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The Runaway Returns by HPForevermore
Chapter 15 : Neville the Defender
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11


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The following Saturday was a beautiful late-May day.  The sky was crystal-clear and breezeless, and the temperature was such that one felt neither warm nor cold, almost as if the air was non-existent.  Naturally, most of the Weasleys gathered for their traditional family meal.  While Charlie remained in Romania, Molly had invited Augusta and Neville Longbottom to join them, and George brought Angelina Johnson as a surprise guest.  As Molly prepared dinner, Augusta, Hermione, Fleur, Angelina and Ginny gathered around the kitchen table and talk quickly turned to wedding arrangements.

“Zo, Ginny is ze ‘demoiselle d' honneur’, but az Ron chozen ze bezt man?” Fleur asked.

“Er, no. Not yet.” Hermione responded hesitantly.  She knew Ron was leaning toward asking Harry, but with Ginny at the table, she didn’t dare mention his name.

“Well, he’d better get a move on,” said Augusta.

Diverting the topic, Hermione said, “Mrs. Weasley, er, Mum, sorry, I’m still getting used to it, Mum and I decided on the colours.  The flowers will be red, yellow and purple…”

Ginny interrupted, “Oh Merlin!  I hope you don’t plan on having my dress in any of those colours!  I’d look ghastly in any one of them!”

“No, Ginny, it won’t be.  So, as I was saying before someone butted in…”

Hermione shot Ginny a mock-indignant look, in response to which Ginny shot her tongue at Hermione.

“The flowers will be red, yellow, and purple, with green trim and accents.  The bride’s maids’ dresses will be emerald green and the dress for the maid of honour will be…”

Hermione paused with a smile, keeping Ginny in suspense just a bit longer.

“Also emerald green, but with cream-coloured accents to match my wedding dress.”  

Ginny let out a sigh of relief and slapped Hermione on the shoulder for her teasing.

“Are you having the wedding here at the Burrow, Hermione?” asked Angelina.

“As much as we’d like to, Ron and I just don’t think we will have the room.  It’s not like Bill and Fleur’s wedding.  In addition to all of the Weasley family, we have our friends from the Ministry, plus the Order, plus the DA, plus the Hogwarts professors, as well as all of their guests.”

“So, where are you thinking of having it?” asked Ginny.

“To be honest, Ron and I thought some place like the Salon-de-Provence would be just the thing.”

“Oh that place would be beautiful! I’d like to have my…”  Ginny’s voice faded as she caught herself.

From that very tender young age, when Ginny was first able to comprehend the concept of marriage, every vision she had ever had of her wedding included a certain black-haired young man.  It was that same young man who thrashed her heart to shreds for the third time three years ago and who was now the last person she ever wanted to see again.  Hermione gave Ginny an empathetic little smile before continuing.

“Yes, but there are two problems with having the wedding at Salon-de-Provence itself.  First is the location.  It’s very far to travel to and difficult to access.  Second, even if we could figure out a way access it easily for everyone, we’d still need permission from ‘The Benefactor’.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, should it?” called Molly from across the kitchen.

“Of course it’s a problem Mum!  They’d have to get ‘Harry the Git’ to contact ‘The Benefactor’ for permission!” cried Ginny.

“Well, actually, we already have,” stated Hermione timidly.

“You WHAT?” screamed Ginny, causing Hermione to wince.

“Ron and I met with Harry a few days ago, and he’s going to contact ‘The Benefactor’ to see if we can use Salon-de-Provence for the wedding.  He also said he’d check with the mystery man to see if he has any places like Salon-de-Provence here in the U.K.  Harry figures that if ‘The Benefactor’ as such large stately homes in France and Italy then he may also a similar place here.”

Ginny just stared at Hermione incredulously, as if her best friend had just stabbed her in the back, while Molly turned away from the table so the others would not see her small smile.  Molly knew Harry would have no problem finding a place nearby for the wedding.

“Don’t look at me like that, Ginny.  There was nothing wrong with what Ron or I did.”

