La Belle Fleur Sauvage
What you're looking for won't be found easily, it grows up on a mountain in a sacred place.
Once he's gazed upon her a man is forever changed, the bravest men return with darkened hearts and phantom pain.
The brightest witch of her age rubbed the sleep from her eyes for the umpteenth time that night. She lifted her head from the book in her lap and stared out the window, resting her tired gaze on a distant alder tree in the countryside on the north of England. She focused on it a while longer, allowing the crackling of the fire and the breeze that swayed the tree's limbs to entrance her, as she reset her worn-out vision. It was only mid-September but the blustery night already had the bitter chill of winter nipping at its heels. She glanced at the clock above the fireplace of the cozy room, it was a quarter past midnight—she had been curled up in the oversized leather armchair for the better part of 5 hours poring through volumes upon volumes of books hoping for any remote sign of an answer.
Five years has passed since the end of the war, the end of Voldemort but until she found a way to restore her parents' memories she wasn't sure if she'd ever feel like it was really over. With a sigh she stood up and stretched her limbs. She picked up a few tomes and carried them back to the wall-to-wall bookshelf that she had picked them out from. It was already overly generous of the owner to give her unlimited access to their private library and personal collection of rare books, not wanting to overextend her welcome she took extra care to make sure everything went back exactly to its place as she had found it.
Over the past few months, she had extensively raided the library and had eventually turned her focus on magical plants. That is how she found herself in this current room. Describing it as a room may have been a bit of an understatement as it was larger than the size of her entire loft. She studied the some of the other books on the shelves, in awe of the sheer volume one person could possess on a single subject, let alone the amount of first edition publications. It was quite possible, she believed, that every book ever published on Herbology resided on this wall. There was even a respectable amount of books on the muggle equivalent study, Botany. She spotted one book in particular with a familiar author that she recalled learning about as a child during her muggle school days, On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants by Charles Darwin. Pulling it out from the shelf, she opened it and saw notes neatly scrawled on the page margins, the crisp penmanship bringing a small sad smile to her face at the thought of its owner who she had not seen in three years. Neville.
Hermione recalled the last time she had seen him. It was a week after her engagement to Ron, two years after the war. Neville had changed during the war, during her year on the run with Ron and Harry. He had stepped up to be the commander of Dumbledore's Army in Harry's stead. He had found confidence in his courage to lead those who needed a guiding light. He was no longer the bumbling nervous and forgetful first year who constantly lost his toad. He was more certain of himself in a way that had nothing to do with the way his pearly white smile lit up his eyes or the way his jaw had chiseled out to define something very rugged and masculine beneath all the teenage awkwardness. Instead it had to do entirely with understanding his own strength of character and moral fiber. The one thing that hadn't changed from the day Hermione had first befriended him on the Hogwarts Express was his unwavering loyalty to those he considered his nearest and dearest. Neville always chose to see the best in others, rarely speaking ill against anyone, and that was how Hermione knew something wasn't quite right that winter night when he showed up in her office at Hogwarts, a week after Ron had proposed, his gaze cast down at his feet.
It was an early afternoon in December, most of the students were off to Hogsmeade, and so Hermione took advantage of the quiet to start grading the 1st Year Transfiguration essays. She had settled into her armchair by the fire as was her custom when her fellow Herbology professor walked in. He must have been working in the greenhouses, she noted as the sleeves of his fitted white button down were rolled up to his elbows, shed of vest with his black tie slightly loosened around his neck, the midnight black trousers had a sprinkling of green trimmings that stuck to it like lint, and his carefully groomed hair dusted with the light snow that fell outside.
"Neville," she had greeted him with a warm smile as he stepped into her office, "Are you here to help me grade some papers? Shall I put on the tea?" Her smile faltered slightly however when she noticed the young man's worn expression and agitated state, "is everything alright?"
He paced the space in front of her before taking a seat in the chair beside her, turning his body towards her but keeping his gaze on the fireplace to her right.
"Hermione," he started, all the while avoiding her gaze "I—we need to talk."
"Ok—" she paused briefly, allowing him to continue, "what is it?"
With a drawn out sigh, he leaned forward in his chair, his knees brushing against her own.
"This isn't easy for me to say, and I'm afraid you'll hate me for it once I do," he rambled, "but I tried to let it go and I can't Hermione. I wouldn't feel right about it—"
"Nev!" she called out softly, her hand reaching out to rest atop his, forcing him to look up at her, his olive green orbs darkening as they filled with sadness meeting her confused hazel-eyed expression. "You're rambling—now, what is it? You can tell me anything, you know that," she said with a worried smile. He attempted to reciprocate the smile but only managed a painful grimace.
