The Sugar Quill
Author: Arya (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Second  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.

The Second

Disclaimer: I’m only JK Rowling in my dreams. 

Thanks to my beta Zsenya, and to my friends for not killing for what I did to Harry. 

 

The Second

 

         “What are you saying, Hermione?  That I can’t defeat Voldemort?”

 

         “No, no listen!  When all the Horcruxes are gone, you’ll have to fight Voldemort.  Except then he’ll just be a normal man, maybe even less than normal.  Anyone can defeat him.  He’ll be Tom Riddle again, Harry, not the Dark Lord.  The prophesy only said you could defeat the Dark Lord.”

 

         “So you are saying.”

 

         “No, I’m not!  I just think you should have a second, and let Voldemort have one as well.  He’ll think you’re scared that you’ll die.  He probably won’t realize how weak he is.”

 

         “So you want me to choose a second when I duel Voldemort?”

 

         “Yes.”

 

*

 

         “I would like to call for a second.”

 

         High-pitched laughter…cackle of the cloaked Death Eaters…

 

         “A second, Harry Potter?  How very…Gryffindor of you.  But of course, I must allow it…”

 

         “You must choose one, too.”

 

         More laughter…the Death Eaters were highly amused…

 

         “I do not need a second, Harry Potter.  I am Lord Voldemort…But who shall you choose?”

 

         “Neville Longbottom.”

*

 

         “AVADA KEDAVRA!”

 

         Screams and shouts as green light flew from his wand and hit Harry in the chest before anyone could move to protect him…shocked silence as Harry Potter, the Boy Who Was Supposed To Live, fell to the ground, dead…Neville, rooted to the ground, stared up at the Dark Lord, terrified…

 

*

 

         “Neville!  Neville, wake up!  You were screaming again!”

 

         Neville Longbottom’s eyes flew open as his grandmother shook his body.

 

         “You’re cold and clammy.  I’ll get you something to drink, you stay right there…” She bustled out of the room, muttering worries to herself.

 

         Sighing, Neville sat up in his bed.  Another day of his grandmother’s tut-tutting and constant praise; another day of the owl posts full of thanks; another day of silent mourning for the friends lost.  Another day living the life that was not his, that should not be his.

 

         “Have some water, dear.”  Grandmother hurried into the room and handed him a glass of water. 

 

         Neville accepted the glass silently.  Ever since it had happened, Grandmother’s opinion of him had changed.  Instead of accusing him of being a failure, she praised him for his success and treated him like a celebrity.  Any time an article about him was printed, no matter if it was in the Prophet or the Quibbler, she clipped it out and pasted it on the wall in the parlor.

 

         He hated it.  The articles, the letters.  Hated all of it.  It shouldn’t be his, it wouldn’t have been his.  If  Harry-

 

         Tears sprung up in Neville’s eyes as he thought of those who had died.  He brushed them away with the back of his hand, not wanting his grandmother to see them. 

 

         “Oh, you have an owl, dear,” Grandmother said, smiling and placing it on his lap.  “It’s from one of your friends, Susan Bones?  The one who took you back to St. Mungo’s after the battle.  She’s a sweet girl, to write to you.”

 

         Neville nodded silently and picked up the letter.  Grandmother hesitated for a moment, then hurried out of the room.

 

         Thankful to be alone at last, Neville opened the envelope and pulled out a sheet of parchment paper covered in tiny, exact writing.  His eyes scanned over the letter, reading.

 

Dear Neville,                                                        December 19, 1998

 

         I’m terribly sorry I didn’t write before, but I’ve been busy lately.  I nearly forgot that I’d meant to write to you, but I saw Hermione at St. Mungo’s yesterday, and she mentioned you.

 

         Have you heard about my new job?  I’ve been hired as a Healer in Training at St. Mungo’s!  I work in the same ward as Parvati Patil, do you remember her?  She’s well, all things considered.  I did find her in the loo, crying the other day, but I imagine it’d be hard losing a twin sister.

 

         Hermione is good as well.  She and Ron are finally engaged, though I imagine you’ve heard.  They’re to be married on July 31, Harry’s birthday.  They did that for him, I think.

