Disclaimer:Harry Potter is owned by J.K Rowling, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Warner Bros etc, etc, etc. Not me. I am making no profit (whatsoever) from this fic and am only dabbling my unworthy fingers in her magical world. No Copyright infringement is intended.
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A Not So Chance Encounter
A few years after the Battle of Hogwarts
Neville Apparated to Hogsmeade on the morning of the sixth of August wearing his best robes.
Unfortunately, in his haste not to be late, he had arrived forty minutes prior to his eleven o'clock appointment with Headmistress McGonagall, so he decided to take a leisurely walk up to Hogwarts in the hope of calming his frazzled nerves and roiling stomach. It was a bright, sunny day so the walk would be pleasant. He smoothed his dark hair down, squared his shoulders and set off.
Really, he chided himself, I'm an adult now. Responsible, qualified and more than capable. Why am I so nervous?
Of course, he knew why. That September, he was due to take over the position of Herbology professor at his former school after the retirement of Pomona Sprout in June. She had stayed only long enough after the end of the War to rebuild stocks in the greenhouses and ensure the new plants were durable enough to endure all that they must in the hands of eager (and often inept) students. Now that she was certain this was indeed the case - and delighted that Neville was her successor - she was happy to retire and possibly write a book on her experiences as a teacher, or perhaps travel abroad to study exotic plants, something she had always wanted to do.
And so it was that Neville had a pre-term meeting with McGonagall that day to discuss his responsibilities as a teacher and the syllabus requirements for the year. It still felt as if it were only yesterday that he had been running through the corridors to classes, trying to avoid Snape's attention, sharing a dormitory with Harry, Ron, Seamus and Dean.
Fighting a war.
Still, it wasn't only yesterday. That had been three years ago and he was a different person now. He was taller, stronger and much more confident than the somewhat shy boy of his earlier Hogwarts' years. Nobody picked on him any more. Most people had a healthy respect for him now. Sometimes too much, he thought ruefully. Really, it was embarrassing at times, when complete strangers stopped him in the street asking to have their photo taken with him, or wanted him to autograph schoolbooks (which he would nip that in the bud that year), napkins or whatever else they had available at that moment. One woman even asked him to sign …
I WILL NOT think about that!!
He hadn't the foggiest notion how Harry put up with this sort of nonsense on a daily basis, when he couldn't even handle it on a weekly one. But then, Harry and Ginny lived in a fairly rural area now and avoided large crowds as much as possible.
Neville continued on his way up towards the castle, the gates of which he could now see looming directly ahead and he exhaled nervously. It would seem he had walked faster than he had thought and was now a full half-hour early for his meeting with the stern headmistress. He wondered if he should just walk about the grounds when he got there, to kill time, then mentally kicked himself for putting the words 'grounds' and 'kill' in the same sentence, given where he currently stood.
The deep baritone of Hagrid pulled him out of his morbid contemplation. The gamekeeper was thundering towards the gates with the keys in hand and the ground shuddered with every step the half-giant took.
"Blimey, Neville, yer early. Wasn't expectin' yeh for at least twen'y minutes. I imagin' yer keen ter make th' righ' impression - what with Professor McGonagall being in charge now?"
"Hi Hagrid. Yeah, something like that."
The young wizard entered the grounds through the open gates, unwilling to admit to the groundskeeper that his nerves had been so frayed, he had walked up the road from Hogsmeade considerably faster than he had meant to in a futile attempt to calm them.
"Yer a good lad, Neville! One of the bes', along wi' 'Arry o' course!" Hagrid clapped him affectionately on the back and he nearly coughed his lungs up. "Cours', I'll need ter be callin' yeh Professor now, eh? 'Magine tha'! Our Neville, Hogwarts' youngest ever Herbology teacher!"
Hagrid beamed with pride through his bushy beard, eyes glistening suspiciously, while he closed the school gates.
