As a child, Justin had never imagined his life would end up the way it did. How could he? He was a perfectly normal child from a perfectly normal upper-middle class family, even if he sometimes did strange things that he couldn't understand. He never imagined that he would be a wizard, or that he would be a wizard during one of the most difficult times in a wizarding world. The time when the wizarding world was going to war.
Justin first noticed that things were not going so well for their side at Dumbledore's funeral.
Dumbledore was gone. He was their great leader. He was the one who always knew what to do. He was the one they named their rebellious defense group for. And now he was dead. Dead. Just like that, faster than the snap of a finger. Everything safe in the world was now being locked away inside a great marble tomb, an aching scar on the surface of the world. Justin wondered if this was what it felt like for Harry. No physical wound, yet an awful, persistent stinging in his chest that would strike at any moment.
There was a chill deep inside his bones that made him want to start running away from Hogwarts – his home away from home – and not stop. There was something coming, something bad. He could just feel it.
Things had been getting worse and worse over the summer.
People were going missing and entire families were being slaughtered and crimes against Muggles and Muggle-borns were going up. And yet, they weren't being reported as much. A lot of the information Justin was getting was from his friends, not from the Daily Prophet. There were rumors going around that the Ministry had been infiltrated, and that there were Death Eaters working on the inside.
Justin was sitting in his large, comfortable bedroom, his trunk already packed and ready to go back to Hogwarts. At least, that's what he told himself. In all honesty, he was scared that he might not get the chance to go back to Hogwarts this year. He was packed for running. Useful books stowed away in his magically enlarged trunk, clothes for all types of weather, potions ingredients and supplies. Everything was ready, just in case he was forced to leave at a moment's notice.
Somewhere downstairs, his parents were probably watching the news, frightened by the sharp increase of violent crime that had been sweeping the country. Though he hadn't explicitly told them that it was related to the war that was brewing in the wizarding world, he suspected that they knew. Everything was just a little too funny, crimes too perfect, to be the work of Muggles. Doors were never forced, windows were never broken, no gunshots or stab wounds to suggest that the victims were dead at all, besides the fact that they quite obviously were. It didn't take much convincing to get them to pack their bags as well.
Just in case.
With just a month left until his final year of Hogwarts, Justin got the news that the Ministry had fallen. Minister Scrimgeour was dead, and Pius Thicknesse was to take over. The entire wizarding world was in panic. Letters went out to Hogwarts students saying that attendance was required this year, and the new Headmaster was not Professor McGonagall, like so many had assumed, but Professor Snape, the very man who killed Dumbledore.
And then came the pamphlets.
The Muggle-Born Registration Commission. Even the name sounded sinister, and the content within their pamphlets was worse. It required all Muggle-borns to go before a court to prove they had a magical lineage or admit that they'd stolen their magic from a "proper" wizard. It was all ridiculous, and Justin wasn't at all surprised to see Dolores Umbridge's name on such a project.
But this was bad. Letters were being exchanged at an alarming rate between old DA members and friends at Hogwarts. Students were faking blood statuses, pretending to be related to pureblood or half-blood friends in order to continue on at school. Several of his good friends had offered to add him to their family trees, mostly Susan, which made his heart do little leaps in his chest, but it was in vain. Everyone knew that he was Muggle-born. He'd made no secret of it, and after being one of the Basilisk's victims during his second year, he would be stupid to attempt to claim otherwise.
Justin knew that he only had two options; he could turn himself in, facing possible death and certain imprisonment in Azkaban for being born, or he could run.
Feeling very numb, Justin walked down the stairs of his large and beautiful home to tell his parents the news that he'd been dreading since the beginning of summer.
It was time to start running.
France was a lot nicer on the telly.
Or, maybe, France was just as nice as it seemed, but Justin just couldn't see it in his current state of nervous paranoia. No one could blame him, of course. Justin had a lot to be nervous about. This idea of his was crazy – nay, completely insane – and he knew it. He had accepted that there was every chance in the world that he would be found and captured or killed, but he was determined to finish out his education. That's what he'd said in his letter to Madame Maxime.
It had taken mere hours for the Beauxbatons headmistress to respond to his desperate letter, telling him that she would allow him – and any other Hogwarts students forced into running – to study at her school. She would help each of them fake identities and blood statuses. She already had a group of students that were willing to pass them off as cousins and siblings if need be. Justin only had time to contact a few other Muggle-born students with coded messages before he had to leave. Staying at his home any longer than he absolutely had to was a mistake.
So he and his parents got on the first plane to France, where they had met a very pleasant French girl named Lisette, who took them to Beauxbatons Palace. It was a beautiful place, the Palais de Beauxbatons. It was a glittering white palace, just North of Cannes, tucked away from Muggle view in the mountains, surrounded by an enchanted forest. It was a far cry from the jutting turrets and towers of the sprawling medieval Hogwarts Castle, but it would have to become home.
While his parents waited in the nearest village, Justin was led through the gorgeous palace to meet with Madame Maxime in her office.
"Bonjour, Monsieur Feench-Fletchley," Madame Maxime said behind her ornate and elegant desk, which seemed to have been magically enlarged to be the proper size for her. She gestured to the chairs in front of her. Behind her, the wall was completely covered in vast bookshelves, which held hundreds of books, glittering objects, and moving marble busts of which Justin could only assume were many centuries worth of Beauxbatons Headmasters and Mistresses.
"Bonjour, Madame Maxime," Justin replied gratefully, taking a seat opposite her. "Thank you so much for allowing me in your beautiful school."
"Ov course, Monsieur Feench-Fletchley. Beauxbatons Academy ov Magic eez 'appy to open our doors to you, and eeny ozzer 'Ogwarts students 'oo need a place to stay. Vut eez 'appening een England eez 'orrible. Ve vill do everyzing een our power to preveent eeny 'arm from befalling oopon you vhile you are 'ere."
She opened one of the draws of the desk and pulled out a large, thick folder.
