Neville was awfully glad this whole mess hadn't happened until his seventh year. Well, yes, of course, he would have been much gladder if it had never happened at all, but if it absolutely had to, at least he was an adult. He couldn't imagine what it must be like for the younger kids - the first-years who had never known a bright Dumbledorian Hogwarts, or the second-years who'd been given something so beautiful and truly magical for such a short while before it had been snatched away.
Most of the time he thought Harry, Ron and Hermione had the right idea. Fred and George had the right idea. Any Gryffindor worth their salt had got the hell out of Dodge and was fighting back on the outside rather than stick around and endure this misery. But somewhere deep inside Neville Longbottom, he was not a quitter. If he were, he'd have just resigned himself to Squibdom and academic failure and cowardice long ago. For one of the first times in his life, people needed him.
With all this pressure, all the Dumbledore's Army and the classwork and the not dying he had to do, Neville truly had to focus on the little happinesses to make it through. One of his biggest little happinesses was that every Thursday, Professor Sprout would bring him a new exotic plant. With their dormitory empty save himself and Seamus, Neville had plenty of room to set up a miniature greenhouse, and could relax with them in any stray, fleeting bit of downtime he got. Neville routinely thanked his lucky stars that two of the professors who'd remained from the original, true Hogwarts faculty were his own Head of House and dear, sweet Professor Sprout.
He had an orchid that played a faint music if you held its bell to your ear. He had a strange cactus that secreted a single drop of fluid every day that could keep a man hydrated for a week - Neville had been collecting these drops in a little glass vial, now glowing acidic purple, should the DA ever need them. (He often suspected that Professor Sprout gave him very specific plants for just this reason, as her own subversive Hufflepuffian way of fighting back.) He even had a small fruit-bearing tree - the fruit itself tasted horrible, but the seeds had been known to explode like firecrackers with the right force applied (he just wished he could figure out exactly what that force was). In this horrible smear of darkness that his seventh year at Hogwarts had become, Neville had somewhere that was bright and green to call his own.
On the second Thursday of October, Neville finished up in Herbology class and then followed Professor Sprout back to her office to see what this week had in store. The smile on her face was a little bit strange as she murmured "Beetroot" to open the door, but Neville decided not to think anything of it. The Death Eaters were getting to everyone.
"Er...and what's this one called?" asked Neville when he finally laid eyes on it - a small, bizarre sort of flytrap, its pod covered in yellow spots and lined with the brightest red. Its leaves drooped a little as if it were underfed, but Neville knew that was impossible. Professor Sprout was the only person he knew who could care for plants better than he could.
"You know," she said, "I couldn't rightly tell you! I've never seen anything like it before in my life." This, Neville knew, was saying something. "I was just out running some errands in Cordge Alley - making sure I had enough supplies for my first years, bless their hearts - when there was this total eclipse of the sun! I spoke to Professor Sinistra about it later and even she was baffled, it was the funniest thing." She gazed off again, and only shook herself out of it moments later. "Anyway, once I'd got over that and realized I ought to move on with my errands, I passed by the shop that funny Oriental man has down there - you know he never has anything more fascinating than overlarge Shrivelfigs and the occasional Fanged Geranium with all its teeth pulled - but there this odd bird was, just sitting in his front window, those daft Zipping Zinnias swarming about its head." She cradled the pod in her stubby hand, looking at it as a mother might look at a misbehaving child. "I just don't understand it."
"Understand what?" said Neville.
"Well, it's just that I've tried everything I can think of to get him to perk up and actually grow, poor thing, but he just sits there looking miserable. Won't take dragon or mooncalf dung as fertilizer - doesn't want to be drowned or starved - I let it sit in the moonlight all night, shone wandlight on it, nothing."
"Did you try that potion we thought up last term?"
"Yes, that too! Oh, it's just the funniest little beast." She jammed her hands on her squat hips and frowned at it, in its little terra-cotta pot, looking miserable. "I've had it for a week and a half and I can't make heads or tails of it, so this week I'm passing it to you. Happy Thursday, Mr. Longbottom."
"But Professor Sprout," Neville sputtered, "i-if you can't figure it, what am I - "
"Oh, Neville," she said, peering up at him - he'd overtaken her in height sometime over the winter holidays his fifth year, and it had always made him self-conscious - "you're a seventh-year, poppet, and quite a gifted one at that. There's not much left I've got to teach you. No, I'm quite sure that if I can't puzzle it out, the next option is to send it to you."
