“Well, well, if it isn’t the weasel himself.”
All three of them stopped, turned around, and saw Draco Malfoy leaning nonchalantly against a stone column. His henchmen, Crabbe and Goyle, stood on either side of him, sniggering to themselves.
“Ignore him, Ron,” Hermione said, tugging at Ron’s robes in an attempt to keep him moving. She had enough to worry about, with Ron’s lingering depression over the state of his family, without Draco Malfoy sticking his vindictive oar in.
“What do you want?” Ron asked bleakly.
“Nothing in particular,” Draco replied, walking across to them with an arrogant sneer on his face.
“I’m surprised you’re even here, Malfoy.” Harry stepped in front of Ron and glared at the blond-haired boy, who continued to look down his nose at them. “Isn’t there something in the rules about not attending Hogwarts if your father is an evil fugitive from justice?”
“Oh, Potter, is that the best you can do? Do I have to remind you, yet again, that while my father remains successful and, more importantly, alive, yours died a pathetic death? This is getting too boring for words.” He gave an indolent laugh. Crabbe and Goyle cackled right on cue and Draco turned his attention back to Ron.
“Do you want to hear how your brother died, Weasley? Because if you do, I can tell you.” There was a malevolent smirk on Malfoy’s face now as he pushed Harry aside and faced Ron.
“Shut up, Malfoy!” Hermione shouted angrily.
“Or what, Mudblood? You’re surely not going to hit me again, are you? Because this time you won’t take me by surprise,” Malfoy drawled, with a degree of bravado in his attitude that was sickening.
“For the last time, Malfoy, don’t call her a Mudblood.” Harry had his wand out now, and Hermione could sense even more trouble brewing.
“He died screaming,” Malfoy said cruelly. “They used the Cruciatus curse for a bit, to see what they could get out of him, and then they…”
But whatever else they did to Bill Weasley was lost beneath Ron’s fist as it exploded onto Malfoy’s nose, sending blood splattering everywhere. Crabbe and Goyle both moved forward to grab at Ron’s arms as he raised his fist again, but Harry dragged his friend back before they could get at him. Hermione stood between the two oafish Slytherins and the raging Ron. He had not been this vocal since returning from London, and despite the awful circumstances, Hermione couldn’t help feeling glad to hear his usual loud voice again.
Ron was cursing vociferously now, uttering several wild expletives that not only turned the air blue, but would also have undoubtedly resulted in the deduction of many house points from Gryffindor.
“You’re a snot-nosed, upper-class prat, Malfoy!” Ron yelled over Hermione’s head as he finally ran out of swear words. Malfoy clutched what was left of his nose, listening to the torrent of abuse. “And one day that big, ugly mouth of yours is going to get you into real trouble.”
“You’ll suffer for this,” Malfoy said through his hands, which now had rivulets of blood crisscrossing the skin as he tried to stem the flow. “Your family will suffer for this.”
“Is that a threat?” Harry asked coldly, still grappling with the irate Ron.
“It’s a bloody promise.” Malfoy turned to Crabbe and Goyle, who were both standing there looking lost.
“D’you want the Hospital Wing?” Goyle asked, watching Malfoy’s hands turning red with something approaching fascination.
“No!” Malfoy said crossly. “I want these idiots wiped off the face of the earth… and believe me, when my father hears about this, they will be. He no longer has to pretend to agree with all the dithering idiots that run the Ministry, so he’ll be free to sort you fools out.” With one final sour look at the trio, he turned on his heel and almost ran down the corridor with his useless thugs rumbling along in his wake.
Hermione turned back to Ron. His face was a livid shade of red, and his hands were trembling with anger.
“Are you all right?” she asked quickly as Harry released his hold on Ron’s arms.
“Of course I’m all right,” Ron said sarcastically. “My big brother is dead and I’ve just been taunted about it by the biggest idiot in the school. Why wouldn’t I be all right?” He rubbed the bruised knuckles of his right hand, wincing at the pain.
“Ron, we know Malfoy is a liar,” Hermione began in a very quiet voice. “I’m sure what he said wasn’t true. He can’t have known about… well, about Bill.”
“Why can’t he?” Ron snapped back at her. “His bloody father will have some way of contacting him. It would be just like him to brag about….” But Ron couldn’t finish the sentence. It was too painful to even think about what might have passed between Malfoy junior and his Death Eater of a father.
