The Sugar Quill
Author: Aeterna  Story: Empty  Chapter: Default
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Empty

Empty

by Aeterna

 

A/N: The beginnings of this story have been on my computer for ages. I just stumbled upon them the other day, and decided to finish up. This is one of those I-would-never-want-this-to-happen-but-writing-about-the-worst-case-scenario-is-strangely-cathartic sort of stories. It also makes me want to hug Neville. But who doesn’t want to hug Neville?

 

Thanks to Lady Narcissa, who beta-ed this quickly and efficiently (and whom I forgot to thank last time, so double thanks)!

 

~~*~*~~

 

My, but you are a challenging one.

 

What do you mean? I will get into a house, won’t I?

 

Yes, yes, of course you will. No need to worry about that. I have never once failed to place a student, I’ll have you know. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a student quite like you. Tell me, where do you want to be?

 

Well, my gran says I should be in Gryffindor like my mum and dad—

 

But what do you say?

 

I … I don’t know …

 

You have no opinion?

 

I … never thought about it …

 

Well, let’s see what we’ve got here. Decent mind, especially for the care of plants, yes? But you wouldn’t be suited to Ravenclaw…. Strong sense of loyalty … desire for friendship, yes, you could be in Hufflepuff, but you don’t quite fit there either.

 

You’re not thinking of putting me in Slytherin?

 

No, no, you would be eaten alive there. No cunning at all.

 

So …

 

I sense a seed of bravery within you. Just a seed, but as you well know, with the proper nurture and environment, seeds will grow greater and stronger than you can imagine. Yes, I see now that this is the best choice for you. You’ll flourish in GRYFFINDOR!

 

Neville hadn’t felt like he was flourishing in Gryffindor when he was in first year. In fact, he’d felt like a disaster. He was rubbish at everything, and he knew, no matter what the Sorting Hat said, that he would never be as brave as everyone else in Gryffindor. He knew this because in a secret place in his heart, he wanted to run away from everything, and he knew that that was a cowardly thing to want, and if he wanted something so cowardly, how could he be brave?

 

At night, when he’d stared up into the canopy of his bed, he would wonder what would become of his bed if (sometimes that ‘if’ was a ‘when’) he ran away. Would it disappear, swallowed by some enchantment from this ever-changing castle, or would it remain empty, standing an everlasting tribute to his cowardice? His mind’s eye had often conjured up an image of Harry or Seamus or someone like that walking past his empty bed and muttering about ‘that Neville’ who ‘never was brave enough.’

 

He knew now what happened to unoccupied beds at Hogwarts, but not because he had run away. Five beds remained in the seventh-year Gryffindor boys’ dormitory.

 

Only one of them was occupied.

 

Neville, older and braver now, lay staring up into the canopy of his bed, pondering all of this, morbidly amused by the irony of it all. He, he who had once wanted nothing more than to run away, was the only one left.

 

To his immediate right would have been Harry, and Ron on Harry’s other side. To his left, Dean, and then Seamus. He remembered very clearly that first evening when they’d chosen their beds. He had walked up to the highest level of the boys’ dormitory behind two pairs of boys he barely knew, but who (judging by their animated conversation) had already gotten to know and like each other immensely. Immediately upon entering the dormitory, Harry and Ron turned left, and Dean and Seamus turned right. Neville, who had no other choice, continued forward to the only free bed. He’d fallen asleep that night wondering if he’d ever belong.

 

Eventually, however, he did manage to find his place. It was a gradual change, but every year he felt a little more confident, a little more comfortable, a little more at home. Last year he found himself with more friends than he’d ever dreamed of having, and doing better in his classes (now that they excluded Potions and Transfiguration) than he ever had before, even managing to prove his courage twice in the past two years, though both encounters had had tragic consequences. Nevertheless, he was beginning to believe that the Sorting Hat might have been right about him. Maybe he was brave, and maybe he did belong in Gryffindor.

 

But what good did any of that do him now? He was alone, inexorably cut off from the outside world, suffocating inside the castle walls.

