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On The Verge Of Happy Endings by WrenWinterSong

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understand

The love of a parent for a child is continuous and transcends heartbreak and disappointment. It exceed concern for life itself.
James E. Faust

4 May 1998

Neville had seen so much gruesome death, but the formality and casualness of Nancy O’Dell’s murder stabbed a fresh hole in his being, one that all the other bodies could not reach.

According to Proudfoot, the Auror whose desk Neville, Harry, and Ron had been crowded around all day, no incidents had occurred since the Battle of Hogwarts. Most Death Eaters that had escaped were easily found and brought in, but then a large barn owl had landed on Proudfoot’s desk and shattered that peace. The Aurors ran off, telling the three boys to stay put until further instruction.

Harry paced, Ron dog-eared parchment, and Neville sat still. They had discussed leaving the department and finding someone who would let them know what was going on and what they should be doing, but then one of them, usually Neville, would mention Proudfoot’s instructions not to go anywhere and they ended up sighing and looking around the empty room again.

After a half hour of waiting, the door of the Auror department burst open and the room filled with every Auror in the Ministry. Harry stepped out of the way, having landed himself in the center of the sea of desks in his restless pacing, as the Aurors marched to their desks and began scribbling furiously with their quills. Proudfoot returned to his seat, and Harry rushed over to where he belonged. “What happened?” he asked in a hushed tone before he even tucked in his chair.

“Walden Macnair took Sylvia Fawcett hostage in Diagon Alley. We were able talk him into letting her go, but then he killed Fawcett’s friend, Nancy O’Dell, before we could stop him,” Proudfoot said mechanically as he waved his wand. A filing cabinet banged open and a folder flew out and onto Proudfoot’s desk.

Recognition dawned on Harry’s face, but Neville was still having trouble recalling those three people. The most contact he’d had with the Death Eaters was during the Department of Mysteries scuffle and the Battle of Hogwarts, but there were so many there and no time to ask them each their name before they dueled. And Sylvia Fawcett, Fawcett, Fawcett… the name rang enough bells in Neville’s memory that he knew she had attended Hogwarts, but just as a face was shimmering into his mind, surrounded by straight fair hair and large dark eyes, a photo landed on Proudfoot’s desk of a girl with curly black hair and light gray eyes. As for Nancy O’Dell, he saw in her profile that she had gone to Hogwarts a few years ahead of himself, she was even a Gryffindor, but he did not recognize her rosy cheeks and golden hair at all.

And now she was dead.

Neville watched Proudfoot put together the murder file as the Auror explained what he was doing without ever looking away from his task. “Every case has its own folder with a number. Any dark wizard’s file has their case numbers listed along with a brief summary. With a case like this, with two dozen witnesses, half of which are Aurors, it’s open and shut in less than an hour.” More and more papers sailed from the other Aurors’ desks and into the folder as Proudfoot wrote out his own witness report. As each of the Aurors finished their own report, they left the room, off to the next case with little thought to Nancy O’Dell.

“This file will contain anything specific to this case,” Proudfoot continued. “All witness reports and other evidence, any victims and their profiles, all spells used by the suspect and the Aurors, the status of the suspects.”

Another Auror walked into the office space with a thin stack of papers that he placed inside the folder. “They all say the same thing,” he said before leaving the room again.

Proudfoot nodded before continuing. “Normally, everyone on the case would read all the witness reports, but in a case like this, one pair of eyes is usually enough. Savage is a trusted and experienced Auror. He’d have mentioned any inconsistencies.”

The door opened again to let in the Head of the Auror Department, Williamson, whom Neville, Harry, and Ron had met briefly that morning. He approached Proudfoot’s desk just as Proudfoot dotted his last sentence.

“Everything’s in order,” Proudfoot said as he set the last piece of parchment on top of the folder and handed it to Williamson. “Just needs your signature.”

Williamson nodded and signed, seeming to have not read the words on the parchment at all. He returned the folder to Proudfoot and turned to leave. “Going to tell the family,” he said in a rough but not at all sympathetic voice. Neville wondered how many deaths you had to witness before it just became part of the job.

Proudfoot sent the folder back into the cabinet, which closed with a bang, and sent another paper toward a cabinet on the opposite wall marked with a ‘Dark Wizards’ sign.

