Title: The Most Timid Lion

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Harry Potter

Time/Setting: Sixth or Seventh year, and probably AU because of the schedule of classes I created for them

Rating: G

Parings: none at all, but feel free to "read into" any you like

Spoilers: Small spoilers for the series in general, for Book 1, and a few VERY tiny details taken from Book 5

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter. I write this only in fun and mean no harm, especially to poor Neville.

Summary: Sometimes, mistakes can't be avoided, and their results can be disastrous. But Neville's not the only one who makes them. And throwing in a little hurt/comfort doesn't hurt anything, either.

Notes: This is my first attempt at a Neville story. Hope it's not too bad

Feedback: I'd much appreciate some :-)



The Most Timid Lion


     Neville set his new and treasured acquisition down on the windowsill, pushing the other plants closer together to make room for it right in front of the window, squished between a Dittany plant and the beginnings of a Flutterby bush he was meaning to plant outside when the snows had cleared away. The bush gave a huge shudder, apparently not caring to be moved, but Neville stroked its leaves gently and it settled down comfortably in its pot.


     "Oy! Not another one!" Seamus groaned from across the room. He and Dean were on his bed going through their collections of chocolate frog cards. "We own that windowsill as much as you do!"


     Neville bit his lip and looked away from them. "But they need the light," he protested in what sounded as far away from a protest as anything.


     "Don't listen to him," Dean called over. "He's just giving you a hard time because he's two cards short from having a full set of alchemists." Seamus crossed his arms against his chest with a huffy sigh and stuck his tongue out at Dean. Dean picked up some of Seamus' cards and threw them at him in retaliation.


     Neville turned away, still looking depressed and feeling nervous. He knew they were all supposed to share that part of the room and he had completely taken it over with his plants. His bed was closest to the window, which made that easy to do and sometimes he just didn't think about the consequences. But he also knew the others really didn't mind all that much. Still, he headed into bed and drew the curtains around his bed so he was completely hidden from the others as he tried to fall asleep.


     Tried being the operable word. Seamus and Dean were making quite a lot of noise, which he could make out even with a pillow over his head. And a few minutes later, Ron and Harry entered and joined in the fun. Neville wished he'd paid more attention on silencing charms so he could block the noise coming in through his curtains. After tossing and turning for nearly an hour, things started to quiet down as the other boys went off to bed, and Neville finally fell asleep himself, head still buried beneath his pillow.


* * *


     It was Trevor's hungry croaks that woke him the next morning, finding that the other boys had already headed off to the showers or breakfast or perhaps both. Neville groaned, not wanting to be late, and pulled on his clothes hastily. He stopped only to pat his Mimbulus mimbletonia good morning and scoop Trevor up into his pocket.


     Luckily, breakfast was far from over when he reached the great hall, and he managed to eat some oatmeal with fruit before they had to head off to their first class. Trevor had a few bites of Neville's breakfast as well once Neville had eaten all he liked, which wasn't much. He wasn't very hungry this morning, more tired than anything, really. As he looked down the Gryffindor table to see Seamus and Dean talking animatedly about something or other, he wished he'd been able to get a little more sleep.


     Neville enjoyed Wednesdays and Fridays, for they had Herbology first thing but also dreaded them for his favorite class was followed by his least favorite. But it was always a splendid way to start a day, under the warm glow of the morning sun as it streamed down through the greenhouse ceilings. He felt quite rejuvenated even before the lesson began as he stood at a station with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.


     "Today," Professor Sprout started as she nodded them all welcome. "We're going to be harvesting pouches from Puffle Duffles." Neville grinned excitedly in understanding. The pollen contained in Puffle Duffle pouches was extremely dense and heavy but was also useful in hundreds of potions.


     "Didn't we do those in third year?" Ron whispered to Harry across the table.


     Rolling her eyes, Hermione hissed back, "You're thinking of Puffapods, Ron! The ones with the fat pink pods you kept dropping, making them burst into flower."


     "Oh yeah," said Ron as he remembered.


     Professor Sprout went on to discuss the various uses of the plant, and all of the unique characteristics of it. Called upon, Hermione listed about a dozen useful potions using the pollen as an ingredient, and Neville raised his hand and explained about the ways the plants communicated during reproduction. Despite the pollen, the plants had no flowers at all, so cross-pollination was not done as usual with insects going from one flower to another. Instead, each plant was able to sense the nearest two or three, even at distances up to a mile away. When one plant felt the need to reproduce, one of its pods would burst open, spilling is pollen into the air and the other plants would suck the pollen up, mixing it with its own. Then those plants would burst open to send their pollen elsewhere. When seedlings developed, those would be spread similarly as pods of them burst open. But unlike the pollen which was useful, the seedlings were pointless to harvest. Thus, you had to know in which stages of development the plant was in if you wanted to do anything with it. Professor Sprout had awarded him ten points for his answer and Neville's grin stayed brightly on his face.


