Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Darius paused before entering their room. Harry wasn’t there. It looked as if no one had ever inhabited that corner of the room. His bed was perfectly made, the sheets tucked in and the pillow plumped. Harry was rarely there anymore.
But no—that wasn’t true. Harry had been there the day before, reading a textbook for class. He wasn’t there today, however, because he was visiting Theodore and Rosa. Darius suspected that right about then Harry was pushing aside his homework (homework that he used to help Harry with, not Theodore—but could he really compete with a college professor?) for a dinner cooked by Rosa.
Rosa, Harry told him, was a fabulous cook, always pushing him to eat seconds (and thirds, if he could manage). Darius hadn’t met her, not for any longer than the few seconds it took for Harry to introduce him before he was whisked away for a day trip to the zoo, but she had looked almost pretty, in motherly way, and Harry was enamoured.
Harry wasn’t spending much time with him anymore. And that was why Darius hadn’t been overjoyed to hear Harry say he might be adopted. Because that would mean he would move out of the shelter, on to a better life and leave him behind. Darius would have no place in his new life.
Darius didn’t want that.
That’s why he clung harder to Harry now, asking him to walk to the library with him, picking him up each afternoon from school, delaying the end of chores. Harry didn’t seem to mind, or even notice, really.
And there were benefits for Harry in being adopted, Darius couldn’t deny that. The other day, after Darius had disappeared from the shelter for several hours while Harry visited his prospective parents, he had returned to find Harry nearly bouncing in excitement.
“Darius!” Harry had been smiling broadly and Darius couldn’t stop a mirror smile from spreading across his face.
“How was your visit? What did you do?” The couple had seemed excited when they had showed up that morning. Rosa had kept exchanging glances with her husband, small smiles on their faces.
“We visited an optometrist! Theodore said that I kept squinting when I was reading and he wanted to have my eyes checked out. He said that eyes can change over the years—he wasn’t happy when I said that I’d only ever had one pair of glasses.”
“And what happened at the optometrist’s? Are you getting a new pair of glasses?”
Harry nodded. “Uh-huh. They’re being sent to Theodore and Rosa’s house and they look great! They said I’ll be able to wear them the next time I go over to their house.”
“That’s great Harry.” Darius was happy for Harry, he really was. But they had done something, provided something that he had wanted to give to Harry. He had been close to doing that, too.
“What did you do today, Darius?” Harry turned his twinkling eyes towards him and Darius tried to restrain his emotions from showing on his face.
“I had a job interview with Peter’s Grocer—I told you about that a few weeks ago, remember?” Harry nodded. “Well, they contacted me through Mr. Benoglio and we set up a time to meet. They decided to hire me.”
“That’s great!” Harry’s eyes brightened, but then he scrunched up his nose. “Wait—when will you be working?”
“Don’t worry—it will only be for a few hours in the evenings. I’ll have the weekends off and I’ll still be able to spend plenty of time with you.”
“Are you sure?”
Darius had smiled. The money he was earning with his job was being held safely by Mr. Benoglio (he had been unable to secure a bank account as of yet) and could be spent on other things. Perhaps Harry had a book he yearned to get his hands on or—Darius shivered as he stepped back outside, wanting to release some of his excess energy through physical activity—some gloves to keep his hands warm in the cold.
A cool breeze whistled past Darius, who clenched his thin coat closer around him. The leaves were changing colours, turning brilliant reds and oranges and decorating the grey streets, and the sky seemed to turn darker each day. Winter was coming, and with it, Christmas.
Harry woke up the last week before the holidays with a searing pain in his head. He jerked upright, the blanket pooling around his waist, clutching his forehead. He stumbled out of the room and stopped. Where was he?
There was very little light to see by—only a dim glow from behind a half-shut door at the other end of the hall. The two other doors in the hall were shut and seemed impenetrable in the darkness.
Harry swayed as his head felt as though it was being pounded with a hammer from the inside. His vision was blurry and the light looked as though it was coming from behind two doors. He could barely think through the pain, but he vaguely remembered the painting on the wall as belonging to the Thompsons. Rosa had said that the vivid colours, painted in dashes and swirls on the canvas, helped to brighten the hall.
Right now it was just making him feel sick.
He pressed a hand to his stomach, trying desperately to repress the nauseous feeling. In the darkness the brilliant reds and blues looked grey and strained and the indistinct lines became one giant mass of goo. Where was the bathroom? It was his first time staying overnight with Rosa and Theodore and he didn’t want it to end badly.
