The morning of Neville's funeral came. Ginny had steeled herself to feel terrible and spend a fair portion of the day crying, but somehow she just felt numb. She donned her dress robes, the same ones she had worn to Dumbledore's funeral the year before, and saw her friends and family without her eyes even stinging. Everyone at Hogwarts, even those who hadn't really known Neville, seemed somber and she supposed they were imagining - or remembering - burying people they cared about.
When the time came she Side-Along Apparated to just outside the graveyard with her mother. Her brothers, Fleur, Harry, and Hermione Apparated under their own power over the next several moments, and her father had come an hour before to check the security arrangements himself. Ginny released her mother's hand and looked around. The grounds were well kept, with gently rolling lawns over equally gentle hills and oak trees placed at just the right intervals. It was beautiful, but that very beauty struck her as wrong. It was the sort of place a very old man who'd 'passed' quietly in his sleep should be buried, not a seventeen-year-old who'd died in battle.
But, then, the entire situation was wrong.
Most of the mourners starting to assemble probably thought Neville was a sweet boy who'd got in over his head. It was an easy mistake, given his low opinion of his abilities and the difficulties he'd had with magic his first few years at Hogwarts. Many people still remembered that Neville. The truth, however, was that he'd become a very capable wizard over the last three years. He could hold his own in a fight and chose to be part of the war with his eyes open. It was only luck that she'd survived and he hadn't, and she knew it even if the general public didn't.
"I don't know that I like how open this is," her mother fretted, "even with the security spells."
"Mum, it'll be fine," Bill said, settling an arm around his wife's waist.
She started to respond but grew quiet as Neville's grandmother Augusta Longbottom, an elderly witch in black robes and a vulture atop her hat, approached. The woman looked tired and somehow two decades older than she had just a week ago, but was keeping a stiff upper lip. Ginny expected nothing different from her.
"Molly - I'm glad you and yours could come," she said, her hawklike eyes sweeping over the group and lingering just a bit longer on Harry.
"We're all just sorry it's even necessary... Neville was such a wonderful boy."
"Yes, he was," Mrs. Longbottom agreed. "A hero, like his father."
Knowing as she did that Neville's father, Frank, had been tortured into a permanent catatonic state and was kept at St. Mungo's, Ginny couldn't see this as a very comforting comparison.
"He was," Harry said. "Even before." Ginny heard the slightest added bite in his voice, but only because she knew him like she did. Mrs. Longbottom didn't seem to notice it at all.
"Thank you, Harry," she replied, then let out a breath. "I ought to go greet the Minister. Again, thank you all for coming."
She left then, the vulture bobbing as she walked. They walked toward the rows of folding chairs that had been set up, which were already half full. There was virtually no chance there would be enough in a row for all of them, so without fanfare they split into several smaller groups. Ginny took one of four seats together with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and the rest of their party filled in the row behind them, her mother using her handbag to claim her father's seat.
The last school year, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron gone on their mysterious mission, had been strange. Only half or so of the students returned to Hogwarts, and most of those were in the upper years. With student numbers so low, some rearrangements in the school's structure were necessary. One of them was combining the sixth and seventh year N.E.W.T. classes, and as a result Neville had been in most of her lessons. The years and houses kept to themselves less as well, and Neville became part of the same loose study group as her.
Most of the subjects she'd chosen to continue with came relatively easily to her, but not Herbology. She wasn't bad at it, exactly, but didn't have a touch with plants. Neville, on the other hand, could tell at a glance that a plant needed a little more water or a certain soil. He never succeeded in teaching her that knack, but he'd been unendingly patient with her and her marks had improved. She was a year behind him, and therefore not able to reciprocate much, but she'd given him what help she could in other lessons.
She supposed she had a certain affection for him. Their attending the Yule Ball together had been a disaster as a date, but it had also been the real start of their friendship. Once she politely could, she'd claimed to be getting tired and asked to sit down for a while and have some punch. Neville had agreed in a moment. Eventually Michael Corner had asked her to dance, but until then she and Neville sat and talked - mostly about school and mutual friends. She decided that night that he was one of the most genuinely nice people she had ever met, though he needed to put himself down less, and nothing had happened to change her mind since. On either point.
