“Per – ma…um…Per – ma –…” The boy trailed off. “Gran, what does that say?”
“Permanent, dear,” said Augusta, taking her grandson’s hand and leading him away from the sign. “Come on Neville!”
“But Gran! What does it mean?”
Augusta was silent as they walked into the ward.
The air was musty with a disinfected hospital smell that Neville hated. He hated the whitewashed walls and grimy windows. He hated the rusted bedsteads that made empty, hollow sounds when tapped.
“Mrs Longbottom!” The Healer spotted them and hurried over. “Hello Neville,” she smiled, handing him a Chocolate Frog wrapped in plastic packaging. He could feel the shape of the card inside and longed to see if it was one he hadn’t yet collected, Flamel or Cliodna. But he knew he couldn’t open it here, he always had to be on his best behaviour when in St Mungos.
“How are you today, Neville?” asked the Healer, kneeling down to his level, still smiling.
“Okay,” mumbled Neville, staring hard at the floor. He could never understand why everyone was so nice to him here. He’d visited Mum and Dad every week for three months (Gran would never let him come before) and each time he came, everyone would glance his way. People here seemed to smile at him an awful lot, and he couldn’t understand why.
They took their seats around the two beds. The room was even darker as the yellow-green, dusty light was shielded by yellow-green curtains that had been drawn around them.
His mother grinned when she saw him. “Neaooo!”
Neville smiled uncertainly. “Hi Mum.” On the other side, his father rolled up the sleeves of his checked pyjamas clumsily and thumped his duvet. “Aeoo Narroo!”
The Healer backed out, saying, “They’ve been great today. Really great.” She smiled at Neville whilst behind him, his grandmother frowned. “They’re improving a lot!”
“Yes – really!”
“Does that mean they can come home soon?”
The Healer and Augusta exchanged worried glances. “Well, perhaps not yet
“But I want them to come home soon! I want to show them my new room that Uncle Algie painted for me. And I want to show Dad my new Quidditch posters – doesn’t Dad like Quidditch? Maybe he can play with me when he gets better! We could go out to the orchard, and he could teach me how to play properly - ”
In front of him, Frank turned and banged his pillow against the wall, scattering feathers.
“Neville,” his grandmother said gently. “Perhaps they won’t be home for a while.”
“But when? They’ve been here for ages! When people get ill they get better after a week, not months or years! Maybe it’s the hospital - if we just take them home they’ll get better! I know they will!”
Augusta smiled sadly at her grandson. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple, pet.”
“But when will they come home? It’ll be soon, right?”
“I don’t know, pet. I’m afraid I don’t know.”