Neville blushed from each ear straight across his face to his nose, fidgeting at the fastener on his robes closest to the level of his hands. No one had ever called him gifted before; Neville had never really thought he had very many gifts at all. She was serious about all this, though for the life of him he couldn't fathom why, and he knew it'd be just awful to turn her down.
"Well all right then," he said finally, edging his hand out. "Give it here."
Professor Sprout lifted the little pot from her desk and passed it to him, and then he smiled a bit more at her and left, anxious to get it back to his room in Gryffindor tower before he was late for his now-compulsory Muggle Studies class.
It was a little upsetting to Neville that the boy he currently considered one of his best friends and allies should be laughing so hard he could barely breathe while escorting him to the hospital wing.
"Loog, Seamus, stobbit - "
"That is without a doubt the daftest, most brilliant thing I have ever seen you do!" he howled. "When did you get to be such a bloody Gryffindor, mate?"
"I'b still bleeding, you dow!"
"I know, I know, and you couldn't see her face! She was right furious, you know. Gets the funniest expression when we don't do what she says - "
"Seamus!" Neville groaned, little drips of blood spattering across at his friend from where it had been dripping toward his mouth.
"All right, all right, hold your hippogriffs, it's just up ahead."
Seamus pushed open the door to the hospital wing and held it for Neville, who had both his hands full pressing his handkerchief to his nose and cheekbone in an effort to staunch the bleeding. "Muggle Studies" had gotten worse and worse as the year had progressed, and by November Neville just couldn't take it any more. Naturally, it had been an utterly stupid comment to make in hindsight, but something about him had just been so angry lately. He was done putting up with his miserable lump of a Death Eater "professor" and he had just snapped.
The hospital wing was packed with students, most of them fifth-year and up and most of the younger ones Gryffindors. Neville found himself immediately trying to pick out who among them was not already in the DA - he'd recruited a fair number through bedside camaraderie. But it was getting harder and harder to focus on anything.
Madam Pomfrey, her silver-brown hair flying wispily out of her cap, was absolutely swamped with things to do, and had recently taken on an apprentice in the form of Cho Chang, who was a budding Healer in her own right and was still keen to help the cause. As Neville and Seamus entered, Madam Pomfrey tapped Cho on the shoulder and instructed her to deal with the student she'd been assisting previously - Dennis Creevey, Neville noted, with what looked like a broken finger or two - as she herself bustled over in a half-panic.
"What have you lot done this time," she said, but it wasn't angry or even terribly scolding, just full of a depressing resignation that this was going to be happening a lot.
"Funny story," started Seamus. "See, Alecto the Abhorrent what teaches Muggle Studies - "
"Mr. Finnigan," cautioned Madam Pomfrey. She began peeling back Neville's handkerchief to examine the wound, and he hissed and winced a little as the fabric caught in the tacky drying blood.
"Right, Professor Carrow, she was ramblin' on and on about how Muggles are all filth and excrement and such, and how they're what's made wizards have to be so secretive with their nastiness and - what'd she say - pestilence - bein' aggressive t'ward us, hateful and rude and vile - basically any nasty word you can think of."
"Unsurprising," said Madam Pomfrey. Then to Neville she said, "Where's it hurt worst, dear?"
"Just under my eye, ma'am," he said.
"So Neville - bloody great Neville, always took you for a Hufflepuff at first but now I see - just says to her, plain as day, 'If bein' vile and rude's a Muggle trait, how much Muggle blood have you and your brother got then?' Plain as day, calm as you please!" Seamus dissolved into laughter again, and Madam Pomfrey trained a stern gaze on him even as she applied a stinging salve that smelled of rotting fruit to the slash across Neville's face with the tip of her wand.
"Then she hit me," Neville finished, since Seamus was clearly in no position to. "Not sure with what."
"Oh, I hate to say it, but I've seen a number of wounds like this lately," Madam Pomfrey said. "Not sure if this is the best way to treat them, but it's been working well enough so far. Miss Topilan's recovering nice enough, anyway."
