All Ye Faithful
PG-13, 5700 words
Summary: Neville can't bear to leave Hogwarts in the holidays, but a happy Christmas may be hard to find.
Notes: Though this contains nothing more harrowing than is mentioned in DH, I should perhaps warn for Carrows? Contains some lines quoted from the books. Written for nicolen at the hp_holidaygen exchange, with endless gratitude to lyras for all her help.
I hope this Owl finds you well. I'm doing ok here - NEWTs are very tough going, though. Actually, I was thinking of staying here over the holidays, if you don't mind. I'd like to help my friends with their revision.
Send my love to Mum and Dad,
Neville bit his quill anxiously, re-reading the note. Surely there was nothing in there that could give cause for alarm? He just hoped that Gran would understand what he really meant. Folding it messily, he put it to one side to take to the Owlery in the morning.
He blew out the candle by his bed and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling, which was partly illuminated by the moon outside. He did his best to repress a pang of longing at the thought of missing Christmas at home - the only time of year when Gran seemed to really enjoy cooking - but that didn't matter. Luna and Ginny were both going home, he knew, and he couldn't bear to leave Hogwarts unprotected. Who knew how many students would still be here (after all, if Neville were anyone else he'd want to get as far away from here as possible), but it didn't matter. Neville felt an enormous weight of duty on him, and he'd see it through to the end.
There was a meeting in the Room of Requirement the next morning, for all those staying for Christmas. He headed down to the Owlery first, but was stopped in his tracks by Alecto Carrow, who insisted on scrutinising his post before allowing him to continue. He was still fuming at the imposition when he got to the Room, which was, he supposed, was it was darkened for him, and complete with music by Tibetan witches. Laughing for the first time in a while, he hastily got the place into a more business-like arrangement, chairs forming in a semi-circle.
No ally of Snape or the Carrows can find this place, he thought firmly. A lock and peephole appeared on the door. Satisfied, he sat down just as Ginny walked in.
"How many people will come, do you think?" he asked.
Ginny shrugged. "Not many, I shouldn't think. Parents'll want their kids close to them."
"Yeah, that's true." Neville's train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of Seamus and Lavender.
"What're you doing here?" Neville asked, surprised.
Lavender glanced over at Seamus, who grinned and said, "Can't bear the thought of you being in Gryffindor all by yourself at Christmas, it's not right!"
"Are you sure?" Neville began, but Lavender cut him off.
"Course we are. Parvati and Padma send their apologies, but there's no way their family will let them stay."
Soon, Susan and Hannah stood together, smiling and promising they'd do their best to give the Carrows Yuletide hell. Ernie dropped in, looking very remorseful and saying he'd been unable to convince his dad to let him stay, but he shook Neville's hand in his familiar, slightly pompous manner and wished him the best of luck anyway. In fact, Neville received so many regretful apologies he started wondering if he'd been giving out the wrong message.
"I don't want the DA to stay," he explained in confusion to those assembled. "You should all go back to your families, at a time like this more than ever."
"There are more important things than Christmas these days," came a soft voice from the doorway as Luna drifted into the room. "I'm sorry to let you all down and go home," she said to the room in general, "only I really couldn't bear the thought of Daddy there all by himself."
"It's all right, Luna, really," Neville answered. "We'll start up again in earnest once you're back at Hogwarts, anyway."
Luna nodded and smiled before moving to sit next to Ginny. Neville looked around the room. Seamus, Lavender, Susan, and Hannah were all looking at him expectantly, and they were joined by others, too. Anthony Goldstein and Michael Corner, even their newest and youngest member, Jimmy Peakes.
"Well…" Neville faltered. He shook his head, and beamed. "Let's have ourselves a very merry Christmas, shall we?"
Seamus cheered, and Neville grinned. Perhaps the holiday wouldn't be a complete waste after all.
That night, they all sneaked out into the grounds, and shot glimmering red and green writing into the sky - Dumbledore's Army wishes you all a very Merry Christmas. Luna's delighted laughter was so loud Neville was afraid they'd bring the whole school straight down on them, but it seemed such a morale booster for everyone present he couldn't bear to say a thing.
