Chapter 1 : Chapter 1: The Mystery of the Mill
| ||Rating: 15+||Chapter Reviews: 2|
Background: Font color:
Neville Longbottom was sitting outside the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, waiting for Luna. His friends, Seamus and Dean, were already walking back to Hogwarts with Padma and Parvati Patel, leaving Neville to stare at the setting sun. He heard them laughing along the lane and imagined them holding hands; Seamus with Padma, Dean with Parvati. Everyone was pairing up these days. Everyone but Neville.
‘Time for that nonsense when you’ve done your NEWTs,’ his Grandmother had said. ‘You could have a distinguished career, Neville, if you don’t get distracted.’
Neville wondered whether any girl could fancy him enough to go out with him. The click of Madam Rosmerta’s sequinned heels could be heard in the bar, as she trotted about, cleaning down the tables. She came out-doors to shake her duster.
‘Your friend not back yet, dear?’ she asked.
‘She won’t be long.’
‘Better get back to Hogwarts before dark. Those old death eaters may have been rounded up, but their Hangers-on are still roaming about at night. Can’t be too careful these days! Only yesterday I heard that some old witch had disappeared from a pie shop in Diagon Alley. She’s not been seen for two weeks.’
‘That settles it. I can’t let Luna walk along the lane alone.’
‘You’re a gentleman, dear and I hope she’s grateful.’
Madam Rosmerta gave his table a flick with her duster and clicked back indoors.
Neville, Seamus and Dean had been taking a break from Professor McGonagall’s “Grand Hogwarts Restoration” work programme to enjoy an afternoon at Hogsmeade. They met up with Padma and Parvati at Honeyduke’s sweet shop and went on to the Three Broomsticks, where they ordered butterbeers. The day was warm and they were relaxed and jolly. Luna Lovegood was there already, a frogmint frappe before her on the table. She spoke very little and her frogmint frappe remained untouched. Neville wondered, not for the first time, what went on in her mind.
Suddenly she jumped to her feet and said, ‘I’m going off to see Daddy. Don’t wait!’ And, with a snap like a Christmas cracker, she disapparated.
‘Typical Luna!’ said Padma.
‘Loony!’ said Parvati.
That was three hours ago. The Hogsmeade bats were emerging from their roosts under cottage eaves and thatched turrets by the time Luna re-apparated, snap-landing neatly in the chair opposite Neville’s.
‘There you are!’ Neville said, trying to sound cool.
‘Hi Neville! Nice of you to wait.’
‘The others had to go. Things to do. Hogwarts stuff.’
They walked warily down the lane, but no Hangers-on jumped out from the high hedgerows. Luna was disinclined to talk and Neville wondered what had gone on during her visit. He recalled something Ron Weasley had told him; something about having a strange encounter with Luna’s father, Mr Xenophilius Lovegood last winter, some months before the defeat of the evil Voldemort and his death eaters. So much had happened since then that Neville had forgotten about it. When they were safely inside the school gate, with its winged, stone boars, amazingly unscarred after the recent Great Battle for Hogswarts Castle, he ventured to ask, ‘How was your father, actually?’
‘Away from home. Even the owls had gone.’
‘Oh, never mind! I’ll talk it over with Hermione. She’s great at solving stuff.’
Neville sighed. He might have known he would not be much use when it came to solving stuff, especially when it was to do with girls. They walked on in silence. At the front steps, Luna said, ‘’Night, Neville. Thanks again!’ and ran indoors.
Hermione Grainger was down early to breakfast at the Gryffindor table next day. Her bushy hair had been plaited and pinned to the top of her head and she was trimly clad in a pair of cropped jeans, a pink-checked shirt and espadrilles. Senior students who had elected to stay on over the summer to repair war damage to the castle had purchased work outfits from the Hogsmeade Charity Shop for Destitute Squibs. Hermione, as usual, had chosen perfectly. Neville, whose clothes had always been selected by his Grandmother, had wasted five sickles, nine knuts on cowboy boots that pinched his toes, a pair of jeans so baggy he had to keep them up with a dragon-skin belt and a floppy mauve T-shirt with a picture of the Three Harpies pop-group.
