Black and Blue
James was still in line at the bakery when they found him. He raised his eyebrows.
"Nothing?" he asked.
"Got in a fight," Harry said, and held up his glasses.
Neville explained the situation, figuring that Harry would try to embellish it. "And so, we couldn't go in," he finished. "Just… had to find you."
"Neville skipped the part where he made a tree attack them," Harry said.
"I didn't. That was the tree."
"Yes. Plane trees are known for that." Harry grinned. "Told you you'd be coming to Hogwarts." He held out his specs. "Dad… my glasses?"
James took the glasses and tapped them with his wand lazily. It was a spell he'd obviously done hundreds of times. "And it was the Malfoy boy? He was actually going on -- in public -- about your mother's blood status."
James made a kind of harsh, hissing sound, then said, "Harry, don't get into fights. Neville, you either. There ends your lecture."
They reached the counter, and the woman behind it handed James a large box, for which he traded a handful of coins. He peeked under it, then did a quick spell. It disappeared.
Harry frowned. "Why not just have it delivered? Don't they do that?"
"In houses a bit less secure than ours," James said. "I don't let anything in until I've checked it."
"Isn't the war over?" Neville asked. "I mean, isn't that why…?" He touched his fringe, over the scar.
"If Lucius Malfoy's son is directing Crabbe's and Goyle's sons to attack people on the basis of blood status, I'd have to say not," James said, with uncharacteristic gravity. Then he forced his face into a grin. "Come on. Let's grab lunch. Mum couldn't make it, but Sirius is going to join us."
Harry let out an unfeigned cheer. Sirius Black was his godfather, his idol, and his absolute favorite human being. Neville himself admired Sirius, but the man made him nervous. He was…
Well, he was Sirius Black. He'd won a seat on the Wizengamot by promising voters that he would make meetings more amusing, and he'd kept the promise for five years now. He was manic and loud and wasn't always careful about how he treated people.
But Neville didn't complain. At the very least, lunch ought to be interesting.
The three of them wound through the streets of Diagon Alley until they came to the archway that led to the Leaky Cauldron.
It didn't take long to figure out where Sirius Black was. Neville couldn't see the man himself, but there was a knot of witches and wizards in the back, many of them laughing uproariously. From inside it, he could hear the quick, sharp voice of Harry's godfather. James rolled his eyes and put his hands on the boys' shoulders to lead them through the crowd.
"…and so I said, 'Dolores, if you ban every ghoul in England, how will you ever find another date?' and she said…" The crowd parted and Sirius broke off the story, laughing. "James! You're early. And Harry and Neville!"
Neville's heart sank. The crowd turned away from Sirius and stared at him, peering intently at his face, at the magically thickened fringe. He heard them whispering.
"The boy who --"
"He who must not -- "
"-- really him?"
"-- doesn't look like much -- "
Sirius winced, but didn't call any more attention to Neville by apologizing. He just cleared a path to the table and directed Neville to the inside, near the wall. While they settled in, he closed off his various conversations and shooed people politely away. When they were gone, he did a quick spell of some kind.
"What does that do?" Harry asked.
"Just a minor distraction spell. We'll have to call the server now, or she'll forget we exist, just like the rest of the room." He smiled. "So, what are we doing for The Birthday?"
"Oh, I thought we'd skip it," James said. "They're outgrowing it."
"We are not," Harry said. "Same as always. What happened in the Wizengamot today?"
Sirius shrugged. "Not much. Boring stuff. There's a debate about returning things we got during the Empire."
"Things like what?" Neville asked.
"Oh, artifacts. Ghosts. A few gardens, unplottable places… it's dull. And we should repatriate it to whatever countries it came from." He considered this. "Except for ghosts. We should ask the ghosts where they want to be."
"Are you going to play a joke soon?" Harry asked, bored.
"I'm thinking about it. What do you think, James? Could I keep them tied up for a week debating whether or not to pardon Darth Vader?"
"Who's that?" Neville asked.
"A character in a Muggle film," James said. "It'll take them six weeks before anyone admits that no one knows who they're debating about."
"That's what I'm thinking," Sirius said. "He's got the mask, he's got the black robes. If I just say that he did end up dying to save Luke, they'll all pretend that they know who Luke was -- just like they all pretended to know who Peter was -- and what Vader did, and they'll all have strong opinions on the matter of his stay in Azkaban. I'll tell the truth as soon as it hits the Prophet." He smiled. "Or maybe I'll just hex everyone's hats to start switching heads in the middle of the next debate. That would keep my campaign promise, too."
