It was an odd sort of Christmas; even despite the blanket of snow so thick that I struggled to close my front door, it didn't really feel like Christmas. Even the year before, with my mother just two months gone, my dad and I had managed to create some sort of seasonal feel (possible due to my grandmother and her tendency to get a little merry with the firewhiskey). It hadn't exactly been cheerful, but at least we'd been able to leave the house when we wanted to; this year we we scared to even go out to get a tree.
Ernie came round, Susan lived a little too far away, and there was still no sign of Justin. We had no way of contacting his family, because even if they weren't Muggles, Justin had hidden them so well that we couldn't figure out where they might be, and there was no mention of any Finch-Fletchley on the Wizarding Wireless.
There were a lot of tears on platform nine and three quarters when term started up again. We'd all played down to our parents what we were facing at Hogwarts because we knew it could be worse. It wasn't like we had much of a choice either way - even if we could gone into hiding, everybody in the DA felt a sense of duty about returning to defend the school.
When I spotted Neville on the platform, attention rapt by something that a very stern-looking old lady was saying to him, I noticed that he was flushed slightly at the cheeks. When they appeared to say goodbye (although it didn't look particularly ceremonious) he and I went for the same carriage door.
"Hey, Neville," I offered slightly weakly. We didn't bother asking each other how Christmas had been. Instead, he gestured me to follow him and we wobbled along the train as it left the station to find a compartment. I wondered for a moment if I'd end up with his friends, or even if we'd end up alone together, but before I could think too much, Neville spotted Susan.
"I suppose this is you," he said, glancing in at Ernie. "See you later?"
I nodded, flashing a small smile, and went in to sit with my friends. But it was just under twenty minutes later, when Anthony was showing us his favourite present - a selection box from the Weasley twins' joke shop - only to be interrupted by Neville sliding the door open.
"Have you seen Luna?" he asked breathlessly, looking panic-stricken.
"Why? Did she go wandering off?" Michael raised an eyebrow.
"No, we haven't seen her, Neville," Susan answered, as Terry smacked Michael aside the head. "Why?"
Neville looked vaguely from Michael to Susan, then up and down the carriage aisle.
"She - I don't know - I don't think she got on the train..."
I immediately got to my feet, "What? Have you looked everywhere?"
"Any luck?" Ginny appeared over Neville's shoulder. He shook his head.
"Then we've got to keep looking," Ernie decided, getting to his feet as well.
"There aren't really many hiding places on a train, guys..." Susan pointed out quietly, twisting her hands.
"She would've tried to find you as soon as she got on the train if she did, right?" suggested Terry. "I mean, I know Luna's friendly but she's not just going to be sat having tea with the Slytherins, is she?"
And with that, Ginny glanced at Neville, narrowing her eyes. Then in a second, she was shot down the train, Neville on her heels, me on his, all of us drawing our wands as we found a group of Slytherins.
"Ugh, Longbottom." It was Pansy Parkinson, sat with two prissy-looking girls, her pug face shrivelled up as if she was looking at something very smelly. "The Carrows didn't scare you away already?"
"Where is she, Parkinson?" Ginny asked fiercely, pointing her wand straight at Pansy.
"And Weasley," Pansy's lip curled further. "Just waiting around for your boyfriend Potty now, aren't you? Well it shouldn't be too long now - he can't avoid the Snatchers forever. Your brother, too, and that mudblood
I glanced at Ginny; she knew better than to rise to this, but even so she appeared to be having an incredibly tough time not doing so.
"Just tell us, Pansy," I said evenly. "Do you know where Luna is?"
"Hannah, isn't it?" Pansy looked at me. "Hannah Abbott, the girl whose mother was killed last year. Should've taught your mummy when to keep her mouth shut, Hannah."
"Tell us where Luna is right now or I will hex you into next month!" Neville warned, bringing himself up to his full height as he aimed his wand at her. I kept mine on her friends. "I don't even care if I get into trouble, now do you know where she is or not?"
"Of course she knows," Ginny snarled. "She's all buddy-buddy with the Malfoys. If they've taken her-"
"If you must know," Pansy's hard face suddenly seemed to crumble and she dissolved into tears, her voice raising to a pitch that I was sure would make my ears bleed. "I h-haven't heard from D-Draco in m-m-months!"
