The Sugar Quill
Author: Lady Whizbee  Story: The Skulduggery of Muckle Delight  Chapter: Chapter 2: The Time Lock
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: And now we take a small break from Harry and Ginny to introduce our last two main characters. This story will continue past the release of Deathly Hallows, so please stay tuned. I must thank Kelleypen who continues to patiently attend to my passive voice addiction, Igenlode Wordsmith who encouraged me from the very beginning, and a special note of thanks to JK Ashavah who offered help with my feeble attempts at latin plant names.

Finally and most importantly, thank you to the readers who have left reviews—your comments have meant the world to me. Cheers and happy reading.



The Time Lock

An explosion of clothes, shoes, and books littered Hermione Granger’s normally tidy bedroom. Packed and half-packed trunks cluttered every exposed space, while dresser drawers hung open with their belongings thrown in a whirlwind of disarray. And although the open trunks hinted that she was packing, she currently was not doing so. Instead, she sat on the floor, knees askew, entranced by a photo that she kept hidden in her copy of Hogwarts, A History, normally stowed on the floor by her bedside table.

The photo, of her, Ron, and Harry, had been taken right before Christmas while they were traveling in Bulgaria. It had been taken right before Christmas while they were traveling in Bulgaria. The grey stone of Viktor Krum’s house could be seen in the background. Viktor had just gathered them for a photo after a particularly aggressive snowball fight so their faces were radiant and their cheeks chapped red. Hermione stood sandwiched between both boys, their long arms draped around her—she looked so small beside them.

Typically the trio would just laugh and wave merrily, but sometimes, if Hermione watched the photo long enough, a fat snowball would come hurtling into the photo from off screen—probably thrown by Viktor—and land squarely on the back of Harry’s head. Harry would then run out of the frame, packing a snowball as he went, leaving Hermione and Ron quite alone.

Hermione waited eagerly for these moments.

It wasn’t entirely predictable, but usually Ron and Hermione chose to forget to wave at the camera and instead became conscious only of each other. Whether Ron was gently brushing the snow out of her hair, or Hermione was straightening his knotted scarf, these gestures were precious to her because this was the only photo she had of the two of them after they had finally put aside all of the false pretenses and had admitted their feelings for each other. No more second guesses, no more silly excuses. And despite the exhausting and, at times, terrifying search for Horcruxes, the display of autumn colors had never been more striking, the smell of stoked fires never more heady, and the feel of woolly jumpers never more comforting—because she was finally where she belonged.

Ron was hers—amazingly, unbelievably, hers.

Ron had proposed to her later that week at The Burrow. They had been sitting in the light of the Christmas tree one night after everyone had gone to bed, and he had told her that there was no one else with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. At the time neither of them had had any idea what that would really mean. Hermione had always imagined growing old beside Ron, perhaps with their own bountiful collection of red-headed kids. She would never have expected it to play out this way—not to be alone so soon, without him by her side.

Hermione drew in a deep breath and wiped the tears from her cheeks, watching as the twosome left the frame of the photo arm in arm. Blinking back her tears, she slipped the photo back into her book and put it back under her bedside table. If she had an addiction beyond her books, it was this photo. She used to sit and watch it for hours, willing Ron back into her life.

It was a constant reminder as to why she worked at the Department of Mysteries.

Hermione stood up from the floor and arched her back in a stretch. Looking around at her room she realized how much more work she needed to do to finish packing and picked up her wand. She sighed; she hated to leave this place. It had been her home for the last year and she had found so much comfort here, first from Harry and now from Neville.

But she needed to be independent.

Hermione flicked her wand and began levitating her belongings into the trunks, forcing her mind not to think of Ron as she did so.

She heard a soft tap on her door. “Hermione?”

Neville.

Hermione looked in her mirror to make certain her face wasn’t red and blotchy; satisfied, she cleared her throat. “Come in—I’m just packing,”

Neville opened the door and smiled broadly at her.

