Neville waited impatiently at the floo with his Gran. They were hosting an Introduction Party for the Black Regent Apparent. It was the first time that the Longbottom and Black alliance would be on public show instead of the Longbottom and Potter. He knew his Gran was determined that the event would be a smashing success to underline that just how much the House of Longbottom valued its alliance with the House of Black.
He had seen such a change in his Gran over the Summer; it was as though she'd been given another lease of life. He'd always be grateful to Lord Black – Sirius – for that if for no other reason although there were plenty others; convincing his Gran to buy Neville a wand that was matched properly with him; the politics lessons; the estate management lessons; his magic lessons; the outings…but most importantly; his friendship with Harry.
It had been a surprise to him that Harry's parents had been his godparents but it made sense of why he had only his Gran and a handful of elderly relatives in his life. Since the start of the Summer and that news he'd asked his Gran about his father's friends more and discovered the two men closest to his Dad had been the Prewett twins, Fabian and Gideon. They had died at the hands of the Death Eaters. His mother's closest friend had been Lily Potter and his Gran hadn't known any others beyond noting both women were known and accepted in the social circle of the Potter alliance. Neville wondered why none of them had come forward to help his Gran until he'd realised from an overheard comment that his Gran had pushed most of them away at some point in her grief.
It was a hard thing for Neville not to feel resentful; he loved his Gran but her previous behaviour had turned away people who could have helped him – helped them. He could have adults in his life who didn't despair over his lack of magical ability or who compared him constantly to his father. He could have grown up with friends instead of being isolated in Longbottom Manor. But then, in fairness to his Gran, maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. Maybe he would have still been shy and awkward. Maybe. But he wasn't isolated any longer, Neville assured himself. The Potter alliance was re-established and all of the Heirs were committed to working together. And moreover, he and Harry had both delighted in being godbrothers.
It was a relief to Neville that Harry was just as eager as he was to establish a better friendship. They hadn't been unfriendly at Hogwarts but Neville had never wanted to intrude too much into the territory of 'best mate' that Ron had very clearly marked out for himself (although in hindsight Neville could see that alongside the possessiveness, Ron had truly been protective of Harry who'd been overwhelmed by the attention). In truth Neville had been too insecure about his own worth to force himself upon the Boy Who Lived and later, on the boy he'd come to know as Harry. Somehow though, thanks to their family alliance, Neville had been given the opportunity of forging an unique place with Harry – Harry wanted him to be his godbrother as much as Neville wanted Harry to be his – and Neville had grasped the inner courage that had made the Hat sort him into Gryffindor and grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
He was pleased beyond measure at the result; Harry trusted him and believed in him and Neville had meant every single word of the oath of fealty he had sworn.
So, just like his Gran, he wanted the evening to be a success – for Harry, the Heir of the House of Black and his godbrother.
Neville smoothed down the front of his robes again nervously, his fingers absently tracing over the stitching of the Longbottom crest. His Gran shot him a quick smile and he straightened as he smiled back.
The floo chimed and immediately Sirius stepped through with an elegant precision that his Gran approved of with a smart nod.
"Sirius," his Gran offered her hand which was quickly kissed, "it's wonderful to see you. I hope everything will be to your liking."
"Knowing you, it will be perfect, Augusta." Sirius smiled warmly at her before he clasped Neville's shoulder. "You look very smart, Neville."
The floo flared again and Harry stepped out, sighing with relief when he didn't stumble. He greeted Neville's Gran first before he and Neville shook hands formally; grinning as they both rolled their eyes at the absurdity. Sirius took his place beside Neville's Gran in the line-up and Harry took his beside Neville, nudging Neville's arm and continuing to grin at him.
After that, the House of Black arrived in speedy order; the guests of honour, Simeon and his wife, arriving first before the Tonks arrived with Hermione and lastly, the Malfoys.
Neville took a perverse pleasure in seeing the Malfoys bow (or in Narcissa's case, curtsy) to his Gran. None of his humour showed though as he shook Draco's hand and bid him welcome. He was surprised that Draco managed to keep the sneer of his face.
Simeon took his place in the line-up beside Sirius while everyone else was ushered into the formal parlour where the refreshments had been set out. Neville knew that Andromeda would play hostess in the absence of his Gran.
"Well, gentlemen," his Gran said, "are we ready for the hordes from the Ministry and the Wizengamot to descend?"
"You mean locusts." Sirius commented dryly.
"They can't be that bad!" Simeon protested winking at the two boys.
Neville and Harry looked at each other before they shared a smirk with Sirius. "Worse!" They chorused.
"Really!" His Gran admonished, but her eyes were sparkling. "Some of them are our allies."
"All locusts except for our allies." Sirius agreed. "Got it."
His Gran looked as though she was about to retort but the floo chimed again and for the next hour, Neville was mostly occupied by shaking hands and kissing knuckles before presenting 'his friend and ally, Lord Potter, Head of the House of Potter and Heir to the House of Black.'
Harry's smile grew tighter and more fixed as the hour went on. All of the Wizengamot was in attendance and most of the higher echelon of the Ministry – the Department heads and their wives. Even if their allies knew better than to fawn over Harry or to condescend to him, the rest hadn't a clue how to deal with the Boy Who Lived. Worse still were the families that they knew to be Dark and aligned in the past with Voldemort. But Harry didn't waver or cower in their presence and neither did Neville; a show of strength was needed. The very worst though was when Bartemius Crouch Senior stepped out of the floo.
"Crouch." Sirius practically snarled the other wizard's name and everyone in the receiving line tensed.
"Black." Crouch snapped back.
Neither offered their hand.
"Barty," his Gran stepped forward and presented her hand with a quiet authority that forced Crouch into taking it, "let me introduce you to Simeon Black, the Black Regent Apparent." Crouch shook hands quickly with Simeon who eyed him speculatively. "You remember my grandson, Neville, of course."
