I don't own the Harry Potter characters, franchise, copyright, or trademarks. This is for fun, not profit.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Thanks for all of the comments and reviews! They're inspirational and they help me to stay on track, plotwise.
Neville was impressed.
Harry could apparate!
In the moment between Neville's declaration and the crack of Harry's magic, Harry had gone dreadfully white. He even swayed a bit as if he might fall over.
Then his expression hardened, his eyes flared green with magic and fury, and his magic rose around him like a crackling cloud of invisible lightening.
It was only long habit that made Neville grab Harry's sleeve and crowd close. When things went wrong or something scary was happening, it was almost always better to stick close to Harry.
A moment later Neville felt like he was in pitch darkness being sucked through a straw backwards – and why had no one ever mentioned within Neville's hearing that apparating was so horribly uncomfortable? – and for a moment there, after they had reappeared on the doorstep of a scary house in a frightening muggle neighborhood, Neville had been afraid that Harry had left some vital parts of them behind.
Nevillle finished checking himself for missing appendages just in time to hear Harry literally hiss something at the door.
Which neatly brought Neville to his second impressive, yet terrifying, Harry-related revelation: Harry was a Parselmouth!
When the heavy, battered front door swung open, Harry strode inside without a second's hesitation.
Neville, however, did hesitate. He looked fearfully up at the filthy, looming structure then at the rubbish strewn, rundown muggle neighborhood around it.
This place looks Dark. And Harry had to hiss to get in – I couldn't get out without him! But the door was slowly swinging shut and that horrible old fear rose up inside of him. For a moment, he remembered his mother's smile and his father's calloused hand gently ruffling his hair as they left him in his nursery. And he remembered the boy's whispered promises as he left Neville on Gran's doorstep. What if he goes away and never comes back? What if he isn't the same as now?
Neville dove inside the horrid house just as the door slammed shut behind him, catching the back of his robes between itself and the doorframe. And no matter how much Neville twisted and yanked, his robes remained firmly caught.
"Harry?" Neville called, his voice cracking in the unrelenting darkness. "Harry!"
Maybe if I take them off? Neville wondered, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment at the mere thought. At Hogwarts, he had to wear the muggleborn uniform under the wizarding one. At home, he just wore a pair of pants under his robes. What if Harry comes back? He'll think I'm stupid for being caught like this. But if he comes back and sees me in my pants, he'll probably think I'm stupid anyway.
Neville sighed miserably. He leaned back against the door.
I'm so pathetic. He's going to laugh at me either way.
"Did the boy come with Master Harry?" inquired a cracking voice from somewhere near Neville's waist.
Neville startled violently. And shrieked, long and loud and with every fiber of his being.
Shame and terror burned through him, overlaid by the sounds of his pounding heart, barking, and running footsteps.
Light flooded the area, harsh and sudden in its brightness. Neville squeezed his eyes shut against the light and Harry. He was grateful for the sound of Harry's voice but he dreaded Harry's laughter.
"Neville?" Harry sounded utterly bewildered. But there was no laughter. "What are you doing?"
The tightness inside of Neville's stomach and chest slowly loosened.
"He's stuck in the door," said a man's deep voice.
Neville slowly opened his eyes.
Harry was standing in the middle of the hallway, quite close to Neville. Over Harry's shoulder, Neville could see the portrait of the scariest old lady he had ever seen. Ever. She was sucking on her teeth and watching the proceedings with obvious interest. At the foot of the sweeping staircase, dressed in what must have been muggle clothes, was that man that Harry hid in Gryffindor Tower last year. Sirius Black. He was standing behind Harry and staring at Harry's back as if he could not quite believe what he was seeing. Standing in front of Neville, and far too close for comfort, was a house elf. It was a particularly old and wizened and evil-looking house elf that was laughing at Neville. Silently.
Neville felt his cheeks burn with his embarrassment.
"Kreacher? Could you please get Neville free?"
"Yes, Master Harry."
The house elf snapped his boney fingers. An instant later, Neville was free.