 

         I do hope you’re alright.  It’s been nearly six months since anyone has seen you except those damn reporters, and we’re getting a bit worried.  I know you’re probably sad and still in shock – I know I am – but you can’t just stay at your grandmother’s.  You’ll have to come and face the public soon. 

 

         No one hates you for what you did.  None of us do.  We miss Harry, but you can’t let his death get to you.  Voldemort is gone, and you defeated him.  You!  We’re very proud of you. 

 

         Parvati says hi, and wants me to invite you to the Christmas Ball at St. Mungo’s.  It’s on Christmas Eve, and it would be wonderful if you came.

 

Owl me soon!

 

Susan

 

         A ball.  Neville shook his head as he folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope.  She was right, though.  He needed to get out of his Grandmother’s house.

 

         But…there were some people…he wasn’t ready to face.  And her.  How could he face her; the one who had given all she had, and had lost everything else?

 

*

 

         “Are you sure you want to go to this, Neville?  Maybe it’s not time, maybe you’re not well…you had a nightmare again last night-”

 

         Neville sighed and straightened his robes.  “I need to do this, Grandmother,” he said quietly.  “I’ll be back tonight.”

 

         He Disapparated quickly, not wanting to hear any more of her pleadings, knowing that he was weak enough to give into them if he listened long enough.

 

         “Neville, you came!”  Someone flung her arms around his neck as he Apparated into St. Mungo’s.  He blinked and looked at the young woman who was hugging him.  She was around his age, and wore her long brown hair in an elegant bun with net of tiny pearls draped across it.  Her robes were pale lavender and had a sort of shimmering quality to them.  She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite-

 

         “Neville, it’s me!  Susan!”  The young woman smiled, and suddenly Neville recognized her.  She had changed so much!

         Laughing, Susan grabbed his hand.  “Come on, everyone wants to see you!  She tugged and began leading him through the crowds of well-dressed witches and wizards.  Many pointed at him, whispering, their words not completely audible.

 

         “-Voldemort, he did-”

 

         “-Potter died, but he-”

 

         “-Longbottom-”

 

         Neville trembled, but ignored their whisperings.  They didn’t know what had happened, how it had happened.  Not really.

 

         “-Hermione’s here, and Ron,” Susan was saying.  “And Parvati should be here soon with Seamus…did you hear about them?  They got married in October and she’s already expecting…. They’re very excited.  Oh, there she is!”

 

         Susan pulled Neville past a group of gaping girls to a corner of the ballroom, where a young woman with bushy brown hair and a young man with bright red hair stood talking quietly.  As Neville and Susan approached, the young woman’s eyes moved from the young man to Neville.  A bright smile appeared on her face.

 

         “Neville!” she cried.  “Susan didn’t know if you were coming!”  She pushed past the young man and hurried toward Neville, hugging him tighter than Susan had.

 

         “Hi, Hermione,” Neville said quietly.  The people around them were staring and pointing.  “Hi, Ron.”

 

         Ron walked up behind Hermione, touching her shoulder with an affection Neville hadn’t seen from him before.  “Hey, mate,” he said.  “Where’ve you been?  I haven’t seen you since…”

 

         “With my grandmother,” Neville muttered, embarrassed.

 

         “You’ve been in all the papers,” Hermione informed him.  “Did you really talk to all those reporters?


         Neville nodded, his cheeks red.  “Grandmother told me it was my duty,” he explained quietly.  “Because of what…happened.”

 

         “We missed you,” Susan said, squeezing the hand she still held.  Neville’s cheeks burned, and his heart began to beat quickly.

 

         “Who else is here?” Neville asked Susan, wanting to talk about something else.  “It looks like all of London came.”

 

         Susan nodded, grinning.  “It’s wonderful,” she told him, excited.  “WE ***We invited everyone we could think of, and nearly all of them owled back saying they’d come!  And the Weird Sisters are playing; they’re setting up right now!”

 

         “Ernie’s here with a Muggle girl he met last week,” Hermione said.  “I saw Luna by the punch, trying to convince someone that Snorkacks were running loose in Egypt…the twins are coming later with Alicia and Angelina, Percy’s here with Penelope, and Ginny should be here soon.”

 

         Neville bit his lip and nodded.  He wouldn’t stay long, he decided.  He couldn’t stand all the staring people.