"'Ere eez your new life," she said, handing him the folder, which he began to flip through. "Your new name eez Justin Fortier. You are ze cousin ov Olivie Fortier. She eez een 'er seveenth year, ze same as you. Ve 'ave modified your marks from 'Ogwarts to match our grading seestem. Our books 'ave been changed to look as eef you started your schooling 'ere at Beauxbatons. Eef an outsider tries to do eeny digging, zey vill only find Justin Fortier, a student with extremely 'igh marks 'oo 'as always been 'ere. Please meemorize as much ov ze file as possible."
"Of course, Madame Maxime," Justin said respectfully, soaking in the family tree he was now supposed to belong to. "How many other Hogwarts students will be here?"
"Eencluding you, zere vill be five. Two young ladies named Leanne Spinks and Luca Caruso, and two ozzer young men named Geoffrey 'Ooper and Owen Cauldvell."
"And – my parents. They'll be protected, right?"
Justin had been extremely nervous about his mother and father the entire time. He wasn't just running for himself. He was running for them as well.
"Ov course, Monsieur Feench-Fletchley," Madame Maxime said with sympathy. "'Ere at Beauxbatons, ve are all family. Ve vill nevair desert you."
Justin and the other four Hogwarts students were moved into the palace immediately. There were still three weeks until the Beauxbatons school year began, but everyone agreed that it would be much safer if they settled into life at the school. They were already meeting with their new professors, getting caught up in everything that hadn't been taught back at Hogwarts. Everyone brushed up on their French, which was very easy for Justin, who was fluent, but very difficult for Luca, the youngest in their group at only thirteen, and Geoffrey, neither of whom had ever had much of a reason to learn. Both were given memory boosting potions every few hours to help them with their struggling French.
Leanne and Justin spent a lot of time together, the only two seventh years and Hufflepuffs. They had never been particularly close, but between years of classes and sharing a common room and DA meetings, the two found that they had plenty to bond over.
"I have an idea," Leanne said one day, a week before term started. She dug in her bag and pulled out a spool of wire, a pair of scissors, a long length of leather cord, and her DA coin.
"What's all that for?" Justin asked curiously.
"You've got your coin, right?"
"Always," Justin said, pulling the fat gold coin from his pocket.
"May I?" Leanne asked, holding out her hand for the coin. Justin handed her the coin and watched her as she began unraveling some of the wire. "I was trying to think of a way to make sure that we could feel if our coins burned at any time of the day or night. I know I almost missed a DA meeting once because I didn't feel the change because it happened at night." She started wrapping the wire expertly around each of the coins, making it secure and artful at the same time. When she finished with the wire, she grabbed the leather cord, measured out two shorted pieces and cut them, tying each end to small loops she'd made in the wire.
"Here," she told him, handing him one of the bracelets and slipping the other onto her wrist. She held up her hand, palm out, showing him the coin that rested on the inside of her wrist. "This way, if something changes, we'll always know."
"This is genius, Leanne!" Justin exclaimed. "I can't wait until term starts so we can send an owl to everyone back at Hogwarts. It's been killing me, not being able to contact them."
They'd had very few rules while staying at Beauxbatons, mostly just the basics; don't break things, don't mouth off to professors, and study whenever you could. But there was one more thing that they'd been very strict on, and that was owls. There were to be absolutely no letters in or out of the palace until term had started. It would look very suspicious for an increase in owl activities around Beauxbatons. They were supposed to be in hiding.
Leanne rested a comforting hand on Justin's arm. "We're going to make it through this, Justin," she said knowingly. "Once term starts, we're going to send Ernie, Hannah, and Susan a letter telling them that we're alright, and to signal us with the coins when we're needed. Because we will be needed, Justin. We're going to fight, and we're going to fight so hard that we're going to win."
He really hoped that she was right.
Three weeks finally ended, and it was the first day of term. Each of them had managed to master French at least enough to get through classes. Luca was still having a little trouble, but she was given a little chalk board that wrote out whatever the professors said in French and would translate if she needed it to. They'd all managed to catch up in their course work enough that they would be able to hang on through the first few weeks with minimal extra lessons.
"I think I preferred ours uniforms back at Hogwarts," Leanne complained quietly, looking very uncomfortable in her powder blue silk dress and cape. Justin couldn't exactly blame her, either. His own flimsy silk slacks, vest and cape were a far cry from the relatively sturdy Hogwarts uniforms.
"These hats a very silly," Luca whispered, readjusting the oddly-shaped at atop her head for probably the twentieth time since getting dressed.
"Shh," Owen said. "Get over it. They were very kind to let us in at all. We have to be respectful."
That was probably the most Justin had head Owen speak since they'd gotten here. He'd been, by far, the quietest of everyone, only speaking when spoken to, keeping his head down and working diligently.
"Owen's right," Justin said. "And we only have to wear this for the welcoming speech."
The same as Hogwarts students would wear their black, pointed hats for special occasions, the Beauxbatons students had an entire outfit for special. The silk uniform they all wore – silly hats and strange blue oxford shoes and all – were for such occasions like the welcoming speech. Starting tomorrow, they would wear more similar to their old uniforms. The main difference for the boys was the gray vest and blue silk shirt, along with the typical blue cape. For the girls, they had to wear a gray gymslip instead of a skirt, but at least it was close enough.
"What's going to happen to us if something goes wrong?" Geoffrey asked quietly, voicing for the first time what they'd been wondering all along.
"I don't know, Geoff," Justin told him. "We just have to wait and hope that nothing does go wrong."
"Welcome back to Beauxbatons!" Madame Maxine said in her booming voice to the students, who were sitting at three long tables, not completely unlike back at Hogwarts. "I am sure you have all heard about our brothers and sisters to the North. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has fallen to Dark wizards. You might have noticed a few new faces among you. These are your new classmates. They are in hiding. I hope that you will all make them feel welcome, because they are risking their lives to finish their education here at our marvelous school. They are a part of our family now, and Beauxbatons always protects our family."
