Neville returned to Hogwarts only a few days after the New Year, and once again, Percy missed him. He was, at least, sharing meals with Aunt Gussie every other day now instead of only twice a week. She refused to accept Percy’s offer of having her over to his flat for meals. Percy suspected that she hadn’t really enjoyed the casserole he had prepared for Christmas supper. Percy had always been skillful with breakfast foods, but he only knew how to prepare two dinners. The fact that she was now teaching him how to cook in addition to teaching him how to duel only reinforced his belief that Aunt Gussie found his culinary skills deficient. He was a good student, though, and looked forward to showing off for Audrey when he saw her again. He wouldn’t even allow himself to think “if”.
Aunt Gussie’s strategy for teaching him to duel had also changed. Over Christmas, she had him practice with Neville while she offered suggestions to both of them. Previously, she had dueled Percy herself. Now she was dueling with him against imaginary Death Eaters, teaching him new methods of combat, such as using conjuration, transfiguration, or animation. Percy was particularly practicing conjuring a mirror as quickly as possible to reflect a Death Eater’s spell and use it against them. He had become quite good at conjuring mirrors, and when he was not with Aunt Gussie, he practiced conjuring them faster.
Percy was excited today, though, because Neville would be returning from Hogwarts for the Easter Holidays. He was expected at the Longbottoms for dinner and was really looking forward to seeing Neville. Percy had left work a bit early to give him time to play with Twoey and Hermes, and “talk” to Audrey before he went to the Longbottoms. He expected it would be a late night, while he and Neville caught up on the news of the past few months.
Percy entered his flat, and dropped his briefcase on the floor in horror at the sight in front of him. Neville was on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Percy ran the few steps and dropped to his knees beside his friend. He could see Neville’s chest moving and was relieved he was still alive. There was so much blood. Percy cast a severing charm on Neville’s robes so he could see where he was hurt, but nothing happened. He tried again, and noticed a tingle of magic about four inches away from Neville’s body, but the spell remained ineffective. He put his hand on Neville’s arm and was able to touch him, but it seemed like there was some type of shield around Neville that was preventing magic from reaching him. Percy had never seen or heard of anything like this before, and he didn’t think there was time to waste.
Percy tried to gather himself and think of something happy. He concentrated on what it would be like when he was reunited with Audrey, aimed his wand and yelled, “Expecto Patronum!” But his familiar owl patronus didn’t appear . . .no time to dwell on his changed patronus now. Neville needed help.
Percy told the patronus, “Neville’s at my flat and hurt badly. Come quickly!” Percy sent the patronus to Aunt Gussie, and then began trying to get Neville’s robes off of him without magic. He was not having very much success.
It seemed like forever, but was probably only a minute or two before Percy heard a small pop and a cry of “Sweet Merlin!” Aunt Gussie was on her knees beside him, her face ashen and lips pursed in a thin line. She was carrying a small valise in addition to her normal handbag and rummaged in it quickly, pulling out a pair of scissors. She gently pushed Percy out of the way, and cut down the back of Neville’s robes, shirt and T-shirt. When she saw Neville’s back, she gasped, and so did Percy. He hadn’t thought it possible, but Neville was worse off than even the last time Percy had helped him.
Aunt Gussie summoned two flannels from her bag, wet them with water from her wand, gave one to Percy, and together they began wiping the blood from Neville’s back. When his back was mostly cleaned off, Percy could see the scars from before Christmas, with fresh wounds covering them. He knew Aunt Gussie could, too. Percy pulled Neville’s cut clothing the rest of the way off and tossed it into a heap on the other end of his kitchen. Aunt Gussie waved her wand and vanished the blood from Percy’s kitchen floor. Apparently magic would still work around Neville, even though it, for some reason, could not be used on him.
With the blood vanished, Aunt Gussie pulled a bottle of clear liquid from her bag, and began slowly pouring it over Neville’s back. The liquid bubbled a bit as it hit Neville’s broken skin. When she had finished with his back, she began to return the bottle of clear liquid to her bag, but then she saw something and stopped.
