“… the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components.” Sighing, Ginny slammed her book shut. This was the fifth time she had tried to memorise Golpalott’s Third Law, but she couldn’t even remember the first part of the sentence. How was she supposed to concentrate on her homework when, outside of Hogwarts, her world threatened to fall apart? She hadn’t heard from Harry for ages. Of course, the trio had been at the Burrow for Christmas, but they had refused to talk about their experiences. On Boxing Day they had set off again, Merlin knew where, once again refusing to let her accompany them.
And now she was sitting here in this damn school, trying to learn for some stupid tests, while they were out there fighting Voldemort. She had never, in all her life, felt this useless. How was she supposed to help them when she was shut up here, the teachers monitoring every step she made? The Hogsmeade weekends were cancelled; Quidditch practice was watched by Madam Hooch and several Aurors. No, going to school certainly wasn’t fun anymore.
Hogwarts was empty. The line of first years had been considerably shorter this year. The Gryffindor common room seemed to be deserted. Many pupils, like the Patil twins, hadn’t been allowed to return for this school year. And, those who were here were definitely not spreading happiness all over the place.
There were attacks nearly every day now. Hardly anyone was left who hadn’t lost a close family member to Voldemort… whose relatives hadn’t been attacked by Death Eaters. She prayed that Harry would finish everything soon.
It would certainly be faster if she were allowed to help him, too. Hadn’t she been in the Department of Mysteries with him, fighting the Death Eaters? Hadn’t she stood up to the Death Eaters when they had invaded the school in June? Wasn’t her work in Defence against the Dark Arts praised by everyone? She was only one year younger than Harry was, one year behind. Why did he let Hermione and Ron go with him, but not her? Didn’t he notice that she could be as useful as the two of them?
Angrily, she crumpled the parchment she was supposed to be writing her Potions essay on, and threw it into the fire. For a moment the flames flickered slightly, illuminating the dark common room. Potions, schoolwork – who could even think about essays when there were much more important things waiting to be done? Maybe she should just sneak out, fetch her broom and set off to do something. At least she would be useful then. But stuck here, she was as important as the tiny first year over there. Which meant: useless.
If she just knew what Harry was up to, she could do some research, give him tips on spells, just support him. But how was she supposed to support him this way?
Absentmindedly, she plucked at her quill.
“Ginny, what’s wrong?” Neville Longbottom slumped into one of the spare armchairs opposite her.
“It’s nothing,” Ginny replied in a forced voice, avoiding his eyes. Neville was one of the few seventh years who had returned despite the war. She had seen very little of him during the last few weeks – obviously he was busy preparing for his N.E.W.T.s. However, with only three subjects, that task shouldn’t be too hard.
Instead of replying, he simply watched her as if observing a mildly interesting plant. Secretly, she admired him for his patience, a trait she had never achieved. It was hard to pretend to be working and finally she gave up, sighing loudly.
“There is something,” Neville asserted calmly. “Do you want to talk? Talking helps.”
He sounded like a Healer when he talked like this. On the one hand it was calming, yes, but on the other hand it made Ginny fume. He had no idea what he was talking about! Obviously he felt important, now that everyone else was gone and he had been appointed Prefect. But she didn’t need his help. There was no one who could help her; in fact, it was she who should help, in the fight against Voldemort.
“Can’t you just leave me alone?” she asked in a tired voice. “See, Neville, I’ve got to work out how to brew antidotes …”
The old Neville would have blushed and apologised kindly for disturbing her. This person opposite her, however, didn’t even blink.
“It’s Harry, isn’t it?” he said. It was a statement, not a question.
Ginny felt disturbed. Was she so easy to read? So what if her heart was longing for him, it wasn’t Neville’s business to care about this. Angrily, she glared at him, which he seemed to take as a yes, as he continued talking.
“I understand how you feel.” His voice sounded calm, almost caring. When had he changed that much? Where had the old Neville gone, the shy boy who kept stumbling over his own feet and stuttered when talking to unfriendly people? Ginny had never paid much attention to him; of course they had both been in the DA and had gone to the Yule Ball together, but apart from this, she preferred spending her time with her own friends, from her own year. And with Harry. Harry …
It was incredible how much she missed him. More than everything else, more than his success, she wanted him to be well. She wanted his confidence and his trust, wanted to talk to him, to be in his arms once again. When her mum had written her that Harry would come for Christmas, she had been waiting for the feast even more eagerly than she had as a little girl. But she had been disappointed: Harry had been distant and cold. She had noticed that he had difficulties using his left arm, but he had refused to answer her questions. Instead, he had talked to her parents and various Order members in a low voice. To her, however, he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t even looked at her! Ginny felt anger boiling up inside herself. Was she worth less than Ron and Hermione? Everyone considered her too young to be involved – didn’t they notice that she wasn’t the baby anymore? That she could be as useful as any of them?
