The Birthday was something like a bank holiday, as far as the families were concerned.
Sure, it was technically in honor of Harry's and Neville's birthdays, but really, it was generally a warm summer day, a long night, and an excuse for a long, leisurely picnic, with games and music and flying around in the even-more-expanded-than-usual back garden.
Gran got in around four o'clock, bearing a picnic basket that everyone dipped into during the preparations. Sirius Black came with a woman Neville had never seen before (and, judging by experience with previous guests, would never see again). She had a gloomy son with her, who disappeared to shop in town before he could be called on for preparation help. They brought a wizarding tent that set up easily under the elm tree, but opened up inside to a hall big enough to house a Muggle disco. Sirius, in fact, hung a mirrored ball from one of the rafters. The woman Conjured something that looked like a Muggle record player, though Neville supposed it worked on magic.
A contingent came from Hogwarts together -- Remus Lupin, the huge gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, and the ancient Potions master, Horace Slughorn. Hagrid brought a unicorn foal which Vi Potter declared the most important creature in attendance, and Neville had to admit, it didn't look like it was here against its will. She forgot entirely about Neville as she devoted herself to it, which was fine with Neville. The Weasleys came at six on the dot to see if any help was needed with the set-up, and Lily set Molly to work getting the food table together (she had brought a pot of stew and a huge box of biscuits) while she herself set up the lighting. Ginny immediately made her way over to Vi and the unicorn foal, and that was the last Neville saw of her for quite a while.
Neville found himself in a circle of redheaded boys who wanted to see his scar, though their comments on it boiled down to, "Whoa, it's real." After that business was taken care of, they seemed to forget about it, and everyone talked about Hogwarts houses and Quidditch teams and what the hard classes were. Harry and Neville were required at several points to produce their wands for guests to admire.
Just before the party officially began at seven, a young witch in scarlet robes Apparated in and promptly tripped over her own feet offering to help Molly. The eldest Weasley boy in attendance, Percy, somberly greeted her as "Miss Tonks," asking her how her post-school life had been. She grinned sideways and said, "In the six weeks I've been out, I've become an entirely different person, Mr. Weasley, if you please." She rolled her eyes extravagantly, then spotted the actual Mr. Weasley -- a ministry worker who was apparently at least a little chummy with Lily, who was currently involved in stringing some distraction spells to prevent airborne Muggles from noticing anything -- and yelled, "Wotcher, Arthur! Need a hand with that?"
"I'm fine, Nymphadora!" he called back.
From three different parts of the garden, James, Sirius, and Lupin yelled, "Don't call her Nymphadora!"
She looked up, startled, in Lupin's direction, then blushed madly and went off to help Mr. Weasley.
"What's that about?" Harry asked, mystified.
The Weasley twins laughed. "Reckon she's just thinking of how much he helped her get ready for her apprenticeship," one of them said (Neville had no idea which was which).
"Yeah," the other said, "she was always greatly interested in Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Percy frowned. "Professor Lupin's behavior is impeccable, and you both know it."
"We weren't talking about him," a twin said. "He's fine."
The other snorted laughter. "It's not his fault he's got a little fan club following him around. I think Tonks was the president."
"She's an Auror now," Percy said.
"She's an apprentice."
"She has legal authority to arrest you."
The twin gave a snort. "She's still Tonks. She'd probably use the laughing powder she used to feed Charlie." He turned to Neville and Harry. "Everyone thought Tonks and Charlie were a thing, but they mostly just pranked each other. Hope the pair of you are ready to join in. We lost two good pranksters when they left."
Harry nodded enthusiastically, and started asking questions about what sort of pranks they pulled, and how much trouble they got in for it.
Neville didn't care much about pranks, and didn't think he'd be very good at them, so he decided to mingle before Gran came over and ordered him to do so for the sake of manners.
Many more people had arrived since the last time he'd looked around, and for a minute, he was nearly frozen. There were too many. He wanted to run inside, maybe catch his breath in kitchen, but it was very possible that there were people there. The toilet, maybe. At least they let you close the door there.
But he didn't hide.
