Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by J.K Rowling, etc. Not me. I'm only dabbling my unworthy fingers in her magical world.
Credit: www dot hp-encyclopedia dot com and Lewis Gilbert, J Arthur Rank Film Distributors, Acorn Pictures, Columbia Pictures, etc. - all for the inspirational film from which I borrowed the title.
Two days before Hogwarts closed its doors for the summer holidays, Augusta Longbottom strode purposefully through Diagon Alley towards Gringotts, intending to make a withdrawal to purchase a small gift for her grandson. She was still flushed with pride at Neville's escapade in the Department of Mysteries a few days ago. Facing up to a group of Death Eaters with Harry Potter and a small group of friends? Marvellous! Such brave children, each and every one of them! It seemed her grandson was finally living up to the Longbottom name. Frank and Alice would have been so proud!
However, her good mood was becoming rather dampened by the atmosphere of sobriety as she strode down the Alley and soon she found herself frowning at the purple security posters that covered shop windows once teeming with eye-catching displays. No samples of wares were to be found lining the cobbled streets outside their premises now: instead, a row of shabby stalls had sprung up with several suspicious looking vendors trying to foist their illicit goods on a terrified public.
"'Ello love. A nice old lady like you shouldn't be walking outside unprotected these days," squawked one dubious looking chap in moth-eaten robes as she passed Flourish and Blotts. "What you need is something to protect yourself with against unsavoury characters. 'Ow's about a nice amulet to ward off those 'orrible Dark Creatures roaming the streets?"
She sniffed at him disdainfully. "The only unsavoury characters I see roaming the streets are unscrupulous chaps like yourself, preying on peoples fear."
"Don't be like that, love. I'm providing a valuable public service, I am. 'Oo's gonna see to it that all those fine, upstanding citizens are properly protected against Dementors and the like if I don't? I'm only trying to earn a living, you know! Go on; 'ow's about this then?"
He reached up and plucked a fist-sized silver disc from the awning of his stall and, blocking her path down the Alley, dangled it before the elderly witch's nose. It swung from a length of cheap black cord. "This 'ere's an All-Purpose Paralyser - guaranteed to stop Dementors, Inferi and Werewolves in their tracks. An' all for only seven Galleons! What d'ya say?"
She rolled her eyes and batted the overpriced trinket from her sight. "I very much doubt that your useless baubles could so much as stop a cold in its tracks, let alone a Dementor. Now, get out of my way before I forget my manners and blast your stall out of existence!"
Pushing the odious little man from her path, Augusta marched down the cobbled street feeling thoroughly annoyed that the Ministry was allowing charlatans to brazenly peddle their wares in the once-cheerful district.
"I'm only trying to earn a living!" yelled the vendor from some distance behind her.
She ignored him. It was never wise to encourage such people to initiate a conversation: they'd sell their toothless old granny to a brothel, if they thought there was a profit in it.
The vendor's cries of righteous protest faded as Augusta made her way down the winding street, leaving her attention to be captured once more by the boarded up windows and scurrying footfalls of the few shoppers daring enough to brave the open air.
For goodness' sake! Where was that famous British backbone that was supposed to be evident in the face of adversity? Why was everyone so anxious to hide themselves at the first sign of trouble? She didn't remember the general public being quite so cowardly when He Who Must Not Be Named was causing havoc fifteen years ago. Of course, people had been scared, but they'd jolly well stood up and fought back. They hadn't shut up shop and fled to the Continent like a bunch of spineless Malfoys.
That put a smile on her face. Ah yes, Lucius Malfoy was no doubt enjoying the splendour of Azkaban at that very minute. She wondered how he was acclimatising to the dark cell and its meagre facilities...
It was just as she was pondering the lamentable Lucius' unfortunate situation that a bright splash of colour on the otherwise dreary streets caught her attention. She paused in her tracks, swivelled her head and saw the bright, cheery façade of Diagon Alley's newest shop: Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
The left-hand window dazzled the eye with an assortment of goods that twirled, popped, flashed, bounced and created an altogether very optical mayhem. And though the other window was decorated with a large purple poster of its own, it was more concerned with advertising digestive calamity than security advice.
