Harry and Hermione appeared before Grimmauld Place with heavy hearts. Once they entered the house they realized that their job got much more difficult. As they opened the door they were met by a frantic cry of “Where the hell can she be?” Harry took his and Hermione’s cloaks and hung them by the door then they made their way to the kitchen.
Fred and George were sitting at the table with Neville Longbottom, who was clearly distraught. “Harry! Hermione!” Neville said with hope. “Can you please help me? I don’t know where Luna is? I went by her house before the ceremony and she wasn’t answering the door. I’ve been to all the places she loves and there is no sign of her. I’m afraid something is wrong.”
The two friends exchanged looks of pity before they sat down on either side of their friend. “Neville, mate, Hermione and I both thought the same thing.” Harry began.
“Nev, we went to her house and her door was open.” Hermione added.
“It didn't seem right so we flooed Kingsley and Tonks, who came at once. We searched the home and we found her, Nev.”
His eyes brightened and said excitedly, “You did! Oh thank Merlin.” then a shadow of fear darkened his eyes, “Why didn’t she show up for the ceremony?” he apprehensively asked.
Hermione spoke first, “Because she had been attacked and beaten within an inch of her life. She was rushed to St. Mungo’s, but it doesn’t look good. She was pretty badly beaten.”
Neville’s face contorted with a mixture of rage, fear, and sadness that was all too familiar to Harry as he screamed, “No! Why? What had she ever done?”
Harry said quietly, “We don’t know, Nev. I think you should go to her.” Their friend broke into a run for the door before Harry stopped him, “Neville!” The once clumsy boy with no self respect turned and Harry saw a man who had experienced too much pain in one lifetime for a soul to handle. Harry said quietly, “If you need anyone to talk to, please come to us. I promise you’ll have a kind ear.” With a nod of understanding he ran from the door and once outside of the house he apparated away.
Fred waited for a decent amount of time before asking, “So, that’s where you two disappeared to after the burial?”
Harry replied, “Yeah, mate. How’s mum?”
“Asleep.” George answered, “Thankfully. We’re just keeping watch over her... I’m afraid she’s lost the will to go on.”
The silence hung like a heavy coat before Harry said quietly, “I understand the feeling.”
The twins looked at each other significantly before they both asked, “What do you mean, Harry?”
Hermione remained silent as Harry looked to her for support. She merely nodded her head and motioned to the two brothers. Harry looked at both of them before he told them bluntly, “I almost killed myself the other night.” The eyes of the twin’s flashed with anger. “Hermione kept me from doing it. She walked me through that night, and that is why I’m here today. She made me talk.”
Both of them walked over to Harry looking like they were going to hug him before they punched him squarely on the shoulder and said in disgust, “What the hell do you think that would have done to MUM? We have to live for her!” George thumped him upon the head and added, “YOU TWIT!” They walked over to Hermione and gave her a hug and said, “Thanks, for looking out for nitwit over there.”
Hermione blushed slightly and said, “Thanks, but I was just returning a favor.” She waited a second before continuing, “Ginny did the same for me after Ron died.”
“Well, at least it wasn’t what we thought was going on.” Fred said.
Harry and Hermione looked at each other in confusion, “What did you think was going on?” Harry asked.
George sighed. “You know, sometimes you still act naive! Think, Harry. You isolate yourself from the family, and Hermione is the only one you talk to. You two disappear after the burial for three hours and come back in sweaty and out of sorts. Do the math!”
Harry’s eyes narrowed and drew his wand as he said, “What! Do you two really think that I’d do that to her memory?” The twins remained statuesque as Harry continued, “It has killed me to be around anything that reminds me of her. Seeing Molly, reminds me of every little fight they would get into. Seeing you two reminds me of how much she used to try to live up to your prankster reputation at times. Seeing Hermione reminds me of the many times she used to turn to her for advice. I wanted nothing to do with anything that would remind me of her.”
“But you let Hermione in, not us.” George bravely countered.
“No, I didn’t let her in, you fink! She refused to let me exclude her.”
“Ok!” George finally said, “We’re sorry.” He looked to his brother and said, “It’s just, that...”