           Upon Professor Sprout's instructions, they all selected from behind them a large Puffle Duffle plant on which to work. There were so many and their pouches so big and full that it was hard to see any other plants around the greenhouse, apart from the umbrella-sized flowers hanging colorfully from the ceiling. Neville selected an especially small and sad looking one he knew no one else would take, and immediately gave it a little water and food. Hermione had a normal looking one, and she ran her fingers over the pouches gently to gauge how full and heavy they were. Neville could tell by the look of it that it was full of pollen rather than seeds. Both Ron and Harry had selected large ones, where the main stem bent over at the weight of the pouches. Those needed to be harvested right away.


     "Why'd you get a sick one, Neville?" Ron asked, screwing up his face in disgust at Neville's poor plant. Neville just shrugged and felt his own plant's pods- seedlings. No wonder it was looking so bad, all its nutrients had gone into reproducing. Neville grabbed a trowel from the bottom shelf in their station, and found a tray and dirt. Very cautiously, he set to work clipping and opening one pod the way Professor Sprout had instructed if the plant did not open on its own. He collected a handful of seeds in his gloved hand and spread them over the dirt tenderly. He covered them up with another layer of dirt, using his finger as a guide to be sure he did not burry them too deeply. He watered gently, pouring the water first on his hand, then letting it trickle down onto the tray so the soil absorbed it. Then he set the tray on a cart of other small saplings and seeds to care for later. His plant seemed to look relieved at the weight that had been lifted and a very small new pouch had begun to grow where the other had been removed.


     Neville looked up to see Hermione clipping off her plant's fullest pouch. She set it very gently in a small container that had been provided, then pulled on her gloves. But before she could place the lid on the container, reach in through the side and open the pouch, there was a commotion.


     Ron, who so rarely listened to directions in Herbology, had simply watched Neville's lead and followed. But instead of checking the weight of his pouches to determine if his held pollen or seeds, he clipped it off and proceeded to open it as Neville had done. The pouch contained pollen, and the open exposure of such made every pouch on his plant burst open, sending a cloud of pink pollen into the air. Ron yelped in surprise and jumped back, but the damager had been done.


     As Ron accidentally overturned a water bucket and Professor Sprout shouted "Mr. Weasley!" the closest two plants to Ron's, which were Hermione's and Harry's burst open as well, sending similar clouds of pollen into the air. Before Neville could bemoan the now ruined system, the plants on the table next to theirs started bursting open as well. In less than a minute, every students' plant which had contained pollen had sent its pollen into the air above them.


     Ron had gotten a full blast of pollen in the face from the plant, and righted himself, foot and robes socking wet at the bottom. He took a deep breath and began sneezing, one hand to his face. "ketChooo! kehChuhhh! kahChoo! KuhChooo! kahCHOO!"


     A few students, including Neville, Hermione, Harry and a few of the Hufflepuffs were trying to push the plants to the side, back and out of the way of the pollen before they, too, could explode. Hermione and Professor Sprout set up an invisible barrier around the two rows of plants on either side of the greenhouse.


     But the damage had been done and so much pollen was wasted. Neville felt his heart sink as he squinted up at the clouds of pollen which were floating, confused, in mid-air. Then it slowly came back down in order to settle on the plants which had begun sucking at it. Neville ducked, as did other students, but it was no use. All Neville could do was hold his breath and pinch his nose shut as the sound of sneezing erupted all around him.


     He shut his eyes tightly though they had already begun to water and itch. And his nose felt itch as well though he dared not unpinch it, trying to keep from sneezing for as long as possible while he tried to think of what he could possibly do.


     Harry was right next to him, sneezing violently with one hand resting on the shelf of their station to support himself as he was tossed forward with each sneeze. "hihChuhhh! hehChehhh! hahChahhhh! hihhChuhhhh!"


     Hermione was sneezing across from him, two hands up to her face. "ahhShhh! ahhChh! ahhChh!" They were high-pitched sneezes but forceful and wet all the same. Between sneezes, she glared at Ron for doing this to them.


     Ron, who had gotten the full blast of the pollen, was still sneezing terribly, leaning forward against their station. "kehChooo! KahChooo! Chooo! Chishhooo! KuhChooo! KuhShoooo!"