Everyone clapped daintily while giving the Hogwarts lot sideways glances. They had been put in the Maison de la Fleur de Lys, the House of the Lily, a powerful and legendary House. Fleur de Lys was a lot like Gryffindor, acknowledging bravery and chivalry along with athleticism. They were there because they had been very brave to flee from Brittan to France for schooling, when so many others were on the run, refusing to stay in one place for fear of being found. Justin would have preferred to have been in the Maison de la Fleur de Romarin, House of the Rosemary, which was more like a mix of Hufflepuff and Slytherin, with ambition, loyalty, and artistry being valued, but, really, how important was a House when the alternative was running or dead?
The letter was hard to write, but Justin wrote it anyways.
Dearest Ernie, Hannah, Susan, and the rest of the DA,
I'm fine, really I am. I'm somewhere that they hopefully won't think to look. There are five of us here, learning from one of our oldest allies. They are as gracious as we were several years ago.
We must be very careful about our letters, in case they are intercepted. We probably won't be able to write often, if at all after this. If we are needed, simply change the date. We will feel it, and know that the time has come to leave our hiding spot. Leanne and I will come to your call.
Ernie, thank you for being my best mate for all these years. Please keep Hannah and Susan safe. I'm trusting you to do what I cannot.
Hannah, thank you for always knowing what to say. Help hold everything together like you always do. You can move a room with your words, you just have to speak up.
Susan, thank you for understand me, for offering me a way to stay at Hogwarts, though it wasn't possible. You've always been a light in the darkness. Never change.
Please let the others know that at least some of us are alright, and ready when the war come to school.
With love and luck to all who fight for our side,
Despite the cultural differences between Hogwarts and Beauxbatons that came from being in different countries, there really wasn't much different between the two schools.
Both had a lot of school spirit and demanding academics. Hogwarts had focused a little more on the technical side of spellwork and Beauxbatons focused more on the beauty and artistry, but both challenged their students with difficult spells and potions. The professors were all very eager to teach and the students were very eager to learn. Everyone worked hard and played harder. Sports and clubs were at the center of many students' worlds. Quidditch was just as popular at Beauxbatons as it was at Hogwarts.
The first few months of school brought little news from the war going on back home, which was both a blessing and a curse. At times, it almost felt as though Justin and he fellow Hogwarts students were simply doing an exchange. They made friends with the other students, studied diligently, and even laughed a few times. Other times, the wait for information became nearly unbearable. Not knowing whether your friends were alive or dead, if the war was being won or lost, or if Harry Potter had been seen again was impossible to deal with.
On top of that, each of them were having their own problems.
Geoffrey wished he was allowed to try out for the Quidditch team, but Madame Maxime forbade it. It was too much of a risk to have him representing the school.
Owen, a sixth year, was being forced to retake his exams again, as Beauxbatons students sat theirs during sixth year instead of fifth, as Hogwarts did. He was going through the craziness of major exams for the second year in a row.
Luca was finally speaking French with near fluency. She was a social butterfly, with plenty of new friends who were helping her out a lot, but she also got homesick more than anyone else. She often cried for her friends and parents, wishing that she could have found a way to fake her status to stay at Hogwarts.
Justin and Leanne often found themselves touching the coins while doing their coursework, as if willing it to be time to return to their school to fight. Surely, when it finally burned, the war would be over.
It was three months, during the Beauxbatons Christmas holiday, where all of the Hogwarts five stayed in the palace, before Justin heard from anyone at Hogwarts.
The letter was short, but helpful.
Potterwatch on the radio. The next password is the first name of our group's namesake. Keep checking.
Finally. At least now they could get some news.
As it turns out, news isn't always good.
In fact, there was more bad news on Potterwatch than there was good news. The list of the dead grew and grew. Sometimes, Justin recognized the names. He and the others could sit around for hours listening to static on the radio, waiting for the magic sound of "River's" (Lee Jordan, the Gryffindor boy who used to commentate the Quidditch games) voice. For months, they waited and waited.
"Justin, Leanne, do you really think that we're going to win?" little Luca asked one night as she rested her head on Leanne's shoulder.
"We will win, Luca," Leanne told her, sounding far more powerful and confident than anyone in their situation possibly could have.
Justin rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. "Leanne's right, Luca. Sooner or later, we're going to get the call, and we're going to fight for Dumbledore's Army, Leanne and I and everyone else still at the school. We'll win. Just wait."
By the beginning of April, it appeared that the war was more or less over. The Death Eaters were growing in numbers every day and the Order's numbers were dwindling as more and more were killed or forced into hiding. Almost no news on Harry's whereabouts had been reported on Potterwatch, which in itself had become a scarce thing. Broadcasts were few and far between as safe places were being discovered by the Death Eaters. Their world, which had already been torn apart, was crumbling completely, and it looked as if Justin would never get a chance to return to the castle he loved.
One night, on the last day of April, Justin sat on the floor in front of the crackling fire in the Fleur de Lys commons, wishing that the flames were a normal orange instead of the unnatural violet and blue they always were at Beauxbatons.
On his lap was a photo album, filled with pictures and memories of all the things he missed, like his friends and his school and his home. His eye hovered over a picture of Susan, sweet, understanding, beautiful Susan Bones. She had gone through so many things over the past few years, with the Death Eater who killed her uncle escaping from Azkaban and her aunt being murdered over the summer, but even when she was hurting, she always put everyone first. She was so selfless. He regretting not telling her how incredibly mad for her he was. He'd been sweet on her since second year, when the first thing he saw after being petrified by the Basilisk was Susan's face smiling down on his in the Hospital Wing.
"She fancies you, you know," Leanne said, sitting down next to him, looking at the picture and the way his hand had been tracing the lines of Susan's face.
"Who?" Justin asked, confused.
"Susan, you numpty!" Leanne told him with a smile. "She's always fancied you, ever since first year. Never stops talking about you."
"That's not true," Justin scoffed. "Why would she like me?"
