Part 9: April 1992 (II)
Monday, 19th April 1992
Random Hogwarts corridor, early afternoon.
“Well, well, well. Longbottom. Fancy running into you here.”
Neville just about managed not to groan. He’d been so careful. For the last couple of weeks, whenever he needed to leave the safety of Gryffindor Tower, he’d made sure to travel with a group — either his fellow first-years or someone older. On the occasions when he absolutely had to go out alone, he took big detours, stuck to the less-used corridors and tried to make as little noise as possible.
It had worked for a while, but now his luck had apparently ran out. Malfoy was blocking his way, as usual flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.
“We haven’t talked for a while, have we?” said Malfoy. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were avoiding me.”
“Er,” said Neville. He couldn’t think of anything else.
“So, how’s that little mission of yours going?” Malfoy’s tone could perhaps have been mistaken for friendly if you didn’t actually know what friendliness was supposed to sound like. “It’s been two months since we made that little bargain, and I never hear anything from you.”
“I, I, I haven’t found out anything,” said Neville, looking nervously at Crabbe and Goyle, hoping desperately that they wouldn’t pick him up this time.
“You haven’t found out anything.” Malfoy dropped his pseudo-friendly voice. “You’re in the same house as Potter. You sleep in the same dorm. And you have nothing!”
“B-but he never mentions the Fae or Faerie!” Neville defended himself. “Well, er, he did once, but when I asked he didn’t explain.”
“He didn’t explain,” Malfoy mocked. “I don’t believe it. A wizard can’t be this stupid and incompetent. An untrained monkey wouldn’t be this stupid and incompetent. But I suppose it’s my fault for not making things clear enough. Crabbe?”
“No no no, you don’t have to — ah!” Neville yelped as Crabbe pinned him to the wall, hard.
“I’m going to make this very simple for you,” said Malfoy as he stepped around to look the pinned Neville in the eyes. “You have until the end of the Easter holidays. If you haven’t found out by then whether Potter is tied to the Spring Court or not…”
He snapped his fingers. Apparently this was some sort of signal because Goyle punched the wall right next to Neville’s face. He didn’t hit Neville, but an alarming crack formed in the stone wall. The worst part was the grin on Goyle’s face, as if this hadn’t hurt his hand at all.
“Do we understand each other?” said Malfoy.
“Y-yes,” Neville squeaked.
“Good.” Malfoy took a step back. “As a display of trust, I won’t even use a Borrowing Charm or anything.”
“A… a what?”
“A Borrowing Charm, Longbottom,” said Malfoy with a sigh. “You know… sense-borrowing? Make it so that I could see and hear everything you saw and heard? I could put one on you, just to make sure you didn’t try to keep secrets from me. But I don’t have to do that, do I?”
Neville shook his head. He didn’t even know if this Borrowing Charm was a real charm or if Malfoy was just making it up, but he didn’t particularly want to find out.
“Excellent. Crabbe, Goyle — come on.”
Crabbe let go of Neville, and he and Goyle lumbered down the corridor, following Malfoy, Good that none of them even bothered to look back, because then they would have seen Neville slide to the floor, completely overwhelmed.
Thursday, 23rd April 1992
Hagrid’s hut, early afternoon
The Easter holidays were coming to an end. Quirrell was still on his leave of absence, and Snape was as grouchy as ever, though oddly distracted… probably he was making plans on what to do to Quirrell when he returned. But so far he didn’t seem to be any closer to getting the Philosopher’s Stone.
In Hagrid’s hut, Baby Danny (as Harry had started thinking of the little dragon as) had started exploring his surroundings. He seemed to be everywhere – he was climbing on the walls, playing in the hearth, leaving small scorch marks on Hagrid’s patchwork quilt, and hiding in the tea kettle, which he seemed to have developed a fondness for.
Today, when Harry and Ron came down for a visit (once more without Hermione, whose excellent mood hadn’t lasted for more than a day or so), he was chasing a giggling Yellow around the hut, trying to pounce on her… and often even managing, even though she could fly and he couldn’t.
