Harry could not sleep. In the darkness of the Gryffindor dormitory, he lay staring up at the ceiling, seeing only the startled expression on his godfather's face as he fell through the archway and out of Harry's life forever. The endless scream of rage, sorrow, and frustration welled up inside him once more, threatening to choke him. If he gave in to it, he was afraid it might carry him away, and he would never find his way back to himself.
He had been a fool, playing right into Voldemort's hands, putting his friends in danger. Dumbledore had once told him that it was a person's choices that showed who they truly were, but hadn't Harry's choices been foolish? Several of his friends had been gravely injured, and Sirius -- Harry was not ready to even think the word yet.
Guilt and misery ate at him. The only person he could have talked to about these feelings -- who might have understood -- was the person Harry would never be able to talk to again.
A gasp broke the stillness of the dormitory. Neville. Since coming face-to-face with his parents' torturers in the Department of Mysteries, he had barely slept a night through, any more than Harry had. Harry could hear him breathing as if he had just run a race.
Thinking about Neville reminded Harry of the prophecy. The link forged between the two of them at their birth. Ever since Dumbledore had explained its contents and meaning to him three days before, Harry had become very aware of his quiet roommate, noticing him at odd moment, watching him, thinking about what their lives might have been like if Voldemort had chosen Neville instead.
Would Alice Longbottom have sacrificed herself to save her son? Would Neville have Harry's scar today?
If things had turned out differently, Harry's parents and Sirius might still be alive. He might have grown up with a family who loved him. Or perhaps, Harry thought with a jolt, his parents would have ended up where Neville's were now, in the St Mungo's closed ward, unable to recognise him. Would that be better or worse than them being dead, or only a different kind of horrible?
He felt a rush of sympathy for the boy gasping out his night terrors across the room. Neville's lot in life was really no better than his own. Harry, after all, had no difficulty telling people that his parents were dead, and he often received sympathy for it. Neville never spoke about his parents or what had happened to them, not even to his friends. Their condition was more complicated to explain than death, and Harry could not blame him if he had no desire to answer a lot of awkward and personal questions.
Neville had insisted on accompanying Harry to the Department of Mysteries. He had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Harry as they faced the very people who had stolen their families and their childhoods from them. Even under torture, Neville had not backed down. He fought on beside Harry after the rest of their friends had fallen. Neville had been there with him. He, more than any of the others, had understood what they were facing, and he had faced it with courage, coming through it bloodied and battered, but strong and true as any Gryffindor could hope to be.
Neville's pain might not be as raw as Harry's own, but he understood loss.
Harry was out of bed and padding across the dormitory's floorboards before he could change his mind.
"Neville?" he whispered, hesitating outside his roommate's bed hangings. "Are you OK?"
"I'b fide, Harry," Neville sniffed.
His broken nose had been healed quickly and cleanly by Madam Pomfrey upon their return from the Ministry days before. It was tears that congested his voice now.
"Can I come in?"
Harry slipped between the heavy velvet curtains and climbed onto the bed as Neville sat up, sniffling and surreptitiously wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his pyjamas.
"Bad dreams?" he asked.
Neville nodded. "You too?"
"Can't sleep," Harry admitted. "I keep thinking about -- everything."
Neville gave him a sympathetic look. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Maybe." Harry took a deep breath. "I wanted to ask you something. It's about your parents."
Neville stiffened, suddenly wary. "What?"
"It's not about that," Harry said quickly. "Or not exactly."
"I just wanted to know, how do you deal with it?" asked Harry. "How do you keep from wanting to hit things and break things and scream your lungs out at how unfair it all is? I mean, my parents are dead. I can't even remember them, really. I thought I knew what it was like, losing someone. But then Sirius --" He broke off, throat closing painfully around the memory.
Sympathy returned to Neville's round face. "You said he was your friend."
"He's -- he was my godfather," Harry replied softly. "He was my dad's best friend."
"If I had practised Occlumency harder -- if we hadn't gone to the Department of Mysteries," Harry continued miserably, "he wouldn't be --"
"You mustn't think like that, Harry," said Neville urgently, reaching out a had to squeeze Harry's arm. "It -- it was Voldemort who made you go."
It was the first time Harry had ever heard Neville utter the Dark wizard's name.
