Chapter One

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story. Where would be the fun in that?

beta credit: Palmetto Blue

 

Thursday Morning

Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry

Office of Professor Longbottom, Herbology dept.

 

“Is this how you want it, Neville? Like this?” She prowled toward him across his desk, her teacher’s robes unbuttoned and wild curls bouncing with every move.

 

“Oh, yeah. Just like that,” he murmured, leaning back even further in his precariously balanced office chair.

 

“Just like what?” she asked.

 

Just as he was about to tell her exactly how he wanted it, it occurred to him that his fantasy witch hadn’t moved her mouth to speak. Jolted back to reality by the discrepancy, he opened his eyes to find her real life counterpart standing in the doorway to his office. “AAH!” Startled, he pushed off from his desk one critical inch too far and crashed to the floor.

 

“Gods, I’m so sorry for startling you! Are you okay?” She hurried toward him, lovely face twisted in contrition.

 

“Hermione!” Neville clambered to his feet and tugged his robes shut to hide the evidence of his fantasizing. “Good! Great! You?” He righted his chair and attempted to lean casually against his desk, succeeding only in sending an enormous pile of student assignments flying everywhere. He snatched at the parchment avalanche helplessly as it poured to the floor, nearly falling flat on his face in the process.

 

Hermione knelt and swiftly gathered the mess into a neat stack. “Well, I just might survive the week. Here you go.” She offered it to him. “But the weekend can’t come soon enough.”

 

“Uhhh.” He was rendered inarticulate by the sight of Hermione Granger on her knees at his feet, gazing up at him with her lips slightly parted. “Y-y-y-y . . . ”

 

She didn’t seem to notice his discombobulation. “Don’t get me wrong; taking this post was the best decision I’ve ever made. But homesick first years and hormonal seventh years are going to be the death of me!” She sighed. “It gets easier, doesn’t it?”

 

He needed to get her off her knees so he could think straight. Taking the papers from her, he offered his free hand and pulled her upright. “Yep. Next year you won’t even blink when it all starts again.” He grinned at the idea of Hermione at Hogwarts for years to come. If he could just get up the nerve to ask her out- Was she looking at him hopefully? She did that sometimes, looked at him as if waiting for something. Neville realized he’d been staring at her like an idiot and was still holding her hand. He jerked his away and took a step back. “Sorry.”

 

Hermione blushed and gave a nervous-sounding laugh. “I should . . . ” She crossed the office at a snail’s pace, glancing at him over her shoulder every few steps.

 

She was halfway out the door when he managed to blurt, “Any plans for the weekend?”

 

She whirled around with that same look of anticipation. “None at all!”

 

Did she sound breathless? “Would, uh,” he paused to toss the armful of parchment onto his desk, only to knock over the blazing candelabra and start a small fire. “Shit!” He fumbled for his wand.

 

Hermione beat him to it, casting a quick extinguishing charm. “What were you saying?” she asked, stepping closer to him.

 

“Would-” He paused, weighing the humiliating details of the past five minutes against the off chance she was interested. He’d just fallen flat on his back, cleared his desk with one fumble and then set it aflame, and had to be saved like a first year by the very witch he wanted to ask out. She’d merely been potentially hopeful and breathless. In the end his mortification won. “Uhhh, wouldn’t want you to be bored on the first weekend of the school year.”

 

“Oh, right.” As she dropped her gaze, her slender shoulders seemed to droop. “Well, see you.”

 

The moment the door shut behind her, Neville walked to the nearest wall and banged his head against a particularly rough stone, cursing under his breath.

 

By the end of lunch he’d managed to trip down a staircase, walk into a wall, get his robes caught in a door, and tip a goblet of pumpkin juice down the front of his robes. All within a span of ten minutes, and all in front of Hermione. After his last class that afternoon, he sought sanctuary in Greenhouse 6 and roared his frustrations aloud in the vast empty space.