‘Morning Neville! Pass the marmalade, please!’
‘‘Hi, Hermione! Luna not down yet?’
‘Still asleep probably. She’d had a tiring day.’
‘I wouldn’t know. She wasn’t talking much.’
Hermione put down her marmalade knife, leaned across the table and spoke in a low voice.
‘Neville, did we ever tell you about that time Harry, Ron and I called on Luna’s father at the Old Mill and the death eaters came?’
‘Ron said something, but I wasn’t really listening. We were busy preparing to defend Hogwarts at the time.’
‘Harry very nearly got snatched. It was Luna’s father who told the death eaters where he was.’
‘But Mr Lovegood loathed death eaters! He loathed anything to do with Voldemort. That newspaper he edited … The Quibbler … had always stuck up for Harry.’
‘True, but the death eaters were holding Luna prisoner at Malfoy Manor and her father wanted to do a deal.’
‘He wanted to exchange Harry for Luna?’
‘Exactly. Harry, Ron and I were trapped in the Mill. Mr Lovegood was crawling towards us up the stairs. I had to jinx him. Nothing nasty. Nothing that wouldn’t wear off in an hour or so. Then I blew a hole in the floor with my wand and we escaped through it. We just got out before the Old Mill exploded and collapsed on the death eaters. We thought Mr Lovegood had been buried beneath it, but we heard later that he was in prison, though it wasn’t known where.’
‘So, he’s still alive?’
‘Looks that way. The thing is, Neville, we never said a word about it to Luna. What did she tell you yesterday?’
‘That her dad wasn’t at home and the owls had gone.’
‘Exactly what she told me. Nothing about her home being blown to bits. Oh Neville! She’s bound to find out that her father betrayed Harry and be terribly hurt.’
Neville reached for another piece of toast, to give himself time to think. When he had buttered the toast from crust to crust, he said, ‘The way I see it, it’s up to you lot to tell her before someone else does.’
‘Harry and Ron are at The Burrow, with the Weasleys. I’ll have to tell her on my own.’
‘I’ll come along too, if it’ll help.’
‘Thanks, Neville. When would be the best time?’
‘Professor Sprout’s got me working on Greenhouse Number Three this morning. The death eaters smashed the window-glass to smithereens.’
‘And I’m organising the work rota for the house-elves. Little grovellers fight over the honour of being given the filthiest job. I’ll have to go before they start hitting each other with mops. Let’s meet up at tea-time!’
Neville finished his toast, hitched up his baggy jeans and walked over to the enormous carved sideboard for his packed lunch of cheese and pickle sandwiches. Now the Hogwarts house-elves had been drafted away from the kitchens to work on Professor McGonagall’s Hogwarts Restoration Programme, catering had been taken over by senior members of Hufflepuff House, under the leadership of Ernie Macmillan. They were doing their best, but their sandwiches had odd shapes and oozed pickle at every corner.
The task in Greenhouse Number Three was to sort shattered glass from broken flower pots. Four hours later, the separated bits lay in heaps on the greenhouse floor. Dizzy with success, Neville peeled off his dragon-skin gloves, pointed his wand at the three heaps of glass and shouted, ‘Reparo!’ Instead of joining neatly together to form windows, the shards melted down and rolled into three green glass blobs.
‘Blithering bludgers!’ Neville exclaimed.
Why was it that he, Neville Longbottom of Gryffindor House, who had played a crucial role in Voldemort’s downfall by slicing off the head of the vile serpent, Nagini, was total rubbish at routine wand work? He tugged off his chafing boots and stumped off to eat the cheese and pickle sandwiches by the lake. As he watched his toad, Trevor, sporting in the reeds with two frisky newts, he pondered on how he and Hermione would break the news to Luna that her father had been willing to hand Harry Potter over to torture at the hands of Voldemort’s death eaters. Luna had been brought up by her father since her mother died and quoted his opinions without question. What a shock she would have!
