Neville sat on the stiff chair, holding his mother’s hand. “Hi, mum,” he said. “How are you? School’s starting next week. Can you believe I’ll be a fifth year? O.W.L. year. I’m so nervous. I’d hate to disappoint you.”
Alice Longbottom smiled absently, like a toddler who was pretending to listen. She never spoke, but Neville couldn’t help but hope that one day she would. It wouldn’t matter if she was reassuring him about school or berating him for being such a worrywart. It would just be nice to know what her voice sounded like.
“I still have your wand,” he said, looking across the bed to where his father lay. Frank Longbottom was a little more responsive than his wife, but in such a way that it might have been easier if he weren’t. He yelled, and threw fits, demanding to be let out. He sometimes thought that he was in Azkaban, and screamed at invisible dementors to leave him alone. Most of the time, though, he just sat staring sullenly out the window. “Maybe it’ll help me learn more of the amazing magic you did with it.”
Neville’s mum bolted up right, and, as though it were something terribly important for her to do, reached over to her night table and picked up several gum wrappers, which she handed to him.
“Thanks, mum,” he said, standing up. He knew that he had to leave, before he started to cry. Even though his parents wouldn’t know what it meant, he couldn’t bear to cry in front of them. “Gran, I think I’m ready to go now.”
“Very well.” She stood briskly. “Goodbye, Frank. Goodbye, Alice.” As they left, she asked Neville, “Would there be any point in me telling you to throw out those wrappers?”
“No, there wouldn’t.” It was the one thing that Neville was willing to fight with her about. These wrappers were going into the box with all of the others his mum had given him.
All three hundred and fifty-two of them.
“Now, we need to stop at Diagon Alley for school supplies. you could do with some new robes, as well.” They descended a flight of stairs. “What books do you need for this year?”
“Defensive Magical Theory and The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six,” Neville recited.
“None of that monster book rubbish this year, then? Honestly, I don’t know what that professor was thinking. Not thinking at all, no doubt. Now, you really ought to try out for your House Quidditch team this year, Neville. Minerva wrote me and owl saying that there was a position open this year.” They passed several snickering photographs and continued down the stairs to the atrium.
“Gran, I don’t want to play Quidditch.”
“And why not? It’s good enough for Harry Potter, isn’t it? You know, I worry about you sometimes. Why don’t you ever join in things?”
“I was in Gobstones Club during second year,” Neville protested.
Mrs. Longbottom brushed that aside. “Your father was an excellent Quidditch player.”
“Dad was good at a lot of things,” Neville said quietly.
“This discussion isn’t over,” she said, raising her wand to hail the Knight Bus.
This trip to Diagon Alley was no different from any of the others. They started at Gringotts and went systematically through all of the stores they needed to for Neville’s things.
Not Ollivander’s, though. Neville had never even set foot in Ollivander’s.
When they had finished shopping, Neville’s grandmother took him to Fortescue’s for ice cream. She had been at school with Florean Fortescue, and loved to tease him about his misdoings.
“You got caught after hours so much, you ought to have been in Gryffindor!” she chuckled, placing their orders for two small Dragon Delights, with extra caramel, no whipped cream.
“Why not a Slytherin? Slytherins are supposed to break the rules the most, aren’t they?” Neville asked as Fortescue left to fill their order. They were seated outside at a small white table.
“Oh, no, a Slytherin would never have been caught,” she said, adjusting their umbrella so that they were in the shade. “Actually, all of the Houses besides Hufflepuff managed to break an exceptional number of rules during my time there.” Augusta Longbottom had been a Hufflepuff.
When Fortescue returned, she continued their conversation as though he had never left. “You used to drive the Prefects crazy. The McKinnon girl- what was her name?”
“Samantha,” he supplied.
“Oh, yes, that’s right. Samantha McKinnon once told me that she wished you’d never been born, what with all of the paperwork she had to fill out on your account. There was that time she caught you in a broom cupboard with your hands all over—”
Fortescue coughed loudly. “Well, Augusta, it’s been wonderful catching up, but I’ve got other customers waiting to be served, so if you’ll excuse me…” He bustled off, clearly eager not to hear the end of this story.
Neville ate his ice cream, quietly reflecting on how different his grandmother was around people her own age. She would never joke about it if he were ever caught in a broom cupboard with a girl.
Not that that seemed particularly likely, with all the luck he’d had with girls. Ginny had accepted his invitation to the Yule Ball only because she wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise, and she’d spent the whole time dancing with some Ravenclaw guy. That was pretty much Neville’s only experience with dating.
“Hello, Neville,” said Hannah Abbott, walking across the street to talk. “Hello, Mrs. Longbottom. Is it all right if I sit here with you for a little while?”
“As long as it’s all right with your mother.”
“Oh, I told her I was coming over to talk to you.”
“How’s your summer?” Neville asked. He had spent enough time with Hannah to feel totally at ease with her. They had met when they were seven years old and his gran and Hannah’s mother had been in book group together.
“It’s been okay, considering.”
