“That is rather impressive.”
“Shut up, you. I’d have asked for your opinion if I’d wanted to hear it.”
“No, I’m quite serious. I wasn’t aware it was at all possible.”
“I’m warning you, one more word and I shall Transfigure you into a naked mole rat.”
“I should be very intimidated had I not known your Transfiguration mark.”
It was a lovely day, carrying more than a hint of the coming summer, and the breezes coming off the edge of the lake were refreshing and served to make the heat a bit more tolerable. It was too nice a day to be sitting in the castle packing, something that could always be left for later. There were charms for that sort of thing, magic that required you to do little more than wave your wand and watch to make sure Pansy Parkinson’s undergarments did not mix with yours, and those sorts of trivial chores were best left for the last moment. For now, you were simply enjoying your last day at Hogwarts before the beginning of summer break, or as much as the day could be enjoyed when your best friend was sitting next to you reading from a short piece of parchment that was rightfully yours.
“Then I shall Potion you into a frog, and I daresay that if Professor Snape finds me capable enough to deserve that mark, I am more than able to manage that much.”
“I don’t think that one is in the textbook,” Carri Florentine said absently, scanning the scroll with a critical eye. “You might try Moste Potente Potions in the restricted section.”
“How do...” But there was really no point in asking how a Ravenclaw knew something, you realised, and settled for shaking your head. “Do remind me why you’re holding my exam marks?”
“Because you said you wanted to see mine and we agreed to trade.” At last, she handed the parchment back to you, with a toss of her head that sent messy blond hair flying. “I suppose congratulations are in order.”
“For what, my Potions mark?” you demanded. “Please be more sarcastic. I cannot help but take every word you say at face value.”
She rolled her eyes. “I did mean what I said. This is the first I’ve ever heard of anyone scoring a negative percentage on an exam. It’s astonishing, really.”
“If she can give that Granger girl two hundred thirty per cent, I suppose she needs negatives somewhere. You know, to make sure it’s all even,” you muttered rebelliously.
“That’s no excuse.” She stood and smiled indulgently at the giant squid, its tentacles waving above the lake’s surface. “But it does take a certain talent to fail badly enough that the Head of Hufflepuff can’t even take pity on you. Please, keep it to yourself. Don’t share the wealth around.”
“Why were you not Sorted into Slytherin? I need a reminder.”
“My Herbology mark is above zero,” she said briskly. “Now if you would excuse me, I’ve got to go and pack.”
“As do I, I suppose.” You sighed, levering yourself to your feet. “What I wouldn’t give for one of Malfoy’s servants right now.”
“You mean Crabbe and Goyle?”
“Ugh, no. I wouldn’t trust them anywhere near a girl’s room.”
She hesitated, wearing a decidedly odd expression. “I assume you’ll be visiting over the summer?”
“Living with you, if I can manage it,” you said.
“Ah, yes. A right disgrace to your family you are, with that mark.”
“A right disgrace to the family you are, with that mark!”
The thought crossed your mind that perhaps this was why Carri had been Sorted into Ravenclaw. Her ability to accurately predict people’s actions was rather uncanny.
You peered past your elder sister towards the exit from the Slytherin dungeons. It was so close, and yet, so far. You had been hoping to sneak away to breakfast, but she had managed to catch you, and now you stood in one corner of the room, listening to her berate you.
“Yes, I’m aware of that, thanks,” you told her coolly. “But you’re a bit behind on the times. That mark was from last year’s exam, which was six months ago, which means, dear sister, you’re rather late on the uptake.”
There was always a certain satisfaction in watching your sister splutter, at a total loss for words. Quite unfortunately, she did not let her guard down enough for you to escape. “Well — I never — but this is simply unacceptable!”
You stopped looking around her and scowled. You did so hate that word. “Not as unacceptable as not reaching the Great Hall in time for breakfast.”
She stared at you.
“Toast and scones,” you said. “Eggs and bacon and sausage. Pumpkin juice and Earl Grey.”
“I’m not finished with you…”
“Yes, and if I meet my death of starvation here, I suppose my Herbology mark shall be foremost in everyone’s minds at the funeral.”
“You would not die simply because you are late to one meal!” she said huffily, and you raised an eyebrow at her. “I was to deliver a message from our parents.”
“What, are they incapable of sending an owl directly to me?” You folded your arms, frowning. “If you insist on telling me now, do hurry. The porridge is growing cold.”
“They would have sent a Howler,” she hissed. “Mind you, such an act is well beneath the dignity of an old and respected family, but Mother did consider it. Failing Herbology and then hiding your mark… I should hardly be surprised if they would disinherit you!”
“Then I should move in with Carri,” you returned implacably. “Permanently. And I rather think you would be first to be disinherited. Tell me, is that Hufflepuff you’re swooning over aware of your existence yet?”
And then, as she was gaping, you pushed past her and through the wall of the dungeons.
“She does have a point, you know,” Carri said, following a successful joint Divinations class with the Ravenclaws, in which the old bat of a professor declared your true talent for prediction after you foresaw your sister meeting a number of grisly ends. “You really ought to work on improving that mark.”
“How?” you demanded. “I’m hardly asking her to teach me after all that, and you refuse to help.”
She shrugged. “My own Herbology mark isn’t high enough to do anything for such a hopeless case.”
“You do know what you must do, right?” she interrupted. “It would be most sensible to request help from the best in our year.”