Neville shook hands and gave a stiff smile. The older man was rigid in his stance; his grey robes were properly pressed and tailored; his short grey hair neatly parted and his toothbrush moustache trimmed as straight as a ruler.
"May I also present Lord Potter, Heir of the House of Black." His Gran continued.
"So you're the Boy Who Lived?" Crouch sneered.
"And you're the wizard who threw my godfather into prison without a trial." Harry shot back, his green eyes colder than Neville could ever remember seeing them and he felt a shiver go down his spine.
The floo chimed.
Neville wasn't imagining the hint of relief in Sirius's voice.
"Crouch." Amelia Bones greeted her former boss evenly but without any fondness as she allowed her hand to be kissed by Sirius.
"Brian! Good to see you!" Sirius grinned at her escort as Amelia moved to curtsy to Neville's Gran and present her hand to Neville and Harry.
"Sirius." Brian smiled at the smirking wizard and sighed, although his face was alight with humour. "Is there any way you're not going to tease me about this?"
Amelia shot Sirius a look.
"I mean, yes," Sirius hastily corrected, "I mean, why would I tease you about escorting our lovely Amelia?"
"Nice recovery, my Lord Black." Amelia said dryly. Her eyes landed on Crouch again. "Well, it's good to see that you've recovered from Wizard's flu at last, Barty."
"And just in time to attend the World Cup." Brian pointed out smoothly, offering Amelia his arm.
Crouch glared at the solicitor while Harry exchanged furtive smirks with Neville.
"I'm still recovering." Crouch stated coldly.
"Yes," Amelia said, adjusting the skirts of her dress robes, "I did hear talk today that you'd forgotten the name of the Italian Ambassador."
"Memory loss is common after a serious bout of the flu." Crouch defended himself briskly.
"Short term memory loss." Amelia pointed out. "You've been meeting Antonio every month for ten years. How you failed to remember his name is beyond comprehension."
A throat being cleared behind the Director had them all peering at the new arrivals: the Diggorys.
"My apologies, Lady Longbottom, we seem to be holding up the receiving line." Brian stepped in diplomatically. "Bartemius, Amelia; perhaps we should continue this discussion in the parlour."
Amelia smiled at him gratefully as Crouch muttered an agreement. Neville didn't miss the dark look he threw towards Sirius and Harry though as he left.
The Diggorys greeted Sirius, his Gran and Simeon. There was some tension in the air because nobody in the line had voted for Diggory when he'd been nominated to join the Wizengamot. Amos shook hands with Neville but lingered with Harry.
"Good to see you again." Amos said pompously. "Looking forward to returning to school?"
Neville stiffened at the underlying insult; Amos was effectively pointing out Harry's youth and inexperience.
"Yes, Mister Diggory." Harry replied politely.
"It'll be good to get back to Hogwarts." Cedric stepped in to smooth things over and thankfully changing the subject. "Are you going to the World Cup?"
"We are," Harry said, "you?"
"I can't wait to see Krum in action." Cedric said, eagerly. "He's a brilliant Seeker."
Harry nodded and Neville knew that his friend was eager to see the match and pick up some of the Seeker moves.
"So are you, son." Amos interrupted. "You beat young Potter here, didn't you?"
Cedric looked miserably embarrassed once more. "I've told you before, Dad, it wasn't a fair win."
Since Harry had been busy falling off his broom because the field had been invaded by Dementors during the moment Cedric had spotted and caught the Snitch, Neville agreed with Cedric's view.
"Nonsense," Amos blustered, "you won; that's all that matters."
The floo chimed again.
"We should head inside before we make the same faux pas as Amelia and Barty." Peggy Diggory nudged her husband pointedly while shooting an apologetic look in Harry's direction.
"Of course, of course." Amos inclined his head, offered his arm to his wife and set off to the parlour.
Cedric mouthed a 'sorry' and trailed after his parents.
It was a relief that the next group out of the floo were the Weasleys. It was only Arthur, Molly, Ron and Ginny – Bill had arrived escorting Alicia Doge earlier. Harry's tension eased a little and Neville relaxed a bit more himself.
"Oh don't you boys look handsome?!" Molly exclaimed, reaching to hug Harry rather than following etiquette.
Harry smiled at her. "Hello Molly."
"Mrs Weasley." Neville greeted her more formally, knowing his Gran wouldn't let him get away with anything less than the expected behaviour.
"Neville!" Molly smiled at him as he kissed her hand.
Ginny presented her hand with a smirk. Neville rolled his eyes at her but kissed her knuckles. She turned to Harry and went bright red. Neville was torn between amusement at her evident crush and a tug of envy.
Neville hadn't considered Ginny as a potential girlfriend until that Summer. He hadn't failed to notice at the end of his third year that his peers were beginning to date – at least Dean and Seamus; Ron and Harry seemed as equally as unenthusiastic as he was to actually attempt to ask a girl out. But after Sirius and Remus had given him and Harry the Talk (and Neville thought it had been cool they'd thought to work it so Harry's father provided much of it), Neville had given some thought to his own prospects and determined the only girl he knew well enough to ask out was Ginny.
He'd spent quite a bit of time with the youngest Weasley over the past year. They occupied the same position in their relative dorms; friendly with all but not part of a close friendship themselves (although Neville suspected Harry would be more inclusive when they went back to Hogwarts in September). Apparently Ginny had missed out in being part of a group in her first year by isolating herself with a diary when she was scared instead of pushing past the initial fear and confiding in the other girls in her dorm. Neville surmised that there was possibly more to it than Ginny was willing to say since he remembered she'd ended up in the Chamber of Secrets and being rescued by Harry at the end of her first year, but he wasn't about to press her into giving confidences she didn't want to share. Instead, he'd been happy enough to find someone who he could sit with in the Common Room and at meals if they were both without companions.
