Neville Longbottom was no longer the sorriest
excuse for a wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He had
graduated over a year ago. Now, he was the sorriest excuse for a wizard at
Barrow and Bough's Bewitching Botanicals. Well, not really, but he certainly
felt like it half of the time. Nobody was better than he was at the
actual work; every plant he touched seemed to lavishly return his affection.
It was everything else: cataloging, measuring, ordering and restocking, and he
never seemed to do any of it quite to his employer's satisfaction. Neville
didn't really understand it himself. He grasped the idea of the 'proper
procedures' perfectly well, and the constant fear of failure no longer hung
over him the way it once had. He never felt so confident as he did when
surrounded by hundreds of magical plants and trees, each one crying out for his
attention. It was when Mrs. Tibbits, his supervisor, came scurrying down one
of the narrow greenhouse aisles with a cross expression on her face that the
old, unpleasant smack of uncertainty loomed up inside of him. The loveliness
of one bright, sunlit morning in early March was threatened in just such a way
when Neville heard the telltale snapping of Mrs. Tibbits's patent-leather
shoes on the greenhouse floor, heading unmistakably in his direction. He stood
from his stool in the middle of the Giggling Lilac bushes, failing to suppress
a low groan and wondering glumly which thing he'd gotten wrong this time.
"Mr. Longbottom," Mrs. Tibbits said as
she approached him, her voice snapping as sharply as her loafers on the paving
stones, "did you send that owl with the order for potting soil yesterday,
as I instructed?"
Neville groaned again, the familiar sinking
feeling accentuated by his emptying lungs. He looked over at his workstation
against the wall and saw the potting soil order form sitting most conspicuously
on the top of a large, disorderly pile of paperwork. "No I didn't,
Mrs. Tibbits, I'm very sorry," said Neville with the air of someone
reciting a well-rehearsed poem. "I had it all ready to go, and then I got
distracted by the Giant Bursting Aloes--they started popping early, and we
hadn't gotten the nets over all of them yet, so Jack and I dragged some burlap
out of storage to rig something up, and then it took us forever to find all of
the buds, since they kept wriggling out of their containers--"
"That's all very interesting, Mr.
Longbottom, but it is no excuse for neglecting to do something as simple as
sending out an order!" snapped Mrs. Tibbits, her nostrils flaring.
"We've got that shipment of Carnivorous Hyacinths coming in today and
nothing to pot them with! I suggest you go find something suitable before the
shipment arrives, or Mr. Barrow will have one of our heads, and I'm fairly
certain it won't be mine!"
Mrs. Tibbits stalked away, her arms stiff and
her hands clenched into fists. Neville sighed dispiritedly as she left,
wondering where on earth he could get ten cases of potting soil in the next few
hours. A young witch with a large bucket of cut flowers strolled up the aisle
Mrs. Tibbits had just vacated, smiling reassuringly at him.
"She never misses a chance to drop Mr.
Barrow's name into the conversation, does she?" the girl asked, shifting
the bucket to one side.
"No, she doesn't," said Neville,
"Don't worry, Neville," said the girl,
leaning toward him and shifting the bucket again. "I've met Mr. Barrow,
and if that man cares a whit about Carnivorous Hyacinths, I'll eat the entire
shipment myself." She flashed him a mischievous grin.
Neville laughed. "Thanks, Peggy," he
said, grinning as well.
"Any time," said Peggy, with a playful
wink. She hoisted the bucket to get a firmer grip, and followed Mrs.
Tibbits into the shop attached to the main greenhouse.