Why Are You Worrying About You-Know-Who?
You SHOULD Be Worrying About
the Constipation Sensation That's Gripping The Nation!
Augusta Longbottom, no-nonsense matriarch of a well-respected family and scourge of idiots everywhere, couldn't help it: she laughed. Those boys! Trust a Weasley to publicly flout their scorn of the enemy!
Her earlier lack of faith in the British backbone was restored instantly and, unable to help herself, she moved towards the shop as if pulled by a granny magnet. As she entered it, she found that, unlike the cobbled Alley outside, it was full of customers. Many young children pulled their harassed parents between aisles stocked high with boxes containing a variety of highly suspicious sweets and bins overflowing with trick wands. A large display near the counter was attracting a lot of female attention and her lips crinkled in amusement when she saw that it contained something called 'Patented Daydream Charms'.
She shook her head in disbelief, making the stuffed vulture on her hat wobble so wildly it almost scared the life out of a boy no more than eight years old. The child jumped back in fright, knocking over a pile of violently pink products that crashed onto the floor.
"Oi! Watch what you're doing, will you?"
A red-haired youth in flowing magenta robes pushed his way through the crowd, waving his wand briskly, and all the pots rolling near the window jumped back into formation.
"Sorry mister," squeaked the boy, not taking his eyes off Augusta's hat.
The youth, wondering what had distracted his young customer to such an extent, turned around and Augusta found herself face to face with one of the Weasley twins. His features registered complete surprise and the formidable matriarch had to bite her lip to hide her grin.
"Well, hello there, Mrs Longbottom," he cried, delighted to have such an unexpected customer.
"Good day, young man," she replied, wishing he wasn't quite so enthusiastic in his greeting. People were beginning to stare.
The red-haired youth gave a toothy grin. "I have to say, you're the last person I would've expected to see in here."
"I'll be the first person you see going out of here if you don't lower your voice," replied Augusta primly. "You're drawing a bit too much attention to me for my liking."
He laughed. "Don't mean to upset you, but I think that's got more to do with your hat than my volume."
Impudent boy! If anyone else had said that to her, she would have made them spit glass for a week. Which one of the cheeky terrors was he? Fred or George?
"So, what can I get for you? If you're looking for something to cheer yourself up, you've come to the right place! How about a nice love potion to attract that elusive suitor?"
She balked. A love potion? At her age? Was the boy serious?
But she spotted the twinkle in his eye and knew he was just teasing her.
Teasing her. Augusta Longbottom!
"Or if that's not your cup of tea," he continued hastily (probably sensing the danger he was in), "how about a harmless Daydream charm. Just tell me what your fancy is and I'll make one to measure."
"Is that so? I tell you what I wish to dream about, and you can make it happen?"
Another cheeky grin. "Absolutely. Thirty minutes of sheer, uninterrupted bliss!"
"Tell me, young man: do I strike you as the sort of woman who needs to fill her life with frivolity in order to enjoy it?"
"You strike me as the sort of woman who'd curse me out of existence if I ever implied such a thing."
Augusta was impressed with his astuteness.
"Still, even the most formidable of women could find some amusement from a bit of harmless escapism. Helps to balance out all the bad news we've been getting recently."
No doubt he was referring to He Who Must Not Be Named's infamous reappearance.
"Well, I must admit, the thought of losing myself to the pleasure of watching Lucius Malfoy slowly rot in Azkaban is exceedingly appealing," she said thoughtfully, tapping her chin theatrically with a bony finger.
A shout of laughter greeted this and he grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the counter.
The elderly witch raised her eyebrows at the familiarity of the gesture, but politely refrained from clobbering him with her bag for his impertinence.
She liked his infectious good humour and was enjoying his company.
"Oi, George! We've got a very special customer up here!"
Ah. So this was Fred.
Fred leaned over the counter, yelling at his brother to put in an appearance and Augusta saw the curtains shift aside as an identical freckled face popped out between its folds. Another look of surprise as the boy clapped eyes on her.
