Characters: Neville, Hannah, various others
Prompt number: 68
Word Count: ~6500
Warnings: Character deaths, torture, mild language
Summary: It isn't until their seventh year that they realize how much they have in common. Leader, quitter, teacher, liar, protector, failure -- some sides of people don't come through until they're put through the worst.
Disclaimer: Neville and Hannah and the Hogwarts world do not belong to me. I'm just playing with JK Rowling's wonderful creations.
Author’s Notes: Huge thanks to my beta, C, for keeping me sane and helping me figure out exactly where this story was supposed to go.
Also, scenes do not appear chronologically, and if you read expecting them to, you will get very confused very quickly.
It isn’t until their seventh year that they realize how much they have in common.
I. They are leaders.
“It’s been three weeks!” he rages as he paces about his dorm like a caged animal. “When are people going to start to do something?”
“And what exactly is it that you’d like them to do?” his roommate demands, the Irish boy’s brogue thicker than usual, which is never a good sign. Some back part of Neville’s mind notes that Seamus is likely as angry with Neville as he is with him, but he’s past the point of caring.
“Anything!” he explodes. “Term started three weeks ago, Seamus! How long are we going to just sit on our arses and let them bully us around? When is someone going to stand up to them?”
“I don’t know, Neville, why don’t you ask Ginny when she gets out of the Hospital Wing? It was, after all, standing up to them last week that put her there!” Seamus yells back. “They made an example of her, and everyone’s terrified that they’ll be next!”
“Harry would still fight them,” Neville says stubbornly.
“Harry isn’t here, or haven’t you noticed? He’s disappeared along with half the school, and he isn’t coming back. So it doesn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t do, does it?”
“Of course it still matters! The DA was about training us how to defend ourselves in the real world! If that doesn’t apply here, I don’t know where it does! Harry would have wanted us to use his training, Dumbledore would have–”
“Dumbledore’s dead,” Seamus cuts in coldly. “And Harry’s disappeared. This isn’t their school anymore.”
“No, it’s ours!” he argues furiously. “So we have to stand up for it! Harry’s gone, Dumbledore’s gone, the teachers don’t dare, so we have to! And if no one else is willing to stand up and lead the charge –” He falters for the briefest moment, but then his resolve hardens and he pushes forward with determination, “– then I will!”
It takes Seamus off guard. “You?” he asks, sizing Neville up.
“Yes!” Neville says with conviction, knowing where the doubt is stemming from. “Frightened, weak, bumbling Neville! I will lead them if no one else has the courage to!”
Seamus takes another long moment to consider his roommate, but finally, with a look of new respect in his eye, he says, “With you taking the first step, we might just stand a chance.”
At the beginning of November, the students enter the Great Hall one morning to find “Dumbledore’s Army – Still Recruiting” scrawled in garish red letters across the wall behind the teachers’ table and the Carrows looking more displeased and unpleasant than usual.
When Ginny walks through the doors, they grab her roughly and haul her to the front of the room, and Hannah’s heart sinks. She knows what is coming, what always comes the morning after something like this happens.
“We have a vandal in our midst,” Amycus sneers, and Ginny flinches away from the saliva flying from his mouth, a look of disgust on her face. “Clearly, the usual punishments aren’t working, so I thought we’d try something new today.”
“You think I did this?” Ginny’s voice rings out clear and strong. “Do you have any proof, or are you punishing students based purely on hunches now?”
“We’re not punishing you for the crime,” Amycus growls. “We’re punishing you for not giving up the guilty party. If you tell us who is responsible, you won’t be punished at all. Unless, of course, it was you.”
“It was me!” a voice rings out from the crowd, and Hannah knows who it is before she recognizes voice or figure. It’s Seamus Finnegan because whenever something like this happens, it’s always Ginny or Neville or Seamus, and Neville’s spent the night serving detention for his last stunt.
“You have already proven yourself to be a liar, Finnegan,” Alecto drawls coldly, “so I’m afraid your confession holds no weight. Now then, Weasley. Give us names or face the consequences.”