“Hi.” Quickly surveying her room, he blinked. “Wow! Er...I didn’t realize that you had so much stuff—do you need some help sorting it all out?”

“It does look frightening, doesn’t it?” Hermione laughed, glancing at the growing mounds of her belongings. “Thank you, but I’ll have finished soon enough. I promise—it looks worse than it actually is.”

“I stopped to pick up curry take-away on my way home from the lab—um, would you like some? I’ve plenty enough to share,” Neville offered.

Hermione’s stomach rumbled in consent. “Oh yes! I’m starving. Did you buy any naan?”

He grinned with a nod. “Yeah, I know how much you like it.”

“Yum! All right then, let me just finish this trunk and I’ll be out in a second.”

“I’ll go and lay it out for us then.”

He left the room, closing the door behind him as he went.

Hermione took a moment to finish packing her trunk of clothes, closing it with a satisfying thud. Pleased by her success, she straightened her shirt, tucked her hair behind her ear, and silently padded across the hall and through the sitting room toward the kitchen. She stopped and, leaning against at the arch of the dining area, quietly watched Neville unpack the bag of take-away.

When had they grown up? When? She couldn’t remember it ever happening—it was all such a blur now. Neville’s business shirt and tie made him look so polished—and her straight pantsuit and blouse looked so crisp and professional. But inside she still felt seventeen.

Neville had certainly grown up. She barely recognized him as the Neville that had lost his toad on their first train ride to Hogwarts. Although, he still had bouts of clumsiness and at times moments of insecurity, he really had become a different person. Hermione could see it, even if Neville had a tendency to deny it.

When Neville had first moved into the flat, Hermione had gone with him to visit his parents because it seemed like a miserable thing for him to have to do alone. She had been nervous at first, standing off to the side in awkward silence. However, she soon realized that she was mistaken—it wasn’t dreadful. It was therapeutic. Neville laughed. He played Exploding Snap with his dad and still collected Droobles wrappers from his mother and, even though they never remembered who he was the next time he visited, he still went every weekend. Neville had accepted them for who they were, and what’s more, he had come to terms with who he was. Neville had grown up.

Sometimes Hermione would still go with him—not every weekend—but occasionally. She would smile with them, and sometimes laugh. She’d listened to Frank’s gibberish-filled stories, let Alice plait her hair and, when they were done visiting, she and Neville would always get a cup of tea at the tea shop, sitting and sipping in quiet silence. There was something so simple about it…so normal, really… that she found it to be quite therapeutic, too.

Neville turned toward the dining room, with spoons and cartons of steaming Indian food hovering in front of him, and started a bit when he saw her standing there. Recovering, he smiled and set the food in the center of the table.

“This smells really good.” He turned back toward the kitchen. “Would you like some wine?”

Hermione moved toward the table, and cleared her throat. “Yes, please. Do we have any white left?”

“I think so,” Neville replied, his voice muffled by the refrigerator door. “Yes—it looks like a Gewürztraminer. Does that sound okay?”

Hermione responded in the affirmative and began serving herself some basmati rice from the take-away carton. “This does smell delicious. Is this from the shop on the corner?”

“Yes, they just changed their packaging.” Neville emerged from the kitchen, the bottle and wine glasses hovering in front of him. He set them down with a soft clink, and poured them each a glass of wine. “I’ve some exciting news.”

“Oh, really?” Hermione looked up at him.

Neville nodded, his eyes twinkling in a way that she hadn’t seen in a long time. “Yes—in fact—I think a toast is in order.”

Hermione smiled. “All right, then.” She lifted her glass toward Neville’s and waited expectantly.

Neville cleared his throat in playful, exaggerated fashion. “To every accomplishment—no matter how small it may seem—and to the potential of what it may hold in store.”

“Oh Neville!” Hermione squealed—completely forgetting to clink her glass with his. “Don’t tell me it was successful?”

