"Should you maybe go get him?" Remus asked, glancing again at the large grandfather's clock next to the fireplace. The hands had barely moved since he had last looked at it, but Neville should have been back at around eleven. By now, the large hand had almost reached noon.
Draco bit his lip nervously. "I'd rather wait a bit longer," he said. "He wanted to do this on his own."
"I never should have allowed it," Augusta Longbottom said, glaring at the men around her angrily as if her grandson's continued absence was their fault. Even Severus shrank back a bit, and her eyes didn't soften until Teddy started to cry. "I apologize, young man," she said stiffly, and in a feat that none of the others would have dared in fear her house-elf, flicked her wand at the table. The tears ceased immediately as the little boy gaped at the floating pastry.
The older the morning had gotten, the more Severus had refused to discover the time, but no-one had missed the dark looks he kept sending the inactive portkey. However, "I doubt you could have forbidden it," he said into the silence.
"His mind seemed made up," Remus agreed. He absently conjured up a hovering cloth as Teddy happily caught the treat.
Augusta's eyes were on the little boy, small face lit up as he took his first bite, but she seemed to see another boy of the same age from another time. Almost too quietly to be understood, she whispered, "I just cannot understand why he would want that."
"It's not the most enjoyable place to be, but I think out of all of us, you must know why," Draco said softly. When the old woman didn't answer, he bravely approached the table and poured her a cup of tea.
"Could something have happened?" Remus offered reluctantly. Something good or something bad hung in the air, and he looked unhappy at having even voiced the thought.
"No, nothing could have happened," Augusta sighed. "There is no change." She took a sip of her tea to stop herself from saying more, but Draco, Severus and Remus could still hear the rest: In eighteen years, there has been no change.
Neville winced as he tried to push himself upright and failed. His legs were stiff from staying in nearly the same position for the whole night, the whole morning, almost sixteen hours. On his second attempt, he succeeded - after a fashion - and gingerly managed to take a few steps.
A wooden cup stood next to his mother's bedside table. Young Mr Longbottom, the note leaning against it read, and Neville felt a profound gratefulness for the staff of St Mungo's. Drinking the potion and feeling his cramped muscles relax, he wondered how he could thank the medi-witches for letting him spend the night, for working around him all morning, for not bothering him at all.
When he looked toward the bed, his mother's eyes were open. He could see no recognition in them, but she was humming softly to herself, and there was a smile on her face that had not been there when he'd sat down last night. In the other bed, his father lay as unresponsive as ever, but his head was turned slightly toward the music, toward his wife.
More peaceful than I've ever seen them, Neville thought, and, somewhat defiantly, and not just because that's how I'd like to imagine it.
There was no-one in the room to contradict him.
Reluctant to break the spell, reluctant to leave, he stayed still for a few more minutes, listening and watching, until Gilderoy Lockhart's voice announced that of course he would invite the "lovely young lady" for lunch. Pressing a kiss against both his parents' cheeks, smiling when the humming went on uninterrupted, he fished his mother's auburn cup out of his pocket. "Goodbye, Dad, goodbye, Mum," he said, took the portkey into both hands and let it take him to the five people who were waiting for him.