(KAI) Written real-quick for a contest on Gaia.
Prompt is, not surprisingly, 'Potions Incident.'
Warnings... uh, possible cliches and unlikely situations.

--

Potions Incident

He held his breath. It seemed like the correct thing to do.

With his lips tucked firmly together, there was no way he could answer when Snape rounded on, demanding to know what had gone wrong this time. It seemed like a fairly solid plan of defense, and in point of fact, was working. Snape howled at him, slamming his palm down on the abused woodgrain of the table, and still he did not breathe. Every single student in the room watched him with baited- but not held- breath, and still he did not open his mouth. An extremely concerned pair of cornflower eyes watched him behind wire glasses, whose glare entirely belied their owner's concern- but still, the boy did not draw air, not even through his round, little nose.

It had seemed like the correct thing to do, with all of the noxious, burning gray gas issuing painfully from his cauldron, and the sting of splashed, boiling water etched on his forearm. In fact, it was the precisely accurate maneuver to undertake that day, because had he inhaled any more of his mistake, his lungs would have collapsed and Madame Pomfrey really did hate near-deaths in her infirmary.

Up until the black sparkles danced into his peripheral vision, and the sound of Snape's horrified voice began to muffle, as if receding, under water, holding his breath has seemed very much like the correct thing to do.

Right until he blacked out.

--

When he next opened his eyes, the room had cleared, and he, apart from one other- unexpected- person, was the only student remaining in the potions hall. He took a deep breath, and sat up.

"Ah, Neville. You've come to," a voice said slowly, "That's good."

Bracing his palms on the chill flagstone, Neville pushed himself into a better position, and flushed horribly. "Hullo, Percy."

The potions apprentice smiled and replied gently, "Hullo, Neville."

For a moment, Neville eyed their surroundings- taking in as quickly as he could that the sun was settling, candles were lighting themselves one-by-one, and Percy was his only company at the moment. "I'm not in Madame Pomfrey's?"

The troubled note in the sixth-year's voice was awful, and Percy descended from his perch on the edge of Snape's worn, blackened desk, to stoop where the boy had been lain. "No, the professor assured me you would be fine- there's a breathing spell on you that'll wear soon enough. What- Neville, what possessed you to stop breathing?"

Percy's eyes were much too concerned for Neville's liking, as they typically were the longer he persisted as Snape's apprentice and errand-wench. It had become all too often that Neville caught himself watching the other. It was entirely discomfiting. He coughed, looked away; "I panicked."

"If I were Potions Master, you'd never have reason to be so upset," Percy said very quietly, eyes locked firmly with the greenish hazel of his former housemate's eyes. Neville flushed, and Percy continued on. "However, I am simply the trainee, and as such, I will rectify Snape's mistakes rather than try and undo them."

He wanted to ask, but before he could, Neville found himself hauled, capably, to his feet, and looking up at Percy, who smiled down at him and said, with every worldly ounce of his nineteen years, "Come on, then."

--

The breathing spell did indeed wear off. Neville hardly noticed, but managed to breathe on his own with very little trouble. Percy, for whatever reason, has assumed a very comforting role as tutor for the past few hours, and he was feeling in high spirits after successfully concocting several inititally difficult potions. Each time, Percy- much to Neville's dismay- would check their effect, often to the ends of drinking them himself. This had led to a lot of interesting conversation, and even more interesting memories.

Neville turned it over in his mind while he stirred a bubbling cauldron. The leekish gray of it was thick and unwieldy, but his temporary tutor had taken turns at it, and together gotten it into a manageable muck.

Percy read nearby, apparently at ease, and far more relaxed than Neville believed he had ever seen. It was a companionable quiet they were sharing, and he prayed, wished, and flatly begged whomever might be listening, that he not forget the experience. His memories were less than tame, but he thought maybe he could hold on to the fun and comfort that Percy was offering in this obnoxious subject.

"I think, Percy, that you'll make a wonderful Potions Master one day," he said quietly, turning his face down at the murky wet of his last practice potion of the day.

Percy smiled, "Do you really?"

Glancing up, Neville could only smile in return.

--

It had been inappropriate to beg, and further inappropriate to cast a spell on the student without Snape's permission, but Percy had been seized with a sudden intuition, and he wasn't about to let it slip by. It had been the same sort of gut feeling that let him know that the Twins were at trouble, or Ginny was crying. That let him know when Ron suppressing his anger, or Charlie was being evasive. And a hundred and one other things, but right now, all it said was, Neville.