Praying fervently that the massive bloke wouldn't start crying, Neville tried to distract him with enquiries as to his health and what he had planned for his Care of Magical Creatures classes the coming year.
"I'm jus' fine. No' complaining. I've a great batch o' creatures planned for this year. Fleur Weasley's goin' ter see about gettin' some Wrathful Rabbits fer th' spring term. They live in hilly areas an' squir' acid in th face of anyon' tha' tramples through their terri'try. Usually some poor unsuspecting' Muggle 'illwalkers. Brings 'em ou' in terrible boils.
"Sounds great," replied Neville, thinking it sounded anything but, and feeling eternally grateful he was no longer a student. He wondered where the bad-tempered bunnies shot the acid from and how it was that Fleur knew of them. The youngest Longbottom had always enjoyed Hagrid's somewhat eccentric lessons, but he would have enjoyed them even more if the danger of being seriously wounded had been significantly less.
When they reached the castle entrance, Hagrid invited him over for a cup of tea and some of his home made rock cakes after he was finished with the headmistress, then waved the new professor a friendly goodbye.
Taking a deep breath to still the butterflies in his stomach, Neville made his way into the castle, through the halls and up the many staircases towards the headmaster's office.
But it's the headmistress' office now, he thought, with a pang of sorrow. Not that he begrudged McGonagall her position. From what he had heard, she ruled with a strict, though fair hand. He just couldn't imagine Hogwarts without Dumbledore, despite the fact that four years had passed since his death.
The portraits acknowledged him with friendly waves as he passed and Sir Cadogan called out a cheery greeting, his armour clanking as he waved his arm merrily. Before he knew it, Neville arrived at the gargoyle that guarded the concealed stairway to McGonagall's office. It stared at him balefully.
He debated for a few minutes as to whether or not he should go up so early. After all, his appointment was still fifteen minutes away and Professor McGonagall may yet be busy with other school business. He was reluctant to disturb her, especially when he was still feeling somewhat anxious. Smirking at his own reticence, Neville pulled himself up straight. If those autograph hunters could see him now. Defiant to Voldemort's face, yet cowed by an old Scottish witch!
He gave the password to the gargoyle in a clear, firm voice.
McGonagall's passwords were not the sweet treats of her predecessor, Dumbledore. They were the names of the students who had participated in the final battle just over three years ago; a reminder to all who entered her office what the cost of protecting the school had been. And a tribute, so that they would never forget those who had given their very existence to ensure that future generations would not know the horror of war.
There was, of course, a memorial plaque in the Entrance Hall that Neville had passed, but he had not looked at it, yet, and was reluctant to do so at all. He could vividly recall the death masks of all the fallen he and Oliver Wood had moved after the first onslaught - and again after the second and didn't need to read their names on an elaborate memorial to remember them: he dreamt of them most nights.
The gargoyle swung aside and the young man ascended the stairs to the headmistress' office. He knocked politely at the door, which promptly swung open to reveal his former Head of House.
"Why, Mr Longbottom." she said, looking slightly startled. "Good heavens, you're a full ten minutes early!"
"I'm sorry, Professor, I mean Headmistress McGonagall. I sort of walked faster from Hogsmeade than I'd intended and, well, here I am. I'd be happy to wait if you're busy."
"Now where would be the use in that, when you're already here?" McGonagall ushered him inside the office and over to the large, ornate desk where she sat. "Take a seat and I'll have some tea and light refreshments sent up. From the look of you, you could use some." she said primly, eyeing him reproachfully.
Flushing slightly, Neville offered a sheepish grin before taking the proffered seat.
"I was just on my way to have a word with Poppy and Professor Slughorn regarding some potions we will be requiring this year. I had to call them in a little early because I've received word that one of our new students suffers from lycanthropy and we simply must have the requisite stock of Wolfsbane for her, poor child. It takes so long to brew that the sooner Horace gets started, the better."
