The summer is over and it's back to school.
Acknowledgements - Kokopelli for the always needed beta work. Here's hoping that someday I actually improve. All the members of AFC who helped comment on this chapter deserve my heartfelt thanks. I would also like to thank the people at DLP and FFA who commented on this in the preview threads.
Chapter 30 - The Songs Goblins Sing
By nature, Charlie Weasley was not a squeamish man. One couldn't watch a dragon lay a clutch of eggs or see a cow ripped in two by a Ukrainian Ironbelly without a strong stomach.
He looked at the goblin and the human bound in front of him and then looked over to Narcissa, slightly worried about the dark thoughts that must be coursing through her mind. She had forced the wizard to owl his goblin contact; it didn't take long for the goblin to arrive at the house.
"So, you took someone's money and sold us out," Narcissa began, as if she were berating a child. "They sent a nice little group of thugs to take care of us. I'd like to take this moment to thank you on behalf of any other customers you have sold out over the years."
"You'll get nothing from me, disgusting hag." Snapjaw replied, spitting at her feet. Apparently, appreciation for ethereal beauty didn't cross inter-species boundaries. Charlie was angry, but not nearly as angry as Narcissa.
"Charles, why don't you step outside and keep an eye out for anyone that may have followed our new friend? I don't want you to see this side of me," she said pleasantly
Charlie walked outside, wincing as the trussed-up wizard began to scream. She had warned him that it would probably come to this, but they needed the information about the people after them. If he wasn't so concerned for her safety, he would have put up a silencing charm. After five long minutes the screams stopped and he then heard Narcissa's voice, devoid of her usual charm and cheerful tones.
"Now little goblin, you've just seen what I will do to one of my own. About now you should be wondering, 'If this disgusting round-toothed hag has so little regard for human life, what will she do to me?' This is your final chance to tell me something to save your miserable worthless life. One way or another, you will sing for me, you foul little creature. Tell me all your dirty secrets!"
There was a long period of silence, and then Charlie heard a rasping goblin voice, speaking in a low monotone.
Cho Chang was in a reflective mood as she assumed her duties, patrolling the corridors of the Hogwarts Express. Her return to Hogwarts for her final year of schooling was slightly less than triumphant.
It wasn't just one thing; it was everything!
She had just left the Prefect's meeting with that smug bint, Caruthers. Melissa was such a prissy, vindictive little bitch! What was Dumbledore thinking, making her Head Girl? Probably her daddy's influence, again.
Cho's marks were better. She was on the Quidditch squad and active in two other school organizations. Cho was a much better candidate for Head Girl! The way the 'Head Bint' had greeted her; 'Prefect Chang, how nice to see you again' really got on Cho's last nerve.
She had only been back from Holidays for two days. Her father had all but pushed her around the Alley to get her shopping done. The Alley itself was fairly subdued. She had heard that things had gotten bad while her family was away, but people were acting like there were groups of Death Eaters lurked around every corner.
The latest issues of Teen Witch Weekly had been waiting on her bed for her. Imagine her surprise to discover an entire issue devoted to Harry Potter and his handfasting to Susan Bones! The articles contained speculation that they'd been betrothed at birth, or directed to handfast by their respective end of line clauses, and there were even a few rumors that a secret prophecy predicted their marriage. There were few hard, confirmed facts such as Harry's interviews with Rita Skeeter and that Susan had been injured at that awful incident at Gringotts.
Cho wasn't sure what to believe and she also wasn't sure that she had the courage to ask.
To make matters worse, Marietta had practically dragged her in to see Harry and his -- well -- his wife. Cho could barely bring herself to say the word even in her mind. Not that she was still hung up on Harry, well perhaps just a little, but honestly! What had Marietta been thinking? She felt a bit sorry for Susan, which reminded her, when exactly had the two of them happened?