"She does," Leanne insisted, moving closer. "Haven't you ever noticed the way she looks at you? The way she laughs when you're around? She's mad for you. Just like you're mad for her."
"Is it that obvious?" he whispered.
"Between you and me?" Leanne asked, clapping him on the shoulder. "Yeah, it is."
"If I ever see her again," he said fiercely. "If we win this war, I'm going to tell her how I feel."
Both Justin and Leanne touched their coins absently, the way they always did when the war was mentioned.
"Something's coming," Leanne said lightly. "I can feel it. Can't you? We'll get our chance to fight soon. Then we won't have to hide anymore, and you can finally tell Susan everything you just told me."
"Soon," Justin muttered, watching the unnatural purple glow of the fire dance on his DA coin. "Soon."
Soon came, much too soon.
Just awoke with a start, just the night after speaking with Leanne by the fire, a searing pain on his inner wrist.
He ripped the burning coin from his skin and immediately grabbed his clothes, changing as quickly as possible and fumbling for the wand under his pillow.
This was it.
Once dressed with wand in hand, Justin dashed through rows of beds to where Geoffrey and Owen slept. He shook the two boys awake.
"Whaz goin' on?" Geoffrey asked as he sat up, dazed and still half asleep.
"Justin?" Owen muttered groggily, rubbing his eyes.
"It happened," Justin explained quickly. "Watch after Luca. This ends tonight."
Both boys straightened up with wide eyes, suddenly very away. "Be careful, Justin," Geoffrey said, concerned.
"You and Leanne push them out of Hogwarts!" Owen added.
"Don't worry. We will," Justin told them. "We'll be back at Hogwarts soon. All of us."
Justin gave each boy a quick hug, and with a whisper of "Good luck," from both, he left the room filled with sleeping boys and ran down the corridor and to the stairs that lead to the commons, which he took two and three at a time.
"Justin!" Leanne called from the bottom of the airy case. "Come on! Let's go find Madame Maxime!"
Justin nodded and they two set off through the Beauxbatons palace.
"I told Geoffrey and Owen we were going. Did you tell Luca?" Justin asked as they ran.
"Yes," she huffed. "I told her that we were going to fight, and that we would come get them when we'd won, so we could finally go home again.
They continued to run through the dark, winding halls, desperately willing their legs to carry them faster and faster. Hogwarts was at battle, possibly right at that very second. Their friends, their teachers, and their school needed them. Two more soldiers could mean the difference between life and death, victory and failure. Their joining the fight at the right time could make all the difference in the world.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity of running, they reached the large double doors that lead to the Headmistress's quarters. They'd been taught the path for this exact reason. They had made no secret about their desire to fight.
Justin seized the knocker, which was made from metal vines and flowers, and gave it four quick, loud knocks, in a pattern that Madame Maxime had specified for this particular situation.
It took only a few seconds before Madame Maxime's large form appeared at the door, hair in a nightcap, wrapping a silk robe around her, looking alarmed.
"Monsieur Justin, Mademoiselle Leanne, eez eet time?" she asked.
"Yes, Madame Maxime!" Leanne said quickly. "The fight is starting!"
"Zen ve must get you two back to 'Ogwarts!" Madame Maxime replied. "'Urry, 'urry! To ze fireplace!"
She threw the doors open to let them in. With the flick of her wand, a great crackling, naturally orange fire started within an ornate fireplace on the far wall, throwing the large bedchamber into relief. Madame Maxime grabbed a powder blue pot hanging beside, filled with sparkling, silver powder.
Justin made a grab for the Floo powder, but Leanne grabbed his wrist, stopping him.
"What?" Justin demanded impatiently. Time was of the essence!
"Where do we go?" Leanne asked. "We can't just Floo into Hogwarts! What if we end up in the enemy's fireplace? We have to think this through!"
Justin thought about her words. She was right, of course. Who knew where they would end up? They had to go somewhere safe, somewhere they could get reconvene and get into Hogwarts. Somewhere the DA would expect them to go. They wouldn't have called them back if they hadn't thought of a place for them all to go. There was someplace out there that was perfect to go.
Then it hit him.
"The Hog's Head!" Justin said. "The location of the first DA meeting! I would bet anything that's where they'd want us to go!"
"You're right!" Leanne agreed. She turned to Madame Maxime again, who was still holding the pot, waiting for them to make their decision. "Thank you so much, Madame Maxime. You have been the most gracious host to us."
"We will try are hardest to return," Justin added. "But… if we don't, please know that we could have never made it without your help. We are forever in your debt."
"I could nevair een my life 'ave turned you avay, Monsieur Justin," she said. "You children are very brave for vut you are doing. I vish you ze best ov luck. Please be careful."
"We will, Madame Maxime," Justin told her, taking a handful of the powder from the pot.
"We'll end this war tonight," Leanne said fiercely, taking some Floo powder as well.
"Goodbye, Monsieur Feench-Fletchley. Goodbye, Mademoiselle Spinks."
"Goodbye, Madame Maxime," both said in unison. Then they turned to each other and nodded, stepping forward to the fireplace.
Justin threw his powder into the flames, watching them turn a bright, acid green. "The Hog's Head!" he boomed clearly, stepping into the fireplace and through the Floo network, all the while knowing that one way or another, this war would be over soon.
The Hog's Head was packed with people.
"Great, more kid soldiers," a voice muttered, and the old bartender offered a hand to help Justin and Leanne up from the floor. "I suspect those little coins of yours pulled you out of hiding? I'm a little surprised you used the fireplace. Were you hiding out in someone's basement all this time?"
"Not really," Justin said. "We've been in France. Madame Maxime, the headmistress at Beauxbatons, let us study there in secret."
"Should have stayed put if you ask me," the old man told him. "If I was a smarter man, I'd sent you lot all back where you came from. But if you little children want to fight, I suppose there's nothing I can do to stop you. I was never as smart as Albus, anyways, so I guess it doesn't really matter, now does it?"