They all crowded into Neville and Seamus' dormitory that night, drinking hot chocolate and making toasts to freedom and friendship.
Ginny raised her mug, her face solemn. "To Harry," she murmured.
"To Harry!" they cried back as one, but Ginny turned her face away for a long moment, and Luna rested a hand on her arm.
"I do hope he's all right," Susan said with a frown.
"And Ron and Hermione, don't forget," Lavender added.
Neville didn't know what had inspired such optimism in him, but he smiled at their concern. "Do you really doubt they're not managing to do… whatever it is they're trying to do? I can't think of three people I'd trust more with the fate of the country."
Seamus clapped at that. "Damn right. Remember what they've done over the years? A few Death Eaters are no match at all."
"I just hope we can be as good," Hannah said softly.
"Don't doubt it for a moment," Neville said without hesitation. "Not any of you, you've all been brilliant." He smiled at Hannah, who responded tentatively. It would have to do.
"Take care of yourself, won't you?" Ginny hugged him tightly, and there was a pleading tone to her voice.
"Oh, you know me, it's the quiet life I like," he answered, laughing, and Ginny smiled.
"I haven't got the money to bail you out of Azkaban, that's all I'm saying."
Neville did his best nonchalant shrug. "Oh, I'd just do a Sirius Black and escape anyway, wouldn't need your money!"
Luna walked over to him after that, her usual sunny disposition blotted out by a concerned expression.
"I really don't want to leave you here all by yourself," she said sadly. "But when I come back I should have a Crumple-Horned Snorkack's horn to show you, so that will be something. Good luck, and please don't get murdered or expelled."
"I'll do my best," Neville answered solemnly, before sweeping Luna up in a hug. "You look after yourself, you hear? Don't let any stray Nargles get you."
Luna smiled. "I've got a hold on them, I think."
Ginny and Luna both stepped back, close together with almost identical expressions. They looked at each other, then waved at Neville before summoning their belongings and heading down to catch the coach to the station, flanked by the entourage of the DA returning home with them.
Neville watched them go with a heavy feeling low in his stomach. He wasn't looking forward to managing without them. He took a deep breath, stamped his feet a little against the cold, and turned to the others that were gathered there. They walked back towards school as the last students trickled along to Hogsmeade, until the door thudded behind them in the entrance hall with a final sound. It seemed very quiet suddenly, and they stood still for a moment.
"So," said a wheezing voice behind them, "staying at Hogwarts for the holidays, are we?"
Exchanging wary glances with the others, Neville turned around. "Morning, Professor Carrow," he replied as cheerfully as he could manage, and Amycus frowned.
"Don't know what you've got to be smiling about," he replied roughly. "Someone was breaking curfew last night, out of bounds." He loped over towards them, finger outstretched. "Come on then, who was it?"
"Dumbledore's Army, didn't it say?" Neville asked, and Carrow spat on the floor in derision.
"Little kids playing games. So who's going to own up to it? You, Peakes, it was you, wasn't it?"
"I- I--" Jimmy stammered, and Neville hastily stepped forward.
"Jimmy had nothing to do with it," he said quickly. "It was all me."
Carrow's face turned upwards into a leer that was probably intended as a smile. "Is that so? We're clearly not working you hard enough, if you've got time to go snooping around so late at night. Detention, tomorrow night."
Carrow turned to go, looking victorious, but he'd only walked a few feet before turning to look at Neville again. "And if that doesn't tire you out, well. I'm sure a week or two would give you a little discipline."
Silence reigned after he'd gone. Neville shrugged it off. "Well, I suppose it's something to do."
"Neville…" Seamus began, but Neville shook his head.
"Don't mind about that. You know, we really shouldn't be together as a group like this, we're far too much of an easy target. Just stick to ones and twos most of the time, use the coins when you need to. Come on, I'm going back to the tower."