“You’re letting him win,” said Jenny, who was busy packing things into a cloth bag.
“It’s no fun for him if he never catches me!” said Yellow, just having been pinned to the floor by a triumphant Baby Danny. The dragon was only slightly bigger than her, having grown to the size of a little weasel.
Just like Hagrid had said, Baby Danny seemed to have accepted the flitlings as friends. He would chase them, but it was clearly just meant as a game. Towards Hagrid and Jenny he was downright affectionate, and he even seemed to have taken a liking to Harry and Ron. Last time they’d been there, he’d allowed Harry to hold him for a while… he was surprisingly warm and soft to the touch.
The problem was Fang. Right now, the large boarhound was hiding under Hagrid’s table, with Cyan perching on his head and trying to comfort him. He was still afraid of Baby Danny, something the dragon seemed to have caught onto… at least it couldn’t be a coincidence that whenever he decided to breathe a tiny blue flame, most often they were aimed at Fang. Neither dragon nor flame were remotely big enough to seriously hurt the enormous dog, but Fang still cowered and hid. It didn’t matter what Hagrid or the flitlings did to reassure him, he did not trust this little fire-breathing creature.
In the end, there was really nothing for it. Since Baby Danny still wasn’t strong enough to leave the hut, Jenny had to make good on her promise and take Fang off to Dewberry Grove for a while.
“It was nice to get to know you,” said Ron to Jenny. “If you see my Uncle Bilius…”
“I’ll say hello, don’t worry,” said Jenny. “Got the blanket, Hagrid?”
“Yep. An’ here’s his fav’rite squeaky toy as well,” said Hagrid, handing a bundle over to her. “Don’t feed him more’n twice a day. He’s gonna ask fer table scraps an’ extra snacks, but don’ go overboard with the treats. An’ make sure yeh take him fer a good long walk every day.” He leaned down and reached under the table to scratch behind Fang’s ears. “Gonna miss yeh, boy, but it’ll only be fer a few weeks… yeh’re gonna have a great time in Dewberry Grove. Yeh be good fer Jenny, all right?”
“It’ll be fine, Hagrid,” said Jenny. “I’ve had dogs before. After Fluffy, Fang’s going to be easy.”
“Fluffy’s a Fae dog an’ Fang’s not. He doesn’t react ter things in quite the same way. He doesn’t even think there’s anythin’ special about unicorns. Do yeh, boy?” said Hagrid. He knelt down by the table to pat Fang on the head.
“Unicorns?” said Harry.
“Yeah, there are a few of ‘em out in the Forest,” said Hagrid.
“We’ve seen them,” said Magenta, who was perched on the table. There was an almost dreamy look in her eye. “They’re so majestic. So… so wonderful. I don’t even know how to describe them.”
“You just did,” said Yellow, flying up to join her after her “devastating loss” to Baby Danny. “Majestic and wonderful. That’s a description.”
“Oh… yes, I suppose it is. It’s not enough, though.”
“All the people an’ creatures o’ Faerie revere the unicorns, Harry,” said Hagrid. “It’s like an instinctual thing. Unicorns carry with ‘em the magic of Faerie. Any of ‘em in trouble, any creature of Faerie’ll come stormin’ ter help it. If y’ever see one, yeh’ll get it… Fang’s prolly the only one in this hut who wouldn’t. Fact is, I think he’s afraid of unicorns. He ran away from one once.”
“We’ll work on it,” said Jenny. “Don’t worry, Hagrid, after a few weeks in Dewberry Grove he’s not going to be afraid of unicorns or baby luck dragons. A bit of exposure therapy should work wonders.”
“You have unicorns and baby luck dragons in Dewberry Grove?” said Harry.
“No, but you’ll be amazed at what you can fake with a bit of Fae magic,” said Jenny. “And in the meantime, Hagrid, you’ll have to work on teaching Danny not to breathe fire at dogs just because it’s funny to scare them.”
“He doesn’ know any better, he’s too young,” said Hagrid. “But he’s ruddy smart. On’y a few days old an’ he already gets everythin’ yeh say ter him. So jus’ yeh wait. Few weeks, he’ll be the best behaved noble dragon y’ever saw.”
