Chapter 1 : Broken
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A quick Author's Note first, please. I've done a lot of work to this, thanks to the help of the reviews, specifically Elf_ears13 and ChizzaLazty's reviews (thanks!!), and now I think it's finally done. And thanks for your patience as I finished it. I'm still not sure how happy I am with it, I'll probably find typos or moments of description or what not that could be added...I'd like to hear what you think of it. Be as harsh and nitpicky as you want, I swear I can take it and don't feel like you have to sugar coat anything.
Okay. I'm shutting up now. Thanks!
On this ordinary rainy night, a boy was celebrating his sixteenth birthday, though it wasn't nearly as happy as one would think a birthday would be. There would be no dancing, no music, no cake, no friends... “A public display of senseless behaviour is inappropriate for a young man of sixteen,” according to his grandmother.
So instead, Neville Longbottom sat quietly in an uncomfortable chair twiddling his fingers anxiously. It was the same every time they came here.
He grinned shyly at the woman standing in front of him as she handed him a small piece of blue and yellow waxy papering. “For goodness sake, Neville, throw that away,” said a thin, graying woman wearing an ugly green cloak and clashing fox fur around her neck.
“Yes, Gran.” He moved toward the bin as ordered but instead, Neville pocketed the small bit of gum wrapper. It had become a bit of a game between this woman and himself—a game his grandmother never seemed to grasp—and, as usual, he looked forward to adding this latest wrapper to his collection at home. It was just a game, he always told himself, but even if she did not know him for who he was, he could at least pretend that her papery gifts meant more than just recognizing him from his visits.
He looked back to the woman who had handed him the blue and yellow gum wrapper. She was his mother, though Neville could find no genetic resemblance between her and himself. This woman, Alice Longbottom, bore no resemblance to the family pictures taken of her before she became a patient at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Her pictures showed a young woman of blonde hair, a round and pleasant face, and an incredibly shy smile. This was the Alice Longbottom that Neville resembled so much. He had never known this Alice Longbottom.
Instead, standing before him was a gaunt shadow of what Neville knew his mother had been at one time. Her face was thin, showing off sunken, hollow blue eyes. Her joints protruded at odd angles behind pallid skin that stretched too tightly over frail bones. Her smile no longer held the captivating shyness that it once had—replaced long ago with a smile of complete innocence. A smile a small child would possess.
Her watery blue eyes and complacent grin showed absolute lack of knowledge of the world around her, a naivety to the evilness that surrounded their daily lives. He looked back to his mother who smiled her innocent smile and he returned it. Apparently satisfied by his reaction, she went to sit on her own bed to play with a pile of recently shredded newspaper.
On the other hand, his father, Frank Longbottom, merely sat in an overstuffed chair and stared ahead at the nothingness that lay before him. He never moved, never talked, never acknowledged a person's presence. With his blank, unfocused eyes, he simply sat there like a rag doll.
Neville half-heartedly glanced back to his grandmother, who was looking utterly ridiculous in her usual vulture-topped hat. He hated that hat. At many points he had tried to burn it, only to be thwarted in his efforts by his own guilt over destroying something his grandmother apparently cherished. God only knew why. It couldn't be something normal like flowers or ribbons, or even the occasional precious gem. It looked to him as though they had found it in the field peacefully eating away at a dead rat, thought it would make a lovely ornamental piece, killed it and stuck it on the first thing they saw which happened to be a ratty wide-brimmed hat. And then his gran decided it would be a good idea to adorn her head with such an atrocity, a permanent reminder to all she encountered that death loomed above, watching them. People tended to think he was a bit off his rocker. They had obviously never met the elder Mrs. Longbottom, and he hoped they never would, if for his own selfish sake. Her proverbial rocker had tipped over long ago.
She vainly fussed over the state of his father’s unbrushed hair, trying to smooth it down while she talked about nonsense like the weather and made small talk with only herself. It was the same every time they visited.
