Hannah rushed up the stairs, wishing she had longer legs so she could take them two at a time. She gripped her books to her stomach. Her rucksack had ripped wide open several minutes ago, this was the unfortunate, and very embarrassing, cause of her lateness.
Panting, she pushed open the side doors and ran outside, the February air crisp on her face. She could very nearly smell winter in the air. Balancing all her books and things in one hand, Hannah tried to pull her heavy robes more tightly around her.
“Oh!” Her books tumbled out of her arm and fell into the ground with a plop!
“No!” she exclaimed as she fell to her knees, gently lifting her Potions essay from the snow. The parchment was soaked through, the ink already starting to run. She had Potions right after her Care of Magical Creatures lesson; there’d be no time to re-write the essay if this one was ruined.
Hannah grabbed her wand from her pocket and quickly pointed it at the parchment. She sent out a silent hope that this would work before muttering a drying spell… or, what was supposed to have been a drying spell. She watched with wide eyes as the parchment curled up into flames.
Can anything else go wrong today?
The flames crawled up the parchment and Hannah could only watch the words disappear into the blaze.
With a yelp of surprise, she dropped the burning essay and quickly stuck her red and newly burnt fingers in her mouth. The flames rapidly sputtered out in the snow, and the ashes formed a murky sort of dirty water.
With her uninjured hand, Hannah started gathering her snow-covered books. She grasped the books firmly in her hand and stood up, trying to wipe the snow from her robes. Glancing back at the ash-ridden snow, she stuck her burnt fingers back in her mouth; they were really starting to hurt now.
Hannah took a few steps towards where Care of Magical Creatures met, a class she was now very, very late for. There seemed to be something in her throat. Something large. Something that was threatening to besiege her whole body.
“Hannah,” a soft voice said from behind her.
Turning around, she spotted a short boy with a round face standing on the path not far from where she was. She pulled her fingers from her mouth, deciding instead to place them behind her back.
“Hi, Neville.” It was a bit confusing. They didn’t really know each other, and the few conversations they had had mostly included, how are you? and what did you think of the Herbology lesson? Hannah frowned and opened her mouth, letting the only thing she could think to say come out. “Is this about the D.A.?” Wincing as soon as the words left her mouth, she gripped her burnt fingers in a tight fist behind her back; why would he be asking about something that had dissolved after fifth year?
Neville shook his head and scratched at his ear. “Er… not exactly.”
That was when Hannah noticed that he was holding something other than his rucksack. Something potted. Something that looked rather unsightly, if truth be told.
“Erm, how are you?” Neville asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
Hannah smiled bashfully, as she usually did when a boy other than Ernie or Justin talked to her. “I’m all right. Why aren’t you at lessons?”
“I’m free right now.” A hint of a smile appeared on Neville’s face before a look of comprehending fell over his features. “Are you supposed to be in lessons now?”
Hannah nodded. “I’m very late.” She realised a bit too late how rude she had sounded. It sounded as though she didn’t want to be talking to Neville at all. Felling her cheeks warm, she bit her lip and looked at the ground, too embarrassed to correct her words.
“I’ll see you, then,” he said, his voice sounding slightly disappointed.
Glancing up, she noticed he wasn’t looking at her, and she felt like she should say something explaining that she liked talking to him. And, now he was turning away, so she had to do something quick.
Just as she was opening her mouth, Neville quickly turned to face her again, his arm extended, offering the ugly potted plant-like object to her.
It was a curious thing. It looked like a dead gerbera daisy without any petals. It was brown and it looked so dry that it seemed if you touched the stem with the lightest of taps, it would snap right in half.
“Here,” he said, taking a few steps closer. “It’s for you.”
Before she knew what she was doing, Hannah reached out and grasped the pot. Their fingers brushed in the exchange, and she let out a tight giggle. A blush almost immediately burst on her cheeks and she glanced up at Neville and for a brief moment met his eyes. He was smiling, too--a bashful smile that made Hannah’s knees go weak.
Not being able to hold his gaze, she looked back down at the brown plant. She didn’t know what to say to Neville.
He must have sensed her… confusion. He coughed and handed her a small brown envelope and she took it between her fingers, not having another hand free to accept it.
“It’s a Lucina Abvesania. It doesn’t look like much right now, but it will!” Neville’s whole countenance seemed to perk up in the few small words he spoke about the Lucina Abvesania. His eyes had a glow to them. “It looks this way to defend itself against plant-eating animals, but once the sun--”
Neville seemed to cut himself off, and Hannah looked back down at the plant in a new found awe. “What happens when the sun does what?” she asked, truly interested.