“I’ll be happy with ‘reasonably well behaved,’ if you can manage that,” said Jenny. “No need to aim for the impossible —” She paused and frowned. “Did any of you feel that?”
“Feel what?” said Ron.
“I just felt like someone was watching me,” said Jenny, looking around. “Yellow, where’d Danny go?”
“He got tired of wrestling and ran off to hide in the tea kettle,” said Yellow.
“Again?” said Harry, looking towards the tea kettle. Baby Danny’s tiny head popped out of it to peer back at him. “What’s so great about that tea kettle, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it reminds him of the egg?” said Yellow.
“Hmm.” Jenny looked over at the kettle as well. “Are you the one watching me, Danny boy?” she said. “It’s because of you I’m taking Uncle Fang to Dewberry Grove, you know.”
“Uncle Fang?” Ron repeated, looking from Baby Danny to Fang. ”Yeah, I see the family resemblance.”
“Family’s about more than blood, Ron,” said Jenny as she stuffed Fang’s things down into the bag. “Hagrid and I aren’t blood either, but we’re cousins in every way that counts…” All of a sudden she stiffened, turning towards the window.
“What is it?” said Ron.
Jenny didn’t answer. In a flash, she was over at the window, peering out. “I knew someone was watching me! Hey there!” Without further comment she bolted towards the door, opened it and rushed outside.
Harry, Ron and Hagrid exchanged looks. Even Baby Danny peeked curiously towards the door,
Moments later, before any of them could do anything, Jenny came back in. Hauled over her shoulder, as if he didn’t weigh anything at all, was an absolutely mortified-looking Neville.
“Neville!” Harry and Ron chorused.
“Neville?” Yellow and Magenta repeated..
“Fang!” said Cyan as Fang whined and crawled further under the table.
“Neville, what’re you doin’ here?” said Hagrid.
Neville made a half-strangled noise as Jenny unceremoniously placed him down in Hagrid’s armchair.
“Spying, it seems,” said Jenny. “Not doing a very good job of it, but still. Let me give you some free advice, kid,” she added to Neville. ”Just in case you were planning on making a career out of this spying business. If you don’t want people to know you’re watching them, you probably shouldn’t make so much noise.”
“F-Fae,” said Neville. His eyes went from Jenny’s pointy ears, to the flitlings who were hovering around him, to Baby Danny, who was watching him from the tea kettle. “I-I didn’t think… I didn’t… Fae! Ah… naked Fae!” He placed his hands over his eyes. “I’m not seeing this, I’m not seeing this. I didn’t see anything. I, I didn’t hear anything either, honest! The sound doesn’t carry through the windows, so I couldn’t hear anything, I could only see — I mean, I couldn’t see! I didn’t see anything! I didn’t see any Fae, I’m not seeing any right now…!”
“Neville, it’s okay!” said Harry. “They’re not going to hurt you! He’s a friend, guys, he’s a friend,” he added, just in case the flitlings had missed that point.
“What’s he on about?” said Magenta. “And while we’re at it, why do all humans make such a big deal out of us being naked?”
“I always thought of us as nude more than naked,” said Yellow.
“What’s the difference?” said Cyan from under the table, where she was still trying to comfort Fang.
“Well,” said Yellow. “Naked just means you don’t have any clothes on. Nude means you don’t have any clothes on and it’s very artistic and tasteful. Now, if I had said nekkid, that would mean —”
“You’re not helping!” said Harry. “Neville, relax, it’s okay. Look, we can explain everything. Er, this is Yellow, Magenta, Cyan and Jenny…”
“Lady Jenivah of the Spring Court,” said Jenny. “And I’m half-Fae. But you can call me Jenny.”
“Oh, no,” Neville moaned, face still hidden by his hands. “Spring Court. Spring Court. This is bad. This is really bad. It had to be Spring Court, it had to be.”
“And what’s wrong with the Spring Court?” Yellow placed her hands on her hips.