He seemed slightly embarrassed by her enthusiasm, but his eyes radiated pure joy. He nodded. “This morning. I now have a seedling—a very small seedling—but it’s most definitely a cross-pollination between the Aureus dracunulus and the Incursoden sinenius.”

Unable to contain the excitement welling up inside her, Hermione leapt from her chair and threw herself at Neville.

“You must be so ecstatic! How’d you ever wait until now to tell me? If I weren’t so happy for you I’d be furious that you waited so long. What does Patrick think?” Hermione settled back down in her chair and waited eagerly for his response. Patrick McGaughey was Neville’s research partner at the National Wizarding Institute of Science.

“He’s as excited as I am—no doubt he’s home celebrating with his wife.” Neville’s face was now quite red. “You’ve no idea how good this feels, Hermione—after working on this for so long, our research really seems to be paying off. I have to be careful, though—as much as I can taste success, I’m still afraid that in the end all of this work won’t produce the results we are hoping for, you know?”

“No research is ever for naught. It only serves to narrow the scope of possibilities. And I don’t care what your apprehensions are; this is going to work, Neville—I can feel it.” Hermione reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “Your parents would be so proud of you.”

Neville smiled gratefully at her words, but then glanced down at his plate. “Yes, well, perhaps one day they will be able to tell me that on their own.”

Neville had been working to find a cure for the insanity and memory loss caused by extended exposure to the Cruciatus Curse. He and Patrick had spent countless months studying and cross-pollinating various species of magical plants known for their healing capabilities. In their attempt to find the specific cure for the Cruciatus affliction, they had stumbled across a perfect antidote for curing severe cases of the Obliviate memory charm. They had both been awarded special medals from the Institute for their discovery.

Gilderoy Lockhart had been so pleased to regain full use of his memory that he had sent them both autographed copies of his autobiography, Magical Me. Hermione smiled as she remembered that they were currently being used to prop up a wobbly table leg in their lab at the Institute.

Neville’s most recent study of the Aureus dracunulus and the Incursoden sinenius had led him to believe that he might have at last discovered a portion of the cure—if not the entire cure for the Cruciatus-induced insanity. The Aureus dracunulus was commonly used to cure long term memory loss, and the Incursoden sinenius was used to cure deep, normally irreversible wounds. The two magical plants were very difficult to cross pollinate, however, because they were so unusually obstinate. The least of it was that they did not flower in the same season. But, more importantly, each had a particularly nasty attitude. The Aureus dracunulus would spit acidic residue at anyone who came close to it during its pollination season, and even if you were able to soothe it long enough to stand close to it, the pollen could only be collected after stroking the flower in a certain pattern during a full moon. This in addition to the Incursoden sinenius, which was nearly impossible to work with due to its microscopically small flowers and gigantic thorns attached to long tentacles which would swing dangerously at anyone within two meters of the plant.

Patrick had been working on a base potion that combined several additional memory enhancing and curative ingredients. All they needed was the last ingredient, and that was what Neville hoped they had found in the small seedling that had sprouted in his lab this morning.

Hermione had been so lost in her thoughts that she had forgotten that there was still food to be eaten. She blinked as Neville held the carton of curry under her nose and, clearing her throat, she quickly took it. “I’m certain that this’ll work, Neville, and then what will you do? Your life goal will be accomplished!”

He chuckled as he spooned rice onto his plate. “It’s not as if that’s my only life goal, Hermione. I’ve plenty more ideas on what I’d like to achieve.”

“Oh good,” Hermione teased. “I wouldn’t want you to become complacent or anything.”

Neville laughed. “I don’t think that you need to fear that.”

He took the curry from Hermione. Once he had finished piling food onto his plate, he glanced up at her. Apprehensive lines deepened on his forehead. “You know, Hermione...the other day...when you mentioned that you wanted to leave the Ministry? Well, I think I may know of an ideal job opening for you.”

With a mouth full of food, she mumbled, “Really?”

