So...two years ago I promised I had a story of epic proportions in the works, and it would be done soon. Here's that story...heh heh. Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, right? The proportions are epic, at least. Enjoy!
This story is dedicated to and was written for my dear friend Emily, who loves Neville more than anyone else I've ever met.
~Chapter 1: Leaving~
Neville Longbottom stared at the parchment in front of him, and it seemed to stare right back, as if its blank surface were trying to bore into his brain. He had assumed that writing this note would be so simple that he had hardly given it a second thought, but it was turning out to be more difficult than any Potions essay or Auror's report that he had ever written.
At least he was sure of the first two words, which were merely dictated by circumstance, rather than chosen. He dipped the quill into the ink bottle and scrawled,
"Neville!" a voice called, startling him so much that he stepped back into a rickety set of shelves. He tried to steady it, but a small bottle toppled from the highest shelf and smashed at his feet. Venomous Tentacula seeds scattered everywhere.
"I'm back here, Tilly," he called, stooping to gather up the seeds.
A wispy little witch poked her head into the back room of the Apothecary. She had a bright face and flyaway, snowy-white hair. "I don't think we're going to have any more customers today. We can close up a little early," she said.
"Okay," Neville replied. "Just let me clean up my mess here."
Tilly nodded. "Take your time, dear," she said and returned to the front of the shop.
Neville scooped up the rest of the seeds and deposited them in an empty jar on the counter. Taking out his wand, he Vanished the broken glass on the floor. He stuffed the mostly-blank parchment into his pocket, took a last look around, and shoved through the curtain divider into the main room.
Tilly was counting money at the cash register. "I sure wish you weren't going," she said, smiling wistfully. "Of course, I never thought a young thing like you would stick around this little shop forever, but I'm going to miss you. You've been a big help to me, Neville."
"You've taught me a lot. I really appreciate it," he said sincerely.
"Don't mention it. There's your pay," she added, nodding toward an envelope on the counter.
"Thanks," he said, pocketing it. "Do you need me to do anything else for you?"
"Not a thing. You just get on out of here and take care of yourself."
"I will," Neville promised. "And you take care too." The little bell tinkled as he pushed open the front door. "Bye, Tilly."
He stepped out into Diagon Alley and joined the meandering stream of people headed toward the Leaky Cauldron. He noticed that several other shops had also closed early. It was the first truly warm, spring day of the year, and there wasn't much point in staying open when customers and employees alike would rather be outdoors.
Neville looked around as he walked, cementing the landscape of Diagon Alley into his memory. He had no idea when he'd be back again.
He was glad to see a sizable crowd inside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor. He'd become rather good friends with Orlando Fortescue, who had taken over the business after his uncle had disappeared. Despite his line of customers, Orlando looked up and waved through the window as Neville went by.
Neville passed under a narrow archway and through a little courtyard lined with dustbins and entered the Leaky Cauldron by the back door. The wizened bartender looked up from the glass he was wiping and smiled toothlessly.
"Hi, Tom," Neville replied. "I was surprised you weren't here this morning."
"So was everyone else. I just decided to sleep in today, since I finally hired some help. I'm getting too old to run this place by myself," Tom explained.
"Well, you picked a good person," Neville assured him. "She's a hard worker. Hufflepuff through and through."
"Oh, you know Hannah, do you?"
Neville nodded. "Yeah, we were classmates at Hogwarts."
"Ah, of course you were. See? I'm getting forgetful too." He ran his fingers through the few hairs that were left on his head. "Well, what can I get for you?"
"Just a butterbeer, please."
Tom took a flagon from under the counter and filled it with a frothy, golden liquid. "How's your grandmother doing, by the way?" he asked.
Neville shrugged. "Same as yesterday. She misses Mum and Dad, although it's not like she spent much time with them. She's managing, I guess. Gran's a tough old bird. Thanks," he said, taking the glass from Tom and handing him three Sickles.
Neville left the bar and settled at an out-of-the-way booth along the far wall. He sipped his drink and checked his watch. His friends ought to be there soon.