They traipsed off, eventually splitting into different directions. It was only when Seamus and Lavender had gone through the portrait hole that Jimmy turned to him, looking worried.
"Neville, I'm sorry, you shouldn't have had to do…" Jimmy sighed. "Thank you," he said in a small voice.
Neville shook his head. "Any time."
They walked into the common room, and Jimmy set off for the stairs. Neville watched him go, unable to help but think back to his own fourth year, when it seemed the scariest thing in the world was the prospect of finding a girl to dance with at the Yule Ball.
"You all right?" Seamus asked, and Neville blinked.
"Sorry," he replied. "I was miles away."
"Seamus, come on," said Lavender, touching him on the arm. "Let's leave him to it."
They walked away to the dormitories. Neville sat down by the fire, mind gradually drifting as he looked idly at the flickering flames. The bright winter sun was shining on his face, and for a long, wonderful moment, the world seemed very far away.
Neville had never been very good at Exploding Snap - he rather liked being attached to his eyebrows, thank you, and so was a little nervous around such combustible things - but this game was particularly hopeless. Lavender went easy on him, however, her gaze drifting almost as often as his own to the gold coin on the table between them.
"What's happening? They should have sent something by now," Seamus said for the third time.
"We know," snapped Lavender. "Give it a rest, would you? Your go, Neville."
Neville warily played his next card, and the whole pack began to spark off. Throwing his arms up in panic, he managed to escape with nothing more than a slight singed smell around his head, but his waning enjoyment of the game had now completely vanished. Lavender packed up the cards, once she'd beat out the flames, and they resumed sitting in silence, staring at the table.
What seemed like an eternity passed, but eventually marks started glowing brightly on the side of the charmed Galleon. Neville leapt for it, his fingers fumbling it in his haste. Seamus started smiling in relief.
The bottom plummeted straight from Neville's stomach, and the others caught the expression on his face. For a moment he couldn't bear to say anything, but that wasn't fair.
"That was Ginny," he said heavily. "She's ok, they're all fine, except-- they took Luna."
"They what?" Seamus burst out, and Lavender gasped in shock.
Neville mutely passed the coin over to them, watching them both huddle over it and stare in disbelief.
"It must be her dad," he said after a while. "All the stuff he's been printing about Harry. She knew she was in danger, and she went anyway-- Merlin, they must have snatched her right from the platform."
"She wouldn't have been any safer here," Lavender said. "If they really wanted her, she wouldn't have been safe anywhere."
"But she's not… I mean, they haven't… have they?" Seamus asked in horror.
Neville shook his head. "No," he answered, more confidently than he felt. "They'll want her alive, probably as a bargaining piece with Mr Lovegood. And," he continued, with a genuine smile, "if she is locked up somewhere - well, I wouldn't want to be the Death Eater who interrogates her!"
Lavender laughed, but the sound was a little hollow. "What are we going to do?" she asked after a moment.
"Keep fighting," Seamus responded promptly. "We've got to give them hell for this."
Neville took his coin back, running it back and forth between his fingers. The school was falling apart all around them, and Neville wondered just how long it would be before every one of them disappeared, magical blood or no.
Outside, it was getting dark.
The mood in the Room of Requirement the next morning was very quiet. Losing Luna had hit the DA extremely hard, and Neville wondered what she'd say if she knew just how much of an effect she had on other people. He made a note to tell her someday, when all of this was over.
"This doesn't change anything," he said. "We've got to keep going. Just be careful, though, and look out for each other."
The day seemed to pass extraordinarily quickly, and before Neville knew what was happening seven o'clock had rolled around, and so his detention with the Carrows. He said goodbye to Seamus and Lavender, and felt their anxious gazes at his back as he left the common room.
It would be ok, he kept telling himself. Bearable, anyway. He walked up to the door that had once led to the Defence Against the Dark Arts office. Now, it had been expanded and changed almost beyond recognition. After a moment, the door swung open into a dark and gloomy room, with sinister objects hanging on the walls, obscured in shadow. Both Carrows were in residence, and they looked up with uncannily similar smiles.
