Walking into McGonagall’s office provides some kind of rush, a terror prickling beneath their skin. Luna leans into Neville, seeking out comfort he happily provided. His hand still trembles within her grip, but she lifts her head peacefully yet defiantly. Behind them, he can hear Seamus and Ginny discussing something in low tones. Lavender stands on the outskirts, not quite one of them but not quite gone.
The teacher looks up, eyes skipping between them. “Absolutely not.”
“Professor-” Neville starts.
She shakes her head once more. “You will not endanger yourself. You might think you’re older now, but you’re still children to me.”
“There are younger children than us, Professor,” Ginny interrupts, pushing to the front. Neville and Luna easily stop back. It’s a given she’s the boldest leader of them all, more of a Gryffindor than Neville could ever hope to be.
Before McGonagall can try and respond, Seamus pipes in. “We’re Gryffindors. We can be brave enough to fight for them.”
“For us,” chimes Lavender.
Hannah Abbott flattens her hand against her chest, smiling weakly. “And we’re Hufflepuffs. We’re loyal enough to stand by our school… How it should be.”
“And Ravenclaws,” Michael Corner finishes. He offers a proud smile at Luna. “We’re smart enough to know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.’’
A silence hangs between them then. A noticeable gap. No Slytherins joined DA. Instead, it remains made of those three houses. Initially, Neville thought it might be because of Harry and Ron. He harbors mostly respect for them, but he’d have to be blind to miss their distaste in Slytherins. He understands it, but it’s definitely not all Slytherins… Right?
“Children…” McGonagall lingers on the word. All of them knows she doesn’t mean it as an insult, but it feels like one. For years, they daydreamed about seventh year. This would be the year they prepare for the future, truly figure out where they’re going with their lives.
And maybe, Neville considers with one last longing look towards Luna, this would be the year he got the guts to ask her out.
Finally, the woman smiles at them all, spreading her hands on the table. “I can’t ask this of you, but I don’t think I can tell you not to. You’re all very set… And for that, I’m proud. Be safe, though. Even if some of these professors don’t care for you, I certainly do. And many others do as well.”
As all of them begin to file out, only Neville remains. He bids goodbye to his fellow leaders, Luna and Ginny, but he stays camped out in her office. There are words stuck to his tongue, desperately wanting to escape into the open.
McGonagall gives Neville a proud look. “Mister Longbottom, I presume you’re still here for a reason.”
“Just… Thank you,” he decides on. It’s the only phrase which makes sense to him. This is a woman he’s admired for most of his life… He knows everyone in the dormroom respected her.
The moment he thinks of that, his heart sinks. It’s only him and Seamus now. No Dean, no Harry, no Ron.
Fighting back the tears blossoming, he says it once more. There’s not enough words to explain how grateful he is, how much he needed her throughout his childhood. “Thank you.”
“No,” McGonagall counters. “Thank you.”
Being surrounded by magic is how Luna enjoys being. She sits cross-legged amidst the blaze of white and silver. She reaches out her hand, her fingers passing through Seamus’s fox. She can spot Ginny’s horse galloping while Neville struggles to get his to take shape.
The unsung melody trickles through the air, and she smiles. Amidst the darkness brewing outside, the bright light cuts through. She hums gently to herself, getting to her feet while Ginny makes her way over to her.
“These are getting harder to produce,” Ginny whispers.
Luna shrugs a little, smiling at the redhead. “There’s always light to be found, you know. You just need to sort through some stuff.”
“The newest members can’t make theirs corporeal.” But even that’s a joke, Luna laments. The members dwindle down, one by one. Less and less people appear, too scared to rebel against the Carrows. Sometimes, Luna wonders if it’s best to have stayed home or just go on the run.
Then, she’d miss little moments like this. Luna reaches for Ginny’s hand, gripping it tightly. “It’s not the shape that matters… It’s the fact some came.”
“I’d disagree,” the redhead huffs.
Luna smiles brightly, brandishing her wand. “Expecto Patronum!”
Her little hare explodes out of the wand, peculiar and twitching. It hops over to Neville immediately, nuzzling against the boy’s cheek. Seamus howls with laughter while Neville goes scarlet.
Seamus waves his wand in a form of a hello. “‘Sup, Loony!”
He always said it like a pet name, something he just gave to everyone. Luna never truly got offended when people like Seamus said it… She could even tolerate when Ginny’s brother would say it like that. There’s nothing wrong with being a little bit mad, all the best people are.