She searched her memory and for the life of her couldn't recall the two of them ever saying one word to each other, or even partnering up during DA meetings. Cho knew that Susan was in for a rough ride, because "romance" and "Harry" were not words to be used in a sentence together, unless the word "unfortunate" was also in that sentence. She doubted that it would last, which was sad. Harry deserved /someone/.
As if this upset wasn't enough, the 'privilege' of being a Prefect had just become the 'chore' of being a Prefect and this during her NEWT year! Patrols were going to be extended from ten PM until eleven. They were even discussing possibility of morning patrol at five bloody AM! Prefects would check in with the Heads and the Heads would check in with the Aurors. It still stunned her that there would be Aurors in the school. Exactly when was she supposed to sleep or do her homework? It was tempting to resign, but that would mar her record worse than drooping marks.
Cho knew she was at a crossroads. Her marks were going to suffer unless she quit the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. The lingering question was whether or not she was good enough to get an offer from a team after leaving Hogwarts? Even a reserve seeker would make far more money than most entry-level positions. Then again, it's the scores on the OWLS and the NEWTS that employers really care about, not class standing. There would be a solid month between the end of the season and the NEWT exams. She could make a final push and make up any lost ground during that time. It wouldn't be easy, but then she'd still have a shot at making a team or at least getting on someone's practice squad.
So it was that Cho found herself pondering her future as she moved through the narrow hallways. She was headed to the back of the train first and then she'd slowly make her way forward. The train rides were usually rather dodgy events and wherever she walked people were talking in hushed whispers. There was a nervous energy fueling the train this year. The anxiety was like an inflating balloon.
As she opened the door to the last baggage car for a quick peek inside before heading back, she idly wondered what might just make that balloon pop?
Neville sat idle, alternating between looking through a defense manual and looking at the sleeping forms of Lavender Brown and Colin Creevey. He was impressed by Brown's new attitude. She was taking only morning classes, so she could work at the DMLE at night. She was doing her part in the war and Neville could recognize that.
He just hoped that his contributions would be unrecognized for a very long time. Hogwarts was infested with weeds. If left unchecked, the weeds would grow into Death Eaters. Dumbledore must believe in that 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer,' rubbish. Neville knew the truth. Friends should be kept close. Enemies should be dealt with - decisively. Again, his gaze found the sleeping couple; he arched his neck slightly to sneak a glance down Lavender's shirt. They were careless; Death Eaters could walk in and kill them where they slept without a thought. No, not if he could help it. It was his mission in life. His father and mother had been heroes. Harry was a hero. Now, destiny had asked Neville to take up that mantle too. Stop the spread of evil. Make certain no one else ends up like sweet Luna.
Under his breath, he said a silent prayer to those who would never hear his words. "I'll make you all proud of me: Luna, Mum, Dad, Grams, and all the rest of you. I'll make it right. I promise."
It shouldn't be long now. He had seen Ron's unmistakable mop of hair pass by. The Prefects must be out on patrol by now. Ten minutes, two pages of half-read text and three more long glances down Lavender's blouse before a shrill cry could be heard through the halls. Colin and Lavender were startled awake.
"What's going on?" Lavender asked, adjusting her rather loose blouse.
"I'm not sure. Someone just went running by screaming. Must have been a prank. The trolley went by, but I didn't want to wake you two." Damn! He said too much! It sounded too rushed. He quickly decided to throw Lavender off the track. He wouldn't look her in the eye. It worked. She tightened her blouse a bit, probably wondering how much of a show she'd been giving him. Neville stood and opened their compartment door. Several others were milling about in the corridor wondering what was going on.
"Make a hole! Make a hole! Back into your compartments with the lot of you! Now!" The booming voice belonged to a man in Aurors' robes.
Professor Sprout was right on his heels. Obediently, everyone scampered back into the cabins. He saw McGonagall and Hermione pass by. His Head of house kept going, but Hermione remained.
"Until I hear back from the Professors, I need everyone to remain in your compartments. Only Prefects and Heads are allowed in the corridor right now."
Neville felt sorry for her, as she was immediately overwhelmed with questions from all directions. "I'm sorry. I don't have any details at this time, but I'm sure the Professors have everything under control."
