How to Grow a Garden
Chapter One: First Year
I: Cat & Toad
Hannah Abbott was a very simple kind of girl in her own right. She liked collecting chocolate frog cards, tending to things that grew, and organizing things. She was a tidy and clever sort of girl, the kind that plans events months in advance and can't concentrate unless everything is in its right place. She always got things done on time (for fear of never accomplishing them at all), and always had a nice word for everyone. She didn't make friends easily, but the friends she made were the kind kept forever. But despite these shining qualities, she had always some very troublesome problems that always managed to ruin anything good she started. She was accident-prone and clumsy (breaking at least one thing a day, no matter how hard she tried to be careful) and she waspainfully shy (especially with boys). These two problems bred themselves into an even bigger problem: fear. She was in constant panic that she might trip over something, or say the wrong thing, or break someone's dishes or toy or wand. All of the everyday dread led to constant stress, so Hannah Abbott was quite used to finding herself having miniature breakdowns (not that she liked it, of course).
And right now, she was positive she was about to go completely mental. It was her day of first year at Hogwarts and she hadn't even gotten off the train without incident! First, she'd gotten the hem of her robe caught on a compartment door and spent much too long trying to get away without a rip (but it did rip, anyway). Then, as she had exited the train, she'd dropped and broken her cat's cage (which unfortunately was holding her cat), and poor Padrig (who hated travel, as well as cages) had darted off into the crowd of students.
After a ten-minute frenzied search for the cat (he was nowhere to be found), Hannah gulped down a new panicked realization: she had no idea where any of the other first years had gone, and she didn't hear anyonecalling for them anymore. It was all right, she reasoned with herself. There were lots of older students still unloading, and she could just ask them where she was supposed to go. Except she couldn't. The very thought of talking to someone she didn't know and admitting what had happened would be beyond embarrassing. It would be mortifying.
So she stood, frozen, watching people pass, trying to talk herself into asking each one that passed—but then deciding against it and closing her open mouth. Just as she finally (for the third time) got up the courage to stop a student, a particularly ugly toad whizzed by, and Hannah gasped as she realized why: Padrig was in hot pursuit!
She took off, dropping her satchel and cage, calling after Padrig to please stop and come back this instant! She surprisingly caught a bit of luck and was able to scoop her cat up just before it tried to run underneath the train after the toad. She hugged Padrig's scrawny form tightly to her chest as he wiggled to get away. Marching back toward where she had dropped her satchel and broken cat cage, she huffily caught her breath, wondering how many people were laughing at how silly she must have looked in pursuit of her wonky feline.
Then she felt it—a tap on her shoulder. She turned, a little dismayed at being approached. "'Scuse me…" a stout boy with large teeth looked at her nervously. "You dropped these." He was holding out her satchel and cage, and Hannah found a very surprised smile on her face.
"Thank you…" she said with profuse earnestness as she took them with one hand (Padrig was still wiggly), and the boy smiled back timidly, trying to hide his teeth under his lips. For the moment, Hannah felt she had met a kindred spirit: he looked as jumpy and out-of-place as she felt.
But then he said it. "You, uh, you haven't seen a toad, have you?"
Her face probably fell at least ten feet, and she crushed Padrig against her chest. The cat meowed loudly in protest. "I, uh…" she could feel her skin prickling with embarrassment. "I-I… a toad?" The prickling turned to a full-fledged burn. Of course the toad belonged to a student, she really should have known. The boy looked at her expectantly. Instead of telling Neville about how her cat had endeavored to kill the poor toad, Hannah turned and fled with burning cheeks, leaving a confused and defeated Neville Longbottom behind to wonder if it was something he had said, or maybe if there was something in his teeth...
He really didn't have much more time to think about it, because a very large, hairy man had appeared, and was motioning to him from the direction the girl had run in. "C'mon, follow me – any more firs'-years? Mind yer step, now! Firs'-years follow me!"
And that was the beginning of their relationship. Based on the exchange, you might suppose that they never spoke again (and trust me, they did try to ever speak again), but sometimes these things just have a way of starting, then continuing, then never ending. And so it would be with Hannah and Neville, who remained quite clueless as to what was going on… at least for a while.