Her hare pounces upon Seamus’s hair. “Hello, Seamus.”
Neville, red-faced still, barely manages to get out the spell. “Expecto Patronum!”
Another burst of pure light streams out of the wooden wand. Neville’s gleeful blush twists abruptly to one of shame. He frowns down at the light, quickly looking away from them all.
Luna bursts out cheering, clapping her hands together. She startles those around her. Then, Ginny beams and starts clapping just as loudly as Luna, if not louder. Slowly, the applause ripples across the Room of Requirement, thoroughly embarrassing Neville. But Luna spots the smile he attempts to smother.
The light can still break in, Luna muses. Even with the Carrows trying to sour it and the headmaster hating all of them. They will always be able to summon some light because they carry it inside themselves rather than outside. Drawing it out only takes a matter of minutes.
She catches Neville’s eye, and she beams as wide as she can. Slowly, he follows the suit.
Hannah is already tired of this, and she never wanted to admit that. As she bandages some first-year’s shaking hands, she wonders if this is what would always happen. Hannah distantly remembers thinking Harry was the Heir of Slytherin. That was years ago, though.
It’s better to trust the cuts and bruises, though, than the effects of the Cruciatus charm. Everyone gets some different sort of result. She knows they all feel shaky afterwards, hurt and scared. But while Neville shoulders it with a brave face but spasming limbs, Seamus dissolves into bouts of laughter. Ginny, who only got a few times, stared at them with glassy eyes, crying but silent nonetheless.
She can’t help like that. She couldn’t shoulder the burden of the Cruciatus charm. She never, ever was a fighter. Exams, of all things, petrified her.
Then, she remembers how Neville pulled her aside. He had given her a hug while she cried into his shoulder, disappointed she couldn’t help anyone. “There are other ways to save people, Hannah, than fighting. You’ll find your way, I promise.”
“Madam Pomfrey?” she finally works up the courage to ask.
The greying woman pauses, staring at her with that kind but strict smile she’s become so accustomed to. Hannah never could hold so much dignity with her. She smiled goofily and laughed even worse. One day, she’ll be able to find the quiet sort of composure Madam Pomfrey possesses. “Yes, Miss Abbott?”
“Can you…” She hesitates for a brief second, but that’s all it takes. The nurse is already turning away from her, hurrying along to help someone else.
Breathe, Hannah. She tries to conjure Ernie’s smile in her mind when she was too shy, the way he coaxed her forward. She tries to conjure the way Neville could make her glow, inside and out. “Madam Pomfrey, can you teach me?”
The words are enough to stun the nurse. She turns around to stare at Hannah, who quickly ducks her head. It was a stupid idea. It was stupid to think she could ever help someone like Madam Pomfrey-
Of all counter-questions, Hannah didn’t anticipate that one. She stares back down at the unconscious first-year, at the yellowing skin on his hands and the swallow cut upon his cheek. That, she thinks, is reason enough. The ones DA can’t save, because they can’t save all of the younger members of Hogwarts especially those in Slytherin, she could save.
She smiles weakly. “For years, this place always felt safe to me. Whether I fell off my broom or tripped, I knew I could be patched up within seconds. Now, though… Now, I’m just grateful to be allowed at Hogwarts. It’s better than at home, where it’s just stress and fear and loneliness. My mom told me to keep my chin up, once upon a time.”
Her mother was a Gryffindor. Hannah sees her mother in Ginny every time the redhead speaks. In some ways, she’s envious of the girl. She still has her whole family, and there are so many members of her family. How did Hannah lose someone who matters most when Ginny can still hold everyone near?
Then, she feels bad for even wishing harm upon the Weasleys. She doesn’t know them well. But the stories of them paint them in fond lights. From Bill the Head Boy to Ginny, all of the Weasleys are loved.
“I keep my head down most days,” Hannah decides on. “But I don’t want to. Not anymore.”
Madam Pomfrey stares at her differently now. Some sort of… Admiration in her eyes? Hannah instantly hides her face, letting the red run rampant in her cheeks. That speech was too much. She was too much-
“Get up,” the nurse instructs.
Hannah springs to her feet, slowly starting her walk out the door. That’s what Madam Pomfrey will say, is it not? To get out?
The matron surprises her. “Come here, Miss Abbott. I don’t have that much time to teach you, and you have a lot to learn.”
Five fourth years, they told him. If you want to take the punishment, you’ll take it for each and every one of the fourth years.