He nodded. “The Institute is opening a new division in London. One that I think you might be interested in.”

“Oh, really?” Hermione raised an eyebrow, quickly reaching for her wine. “What’s the new division going to be called?”

“The Division of Experimental Magic. The staff will work solely on discovering new spells and charms. There are going to be several departments within the division—each to focus on a specific task. For instance, one will be focusing on improving current household spells; one will be focusing on improving transportation spells, etc. etc. However there will be one department focusing on spells yet to be discovered—delving into new magical territory every day. I brought home a press release and an article on the new department from Magical Science Weekly for you to read.”

Hermione bit her lip, conflicted about this new—albeit exciting—piece of information. She looked down and studied her curry. Feeling her face tense she forced it to relax. “I’d love to read them, Neville.”

Neville hadn’t missed her change in demeanor, and his smile faded quickly into a worried frown. “Hermione, what is it? I thought this was just the thing you were looking for—the perfect challenge.”

She nodded, still avoiding Neville’s eyes, which had the unnerving ability to see right through her. “Yes, you’re right. It does sound well-suited, and I’d love the challenge in so many ways, it’s just that...well...I can’t leave the Department of Mysteries yet.”

His brow creased. “But...I thought that...what happened?”

Hermione thought of the photo that she had unearthed earlier that night, and, sighing, she looked toward the windows that lined the balcony and watched a sparrow fluttering its wings while resting on the rail.

She knew that Neville wouldn’t be happy that she had decided to stay at the Ministry. He was aware, more than anyone else, of the emotional torture that she put herself through working on the complexities of Time. The bird left its perch on the railing and reluctantly she looked back at Neville, saw the concern in his eyes, and knew that she couldn’t lie about what she was considering. They’d been through too much for that.

Self-consciously, she looked down at her hands, and cleared her throat. “What if—what if I’ve missed some clue that would allow me to go back and alter time—without serious side effects? What if there’s a way and I haven’t found it yet?”

Hermione looked up at him, not making the smallest attempt to hide her desperation.

One look into her eyes told Neville what this was really about—it was about Ron.

Neville swiftly took a sip of his wine to hide his disappointment. He hated this. He hated what Hermione was doing to herself by working at the Department of Mysteries. From the first day that she had become an Unspeakable, she had been attempting to alter time and bring Ron back.

Initially, Neville had been very excited by the possibility. He had fully encouraged her, believing it to be entirely possible and even more, a noble idea. He assisted her in coming up with various scenarios that she could test out after hours in the Time Lock. But each attempt had failed miserably, and as weeks turned into months, Hermione became more and more distraught, as well as critical of her failure.

Neville had worried about her emotional state, but had never pressured her to give up—after all it was her dream, and he certainly understood her desire to have Ron back. So instead, he made himself available to her as a reliable source of support and a shoulder to cry on. He had been so relieved when she had finally decided on her own to leave the Ministry, but now that she was changing her mind...he couldn’t...he just couldn’t let her go back. Friends...true friends...wouldn’t let the other stay in such a self-destructive pattern. Neville collected his courage and decided on the one argument that Hermione had used to convince herself to leave the Ministry in the first place, and therefore, the one that had the most potential to succeed.

“Hermione...what does every Magical and Muggle scientific study on Time and Time Travel say?”

Hermione looked back at her hands, her lungs deflating in a long rush of air. Neville softened; she appeared so small and childlike. She cleared her throat and spoke quietly, still avoiding his eyes. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Neville leaned forward and gently touched her arm, resolved that he needed to continue regardless of the potential pain. “Hermione, we’ve explored every possible scenario for retrieving Ron, and there’s no option that holds up to this universal law. With each new scenario, someone else dies in his place. Unless there’s a clean solution, you cannot meddle with Time. It’s far too dangerous and unpredictable.”

Hermione still avoided looking at him, and Neville could hear her begin to sniff. He Summoned a tissue and handed it to her. She wiped her nose; finally looking up at him with red-rimmed eyes, she nodded.