"Good day George. I see you and your brother have been busy conspiring against the sanity of parents everywhere," she said, indicating the rows of tricks, jokes and potions being fawned over by young children.
George stepped outside and grinned cheekily. "I wouldn't quite put it like that. More like providing entertainment to children during those long, boring hours in History of Magic."
He winked at her. The boy actually winked at her and she was struggling not break into a laugh in the middle of a busy shop - a busy joke shop. What would the ladies at the Knitting Bee say if they found out she'd been spotted gallivanting in such a place and sharing a laugh with the proprietors? Her no-nonsense reputation would be shot to pieces!
"Quite," she replied, attempting a disapproving frown. "Tell me boys, how is Ronald? I saw him at the hospital infirmary a couple of days ago looking a bit worse for wear after his jaunt to the Ministry. Is he recovered?"
"Oh, he's alright," said Fred bracingly.
"First time in his life he's had more brainpower than Hermione!" added George, laughing.
"But he bears no lasting injuries, I hope? He did look rather green around the gills."
"He always looks like that when he knows Madam Pomfrey's in the immediate vicinity. Doesn't care much for her healing potions."
The tinkling of the door bell heralded the arrival of yet another customer in the bustling shop.
"Yes, well. They are a necessary evil on the road to recovery. As long as he's well, that's the main thing. And your sister too, though I must say I was more than a little surprised that she and little Luna Lovegood accompanied the others on their trip to London. They really are very young to be thrust into such a dangerous situation. Still, there's no doubting their bravery. If only the general public at large showed as much gumption as six teenaged schoolchildren."
The twins shared an amused look. "Neville was one of those at the Ministry, wasn't he? Harry told us he's very...handy...with a wand."
Augusta couldn't help it: she draw herself up straighter and puffed out her chest in pride. "Not with his father's wand, he ruined that. Silly boy." She smiled fondly. "However, I'm very pleased that even though his broken nose prevented him from casting any useful spells, he still managed to incapacitate a fully-grown Death Eater."
"Wonder how old MacNair's doing, anyway?" said Fred grinning evilly.
"I believe he's lost an eye," came a calculating voice from behind them. All three turned to find none other than Rita Skeeter making her way through a gaggle of excited children towards them.
"Ah, Mrs Longbottom, there you are. I saw you come in here and my journalist's nose just couldn't stop twitching! What could the stern head of a respected Pureblood family want in a place like this?"
She waved her hand airily around the shop as if she'd stumbled across them gossiping over a death mask in Borgin and Burkes, and the twins faces clouded over at the subtle sneer in her voice.
"Where I choose to spend my free time is not your concern, Miss Skeeter," replied Augusta acidly, outraged that the snooping reporter had followed her anywhere. "And I fail to see why you choose to flout your rather dubious credentials as a journalist when it is common knowledge that you haven't worked for the Daily Prophet in over a year. Is the quality of your work no longer up to their...exacting...standards?"
The blonde witch flushed slightly, but she quickly regained her equilibrium. "Oh that's not it at all. I've just decided that's it's more convenient to freelance than remain loyal to one newspaper. So much more liberating! Talking of liberation..."
She opened her crocodile skin bag and fished out her Quick Quotes Quill and a pad.
"...I understand that your grandson and some of his friends broke out of school and into the Department of Mysteries, where they had quite the tussle with some of He Who Must Not Be Named's followers. Tell me, as a child of...limited...talents, how did young Neville fare? Did Harry Potter have to save his skin on very many occasions? Not that I imagine the Boy-Who-Lived did that much better himself - we all know what a troubled child he is."
Augusta was incensed at the slippery woman's nerve. Limited talents? How dare she talk of her grandson in that manner! She pulled her wand out and incinerated the ghastly green Quill before it could begin to record its owner's lies. Rita eyes widened in outrage, but Augusta really couldn't care less.
"You, madam, are a disgrace to your profession!" she said firmly, glowering at the blunt-faced witch. "In case it has slipped your notice, the Daily Prophet reported on that story yesterday. And if you had taken the time to read it, you would know that my grandson, Harry Potter, and indeed all the pupils from Hogwarts, acquitted themselves admirably."