He liked Ginny; she was compassionate, smart and had a wicked sense of humour. She was also very pretty. Her only major flaw was that she was head over heels in love with the idea of being in love with the Boy Who Lived and turned into a speechless ninny around Harry. And, so regardless of Neville's firm belief that he and Ginny were friends, he doubted Ginny had ever thought about Neville as a prospective suitor.
His newfound confidence also meant that despite Neville's admiration of her, he was beginning to think that maybe he would be better off considering someone else. Hermione was out since it was fairly clear to Neville that she and Harry both liked each other; they'd sneak glances when the other wasn't looking and there was a real genuine affection between them. It was just a question of when they would both realise that they liked each other. Besides, Hermione – as nice as she was – was a little too intimidating for Neville; a little too much like his Gran if he was being completely honest.
But Susan and Hannah were both friendly and nice. They weren't bossy or intimidating. He liked them both although he thought Hannah was prettier with her blonde hair and calm blue eyes. Maybe he should give up on the idea of Ginny.
He watched wistfully as Harry gently prompted Ginny with a remarkable amount of patience for her hand; as Ginny offered her hand shyly and ducked her head when Harry's lips brushed over her skin.
Ron beamed at them and Neville realised belatedly that Ron obviously had decided that Harry was the perfect boyfriend for Ginny – someone who Ron trusted and wouldn't mind being a part of his family. Harry, on the other hand, let go of Ginny's hand quickly and didn't protest when Molly ushered her children away.
"Well, that was the last of the guests." His Gran declared.
Harry let out a heavy sigh and rubbed the back of his neck. "Thank Merlin."
"Now, we just have to mingle for the next couple of hours." Sirius said with mock cheerfulness, placing his hands on Harry's shoulders and squeezing them sympathetically as they began the walk through the manor.
"Fantastic." Harry said wearily.
Sirius took pity on him. "Why don't you take a break? I'll come get you when we need you."
Harry's smile could have lit up the Manor.
Neville poked him in the arm. "Come on, let's grab a butterbeer and find Hermione."
A brief glance around the room quickly identified that Hermione was happily ensconced in a corner by the refreshment table with Susan, Hannah, Daphne Greengrass, Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein. Ron and Ginny were with their parents talking with the Diggorys and the Inglebees. The Malfoys had set up shop near to them and Draco was flanked by Zabini and Nott.
Harry and Neville made a quick stop to pick up a drink and joined Hermione's group.
"Harry!" Hermione greeted him happily. "We were just talking about the Runes test. Daphne and Anthony are going to be sitting for the fifth year class same as us."
"Hermione was just explaining that you were the one responsible for them offering us the chance to skip a year. We should probably thank you." Anthony said brightly. The dark haired Ravenclaw smiled at Harry.
Harry shrugged self-consciously.
"Don't worry, Potter," Daphne advised dryly, "I'm not going to thank you since that would be to confirm that I owed you something."
Neville was about to say something but the hint of amusement in Daphne's blue eyes stopped him as he realised she was teasing.
"Which you do." Anthony argued.
"No, I don't," Daphne said, "I was the one who achieved an Outstanding and got the opportunity to sit the fourth year exam early. All Potter did was fail to realise that he wasn't just sitting the third year exam."
"Harsh, Daffers." Anthony chided her.
Harry shrugged again. "I don't mind and she's right; you earned the right to sit the exam yourselves."
"I didn't." Michael complained. "Exceeds Expectation." He sighed. "I'm going to be left behind."
"There are plenty of people who didn't qualify to skip." Anthony assured him. "Padma, Ernie and Sally are all still going to be in fourth year Runes."
"I'm stuck in Divination." Neville said regretting his choice of electives even more. He'd eschewed Runes and Arithmancy for the easier subjects against his Gran's advice (his father had taken Arithmancy) as a single act of rebellion, pointing out that neither would help in his chosen profession of Herbology.
"Me too." Hannah sighed.
"You could do what Harry did and swap." Hermione suggested. "We'd help you. You could drop Divination and study Runes independently – aim to take the third year exam this year and do your OWL in sixth."
Neville shook his head. "Someone has to keep Ron company."
"And someone has to keep Neville company." Hannah added.
Neville felt his cheeks heat and inwardly cursed but he appreciated the thought and smiled at her shyly.
"Divination is such a waste of time." Michael said. "If you don't have the Sight, it's useless."
"You know who does have the Sight?" Anthony asked with a hint of 'I know something you don't.'
"Not Trelawney that's for sure." Daphne stated firmly. "The only Spirit that woman sees is called Harvey's Bristol Cream."
Hermione choked on her drink and had to be rescued by Harry who offered her a white cotton handkerchief to mop up her chin.
"So you guys don't believe in prophecies then?" asked Harry.
There was something about the way he asked that made Neville's Harry Alert flare up. From the way Hermione started chewing her lip, he wasn't the only one who had read something more into the seemingly innocent question.
"I don't believe in them." Michael said firmly. "There is absolutely no proof that one single prophecy has been correct."
"That's not true!" Hannah claimed. "There are plenty of examples; the Oracle at Delphi, Cassandra…"
"But everyone looks at the prophecies and bends them to fit!" Michael argued. "Take the prophecy that "a young boy who is important to the moon will die at day-break!" Well, somewhere in the world there's probably a werewolf boy who dies at day-break or a boy who was born under a moon or a boy called Moon! People see what they want to see."
"I agree with Corner." Daphne said raising her own glass. "It's a load of dragon dung."
"Me too," agreed Hermione, "and Trelawney is a complete fraud!"
"Ah, but as I was saying earlier," Anthony asserted, "there are true Seers and I know one!"
Harry looked at Anthony curiously. "Who?"
"A second year – well, soon to be third year Ravenclaw called Luna Lovegood." Anthony said. "Her Dad owns The Quibbler."
"Looney?" Michael gaped at him.
Harry's face hardened. "What did you call her?"
Hermione glared at Michael, silently backing up Harry. Neville shifted closer.
