Unlikely People
by zahra

Harry dreams of prophecies and boys he is not. The dreams are fragmentary and never fully realised, full of halls and doors and flying brains. Harry dreams of Luna and Hermione and being trapped under tonnes of issues of The Quibbler, which break his ribs and steal his breath. When he wakes up, sweat beads his forehead and his hair seems plastered down by an Adhesive Charm.

Dumbledore's words are on Harry's lips, consuming him, and Harry's thoughts turn to another boy that could have shared his fate. Neville is still the same bumbling, accident-prone boy that lost his toad first year, but Harry dreams of him being something more. Harry sees Neville as something more. Neville has been dropped out of windows, taunted unmercilessly and underestimated for most of his life. Sometimes Harry knows a big mistake when he sees one. Neville is coming into his own, if he hasn't already, and the idea intrigues Harry. Strangely enough, he understands a bit why Hagrid is so fascinated with raising creatures, because right now Harry wants nothing more that to see what Neville will become in the end.

For all the things that Neville is not: charismatic, self-assured, the obvious hero, he is clearly transforming into something more than the majority of the wizarding world ever suspected or gave him credit for. He has always been Neville Longbottom, neither forgettable nor eye-catching, just there, like the wallpaper in Aunt Petunia's sitting room.

Yet, during the summer, Harry tosses and turns in his lumpy bed at the Dursleys, dreaming of Neville in black robes with strategically mussed hair. His eyes are bluer than the sky over the Burrow in August summer, and when Harry climbs into bed Neville's eyes are there, watching him cautiously. They bore into Harry's soul stealing his ability sleep.

On nights such as these Harry slips out of his creaking bed and pads down the hall to the Dursley's bathroom. He shuts the door before turning on the light, and he stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. If he looks long enough the green of his eyes blurs into Molting Moss and the scar on his forehead extends into his hairline splitting his head in two.

Harry multiplies before his own eyes, and he wonders what people see in him. He thinks of visiting St. Mungo's, and what it must be like to be Neville Longbottom. They're both constantly reminded of the parents they could have had, but for once, Harry's not sure if he's drawn the shorter stick. He's seen Neville's mum. He imagines visiting her to be a flesh and blood reminder of 'what if,' as opposed to a two-dimension photo album that Harry can always close when the missing bodies get to be too much.

 

On the first day of his sixth term, Harry waits on platform 9 and allows the babbling conversation of Ron and Hermione to wash over him. His eyes dart back and forth in expectation and the glares from Malfoy and his goons glide right over Harry's head. When Neville finally emerges from the barrier, Harry smiles and thinks of bravery and all the strange ways that it manifests in the most unlikely people.

On the Hogwarts' Express Harry shares a compartment with Neville, Seamus, Ginny and Dean. He listens half-heartedly to Seamus' stories of his exploits in Dublin over the break, and he smiles in approval at Dean and Ginny's entwined fingers that rest between them. When Ginny's eyes meet Harry's, his grin broadens. He's happy for her. It can't be easy to find something that makes you happy in the times they're living in, and in Harry's periphery he studies Neville's profile.

The baby fat from first year has melted away, and Neville is becoming quite attractive. His words are still halting, and he fidgets just as much as always, but there is something else there. A quiet steel resolve that makes Harry's chest ache, and Harry jumps when the compartment door slides open with a bang and Ron and Hermione clamber in.

Harry used to fancy Ron, with his enormous family and great capacity for loyalty, but Neville is loyal too. More importantly, however, Neville is an orphan. There are things that he can automatically understand that Harry will never be able to explain to Ron or Cho or Hermione or anyone who hasn't been alone for most of his or her life.

Natural affinities are important.

 

After six years of sharing a room together, Harry has grown accustomed to Neville's snoring. He takes comfort in the familiar things that make Hogwarts more of a home than the Dursleys or Grimmauld Place.

