CHAPTER EIGHT -- Neville's Nightmares Harry jolted awake and gazed around at the curtains of his four poster, wondering what had woken him. The grey light filtering through the cracks in the curtain indicated that it was just barely dawn. From somewhere to his left, he heard a moan. It sounded like Neville. Reaching through the curtains, Harry grabbed his glasses from his bedside table and slid his feet down onto the cold floor. Quietly he got up and walked around to Neville's bed. All the boys' curtains were drawn, and from the deep breathing and heavy snores, he assumed they were all still asleep. Neville moaned again, this time mumbling something. Harry could hear him tossing and wrestling with his bed clothes. His curtains were slightly open, and Harry tilted his head to peer through the opening. Neville's round face was covered in beads of sweat, his hair sticking to his forehead. Harry realized at once that something was wrong. "Stupefy!" Neville muttered. "No! Not you! Harry!" Harry started at hearing his own name. Neville fought against the blankets futilely and moaned again. "It's her!" he moaned, "It's her!" Harry reached out and gently shook Neville's shoulder. Neville woke with a great snort and batted Harry's hand away as he drew back in surprise. "Wha? Harry!" he said hoarsely. "You were having a nightmare," Harry said quietly. Neville groaned and put his hand up to his forehead as he sat up. He ran his hand through his hair making it stand completely on end. "Sorry," he muttered. Harry shook his head dismissively. "Are you OK?" he asked quietly. Neville looked up at him with a look of such consternation that Harry felt almost sorry he'd asked. Just then Ron snorted loudly. Neville looked around as if remembering where he was. "Yeah Harry," he said unconvincingly. "I'm fine." Harry didn't quite know what to say. It was obvious that Neville didn't want to talk about it, but he didn't feel like he should just go back to bed. Besides, they were both wide awake now anyway. "You want to go down and see about some breakfast?" Harry offered awkwardly. Neville gave him a grateful look. "Yeah," he said, "that sounds good." The two boys dressed quickly and walked silently out into the common room and through the portrait hole down towards the Great Hall. Neville walked stooped over with his hands jammed deep into his pockets. Harry was desperately curious about the dream in which he'd had a cameo, but he decided not to press the issue. They walked into the Great Hall, and Harry marveled at how empty it was. A lone Slytherin sat at the end of his table munching on toast, and Professors Sprout and McGonegall were at the staff table having tea. Harry and Neville slid onto the bench and two plates appeared in front of them, followed by bowls of eggs and porridge and racks of toast. Harry helped himself, but Neville just stared at the food as though he'd forgotten what to do with it. "Harry," Neville said finally, "you have nightmares sometimes, don't you? I mean, normal ones, not like... you know..." Harry nodded, not sure where Neville was headed. "Do you ever have nightmares about what happened last year? At the Ministry I mean?" Harry stopped adding sugar to his porridge and turned to look at Neville. His face was pale and his eyes were large and wide with dark circles under them. "All the time," he answered truthfully. "I see Hermione being cursed, I see the Death Eaters chasing us, I see Sirius..." His voice seemed to dry up as his throat constricted painfully. Neville stared down at his empty plate. "I see Sirius too," he said. "I see him fighting with her..." Harry frowned, but then realization dawned on him. Neville was talking about Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius' cousin. The one who had been fighting with him. The one who had stunned him and sent him through the veil. The one, Harry realized, who fourteen years before, had tortured Neville's parents. "You ran after her," Neville said suddenly. "I wanted to. I wanted to go with you, but I --" Harry found he couldn't look at Neville. He wanted to tell him that he'd tried to catch her, tried to hurt her for what she'd done to Sirius, but Neville plowed on. "Harry," he said, his voice shaking, barely above a whisper, "I wanted to h-hurt her! To k-k-kill her!" Harry looked up finally and met Neville's eyes. He'd never seen them look so hard or cold. "But I couldn't!" he said finally. He dropped his head in defeat. "I couldn't either," Harry replied. Neville looked up at him, his eyes bright. "I tried -- for what she'd done to Sirius, but I... She said I didn't have it in me." He fought down the taste of bile in the back of his throat at the memory. For a long while, they were silent. "I don't think I really ever hated anybody before," Neville said finally, his voice calmer, steadier than before. "But when I saw her, and I realized... I hated her." Harry nodded, slightly taken aback at the strength and tone of Neville's voice. Neville stared at his plate again, worry and consternation etched on his kind face. "Do you think that makes me -- I don't know -- a bad person?" Harry laughed humorlessly. "If it does mate," he replied, "then count me part of the club. I hate her too." Neville nodded. "And