Leanne looked at the bartender, confusion written across her face, and then a spark of recognition. "Are you his brother?" she asked. "Professor Dumbledore's?"
"That I am," he said. "Aberforth Dumbledore, younger brother to the worshiped Albus Dumbledore. Now, you two ought to get out of the way. Might be having more people coming by Floo. If we all survive this, I'm going to strangle Longbottom for causing all this traffic in my pub."
Leanne and Justin looked at each other with surprised smiles. "Neville?" Leanne asked with pleasant shock. "How long have we been away?"
"You'd be surprised with that boy," Aberforth said. "Been fighting this whole year. Hiding out in that funny room for months now, trying to get the Carrows out. Kid nearly died of excitement when Potter showed up here earlier."
"Harry's here?" Justin asked. "You mean, he actually here?"
"He is," Aberforth said. "Got here not fifteen minutes ago. And ever since, there's been a constant stream of people through my pub!" He raised his voice at that last part, directing it at the people that were flooding his pub at this hour of the night. Justin recognized several Order members, Hogsmeade citizens, and former Hogwarts students.
"Sorry, Ab!" several voices called over the crowd.
"Sure you are, you bunch of nutters!" He turned back to Justin and Leanne. "Better get in line, then, you two."
"Justin!" a voice screeched as he climbed through the hole in the wall and into the Room of Requirement. Suddenly, a flash ginger, and Justin felt like he was going to be knocked over as Susan Bones threw her arms around him.
"Oh my god, Justin!" Susan cried, pulling back to look at him. "I'm so happy that you're back! We've all been so worried about you! No one had heard from you in so long!"
Justin pulled her back to him, wanting her as close to him as possible. It had been too long since he'd seen any of his old friends, but he hadn't realized how much he had missed Susan. It was like he'd been holding his breath for the past ten months and he finally had air. Feeling her so close to him was heaven, and he never wanted to let go of the sensation.
"I'm sorry," Justin whispered, stroking her hair lightly. "I wish that I could have said more. We couldn't risk being found."
"Oi, Justin! It's good to see you again, mate!" Ernie said, walking through the crowd to clap him on the back, Hannah hot on his heels.
Justin just barely managed to pull himself away from Susan to properly greet Ernie.
"It's good to be back," Justin told him. "Beauxbatons has been great, but I don't think there's anything quite like Hogwarts."
"We'd thought you were there!" Hannah said. "We figured that you probably wouldn't have gone to Durmstrang, because of their reputation for the Dark Arts, but Beauxbatons has Madame Maxime, and she seemed alright. Did we wake you?"
Justin smiled. "Of course you did! I was fast asleep. Luckily, Leanne was smart enough that before term started, she turned both of our coins into bracelets that we tied to our wrists so we could feel them if we were called in the middle of the night."
Ernie smiled at him. "Well, it's a good thing, too. Wouldn't want to miss the upcoming fight, would you?"
"Never in a million years," Justin replied.
The sound of You-Know-Who's voice filling the vast Great Hall was terrifying.
Screams of terror bounced around the room the entire time he was speaking. Justin had imagined him before, based on Harry's descriptions, but even in all his imagining, he'd never quite gotten around to the voice. Somehow, Justin thought, if you're close enough to You-Know-Who to hear his voice, you're probably as good as dead anyways. Regardless, he could have never imagined such a voice – high and clear, damn near sociopathic with its ice cold tone which made Justin feel as though he was walking through an arctic waterfall and a ghost at the same time. He was drenched in the feeling of freezing cold and numbing fear.
"You have until midnight."
Everyone stared at Harry, the silence almost as deafening as You-Know-Who's voice. And then it was broken.
"But he's there! Potter's there. Someone grab him!" that Slytherin cow Pansy Parkinson screeched. Anger shot through him, and it seemed that most of his classmates had the same reaction. Every Gryffindor stood simultaneously, and mere seconds later, as Justin decided to stand as well, everyone in both Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw stood, facing the Slytherin table in an act of protection and defiance. The Slytherins had nothing to lose. In You-Know-Who's mind, they were loyal to him, and he was most likely right, especially now, hearing Parkinson's proposition. Without even realizing it, Justin had his wand out and ready to send every curse he knew flying in the Slytherins' direction.
"Thank you, Miss Parkinson," Professor McGonagall said sharply, in the tone she often used when students greatly annoyed her. "You will leave the Hall first with Mr. Filtch. If the rest of your House could follow."
All the Slytherins, looking slightly nervous at the prospect of being cursed by over two hundred people, filed out quickly, leaving no one at their table willing to defend the school. That was probably a good thing, though. The last thing they needed was some idiot Slytherin trying to sabotage their resistance from the inside.
"Ravenclaws, follow on!" McGonagall called. "Then Hufflepuff and Gryffindor!"
The Ravenclaws followed the Slytherins out, though a good half of the upper two classes stayed seated, ready to fight. Almost every seventh year and eligible sixth year Hufflepuff stayed seated, though Justin noted with distain that Zacharias Smith was very quick to exit the Hall. Smith was the kind of person that gave Hufflepuffs a bad name. Half of Gryffindor chose to stay seated, of age or not. It appeared that no one above third year was standing to leave, which made Professor McGonagall extremely frustrated as she tried to sort out those allowed to stay and fight. The tiny Creevey brothers, Colin and Dennis, were both sitting next to each other with defiant looks on their faces. It took McGonagall addressing them personally before they finally stood and followed the rest of their Housemates out of the Hall.
Justin looked at everyone who was seated. He recognized almost everyone who remained. Some he was surprised to see back, like Lisa Turpin, the Muggle-born daughter of a judge, and Alannis Sheppley, who'd been adopted by Muggles and couldn't prove if she had magical parents or not. Neither had been in Dumbledore's Army, so he didn't know how they'd gotten word about the impending battle. He made a mental note to ask them once this was all over.
