Author's Note: Here is is--the final chapter. Many thanks to coolh5000 for being a great beta!
This chapter is dedicated to my readers--all of you who have stayed with me for so long. This world has been such a big part of my life and the fact that you have all stuck with it (and maybe even enjoyed it) means so much to me.
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Neville stood in the center of the entrance hall, gazing at the death and desolation around him. Tears stained his cheeks and his breathing was unsteady. Everything—everything was gone.
When Lottie emerged from the staircase, his eyes widened. He rushed over to her and grabbed her shoulders. The pressure was comforting. Lottie looked up into his wide eyes and said, “It’s all right. He’s gone.”
Neville released her slowly, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. “What?” His voice sounded more like a croak than anything else.
They stepped outside. Over the bodies of friends and foes, they carefully walked and wrenched open the doors. The sun had risen at some point during the course of the battle and the light flew into the castle. Lottie drank it in greedily, like she had never seen the open sky before.
The snow on the top step crunched beneath their feet. It was perfectly white, unmarked by footsteps or blood. Neville flicked his wand and pushed it to the side so they could sit on the steps.
Lottie looked around here. There were remnants of their pitiful protections littering the ground. In the distance stood Andrea’s attempted barricade. It had been trampled by the Death Eaters. She swallowed a lump in her throat.
Lottie launched into her story without prompting. She started at the beginning—at waking up with her Dark Mark burning. It felt like years ago now. She told it all. When she reached the description of Andrea’s death, she only paused for a moment. She took a breath before trundling on. It wasn’t until she got to Voldemort’s demise that she stopped her speech fully and looked at Neville.
“You-Know-Who killed you?” he finally said. “But you came back? And you saw Harry?”
Lottie nodded. She knew it didn’t make sense, but she also knew it was true. And nothing else could have explained it.
Neville turned his gaze out into the distance where the winter wind picked up snow and scattered it carelessly. Lottie couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. He had lived with Voldemort much longer than she had, had suffered his entire life because of him. “How did you destroy him?”
“It wasn’t me,” Lottie said slowly. “Well, I helped, but I didn’t kill him ultimately.” She paused, thinking on her words. “It was remorse. The problem is that he split his soul into seven. He maimed himself so completely that he became something like a monster. He definitely wasn’t a man. The problem,” she said grimly, “was that he still had a seventh of his soul in his body.”
Neville turned to look at her, frowning. Lottie wrapped her arms around her knees.
“Remorse is what undoes a Horcrux. It can make someone’s soul one piece again, but we had already destroyed all of his Horcruxes. We had killed the other six parts.”
“So,” Neville began slowly, “when that one part felt remorse, it wanted to become whole again, but it couldn’t because it was the only piece left?”
“Yeah.” Lottie looked down at her feet. “Apparently, it’s excruciating.”
Neville took a breath and let it out slowly. “How did you do it?” he finally asked. “How did you get him to feel again?”
“Legilimency.” Lottie didn’t elaborate. She had sacrificed more than she could describe for her Legilimency—had lost everything to become cruel enough to perform the task that had to be done.
She turned her gaze outward. It was winter, but the sun still shone brightly, reflecting off the pristine snow. The breeze lifted Lottie’s pale hair onto her face, which she pushed away with a weary hand.
Against the deep blue sky, Lottie saw the outline of a bird, crisply black in the morning light. She thought of Andrea. As she watched the bird fly away from the castle and eventually out of sight, she asked, “Do you think she would have been happy?”
Neville turned to her. He did not have to ask who she was thinking of. His smile was warm. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I think it’s exactly what she would have wanted.”
More people had survived than they had initially expected. Lottie and Neville combed the castle for several hours and had discovered about fifteen or twenty students who had not been slaughtered.
They divided the jobs among the ten of them who were old enough to handle the responsibility. Neville led the group. He made sure everything was going to plan and found others to deal with the remaining Death Eaters out there.
There were still, of course, Dark wizards who believed they would reinstate Voldemort’s regime, but they were not as effective without their leader. The entire inner circle, for that matter, had been killed at Alsemore, so the only people left, really, were the brainless muscles.
Some of the students organized burying the fallen. Some contacted all of the families. Some worked on rebuilding the school and purging it of all Dark magic, while others searched for Alsemore graduates who were still out in the world and could help.
Lottie did none of this. Neville turned a blind eye to her inactivity. He had found a small flat that was used as headquarters for missions sometimes, and had given her the key.
Lottie moved around the old rooms like a ghost. She slept for at least eleven hours each day and ate very little. With her remaining time, she sat blankly, staring out the window or walking numbly through the abandoned streets of London.
A few weeks after Voldemort’s death, they had opened up the gates of the camps across the country. Neville went to each one and made a speech, explained that the horrors of the past were over and that not all wizards were bad; in fact, many wizards had spent the past fifty years planning Voldemort’s demise. Then he did something very ceremonial, like cutting a ribbon or knocking down the gate and freed the Muggles.
Each time he went, he invited Lottie to come along and give a speech if she wanted to. Each time, she remained in her little flat, sitting against the stiff wooden chairs, lost in her thoughts.
The January snow crunched under Lottie’s old boots as she trudged through the London camp. Although the gates had been opened, most Muggles had had no idea where to go or what to do so had remained in their former homes.
The only noticeable change was the amount of people in the street. Muggles were not afraid of being killed by Death Eaters in their daily lives anymore.
