“I’ve never seen that sort before! What kind of cereal is that?”
Harry looked up from unpacking his book bag, to find Matt Wilson staring curiously at the cereal box he’d brought in for Crafts. Dad had been the one to charm it to make the characters stop moving, but it hadn’t occurred to him –or to Dad, for that matter –that Muggles might not eat Puffskein Puffs.
He should have asked Mum. She would have known that even without the moving images, his box would draw unwanted attention. But he and Neville had almost forgotten that they needed cereal boxes to decorate for their valentines, and Mum had been busy with Heather when he’d remembered…
“My cousins sent them from America,” Harry blurted out the only non-magical explanation for having unusual cereal, that he could think of. Then, just in case, by some unfortunate coincidence Matt knew people in America and tried to track some down, he added, “They’re not very good.”
“Weird,” Matt muttered, but he ambled away with no further questions.
Harry let out a sigh of relief and scrambled over to Neville’s desk to match cover stories. His brother’s box of Bowtruckle Crunch was probably just as unusual, and Matt was unlikely to be the only curious classmate they’d have to face today...
A short, whispered conversation later, Harry slid back into his own seat –only to spot Claire Johnson, two seats down, staring intently at his box with the same look of curious confusion that Matt had been sporting earlier.
Harry sighed and slouched down into his seat, half-wishing the floor would swallow him up; he couldn’t wait for his box to be covered up with coloured paper, and no longer identifiable as being different. But Crafts wouldn’t be till after lunch...
“Interesting choice of cereal boxes,” Hermione commented, eyes twinkling with mirth as she took a seat between the two boys at lunch.
Neville groaned. “Not you too!”
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself.” Hermione giggled. Then, in an undertone, she added, “I would have brought some extra boxes for your valentines, if you’d asked me to.”
“Thanks.” Harry gave her a lopsided smile. “But we didn’t realize until it was too late that boxes we brought would stand out, or we could have asked Dad to change the pictures on the boxes too, and not just stop them from moving.”
“Don’t you own any normal cereal?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” answered Neville. “Those are the sorts we usually buy. Lily says that they have much less sugar than Muggle children’s cereal, but taste just as good.”
“Makes sense,” Hermione nodded, but her smile slipped slightly, “Mother and Father won’t let me have children’s cereal, because of all the sugar, just plain Corn Flakes or Cheerios.”
“I can’t wait to decorate my box this afternoon!” Neville blurted out with more enthusiasm than the comment necessitated, “So! Are you looking forwards to Valentine’s Day, Hermione?”
Hermione frowned. “I don’t know. What if no one gives me a Valentine? I still don’t have many friends; definitely not as many as you do...”
“You’ll get at least two Valentines, one from me, and one from Harry,” Neville was quick to promise. “Right, Harry?”
Harry shook his head, smirking at the confused frown on Neville’s face, and the disappointment on Hermione’s.
“Four; Neville and I will each give you two, won’t we, Neville?”
Neville broke into a smile, nodding his agreement, “Yes, yes, of course we will. Hand-made ones, not the ones that come in a box like Lily bought for us to give to the rest of the class…”
The night before Valentine’s Day, Neville sat alone at the kitchen table, Harry’s pile of finished and abandoned valentines to his left, and his own pile of completed valentines to his right.
In his hands, he held a final unfinished valentine: a large red heart, with a smaller pink heart in the center, hand-cut and trimmed with a piece of sparkly white lace that Lily had let him take from her sewing box.
He’d been working on it forever, but the most important part was still missing.
He wanted the message on this one to be extra special, to let Hermione know what a great friend she was, and that he cared about her a lot, and that even though he sometimes said mean things to her, he didn’t mean them, not really… But, no matter how deeply he wracked his brain, he couldn’t come up with the right words…
Neville turned to face the kitchen counter where Lily was busy making heart-shaped biscuits for the boys to bring to their class’ Valentine’s Day party.
“Lily?” he asked, finally giving up on being able to write the message himself. “Can you help me with my valentine for Hermione? She’s worried that she won’t get any, and I want to make mine extra special for her...”
Lily looked up from her baking and smiled, “That’s a really kind gesture, Neville.”