With vague recollections of Rosa saying that she’d leave the bathroom light on for him during the night he staggered in the direction of the glow. As he neared it, the light seemed to encompass his eyesight and it caused the hammer to hit his skull even harder. He groaned, placing his hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to stop the rising vomit.
He heaved onto the hard floor, falling to his knees. The smell made his eyes water and he slumped against the wall. This was bad, this was horrible! They had told him that they were close to being able to call themselves his parents—Ms. Carter had approved of the placement. Harry was to move in with them within the week; his bedroom (Harry loved saying that) was furnished—he had just been sleeping in it. He didn’t have much to pack at the shelter and he wouldn’t be moving schools.
Everything had been falling into place. Rosa and Theodore would submit the adoption order to court as soon as he had lived with them for two weeks—that meant that in a month’s time he might have a permanent place here. In this house, with its large yard and gnarly trees, with its spacious kitchen and soft couches, with his very own bedroom. In this house and with this family so different than his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Dursley and number 4 Privet Drive.
And he had ruined everything, like he always did. Could he not do anything right? He had never been able to pick every weed in the garden, get each dish scrubbed perfectly clean. He had never been able to finish anything to his aunt’s satisfaction. The image of his aunt’s pinched lips and drawn eyebrows flashed in his mind, in between the thuds of the hammer.
He heard soft footsteps and looked up. He could make out his aunt’s pink night robe coming towards him and he shivered.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry,” he whimpered.
There was a small gasp and a soft hand touched his forehead. Harry could hear heavier footsteps coming and he twisted his head to see who was coming. He really hoped it wasn’t his uncle.
The figure that stepped out of one of the closed doors was too tall and skinny to be Uncle Vernon and Harry was confused. Aunt Petunia wouldn’t be stroking his back in a comforting manner like she was now, Uncle Vernon wouldn’t just be standing there—he would be ranting and enlarging himself like a purple whale and threatening Harry.
“It’s a good thing that we didn’t install the carpet in the hall like you wanted to.” The man’s voice was lower, calmer than Uncle Vernon’s.
“Now’s not the time.” But the woman’s voice wasn’t sharp or reprimanding. Their voices were loud though, and Harry groaned, clutching his head. His breath stunk, the vomit was disgusting, and his headache was cracking his head in two. He could feel nausea starting to swirl in his stomach again.
“Theo, could you go get the floor cleaner and a mop please?” A nod and the footsteps retreated. “Harry, dear, can you walk?” Harry nodded and immediately regretted it—his headache was still pounding his skull. The woman’s small hands helped him to stand and together they tottered back to Harry’s room, the woman supporting most of Harry’s weight. She laid Harry on his bed and smoothed his sweaty hair back.
“How are you feeling?” That was something that Aunt Petunia would never ask and Harry glanced at the woman. In the darkness of his room, his headache had subsided and he could now see the worry etched on Rosa’s face.
“Headache,” he whispered and Rosa nodded.
“You don’t feel hot, but should I still measure your temperature?” Rosa’s voice had quieted and she was muttering to herself. Harry didn’t bother to exert the energy to listen to her. He was so tired and his headache was still bothering him. “Should I ask you if you might still vomit? Can you even answer something like that? I don’t know if I could—isn’t it more of a spur of the moment thing?”
Harry buried his head into his pillow, trying to soften the pressure in his head. It wasn’t working.
Rosa seemed to make up her mind and her voice rose. “Harry? Do you think you’ll vomit again? Harry?”
Harry shook his head. He didn’t feel like he could speak at the moment. He could hear the sounds of a mop sweeping from the hall and imagined that he could smell the vomit’s sickly sweet stench disappearing.
“I’ll put a towel over your pillow, just in case. You have a garbage pail right beside the bed if you feel the urge. I’ll just go and get you some medicine for your headache. You’re still a child—it’s a good thing Theodore badgered me about getting some just in case. He did say that the majority of kids got sick every…” Rosa’s voice trailed off as she left the room.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. They hadn’t reacted like he’d thought they would. Maybe he hadn’t ruined everything. Maybe they would still want him. Maybe…
But he’d find out in the morning because at that moment he was exhausted.
Hermione turned around and huffed at the poor, out-of-breath boy behind her. “Come on, Neville. You can’t be out of breath already. There are a thousand more steps to go!” The boy gave her an incredulous look, but kept on walking.
