The night before Neville Longbottom's eleventh birthday, he had a brief but very vivid dream. In it, he and his parents were living in the garden where they had died. Mum was baking a cake and Dad was tilling a patch of oats. Neville was helping him, and Dad kept saying how Neville had power to make things grow.
Around the garden were tall apple trees -- which weren't in the real garden; Neville had been there -- and gold fruit hung from the boughs. There was a bright green snake in the tree, like in the story of the Garden of Eden, but no one mentioned it.
An owl flew in, a letter clasped in its talons, and Dad said, "Oh, look, here it finally is! Your Hogwarts letter."
It was in Neville's hand an instant later (even though the owl had been a good way off), only it wasn't from Hogwarts. It was a Howler, and his name was written on it in blood. Neville looked up, and saw both of his parents in front of him, sliced open, and he knew whose blood it was. The Howler opened up and screamed, "UNWORTHY! UNWORTHY! UNWORTHY!"
He didn't go back to sleep.
When he went downstairs an hour later, there was a perfectly normal owl waiting at the window, with a perfectly normal letter in green ink, containing a perfectly normal message inviting Neville to Hogwarts.
Gran, who was always up and about a the break of dawn, took a quick look at it and said, "You see, Neville? There was nothing to worry about. Now, shall we get you prepared?"
"Well, I was thinking of going wand-shopping with Harry. And books, probably."
"Yes, yes. But you need more than a wand. Let's get you decent robes and parchment and the other things that you and Mr. Potter will have no need to confer about." She rolled her eyes fondly. "And I believe, for your birthday, that we should equip you handsomely for Herbology." She smiled.
Neville smiled back. Harry was impressed with his skill for gardening, but took no interest in the subject for himself. It would be better not to try and share that shopping.
After breakfast, Gran took him by Side-Along Apparition to Diagon Alley. She was not a terribly demonstrative woman, but Neville understood her mode of affection, which today consisted of piling him up with all of the little things he would need. There were standard issue school robes, rolls and rolls of parchment, decent quills, an ink bottle charmed to purchase ink and refill itself magically, a small cauldron, and other little things. All of this, she wrapped into a bundle and sent home magically.
"Now," she said, "I believe it's time to introduce you to your grandfather's favorite shop."
Neville felt a dazed grin come up on his face. "Newland Nursery?" he asked. "The one in Whitechapel?"
Gran pursed her lips and nodded. "Be careful. It's not a good Muggle neighborhood, as I understand it, but the shop's been there for a very long time." She stood back and inspected him, then poked her wand at him. He felt a tingling sensation, then looked down at himself and gasped. She'd put him in a beaten up pair of Muggle blue jeans and an old, oversized tee shirt. He touched his head, and found that his hair was in a kind of spiky style.
She nodded, then turned her wand on herself. Her finicky old robes turned into a brown dress with a red tweed jacket over it. The fox fur she usually wore around her neck turned into a moth-eaten scarf. Her witch's hat turned into another scarf, this one wrapped around her head to hide her hair.
Neville had never seen Gran in Muggle clothes, and until this moment, would not have credited the idea that she knew about them. But she looked perfectly passable, if possibly a bit eccentric.
"There's no handy Apparition point," she explained. "And there's no Floo point. It's their point of pride to blend in. We'll have to take the tube."
This required an exchange of wizarding money, and the utterly exotic experience of going into an underground station, where a smelly train awaited them. It took a bit over fifteen minutes of rocking back and forth, and then they came to another station -- dirty and busy, but that was all right. Gran actually seemed to know her way around it very well.
"Where do you think I found your plants?" she asked impatiently, leading him through the gates and up onto the street. Neville could see a crowded neighborhood, apparently under construction. Across from the station was a squat and ugly little brick sports center, and Gran crossed the street in front of it, turning left toward a block of flats with sand-colored brick walls and red doors. Corrugated metal doors rolled down here and there, covered with graffiti. Gran led him past these at a quick pace, not looking at much. They turned up Castlemain toward Vallance Gardens, which looked rather sad to Neville. As Gran marched him past, among the tall buildings, he imagined himself coming in and making the place much better. Perhaps a little pond, maybe a fountain in the middle of it, a birdbath… things that would make the whole neighborhood feel more… cared for. That was what he was thinking of. Cared for.
They drew to a stop at corner, waiting to cross a street near the garden. A family was milling nearby -- a middle-aged woman with what Neville first took for her three children. The woman had a kind of vacant look on her face, but she was quite beautiful. She wore a bell-sleeved dress and had long, luxuriant hair not unlike Vi Potter's. There was a girl a year or two older than Neville himself was, with blond hair and a round face rather like his. Then there was a teenaged boy, a huge kid with curly black hair. He stared resentfully at an older boy who looked like he had been doing something very wrong. Then the mother kissed the oldest boy in a way that was very unmaternal.
