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Neighbors - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Just a short, since I haven't given you guys anything for a while. ;p Justin Finch-Fletchley.

On the fourteenth of July, nineteen-ninety-seven, the sun set over the Cotswolds at nineteen minutes past nine o'clock at night. The sky had cleared at last after a day of clouds, and the weather was pleasantly cool. The waxing moon shone down on fields of grass and clover, making the narrow, picturesque roads into silver ribbons that seemed to secure the wrapping of some fabulous summertime present. The good smell of warm, moist earth and growing things lay like a blanket over the hills, and the soft sound of chirping crickets gave the starlight a voice.

Finch Hall, set far back from the road, had once held sway over everything it saw here, but over the years, the lands had been sold to weekend squires and robber barons, just to keep up with the taxes, until only the great house and a few acres of gardens and pastures around it were left. For a time, even that had even been open to the public, but that had ended abruptly fifteen years ago, when the Finch-Fletchleys declared that the barrage of strangers was troubling to their small son, Justin. This struck neighbors as strange, since Justin was a happy, gregarious child who made friends easily and loved visitors, but most assumed it was just an excuse to close the house after one clumsy visitor or another had broken something irreplaceable.

Something had broken, in fact--a music box that Sir Eldin Finch-Fletchley had given to his intended in nineteen-twenty-three--but it hadn't had anything to do with the visitors. Two-year-old Justin had simply been enthralled with it, and wanted to see what made such pretty sounds. After it had been taken from him several times, he'd let loose a great, whooping cry, and the sides had come flying off, the innards bursting apart so he could look at each part. A group of tourists had, at the time, been examining the parlor next door.

The Finch-Fletchleys did not, at the time, properly remember just how those tourists had come to be gone (nor did the tourists remember what had prompted them to remember pressing appointments elsewhere), but they had been possessed of a need to close the house, to make sure that no one ever talked about what might or might not be seen around little Justin.

Whatever Charms the Muggle Liaison office had used--Justin now suspected a Confundus Charm on his parents and a few simple Distraction Spells on would-be visitors--they had to be getting old, and he found that he didn't want to trust his parents to fifteen-year-old Charm work. Not with the Death Eaters out again, not with what Harry Potter had told them during the meetings of Dumbledore's Army. No members of the Order had come to replace spells or reassure him that he wouldn't be targeted, and Justin's marks in Defense weren't his strongest--he could hold his own in a duel, but he didn't think he was strong enough for a good protective charm--so he'd raided his trust, told his parents that they'd won a fabulous cruise, and sent them away for what they assumed was two weeks. As soon as they came across a little knick-knack he'd packed in Mum's suitcase, though, they would decide to stay abroad until he called them back.

He'd sent away the little remaining household staff as well, and now was rattling around pointlessly in the great house, unsure just what he meant to do with himself, and feeling more than a little silly to have taken all of these precautions. After all, he wasn't terribly involved in anything. Surely, he wouldn't be high on anyone's list. It had probably all been empty-headed paranoia, making plans like that, as though he, Justin Finch-Fletchley, was anyone's greatest target.

He looked out the huge parlor window, at the lights of the distant houses around him. He was glad that parts of the land had been sold off. He liked having neighbors.

To the north, he could see the Rosenthal home. He'd gone out with their daughter, Rebecca, last summer, mostly to pass the time. A bit further up, he could just see the twinkle of lights at the Garrisons. They were an elderly couple, and they kept rabbits. The Wilbores and Freelands were up the road to the east, and just south of Finch Hall, where the two horse pastures abutted one another, Justin could see the Morse home. Mr. Morse, who'd been an MP for a while, had just been given an ambassadorship. Justin couldn't remember where. The Morse parents had left in a rush of pomp last week. The son, Daniel Morse, was three years younger than Justin, and had always struck him as one of the loneliest boys he'd ever seen. Justin had tried to invite him up to the Hall, but he always seemed to have important business to do with his father when he wasn't off at his own school. (The Morses, who would undoubtedly have traded their souls to put Daniel in Eton with the princes, had been known to suggest that "that Finch-Fletchley boy" had probably turned down Eton because he wasn't terribly bright and had only been offered a spot based on his social class.)