Neville forced his mind away from St. Mungo’s and thought about what it was going to be like going back to Hogwarts. Now that the Ministry had admitted to the return of You-Know-Who, Dumbledore might be back and they may possibly have a decent Defense Against the Dark Arts professor this year. He would be starting his sixth year and be back with his friends again.
Then again, there were Draco Malfoy, the resident prat, and Severus Snape that brought his morale down a bit. Professor Snape, the Potions master could always be relied upon to make his school life positively miserable; and he wouldn’t even be taking Potions this year. Neville tried not to think of them. He looked forward to seeing Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna...Luna, as odd as she was, always managed to turn the most boring moments into something to be remembered. He also looked forward to the one class in which he proudly excelled, Herbology. He could barely cast an effective stunning spell, but he could take a dying Miglareminbus bloom and give it thriving life once again.
“Neville’s still at Hogwarts of course," hearing his name brought him back to the conversation his grandmother was having with herself. "Dueled with Death Eaters last month. You would have been proud of him, Frank. He helped Harry Potter—you know, Lily and James Potter’s son?" as if they would actually answer. After a small pause in her speech and receiving no response, she continued, "He helped them capture Lucius Malfoy and some of his lot. Neville still hasn’t told me the entire story but The Daily Prophet issued a formal apology to Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter himself. And Neville dueling that woman... You would have been so proud of him, Frank.”
Neville sat stunned. He had never heard his grandmother speak so highly of him. He had dueled “that woman”. Though not defeating Bellatrix Lestrange—the woman responsible for torturing his parents beyond madness, torturing them into existing in the minds they now possessed—he felt that not dying during the chaos was an achievement in itself, an achievement of revenge for the sake of his parents’ honour and lives.
“The boy is still just as clumsy as ever. He broke his wand and I swear he goes through more cauldrons than anybody I know.”
Neville sighed, knowing he couldn’t have expected the praise to last long. By now he was used to her talking about him as though he were not in the room. He attempted to return his attention back to his mother but was interrupted by none other than Gilderoy Lockhart. He’d stuck his blonde head through the thick, plum colored privacy curtains and was smiling toothily at Neville.
“Well, hello my boy!" He slapped Neville hard on the shoulder as he pushed the heavy curtains out of his way. "Back again I see?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied politely, rubbing the throbbing pain in his shoulder.
Lockhart came round front of him and Neville would have laughed if he were not already accustomed to this sight. He was wearing his fluffy light blue bathrobe that exactly matched the color of his eyes, a standard issue hospital dressing gown as usual, and pink foam rollers in his blond hair. “I suppose you want an autograph too, do you.”
Lockhart, ignoring his answer, took out an eight-by-ten photo of himself and signed the front of it awkwardly with a quill, and shoved it into Neville’s unwilling hand. With a hearty wink, he strode off in his light blue bathrobe and pink rollers, approached an unsuspecting trainee healer nearby and also presented her with an autographed picture. He gave her one of his hearty winks and her cheeks flushed a bright pink.
Neville looked down at the picture in his hand. Lockhart's was waving at him, smiling at him incessantly with that insanely bright smile for which he was so famous. His signature, if you could call it that, stood out in bright lilac. Neville had binned two other autographs just like it earlier today.
His mother had seen Lockhart enter but she took no interest in him as she seemed to have found her feet to be far more fascinating and had dropped to the floor to examine her toes as if it were the first time she had ever noticed them. This was nothing unusual, it was the same every time they visited. Gladys, a resident healer in this ward, usually painted his mother's nails bright colours, giving Alice something shiny to investigate as she explored this unknown territory. According to Gladys they had unfortunately missed the discovery of hands and fingers that had already taken place earlier that morning.
Looking out from the now open privacy curtain, Neville watched the young healer Lockhart had charmed being quickly chided by Allasea Vardamira--the head healer of the Permanent Maladies Department--whom she was assisting. Embarrassed by her acceptance of such flirtation from a patient, the girl hasitly threw the picture into the nearest dust bin and her previously flushed cheeks steadily grew more red by the second.
