A Rare Descent
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
Sylvia Plath, "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"
The books were halfway down the stairs and still going by the time he picked himself up, but at least Malfoy's laughter was fading away too. Neville blinked hard a few times, sighed, and trudged down to collect his books. He'd be late for class. At least it wasn't Potions this time.
His head was aching again by the time he managed to get up to the Divination classroom. The incense seemed to go straight to his stomach every time he took a breath, sickening-sweet.
"Neville dear, please do try and remember to leave a bit earlier when I tell you you're going to be late," Professor Trelawney said.
He blushed and nodded without looking up. He tried, but he could never remember whether she'd warned him or not. If only he could, maybe he wouldn't keep bumping into Malfoy or Crabbe on his way over. It was just his luck that they had Summoning at the same time.
"Psst!" He looked over. Ron Weasley rolled his eyes at Professor Trelawney and made a face. Neville choked down a giggle, sneaking a quick glance to make sure the professor hadn't noticed. Ron and Harry were so sure she was a fake, but she was always right predicting what was going to happen to him.
Now she had started them on using long plant stalks and funny-looking foreign coins to get fortunes with something she called the I Ching. He liked holding the smooth, dry stalks, feeling the etched patterns on the coins, but that didn't help with the classwork. He did exactly what she said to get the hexagrams, but he could never figure out what they meant once he had them.
The hexagrams made no sense today either. This time he had two of the same kind, two broken bars on top of a solid one. His textbook said it meant a decisive moment was coming, but he couldn't think of any important ones. Exams were still weeks away, and the Spring Dance was already over. He sighed and eyed Parvati Patil, sitting at the next table over. She always came up with the best stuff. Maybe if he had a minute he could ask her to give him some hints quick.
With Parvati's help, he managed to come up with something about a moment of truth helping him to stop being late to class when Professor Trelawney called on him. She moved on to Parvati and Lavendar pretty quickly, and he gratefully slumped in his chair and let his eyes drift shut. His head hurt a lot. And Potions was right after lunch.
"Neville?" He jerked and opened his eyes. Had he fallen asleep? The classroom was empty, and Professor Trelawney was peering at him through her glasses with an expression of concern. "Neville, I must tell you, the Fates have been giving me some hints that all is not well with you."
"I-I'll go see Madame Pomfrey," he said, scared. He didn't really want to know what Professor Trelawney had seen about him.
She nodded seriously. "That would be an excellent idea. Run along now, dear, and be sure you remember to give yourself plenty of time before the next class."
He nodded so frantically he got dizzy, but he managed to get out of the class without her telling him anything more about his future.
In the infirmary, Madame Pomfrey poked and prodded him for a few minutes, examined his throat and peered into his eyes, then shook her head. "I don't see anything the matter with you, Neville," she said.
"My head hurts," he told her. "And Professor Trelawney said something was wrong with me."
Madame Pomfrey's eyes got narrow. "Oh, did she." Neville wondered what he'd said as she straightened up and took her gloves off. "Make sure you eat properly tonight and get a good night's sleep, Neville. There's nothing wrong with you that won't cure. Now you'd better hurry—you have class soon, unless I mistake the time."
He looked at the time and scrambled off the infirmary bed, grabbing his bag. Even running, he barely made it to Potions on time, and now he hadn't had any lunch. He dropped his bag on the floor and sank into his seat, puffing.
"You missed lunch. Are you all right? Quick, get out your workbook, he's going to give us measurements for the fire breath potion at the start of class today," Hermione whispered to him. She already had her things set up on the lab bench, of course, two pens lined up next to a notebook full of her neat handwriting.
He yanked his notebook out of his bag, and half the pages fell out, along with a pen that had been stuck inside. He grabbed for it too late—it rolled off the end of the table and landed right on Pansy Parkinson. Neville stared numbly with the sensation of impending doom as ink spread rapidly over her robes.
"You—you stupid, clumsy—! " Pansy was on her feet looking furious. "You did that on purpose!"
Malfoy looked over, eyes narrowing, and then the worst happened—Snape came down the aisle.
"I'm sorry," he managed in a whisper, "It was an accident." His head was hurting worse than ever.
"I find it difficult to believe even you could have accidentally flung a quill across the lab bench, Longbottom," Snape said icily. "Twenty points from Gryffindor, and you will be staying after class to prepare a stain removal potion."
Hermione twitched, but he shot her a quick pleading look, and she didn't say anything as Snape swept back up to the front of the class. "It's not fair," she hissed at him.
