Special thanks to the folks over at The Beta Branch for going over the story with a fine tooth comb, and all the readers who have stayed with the story for so long. You guys are awesome!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and the other characters involved in the Potter-verse belong to J. K. Rowling, not me.
The Leaky Cauldron...
"Neville Longbottom! Come get your bloody vine out of my kitchen!"
Neville jerked awake, startled by the sudden intrusion of Hannah's voice. He winced; she must have had to use a Sonorous charm in order to ensure she was heard over the clanks of glasses and the jeers and raucous laughter of her patrons. Rubbing his eyes tiredly, he glanced down to check for any errant drops of ink that may have spilled on the large, leatherbound textbook.
One Thousand Magical Herbs And Fungi by Phyllida Spore was embossed on the cover. The textbook had served him well over the years; the pages were worn from constant use, and notes were scattered throughout the pages with his own observations and findings. Herbology had been the single subject that he had excelled in consistently at Hogwarts, and tomorrow would be his first day actually teaching the subject.
Well, officially, that was. He wondered if his time spent as an auror and educating his compatriots counted.
"Neville! Francis knocked over my Butterbeer – will you please come fetch it? Now! I don't have time to wrangle a plant right now."
"Coming!" he called, hoping she had heard him. Satisfied that he hadn't accidentally defaced the old tome, he quickly set the lid back on the inkwell and headed downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. The sounds of the common room grew louder as he approached the small kitchen.
Spotting the culprit lingering near the pot of stew sitting on the stove, he called out to it gently. "Come now, Francis – you've had your fun. Time to leave Hannah to her customers."
The large green vine uncurled from the drainpipe, shuddering in excitement at his touch. Its large green leaves crept forward, curling around his outstretched hand. Snaking around his wrist, the bright red blossom climbed upwards until it could nuzzle his neck.
It wasn't often that a witch or wizard had been able to tame a wild Venemous Tentacula, but it was a feat that Neville and Professor Sprout had been particularly proud of. Francis had been locked in a box in a smuggler's warehouse, far from sunlight and room to move; when he and the other aurors in his squad had raided the facility, they had found many plants and animals in the same state. It had taken him weeks to get the Tentacula to stop trying to bite at anyone who came close, and after a failed attempt to release it into the wild, had adopted the vine.
Hannah hadn't been pleased, as Venemous Tentaculas were notoriously ill-tempered, but she had eventually been won over when Francis managed to subdue a particularly rowdy group of customers after they tried to rob the Leaky Cauldron. That didn't stop her from complaining when the vine acted up on occasion, such as tonight.
Francis was most likely sulking; when the plant was unhappy, it tended to seek out mischief, such as over-turning pots and pans in the kitchen during Hannah's busier hours. Most likely, it was just upset that it wouldn't be accompanying him to Hogwarts, as he wasn't sure how the vine would react when faced with rambunctious children. He was hoping to avoid any Malfoy-like reactions, such as the Buckbeak incident.
The last thing he needed was to be sacked during his first week of teaching.
There was also the fact that he would be leaving Hannah alone for a good portion of the time, whether it was spent working in the large greenhouse at Hogwarts, or preparing a lesson plan for his students and dealing with their assignments. While running a pub was fun at times, he didn't want to take chances that she would run into a situation that she couldn't handle. While she usually employed a bouncer or two on busy nights, he felt better knowing that she had Francis to help keep order.
Try telling that to a stubborn Venomous Tentacula, though.
Crouching down, he picked up the overturned pot, setting it down in the sink. A quick Vanishing charm got rid of the spilled Butterbeer, leaving the floor sparkling clean. With a quiet hum, he reached up into the spice cabinet to prepare another batch. Gran had always told him that if you make a mess, you were responsible for cleaning it up afterwards, and Hannah had heartily agreed.
