Chapter 11 : Because Sometimes Life Is a Circle
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“Ah, children,” Flitwick proclaimed, clasping his hands beneath his chin and beaming out at the populace of all seven years of students. Faculty members and teachers dotted the crowd, their lack of uniform placing them apart from the younger faces. Neville felt antsy, his hand flickering every so often as he contemplated the most likely reaction of the crowd if he suddenly burst and ran to the edge of the Forest, apparated back to the lake, and completed what they had started.
Someone, someday, would figure out what had happened. He remembered with a searing embarrassment the time in his third year he had left out the list of passwords he had written to avoid being locked out of the common room and what that had lead to--both his detention (which hadn’t been his first) and his embarrassment in front of the entire Gryffindor house.
This time, he had written down the coordinates of the lake containing one of the most dangerous plants in probably all of existence--he had angered several different species of creatures, which, all completely different did have a common thread among them. Protect the Quidropopot and impede (or severely maim--and a shiver ran up his spine remembering that weightless feeling of thinking, for a half-hour in time, that Scorpius may have died) all that comes in search of it.
The forest was a conglomerate of several different magical creatures, plants, and other sorts--and yet it had somehow worked in harmony to make finding this singular plant one of the most dangerous and most difficult tasks a human could undertake. That is, second most dangerous to facing down with Voldemort, but that was over and done.
Obviously the plant was harmful in the wrong hands. Natural born enemies united in search of it and protection of it. And Hugo Weasley was carrying a very tiny specimen in a strange silver box given to him by a herd of centaurs who more than usually kept to themselves and the stars in the heart of the quiet and the dark of the forest.
Neville’s hand moved into his coat to place a hand over the piece of scrap parchment upon which he’d marked the coordinates. Of course his plan had only been to have theoretical knowledge of the plant’s potential whereabouts--he had planned to, as soon as Hugo and Scorpius had retrieved the fruit and they had decided that it was better to leave it there, at the tropical, frozen lake, and to come away with their lives, sanity, and the pride at having found something made impossible to find. Only the nymphs had come.
Neville rather doubted the nymph’s intentions. They materialized well enough at the most convenient, most obvious moment, after the centaurs had alerted Neville and the boys of their danger. Wouldn’t it have made more sense, if the nymphs had really been after them, for an ambush before Hugo had gotten his hands on the Quidropopot? With the ruby inside, magical, awaiting application?
It seemed rather to Neville that they had waited. Waited for Hugo to retrieve the fruit, the ruby, all of its potential. And then, to keep up appearances, they’d just--what, nearly killed someone who was about to carry out the deed they really wanted? No, Neville thought, shaking his head. Creatures are different. They don’t succumb to greed. There isn’t that seed in them, the wanting more and more, the hubris that said you could overbound yourself and your kind and become something greater than you could imagine--than you could handle. If Neville knew anything from his school days, it was that power in the wrong hands was devastating. Evil.
So he had made the decision to use the coordinates in the favor of the progression of the human race. To plant protection charms, the Unplottable amongst others, upon the lake. No one, not even wizards, would be able to find the place. Trusting the Acromantulas, nymphs, hinkypunks and centaurs to guard the fruit was not difficult. Neville was sure himself that if they hadn’t had the aid of the centuars they would never have made it out alive. Or made it to the lake. Still, there was the chance--the one percent, the one part of million-to-one that he wasn’t willing to risk.
Only, he had sort of been interrupted. Near death, all that. Nymphs. Unicorns.
There were tears in the little old wizard’s eyes as he recounted in detail the bravery of the students during the Second Wizarding War, particularly the Battle of Hogwarts. Neville glanced around to see that most of the students were staring into space, their eyes glazed over, or chattering with their friends under their breath. He saw to his right that Scorpius had a look of severe concentration pulling at his brows, and wondered suddenly whether or not Flitwick had mentioned that Slytherin house had been evacuated from the premises during the Battle of Hogwarts. That might have been a sore subject nowadays, but when the little professor went into raptures it was a little silly to expect any sort of reasoning out of him.
“And generations past are not the only ones deserving veneration. Though admittedly, Professor Longbottom is not quite so young as he would have you--”
“Oi!” Neville shouted good-naturedly. A few giggled. He looked past Scorpius who had lifted a cheek in an almost-smile to Hugo, who was staring at Flitwick with rapt attention, his eyes alert and his back straight. It was as if he were completely oblivious to the fact that he was about to be highly praised by one of the most respected men in Wizarding Britain.
