*sigh* Life always manages to get in the way of me posting anything in a timely manner. Sorry, friends! Anyways, some exciting things happen in this chapter. Hope you enjoy!

~Chapter 11: Emily's Birthday~

"What is Merlin's name is this thing?" Neville asked aloud, peering closely at the miniature evergreen tree, which had stayed the same for a week and a half and then changed drastically in the last thirty-six hours. Each curly little vine had sprouted a sweet-smelling blossom with triangular petals of magenta or orange. The strange plant now had the appearance of a tropically-decorated Christmas tree.

"Crazy, isn't it?" Simon asked, strolling in from the back room. "What's it going to do next, spell out secret messages with little clouds of pollen?"

Neville shrugged. "Probably. I think we ought to come up with a name for it, if we really can't find any reference to it in your great-uncle's papers. It seems like it might be a bad idea to sell customers 'mysterious plant' seeds."

"You're probably right," Simon laughed. "Maybe we can come up with a good name over lunch."

"You're all welcome to try to think of something," Neville said, "but I have to go out into Muggle Manhattan at lunchtime. I have to pick up something for Emily's birthday."

Simon grinned. "Ooh! When is her birthday?"

"The day after tomorrow. I'm planning a surprise that should bowl her cauldron over!"

That evening Emily dropped by Neville's flat after her shift at Junior's ended. She was in an exceptionally good mood because she had gotten to work with her friend Hannah, so Neville was hopeful that she would respond well to his slightly unorthodox request.

"I know your birthday is Wednesday," he said, "but would you mind terribly if we celebrated on Thursday? I mean, I'll be very glad to take you out for dinner on your actual birthday, but your big surprise can't happen until the next day."

"Actually, Thursday would be wonderful," she said. "I have an audition on Wednesday that will hopefully last all day, and if it does, I'll be exhausted by the time I get home."

"Awesome!" he said excitedly. "What's the audition?"

"It's for replacements for the Thoroughly Modern Millie chorus," she said quickly. "Now tell me about this big surprise..."

Neville laughed. "No way. I'm not telling you anything about it."

Emily grinned deviously, twirling her wand. "I bet I could convince you."

He picked up his own wand. "I'll Apparate to Merlin's Square right now and make Simon and Hillary Secret Keepers," he threatened. "Come on, a little suspense will be fun. You will love it, I promise."

"You have to tell me something about it," she insisted. "This is New York; we could be doing anything. How will I know what to wear? Jeans? Dress robes?"

"Oh. Hmm." Neville had to admit she had a point. "Well, I'll be wearing a Muggle suit. Does that help?"

"With a tie?"

He considered his options. "Er...yeah."

"All right," she conceded. "You know," she added, batting her eyelashes playfully, "I bet the surprise would be even more fun if you told me something else about it..."

He rolled his eyes. "No."

Emily tried valiantly over the next twenty-four hours to trick Neville into revealing the forthcoming surprise, but he held his ground through leading questions, threatened spells, and soft kisses. He found her persistence amusing, but he also realized it was a defense mechanism to keep her from obsessing over Wednesday's audition. Her usual optimistic demeanor had seemed a little forced lately, and he knew how much a role in Millie would mean to her.

By late Tuesday afternoon, however, it seemed that Emily could no longer accept this as a normal audition. She called off work from the telephone in her apartment and, after assuring Neville that she would eat something at some point, she holed herself up in her flat to spend the evening in frenzied preparation.

Neville awoke very early the next morning to wish Emily a happy birthday and to see her off. He had been prepared to convince her to drink a Calming Draught, but her panic seemed to have subsided overnight.

"If I'm not ready now," she yawned as they reached the subway entrance, "then I don't suppose I'll ever be."

"You are ready," Neville insisted. "You'll be brilliant. And here, for luck –" He kissed her tenderly. "Come find me the minute you get home!"

"Okay," she promised, quelling another yawn, and she disappeared into the station.

The rest of the day seemed to pass at a quarter of its usual speed. Neville attempted to go back to sleep but gave up after tossing and turning for nearly an hour. He hoped work would help him calm down, but he ended up taking Hillary's advice and leaving shortly after lunch, as he was unable to focus on anything.

Emily was not back by four o'clock, which had to mean things were going well. At five o'clock, Neville drank the Calming Draught he had intended for her that morning, but it did little to lessen his nervous energy on her behalf. Tired of pacing around his flat, he went out and walked the length of his floor a few times before climbing the stairs to pace Emily's hall and then going down to make circles around the building's lobby.

