A/N -- This is a short one-shot that I wrote over three years ago for a story contest on Chamber of Secrets Forum (CoSForums(dot)com). The contest was run weekly, and that week's topic was "Neville's final confrontation with Bellatrix Lestrange." HBP had already been published, but Deathly Hallows was still a long way off. At any rate, I submitted this story and the readers voted it first place. I also promised Cory that I would get this story out for her. Have fun! -- Peter
A rush of wings and a buzz of voices from the long tables announced the arrival of the morning post on a cold and cloudy winter's day. Dozens of owls swooped in the high windows of the Great Hall. Letters floated down to their recipients or were snatched from beaks; packages splattered among the toast, sausages, bowls of porridge, and pitchers of pumpkin juice.
A formation of official Ministry owls circled gracefully over the staff table. A large barn owl broke out and landed in an empty spot in front of the high-backed throne of the Headmistress. Minerva McGonagall turned from her conversation with Professor Flitwick and unrolled the parchment presented to her. The owl clucked softly, and McGonagall handed it a piece of sausage. With a satisfied hoot the owl flew off, leaving the Headmistress staring at the message with a frown on her face.
Each official owl delivered its note or package to one of the staff members. The last one to land, a tiny Scops, flittered to the end of the table and plunked down in front of the Herbology teacher, Professor Neville Longbottom. It was an excitable bird, and in its enthusiasm it knocked over a large glass of milk onto the professor's lap. Neville, who had been immersed in the morning's AADaily Prophet, startled. He looked down at the mess in his lap, stood up, sat down, wiped up the milk with a handkerchief he produced from his robes, and put his face back into the newspaper.
The little owl hooted loudly and pecked at the page. Neville finally realized that something was alive on the table in front of him. "Pig!" he exclaimed, putting down the Prophet. "Sorry, didn't see you. Thanks." He took the parchment from Pigwidgeon's leg. It was a short note, written on stationery of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Neville recognized Ron Weasley's handwriting:
We have received news that is both good and bad. As you know, one of the few Death Eaters we failed to round up in the sweep after Voldemort's death was Bellatrix Lestrange. The good news is that she was sighted early this morning. The bad news is that the sighting was just outside of Hogsmeade. We are all pretty nervous here about her being seen so close to the school.
I wanted to send you this warning immediately. Several Death Eaters have been trying to buy their way out of Azkaban with information; that's how we picked up her scent after so many years. But they also told us that she is bent on finding you. I don't have to remind you what that means.
Neville, it will be another few hours before we can organize a wizard hit team and get them up north. We will be sending some immediate protection for the school via floo. Professor McGonagall will be notified by owl this morning. Please be careful.
Hermione sends her love.
Neville looked down the table. The Headmistress was rolling up the piece of parchment in her hand and looking at him. Neville knew from the expression on her face what was in her owl. She stood up and the noise in the Hall diminished, but rose again as it became clear that she was not making an announcement. Instead, she spoke quietly to each teacher, then came down the table to Neville. She stopped next to him.
"Professor, are you feeling well?" she asked with concern. Neville realized that his fists were clenched and he was breathing hard.
"Well enough," he replied, and tried to calm himself. "But I think that I should –"
"No, no," McGonagall interrupted. "You will come with me and the rest of the staff to my office. We will be having a short staff meeting. But please be seated. I don't want everyone leaving at once. I want to keep this from the students until we are ready." Neville noticed that teachers were getting up from the table one at a time and making their way down the Great Hall and out into the entrance hallway.
McGonagall continued. "I have already informed Mr. Filch that he is to close and lock the front doors. After the meeting we will let the prefects know, and they and the House Heads will inform the students." She looked around; there were no teachers left. "I think we can leave now."
The meeting went quickly; Professor McGonagall did not want morning classes to be disrupted. It was decided that off–duty teachers would patrol the grounds and the halls until help from the Ministry arrived. Students would not be allowed outside. They would get to their herbology classes through Professor Longbottom's office, which opened on both the first floor corridor and the greenhouses. Care of Magical Creatures classes would be canceled.
No one spoke to Neville during the meeting, but most of the teachers sent him concerned looks as they left, and Madame Pomfrey took his arm on the spiral staircase. "We are all looking out for each other," she whispered.
He nodded. "I know. Don't worry, I'll be fine."
The entire day passed without incident. During his morning class — fourth year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs — Neville noticed strange wizards and witches walking on the lawn and down by the lake. By lunchtime everyone knew what was happening, and the levels of excitement and conversation in the Great Hall were quite a bit higher than usual. Neville's afternoon class — first year Slytherins and Ravenclaws — went smoothly except for one student's being attacked by a Folding–and–Stapling Zucchini plant.