Quickly Neville staggered away from the doorway and further into the hallway. The hallway itself was immaculately clean, if a bit worn around the edges. There was an umbrella stand that reminded him of the one at home. It was oddly comforting since every portrait, every beady look from the house elf, and every knickknack he identified only further alarmed him.
Wherever we are, it's nowhere that we should be. Gran'd definitely disapprove.
"Harry? Why're we here?"
Harry blinked. Mr. Black startled. And the house elf… looked vaguely approving.
"Herbology," Harry said at last, his expression hardening again.
And with that Harry turned around and marched through a door off of the main hallway. Neville and Mr. Black trailed after him and into an utterly disgusting front parlor. The smell alone was enough to make Neville's stomach heave alarmingly. He was very grateful that Harry left the lights off in that room as he was trying very hard not to notice what may or may not be curled up in the room's corners. When Harry exited the room through a set of glass-paned double doors, Neville hurried after him.
Harry had used the same spell in the forbidden corridor when they were off to get the Philosopher's Stone. It seemed like forever ago to Neville.
A small sun burst into being over the garden.
Neville squinted his eyes and hurried faster. Harry was standing a few meters away from the doorstep in an oddly shaped clearing.
On the doorstep, however, a large hand clamped down on Neville's shoulder.
"You shouldn't go out there," Sirius Black rasped. "Not without a wand that you can use."
"But Harry –" In the garden rare and vicious plants writhed and twisted, alternately attacking Harry and the light or cringing away from them. Without a word from Harry, a whip made from pure fire flailed out of the end of Harry's wand. It snapped out, lashing against a deeply purple tentacle with lovely pale purple flowers and long, wicked thorns that seemed to glisten with some yellow liquid. The vine cringed back. "Oh."
"He'll be fine."
Mr. Black twirled his wand, drawing Neville's attention to it. It was very battered and the style was more in keeping with wands from a hundred or perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago.
Not his wand. Remembering the news articles from earlier in the year, Neville flushed at his own stupidity. But his wand was snapped. It's probably a used, temporary wand.
Mr. Black shot Neville what might have been a bracing look before he added, "But we'll just keep an eye on Harry, anyway."
To Neville, it looked more like Malfoy trying to be kind to someone that he normally might have hexed for the fun of it. He seemed very unsure of how to mold his expression into something comforting and mostly came off looking peckish.
But then they're probably a lot alike. They're both real Blacks like Gran used to be. And he's the Head of the House of Black so he's probably much worse than Draco or Gran. And they're both from Dark, pure-blooded families.
Mr. Black settled himself on the doorstep, his elbows casually resting on his wide-spread knees and his wand held in a relaxed grip. After a moment, Neville plopped down beside him.
But he's Harry's family so he can't be all bad… Of course, Harry acknowledges Draco as his cousin and I can't see anything good about him.
It was only then that Neville realized that he was still holding onto the bookbag that had started that whole, strange adventure.
"What happened?" Mr. Black asked without ever looking away from where Harry was furiously battling a writhing knot of the purple vines and some deeply green vines that seemed to be hissing at Harry.
And Harry was hissing back at them.
Another shiver shimmied through Neville's body. It was one thing to hear the whispers and rumors around Hogwarts that Harry was Slytherin's Heir. It was something else entirely to see and hear the proof of it.
He's still just Harry, Neville told himself firmly. The thought made the knot of automatic fear in his chest loosen. It can't make him go Dark. He's not a Dark Wizard like the others because he's Harry. He'd never do that. He cares about people. Harry's my friend.
Next to him, Sirius Black startled. Mr. Black jerked about to look at Neville with wide eyes.
Didn't he already know about Harry?
The idea that not many people got to see Harry use his ability created a warm glow in Neville's chest. It felt like he was part of a very important secret. It made him feel like he was special and trusted.
The part where Mr. Black of the House of Black was obviously appalled that Harry was speaking Parseltongue was a bit frightening though.
"I don't know," Neville confessed, trying to change Mr. Black's attention back to their earlier conversation. "He just… got angry."
