Author's Notes: Written for rarepair_shorts last July. This takes place a few years after Deathly Hallows, but before they're really getting into their careers. (Also, I know Hannah ends up at The Leaky Cauldron, but I have her learning the ropes at The Three Broomsticks for now.)
"You should be more careful, Hannah," Neville told her, not as a chastisement, but as genuine advice from someone who had got one too many avoidable scrapes and bruises in his lifetime. Hannah could tell—and definitely remembered where he might be coming from.
She sighed and quirked a rueful smile. "I know," she said, while Neville inspected the oddly-shaped slash across her palm. "I do try. You don't really expect a delivery of crates to bite you, though—especially when they're meant to be full of Butterbeers. Then again, the village boys are always pulling pranks on me, so I oughtn't to be surprised by now. It's not my fault I'm an easy target. Madam Rosmerta sends me on more errands than the other girls combined—not that I mind, of course, because I do like it..."
Neville frowned, still holding her hand.
"Those boys should be more respectful toward you. I don't like that they're hurting you. It isn't right." He drew himself up. "If you'd ever want anyone to talk to them..."
Hannah laughed, and then flushed at Neville's own darkening cheeks.
"Oh! Oh, no, I didn't mean—" She scrambled for an explanation. "No, it's just... Oh, dear. I really like that you offered, is all. Because I know you can. Stand up for me, I mean. I saw what you did to You-Know-Who's snake—not that I think you'll go chopping off the heads of the village boys, but—" Hannah prattles on, blushing more deeply, but Neville smiles, and straightens again. "Well," she finished. "I always know I can come to you when I need help, anyway. You were the first person I thought of when I couldn't get this bite to heal on its own. Funny—I could've gone to Pomfrey, couldn't I? She'd've been so startled to see me there. Probably not pleased, either, I must have cost her a fortune in Calming Draught fifth year."
Now Neville was near-beaming at her. "I'm glad you came to me. I mean," he added hastily, looking away, "I'm a lot closer than Madam Pomfrey, and I'm pretty sure I know how to help you, so that would've saved you a long walk, and with that hand..." He stopped, flushed to match her. "Anyway."
When he didn't move or speak any further, Hannah bit her lip. "So... you can help?" she prompted gently.
"Right!" Neville exclaimed. "Right. This way, please."
Although he gestured in the direction he meant her to go, he still didn't release her hand, and ended up inadvertently pulling her along. Tenderly, of course, even though he didn't seem to realize he was doing it at all.
And not, of course, that Hannah minded. Because she was fairly certain she would let Neville Longbottom lead her anywhere—even if she hadn't told so him yet. Hannah was good at taking baby steps—slow and steady, as they say.
The plant Neville had taken her to looked a lot like—well, like wood. Most plants technically are wood, but this one was very... wood-like, she decided. It was in a large pot made of cobblestones, and branched out very stiffly, with no curves in its design whatsoever, except in its intricate little leaves; these also appeared to be wooden, if one could carve wood into patterns of lace. Each leaf looked as delicate as the pages of a five-hundred-year-old book, but as young and new as the first grasses of spring. Alive. Within the leaves were at least ten segmented parts, and each had a different swirling design inside of it, so tiny and impossible. Though its pot sat comfortably on the ground, the plant itself reached well past Hannah's shoulder, and there were clusters of little wood-leaves along its entirety.
"It's pretty," she said, and meant it.
Neville's expression was suddenly very fond, and Hannah wasn't sure whether it was in response to her comment, or the plant itself.
"It is," he said, "and definitely helpful. Professor Sprout lets me tend it by myself, now that I've been her apprentice for a few months."
They knelt down in front of the pot, shifting and shuffling about on their knees until they were comfortable. Then they were so close to the plant, it was as if they had been immersed in a whole forest of it. This would probably have made Hannah nervous if they had been in Greenhouse Three, because that one always had plants you never wanted to put your face anywhere near; but this was only Greenhouse Two, and anyway, Neville seemed to trust the plant enough.
Finally letting go of her hand, Neville softly dug his fingers into the straw at the base of the plant, wiggling them about until he had created an opening about the size of a potato.
"You'll have to put your hand in," he explained. "Palm down against the dirt."
Hannah peered at the hole, and then something clicked in her brain. Her brows narrowed, then raised, then focused on the plant's stiff, sticklike branches. "Neville... Sticks, stone, and straw?"
He looked up at her, curious. "Yeah?"
"Like 'The Three Little Pigs'?"
He seemed puzzled for a moment, then his expression cleared. "Oh! Right! The Muggle story. It's a bit like that, yeah. Muggles had to get it from somewhere, I expect."
"So does this protect you from wolves, or something?" she asked, intrigued. That would certainly be useful, though more useful still if it could be used against werewolves. Hannah still had nightmares about Fenrir Greyback occasionally, though he was long gone.
"Well, no. Not that I know of, anyway." Neville shrugged, not following her train of thought to its end. But that was all right. Hannah shivered once, and then let the warmth spread back through her.
After a moment, she said, "You'd know if it did," sounding sure and proud – which she was. (She liked the way his face lit up when she complimented him.)
"Many magical plants have undiscovered properties." He shrugged again, modest, but he was definitely pleased.
"But then what does this one do?"
"It's really fascinating, actually. See, the plant itself doesn't do much. I mean, it's pretty, right?" He waited until Hannah nodded before continuing. "But here in this ring the pot makes? That's where everything meets: the wood, the straw, and the stone. Something about that combination is just right, and it imbues the soil in the pot with magic. There really is a lot we don't know about the plant. I mean, we don't know how it works, and we don't even know its name—we've tried naming it ourselves, of course, but it hated everything we thought up, so now it's just 'the plant,' which is a bit undignified, I think. Anyway." Clearing his throat, Neville took Hannah's hand again, and placed it in the hole he had made in the straw. The soil felt warm against her injured skin, but not unpleasant, and the straw around the opening made it feel as though her hand had been tucked into bed, safe and snug. In fact, it was almost as if she were surrounded, her whole self in the love and protection of the plant and its pot.
"Do you feel it?" Neville asked, voice slightly hushed.
"Yes," she answered in kind. She felt like her eyes ought to be as round as saucers, but realized that instead, she could barely keep them open. Her lids felt heavy—but again, it wasn't entirely unpleasant. "What's it doing?"
"The earth cleanses," he explained. "Then it heals. You'll see in a few minutes. It's amazing."
Drowsiness soon overtook her, unexpected as it may have been. The warm and cozy feeling persisted long after she'd drifted off to sleep, and didn't abate when she woke to find herself slumped against Neville, his hands playing idly at her blonde hair.
"Sorry," she mumbled with a yawn, but really wasn't sorry at all, except perhaps that Neville quickly withdrew his hands. She'd stay right there forever if they weren't both blushing again. Dratted blushing.
Hannah was about to extricate them both from embarrassment when she happened to glance down at her palm, and discovered that that nasty bite mark from an even nastier crate had disappeared entirely. Not even a faint line remained.
"Wow," she breathed, looking up at Neville with wonder.
"It's amazing," he said excitedly, his tone like a child who had just seen Father Christmas. "I know!"
Hannah nodded. "Amazing."
But of course, she wasn't really thinking about the plant when she said it—which was enough to set off another blush, yet again.