"He'll just make it worse if you argue," he whispered back hurriedly, still trying to find a clean page to take notes on. He turned to rummage through his bag for an extra pen and found Malfoy glaring at him.
"You're getting off easily, Longbottom—but only for now," he whispered. "You need a lesson in manners."
Neville swallowed and looked away. Malfoy was bad enough when he wasn't being serious about it. It was times like these that he couldn't help wishing he were better at magic, or maybe just bigger and stronger. It would be so great to just pound Malfoy some time... but even if he did get to be bigger than Malfoy, he'd never be able to take on Crabbe or Goyle. He'd just have to stick close to the other Gryffindors until Malfoy got bored and left him alone.
He jerked his attention back to the class. Snape's magical chalk had already covered half the blackboard with ingredients and he couldn't catch up before it went back to the beginning and started writing over things. Hermione gave him a quick comforting wink, and he sighed a little with relief, knowing she'd let him look at her notes. Hermione was the best. Without her he'd have failed Potions for sure. He still didn't know how he was going to get through the O.W.L. for it at the end of the year.
With her help, he carefully measured the verbena and foxglove into the cauldron, then started adding the five drops of dragon's blood, one after another. Then his head stabbed with pain again, and by the time it had passed, he couldn't remember—had he put in three, or four? He looked back at the cauldron. Dragon's blood was the important ingredient—if he'd left out a drop, it wouldn't work. But if he put in an extra drop, maybe it would do something bad... he shrugged helplessly to himself and put in two more. It was one or the other.
By the end of the class he thought that for once he might have gotten lucky. His potion was the same color as Hermione's, and bubbling just like hers—it might have been a little thicker, but that couldn't make that much difference, and anyway Hermione's were always the most perfect.
"Very well. All of you try the potions now—just a sip. We will begin with the back of the class. Potter!"
Neville looked over as Harry swallowed a little of the potion, then coughed and spat out a small jet of orange-red flame.
Snape looked sour. "The flame should be bright yellow with touches of orange and red," he said. "Too much verbena, Potter. Weasley!"
There were only four other students before him. Malfoy went just before, his flame a blaze of yellow with glowing red streaks. No orange, but Snape merely nodded and said, "Excellent," before calling out, "Longbottom!"
Neville took a nervous breath and took a sip. It burned his throat, hot and angry, and he choked and a blast of fire shot out his mouth, colors and heat coruscating wildly in front of his eyes, pounding at his head until they suddenly vanished with a hard thump and he found himself staring up into Hermione's scared face, on his back on the floor.
The hallways were dark by the time he got out of the infirmary. He'd missed dinner too, and his stomach made noises that sounded loud to his own ears. He was tempted to sneak down to the kitchen and ask the house-elves for a snack. But his hallway pass from Madame Pomfrey flashed red when he hesitated at the stairs, and he sighed and started climbing up towards the Gryffindor tower.
He stopped halfway to the first landing, shivering suddenly. Malfoy was lounging against the banister, tossing his wand lightly in one hand. Crabbe and Goyle were flanking him, and as he stared, they both cracked their knuckles.
"I do hope, Longbottom, that you didn't think you were going to get out of your punishment by faking that illness," Malfoy said softly. His wand was glowing faintly, and the light reflected eerily in his eyes, blue-green-white flickering that made Neville dizzy all over again.
He groped for the railing and clung to it with both hands. It felt like his head was going to explode. What kind of spell was Malfoy casting on him? "Stop it," he managed, not caring if he sounded like he was begging. It hurt so much! Tears squeezed out from the corners of his eyes.
"You can just stop faking it, Longbottom," Malfoy said.
Neville didn't bother trying to answer. He couldn't look away from the reflections in Malfoy's eyes, even though his head was spinning and the rest of the world was going black. Everything was fading—he couldn't feel the stairs under his feet anymore, couldn't feel the railing, couldn't feel his body. There was nothing but the light, coming closer, and something broke free and rose out of the sickening whirl in his stomach, heading for the light.
He clamped his jaw shut. He didn't want to let it out, if he let it out it would never go back in, he knew it, but he couldn't bear the pain and the light was right over him now, and the words were beating against his clenched teeth, flailing in his throat, and he opened his mouth and let them out, and then he was gone, falling falling falling.
There was a spider building a web in the corner of the infirmary ceiling. Neville watched it for a few minutes, sleepily, and then the strands of the web started to mean something. He quickly looked away, trying to find something safe to look at, and found his grandmother sitting by the side of the bed.
