Chapter Three

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

 

Saturday Late Afternoon

Quidditch Pitch

“ . . . and then she took off,” Neville concluded, absently steering his broom one-handed in a slow figure eight high above the pitch. Under his free arm was tucked the Quaffle they’d been throwing back and forth for the past half hour as they talked.

Draco, who hovered nearby, didn’t even attempt to control his reaction to the sordid tale. He lapsed into gales of loud laughter, eventually clutching his side with one hand and wiping tears from his eyes with the other. When he’d recovered somewhat he managed to wheeze, “Let me get this straight; everything was going your way until you pantsed yourself in front of her!” He dissolved into another fit of laughter.

“Yep.” Neville shot him a half-hearted glare that quickly morphed to a smirk as he drew to an abrupt halt and, without warning, chucked the Quaffle directly at Draco’s head. “Heads up, wanker.”

Unfortunately Draco’s attention was elsewhere, and the large ball hit him square in the back of the head. To his credit he barely flinched, turning with an unrepentant grin as he caught the ball. He gave a subtle tip of his head toward the stands below. “I believe you have a spectator.”

Nev took off in a wide arc around his friend without so much as a glance in the direction indicated. “It’s probably Luna come to drag you off for your afternoon shag,” he joked. “Best not keep her waiting.”

“Wild hair, maroon robes, and eyes fixed on the world’s slowest flyer? That would be your crazy witch, not mine.”

“Except she’s not my witch, is she?” Neville refuted resignedly. “And I’m starting to doubt she’ll ever be.”

Draco growled as he executed a lazy barrel roll. “For fuck’s sake! Just ask her out.” He chucked the Quaffle back with slightly more force than was necessary.

“I need to patch my dignity,” he protested, catching it against his stomach with a grunt.

“You have no dignity,” Draco argued, “which makes you the perfect match for Granger because she has no self-respect.”

“Hey!”

“Think about it, you moron – no matter how many things you manage to set on fire, trip over, grope, or expose she always comes back for more! She must have liked what she saw earlier.” Draco seemed to realize what he’d just said. He grimaced. “Ugh. I need to go find Lu. Purge that mental image.”

Neville watched as his closest friend turned toward the castle. Draco might be a sarcastic, mocking bastard, but underneath that facade was a wizard with wicked insight; his advice was always based on careful consideration. And he insisted Hermione was interested! “Thanks, mate.”

“Don’t mention it.” Draco leaned low over his broomstick and prepared to speed away. “I mean it,” he called over his shoulder. “Do not mention this conversation ever again.”

Neville hovered for a few tense seconds. Could this be it? Then he set his sights on the small figure of Hermione far below and flew in her direction.

She was red-cheeked in the chilly air, and the color spread to the rest of her face when he pulled up directly in front of her. “Neville! Hi!”

He hovered close to the railing, well aware that his least proficient flying skill was disembarking. Perhaps if he just asked quickly and then flew away he could avoid landing on top of her or some similarly embarrassing feat . . . “Hi yourself.”

Hermione looked like the proverbial mouse cornered by the cat. “Errrrrr.”

This was it, his chance to ask her out to dinner! He took and deep breath and began, “So what’re you-”

“Nothing,” she interrupted, a panicked look on her pretty face. “I, errrrrr, dropped an earring at the last match and thought I’d look for it!”

Neville grinned at her patent falsehood. She had followed him! Had there ever been a more adorable witch than Hermione Granger? Buoyed by confidence, he teased, “First match of the season isn’t until next month. And what I meant was-”

“Eighth year!” she backpedaled in a squeaky voice, flushing even more deeply. “I dropped it in eighth year. Obviously it’s long gone; not sure why I bothered to look.” She spun on her heel. “Got to go.”

“Wait!” It now appeared that landing was necessary if he didn’t want to chase her back to the castle on broomstick. Neville took a deep breath and inched toward the railing, one foot outstretched. “Don’t leave, Hermione!”

