The Sugar Quill
Author: Ciircee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Patchwork Quilt  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Neville had strange days

Disclaimer: Based on the works of J.K. Rowling (as of 2004).  Infringement abounds, but I’m not making one red cent so I think I’m in the clear.  If you sue me all you’re going to get is several of my kids and their demands for more lunch money.


Author’s note: This is a bit of an experiment in style for me and I’m not sure how it reads.  However, when a story tells itself to me in a single afternoon (minus beta time) then I just go with what it wants.


Dedication: To people who love Neville and his family.


Slight spoilers for OotP.


The Patchwork Quilt


Neville had strange days.  Other kids he knew had regular days, but not Neville and it wasn’t just because the kids he knew were Muggles and he was from wizarding folk, either.  Billy thought that hospitals were scary, scary places and his sister Ellen thought that living with her grandparents would be the very best thing ever.  They were probably right, but Neville thought that visiting hospitals was a lot like being home and that living with Gran and Gramp was probably a lot like living at school.  At school everybody was ‘doing well’ but nobody was every really good enough, and not as good as the people who used to go to school there.  And there was always a wrong way to do things.  It was usually the only way Neville knew how. 


Today was strange, but not like every day.  It had started like every other day, however, and Neville thought that that made it stranger than most.


Gramp had been talking to Gran.  Not that Gramp didn’t talk all the time, but he hardly ever used his teacher voice.  The only time he ever used that voice was when he and Gran sent Neville into the back garden to play so that they could talk.  Gramp had been telling Gran about Neville.  He was telling about how hard it was to take in such a small boy at their age, Frank’s son or not.  And how Percales only knew what problems he might have, considering everything.   What if he was a squib?  What would he do and who would take care of him?   Gran had made sighing sounds that said she agreed, but what else were they to do?  Who else cared that much about Neville, to the point that such things didn’t matter much?


Neville hadn’t bothered to listen.  Neville overheard this exchange a lot.  When he had been smaller, Gran would read him a story sometime after she and Gramp were done talking.  While they read, they rocked in the big old chair in her room.  Later than that, at bedtime, Gramp would tuck him in saying ‘sleep tight, Neville’ and touching him lightly on the forehead.  Now that he was bigger they didn’t always do those things.  Neville wasn’t sure if this was because he was getting too big for them or because Gran and Gramp figured he didn’t need them anymore.  Neville wouldn’t have minded so much, about not having those things, if it meant Gran and Gramp wouldn’t be tired and want to have a lie-down and play only quiet games.  He’d been thinking those thoughts at exactly the time his normal day turned even stranger than it always was.  Gramp had made a scary sound and Gran had shrieked.  Gran never was loud like that.  When she was loud she was like a big rock…usually an angry rock.  But that sound had been different.


And now they were in the hospital and Neville’s arm hurt where Gran had grabbed him out of the peony bed and his mouth was icky tasting with ashes from taking the Floo network.   Gramp was here, too, but he hadn’t come by Floo like Neville and Gran had; Healers had popped into the house and out again, with Gramp on a pallet between them.  Neville had never been on this ward before, not on purpose.  His first times, getting lost, he’d been everywhere St. Mungo’s had to offer.  This place didn’t even feel like most of St. Mungo’s.  It felt very sad, sitting with Gran in the very quiet.


“Can I go visit with Mum and Dad, Gran?”  Neville was careful not to fidget and swing his feet.  Gran sighed when he did it and right then he didn’t feel like hearing his gran sigh anymore. 


Gran patted his hand.  “Of course you may.”  Gran’s eyes were fixed on the door that hadn’t opened once since Gran and he had sat down to wait.  “Do you want me to walk you?”


“No.”  Neville slipped out of the deep, squishy chair and that felt like it had been trying to eat him up.  “I’ll be good.”  


“Be careful, Neville.”  Gran said.  Neville thought she sounded unhappy.  He didn’t know why but he thought maybe it had to do with this new-ish place but he didn’t know what to do to make her feel better.  A lot of things about St. Mungo’s made his gran feel bad.  Sometimes, as much as he liked it, the hospital made Neville feel a little sad.  He thought maybe it was because his mum and dad lived here, instead of at home with Gran and Gramp.


