Written for the wonderful and awesome sueatducksfoot, who's been very patiently waiting for this story for months.
This story is a work of fanfiction. All recognizable characters and settings belong to J.K. Rowling. No profit is being made from this story.
In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.
- Abram L. Urban
"Out you go, Neville. You can play in the garden whilst we have tea."
Neville sighed to himself as he was shunted outside...again. Just because he was only seven years old, it didn't make him stupid. He knew his gran was ashamed of him. Why else would she send him outside every week when her friends came over for tea? Besides, he'd heard her himself (over and over again) when she'd told them, "Neville's a sweet boy. I only wish he showed more magical aptitude, like his father. By the time Frank was seven, he was able to..." And then she filled in the blank with whatever magical thing she thought he should be able to do that day. If that didn't show she was ashamed of him, he didn't know what did.
Still, being outside was better than being stuck in there with them. They always treated him like a baby or talked about him like he wasn't there or couldn't understand what they were saying. He hated that. He let the door to the back garden click shut as he stepped onto the stairs outside the door and then sat down on the top step with a sigh.
He'd been outside for less than a minute and he was already bored out of his mind. There were no toys outside - Gran didn't like the mess they made. That's also why he wasn't allowed any pets other than his toad, Trevor. Toads didn't make big messes like Crups or Kneazles did.
She had taken the swing down so he wouldn't hurt himself; he was forbidden from climbing the only tree worth his attention; he wasn't allowed to throw rocks or sticks. Running was 'unseemly,' though he didn't know why. Nobody could see him through the wards, no matter what he did. So he sat and he stared, trying to examine every corner of the garden as if he'd never seen it before, hoping to find something to do.
Bored, bored, bored.
He let his mind wander as he looked. Not that it wandered far - he wasn't very imaginative. He thought about his gran and her friends, who seemed to think he was worthless, and he thought of his Uncle Algie, who had thrown him off Blackpool Pier just last month in an attempt to scare his magic into existence. He thought about his granddad and the way he used to push Neville on the old swing - before Gran had it taken down - making him squeal in delight. He wished his granddad were there to swing him now.
And he thought of his mum and dad, whom he visited every Sunday afternoon at half-two, and the gum-wrappers his mum gave him every week and the way Gran always told him to toss the wrappers in the bin...and the way he always told her he would but never did.
Eventually, he rose from his seat and walked down the steps to the flat area just beyond the slope, counting bricks and rocks as he went. His eyes skimmed over the grass in the garden. It was more brown than green in colour and crunched when he stepped on it. He remembered how it used to be lush and green and soft on his bare feet. He also remembered how there used to be all sorts of lovely colours in the flower beds and how he could always get a snack off the apple tree in the corner if he got hungry, but now the flowers in the beds were brown and wilting and overgrown with weeds, and the leaves on the fruit trees hung limp from the twigs. There hadn't been apples on them for ages.
He looked furtively over his shoulder to make sure there wasn't anybody watching before walking towards the back corner, where he knew an old greenhouse stood. It used to be one of his favourite places in the whole world, before Granddad had died. Gran had forbidden him from entering the greenhouse, too, just like she'd told him not to climb the tree or throw sticks or rocks or…well…have fun of any kind. But he was tired of not having anything to do, and she was busy with her friends, so she wasn't there to keep him out. As soon as he passed the old beech tree in the centre of the garden, he broke into a quick jog, knowing that he was out of sight of the house and his gran.
His feet carried him swiftly until the greenhouse came into sight and he came to a sudden stop. The glass was dirty and cracked and the door wasn't latched, and it banged gently against the doorframe when the wind caught it.
It didn't look nearly as inviting as he remembered.
He'd been so brave before, thinking he'd go into Granddad's greenhouse, but now he wasn't sure he could do it. He was afraid, he admitted to himself. He hadn't been in there since he watched Granddad collapse and die while they were planting some Dancing Daffodil bulbs almost a year ago. What if he died in there, too, like his granddad? He'd be stuck in there forever.