Neville shook his head again, harder. “I can’t tell you,” he said, an almost desperate undertone in his voice. “I really can’t tell you. I shouldn’t have, I know I shouldn’t have, but he made me and now I have to… Why couldn’t you just not have been Spring Court?”
“Is he insulting us?!” said Magenta. “Harry, are you sure this is your friend? He’s being very rude!
“He’s not rude, he’s afraid,” said Harry. “Neville, it’s okay! Nothing bad’s going to happen… er… long as you don’t insult the Spring Court in front of four members of it.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew,” said Neville tonelessly. He sank further down into the chair. “I… I didn’t want to spy on you, Harry, but…” His voice dropped to an almost inaudible murmur.
“What?” said Harry.
“I think he said Malfoy,” said Ron with a deep frown. “Neville, don’t tell me you’re in cahoots with that slimy git?! knew something was up, with how weird you’ve been acting lately, but Malfoy?!”
“For those of us who are new to the scene,” said Jenny, “who’s Malfoy?”
“The biggest bullying git in the entire school,” said Harry. “Well, second biggest, after Snape. You know what, Magenta? Yellow? If you ever meet Malfoy, you can definitely curse him. He’s not a friend or ally. But Neville here… What’s with you and Malfoy?”
Little by little they managed to coach the story out of Neville. He’d been cornered by Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, who had more or less bullied him into spying on Harry in order to find out whether Harry had any connection to the Fae… more specifically the Spring Court, which Malfoy had a particular grudge against.
“You don’t have to tell me I’m supposed to be a Gryffindor and should stand up to bullies.” Neville looked at Harry, clearly ashamed of himself. “I think the Sorting Hat made a mistake with me. I… I asked it to put me in Hufflepuff, but it said something about different types of courage. I don’t even know what it meant. I don’t have any types of courage. I couldn’t stand up to Malfoy.”
Harry sighed. Neville really was a spineless coward, but he couldn’t really blame him for being afraid of Malfoy — especially if Crabbe and Goyle were there too. ”What’s he got against the Spring Court, though?”
“Well… he said the Spring Court made his mother’s family disappear…”
“Ah.” Hagrid hid his face in his hands. “The Blacks.”
“The Blacks?” said Jenny, sounding oddly exasperated. “Those people again? My father was on about them too. They’re not dead! They’re not gone either, they’re just — oh, never mind,” she huffed.
“What are you talking about?” said Harry. “Blacks?”
“Er, well, there used ter be an old Pureblood family named Black,” said Hagrid. “Nasty folks. Er, they had a lot o’ house-elves as servants, but didn’ treat ‘em very well. There was this one elf… er, yeh prolly don’t need ter know that part,” he decided. “Point was, it was against the treaty. See? House-elves work fer wizards, but wizards are s’pposed ter treat ‘em with respect, an’ not force ‘em to do… er… things they don’ wanna do. Yeh don’t want the details. Trust me.”
“I believe you,” said Harry uncomfortably.
“Er, anyway, that elf was part o’ the Spring Court,” said Hagrid. “Most house-elves who work fer wizards are Courtless. Won’erful people, jus’ not belonging to any Court. But Courtless elves weren’t good enough fer the Blacks, they wanted elves from a major Court.”
“Big mistake,” said Jenny. “When the High Elves of the Spring Court found out how the Blacks were treating those house-elves, well, my mother and some of her friends decided to do something about it, and…”
“And the Blacks all vanished,” said Ron. “Well, almost all of them. I remember Dad talking about that. It was long before we were born. I think the only ones who didn’t vanish were the ones who were at Hogwarts or something. Are you saying your Mum was behind the Blacks vanishing? What exactly did she do to them?”
“Same thing that she did to them!” Jenny pointed at Yellow and Magenta.
Harry blinked. “She turned them into flitlings?”
“Lucky!” said Yellow.
“Yes. No! I mean, it wasn’t just flitlings,” said Jenny. “There were more than twenty members of the family. A couple of them were turned into flitlings, but some of them were turned into pookas or hobgoblins or hulderfolk.”
“Almost as lucky!”
“Yellow, stop interrupting!”