With her hand still resting on top of his, he turned his palm to take her hand into his, his thumb sliding over the sapphire that adorned her ring finger. He looked down at it, his brows furrowing and another frown forming in his normally serene countenance. Squaring his shoulders, Neville took a deep breath, and looked straight into her eyes when he said, "Hermione, you can't marry Ron."
Whatever trace remained of a smile on Hermione's face faded altogether as she pulled her hand away tentatively from his. She could see the disappointment reflected in his eyes from this small change. It was as though she had already shut him out before he could properly begin.
"What are you talking about, Neville? You aren't making any sense," she responded as concern and confusion laced her tone. Neville buried his face in his hands and rubbed it slowly, willing himself to continue.
"He's been seeing someone else," he said quietly.
Hermione simply stared at him and blinked, as though the encoding and decoding process of his statement had become lost in translation. She shook her head once slowly and Neville countered by nodding his. This only prompted her to shake hers more feverishly, her brain finally catching up in overdrive, processing the weight of his words.
"No, Nev, that's not possible. Ron may be a lot of things but he's not a cheater," she argued.
"Hermione, if I had any doubt that it wasn't true, I wouldn't be here right now," he insisted.
Hermione eyed her childhood friend carefully. The certainty in his eyes as he spoke these statements were unwavering but she was just as certain that he must be mistaken. She and Ron had just become engaged for Merlin's sake! She knew that Neville had been hurt by infidelity before, maybe that just made him overly cautious now.
"Nev," she started off gently, her fingers fidgeting in her lap, "I know what happened between you and Hannah was hard on you. You are such a loyal companion and for her to have violated that trust, I know was painful but trust me when I say that Ron is not Hannah."
"You're bloody hell right he isn't Hannah," he fired back fervently, "She shagged some bloke out of pure physical attraction. Once the haze of post-war euphoria lifted the lot of us found ourselves with people we were never meant to be with. She did what she did because she was looking for the something more that she and I didn't have. She could have ended things first, that'd have been right nice but I knew we all jumped in too far into the deep end too soon after the war, latching on to the first good thing that hit us and held on never to let go. This isn't that Hermione. This thing that Ron has going on, it's not just a one-night shag, he's invested in it. And you don't deserve that. Hell, you wouldn't deserve it if it was a one-night shag either but you sure as hell don't deserve to be someone's safety net!"
"What's wrong with being a safety net!?" she cried out, her eyes now tearing up like molten chocolate, "After everything we've been through Neville, what is so bad about a little bit of safety for once?"
"Nothing, luv, but it only works if you both find safety in one another," he replied softly, "And from where I'm standing, you're there to catch Ron when he falls but who's there to pick you up? Because it bloody well isn't him."
"Neville, I don't understand. I thought you and Ron were friends. Where is all this coming from?"
"Aye, we were mates, but not if he's going to do something like that to someone I care about. He and I were friends but you were there for me long before anyone else was. You were my first friend Hermione. You have always been there for me and you will come before him a hundred times a thousand times."
Hermione was tearing apart on the inside. She knew the kind-eyed wizard in front of her would never willingly harm her but his words just couldn't be true.
"Don't justify his actions because you're scared of an alternative without him. That's not you. That has never been you. And furthermore you don't deserve to be somebody's safe choice, you deserve to have someone that thinks of you as their one and only choice!"
They let the weight of his words hang in the silence between them. The cackle of the fire and the snoring of the wizard in the portrait that hung above the fireplace the only sound that filled the room. She couldn't bring herself to conform to what he was saying. She had invested so much time and emotion into Ron and making their relationship work, she couldn't abandon it all for something she had no certainty of.
"Hermione, do you believe me to be a liar?" he asked after a long pregnant pause, his green eyes glistening as they bored into hers.
"No, of course not!"
"Good, because why else do you think I would be here telling you this if it was anything but the truth?"
"I'm not saying you're lying to me, Nev. I'm just saying you might be confused about what you heard or saw. Ron and I have been friends since we were 11, almost as long as you and I have. And I don't think he'd jeopardize all those years with something like this. He might not always have it together but he knows right from wrong when it comes to something like this. I believe he'd hurt me as much as you would when it comes to this."
Neville released an inaudible scoff, "Is that so?" he asked in disbelief, bitterness now tinging his tone.
"Yes, that is so!" Hermione replied petulantly now, her patience beginning to wane in light of her frustration.