He passed the next few minutes imagining what the chaotic scene in the baggage car must be like. He turned back and stared out the window allowing a small victorious smile to cross his face.
The Auror burst back into the train car. He called Hermione to him and handed her a bag he'd conjured. "Collect any food purchased from the Trolley. It could be tainted. Now!"
Hermione stood slightly open-mouthed before she tossed the candy in her pockets into the bag. Neville was concerned. Should he throw a piece of his tainted candy into the bag and really cause a stir? 'No, the gills would have long since worn off. They're probably panicking.' In the end he opted not to. He tossed a few pieces of Drooble's and a licorice wand into the bag Hermione held in front of him. Lavender and Colin said they had been asleep and Hermione moved on to the next cabin.
Twenty minutes past before Hermione again reentered the train car. "For the remainder of the trip, everyone is to stay in their cabin. If you need to go to the loo, signal the Prefects or the Professors patrolling the cars and we will escort you. No, I don't have any further information, but I suspect that Professor Dumbledore will make an announcement at the welcoming feast. When we arrive in Hogsmeade, each train car will exit to the platform when directed. These precautions are for your safety."
"What do you think?" Colin asked looking at the two of them.
Lavender shook her head tossing her hair over her shoulder trying not to look worried. "I don't know. If it were an attack, there would be explosions and such. If they don't give us a straight answer at the feast, I'll find out the real story at work tonight and tell you in the morning."
"I'm sure the Professors have things under control, don't you think so?" Neville asked in his meekest voice drawing a look of mild exasperation from Lavender. It was never too early to reinforce his 'bumbling oaf' image.
Two more hours went by with only an infrequent announcement from a Prefect or one of the Heads basically repeating the same instructions. Neville watched their response. He would need to anticipate quick, but rather unorganized response to his actions. One thing that impressed him was the power of suggestion. People had heard the rumor of the tainted candy and now several were complaining of being sick. Flitwick was checking out a couple of second-years in the cabin next to them at the moment. Uncle Darius had explained that this was the 'fog of war'. Neville knew that the most important thing he could do was to act normal. So, he pulled out a book and started reading.
The train rolled to a stop at the Hogsmeade station. Neville looked out the window and saw that a large group of people had already gathered on the platform, including Dumbledore. He watched as the lady who pushed the trolley cart was rather forcefully led away by two Aurors. A small pang of guilt crossed his mind and he fought to crush it. There was no room for guilt in his life now. His destiny would not be thwarted by such feelings of weakness. Ignoring the twinge, Neville focused on the several small groups of conversations, watching until Dumbledore finally took charge and ordered the students be escorted to the castle.
His uncle had told him that the group mentality was something to watch. As they trudged through the mist and light rain towards the Thestral drawn carriages, he saw a young girl maybe a third-year 'Puff stop and begin retching into the bushes alongside the path. He watched several others become affected by the girl's vomiting. The group-mind was very suggestible. It reacted with base emotions first, like panic and fear. He could use this to his advantage. "Colin save me a seat, I'm not feeling so good myself." Neville walked over to the bushes himself and took several deep breaths. Professor Sprout stopped by and asked if he and the other students were okay.
Neville settled into the carriage, greeting Dean Thomas with a smile and watching him exchange pleasantries with Lavender and Colin. Despite having spent the last few weeks at the castle already, Neville felt a surge of excitement as the convoy of students set forth towards the castle looming in the distance.
Rufus Scrimgeour had made certain that he would be there to meet the train as it pulled into Hogsmeade. Word had already been sent of the dead boy in the baggage cart. The Goyles are minor quislings to begin with and the boy was of no real consequence. Still, the report that he had choked to death on some candy alone in the baggage car rubbed his instincts the wrong way. Again, he cursed his hindsight. 'More Aurors should have been on the train!'
"What do you make of it Dumbledore?" he said looking at the old man and then to the train.