     Rubbing his eyes with his thumb, Neville risked opening them and looked around. Not a single person in the greenhouse had been spared by the pollen. One of the reasons it was so successful in potions for making people feel fuzzy and disoriented was the effect of the pollen on one's senses. It was so thick and heavy that it touched anyone and everyone, and Neville couldn't imagine how long they'd all be sneezing after a direct exposure like this. He looked over at Professor Sprout, who had her nose pinches as well, but seemed much closer to a sneeze than Neville was. Her mouth hung open, and she waved a hand in front of her face as she gasped with pre-sneeze breaths.


     Neville sighed, having to let out his breath finally, knowing his attempts were no good anyway. His nose tingled and tickled and somewhere in the back of it rose the overwhelming urge to sneeze. He cupped a hand to the lower half of his face and curled up on himself, knees bent up towards his face, arms wrapped around his legs, head bent down towards his knees. "ihhhChushh! ehtChishh! ihTushhh! ehhhTChuhhh!" The sneezes were terrible, making his nose itch and tickle tremendously so that once he had started, all he seemed to want to do was to sneeze again and again to rid himself of the sensation that only grew worse. "ihhTushhhh! hihtChuhhhh!



     Beside him, Harry got down on his hands and knees, sneezing freely. "huhChahhh! hihChahhh! Hih-eh-CHahhhh!" He slowly crawled past Neville, heading towards the door. Apparently, he had the instinct to get to fresh air. Neville knew this would cause the pollen to escape and every Puffle Duffle plant in a mile radius to start pollinating as well. But as long as they stayed out of the stream of pollen, their sneezing should die down.


     Wishing he had thought of that himself, he uncurled and got down on all fours as well. He held his breath a moment to reach over and touch Hermione's leg to get her attention. She looked up, sneezing, and at the sight of Harry, she understood. She tugged on the hem of Ron's robes and motioned, and so the signals and understanding filtered through the rest of the class. One by one, they slowly made their way out of the greenhouse. Professor Sprout quickly shut the door behind. As she sneezed, she stared down at Ron. "Didn't listen- ihsh!- to the instruct- ehsh!- instructions, did you- ihtchh!- Mr. We...We- ihsh! ihshh!- Weasley?"


     Ron, who was sneezing harder than everyone else because of his more direct exposure, turned a bright, scarlet red. Harry put an arm around him comfortingly and Hermione patted his arm, then pulled away with a strong sneeze. She plunged a hand into her robes and pulled out a tissue, cupping it to her nose.


     "Fifty... ihtchh! ihch! ihsh! Fifty... poi-points- ihchh! from... from... ihchh! Ihtch! ihshhh! Oh!" she exclaimed and threw up her hands to show she gave up. Neville felt that they lucked out quite a bit in that.


     "HURKSHOOO!" Neville was sure that if he had not been sitting down, the booming sneeze would have been enough to knock him back down on his behind. The sneezer turned out to be Hagrid, who approached, hidden behind a large handkerchief which was nearly as big as a small tablecloth. He didn't seem to be sneezing as much as the others, perhaps because he had been across the grounds at the time instead of inside the greenhouse, or perhaps because he kept his handkerchief up as he breathed. "I'll go get Madam Pom...Pomfrey, then. HURASHOOO! HURCHOOOO! Shall I?" Neville found himself shrinking away from the half-giant, scared a sneeze might toss him forward and he might step on Neville.


     Professor Sprout nodded, burying her nose into her dirty apron as she sneezed. "Please!" she managed.


     Neville was relieved to hear that the school nurse would be visiting soon. His nose felt though if it were on fire. It seemed no matter how much he sneezed, the tickle stayed there. "ihhChuhhh! ehhChooo! ihhChuhhhh! hehChuhhh!" And his whole body ached as each sneeze sent him snapping forward. His head spun and throat itched as much as his eyes did. If only he'd been paying more attention to Ron and less attention to his poor plant charge at the beginning of the lesson. "ihhChuhhh! ehhChuhhhh! ehhhChuhhh!" Tired to death of sneezing, Neville pinched his nose shut and tried to suppress the rest. "ihkkkk! ehhkfffff!" The result was nothing close to as successful as he had wanted. He looked around again, seeing Lavender Brown sneezing silently, head bobbing, face squinting up, but no sound coming from her at all. That would be a much more useful way to sneeze. So softly that no one even noticed he was sneezing at all. He set to work observing her and trying to stifle his sneezes, but the closest he got was a soft "ih!" of breath in and a snort as the sneeze tried to come out. He had needed to wipe his nose badly on his robe sleeve after that and decided it was perhaps not the time to practice this while he was in front of his entire Herbology class.