'Hermione, in the 10 years we've known each other, how many time have I ever done anything to hurt you?"
"Not once," she replied quietly.
"And Ron?" he countered.
She gave him a pointed look before answering, "Neville, you know that is hardly a fair question. Ron and I can both be very stubborn. We've had our disagreements and arguments, every couple has them. And we bickered as kids but you can hardly count that against him."
"But we aren't kids anymore, are we Hermione? The things Ron did as a child aren't ok to do anymore!"
"He doesn't!" she yelled.
"Oh, no? So a week before Ron proposed to you, are you telling me I didn't find you in this same chair, crying because the dodgy prat had told you he had 'had enough of your prattling on about your parents and their memories'—that you needed to move on and let it go? Or did you forget about that? Because that wasn't the childhood version of Ron, that was full grown-ass adult version." The look in his eyes told her he knew that he had struck a nerve.
"Nev—Stop it—" she warned. Her heart pounding in her chest as she worried how far he would take this conversation.
"I found him at The Three Broomsticks that night. Three sheets to the wind by the time I found him. I tried to send him home to you, Hermione. He told me to mind my own and that he had better places to go and better people to do." Hermione watched as his hands balled into fists in his lap as he spoke "I could have killed him, Merlin knows I wanted to. I reckon he never came home to you that night, did he? In fact, he probably hadn't been coming home to you many nights before that either."
Hermione shifted uncomfortably in her seat but remained silent. That seemed to be all the answer he needed.
"So imagine my surprise when one week after that whole incident I hear that you and Ron are engaged to be married. Did he even have the ring when he asked or was it pure Ron Weasley spur of the moment rubbish to get him out of trouble?"
"It was spontaneous but there's nothing wrong with some spontaneity in life!" she countered defensively, "Why are you doing this, Neville?"
He looked into her eyes for another long moment, bowing his head in disappointment, whether it was in himself or in her willingness to defend her fiancé, she wasn't sure.
"I told myself to stay out of it when I thought it was a one-time thing. But then I'd see him down in Hogsmeade while you were bogged down at Hogwarts until all hours of the night trying to research a cure for your parents. At first I told myself, they're just coworkers grabbing a drink. But then—well I'm sorry Hermione but I couldn't sit there and let him do that to you. You have no idea how much it's killing me to tell you this because I know it hurts you more than it hurts me. But you deserve better! You need to know that! Don't marry h—."
"Enough!" she cried out, silencing him, "Enough…Neville—have always been a dear friend to me and I love you for that but this is supposed to be a happy time for me and for Ron. And you coming in here trying to fill my head with doubts, that's not what friends do! I don't know what you saw but I am telling you, Ron and I are rock solid. And if you can't be supportive of it then I need you to go!"
Neville bowed his head and released a long deep sigh.
"So you're still going to marry him?" his asked one final time without looking up at her, his eyes now glistening with unshed tears.
"Yes, Neville, I am going to marry Ron," she answered tiredly.
Neville stood up, dejection written all over his face, "Well in that case, I suppose I've overstayed my welcome. I hope you two have a happy life together, I mean it. You deserve happiness in your life. Goodbye, Hermione."
His statement held such a finality to it that Hermione at the time didn't quite understand. He turned to leave her office, as he reached the threshold of her door he bumped into Ron who had shown up at that moment.
"Oi Neville," he greeted, clueless of the vibe of the room, "everything alright?"
Neville scoffed and shoved past the youngest male Weasley without saying a word.
"What's gotten into him?" Ron asked Hermione, confused by the tall dark wizard's behavior.
"I suppose he's just had a rough day. Mandrakes and whatnot." she replied, quickly wiping away any stray tears.
Ron brushed it off, like he usually did, "Anyway, I was in the area for Ministry duties, want to go grab some lunch in the Great Hall? I'm starving!"
"Of course," she said with a tight smile that went unnoticed by her fiancé. As they walked down toward the Great Hall, she spotted Neville's retreating form in the distance as she turned her focus to the wizard beside her.
That was the last time she had seen Neville. She learned from other professors and friends that he had taken off the very next day, taking an indefinite sabbatical to explore the jungles of the world hoping to come across new species of magical and non-magical plants to help cure magical maladies. He gave no timeline for return only that he was going and would be out of touch for some time. She supposed he had said goodbye but she wished she had known at the time of that encounter in her office that it was to be the last she'd see of him. It was surprising how much you could miss someone when you didn't know when or if you'd ever see them again. It also surprised her to realize just how much of a constant presence Neville was in her life until he was no longer there.