“I’m telling you, it was me!” Seamus yells, but Ginny cuts him off.
“No, it wasn’t, Seamus!” she snaps, and Alecto’s hand tightens on her wand and Hannah and everyone else in the Great Hall know how this is going to end – the way it always ends.
And in that moment, Hannah suddenly realizes a dangerous truth – the rebellion is dying. It’s dying because everyone admires Ginny and Neville and Seamus, but no one is willing to stand up and join them. Because they’re all frightened, Hannah included, and they have reason to be. But when a rebellion is only three people, they’ll get worn down awfully fast, and they are, all three of them. And once they are broken, there will be no one left.
Ginny knows it, Hannah realizes, too. Ginny knows how desperate they are, and Seamus knows it but won’t accept it, and they need more people to put on that show of reckless Gryffindor courage, no matter the cost. They can’t hold the rebellion on their own. They need someone else to step forward and lead the second wave.
And so she does.
“It was me.”
Her voice shocks many in the Hall, the Carrows included. It takes half a second for the room to turn to her, but she steps forward, head held high. “I did it,” she says. “It was me.” Amycus’s eyes narrow.
“I don’t believe you,” he snarls, and Hannah forces herself to shrug.
“It was easy,” she says. “Your patrol patterns are predictable and routine. I’ve watched them for weeks now. And last night, I slipped out and set the writing on the wall. You can check my wand if you like.”
And she holds it out to them, heart pounding, and for one pregnant moment, the whole room is still, and she has no idea whether or not this will work, whether or not her actions will be enough to turn the tide and start the surge, but she hopes and she prays and she refuses to look as though she has any doubts at all.
And another voice speaks. “She’s lying.” The voice is soft and high, but every word is clear. And Luna Lovegood steps forward and says, “I know she is, because when I was painting the wall last night, I didn’t see her anywhere.”
“You’re saying you did this?” Alecto shouts at Luna, and then another voice rings out.
“No, because it was me,” says Colin Creevey.
“It was me,” says Ernie Macmillan.
“It was me,” claims Michael Corner. And then the Hall is alive with voices, all claiming credit, all joining in.
“SHUT UP!” Amycus finally roars, furious and seething.
Ginny is punished, in the end, a Cruciatus Curse right there in front of everyone. But she looks Hannah straight in the eye through it, and even manages to smile.
II. They are quitters.
“No, Neville, I mean it. I quit.”
“Hannah, listen—” There is fatigue in his voice, and enforced patience, and just the tiniest bit of reproach, and it was that last that gets her in the end.
“No, Neville, you listen!” She doesn’t lose her temper often, but it’s late and she’s tired and she’s had enough. “I’m not giving up after an hour or two, I’ve been trying to work these spells for six months. I can’t, all right, and I’m not interested in trying anymore!”
“Hannah, you just need more practice at it,” he tries to argue, but she cuts him off.
“No, I don’t. And deep down, you know it as well as I do. Charms? Fine. A protective spell? Sure. But hexes? Curses? I can’t do it, not for six months, not since my mother died, and you’d be better off spending your time teaching someone else.”
There is a silence after she says this where she realizes she’s said more than she meant to, and that’s when Neville drops the cool professor act and becomes, once more, her friend. “Since your mother died?” he asks with concern. “What do you mean, Hannah?”
She doesn’t want to tell him, doesn’t want to talk about it, but he’s right there and he’s listening and he’s Neville, and in the end, she finds herself sitting on the edge of the couch the Room provides and telling him everything.
“They tortured my mother before they killed her. Curses, hexes, anything they could think of. My father told me. He wouldn’t let me see her like that, all broken and bloody and barely recognizable. But it’s almost worse this way because my mind fills in the gaps. And every time I try a hex or jinx or curse, I see her lying there, and I can’t. I can’t do it.” She chances a glance at him, and there’s understanding and sympathy on his face, but no pity, and she’s extraordinarily grateful to him for that. “So I quit, Neville. It’s a waste of my time and yours, and yours certainly can be better spent.”
