Imagine, if you will, a candle.
This candle burns bright when first lit. The flame takes its own shape and contorts to its own will. It is the passion of burning that keeps it going on.
But in time, the wick will reach its end and the flame must cease to be.
What does that say for the candle?
Neville Longbottom could not be any happier with his life. After being reaffirmed with the knowledge that his parents are there for him in some capacity, nothing could hold him back. He felt confident in his studies for the first time since he entered the school. He was not even afraid of Professor Snape, the person he feared the most.
In the D.A., Neville was excelling faster than any of the other students. He had taken Tenchi's grandfather's advice seriously and worked day in and day out trying to better himself both physically and mentally. It was a big help having access to Washu's subspace house. She had created his own little training room for him to practice to his heart's content.
He entered the Great Hall with not a care in the world. Though the following day he was worried that Ryoko and Washu left in a flash, he was not concerned about it. Odds are that some kind of alien or something tried to take the power of the Juraian tree that took root there.
He was a bit surprised, then, to notice that the two still had not returned. The others were still here, but there was no Ryoko or Washu to be found. He sat down next to Sasami and Ron at the Gryffindor table and started to tuck into some turkey.
"Morning Neville! Try the tarts when you can, they are bloody tasty!" Ron spoke, enjoying one of the aforementioned tarts.
"Will do mate! Sasami, have you heard from Washu or Ryoko yet?" Neville asked.
Sasami shook her head. "No, I don't know where they are! I'm getting worried."
"Don't worry Sasami. You know those two, they can handle themselves," Tenchi replied, sitting close enough to listen to their conversation.
"Well I think it's a good thing," Ayeka started before sipping on some tea. "We could use a break from that monster woman."
"You don't mean that Ayeka!" Sasami cried. "You and Ryoko fight, true, but you know that you really care for each other!"
Ayeka laughed off the comment but chose not to respond.
"Oy mate," Ron asked Harry, poking him with his fork. "What are you staring at?"
"Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore haven't been here all day. It's not like them to miss any given feast..." Harry started.
Ron shrugged. "There is probably some kind of meeting going on. Don't fret Harry."
The door to the Great Hall opened up and Minerva McGonagall walked down the isle. She had what appeared to be red eyes and a wet face. She made her way to the Gryffindor table.
"Professor, is everything alright?" Hermione asked, picking up that she was clearly crying.
"I am quite fine Miss Granger," she replied, adopting her most stern look. "Mr. Longbottom, the Headmaster wishes to see you right away."
Neville looked to his teacher and then to his friends. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, Mr. Longbottom. You are not being accused of any wrongdoing."
"Can they come?" he asked, pointing to the group.
"I think...I think it might be best for them to stay here. The Headmaster requested you and you alone," McGonagall replied. "Potter, Weasley, Jurai...I hope you all can live without Longbottom for a short while."
"I mean, sure Professor," Harry nodded, starting to wonder what was going on.
Neville got up, shrugged, and started off towards the Headmaster's office. "Lead the way Professor!"
This is how it feels to be Neville Longbottom in this moment.
You stare into Professor Dumbledore's eyes, but you cannot hear anything he says.
You feel McGonagall's hand on your back, but your body is numb to the touch.
You see the friends you were so excited to see, but the excitement is clouded in a haze of darkness.
You remember the joy you felt earlier today and watch it crumble away as the realization sets in:
Neville Longbottom is alone. His grandmother is dead.
"How did she die?" was all Neville managed to get out, once the realization set in.
"According to Minagi, who was badly wounded herself, Lord Voldemort killed her trying to break into the shrine," Washu explained, her words full of sympathy and emotion. However, Neville was not open for such affections.
"Why was Voledmort in Japan, Albus?" Minerva asked, holding back tears.
Dumbledore's eyes were cold and regretful. "I...I cannot be sure. Mr. Longbottom, I am so utterly sorry for your loss. Is...is there anything I can do for you?"