Mum and Dad lived four floors up from the Welcomewitch, close to under the tea-shop.  They were also right above the ward for potion problems and down the hall from the ward where people who’d had charms done wrong got cured.  Neville knew where everything was at St. Mungo’s.  Even Great-Uncle Algie, who sometimes seemed to think Neville didn’t know anything, said that Neville knew the hospital backwards and forwards and backwards again.  It didn’t seem to make him any happier than being in the hospital made Gran.


There wasn’t anything about St. Mungo’s that Neville didn’t like, even if it wasn’t always a happy place.  Neville figured that there wasn’t any place that was always happy feeling.  Great-Auntie Edith often said that it was strange, given everything, that Neville liked it there so much.  She’d cried when he’d told her that he liked it because his Mum and Dad were there.  Gran had got a pinched-up set to her mouth and Gramp had loudly offered Neville a toffee.  Neville told everyone that he also liked St. Mungo’s because he knew where everything was and because Gramp always bought him cocoa at the tea-shop and that Gran and the nurses always let him look at the people coming into the plant-poisoning ward.


But it was mostly, he hadn’t said, because his mum and dad. 


Neville had always known where his parents were and what was wrong with them.  Gran or Gramp would always bring him to visit.  He liked that a lot because one time his dad had smiled at him.  At him.   That was one of the first times Neville remembered seeing his parents, though he knew it wasn’t one of the first times at all.  But it had been a long time ago.  He knew this because he’d said ‘Dada’.  And the stool beside the bed had been very, very high and difficult to climb.  He liked to talk to his dad while his gran tended his mum and said hard things to the nurses.  He’d said ‘Hello,’ like he always did and watched his father get out of bed and go to the window in his scuffling, shambled way.  Then his father had looked at him and his face, for just a little bit, was like an old dream that Neville didn’t really remember knowing.  But he did know it; his father’s cheerful, hearty grin that stretched his whole face wide had made Neville’s whole body ache. 


“Gran!  Dada’s happy!”  He’d tumbled sideways off his perch and only just barely caught himself on the edge of the bed.  “Gran! See?” 


But Gran didn’t see.  “Oh, Neville,” she’d made a clucking noise that Neville didn’t like even as she picked him up and tucked him under her chin.  His dad was mumbling funny, strange things at the pigeon outside the glass.  He wasn’t smiling anymore.  But Neville knew that he had.  He had smiled, just like he always used to do.  He had.  Neville was sure of it. 


So even though visiting his mum and dad always made him a little sad, Neville always did it.  And he didn’t look away from them even when looking made his throat close up, because his Dad might grin at him again or his Mum might.  If he didn’t watch he might miss them looking him.  Besides, Gramp looked away all the time and Gran always talked to the Healers and the ward nurse.  Only Neville looked all the time.  Neville thought that was because he missed them the most all the time.


“Well, ‘ere’s a darling boy, our Neville.”  The nurse behind the big desk smiled at him and offered out the bowl of chocolates and sweets that always sat on the corner.  “’ave a whizbee or two, love.”


Neville grinned, “Thank you, Gladys,” and only took one.  The nurses were really nice. 


“If you won’t ‘ave two, at least take one for your mum.  She’s fond of the Droobles, you know.”  And Gladys handed him some gum with a wink. 


He was sure that his mum and dad liked the nurses as much as he did.  He went to his dad’s bed first, because his father was sitting up and he didn’t always do that.  Neville thought it must mean he wanted to talk.  The stool wasn’t so high as it used to seem.  “Hello, Dad.”  He swung his feet so that they went over and under the wooden rung of his seat.  “I’m all on my own, did you see?  Gran might come by later.  She and Gramp are both here today.  Not together though.”  Neville watched his father tie very careful knots in the threads dangling from his dressing gown’s lapels.  Neville reached over and smoothed out the fabric across his father’s legs, so it would be easier for him to find the tiny strands.  “I think maybe Gramp is sick.  He’s on the third floor, for sick people.  So maybe he is.”  He frowned.  “He didn’t feel badly this morning, though.  He really seemed okay.  He and Gran were talking about how I’m not showing any magic yet.  But maybe it’s because I’m only six, right Dad?”


Neville tilted his head back as his father began combing his fingers over the fraying collar of his robes, looking for more strings.  “You were a great, great wizard, Dad.  Gramp and Gran and Great-Uncle and Great-Auntie always say that.  You could do spells that were so, so good.”  He stretched his arms out wide, feeling like his father’s wonderful spells filled the whole space between his little hands.  “And you caught the Dark wizards and made the whole world safe.  You and Mum.”  His father lay down, curled up and seemed to fall asleep.  “I want to be a great wizard, too.  Maybe I will be, do you think?”