"Not me!" Michael hastened to defend himself. "The girls call her that!"
"She is odd." Daphne said brusquely. "Half the time she wanders around without shoes."
Neville threw her a disgusted look. "Out of choice or because someone stole them?"
Daphne's eyebrows rose a tad as she considered it. "Good question."
"I really hate bullies." Harry said with a sigh. He rubbed his forehead. "Is she here?"
"The Lovegoods aren't here as they lost their seat ages ago." Neville commented to Harry. But he knew from the determined look on Harry's face that Luna was now on his radar and if she was being bullied, Harry was going to step in. And Neville would be there to support him all the way.
"We're off topic," Michael pointed out, "whether Loo…" he caught sight of Harry's hard stare, "uh, Luna is a Seer or not is not the point."
"Well, it is in one way," Hermione countered, "if there are true Seers then by definition there must be true prophecies."
Harry winced. "Maybe." He suddenly smiled. "Anyone want to make a prediction about the World Cup?"
And just like that the topic was changed with Hermione berating Harry and the others about being obsessed with Quidditch.
Neville kept out of the debate over Ireland and Bulgaria. He wasn't that interested in Quidditch and he mainly watched the games at Hogwarts out of House loyalty. He contemplated Harry's questioning over whether prophecies were real or not. Why was he so interested if he was dropping Divination, Neville wondered. He puzzled over it for a long moment until the obvious answer struck him: Harry must have heard some kind of prophecy involving him. Not surprising, Neville thought, thinking of all the scrapes Harry had gotten into it and the very strange words the spirit of Morgana had said during the blessing ritual – something about betwixt the light and dark, and perishing or mastering Death?
Sirius cleared his throat behind Neville causing him to jump slightly. He shot a look over his shoulder and Sirius grinned back at him unrepentant. "Sorry, Nev. Simeon and I need to borrow Harry."
Harry sighed but went willingly as Sirius and Simeon hauled him away for a tour of the room and the waiting mass of people wanting to talk to them.
"Poor bloke." Michael commiserated.
Neville saw his Gran approaching and he sighed. "I have to go mingle too."
Hermione gave him a sympathetic smile. "Good luck!"
Hannah reached out a little hesitantly and patted his arm. Neville smiled at her warmly before falling into step beside his Gran.
They began on the opposite side of the room to Sirius and Harry. Unfortunately that meant they began with the Malfoys who had congregated with the Notts, and the Wilkes. Blaise Zabini stood next to Draco but his mother was thankfully nowhere in sight. Probably stalking Sirius, Neville thought with amusement as his Gran started the overtures of small talk.
"Longbottom." Draco sneered.
"Malfoy." Neville gave him a cautious nod.
"Longbottom Manor is great," Theodore Nott said, "I didn't realise it was so big."
Neville nodded. "All my ancestors added to it except for my Dad."
Draco shifted vaguely uncomfortable with the reference to Neville's parentage, which given his aunt and uncle had been the one to confine Neville's father to a long term treatment ward was understandable. "My father says the grounds here are very extensive."
"We have a good spread." Neville said. "Most of it is farmland; we have a small forest and some deer. There's a freshwater stream and lake with trout – my Uncle Algie likes to fish. And then we have the formal gardens and the greenhouses."
"I had no idea you had so much land." Blaise commented.
Neville shrugged. "We also have a holiday cottage in Cornwall, an agricultural farm in the Peak district and a hunting cabin in Scotland. And that's just the property in the UK. We have more abroad."
Nott and Zabini looked suitably impressed.
"Well, they do say land rich and magic poor." Draco said snootily.
Neville smiled benignly. Draco was just skirting the edges of acceptable commentary; it would be easy for Neville to take insult. "I think you'll find that's not entirely accurate, Malfoy. I've been using my father's wand but I've gotten my own now and my magic is much easier."
"How did you get around the underage restriction?" asked Blaise.
"Lord Black arranged an exemption with the Ministry." Neville explained.
"My Dad does the same every year on the grounds that I'm the last of the Nott line and need to be able to protect myself." Nott commented easily. "Most purebloods can get exemptions, Zabini. Hasn't your Mum applied for you?"
"That would mean her acknowledging my existence." Blaise said dryly.
Neville suppressed the frown. That didn't sound like Blaise had a good home life and Neville's compassion stirred. "Are you going to the World Cup?" He asked Blaise directly.
"He's attending with the House of Black." Draco snapped.
Blaise rolled his eyes at Draco's behaviour. "Draco's father invited myself and Nott to keep Draco company so he wouldn't be surrounded by Gryffindors."
The insult to Draco (for not being able to deal with Gryffindors on his own) and to Neville (that he was a Gryffindor) was carefully hidden by his moderate breezy tone. Very Slytherin, Neville thought with more amusement than he probably should have had for the comment.
"Well, I'll see you then as my Gran and I will also be attending as guests of the Houses of Black and Potter." Neville replied, peripherally aware that his Gran was about to move onto the next grouping.
Three groupings later, they happened upon the Weasleys, the Inglebees, and the Diggorys.
"Oh, hi, Neville," Ginny barely looked at him as she peered around him clearly searching for someone else, "where's Harry?"
"Doing the other side of the room with Simeon and Sirius." Neville pointed at the trio and winced as he realised they were surrounded by Lord Selwyn and Lord Gibbon.
"Do you think he'll get here soon?" asked Lydia, flicking her hair. Her twin brother Matthew sighed and rolled his eyes at Neville in silent apology.
"Probably not for a while." Neville said, wondering whether Ginny or Lydia had any idea how close their behaviour was to insulting him from an etiquette perspective.
Cedric seemed to clue in because he cleared his throat and drew Neville's attention. "It's a shame you and Harry have to do the rounds."
Neville shrugged. "Part of the job." He gestured over to where Hermione stood with Susan and Hannah, the others having been gathered back to their families. "At least we had a mini-break."