Neville started out into space. "No," he said in a hollow voice. "Do you mind if I take the rest of the day for myself?"
"Not at all, my boy," Dumbledore said quietly. "Minerva, why don't you escort young Longbottom to his chambers? I have some things to discuss with the Hakubis."
"Of course Headmaster."
"What did you do?!" Washu yelled at Albus Dumbledore.
"What do you mean? Minagi said it was Voldemort, not Obi-Wan here," Ryoko said, trying to calm her already raging temper.
"Albus here had the bright idea to tell Severus Snape where our house was in order to deliver that message over the break. It cannot be a coincidence that Voldemort just so happens to come to our house barely a month later!"
Ryoko got up and grabbed Dumbledore's robes. "What?! Spill it old man! Neville's grandma is dead and our friend is in critical condition!"
"Please let me go," the Headmaster defeatedly pleaded. "I'll tell you everything."
"Do it Ryoko," Washu ordered. The teal haired woman released the old man, who slumped into his seat.
Rising back up, he went to an ornate device that resembled a bin. "Do you recall what a pensive is?"
"You mean the poltergeist with the clown hat?" Ryoko asked. "What does he have to do with this?!"
Washu hit her on the head. "No you dolt! Remember when we went into his memories last summer? It's that thing!"
"Precisely. I would rather show you my relevant memories. That way you will see everything that happened in my discussion with Severus," Albus motioned to the pensive. The two ladies stuck their head in and saw the entire conversation between the two men.
When they returned to the present day, their expressions were not happy to say the least. "What were you thinking?!" Ryoko yelled. "We LIVE there! You told your Dark Lord where we are from! What was to stop him from trying to attack us when we were finished with this crappy school?!"
"Albus, do you realize what you have done?" Washu asked with increasing fury. "I understand where your heart was when you made that request, but if you had merely asked me to search the cave I could have made sure nothing was in there! I have no idea what he could have taken from there and I doubt we will until it is too late!"
Albus returned to his chair, utterly defeated and broken. "I have made a grave error that has cost a boy his only sane family and has allowed Voldemort to possess something that might give him great power."
"Do you two have any idea what he could have found down there? There was literally nothing down there when I was there!" asked Ryoko.
Washu thought about it for a moment. "Nobody else entered your cave besides you or Tenchi?"
"Nobody in the 700 years I was in there...except Yosho I suppose."
Dumbledore coughed. "Could it have been Kagato?"
"It's possible, but I doubt it. He didn't know the cave's location for 700 years, why would he know where to find it now?" Washu pondered.
"Well he did find us after all!" Ryoko yelled.
"Yes, but that signal was from Funaho the tree reacting to your gems dear. I'm at a loss."
"I think that I shall..." Dumbledore started, but was cut off by Washu and Ryoko getting up.
"I think you have done enough Albus. We will attend to Neville and will clean up your mess," Washu curtly told him. The two walked out leaving the old man alone in the office with only his phoenix to comfort him and a lingering issue: how to explain the death of a prominent witch to the public...
"Run it again," Neville told the computer. Unwilling to sit down and think of the implications of what Dumbledore told him, Neville's gut instinct was to get him anger out on the new training program.
"Affirmative. Defensive simulation number fifteen commencing," the disembodied voice spoke out.
Neville started to block back several blows from Washu's corporeal constructs. This was causing him to get a lot of his aggression out before he had to face any of his friends. He wanted to stay alone as long as possible for he knew that they would manage to convince him to "get out" or do something that he had no intention on doing.
"Neville? Are you in there?" the all too familiar voice of Hermione called out. 'Joy,' he thought. 'If I stay in here, she might just leave me alone.'
"Neville, I know you are in there. Why don't you come out?"
'She's not going to leave me alone is she? Why can't she just see that I don't want to talk to people!'