“Oh, well.” Neville seemed suddenly hesitant again. “Just make sure to watch it at sundown tonight.”
“What’s going to happen?” she asked in excited whisper. “What does it do?”
Neville smiled. “Wait until later. You’ll like it. I think.”
“All right.” Hannah squinted at the plant, trying to figure out what the brown, decaying plant could possibly do.
Their goodbyes were said hastily, Hannah remembering she did, in fact, have a lesson to attend, and they went on their ways. As she walked toward the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and her class, Hannah found she couldn’t wipe the smile from her face.
“Where have you been?” Susan hissed, grabbing Hannah’s arm as she joined the class as unobtrusively as possible. “You’ve missed half the class! And what is that you’re holding?”
Hannah shook her head and nodded toward Hagrid, who was explaining the feeding habits of Occamies.
Making sure no one was paying her much mind, she placed her books on a rock, with the potted Lucina Abvesania on top. Her fingers shook ever so slightly as she looked the little brown envelope over. It had her name scrawled messily on the back. She opened the envelope and carefully removed the card.
A smile played at her lips and Hannah felt very funny as she read the words on the card.
The Lucina Abvesania is one of my favourite magical plants. I hope you like surprises.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
The dormitory was quiet. Everyone was in the common room, socializing, working, exchanging Valentine’s Day cards and the like.
Hannah sat cross-legged on the crisp duvet of her four-poster bed. She had convinced Susan that she wanted to take a nap before dinner, claiming to be suffering from a headache and that a short lie-in was all she needed.
She hadn’t had a headache, but there was a queasy feeling in her stomach from having lied to her best friend.
Neville’s letter was placed in front of her, next to the open Herbology textbook. When she had sat down on her bed, the late-afternoon sun had been pouring in through the windows; now the room was dark, and the sky outside was pink and orange. She didn’t want anyone to know, but the entire time she’d been in her dorm, Hannah had been pouring over her Herbology textbook, trying to figure out what was proving to be the unanswerable question.
What was this plant?
It wasn’t under Medicinal Properties of Irish and Scottish Flowering Flora, and there was no mention of the Lucina Abvesania in the section on English Herbs and Hyacinths: A Detailed List of Native Nature of England. There was no mention of anything that resembled the plant in Rare Magical Annuals of the World.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t easy to find.
It was nearing sunset, and Hannah had to squint to make out the words on the page in the dark, unlit room. With a sigh, she fell back, her head landing on her pillow. It was a wonder that the lamps hadn’t been lit yet.
It was almost immediately that the room’s lamps began to light, one by one.
Raising herself to her elbows, Hannah looked around. The yellow colour of the beds suddenly seemed very bright.
With a few blinks, her eyes adjusted and she looked over at the mysterious plant Neville had handed her only a few hours previous. She glanced out the window briefly. The sun would set at any minute.
Hannah wasn’t sure what would happen to the plant when the sun finally did set. Would it be a very subtle change, or would it be huge? She was afraid that it would be so subtle, she would miss it completely, and terrified that it would be so enormous that she’d be thrown off her bed.
With every second that past, she felt it more and more difficult to not look at the brown and miserable flower. Curling up on her side, she watched the plant do absolutely nothing.
That was when a peculiar buzzing sound filled the room.
Hannah quickly threw her legs over the side of the bed and looked around the dorm room. Her eyes flew over the other girls’ trunks, their beds, the floor, before coming to rest, once again, on the odd flower.
It couldn’t be the plant that was making that noise. Could it?
Squinting, she brought her face closer to the brown flower. It was vibrating ever so slightly.
She closed her eyes tightly for a second or two before opening them wide. She wasn’t going to miss this.
It was vibrating like mad now. The leaves were shaking so much they looked as though they’d fall right off any moment. The dried up bud was--
Hannah’s jaw dropped open.
The bud was… growing! It was four--no, five times the size it had been only a few moments ago. And the plant seemed to be shedding the brown dry skin that had covered it, to reveal a rich green colour.
She watched fascinated. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say it was glowing--but then, she didn’t know anything about the plant; it may very well be glowing.
And then, it burst open with a tight pop! A fluttering of pink and white flew out of the bud and shot into the air. The small specks seemed to dance in the air as they fell. Some landed on the nightstand, some on the floor, and yet others on the bed and on Hannah’s lap.