Ginny just rose from the table with a look of disgust on her face and left the kitchen for the parlour where the men were gathered.

~~~

Everyone drew back from the dining room table as Molly finished clearing the last of the dishes and sat in her seat on Arthur’s right.  Next to Molly was Ron, followed by Hermione, Angelina and Neville.  On Arthur’s left sat Bill, followed by Fleur, Percy, George, and Ginny.  Augusta sat at the other end of the table from Arthur.  After Angelina and Fleur served tea and biscuits, Bill raised a topic that had been on his mind for the last few weeks.

“Dad, I think we need to have a family discussion.”

“Sure, Bill, what is it?” asked Arthur.

Bill nodded to Fleur, who rose from her seat and took Victorie and Teddy to the parlour to play.  Bill was obviously hesitant to raise the subject.  He wasn’t quite sure how to diplomatically phrase what he wanted to say, so he just blurted out whatever crossed his mind.

“Some of us are not very happy that others of us are trying to drag Potter back into this family.”

“Bill, we’ve been through this!  Harry needs our help and your father and I are going to help him whether you like it or not!”  Molly hissed.

“But at what cost, Mum?  At what cost?”

“Don’t raise you voice to me, William!”

Somebody, somehow, has to make you see reason!  You want to help some guy who’s proven that he wants no part of us, and to do so, you’re willing to sacrifice you daughter, your only daughter, in the process?” cried Percy.

Since when is it unreasonable to help someone in need, especially when it’s someone who’s done so much for this family?  He saved your father’s life.  He saved Ron’s life.  He saved Ginny’s life! And you would rather we let him SINK LIKE A STONE?  I won’t do it, Percy!  I WON’T!” screeched Molly.

“Mum, he may have saved her life nine years ago, but he’s broken her heart time and again since then!  He’s wrecked her emotionally and left us to pick up the pieces. And you’re just going to bring him back here and throw him in our faces?  Again?  In GINNY’S face?  Don’t you have any idea what you’re doing to HER?” pleaded Bill.

Ginny joined in the tirade.

MUM, that Potter arse DESTROYED me!  He’s DEAD to me!  I NEVER, EVER want to see his face again!  And you KNOW that… You’ve KNOWN that for awhile now.  And so have YOU, Hermione, and YOU, Ron!  Yet, here you lot are, FORCING him on me, forcing ME to be in HIS presence.  ‘Oh!’ Mum says, ‘But Harry still LOVES you.’  Chizpurfle Dung!  If he LOVED me so much, Where is he?  Huh?  He’s certainly not HERE!  No, he DUMPED me!  THREE!  TIMES!  Actions speak louder than words.  If he LOVED me like you claim, he would be HERE!  NOW!  SHOWING IT!

Percy tried to soften the tone of the coversation.  “Mum?  Dad?  We love you, but we can’t for the life of us understand why you would choose that Git over Ginny…”

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!

Neville had removed his shoe and was pounding the dining room table, waiting for the room to become silent before speaking.

“I know I’m just a guest here and I’m sorry for jumping in to this conversation.  Hell, I’m sorry for even being privy to this conversation for that matter, but I have to say something here.”

“Neville, this is none of your business!” shot Bill.

“Oh, yes it most certainly is, Bill!  Harry’s one of my dearest friends, and if you’re going to verbally throw him in the rubbish bin, you can and will hear it from me!” spat Neville.

“If you don’t like what we say about Potter, then why don’t you just leave?” retorted Percy.

“Neville’s going nowhere!  He’s a part of this family as well, and he is entitled to speak his mind AT MY TABLE!” roared Mr. Weasley to Bill and Percy.  “Neville?  Say what you need to say.”

Neville nodded to Arthur and waited until he held everyone’s attention, “Why is everybody here so at odds about how Harry behaved over these past three years?  It’s just Harry being Harry!”

Percy tried to interrupt.  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  Neville started to pound his shoe on the table again to silence him.

“You people are his family!  You people are his closest friends!  I would think by now that you knew him well enough to understand how he thinks!”

“Well, then, please impart your genius upon us, oh wise one!” said pompous Percy.

Neville took a deep breath, trying to keep his temper under control.  

“Your problem, Percy, is that you spend all of your time thinking like a Weasley.  That goes for the rest of you.  None of you has ever once tried to understand what Harry feels or how he thinks.

“Your family is awesome, Percy,” said Neville, scanning the room.  “All of you stick together.  All of you support each other.  Even when you, Percy, the most pompous prat I ever met in my life, even when you realized your mistake, you were welcomed back with open arms.  And, your reason for abandoning the family then wasn’t a tenth as noble as Harry’s reason for leaving us now.

“All of you love each other very, very much.  I know it.  I see it.  I hear it.  At least once, and more often than not, more than once, when I’m with this family, I hear one of you tell another that you love them.  Hell, I just heard you say it to your parents, Percy!  And when you don’t say it, I know you do by your actions.  Sure, you get on each other’s nerves, you may wind each other up, but you still love each other.  If you’re not saying it, you’re showing it!”