At a few minutes after six, as he reached the end of the third floor corridor for the fifteenth time, Neville heard footsteps pounding up the staircase. He whirled around to see his girlfriend leap up the last two stairs and hurtle toward him, curls bouncing everywhere and a grin across her face.

"I GOT CALLED BACK!" she shrieked.

Neville caught her about the waist in mid-stride and spun her around twice. "I knew it!" he shouted. "I told you you'd be brilliant! I told you they'd love you!"

He tried to set her down gently, but she lost her footing and lurched into him, knocking him backward. They tumbled to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, laughing uncontrollably.

The door of 3D jerked open and an old man poked out his bald head. "What do you kids think you're doing, making all that racket?" he growled.

"Sorry," Emily replied, not looking very remorseful as she tried to stifle her giggles. She attempted to push herself up, but Neville's arms were still locked around her waist. "Sorry, we'll get out of the hallway..."

The man glared and slammed his door shut with a "Harrumph!"

Emily and Neville managed, still laughing, to disentangle themselves and retreated to Neville's flat, where they opened celebratory butterbeers, and Emily recounted the entire audition in detail.

"...and then the guy read off the final list, and my number was on there! And Ann's wasn't, and Merlin, did she look mad!" she finished gleefully.

"These people obviously have their priorities straight," Neville said approvingly. "Now I don't have to go hex anyone for ruining your birthday."

Emily tried to frown but couldn't quite manage it. "No hexing. I mean it. Now, what are we doing tomorrow?"

"You'll know in less than twenty-four hours," he promised. "I'll come up to your place at six."

"Fine," she sighed exaggeratedly. "You know, secrets are not a good basis for a relationship."

He just smiled and tried to push away his thoughts of the job opening at Hogwarts. That wasn't a secret, he reasoned, it was just something he hadn't told her yet.

-.-.-.-.-

At six o'clock the next evening, Neville straightened his tie with one hand and then knocked on the door of Emily's apartment.

"I hope I look okay," she said as she opened the door, "since I don't know what we're doing."

He managed to keep his jaw from dropping to the floor as he took in the shimmery, lime green halter dress that hugged her curves and showed off her strong legs with its diagonal hemline. Her hair was pulled back with a sparkly clip, and her makeup was slightly more dramatic than usual, making her dark eyes stand out from her face.

"You look incredible," he assured her. "Perfect for where we're going." He suddenly remembered he was holding a bouquet of bright orange tiger lilies. "These are for you," he said, holding them out to her. "I cast a Silencing Charm on them so they won't roar all night."

"They're beautiful," she said, taking them and inhaling deeply. She summoned a tall vase from the kitchen and filled it with water from her wand, then she placed the flowers on the small table that stood beside the door.

She smiled up at Neville as she tucked her wand back into her purse. "Ready to go?"

"I am if you are. Our cab should be downstairs."

"Ooh, no subway cars tonight?" she asked. "How fancy!"

"It's a special occasion!" he reminded her, offering her his elbow.

She slipped her arm through his and stretched up to kiss his cheek. "I must have swallowed a gallon of Felix Felicis the day I met you."

He grinned. "I thought it was the other way around. And I know I haven't ingested any potions today, yet somehow I get to go out with the most beautiful woman in all of New York!"

Neville strove that evening to be the most chivalrous Gryffindor that had ever lived, opening doors for Emily, helping her into the taxi, and walking on the street side of the sidewalk. He was extremely glad that she was delighted by the French-Creole restaurant he had chosen, and they feasted on warm, crusty bread, colorful salad, and perfectly spiced gourmet gumbo.

A second taxi was waiting outside when they were finished with dinner. As Neville climbed in, he pulled from his pocket a piece of paper on which he had written their next destination. He handed it to the driver, who nodded and pulled away from the curb.

"Really?" Emily cried exasperatedly. "You won't even say the address out loud?"

"You have an exceptional memory," he said matter-of-factly. "I don't want you to figure it out until we get there. I can't wait to see the look on your face!"

"You're making me crazy!" she sighed as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "It's a good thing that I love you."

Neville almost did a double-take, but then managed to reign in his surprise. He had truly not been expecting to hear those three words directed at him. "Really?" he asked, trying to keep his expression casual but anxiously wondering if she meant what she had said.

Emily was smiling. "Which part? The 'making me crazy' or the 'I love you?' Because both are true."