The noise of chattering and clanking came from the front door of the castle. A column of house elves marching three by three, elf-fashion, was arriving to scrub away blackened patches where death eaters’ fire-balls had hit the balustrade. Hermione was with them. She appeared to be talking to a giant canary.
Neville blinked. It was not a canary; it was Luna, wearing yellow pedal-pusher pants from the Hogsmeade Charity Shop, a yellow and white striped muggle football shirt and pink ballet shoes. Her dingy fair hair was screwed up in a yellow duster. She turned away from Hermione and began to walk towards him across the grass. Neville felt uneasy. If she brought up the subject of her missing father, he wanted Hermione to be there. She settled herself beside him on the bank.
‘Hi Neville! Hermione’s meeting us for a chat at tea-time,’ she said, ‘Is that alright with you?’
Neville assured her that it was.
‘Hermione says it’s good to share stuff with friends. I’m really worried about daddy. I’ve no idea where he is. I sent him an owl after Harry and the others rescued me from the cellar at Malfoy Manor and another owl on Victory over Voldemort Day. Both the owls returned with no reply; not even, Glad you’re safe, love Daddy. He travels around a lot, but it’s been six weeks without a word. And he’s definitely not at home.’
‘Where is home, exactly?’
‘The Old Mill, near a village called Buntree. Great-great-great grandfather Lovegood magicked it from a muggle windmill that had lost its sails.’
‘Um…did you notice whether the place had been …um … damaged at all? Did it look as if someone had…well… had a go at it?’
‘No. The outside had a fresh coat of black paint and the windows were all shiny. That was odd, because daddy never cleans the place, let alone paints it. I couldn’t open the front door, so I climbed up the twanglevine to the outside gallery and got through the window to daddy’s room. It looked even more like a muggle’s junk yard than usual. The Quibbler printing press had given up working, poor old thing, except for little puffs of steam. I went back outside to the gallery and up the ladder to the owl loft, but I found only feathers and dried-up owl droppings. Then I went downstairs to the kitchen to find out what had been blocking the front door.’
‘Was it a pile of rubble?’
‘Why should it be?’
‘No particular reason.’
‘The door had been the locked and the key was inside; which is strange, because we’d never ever had a key. I looked everywhere for daddy: coalhole; laundry basket; under the sink. He takes naps in unusual places. I even looked in the cauldron, but there was nothing but old cooking and a bad smell. In the end I gave up and apparated back to the Three Broomsticks. It was kind of you to wait for me.’
Neville went hot round the collar. He was not used to compliments, particularly from girls.
Luna said, hesitantly, ‘Hermione suggested … well, she thought it might be helpful … if we went back for another look.’
‘You and Hermione?’
‘You and me. Could Professor Sprout manage without you?’
Neville pictured the three glass blobs on the greenhouse floor. He was not anxious to explain them to Professor Sprout. He pulled on his cowboy boots.
‘When do we go?’
‘Right away. We can’t disapparate from Hogwarts, because of the ancient law that surrounds the castle, so we’ll travel by floo powder. I’ve got some in my hanky drawer. Meet me by the bonfire in ten minutes!’
Neville was relieved that he would not be required to disapparate. He had not yet succeeded in doing so without getting splinched and leaving bits of himself behind. On one embarrassing occasion, it had been his bottom. This was not something he wanted to experience again. He collected Trevor, allowed him to drip and stuffed him into the back pocket of his jeans. He was quite chuffed that Luna had asked him to go with her to the mill, but apprehensive about what they might discover. What if it was the body of Mr Xenophilius Lovegood?
The garden bonfire was sending up a gentle plume of smoke. Luna made Neville recite the address three times, to make sure he did not land up in the wrong hearth. Floo powder is notoriously unreliable. She threw her pinch onto the fire, stepped forward and called out, ‘The Kitchen Hearth, Old Mill, Site of Outstanding Historical Interest, Buntree.’
