Written to fufill a Fan the Vote request from Lillian.|
Many thanks to Luthien and Gaeta for beta'ing!
Payment in Kind
With fifteen years experience as an Auror under her belt, there was no question about Professor Arnold's qualifications to teach Defense at Hogwarts. However, that didn't mean that the D.A. classes Harry'd started two years earlier had been cancelled. After Umbridge's unlamented departure, Headmaster Dumbledore had given his blessing to the continuation of the extra Defense classes, with the understanding that they be open to students from all houses. Harry readily agreed, but not a single student from Slytherin expressed any interest in joining the weekend sessions - at least not within earshot of any non-Slytherins.
Leaning against the wall in the Room of Requirement and panting a little, Neville took a big gulp of cold pumpkin juice, then wiped his face with the cloth that appeared on the bench beside him. Apart from Harry, there really weren't any students who were a match for him in Defense these days, but he'd been letting pairs of Third Years take turns having a go at him for an hour now, and he was starting to feel a little knackered.
He sat down on the bench and closed his eyes for a second, opening them again to find a trio of tiny Hufflepuffs looking at him with hopeful expressions on their faces.
Sir? Neville tried not to laugh, but he couldn't keep a smile off his face as he shook his head. "Sorry. I'm all done in for today. How about tomorrow, first thing?"
The boys looked disappointed, but they nodded, then wandered back to where Seamus and Ginny were demonstrating entirely Muggle-looking hex dodging techniques, although Seamus's demonstration became more an example of "do as I say, not as I do" when he dodged the wrong way and fell over a chair. As the class erupted in laughter, Neville slipped out the door. Maybe a walk in the gardens would wake him up a little.
As Neville turned onto the path between the greenhouse and the Forbidden Forest, Professor Sprout's kneazle darted out from beneath the hedge and blocked his way. Neville tried to walk around the animal, but the kneazle yowled and clawed at his robe with one of its front paws.
Neville frowned. "What's the matter, Mister Fezziwig?" he asked. Something was wrong. Madame Sprout's familiar had never acted this way before.
The kneazle turned its head and looked back the way it had come, before slinking off toward the castle.
Neville let his wand slip into his hand from the sleeve of his robe, then edged slowly and quietly through the break in the hedge.
". . . not so tough when your father's not available to fight your battles for you, are you?"
Three Slytherins - Bellows, Sinclair, and that nasty little Sixth Year, Merden - were standing in a half-circle, wands drawn. Lying face down on the cold ground, one of Sinclair's dragon-hide boots planted in the middle of his back, was Draco Malfoy. His wand - what Neville assumed must be his wand - was leaning against one of the new Japanese maple trees, far out of the reach of Draco's outstretched arm.
"If it's money you're interested in, you're out of luck." Draco's voice was hoarse. "The Gringotts well is temporarily . . . dry. Perhaps you could get a few galleons by renting out your mother by the hour, Bellows. Rumour has it she has some minor talent in that area."
Bellows kicked him in the ribs once - hard - then once more for good measure. Draco tried to reach around and grab at Bellows' boot, but Sinclair stepped on Draco's hand.
"Shut your mouth, Malfoy," Bellows hissed. "Before somebody accidentally kicks your teeth right down your throat"
Neville winced. He had to do something, and he had to do it now. It was just barely possible that he could take on all three of the Sytherins at the same time and win - after all, none of them was exactly known for their dueling talents - but to have any real chance, the fight would have to be a fair one, and the one thing he could count on was that any duel with these three would not be fair.
He took a deep breath, then stepped out into the clearing and said in a loud voice, "Hello, Headmaster Dumbledore!"
The three Slytherins whirled around, mouths gaping wide open when the realization dawned on them that they'd been taken in by a Gryffindor. Neville raised his wand and called out Expelliarmus! three times in rapid succession. One after another, the Slytherin boys were thrown back, each one landing on his arse, as their wands flew through the air into Neville's open hand.
"Get out of here," he said. "Go and crawl back into your dungeons before I do get the Headmaster."
Merden and Sinclair took off instantly, but Bellows held back, a wary expression on his face. "What about our wands?" he asked, sullenly.
Neville slid the three wands into a pocket in his robes. "They'll be on the Slytherin table before dinner."
Bellows nodded, then with a final kick at Draco's leg, he followed the other two back to the castle.
Neville watched as Draco sat up, brushed dried leaves out of his hair, then looked around a little anxiously.
"If you're looking for your wand," Neville said quietly, "it's over there by the tree."