She shook her head violently but paused and then looked over her shoulder with that brave, hopeful expression. It quickly morphed into one of consternation. “Oh, do be careful; that looks dangerous!”

That particular peril hadn’t occurred to him, so immersed had he been in fear of mortification; now the situation seemed to taunt him. Fly off like a coward or fall to his death: what to do? He swallowed thickly and proceeded to attempt a landing, juggling the Quaffle he still held from his right arm to his left.

“Let me help.” Hermione sped to her previous spot at the railing and reached a hand toward his, eyes focused on the Quaffle. “Those balls are so big; can I hold yours?”

“Thanks.” He bit back his smirk, enjoying the fact that he hadn’t yet sent her running.

She took it from his outstretched hand and studied it curiously. “They’re so much heavier than I thought they’d be.”

Neville looked up just as he touched down on the narrow ledge, tender amusement flooding his being at her gaffe. For one shining second he held the advantage over fate, and he opened his mouth to finish the question he’d been trying to ask for so long. “What-”

That one second was all it took for Hermione to realize her blunder. She clapped a hand over face with a shuddering exhale of breath. “Godric, I didn’t- I mean!” She dropped the Quaffle as though it were on fire. “I- I- I-” Then, as she had in Greenhouse 6, she bolted from his presence.

“See you at dinner,” he called loudly, hoping she’d hear and understand what he really meant, which was ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with you’.

Saturday Evening

Great Hall

He arrived early for dinner and waited for her arrival with a strange surety of purpose that felt very much like the calm before a storm; it was only when the huge doors closed after the last straggler that he realized she wasn’t coming. She was hiding. From him. He let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and set down his water goblet.

In that moment he realized something earth-shattering: she was every bit as vulnerable as he was. Those hopeful looks, the breathless voice, the way she always turned up no matter where he was could only mean she had real feelings. For him. “Oh, no you don’t,” he murmured, pushing his chair away from the teacher’s table.

Beside him Draco – irritatingly all-knowing sod that he was – turned with a happy smirk. “Go get your witch, mate.”

Neville grinned. “Even if I have to throw her over my shoulder.”

Luna’s head popped up at that comment. “I wouldn’t tonight.” She peered around Draco’s shoulder as Neville stood to his feet. “Wait until your third date for that.”

“I was speaking fig-”

She wasn’t done. “But oral sex is definitely in your star charts this weekend.” She blinked and smiled dreamily. “Hermione’s going to get quite a mouthful with you, isn’t she!”

Neville opened his mouth to reply and then decided a nod would suffice. He excused himself from the teacher’s table and strode from the great hall, his gait made jaunty by the assurances of his friends.

She wasn’t in her quarters or the Transfiguration classroom, but a small note tacked to the door with a sticking charm offered hope. It read:

Lu,

If you’re not busy after dinner, meet me in G6 for some girl talk.

-H

p.s. your advice still isn’t working

He paused. What sort of advice had Luna given Hermione? Could it be anything like Draco’s to him? Hope rising in his chest, he set off for his own personal haven, that sanctuary of all sanctuaries: Greenhouse 6.

Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to be there, either, although the surreptitious nature of his search didn’t exactly allow for thoroughness. He walked all the pathways, checked all the storage rooms, and finally hunkered down beside the aquatic plant reservoir to await her eventual arrival. “Will you have dinner with me this evening?” he tested the words aloud.

The quiet of the greenhouse, paired with the dim evening light, imbued the space with an almost tangible tranquility. Neville drank it in as though it were ambrosia, and while it didn’t grant him immortality it nevertheless filled him confidence and poise. He tried again, addressing the pool of water in a slightly louder voice. “Go out to dinner with me.”

