There on the curb of Euston Road at two o’clock in the morning, Harry Potter found himself surrounded by his former pupils, all of whom had inexplicably arrived at the exact moment of the Order’s direst need, and was rendered speechless. Harry’s eyes swept quickly over the group; save for Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, every member of Dumbledore’s Army who had not yet graduated from Hogwarts had shown up, and for a moment Harry forgot his near-miss with the Death Eaters that now lay beneath the mound of concrete and metal behind him. Overwhelmed and finally feeling the ache in his head from slamming into the Imperturbable Charm, he swayed on the spot.
“Erm… You all right, Harry?” asked Neville tentatively.
Fred and George struggled to hold back a fit of laughter at Harry’s thunderstruck expression. “I can just see the headline,” sniggered Fred. “‘Battle to End All Battles: The Chosen One Passes Out as Reinforcements Arrive at the Front’!”
“Back up now, lads,” laughed George as chuckles rippled through the group. “Judging by that welt on his face, the man is clearly accident prone!”
“Let him alone,” said Luna, stepping right up into Harry’s face to inspect the bruise. “Looks like you took a nasty dive in there, Harry. Your nose looks awful,” she observed, shaking her head appraisingly. “If only we had some Ironbelly venom to clear that up – my dad smuggled some in from the Ukraine when he was escaping the Secret Coalition of Druish Nomads (murderous bunch). I wager that’ll be the size of my fist in a moment if you don’t do something-”
“Okay, okay, enough,” shouted Harry, covering his nose and gently pushing Luna away from him. “So you all checked the galleon, then?” he asked, incredulously. “That hasn’t happened since… well, since we were conducting DA meetings two years ago! Ron and Hermione are going to die on the spot when they see you - we were sure it would only be… that it would be only… Luna… and Neville…”
Suddenly, as the severity of the situation dawned on him, Harry’s voice faded and the delighted glow in his eyes altogether extinguished. “You shouldn’t have… that is to say… I didn’t actually think you would all…” he stammered anxiously.
Neville timidly stepped forward. “I’d hoped you wouldn’t mind, Harry. Luna and I always thought that if you ever called on the DA again we’d just round everyone up who didn’t check the galleon. But as it turns out, everyone got the signal and, of course, Hermione and Ron told me where you were, so there was really nothing else to do. They all wanted to come,” he explained half-apologetically.
Harry’s eyes shifted back to the DA as he repeated fearfully to himself, “They wanted to come…”
“What’s wrong, Harry? Didn’t you want us here?” said Colin.
“Yes, I did – I do…” he began carefully. “But-“
“But what?” Annoyed and disappointed, Zacharias Smith huffed at him. “What was the point of teaching us all that stuff if you didn’t think we’d be able to use it?” he demanded.
“It’s not like that,” replied Harry, thoroughly distressed. “Look behind me! There are Death Eaters under there, there are scores more are on the platform, and just beyond those doors are the first fatalities of a Death Eater invasion that will spread to the rest of Muggle London if we can’t stop them before daybreak!”
There was a collective gasp at Harry’s statement; both Padma and Parvati’s hands flew to their mouths.
“You heard me right,” Harry continued, a foreboding seriousness in his voice. “Whoever wants to fight must be ready to either put an end to all of this tonight or die trying. Voldemort was here; I’ll bet my life that he’ll be back, and what will you all do then?”
Many of the faces among the group were horror-stricken, but to Harry’s great surprise no one flinched. They did not speak, they did not flee; they stood glued to the spot and, perceiving their obstinate desire to stay beneath the panic on their faces, Harry was both confused at their behavior and consumed by a repressive anxiety. Would he be responsible for their deaths as well?
“Voldemort wants me,” concluded Harry. “You’ll all be targets for murder as soon as the Death Eaters find out you’re on my side.”
“I don’t care,” someone called out from behind Colin.
Harry recoiled at the scathing tone of the unexpected voice. “Sorry?” he said, stepping to the side to see who had spoken. It was Susan Bones.
“I said I don’t care! You’re not the only one here with a reason to fight, Harry!” Susan asserted angrily as everyone spun around to look at her. She looked fiercely at him, her fists clenched. “We all knew this was going to be a bigger fight than we bargained for, didn’t we? We’re all scared… but I wouldn’t be here if - if Voldemort hadn’t killed members of my family too!”