Neville imagined all the dignified witches and wizards on the Wizengamot chasing their fancy hats around the Department of Mysteries while Sirius Black sat back in his chair, laughing and laughing. It was funny, but also disquieting. Neville, as far as he could tell, had no more sense of humor than he did magical talent, and the manic energy of Harry's dad and his friends -- and of Harry himself, to be honest -- sometimes scared him a little, though he would never admit this. It was just a little bit too wild, like, at any minute, they'd turn into howler monkeys and chase him around. (And yes, he was afraid of howler monkeys. He supposed that his parents would be very disappointed. They'd gone head to head with Lord Voldemort to save his life, and he got nervous about primates in the Muggle zoo.)
"I like the hats," James said. "Funnier visuals, and it'll waste less time."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "You're getting responsible in your old age."
"Almost respectable," James said. "Also, Lily wants the Wizengamot to get to the Unplottables. The Aurors in general do."
"I know," Sirius said. "I hear about it every day. Then half the time, I go over to 'Dromeda's place for supper, and Dora's talking about it. All right, then, it'll be hats."
They continued in this vein for a while whilst they ate their lunches. Neville couldn't think of anything good to contribute, so he stayed quiet. Harry didn't push him, but always made sure to include him when he was looking around. It was an old routine, and Neville was comfortable with it.
It wasn't until after pudding that Sirius asked, out of nowhere, "So, when are we all wand-shopping?"
"On my birthday," Harry said. "Neville will get his Hogwarts letter the day before I do -- "
"Sometimes, they send them early," James said.
"Only if they think there will be trouble getting through," Sirius pointed out. "Moony's in charge of the early letters. Mostly Muggle-borns. People whose parents need a little explaining. That does not include Harry and Neville. They should get theirs for their birthdays."
"Mine probably won't," Neville muttered.
"Ha!" Harry shook his head. "Neville can control trees. He's way more magical than me."
Neville didn't say anything. He knew it wasn't true, even if he did have some magic.
"Well," Sirius said, "don't fuss too much about Ollivander's sermons about wands choosing wizards. I broke four wands during the war, and it was never any different when I got a new one."
James snorted. "Except when you couldn't do a simple Accio with that ash wand. Or transfigure anything with the chestnut wand."
"True." James looked at Neville and Harry. "Sirius doesn’t like mysticism. But you notice he's carrying Phineas Nigellus's wand these days."
"I like the style," Sirius said, holding up his wand and admiring himself in the shiny black surface.
Neville knew almost nothing about the subject. Gran had told him that she wished he could have had his father's wand, but it was destroyed in the attack, as had his mother's. Uncle Algie's had not been particularly powerful. Gran, like Sirius, did not believe Ollivander's maxim about new wands for every wizard. ("It's a bit of a convenient philosophy, for a wand salesman," she'd once sniffed disdainfully.)
When no one had anything to say to this, Sirius pulled on his fine cloak. "So," he said, "what are we to do for the great occasion, if you weren't able to get into Gambol and Japes?"
"We've still got a few days," Harry said. "We can still get in."
"Only if you don't mind your brother and sister along," James said. "Moony's getting ready for the school year, too, and your mum already pulled strings to get The Birthday off in the middle of a case."
Harry made a face, but shrugged and said, "Fine."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "What've they got her on, anyway? Dora's always in a rush when I see her at Ted and Andromeda's."
"Who's Dora?" Neville asked.
"My cousin. My cousin's daughter, actually." Sirius thought about it. "Which is still my cousin… somehow."
"Once removed," Neville offered.
"I never remember that." Sirius shook his head. "Anyway, what are they doing? I'm starting to think Lily's taking advantage of an impressionable apprentice."
"Of course she is. She's not stupid." James grinned, then shrugged. "She can't tell me all of it. Someone attacked old Flamel last month. Tried to steal the secret of his youth and beauty."
Sirius frowned, looking graver than Neville would think normal for this. "Flamel… we are talking about Dumbledore's friend?"
James nodded. "The… it's been put somewhere safe, but there's a lot of scrambling going on. And Lily says a good bit of paranoia."
"What else is new in the Ministry?" Sirius grumbled, but didn't comment further. He forced a smile, then said, "At any rate, I'd best get back to the salt mines. Actually, I'd prefer salt mines. As it is, I have to go back and argue more with Dolores Umbridge about the merpeople. She's still looking for a back door bar all 'semi-humans' from Hogwarts."
James didn't say anything to this, though his expression didn't leave much to the imagination. Harry was also fuming.
It took Neville a minute to figure it out. He'd always known the Potters and their friends. He and Harry had spent the last war crawling around the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix together, knocking over potions cauldrons if the photos were to be believed. But Gran hadn't been involved in their biggest fight after the war, and because of that, Neville didn't automatically think of it. As far as he was concerned, Professor Remus Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, was just Remus, or, as Harry and his family called him, "Moony." Neville knew in a vague way that he was a werewolf. It had been splashed all over the news four years ago, when Dumbledore had hired him. Neville didn't remember much of it, only that there was a new potion, and there had been arguments in front of the Wizengamot, and that ultimately, he'd been allowed to stay at Hogwarts. He had given lessons to both Harry and Neville when they were young (Latin and history; Gran had taught them maths and reading), and the werewolf issue had just never seemed to come up. Apparently, for some people, it was a going concern.