And damn it, if he wasn’t on the verge of pissing himself. Still, Seamus straightened his spine, smiled at the fourth years, and agreed. Not long ago, he was a fourth year, wasn’t he? When the biggest problem was the Triwizard Tournament and the feud between Harry and Ron? Who would’ve wagered they’d get here in the span of three years?
He swears he can see Dean ahead of him, but the image flickers like a mirage. Neville speaks to him in low tones while he giggles and whispers to Dean, a secret shared between friends. A small part of Seamus knows it isn’t Dean there. Knows Dean is gone, on the run, could be dead. But the bigger part of Seamus is desperate for his best friend again.
Five times, Seamus thinks to himself in a daze, is a lot of times. He hasn't even been kissed five times. He’s a bloody seventh year, and he’s only been kissed five times. He hasn’t been hugged five times this year. He hasn’t gotten five letters this year. But he received five doses of the charm in one day.
No wonder it can drive a person mad.
He still remembers the spider writhing on the desk fourth year. It was simultaneously cool and gross until he saw Neville’s face. Then, Seamus wanted to go hand-to-hand with Mad-Eye Moody… Er, Barty Crouch Jr.
“Seamus!” someone shouts, and he blinks hard. Lavender’s face swims into view, but he cares much more about Dean- Fake Dean.
He blinks lazily at Fake Dean, who smiles. “I think I started crying.”
Instantly, Lavender’s thumb swipes at his cheeks. She offers a tight smile, concerned and angry and desperate. “So? I would cry in your shoes.”
“You’ll never be in my shoes,” he promises, to both Lavender and Fake Dean. Somehow, he’ll find a way to protect them. He has to. This achy energy, both pleading with him to take off running and falling backwards to sleep forever, hurts… A lot. But better Seamus than Luna and Ginny, who both have loving families waiting for them. Better Seamus than Neville, who somehow found himself in the middle of a love triangle.
Who is Seamus kidding? There is no ‘somehow’ in that. If Seamus wasn’t so gay for Dean, he’d be gay for Neville.
He startles back into consciousness when the crowd around him breaks out laughing. At some point, Neville has reappeared. “I’m flattered, mate, but I don’t feel the same way.”
“You’re hot now,” whines Seamus.
Hannah huffs out a laugh as she heals up a cut on his cheek. He threw himself back during the curse, trying to save himself, but it only brought blood. “I think you’ll be okay.”
“His dignity,” Ginny says mournfully, “never will be.”
Seamus forces a smile. “Better Neville than Harry.”
“Better Harry than Ron,” chimes in Lavender.
Ginny claps her hands together. “Boys, girls, it’s decided then. Neville will marry all of us the moment the war is over.”
“Looking forward to,” Seamus says, eyes starting to flutter shut. He keeps his gaze trained on Fake Dean for a moment longer. He knows he’ll lose Dean the moment he recovers from this. So he savors the sight of his best friend, and yes it’s just his best friend right now, before slumping against Hannah and letting out a loud snore.
“Do you know what a stupid decision that was?” scolds Lavender the moment they step back into the Room of Requirement. At some point, Hannah and Lavender adopted everyone in the room and became surrogate mothers.
Hannah is too busy fussing over Neville right now, though, to scold Ginny and Luna. Damn, Hannah has it bad. Not as bad as Ginny has for Harry. Not as bad as Seamus has for Dean. Not as bad as Michael has for Cho. But it’s there, and it’s becoming noticeable.
She crosses her arms. “They need the sword of Gryffindor, Lav.”
“And we need our leaders. So stop trying to get yourself killed.” One of the Ravenclaws who Ginny doesn’t quite know walks up behind Luna and captures her in a bear hug.
Colin Creevey nods, piping up in his small voice. “You gotta stay safe.”
“We have to help Harry!” she explodes, stomping away. She can’t handle the disapproving stares, not today. Her brother is in danger just as much as her lover. And one of her best friends, Hermione, is there too. So yeah, she has every right to want to save them.
Surprisingly, the one who follows her, is Michael Corner.
She buries her face in her hands. “Not in the mood for a lecture, Mike.”
“Yet, somehow, I think you’re going to listen.” He sits next to her. Both have matured far past what she expected. To think she dumped him because he was a sore loser when it came to Quidditch. Nobody has played Quidditch in ages, not with stakes like this.
He clears his throat. “So, Quidditch.”
“Oh, God, shut up. Don’t make some sort of metaphor,” she groans.
