Draco spent the whole of the next week trying to avoid Neville Longbottom. Not that wasn't at all interested in having a chance to chat with him. On the contrary, Draco found himself singularly desirous of Neville's company. Therein lay the problem. Draco Malfoy was in no way supposed to find Neville amusing to hang out with. The fact that he did was becoming very disturbing.
It wasn't long, however, before Draco simply had to go to the greenhouse to pick up some Whythrin buds which he desperately needed for a potion. He strictly ignored the irritating part of his brain that kept telling him that searching though book after book till he found a potion that called for the plant did not count as "desperately needing" it. One shouldn't listen to the voices in one's head anyway.
When he entered the Greenhouse, however, he was very disappointed to find that Neville was not there.
-Not disappointed, not disappointed- Draco kept repeating to himself.
He paused, however, unsure as to whether he should still take the Whythrin buds. Technically there wasn't any point to doing so, as he was only going to brew the potion as an excuse to go and steal Neville's plants. On the other hand, not taking the plant would be admitting that he had in fact come to the greenhouse with the sole intent of seeing Neville. And that was definitely a disturbing thought. Draco paused in thought in the middle of the greenhouse for quite a bit of time trying to make up his mind on the subject.
He was still standing there undecided when Neville returned to the greenhouses. Neville was quite amused to find Draco there when he arrived, as it had been Draco whom he'd been looking for when he left.
"You know, since it's technically stealing anyway, you really needn't wait around for my permission."
"Oh! I….well… I mean….that is to say….I thought you lived in the greenhouse."
Draco mentally beat himself up quite thoroughly. –Of all the things to say, you had to say something that stupid?-
Neville just laughed.
"No, I don't live in the Greenhouse. Although I must say I'm surprised; I was quite certain you lived in the Dungeons, and yet I finally find you here instead."
"Yes, I was looking for you in the potions lab, but Snape told me you had come here."
"Really!? You were looking for me? And you had a civil conversation with Snape!?"
"I never said I had a civil conversation with Snape. For my part all I managed to stutter out was your name and then Snape said "Bugger of Longbottom! Malfoy's gone to your stupid Greenhouse."
Draco laughed nervously; somehow it was comforting that at some level Neville was still pathetic.
"So….you were looking for me?"
"Yeah, I was thinking you might do me a favor in exchange for me letting you steal my plants."
"What kind of favor?"
"I actually needed a certain potion for one of my plants. The Moonfern here has been looking rather pathetic as of late and I found a recipe for a potion that could help it out. As I'm sure you're aware, I'm complete crap at potions."
"So you wanted me to brew a potion for you?"
"Well, at least you could help me brew it, or…something."
"I'm sure I could work….something out."
A huge grin spread across Neville's face.
"Thanks, you're a real friend."
"Are we friends now, then? That's new." Draco tried desperately to appear cool and aloof, despite the fact that his heart was pounding a million times a second. He'd never had a friend before, and this was all terribly new and stressful and exciting at the same time.
"Sure. I figure anyone who agrees that Ron Weasley is a complete turd is a friend of mine."
Draco wasn't at all sure what the correct protocol was for this type of situation. Should he just smile? Should he say thanks? Should he return the gesture? Should they shake hands on it? In the end, he was so stressed out over the whole ordeal, that all he could manage to do was to stand there looking slightly stupid and blushing.
Neville just cleared his throat and tried to pretend that he didn't notice Draco blushing. It seemed the only polite thing to do despite the fact that he thought Draco Malfoy blushing was a sight spectacular enough to be listed as one of the natural wonders of the Wizarding World.
"So…as soon as you're free to help me with this potion, you just let me know. And as I said, feel free to come and take my plants whenever you want."
"Thanks. I guess I'll see you around then." Slowly and awkwardly and tripping once, as he was walking backwards, Draco left the greenhouse.
Neville noted that Draco left without taking any plants with him.
* * *
The first thing Draco did as soon as he left the Greenhouse and regained some semblance of coherent thought, was make his way back to the Dungeons to see Professor Snape.
Draco was pleased to be back in his familiar habitat as he made his way towards the potions lab. Though there was something strangely exhilarating about being in Neville's Greenhouse, the fact that he never knew what was going to happen next always left him feeling somewhat out of control, vulnerable, and thoroughly exhausted. In the Dungeons he was in control and for the most part always knew what was going to happen. Although, he did note as he kicked a stray Hufflepuff across the corridor, that there was something a little bit boring about predictability.
Snape, of course, was in the lab brewing a potion. That was something you could always depend on.
"Professor Snape, sir."
"Malfoy. I presume Longbottom found you?"
"Yes, sir. Um…. Sir…."
"Stop staying sir and get on with it. By now you'd think I'd be able to tell when you wanted something of me."
"Right. Could I borrow the potions lab sometime, please?"
"Considering the fact that you spend most of your free time using the lab facilities anyway, I must assume that you mean for me not to be here at the time." A raised eyebrow from Snape met a carefully calculated and completely disbelieved blank stare from Malfoy. "I'd bother asking if that were overly presumptuous of me if I honestly thought I had a chance of being wrong. I'm not wrong, am I?"
Malfoy shook his head.
"You aren't planning on brewing something illegal or potentially dangerous, are you?"
"No sir, I swear it!"
"And you aren't bringing a girl here to fool around?"
