AN: This started out as something completely different. I was taking a break from my Kagome/Thranduil story and my other infinitely longer HP story to just jot down a bit of an idea I had. Then, Neville waltzed in and stole the steering wheel. Seriously. He would not give it back. It's probably because the more times I go over canon HP, the more I think Neville's probably the character that JKR developed the best. I think that he would actually do better with Hermione than Harry would and certainly better than Ron. (Not that I'm against the good ship Harmony! I've sailed it myself a time or two.)
Also, there is a line in here that is from Inell's beautiful fic 'Refuge' which you can find on AO3. (About the troll. It struck me hard when I read it and just sort of summed up Hermione and Neville's friendship, I think.) Go read her works. Seriously.
Let me know if you guys like this! :)
The events of Hermione's fourth year managed-among the myriad of other things-to cement in her mind the necessity of protection for her parents. Until then, they'd simply been Muggles that most of the wizarding world looked down on, but didn't actively care one way or the other about. With Harry's insistence of Voldemort having returned, however, the dentists abruptly became Very Large Targets in Hermione's mind. After all, Voldemort obviously had it out for Harry and what was she but the Boy-Who-Lived's main reason for continued existence? She was heralded as the Brightest Witch of the Century, even by that rag the Prophet, and so would be an obvious target for death eaters.
Apparently, however, none of this mattered one iota to any of the adults in her life. Her parents didn't know how to help-obviously-and Dumbledore and McGonagall merely patted her on the head and shushed her concerns as overreacting.
"Most people are worried for their loved ones in these times, Miss Granger," McGonagall told her with sympathy, "but your parents aren't in any more danger than any other Muggles. Death eaters avoid venturing into the Muggle world if they can help it and as such would likely have no idea where to begin looking, even if they did decide to target them."
Hermione had gone cold at the dismissal and felt the last remnants of her respect for Authority crumble into dust. Standing, she bobbed a nod at her Head of House.
"Thank you for your time, Professor."
And she'd left, her fury burning away the blinders she'd worn in her determination to belong in this world.
"Hermione?" a soft voice asked as she fairly stormed through the castle.
Blinking, she unclenched her jaw and jerked her attention to her sandy-haired friend opposite her on the moving stairs. The staircase had taken that moment to pause, leaving the two suspended and alone. Her friend's kind green eyes studied her with a worried gleam as he descended to stand beside her.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly. "You're shaking."
Blowing out a harsh breath, Hermione rubbed her face and dropped down to sit on the stairs. "No, I'm-I'm enraged, Neville," she admitted, her hands curling into fists.
Neville's brows furrowed as he sat next to her. "Anything I can do?"
Laughing bitterly, she shook her head and met his eyes-green, but so different from Harry's. "My parents are Muggles, Neville," she whispered, and watched as understanding dawned in his face. "I don't know how to protect them. If-if death eaters found my house, my parents wouldn't have any kind of defense."
Tears filled her eyes as her rage made room for helplessness. Neville, of all people, could appreciate that scenario. Swallowing, he wrapped an arm around her and held her supportively. He wasn't as smart as Hermione but-contrary to popular belief-he wasn't stupid. He'd also always had a soft spot for the girl who'd been his first friend. He could almost thank Trevor for disappearing on his first train ride since it led him to Hermione Granger.
"Professor Dumbledore won't help?" he stated more than asked because he knew she'd have sought out the adults' help in the matter first.
Her wild curls bounced as she shook her head. "No. He and Professor McGonagall feel that my parents aren't in any more danger than any other Muggle in Britain," she spat bitterly.
Neville's face went slack in disbelief. "That's absurd!" he exclaimed. "And even if it were true, you asked for protection for them. As your magical guardian, Dumbledore would be well within his power to grant it."
A new wave of rage washed over her, locking her jaw and causing her hair to bush up more with her magic. Neville blinked at the surge and gently patted her back until her eyes stopped sparking.
"Well," he cleared his throat as she seemed unable to speak passed her anger, "if they won't help you could always hire it done."
Train of thought derailing, Hermione looked at him in confusion. "Sorry?"
Blushing, the boy shrugged and removed his arm to rub the back of his neck. "Yeah, Gringotts and the Sylvan Council both have Wardcrafters on staff. You could hire someone from either of them to craft you some pretty amazing Wards on your parents' house and business. They're tooth-healers….er, den-tists, right?"
Warmth flooded her heart at his suggestion and the realization that he'd been listening to her when she talked about her home. Most of her friends tuned her out when she started in on the Muggle world.
"Yes," she confirmed, studying him with an intense gaze that made pink flood his cheeks.
He'd lost his baby fat this year and shot up to tower over most of the Gryffindors. He was awkward about it though, as if he couldn't get used to his longer limbs and his natural clumsiness didn't help. It'd kept him quieter this year, trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible-especially after that horrid class where they'd learned about the Cruciatus. But, he'd let his hair grow a bit and it curled fetchingly around his face, giving him a sweet look that was emphasized by his boyish grin and bright eyes. When he was still and not accidentally knocking over things or tripping over his own feet, Neville was actually quite cute, Hermione realized.
"I haven't read much about the Sylvan Council," she stated, her mind scrambling to focus on his advice rather than him.
Neville chuckled and crossed his arms as he leaned them on his knees. "Don't suppose you would have need to and there probably isn't a lot on them in Hogwarts' library. I only know about them because Gran hires them every year to repair and reinforce the Wards around Oak Court. Those Wards are anchored in House land and magic, but she always feels better to be extra cautious. I could ask her to recommend someone, if-if you want?"
Biting his lip, he chanced a glance to her and found her watching him with that unreadable expression again. It made his stomach swoop and twist in a nervous-pleasant kind of way that left him more than a bit confused. Hermione was his friend and he'd always known she was pretty, but he'd never had her turn her whole mind to him before. She was able to think through about a dozen things at once so it was rare that anything had her complete attention. It made him feel strangely flattered that she felt him interesting enough to stop for him this once. Even if it was mostly because he was helping her with her parents.
A large, relieved grin split her face and with an inarticulate noise, she flung herself at him in a large hug. Caught completely off-guard, he still managed to keep them from toppling down the stairs by wrapping his arms around her and twisting somehow so that his shoulder slammed into the side of the staircase. It would probably leave a bruise, but Neville was too busy enjoying the novelty of Hermione Granger practically on top of him.
"Oh, Neville, thank you!" she gasped out, burying her face in the space between his neck and shoulder. "Thank you so much! I can't tell you how sick I was at the idea of them being left to themselves," she whispered the last part on a shuddering breath that pulled at Neville's heart.