"Sorry, Nev. We would have come over but Mum wanted us to stay together as a family." Ron added, a pink tone to his cheeks bringing out his freckles.
"Understandable," Neville said, "you didn't miss much, we were just talking predictions for the World Cup."
"Ireland has the best Chasers; Bulgaria's got the best Seeker." Ron commented with enthusiastic authority. "I'd say Ireland will win but Krum will get the Snitch."
"You're probably right." Cedric agreed. "Krum has a reputation for ending things if the game isn't going their way. I can't wait for Thursday. I really want to learn some new Seeker moves for the Quidditch season."
"Are you thinking of trying out professionally, Ced?" Matthew asked, his face alive with genuine interest and curiosity.
Cedric grimaced a little. "I'd like to but I know my Dad wants me settled into a job at the Ministry."
"My oldest brother Bill says you have to do a job you want to do for yourself rather than what someone else wants you to do," Ron said sagely, "I'm hoping to try out for Keeper this year, get on the team, try out for a professional team and hopefully go into management."
Neville suppressed a smile at Ron's serious tone.
"Wow," Cedric said with a grin, "you have it all worked out! I guess I should do some thinking. I have to admit I love Quidditch but I'm not sure I'm good enough for a professional career."
"I'm going to try out for Chaser." Ginny jumped into the conversation. "Maybe I won't get onto the team for a couple of years but I still want to try out."
"You could try out for Seeker." Cedric suggested. "You have the right build for it."
Ginny blushed. "That's Harry's spot. I want to play on the team with him not challenge him for his position."
Lydia snorted. "Like you could. Harry's the best Seeker we have at Hogwarts."
Cedric cleared his throat. "Well, that certainly put me in my place."
Matthew shot his sister an exasperated look. "Apologies, Ced, she's a tad Potter obsessed." He avoided the slap aimed in his direction.
"It's OK." Cedric said cheerfully. "Harry's great competition."
Neville felt the nudge his Gran gave him and said his goodbyes moving on. He definitely should look elsewhere other than Ginny, he mused. She was so caught up with Harry that she couldn't see anyone else. It was a shame.
He was in the middle of talking to Bill and the Doges about the plans he and Harry had for supplying Wolfsbane ingredients when it happened.
A scream sounded from the outer hallway where the powder room designated for the ladies' use was located.
Neville unholstered his wand immediately. He noticed that Harry had done the same across the room, although Sirius and Simeon immediately flanked their Heir.
His Gran raised her wand and shot off a small bang that gained everyone's attention even as she started walking. "Please remain in the room while we investigate. It may simply be a spider has surprised one of our more fearful ladies. Sirius, Simeon; if you could see to everyone?"
Sirius nodded immediately. "Of course, Augusta."
"Amelia, if you would accompany me?" His Gran was already half-way to the door.
Amelia was already in motion and fell quickly into step, as did the Head of the Aurors, Rufus Scrimgeour, and Albus Dumbledore.
"I'm coming with you too, Gran." Neville said.
He could see his Gran wanted to argue but she nodded swiftly. The corridor was a crowd of men hovering outside the door obviously torn between entering and not since it was a ladies' bathroom.
"Men!" His Gran said under her breath. "If everyone could take a step back, please!"
"I think it's my Hilary!" Douglas Vane said, whirling around in a panic.
"We shall see what the matter is." Amelia said stepping in quickly. "Rufus, with me!" She shot Dumbledore a look that told him to remain behind.
"Reminds me of the old days, eh, Director?" Rufus gave a rakish grin which Amelia returned.
They knocked on the bathroom door and Amelia entered swiftly, wand out and poised.
"We need a Healer!" Amelia shouted.
"Someone get Ted Tonks!" Augusta ordered smartly.
Terry Stebbins nodded at Neville and set off to the reception room at a run.
Neville craned his head and peeked in through the open door. Hilary Vane was flat out on the floor. Amelia was casting diagnostic spells over the woman but Rufus's attention was on the mirror. Neville glanced in and froze in shock at the blood red writing on the mirror.
"Tick-tock, Harry Potter. Your time to die draws closer."
Ted pushed past him and Amelia stood up to let him get to his patient.
"She's fainted." Amelia said briskly. "If you could revive her, Ted, and we'll move her to another room."
"The writing's singing with house elf magic." Rufus stated firmly. "I suggest we got a forensic team down here and see what else we can find."
Amelia nodded. "Lord Black should see this."
Dumbledore had somehow squirmed his way inside the bathroom. "Harry will need to leave immediately, Augusta."
"Yes. Neville, can you go and request Sirius comes immediately; you escort Harry home." His Gran's mouth tightened in a way Neville knew well; she was furious. Someone had come into the Manor, threatened one of her guests and disrupted an important gathering for the House of Black whom they were hosting.
Hilary Vane stirred as Neville nodded and made his way back to the reception room. He made a beeline straight for Sirius who hovered protectively near to Harry and Hermione who had evidently joined them in the wake of the scream.
"Lord Black, my apologies, my Grandmother has requested your presence." Neville said authoritatively. "Professor Dumbledore has advised Harry leaves immediately and my Grandmother concurs; I will accompany him to Black Manor."
Sirius's grey eyes widened but he nodded sharply. "I would appreciate that, Neville. Hermione and Andy, can you both go with them?"
"Of course." Andromeda said smoothly. She curtsied, Hermione following her example while Harry and Neville both bowed their heads.
Neville led the way to the floo; Hermione went first, then Harry, then Neville with Andromeda following on behind.
"Why don't you kids head for the kitchen and get Kreacher to make you some hot chocolate?" Andromeda said briskly. "I'll go find Penny and the baby."
They all trooped obediently to the kitchen. Kreacher sniffed at them but provided the hot chocolate.
"OK, Neville, what's going on?" Harry asked as soon as they were settled with mugs of Honeydukes' best cocoa liberally sprinkled with marshmallows.