Taking another deep breath, Neville continued.

“Now, let’s look at Harry…

“Harry spent the first eleven years of his life with no family and no friends.  He lived with those god-awful muggles who treated him like dirt, lower than a house elf.  Any friends he did try to make were chased off by his brute of a cousin.  He had no oneNOBODY!  And he had nothingNIL!  Hell, he didn’t even have his own clothes.  They were his big fat obnoxious cousin’s hand-me-downs, and the muggles never even bothered so much as to stitch them properly so they’d fit right!

That was his life!  FOR!  ELEVEN!  YEARS!  The first eleven years of his life.  From the time he was a one-year-old baby, younger than Teddy is now, younger than Victorie even.  He was ALONE!

“And because of that, he had to learn to do things for himself at a very early age.  Why?  Because he had no one to help him, no one to do things for him, no one to take care of himNOBODY!  In his mind, Harry doesn’t have any other choice.  He has to do things himself… alone.  

“In our first year, he had to face Quirrell and Voldemort… ALONE.  

“In our second year, he had to face the basilisk… ALONE.  

“In our third year, Harry faced down over one hundred dementors… ALONE.

“In our fourth year, he had to face Voldemort and the Death Eaters in that graveyard… ALONE.  

“In our fifth year, we broke into the Ministry because Harry thought Voldemort captured Sirius, but Harry wanted to go there… ALONE.  The only reason he didn’t go alone was because we threatened to jinx him if he didn’t take us with him.  

“And the Horcrux hunt?” asked Neville of Ron and Hermione specifically, “He didn’t want you two to go with him, did he?”

Hermione just shook her head timidly, while Ron quietly said, “No.  We had to talk him into taking us along.  In fact, the night we brought him here from Privet Drive, the night Mad-Eye died, I caught him trying to sneak out of the house to start the hunt.  I practically had to drag him back inside.”

“So, Harry even wanted to go on the Horcrux hunt… ALONE.”

The room was silent with all eyes staring at Neville.  Some still looked confused.

“DON’T YOU PEOPLE GET IT?” he yelled.  “Blimey, and they say I’m thick!”

“After living with those horrible muggles for what was then his whole life, he finally met Ron, and Hermione, and me, and all of you – and for the first time in his life he found something he could call his own, something he could finally, TRULY cherish!  And that was people he could love and who loved him back.”

Shaking with frustration, with tears threatening to spill from his eyes as he tried to keep his composure, Neville took another deep breath and continued.

“He’d had so little in his life that what little he DID have was all the more important to him!  With Harry, the closer you are to him, the more valuable you are, and the more valuable you are, the more he is going to protect you.  He will even sacrifice his life for you, like he did in the Forbidden Forest when he took the killing curse for the second time.  He would do anything in his power to protect you, even if it means leaving you forever.  In Harry’s mind, right or wrong, the only way to keep us all safe was to remove himself from us.”

“Sounds like he’s a silly prat with a hero complex,” spat Bill.

Damn It, No!” said Neville, slamming his shoe on the table again.

“No Bill, it’s nothing like that at all!  It’s almost the exact opposite of that!  Harry has this almost house-elfish… compulsion!  It’s not that Harry wants to save the day, it’s that he has to save the day.  His mind, his body, they just won’t let him think or act otherwise.  If Harry really had a hero complex, he would be sticking his face in the papers every day, but he doesn’t, he wants no part of that, and those of you who truly know him know that about him!"

“Harry should know better!  We’re here for him!  One should never abandon one’s family… I of all people know that!”  Percy replied heatedly.

Hermione replied in a soft, soothing tone, “No offence, Percy, but like Neville said, you’re still thinking like a Weasley.”

“But, Hermione!  If you love someone, you just don’t leave them!  Mum and Dad say Harry loves me?  They have to be joking!  If he really loved me, if he really loved us, he’d be here with us!  Now!  And he would have been here, every day, for the last three years!  Love is not a bunch of words, LOVE IS ACTION!”  Ginny replied heatedly.

The room turned silent as Neville turned and leaned across the table toward Ginny.  With a steely glare, he directed his soft, chilling comments solely at the fiery redhead as if no one else was in the room.

“Do you really think Harry doesn’t love you?”

“If he does, he’s got a funny way of showing it!” Ginny replied with wilting determination under Neville’s glower.

“Do you really think Harry hasn’t acted out of love for you?  For any of us?”  

Ginny did not respond, but tried with flagging success to maintain her air of indignity at the perceived injustice Harry had allegedly committed against her and her family.  Neville then spoke to the whole room while still glaring at Ginny.

“No one, not one person in this room, has a deeper understanding of what ‘Love’ is than Harry.”  

Turning to Mrs. Weasley, Neville asked, “Molly, do you still have the letter Harry wrote to everyone the day he left?”  

Molly nodded.

“Could you bring it in here?”

