Arthur had to admit that it was a truly impressive feat, casting anti-apparition wards for a good three kilometres in every direction. Most wizards would have difficulty even getting the request through the Ministry, let alone having the talent to pull it off. Of course, most wizards were not Neville Longbottom.
When he saw, at last, the gates of the manor, Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. Loosening his grip, he squared his shoulders, and proceeded up the steps. A moment later, the door was opened by a wizened house-elf. Arthur thought he recognized him—an old family elf, if he recalled correctly. Frank used to talk about him at Hogwarts, the poor old elf his family kept around because where else would a house-elf without a tongue be safe?
His suspicions were confirmed when the elf, rather than announcing his presence, merely bowed and waved him in. Arthur would have to announce his own presence, it seemed. He sighed. It was not ideal, but then, Longbottom was likely aware of that. Arthur was sure that he owned a number of other elves, all perfectly capable of announcing a stranger. It was no accident that they were not responsible for opening the door.
So Arthur stepped into the manor. And as the house-elf closed the door behind him, it began to rain.
*** *** *** ***
Longbottom’s study was rather more colourful than Arthur had imagined it. Oh, it certainly had enough dark wood and basilisk engravings to fulfill the Dark Lord’s deepest décor desires, but there were flashes here and there: some gold trophies, a Gryffindor scarf. An abstract painting by some Muggle hung at the back of the room; playful and bursting with colour, it reminded him of one Charlie’s childhood drawings. He let his eyes linger on it, just for a moment, soaking it in.
“What can I do for you, Arthur?” The words drew him back into the moment. Neville Longbottom sat at his desk. He was leaning back leisurely, but Arthur noted he hadn’t put away his quill and parchment. It was clear he could not be more indifferent to the presence of Arthur Weasley.
“It’s good to see you, Neville,” said Arthur, instead of answering the question. “I hope you’re doing well?”
Neville scrutinized him carefully. “As well as ever.” The words were inflected perfectly, a casual response to a casual question, yet they felt cold and flat. Like a talented actor reading the wrong lines.