Draco’s hands are trembling, just a tiny bit, and his mouth is dry and there’s a peculiar, uncomfortable knot in his stomach. It’s all Longbottom’s fault. Neville, he’s supposed to call him now. Neville bloody Longbottom. It’s his fault that Draco is hovering nervously with his Vampire Rose, picking at his cuffs and wondering if he should have done his hair differently after lunch.
Where the hell is he?
And what the hell has he done to Draco? How does he have him hanging on his every look, every word? It’s pathetic. He wouldn’t have looked twice at Neville if the ridiculous boy hadn’t wandered up to him in the very first Herbology lesson of the year and said, with a smile,
“Want to work with me?”
Well, ex-Death Eaters who want to make good don’t just say “no” to Battle of Hogwarts heroes, so obviously Draco said yes, and now here he is, six months later, staring anxiously at the door to Greenhouse Five and hoping his robes aren’t creased at the back.
The thing is, Neville is… different in the greenhouses. Oh, he’s good company anywhere, now that Draco’s got to know him. And he was bloody magnificent at the Battle of Hogwarts (that entire year, actually but somehow his beheading of Nagini is the only thing anyone talks about except little Dennis Creevey, who will tell anyone willing to listen about the time Neville rescued him from the dungeons, where he was serving what passed for detention under the Carrows). But still, most of the time he’s an ordinary, plump, unassuming boy.
Except in the greenhouses.
In the greenhouses, Neville always seems a couple of inches taller. He smiles all the time, a faint smile that Draco’s not sure he’s even aware of, the same one he was wearing when he asked Draco to partner with him. When he helps Professor Sprout with demonstrations he is calm and capable, holding a frightened branch gently but firmly for pruning or plunging his arms into a mass of funghal tentacles with equal competence and good nature. He moves around the greenhouses as though they’re his home, and Draco loves to watch him.
That’s how this started.
He’d already noticed it, even that first time, and he would have happily sat on his stool all lesson and watched Neville. Of course, he also hates dirt, but that’s a minor consideration. Anyway, Neville was having none of it. It’s not that he gets annoyed or bossy or accusatory. He just suggests that Draco does something and Draco finds himself, well, doing it.
It’s nice, actually.
But now they’ve started Vampire Roses, and last lesson Professor Sprout gave them a long description of the way Vampire Roses lure their prey in with their delicious scent and glowing petals, and then tie them up in briars and keep them alive so that they can slowly drain them of blood. They even grow delicious berries for their victims to eat so that they’ll stay alive for longer. The entire thing gave Draco the shudders and he had a nightmare about it last night. Justin Finch-Fletchley, of all people, padded over to to his bed and woke him up, then told him Muggle fairy tales until he fell asleep again. Sleeping Beauty is fucked up. Draco still can’t decide whether he loathes or loves being a Hufflepuff but they’ll probably force him into loving it by the end of the year.
The greenhouse door swings open, then closed again. Draco’s heart leaps in his chest.
He still can’t see him. There are too many plants, not to mention students, between Draco and the door. He should have taken a place nearer the door, except that he and Neville are always here, right at the back, Pansy and Granger, who do nearly as much kissing as working (even Granger) on one side and Justin and Ernie, who both seem to assume that they’re Draco’s best friends now that the three of them are in Hufflepuff together, on the other. Fucking Hufflepuffs. Draco hasn’t undeceived them, though, because he actually quite likes them. It turns out you have to try really hard to dislike Hufflepuffs if you’re part of their house, and Draco doesn’t have the stomach for hatred these days. There’s no sense of constant watchfulness. If they think you’re unhappy, they ply you with food and drink and hugs. Sometimes Draco thinks that he could subsist on hugs alone. He wishes he had the courage to ask Neville to hug him, except that if he did, he’s afraid that he might never let go. Neville is big and soft and has strong arms and smells of earth and plants and all Draco wants is to be wrapped up by him.
There’s Neville! Finally! He’s picking his way through the greenhouse at a leisurely pace, grinning at friends, then stopping at Millie and Padma’s table to help them wrestle an aggressive root into its pot. Merlin’s knickers, why is he taking so long? Draco rises up onto his tiptoes and waves his hand, and even though Neville is still talking to Millie and Padma, he notices and waves back, smiling. Draco desists, ducking his head to hide his blush. His cheeks are still hot when Neville rounds the corner of the last trestle table and puts a big, warm hand on his shoulder. Heat rushes through him.
“Sorry I was late,” Neville says, strolling up to the Vampire Rose and touching its leaves gently, as though there’s no chance of it ensnaring him in its thorns and exsanguinating him. “You haven’t had a chance to make a start yet?”
“Er… no,” croaks Draco, the heat intensifying. Neville’s always like this. There’s no blame or judgement in his voice. He’s literally just asking Draco the question. Neville, his fingers now drifting down the stem (the spiky stem that could imprison him any time it wants), looks at Draco questioningly.
“You all right?”
“Yeah.” Draco runs a finger around the neck of his robes, which suddenly feel much too tight. Every Herbology lesson he spruces himself up beforehand, convinced that this will be the time he keeps it together, impresses Neville, and manages to ask him out on a fucking date. Every time, he’s reduced to a scarlet, sweating, incoherent tomato man before five minutes have passed. He does not move closer to the hideous plant. Neville frowns and straightens up.
