Chapter Two

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

I try to set myself a unique creative goal in every fic I write.  Here in FiL I explored two: writing from a male character’s pov and physical comedy.

 

Saturday Morning

Great Hall

 

The trouble with Saturday mornings was the overall informality, Neville decided. Students came and went as they chose, and many didn’t bother getting up for breakfast at all. This allowed the staff a certain degree of latitude, as evidenced by the fact that Draco Malfoy – Professor of Potions – and Luna Lovegood – Professor of Divination – were holding hands and sitting just a bit closer together than was necessary.

 

He ate his eggs and bacon absently as he thought this. It wasn’t that he disapproved; on the contrary, he was envious! If only he could just break his involuntary habit of humiliating himself and ask Hermione out, they could make affectionate table talk, too! They could make lots of things . . .

 

“Would you please pass the scones?”

 

The request registered vaguely, but Neville’s mind was occupied with the impossible task of smoothly converting breakfast conversation into dinner dates.

 

“Pass the scones?”

 

On the one hand, he could just ask her. Hermione, will you have dinner with me in Hogsmeade tonight? But what if she misunderstood his intentions and thought it was a platonic request? Which brought him to his second option- A gentle poke to his right shoulder roused him from his thoughts. “Huh?”

 

Hermione smirked up at him. “Wake up and pass the scones, sleepyhead.”

 

“Right! Scones!” He all but lunged for the serving tray.

 

“Errrr, watch your sleeve, Nev.” She gestured toward his moving arm and grimaced adorably.

 

He realized he’d dragged his loose robe-sleeve through the molten yolk of his over-easy eggs. “Damn!” He jerked his arm up and to the right, eyes trained on the mess.

 

And so it began again – the never-ending cycle of humiliation that was his life in Hermione’s presence. Only when it was too late did he realize the tray was in his hand, and that his uncoordinated actions had sent the scones hurtling from it in Hermione’s direction where they pelted her torso and landed in her lap. “No, no, no! Merlin, I’m so sorry!” He lurched in her direction to gather them just as Hermione hunched down to do the same, and suddenly he found his left hand grasping something round and soft and not a scone.

 

Neville pulled away in horror as a wave of brick-red heat washed over his entire body. He opened his mouth to apologize yet again, but there were no words for what he’d just done. “I-I-I . . .”

 

She remained hunched over, and now her shoulders began to quake. Sweet Circe, had he made her cry? “Hermione, please forgive me. Gods, I’m such a . . .” He trailed off once more.

 

Hermione’s shoulders shook harder and suddenly an unladylike snort burst from her. She looked up at him and let loose a burst of laughter that belied the fierce blush on her face. “Why do these things keep happening?” Then she gathered the scones from her lap and returned all but one to the tray. “Thank you.”

 

He blinked. “For assaulting you with hot breakfast food or for groping you?”

 

“For the scone.” She broke off a small piece and popped it in her mouth.

 

She smiled at him, that brave, hopeful smile he loved so much, and for one brief moment Neville believed everything might just go his way. Then Draco addressed him, startling him, and his left elbow caught the edge of his plate and tipped the whole ruddy mess into his lap. Jumping to his feet in surprise, he tripped over the leg of his chair and fell backward into Draco, who caught him under the arms as Hermione watched in sympathetic alarm.

 

“Off you go, Granger. Nothing to see here.” Draco shooed her away and turned to Neville with a wicked smirk. “That was spectacular, by the way. Especially when you copped that feel!”

 

Neville gave Draco a light shove and performed a quick cleaning charm on his robes. “Just shut it, will you!”

 

“Come on; I’ll escort you out of this danger zone,” Draco snickered. “Make sure you don’t maim yourself along the way.” He dropped a kiss to the top of Luna’s head and murmured something undoubtedly inappropriate in a school setting.

 

Luna beamed up at Draco. “Only if you’ll tie me up.” She turned to Neville. “I have the strangest feeling I’ll have something to tell you in seventeen minutes.”

 

“Thanks.” Neville couldn’t help but momentarily forget his problems in the happy presence of this unlikely but shockingly perfect couple. Someday, he thought. Someday that could be me and Hermione. He sighed, wondering exactly how likely that someday was. “I’ll take all the help I can get.”

 

The two wizards walked in companionable silence until they reached the first in the long row of enormous greenhouses, where Draco paused. “When I first took this post all those years ago, I never thought we’d become friends.”

 

“It did seem unlikely; didn’t it?” He remembered his initial reservations about working alongside his childhood tormentor. “But you changed after the war; I didn’t so much become friends with that prick Malfoy as I did with the man Draco.”

 

“Yeah.” Draco examined his fingernails closely. “I’m not the only one who changed, you know.”

 

Neville leaned against the greenhouse door; he thought of Hermione and how much she’d changed and yet stayed the same wonderful person she’d always been. “She’s even more amazing than she was at school.”

 

“It’s not her I meant, you moron.” His friend glanced at him before returning to the study of his manicured hands. “You’ve changed, Nev. You’re a- You’re a-” he gave a groan of frustration, “Damnit! What I mean to say is, she’ll say yes.”

 

He smiled at his friend’s uncharacteristic stammering even as he pondered his words. I have changed, he thought. I know who I am, and I know what I want. Now if only I can muddle my way through to getting it. “Thanks, mate.”

 

Draco bumped shoulders with him and began walking back toward the castle. “Thank me by bloody asking her out.” Over his shoulder he called, “or eventually one of us is going to suffer a painful death as a result of your idiocy.”

