An invisible force yanked the wand from Neville's hand. He turned and watched it spin through the air and clatter on the floor, rolling to a stop near Zacharias Smith's foot. The Hufflepuff boy glared at Neville and kicked the wand away.
Sighing, he trudged over and picked it up.
That's the sixth time she's gotten me.
He didn't turn around. He just stood, rolling his wand between his fingers.
"Hey, Nev. Time's a'wastin'. C'mon."
He glanced over his shoulder at Janice Pettibone, who had an expectant look on her face. Neville turned away, gazing around the Room of Requirement. The zaps of Disarming Charms filled the air. He saw Ginny Weasley disarm Michael Corner with little effort. Fred's wand flew from his hand, after which he cheered George's success. Even Colin Creevey managed to disarm his younger brother Dennis.
And I can't disarm Janice once.
He heard a feminine cough behind him. A wand tapped him on the head. Neville spun around and came face-to-face with Janice.
"You're not gonna disarm me by standing around gawking at everyone else. C'mon."
"What's the point?" he muttered.
Janice's brow furrowed. "The point is to actually learn Defense Against the Dark Arts. Remember?"
"But I'm no good at it. I'm no good at anything."
Neville walked past her, head lowered.
"Will you stop putting yourself down." Janice's voice held an edge. "Look, this is just our first lesson. All you need is some practice and . . ."
"I've been trying to do these spells for over four years." Neville threw out his arms in frustration. He noticed Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell and Terry Boot staring at him. "But I can never get it right. I never will."
"You just have to keep trying. Hey, John Bonham didn't become one of the greatest drummers ever overnight. He had to work at it. Besides, it just takes some people longer than others to get the hang of stuff."
"But what if I don't? Gran wants me to be just as good, even better, than my parents. How can I do that if I can't even cast a decent Disarming Charm?"
"Argh, Neville." Janice groaned and leaned her head back. "Will you quit worrying about what your grandmother thinks."
"You don't know what it's like living with her. You don't know how intimidating she can be."
Janice shrugged. "Hey, my dad's an FBI agent. Let me tell you, that's no picnic either."
Neville frowned and shook his head. "I'm just a disappointment. To Gran, to everybody. I can't do any of this." He waved his arm at the other D.A. members practicing their Disarming Charms. "The only thing I am any good at is herbology. Who cares about that? I know Gran doesn't."
Her pale face tightening, Janice stepped closer to him. "If you're good at herbology, you can be good at this, too."
"No I can't. No one expects me to, anyway."
"Neville, it's time you stopped giving a damn about what other people think. All you're doing is letting the opinions of other people dictate your life. If people expect you to fail, show them they're wrong. Throw it right back in their faces and say, 'I can do this.'"
Swallowing, Neville looked into Janice's eyes. Her green orbs blazed with intensity. Her energy seemed to reached out and take hold of him. He straightened and drew a deep breath.
"So. Are you ready to give it another try?"
"Y-Yeah. But only . . ." Neville's neck muscles tensed.
"I mean . . . what if you don't try to defend yourself and let me beat you?"
"Oh for God's sake." Janice rolled her eyes. With an angry breath she whirled around.
Neville's stomach rolled. He should have kept his mouth shut. Now she'd go off and find a new partner, leave him here by himself to . . .
"Hey, Harry!" Janice waved to Harry Potter, who'd been walking around the Room of Requirement observing the D.A. members.
He walked over to them. "What's up, Janice?"
"I was wondering if you could take over for me. I think Neville needs a new partner. Just to liven things up a bit, you know?"
Harry glanced to Neville, then back to Janice. "Sure."
Tremors of panic built up within Neville. He was going to duel Harry Potter? He aimed his wide eyes at Janice.
What is she thinking?
He was pathetic when it came to the Disarming Charm . . . actually, he was pathetic at most spells. Now Janice wanted him to duel Harry, the guy who'd actually faced You-Know-Who face-to-face . . . and lived?
Sweat formed on his brow. A cold feeling gripped his stomach. He stared at Janice again. Fear tore into his soul. Was she setting him up to be embarrassed? Was their friendship over these past couple of months a farce?
Why else would she do something like this?
Harry stepped off ten paces. Neville gazed at him with dread. He didn't stand a chance against Harry.
Something soft wrapped around his hand. His head snapped down.
Janice gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
He gasped and looked up at her. Confidence radiated from her eyes and face. Confidence aimed at him.
An electric tingle shot through his body as she put her lips next to his ear. His legs turned to jelly as her warm breath caressed his ear.
"I believe in you."
With a parting smile, she walked away from him.
Neville watched her go, still feeling the softness of her touch on his hand.
He gripped his wand and turned to Harry, heart racing.
He nodded, replaying Janice's words in his head. "I believe in you."
"On three," Harry said.
Again, Neville nodded. Sweat poured from his clenched fist and dampened his wand.
"One . . . Two . . . Three!"
Neville's wand shot out of his hand. It struck the ceiling in a shower of sparks and fell on top of a bookshelf. A few D.A. members snickered.
His insides collapsed. Who was he kidding? He wasn't in the same league as Harry Potter. He wasn't in anyone's league. He was just . . .
He turned his head. Janice fixed her intense gaze on him and nodded.
"I believe in you." Neville replayed the words in his head again.