Ten seconds later, two young men entered the pub: one with dark hair and glasses and, right behind him, a taller man with bright red hair. Both were smartly dressed and carrying briefcases.
"Harry! Ron! Over here," Neville called.
They looked over and grinned. Harry handed his briefcase to Ron and walked to the bar, and Ron crossed the room to Neville's table.
"Hi, Neville," he said, taking a seat on the opposite bench. "How's life at the Apothecary? Is it still standing?"
Neville glared. "Ha, ha. I can make some potions, you know. It's a lot easier without a greasy-haired bastard breathing down my neck. Tilly makes most of the potions anyway, though. I'm just in charge of the plants."
Harry appeared, carrying two butterbeers, and slid in next to Ron. "Hey, Neville. Apothecary still in one piece?"
Neville rolled his eyes. "The only thing you two lack more than wit is originality."
Harry laughed. "We're working on it."
"Don't quit your day job," Neville advised. "Speaking of, how are things going at the Ministry?"
"Everything's running pretty smoothly," Ron said. "Although Kingsley just made Percy head of his department, so International Magical Cooperation will probably fall to pieces within a week."
Neville chuckled and took another sip of butterbeer. Ron's older brother was honestly very good at his job, but his pompous attitude had made him something of a joke among the other high-level Ministry workers.
"You know, things were a lot more fun before you left," Harry said, raising his eyebrows. "I bet you could get your spot back any time, if you felt so inclined. I'm sure Kingsley owes you a couple of favors."
"Well, he does, but I just called one of them in," Neville said.
"Really? For what? You didn't quit the Apothecary, did you?" Ron asked hopefully.
"Actually, I did. Today was my last day. But the favor was that Kingsley set up a Portkey for me. To the Department of Magic in Washington, D.C."
Ron and Harry looked incredibly confused.
"Why the hell are you going to D.C.?" Ron asked.
"I'm only taking the Portkey that far; from there I'll Apparate to Manhattan. Orlando Fortescue knows someone there who'll rent me a flat."
Neville sighed as his friends' expressions of incredulity intensified. "I've got to get away," he explained. "I've got to get out of here before I go completely mad."
Harry shook his head. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't," Neville said matter-of-factly. "You two've got it all figured out. You've got careers, you've got girls..."
"Hang on," Ron interrupted. "I love Hermione with everything I've got, but we are far from having it all figured out."
"Okay, maybe you're not Harry and Ginny yet," Neville allowed, "but everyone knows you'll get there. The point is: you two know what your purpose is, what you're supposed to do. I'm twenty-one years old and I haven't got a bloody clue what I'm supposed to do with my life!
"I was glad to help Kingsley get things straightened out, though I don't know that I did all that much good, but I'm not meant to work at the Ministry. I don't want to dress up every day and have to deal with regulations and paperwork and chain-of-command. I did enjoy working at the Apothecary for a while, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life crushing seeds and watering plants in Diagon Alley."
He paused to finish his drink. "Gran was so proud when I started at the Ministry, and she was so mad when I quit. She wants me to match up to my parents – they were Aurors too, you know. It's been nearly nine months since they passed, and I've just felt empty ever since. And it doesn't help that Gran has started dropping hints that wasting my life away is making me a disgrace to their memory." Neville sighed again. "I'm just tired of being useless around here."
"So your brilliant plan is to go be useless in New York?" Ron snorted.
"Shut up," Neville grumbled. "I just – I'm tired of following the rules. I've never done anything spontaneous in my whole life."
"Pulling Gryffindor's sword out of the Sorting Hat and chopping off Nagini's head was pretty damn spontaneous, mate," Harry pointed out.
"Yeah, okay," Neville said, allowing himself a small grin. "But I just feel like I need to do this. I don't know, maybe it's some silly coming-of-age thing, but if I don't do it now I'll never get another chance."
Harry smiled. "Then you should go. But write to us, okay?"
Neville nodded. "Sure."
"When are you leaving?" Ron asked. "How long will you be gone?"
"I'm leaving tonight. I just have to stop home and get my things and leave a note for Gran."
"You haven't told your gran about this?" Ron exclaimed, incredulous.