Opening her recipe book, he gathered the other ingredients and poured them into a clean pot, hoping desperately that it turned out properly. Cooking was a chore he found distasteful, as it brought back memories of the many disastrous attempts at potion-making while under Professor Snape's tutelage. The amber-colored liquid settled as he activated a charm on the spoon, keeping it stirring while he looked for his wife.
"Hannah, darling?" Neville called, making his way towards the bar. The voices of the patrons hushed as he approached, falling into whispers. She smiled as he gave her a slight peck on the cheek. "Fresh pot of Butterbeer's on."
"Thank you, love," she returned, setting the mug down on the counter. Hannah still believed in doing some things the old fashioned way, ignoring cleaning charms unless business was slow. Cleaning glasses with a washcloth made her feel more "tavern-ownerish" as she had once called it. "Fetch me the Firewhiskey, will you? Top shelf, the red bottle."
Neville smiled and retrieved the bottle, setting it down on the wooden countertop. Francis ruffled its feathers in irritation as a loud crash sounded from the far corner. He sighed, turning to find Hannah already on her way to break up the drunken antics. Pulling out a shotglass from under the counter, he shook his head as he poured the Firewhiskey and handed it to an expectant wizard.
The older man gave him a toothy smile as he swayed. Neville chuckled; Old Man Waterspot was a regular, and thankfully a harmless one. The elder showed up each Sunday, drank his Firewhiskey, and wobbled back home, just like clockwork.
A short while later, he returned upstairs, depositing Francis in a large ornamental pot as he went. The noise had died down, allowing him to return to work in peace. Pulling out his textbook again, he again scanned the lesson plan that he had worked out with Professor McGonagall earlier that week, preparing for his first teaching lesson. The Headmistress had made it clear that she expected great things from him, and he desperately hoped that he had won her approval with his outline.
Neville recalled how afraid he had been when he had first entered the greenhouse. There had been so many vibrant, colorful flowers and herbs that he had felt afraid to touch them, much less approach the gardening table. It was just as well, since half of them had turned out to be dangerous, or required a more delicate touch to care for.
He and Professor Sprout had had differing opinions on how to handle teaching First Years, especially when they hadn't seen a greenhouse before. While she had a more hands-on approach that leant towards the "some idiots won't learn the pot handle is hot until they've burned themselves," he planned on emphasizing as many safety measures as he could at the very beginning. The first day would be a tour of the greenhouse with warnings about dangerous plants, and a lecture that emphasized the rules. Provided he didn't have any students with Draco Malfoy's disregard for the rules, the lesson would be straightforward and simple.
One advantage Neville had had was that his bad luck with accidents had prepared him for many of the potential ways a mishap could occur, as well as how to deal with the consequences afterwards. He knew five different ways to clean poisonous residue out of a damaged cauldron, how to soothe an irritated Screechsnap, and several ways to get the smell of dragon dung out of his clothing. Another benefit was that his knowledge of healing draughts and salves had skyrocketed once he gained enough confidence to practice Potion-making on his own.
Oh, and never neglect your earmuff maintenance when dealing with young Mandrakes.
When Hannah had finally closed down that night, he was still poring over the Seventh Year lessons, which focused on some of the more delicate and dangerous herbs and plants, such as the Whomping Willow. His own experiences with the N.E.W.T's helped form the lesson plan; while there were some things he knew would be helpful in later careers, he hoped to alleviate some of the students' stress by ensuring they were all properly prepared for the exams. Many careers after Hogwarts were defined by O.W.L and N.E.W.T scores, after all.
Hannah entered their home, putting an arm over his shoulders and kissing him on the cheek. "Thank you for earlier, Neville."
"It was nothing," he replied, adding a final note with his quill. He frowned at the length of the lesson outline. "You don't think it's too much, do you?"
She scanned the document, chuckling and shaking her head. "As long as you keep to the footnotes, you'll do splendidly. Just…tone down the descriptions. You know they won't pay attention if you turn into another Binns."
