Neville watched Mrs. Arbuthnot go, his ears straining as the uneven
tapping of her cane faded into the distance. Once he was sure
she'd gone around the corner he drew the blinds, turned out the lights
and locked the door behind him. His flat was a walk-up on
Euphemistic Alley, not far from his florist's shop. He walked
home purposefully, shoulders hunched and hands jammed into his jumper
pockets as though to ward off a chill, but it was a balmy afternoon in
mid-May. He didn't want anyone to stop and chat him up. He
wanted anyone who recognized him to think he was in a hurry to be
somewhere, and not to impede his progress. He also didnt want
anyone who saw him to realize he was going home, skiving off work on a
He made it home scot-free and bounded up the stairs
two at a time. Petrarch, his pet toad since Trevor's death at a
ripe old age last year, greeted Neville with a croak when he let
himself in. "'lo, Petrarch," he said, giving the toad a gentle
pat on the head.
He strode across the tiny flat,
really more of a bed-sit, to the curtained-off corner that passed as
his bedroom. A rectangular box sat on top of the wardrobe.
Neville took it down and sat on his bed, setting the box beside him and
removing the lid. Inside the box was a pair of gleaming black
shoes, the most valuable item he possessed. He examined them
carefully for smudges and scuff marks, then, after removing the sturdy
brogans he wore for work, slipped his feet into the shoes and tied the
laces in neat, symmetrical bows.
Wearing the shoes made him
feel instantly lighter and more graceful. To prove it to himself
he did a little jig his great-aunt had tried in vain to teach him many
years before. This time he did it perfectly, without tripping
over his own feet or missing a step.
thus bolstered, Neville came out from behind the curtain and activated
a small wireless radio with his wand. Sultry music filled the
flat. Neville next banished his settee and table for one to the
edges of the room, then waved his wand one more time and uttered an
incantation. The air before him shimmered briefly, then a woman
in a close, flowing dress and stiletto heels appeared.
"Buenos dias, seņor," she said. "Are you here for a lesson?"
"Yes," he said, trying not to stammer. "Lesson six, please."
smiled. "Ah, the tango. An excellent choice, seņor, but a
difficult one to master. Have you ever tried it before?"
nodded before he remembered the simulacrum responded only to voice
commands. "Yes, I've had two previous sessions."
good. Then you do not need me to show you where to place your
hands." Neville demonstrated the hold he'd learned in his first
session. The woman nodded. "Good. I think perhaps you
are ready for some advanced steps. Just do as I say and you will
be an expert in no time."
* * * * *
The banquet hall
was an explosion of flowers. He took what his gran might have
called an inordinate amount of pride in how awe-inspiring the displays
were, but this was a project he'd invested extra time and effort in. He
already had a reputation as the best florist in wizarding Britain, but
for this one occasion, for this one person, he'd outdone himself.
He made a quick survey of all the displays, snipping off drooping
blooms with his thumbnail or rearranging stems to enhance the blend of
colors and styles. When no one was looking, he spritzed each
arrangement with a Scent Booster he'd concocted himself.
was a flurry of activity behind him. Neville turned around just
in time to see her enter the banquet hall. The sight alone took
his breath away; no matter how expert he was, no arrangement of his
could ever match her beauty. Even the most glorious of orchids
looked dull in her presence.
Being here was extraordinarily
painful for him. He'd have preferred to spend this evening in a
pub off Knockturn Alley, drowning his loneliness in a bottomless bottle
of firewhiskey and cursing his terminal bashfulness. She'd come
to him herself, however, and begged him to come. "With all the
hard work you've done on the flowers, Neville," she'd said, "you have
to be there. I'd never forgive myself if you couldn't see for
yourself how much you've contributed to my happiness!"
end, it was her happiness that had brought him here. He couldn't
ever say no to her, not where pleasing her was concerned. He'd
been lost like this for many years; his feelings for her had crept up
on him until he woke up one day early in his sixth year and realized
what had once been a passing fancy had blossomed without his realizing
it into ardent love.
He'd always been talented at
Herbology, but after that day he threw himself into it, spending all
his spare time in the school greenhouses nurturing the most delicate
and difficult flowers Professor Sprout could provide him with. In
his seventh year he undertook a cross-breeding project for his
Herbology N.E.W.T. The Ginevra rose was a smashing success,
garnering him invitations to work at several major botanical firms and
admission to the Leiden Institute for Botanical Studies in Holland, the
best place in the world to study Herbology at an advanced level.