"I should've known --"
Neville shook his head firmly. "He's good at getting people to believe him. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be so dangerous. You thought your dad's friend was in trouble. Of course you had to go. If I thought something had happened to you, I would've --" He broke off, seemed to suddenly realise he was still clutching Harry's arm, and let go.
Harry thought he might be blushing, but it was too dark to be sure.
"You had no way of knowing," Neville pressed on. "You might as well blame me and Hermione and the rest for going along with you instead of stopping you. We're not the ones who made it happen. Voldemort tricked you. Umbridge and the Ministry kept you from being able to check whether Sirius was all right. And it was Bellatrix Lestrange who cast the hex." He spat the name out like a bitter potion.
"I know what she did," Harry said softly. "To you. To your family."
Neville bit his lip, looking away.
"I found out by accident," Harry said apologetically, "but I never told anyone. If you'd wanted us to know, you'd've told us."
"I don't like to talk about it because I don't want to think about it," Neville told him.
"I know what you mean," Harry replied, thinking of Sirius again.
"I saw her do it, you know," said Neville.
Harry was confused. "Do what?"
"When she and the others -- when they tortured my mum and dad." His voice wavered slightly, and Harry wondered if he had ever said the words out loud before.
"You were there?" he whispered, shocked. "You remember it? But -- you must've been dead young at the time."
Neville shrugged. "I don't really remember. The Ministry convinced Gran to have me Obliviated because I couldn't sleep and I wouldn't eat and I was afraid of everything. But it didn't work very well, because I was too young. Maybe that's why my memory is so bad." There was the ghost of a joke in his voice.
"Oh." Harry did not know what else to say.
"I dream about it, though," he went on. "When I wake up, I can't remember anything, except the screaming."
Neville shivered, and Harry leaned closer to him, as if the nearness of a friend might offer the other boy some comfort.
"I know what you mean," Harry confessed. "In third year, with the Dementors, that's what I heard every time they got close -- my mum screaming. She was pleading with Voldemort not to -- not to kill me." He swallowed.
"Oh. I didn't know."
"But it must've been just as bad for you," pressed Harry. "I mean, the Dementors must've made you remember --"
"They did," Neville admitted. "But maybe I'm just too used to the dreams. It wasn't such a shock for me. And my parents aren't dead."
"No," said Harry. "But is it really any better, how they are? I wouldn't think so."
Neville bowed his head, fists bunched in the bedspread. For a split second, Harry worried that he had gone too far.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean --" His fingers touched the other boy's knuckles in apology.
"It's better. And it's worse," said Neville reluctantly. "I get to see them and talk to them and -- and hug them and stuff. But they don't know me or Gran or even each other. My own mum doesn't know who I am!" he burst out.
Nearby, Dean snorted in his sleep and turned over, making them jump, and reminding them both of the need for quiet.
"She would've been proud of you. Your mum," Harry whispered, squeezing Neville's clenched hand. "Your dad, too. You went to the Ministry knowing Voldemort might be there, and you fought really well. You never seemed afraid."
"I was, though," Neville admitted, glancing up shyly to meet Harry's eyes. "More than I've ever been of anything. It just didn't seem like it would've helped if I'd said so."
"That doesn't matter," said Harry. "It was still really brave. You might be one of the bravest people I've ever met. You're a true Gryffindor, Neville. Don't let anyone ever tell you you're not."
Neville blushed, but looked absurdly pleased by the compliment. "Thanks. I'm not that brave, though."
Harry smiled for the first time in days. "I think you're brave enough to do anything you want to do. I'm glad to know you've got my back."
An odd look came over Neville's face, as if he were making his mind up to something. "Harry, I -- what if -- I mean --"
He shook his head, then leaned forwards slowly, eyes filled with determination. Harry blinked in surprise, but did not pull away as soft lips connected with his own. It was different from the kiss he had shared with Cho -- drier, for one thing, and far more brief -- but Harry felt the shock of it from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.
It was Neville who broke the kiss, looking slightly embarrassed, but serene. "I guess you were right. I was brave enough."
"I-I guess so," said Harry, stunned.
"I'll never let you down, Harry," Neville said softly. "I'm glad we talked. But I think maybe we should both try to get some more sleep now."
Harry walked back to his bed and pulled the covers over himself, unsure what had just happened, or what it meant, but feeling comforted all the same.