The Sugar Quill
Author: Crookshanks22  Story: Simple  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Author note: This story depicts Neville, Luna, and a few other characters in romantic situations with persons whom they will not ultimately marry. As most adults know, it is common for teenagers to fall in love, sometimes rather seriously, with persons whom they are not destined to marry. As J.K. Rowling once said in an interview about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “Everyone’s in love with the wrong person, it’s brilliant!” (Scotland on Sunday, 17 January 1999) To which I would add that falling in love with the wrong person can be an important step in the process of growing up. Those who have been following J.K. Rowling’s interviews will know that Rowling paved the way for the plotline of this tale in the Blue Peter interview of 20 July 2007.

Thanks to Emelye for beta-reading.

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Neville Longbottom spread eight years’ worth of Defense Against the Dark Arts notes across the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, leafed through them, and decided that years one, two, five, and seven could be discarded without further ado, or possibly transfigured into mulch. Year four—Professor Moody, may he rest in peace, though of course it wasn’t actually Professor Moody, it was a masquerading Death Eater—well, he already knew as much about Unforgivable Curses as anyone would want to know, and more, he suspected, than some of the examiners did. Year six—Professor Snape, may he rest in peace—he’d learned something from him in the end, enough to stage a guerrilla war, as it turned out, and lessons so burnt in the blood were not lessons one needed to revise. Even learning to survive the taunting, to live with those he loathed, had come useful in the end. Year eight, Dedalus Diggle’s seminar, mostly guest-taught by Harry, now that was a fascinating course—but he’d been surprised, a bit, by how many of the things Harry said were things he already knew, some from the D.A. and some just from—well, life. That left only year three—Professor Lupin, may he rest in peace—time to get reacquainted with grindylows and hinkypunks. Or, Neville mused, gazing around the Great Hall, he could just wing it. It was the night before the Defense Against the Dark Arts NEWT, and all the exam candidates were staying at Hogwarts for the sake of convenience, but not many of Neville’s cohort were studying.

He sighed and looked up at the ceiling, where the Grey Lady was gliding peacefully along, pursued at a respectful distance by the still clanking Bloody Baron. Six feet away, Ginny and Harry were head to head, whispering over methods of destroying Horcruxes and holding hands under the table. To Neville’s right, Lavender was reading Parvati’s palm and vociferously asserting the superiority of Western, as opposed to Hindu, methods of palm reading. Parvati turned suddenly and caught Neville’s eye; he smiled hesitantly and quickly looked away. She had only just started speaking to him again, and he didn’t want to press his luck, nor give her the wrong idea. He shifted his gaze to the Ravenclaw table, which was a mistake. Directly in his line of vision, Luna was sprawled length-wise on the bench, reading aloud from a notebook with her bare feet in Dean Thomas’s lap.

The Hogwarts to which Neville had returned, triumphantly but unexpectedly, a few months after Voldemort’s fall, was a revived yet unfamiliar Hogwarts. His old classmates were technically still on their NEWTs courses—the Muggle-borns had missed an entire year of school, and in any case there had been no opportunity to sit exams the preceding spring—but few of them were in residence. Harry had already joined the Auror Office in a consulting capacity, and Hermione was serving on the creature rights task force. Others had taken jobs, NEWT courses notwithstanding; Ron was working four days a week at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and Dean was doing illustrations for Whizz Hard Books. Ernie was busily angling for a junior assistantship in Minister Shacklebolt’s office. Minerva McGonagall hardly cared to impose normal discipline on the war heroes. So they sauntered in at irregular intervals, from their parents’ homes and Muggle flats and bachelor lodgings in Hogsmeade, to browse the library or consult the faculty or attend Dedalus Diggle’s innovative new seminar in Advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts. Neville himself had chosen to return because he was now assistant teaching both first and second-year Herbology, which meant that he had to be at Hogwarts three days a week in any case. Pomona (she kept telling him to call her Pomona) treated him less as a student than a colleague, lending him books and clearing off a muddy bench for his private experiments. The only regular course he had left was Charms, and it was more than he could do some days, to persuade Professor Flitwick to teach him anything, because all Flitwick wanted to do was quiz Neville about the Room of Requirement. It wasn’t working anymore, that smoky hall full of charred unrecognizable rubbish, but Flitwick was not without hope of installing a new Room of Requirement, somewhere else in the castle.