Neville shrugged. "Why put myself through her wrath? She would be totally against this, and she'll be mad as hell when she finds out, but I'll be long gone. She'll be fine. She has my great-uncle Algie for company and the housekeeper to look after them both. And I have no idea when I'll be back. Two weeks, six, the whole summer...whatever seems right."
He glanced at his watch. "Actually, I should get going. My Portkey leaves in an hour and a half," he said, getting up from the table.
"Okay," Harry said, standing up as well. "You'll be back for my wedding, right?"
Neville grinned. "Of course! I wouldn't miss it!" He held out his hand to Harry, who chuckled.
"Oh, come on. We defeated the Dark Lord together!" he said and pulled Neville into a hug.
Ron stood and hugged Neville as well. "You take care of yourself, okay?"
"I will," Neville promised.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Harry advised.
Ron grinned. "And don't do anything stupid either."
"Don't worry," Neville said, "I'll be fine. Hug Ginny and Hermione for me."
"We will," Harry assured him. "See you, Neville."
"See you," Neville replied, and he Disapparated.
"Neville! It's good to see you again," rumbled Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister of Magic, as the younger wizard walked into the Minister's ornate office.
"It's good to see you too," Neville said, setting down his duffel bag and shaking his former boss's hand warmly. "Thanks so much for setting this up for me."
"I'm glad to help," Kingsley assured him. "If you don't mind my asking, what's in the States?"
Neville shrugged. "No idea, yet. Hopefully something worthwhile."
Kingsley chuckled, a sound like faraway thunder. "So it's that kind of trip. I once spent six weeks hiking through the Amazon rain forest with nothing but a wand, just to see what I could find."
"Lots and lots of trees," he said with another roll of thunder. "And one very beautiful Muggle girl." He allowed himself a small smile at the memory before glancing at his watch. "You've got three minutes."
Neville glanced around the office. "What's the Portkey?"
"That document," Kingsley said, gesturing to a thick stack of bound parchment sitting on an otherwise empty desk. "It's a report on an international dragon breeding ring we broke up last month. I'd appreciate it if you'd pass it on to the American Division of Magical Wildlife. I thought I'd hatch two phoenixes with one fire, if you don't mind."
"No trouble at all," Neville promised as he picked up the document.
"Well, I'll let you get on with it. Take care, Neville," Kingsley said, shaking Neville's hand again.
"You too. Thank you for everything."
Kingsley smiled. "Good luck," he rumbled, and strode out of the Auror office, closing the door behind him.
Neville sighed, fervently hoping he was making a good decision. He picked up his bag and stared at his watch. Thirty seconds – no turning back now. He would never be able to live with himself if he didn't see this through. At the very least, after all he had been through in the last several years, he felt he deserved an adventure of his own design.
Anyway, he reasoned, after all I've been through in the past several years, I deserve an adventure of my own design.
Fifteen seconds, ten seconds...Neville clutched the Portkey resolutely, a feeling of excitement for the unknown building inside him. Three, two, one –
There was a sudden jerk in the pit of his stomach, and then he was spinning, spinning...he squeezed his eyes shut against the rush of wind and the swirl of color...and then his feet slammed into something solid.
Neville staggered sideways and dropped his bag but managed to stay standing. He opened his eyes and saw that he was alone in a large, square room with a high, domed ceiling. The floor was made of mottled gray marble and the walls were paneled with rich, dark wood. Opposite him was an enormous golden crest depicting a bald eagle. Two wands were gripped in its talons, one emitting flames and the other a shower of stars.
Neville turned around to find a long mural of a group of men in breeches and powdered wigs huddled around a large piece of parchment, their wands poking out of their coat pockets. One wizard was signing the parchment with a fancy quill; with a start, Neville realized it was Benjamin Franklin, whom he had learned about in the dry Muggle histories Gran had forced him to read back when she'd feared he was a Squib.
A door opened at the side of the room, and a short, heavyset man in gray robes entered. "Right on time," he said in a thick Boston accent. "You are –" he consulted the clipboard he was carrying, "– Mr. Neville Longbottom?"