Neville watched her disappear into the shop,
heaving another sigh. Peggy Durwin was Mrs. Tibbits's assistant in the shop,
and was only two years older than Neville. She was very beautiful, and very
kind, and very happily engaged to a handsome professional Quidditch player. It's
the story of my life, thought Neville dejectedly. He untied his apron and
tossed it onto his workstation along with the pruning shears he'd been using to
trim the lilacs. He'd gotten used to wearing Muggle clothing during his time
at Hogwarts, since it had been the fashion trend at the time. He continued to
wear them after graduation, much to the chagrin of his overbearing
grandmother. But he found them so much more comfortable and easy to work in
than the wizarding robes she wanted him to wear. Since the events of
his seventh year at Hogwarts, and his subsequent increase in self-confidence,
he'd taken quiet pleasure in doing certain things the way he wanted to
do them, in spite of his grandmother's protests. So he climbed into the clunky
old company truck sporting a pair of jeans, an oxford shirt, a knit vest and
white tennis shoes, smiling to himself as he lowered a pair of aviator
sunglasses over his eyes. He might be about to lose his job, but at least he looked
good. He started up the old truck with a tap from his wand, pulled out of the
greenhouse lot, and chugged away down the muddy dirt road toward the nearest
Barrow and Bough's Bewitching Botanicals was
located about four or five miles away from the village of Cairn-in-Arden in
Warwickshire. The village was quite small, and had no wizarding families that
Neville knew of. He stopped at the tiny flower boutique on the main street to
ask the owner where he might find ten cases of potting soil.
"The only place around here to carry that
kind of quantity is McAllister's, but it might be too early in the season even
for them. 'Bout two miles out of town heading west. Can't miss it," said
the boutique proprietor; a plump, rosy-faced woman who eyed Neville as though
she suspected he might be playing a little joke on her. He thanked her, hopped
back into the truck, and drove out of Cairn-in-Arden with the sun shining
merrily in his face.
The woman's directions proved accurate enough.
After several minutes of driving, Neville spied two long greenhouses stretching
out to his right and a small building with a flag bearing the words
"McAllister's Garden Supplies" fluttering next to the door. He
pulled into the lot and parked the truck near the small building. His was the
only vehicle in the lot, apart from the small pickup truck that bore the same
insignia as the flag. He walked over to the building, peered inside to make
sure it was open, and entered. A young man who looked to be about the same age
as Neville sat behind the counter at the back, his feet up next to the register
and a magazine open on his lap. A little bell rang as Neville pulled the door
open, and the boy glanced over at him, a bored and slightly sleepy look on his
"Hello," said Neville pleasantly to
the boy. "I was wondering if you have any potting soil?"
The boy blinked, turning the page of his
magazine and looking Neville over with the same bored expression.
"On the shelf to your left," the boy
said in a lazy drawl.
"Oh, well," said Neville, casting a
glance at the three 90-litre bags of potting soil on the shelf to his left,
"I need a bit more than that, I'm afraid. I'll need about ten cases.
That's if there are five bags to a case."
The boy flipped another page of his magazine,
staring at Neville as if he'd suddenly sprouted antlers.
"We don't have that much," drawled the
boy, shifting his feet on the counter. Neville frowned.
"Are you sure? The owner of the flower
shop in town said you might have that much in stock."
The boy sighed irritably, tossing the magazine
on the counter and standing from his chair.
"Hang on, I'll check," he said,
exiting the building through a door that faced the greenhouses. Neville spent
the next ten minutes browsing the shelves, taking great interest in all of the
paraphernalia common to Muggle gardeners and marveling at the differences, as
well as the similarities, to the tools and supplies with which he was familiar.
The boy returned with another person in tow; a girl with wavy, dark blonde
hair that fell just to her shoulders, pale blue eyes, and fair skin with a
delicate pattern of freckles over her nose. She looked so similar to the
sleepy young man that Neville guessed they must be siblings, although he didn't
find the boy nearly as attractive as this girl.
"You're looking for ten cases of
potting soil?" the girl asked with a tiny wrinkle between her eyebrows.
"Yes," said Neville. "I…er…work
at a nursery nearby, and we don't have enough potting soil to cover a shipment
of Car--er--a shipment of hyacinths we're expecting later this
afternoon." Neville felt the blood rushing to his face as he conveniently
left out the fact that the blunder at the root of this problem had been his.
"That's a lot of hyacinths," said the
girl, her expression clearing and a smile breaking over her face like a sudden
ray of sunshine.
"Yes, it is," said Neville again,
almost laughing with relief that she didn't seem to think him as strange as the
young man had.