The pool stared back at him encouragingly, its calm waters drowning his hesitancy. Neville dredged up the memory of every mortifying encounter he’d had with Hermione since she’d arrived in early August and, drawing the metaphorical version of his house’s most prized symbol, he slayed each one. No more, he thought to himself. Tonight I put all that behind me and show her who I really am. He stood to his feet and practically yelled, “Fuck it all, Hermione, I’ve been trying to ask you out for the past month. Could you just put me out of my misery before I embarrass myself once again?”

There was a rustling in the foliage to his left that caused him to jump and narrowly miss falling into the reservoir. “I’d love to,” came a small, firm voice. “Unless you meant another Hermione, in which case I really might have to Obliviate you.”

Neville carefully stepped away from the pool and grasped the nearest railing, too afraid of botching up the moment to do more. “I’ve never met another witch with that name.” Did she just- Had she said yes? “You would?”

“Very much so. Errrrrr, you didn’t by any chance name your pool Hermione?”

“Nope.” He gave a soft huff of laughter, watching breathlessly as her slender form emerged from amongst the large leaves. She’d said yes! “I definitely meant you. I, uh, I’d walk to you but I’m afraid I might fall on my face or knock you into the reservoir.”

“I’ll come to you.” She walked toward him slowly, her smile like a beacon in the dusk. “When shall we have dinner?”

“Tonight, if that’s not too short a notice.” And every night for the rest of our lives. Still, tonight was an excellent place to start.

“Not at all.” She stopped when she was less than a foot away from him and looked down, studying herself. “Do I need to change?”

“No.” Neville took the invitation to ogle her. She still wore the red dress from earlier. “You’re-” Words failed him, but he valiantly tried again. “I wanted to tell you earlier how amazing you look in that dress, but-” But then I gave you the full Monty instead. He winced, suddenly wishing he’d left his original sentence unfinished.

“But I ran off.” She tipped her head upward then, that brave, hopeful expression he loved so well softened by her nearness. “Luna kept telling me not to give up hope.” She snickered. “She told me all kinds of things, actually.”

Neville tried to bite back the smirk threatening to claim his face as he remembered the last thing Luna had told him. “Me, too.”

She reached a hand toward him, catching the lapel of his robes between her fingers, her mouth curved up in a secretive smile. “Will you kiss me after dinner?”

Had there ever been a braver, more adorable witch? “Hermione,” he murmured, reaching a hand to stroke her cheek. But his hand didn’t move in the smooth way he’d intended at all; as if all his nerves and clumsiness had been routed to that one extremity, it shot spastically toward her face just as she cocked her head in the same direction. The resulting smack caused them both to gasp.

For a moment they both froze, poised as if to flee once more, until Hermione’s hand tightened its grip on his robes and she gave a snorting sort of giggle, cheek cupped in her other hand. “Maybe we should just do it now so we aren’t flirting with disaster all night.”

Neville couldn’t have agreed more.

They rammed foreheads together the first time they tried to kiss. The second attempt had them both tipping their heads the same direction, causing them to bump noses hard enough to cause Hermione to wince. But the third time . . . Merlin himself must have sent fate packing, because their mouths aligned in a flawlessly soft, magnetic push-pull of lips that drew deep sighs from the two.

Several minutes later found them still wrapped in each other’s arms. More importantly, they were both still standing! He pulled back slightly with a smile. “Much as I hate to stop, I’d really like to take you on our first date.”

She nodded, that same secretive smile on her kiss-swollen lips. “You know, we really should get all of our firsts out of the way as soon as possible; it might be the safest route for us.”

“Whatever you say.” He bit back another smirk and offered his arms to the witch of his dreams. “Ready?”

She took it as she leaned her head against his shoulder. “You have no idea.”

They set off through the twilight calm of Greenhouse 6, Hermione unusually silent and Neville uncharacteristically graceful in her presence. Neither commented on those facts, however, and if she wore a look of triumphant anticipation, he was obviously lost in thought. In fact, he was already wondering how on earth he’d ever get up the nerve to propose to her . . .