She vanished in a swirl of green flame. Neville waited for one minute, threw in his pinch of powder, chanted the address and followed.
He splash-landed in a cauldron half-filled with a kind of cold, stinking porridge. Luna was sitting on the floor beside it, scraping gloop from her canary-coloured pants with a spoon.
‘It’s weeks-old Fung-jello,’ she said, ‘Sorry!’
Neville’s grandmother served Fung-jello for pudding, mixing it from a packet with a picture of a beaming witch. The words on the packet said:
Happy wiz-kids love Fung-jello;
Keeps their teeth from turning yellow.
He tipped his portion into the black cat’s feeding bowl, when she wasn’t looking.
They were in a big round room lit by two tiny windows. The cauldron into which they had plummeted stood on stubby legs in a cold hearth. One half of the room housed an old sink, a frying pan, kitchen tools on hooks and a food cupboard, painted with flowers and insects: the other half contained two squashy armchairs, a three-legged table, a china shelf and a broom-rack. An iron stair-case coiled upwards through a hole in the middle of the ceiling. Askew on one wall was a photograph of a much younger Luna, waving happily from her Fairy Princess Broom with inflatable stabiliser.
‘Me on my seventh birthday!’ cried Luna, ‘Daddy doesn’t realise I’ve grown up.’
‘My grandmother’s like that. She boils me dippy eggs and cuts my toast into soldiers.’
‘What a pain they are! Sorry! I shouldn’t call daddy a pain, when I don’t know what’s happened to him.’
Neville scraped Fung-jello from his boots and jeans. It smelled like a troll’s armpit.
Wands out, in case of any lurking intruder, they mounted the stair to Mr Lovegood’s study-bedroom. A star-strewn coverlet had been flung across the rumpled bed. The printing press with its jumble of cogs and pistons stood by the window, copies of The Quibbler stacked up beside it. Leather-bound books lay higgledy-piggledy about the floor. Shelves holding dried whortle-caps, mummified puff adders and pickled leprechaun brains encircled the room, but each curiosity had been pulled to pieces or cracked across. What had once been delicate toy-like models of mythical beasts were reduced to sticks and Spellotape. A stuffed crocodile with glassy eyes had been torn from its ceiling hook and slashed open, littering the rug with mouldy straw.
‘I can’t imagine why Daddy left his room in this state,’ Luna said. He’s not tidy, but he doesn’t throw his books around.’
Neville wondered whether the explosion Hermione had mentioned had not been quite as big as she remembered, if this was all the damage it had done. He looked for the hole in the floor through which Harry, Ron and Hermione had jumped to escape the death eaters. A circle of jagged marks showed where it had been. Whose skilful hand had spliced those splintered edges together again: Mr Lovegood’s … or those of someone else?
Noticing a narrow door leading to the wooden gallery which circled the building, he told Luna to stay where she was while he checked it out. Gripping his wand, he climbed out of the window and walked right round the gallery. It was bare but for a woven willow basket attached to the wall and a wooden ladder leading to a hatch, painted with the words: Owl Loft. He climbed up and pushed open the hatch. The vaulted loft was packed with thuggish owls scrabbling for places on perches and rudely depositing droppings on the floor
‘No sign of intruders,’ he called, ‘but the owls are back.’
Luna climbed up and peered round his shoulder. She addressed the owls in a clear voice.
‘Good afternoon Quibbler Deliverers! My colleague and I trust that you have benefited from your little holiday. The Quibbler apologises for not providing your usual beetle treats. This was owing to unforeseen circumstances. Normal service will resume as soon as possible. Quick, Neville, before they turn nasty!’
They slammed down the hatch, ran down the ladder, followed by hoots of displeasure and climbed back through the window into Mr Lovegood’s room.
‘What’s on the floor above this one?’ Neville asked.
‘My bedroom,’ said Luna.
‘What state was it in yesterday?’
‘I….I didn’t go up. When I found the owls had flown off, I sort of panicked. Because of being alone with….whatever I might find. Not very brave, was it?’