Lottie didn’t wear wizarding robes. She didn’t feel like so clearly distinguishing herself. She wore old, faded pants that she had gotten from Odin Alley years ago and an Alsemore sweater. A few of the Muggles, though, had noticed the wand sticking out of her back pocket.
She passed by the old building where her parents had lived. She only gave it one fleeting glance before moving on. She knew that nobody would be inside.
Lottie had talked to the students who were contacting families. It was a difficult job, and she was happy not to have it, but she did volunteer to do it once.
She continued on through the camp. She knew where she was going, though she had only been there once in her third year. That felt like another life.
Lottie stopped in front of the building. She recognized it, though it did look different without the usual pile of bodies before it. Slowly, she climbed the steps of its stoop and entered the building.
She walked over to the old flat door. She remembered it, though the memory was somewhat like a dream. She had a moment to collect her thoughts and then she knocked.
The door opened almost instantly. In the frame stood a petite woman who had medium length, curly brown hair and startlingly blue eyes. Lottie remembered her, though she seemed much older than the last time they had seen one another.
The woman kept her face bravely stoic. “I was afraid of seeing you soon.”
Lottie looked at the floor. This was harder than she had imagined. “Please, Mrs. Woolbright—could I come in?”
Mrs. Woolbright opened the door and Lottie took a few nervous paces inside. She took a deep breath and gazed at the ground. Emotions fogged her mind, but she quickly blinked them away.
“You have news.”
Lottie looked up and met Mrs. Woolbright’s stare, so much like Andrea’s. She blinked again. “Yes.” Her voice came out hoarse. She had hardly spoken in days. “I—I’m sorry, Mrs. Woolbright, but Andrea—” Lottie swallowed to try to sooth the lump that was rising in her throat. “Andrea was killed.”
Mrs. Woolbright looked at Lottie blankly. The grief that swam in her face was understated and subtle but it was certainly there, and fresh and painful as ever. “I had been expecting this,” Mrs. Woolbright said. “She used to write weekly. When the letters stopped—and I heard about the battle…”
Lottie was filled with a rush of affection for Andrea. She had had no idea that she wrote home so often. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking at the floor. “I just—I just wanted to tell you.”
Mrs. Woolbright turned to her. Her eyes swam with tears now but she still smiled. Lottie put a hand to her own dry face. “I have always been so proud of Andrea,” Mrs. Woolbright said. “She wanted so badly a better world.”
There was a tingling sensation in Lottie’s nose. She suppressed it. “She was so brave,” Lottie said. Her voice was high and more strained than usual. “She saved my life—she saved my life a thousand times. And—” Lottie swallowed again “—she was my best friend.”
Mrs. Woolbright looked up. The tears glistened on the tip of her pointed nose—Andrea’s nose. She looked at Lottie’s stony face with soft eyes. “I know, dear,” she said kindly. “Andrea loved you very much. She fought for us—for her family, for her sister, for you. She wanted a better world for us.”
Lottie nodded because she couldn’t speak. She had no words and her voice would have only emerged as a strangled sort of cry. Slowly she reached into her pocket and pulled out the old glasses. They were all she had left. They were all that let her hold onto Andrea. She looked up at Mrs. Woolbright and back down. She ran a hand fondly over the scraped lenses, suppressing all of the memories they evoked.
Mutely, she held the glasses out before her.
Mrs. Woolbright paused, and then reached out and took them. She ran her hand across the lenses and a fresh wave of tears fell down her face.
She crossed over to Lottie and put a hand on her shoulder for a moment before pulling her into a tight hug. Lottie shut her eyes and willed herself to retain control over her emotions.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Woolbright said, releasing Lottie from the hug. “Thank you for everything you’ve given us. Now go home and be with your family.”
Lottie nodded again because she still could not find her voice. She turned around and left the little flat without looking back. Her heart thumped against her chest as she walked through the corridor and pushed open the door.
Out in the open air, everything was refreshed. A wave of cold air hit her face and woke up her nostrils. She stood on the stoop, looking out at the world around her.
Her mind whirled. She could not quiet it. Her heart was lurching with it. Palmyitor had told her that she had to control her emotions if she wanted to become a Legilimens. For the first time, Lottie disregarded this advice.
She thought of Andrea. She could see her smile before her, and hear her deliberate tone. Everything she had ever said came flooding back to Lottie. She wished she could hold onto these memories, but they slipped through her fingers like sand.
Her heart beat even faster. Her stomach lurched and her face played a vast array of emotions. She couldn’t escape—she couldn’t suppress them anymore, and they consumed her, screaming with joy now that they were free.
Lottie sat down on the top step. She looked out at the Muggle Camp and remembered Andrea, bossy and tiny, when she had first arrived at Alsemore, then composed and brave as she faced her death. She wanted to smile but had no control over her expression. Lottie took a breath, buried her face in her hands, and cried.
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End Notes: At the end of this enormous process, I have to thank all of you for staying with me. I said this in my dedication, but I really mean it; this story, from the moment I got the idea over five years ago, to right now, has been such a big part of my life.
Also, thank you to all of the betas who have helped me over the years--to Deanine, TheBird, and coolh5000. This story would not be the same without you. Thanks to my friends and family who were so patient with me, even though I often spent hours of our time together scribbling in a notebook.
If anyone has any questions or wants to discuss theories/background stories, I would love to. Feel free to message me or leave a review with anything you might want to know!
Once again, thank you all for believing in this story--and thank you all for believing in Lottie.