Ginny rubbed at her eyes, and was surprised when her hand came away wet.
Harry leaned toward her slightly. "Are you all right?" he said, into her ear.
"Just remembering," she replied in the same tone, furtively drying her face with her sleeve.
"Something in particular?"
She shook her head. "Not exactly; just him."
Harry slipped a hand over to interlock with hers, and Ginny felt a brief but strong surge of irritation she couldn't explain - Voldemort had been captured, and her family and friends were mostly intact. There had been big losses as well, however. They just had her off balance, she decided, and flaring up at nothing. Harry's hand felt warm and solid in hers, and she kept hold of it like it was a mooring all through the service and committal.
* * *
Later, after the funeral was over and they had returned to Hogwarts, Ginny slipped away to the dormitory she'd been sharing with Hermione. It wasn't her intention to hide away - there were much better places for that - but she wanted some time alone and some quiet. She changed out of her dress robe then aimlessly wandered around the circular room for a few minutes before forcing herself to sit on her bed.
She was just questioning whether seeking out so much space to think so soon after the funeral had really been a good idea when there was an almost hesitant knock at the door.
Hermione entered, still in her blue dress robes and a serious look on her face. "I thought you might be up here."
"I was just changing."
"It is getting warm," Hermione agreed. A few quick movements of her fingers had her robes off, revealing the t-shirt and shorts she'd worn underneath.
Hermione had shared a room with her when she visited, and after the first few days of awkwardly trying to give each other total privacy - especially difficult when the one bathroom at the Burrow was almost always occupied - they became comfortable enough to change around each other. They were friends and both girls, after all, and accidentally catching a glimpse of the other's body was barely worth noticing. Or, at least, it had been that way. Now Hermione disappeared every morning and evening to dress, and Ginny followed her lead.
It would have been silly to expect things to be just as they had been last year, but Ginny's feeling that her relationships with Hermione, Ron, and Harry had gone backward was growing in response to these sorts of changes.
"Harry and Ron were talking about going to the Quidditch pitch," Hermione said conversationally, laying her robes neatly on the bed. "It will have to be after their turn on patrol, but it might do you some good to join them."
"Oh, I know when I'm not wanted." The words didn't come out in the jesting tone she'd intended, but with a bitterness she felt like wincing at.
Hermione did wince. "Ginny..."
She sighed. "I didn't mean it like that, at least not entirely."
Silently, Hermione came to sit beside her. "We have been leaving you out a little, haven't we? It's not intentional, it's just that we spent the last year or so not really around anyone but each other and I suppose it got to be a habit." Hermione paused for breath, but Ginny said nothing. "As for flying, Harry and Ron told me to ask you."
"Oh." Ginny felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment and gave herself a mental kick. "I'll go with them, then. And, I'm sorry for acting like a five year old."
"You're forgiven. It might take a little time to get used to it but I'm glad we're all together again." She paused, then plunged ahead. "Harry really missed you. He wouldn't say much, but it was pretty easy to see."
Ginny pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. "I missed him, too. Of course, at first I also spent a lot of time wanting to hex him for leaving me behind." A smile twitched across Hermione's face in reply before she managed to squelch it. "What do you think the Ministry is going to do about Voldemort?"
Hermione shook her head. "I can't say. No one expected we would capture him - Harry certainly didn't." That much was true, and mystified Ginny. The prophecy had said that Harry would kill Voldemort, or be killed himself, yet things had turned out very differently. Ginny didn't know if that meant that it had been interpreted wrong, or things weren't really over. "The wizarding world doesn't have the death penalty, but they can't keep him in a coma forever. If a Death Eater managed to wake him up, or the potions stopped working, we'd be back almost where we started."
"I don't even want to imagine that," Ginny said quietly.