Thanks for the letter and especially the picture of the kids. I can’t believe how big Lily is getting! It looks like everyone had a great time at her birthday party. Last month I went to New Orleans with two other teachers for some early Christmas shopping. Your packages should have got there by now. At least I hope so.
I thought you’d be interested to know I attended my first Quodpot match last yesterday. Quickfang beat Proudfeather 160 to 80. Mr. Corntassel was devastated! (I expect he had some sort of bet going with Mr. Malleus.) Anyway, Quodpot players are mad! Flitting about with an exploding Quaffle on the pitch isn’t my idea of a good time, I’ll tell you. But the students think it’s the greatest thing since Chocolate Frogs. I think I’ll stick to Quidditch personally. At least I understand the rules.
Speaking of Mr. Corntassel: I can’t believe how much I’ve learned the past five months. Professor McGonagall really knew what she was doing putting my name in for this fellowship. Next time you see Percy, tell him thanks for pulling strings at the Department of International Magical Cooperation to raise the funding. They’re doing the most amazing things with toadstools here
Angry children’s voices in the hallway captured Neville’s attention. He set down his quill and strode to his office door. Opening it a crack, he spied three second-years at the end of the corridor.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” It was Will Proctor, one of the Proudfeather students in Mr. Corntassel’s Tuesday morning Herbology class. Will was tall and gangly and not the most physically coordinated boy at Malkin Academy. Someone told Neville he had grown four inches since last summer, and apparently his brain still hadn’t figured out how to move all that height.
“Keep your voice down!” If the boy was Will Proctor, then the two girls arguing with him had to be Kate Burroughs and Dana Good. The three were all but inseparable. Kate, the redhead, was also in Proudfeather House. She shushed Will as her eyes darted right and left. Neville stepped back from his door, and then eased back to his vantage point.
“Listen, I thought we agreed,” Kate continued. “Mr. Malleus is keeping something in his office—something dangerous. And I’m sure it has something to do with the Quodpot game. You saw how that last Quod went off early. Someone could have gotten hurt. I mean seriously hurt.”
“C’mon, Will,” tall, dark-haired Dana Good interjected. Dana was in Fairgarland House, but the two Houses took Herbology and Defense against the Dark Arts together. “You saw the smirk on Malleus’s face. He knew something bad was about to happen!”
“Look, Mr. Malleus was happy his team was winning. You can’t make him into some kind of, of Death Eater or something because of that! You’re just mad he took points away ‘cause you sucker-punched Bashari Parris when your Disarming Charm fizzled out. And anyway, we can’t go breaking into a teacher’s office! Do you want to get us expelled?”
“We’re in this together, Will,” Kate said. Even at this distance Neville could see the blue fire in her eyes.
“No, we’re not,” he sighed, pulling his wand from beneath his robes. Kate and Dana drew their wands as well. “You’re my friends. I’m not going to let you get in trouble.”
Kate sighed and glanced at Dana. “Sorry about this, Will” she said. All three wands were a blur of motion, then—
“Expelliarmus!” Neville shouted, and the three wands flew from the hands of Will, Kate, and Dana and into his waiting grasp.
“Mr. Longbottom!” They all cried at once.
“Good evening,” Neville said. “Funny place for dueling practice, eh?”
Kate seemed suddenly fascinated with Neville’s shoes. “Yeah, well…”
“I’d recommend the gymnasium. It’s really excellent, you know. In the morning I’ll see about reserving you a mat if you like. Although, this close to Christmas holiday I doubt you’d have any trouble—”
“M–Mr. Longbottom,” Will stammered. “We weren’t practicing dueling.” Kate and Dana seethed quietly.
“No. I mean—well…” Dana curled her fingers into two white-knuckled fists.
“No matter,” Neville said. You’d best be off. Lights out in—” he checked his pocket watch. “Well, look at that, you’re already past curfew. Better move along now. Goodnight, all.”
“Good night, Mr. Longbottom,” they all said, and then scurried back to their dormitory.
“One minute, Will,” Neville called.
“Yes, Mr. Longbottom?” Will, now white as a sheet, began to tremble.
Neville sighed. “Will, you understand that I’m here at Malkin as a teaching fellow. I don’t have the same authority as a regular faculty member.”
“Yes, Mr. Longbottom?” Will’s voice cracked with stress.
“It is not for me to award—or penalize—a student’s House.”
Will’s eyes began to tear.
“Therefore, I’m going to talk to Mr. Corntassel about awarding ten points to Proudfeather House because of what I’ve observed here tonight.”
Now Will’s mouth fell open.
“Let’s just say it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends. Someone very wise taught me that lesson long ago. Now, off you go!”
“Yes sir, Mr. Longbottom, sir. And thank you, sir!”
Neville scratched his head. Had it really been nineteen years?
“You handled that well.” An old man’s voice startled Neville back to the present. Before him a tall, regal-looking, figure materialized.
“Been here long, then, Mr. Corntassel?” Neville was only beginning to get used to the idea that his supervisor could become invisible at will, and often walked the halls in such a state. He pretended not to hear Neville’s question.
“Please, Neville, call me Magi. All the other teachers do.” He shifted his weight on his moccasins, turning his whole body to look in the direction the three students had headed.
“That could have been an embarrassing situation. Jacob Malleus treasures his privacy. He’s got more Dark Detectors in his office than I have gray hairs. Those three are a handful—and they’re only in their second year! I wonder, though, how different they are, really, from other youngsters of your sometime acquaintance…”
“I don’t think you want to know, Mr. Corn—Magi.”
“You’re doing good work here, Neville. I’ve expressed as much to Principal Towne. You’re a good student, and I daresay you have the makings of a fine teacher. Minerva’d be lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Neville blushed. “I’ll be Apparating to London at the end of the week. If I don’t see you again, Happy Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you, Neville,” Mr. Corntassel said as he once again disappeared from view.
Neville returned to his office, a tear in his eye and a smile on his face. He sat down at his desk and resumed his letter.
Anyway, Harry, I just wanted to wish you a Happy Christmas. Malkin Academy is brilliant—but I can’t wait to get home. Remember me to Ginny and the kids, and Ron and Hermione if you see them.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out what looked like an ordinary gold Galleon. He rubbed its edge with his thumb, feeling the ridges of the fake serial number placed upon it with a Protean Charm. Was it just his imagination, or did the coin grow warmer in his hand?
Then he took out two more sheets of parchment. On the first, he wrote,
Dear Professor McGonagall,
Having thought it over, I have decided to accept your invitation to become the new Herbology Professor at Hogwarts next September. I’ll be in London for Christmas Holiday and if you like I can pop up to Hogsmeade and we can work out the details. I’ll await your owl at the Leaky Cauldron.
On the last parchment he wrote,
In just a few more days I’ll be home for Christmas. I can’t believe how much I miss you. Thank you so much for understanding why I wanted to come to America.
Hannah, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to take the position we’ve been talking about. I know that means extra stress for you, and I’m sorry, but I hope—I believe—this is something we’ve both wanted.
All my love, my Darling,
PS: You should have received my Christmas presents by now. Rue Saint-Expédite in New Orleans is nearly as big as Diagon Alley! Mr. Rainey and Mme Glapion took me there for Thanksgiving. I probably spent more than I should have done, but you’re worth it! Just leave everything beneath the tree and we can open them when I get there.
Neville then stoppered his inkwell, but away his quill, and departed his office, locking the door behind him.