"Well," sighed the girl, running a
gloved hand across her brow, leaving speckles of dirt all over her hair and an
earthy smudge on her forehead, "you'll clear us out, but the distributor
in Leam owes me a favor, so we should be fine. The season hasn't really picked
up yet, anyway."
"Don't think Mum n' Dad would like you
helping the competition," said the boy loudly from his seat behind the
counter, the magazine back on his lap.
"Well, they left me in charge while they're
away, so it's really up to me, isn't it, Leland?" asked the girl, casting
the boy an annoyed glare. "Pay no attention to my brother, Mister…?"
"Longbottom. But please, call me
Neville," he said, inclining his head toward her.
"Neville," repeated the girl, smiling
once more. "My brother considers anything that doesn't involve either
punk rock or football a complete waste of time, so we'll be ignoring his
opinion for the duration of your visit, I think." She stuck her tongue
out at Leland, who pulled a face at her and flipped another page of his
magazine. "My name is Lucy McAllister. If you will pull your truck
around to the far end of the first greenhouse, I'll help you load up."
"Certainly, I'd appreciate it," said
Neville, overjoyed. "Er…how much do I owe you, then?"
"Oh, right," said Lucy, pulling off her
gloves, walking to the register and shoving her brother's feet out of the way.
She punched a few keys with the speed of an expert and gave him the sum. For
once in his life Neville had thought ahead, and discovered to his own
astonishment that he had more than enough Muggle money in his wallet to cover
the bill. Neville and Lucy spent the rest of the time talking, or rather; Lucy
told animated and highly entertaining stories about her brother, her parents,
and the shop, while Neville asked a question here and there and laughed
heartily at her jokes. He took a great deal longer than was necessary to
arrange the cases in the back of the truck.
"Well," he said when he could no
longer pretend to be working. "I guess I should get this soil to where
it's needed. I can't thank you enough for all of your help."
"Not at all," she said brightly.
"Be sure to tell everyone over at Barrow and Bough's Bewitching Botanicals
that McAllister's is always here, should you ever need another helping
Neville started. Lucy was not a witch, how
could she possibly know where he worked? Lucy saw his confusion and (Neville's
heart did a little somersault) she giggled. She pointed to the door of his
truck, where the Barrow and Bough's logo shone in stark contrast to the
pathetic state of the truck on which it was painted.
"Funny name. I've never heard of it before
today. I'll have to drop by sometime and say hello."
Neville's heart, which had been somersaulting
only a moment ago, sank like a stone. As a Muggle, Lucy could spend the rest
of her life looking for Barrow and Bough's and never find it. He quickly
hitched the smile back onto his face, however, and said with sincerity,
"I certainly wish you would."
Lucy grinned, and Neville's heart switched from
somersaults to cartwheels.
"I'll see you later, then," she said,
waving as she returned to the greenhouse.
"See you later," he agreed, returning
her wave and desperately hoping that he would see her again very soon.
Neville's job was the type where one is largely
left to his or her own devices, which suited Neville rather well, although it
also meant that there were very few things to distract him from his own
thoughts. He usually valued this time, spending it lost in daydreams and
self-reflection. After meeting Lucy McAllister, however, spending too much
time alone with his thoughts and daydreams came close to causing disaster on
two or three occasions, since he found it more and more difficult to
concentrate on anything other than the memory of her smiling, freckled face.
The first time Peggy Durwin asked Neville what was bothering him, he feigned
surprise and amusement at the question, but thanked her for asking. The second
time she asked him was just after he had finished watering the Howling Hostas
with the fertilizer meant for the Spitting Saguaros, resulting in the hurried
evacuation of greenhouse four as the Hostas erupted in a chorus of
ear-splitting screeches and the Saguaros began shooting hundreds of
spiny needles in every direction.
While Peggy plucked out the Saguaro spines
lodged in Neville's back, she managed to slowly coax the story out of him.
"But Neville, that is brilliant!" she
squealed excitedly when he confessed the source of his preoccupation.
"She's a Muggle, Peggy," muttered
"So?" asked Peggy as she pulled out a
nastily barbed spine, causing Neville to whimper unhappily. "My father is
a Muggle, and that didn't stop my mum from using every trick in the book to
land him as soon as she could manage it."