Harry retrieved Neville's wand with a Summoning Spell.
"Ready, Neville." Harry asked after Neville took hold of his wand.
"Uh-huh." "I believe in you."
Harry took another scan of the room to observe other people's work. He then looked back at Neville.
"One . . . Two . . ."
A wayward spell passed a meter over Harry's head. He turned right and noticed a guilty-looking Colin Creevey.
"That's all right, Colin. Just keep at it."
Harry's head came back toward Neville.
Harry's head and torso snapped around as he watched his wand spiral across the room.
Neville gaped, his eyes locked on the spinning wand. For a second he thought it was an illusion. He couldn't have . . .
Yes. I did it.
"I DID IT!!" A smile spread over his face. "I never done it before – I DID IT!!"
Several D.A. members stopped casting Disarming Charms and turned toward him. He noticed Ginny smiling at him. Even Hermione managed a grin.
"Good one!" Harry said.
Before he could respond to Harry, Janice barreled into him and threw her arms around him.
"I knew you could do it, Nev! I knew it!"
Neville squeezed her tight. Elation overwhelmed him. He actually disarmed Harry Potter. And he was hugging Janice. He really liked this. The way she felt against his body. And her hair. The way it felt, the way it smelled. He just wanted to hold her forever.
Momentary disappointment swept through him when Janice pulled away.
"Did you see, Janice? I rea-"
Janice surged forward and kissed him.
Neville went rigid. This stunned him more than disarming Harry.
Her lips remained on his. The taste was nothing like he'd ever experienced. Like dark licorice, only sharper . . . and wetter. What was in that lipstick of hers?
The kiss went on so long Neville thought his lungs would explode.
Finally, Janice's lips pulled away with a soft smack.
Neville stumbled back. His mouth moved up and down silently. A wave of dizziness surrounded his head. His legs gave out.
Neville collapsed in a heap on the floor.
A high-pitched roaring noise snapped him out of his shock. It took a few seconds to recognize the sound.
He gazed around the room. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil hung onto one another in a fit of giggles. Anthony Goldstein clutched his stomach and doubled over with laughter. Fred and George wore huge grins and gave him a thumbs up.
Neville's face went flush. He trembled as the laughter increased. His eyes flickered over to Katie Bell, who said something to a laughing Alicia Spinnet.
What were they saying? What were they thinking? Would they tell others? Would everyone at Hogwarts soon know that the first time he kissed a girl he fell on his arse from shock?
He finally turned back to Janice, who stared at him with a sympathetic look.
Neville scrambled to his feet, not bothering to dust himself off. Head down, he walked as fast as possible to the door.
He ignored Janice and pushed open the door. He didn't stop walking until he'd gone through three different corridors. Neville flung himself against the stone wall, holding a hand to his chest to halt his rapid breathing.
I can't even kiss a girl right . . . and now everybody knows it.
His head whipped to the right.
Janice headed toward him, a distraught look on her face.
He started to walk away from her.
"Neville!" She sprinted over to him and grabbed the back of his robes.
"Why did you do that?" He spun around to face her.
"Because I like you. Isn't that obvious?"
"But in front of all those people. And I . . . they must be thinking-"
"Who cares what they think? Neville, I didn't mean to embarrass you. I'd never do that. It's just . . . I was so happy for you, and I couldn't help myself."
Janice nodded. "Like I said. I like you, Neville."
"Why me? There are other guys around here better than me. I'm not good-looking or popular or smart or anything."
"Wrong. You are something. You're an absolutely sweet guy."
"What girl wants someone who's sweet?"
"Me." A serious expression formed on Janice's face. "I've been with those 'popular' guys before. You want to know something about them? They're completely self-absorbed, slaves to conformity, and they treated me like crap."
"But . . . But why me?"
"Why you? Because after I got sorted and was looking around the Gryffindor table for a place to sit, I noticed this really cute guy contemplating his hands, not talking to anyone, looking so lonely. I know what it's like to be an outcast. To have people ignore you because you're different. I thought we might have something in common, that you might turn out to be a friend. You did. Actually, you turned out to be more than a friend."
Impossible as it seemed, Neville's heart beat harder. She thinks I'm cute? She thinks I'm more than a friend?
"No one here's ever said they believe in me. I . . ." Neville tried to beat down his anxiety. His palms became soaked in sweat. "I like you, too. And I . . . I think you're pretty."
Janice smiled and crossed the short distance between them. She placed her hands on Neville's shoulders. "I told you you were sweet."
She kissed him.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry I fell down when you kissed me in front of the D.A."
Janice softly chuckled. "That's all right. It's just like I said with your Disarming Charm. You just need more practice."
Taking both his hands, she led him behind a tapestry of a galloping unicorn. Shielded from the outside world, they kissed again. Neville held her tightly in his arms, savoring the exotic taste of her lips.
Fear invaded his brain. What if Gran knew he was involved with a girl like this?
He felt Janice's tongue slowly wind its way inside his mouth.
Gran will just have to deal with it.
THE END . . . FOR NOW
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'll more than likely continue to explore Neville and Janice's relationship in the future, whenever the idea for a good story hits me. Next time I'll probably write in Janice's POV. As a guy, I like to get in good practice writing from a female character's point of view. Thanks for reading, and I hope I've developed Janice Pettibone into a good character.