     Luckily, Madam Pomfrey came over sooner rather than later and the duration of their class was spent sipping from small steaming goblets in between sneezes which they buried in the handkerchiefs she had brought along for them all. The handkerchiefs had some sort of spell placed on them so that for as much as you used one, it did not get wet. Neville was quite thankful for this, and pulled away from the others to feel miserable alone as he waited for his sneezes to die down. It wasn't as though he minded sneezing in the first place, it was just the concept of having so many people potentially watching him sneeze. Neville liked to blend into the background and go unnoticed whenever he was in a position in which he might look or do something stupid.


     Neville and a few of the other students, Ron included, were still sneezing when the bell rang to signal the changing time between lessons. Normally, Neville wouldn't mind feeling all sniffley and sneezey during lessons, especially when others were feeling likewise. Normally he could try and keep them down and hope the occasional sneeze would go unnoticed. But their next class of the day was Potions and he felt that there could be nothing worse for him at that moment.


     They passed Professor McGonagall on the way in. She looked as stern as Neville had ever seen her. If steam could have puffed from her nostrils, he was sure it would have. In fact, as he watched her step out into the cold, she breathed out through her nose and it did come out in small puffs. Neville held back his laughter and was glad his handkerchief hid his smile. Neville also pinched his nose shut behind his handkerchief to give her no reason to single him out as teachers always seemed to do. But she looked over them all quickly, her eyes finally resting on Ron. "Mr. Weasley, I think you've suffered enough for this blunder."


     Ron looked as miserable as Neville felt, sneezing continually. "kehChoo! kihChuhhh! kehChuhhhh! Huh-huhChishhhhh!"


     Her voice, usually stern, had a bit of a bounce to it, as though she were trying not to laugh and, rather, sound kind. "Follow me, I'll take you to the hospital wing." Looking as though he didn't care where he went as long as the sneezes stopped, Ron followed her in through one door.


     The rest of the Gryffindors parted from the Hufflepuffs with nods and waves amidst the sneezes. The Hufflepuffs went in towards the great hall and the staircase, while the Gryffindors took the door which led directly down to the basement. Neville wished he could have been taken away by Professor McGonagall as well. Anything would have been better than Potions class.


     Today's practical Potions lesson was a group one, and with Ron gone, Snape assigned Neville to work with Harry and Hermione. Neville had the distinct feeling that Snape knew that even with Hermione's help, Harry and Neville together would be enough to mess up anything so badly that they would all receive a zero. Their task was to make an invisibility potion which would temporarily make anything it was poured on invisible, as long as it was dead. To Neville's great relief, Puffle Duffle pollen was not one of the ingredients. Neville had had quite enough of that for one day.


     While Harry and Hermione combined all three of their ingredient stores, Neville went to get the cauldron, still sniffling badly. He tucked the handkerchief away and reached for one of the large cauldrons, but Crabbe pulled it away from him with a nasty sneer. Neville rolled his eyes and took another instead, trying to convince himself that this one's rusted bottom wouldn't be a liability. On his way back, the urge to sneeze struck him again too intensely to deny. He looked around desperately, seeing Snape's eyes right upon him. But there was nothing he could do except raise his arm a bit and crane his neck to bury his nose in the crook of his arm. "hihChushhh! ihhTchuhhh! ihhTchuhhh!" The force of the sneeze coupled with the weight of the large cauldron pushed him forward, and he fell. He held one hand out, bracing himself for impact, and ended up falling flat on his stomach, his head in the large cauldron.


     Hermione and Harry hurried over to help him off with it before any of the Slytherins could stop laughing long enough to perform some sort of spell to make it stuck. Harry sighed as he set the cauldron on their table and Hermione, still sniffling even more than Neville, brushed him off. Red in the face, Neville bent over his table, trying to look interested and absorbed in cutting up the nearest thing he could find. It was only as Hermione pulled the knife from his hand that he realized he had chopped a sprig of parsley up into pieces too small to be at all useful. "Sorry," he muttered, tossing the bits away and biting his lip.


     Hermione smiled sympathetically at him, and Harry didn't say anything for he was sneezing again. "hehChashhh! hahChahhhh!"  Neville was just wondering how long it would take Snape or Malfoy or one of the other Slytherins to mention how they were all sneezing, when Malfoy spoke right up.


     "What's the matter, Potter? Suddenly allergic to your shrivel fig, or are you just faking sick to get out of class?" came Malfoy's trademark drawl. At the words, Snape's eyes darted around the room, apparently looking for the little yellow boxes that the Weasley marketed their snackbox sweets in. Snape looked sternly at Harry.


     Dean sneezed at that moment, and Snape rounded on him, holding him by the neck of his robes. "What," he hissed, "is the matter with all of you?"