"It is most troubling. There's not been a death on the train since the Pureblood riots of 1822. I want to believe that it is indeed a tragic accident, but the events of the summer have left me more suspicious."
"I spoke briefly with Tonks. She assured me that neither Harry nor his wife left the cabin until they were evacuated. I'll have my people stationed at the castle interview the students to see if he had any enemies. Though being a Goyle and a sycophant to the Malfoy boy means that any list of possible suspects would include roughly seventy-five percent of the student body."
The aging, one-armed wizard regarded the tall and heavyset man next to him. "Will you be staying for the Welcoming Feast?"
"I believe so. I have no need to say anything, but a show of Ministry support, especially with these circumstances, should reassure your students. Just acknowledge me during your opening remarks."
Twenty minutes later, Rufus flanked by his two bodyguards made his way through the throng of bodies in the Great Hall. The tattered Sorting Hat regarded him.
"Scrimgeour, eh? Finally made it to the top of the heap like you always dreamed of. Not quite the view you pictured is it?" the enchanted object growled at him.
The Minister ignored it and took the seat indicated by the one of Dumbledore's staff. It had been many years since he sat on the other side, at the student tables. There were far fewer students now. His school years were after the Second Muggle war, in the decades of peace that followed Dumbledore's defeat of Grindelwald.
Across the filling room, he met Potter's eyes and acknowledged him.
Harry smiled back at the Minister and turned to Susan. They were sitting at the Hufflepuff table for the Welcoming Feast. "I still don't like what she did either, but that is what we'll have to get used to," Harry said. On the train he'd been talking to Jason Higgins, the young Ravenclaw he'd saved from the dementors weeks ago, when Tonks burst into the compartment and said there was trouble. She then activated both Harry and Susan's Portkeys without further information. Moments later they were on their bums in front of the Shrieking Shack staring at Bill Weasley and Remus Lupin.
"Harry, some warning from Tonks, or even a bit of an explanation would have been nice before she grabbed us and activated our Portkeys. I guess you're right. It will have to be yet another thing I get used to," Susan whispered back, trying not to sound as perturbed as she felt.
"She was just doing her job, Susan," Harry whispered.
Tonks had met briefly with the Auror on the train before Portkeying to the shack as well. There they learned about the death of Gregory Goyle in the baggage car and what precious little additional information was available at the moment.
It felt odd to be sitting at the Hufflepuff table among Susan's friends. He saw Hannah Abbott sitting near the end of the table. He could see the necklace links of her mind shield around her neckline. She looked very uncomfortable. He felt bad for the girl and a bit guilty for his part in her predicament. However, there was plenty of guilt to go around.
"Looks like they're getting ready to start," Wayne Hopkins said as the doors opened and a group of scared, stricken first year students edged into the Great Hall. All eyes turned to the Hat perched on the stool. Harry listened as the hat began its song.
Another year has come at last
War spreads beyond these walls, like fire burning fast
When I sang before, listen you did not
In place of unity, only you did scheme and plot
So instead of unheeded warnings that I once gave
I offer only advice on your life, if that is what you wish to save
Vigilance must be constant and on your feet you must think
But even the best of plans are like wards with a weak link
History repeats itself and hatred roams the halls
Dark thoughts and deeds will endanger you all
Be not certain of the blinding light
Make no assumptions of the pitch-black night
Who joins Godric's house is noble and brave
But against the reaper, will your courage cave
Call to those you trust and make a stand
Or surely you will no longer walk this land
Those who possess Rowena's wit so keen
What experience you have remains to be seen
Use the knowledge you hold for good or ill
Else wait for the curse that brings your heart to a still
Of mighty Salazar's brood, will yourself to rise
Though blind ambition may lead you to an unwelcome surprise
Cling to the dark or make overtures to the light
Either way prepare for your part in the fight
And Helga's stalwart followers, able and loyal
Victory may still elude you, ignoring all your toil
Weigh carefully the choices in your head
Or suffer the consequences when you are dead
Step forward younglings and take your place
Among those who already are running in this race
I fear for you children perhaps more than most
Learn quickly your spells or find yourself a ghost
The song ended to silence. Even the tight-lipped McGonagall looked slightly distraught as she read off the first name.