“Are you sure? What’s up?”
Why’s he always got to be so nice? This would be so much easier if Neville would just shout at him, or cuff him round the head, the way Father always did… no, don’t think about Father right now. Anyway, he knows what Neville would say if he asked. Building bridges. Forgiveness. He knows Draco’s trying to do right now. He likes Draco now. He’s always unnervingly honest about stuff like that. Draco avoids his eyes. He does not want to do this. He does not want to talk about this. He does not want to be here.
“Nothing,” he says, his voice, no matter how he tries to stop it, at its coldest and stiffest. Neville scrutinises him carefully. That’s the other thing about Neville. He seems to sink into the background (except, of course, in the greenhouses), but he’s always paying attention, especially to Draco (or maybe that’s just Draco’s lust-addled mind playing tricks on him).
“All right,” Neville says at last. “Let’s get on with this repotting. Can you come here and soothe the plant, and I’ll get the pot off?”
“Neville,” Draco hisses. “I am not touching that godforsaken weed!”
“It’s not a weed,” says Neville mildly. “It’s a very rare carnivorous rose. Professor Sprout is one of only five people in Britain to have a licence to grow them.”
“It lives on blood! It keeps people alive so that it can feed on them for longer! It’s… it’s a monster!”
The words come tumbling out of his mouth before Draco can control them. Again. He doesn’t know what it is about Neville that makes him spill every secret he’s ever had, but he can’t seem to keep his mouth shut around him. At least Neville never judges him for the secrets. He just smiles gently and nods and listens and it makes Draco feel so safe. Ugh. He’s doing the smile now, his head slightly on one side and all of his attention on Draco.
“Sorry,” he says quietly. “I didn’t realise you were afraid of them.”
“I’m not afraid,” he blusters, and then he sees Neville’s kind face and the heat rushes back into his skin and he ducks his head again so as not to have to look any more. “I’m not afraid of the plant,” he explains. “Just vampires. Well, anything that sucks blood, really. He… he didn’t, but he always made me think of vampires.”
He’s staring at the floor now, mumbling his fears to the gravel and grass, which is why he doesn’t notice Neville stepping towards him. He just feels Neville’s arms gathering him in and Neville’s warm breath on his neck as he holds him. Neville’s shoulder is the exact right height for Draco’s chin to rest upon, and Draco closes his eyes. Neville’s big, soft body against his is comforting and comfortable and warm, and his arms are tight, and he’s making a soft humming noise in his throat as he hugs Draco.
Draco’s pretty sure that if there is a heaven, he’s in it right now.
When they finally break apart, he glances around and is dizzily astonished to see that Pansy and Hermione are still working on their own Vampire Rose, touching each other as often as possible, and beyond them, Professor Sprout is demonstrating something to another pair. It’s as though nothing’s changed, which is too, too, strange, because everything has changed. He looks at Neville, who is smiling at him still, but with an odd look in his eyes that makes Draco want to cry, although he can’t think why.
Neville reaches out and takes Draco’s hand. Draco’s heart thumps. He squeezes.
“Come on,” says Neville, in a soft, kind voice. “You’re right, it is a bit of a weird plant, but I always think that getting to know a thing makes it a bit less scary.” He looks at Draco through his eyelashes, smiling, and suddenly Draco realises that Neville isn’t just talking about the Vampire Rose.
“You weren’t scared of me,” he says weakly.
“Terrified,” says Neville, and grins. Draco cannot fathom a person who doesn’t just forgive his bully when he reforms, but embraces him, makes friends with him, maybe even… no. No, Neville’s just being kind, and that’s good. That’s enough. That’s more than he could have imagined. Draco squeezes his hand again. He’s acting like a Hufflepuff and he doesn’t care. Whatever Neville is willing to give him, he’ll take. Neville shifts his grip on Draco’s hand, showing him how to hold the rose. Draco follows his instructions, and the plant doesn’t try to trap him in its branches or bite him. In fact, when he strokes a leaf with his fingertip (Neville’s suggestion), it wiggles the leaf happily.
“The thing is,” says Neville as he eases the pot away from the rose’s roots. “It really just needs someone to be kind to it. Yeah, it eats blood and we find that scary, but that’s not its fault. It just wants to survive, like the rest of us.”
“I think I get it,” says Draco. Neville beams at him.
“Hey,” he says, brushing the soil from his hands. “Do you want to have a pint with me at the Three Broomsticks on Friday night?”
Draco freezes. The Vampire Rose leans towards him, rustling its leaves and, almost automatically, he starts stroking it again.
“A… pint?” he echoes.
“Yeah.” Neville turns to grab a bag of compost, then looks at Draco and seems to decide that he needs to clarify himself. “Like a date. With me. If you want.”
“Oh.” Draco gulps. “Yeah. Yes, I do want. You… really?”
For the first time, Neville blushes. He pauses, letting the compost trickle through his fingers.
“Really,” he says. “I, er, I really like you. And I fancy you. So…”
“Me too,” says Draco, too quickly. “Really. I just didn’t think…” Well, at least they’re both red sweating incoherent tomato men now. Draco grins at Neville. “Brilliant,” he says, and Neville grins back. They stand there in silence for several long moments.
“Come on, let’s get this rose repotted,” Neville says at last.
Maybe Draco’ll get Neville a Vampire Rose for their first anniversary, he thinks.
Or maybe not.