The office was silent except for the scratching of a quill on parchment and the tuneless humming of a happy Bortbeetle burying itself in the soil of the Icenettle plant potted in the corner. The candles floating above the desk did not flicker; the inhabitant of the office had recently learned a charm to make them burn with a clear, constant light that was much better for writing.
The knock at the door did not disturb him, however, as he was expecting it. "Come," he said, laying aside his quill.
His student assistant, a mousey-haired girl in her fourth year, poked her head in. "You've a visitor, Professor," she said quietly.
"Thank you, Posy. I'll be out to meet him shortly. How are the cuttings?"
"Nearly done, Professor. You'll have eight extra, assuming you use one as a demonstration."
"Good work. You can head back to your dormitory when you're finished, and you can take five points to Hufflepuff as well."
Posy beamed as she quietly shut the door behind her. She did everything quietly. Neville found that he preferred quiet more often than not, at least in the evenings.
"Dessico," he muttered, tapping the parchment with his wand. The glistening black ink dried instantly and he rolled the parchment and sent it to a rack with an absent flick of the wand as he glanced at his clock. A quarter past seven. Posy really had made good time on those cuttings.
Neville hummed to himself as he opened the door to his office, a stout stone outbuilding with a domed roof situated to the side of the greenhouses in one of Hogwarts' courtyards. The skylights let in ample light for his more favored specimens that he didn't trust to the student greenhouses; below the ground-level office lay his sleeping quarters and sitting room. It was, he admitted to himself as he straightened his robes, a bit isolated from the rest of the faculty, but he rather liked it that way.
Beneath a lamp by Greenhouse Two, a familiar silhouette peered in the glass walls. His face was slightly illuminated by the lights inside the greenhouse, presumably Posy finishing the cuttings for the first years tomorrow, and Neville smiled.
"Mr. Potter," he said as he approached on the crushed stone path. Harry Potter turned and his face lit up with a grin.
"Professor Longbottom," Harry said with a teasingly formal bow. He then thrust his hand out and Neville shook it heartily.
"It's been a good while," Neville said. "Let's go back to my office, I've a concoction for you to try - distilled it myself - not that I'd like the Headmistress to get word of it, mind you," he added in a lower tone.
"Sure," Harry said.
The sitting room was small, but not crowded - Harry leaned back in a squashy red armchair while Neville busied himself in the corner at his liquor cabinet.
"Icenettle doesn't take to fermenting well, you see, at least not the leaves," Neville said as he brought out two glass tumblers. "Most nettles make a passable wine, but this - it tasted like fish! But, I found that if you let a Bortbeetle reside in the pot, it causes the taproot to grow to three times its size and then the root itself can be used for, well, it will do for wine but where it really shines is when you distill the wine to brandy."
"I don't think I've heard of Bortbeetles before," Harry said with a small smile.
"I hadn't either, until I came across an essay by one of those Druidic sorts - you know, the ones who live in the forest and grow up around herb lore and not much else. They make their own wands, did you know? Ah, here we go - cheers," Neville said, sinking into the chair opposite Harry and handing him the tumbler of clear, light purple liquid.
"Cheers," Harry said, and took a sip. Neville watched expectantly. "Not bad," Harry said, holding the glass to eye level and swirling the liquid.
"Glad to hear it," Neville said, settling himself back in the cushions of the chair.
They sat in the comfortable quiet of two friends who know each other well. Neville could tell from the way Harry continually swirled the brandy in his glass that he was rehearsing something to say; he knew Harry would say it when it had ripened. For now, the company was nice.
"How are you doing?" Harry finally asked, a little pointedly. Neville wilted a little, knowing what aspect of his life that question was directed to.
"As well as can be expected. It was a difficult pregnancy to begin with...they did all they could...Hogwarts paid for her funeral, hers and Daisy's." The lump he had expected in his throat did not surface, merely a dull ache in his chest. "Daisy would have been four years old last week. It's been a rough couple of years, but I'm holding together." Neville took a deep breath and gave himself a tiny shake. "And you?"
Harry sighed and reached into his robes to take out a packet of parchment. He handed it across to Neville, who reached absently for the reading spectacles on the low table by his chair. He unfolded the parchment and began to read the stiff, formal-looking writing in blue ink.
"Harry," he said in astonishment, looking over his spectacles. "These are divorce papers."
Harry nodded miserably. "Drawn up this morning. We're...still not sure how we're going to tell the kids, although I think they've guessed, or at least James has. Al and Lil are still a bit young, and now that Al's here most of the year..." Harry crossed his hand tiredly over his eyes.
"I knew you and Ginny were having problems, but...cripes in a stew, Harry," Neville said, placing the papers on the table between them and removing his spectacles. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing to really be sorry over, except the bitter lesson that perhaps love doesn't conquer all," Harry said wearily. "I can't deny that I still love her, but...Merlin's beard, she manipulates like a salamander smolders. Doesn't even realize she's doing it, doesn't even have to think on it. Growing up the youngest of seven, and the only girl at that, I guess she got used to getting what she wanted. I can't stand being manipulated - I've had enough of that in my life, thank you. And then there was the thing with Oliver - "
"Oliver? The reporter?"
"The same," Harry said grimly. "He at least had the decency to come apologize to me, tell me he hadn't intended a harmless flirtation to go so far, but the damage is done and I still think I'd rather punch him in the face than forgive him."
"Can't say as I blame you," Neville murmured. "What are you going to do with the kids?"
"Ginny gets them during the summer holidays, as she doesn't work-though she'll probably find a job now, unless Molly lets her move back home and raise the kids there. It's a definite possibility. I'll technically have them for the Christmas and Easter hols, and a least a few weeks during the summer, but as Christmas is a time for family we'll be over at the Weasley's then, too..." Harry sighed and took another slow sip from his glass. "It's as amicable a divorce as it can be. We can tolerate each other, even be friendly. And we have our children. But hell's bells...it's actually a relief to know that I don't have to go home to her tonight."
Neville nodded almost absently. A small notion, one he thought he had stamped down nearly twenty years ago, was niggling to the front of his brain.
It was not a good idea. It could even be a terrible idea. It had a worse chance of succeeding than a canary in a cat fight.
But if it did...
He spoke slowly, deliberately. "Your place is going to be mightily empty this summer."
Harry nodded, staring into the depths of his glass.
"I'll be going to a conference in Salem on herbological and botanic discoveries in June," he continued. "I plan to stay in America for a month or so - the climate in the southern United States and Mexico fosters some incredible flora that I can't cultivate here - and I could use a traveling partner."
Harry cocked his head to the side. "I could use some time away from work," he said thoughtfully. "If I have to arrest one more stupid teenager Imperiusing his neighbor's cat to bring back girls' knickers, I think I may resign." He looked up. "I don't mean to knock your profession, Neville, or your enthusiasm...but there would be more than trotting around looking at plants, right?"
"Oh, definitely," Neville said with mock seriousness. "There will also be trotting around looking at fungi, and trotting around looking at kelp. Kelp's not a true plant, you know." He smiled at the hint of dismay on Harry's face, though he hid it well. "I promise we will spend at least forty percent of the time sightseeing like Muggles, and at least one week will be spent on a sunny beach where we can both attempt to forget our problems."
Harry thought for a moment. "I'll have to see if I can get the time from work. Barring that, though, thank you for inviting me. I think I would enjoy that very much."
Neville hoped so. There was a better than even chance that the trip would be quite the opposite from enjoyable-but the dice had been thrown. Nothing to do now but hope and count the pips.