He started moving through the crowd, saying his hellos, pretending to know people who waved to him. The Potters seemed to have invited a good number of families with eleven-year-olds. Hannah Abbott and the Patil twins, who weren't usually in Harry's circles, were over near the unicorn. Neville spent a few minutes with them. Vi was still obsessed with the creature, and seemed to know a lot about it. She was in charge of Pete for the moment, and he was listening to her with rapt attention. Even the older girls were respectful, though they seemed almost as prone to fawning over Pete as over the animal.
Ernie Macmillan, who wasn't a regular in Neville's life, but with whom he'd once spent a pleasant afternoon talking about astronomy, was currently trying to engage Sirius Black in a conversation about the day's proceedings at the Wizengamot (about which he had been reading in the Daily Prophet, and seemed to have more information than Sirius did). The young woman Tonks had apparently got over her nervousness, because she and Lupin were having an animated conversation about how the Aurors ought to handle deliberate curse-spreading. James and several other adults were zipping around overhead on brooms (Neville had the odd idea that one of them was Minerva McGonagall, the Transfiguration professor, but that couldn't be right).
The Changs, whose daughter was a year older than Neville, were at a picnic table with Bones family, whose daughter, Susan, had been a playmate of Harry's and Neville's when they were all small, but who had spent time abroad and come back after the girl business started making a difference. She was still nice, but she never joined them on their regular days. She waved cheerfully, and Neville waved back.
He spent a little while with Blaise Zabini, a boy who seemed to find the whole business of attending school distasteful (his mother was the woman Sirius had brought; Neville wasn't sure when he'd got back from his "errands" in town). After he made his excuses, he moved on and talked to an old man named Mundungus, and then to a tall, pretty woman named Miss Vance. Keeping track of which grown-ups liked their first names and which ones wanted titles and last names was about as much as his memory could stand.
He'd lost track of everyone by the time he finished his rounds. Sometimes he hated charms. It shouldn't have been possible to lose track of anyone in the Potters' back garden. But the impromptu Quidditch game had ended, and Neville could no longer see any of the people he knew at all well.
He considered finding another stranger to talk to, but his throat closed up in protest, and he decided he'd forced himself through enough of it. He spotted the tent, and figured it would be a perfectly good place for Harry to decide to bring the others. He ducked inside.
It wasn't as crowded as he'd thought it might be. People were enjoying the nice weather outside. He didn't see Harry and the others on the upper balconies that the tent opened onto, so he went down a staircase toward a shadowy little alcove.
It didn't solve where Harry had got to, but now he could see the adults he knew. It was some kind of bar, he guessed. Lily and Lupin were sitting on high stools while James stood behind a counter, pouring drinks. Sirius was milling about as well, and Tonks was actually sitting on a table.
Neville started to go over -- he was fine spending time with adults -- but before they noticed him, he heard Tonks say, "…gave up the Longbottoms?"
Neville froze, standing in a deep shadow under the stairs.
The adults were quiet for a second, then Lily said. "Yes. It's true. He did."
"I still don't understand what they think they'll get out of him at this late date," James said. "The damage is done. He's told everything he means to tell."
"He is why you're alive," Lily said through clenched teeth.
"He gets no points for that, since he set Voldemort on Frank and Alice instead."
"I don't mean he should get points for it. Just that… talking to him can be complicated."
"I still don't understand what happened," Tonks said. "He wasn't very clear during the interviews."
"Then maybe the Ministry should stop using bloody Dementors," Lupin said. "You can't get anything from anyone who's been around them for long."
"What's to get? He doesn't know anything." Sirius grimaced. "As far as we can tell," he told Tonks, "Voldemort figured out that our friend, Peter Pettigrew, was Lily and James's secret keeper. There was a prophecy about a boy born at the end of July. That's why we always interview old Snivelly at the end of July and Halloween. Maybe one of these years, it'll shake loose what he knows about how… well. You know what happened at the Garden."
"I know that Voldemort changed his mind and went after little Neville."
"Right," James said. "The first plan was apparently Harry. God knows why; we never did. The whole thing hinged on Voldemort marking the child as an equal, so why not just… avoid marking either of them? If I were Voldemort, that's what I'd have done. Just don't bloody mark anyone and poof, no prophecy."