Pressing his face to her crown, he hesitantly patted her back and breathed in the clean smell of her. "No problem, Hermione. You know that you can ask me for anything."
Pulling away, she smiled as she met his eyes, her own filled with tears. "You're the best. And, that goes both ways. You're my friend."
Hearing her state it so plainly made him positively light up, making part of her a bit confused. Did he honestly not know how much she valued him?
"Seriously, Neville," she insisted. "You were kind to a lost little girl who was very frightened of this new world she'd suddenly been thrust into. I won't ever forget that."
His face went an alarming red, but a soft smile still slid across his mouth. "You and I remember that train ride very differently," he joked. "I remember a fierce little lion storming through the compartments to find a toad for a boy too scared to ask for help. I was rather in awe of you-still am, if I'm honest."
Laughing, she went to wipe her face when he silently passed her a handkerchief. Pleasantly surprised at the gesture, she murmured her thanks and mopped away the remnants of her tears. Realizing the staircase had seemingly gone to sleep, she sighed and curled up against her friend. Neville fidgeted slightly before hesitantly wrapping his arm around her again.
"Everything's changed," she whispered somberly. "Cedric and Harry nearly died…and, and the adults in our world can't even be bothered to tell the truth of it. I don't even know if we can trust any of them."
Neville's jaw tightened at that anguished admission. Hermione had respected her teachers and elders almost beyond reason when she'd first come to the wizarding world. He knew from half-statements and vague stories she'd told him over the years that the adults in her Muggle life had been the ones to protect her from some pretty hard bullying. For the wizarding adults to break her trust and respect so utterly must be devastating to her.
"We can trust my Gran," he told her. "She's not the easiest person but she'll do what she feels is best no matter who it offends."
That drew a reluctant smile from her. "Well, that's at least something. Professor Dumbledore doesn't want Ron or me to write to Harry this summer. He thinks that it's too risky something might get intercepted."
Neville looked at her askance. "Er, that's weird. Will he have a problem with me writing him, too?"
She shrugged, her expression letting him know exactly what she thought of the headmaster's plan. "Probably."
Floundering, the boy cast about for a way around the situation. Hitting on an idea, he brightened. "I could always send letters with my house-elf, Doom. She definitely won't be intercepted by anything."
Hermione scowled and pulled back to turn the expression on him. "You have house-elves?"
Holding up his hands, Neville shrank back. "Don't look at me like that," he pleaded. "Most of them have been with the Longbottom family for generations and probably feel like Oak Court is as much theirs as it is ours. House-elves need a magical family to survive, Hermione. That's not just propaganda-Dobby only survives because he's managed to partially bond with Hogwarts and so the school's magic sustains him. Their magic literally only grows if they are serving because of the give and take of magic."
Relenting a bit, she frowned in thought. "So freeing them is akin to stripping them of their magic? But Dobby was delighted that Harry managed to trick Lucius Malfoy into freeing him."
Neville snorted before he could help it, surprising her. "The bond between the Malfoys and Dobby must have either already broken or was near breaking for such a trick to work. How do you think house-elves do laundry? Just giving them an article of clothing doesn't break the bond. The Malfoys had abused Dobby, had violated the sacred bond between them and in doing so gave him the means to escape. The passing of the sock was just a formal outward representation of the inward magical change. Besides, since then, hasn't Dobby continually tried to prove himself to Harry?"
Biting her lip, she nodded uncertainly.
"He's trying to get Harry to bond with him," he explained.
Understanding dawned on her, making her eyes widen. "Oh. Oh, why didn't anyone tell me this?"
The boy shrugged. "It's pretty common knowledge so I guess most people didn't know you weren't aware."
"Wait," she held up a finger. "I've left knitted hats and gloves and things around the common room for them and they never take them," she stated pointedly, narrowing her eyes at him.
Squirming, Neville looked at his shoes. "Ah, don't take this the wrong way, Hermione, but your first attempts at knitting were kind of…kind of, er…rough?"
She had to give him that. Her earlier projects were lumpy and rather unsightly, if she was being honest with herself. "And the more recent ones?"
A shrug lifted his shoulders. "Did you actually tell any of them personally that the clothes were for them?"
A feeling of idiocy washed over her at his logical question. She'd been so intent on tricking the beings into a freedom she thought they'd been brainwashed into fearing that she hadn't straight out offered any of them clothes.
"I feel incredibly dim," she admitted ruefully, making him chuckle.
Just then, the staircase jerked, sending her toppling into him again as it moved to join with one of the corridors. Neville gently righted her, helping her stand with him.
"I'll talk to Gran about helping you," he promised, "and I'll send Doom to you on Fridays in case you want her to take a letter to Harry."
"To you, too, Neville," she chided. "I always write you during the summers, don't I?"
Ducking his head, he smiled and nodded. "Yes."
Grinning at how adorable he looked, she cast about for something else to say. "Why do you have a house-elf named 'Doom'?"
A dark blush tinted his cheeks again as he looked away. "She was my nanny when I was little. She has a proper house-elf name she was called before me, but…whenever she popped in to get me for a meal, she seemed to always find me doing something I shouldn't or being somewhere I shouldn't. When I was five I told her I was doomed if Gran knew that I'd knocked over her favorite vase and shattered it beyond spell repair. The house-elf was pretty livid at me and worried that I'd hurt myself all at the same time and snapped back that she was doomed to a life of constant fright and panic as she'd never seen a boy so apt to wander into trouble." His green eyes danced with mischief as they met her own. "So, I started calling her 'Doom' and it sort of stuck."
Giggling, Hermione covered her mouth. "That's so cute! I can't wait to meet her. I imagine that you gave her quite a run for her money when you were a child."
Nudging her with his elbow, he protested that. "I never went looking for trouble, thanks."
"You still don't," she agreed, looping her arm through his as they made their way back towards the tower. "Trouble seems to find you all the same."
She pulled him to the side just in time to keep him from tripping over one of the suits of armor as they rounded a corner, effectively mooting his reply. Sighing, he shrugged and relented the point.
Harry struggled to lug his trunk off the train behind Ron, both of them searching the platform for the sea of distinctive red hair that was the Weasley family.
"Ron! Harry! Over here!" Arthur called to them.
Grinning, the boys loaded their trunks onto a trolley and made their way over to him. Arthur smiled, only the faint strain lines around his eyes testifying to the stress he was under. He clapped both boys on the back and motioned to where Molly was scolding the twins, hugging them, and then scolding them again.
"Where's Hermione?" he asked, his brows furrowing at the absence of the third member of the trio.
Blinking, Harry realized that Hermione wasn't with them. "Huh, she was right behind us on the train."
Bill had drifted over to them, catching that remark and frowning. "And neither of you thought to give her a hand with her trunk?" he asked, disappointment lacing his words.
