Christmas break was over before Harry knew it and then it was back to the busy routine of Hogwarts. Harry, Takashi and Neville were still practising their fencing every morning, as well as running around the lake, and Neville was definitely making good progress. He still wasn’t as good as Harry, but Harry was sure that was only because he had been learning the art for three months longer.
Their wandless practise was going well too. Learning a second wandless spell seemed much easier than their first one had been. Harry hoped that the trend continued – maybe by the time he’d learnt enough spells, learning a new one would only take a few days. Both Harry and Neville had mastered casting the lumos spell wandlessly and had moved onto learning a spell they had learnt in Defence called the Stupefying Charm. It was a lot harder than levitating a twig or creating light, but would be infinitely more useful. Takashi was making progress as well, albeit a lot slower, and was now able to levitate a twig within twenty seconds of meditating.
Professor Snape was still tutoring Harry in Occlumency, though they only met once a fortnight now since Harry’s shielding had become advanced enough to keep even the professor out. Harry was still working on strengthening it, and building more traps in his mind, but Snape was also teaching him how to invent false memories so that he could lie to people casting legilimency on him. At first Harry couldn’t imagine what use that would have, wasn’t the point of Occlumency to keep people out? But then he remembered the way that Lord Malfoy had someone convinced Voldemort that Harry might switch sides. Harry doubted he would ever have to do anything like that, but it would be useful just in case.
Quidditch was going well too and, while Harry very much doubted that Ravenclaw would win the Quidditch Cup, he was definitely still the best seeker in the school – though, Cedric Diggory wasn’t too bad either. The Gryffindor seeker, Ginny Weasley, wasn’t terrible, but she certainly wasn’t living up to the legend of her older brother Charlie.
This was exhibited clearly when Gryffindor played Hufflepuff in February. Gryffindor won, of course, their chasers, beaters, and keeper were well above Hufflepuff’s league, but Cedric was the one who caught the snitch. It was hardly a surprising outcome, though what was surprising (astonishing even) was that Neville decided to sit with Harry, Luna, Draco and their Slytherin friends during the match. Harry wasn’t sure how it had happened, or when it had happened, but Neville seemed to have actually forgiven Draco for being related to Bellatrix. They weren’t friends by any means, but they were able to hold a civilised conversation.
And, when Harry arrived at their Magical Theory Class two days later, he saw the two of them actually sitting next to each other and talking – a vast contrast the usual sight of them sitting with silently with an empty chair, reserved for Harry, between them. As though that wasn’t unbelievable enough, a week later Theo reported that Neville and Draco had actually paired up together in Care of Magical Creatures. Harry wasn’t sure what to think.
After that, Neville started spending more and more time with Harry, Draco, Luna and the Slytherins – even on the weekends. It was a bit awkward for the first week, but as time went on Neville became more and comfortable with the Slytherins.
It probably helped that Pansy wasn’t around much. She had stopped hanging out with them, something that Harry put down to his habit of reprimanding her inappropriate. Well, that, and the fact that Harry had given up and asked Sirius to step in and help. Apparently Sirius had practically threatened Pansy’s father with financial ruin unless he made her stop.
The seventh of April’s edition of the Daily Prophet brought the horrifying news of an Azkaban breakout. Harry didn’t know who was more horrified to see the Lestranges’ names on the list of escapees – Neville or Draco.
Harry looked up from the headline and tried to find Neville’s face amongst the crowd of students sitting at the Gryffindor table. When he eventually found his friend he was glad to see that Neville hadn’t gotten his hands on a paper yet.
Standing up, Harry began to move towards the Gryffindor table before remembering that Draco would probably be upset as well. He stopped and looked towards where his cousin was sitting at the Slytherin table, staring at the Daily Prophet.
“I’ve got him.” Luna told him seriously, standing from her seat. “You go after Neville.”
Harry shot her a grateful smile, before quickly making his way across the hall towards where Neville was sitting.
Then noise in the hall was starting to increase, as people began exclaiming over the headline, and Harry sped up – hoping to get to Neville before he heard the news.
He was too late.
Harry winced as he approached the Gryffindor table and saw Neville staring at someone’s copy of the Daily Prophet, his face ashen.
“Neville?” Harry asked softly, placing his hand on Neville’s shoulder. “Do you want to go for a walk?”
Neville startled under his hand. “Have you seen this?”
Harry looked down at the paper and grimaced at the sight of Bellatrix Lestrange struggling against chains that held her and snarling at the camera. After a few minutes, Bellatrix seemed to lunge towards them and Harry and Neville both flinched out of the way.
“Come on, Neville.” Harry tugged at his shoulder. “Let’s take a walk.”
Neville let the Daily Prophet drop onto the table, before standing up. “Okay.”
They made their way towards the nearest exit, ignoring the confused glances that the Gryffindors who had been sitting near Neville were giving them.
Harry’s first thought had been to lead Neville out of the castle, but then he remembered the rain that had pelted them during their earlier run, and instead led Neville aimlessly through the corridors. He honestly had no idea what to say, what could he say to make Neville feel better?