He was already familiar with the staff on the fourth floor--this girl was most definitely unfamiliar. Neville thought she was rather pretty, her dark hair had been pulled into a bun that was slowly making its escape from the bands that held it back. Her tradtional sage green robes of a healer in training were crisp and new and were a dead give away to the fact that she had not been here long at all; and being unaquainted with Lockhart and his hourly autograph rounds only served to confirm that this was the first time she had ever stepped foot in ward fourty-nine. And by the frazzled look on her face, she was possibly only into her first--or perhaps second--week of internship. It didn't look to him as though she was a third weeker.
By the second week almost all students became one of three options:
1. They were sacked for poor performance.
2. They realised that they were no longer in the safety of a classroom and the patients they were treating were actual people and not just words printed in text books, causing them to become unhinged under the reality of it all and quit.
3. Or they went on to their third week, buckling down into the pressure and becoming one with the chaotic hosptial.
He had seen enough student healers come and go from this place to know the difference between those who would make it in the medical field and those who wouldn't. This young woman still had emotion waiting to break her down, that much was clear.
And the frazzled look on her face that he had previously noted was only becoming more unglued as each second ticked loudly from the large clock hanging on the wall by the exit door. Neville could understand her position though, the permanent maladies ward usually had that effect on those unaccustomed to dealing with patients that were a bit cracked. And so knowing that her current thoughts must be centered around her shaky presence in this particular ward, Neville didn't know why he was surprised when there came a sharp barking from across the room from Agnes--a witch who had attempted a polyjuice potion with the hairs of a werewolf--and a loud crash as the terrified young healer screamed and jumped back, knocking over a tray of medical supplies.
Under normal circumstances, Neville probably would have laughed at this display of clumsiness, for he too was excessively clumsy. On no small occasion he had many times done much worse than a simple tray of medical supplies. However, this particular sound rang through the large room loudly like the cymbls of a large brass band and caused his father, who normally sat in his overstuffed chair as docile as a large lump of clay, to jump up and begin screaming at the very top of his lungs.
Hearing Neville's father scream, his mother drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her thin hands around her ears, shrieking in terror. Panicked by what was happening to his parents, Neville quickly leaped from his chair and lost his footing. He was falling and reaching for something to steady himself gave him a handful of fabric, bringing down the dark coloured privacy curtain with him and his hip and elbow met the floor painfully; the metal rods that held up the curtain rang with a hollow echo as they bounced and rolled across the floor. They were screaming...his mother was sobbing uncontrollably, rocking herself with her head buried between her knees and her arms covered the back of her head protectively--his father had dropped to the floor and was cradling his head, splurging a stream of incoherent pleas.
They were being tortured and Neville was a terrified three year-old little boy again, watching helplessly as his parents writhed in fear and pain on the sitting room floor of their former house. His mother's scream found words, crying out Neville's name, pleading with a black haired woman of the past to spare him, telling him to run. He was unable to take his eyes off the scene, unable to move, unable to breathe, frozen...the sound of the violence pierced his eardrums and memory, breaking his heart into a million cold pieces.
He felt pressure encircle his wrist, pulling him. Acting on instinct, he tried to wrench himself free but the fingers held tight; he followed the hand, up an arm and into the plump face of Gladys, the resident healer who cared for the ward. She shouted something that looked like his name and, "Get up!" as she pulled now with both hands on his arms. Agnes was barking madly from her bed, trying to chew through the straps that held her there. Lockhart was peeking timidly out at them from under his bed. Healer Vardamira and his gran frantically tried to return order but his father was violently throwing off their attempts to restrain him.
Neville allowed himself to be pushed through the large double doors and into the dingy white hallway, the doors closing behind them muffling the noise inside. Gladys held firmly to his arm, attempting to keep his attention on her instead of watching through the window and she forcefully twirled him around so his back was to the door.