There is a long silence, then, finally, he nods. “Okay,” he says.
“I’m telling you, this has to stop!” The words are hissed in a whisper, but they carry far enough to elicit a stern frown and “Shhhh!” from Madam Pince at the front desk. Casting an anxious glance over his shoulder, Neville continues in a softer voice. “I’m calling it off.” Ginny’s frown hardens.
“Calling what off?” she asks in a dangerous voice.
“The rebellion, all of it!”
“Because the Carrows went after someone who wasn’t you, me, or Seamus?” she demands. “Isn’t that what we wanted?”
“I wanted to give the students of this school hope, to remind them that they aren’t alone! I did not want fourteen-year-old girls to be Crucio’d five times in succession for telling Amycus Carrow that Professor Dumbledore was a better Headmaster than Snape could ever be!”
“I was proud of her,” Ginny counters. “And she stood up to those curses as well as any member of the Order.”
“She shouldn’t have had to!” Neville thunders, bringing another black look from the librarian. “If she hadn’t followed me, if I hadn’t—”
“Come off it!” Ginny hisses angrily. “Now you sound like Harry.” It isn’t a compliment. “These people aren’t fighting because you asked them to, Neville. They’re fighting because you showed them they have something worth fighting for. They follow you because you’ve proven yourself to be a leader, but if you try to squash this rebellion, you’ll have about as much luck as the Carrows. They’re not fighting because of you. So you can give up and watch them be hurt, or you can teach them how to survive, but those are pretty much your only options.” And without waiting for a reply, she gathers her things and leaves.
He sits at the empty table alone with his thoughts for only a second or two. Then Hannah Abbott slides into Ginny’s empty seat. “I take it you heard that,” he says darkly.
“Well, if you two are going to have conversations like that in the middle of the library where anyone might hear you, someone has to make sure to chase the eavesdroppers away.”
He barely smiles, and it’s clear he’s not in the mood for jokes. So when she speaks again, it’s in a more serious vein. “She’s right, you know,” she says, and Neville scowls.
“I started this,” he mutters.
“Oh, stop taking credit for everything, Neville,” she says in a voice that clearly expresses her feelings on the situation. “If you hadn’t, somebody else would have. That’s what happens when people are oppressed. Either everyone breaks, or eventually, someone rebels. Better fighting than broken, in my mind.”
“But they’re just children,” he whispers, his voice full of anguish.
“No, they aren’t,” she says gently. “Not anymore. The Death Eaters have seen to that. So all we can do is ensure that they grow up on our terms, into mature adults, not broken ones.”
The silence stretches on unbearably after that, until he says in a whisper, “I’m scared, Hannah.”
“Despite what Gryffindors seem to think, that’s not a crime,” she says easily.
“I don’t know if I can be what everyone needs me to be.” She lays a hand gently on his arm until he looks her in the eye.
“I know you can.”
III. They are teachers.
“Hold your wand up a little higher . . . a little higher still . . .that’s it. Just like that.”
It is a rainy, gloomy day, and Neville has decided that if they’re all going to be stuck in the Room of Requirement pretending to be runaways, they might as well get a little spell practice in, so he’s taken to teaching the younger students whenever they have a spare moment.
“Now,” he says to Edgar Davies and Natalie McDonald, “have you been practicing the wand movement? Let me see.” He watches their movements and makes small corrections – a sharper flick here, a firmer jab there. “Think of it like hitting someone sharply on the head with a club,” he tells them with a smile. “Now with the incantation. You first, Natalie. Go ahead, aim right at me.”
“You?” she asks, wide-eyed. “But what if I knock you out?”
“Well, that’s the general idea,” Neville says with a smile. “But don’t worry about me. It won’t be the first time, and Seamus’ll be right here to revive me. Now, go on.”
The fourth-year girl grips her wand tightly and, with a determined look on her face, performs the correct movement and says, “Stupefy!”