Slack-jawed, she watched the bud unravel; layers of petals of a brilliant yellow and red unfolded before her. The flower swayed slightly, and with a few final bounces, it suddenly stilled.
It was all she could do but stare.
She had never before witnessed anything so… brilliant. At Hogwarts, she’d seen many amazing things before, and many interesting plants in Professor Sprout’s greenhouses, but this was different. She couldn’t place exactly what was so brilliant about this flower, but she felt somewhere deep inside that it was very special.
Suddenly, Hannah needed to find him. She jumped up from her bed and ran. She ran through the common room, ignoring Susan and Justin when they called out to her, and she ran up the stairs to the Entrance Hall. Her breath heavy, Hannah looked around, only just realising that she had no idea where to find him.
She bit her lip, and started walking in a random direction. This was stupid. She wasn’t going to find him; she didn’t know where the Gryffindor dormitories were, or if he’d be there even if she did. It would be best to wait until dinner; it wasn’t that long away, after all.
No. There was something nagging at her, telling her that she should… that she wanted to thank him in private. She had to do it now, before dinner.
Her fingers absentmindedly scratched at the back of her left hand as she walked; they were shaking and it was the only way to keep them under control. Maybe she’d bump into him. Maybe he was walking around the castle right now looking for her. Hannah groaned; he probably wasn’t.
Hannah stopped walking when she reached the library. Frowning, she paused for a moment before stepping forward to push the door open as a wave of nerves washed over her.
Her eyes swept over the crowds of students. The palms of her hands felt damp as she scanned the tables.
Her heart seemed to sink; no Neville here. She was just about to turn when she noticed a red and gold scarf draped over a chair that was next to a table-full of books. A weight seemed to shift off her chest and she let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding.
She ran into the library, slowing down slightly when she noticed Madam Pince glaring at her. Giving the librarian an apologetic smile, she walked briskly the rest of the way to the mysterious Gryffindor scarf. Just as she reached the scarf, two people, followed closely by a third, came around the bookshelf and plopped three more huge stacks of books on the table.
Hannah gasped and stared.
For some unexplained reason, she had thought the scarf belonged to Neville, it hadn’t even crossed her mind that it could be someone else’s.
“Hi,” Ron said, staring at her. “What?”
Before Hannah could say anything, Hermione had elbowed him in the side. “Ron! Hi, Hannah.”
Hannah smiled and glanced toward the third in the trio. Harry gave her a half-smile before turning his concentration on the tattered corner of an old book. “Hi. I was wondering if you might know… um.” Hannah could feel her cheeks turn warm, and she smiled hesitantly. “If you know where Neville is?”
“He was in the common room earlier, he might still be there,” Ron said, sitting down at the chair with the scarf. So, it was his scarf.
An impatient tutting sound came from Hermione. “She doesn’t know where that is.”
“I know,” Ron answered defensively. “I was telling her where he is.”
Turning to face Hannah, Hermione asked in a much nicer tone, “Do you want us to give him a message?”
Hannah looked the other girl in the eye, hoping to convey something wordlessly, hoping there’d be some sort of womanly bond between them so she wouldn’t have to spill it all out in words. “No, I, erm, I need to see him. Do you think--maybe--if it’s all right, you could tell me where your common room is, and I can wait for him there?”
Maybe there was a bond between girls, because Hermione seemed to understand, while the two boys didn’t seem to catch on. “I’ll go get him. Wait here.”
“Thank you!” a very grateful Hannah called after Hermione, who was now making her way out of the library.
Hannah turned back toward the table, a smile playing on her face, and a tingling feeling in her stomach. She stood there for a few seconds and a feeling of discomfort wove its way into the tingles.
Ron and Harry seemed to have completely forgotten she was standing there, or else they were simply ignoring her. Hannah hoped it was the former, but in either case, she was starting to feel really silly just standing there.
“So,” she said in an attempt to say something, “Harry, what are you researching?”
Harry looked up at her, as though surprised she was there. Hannah felt relieved, they had forgotten she was there. “What… oh, it‘s nothing,” he said, seeming purposefully dismissive.
“Oh,” she said, feeling somewhat disappointed that her question wasn’t a big conversation starter.
“Just research,” he said with a shrug, before focusing his attention off her once more.
