Neville woke during the night in his four-poster bed and thought about Luna. At Hogwarts she had been a strange solitary girl who bedizened herself with ear-rings of wild berries and talked tosh about elusive creatures like the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Her father, Mr Xenophilius Lovegood, spent half his time in foreign parts, searching for Snorkacks. Fellow-students in Ravenclaw house had been in awe of Luna’s clever magic and quick brain, but nicknamed her ‘Loony Luna’ all the same. She had become a friend of Harry Potter, a member of Dumbledore’s Army, a stalwart fighter against the evil Voldemort, courageous in captivity, resourceful and cool under pressure. Why, then, was she so reluctant to behave like other students? Why did she quote her father’s eccentric views without question? When she washed her hair in boiled gurdyroot, did it never occur to her that he might have got it wrong about minges and flug worms? Neville found all girls hard to understand, but Luna was an enigma.
Breakfast at Eleven-and-a-half, Royal Crescent was leisurely. Crisp pink bacon, finger-thin sausages and sweet little mushrooms were served on china plates and followed by toast triangles with Honeydukes Firewhisky Marmalade or honey. The beehive-shape honey pot bore the label:
Wild Flower Honey
It’s the buzzIness
‘Puddicombe?’ thought Neville to himself. ‘That’s where my mum grew up. I didn’t know about the honey.’
Today being Saturday, Mr Pengryphon intended to go into town to do his shopping. Saturday was his favourite day because the town was crowded with muggles and he loved muggles. Since settling down in Bath, he had become, as Luna put it, “mugglified”. Pure-blood wizards who traced their ancestry back to Merlin often despised muggles, but Mr Pengryphon found muggles most acceptable, especially when his magical powers put him at an advantage. No muggle had ever been known to beat him at Bridge.
Luna was expected to accompany her Great Uncle Hector, who wanted to show her off in Bath in her new frock. Luna hated being shown off, but she was anxious to see the inside of a muggle shop. Her father believed that everything they ate, wore or used should be home-made from produce gathered in field or forest. Apart from her Hogwarts robes and hat, her only shop-bought garments so far had been her yellow pedal pushers and striped football shirt.
Neville, whose T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots were not deemed smart enough for Bath, was not invited to go with them. He was delighted. He loathed shopping and planned to use his Saturday morning to question Niblick about the 'Seriously Loyal and Ancient Volunteer Elves Society'. He pictured wizened hump-backed elves with spades and spirit-levels, brushes and brooms, paint pots and picture hooks. What did they 'Repair, Rebuild and Refurbish'? He might casually mention Mr Xenophilius Lovegood too… to see whether it made Niblick blink.
Mr Pengryphon unscrewed the amber knob on his walking stick and slid a slender wand into the hollow interior. It fitted so suspiciously snugly that the stick might have been made for it.
‘Mistletoe wood and a single white hair from Merlin’s beard,’ he announced, ‘plucked out with his own hand. The Pengryphons have a venerable family tree. We are the Keepers of the Keys of Camelot, you know.’
Neville tried to look impressed. The Longbottoms did not have a venerable family tree, but he felt proud that his father had been an Auror and fought valiantly against Voldemort. He screwed the knob back onto Mr Pengryphon’s cane and helped him into his red electric buggy. Luna came sauntering downstairs in her new frock. She was pushing back her shiny pale-gold hair impatiently, but Neville suspected that she had been admiring it in her bedroom mirror.
As soon as he had waved them off at the door, Neville ran downstairs to the kitchen, where he found Niblick setting out platters and trays on the table. The house-elf went on to line up baskets and biscuit tins on the kitchen dresser. He had better make haste with his questions before Mr Pengryphon returned with bags of shopping and Niblick became too busy to answer. He felt nervous. How was he, unassuming Neville Longbottom, to handle this stately house-elf? ‘Be kind but firm!’ he told himself, ‘Show Niblick the respect he deserves, but make it clear that you expect answers to your questions!’ He sat down, pulled Niblick’s card from his jeans pocket and placed it before him on the table.