“Well, all right, then, Neville, have it your way.” Flitwick winked very indiscreetly, and Rose Weasley tittered from the other side of Hugo, sending Neville a sly look. He pretended not to notice, looking back at Flitwick determinedly.
“So--ahem--there are two students in particular who have risen to the challenge of providing a great service to the poor little unicorns who lost their way. We are all in need, now and again, of a little guidance.” Neville turned quickly as he saw Hugo turn and grin widely at him. His heart flopped with a surge of pride and he smiled discreetly. Scorpius reached over Marjorie’s head and patted Hugo on the shoulder.
“These two students have showed great bravery and selflessness, and so to Scorpius Malfoy--” a murmur ran through the crowd, a contagious ripple, the Malfoy name acting as a pebble dropped into a body of still water, awakening a wide-spread reaction. “--and to Hugo Weasley, I award, in total, one hundred points to Gryffindor house.”
The reaction was instantaneous and took Neville by surprise. He knew that both boys were well-known for prowess on the Quidditch pitch, and were not unused to riding atop the shoulders of raging fans, but, he thought, how absurd to receive the same treatment for recovering a batch of golden baby unicorns from the heart of the Forbidden Forest. It all cleared up, though, when he realized that they hadn’t been lifted up intentionally, instead the pressure of the entire female population of Hogwarts sending them up into a pinnacle of celebration of sensitivity on top of the shoudlers of a fawning population, obviously in need of some more unicorn-saving men in their daily lives. It was unusual, so highly unusual to see a Slytherin female willingly carrying a Gryffindor Chaser and Keeper upon their shoulders that Neville was actually slightly alarmed. Rose and Marjorie stood at the fringe of the mess, looking torn between amusement and annoyance.
“And,” Flitwick boomed over the high-pitched cheering, and it all seemed to stop, the students probably wondering from the looks on their faces, what could possibly be better. “For Professor Longbottom’s bravery and selflessness, I present to you all--” He paused, an exaggeratedly gleeful countenance beaming out at them all, “Licorice wands!” He raised his wand to the sky and they shot out from behind him like fireworks, arching over and down into the crowd.
Neville reached up deftly and caught a wand about to impale him between the eyes. He looked up to see that, Scorpius and Hugo forgotten, the students had broken off into two large bodies, one rushing hurriedly to carry Flitwick upon their shoulders (which seemed to be their main display of affection and appreciation), and the other directed plainly and quickly in his own direction.
In the moment of calm before the storm hit completely, Neville took a quiet second to pinch the bridge of his nose, shake his head toward the ground, and think: Only at Hogwarts.
Hours after the feast had ended, the Slytherin fangirls had retreated to their lives of snobbish quietude, and most of Hogwarts was sound asleep, bellies full of licorice and roast chicken, three silhouettes played across the modest wooden backdrop of the east wall of Neville Longbottom’s office. Snow fell quietly across the grounds, filling in the light divots of past havoc and settling a blanket of peace across the slopes, the black expanse of the lake, and the grey stone of the castle. Hugo Weasley reclined contentedly in a fat armchair by the fire, a half-empty butterbeer clutched in his right fist, his face pointed in the general direction of the other two occupants of the small room.
Neville Longbottom, who looked the same as most days, with perhaps a little more hair sticking up at odd ends, was sitting in a wing-back wicker staring slantedly into space. Scorpius Malfoy, looking strangely serene, was basking in the dull warmth of the fire, sprawled over a pouf on the floor. They had been in the room for three hours; it was well after midnight, inching into the light hours of morning.
“What about the Quidropopot?”
It was Scorpius. Neville started out of his stupor and for a moment, he felt the chill of the black, midnight air of the Forbidden Forest brush across his forehead. He pulled his collar closer to his neck, and turned to Hugo, who had taken out the small silver box and was holding it out in a palm, as if he were testing its weight. Neville was, of course, as a Herbology professor, very interested in the plant himself, but he had put off asking because he was interested in what Hugo would decide to say about it. However, now that it was out in the open...
“I wonder,” Hugo said, reaching up a hand and scrabbling at the non-existent stubble on his chin, “if it can ever come out?”