He considered them all, but then when he heard the rumors, and later
when the rumors became confirmed fact, he turned down all the offers
save one. Upon leaving Hogwarts, Neville apprenticed himself to
an elderly florist who owned a shop near Diagon Alley, with the
agreement that he would inherit the shop upon the proprietor's death.
hoped that time and distance, and the distraction of work, would seal
the gaping chasm in his heart, but he was wrong. She and her
mother appeared in his shop one day last fall. No one else would
do, they said. Only the best. Money was no object.
How could he say no?
the end, he'd donated the flowers and his services. They were his
gift to them. He had one more gift for her, however, the payment
of a debt that was long overdue.
He kept to the
perimeter of the banquet hall, downing the occasional flute of
champagne for fortification, and watched and waited for the right
moment to give her his gift. He was afraid he would lose his
chance, or worse, his nerve; she was so lovely, and so many people
wished her happiness, she seemed never to be alone.
came when she spotted him lurking in a corner and came over to him, her
face glowing with joy, her arms stretched out to him. "Neville,"
she said, embracing him and kissing him on the cheek. "I'm so
glad you decided to come. The flowers are just... they're so
beautiful. I can't possibly thank you enough."
"It was my pleasure. I'm glad to see you so... happy." His chest hitched.
you have no idea how happy I am. I've been waiting for this day
for so long. Since I was a little girl, I think."
turned to go then, but Neville laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Ginny, wait." She looked up at him. "I would... May I...
Er, that is... Would you care to dance with me?" She tried to
hide her recoil, but he felt the slight jerk of her shoulder under his
hand and knew she was remembering the disastrous night of the Yule Ball
in his fourth year. "I promise I won't tread on your toes this
time," he said.
She glanced behind her, obviously looking for
someone to rescue her, but no savior came. With a small sigh she
turned back and smiled. "Of course, Neville, Id love to dance
He thought his heart would burst with
happiness. He set down his champagne flute on a passing tray,
gently took Ginny's hand in his, and led her across the room. A
band had been playing old standards for about twenty minutes; Neville
sent up a quick prayer to whomever might be listening that the band
wouldn't suddenly decide to take a break. Fate seemed to smile on
him, however, because just as he and Ginny reached the dance floor the
band struck up a tango. He'd have been happy with a waltz, but
he'd worked especially hard on the tango, and was thrilled he'd have
the opportunity to show off what he'd labored so hard to learn.
the sound of the music Ginny drew back again, but he clasped her hand
more tightly and said, "I promise. If I step on your toes even
once, you can hex me any way you like."
She grinned. "You'd best be careful then. You know I'm handy with a hex."
think we can both make it through this unscathed." And with that,
he set himself to the task of giving Ginny his true gift.
* * * * *
Ginny in his arms like this was the closest he'd ever get to heaven, in
this life or the next. Unfortunately, his bliss ended all too
quickly; mere seconds seemed to pass -- though he knew it was
much longer -- before he felt a tap on his shoulder and a masculine
voice said, "D'you mind if I dance with my bride for a while?"
turned, regret tearing him apart as he dropped Ginny's hand. "Of
course," he said, looking up into the man's green eyes. As much
as it hurt, he couldn't begrudge Harry Potter his happiness.
After all, Harry had done what Neville had not; as soon as he'd
recognized his feelings for Ginny, he'd acted upon them. Neville
had only himself to blame. "I didn't mean to intrude."
intrusion at all, mate," Harry said. "I wish I could dance half
as well as you do. I'm afraid I'll squash poor Ginny's feet."
"I suggest you duck if you do," Neville said. "Else she might hex you."
laughed. "I think I'll let my husband off on our wedding day,"
she said, tilting her face up towards Harry for a kiss, which he
readily bestowed. "I may send him to you for lessons,
though. You really are a very good dancer."
smiled despite himself. Then, clasping Harry's hand in his and
shaking it firmly, he said, "I wish you both every happiness in the
world. I've never known two people more deserving of it."
he turned to go, he felt Ginny's hand on his arm. He turned to
look at her one more time. "Thank you, Neville," she said, and
kissed him again before turning back into the arms of her new husband.
My eternal gratitude, as ever, to Jenadamson, my beta and
#1 cheerleader, who endures my strange taste for Neville/Ginny with
patience and good humor.