Michael sends her a glare, rolling his eyes. “Look, do you want the sports metaphor or the lecture? Because either way, I’m going to say something to you.”
“Sports metaphor, go.”
“Hermione and them… They’re the seeker right now. They’re searching for the Golden Snitch, which can win the game fast and give us a happy, happy victory. But can you still lose if the Seeker gets the Snitch?” He offers a cocky sort of smile at her.
Reluctantly, Ginny plays along. “Yes.”
“Exactly. We need you, the best Chaser.” He nudges her affectionately, and she can’t help but smile at that. “You can score us extra points, and then the victory is secured. If you get yourself thrown off the team for being reckless, then are you going to be able to help us win?”
“No!” he finishes victoriously. The dark boy gets to his feet, offering his hand to Ginny. She immediately accepts, letting him pull her to his feet. With a small smile, he nods back at the Room of Requirement.
She sighs. “You really are a Ravenclaw. It’s annoying.”
“And you’re really a Gryffindor,” he counters fondly.
The two walk back in together, ready to accept whatever punishments the den mothers will brew up.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mouths at Neville, who stands at the front of the crowd with his mouth dropped open.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mouths at Ginny, who stands towards the back with her hands plastered over her mouth and tears streaking down her cheeks.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mouths at Lavender, who clutches to Hannah. Both girls threaten to go down as they stare at him.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mouths at Flitwick and then McGonagall. He couldn’t uphold his end of the bargain. He couldn’t keep himself safe. Because of that, everyone is going to suffer.
The Carrows howl with laughter above him, and Filch certainly seems satisfied as well. Crucio is too good for him, they claimed. He doesn’t deserve intense pain that doesn’t continue. Oh no. They’re going back to good, old-fashioned whipping.
His back already tingles.
The first year he rescued sits in front of him, chained down and forced to watch Michael. It’s the first year’s punishment. If Michael was so desperate to save him, so be it. But, he would have to watch what happens when you rebel. He would have to watch the consequences of such a thing.
He mouths I’m sorry at the kid too. He’s too young to watch this go down.
Michael’s hands are bound to the ground, encased in heavy silver shackles. If he could, he’d reach up to play with the ends of his scarf. It’s the only thing still providing comfort. He no longer wears a shirt or the long robes. Only the scarf and the pants. The cold of winter races across his back and leaves him shivering with his teeth chattering hard.
There is no warning for the first time the whip crashes down upon his bare back. Only the instant pain scorching through his system, and Michael bites down on his bottom lip until it bleeds. He won’t cry. He will not cry.
Then, it comes down a second time.
Then, a third.
His resolve breaks around the tenth time, and he’s reduced to whimpering and crying. The first year bawls in front of him, throwing out apologies. Michael is the seventh year, he remembers. He has to be braver than the little Gryffindor… Not that the Gryffindor isn’t being brave. Even Harry Potter would have cried if he was watching this go down.
Harry Potter better get here soon, he thinks between sobs.
Michael certainly can’t last any longer.
Both Ginny and Luna are gone when they have to flee. Lavender is the first to gather up the items and start fleeing, trying to be as quiet as possible. Parvati disappeared to get Padma earlier in the night, leaving Lavender to try and escape. The other two Gryffindor girls sharing their room…
Well, it was never said Gryffindors had to be kind.
She creeps out of her home of the past six years, and she can’t help but freeze. It’s horrific to think of everything which has gone down here. In that corner, she dragged Ron by his tie to make out with him. With that chessboard, she finally beat Hermione in a game of wits. On that couch, she hosted mini Divination sessions with Parvati, her best friend in the world.
Through the doors, she followed Percy Weasley to become a Gryffindor. Now, she walks alone out of them. She carries her cumbersome bag of items, clutching it to her chest. They can’t make food, so she has to bring at least some supplies. Luckily, the house elves like her.
For the past three days, all of them have been transitioning into the Room of Requirement. All of them knew that day would come eventually. Michael already stayed there, sleeping upon the four-poster bed. Nobody dared to leave him alone in the Ravenclaw dormitories.
As she sneaks back into the Room of Requirement, eager eyes stare at her from the cots. Neville sits up, the official leader of the DA. After all, everyone else is gone. “Lav, did you bring…?”
“Food?” She holds up the bag of food with a wry smile. Already, every house has been represented… Except for Slytherin of course. The cots are color-coded based upon houses, letting a clear distinction to be made. The banners of the houses unfold from the wall, flashing bright colors.