"Gran?" he said, confused. "What are you doing here?"
She lifted her head quickly and gave a little gasp that was like nothing he'd ever heard from her before, and then she leaned over the bed and hugged him so hard he could barely breathe. "Neville! Oh Neville!" She was crying.
Madame Pomfrey came hurrying into the room, looking worried, and then broke out into a smile. "You're awake!" His grandmother settled back down in the chair, carefully wiping her eyes with her handkerchief as Madame Pomfrey bustled around, propping him on pillows.
"What happened? Was I asleep? I fell down?" He was having a hard time remembering. He'd hurt himself in Potions class... but he'd left the infirmary after that, hadn't he? And—"Malfoy!" he said suddenly. "He was on the stairs!"
Madame Pomfrey paused in pouring out some water for him, then pressed her lips together. "Yes, and he's still got detention for it," she said decisively. "You could have broken your neck, having... it come on you there like that."
He almost asked what she meant by 'it', but something told him he'd regret asking. He took the glass of water she held out to him and drank it all instead—he was really thirsty. And hungry too. "Can I have something to eat?" he asked, finishing the glass and holding it out for more.
"I've sent for broth and some bread," Madame Pomfrey said. "You'll have to eat carefully until your stomach gets back to normal."
He couldn't help asking anymore. "What's wrong with me? Am I sick?"
Madame Pomfrey hesitated, glancing at his grandmother.
"He'll have to know sometime," Gran said, sounding more like herself again. "Neville, do you remember what happened to you on the stairs?"
"No... not really," he said, uncomfortably aware that that wasn't really true. He remembered the light. But if he thought about it, he started having that odd feeling again, like looking at the spiderweb, and he didn't like it.
"You had a vision," Gran said, and he blinked at her.
"You mean like Divination?" he said, uncertainly. That didn't make any sense. He was awful at Divination.
Madame Pomfrey made a snorting sound. "Not like what you learn in that class," she said. "You're a true Seer."
He looked at Gran, bewildered, but she was nodding. "It's—it's dangerous for an untrained Seer to have visions," she said, her voice wavering a little. "You collapsed, and no one could wake you. You've been unconscious for three days."
"Three days!" He couldn't believe it. It didn't feel like he had slept for three days. But the soup came then, and he had to change his mind as he wolfed it down—it did feel like he hadn't eaten for three days. The bread tasted so good it was hard to eat slowly like Madame Pomfrey kept telling him to, and even though he knew Gran was watching, he couldn't eat neatly—he had to keep closing his eyes so the swirling broth didn't start telling him things.
As he was finishing, the door swung open and Dumbledore came in, smiling. Neville dropped his spoon into his soup and nearly spilled it all over himself. Gran reached out and took the tray away as Dumbledore pulled up a chair.
"How are you feeling, Neville?" he asked.
"I'm fine," he said, nervously. He'd never talked to Dumbledore before, though he knew Harry thought he was the greatest. It was a little scary talking to a wizard that even You-Know-Who was afraid of.
"We've explained to him that he's a Seer, Headmaster," Madame Pomfrey said.
"How do I stop?" Neville blurted, unable to stop himself.
Gran looked surprised. "Stop? Neville, it's one of the rarest gifts! There hasn't been a Seer in our family for eight generations."
Dumbledore just nodded. "I know it can be frightening to have a power you do not expect suddenly come into your hands," he said gently. "It is a great responsibility."
Neville looked down at his hands, keeping them closed so he couldn't see the lines on his palms. "I can't stop seeing things," he whispered.
"You will gain control over your visions with time," Dumbledore said. "If you avoid looking at patterns for now, that will keep them from coming over you."
"Headmaster, do you have someone who can train him properly?" Gran sounded severe as she asked it. "I will not have his health risked at the hands of that Trelawney woman—no, Neville, be quiet," she said, when he would have protested. "She is a charlatan and if she has ever had a true vision, I will eat my hat."
Dumbledore looked at the hat perched on her head with the stuffed vulture glaring down and smiled broadly. But all he said was, "I will train him myself. Will that do?"
Gran looked startled, then embarrassed. "I didn't mean to suggest—"
"I know," Dumbledore said. "I was intending to do so anyway. It is best if a Seer is trained in privacy."
"Does that mean I don't have to go to my other classes?" Neville said, hopefully. If he could get out of Potions...
Dumbledore smiled again, but shook his head. "No one expects a Seer to be skilled in any of the other arts, but it is best if you at least have an understanding of the basics. After the O.W.L.s, then we will see." He rose from his seat. "Now, I will leave you to get some more rest. You need not go back to classes until Monday."
