The greenhouses had never been one of Harry Potter's favourite places at Hogwarts. It wasn't that he had disliked his Herbology classes; far from it. But the potential for almost any plant to suddenly attack in a variety of ways had always made him nervous. That and some of the more disgusting experiences he had had in the buildings (Bubotuber pus, Snargaluff pods) definitely placed the greenhouses low on his list.
He was nervous that evening as he approached Greenhouse #8, but for a different reason. He knew that #8 held the most exotic, and dangerous, plants. It was where the practical portion of the Herbology N.E.W.T.s had been held for decades so that students could prove just how good they were in the subject.
On that evening #8 also held Harry's long-time friend and fellow Gryffindor Neville Longbottom. And that was why Harry was nervous. He and Neville needed to have an important conversation, and he was not looking forward to it. It was necessary, but something that Harry would have preferred to put off (for years, if possible). He had decided to just get it over with, though, and Neville's eighteenth birthday seemed to be as good a time as any.
He had walked to the school from Hogsmeade in the mellow summer twilight, enjoying the remnants of the day's heat. He had never been in the area at this point in the summer before, and he was surprised at how warm the day had been. He was also expecting that the sunlight would last until fairly late in the evening at this more northerly latitude.
He hadn't counted on the fact that Greenhouse #8 was tucked away in a corner of the grounds, to the east of all of the other greenhouses. Their presence, and part of what he knew was the Ravenclaw Tower, blocked much of what was left of the sunlight. As soon as Harry stepped into the shadow cast by the castle he shivered; the drop in temperature was definitely noticeable.
When he opened the door to the greenhouse he was surprised that it was even darker and gloomier inside. "Neville?" he called out, unable to see where his friend was.
"Over here, Harry," Neville replied, and Harry caught a brief flash of white as Neville waved, his pale skin creating a bright spot in the darkness. He started to move in that direction and almost immediately tripped over something that was soft, yielding, and slid out of his way. He suppressed a shudder.
"Can we get a little light in here?" Harry asked, pulling his wand from the specially designed slit pocket on his jeans. "Lum. . ."
"NO!" Neville shouted, stopping Harry in mid-charm. "I'm working on a special experiment with some nocturnal plants and I need it dark in here. Your eyes will adjust; just give it a few minutes. And don't move." That last was said with just a tinge of humour in Neville's voice.
"I will stay as still as a statue," Harry replied, positive that he didn't want to get into an altercation with any of Neville's "experiments". And as the minutes ticked by his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom and he found he was able to make out more details of his surroundings, enough that he felt comfortable in moving closer to where Neville stood.
The plant that Neville was laboring over looked vaguely familiar, and Harry's curiosity quickly got the better of him. "What are you working on, anyway?" he asked.
"I've been trying to cross a Devil's Snare with a Venomous Tentacula," Neville replied, prodding one of the dark purple leaves with his wand. "If I succeed I'll earn my N.E.W.T. without taking the test!"
Harry grinned at the excitement in his friend's voice. Herbology had always been Neville's special passion; he could well remember the Mimbulus mimbletonia from their fifth year.
Then the names of the two plants that Neville was creating a magical hybrid of hit him.
"You're doing what?!" he exclaimed, staring at the enormous plant as it spread over what looked like at least four work tables. "Why the hell would you want to cross those two plants? To make death by shrubbery so much easier?"
Neville laughed. "Actually, Professor Sprout thinks that if I'm successful the possibilities for using such a plant defensively could be unlimited. Starting with here at Hogwarts." He measured a length of vine with his wand before continuing. "Besides, you know how us Herbology nuts can be."
Harry shook his head. "Sometimes, Neville, I wonder if you're not just plain nuts, period."
Neville shrugged and shot Harry a grin. "I think I'm perfectly sane, thank you very much. After all, I wasn't the one who faced down Voldemort after returning from the dead."
Harry instantly felt something curdle in his stomach. This was what he had come to talk to his friend about, but even with such a perfect opening he didn't know how to start. "Yeah, well, about that. . ." His voice trailed off and he began studying the beaten earth floor beneath his feet.
