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Less than an hour past sundown and a layer of ice was thickening on the other side of the window.  My fingers crept up to the warm patch of skin under my collar bone as I focused my eyes on the trembling white lights fighting their way through the dark from below us.

Warm arms circled my shoulders from the side and almost managed to cut out the cold. I leaned into them and worked one arm around Neville’s back.

“If we’re still here when the world gets its sanity back, I’m dragging you to Trelawney’s and having her check you for The Sight. “

I eased back from him and he released me, lingering at my side.

“Don’t need any special abilities to know when you might need that.”

“Yeah,” I wrapped my fingers around my elbows as the chill seeped back in.  “Guess you don’t, do you?” I blinked at the dying candles sputtering against the black velvet on the grounds. “But don’t think you’re getting out of that visit to Trelawney.”

I watched him cross his arms over his stomach as he shook his head at the space halfway between me and the floor. A set of candles lit themselves over our heads.

“What?”

“That’s why I’m glad you’re here.”

I blinked and leaned one shoulder against the wall nearest the window. The hovering cold from outside rushed into me and made the world a little sharper for a second.

“Pardon?”

He took a step closer to the window.

“The way you talk about after… all this.” He nodded toward the warmer circle toward the center of the room, where a few other DA members circled the fire.

I nodded. It was a funny thing that happened to us sometimes—not just Neville, Luna and I, either. All of us. Every now and then, the words for what we were doing here slipped away from us. The stark, unpleasant names that somehow made it real in a way that even the scarred faces of second years and  acidic residue of Cruciatus curses in the air couldn’t quite manage, would suddenly become too heavy to voice aloud.

In the beginning, after they’d left, I had gotten it into my head that we needed to embrace the labels. I’d adopted them, tasted the bitterness until it became almost sweet.  I’d started to believe that we needed the words; needed to hear and feel and taste what this thing was that we were up against. Even after the others had started following my lead, there were moments when the terms that we’d grown close to still took on their full power and became too much to hold in our mouths. I hugged my elbows a little tighter and managed a smile that probably looked as hollow as it felt.

“The way I talk about it?”

“Like everything is going to get back to business as normal before too long and all we have to do is wait it out. Like you’ve seen some schedule for this fever dream that we never got to look at. Like you know.”

I really did try to smile this time. My face just wouldn’t quite work right. Before I could think of something to say that would manage to be encouraging and true at the same time, he added, “that’s why we need you.”

I blinked and felt a tiny bit breathless for a second. The ice on the glass caught some of the light from the candles and my fingers drifted toward the spark. He let me stand there in silence a few seconds, watching me watch the light.

“It’s getting cold.”

I felt him take a step closer, but he didn’t offer his arms a second time.

“They’ll be alright. I’m sure Hermione knows a good heating charm or two.”

I nodded, and then gasped as a sudden pain sliced into the side of my face. A second later Neville was at my side, his fingers in my hair and on my shoulder blade. When I looked over, he inclined his head toward the ceiling without pausing in his work.

“Wax.” He set the already cooling debris on the window sill as the spot on my cheek where it had grazed me started to burn.

A small crash followed by laughter drew my eyes away from the window. Cho shoved Pavrati lightly on the shoulder as the remains of a shattered chess piece hit the floor. I turned back to Neville, and this time the smile actually worked.

“Neville, how’d we end up running this mess, exactly?”

He glanced back at the group around the fire and offered me a little shrug.

“Because they aren’t sure where else to look, and as far as they’re concerned, we’re the next best thing to Harry.”

I’d grown to love the way that he could do that—look at the world with such clear eyes. Simple. Direct. Most days I felt like I couldn’t see through the fog long enough to walk in a straight line. I bit my lip against a sudden bizarre urge to smile as the warm spot on my face started to smolder. Whatever he said, I was pretty sure that I needed him more than anyone here needed me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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