Neville falls to the ground, Stunned, and when Seamus brings him to a moment later, Natalie is so excited she’s bouncing up and down. “I did it!” she cries. “I did it, Neville! I’ve never Stunned anything before!” And she darts forward and gives him a quick hug, then hurries over to her friends, saying, “Watch what Neville taught me to do!”
Hannah’s eyes narrow in fury as she watches the Carrows slice open the cheek of one of her younger Housemates during Common Room inspection for leaving a sheaf of parchment out on a table. The young girl’s eyes water in shock as the blood trickles down her face. Susan Bones hurries forward, to comfort the girl as best she can.
“There now,” she says in her best comforting tone. “Don’t worry, Kait, Madame Pomfrey will fix it up in a trice.”
“No, she will not,” sneers Alecto Carrow. “What use is pain as a punishment if the nurse spells it away at the first chance? This girl needs to be taught a lesson, and so you are not to seek any medical treatment, do you understand me?”
Hannah’s had enough. Her anger radiating from her, she steps sharply forward and, locking eyes with the Death Eater, crossing straight to Kait. “Watch closely, everyone,” she says in a loud, ringing voice. “I have a feeling this is a spell we’ll need a lot in the coming weeks. The most important element is picturing the injured body part in perfect health and keeping that image at the front of your mind.” And she raises her wand to Kait’s cheek. “Episky!” she says calmly, and has the pleasure of watching the skin knit together good as new.
“Hannah Abbott,” Alecto says with cold and cruel glee. “Step forward.” She does so, head held high and defiant. “Give me your wand hand.”
When the Death Eater breaks her fingers, Hannah is pleased to say she doesn’t cry out even a little. And she is prouder of her girls than she has ever been when they perform an admirable Healing charm as soon as the inspection has ended.
IV. They are liars.
When they return after the Christmas holidays, six Hufflepuff students are unaccounted for, and Hannah knows they are not the only House to suffer losses. She is heartsick, listing in her mind all those who didn’t come back, and trying not to imagine all the possible reasons why.
“Hannah?” Once they are back in their Common Room and away from prying eyes, the younger students come to her. “Hannah?” The speaker is a young girl, second year, maybe. “Hannah, Bethany didn’t come back.”
“I know, Lea,” Hannah says, laying a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“What happened to her?” Lea asks, near tears. “You don’t think they got her, do you?”
Hannah knows about Bethany’s family, some of the most vocal opponents of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named outside of the Order. Hannah doesn’t know what happened to Bethany, but she can guess. She closes her eyes.
“No,” she says. “I’m sure Bethany and her family are safely away somewhere, in hiding. In America, maybe, or somewhere in the Mediterranean. In Greece, lying on a beach, waiting to come back until it’s safe.”
“You really think so?” the young girl asks, hope replacing the worry in her voice.
“Yes,” Hannah lies around a lump in her throat. “I really do.”
They are battered, bruised, and bloody when the respite comes, and without an enemy in front of him to fight, Neville doesn’t know what to do with himself. Then, there is a hand on his shoulder and Professor McGonagall is at his side.
“Take a party and go bring in our dead,” she says in a raw voice. It takes him a beat, but he nods and goes to do as she asks.
His mind is detached from the work, and he knows he’ll pay for it later, but in this moment, it’s the only way he can make trip after trip out into that darkness to carry in the bodies of his friends.
On one trip, he stumbles, and turning, sees he has done so over a boot – a body he has missed. But then the boot moves, and he hears a groan and a rattle, and for one wild moment, his heart soars – one alive!
But then his mind catches up, and he knows that rattle far too well, and so he knows that even if this person is alive now, he won’t be for long.
But hoping against hope that he might be able to save a life on this horrid day rather than take one, Neville kneels to offer what comfort he can, and suddenly, seeing the poor wretch’s face, he can no longer quite keep himself detached.
Colin Creevey’s face is lined with dirt and blood, and there is death in his eyes when they find Neville’s.
