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More Than Meets the Eye
The old woman bid her grandson good night and closed the door to his room. She gave a slight sigh and shook her head in disbelief as she headed down the hall to her room. So many times he had failed to meet her expectations. She had been furious with him when she first heard he'd broken his father's wand. That wand was one of very few links she had left to her son. To what remained of her son, she amended. But then...then he had told her about June and the battle in the Department of Mysteries. Her lips tightened as she remembered his story. She couldn't really stay angry after learning what he had gone through. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope for Neville after all.
Neville Longbottom woke with a start and glanced toward the window of his room. He was a bit disoriented at first--the nightmares always did that to him. In his mind, he could still see his friends lying injured on the floor and the prophecy falling as if in slow motion to shatter as it hit the ground. He could still hear Bellatrix Lestrange in the Department of Mysteries, taunting him about his parents, and could still feel the pain of the Unforgivable Curse cast upon him.
Neville shook his head to clear it, as he heard a knock and his grandmother's voice at the door. "Neville, time to get up. We need to go to Diagon Alley today to get your things for school."
"Coming, Gran. I'll be out in a minute. I just need to check the plants first."
Neville walked over to the window of his room and looked at the odd collection of plants he had gathered there. A small pot of yellow daisies bloomed vibrantly on the windowsill. The long, winding stems of several varieties of ivy wove around a window box of fragrant herbs before climbing up the drapes. And, of course, there was his Mimbulus mimbletonia. He grinned fondly when he looked at that particular plant, a gift from his great-uncle last year. He'd already had to repot it twice, and if it kept getting bigger, he was going to have to transplant it again soon. Maybe he'd wait until he got back to school, and he and Professor Sprout could try propagating it while he was at it. And the plants all needed fertiliser. He'd have to see about getting some today.
Neville turned from the window and started to get dressed. He paused as he caught a glance of his reflection in the mirror and looked at his image critically. He was slightly thinner than before--he had been working outside in the garden every day since he had arrived home. He'd grown a bit, too--not much, but enough to notice. The sleeves of his robes now hit well above his wrists and the hem a few centimetres above his ankles. Plain brown hair, round face--although not quite as round as it had been. Not much to look at, really. He shrugged and finished dressing.
After one last glance in the mirror ("You look fine, dearie," it said kindly), he opened his door to meet his grandmother. He was slightly less nervous about the trip to Diagon Alley than he had been earlier--the talk with Gran had helped alleviate some of his anxiety. Now he was mostly just excited. He would finally have his own wand--one that had chosen him and not his father. He'd heard, of course, that the wand was supposed to choose the wizard, not the other way around. He hoped that having his own wand might help him with some of his...difficulties. He knew he wasn't stupid; he just had a hard time with magic that required a wand. And Potions, but he didn't count that against himself. Everyone, excluding the Slytherins, had trouble with Potions.
The wizarding world was like the Muggle world in one way, at least. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Neville thought that statement couldn't have been truer the moment he stepped out of the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron. The place still looked the same after all these years, down to the tabletops, worn smooth from years of use. Walking out of the pub into Diagon Alley, he was reminded again of the truth of that statement.
Everywhere he looked, people were rushing about. The sight disturbed him, really--all these people going about their business as though there were nothing wrong in the world. He knew better. Briefly, he thought of his nightmare earlier. He had seen with his own eyes the horrors the world contained.
Neville's grandmother looked around disapprovingly at the people bustling on the streets and said, "You'd think they have no idea You-Know-Who is back, the way they're acting. Hmmmph. Well, come along, then, Neville, we need to get your things." He was jerked back to the present by his grandmother's words, and he hurried to catch up with her as she walked down the street.
First they headed to Flourish and Blotts to get his books. He glanced again at the titles as he put them on the counter. Aside from his new Herbology texts (Advanced Herbology: Dangerous Plants and Their Uses and Muggle Plants and Their Place in the Wizarding World), the only one that seemed remotely interesting was his new book for Defence Against the Dark Arts (Curses, Jinxes, and Hexes: What They Do and How to Counter Them). He shuddered a bit as he placed his new Potions text on the counter. He'd been both astonished and relieved when he'd received his marks for his O.W.L.s. Astonished because he had somehow managed to scrape out an "E" on his Potions O.W.L., relieved because an "E" wasn't a good enough mark for Snape to allow him into Advanced Potions. Unfortunately, soon after receiving his marks, he got an owl from Dumbledore that stated that arrangements had been made for Neville to take Advanced Potions and that strongly...suggested...that he plan on doing so. When Gran had seen the note from Dumbledore, she had, of course, insisted that he follow the Headmaster's wishes, so he had to suffer through Snape again. He just hoped he wasn't the only Gryffindor in a den of Slytherins. He wondered briefly who the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher would be but decided it wouldn't be worth it to worry now. Besides, whoever they hired had to be better than that old cow Umbridge.
After getting new robes at Madam Malkin's, they stopped at Flitterbloom Fancies, the plant centre, so he could get some fertiliser for his plants. He knew Professor Sprout preferred DragonDung™, but the smell put Gran off, so he chose a different, less...odious-smelling...fertiliser. It wasn't the best, but it would have to do. He wanted to leave his plants as healthy as possible before he left for school, or else they'd be goners for sure. Gran's thumb was more brown than green.
Finally, they went into Ollivanders. This was Neville's most anticipated stop of the day. He had no idea what to expect, since he had only ever used his father's old wand. Oh, he'd heard about when his friends got their wands, but they never described in detail what happened. Truthfully, though, Neville hadn't paid too much attention to the stories. He hadn't needed to, since Gran wouldn't bend on the issue of the wand. He would use his father's wand, to honour him, and that was that.