‘Busy, eh, Niblick?’ he began.
‘Niblick is always busy, sir. Niblick is wasting no time, sir, in idle gossip or forty winkses. Niblick is a house-elf of the highest order.’
‘Indeed you are, Niblick! Breakfast was very tasty, by the way. My compliments to Cook.’
‘Mr Neville is too kind, sir.’
Neville noted that he was no longer addressed as Mr Longbottom. Was that good or bad?
‘Ahem! Niblick you were good enough to give me your card last night….’
‘Niblick is trusting that it was not impertinent to do so.’
‘Not at all. It was an excellent card; well-designed and informative.’
‘Niblick is ever striving to prove worthy of serving the noble Pengryphons of Camelot.’
‘Absolutely! And, naturally, the position of Arch-Elf of Bath and Wells carries heavy responsibilities.’
‘Heavy indeed, Mr Neville!’
‘The Seriously Loyal and Ancient Volunteer Elves, for example.’
‘Who exactly are the Seriously Loyal and……..?’
Wham! A Stilton cheese had landed on the table by his elbow. It was followed by a bunch of grapes and a packet of cream crackers. They appeared to have come out of nowhere.
‘The Home Delivery Service has begun!’ Niblick cried.
He draped butter muslin over the cheese and carried it into the larder. The grapes he placed in a fruit bowl and the crackers in a tin, neatly labelling each item.
‘Mr Neville was asking Niblick a question, sir?’
‘The Seriously Loyal and Ancient Volunteer Elves….what do they do?’
‘They is repairing, rebuilding and refurbishing, sir. They is dedicating themselves to humble, but necessary tasks.’
‘What kind of tasks?’
A fat potato thumped onto the kitchen floor. Niblick seized a wicker basket and held it under the avalanche that followed. He labelled the basket Pots. - Baking.
‘These elves,’ Neville persisted, ‘do they repair broken windows?’
‘Oh yes, sir!’
‘Rebuild ruined buildings?’
‘Refurbishment, sir, is what they is doing best of all.’
‘Would they tackle an exploded windmill, for example?’
‘Pardon me, sir, a pair of kippers is about to … too late, alas! Niblick is trusting there is no lasting damage to your right ear, sir.’
‘I saw you blink at my last question Niblick. Don’t get distracted by those free-range eggs! And leave the peeled prawns on the floor! I need to know whether your seriously loyal elves rebuild old mills which have been damaged by jinxes.’
‘Only those deemed by the executive chairman to be worthy of restoration, sir.’
Neville ducked to avoid being hit by a cauliflower. He neatly fielded a bunch of spring onions.
‘Who is this executive chairman?’
Niblick hesitated before replying, ‘He is Niblick, Mr Neville, sir.’
‘I thought he might be. How long is this delivery service going on? I can’t hear myself think for Chocolate Hob-Nobs raining down from the ceiling’
‘At eleven o’clock my master will call at the Pump Rooms, for rest and refreshment. It is ten minutes to that hour. If Mr Neville would be kind enough to handle further deliveries, Niblick will brew morning coffee.’
‘Sure!’ said Neville, piling apples, spaghetti and bars of pink soap into a soup tureen. ‘What’s this squirty thing?’
‘Fly spray, sir’
Neville put the can on the window-sill and wrote FLIES PRAY on the label. ‘Never knew that!’ he thought to himself.
By the time Niblick brought coffee, Neville had successfully dealt with a bunch of bananas, a tub of vanilla ice-cream, a fruit cake and a washing-up brush. He had to ask advice on what to do with the corn-fed chicken from Cluck-a-Bye Farm. On the stroke of eleven, the flow of deliveries ceased.
‘How long have we got?’ asked Neville.
‘Half an hour, sir.’
