Character(s): Neville Longbottom,
Warnings: mild cussing, character deaths (already taken place: Augusta Longbottom, Frank Longbottom, Harry Potter)
Summary: After Gran's death, Neville uncovers a mystery surrounding his parents' past.
Wordcount: 20,593 words
~ ~prius~ ~
"Are you sure he went this way?" he shouted as he ran after Hermione up the rock-strewn hill. His shoes slipped on the slick grass and he fell hard to his knees. Sharp pain shot through them, curling around all the other aches he'd thought his body had grown used to and flaming them anew. He braced himself on his hands, closing his eyes for a moment to catch his breath and to push away that which he didn't have time to deal with away.
"I'm coming." To himself he muttered, "Yes, I'm fine, Hermione, thanks." He straightened, wiping his hands on his clothes but it did little good. It had rained earlier, soaking them both to the skin through their tattered, filthy cloaks. The bloody things stank. With a grimace he followed, fighting the weariness that begged him to rest. He'd promised he would stay with her.
Spring's earliest flowers were already struggling to the surface and his mind could not help but catalogue them by name and classification as he forced himself up the hill. It was deceptively pretty here, one small swath of fields not yet strewn with bodies of the dead.
"Hurry up, you're wasting time," Hermione said, frustration making her voice rise. They'd been looking for Harry for hours. Neither dared to use magic to navigate their way lest doing so revealed their location. So far, they hadn't been tracked. It was the only reason they were still alive. Neville wasn't too optimistic their luck would continue. He'd give anything for Harry's invisibility cloak now.
Hermione reached the hill's crest. He gathered some small bank of energy and forced himself upwards. She whirled to face him, nearly making him run into her as he too reached the summit. He grabbed her arm to steady himself as he looked down the other side of the hill to the endless fields beyond.
"I don't think he came this way, Hermione," he said.
"He had to have. Where else could he have gone?" Unspoken was the reality; there was nowhere else, because everywhere else but their camp had been destroyed, or taken over by the Death Eaters.
"We just haven't caught up to him yet."
She trembled beneath his hand as she stared down the hill, clearly exhausted to the point of dropping at his feet. But she would not give up. Harry had come this way, she was convinced, and though the last remnants of their group had given up looking for the day, Hermione had refused to.
Ron had begged him--him, of all people--to stay with her because he no longer could. He'd wanted to refuse, anyone else would've been better, but Ron's hand on his shoulder and the look in his eye made Neville nod.
He hoped that wasn't the last time he saw his injured friend.
He shook his head, brushed his soaked hair from his eyes with one grimy hand. He would stay with Hermione to the end if need be. Which probably would be the case the way things were going. They were losing, and badly. Losing ground, losing numbers, losing the belief that Voldemort could be defeated. He didn't think any of them thought they would survive another week of this bitter war.
Except of course Hermione. Neville had already learned not to argue against her unerring conviction that the enemy would be defeated. He'd always been slightly in awe of Hermione Granger, her intelligence and her bravery. Next to her, he felt a bumbling idiot whether it was in the classroom or on the battlefield. It had been easy to accept her as their group's leader once Ron had been hurt. No one had questioned it, and no one had given a moment's consideration to he being the next-likely choice even though he had helped Ron devise most of their successful plans of attack. He'd been bloody grateful to step aside and take the place where he belonged.
"We should go back. It's almost dark."
"I know. But I can't, Neville. If there is any chance of stopping him, we have to. I can't believe he did this. Why did he go alone? He can't fight Voldemort by himself. He needs us," she added, her expression stubborn. "Why did he leave us?"
He searched vainly for words of comfort. He wasn't used to playing this role. "I don't know."
He knew she didn't want to believe Harry'd abandoned them, but Neville couldn't help but wonder. Harry had been so quiet these last few days, wouldn't eat, just drank the water Ginny forced on him. Short of temper--more so than usual--and Neville had seen him walk off by himself more than once when they should've all been asleep. He wondered what Harry was thinking about then. Like he did Hermione, he admired Harry too. But he also held his friend somewhat in awe. Maybe he was even a little scared of Harry because he was everything Neville was not. Strong. Brave, and very, very smart. Neville knew that if he had been the one scarred by Voldemort, he would never have survived all that Harry had. Now, though, he just wasn't sure even Harry would survive this terrible war.
Hermione looked as disheveled as he. Was as mud--and blood--caked as he. And as sick, and tired, and no doubt terrified as he, even though she tried not to show it. He wanted to go home. But he knew she would make him go on.
"We're going to have to split up."
"What?" he sputtered. "Hermione, no way, you're not--"
She gave him That Look. The one that Ron warned him meant "I've made up my mind, you silly git. Sit down and do as I say."
He wasn't about to sit though he wondered if that would at least slow her down a second. Separate? That was the most insane idea he'd ever heard of.
"You go down there; see that grove of trees?"
He looked. Oh god he looked. And cringed. It was a dark wood far to the right of where they stood, not a mere grove of trees. And though he knew there would be amazing botanical treasure galore in those depths now was not the time to think of Herbology.
"Hermione, I, um, am not sure--"
She tossed her hair over her shoulder and raised her chin. She was so pale, so... Hermione at that moment. "I'll go to the left, to that one." She pointed to the left, where a river bend cradled a small stand of trees. The river disappeared behind them but he swore the last of the late afternoon wintry sun shone brightly on that spot. "Maybe we can find a trail, or something. Look for footprints, broken twigs, anything like that."
He shivered, aware of how chilled he was. "We could go together--"
"No. Not enough time." She headed to the left, down the hill toward the river and the trees. "Meet back here in fifteen minutes then we'll decide what to do."