Everyone fell into startled silence at Susan’s declaration; even Fred and George looked like they had received a blow to the head. She had called Voldemort by name.
After a short pause, Lavender cleared her throat. “Some friends of my family owned the locksmith shop in Hogsmeade… that one that got burned down this spring,” she announced tentatively. “They lost everything. I’m here for them.”
Just then, Dean came forward with the Patil sisters close behind. “I’m here for my dad,” said Dean quietly. “Death Eaters killed him just after I was born.”
“Padma and I are here for our uncle,” added Parvati, a tear rolling down her face that her sister quickly wiped away.
Harry’s heart sat heavily in his chest. He had forgotten that Anik Patil had been kidnapped by Death Eaters last October, and though he knew Dean’s biological father had left his family when Dean was young, Harry had never known why. Even so, whether or not it was the appropriate moment to offer up condolences was a question Harry had no chance to ask himself. Slowly, more people stepped to the front, each affirmation overlapping the one before it until their voices seemed to bleed into one, and it dawned on Harry why they could not turn away.
Every member of Dumbledore’s Army had a reason to fight.
“I’m fighting for my aunt-”
“I’m here for my cousin-”
Neville spoke last. “For my parents,” he murmured.
Holding out his fake galleon, Seamus approached Harry, a markedly determined expression on his face. “We were Dumbledore’s Army, but we failed you when you needed us. Since Dumbledore died we’ve carried these galleons in our pockets, waiting for the moment when we could make up for what happened that night. Now, more than ever, we all have a stake in this war, Harry,” he exclaimed. “We are inheriting this world… and we don’t want Voldemort in it.”
Moved by the faint spark of hope in their fearful eyes, Harry knew he could not refuse them their part in the battle. He simply had no right to deny them the chance to defend their futures, and with a short nod, he solemnly acquiesced. “Okay. I won’t stop you. But there’s just one problem,” he argued.
“How can you fight… like that?”
He stepped back and surveyed the motley crew that stood anxiously before him. They looked remarkably unprepared; apart from the Weasley twins, Dean, Neville, and Luna were the only members that had remembered their shield cloaks, and the rest looked as though they’d been interrupted in the middle of doing something before they came. Many were still in school uniform or some variation thereof, undoubtedly because they had abandoned a feverish study session – although Harry suspected Seamus and Lavender had been feverish doing something else before they left Hogwarts, judging by their sudden uncomfortable proximity to one another and the lipstick on his wrinkled shirt. Padma was in her bathrobe, Parvati’s hair was in rollers, and Justin Finch-Fletchley stood sheepishly in his pajamas.
“I hope you all at least had the foresight to bring your wands,” remarked Harry, crestfallen.
Fred’s hand stuck out over the crowd. “Never fear, Harry, we’ve got it covered!”
There was a collective “ooh” as George wheeled away the launcher, revealing a stack of dark blue robes the like of which Harry had never seen before. Silver embroidery adorned the cuffs and the fabric looked like iridescent crushed velvet that reflected prismatically as Harry walked towards it. Beside it was a box of shield hats.
“Fred, George... these aren't like the shield cloaks we've been using,” remarked Harry, running a hand along the cloth’s surface. It left a cool tingly trail on his palm.
“Right you are, Harry. They're even better," said George, beaming.
“We upgraded the cloak design,” Fred explained, putting on his most professional sounding voice. "So far their protective qualities have been limited to a neutralization of the curse within the mesh of the fabric itself. But these,” he said, picking one up off the top of the stack, "are meant for defensive and offensive magical combat."
“We came up with the idea after Fred tried to jinx me and wound up flinging me into the wall instead-“
“It's a long story-“ muttered Fred.
“- and we realized that the cloaks were fine for stopping a curse's effect, but they're rubbish for stopping the thrust,” continued George matter-of-factly. “What’s the point of blocking a spell if you’re knocked on your arse either way?”
Rubbing at the bruise on his chest, Harry remarked, “Good point.”
“Well, when you get hit wearing one of these, the curse isn't absorbed,” Fred declared. “Instead, it deflects off of the cloak back at the wizard who cast it!”
“I like to call it ‘Bi-directional Protectional Gear’!” said George.
Fred cleared his throat. “Erm, yeah... we haven’t decided on a name for this one either.”
“Wait, let me get this straight,” said Harry, “if your cloak gets hit with a curse, you won’t get thrown off your feet … and it’ll spin off and hit the person who tried to curse you?”
