This was written for silverbirch's "Lonely this Christmas" challenge at the HP fanfiction Challenges Forum.

The Meaning of Lonely

Neville is used to lonely Christmases.

He is used to being the only young person at Christmas dinner, with his grandmother's brothers and cousins and friends.

He is used to the uncomfortable after-dinner visits to St. Mungo's, which are not quite a duty, because Frank and Alice are his parents, and he supposes that he loves them. Except that what he really feels is a mixture of appalled pity, fierce pride and a wish that one of them would one day show some tiny spark of recognition when they look at him. (He is not sure which is worse – whether it is the way his father seems to look straight through him as if he isn't there, or the anxious, distracted look on his mother's face, as if he is someone she met at a party once and can't quite place.) The visits always make him feel more alone than ever.

And he is used to missing his companions from school – Harry, Ron, Seamus, Dean, Parvati, Lavender… They may not be his friends as Harry and Ron or Seamus and Dean are friends, but with them he has a sense of belonging, of actually fitting in somewhere. (Although the feeling that the Sorting Hat made a mistake, that he is the least Gryffindor-like of Gryffindors persists.)

That feeling of belonging is intensified once Dumbledore's Army is started, and Neville can believe that he is really doing something in the struggle against You Know Who and those who destroyed his parents, even if all he is doing is training for a fight he may never actually get the chance to take part in. The Christmas of his fifth year, with that sense of belonging and of being part of something bigger than himself abruptly taken away from him on alighting the train, seems lonelier than ever.

But he has never felt as lonely as he does this Christmas, the Christmas of his seventh year. The DA is really fighting now. Fighting because they have to, because to submit to the cruelty and injustice of Snape and the Carrows would be to hand You Know Who a kind of victory. Every small act of defiance, however pointlessly symbolic it might seem to an outsider; every attempt to persuade a wavering student that opposition to You Know Who is not only possible but necessary; every tiny spark of resistance to the status quo, is something they can do for the cause, for Harry, for Neville's own parents.

And the members of Dumbledore's Army are more than Neville's friends now; they are his comrades, his family. For them he will fight, he will risk death, he will even lead. (However improbable the idea of him leading anyone might have seemed just a few months ago.) People who were mere acquaintances before Dumbledore died and the Ministry fell – Ernie, Terry, Susan, Michael, Padma and others – are now his brothers and sisters.

Missing them this Christmas, and the desperate longing to know that they are all safe and well, hurts.

There are others who are closer still.

Seamus – theirs is an odd sort of friendship, based as it is on what – or on whom – they are missing, and on a fierce determination to fight as Harry and Ron and Dean cannot. (Or can – but not at Hogwarts, not in the same way. Neville knows that Seamus feels as he does about fighting on behalf of all five of them.)

Ginny – so fierce, so determined, so brave. Insisting that she does not know what Harry is doing; that Hermione is simply in hiding like so many other Muggleborns, that Ron really is ill at home – but with a spark in her eyes all the time that gives the lie to her words. She wears her status as a member of a blood traitor family with a kind of defiant pride, not dented by anything the Carrows can throw at her.

And Hannah, who has somehow and imperceptibly become necessary to Neville, the person he can talk to and share his fears with, even laugh with on occasion. Somehow Hannah has become Neville's best friend. His missing her these holidays is an ache inside.

And then Luna. Luna, dragged off the train on the way home, taken who knows where. She may be dead already, and the thought makes Neville's blood run cold, although knowing as he does what You Know Who's supporters are capable of, perhaps death is not the worst that could have befallen her.

Neville knows what the Hogwarts grapevine says about him and Luna. It is rubbish. He knows it, and so does she. The gossip is based solely on the fact that they are both oddities, misfits, never quite belonging anywhere until events made leaders of them both.

Luna, with her habit of speaking her mind and saying what no one else would dream of voicing out loud, summed it up one evening in the Room of Requirement after a particularly difficult and harrowing day in November.

"People think we should be together because we are different, Neville," she said dreamily, as she bandaged the jagged cut on his arm. "But being different doesn't make us a pair. We can be friends, but we can't be anything more." She finished off her bandaging with an elaborate double knot and smiled at Neville. "Could we?"

Neville smiled back, even though he could feel himself blushing at her candour. He knew she was right.

Now, he misses Luna even more than he misses Hannah. He knows that next term, her absence, if it continues, will be one of the reasons that he has to keep on fighting.

Until this term, he has never known how deep friendship can be. Until this term, he has never known this fierce sense of belonging. Until this term, he has never known such pride in his companions, his comrades.

And until this Christmas, missing them, he has not known what lonely really means.