"About what?" Neville asked, his attention back on the giant plant he was attending. He glanced up and saw that Harry looked unaccountably nervous; he was biting his lower lip and kept glancing down, as if afraid to meet the other man's eyes. "Harry, what's the matter?" Neville asked, moving out from behind his worktable and standing immediately in front of Harry.
Harry took a deep breath and was about to spill everything - the prophecy, Voldemort's choice, and how it could have just as easily been Neville with the scar on his forehead and the title of The Chosen One – when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time to see one of the vines grab hold of Neville's arm and start climbing towards his neck.
"HOLY SHIT!" Harry exclaimed. Neville instinctively tried to pull his arm free, but the vine only tightened its grip and began to move faster. Harry watched in horrified fascination as some of the plant's leaves formed themselves into the gaping, mouth-like structures particular to the Venomous Tentacula. Thankfully they didn't appear to have their teeth. Yet.
By this time the plant was more or less fully mobile, and vines were spreading across the floor on a collision course with Harry's feet. It was moving much faster than was normal for a Devil's Snare, and Harry felt his mind freeze in panic. It wasn't until he heard chocking sounds coming from Neville that he snapped out of it.
"AUROA SOLEIL!!!" he shouted. Light that rivaled the sun in its intensity erupted from his wand and filled the greenhouse. The vines that held Neville quickly retreated and he staggered at the suddenness of his release. The two young men bolted for the greenhouse door, ignoring the strange keening sound that appeared to be coming from the plant. Once outside Neville slammed the door and Harry cast a locking charm on it, just to be safe. They were both breathing heavily, from fright and their panicked departure.
"Well Neville," Harry said, pausing for a deep breath to try and calm his pounding heart. "Not that I'm any expert but I think your experiment is a success."
"Looks like it," Neville replied. The two friends glanced at each other and immediately burst out laughing. Neville collapsed on the ground and sat there, laughing until tears stained his cheeks. "Bloody hell," he gasped out, wheezing slightly.
"I didn't kill it, did I?" Harry asked as he sank to the ground and leaned his back against the greenhouse door.
Neville shook his head. "I doubt it. Each plant on its own is very difficult to kill. Heaven only knows what kind of resistance to ordinary magic this hybrid has." He looked down at his scratched and gashed arms and smiled ruefully. "All in the line of duty, I suppose. And my wand is still inside."
Harry, who still had his wand in his hand, cast a disinfecting charm to clean up all of the cuts. As he did so he noticed that the bruising on Neville's face, mementos of numerous detentions with the horrible Carrow siblings, was still not full healed. Face to face with the evidence of everything that Neville had suffered and endured in the past year made Harry that much more determined to tell his friend the truth.
"I never asked you what the heck you were doing here, Harry," Neville commented, flexing the arm that his hybrid had grabbed a hold of and wincing slightly. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, but I figure there must be a reason."
Given the opening Harry decided there was no point in beating around the bush. "I have something I need to tell you," he began, tucking his wand back in its pocket as he spoke before looking up and meeting Neville's eyes. "Did you ever wonder, Neville, why the Sword of Gryffindor came to you the way it did, exactly when you needed it?"
Neville shrugged. "Of course I did," he said. "It was odd, because I always thought that the sword was magically connected to you, and only you. That it belonged to you, in a sense. But I certainly can't question how useful it was," he concluded, flashing a grin.
Harry didn't return the smile. "I know why it was able to go to you," he said. When Neville gave him a questioning look he went on. "It's because the sword responds to loyalty, and need, and in that moment your need was great and your loyalty to what you believed was unshakeable. But there's more to it than that." He took a deep breath. "Do you remember the prophecy from the Ministry of Magic?"
"The one that I dropped and broke, so we never heard it?"
"That's the one. Except you're wrong about one thing. I heard it."
Neville looked confused. "How? I lost it in the middle of the battle. There's no way anyone could have heard what it said in all of that noise and confusion."
"I heard it after we got back to Hogwarts, in the memory of someone who heard it firsthand."
