Death in small doses.
I had never apparated this far but it was time for a vacation and Neville's invitation was the perfect excuse to go to America. The journey left me dizzy and I found myself holding on to a weatherworn gate, hoping I had gotten the coordinates correct. I righted myself, smoothing out my hair as best I could and straightening my skirt.
The wooden gate, now more in focus that I had gotten my bearings was smooth under my hand and looped up into an opening and just above the crest of the entrance there was a sign that read "Earthly delights".
The front garden shown brilliant with dahlia's, roses, and a mixture of ornamental grasses all so abundant they seemed wild but as I set my foot on the gravel path it became evident that there was indeed an intricate plan that had been set forth. I walked with the sun on my back and the flowers beckoned me forward, teasing out my next step before I had completed the one previous. The color and texture of the garden worked a magic on my disposition that was more powerful than I could explain, of course, rationalizing like any good scientist, I conceded that my need for a respite was more pressing than I had realized and just being in new surroundings had undoubtedly lifted my mood.
Neville was hunched over in the distance, of course tending to some plants. It was all so serene, miles away from the war. Neville straightened, sensing that someone was approaching. I could tell he recognized me, he pulled off his gardening hat and gloves, leaving them discarded on the grass and broke into a light jog.
"Hermione! Wonderful to see you…" he kissed my cheek and grabbed my one small bag. The old shyness and uncertainty had receded and he was all gentle enthusiasm.
"Neville, this place is wonderful. I'm so happy for you."
He blushed a bit and I hid my smile…this was our old way of communicating, me trying to bolster and he getting flustered. I felt guilty at enjoying my position in our friendship but was truly happy that it was all just tradition, Neville had escaped his old life and he didn't need my help anymore.
He slowed his pace for me, now topping out at well over six feet.
"Come, let me show you around…or are you tired?"
"Oh no…I'd love to look around." I lied gracefully, not about wanting to look around but about being tired, I was in fact, exhausted.
We headed off to the greenhouses first, "Earthly Delights" for the public was an organic farm serving the local towns in California but cloaked from the muggle public was its true purpose, as a supply house of fine potions ingredients.
The five greenhouses lay just left of a beautifully restored Tudor estate. We past by those and instead headed for a tree stump which Neville tapped lightly with two fingers, then three. A glass door appeared that he held opened.
"After you" He smiled ruefully, enjoying my reaction to the magic.
I stepped inside, it was warm and moist, the scent of soil and exotic plants wafted past me propelled by ceiling fans. There was table after table laden with plants of all sizes, shape and color. I marveled at the orchids closest to me, their flower faces poised at odd angles.
"Neville, this is incredible…." Words failed me and all I could utter was, "I love it."
"Thanks Hermione." He stowed my things under a table and donned a lab coat. I watched him slip into his element and stupidly I almost started to cry. I was so happy for him but in my own way jealous. He was doing it, he was living his dream, in a beautiful peaceful place, surrounded by the things he loved…and where was I…stuck at Hogwarts, teaching first and second years the "art" or better the disaster of potion making, under the aegis of an overworked, war torn mentor who's only pleasure in life had been reduced to finding fault in his assistant and making Hufflepuff girls cry. Where did I go so wrong?
"Hermione?" Neville sounded concerned.
"Oh Neville, I'm sorry I was miles away." I walked over and stood on the other side, opposite him.
"Don't worry about Hogwarts, they can get along without you for a few days…I hope." He laughed softly.
"Yes…yes your right." I joined him and we both laughed, remembering the old days, each in our own way.
"What have you got there?" I looked down to where his hands rested on a deep tray filled with a yellow flowering plant.
Neville's brow drew in and in a much more serious tone he said, " Its latin name is Hypericum but you may have read about it at Hogwarts as the Fugum Demonum.
I translated, "The Devil's Scourge?...no, I don't think so…" My interest was piqued, Neville's knowledge was so extensive and he never hesitated to share.
"I learned about it from the muggles." He smiled. "We tend to chat when they come into help with the gardens, they're a very nice sort, some very knowledgeable." He turned the plant more towards the sun and lifted a bloom to give me a closer look.
"It's been in use forever, takes away depression, bad thoughts…calms the irrational mind. In the middle ages they used it as a cure for what they believed was possession but what was most probably mental illness or depression."
"I should bring some back for professor Snape, he could use a bit of cheering." I tried to laugh but it was too much of a raw truth.
Neville stared into my eyes, he was always good at sensing pain. "Is he giving you a lot of trouble?" He sounded concerned and surprisingly a bit angry.
"Oh Snape is Snape…its hard to be too harsh about him when I see him come back from Voldemort. I suppose we all need an outlet." I sounded pathetically resolved and I hated myself.
"Perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone then." Neville looked pensive.
"What?" I asked, feeling confused.
"I didn't want to bring this up immediately but I asked you here for a reason…wait here for minute, please." He turned and walked back to the end of the tables where there was some cabinets and a few cauldrons, he bent down and took out a small object and came back.
He presented me with a small clear container that appeared completely empty. I looked up to him for an explanation.
"I've been experimenting with the Devils scourge…I've got an idea."
I peered more closely into the container, sure that I must be missing something.
