"Close your eyes, get some sleep. It's too late now to change anything, but it's alright. Get some sleep. It's so dark outside, so close your eyes and feel the world turn round. If you're not lost, I guess that makes you found"
The room was filled with thick smoke, different aromas and colours swirling through the stuffy air of the room. The candlelight illuminated the smoke trails and the windowless room glowed.
There were a dozen or so people sitting around, each separate from the other, and some cloaked and hooded. It was clear that some of the visitors to the High Priestess were ashamed to be there, or maybe they were people who could be recognised...like Ron Weasley for example.
"Sorry I'm late," Ron panted before bowing to the High Priestess and tripping over the legs of one of the group members that was sprawled out on a pile of cushions stacked against the wall, "I got... Sorry."
Ron made his way across the room and found a spot by a tiny table, just six inches off the floor, and sat down cross-legged. Ron with his legs crossed was quite a sight. He was far too tall for such a posture but any other would appear ridiculous beside such a tiny table.
"Continuing his journey, the Fool comes upon a beautiful and mysterious veiled lady enthroned between two pillars and illuminated by the moon," the High Priestess said as she watched Ron settle into a semi-comfortable position and began moving towards him. "She is the opposite of the Magician, quiet where he was loquacious, still where he was in motion, sitting while he stood, shrouded in the night where he was out in the bright of day." The woman, in her light mauve robes wafted over the small table and began laying out Tarot cards. "She is the High Priestess and she astonishes the Fool by knowing everything about him."
Ron shifted, uncomfortably and his ears burned deep red. The others in the group watched, pitying Ron but thankful they hadn't been late and therefore the subject of the High Priestess' showy card play.
"'Since you know me so well, perhaps you can help me,' says the Fool, laying out his sword, chalice, staff and pentacle." Still more cards laid before Ron while the dark, hooded eyes of the steel grey lady stared into Ron's and her rich, exotic voice rolled each 'r' over her tongue as if it was a thick, sweet syrup. "The Magician showed me these tools, but now I'm in a quandary. There's so many things I could do with them. I can't decide."
"I'm really sorry I was late." Ron said, voice firm and almost angry.
"In answer, the High Priestess hands over to him a pair of ancient scrolls. 'These will teach you how to decide.'"
Ron sighed and held out his hand. The woman, like a version of Trelawney only with the imposing presence of Firenze the Centaur, pressed a card onto Ron's palm.
"Seating himself at her feet, the Fool reads by the light of her crescent moon." Ron's eyes immediately flicked up to the High priestess' bosom and several in the group sniggered, "Finally, the Fool knows enough that he can now decide what he wants, where he will go, and what he will do."
Ron frowned and looked at the card in his hand. The High priestess walked away and back into the centre of the room with a satisfied smile pulling at her lips.
"Though he suspects that the High Priestess has even more secrets she could teach him -- like what lies behind the pomegranate curtain -- he is focused and ready to be on his way."
Ron cleared his throat and threw the card down on top of the others on the small table and looked up at her again.
"Thanking the High Priestess, he heads off. But as he leaves he hears her whisper, quiet as the waters which bubble up from beneath her throne," The High Priestess leaned over and whispered back to Ron, "'We'll meet again...when you're ready to travel the most secret path of all.' Now tell everybody my latecomer, tell them about your cards!"
Ron sighed and fanned out the cards on the surface of the table.
"The High Priestess card," Ron said, picking it up and showing the room, almost sounding bored and resigned by now, maybe it wasn't his first time getting to the group meeting late, "when you get this you know you're gonna be dealing with a lot of odd stuff."
The group laughed and the High Priestess nodded and gestured to the gathering around her.
"None would be here if they weren't plagued by the absurd."
"I know I bloody wouldn't," Ron muttered to himself.
This made the newcomer make his first sound since he arrived, his first peep, and the High Priestess noted this silently. Her eyes fell on him and he stifled his soft chuckle and turned back to Ron. He suddenly stiffened when he realised that Ron had looked over his shoulder to see who had caught the woman's attention and was gaping at him.
"Neville?" Ron whispered.
He smiled and waved at Ron, realising that as much as he didn't want anybody he knew to find out what was happening to him, Ron probably felt the same and was now panicking because his anonymity had just been shattered.
"Go on, my dear fool," the High Priestess urged.
"Right, yeah, um... Knowledge and ideas and...and um..."
"Your focus is broken," the High Priestess said as she snapped her fingers."This matters not. Stop there and tell me how you fare this week."
"Um," Ron was fidgeting and Neville knew he was feeling self-conscious because he was there.
Feeling embarrassed and sympathetic for Ron, Neville got to his feet and tried to creep out. He attempted to side behind the thick velvet curtains but as soon as he did the whole curtain rail came crashing down and everybody jumped. The brass curtain rod clattered against the flagstones and the afternoon sunlight streamed into the room, causing everybody to squint and shield their eyes.