Harry nodded, glad that Neville had arrived at the correct conclusion so quickly. "He had a Pensieve, and I was able to hear the prophecy from his stored memory of it."
"What does this have to do with me, Harry?" Neville asked, starting to sound wary. "I think we can all accept that you were The Chosen One, destined, or fated, to bring about Voldemort's downfall. Not just once, but twice. I can hardly see how I fit in."
"You fit in, Neville, because it could have just as easily been you." As soon as he said it Harry winced inwardly at the bald statement of fact. He probably could have softened it slightly, if Neville's dumbfounded expression was anything to go by.
"What the hell does that mean?" Neville asked.
Surprised at how easily he retained the memory Harry recited the prophecy in its entirety.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches
Born to those who have thrice defied him
Born as the seventh month dies
And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal
But he will have power the Dark Lord knows not
And either must die at the hand of the other
For neither can live while the other survives"
When he was finished he watched as Neville's mouth dropped open, then jerked closed, then fell open again. He looked puzzled, but then comprehension started to dawn. "'Born as the seventh month dies'," Neville repeated, looking squarely into Harry's eyes. "My birthday is July thirtieth."
"And mine is the thirty-first," Harry finished the thought.
"So what you're telling me is. . ."
"It was one or the other of us, yes."
"But. . . You. . . Voldemort. . ." Neville threw up his hands in exasperation. "Voldemort attacked you!"
"Yeah, that's the rub." Harry sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. "The prophecy was completely and utterly meaningless until he chose to believe it, and act on it. The problem was that all he knew of it was the first part."
"About being 'born as the seventh month dies'?"
"That and 'those that have thrice defied him'. I imagine that helped him narrow the field considerably," Harry said.
Neville's face grew somber. "My gran always said that Mum and Dad joked about the third time being the charm when they bested Voldemort the last time just before Mum got pregnant. Considering what happened to them the fourth time they ran up against a pack of Death Eaters I guess the third time really was charmed."
They both sat in silence for a time, thinking about the fate that had befallen Frank and Alice Longbottom. Harry looked away as Neville wipe tears from his cheeks before taking a deep breath and delving back in to the topic at hand.
"So Voldemort knew that his two choices were you or I," Neville said. "What made him choose you, do you think?"
"He chose the one most like himself," Harry replied, his voice so quiet that Neville almost missed the words. "The half-blood."
"And not only marked you as his equal but actually made you his equal."
"That's pretty much it, yeah," Harry said, drawing his knees to his chest and clasping his arms around them. He felt acutely uncomfortable now; he hated thinking about all of the things that he and Voldemort had had in common – how alike they had been. How if he had made different choices on so many things he would have been exactly like his nemesis.
He looked up and met Neville's eyes.
"Being his equal didn't turn you into a duplicate of Voldemort," Neville said. "Even if there were things that made the two of you alike."
"How did you know that I was thinking about that?" Harry asked, surprised. He was accustomed to Ginny cutting right to the heart of things that bothered him, but had never expected it from Neville.
"It seemed like the sort of thing that would bother you," Neville said, rising to his feet and brushing dirt from his jeans. "I know if it had been me in your place – The Chosen One - it would have bugged the hell out of me." He extended a hand toward Harry.
Harry laughed and clasped Neville's hand as his friend pulled him to his feet. "It could have been you," he said. "Remember that."
"Don't worry, Harry. I will." He glanced up at the darkening sky and then down at his watch. "But I refuse to think about it tonight. I think our time would be better spent in heading to The Three Broomsticks to celebrate our birthdays in style. What do you think?"
"That, Neville, is the best idea I've heard in months."
They walked across the castle grounds in companionable silence, but when they got to the gates Harry looked back at Hogwarts looming in the growing darkness, pinpricks of light glowing in its many windows. "Remember when, now and then, everything went wrong?" he asked.
Neville didn't respond right away; he seemed to be considering Harry's words. Then he laid a hand on his friends shoulder.
"Not everything went wrong, Harry. And in the end everything turned out exactly right."