"Ah, Longbottom. Come here," barked Amycus.
As he moved closer, Neville noticed another person in the room. A boy who couldn't be older than thirteen was perched on a chair next to Alecto, looking petrified.
"This is Matthew Macnair," Alecto said, smiling even more horribly. "Matthew's father is doing very important work for the Ministry, so we're looking after him over Christmas, isn't that right?"
Matthew nodded mutely, eyes wide.
"But," Amycus continued, "young Matthew here's been having a few problems mastering some of the spells I've been teaching him. Who better than an older student like yourself to give him a helping hand?"
"Come on, Mattie," Alecto said in a horrible crooning voice that reminded Neville of Bellatrix so strongly he had to clench his fists to stop himself shuddering. "Why don't you show Mr Longbottom what you've learned?"
Matthew got to his feet, staring at Neville. Neville nodded quickly, trying his best to conjure up a reassuring smile. Matthew slowly raised his wand, took a couple of breaths, and then, with Alecto's hand pressing on his shoulder, yelled, "Crucio!"
Neville felt nothing more than a slight sting, but did his best to appear agonised. It fooled no one, and the Carrows looked at each other in frustration.
"Seems we're going to have to give him another demonstration," said Amycus, picking up his own wand and turning to Neville. "And maybe this'll teach you not to attempt such foolish stunts in the future."
"Oh, I don't know," Neville replied, "I've always been a pretty slow--"
But the rest of his retort was cut off as Amycus shrieked, "Crucio!."
White-hot pain shot through him, and as Neville thudded awkwardly onto the floor he bit down on his tongue to try and stop himself screaming. With the small part of his mind that was still capable of rational thought, he cast around for the most mundane things to focus on, listing all the different plants in Greenhouse 1 and their properties, reciting what he'd had for dinner for the past week. When the pain stopped, he hastily clambered to his feet again, though his head was pounding and the room seemed to be spinning.
"You see, Matthew?" Amycus said calmly. "That's how to do it. You'll do better tomorrow, won't you?"
Matthew nodded hesitantly, averting his eyes from Neville. Alecto looked him up and down. "Be back here tomorrow, same time," she snapped, before turning her attention back to Matthew.
Neville hurried from the room, and set off back for the common room, each step more difficult than it should have been. After a while, he heard footsteps behind him, and turned around warily.
Professor McGonagall was striding down the corridor, and she frowned. "Longbottom? Are you feeling all right?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine," he attempted, but McGonagall shook her head.
"Lying has never been your strong suit. Is this something to do with the Carrows?"
Neville nodded helplessly.
"Right then, come along to my office."
Neville followed after her reluctantly. Throughout the whole year there'd been a mostly unspoken feeling in the DA to involve their teachers as little as possible - they all knew they were struggling enough as it was looking after the students who weren't doing their best to cause trouble. Neville didn't want McGonagall to have to worry about something he'd brought on himself.
But as she opened the door into her office, warm and bright and safe, Neville's resolve faltered a little and he almost fell into a chair. McGonagall busied herself with a couple of bottles in a cabinet for a moment before bringing a goblet of something sweet-smelling over.
"Undoubtedly they'll be watching for you to go to Madam Pomfrey, so that will have to wait," she said. "Now drink up."
Neville took the cup gratefully, and after a few sips began to feel mostly himself again.
"I'm sorry," he began, "you shouldn't have to, this is entirely my fault."
McGonagall shook her head. "Whatever misdemeanours you may have committed, it is certainly not your fault you've been saddled with two sociopaths for teachers this year." Neville smiled at that, but McGonagall looked serious. "I won't deny what you're doing is very noble, but I just hope you realise how dangerous it is."
Neville met her eye. "You know that I do."
She sighed, and nodded. "There are times I wish I wasn't in charge of such a heroic house, I must confess."
"We hardly have a monopoly on bravery," Neville replied. "Professor, do you know anything about what happened to Luna?"