“I know.” She swallowed and looked down again. “I just feel so responsible for Ron’s death—and now, I can’t help but feel as if I have failed again.”

“You have not failed,” Neville said firmly. “You have worked tirelessly on this—and if anyone had the potential to find the answer, it was definitely you.”

“But what if I missed something—it certainly is possible that I’ve missed something.”

“Only you can answer that question, but given everything we’ve discussed, I think it highly unlikely.” Neville paused and squeezed her arm. “Please, Hermione, please think about this. I have watched you work tirelessly on retrieving Ron for almost a year now. You’ve gone back and re-witnessed the battle so many times in the name of science...the stress of it’s wearing away at you. Before you decide for certain, please think about the personal consequences of staying. It may be causing you a lot of unnecessary pain.”

Hermione quickly shook her head, wiping her eyes. “No, no, it isn’t. I’m fine, really.”

Looking away, he leaned back in his chair uncertain what he should say or do. She is not fine. Why is she being so bloody stoic? Before he thought it through, he turned back to her and spoke in a very quiet voice, “Hermione, people who are fine don’t come home from work every night in tears. People who are fine aren’t consumed by the guilt of something that they had no control over in the first place. People who are fine lead relatively cheerful lives and don’t typically shed tears while eating take-away curry. Please believe me, you are not fine.”

Hermione’s eyes went wide with shock. The words hung on the air as if suspended in a bubble and Neville paled—had he actually said that? One look at her told him that he had, and he instantly regretted every word.

She quickly rose from the table and ran to her room, slamming her door behind her. He could hear her burst into tears before she placed a Silencing Charm on the room.

Neville slumped in his chair. Brilliant, Neville, just brilliant. What in Merlin’s name possessed you to say that? He rubbed his temples in frustration, groaning at his stupidity. He was rubbish at this whole supportive shoulder thing. He had tried so hard, and had even thought he was doing an okay job at times, but unfortunately he always seemed to say the wrong thing at critical moments like this.

The only experience that Neville had with women, and their multitude of emotions, was with his Gran. And Gran was not emotional. She would pat him on the head, and was generally supportive of him in a reserved way, but she never discussed emotions. To her it was taboo. He had no doubt that his Gran loved him, but she was not the type to express it. Neville couldn’t help but think that if his parents had not been handicapped, his life experience would have been quite different...but that was something that could not be changed.

When he had first moved into the flat he had been overwhelmed (and slightly terrified) by how emotional Hermione was. It was very unfamiliar territory for him. So for a while he had not said anything, and just listened as she talked. Hermione had many thoughts... a great number of thoughts, and really just needed someone to listen to her anyway, and Neville was more than willing to oblige. But after a while of listening he began to worry, and that worry then produced a natural desire to protect her, which made it difficult to keep his mouth shut. What had Harry been thinking when he asked Neville to keep an eye on Hermione?

Neville groaned. Harry and Ron must have been so much better at this than me...

Neville abruptly stood and paced the room. He knew he needed to apologize, but bursting into her room when she so obviously didn’t want to have anything to do with him seemed unwise.

A gentle tap rattled the window. Neville glanced over and saw a tawny owl hovering there. Swiftly he walked over and opened the balcony door to let it in. The bird landed on his shoulder, and he had barely a moment to untie the note before the owl took flight again. Neville quickly unrolled the parchment.

Dear Neville,

Harry’s requested that I let you know he’s returning to London tomorrow evening and plans to reach your flat at approximately half past five. I don’t know his exact plans after that, but I do know that he’s looking forward to seeing both you and Hermione.

Cheers,
Remus Lupin


Harry was coming home! That was exactly what he needed. Harry would know how to handle Hermione. He would know the best way to talk to her. Neville looked up at her closed bedroom door. Hermione would want to know that this owl had come with news of Harry. He rubbed his forehead in agitation, trying to determine whether he should try and talk to her now, or if he should wait.