The leader gets up from his cot, taking the bag from her. “Thanks, Lav. Nobody was really sure if we could-”
“Has Hannah checked out that cut on your cheek?” Lavender interrupts.
He frowns slightly, feeling it. She remembers exactly when he got it. She remembers kicking his seat hard especially the second after he made it. Alecto slammed down her hands on the desk, grabbing out a knife before lunging towards Neville. When he struck the silver across his cheek, she still remembers how Neville let out a pained breath.
The Hufflepuff stirs nearby. “Hm?”
Suddenly, Lavender lets out a loud laugh. “You and Hannah…?”
“No!” Neville quickly says, face going bright red. Lavender lets her gaze flit over to Hannah, who slowly nods. Neville swats at her jokingly with clear embarrassment. She whoops and claps her hands together. She has been waiting for the moment they became a real couple.
Romance offers a sense of normalcy. She always adored it, scoured books with the best kinds of romance. She was able to disregard the lack of plot, the lack of character development, because she had the cute, fluffy feeling stirring in her chest.
She clears her throat. “Tomorrow, I’ll get more food from the house elves.”
“Thank you, Lav,” Hannah quietly says.
In return, Lavender smiles widely. “Everyone has to do their part.”
The alert comes in the middle of the night, all of them huddled into the depth of the Room of Requirement. He feels Hannah stir in his arms. Ariana Dumbledore’s portrait, for the most part, has stayed quiet. She taps on the portrait to alert them of danger. When she does so tonight, he practically falls out of cot.
He glances up frantically, swollen eye aching from the sharp movement. He winces as he covers his face with his hand, staring at her.
Silently, Arianna draws a lightning bolt on her forehead.
Everyone’s awake now. “Harry’s back?”
“Neville, go get him,” Hannah excitedly proclaims to the room, pushing away from him.
He pauses, biting on his bottom lip. “But what if-”
“You’re one of their mates,” Seamus interrupts. His puffy face explodes into a bright beam. All of them, despite their injuries, glow with excitement for the first time in a long time. His heart aches when he even thinks about that. Once upon a time, they summoned their patronuses in this room to reassure themselves. Now, they’ve given up on that practice since most people failed to make one.
Neville looks between Hannah to Seamus to Michael to Lavender, all of his new mates giving him eager nods. He looks at the space where Ginny and Luna should be. He looks at the space where the nicknamed Golden Trio ought to be, where he once knew them to fit in neatly.
The Room of Requirement is ready to welcome their heroes back.
He finally nods at all of them. “Okay.”
“I’ll go get them.” He starts walking towards the portrait, hesitating before joining Ariana. If Harry is here, that means the final battle must be coming. They aren’t prepared enough… But Neville would never feel they’re prepared. He finally understands McGonagall.
They might feel centuries old now, but they’re just kids.
Neville gives one last nod to them all before ducking into the portrait.
Neville limps after McGonagall, clearing his throat. “Professor!”
“Longbottom.” The relief upon her face is obvious as he quickly joins her. Slowly, he gathered the same group of people who joined her in the office those many days before… Well, everyone who’s left. Lavender will never be in their ranks again. Her body sits ravaged in a hallway.
Her eyes skip between them all. “I’m proud of all of you.”
“When we remake Hogwarts,” Neville quietly says, “you should be headmistress.”
The woman’s brows knit together in confusion. “‘We’? Mister Longbottom-”
“Neville,” he quickly corrects. They’re past this formality, he believes. Once again, a smile pulls at her face. Behind him, they chorus their first names back at her as a silent sort of announcement they’re adults. If they still had a childhood, it left during that final battle.
McGonagall nods. “Neville, surely you’re moving past this school. There must be only bad memories left-”
“There is always light,” Luna quietly says.
The professor fondly nods at Luna. “Of course, Luna. But… You’re all adults now, in your own right.”
“I’d like to stay and help fix the school, if you have me,” Neville quickly says.
Hannah nods. “Me too. Madam Pomfrey already said… Well, she believes I should stay on to make sure the wounds are fully healed. And… It wouldn’t be so bad to work as a healer here.”
“I can light things on fire,” suggests Seamus.
Michael laughs lightly. “C’mon, McGonagall. Surely, you could use us.”
Ginny whacks him on the head affectionately. “What he means to say is… Would you accept our help to remake Hogwarts?”
“Of course,” she finally says with a watery smile. “And… It’s Minerva.”