It would have taken one much denser than you not to realise to whom she was referring. After all, Sprout doted on one particular boy, who, in your opinion, was completely no-good at everything else. He wasn’t even in her house!
“I don’t believe any Slytherin in our year is doing well enough to prove useful,” you said thoughtfully, choosing to outright ignore Carri’s idea.
She frowned, not to be distracted. “Would you really like a Troll on your O.W.L.s?”
“I’d like to troll them, yes.”
“You realise Professor Dumbledore may call you into his office if this continues.”
“I don’t see that it’s any business of his what marks I receive.”
“It is if there’s a danger that a student will fail out of Hogwarts. And do you know what he would say?”
“That the Sorting Hat has reconsidered and decided you’d be better off in Slytherin rather than terrorising the rest of your current house?”
Carri cleared her throat. “He would say…”
“…oh, don’t even.”
“…that the staff can hardly ignore such deplorable performance…”
“I am imagining you in the Headmaster’s robes right now.”
“…Salazar Slytherin himself would not have tolerated it…”
“With long silver hair and a beard that reaches to your waist. The look really does not suit you.”
“…and lecture you to try harder.”
“I am trying!” you protested. “I’m trying as hard as I can! Do you think I want to listen to my sister talk about what a disgrace I am?”
She fixed you with a stern look, and only for an instant, you imagined you saw bright blue eyes behind half-moon glasses. “You are not trying,” she informed you. “Sometimes one must swallow one’s Slytherin pride for the betterment of his or her own predicament.”
You weren’t sure which was worse, that it was true or that it was coming from one not a Slytherin herself. You sighed heavily and with frustration. “I get it. I get it. I’ll ask the bloody Gryffindor for help in Herbology.”
“The Gryffindor?” she prompted.
You spat out the name as if it were a curse. “Longbottom.”
She smiled, her behaviour changing radically. “You’ve given your word, then. It’s as good as a promise.”
“What, would you like me to perform the Unbreakable Vow to seal it?” you asked sardonically.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” she said airily. “Just make sure to ask him as soon as is convenient. I’ll be watching.”
You weren’t sure why, but that felt more ominous than the threat of being disinherited by your family.
You wanted nothing of this humiliating affair to be known to the general population of Hogwarts. But the general population of Hogwarts had its ways, and your own lack of subtlety did nothing to help.
Your plan was to march into the Great Hall during supper, grab Longbottom, and march back out to have a private talk with him. The first part went well. The second part went well, because Longbottom was too startled to protest. The third part could have gone better were you not followed by a significant number of students, though you hardly knew it at the time.
“W-where are you—” the boy began, stumbling after you, in part because you refused to loosen your hold on his robes.
“The library,” you said briskly. “And Madam Pince would hardly let me beat you there, would she? So drop the reluctance and do hurry.”
He did hurry, more likely because he was afraid of you than because of your reassurances. “But why me?”
“No questions,” you said through gritted teeth. “Not until we’re there.”
The chubby boy was pale when you finally released him and faced him. He did not run, which came as a surprise to you. You had always assumed he was a Hufflepuff and his Sorting into Gryffindor was a mistake. Perhaps he was braver than you had initially thought, though his voice still trembled as he spoke. “W-what is it?”
You pointed to a chair. “Sit.” He did so, never taking his eyes off you. You reached into your bag and dropped a book in front of him. He jumped as it barely missed his hand, though you paid him no mind, instead carelessly throwing it open and pointing at random to a page. “What is that?”
He peered at the picture for only a moment before he answered. “An Abyssinian Shrivelfig.”
“Aconite.” Longbottom frowned, looking at you. He seemed to be no longer afraid. “This is One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, isn’t it?”
You nodded. And then, abruptly deciding you would explain, you said, “You’ll be tutoring me in Herbology from now on, Longbottom.”
Something flashed in his eyes, and much to your surprise, he asked, “And what if I say no?”
You considered it. You thought of bribing him, but you knew a Gryffindor would never take a bribe from a Slytherin. You thought of threatening him, but he appeared to have more of a spine than you first gave him credit for.
“…then I suppose I’ll be disinherited and move in with the Florentines after all.”
Longbottom stared at you for a moment but made no reply. He returned his attention to the book and turned through the pages, stopping at one that looked almost familiar. “We’ll start here,” he said.
You found yourself with a look of dumb amazement on your face, and then you sat beside him — none too close, mind you. He wasn’t a bad sort after all, this Longbottom, despite being a Gryffindor. He knew what he was on about. And in the process of learning Herbology in your little corner of the library, you plain forgot about the rest of the school, though they hardly forgot about you. In fact, they were curious enough to try and find out just what you were up to when you left the Great Hall.
The Gryffindors followed, intending on stopping you if you’d bully Longbottom. The Slytherins followed, curious as to why one of their own would find the need to socialise with one of their mortal enemies. The Hufflepuffs followed, ready to call a teacher if you’d attempt anything. The Ravenclaws followed, because it was the library and they were Ravenclaws.
By the next morning, the entire school knew that you and Longbottom had left the Great Hall together and that you did not part ways until two hours had passed.
“How was Herbology?”
“About the same as usual, I suppose.”
Carri ran her finger over one of the spells in the Charms book, frowning to herself. “Well, that’s to be expected. You’ve just begun to work with Longbottom.”
“That sounds rather like an excuse.” You fell into the seat next to her.
“What’s that I hear? Are you not enjoying your time with him?”
“Loathing it, to be exact.” You reached over, flipping the cover of her book closed. “I hear there’s a plant in Greenhouse Three that can cause temporary memory loss.”