Neville frowned in concern. He had only ever known one person who suffered from the condition, Professor Lupin. Another bloody casualty, he thought bitterly. Remus Lupin had been his favourite teacher, after Professor Sprout. The painfully thin man had been a quiet, gentle soul who bore a terrible affliction: one who - despite the mental and physical agonies of his monthly transformations, and the prejudice of the general Wizarding world - had fought the dark forces of Voldemort with conviction and courage. Neville was determined do everything he could to ensure the as yet unnamed student would be welcomed into his classes and treated with the same fairness and objectivity as any other student.
A crisp brogue interrupted his train of thought and he gave himself a mental shake.
"This may take slightly longer than ten minutes, I'm afraid. Perhaps it was a good thing I caught you when I did, otherwise you may have been kept waiting. At least now you may wait in the comfort of my office with a nice cup of tea and have a few more minutes to collect your thoughts before we begin. Is that agreeable to you, Neville?" She offered a thin-lipped smile and her face collected a more wrinkles around the eyes.
Her visitor nodded his assent, momentarily stunned to hear her address him by his first name. A house elf appeared at McGonagall's command and took an order for tea and cakes, then disappeared.
"I shall return presently, then."
She left the room with a swish of her robes, her tight grey bun concealed by her pointed black hat.
Left alone to his thoughts, Neville glanced casually around the office. Although the room was not greatly changed, it reflected the stricter McGonagall's personality now more than Professor Dumbledore's. The glass display containing the Sword of Gryffindor still hung on the wall across from the main desk - he shuddered slightly as he regarded it, remembering the last time he had seen it - and the tall cabinet where he had kept his pensieve remained on the lower level of the office. But perch where Dumbledore had supposedly housed his phoenix, like its inhabitant, was gone, replaced with a good sized table and several chairs. Perhaps for meetings with the headmistress? There were no whirring silver instruments in the corners of the room, which he had noticed the last time he had been here.
When Snape had been headmaster.
Why hadn't he have thought it odd at the time that Snape had not altered the layout of the office of the man he had supposedly murdered. Although Neville hadn't been in the office when Dumbledore had been alive, it had contained so many of his eccentricities that it was obvious Snape hadn't changed much, if anything.
Professor McGonagall, however, had sent a lot of the items to storage and her desk was orderly and neat. A tartan tin sat on the left side of her desk (filled with her beloved Ginger Newts, no doubt), some student files on the right and a stack of fresh parchment rested directly in front of her seat with a quill and inkpot at the side. Other than that, the desk was quite bare. The chair he was sitting in had her only other personal touch, apart from the tin. It was a green tartan monstrosity, straight-backed with minimal padding on the seats and rather narrow armrests.
To discourage time-wasters. He smirked, thinking it was so very - McGonagall.
Suddenly Neville felt the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to rise. Startled, he twisted around quickly, half-rising out of the chair as he pulled his wand out of his pocket and brandished it in anticipation. Something - no, someone - sniggered. But there was no one there.
He realised his mistake immediately when a sly voice said, "How very Gryffindor. Always looking for enemies to throw themselves at, even when there are none to be had."
Glancing higher up the opposite wall, Neville saw the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, sneering at him in smug satisfaction.
Feeling rather foolish, he put his wand back in his pocket. He had been so distracted with his thoughts that he had forgotten about the portraits. "Professor Black," he greeted the portrait cordially, before smiling at the others on the wall.
"That would be Headmaster Black. I may be dead, but that's no excuse to be rude."
"Come now Phineas. There's no need to be so short with Mr Longbottom. Or do you forget to whom you are speaking?"
Neville froze. He knew that voice. It had commanded Hogwarts for six of his seven years there as a student. Slowly, he pivoted on the spot and raised his eyes to take a proper look at the wall behind McGonagall's desk, silently cursing his own stupidity for not paying more attention earlier.