“Without a moment lost.”
“Talk about your karmic boomerangs," Harry whispered, staring wonderingly at the shimmery cloth.
“What goes around, comes around, I always say," said George.
Harry looked up at the twins, grinning from ear to ear. “Wicked! What about the Unforgivable Curses?”
Fred shook his head. “These are prototypes – very experimental. Testing it on Unforgivable Curses is risky and we’ve had no time to try it.”
“I see,” said Harry, nodding. He turned to the rest of the DA. “Well, what are you waiting for? Suit up and be quick about it!”
Fred and George began distributing cloaks and hats as quickly as they could manage. Then, as DA members crowded around the stack of uniforms, Harry heard a muffled voice coming from behind the pile of rubble.
“Harry!” came the voice. “Harry, are you back there?” It was Hermione.
“I’m here!” he yelled back excitedly.
“Harry, are you hurt? Are you all right?” said another, higher voice.
“That you, Ginny? Where’s Ron?”
Just then, he heard Ron speak. “So he’s alive then? Good, ‘cause I’m gonna kill him!”
“Just hang on! I’ll be through in a minute!” Harry pushed through to the stacks and grabbed four sets of cloaks and hats. “When you’re through getting your cloaks on, come back through the entrance - and careful climbing over the pile! We’ll brief you on the other side!” he yelled over his shoulder to the DA, and ran through the double doors into the station.
As he scaled the pile of concrete and shrapnel, bits of it shifted and fell to the side revealing the tangled limbs of Death Eaters underneath. One of the smaller hunks of cement slid under Harry’s foot, exposing the thin, bloodied fingers of Bellatrix Lestrange. He swallowed hard and looked away.
“Do you suppose they’re all… dead?” asked Hermione as she and Ginny helped Harry over the last bit of debris.
“I don’t know, but I’m thinking we shouldn’t stick around here much longer to find out,” said Harry, handing the stack of cloaks to Hermione and dusting himself off. She jumped when the fabric touched her hand, to which Harry said, “don’t worry, that’s normal.”
At that moment, Harry looked over at Ron, who stood stiffly, fuming at him. “I ought to pound you for that stunt you pulled back there – running at Death Eaters like someone set your bloody trousers on fire,” he scowled. “You’re a barking lunatic, you know that?”
“And you’re my best mate, so what does that make you?” Harry joked.
Ron rolled his eyes. “Just warn us next time or something,” he said irritably. “I don’t know if I can take anymore surprises.”
“Then I suppose I shouldn’t tell you that Neville and Luna are back there… with the rest of Dumbledore’s Army!”
Ron, Hermione and Ginny looked up and sure enough, clambering gingerly over the mountain of debris were the first of the new Hogwarts regiment – polished, armed and ready for battle in their new apparel. “I knew it!” cried Ginny, running to help Luna off of a wobbly metal beam.
“So these are shield cloaks then?” inquired Hermione, holding one of the robes between two fingers. “Where did they come from?”
“Right,” remarked Harry, glancing amusedly back at Ron who looked more stunned than anyone, “I forgot to mention. Fred and George finally made it.”
Hermione threw on her cloak and distributed the rest to Ron, Harry, and Ginny. “What are these made out of?” she asked, visibly impressed as the rest of them disrobed to put on their shimmery new vestments. “They’re so light, you hardly know you’re wearing them!”
“Antipodean Opaleye scales, Hermione,” called Fred from the top of the pileup.
George slid down on an avalanche of rocks. “Courtesy of our dear brother Charlie!” he added, skidding onto the tiled floor.
Before long everyone was on solid ground reviewing spells and anxiously awaiting directions from Harry, who in turned looked to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny for an update. “Well, you made it here in one piece,” murmured Harry out of the corner of his mouth to them as everyone else chatted. “Please tell me I bought the Order enough time to get Tonks out, too.”
“You did, but only a little,” replied Hermione softly. “Just before we left to find you, McGonagall sent a Patronus to Madame Pomfrey, who apparated with a team of healers from St. Mungo’s. She and the trainee healer were able to apparate Tonks to safety, but the Healer-in-Charge and about half the staff of the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s stayed behind. They’ve set up a Portkey in that abandoned train we were hiding in-”
“It goes to Ministry of Magic headquarters – Dad said it was standard procedure; it’s the only secure place nearby where they could monitor who comes and goes,” said Ron.