He sighed, and looked down again at the letter sitting on the mahogany desk behind him.

It was long, as most of Ernie's letters were, and written on Hufflepuff House stationery--pale yellow, with a black "H" on the back of a walking badger. It was not, quite unfortunately, addressed to "The Right Respectable Justin-Finch Fletchley, Grand Badger-in-Waiting, Overseer of the Sacred Implements and Earl of the Night Kitchen." Overblown titles were a joke that had grown up in his year in Hufflepuff (based on Susan's innocent question of how letters to the son of a baronet were to be addressed), and the lack of it on the outside of this particular envelope had been the first clue that Ernie's purpose was not to joke.

July 13.

Dear Justin,
I have it on good authority from my parents, who are well aware of the happenings in the Wizengamot, that you must not return to school this year, no matter what you hear, no matter what you read. The Ministry is standing now, and Minister Scrimgeour continues to do his best, but things are not as they seem. There is, according to Mother, a disturbing increase in noise from sectors she'd thought long quiet.

I know you may think that this will be like the last war, with the Ministry standing between the Death Eaters and the Muggle-borns, that you might continue to attend just as Muggle-borns did during the last bout. The Toad has been bringing up studies about "stealing magic" and necessary blood components. All nonsense, of course, but Mother says that people have been reading and talking about them quite seriously. If you don't appreciate what that means, allow me to clarify: They believe Muggle-borns must have committed a crime to be in possession of magical skills. Mother doesn't know how it will play out in the end, but she considers it ominous, and as she is quite fond of you, she would like you to be quite clear of all it before it happens. We set about trying to find a way to make you related to us, but I'm afraid that, not only did your second-year experience name you in the Prophet as a Muggle-born, but your father's title puts your lineage on easy display as well.

This is intolerably stupid. I composed a letter to the editor at the Prophet about it, and sent it around for other pure-bloods in Hufflepuff to sign, but unfortunately, Zacharias Smith decided it was imprudent to have our names on it, and unilaterally destroyed it. I shall begin again, perhaps signing for myself only...

Justin had interrupted his first reading at this point to send Ernie's owl back with a firm admonition to not do any such thing. The rest of the letter was taken up with more dire news of the Ministry, rumors about Hogwarts staff that had reached Ernie's ears, and gossip (though Ernie would undoubtedly call it news) about other Hufflepuffs who had visited the Macmillans over the years. At the end, after his signature, he'd changed pens and written, obviously immediately after learning it:

P.S.: There is also wonderful news of an old 'Puff, Nymphadora Tonks, which my mother brought home from work today. I presume you remember Professor Lupin, from third year? They've married! It was something of a rush, as I understand it, because of the Toad and her new regulation on werewolves--Mother was arguing about the very thing as the ceremony occurred--but it was done before any laws were passed. I shall be sending around a note of congratulations. Even at a time like this, I believe it to be incumbant on us to celebrate what is good in the world, don't you?

Justin smiled faintly. If he was still here when Ernie's note came around to him, he would sign it. He'd always liked Lupin, and, though Tonks had left Hufflepuff the year before he'd arrived, older students had always had fond tales of her. That seemed a bit young for Lupin, who'd always looked like he was on death's door, but--

Without any warning, the window beside him blew in with a crash, heavy glass flying into the parlor. Justin ducked behind the desk, shoving Ernie's letter into his pocket and rolling off to one side.

"Mudblood filth!" someone screeched.

Justin looked up. There was a witch standing where the window had been, holding on to the iron grating that had once held the panes. She could easily have broken it as well, and probably would, but for whatever reason, at the moment, she was just gloating, her over-widened eyes gleeful.

"Little Mudblood lordling... shall we see just how blue your blood is? Shall we...?"

Justin decided not to stay for the rest of her taunt. He grabbed his wand and tried to Banish her, to no effect except delighted laughter. Instead, he cast the spell he used on a glass-less window at Hogwarts to keep the cold out, then ran before she could notice or break it, cursing himself for letting them put up anti-Apparition wards around the property. He ran pell-mell through the parlor, down the marble-floored corridor that led to the door, slipping and nearly sending himself down the stairs as he heard the ironwork blow in behind him.

