"Where's Neville?" Ginny looked up from the jigsaw puzzle she was putting together. "It's been hours since I've seen him." She swirled the jumbled pieces in the box. "Does anyone have a piece with a bit of green roof on it? Sometimes a bird flies through it."
Ron flipped a puzzle piece into the air and caught it in one hand, then tossed it over to Harry. "Mum took him in to visit his gran today."
"Maybe Neville's gran won't let them leave," Harry said. "She must be getting bored lying flat on her back in St Mungo's." He threw the piece back to Ron.
"Mum's been back for ages," Ginny said and tried to pick the piece out of the air. But Ron was too quick for her.
"I hope she's making supper," he said. "I'm starving." He peered at the puzzle piece. "Looks a bit green to me. What d'you think, Harry?"
Ron threw the piece into the air and Harry snatched it out from under Ginny's fingertips. "A bit roof-like, I'd say."
Ginny made a face at them. "You don't want me to be angry with you, do you?"
"Why?" Harry asked. "What would you do?"
"You don't want to know," Ron said. "Better hand it over."
Harry dropped the piece onto the table.
"I'll be glad when Hermione gets here next week," Ginny said. "At least I'll have some civilized company." She picked up the puzzle piece. "This is a red door!" Her eyes narrowed and she looked up.
"I'll go and look for Neville, shall I?" Harry said and didn't wait for an answer before leaving the room.
Harry went into the back garden. Neville had a small makeshift greenhouse there and he spent half his time in it, watering, testing soil, talking to the plants. Harry looked through the glass -- he didn't dare open the door -- but Neville wasn't there.
Maybe he was in the house, up in his room. Harry was about to go back inside when something drew his eyes up to the oak tree in the corner of the garden. There, high in the branches, was Neville. He was looking down at Harry.
Harry couldn't see how Neville had got up there. The trunk was bare as far as he could reach and there was no ladder or rope. Harry went over. "Neville," he said and then stopped because he wasn't sure how to go on.
"Do you want to come up?" Neville said.
Harry nodded. Neville stroked the bark and a branch leaned down toward Harry. Harry jumped back, remembering the Whomping Willow. "It's all right," Neville called. "Quercus amica. Just climb on."
It didn't seem very sturdy, but Neville had got up there somehow, so Harry settled himself and held on. The branch began to rise, but slowly, so that Harry had no trouble keeping his balance.
He sat beside Neville on a thick branch. Neville was carving something in the trunk of the tree: a circle, quartered. "It's for protection against lightning," Neville said.
"Doesn't it hurt the tree?" Harry asked. He held on with both hands and the bark was rough against his palms. The smaller branches were covered in acorns.
"No, it's just a scratch." Neville snapped his knife shut and pocketed it.
"How do you make the tree put you up here?" Harry could see all the grounds from here. In a patch of weeds was the croquet ball Ron had lost last week.
"Just ask it," Neville said and touched the bark fondly. "Quercus amica loves company. This one is over four hundred years old." He broke off some acorns and handed one to Harry. "Take it back to school and we'll plant them there. They might be mature enough by now."
Harry put it in his pocket. "Do you sit up here a lot?"
"It's quiet up here," Neville said.
Maybe he shouldn't have bothered Neville. "Did you want to be alone?"
"No," Neville said. He turned to Harry and smiled. "This is nice."
Harry smiled back. This wasn't so bad. They sat in silence for a few minutes. A breeze stirred up the leaves and ruffled their hair. The sun was warm on Harry's back.
"I wish there was a tree like this at home," Neville said. "If you ask politely, it will give you wood for a wand, you know. That's what my new wand is made of. I'm loads better at spells with it."
"You were already loads better," Harry said and Neville's ears went pink.
"Your wand is holly, right? That's a good wood for--"
"Neville," Harry broke in, "I want to tell you something."
Neville looked over at Harry. "What is it?"
Harry couldn't look back. His throat closed up and his chest began to ache. "It's..." He stared down at the branches below them. Through the leaves, he could see a bit of blue. Ginny's jumper that she'd left out on a bench. He clenched his hands and the bark scraped his palms.
"What is it?" Neville said again.
There seemed to be no air in his lungs, but Harry forced the words out anyhow. "It's about ... you. And me."
"Oh," Neville said softly.
"It's hard to talk about," Harry said, but he could feel the words unsticking inside of him now, coming free one by one. "You'll probably hate me for telling you."
"I won't hate you." Neville put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Don't be so sure," Harry said. He turned to Neville. There was Neville's face, shockingly close, moving closer, and Harry froze as Neville kissed him.
Kissed Harry. Neville.