He stood alone on the hill, and watched her march straight for her destination. He turned his head and looked at his own, and gulped. His hand automatically caressed the wand tucked in at his side, then pulled it out. He walked down the hill toward the dark, mysterious forest, his heart thumping madly, his aching knees shaking.
Neville's footsteps jarred his entire body as the hill steepened. He had to fight not to slip and fall on his bum. He came close, several times, the bottom of his shoes were so muddy. The thought that he'd have to go back up this hill because, of course, he wouldn't find anything did little to cheer him.
He lost sight of Hermione, but the dark forest was before him. It wasn't a true forest of course, just a little grove of trees, but it was eerily quiet and black as midnight. The scent of rotten leaves overpowered everything. He stood at its edge for a long moment, his hand clutched tight around his wand. He took a step closer, and then cast a look over his shoulder. Alone, completely alone.
He should've heard owls or something. Or some birds of some kind or other in there. The chittering of squirrels perhaps, the whir of insects, but unfortunately he heard nothing. More than nothing--
All was deathly still. No, no one in there.
There was no reason to go in there now. It was completely empty. A waste of time. Peering into the shadowed depths where not even wind rustled leaf, he saw nothing that he wanted to examine closer. But, he'd promised Hermione he'd look so he had to.
Just as he'd promised Ron not to leave her.
Stupid stupid stupid…
A twig snapped deep within the trees. He sucked in his breath. Then, his whole body fell into a dark dank hole of disbelief as he heard the unmistakable crackle of wand battling wand.
"You killed them!" Harry's voice.
Neville nearly sank to his knees. No.
Venomous laughter shot through the forest and he found somehow he'd stepped forward, penetrating the gloom. Following the crackle of wand-fire he tried to stay quiet and unseen, keeping behind trees while drawing closer, closer…
And then he saw them.
Harry, on his knees, blood streaming from his face. One arm hung at an impossible angle. His shirt, torn, his glasses gone. Voldemort towering over him, perched on a rock, his snake-like face leering in triumph.
"Kill them? I devoured them! You little fool. They were easier to kill than rats. Especially your mother. The fear in her eyes, so delicious to see--"
"NO!" Harry pushed himself to his feet but held his wand aloft still, arcing it toward Voldemort's. Voldemort easily countered it with his own, holding Harry in duel. Neville sucked in his breath, filled with indecision. He grasped the wand in his sweaty hand, his heart raced with fear and horror as with another cry Harry flung his wand-fire at Voldemort's chest in a vain attempt to break through the barrier.
The Dark Lord's laughter filled the forest. Birds shrieked and flapped away, a deer bounded helter skelter into the small clearing and with a flick of his hand that terrified Neville for the ease of which he did it, Voldemort froze the hapless animal in place. For as long as he lived, Neville would not forget the terror in the deer's soft brown eyes--nor what was about to happen. Within seconds the deer had disintegrated into black dust--Neville nearly gagged on the smell.
Voldemort was doing nothing more than toying with Harry. He was going to win, and knew it.
Behind him, he heard cautious footsteps.
A harsh whisper. "Neville?" Hermione!
No… Panic nearly pulverized Neville as Voldemort had the deer. He started to back off, warn Hermione but it was too late. Voldemort's soulless eyes turned toward them and zeroed in. Neville found himself between the Dark Lord and Hermione and his promise flashed through his mind.
Take care of her. I trust you, Neville. She needs you.
As Ron's words seared through his mind, Neville took a step. His muddy shoe slipped on the slick dead leaves. He found himself catapulted forward, his arm extended. His wand hand pointed at Voldemort and it became clear to him in that second what he must do.
"Locomotor Mortis!" Neville shouted even as he fell on his face with a thump. It took all his strength to not drop his wand as the jinx shot from it and hit his target--the Dark Lord's lower legs. With a scream of fury, Voldemort broke his wand away from Harry. Neville closed his eyes, and awaited his death.
It never came.
~ ~ordiri~ ~
"Neville," Hermione hissed.
Neville blinked. Turned to Hermione, noted the frown, and looked around. Everyone was looking at him. Hermione, Ron, Seamus. Ginny's look was one of concern. Mrs. Turbel, Mrs. Leeds and her daughter Tabitha--who made Neville want to faint with fright the way she looked at him with, he suspected she thought, doe-like eyes but they rather looked like a demented owl's. Unblinking, and cross-eyed. Terrifying. The reporters from the Daily Prophet stood off to the side, watching him as they always did. It seemed a fellow couldn't blow his nose these days without them reporting about it. He imagined those behind him also must be wondering what in blazes, as Great Uncle Algie had become fond of saying lately, he was doing standing there like a bloody fool whilst everyone waited for him to do-- What?
Fingers dug into his arm. He looked up. The preacher stared down at him, a thin but patient smile plastered on his face. Two men in black and bored expressions leaned on shovels beside the grave. They'd lowered the casket in. What was he to do--
Raindrops began to fall.
"Oh. Yes. Sorry." His face heated. Glad of the rain as surely now things would hurry along a bit, he grabbed a rose from the vase and winced, snatching his hand back. He stared at the tip of his finger. A single drop of blood welled there upon his scarred skin. Not bothering to wipe it away, he took the rose--avoiding the thorns this time--and walked solemnly over to the open grave.
He glanced at the unmarked freshly covered grave next to the open one. His father's. It'd only been a month since his father had at last slipped into peace. It seemed hard to believe, hard to accept. He didn't think Gran ever had. Neville pushed away the still-unshed tears and stared down at the pearl white casket waiting. A wave of loss and fear swept through him as he held the rose aloft. His hand shook and he knew all could see it, yet he couldn't stop the trembling no matter how much he willed his hand still. She's truly gone. He tossed the rose in--and immediately was blinded as light bulbs went off in his face.