He continued to block and parry in an attempt to ignore his friend's cries. He was surprised, however, to discover Ryoko joining his sparring. 'Actually,' he thought. 'I really shouldn't be.' "Go away."
"What? Can't a teacher train with her student?"
"I want to be alone."
"Yeah, and we've let you be alone for six hours. I may not need to eat...on your left," Ryoko started. Neville quickly dodged a roundhouse kick and threw the machine to the floor, shattering it. "...but you do. The girls want to make you whatever you'd like."
"I want my gran back," Neville replied. 'That sounded childish, but it gets the message across.'
Ryoko sighed and broke off a robot's arm. "Kid, I've been there. We've all had bad days...some worse than others. But I'm not gonna be like Dumbledore or Tenchi or anyone else. I know what you really want, and I want it too."
For the first time since leaving his carefree life behind, Neville was interested. "What do you think I want?"
"The same as me," Ryoko smiled sadistically. "To kill Voldemort."
Neville picked up the discarded robot arm and beat the final robot down with it. "Tell me more."
The mood of the subspace room was rather somber. It seemed that nobody quite knew how to handle the situation. At the Great Hall feast, Dumbledore informed the school what happened and asked the students to give Neville the appropriate space he needed, but that was not going to do for his close friends. If anything at all, they needed to get the boy to eat something before the night was over.
"Okay, we gave Lee the polyjuice potion so he could pretend to be Neville sleeping. That should at least stop Minerva from questioning our whereabouts," Washu informed everyone present.
Sasami gazed worryingly into the simulation chamber. "I hope Ryoko is able to get him to come out...this is so terrible."
"I can't believe it," Ron said, slumping into his chair. "How could this have even happened? I mean, we just MET her!"
"Voldemort makes a habit of disrupting families," Harry said bitterly. "We shouldn't be here in school, we should be doing something...something to stop him!"
"What would you do?" Washu asked. "Where would you go? Would you sacrifice yourself right now, because that is what rushing into things leads to."
"Miss Washu, that line of questioning is far too inappropriate!" Ayeka shrieked.
"No...no thank you Washu. I'm just so...angry. He killed my parents, Cedric, and now Neville's gran! How can we just sit by?"
"We won't sit by, young Harry. We will wait until opportunity strikes. We will avenge your parents, but there are other methods besides death."
"Like what?" Ron asked, interested to hear the response.
Washu shrugged. "I dunno, I'm sure it will come to me in time."
She looked at the various students, who were giving her a death glare. She scratched the back of her head and nervously chuckled. "Tough crowd...come on, I'm just trying to diffuse the tension!"
As this was going on, the door to the training room opened and the sweating, panting forms of Neville and Ryoko emerged. The group immediately began to get up, clearly to swarm Neville and pelt him with affection, but Ryoko shot a glance to them and they backed off.
"Neville, how'd...how'd the workout go?" Hermione asked innocently.
"Meh," Neville shrugged. "Ryoko tells me I have to eat something or else she's going to tear my limbs off like a disgruntled Wookiee."
Sasami jumped up. "Sure Neville! I'll cook you anything you are in the mood for!"
"I...I guess a pizza. Gran used to take me to a place down the ways from our mansion for special occasions..." Neville trailed off, clearly withdrawing into himself.
The blue haired girl rushed into the kitchen. "One pizza coming up!"
Neville sat down on the couch and looked at his friends. On one hand, he was happy to see them all here, but on the other hand he'd rather continue to sulk. "So...what's going on?"
At once the group immediately began to speak, not knowing what to say. The replies were a varied mix of "Oh nothing," or "You know, same old." Neville sighed and just decided to power through it. "Okay, let's try this: I know you all have found out about...gran. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy you all are here...but I'm going to need space at times."
Tenchi put his hand on Neville's back. "We won't pester you Neville. Just remember we are here for you. Come on guys, let's let him be."