“Why don’t you miss Maeve’s class? Go and have a rest in the common room? There are loads of those sweets left that your mum sent back with you. You haven’t even looked at them yet,” Harry suggested, but Ron shook his head.
“I don’t want to bloody well rest. I want my brother alive!” Ron replied hotly.
“Oh, Ron, we know it’s hard.” Hermione prepared to set off down her now familiar road of chief comforter, but Ron gave her a hard stare and shrugged off the sympathetic hand she had put on his shoulder.
“How do you know? Have you lost someone close to you?” Ron’s temper was reaching boiling point again. “Even you don’t know, Harry. You lost your mum and dad when you were little, so it’s not like you knew them, is it?”
“Ron!” Hermione said in a scandalized voice as she saw Harry stiffen defensively.
“I didn’t know them, Ron. I never got the chance. But I knew Sirius.” His tone was lifeless as Ron continued to glare at him. Several students on their way to their lessons passed them, looking curiously at Ron’s bloated hand, but no one stopped to say anything, and, fortunately, no teachers passed.
“Yeah, but Sirius wasn’t family, was he? Not like a brother.”
“This isn’t a game of who can feel the most pain,” Hermione said, placing a warning hand on Harry’s arm. “It doesn’t matter who you have lost, or when. You both feel grief, but you feel it in different ways, and you’re both at different stages of it.”
“I think Ron should say sorry.” Harry wouldn’t look at his friend, and Ron snorted a refusal, believing he had nothing to say sorry for.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Hermione raised her voice in frustration. “Look at both of you… standing there like a couple of two-year-olds. Haven’t either of you grown up at all? Did you learn nothing from the battle at the Ministry? If you are going to fall out again then Malfoy has won, hasn’t he? His little mind games have worked because you two were weak enough to let them. You’re my best friends, but I don’t think I can go through any more of this squabbling.”
They both looked at her in surprise as she slung her bag back over her shoulder.
“I’m going to the next lesson, and at lunch I will be working on that parchment, Harry. If both of you see sense, and can behave like civilised human beings, then I will be in the common room after lessons this evening. If not, go and find somewhere else to bicker.”
She stalked off, leaving them both looking at each other guardedly. For a few minutes neither of them spoke, until Harry gave Ron a sheepish grin and offered an olive branch.
“I’m sorry,” he said as Ron looked at him suspiciously. “Hermione’s right, this isn’t a competition. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with the deaths of my parents, and even Sirius’s death doesn’t seem to hurt quite so much as it did last year. Bill has only just gone and it must be rough.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not easy,” Ron conceded grudgingly. “But it’s dad that makes it worse. You should see mum; it’s like we’ve lost her too, because all she does is cry and look at the photo albums. I’m surprised she let Ginny and me come back this term… I’m surprised she let any of us out of the house at all.”
“She’ll get better. She’s tough, is your mum.” Harry felt desperately sorry for Molly Weasley; she was always so cheerful and homely. It was as if one last piece of comfort had been snatched from him. Gone were the warmth and security of the Burrow, and in their place was a dreadful void that was slowly filling up with misery.
“I don’t know, Harry. I’ve never seen her this bad before,” Ron sighed heavily. “And it doesn’t help that that big-headed idiot Percy is still refusing to acknowledge any of us exist. Shame it wasn’t him that died instead of Bill.”
If Harry was surprised at the last remark, he didn’t show it, and with a glance at Ron’s still swelling hand, he suggested they go and see Madam Pomfrey. Ron agreed reluctantly, and as they set off for the Hospital Wing, they didn’t see the solitary figure of Percy hovering in a half-open doorway with an unreadable look on his face.
While Malfoy staggered back to the Slytherin common room, trailing droplets of deep red blood in his wake, Maeve was making final adjustments to her lesson plans. Hagrid had pulled her to one side just before breakfast and informed her that the Kraken had arrived. It was currently making its large presence felt amongst the residents of the lake. She had decided that it would make for a much more interesting lesson than ‘The deflection of malevolent magical vapours – level three’ and was just putting on her outdoor robes when the first students began to file into the room.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully and was rewarded with a wide smile from Neville, who had been the first through the door.