“There’s more blood on the floor. We haven’t yet found all of Neville’s injuries. His trousers will have to come off, too.”
Percy stared at Aunt Gussie, horrified on Neville’s behalf. He was fairly certain Neville had come to his flat since he didn’t want his grandmother to know how bad things at Hogwarts really were, but Percy was entirely certain that Neville would not want his grandmother seeing him starkers.
As Aunt Gussie began to cut off Neville’s trousers as she had his other clothing, she said, “Do not give me that look, young man. Preventing my grandson from bleeding to death is far more important than protecting his modesty.”
“Could Neville really bleed to death?”
“Of course. That’s the purpose of the spell that was cast on him. Help me with this.”
Percy helped Aunt Gussie remove the rest of Neville’s cut and bloodied clothing, and thought he would be sick when he saw that Neville’s bum and legs were just as bad as his back. Percy clenched his mouth shut, determined that he was not going to vomit, and took the flannel Aunt Gussie handed him and began working on one of Neville’s legs, while she did the other.
Aunt Gussie repeated her previous actions with the bottle of clear liquid, and then summoned more items from among her supplies. Percy was quite sure that valise had an undetectable expansion charm on it. Aunt Gussie began to put bandages on all of Neville’s wounds. She wordlessly showed Percy what to do so that he could help her.
When they had finished covering all of the wounds, Aunt Gussie took something out of her bag that Percy had never seen. Before he could say anything, Aunt Gussie answered Percy’s unasked question, "It’s a syringe—a Muggle medical instrument that is used to give medicine directly into a person’s blood stream.” Now Percy felt as if he may faint in addition to vomiting. He took some deep breaths to collect himself, while Aunt Gussie stabbed the syringe into a strangely stoppered bottle and stuck Neville with it. Then she removed another syringe and repeated the process with a different bottle.
“Blood replenishing potion and a pain relief potion. Since Neville’s unconscious, he couldn’t possibly swallow them.” She paused as she vanished the remaining blood from Percy’s kitchen floor. After a moment’s thought she vanished Neville’s bloody clothes as well. “I can’t take him home like this. Could you please help me move him, Percy? Maybe to the sofa?”
“We can put him in my bed. I have an idea.” Percy swished his wand and transfigured the linoleum under Neville into a stretcher, then cast a levitation charm on it. He began to guide Neville's stretcher toward his room. Aunt Gussie followed and with one flick of her wand changed Percy’s sheets. Percy was glad she did, since he couldn’t remember the last time he had changed them. After all, he was the only one who slept there. He blushed at the shrewd look Aunt Gussie was giving him. She always did seem to know exactly what he was thinking. Percy set the stretcher on the bed and then summoned it out from under Neville, transfigured it back into linoleum and banished it to the kitchen. He could reattach it with a sticking charm later. He levitated the sheet so it rested inches above Neville’s body and stuck it to the bed posts so it would stay there. He could at least make sure Neville had some modicum of modesty for when he awoke. Percy and Aunt Gussie left the room to allow Neville some rest.
Once in the corridor, Aunt Gussie patted Percy’s shoulder, and said, “You did a very good job helping me, Percy. The way you moved Neville so carefully was brilliant.” Percy nodded, and opened his mouth to say ‘thank you’, but couldn’t manage it and fled to the loo.
When Percy emerged quite some time later, he found Aunt Gussie in his kitchen. The linoleum was reattached, and she had found his cauldrons, and had two different potions brewing. From the ingredients that were lined up on the countertop, Percy guessed she was making blood replenishing potion and a pain relieving potion. She must have given Neville her last doses.
“I apologize for taking over your kitchen, Percy, but I didn’t think you would be too fussed about it.”
“No, I don’t mind at all. Help yourself to whatever you need.” Percy was glad Aunt Gussie had not commented on his need to run to the loo. “Aunt Gussie, is Neville going to be all right?”