The crew all got up, showing sympathetic glances to the boy as they prepared to return to their common rooms. Neville fought with himself, but finally relented. "If Sasami is going to cook that pizza, I reckon I won't be able to finish it all myself. Why don't we play a game or something to pass the time?"
Smiling, everybody returned to the living room and started to do their best to keep Neville in good spirits.
"Well do you guys want to help me look at these movies that I kept getting while we play? I need some good advice!" Mihoshi told the group.
"That's not all you need Mihoshi. You need some common sense!" Ryoko jeered.
"Now that was rude!" Ayeka scolded.
Fred poked Neville in the ribs. "See buddy? This is what life is all about."
"Cat fights Neville. Good old fashioned alien cat fights," George laughed.
Neville faked a smile and a laugh. 'This isn't a good long term fix,' he thought to himself. 'But this will do for now...until I kill Voldemort...'
Neville strolled down the corridor the next day, ready to return to his classes. He debated with himself whether to take another day off to train, but he figured it was better to keep himself busy and active as opposed to training in anger. 'There is plenty of time for that.'
He generally kept his head down, trying to avoid the groups of people trying to offer their condolences. 'The last thing I need right now is fake charity.' However, he was stopped by someone who would just not quit following him.
"Are you deaf Longbottom?" the voice of Hannah Abbott asked from behind him. "I've been trying to get your attention for the past five minutes!"
"Hello Hannah. Sorry, I've been lost in thought."
"I can see that. So...how are you holding up?" she asked, trying to pry anything out of him.
"My gran was murdered, how do you expect me to hold up?" he replied, frustrated at the questions.
"Fair point. You know, I don't know how I would react if that were to happen to me...but you know what I would do?"
"I can't imagine."
"I'd train. I have to say, the D.A. has really showed me just how much I like sparring. It gets a lot out, you know? If you wanted a sparring partner or something, all you have to do is ask," Hannah said nonchalantly.
Neville stopped and regarded the girl. Was it possible that there was somebody in this school who could see where Neville was coming from who wasn't a 700 year old alien? This completely caught the boy off-guard, but resolved not to show it.
"Thank you Hannah, that...that sounds nice....I guess," was all he allowed himself to say.
"Aww look! Longbottom has a girlfriend!" came a mocking voice. A group of Slytherins, including Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zambini.
"Go away. Now," Neville threatened. He did not want to deal with these assholes now. He wanted to go on with his day in peace.
Zambini laughed. "Or what Longbottom? You'll fight us? If you are anything like your parents or your grandmother, you'll end up dead in a second. Don't you agree..." he started before he was cut off by a powerful punch to the face.
Neville lost all self-control in that moment and started pounding the Slytherin's face in. When a few other boys from the year tried to attack him while he was distracted, Hannah disarmed them and Neville threw the unconscious form of Zambini into them. The Slytherin's fell onto the floor. They stared into Neville's eyes, which showcased a fearful sight. They were burning red with anger and were fully prepared to continue to take out his aggression.
"Hem hem! What ARE you doing Longbottom?!" came the voice of the last person Neville wanted to hear from.
Dolores Umbridge rushed up to the Slytherin boys and examined them. "You savage, how could you act so rashly to your fellow students?! Parkinson, fetch Madame Pomfrey. These boys will have to go to the Hospital Wing. Miss Abbott, I think your services here are no longer required while I tend to Mr. Longbottom's punishment."
"I'd rather not," she said, defiantly.
"You are just going to try to expel Neville or something for starting this when Zambini started insulting Neville's grandmother!"
"You have no proof of that, little Abbott. I think the Minister would trust my judgement in these matters than the word of a fifteen year old girl. Now move along!"
Hannah turned to Neville, who motioned her to leave. She ran away quickly, leaving the two people alone in the corridor.
"Well Mr. Longbottom, I think a month's worth of detentions is an appropriate punishment, wouldn't you?" Umbridge smiled.
Neville just stared at her. "You're joking, right?"