"Sweetheart," Lily said, "if you were Voldemort, we'd have settled the whole thing with a Quidditch match."
"And wouldn't that have been infinitely more civilized?" James sighed. "At any rate, even though all the signs said Voldemort was planning to go for Harry, we didn't take any chances. The Longbottoms went into hiding as well. Algie was their Secret Keeper. Peter was a dangerous choice for us. And more dangerous for himself. We never should have chosen him while he was that deep inside."
"We'd fabricated a row," Lupin put in. "Peter was always a bit on the outside, or seemed to be to other people. So he pretended to be a traitor. No one would imagine that we'd make a traitor the Secret Keeper."
"No one except Snape, anyway," Sirius said. "Snape knew Peter wouldn't betray us. He convinced Voldemort of it, and Voldemort decided to torture Peter to give up the information. Peter held out for hours. He never broke. We got in there and dragged him out before they could kill him. But he's… you've seen him at St. Mungo's."
Tonks nodded. "Why didn't they… I mean, Fidelius is broken when the Secret Keeper dies, so why bother with… with what they did?"
"Because there can be more layers to it. He probably wanted to know if he'd need to break another Secret Keeper." Sirius shrugged. "Or, he just enjoyed it. That was always a possibility with Voldemort."
"We don't know that Sev gave Peter up," Lily said.
"Oh, who else?"
"Anyone who knew the four of you." Lily held up her glass, and James refilled it with a flick of his wand. "We know he didn't want to kill me."
"The rest of us were expendable," James grumbled.
"No one's nominating him for sainthood," Lily said, then turned to Tonks. "We don't know exactly what transpired when we got Peter out of there. Severus has never been entirely clear on the subject. The best we've been able to piece together is that Voldemort wanted to attack Peter again and kill him -- probably because of what you suggested, that it would simply break the spell and he could look for us like normal people -- but Severus somehow… er…"
"Reminded him that there was always another baby to kill," Sirius finished. "Not to put too fine a point on it. Why not take care of both of them? Get a little warm-up in by murdering the Longbottoms."
"I doubt that was the thought process," Lupin said. "Frank and Alice had already kicked him in the teeth three times. They rescued Sophie Prewett, they'd got the Patil twins out of that trap -- remember that? -- and they'd broken his Imperius Curse on the Chief Warlock. I doubt he approached them lightly."
"And do you think that if he'd managed to kill Neville, he wouldn't have killed Peter at St. Mungo's, then come marching straight to this door to kill Harry, too?" Sirius summoned a bottle from behind the bar and drank straight from it. "We should have put a heavier guard on Frank and Alice after we got Peter out."
"We thought that the fact that he went after Peter meant that he'd settled on… where he wanted to go." Lily looked down. "And Dumbledore thought that Severus had…"
"Had turned spy over you," James said. "Apparently, Dumbledore forgot that you were the only one he cared about."
"We don't know what happened," Lily said.
"Well, something bloody well changed Voldemort's mind, and Snape knows what it was, even if it wasn't him, and he's not in a rush to tell us," Sirius said. He looked at Tonks. "We should have gone straight over. Never take anything for granted, no matter what it looks like."
In the shadows, Neville took a step back and leaned against the wall. In a minute or two, he'd managed to hear more about what really happened that night than he'd got from Gran in eleven years. He had no real memory of it, just the scent of the heather he'd been found in. He'd known there'd been some kind of betrayal, and that Harry's little brother was named for the man who'd been tortured into madness that night, but he'd never heard any other names, and had no idea what to make of the rest of it.
For a moment -- just a moment -- he thought about marching right up and saying, "Will someone tell me the rest of this?" But he didn't. Partly, he was just nervous about demanding a story they hadn't told. Mostly, a very big part of him didn't want to know.
Before it could go any further, he backed into the shadow, and sneaked back up the stairs.
He was barely outside when a broom swooped down and Harry said, "There you are! Been looking all over for you. Hagrid went back to Hogwarts and brought back a Crup puppy. Want to see?"
It could have been you, Neville thought. You could be on your own, and I could have a whole big family, and a little brother and sister, and a godfather on the Wizengamot.
But the thought didn't bring any anger or jealousy. He didn't begrudge Harry his life; he just wished they both could have had it.