“For each case,” Proudfoot continued, “the department decides on a leading suspect, someone we swear is the culprit. It’s not necessarily our decision on who goes to Azkaban and who doesn’t, but if the suspect decides against a hearing, our decision is final. The Wizengamot can always override us in a hearing though, which is why most dark wizards who are accused of crimes go for a hearing no matter the evidence against them, just for the chance of the Wizengamot dropping the charges.”

Neville thought about how smooth the process of this case went, everyone knowing their job and doing it without hesitation, without emotion. He recalled Proudfoot saying how they were rather short staffed at the moment since a lot of the ex-Aurors were on trials of their own for aiding Death Eaters, most notably the old Head, Dawlish. Neville could now see why this department had been so easily corrupted. These were men and women whose job it was to capture Dark Wizards, no matter what evils they witnessed on the way. After so much time, they had to become immune to the most gruesome of acts. Overall, a lot of the older Aurors had been stripped of their job, leaving behind a young group of Aurors who still had some sense of morality to them, and even they went about as if hostages and deaths were just a normal part of their day.

How could Neville ever fit into a place like this? If he had just witnessed a murder, he would have to vomit out all of his guilt at not being able to save that person before even thinking about it again. And then having to write out everything he saw? It would take him days, not minutes, to push through his feelings and write it all down. He knew he was going to fail at this job before he had even started.

“Now then, the Minster has arranged a meeting with all three of you at three o’clock, and I believe we’ve covered all we can for today.” He gathered three thick manuals that had been sitting at the edge of his desk since that morning and handed one to each of them. “These cover everything we went over today, probably in more detail than I did, so it would be helpful to at least skim them over while you're home. Tomorrow, you’ll be assisting in the field.”

Neville felt his stomach drop. So soon? He had been too honored by the position to turn it down, and maybe a little excited to be doing more than sitting at home with his grandmother, but he had thought they would at least have to do a week’s worth of training before they were let loose. Kingsley had not been joking when he told them he thought they were trained enough from the war.

“I’ll escort you to the Minister’s office,” Proudfoot said, standing up and gesturing for them to follow. He led them into the nearest lift and travelled to Level One. When the doors opened, Neville looked around at the floor, which was much smaller than any of the other levels he had been to. The corridor was not so much a corridor but a small room of its own with a secretary at her desk in the very center. The right wall contained a door for the office of the Senior Undersecretary and the left a door for the Junior Assistant to the Minister. The far wall had a small red door that had ‘Advisor to the Minister of Magic’ in silver lettering on the door, but it was dwarfed next to the large wooden door that said ‘Minister of Magic’ in impressive gold letters.

“Good afternoon, Glyhemia,” Proudfoot said as he approached the secretary desk. “I’ve brought Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Neville Longbottom for their appointment with the Minister.”

Glyhemia picked up a clipboard and read down it with her quill in hand. She checked something off, then looked over at the three boys, then back to her clipboard. “You’re two minutes late,” she said as she set the clipboard down and stood from her desk.

“It was my fault. I kept them longer than I should,” Proudfoot said, a tone of sarcasm in his voice.

Glyhemia shot him a glare, then ushered the three boys towards the Minster’s door. “See you tomorrow, boys!” Proudfoot called to them before going back to the elevator.

The secretary knocked on the door and opened it just a crack. “Your three o’clock is here, Minister,” she said through the small opening.

“Good, let them in,” Kingsley said from somewhere inside. Glyhemia opened the door for them and closed it as soon as they stepped inside.

Kingsley was standing in the middle of the room waiting for them. “Come, sit,” he said, gesturing to the three chairs that sat in front of his rather intimidating desk. The wood was black and gleaming and embellished with gold, but just the size of the desk made Neville nervous. It stretched from nearly one end of the room to the other.

As they took their seats, Kingsley poured them each a cup of water, then sat down behind his desk. “I wanted to take the chance to ask how the day went,” he said. “I am no longer directly involved in the department, but I want to make sure the three of you are treated as you should. Was everyone respectful? Kind? Some of the Aurors can be a bit abrasive at times.”

“They were great,” Harry said. “All of them, really. Proudfoot spent most of the day explaining laws and regulations and said we’d be out there with the other Aurors tomorrow.”

“Very good,” Kingsley said. “But only as long as all three of you feel prepared. I have enough confidence in your abilities to waive the normal training, but if you’d like to have more time to train, I can grant that for you. The dueling as an Auror, even an assisting one, can be rather vigorous.”

Neville was about to nod his head and ask for the extra training, but then he thought back to the last year and everything he had accomplished. He had never felt so proud to be his parents’ son. Where had all the confidence gone? He’d only spent a day with Harry and Ron and already he was feeling less capable than he had in months.