‘Half an hour is enough. Stop writing labels, Niblick, and give me your full attention! Miss Luna asked me to tell you that she is very sorry she called you a….whatever it was she called you.’
‘Niblick is conveniently forgetting the exact words, sir.’
‘She realises that she asked you a question you couldn’t possibly answer.’
Neville waved a hand at the words painted over the kitchen mantelpiece:
Breathe not One Word to Living Ear
Of Secret Matters thou shalt Hear
And See within thy Master’s Door …
A tear gathered in the corner of Niblick’s drooping eye and trickled down his nose. It had pained him to be unable to be of service to his master’s great-niece.
‘Miss Luna….well, me too … we’ve worked out that the House Elves’ Code of Conduct would not forbid you to talk about matters you see and hear outside your Master’s door.’
‘A correct assumption, Mr Neville.’
‘Which means that you are allowed to answer questions about the Old Mill. I’m pretty sure it was you who re-built it ….you and the Seriously Loyal guys. It would be a great help if you would tell me what you found when you first went there.’
Niblick burst into convulsive sobs.
‘Oh! it was dreadful …dreadful! Niblick was afraid he would find Miss Luna, sir, lying under those black bricks. ’
‘Well, you didn’t,’ said Neville. ‘What did you find?’
‘Niblick is levitating all the bricks away and he is finding dead wizards. Bad wizards. Niblick is not knowing their names. He is summoning the Seriously Loyal and Ancient Volunteer Elves and they is burying the bodies in the woods.’
‘Did you find the body of Mr Xenophilius Lovegood?’
Niblick blinked twice before replying, ‘Niblick is not looking for Mr Lovegood among the dead, sir.’
‘Because Niblick already knew that he was alive,’ thought Neville to himself. He smiled kindly.
‘You and your elves did a great job on the Old Mill. Miss Luna’s room was especially fabulous.’
Niblick burst into even louder sobs.
‘Sorry! I didn’t mean to start you off again,’ said Neville. ‘There, there!’ he added soothingly.
‘Niblick is remembering Miss Elspet Pengryphon … who married Mr Lovegood and became Miss Luna’s mother. Niblick is arranging the room as it was before Miss Luna’s mother is dying, sir … with all the little toys on the shelf. ’
He was too overcome to continue, but Neville wasn’t going to stop now.
‘You have good memories of Miss Elspet and Miss Luna, Niblick. What about Mr Lovegood?’
Niblick blew his nose on a table napkin.
‘My master is not liking Mr Lovegood, sir, or his Quibbly paper.’
‘Is that why you messed his room up? And shooed away his delivery owls?’
‘They is horrid owls, Mr Neville.’
‘They’re back in the owl loft, by the way.’
‘Mr Neville has seen the owls, sir? He has braved their terrible beaks and claws?’
‘I couldn’t let Miss Luna go into the loft alone.’
‘Mr Neville is defending Miss Luna, as a noble knight of Camelot is defending his lady.’
‘Hold on! Miss Luna and I are just good friends.’
‘Just good friends!’ cried Niblick, rapturously waving a tear-sodden table napkin. His solemn face took on a sudden look of alarm.
‘Niblick is remembering that Mr Lovegood’s printing press is still making copies of The Quibbly, sir. Miss Luna must not read them.’
‘Why not? They’ll be six months out of date.’
‘No no, she must not read them, sir!’
Niblick scuttled over to the cupboard under the sink, tugged out a copy of The Quibbler and handed it to Neville. It was dated December 30th, two days before the Death Eaters’ visit to the Old Mill. On the front page was an enormous photograph of Harry Potter, with the caption:
UNDESIRABLE NUMBER ONE
‘Looks as if Mr Lovegood really had gone over to Voldemort,’ said Neville. ‘You are right, Niblick: Miss Luna must not read those old Quibblers. I’ll go to the Old Mill and destroy them right now. Got any floo powder?’
