It wasn't that he was particularly bad at the tidying, household-y sort of spells. Well, he was, but that wasn't why Neville usually preferred to do the housework by hand. Much like turning the earth outside in the gardens, there was a certain satisfaction to doing things with one's hands that was missing when one did it by magic. It seemed, he mused as he tossed a rogue apple core into the bin, that the faster you did things, the more things you found you had time to do, and soon you'd spent the whole day on chores and were so tired you couldn't stand.
Then, too, cleaning by hand left the mind time to think, rather than focus on whatever menial task you were trying to perform by "breaking the Muggle laws of physics," as his roommate so eloquently put it. There was little more exhausting and boring than focusing on scrubbing a plate perfectly, not when you could do it by hand and think about something else. Cleaning left plenty of time for daydreaming.
Or fretting. Fretting was Neville's mental occupation of choice at the moment. The reason for his fretting was currently unfolded on the kitchen table, a surface he could have sworn was clean an hour ago, but was now covered with the detritus of half a morning's cleaning: soiled tea towels, a sad-looking sponge, things that were too important to throw away but not important enough to be stowed where they belonged just yet, and a stack of books that he kept forgetting to take to his bedroom every time he passed them but remembered every time he walked into his bedroom.
It's me, your sometimes roommate. I promised last time I'd give you warning before I showed up in my room again, which seemed rather odd to me, but as you requested it and it's your house really I suppose I'm finding myself writing this letter.
Traveling hasn't gone well this time around, I suspect because I wrote down everything I was going to do ahead of time. Biblioles are nosy creatures (it's why I won't write anything personal in this letter, I promise!) and they've probably warned the Crumple-Horned Snorkack that I was coming, and it's gone into hiding. They're very wily beasts, you know, or so Dad says, as I've never had the honor of meeting one.
I seem to have bruised my hip somewhere. I don't remember bruising it. You would think I would remember doing something like that. It's really quite painful whenever I prod it.
My bedroom at Dad's is still filled by a printing press, so I suppose I'll have to come to my bedroom at your place and pay you some rent so you'll let me stay again. Is the New Zealand bloke still there? I don't think he likes me very much, although that may have been the perfume I was wearing (it smells different to different people depending on how attractive you find them, and to be frank, I didn't find him very attractive at all). At least that's what the bottle says, and I think it makes me smell delicious, and I find myself quite attractive, which is perhaps a bit vain but I'm not particularly worried. Maybe you can tell me what you smell. Except I've lost the bottle.
P.S. Friday! I'll be there Friday!
It was Friday morning, and somehow, Neville had left the cleaning to the very last minute, despite having had three days' warning. Glancing around the place, he was sorely tempted to give up and do what he could with a scourgify–it wasn't as though Luna hadn't seen the house a mess before.
He picked up the letter again and walked slowly to his bedroom (once more forgetting the stack of books), scanning the words. Something about it made him vaguely nervous; he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Yes, the New Zealand bloke was still here–technically, anyway. His lease wasn't up, at any rate, and he hadn't stopped paying the pittance that Neville asked for rent, but his possessions had been disappearing little by little ever since Neville had introduced him to that girl from his Antidotes seminar, the one who said she liked accents. Neville had a hunch that when his lease was up in two months, he wouldn't be renewing it. In fact, Neville hadn't seen Tobias for some four months now.
Which meant that the mess in the house was all his. He looked around his bedroom and sighed heavily. Gran would have a royal conniption if she could see the state he'd let the house get into.
That thought alone was enough to make him hurry back down into the sitting room, intent on tidying hastily. It was unlikely Gran would be back; he knew that when she'd signed the house over to him, telling him she was going to "go traveling," that what she meant was "find a place to die." It wasn't a rare thing for elderly witches and wizards to do, particularly the ones like Gran who wouldn't tolerate being bedridden and fawned over, but Neville had still felt a small shock when she'd told him. Oh, certainly–she said she was only signing the house over so that it knew whom to obey while she was gone, but both of them knew what she really meant.
Neville glared at the sitting room as though it was all its fault it was untidy. Honestly, he didn't know how it had gotten this way–he wasn't untidy. He just had better things to do than clean up after himself, like study feverishly for his Antidotes seminar, which (his stomach lurched to remind him) he would have to pass if he didn't want to be removed from Auror training. His knowledge of Herbology was really the only thing keeping him afloat at the moment, even if it was tremendously easier to brew an antidote without Snape breathing down his neck, waiting for him to make a mistake.
He raised his wand and tried to assume a commanding stance. "Scourgify," he said, probably a bit more hopefully than the spell would respond to.
Well, at least the dust was gone, and the books and notes and rolls of parchment had aligned themselves in a way that was almost neat, if you squinted. The teacups were still there, though, and the remnants of dinners that were rather unhealthier than he should be eating on a regular basis. If he wasn't careful he'd gain back the paunch he'd so painstakingly lost over the last three years.