“The nastiest ones,” said Jenny, “the ones who’d been the most active elf-abusers, my mother turned into house-elves themselves and sent them to the mortal world to serve wizards. ‘Pray that you will find kinder wizards than you yourselves were,’ she said before wiping their memories clean and sending them off. I don’t know where they went. But that’s what happened to the Blacks.”
Neville looked completely overwhelmed. “Malfoy didn’t say anything about any of that!”
“Don’ think it’s common knowledge among wizards,” said Hagrid. “Or outside the Spring Court, really… I mean, s’not really the sorta thing they’d advertise, is it?””
“It’s kinda messed up,” said Ron. “Not as messed up as what I imagined, mind.”
“Why?” said Cyan. “What did you imagine?”
“Stuff like being set on fire and burning forever without ever burning up so you’re just always in agony,” said Ron. “Or being made to fall in love with your own reflection and going mad unless you’re constantly looking in a mirror. Or losing all the bones in your body so that all you can’t move, but every time you try to speak or call for help, toads jump out of your mouth.” He shrugged at all the odd looks the others were giving him. “When your family’s known as allies to the Fae, certain wizards like to tell you all sorts of things that the Fae get up to. Don’t even know how much of it’s true, but… turning someone into Fae sounds pretty mild in comparison.”
“It does,” said Harry. He looked over at Yellow and Magenta. He still didn’t know which flitling had been which Dursley, but he found that he no longer cared overly much. The flitlings were their own people… and really, it was hard to think of any ways in which they weren’t better than the Dursleys. They seemed happier too… He had never heard Aunt Petunia laugh, and the only times Dudley had laughed was when something nasty happened to anyone else. If the Blacks had been anything like the Dursleys, Harry couldn’t help but think that being turned into Fae had to have been an improvement in every way. But he supposed Malfoy wouldn’t see it like that.
“But Neville, you can’t let Malfoy push you around like this!” said Ron. “He’s not your boss! You’ve got to start standing up for yourself!”
“How?” said Neville.
“Er. Well.” Ron looked stumped.
“Sounds like Fang’s not the only one who could use some therapy,” said Jenny. “All right, Neville, let’s make a bargain.”
“A bargain with a Fae?” said Neville. “My Gran would never let me!”
“But I’m only half-Fae,” said Jenny. “Besides, I promise you there’s nothing tricky about this. I just want you to do one thing… or rather, to not do one thing. I want you to not tell this Malfoy person about anything you’ve seen here today, or about Harry’s ties to the Spring Court. If he asks, say you don’t know, or tell him to get lost… whatever you like. But don’t tell him. Can you manage that?“
“I… don’t think so.”
“But I do think so,” said Jenny. “Because I’m going to lend you a protective charm. I’m not as good at this as my mother, but…” She closed her eyes and reached out into the air. To Harry’s surprise, her hand vanished… or possibly became invisible… as she had stuck it into some strange invisible pocket in the air.
Moments later, though, she pulled her hand back, and it became visible again… now holding a simple silver bracelet.
“This is a bracelet of protection,” she said. “If you wear this, this Malfoy person and his friends won’t be able to hurt you. I’m willing to let you borrow it for a while, if you in return promise to keep these secrets. You don’t reveal Harry’s or Hagrid’s secrets to anyone. No talking about the Spring Court or the flitlings to Malfoy, definitely no mentioning the dragon to anyone.”
“Dragon?” said Neville. He looked at the tea kettle, where Baby Danny’s head was still peeking out and watching the scene. “Oh. That. I thought that was a lizard.”
Baby Danny gave him a scornful look and vanished back into the kettle.
“Er… does this count as one of the favours?” said Harry. “I mean, if you can help Neville, that’s good, but I’m pretty sure we can handle Malfoy ourselves. He’s not that tough.”
“Favours?” Jenny looked at him. “No, this is just between me and Neville. I’m doing this just as much for Hagrid as I am for you. Besides,” she added, tossing the bracelet up in the air and catching it again, “this old thing’s just been sitting on a shelf and gathering dust for decades. Might as well get some use out of it again.”