He nodded slowly, remembering the ghost who had taught students more about how to fall asleep in class than about the actual history they were supposed to be learning. After Professor McGonagall had taken over as Headmistress, she had hired a new teacher to take his place, one that was a bit more versed in current events. So far, the students were reported to be much happier.
"I'll just," he began, tapping the quill nib on the parchment. "Oh, bloody hell – I'll just wing it."
Hannah laughed. "I don't know why you're so worried, love. You're going to do just fine."
"I can't help but be nervous," Neville admitted, pulling her close and embracing her. "My worse fear is that somehow I'll turn into a scoundrel like Snape. I had a nightmare last night about that bloody man dressed in Gran's bathrobe!"
"You're overreacting, Nevile," Hannah chided, laying her head on his shoulder. "Just relax."
"He wore the pink one…with the ruffles! There were feathers everywhere!"
"Now, you're just putting me on, you cheeky man," she warned with another laugh, shoving his shoulder playfully. "Seriously. You've had some of the best and worse teachers, and you can learn from both."
He nodded solemnly, remembering the teachers who had influenced him the most. Professor Snape, who had terrorized him throughout his entire time at Hogwarts with his constant negative criticisms, blatant hatred for Gryffindors, and continuous insults which had chipped away at what little self-esteem he had had. On the other end of the spectrum, he had also been fortunate enough to have had Professor Lupin as an instructor. The werewolf's constant encouragement and patience had taught him more about believing in himself than he had realized until he had started learning Defense Against the Dark Arts with Harry during their fifth year.
He truly regretted not being able to tell Professor Lupin how much his lessons had meant to him during third year. If he couldn't tell Lupin in person, then he hoped to live up to both of the man's legacy with his own students. Provided he survived the first day...
"I'm so proud of you, Neville!" Hannah continued. She smiled at him brightly, clasping her hands in front of her in delight. "Or, should I say, Professor Longbottom?"
He ducked his head shyly, smiling back at her as she darted forward to embrace him again. "Thank you, darling. You'll have to wish me luck tomorrow. We've got the Sorting Feast, and then the first day of classes the next day."
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, two days later…
Neville sank back into the old, worn chair behind an equally worn desk, finally finished with classes for the day. It was hard to imagine he had been on the opposite side of the desk at one point. Even more surprising was how he could face Voldemort down and still feel more intimidated by a bunch of young teens and pre-teens, all of whom were staring in awe as they were introduced to one of the heroes of the Second Wizarding War during the Sorting.
Letting out a sigh of relief, he took his gloves off, throwing them down on the desk. His lessons had almost gone like clockwork, until the expected antics of some of the more entitled students came into play. Young Mr. Heberdine, a Pureblood Hufflepuff, was a hard worker but had an arrogance that came from a long line of herbologists and apothecaries. Miss Mayhew, a stereotypical Slytherin with more pride in her own standing as a Pure-blood than common sense had tried to smear Bubotuber pus on a Muggle-born classmate. And those were just the third-years.
He hoped the rest of his classes weren't like that.
As he left Greenhouse One, he stretched, trying to work the kinks out of his back. He and the seventh years had spent the last part of the day wrangling the walking plants, which were accidentally set loose by a stray spell from the nearby Care of Magical Creatures class. As he passed Greenhouse Three, he heard a familiar sound: a child's sniffles.
Frowning, he followed the quiet sobs until he found himself inside the greenhouse. A small, blonde boy, most likely a first year, sat hunched against the far wall as he cried. His satchel sat beside him, dropped in his haste to sit down. The child continued to sob as he approached.
Recognizing the boy as a Gryffindor first year, he cleared his throat. "Mr. Peterson, if I recall?"
The boy looked up, his reddened eyes widening in surprise. "Yes, Professor."
"What's the matter? Shouldn't you be heading to the Great Hall for dinner?"
Ducking his head in shame, the boy shook his head. "I can't go back there, sir. I…I can't do this."