Gran stood up also. "And I should be getting back home before your aunts and uncles tear apart the house." She waited until Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey had left the room, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I am so proud of you, my dear," she whispered quickly, then hurried out of the room.
Neville just sat still, too surprised to think, and before he could collect his thoughts Madame Pomfrey was back with more food.
Neville screwed up his courage. He'd come this far, after all, and it was the perfect opening. He wished briefly he could just take a peek and see what would happen if he did, but Dumbledore had already explained that visions didn't work that way. It didn't seem like all that much use so far, but everyone was all excited about it anyway.
He gulped and pushed open the door to the Slytherin Quidditch team's locker room. Everyone else had left to go celebrate—Slytherin had just beat Hufflepuff 350-20—but Malfoy had hit the ground, catching the Snitch, and gotten covered with mud. That had given Neville the idea of coming back and catching him alone.
As he stepped in, he heard the shower turn off, and in a moment Malfoy stepped out with a towel wrapped around his waist, drying off his silver-blond hair with another. Catching sight of Neville, he stopped short. "What do you think you're doing here?" he snapped. "I ought to get the rest of the team in here—" He reached for his wand.
Neville almost retreated. Malfoy wasn't going to tell him anyway—but it was the only chance he'd get to find out. He couldn't ask in front of the other Slytherins Malfoy was always hanging around with. "I wanted to talk to you," he blurted quickly. When Malfoy paused, he hurried on, "I want to know what I told you."
"What are you talking about?" But he looked uneasy, and Neville pressed harder.
"When I had the vision. I said something to you. What was it?"
He could almost see the wall go up behind Malfoy's eyes. "Oh, please," he sneered. "I could hardly be bothered to remember some pack of nonsense you babbled while collapsing in front of me. Now get out!"
Neville backed out of the room hastily, giving up.
"I really want to know," he complained to Hermione later. The Gryffindor table was subdued at dinner—their chances of taking the Quidditch cup this year had been pretty well flattened by the huge Slytherin victory—and most of the others had already gone back to their common room. "I'm the one who said it. I have a right to know, don't I?"
She shrugged, sipping some more pumpkin juice. "Look at it this way—if it was something good, he'd be telling everyone about it. Everyone already knows you're a real Seer. So it must be something bad if he's not bragging about it."
That cheered him up somewhat, and when he glanced over at the Slytherin table, Malfoy's odd, distracted expression did so even more. Even if he couldn't remember it, at least it made Malfoy unhappy. With that consolation, he pushed it from his mind and went back to his dinner.
"He hasn't told you, Severus?" Dumbledore crossed the staff room, carrying a steaming cup of tea, and settled in his favorite chair.
Snape shook his head. "No," he said. "And if he had, it would undoubtedly have been in confidence," he added pointedly.
Dumbledore shook his head. "I would like to know what Neville Saw, but I'm more concerned that Draco hasn't told anyone about it. Pomfrey says he was almost hysterical when she got there, but he wouldn't say anything more than that Neville made a prophecy."
Sitting down opposite him, Minerva McGonagall tucked her feet up under herself, very much like her alternate feline form. "How is Neville doing?"
"Very well," Dumbledore said. "Almost alarmingly well."
Snape sniffed. "I find it difficult to credit the idea that Longbottom could possibly do well enough at anything to alarm anything larger than a mouse."
"I am not joking," Dumbledore said sharply. He appreciated more than anyone the sacrifices that Severus had made, but occasionally Snape's automatic bitterness did grate on even his nerves. "He is the most powerful Seer in our lifetimes. By a great margin."
Minerva set down her teacup. "But surely that is a good thing? Having a Seer of such ability can only help against—" she waved her hand.
"That is what is alarming," Dumbledore said. "The great gifts come when they are needed. We have already discussed the implications of Hermione's talent. Now this."
"I still think you are all exaggerating her abilities," Snape said. "She is a dedicated student, I grant you that—"
"We've argued this out before," Minerva interrupted.
Snape shrugged irritably and dropped it. "What difference does it make?" he said. "We don't need a Seer to tell us what is coming. We will use whatever we have at hand when it does. He will prove you right or wrong soon enough."
They all fell silent, knowing the truth of the words, and Dumbledore stared into his cup sadly, seeing the tea leaves stirring. Learn quickly, Neville, he thought. Learn quickly.
Many thanks to Cathryn for beta-reading!
|All feedback much appreciated!|
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