The young man looked at her and made a disdainful face, then stepped toward her aggressively. "What's your problem?" he asked. "Ugly old cow --"
The hulking teenage boy shoved him out of the way. "Leave the lady alone, Whittaker."
The woman airily said, "Boys…"
Then the light changed, and Gran and Neville got separated from the strange little family. The girl peeked back once over shoulder, looking both apologetic and deeply jealous.
"Poor thing," Gran said, then swept Neville around a corner. By now, he was entirely lost. The went past several buildings, then into a back alley that seemed to end at a brick wall behind a stinking wheelie bin. Gran tapped the wheelie bin three times with her wand.
It slid aside and revealed an unremarkable bit of alley. Gran led him into it and tapped the wall with her wand as the wheelie bin went back into place.
The bricks scraped against one another, and Neville forgot that he was lost, that he was in an alley hidden behind rubbish. The wall opened into an arch, and through it was a long, fragrant greenhouse, filled with the growing smells of everything he could think of. Flowers of red and blue and purple spilled from trays on long tables, and vines crept up the walls. Lines of tools lined the walls, and, in a small, walled off room, Neville could see a sign that said, "Expert herbologists only, no browsing."
From this room, a witch emerged, her flyaway brown hair making a halo around her head.
"Augusta!" she called, running up to Gran. "Oh, dear, but it's been a long while. Is this…" She looked at Neville, her eyes eagerly searching his forehead.
"This is my grandson. Neville, this is the proprietor of Newland Nurseries, Winifred Wilkes. We'll need to set Neville up for Hogwarts. Let's do it properly."
"Hogwarts!" Winifred said. "Oh, how lovely. I may even be there myself this year."
"Why on Earth would you be at Hogwarts?" Gran asked.
"Oh, helping Rubeus Hagrid -- he's the Keeper of the Grounds -- "
"I know Hagrid well, Winifred."
"Oh, yes, of course, you'd have known him during the war. At any rate, they're doing work on the grounds this year, and he may need some assistance." She looked at Neville. "Now… let's get everything you might need."
So Neville spent a very pleasant afternoon. He got his dragon-hide gloves for Hogwarts, along with a fine set of pruning shears, a watering can that (like his ink bottle) would keep itself full, a trowel and spade, and other lovely tools. Gran also got him a moly and some leaping toadstools that she thought would amuse other boys. Neville was keep to try a bonsai version of an alihotsy tree, whose leaves could cause uncontrollable laughter if chewed. She said she would think about it for Christmas, but that bonsai trees might not survive life in a dormitory very well. Winifred asked if he might like a toad, like his Uncle Algie used to keep, but Neville declined. He felt toads belonged outside, not in. Besides, he was holding out hope for an owl.
Winifred totaled up the purchase, and Neville gulped at the sum, but Gran paid it as if it were only what she had expected to spend. Again, she sent things home magically.
"Do you like gardening?" Winifred asked as she completed the transaction.
"It's my hobby," Neville told her.
"A fine one."
He nodded. "You should plant things outside. Muggle plants, of course. Just to liven up the neighborhood a bit. I think it would make people feel better."
Winifred wrinkled her nose in expression of unmistakable distaste for some reason, then said, "Oh, it can't be done. This is London. You can't do anything without a whole sheaf of Muggle permits, and half the time around here, it would be torn up anyway. It wouldn't be a good life for the plants."
"Oh. I didn't think of that."
"Yes, well, you live in the country, far away from Muggles. It's a blessing."
Gran gave her a cold look.
"I mean," Winifred said, "to not have to deal with hiding all the time. That's all I mean."
"I should hope so," Gran said.
"I never shared my brother's politics," Winifred said, drawing herself up. "If that will be all today, Mrs. Longbottom?"
Neville didn't fail to note the change from "Augusta" to "Mrs. Longbottom." He wondered what story was there, but decided it wouldn't be wise to ask.
They left Newland Nurseries in the late afternoon and went back out onto the street. He could hear fighting in some of the flats, and once, he thought he saw the big boy and the round-faced girl from earlier stalking through the streets, away from their mother and the young man. Neville wished briefly that he could give them a bonsai alihotsy. They looked like they could do with a laugh.
Then they were back on the train, then they were in Diagon Alley and Flooing home.
The Potters joined them for Neville's birthday dinner, and Harry crowed over Neville's Hogwarts letter. ("Told you so, you git! Of course you're a wizard!") They made arrangements to meet for the rest of the shopping tomorrow, before The Birthday.