"That's just the problem," Neville
moaned. "I don't know any 'tricks.' And even if I did, I'd only botch it
up like I always do."
"Neville," said Peggy sternly, walking
around to face him, "you are too down on yourself. You are a perfectly
wonderful young man. I'm sure this girl would think so too, if you'd only give
her the chance to find out. She's a Muggle. All that means is that you
have to go to her. And what's more, you have a ready-made excuse to
visit her again!" Peggy thrust the tweezers she'd been using to remove
the Saguaro spines from his back at him with a determined and slightly sneaky
look on her face.
"Don't move," she admonished, and
marched away toward the shop. She returned a few minutes later, laden with the
largest and most colorful bunch of flowers Neville had ever seen.
"Here," she said, unloading the
bouquet into his arms, "Take these to her and thank her for her help, and
don't you dare come back without a dinner engagement."
"No one is going back in there until the
Saguaros are out of needles and the Hostas have calmed down, and that will be
at least an hour or two," said Peggy. "Besides, it might be best if
Mrs. Tibbits doesn't see you for a while."
He certainly couldn't argue with that. Climbing
back into the truck, with the humongous bouquet taking up the whole of the
passenger seat, he made his way back through Cairn-in-Arden to McAllister's
Garden Supplies. As he pulled into the lot, Neville felt a surge of anxiety mixed
with a dash of excitement. Would Lucy be there? Would she remember him? It
had been almost two weeks since his last visit, after all. He scooped the
bouquet into his arms and nervously carried it to the small building in which
he'd first met Lucy. He backed slowly into the door and stepped inside. Since
the flowers obscured most of his view, it took him a moment to see that he was
alone. He set the bouquet gingerly on the counter and stood apart from it,
looking around the room and swinging his arms awkwardly. After ten minutes of
waiting, he left the small building and headed toward the first greenhouse, his
anxiety growing as he drew closer.
Neville had never been inside a Muggle
greenhouse before. As he entered, his nose was overcome with an intoxicating,
heady scent that made him inhale deeply several times. He meandered down the
main aisle, examining every plant and flower, recognizing many, but discovering
quite a few totally unfamiliar ones as well. He was nearly to the end of the
aisle when he saw a figure dressed in overalls and a wide-brimmed straw hat
hunched over the ground, working furiously at the foot of a large trellis with
a forked spade. He paused behind the person, bouncing on the balls of his feet
with great apprehension. He was just about to make his presence known when the
person looked over at him and scrambled to stand up. Neville recognized the
smattering of freckles underneath the straw hat, and felt the heat rising to
his face when Lucy beamed at him, dusting the earth from her overalls with
equally dirty gloved hands. She pulled off her gloves, whisked the hat from
her head, and tugged a small object attached to thin cords from each ear. When
she saw Neville staring at them quizzically, she laughed and said,
"I'm sorry; this is why I didn't hear you
come in!" She pulled a small device from the right pocket of her
overalls. Neville vaguely recognized it from his Muggle Studies class at
Hogwarts, and remembered that it had something to do with music.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this
visit?" she asked, smiling from ear to ear.
Neville stared at her in silence for quite a few
moments, completely mesmerized. When his brain had finally registered that she
had asked him a question to which he ought to have already responded, he spoke,
tripping over his own tongue in his haste to answer.
"I, er…wanted to thank you again for all of
your help. You really saved my neck," he added without thinking.
"I did?" she asked, intrigued.
"Er…" Neville decided that there was
nothing for it but to confess. "Yes, you did. It was my fault that we
were out of potting soil. I tend to forget things like that." He blushed
even more furiously.
"Well, then, I'm twice as glad to have been
of some assistance," said Lucy, blowing impatiently at the strands of hair
that had fallen over her face when she'd removed her hat. "You know, I
tried to find your nursery in the directory to see how you turned out, and it
wasn't listed. I've asked around at a few places, and no one that I've spoken
to has even heard of Barrow and Bough's Bewitching Botanicals. I thought
perhaps I'd misread your truck."
"It's…not a very big nursery," Neville
lied, each word costing him dearly. He tried to make up for the fib by adding,
"It's rather out-of-the-way and difficult to find, actually."