“I think we can handle it,” he said, speaking before he realized the words were coming out of his mouth.

If Harry and Ron were surprised by his conviction, neither of them showed it. They both nodded and agreed, Ron saying, “After this year, taking on a couple Death Eaters every day will be like a holiday.”

Neville chuckled at the comment, feeling his anxiety wane. The Auror manual in his hands no longer felt so heavy. He was going to be an Auror, like his mum, like his dad. This was his opportunity to prove himself to be their son. He wouldn’t let anything stall the moment.

“Very well,” Kingsley said with a proud smile. “I feel the Auror department will be nothing but improved with you three in it, even if you do decided to only stay temporarily.”

All three boys relaxed in their chairs at Kingsley’s note of confidence, but Neville glanced at the black and white clock on the left wall. It was nearly three thirty. He knew he still had plenty of time to make it to St. Mungo’s to visit with his parents, but he still worried about not having enough time to tell them everything about his first day as an Assistant Auror.

“I’ll be sure to check in with you, if not together than separately, some time tomorrow,” Kingsley said. “Aurors can get a little carried away with their job and forget that not everyone has been in the department for years, so always speak up if you feel you are being left behind.” He stood up and led them to the door. “I can have Glyhemia escort you to the Atrium if you wish.”

“I think we can manage to find it on our own,” Harry said.

“Very well, I’ll see you boys tomorrow.” Kingsley shook each of their hands as they filed out into the corridor.

After the office door closed, Glyhemia whipped her head around to watch the boys with a steely gaze as they walked towards the lift. “Afternoon,” they each muttered with a nod as they passed her desk. Her eyes didn’t leave them until the lift doors had closed.

“Good thing the Aurors are more pleasant than that secretary,” Ron said, leaning against the wall in a more casual manner than he had all day. With just the three of them in the lift, they all relaxed, slouching their backs and shoving their hands into their pockets. They had adopted a proper stance in front of the Aurors that they could finally let go of.

“Except that Williamson,” Harry said. “I don’t think I saw him crack a smile all day.”

“I doubt we’ll ever really see him much, being the Head of the department and all,” Ron said. “He won’t have time to deal with us newbies.”

“I feel bad about Nancy O’Dell and Sylvia Fawcett,” Neville cut in, unable to shake the death from his mind.

Harry and Ron’s smiles disappeared at the reminder, and they looked solemnly at the floor. “It’s hard to remember there’re still Death Eaters out there,” Ron said. “Felt like it all kinda ended when Riddle died.”

“But it didn’t, did it?” Harry said. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Right,” Ron said, shuffling his feet.

The rest of the lift ride was quiet. When the doors opened again, there was too much of a crowd for them to talk and be heard. Ministry workers were coming and going so quickly that the people only seemed to appear for a second before disappearing into a Floo or behind a lift door. The flow of the crowd was slowed because of the construction on the fountain in the center of the atrium. The entire thing had been removed, but a group of artistic-looking witches and wizards were constructing a new one. So far, it just looked like a lump of gold, but Neville could see them bending and molding the shapeless blob with their wands so that it moved like clay.

As they reached the fireplaces, Ron stopped and turned to Neville. “I nearly forgot, but Mum asked me to invite you round for dinner. Your grandmother too. If you want.”

“I’ll ask Gran,” Neville said, “though she hasn’t been in lately. She’s spending a lot of time with the rest of the family, celebrating. My family can be a bit… rowdy at times.”

“Haven’t you been celebrating with them?” Harry asked.

“I’m not one for their kind of parties,” Neville mumbled, fearful of being judged as the scared, quiet boy who hid in the dorm room when the common room became too much after a winning Quidditch game, but Harry and Ron nodded in understanding.

“Well, see you tomorrow then,” Harry said, patting Neville on the back before heading into the fireplace. Ron disappeared after him, and Neville took a moment before leaving, remembering something he had forgot yesterday. He meant to drop by Sugarplum’s Sweets Shop in Diagon Alley to buy some Droobles Best Blowing Gum, but it was a Sunday and the shop would be closed.

Neville had been unable to visit his parents all year. He had been planning for this day since the end of the Battle, even more so after Kingsley offered him the Assistant Auror job. And while he was more excited than anything to tell them he was following in their footsteps, he knew his mother would be more interested in the Droobles gum that he planned on having, like he always had.