He stared at the building, trying to gather his courage. Several times, he took a tentative step toward the door, only to chicken out and stop again. He'd just decided that he really didn't want to go in after all when he felt a gentle breeze brush through his hair and across his cheek before it pushed the greenhouse door completely open. Another breeze seemed to nudge him forward until he found himself standing at the open door, staring at the room beyond, and then he was inside the door and he didn't have any idea how he'd got there. He looked around fearfully. Everything looked exactly as it had the last time he'd been in there, except that Granddad was missing. The pot in which they'd planned to plant the daffodils was still lying on its side, the dirt and bulbs scattered on the table beside it. The watering can, too, had fallen on its side, and it lay on the floor, the water long since gone.
He stepped further into the greenhouse and jumped when the door quietly clicked shut behind him. That was weird, he thought, looking nervously over his shoulder at the entrance.
He'd always been surprised by the warmth in the greenhouse, even though Granddad had explained how the glass collected the heat and the charms made up the difference. But he was even more surprised when he entered this time. He'd been certain that the charms that kept the building warm and moist would've died when his granddad had. The humid air embraced him as he walked further into the middle of the room, and he calmed almost immediately at the familiarity of it. Soon the feeling of nervousness left him completely, and he walked between the benches, trailing his fingers along the edges, remembering the time he'd spent in this building, watching and learning alongside his grandfather.
Over in the corner was the pile of homemade dragon dung compost that his granddad used as a fertiliser. Neville remembered helping him mix the fresh dragon dung in with old plant clippings out behind the greenhouse and how dirty he'd smell after turning the compost and how Gran would always force him to take a bath after.
There were tools - spades and trowels and rakes and shears - hanging on hooks right beside the compost, their blades glinting slightly in the light shining through the glass ceiling. Next to that, there was a deep sink and a counter, where Granddad used to store the watering cans. Watering was one thing that his grandfather insisted had to be done by hand; he always said it was hard to control the amount of water that came out when a spell was used instead of a watering can.
And everywhere he looked, he found brittle, brown plants in pots, looking like they hadn't had any attention in years.
It wasn't right, that things were like this. This had been Granddad's place, where he would come and learn about himself and nature, where he had taught Neville - and his father before him - the values of love and patience and that good things come to those who wait.
It should have been green and vibrant and...and...alive, like his granddad had been. Not brown and dying like it was now.
He hesitated, wondering what he should do. Gran would be furious if she found in him here, but he couldn't leave it like this.
Making up his mind, Neville hurried back to the plants by the door and righted the pot of Dancing Daffodils before taking up the watering can, intending to return to the tap to fill it up. He could at least water them all before he went back to the house. But as soon as the can was upright, it filled itself with clear, sparkling water, all on its own. It was heavy, but not so heavy that he couldn't lift it by himself. It was awkward to carry, though, so he manhandled it, sloshing water on his feet with every step, to the table at the far end of the greenhouse.
When he got there, he put the can down on the ground, frowning. How was he supposed to water the plants when the tabletop reached his armpits? There was no way for him to reach the plants without pouring most of the water on himself instead of in the pots.
He looked around the greenhouse again. There had to be something... His eyes darted around the room, searching, searching... There. A step-stool, covered by Granddad's old work robes, was standing in the corner. He walked over and reached his hand out, grabbing hold of the robes and pulling them off the stool. He started to drop them on the floor but changed his mind at the last second and put them on instead. They still smelled like his granddad: dirt and flowers and mint and a hint of chocolate. The sleeves dangled past his fingertips and he struggled for several minutes to roll them up before grabbing the stool and dragging it over to the watering can sitting on the ground, his granddad's robes trailing on the floor behind him.
He climbed up on the stool and reached down to grab the watering can, frowning in dismay when he couldn't reach it without falling over. He shoved the sleeves of the robe up over his elbows before hitching the robes up so he wouldn't trip when he jumped down. Then he hauled the watering can up onto the top step of the stool and climbed up beside it. Bending to grasp the handle of the can one more time, he finally managed to drag it onto the bench in front of him, the water sloshing over the top and out of the spout.