After a few moments of indecision, he walked over to her door and gently knocked. When there was no answer, Neville sighed. He leaned against the wall across from her bedroom, and slid down to the floor to wait. At some point she would have to leave her room to use the loo, so he would wait until she emerged and talk to her then. In the meantime, he sat miserably, thinking about how upset she was, and contemplating how best to apologize when he saw her again.

Neville must have sat waiting for a good two hours before he finally heard her jiggling the doorknob. Hermione swung open the door, her eyes puffy, and her face blotchy from crying. She was startled to see him there, so he took advantage of the moment and spoke before she was able to respond.

“Hermione, please, I’m sorry.” Neville scrambled to his feet. “I should never have said what I did. I’m a huge git, and I’m so very sorry. Please, please forgive me?”

Hermione didn’t move for a good minute, which caused Neville to squirm inwardly. But then, unexpectedly, she threw herself at him and embraced him firmly around the waist, knocking the wind out of his lungs.

Whatever Neville had expected, it hadn’t been this. Once he recovered from the shock of her unexpected move, his arms quickly flew up to return the embrace. She began to cry softly, and although this would have been unnerving to him several months ago, he was now used to holding her when she cried. He squeezed her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Hermione, so sorry.”

She continued to cry for a while, but eventually her tears ebbed. She then spoke, her voice muffled in his shirt, “You’re right.”

“Sorry?”

Hermione cleared her throat, and turned her head a bit so he could hear her better. “What you said earlier—you’re right, you know. I am miserable working at the Ministry.”

Neville pulled back to look at her. “Forget what I said earlier, Hermione. You should do what you feel is right.”

She smiled softly. “Thank you, Neville....no, truly, I came to a conclusion tonight...”

She pulled away from him and then slid down the wall, sitting where Neville had been stationed earlier. She moved over so that Neville could join her.

“I’ve decided that I’d like to look over the material you brought home on the new department at the Institute. And if it makes sense for me to do so, I intend to send over my CV.”

He looked over at her. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Neville smiled slightly. “I do think you’d be a good fit there.”

Hermione nodded, looking at her hands.

Neville suddenly remembered Remus’ letter. He pulled it out of his pocket and slipped it into her fingers. Puzzled, she quickly read what it said. Her face broke into a grin, a true grin. “Oh, thank goodness! It’s about time he came home. I’ll have to make certain that Ginny knows about this when I see her tomorrow.”

“You leave for The Burrow tomorrow, then?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, but Ginny and I’ll be back here on Sunday. Our lease at the flat starts on Monday morning, so I thought we’d spend our last night here—if that’s okay?”

“Of course it is! We’ll have dinner together—I want to hear about Ginny’s last year at Hogwarts, and what Harry has been up to as well.”

“So do I—oh, this is all so exciting! I’m so interested to finally hear about all the places Harry has been—he’s been so secretive, you know.”

Neville smiled as Hermione’s naturally inquisitive nature returned and, quite suddenly, it dawned on him that he had missed it. He had missed that fire—that fervency that made Hermione who she was—and the thought of it fading into dullness again…well, he couldn’t bear it. Her bright eyes returned to devour Remus’ letter one more time, and Neville quickly scrambled to his feet, thinking of one more thing—albeit a much less significant thing—that might cause her happiness to linger a little longer.

Hermione’s eyes, still red-rimmed, followed him as he stood.

“I have something for you... I’ll be right back.” Neville rushed to his room and returned with a rather sizable rectangular box wrapped in bright fuchsia paper. The paper had moving bright green plants sprouting and growing all over it in a continuous pattern. He handed it to her. “Here—I wanted to buy you a flat-warming gift—and since it seems as if we’ll be fairly busy on Sunday and Monday, you should open it now.”

Hermione beamed, taking the heavy box from him. “Oh, Neville, you didn’t need to do this.”

“I wanted to—plus, it just seemed so right for you.” Neville smiled, sitting next to her again. “Go on, open it.”