There, residing on a large (and extremely comfortable looking) red armchair, wearing deep blue robes with spinning celestial bodies, was the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
With his mouth gaping stupidly, he tried to sputter something, anything, that could be counted as an appropriate greeting to the deceased professor and managing little more than a half-strangled grunt.
Of course Dumbledore's portrait would be there what had he been thinking? The walls were festooned with portraits of dead headmasters. But this was the first time Dumbledore's had spoken to him and it was an unexpected shock.
"Why don't you take a seat, Neville? You don't mind if I use your first name do you? I feel that if we are to see more of each other now that you are a member of staff, that we should perhaps dispense with some formalities - at least, when alone or in select company."
Dumbledore regarded him over his half-moon spectacles, vivid blue eyes twinkling furiously.
Neville slid back into his seat in graceless shock. Phineas Nigellus, who was vastly amused at his pathetic attempts to verbalise, muttered snidely in the background about half-wit lions and verbal diarrhoea, but promptly desisted when he received several hot reprimands from the neighbouring portraits.
"There, now. Much better. I have always found it best to converse with company while sitting. Don't you agree?"
Dumbledore smiled widely at him, not really expecting an answer. "Ah, your refreshments. Excellent timing!"
A house elf in a snowy white towel appeared with a tray heaped with cakes, buns, a steaming pot of tea and two delicate porcelain cups and saucers. After placing the tray on the McGonagall' desk, the elf bowed to Neville and left with a soft pop.
Fortunately, Neville had finally recovered the ability to speak. He ignored the tray of goodies to stare instead at Dumbledore's portrait. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't mean to… I was just… I mean you rather…"
"Startled you? Yes, I don't often get the opportunity to do that to people anymore. Being a portrait is rather limiting. Do pour yourself some tea, Neville."
The new Herbology professor complied, giving himself time to marshal his thoughts.
"Tell me, my boy," queried Dumbledore, "how have you been faring since we last met?"
"Oh, very well, Professor Dumbledore." Neville winced, recalling that he had more or less been permitted to use the man's first name. But he would need time to get used to that. It just felt wrong to do so at the moment.
Dumbledore appeared to understand. "I have no doubt that you would do anything other than well, dear boy. Are you looking forward to starting as our new Herbology professor this September?"
His eyes lit up at the mention of his new career. "Yes, sir! I'm anxious to take a look at the greenhouses and make sure there are sufficient stocks of ear muffs, dragon-hide gloves and Mooncalf dung. That sort of thing..."
He hesitated. "Of course, I have no doubt that Professor Sprout left everything in top order," he added hastily, embarrassed that he may have inadvertently cast aspersions on his former teacher.
The portrait chuckled at his enthusiasm and subsequent verbal backtracking.
"Professor McGonagall arranged this meeting to discuss the syllabus, as well as my new responsibilities," he added sheepishly.
Keen blue eyes studied the faint scars on the young man's cheeks, remnants of the Cruciatus torture he suffered at his final year in Hogwarts. "I know that you take your responsibilities very seriously," remarked Dumbledore.
Leaning back slightly in his painted armchair, he gazed rather intently at Neville.
"You were always a quiet student. Friendly, loyal and generous to a fault, but rather grave and lonely at times. But that was not always the case. I remember the first time I ever met you. You were but a baby at the time; small, round and very pink."
Neville blushed at the description, thinking it was still appropriate now, though he was, at least, definitely taller.
"You were about six months old. I had just visited your parents to discuss some, shall we say, Order business."
Thinking Dumbledore was referring to the Order of the Phoenix, which he already knew about, Neville chose not to interrupt, hoping he would give him some unknown details of his parents when they had been alive - in every sense of the word.
"Your mother had just finished bathing you when I arrived and your damp hair was almost as black as Harry's. She had been attempting to dry it with her wand, but your little fist kept grabbing it and sticking it in your mouth, forcing her to remove it several times in case you harmed yourself. But you kept grabbing it back again before she could really pull it far enough away, so fearless and fun-loving were you. Your father was extremely amused and laughed so much, he rather annoyed your mother, I dare say. In the end, he had to summon the wand from her hand to prevent you from consuming it and to keep himself in your mother's good graces."