“Beef or salmon?” demanded Ernie, strolling up to the Gryffindor table with a quill in one hand and a small notebook in the other.

Neville pushed away his notes on Dark creatures, figuring that if Ernie Macmillan wasn’t studying, no one was. “What?”

“Next Tuesday. The banquet for the Muggle Prime Minister. Beef or salmon? The Minister has already arranged for house elves but Hannah’s really nervous—it’s her first catering job—so I thought I’d help out by getting an early estimate—”

Dean was holding Luna’s foot in both hands. Dean was kissing Luna’s foot. And now he had pulled out a quill, and he was drawing something on it. A goblin, probably, or the diadem of Ravenclaw. And Luna was laughing—gently—she laughed more easily and more gently now. Plainly, she liked having a boyfriend. Neville would never draw a goblin on Luna’s foot, or hold it in both hands . . . he hadn’t even held Parvati’s hand right, apparently. He hadn’t realized that there were rules about how and how not to do that, but evidently there were, and Parvati had expected him to know them, and he hadn’t.

“Neville? Beef or salmon?”

“Salmon.”

“Salad with chevre or without?”

“With.”

“With toasted walnuts or without?”

“Without.”

“Angel food cake with chocolate sauce or strawberry sauce or plain?”

“Er—strawberry.”

Ernie lowered his voice. “The seating plans are already done, but Hannah said I should ask you—can you sit at the same table as Parvati?”

Come now, he had no right to be interested in how winsomely Luna laughed or in the softness of her skin. Hadn’t he spent the better part of two years hoping that she understood his friendship for what it was, and would not get any funny ideas about wanting to be his girlfriend? Luna was all very well in her way, and it was nice to have a friend, and it wasn’t that Neville didn’t care for girls, but he liked sensible girls like Hermione, and uncomplicated girls like Ginny, and feminine girls like Hannah. And though it did seem, sometimes, that all the good ones were taken, or about to be, and though Luna was clever in her way, and brave, and loyal, and prettier than he thought at first, though he knew (from being on the wrong side of the fence) that first impressions were not always accurate, still—

“Neville?”

“Er—whatever you like, Ernie. I’m sure you’ve got it all sorted.”

Smiling rather smugly, Ernie turned away.

When they pulled her off the train, half-way to London, he didn’t think, I love her. He simply thought, the lights went out. He would have thought the same had it been Ginny, or Seamus, or Hannah. He saw the tip of the Death Eater’s mask disappearing round the end of the car, and he ran with his wand out, yelling “Stupefy! Stupefy!” but it missed and ricocheted off the corridor wall and just like that, they were gone. Alecto Carrow was one of them; her mask dropped as she fled. Ginny ran forward then, brandishing her broom, as if to hop out the window and fly away, without a plan, without an ally, without even a wand . . . and it was he who restrained the struggling Ginny in his arms, whispering, “You have to live to fight another day.” For no matter who’s lost, or dead, or insane, it doesn’t do to go breaking one’s heart when there’s work to be done.

That night, over supper, he told Gran what had happened. In terse Anglo-Saxon syllables, shorn of emotion. “I remember when Caradoc Dearborn was kidnapped,” she said quietly, “in the First War.”

“Caradoc Dearborn?” repeated Neville, startled. “Of the Dearborn Transfiguration Prize?”

“Mm-hm,” murmured Gran. This was before the days of the plaques—In loving memory of Colin Creevey—and the fountain—In loving memory of Justin Finch-Fletchley—and the dedicated Muggle Studies classroom—In loving memory of Charity Burbage. But all the same, Neville could put two and two together. “Who’s telling Xenophilius Lovegood?” asked Gran.

“Ginny and her parents.”

“Hmm,” she said. “I think you ought to go too.”

He Apparated there next morning, and he saw Luna’s father, which was an experience, but more to the point, he saw Luna’s bedroom, and Luna’s mural. Staring up at his own smiling visage, he was overcome with a furious wave of longing, and fear, and grief. It’s because she’s missing, he told himself. Because she’s in danger. Because she’s one of the best friends I have, and I was helpless to save her. It’s because there’s a war on, and I’m feeling restless and impotent, and so like any man I’m inclined to snatch—and I’ll probably feel just the same about Ginny next time I see her, fool that I am. Worse even, because I was always a bit soft on Ginny.