“You heard this where? In class?” She withdrew the text from beneath your fingers and set it aside. “I do recall Professor Sprout saying something of the sort.”
You nodded. “Yes, that. I was thinking of giving some to that Gryffindor every time we meet, so he forgets he’s helping me. It won’t be quite as humiliating then. What are your thoughts on the matter?”
“It’s a plot that relies entirely on your knowledge of Herbology and your ability to slip something into his food unnoticed, isn’t it?” she said. “It can only end poorly. No student has died at Hogwarts in the past fifty years, and I reckon they’d like keeping it that way.”
You scowled, reaching into a pocket of your robes and slamming something down on the table before her. “For your information, she pointed out the plant in question shortly afterwards. And these, when powdered, ought to do the trick quite well.”
Carri looked at the oval-shaped seeds you had gathered with much difficulty when Sprout’s attention had been elsewhere. An odd expression crossed her face, and then she picked one up, turning it between her fingers.
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “they are from the Amounsea plant. I suppose it wouldn’t kill him.”
“I did tell you.”
“It should prove rather interesting.” She handed it back to you, and you hid it carefully away again. “Mind you, at this point you would have to erase the memories of most of Hogwarts to achieve your goal.”
You were silent for a moment, realising the truth of her words, before you smiled. “Longbottom is a start at least. I’ll consider how to proceed from there.”
Everything went smoothly indeed. You crushed the seed into a fine powder before supper, and when you sauntered to the Gryffindor table to speak with Longbottom, all students avoided looking at you as they pretended not to eavesdrop. Longbottom himself gave his attention only to you, and it was the work of a second to slip the contents of the vial into his pumpkin juice. He met you after supper in front of the main entrance to the castle, and that was when you had the inkling that something was distinctly odd.
“Professor Sprout gave us permission to work in the greenhouses today,” he said, his eyes not meeting yours.
“Of course she would have, if her favourite Longbottom asked it of her,” you replied sardonically.
He ducked his head, and you glanced at him. For a moment, you thought his face was pink, and then decided it was simply the effect of the wind. “Well, come along, then. Let’s get this over with.”
“Y-yes.” He was walking close to you, enough so that it made you uncomfortable. When you pulled away, however, he hurried to catch up, and you frowned. Longbottom reached Greenhouse One before you and held the door open, his face a furious red. You stopped before entering, outright staring, but eventually decided to make no comment. Instead you swept past him and inside without another word.
“W-we’ll be looking at some of the plants we studied in first-year,” he said as he joined you. “Starting with the basics.”
You rolled your eyes. “I do so appreciate having my intelligence compared to the first-years’.”
“That’s not what I meant!” He seemed mortified by your words. “Y-you’re very intelligent, I know. Your brains would put the Ravenclaws to shame.”
There was something distinctly odd about hearing a bald compliment from a Gryffindor. “…are you feeling all right?”
“I’m — I’m quite well.” He smiled. “Though I do thank you for worrying about me.”
“I don’t recall saying I was worried,” you snapped, perhaps too quickly. “If your judgement is impaired, then little good shall come of this lesson, am I wrong? And then we may as well call an end for today.”
“No!” Longbottom looked positively horrified at the thought. “That — that won’t be necessary. I’d rather spend this time with you, especially if I can be of some use.”
His beseeching gaze should have disgusted you, and you should have gone back to the castle at once. But you hesitated, and after another moment, you gave in. “…very well then. But I’m warning you…”
A look of relief passed his face. “Then we ought to get started. If you’d like me to explain in further detail, do ask. These over here are Spiky Bushes — they shoot spikes if you get too close. Er, but to destroy them…”
“Incendio?” you guessed.
His face lit up with delight. “I did say you’re intelligent.”
No, it was little more than common sense that you would want to set a plant on fire, but you refrained from telling him such.
“You would fight Devil’s Snare in the same way,” he continued. “And this is Wild Rice. It isn’t particularly dangerous, but it can get a bit unruly.”
You were looking around the greenhouse, silently naming the plants to yourself. You were familiar with no more than half of them, though of course you wouldn’t inform Longbottom of that. “And the odd white one over there…”
He looked to where you were pointing and nodded. “The Singing Vine,” he said. “It’s well-known for the beauty of its music. But I reckon its voice isn’t nearly as nice as yours.”
You turned quickly to stare at him. Longbottom’s face was still bright red, even though there was no wind inside the greenhouse to speak of.
“…excuse me? I don’t think I’ve heard you right.”
“I —I wouldn’t have said it had I not thought it true,” he defended. “But your voice is lovely. And I do like the way your hair looks under the sun, and your eyes—”
You wanted to laugh. This was ridiculous. It made no sense. Longbottom, complimenting you as if he were in love? There was no way such a thing could possibly happen.
“Come with me,” you said suddenly, and marched out of the greenhouse, Longbottom following in confusion. You threw open the door to Greenhouse Six instead and pointed to the plant you had harvested earlier that day, which turned out to be an innocent-looking shrub with pink flowers. “What is that?”
“An Amounsea bush,” he said, puzzled.
“And its properties?” you demanded.
“Well, the flowers can cause temporary memory loss—”
“The flowers?” you interrupted. “What about the seeds?”
“The seeds have about the same effect as a moderately strong love potion.”
“…is something the matter?”
“No,” you managed. You would absolutely not tell Longbottom about such a humiliating error.