So, instead of going off to consider what he'd heard, he followed Harry, who flew low, just hovering over the ground, back to the temporary paddock that Hagrid had made by pushing picnic tables into a square.
Neville didn't know Hagrid as well as his grandmother did (or had claimed to yesterday), but he was a familiar enough presence -- a huge man with bushy black hair and twinkling eyes. He'd got kicked out of Hogwarts when he was a kid, but Neville didn't know why, and gathered that it would be rude to ask. In one giant hand, he held what almost looked like a regular puppy, but it had a forked tail.
"This one's just a bit of thing," he said. "Wizengamot says the tail will have to go in a month or so."
"Why?" the Chang girl, Cho, asked. "It's so cute!" She reached over and scratched between its ears.
"Yeah, but if you're going to have it around Muggles and all, it needs to look like what they know."
"So keep him at Hogwarts!" Ginny Weasley protested. "We'd all visit."
"You're not there until next year," one of the twins said.
"Well, I'll visit then, and you can visit until!" Ginny reached over and scratched the puppy's belly. "It just doesn't seem right to cut him up."
"Well, I reckon maybe I could ask about it. Kettleburn wants to teach things like that -- yeh know, about right and wrong when it comes to interestin' creatures. Maybe the Ministry wouln' mind havin' one just at Hogwarts."
"How come we couldn't have one for a pet, like an owl or a cat?" Harry asked, dismounting his broom and holding it up beside him like a post to lean on. "It could guard a room or something."
"Well, that's the problem," Hagrid said. "Crups are a little aggressive. Mostly around Muggles, but I've heard tell of them going after things that Muggle-borns bring from home."
Harry stood back, wrinkling his nose. "Oh."
"Well, it ain't their fault, is it?" Hagrid said indignantly. "No more than unicorns not liking boys much. It's the way we've bred 'em up, and it's nothin' to be holding against the creatures. It takes a few generations breed that out."
The Crup seemed to have lost some of its charm for several of them, whatever Hagrid said. Ginny gave it a strained smile, then went back to the unicorn. Cho Chang didn't seem to know what to do. The Weasley twins gave each other a frustrated look.
Neville reached in and scratched the thing's belly, making its hind legs go around and around in delight while its forked tail wagged madly. It didn't have a choice. Hagrid was right about that. It wasn't like person who might choose to send a dark wizard after a baby, after all.
Harry sighed. "Well, maybe he can play with that thing Aunt Tuney sent. Looks like it would put up with a bit of rough handling."
"There you are," Hagrid said. "That's the spirit."
Neville held out his hands, and Hagrid gave him the Crup, which didn't seem even a little bit hostile. Then again, Neville was a pure-blood wizard, and had met about six Muggles in his life… if you counted the little family he'd seen yesterday in Whitechapel.
Then again, the Crup also didn't have any trouble with Lily Potter when she came up five minutes later, and she was Muggle-born. She told Harry to give it the game his aunt had sent, and it didn't have any response to that, either.
"It's learned," Lily said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "Like anything else, it's learned. Now, let's give the poor thing a burger. Has anyone bothered feeding it?"
No one had, and once Lily had given permission of sorts, everyone started flocking in to fuss of the puppy again, except for the girls who'd returned to the unicorn.
After a while, it evidenced a need to be taken for a walk, and Lupin suggested that the "birthdays" ought to start contributing to the general welfare, which was probably a ploy to give Neville some breathing room. Lily did a quick spell to hide the tail, and James Conjured a lead. (Sirius expressed great offense at this for reasons that apparently made sense to the others, as they laughed heartily.) Harry took the lead and headed out; Neville followed.
It was a warm, dampish night that wanted to rain but wasn't going to. Neville could smell the water in the air. It was hard to think of what to talk about, as they couldn't very well talk about Hogwarts while they were passing under Muggle windows. But they'd walked these cobbled streets many times over the years as shadows descended and the mixed world of Godric's Hollow breathed and danced around them.
Harry led the way past the pubs and offices, the old cottages, the closed shops. He turned up the street that led to the play park, and let the Crup do its business in the grass near the swings. Pulling a plastic bag from his pocket, he said, "Can't wait until we can just…" He flicked his hand irritably at the pile of dirt and made motion as if to vanish it.