But he saw a lot of Ginny that winter, and he didn’t feel that way about her. He just kept thinking about Luna. They huddled together miserably in a corner of the library, all the energy gone now that they were no longer a trio, and Neville talked about Harry, and what he might be doing now, and what a fine wizard he was, and how everything was going to be okay in the end, and Ginny talked in much the same vein about Luna, and he wondered if she was just trying to comfort herself, because Luna was her friend, or if she knew. Ginny seemed to grow up all of a sudden that year, and she was a splendid partner in crime, but the strange thing was that long as he had known her, much as he saw of her, she didn’t make as much sense to him as Luna. No one did.

“Neville?”

“Ginny?”

“You were looking a little blank,” she said sympathetically, sliding into the seat beside him. “Were you startled by a Blibbering Humdinger?” Ginny laughed merrily at her own joke, and Neville forced a smile.

“Where’s Harry?”

“He put on his invisibility cloak and slipped out when the press contingent arrived.” Ginny nodded towards the clutch of overdressed witches and slick-haired wizards crowding around one end of the high table. It was quite a human interest story, the war generation taking their NEWTs. Even now, a couple of journalists were monopolizing Lavender Brown, clamoring to know whether her “tragic experiences” had endowed her with “psychic strength” to face her NEWT exams, though all Lavender wanted to talk about was beauty tips for mauling survivors.

“Can’t say I blame him,” remarked Neville, recalling the ostensibly complimentary article the Daily Prophet had run on him last summer. It dwelt heavily on his low marks in Transfiguration and Potions, his childhood weight problem, and Alice Longbottom’s preoccupation with Droobles Blowing Gum wrappers. Fortunately Lee Jordan’s sketch in the “Spotlight on Unlikely Heroes” series, featuring live commentary by Seamus Finnigan and Augusta Longbottom, had been more satisfactory.

“Bill told us that Rita Skeeter came sniffing around the new house, as soon as the foundations went in,” whispered Ginny. “He thinks she was trying to install some kind of magical recording device. A—a Harrycam, I think it’s called. Bill told her to foot it, and she asked him if it’s true that Fleur’s pregnant and if he thinks the new baby will like its steaks bloody. So then he told her that Hermione would be dropping by shortly, with a set of decorative glass jars for the kitchen, and she flitted.”

Neville laughed. “When do I get to see it?”

“Come to the housewarming. Harry’s promised it’ll be ready by my birthday.”

“And then, I suppose . . .”

Ginny shook her head. “We’re putting it off till next year, after my first season with the Harpies. We decided that three weddings in six months was more than enough for Mum. She’s been impossible to live with this spring—separate owls to Ron and Hermione and me every day for the last fortnight, music and seating charts and bridesmaid dresses and thank-you notes, and she’s hardly even started planning George’s wedding yet—thank God Percy’s in-laws ran his show . . .” She trailed off. “So, are you and Dean going to rent that flat?”

“Er. . .” For the last year, Dean had been renting a room in Harry’s house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, as had Hermione and occasionally another friend or two. But the belated final school leaving and the cascade of summer weddings had precipitated a reverberating game of pass-the-parcel, as George moved out of Diagon Alley to the flat his Muggle fiancée had taken in Camden Town, Hermione moved in with Ron in the rooms above Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Harry relocated to the house he was building on the outskirts of Tinworth, and Dean was left alone, floundering for compact and affordable lodgings in London’s wizarding quarter.

“He’s a good guy,” said Ginny encouragingly. “I know I ditched him, but it wasn’t because—”

“I know that,” said Neville.

“It’s convenient to the herbology center, and—well—I know your Gran’s an awfully good sort, but most blokes don’t really want to move back in with their grandmothers after they leave school . . .”

“It’s just—I’m afraid it might be awkward—”

“He didn’t ask you out of pity,” said Ginny quietly. “And it’s not just because Seamus is going back to Ireland. He really thinks you’d be a good person to room with. Quiet and reliable. Gainfully employed. You get along with his girlfriend—and let’s face it, some blokes might object to her—and you roomed together for six years in Gryffindor, so you both know each other’s habits. You’d have a ball—”

“I’m thinking about it,” said Neville shortly.