“Neville,” he croaks, his one good hand grasping at the air. Neville clasps it in his own.
“I’m here, Colin,” he says.
“I had to – come back,” Colin gasps. “Had to fight . . . But I – I don’t think I – did so well.”
Neville can feeling the emotion collecting in his throat, but he swallows hard and forces it down. “You did fine, Colin,” he says softly.
“Did we win?” he chokes out desperately.
“Didn’t you hear?” Neville asks because the Dark Lord’s voice rang out loud and clear.
“Musta — blacked out,” Colin says, and then spends an anxious long few moments trying to catch his breath. “Did we?”
Looking down at the young man dying in front of him, Neville says as evenly as possible, “Yeah, Colin. We won. You turned the tide. We owe you one.” He is rewarded with a smile.
“I knew you’d – be lost – without me—” His breath catches and rattles in his throat, once, twice, three times. And then, slowly, with one long exhale, he is gone.
Holding Colin’s now-limp hand, all the emotion that had been building in Neville fell away, replaced by detachment just as it threatened to overwhelm him. He stares at the tiny body laid out before him, and all he can think about is how much he despises this war.
V. They are protectors.
Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts, though he never intended it to be such, is the opening of the floodgate, and from the moment Arianna appeared in the portrait in the Room of Requirement, Neville knew the day would end in war. In many ways, he knew, this was what they had been working toward all year – becoming an army not just to fight and survive against the Carrows, but to join the forces against Voldemort and end things once and for all.
Growing up, even so recently as a year ago, Neville would never have believed that he would so easily step into anything even remotely resembling a battle mode, but that’s what he has done, without even thinking about it.
With the evacuation of the younger students underway, he turns to find the next thing to be done to ready the castle for battle, and that’s when he almost trips over Mandy Brocklehurst. She’s sitting against the walls, knees held tight to her chest, her breathing fast and shallow. She looks like she’s on the edge of a panic attack, and Neville kneels next to her in concern.
She registers his presence half a moment after he does so. “Neville!” she says, and there are tears in her eyes that she tries furiously to hide. “I – I’m all right, I –” Her breath hitches in her throat, and he can see how terrified she is.
“Mandy,” he says softly. “Mandy, you don’t have to stay—”
“Yes, I do!” she says forcefully, pushing away from the wall and scrambling to her feet. “Too many people got sent away, Neville! Too many of our best fighters are underage! You need – you need every – every wand you can get, and I –” Her defiance aside, her terror is clear, and Neville watches her in wonder and marvels at the unparalleled bravery he has seen from so many this year. “I can do this,” she whispers, but she’s talking more to herself than to him. She’s trying to convince herself that it’s true.
He doesn’t tell her it’s no crime to be afraid. He doesn’t tell her that if she can’t overcome her fear, she’ll hurt them more than help them. He doesn’t tell her that her life isn’t worth staying just to make a point. Instead, he takes her by the shoulders as says, as authoritatively as possible, “Mandy, I need you to go with the evacuating students.”
His words hurt her; he can see that. And at the same time, she’s warring with herself because she doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t know if she’s capable of the fight. “Neville, I–”
He shakes his head. “I’m afraid I can’t let you argue,” he says. “We need a good, solid wand with the youngers going into Hogsmeade. We need someone there to make sure Voldemort’s supporters from the school don’t start anything, and we need someone with them in case the Death Eaters try to attack them. There’s not much of a chance that they will, but I’m not willing to leave so many unprotected. I’m sorry. I know you want to stay here and fight, but it’s in the village that I need you.”
It takes a moment, but then she understands. She closes her eyes and exhales, her whole body sagging in relief. Then she straightens and looks him in the eye. “I won’t let you down,” she says, and he clasps her on the arm.
About halfway through the first term, the Carrows take to starting each morning with public punishments for the previous day’s offenses. It makes Hannah sick, every aspect of it, from the public torture and humiliation undertaken in the name of education to the horrific, stomach churning punishments the Carrows come up with. And watching Snape watch it coolly, impassively, from his perch high above at the teachers’ table makes her furious. She’s never liked him, but this year, she’s come to hate him, like many of the students.