Please keep talking, Neville prayed. This glimpse into a normal day he had spent with his parents was an unexpected treasure.
"As I recall, you were also quite taken with my favourite purple hat and summoned it from my very head on at least two occasions during that visit. I had to perform a semi-permanent sticking charm to keep it on my head and out of your reach. Some of the other Order members were looking at me in the most suspicious manner for several days after that, until I realised that the hat still smelled of Bettina Bartlett's Always Gentle Baby Oil." Dumbledore coughed slightly. "Yes, that was rather embarrassing. I'm sure your father refrained from telling them the real reason behind that longer than was strictly necessary."
Stunned, he had stopped hearing anything that came after the summoning of Dumbledore's hat. "You mean I did accidental magic?" The news surprised and elated him.
"Of course you did. Most wizarding children do at some point."
"But why didn't I do any more until I was so much older? Gran thought I was a Squib. I thought I was a Squib."
"Would it really matter if you had been? You are still a person, Neville, still a Longbottom." Dumbledore regarded him shrewdly.
"No, sir. I suppose it wouldn't have mattered - well, not to me. But I didn't want to disappoint Gran."
"You have never been a disappointment to your grandmother, Neville. When your parents were attacked and incapacitated by the Death Eaters, she was devastated. You were the one thing that kept her going, kept her focussed and strong. She merely wanted you to be as strong as you could be in order to protect yourself against anyone who meant you harm. It may have seemed to you that she was disappointed when you couldn't perform the simple magics that your peers were capable of, but that was only because she feared for your safety if she were no longer there to guide you."
"I know that now, Professor," he admitted.
"Of course you do. Augusta must be inordinately proud of you. As am I. You have become quite the hero, you know."
Neville flushed. "I wasn't the only one, sir," he said. "We all did what we had to that year. When we returned to Hogwarts after your…"
He paused uncomfortably, not really wanting to say the word in case he further reminded his old headmaster of his current restrictions. But the portrait of Albus Dumbledore was smiling back at him in encouragement.
"…after your death," he resumed, "most of the Muggleborn students were missing and Snape - the man everyone believed was your killer - was our new headmaster, we knew things would be bad. But we had no idea just how bad they be until we started lessons with the Carrows. They were vicious and twisted. Purely evil."
"So you and your fellow students mounted an insurrection," stated the portrait.
"Well, yes, sir, what else could we do? Sit back and be conditioned like good little Death Eaters, or Crucio each other when we were told to for disobeying orders?" His eyes burned darkly in remembrance of all the injustices they had had to endure.
"Ginny, Luna and I restarted the DA just days after classes with the Carrows began. We organised training sessions in secret for all students who wanted to fight, which was basically everyone - including some Slytherins. We mounted any resistance we could; hiding the remaining Muggleborn students and some half-bloods who couldn't 'adequately' prove their blood status, painting DA slogan's on walls, refusing to administer the Carrows' punishments in classes."
Professor Dumbledore nodded in understanding. "And very successful your resistance was, too," he stated. "Poor Severus was at his wits' end trying put a stop to it all. He knew that you were a key figure in the rebellion, suspected that you were, in fact, its leader. But he could never prove it. No recriminating evidence was ever left to point to any specific individual being responsible, and all the students were most uncooperative when questioned by the staff."
Neville tried to feel sorry for Snape, but still found it rather difficult. He knew that the man had been a vital player in the eventual outcome of the War, and that in his dual role as spy and headmaster, he had been concerned with the safety of all of his students at that difficult time. And Neville had been making a real effort over the last few years to overcome his enmity towards his former Potions professor and to accept him as the good, if somewhat bitter, man he had been. But their history together was too volatile to make this process easy.