No doubt, tomorrow's front page spread.
He groaned inwardly, whirled on his heel and somehow, despite being unable to see much, took his place again between Hermione and Ginny under the safety of their umbrella. They looped their arms through his and he was grateful yet again for their presence these last few days.
Great Uncle Algie stood, shuffled over to the vase and leaning on his cane, took another rose. Rain pelted his balding head, dampening the few strands of white carefully combed over it. Neville hated seeing how fragile the once-spry old man had become since Great Aunt Enid's death. The war had taken its toll on him as well.
"Farewell, Augusta," his uncle said. His voice broke, then strengthened as his words blanketed the crowd. "Tree of my life, Death's cruel foot, hath crushed thee down to thy hidden root. Nought shall restore thy glory fled . . . Shall the blossom live when the tree is dead?"
A shiver ran down Neville's back as Great Uncle Algie turned and looked at him, his eyes boring into Neville's own. Live, my boy. He shook his head as the words ghosted through him. Then Great Uncle Algie smiled, and returned to his seat.
Following him, Gran's friends each chose a blossom until a shower of roses covered the casket. He'd had no idea so many cared for his Gran. He was glad. He'd neglected her badly, this past year.
One last prayer by Father Bryce, and it was over.
"I'd best get Ron out of this rain," Hermione said. "You all right, Neville?"
"Yes, I'm fine." He shook Ron's hand. "Thanks for coming."
"Of course," Ron said. "A chance to get out of the house is never turned down."
Neville nodded. Pain still ghosted Ron's features--of the ones who survived, he'd definitely come out the worst. Still, the Healers said he would get better in time.
Neville walked over to the graves, looked down at Gran's and the scattered roses. His father's had only had three roses--his and Gran's and Great Uncle Algie's. Not until his mother passed away--safe at last from Bellatrix, who was still out there somewhere, would the markers be put in place. He brushed the rain from his face and sighed, taking a deep breath. He could barely catch the faintest whiff of the roses' scent. A touch of spring, though spring had yet to make its appearance. How he longed for it. It was the only thing he truly looked forward to. Within seconds a plump reporter with walrus moustache and watery blue eyes was in his face, his quill scratching madly on his notebook. Neville tensed.
"So Neville, how does it feel now that you're all alone? Sad? Dejected? How will you cope? What will you eat tonight? Are you soon on holiday? Where? Your fans want to know!"
"I'm not going anywhere," Neville started to say but it came out more a mumble.
"Come, come now, surely a holiday in Germany or Finland would do you some good? Nothing too good for our favorite hero!"
He looked around for help, but Hermione had already pushed Ron away from the gravesite out of the rain, and Ginny was too far away, corned by some of Gran's friends. Unfortunately, the rain suddenly decided to stop. The two cemetery workers had begun to yawn, impatiently waiting for them all to leave so they could start their grim task. Several of Gran's friends clustered together like so many bandy hens, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs as they tried to outdo each other in their expressions of grief. No one around to help him. He tried to escape anyway but he was blocked, this time by a short blonde reporter not much older than himself who always made Neville somehow say the stupidest things. Yet she took them as gold, which made for unmerciful teasing by the few who dared do so. Namely, George and Ron. Checking the morning paper for Nevisms, as George had dubbed them, was a daily affair.
"Mr. Longbottom, please be so kind as to give me a quote? Your last words of wisdom meant so much to my column's readers. The Ladies Litany longs for more Longbottom. What will you do now? Perhaps share a recipe with us?"
"How about unicorn muck muffins?" a too familiar voice drawled.
"Longbottom family recipe, I hear."
"Muck?" The blonde reporter's face screwed up as Draco Malfoy approached. "Do you mean mock?"
Malfoy grinned, flashing white teeth. The other reporter, still writing furiously though Neville had no idea what he could possibly be going on about, looked up expectantly. "Recipe?" he said.
"There is no recipe," Neville said in frustration. If it had been anyone but him rescuing Neville, he would've been grateful. But the blond young man with the slight limp and stylish cane did nothing but make Neville's anger rise to the fore. "Why are you here, Malfoy," Neville demanded. "You aren't welcome here."
Malfoy shrugged. The reporters whirled on them--the mustached reporter's quill actually paused. "Thought I'd pay my respects," he said. "I have something to discuss with you, if you can stand my presence long enough. But I'd rather do so in private." He glared at the reporters, then turned to Neville. "Somewhere we can talk?"
"I have nothing to say to you."
Malfoy hesitated, then his face hardened and he said, "I just ask that you listen." Malfoy waved at the female reporter with his cane. "Leave. Now. You are wanted here less than me."
Despite himself, but only for a second, Neville's curiosity piqued. Harry had come to trust the Slytherin for reasons he never understood, but he certainly didn't. Even though in the end, Harry had been right about Malfoy. Still, Neville didn't want Malfoy here. Not at Gran's funeral.
"No, you're wanted here less," Neville said. His face heated. He knew he sounded like a pouty child, and Malfoy's reaction didn't help.
Malfoy rolled his eyes.
Finding courage in his anger, Neville said to the reporters, "I'll talk to you both later, I'm sure. Please leave."
As they left, quills scribbling on paper and heads bent, Hermione pushed past them and, fists clenched, started to stomp toward he and Malfoy. But before she got close enough to punch the former Slytherin, he said, "It's okay Hermione. Malfoy was just leaving."
"Do I have to beg?" Malfoy said softly, though his tone certainly didn't come near to beseeching. "It's important. I wouldn't bother you otherwise."