Gran hated that he supplied his mother with Droobles. She had despised Alice’s constant chewing, or so she told Neville, and how she used to pop it behind her teeth. Neville didn’t know if she still had the habit, or if she even chewed the gum at all. Whenever he visited, she was never chewing a piece, and he knew that the Healers there were strict on his parents’ diets. He didn’t even know if he was allowed to give his mother the gum or if the Healers let him as an exception. But his mother returned a wrapper to him every time he visited, so the gum had to go somewhere.

Neville stepped into the fireplace and flew off to his home. He stepped out into the small living room and looked around for any sign of his gran, but she probably hadn’t been expecting him to come back before dinner time. His gran wasn’t one to hang about the house.

He went to his room first, rustling through the drawers and the closet, fishing through pockets. Then he moved to the kitchen, rummaging in cupboards in the desperate hope that he’d spy a glint of pink. He knew before he started that his efforts were useless. He would just have to go to St. Mungo’s empty-handed.

The walk to the front of St. Mungo’s took only a few minutes, though the path had become a lot more exciting. The London streets were bustling with witches and wizards in robes, some stumbling around in a firewhiskey stupor and others waving around their wands like sparklers. A man in neon green robes grabbed Neville’s shoulder. “Haven’t you heard, my boy? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead. For good, this time. You should not be frowning, the dark times are behind us!” He clapped Neville on the shoulder once more before bustling over to a pair of Muggles who looked quite bewildered.

Neville didn’t know whether he should intervene or not, but then he saw a wary Obliviator following a few steps behind. He started approaching Neville and, thinking quickly, he pulled his wand out from his pocket, held it up for the Obliviator to see, then remembered that there were Muggles around and pocketed it quickly. The Obliviator nodded his head and hurried passed Neville. He thought about offering his help, he was an Auror now after all, but he didn’t think an overjoyed, loose-lipped wizard counted as dark.

He continued down the sidewalk into a less populated area and approached the glass front of the department store. He looked around for anyone watching but, as normal, the few people milling about were too absorbed in their own business to pay attention to his.

Stepping through the secret entrance, he stopped as he took in the empty reception room. He could hear the Welcome Witch flipping through her magazine from across the room. Never, in all the years he had visited the hospital, had the place been this empty.

As Neville walked up the stairs, he could hear bustling and muttering behind the closed door, which only became louder when he reached the Fourth Floor. Of course most of the patients would have suffered spell damage, like in the first war, like his parents. He brushed away the thought and concentrated on reaching the Janus Thickey Ward.

Healer Dayley greeted him on her way out with a large smile that Neville returned as best he could. He preferred Healer Dayley to her predecessor, Healer Strout, who had had a casual way about her and never seemed entirely competent. Healer Dayley, at least a decade younger, fit into her role with much more confidence and ease. Neville could go to her for anything.

“The waiting room is rather empty,” Neville said, hoping for an explanation.

“We’re taking in a lot of emergencies,” Healer Dayley explained, which made sense. Emergencies wouldn't be waiting. “There’s been a lot of dark magic going around. We’ve lost so many.” She kept her composure even as her voice wavered. “I wish I could stay and chat, but I must go.” She patted Neville on the shoulder and rushed off.

Neville went into the ward, looking at the bare walls. He thought they would have put up some festive decorations, but then he wondered if anyone had bothered to tell these patients about the final fall of Voldemort or if they even knew that there had been a war happening at all.

Gilderoy Lockhart snored from his bed, possibly from a Sleeping Draught to keep him from wandering about the hospital with Healer Dayley too busy to babysit him. Agnes Parker looked up from her bed as Neville passed, then buried her fur-covered head beneath her pillow with a soft whine. He thought of her son, who he had only run into once, and hoped that he visited her at least as often as he visited his own parents.

In the back corner of the ward, his parents were both sat in their beds. His father didn’t notice his presence and continued scribbling nonsense symbols on a piece of parchment that he leaned against his legs. Neville often found his father desperately writing out what the Healers figured were letters since when Healer Strout tried introducing them to their old owl, Gwen, his father had thrown an entire pile of parchment at her and attempted to shove a rolled up letter into the owl’s mouth. Of course, that was one of the stories that his gran had told him, so he couldn’t be sure how much truth there was to it. Neville could hardly imagine his father getting out of bed let alone holding down a full grown owl and forcing its beak open.

Neville tried to read the scribbles on the parchment, but he doubted that even a skilled code breaker could decipher the meaning. Instead of frustrating himself with the task of understanding his father’s ink scratchings, he turned to his mother, whose eyes stared at the far wall but didn’t focus on anything in particular.