Harry drew in a deep breath and shook his head. “I suppose Lupin went with her, then?” he questioned.
Suddenly, Ron and Hermione fell silent, exchanging troubled glances. His heart sank at once.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened to Lupin?”
Ginny moved directly in front of him, and took hold of his arms. “He’s not hurt, Harry,” she began cautiously. “I don’t suppose you could have noticed… but tonight is a full moon.”
Harry’s throat closed up. He remembered; back on Platform 9 ¾, the entire platform had been bright with moonlight. And he thought that Lupin had looked especially ill, but then Harry assumed he was just worried about Tonks. How could he not have noticed?
“But… he was fine…” Harry contended.
“The Dark Mark obscured the moonlight,” explained Hermione. “It wasn’t until Greyback cast the spell to remove it that they transformed.”
“He blasted it right through the glass ceiling – made a mess of everything,” Ron added gloomily. “Even the Death Eaters looked put out by it, but it seems Greyback didn’t care what they wanted. He tried to go off after you in Werewolf form. Luckily, Lupin had enough wits about him to get in Greyback’s way.”
“That’s when we got out and left to find you,” Hermione muttered, looking into Harry’s pale face. “For all we know, they’re still fighting.”
Harry said nothing and noticed that the rest of the DA had become quiet, waiting expectantly for direction. He squeezed his eyes shut, but try as he did to concentrate through his worry, his mind was a jumble of painful images that closing his eyes could not eclipse. Ginny brought her hand to his cheek and turned his face towards her, but he did not meet her gaze. “Listen to me, Harry. He has the best chance of surviving in werewolf form. It’s going to be all right,” she asserted vehemently. “Harry… Harry, look at me!”
He slowly raised his eyes. As their gazes met, it was as if he had instantaneously remembered to breathe again. For a moment they stared at one another in silence; she seemed to see through him, drawing the focus and determination out of him from where it had been hiding. Out of the deep recesses of his being, Harry felt the fiery resolution stir within him once again. This wretched mission was far from over.
“It’s time to go,” she whispered.
Harry nodded wordlessly and strode past her to where the DA was waiting. “Everyone listen up,” he exclaimed with unanticipated authority. “We’re heading back to the platform to do battle, but there are a few things you need to know before we go. First off, we’re outnumbered. Since Fred and George managed to take care of the lot behind you, our chances have improved, but the important thing to remember now is not to do anything to give them the upper hand. Do what you must to stay alive,” he declared urgently, “but I strongly advise against using any of the Unforgivable Curses to do so.”
“Why?” asked Michael Corner hesitantly.
“Because they require a degree of hateful intent that I’m not sure any of us possesses. You need to really mean it,” Harry explained darkly. “If you cast one half-heartedly, it may only make the Death Eaters angrier, and if that happens – make no mistake - your life will be forfeit. They’ve had too much practice and your cloaks haven’t been tested against the Unforgivable Curses.
“Secondly, you have strength in numbers. Find a partner and stick with that person no matter what. No one gets left behind, do you understand?”
There was a rumble of assent.
Harry swallowed hard and licked his lips. By their expressions, his comrades looked scared and unsure, their ears bent on every word Harry said. The final crucial piece of information would not fall easily on them. “Lastly… I’ll take you as far as I can,” he said slowly, “but I can’t lead you.”
At this statement, even Ron and Hermione spun around to gape at him and confused murmuring ensued among the rest of the group. Luna timidly raised her hand as though she was still in class trying to ask a question of the teacher. “Why can’t you lead us, Harry?” she asked in a small voice.
“Because... If I... If I should...” began Harry with great difficulty. He simply had not the heart to destroy their morale by telling them he was a Horcrux, nor did he have time to explain what it might mean for them all. Ginny, staring ahead into the faces of the DA, stepped beside him and pressed his hand. He let out a gust of air and straightened himself. “If something should happen to me, you’ll need to be ready to follow another,” he finished quietly.
Stunned, the DA stood in nervous silence.
Harry's eyes traveled to the back of the group. "I nominate Neville Longbottom."
There was a communal gasp and everyone spun around to gage Neville's reaction. “Me?!” cried Neville, the color running from his face.
“Neville?” asked Ron under his breath, looking slighted. “Why Neville?”