“Well, Harry and I’ll come to all the parties if you do room with Dean,” said Ginny, standing up. “Dean gives smashing parties. Merlin, imagine the fan girls you’ll attract if you live together—” She chuckled softly to herself, gathered up her scrolls and quills, and strode jauntily towards the door.

“Mr. Longbottom? Neville Longbottom?”

Neville flinched and turned to face a tall middle-aged witch in turquoise robes, her long, lacquered fingernails hovering over a Quick-Quotes Quill.

“I’m with Witch Weekly, won’t take a minute of your time. Just want a couple of photos—” she gestured towards a gawky young wizard, clad entirely in black and waving a large old-fashioned camera—“and ten words or so on the qualities you most admire in a witch. Also a snappy quotation on world peace—we like to think of Witch Weekly as a serious-minded publication—and maybe something on global warming, but keep it short—no more than one sentence—because you’re slated for a one-column profile.”

Neville had a sudden, nightmarish vision of the sort of journalistic coverage he and Dean would attract if they shared a flat. And sweet Merlin, if they gave parties—

“Gotta go,” he said quickly. “Sorry, it’s late, gotta go.”

“It’s just a couple of photos,” protested the Witch Weekly witch, pursuing him down the aisle between the house tables. “If you don’t want to give a quote on global warming, then something else—maybe endangered species? Do you think the Ministry ought to allocate more funds to Welsh Green preserve?”

Neville was faintly aware of the click of the Witch Weekly wizard’s camera as he sprinted towards the main doors.

“Might be useful, after all,” drawled the black-clad wizard to his companion, as Neville rounded the corner into the Entrance Hall. “Look, when he turns his head—those battle scars—damned sexy profile—”

Neville cringed, dropped two of his DADA notebooks, and picked them up again.

“Oh, hi, Neville,” said a familiar voice. “Did a Wrackspurt make you do that?”

“N-no,” stuttered Neville as Luna emerged from a tiny alcove overlooking the lake. She’d left off her school robes, and she was wearing a plain tailored outfit from the Patils’ provisional line, along with an untidy pair of stockings that she had apparently donned before leaving the Great Hall. His eye was drawn ineluctably, if reluctantly, to the curves beneath the bright blue Crumple-Horned Snorkack emblem embroidered on the breast pocket of her shirt, and the suggestive manner in which a strategically placed hole in her stocking drew the eye to the hem of her slightly too short skirt.

“Well,” said Luna, tentatively swiping the air in a gesture that raised her skirt even farther above her knees, “be careful. I think there may be one around here somewhere.”

“It wasn’t a Wrackspurt,” insisted Neville. “I was running away from the Witch Weekly witch.”

“Actually,” said Luna brightly, “I think it’s the photographer who really likes you. He’s back there showing his colleague the picture he took of your bum.”

Just what a fellow wants to hear. “Luna—” She was standing beside him now, in the rosy pool of evening light glinting off the loch, and her pale hair was lit with accents as delicate as stars, though Luna herself would probably compare them to Nargles. “I—I should probably say goodbye,” he stammered. “It’s my last NEWT tomorrow morning, and I’m going home to spend the weekend with Gran and get my belongings sorted out before I begin my training—”

“Don’t say goodbye now,” objected Luna, with a look of consternation. “You’re going to Ron and Hermione’s wedding, aren’t you? And I’m not going abroad until October. I’ll be around the flat loads this summer—I already told Dean I’ll help both of you move—”

“You’re being a bit previous,” opined Neville. “We haven’t signed the lease yet.”

“Dean says you’ve been stalling,” agreed Luna. “Is that because you’re afraid of leaving your Gran alone, or because you still don’t think people like you?”

“I—I—” stuttered Neville. Really, he hadn’t had this much difficulty speaking clearly since he took Potions with Professor Snape. Did girls always have a destructive effect on one’s brain waves? Except that he’d never found it particularly difficult to talk to Ginny or Hermione. If he didn’t know better, he’d be inclined to believe that there was a Wrackspurt somewhere about.

“I always liked you,” announced Luna firmly, “and so does Harry, and so does Hermione, and so does Ginny, and so does Dean. And,” she added as an afterthought, “I think Parvati would take you back if you just asked her.”

Kicking the flagstones, Neville muttered, “I don’t want her to take me back.”