But this morning, she isn’t thinking about Snape. She’s thinking about the third-year Ravenclaw boy who’s just been sentenced to ten magical lashes across his back for being caught breaking curfew the night before when he refused to leave his best friend’s bedside in the hospital wing.
The Ravenclaw table is outraged and quickly restrained with magical bonds so that they can’t interfere with the punishment, and Hannah sits seething in her seat at the glee shining clear in Alecto Carrow’s eyes as she prepares for the utterly barbaric and medieval punishment.
She can’t be allowed to do this! is the thought that blazes in Hannah’s mind, and without even thinking about what she’s doing, she stands just as Alecto Carrow draws her wand back, and casts the strongest Shield Charm she can muster.
The spell hits the surface of the shining bubble that forms around the boy and rebounds violently off, hitting Alecto in the face. She howls in pain as her cheek splits open, and Hannah feels an intense and burning satisfaction as she stands there before the entire stunned, whispering, and, from three directions, impressed Hall of students, silently and proudly claiming responsibility for the charm.
She is Crucio’d for the first time that day, and after that, all the houses but Slytherin are forcibly restrained when punishment is meted out, but the gratitude in the boy’s eyes and the impressed look on Neville’s face are worth it.
VI. They are failures.
When the fighting starts, Neville tries to send her away with the evacuating students, but Hannah’s having none of it. He pleads with her desperately, and she knows why, but she isn’t going to let that get in the way of her resolve. The war is bigger than both of them, and they can’t think selfishly, even though it’s for selfish reasons that she’s choosing to stay. She still can’t cast a curse or hex or jinx, but she’s got the strongest Shield Charm of any student in the castle, and she’ll be damned if she runs away and leaves those she loves without the protection she can offer.
And then she turns around and orders three underage Hufflepuffs to Hogsmeade, away from the fighting, citing the exact same reasons to them that Neville had to her, and she knows she’s a hypocrite for it, but she’s willing to live with that if it means they’ll survive the night.
But somehow, one of those students makes it back to the castle in the midst of the fighting, the 12-year-old girl Lea who Hannah comforted after Christmas, whose Shield Charm has been brought down with a mediocre tickling jinx and whose Stupefy has never done more than knock her opponent back a few feet. She doesn’t stand a chance, and when Hannah sees her, halfway across the battlefield, she knows it.
And yet, she’s holding her own, her anger and fear fueling her spells. But when Hannah looks closer, it’s obvious that the Death Eater is only toying with her.
And then Lea stumbles – and the Death Eater’s wand goes up – and Hannah’s is out as well, sending her strongest Shield Charm toward the girl – and the jet of spell light leaves the Death Eater’s wand, heading straight for the innocent girl – and Hannah’s Shield closes up around her just a second too late —
The sickly purple light hits her, and she crumples to the ground, and Hannah is screaming her name and bolting forward, but it’s no use. She was too late.
She cradles Lea’s tiny body to her, this child who had no business being in the midst of war. “At least,” she whispers, tears streaming down her face, “you’ll never have to find out that I lied to you.”
Neville is no stranger to failure. In many ways, he’s been a failure all his life, at least according to Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy and his grandmother. He has failed to brew potions and to fly a broomstick and to live up to his father, but as he stands incapacitated in front of the Grand Hall and watches the Carrows torture an innocent Hufflepuff boy because of Neville’s latest transgression, he knows he has never truly known all that failure can encompass.
He is eaten alive with guilt and anguish. He was supposed to be their protector, their leader. He was supposed to keep them safe and fight for them, and instead, they are being harmed because of him, tortured because of him, and he can’t do it anymore. This might actually break him, they might finally have done it, because he can’t think of a way to live with himself after this, after hearing the boy’s screams and sobs of pain, after being forced to watch him writhe in agony on the stone floor as they curse him again and again and again until he is too drained to sob or scream or do anything more than lie there, limp, as tears stream silently down his face.