He looked towards Neville with a kind of helpless face, which was something endearing and somewhat relieving to see. Neville knew that in a space of five days it was true that Hugo had seemed to have come to terms with himself, his differences, the fact that he was enough of his parents in his most organic personality, but he was still always going to retain the child in him, the slightly off-beat student, the one who would still attempt bribery as a last-ditch effort to raise his potions or charms mark.
“I would guess it might,” Neville responded cautiously, “but you have to be careful with that box. Don’t let your wand fall into it, or--or you, don’t let yourself fall into it.” Hugo looked as though he were entertaining the idea of being very small as an entertaining and potentially exciting one, but he shook his head quickly and looked to Scorpius for a second opinion.
Scorpius shrugged. “I would try to take it out, just to see,” he said honestly, his eyes flickering back over to Neville for a moment. “It is a very useful plant--and it’s not even magical anymore, right! The box, stripping it of it’s powers and all that. There’d be no harm in looking at this one Quidropopot. It’s not dangerous anymore. And looking at the one doesn’t mean you’d be tempted to go find the others, the real ones, the ones that would work. I mean--”
He seemed to be going through the same struggles that Neville had had with himself. It was useful, very useful. It would be a goldmine for the healing community, Neville, Scorpius, and Hugo could enjoy more fame than winning points and licorice wands could ever induce, and on top of everything else, it was a great discovery in and of itself. But the danger was too great--the ruby, human nature’s inherent fallibility, susceptibility to the hunger for power.
This was not an era of gods and goddesses. It was an era of the everyday man doing exceptional things. Exceptional things like traversing the length of the Forbidden Forest and hunting that a mythical plant actually exists, gallivanting with hinkypunks, rediscovering Acromantulas, making friends with centaurs, surviving wood nymph attacks, bringing the plant back...being alive, after all that had stood in survival’s way.
It was not an era of chaos. It was an era of peace.
An era in which the Quidropopot did not have room to resurface.
Scorpius struggled to continue. “It could be a lot of help to Healers and such, you know? It seems like a shame to waste it--but...But I understand it’s dangerous. And it might even seem silly, you know, after all that went to stop us from finding it, taking it back to civilization--” Neville watched Scorpius’s palm wander unconsciously to float over his chest, and his head felt fuzzy for a moment. “It may seem strange I guess that I can even consider telling anybody about what we found. It’s just a hard choice to make.”
The leap Scorpius had made was not one he seemed to recognize, but was almost the entire reason Neville was sure that Hugo should leave the fruit inside the box. Although it wasn’t magical itself, thinking about it could lead to thinking about the magical fruits...wanting them. Human nature and self-control were often at odds; it could all be different, holding it in your hand. Something in you could shift...you could start to think about possibilities. They would be innocent thoughts, but could be the gateway to something sinister. Why open the box at all, when there was the chance, however small, that it would change everything? Was curiosity enough to counterbalance the possibility of things going horribly wrong?
“It is a difficult choice, but it’s the right thing to do.” Neville was surprised slightly by the sound of confidence in his voice. He supposed he had been caught too long in reminiscing lately; the way he’d left the passwords out, the way that he had failed to stop Hermione, Harry, and Ron from going out in the middle of the night--the way he’d fallen horribly and shattered his arm his first go-round on a broom.
But things were different now. He was different--everyone in this room was different.
“So it might be better to keep it in the box,” Hugo surmised, his right hand hovering over the catch, his face slightly disappointed. “Just so we don’t get tempted...” His fingers flickered, and his wide eyes traveled to Neville’s face, looking for a reaction. For a split second, something in Neville reared to come to his aid, to make the decision for him, but it was quelled instantly at the sight of Hugo’s chin, which was completely--dry. It was an absurd sign of his quick growth, but it was a sign nonetheless. And this whole ordeal, all of it, had sort of been about following signs.
“You’re smart, Hugo,” Scorpius said quietly from the floor, startling Hugo and Neville both. He sat up. “You decide what’s best to do.”
Hugo seemed for an absurd and cartoon-like moment to swell visibly with pride. And then, just as suddenly, he deflated, clasped his fingers around the small box, and pocketed it quickly, trying his best not to look disappointed. A part of Neville himself was disappointed--after all those years of having it stored in the back of his mind as something unreal, imagined, and then in five days having his hope renewed of its existence and their own ability to find it--
He was struck with how extraordinary this all was. His mind reeled at sudden bolts of light that seemed to be flickering across his vision, connecting all of the gaps, pulling everything together into a single picture that made sense and it all rested well with him. He felt very much like leaning back and folding his hands over his belly and staring into the fire.