"Frank and Alice will be fine, Neville," she sternly pointed a chubby finger toward his nose to keep his eyes trained on her and the calm words she spoke. "Don't you be worrying about them, they'll be fine. Give us a few minutes--" there was a loud clatter in the room behind him. "Oh dear," she said worriedly and hastily bustled past him, the screaming and barking growing louder and then softer as the door opened and closed with her.
Not knowing what else to do, Neville slammed his fist against the wall opposite him, leaving four very slight indentations in the discoloured plaster and a hand that throbbed painfully with every beat of his heart. Forcefully drawing his first real breath since the chaos began proved to be painful and shaky, doing no real good at the moment and he unsteadily dropped into one of the hard seats that lined the hall. Flexing his sore hand, he leaned down and rested his elbows against his thighs. He didn't know how long he had been that way and he sat undisturbed as he listened to the sounds beyond the door until he heard a soft sniffle from a few metres away.
The young healer had sunk to the floor against the opposite wall with her hands wrapped around her ankles and her brow rested on her drawn up knees. She sniffled again and used a finger to wipe away a tear that was traveling down her cheek. Her dark hair that was previously tied into a loose bun had completed its escape from the bondage of the band trying to hold it back. Leaning against the wall she looked over to Neville and offered him a watery lip curl that must have been the attempt at a polite smile. "I'm sorry," she said shakily, her voice cracking into a quiet sob, "I've made such a bloody mess of things."
It didn't take much more for Neville to realise that this was her moment of allowing the reality to break her. He dropped his eyes away from her to the hands in his lap. She was going to quit.
"I don't even know what I'm doing here," she threw her hands out into the open air and made a whimpering sound from somewhere in her nasal cavities. "Cor, I've screwed things up, haven't I? Done a right job, I have--I'll be sacked for sure now. Couldn't get much worse than causing two patients to scream like a couple of banshees, could it?"
"They're my parents," Neville said quietly and suddenly found his hands to be very fascinating, as though his mother had been right all along in finding her own body parts to be positively captivating.
"Oh god," she coverd her mouth with both hands and with her bright blue eyes the shape of saucers she immediately changed three completely different shades of red. "I'm so sorry," she managed to squeak out. "I--I didn't know--I saw you in there but I--oh bugger, I've gone and ate my feet again, 'aven't I? I'm so sorry."
" 'S'all right," Neville mumbled and shrugged his downcast shoulders. There was another crash from behind the doors and a deck of playing cards, liberated from the confines of their box, flew past the window in a flurry of red, white, and black.
"She tried to bite me, y'know?" the young healer offered, apparently shocked at such a thing happening. "I was just standing there and I wasn't expecting her to...bark and she came at me..."
"Yeah," Neville almost managed half a grin, "Agnes tried to bite me once. She usually does that to strangers and your being afraid probably didn't help any either. Next time, you've got to smack her on the nose."
The girl involuntarily snorted a sardonic laugh, "Yeah, if there is a 'next time' to have I'll definitely give her a good what for."
He felt himself smile a little and he sat back against his hard seat, feeling the ache in his hip where he'd hit the floor. The sounds inside the room had calmed down a bit--or at least Agnes wasn't barking anymore and he could no longer hear his father's howls of anguish.
"Name's Corby, by the way," she said as she stood to walk over and sit in the chair next to him, smiling pleasantly.
"Neville," he offered quietly. Saying his own name always felt odd, as though he should apologize for his lack of interesting introductions. He had never understood why the exchanging of names was a necessary part of conversation anyway. Certainly there had to be more effective method of introducing himself than making him bore everybody with his lame attempt to make his name known to strangers. Why couldn't everybody walk around with name tags?
He was pulled from his musings over the socially adapted person that needed a good thrashing for inventing such a silly custom when Gladys pushed open the double doors with a quiet creak and poked her round face through the gap. "Neville, dear, you can come back in when you're ready. Jenkins," she addressed Corby, "Healer Vardamira wants to see you in her office in about an hour," the matronly witch pulled her head back inside the room, letting the doors close after her.