"Are you sure, Neville?" Hermione said before he could reply.
"George is still here." She folded her arms across her chest and glared at Malfoy.
"I-I'm sure. I'll see you and Ron later. Thanks for coming."
She raised her chin. "You're welcome, of course." She kissed him on the cheek, making his face heat up. With one last glare at Malfoy as if daring him to comment, Hermione left.
"Guess it's true," Malfoy said.
"What?" Neville said, exasperated.
Malfoy smiled. "You've even replaced Harry with them."
"Shut up." He barely kept his fist from punching the Slytherin's smug face. The only thing that stopped him was--it was true. Still angry and confused by his curiosity over why Draco Malfoy had shown up at Gran's funeral, he whirled on his heels and headed for the church. He knew Malfoy couldn't keep up. Like Ron, he'd suffered a severe leg injury. Only no one knew if Ron would ever be able to actually walk again, even with a cane like Malfoy. Only a few Slytherins survived the war, and all those but Malfoy, Daphne Greengrass, and Adrian Pucey and, of course, Snape were in Azkaban. That Harry had believed in their change of allegiance was the only reason they were tolerated at all. But Harry no longer had a say in how things were run. Neville wanted nothing more than for Malfoy to disappear like Snape had, never to be seen by anyone again.
Throwing open a door that Neville knew led to a quiet, unused study, he waited for Malfoy. Only a desk and two chairs, an unlit fire and an overstuffed bookshelf graced the cold, dank room. Despite himself, as the Slytherin entered the room and shut the door, Neville found his heart clench as if the torment he'd suffered at the blond man's hands had happened yesterday. He angrily fought his reaction down.
"What do you want, Malfoy."
Malfoy smirked. "Not a mouse any longer, I see. Then again, you did kill Voldemort--"
"State what you want or get out."
"Fine fine. I just thought I'd mention something I found out from my mother before she left for Romania. It was an interesting conversation between herself and my aunt when they heard about your Gran."
Neville steeled himself. He didn't want to hear anything they may have said. He had to bite back an angry 'why were they discussing me, then?' Taking a deep breath, he said, "So?"
"My aunt wondered if you would try to find your parents' estate now."
"My parents had nothing." He nearly said have, catching himself in time though he suspected Malfoy knew that they had been living at St. Mungo's all this time. If being insane could be called living.
Malfoy shrugged. "I just thought it interesting. They didn't say much else, but thought you'd be curious. Your Gran never told you about it, did they?" When he refused to acknowledge the query, Malfoy shrugged. "I tried to find out what they could've been referring to, but everything regarding your parents seems to have been sealed."
"Of course it has been," Neville said, his mind whirling. Sealed. What was there to seal? Not for a moment did he believe there was any sort of estate owned by his parents. His Gran would've told him, after all. No matter what Malfoy said. "If that's all, I'd prefer if you'd leave. I have things to attend to."
Malfoy sighed. "Fine." He pulled open the door, then paused, his face suddenly losing its sharpness. "You know, Neville, I really am sorry about your grandmother. I know I'm not the most popular of people," Nevillle nearly snorted at that, "but Harry understood why I did what I did. It's probably impossible for me to make up for the sins of my father, but if there is anything I can do to help with anything--" He shrugged, then slid out the door and was gone.
Neville sat down on the chair, his thoughts whirling. Not so much on Malfoy--he didn't know what to think about that bloke anymore. He didn't know what to think about a lot of things. Now that he was alone, his Gran truly gone and no longer around to run his life and remind him of his inadequacies, Neville was at a loss as to what to do next.
Reaching into his pocket he felt for the waxy paper that had stayed with him throughout the war, keeping him safe, he'd imagined, though it held no magic. Except, perhaps, that of his mother's love, he liked to think. There was no way of knowing what had gone behind the gesture. Probably nothing, as Gran had said. But he'd held onto it nevertheless. He pulled the gum wrapper out and carefully smoothed it in the palm of his hand.
His parents. Alive all these years, but yet he never knew them and never would. Gran had told him some things, and hinted at others, mostly how he had so miserably failed to live up to the expectations she had for her son's child, but there were far more things he did not know. The few pictures he had showed they'd been a happy couple. There was only one with him in it too, and he'd been asleep against his father's chest. Gran had not let him take the picture to Hogwarts. He wondered where it was now. He put the wrapper back in his pocket.
With a sigh he got to his feet, letting himself grimace at the small stabs of pain still ghosting his knee. Five months since the war had been decided in the small clearing in a forest grove and it still ached now and again. Much had happened since then, and then again, not much. He'd spent much of that time dodging reporters and their cameras, avoiding as much as he was able whoever he didn't already know. Hiding out with Ginny, watching over her, as if he'd promised Harry to do so. It made him sad that his friend never even knew he was going to be a father.
Nevertheless, as he stretched out the kinks the short sit on the hard chair had given him, he felt a strange exhilaration coursing through him. A warmth, a thread of something, he wasn't sure what. Great Uncle Algie's words floated in his mind again. He didn't think he'd actually heard them but they did make him feel better.
The door pushed open and George Weasley stuck his head in. There'd be no confusing the twins ever again, Neville thought, though George had come through his brother's loss better than anyone thought he would. Or else he was as good an actor as he was a prankster. George grinned. "There you are. Hiding out, are you? Don't blame you. All those old biddies are gone now. It's safe."
George grinned. "Mum sent them packing. Took her handbag to that walrus's backside."
Neville laughed, then stopped.
"It's all right to laugh, you know."
Neville smiled. George was right. It did feel good to laugh.
"Thanks. Maybe I should pay your mum to help out more often. Or at least for today."