Skeeter stood her ground, facing the angry grandmother and scowling Weasleys. "Do you mean that rather basic report at the bottom of page forty-seven? Yes, well, it didn't go into very much detail, did it? I'm looking for the real story: why did a group of careless teenagers - under the dubious leadership of a mentally unstable orphan - see fit to trot off to a restricted government facility in order to steal private property?"
Fred laughed at her in derision. "Oh, come off it Skeeter. You've been trying to paint Harry as a hapless lunatic for the past two years! Nobody's buying it, though, so why don't you shove off?"
"Tut tut Charlie. That's no way to address a distinguished member of the Press. I am, after all, a journalist: a woman of culture with an eye for a story, you know."
"Culture? You're having a laugh aren't you?" said Fred in disbelief. "I've seen more culture in a toilet bowl!"
A howl of laughter from George made the smirk fall from her face.
"As for having 'an eye for a story'? Well, you're more likely to get a wink and a smile from Snape than an ounce of truth from that poisoned pen of yours. And the name's Fred, by the way."
Never one to let an unwilling source get in the way of a good story, Rita forced her lips back into a smile and (throwing a cautious look at Neville's glowering grandmother) fished another Quill from her bag. "Oh, Fred, Charlie - what's the difference? One Weasley looks much like the other. Now, about young Neville..."
"He said 'shove off', you daft moose," said George. "No one's going to print the rubbish you write, or do you expect us to believe that the Prophet's desperate enough to hire you again?"
"Now, now Bill. No need to be flippant. For your information, my talents are very much in demand at present - especially in the current climate. So boys, how about you tell your Auntie Rita about your little brother and sister's trip to the Department of Mysteries, eh? I believe young Ronald is still at death's door?"
"Perhaps you are having problems with your hearing, Miss Skeeter?" barked Augusta impatiently. "I believe you have just been asked to leave the premises. I strongly suggest you do so, before I see fit to remove you myself."
Fred and George watched eagerly to see if the unpleasant reporter would do as she was told. But the foolish woman didn't so much as budge from the counter.
"Really, Mrs Longbottom! Is that any way for an old woman to behave? Threatening honest people with physical violence? Whatever would people think? But no matter. I'll be happy to forget your lack of manners if you give me some more information on your grandson. Tell me: is it true that Bellatrix Lestrange put him under the same Unforgivable that she used to send his parents to a mental institution? Has he now lost the few wits he had too?"
Her eyes peered at the stiff form of Augusta from over the top of her faux-jewelled spectacles. She was practically burning with malicious curiosity.
The elderly witch took a dangerous step towards her. "I have no idea how you came by such information, you shameful hussy, but if you print one word of your scandalous falsehoods about my grandson or his parents, I will hunt you down and see to it that you are publicly flogged with your own Quill. What's more, I will sell tickets to it and invite every editor you've ever worked for to send along a photographer. You'll be the laughing stock of Wizarding Britain by the time I'm finished with you! You'll never work as a journalist again."
Fred and George were gaping in open-mouthed admiration at the formidable matriarch. "By George, Mrs Longbottom, you're not half scary!" exclaimed Fred as Rita lost all colour to her face.
"By me, Mrs Longbottom, Fred's right!" said George, smirking at the cowering journalist.
Augusta appreciated their support, but she wasn't finished yet...
"What's more, if you don't stop bothering these nice young men with your intrusive questions, you will leave me no choice but to prove just how clever my grandson is."
Rita spared her a doubtful glance. "Clever? We are talking about the same Neville Longbottom? The spineless child who'll never live up to his deranged parents' reputation and has trouble remembering even the simplest of instructions?"
Before Augusta could reply, Fred and George had whipped out their wands and shoved them in front of her face. The merry bustle of the shop died instantly as everyone present spotted the escalating fracas by the counter.
"Better be careful what you say about our friends," threatened Fred darkly. "Neville's got more integrity and guts than a two-faced sneak like you would know what to do with. And if you mention his parents again..."
"...we'll blast your teeth out the front door before you have time to turn round and follow them," finished George.