II: Snape's Least Favorite Students
Eleven days after the beginning of classes, Neville broke his wrist and was sent to the hospital ward. Hannah was there too, being patched up from a potion gone awry (her hands and arms had swollen to three times their regular size). And as neither one had gotten over the embarrassing first encounter, the two were absolutely mortified at seeing the other (Neville assuming that Hannah thought him to be stupid, Hannah assuming Neville thought her to be crazy and bizarre). But to make matters even worse, after that, they somehow managed to see each other once a day-in the halls, in class, and usually in the Great Hall too. Every time each saw the other, the other pretended to be very, very busy.
While the two students successfully upheld their awkward relations, they also werealso finding their new lives at Hogwarts to be a large adjustment. However, Professor Severus Snape was quite used to the entire ordeal. In fact, he was nearly bored with it. Year after year, he taught students who were average. Occasionally he had the pleasure of teaching semi-talented students. But never in his academic career had he taught two more utterly useless students than Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott. Thankfully, they were not in the same class period, or heaven forbid they might work together or try to help each other and in the process destroy an entire wing of Hogwarts.
They weren't all bad at everything, though. Snape was oblivious to the fact, but Professor Sprout was very aware that both Neville and Hannah had great cleverness when it came to Herbology work. They showed uncommon thought and interest in the care and keeping of plants, magical and non-magical.
But anyway! One perfectly innocent Tuesday afternoon, Hannah hurried down the hallway past other students, going over five to-do lists mentally, while also digging in her bag for her History of Magic textbook. Slowly wandering in from the opposite direction, Neville was trying to remember something he'd forgotten (and there was something, the Remembrall was indeed very red). And as Hannah was pulling her book out and Neville was shaking his head at his Remembrall, the two students collided, knocking each other (and everything the other was carrying) over.
In a matter of perhaps twenty seconds, everything changed. First, Professor Snape glided by, sending them both a very disdainful look and (perhaps they imagined it) something of a hopeless moan. Then, Hannah looked at Neville, and Neville looked at Hannah as loose papers from her satchel fluttered down like monstrous snowflakes. And then they laughed. And after that, they weren't afraid to talk to each other any more.
III: Greenhouse One
While Hannah was slowly making friends and settling into classes without too many incidents, Neville was having a rough time indeed. Besides getting poor marks in Potions, he forgot the password to get into his dormitory, was continually harassed by Draco Malfoy, and had accidentally become involved in some sort of mischief with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. Then there was the troll at Halloween which sent everyone into a panic, and then finally Malfoy's leg-locker curse that crippled both Neville'sself-esteem and legs. And then, when he had stood up for himself, Malfoy had made him feel even worse. It was all admittedly quite depressing, and Neville found himself feeling a bit out-of-sorts more often than not. He took comfort in his gran's letters, and the hours spent in greenhouse one. Usually, Hannah was there too, but she didn't bother him or make fun of him, in fact she didn't even try to talk to him either, so it wasn't all that bad.
One particularly dreary afternoon, a week or two before Christmas Break, Neville and Hannah were in greenhouse one. The rain was coming down heavily, and both were silently hoping it would die down soon because of the lateness of the hour. Neville was turning soil and sulking while Hannah was sorting seeds. In the middle of a perfectly reasonable and un-offending silence, Neville's gloomy voice made Hannah jump. "I wish I were in Hufflepuff."
She looked at him for a solid moment as he kept turning soil with his fingers, his face unreadable. "Why?" she finally asked, a bit startled by the sound of her own voice. They usually said nothing at all to each other.
"I'm not... I'm not..." he stopped turning soil, and his voice quavered. "I just don't belong in Gryffindor."
"Why do you think that? That's not true," Hannah said a bit louder and angrier than she meant to, and Neville looked at her in surprise. "I mean...you're... you're very brave, Neville. I heard about Malfoy and all. I really wish I could stand up to people like that." Hannah's ears burned.
Neville's face struggled to maintain its current expression, as if he were daring to hope. "R-Really?"
Hannah nodded, smiled, and shyly looked away. After ten more minutes of waiting for the rainfall to pass (and it only got worse), the two students dashed out, huddled under an umbrella they carried together.