“If you’re not feeling well, we could stop,” he suggested, and you looked at him. You considered it, even as you saw his brow creased in worry, and thought, this boy was in love with you, at least for the next several hours. It was your fault. How disappointed he was when he thought you would cancel the lesson.
You looked away. You needed this, you reminded yourself, and it was your own bloody fault that it had to be so awkward.
“Let’s return to Greenhouse One,” you said at last. “We ought to finish today’s session at least.”
His face was wreathed in a smile, and you found yourself thinking that he wasn’t bad-looking at all. In fact, when he wore that expression, you would almost call him cute. “All right.”
Honestly, why were you being so soft on a Gryffindor? This entire farce was ridiculous.
“…you know, it’s odd.”
“I’ve never noticed before tonight, but you’re very beautiful.”
“…shut up, Longbottom. If you say anything like that again, next time I shall slip an Acid Pop into your goblet.”
…for a reason you couldn’t comprehend, your face was warm.
…there was something horribly wrong with you and you would have to look into getting it fixed before you turned into a Hufflepuff.
“Carri. You lied to me.”
“I did no such thing.”
“You told me it would erase his memory!”
“I don’t recall saying that. I only said it wouldn’t kill him and that it should be interesting.”
“…you knew that would happen?”
“Oh, something did?”
“Your face is quite an interesting colour. Would you mind telling what happened?”
“You’d better watch out for Acid Pops as well.”
The effects of the seeds wore off soon enough, if Longbottom’s avoidance of you was any indication. You preferred to pretend the whole incident never happened, and eventually, he started to act the same. Never did he ask you about the cause of his behaviour. If he had, you would not have answered. And if he was oftentimes unable to meet your gaze, and if you sometimes found yourself staring at him for too long for little reason, neither of you mentioned the cause. You needed the Herbology help, after all, but why did he give it?
There was no point trying to understand the workings of a Gryffindor’s mind, you decided. It was probably the noble and correct thing to do, and that was usually enough reason for a Gryffindor to recklessly jump in without a thought to the consequences. It was also in a Slytherin’s nature to use any resources available to advance herself, even if this particular stepping-stone was a cute pureblood in an enemy house.
…you could not believe you’d just thought of Neville Longbottom as “cute”, this time without appending “almost”. That would be the last time you ever touched that bloody shrub.
At the very least, your knowledge of magical plants was increasing. Your marks showed no improvement as of yet, but that was only to be expected. After all, you were merely getting a thorough grounding in the basics, things every first-year ought to know, but that had little bearing on your current classwork.
“At last,” you said drily, “we have moved out of Greenhouse One.”
“Er,” said Longbottom, and peered at you anxiously. “Congratulations?”
“Now we shall be studying plants that are actually thought to be dangerous,” you continued. “I hope you’re prepared, Longbottom.”
He swallowed but nodded nonetheless. “Don’t worry.”
“…hmph.” You had thought he would be shaking from fear, but you had to give him credit for his courage at the least. Perhaps there was a reason he had been Sorted a Gryffindor. “And I suppose you mean to protect me too.”
“I will,” he said, and you looked at him with surprise. He appeared troubled, but his expression was one of determination. “I’m to teach you about Herbology, aren’t I? That means I’m responsible for you, so I shan’t let anything happen.”
“Hmm. Very well, I’ll hold you to that.” You wondered idly if the seed could be still in effect before dismissing the thought. Carri had assured you that it would only hold for a few hours at most, and she was not one to lie outright. This had to be the true Longbottom speaking, and it was rather kind of him, though the thought of the clumsy boy protecting you from anything made you smile briefly. “…mind you, you’ll be in my debt if it turns out the other way around.”
He was looking at you oddly, and you pushed your hair back self-consciously. “What’s the matter, Longbottom? Something on my face?”
“N-no, nothing of the sort.” He glanced away again quickly, and you thought for a moment that you saw the dreaded blush again. “…I’d never seen you smile before, that’s all.”
You stared. “Did you think I was incapable?”
“No. It merely… caught me by surprise.” This feeling of déjà vu was rather familiar. You’d hoped never to be subjected to such a situation again. “…you have a nice smile.”
“Do shut up. Another word about my smile and I hex you.”
In a moment of unprecedented wisdom, he did as you ordered. You were grateful for that, and for his refusal to look you in the eye. He couldn’t see the humiliating colour of your own cheeks.
He opened the door to Greenhouse Three a scant few minutes later. You stood, gazing at the plants you had never seen in your life, or perhaps once or twice in class, which amounted to more or less the same thing in the end. Seeing your disgruntlement, Longbottom asked, “Are there any you’re familiar with?”
You cast about for anything you recognised before you noticed a row of low potted plants. “Those,” you said, and strode towards them. “I remember them from second-year. Mandrakes, aren’t they? They were used to cure those who were Petrified.”
“That’s right,” Longbottom said encouragingly. “Wait, don’t—”
His warning came an instant too late. You grasped the leaves of one of the Mandrakes and pulled, revealing the ugly baby at its roots. You distinctly heard Longbottom’s footsteps as he ran at you, and saw his hand reaching to shove the plant back into the dirt, but then the baby opened its eyes and bawled.
You were on the floor, and your head was aching rather, and it was full dark outside.
“What the bloody hell has just happened?” You tried to sit up but met with failure. When you looked, you found Longbottom’s body sprawled across yours, though you were hardly surprised. He was far from light: it would have been difficult to miss his weight. You pushed roughly at his shoulder to awaken him. “Oi, Longbottom. Off.”