“Good morning, Professor O’Malley,” he said, as he dropped his bag by his usual seat and sat down. He glanced up at the title on the blackboard and a pleased grin crossed his face. So far, the study of dark poisons and their uses had been his favourite aspect of this class. He excelled in the subject, so he was rather disappointed when Maeve told him that they were to spend the lesson down at the lake with a huge, quivering mass of man-eating sea monster.
“But, Miss,” asked Seamus, who had trundled in behind Neville, “when are we ever going to meet a Kraken in real life? It’s not like they’re lurking in every river or pond, is it?”
“That’s very true, Mr Finnigan, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be prepared for the occasion, no matter how unlikely it may seem. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get this particular specimen in our lake, so you can all jolly well make the most of it.”
“We won’t have to touch it, will we?” Lavender Brown asked, with a look on her face that suggested she would rather touch Stinkwort Slime than the Kraken.
“No, Lavender,” Maeve replied patiently. “You will be lucky if you even see it. They are very clever creatures. Unless they think there is a meal in the offing, they are usually reluctant to come to the surface.”
“Good,” said Parvati as she sat down next to Lavender. “I hate smelly things, especially fishy, smelly things.”
Most of the class seemed to be present, but Maeve couldn’t help notice the absence of several students, and Harry was one of them. Hermione had taken her place very quietly and was busy writing something down in one of her books; she jumped slightly when Maeve called her name.
“Hermione, do you have any idea where Harry and Ron have disappeared to?” she asked.
“Ermm….” Hermione didn’t quite know what she was going to say, but the problem was solved for her when Dean Thomas stood up.
“Ron punched Draco Malfoy in the face on the way to class. I think they may have gone to get his hand patched up,” he said casually. Some of the Gryffindors murmured their approval of Ron’s actions.
A quick glance at the Slytherin half of the room confirmed what Dean had said, because not only was Draco missing, but so were Crabbe and Goyle. She wondered what the odious child had said to Ron to get such a violent response. Whatever it was, it must have been most unpleasant.
“Right, well, no doubt they will catch up with the lesson when Madam Pomfrey has seen to him. Was Draco in one piece?"
Dean shrugged his shoulders. “Who cares,” he replied with a grin.
“I care if he’s been badly hurt when he is supposed to be in my class,” Maeve said, picking up a large book and facing the rest of the class, but something in her face suggested she didn’t care that much. “Right, today we will be off down to the lake to take a look at one of the most hideous and dangerous sea creatures to be found in the waters surrounding our islands. The Kraken is a vast monster that can grow to a mile and a half wide, although no one has ever managed to get one to sit still long enough to measure it accurately.”
There were sniggers from the class, and she gave them a conspiratorial smile before continuing.
“You will need your Unfathomable Fathoms book. Please turn to page 173, where you will find detailed information about Krakens along with several excellent pictures.”
The room was filled with the sound of books being plonked down on desks and pages rustled noisily. Maeve stood by the window with her book opened to the relevant page, but her attention was drawn to Severus, who was talking to Professor Dumbledore on the lawn outside her room. Severus was concentrating very hard on what Dumbledore was saying, but they broke apart as Hagrid appeared with a bunch of first-years, who were carrying what looked like Squealing Sapsuckers. One of the Sapsuckers managed to slither from the arms of the unfortunate students and ran across to Severus on its stubby, scale-covered legs. The look of horror on Severus’ face was priceless as he stepped to one side to avoid the creature, only to find himself confronted with the equally horrifying prospect of Sybil Trelawney and her class, who were outside to study the bark of the trees on the edge of the Forbidden Forest for portents relating to the weather. He shouted something at the first-year, who was now chasing after the slippery creature, before barging past Professor Trelawney with a dismissive wave of his hands. Maeve turned her attention back to her class and was surprised to find the supercilious face of Percy Weasley at the back of the room.
“Can I help you, Mr Weasley?” she asked brusquely.
“Professor Dumbledore would like to see you, as a matter of urgency,” he replied. “He has asked me to watch your class for you.”
Percy looked like the last thing he wanted to be doing was watching this class. He remembered the last time he had been left with them and the ensuing chaos that had erupted. Nevertheless, he made his way to the front of the classroom through the desks and the unimpressed students.