“How is it possible?” Neville asked weakly after a few minutes. “How could they have escaped? Azkaban’s supposed to be inescapable!”
Harry looked away, unsure what to say. He had no doubt that Voldemort had broken his followers out, but he could hardly tell Neville that. Nobody knew that Voldemort was back, nobody except the Death Eaters, the Order of the Phoenix, and Madame Bones, and maybe that was a good thing.
Harry hated knowing that Voldemort was out there, it made the world a scary place, and part of him wished that he didn’t know. There was nothing he could do – him knowing didn’t make anything better, it just made him more scared. And he didn’t want Neville to be scared too.
“I don’t know.” Harry answered eventually, his stomach squirming uncomfortably at the lie.
“It’s just not fair!” Neville exclaimed suddenly. “I don’t understand why they didn’t get the kiss! They killed people! They tortured my parents! They followed You-Know-Who and Gran says that they weren’t even sorry about it! She says Bellatrix laughed at her trial – laughed!”
Harry opened his mouth to say something – he wasn’t sure what yet – but Neville didn’t wait for a response.
“It’s probably because they were Lestranges!” Neville sneered. “After all, you could hardly kill the Lord, Lady and Heir of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Lestrange. Never mind that they tortured the Heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Longbottom. Ron, Seamus, and Dean are right, traditionalism is stupid!”
“They’re not the only ones who didn’t get the kiss though.” Harry defended. “Did you read the list of names of the other Death Eaters who escaped? Doholov, Mulciber, Rookwood, Travers, Rowle, none of them are from important Houses and they didn’t get the kiss either.”
Neville looked betrayed. “Are you defending them?!”
“Of course not!” Harry snapped, hurt that Neville would even consider that. “I’m not saying that they didn’t deserve the kiss, I’m just saying that you can’t blame traditionalism for the fact that they weren’t.”
Neville looked unimpressed. “I bet Malfoy’s thrilled.”
Harry stopped and grabbed Neville’s arm pulling him around to face him. “Don’t you dare say that to him! Draco’s probably just as upset about this as you are.”
Neville snorted. “I highly doubt that.”
“Get off your high horse, Neville.” Harry snapped. “Yes, it’s awful that they’ve escaped, and yes, you’re allowed to be upset and angry about it. But be angry at them, be angry at Azkaban, be angry at the Minister, but you don’t get to be angry at Draco.”
Neville yanked his arm out of Harry’s grip. “You’re always defending him!”
“Because you’re an arse when it comes to him.” Harry pointed out, trying to calm himself down. “Yes, the people who hurt your parents just broke out of the prison, but so did Draco’s aunt who he absolutely hates. Think about it. Bellatrix isn’t going to come after you, why would she? But there’s good chance that she’ll try and visit her sister – what if she hurts Draco’s mother?”
Neville looked away. “Why would she do that?”
“Because she’s insane.” Harry answered flatly. “And cruel and sadistic. Why would she do anything that she’s done?”
Neville turned and started walking again, Harry quickly fell instep beside him and waited for his friend to speak.
“I hate that he’s related to her.” Neville admitted quietly after a few minutes.
“So does he.” Harry replied softly.
Magical Theory was awkward, with Neville and Draco apparently back to not talking to each other. Harry sat between them and tried to ignore the unsure glances that his friends kept shooting each other when they thought the other person wasn’t looking.
After Magical Theory came lunch, which thankfully meant that Harry had the chance to talk to Draco in Hoth.
“He blames me, doesn’t he?” Draco asked angrily. “As though it’s my fault that she’s escaped!”
“He doesn’t know who to blame.” Harry pointed out.
“So I’m the closest target?” Draco asked, pacing across the room. “No matter that I hate her too. No matter that she’s a bloody pyscho who I don’t remember ever meeting! I’m related to her, so obviously I must be just as bad as she is. Did you see him last class? He wouldn’t even look at me!”
Harry sighed, obviously Draco’s emotions were running just as high as Neville’s. “You just need to give him some time.”
“I shouldn’t have to.” Draco pointed out, falling into a chair.
“No.” Harry honestly had no idea what to say.
“Mother must be upset too.” Draco said after a minute. “She doesn’t talk about Bellatrix much, but I think that she was really awful when they were young too.”
“It would make sense.” Harry shuddered at the idea of growing up with someone like Bellatrix Lestrange. Growing up with the Dursleys had been bad enough.
The awkward silences in Magical Theory continued for the rest of the week and, according to Theo, Draco and Neville weren’t pairing up in Magical Creatures anymore either.
It was unsettling, being in the middle of two fighting friends again, and in a way it actually seemed worse this time since he knew how much better it could be. Thankfully, the ranting had stopped though and, while Neville and Draco still weren’t talking to each other, they weren’t complaining to Harry about it either.
The weekend came and went and Harry was glad for the reprieve from the awkwardness that Magical Theory class had become. The weekend wasn’t much different from normal, except that Neville didn’t come and hang out with him, Draco, and the Slytherins.
Then Monday arrived and Harry prepared himself for the awkwardness again. He spent the walk between Ancient Studies and Magical Theory trying to come up with some kind of strategy to get his friends talking again, only to walk into the classroom to the sight of Draco and Neville laughing together.