Madam Pomfrey nodded to a girl seated at a table by the window, wearing a black and yellow checkered Hufflepuff sweatervest and propping her arm up on the table in front of her to keep a slashed-open arm available for examination. She smiled from under her short jet-black curls and, when Neville didn't stop looking at her, gave him an awkward little wave.
"Yeah," he said, finally snapping back to Madam Pomfrey. "Looks that way."
"Stick around here for a bit, dear, so we can keep an eye on you as it heals - you've not got another class now, have you? - and you, Mr. Finnigan, go back to your common room," she said more sternly. "I see enough of you in here as it is, I'll not have you bothering my patients and taking up their space if you're not just as injured as they are."
"Yes ma'am," Seamus said reluctantly, and with a fleeting smile to Neville he scampered off, no doubt to tell the amazing story to anyone who'd be around to hear it (though certainly not in the Gryffindor common room, with half of them or more holed up in here already).
As Madam Pomfrey shuffled back to Cho, Neville slowly crossed the room to the table by the window, and sat down next to the wounded Hufflepuff girl. "'Lo," he said, a bit glumly. "Alecto get you too?"
"Naw, it were Amycus," she muttered. She couldn't have been more than a third or fourth year, but within her sweet cherub's face she had a fire in her brown-black eyes and a tooth missing. "Right stupid git he is iff'n he thinks a Hufflepuff gonna Crucio 'nother Hufflepuff."
"Neither of them are all too bright, are they," he said with a small laugh.
"Reckon I'd give right lots to see them outta here forever," she said. "I want Professor Burbage back. Always made the nicest sweets for 'xam day 'n' never gave no detentions neither."
Neville's smile grew broader, even though it pinched something fierce at the coagulating slash across his face. "Anything?"
When Cho crossed over to let them know that they both seemed to be reacting positively to the rotting-fruit salve and were free to go, they left smiling secret smiles, and Alice Topilan, fourth-year Hufflepuff, had a slip of paper and a shiny new Galleon in the pocket of her robes.
Neville, meanwhile, headed back up to his room, anxious to check on his plants. His Romanian Roaming Rutabaga got antsy and restless if he didn't water it frequently enough, and he was fairly certain Seamus had been nicking seeds from his Swadderus flowers and sucking on them during Dark Arts to make sure he only said nice, polite things - Neville wanted to catch him in the act, especially after today when he might end up needing them himself.
And then there was the problem of Frank.
After over three weeks of poking, prodding, pampering and doing anything else he could think of, the funny flytrap Professor Sprout had given him was still faring horribly. If it kept up at this rate for too much longer, he was going to have to chuck it - the more exotic specimens he received, the more he was having to carefully plan and prune his Gryffindor greenhouse, and Seamus was beginning to complain of the concentrated plant smell as it was. Neville made up his mind as he entered the portrait hole (the password was Mimbletonia - the Fat Lady had taken something of a liking to him lately in all the madness) that if he couldn't figure out what was up with the strange thing today, he was going to have to apologize to Professor Sprout and abandon it as a lost cause.
The common room was blessedly empty - he didn't feel like telling the story, he figured he'd let Seamus do that (since he'd obviously gone off to somewhere he could find a bigger audience) - so Neville just plodded straight through to the seventh-year boys' dormitory, opening the door wide to let in some slightly fresher air and maybe stymie his roommate's complaints. He'd left Frank next to the Orchestral Orchid, clinging desperately to the oldest trick in the book and hoping that music would help, but it was drooping away from the pink-orange bloom just as pitifully as ever.
"Sodding thing," he mumbled. "Look, I can't rightly help you if you don't let me, you know. You've got no right to sit there looking all pathetic when it's quite obvious I've done everything I can think of." Neville tossed his school bag down by the side of his bed and crossed to open a window, too. The Creeping Keeper vines (so called because their spent flower stems often looked like Quidditch hoops once all the drifting seeds had blown from them) stirred toward the fresh air from where they were coiled around his bedposts. It was freezing cold outside, so Neville cast a warming charm around the frame of the window, making sure all the air that drifted in was at least bearable.
He sat down on the side of his bed then, propping his elbow on his knee and his head in his hand, and put himself face-to-face with the droopy little plant. "Now tell me truly, Frank: what is it you want from me?"