"Yes," Neville said, holding out the document that had been the Portkey. "I was asked to pass this on to the Division of Magical Wildlife. It's from Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister of Magic."
"All right," said the man, taking the report and handing Neville the clipboard and a quill. "I'll send that along. I need you to sign this. It's a bunch of B.S., really, just saying you're not coming into the States to be what the Muggles call a "terrorist." The President makes us give it to you. He doesn't realize that if you were going to do something illegal, the magical law enforcement would put a stop to it long before the CIA and FBI caught wind of it."
Neville quickly scanned the form in front of him. It did seem completely unnecessary. Such pointless paperwork was one of the many reasons he was glad to be out of government. He hastily scrawled his name across the bottom of the page and handed the clipboard back to the man.
"Thank you. You're all set," he said. "Are you Apparating from here?"
"Well, enjoy your stay in the U.S.," the man said, and he exited through the same door at the side of the room.
Neville was alone again. He could see no point in sticking around, so after a final glance around the room, he picked up his bag and Disapparated.
When he opened his eyes he was in a narrow (and mercifully deserted) alley between two tall buildings with rusted fire escapes climbing up their sides. Neville blinked, his eyes watering in the brilliant afternoon sunshine, wondering how he could have forgotten about the time change. It had been twilight when he'd left London, but a glance at his watch, which had adjusted itself automatically, told him that it was nearly two o' clock.
He hurried down the alley and stepped out into the steady stream of foot traffic rushing down the sidewalk, hoping no one would wonder what he had been doing in the alley. In fact, nobody seemed to notice him at all.
Most of the crowd seemed to know exactly where they were headed. Men carrying briefcases and women wearing business suits and impossibly high heeled shoes marched purposefully past storefronts and under scaffolding, dodging self-importantly around slower walkers. Teenagers in baggy pants and baseball caps loped along with Muggle music-listening contraptions clamped over their ears. Tourists dawdled in the middle of the sidewalk, snapping pictures and pointing out various sights to their companions.
Neville couldn't help but stare at his surroundings as well. Storefronts lined the sidewalk: dingy pizza places crowded between organic grocery stores and quirky independent booksellers, tiny Vietnamese noodle shops wedged between gourmet coffee chains and chic, sprawling clothing boutiques. Vehicles jammed the street with no apparent sense of order. Cars, taxis, city buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike seemed to regard signs and traffic signals as suggestions, which resulted in a great deal of honking and shouting.
Muggle London was similarly packed with diversity, but it had always, in Neville's opinion, managed to convey a certain elegance and British stiff-upper-lip-ness. In New York there was no sense of continuity whatsoever, which ironically tied everything together. Even the most dilapidated establishments gave off an air of pride, perhaps simply because they still managed to exist in the surrounding chaos.
Neville followed a boisterous family of five down a set of steps and into the nearest tube station, the sign for which labeled it a "subway" rather than an "underground." A dank hallway littered with ticket stubs and fast food wrappers led to another set of stairs, leading down to a bustling hub of passengers, ticket machines, and clicking turnstiles. Next to a row of graffitied advertisements, a map hung on the wall behind a scratched piece of plexiglass. The subway lines shot off in all directions like a gigantic, multicolored spiderweb.
Neville dug into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a crumpled piece of parchment on which Orlando Fortescue had scribbled directions to the flats owned by his wife's Muggle brother. After a good five minutes of squinting at the map and tracing the route with his finger, Neville felt certain of where he was going. He bought a MetroCard from an electronic kiosk and fed it through the little slot in the turnstile. Neville had ridden the underground in London too many times to be astonished by the Muggles' ingenuity, but he couldn't help but smile as he remembered the handful of times he had taken public transportation with Ron's dad. Mr. Weasley had never ceased to be amazed and enthralled by the beeping, blinking machinery.
Neville followed the other subway riders through another dank corridor, down more stairs, and onto a busy platform with three sets of tracks. A train had just arrived on the nearest one, and with a quick glance at the overhead sign, Neville hurried aboard and took a seat in a half full car.