 

“I can be smooth!” he yelled. He grabbed an empty pot from the nearest shelf and flung it as far as he could. When it hit the stone floor with a satisfying crash, he repeated the action with six more pots. “I’m not that kid anymore!”

 

Except he was; at least, he reverted to that Neville whenever Hermione was around: the fat, pitiful boy with no talent, no confidence, and no chance whatsoever with a smart, pretty witch. “Fuuuuuuuuuuck!”

 

Four more pots met with the same end before he dropped to the floor in defeat and, for a long while, pondered the bias of fate. When the sun began to set, he restored the pots with a few Reparos and puttered about G6, trimming a few plants and checking the water level of the aquatic plant reservoir. Then, his head and heart in somewhat better states, he returned to the castle for dinner.

 

Hermione gave him a brilliant smile as he sat down at the professors’ table. Distracted, he proceeded to stick his entire hand into the serving bowl of mashed potatoes.

 

 

*          *          *

 

Friday Evening

The Three Broomsticks

 

 

“Fancy meeting you here!” The tall blonde witch gave him an exaggerated wink and sat on the barstool beside him, hitching it closer with an air of familiarity.

 

Neville raised his eyes from his pint with an easy smile for Tracey Davis, his longtime friend. “Hey.”

 

“A pint, please, when you have a moment, Rosie,” she called, then turned back to Neville and batted her eyelashes comically. “How’s Hogwarts’ dishiest prof?”

 

He winced and groaned. “What’d I tell you about calling me that?”

 

She seemed to find his discomfiture hysterical but relented by changing the subject. “So I’m thinking about selling.”

 

“Right.” Neville gave her a skeptical look. Three years they’d been meeting for a pint on Friday evenings, and never once had she mentioned anything but satisfaction over her independence and thriving shop. “You love running Dogweed and Deathcap.”

 

“I love Hogsmeade and I love my friends here,” she corrected with a meaningfully arched eyebrow, “but I don’t want to spend my life behind the counter of a potions supply store.”

 

“What would you do?”

 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the future; you know – marriage, children . . .” she darted a quick, odd glance at him. “Do you ever think about those things, Nev?”

 

“Yep.” He smiled, imagining a life shared with the witch of his dreams and their children. Then he shook it off as just that – a dream and nothing more. “But the witch I want probably doesn’t see me that way.”

 

“A catch like you? Nonsense.” Tracey caught the sloshing pint slid her way by Rosmerta. “I see you’ve decided to embrace the unkempt look.” She reached to tug at the three-day’s growth covering the lower half of his face.

 

“Hey, now.” He pulled back with a good-natured grin, used to Tracey’s hands-on approach to friendship. “If you had to shave twice a day, you’d eventually give up, too.”

 

“It suits you.” She paused and studied him from the corner of her eye. “So this witch you want: you think she’s the one?”

 

Neville busied himself with his coaster. “Always has been.”

 

“Maybe she does want you; maybe she doesn’t know how you feel.” Tracey’s gaze was suddenly intense. “Have you told her?”

 

“Nope.” He looked away and studied his beer, suddenly wondering why he’d thought a trip to Hogsmeade would be relaxing. “Been too busy making a fool of myself in front of her all these years. But I will, Trace.” He nodded resolutely. “Now that Hermione’s at Hogwarts, I’m going to tell her.”

 

There was a clatter beside him as Tracy set down her pint. “Hermione,” she repeated faintly.

 

“Yep.”

 

The mood shifted strangely then, and there was a long stretch of silence. Finally she sighed. “Nev, dreaming won’t get you what you want. Go after her before she winds up with someone else.” She drained the last of her pint. “I’m speaking from experience.”

 

“And if she turns me down?”

 

She leaned toward him with a longing look, face flushed. “I’ll alw-” And then she seemed to think better of whatever she’d been going to say, because she simply shook her head, dropped a few Sickles beside her unfinished pint, and slid off her stool. “Neville, you’re an idiot – a very sweet, very smart, very sexy idiot. Have a good weekend.”