"You will, by coming to dinner tonight. Mum insists. She wants to show off the new house. Your Uncle is already gone to help. Father's cooking. Making fried chicken tonight. With the microwave." He grinned.
Neville winced. "Um, I'm not sure I'll be hungry--"
But George grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him from the room, through the church which was indeed now empty, and outside, where Mr. Weasley waited. Somehow, the elder Weasley had procured yet another automobile. "Come on, just kidding. Their new house is full of gadgets he's not yet figured out how to use and I'm certainly not telling him. Mum begged me not to. That is, unless I fancy her giving out our," he cleared his throat, "my recipe for swear word sparklers. The Americans love them. I'll make a killing come July." He waved to the car and his mother opened the door and got out. George whispered, "She doesn’t know about the window roll-down thing." Neville smiled. "He's coming!" he said to his mum.
"Oh good dear," Mrs. Weasley said. "George, Ginny's going to ride with you. Her father's driving makes her sick."
"I'm a very good driver!" a muffled voice exclaimed.
Mrs. Weasley winked at Neville. "Good is relative where he's concerned. We'll see you tonight?"
"I'll right, I'll come," Neville said, feeling a warmth emanating from Mrs. Weasley that made him long to know her better. Ron truly was very lucky. All the Weasleys were, as had been Harry. "I have an errand to do first though. It shouldn't take me long."
She looked into his eyes with compassion. "I understand. We'll see you in a bit then."
"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley. I--" He shrugged, glancing at George who had a slight grin on his face. "Thanks."
"You're welcome dear." She got back into the car. "We'll see you tonight!"
They watched as the Weasleys' automobile lifted, shook so hard Neville figured the tires would fall off, then float away. The lights flashed once and then it disappeared from sight
"Where's Ginny?" Neville asked.
"Waiting in my car."
"Your car? You have one too?"
"Sure do. Look," he said, pointing toward the parking lot. And sure enough, a cherry red two door convertible with its top up waited there. Neville could see someone in the front seat. Ginny. "Wanna quick spin? It's an Austin-Healey. 1960 3000. Rides like a dream."
George clapped him on the back. "Don't you trust my driving?"
"Driving? As in, on the roads?"
He laughed. "Sure, why not? I rather enjoy it actually. Good thinking time." His grin belied the solemn look his eyes. "Want me to take you? I can drop Ginny off and then we can go."
"Um, well, I--"
"Come on. You faced down Voldemort. You can face my driving. I promise you'll enjoy it."
"Maybe next time. Where I'm going can't be reached by car. I don't think. I don't know."
George nodded. "To see your mum. I could tell by my mum's expression."
He stiffened, but after a moment, nodded. "Mother won't understand, but I have to tell her anyway." He clutched the waxed paper still held tight in his fist. "Then I'll come by. Don't let your father offer my great uncle any of that Scotch again, would you?"
George's laughter filled the empty street. "Are you kidding? I plan to join them. We'll save you a glass. It'll do you good, Neville. You need to loosen up." He bounded to the automobile and climbed in. With a roar he started the engine, and with a merry honk that sounded like geese bleating to Neville, took off down the street as smooth as any muggle would.
Neville walked back into the church and to the study, and with a flick of floo powder inside the cold fireplace, left another chapter of his life behind.
~ ~one~ ~
A Healer surrounded by files looked up from the folder in her hand as Neville walked out onto the fourth floor at St. Mungo's. She smiled. She glanced down the hallway before saying, "How may I help you, Neville?"
Neville hesitated. This was the first time he'd ever been here without his Gran. When the Healer stood, setting the folder aside, he nearly changed his mind about seeing his mother just yet. But as several medi-wizards passed by talking animatedly, their lime-coloured robes swirling and forcing him to step out of the way as they hurried past though they nodded to him, he found his courage.
"I'm here to see my mum."
"Of course. You know the way." She touched him on the arm. "I'm sorry about Augusta. We'll miss her."
"Thanks. Me too."
She smiled again, then returned to her desk. He walked down the hallway, remembering the last time he'd been here. Just a month ago. Then, he'd been treated completely differently.
It'd been a month after Voldemort had died for good, a month since he'd tripped and somehow managed to break through Voldemort's shields long enough to cast the one spell he'd known from experience worked quite effectively. He supposed he had Malfoy to thank for that. Hermione told him later what had happened after his spell had done its magic. Voldemort had screeched, she said, a terrible scream of fury. That split-second Neville provided had been enough for Harry to cast one last killing spell. It had hit its mark even as Voldemort's wand-fire had sliced into the tree next to Neville, sending it crashing down on top of him. That was what had knocked him out. A stupid tree.
But he'd been glad. He hadn't had to witness what happened next. He hadn't had to see Hermione, screaming Harry's name, rush to their fallen friend. It was too late. Harry was dying, had lost too much blood. He died in her arms. But he'd been smiling she said, victorious in the knowledge that he had killed Voldemort and saved the wizarding world. His last words had been "tell everyone what Neville did."
Then he'd died. Hermione kept her promise to Harry. She told everyone what he, Neville, had done.
He'd woken up some days later in St. Mungo's, a hero. A very reluctant hero.
After a month in bed, he'd felt well enough to get up and move about, and decided to visit his parents. He'd never done so by himself, and if he was honest with himself, it was because he had never done so that he decided to that day. He'd found out in quite a rude fashion that he wasn't welcome without Gran. Remembering it now, as he walked down the quiet hallways, accepted the nods and the greetings from patients and healers alike, he fumed. He knew it was irrational, but nonetheless, he fumed.