Without meeting Neville's gaze, Draco nodded before attempting to stand up in his usual, almost-graceful way, but the effect was ruined when he stepped on the hem of his robes. If Neville hadn't rushed over to hold him up, Draco would probably have ended up flat on his face again.
"I've had enough of cretins pawing at me today, Longbottom." Draco spat. "Fuck off and leave me alone."
"I was just trying to help, you idiot!"
Draco narrowed his eyes and pushed Neville away. "I don't need anybody's help, I don't want anybody's help, and even if I did, it wouldn't be from you, so why don't you run off home to those drooling idiots in . . . "
Without warning, Neville grabbed the edges of Draco's robe and slammed him hard against the nearest tree. "Don't you ever talk about my family again, you self-important little . . . "
". . . prick! Let's see if you're still laughing about my parents after the Ministry sends a Dementor to visit your . . . ."
"I didn't say a thing about your parents!" Draco yelled, grabbing onto Neville's robes. "I was talking about your stupid friends!"
They stood there, clutching at each other's robes, breathing heavily, both their faces contorted by anger and pain and . . . something else entirely . . .
"Stop fidgeting, boy," said Neville's grandmother for the third time since they'd arrived at the Flint house. "And don't spill any of your juice on the rug." He nodded, wishing he'd just been given water to drink. At least he wouldn't get in trouble if he spilled that.
Neville was just starting to wonder if his grandmother might let him go outside and play on the lawn for a little while when one of the Flint house-elves appeared, a bow tie around its neck.
"Ma'am!" the house-elf squeaked. "Hatty is wishing to announce that Mr. Lucius Malfoy, Mrs. Narcissa Malfoy, and young master Draco Malfoy is here to be paying you a visit!"
As the Malfoys - two grownups and a little boy, all three equally blond and pale - walked into the drawing room, Mrs. Flint jumped up from her chair and clapped her hands.
"Oh, this is a lovely surprise, Narcissa! It's been far too long, my dear." She and Mrs. Malfoy looked like they were kissing, but Neville could see that they weren't actually touching each other. "And Lucius! What an unexpected pleasure!"
"The pleasure is all ours, my dear Margaret," he replied, taking her hand in his own and kissing it. "I don't believe you've met my son, Draco. Draco, come and greet Mrs. Flint."
The blond boy stepped forward and bowed from the waist. "A pleasure, ma'am."
Neville squirmed a little in his chair as Mrs. Flint beamed at the new arrival. "Oh, isn't he's just the most charming boy! You both must be terribly proud of him."
"Indeed we are," Mr. Malfoy said, a small smile playing on his lips. "And Mrs. . . . Longbottom, isn't it?" he said, turning to Neville's grandmother. "I was acquainted with your son and his lovely wife briefly, before the . . . unfortunate incident. A great pity."
Mr. Malfoy gave Neville's grandmother a look of sympathy, but she returned it with an expression of loathing so intense that it brought all the conversation in the room to a complete halt.
Mrs. Flint rose to her feet, a tight smile fixed on her face. "I know!" she said in a high-pitched, trembling voice. "Why don't you two boys run along and play outside for a bit and leave the grownups to their boring conversation. Marcus and his friends are outside with their brooms; perhaps you might like to join them? Hatty will fetch you when it's time to serve the cake."
Neville turned to his grandmother for approval, and when she nodded, he slid off the uncomfortable chair and took a step toward the other boy, but the tall silver-haired wizard fixed a cold-eyed stare at him, stopping him in his tracks.
Mr. Malfoy knelt down beside the small blond boy. "Remember, my little dragon, what I've told you about some wizarding families being better than others. You don't want to go making friends with . . . the wrong sort."
"Of course, Father," the boy answered, frowning a bit, but nodding his head in agreement.
"Run along then, Draco."
The boy left the drawing room, but Neville was held back a moment by his grandmother. She leaned in quite close, the feathers from her hat tickling his face, then spoke softly to him. "Remember to mind your manners and play nicely with the other children. And . . . just be careful, my dear."
For a second it seemed to Neville as if his grandmother was going to cry, but that was impossible. Grandmother was the bravest witch he knew!
He ran down the hall and caught up with the blond boy, keeping a step or two behind him until the boy stopped short and turned around with his arms folded across his chest. Neville took a step back, but then gave the other boy a big smile and extended his hand as he'd been taught to do.
"Hello! I'm Neville."
The boy just stared at him for a moment, then extended his own hand and returned Neville's smile with a small one of his own.
"Draco Malfoy. You can call me Draco. Come along then."
Neville followed Draco through the long marble hallway of the Flint house, and out through the double doors to the terrace beyond.
"Mother told me that there's a pond out here somewhere," Draco said. "You want to go find it?"