"You can't see it with the naked eye Hermione. I've concentrated and filtered it to such a degree that its well…for all purposes…it's invisible."
I peaked over the container. "Why would you want it to be invisible?" I queried, becoming more interested.
The idea came to me one week about 3 months ago, end of spring…I occasionally let some of the volunteer gardeners stay over in the guest rooms if they're getting a lot done and don't want to bother driving home. On one occasion a husband and wife were helping me with the early bean plantings, we do everything for the farm the muggle way so as not to raise suspicion in the neighborhood, well…anyway…Jon, the husband, I noticed had terrible bouts of sneezing and watery eyes, his wife Maria said it was seasonal allergies. I had run across this term many times in some of my muggle library books but hadn't seen it in action yet…It was pretty bad for him."
"Yes, Neville I know all about seasonal allergies, my mother suffers…she never would take the potions Poppy let me have for her…pity…would have cured her completely, but what does this have to do with the Devil's scourge and professor Snape?"
"Jon, my friend with the allergies took out some medicine, it was called an inhaler. I asked him about this method of dispensing, as we have nothing like it in the wizarding world." Hermione smiled, sometimes she would forget that Neville was very much a pureblood wizard.
"He looked at me a bit funny, probably thought it was a British thing that I didn't know about it and proceeded to explain to me how it worked and about other methods. When he told me they even have one that is breathed through the nose…I got an idea."
Hermione's eyebrows raised in confusion, still not catching on to where Neville was leading with all these elements.
Neville set down the invisible Devil's scourge and drew out a parchment containing a grid.
"I think we could defeat Voldemort by treating him like he has a mental illness."
Hermione blinked, not sure if she had heard correctly.
"Wait…you want to give Voldemort an antidepressant?"
"Yes…that's right…" Neville smiled up at her. " I think that if we gave him small doses of this refined and concentrated powder I've made it would render him less angry and vengeful, perhaps easier to defend ourselves or perhaps even…. Kill him." Neville shuddered at that last pronouncement, it was known among all the order members and their close friends that Neville was what could only be described as a pacifist. It frustrated Harry and Ron to no end that Neville didn't remain in the order after Hogwarts graduation, especially after what Voldemort had done to his parents.
Hermione reasoned with them that he had had enough and needed to get away, probably for his own sanity.
" But Neville it's not like he's human, how do we even know it would work on him and secondly how could we administer it without him knowing, he's like Dumbledore, he senses everything."
"Well….I've thought about that….Snape will have to do it."
"Yes….he's the only one that gets close enough to him…we'll have to apply the unseen powder to his deatheater robes, he'll have to try to get close to him and swish them around a bit, the powder will become airborne and Voldemort will breath it in." Neville looked expectantly at Hermione…waiting for the next question.
She thought for a moment…. "but if Voldemort breathes it in…won't Snape as well?"
Neville smirked ever so slightly, "…I'm afraid so…"
Hermione caught the subtle mischief around his eyes. "Neville, he will never agree." Hermione's mind was working out how he would react to being told about this plan and each scenario she saw herself getting a severe tongue lashing. She winced reflexively.
" I'm secluded here Hermione but I do know how desperate things are, everyone wants to feel free again…I wonder sometimes that Voldemort wouldn't welcome a change too." Neville laughed softly.
Hermione shook her head, his plan was so obtuse that it just might work…she needed to think on it more. It was very dangerous for Snape…this fact brought a churning to her stomach…what if Voldemort discovered the plan, realized he was being medicated? He would surely kill him. She swallowed back the bile that threatened to overcome her.
Neville spread out the parchment he had produced. "I've been self testing this Hermione and the effects have been significant. Now I'm a pure blood but Voldemort, at birth was a half-blood that may make a difference, but I think because how we have been raised, without the use of to many strong medicines these herbs are very potent, they seem to combine with our magical energy and produce a heightened effect. Since Voldemort has become supernatural in a way I think either it will have no effect on him or it will be drastic, I think it should be in small doses, to much to quick and he may catch on, but a slow incremental change, hopefully he will not notice.
Hermione's mind was reeling, not only could this be the answer that they have been searching for, but it could be totally bloodless, no loss of Harry or Snape. And Snape…what of him…a drastic change…less angry and vehement…it was all too much, the blood drained away from Hermione's mind, a gesture of self-preservation.
Neville caught her just in time. She opened her eyes and he was smiling down at her.
"Why are you smiling? I think I just fainted."
"Oh, I knew you'd be fine."
Hermione shook her head and didn't understand how he could know this but she shrugged his behavior off.
" There's an order meeting tomorrow night at Grimauld place, perhaps we should discuss this with Albus first and then you could present it at the meeting?"
Neville hesitated, " Well you see Hermione I'm not going to present it…you are."
"Me, but it's your idea Neville."
"But I can't leave, there's too much to do here…and your much better with…people than I am."
She realized that he meant Snape. How had she got elected to be the liaison between Snape and the rest of the world, even their colleagues would ask her to pass messages on to him for them, not wanting to incur his wrath over the intrusion.
She checked her watch and realized that if she was going to speak to Albus and possibly Minerva about the plan before the meeting tomorrow she'd probably have to leave now.
"Give me all your notes, the powder and this chart."
Neville knew by the flat tone of her voice she had agreed.