He wiped his hands on his granddad's robes before pulling several pots closer so he could reach them easier, and then grabbed the can one more time, lifting it to chest level before tipping it carefully, watching the water stream into the pots. It puddled and almost overflowed the pots at first, until he learned to change the angle of the can so the water flowed more slowly. By the time he was done with the first table of plants, he'd become quite good at getting the exact right amount of water in the pots. He watched the colour of the dirt change, light brown to dark, as the water slowly seeped into the soil, and his nose came alive with the rich, loamy scent of the wet dirt.
Wandering from table to table, he dragged the stool along behind him to his next stop, then went back to retrieve the watering can, all the while wishing he had magic like his granddad. Then he could've charmed the watering can to follow along behind him as he dragged the stool instead of having to go back and fetch it to his next location on the bench.
And then he was at the last table, the one where he and Granddad were going to plant the Dancing Daffodil. He took particular care with this plant, even more than he had with the others. He pressed the soil down around the bulb, just like Granddad had taught him, carefully scooping the spilled dirt off the table and replacing it in the pot, covering the bulb completely. Tipping the watering can, he poured water in the pot, wetting the soil; then he placed the watering can down on the table and moved the newly planted Daffodil to a spot in the sun.
He climbed down off the stool and took off his granddad's robes, draping them over the edge of the table in front of him. He tried brushing the dirt off his clothes and hands - Gran would certainly know he'd been up to something if she saw the evidence - but it wouldn't work, no matter how he tried. He finally gave up and trotted back to the sink, using the flow of the water to clean the dirt from his hands and out from under his fingernails.
When he was done, he surveyed the room one more time - it looked better already, more like a greenhouse was supposed to look. Almost like it used to look when Granddad was alive. He walked to the door, and as he stepped outside, he muttered to himself, "I'm definitely coming back here."
He had to wait two days before he could sneak away from his grandmother and make his way back to the greenhouse. He'd tried the very next day...and the one after that...but it had rained (which meant that there was no way Gran would let him outside) and then Uncle Algie and Aunt Enid had come to visit, and he'd been made to stay inside and talk to them. He stared fretfully out the window those two days, wishing he could sneak out to the greenhouse and check on the plants. What if they needed water and he didn't get there in time? Even Uncle Algie had said something when he noticed Neville standing at the back door, looking wistfully at the garden. Neville knew he must've looked pitiful, because Uncle Algie brought him into his granddad's office one afternoon, apparently thinking to save him from Gran and Aunt Enid and their comments. Neville was given free reign with Granddad's books while Algie worked, and even though he couldn't read all of the words, the pictures gave him a good idea of what he needed to do to get the plants healthy again.
Finally, the rain stopped and Gran and Aunt Enid went to Diagon Alley, and Neville was free. He knew Uncle Algie was locked in Granddad's office, and Gran and Aunt Enid were gone for the afternoon, so he'd have several hours before someone would look for him.
This time, he headed straight back to the greenhouse, hesitating only slightly before opening the door and stepping inside again. He grabbed his granddad's robes and pulled them on, trying to keep his clothes somewhat clean so he wouldn't have to explain to Gran why he'd had to change.
The watering can was still full from his last visit, so he dragged it to the far end of the greenhouse, dropped it on the floor, and went back for the stool. There was no change in any of the plants, but he didn't really expect any. They were probably all dead, anyway, he thought, even as he worked. Still, he had to try, for Granddad.
Two days later, Neville was ready to give up. There was no progress out in the greenhouse, and escaping from Gran was becoming more and more difficult. She seemed to suspect that he was up to something; she looked him over very carefully every time he returned to the house. But he'd read in one of Granddad's books that it takes time for plants to germinate (he thought that was the word, anyway), so he decided to wait, just a few days longer. He watered everything, adding a bit of dragon dung to the pots, and straightened up the greenhouse, putting everything in its proper place.