"Sure! Do you think the pond has any frogs or toads?"
"It might do," Draco said. "You're not afraid of them, are you?"
Neville shook his head. "Oh, no. I like them. Gran says she'll get me a toad when I'm old enough to look after it properly."
Draco wrinkled his nose, then shrugged and pulled Neville along behind him. When they reached the top of the hill, Neville could see four older boys on brooms, chasing after a flying ball.
"Those boys are playing Quidditch, aren't they?" He could barely control his excitement. "I've never seen a proper game!"
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Never? My parents take me to the World Cup every year. You should get your parents to take you."
Neville looked down and kicked at a stone on the path. "They . . . I don't live with my parents, and my gran - that's who I live with - she doesn't like Quidditch.
Draco shook his head, as if the very idea of someone not liking Quidditch was impossible to imagine. Neville knew just what he meant.
"You should go and watch them, then. They fly pretty well, and two of them are wearing Slytherin team robes, do you see? That's the House we'll be in when we start at Hogwarts."
Neville nodded, even though he wasn't sure he'd end up in Slytherin since neither of his parents had been sorted into that House.
"Do you want to come with me?" he asked the blond boy eagerly.
"No, I'm going into the field to look for some Liberty Caps. I overheard my godfather talking to my mother about an interesting potion you can make with them, and . . . I don't suppose you even know what Liberty Caps are."
"Yes, I do!" Neville said proudly. "They're mushrooms. Psilocybe Semi . . . .Semilanceata is their Latin name. I've got lots of books about plants and things. Except . . . it's against the law to pick them, isn't it? Children aren't even allowed to touch Liberty Caps."
"Maybe some children aren't," Draco sneered. "Malfoys can do as they like."
Neville watched as the blond boy marched off toward the opposite field, then sighed and turned back to watch the older boys playing Quidditch. He doubted he'd ever be that good a player - he was always tripping over something or another, and he didn't suppose it was easier to fly a broom than to walk around on his own two feet - but it certainly looked like fun. Maybe when the boys took a break, one of them would let him try.
He edged closer, standing next to the bludger case. Every so often, one of the boys glanced his way, but mostly they ignored him. After an hour, though, they brought their brooms in for a perfect landing and strapped the bludgers back in their case.
Neville looked longingly at the brooms. When he finally looked up, the biggest of the two boys wearing green and silver Quidditch robes was watching him.
"Your grandmother's visiting my mum."
The boy's words didn't seem to require an answer, but Neville nodded anyway.
"You were watching us a long time. You like flying?"
"I think I do," Neville said. "I've never been on a broom."
"Never?" the boy asked, raising his eyebrows. "Not once?"
Neville shook his head.
"I'll bet you'd like to give it a try, wouldn't you? Would you like that? Would you like to see what it's like to fly?"
"Yes, please!" Neville said, grinning happily.
The boy nodded. "I thought you would. But you know, it's not as simple as it looks. There are secrets you have to learn first."
Neville's eyes widened. "Secrets? What kind of secrets?"
One of the other boys giggled, but the big boy jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow.
"Big secrets. We could tell you, of course, but you'd have to promise never to tell anyone."
"And you'd have to go through the initiation rites, of course. Everyone has to."
Neville had never known there was so much to learn before you could fly a broom, but he really, really wanted to try. "I could do that."
"Thought you would," the boy said. "Now, remember . . .no complaining, right? Not if you want to fly. Come on over here, and take a look at this"
Neville walked over to where the other boys were resting on the grass, and looked down where the dark-haired boy was pointing.
"Okay, first of all . . . see that worm?"
"You have to eat it."
"But . . . it's alive."
"That's right. You have to eat it while it's alive."
Neville looked down at the little worm wriggling in the dirt. He liked worms. Not as much as he liked frogs and toads, but they were interesting, and . . . he really didn't want to eat one.
He sighed a little. "I guess I don't want to fly enough to eat a worm."
"Well, that's too bad," said the boy, "because now that you know about the first part of the secret initiation rite, you have to eat the worm."
"I don't want to," Neville said, backing up a step. "I won't tell anyone, I promise."
He tried to take another step backwards, but one of the big boy's friends was there, blocking his way.
"That's right, you won't tell anyone. But you are going to eat that worm."
Then two of the boys grabbed him by the arms and pushed him face down onto the ground, right next to where the worm was. Neville tried to get away, but they were too strong, and the harder he tried to get up, the harder they pushed him down. Dirt and grass was getting ground into Neville's robes and hair. He tried to call for help, but all he succeeded in doing was swallowing a big clump of dirt. Where was his grandmother? He wanted his grandmother.