This had never occurred to Neville at all.
They said goodbye to Sirius, who pretended that he needed to be dragged out, even conjuring little chains around his wrists that rattled ahead of him as he went back to the Department of Mysteries.
James sighed. "Well, I'd best get the cake home. Neville, do you want to come by? Your grandmother told me you could stay for supper if you liked. We'd love to have you."
"We could play Quidditch," Harry suggested. "You can use my broom, and I'll borrow Dad's new one."
"Ha," James said. "We'll give Neville your mum's old broom and then I'll take on the pair of you."
Neville gave a hopeless groan.
Harry sighed melodramatically and shook his head. "Maybe you should teach Neville to fly first."
And that was how they ended up spending the afternoon.
They Flooed back to the Potters' cottage at Godric's Hollow. There was a cheerful arbor out front, overgrown with ivy (it really needed to be pruned, but Neville let it be, since it wasn't his garden). A hand-painted sign identified the place as "The Crow's Nest," the latest in a series of names that, in Neville's memory, had included "The Stag's Brace," "The Lilypad," "The Harry Eyeball," "Violet Patch," and "Pete's Pitch."
James stopped to look at the sign. "Huh. That's new. Sounds like Moony."
"I like it," Harry said. "It's a pirate thing, right?"
"Marauder," James said, and smiled.
"What's a marauder?" Harry asked.
"You'll find out when I give you your birthday present," James said, and would say no more, though Harry begged quite unreasonably.
The went into the back garden, which had been growing for years inside its charmed walls, and was now as big as a Quidditch practice pitch. Lupin had rigged up some kind of pirate game. Violet Potter, seven years old, was wearing an eyepatch and swinging as high as she could while standing on a garden swing. Her long, messy black hair streamed out behind her. She'd made a crown of the bluebells that grew in great profusion in the garden, and it looked like bits of day sky strewn into the black of midnight. Four-year-old Pete Potter (never called "Peter Potter" because, as Harry never failed to point out, that sounded ridiculous) was on top of some sort of Conjured fort with a slide coming down from it. He had a dull plastic sword in one hand and a toy wand in the other. A patterned scarf was tied over his head, so his bright red hair stuck out in tufts underneath it.
He raised the toy wand as soon as he saw them and yelled, "Accio Neville!"
Then, fearlessly, he jumped from the top of the fort, flinging himself out.
Neville ran forward, begging himself not to trip as he did so, and stuck out his arms.
Pete struck him with less force than he expected, and Neville guessed that either James or Lupin had controlled his flight through air. It was still a pretty solid hit, and it knocked Neville backward to the ground. Pete sat on his chest and said, "Got you!"
Harry hauled him up and said, "Don't jump on my friends, Pete."
Pete stuck his tongue out.
Harry stuck his back.
A minute later, Vi vaulted herself off the top of the swing's arc and came flying through the air. This time Neville saw James aim his wand at her and guide her to the ground. "Honestly," he said to Lupin, picking her up and throwing her on his back. "I have no idea where my children get this endless need to go flying through the air."
"Must be from Lily," Lupin said, then thought about it. "Actually, I think that was from Lily. Didn't she say she used to do that?"
James straightened Vi's bluebell crown and kissed her nose. "They all come by it honestly enough from either of us."
"So, shouldn't we share?" Harry suggested, and from that moment, the afternoon became a flying lesson for Neville.
James Potter had a full collection of brooms, and he put them up in order of how fast and how safe they were. Neville was one step slower and safer than Pete at the beginning. James and Harry spent a lot of time demonstrating, but Neville didn't get anything out of it until Lupin called him down and explained -- "in actual words," as he said to James, frustrated -- what they were doing and how it was supposed to work.
Nothing really made Neville into a good flyer, but he did graduate to the broom Vi started the afternoon with, one that James said would have made a respectable school broom.
Vi herself had made the transition to a higher level, but it was only one above Neville's. She sat on it cheerfully, making it swing back and forth like a pendulum. Her flower crown was falling off again, and Neville reached across to straighten it. More bluebells seemed to open when he arranged it, but that was probably just a question of them coming out from under her hair. The plants were dead, after all; it wasn't like they were going to keep growing.
Vi blushed very red, then flew her broomstick away.
Neville frowned, then looked over his shoulder, where James and Lupin were laughing. Harry put a finger down his throat and feigned gagging.
Neville let his broomstick sink to the ground. It was getting late, anyway, and it was time to start helping James Potter make supper.