     "There was a problem in the greenhouse during Herbology, Sir!" Hermione answered for Dean, who had a hand cupped to his face to keep his sneezes to himself as much as possible. It was not going to do any of them any good to actually sneeze on Snape.


     Snape let go of Dean's collar and crossed the room in three quick paces, towering over Neville's table. Even though Neville and Harry were growing as rapidly as boys of their age did, Snape was still a bit taller and his stern, dark expression as he looked down at them past his hook nose gave them the impression that he was feet above them. "If  I had wished you to speak, Ms. Granger, I would have asked you a question. Five points from Gryffindor."


     Clamping a hand over his nose tightly, Harry turned away, trying not to sneeze. But the sensation struck Neville just as badly, and he pulled out his handkerchief just in time, wishing he had given more practice to stifling them. "ihhChhufff! ehhhChuffff!"


     Snape's eyes gleamed maliciously. "And if I had wished for you to sneeze, Mr. Longbottom, I would have asked for that as well. Ten points from Gryffindor," he whispered in a low hiss. "And five more for each and every additional sneeze from anyone else. I will not have my lessons disturbed so blatantly!" Clearly, Snape thought this all their attempt to ruin an otherwise enjoyable lesson and was not going to have any of it. Neville pinched his nose in his handkerchief, knowing Snape's eyes were boring into him, and the tickle backed off a little for now. Apparently satisfied, Snape strode back up to the front of the classroom, black robes swishing dramatically from his fast steps. "Everyone, back to your work!" he barked and they all, sneezey or not, quickly returned to work on their potion.


     The tickle in Neville's nose did not stay away for long, however. It kicked right back up only minutes later as he reached over to add the fig Harry had pealed. He clamped his hand to his mouth and nose but sneezed anyway. "ihhChhhfff! ehChushfff!" They were half restrained, but that didn't stop Snape from taking ten points away from him with a laugh.


     "Longbottom doesn't know when to stop," Malfoy remarked more to Crabbe and Goyle loudly than was needed. "Must be too stupid to understand, or maybe he needs Granger to explain the concept to him better." Crabbe and Goyle laughed heartily at this.


     The other Slytherins joined in on the laugher as well, and Neville's cheeks burned red. He wished he could have melted away on the spot but resorted to muttering "I'm worth twelve of him," over and over under his breath so softly he doubted even Harry and Hermione could hear.


     The rest of the class was terribly stressful for the Gryffindors. Their noses all still twitched and tingled, and every one of them was feeling horribly jealous of Ron who, they assumed, was lying in the hospital wing and sneezing as much as he needed whenever he needed. By the end of the class, Gryffindor had lost almost one hundred and fifty points, which was a terrible blow for halfway through the school year.


     Whether it had been nerves or because he was just sensitive to allergens by nature, Neville had done the most sneezing, though had tried to hold them back as best he could. Once, he pinched his nose so tightly, clenched his teeth and held his breath with so much concentration that Malfoy joked that he might explode. Hermione had come around the table and put a hand on his shoulder, whispering into his ear, "Just sneeze and get it over with. It's not your fault." Disconsolately, Neville followed her advice, though it had been very nice of her to say.


     Their potion, much to Snape's pleasure, had come out completely wrong in the end of the lesson. Though he hadn't wanted to admit it, Neville was sure one of the reasons was because he had sneezed at the cauldron while adding the pinch of pixie dust. He wasn't sure whether he had hit the cauldron with the sneeze or if the sneeze had blown away the ingredient, but in the end their solution, far from making items invisible, made them fade away into nothingness, never to return.


     "Too bad it doesn't work on living things," quipped Malfoy, passing by their table as they cleaned up their disaster of a lesson. "They could have used it on Longbottom to stop him sneezing every ten minutes and losing them so many points." Neville balled his hands into fists and jabbed both into his pockets to keep from hitting Malfoy for that.


     All the other Gryffindors seemed much better during lunch. Even Ron had returned from Hospital Wing relatively sneezeless. Perhaps it was the memory of the terrible class, or of Malfoy's insults, or the stress of the morning, but Neville still felt terrible. His nose ran incessantly so that he was forced to keep his handkerchief out to tend to it. Accordingly, he did not get much to eat, and headed off with the others to double History of Magic with an ache in his head and a pain in his stomach.


     Everyone, apart from Hermione that is, always complained about how boring History of Magic was. Neville, on the other hand, considered it one of his favorite classes. Professor Binns never singled him out or asked him questions he couldn't answer. In fact, the only things he ever had to worry about in History of Magic were writing tests and staying awake in lectures. He got bored, of course, but compared to a class like Potions where he was constantly self conscious, he would take boredom any day.