He carries the boy to the hospital wing himself, when it’s all over. Hannah’s there, as he knew she would be, but he can’t look her in the face. The boy’s eyes flutter open as Neville puts him gently in a bed. “I’m so sorry, Michael,” he whispers, anguished, but Michael shakes his head weakly.
“Don’t be,” he whispers. “I was happy to do it. For you.”
And something does break inside him then, and he can’t stay there. He nods once, and turns and leaves almost at run, desperate to hold himself together until he’s away from there and from them. He doesn’t fool Hannah, and she calls after him, but he doesn’t stop, he can’t stop, not until he reaches the Room, asks for a safe haven, and throws himself inside.
And then he breaks down, alone in that room, the only place he can, sobbing and sobbing and feeling so much like a failure that he doesn’t see how he’ll ever feel like anything else ever again.
And then, suddenly, Hannah’s there, even though she shouldn’t be because he asked the Room for a place he could be alone.
“He doesn’t blame you, you know,” she says softly, closing the door behind her. “No one does.”
“But they should!” he cries, because that’s what’s at the heart of this. He stands and walks away and continues, “No one does, but they should, Hannah! I’m no kind of leader. I’m supposed to protect them, and instead— ” He breaks off abruptly. “I can do no wrong in their eyes, but I do wrong all the time! I get them hurt, I lead them straight into trouble – why don’t they blame me? Why don’t they scream at me, rail at me, call me out for all the pain and hurt I’ve put them through this year?” She doesn’t answer, and so he’s left to sink to the ground on the other side of the room, with a whispered, “I’m a failure.”
“Stop it,” she says sharply, and her tone startles him into looking up. She looks almost angry, and it’s not a look he’s ever seen directed at him before, though he’s seen it many times turned against the Carrows. “What makes you a failure, Neville?” she demands. When he stares at her without speaking, she asks again. “I’m serious. In what ways have you failed? List them for me, right now.” He continues to stare at her, and she raises an eyebrow. “Well? You want to say things like that about yourself, you’d better be prepared to back them up. Otherwise, shut up.”
She is completely serious, and it so bewilders him that he can only do what she asks. “The Carrows tortured Michael to punish me,” he says. “He’s one of the people I’m supposed to be protecting, and instead, I landed him in the Hospital Wing.”
“You’re right,” she says. “What else?” He is taken aback for a moment because he expected her to counter the claim, to try and convince him it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t expect her to agree.
“My idea to steal Gryffindor’s sword got Luna and Ginny sent to the Forbidden Forest,” he says.
“Okay. What else?”
She sits with him for what seems like hours, as he lists every thing that’s happened this year that he blames himself for, every weakness, every flaw, every doubt. She listens and doesn’t judge and doesn’t refute, but just keeps asking for more. And it’s more cathartic than he ever thought it would be. And she keeps asking and keeps asking and what he thought was an infinite list slowly but surely reaches its end with, “I never was able to brew an acceptable Forgetfulness Potion.”
She laughs, and with the sound, he realizes that his broken pieces have been put back together, and all the anguish and black emotions have left, and he feels up to shouldering once more the burden he knows is waiting for him by the door.
“Very good,” she says. “And is there anything else?”
And he looks at her in something very like wonder, that she so easily worked this magic, and it isn’t the first time she’s surprised him, impressed him, or made him feel like there is still something right left in the world. And so, he says, “Actually, yes,” and she looks at him expectantly. “I’ve put off telling people things because I always worried about whether or not it was the right time.”
“What things?” she asks.
“How I feel about them. How scared I am that we might not both come through this. How much I admire them for their talents and steadiness and willing to stand up to my being an idiot. I haven’t told them because I don’t know if it’s something they want to hear. I don’t know if saying those things will make everything that has to be coming that much harder.”
