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Wingardium Leviosa

Neville Longbottom had already had his fill of being the absolute last in class. It wasn't that he needed or wanted to be in the position of Hermoine Granger. Clearly she was far too clever to beat and he wouldn't want that kind of attention anyway. Who wants to be the class Know-It-All? But dead last was worse, much worse. That was why the round-faced, 11-year-old boy was found after the last class of the day was over in an empty classroom facing three large feathers. He was determined to practice "Wingardium Leviosa" until he either mastered it or blew himself up. It was an unfortunate fact that the latter seemed the most likely.

Neville first practiced the wand motion that Professor Flitwick had shown them. He began by trying it in slow motion, until he felt that his own actions must surely mirror that of their tiny, talented professor.

Next, he practiced the words until he sounded suspiciously like squeaky Professor Flitwick. He wondered if the imitation might perhaps make a difference.

Inevitably he must try the motion with the words on a feather. It was amazing how much apprehension he could hold for what had seemed to be a simple enough act. It occurred to Neville that there was a lot to be said for the watchful supervision of a teacher, who if called upon, could replace one's ears. Are you a Gryffindor or not? he asked himself for the umpteenth time.

The first of the three feathers met a most tragic end. It was astounding how much such a small and lightweight item could stink when singed. What did I do wrong? He scrunched his eyes together in concentration. Perhaps concentration is the answer? It seemed logical enough. Neville was not one who could afford to let his attentions wander. He was barely more than a squib after all.

To his delight, the second feather floated. But an over-enthusiastic flick of his father's wand sent it flying right out the door. Neville poked his head into the corridor, looking for the outcome of his first successful levitation. The feather seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Neville wasted a few moments hunting. He would soon need to head to dinner, so he decided it was best to resume his practice.

Neville returned to the quiet classroom to face his last feather. With some trepidation he prepared himself. This time when the feather floated, he worked to contain his zeal. This too, seemed to be the wrong choice. The feather dropped like a stone into his lap. Irritated, Neville pointed his wand, jabbing rather than swishing. The result was a sizzling sound and a horrifying heat in the last place a boy would want it.

Neville could hardly bring himself to look. Cringing he faced the right direction and opened first one eye to peak and see if he was in one piece. The flesh was unharmed, but exposed. Opening the other eye, Neville realized he had managed to make an oval-shaped, bludger-sized hole through robes, trousers, and boxers. He laughed at his own blunder in relief that he wasn't singing soprano permanently. And then he realized he was on the first floor and replacement clothes were on the seventh. In between those two points were countless classmates, ghosts, portraits, and one merciless poltergeist.

Neville's round face was crimson as he stepped cautiously out of the classroom door into an empty hallway. He had pulled his robe tightly across himself to make sure he had at least one layer of protection. He knew, however, that if anyone looked closely they would see the hole in the robe and guess what he might be covering. I have to be the worst excuse for a wizard ever, he chided himself.

However, luck was with Neville on the first floor. He managed to make it to the staircase without encountering a single soul. Up he went, nearly on tiptoe, as if that would help.

"You smell like burned feathers, my boy," a portrait of a red nosed, bald man said from beside the staircase.

"Sorry," he mumbled, dreading the remaining distance.

"Up to no good, I'm sure," declared a woman with a poorly colored wig in a portrait on the opposite wall.

"I was just practicing charms," he said in his defense. If this is the reward for my troubles, I may never do homework again.

Above he heard chuckling from two very similar voices. It could only be the Weasley twins. Neville rearranged his books in a seriously awkward fashion over his hip to cover the hole in his robe. Amazingly, the twins were so wrapped up in whatever goings-on they were planning that they only said "Hi" simultaneously and kept going. Neville sighed audibly with relief when they were out of earshot. He also noted there was only one more floor to go, about the time that he lost the precarious grip on the books, to watch them tumble back down the stairs.

Percy Weasley was the one who caught them. The Gryffindor prefect brought the books back up to Neville and stared at him sternly through horn-rimmed glasses. "You should be more careful," Percy said in a scolding tone.

Neville reached for the books with a shaking hands, still holding the robe in its crossed position via an elbow. "Th-th-thanks," he managed to say, praying that Percy wouldn't examine him any closer.

Percy raced on ahead up the stairs as if he were late for something. Finally on the right floor, Neville breathed another sigh of relief. He need only make it down the corridor and then – but a large group of girls picked that moment to make their way toward the staircase. Horrified, Neville couldn't face the numerous possibilities for disaster. He ducked behind a suit of armor until they passed by.

At last he had made it to the portrait of the fat lady. He stood before her, took a deep breath, and realized he didn't know the password. Neville let out a string of profanities that would have made the Weasley twins blush. The fat lady covered her ears until he was finished and then fanned herself. "I don't know the password, but you just have to let me in."

"And precisely why should I be inclined to do that," she responded haughtily.

He moved as close to the portrait as he dared and showed only the hole in the robe, by sticking a book behind it. "It g-g-g-goes all the way through," he stuttered. There was so much heat flooding his face, he was afraid he might set something on fire.

The fat lady giggled. "Oh dear. I'm not supposed to but then …"

"Please, it's an emergency," he begged, near tears now.

"Oh, go on then," she said, chuckling and moved aside for him. Neville didn't waste a moment as he scrambled through the portrait hole, trying to maintain what little modesty he had left.

He barreled up the stairs into his thankfully empty dorm, where he rapidly changed clothes, burying the ruined set at the very bottom of his trunk. As Neville passed the fat lady on his way out, he turned and promised, "I won't ever ask to be let in without the password again, I promise."

The fat lady just winked at him and held one finger over her lips.

Neville didn't know if he'd ever master wingardium leviosa, but he did know it would be a long time before he'd try again.