"Do what, go to dinner?" Neville asked quietly, tilting his head. "I'd be happy to escort you there, if you're afraid you'll get lost."
"Oh, no, Professor!" The boy shook his head vehemently. "It's not that I'm lost…"
A memory from earlier came to mind. "Is this about your classmate from earlier? The one who was trying to taunt you about being Muggle-born?"
The boy paused a moment, then lowered his head again. "I can't…I don't belong here. He's right."
Neville took a closer look at the child. His robes, while in good condition, appeared worn at the seams. His schoolbag was new, but the books poking out of them were not. What materials were visible were obviously used, aside from some of the writing implements and instruments.
"He told me that stupid Muggles don't belong here," the young Gryffindor mumbled. "I d-didn't know what to say. I looked l-like an idiot in f-front of him."
"Oh, dear," Neville said softly. He sat down next to the child, who had started to sniffle. "Children can be so cruel. Avery, was it?"
The boy nodded. "I tried to study my books on the train. I really did, Professor! B-but when we got into class, it was like it all went blank. I c-couldn't answer any q-questions in class t-today, I didn't make my p-potion right – I'm just a f-failure, like my dad says!"
Neville was taken aback by the boy's words. "Now, now, Avery – it's only your first day. You can't be a complete failure just because you may not know as much as your classmates. There's a difference between ignorance and stupidity."
Avery looked at him in confusion. "But I couldn't tell Professor Flitwick about any of the charms, like Maribell or Harper –"
"You're not necessarily going to have access to the same information, Avery," Neville explained with a shake of his head. "I have a good friend who was raised with muggles. He couldn't answer those questions either, but another muggle-born student who had had a chance to study all summer had no trouble at all. And believe it or not, I'm the one that blew up my cauldron in my first Potions class, and I'm a Pureblood."
"You blew up your cauldron?" the boy repeated, his eyes wide. "B-but you're one of the Heroes of the Second Wizarding War. They said you were an Orry-or…"
"Auror," Neville corrected. He pulled a small pouch from his robes, rubbing it with his thumb in a nervous habit. "The thing is, Mr. Peterson, I wasn't always an Auror, or a so-called hero. Once upon a time, I was a student, just like you. We all have to start somewhere."
He opened the pouch, pulling out a large seed. Pointing a wand at a nearby bench, the teacher summoned a flower pot full of rich, dark soil. Picking up the pot, he tucked the seed into the soil and covered it gently. With another non-verbal spell, a small sprout began to break the surface, forming a small pair of leaves.
Avery watched it with wide eyes. "Wicked!"
"Think of yourself as a seed," Neville instructed, handing the boy the flower pot. "A seed can, if nurtured properly, grow into something fantastic."
He gazed upwards, drawing the boy's attention with him. Above them were several enormous wallflowers, unfolding their petals. Each bloom measured approximately two meters across with deep, rich shades of red, purple and blue. The magnificent flowers filled the greenhouse, reaching up and spreading into the rafters.
"They're…they're…incredible! But how…"
Neville smiled. "A lot of hard work. These wallflowers were here when I was a student. Strong roots and proper care will keep them alive for a long, long time."
"Do…do you think I could grow something like this?" Avery asked softly, staring at the wallflowers with a look of wonder. "Someday, I mean?"
"Maybe. It'll take time, and a lot of hard work and study."
The boy looked back up at Neville. "I thought you were a Gryffindor, sir?"
"Just because we're Gryffindors doesn't mean we can't be hard workers," the professor explained with a chuckle. "Don't focus on stereotypes, Peterson. Too many people spend too much time focusing on living up to their house reputation and not enough time doing what they feel is right. Follow your instincts."
Neville's grin widened as he stood. Beckoning the boy upwards, he shooed him towards the exit. "Now, off you go."
Watching the boy run towards the Great Hall, he sighed. Maybe he would get the hang of this teaching thing after all.