After the twenty-three first-years were sorted, Dumbledore stood at the podium and cleared his throat. Harry noted that the Headmaster had chosen a particularly long sleeved robe and it merely looked as if his right arm was by his side rather than missing.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. Our hat has indeed made dire predictions before, but even in the darkest of times surrounding us, we must remember to find happiness and joy. On a more sobering note, I regret to announce there are a few of our students and staff who are no longer with us. Of the fallen, we mourn the loss of Tina Parker, Anthony and Peter Goldstein from Ravenclaw. Katie Bell, Alex Parker, and Rebecca Sargent from Gryffindor, Zacharias Smith from Hufflepuff. Sadly, I must add the unfortunate death of Gregory Goyle from Slytherin to the list. He suffered a tragic mishap during the train ride and we are still looking into the circumstances behind it. I ask your cooperation in any investigation that is conducted. I also ask you to keep Ms. Luna Lovegood from Ravenclaw in your thoughts and join me in hoping for her recovery."
Harry's gaze wandered up and down the Slytherin table. They seemed a bit unnerved, which suited Harry just fine. He listened to Dumbledore speak kind words about Hagrid and even a word or two about Snape. Harry took that opportunity to stare at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. Susan's hand slid into his. He exhaled and relaxed as he felt comfort and reassurance in her grasp.
"And what of the investigation into your son's death?"
"Milord, I had to send one of my sisters to retrieve his body. They checked her for your mark as you suspected. Gregory's death has been ruled an accident. I do not believe them! I want revenge!"
Voldemort looked at the angry Tanya Goyle in front of him. He laid a hand on her shoulder in comforting support. "We cannot undo what has been done, my dear. You will have revenge. Go now and be among your close friends and family and remember your child. Let me worry about how to repay those whom you entrusted his care."
She bowed to him and walked away.
Georgina Crabbe met her at the doorway and led her out of the central chamber. He waited a respectful minute for the pair of them to get out of earshot before turning to the woman and three men at the table. "The boy's death remains suspicious regardless of Scrimgeour and Dumbledore's claims. We should make use of this," Voldemort rumbled.
"What is your will, Milord?" the woman asked.
"It's time for you to get your own personal revenge, Madeline. The man who put you in Azkaban, our former Minister, he is yours. Mulciber, Rookwood and Lestrange, the three of you are to accompany her. Fudge has long since outlived his usefulness. Do not set the Dark Mark above his dwelling. Do not use the killing curse. Kill him and his family violently."
He saw the gleam in the woman's eyes as he granted her fondest wish. "Do be careful, I hear he has hired several bodyguards. I shall be paying someone else a house call," he said, smiling for the first time.
"Alblato!" Harry erected a hasty reflective shield slapping the incoming curse aside. He responded with a blinding curse and a stunner. Four days into the school year and Harry knew his training was actually regressing.
"That's enough, Harry. It's time we had a talk." Flitwick said commanding the Room of Requirement to provide a bench. "Sit down."
Harry wiped the sweat from his workout away with a towel. His dueling instructor handed him a flask of water and opened his own, taking a drink.
"Harry, you're making some progress, but it seems like you're just going through the motions."
"Can I ask you a question?"
Flitwick's face took on a brief look of humor. "I'm a teacher, Harry. My job is to answer questions. Go ahead, ask away."
"How did you handle it? Killing an innocent?"
"The man I killed was far from innocent. He was a professional fighter from what used to be Serbia. I'd been fighting for a dozen years by that time. I didn't need the money. I never really did. I fought for /respect/. Respect I was never given because of my height.