“Is there someone else, then?”

“I—” He shrugged, which, he realized ruefully, more or less amounted to saying yes. Foolish, perhaps, but lying made him uncomfortable, and he certainly wasn’t going to lie to Luna.

“She’s a lucky witch,” murmured Luna, gazing reverently out the half-open window at the sunlight fading over the restless waters. “Do you know, a couple of subscribers wrote to Daddy last summer and asked him to do a feature on ‘The Wizarding World’s Most Eligible Bachelor.’ They meant you,” she added conversationally. “At least, one of them did. We think the other one may have meant Viktor Krum. Daddy considered it—he figured it would be easy to research, because I could give him inside information—but I told him that I didn’t think you’d like it much, and then he mentioned the idea to your Gran, and she said she’d see him in Azkaban first, and he’s a little afraid of her, so he put the story on hold. But really, Neville, you could cut a swath of broken hearts like a Heliopath if you wanted to.”

“It’s—it’s not that simple, Luna.”

Luna smiled in her dreamy way. “Most things are simple.”

“Ready, Luna?” inquired Dean, rounding the corner from the Great Hall into the Entrance Hall. “Hey, Neville!”

“Hi, Dean.”

“That Witch Weekly witch was looking for you,” announced Dean with a grin, taking Luna’s books with a proprietary air and tucking them under his arm. “I told her you’d gone to bed. Now she’s interviewing Dennis about his ‘pathetic memories’ of his ‘wise and protective brother’ who suffered from a ‘precocious lust for danger.’ And the photographer’s chatting up Blaise Zabini.”

Luna chuckled as she stretched her arms and smoothed the wrinkled cuffs of her shirt sleeves. Neville’s eyes instinctively followed the motion of her fingers over the delicate wrists until Dean’s voice reclaimed his attention.

“Neville—I wanted to ask you. Any chance you could come to Diagon Alley on Monday to sign the lease? My exams’ll be done by then. On Tuesday we’ve got the banquet, and on Thursday there’s the wedding, and the landlord said we had to make a decision by the end of the month—”

“Sure,” murmured Neville, embarrassed by his own ill grace. “Thanks for asking me, Dean. Sure.”

“Droobles!” exclaimed Luna, brushing Dean’s arm lightly as the three of them turned towards the shifting staircases. “I can’t wait to see the two of you in your own flat. We’re going to have an amazing summer—”

“Mm-hm,” agreed Neville dutifully.

“Whizz Hard sometimes lets me bring home the books I’m working on,” reported Dean, “and some of them are really cool. There’s a brilliant one about plants that cannibalize other plants—you’ve got to see it. It sort of reminded me of the Skrewts, remember, fourth year . . .”

“And what you were telling me earlier, you know, Neville? I might say something to Ginny. I don’t have a lot of girl friends, but Ginny might know someone . . .”

“Er—yeah.”

“See you upstairs,” said Dean, waving lightly as Neville turned towards Gryffindor Tower. “I’m just going to walk Luna back to her dormitory.” He lowered his voice as Mrs. Norris stalked by, bristling her fur at them, and added, “Nip of firewhiskey for luck? Seamus brought some. Oh, by the way . . .” He shoved a scrap of paper into Neville’s hands. “This is for you.”

Neville stood quietly at the foot of his own staircase as his companions mounted the stairs to Ravenclaw Tower, Dean’s hand brushing Luna’s hip in a gesture that seemed the more intimate for being so casual. Luna’s face was turned towards Dean’s as a sunflower towards the sun, in a steady and unselfconscious flow of slightly disconcerting conversation. To a more indifferent viewer, it would have been a pretty picture. As they disappeared into the labyrinthine passages, Neville bit his lip and unfolded the scrap of paper Dean had handed him. It was a quill-and-ink cartoon of Neville stabbing the DADA paper with Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

Most things are simple, Luna had said. Most things are. It was simple enough, in this instance, to intuit that only a git would so much as think of paying his addresses to a woman who looked so happy—as she had seldom looked before—with a man who was faithful and kind, and who was, barring Harry and Hermione, barring Ginny and Ron, one of the first real friends Neville had ever had.

Yes, he pulled Godric Gryffindor’s sword from the Sorting Hat. But to be decent is not to be a coward.

//
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