Of course the flytrap did not answer. Its bulbous pod certainly looked to Neville like it could have spoken back to him, but there were exactly three kinds of speaking magical plants (well, two plants and a toadstool) in the whole of Europe, and this was definitely not one of them. True, if even Professor Sprout didn't recognize the thing, perhaps it could speak, but Neville, sourly, thought that it ought to have said something by now if it could.
He lost track of the minutes he spent staring at it, and was only roused from his frustrated musings on its leathery green-brown skin and its mouth lined with the brightest red when the warming charm on the windowsill wore off and frigid November air began whisking into the room. He rose to shut it, done with the infuriating plant for today, but in the last second before the window closed a bothersome moth flew in through the crack, anxious to get to a place with light. Neville's scowl deepened, and then the moth landed square on his nose. He crossed his eyes to stare at it.
Slowly and with as much care and grace as he could muster, Neville squashed himself in his own nose to kill the ruddy thing and be done with it. When he pulled his hand back, the beige moth was good and dead, but no longer quite so beige - in smacking at his own face, he'd pulled the slice Alecto had given him open once more, and along with the dead insect was also a little smear of blood.
"Oh bloody hell!" Neville whined. That settled it: it was officially a rotten day. With all of this they'd probably be serving mushrooms at dinner, too (he loved the things when they were alive but couldn't stomach them when cooked). He withdrew the little pot of the foul ointment from the pocket of his robes and smudged some more onto the spot that had come open - the deepest part, right beneath his right eye - and tossed the dead, blood-dripped moth back over his shoulder, not really caring to see where it landed.
The sound was loud enough and distinct enough that it startled Neville into spinning around instantly. He knew that sound. He'd heard dozens of carnivorous plants make that sound in the past. He'd just never heard this one do it, and it was almost too good to be true.
Sure enough, the moth had flown right over Frank's pot, and the flytrap had all but snatched it out of the air. It was bobbing up and down excitedly as it digested the insect, and then its pod was open again, almost like a baby bird, anxious for worms dropped into it from its mother.
"Frank!" he cried. "What - you opened up! Perked right up and ate that blasted moth! If I'd known it was - ooooh, now hang on." Neville frowned at Frank once more. "I've given moths to you before. I've given you every kind of insect I could think to try, and moths were definitely third or fourth on my list. It can't have been the moth or else I'd never have had to go out of my way to catch you that ruddy doxy." He crossed the small empty space between the window and his greenhouse table, and crouched down low to where the plant sat. "No, the only thing different about this moth was..."
A single drop of blood sat suspended on the tip of his rather largish nose, directly overtop of Frank's extended pod. Horrified, Neville shook his head ever-so-slightly so that it dislodged itself, and it plummeted, straight down into the flytrap's mouth, where it was slurped up greedily.
"Mmmmmmmm-mm, that's the stuff!" said the plant, sounding angry, American, and decidedly too female to really be a "Frank."
"Oh dear sweet Merlin," said Neville.
Students gossiped for weeks about why the leader of Dumbledore's Army had bandages on every single fingertip, and for months about what must have happened to Filch's miserable cat Mrs. Norris, but only two people knew first-hand:
Neville Longbottom, who dodged every single question directed at him.
And Alecto Carrow, who was never again found after the Battle of Hogwarts. (Not that anyone really missed her.)
"And remember, class," he would say years later, "don't stray too far behind Greenhouse Four, or you'll begin to cross the boundary into the Forbidden Forest. There's quite a number of dangerous animals in there that could cause a lot of harm to students like you, even fourth-years."
"Professor Longbottom," came the voice of a smallish Hufflepuff, with jet-black ringlets and fiery brown-black eyes, "are there any dangerous plants in the Forbidden Forest?"
He'd bite his lip, and cast his eyes toward the forest with just the smallest twinge of anxiousness, but to her he'd be all smiles. "Oh, most definitely, Miss Topilan-Creevey. Some of them are the scariest of all."
Students gossiped for years about the booming, almost supernatural voice that would occasionally resound from deep within the Forbidden Forest, and always with a hearty chorus of laughter.
(AN: Ever since I starred in my college production of Little Shop of Horrors I've had an irrational fondness for it. I did this to Kurama and now I've done it to Neville. XD
Also, on Alice Topilan: I've appropriated her in name only from the films, where apparently she signed the Dumbledore's Army roster in movie 5.)