Miles To Go
I don't own Harry Potter. You know, just in case you were wondering.
The woods are lovely
Dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
Neville's drift to consciousness was slow and painful. The first thing his mind registered was a pounding in his head that seemed to block out the aches in all his other limbs. He groaned, and tried to turn over. It was only then that he realized he was lying on a soft bed, with sunlight splashed across his face. He blinked blearily.
"Oh good," an unfamiliar male voice spoke from nearby.
"Ngh." Neville slurred in reply, and forced his eyes open. He found he was lying in the Hogwarts hospital wing, in one of the beds that was placed further up the ward. Early morning sunlight streamed in from the window next to his bed, giving the already white surroundings a blinding, ethereal glow. He shut his eyes again, trying to adjust to sudden brightness. The voice that had spoken belonged to a figure that was obscured in the contrast of light.
"Here," the man said helpfully, "I'll just shut the shades for you." Neville heard the rasp of the curtains, and nodded in thanks. His head throbbed at the movement.
"Th-Thanks," he croaked. He blinked experimentally, and then opened his eyes once more.
"Better?" The man, Neville could now see, was tall, thin and had a friendly, long face. Neville guessed he must've been close to forty years old, as his black hair was peppered lightly with flecks of gray and his eyes, behind his specs, were bordered by faint laugh lines. "I'm James; I'm going to be your healer for the day."
"I'm Neville," Neville answered automatically. His headache was slowly clearing, to be replaced by the familiar feeling that he had forgotten something important. What was it? Wait… who was this man? Did he work at Hogwarts? Frantically, Neville tried to recall what had happened to put him in the infirmary in the first place, but the memories were scattered and unclear.
"Any last name there?" James asked, looking down at the chart Neville noticed he was holding, oblivious to Neville's mounting disconcertion.
"Longbottom," He answered nervously. He tried pushing himself up in bed, but found his arms were shaking too badly. James came forward to help, leaving the chart on the bedside table. Once he was sitting up properly in bed, Neville glanced surreptitiously at the medical chart and was surprised to see it was almost completely blank. Neville had lived at Hogwarts for close to seven years, and had collected long string of mishaps and minor sicknesses along the way. Surely, all that should've been written in his file? But, to his puzzlement, Neville could see that all that was filled in was his first name, and a brief description of his current state of health. James picked up the file again, and pulled out a quill.
"I just need some background information, before we can give you anything, Neville," He said, holding the quill at the ready. He waited for Neville' hesitant nod before continuing.
"Righto. Any allergies?" Neville shook his head and James made a mark on the paper, "Serious or chronic illnesses? Unliftable curses? Mental illnesses? No? Good. Your weight and height seem fine; you blood pressure count…hmm. Any history of broken bones? curses?"
"I broke my wrist in first year, my nose in fifth, and my right arm when I was eight…" Neville watched as James scribbled each down. "…and I've had crucio used on me"
"And those were all healed by a proper healer?" Neville's bewilderment grew. Except for his arm, which had been taken care of at St. Mungo's, all his broken bones had been healed in this very hospital wing by Madame Pomfrey! Shouldn't his record say so?
"Madame Pomfrey healed those," Neville said, his voice betraying his growing confusion. James gave him a fleetingly startled look, before moving down the chart.
"I see," He said sounding odd, "Are you feeling any pain now?"
"Yeah…" Neville said, careful not to nod again. "My head hurts."
"Can you describe it? Throbbing? Sharp?"
"Throbbing…Kind of aching, I guess."
"Could you rate it on a scale of one to ten? One, being no pain at all, and ten being the worst possible?"
"Seven?" Neville said uncertainly. "Seven and a half?"
"Okay," James said carefully, "Jut a few more things and I'll go get you something for that. Can you tell me how you sustained the injuries that you have? Do you remember what happened?"
"No," Neville answered helplessly.
"Don't worry," James assured him, seeing his patient's fear, "You came in with something of a concussion, a slight memory lapse is perfectly normal." He tapped the quill on the form decisively, and said, "Right. I'm going to go get you something for your head and tell Pomfrey you're awake. I'll be right back." He turned and marched out to the head Healers office, leaving Neville to wonder.
The seventeen year old looked down the ward again. Now that he was more alert, he began taking in details of the ward. Down near the door he noticed the screens Pomfrey sometimes used were pulled around one of the beds. The Infirmary was otherwise empty, which puzzled Neville. Before he had been forced into hiding in the Room of Requirement, the Carrows had been hurting students on a daily basis. Neville could remember a near-constant stream of students with injuries tremors going in and out of the hospital wing each week. Why then was the ward so empty and tranquil now?