Severus had eyed him carefully, and the redhead wondered if the professor saw through his motivation, bu he knew- absolutely knew- that if he let Neville be carried off to the sick bay, there'd be no more better chance than this, and that he might lose his gumption between then and now. He had swallowed back his apologies, and held Severus' stare.

And he had been allowed to win.

Watching Neville come out of the deep unconsciousness that he had imposed upon himself had brought back vague memories of coming in early to wake the lazy risers that had been the first-years group Neville had belonged to. Vague, vague impressions of grasping fingertips in the corners of dark blankets, sleep-deprived hazel eyes, and a sleepy smile that belied the boy's misgivings about living at Hogwarts.

His genuine appreciation for Percy's offer to tutor him had not only surprised him, but left him feeling ridiculously relieved- as if for some moment, he had believed he might be shot down. There was something altogether interesting and comfortable about the younger boy, that he had only given occasional thought to in his years at the school.

Upon return, this time no longer as the awkward, gangly, and somewhat miserable shining, scholastic star of Gryffindor, those impressions had come back, ten or so times more strongly than they had ever been before.

Was Neville's hair more well-kept? Curling around his ears? Were his eyes clearer, more open and familiar? Was his voice that same soft thing it had been all those years ago? It seemed so; and yet it didn't. As their session had begun, Percy had been struck by a terribly sense of impropriety: Had he done the correct thing? Was this appropriate?

The answers were as vague as his impressions, and he had swept them aside withing minutes of launching into his explanation of what had gone wrong that afternoon. Too much of this, and too much of that. We'll try it again, together, all right?

And Neville had, to his honest surprise, succeeded that first 'second try.'

He had laughed outright, watching the colored spots on Percy's face fade away as the invisibility had taken its effect, within moments of the older boy's quaffing it. Afterward, Percy had played some very amusing tricks that involved juggling small objects and tapping Neville's soft shoulders.

He had a great deal more fun than his hunch could have warned him about.

Percy smiled at Neville's kind offering of words, and wondered if he ought to say something about the way his heart had beaten so quickly when he'd first seen the boy again; and how it beat now, as if anticipating a closeness that was altogether too delightful to even consider. He wondered if he ought to say, I'm glad we were able to spend this time together.

I enjoy your company.

I am comfortable around you.

You make me happy.

I like you.

But all that issued was a plain, "Do you really?"

And just as Percy has assured the boy that he was not incompetent, and that he was not a squib, and that he was going to be fine, because they were going to work on his memory and his confidence and it was no trouble at all, Neville glanced up at him, his honey-colored hair falling into his pretty eyes, and assured him yes, of course, with a small, easy little nod of his head.

--

Three months later, Percy passed his first bench as a new apprentice, and Neville received his first, icy compliment from Severus, which somewhat followed, "Perhaps you are not so useless."

Six months later, Percy worked up the courage to ask Neville out to Hogsmeade, where they talked and laughed and just generally forgot they were on a date, until outside of the pets and familiars shoppe, Neville had looked at Percy right as Percy looked at him, whereupon the taller had swooped down- so quickly, so swiftly- that Neville was not entirely sure he had been kissed at all.

Eight months later, Neville let slip, I love you, and had nearly panicked, until Percy kissed his breath away for him, and whispered back, I love you, too.

Ten months later, they rented a room for the weekend, on some fantastic beacon of good behavior at the school, and celebrated Neville's seventeenth birthday with a nice dinner, candles, and an expression of love that neither had felt to the degree that they felt with one another. Afterward, Neville curled into Percy's arms, his soft weight a fair, and easy counterbalance to Percy's long lines and angles, and smiled.

Twelve months later, they celebrated what most everyone else referred to as 'their anniversary.' They blushed and tried to call it a celebration of Neville's sixth year graduation, of Percy's partial completion of the apprentice program. No one believed them, and that was okay.

One year later, Neville graduated from Hogwarts with a full endorsement to pursue apprenticeship under Professor Sprout. Percy said quietly in his ear at the graduation, "I think, Neville, that you'll make a wonderful Herbology Professor one day." Shortly after, Percy completed another portion of his program under Snape, and Neville only smiled.

Two years later, they exchanged vows.

--

In the end, it was the potions incident that they celebrated- each time.