“Well, we were about to take a trip down to the lake to study the Kraken, but I don’t suppose you want to continue with that, do you?” she asked.
“I could do, if that’s what is on the curriculum,” he said. His body oozed reluctance. Percy glanced nervously at the open book in Maeve’s hand to see the picture of the Kraken waving its tentacles at him menacingly.
“No, it’s not necessary.” She let the squirming man off the hook. “I did have another lesson prepared, and for that they will be able to work from their textbooks.” She nodded towards the blackboard, where the information regarding malevolent vapours still hung.
“Very well, Professor, consider it done.” He wandered across to Maeve’s desk and in a thin, high voice instructed the class to get out the relevant textbook.
“But what about the Kraken?” Seamus enquired.
“Seamus, just do as Mr Weasley asks, please,” Maeve said. On her way out she caught the disappointed looks on several students’ faces. “I promise you, next lesson we will have a look at the creature,” she pledged, as she closed the door behind her.
Professor Dumbledore was sitting at his desk when she tapped on the door, and he called for her to come in. The room was warm; candles glowed all along the walls, giving a golden light and honeyed smell to the office. The portraits were unusually silent, staring out with folded arms and pursed lips as she sat down opposite the headmaster.
“Maeve, how good of you to come so promptly,” he said with a sideways glance at Fawkes. The phoenix looked like he was about to burst into flames. “We have had some news. Some very unwelcome news.”
Maeve sat very still as her whole body tensed. She felt so sure that the old wizard was going to tell her Remus was dead that she was mentally preparing herself for the blow. The air shifted around them, carrying specks of dust and memories through the candlelight.
“You are aware of the rather uncertain predicament of Arthur Weasley, and of the mystery surrounding his condition,” he said. Professor Dumbledore leaned forward on his desk, disturbing several piles of pored-over parchment as he did so.
“Yes I am,” she replied. Either he was going to tell her Remus had suffered the same fate, or Remus would not be part of the conversation at all.
“Well, it rather seems Arthur may have been the guinea pig for something Voldemort has been planning. During the night there were numerous sightings of the Dark Mark in various wizarding communities across the south of England. This was enough to cause many of our best Aurors to be sent to the various locations, but they could see nothing out of the ordinary, and so they returned to their posts with nothing to report.” Dumbledore paused long enough to allow Maeve to nod her understanding before continuing. “This morning we have found a great number of people in the same state as Arthur Weasley, and they have been transported to St Mungo’s for observation.”
Maeve did her best to hide the rising sense of horror within her, studying Dumbledore’s face for any signs of her own feelings. He remained outwardly calm as she asked him how many people had been affected, but when he responded, she could hear the disquiet in his voice.
“Thirty-eight members of the wizarding community and two Muggles were involved. The Muggles have been transferred to one of their own hospitals, and the Minister for Magic has been in close contact with her Muggle equivalent to keep them informed of any further developments.”
“And we have no idea what has caused this?”
“We believe it may be a poison rather than a curse. Specifically, some sort of mist or vapour. The people affected were all gathered in the same area. There is no evidence at this time that it was anything they either ate or drank. St Mungo’s Healers are very good at detecting charms and curses, but they can find no evidence of anything like that on the bodies of the sleeping wizards.”
“And what steps are being taken to discover the cause?” she asked. Maeve felt the temptation to sniff the air around them for signs of this supposed vapour, but she resisted. If this was true, and word got out, then there would be panic. It was bad enough that Voldemort’s followers could turn up and curse people, but that required a degree of risk on their part. This, on the other hand, required no risk from the perpetrators. It meant they could disable quickly and efficiently.
“We have brought in all our best Herbologists and Potions experts, which is why I am talking to you.” He looked doubtful for the first time since she had entered the room. “What I am about to ask you to do requires a degree of risk on your part, a risk that we will do everything to minimise.”
“Go on,” she said uneasily.
“We would like you to go down to St Mungo’s and take a look at the people affected. There may be something so slight that others have not picked up on it. In situations like this, it is best to have as many minds as possible working on it because we all have different experiences. I have asked Severus to do the same thing.”
“And what was his response, if you don’t mind me asking?” she questioned.
