There was no smell more pleasant, Neville Longbottom thought happily, than the sugary smell of something baking in the oven. He curled his toes under the tightly-drawn blankets of his bed and debated whether to get up or perhaps continue reading his adventure novel for just a few more minutes. It was the summer holiday, after all, and a summer holiday was good for nothing if not lazing about and doing nothing in particular. But just as he was about to pick up the book once more, his brain clicked into gear, and along with the smell of boiling tea came the connection he’d come to associate with it.
His relatives must be coming today.
It wasn’t that Neville disliked his great uncle and great aunt, exactly; on the contrary, Great Uncle Algie told very thrilling stories. Being his grandmother’s brother, he really couldn’t have been more different, stern and austere as she was. And Great Aunt Enid was always good for a Sickle or two if Gran looked away for a moment. No, the problem with having relatives for tea was the fact that whenever they were around, Neville always felt as though his life was in perpetual danger.
For a boy who had reached the age of eight, and had grown up in the wizarding world his entire life, Neville Longbottom had shown a surprising lack of magical ability – namely, none. And Great Uncle Algie was apparently under the impression that this magic was simply buried dormant deep within Neville, perhaps caught in his ribs or something, and he was determined to shake it loose from him. On a very memorable day the summer before, Neville had been taken by tremendous surprise when Great Uncle Algie had simply shoved him off the end of the Blackpool pier, apparently forgetting his grandnephew had never learned to swim. In his credit, he had profusely apologized once it was clear that Neville was in no danger of being drowned.
As though sensing her grandson was up, the imperious and demanding voice of Augusta Longbottom suddenly shouted up the stairs, shattering those rather lucid and horrible memories. “Neville, we do not waste away the day,” she said crisply. From the kitchen there was a sort of tinkling, as though china cups were being shuffled around together. “Please dress quickly and come downstairs. Algernon and Enid are due within the half hour, and I should like you looking decent before then.”
“Coming, Gran,” Neville called back down, attempting in vain to disguise the distinct overtone of laziness from his voice. He swung his legs from bed and shuffled out of his striped silk pajamas as slowly as he thought he could get away with; he had not bothered changing out of them after breakfast several hours previously, seeing no sense in doing so if he was climbing right back into bed. He chose his most nondescript shirt and slacks from his orderly wardrobe – his grandmother never tolerated sloppiness, even in an eight-year-old boy. Perhaps, he thought idly, stuffing his foot into the wrong shoe and only realizing it once he’d begun to lace it, I might be able to work at cleaning things, if I don’t get to go to Hogwarts.
It was Neville’s greatest fear that he might be what he’d heard his grandmother call a Squib – someone born into a wizarding family, but without any magical powers themselves. Gran had made Squibs sound like terribly boring and depressing people, never having any fun in the world – rather like house elves, although he’d never met one of them, either. He’d heard many stories from Great Uncle Algie about his youth at the school, and thought he’d rather like to attend it.
Downstairs, his grandmother was standing in front of the stove, testing a batch of meringue with a toothpick. She looked up as he entered, her rather shrewd eyes glancing at the crease in his trousers, which had become decidedly mussed somehow in the course of his trip downstairs. She did not comment on his appearance, however, and merely turned back to the stove.
“Be a dear and set the table for me,” she said, gesturing vaguely to the tea service set out on the counter. Neville picked it up gingerly and placed the pot of tea in the very center, careful not to touch the hottest parts. His mouth was watering rather badly at the prospect of getting a bit of meringue, and he had to concentrate very hard so as not to burn himself.
“Will Great Uncle Algie be coming today?” he asked, glancing back at Gran before popping one of the sugar cubes into his mouth. She’d never notice, he thought – even he couldn’t tell it was missing.
“As always,” the woman replied, wiping her hands neatly on the small apron fastened at her waist and placing the meringue pan on a cooling rack. “And I would like you to be on your best behavior today. We don’t need any more sorts of near-accidents like the previous one.” Neville shuddered in remembered horror and quickly set a cup down, clattering it a bit too strongly. “And if you would be so kind as to replace that sugar cube, it would put me at ease.”
How did she know? Neville thought in bemused wonderment, shaking his head a bit and eyeing his grandmother suspiciously as he moved to the cupboard to fetch a replacement for the offending cube.
At the precise moment he laid down the final cup and saucer, there was a sharp and strong knock on the front door of the small Longbottom home – Neville could always tell when it was his great uncle who was there. He always knocked twice, paused, and knocked three more times, in rapid succession. Neville didn’t know why; perhaps he had a sort of tic.