McGonagall looked pained. "Not very much, I'm afraid. It seems several Death Eaters were lying in wait for her at Platform 9 ¾ yesterday, and boarded the train as soon as it pulled in. No one else was harmed, and there's no reason to think Luna's in immediate danger for her life."
"How can you be so sure?" Neville asked, his darkest fears harder to deny, here away from his peers.
"Because," McGonagall said heavily, "I think the crowded platform would have seemed an ideal murder scene to these monsters. They wouldn't go to all the trouble of hauling her away just to do it somewhere else, and maybe their next victim won't be so lucky." She made a convulsive movement, and for a moment Neville thought she was going to reach out to him. "So please, all of you, take the utmost care of your own lives, first and foremost."
Neville nodded. "I plan on fighting for a long time yet. Professor, do you know Matthew Macnair?"
"I do - I was unaware he ran in your circle."
"No, no he doesn't. But he was in my detention today, and he was, well, he was being made to practise some of Amycus Carrow's spells." A memory of Matthew's scared, small face swam in Neville's mind, and he looked down for a moment. "I just wondered if Professor Slughorn could make sure he's all right."
McGonagall nodded. "I'll be sure to talk to him." She leaned back in her chair, looking Neville up and down in a way that made him want to squirm in discomfort. "Mr Longbottom, has anyone ever told you how extraordinarily like your parents you are?"
Neville managed a smile at that, then got up. "Thank you, Professor," he said, before walking out of the room.
The evening after that was much the same, and when Neville made it back to his dormitory, he found a mug of the same stuff McGonagall had given him sitting by his bed. As the week went on, however, he began to notice a change in Matthew. His expression had become more blank, and he more easily complied with the Carrows' hissings and mutterings.
Five days had gone by, and he'd still been unable to perform an effective curse. On the sixth night, Matthew's change seemed complete. He barely acknowledged Neville when he entered the room, instead exchanging a smile with Alecto, who patted him on the shoulder.
"You know what to do," she said.
Neville was on the verge of shouting something, telling Matthew that he didn't have to, he had a choice, but Matthew was already raising his wand arm. His voice, when it came, was hardened and angry and far, far older than his years. "Crucio," he spat, and in a familiar motion, Neville's legs buckled from beneath him and he fell to the ground.
He did his best not to think at all, but it was impossible to wipe Matthew's expression from his mind as pain ripped through him, the cold cruelty of it, so shocking in his young face.
"Well," Amycus said, "I think Mattie's made leaps and bounds here."
"Oh yes," agreed Alecto, smiling unpleasantly at them both. "That's all, Longbottom, you can go, I'm sure you've learned your lesson."
Neville scrambled to his feet, more desperate than ever to get out of there. The after effects of the curse were nothing compared to the feeling of horror that was threatening to overwhelm him, as he realised just how far the Carrows' influence had spread. He didn't stop in the common room to speak to anyone, though Lavender's concerned look followed him as he walked up the stairs.
Though it was still early, he had no will to do anything but shut himself away from the world, so he ducked behind his curtains and curled up on his bed, resting his head against the wall. He couldn't shake his doubts, not tonight. Questions swarmed around him, insistent. What was he doing, who did he think he was? He was powerless, in far, far over his head, and dragging others down with him.
It was unbearable, and he stayed motionless for a long time, unable to stop being afraid. He took out his DA coin with half a mind to contact Ginny, but he talked himself out of it again. There was nothing to say.
He heard the dormitory door creak open, but whoever was there just stood in silence for a while before disappearing away again. Neville barely registered Seamus' arrival much later, though he thought he might have heard Lavender's voice too. He was barely aware of himself, sitting there with his arms wrapped tight around his knees; instead, his mind had drifted very far away, to a long time ago.
He stood there, shaking, convinced this would prove to be a disastrous end to what had mostly been a horrible year.
"I don't think you should be breaking any more rules!" he said, whilst saying a mental goodbye to the only people who had been kind to him since he'd got here.