Neville Flooed to the Potters the next day, with a heavy purse from Gran in his pocket. Lily had taken the day off, and she was in the kitchen, scrambling eggs and humming to herself. Her long red hair was drawn back in a ponytail, and she fed Neville without even waiting to ask if he wanted any breakfast. She seemed to be in a fabulously good mood. James came in a few minutes later. He'd been outside flying, and also seemed in a good humor. Harry had a pile of presents to open, and he went to it with gusto. They were all piled up on a fine wooden school trunk (Neville himself would be settling for Grans old trunk, since she wanted him to have at least some family memento). He had most of the same mundane school supplies that Neville had got yesterday, plus a broom care kit, a Gryffindor scarf (everyone seemed to just make the assumption that he'd be a Gryffindor, though Lily joke that, if he got sorted into Slytherin, she would see to it that James transfigured the scarf himself), a set of Tutshill Quidditch banners, and a little plastic box that he looked at oddly.
"It's a Muggle electronic game," Lily told him, shaking her head. "I told Aunt Tuney that it wouldn't work in the house. We'll go to the Muggle park tomorrow to try it. She says Dudley loves his."
Harry twisted up his face at the little box.
Lily sighed. "Just because your cousin likes a thing doesn't mean it's not fun, Harry. You need to stop being… well, just stop. He is your cousin."
Neville had met Harry's Muggle cousin a total of once, for about forty-five minutes one Christmas. In that time, he'd been called names, held down in a wrestling hold, and threatened with a beating. It was enough exposure for a lifetime.
Notably, James didn't step in to support Lily's exhortation.
The whole family left together after breakfast. Vi insisted on holding Neville's hand as they walked through Diagon Alley, which made James and Lily laugh. Lily carried Pete on one hip, even though he seemed a bit big for it.
They went first for Potions supplies, which Lily chose for them with a quick hand, then on to Flourish and Blotts for books. The school books were placed on easy display, and they each got a stack of first year titles. A family full of redheads were gathered around the used book table. It took Neville a minute to recognize them. He didn't get out as much as the Potters did, and he'd only met them a few times at Ministry functions. Harry, on the other hand, seemed to recognize them immediately, and was glad to see them. He pointed them out to his mother.
"Oh, it's the Weasleys," Lily said. "They haven't answered yet about The Birthday." She looked at Neville and Harry. "Ron Weasley will be in your year, Neville. I thought it might be fun for all of you to get to know each other better."
"All right," Harry said. "Will Charlie be there, too?"
"I don't know if anyone will be," Lily said. "Remember? I haven't heard." She pinched his nose and rolled her eyes at him, then went over to the Weasley family.
"Molly!" she called.
The mother of the large family looked up with a smile, then blushed and moved to hide the sign that said "Discount." "Lily," she said. "How good see you. Hi, Petey!"
Pete smiled at her around the thumb he was sucking.
"I hadn't heard from you yet," Lily said, pulling Pete's thumb from his mouth with some embarrassment. "Any chance that you can make it tonight…?"
The women went on talking -- Neville thought they switched to the subject of potions to discourage thumb-sucking -- and the youngest of the boys in the group peeked around his mother and came out. "Er… hi," he said. His eyes flashed to Neville's forehead, then over at Harry. "I want to come."
"Great!" Harry said enthusiastically. "Do you fly? We have extra brooms, and I bet we could get a good game going."
"Oh, yeah," Ron Weasley said. "If we come… My brothers are beaters, and Ginny's not a half-bad flyer."
The only girl in the brood waved over at them and said, "Hi, Harry!"
He waved back.
"What about Charlie? Wasn't he going to play for England?" Harry asked.
"They asked," Ron told him. "But he wanted to play with dragons instead. He's in Romania."
Vi tugged at Neville's hand and brought him over to Ginny Weasley, looking at her with great admiration. "Hi," she said.
Ginny bent over and smiled brightly. "Hello, Violet. Have you been breaking lots of flying rules lately."
"All of them," Vi said. "Will you play with me if you come tonight?"
"Of course I will. Sisters who only have brothers have to stick together!" She held up her hand, and Vi slapped it playfully, letting go of Neville's hand to do so. He took the opportunity to wipe it off, as it had got quite sweaty.
"Are you going to Ollivander's?" Harry asked Ron. "We're headed there next."
"Er…" Ron blushed. "I, er… well, Charlie gave me his old wand."
Neville noticed the way Ron kept looking away, backing up against the used books, hiding a bag from a used robe shop.
He stepped in. "I'm jealous," he said. "I wish I had a family wand. Gran tried to find me one, but it didn't work out."
