Neville glanced back as he left the castle. Harry had finally gotten his beloved Firebolt back. What should have made Harry very happy had for some reason made him quite angry. Neville had wasted no time in leaving. He sighed as he set out for Hagrid’s, knowing he would try to cheer Harry later, but now he had business of his own to deal with.
Professor Sprout had asked Neville to stop by Hagrid’s before going home. Knowing things would probably not be pleasant at home when he got there, he thought this special project would be a welcome distraction. Neville was sure his grandmother was more likely to approve of his work with plants this summer than she would of him practicing the DADA skills that he had worked so diligently to improve this year.
As he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, Neville was nearly knocked to the ground by a small dog that looked like a Jack Russell terrier. The dog turned to look at him, made sure he was all right, and then continued his run toward Hagrid’s house.
He watched the dog’s progress. As Hagrid stepped out, the dog launched itself at him. While Hagrid didn’t seem too surprised, Fang, who had been following Hagrid, whimpered in fear and retreated to his hiding place under the enormous bed.
“Sorry I can’t greet you proper, Neville, but this little fella’s got a mind to make friends,” Hagrid said.
Neville smiled. “Does he belong to someone, do you think?”
“Well, ya can’t have a crup like this’un if you don’t have a license for him,” he said, reading the dog’s collar tag. “Says here his name is Houdini. It says his master will be after him if I will be kind enough to watch him fer a bit.”
Hagrid set Houdini inside the house, near Fang’s food and water. “Help yerself, little fella, Fang’ll keep ya company while Neville and I go into the forest.”
Houdini barked as if he understood, then promptly routed Fang from his hiding place, ready to play. Hagrid laughed as he shut the door. Fang didn’t seem pleased by his new playmate.
Neville shuddered as they walked into the forest. He’d been here under much more dangerous circumstances, but couldn’t help being nervous now that he had the time to think about what he was doing.
“Doesn’t the Professor have any of the plants we’re looking for in the greenhouses?” Neville asked.
“Not what we’re after. Something’s growing on the plants and we don’t know what it is. We need to get rid of it before it kills everything.”
Neville looked around. He was shocked to see so many plants turning brown and dying. What appeared to be mold covered many of the smaller plants and was beginning to grow on the massive trees that populated the forest.
It looked like it was spreading rapidly. He certainly didn’t remember it being there before.
“It’s been here a while now,” Hagrid said, ashamed. “I’m s’posed to be groundskeeper and I never even noticed it till Professor Sprout showed it to me. This is all my fault.”
Neville shook his head in disbelief. “How much time do we have, do you think?”
“Professor Sprout thinks that this could all be dead or dying if we don’t get it stopped in the next year or so. Professor Dumbledore said havin you help out would be a good idea. Said we couldn’t find none better.”
Such praise from Dumbledore would normally have thrilled Neville. Now it only filled him with a sick, cold feeling. “I don’t know if I’m the right one to be doing this. What if I mess it up? I’ve been working on my DADA homework all year and I’m probably too rusty to do any good.”
“I know what you bin doing all year. Standing up to the Death Eaters like you done shows what you can do when you got to. You can do it.”
“I don’t know, Hagrid,” Neville said sadly. “I just don’t think…”
“Neville, can you think of what this place’ll look like if it all dies? It won’t be just the plants that’ll be gone,” Hagrid said.
“What do you mean?“ Neville asked, confused.
“Well, where do you think all the creatures that live here will go? They can’t live out in the open, and I don’t think they’d fancy livin in a castle,“ he said sadly.
Neville opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of one thing to say. Just then, the lowest, most mournful sound he had ever heard filled the silence. The two of them looked upward, to where the sound had come from. Neville’s eyes widened.
“What was that?” he asked.
“That is something’ that I bin aimin’ to teach about in class. It’s an Augurey, what they call an Irish Phoenix sometimes. Don’t see too many of ‘em around cause I think they know people’s afraid of em.”
“I never even heard of one before,” Neville said. “It sounds like it’s already dying.”
“Could be, I guess. That’s the sound they make when there’s rain comin. Most of the time that’d be good news, but it makes the fungus grow even faster,” Hagrid said.
Neville looked around him, surveying the damage. From the smallest herb to the largest, most ancient tree, everything was affected. Then, a thought struck him.
“Hagrid, what happens to the animals when they eat this stuff?” Neville asked.
“Right now, they don’t. Hard telling what’ll happen when they do. ‘Spect they’ll die even faster.”
Neville suddenly knew that he had to help. “I guess we’d better get to work gathering samples, then,” Neville said. He drew small containers from his carrier bag to put the samples in, and set to work.
“I think it would be a good idea to take some water as well, to see how it affects the water supply,” Neville said as he bent over a small stream. Even this had not escaped contamination, he noticed, as he saw many dead leaves and insects floating in the water, spreading infection wherever the water flowed.
If they couldn’t stop this now, there might not be a world to save from Voldemort. He stood, determined and told Hagrid they had enough to start with. Hagrid smiled and followed his lead out of the forest. Saving lives was hard work and couldn’t wait.