The Easter holidays were fast approaching, and I had never craved a week away from Hogwarts more in my life.
My decision not to be the first to apologise hadn’t exactly been welcomed gladly by Susan, and my awkward stalemate with Neville hadn’t budged at all. Meanwhile, every lesson with a Carrow had me feeling physically sick and every time they came near me, a jar of ink would inexplicably smash or the quill I was holding would suddenly shrivel up and fall apart as if it had been set alight. Ernie advised I take slow, soothing breaths to get a control on my emotions, but every time I thought about breathing, I found that I couldn’t anymore, and then I’d feel sick again.
Nightmares were beginning to keep me awake at night. Although I could never really remember what happened in them, I would constantly wake up in the night, completely breathless, cheeks wet with tear tracks. I hadn’t bothered telling Ernie about them since there wasn’t really much to tell and I didn’t want him to worry, but I was quite sure that Megan Jones had been woken up by me at least twice.
My distraction and constant weariness had, on top of all this, also resulted in me struggling in subjects I usually didn’t mind. Professor Flitwick voiced his concern when I struggled with a simple slow-motion spell in Charms and even Professor Sprout had to stop and talk to me.
“Honestly, the other day you turned up late and didn’t have any of your equipment, and today you’re just staring at your Gurdyroot like it’s going to fertilise itself,” she sighed, prodding my Gurdyroot with a frown. “I understood that you’ve got a lot going on right now but you must remember that this is your NEWT year. I know you can do better than this, Miss Abbott.”
For a second, I could only dwell on the slightly pointed way she’d said, “a lot going on”; she was talking about the DA, I was sure of it. I checked her expression briefly, then blinked and nodded.
“Right,” I said. “Yeah, sorry Professor.”
She made a very teacher sort of noise, but as I turned back to my Gurdyroot, thinking about what Professor Sprout might do if she ever actually caught the DA, I felt eyes on me. I looked up, eyes locked gaze with Neville, and only had a second to feel the heat rise in my face before he hurriedly looked back to his work.
Suddenly finding myself inundated with about 20 different simultaneous emotions, I grabbed the top of my Gurdyroot a little too hard. Ernie nudged me and raised an eyebrow.
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened with you two?”
“Probably not,” I admitted.
“Because… I figured it might be because he likes you…” Ernie offered sagely.
“Oh really,” I responded flatly, not looking up from my work. “Let me guess; Susan told you that?
Ernie didn’t say anything. From the corner of my eye, I looked over at Susan, who was now getting help with her root from Sprout, and I accidentally pulled a couple of leaves out the top of my Gurdyroot.
“Miss Abbott!” Sprout cried out in exasperation, looking up when she heard my irritable groan. “Will you please pay attention to what you’re doing?!”
We had one more DA meeting before the Easter holidays began. Usually, students rarely went home for such a sort visit, but just as it had been at Christmas, not a single member was staying at Hogwarts for the week.
Since I hadn’t been talking to Neville, I’d barely seen Ginny for some time, so I got a nasty shock when she greeted me at the meeting with a fat lip and a scarlet line drawing from it over her freckled cheek.
“Apparently,” Ginny explained before I could even ask. “They’re getting some good ideas about who’s organising the DA.”
“I heard they were onto Neville, but I- I didn’t know-“
“Nor did I,” Ginny sighed heavily. “We’re about to talk about it with everybody now but I wanted to warn you personally. We figure they’ve got Luna down as the key Ravenclaw so Terry’s not too unsafe, but…”
“But I need to watch it,” I nodded, swallowing drily. Surely they’d never suspect me? “Got you.”
“I mean, you- you’ve not been talking to anyone untrustworthy, have you?” Ginny checked, slightly apologetic.
For one brief, wild second, I glanced over at Susan, who was stood next to Ernie with her arms folded. We’d had come together so that none of us where left alone, but we still hadn’t exachanged a single word.
“No,” I told Ginny. “No, I don’t think so – just those two brothers and the older one’s friend, but they seemed pretty legitimate.”
“And those two fifth year girls,” added Ginny.
“Yeah, but Ernie spoke to them first.”
“That’s a point,” said Ginny. “”You might want to warn Ernie about them catching on, too.”
I nodded, suddenly a lot more worried than I’d been when it was just me. Ginny offered me a weak supportive smile, then glanced over at Neville and beckoned him over. “I’m not missing anything, am I?” she asked. “Suspicious Carrows, be more careful, let Ernie know… is that it?”
“Uh yeah, I mean, we’re going to gloss over it all now with everyone when Lavender and Parvati arrive,” Neville replied, looking directly at Ginny, although his eyes kept darting sideways at me.
“Great, I’m just going to get a few words in with Seamus before they do…” Ginny decided, and she had scuttled off before I could say a word.
There was a beat of the most painfully awkward silence I’ve ever experienced before Neville finally turned to look vaguely in my direction, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “You, uh… you look like you’re feeling better now…”
“Um, yeah,” I replied, trying not to frown. “I still get a few twinges of pain here and there but I suppose I can hardly complain when…” I gestured loosely toward his battered face.
Neville appeared to go for a smile but it came out as more of a grimace. I tried very hard not to sigh.
“But you… you’re alright?” he checked.
“Yeah,” I lied, and there may have been a flicker of another glance over at Susan. “I’m fine.”
Neville nodded, hesitated, then asked, “And you and Ernie, you’re still...?”
“Oh, yeah, still as close as ever,” I answered, looking over at Ernie, who was now talking to Terry and ignoring the offended glares that Susan was shooting him.