She looked down at her left hand, her ring finger now void of the sapphire that once adorned it. With a soft sigh she wondered how things would have been different if she had listened to Neville that night. Would he still have left? Or would he at least have told her where he was going? She could drive herself up the wall thinking of all the what-ifs. Oh she had had countless nights where she had been tempted to take the time turner right back to that moment in her office, pull off that sapphire ring and change their course forever. But that was a dangerous game to play and she knew it, instead she chose to live with consequences of her decisions.
Unsurprisingly it turned out that Neville had been right about Ron. Surprisingly it had been Ron who called it quits, admitting to her that they would never have worked out in the long run. He had been seeing Romilda Vane for quite some time before he proposed to Hermione. Romilda had somehow managed to get a job alongside Ron as an Auror at the Ministry, which baffled Hermione beyond words. Witches and wizards whose preferred study of magic was in Divination were not exactly the ones you would expect to find in the Ministry's most prestigious department. Nonetheless a bookworm know-it-all whose focus was on fixing her family paled when compared to an exotic amazon looking beauty with a knack for adventure. Hermione supposed what hurt the most was that Ron had truly fallen in love with Romilda. Neville had warned her but she didn't want to believe it to be true. It wasn't just a physical attraction for him, she could almost forgive him if that was all it had been. She knew she had often neglected their physical relationship when she was stressed or burnt out from fruitless hours of research. But instead he found someone to share stories with, to laugh with, and to share his life with and that someone wasn't her. The most bitter pill to swallow however had been that it had all come to light only a week after Neville had approached her about it, a week after he decided he needed to disappear for a while.
Now here she was, spending her days at the Longbottom Manor, continuing the research Ron had asked her to abandon so many times. She felt a twinge of guilt at times about being here after the way things were left with Neville that night but when Augusta Longbottom, Neville's grandmother and current matriarch of the Longbottom Estate, had heard about Hermione's struggle with her research on her parent's condition, she insisted the witch take up the library at the manor and Neville's own private Herbology collection. Amongst Hermione's protestations, Augusta insisted that her grandson wouldn't have it any other way. The shrewd lady with the vulture hat had developed a strong admiration for the bright witch that her grandson seemed to have been enchanted by. After Hermione and Ron's highly publicized split, Hermione needed some time away from the limelight and all the sordid details being published by the Daily Prophet so she gladly accepted Augusta's invitation.
She had initially stayed away from Neville's room and his personal collection of books, feeling it would be a little too intrusive and self-imposing on her part. However, the very first time Augusta escorted her to his room, insisting she utilize his vast resources, Hermione was instantly reminded of him and found comfort in being around a little part of him that still existed in her world. It had become her favorite place to study. She missed him…Gods how she missed him.
Overcome with exhaustion and fatigue, Hermione looked over to the four-poster bed on the opposite end of the room, the large fluffed pillows and cumulus-like duvet inviting her tired limbs to rest. She grabbed her wand and tucked it under the pillow. The war may have been over but the paranoia persisted. As she buried her face in the covers, there was a slight hint of sandalwood and fresh cut grass that reminded her of piercing green eyes. It was to those eyes that she fell asleep.
It was just after 1AM when the wizard set foot outside the gates of Longbottom Manor. The travel through the International Portkeys had been grueling. He had arrived into London from Brazil earlier that day but opted for a late train to the north, worried his stomach couldn't take another leg of portkey or even floo travel.
He stepped into his house, quietly shaking off his coat and hanging it in the coat closet in the foyer. Given that it was mid-September he knew his Gran would be off on holiday for a week with his Great Uncle Algie touring the Highlands. Nonetheless he went up to the east wing to check her chambers. As expected, everything in her room was neatly in its place, no sign of the formidable Augusta Longbottom. He headed off toward the west wing of the house where his room and the Longbottom Library were situated, ready to catch up on a long night of much needed sleep. As he approached his room however, he slowed as he saw an orange glow emanating from the crack beneath the door. Suddenly feeling much more alert, he pulled out his wand and slowly opened the door, ready to take on whatever came at him. At first glance everything appeared to be in order, the only peculiarity being the soft burning embers in the fireplace. But then he spotted it, on the far end of his room, a lump on his bed. He approached steadily and silently, a floorboard creaking beneath his step.
"Petrificus Totalus!" he heard the lump shout before he had a chance to take a step closer and catch a glimpse. He felt the all too familiar snap of his arms to his side, his legs springing shut, and his whole body stiff and unyielding before swaying and falling flat on his back this time. Though he couldn't move, he could sense panicked movement from the bed and then the soft pitter patter of light feet on the wooden floorboards. His green eyes were met with a soft hazel he had dreamt of too often.
