The Sugar Quill
Author: JK Ashavah (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: You Can't Survive on Herbology  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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Author's Note: This fic is a part of Minerva McTabby's Blame Somebody Else Challenge. All blame to Essy and to McTabby. Thanks to McTabby's cat for giving me this plot bunny, which I adored. I am extremely glad I got this bunny as opposed to some of the others suggested.

All characters, places, and situations associated with the Harry Potter world belong to Warner Bros, J.K. Rowling, and Harry Potter's publishers worldwide, included but not limited to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. and Scholastic Books. This is a piece of fanfiction and does not claim or imply any connection with or endorsement by any of the aforementioned. Nor does it claim any right to the Harry Potter world. I'm just a fan.

I blame Essy.

You Can't Survive on Herbology

A Harry Potter Fanfic by JK

It would have been easier to be a Squib.

At least then I wouldn't be stuck here, waiting for yet another painful magical experience. Everything to do with the magical world terrifies me. It has since I was little. Even before I went to Hogwarts and met people who just see me as bumbling Neville, the Gryffindor laughingstock. And they're right. I'm stupid and hopeless and I can never remember anything. If only you could survive on Herbology. I'm almost seventeen, and I'm still as hopeless at magic as I was when I was eleven.

Of course, Harry and Ron and Hermione all insist that I've got tonnes better since they met me. But I know they're just saying that to be nice. I mean, I'm just bumbling old Neville. Fat, bumbling, let's-all-have-a-laugh Neville. Neville who blows up a cauldron a week in Potions. Neville who can't do anything without Hermione walking him through it. Neville who everyone pities because he'll never get anywhere in life. Neville who's sitting here in a hard chair, waiting for the chance to have his first ever splinching.

I suppose it was good of Gran to think of this, but it would be easier if I could just use Floo Powder all my life. Then I suppose I'd wind up ten grates down from where I'm supposed to be whenever I want to go anywhere. So towards the end of last term, I got this letter from Gran saying that I'm to have Apparating lessons. Apparating! Everybody always talks about how they wish they could do it, but I'm not so sure myself. It's fine for powerful, brave wizards like Harry and Ron, and for smart people like Hermione. But I'm neither. And if something bad's going to happen, it's always going to happen to me. It wasn't Harry the pixies picked up by the ears. And it wasn't Ron or Seamus or Dean who broke his wrist first time we tried flying. I just know I'm going to wind up splinched.

Gran's sitting next to me, rigid and straight. She holds her handbag in her lap and looks around with a sort of detached interest, as though it's polite to be intrigued, but rude to be too curious. She always knows how to behave, always looks so proper, so ... right. She looks as though she belongs here, in the wizarding world. And she can do magic like she belongs here too. But me, I'm little better than a Squib. It would be better to be a Squib. At least that way I'd fit in somewhere.

I stand and peer through the little glass window in the door we're waiting outside. There's no-one inside. They must have Apparated somewhere. I sit back down and turn my attention to the painting of a dragon that hangs next to the doorway. It stands on top of a mountain, gazing into the valley beneath it with its vivid orange eyes fixed on the forest that covers the vale's floor before taking a deep breath and incinerating the trees with a single awful exhalation.

"Neville, stop squirming!" Gran says, turning to me and glaring. She still acts as though I'm eleven. I suppose that could be because of my lack of magical progress. I wasn't squirming, anyway. I'm just nervous. Wouldn't you be if you were about to be splinched? Harry's probably off doing great things, saving the world from You-Know-Who again, and I'm sitting in a corridor waiting for an Apparating teacher to finish the lesson in front of me and I just know I'll mess it up like I always do ....

My teacher's door opens and a plain, middle-aged woman steps out into the corridor. She looks over at us and smiles. I didn't notice her and her student appear again in the room. A blonde-haired girl waves at the teacher and hurries down the corridor. The teacher walks over to us, a welcoming smile on her face. She looks very professional, in simple navy robes that say "Miss Lyne" in silver on one side. She's not very tall, probably a little taller than me, but she walks with her head high and her shoulders straight. She puts out her hand to Gran, who has stood up, and says in a businesslike tone, "Good afternoon, Mrs Longbottom. I'm Moneta Lyne." Gran nods and shakes her hand with that firm grasp of hers. Miss Lyne turns to me. Realising I'm still sitting, I scramble to my feet. I can't even get simple etiquette right! I was right about one thing though; she's a little taller than me. Tall enough to be frightening, but short enough to trick me into thinking she might sympathise with me. An uncertain height.

"You must be Neville," Miss Lyne says. She turns and goes back into her room, beckoning for me to follow. I can see Gran standing, pretending to look at the dragon, which I can hear roaring, but I know she's really watching me so she'll see when I mess up. "Don't worry, you'll be all right," Miss Lyne says, smiling. "Everyone's nervous when they have their first Apparating lesson."

"Now, Apparating is, as you no doubt know, a very tricky business." She's all business now. "And if you get it wrong, it's not just a case of not ending up where you'd hoped to be." Her eyes, suddenly stern, meet mine. I lick my lips, nervous, and take an awkward swallow. "Now, Neville, in order to Apparate you have to have a very clear idea of where you're going. You need both a geographical idea and a mental picture." She moves over to the wall, and I see that there is a large map of Britain located there. She points to London. "We are here. Our first target in our Apparating lessons will be just behind our building." She walks over to the window, draws back the curtain, and points across the courtyard. "Behind the courtyard there is a low building which is used by Apparating teachers as a practise hall. Do you understand so far?" I nod, wishing I was back at home, checking on the plants in the garden.