His face hit the carpeted common room floor, and he felt just as frozen inside as out. His one attempt at bravery had come to nothing whatsoever--
Draco's laughter was still ringing in his ears as he shelled out for protection devices he knew wouldn't save him.
"Squibs and Mudbloods, that's what Slytherin's monster's after. You should count yourself lucky, Longbottom, that you survived long enough to get to Hogwarts at all. You're next, you and Granger--"
"You could have got your fellow students murdered," McGonagall hissed at him as she marched him back to his office, but Neville didn't need her to tell him that, he felt as if he'd already killed them. He accepted her punishments meekly, for they were nothing compared to how furious he was with himself--
The spider was swelling and swelling, and Neville wanted more than anything to look away, but the thought of disrespecting his parents like that forced him to watch it twitch and writhe on Professor Moody's desk. And he couldn't stop imagining it, his dad screaming, his mum twisted in excruciating pain.
And then Moody spoke to him, gave him comforting words of having known his parents; Moody, who would later turn out to be the one that had done this to them--
Bellatrix was looking straight at him with such pleasure on her face, and he'd been afraid this moment would happen, ever since she'd escaped from Azkaban.
"No, let's see how long Longbottom lasts before he cracks like his parents… unless Potter wants to give us the prophecy."
He was yelling at Harry, and then it was just pain, pain unlike anything he knew, and the only thought that would stay in his head was that he was going to die, here by Bellatrix Lestrange's wand. He screamed--
He could hear crying from somewhere, and he ran towards the source of it, trying to help, because the school was in chaos, and where was Dumbledore? But then a spell hit him from behind and he fell to the ground, though not before glimpsing Alecto Carrow running past him, barely sparing him a glance. He tried to move, but couldn't, and was forced to do nothing but stay still and let images of the dead bodies of his friends race frantically through his head, and hadn't he seen one of Ginny's brothers motionless a corridor below?--
"Neville," Luna said firmly, "you mustn't be so hard on yourself."
Neville smiled weakly. "It's not that, it's just… well, it's hard to keep going without Harry, isn't it? Ron and Hermione too, they all knew what they were doing. I honestly have no idea."
Luna looked at him without blinking for a time, and Neville laughed slightly under her piercing gaze.
"You're one of the bravest people I've ever known," she said simply. "I've read an awful lot of stories about courage, but you're bravery in living form." She took his hand, her fingers tracing the lines in his palm - Neville almost expected her to start telling his fortune, but her eyes never left his face. "I believe in you," she told him.
"There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."
Neville was sitting there, smiling with the rest of his house, delighted in having come so close to beating Slytherin, and very much enjoying the look on Draco's face.
"I therefore award ten points to Mr Neville Longbottom," Dumbledore continued, and Neville couldn't even comprehend what he had just said before finding himself at the centre of attention, and for the first time since he had arrived at Hogwarts, a hero.
"Neville! Wake up!"
"Nnngh." Neville's ability to communicate first thing in the morning had never been his strong point, and he struggled now, as Seamus' face began to come into vision. "Agh," he tried again.
Seamus laughed. "You've had quite enough sleep for one day, mister, now come on, get yourself together! It might be bloody freezing outside, but the sun is shining, it's Christmas Eve, and I've got bacon and eggs for one very lucky person."
Neville dragged himself a little more upright. "Huh?"
Seamus put a tray of steaming food on his bed. "Breakfast for our hero! All the protein you could need for a day of derring-do." He laughed. "And some coffee to get you going in the first place."
Neville grabbed the mug gratefully, and after a few sips began to feel a little more part of the world.
"Thanks, Seamus," he said, looking down at the mountain of food before him.
"No problem at all," Seamus replied, still smiling.
"You're awfully happy," Neville remarked, looking at him with a raised eyebrow
Seamus coughed delicately. "I, ah, well. Had a bit of a stroke of luck yesterday."
Neville laughed. "Oh, I see. Well, good for you."
"Thanks!" Seamus beamed. "She really is a brilliant girl, Lavender is."