“Sorry, love,” Gladys interrupted before his father did anything.  “Acacia ‘as a new one coming in and ‘e’s not a calm sort of lad, right.”


“Okay.”  Neville was used to this.  New people came and went all the time and he thought that only his Mum and Dad stayed behind and that the ward would be lonely without them.  “Do you want me to go out the front way or the side way?”


Gladys chucked him under the chin.  “Out the side, you smart little love.”


Neville blushed hard.  Gran and Gramp didn’t hug him or touch him a lot and whenever they or anybody else did he blushed and squirmed a little.  It was too nice not to.  “Bye, Dad.  I’ll come back soon.”  He touched his dad’s shoulder.  If he hadn’t rolled over Neville would have kissed his cheek.  “Mum?”  He peeked over the railing of her bed.  She wasn’t moving or making a sound, but she was awake.  “I’ve got to go.  There’s somebody new going to come live here and he’s not settled yet.”  Neville kissed her.  “Dad’s asleep, but I brought you some gum so maybe that’s okay.  Since I’m not staying.  But I’ll come back again really soon.  I promise.”  He poked the gum into her loose fist and waved at Gladys, who was holding the door open for the other nurse.  He could hear the new person in the hall and Acacia’s whispery voice raised up over him, talking to one of the Healers as he left.


The side stairs were fun and Neville liked them almost as much as the reception room around the Welcomewitch.  Some of the steps were exactly the right size for boys and some were so tall and far apart that he had to take lunging steps to go up and down them.  Between the fourth floor and the third floor were the just-right stairs and between the third and second were the big stairs.  Neville hopped down them, careful to keep hold of the handrail.  Gran wouldn’t like it if he fell.  She never liked it when he was clumsy and got hurt.  He hopped his way to the door, which opened before he reached it, and out into the end of the corridor.  Then he stopped.  Not just because it wasn’t nice to jump around the wards, but because he could see his Gramp in the very last room, just catty-corner to where he’d landed on his last jump. 


Maybe, Neville thought, he’d lied to his father.  Gramp was sick.  He was white and sweating but his hands, clutching the edge of his bed, were blue at the fingers.  Neville didn’t see a Healer or a nurse anywhere.  He tiptoed into the room, not sure if he was allowed in or not.


“Gramp?” he poked his grandfather’s arm tentatively.  Gramp didn’t look at him but tossed his head and made mewling sounds, almost like the loud, striped kitten that Neville had once owned.  The kitten was now a big, fat, lazy cat that hissed at him and only liked Billy from down the lane to pet him.  “Gramp?”  Neville laid his whole hand flat on the hard muscles near Gramp’s wrist.  Gramp felt just the same as always, even though Neville had thought he might be very hot or very cold because of the sweat and the blue.  There were more mewling sounds and some harsh, scary noises too.  Neville hadn’t known people could sound like that.  But it was okay, he supposed; Gramp was in the hospital and Neville knew just what he should do. 


Somebody had left a floating seat in the room.  Healer Kestrel, probably, because she was in charge of the whole second floor and Gran would have made sure that the person in charge took care of Gramp and nobody ever said ‘no’ to Gran.  Neville reached out and pushed it down so that he could wiggle himself onto it.  It popped back up to where it had been the moment he let go of the doorpost.  He couldn’t make it move the way the Healers and nurses could, but he leaned out enough to catch the corner of instrument tray stationed by the bed and pulled himself close.  Gramp didn’t notice.  Neville wished he had a damp rag to put over Gramps eyes the way Healer Pyrefly on the Potion and Plant ward liked to do. 


“Hi, Gramp.  Gran and I came to the hospital after the Healers came and got you.”  Neville swung his feet and missed the stool from beside his mum and dad’s beds.  “You’re right over the embedded spines ward, I bet.  I bet you saw that sort of stuff a lot when you were a teacher, too.  You probably sent loads and loads of people here.”  Gramp didn’t move.  “I think Gran’s probably talking to the Healer.  But she’ll come to see you in a little bit, I think.  She’s awfully worried.  I don’t know why, though.  It’s just St. Mungo’s but I guess you’re really, really sick if you had to come to the hospital.”