It was because she'd asked him to smell her. That's what was unsettling about the letter. She'd asked him to smell her perfume, which (allegedly) smelled different depending on how attractive the wearer found you. From any other girl, that would be a definite flirtation. From Luna, though...
Really, he admitted to himself, either way, he didn't know how to react. He'd thought he'd get used to feminine attention, what with the whole thing with Dumbledore's Army and the snake and the sword and all the rest–but every time, he still managed to find his tongue had grown three sizes too large to fit in his mouth, his spine turned to jelly, and his vocabulary was reduced to that of a rather thick budgerigar.
This was not the ultra-suave, confident, and heroic Neville Longbottom they'd heard about. They usually turned their attentions to someone else then. Neville had convinced himself that this was somewhat of a relief: he didn't have time for a girlfriend right now, not with Auror training taking up ten hours of every day and studying taking up another seven. He'd pointedly ignored the article in Witch Weekly that had come out last year detailing his "shagworthiness," a feature that he didn't even remember being interviewed for. All right, he did sometimes spend a bit too much time in the mirror combing his hair different ways and trying to figure out if his biceps were any larger than the last time he'd checked. But that was just vanity. Completely normal, no matter that Tobias had snorted his tea when Neville had casually walked down to breakfast one morning with his hair slicked back, and had had to have Neville pound on his back to keep him from choking. (The slicked-back hairstyle hadn't survived the morning, for which Neville supposed the world was thankful if Tobias's reaction was anything to go by.)
The kitchen was problematic. He'd be more than happy to scrub some dishes if there were room in the sink, but there was no space on the counters to empty the sink onto. Maybe he could put some of the things in the oven? Oh–it looked like he'd already tried that. When had he done that? The last time he'd tried to clean? When had that been?
Really, a good curse to flatten the place was what he needed. He could live in a tent in the yard.
He sighed heavily again, and decided that he really had only one option. He tugged a bit of parchment that wasn't covered in alchemical symbols from the stack in the sitting room and grabbed a quill.
HELP. I'M BURIED IN RUBBISH AND OLD BEANS AND THE OVEN IS FULL OF PANS.
He tied his plea to the leg of the family owl. "If you get that to her quick, Max, there's three owl treats in it for you," he promised. Maximus hooted in what he hoped was enthusiasm and flew out the window once Neville opened it. He watched the owl fly out of sight and hoped fervently that Hermione wasn't doing anything that couldn't be interrupted.
He seemed to recall Luna smelling rather nice. A bit like ginger, really, ginger and something citrus. And herbal, there was definitely something like...like mugwort. Ginger, citrus, and mugwort. He was slightly proud of himself for having pinpointed it.
This wasn't what he was supposed to be thinking about right now. He turned to face the kitchen, put the letter he'd been carrying round the whole house on the table, and picked up the stack of books, fully intending to take them to his bedroom, but instead depositing them absently on the coffee table in the sitting room as he instead gathered an armful of laundry that he'd dropped on the floor next to the sofa, intending to fold and never actually getting around to it. Hermione didn't need to see his pants. Nor did Luna.
Once he'd deposited the laundry on his bed, atop the other piles of laundry he'd found scattered around the house, he grabbed a stack of plates from his desk, which he'd been intending to clean off for ages so he could use it to study instead of the sitting room floor. That's what the desk was for, but it had somehow morphed into a place to put dirty plates. Well, no more. From now on, he would study in his room, at a desk, like a normal person.
Why had she asked him to smell her? Was it flirtation? Or was it just Luna being Luna? Oh, bloody hell, what if Luna was flirting with him? Could he pretend she wasn't? Would that be insensitive?
There was a sharp knock at the door downstairs and Neville nearly jumped out of his skin. He balanced the plates and hurried down the stairs, clattering slightly, and pulled open the door.
"Old beans?" Hermione asked, arms crossed and an attempt to look stern on her face.
Neville nodded. "And the oven's full of pans. Please, Hermione, Luna's coming back here for a while and–"
"And you've been living like the ultimate student bachelor," Hermione finished, pushing past him with amused exasperation. "Harry's the same way. When will you boys ever learn it's easier to clean up right after you make the mess, rather than leave it to the end?"
"I've learned that lesson now," Neville said hopefully. Hermione shook her head and laughed.
"No, you haven't. I'll have to do this at least once more."
"So you'll help?" Neville asked. Hermione nodded. "You are truly a godsend. Seriously."
Hermione's lips twisted into a half-smile and she gestured to the piles of books and notes in the living room as she raised her wand. "Grab anything you want to keep there. I don't want to move anything you've got organized."
Neville blinked. Organized? Hoping to appear far more studious than he actually was, he hastily arranged the notes and books into a somewhat neater pile and then nodded at Hermione, who gave him a you are bullshitting so hard look and flicked her wand in a delicate figure-of-eight.