Mr. Black cleared his throat. "What were you two doing?"
So Neville told Mr. Black about Harry's coming to Pendletop Cottage and the backpack with the slit bottom and Harry's apparating to the house's doorstep.
Mr. Black seemed startled that Harry could do that too.
Across the garden, Harry was viciously reclaiming meter after meter of garden from the plants as he forced them back into the pitted remnants of their original flowerbeds.
That was Neville's third realization of the night: Harry was not just good at teaching DADA. He was also very good at practicing it – on plants and giant magical snakes and Dark Lords at least. In class, he was quick and competent and careful. Outside of his Hogwarts classroom, in a garden filled with murderous if lovely plants, Harry was all of those things but also vicious and merciless and unrelenting.
Mr. Black flicked his wand at Neville, verbally casting a warming charm on him.
Neville smiled weakly. "Thanks."
Mr. Black bobbed his head in acknowledgement, his eyes once again riveted on Harry.
It took ages for Harry to wear himself out. When he finally rejoined Neville and Mr. Black, Harry was sweaty and stumbling but much less tense.
Neville, who had been half asleep, scrambled to his feet clumsily.
Sirius remained where he was seated. He simply tipped his head back to look up at Harry by the fading light of the waning sun-spell.
"Got it sorted out, Harry?"
Harry scowled. Not so much at Mr. Black as himself.
"No." He kicked at a tuft of grass irritably. "I still don't know what happened or how to fix it."
"C-Can we help?" Neville asked, his heart pounding with his nervousness.
It seemed so unlikely but he had helped before. Or at least, he thought that he had. It was difficult to decide if he had been helpful earlier since he was sitting in the scariest house that he had ever seen and watching his friend fight a murderous garden. And Harry always seemed so competent and self-assured and like a little adult person that it was hard to imagine him needing help with anything.
"I don't think so."
"Tell us about it anyway." Sirius Black said as he stood up. "Talking always helps to frame the problem."
Harry hesitated, apparently feeling indecisive. It was one of the few times Neville had ever seen Harry hesitated.
"We should go to the kitchen," Harry said at last. He cast a quick, assessing look over his shoulder. One of the purple vines, which had been stealthily but steadily creeping up behind him, cringed back. Under Harry's hard gaze it quickly slithered back to its designated area, all the while trying to look like it had not been trying to catch Harry unawares. Neville was quite impressed that a vine with a fifteen centimeter circumference and giant thorns that glistened with some unknown, and probably horribly dangerous fluid on them, could contrive to look so harmless. "It's safer."
So they all trooped through the filthy front parlor and down the clean hallway filled with frightening portraits. They were nearly to the doorway at the end of the hallway when a pretty blonde girl in one of the portraits shouted, "Harry James Potter! Sirius Orion Black! Don't you dare leave me out here!"
Harry's entire face lit up.
Harry's purposeful steps immediately diverted to the nearest large, chipped, and in placed gnawed on frame.
She's just magic and memories. She's not even real. Neville thought, a lump forming in his throat as he listened to Harry exchange cheerful greetings with an echo of a dead woman. Apparently, Harry had been living in this awful, filthy place with the Dark objects and creepy house elf and scary portraits before he owled Neville for help. Before Neville's eyes, the larger than life Boy-Who-Lived died. In his place was just another kid. One who was smart, funny, brave, loyal, and cunning but made a lot of silly mistakes. Harry could trick even the adults into believing that he was okay when he was really as lonely and scared and angry as anyone else would be. Neville dragged a sleeve across his hot eyes. He must be terribly lonely to be so happy to see his gran's portrait. Harry needs a real family to look after him!
Neville considered Mr. Black. The older man had joined Harry at the portrait frame. Harry's gran was scolding him for not having a plan when he went to kill 'young Peter', for staying away so long, and for being too skinny. He looked abashed but very pleased at her vociferous scolding.