‘Nothing to be ashamed of, considering the months you spent as a prisoner in Mr Lucius Malfoy’s cellar. I’ll go up. Wait here!’
‘I’m coming with you,’ said Luna.
They gripped their wands and mounted the circular stair to Luna’s room. A white bed by the little curtained window was covered by an embroidered quilt and a bedside rug of creamy lambs wool lay on a pale blue carpet. A wide shelf ran round the walls, bearing Luna’s earliest possessions, each with its own hand-written label:
Big Toad; Tiny Toad; Humpyback Hag Doll; Ghouly-whouly Spider (one leg lost down plug) ;Chuff-a-Chuff Hogwarts Express;Baby Trainer Wand; Little Witch Wendy’s Cauldron Set.
Beneath the shelf cuddly toys, knitted in coloured wools, lay in a twanglevine basket with the label: Objects too shapeless for identification.
Luna’s lips were trembling.
‘My room’s not how I left it when I went back to Hogwarts,’ she said, ‘it’s like it was years ago… before mummy died.’
She collapsed onto her bed and buried her face in the pillow. Neville felt very awkward. He had no hanky, so he patted her shoulder, and handed her a pink crocheted mat from her bedside table. As he waited for her to get over her tears, he glanced round the room once more, surprised at how girlie it looked. Luna, with her straggling hair and serious way of talking, had never struck him as a girlie kind of girl; well, not the giggly kind, like Lavender Brown or Padma Patel.
His eyes wandered upwards. Painted on the ceiling was a circle of faces, linked by a band of gold: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna … and Neville himself. Seen from below, his sticking-out ears didn’t look too bad. Luna obviously saw him as a mate. The way he saw it, mates should be able to tell each other stuff. He drew a deep breath.
‘Luna, this is a terrible time to tell you, but…there’s things you need to know. While you were in prison at Malfoy Manor, Harry, Ron and Hermione came here to see your father and…um … some death eaters arrived. To cut a long story short, they escaped through a hole in the floor and there was some kind of explosion and the place fell down.’
Luna’s face went white as paper.
‘But they found out later that your dad was still alive. OK? He was in prison, but they didn’t know where. Sorry!’
Luna sat up and scrubbed her face with the pink mat.
‘Thank you for telling me,’ she said.
Neville was conscious that there were some things he had not told her.
‘I’m tougher than you think,’ Luna went on. ‘When I was being interrogated by the death eaters at Malfoy Manor, I had to face the fact that I might die. Some of the other prisoners died: not all stories have happy endings.’
Neville nodded. He knew about unhappy endings; his mother and father were permanently insane, following torture by death eaters. They were at St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Illnesses and Injuries. He had often gone to visit them with Gran, but had never felt that they had much idea who he was.
‘Let’s see if we can make sense of what we know!’ Luna was saying. ‘The Old Mill was blown up, but it’s been repaired. Daddy’s gone, but we’ve no idea where. His room has been turned upside down and my room has been transformed by someone who thinks I’m still a little girl.’
‘The person who rebuilt the mill, perhaps …’
‘…and found the door key and cleaned the windows. That person wasn’t daddy. He can’t even wash dishes, let alone put a mill back together. Let’s return to Hogwarts and talk things over with Hermione! I could do with a bath too. This stale Fung-jello’s flaking off, but it’s still disgusting. There’s only enough floo powder for one. You use it and I’ll disapparate.’
‘You can’t re-apparate in Hogwarts because of the protection charm.’
‘I’ll go to the Three Broomsticks.’
‘You mustn’t walk back along the lane alone.’
‘How about flying, then? Daddy and I own two thestrals; Brimstone and Treacle. They live in the woods and eat squirrels.’
Luna ran down to her father’s study and stepped out onto the gallery. Neville followed reluctantly. He loathed the idea of travelling by thestral. He had once accompanied Harry Potter and his mates to the Ministry of Magic on the back of a skeletal, horse-like creature with blind white eyes. That night-flight still haunted his dreams.