“And there’s my favorite grandnephew!” Great Uncle Algie boomed, filling the hall with his magnanimous presence as soon as Neville had finished struggling with the latch.
“I’m your only grandnephew,” Neville replied, as he always did, clasping his hands behind his back. He never knew if Great Uncle Algie forgot this or simply made this joke every time the two saw each other, but he put up with it nonetheless.
His relative’s rather debonair mustache twitched in a smile as he scooped the boy up into his arms, hugging him whilst simultaneously making his way toward his sister’s kitchen and the cooking that waited him there. From his view over Great Uncle Algie’s shoulder, he could see Great Aunt Enid rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she removed her traveling gloves.
“Algernon,” said Gran, smiling one of her rare smiles as her brother and his wife appeared in the kitchen. She raised a slim eyebrow, seeing Neville in the older man’s arms, and it was clear she didn’t approve of him being toted about as though he were once more a child. Neville hastily wriggled to be let down, and Great Uncle Algie complied.
“Something smells rather fabulous, Gussie,” he said, patting her cheek and shuffling a bit to the left to conceal Enid and Neville; the former had just been rummaging about in her slightly moth-eaten coin purse for a Sickle to bestow upon him, as expected. “Meringue, I hope?”
Gran did not comment on her brother’s use of her childhood nickname – he was the only one still brave enough to venture calling her that. “On the stove,” she said, motioning toward it. “Tea will be served in just a few minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“Not at all, not at all,” Great Uncle Algie chuckled merrily, as though someone had just let him in on a wonderful secret. “I’ll find something to do to bide my time, I’m sure.” He surveyed his surroundings with a casual eye, and for some reason currently unbeknownst to him, Neville’s insides were suddenly and rapidly plagued with a hideous feeling of foreboding. And, sure enough, not thirty seconds had passed before he spoke again. “I wonder if young Neville here might not be willing to show me a few of his books and - things?”
Neville swallowed, unsure of what his great uncle had planned, but not liking the way the conversation had turned. “I’m not willing, thank you,” he said as politely as he could manage, scooting towards his gran. She turned upon him with a hawk-like gaze, brandishing a long wooden spoon at him.
“Your uncle has made a request of you,” she said firmly. “Don’t be unkind now, Neville. There’s a good boy.”
He’s only my great uncle, Neville thought sullenly, but saw that fighting wasn’t worth the effort at the moment. “Come on, then,” he said gloomily, turning and making for the stairs up to his bedroom, half-wondering if he would come near death this afternoon or not. You never knew with Great Uncle Algie anymore.
His room was small, but tidy, and a grown man and small boy had no difficulty fitting into it, despite the large amount of furniture crammed in. “What a lovely room you have, Neville,” Great Uncle Algie said, eyeing it all with a considerable dose of pleasure. This was a rather ill-fitting comment, as his relative had been inside his bedroom at least three instances Neville could remember, but he did not touch on this either.
“I have lots of adventure novels,” he said instead, moving toward the small bookcase by his bedside table. “Millicent Mulligan has a new one out – The Adventures of Winston, The Brave Little Bowtruckle. See?” He lifted up the book in its garish green cover to show his great uncle, hoping that if he talked about his books enough he would either distract him or simply run out the clock.
“Very nice,” said Great Uncle Algie, in a tone that signified he really didn’t care too much about bowtruckles, brave or otherwise. He ambled over to the large window across from the door leading back out onto the landing, looking through it at the overcast English sky outside, as though it were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. Neville instantly wished he’d thought to close it before his great uncle had arrived.
“Lovely day,” he said calmly, fiddling with the end of his mustache innocently. It was not a lovely day, and his grandnephew sat back on his heels, frowning slightly and preparing to make a dash for the door should Great Uncle Algie appear to be trying any of his magic-squashing tricks. He watched as the old man looked up, and gave a sudden start of surprise.
“What is that?” he cried, pointing with a slightly trembling finger to something that was out of Neville’s line of vision. And, in retrospect, Neville might have suspected this to be a trick, but he was nothing if not a very trusting boy of eight, and so immediately pattered over to see whatever it was his great uncle had spotted.
This was his mistake.
Although considerably old, being Gran’s older brother, Great Uncle Algie moved remarkably swiftly for someone his age. With a slight bump of the other’s elbow between the shoulder blades, Neville found himself pitched headfirst through the open window quite before he could think. A hand wrapped around his right ankle, and then his left, holding them firmly so that he was now dangling from the window, looking at the siding of the little cottage upside-down.
“Uncle Algie!” he bellowed, but instead of anger the predominant emotion in his voice became merely fright, and so the shout sounded squeaky and ill-timed. He wasn’t even sure if Great uncle Algie had heard it at all. “Uncle Algie, please let me back inside!”