Fred tried to help out his brother, “... it’s just... we... I mean to say...”
Harry’s eyes flared dangerously as his wand drew aim and he said, “You two better be careful what you say! If you say one wrong thing you’ll be trying to shit out of your mouth for the rest of your life!”
Between the uhm’s and uh’s coming from the twins’ mouths they kept opening and closing them like fish out of water. “Come on, you two. Say something! Give me a reason! Fred, don’t even let that hand twitch toward your forearm. I know that’s where you keep your wand!”
“Well, uh,...” Fred stammered.
“Harry, you have to... uh.. admit.. that it looks, kinda....uh...” George stopped before he finished the statement and just looked to his brother for support. But, the confrontation was cut short by a snicker of suppressed laughter coming from Hermione’s side of the table.
When George looked to her, Hermione started laughing. Harry eased his stance and the twins looked to her as if she was crazy. When she glanced back up at the faces she started laughing more, and harder.
“What is up with you?” Fred asked.
“Harry, has she been in the mickey?” George wondered to his black haired brother.
“I haven’t seen her take a swig of anything. Hermione are you ok?”
“It’s just that... you two...” she said pointing to the twins, “... always used to pick on Ron when he stumbled and fumbled for the words...” She was attacked by another round of laughter as she choked out, “... now, little Harry Potter... has you two so flummoxed, that you sound like Ron!” She finally said as she fell to the ground in a ball as she struggled between breaths to say, “There’s only... two people... I’ve ever seen do that to you two... Your mum and.... Ginny!”
Harry looked at his wand and at his two friends he was so ready to hex moments earlier. He shook his head and said, “Sorry, mates. I’m just... I just wouldn’t ever do anything to dishonor her memory. You just pissed me off by suggesting that I would.” Harry stowed his wand in his robe and sat back down.
Fred held up his hand, “No, we’re the sorry one’s. We should have known better.”
The three men sat in silence as Hermione worked through her fit of laughter before George sighed and asked, “So, mate, what about this plan of yours.”
Hermione shot up and looked at Harry then the twins, all laughter vanished as she asked, “What ‘plan?’”
Fred turned his head toward Harry as he inquired, “You haven’t told her?”
Harry’s perturbed face showed his answer before he responded, “No, and I really didn’t want her involved right now.” Hermione’s face plainly demanded an explanation as Harry looked to her and continued, “I was going to tell you about it after next week.”
“Why next week?” Hermione asked.
“Auror tests, Ms. ‘Smartest witch of our time,’ what else.” He rocked back in his chair and added, “I didn’t think you’d be keen on having my plans adding any weight to the tests next week.”
She smiled and said, “Silly prick! Some things are more important than tests. Now what are we going to do?”
Harry looked down and started nervously drumming his thumbs on the table before he took a quick breath and laid out his plans. “Well, first order of business is to double our training.” He said pointing from himself to Hermione, “And second order is to double our studying. Because we have to pass the tests or anything else I have planned won’t matter a whole lot.”
Fred said, “Ok, but where do we come in?”
“Well, we’ll need someone to attack us, throw spells at us, and generally offer suggestions as to what you see us doing. You two have been in enough duels that you can point out obvious mistakes.” He looked over to Hermione who had cleared her throat. “Something else, Hermione?”
“Yeah,” she looked to George and asked, “Can you two replicate a crime and let us try to investigate the crime scene?”
“Great idea, Mione.” Harry complimented.
The twins smiled slightly and said, “Of course!” Then George asked the two aurors in training, “Then what?”
Harry sighed and said, “Well, that is where it gets a bit sticky. I have to gain access to certain files for the cases, but we both know that Kingsley is going to keep us away from these cases, so my hope is that I can beg, borrow, and deal with him to at least allow me onto a ‘related’ case.”
“Like what?” Hermione asked, “And what about me?”
“Well, hunting down Lucius’ hideouts.” he then waved his hand dismissively and said, “Of course, you’ll be part of the deal.” Harry slid a piece of paper to George and said, “This is a list of things I’ve been batting around in my head. Can you make them?”
Without looking at the page George stated, “Of course we can.”