But that hadn't taken him very long, and he wasn't ready to go back to the house yet. He stepped outside the greenhouse, letting the door close lightly behind him. Maybe there was something he could do outside while he waited.
There was a small raised bed beside the greenhouse. He remembered that it used to be full of beautiful flowers, lupines that howled at the full moon, snapdragons that breathed fire, and bluebells that tinkled in the breeze. It was choked with weeds now, and he knew it wasn't supposed to be like that; he wanted the bed to look like it had before, when Granddad was alive.
He knelt on the ground, leaning over to pull at the weeds, putting them on the ground beside him when he was able to get them free of the dirt. Some of them came easily, but others were harder, forcing him to stand and pull with all of his might before they'd let themselves be pulled free.
By the time he was done, he was hot and sweaty and very dirty, and his hands and arms were covered with scratches - some of the weeds had had thorns. But now the bed looked like a place where flowers could grow again. He went back to the greenhouse to wash his hands and face, hoping that it would be enough to keep the look of disappointment off of Gran's face when she saw him.
He headed back to the door, trying to figure out how to get in as little trouble as possible. He'd just decided that he was going to try to sneak upstairs to his room without her noticing him when he saw it.
There, in one of the pots on the bench nearest the sink, was something small and green and - he thought - alive.
Neville's breath caught as he moved closer. Is it really alive? he wondered. Or am I imagining it? But when he got to the pot, he realised that there really was a little plant, not more than a centimetre tall, sticking up above the soil.
Neville felt a small smile start to stretch across his face. They weren't all dead; there was something there. Encouraged, he started looking more closely at the other pots, examining them one by one. By the time he had looked at every pot, he'd found six more seedlings poking their heads up. There might not be something in every pot, but it was a start.
Two weeks later, it had become routine for him. Every morning, he would wake with the sun, rush through his lessons (even in the summer, Gran made him revise his maths and reading and magical history), and go outside to "play." The fact that he never mentioned to his grandmother exactly where he was going to play or what he was doing never crossed his mind; he was just too excited to get out and see the progress his plants had made since the last time he'd seen them.
By the end of the third week, most of the pots in the greenhouse had small plants growing in them. He was amazed at how quickly they'd gone from nothing to skinny little shoots to real plants, with green leaves and stems. It was almost as if they had grown overnight, and sometimes he imagined that he could actually hear them grow. He knew that couldn't be the case, though.
He made progress outside, too. All of the garden plots nearest to the greenhouse had been weeded and cleared. He meticulously worked the dragon dung compost into the soil, making it dark and rich with nutrients, readying it for the day when he could transplant the plants from the greenhouse. He didn't know exactly what he was doing, but he thought that he was getting close enough to make it work somehow.
Finally, he decided that some of the plants were big enough to move outside. He had a hard time sitting still during breakfast and his lessons, and for some reason, his grandmother was being more strict than normal. When she finally let him leave, he ran upstairs to throw his books on his bed before making his way to the greenhouse.
He placed several of the plants, his spade and the watering can in a small wheelbarrow and pushed it outside to the nearest raised bed. The wheelbarrow almost tipped over twice when he hit some rocks, but he was able to right it before all of the plants fell out. He heaved a sigh of relief when he reached the bed without any additional mishaps. This was harder than he'd thought it would be.
Neville had transplanted two of the seedlings and was working on the third when he heard a voice out of nowhere. "What are you doing, boy?" Neville jerked at the voice and dropped the plant he was holding.
"U-uncle Algie!" he stammered. "What are you doing out here?" He was kneeling, his hands covered in dirt, and he turned slowly to face the man.
Uncle Algie raised his eyebrows at him. "I just asked you that question. Are you going to answer me?"
"N-n-nothing," he stammered. "I'm not doing anything."
"Hmph," Uncle Algie grumbled. "You going to put that plant in the dirt, or are you planning on just standing there and letting it die?"