"Definitely not! I'd never even think doing such a thing."
"Or a boy?"
At this Malfoy faltered. It was a thought that had honestly not entered his head up till that point even briefly, but the thought of it now definitely caught him off his guard.
"N… no. Honestly sir. We're just going to brew a potion."
"So there is someone else."
Malfoy cursed himself to hell and back for having made such a stupid error.
"Just a… friend, that's all. He wanted help with a potion since I owed him a favor."
Snape raised his eyebrow some more for good measure. He couldn't deny, though, that Malfoy did appear to be sincere if not slightly flustered.
"Very well. Tomorrow night after supper I'll leave the lab open for you and your friend. But I warn you, if I return and find that you've lied to me you'll live to regret it."
"Oh thank you!" Draco beamed as he turned to leave.
"And Malfoy, I assure you that I have a very good nose. I'll know if you've lied."
Draco blushed as he hurried out of the room. Once Snape was left alone again he let out the violent shudder that he'd been suppressing. He had a serious suspicion that whatever Draco had in mind had something to do with Neville Longbottom and no matter what it was, none of the possibilities were anything less than horrifying.
* * *
Neville clutched the message he'd received by owl in one hand and smoked a cigarette in the other as he busied himself around the Greenhouse. The message told him that Draco had secured the Potions lab for the two of them that night, so Neville was trying to make sure he had whatever it was that he would need. Namely the recipe itself and whatever ingredients he could supply himself. He tried to maintain as cool and calm as he generally tried to do around Draco, but truth be told, he was beginning to feel a little out of his element.
The problem was that he felt comfortable in his Greenhouse, surrounded by his plants. He was in charge and in control when he was there, but tonight he was going to step outside of his environment and go down to the potions lab of all places.
"What the fuck was I thinking?" Neville asked himself not for the first time that evening as he took a long drag on his cigarette, attempting desperately to calm his nerves.
He had the worst feeling that something horrible was going to happen. Perhaps most disconcerting to Neville was that he had this weird feeling in the pit of his stomach as though this were a landmark event in his life along the same lines of getting your wand or going on your first date.
"I never said it was a date!" Neville spoke exasperatedly to himself.
-But it feels like one, doesn't it?-
"No it doesn't! I am going to go and brew a potion, that is all. Frankly, it more resembles a lesson in self mutilation than a date. Why did I ever think this was a good idea?"
-Because you were too excited at the prospect of spending more time with Draco Malfoy to realize that you turn into a complete idiot when you come anywhere near the potions lab?-
"It was a rhetorical question, God damn it!"
* * *
Down in the dungeons, Draco was, surprisingly enough, not too much better off than Neville. Snape was as good as his word and left Draco alone in the potions lab. Part of Draco wished, however, that he wasn't left quite so alone, since sitting there by himself nervously fidgeting and waiting for Neville was making quite ill at ease.
"What the fuck was I thinking?" Draco asked aloud, unknowingly repeating Neville's own mantra.
Draco was honestly almost pissed off with himself. He was supposed to feel calm and at one with the world; the potions lab was where he belonged. But despite that, Draco was completely stressed out.
Ever since Snape made that comment about fooling around with a boy, Draco couldn't get it out of his head. Why would Snape even think such a thing? What if that was what Neville assumed they were going to be doing? What if Draco made a fool of himself by assuming that they honestly were going to brew a potion? Why did he have to arrange for the two of them to be alone in the potions lab? But what if that wasn't what Neville assumed they were doing? What if he somehow came across as desperate to Neville?
By the time Neville finally showed up holding a handful of plants and "Potions for Herbologists" Draco was in such a wound up state that he ended up falling off of the stool he had been sitting on.
"Merlin! Are you all right?" Neville set down the book and the plants and rushed over to help Draco up.
"I'm fine! It's just… um… an inner ear problem."
Draco was surprised to find himself quite suddenly pulled to his feet and standing very close to Neville. It took about a second for his brain to assess that Neville was a few inches taller than himself, radiated quite a lot of body heat, smelled really nice, and was probably standing way too close to him. Draco contemplated briefly whether he should feign a fainting spell so that he could lean a bit closer to Neville, but before he even finished his thought, Neville settled the matter by backing away from him.
"So, anyway… I've got the potions book here and a fair amount of the ingredients," Neville said, slightly uneasily as he headed back to the table where he had dropped his stuff off. "I'm assuming that the other ingredients wont be difficult to get."
If Draco had any idea at all, he would have been immensely impressed with Neville's acting skills. As it was, he was far too preoccupied with honing his own skills as an actor.
"Right, well let's have a look at the potion we're going to make and get started," Draco said, completely belying the fact that that he felt as though his heart were about to explode from beating so fast.
Neville opened his book up to the right page and the two boys stood side by side both pretending that they were reading the list of potion ingredients. The words washed over them in a complete blur as the only thing either of them was aware of was the proximity of the other boy. As tempting as it was for Draco to ponder the wonders of having his hip brush against Neville's, he knew that his honour as a Slytherin was a stake if he couldn't manage to brew a proper potion under pressure.
-You can do this, Draco-Draco thought to himself. -Just think of something non distracting-
Suddenly an image flashed through Draco's head of him moaning with his head thrown back and his legs wrapped lewdly around Neville.
Well, at least it's not like Draco had never brewed a potion with a hard-on before.
To be continued…