After a brief and fairly awkwark pause Corby broke the silence with, "Fancy a cuppa then?" When Neville could only stare at her as though she was now fit to join the rest of the patients of ward fourty-nine she continued, "Cuppa tea? Don't know 'bout you but I've just had a really awful day which is most likely about to get worse, and had myself a lovely toe-jam sandwich by callin' your parents banshees, I could do with something to wash down this sodding foot taste," she smiled brightly at him.
Shrugging aimlessly, he stood and looked into one of the small square windows of the double doors. His mother was now lying down on her bed, playing with what looked like a bit of red yarn; his father was back in his overstuffed chair, looking every bit the limp ragdoll he had before. Healer Varadmira was busy talking quietly to his grandmother and seemed incapable of tearing her eyes from the vulture that stared down at her. It wasn't as though anybody would miss him if he left for a little while.
"C'mon, Neville," Corby said, sensing his hesitancy, "my treat, it's the least I can do after...well, y'know, after mucking things up so bad. Looks as though you could do with one as well, yeah?"
He was just about to agree with her when his mother looked up from her yarn and smiled her quiet smile when she saw him staring in through the small window. Neville turned back to Corby's expectant face and shook his head, "Nah, I gotta go in." To Neville's surprise she seemed disappointed as she averted her eyes to the manky floor and nodded her head slightly. "Next time though?" he grinned hopefully.
"Yeah, no that's fine--that's..." she shifted her weight onto her other foot, "yeah, 'next time'." She offered him a small grin before turning and walking away down the hall, "Hope there's one to be had."
He wasn't sure what exactly he had expected when he reentered the ward but he was surprised to find that everything seemed perfectly normal. Lockhart was losing a game of dominos to Gladys while Agnes chewed on a bright pink squeaker toy, his grandmother was still talking to Healer Vardamira in whispers. Except for a pack of playing cards strewn about the floor near the door and his mother's pale eyes that were now red and puffy from crying, it was as though nothing unusual had occured.
Noticing something moving at his feet, he reached down and picked up the autographed picture Lochart had given him earlier. He had hoped it would have gotten lost in the shuffle. Resisting the urge to rip the incandescent smile into a million pieces, Neville slipped unnoticed into the uncomfortable chair he had previously vacated during the commotion and resumed the traditional act of twiddling his fingers. His mother continued to lay on her bed with what was not yarn but a red and gold ribbon that a girl would use to tie back her hair. It was the ribbon he had brought to her during the Christmas holidays last year, red and gold for the Gryffindor house at Hogwarts that he and his mother were both a part of.
“Come, Neville,” his Gran’s voice suddenly broke into his watchful thoughts, “it is time for us to leave now. It will be better if we let them rest.”
Neville obeyed, kissed his mother and father on their complacent cheeks, and bid them goodbye until next time. He followed his grandmother past the heavy plum colored privacy curtains to the door but before he could walk out his mother leapt from her bed and ran up to him, threw her arms around him, and hugged him tightly. Neville’s eyes filled with unfallen tears as she stood there with her arms wrapped around his waist and his around her fragile shoulders. When she pulled away from him, he tried to find some sort of answer as to what had happened, but he found none. In her eyes was still the same blankness that was always there and her grin held as much child-like innocence as possible. She was showing him affection, though quite clearly not affection as a mother would to a son, but rather as child to an adult companion. It was just a game, he reminded himself as he swallowed back the lump that had forced its way into his throat.
“Come, Neville,” his grandmother repeated, though with a softer tone, and followed him out into the hallway. Seeing a small bin along the wall, Neville crumbled the picture Lockhart had given him and pitched it in as he passed. Instead of going in, it hit the rim of the basket and bounced out onto the floor. Frustrated with his useless thoughts of hope, Neville had to do this twice more before it would stay inside.
This was not what happened every time he visited.
Again, please feel free to rip it apart and be as harsh as you feel like being. Do you like what I did with it? Does it flow well? Do you like the plot line? Feel free to Brit-pick. Seriously. I want this to be good. Thanks, everybody!
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