He opened his eyes, regarding you with no small amount of confusion. “What happened?”
“That’s what I’ve just asked, you barmpot.” You were in the greenhouse, that much was clear, and with Longbottom. “What in here is capable of knocking out two Hogwarts students for several hours?”
“Er,” Longbttom said, and looked. “It could have been the Mandrakes. The cry of the mature plant is fatal, but if they’re young, one would just be knocked unconscious for a time.”
“‘Just’, you say.” You were planning on telling him off, and you were planning on complaining that your time had been spent in so useless a manner, but your eye was caught by movement between the rows of plants. “…what’s that?”
Longbottom sat up at last, allowing you to do the same, and the both of you searched for the source. It did not take long for him to reveal himself. The first you saw of him was white-blond hair, and then Draco Malfoy was peering at you from between two flowering bushes, a look of hungry curiosity on his face. He took in the sight of you on the ground, and Longbottom atop you, and both of your robes loose and messy, and came to a rapid conclusion. You could read it all in his eyes, and then he turned and fled before you had the chance to explain.
Longbottom was stammering, his face a bright red, but you had no time for him. Your thoughts were on Malfoy, and so you shoved Longbottom away from you.
“I suppose we’re done for today,” you said. “Now if you’ll excuse me.” And you set off at a run for the castle, following after the pureblooded sneak.
You returned to the common room not long after he, and when you stepped through the stone wall and into the dungeon, you found that all eyes were on you. It was not hard to discover why. Malfoy himself stood in one corner, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, with Pansy Parkinson and some of the younger Slytherin girls hanging on to his every word. You marched up to their little group, intending to give him a piece of your mind, but found yourself momentarily at a loss for words. An infuriating smirk spread across Malfoy’s face, and he prompted, “What?”
When you recovered the ability to speak, you snapped, “Just what have you been telling everyone?”
There was a tremor in your voice that betrayed your anxiety, and you cursed it silently. Malfoy stared at you and then sneered, drawing himself up to his full height. “Why, exactly what I saw, of course. You and Longbottom shagging on the greenhouse floor.”
“About to,” he corrected himself, without any hint of apology in his tone. “What a disgrace. I don’t know what any pureblood would see in a failure like him. Why, he might as well be a Squib, with all the magic he’s got in him.”
“You take that back, Malfoy,” you snarled before you could stop yourself.
You regretted the words as soon as they were out of your mouth. Where had they come from? Malfoy raised one sleek eyebrow, intrigued. “Oh? I suppose you’ll tell me next that he was mis-Sorted and ought to have been in Ravenclaw?” When you made no reply, as you were too furious to speak, he took your silence as encouragement. “Call yourself a Slytherin. Honestly, you have no pride. I should hardly be surprised if he was trying to ravish you and couldn’t even do that properly.”
Perhaps that was what set you off. “If one of us were to ravish the other, it would be I doing the ravishing,” you said haughtily. “And take my word, Draco Malfoy, I would ravish Neville Longbottom long before I touch a Flesh-Eating Slug like you.”
With those parting words, you swept away to your room, ignoring both Malfoy’s shocked silence and Daphne Greengrass’s poorly-contained giggles.
It seemed that Carri was the only person who did not whisper and give you odd looks when you entered the Great Hall for breakfast. You did wonder, though you had not the opportunity to ask until after joint Divination class. You were shaping up to be Trelawney’s favourite, it seemed, due to the wild and gory deaths you were wishing on Malfoy on this particular morning.
You had an hour’s break between classes after Divination, as did your best friend, and she kept her expression perfectly blank as she greeted you cordially and came rather abruptly to the point. “I heard tell that you would like to ravish Longbottom.”
You thought to ask where such an absurd claim had come from. And then you realised, and you groaned. “…I did say that, didn’t I?”
“To a common room full of listening Slytherins, yes. Word does get around,” she said.
“I lost my temper,” you admitted. “That prat Malfoy was nattering on, and looking back I really ought to have hexed him, but…”
“But then Lucius Malfoy would be out for blood, and that would so make your dear family even fonder of you,” she finished. “If it’s any consolation, I reckon Greengrass was the source. She made sure to leave nothing out.”
You briefly imagined the taunting the Flesh-Eating Malfoy Slug would endure and smiled at the thought. “It is, yes.”
“Mind you, you should watch out for the Gryffindors,” she warned. “They’re not entirely certain how serious you are.”
You snorted. “As if I care about what Gryffindors—” And then something occurred to you, and you stopped walking, chagrined. “Bloody hell. Longbottom’s a Gryffindor.”
“Well, yes,” Carri said dryly. “Amazing how long it’s taken you to figure that out.”
“And you’re sure word’s reached them?” She nodded, and you felt your heart drop. “How on earth am I supposed to face him?”
“It’s simple, really. Go up to him at supper and ask him whether his Friday night is open.”
“I can’t just do that!” you wailed. “Ugh, I can’t believe Malfoy! If it weren’t for him—“
“—then you would not have called him a Flesh-Eating Slug, which I think Longbottom would find rather pleasing.” Carri shrugged her shoulders. “But you know him better than I.”
“Yes, yes, any insult to Malfoy would make him happy, I’m sure. But that’s not my concern. Do you know how unbearably awkward our time together shall be?”
Carri regarded you with both eyebrows raised. It was an odd expression that she wore. She acted as if she hadn’t known you for the last twelve years. “They’re nothing more than Herbology lessons, unless I’m mistaken.”
