It was funny how he almost expected winter to be milder now that Voldemort was gone, but it unfortunately was not. Instead the winter wind blew around him just as bitterly as it did last year. He tugged his scarf a bit tighter around his neck and pulled his knit cap lower, peering out the tiny space left between the scarf and hat. The wind whipped at the small patch of exposed skin, cold enough that he absently wondered if he was going to end up frostbitten before pulling his hat down even further. The snow was coming down so thick and heavy he almost wondered if it would be better to just Apparate home, but quickly decided against it. Time alone in the peace and quiet was a luxury these days and he tended to guard it jealously, even if it was in the dead of winter with snow falling viciously down around him.
The heavy door closed behind him with a dull thud, but it was barely audible over the noise throughout the house. An old Cannons game was being rebroadcast on the Wireless, voices were attempting to talk over it and in the kitchen a teakettle was letting the entire world know that the water within was boiling. He was peeling out of his layers when a voice called out, "I've got it!"
"Oh, hallo Harry. Would you like some tea?" He turned to see Neville down the hall, looking expectantly at him.
"Tea? I could use some. It's turned bitter out there." Harry followed his housemate into the kitchen, pulling two mugs out of the cupboard as Neville tended to the making of the tea.
"There's another box of your tea in the cupboard over there if you want to hand it to me," Neville said as he took the teapot from the shelf and began to fill it with hot water. Surprised, Harry looked up in the cupboard, certain he had finished it off the day before yesterday. He had planned to purchase more the next time he went to the market, even though that was a task he preferred to put off.
"I thought I was out," he mused, pulling the new box down and handing it to Neville. His housemate just shrugged and carefully continued his tea preparations.
"I thought you had gotten more when I saw it up there this morning." Neville glanced up through his dark fringe, his eyes dancing. "Ron was certain you'd catch hell from Hermione for going marketing without taking the grocery list."
Harry groaned out loud at that thought, knowing quite well how Hermione could be if she thought anyone was shirking their duties. Grinning, Neville patted him on the shoulder sympathetically, his hand remaining on Harry's shoulder a touch longer than necessary. As they sat together, chatting and drinking their tea, Harry continued to feel the weight of Neville's hand, the spot it had rested still warmed by his touch. Later, looking back on their conversation, he wasn't certain how he had managed to string together complete sentences, as distracted as he was had been.
There was something about finding little gifts left about for him that made him want to do things for someone else in return. The lack of notes with the gifts was but a minor detail, one he quickly hashed out by deciding to just do what he could for all three of his housemates. It could only be one of them. That much could be determined from the fact that everything that had been left for him was found in the house. And while their other friends did visit regularly, no one visited that regularly.
He volunteered to do the marketing enough that Hermione asked him if he was a pod person (which they then had needed to explain to Neville). Ron observed his actions with guarded jealousy, certain that Harry was trying to woo Hermione away from him. It seemed the only reasonable explanation, what with Harry being so nice to Hermione all of a sudden. Especially when he considered Harry's past break-up with Ginny - that in itself was enough to make Harry suspect. After all, who in their right mind would want to break up with his little sister? It wasn't until Neville quietly pointed out that Harry was doing just as much for Ron as he was for Hermione that Ron began to listen to reason.
Somehow it was easiest for Harry to do things for Neville, picking up an interesting looking plant at the nursery or some of his favourite take-away on the way home. A small voice would tell him there was a reason it was easiest to do things for Neville. But he tried his best to ignore it - and the way his stomach made small flip-flops whenever it came up - telling himself there was good reason to treat his friend People seemed to overlook the quiet young man, and Harry was suddenly determined to make up for it. So he found himself doing little things, helping out when he could, setting out surprises for him and, when Neville said in a small voice after dinner that he was going to visit his parents tomorrow, offering to come along. (He still wasn't certain who was more surprised - him or Neville.)
Which was how he found himself standing in the bright, sterile white Janus Thickey Ward at the St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. He tried to stand as far out of the way as possible while still being close enough to be supportive. As he watched his friend and housemate interact with his parents, he had a bad feeling he was horribly bollocksing up the job. But how could you be supportive to your friends and their horribly broken parents without being in the way or staring at them like they were side-show freaks?
And a thought he had never really considered hit him hard. Which was worse, parents who were dead or parents who might as well be?
His next thought was that Neville, of all people, probably best knew just how he felt.
Neville said goodbye to his parents, giving his mum a quick peck on the cheek as she gave him a candy wrapper she was folding between her fingers. Harry gave him his best supportive smile and accompanied him out of the ward, turning back to give the Longbottoms a quick goodbye of his own. He was completely unprepared when Neville squeezed his fingers, whispering softly "Thank you."
Neville didn't let go until after they left St. Mungo's. Harry walked with him, stunned and holding on as long and as nonchalantly as he could, memorising the feeling of how their hands fit just right. Maybe he hadn't bollocksed it up after all.
As Hermione and Ron spent more time together, Harry found himself spending more and more of his time with Neville. The easiest way to ignore your roommates snogging in the kitchen, they quickly realized, was to go down to the pub for dinner. Those trips turned into long nights eating and drinking, followed by taking the long way during the walk home. Harry showed him all of his favourite routes through the park and around the neighborhood, always aware of Neville's proximity as they walked. He gained more enjoyment through their conversations and companionship now than he ever did on his own quiet trips. More than once did their hands brush against each other as they walked, and more than once Harry wondered if the rest of him was as warm as Neville's hands.
The walks also solidified the opinion Harry formed during the trip to St. Mungo's. Neville more than understood how he felt - he had shared the same childhood of not quite belonging and never being good enough. Certainly, had lucked out by growing up with a family who really loved him, but he had also lived through the pain of constantly visiting parents who never knew him, who never remembered him, who would never love him back despite all the love he gave them. That made up for the loving family part, Harry figured, which made them even.
"Do you want that last chip or is it up for grabs?"
Harry looked up from his musings to see Neville's hand snaking across the table towards his plate. "Take it," he said, shoving the plate over to his friend. "I'm full."
"So," Neville asked as he munched on the chip, "do you think it's safe to return yet?"
"With those two you never know," Harry shook his head, ignoring the shaggy fringe that fell into his eyes. (Hermione would tell him it was time for a cut, she didn't understand that he still couldn't help that it kept getting so long on him so quickly. It just did.) "We should wait longer, give them more time."
Give him more time with just Neville really, but he didn't say that out loud. He wasn't certain what his friend would think of all of the things he was thinking lately. He continued as he put several galleons on the table, "How about a walk through Diagon Alley? I want to see if the new Comets are in at Quality Quidditch Supplies."
Neville nodded, placing a few galleons of his own on the table as he stood and they made their way out into Diagon Alley. It was long past closing for most of the shops, the street was mostly empty as they walked to Quality Quidditch. Harry kept one eye on the uneven cobbles and the other on Neville walking so close to him. Closer than necessary really, but he wasn't going to complain. In fact, Neville was close enough their hands brushed against each other he realized as the burning warmth of Neville's touch seared his fingers. Even more surprising was that Neville stayed that close as they stopped in front of the display window filled with Quidditch robes, beater bats and the newly released Comets. This time he was the one to reach over and squeeze Neville's fingers, holding his hand in the cold and grinning to himself when Neville squeezed back.
Maybe Neville wouldn't be so adverse to the things on his mind lately after all.