Neville felt a soaring inside that he had previously only associated with the defeat of the Dark Lord. "Just checking," he said a little sheepishly, and he squeezed her shoulders. "Because I love you too."

She twisted her fingers through his, and he rubbed her bare arm with his other hand. They watched the Theatre District pass by as they drove up Broadway, Neville's heart almost beating out of his chest in anticipation. She had to know they were going to see a show by now; the only question was which one.

As the cab turned onto 52nd Street, he could practically see her brain scrambling to recall which shows were playing there. Finally they stopped in front of the Neil Simon Theater.

"Here ya go," the driver said in a thick Brooklyn dialect.

Emily's eyes were the size of Galleons. "HAIRSPRAY?" she exclaimed, gaping at the illuminated posters of faces with outrageously colored 1960s hairdos.

"Yep," Neville said proudly, reaching in his pocket to pay the driver.

"B-but...Hairspray!" she spluttered. "It's the very first preview tonight – I thought it was sold out – how did –?"

He climbed out quickly and hurried around the taxi to open Emily's door.

"I have my ways," he said mysteriously. "This is why I wanted to wait and celebrate your birthday tonight. I hope it will be worth the suspense you had to suffer."

"It will be worth it. You are incredible," she said, stopping to kiss him under the hundreds of lights on the marquee. "Seriously, Hairspray!"

Inside the theater, an usher took their tickets and showed them to their seats, and Emily exclaimed in amazement yet again, wondering how Neville had managed to secure seats in the center of the first row of the balcony. He just gave vague answers and smiled as he remembered his initial trip to the box office several weeks ago. It had only required a Confundus Charm for everyone in front of him in line and a loud observation of how interesting it would be to see the show from a nontraditional viewpoint.

The lights dimmed at exactly eight o'clock, and the curtain rose on a plump young girl lying in bed, singing about the wonderful city of Baltimore.

Neville enjoyed the show, but he only saw about half of it. It was too tempting to watch Emily's face out of the corner of his eye as her expression changed from joyful during the comedic bits to pensive during the dramatic, reflective scenes to completely exhilarated during the big dance numbers. During intermission she chattered animatedly about the costumes and choreography and happily answered Neville's questions on the finer points of theatrical production as they stood in line for the souvenir program he insisted on buying her.

At the end of the final colorful, rousing production number, Emily immediately leaped to her feet along with most of the rest of the audience. Neville stood and applauded too, but as the cast bowed and bowed on stage, he had eyes only for his girlfriend and the sheer joy that radiated from her, mixed with longing to be standing on that stage herself. He thought of her callback the following day and sent up a silent wish that someday very soon he would be standing by himself in a packed house, clapping and cheering for his own leading lady.

The house lights finally came up, and the applause died down as people began to gather their belongings. Emily still looked giddy and starry-eyed as Neville asked, "So, did you enjoy the show?"

She laughed out loud. "I can honestly say that was the least terrible two and a half hours of my life." She threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug. "Thank you so much! I loved it."

He kissed the top of her head. "I am so glad. Now, would you fancy some dessert? I hear it's a bit of a custom to go for cheesecake at a particular restaurant after you've seen an evening show."

"That sounds fabulous," she said, "but I'm buying. You've spent plenty of money on me tonight."

Neville Summoned her silver clutch right out from under her arm. "I am secure enough in my masculinity to carry your purse all over town," he informed her, grinning. "I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to buy your own birthday cake."

She heaved a sigh. "Low blow, Longbottom," she complained, "taking a girl's wand so she can't even duel you."

He shrugged. "It wouldn't have been a fair fight with you wearing that gorgeous dress. I'd be much too distracted."

She was pleased and she couldn't hide it. "You are such a gentleman, and it is so infuriating!"

"Sorry," he said unsympathetically. "Please let me buy you cheesecake, Emily."

Her expression softened, and he knew she was relenting. "Okay." She shook her head incredulously as she took her purse back from him. "I don't know how I got so lucky..."

It was a beautiful night, and much cooler than it had been in recent days, so they decided to walk from the theater to Junior's.

As Neville opened the door beneath the orange-and-white awning, someone cried, "It's the birthday girl! Twenty-two and lookin' fine!" Before he could even identify the source of the shout, she was swept off her feet in a tremendous bear hug.

"That's what I'm talkin' about!" she laughed, regaining her footing and stepping back. "Neville, this is my dear friend, Forest."