He's lonely too. And he's not really okay after Azkaban. I'm pretty sure that Harry's trying to look after him. I have Gran. And Mum and Dad. Sort of. It's better than what happened to Harry's parents. Who does Harry have? He's always so busy looking after everyone else and being so grown-up that I don't even really think of him just being a kid my age. I bet no one else does either. Neville frowned. He chewed his lower lip, a nervous habit that his Gran hated. It's not right. But what can I do?
He was still thinking about that when Harry spelled the portrait off of the wall and then floated it ahead of them and into the kitchen.
It was the cleanest room that Neville had seen so far. Its upper reaches were dark with lingering shadows but despite that it seemed… comfortable. He might even dare to think of it as homey.
Harry propped the portrait up against a nearby wall and took a seat.
"Kreacher?" he asked the empty air. "Can we have sandwiches? And juice?"
Neville startled at the loud sound and the sudden presence of the house elf. Mr. Black scowled at it.
The house elf ignored them both. His attention was fixed firmly, and solely, on Harry.
He inclined his head. "Yes, Master Harry."
Harry beamed. "Brilliant!"
The house elf smiled back. It was an alarming, and obviously heartfelt, gesture that seemed to light up that grim, craggly face.
I want nothing to do with house elves, Neville decided. He reached his fourth realization almost immediately thereafter: Gran might miss the Black house elves. And they might make things easier. But he's the scariest thing in this entire house. I'd never be able to sleep with one in the house… magically tied to me… lying in wait… to get me when I least expect it…
Neville shuddered convulsively. It felt like someone was stomping on his grave.
Once the house elf's back was turned to Harry so that his expression was hidden from the other boy, but not Mr. Black or Neville, Kreacher shot his actual master a look of such malicious triumph that Neville flinched. He flinched so hard that he literally tumbled out of his chair.
Embarrassed, and terrified of losing sight of that dreadful thing, Neville floundered about as he struggled to free himself from his robes and find his wand.
I don't have it! I never carry it outside of Hogwarts!
Above him Mr. Black growled at the house elf, the sound every bit as menacing as a grim's growl.
"Enough." Harry said sharply. "Both of you."
Neville stilled as lean, adult hands reached down to help him get untangled and then to his feet. By then, the house elf was gone.
The sound of objects clinking in the pantry was very reassuring to Neville. At least he knew where the house elf was.
Neville warily slid into his seat again.
"I lost – No. A Dark object was stolen from me." Harry said abruptly. Neville sucked in a sharp breath. There was a tight feeling in his stomach. "It's very old and very powerful and twice cursed. It's… a Slytherin family heirloom that I'd retrieved from one of my properties. I was going to bring it back here and whack it with Gryffindor's sword."
Mr. Black shot Harry a sharp look. Neville startled, remembering that there was something special about the person who found that sword; something very important that he should know and remember.
Neville forgot to worry about the sword when Mr. Black asked, "What good would that do?"
"I got Basilisk venom on it at the end of term. It can pretty much destroy anything, including that ring. I have to find and destroy the ring before it mummifies anyone." Harry shuddered. "It's really dangerous as it is. It doesn't need enough magical energy to help it do… whatever it's supposed to do."
"Do you know what it does?" Mr. Black asked sharply.
Harry slanted a guilty look toward Mr. Black. He squirmed in his seat. "Sort of."
Harry scowled, his expression shifting from guilty and apologetic to angry and mutinous faster than Neville could blink.
"I can't tell you anything important! You don't know Occlumency!"
Neville squirmed, his emotions an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment and awkwardness and determination.
Mr. Black tossed his head. There was an elegant arrogance to the gesture that Draco Malfoy could only dream of possessing. His hair flopped across his forehead charmingly and he straightened his shoulders.
"Of course I know Occlumency," he said. The shadows of an ancient superiority, and its attached condescension, colored his tone. "Mt technique isn't pretty or subtle and it didn't do me any good in Azkaban but I can protect my mind better than most. I got top marks in the mental arts in auror training."
"You were an auror?" Harry sounded excited. "What about my parents?"
"Of course they were! Your father and I were apprenticed to Mad-Eye Moody." Mr. Black's lips compressed into a thin line. "We're going to have to contact Alastor about your bauble."