And so, I had a grudge match with the Serb. We had fought three times before. I had won twice and he prevailed the third time. He started the rumors that the 'Mighty Midget' was now a fading star. The fourth time we fought was nine months after that. I went into the match angry. It was stupid. I felt like everything I had ever achieved was worthless - like I was back here as a student in my last year, still being mistaken for a first-year. I was careless and over emotional with my spells and it killed him."
Flitwick took a long swig from his water bottle. "That's when I knew I was fighting for all the wrong reasons. Some teacher I am. It took me twelve years and the death of a man to realize that I was never going to win what I really wanted from someone on the other side of a dueling pit. I stopped fighting and stopped living with that burning need to prove myself. I went and found something that made me happy. Do you want to know what I make my Patronus from? The look of joy I see when a bunch of kids levitate a feather for the first time. I killed someone unintentionally out of anger and my own arrogance. Why did you kill someone Harry?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but couldn't find the words. After two false starts, the only answer he could come up with was, "I was just trying to stay alive."
"There's your answer then. Don't ever fault yourself for staying alive. Now are you ready to put in some real effort, because if not, I can get Tonks in here if you're just going to keep up this mediocre performance? I've got other things to do, you know."
It was probably no different than Susan's words to him, but this time it seemed to stick a bit more. It was war out there. Innocents are going to die. The Charms master's words didn't instantly heal him, but it was a start.
"Okay, I'm ready. Let's get back at this. Dumbledore said he would be by soon. He wants to start working on controlling my Animagus form."
'Sometimes, waiting to kill someone is so dreadfully boring.' Voldemort thought as he sat in the oversized chair. The group he had monitoring the target's movements had been wrong when they assured him that she would be home twenty minutes after he arrived. They would suffer if they did not have an acceptable explanation.
For the first ten minutes, he busied himself destroying portraits, killing the house elf, and looking for anything within the house that might raise some kind of alarm. It was a fatal oversight of the homeowner not to have removed Helen Edgecombe from the list of people authorized to Floo into this house. She had escorted him there and left just as quickly.
As he surveyed the dÃ©cor of the house, he decided that what he was about to do was not murder. It was a public service to all those with a modicum of taste.
The Floo changed colors and out stepped the form of Delores Umbridge. Voldemort stirred from the chair and removed the disillusionment charm hiding him.
"Hello, Delores. I've been meaning to make your acquaintance."
Madame Umbridge dropped her packages in front of him. He got that a lot. In fact, the look of abject fear on a victim's face was one of the perks of the job. It's not like people would look upon his face and say, "Oh Lord Voldemort, you shouldn't drop by unannounced. The place is such a mess. Would you care for a spot of tea?"
"Wwwwwhat do you want?"
"I'm here to raise awareness about speech impediments. As you seem to have one, I thought we should have a discussion." Voldemort laughed internally at his private joke. Seeing that his victim was not able to understand his joke he continued. "I need your assistance Delores Umbridge."
"How did you get in here? My wards?"
"Does it really matter how I got here? How very bureaucratic of you, already looking for someone to blame. I hate bureaucrats. I understand that they are a necessary evil. I suppose in that respect, I would be an unnecessary evil, wouldn't you say? The correct questions you should be asking are 'What do you want?' or 'Will the Dark Mark be floating over my house in the morning?' or 'Are you going to spare me?' Try asking those instead."
She waited for a second before asking quietly, "What do you want?"
"Ah! Now, we are getting somewhere. You still have a bit of a powerbase left in the Wizengamot. It's a shadow of its former self, but added to my current voting block, it would be sufficient. I want the support of your allies."
The woman in front of him finally seemed to find her backbone. "I've no love of Scrimgeour. The man is trying to appoint me to be the Ambassador to Russia."
Voldemort felt a pang of pity for the Russians and added them to the list of people who really should be thanking him. "Indeed. Rufus is not really hiding his attempts at consolidating his powerbase and marginalizing his enemies. He is the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop."
He could see her recovering some of her confidence and composure. "So, you want me to throw my backing behind Caruthers and Sykes. What are you offering in return?"
"Well, I'll answer the second question and tell you that the Dark Mark won't be flying over your house in the morning."