"Get your hands off him! You're acting like a pack of filthy Mudbloods."
His voice sounded strange, deep, not at all the way he'd sounded before when they'd been talking about Quidditch. He couldn't be any older than Neville, but in this one moment, he sounded horribly grown up.
"Who do you think you are to be telling us what to do?" laughed the skinny boy. His broom jabbed painfully into Neville's back, and his voice sounded the way a hyena's might if it were able to talk.
Neville could hear one of the other boys hiss, "Shut up, Marcus."
"I am Draco Malfoy."
When what seemed to be a long time had passed and the big boy didn't answer, Neville peeked through his fingers. Draco was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, just like Mr. Malfoy had stood in the drawing room. All four of the boys had gone pale, but the meanest boy - Marcus - had gone completely white.
"We weren't . . . we were just fooling around." Neville winced as the broom was pulled away from his back. He hoped his grandmother didn't ask where he'd got that bruise. "No hard feelings, eh, Longbottom?"
"No," Neville said quietly. "No hard feelings."
"All right then, Malfoy?" Marcus asked.
"For now," Draco said in that scary grown-up voice.
Marcus nodded, and started off back to the field where they'd been flying, his three friends following in his wake.
Neville was still on the ground, his hands covered in mud, when Draco's shadow neared. He looked up, wiping the dirt from his mouth. He could feel his lower lip quivering, but he would not cry. Only babies cried, and he wasn't a baby.
"My cousin Nymphadora once gave me a Bertie Botts dirt-flavoured bean," Draco said conversationally. "Does it taste like one of those?"
Neville shrugged. "I suppose so. My gran doesn't let me eat sweets."
"No?" Draco's eyes widened. "Why ever not?"
"She says it's not healthy. Read it in a Muggle magazine."
It was obvious that Draco had lost all interest in the conversation the very second Neville mentioned the word 'Muggle.' Maybe it would be better if he just didn't say anything about them again.
"So . . . are the other kinds good? The Bertie Botts Beans, I mean?"
Draco looked back at him and nodded. "Most of them. Not the ear wax beans, though. They're horrible."
Neville made a face and pretended to throw up, and Draco laughed. "Come on, then. Let's go sneak into the kitchen and get some of that cake."
"My grandmother . . . ."
"Your grandmother," Draco drawled, "doesn't have to know everything you do, does she? What are you? A wizard or a wood mouse?"
There were times when he rather suspected the latter was more likely true, but he grinned and followed Draco to the house.
"Everything all right then, Neville?"
His hands still clutching the edges of Draco's robes, Neville whipped his head around and saw Ron standing a few feet away along the path. Ron's wand was clutched in his hand and he looked in the mood to hex something, preferably something with the last name of Malfoy.
Neville dropped his hands to his side and nodded.
"Just . . . taking care of some unfinished business."
Ron grinned at Neville, then turned and glared in Draco's direction. "Watch yourself, Malfoy," he said, pointing his wand at Draco's face. "It would be too bad if you had to spend the last two months of your Seventh Year as a ferret, wouldn't it?"
Draco didn't answer, just straightened his robes and stood there, watching Ron with a bored expression on his face.
A few seconds passed, and Ron put his wand away. "Oi, Neville. Harry and Hermione have gone over to Hagrid's. I'm meeting them there. You want to come along? His cakes are rubbish, but his tea's drinkable."
Neville smiled. "Sure, that sounds good. I'll be along in a minute."
Ron glanced at Draco. "You don't want me to wait for you?"
"No, it's all right. Go on, then."
Ron looked unconvinced, but he nodded and set off down the path to the cottage.
After Ron disappeared, Neville and Draco faced each other, neither of them saying a word.
Finally, Neville shook his head and sighed. "You're welcome. And Malfoy? We're even now."
He turned and started to walk away, but Draco's voice stopped him. "We're not even yet. You still owe me some cake."
Neville turned back around and smiled. "Hmm . . . how about if I bring you some of Hagrid's?"
Draco pulled a face and made a retching noise, but then shrugged. "Oh hell, why not? Cake. Midnight under the Slytherin stands on the Quidditch pitch?"
"Midnight," Neville agreed. "But under the Gryffindor stands."
"Not a chance," Draco said, shaking his head emphatically.
The two boys looked at each other for a long moment, neither willing to give in, then in the same instant, both said "Ravenclaw."
They smiled, and for a moment they were just two boys making plans to sneak out for a midnight feast.
But Neville couldn't help wondering, as he walked alone toward Hagrid's hut, what would happen after midnight.