The remaining Hogwarts professors began to organize to troops, as it were, and Professor McGonagall sent Harry away to search for something that he'd come to the school to find. Justin hoped whatever it was would truly help them win this war. He wanted nothing more than to return to Beauxbatons with Leanne so they could give Luca, Geoffrey, and Owen good news.
Midnight approached quickly, and Justin could hardly believe that an hour ago, he'd been asleep, safe and sound in France. It was one o'clock there. All the students would be asleep at this hour. All except for maybe the three Hogwarts students. Would they be awake, sitting in the Fleur de Lys commons, staring at the fire, waiting for him and Leanne to return? Justin felt sure that had he been left behind at Beauxbatons while someone else fought for his freedom, he would have been unable to sleep. At least they wouldn't have classes in the morning, should the battle rage on through the night. Not that any professor at Beauxbatons would fault them for their inability to focus on course-work. Regardless, Justin was happy that it was Saturday.
He, Leanne, Susan, and a group of about twenty other students, professors, and Order members stood ready with their wands out. Professor Sprout and Neville had gone to grab some of the more dangerous plants from her greenhouse to lobe at the Death Eaters when they approached. Everything was completely silent, expect for the ticking of someone's watch, which seemed unnaturally loud.
The silence was suddenly broken by a quiet, whispered voice, trembling horribly with each word.
This is it.
I don't want to do this
Good god, please let everything come out okay.
Everyone held their breaths. For a long second, it felt as though the world had stopped spinning.
And then came the battle cries from hundreds of Death Eaters, and the battle was officially on.
"Hold your ground everyone!" an Order member yelled over the growing commotion. "Remember yourself! Watch your backs! Duel to kill!"
Whatever preparing they'd done in Dumbledore's Army, none of it seemed to matter anymore. DA meetings – the things meant to ready them for battle – seemed completely and utterly pointless fighting in an actual battle, where there weren't large, fluffy pillows to catch you if you fell, or Harry's encouraging voice telling you to get up and try again. There were no second chances in battle. One mistake could mean death.
"Behind you, Leanne!" Justin shouted, ducking to dodge a spell.
Leanne spun around with lightning fast speed and shot a curse at a Death Eater who was about to attack her. Justin sent a stunning spell at his opponent and dashed to her aid. They pressed their backs together as a team, not allowing anyone to attack the other while their back was turned.
"Susan!" Leanne called out over the commotion. Justin turned just in time to see Susan slide to the ground between a Death Eater's legs to avoid being hit. She kicked him from behind, causing him to fall forwards, where he was hit by accidental friendly fire and crumpled to the ground. She stood quickly, sending a flash of bright teal light over her shoulder and then vaulted herself towards her two allies. Justin and Leanne repositioned themselves to include Susan as they both continued to send spells flying at the Death Eaters, hoping beyond hope that none on their side would get in the line of fire.
Suddenly, right in front of Justin, he saw a young witch that he thought was a waitress at Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop, take a shot of green light straight to the chest. A shocked look came over her face as the light left her eyes and she fell to the floor, dead.
The suddenness of her death brought Justin to a new thought of mortality. Without even deciding it, he knew this might be his only chance to tell Susan how he felt.
"Susan, I'm not sure if this is the right time for this, but I'm gonna just come out and say it!" he yelled over the sounds of battle. "I'm completely mad about you!"
He looked at her over his shoulder and she just stared at him with a look of pure delight in her blue eyes.
"I'm completely mad about you, too!" she finally cried, flinging herself into his arms.
Justin's lips found hers while he embraced her, and for a minute, it felt like the battle had stopped and the world was standing completely still. They were to only two people on planet earth, and they were happy.
"Oi! Bones, Finch-Fletchley!" someone shouted, pulling them back to the real world, where the battle raged on around them. "It's great that you two finally figured it out and all, but there's a war going on here in case you couldn't tell!" Both looked up to see Anthony Goldstein fighting off two Death Eaters at once.
"Exactly!" Justin called back. "No time like the present!"
But the two released each other and, with a newly renewed sense of fire in his belly, Justin continued to fight back to back with Susan and Leanne.
The battle raged on. Every second seemed to drag as though in slow motion, but the sounds and sights of war seemed to go at double the speed. It was quite the paradox. Justin wasn't sure who was winning. Sometimes, it appeared that they were winning, with their superior knowledge of the castle and the resources it provided. But most of the time the Death Eaters seemed to outnumber the Hogwarts resistance three to one. At some point during the fight, it became impossible for Justin, Leanne, and Susan to fight back to back. Debris fell from crumbling walls and destroyed statues, half-burying the bodies that littered the ground.
Justin was exhausted, but he didn't dare let his guard down. One wrong move could be the end. Hours into the fight, he found himself dueling against two Death Eaters at once.
"Come on, little boy," one of them growled menacingly, sending a beam of green light straight for him, which he just barely managed to dodge. "Don't you want to end this now?"
A flash of rage shot through him. Of course he wanted to end it now! He hadn't spent the last nine months hiding away in France to give up in the middle of battle!
"We will end this!" Justin shouted at him, sending every curse and hex he could think of at the two. "We'll drive you bastards out of Hogwarts!"
Anthony Goldstein finished his own duel, leaving his opponent dead on the floor, and then joined Justin in his fight.
"Nice of you to help out, Goldstein!" Justin called over the sounds of battle.
"Nice of you to pull your lips away from Susan's, Finch-Fletchley!" he laughed back, one of his spells making contact with one of the Death Eaters the pair was fighting just as Justin himself managed to take down the other.
"Well, you know," Justin told him loudly, scanning the room for a new enemy to go after. "I've kind of been crazy for her since second year. Figured that I might as well tell her now, since there's a chance we both might not come out of this thing!"
Anthony clapped him on the shoulder, a gesture that was almost too real for such an unreal surrounding. "You can't think about stuff like that, Justin!" he replied, almost being drowned out by a nearby wall exploding. "You've got to think like you're gonna come out of –"
He cut off suddenly, his eyes widening with shock. His muscles began to spasm sporadically, and with a horrible, awful sound, he coughed up blood, which sprayed onto Justin's face and clothes. And then he crumpled to the ground, joining the other casualties of war.
