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
sort of stories. It also makes me want to hug Neville. But who doesn’t want to
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
Well, my gran says I should be in Gryffindor like my mum
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
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.