It had started at the beginning of their sixth year. Harry had sat Ron, Hermoine and Neville down in the Gryffindor common room and told them everything, about the prophecy. He explained it as best as he could, but when he was finished, they were all thoroughly confused. Harry tried apologising to Neville, who simply stood up and walked away without saying a single word.
That was when Ron started noticing Neville. He had no idea why he did this. It just happened. He paid more attention to Neville, watched him more, talked to him more.
"So, Neville, fancy seeing you here."
"It's the greenhouses, Ron. I'm always here."
"...I knew that."
And he started noticing things, things that he normally would not notice about someone like Neville. It was small, tiny things like the way Neville's summer job at the Ministry's nurseries had trimmed and toned his body or how the sun had tanned his skin and speckled his skin with adorable little brown freckles and his hair had been bleached a honey golden blonde. Or how his eyes twinkled when he was around the plants that loved him so much. Ron noticed all of that and stored that inside his head, keeping it secret because he didn't want other people to see these things in Neville. They were like a private joke between them that no one, not even Neville, knew about. And Ron didn't know or understand why he felt this way.
After Quidditch practice, Ron would often hurry to the greenhouse and just watch Neville with his plants. It was calming. But then he felt like talking to Neville because just watching him didn't calm him down anymore. It was like a drug he had built up a tolerance for so he needed more. Much more. How much, he didn't know. His own feelings were beginning to terrify him.
Neville wasn't in the greenhouses though. Where was he?
"Ron, what are you doing here?"
Jumping and spinning around, Ron's eyes connected with Neville's. He felt like every muscle in his body relaxed a little. Then he wondered why Neville was standing there holding a plate of food.
"Oh, um, I was looking for you," he said softly, a little embarrassed. He mentally noted little thoughts, like how much taller he was than Neville, over a foot, and how the hand holding the plate looked freshly washed, but there was still dirt under the fingernails. "I just felt like talkinig to you," he added.
Neville frowned a little in a confused way, "Oh. Well, that's very nice of you. I just went down to the dining hall to get some food. You can share it with me if you'd like."
"I'd like that," said Ron.
They went over next to a box of plants with bright orange blossoms and sat on the floor next to them.
"I thought we weren't supposed to take food out of the dining hall," Ron commented.
Neville nodded, "I have special permission from Professor Sprout. The Collistas are hatching in the backroom and I have to be here unless something goes wrong." He cast a charm on the plate of food to refill automatically after it had been emptied. He had started the year with more confidence and it showed in his magic. His grades were almost as good as Hermoine's.
"What are Collistas?" he asked, picking up a piece of grilled chicken.
"Man-Eaters. The eggs are a bit bigger than your head. They're usually docile after hatching, but sometimes they try to eat eachother and it's my job to stop them if they do." Neville picked up small green peas one at a time and popped them into his mouth.
Ron laughed a little, "You spend way too much time in the greenhouses, Neville." He scooped up some mashed potatoes with two fingers and stuck them ini his mouth.
Shrugging, Neville replied, "Seamus spends more time in detention than I do in ther greenhouses."
"They may be true. I think Seamus spends more time in detention than I am awake. Do you know who he's been pursuing this week?"
Neville shook his head, "It's a secret."
"That just means he isn't making any progress."
They both snickered and continued eating.
"How is your family, Ron?" Neville asked after several minutes of quiet chewing.
"Good," Ron replied, quickly swallowing the food in his mouth, "They're all good. Charlie is still working with dragons in Romania and Bill is still in Egypt, but he's trying to talk his bosses into transferring him back to England so he can be closer to all of us. I hope he doesn't. He's a lot happier in Egypt than he ever was at home. Oh, Fred and George are moving along very well with their shop. They say that if sales continue the way they have been they'll be able to open a second shop in a couple years. I got to help them come up withh new stuff over the summer."
"Ron," Neville interupted, "How is Percy?"
The redhead quickly grew quiet, "Percy?" he asked, "Well, um, Percy is, uh..."
"Is he well?"
"He is in good health, I suppose."
Neville nodded and smiled a little, "Do you think he's happy?"
Ron just snorted, "Percy hasn't been happy since the day he was born."
"I remember," Neville sighed, "On the last day of school, right before he graduated, I said to him, 'so what are you doing now, Percy?' and he replied, 'I don't know, but I hope it makes me happy' and I told him that I hoped that whatever he did would make him happy. That was all Percy ever wanted, after all."
"Why were you talking to Percy?" Ron asked, confused.
"He was my friend," said Neville, tossing the bare chicken bones at a plant that promptly devoured them, "He was always helping and looking out for me. Whenever I lost Trevor he would help me find him and whenever I couldn't sleep he would stay with me and we'd just sit on the sofa next to the fire in the common room and just talk for hours. He was always so kind and he always listened no matter how stupid what I was saying was of how juvenile my thoughts or emotions were. He was the only real friend I've ever had. I thought he was the most wonderful person I'd ever met." Neville had a mirthful smile on his lips. That was the first time tha Ron ever thought someone was beautiful.
"You must be the only person to ever see Percy like that," Ron teased lightly.
"I went to sleep almost every night," murmured Neville, "wondering why I couldn't have had a brother like him..."
This made Ron frown, "You must be completely off your rocker."
"You take the people who love you for granted, Ron," Neville said, shaking his head.
"Percy cared about you," sighed Neville, his voice sounding slightly angry and aggravated, "He was always talking about you and how much he cared aout you and how worried he was that you would make stupid mistakes and never live up to your potential. 'He'll be great someday,' he used to say, 'He just has to try a little.' He made me believe in you. You could be so great if you just tried a little, Ron. Percy was the only one who ever knew that."
Ron felt as if he was completely gobsmacked.
"You'll do great things someday, Ron," Neville said evenly, "I know you will. There's a reason you're Harry's best friend. You have the strength to stay by his side till the end. you just have to find that strength inside of yourself first."
"Neville," Ron said with a smile lighting up his face, "I think that you are the most wonderful person that I have ever met."
Smiling a small, reserved smile, Neville pulled off a piece of tiramisu and crumbled it into the box of orange blossoms that all squealed and fought over the chocolatey crumbs.
And Ron suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to kiss Neville. That terrified him.
He stood up and muttered, "I have to go," before leaving the greenhouse in a hurry, not even looking back.
To be continued?