Several young girls standing by the Patented Daydream Charms display giggled at that.
"And you'd better stop writing rubbish about Harry, too, or we'll let the Ministry know about your dirty little secret ourselves. That ought to clip your wings!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," she hissed furiously. "I have no secrets to tell. Why, my life is an open book!"
The furtive looks she threw at the curious crowd led Augusta to believe she was lying...just for a change. But she had no interest in the seedy secrets of an untalented reporter. She was only interested in the woman's immediate departure.
And she knew just how to facilitate that...
"There you have it then, you silly woman. Proof that it doesn't pay to meddle in other people's affairs. As for my grandson, you clearly don't know the first thing about him, because if you did, you'd know that he is a very gifted Herbology student. He can spot a weed a mile off - and that's exactly what you are: a weed in the garden of society. He knew it the first time he spotted you in your gaudy robes and scandalously low-cut blouse; he knew it the first time he read the filth you pass off as hard-hitting news. Would you like to know what my clever grandson calls you?"
It was very clear that, given the audience of thirty wildly curious customers and two sneering Weasleys, the unhappy reporter did not want to hear what the ruddy boy called her.
Augusta, (thoroughly enjoying herself) gazed haughtily at the flinching blonde. "Given your propensity for writing endless piles of manure, Neville has seen fit to christen you 'Diarrita Skeeter'. Highly appropriate, I think."
A wave of laughter swept the store as children squealed in delight and parents tried to smother their own mirth. Fred and George were doubled over with laughter as she flushed in shame at her very public humiliation.
"How dare you speak to me like that!" Rita screeched.
"How dare you exist," drawled Augusta. "Now, run along, before I tell the whole shop what he suggested as a cure to your verbal incontinence."
Not willing to take the chance that it would be worse than her new moniker (because she had a horrible feeling it would), Rita made a grab for her spare Quill (which had been writing furiously during the argument). But before she could snag it from the air, Augusta flicked her wand and both the Quill and the notepad burst into flames and smouldered into ash before her eyes.
"Go!" she barked.
Turning on her heel, Rita made a frantic dash through the crowds for the front door, egged on by chants of 'Diarrita Skeeter' from the younger customers. Strangely enough, their parents did little to stop them...
"Oi, Rita," yelled Fred mischievously just as her hand grabbed the door handle. She hesitated. "You wouldn't be interested in a nice batch of U-No-Poo, by any chance?"
George, grinning madly at his brother's side, added: "It might help you with that spot of verbal incontinence you're having trouble with!"
The scarlet witch gave a final cry of despair before throwing the door open and rushing out into the safety of the Dark Creature infested streets (if the seedy little vendor was to be believed).
"Well then boys," Augusta said, extremely satisfied with herself. "I believe it's time for me to be going. I must get to Gringotts before lunch and I only really stopped by to say 'well done' to you for opening this remarkably fine establishment when everyone else is boarding up theirs and fleeing for their miserable lives. You are a credit to your parents."
The brothers placed themselves on either side of her.
"Mrs Longbottom, we really couldn't let you go now without offering a small token of thanks for that stellar performance," Fred laughed.
She regarded him doubtfully. "Young man, if you try to sell me another one of those love potions, I'll hex your hair off."
Fred clutched his head in mock horror. "Why Mrs Longbottom! What a thing to say to your partner in crime! I don't plan to sell you anything. This is a gift. Anyway, you don't need a love potion..."
George winked at her - again. "...me and Fred are yours for the taking."
Heat rushed to her face and the twins sniggered in delight. Impudent boys!
"Thank you for that rather noble gesture, you young scallywags. But I'm not in the habit of robbing cradles. However, I may be interested in two of those Patented Daydream Charms."
"Two?" The elder twin looked slightly puzzled. "I thought you only wanted one - to see old Malfoy moulder in Azkaban?"
Augusta patted her surgically precise bun to ensure that the recent excitement hadn't loosened a stray hair. "True. However, I now find myself in the mood to witness a very public flogging..."
And laughing uproariously, Fred and George led her back to the large display at the counter.