The front door exploded inward and three men burst through it. Justin swerved, meaning to change his direction and run for the kitchen, to use the servants' door, but this time, there was no stopping the slip on the floor. He collapsed, and found himself face-to-shoe with the the witch he'd seen earlier.

"Clever little beast!" she said, laughing, and stomped on his wand hand. Her heel went through the thin skin between his thumb and forefinger, and blood began to spread out around his hand in a slick pool. He clenched his teeth to avoid screaming, and his fingers splayed, loose around his wand.

She reached for it.

"Apparition barriers are down!" someone shouted from downstairs. "We're coming for you now!"

Justin didn't wait, and didn't think. He grabbed his wand, ignoring the injury to his hand, and Disapparated.

He didn't go far.

The staff was gone, and his parents were gone, and he was the only one on the grounds. He knew his duty. He Apparated in the barns, meaning to send the sheep away and let the horses free. But the Death Eaters were already on the grounds, gleefully setting fire to carefully sculpted gardens and old outbuildings. The barn was filled with smoke, and flames had already claimed part of the loft.

He looked around wildly. The sheep were bleating in terror in a far corner, and the horses were battering at their stalls. He tried a flame freezing charm, but the animals couldn't feel it, only see the encroaching fire.

Justin broke the latches on all of the horses' stalls with a flick of his wand, but none of them ran.

Outside, someone yelled, "Oh, looky here, at all the pretty horses!"

Justin looked over his shoulder, then decisively, began pointing his wand at the sheep. Each disappeared with a pop. Ernie might be surprised at this particular answer to his letter when they started to arrive, but there wasn't exactly time for a message. He cleared their pen, then turned to the horses, who were wilder, and harder to get a fix on.

Mum's horse, Princess Leia, was the calmest, and he got her away first, followed by the three workhorses who were a bit too big to twist away. There was only his own horse left--Mandrake, a spirited gelding who Justin had got as a foal after he'd recovered from his months in the school infirmary second year.

"Come on, now," he said, going in close. "Come on now, 'Drake, I'm going to help you, I have to get you out of here. You're going to be scared, but that's all right, you'll be alive, you'll be fine, you'll be at your friend Ernie's. You remember your friend who gives you sugar?"

Mandrake whinnied and reared.

A bale of burning hay fell down from a loft and set the floor on fire. Justin turned long enough to quell it, and saw the witch from the house coming in, her knife drawn alongside her wand. She walked through the flames without acknowledging them. "Got you now," she said. "Got the little lordling!"

She moved in.

Justin stopped trying to reason with Mandrake. He pointed his wand backward and said, "Petrificus Totalis!" The horse stopped struggling, though his eyes were wide with terror. With a flick of his wand, Justin sent him on. He could already feel the tugging on his wand as the witch tried to disarm him. It was all he could do to fight it. He tried to Disapparate, but she laughed--she'd trapped him here.

She closed in on him, knife drawn. "Look at you, all out of places to go. What will you do now?"

"I'll fight," Justin whispered.

"Oh, a brave little Hufflepuff!" She gave him a mocking bow, then raised her wand. "Shall we have a duel, Mudblood? Shall we dance in the fire? Avada--"

Suddenly, there as a thunder of hooves. The witch was knocked off her feet, and her wand went skittering. Something flashed in the flame, and Justin heard the clash of metal on metal as her knife met a longer blade.

"Balius! Down!" the rider cried. "Justin, get on!"

Justin blinked into the smoke, where he could see a large, blindfolded horse, ridden by a small, thin boy who was, of all things, carrying a sword, with which he was trying to duel the knife-wielding witch. It was Daniel Morse, and he wouldn't last long, or at all if she got hold of her wand.

Justin ran forward and jumped onto the horse's back, holding onto Daniel.

Daniel spurred the horse, and Justin nearly fell off as it reared and pawed down at the witch, and then they were riding out of the barn, furiously pounding across the fields.

"Get to the property line!" Justin yelled. "I can use it!"

Daniel didn't ask how or why. He just rode for the wall, thundering over the clover fields. The horse's blindfold went flying off into the wind, and then Justin felt its haunches gather for the jump.

They landed on the Morses' property, and Justin raised his wand at the low stone wall that was now behind him. It rose up, and up, going to twenty feet before it stopped.