The experience was...interesting, to say the least. Neville and Gran walked into Ollivanders, and Neville lost all hope of having any control over the situation. Mr. Ollivander greeted his grandmother by stating her name and describing her wand (willow, hair from a unicorn mane, ten inches). He then whipped out a tape measure that measured Neville in ways he didn't know possible. Finally, Mr. Ollivander had Neville start testing out wands. In the end, he had tried several, nearly destroying part of the shop, before Mr. Ollivander finally found the right one: oak with a phoenix feather core, eleven inches and slightly flexible. As they were leaving, he thought he heard Mr. Ollivander say something, but Neville couldn't quite make it out. Something about expecting great things, he thought, but that didn't make any sense at all, so he pushed it to the back of his mind.
That evening after dinner, Neville took care of his plants, fertilising, pruning, and talking to them. He had once read in a Muggle plant-care book that talking to plants helped them grow healthy and strong. He'd thought it a mad idea when he'd first read it, but after thinking a bit, he guessed it couldn't hurt; now he tried to talk to them every night. He always looked around to make sure no one was watching him before he began, though, just in case.
Later that night, as he tossed and turned trying to get to sleep, he thought back to his new wand and the conversation he'd had with his grandmother earlier in the summer. The highly uncomfortable conversation in which he had explained why, exactly, he needed a new wand and how, exactly, his father's old one had been broken.
"Um...G-G-Gran..." he stammered. "I need to talk to you." He hadn't been kidding when he had told Harry that his grandmother was going to kill him. At the time, he wouldrather have faced Gran than the Death Eaters, but now he wasn't so sure.
She sighed. "What is the matternow, Neville? You've been home for only a day; you can't have destroyed anything yet."
"Well, actually, I didn't destroy anything...here."
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked sharply.
"Well..." he mumbled, "y'know they discovered Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries last month? And that You-Kn...I mean, V-Voldemort, is back? Well...I was therewhenithappened." Neville rushed to get the last part out, then groaned. Of course she knew he was there when it happened; she'd received an owl from Dumbledore explaining that he was safe, and he'd received a Howler soon after. Although now that he thought about it, she knew only thathe had been in the Ministry building when it happened. What she didn't know was that he was actively involved in the fight. He'd conveniently...forgotten...to mention that part of the whole affair.
She huffed impatiently. "Yes, Neville, I know you were there when it happened. What has that to do with anything?"
"What did you just say?"
"I said that I broke Dad's wand. While I was fighting the Death Eaters." He glanced at her quickly, and her expression caused him to wince before he loweredhis eyes to study his trainers. "I'm sorry. I know how much it meant to you, but a Death Eater kicked it, and it broke." He rubbed his nose absently as he finished.
He sat. You didn't ignore an order from his grandmother, especially when you were in trouble already.
"Do you mean to tell me that you were in the Department of Mysteries...fighting Death Eaters?"
"Sweet Merlin." Neville's shoulders jerked,and his eyes widened at the epithet. He'd been told a thousand times that his grandmother was a lady, and ladies never, ever used such common language.
"Start at the beginning. Don't leave anything out."
So he told her everything. Dumbledore's Army. Harry's dreams. The Thestrals. The long hallway with the doors. Ron and Hermione and Ginny and Luna. Fighting alongside Harry. The room filled with prophecies. Bellatrix Lestrange. The Cruciatus curse. Sirius. Dumbledore. Voldemort. She'd been silent through most of his tale, but her face was ashen and strained. He thought he'd heard her gasp when he mentioned Bellatrix Lestrange. And when he told her about being hit with the Cruciatus curse, she wept.
There was a long silence after he finished. Finally, she said, "Neville, we will be going to Diagon Alley before school starts. We'll get you a new wand then. Now, why don't you go up and go to bed. You look exhausted."
He stood and turned to go, relieved that her reaction had been so mild,but before he could leave, she stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder, saying quietly, "Neville, I'm proud of you."
That was the first time that he could remember her saying she was proud of him.
Neville spent the last few weeks before the term started out in the garden or up in his room, preparing his plants for the worst. He fervently hoped they would still be alive when he came home at Christmas, but Gran really didn't know anything about plants. Last year, when she had taken care of his plants while he was gone, she'd forgotten to water them for weeks on end, only to "make up" for it later by drowning them. And then there was the Puffapod incident. He winced at the memory; the blooms had filled the parlour after she'd dropped the basket containing the pods. He'd planned on planting them in the back garden, but none had survived being dug out of the carpet.
The day before he left for school, he and Gran went to visit his parents at St. Mungo's, stopping for a nice lunch before returning home. He then carefully packed his trunk and retrieved Trevor from the garden, where he'd spent the holiday.
The first of September arrived bright and sunny, and Neville got out of bed and ready without any prodding. He went downstairs and had breakfast with his grandmother before returning upstairs to get his things.
Before he left his room for the last time, he had a quick conversation with his plants. "All right, you lot. I'll be gone for a while. Gran has promised to look after you, but...well, you know she's not all that handy with plants. You'll just have to hang on best you can 'til Christmas. I'll be back then." With that, he gathered up his Mimbulus mimbletonia and headed down the stairs.
"All right, Gran. I'm ready." And it was the truth. There was something different about him; he'd seen it in himself in the hospital wing at Hogwarts after the incident in June. He wasn't sure what it was, he just knew it was. For once in his life, he actually felt ready to face the future.
A/N: Many thanks to Gridley for letting me use the wand he chose for Neville. If you haven't read his excellent fic, "The Making of a Wand," which can be found at PhoenixSong, I highly recommend you do so. Also, thanks to ChaoticK and Gridley for pre-betaing, and Lucyjekyll for being the fabulous beta she is! Special thanks to Malfidus, who advised me to "just sit down and write something, already," and to OHGinnyfan for her comments and support, and for pre-betaing at least a million versions of this chapter.