 

Neville walked the long way to Greenhouse 6, rounding the last corner to find Luna dancing on the steps of its ornate entrance. He stopped short with a grin. “Another narleywicket infestation?”

 

Luna paused, arms raised gracefully at odd angles, and shook her head. “Blibbering humdingers.” She made several counter clockwise revolutions before clapping her hands and muttering something in what sounded like pig Latin. Then she walked down the steps toward him with a serene smile. “They won’t be a problem any more.”

 

“Thanks, Lu.” He gestured toward the greenhouse. “You coming in?”

 

“No, thank you.” She peered at him dreamily and turned to leave.

 

He tried once more. “You had something to tell me.”

 

“Whatever you do, don’t give up hope.” She was already skipping away but she called back in a singsong voice, “And there’s a tin of stale biscuits in the back of the blue cupboard!”

 

 

Saturday Afternoon

Greenhouse 6

 

Neville brushed the excess soil from his hands and gave a satisfying stretch. The seedlings he’d ordered from Peru had arrived in poor health and required immediate attention, but now that they were planted it was time to get started on his favorite weekly task. He headed to the main storeroom, where he changed into his swim trunks and checked the time.

 

One o’clock! He’d missed lunch completely! He rolled his eyes as Luna’s cryptic message came to mind; why couldn’t she have simply told him to keep an eye on the clock? He found the biscuits right where she’d predicted, and they were indeed stale. He bolted down a handful, pulled his towel from its hook, and set off toward the plant pool.

 

The aquatic plant reservoir was Neville’s pride and joy. Not only was it home to several rare water plants, but its beautiful design had been featured in architectural periodicals throughout the wizarding world. He cleaned it religiously every Saturday and enjoyed every moment spent in the deep pool of magically heated water; in fact, he wished the job needed to be done more often.

 

An hour later the pool was quite clean and Neville floated on his back, eyes closed, in a mellow frame of mind, when a nearby noise announced the presence of a visitor to the greenhouse. Without opening his eyes, he called out, “Over by the reservoir. Hang on.” Then he swam to the nearest side and was just hauling himself up onto the low, wide ledge when he heard a soft choking sound. He glanced up.

 

It was Hermione. She stood several yards away as if transfixed, mouth hanging open and eyes glued to his chest. It occurred to Neville that his inevitable mortification was seconds away, but in his relaxed state all he do was grin lazily in resignation. “Hey,” he said, climbing out of the reservoir, “what’s up?”

 

“N-n-n-eville!” Her gaze wandered slowly up to his face. “Y- uh, y- uh . . . errrrrr . . . I-I-I-I . . .”

 

His towel was draped over the branches of a young potted palm just behind her. He ambled to her and gestured with a dripping hand. “Mind handing me my towel?” Neville basked in her blatant ogle for the three steps it took for him to reach her, casting an equally admiring eye over the pretty red dress she definitely hadn’t been wearing at breakfast. It hugged her slender curves and dipped lower in the front than anything she’d worn at school to date, not that he was complaining in the slightest.

 

She reached back blindly, gaze dropping to the waistband of his swim trunks before rising to meet his again. “Your abs weren’t at lunch.”

 

Even your gaffes are attractive, he thought. Then he was directly in front of her and, as if on autopilot, he was leaning slowly forward and down, almost brushing his hand against her shoulder as he stretched for the towel. Time dilated for one glorious second, slowing to half-speed as Hermione tipped her head back, eyes half-closed and lips slightly parted, and-

 

Her eyes shot wide open and a deep flush suffused every inch of her visible skin. “I mean you!” she jumped back, tripping against the base of the potted palm and falling backward into its foliage with a yelp. “You weren’t at lunch!” Hands scrabbling at the willowy plant, she fought to keep her balance and stammered, “Of course your hard, wet body wasn’t there!” She clapped a hand over her face. “Oh, gods, please just let me die now.” Finally on her feet again, she turned and fled down the nearest walking path.

 

Forgetting all about the towel, Neville followed after her. “Hermione, wait!” Had there ever been a more perfect witch? He reached the corner of storeroom 18 just as she pushed open the greenhouse door. “Don’t go!”

 

She paused and looked over her shoulder with that hopeful look he loved so much. Three minutes! He’d avoided making a fool of himself in front of her for three perfect minutes; surely there would never be another opportunity so perfect as this. Even as he opened his mouth to utter the fateful question, though, fate – that cruel bitch – intervened.

 

Nev took one more step forward, eyes on the witch of his dreams, and

planted his bare foot firmly on the head of a rake he’d leaned against the storeroom. The rake handle snapped up and cracked the side of his face, causing him to stumble back with a grunt of pain.

 

“Neville!” Hermione seemed to have forgotten her embarrassment; she was hurrying back toward him, her voice tinged with concern. “Are you all right?”

 

But he was unable to answer, caught as he was in another humiliating scenario of his own devising; as he stumbled he lost his footing and hit the stone outer wall of the storeroom, sliding down its rough surface until his tailbone hit the head of the water spigot. “Aaaagh!” Tears of pain clouded his vision. He jumped up immediately, hand clasped to his jaw, only partially aware his action were impeded by something caught on his swim trunks. He struggled against it and finally managed to stand.

 

And then he was aware of Hermione standing in front of him, of her frozen posture and shocked expression, and of the fact that his trunks were down around his thighs. He would have pulled them up, but his hands seem to have become stuck to his face, and it was far, far too late for that anyway.

 

“I’m so sorry.” She held his gaze, looking as though she were about to cry; her chin was lifted bravely, but it quivered. “I’m such an idiot.” And then she was gone.