"I suppose we should have been glad of that year of hell, in the end," he said, after some reflection. "After all, it prepared us for the night Voldemort's forces attacked us, though I don't think - at that time - anyone would have expected Hogwart's to be the scene of the final battle. But so many people died. So many students, so many friends. So many children."
He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Children shouldn't have to learn to fight in a war."
Leaning forward, Dumbledore said "I am fully aware of all that happened on the terrible, but inevitable night that Voldemort chose to make his bid for the ultimate supremacy. I know the names of all who fought and died so valiantly, and you are correct: children should not have to fight in a war. But evil does not take morals into account and war makes victims of us all, in one way or another.
"However, no matter how hard evil may try to prevail, it can never truly stifle the human spirit, as you yourself proved, Neville. I know that you defied Voldemort to his very face that night. I know of your loyalty to both me and Harry when you incited the DA to fight - even when all hope seemed gone. I know that you slew Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor. I watched as you and your friends fought in the castle and saw you and Ronald Weasley dispose of the abomination, Fenrir Greyback."
The young wizard knew exactly what he had done during the battle, but hearing his former headmaster describe it with such obvious respect and admiration was a little unnerving and made him squirm.
Dumbledore hid a smile at his discomfort. "You really are as quite as bad as Harry sometimes, Neville. Both far too modest and unassuming. But perhaps that is not such a bad thing. I understand you received an Order of Merlin First Class for your actions?"
"Yes, Professor." He groaned slightly in embarrassment. "Gran has it displayed in a special case mounted in the living room, and won't offer any visitors a cup of tea until they admire it properly. She keeps telling them I'm it's youngest ever recipient and flat out ignores me when I try to point out that Ginny and Luna are a year younger than me. I try to stay away now, when there's company."
There was a burst of hearty chuckles as the portrait-Dumbledore laughed outright. "Ah, my dear boy! Don't begrudge Augusta her chance to show off. She deserves to be proud. She raised both an exemplary son and grandson. Your award is validation for all her hard work."
"I never thought of it that way. She has been great, though. I know it was hard for her to raise a child after what happened to my parents and I know that she loves me. It's just easier to see now after everything that's happened. I couldn't begrudge her the pleasure she gets from showing off, I just don't have to be there when she's doing it."
The distant sound of the gargoyle's motion drifted up the stairwell and through the crack in the door, and Neville knew that the headmistress was on her way back to the office to commence their meeting.
Portrait Dumbledore looked at his former pupil with warmth and said, "I'm glad we had this chance to talk Neville. Now that you have come home to Hogwarts, I hope we have the opportunity to have many more chats just like it."
"I hope so too, sir. I know Professor McGonagall will be an excellent headmistress, but it's been so good to see you again. Hogwarts feels more like home now that I have."
"Why, thank you Mr Longbottom, for your encouraging words," came a crisp Scottish voice. "I am glad to hear you find me sufficient enough as a replacement."
Neville was mortified that she had heard him and blushed to his very roots. McGonagall had crossed the room and stood off to his left, gazing sternly down at him with her lips pursed. It was alarming how strongly she reminded him of Gran sometimes…
"Albus, if you have finished extolling the virtues of our new Herbology professor, I would like to commence my meeting with him - that is, if he finds me up to the job."
The new Herbology professor was just wondering if she would notice if he blasted a hole in the floor to throw himself into, when he saw the corner of her mouth quirk. Realising that she had been teasing him, he decided against it.
"Of course, Minerva. Professor Longbottom and I were just finishing our little talk. Neville, do come and see me again soon and let me know how you are enjoying your new duties. I am confident that the students couldn't be in more…responsible hands."
With that, he leaned back in his chair and resumed his silent vigil over the room's occupants.
"Now, Mr Longbottom."
McGonagall stared at him from across the desk, every bit the headmistress. "Let's see if you were responsible enough to leave me some tea."
Author's Note: Revised on 30/08/2009
Kara's Aunty :)