Miss Lyne hands me a thin book. "We're not going to start trying to Apparate today, Neville. I'd like you to have a thorough understanding of the theory behind it first. It's much easier to Apparate when you understand how it's done and why it works. Sit down please and start reading through this. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask."

Oh great. Oh, great, great, great, great, great. Just what I need to hear. I mumble my thanks as I take the book and open it.

Apparating is one of the most essential skills to a junior (or senior) wizard. Without it, we would be confined to Floo Powder or flying, and restrictions prohibit the flying of broomsticks in many areas of Britain due to the risk of exposure to Muggles.

All right. That looks okay. I keep reading. The opening section is all right, dealing with the idea of Apparating and how it can be applied to the everyday life of a wizard. It's talking about Apparating in fairly simple terms. Maybe this will be okay. I always thought Apparating was terribly difficult, nigh-on-impossible for someone with as few magical skills as myself. But maybe not.

Then I get to section two: Why and How it Works.

It's the sentence, "Students of Advanced Arithmancy will be familiar with the concept of the magical theory and the necessity of the magical variable for its derivation" that makes me suspect I'm in trouble and this whole business really does require overwhelming magical talent. I go on, thinking that perhaps it's just a mention of how magical theorists can approach Apparating. But I can't escape it. "The magical theory for Apparating states that the power of the wizard involved is directly proportional to the success rate of early Apparating attempts." I read on, and the picture seems just as dismal. Slowly, I close the book over my finger which marks the page and raise my hand. Miss Lyne smiles at me.

"You don't need to do that, Neville. We're not in school." She raises her eyebrows in question.

"I-I can't do this," I stammer. "It says here that if you're not a good wizard, you're not going to be able to do it. I -" She raises her hand, palm outwards.

"I see." She pauses a little, fiddling with a speckled quill, before she continues. "I believe what it actually says is that your early attempts will be easier if you're a powerful wizard." I open my mouth, about to exclaim that that is exactly my problem, but she frowns at me, and I stop. "But ... some people have natural talent in Transfiguration, some in Potions. Others have abilities in Herbology, or in Apparating." I wonder if she knows that I like Herbology. Or did she just randomly pick that? Honestly, Neville, the world doesn't revolve around you. I flush slightly. Miss Lyne doesn't seem to notice.

"Some people are also excellent at learning things straight away." Hermione. "Likewise, some are naturally talented." Harry. "And some people learn by hard work and perseverance." I can't think immediately of someone who fits that category. "But you can't survive on what you're best at. You need to be able to do more." Her eyes are studying me, keen and piercing. I feel extra specially stupid under that gaze. "Intelligence provides only a superficial understanding. Talent isn't enough to be brilliant. To have a thorough, well-balanced set of skills, you need hard work. And even if you're not the smartest, most powerful wizard around, sometimes you can do better than them if you work and they don't because you are the one who will understand things better. Do you understand what I am saying?" I nod without thinking.

"Do you really understand what I'm saying?" I have to think about that for a while. Then I hesitate and shake my head once, uncertain. "I am saying, Neville," and she fixes me with calm, now kind, eyes, "that even if you're not top of the class, you can still do well with hard work. And that's not just school. It's Apparating too. You mightn't stand out, you mightn't be the best, but you can do it. You, Neville, can do it." I pause, thinking about that for a while. I mean, people say that if you work hard you'll get what you want, but I've never seen much real evidence of that.

"Now, I'd like you to take the book home and read through it." She dips her quill in a small crystal bottle of ink and writes something on a piece of parchment. I wait, and when she looks up again, she offers me a jar. "Sweet?" I pull out a sugar quill and mumble my thanks. She blows on the parchment, examines it and then, satisfied, rolls it up, hands it to me, and smiles. "You may go."

I turn and walk towards the door. As I open it, I become aware that she is watching me. Her eyes are intent on the back of my head, and I pause for a moment before raising my hand in a half-wave. I can see her watching me through the little window in the door after I have exited and am beginning to walk towards Gran. Absently, I glance down at the parchment and unroll it.


You can reach me via owl by using the address "Moneta Lyne, Diadram's Magical Tutors, Diagon Alley" if you have any questions. You can also leave me a head message using Hearth powder if you want a more immediate response. Good luck.

Miss Lyne

PS: You know, when I was at Hogwarts, I knew a boy who was very eager to do everything right first time. But he wasn't a terrific student. His expectations of himself were so high he began to think he was stupid, hopeless, and useless as a wizard. But he worked hard. His commitment was admirable, and his marks reflected that. His eventual N.E.W.T.s were good enough to get him into Auror training.

I wonder if you've ever met him.

His name was Frank.

I blink at the parchment for a moment, wondering if what I'm reading can really mean what I think it does. I frown, then turn and see Miss Lyne sitting at her desk, an odd half-smile on her face. I return her smile with a weak one of my own, and she raises her hand in a farewell wave. The amused lines at the side of her mouth hint that yes, perhaps that was what she meant.

I re-roll the parchment, put it in my pocket, and walk up to Gran. She stands and begins asking me about the lesson. But I'm not really listening. I'm thinking about what Miss Lyne said. Maybe she's right. I know I can't survive on Herbology. But maybe there is hope anyway.


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