Chapter 3 of 3
Willow wasn't sure at what point it was that she started to look forward more and more to that once a week visit to St. Mungo's, and not just because of the blonde haired witch waiting for her there. She knew in her heart, no matter how many twinges of guilt she felt over it, that she was looking forward to seeing Neville.
Their second visit together had been the turning point at which she could count him in her limited number of friends, she knew. It was then that they had begun to open up to each other. Then that they had started to share the inner workings of what made them who they were today. For instance, she had found that Neville hadn't always been the hard working Auror that he he was today. In fact, at one point he had been nothing more than a trembling young wizard with an affinity for goofing up charms and potions.
"It all turned around my fifth year," he had told her during one visit, as they played a rather interesting wizarding version of the popular Muggle children's game 'Candyland'. "It went down in the history books as the Battle of the Ministry. . ."
And he had been a part of that battle, and others, throughout his years at Hogwarts, all due in part to that evil snake Voldemort.
"Reminds me alot of when I was in high school," she told him during one of his more memorable trips down memory lane, involving a plot to rid the school of Muggleborn witches and wizards entirely. "We were always trying to save someone, sometimes the world." She had laughed. "Those were the good old days."
And he had laughed, and they had agreed together that their time in school had been second to none, both of them. Times were simpler, it seemed, when all you had to do was worry about saving the world and getting your homework done. It was the afterwards, when you had to get a job and face the hassles of the 'real' world, that things got messy. Living wasn't simple, it only masqueraded as such until you were too deep in to be able to get back out again. Those simple days of childhood would never be quite there again, though they could relive them in their memories.
Willow looked towards the doors of the ward, brow furrowing. She had been waiting for Neville for thirty minutes now. Not unusually odd, she supposed; except that they had made an agreement to be here at this specific time. One of the things she had learned about Neville early on was that he was rarely late. Something that his grandmother had instilled upon him early on. To be late was to be rude - and Neville was never rude. She glanced down at her watch. Another twenty minutes and then she really had to get back to work.
Maybe something had come up.
She was early the next week, hoping that Neville, too, would be somewhat early to make up for their previously broken time together.
But he wasn't there.
It was only when the doors swung open and closed, a mediwitch coming in with the patients' lunch, that Willow realized she had sat there for most of the day, just waiting. And still he hadn't shown. She bit her lip, trying to fight back the incessant sense of worry that had started to trickle into her mind. Something had happened, she was almost sure of it. Either that or --
Or maybe he wasn't interested in their 'time' anymore. He had wanted to date her, and she had put him off over and over again, feeling guilty because of Tara. Maybe he had finally given up and was coming to see his parents when he knew she wouldn't be around.
She sniffled once before catching herself. Neville wasn't that type of guy. If he was giving up on the little relationship they had built, he would have just told her to her face. None of this sneaking around nonsense that her imagination was coming up with.
So that just left the 'something must have happened' theory, which she honestly didn't like any better than the 'never wanted to see her again' theory. She stumbled off of the bed, giving Tara a goodbye kiss on the cheek before trying to stretch out the aches in her leg muscles. Sitting Indian style on a bed all day definitely did nothing for comfort, she concluded.
The mediwitch on duty looked up as Willow left the ward, a questioning look coming to her perky little face when the red head didn't immediately leave as she had done all other times.
"I was wondering if you could help me," Willow murmured, her fingernails tapping nervously on the desk. "Neville Longbottom usually meets me here once a week - and I havent seen him for two weeks now. Have you heard anything by any chance?"
The blonde mediwitch's eyes widened almost imperceptibly before dropping in sadness. "I thought you knew."
"Knew?" Her heart had sunk to somewhere in the vicinity of her shoes. It was thudding along wetly, with all the apparent life of something that was about to break.
"He's on floor three, dear."
Willow nodded dumbly, her feet propelling her in the direction of the nearest stair set. She was on the fifth floor, that meant he was two floors below - and the mediwitch hadn't made it seem like he was just 'visiting', either.
The stairs flew by beneath her feet as she stumbled down the stairs. She wouldn't cry yet, she told herself, not until she knew for sure --
The third floor was for injured Aurors and other Ministry officials, it turned out. She smiled bravely at the mediwitch at the desk, not feeling the calmness she was trying to exude in the least.
"Neville Longbottom, please." She whispered. For once brief second, as the brunette witch scanned her parchment, Willow found herself hoping that this was all some big mistake, that the mediwitch wouldn't be able to find Neville's name on her little chart.
"Third curtain on the right."
Willow nodded dumbly. She walked slowly down the aisle. The beds, for the most part, were empty. Most of the curtains weren't drawn, to give the few patients some sense of not being alone. Neville's, however, were. She pushed them aside slowly, her breath stopping in her chest. He looked so pale, just lying there amidst the crisp white hospital sheets. So unlike the warm glow of his skin that she was used to. There were others in the little curtain-cubicle, a brunette witch in Auror robes, and a red haired wizard in the same.
"What happened?" Willow questioned quietly, turning their attention to her for the first time. "I don't understand. . .we were supposed to meet. . .and then he didn't show up. . .and then again. . . What happened?"
The brunette's eyes widened considerably, glancing towards the wizard next to her. "I. . . mean. . .-we-, didn't know that Neville had someone --"
Willow shook her head. "No, no. We're not. . .I mean, he wanted to. We were working on it, you know. What happened?"
The red haired wizard cleared his throat, glancing at the injured Auror that continued to sleep on. "It was an attack. A rogue death eater hideout. Neville was hit. . . a few times. . ."
"He's going to be alright," the brunette hurried to assure her with a small, sad smile. "This is just a healing sleep. In another day or two he'll wake up and be just as good as ever."
"He'll be alright?" Willow muttered numbly.
"Yes, of course." The other witch nodded. "I'm Hermione, by the way. This is Ron. We're in the same division as Neville."
Willow felt herself nod. "He's mentioned you both before."
"Why don't you sit with him for a while." Ron offered quietly. "'Mione and I should eat some lunch anyway."
"Of course." The red haired witch reached out, placing her hand over one of Neville's. She didn't even notice or care when the other two left, her heart was still trying to catch up with this newest development.
She had nearly lost him.
Two days later, when she came in to check on him, she was met with warm brown eyes.
"Hey," she smiled with a sigh of relief. "You're awake."
"Good as new," he offered, though it was weak. "Well, alright - good as new in a few days, at least."
She laughed and, before she could second guess her actions, leaned over to hug him. "I was so scared." The tears that she had refused to shed before were coming now, dripping onto his neck.
"I'm fine, Will," he whispered, strong arms coming up to rest lightly on her back. It was an awkward hug, but it felt right to her. Like something that had the ability to be so much more, given half a chance. "It was just some of my bad luck from my school days carrying over."
Willow giggled around her sniffling, pulling back to stare at him. "Now I'm all red and puffy, right?"
"You look wonderful." He whispered, before turning a shade of pink that she had been almost sure men couldn't manage.
"You think?" She stammered, her own blush rising to meet his.
"Beautiful," he nodded.
"Oh, well. . .thanks." She bit her lip, looking away. It was flirting, she reminded herself. She knew how to do this. Interacting with the male species wasn't something that she'd had much practice with, as of late, but that didn't mean she had fallen into complete disrepair. "You're looking pretty good yourself. . .you know, in spite of everything."
He caught her eye, grinning openly, and it was as if at that moment that something finally just . . .clicked. She had almost lost him. She had been so busy being caught up in a guilt that she didn't have a reason to feel that she had almost lost someone that was actually pretty damn important, too.
"So," she whispered shyly. "You think we could finally go for that coffee when you're feeling better?"