Voldemort," Neville said firmly. Harry glanced over at him, slightly shocked. He'd never heard Neville say his name before. "I hate V-Voldemort too." He looked at his friend out of the corner of his eye and realized that Neville had changed a lot in the last year. Of course, they all had, but somehow he'd failed to notice the chubby boy growing taller and leaner and less awkward. His voice had changed too, not just in timber, but in its steadiness and quality. Harry was surprised to realize that the Neville sitting next to him resembled much more the focused, determined man Harry had seen glimpses of in DA meetings last year, and much less the timid bumbling boy he remembered offering to fight him their first year to prevent him from sneaking out. A few more people had started filtering into the Great Hall by now, and a quiet chatter had grown up around them. Harry looked up and spotted Hermione hurrying towards them. Neville followed his gaze and stood up suddenly. "I think I'll take a walk, Harry," Neville said, his eyes pleading with Harry to keep silent. Harry nodded solemnly. He wouldn't tell Neville's secret. Hermione waved at Neville as he passed, but he barely even looked up. She slid into a seat across from Harry with a puzzled expression. "You two are up early," she said. "Is Neville OK?" Harry nodded, stirring his porridge. "Oh, I'm so excited to get our schedules!" Hermione babbled on. "I decided to drop History of Magic, did I tell you that? I wasn't too happy about dropping anything, but I could only fit ten classes into my schedule, so..." Her voice trailed off as she realized Harry wasn't listening to her. "Harry?" "What? Oh. History of Magic, right." She smiled wanly. "What's on your mind? You look pensive." Harry frowned. "Have you noticed -- I think Neville's changed a lot since last year." Hermione gave a little shrug. "We all have, Harry," she replied. "I don't just mean, getting taller --" "No, I know what you mean." She paused and put on a brave smile. "Face it Harry: fighting Death Eaters might be old hat for you, but it was a very new experience for the rest of us." Harry noticed Hermione's eyes looked a little bit bright. "I should never have let you all come with me," he said, angry at himself all over again for exposing his friends to danger. Hermione gave a forced little laugh. "Let us?" she scoffed. "You couldn't have held us back if you tried! In fact, I think I recall that you did try, rather unsuccessfully." Hermione stared down at her plate before speaking again, and when she did, her voice trembled slightly. It’s not your fault, Harry. Not what happened to us or what happened to Sirius…"I won't pretend that we were prepared for what it meant to go with you, Harry. All I know is that it was the right thing to do." Harry frowned, pushing around the lumps of his porridge with his spoon. "But it wasn't the right thing to do, was it? I mean, I was so convinced that I was going to save Sirius, when really..." his voice trailed off. He found that Hermione was looking at him again, solemnly. "I know that nothing anyone says is going to change your mind, Harry, but you can't blame yourself for Sirius' death. It wouldn't do anyone any good even if it were true, which it isn't." She put her hand out across the table and took his. He met her eyes, and they shone with earnest. "I know I made some comments last year about you liking to 'play the hero,' but I don't want you to think that I regret... anything. Looking back on it, I would help you again. We all would. Because helping you, believing in you... I know it was the right thing to do, Harry." Harry didn't know what to say. Just then Ron came into the Great Hall looking sleepy and grumpy. Hermione quickly pulled her hand back across the table away from Harry's. "What's all this then?" he demanded as he sat down at the table. "Who thought it would be funny to go off to breakfast early without me? Ten minutes I waited for you guys!" Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just eat your breakfast, Ron." Ron squinted at her, but started ladling porridge into his bowl. Harry was glad for the comfortable silence that followed. Hermione had given him quite a lot to think about. As the house tables began to fill, Professor McGonegall and the other heads of houses walked up and down the tables handing out schedules. They looked very different from previous years. For one thing, the classes were all longer, and for another, none of them were denoted as "double" classes -- meaning they would be shared by another house. "Are we just going to have all these classes to ourselves then?" Harry asked, confused. Hermione shook her head. "After OWLs, fewer people take each class, so all four houses have the classes together." "I've got three afternoons off each week!" Ron shouted triumphantly. He glanced over at Harry's schedule. "What about you?" "I've got Friday afternoons off," Harry replied. "The other days I'm in Potions." Ron said nothing. "Hey, I've got Occlumency too!" Hermione took his schedule and looked it over. "It doesn't say with whom," she noticed. "I wonder if Snape --" "No way," Harry said fiercely. "If Dumbledore thinks I'm going back to Snape for Occlumency lessons, he needs to