Flushing, the boys looked down, the idea never crossing their minds.
"Ah, 's alright," one of the twins declared, bounding over as Molly turned to Ginny.
"Looks like ickle Nev handled it," the other finished, pointing behind them.
Harry turned to see Neville loading Hermione's trunk onto a trolley for her, the sight rather taking him aback. He wasn't used to Neville being able to pick up trunks and not being the kid that sort of fell over everyone while ironically trying to remain unnoticed. Here he was, though, smiling at something Hermione told him, his hands in his robes' pockets and for once not making a conscious effort to pull all of his gangly limbs in close to his body. He looked…comfortable, even laughing as Hermione waved her hands in that animated way she did when she was excited about something.
Catching her hands, Neville spoke softly, his expression morphing from amused to reassuring. Harry couldn't hear their conversation, but he could see that Hermione took a shuddering breath and nodded determinedly. Neville's mouth tipped up in a gentle expression as Hermione met his eyes.
"Promise," he told her, the wind carrying the sound to the eavesdroppers.
The tension faded from Hermione's small frame as she returned his smile. Stretching up on her tip-toes, she pressed a kiss to his cheek, causing the boy's face to turn pink as he shifted in embarrassment.
"Thank you," she told him fervently, giving him a tight hug before rushing off to find her parents. "Send Doom Friday!" She called back with a wave, completely confusing everyone who heard.
"Er, what was that?" Harry asked what most of them were thinking.
Ginny sniffed condescendingly, but didn't deign to answer while Molly was scowling.
"More of her playing with innocent boys' hearts, no doubt," she grumbled, making Harry, Arthur, and Bill frown.
"Mrs. Weasley, Hermione is my friend and there's never been anything but friendship between us. She's also good friends with Victor Krum and did go to the ball with him, but there wasn't any romance there, either." He met her eyes, his words firm as he finally decided to stand up for his friend. "She hasn't dated anyone and she certainly hasn't been stringing blokes along. Besides, even if she was-which is ludicrous-it really isn't any of your business. Did you know someone sent her undiluted bubotuber pus in her mail? She could have been killed. Someone had so little to do in life that they felt the need to maliciously attack a fifteen year old girl."
He didn't blatantly come out and say it, but everyone knew that Molly had sent her own howler to the girl. The older woman huffed, but said no more on the subject as she turned to inspect Ron.
Harry looked to the twins and arched a brow. They grinned maniacally at him, putting him a bit on edge, even though he knew that they wouldn't do anything to him right after receiving his start-up funds for their shop.
"What do you two know?" he asked suspiciously.
He was rather startled when they glanced to see that their parents were suitably distracted and then pulled him slightly away.
"Word is that Hermione went to old Dumbles and McTabby for protection on her parents," one of them told him lowly.
The other nodded as he scanned for eavesdroppers. "Yeah, and they turned her down flat. Said her parents weren't important enough for protection, apparently."
"But, she ran into Longbottom right after, who-"
"-despite the general consensus-"
"-isn't completely useless."
They shrugged, something too forced in the motion for it to come off casual. It made Harry realize that they were actually upset on Hermione's behalf.
"What did Neville do?" he wanted to know, feeling his stomach twist in worry for his friend. Why hadn't she come to him with this?
Fred (or George) smirked. "He offered to have his Gran put her in contact with some Wardscrafters."
George (or Fred) looked around again, seeing that his family was finishing up. "Right brilliant of him, really. We all know Hermione only needed a starting place and she'd handle the rest."
"True enough," he agreed, not bothering to ask how the twins knew about this. He'd learned early on that it was easier to live in ignorance when it came to them and their exploits. "But, why didn't she say anything?"
Why did she turn to Neville of all people? Harry could still see the boy crying over having detention in the Forbidden Forest, years after it happened.
"Probably thought you had enough on you, mate," Fred (George?) answered.
"Or that you'd be just as stuck as she was on what to do," the other one added.
"It's vulgar!" they heard a loud voice claim.
Turning, the three found Ron scowling at a bewildered Neville standing with his stiff grandmother. Cutting off their own conversation, they drifted over as Arthur clamped a hand on his youngest son's shoulder.
"That's enough, Ronald," he declared firmly.
Ron's ears turned red with his temper, clashing horribly with his hair as Neville looked between him and then Harry.
"What are you talking about, Ron?" Harry asked as he joined them.
Ron shrugged off his dad's hand and pointed at Neville. "Him pawing at Hermione in public!"
Neville flushed, but his eyes went from a confused moss green to a hard peridot. "Watch your mouth, Ron. I won't have you disrespecting Hermione like that."
Augusta Longbottom levelled steely eyes on the blustering red-head and her mouth tightened. "Indeed. Come, Neville," she commanded, sweeping a rebuking gaze over all of them before sweeping away.
Neville narrowed his eyes at Ron. "You keep a civil tongue in your head about her. I don't care how jealous you are, you great prat!"
Then, he followed his grandmother, disappearing out of sight.
Arthur turned to his sputtering son, his face nearly steaming he was so angry.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley! We'll talk about this at home. Now!"
Even Molly jumped to obey, hugging Harry goodbye and seeing him off with the real Mad-Eye Moody. The boy winced when the family was gone.
"I wouldn't want to be in Ron's shoes right now."
Augusta eyed her grandson as she sipped her tea and listened to his request. She'd heard about Hermione Granger in every correspondence from the boy since first year. From what she'd seen on the platform, Neville hadn't been entirely unbiased in his descriptions of their friendship. It seemed like the girl valued Neville a great deal, obviously letting him comfort her and believing him when he promised his help. She hadn't dismissed him, hadn't ridiculed him, only been relieved that he'd offered a solution to something so important.
Watching them had been enlightening as to her grandson, as well. He'd been far more confident and comfortable with the young witch than he was with anyone else when he wasn't elbow-deep in dirt. It was obvious he cared a great deal for her but the shy way he'd shifted after that chaste kiss, his Gran wasn't sure if he realized his fondness went beyond friendship. If nothing else, the complete reversal of his personality when confronted with an attack on Miss Granger's reputation should have been a giant flashing sign. For a moment, she'd honestly thought he would strike the other boy.
"Of course I will help, Neville," she told him, accepting his heart-felt gratitude when he gave it. "I'll contact my usual Wardscrafter tomorrow and schedule a measuring. With what you've told me over the years, I assume Miss Granger will want top of the line Wards?"
Neville nodded. "Yes, ma'am. But, I don't know…I don't know what her parents will be able to afford," he stated, blanching.
Augusta arched a brow. "Child, we have a Wardscrafter on retainer with Sylvan. He will Ward what I wish him to when I wish him to."