The doors hissed closed and the train moved out of the station. Neville pulled out the scrap of parchment and examined it again. Four stops downtown, change lines, and go another six stops. It was simple enough.
He realized the train had stopped and the doors had opened. Through the window he could see a mosaic on the far wall that said 54th Street.
Wait, that can't be right, he thought. This should be 60th Street. How did I go wrong?
Neville stood up and started for the doors, but they slid closed again and the train began to move. He cursed under his breath and grabbed a metal pole to steady himself. Still standing, he examined the map near the ceiling of the car. Somehow he had managed to get on an uptown rather than a downtown train.
He got out at the next stop and glanced around to get his bearings. I helped bring down the Dark Lord, but I can't navigate the New York subway system, he thought frustratedly as he climbed a flight of stairs, crossed a little bridge, and went back down to the far set of tracks.
Nearly an hour later, Neville reached his destination. He walked a further two blocks from the subway station and found himself in front of number seventeen, Matthew Street, a seven-story, brown brick structure in the middle of a long row of similarly insignificant buildings. In its heyday, all of number seventeen's windows had presumably been framed by dark green shutters, but most of them were missing now. A few windows were adorned with boxes of bedraggled geraniums, and one window box on the fourth floor was full of cheery white and yellow daisies that looked rather out of place in the decidedly drab street.
Neville hitched his bag farther up on his shoulder and walked up to the front door, which was covered by a faded green awning, torn in places so the metal ribs were exposed. A hand-lettered sign taped to the glass in the door read "Inquiries: Apt. 1A."
Neville pushed open the door and stepped into a plain, dimly lit lobby. Two chairs and a spindly table with a vase of dusty silk flowers stood in a corner. A block of mailboxes was set into the far wall next to a narrow corridor that led to a flight of stairs and an elevator marked "out of order." To his right, Neville found apartment 1A, which was further labeled "Ed Wylie, Manager."
He knocked, and seconds later heard heavy footfalls from within. The door was opened by a round man with watery blue eyes. He was at least a head shorter than Neville and looked too young for his seriously thinning blonde hair. He could hardly have looked more different from his sister, Orlando's wife, who was tall, slender, and brunette.
"Yes?" he asked shortly.
"Er – hi. I'm Neville Longbottom, I'm here to rent, I'm Orlando's friend –"
"Right. I'm Ed Wylie." He offered a pudgy hand and stared at Neville appraisingly. "So you're a wizard." It was a statement, not a question, and whether Ed thought it a good or a bad thing was unclear.
"Er, yeah." Neville didn't quite know how to respond.
"Well, you're in 3B," Ed said briskly. "Let me grab your stuff and we'll go up." He disappeared into his flat and came back with two keys and a stack of papers.
"The elevator's broken," Ed pointed out unnecessarily as Neville followed him up the stairs. "I'll have it fixed as soon as possible, but for now you'll have to walk."
They reached apartment 3B. "You're in luck," Ed said, unlocking the door. "The previous occupant took off in such a hurry that she left most of her furniture here. It was cheaper for me just to let it be. You can get rid of it yourself if you want."
"I'm sure it's fine," Neville said. "I haven't really brought much with me."
"Good. Oh, and I don't allow pets."
"I didn't bring any," Neville lied, hoping that Trevor was still closed up inside the small cage tucked into his bag.
The flat was small and plain, mostly beige, with white window frames and a scratched and pitted wood floor. Most of the space was devoted to a sitting room with a tiny kitchen in one corner. A short corridor led to a bedroom and a bathroom.
Everything seemed to be in order, and Ed clearly had other things to do, so Neville signed the papers, paid two months' rent, collected his flat key and his mailbox key, and closed the door behind the manager. Then he turned and looked around.
This is my place, he thought. My own place, for however long I want it.
Despite that invigorating idea, a sudden wave of exhaustion swept over him. It had been a very long day. Though the afternoon sunshine was still streaming through the windows, though it was only nine-thirty back in England, Neville staggered down the hall, collapsed on the lumpy, bare mattress, and fell asleep.
Thank you for reading! Please leave me a review.
– A Chocolate Frog