"Oh Gods! Neville?!" He heard the all too familiar voice cry out.
Hermione felt like she had been asleep for hours when she stirred upon hearing what sounded like a door closing down the hall. She was certain she wasn't alone when she sensed the door to the room open and a creak of the floorboard. On instinct she drew her wand from beneath her pillow and threw the first spell she could think of at the intruder. She heard the thud on the floor and knew she had aimed correctly. With her heart racing, she scrambled off the bed, keeping her wand aimed at the body. As she circled, her eyes came into contact with a pair of green eyes she had not seen in three years. The same pair of green eyes she had fallen asleep to not too long ago.
"Oh Gods! Neville?!" she cried out, covering her mouth with her hand, quickly recalling the counter-spell to the paralysis, "Reparifors!"
She watched as he regained mobility of his limbs and sat up.
"Bloody hell, that must be a favorite of yours, Eh?" he said rubbing the stiffness out from his neck, recalling the first time she had used this spell on him back during their first year at Hogwarts.
"I am so sorry," she apologized dropping to her knees beside him, completely mortified yet completely stunned at his mere presence before her.
He looked up at her now, a glint of humor behind those bottle green eyes, "Hi Hermione," he said sincerely.
Hermione couldn't explain the emotions that were running course through her body in the moment, she wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry, she wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. It was the single most bizarre thing she had ever felt—the surrealism of waking in this room, his room, to the man she'd almost not recognize were it not for those soft green eyes and that Yorkshire lilt in his voice. Instead she simply nodded her head slightly and replied with a breathless, "Hi Neville."
Afraid he'd disappear before her eyes again, she threw her arms around him pulling him into a hug. She worried for a moment he would push her away when she felt his steady arms wrap around her small frame. She knew she had missed her friend but didn't realize quite how much until he returned her embrace and she felt the tension in her body melt away which led to a new wave of emotion. Her senses were instantly overwhelmed by his natural earthy scent and she found there were tears streaming down her face. She tried her best to hide it but alas Neville was not Ron and the astute wizard had a keen ability to pick up on the emotions of others.
"Hermione," he called out, but kept a firm hold of her still, "what is it? What's wrong?"
She sniffled then as she swiped away her tears with the back of her hand before pulling away to look at him.
"Nothing, I'm just really happy to see you," she said with a watery smile, "Nev, you disappeared for three years! You never really said goodbye and I hated how the last memory I had of you was that night in my office. For a while I was so angry that you left that night letting me think that your goodbye was just for the night rather than forever. But mostly I just missed having you around. And then of course after all that, I'm here entirely mortified that you finally do show up again and I'm in your house probably seen as a most unwanted intruder and literally stunning you—"
He pulled Hermione into another hug, silencing her panicked rant.
"I am sorry I left the way I did Hermione," he whispered as he held her tight, "But it was just something I had to do. If I had to tell you I was leaving I don't know that I could have done it. And after that night I didn't think you'd much care if you ever saw me again."
He pulled away taking another look at her, brushing away a stray tear as he gave her a small sad smile. She jabbed him in the shoulder, "That's absolutely absurd Neville! I was upset, yes but I could never hate you."
With a sigh he stood up, pocketing his wand as he offered out his hand to help her up. She accepted his help and as he pulled her up, his thumb came into contact with that damned ring finger again. He looked down at her hand, noticing it was void of the hideous Weasley heirloom. Hermione caught the questioning look in his eyes. Merlin's beard! He must have really kept himself isolated if he still didn't know. Despite all the publicity, Neville Longbottom did not know that she never married Ron.
"You were right," Hermione said quietly, answering his unspoken question, her hand still in his soft grasp, "Romilda Vane Weasley. I'm sorry, Neville."
"Don't be," he replied with an apologetic look, shaking his head, "I wish I could have been wrong at the time. You just saw the best there was to see in him, no one can fault you for that."
She looked away from his piercing gaze, feeling more exposed than she desired to be at this point. He must have sensed her discomfort, as he gently gave her hand a light squeeze before releasing it.
"Now, while I have no doubt that you are very much a wanted intruder in the Longbottom Manor," he began with a soft smile, "why don't I go pour us a drink while you tell me how you've managed to land yourself here. I love my Gran, Hermione but most others aren't exactly keen on her."
They exchanged knowing smirks as he exited the room. She watched him go, an uneasy feeling settling in her stomach as she watched him walk away again.
***To Be Continued***