Blinking, Neville ducked his head, carefully setting his cup down before he dropped it. "Thank you, Gran," he whispered again, his eyes-so like his father's-shining with the feelings he didn't voice. It meant a great deal to him that the one time his friend turned to him for help he was able to give it. It meant more than that, she knew, that Miss Granger had trusted him with it at all.
"Of course," she demurred, dabbing her lips.
Neville sat with Hermione on her back porch as his Gran's Wardscrafter placed strategic runes and rune stones around the property. Hermione was whispering the ones she could see, giving a running litany on their uses and theorizing how this one tied in with that one. Every now and then, she'd clasp his arm, her happiness bubbling in her eyes.
He was in casual robes while she had on Muggle jeans and a pretty top, her bare feet looking even daintier beside his trainers. He liked the caution-orange her toenails were painted, finding the unusual sight actually quite perfect on her. She was so much softer-seeming here than she was at school, making him realize that he'd never truly seen her relaxed there. Always studying or pulling Harry out of danger (or tutoring him, he winced), he reckoned she didn't have time to relax.
"Your parents are great," he told her when her mother brought out lemonade and sugar-free biscuits. Surprisingly, they were delicious, leaving him to wonder what she used to make them taste sweet.
Grinning, Hermione washed down her bite and agreed. "They are. They're still a bit uneasy around magic, but I've learned that it's from the unknown, not because they dislike it." Her smile faded. "I had some violent accidental magic when I was younger," she admitted softly. "Bullies would find themselves falling down stairs or-or swings hitting them without being pushed. My parents didn't know how to handle it and I thought for a long time that they were scared of me."
His throat hurt at the feelings in her confession and before he'd thought, he wrapped his arm around her just as he'd done on the stairs. "But they weren't, of course," he stated because her parents couldn't have been. They'd treated him and his Gran with nothing but pleased courtesy. It seemed like they were glad to meet more people in Hermione's world, almost as though it was a novel experience. Surely the Weasleys had them over? Ron had Harry over almost every summer, he knew, and Hermione had gone to the World Cup with the red-heads. Why hadn't her parents been included in things?
Hermione shook her head, settling against him easily as she pushed away her glass. "No. They were scared for me. Mum told me that they were scared I'd accidentally hurt myself or that someone would take me away from them."
They sat in silence for a long while as the Wardscrafter began activating the runes. Hermione sighed in delight at watching the spellwork, making Neville chuckle.
Inside, Augusta was finding herself quite pleased with the Granger parents. They were a polite couple, excited to learn anything they could of the wizarding world, but not obnoxious with their questions.
"I'm surprised Molly and Arthur Weasley haven't had you for tea," she told them. "Neville's always made it sound as though he felt he was a bother to Hermione otherwise I would certainly have invited you."
Barbara's brows shot up. "Neville's never been a bother to Hermione. He was her first friend, Augusta. Not just in the wizarding world; he was her first friend ever."
"And it didn't take a troll," Phillip muttered, frowning at his tea.
Augusta was rather surprised by that as the girl seemed extremely bright and was obviously compassionate. Her streak of loyalty couldn't be faulted, either.
Casting a quelling look at her husband, Barbara pursed her lips and didn't address that. "We've invited the Weasleys over, but have always been refused. Hermione has indicated that you're from the wizarding aristocracy and we," she hesitated, but Augusta understood her point.
If the poorest of the wizarding world-the Weasleys-wouldn't bother with them, they didn't think that anyone of higher circles would either. It made her skin crawl at the poor manners of the gingers. Sacred Twenty-Eight they might be, but they were looked down on in the wizarding world for a very good reason that had nothing to do with blood.
"Well, let us put it behind us," Augusta suggested. "Hermione is a dear friend of Neville. You and she are welcome at Oak Court any time. I'd be happy to explain more about our world."
Phillip accepted the card she passed him, smiling in surprise. "That's very generous of you. Thank you."
Barbara clasped her hands, swallowing passed the relieved lump in her throat. "And, the offer is mutual, Augusta. Our door is always open to you. Hermione has explained that wizards and witches don't need dentists the way Muggles do, otherwise we'd offer our services in that capacity."
Chuckling, Augusta shook her head. "Thankfully, no. Our magic protects our enamel and a quick spell each morning rids us of plaque and halitosis. Would you care to come to supper next week? My brother and his wife are returning from holiday, doubtless eager to regale us with their scandalous adventures."
The dentists laughed at her dry comment, but happily agreed. Looking out the patio door, they saw that Hermione had tucked her feet under her and was leaning against Neville. Her eyes were heavy as she drowsily mumbled something, making the boy chuckle and shift to accommodate her. He was gently rocking the swing, one hand on Hermione's shoulder and the other winding one of her curls around his finger.
"You'll have me asleep on you," the girl warned, amber eyes shifting to his face even as sleep pulled at her.
"Wouldn't be the first time," he teased, releasing her hair and smoothing it back in place.
"Mm," she agreed, "but you're not as cuddly as you used to be."
A tinge of pink splashed his cheeks. "Er…thanks?" At her giggle, he narrowed his eyes and tugged at her ear. "Rude. I think I'd rather go back to cuddly than stork-like."
Her brows drew together as she met his gaze. "You don't look like a stork, Neville. If anyone does, it's Zabini. A short stork."
Surprised, he coughed to cover his laughter, realizing she was right about the snobby Slytherin. "An Egret?" he suggested. "He does hang around at least one cow regularly."
Collapsing into giggles, she buried her face in his side. "We're awful! But, Pansy is a great heifer. I can't stand her."
"I think I'd pay good money to see if her animagus form would be a cow or a pug," he told her, keeping a straight face.
"Malfoy would definitely be a ferret," she nodded, continuing the thread. "Goyle would be…oh, a goat?"
Neville grinned. "His greatest achievement being his constant eating and a stomach hairball?"
Her eyes danced, even as she wrinkled her nose. "Crabbe would be-maybe a llama."
"What? Why a llama?"
"Have you seen him eat? He spits everywhere! And, llamas are sort of pack animals, right? Eating and spitting while holding Malfoy's books."
Neville let his head fall back as he laughed. "What would Harry be then?"
Hermione paused to think that over. "A robin? Throwing himself headlong into danger and surviving on sheer gall and willpower?"
Picturing Harry as a robin with a tiny pair of specs on his beak had Neville in stitches again. "And Ron would be a jarvey."
Blinking, Hermione was struck with the image, joining Neville in his glee. "You're right! Spouting off whatever first comes to mind."
He turned to her, letting his eyes drift over her face to take in the sight of her uninhibited delight. "So, if I'm not a stork, what would I be?"