     This day, however, he found he couldn't follow the lesson even as abysmally as usual. His nose continued to tickle and run, and although no points were docked because of his sneezing, he still felt nervous every time that feeling returned in his nose and singled out his sensitivity. "iihh-yihShhhh! ehhtchhuhhh! ihhhShuhhh!" For each time he sneezed, he felt the eyes of all others in his class on him. He couldn't blame them, as at least watching him was more entertaining than listening to their ghost teacher prattle on about the historical and utterly failed attempt at a troll peacekeeping force in the seventeen-hundreds.


     "ihhTchuhhh! ihh-hehShahhhh!" But halfway through the class period, he began to suspect something else might be wrong with him. None of the others were sneezing any more at all, not even the random stray sneezes that they had suffered through at the beginning of class. Having completely missed the last half an hour of the lecture thanks to his sneezes, Neville decided he had been through enough. He sat closest to the door out of habit so that he could go in and out more easily without being seen or walking in front of the others, and thus packed up his bag and left quickly. He would ask Hermione for her notes later, he rationalized to himself as he headed up the stairs to the Gryffindor dormitories with his head hung.


     He dug a fresh handkerchief out from his trunk and climbed onto bed, keeping the curtains open so that he could take in a bit of the warming sunlight through the tower window. He felt much better to be alone with his sneezes now. Even if it was just a terrible allergic reaction, he had been through too much of it to put up with any longer. At least alone bow he didn't have to worry about calling attention to himself or having points taken. And now he could curl up under the covers and finish that sleep he had felt deprived of the night before because of everyone else's conversations.



     Neville woke to the sounds of the others returning. He sat up in bed, sniffling and rubbing his eyes to see the other boys looking tired as well. They all dumped their bags by their beds quickly. Some stretched, glad to be done for the day. Others simply did as Neville and flopped onto their beds with sighs.


     "How're you feeling, Neville?" asked Harry as he put his books away and took out his Firebolt for the Quidditch practice he apparently had to run off to.


     "Better, thanks," said Neville, trying to convince himself of that. The tickles in his nose were minimal, but his head throbbed and its ache seemed to have spread through the rest of his body. He wished he'd tried a bit harder to force down lunch and resolved himself to taking second portions at dinner.


     "You didn't miss much, Mate," Ron laughed as he sat on his bed and waited for Harry to collect his things. Ron had Quidditch practice as well, but kept his broom in the locker rooms or the broom shed or somewhere more logical than under his pillow, which was where Harry had taken to keeping his. In his own way, however, Neville sort of understood why. He had a box full of gum wrappers at home that more than explained his feelings in the matter.


     Neville nodded to Ron and thought perhaps to bring up the fact that Ron hadn't missed much in Potions, but the memory of that days class still stung painfully and he decided to keep it to himself.


     "I'm starving!" Dean said with a sigh, sitting up in bed and patting his stomach.


      Seamus nodded in agreement and looked over at Neville as he got out of bed, silently asking if Neville wanted to go along with them. Neville leapt at the chance and the boys left their dormitory almost as quickly as they had entered it.


     To Neville's immense displeasure, once faced with a table full of pork chops, pot roast, brown rice, and steamed zucchini, he didn't feel nearly as hungry as he had hoped. In fact, he felt worse than he had at lunch. His head throbbed as he moved his jaw to chew, and his stomach churned as he thought about his next mouthful.


     "Aren't you hungry?" asked Colin Creevey, who sat a few seats down from him across the table.


     Neville shrugged, then quickly turned his head, cupping both hands over his nose and mouth. "huhChishhh! ihhhTchushhhh! ihhTeshuhhhh!"


     "Bless ya!" called Seamus, and Dean nodded in accordance, his mouth too full to say much of anything and have it be understood. Neville appreciated the sentiment for as much as they had all been sneezing that day, there hadn't much been room or time for such.


     It seemed, however, that the blessing had been premature. His hand twitched and cupped more tightly at the lower hand of his face. His other hand rooted around in his pocket for his handkerchief, but he had carelessly left it back in the room and the sneezes would not wait for him to get it. "ihhChushhh! ehhhShhihhhh! ihhhTShihhhh! ihhhChushhhh!" He wiped his nose on his sleeve and his hand on his thigh as discretely as possible as he suspected half the table was watching.     


     "Still have the sneezes?" Seamus asked him offhandedly between forkfuls of soggy squash.


     Neville shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't sure if his blush showed, but he felt so embarrassed he thought it must.  He reached over with his other hand and grabbed a biscuit. He noticed Professor McGonagall eyeing him from the staff table. Thinking he should save her the trouble of her telling him to leave, he pocket the biscuit, muttered an "excuse me" and headed straight out of the hall, ignoring laughter from the Slytherin table as he exited, sneezing again into his sleeve. "ihhtChuhhfff!"