“And it’s not cursed or anything?” said Ron. “It’s not going to, I don’t know, drive him insane or cause him to age ten thousand years or anything nasty like that?”
“Of course not!” said Jenny. “All it’ll do is protect him from harm. If it caused him harm, that’d rather defeat the point it, wouldn’t it?”
“I think yeh’re all right,” said Hagrid. “If Jenny says it’s safe, then it’ll be safe. ‘Sides, I remember that bracelet. Isn’t it the bracelet Auntie Vidia made yeh wear when we was kids?”
“Yep,” said Jenny. “When you’re half mortal, it takes some time for your Fae strength to develop,” she added as an explanation to Harry, Ron and Neville. “Well, not if you’re Hagrid. He was wrestling with trolls practically out of the cradle.”
“Ah, yeh’re exaggeratin’. Didn’t start that until I was at least four years old.”
“But for me,” Jenny went on, “when I was a child, I was as weak as a normal human. So my mother gave me this, so I wouldn’t get hurt until I was strong enough to defend myself. This bracelet has been made to withstand all but the strongest of Fae curses, anything a wizard school boy can throw at it won’t even register. I’m willing to let Neville borrow it, in exchange for his silence on what he’s seen and heard here today. Do we have a deal, Neville?”
Neville looked at the bracelet. “If Gran sees me with that, she’ll go spare,” he said.
“The wrath of an old Gran is a terrible thing,” said Jenny. “But it’s only for a while. You can give it back any time you want… just leave it here with Hagrid, and I’ll come pick it up when I can. Your Gran never has to know.”
“Please, Neville,” said Harry. “You don’t have to take it if you don’t want, but you can’t tell Malfoy. Please. Even Gryffindors need help to stand up for themselves sometimes. If the bracelet can help you, then…!”
Neville looked at him, looked at the bracelet, and then swallowed. “All right,” he finally said, and then reached out to take the bracelet from Jenny. “I’m insane for doing this. But all right. Just for a while. Just until Malfoy gives up.”
“And you won’t tell him?”
“I won’t. Not about the Spring Court, not about the lizard. Dragon, I mean dragon.”
“Then we have a deal,” said Jenny. She turned to Hagrid and Harry. “You know, even with Neville’s promise, both of your secrets are going to come out sooner or later,” she said. “You might want to think about preparing for when they do.”
“She’s right,” said Ron. “My family tried to keep our ties to the Summer Court a secret, but it came out.”
“Yeah, but… we got time, don’ we?” said Hagrid. “With Danny, we jus’ have ter keep him here a few weeks,,, jus’ until he’s strong enough ter go ter Faerie with you. I don’ get that many visitors here… with any luck nobody’ll even know he was ever here.”
“And if anyone finds out about Harry’s secrets,” said Magenta, “I’ll curse them.”
“No!” said Harry.
“Just a little, so they forget.”
“No! Well, okay, if they’re Malfoy…”
“Let’s let Neville deal with Malfoy for now,” said Jenny with a grin. “I do know a couple of things about, as you call them, ‘bullying gits.’ They tend not to handle surprises very well.”
Friday, 24th April 1992
Random Hogwarts corridor, late afternoon.
“Well, well, well, Longbottom. Fancy —”
“Malfoy…” Neville looked at the all too familiar sight of Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle blocking his way. He’d known this was coming. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the words he’d been practicing in his head. “…just go away. I… I haven’t found out anything about Harry, and I’m not going to. I’m done with this.”
Malfoy frowned. “Look at who’s pretending to have a spine for once,” he said. “Longbottom… we had a deal. Remember? You agreed to it.”
“Y-you made me agree to it,” said Neville. His voice quivered a little, but not as much as it could have.
“Doesn’t matter. You agreed. The deal was that unless you found out what I wanted to know, I’d have Crabbe and Goyle here…” (he motioned to his two maliciously smirking friends) “…deal with you. Remember?”
“Well…” Neville braced himself. Time to find out if that bracelet really worked or not. In any case, this would be a Gryffindor moment for him. “I suppose you just have to tell them to deal with me, then.”