‘If Mr Neville would be so good as to take the remaining deliveries, Niblick will destroy the Quibblys himself.’
With a crack like an exploding firework, Niblick was gone. Neville was so startled that he did not notice the hearth-rug being delivered from Pride of Place Furnishings till it whacked him on the shoulder. He tugged it across the floor, to lie alongside the dresser. Nothing else arrived, so he settled down to think.
Turning over in his mind what Niblick had told him, he realised that he still had no clue about what had happened to Xenophilius Lovegood. According to Ron Weasley, the Death Eaters had caused two explosions; the first had done little damage; the second and more powerful had blown the mill to bits. Ron’s accounts were not totally reliable, because he got excited and exaggerated wildly. Hermione was always ticking him off about it. After the first explosion, Hermione had seen Mr Lovegood crawling towards them up the stair and had been forced to jinx him, using an Obliviate spell to cause a temporary loss of memory. Only Hermione knew how strong that spell had actually been.
Xenophilius Lovegood’s body had not been found under the collapsed mill. Had he summoned his thestrals, Brimstone and Treacle? Or had they had come unbidden, snuffling between the dark bricks, and pulled him from the rubble with their teeth? Had they flown him through the cold night air and delivered him to Eleven-and-a-half, Royal Crescent? Why had Mr Lovegood not told Niblick that Luna had been away from home when the Death Eaters arrived, saving Niblick from the dread that she might be crushed beneath the fallen mill? He must have forgotten more than the recent past. If only Niblick were free to speak about what he had heard or seen within his master’s door! Harry’s loyal Dobby had been brave enough to break the house-elf’s code of conduct, but Dobby had been a house-elf without parallel.
The front door bell interrupted Neville’s attempts to solve these mysteries. Luna was back. She slumped onto the carved chair by the door, tore off her silver sandals and flung them across the hall.
‘Never never ever go shopping with my Great Uncle Hector! Butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, deli’s, wine merchants, boutiques, shops that sold carpets, shops that sold bath-taps and shops that sold toothpaste! He’s lunching at his gentlemen’s club and ladies are not allowed to enter its doors, so I’ve come back. I’m famished.’
‘Niblick’s popped out but he won’t mind if we rummage round his larder. We’re buddies, Niblick and me.’
‘Great Uncle Hector kept bowling around in his silly red chair, pointing with his walking stick and saying, “Is that not delightful?” He spent a whole hour in a shop called Pride of Place Furnishings. And know what? He didn’t buy a thing.’
‘Didn’t he now?’ thought Neville, rubbing his shoulder where the rug had hit it.
‘I pointed out the most amazing chandelier, covered in moon crystals, but all he said was, “Is that not delightful? Nothing left in my Gringotts Bank vault these days, I fear.” Total waste of a morning!’
‘I wouldn’t say that,’ said Neville to himself.
They walked down to the kitchen. The jumble of deliveries that Neville had never quite managed to sort out had been tidied away. Niblick was back already. Two plates, two napkins, two glasses of cool pumpkin juice and a dish of neatly labelled sandwiches lay on a silver tray. A note beside them read: All is going up in smoke, Mr Neville, sir.
‘What’s going up in smoke?’ Luna asked.
‘Cook burned the scones. Let’s eat lunch in the garden! I’ll tell you what I’ve found out while you’ve been shopping.’
Neville told Luna what Niblick had found in the ruins at the Old Mill, but he left out Harry’s picture in The Quibbler, with its damning caption. After lunch, he went for a stroll round the town of Bath, while Luna bathed her sore feet. On returning, he went up to his blue bedroom and discovered a red carrier bag lying on the bed. A gilt-edged label said:
Home-delivered to Mr N.Longbottom, a Hogwarts Hero,
Compliments of Toffs of Bath
He delved into the bag and pulled out a wonderful bomber-jacket made of supple leather, the colour of a ripe, dark aubergine. It fitted him like a glove.
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