There followed a long, high-pitched wail that Moaning Myrtle would have been envious of, and Pansy's two friends glared at us - apparently threatening her with magical violence was once thing, but making her cry was a step too far.
"I think you've done enough damage," the first snapped. "She's told you the truth, now get out."
"Yeah," added the second. "We don't know where your Loony friend is, so shove off."
Quite willing to get away from Pansy's wailing as soon as possible, I backed out of the carriage and bumped into Ernie.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Only bats can hear her now," said Ginny, as Neville slid the door closed behind her.
"Are any of you subscribed to the Quibbler?" I asked.
Everybody shook their heads, but Neville said, "Luna said that her dad's been getting into trouble for what he's been printing. Stuff about Harry, you know, in support of Dumbledore."
There followed a silence in which I'm sure each of us were thinking the same thing; but nobody said it aloud.
"We live quite close to her," Ginny said quietly. "I don't know where, exactly, but she and her dad came to my brother's wedding back in July. Their house is probably only over the hill or something," She closed her eyes. "I should have checked on her."
"Hey, don't," Neville shook his head, wrapping an arm rather nervously around her shoulders. "You know Luna, she- she's tough."
"Sometimes that doesn't matter," muttered Ginny. "If she never had a chance-"
I jumped at Neville's outburst, landing a hand on my chest to make sure that my heart hadn't just leapt right out of it. He grinned apologetically, but didn't say anything as he led us back towards our compartment.
"Did you find her?" Anthony asked immediately. "We just went looking down the other way, but-"
He exchanged a glance with Terry as Ernie slid the door shut and Neville pulled a coin from his pocket.
"Of course!" I beamed at Neville.
"But..." Terry bit his lip, seeming hesitant to voice his thoughts. "I... What if- what if she's... She might be somewhere that they took everything from her."
He blurted out that last part in a rush, but the rest of us knew perfectly well what he meant. Yet only Ginny said it.
"You mean Azkaban," she took a seat beside Michael and shrugged. "There's no point being afraid to say it, Harry says all the time that fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. I guess Dumbledore told him that."
"It's worth a try, either way," Neville mumbled; he already has his wand out and pointed at the coin.
Once he had done it, there was another tense silence. Despite the chilly weather outside, the amount of people stuffed inside one compartment meant that it was beginning to get stuffy.
"I'm going to update Seamus," Ginny mumbled after a moment, and left without another word.
Soon, Terry, Michael, and Anthony sank back into their own quiet conversation, and when I looked round at Ernie and Susan, she seemed to be falling asleep against him. I smiled to myself, then looked to Neville; he was still watching the coin. I hesitated for a second, then got to my feet, gently taking his hand, and pulled him out of the compartment.
"Going to have one last check of the train for Luna," I told Ernie when he looked after me as I slid the door shut.
"She's not on here..." Neville whispered.
"I know," I offered him a smile, taking the coin from his fist and tucking it into his jacket pocket. "But my mum used to always say that a watched cauldron never boils. Besides, you know worrying just isn't Luna's style."
Neville smiled, weakly, but his mind was still clearly elsewhere. Experiencing a deep rush of affection for the concern he was showing for Luna, I turned and led him away from the busy compartments and to the end of the carriage, where I turned to hug him.
"I missed you," Neville suddenly announced into my hair.
I felt my face flush, "You did?" I couldn't help but grin as I pulled back to look at him.
Neville only then seemed to realise what he'd said. "Uh, I... I mean... all of you guys, you know. We've been like a family these past few months."
"Of course, yeah," I nodded, trying not to let my grin visibly falter. "I missed everyone too," I paused, considering specifying it to just him, then, "How's your Gran?"
"As good as ever," said Neville. "It's weird - I think she actually thrives on this kind of thing. Not in a bad way, just... it used to be complaining that the post is late or whatever. She likes to have a cause."
"I can see that," I mused with a small smile. After all, it was out of all this that her grandson was finally coming out of her shell. The gains were minimal beside the losses, of course, but they were nonetheless there. It was because of all this that Neville and I had been forced closer together. I was just wondering if we would've somehow become this close if the circumstances were different, when I noticed that we were still holding each other, half way out of our hug.
Neville seemed to notice at the same moment, and he rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat before gesturing back towards the compartment. "We should probably get our school robes back on..."
I forced a smile, "Yeah," but it fell to a grimace, "Back to school!"
AN: yay for ignoring steve kloves' apparent neville/luna shipping!