“Neville, my dear, Squib-inclined boy,” Great Uncle Algie shouted back, not sounding sorry at all, “we must make that magic appear sometime, eh what? Can’t you get yourself back inside? Try hard, now!”
Neville screwed up his eyes tightly, concentrating very hard, although he wasn’t sure what he was concentrating on. “I… I don’t think so,” he said, ashamed now of the hot tears of fright that had sparked in his eyes. “Could you perhaps let me try when my feet are firmly on the ground?”
There was no response. “Uncle Algie?” Neville shouted back again, now hoping beyond hope that no curious neighbors poked their heads out their own windows to see what was going on. They might take a man dangling an eight-year-old out of a window the wrong way.
From somewhere very distant, as though deep within the house he was now dangling out of, he heard Great Aunt Enid’s voice, which appeared to be shouting up the stairs. “Algie?” she warbled, and Neville’s heart soared. “Algie, darling, come down and have some meringue!”
“What’s that?” Great Uncle Algie made a sort of movement, and Neville smacked into the side of the house painfully.
“Meringue!” shrieked Neville’s great aunt. And, with a little “Ah!” of understanding and delight, Great Uncle Algie promptly let go of his grandnephew’s ankles, and the boy immediately began falling in a decidedly downward direction.
As he plummeted, Neville was oddly allowed enough time for several thoughts to pass through his head. The first of these was that, if today was the day he was destined to die, falling from a window into the garden below was at least an interesting way to go about it. The second of these near-death thoughts was that it wasn’t really Great Uncle Algie’s fault, for one might be prone to distraction upon being offered a meringue. And the last thought was a bit of regret that he wouldn’t get to sample today’s dessert for himself.
This was the last thing he remembered pondering before he bounced right off the cobbles below. And bounced a bit more, and a bit more, and bounced all the way to the end of the small path leading to the front door and right out through the still-open gate before momentum brought him to a rolling halt in the middle of the deserted road.
It took a few moments for the fact that he was alive to sink in, and right as this happened, three extremely flustered-looking figures burst through the door of the house, flapping their hands and crying out hysterically. None of the words coming out of their mouths were intelligible, but they spoke of general panic and distress.
“Merlin, Neville,” Great Uncle Algie said at last, entirely abandoning propriety and kneeling in the dirty road, messing up his suit. “I didn’t mean to – terribly sorry that I –“ He began again to fiddle with the ends of his mustache, at a loss for what to say.
“It’s all right,” said Neville, patting the older man’s arm consolingly. “I’m not hurt. I just bounced.”
The panicky noises stopped with eerie quickness, and Neville blinked at his relatives in turn, trying to make sense of it. “You – you what?” stammered Great Aunt Enid.
“I bounced,” he repeated, with a little shrug of the shoulders.
Gran promptly burst into tears, which shocked Neville even more than the fall from the window had, as sudden changes of extreme emotion were something she simply didn’t do. “He bounced!” she wailed – Neville, however, thought it was a happy sort of wail – and patted about her pockets, seeking a handkerchief with which to blow her nose. “My grandson bounced!”
“I knew you had a bit of magic in you, yes yes!” Great Uncle Algie thundered, ruffling his grandnephew’s hair roughly. “Good show, old sport, good show indeed!”
“I do?” Neville said wonderingly, but this only caused another chuckle and another ruffling of the hair.
“Come along inside, dear,” said Great Aunt Enid, holding out her hand; she too looked a bit flushed from the sudden swelling of emotion this bouncing had caused. Neville took it and staggered to his feet, dusting the dirt off the seat of his trousers. “You need a bit of meringue to celebrate this happy event.” With Gran still crying joyfully, she went back inside to dish up the pudding.
Neville glanced up at Great Uncle Algie, still beaming proudly, and a smile of his own crept across his round face. He was magical after all! His great uncle gestured broadly with a sweep of his hand for Neville to precede him up the path, and the boy did so, not sure now whether even a bit of his gran’s meringue could sweeten up this day any more.
A/N: A brand-new story! I am so excited to get this underway -- really, these stories put me in such a good mood, and I'm a bit giddy even now, posting this. Whether you're coming back or appearing for the first time, I'm so glad you've clicked on this story, and hope you'll continue to read as the stories make their appearances! For those curious souls, I've no idea who I'm including at the moment, or in what order -- I've got some semblance of plots here and there, but my mind's a bit here and there anyway.
Thank you for beginning Growing Up Magical, and if you've made it this far, a review would completely make my day! Hope to see you again!