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King's Cross station was ominously subdued. Did the Muggles already know what was in stock for the Wizarding World and, ultimately, for them if this wasn't stopped? Neville mused, before risking a questioning look at his Gran's rigid stature. As always, she didn't give an outward sign of reassurance, but her determined expression had him dreg up that Gryffindor courage, and he took the step through the platform, vowing to take a leaf out of her book in putting up an unfazed façade. They knew the Ministry had been taken, so Hogwarts would probably see some of it too, especially with Dumbledore gone for good now. He hadn't expected for it to be that prominent. On reappearing on platform nine and three quarters, he almost ran into Ron's older brothers, and only managed to catch his balance at the last second. They had been pushing a terrified little boy and his parents towards the exit, and then he also recognised Justin Finch-Fletchley in their wake.

"I'll have a look outside," one of the twins murmured, while the others of the group stopped in Augusta Longbottom's shadow, who was taking in the scene in front of them. Neville didn't want to believe his eyes. Ministry officials, some with glazed expressions, others seemingly fully aware of what they were doing, were scurrying around, checking families before their children were allowed to board the train. Gone was the excitement and anticipation he'd experienced in the previous years, with teary, last-minute-advice-filled goodbyes and reunions between friends and holiday stories flying around. "What's going on?" he asked, automatically adapting his tone to the eerie feeling of the platform as he addressed his Hufflepuff classmate.

The tall boy stepped closer to him. "Neville. You've heard that attendance is compulsory, right? Well, they check your identity before you can board. I've heard them check on Winters, that Ravenclaw girl. The one in fourth year? She's muggleborn. Said they needed to ask more questions, and led her and her parents away before I could even blink. I backed away before they reached me, and then I ran into the Weasley twins. They say we have to get away from here, and as far as we can. I hate to run away like this, that's just not right!"

Neville had opened his mouth to reply, anything, not even sure what he could say to that, when the first twin reappeared, giving the all-clear.

"I'll take them, just tell me where to. You're probably needed here," Justin interrupted when the twins prepared to slip out as inconspicuously as possible through the throng of incoming people.

"Good." They both nodded, watching Justin disappear with the small family. Neville had a sinking feeling of foreboding as he watched Justin walk away. Who knew when he'd see him again. Any other scenario was just too horrible to imagine.

"I'll position myself outside, intercept Muggleborns I know; George, go have a look around here." They were about to part when Neville stopped them. "What can I do?" he managed to say.

"Longbottom," the one who he thought must be George answered, while the other swiftly disappeared through the barrier. "Warn the Muggleborns, but be careful not to rouse suspicion, or warn the wrong people."

"Wait …," he said, maybe a little bit too loud, as the redhead turned around. Neville was left standing there, until he heard his Gran's voice.

"Well, let's do what Arthur's boy suggested," Augusta Longbottom said, giving up her spot. ad she stood there on purpose with his cart and trunk, trying to scare away people with her severe looks alone and giving some kind of hiding place to the twins, poor as it may have been?

Neville followed her hurriedly, and they managed to get to some students before the Ministry officials did. He also kept an eye open for Harry, Ron or Hermione. He'd been so sure Harry would be back, and then everything would be better. Though, it slowly hit him that Hermione would most likely have been taken away too, and if Muggleborns were checked, what would happen to Harry Potter if he showed up here? He pulled his cloak closer around him to defy the chills he was suddenly feeling. It wouldn't be over as quickly as he, naively as he now realised, had assumed.

After saying a quick goodbye, not able to express his real thoughts to Gran because of the Ministry officials still loitering nearby, he climbed the train. As he trudged trough the aisle, he felt alarmed at the cheerfulness of some people, and especially as he slipped by Malfoy's compartment and heard Crabbe talk more excitedly than he had heard the boy do in all the years he had known him.

A flash of red caught his eye, and he stepped in, hoping to find Ron and get some answers. He blinked when he saw it was Ginny, huddled together with Luna, and surprisingly Seamus.

"Where are Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dean?" he asked alarmed, shutting the door behind him.

"Shh!" Ginny said while looking around them for eavesdroppers, then motioned for him to join their huddle.

"They're not coming," she said with a blank expression. It still hadn't really sunken in that Harry wouldn't be here, when they needed him most. How where they supposed to get out of this if Harry wasn't there? He wanted to ask more, but in a that moment, the tense, eerie atmosphere at the platform earlier, the few credible reports they'd heard during the summer, the subtle reshuffling of the Ministry, the Prophet's meaningless news all fell into place, and he shut his mouth again. Now wasn't the time.

"Dean came with me," Seamus answered in a hoarse voice, the pallor of his face showing the dusting of light freckles of his nose that usually wasn't all that visible. "Then Fred stopped us, saying he needed to get away. My parents took him back. I wanted to leave too, but attending is compulsory for me. I'm a half-blood, but of the 'accepted' kind, I guess." He made a disgusted face at the word accepted.

Neville listened, horrified, during the train ride, nodding when he was required to. At some point, the train stopped, and then several men were patrolling the train. They peered into their compartment, but didn't linger any longer.