He walked across her line of vision, having to wave a hand in front of her eyes a few times before she blinked rapidly and turned her dark brown eyes on her son. “Hi, Mum,” Neville said, sitting in the chair that sat beside her bed.

As usual, his mother’s reactions were slowed, her eyes following his movements a few seconds after he moved. A hesitant smile graced her face half a minute after his greeting, her eyes losing some of their cloudiness and glimmering clear with a hint of recognition. She held out her small hand towards him, palm up in expectation.

Guilt squeezed Neville’s chest and, though he tried to swallow it down, it squeezed itself up his throat and choked him. “I’m sorry,” he said thickly. “I don’t have any today.”

His mother didn’t understand his words and kept her hand out, prepared to wait like that for hours until Neville handed her the little pink candy that he always gave her.

Healer Strout had explained to him once that, although complex thoughts were beyond his parents, routine and traditions could help them make connections. She had been the one to suggest he bring something with him or wear the same thing every time he visited, so even if his parents didn’t know that he was their son, they would be able to recognize him as the boy who visited them often. At seven years old, Neville only had a single Droobles gum with him at the time, a special treat from his gran because it was his birthday. He hadn’t wanted to give up his candy to the strange woman in front of him, but as soon as his mother spied the candy, she held out her hand until Neville gave up the special gift.

And here he was, ten years later, without the one thing he had to feel connected to her.

As the seconds ticked by, his mother continued staring at him, glancing down at her hand every once in a while as if to check if the gum had appeared yet. The guilt kept pushing itself into Neville’s lungs and forced tears from his eyes. The one thing he had managed to remember for over a decade, and now, when he was supposed to feel more accomplished than ever, he had let down the most important person of all.

In desperation, Neville grabbed her hand, hoping it would be enough to replace the gum. “I’m an Auror now, Mum. Aren’t you proud?” he said, hoping for some kind of reaction, some kind of acknowledgement that this was what his mum had wanted from him. Instead, she looked down at his hand curiously, cocking her head as if trying to figure out how the hand would become the gum she so desired.

His head felt too heavy with the need to have a different past, a different path for his parents, one where they could hug him and kiss him and tell him how proud they were that he was growing up to be just like them. He leaned down until his forehead crashed into the bedsheets beside his mother. “It doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “I could sell socks or become Minister of Magic, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

He clung to his mother’s hand and buried his face into her side, craving for her understanding, for her healing, but nothing happened.

Then he felt a hand on his head. He thought it must be Healer Dayley coming to check on him, but when he lifted his head, he saw his father standing on the other side of his mother’s bed, one hand patting the back of Neville’s hair and the other holding out a silver, triangle-shaped pendant. No, it wasn’t a triangle, it was a silver ‘A’… an Auror badge. The name [i]Frank Longbottom[/i] was scrolled along the bottom.

With a shaky hand, Neville reached towards the badge, unsure if his father was actually doing what Neville thought. His fingers gripped the silver ‘A’, and his father let go. Neville couldn’t concentrate on the badge, though. He was too focused on his father, who had never been so lucid. Most times when Neville visited, his father ignored his existence, too engrossed in his letter-writing. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had looked into his father’s hazel eyes. Neville hadn’t even realized the badge had slipped from his fingers until his mother took her hand out of his and held up the ‘A’.

Neville watched her take in the badge, then she was rummaging in her night stand, leaving her husband’s badge on the sheets. Neville’s mouth hung open, never seeing his mother move with such speed and determination before.

After dropping quills and pictures and handfuls of Droobles wrappers on the ground, she finally pulled out a badge that was identical to Neville’s father’s except for the name at the bottom.

She stared at it for a long time, and as the minutes passed, Neville thought she might look at it for the rest of her life, but then she turned her gaze back to her son. With slow, unsteady hands, his mum pinned the badge to his shirt, poking him a few times in the chest before she got it secured. Then his father grabbed up his own pin and, reaching across the bed, clipped it on the other side. The little A’s hung sideways on the fabric, but it didn’t matter. Neville had never felt this close to understanding his parents, to having them understand him.

It was almost like a real conversation but better, because they were his parents and he was their son, and no one could communicate how proud they were like Frank and Alice Longbottom.
Chapter Endnotes: Hope everyone is enjoying the story so far. Only two more chapters to go! As always, reviews are greatly appreciated :)
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