That day, he'd approached the floor desk. The young healer at the desk frowned at him in his pajamas, robe, and slippers. "May I help you, Neville? Shouldn't you be in your bed?"
"Um, I'm just, well, going to see my father," he stammered.
The Healer looked worried now. "I'm sorry, I'll have to check with Healer Spriggs--"
"Why?" He frowned, starting to feel slightly annoyed. "I know the way." He brushed past her.
"Neville, wait, let me call--"
But he ignored her. Behind him he heard her urgently telling someone to fetch Alistair Spriggs, his father's medi-wizard. Again he nearly hesitated; whenever he was with Gran, they just walked in whenever they wanted. Or at least he'd assumed. Gran never explained to him different. But then she didn't explain a lot of things to him.
While he'd never been in a Muggle hospital, Hermione had told him how they smelled antiseptic, cold. How the one she'd been in when eight to get her tonsils out had been at least six shades of mustard yellow which, she said, was supposedly soothing. She'd been in hospital for three days and claimed still to have nightmares. That a hospital gave her nightmares made him glad for St. Mungo's.
The wizard hospital was anything but antiseptic. The Closed Ward in particular was welcoming, brimmed with flowers that perfumed the air, and beautiful oil paintings that made him think of the Louvre. Gran had had to force him to go to the museum that first time--he hadn't wanted to because he couldn't take Trevor--but once inside, she couldn't get him out without promising to take him again soon. It was almost as good as the day they spent walking through Batsford Arboretum.
St. Mungo's fourth floor was a deep red which gleamed beneath his shoes. He could see his reflection, and those of the other wizards who he passed. One or two of them looked at him in surprise but at least here, he wasn't inundated like he was whenever he left the safety of his own home. No reporters here, no ridiculous fans showering him with gifts he didn't want. His regret deepened--he wish he hadn't been jealous of Harry all those years. It'd been even worse for Harry, no doubt. He'd only been a kid, famous for doing nothing but being that certain person. At least initially. No, what Neville had done had brought him the fame and if he'd let it, fortune. But there was no way he'd ever capitalize on what had also destroyed Harry Potter's life.
Footsteps echoed behind him. Quick ones. With a mild 'bloody hell' beneath his breath, he hurried toward his father's room. Nodding to the startled but always-amiable Rini, his father's self-appointed occasional bodyguard, he said, "Let me in."
Rini, being a troll whose life his father had once apparently saved, was not about to let anyone past her bulky presence--except him of course. She wasn't always on duty as she operated on her own timetable of sorts that no one in their right mind dared to argue with, but today he was very glad she was there. She beamed a toothy, rather frightening smile. "Nevi!"
"Rini," he said. "I need to see my father. Now."
She frowned. But just as he thought she'd refuse him for the same mysterious reasons as everyone else, she beamed. "Mr. Longbottom love Nevi."
"Yes, that's right."
She pushed open door. "Nevi, go inside."
"Thanks." He paused, then said, "Don't let anyone else in, Rini."
"Gran?" she said, tilting her massive head to the side. She was short for a troll, and the yellow dress-thing she wore was the only thing that identified her as female, she was so terribly scary looking, but the concern in her soft yellow eyes made him sigh. She really was a sweet creature, even if she did smell a little funny. He needed to be sure and spell her another flower scent spell before he left.
He hesitated. "She's not here."
Rini nodded. "Okay fine. Go see Mr. Longbottom, he sick. Rini let no one bother Nevi."
"Thanks." He went in, letting the door shut behind him. He could just imagine Rini's appearance as she stolidly took position. She probably wasn't necessary in here anyway--but then again, who knew? Once his parents had believed themselves safe in their own home.
Rini had said his father was sick. He did look terrible, to Neville. Which he always did--unlike his mother who was insane but at least could hold the semblance of a rambling conversation, his father had lain in this bed, still and grey, for a long time now. The healers had told Gran long ago that there was no help for her son. Ever. Like he was a muggle in a coma, unresponsive. He knew it devastated Gran but she refused to give up on him.
Behind him, he heard someone arguing with Rini. But no sound came from Rini--she didn't need to say a word. There was no moving a stubborn troll.
"Father?" he said, like he'd always done, trying to talk to him at least until Gran had told him to hush, there would be no answer. Neville didn't expect one now. Sitting on the edge of his father's bed in the cool grey room, so quiet except for the sound of his father's shallow breathing, Neville stared at his father's face in such a way as he'd never been permitted by Gran. It felt odd to be here without her, but she'd already visited and gone home for the day.
"Hello Dad," he told his father's still form. There was no answer of course. Never would be. He rested his hand on his father's forehead. Still. Quiet. The sleep of the dead but not.
Not for the first time did he wish his father would die--not out of meanness, but so that his father could find release. He couldn’t understand what was keeping him alive all this time. Brushing the dark locks from his father's face, he said, "Everything's going to be okay now. After I'm released, maybe next week, I think I may go visit Great Uncle Algie for awhile, or maybe wait until after Ginny's baby is born. She asked me to be her coach. I think she's cracked, but I told her I would. Mrs. Weasley is making me a sweater, she is so happy." He laughed to himself, wishing his father could understand just how questionable that honor was.
Although, it thrilled him beyond reason that he was getting a sweater from her at last.
"My knee is getting better, and my headaches are almost gone now. I'm still in hospital for a while though. Just a few floors below you." He fell silent. There was no change in his father's expression, though Neville swore his father's breath slowed a little.