Ron smiled faintly, knowing that he was being offered a way out. He nodded.
Harry gave up the line of questioning. They fell into a short conversation about Quidditch -- Ron's older twin brothers joining in -- then Mrs. Weasley gathered her brood for their last stop, and Neville and the Potters went on to Ollivander's.
Neville had never had cause to be in this particular shop before. He wasn't old enough to carry a wand himself and Gran was perfectly satisfied with the one she'd been using since she was eleven. It was a dusty, old-fashioned sort of place, with a wand on a velvet pillow in the front window. An old man appeared from the shadows.
"Ah," he said, his voice low and strange. "The Potters. Let's have it, Lily Evans."
Lily shook her head and held out her wand. "Still the same. Willow and --"
"Unicorn tail hair. I remember." The old man looked at James. "And James Potter. Mahogany and phoenix feather. Do you still have it?"
"Never leave home without it."
"And yet, I hear a rumor that you've opened your door without it."
"Not since that particular lapse got around, I haven't. Harry and Neville are both here for their school wands, Mr. Ollivander."
"Of course." Mr. Ollivander switched his wand, and boxes started to come flying out and piling themselves up around Harry.
Pete tried to catch the boxes as they flew, and Harry, exasperated, kept taking them away and saying, "Petey, be good, all right?"
"Master Potter, start looking," Mr. Ollivander said. He turned to Neville with deep interest and lifted his fringe. "Ah. Mr. Longbottom. I remember your parents very well. Alice -- ash with dragon heartstring. A brave wand for a brave girl. But you… He looked at the scar. "I wonder…"
James put a hand on Ollivander's wrist, pulling his hand away from Neville's face. His usual good humor was absent. "Neville is a first year Hogwarts student, not a magical experiment to observe."
"Yes, yes, of course," Ollivander said, giving James a look of great annoyance. "But the wand chooses the wizard, and its choice may well take into consideration… well, all first years are, in my business, a matter of magical experimentation."
With this, he deliberately turned his attention to Harry, who was enthusiastically trying wand after wand as measuring devices snaked over him.
Neville was happy to wait while Harry worked. His results were mixed. Some wands did nothing at all. Others seemed to have utterly unintended consequences. Once, he swelled up Mr. Ollivander's nose, which caused the old man to take the wand away very quickly. Finally, he tried a willow wand like his mother's, with a core of dragon heartstring, like his father's. This wasn't a new combination. He'd tried several variants of both, with various lengths and degrees of limberness. But when he took this one, he smiled brightly, and when he brought it down, it let out a spray of sparks.
"Very good," Mr. Ollivander said, then turned to Neville. "Now, Mr. Longbottom, I've been thinking carefully about you." He pointed his wand at the shelves, and a single box came flying out from the back. He caught it easily. "Give this a try."
He handed Neville the pale colored wand inside, and Neville took it.
There was no experimentation. The wand became warm in his hand, like purring cat beneath his fingers. Neville moved it in a very slight motion, and immediately, the sparks trailed after it.
"Good work," Harry said, impressed.
"Yes," Ollivander said. "Yes, very good. That's -- "
"Holly, isn't it?" James asked coolly.
Ollivander smiled. "Yes. Holly. Holly and phoenix father. Eleven inches. It's -- "
"A fine wand," Lily finished.
"Yes," Ollivander said. "A fine wand indeed."
Neville wanted to ask what Ollivander was thinking about, but didn't. Ollivander was a strange old man, he decided, and what he wanted to say was probably strange as well. He'd find out from someone else.
They each paid for their wands, and once they were well away, Neville caught up to James, who was walking by Harry. "What was Mr. Ollivander going to say?"
"I don't know," James said.
"He's a funny old coot," James told him. "Not a bad man, per se, but not one I trust not to say anything strange. Your wand… it's a part of your life, Neville. You should get to know it for what it is, not for what Mr. Ollivander has decided it is."
"All right,'" Neville said. "I can do that."
Pete squirmed down from Lily's hip and ran forward to where they were walking. He held his arms up to Harry, who scooped him up absently and put him on his shoulders.
"I'm tall!" Pete said.
"Practically a giant," James agreed.
Harry ran ahead, leaning slightly from side to side so that Pete screamed with delight at the exciting ride.
Neville went ahead to catch up with them, and after a few minutes, Pete reached for him as well, and begged to be passed back and forth all the way back to the Leaky Cauldron, where Lily took him for the Floo back to Godric's Hollow.
They tucked their new purchases away as soon as they got back. Neville kept his in their bags, and Harry put his own into his brand new school trunk. There was no time to go through the books or try the wands, though.
There was, after all, a party to plan.