"Another death threat." Neville said succinctly. He repeated the message and sighed. "They said it was house elf magic again. Mrs Vane just walked in on it, I think, panicked and fainted."
Harry slumped in his chair. "Perfect."
"Sorry, Harry." Neville said softly. "But it looks like the same prat who sent you the message on your birthday."
"The house elf magic would suggest that," Hermione agreed, a faint touch of her old 'know-it-all' tone colouring her words, "but the fact that they got into the party means we can narrow the field down to the Wizengamot and Ministry officials who were there."
"Which doesn't eliminate a great deal of people, Hermione," Harry pointed out calmly, "since most of the old pureblood alliance used to bow down to Tom."
"It eliminates some," Hermione insisted, "and if you also eliminate those who don't have a house elf…it eliminates some more."
"Maybe on the Ministry side," Neville said, "but most of the Wizengamot pureblood families have elves."
"Of course they do!" Hermione snapped. "They all have slaves! Why am I not surprised?!"
Neville exchanged a quick alarmed look with Harry before mutually and silently agreeing to change the subject; Hermione and the subject of house elves was just a danger area complete with flashing lights and alarms.
Harry gave a sudden groan. "Bugger! I'm probably not going to be able to go to the World Cup now!"
"Language, Harry!" Hermione remonstrated with him furiously. "And there are more important things than Quidditch, no matter what Ronald Weasley might say about it! Your life is more important! Didn't you learn anything from the Firebolt incident! Oh, you are so…infuriating! Don't you care someone wants to kill you!" she got up, her chair scraping over the floor with a loud screech as she rushed out leaving two wide-eyed boys behind her.
Neville and Harry both looked at the swinging kitchen door and back at each other. They shrugged in unison.
The man who could ever explain how their thought processes worked would make a bloody fortune, Neville considered wryly.
Harry shifted in his seat and took a gulp of his chocolate.
"I don't think Sirius will stop you from going," Neville began a little hesitantly, "he didn't cancel the Wizengamot session after the death threat on your birthday."
"But that was business and this is…fun." Harry had perked up though and he smiled gratefully at Neville. "Thanks for coming back with me. Your Gran is going to go nuts."
"She's furious." Neville said. "She was so wanting this to be a success for the House of Black."
Harry nodded understandingly. "It was a success, Neville. The care and attention she gave to the guests and to the details – Sirius knows she honoured the House of Black tonight and that can't have been easy after everything in the past."
Neville nodded, uncomfortable with the reference to his parents and what had happened with the LeStranges despite knowing Harry already knew and in many ways understood. He had a sudden epiphany and swore.
"Language, Neville!" Harry said in an almost perfect mimic of Hermione.
They both burst out laughing.
"What's up enough that it got you to swear?" asked Harry, gesturing with his mug.
"I was just thinking that Gran's going to be fairly disturbed at something so dreadful hitting so close to home again. If it was a Death Eater or someone in league with Voldemort than that means they managed to land a blow – even a small one – within Longbottom Manor." Neville sighed. "Gran's going to hate that since it's the first time since…well, you know. If you think Sirius is bad…he has nothing on my Gran. Cancelling the World Cup will be the least of it."
Harry winced visibly. "I'm really sorry, Nev."
"It's not your fault that some Dark Nutter is after you, Harry," Neville said, "and even if it wasn't a matter of House honour, we'd stand with you anyway."
"Same here." Harry said quietly. "I just wish he wasn't after me." His expression fell into grave contemplation.
Neville bit his lip and gathered his courage. "Harry, did you have a reason for asking if everyone believed in prophecies?"
He could almost see Harry debating it internally, weighing up the pros and cons of confiding in Neville. It no longer surprised Neville to see Harry take the time to think. Having gotten to know him quite well over the Summer, Neville knew Harry wasn't quite the reckless, charge-in-with-no-thought Gryffindor archetype that most people took him to be. Yes, he had moments when he personified that archetype – usually when his temper was up – but generally, Harry was much more considering of his behaviour and actions than people gave him credit for.
Harry shifted in his seat again before he drew his wand and sketched a privacy bubble. Neville had seen Professor Flitwick teach Harry the charm the week before but he hadn't expected Harry to use it any time in the near future. That Harry had underscored that whatever he was about to reveal was very important.
"You can't tell anyone else about this, Neville," Harry began, "well, maybe your Gran because I think she knows some of it but no-one else, OK?"
Neville nodded. "Of course."
Harry fidgeted with his mug for a moment before his green eyes flashed up and met Neville's, shining with determination. "Have you ever wondered why I have the Dark Nutter after me?"
And suddenly it all fell into place.
Neville's eyes widened. "Oh Merlin!" He breathed. "A prophecy?"
Harry nodded unhappily. "Actually, I've been debating whether to tell you since I heard it because…well, the other person it might have referred to was, uh, you."
"Me?!" Neville squeaked.
"The beginning goes something like 'the one to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born as the seventh month dies, born to those who have thrice defied him…'" Harry gestured towards Neville, "both you and I met the criteria. Some Death Eater overheard it and told Tom so he…"
"He targeted us, our families." Neville stated quietly. He gazed at Harry in wonderment. "It could have been me?"
"The next part of it talks about him marking whoever it was as an equal." Harry's finger lifted and traced his scar. "He chose to come after me so…"
"Merlin, Harry." Neville said, trying to gather his composure. He finally blurted out the only thing running through his head. "Can I just say I'm really glad it's not me? Oh, bugger! That sounds terrible but it's not…I don't want it to be you either and…"
Harry started laughing and after a moment of stunned shock Neville followed him.
"'S OK." Harry waved at him. "Just…I understand. There's a part of me that kind of wishes it was you even though I wouldn't actually wish having this target on your forehead on anyone."
Neville gave a nod of understanding. "Do you believe the prophecy?"
