Chapter One – Hogwarts Divided
He walked with a limp now.
Two years ago, this would have bothered him to no end. Two years ago, he would have arrived to the Hogwarts Express an hour early to find a seat, just so that fewer people would have to watch him struggle up the steps. Two years ago, he would have hidden himself away, pretending that he simply didn't exist. If he believed it, perhaps everyone else would, too.
But that was two years ago.
Today, Neville Longbottom walked purposely towards the Hogwarts Express, his left leg just slightly out of step with the rest of his body. He had needed a walking stick at the beginning of the summer, but was determined not to use one for school.
A few people turned to stare, but Neville paid them no notice. A few students waved or said hello as he stood in front of the train. Neville waved back to those students.
There were four steps that he needed climb in order to get onto the train. At the end of the last school year, Luna Lovegood had helped him climb these steps. For just a moment, he wondered where she was, but then he focused on the task ahead of him.
Neville grabbed the handle on the door and stepped up with his right foot, quickly transferring all his weight onto that foot. Then closing his eyes tightly, he used all his effort to bring up his left leg. Then he transferred his weight to his left, and stepped up with his right, repeating the cycle until he reached the top.
A small line of students waiting to get on the train had formed behind him. "Sorry," mumbled Neville. He used magic to lift his trunk and put it away. Then came the arduous task of finding a compartment.
He couldn't help but notice that fewer students there were in and around the train. Neville looked around hopefully for someone he knew, like Luna or Harry, but he couldn't seem to find anyone. Finally, he sat in a compartment by himself.
The door was kept open by magic. Neville still reveled in the fact that he could do magic legally outside of school. Not that he ever tried to do magic outside of school when he was underage.
"Hi, Ginny!" Neville called out eagerly to the youngest Weasley. Ginny stopped and stood in the doorway.
"Hi, Neville," said Ginny softly.
She looked exhausted, like she hadn't gotten a good night's sleep in several days. "Do you want to share a compartment with me?" asked Neville with a smile, holding his hand out to the seat across from him.
"I'm going to sit by myself." Ginny tried to hide a small yawn, but failed. "I'm really tired and I just want to sleep the whole way."
"Sure," said Neville easily. "Do you know where Harry, Ron and Hermione are sitting? I don't want to sit alone for my last trip to Hogwarts."
Ginny looked down at her feet. "I don't know where they are," Ginny replied quietly.
"I'll look for them later, then," Neville told her.
Ginny's eyes flashed as she looked up. "No, Neville, I literally don't know where they are. They left the Burrow the day after my brother's wedding and no one's heard from them since."
"They're coming to Hogwarts, though, right?" asked Neville in disbelief.
She shrugged. "I don't think so," answered Ginny, walking away quickly without another word.
The train lurched, and Neville felt it starting to move. He looked outside. Neville couldn't quite believe that he was about to start his seventh year at Hogwarts. Thoughts from the past six years overwhelmed him. He certainly didn't feel like the scared, nervous boy that practically had to be forced onto the Hogwarts Express six years ago. Now Hogwarts felt like home, and he already felt a tingly anticipation to be going back. Especially after the summer he had.
This had been the most difficult summer that Neville had ever known. First there was the physical therapy he needed three times a week at St. Mungo's. He didn't like being at St. Mungo's that often. His grandmother thought it was great, that he could go see his parents that much more. But Neville simply didn't like seeing them so often. As much as he loved his parents, and he did love them, emotionally, it was exhausting spending so much time with them. And the days he chose not to visit, he felt guilty, like he was being a bad son. He was more than relieved to be sitting on this train, meaning that the summer had finally ended.
But Neville really didn't like the idea of being by himself for the entire train ride. This was a special trip; it should be shared. Just as he was about to stand up to search for someone to sit with, he heard, "Hello, Neville Longbottom."
Neville turned his head quickly and saw Luna Lovegood standing there. She was already in her school uniform, though a bit relaxed, with the buttons of her sleeves undone and her tie being used as a headband, pulling her hair off her face, which displayed her radish earrings.
"Hallo, Luna," said Neville with a grin.
"I walked up and down the corridors twice looking for you. I must have been distracted," said Luna.
Neville felt his ears turn slightly pink at the thought of her actually going out and looking for him. But he also wondered how she missed him. The door was wide open.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked in that almost sing-song voice she sometimes used. Then in her regular dreamy voice, she added, "There are plenty of other compartments open, but I've grown used to sitting with you on the train."
He indicated the seat across from him. "There's plenty of room in here," said Neville.
Luna beamed at him and sat down quickly. "What were you staring at?" she asked.
Neville's cheeks reddened; she must have been watching him. "I was just thinking," Neville told her. "Seventh year and all."
Her eyes stared out the window as she brought her legs up under her. "It's my sixth year," she said matter-of-factly.