Justin stared down at Anthony's body with complete shock for several long seconds. Once again, time seemed to slow down, and the world around him seemed to disappear. But this time it wasn't because he had finally kissed Susan; it was because Anthony was dead. A second ago, he'd been saying that you couldn't think about dying, and then he was dead. The world seemed impossibly unfair.
Anger coursed through Justin's veins, and he ran in the direction the spell had come from, cursing every Death Eater who crossed his path, trying to avenge Anthony, and everyone else who had fallen victim to this fray.
Nothing seemed to be able to stop the fighting. That is, until You-Know-Who's voice filled the castle again.
"You have fought valiantly," his cold, cruel voice said, echoing through the halls, bringing every movement from both Death Eaters and resistance to a halt. "Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery.
"Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste."
Unless you're Muggle-born, Justin thought coolly. Then you can all just go die.
"Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat, immediately."
The Death Eaters all glanced around at each other, confused. Then, they all began to go, trying to keep the resistance in sight.
"Get them now!" someone roared over the crowed, which was met with many cheers, and the spells began to fly once more.
"You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured."
The Death Eaters began to send spells back as they retreated, trying to limit their losses. The Hogwarts resistance followed, continuing to hex and jinx and curse every enemy they could.
"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself."
Justin saw one Death Eater – the woman called Bellatrix Lestrange, the one who had tortured Neville's parents into insanity and had killed countless others – lazily walking backwards, sending dramatic spells towards several students. One couldn't dodge in time. She writhed on the floor for a minute before she finally stopped moving.
"I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences.
"Battle hasn't ceased yet, you dolt!" some brave, brave soul shouted.
"You tell 'im, Richie!" someone else yelled.
"Yeah, you tell him, Coote!"
Through the cheers for Richie Coote's brash statement, no one seemed to see Bellatrix Lestrange's face change from one of amusement to one of pure anger. No one but Justin.
This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, –"
"How dare you?" she screeched, wand at the ready.
"– and I shall find you, –"
Thinking quickly, Justin drew his own wand.
"– and I shall punish every last man, –"
"How dare you speak of my Lord in such a way?" Bellatrix continued, though no one seemed to be paying her much attention. She raised her wand in Coote's direction, and Justin vaulted himself across the floor to get in her way.
"Justin, no!" a voice called out, but it was too late.
"– and child who has tried to conceal you from me."
Justin flung himself in the way of Bellatrix Lestrange's spell, feeling the horrible, agonizing pain coursing through every cell of his body.
"No!" Susan cried again, diving to the floor next to him. She cradled his head gently in her lap, tears filling her eyes. "No, Justin, no! Please don't go! Please don't leave me!" she whimpered, as many jets of light flew over her head, in the direction that Bellatrix had been in just seconds before.
"One hour," You-Know-Who's voice echoed and died, as did the sounds of battle.
"S-su… san," Justin stammered through the convulsions in his muscles.
"What is it, Justin?" she asked, stroking his hair lovingly.
"D-d-don't… f-forget… m... me," he told her weakly. Everything was going fuzzy and the pain was slowly giving way to numbness.
"I couldn't never forget you, Justin," she sobbed, her body heaving with her hysterics.
With his last remaining energy, Justin smiled, letting his eyes close, and with his dying breath, he uttered just two, faint words.
It was a very odd feeling, indeed.
Instead of blackness, Justin's world erupted into blinding light. He was lying on the ground, but there was something very odd about it. He was…comfortable. His bloody, torn clothes hard been replaces with a white shirt and light tan pants that were as warm as of they'd just come out of the dryer. And the pain – in his tired muscles, his various wounds, and every nerve ending in his body – was gone.
Suddenly, a light hand touched Justin's shoulder, and he wrenched his eyes open and pulled himself into a sitting position.
"Hello, Justin," a kind, beautiful young woman said gently. She was dressed entirely in white, which made her vivid read hair and bright green eyes stand out.
"Where – where am I?" Justin asked, looking around. Everything was a soft white, barely in focus, and a warm light seemed to radiate from every inch on the place.
"You're safe now," the woman told him, extending a light hand to help him up, which he took. "My name is Lily. You were very brave, Justin. Everyone is so very proud of you."
"Everyone…?" Justin asked, still trying to get his footing. Everything was so confusing.
Lily smiled and nodded, looking over her shoulder, drawing his gaze there are well, and drawing his attention to the large group of people that were standing there, all dressed in airy light colors as well.
Some of them he recognized as students or Order members. He noticed Professor Lupin, who looked far younger than Justin remembered him, holding a young woman with bright pink hair in his arms, looking both happier than anyone in the world and also sadder. It was a strange combination. Near them were two men, one with messy black hair and glasses that looked so much like Harry that he had to be James Potter, and the other was Sirius Black, who'd caused so much turmoil during Justin's third year for escaping Azkaban, but was then found to be innocent of the horrendous crimes he'd been imprisoned for after his death two years ago. Alice Tolipan and Colin Creevey had their arms wrapped around each other, which was an odd sight to Justin. He wasn't aware that the two had been particularly close. Anthony Goldstein stood near them, a slightly sorrowful half smile on his face that Justin knew was meant for him. With a surprised sort of shock, he also recognized Professor Snape, who looked particularly strange without his usual black cloak.
Justin turned back to Lily, staring her straight in the eyes, those bright green eyes, which sparked a sense of recognition. He'd seen those eyes in a picture, one that hung on the wall of the Room of Requirement when the DA would meet there during fifth year. The same eyes that he'd seen etched on the face of his classmate. Harry Potter's eyes.
"You're Harry's mother," Justin said matter-of-factly. "You're Lily Potter."