"No!" Harry yelped. "I can find it myself!"
"No, you really can't. And if it kills someone before you report it missing, you'll be responsible for the death. There's no good time of year to visit Azkaban."
As Harry and his godfather argued Neville stared at Mr. Black, trying to see past the gaunt features and the glittering mad eyes to what Harry saw in Sirius Black.
To Neville, Sirius Black looked as untrustworthy and uninspiring and crazy as he had five minutes ago.
He was someone else before he went to Azkaban. Shame welled up as his mind darted to his parents, forever locked away in St. Mungo's. I should know better than to judge people by how they are now, after they've been damaged.
Mr. Black, still arguing with Harry, turned to stare back at Neville. His face hot, Neville ducked his head so that his fringe fell between his face and Mr. Black's pale eyes.
A crack of magic startled Neville into looking up. Kreacher had deposited a plate of sandwiches, cups, and a pitcher of pale juice on the table. Condensation beaded the pitcher's curved crystal sides.
"What's this?" Sirius growled, jerking his chin at the juice.
"Apple juice," Kreacher said. His tone was cold. "Master Potter is tired of pumpkin juice."
"Thanks, Kreacher!" Harry hurried to interrupt. "It all looks great!"
The house elf bowed his head. "Will Master Harry be returning to Grimmauld Place?"
"Erm, eventually. But not really soon."
Kreacher nodded. "I shall see to his rooms."
He disappeared, leaving the three wizards alone in the kitchen again.
While Harry and Sirius argued, the girl's portrait studied Neville with open interest.
"Are you Callidora Augusta Longbottom's grandson?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm Neville Longbottom."
She clapped her hands together, her expression delighted.
"Harry's cousin then!"
She seemed so happy at the idea that Neville felt a bit guilty. He squirmed uncomfortably.
"No, ma'am. My father renounced the family during the last Wizarding War. And my grandmother renounced it after – after the war ended."
Neville grabbed the nearest half of a sandwich and took a huge bite.
After what happened to my parents.
The girl was frowning. "So you're not a Black at all."
Neville hastily swallowed. "No, ma'am."
Frankly, after spending a year as Draco Malfoy's classmate and meeting Mr. Black and seeing the House of Black, Neville was very grateful not to be officially related to any of them in the slightest fashion.
"And you're not related to Harry's mother in any fashion?"
"No, ma'am. Not to my knowledge, anyway."
"But Harry went to you when there was that dreadful mix up with Kreacher and Sirius."
Even though she was just a portrait, her gaze was very piercing as she studied Neville. "I see."
Rather than trying to change the subject, Neville turned his attention to Mr. Black and Harry. He tried very hard to seem as if he was terribly interested in whatever they were shouting at each other.
Eventually, after several sandwiches apiece and several glasses of the surprisingly tasty apple juice, Mr. Black had argued Harry into submission.
Tomorrow, one way or another, they would contact a man called Mad-Eye Moody and ask him to quietly find Harry's ring.
They were at the front door, and Mr. Black was extracting numerous promises from Harry to take the Knight Bus instead of apparating and to come back to visit him in that awful house soon and to be careful, when Neville finally marshaled his courage again.
Harry owled me for help instead of the Malfoys. Which means that he trusts me to actually help him with his problems.
"We have a second guest room," Neville blurted, rudely interrupting Harry's promises. "Mr. Black could come to stay with us. If he likes."
Even though Harry and Mr. Black had very different eyes, they looked at Neville with the exact same expression for a moment.
Then they were both beaming and thanking Neville and pounding Neville on the back.
Neville beamed, basking in having gotten in right for once.
It was very late at night, or quite early the next morning, so sneaking back into the cottage with Sirius Black in tow was rather easy. Neville knew where and what the wards were and Mr. Black was very good at getting around them.
It was even easier to install Mr. Black in the other spare room, the one furthest from the master bedroom and Gran.
Pleased with himself, Neville soon dropped off into an exhausted sleep.