“What?” Harry muttered to himself, stopping in his tracks.
“Are you moving or not, Potter?” Granger’s frustrated voice moved him into action and he strode towards the desk that he shared with his friends.
“Merry meet.” Harry greeted them as casually as he could.
“Merry meet.” They both agreed easily.
Harry carefully took his seat and looked between them in confusion. Should he say something? Ask why they were talking to each other again, maybe? Or just be glad that they were and leave it at that?
“Draco has some great ideas about things we could do to the Lestranges.” Neville commented with a dark grin.
“So does, Neville.” Draco added. “Did you know there are plants that eat human skin? Apparently if you give a human to one of them they will keep them alive and conscious while they peel off their skin piece by piece.”
Harry grimaced at the image. “Gross.”
“But deserved.” Neville said darkly, sharing a glance with Draco. “Draco was just telling me about a spell that summons Dementors. Maybe that way we could ensure that they get the kiss when they’re caught.”
Harry stared at his friend. “What?”
“We won’t actually do any of these things.” Neville assured him, looking a bit unsure. “It’s just nice to dream.”
“About torturing people?” Harry whispered incredulously.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic, Harry.”
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but the last student had apparently arrived because Professor Kilsby stood up and immediately began teaching – not even bothering to take the roll.
As he took notes, Harry couldn’t help but feel relieved that his friends were talking again – even if it was about ways to torture people. Which admittedly, was a bit worrying, but it wasn’t as though Harry hadn’t spent some time dreaming about Voldemort finally being defeated. Besides, Neville was one of the nicest people that Harry knew – so he didn’t really have any concern that they might actually try and enact their plans.
Harry used the mirror to call Sirius that night and told him about Draco and Neville’s reconciliation. Sirius seemed to think it was more amusing that anything else, but he did take the time to point out that a life focussed on revenge wasn’t all that healthy.
After that, Sirius told him a bit about what had been happening at the Wizengamot and Ministry since the Azkaban Escape. Apparently, despite the fact that Voldemort had clearly broken his followers out, Fudge was still refusing to acknowledge that he was back.
Sirius said that it was probably because Fudge was more worried about looking good than protecting the country. Apparently, Fudge had told Madame Bones, who had told Lord Malfoy, who had told Sirius, that he didn’t want to be the Minister responsible for letting Voldemort come back.
Harry didn’t think he had ever heard such a stupid argument in his life. What did it matter whose fault it was the Voldemort was back? Denying his return wasn’t going to stop people from dying! Harry decided, not for that first time, that once he had taken his seat in the Wizengamot he would do everything he could to help Sirius and Lord Malfoy get rid of Fudge.
The final Quidditch game of the season was between Gryffindor and Slytherin and, while Ravenclaw was currently in second place for the Quidditch Cup, he doubted they would be by the end of the game. Harry might be better than both their seekers, but the Slytherin and Gryffindor chasers, beaters, and keeper were all better than the Ravenclaw ones. Chances were the game would go on for a long time, points would be accumulated, and Ravenclaw would come third again.
Harry watched the game with envy – he wished that the Ravenclaw team’s chasers were that good. Maybe then, Ravenclaw might actually have a chance at winning the cup. The game went on for three hours, mostly because neither seeker was particularly good (Harry had seen the snitch twice before Ginny Weasley spotted it), and in the end Gryffindor won the game. It was inevitable really, if only because the Weasley twins were way out of the Slytherin beaters’ league.
Harry took no joy in being right, but the long game, and good chasers, meant that both teams scored enough points easily take first and second place in the Quidditch Cup. Jeremy looked devastated when he worked that out, but Harry wasn’t sure how the older boy hadn’t predicted that outcome.
The end of year exams approached quickly, and Harry found it difficult to have so many exams to study for. How was he supposed to remember facts about ten different subjects? It was enough to consider dropping Ancient Studies the next year. Sure the subject was interesting, but Harry had yet to learn anything that seemed even vaguely applicable. It was more like history than anything, though the professor was definitely more interesting that Professor Binns.
Though, according to Remus, they might not have to put up with Binns for much longer. Apparently, Sirius had managed to get himself a seat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors (a fact that Harry already knew) and had made replacing Binns his first priority. Harry thought that Remus was probably hoping that Sirius would succeed, if only so that he could apply for position. After all, everyone knew there was a curse on the Defence Position – so Remus would be leaving at the end of the year one way or another.
Harry’s first exam was Magical Theory, then he had Charms, and then Potions and before he knew it, he had taken his final exam (Fourth Year Ancient Runes) and it was almost time to go home.
It was weird to feel so excited about the idea of leaving Hogwarts for the summer. It was wasn’t that he didn’t love Hogwarts, because he did, but now he knew that he had Sirius waiting at Grimmauld Place for him. No longer did summer mean three months as the Dursleys’ House Elf, and he wasn’t filled with the same apprehension he had felt the year before about living with Sirius. Instead, he couldn’t help but feel excited at the idea of spending another three months with his godfather, and Remus, both of whom he knew loved him.