"Ah, I see," said Lucy, nodding.
"I shall have to have you write out the directions for me, in that
Neville's heart leapt to his throat. He knew
that he needed to change the subject immediately or he'd find himself in an
even stickier situation, and so, trying not to panic, he blurted out the first
thing that popped into his head.
"Would you like to go to dinner with me
Lucy blinked. Neville hardly thought it
possible, but an even warmer smile broke over her face. He even thought he saw
the hints of a blush in her cheeks.
"I would really like that," she said,
the blush becoming unmistakable.
Neville's heart swelled in his chest. He had
done it. He had asked her. And not only that, but miracle of miracles, she
had said yes. Then he realized that he was completely unfamiliar with the
local Muggle villages, and that he had no idea where to go or what to do.
"There is a new restaurant in Leam that
I've been eyeing. Would you mind very much if we went there?" Lucy
asked, gently biting her lower lip.
Neville felt such a beautiful rush of relief
that he could have kissed her for it. A lot.
"Sure," he said, through a huge grin.
"That sounds great."
"Would this weekend be alright for you?
Saturday, maybe, around six?"
"Yeah, that would be fine for me,"
said Neville, still slightly distracted by the thought of his lips on hers.
"I'll meet you here, then," he added, breaking the reverie with a
little shake of his head.
"Excellent." Lucy smiled, and then
bit her lip again, which Neville was beginning to recognize as a sign of
uncertainty and shyness.
"I reckon I'd better get back to
work," said Neville, feeling dreadfully uncertain and shy himself, though
he wanted to say something to make her smile once more before he left. All he
could think to say was, "I'm looking forward to Saturday already."
That did the trick.
"So am I," she said, giggling.
"See you then."
"See you then," he agreed, walking toward
the exit and waving as he went through it.
Neville had moved out of his grandmother's home
the day after he graduated from Hogwarts. He would have skipped going back
altogether, since he'd already arranged for his own flat while still at school,
but he hadn't wanted to hurt her feelings. Considering the amount of time she
spent in his flat, however, having an independent address didn't seem to make
much difference. She had invited herself over for lunch that Saturday. Neville
continuously checked his wristwatch, and when she still showed no signs of
leaving as 5 pm came and went, he knew he'd have to say something. Sighing in
quiet resignation, he spoke to her as he handed her a third cup of tea.
"I'll need to wash and get dressed in a few
minutes, Grandmother," he said, avoiding her eyes.
"Dressed? Dressed for what?" she
"I…have a date," Neville said,
cringing in anticipation of what might follow this admission.
His grandmother's head swung around, and she
nearly sloshed the tea out of her cup. She stared at him with a mixture of
surprise, incredulity, and something like hope written on her face.
"A date? With whom? Someone I know?"
"No, you don't know her," said
Neville. "Her name is Lucy McAllister."
"McAllister?" His grandmother frowned
slightly in deliberation. "I don't believe I'm familiar with anyone of
"No, well, you wouldn't be," said
Neville slowly. "She's a Muggle."
Her face fell so subtly that Neville might have
missed it, had he not been watching carefully for her reaction.
"Ah, I see," she breathed, taking a
sip of her tea.
"That's not a problem, is it,
Grandmother?" Neville asked, a tiny flicker of anger sparking to life in
his chest. She glared up at him from her seat on his sofa, visibly affronted.
"Of course not," she said tersely.
"Don't be preposterous."
"I really like her," said Neville,
still watching her closely. "She's nice, and funny, and kind, and very
"I'm sure she is," said his grandmother,
her lips hovering over her teacup.
Neville struggled to keep his temper. He found
that for some inexplicable reason, her words sounded almost derisive, though he
knew they had been nothing of the sort. He knew that even though his
grandmother fostered an abiding pride in her pureblood heritage, she was no
bigot. So he did not understand why he felt the sudden urge to be
argumentative and belligerent, and he was just far enough beyond the angst of
his teenage years to realize that he was being irrational as well. But he
could not ignore the nagging feeling that was quickly building inside him. He
moved around the side of the sofa to stand before her, staring down at her as
he spoke in a low, threatening voice.