“I guess everyone in Hufflepuff is still hurting, after…”
Augusta clicked her tongue. “If only Dumbledore had been able to uncover everything before it was too late- but I suppose it does no good to dwell on the past, now does it?”
Neville shook his head, hoping that she wouldn’t start in on her rant. Much as he agreed with her he didn’t want to hurt Hannah’s feelings if she disagreed, and he preferred not to discuss controversial things in public.
But his grandmother had never quite grasped the concept of tact. “And now the Ministry’s working to discredit him, and that poor Harry Potter, he’s getting the worst of it. A bunch of spineless no-gooders, the lot of them. I should march in there and tell them how to do their jobs.”
Neville shrugged apologetically, but Hannah smiled. “I don’t quite know what to think, she admitted. “But I know that the things the Prophet’s saying about Harry are utter rubbish.”
Augusta slapped her hand on the table. “Exactly! How they could see being present during someone’s death as begging for attention- spineless no-gooders, through and through. I’ve decided that I won’t have it in my house under any circumstances. Neville and I have cancelled our subscription.”
She says that as though I had helped her make that choice. But Neville didn’t mind. He actually thought that in this case, his grandmother had been exactly right.
“Well, I should be going,” Hannah said, standing up. “Oh, Neville, one more thing. Did you get made a Prefect?”
Neville looked down at his ice cream. “No.”
“That’s a shame. I was hoping that we’d have Prefect duties together. Goodbye, Neville. Mrs. Longbottom.”
Neville’s grandmother patted his hand as they watched Hannah leave. “Don’t worry about not making Prefect. If Harry Potter weren’t in your House- but as it is, it’s only to be expected. That boy deserves some happiness after all he’s been put through, and he’s so talented. Taking on a dragon when he was only fourteen years old! Not to mention all he’s done to fight He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!”
“I know, Gran.” It was usually best to get her off this topic as quickly as possible, because she could go on for hours if encouraged.
“I just think that it must be hard for him to go through everything he does. Are you finished with your ice cream?”
Augusta motioned for Fortescue to return. “We’re ready to pay.”
“Very well.” He waited patiently as she counted out several knuts and placed them in his hand.
The next several days were relatively calm. Neville struggled over his potions essay that he’d put off until the last minute. Towards the end of August, his Great-Uncle Algie came over for dinner.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said, depositing a package on Neville’s lap. “I got you something. Consider it a belated birthday present.” He had been in Assyria for Neville’s actual birthday. “Go on. Open it.”
Neville placed the parcel on the table and peeled off the paper. Inside was a box that had air holes poked into the top. His last gift that had come with air holes had been Trevor, but with all the luck he’d had keeping track of him, Neville highly doubted that he was getting another pet.
“Oh, wow!” Neville said, opening the box. “Is that—”
“A Mimbulus mimbletonia,” Algie replied proudly. “Bought it off an herbologist in Assyria. He breeds them, you know. One of the last people who still does, actually. They reproduce asexually, so with a bit of research, you might be able to get more. You could give one to a girl you want to impress.” He winked.
Neville rolled his eyes. He had long since given up trying to convince his Great-Uncle Algie that there was no girl he wanted to impress. “When’s dinner, Gran?” he called.
She came through the door from the kitchen. “Ten minutes. It would be done sooner if you had offered to help.”
“I’ll help you cook tomorrow. I promise,” Neville said.
“I also got you this,” Algie said, pulling a large book out of the pocket of his traveling coat. “The man at the store said it should give you decent information on how to care for that plant. I’d be absolutely baffled but the directions that it gives, but you’ve always had a head for Herbology.”
“Thanks, Uncle Algie.”
“Any time, kiddo.”
On August 31, Neville went to visit his parents one last time before school started.
“Hi Mum. Hi, Dad,” he said quietly. Neville always found it hard to talk to them like they could understand, no matter what the healers said. He knelt awkwardly by the bed. “Great-Uncle Algie gave me a Mimbulus mimbletonia for my birthday. I wish that I could bring it to show you, but Gran won’t let me. It’s a shame, because it’s really amazing.” He launched into a detailed explanation of all the things his plant could do, but what he was really thinking was that he wished they could have been there for his birthday. Just for one day. That would be enough.
Frank was muttering from his side of the bed, but Neville didn’t bother listening. His rambling never made sense, and hearing him sounding so incoherent hurt Neville. That was why he always sat by his mother’s side of the bed.
“Gran wants me to try out for the Quidditch team. There’s a position open, but I’m not sure which one. I’m not sure yet, but I guess it could be fun.”
He stood, even though he had only been there for a few minutes. “I’m ready to go now, Gran. Goodbye, Mum. Bye, Dad.”
Even though he wouldn’t see his parents for weeks, Neville couldn’t stay any longer. He could never bring himself to stay. Sometimes it made him angry, and he wished that he could be stronger for them. But mostly, his parents weren’t a very large part of his life. He wished they were, but there wasn’t a way to change that. Sometimes he though things would be easier if they were really dead, rather than in this horrible half state. He always felt guilty after thinking that. Anyways, his grandmother had always said that the things worth fighting for never were easy.
Sometimes, though, Neville wished that things could be easy.