All except Ron.
While the curtain was put back in place and the people chatted and moved away from the window, Neville crouched beside Ron and whispered to him apologetically.
"I'm so sorry, I was referred here, I had no idea you were...I'm going to go."
"Don't be daft," Ron said as he grabbed Neville around the wrist and pulled him down beside him, knocking into his hip with his bony knee.
Ron uncrossed his legs and tried to find another position, never managing to look comfortable.
"So you got referred from St Mungo's?" Ron asked, distracted by his own shuffling.
Ron nodded and then huffed, folding his legs beneath him and kneeling, which made him noticeably tall beside the stumpy little table.
"Come, come," the High Priestess clapped her hands together for attention, "this will not halt our progress!"
She waved her hand down at Ron and nodded to him. The room was dimly lit again and the smoke swirls were broken up, ash floating in the air and several members of the group coughed and fanned their hands before them to usher the polluted air away.
Ron threw Neville a look of resignation and shrugged before sitting up straight and doing as he was bid.
"I'm not really any different to be honest. I did try but... I still have lamps and candles lit, curtains open." He looked across to Neville and explained his situation, "I have another phobia, on top of the old one."
"You mean the spiders?"
Ron shuddered and nodded.
"Only this one's found a way to be worse. Scotomaphobia."
"You're afraid of Scottish people?" Neville frowned.
Ron laughed while a couple of the group looked scornfully at him.
"Nah, it's a fear of not being able to see. It's kinda hindering me a bit...especially with like, sleeping and stuff."
"Oh!" Neville exclaimed, his eyes wide and staring at Ron in astonishment.
"What?" Ron said, adopting a slightly defensive posture, "I have good reasons, extenuating circumstances and all that."
"No, I'm just...we're sort of the same, you and me."
"Why don't you tell everybody why you need to grace us with your presence?" the High Priestess said to Neville as she stepped back into the corner of the room and left the focus on the two wizards around the tiny table.
"Oh, all right, I'm Neville and I have Hypnophobia."
He waited for somebody to say something and nobody did so he continued.
"Basically, I have a fear of sleep but also of being hypnotised...because that involves a kind of sleep doesn't it? Anyway, they'd usually treat phobias with hypnosis but mine can't really be so they referred me here."
"Why are yo-" Ron began before realising he was asking personal questions in an environment that he wasn't supposed to ask questions, "Sorry."
"No, it's okay," Neville smiled at him, "I was in hiding for a long time during the war, even when I wasn't I had to stay alert because people were being taken during the night. Basically I got so used to staying alert that every time I dropped into any kind of proper sleep I'd jump awake again. I just don't really sleep at all."
Ron looked at him with a pained expression of sympathy.
"He is your friend?" The High Priestess' voice travelled across the renewed swirls of coloured smoke.
"This is our strong but silent member, Neville, he will not divulge the source of his problem. Until he does there is no way to set him on the correct path to healing."
Ron scowled over at the woman before looking back at Neville.
"Caught by the snatchers, got away from the snatchers, splinched off my fingernails. That's the story, right?" Ron said, only to Neville but aware that he was being heard by the others.
"That's not the whole story?" Neville asked him, instantly worried that Ron had been protecting others from something horrific.
"That's not the story at all," Ron said, shaking his head and looking down at his hand, at his re-grown fingernails, "and I'll have to tell Harry and Hermione but I don't want to think about dealing with that just yet."
"Tell us a-" The High Priestess began to emerge from the shadows and speak in her mystical tones but Neville shushed her away.
For a moment Neville was as startled as the rest of the group that he'd done it. Ron appeared to be even more amazed that the woman retreated back again, doing as she was told.
"Tell me, Ron."
"So um, I Disapparated, I still had...voices and thoughts, I had somebody else inside me for a while. Like an echo. I Disapparated and didn't plan anywhere to go. I didn't picture anywhere because I had nowhere in mind. He had put stuff in my mind though and when I went..."
"You went where his followers would be," Neville said with a groan of sympathy.
"Got me right away, didn't have a chance. They gave me a right kicking, hexed all sorts of nasty stuff at me, immobilised me and..."
"Blindfolded you." Neville stated, as he found himself reaching to take Ron's hand for moral support.
"They wanted information, they knew who I was right away. I was shitting it because if they knew me they knew my family and they knew my cover story was bull and I'd dropped them all in the shit. They knew I'd been with Harry because if not why the cover story...?"
"They had you over a barrel and wanted information. They were about to do the same with Ginny before she got pulled out of school." Neville said as he remembered how his friend hadn't come back to school after Easter.
