As you can tell, I’ve been very busy not posting over the past few weeks. This is due to many factors, the most important of which is that I have gone back to school, a move that I will write about at some point.
But not today.
Instead, today I am doing a follow-up to my Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher by posting the only other HP related work I’ve written, a short story called “Bare Bottomed Longbottom”. In this funny little tale, much-abused Neville Longbottom finally gets a chance to hang out with the cool kids (or so he thinks) when he is invited to participate in a late-night run through the castle. Naked. What could possibly go wrong, you ask?
And I answer: everything.
In addition to being a funny distraction, this story won the 2009 QuickSilver Quill Award from Mugglenet.com for “Best Humor Story”, to date my only non-academic writing award. It’s more hooptedoodle, to be sure, but it was fun to write and, hopefully, you’ll find it fun to read.
“Bare Bottomed Longbottom”
Neville kept saying the words over and over inside his head.
I’m going to do this.
He stood alone in the Gryffindor common room. Harry, who had fallen asleep in a chair by the fire with the cryptic golden egg sitting in his lap, had gone to bed a half hour before, after Neville had nudged him awake. Only after Harry’s footsteps had faded did Neville begin to feel nervous. He tried to sit, failed, then began to pace back and forth between the cushioned chairs. His robe brushed against the fabric and occasionally snagged on a table corner, making him jump.
I’m not going to do this.
Neville veered off course and started for the stairs leading up to the dormitory. He raised his foot to the first step, then heard noise above him. Whispering voices. He backed away, realizing he was too late.
“Neville!” Fred Weasley said as he emerged from the staircase. He looked over his shoulder at his brother, George, and smiled. “See, I told you he had it in him.” They, like Neville, were dressed in their robes, each monogrammed with their initial so their owners could be identified.
“We’ll see, Fred,” George said. “We’ll see.”
Lee Jordan, robed and with mouth open wide in a full yawn, followed the Weasley twins out of the staircase. He plopped down into the same chair Harry had vacated a short while before. “Let’s just get this over with so I can go back to bed.”
“You’ll never win with that attitude,” George told him.
The Weasley twins leaned against the back of a sofa and folded their arms over the chests in identical fashion.
“Are we . . . are we waiting for someone else?” Neville asked after a full minute of silence.
“Angelina and Katie are also competing this year,” Fred said.
George opened his mouth to speak, but another voice, this one from the stairs leading to the girls dormitory, spoke first.
“And we’re going to win.” Angelina and Katie emerged into the common room. They, too, were dressed in their robes, light blue and pink respectively, and Neville had to block out all thoughts of what was to come to keep from losing his nerve.
“Win or lose,” George said, “it will be worth it just to see you compete.”
Angelina raised an eyebrow, then smiled. She looked around at Neville, as though seeing him for the first time, then back to the twins. “This everybody?”
“This is it,” Fred said. “Invitation only, and we only invited the best.”
Katie turned to Neville and gave him an appraising look. She looked around as though expecting Harry or Ron, nearly as known for their nightly wanderings as Fred and George. The twins had excluded their younger brother from the contest, they said, because he might tell their mother. They also did not invite Harry, citing a full schedule preparing for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament. Neville fought the urge to feel like a consolation, driving back the feeling with imaginings of himself winning the competition.
“Let’s get started,” Lee pleaded from the chair.
“Okay, then,” George said. “First, the rules.”
“The object of this game,” Fred began, “is to be the first to capture his or her flag from the top of the Astronomy tower and come back here.”
“Anyone caught by a teacher or Filch,” George continued, “is disqualified.”
“Everyone will wear these to protect our identities,” Fred said, pulling out a canvas bag from inside his robe. He reached in and pulled out several pieces of black fabric and began tossing them to the assembled competitors. Neville reached for his, dropped it, and picked it up to discover it was a mask of black felt. Following the lead of the others, he pulled it over his head, attempting in vain to line up the eye holes with the eyes they were supposed to serve.
“What does the winner get?” Angelina asked.
George smiled. “Our undying admiration.”
“We already have that,” Angelina said. “What else?”
“A champion’s dinner at the Three Broomsticks during our next Hogsmeade excursion?” Fred offered. “During which, the losers must cater to the winner’s every need while dressed as house elves.”
Angelina gave an inquiring look to Katie, who nodded.
“Okay,” Katie said. “Let’s go.”
Fred and George reached for the tied holding their robes shut, but Angelina interrupted them.
“No offense, boys, but we don’t want you to have an unfair advantage by making us laugh our heads off before we start.” She pulled out her wand. “Noctus vaporis!”