"I'm going to visit Mum, too. Maybe this time she'll remember me. If not that's okay." He stood, still holding his father's hand. "I miss you. Don't know how, but I do. But I'm okay." He squeezed his father's hand, wishing to feel those once-strong fingers squeeze back. Wouldn't happen. "I guess I better go now, see Mum. I love you." He bent down and kissed his father's forehead. He pulled away, looked at his father's closed eyes. "Everything's okay. I'm safe, forever. You can go. You don't have to stay anymore. I'm a very good wizard. Famous even." He snorted at that. "I helped Harry kill Voldemort. He's really dead this time. So you see, it's okay for you to go."
He pulled away; his father did not move. There was no change--nothing. Tears stung his eyes; he wiped them with the back of his hand, then turned to the door. When he opened it, he found himself face to face with a very angry Alistair Sprigg.
"What do you think you are doing ?" Spriggs had demanded. He'd then been summarily escorted back to his own ward's room. Someone watched him from then on, made sure he didn’t try to visit his parents alone. Gran had been furious, but impotent--when she'd found out what he'd done, she'd stormed back to hospital, no doubt to berate him soundly. But an odd thing happened. Surrounded by nurses and curious patients watching from their own beds, for the first time he could remember, she held herself in check.
Neville had not returned to St. Mungo's after he'd been released. He'd not seen his father again before he died. Peacefully, they'd said. Just stopped breathing, and he was gone. Gran claimed she'd told his mother about his father's passing, but of course there'd been no reaction, she'd said as if disgusted. Not that he expected any. He knew to expect nothing from his mother. But that was okay. He loved her anyway.
Now, months later, his hand slipped into his pocket, touching the gum wrapping.
"Hey, Neville, wait up."
Neville snatched his hand out of his pocket, thoughts of the past fleeing. He'd nearly arrived at the women's day room door and hadn't realized it, he'd been so lost in thought. He turned to see a familiar face. He smiled shyly as Katherine, one of the attendants, approached. She wasn't much older than himself, he didn't think, but she always had the same effect on him whenever he saw her--he become hopelessly tongue-tied. "Hi, um, I was just, uh. Hi."
She laughed, hugging him quickly. His face heated and he had to stifle a moan as her scent--strawberries, she smelled like strawberries and not just any strawberries but most definitely giantus amorosus, a half-tamed variety of amorosus with leaves that could give a nasty nip if one wasn't careful. Not that they were in season at this time of year. Except in her hair. He took a deep breath, forgetting himself until her laughter made his eyes shoot open again. She cocked her head to the side, then sighed, touching his face.
"I'm glad to see you smiling, Neville. I'm sorry about your Gran."
"Thanks. Thanks." So suave. "Um, how's my mum today?"
Katherine waved her wand at the door in front of them, opening it. "Actually I think she's feeling a bit under the weather. She's been quiet today. I haven't brought her into the day room yet," she added as they walked through the doorway. It snicked shut then quietly hummed as the protecting ward sealed it again. A necessary precaution for those on this ward, being as helpless as they were, and given how many were put here not due to accident or illness, but at the hands of Death Eaters. Like his mum. No one could wander the Closed Ward without permission. Or unless they had someone on the inside willing to help.
"I can wait," he said, walking beside her. He'd never done that before, and he realized with a sharp jolt he was actually taller than she. He'd thought his trousers seemed a bit short lately. "Is she all right?"
Katherine shrugged, looked up at him as they neared the day room. A couple of wizards approached--she pulled him aside, looking up at him. "Neville, can we talk for a moment?" She looked around them. "In private? Then I'll take you to see your mum. I think you should."
"Of course," he said, a little perplexed.
She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him down the hallway. Katherine pulled open a door he'd passed many times, but thought was a linen closet. When she pulled him inside he discovered that it was a linen closet. And quite dark once the door closed.
But she took her wand out, illuminating the room, and waved it at the door. "There. Now we just have to hope no one sees us sneaking out."
She giggled. He liked that sound. But then she turned back to him, the look in her eyes over the glow of her wand made his face heat all over again. Except this time, it wasn't because of any hopeless smitten emotions or the effect of the strawberries, but because of the seriousness on her face.
"I've been working with your mum for about three years, right?" He nodded, puzzled. "Okay. In all the time you've been coming here, have you ever been to your mum's room? Even once?"
Slowly, he shook his head. "No, Gran said I wasn't allowed."
She snorted. "I thought not. That's not true. You could've visited her anytime. I don't think your Gran wanted you to because she didn't want you to know."
"Know what?" he said, incredulous. The second time this day he learned that there was something Gran was keeping from him. If
he was to believe Draco.
"That's what I want you to see. I'm going to take you to her, but she's really feeling a bit sick, so I just wanted you to be warned. I also think you need to see her files." She made an angry sound. "I think there's lots of things you don't know about your mum and now--" She looked up at him. "I don't mean any disrespect, but I didn't like your Gran much. I think she was way too hard on you. I promise, if she could be, your mum would be proud of you."
Even though your Gran wasn't. He knew those were the words that lingered after her statement.
It was so hard. He felt almost disloyal to his Gran to feel this growing disquiet on the very day she was buried. But Katherine's earnest statement, his own thoughts spoken out loud--way too hard on you--made it really difficult to feel guilty about it.
"Take me to her."
Katherine nodded, waved her wand at the door and peeked into the hallway. "No one's coming." She hurried out and he followed.
"Why the secrecy, anyway?"
"Because I know for a fact your Gran ordered that you not be allowed into your mum's room, ever. Ever. I don't want anyone to stop us. Come on."
He felt like a mouse scurrying through the winding hallways as he followed Katherine. They moved quickly, dodging out of the way of anyone crossing their paths. Her extreme furtiveness really had him wondering exactly what his Gran was like beyond the day room doors to make Katherine actually seem to fear being caught. And, what she'd told them, to keep him away from Mum's rooms.