"In fact, I hope to see a lot of Lucy
McAllister. You might even get the chance to meet her someday, if my luck
holds. And when that day comes," Neville said, shaking from the amount of
adrenaline it took for him to speak to his grandmother in this way, "I
promise you, Grandmother, if you treat her with anything but the utmost
courtesy, I will never speak to you again."
His grandmother stared at him, her eyes wide and
her mouth hanging open. After a moment of shocked silence, she blinked, and
the surprise in her eyes changed abruptly back into the sharp, straightforward
stare they usually held.
"Neville, the only instance in which I
should ever fail to be gracious to any of your friends is if one of them should
hurt you in any way," she said, regarding him steadily.
Neville's ire deflated under his breastbone like
the air being squished from a balloon. He stood there, watching as she calmly
took another sip of her tea, and having absolutely no idea what to say. He
finally settled on something simple.
"Thank you, Grandmother."
"You're quite welcome, dear," she
said, the tiniest hint of a smile touching the corners of her mouth.
Neville arrived at McAllister's Garden Supplies
a few minutes after 6pm, having taken much longer than usual to decide on what
to wear. The little building in which he'd first met Lucy was dark and
obviously closed for the evening, but he saw a light on in the first
greenhouse, and made his way inside. Again, the same sweet, intoxicating
fragrance washed over him the moment he stepped into the greenhouse, and he
drank in the scent with a grin. Lucy was standing near the end of the long
aisle, clipping the spent flowers from a row of vines that clung to the trellis
she'd been working with when he'd last seen her. She looked very different
from that occasion, however. Instead of grimy overalls, she was wearing a
pretty floral dress, and half of her wavy hair was pulled back from her face
into a silver clasp. Neville inhaled sharply as she turned toward him and
smiled. She looked even lovelier than he had remembered. The effect was only
slightly spoiled by the fact that she was still wearing her dirty gloves.
"I didn't hear your truck pull in!"
she exclaimed, pulling off the gloves and tossing them, along with the shears,
into a bucket on the floor.
"Err…" said Neville. He hadn't driven
the truck, he had Apparated. How, by Merlin's beard, was he going to explain
"I didn't drive the truck," he said,
doing some of the fastest thinking of his life. "I…er…had a friend drop
"Well, that explains it," said Lucy,
smiling. "I hope you're not faint of heart, then, because that means
you'll have to ride with me into Leam."
Neville laughed, relief and gratitude
overwhelming him once again with the desire to give her a good, long kiss.
They both laughed many, many more times
throughout their evening together in Leamington Spa. Lucy repeatedly exclaimed
over the bouquet of flowers he had left for her, saying that she had never in
her life known fully-bloomed lilies to last that long, and had never before
encountered roses that smelled quite so beautiful. Neville asked her about the
wonderful smell in her greenhouse, and she said,
"Oh, that," and laughed. "You're
not the only one who has trouble with getting orders right. I thought I'd
ordered a few dozen bougainvillea vines, and ended up with honeysuckle
"Honeysuckle," Neville murmured.
"Lonicera x brownii," said
Lucy, nodding. "I suppose if I had to get the order wrong, at least it
was a pleasant error. My mother is usually the one who does all of the
ordering. I'm still getting used to it."
"Do your mother and father own and
run the business?" he asked with interest.
"Yes," she said, a small and slightly
wry grin on her lips. "They're on an extended holiday, visiting family in
the United States. At least, that's their story. I'm quite sure that the real
reason they left, and put me in charge, was to try to discourage me from
following in their footsteps."
"What do you mean?" Neville asked,
aiming the piece of potato on his fork for his mouth and missing horribly,
never taking his eyes off of Lucy.
"They want me to go to medical
school," she said, with a little roll of her eyes. "And I told them
that all I want to do is work in the greenhouses. Maybe even take over the
business someday. Mum seemed okay with it, but Dad was none too pleased. I
think the holiday was his idea." She shrugged. "It's been a
struggle for them, from time to time, owning a small business and the
insecurities that come with that. Dad doesn't want me to have to go through
anything like the hard times he and Mum have had to deal with. But this is the
only thing I want to do. I was born for it. He'll come around, I'm
sure," she said, smiling again.