     Almost everyone liked spending nights in the common room, and tonight was no exception. Dean and Thomas returned from dinner, changed out of their school robes, and went to play cards and do homework out in the common room where there was a warm fire and lots to watch. Ron and Harry returned, cold and stiff after practice. Apparently flurries had started during their practice and progressed into a later winter storm so thickly that visibility grew to nothing and they had to cut it short. Neville was relieved when they, too, left with their books.


     He enjoyed their company normally. Of course he did. But he wasn't feeling at all in the mood for it tonight. In fact, he didn't feel much like doing his homework either. His bag lay at the foot of his bed, unopened, as he crawled beneath the covers again with a handkerchief and his favorite pillow. While he didn't exactly mind sneezing, Neville absolutely detested being sick. And by now, he simply wanted to be left alone where no one could complain about how loud he was being or how terrible he sounded.


* * *


     He enjoyed being alone with his sniffles so much that night that he had his routine well planned out. When the others came in to go to bed, he also got out his pajamas and headed to the showers. On the way there, however, he was caught by another fit of sneezes. "iihhTchhhh! ehhTushhhh! hehChishhh!" And in the process of sneezing and trying to leave the room quickly, he tripped over one of the others' trunks. He fell over it, onto the floor, with a yelp of pain. He sniffed hard and clutched his foot, wincing as pain shot through him.


     It was Harry who reached out and helped him up. "You all right, Neville?"


     Neville nodded and dragged his sleeve beneath his nose. "I'm fine," he lied and pulled away from Harry, embarrassed by the attention, no matter how kind-hearted it had been. He didn't feel quite bad enough yet to let others make him feel like a helpless child. He's been a helpless child all his life and he didn't look fondly upon more reasons to make him feel like one. So he hurried off to the showers.


     Neville stayed in for longer than any of the others, relishing the warm water as it swept over his body. His head felt lighter than it had all day, amidst the warmth and the steam. With reluctance and pruney fingers, he eventually left the showers, but did not return to his bed. Instead, he went back down to the common room. As it was late, the room was now deserted, though remnants of its occupants still littered the place for the house elves to clean overnight.


     Neville selected an armchair by the fire, which was still brightly dancing in its hearth. He virtually never got such a choice seat, though recalled that the last time he had been alone in the common room was all the way back at the end of his first year when he'd waited up for Harry, Ron and Hermione to tell them off for trying to sneak out. With a shudder, the memory came back all too vividly and he hoped never to be on the receiving end of one of Hermione's curses again.


     Handkerchief in hand, he pulled his legs up onto the chair with him, curling up as best he could. It was a tight fit though the chair was large, and he smiled at how much he'd grown since his last time sitting like this. He heard a croak and looked up at the top of the back of the chair to see Trevor there, looking down at him. Neville smiled, reached up, and patted him gently. Then his head snapped downwards again with a sneeze. "ihh-HIHkchhhhh!" Not needing to restrain himself now, he let it come naturally, then rubbed his nose in the handkerchief. He looked back up, assuming that his sneeze had shaken the chair enough to unseat the toad, but Trevor was still there, looking as affectionate as it was possible for a toad to look. Trevor croaked again, which made Neville smile. "Thanks," he said and closed his eyes, handkerchief still rubbing at his runny nose.


     He sat for a long time, watching the fire crackle and burn. The logs were magical ones which never seemed to burn down to nothing no matter how long the flames went at them. Once or twice he nodded off, but was always awakened not long thereafter by a sneeze or a cough. Now that dinner was long over, he longed to be back just so he could have a spot of tea or even a few goblets of pumpkin juice.


     "ihhhShkushhh! hehKtushhhhh! Ehhtchuhhhhh!" The sneezes were relentless, not at all the quick, strong type from that morning. These were forceful, yes, but so much that he felt weak all over as the sneezed built up. They made him shiver and ache and apart from tea, he longed for warmer pajamas or at least a blanket to stay warmer with. "ehhTchhhh! ihhhCHUSHH!"


     "Neville?" came a sleepy voice from behind. Neville turned in his seat to see Ginny Weasley coming down the stairs from the girls' dormitories. She was in a thick winter nightgown, fuzzy slippers, and a warm bathrobe.


     "Hi Ginny," he said, wiping his nose with the handkerchief, then folding it neatly and tucking it away. "What are you doing up?"


     She yawned, the back of her hand to her mouth. "I thought I heard something," she said, looking around the room curiously.


     Neville didn't want to volunteer, so thought quickly and came up with, "Perhaps it was the wind? It's really storming out there now."