Harry didn't move. Neville pulled back and his eyes were as wide and round as Harry knew his own must be. "I'm sorry," Neville said, flushing. "I thought--" He looked away. "I'm sorry."
"I ought to go," Harry said. He didn't know what to do. "I can't get down." He couldn't remember what Neville had said about getting down.
Neville whispered something to the tree and the branch swung up beside Harry. Harry climbed on. The trip down was swift and he held on with both hands. On the ground, he looked up. Neville's face was turned away, cheek pressed against the trunk of the tree.
Harry went inside and lay down on his bed. The shutters were fastened and fingers of light reached around the edges into the dim of the small room. He listened to his heart beat.
The floor creaked and he looked over to see Ron at the door. A sunbeam played on Ron's shoes and Harry watched dust motes swirling in the air.
"Are you okay, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry turned his head to the wall. "Just a headache."
"Is your scar hurting again? We should tell someone."
"No," Harry said. He couldn't talk to Ron right now. "Just a headache."
"All right then." Harry heard Ron thumping down the stairs and then everything was quiet.
Harry closed his eyes. He could see Neville's hurt face and guilt pricked at him. But he hadn't done anything wrong. He was just surprised. As anyone would be, if a boy kissed him, if Neville kissed him.
Why hadn't Harry noticed anything before? But it wasn't as though he had ever noticed anything with Cho either. Maybe everyone else knew that Neville fancied Harry.
At least Neville hadn't been crying first, Harry thought and grinned. Now he was probably meant to ask Neville for coffee or something.
He could still feel the kiss -- Neville's mouth, soft and warm, pressing eagerly at Harry's, sliding off onto Harry's cheek, while his fingers tightened around Harry's shoulder. It really hadn't been that bad.
Harry sat up. Not that bad? He had only been kissed by a boy and all he could think was "not that bad"? He fell back onto the pillow. Did he like boys now?
Experimentally, Harry thought about kissing ... no, not Ron, push that thought away right now, in fact no Weasleys at all. Terry Boot, then. He was quite fit. Harry thought about putting his hands on Terry's waist and kissing his mouth and being kissed back.
It didn't seem that bad at all.
But what about girls? Harry tried the same thing with Lisa Turpin. Not bad either. This was confusing. But he could like both boys and girls, probably. He was weird in every other way, so it seemed almost logical.
He wasn't going to tell Ron, though, not right away, not when he wasn't completely sure. Not Hermione either. Though she probably already knew. He could almost hear her: I wondered when you'd come round about that. You're nearly as thick as Ron about these things.
He smiled to himself and wondered if he could have a girlfriend and a boyfriend and didn't even know he'd fallen asleep until Ron came to wake him for dinner.
Dinner was awkward. Neville was across from Harry and he wouldn't look at him, or at anyone. Ron had to ask him three times for the salt. Harry felt the tightness in his chest again, but it was different now. He wanted to tell Neville not to worry, it was fine, Harry wasn't angry, his gran would get well, and they'd all be right as rain until Voldemort tried to kill them again. He chewed his beef but it was hard to swallow. He gulped down water and pushed peas and carrots around his plate.
Afterward, Harry helped Ginny with her puzzle. The building was taking shape. It was an old house with peeling paint, covered with moss and bird's nests. A tree stood next to it, an oak like the one in the garden.
"I'm bored," Ron said. "Let's go fly, Harry." He was lying on the floor with his feet up on the couch. "Hey, Neville, want to fly? It's dark enough now."
Neville barely looked up from "Magical Plants and their Muggle Counterparts" long enough to shake his head.
"You lot are boring." Ron tried to stand on his head. He managed it for all of five seconds.
Harry tried three pieces but none fit the doorstep he was trying to fill in. He could hear every page Neville turned.
"Harry, pushing it isn't going to make it go there." Ginny took the piece away from him. "It part of the eaves." And she pressed it into place.
Neville coughed softly and Harry started. "Come on, Ron," Harry said and stood. "Let's fly."
They practised Quidditch until it was late and Ron got hit in the head with the apple Harry threw. Then Harry flew up and up, high and fast. He saw much further from here than up in any tree, or he could if it were day. He wanted to fly away, leave everything behind but the wind. But if he flew long enough, he'd just end up back here.
The village lay below him, dotted with lights. The Burrow glowed warmly and Harry could hear Ron calling to him to come down, come back.
So he did.
Harry woke early. Sunlight pushed around the shutters and made him blink. He dressed and threw the window open. He could see the whole garden from his room and his eyes were drawn to the oak tree. It looked strong, solid, like it would stand for another four hundred years. Especially now that it was warded from lightning. Maybe he should get that symbol tattooed onto his arm.