Crabbe and Goyle stopped smirking and looked puzzled. Even Malfoy seemed a little taken aback. “I may have overestimated your ability to understand simple threats,” he said. “Just so we’re clear: I’m going to tell them to beat you up.”
“Y-yes… I get that.”
“To a bloody pulp, Longbottom.”
“Are you just going to talk, or are you going to do it?” Neville was proud of himself for that one. He would have been even prouder if it hadn’t been delivered in such a nervous-sounding squeak, but you couldn’t have everything.
Malfoy looked at him like he was weird. “All right, fine,” he said. “Never pegged you for a masochist, Longbottom, but if you insist… Punch him, Goyle.”
Goyle pulled back an enormous fist and rammed it, hard, into Neville’s gut.
It was like being hit with a feather. Or a soap bubble. The punch barely registered at all.
When Neville didn’t drop to his knees with a gasp of pain, Goyle’s eyes widened in surprise. He lifted his hand and looked at it, giving it a shake as if he thought there might be something wrong with it, and then punched Neville in the gut again.
Neville, who had been holding his breath, let it out again in relief. The second punch hadn’t hurt at all either.
“What are you doing, Goyle?” said Malfoy. “I said punch him, not pretend to punch him. Crabbe, help him out, show him how it’s done.”
Crabbe aimed a punch at Neville’s face. Once more, it didn’t hurt even the slightest bit. Even as the two brutes began repeatedly punching and kicking, Neville felt nothing. Odd… he’d never really noticed how comical Crabbe and Goyle looked when they were trying to be menacing.
“What’s wrong with you two?” Malfoy snapped. “You’re supposed to teach him a lesson, not dance with him!”
“Are we done here?” said Neville, a lot calmer than before. “I’m going back to my common room.”
“You bloody well are not,” Malfoy hissed. “I don’t know what’s got into Crabbe and Goyle here, but I’ll deal with you myself!” All of a sudden he was holding his wand, pointing it right at Neville.
“We’re not supposed to use magic in the corridors,” said Neville, amazed at how easy it suddenly was to be cheeky towards Malfoy.
“I don’t see any teachers here, do you? Petrificus Totalus!”
It didn’t even tingle. Neville stepped away from the astonished Crabbe and Goyle and moved past Malfoy who was staring dumbfoundedly at his wand.
“What — how did you — how are you still walking?!” Malfoy demanded.
“Like this,” said Neville. He picked up his pace slightly and walked away from Malfoy… resisting the urge to break into a run. “I’m going back to my common room.”
“What… this is a trick,” said Malfoy. For the first time ever, there was a nervous, uncertain undertone to his voice. “I don’t know how you’re doing this, Longbottom, but this isn’t over!”
“Yes, it is,” said Neville, without stopping or turning around. “I’m done with this. I’m done with you. Just… just leave me alone.”
Later on, he would think back on this and wonder if he could have said something that sounded just a little cooler. Like ‘if you ever try to threaten me again, you’ll regret it.’ Or ‘never mess with a Gryffindor.’ Or at least ‘don’t ever try to drag me into your stupid schemes again.’ Anything but ‘just leave me alone.’ Oh well. He’d got his point across, and nobody got hurt.
He’d… keep the bracelet on for the rest of the school year, though. Just in case. Jenny had said he could have it for a while. As long as he gave it back before he returned home to Gran, she would never know…
He stopped and turned to look at the door he’d just passed.
Was he mistaken, or had he heard someone sob in there?
Neville moved up to the door, putting his ear against it. Yes… there was someone in there. Someone who sounded very upset at something. He could just make out the words. “B-but, it worked at last… we found out that the dog is….” the voice grew silent and then: “…unicorns! It makes sense…” and then it sank to a murmur again.
Wait, that voice sounded familiar. Was it Professor Quirrell? Wasn’t he on a leave of absence? Neville tried to remember if he’d heard anything about when Quirrell would be back, but he couldn’t say for certain. What was this about unicorns and dogs, though?
A noise sounded from further down the corridor. Neville gave a start and hurried on. Even with the bracelet, he wasn’t going to risk Malfoy, Crabbe or Goyle catching up to him.