“They are,” you agreed, momentarily diverted. “What else would they be?”
“Well, Malfoy could have been correct about the two of you shagging on the greenhouse floor.” You groaned, and she half-smiled in response. “Yes, that got around too. It’s unlike you to be so anxious about something so insignificant.”
“I believe we have differing opinions on what constitutes ‘insignificant.’”
“No, I’ve long ago taken your measure, and you are rather predictable.” She scrutinised you keenly, in a manner that made you squirm. “Perhaps you ought to think on your own behaviour and see if you can’t find the cause.”
“There is nothing odd about my actions,” you protested. “And I’ve no idea what you’re getting at.”
Carri heaved a sigh. “You,” she said, “are exceedingly unintelligent. Were you aware?”
“It’s not been mentioned to me before, no,” you replied drily. “You may be the only one who thinks that.”
She frowned, reaching back and flipping a lock of hair behind her shoulder. “Or, perhaps, that’s why I’m a Ravenclaw and you are not.”
“Oh, yes. I forgot that the Sorting Hat chose your house based on such trivial things as your emotional intelligence. Let me hazard a guess. Gryffindors are those with marks in the negative percentages?”
She shook her head and resumed walking, and you followed. “Listen. Did you or did you not feel obligated to defend Longbottom’s honour?” You opened your mouth to argue but stopped when the words did not come. She was right in that you had been angry, but to go as far as defending him…
“We’ll leave it at that for now,” Carri said briskly. “I do have better uses of my time than to help you be less emotionally stunted.”
“Carri!” She stopped walking and looked back, feigning totally disinterest. “What if I’m turning into a Hufflepuff?”
She looked at you as if you were quite stupid, which was possibly the case. “I’d say that it takes quite a bit more than two months to turn a Slytherin into a Hufflepuff,” she said. “You might try asking your mum sometime how she and your dad came to marry. The answer should prove enlightening.”
You were not a Gryffindor, and Slytherins were not known for their courage. That night, however, you steeled every ounce of your bravery and walked to the Gryffindor table at supper, towards one round-faced brunet who looked up at your approach.
“Are you free on Friday night?” you asked.
A boy with flaming red hair answered before Longbottom had the chance. One of the infamous Weasley twins, no doubt. “Will you yank him out of sight and ravish him if he says yes?”
You paid no mind to the colour of Longbottom’s face, as red as the Weasley hair. “Only if you turn Malfoy into a Flesh-Eating Slug,” you returned coolly.
He stared at you in astonishment and then laughed, nudging his twin in the side. “Hear that, Fred? That’s a tempting offer, it is.”
“I like the sound of it. Neville, can you do it? It’s all for the greater good.”
Longbottom nodded and spoke in a voice higher than usual. “It’ll do for me.”
The twins cheered. Without waiting for another word, you stalked back to the Slytherin table, your hands clenched into fists and your gaze cast downwards the entire way.
“Do they honestly think I’m to ravish you?”
They were the first words you spoke to Longbottom, that Friday, and he shifted and stammered. “I told them otherwise, really, but you never know with Fred and George.”
“Hmph. Well, you ought to clear that up properly. I’m a Slytherin, after all. You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”
“It doesn’t—” Longbottom began, but you were already turning away.
“I haven’t got all day,” you called back, and he fell silent. You did not wonder what he had meant to say.
The smell of plants and dragon dung was by now familiar. You were already sick of it. Nonetheless, Longbottom began the lesson. He asked questions. You answered as best you could. He corrected you more often than not and smiled when you managed to answer correctly by some impossible coincidence. Each time he did, you looked away.
“And this was… er…”
You reached for the bush, intending to get a better look at the leaves. But Longbottom let out a yell and grabbed your hand before you could touch it, pulling it away from the foliage.
“A self-fertilising shrub,” he said after a few moments, whilst you were still too startled to speak. “They feed on flesh. Don’t get too close.”
“Ah.” That was all you could manage. You looked at the floor, away from the plant and Longbottom both. “…thank you.”
“Don’t… don’t mention it. I probably ought to have told you it’s dangerous.”
“That’s right, you should have.”
“What is it?”
He let go immediately, apologising all the while. You made no reply, and thought not of carnivorous plants, but instead, the gentle warmth of his fingers.
Your Herbology mark had improved. It was nowhere near Outstanding, but you may have been able to pull an Acceptable were you to take your O.W.L. now. Such an improvement was nothing short of miraculous for you, especially if one would consider your previous horrendous marks, and you even went so far as to confide to Carri that you were confident you could earn above a zero on your exam this year.
Longbottom asked if you would need help on the essay due Monday, twelve inches on the uses and dangers of the Mimbulus Mimbletonia, after a stellar session in which you correctly identified the properties of about ten per cent of the plants. Elated by your success, you told him you would call on him if it seemed you would need his help.
“I’ll give you something if I do well,” you added as an afterthought. Doubtless Longbottom was curious as to what, but you could hardly tell him when you hadn’t yet decided what would do as payment.
It was odd. You had hated everything about Herbology, from the trek out to the greenhouses to the dragonhide gloves you wore as you poked and prodded at plants. Now, however, you did not think it was so bad. Perhaps it was because you knew what you were on about and you understood Sprout’s rambling. Perhaps it was because you had already had the material explained, and the memory of Longbottom’s round face screwed up in thought did sometimes make you smile, just a bit.