There was someone in the tree, sitting where the leaves screened him almost from view. But of course it was Neville. And of course Harry had to go talk to him.
Harry felt oddly galvanized. This was not a conversation he was looking forward to, but he was looking forward to having it over. Out in the garden, he stood under the tree, looking up. He could see Neville now, leaning into the trunk as though he hadn't moved from the day before. Harry touched the tree. "Please," he whispered to it. "Please, may I come up?"
The branch lifted him to Neville and Harry shifted over to sit next to him. "Neville?" he said.
Neville turned so he was looking straight ahead. He didn't speak.
"I never got to finish what I was going to tell you," Harry said. He took a deep breath. "It's about the prophecy."
"The one I broke?" Neville said. He sounded tired.
"It's all right," Harry said. "Dumbledore already knew it. He told me what it said."
"What's that got to do with ... you and me?"
And Harry told him.
They were both quiet for a minute once he'd finished. "I thought you should know," Harry said. The weight was gone from inside of him now. He felt light, like he could push off the branch and float in the air.
"I'm sorry, Harry." Neville said. "I ... I'm glad it's not me."
"Don't tell anyone," Harry said. "Ron and Hermione don't know."
The sun was in Harry's eyes and he turned his head. Neville was tracing the circle he'd carved in the tree trunk, around the outside, then crisscrossing the centre. Light through the leaves played on Neville's face. He looked so serious, almost grim.
"Harry," he said, still looking at the tree. "About yesterday. I'm sorry."
Harry thought about yesterday. He remembered the surprise and the warmth of Neville's mouth. He remembered his thought experiment and flying in the dark. Then he reached out and put his hand over Neville's. "Don't be," he said.
Harry could feel Neville's hand clench around the bark as he swung around and stared. Harry looked back and his breath hitched in his throat. He leaned in, moving closer to Neville.
Neville was still for a moment. Then he leaned in too and they met somewhere near the middle.
Their noses bumped together and then they both moved the same way to correct it. They got that sorted and then Harry's glasses skewed and smeared. He pulled away with a muttered apology. Why did this have to be so complicated? It was like brewing a finicky potion, where everything had to be added in a certain order.
Neville unhooked Harry's glasses and handed them to him. He put one hand on Harry's cheek, and moved in slowly. Harry slid his glasses in his pocket and closed his eyes. They fit together at last and now it was as easy as flying.
They stopped long enough to smile at each other and started again. Neville's thumb stroked Harry's jaw and Harry opened his mouth wider. He felt jumpy, shaky, filled with something that bubbled hotly under his skin.
Neville's mouth was watering and Harry sucked down saliva and swallowed it. He put his hand on Neville's back and found a few inches of skin where Neville's shirt had hiked up. Neville shivered when Harry touched him and Harry wondered what all they could do up here without falling out of the tree.
Then the gong rang for breakfast and they sprang apart, grinning. Neville rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. Harry swallowed again. Not bad, he thought, not bad at all.
And lucky his jeans were baggy.
"I suppose we ought to go in," Neville said.
"But ... later?" Neville looked at Harry tentatively.
"Later," Harry said and squeezed Neville's shoulder. Later sounded good.
Ginny was interrogating Ron. "I know you have it. Unless you do," she said, wheeling to stop Harry.
"Have what?" Then he noticed Ginny's puzzle was complete. All but one piece. "Maybe you lost it," he said.
"One of you has it," she said and crossed her arms. "Turn out your pockets."
"Turn out my pockets?" Ron said. "I don't have your stupid puzzle piece!"
Harry reached into his pockets and pulled out his wand, a bit of string, and the acorn. His eyes flicked over to Neville for a moment and he smiled a little. "Not me," he said.
Ginny went back to haranguing Ron as the gong went off again and Mrs Weasley yelled at them to come now or go hungry.
"Did you know an acorn has to freeze before it germinates?" Neville said as he buttered his toast.
"Tell me more," Harry said, and poured his tea.
The puzzle piece was in the sugar bowl.
F I N I S
Please post a comment on this story.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Title: Mast Year
Author: Halrloprillalar [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | 14k | 08/11/04
Summary: Harry and Neville, sitting in a tree.
Notes: Takes place the summer after OotP.
Disclaimer/Other: Rowling, not me.
Notes: Thanks to Kest for beta.
For the Woobies of Destiny Fest. Challenge 37: His Gran is injured (or falls ill) and Neville spends the summer with the Weasleys. Of course Harry joins them after he's put in his time with the Dursleys.
Distribution: Archive anywhere. Email forwarding allowed.
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