It was a bit like a hurricane in reverse. Plates and teacups and glasses, suddenly spotless, flew to take their places in cupboards. The pancake batter Neville had just kind of assumed as the new kitchen ceiling decor disappeared. The sad-looking sponge on the kitchen table began zooming around the kitchen counters, which were suddenly clear for the first time he could recall since moving in. The windows lost the dingy sheen he hadn't even noticed until it was gone, he could hear the loo flushing itself upstairs–oh god, he'd forgotten how disgusting the loo had looked–and the rug suddenly looked a much brighter shade of pale green than it had a few moments ago. Suddenly empty, the bin made a small noise of protest at this unfair treatment; a few empty kipper tins flew into it and it stopped, appeased.
Neville's jaw dropped. He'd seen her do this once before after a rather raucous party at Harry's, but he'd been more than a little tipsy at the time, and not of a mind to truly appreciate it, as it hadn't been his mess suddenly becoming a thing of the past.
"Hermione," he said, his voice throbbing with gratitude, "Marry me."
"Taken, but thanks," Hermione said flippantly. "I've left the bedrooms alone, but the rest of the house should be livable." She rolled her eyes and laughed at the expression on his face as he looked around the downstairs. Even the curtains looked cleaner. How could curtains look cleaner?
"Seriously," he said, "How can I thank you? Can I take you to lunch? Buy you a book? You and Ron have a garden, right? I'll fix that right up, the Bluebells will sing praises for you. Literally. I know how to make them do that."
"Just don't let it get that bad again," Hermione said wryly. "Although lunch sounds good, too."
"Done," Neville said decisively, though he threw a little guilty look at his Antidotes books. Ah well, he had the weekend, and the exam wasn't for ages. "Where do you want?"
"Jillian's would do nicely," Hermione said. "I've been craving their mushroom barley soup for weeks now, but never seem to get over there."
"Your wish is my command," Neville said expansively, summoning his jacket to him and surreptitiously patting the inner pocket to be sure this was the one with the galleons in.
The small cafe was busy, and he and Hermione had to stand for several minutes before they were seated in the midst of the lunchtime rush. They chatted easily; Neville was intensely grateful that talking with Hermione was still easy. It gave him at least a little hope that he'd still be able to be normal around Luna.
"So are you coming tomorrow?" Hermione asked. Neville stared blankly. "The Harpies game? They're playing the Widdershins Wenches."
"And I bet that's all you know about the match," Neville said with a knowing arch to the eyebrow. Hermione shrugged and spooned some soup into her mouth.
"All I really need to know. You and Ron and Harry can go on about Chaser match-ups and Seeker builds if you want. I know when to cheer."
"I don't know," Neville said, remembering the pile of notes that he should really get through before the weekend was over. "Luna will undoubtedly want to catch up now she's back for a little while..."
"Well, she can come too," Hermione said matter-of-factly. "We can all go to the afterparty. Ginny will get us in; she did last time." She grinned mischievously. "Last time she tricked Harry into snogging the Seeker. She does look like Ginny, and Harry didn't even notice the difference until she'd started laughing–"
The temptation was sore. It had really been a long time since he'd gone out with his friends, and he got the nagging feeling that time with them would be wearing thin after Ron and Hermione's wedding next summer. Harry had confided to him that he was going to be proposing to Ginny any day now, when the time was right, and once his friends all paired off he knew that the group gatherings would become much fewer and far between.
The notes stared at him accusingly in his head. He did want to be an Auror, didn't he?
The practical isn't for another four weeks, he told them. And it wasn't as though this was the only weekend he'd ever have again.
"Okay," he found himself saying. "I'll ask her if she wants to come. We'll all catch up."
"Brilliant," Hermione beamed. She gave him a teasing little smile. "Who knows, two all-ladies Quidditch teams–maybe you'll get lucky."
Neville choked on his bacon sandwich. "Say what?" he asked once his windpipe had cleared, tears in his eyes from the coughing. Hermione didn't answer immediately, as she had gone into fits of laughter at his reaction.
"I was joking," she finally gasped, "Although I've apparently struck a chord."
"Hermione," he said, a little desperately –everyone in the cafe was looking sidelong at him now–"I'm not that kind of bloke. I don't–I don't troll around hoping to 'get lucky.'"
"Which is why I was joking," Hermione said. "Honestly, sometimes you take everything so literally."
"Sorry," he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin, wishing everyone would stop looking at him. "I'm just...jumpy. I haven't seen Luna in a while."
"Oh," Hermione said, and a knowing smile crept across her face. "Oh," she said again. "It's like that, is it?"
"No." Neville said quickly. Then, "Maybe? I don't know. Just...something she said in her letter... I think I'm reading way too far into it, it's probably just Luna being Luna, but..."
Hermione patted his arm. "At least the house is clean, right?"
Neville nodded fervently. "Thank you. Again. At least there's that."
Hermione nodded, that smile still on her face. "Well. Bring her tomorrow. If nothing else, it'll be good to see her again, right?"
Ginger and citrus and mugwort. Now that he'd identified it, he couldn't stop remembering it.