The witch met his eyes as her laughter faded to be replaced with that intense study only she could manage. It charged the air between them, making him wonder if her magic was reacting to her thoughts.
"You'd be a bear, I should think," she whispered. "Pretty mindful of his own business until provoked."
That took him by surprise, making his eyes lighten to a sea-green that was no less stormy. Hermione gave a small smile and returned to reclining against him as he resumed rocking the swing. The air around them fizzled with magic, not only from the Wards being crafted. It was familiar and comforting, though, and so the teens ignored it for the contentment of simply spending a lazy day together.
Augusta and the Grangers had heard most of the conversation, shocked at the ease of it. Hermione had teased Neville without hurting his feelings and he had played right back at her. Of course, Phillip wasn't exactly pleased with the apparent closeness of the two, or the knowledge that his daughter had fallen asleep on the boy before. Still, the young wizard had kept his hands in appropriate places. It didn't even seem to be difficult for the boy.
"Oh, dear," Barbara murmured, covering her mouth to hide her grin. "Augusta, I believe we would love to have you for lunch the weekend after next. You and Neville both."
Augusta eyed her grandson as he listened to Hermione's hushed murmurings of actual animagus transformation. He smiled and quietly assured her that he knew she would be able to do it if it pleased her.
"Yes, that sounds perfect."
Harry nearly leapt out of his skin when a house-elf appeared in his room the Friday after leaving school. Recovering, he eyed the well-behaved being suspiciously, but she only smiled and bowed.
"Harry Potter, sir. I greets thee from House Longbottom. Young Master sent me to be retrieving letters from his Curly-girl and thens to bring them tos thee."
With a flourish, the house-elf presented two letters to him. Edging around the bed, Harry accepted the letters, having relaxed once he knew that Neville had sent the house-elf.
"Er, thanks. What's your name?"
The house-elf grinned. "I is Doom, Harry Potter, sir. I is to wait for any reply."
Startled by the name, Harry chuckled and looked at the letters in his hand. One was clearly from Neville, but the other was written in Hermione's hand. Finally understanding her odd request to Neville on the platform, he sat on his bed and opened hers first.
This is the only way we'll be able to communicate this summer, I'm afraid. Professor Dumbledore insisted that Ron and I not send you any letters in case they were intercepted. Neville kindly asked Doom if she would be willing to play messenger for us on Fridays and she has agreed. Just in case, however, burn any correspondence you receive after reading it. I don't know all that is happening, but some of the things…some of the reactions I've seen since the beginning of fourth year leave me extremely wary, Harry.
Neville and his Gran arranged for my parents' home and practice to be Warded this week. I know I should have told you my concerns, but you've just gone through a horrific event and I didn't want to add to your burdens. It turned out for the best, anyways. Neville and Augusta spent the day with my parents and me while the Wards were being cast. I didn't realize how starved for information my parents were until then. Except for the occasional trip to Diagon Alley, they never see anyone from the wizarding world. Augusta really got along well with them and invited us to Oak Court next week. She promised to help my parents understand our world.
I can't tell you how much that means to me, Harry. But, yes, other than that, I haven't heard anything new. I hope you at least take the time to let us know you're alive.
P.S.-Neville and I have decided that, should Goyle ever manage the animagus transformation, he will be a goat.
The last line of the letter had Harry coming up short before laughing at the image. Shaking his head, he put it aside and opened Neville's. It was considerably shorter.
Hermione no doubt explained everything in her letter, so I won't do it in mine. I understand why the security measures were implemented, but they're still rubbish. I hope you're doing well and that this manner of communication is acceptable. If you need anything, just ask Doom. She's taken care of me since I was a tot and was ecstatic to be able to 'adventure' like this for us.
Looking at the patiently waiting Doom, he smiled. "Thank you, Doom. I really appreciate you doing this for me. Well, for Neville. He's a good mate."
It made the wizard a bit ashamed to note that he'd often dismissed Neville because the other wizard wasn't as outgoing as Ron or himself. Doom, though, was nodding eagerly at his words, hopping from foot to foot.
"Young Master is, yes! Doom be taking care of him since hes a babe and come to stays with Mistress and Master."
Deciding not to probe into that as he knew he didn't like people poking at the death of his parents, Harry instead took out paper and a pen. He still didn't understand why wizards didn't give up on quills. Even pencils were better than a bird feather, of all things.
Oak Court was a gorgeous estate with a large but tasteful manor in the center of rolling countryside. Hermione swallowed and exchanged looks with her parents when it came home to them just how out of their league they were. Terms like the Ton and White's and Almack's and-and Society with a capital 'S' floated through the air in the car. It was like stepping back in time to a gentry not seen in the Muggle world any more.
"Hoo girl," Barbara muttered, "you always did reach for more, didn't you?"
Luckily, only Phillip heard her because though she hadn't meant it negatively, Hermione would have no doubt taken it that way.
The girl in question fiddled with her fingers until they stopped the car and she spotted Neville slipping out the front door. He was rolling down his sleeves and grinning at them, making his efforts to button his cuffs rather futile.
Beaming, Hermione leapt from the car and hurried over to him. Her hands automatically moved to finish the job he was failing at as she chattered at him in awe of his home. His smile widened as he laughed and blushed.
The Granger parents joined them on the porch, happily shaking Neville's hand as he greeted them.
"Gran is having everything served in the sun room," he told them, opening the door and inviting them inside. "It's not as formal, but I like it better," he admitted sheepishly.
Hermione snapped her mouth closed to keep from gaping at his home. "Th-that's great, Neville," she told him meekly.
Looking at her oddly, he hesitantly nodded. "Are you sure?"
Barbara touched his shoulder, having to reach up to do so. "Neville, we're not big on formalities. We're happy just to be here and get to know you. Hermione's always spoken so highly of you."
Shifting in embarrassment, he glanced to Hermione, startled to catch her blushing and not looking at him. Something in his chest twisted pleasantly at that, making him straighten and motion toward the door at the end of the hallway.
Barbara suppressed her amusement when he politely offered Hermione his arm. Hermione hesitantly took it, her mouth turning up shyly as she did. Glancing to her husband, she noticed him staring intently at the teens.
"He's a nice boy," she subtly murmured, hearing him huff.
"That's the problem," he grumbled back. "I actually like the kid."
"My parents live to embarrass me," Hermione told Neville, making him arch a brow.
"They're-I like them," he admitted. He wasn't jealous of Hermione, just wistful for what might have been had his parents still had their minds.
Picking up on his thoughts, Hermione squeezed his arm gently and let him lead her into the sun room. Augusta greeted them pleasantly, inviting them to sit across from an older gentleman and lady.