Molly nodded again, rose from her chair, and left the dining room.  The room remained silent until Molly returned and stood next to Arthur at the end of the table.  Neville turned and trained his steely glare upon Ginny again while he spoke to the room.

“Ginny, do you remember a few minutes ago when I said how awesome your family was?  How they spoke and showed their love all the time?  Do you?”  

Neville waited for a few moments until Ginny nodded, her eyes cast away from Neville’s glare.  

“Answer this question Ginny.  How many times in your life has someone, anyone, told you they love you?  Ten times?  One hundred times?  A thousand?”  

Again, Neville remained silent, forcing Ginny to respond.

With her eyes still cast away, she responded quietly, “Probably a thousand.”

“And how many times in your life have you told someone, anyone, that you love them?  Ten times?  One hundred times?  A thousand?”  

Again, Neville remained silent, forcing Ginny to respond.  

With her eyes still diverted, she responded quietly, “Probably a thousand.”  

“And why is that, Ginny?”

“Because we have such a large circle of family and friends.”

Exactly!  It’s easy to love and be loved when you’re surrounded by a large circle of loving family and friends – surrounded by a large group of people who share their love, and their compassion, and their caring so freely – it’s almost TOO easy!

“Now let me ask you this, Ginny.  Knowing the life Harry’s had to live, knowing everything he’s gone through up to this moment, how many times in his life do you think someone, ANYONE, has told Harry that they love him?”

Ginny didn’t respond, nor did anyone else.  They knew the answer was probably close to nil.

“Have you ever told him that you loved him?”  Neville asked Ginny.  

Ginny simply shook her head without removing her eyes, which she now cast upon her feet.  

Neville then asked the rest of the room, “How about you lot, have any of you ever told Harry you loved him?”

Silence responded to the question.  

“And how many of us here have ever had Harry tell us that he loved us?”  

Once more, silence filled the room as Neville looked from face to face.  No one in the room dared to respond.  After a several moments, he continued.  

“Harry doesn’t freely use the word ‘Love’; hell, he rarely uses it at all.  Why?  Because ‘Love’, the concept of it, it means so much more to him than anyone I’ve ever met.  Certainly, I’m shocked to learn, so much more so than it does to some of us here tonight!  Harry understands all too well that love is work, that love is sacrifice!  Harry understands all too well, Ginny.  He understands better than you or me or anyone else in this room that LOVE IS ACTION!

“Harry doesn’t throw around the word ‘Love’ like the rest of us because his understanding is so much deeper than any of us here can even fathom!  To us, love is ‘I’m proud to call you my brother’ or ‘Thanks, mum, for the care you’ve shown me’ or even ‘You’re the best dad in the world’.

"But to Harry…”

Neville had to pause and look away from everyone to regain his composure.  His eyes were stinging with tears and his voice was beginning to crack.

“To Harry… to him… Love… is nothing, NOTHING, short of your mum throwing herself in front of the killing curse to save you!  That’s what Love means to Harry – total and complete sacrifice!  To Harry, if total and complete sacrifice isn’t there, then IT’S!  NOT!  LOVE!

Neville paused again to regain his composure; his cheeks were wet, as were those of everyone else in the room.  Bill and Percy were more than sufficiently humbled.  

“Molly, do you have the letter from Harry?”

Molly nodded.

“How many times in the letter does Harry use the word ‘Love’?”

After scanning the letter, Molly timidly replied, “Twice.”

“Did he tell you and Arthur he loved you?”

“No.”

“Did he tell his closest mates, Ron and Hermione, that he loved them?”

“No.”

“How about Bill or Charlie or Percy?”

“No.”

“George?”

“No.”

“How about me or Luna or Kingsley?”

“No.”

All this time, Neville’s eyes remained locked on the top of Ginny’s now-sobbing head while every other eye on the room remained locked onto Neville.

“Molly, please read the part where Harry does use the word.”

Haltingly and shakily, and with a red, tear-streaked face, Molly began to read aloud.

To Ginny: Oh, Merlin, this is the most painful part of my letter!  I wish I had the guts in the past to tell you in person what I’m about to write.  My love for you is unconditional!  I hope you will always remember that.  I also hope you understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I would rather see you live the rest of your days without me than die all too soon with me.  You deserve better than that.  You deserve better than what I can offer you.  I’ll love you always!

Neville then leaned across the table and hissed at Ginny through his tears.

“Harry doesn’t say ‘I Love You’ to ANYONE, unless he is absolutely, positively CERTAIN that he means it… and he told you that HE!  LOVES!  YOU!

TWICE!

And you treat it like it was the punch-line to some tasteless cocktail party joke!  

“You want Harry out of your life forever, Ginny?  Fine.  But for your sake, I hope you can find that kind of love and devotion again someday, because THAT kind of love only comes around once in a lifetime!”

Neville turned from the table and headed for the front door of the Burrow.

“I’m going outside to get some air,” he concluded as he walked out.
 
 
 


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