There was about five more minutes of deathly uncomfortable silence, with Hannah wanting to know how to alleviate the discomfort, before Hermione returned to the library with Neville following behind her. His hands were in his pockets and he was looking at her cautiously.
She sent him a smile, and her stomach felt like it had a hundred tiny butterflies had made a home in there.
When they reached the table, Hermione turned to Hannah. “Have you done the Arithmancy essay yet?”
Hannah twisted her fingers and shook her head. “No, I haven’t. Not yet.”
“Oh.” Hermione seemed slightly unsettled. “I’m nearly done with mine, but I’m not sure if Professor Vector expects us to analyse our findings, or just report them.”
“I don’t think we have to do analysis; I don’t remember there being any mention of it.”
Hermione seemed to think about it for a moment, and Hannah glanced at Neville. He seemed to be staring at his shoes.
Taking a seat at the table, Hermione glanced at a piece of parchment. “I think I’ll add it in, just in case.”
And then Hermione turned her full attention to the parchment. Across the table, Harry and Ron were engrossed in something or other, and Hannah turned her full attention to the boy standing next to her.
“Hermione said you were looking for me?” It was more of a question than a statement.
Nodding, Hannah glanced back at the table. “I wanted to--er--to thank you.” Hannah glanced at another table. She couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone in the library--even Madam Pince, who seemed to be staring daggers at her--was taking a keen interest in her conversation with Neville. “Do you want to…” She motioned toward the door.
“Oh, yes!” Neville said, as though he was just realising there were other people in the library beside the two of them.
Once they were in the hall, they started walking aimlessly.
“I wanted to thank you,” Hannah started again, now feeling much more confident, “for the beautiful flower.”
“You watched it then?” he asked, animatedly. “You saw it at sundown, what it did?”
Hannah nodded and bit her lip, her cheeks feeling warm and achy from a smile she couldn’t get rid of. In a small, awed voice, she replied, “It was brilliant; I loved it. Thank you.”
Neville smiled at her. “It’s one of my favourites.”
Hannah smiled back, feeling as light as air for some reason. “I can see why; it’s beautiful.”
“That’s not the only reason.” Neville shrugged. “It’s a perennial, it comes back every year, but most of the year it looks like it’s damaged or dead--a hopeless cause. And you don’t think it could ever change back into a healthy flower again. But, you care for it throughout the year, water it and give it some sun, and one day every February at sunset, it will bloom and become alive again.”
Hannah stared at him as he finished his explanation. He looked as though he was far away as he spoke. She felt awed by the flower.
“Why?” she breathed.
Neville smiled at her suddenly animatedly. “It’s a defence mechanism. It looks brown and dead so animals won’t eat it.”
“And it blooms like that every Valentine’s Day?”
Shaking his head, he explained, “It’s different every year; this year the blooming day happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. You can calculate exactly when it will bloom. It stays blooming for three weeks after the blooming day.” He was using his hands to explain now.
Hannah smiled. She didn’t know what to say, how to express her thanks for such an impressive flower. “Does that mean, if it didn’t bloom today, you wouldn’t have given me a Valentine?” There was no doubt that her cheeks were bright pink.
Biting her lip, Hannah rubbed her hands on her robes; her palms were really very sweaty. “I’m glad you did,” she muttered.
Glancing at Neville, she noticed he was looking at her. Smiling, Hannah averted her eyes, but not for long; they seemed determined to hold Neville’s gaze.
Her breath was coming in shallow, soft pants. She felt light-headed… she needed to hold onto something. Reaching out, she grasped Neville’s hand in hers. Their walking slowed, until they were standing still, all alone in the middle of the hallway. The butterflies were no longer confined to her stomach--now, they were all over her body.
“Thank you, Neville,” she whispered, looking hesitantly into his bashful eyes.
He smiled, and they just stared at each other.
“Do you,” he said, as though he had a constricted throat. “Do you want to go to Hogsmeade with me?”
A smile played at Hannah’s lips and she giggled. Flat-out giggled in her nervousness. A look of terror broke out on Neville’s face, and she quickly nodded.
“Yes,” she blurted out. “I’d really like that.”
They smiled bashfully at each other, finally starting to walk again, deciding to take the long way to the Great Hall for dinner. But, Hannah could barely feel the floor beneath her feet as they walked--she was floating.
A/N: Many thanks to XiaoXiao for the pre-beta, and for the title suggestion! And many thanks as well to my fabulous PS beta, Jalyn!