"I know," he said quietly. He thought about the letters they wrote to each other over the summer. He hadn't expected to hear from her. But three days after he was home, her large tawny owl had delivered him a letter.
She wrote about random things, about working at the Quibbler for the summer or waiting nervously for her O.W.L. results. He always wrote back as soon as he got the letter, less he forget, telling her a bit about his physical therapy, or about news he read in The Daily Prophet. And somehow, everything seemed to change between them.
Neville wasn't sure when it happened. He just knew that it had. Somehow, over the summer, they crossed that invisible line from acquaintances to friends.
Luna Lovegood was his friend.
Perhaps it happened so suddenly or slowly that he didn't notice. One day, she was writing about her inane theories, making his head spin. And the next, he found himself wondering about her opinion on certain matters. Wondering what her view would be. Her special, unique, off-the-wall, only from Luna view.
By the end of the summer, he was writing about his parents and she was telling him how nervous she was because she hadn't heard from her grandfather in more than a year. After Neville wrote back, to sympathize, she wrote that her grandfather was Mister Ollivander. Apparently, the wand-maker was her mother's father.
Neville peeked over at Luna, who was staring out the window, absently playing with her necklace of butterbeer corks. He had wondered what it would be like to see her again, after they had shared so much through their letters.
"Luna?" he asked suddenly. She turned and gazed at him expectantly. "Did you see Harry, Ron or Hermione on the train?"
She seemed to think the question over seriously for a moment. "I don't believe they're coming back to Hogwarts this year," she said finally. "I saw them in Diagon Alley only a few days ago and Ronald said something about a hunt. I think it's a secret, because Harry and Hermione looked angry after he said that. I don't believe they can hunt at Hogwarts. It's illegal in the Forbidden Forest, after all."
"No hunting," Neville said meekly.
"It's a shame, too, because I was hoping that Harry would start the D.A. again," she said, with a slight dream-like quality to her voice. "Last year proved that it would be useful."
Neville choked back a laugh. Useful, indeed! It certainly would have been useful to have more members of the D.A. fighting with them. Then maybe Professor Dumbledore…Neville shook his head, not wanting to think about that.
The rest of the train ride went pleasantly enough. They both bought candy from the lady behind the trolley and ended up trading most of it. Neville asked if she wanted to play Exploding Snaps, but she simply shook her head and told him that she didn't play card games. So she read a bit from the Quibbler, sometimes out loud, while Neville said hello to other students as they passed, and learned from Susan Bones that Zacharias Smith was Head Boy and Hermione Granger was supposed to be Head Girl. But since Professor McGonagall found out that Hermione wasn't going to attend Hogwarts this year, it went to Lisa Turpin, who had the next best grades.
Once the train stopped, Neville and Luna both stood up and went to the door. Luna started out right away, but Neville put his hand on her shoulder, asking her to wait. He wanted to leave the train last, so not to make anyone wait impatiently behind him.
When no more students walked to the front, they started walking down the corridor.
"You're still limping," observed Luna serenely. "I would have thought-"
"The Healers said it might be a while before it goes away," interrupted Neville quietly. "I don't mind it too much." Which was the truth. There were much more important things to be worried about than if he had a limp or not.
Hagrid's familiar form was waiting for them by the carriages with the Thestrals. Neville almost shuddered as they past them, remembering what it had been like riding one to London. He hadn't liked that at all.
They shared a carriage with Ginny, who simply stared out the window the entire time, answering with only one or two words if a direct question was asked to her. After a few attempts of conversation, Neville and Luna simply talked to each other and left Ginny alone.
Neville knew immediately that this school year was going to be different when the First Years started walking into the Great Hall, following Professor Flitwick, the new Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts.
He looked around and saw that a staggering number of students were missing. He would guess that at least a third of the students weren't there. More than half of the Slytherin table was gone as well.
Over the summer, he had been preparing himself for an argument with his Gran, thinking that she wouldn't want him to come back this year. Hours were spent figuring out his reasoning, the one winning out the most being that he would be of age and his grandmother couldn't tell him what to do anymore. But luckily the subject wasn't even broached once his Hogwarts letters arrived.
Neville watched Professor McGonagall, now Headmistress, sitting in the chair that Professor Dumbledore had inhibited so readily. She didn't look uncomfortable, but she didn't look at ease, either.
Scanning the rest of the Head Table, he saw that Professor Slughorn was back for a second year. There was something very unsettling about the man. Neville had heard all about his "collection" and was grateful that the professor stopped inviting him to his get togethers after only a few.
He counted the professors again. One seemed to be missing. There should be a new professor to take over Defense Against the Dark Arts. Nudging Ginny, he asked her to count as well, and she came up with the same number. Perhaps it would be like fourth year, when Professor Moody made such a dramatic entrance.
There was an odd static of energy as Professor Flitwick picked up the Sorting Hat and called out, "Appleby, Kevin!"