In the dead of night, Harry pulls back his curtains and softly creeps across the room to Neville's bed. He pulls back the bed hangings cautiously and gazes as Neville for several seconds. Neville sleeps undisturbed and even. Harry wonders what he dreams about for long moments and then comes back to himself slightly embarrassed.

He goes back to his bed and readjusts the curtains around his bed before lying down on top of his duvet and turning prophecies over and over in his mind. Strangely enough, Harry's hands creep from the bedclothes to the waist of his pyjama bottoms. He slips his hands under the waistband and strokes himself through fantasies of orphaned boys who could have shared his fate. His grasp changes between tentative and sure, trying to approximate how Neville's hand would feel.

When Harry comes Neville's name is on his lips, and he falls asleep only to dream in blue-tinged vignettes about Herbology classes and Vampire Ferns.

 

As the months progress, Harry's watchfulness increases, and more than once he's startled out of his staring by Neville's nonplussed expression being turned in his direction. During meals Harry finds himself reaching across Ron and Hermione to hand Neville rolls and juice and things that are far easier for other people to reach. He makes a point of looking for Neville's face during Quidditch matches and seeking him out during Hogsmeade weekends.

The week before Christmas, Hermione corners Harry in the library and scolds him for adding to Neville's chronically frayed nerves. He doesn't know what to say until she mentions something about 'people always watching,' and then Harry snaps and tells her to mind her own business. She has no idea what it's like to know people are always watching, and at least Harry has no malicious intent.

When she reminds Harry that people are watching her too, Harry's glare of derision is obvious enough for her words to falter. It's never the same for anyone else as it is for him. Or Neville.

Harry would wager that people don't stare at Ron and Hermione if he's not with them. Hermione can't possible have people whispering about 'the poor unfortunate.' She really has no idea. For a moment, Harry wonders if everyone feels this need to protect Neville the way he does, and then he thinks about the way people treat him and he realises that it must have something to do with the whole orphan business.

Harry has only admiration for Neville. He wishes him no harm.

Point in fact, Harry wishes for something else entirely.

 

Neville is nothing like Cho with her girlish temperament and emotional outbursts. He is nothing like Ron with his boisterous personality or Hermione with her sharp tongue. Neville is the antithesis of Sirius' daring attitude and Lupin's cautious caring. He is nothing like anyone else in Harry's life, and it's a very welcome change.

 

At the end of a particularly grueling DA meeting, Harry asks Neville to stay behind and help him tidy up the classroom. It would only take a charm or two for Harry to clean up himself, but any excuse to be near Neville is welcome and so Harry sees no problem with pulling out a few stops. He busies himself replacing several cushions on a bench on a far wall and is taken quite of guard by Neville's voice coming from directly behind him.

He spins around, a cushion still in his hands. "Sorry, Neville, I didn't catch that."

Neville has grown taller this year. Harry has to look up slightly to meet his eyes.

"I said, I think today went really well, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, definitely. I wasn't sure how well people would take to the Abraxas Charm, but Ginny and Lavender definitely got the gist of it. As did Hermione, but what can you expect considering. You did quite well, too," Harry says, hugging the pillow to his chest forgetting completely about putting it away.

"Thanks," Neville says. "I was wondering..." he begins before his words drop off, and his eyes glance down.

Harry looks downward and realises he's holding the pillow. "What?"

He tosses the pillow aside haphazardly, before looking back at Neville. Neville's hair is mussed slightly, and Harry can't remember it ever being less than straight and glossy.

"Nothing. I just. Have I done something to offend you, Harry, because you're always staring at me and I..."

Harry starts slightly. "No! I mean, no, why would you. Have I been staring a lot?" he says lamely. "I hadn't really noticed."

Neville's eyes lift from the floor and he gazes at Harry intently. "I did."

"Oh. I didn't make you uncomfortable, did I? I didn't mean to, promise."

"I thought you said you hadn't noticed."

"I," Harry's caught.

"Is there something you wanted?" Neville says, looking directly at Harry. His gaze is sure and unwavering. It takes Harry by surprise.