"Just so you know," Neville whispered to her as he scooted her chair in behind her, "I'm really, really sorry about this."
Confused, she looked at him when he'd taken his seat beside her. But, the older woman she didn't know spoke up before she could ask.
"Is this the girl?" she demanded, waving her goblet alarming around the table before finally pointing it at Hermione.
Augusta rolled her eyes. "Enid, really, control yourself. This is Dr. Phillip, Dr. Barbara, and Hermione Granger. My guests, allow me to present my brother, Algie Selwyn and his wife, Enid."
"Pleasure," Barbara said with a polite smile to the two.
"The mother," Enid nodded, her gaze snapping back to Hermione. "Well, the boy claims she's smart. Good hips, fine bone structure. Get a handle on that hair, girl, and you'd do well."
"Oh my God," Neville muttered, slinking down in his seat.
Algie patted his wife's arm. "Quite right, m'dear, quite right. You're in the same House?"
Hermione, who felt like she'd somehow ended up in a sitcom, couldn't decide if she was amused or offended. "Um, yes, we are."
"And, you're the girl that helped find Trevor!" Algie boomed boisterously as he made the connection. "Good girl, that," he told Augusta. "Where did you say she's from?"
Augusta sniffed. "I didn't, Algie. Do retain some measure of decorum."
Undeterred, the rather round man looked to the elder Grangers. "And you're doctors, you say? That's a Muggle healer, yes?"
"Um, yes," Phillip agreed. "Barbara and I specialize in treating the teeth and mouth."
"Straight teeth," Enid pointed out as Hermione took a bite of her salad, nearly making the girl freeze. "What kind of girl are you, hmm? You'll not be a housewife, obviously. Dismiss that as beneath you, I suppose."
"Aunt Enid!" Neville objected, finally having enough. "Hermione's future is her own. This isn't an interrogation."
Enid sucked on her teeth, watching him steadily before a shrewd gleam sparked in her dark eyes. She swung them back to Hermione, who had discretely laid her hand on Neville's arm under the table.
"You've managed to put a fire in the boy," she drawled. "How interesting."
Tired of the undercurrents she knew were happening, but didn't understand, Hermione threw out her rulebook on manners.
"I will be a Potions Mistress," she stated tightly. "But I also intend to get Masteries in Charms and Arithmancy. Research and development can be done anywhere, ma'am, with the right Wards. I would have the option of doing so from home."
Algie perked up and even Augusta looked interested at her ambitions. "The Ministry would be falling over themselves to have you if you do it," the old wizard pointed out.
Hermione shrugged. "I don't want to work for the Ministry. Not with the level of corruption tainting every aspect of it as it does now."
Augusta sipped her drink. "You could champion reform, change our world," she offered, but it wasn't said maliciously or snidely.
Amber eyes were level when they met hers. "I'm Muggleborn, ma'am. I'm not naïve enough to think that my work won't either be delayed indefinitely or have someone else publish it behind my back."
Sitting back, Algie's jolly demeanor sank into calculating sobriety. "There's a war coming, girl. Our world will be devastated on the other side of it, regardless of the eventual outcome. It will need people to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again."
Wrinkling her nose, Hermione looked from him to Enid and back to Augusta. "Like the last generation did?"
That barb struck hard and silence descended on the table. Barbara and Phillip didn't like the way the other adults were pushing Hermione, but something about the situation told them to hold their peace.
Enid broke the tension by cackling madly and banging on the table. "She's a spark if I ever saw one! Bravo, boy! She's got enough spine she's given you some. You've finally managed to do something right for the family."
"I didn't invite her here to see you be your typical crass self," Neville snapped at her.
Augusta's brows were down disapprovingly. "Enid, Neville is right. Be silent or excuse yourself."
The wild-eyed witch glared at her and then turned her beady eyes on her great-nephew. "Still lack the strength your father had, though, don't you?"
Face tightening, Hermione felt her magic flare, frizzing her hair even more. "Neville's not a coward," she gritted out. "He wasn't before he met me and he isn't now. I have to say he's probably the strongest person I know if he's had to be subjected to you on a regular basis!" Placing her napkin on the table, she stood and glanced to her parents, seeing them get the memo and quickly follow.
"Thank you for having us, Augusta," Phillip told the matron. "I believe it's time we left, however."
The three swept out of the room, Hermione so furious her hair had gone passed frizzy and was now sparking at the ends. Issue with her parents aside, she couldn't remember being this enraged at anyone. Those two vultures were Neville's family and they were horrible. No wonder he doubted himself so much.
"I don't care!" she heard Neville shout from the sunroom, his voice angrier than she'd ever heard it, making her freeze.
"She's been my friend-my, my best friend and sometimes my only friend since first year!" He yelled over the voices trying to hush him. "You can't treat people like that! This isn't your glory days where you sat in your manor and arranged pawns as you saw fit. This is my life and those three people have been kinder to me than you two ever have. I don't-I can't even look at you. Just, finish your meals and get out."
"Neville!" Algie exclaimed. "You rather forget yourself, boy."
There was an uncomfortable pause. "I think," Neville began in a low, dangerous voice Hermione didn't think him capable of, "that it's you who forgets yourself, Uncle. You are in Oak Court and I am the last scion of House Longbottom. I am fully within my rights to demand you vacate my home. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go write to Hermione and her parents and beg her forgiveness for allowing them anywhere near such tasteless evidence of poor class."
A door slammed and the Grangers were startled when Augusta was standing on the porch as they exited. She nodded to them stiffly.
"The House of Longbottom owes you an apology," she informed them, folding her hands. "If I had known Lord and Lady Selwyn would so completely expose themselves I never would have invited them." After mentally roasting the Weasley family over their lack of etiquette, Augusta was mortified at her own family's behavior. They'd always made it a point to keep family business private. Family-only meals might degenerate into wands drawn but they never did it in front of outsiders.
Barbara softened a bit toward the woman, understanding that besides Neville, she had no other close relatives other than Algie and Enid. Being widowed and raising a grandchild alone, she obviously must have looked to her brother many times for support.
"Accepted, Augusta," Phillip sighed, tipping his head to her.
Some of her rigidness faded, but her green eyes were cautious when they turned to Hermione. "You mean a great deal to my grandson, Miss Granger," she said softly, "I entreat you not to hold the sins of his relatives against him."
Clenching her jaw, Hermione bit back several of her most immediate responses. Breathing a harsh breath or two, she forced herself to be civil. This was, after all, the woman who'd given her the means to protect her parents.
"I would never abandon Neville," she nearly spat. "I was very afraid I might kill your sister-in-law over afters."
Augusta blinked and then her mouth twitched. "There is a precedence for an attempt, I'll admit. My late husband was very handy with a wand and had a shortage of patience for Enid even all those years ago."