Neville started. That wasn't the question he'd expected to be asked. "Oh. Erm…put it in the dirt?"
Algie raised his eyebrow at him and with an impatient gesture, indicated that he should proceed.
Swallowing hard, Neville turned back to the hole he'd been digging before he'd been interrupted and placed the plant in it, haphazardly covering the root ball with dirt. The plant stuck out of the soil a little too much for his liking, its roots making a mound above the level ground.
Uncle Algie harrumphed again. "Oh, come on, now. My brother taught you better than that. You need to cover the roots with soil. And make it stand up straight." He paused and looked at Neville, who had not moved. "Well, go on then. Dig it up and do it right. And be careful this time."
Surprised, Neville did as he was told and carefully dug up the bluebell he'd just planted. He re-dug the hole, making sure it was the proper depth and gently placed the seedling into the ground, covering it with dirt like he'd done the others. When Uncle Algie didn't say anything, he did the same with the rest of the seedlings, planting them all, and then watering them. When he finished transplanting all of the plants, he stacked the pots neatly. He looked up at his great-uncle with no small amount of fear and was shocked to see a look of approval flit across his great-uncle's face. Neville was pretty sure he'd imagined it, though. Uncle Algie never approved of anything he did.
"Let's see what else you've been up to," Algie said gruffly, nodding towards the greenhouse. Neville knew it wouldn't be any use for him to try to lie or hide his activities in the greenhouse - the evidence to the contrary was all too clear. He nodded reluctantly and trudged slowly over to the building and pulled the door open, holding it open so the older man could enter.
Neville nervously watched from the door as Uncle Algie walked among the tables, poking the dirt in the pots or gently touching the leaves of the seedlings. He didn't say a word as he walked, and Neville couldn't tell what the man was thinking. It made him nervous.
Algie made his way back to the door, wiping sweat off his face, and gave Neville a serious look. "You've done well, boy," he said, and Neville almost fell over from the shock. Uncle Algie never complimented him, ever. "But it still needs more work. Every day, as soon as you finish your lessons, you'll come to the study so we can talk. We'll tell Augusta we're trying to figure out your magic."
Neville felt his face flush and he wilted with disappointment. Uncle Algie was going to keep him from coming back to the greenhouse, he just knew it.
If Algie noticed Neville's disappointment, he didn't show it. Instead, he barrelled on with his instructions. "I'll tell her you need more room and less distractions so you can practice, that way we'll be able to come out here without sneaking about."
"You-you're not going to tell Gran?" Neville asked. "You're going to help me?"
Algie nodded curtly. "Augusta doesn't need to know about this yet," he said. "But when the time's right, I'll expect you to tell her the truth."
"I will, I promise."
"I know you will," Algie said, turning back towards the house. "You've only got another hour until she and Enid get home. Make the best of it, boy." Neville watched, wide-eyed, as Algie stalked off, letting the greenhouse door shut behind him.
Over the next few weeks, Neville discovered that Uncle Algie was as good as his word. Not only did he tell Neville's grandmother that he'd started tutoring Neville, he actually did start tutoring him. In the mornings, Algie worked with Neville on his reading, writing, and maths, and in the afternoons, they worked on "spells." That's what they told Augusta, in any case. In reality, Uncle Algie supervised whilst Neville weeded and pruned, watered and fertilized.
Uncle Algie also showed Neville the spell for turning soil and working in the dragon dung, and Neville laboured to get the same effect with a spade and pitchfork. It was hard work, and there were times Neville really wished he'd shown some sign of being able to do magic, just so he knew that sometime in the future he'd be able to use the spell. But he kept at it. The sense of accomplishment he got by doing it on his own, without magic, was worth it, he thought.
And whatever he was doing, it was working. The flowers in the beds closest to the greenhouse were starting to bud, the vegetables he'd transplanted in the bed near the fence were peeking up through the soil, and he could smell the herbs as he got closer to their plot. He'd even seen a garden gnome, which made him grin - his granddad had told him gnomes didn't stay if the garden was unhealthy. If the gnomes were coming back, well…that was a good sign, in Neville's mind, even if it meant he had to toss them over the fence every few days.