think again." "Occlumens are really rare, Harry," Hermione chided. "It's not as though he could just get anybody to teach you." "Then he can do it himself," Harry replied with a shrug. "Because I'm not going back to Snape. Ever." Hermione frowned, but didn't immediately reply. "Well," she said finally, "we'd better get going if we want to make it out to Herbology on time..." Her voice trailed off as she gazed out across the Great Hall. "Come to think of it," she said abruptly, "it looks like it might rain, so I think I'll go get my cloak. Ron, why don't you walk with me?" Ron looked up, surprised. "Er... Yeah, OK," he replied, blushing inexplicably as he grabbed a couple of pieces of toast and shoved them in his pocket. "Well, I'll come --" Harry began. "That's OK Harry!" Hermione said quickly as she hurried away. "We'll just see you in Herbology!" Harry frowned after them, wondering why Hermione was suddenly so keen to-- "Morning Harry," came a hesitantly cheerful voice. Comprehension and appreciation dawned on him as he turned to see Gwyn walking over from the Ravenclaw table. He silently blessed Hermione's sense of timing as Gwyn dropped down onto the bench next to him. "Hi," he said, grinning like an idiot. "So, what classes do you have today?" Gwyn asked, pointing at his schedule. "Er... Herbology, Charms, and -- ugh -- Potions," he replied pulling a face. Gwyn expression turned to outright relief. "Oh thank gawd!" she exclaimed seriously. "I was afraid I was going to spend the whole day looking for my classes instead of attending them. This place is insane. Someone really ought to make a map..." Harry grinned broadly. Life was suddenly very funny. "Yeah!" he replied enthusiastically. "Well, come on then, I'll show you how to get to the greenhouses." They crossed the Great Hall together, and Harry could feel many pairs of eyes on them, but for once, he didn't think people were staring just at him. They went through the huge main doors and out into the grounds. Hermione had been right: the sky was slate gray and big drops of rain were falling intermittently all around. Harry led the way around to the left and down the hill towards the Dark Forrest, pointing things out as they went. "That's the Whomping Willow. Nearly killed me and Ron our second year when we crashed his dad's car into it... And there's Hagrid's hut! He's our Care of Magical Creatures teacher." "Is he the, uh, really big guy that said hello to you at the train station?" Gwyn asked, a little apprehensively. "Oh yeah," Harry said with a chuckle. "But don't worry; he's harmless. Mostly…" As they made their way to the greenhouses, Harry caught sight of a knot of sixth years all at the doorway to greenhouse three. Hannah Abbot and Ernie Macmillan were standing off to one side, and Harry was surprised to see them holding hands. And then, to his horror, Harry saw Draco Malfoy and his thugs Crabbe and Goyle advancing on Neville. Harry quickened his stride and without explaining, left Gwyn far behind. "I heard my Aunt Bella took quite an interest in you," Malfoy was saying as Harry approached. "Seems she saw quite a family resemblance -- something in the way you twitched and screamed..." Neville's face was unhealthily red as he glared at Malfoy, his wand clutched tightly in his fist at his side "Tired of picking fights with me already, Malfoy?" Harry shouted, trying to draw attention away from Neville. "Or are you just tired of losing?" Malfoy whirled around and Crabbe and Goyle took a step towards him, menacingly. "Ah," Malfoy said smoothly, running his hand through his white blonde hair, "the great Harry Potter arrives. Have they added 'Longbottom's Body Guard' to your Chocolate Frog card yet? Only a matter of time, I suppose..." Harry reached Neville and gave him a meaningful look, but Neville shook his head. "He's gone too far, Harry," he muttered darkly. "All right there, Harry? Neville?" Ron called, hurrying across the grass with Hermione in his wake. His face was flushed and his wand was drawn. "Oh look, Potter," Malfoy sneered. "The cavalry's arrived. Too bad your army's made up of Mudbloods and weasels." Unexpectedly, Malfoy's vicious snarl turned into an oily smile as he looked at something over Harry's shoulder. "Gwendolyn!" he drawled smoothly, walking up to her. "We meet again!" He took her hand in his own and kissed it. "Hello, Draco," Gwyn said. Harry, Neville, and Ron all turned to stare at her, and Harry felt his blood begin to boil. He made to step forward, and this time it was Neville who held him back. "Tell me," Malfoy continued in his buttery slick voice, "has Potter been bothering you?" Gwyn smiled slightly. "Not at all," she replied. "Actually, he was just showing me to class." Malfoy shot Harry a very black look. "Had I but known," he intoned obsequiously, "I would have offered to escort you myself. You see, I was hoping to renew our acquaintance. Your father whisked you off so quickly that I didn't get a chance to thank you properly for the dance we shared." Harry's stomach churned. Dance? he wondered wildly, What dance? Just then, Professor Sprout came bustling around the corner jingling a fat ring of keys. "Sorry I'm late," she said brightly. "In you go now, we've got lots to do!" "Saved