Corner after corner was turned until he began to feel as if he was in a labyrinth, totally lost, and he'd never find his way back out. Left turns, then right, then left and left again--just how big was St. Mungo's? Given that it was a wizard hospital, the outside could be deceiving. Not that he'd actually been outside the hospital walls. He'd always Apparated there with his Gran.
Katherine stopped so fast he nearly ran into her. "Get back," she hissed, pushing him behind a door. Alistair Spriggs passed by, his face thunderous, his lime coloured robes flying. When he stopped two other wizards passing him in the hallway, his expression grew thunderous.
"Have you seen Katherine?"
"No Spriggs," the one, a short rather plump goateed wizard said. "I'm sure someone else could be of--"
But the wizard cut him off with a slice of his hand. "If you see her, do not let her pass here and notify me immediately."
"Absolutely," the goateed wizard said. "What did she do, might I ask?"
His question fell on deaf ears. Once the medi-wizard was out of ear shot, the goateed wizard mumbled to his companion, "Loonier than his patients, I say."
The other wizard laughed. "It's near tea time. Shall we?"
"I made the mistake yesterday of saying we should call you, that your mum was sick. He was furious and forbade it. I asked why and he said that was none of my business. Later, I looked in your mum's file. I'll give you the copy I made. I hid it in her room, under her bed."
"You made a copy?" he said, realizing he sounded rather dense.
"Yes I did. Come on."
They snuck down the hallway and at last came to a hallway with brightly painted doors, each one a different colour. Katherine walked to the yellow one, then put her hand on it. "Ready?"
Puzzled but a little dazed by the last few minutes he nodded, sliding his hand into his pocket as he always did before he saw his mum. His fingers brushed over the gum wrapper, still safely tucked inside. For the first time that he could remember, he was actually nervous to see her. Always before, his Gran had been there, coaching him on what to say, what to do with his mum. He never questioned it; ever since he could remember, after all, it had been like this.
For the first time, he would be alone with his mum.
"Come on in," Katherine said, her voice soft. Then, she stepped aside so he could see.
Neville took a step inside the room that was his mum's, and had to bite back a gasp of disbelief. He looked at Katherine, at the smile on her face, then at his surroundings.
The room was not a big one. Like all the private rooms at St. Mungo's, it housed a bed and chairs, and a dresser. Ordinary things, though the bed itself was a lovely white four-poster draped with rich blankets and a duvet in a riot of fuschia, orange, yellow and green, pink and purple. His mother lay asleep in the bed.
But it was the walls--the walls!--that had made him gasp like a child at the foot of St. Nicholas. Every inch of the walls was covered in flowers. Not real ones, but ones made out of carefully folded Droobles Blowing Gum wrappers in dozens of shades of red, pink, orange, blue, yellow, purple, and green. They'd been shaped into roses, daisies, crocus, vines with bright pink bougainvillea, tulips and loop upon loop of garlands. He found himself clenching the single wrapper in his pocket. Tried to remember what his mother had said to him that day. He couldn't.
Heat seared him as he slowly walked around the room and looked at the flowers and he realized with a jolt it was fueled by fury. Gran had kept him from this! Why?
"She did this all by herself?" he said, his voice hoarse.
"Yes. That's what your mum does, hour after hour. All the staff bring her their wrappers. She makes flowers, and sometimes birds and even bees. Mostly flowers. Isn't it amazing?"
"She makes flowers," he whispered, in undeniable awe. Why did his Gran prevent him from this? Why hadn't he been allowed to see?
"I don’t understand why Gran kept this from me."
Katherine stepped to the wall opposite his mum's bed. "This I think is partly why. She didn't want you to see this."
He turned to stand by Katherine. On the wall hung a picture. A photograph, of a large house with a lovely garden in front of it. A slight breeze blew across the flowers, every kind of flower imaginable. He recognized more than a dozen with just a glance. Darting bees moved from flower to flower, forever pollinating the blooms that would never die.
"Look up at the house."
He stepped closer, peering past the garden, up wide stone steps to a broad porch. A woman in a bright blue dress stood under the arch, laughing as if in delight. She was pregnant. Her eyes lit up and she waved at him, then she lay her hand over her belly.
Neville's eyes clouded with anger. He couldn't help himself. He closed them, gritted his teeth, hard, as he fought to control the roiling emotions. A house. A home. Gardens, his mother--and him, not long before he was born. Not long before his parents were attacked by Bellatrix and left to die. Only they hadn't died. Somehow, they'd lived on until he was safe. And now his father was gone, and his mother was here, in this room, surrounded by flowers that her damaged mind remembered, and this picture…
"Someone sent this picture to your mother when your Gran wasn't here. I think whoever it was hoped to somehow jog her memory, though her file says that it is suspected to have been with evil intent in mind. It came about ten years ago, and nothing else ever showed up. It sort of worked in a way from what her file says but your Gran was furious. It was too late though. She tried to take the picture out but your mum got so upset that she had no choice but to leave it. I don't know why she didn't want you to know, though."
Neville looked away from the picture, and walked to where his mum lay asleep. He picked up her hand, sat on the edge of the bed. He knew why Gran didn’t want him to know. Didn't want him to know about the house, either. He had no doubt the 'estate' Draco had spoken of was the very one in the picture. He regretted now his shortness with Malfoy. He would, he realized, have to talk to him more about it. He had to find that house, and restore it to what it had once been.
Bending down he kissed his mother on her forehead. She woke up as he pulled away. She reached one hand up, her eyes clear for a fleeting moment but then she frowned in puzzlement.
"Are you my friend?" she asked.
His heart squeezed in despair even though she'd said that to him a hundred times or more.