And Neville's answering smile was genuine; it seemed so right, somehow, to have this moment of happiness in a time of such despair. He tucked into his breakfast (though, looking at the time, it could hardly even be called lunch), whilst Seamus talked on happily, and Neville relished every word of this normality.
Eventually, however, Seamus' chattering ceased, and as Neville finished off the last of his eggs, his thoughts began to return to last night.
"Are you all right?" Seamus asked.
"Yeah, fine, thanks - eggs were just the thing," Neville tried, but Seamus would have none of it.
"Don't fob me off," he said. "You've been in detention with the Carrows for a week, of course you're not all right."
"I-- well, I suppose it wasn't the nicest experience of my life," Neville replied, still doing his best to dismiss the topic altogether.
Seamus' expression was searching for a moment, but he let it drop. "Well, ok. But that's the reason we're all still here, really. To help you, if you need it."
Neville nodded. "Yeah, of course." He paused. "Thank you." There didn't seem a way for those two words to express how grateful he was.
"No trouble at all," Seamus replied easily. "None of us want to lose this war. Now come on, you've got to get to the Room of Requirement, everyone's down there. You know," he continued, leaning in with the air of a conspirator, "we've had a few ideas for things we could do, stuff that would really shake Snape up a bit…"
Neville listened to Seamus' ideas and smiled. He wondered what on earth he'd been thinking the previous night, to feel so alone. The truth of it was, however much he didn't like the situation, there were people all around him who were just as willing as he was to give their all for the sake of defeating the darkness that was threatening their country. The thoughts that had been plaguing him now seemed absurd, even offensive; everywhere he could think of, people were risking their lives to make a better world.
Seamus gave him a few minutes to gather himself together, then they started heading down through the corridors, with Neville feeling wonderfully upbeat. As they neared the seventh floor corridor, however, Seamus froze and gripped Neville's elbow. "Snape!" he hissed.
They stood still, not wishing to give any indication of where they were headed. Snape's quick footsteps approached, then slowed as he spotted them. Seamus shot Neville a panicked look. "Just don't look shifty," Neville muttered.
When Snape reached them, he narrowed his eyes, looking them up and down. Neville conjured up his best and brightest smile. "Merry Christmas, Professor!"
Snape said nothing, his expression unreadable. They all stood silent for a moment, then Snape gave an almost imperceptible nod and started walking again. Seamus turned to Neville, his eyes widening in confusion. "What on earth was that about?"
"No idea." Neville stared at Snape's retreating form. "Come on, let's keep going."
All of the DA were already gathered in the Room, bustling around it and putting the finishing touches to decorations.
"Hi, Neville!" Hannah called as he shut the door behind him. "What do you think?"
Neville turned in a circle, gazing up at the walls, which had gilded house banners draped down them. Sparkling baubles were clustered on window ledges or gathered on tables, and red and gold tinsel was wrapped around a roaring fireplace.
"This is amazing," he said. He longed for a camera, then spotted one on the table next to him. He picked it up, taking photos from all angles, because Ginny had to see this when she got back - Luna, too. Neville's thoughts turned to her, and he hoped desperately she might find some small measure of seasonal comfort. But that was one wish this most extraordinary of places couldn't provide.
"Not quite done yet," Seamus said, looking intently at the ceiling, muttering to himself. "There we are!" he cried as silver stars shot from his wand and suspended themselves below the ceiling, bobbing and glowing gently.
Susan clapped her hands together, beaming. "How did you do that?" she asked in amazement.
"Just a little something I picked up from Dean, he was always charming the girls with it."
Hannah and Susan were pouring out mugs of hot chocolate from an enormous flask, and Jimmy was making Lavender laugh as he drew a hideous portrait of the Carrows on a scrap of paper while Michael and Anthony stood together talking enthusiastically about the Holyhead Harpies' Boxing Day match against the Tutshill Tornados. Seamus took two steaming mug from Hannah and walked over to Neville.
"Merry Christmas, mate," he said with a grin. Neville looked around the room, then took the hot chocolate, smiling at the warmth of it between his palms.