He rubbed his pounding head, trying to think. Had something happened? The answer came slowly. Yes…Harry, Ron and Hermione had come back…Neville could remember meeting them in Aberforth Dumbledore's sitting room, but what about after? Neville could remember feeling scared, determined, exhausted and angry, but not why. The feelings rolled together reminded him of fifth year when they had fought death eaters…Death Eaters! Wait! Neville scrunched his eyes shut, rubbing his tender head in strain. He had had it. A fleeting glimpse. Death Eaters…Death Eaters… Death Eaters. A large fire…In the middle of the Forbidden Forest! Neville grabbed onto the next memory in excitements. Okay, large fire, what else Neville? He thought to himself, pushing aside his frustration at his own absurd memory. Large fire with Death Eaters….Harry…was going to do… something, but Neville had tried to stop it. That was it!...no, what was it?
"Argh," Neville growled in frustration as he lost the memory again. Harry had been trying to do something…something with Death Eaters around a large fire…in the Forbidden Forest. He twisted the linen blankets in his fists, as though trying to squeeze his memories from the sheets. He had just grasped at the image of an orange blaze flickering off the darkened eyes of a circle of Death Eaters again when James returned, carrying a smoky blue potion, with the diminutive mediwitch in tow.
Neville expected that Madame Pomfrey would come directly to check up on him first, but to his surprise, she broke off from James upon entering the ward and headed for the screened bed at the far end of the ward.
James however continued his approach, setting the pain reliever down next to Neville. He conjured a measuring glass from thin air, filled the cup halfway, and passed it over to Neville.
"Don't worry," James assured him when Neville eyed the potion suspiciously, "It won't make you drowsy."
"Not what I was worried about," Neville muttered, grimacing.
"Oh?" James asked as he watched Neville choke down the bitter concoction in one gulp.
"Yeah," Neville coughed, gagging. "I never liked that potion's taste." James laughed.
"Had it before, have you?"
"I could practically brew it myself, and that's saying something." Neville replied with earnest. "At least it works," he conceded as his aches cleared instantaneously. Undistracted now, he turned his mind back to his elusive memories, trying to piece together all that had happened. With some satisfaction, he could now remember that they'd been fighting Death Eaters on the…Hogwarts…grounds.
Neville suddenly shot up, panicking. His eyes darted around the tranquil hospital wing once more, and this time the questions screamed out at him. Hadn't there been a battle here? Where was the damage that the fight had caused? Where were the lines of the wounded who were supposed to be filling the room? What had happened to the bodies he himself had helped carry in from the grounds? Never had peace and serenity seemed so wrong.
"What's wrong, Neville? What's going on?" James asked in puzzled concern. James, who had just filled out a medical chart for Neville, which should have already existed. James, who had never worked at Hogwarts in Neville's memory and yet seemed to be old friends with the nurse at the end of the ward, and who obviously knew his way around the infirmary as naturally as if he'd been there for years.
Neville pushed back the covers, adrenaline forcing his weak and heavy limbs into action. He snatched his wand from his bedside table, ready to run to McGonagall, but James pushed him firmly back into bed.
"Neville, you're going to have to calm down," He said keeping a hand on the panicking boy's shoulder. "I don't know what is bothering you, but you need to relax."
"Where is everyone?" Neville demanded wildly. He tried to go on, but his panic had blocked his lungs and tightened his throat. "Wha… What's…?"
"Breathe, boy, "James held Neville's shoulders, looking around for Madame Pomfrey, who was rushing up the ward to help. Neville regained his voice, but not his composure.
"We were being attacked; we were fighting…Where is everyone?" James shot Poppy a questioning look, but she only shrugged helplessly. "Madame Pomfrey, you remember!" Neville's voice had risen to a shout "They…we were fighting! You were there!" Poppy tried shushing the screaming boy, hoping that remaining calm and quiet would soothe him, but he only got louder, struggling against James' hold. "No! Where's Luna? And Seamus? And Harry? Everyone was fighting! Why is everything okay now? Why is there no one here?"
Neville's head snapped towards the familiar, quiet voice. Harry stood at the side of Neville's bed, pale and drawn, his own wand grasped tightly in his right fist.
"Neville," Harry repeated. Neville stopped struggling, staring at his friend. "It's okay…"
"Harry?" Harry glanced at the two healers, both of whom let go of Neville and stepped away, keeping cautious eyes on the pair. Harry moved forward, and sat down on the edge of Neville's bed facing him. "Harry, what's going on?"
"I dunno," Harry said helplessly. "But I know that this goes beyond the normal type of weird."
"Because," Harry glanced at Healer James fleetingly, before lowering his voice and leaning closer to Neville, "Because, that's my father."
"How…" Neville began for the third time, but he seemed too overwhelmed to voice any specific question yet. Harry sighed heavily. Once Madame Pomfrey had realized that he and Neville were friends, she had allowed Harry to move into the bed next to Neville, and the two healers had withdrawn from the room. Neville's eyes were still wide with shock and confusion. Harry shrugged helplessly.