Harry walked to the door and opened it to make sure nobody else was listening in then walked back to the table. “I’ve also been thinking that we need to get mum out of this gloomy house.”
The twins nodded and said, “We thought the same, but our flat doesn’t have enough room.”
“I know.” Harry agreed, “But I was wondering what you two thought about moving her into Potter Manor?”
“Harry, you don’t have enough room at Godric’s Hollow...” George stated.
“No, not Godric’s Hollow. I mean Potter Manor.” Harry clarified.
Fred looked to his twin astonished and said, “You mean you have more than one house?”
Harry guiltily replied, “Yeah... I inherited them. Ginny and I were going to surprise all of you after we were married and take you on vacations to them...” The black mood of earlier returned with the mention of Ginny. “All of them have powerful charms that can only respond to me, or to the people I deem loyal. Otherwise, they simply looked like ruins, or unfinished homes.”
“Ok, I like the idea.” Fred stated.
“Same here.” George echoed. After a minute the trio looked to Hermione and George asked, “Hermione? What about you?”
“Me? I didn’t know I had a vote.” She asked astonished.
“Why of course! Didn’t you hear mum earlier? She looks to you as a daughter. Besides, you were going to be in the family anyway.” Fred reasoned.
“Well, I think it’s a brilliant idea.” she said, “but I still wish it didn’t have to be made.”
“I agree,” Harry complied, “But it has to be done. The burrow is in ruins and all was lost, so, she has to start somewhere. I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow.”
A sound from the living room interrupted their discussion and all four ran through the door. Sitting on the rug with his hands covering his face, they didn’t have to ask Neville what happened. Hermione ran to his side and wrapped him in an embrace and whispered encouraging words into his ear. The boys walked tentatively to the couches and sat quietly. They wanted to be here for their friend, but also worried that they were invading his privacy. It took a look from Hermione for them to know they were doing the right thing. Neville sat there for nearly a half an hour before he had calmed down enough to speak.
“They couldn’t save her.” He choked out. He finally stood up shakily and paced back and forth. Hermione remained sitting on the rug as she watched the lonesome wizard after minutes of pacing he shook his head and wiped his tears then said quietly, “I’m not strong enough for this.”
“Nev,” Harry said encouragingly, “Yes you are!”
Neville spun around and screamed, “NO, I’M NOT, HARRY! Don’t you get it? Like you, I’ve never had my parents! I watched my Granmum die at the hands of those bastards, I’ve lost just as many friends as you, and now, NOW THEY’VE TAKEN LUNA FROM ME!” He spun and faced the wall as he tried to collect his thoughts and said, “I’m not strong enough for this life, Harry. I’m not as strong as you, or Hermione, or any of the Weasley’s.”
Hermione got up and put a hand on his shoulder, “Nev, what are you talking about?”
“I can’t be a wizard anymore, Hermione. I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to a decision. I can’t face this, even with friends, I can’t face this anymore.” He walked to the door and opened it. Neville turned to his friends and said, “I’m leaving. I don’t know where I’m going, or what I’m going to do, but I’m never coming back to the wizarding world. I have nothing here to live for... maybe there’s a destiny for me beyond what I’ve known all my life. Maybe, I’m destined to be a muggle. At least that’s where I’m going, so please, don’t seek me out. Let me go. Goodbye.” Neville stepped out of Grimmauld Place and into the night rain that poured upon the street. He apparated away to his new life, but still carried with him the pain and baggage from his old. His friends stood watching the door, knowing that despite all the feelings screaming at them to stop Neville, it was his choice. They would respect his request... for now.
A/N: Ok, so I know some of you, well, maybe most of you, are ready to string me up for doing that to poor Neville. I know my wife would if she read this since he's her favorite character. Just remember that all I do with this fic is planned ahead, and we may just hear from Neville somewhere down the road. The question will be: What will Neville do when he finds his friends?
Oh, and thank you to all who have reviewed this fic. I have found some really great fics out there since I make it a point to check out all my reviewers' works. please check out some of the great fics written by: Inspiredphoenix, fawnfire (sorry if I messed up your penname!,) TheworldISee, and all the others on my review page. There are some great fics out there, I hope you all enjoy!