“Hermione, dear, don’t you think you’re being just a little too harsh with him?” Her mum placed a hand in warning on her shoulder and Hermione’s shoulders slumped.
“I suppose. I’m sorry Neville.”
“That’s quite alright. Thanks for inviting me again, but, uh, if it’s alright with you I’d rather just sit here. I’m afraid of heights.” Neville quickly glanced to the side and his grip on the railing tightened noticeably.
“Why didn’t you say so before? Hermione can sit with you!” Neville looked very relieved before looking fearfully at Hermione.
Hermione opened her mouth to protest before shutting it with a snap. “Oh all right. Come along Neville—let’s see how many famous buildings we can spot from up here!”
Allowing himself to be tugged along, Neville looked back to see Hermione’s parents exchange smiles. He turned back just in time to see Hermione point excitedly over the railing, saying, “Look! Look- it’s the Arc de Triomphe!”
Hermione (and of course her parents) had invited Neville to visit Paris with them after hearing that he had no plans for the holidays, aside from lounging around his grandmother’s house. Hermione’s dad had confided in him that they were so glad he had accepted because “Hermione hadn’t had many friends at her previous school and they were thrilled that she had found someone in this strange new world.” Neville had been quite embarrassed after that speech and had spluttered something along the lines of it being his pleasure that he couldn’t remember now.
His grandmother, for her part, had had no complaints beyond questions about his safety, which the Grangers had quickly assured her of. In the privacy of their own home she had told him that his parents had been very worldly, travelling to four continents on their honeymoon. His father, especially, had enjoyed travelling and she had taken him each summer to a different country.
“Neville,” she had told him, “you’re behind. I haven’t been able to take you like I did your father, so you must seize every possible opportunity. Don’t ruin this experience for yourself. Enjoy it. Embrace it.”
Neville had been uncertain then and he was still uncertain now. What did he know of French foods and famous art and the language of romance, as Hermione had told him several times?
Later, after Hermione’s parents had descended the Eiffel tower’s stairs, Hermione had pleaded until they conceded about visiting Wizarding Paris. Neville felt less nervous about this because how different could wizarding cultures be until Hermione tugged him further away from her parents.
“I read that France was renowned for their training of warriors. Even now, their Auror force is one of the best in the world. That’s why I think he might be here.” She was speaking in a hushed voice and darting her eyes every which way, as if she was suspecting someone to be listening.
“Who? What are you talking about?” Neville was lost.
“Harry Potter, of course. He was supposed to be at Hogwarts this year, but he’s not. I asked Professor McGonagall about him and she said that Professor Dumbledore hadn’t told her. I’m assuming since Professor Dumbledore has been keeping it a secret from his Deputy Headmistress, that’s it would be something of great importance. I think that they would utilize Harry as a weapon, since he’s already defeated a wizard that no one else could. Now I’ve done a lot of research on this topic and it seems that France is the most likely place they’d send him for training, if he went outside the country.”
Hermione turned towards him, as if asking for his approval, and he nodded. He was dazed; he hadn’t thought about Harry Potter in years and he certainly hadn’t wondered about his absence from Hogwarts. Neville never had been very good with dates. However, this adventure at least seemed like it would take place from the ground and so he would reluctantly follow Hermione wherever she desired to go.
Her plan, as it turned out, was to ask her parents to book a tour of the Ministry. If there was to be any information about Harry, it would be there, she reasoned. Neville didn’t argue. He did, however, mention that tours of the British Ministry were very limited, sticking to the more public sections to avoid anyone from hearing confidential information.
The French Ministry had the same policy and though Hermione and her parents admired the swooping architecture and magnificent paintings that looked as though they would be more appropriate in a gallery at the Louvre, Hermione was unable to discover any scraps, any whispered conversations about Harry Potter.
Later, in their hotel room, she whispered to him, “It would most likely be in the more protected files, as they would want to keep it a secret. I didn’t really expect to find anything, but I thought it would be worth a try.” Neville was just glad she respected rules and authority too much to actually try to break into the Ministry.
If she wasn’t such a law-abiding citizen, Neville suspected that Hermione would be whispering to him about possible weaknesses they had and magical defenses they used.
He was also sure that the moment they were back within Hogwarts’ walls she would be in the library, searching for other answers and other methods to get answers—whenever she wasn’t doing her schoolwork, of course.
He had a strange friend.