asked him.

Harry was putting things to rights, because he and Ginny were told to shadow Amelia Bones for the next week. Even if Ginny was still intern-ing, or whatever the wizarding equivalent was, Moody's protege was too valuable a resource to keep in the office. They'd partially been delaying her status change to protect Molly from the loss. The last of her children out in the world. Just last week, they'd stopped hearing from Fred and George. Someone would have to be dispatched.

"With what?"

Neville helped him fold his poor collection of tee shirts and robes. the tee shirt he had in his hand was one of Dudley's old ones. Dudley. A whole continent away, at school. Neville placed it carefully in the bag. "Knowing that someone decided what was going to happen to you before you were born."

"Pretty badly."

"Yeah?"

Harry shrugged, feeling sick. Ron and Hermione were already gone again. They never saw each other. "Listen, I'm sorry, Neville." He closed the bag. "It's awful."

"Where are you off to?" Neville asked him. His hands were twisting round and round.

"I don't know yet." It was the truth, not that Harry needed to lie.

"Listen, Harry--"

"I." Harry threw in his collapsible cauldron on top of his spare change of clothes. "We couldn't tell anyone. you should be glad you didn't know for as long as you did."

The cauldron wouldn't fit. Harry swore, peeled his clothes out, and repacked the little bag again. "I was going to ask," Neville replied, "whether my parents were, were safe."

Harry swung around, bag on his back. He put a hand on Neville's shoulder, then dropped it. "They'll be safe," he said.

It was true; he didn't need to promise. St. Mungo's had some of the tightest security these days, and Dumbledore had made provisions for Frank and Alice Longbottom before the two of them were even crawling.

He blew the candle on the table out. "If Mundungus Fletcher comes round in the next few days, tell him that I picked up his potions and put them in his trunk." Harry zipped his bag. "And that he's lost his bedroom. He'll have to move into Bill's."

"I can do that," Neville said, quietly.

--

In the end, Neville didn't say another word about it.

--

After school, Neville hadn't planned on going back to Lancashire, Harry knew that much. They studied for the Potions N.E.W.T. together, because Ron and Hermione were off together. "Auror?" Neville said in a brief break. Their hands were cramped from trying to measure their ingredients; their brains were cramped from trying to remember them. "Yes, I suppose it's obvious. They'll hire you in a shot."

There was only one reason that Neville would have possibly put up with an extra two years of Potions and Snape. He had planned on trying to get a job at St. Mungo's. His Gran was the one that demanded he move back in with her and take care of the family's house. And Neville had done it. He would have made a good healer, Harry decided. He would have been kind.

Neville slid into place at Grimmauld Place determined to do as much as he could. He washed windows as easily as he reassured Molly. His voice didn't shake anymore when he said Voldemort's name, but he always looked out the window at sunrise.