A young black boy sat on the stool, his feet not quite touching the ground. "Ravenclaw!" the Sorting Hat shouted, and a loud applause broke out.
The girl who responded to the name looked absolutely terrified. She sat on the stool and the Sorting Hat took it's time to decide. "Slytherin!"
There was only a scattered applause coming from the Slytherin table. Everyone around Neville looked upset and an angry murmur started around the Great Hall.
The next three students were sorted without incident. But when "Davis, Julia," became the newest Slytherin, jeers were thrown at the young girl as she walked quickly to the Slytherin table, her head hanging low. Neville felt absolutely awful for the girl, who buried her head in her arms the moment she sat down, her sister Tracey consoling her.
Millicent Bulstrode stood up angrily on the bench she had been sitting on. She simply stood there, hands on her hips, glaring at everyone at the other three tables. Millicent was so tall that everyone in the Great Hall must have seen her.
Neville quickly glanced at the Slytherin table. Malfoy was gone; there had been no sign up of him since he disappeared from Hogwarts with Professor Snape. Crabbe and Goyle were gone as well. Daphne Greengrass was missing, too. Only five of the nine original seventh years were at the table.
There were no more Slytherins sorted until "MacDonald, Jason." His older sister Natalie, a Gryffindor, burst into tears and the yelling became louder.
Neville gaped up at Professor McGonagall, wondering how in the world she was letting this happen. But she simply sat there, her hand over her mouth.
These were first years. Eleven year old children and the rest of the students were acting like it was now a crime to be sorted in Slytherin. He might not like everyone in Slytherin, he hated what Malfoy and Professor Snape did to Professor Dumbledore, but he certainly didn't hate everyone in the entire house. Especially not first years, whose only crime was to put a hat one their head. So Neville did the only thing he could think of.
Hardly believing what he was about to do, Neville stood up and started clapping. And not just a polite clap. Neville clapped as loudly as he could. He wanted these first year Slytherins to know that they had friends in other Houses, not enemies. Across the Great Hall, he caught Luna's eye, and she started clapping as well. A few other students, ones who looked as uncomfortable as Neville had, joined in, and then more and more, until the applause overtook the jeering and taunting.
Millicent, looking like an Amazon warrior standing tall on the bench, glared at Neville for a moment before finally nodding her head with a slight smile, sitting down.
The rest of the Sorting went without incident. When three other Slytherins were sorted, there was applause and no jeers. Once the sorting was complete, Professor Flitwick took the stool and hat away.
The Great Hall was silent the moment Professor McGonagall stood up. Everyone wondered what she would say, what she could possibly say to fill the gulf that Professor Dumbledore had left in his wake.
She eyes gazed over all four tables. "What House you are in does not matter as much as the fact that we are all Witches and Wizards. No matter what you believe, at our core, we are all the same," Professor McGonagall told the Great Hall. It was obvious from the murmurs that not all the students believed her.
"Before we eat, there are several announcements," she continued. "Hogsmeade visits will be restricted to those fifth year and above." She paused while there was moaning from some of the younger students. "Next, the Ministry of Magic has decided to remove Defense Against the Dark Arts from the curriculum-"
"What?" someone shouted from the Ravenclaw table.
"Have they lost their minds?" asked a loud Hufflepuff.
Professor McGonagall held up her hand and immediately, the Great Hall quieted. "This will be for one year only, while they decide to rework the course to include a more practical application to the lesson plan. Those who planned on taking the Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. or N.E.W.T. will be able to participate in a monthly study group to discuss the basics. You will still be allowed to sit for the exams."
"What good will that be if we don't have the class?" muttered Dean Thomas, who was sitting across from Neville. "I don't think I'd even get an A without the class."
Secretly, Neville agreed with him. This was so disappointing, especially after he did surprisingly well in Professor Snape's class. Perhaps it was the confidence that he had gained from being in the D.A. his fifth year, but Defense Against the Dark Arts wasn't nearly as intimidating as he expected, even with Snape as the instructor.
Jerking his head up, he thought of the D.A. and how much they had learned that year. That was it! If the Hogwarts wouldn't teach them, they would teach themselves. Neville sought Luna's eyes from across the Great Hall. When their eyes met, he gave her a wide smile. She grinned back, even though she must not have any idea why he was so excited. It was perfect.
Neville and Luna would bring back the D.A.
A/N – Yay! Neville and Luna are back! I've had this story idea in my head for quite a while now. At the moment, it's looking like it will be around twenty chapters. But I certainly reserve the right to add more. :)
Updates will be irregular for the next month because of some other writing activities, but once those are complete, I'll be posting on a regular basis. I desperately want to have this finished before Deathly Hallows is released.
I would love to know what you think! Thank you for reading the first chapter of what I hope to be a very interesting Neville journey!