Late one Thursday afternoon, Neville found himself sitting in the chair opposite Professor McGonagall's desk, nervously watching her grade essays while he wondered why she had summoned him to her office. He didn't think he'd done any worse than usual in Transfiguration earlier that day. In fact, the essay she'd handed back had only five corrections on it, a personal best for him. He wasn't prone to intentional misadventures, and the only unintentional one had been in Potions on Tuesday. Surely that wouldn't merit his being called to her office; at this point in his sojourn at Hogwarts such incidents were practically expected of him. But if it wasn't the blown up cauldron, or the turtle that didn't quite become a tea cosy, what could it be?
As if she were reading his thoughts, Professor McGonagall looked up at him. "Relax, Mr. Longbottom. I haven't asked you here because your performance in Transfiguration is poor, although I feel you're capable of doing much better than you are at the moment." She pushed the finished essays aside. "Nor are you being taken to task for your latest Potions debacle, though I do wish you would exercise more caution in your lessons with Professor Snape." She leaned forward. The reason why I asked you to come to my office is simple concern for your welfare."
His brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the singular lack of attentiveness you've displayed in all of your lessons this week," she replied. "Whatever your shortcomings as a student may be, you have always paid admirable attention in your lessons. Lately, however, you've been distracted. Quite frankly, you seem troubled. What's bothering you, lad?
Feeling his cheeks burn, Neville hung his head. "It's stupid, really," he mumbled.
"I seriously doubt that," she assured him. Rising from her seat, she gestured towards two comfortable chairs in front of the fire. With a wave of her wand a low table appeared between them, laden with tea, butterbeer, and, it seemed to Neville, every kind of biscuit on the planet. She said nothing, seemingly content to sit back and look at him expectantly.
He shifted uncomfortably. "It's the Yule Ball," he admitted sheepishly. "I can't...I mean I want...it's just..."
"Girls?" The expectant look had been replaced by a very knowing one.
"All I hear them talking about is who Harry, Diggory, or Krum are going to ask," he spoke in a rush, as if he was trying to get it all out before he lost his nerve. "I mean, it's not like they'd notice me anyway, but..." he trailed off, his face matching the crimson in his tie.
"You'd be surprised what girls notice, Mr. Longbottom," she remarked dryly. Then her face and voice softened. "You are just the sort of boy that most girls kick themselves years later for ignoring while they were at school. When their hearts have been trampled or broken by the heroes or the Quidditch stars, they remember the kind, slightly awkward boys who kept them company in the common room, listened to their troubles, or helped them in class once in a while. In fact," she went on with the hint of a smile, "your sort of boy frequently finds himself the object of quite a bit of female attention as he approaches the age of forty - that is, if he hasn't found himself a more sensible girl by then." She chuckled and shook her head. "But that doesn't do you much good right now, does it?"
Neville was silent, not certain whether to agree or not.
"Surely not every girl at Hogwarts is waiting to be approached by Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory and Viktor Krum," Professor McGonagall pointed out logically.
"Well, no," he conceded after a pause. "Hermione and Ginny think it's all rubbish. Hermione especially can't stand all the girls giggling over Krum in the library."
"Then why not ask one of them?" she asked reasonably.
He stared at her for a moment. "But..." he foundered, "they're more like mates, really."
"Would you rather sit for hours with a pretty girl you barely know, trying to figure out what on earth to say to her, or would you rather have a good time with a 'mate' who, incidentally, just might be a pretty girl herself?"
"Well, when you put it that way..." It was Neville's turn to chuckle now. "I'd much rather have a good time."
"Then ask a friend and stop worrying," she advised, giving him the kind of warm smile that most students would never see.
"I will," he promised, completely disarmed by her smile. "Thank you."
As he left Professor McGonagall's office, Neville passed an unfamiliar wizard in the corridor. The gentleman had a very kind face - indeed, he looked like the sort of person even the most paranoid of individuals would ask for directions. Otherwise, his appearance was quite unremarkable - except for the wreath of thistles he wore around the brim of his hat, and the bottle of wine he carried in one hand. Hearing the older wizard's footsteps cease, Neville looked back to see him knock on the door of Professor McGonagall's office. Ordinarily, Neville would have continued on his way, but after the conversation he had just had with the Head of Gryffindor, he was unusually curious. Stepping behind a conveniently situated suit of armour, Neville watched as Professor McGonagall opened the door. The greeting she gave her visitor left no doubt in Neville's mind that this wizard had found himself a very sensible girl indeed.