There was one more place that needed some work. He'd left it for last, waiting until he had the plants he needed to do the area justice. When he finished, he stepped back and looked at what he'd done, a smile growing on his face. He'd done a good job, he realised. He just wished his granddad was still around to see it.
"Come with me."
Neville winced at the tone of his grandmother's voice. It was sharp and stern and definitely not pleased. He wondered what he'd done to get into trouble this time. He hadn't left a mess in the kitchen or parlour. He was caught up in his studies, and thanks to Uncle Algie, he could actually understand a lot of what he read. His shirt was tucked, his collar was straight, and his shoes were tied.
He couldn't think of any reason for her to be angry with him, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. Her mood had been getting worse and worse lately, and he didn't know why. He sighed as he got up and followed her, his feet dragging.
He followed her through the kitchen and out the back door. That alone made him nervous - Gran hadn't been out into the back garden in ages. That was why he'd been able to get so much done with flower and vegetable beds. But then she led him further into the garden, across the green grass, past the apple tree, which was covered in new leaves, amongst the raised flower beds, filled with budding bluebells and snapdragons, to the very back corner…and the family's graveyard.
His stomach sank. He was in for it now, and he knew it. If Gran hadn't noticed all of the other changes in the back garden (and he didn't see how she could have), there was no way she missed the changes in this corner. What had once been stark and dreary was now filled with colour and sound. Ringing bluebells, fire-breathing snapdragons, howling lupines, and twittering tulips lined the paths, welcoming anyone who walked there with a cacophony of sound.
She still hadn't said anything, though, and he was confused, until she stopped in front of the newest tombstone. "Did you do this?" she asked, pointing to his granddad's grave. It was completely covered in yellow and white daffodils, which were swaying to the music from the other flowers.
He gulped and nodded, looking down at the ground until he couldn't stand the silence anymore. "I-I'm sorry, Gran," he said in a rush. "I know I shouldn't have, but I had to. This is what Granddad loved, and I wanted to remember him, and - "
She cleared her throat, and he stopped. "Thank you, Neville," she said softly. "This is beautiful. He would have…" She paused a moment before continuing. "He would have loved it."
He was shocked to see her wipe a tear from her eye as she gently touched the petals of one of the daffodils. He'd never seen his gran cry before. He stood there awkwardly until her spine straightened up and he knew she had her emotions back under control.
"Come show me what else you've done," she said as she swept out of the graveyard and back into the garden.
So he did. He showed her the herbs and vegetables, which they would be able to eat with their dinner soon and the flowerbeds, with their bright colours, all red and pink and yellow and blue. He showed her the soft green grass, and the apple tree that would bear fruit in the autumn.
And he took her to the greenhouse, holding the door open for her as she walked in. He watched as she checked the condition of the tools and wistfully ran her fingers across his granddad's old work robes. "This will do," she said. "I have been unfair to you in the past, Neville, but that ends now. I want you to continue coming out here, every day if necessary. You will take care of the gardens, just like your grandfather would have. It's what he would have wanted, especially since you are obviously talented in this area."
He nodded in shock. He wasn't in trouble after all. His grandmother had praised him for something he'd done.
"Come," she said, looking around the greenhouse. "Let's cut some daffodils for your parents. They were always your mother's favourites. In fact, your father used Dancing Daffodils like that to woo her. You're very like him - and your grandfather. They would have been proud of you, you know."
As he followed her out of the greenhouse, shears in his hand, he realised he did know. He might not be able to do real magic, but he could grow things, and that was a magic all its own.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to sherylyn and ohginnyfan for their editing skills, and to huehau, who, a long time ago, suggested I write about Neville as a child. I've been sitting on this bunny for a long time, but sometime this spring, it became clear to me that I needed to write it, and I needed to write it for Sue.