"Sirius said, and I agree with him, that it doesn't matter if I do or not," Harry said, "since although we think Tom didn't believe it at first since he waited so long to actually come after me, he obviously does believe it now so…I'm a target whether I like it or not."
"Merlin." Neville breathed out sharply.
"I know Sirius is trying to do everything he can so I don't have to fight him but…" Harry shrugged and wrapped his hands around the mug, "it just feels like it's inevitable? Like at some point it is going to just come down to him and me."
"Well," began Neville not really knowing what to say, "we'll be beside you until it does."
It was apparently the right thing to say.
Harry brightened. "At least I'm being trained now."
"If there is a prophecy it kind of begs the question why you weren't being trained before." Neville said thoughtfully.
"Dumbledore mumbled something about giving me a childhood when I asked him in one of the lessons he gave me." Harry explained. "Personally, I think that's a load of rubbish but…well, he is helping now so…" he paused and his eyes darted up from his mug to meet Neville's again. "I don't trust him anymore since I found out he was the one to leave me with the Dursleys. I mean, I've forgiven him but…" he sighed, "I can't forget it."
"I don't blame you." Neville said firmly.
He didn't know too much about what had happened with Harry's previous guardians but from what little he had observed of Harry at Hogwarts (the awful muggle clothes, how scrawny Harry was and how he disliked the attention and the Boy Who Lived thing), what he had verified that Summer (the lack of Harry's knowledge about the wizarding world and his heritage), and from what little he could guess (neglect and emotional abuse), he could understand some of Harry's resentment of the Headmaster. In some ways, it probably mirrored his own resentment of his Gran.
He loved his Gran and knew that she loved him but she'd also spent every year of his life prior to that Summer comparing him to his father; looking at him with a faint air of disappointment every time her eyes fell upon him; allowing his Uncle to put him through dangerous tests to see if he had any magic; never once telling him she was proud of him for what he was good at…the Summer had changed things for the better and she'd finally started to see him as Neville, to treat him with respect and open affection, but Neville could understand Harry's resentment of things past even if things had changed.
There was a noise outside the kitchen door and Harry took down the bubble quickly. The door opened to reveal Remus.
"Sirius sent me a patronus message." Remus explained succinctly. "How are you boys doing?"
Neville mumbled a 'fine' at the same time as Harry.
"What happened exactly?" asked Remus, sitting down beside Harry.
Neville explained as Kreacher popped in and organised a mug of hot chocolate for Remus. Remus looked worried when he'd finished and the older wizard reached over and gave Harry a one-armed hug.
"Whoever it is just narrowed the list of suspects." Remus said comfortingly. "We'll be able to cross a few people off just because they weren't attending."
"Hermione said something similar." Harry admitted.
"Where is Hermione anyway?" asked Remus, glancing around the kitchen as though Hermione had gotten lost in a cupboard.
"She, uh, got cross with me when I complained that I might not be able to go to the World Cup anymore and stormed out." Harry said sheepishly.
Remus's eyes widened. "Ah."
"Sorry for ruining your evening." Harry rushed out.
"I was just at the DOM doing some research on the papers Sirius found in his grandfather's study." Remus said. "So the evening is hardly ruined. How was the party before the excitement?"
"It was going well, I think." Harry said. "People were enjoying themselves and everyone was polite to Simeon and Anna."
Another set of voices outside the kitchen door had Remus rising, his wand in his hand.
Andromeda walked in, Hermione trailing behind her. Hermione looked as though she'd been crying and Harry's eyes widened in surprise before filling with guilt.
"Remus, good; you're here. I'm going to take Hermione home." Andromeda said crisply.
Harry got up and approached his best friend warily. "Hermione, before you go, I just want to say I'm sorry about before…"
Hermione waved him off. "It's OK. It's just…I worry about you, Harry." She sprang forward before Harry could do anything and hugged him. "I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you!" She mumbled low enough that Neville had to strain to hear her. She let him go as abruptly as she'd hugged him and moved back to Andromeda's side. "Andy's going to take me home. It could be a while before Sirius and Simeon get back and I don't think we're going to be allowed to go back to the party anyway."
Andromeda placed an arm around Hermione. "Nope, you're definitely not going back."
It went unsaid that whoever had gotten their house elf to leave the threat was there; Longbottom Manor wasn't safe.
"I'll see you soon, Harry; Neville." Hermione said her goodbyes and left with Andromeda.
Harry sat down heavily in his chair, an unhappy frown screwing up his lips.
"Don't worry, Harry. It looks like she's already forgiven you." Remus said.
"I made her cry." Harry said, pushing a hand through her hair.
"I think the stress of the situation made her cry." Remus contradicted him gently. "I'm going to the library – I brought some books back with me. Why don't you boys get something to eat and then come and join me?" He departed the room before they could reply.
Harry called Kreacher and a few minutes later they were both eating fried egg sandwiches, Neville's drenched in brown sauce while Harry had his plain.
"Remus is right." Neville said in between mouthfuls of runny yolk and spicy sauce. "Hermione overreacted to what you said. It wasn't you just…everything, I guess." He swallowed hastily. "How much does she know?"
Harry took a moment to erect the privacy bubble again.
"I haven't told her about the prophecy." Harry said. "You're the only person outside of Sirius, Remus and Bertie Croaker who knows I know all about it. Dumbledore knows I know there is a prophecy but not that I know what it says."
Neville was stunned. He was in awe that he was the first to be trusted.
Harry changed position and motioned with a piece of the bacon. "I figured if anyone deserved to know about the prophecy, it was you. After all…"
"It could have been me." Neville concluded, picking up another sandwich. "Are you going to tell Hermione and Ron?"
Harry shook his head. "You saw how she was and this is me getting threats anyway."
"She'll go nuts when she finds out and you didn't tell her though." Neville pointed out. "What about Ron?"
"I don't know," Harry said, "I want to tell them, and I know they'd back me up no question, but the more people who know about the prophecy, the more likely it is that the entire thing gets back to Tom so…probably no?"