A cloud of what looked like black ink spewed from Angelina’s wand. It filled the space in between them like fog until Neville could no longer see his own hand when he held it up to his nose.
“Okay,” Fred’s (or George’s, he couldn’t tell which) voice cut through the blackness. “Everybody ready?”
Everyone muttered their assent. Everyone except Neville.
“Neville,” George (or Fred) said. “Are you in?”
I am going to do this.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m in.”
“Well,” a Weasley twin said, “let the game . . . begin!”
Neville heard the whisper of fabric as robes hit the floor around him. Pattering feet moved away from him through the darkness and he heard the portrait hole open up.
“Don’t touch me!” Katie’s harsh whisper drifted in from the outer corridor.
“Sorry,” Lee answered.
Neville, realizing that he was being left behind, undid his robe and let it slide to the floor. The cool air drifting in from the open portrait hole sent gooseflesh along his naked body. Steeling himself, he tucked his wand into the back of the mask and ran through the dark in the direction of the breeze.
He found himself alone in the corridor. Moonlight shone through some of the high windows, creating a stark contrast between light and shadow. Still, he had no time to stare at the moon and took off at a brisk jog toward his destination.
At first, Neville felt hot embarrassment as he ran through the halls of Hogwarts wearing nothing but a felt mask. Soon, however, he found the game liberating. Never, in his three and half years at the school, had he ever felt so free, or so accepted. He had been amazed when Fred and George had invited him to compete in this contest, one they said had been going on annually in Gryffindor since 1430 when Humbert the Lewd had made his first run through the hallowed halls of learning. To be asked to participate in so grand a tradition made Neville beam with pride. Constantly teased for his shortcomings as a wizard, he had spent the previous three and a half years trying to prove himself in a class including Harry Potter. No small task, he knew, but returning to the common room first, flag in hand, would show everyone that he belonged in Gryffindor. That he was worthy.
He was still beaming, imagining the countless others who had run naked through Hogwarts, when he rounded a corner and nearly ran over Argus Filch.
Neville, possessing better reflexes than even he knew, sidestepped just in time to avoid the cantankerous caretaker, but a sudden yowling underfoot let him know he had stepped on his cat, Mrs. Norris. Rather than stopping, Neville slid on what felt like a fur-covered slipper, passing Filch and continuing on down the corridor. Mrs. Norris continued to scream in fear and pain until she and her nude tormentor struck the wall at the opposite end of the hall.
“MY CAT!” Filch roared from behind the stunned Neville.
Neville could hear Filch’s quick steps approaching and, shaking off his dizziness, sprinted down the corridor. He knew the caretaker could track him through the castle with his uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he wanted to put as much distance between them as possible.
He suspected that Filch might be aware of the proud tradition of Gryffindor streakers and that he might also know his destination, so he turned down a side corridor that ran away from the Astronomy tower. The few minutes of running a full speed left him with a stitch in his side as he emerged above the grand staircase that led up from the entrance hall. He stumbled down the steps, eased open the door to the Great Hall, and went inside. His ear pressed to the door for some time, he heard no approaching footsteps and exhaled a long sigh.
When he turned around, however, he saw that he was not alone. A solitary house elf stood atop the long Ravenclaw table. Neville thought the elf was female, based on the stained pink uniform it wore, but he could not be certain. She held a rag in her one tiny hand and a glass decanter in the other. Few of the floating candles that normally illuminated the room were lit and those that were cast a thin, watery light down upon the student and servant, both staring at each other in stark wonder.
“Um . . . hello,” Neville said. Even though his breathing had returned to normal, he could feel the heat rising back into his cheeks. He made a futile attempt at modesty, covering what he could with his hands.
The house elf, scanning him head to toe with her large, bulbous eyes, only blinked.
“Well,” he said to the stunned elf, “I’ll be going now. Have a good night!”
He eased open the great door again and slid out, careful to turn so the house elf could not see anymore than she already had.
“MERLIN’S BEARD!” cried a voice almost directly beside Neville as he sidled into the entrance hall.
Neville turned and saw Professor McGonagall, dressed in her robe and nightgown, standing a few steps away. The stack of books she had been carrying tumbled to the floor with a series of loud, echoing thumps as she raised her hands to her face.
“WHAT ON EARTH–” she began, but not before Neville darted around her and flew back up the grand staircase, taking the steps three at a time. When he reached the top of the stairs, he turned left and ran down the corridor away from Professor McGonagall’s continued shouts.
“Don’t teachers ever sleep?” Neville breathed as he ran, the words drowned out by the slapping of his bare feet against the stone floor.