Stunned, Hermione could only stare at her. "Seriously?"
"Oh, well, there was quite a major argument that devolved into a rather impressive spell-fight including overturning the table. Enid was suitably chastised, shall we say, and lived perhaps only because Algie transfigured said table into a galloping horse-table before spiriting his wife away."
Trying to picture the scene, Hermione covered her mouth and stifled her incredulous amusement. Augusta nodded her sincerity.
"Enid had a healthy respect for Altair after that-Algie too. They've not behaved so appallingly since, until today."
Clearing her throat, Barbara stepped forward. "We would still like to have you and Neville over this weekend, Augusta."
Relief and pleasure touched the older woman's eyes as she smiled. "Then, we would be honored to attend."
Saying their goodbyes, the Grangers departed, Hermione glancing once more to Augusta. "Make sure Neville knows that I want him to come."
Warmth softened her face as she nodded again. "Of course, Miss Granger."
Seeing them off, Augusta turned to find her grandson.
The task turned out to be as undaunting as expected. Neville was in his larger greenhouse, sitting under a tree she could never remember the name of. 'Giant' something or another, she vaguely recalled, but always seemed to slot under the title of 'Neville's Thinking Spot'. His legs were bent and propped up his elbows. His hands held his head as he stared unseeingly at the ground. As she drew nearer, she realized he was shaking and his magic snapped around him in warning.
Startled at his violent reaction, she hesitated to approach him. Swallowing, she pushed onward to finally sink to the ground, a small distance from him. He didn't say anything, only drew further into himself. Augusta studied her grandson quietly as he struggled to regain his composure.
He'd acted like his father today so much it physically pained her. But, there was pride in the emotion as well. She'd always known that Neville would find his strength one day and she knew equally that it wasn't the young witch that had given it to him. Miss Granger had only given Neville a reason to use the strength he'd already had.
"I shouted at Uncle Algie and Aunt Enid," he finally admitted, though there was a hoarse quality to his clipped words that let her know he was still raging.
"I'm aware," she replied. "I was absolutely appalled at them. They haven't acted so grossly out of conduct since your grandfather was alive."
Neville snorted. "The table fight. Sometimes I wish he had managed to break her neck."
Her eyes widened at that, having never known Neville held so much hostility towards Enid. Clearing her throat, she smoothed down her robes.
"Yes, well, that isn't the first I've heard of someone wishing her dead today."
Brows together, Neville lifted his head, letting Augusta see the angry tears still on his face. "Ma'am?"
"Your Miss Granger told me that she wouldn't have terribly minded Enid dead as a jolly way to round off the meal. Offered to do it herself."
Choking out an incredulous laugh, Neville wiped his face with his handkerchief. "She'd manage it and get away with it." His amusement faded at the thought of his friend.
Augusta motioned to the white handkerchief in his hand. "What happened to your other one?"
He looked at the bit of cloth and sighed. "Hermione needed it when she told me about her parents. I didn't think to ask for it back."
Arching a brow, the witch didn't comment that if a girl like that hadn't returned it, she'd most certainly meant to keep it.
"Neville, that little witch defied Enid to her face in defense of you. Do you really think she'll abandon your friendship so easily?"
Closing his eyes, the boy ran a hand down his face. "No, of course not." Hermione was the poster-girl for championing lost causes, after all. It crushed him because, well, he'd finally started to think that he might have something to offer her besides Herbology debates and a study partner.
Patting his shoulder, she slowly climbed to her feet. "Good. We've been invited to the Grangers for supper this weekend. Perhaps we'll wear something Muggle in deference to them."
Neville bit his lip and didn't point out that it was more than fashion that separated their family from the Grangers'.
…and it was just awful, Harry! That despicable, horrid, dried-up hag that dares to call herself Neville's aunt is the worst sort of person! I wanted to stab her in her cackling face with my salad fork. Don't get me started on his vile uncle. Did you know the man actually once hung Neville out the second-story window as a child in an attempt to provoke accidental magic?! And that he dropped him?! What kind of-no, I won't go there. If I do I'll be ranting all night.
She had the absolute audacity to call Neville a coward, too. That was the last straw. I let her know how I felt about that, collected my parents, and we left the table. The only thing is that we heard shouting before we'd left the house.
You won't believe it. Neville laid into his uncle and aunt in a fury like I've never heard. Then, he kicked them out when Algie tried to argue that Neville had forgotten his place! Seriously! Neville dressed them down again, declared himself the last scion of House Longbottom and basically told them that they were on his property and would vacate it at his discretion.
Then, I accidentally told Augusta that I'd have been happy to kill Enid for afters.
Anyways, thank you for letting me vent. Those people just made me so mad! Are they blind? Neville's the sweetest most loyal person I know and they tear him down.
All my love,
Harry's face was slack with disbelief as he finished Hermione's rather heated letter. Scratching his head, he pondered on it.
"So, I'm guessing Neville's pretty upset at what happened over lunch with the Grangers?" He asked Doom.
Doom frowned, her ears drooping. "Young Master was too lenient with the relatives of my Mistress."
Harry was taken aback by that pronouncement. Neville must have been really upset or the house-elves must have been really upset for him by what happened.
"Hermione will still be Neville's friend," Harry assured her.
Shifting, Doom nodded slowly. "Curly-girl has also told Doom this. I is to be returning to her first after reply letters."
Smiling faintly, Harry read Neville's letter which didn't really say much of anything besides questions after his own health.
The poor boy didn't know what he'd unleashed by letting Hermione meet his less savory relatives. Glancing at the door, Harry knew that his friend was only biding her time until she could extract justice on his relatives as well. He was never sure if he wanted to remain ignorant of her plans, or ask her to take pictures when she finally did it.
Hermione knelt and hugged Doom to her. "Thank you, Doom."
Blushing a bright yellow, Doom patted her and then scurried back. "Young Master be in his biggest plant house, Curly-girl."
Taking the tip, Hermione walked around the side of Neville's home until she came to a row of pristine greenhouses. Spotting the biggest one, she strolled determinedly to it and slipped inside. For a moment, she was mesmerized by the scene of a fantasy world come to life. All manner of flora-from the most mundane to the extremely fantastical-filled the greenhouse. It was one of the most amazing sights she'd ever seen.
Feeling the need to be quiet, lest she intrude on this private world, Hermione carefully eased farther down the cobbled path. She found Neville almost at the center of the world, precisely scorching the earth around a Dragon's Tongue. The large red flower sparked happily, its inner fire blazing brighter at the attention. Neville chuckled softly at the action, patting the flower fondly.
"There you are, then. Good for another half a year or so."