On a whim, you did follow Carri’s advice and sent an owl to your family, asking your mum exactly how she had contrived to marry your dad. From the flustered letter you received in response — scolding you and telling you to focus more on your marks and less on such useless distractions — you gathered that it was an altogether humiliating story.
“Slytherins,” you said to Carri, “do fall prey to love. As it turns out.”
“Of course they do,” she said matter-of-factly. “Half the pureblood families would have died out if they weren’t capable of it.”
“That know-it-all attitude shall be your end one of these days,” you grumbled. “What would you do if, theoretically — and this is purely theoretical, mind you — what would you do if I were to tell you I think I’m falling in love with someone?”
“React with shock and dismay, I suppose, and then suggest an immediate visit to the hospital wing.”
“Ah, you were serious? Well, as your ever-loyal friend, I should promise to support you in all your endeavours.” Before you could find the words to respond to such sarcasm, she continued, “I’m sure your parents will approve if you tell them he’s a pureblood and leave out any other details.”
You stood there with your mouth gaping open, feeling quite as if you were a fish. Of all the nerve! “What makes you think it’s Longbottom?”
She looked at you as if the reason should have been clear, but simply said, “Nothing more than an educated guess. But I should have you know that you’re rather obvious.”
“Glaringly so, in fact.”
You groaned and hung your head. “How on earth did this happen? Me, in love with a Gryffindor. And not just any Gryffindor, mind, but Neville Longbottom, out of the whole lot of them!”
“You would rather love a different one?” Carri said drily. “The famous Harry Potter, perhaps? Ron Weasley?”
“Of course not! Why should I fall for anyone but Neville?” From the way she was smiling, that was exactly what she had meant for you to say. “I don’t know what to do with myself. This is not a situation any self-respecting Slytherin would ever find herself in. This is even worse than my sister pining over Finch-Fletchley, and I’d have thought one couldn’t fall any lower than that.”
“She at least can’t hide behind his blood status, if it’s any consolation.” Carri sighed. “Quit your worrying. You’ve always managed to get by before. If you become truly desperate, you could always brew him a love potion.”
“I am not feeding him a love potion!” you said indignantly, and quite unfortunately attracted the attention of half the nearby students with the volume of your voice. “That would be—”
“An intentional repeat of what was accidental last time?” she suggested. “But you do seem to be getting along well. Since when have you been on first-name terms with ‘Neville’?”
To be quite honest, a love potion had never crossed your mind, though it was a trick to which you would not resort. The problem as you saw it was thus: you were falling in love with Neville Longbottom, and rather quickly at that. You had several options as to how to proceed. The first was to cut off all relations with him, which would have unfortunate consequences for your Herbology mark and which was, quite frankly, the last thing you wanted. The second was to pretend nothing was at all out of the ordinary, but you were sure you would end up driving yourself mad. The third was to bear with the sheer ridiculousness of your situation and confess — you to Longbottom, perhaps a visit to St. Mungo’s really was in order — that you fancied him.
Regardless of what course of action you chose to follow, a love potion would only make matters worse. You held no delusions about Longbottom sweeping you off your feet and to a happily-ever-after the moment the word “like” passed your lips in his presence. Actually, an attempt would likely end with the both of you seriously injured. No, a love potion was out of the question, even though you could easily hand one off to him. There was still the matter of payment for the lessons, and though you hadn’t quite decided what would be appropriate, you were fairly opposed to a brief but strong infatuation and rather suspected Longbottom was of the same opinion.
You would have to decide on something, that much was obvious. You hated being in another’s debt. You hated owing favours. But this could not be solved as simply as handing over a few Galleons. He was a Longbottom, not a Weasley, and as far as you were aware, he had no shortage of money. What could you do, then? Potions tutoring came to mind, but you rather suspected Longbottom’s difficulty with the subject stemmed more from his terror of Professor Snape. And there were other matters to attend to even before that. There would be no need to pay him if you would receive a low mark on your essay.
If you’d been hoping you would fail, you had no such luck. Sprout handed back your roll of parchment with a smile and words of praise, unusual for your interactions with her, and you looked at your mark with dread. Eighty-six per cent, about the level of Exceeds Expectations on an O.W.L., but that was not to say it was overly difficult to exceed Sprout’s expectations of you to begin with. You owed Longbottom your gratitude, though you did not want to give it.
Much to your dismay, he sought you out to inquire about your next lesson with him. You did not have the wits about you to do more than agree to Wednesday at half past nine, and that only set a hard stop for when you absolutely had to be ready to repay him.
“Do you think Longbottom likes chocolates?”
“How should I know? You might ask Harry Potter about it. That’s a rather romantic notion you have.”
And as the days flew by, your frustrations about favours and payments and Longbottom himself all seemed to become the same large problem.
“What if I just snog him?”
“That’s considerably less romantic, you know.”
It was much too hard to concentrate on magical herbs when your head was full of Longbottom, and Neville, and Neville Longbottom, and quite crowding out anything else. He must have noticed your distraction, but he did not call an end to the session until you tried to feed Snaragluff pods to a Venomous Tentacula in the hopes that it would bloom beautifully.
“All right there?” Longbottom asked after he disentangled you from the Tentacula’s attempts at strangulation.
You shook your head abruptly. The last thing you wanted was for him to know that you fancied him. Of course, he would never realise it himself. What could you do? Waste away over a hopeless love? Hope someone else told him? As if there would be any chance of that happening.
There really was nothing for it but to act, was there?