Neville didn’t startle at all as Gramp’s eyes flew open but he did push the chair back a little bit, making room, as his grandfather came up off the bed, wailing quietly long and low. 


“Neville!”  Gran’s voice made him jump and he might have fallen if Healer Kestrel and a nurse that Neville didn’t know hadn’t crowded in next to him to reach his Gramp.  The press of bodies kept him fast on the seat; he would have liked to let the Healer have her seat back, it wasn’t very comfortable to float so far off the ground.  “John!”


“Look, Gramp,” Neville patted his arm, “Gran’s here already.  I said she’d come.”  Neville’s Gramp relaxed completely a second later and the nurses helped lay him back against the thin pillows. 


“Mrs. Longbottom,” Healer Kestrel put a hand on Neville’s shoulder and reached out to take one of his gran’s hands.  Neville thought he should tell her that Gran didn’t like holding hands, but Gran didn’t look like she minded this time so he didn’t.  “Mrs. Longbottom, I’m so very sorry.”


Gran drew herself up and Neville winced.  Gran was stiff and tall and that meant she was probably angry.  “Perfectly all right, Healer.  You said there was nothing to be done.  Better a quick end than not.   We’ll make arrangements and contact you shortly. Come along, Neville.”


“Yes, Gran.”  He stood on the seat, flinching as it wavered and then smiling as the Healer held it steady for him.  He bent down to kiss his Grandfather’s cheek.  “Bye Gramp.  Gran says we have to go.  We’ll come back soon.”  He didn’t hop off the floating chair.  Gran wouldn’t have liked it.  “Bye, Healer.”   He was surprised when Gran took his hand.  He hoped the whizbee hadn’t made his fingers sticky.  He didn’t want to have gooey hands for his gran to hold.


Gran walked too fast in the hallway and Neville had to nearly run to keep up with her.  She still looked mad and so Neville thought it was best if he didn’t say anything about it.  “Gran, can we go visit the third floor?  Healer Pyrefly said it was okay if I wanted to help the nurses sort all the remedy bottles.  They get new ones on Wednesdays.” 


“No, Neville.  Not today.  We need to go home.”  She was probably mad about having to leave Gramp on the ward. 


“That’s okay, Gran.”  For once, Neville thought he knew what would make her feel better.  “Are we going to visit Gramp on the same days we visit Mum and Dad?  I think maybe he’d like that best, because we can tell him about how Mum and Dad are feeling if we see him last.  Will we, Gran?”  He trailed his gran up the stairs, his hand still caught tight in hers.


Gran tugged at him and Neville felt bad about being so small when she was so impatient to get home.  “No.” Gran’s voice was clipped and cold and scratchy-hard. 


“Oh.”  Neville thought about that as they passed by the door to the tea-shop and went into the room with the departing Floo grates.  If Gramp were with, they’d stop for sweets or cocoa.  “Can we come tomorrow?”


The pot of Floo Powder that Gran had picked up went right back onto the shelf and Neville nearly sat down when his gran knelt in front of him and cupped his chin in her hand.  Gran never did that.  It made her knees ache.  And she still looked fierce.  Neville wanted to cringe away from her but didn’t.  He only dropped his eyes until Gran squeezed at his chin and he brought them back up.  “Gramp is dead, Neville.  We can’t visit him.  We have to go home.  Now.”


Neville blinked back tears as the flames roared green. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t come to see Gramp.  Gramp was at St. Mungo’s, just like his mum and dad.  Neville visited all the time so he didn’t understand and thought that maybe next time he’d sneak off to see Gramp again.  Healer Kestrel would let him see Gramp.  She was nice.  “Gramp is used to seeing me every day,” his whispered.  “Gramp likes it.  He says so.  He’ll miss me, won’t he, Gran?”


His gran didn’t say anything as they stepped into the flames.  But she pulled him close to keep him from getting bumped.  Closer than she usually did and her arms were extra tight.  Neville felt that maybe he’d disappointed Gran.  He hated to feel like that because he tried so hard to be extra good for Gran and Gramp. He thought that they loved him quite a lot, even though they didn’t always say.   He buried his face in the folds of Gran’s dress and sniffled softly so that she wouldn’t know he was crying.  Gran and Gramp always hated to see him cry.  And Neville loved them quite a lot, too.


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