Hermione watched as he scratched his arm absently while checking to make certain he'd gotten the scorch pattern just right. He was in faded jeans and a wrinkled button-down shirt which he'd rolled the sleeves of up to his elbows. His sandy hair was a mess of curls and there was a smear of ash across his left cheek.
Tucking his wand into his pocket, the wizard turned and froze when he saw Hermione. Smiling, she drifted closer, tucking her curls behind her ears as she did.
"I didn't want to startle you while you were working," she told him.
"Thanks," he managed on a breath, unsure what to say or do.
Shifting, Hermione dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry I blew up at your aunt."
A strangled noise escaped him before he could help it. "I'm not," he growled, making her eyes snap to his. "Enid's cruel and worse, she's smart with it. I'm sorry that she didn't have the decency to at least not wield it in front of guests."
Scowling, Hermione stepped closer. "I don't care about me, Neville. With relatives like that around all the time, it's no wonder you won't believe how amazing you are."
Blushing to the roots of his hair, Neville rubbed his neck and ducked his head. "I don't-I-you've got the biggest heart of anyone I know, Hermione, but I know what kind of person I am."
He didn't say it self-deprecating, he said it like it was the honest truth, making Hermione's protest die in her mouth. Studying him, she took in all the changes time had visited on him and all the things that had still stayed the same. She wondered if, in fact, Neville had realized what kind of man he was and was finally comfortable with it. Or, as comfortable as any teenager could be.
Hesitantly, she reached up and wiped the smudge of ash away from his cheek. Neville couldn't help but close his eyes and lean into her hand.
"Ash," she told him quietly.
His heart swelled with all the confusing jumble of emotions Hermione always invoked. Maybe she was a champion of lost causes, but he knew her well enough to know that there were some things Hermione would never do, even to spare a friend.
Reaching into his pocket, he removed the preserved Dragon's Tongue flower he'd cut earlier intending to send it to her. Now, he met her whiskey gaze and silently offered the token in person. Looking down, Hermione drew in an awed breath, having never seen one of the blooms up close.
"It's gorgeous, Neville," she told him, gently cupping the bloom and delighting in the magical fire it produced.
"It's always reminded me of you," he said, touching her hands where the petals rested. "If it doesn't like you, or if you handle it the wrong way, it'll set you on fire."
Laughing, she brought her attention back to his sea-dark eyes. "And, if it likes you?"
A small, knowing smile flickered across his face. "Then, it'll still set you ablaze," he admitted lowly, his fingers twining with the flower's flame and causing it to dance in his hand.
Hermione watched enraptured, letting him tip the flame into her palm where it danced and then returned to the flower. Somehow, they'd drawn very close to each other and their magic was now humming between them, as if testing the other. Nerves exploded in her stomach as she took a shuddering breath.
"I don't know what this is," she admitted, looking to him.
His eyes brightened as he motioned between them. "This? This is you and this is me. This is us."
Because, he was a Gryffindor and if presented the opportunity to have what he'd wanted for so long, Neville wasn't about to let it pass him by.
Hermione hesitantly laid her hand on his chest, over his pounding heart, feeling some of her fear disappear. "I'd make a rubbish girlfriend."
A mischievous smile pulled at his face. "Have you ever been one, rubbish or otherwise?"
Narrowing her eyes, she glared at him. "You know I haven't. I'm just warning you."
"Hermione," he cut her off, covering her hand on him with his own, "I know who you are. I know your faults and you know mine, right? I'm a bit of a pushover and I can't get through the day without knocking over something to name two."
Giggling, the witch shook her head. "I know. But, you're also the sweetest person and you never let your friends down. You're also the only person in Hogwarts who has taken on both Crabbe and Goyle in a physical confrontation and come out pretty much winning."
Sputtering at the reminder, he turned a bit pink. "I'd really hoped you'd have forgotten that. God, we beat the snot out of each other. Harry was upset he'd been in the middle of the game and hadn't gotten a crack at them, too."
"You're the one that just stood up on the bench and let us keep fighting it out under you. I earned a cracked rib trying to get them away from where you were because you wouldn't move."
That was news to her, bringing her up short. "Really?" she asked, brows drawing together as he shrugged.
"You can be absurdly oblivious to the obvious sometimes," he chided without heat.
Taking the opening, Hermione swallowed her apprehension and tugged lightly on his shirt. "What else have I missed?"
Humor fleeing, Neville complied with her silent request and bent slightly; just enough that their mouths were hovering over each other's.
"Why don't you tell me," he murmured to her, the air from his words washing across her lips making the moment stretch taut between them.
"I don't think I've missed what's important," she breathed. "I've been waiting on it."
Unable to stand it any longer, Neville gently pressed his mouth to hers. It was a delicate meeting of lips, a spark of a different magic that filled the air, making them hyperaware of each other. Hermione closed her eyes and then stood on tiptoe to follow his mouth when he withdrew. Taking a shaking breath, Neville cupped her face as she tentatively returned his kiss.
Victor had kissed her cheek at the end of the Yule Ball (which could have been avoided all together if Neville had just asked her sooner), but this was her first real kiss. Hermione felt light headed and giddy as Neville's crisp, earthy smell surrounded her. They both were hesitant, shy, but happy in their mutual foray into this new aspect of their relationship. She found herself winding her arms around his neck, pressing against him in a way that was anything but platonic. It sent a delicious shiver racing down both their spines, a newness to the act that had their breathing coming in raggedly.
"I forget how small you are," he said against her cheek when he bent to allow her to stand flat-footed.
He felt her mouth turn up in a smile where it rested on his neck. "I'm the same size. You're just a giant now."
If their voices were a bit breathless, they both secretly felt pleased at having so affected the other.
Meanwhile, in the corner of the greenhouse, Doom nervously hopped side to side as she debated what to do. Mistress had sent her to call Young Master in for the meal, but he had a guest.
Looking over at the two, Doom squeaked. Young Master had wrapped Curly-girl in his arms again and was kissing her as if rushing it would be a sin.
Deciding that she'd rather not interrupt them (because she knew her good Young Master would treat his Curly-girl appropriately) the house-elf popped back to find some way to delay the food.
AN: The longer this got, the more I wanted to write something less anguishing than the typical HP Hogwarts years fic. Typical teenage relationships are full of drama and angst sometimes, I admit. But, sometimes, friends drift together and it's a quiet sort of special that shouldn't be dismissed just because it didn't start with grief and misunderstandings.
Also, I think that being a housewife/homemaker is the best job ever. (Not an easy one, don't ever make the mistake of thinking that those women and men don't work just as hard as those going to an office.) If my family could afford to exist on one income, you can bet your bottom I'd be one gleefully.