Harry looked apologetically at Ron but directed his answer at the entire group. "Unlike many of you, Neville has been in magical combat against the Death Eaters. He was the last one standing with me at the Department of Mysteries two years ago and I trust him. What’s more, the Death Eaters have Ron, Hermione, and Ginny on the top of their hit list, so I don't want any of them to carry the extra burden of leading you. Besides, there are things that the three-,” pausing, he looked down at the hand still pressed firmly in his, “...that the four of us have to do on our own.”
“Excuse me – pardon – sorry, I just need to – pardon me,” said Neville as he pushed his way to the front of the group. He walked straight at Harry, grabbed his sleeve and whispered fervently, “do you mind if I have a word?”
They walked out of earshot. “What’s the matter?” he asked upon observing the concerned look on Neville’s face.
Neville replied in a barely audible voice. “I’ve never lead anybody, Harry!”
Harry sighed. “I know that. Forgive me, Neville,” he replied, his conscience heavy with guilt, “I didn’t mean to force it on you-”
“No, that’s not it,” interrupted Neville with sudden fervor. “I’ll do it, Harry, if you think I should… I mean… this is my battle too, isn’t it?” For a moment, Harry stood bewildered and couldn’t think of what to say before Neville quickly cut him off. “It’s just… I’m worried that I won’t…” he stammered, deflated, “ …my Gran always says-“
This time, Harry interrupted him. “Listen to me,” he said firmly, placing his hands squarely upon Neville’s shoulders. “No one here expects you to be your parents, Neville, so forget whatever it is your Gran said. I’ve seen you fight. You stepped up to the plate when few others would have had the courage. You’re leading them tonight because, no matter what anyone says, you are a powerful wizard - you just need to believe it!”
Eyes wide, Neville looked as though someone had just jarred his memory.
“I’m counting on you, Neville.”
It seemed no one had ever spoken to Neville that way; by his posture alone, his confidence seemed altogether reinvented. “I’ll do my best, I promise,” he stated bravely.
“Good,” said Harry. “You know what to do.”
Neville turned around, breathing hard. “Okay, everyone,” he began shakily. “Pair off!”
The group quickly filed into two lines; Harry and Neville joined Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Luna at the front. For a moment, Hermione faced in the opposite direction, staring intently at the pile of wreckage behind them, before Ron jerked her hand and she turned around. “Sorry… I just thought I saw… Nothing. Nevermind.”
Ginny glanced sideways at Harry and whispered to him as everyone found their partner and secured their vestments. “Did you mean what you said when-?”
“Yes,” Harry whispered back, strapping on his shield hat.
“You’re sure you want me to-“
“Because I’m braver when you’re with me,” he replied tersely.
At that moment, they heard a faint rattle at the far end of the corridor, followed by muted grunts and yelling, and with the sound of shattering glass, the florescent lights flickered and promptly died. Stifling darkness surrounded them now, and everyone became very still, holding in their breaths as they tried to discern what was coming towards them... and how quickly it would be upon them. Their time was up.
“Lumos,” whispered Harry and the tip of his wand glowed brilliantly in the blackness to light the space ahead by several yards. Behind him he heard a soft sniffle – someone was crying – and the sound wounded him to the quick. Down the hallway, the noises were growing louder. “Neville,” he said in a strangled voice, “we’re waiting.”
He heard Neville gulp and take a deep breath. “Assume the offensive stance…”
A soft wind swept the back of Harry’s neck as they all swung their cloaks over their chests.
“Merlin’s beard… I can see them,” whispered Ron. Two dozen black shadows moved in the space in front of them.
“Don't be afraid! Remember, you have each other,” said Harry fiercely. “You’re powerful, each of you… but together you will survive!”
“Wands at the ready…” continued Neville, his voice stronger.
Something in the darkness ahead crashed to the ground, and there was a sound of coins spilling onto the tile, followed by a chorus of cold unfeeling laughter. Several gasps circulated through the party.
“We’re all here for a reason,” Harry cried, desperate to keep their spirits alive, “don’t forget – NEVER forget what brought you here!”
“CHARGE!” shouted Neville at the top of his voice.
With a great cry, Dumbledore’s Army raced into the void, their wands aimed at the darkness, clinging to the hope that their years at Hogwarts had paid off, that there was still courage to be found amidst incredible fear, that daylight would come and that, when it did, they would all still be alive.
Behind them, from between the rocks and beams, the slender bloodstained fingers of a mangled hand twitched...