"Are you being smart with me?"
"Yes, I think I am."
The comment got Umbridge flustered. "Mr. Longbottom, I do not care what might of happened to you or your family! In this school, we care about our actions!"
"May I ask you something?"
"That depends on the question my dear."
"What do you care for? You don't care about the students, that much is clear. You could care less about the school. You only care about your precious Minister, who was not there to help one of his citizens when she was murdered by Voldemort," Neville flatly told her, his anger rising.
"How dare you..."
"How dare I? How dare YOU?! You venomous, pompous toad!" Neville said, getting in her face. "I'm going to any of your detentions, I'm not going to any of your classes...in fact nothing would please me more than not having anything to do with you again!" Neville roared.
Umbridge smiled at the comment. "Well then, I can arrange that. Mr. Longbottom, I have no choice but to expel you from Hogwarts!"
"You will do no such thing," the voice of Albus Dumbledore called from behind. He was followed by Professor Sprout and Hannah Abbott.
"You have no authority to stop me Albus! I have the right of Cornelius Fudge to..." Dolores Umbridge wailed.
"I am aware of whatever perceived authority you possess, but know this: you do not have the right to throw out one of my students in this manner. The boy was provoked about an unspeakable tragedy and you have the audacity to expel him!" Dumbledore told her, his voice rising unexpectedly.
Umbridge got in his face. "You did not hear what this boy just told me! He..."
"Just lost his grandmother and is clearly not thinking rationally!" Professor Sprout cut in, defending the boy.
"You stay out of this Pomona!"
"I'll do no such thing!"
"Look, all of you, thank you for your concern but I'm gonna go back to the common room. I'd rather be alone," Neville said nonchalantly.
Umbridge cut him off. "Yes you will! You will pack your things or you will come straight to detention! What will it be Longbottom?!"
"I'll choose the option where you stay the hell away from me. Hannah, it was a pleasure. Professor Dumbledore, I'm sorry about the mess," he said, walking away.
Dolores started to run after him but was stopped by Albus Dumbledore. "I will not permit you to injure any of my students Dolores. Neville Longbottom is off limits to you until further notice. If you have any complaints, bring it up with the Minister. I'm sure Cornelius will be thrilled to hear that you are harassing the new bearer of the title of Lord Longbottom. "
Umbridge looked furiously at the Slytherins on the ground and the people all around her. She stormed off and went straight to her office.
Albus Dumbledore was furious with himself.
He knew that he was as fallible as the next person, but he truly wished he was not. His decisions had cost an old friend her life and caused the loss of trust of his peers. He regretted his choice terribly and could not stand to think of the pain the Longbottom child was undergoing.
Severus stood before him, similarly broken. Though he had often tormented the boy, he still felt responsible for signing the boy's family away. "How is Longbottom holding up?" Severus asked curiously.
"He has anger and hatred. I have never seen him act in such a manner. He directly stood up to Dolores Umbridge two days ago."
"So I have heard," Snape replied. "From what I have also heard, you were not so calm and collected yourself."
Dumbledore rubbed his temples. "I acted rashly, but I would not allow one of my students to be treated so disrespectfully. There is a line of action which I cannot ignore. Think of how you would react if it were the Malfoy boy."
"Funny you should mention that, I have news from Lucius Malfoy."
"Indeed? This is quite a surprise," Dumbledore said, legitimately surprised about the news.
Snape sat down and pondered to himself how to continue. "Lucius is concerned that the Dark Lord is acting...rashly. He has not been entirely himself lately."
"Really now? In what way?"
"He has all but abandoned his plan to break into the Department of Mysteries. Apparently the prophecy is not as important as it once was. In addition, his plan to break into Azkaban has been put on hold for the time being," Severus stated. "That concerns me, as he wished to break Bellatrix and the others out as a priority only mere weeks ago."
"Do we know what he found in the cave?"
