July 30th, 2002
Draco ignored the looks their little group attracted as they filed into the waiting room next to the office where Neville would take his SQUAWK. It was not as if it was unusual for family members to accompany candidates, and while some of the staring might be caused by the Malfoy heir’s hand firmly linked with the Hero of Gryffindors’, others might well be because Remus was a publicly known werewolf. Or because of the way Teddy was peering at people and copying their hair. Or Augusta Longbottom’s hat, even. Who could know? I wonder what looks we’d have gotten if Severus had come with us.
At least there was no press. No, they would not try to invade this space until tomorrow, when it would be Potter’s turn.
Draco himself had not been here in June. Even after four years, the chance of encountering a committee that would dismiss him on account of his name had been high, and he had not thought the trouble worth it at the time. He’d get another chance in eleven years if he changed his mind.
There was no pressing reason for Neville to be here today either. There would be no pay raise as a result nor a job that wouldn’t have been offered to him regardless. But, as Neville had said, “Both my parents did this before they called themselves Aurors.” Alice and Frank Longbottom had been among the last trainees to do so before the all-out panicked recruitment during the first war had set in and “they hired any mutt with a wand,” as Severus put it.
Dumbledore had not required his staff to have SQUAWKs, although most of his teachers had taken theirs at some point. Severus had on his twenty-second birthday, freshly out of Azkaban but not yet cleared of association with Voldemort. Professor Flitwick had been thirty-three, delayed, as he had told the young Severus, by a series of unfortunate events during the Grindelwald war. The only reason Remus to this day had not passed in any of the fields he could have reasonably excelled in was that both his twenty-second and thirty-third birthday had coincided with a full moon. At least in this he could always hope for another chance, “Unlike the child who has shown no sign of magic on its eleventh birthday.” He planned to pass in Defence against the Dark Arts at forty-four, although he claimed that if something went wrong he would no longer bother when he turned fifty-five.
Draco’s father had never seen the need to get one. Draco felt somewhat vindicated by the knowledge that Arthur Weasley did not have one, either. When the man’s daughter had asked Neville why he would put himself through the stress when he could already get any job he wanted based on the recommendations he already had from Professor Sprout, he had given the reply Potter had since quoted to explain his decision: “The Death Eaters killed so many of our qualified witches and wizards.”
Quotable and nothing but the truth, but, as Draco well knew, not the whole truth.
Augusta lowered herself into a chair and met the onlookers’ stares with her head held high. The whole woman glowed with pride at her grandson’s anticipated success. To her, today was a formality. She would gloat to whoever she met about Neville’s achievements, but after he had confronted Draco’s own father in this very Ministry and especially after the Battle of Hogwarts Neville had never needed to prove himself in her eyes ever again. And maybe if Neville had chosen to become an Auror the trial by fire he had already gone through would have been sufficient in his own eyes. But Neville wanted to be – was – a Herbologist, and the SQUAWK was the only definite way to fulfil his desire to “know I can do as well in the field I chose as they” – his parents – “did in theirs.” There was no doubt in Draco’s mind that he could.
It’s a good thing Severus packed us lunch.
Neville would take a Portkey to the North Pole and tend to a bed of bell flowers that only thrived under an exactly measured layer of ice. He would go to the Philippines and give first aid to a rabid brush of nepenthes alata that had been all but ripped apart by an infestation of local, land-living Grindylows. He would plant the first seeds of an unpronounceable grass in the Australian Desert and persuade them that they had no need of water, only sunlight. All within the next few hours.
Specialized qualification and undeniably advanced wizardry ken, indeed.
“Why are they sending you all over the world again?” Augusta asked as the office door opened to reveal Professor Sprout, a severe-looking group of international Herbologists and an elderly Ministry witch waiting inside.
“It's to experience the resilience of life everywhere, Gran,” Neville said. “Well, here I go. Bye, Teddy! Make your Da get you ice cream or something!”
“We’ll be here,” Remus said firmly as Teddy waved cheerfully.
“Show them what you’re made of.” Draco shoved Neville toward the office with a kiss. He waited until the door had closed and most of the people in the room had lost interest before he sat down next to Augusta and murmured into her ear: “I, for one, think we all know plenty about the resilience of life already.”