He didn't know how he made it through the feast. Snape was Headmaster, and they had two new teachers and two new subjects, with Defence being dropped altogether. Letters were to be scanned, Dumbledore and Harry Potter weren't to be mentioned, all students found in sympathy with the cause of the enemies of pureblood society, as Snape called them several times during his speech, would suffer dire consequences. Ginny was beside him, and although she tried to appear unfazed, he could feel the anger vibrating through her, and was prepared to hold her back any moment. Seamus wasn't doing any better, in fact, the whole Gryffindor table seemed to feel the same. He could only guess what was going on at the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables, but the majority of the Slytherins were raucously applauding the speeches by the new 'teachers'.

For the next few days, it seemed like nightmares the likes of which he couldn't have dreamt up were becoming his reality. Ginny's fire, Luna's thoughtfulness and Dean's stubbornness seemed to be the only things that kept him moving, as they tried to keep their heads low, something they'd learned would be best after Dean and some of Ginny's classmates had been given some nasty detentions for speaking up.

Hogwarts had always felt safe to him, even when the Chamber of Secrets had been opened in his second year, or when they had defied Umbridge in his fifth year, when Harry had taught them how to defend themselves. He had always looked up to Harry, had gladly jumped at the chance to give his best if the dark-haired boy had asked him to. Harry had once called him his friend during a train ride, and he treasured that memory, because few had ever done so, he was just Neville after all. He almost wished he hadn't come back, for what good was it?

Turning a corner, he saw his Head of House in a fierce discussion with Alecto Carrow. Behind her, he could see Hannah Abbott from Hufflepuff, who had a hand on the shoulder of a smaller Ravenclaw boy while watching the exchange with widened eyes.

"It's quite alright, Professor Carrow, I have everything under control. I'll be dealing with these two personally." McGonagall's voice was measured, but he thought he heard the unease beneath it.

"It's not that I don't think you can, Minerva. I may call you that, may I not?" Carrow asked sweetly, ignoring the twitch on McGonagall's face. "But students have to learn our rules are to be respected, and those two were clearly up to something."

"Ah, if it is they being in the halls, I asked them to come see me in my office. I will take this from here." She said, the flaring of her nostrils the only sign that this was getting to her.

Carrow grudgingly went on his way, promising not to tolerate any more from the Head of Gryffindor under his breath. McGonagall watched until the Professor disappeared, then addressed the two students, "I'll take you back. Be sure to come to my office Saturday afternoon, I'm sure we can find something suitable to do for you." She started ushering them away, but Hannah declined, saying she'd catch up. McGonagall went away, muttering under her breath. "Never in all of my time here … detention for being in the halls … unbelievable …"

Hannah must have spotted him, because she went right for the corner where he had flattened himself against the wall. "Neville! Did you see that?"

He nodded numbly.

Hannah wouldn't have let him get in an answer anyway, as she continued, "When are you going to restart the DA? We have to do something!"

"I – I don't know. We can't, Hannah, it's dangerous. Just let's see we're getting through this, unscathed." He could feel the blush in his cheeks, both because he felt incredibly nervous around any girl, even if he had known her for years, and because he felt the insufficiency of his answer.

"But we won't. This won't just blow over. I don't believe that anymore, not since my mum was killed!"

He shushed her, looking around for unwanted ears. "Harry's not here," he whispered, as if that would solve the case. "Nor are Ron or Hermione. They would know what to do."

"You know that too. I've seen the expression in your eyes, before you had yourself under control again." She continued, unfazed by his self-doubts.

He closed his eyes briefly. Of course, he knew what he wanted to do, would do if he wasn't clumsy, untalented Neville Longbottom. Ginny had talked about putting up resistance, but they'd all agreed this was way worse than when Umbridge had been Headmistress. There hadn't been a day when he hadn't found at least one distraught first or second year in the common room, or had to hold back Seamus who said he didn't care if they did anything to him. His hand went into his trouser pocket, and closed around a paper.

One of the wrapping papers he'd got from his mother. She would have fought, he thought with sudden clarity. As would his dad, he was sure of that. He pictured them, and what they must have gone through the first time Voldemort had had power. They were Aurors and Order members, they hadn't just sat back. Then, the image of his Gran popped into his head, proud and unfazed as she had used her body as a shield against the eyes of prying Minstry officials – or Death Eaters, more likely. Immediately, the next picture replaced this one, with Harry standing up for him on the train, Ron and himself punching Malfoy, Hermione helping him with homework. They weren't here to take charge. He couldn't imagine they had abandoned them, and he had waited for them to come back and free Hogwarts.

He'd been swamped with all those new, horrid developments lately, but it only hit him now just where they were headed. No, you knew that, he thought to himself, you only tried to believe it would go away again. Even McGonagall, someone who he hadn't thought would back down from anything, couldn't do more than what she had done, and Dumbledore hadn't been invincible either. No one would step up, if they didn't. It hadn't been the first time either, that he had been approached of one of the former DA members. Why me? He had always asked.

Why not me? Someone had to do it. The pictures once again played before his inner eye, clearer and brighter than ever before.

Taking a deep breath, he straightened up, and Hannah almost backed down at the determination she now saw in his eyes. "I'll get back to you about the when and how." He nudged her in the direction of where McGonagall had gone

As he strode back to the Gryffindor common room, he decided he would approach Ginny and Luna first. They had been with him in the Department of Mysteries, and their help would be very useful. He was still positive Harry would come back as soon as he could, only not now, and until then, he'd do whatever he could to make sure the Death Eaters didn't cause too much harm.

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