He ran on, zigzagging through a series of corridors until he no longer knew where he was or how he had gotten there. His pace slowed as he looked around for some landmark, some painting or tapestry to orient his poor sense of direction.
A sound rose from behind him, what sounded like heavy breathing. At first he thought it was his own labored breaths, echoing in the stone corridor, but as the noise grew closer and louder, he realized that someone was following him. He charged forward again, no longer caring where he was so long as he was by himself, but the breathing behind him grew closer still. He turned left, then right, then right again, but still the quick puffs followed him and soon he could hear them right beside him. He thought it might be one of the other competitors from Gryffindor, perhaps Fred or, he dared to think for a moment, Angelina. But when he chanced a glance to his left, his heart sank.
Peeves, his naked, transparent form floating beside Neville, pumped his legs as though the poltergeist was running for his life. He turned to Neville and winked.
Neville stared at Peeves much as the house elf had stared at him. He stared so long, without regard to where he was going, that he was on top of the suit of armor before he saw it emerge from the gloom. A thunderous crash erupted all around him as he tumbled to the floor amidst the pieces of steel. Landing hard atop a steel breastplate knocked the wind out of him and he flailed his limbs wildly as he slid atop the piece of armor along the stones. Great showers of sparks leapt up around him causing tiny pinpricks of pain where they landed on his bare skin.
When the commotion of crashing steel stopped, Neville heard Peeves roaring with laughter above him.
“I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE,” the poltergeist wailed. “YOU AIN’T GOT NO UNDERPANTS!”
Neville grabbed the closest object within reach–the helmet he had displaced–and flung it at Peeves, over the helm’s loud protests.
“Put me down, you indecent cad!”
Peeves somersaulted in the air, easily avoiding the helmet, shook his ghostly bare backside at Neville, and zoomed off down the corridor in high glee.
Not wishing to be found again, Neville tore down another corridor and emerged in a hall he immediately recognized. He forced his legs to overcome the burning sensation that threatened to set them ablaze and a few moments later found himself at the base of a stairway that spiraled upwards into blackness.
The Astronomy tower.
Fighting the weariness in his legs, he started up the steps, no longer taking them three at a time. Now, each time he raised one leg to a higher stair, that leg felt as though it might rip from his hip socket. The other leg, forced to bear his weight, felt like liquid and wobbled until he shifted his weight and reversed the process. The going was slow and painful, but he could mark his progress by the window slits cut into the walls at regular intervals, allowing the clear moonlight from outside to lance onto the floor in thin beams. To Neville, the slants of light felt leagues apart, but each one he reached was a small victory, a win over fatigue and, he hoped, the other competitors in the game. He expected to hear footsteps overtaking him at any moment, but the only sounds he heard were his labored breathing and the increasing howl of the wind as he ascended.
Days passed, or so Neville thought, before he reached the top of the spiral staircase. The heavy door that led out onto the observation was slightly ajar, allowing a swirling breeze through the narrow opening that sent gooseflesh in waves across his body. Flakes of snow drifted in on the breeze, glittering in the light of the moon like flecks of silver until they swept past him and into the darkness below.
Neville reached the door and pulled it open. The wind blew harder now, blowing snow in a chaotic swirl around the top of the tower. He stepped out onto the landing and looked around for the flags, hoping he was the first to arrive, but he saw none. The tower was devoid of any sign of life save for the naked fourth-year shivering in the snow.
A weight settled in Neville’s stomach as he realized the joke that had been played on him. Anger welled up from that same place, though, a blinding fury that drove away all thoughts of physical discomfort from the cold or from his tired legs. He had been duped again, just like always. The Weasley twins had lured him in, made him feel accepted, and then sent him out to fill his usual role as the clown of Gryffindor. Good ol’ Neville, always good for a laugh.
“N-not this time,” he said through chattering teeth.
He turned back to the door to begin his descent, but a flickering light from below made him stop in mid-step. Someone was coming up the steps, searching for him.
Neville crouched in the darkest shadows of the tower and waited. The light grew brighter and closer until he could make out a small figure emerging through the open door. He recognized Professor Flitwick immediately behind the illuminated wand he held aloft, but wasted no time in announcing his presence.
Taking advantage of Flitwick’s diminutive stature, Neville charged past him and through the door. Fear once again propelling his steps, overcoming all fatigue, he bounded down the steps. Behind him, he could hear Flitwick’s cries of protest, but his voice soon faded as Neville’s reckless speed put distance between himself and the professor. He bounced off the stone walls, barely able to keep his feet, and finally exploded out the door at the base of the tower, collapsing against the far wall in the corridor.