Umbridge seemed to relax. At least as much as a quivering mound of flesh like her could. To think that people called him repulsive! "My life is worth quite a bit to me, but as of late your side seems to be losing ground. My life, my monies and my political clout are worth a bit more than that. Perhaps you should consider making a better offer?"
"Oh dear, I seem to have given you the wrong impression. I just want your allies. You, I have no interest in." Oh that brought about the return of the quivering.
"Why do you expect my allies to follow you if you kill me?" She was getting a bit shrill now. He kept his eyes on her wand hand.
"Because, you fat swine, no one is going to know that I killed you. More than one of Harry Potter or Rufus Scrimgeour's enemies are going to die this evening. It will look like your adversaries are doing a bit of old fashioned purging. Your death will look like more of Scrimgeour's handiwork." He blew her wand out of her hand with practiced ease.
"No! Please spare me! I'll do anything," she bleated, her fat hand going to her heaving bosom. The last sentence sent chills up his spine. Voldemort was used to hearing that from females, and while sometimes he would let his mind wander slightly when he heard that, from her the suggestion was unthinkable!
He reached into his robe and pulled out a blood quill. "Delores, I'd like you to write an overdue apology to young Harry. After that, you are going to die. It will be violent and nasty, I'm afraid. Potter and Scrimgeour's backers aren't neat or tidy are they? Would you care to do this with or without the Imperious curse? Sorry, that was a rhetorical question. /Imperio!/"
"Have you decided what your NEWT project yet, dear?"
Neville looked up from the cluster of Herbology texts that sat next to him and smiled at Professor Sprout. "Not yet, Professor. I'm still looking at inter-species cross pollination issues. I was looking at the works of Jorge Garcias in Costa Rica in the trade journals. I'm considering contacting him for some clippings. He's actually trying to breed a sunlight resistant strain of Devil's Snare," Neville said, trying to simulate the appearance of earnest interest.
The topic, in fact, was the only thing that had even mildly caught his interest. The joy that all these plants once brought him was still there, but it seemed different; changed in some manner. Herbology had been what Neville was good at; he'd let it define him. He was the Herbology guy. It had worked for him for five years, but now it was different.
The doting old woman in front of him smiled. "That sounds magnificent! Greenhouse Nine has been fallow for the last year. It needs a bit of upkeep, but you could it's yours, if you want to use it," she offered.
"It's a little big for just a single project like that. I'm not sure that I would be able to contribute to his work," Neville temporized. He felt a tremble of excitement at having his own private place amongst all these students.
"Grow whatever else you want. I can assign you a house elf if you'd like."
That really caught Neville's attention. "Well that would make things much easier, Professor. Thank you."
The excited smile on his instructor's face was his answer. She called out to one of the many house elves that helped her maintain the greenhouses. "Bessie, this is Neville Longbottom. You will take instructions from him for the school year."
Neville continued to make small talk with Professor Sprout. She had just helped him in ways that she would never know. Indeed, this was a fortunate turn of events. He had been worried about his 'weeding' with all the new precautions that the school was taking. He needed an assistant and he wasn't sure that Ginny was willing to really get her hands dirty - yet.
He'd thought that he would have to lay low and carefully plan out his next accident.
He led the elf into the vacant Greenhouse Nine. "Professor Sprout has assigned you to me."
"Yes. Bessie is good elf. Tell Bessie what to do and Bessie will do."
Neville glared at the elf in front of him. "Good. You will not tell anyone, not even the other elves what you are doing for me. If you tell anyone, then Bessie is not a good elf!" He watched the elf cringe and hop up and down in protest.
"Bessie is good elf! Bessie is good elf. She tell no one!"
"I know. Bessie is a great elf! Now here is what I want you to do...."
Author's notes - Thanks for reading. Full discussion on my threads on DLP and FFA. If you haven't had the opportunity, you might want to try my new story. Thanks again to all those that voted for this story and Bungle in the Jungle for the DLP Awards.