I bit my lip to stop myself from adding more. Neville clearly understood how big it was that I’d opened up to him rather than my best friend, and yet still he was being weird? It didn’t make sense to me; even if he did regret the kiss, couldn’t he just be a good friend and talk to me? I was suddenly rushed with the suppressed urge to savagely stamp on his foot.
But as I drew breath to speak again – what I was going to say, I’m not even sure – Seamus appeared at Neville’s side and announced that everyone had arrived. Neville didn’t even glance at me before hurrying away.
I spent the rest of the meeting feeling like I’d been whacked across the head by something heavy and blunt. Although everyone’s voices sounded almost like I was listening to them underwater, I heard Neville very briefly talk about the Carrows catching on to who was sort of leading the DA. He assured everyone that most people were still as safe as they ever were, that the Carrows and Filch were getting frustrated because they couldn’t figure out how we were communicating, and that either way, they were still under instruction not to spill too much magical blood.
I vaguely registered a few people asking questions, one or two from Ernie, as usual. But I didn’t properly tune back into what was going on until I heard mention of Luna.
“-escaped,” Neville was saying. He was holding up his Protean galleon with a grin on his face. “Apparently she’s with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And Dean, for some reason.”
Seamus gave an obligatory cheer, although I was sure that Neville would already have told him.
“Does she know what they’re up to?” asked Ernie.
“Not much space on here for lengthy explanations,” Neville pointed out. “But they’re safe, and that’s the best we could hope for, right?”
There was a low murmur of uncertain agreement. Neville frowned, looking around at everyone. “Aren’t you pleased that they’re okay?”
“Of course we are,” Anthony Goldstein sighed, “It’s just that, well…” he glanced briefly at Terry. “If they’d caught Harry, we would’ve known, wouldn’t we?”
“But what about Luna? Dean?” Neville puzzled.
“I’m just as pleased as you are that they’re alive,” Parvati said slowly. “But it’s a little difficult to celebrate such a small victory.”
“And we don’t even know how long that victory might last,” added Lavender. “What if they’re not as safe as they think they are? We all know what Harry’s like; it’s only going to be so much time before he’s getting himself in another dangerous situation-“
“You might not know Harry as well as you think,” Ginny said sharply, with a quick glance at Lavender. “He’s not stupid; he does what he has to. Besides, Hermione wouldn’t let him do anything without thinking it through for a good while.”
“It’s just hard knowing that there are still so many people missing or in hiding,” Ernie admitted. “It doesn’t feel right to celebrate such a… a small thing.”
“Are you saying that the life of my best mate isn’t important?” Seamus accused, rounding on Ernie.
“We’re all missing people and facing losses,” Terry piped up quickly. “Please let’s not let it get to us now.”
“Terry’s right,” Neville said a little nervously, glancing at Seamus, whose ears were bright red, and at Ernie, who was still reeling from being shouted at. “Come on, we just need to let ourselves revel in knowing that our friends are safe for now.”
“Not all of our friends,” Padma couldn’t seem to stop herself from adding – her friend Isobel had disappeared without a trace nearly ten months ago.
“That’s beside the point right now-“ Seamus began.
“What, so our friends’ lives aren’t important to you now, is that it?” Ernie deduced, cheeks flushing furiously.
“Don’t be thick, MacMillan-“
“Well that’s certainly what you sound like you’re trying to say, Seamus,” Michael Corner put in. “That just because your friends are safe, we can disregard any worry about our own friends or family? Is that it?”
“That’s not what he’s saying, Michael, and you know it,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “Just because we’re happy about our friends being alive… that doesn’t mean anything about anything else. We only thought that everybody else would be happy too.”
“We are!” declared Colin Creevey.
“We’re glad that anyone on our side is still alive,” assured Anthony. “But it’s difficult to show because it just reminds us that… so many people are still unsafe.”
“Don’t you understand that we have to celebrate anything we can?” Seamus cried. “Being depressed about it all the time is only going to make us weaker!”
“It doesn’t feel fair that we have to be so strong all the time,” Parvati said thickly. “I can’t remember what it feels like not to be terrified.”
“Nothing about any of this is fair,” Ginny pointed out, more exasperated than anything. “Come on, we’ve been thr-“
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk to me like that,” Parvati snapped, but when Ginny opened her mouth to retort, Neville stepped in.
“Alright, look, everyone calm down.”
Everyone stopped and looked at him expectantly. We’d all now come to look at him as such a leader figure that it seemed inevitable that he would step in with something to make everyone see clearly. But I knew Neville well enough to tell that the look in his eyes meant he had no idea what to say.
“We… we can’t fall- start arguing…”
So I helped, “We’re just feeling demoralised,” I said, a little quiet but I’m sure just loud enough for everyone to hear, “I mean, look at us – battered and bruised – we’ve got a right to be demoralised!” I bit my lip, very aware of all the attention on me. “Parvati, I understand that you’re tired. Ernie, I get that you’re missing people. We all understand because we’re all together in this. But we don’t need to feel down about this all the time because we’re doing something, and we have been all year. We’re here for one another… we can’t turn on each other.”
Neville looked directly at me in silence for a second, his gaze blazing through the crowd and catching me more than any other. Then he seemed to take spirit, shifting on the spot, and continued in a voice far stronger than mine.
“We’ve got this week off and then we come back kicking. Harry’s still around, and so are we! I can feel it; this isn’t going to last much longer. The fight’s coming… and we’re going to be ready.”