At dinner the Headmistress asked Neville to sit next to her. "You are welcome to sleep in my office tonight if you wish, Professor," she said over roast beef and scalloped potatoes. "The Aurors have found nothing yet, so I do think you should be careful."
"I'll be perfectly safe in my room," he replied. "I'm really not concerned about Bella Lestrange. She probably left the area after all these people showed up from London. She'd be foolish to try anything."
"Well, you may be right, but I would still feel better if you slept somewhere other than your own bed tonight."
Neville shook his head. "No, she ruined my childhood but I'm not letting her run my life." He got up without finishing his meal and walked out of the Hall. Some of the older students watched, whispering to their neighbors as he passed. He went down the corridor to his office, closed the door behind him and put a locking spell on it, a good one that Harry had taught him. He went through the office and out into the greenhouses, checking doors, stopping here and there to water plants and prune some overgrown foliage. He saw an occasional Auror through the glass, prowling the grounds.
He noticed suddenly, while bending over a pot of small honking daffodils, that it had gotten quite dark out. He straightened up. He could no longer see figures on the lawn, and he felt for his wand in the pocket of his robes. Then he heard a small noise just outside the greenhouse. He took out the wand, walked over to the door, and looked around. He could see nothing in the gloom. He opened the door and stepped outside, peering into the darkness. There was nothing. He went back inside and closed the door.
A figure rose in front of him and shouted, "Expelliarmus!". Neville was flung backward and his wand flew off into a corner. He found himself sitting on the floor with his back against the door. He knew who was standing over him.
"Bella," he spat, fear and hatred rising inside him. "Come to finish off the family? You'll never get away with it this time. They'll be feeding you to the dementors before tomorrow morning."
A jet of red flame flew from her wand, and Neville felt a searing pain across his face. He cried out, but "Silencio!" cut him short. Lestrange cackled and moved closer. Her robes were in rags, her hair hung in greasy strands from under a large, battered hat. It was impossible to tell what color her clothes were, they were covered in so much filth.
"Now get up and we'll end the Longbottoms," she croaked in a hoarse voice. "I don't care what happens afterward. You'll be dead and I've made sure that your parents will know it."
Neville did not move. He could not believe what this creature was going to do. He had known for years that someday and somehow it would come down to the two of them, but he never imagined that she would try to hurt his parents again. He stared at her. Blood oozed from the wound on his cheek.
"I said get up!" she snarled. She pointed her wand again. Neville ducked and put his hands over his head. The spell missed and hit the door behind him. It exploded with a huge Bang! The door blew out, Neville was flung onto the greenhouse floor, and Bellatrix was thrown back.
Neville scrambled up and looked around. Something strange had happened. The world had gone silent, except for a loud ringing in his ears. He put his hands to his temples, and realized that the explosion when the spell hit the door right behind his head had deafened him. He looked around for his wand, but it was nowhere in sight.
He turned to Bellatrix. She was staggering to her feet, still clutching her wand. It seemed unsteady, but it was still pointing at him. Her mouth moved, but Neville could hear nothing. She smiled, a ghastly grin with broken, yellow, rotting teeth. The wand grew steadier. She opened her mouth again, and Neville stepped back against a table.
Then she looked away, distracted by something outside. In that instant Neville reached onto the table, seized a large purplish-green plant, and yanked it out of its pot.
Bellatrix reeled back. Her hands flew to her ears; her wand dropped to the floor. Her mouth and eyes were open wide, her horrid face distorted by pain. She spun around, then faced Neville again with her hands still over her ears, looked at him in agony, and collapsed to the floor. Neville looked down into her unblinking, staring eyes; her mouth was still open in an unvoiced scream, her hands still pressed to her head.
He turned to the Mandrake in his hand. It was still shrieking, its mouth open as wide as Bella's. The ringing in his ears was getting louder, and he realized that his hearing was starting to return; the ringing noise was the cry of the Mandrake. He quickly shoved it back into the pot and shoveled soil onto it from a bin nearby. As he put the plant back on the table he saw what had distracted Bellatrix: a number of people with brightly lit wands were running up the lawn from the castle gates.
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement's Wizard Hit Team poured into the greenhouse through the blasted door. They all seemed to be talking to him at once, but he could hear only muffled sounds. Then one of them saw Bellatrix's body on the floor. As they bent over her, Neville stumbled to a chair and slumped into it. His hands were shaking; his face was burning; his ears were ringing; he had a ferocious headache. And his heart was as light as it had ever been in his life.