 

He felt his mind drawn to the would-be occupants of each bed in the room.

 

Harry and Ron … well, he’d known in advance that they wouldn’t be coming back. During the wedding reception for Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, he’d overheard them talking with Hermione, making plans to leave … to go off to defeat Voldemort (he pushed back an involuntary tremor). It was exactly the kind of thing that Gryffindors should do, and Neville only wished that he could have joined. He knew he couldn’t, though. The three of them were a unit, an indivisible whole, and he could not imagine how he would ever fit into it.

 

So instead of announcing his presence and asking to come along, he’d gone back to the reception with the knowledge that his dormitory would be short two occupants this year. He spent the rest of his time there with Ginny, whose subdued expression and slumped posture mirrored the emotions he held in his heart. They solemnly watched the exuberant proceedings. At one point, more to break the silence than anything else, Neville asked her to dance, but she’d just laughed feebly and joked that previous experience had taught her to know better than to accept. He took no offence; he knew she’d meant it affectionately, and he didn’t much feel like dancing anyway.

 

He hadn’t known beforehand that Seamus wasn’t returning, but his absence came as no real surprise. His mother had been uncomfortable with Hogwarts since fifth year, and Dumbledore’s death appeared to have been the final straw. Seamus had sent Neville an owl asking for any updates he might be able to give, but Neville was no more informed here at Hogwarts than Seamus was at home. The closest he got to being a part of the war effort were the DA meetings Ginny had reinstated, but even there, they all felt the same sense of isolation and uselessness.

 

Then there was Dean. A knot in Neville’s stomach tightened at the very thought, the very memory of yet another Daily Prophet article — yet another Dark Mark hanging over the house of yet another muggleborn’s family. Dean was gone.

 

A memorial service had taken place beside the Hogwarts lake the first weekend after classes began. Dean was only one of several remembered there. Neville felt that his own presence there wasn’t enough — Seamus should have been there. Harry and Ron, too, but they were gone, all of them. Neville himself had been asked to say a few words. He did, but his short speech was a very stupid one.

 

“I didn’t know Dean as well as some people. Really, Seamus should be up here. He was the one who was really friends with Dean. He was always a good roommate, though. They all were….”

 

At that moment, he’d felt his loneliness overpower him. All he could think about was that night, when he would go back to this empty dormitory, devoid of the sounds of snoring roommates, devoid of posters featuring the Irish Quidditch team and the West Ham football team, devoid of wadded up robes and spare bits of parchment. He thought of all of this, and he couldn’t speak anymore. He just stood there, miserably watching all the grieving, expectant faces—

 

A knock at the door brought him abruptly back to reality; he slid out of bed wondering, as he walked across the dormitory, who could possibly want to see him this late at night.

 

He opened the door to find none other than Lavender Brown on the other side. She was dressed in a wrinkled white nightgown, clutching a teddy-bear, once pink, that had grayed with age. Her hair, usually neat and well-kept, was a complete mess, forming a frizzy halo around her head that caught the moonlight streaming through the windows. Her eyes, dark with circles, had a wild, haunted expression.

 

“I …” she said in a very quiet voice, “I couldn’t sleep.”

 

He continued to stare for a moment, still bewildered….

 

But then he understood: she was lonely, too.

 

Hermione, of course, had left with Harry and Ron. Parvati, who had always been Lavender’s closest friend, was in much the same predicament as Seamus, with parents too afraid to let their children come back to a Hogwarts that seemed completely out of control. Lavender, just like Neville, fell asleep every night in a silent, empty room, devoid of any life save her own. She too felt trapped, isolated, useless, alone.

 

At length, Neville nodded and stepped aside, allowing Lavender to enter the room. She crossed to the bed right next to Neville’s — the one that used to be Dean’s — and folded herself beneath the covers. Neville returned to his own bed.

 

They said nothing, for nothing needed to be said. Before long, the simple, steady sound of another person’s breathing lulled both of them to sleep.

 

~~*~*~~

//
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