“The way I see it,” she says quietly, “we don’t have the luxury of wondering whether or not those things will be welcome. We just don’t have the time. Tomorrow could be the day the Carrows decide to finally kill one of us and damn the consequences, and every moment of happiness that we could have but pass over because of unanswered what-ifs is a moment wasted. So if you ask me, you should stop worrying about whether or not it’s the right moment, and just say what you have to say because even if it isn’t returned, we should show the love we have while we’ve got the chance because we could lose it at any moment.”
He watches her while she says all this, and she isn’t looking at him. She seems to be almost looking inward, and he knows by now that she’s thinking of her mother and the friends who have disappeared and perhaps something else as well.
But when she’s said all that, she looks at him and sees him and says, “Of course, it should be noted that I’m rubbish at following my own advice. Because I’ve had the same doubts you have. Because what if that quiet boy who I’ve watched grow into a leader has his eye on someone else? What if I’ve only ever been that quiet girl from Hufflepuff he shares a table with in Herbology? And what if I’ve misinterpreted all those moments and shared looks and unspoken words?”
She looks him in the eye as she says it, and he knows that they’ve understood each other perfectly, and that this is the moment, and amazingly (or maybe not so much) there’s no nervousness or doubt in his mind whatsoever when he says, “You haven’t,” and leans forward and kisses her.
And when the battle is over and the war is decided one way or another, if they’re both still standing at the end of it, if they’ve won and can look toward the future, they’ll talk all this over in more depth, but for now, in a world that is wrong and complicated, this is simple and it is right, and they can’t ask for more.
VII. They are survivors.
When the battle is done, and the initial gathering and mourning and fellowship has wrapped up, and most everyone has left to find a place to sleep or to start clean-up or to gather with friends and family away from the bodies of the dead, Neville stays behind.
Alone in the ruined Great Hall with only the bodies of the fallen, the visual price of this war chases away all the euphoria he felt after Voldemort’s spell rebounded and killed him. Yes, the hell that this year has been is over, but as he surveys the damage done that night, to castle and inhabitants alike, he knows that things are far from over, and that they’ll all be living through a different kind of hell for the next few days as reports flood in and the lists of the dead are released.
And when families come to claim the bodies of their loved ones, there should be as little fuss as possible, and so Neville walks up and down the row of bodies and sorts them in his mind, memorizes where they lay, and pays honor and tribute to those who gave their lives.
Years later, Neville would still be able to tell someone who asked where Dean Thomas lay, and Professor Lupin and his wife, and Anthony Goldstein, and Colin Creevey, and Professor Vector, and everyone else.
There are too many students lying among those bodies, students he should have tried harder to send away, students he should have trained better, students who are dead, in part, because Neville stood in a room with Seamus Finnegan seven months ago and said that somebody had to stand up and do something.
And yet, that doesn’t torture him the way he had perhaps thought it might. They fought well and with honor, and they knew the price; Neville never hid the fact that when the battle came, they wouldn’t all make it through. And compared to the number it could have been, had Neville and Ginny and Seamus not trained them and not sent so many away . . . fifty-six dead was both too high a price, and a reasonable one. Somewhere in his mind, Neville knows that.
It is Hannah who finds him, which is unsurprising, as it always seems to be Hannah who finds him. He turns to her, and her face is grimy with sweat and dirt and blood, and her hair is falling from its braid in long wispy strands, and she bears the marks of battle on her face and in her walk, and she is beautiful to him. Because she is alive, and here with him.
She holds her hand out to him. “Come on,” she says. “They wouldn’t want you to sit by yourself and mourn them.”
“How can we say what they would have wanted?” he asks softly. She gives him a sad smile.
“Because I was fully prepared for the possibility that I might be one of them. And if I had, I wouldn’t want you to sit by yourself and mourn me,” she says simply, and he knows it’s no less than the truth. So he stands, and he goes to her and he pulls her close and holds her as tightly as he’s ever held anything before.
“I love you,” he whispers into her hair. She raises her face and smiles.
“And I love you,” she says softly, and it’s still simple and it’s still right and they both know it. And together, they leave the dead behind them and head out into the sunlight, to face the new day.