“He agreed to the proposal unreservedly. I do not want you to feel pressured at all, but I also cannot overstate the potential this discovery has for wreaking havoc within our world. I am sure I do not need to elaborate on the consequences of Voldemort possessing such an effective weapon.” Dumbledore glanced across at Phineas Nigellus, who had coughed aggressively from his portrait. “Yes, Phineas?” he asked in a mild tone.
“Perhaps you could consider having one or two of the Sleepers brought here, Albus. Then neither Miss O’Malley nor the Snape fellow need go anywhere. It would seem to me to be the safest course of action.”
“What did you call them?” Maeve asked suddenly, sitting up in her chair as a memory prickled the back of her mind.
Phineas turned his patrician gaze to Maeve and regarded her carefully before speaking.
“I called them Sleepers because that is what they are doing, sleeping. If they were dancing around on their beds, I would call them dancers, now, wouldn’t I?”
She couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking, and there was nothing in his face to give her a clue, but she wasn’t too concerned because he had already flicked a switch in the back of her mind.
“Phineas,” Dumbledore interjected warningly as he gave some consideration to Phineas’ idea. He was reluctant to move anyone from St Mungo’s when they were suffering an unknown malady, but he had to admit they had good facilities here at the school. If the hospital could spare a Healer or two, it might be possible.
“Let me consider this,” Dumbledore said to Maeve. “I will need to speak to the Healers. I will see you before the end of the day. You would be willing to travel to London if required?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll do anything that is necessary.” She didn’t add that it might also give her the chance to see with her own eyes whether Remus was in one piece or not. Standing up, she had one last question for Phineas.
“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
“Like what? This affliction on the inmates of St Mungo’s? I have seen many different things in my time and many different ways for one wizard to injure the next. I should be very surprised if this were an entirely new means of inflicting harm. Look to your books and your memory.” Phineas nodded sagely before saluting the pair of them and leaving his portrait hurriedly, as if called from somewhere else.
“Oh, and Maeve,” Dumbledore said as she reached the door. “One of the victims is Cornelius Fudge. I don’t need to tell you how potentially damaging that particular piece of information could be, do I?”
She left Dumbledore alone so he could contact St Mungo’s and hurried back to her class. She couldn’t hear any noise as she approached her door, and for that she was grateful. They must be behaving themselves for Percy. As she opened the door quietly, she could hear Neville’s voice. He was speaking fluently and with some conviction about the origins of Cackleweed Vapour. Watching from the doorway, she realised with amazement that Neville seemed to have taken charge of the class and the rest of them, even the Slytherins, were busily scribbling notes. Percy Weasley was nowhere to be seen as she crept forward to tap Hermione Granger on the shoulder.
“Where’s Mr Weasley?” she whispered, nodding a greeting to Harry and Ron, who must have returned while she was gone.
Hermione looked quickly at Ron before turning to Maeve. She cupped her hand around her mouth so Ron couldn’t see what she was saying and told Maeve that as soon as Ron had walked in the room, Percy had gone very pale and muttered something about having an important owl to send.
“You mean to tell me he just left the class unattended?” Maeve queried.
“I don’t think he’s dealing with what happened to Bill. Ron is just a bit of a reminder,” Hermione said.
“And why is Neville taking the class?”
“Because we volunteered him,” Hermione said proudly. “And he is doing so well. He really knows his plants, good and bad.”
Maeve straightened up, stepping back into the shadow of the door. Neville did indeed know his plants. Without doubt he had the strongest grasp of Herbology of any student she had seen in the school. For some reason, this thought reassured her. There were hidden depths to Neville and she was determined to plumb them.
In the Gryffindor common room that same evening, Hermione was very pleased to see Harry, because her time in the library at lunchtime had been very productive. She had spent her time poring over various potion books, and it seemed the formula in the book Harry had ‘borrowed’ was a very simple and ingenious recipe. The trick was to get the mixing just right, but all the ingredients were readily available. She informed him of this over their Charms homework, and he immediately grew very excited.
“When can we do it?” he asked immediately, his Charms work instantly forgotten.
“Do what?” Ron asked as he walked past them to the chessboard. His right hand was wrapped in a bandage, but his left one was filled with a bag overflowing with sweets. Hermione was pleased to see his appetite had returned. It appeared that thumping Draco Malfoy had had a cathartic effect on her friend.