“Yes, I’m confident he will be. I’m thankful you sent your patronus so quickly when you didn’t know what that spell was. I’m not sure Neville would have been all right if you had dallied. By the way, have you always had that patronus?” Aunt Gussie busied herself with stirring the potions.
Percy blushed. He had wondered what was going on with his patronus. “No. That was a first. My patronus has been an owl every time I’ve cast it before.”
“It’s nothing to worry about. A person's patronus can change based on the emotions of the caster.”
“So, my patronus might go back to being an owl?”
“Hmmm. Probably not. I assume you were thinking of Audrey when you cast it? And that you had not cast a patronus since before you met Audrey?”
Percy blushed more deeply. “Yes. How did you know that?”
“A patronus will often take a form which represents the person with whom the caster is in love. Oftentimes a couple in love will have the same patronus, or complementary patroni. It’s not uncommon and certainly nothing to fret about.”
Percy nodded. He was tempted to show Aunt Gussie Audrey’s engagement ring in his pocket, since she seemed to know how he felt without his ever having said anything, but now wasn’t the right time. Since he knew Neville would be all right, he felt the need to lighten the mood. “I’ll just have to make sure that my brothers never see my new patronus, or they’ll take the mickey for the rest of my life.”
Aunt Gussie almost giggled. With a twinkle in her eye, she turned to Percy and said, “Don’t worry, dear, it’s a very masculine butterfly.”
When the potions were finished, Percy helped Aunt Gussie bottle them, they checked on Neville who was still asleep, and then went to the sitting room. Once settled on opposite ends of his sofa, Percy asked, “What was that spell, Aunt Gussie?”
“It’s dark magic. There’s not even a name for the spell, at least not that I know. We experienced it during the First War with You-Know-Who. A Death Eater cast it on one of the Aurors he was dueling, and then cast a series of cutting charms. The Death Eater disapparated. The Auror, Gil, tried to cast cauterizing charms on himself. Alastor tried also, and tried several healing charms. No one could cast magic on him and Gil bled to death before anyone could help him. I think that was exactly what the Death Eaters wanted to happen. It’s one thing to be killed in battle by a curse, but it’s quite another to know how to help your friend and be unable to do so and stand there and watch him die. After Gil’s death, at the suggestion of one of our Muggleborn Aurors, all of the Aurors were trained in Muggle First Aid techniques, so we would be able to at least attempt to help without using magic. I haven’t seen that spell in a long time.”
“My reaction exactly, Percy. Neville was not bleeding as badly as Gil, thank Merlin, but I couldn’t help but think about Gil’s death when I saw him like that. I don’t mean to be rude, Percy, but you wouldn’t happen to have any firewhiskey, would you?”
“Certainly. I apologize for not offering you anything sooner. I would actually like a drink, too, but didn’t want to presume that you would.” Percy took out the glasses, firewhiskey, and the Muggle whiskey he fancied.
“I suppose that’s to be expected after how I reacted to your and Neville’s drunkenness.” Percy blushed. Aunt Gussie paused for a few minutes before speaking again while Percy prepared the drinks. “This happened before! Neville’s being hurt I mean. His injuries were on top of other scars. It happened that night you two were drunk, the last time Neville came home for a holiday. I thought he had flinched when I hugged him, but I thought it was just a young man’s thinking he was too old to be hugged by his grandmother. Frank went through a phase like that. I can’t believe I was so blind. At least Neville confided in someone . . .”
Percy thought Aunt Gussie sounded hurt that Neville hadn’t told her about the Carrows. He handed her the firewhiskey, and sat down on the sofa again. “Aunt Gussie, Neville didn’t really confide in me. The bleeding had gotten bad enough after you went to bed, that I saw blood on his collar. Even when I asked him, he didn’t really want to tell me, either. He agreed to let me help him rather grudgingly. But normal healing spells worked last time.”
“No wonder the two of you drank so much.” Percy didn’t really know how to respond, so he just sipped his whiskey.