"I feel the same way," said Neville.
"About working with plants. I think it's what I was born to do. It's
what I'm best at."
After dinner, they took a leisurely stroll
around the gardens by the river, with Lucy pointing out all of the historical
and exotic trees. Neville tried his best to pay attention, but kept
getting distracted by her smile, and how she gestured with her small, lithe
hands, and the way she tilted her head just a bit to one side when he spoke,
and the way she tried and mostly failed not to laugh at her own jokes.
He was so distracted, and she so enthusiastic, that before either one of them
had noticed, twilight had become dusk, and dusk had become nighttime. Neville
only realized how late it was when he had to peer through the darkness to
examine the buds on a shrub Lucy had just remarked upon. He checked his
watch. They had been walking in the gardens for over three hours. It hadn't
felt nearly that long to Neville.
"I've just realized, it's very late,"
said Neville, reluctantly.
"So it is." Lucy laughed, looking at
her own watch. "I suppose we'd better start back then, hadn't we?"
Neville was just about to answer her when he
caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. A dark figure was
swooping along the shadows behind them, moving like quicksilver on a path that
would lead it directly behind Lucy. It moved so fast that Neville just barely
had enough time to draw his wand from his pants pocket before it was close
enough for him to recognize it; a bugbear. Its jaws were wide open when it
lunged, fangs bared and claws reaching for Lucy's back.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Neville
shouted, his wand pointed directly at its snarling muzzle.
Lucy gasped, whirling around to see what Neville
had done, her eyes wide and her face quickly losing color. She had
instinctively moved toward him when he pointed his wand behind her, and when
she saw the crumpled, motionless form of the bugbear on the ground, she gave a
little scream and backed into him.
"It's alright," he said, steadying her
with his free hand. "It's a bugbear. They're nasty little things, but
they're only really dangerous if they catch you unawares." He stretched
out with a foot and gave the creature a smart little jab. It was about the
size of a dog, though its features looked like a cross between a wild boar and
a misshapen bear. "I'm surprised this one tried to attack us together;
they usually only go for people who are alone. We must be too near its
Lucy stared in silence at the bugbear for quite
a few moments. When she finally tore her eyes away from it, she slowly looked
up at Neville's face, then down to his wand, and back up to his face.
"What…how did you do that?" she asked
in a small, frightened voice.
Neville looked at her, the old, horrible sinking
feeling coming over him so suddenly that it made him feel sick to his stomach.
He swallowed, dropped his hand from her shoulder, and took a deep breath before
he answered her.
"I'm a wizard, Lucy," he said softly.
"I can use magic. I know that might sound impossible, but it's
She looked at his wand again, her lips parted
slightly. Then her eyes returned to the bugbear.
"And this--thing--could have…could have
killed me?" she whispered.
"Perhaps, but not while I was here,"
he assured her earnestly.
"So you…" she breathed, turning to
stare into his face, "you saved my life?"
"Well--I--" Neville stammered, unsure
what to say. Words abruptly became unnecessary, however, when Lucy threw her
arms around his neck and kissed him passionately on the mouth. Neville had
dreamed about this moment for so long that he could hardly believe it was
actually happening. His brain took a moment or two to verify the reality of
her kiss. Once his lips had received the message, he kissed her back, wrapping
his arms around her waist. When they finally broke apart, Neville was amazed
to see the expression Lucy wore. She was staring at him, her eyes bright and
filled with something like wonder.
"I knew you were different, from the moment
I met you," she whispered. "But I had no idea just how extraordinary
you are. My hero."
The heat rose to Neville's face, and a wide,
goofy grin spread over his mouth.
"I'm not a hero," he said, trying not
"You're my hero," Lucy
insisted, locking her hands behind his neck. "And don't try to tell me
The muscles in Neville's face began to ache,
protesting his huge grin, though he truly could not have cared less. She
continued to stare at him in awe, and he returned her gaze, doubting very much
that he'd ever be able to let her go.
"So, you're really a wizard, then?"
she asked, grinning herself. "That must be…incredible."
"Incredible," he agreed, hugging her