She wiped her hands on a dish towel, and came over to sit beside him. “Let’s see what you’ve got so far...” Taking care not to upset the precariously piled completed valentines, she reached for the one he held gingerly in both hands.
“This looks pretty special, already,” she remarked, admiring the daisy –painstakingly constructed from eight hand-cut white petals, and a little yellow circle– that he’d glued to the bottom of the heart. “It shows that you put a lot of work into it. I’m sure Hermione will love it.”
“But it’s not finished,” Neville groaned, banging his forehead on the table in frustration. “I don’t know what to write.”
“What do you want to write?” Lily prompted. She could think of plenty of kind words to encourage the precocious six-year-old that had wormed her way into her heart, but this was Neville’s initiative. The words had to come from him.
“Something special...” Neville explained, “Hermione is so very clever, and special, and kind, and different but in a good way. I don’t know anyone else like her, and I want her to know that even though sometimes I call her a know-it-all, or bossy, or a party-pooper, she’s still my friend. But I don’t know any good words to say that pretty....”
Lily smiled indulgently. Neville had a way of saying what was on his mind, in a way all his own, and although he was rarely diplomatic, he wasn’t mean-spirited, “I think you said that very nicely, Neville.”
Neville shook his head, frowning. “But Hermione is clever, Lily. I need to say it clever.”
Lily couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her lips. “I think you meant cleverly, Neville. But I understand what you mean. How about I teach you some new big words that you can use? Would you like that?”
Neville’s discouraged frown transformed instantly into a brilliant smile. “That would be perfect! And can you help me get all the spelling right?”
Lily smiled. “Of course I can. Now let’s see… what about ‘amazing’ as in causing great wonder or surprise?”
Neville shook his head emphatically, “No, that one’s not clever enough; I already knew that one...”
“Hmmm...” Lily murmured thoughtfully. “What about ‘outstanding’? It means easy to notice because of being very good.”
Neville smiled, and pushed a pink scrap piece of construction paper her way, “I like that one; write it down, please.”
Lily scribbled the word down quickly and pushed the paper back his way.
But he shook his head instead of taking it. “It’s still not enough, Lily... another word, please.”
Lily sighed. It wasn’t easy coming up with words, off the top of her head, like this...
She considered refusing, but Neville was staring at her expectantly, and she couldn’t turn him down, not for something like this. So, instead of voicing her exasperation, she found herself asking, “Do you want something else that means the same thing? Or is there something else that you want to try to say?”
“Hmm...” Neville thought hard before answering, “Something similar but that also means that she’s different in a good way, and that I like that about her.”
Lily took a few minutes to come up with another suggestion, silently wishing for a thesaurus –or at the very least a dictionary– but her wand was out of reach at the moment, and Neville was squirming impatiently in his seat. He probably wouldn’t take it well if she stood up now, to retrieve one from the study.
Just as Neville was about to give up, Lily spoke up again, “What about ‘remarkable'? As in, worthy of being noticed, for being uncommon or extraordinary...”
“What does extrodinary mean?” asked Neville. He was almost certain that he’d heard the word before, but he wasn’t sure, and he didn’t want Hermione to get the wrong message.
“’Extraordinary,’” Lily corrected. “It means very different from what is normal, or ordinary, in a good way.”
“That’s perfect!” exclaimed Neville, his previous grin making a reappearance, “Can you write those both down please?” He pushed the piece of pink paper back her way.
Lily jotted the two words down, and handed it back, letting let out a sigh of relief, when he took it without question. She would never admit it to the five-year-old, but he’d really scraped the bottom of her vocabulary-well with his highly specific, and yet thoroughly vague request.
Neville smiled up at her with that crooked grin, the one that made it all worth it, and she found herself smiling back, as she returned to her baking.
Half an hour later, the smell of baking biscuits filled the kitchen, and Neville smiled as he showed off his finished product.
In his coloured pen, and his best print he’d written:
Thank you for being such an outstanding remarkable extraordinary friend!
(PS: I asked Lily to teach me some new words, because you’re so clever, and I didn’t know any words good enough to describe you proper.)
Hermione was going to love it –he hoped.
A/N: I hope you all enjoyed this little bit of Valentine fluff. Thanks, as always, to my beta Arnel, for her help on this chapter.