Neville nodded and went to the swings. He sat down carefully, as, more than once, he'd missed the seat here and ended up in the mud. He swayed a little bit. Harry sat down in the swing beside him, letting the Crup pull him back and forth a little.
"What's up with you?" he asked.
"You're walking around like a funeral."
"Oh." Neville dug his toe into the ground and made the swing sway side to side. "I just… I went looking for everyone earlier and…"
He told Harry what he'd heard the adults talking about. He didn't figure he'd tell anyone else, but as Harry was just as wrapped up in it, it seemed fair.
"I remember something that," he said. "I mean, they always said it could have been me, too." He glanced over, shame-faced. "Er, sorry."
"For… not getting killed?"
"It does sound stupid when you put it like that."
Neville shrugged. "It's not important. I just wondered if you ever heard them."
Harry didn't answer right away. He pushed the swing back and forth and looked up at the sky, where the stars were blurry in the humid night. Finally he said, "I know Dad and Sirius hate Snape, and Lupin doesn't like him much -- Lupin doesn't really hate people, you know? He says it takes too much energy and doesn't have it to spare."
"Anyway, I guess Mum was Snape's friend before he went Death Eater. Aunt Tuney knew him, too. They're all from Spinner's End. Not that I've ever been. Mum says there's nothing there now, with my grandparents gone, and Aunt Tuney says there never was anything there, and…" He twisted the swing so the chains crossed, then let them go. The swing moved violently back and forth. The Crup seemed to like the whipsawing lead, chasing it and pouncing on it. Harry waited for the motion to calm a little, then said, "Lupin once said something about Dad and Sirius making it pretty easy for Snape to join the other side. And Dad said that Snape was halfway there already, and anyway, it didn't matter, because he made the bad call. And then Mum yelled at them to stop talking about it. I'm pretty sure it was ugly. I don't know where your parents came into it."
"I don't, either."
"Except everyone thought it was about Mum… except for Voldemort. He thought it was about you."
"Or you," Neville, said.
"Or me," Harry agreed, staring at his feet in the loose dirt under the swings.
But he could never stay down for long. He rolled his eyes and handed Neville the Crup's lead, then he started kicking until the swing went high into the sky, the same way Vi was riding the one back at the Potters' yesterday. And the height of the arc, he flung himself off. He hovered just a bit longer than he probably should have, but there was no one to see it. He came down in a roll, and the Crup, delighted at the game, bounded over to him at the far reach of the lead and jumped on top of him, licking his face and making urgent little yipping sounds until both of them were laughing.
They headed home a few minutes later, laughing and joking and ignoring indignant shouts from upper windows to "Quiet down, will you?"
When they got back to the house, many of the guests had left, including the Weasleys and the Patils. Healer Chang was helping Lily get the mess organized for cleaning, and the Abbots were gathering up their things. Gran insisted that Neville make the rounds for thank yous and goodbyes, tutting about his having disappeared so late, but she knew he'd been allowed out.
Hagrid and Lupin were getting the animals ready to go back, and Harry jerked his head in that direction. Neville followed.
"Do you just…?" Harry pantomimed pointing a wand at the animals.
"Live creatures don't travel all that well that way," Lupin said. "There's a spell. It's related to the Portkey spell, but a bit less jarring for the animals. It takes them to their stalls."
"Can't I say goodnight?" Vi asked, yawning and coming up. Pete was sound asleep on top of the table. "Please, Moony!"
"Go ahead," he said.
Vi went to the unicorn and kissed its nose. "I'll be your very best friend when I come to Hogwarts," she said. "I promise."
Harry clapped for the Crup, and it came over to him. He handed it to Hagrid. "Guess I'll see you in a month or so," he told both of them."
"Right you are. Don't you be causing me trouble, though!" Hagrid added with a grin.
Lupin had finished whatever he was doing, and he tapped the unicorn's bridle. It faded away. Hagrid apparently couldn't do the spellwork himself, because Lupin did a similar spell on him. Soon, it was just the family, and then Gran led Neville to the fireplace, and a few minutes later, the Birthday was over.