The willow basket by the door housed a curly horn. Luna raised it to her lip and blew. A noise like a cow with tooth-ache reverberated round the wooded hills. They waited. Luna blew again and again, but no thestral soared towards them on dark leathery wings.
‘Perhaps they were scared away by the death eaters,’ said Neville
‘Thestrals don’t scare. Haven’t you read Caractacus the Elder’s Winged Quadrupeds of Old Babylonia?’
‘I seem to have missed that one.’
‘I’ve read all thirteen papyrus scrolls. I spent hours in the library at Hogwarts, because nobody in Ravenclaw House wanted to be friends with me. Caractacus says that thestrals never desert their owners.’
‘In that case, won’t Brimstone and Treacle be hanging around where your dad is?’
‘Neville, you are brilliant!’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘You are. You have a humungous gift for stating the obvious.’
‘Thanks. The thestrals would only come back here if he were … well …dead. Sorry! Well, they didn’t, so he must be alive.’
‘Beautifully reasoned, Neville! Daddy’s out there somewhere. If I only knew where!’
Luna stared out across the darkening woods and went into one of the reveries that made Hogwarts students think her more than usually weird.
‘Luna, stop dreaming and start thinking! The person who restored the mill and scared the owls away may know where he is. Right?’
‘Who do you know who dislikes your dad so much he’d wreck his room?’
‘Nobody likes daddy much, but me.’
‘Someone who doesn’t get on with owls?’
‘These owls don’t get on with anyone.’
‘Think, Luna, think! Someone who thinks of you as a little girl. Someone who sticks labels on things….’
‘Great Uncle Hector’s house-elf.’
‘And how did this Niblick find out about the mill falling down?’
‘Daddy told him! Daddy must have gone off to Bath with Brimstone and Treacle.’
‘Do thestrals have baths?’
‘Bath’s a town, silly! It’s where Great Uncle Hector lives. We have to talk to Niblick. That is to say, I have to. You’d probably like to get back to Hogwarts.’
Neville felt deflated. Was he really that disposable?
‘I’d be happy to come with you,’ he said, ‘if I won’t be in the way.’
‘Thanks, Neville! I really hoped you’d say that.’
Neville watched as Luna gathered up the straw from the slashed crocodile and stuffed it into the grate. She pointed her wand and cried, ‘Incendio!’ The straw burst into flame.
‘Listen! It’s important that Great Uncle Hector doesn’t know we’re in Bath, because he’ll insist on us staying for days and days. You just have to land in the kitchen. I’m going to apparate there. Count to five minutes and follow!’
‘Follow where to?’
‘The Hearth, The Kitchen, Eleven and a half, Royal Crescent, Bath.’
Neville repeated it three times to be sure he had it by heart. Luna handed him the last pinch of floo powder, said ‘See you!’ and vanished. Neville wished that he was able to apparate with such ease, but dared not try. It would be dreadfully undignified to splinch and leave his bottom at the Old Mill, particularly as his grandmother had embroidered Property of Neville Longbottom on his underpants.
He was so aghast at the thought of having his underpants delivered to the Gryffindor breakfast table by one of the Quibbler owls that he forgot to count to five minutes. The fire was already dying down. He flung his floo powder and stepped into the embers.
‘The Hearth, Eleven and a half, Royal Crescent, Bath!’
Whirling round and round in the emerald flames, he remembered that he hadn’t added, ‘The Kitchen’. Quickly, he shouted it out, but it sounded more like ‘A-tishoo’.
He landed with a whoosh in the fireplace of a spacious green-painted drawing room. There was no fire behind the polished steel bars; just a bunch of dried poppy heads fragmenting beneath his cowboy boots. He stepped out onto the marble hearth. Observing him from an armchair by a tall window was a plump wizard in a black velvet jacket with lace collar and cuffs. His white hair was combed upwards in a little tuft.
‘If you are the fish,’ said the wizard, ‘you must use the tradesmen’s entrance.’
Other Similar Stories
A World at War
Seeking The Lost