Snape shook his head. "I'm afraid not Headmaster. He has been very quiet about it...Lucius believes that whatever he has found was dangerous and unstable. He worries for his family."
"Interesting. Perhaps we can use that to our advantage. I am open to speaking with Mr. Malfoy if he feels that his family is threatened," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard in uffish thought.
It was then that the pair heard angry voices come from the stairs. Dumbledore turned to Severus, who was clueless as to the identity of the voices. At once, the office was filled with Dolores Umbridge, Cornelius Fudge, and a team of Aurors. Minerva trailed behind them, trying to keep order.
"Headmaster, they forced themselves in demanding to speak with you!" she cried.
The Headmaster put up a hand to calm her down. "It is okay Minerva. Cornelius, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
The short man pointed his finger right at his face. "Do not try to play games with me Dumbledore! I know everything about your talk with Madame Umbridge here! I know you are now actively trying to undermine my authority as Minister!"
"You are delusional Cornelius. You are blinded for the love of the position you hold and it is shielding you from the dark truths that befall you. Augusta Longottom is dead! She was killed by Voldemort!" Albus told the man as calmly as he could.
"Lies Minister! This school is run on lies! Between the Potter boy and the Hakubi girl and that idiot of a teacher, this school lacks order! The Longbottom boy threatened me and nothing came of it! There is no discipline here!" Umbridge shrilled.
"No discipline!" Minerva gasped. "I am sorry that we do not condone disfigurement Dolores, but hasn't the boy suffered enough?! He lost his last normal family member! Isn't that guilt enough to appease your sadistic nature?!"
"Do you hear them?! Sadistic, me?! Perpetual lies Minister!"
Albus regarded the Minister. "Cornelius, clearly you did not come here to sit and chat about things. What are you here for?"
"Your job, Albus. As of this moment, I am forcing you to resign as Headmaster and I will instate Dolores Umbridge immediately," he grinned.
"You cannot be serious!" Minerva yelled. "That woman will destroy our school!"
Fudge turned to Snape. "What do you have to say about this Severus?"
The greasy haired man turned to the Headmaster who made the smallest of nods. "Personally, I have no say of the matter as long as I can continue my work in peace."
"You shall, my friend. See here Dumbledore and don't make this difficult!"
Dumbledore sighed and adopted a very serious look. "I will comply with you Minister only if two requests are met. The first is that the transfer students and teacher may continue their stay until the end of the term. I am aware that Madame Umbridge is not the biggest fan of them, despite their role as international peacekeepers."
The Minister nodded his head. "That sounds very reasonable Dumbledore. Your second request is...?"
"That no harm or consequence come to the Longbottom boy this year. He is very clearly emotionally damaged and punishing him will do no good to anyone. I would try for other requests, but I know you would deny them just to spite me. I know you would in this case too. However, just remember he is the new Lord Longbottom and has the right to take a seat on the Wizengamont if he were to claim it."
The notion of discrediting the Lord of one of the oldest and most prestigious Pure Blooded families of Great Britain was not something Fudge wished to do, despite having the mind to do so when he arrived today.
"Very well. As of this moment, Albus Dumbledore, you are to relinquish your title as the Headmaster of this school. You have the next hour to pack your belongings and have them flooed to the residence of your choice. Do you wish to say anything else?" Fudge asked.
Dumbledore looked to Severus and Minerva. "Guard the children. Keep them safe. Minerva, keep your temper. Severus, remember your place."
The two professors tried to hide their shock at the events while Umbridge relished the moment with glee. This unexpected event would no doubt cause shockwaves throughout the entire school. A new era was approaching...one controlled by Dolores Umbridge.
Let us return to the candle that exhausted the wick.
The darkness that comes without a candle can seem frightening and dangerous for some. It represents the unknown void that cannot be comprehended.
But if a new candle were to replace it...one with a stronger wick...
The flame can burn passionately again. All it needs is a light to start it off...