But at the same time, he knew what they had to do.
“Boys,” he said, and they were already standing, grabbing their coats, seeming to feel the need for one last bit of action as it was tangible in the air between them. “I meant to--to cast some charms. To protect that lake. To protect--you know. All of it. The earth, balance of power, etcetera etcetera,” he continued, flapping his hands in an off-handed manner.
“There are slim chances of anyone surviving the trip there,” Scorpius mentioned, although he was not arguing.
Neville reached into his pocket to feel the worn piece of parchment, safe in his pocket. But it might not always be safe. Something could happen. He could drop it somewhere--someone could reconstruct the ashes, if he burnt it--this was too big to be left to chances, however slim. “We started something, and we were interrupted. What do you say, Hugo?” He turned to the boy, who even after everything that had happened still seemed surprised at being consulted in this way. Like an adult, Neville mused. “Do you say we finish it?”
Hugo’s eyes sparkled in the firelight, his face lighting up with something like bravery, and he squared his shoulders before he announced into the small office, “I say we finish it.”
The three wordlessly shrugged on their coats, walked out the door, and marched to the edge of the Forest, staring up for a brief moment into the dark periwinkle sky, an unworded appreciation passing between them. Neville gave a small sigh, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the parchment with the marked coordinates, offering the students on either side of him an elbow to hold.
Hugo gasped, clutching his throat. He would always hate Apparition, although he supposed that when he learned how to do it himself he would be able to spend a little time bracing himself for the awful feeling of slipping through space. Although squeezing was probably more of an appropriate word. He felt like he was a piece of laundry and his mother was wringing him out. Poor laundry. He’d have to ask his mother to buy a clothes line.
He stopped still at the sight before him. Was it ever night here? The lake glinted serenely beneath the tropical cyan sky, the mountains edging the horizon a light purple, capped with the bright white of distant snow. He pulled his wand out of his coat and looked to his left, where Professor Neville was, waiting for instruction. In all truth, while he paid attention in Ancient Runes more than he let on, he had never had a knack for remembering Charms, even if he could perform well enough when he focused.
He saw Scorpius pull out his wand, his dark blue eyes never resting, looking around, scanning the landscape. Hugo felt a flutter in his stomach, a nervous clenching. It hadn’t occurred to him before that this might be a very horrible place for Scorpius to be again. How brave! What a Gryffindor!
“An idea had occurred to me,” Professor Neville said after waving his wand in a fancy way and a bright blue dome appeared over the entire expanse of the lake for a moment. Hugo was amazed, unable to speak, unable to look away from the lake. Did that really--was the whole lake--it was so blue! So bright! It--
“Have you ever heard of the Fidelius Charm?” Professor Neville asked with a strangely triumphant look in his eyes. Hugo racked his brain and came up only with the fact that it had failed, once, a very important time, and because of that his uncle was king of the Aurors and in nearly every history book of Wizarding kind.
He nodded, unable to see where this was going. Perhaps if he understood what the charm was he would be having the same kind of epiphany that Scorpius’s face told Hugo he was having himself.
“It’s a bit of complicated magic to wield,” Professor Neville said, seeming to sense that Hugo didn’t quite understand. “But really very simple in theory. It embeds a secret into a person’s soul. As long as the secret keeper, the person in whose soul the secret lies, keeps it safe, nothing in the world could happen to the thing the secret protects.” Hugo tried not to go right into his tried-and-true lecture mode. He struggled to understand.
Professor Neville seemed to take up his proffesor’s role and asked lightly, “Does that make sense? A secret-keeper keeps a location safe. Only the people the secret-keeper tells have access to the secret. In this case, the secret would be...”
“The lake.” It hit Hugo suddenly that that was what Professor Neville had been driving at. He wanted to cast the Fidelius charm on the lake! “But I can’t cast the charm, Professor, I don’t know how to--”
“You’d be the secret-keeper, Hugo,” Professor said, and Hugo felt his eyes go wide in his head. He wanted--he wanted him to be the secret-keeper? That seemed to be a very important role. “I would cast the charm, and you would keep the secret.” Professor Neville tilted his head to the side, his forehead creasing in the middle. Hugo’s head tilted the same way in response, automatically, and he tried to figure out what Professor Neville was wondering.