“Sprout gave me an eighty-six on the essay,” you said. It felt as if you were admitting to murder.
Longbottom stared at you. He only reinforced that feeling. “That’s — that’s fantastic! Congratulations.”
“Yeah, thanks.” You sighed. “…I suppose I owe you payment now. I did say I should.”
Much to your surprise, he flushed pink, stammering, “I — I’m not doing this because…”
You folded your arms. “If you mean to be all noble and kind, I don’t want to hear it.” Longbottom’s mouth snapped shut, though he grew steadily redder. “I don’t expect you or anyone would agree to tutor another out of sheer goodwill. For heaven’s sake, I’m a Slytherin and you’re a bloody Gryffindor. The only reason you would help and not ask anything in return is out of pity.”
He seemed to find the floor of the greenhouse very interesting, scuffing his shoe into the dirt. “I — I didn’t say… just because of something like…”
You made an impatient noise. “I refuse to be a charity case, Longbottom. We’ll negotiate payment. What do you want?”
You expected him to nod meekly and give in. You expected him to name his price, and you would pay it, and that would be that. But though you had said it yourself just a moment ago, you had forgotten: he was a Gryffindor, not a Hufflepuff, and they were courageous and stubborn and would never meekly accept anything you threw at them.
“No,” he said.
“Merlin’s beard, Longbottom, I shall throw gold at you—”
“I’m doing this because I want to, not because of any payment.”
This was exactly what you had been afraid of. You didn’t know what he wanted of you, and he wouldn’t tell you. You growled, stepping forwards, and his eyes as they met yours were fearless. You reached for the front of his robes, yanking him down to your level, and glared wholeheartedly at him before you leaned forward and met his lips.
Snogging Longbottom had never seriously crossed your mind as any form of payment. Even now, you weren’t able to convince yourself of that being your true motivation. That Longbottom would respond in turn hadn’t even occurred to you, and you were completely nonplussed when he did not push you away, when he instead seemed as eager for this as… as you were.
Your hold on his robes slackened, your lips parting hesitantly. You did not step away again until you were short of breath, and then you stared at each other, quite at a loss for words.
You were the first to recover, and you turned briskly away so as to not show him your face. “Well! I daresay that was interesting.”
Longbottom’s voice was low and unsure. “‘Interesting’… was it?”
“Among other things,” you said, with an effort to keep your voice even. “I suppose we can consider that your payment and call it square. It goes without saying that we’ll continue the lessons, and you’ll, er, receive further payment for continuing high marks.”
“Is that all that is?” He sounded angry, and you turned in surprise, because you had never before had him angry with you. “You’re doing this to repay me? If it means nothing to you, I don’t want it.”
“Idiot!” Your interjection surprised even you. It had Longbottom falling silent too, watching you with wide eyes. “You fool of a Gryffindor! When did I ever say that? Do you honestly think I would snog anybody, just any old bloke on the streets? Do you honestly not realise that I’ve…”
You stopped before you could say too much, biting your lip so the words would not escape, and he looked away. “…I’m sorry.”
“You’d better be,” you snapped, tears stinging at the corners of your eyes, but you would not let them fall.
Longbottom looked exceedingly discomfited. “I didn’t know that you’d… you know…”
“Yes, I do know, you berk, and I knew you would never notice unless I did something!” you exploded. “Honestly, of all people, why did it have to be you?”
“Well, I don’t mind,” he said, meek as you please.
You rolled your eyes and let out a huff. “You’d better not, else things would become far too complicated. Are you free the Saturday after next around noon?”
“Saturday, you know, Saturday. The day before Sunday. Usually comes right after Friday?”
“I don’t have plans,” Longbottom said slowly. “But isn’t that the Hogsmeade trip? Are you not going?”
“That’s exactly the point, isn’t it?” you retorted. “If you have nothing better to do, meet me at the Three Broomsticks at noon.”
He hesitated, and then, “I’ll be there,” he promised, to your surprise. “But wouldn’t, er, you know, Madam Puddifoot’s be better?”
You looked away, hoping he didn’t see your reaction. “Are you mental? I wouldn’t be caught dead in that place.” You paused. “…you’d better be prompt. I don’t enjoy waiting.”
“I’ll come,” Longbottom said, his face shining with anxiety, and you knew he would be. Ten or twenty or thirty minutes late, perhaps, but he would come.
“Good. Now that that’s settled, I suppose we’re done for today.” You started for the castle, Longbottom close beside you. His shoulder brushed against yours as you walked, and you ducked your head and bit your lip to hide your smile.
“Well, this is it,” you said, when you were inside once again and it was time to part ways, he to the high Gryffindor tower, and you to the depths of the Slytherin dungeons.
“Good night,” Longbottom said. And then he came to a decision, and his words came in a rush. “Do you know, for a while now, I’ve really li-”
He was silenced when you covered his mouth with your hand.
“Shut up,” you said, though this time your smile was plain. “Such things are embarrassing, don’t you think? Wait for the right time to say them.”
“I meant what I said,” he told you, when you moved your hand again. “About your smile.”
You tilted your head to the side, seeming annoyed. “…remember what I said about hexing you?”
He visibly gulped, and you hesitated.
“…I suppose I’ll let it pass,” you said grudgingly. “Just this once.”
You stepped back. “Good night, Neville,” you told him, before you could lose your nerve, and turned and fled for the dungeons.
If being a Hufflepuff would mean having this odd soaring feeling within you all the time, you supposed turning into one wouldn’t be so bad.