"Yeah, yes. I guess. We never really talked about what happened at the Ministry and I wanted to say, you know, thank you."

"You want to thank me for breaking your prophecy. That's a bit odd, don't you think?"

Neville's laugh is bitter and harsh, which surprises Harry even more. He's never thought of Neville as someone who experienced emotions like bitterness. There are a lot of things Harry's never considered about Neville, and for the first time he notices the freckles that dot Neville's nose. It's a good sort of nose: not too pointy, not too flat.

"I'm not worried about the prophecy," Harry says. "I know what was in it. Dumbledore told me."

Neville starts this time, apparently taken aback by Harry's candidness. He's not the only one.

"Oh, well, that's all right then, isn't it?"

"Yeah. I suppose so," Harry says. Neville's eyes haven't left Harry's face, and he can feel a strange flush creeping up from somewhere.

"Was there anything else?"

"No. Yes. No." Harry turns away, attempting to end the conversation, and goes back to straightening pillows that have already been arranged. His chest feels tight, and he waits for Neville's footsteps to lead him away, but the reassuring patter never comes.

There's a picture on the wall of what looks like the Lake District, and there are ducks swimming in a pond in the foreground. Harry's never noticed the ducks before, but in the silence he can hear them quacking. "Neville, would you want to do something the next Hogsmeade weekend?" he says softly enough that he can barely make out the question himself.

"What?"

"I said --" Harry turns around to find that Neville hasn't moved from his prior position. In fact he seems to be closer.

"Harry, I'm quite clear on what you said, but you don't mind me asking 'why' do you?"

"I just thought... I mean... You don't have to." The words refuse to come out, and Harry finally gives up and shrugs.

This time when Neville laughs there's no trace of the bitterness. "Harry, I simply asked you a question, not for your Firebolt."

Harry shrugs again, and Neville takes a step forward. He's got terribly long eyelashes, and Harry blinks when the back of his leg bumps into a solid object.

"I thought you liked girls," Neville says, leaning down.

His breath gusts across Harry's face causing him to blink again. "I do," Harry says. "I like a lot of things," he corrects.

Neville's smile is an amazing thing, and Harry can't quite remember ever seeing it before.

"So that's what all the staring's been about."

"Yeah. No." Harry colors when Neville tilts his head to the side. "Yes," he amends, before Neville leans forward and brushes his lips against Harry's. It's more of a ghost of a kiss than the real thing. Harry's just shut his eyes and already Neville is pulling away. Harry's eyes flutter open in time to see Neville swooping in for a second time, and he moans loudly when Neville's mouth descends over his.

Neville's teeth are sharp, and he kisses Harry hard. His tongue doesn't seek entrance as much as it storms in, and Neville tastes of Cinnamon Devil Dots. Harry's never been kissed by anyone like this, and he wonders if Cho might've had it all wrong. If perhaps she was broken on the day they kissed, because Harry always though kissing should be much more like this.

All these months of wondering and speculating about the mystery that is Neville, and now Harry's more enthralled than ever. His hands scramble to find purchase of Neville's robes, and Harry's fingers slide along surprisingly hard shoulders and well-defined arms. This is what Harry has been looking for all these months: the strength hiding beneath surface, just waiting for an opportune time to be displayed.

Harry's just getting a hold on the kissing thing when Neville slips away, pulling lightly on Harry's bottom lip with his teeth.

Harry's eyes snap open when further contact is not forthcoming. The self-satisfied smirk on Neville's face is startling, but not unwelcome.

"I didn't," Harry begins, before settling for "Wow."

Neville laughs again, and after a second so does Harry.

"There are a lot of things you don't you know about me, Harry," Neville says. "But if you want to find them out, you'll have to ask."

And before Harry can say anything more Neville turns around and walks away; Harry's left completely gobsmacked.

He's still reeling when Neville pauses at the doorway. "People can always surprise you, Harry, don't forget that, and I have a study date in the library, but I'm sure I'll see you later. "

"Right," Harry says to an empty room. "Later."

 

Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style