“Being the keeper of a secret like this seems very important,” Hugo said after a while when no one had spoken. Scorpius stepped up then, toeing the edge of the lake--but his foot stopped before it could hit the ice, an invisible barrier impeding his way.
“You’re ready for it, Hugo. This all--” he gestured around him, and Hugo took it to mean the entire past five days. “This all started with you, and this...this would be the perfect way to end it, don’t you think? Parallel.”
Hugo squinted, considering. When he finally spoke, he said: “You sound a lot like Rose.”
Scorpius smiled, his cheeks lifting before he could stop himself. It was true. Maybe spending so much time around her brother had had the strange effect of causing him to mirror her thought patterns. But he really did think, in every way, that Hugo as secret-keeper was the best way to conclude their adventure.
Hugo nodded slightly. “I’ll be secret-keeper.”
Scorpius stood back as Longbottom stepped up and began to wave his wand in a circular pattern, seeming to encompass the lake. Small white beams shot out of his wand and zoomed off to all borders of the lake. Thousands of them. Scorpius could hardly see for the sparks of light obscuring his vision, taking over his senses. For the moment, the light was all that existed. When it subsided, he was left with a very satisfied feeling in the pit of his chest.
Hugo looked serene, gazing out over the expanse of the lake. Longbottom was muttering under his breath, moving his wand slowly and it eventually moved to rest over Hugo’s chest.
“Hugo Arthur Weasley,” Longbottom said audibly, and magic was thick in the air, the small white bursts of light surrounding Hugo in a sort of veil, “I name you secret-keeper of this place.”
It was simpler than Scorpius imagined in word, but for that, the little white lights seemed to make up what complexity the utterance lacked by performing a strange dance around Hugo, swarming into a tribe, moving as a ball of light, first around his head, then in diagonal circles around his entire body, and then hovering for a moment before his chest before sinking right into him. Hugo’s eyes widened as the light entered his body, and for a moment the irises of his eyes became a light, light colour, like honey over ice, and then it was gone.
It was still.
The trees by the edge of the shore rustled softly in a breeze, and the entire expanse of the lake glowed for a single moment before fading back into its regular appearance of glass beneath the bright blue sky. Hugo’s eyes, green, purveyed the landscape before him, and Scorpius felt in a concentrated area of his chest a searing warmth. He looked down at his chest, and saw a dull light through his coat. He lifted its dark wool, amazed, to see that through his jumper his scar was glowing bright white, the same colour as the lake had lit, the same as the white lights that had only moments before danced around Hugo.
He looked up, noticing that a long rectangular patch of Longbottom’s coat was glowing, too.
Neville saw Scorpius’s chest alight strangely when he turned to see what the boy was staring at. Neville frowned, a little confused, when he followed Scorpius’s gaze to his own coat, which was also pulsing a white light through its thick material. He knew what it was, and reached into his pocket, once more, for the sheet of parchment upon which he had marked the lake’s coordinates. It was a brilliant white, but faded as Neville’s eyes scanned it for markings. Though the outline of the trail they had taken was still marked by a faint black line, it stopped abruptly where the edge of the forest stopped, where the shore to the Quidropopot lake began.
The coordinates were nowhere to be seen.
Unplottable, the secret lake was safe. Kept secret, nobody would ever find it.
He turned to Hugo, who was smiling happily, sifting sand through his fingers like a small child. He looked remarkably like his mother in that moment, his brown curls sloping into his eyes, the same confidence brimming about his person that Hermione had often shouldered herself. He had his father’s frame, his strange way of standing with his left shoulder dipped, moving from foot to foot unconsciously, blinking too many times.
And yet--he was Hugo. Just Hugo.
Hugo Weasley, responsible for the peace treaty between Wizardkind and centaurs, the official discovery of Acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest, and one of the three discoverers of the Quidropopot, a magical plant thought here-to-fore to be nothing more than a myth, a flight of fancy.
Neville reached over to brush a bit of dirt from Hugo’s shoulder. Sounded like a good resume to him.
Scorpius stood at his other side, hands in pockets, looking over the lake with what Neville guessed to be mixed feelings. When he saw Neville looking, he smiled lightly, shrugging modestly. Neville knew he was pleased.
They all were.
a/n: edited 17 october 2011
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