She gave him a smile, one that Justin recognized immediately as the grin of a proud parent. "I am," she said. "My son has done more good in his life than I ever did in mine, more than I ever got the chance to. My greatest accomplishment was giving my son the opportunity to be the great man he's grown into."
"You must be so proud of him," Justin told her.
She beamed at him. "More proud of him than he could ever imagine. And so proud of everyone who's fought in these wars."
Justin looked at Lily Potter and everyone who stood behind her. If they were all here, and Justin was here, that could mean only one thing.
"So…" he started, unsure of how to properly voice his question. "So… I'm… I'm dead, right?"
He knew the answer, he really did, but he needed to hear it. He had to hear from someone else, because if he didn't, he would never fully accept it.
A sad look crossed Lily's eyes, and she lifted her hand to stroke his hair in such a loving and motherly way that Justin could almost imagine that it was his own mother's hand. "I'm so sorry, sweetie," she whispered.
Justin tried to keep a stiff upper lip, tried to force back the tears as he nodded, showing her that he understood, but it wasn't enough. Several tears escaped, betraying him. He knew that he must look so weak right now. He wasn't one for crying.
Lily's light hand brushed his cheek, wiping the tears away gently, and pulled him into a warm embrace. She was shorter than he was, but she treated him the same as if he were a small child, which was what he needed, honestly.
"I know it's hard," Lily murmured in his ear. "You're so young, you had your whole life in front of you. But because you decided to step in front of that spell, you changed another young man's life forever. You're a hero, Justin. Generations of children will be safer because of you."
"We haven't won yet," Justin mumbled. "We were still fighting."
Lily pulled away, her arms still resting on his shoulder. "I have faith in my son to do the right thing," she told him. "My Harry will do what we could not, and end this war."
"Right before I… died," Justin said slowly, almost choking on the word, "I heard You-Know-Who say that he'd stop the fighting if Harry gave himself up. Is that what you mean?"
"Something like that," she said with a little sparkle in her eye. "Now come over here. There are some people who'd like to meet you."
She led him over to a group of people within the masses of all different ages. The youngest appeared to be only about five or so, while the oldest had to have been at least seventy-five or eighty. With a jolt, he recognized one woman with cropped gray hair and blues eyes that matched Susan's exactly. The woman was her aunt, Amelia, the one who'd been killed by You-Know-Who summer before last.
Amelia Bones gave Justin an appraising look. "So this is the boy our little Susan gushed about so much," she said with a slightly mischievous smile. "I had hoped that we'd get to meet someday. I just wish it wasn't like this."
Justin wished they weren't meeting like this either. He also wished that he hadn't brought up Susan's crush on him. It just reminded him that they could never be together anymore.
She seemed to notice the broken look on this face, because she softened up a bit. "You were definitely good enough for my niece, Mr. Finch-Fletchley. You did a good thing for that boy back there. You saved his life. He'll always remember you for that. Susan will always remember you for that."
"We never even got the chance," Justin told her. "We'd both been too frightened to tell the other about how we felt. Now we'll never get the chance. Not unless –"
He broke off suddenly. He could believe he'd even think such a thing! Susan had to live. She couldn't die, because the second she left the world, a beautiful light would leave it, too, and the world needed that light. She was still needed.
"Young man," a slightly younger gentleman with similar features to Amelia said, his hands resting on the shoulders of the smallest two children, probably about five and seven. "The worst thing about death is the ones you leave behind. But you just have to remember that every moment you're without them is another moment they're back there, living their lives."
"Edgar is right. And I think that young Mrs. Potter's son is taking care of that as we speak," she said, nodding to Lily. "With any luck, no more of our side will fall tonight. Susan will be fine. Harry Potter is a good boy, very bright. I noticed that when we met for his trial. He'll figure it out."
Justin nodded his head numbly. He was still so conflicted. He wanted to be with Susan, but he also didn't want to have to see her for a very long time.
A hand touched his shoulder suddenly as he thought, and Justin turned around to see Anthony standing there.
"Hey, man," Anthony said with a sad little smile. "Guess all my positive thinking didn't either of us much good, did it?"
"I guess not, Anthony," Justin replied, and to his own surprise, there was a hint of a joke in his voice. "That was probably one of the dumbest things I've ever heard a Ravenclaw say."
Anthony couldn't control his laughter, and neither could Justin. The two boys laughed so hard that others around them couldn't help but join in.
"It's not really that bad," Anthony remarked, looking down at his soft, light clothes. "Death. If it weren't for all the people back home, I might actually think we were better off here. It's… kind of nice."
Lily placed a hand on each of them with her kind, motherly smile. "It really is. And I'll be here forever, to watch over you and guide you. I'm paying the way for my own son, who's had so many there to help him, that I feel that I must do my part to help you."
Her words soothed and comforted both of them, and Justin found himself thinking that having Lily Potter as a sort of surrogate mother could almost make up for no longer having his own.
Lily looked up gently, as if she had heard a small noise. She smiled and gave a little, relieved sigh. "The decision has been made," she stated, and though Justin didn't know what she was talking about, he trusted her completely, and knew that it was a good thing. "No more of ours' will die tonight."
She glanced over to the group again. "James, Sirius, Remus," she called. "Our boy is calling us." The men all nodded, each wearing the same relieved, proud smile upon their lips. Lupin removed himself from the young girl's arms and held her hands in a comforting way for a moment before the three moved to join Lily.
She took her husband's hand, and Remus's, and Sirius held onto James's shoulder. They looked like they had been friends for eons, and now they had all the time in the world to be with each other. Together, they turned and began to walk away, disappearing more and more with each step until they were gone.
No more of ours' will die tonight, Justin thought to himself, watching the place where the four had vanished. Susan would be safe, Ernie would live on, and generations of magical and Muggle children would have better lives because of their sacrifices. His final year had been a hard one, full of trials and tribulations, of heartache and misery, of strangely peaceful moments and even some laughter with his little renegade group of Hogwarts runaways, but he'd made a difference, and that was what mattered in the end.
No more will die.
He could live with that.