Professor Dumbledore stood beside the door to the Astronomy tower. Holding a steaming mug in his hands, he looked on calmly as Neville sat staring at the Headmaster, shocked and terrified that he had been recognized.
“You look cold,” Dumbledore said. “Care for some cocoa?” He held up the steaming mug.
“Uh . . . no thanks,” Neville answered, scrambling to his feet.
“Very well,” Dumbledore replied, sounding crestfallen. “Then do take care to observe the school dress code in the future and take a left at the end of this corridor. Filch is patrolling the one to the right.”
“Um . . . thanks,” Neville said, sprinting away from the Headmaster down the corridor. When he reached the end, he turned left.
Neville took the most direct route he knew from the Astronomy tower back to the Gryffindor common room. No longer caring who he met on the way, he was determined to run past, or over, anyone who attempted to stop him. His confidence grew as he ran down empty corridor after empty corridor. He was one turn away from the corridor leading to the portrait of the Fat Lady when his worst fear emerged from the darkness ahead of him.
Professor Snape, his pale, hooked nose nearly luminescent in the light from his wand, stood in the center of the passage. His eyes widened as Neville approached and a crooked smile turned up one corner of his thin lips.
“What do we have here?” he asked in his silky voice as Neville ran toward him.
Neville fought the panic building inside him. He had suffered several nightmares during his time at Hogwarts, some of them involving him naked, some of them involving Snape, but in his most terrible imaginings had he ever combined the two. Now, here he was–naked and charging headlong toward the person he feared most in the world.
Without slowing, he pulled his wand from the mask. Necessity overcame his fear of failure, his fear of capture, and his fear of Snape, as he held it before him.
“Noctus vaporis!” he cried, his voice high from terror and lack of air.
A cloud of blackness gushed forward ahead him and enveloped Snape. Hearing the confusion in Snape’s voice, he veered left until his hand touched the stone wall, but kept moving forward in hopes of passing him. He thought the maneuver had been successful until he felt strong finger reach out from the darkness and clutch his upper arm.
Neville had never known terror such as he felt in that moment. All of his fears–of Snape, of embarrassment, of failure, of disappointing his grandmother–joined together and, from some part of him he did not know even existed, great strength emerged. With a supreme effort, aided by the sweat pouring from his body, he wrenched his arm away and sprinted off down the corridor.
It wasn’t until he rounded the corner, with the Fat Lady in sight, that he realized he could not remember the new password to get into Gryffindor tower, the new password that took effect just as he was starting his fool’s quest.
Behind him, he could hear Snape’s running footsteps drawing closer.
He was out of time, out of air, and, he knew, out of luck.
But then, Neville’s luck changed again.
Ahead of him, the Fat Lady swung open. Another mass of inky blackness gushed forth from the opening to the common room, blinding him and, from the cry of exasperation behind him, Snape, as well. Still, Neville ran until he sensed the stone wall around him as he plunged through the doorway and he dove headlong into the common room, rolling to a stop against a plush armchair.
He heard the portrait close behind him and Snape’s cry of frustration beyond. Then, the common room erupted into gales of laughter and thunderous applause. Hands helped him to his feet and he saw Fred and George, smiling broadly, at his side. Lee, Angelina, Katie, and several more students from Gryffindor stood clapping as though he had just won the Quidditch Cup for them. Unlike him, they were all dressed in their dressing gowns and robes.
“Well done, Neville!” Fred said.
“Yes,” George agreed. “Seeing you running from Snape! Brilliant!”
Neville, never much for violence, turned and punched George in the mouth. He followed this by turning on Fred and repeating the attack.
The room went dead still and, for a moment, Neville thought they all might curse him for attacking the popular Weasley twins. Instead, the spectators roared with laughter again and clapped louder for Neville.
Lee, laughing so hard that tears poured down his cheeks, approached with Neville’s robe. “Merlin’s beard, Neville, put some clothes on!” He tossed Neville the robe, then backed away quickly to avoid the fate of the Weasleys.
Fred and George, both dabbing at their split lips, were still laughing. Fred raised his hand to silence the crowd, then turned to Neville.
“We declare you the winner of the game!” he said. “Is there anything you would like to say to your mass of admirers?”
Neville, clutching his robe in front of him, looked at the expectant crowd.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll have steak and fish, butterbeer, and the ugliest house elves I’ve ever seen to serve it to me.”
With that, Neville turned and marched to the stairs leading to the boys dormitory, his robe in hand and his naked backside exposed to all.