"Do…" Harry asked hesitantly, "Do you remember…?" Neville frowned and Harry added hastily, "I only ask because you were knocked out pretty hard."
"Bits," Neville said with a deeper scowl, staring at the far wall of the ward. "Was there something about a fire?"
"Yeah, there was." Harry hesitated for a fraction of a second. "The Death Eaters were all gathered in the Forbidden Forest. They'd lit the fire." Neville shut his eyes for a second.
"Wait," he said, shaking his head, "Why were we there at all? Wasn't everyone gathering in the Great Hall?" Neville opened his eyes to see reluctance and guilt flash across Harry's face, and a sliver of memory bubbled up in his mind. Harry had been about to…Neville was going to stop Harry from…what was it? Then, all too clearly, the memory of a frigid, clear, ear splitting voice, echoing out of the very walls of Hogwarts seemed to jolt Neville's mind back into functioning. Give me Harry Potter and none shall be harmed…you have until midnight.
Neville turned wide eyes on his friend. Harry had been about to sacrifice himself. Neville had guessed what his old friend was planning to do when Harry had approached him on the castle grounds. Neville had watched as Harry headed off to the Forbidden Forest alone, and he had followed him. The trip through the forest had been dark and terrifying, stumbling along behind the sound of Harry's cloak dragging against the debris of the forest floor. At any second, Neville had expected to walk right into a Death Eater' ambush, or to encounter more of the eight foot spiders that had attacked the castle. Still, he had determinedly followed Harry directly to Voldemort's circle of followers and, in a burst of insane courage, had leapt out to meet the enemy face on, only to be blasted into a tree by some curse Voldemort had shot at Harry. Beyond a scream of denial, and an intense burning where the curse had hit him in the chest, Neville could remember nothing after that.
James watched from the doorway as Neville's face whitened by three shades. Whatever Poppy's two patients were discussing was obviously a shock. James moved forward once more, trying to help, but upon seeing his approach, the unfamiliar boy stiffened and Neville scrambled backward, trying to distance himself as much as possible. James already stopped abruptly. It unnerved him, the way the two patients stared at him, wide-eyed and frightened, but it was the thread of their conversation, that made him pause,
"…could you?" Neville sounded hurt. "We were fighting for you. Why would you just give up?" Harry's eyes darted around the deserted hospital wing, reminding James of a trapped animal.
"Could we not do this here?" Harry hissed. "We need to figure out what's going- I promise you can attack me once we know, okay?" He added as Neville opened his mouth again. Neville scowled, but agreed.
"Any ideas?" Neville asked, sounding calmer, though unappeased. "What happened after I blacked out?"
"I…" Harry cleared his throat. "You-Know-Who threw a couple curses at us. I held him off for a bit… even got his wand- well, his second wand" He added hastily, seeing Neville's eyes widen. "He has- well had- two. But there were too many Death Eaters around…we needed to get out, so I grabbed you and then there was this explosion of light…I dunno… and all of a sudden we were alone in the clearing."
"Where'd they go?" Neville faintly remembered that it was impossible to disapperate from Hogwarts.
"I dunno," Harry ran his hand through his overgrown hair, "I think the better question would be where we went?"
An idea drifted across Neville's memory, "You don't think we could be hallucinating, do you?"
"The thought did cross my mind," Harry admitted wryly. "Why?"
"My Gran used to tell me about these… spells the ministry would use on suspects…"Neville suggested hesitantly, "make them see things so clearly they wouldn't fight back."
"It's a thought…" Harry said slowly, "but why wouldn't they just kill us?" Neville shrugged helplessly."And why would they make us see things we'd know aren't true?"
"Okay…well we both can't be having the exact same hallucination."
"No, no," Harry assured him, "We don't have to completely rule it out but…" his furrowed his brow in thought as he trailed off. "They could be imposters… no. That just goes back to why they'd choose my dad, and why they wouldn't just kill us." Neville 'hmm'd in agreement.
"What?" James choked, forgetting himself. The two boy's heads snapped in his direction. Ignoring the way both boy's hands tightened on their wands, James moved forward, his voice sharp, "What did you say?" The two boys glanced significantly at each other, and the one whose name James couldn't recall opened his mouth.
"Well…" He took a deep breath, steeling himself for whatever he was about to say. But before he could begin again, the hospital wing doors burst open with a bang that made all three men jump. A red headed seventh year and his sister, both sopping wet and wearing quidditch robes, stood framed in the doorway, bending under the weight of their injured teammate, who they held between them.
"Madame Pomfrey!" Ron Weasley shouted. With some regret, James abandoned the conversation and rushed up the ward.