Hermione obliged, hurriedly removing the wrapping. She opened the box and gasped. Inside was the newly revised hardback edition of Hogwarts, A History.

“It’s just come out. They’ve revised it completely,” Neville rushed excitedly, flipping to specific chapters to show her. “They’ve included a whole new section on Dumbledore’s legacy, and they also have a whole section on the Last Battle.”

Neville looked down. “I hope you don’t mind that I read it—I was just too curious to see what they said. They did a fair job I think—they just told it straight. And the stuff about Dumbledore is spot on. They also added a chapter on Harry—which I know he’ll hate—but it’s not too bad really. Your name is mentioned, I could show you if you want...”

“You read it? I mean you wanted to read it?”

“I, well—I was interested in the bit about the Last Battle—and once I read that, I couldn’t keep from reading the section on Harry and then the section on Dumbledore...and then I ended up reading most of it, really.” Neville felt his cheeks warm. “It’s very interesting, particularly the new bits. Anyway—I thought you’d like it, seeing how worn your old edition is, plus this one is much more current.”

“Oh, Neville...thank you. You’ve no idea how much I wanted to find this. I heard that it was out, but I hadn’t got round to going and buying it yet.”

“I saw it when I went to Flourish & Blotts. There’s a new book on magical medicinal plants coming out soon, and I wanted to see if it was there—it wasn’t—but this was—and so I had to purchase it.” Neville beamed. “So you like it then?”

“Like it?” Hermione’s eyes glistened. “Of course I do. Thank you.”

“It might look slightly out of place sitting next to your old edition, but I think it’ll wear nicely with time. I tried not to damage it while I was reading it—I don’t think that I did or anything. And I was especially careful not to wrinkle any of the pages.” He quickly fanned the pages to prove his point. “Anyway—I’m just glad that you like it.”

They both sat perusing the book as she flipped through the chapters, and after several minutes of this Hermione looked over at him.

“Neville, I—“ she paused and looked back at the book. “Thank you for this—it’s perfect. And I—” She swallowed, and looked over at him again. “I need to tell you before I leave that I won’t ever forget how kind and supportive you’ve been over this last year. I don’t know how I’d have made it through these last months—not to mention last week—today—without you—truly—you’ve been a great friend.”

“Yes, well...” Neville felt his cheeks redden. He wasn’t quite certain how to handle this level of emotion, particularly since it was aimed directly at him. It was much easier when it was directed at someone else, or at a situation—but at him? He wasn’t accustomed to it. He hastily stood up and said awkwardly, “I—I’m glad that you like the book. You’ll have to let me know what you think once you’ve read it through.”

Hermione nodded and followed him to a stand. “Yes, of course I will. And you’ll have to keep me updated on the development of your new seedling. Have you named it yet?”

Neville shook his head, thankful that the conversation had migrated into safer territory. “No, not officially—although, Patrick and I are leaning toward naming it Restituo sapientia. I’ll know more about things within the week.”

“Okay, maybe we can catch up over lunch later this week?”

Neville smiled. “I’d like that.”

Hermione returned his smile, and then looked toward her room with a reluctant sigh. “I suppose I should finish packing, then.”

“Let me know if you need help with anything,” Neville offered. “I’m just going to be working on tabulating some lab results... so if you need a hand, let me know.”

Hermione nodded. She leaned forward and hugged him again, the book awkwardly squashed between them. “Thank you, Neville—for everything.”

“No, Hermione...it’s nothing, really...any time.”

Gathering herself, Hermione let go, but before stepping away she gently brushed her lips across his cheek. Turning away from him, she quickly retreated to her room, and closed the door behind her with a faint click.

Neville was relieved she hadn’t looked up, because if she had, she would have seen him nursing his cheek, and blushing for what had to be the millionth time that night. But this time he was certain that he was the same color as the fuchsia wrapping paper that lay crumpled at his feet.

//
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