"The fingernails," Ron said, holding up his hand, "they did that. They pulled them one by one."
"Fucking hell!" Neville gasped, he wasn't the only one in the room to do so.
"They only got one hand done before I got away, grabbed what felt like wands and made a run for it. I couldn't get the blindfold off. It was suck on like a permanent sticking charm. I panicked and lost it a bit 'cause it wouldn't come of and then I Disapparated to the only person I knew who could break complicated charms."
"You went to Bill's."
"Thing is, lots of stuff happened, I didn't have a chance to dwell on it. Then me and Harry took on this case for Kingsley and got into a bit of a fix and...for a minute or two I got blindfolded again and I – went – berserk."
"Understandable," Neville nodded, "and if you don't want to tell anyone I won't say a word."
"No, I should. Harry knows everything but that and I already have to tell Hermione something else...something that actually manages to be worse if you can imagine it!"
Ron laughed and smiled at Neville, as if telling him had made it less daunting to face.
"I have Merinthophobia!" A little voice piped up from the far corner of the room. A chubby old wizard got to his feet and puffed out his chest as he told his big secret to the group, "The Death Eaters tied me and up and killed everyone around me one by one. I was so scared I didn't make a peep. They didn't know they'd missed me, didn't know I was still alive. They cleared me out of the holding cell with all the bodies and dumped us in a pit together. I was still tied up, hands and feet, and couldn't crawl out from under the bodies. They started burying us and they didn't finish in time because of an intruder. They forgot about me and I was found by Aurors. I'm always afraid that I'm going to be tied up again, caught up and unable to move my arms and legs or get free. That's why they sent me here."
"Rhabdophobia!" Another shouted, then another, a woman, with the same condition, "You too?"
"Fear of magic!" She nodded.
"No, fear of being beaten with a rod," the man frowned.
"I have a fear of magic, I have to live with Squibs, the Healers told me it was Rhabdophobia." The woman insisted.
"Rhabdophobia, R.H.A.B.D.O.P.H.O.B.I.A, fear of being severely beaten with a rod!" The man argued.
"It means both," the High Priestess interrupted, "for Muggles, the rod, for us it was being hexed with a wand. When the Muggles of old were attacked by somebody with a wand they thought it was a rod striking them. The fear of magic and fear of the rod are the same word."
"Huh," the woman said before looking across the room at the man.
"Small world eh?" The man smiled across at her.
Soon everybody was talking, animatedly, to each other. Ron looked to Neville and Neville to Ron.
"Let's go somewhere else," Neville said before helping Ron to his feet and then stealthily making their way through the crowd and out the door.
"I can't believe we made it out without some calamity!" Ron laughed.
"I know!" Neville groaned, hand to forehead, "I can't believe the curtain thing. I was trying to slip out before you saw me so I didn't make you uncomfortable."
"Really?" Ron blinked at Neville, clearly moved at Neville's consideration.
"Well, yeah," Neville shrugged, "I was told it was going to be anonymous and safe and comfortable and when I saw you I realised that you probably didn't want me to hear what you had to say. I'm sorry you felt like you had to-"
"Don't," Ron said, "I wasn't participating with the treatment, all a bit crystal gaze-y for me. I saw you and thought...if you were there too then you must understand."
Neville sighed, deeply and looked to the bright sky above.
"I just wanna sleep!"
"Dreamless sleep draught not work for you?"
"My adrenaline seems to overpower it, all that happens is I have a God awful headache all night." Neville frowned. "You?"
"Panic attack, big time, I managed to swallow it once and I threw it right back up again." Ron sighed.
"You do look tired," Neville said, wincing with concern for his friend.
"And I bet I sleep more than you!" Ron snorted, "I sleep with as many lights on as possible but I do eventually sleep."
"Maybe..." Neville began and then shook his head and gestured to a bench and sat down.
"Maybe what? Go on, you were gonna say something."
"I was just thinking that I miss the dormitory. Seamus was a half blood and was ousted from school almost immediately, Dean went on the run so he never showed up at all, and you and Harry weren't there. I was alone up in that room. Maybe that was why I had to be alert."
"You had nobody watching your back," Ron said with a nod.
"You can sleep with light and I might be able to sleep if one of my old dorm mates were I the same room. I was just gonna suggest..." Neville gave an embarrassed laugh and then shook his head.
"Harry doesn't sleep on the spare bed in my room anymore." Ron stated.
They looked at each other for a moment.
"Maybe for tonight we could try...keeping each other company?"
"And if it doesn't work at least we'll have somebody to talk to," Ron said with an optimistic smile.
Neville offered his hand to Ron and grinned at him.
Ron slapped his hand against Neville's palm and waggled his eyebrows.
"Did your Gran teach you nothing, Longbottom?"
"You just made a deal with a fool!"