"Thank you for telling me." Neville said, understanding just what a risk Harry was taking. He finished his second sandwich and coaxed Harry to eat his. "Shall we go over the business plan again?"
Harry nodded his agreement and once their sandwiches were finished they headed to the library. Remus was using Penny's desk and there were scrolls and books spread around him like an obstacle course. They settled into two comfy armchairs in a corner and started discussing the potions supply. The trick was going to be getting good quality harvests of all the ingredients at the right time.
Between Neville's knowledge of Herbology and Harry's knowledge of Magical Creatures they managed to get a workable plan drafted and it was with some surprise when Sirius arrived, that Neville realised they'd been immersed in the plan for hours.
"Padfoot!" Harry leaped to his feet and surged across the room to be gathered up in a hug by his father.
A wave of longing ran through Neville. He wished…he wished…but it was never going to happen for him. His father was never going to hug him like that and with his godfather deceased he couldn't expect someone else to do the honours either.
He sighed and felt a hand land on his shoulder. Remus smiled at him sympathetically.
"Sirius?" queried Remus.
"Sorry it took us so long." Sirius said. "Simeon and Anna said goodnight – they've gone straight up to bed."
"What happened after we left?" Harry asked impatiently.
"Not much in all honesty." Sirius explained, urging them all into seats. "The Aurors arrived and took some shots of the mirror where the threat was written, performed some forensic stuff which effectively told them that yes, it is a house elf, which we already knew. Hilary said she'd walked into the bathroom, saw the writing and passed out in fear. She was pretty much hysterical; Douglas had to take her to St Mungo's for a calming draught and a sleeping potion." He gestured tiredly. "Other than that, the Aurors questioned everybody but nobody admitted to seeing anyone in the bathroom before Hilary; nobody saw anything suspicious; nobody confessed so…"
"We're still none the wiser." Remus finished.
Sirius nodded. "Lucius made the point of telling me the whole thing was very Gryffindorish which I think was his way of saying it wasn't the former Death Eater crowd since you know most of them were Slytherins."
Remus gaped at him. "You don't think he was suggesting it was Peter?"
"No, just someone else." Sirius said. "Although thinking about it, the risk that whoever it was took tonight is a characteristic more suited for a lion than a snake." He raised a hand to stop the questions. "It's late. Neville, Amelia is staying over at the Manor and your Grandmother said you can stay with us tonight if that's OK with you."
Neville nodded, pleased that his Gran wasn't on her own so he didn't feel obligated to go back.
"In that case we have to give you this." Remus smiled wickedly and pulled a piece of parchment from a drawer. He handed it over to Neville.
"Messrs Padfoot, Moony and Pronglet all invite Neville Longbottom to Griffin House, Potter Lane."
Harry grinned at him. "Brilliant! Come on! Let's go home!"
Neville followed an excited Harry out to the floo. He kept the address in his head as he flooed through after Harry and Sirius. Harry welcomed him into the house and Sirius ushered them off to bed.
Harry pulled Neville up the stairs quickly giving him a snappy tour of the upper floors and Harry's own room before taking him to a room on the floor below. Harry snapped on the light switch and the room was flooded with yellow light.
Neville looked around the cosy bedroom with a smile. There were Gryffindor red and gold accents in the linen and chair upholstery but the rest was a warm chocolate brown. There was a dresser, a wardrobe and a desk; a picture of a lion on the wall above the bed and a warm red woollen rug covering the hardwood floor. An open door led to an en-suite. A bookcase under the window was stacked with books – some muggle fiction but a lot of books on Herbology. Neville looked at Harry questioningly.
Harry gave him a tentative smile. "I thought this could be your room when you come over?"
He couldn't help it; Neville beamed at Harry. "Really?" His heart warmed with the gesture. "Thanks, Harry."
Harry grinned back at him. "'Night, Neville. Just call Dobby if you need anything."
Neville wandered into the bathroom and found toiletries and fresh towels all laid out ready for his use. He went through his nightly rituals and by the time he'd made it back to the bedroom, a pair of pyjamas was on the bed waiting for him and a glass of water sat on the nightstand. He quickly stripped and redressed in the night-wear before dousing the lights and clambering into bed.
For a moment he stared up at the ceiling, the words of the prophecy whirling in his head. It could have been him. And Merlin, poor Harry that it was him! But it was good that it was Harry too in a way, Neville mused. Harry was a hero; a powerful wizard, a leader (a reluctant one maybe but a leader nevertheless), and, for all that, a nice guy. He might not have been the Boy Who Lived the wizarding world had expected when he'd turned up at Hogwarts but he was a very acceptable version; someone who saved people, risked himself for others, and stood up against the bullies.
Yet, he knew for all that Harry would have preferred to have slipped into the shadows and resided in obscurity. He hated the attention and the stares. Harry had his insecurities and his foibles; he was naturally a little shy and a lot reserved.
A lot like Neville.
So many similarities and differences, Neville thought with wonder. How easy it would have been for Voldemort to have chosen the Longbottoms and not the Potters to attack…and then what? Would Neville have been the Boy Who Lived? Would Harry have still had his parents or perhaps it would have been the Potters who would have ended up at St Mungo's?
Neville bit his lip.
The Boy Who Lived thing was already hell of a burden for Harry to carry; that he had defeated Voldemort once meant that people would automatically look for him to do it again. Worse still if people knew the full truth and the prophecy was revealed…
Well, Sirius had the right of it, Neville determined firmly. Prophecy be damned; Harry did not have to do it alone. Neville might not be the Boy Who Lived but his magic was improving thanks to the new wand and the patient coaching of the tutors he'd had over the Summer. He had sworn his wand to Harry's service and by Merlin Harry would have it. He was Harry's friend and his godbrother.
Harry would not stand alone.
With the matter settled as far as Neville was concerned, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.