"Claudo Patronium!" Justin shouted. The burst of magic that he felt come from him was stronger than anything he'd done before, but he still didn't trust it, and added a strong Confundus Charm as well. Beyond the barrier, he could hear the Death Eaters arguing about which way he might have gone.

Daniel brought the horse to a stop at a drinking trough, and both boys slid off the back.

"Thank you," Justin said.

"I saw the fire." Daniel frowned at him. "Are you going to explain, or shall I start making guesses?"


17 comments or Leave a comment
From: severely_lupine Date: July 30th, 2011 09:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay, Fernfic! I've never much cared one way or the other about Justin, but it's always interesting to see what was going on with non Trio members during this year. And of course I'm quite fond of Daniel. So, is this where he finds out about wizards, or did he already learn it earlier? At what point does he make the connection that Lupin was one? (Loved how Daniel came in on a horse with his sword. Nice reference to his fencing hobby.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't say I care all the much about Justin either--one way or another--but I figure most of the Muggle-borns would have had an eventful year.

And yeah, Daniel's not bad with a sword, and I doubt Justin was as worried about his form as his mother was after the match Remus saw.
lorelei_lynn From: lorelei_lynn Date: July 30th, 2011 01:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really enjoyed this. So what happens next? :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
War. ;p
at_upton From: at_upton Date: July 30th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hurrah for Daniel Morse, knight in shining armor! I always really enjoy glimpses into what's happening during canon, and this felt very real-- I'd love to see what happens next.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like peeking at what else might have been happening, too. I cringed at burning down a nice country house, though. Boo, Death Eaters.
at_upton From: at_upton Date: July 31st, 2011 04:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Indeed. Poor portraits. :(
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: July 30th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great stuff. Freeing the animals. Good boy, Justin!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love me an aristocrat who knows what his job actually is supposed to be.
malinbe From: malinbe Date: July 30th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, that was exciting! I love some excitment in the mornings. There's a part of me weeping for the treasures on the stately home, but the other is cheering on the brave muggle Daniel!

And here I've been re-reading Shifts (though I stopped before the battle at the Department of Mysteries) and Forest Guard, after listening to your interview. That was great, btw!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I took a peek at Shifts lately, too--it's been a while!--and I spotted the sword scene and thought it would be cool for Daniel to duel a Death Eater. (That sounds like a very weird children's book--Daniel and the Death Eaters.)
sueatducksfoot From: sueatducksfoot Date: July 30th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wonderful!! It's so much fun to get a peek into what may have happened to the other characters. And as a Hufflepuff, I love to see stories about other Puffs. I agree that burning down the house and barns was tragic, so much history lost. I'm glad Justin was able to safe the animals. Woot for Daniel who saved the day. Thanks for a great distraction during breakfast.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 30th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I always want to smack people who wreck old things.

I do love the 'Puffs as a general rule. Justin--meh, but he's useful and well-positioned. I adore Ernie, though. Ever since CoS, when he gave his stuffy apology.
hungrytiger11 From: hungrytiger11 Date: July 30th, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I am quite intrigued by this. Ernie and Justin are both coming to life in your story and I'm interested to see how non-Gryffindor/on-trio friendship dynamics are during the war. And, of course, your OC Daniel is always fun to "meet" again.
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: July 30th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really enjoyed this! It was so sweet that Justin saved the sheep and horses by sending them to Ernie. I loved that! Daniel's rescue was great! I'd love to see a sequel . . . ;)
arnel_63 From: arnel_63 Date: July 30th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just love Justin Finch-Fletchley stories and this one doesn't disappoint. You've captured the urgency of the pre-second war times through Ernie's letter and Justin's own actions to keep his parents and the household staff safe. I'd love to see a second chapter continuing the new-found friendship between Justin and Daniel as well as how they cope with the beginning of the war because I sense that both boys go to magical institutions. Thanks for sharing this with us.
book_worm5 From: book_worm5 Date: July 30th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I knew I recognised the name Daniel Morse from somewhere. Yay, connections! Of course, my first thought was actually that this was a young Inspector Morse and you were seeding a crossover, since I know nothing about that series apart from the fact it exists.
17 comments or Leave a comment