“Nothing much,” Harry answered in an off-handed fashion.
“Suit yourself,” Ron replied. He wasn’t really interested in anything but the rapid consumption of chocolate frogs and finding someone to play chess with.
“Well, that’s the tricky bit,” Hermione said in a low voice. “It has to be made and consumed within twelve hours, and we have no idea when we will see Remus again.” Harry looked crestfallen, but Hermione continued enthusiastically. “If I can get the ingredients together and keep them to hand, then there is no reason why I can’t make it up the next time we see him.”
“How are we going to get him to take it?” Harry asked. “It’s not likely he will do it if he thinks it’s something we knocked up in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, is he?”
Hermione looked offended at Harry’s low opinion of her potion, but had already considered the possibility of Remus baulking at the untried concoction.
“We can always say it’s a new type of tea. You know what he’s like for drinking tea,” she suggested, and Harry, for want of a better idea, agreed with her.
Hermione was usually a stickler for rules. In asking her to make this potion, Harry had appealed to the side of her he knew was most likely to give in to the idea, her quest for knowledge and the need to be able to do every spell, charm or potion put before her. This need was blinding her to the possible outcomes of this crusade, and now that she had become involved, she was just as committed as Harry to producing the potion.
“How are you going to return the book to her room?” she asked as Harry picked up his quill to start his homework again.
“Ah, that’s all under control,” he said with a mysterious grin. “I have a secret weapon.”
“What is it?” she asked, intrigued.
“Watch this,” he said. “Nev! Have you got a minute?”
“What is it, Harry?” Neville said, trundling over with a good-natured grin on his face. He tripped over the edge of the rug by the fire and stumbled into Ron’s chessboard sending several pieces screaming towards the fire. It was only Ron’s quick thinking that rescued a very frightened looking white queen, along with a livid black knight whose horse reared and flared its nostrils in a very agitated manner.
“Watch it, Neville!” he said as he rearranged all the pieces before resuming his game with Nearly Headless Nick, who couldn’t really play and didn’t understand the rules, but was better than nothing.
“Sorry,” Neville said as he flopped down on the chair next to Harry’s.
“Have you done your Charms homework?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, did it ages ago,” Neville replied and then suddenly looked doubtful. “You don’t want to copy it, do you?”
Hermione almost choked on her hot chocolate at the thought of them copying from Neville, whose Charms work left a lot to be desired.
“No, that’s okay, but thanks anyway. I found a book in the library earlier that I know belongs to Professor O’Malley, and I think it’s quite important, but I don’t have the time to take it to her office. Would you mind taking it for me?” Harry displayed his most winning smile before pulling out Maeve’s book from his bag.
“Sure, Harry, no problem,” said Neville as he took the book from Harry. “Do you want me to tell her it was you who found it?”
Harry paused for a moment, considering the question, before telling Neville to take the credit.
“I’m sure she’ll be really pleased to have it back, so there may be a few House Points in for you. Just say you found it.” Harry grinned again, and Hermione frowned at his deviousness. As Neville loped from the room, she found herself telling him off yet again.
“Really, Harry, poor Neville could get into trouble,” she scolded.
“Who is going to believe that Neville would steal a book? Honestly, I thought you had more sense.”
Harry had to duck quite rapidly as Hermione’s Charms textbook flew across the table at him and landed right in the middle of Ron’s chessboard.
“BLOODY HELL!” roared Ron as the pieces scattered across the floor.
Neville hummed to himself as he trotted along to Maeve’s office. He liked visiting her rooms. She usually had lots of interesting plants lying around for use in her Potions experiments, and he always found something new in there. She was the best teacher, apart from Professor Sprout, that he had ever had at Hogwarts, and he felt he was much more able to relax in her presence than anyone else’s
Knocking on her door, he thought he could hear voices inside the room and was about to slink away when the door was wrenched open. The terrifying figure of Professor Snape stood there, blocking out the light.
“What is it, Longbottom?” he snapped, and Neville quaked a little in his shoes.
“I’ve… I’ve… erm… I’ve….” Neville found he couldn’t get the words out.
“You’ve what?” he roared impatiently at the poor boy.
“Severus, please.” Maeve opened the door further and smiled down at Neville. “What can I do for you?”