by the bell, Potter," Malfoy smirked as he pushed past Harry and Neville, Gwyn's arm looped through his. He walked to the greenhouse door and held it open, smiling at Gwyn. Gwyn glanced over at Harry, but he just stared at her, feeling betrayed and confused, so she walked past him into the greenhouse. Harry looked over at Neville who was still blinking rapidly and gripping his wand rather tightly. "You know, Harry," he said in an eerily calm voice, "I think I hate him, too." Harry frowned blackly. "You and me both, mate!" he growled. They were the last ones into the greenhouse. Inside, the air was warm and damp and smelled strongly of earth and dragon manure, Professor Sprout's preferred brand of fertilizer. The rain which had been threatening decided to fall with earnest, and the fat drops began to drum rhythmically on the glass roof. "Partner up please!" Professor Sprout commanded merrily. "We've miles to go today, so be quick!" Gwyn made to move towards Harry, but Harry quickly sat down at a potting table with Neville. Gwyn looked at him confusedly as she was forced to partner up with Malfoy. "Harry," Neville said quietly as Professor Sprout started lecturing, "when are you going to start up the DA meetings again?" Harry shrugged. He hadn't really given it much thought. "But, you are going to do it again, aren't you?" Neville pleaded softly. “Harry?” Harry looked at him, seeing that the cold hard edge to his stare had returned. "I need you to teach me how to fight." Harry strode quickly out of the greenhouse and into the rain as soon as Professor Sprout had dismissed them, with Ron and Hermione struggling to keep up. "You can't be that eager to get to Charms..." Ron said as he dropped his book bag in the mud and struggled to pick it up. "What's the rush?" Hermione was holding her robes protectively over her own book bag when she caught up. "What do you think, Ron?" Hermione asked scathingly as she gestured over her shoulder to the greenhouses, where Malfoy was once again holding the door for Gwyn. Harry clenched his fists. Just then, however, Gwyn broke away from Malfoy and came running towards them. "Harry!" she called. "Harry, wait!" Harry turned and started back up the hill without Ron and Hermione. He could hear her jogging up behind him. She was gaining on him. Half of him wanted to break into a run, and the other half wanted to stop and talk to her. Luckily, he didn't have to decide. "Harry!" she cried, catching up to him. She pushed him hard in the arm and sent him staggering off balance. "Didn't you hear me shrieking my head off back there for you to wait?" He glowered at her. Her hair was beginning to drip with the rain and her fierce blue eyes were trained on him with a mix of anger and confusion. "Yeah, I heard," he replied tersely. "I also heard Draco Malfoy talking to you like he was your best friend. In case you hadn't picked up on it, Malfoy and I don't really get along." Gwyn glared back at him. "Well, maybe you were busy being too much of an ass to notice, but Draco Malfoy and I don't really get along either!" Harry frowned at her. Ron and Hermione came trudging up the hill behind them. "That's not what it looked like from where I was standing!" Harry retorted. "I don't care what it looked like!" Gwyn shouted. "Do you think I like having him drool all over my hand and make creepy remarks all the time? It's revolting! I think Draco is about the smarmiest guy I've ever met! I can't stand him!" "Well neither can I!" Harry shouted back. Gwyn gave him an exasperated smile. "Then what the hell are we fighting about?" she asked. Harry frowned. "How do you even know Malfoy?" Hermione asked cautiously. Gwyn turned to look at her, wiping strands of wet hair from her eyes. "We met at some gawd awful Ministry function my father dragged me to a few weeks ago." She turned back to Harry. "One of the hazards of being the daughter of a diplomat is that I have to make nice with all of Daddy's important friends. Unfortunately for me, that meant I had the dubious pleasure of being introduced to the only other person my age there: Draco Malfoy." "And you had to dance with him?" Ron asked, making a disgusted face. Gwyn nodded, still looking at Harry. "That doesn't mean you have to be nice to him now!" Harry retorted. Gwyn put her hands on her hips. "Apparently you weren't paying attention, Harry, or does dumping a load of dragon dung in someone's book bag pass for nice around here?" Ron snorted loudly and then attempted not to look amused. Harry continued to glare. He wasn't sure what to think. "What can I do to convince you?" Gwyn asked with a little laugh. "Do you want me to go beat the crap out of him?" She looked at him anxiously. "Because I would do that for you," she added with a mock sincere nod. Harry's expression relaxed and Hermione gave them a little smile. "Come on," she said, making her way up the hill again, "Let’s go inside where it's dry! We'll show you where the charms classroom is." A/N: Thank you SO much for all the reviews! A special shout out to Sophie Weasley and Agatha O'Grady -- you guys are the BEST and I am so flattered by your reviews! Please don't stop! Also, thanks a million to my beta, Sean.
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