“No, you don’t understand!” she said hotly, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “You haven’t been ignored for months. I don’t know where he is, what he is doing. He might be in mortal danger now, but I won’t be able to help. Everyone thinks I can’t to anything. And now I’m stuck here, with this bloody potions essay, which will be of no use whatsoever to anyone!”
Some part of her expected Neville to back away again after that loud and angry display of her feelings, but the new Neville just moved closer. His face looked worried, however, and Ginny felt a surge of pleasure. At least she seemed to have been able to sweep off that irritating calmness.
“See?” she continued mournfully. “Everyone is out there, fighting Voldemort. And I’m sitting here, like a princess in a stupid fairy tale, waiting for Harry to conquer him. They don’t allow me to do anything – it’s as if I were still eleven! I’m just utterly – completely – useless!” Annoyed, she wiped away a tear which had somehow slipped out. No, she wasn’t crying… she wouldn’t cry because of Harry.
“Who says you can’t be useful?” Neville asked, meeting her eyes. “Did Harry tell you this?”
Ginny searched her memory. Harry had certainly not been the one to tell her this – they had hardly spoken to each other since Dumbledore’s funeral. Her mum and dad had told her to stay alert and be careful, Ron had worked with her on her Patronus; Hermione had given her a list of useful spells; the twins had joked to cheer her up.
“I … I don’t think anyone ever told me this,” she admitted in a small voice. “But isn’t it obvious? They make me go here, although Ron can take the year off. Even Hermione has joined Harry and you know how much she loves school.”
Yes, by making her return to Hogwarts and warning her not to do anything dangerous, everyone had expressed that they thought she was too young, too inexperienced to fight Voldemort. That she was useless.
“They don’t let me battle him with them out there. I can’t do anything here – isn’t this what you would call useless?” she asked aggressively, shooting daggers at Neville.
Silence fell between the two of them, and when Neville straightened up, Ginny hoped that he would leave now.
“Has it ever occurred to you that there might be more than one way to fight him?” he asked instead, his gaze fixed on her face. “Of course you can go out there and fight him on the battlefield – but don’t you think there are other possibilities? That there are other ways in which we can and need to fight him, too?” His round face was as emotional as she had never seen it, his eyes glittering strangely. In the determined way he looked, there was a certain resemblance to Harry speaking about Voldemort.
Slowly, Ginny shook her head. Were there other ways than the battlefield?
“Do you see Aurora Milton over there? Her mother was murdered shortly before Christmas. And Lucas Cleveland’s baby brother was killed when Death Eaters set their house on fire. Jonathan Stanley’s uncle’s family has been tortured into death. Your own brother has been attacked. People are hurting, Ginny.” Neville’s voice had turned sincere. “And he enjoys making people hurt. They’re getting passive and aimless, perfect targets since they might not even want to defend themselves.”
“But what does this have to do with fighting him?” Ginny interrupted her vis-à-vis impatiently.
“It has everything to do with fighting him. Of course we can’t make the pain disappear, but we can help these people. I know what it’s like to lose someone, and I can speak to them and help them deal with it.” Suddenly, he sounded lively and almost – positive? It was the first time Ginny had ever heard Neville speak about his parents. “I can make certain that they don’t give themselves up. That they want to take revenge and fight him, should he come here.”
It was one of the very rare moments in her life that Ginny Weasley simply didn’t know what to say. She gaped at Neville, opening her mouth a few times, but couldn’t think of anything remotely intelligent. She would have never thought that he, the silent, shy boy would help others whom he didn’t really know without showing any signs of uneasiness.
“Just think about the DA two years ago,” he continued, though a small blush showed how honoured he felt by her expression. “It wasn’t only a rebellion against Umbridge; Harry also prepared us for what’s waiting for us outside. I know you’re exceptional at Defence. We need someone to prepare us, once again, to defend ourselves. Hogwarts isn’t as safe as it used to be. And many of those I have spoken to want to improve their skills.”
It took some seconds until Ginny realised what he implied. Did he really want her to continue the DA? Did he think that she was good enough to replace Harry? Well, the longer she thought about it, it really didn’t seem like a bad idea. Somehow, the thought appealed to her. Oh, the first thing she should teach everyone was Expelliarmus, then a few basic Shield Charms, some simple hexes and jinxes … She would have to split between the years… maybe the older ones would be able to work on more difficult things, like the charms on Hermione’s list. They would practice battle training, and yes, they would be ready if Voldemort should try and attack Hogwarts. They would defend the school and fight him until was forced to give up, until he was conquered by Harry. They would fight Voldemort. And she would, too.
And for the first time in what must have been weeks, Ginny smiled.
A/N: Hugs and thanks go to Evelyn and harry_ginnyphile, my great betas! I wouldn't want to imagine my life without the two of you! Disclaimer: I don’t own Harry Potter. That distinction belongs to the amazing JKR.