Neville still couldn’t get the words out as he felt Severus’ chilly breath swirling round him, and he looked like he was about to bolt.
“Severus, could you come back later – or, better still, I’ll pop down to your office after dinner.” She smiled at the Potions master. Neville stared in amazement at the fact that anyone could smile at that monster. Snape gave a lethargic sigh, allowing his eyes to travel up and down Neville with a curl of distaste in the corner of his mouth.
“Well, if you prefer the company of an inept sixth-year to me, that’s your choice, but I hardly think the conversation will be that stimulating,” he said as he stepped past Neville with a disagreeable look.
“Come in, Neville,” she said. “And ignore him.”
Neville entered her office and immediately felt happier. He could see a strange new plant in her window that he thought he recognised as a Finklefletched Scarab Catcher. Maeve automatically opened a Butterbeer and handed it to Neville, who accepted gratefully. As Maeve looked down, she saw her book in his other hand.
“Where did you get that?” she asked, reaching down to take it from him.
“Library,” he said as he swigged at his glass. “I found it earlier. Harry saw it and said he thought it was yours, so I brought it along to see if it was.”
“Yes, it is mine; it went missing from my room. I wonder what it was doing in the library?” she mused, running her fingers across the binding.
“Is that what I think it is?” Neville asked, going over to the plant he had spotted and poking at it with a pencil. Within seconds the plant had clamped hungry-looking leaves around the tip of the pencil, yanking it from Neville’s hand. His mouth dropped open in surprise as the plant appeared to try and smoke the pencil, before throwing it across the room in disgust.
“Yes it is,” she grimaced. “I bought it from a man in Diagon Alley, who said he had picked it up in Egypt. It’s supposed to eat beetles, but I think this one has been smoking a Hookah in the tents of the Bedouin because it gets very emotional if it doesn’t get a quick puff of some Gripeweed.”
Neville looked at the plant again, and he could have sworn it was crying; its leaves were shuddering up and down, while its stalk was rocking from side to side.
“Isn’t smoking another plant a bit like cannibalism?” he asked as he turned away from the plant and its weeping effect.
“Hmm… if it is, that fellow doesn’t seem too bothered,” she said absently, flicking through the book to try and discern if anyone had marked its pages. Neville walked across to the desk and suddenly froze, his eyes fixed on the shallow pin tray that sat next to a pile of books.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Neville’s face had gone very pale, and she thought he was about to drop his drink. He seemed to recover, giving a shake of his head, but his gaze was still fixed on the table. She tried to see what it was that could have shaken him, but there was nothing there that was unusual, just her books, quills, parchments and her tray that she used for fiddly bits and pieces that would get lost otherwise.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said slowly, but he suddenly didn’t want to be in the room anymore. The piece of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum had reminded him of his mum, who lived on the Closed Ward at St Mungo’s.
“Yes there is, Neville, what is it?”
“No, really,” he insisted as he placed his glass carefully on the table. “It’s fine, it’s just… well, it’s just my mum is sick. She doesn’t really recognise me, but whenever I visit, she always gives me the wrappers from Drooble’s Gum. Seeing that piece on your desk just reminded me of her. It’s not that popular, so you don’t see it very often. I’ve got loads of wrappers. Gran keeps telling me to throw them away, but I don’t want to. They’re all she has ever given me and they’re, well, they’re just special, but Gran doesn’t understand.”
He ground to a halt, looking at Maeve warily, as if expecting her to say exactly the same as his gran, but she didn’t. She came and patted him gently on the shoulder, her touch a gesture of reassurance.
“I lost my mum when I was younger too, Neville, and it’s the little things that mean a lot. You keep those wrappers if they are important to you, and never mind what your gran says. It can be difficult for some people to understand situations when they have no experience of them.” She gave him an encouraging smile. Maeve quickly picked up the gum and dropped it into the bin. She had no idea why she had hung on to it anyway; it had been a silly thing to do, as if keeping it would somehow reveal its original owner.
Neville stayed for a little while longer and was pleased as punch when she gave him a cutting from the Beatus Cogitatio plant that grew in her bedroom. He dashed off straightaway to the greenhouses to plant it in some rooting powder, and felt decidedly more cheerful about life.