A stocky young man with a round, boyish face and a black-and-white Junior's uniform extended his hand, and Neville shook it.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Forest said eagerly. "I've never seen Emily as happy as she's been since you two met!" He picked up two menus and scanned the busy restaurant. "I've got a perfect table, right over here."

Emily and Neville followed him to a shiny booth and sat down across from each other. Forest laid down their menus and promised to tell "everyone" they were there.

"The desserts are all on the back page," Emily said. "This is going to be a very hard decision..."

Neville flipped his menu over and gaped at the long list of available cheesecakes – everything from plain to devil's food to lemon coconut. "Whoa! That's a lot of options! What do you recommend?" he asked. "That chocolate peanut butter one sounds good."

Emily wrinkled her nose. "Ew. I hate peanut butter."

Neville raised his eyebrows. "I thought all Americans loved it."

"At least two of us don't; my mom hates it too," she said. "I don't understand how anyone can eat the stuff!"

He nodded. "Okay. Duly noted."

A tall man with a thin face and olive skin approached their table. "What can I get my best waitress and her beau tonight?" he asked, setting down two glasses of water.

Emily rolled her eyes. "Don't exaggerate. This is Omar, my manager," she explained to Neville.

"I'm not exaggerating! She is the best," he assured Neville. "I have no idea how she handles some of the crazy trays I've seen her carry!"

"Practice," she said, shrugging, though Neville guessed a well-placed counter-balancing spell had something to do with it as well. "Omar, I can't decide between the brownie marble swirl and the raspberry swirl. They're both so good!"

"For you, we can do half a piece of each," he promised. "And what can I get for you, Neville?"

"I think I'll try the red velvet, please," he decided.

"Excellent choice! And this will be on the house," Omar informed them. "I'll have your cheesecakes right out."

Neville grinned as Omar walked away. "I guess we didn't need to have a duel after all."

As promised, Omar returned shortly, and he was followed by Forest; a tall man with artfully side-swept dark hair, a shorter man with Asian features, and a sweet-faced young woman with red hair. Omar placed a veritable mountain of red-and-white cake in front of Neville and two slightly narrower but no less tall slices of swirly cake in front of Emily, each adorned with a lit candle.

"One, two, three," the girl counted, and she and the guys burst into a chorus of "Happy Birthday" in perfect four-part harmony.

Emily closed her eyes and blew out her candles as everyone applauded. "Thank you, guys," she said as each server hugged her in turn. The young woman (Rachel, according to her name tag) whispered something in Emily's ear, and they both giggled.

Neville looked from one to the other, but they both just smiled.

"Enjoy your cake," Rachel said, and she followed the others back to the kitchen.

It would have been impossible not to enjoy it, Neville decided. He reluctantly realized he would be much more comfortable if he left the last few bites of rich, smooth cream on his plate. Emily also left some final remnants uneaten.

Feeling happy and full, they left Junior's hand-in-hand and easily hailed a cab to take them home. Emily leaned against Neville in the semi-darkness of the backseat.

"I think this has been the best night of my life," she said. "You are amazing and I love you."

The phrase was no less meaningful the second time she said it.

"I wanted to give you an evening just a fraction as wonderful as you've made my last two months," he replied honestly. "I had no idea that coming to New York would turn out to be the best decision I've ever made."

"Kiss me," she whispered simply, and he obliged.

The cab pulled up to the front of their building, and Neville and Emily parted from each other long enough to pay the driver and climb out. They fumbled their way up the stairs, kissing with a fervor that grew with each flight. They finally reached Emily's floor, backing up until she was standing flat against the wall beside her door.

They were bordering on uncharted territory, realized a fuzzy part of Neville's brain as he pressed his body against hers, taking note of her soft curves and bonier places. Her tongue traced the edge of his lip and he moaned a little, embarrassingly, but she only repeated the motion.

Emily reached for the door knob, and its metallic click seemed to restore some of his sanity.

"Wait," he murmured. "It's getting really late."

"So?" She captured his lips again.

"Mm. Your callback." He attempted to gently extract his fingers from her hair. "In, like, seven hours." He pressed his lips to the curve of her neck, in spite of himself. "You need to sleep."

"I don't care," she whispered dismissively.

He sighed. "You will. I know you will."

She relaxed her hold on his waist. "Okay. You're right. I know you're right," she admitted. "But we'll pick up right here tomorrow?"

"Of course. Right after you come back with a real Broadway role."

"Okay." She kissed him once more. "Sweet dreams, Neville."

He couldn't help chuckling. "Without a doubt."

-.-.-.-.-

Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think.

-A Chocolate Frog