 

         “Let’s go dance, the Weird Sisters are starting,” Susan said.  She pulled on Neville’s hand.  “Hermione, Ron, we’ll be back.”

 

         Neville allowed himself to be pulled through the crowds once more, to the back of a mob of excited young adults who stood in front of the stage.  The Weird Sisters were finishing setting up.

 

         “Isn’t it a lovely ball?” Susan asked.  “Just like the Yule Ball.  Remember that?”

 

         Of course he remembered.  It was four years ago to the day that he and Ginny Weasley had danced in the Great Hall at Hogwarts.  But that had been before Ginny and Harry…when Ginny had still been a little girl.  Now she was seventeen, and had experienced more things women twice her age. 

 

         The music started, and Neville took Susan’s hand and began to step forward and back, twirling her around and watching her smile…just as Ginny had smiled…

 

         “Let’s get a drink,” Susan suggested when the song ended.  “Maybe Parvati’s here with Seamus.”

 

         The two pushed through the dancers to the long table that was covered in food and drinks ranging from two-layered chocolate cakes dripping in icing to bright lime green punch that looked suspiciously like a Weasley product.  Avoiding the punch, Neville grabbed two butterbeers and handed one to Susan, who smiled and thanked him.

 

         A second song began, this one loud and pounding.  The dancers began to jump and twirl, becoming blurred in Neville’s eyes.  Everyone looked so happy, as if no one had died, as if they hadn’t been living in terror only a year before…how could they recover so quickly?  How could they just forget?  Forget the pain, forget the fear, forget the losses?

 

         A hand touched Neville’s arm; Susan’s.  “Are you okay?” she asked.  “You looked…sad.”

 

         Neville shrugged.  “I’m fine,” he mumbled.  “Just…I’m fine.  I’ll go get another butterbeer for you.”  Without waiting for her to respond, he walked away, through the crowds of pointing people.  Someone bumped into him, and his half-empty butterbeer bottle fell to the ground, spilling butterbeer on the front of his new robes.

 

         “Oh!  I’m so sorry!” a familiar voice said.  Neville turned, ready to share shake his head and mutter something back, but stopped, shocked.

 

         Ginny Weasley stood in front of him, her red hair strewn across her shoulders.  She paled when she saw Neville, and bit her lip.

 

         “Hi, Neville,” she whispered.  “I – can we – we need to…talk.”

 

         Neville nodded.  “There isn’t…we could…”

 

         Without another word, Ginny turned, heading toward the staircase that led to the rest of St. Mungo’s.  Neville followed, worried, wondering what she would say.

 

         She stopped halfway up the stairs, the chatter and music from the ball distant.  Neville waited for her to speak.

 

         “It’s not…” she began, her voice soft and pained.  “It wasn’t your fault.  It…you didn’t…”

 

         She was crying, Neville realized.  She still mourned him…she probably hated Neville for living.

 

         “I don’t want this,” Neville muttered, looking down at the carpet.  “I…it wasn’t supposed to be me.  It was Harry, Harry was going to-”

 

         The tears fell heavily down her face now, and Neville’s stomach clenched.  She was supposed to be happy, married to Harry, and expecting the first of eighty-seven red-haired, green-eyed children.  Harry was supposed to have lived, not Neville.

 

         “But it did happen,” Ginny whispered.  “And it’s not your fault.  Neville.  You didn’t kill Harry, Voldemort did.  You were right to do what you did.  Imagine if you hadn’t.  We…you, me, everyone…we’d be dead.  But Neville…you did it.  You did what Harry couldn’t.  You defeated Tom Riddle.”

 

         “But you-”

 

         “I’m fine, Neville.  It hurts, some nights, but it’s been six months.  Eventually it’ll all be in the distant past, just a memory.  We have to move on, Neville.”  Her eyes gripped his, holding them.  They said what her mouth could not express: She forgave him.

 

         “I…I’m just Neville,” he whispered.  “Almost a Squib, couldn’t even pass Defense…just Neville.”

 

         Ginny touched his shoulder gently.  “You’ll never just be Neville, just like he could never just be Harry.  You’re the second.  You’ll always be the second.  The one who defeated Tom Riddle.”

//
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