     She walked over to one window and looked out, seeing nothing but gray shadows as snow fell past the window, not caught in the light. "No, I don't think that was it," she said, leaning forward and pressing her ear to the pane just to be sure. But in the end, she shook her head.


     "Oh," he said softly. Then, quickly before he could take it back, "Then it was probably me sneezing. Nothing you need to worry about. You can go back to bed." He smiled sheepishly at her, expecting her to take the invitation and go back to her dormitory. She looked exhausted.


     But to his surprise, she did not bid him goodnight and leave for bed. Instead she came closer and leaned against the side of his chair. "Yeah, Ron and Harry, well mostly Harry naturally, told me before practice about Ron's mistake in Herbology this morning. I think my class was due to repot the Puffle Duffles tomorrow but I doubt now we'll even be allowed in that--"


     "ihhTKushhhh! ehhTChuhhh!"


     "--greenhouse now. Bless you, Neville," Ginny finished, not sounding fazed at all.


     "Thanks," he replied, muffled from behind his handkerchief. He needed badly to blow his nose, for it tickled and felt as though it was running again. He wished Ginny would go back to her bed. "I bet your Herbology lesson will be cancelled tomorrow anyway because of the snow."


     She nodded. "You're right. I hadn't thought of that." There was silence for a little while, or near to it as the fire continued to crackle, the winds outside continued to howl, and Neville continued to sniffle. "So why're you out here at this time of night?" she asked finally and casually, as though all of this were normal and she was just trying to make polite conversation.


     He resorted to sniffing hard and rubbing his nose dry with the handkerchief. "I didn't want to wake any of the others with my sneezing," he told her with another sheepish smile. "Looks as though I woke you up instead." He paused, sniffled, then added, "I am sorry."


     Ginny laughed. "Oh, Neville! It's not your fault that you need to sneeze. If it's an allergy--"


     But Ginny was cut off again by Neville's sneezes. "ihhKutchuhhh! Hehtchuhhhh! ihkutchhhh!" And this time she did not quickly pick up afterwards to finish her statement. Instead, she took a hard look at him, as though trying to figure every bit of him out. Neville, who was still sniffling miserably with the handkerchief pressed to his nose, wished she wouldn't.


     "Why..." she whispered finally, a look of shock and comprehension dawning on her face, "This isn't an allergy at all, is it? I think you must be coming down with something." Before he could stop her or even shrink away, she reached over and placed the back of her hand against his forehead. "You're not very warm," she muttered. "But your eyes... you don't look well at--" and for the third time, she was cut off, but this time willingly by Neville.


     "I'm fine, Ginny," he whispered unconvincingly. "You can go back to bed. Nothing to worry about, like I said."


     Instead of believing him or even understanding that he wanted to suffer alone, she sat down upon the arm of the large chair and cupped his chin. "Open your mouth for me." She seemed to be looking hard at him again, this time taking in every detail. Reluctantly he opened his mouth. "Mmm, just as I thought. You are sick."


     He pulled away, mouth still open as he intended to reply, but at that moment, the door to the common room swung open and Hermione stumbled in, her arms heavily weighted down with books. "Oh!" she exclaimed to see the two of them sitting so close in such a private moment. The portrait hole closed behind her, and she lowered her head. "Oh, I'm sorry."


     She started to hurry past them, head bowed, but Ginny reached out and took her arm, laughing. "No, no. It's not like that. I just came down because I heard a noise and Neville's--"


     "iihhhKUHshhhhh! ihhtchushhhh! IHTchhuhhhhh!" Frustrated that his nose had chosen this moment to sneeze, he blew it softly and rubbed hard.


     "Bless you," said both girls calmly and without hesitation. Neville blushed sank back, hoping that the red in his cheeks now let him blend into the maroon armchair so they would not notice him further.


     "Neville's come down with something," Ginny finally finished as now both girls looked Neville over critically. As though there were some unwritten rule about this sort of thing, Hermione set her books down on the nearest table then leaned past Ginny to press her hand against Neville's forehead.


     "You really don't look very well," she said softly, in the same sympathetic tones she used when giving him instructions during class after he had made mistakes. "How are you feeling, Neville?"


     With both girls hovering so close, and both seemingly concerned about him, there was nothing Neville could think to do but tell them the truth. "I feel awful," he complained quietly. "I thought it was just from the pollen, but I think I must have caught a cold or something because I can't... cah..." he looked horror-stricken to have his sneezes interrupt him like this, but there they were just the same. "katChuhhhh! Ihhhktchhhh! ehhhTCHuhhhh! ihhtChushhh!"


     "Bless you!" the girls said in unison, giggling afterwards at being so in synch.


     "Can't stop sneezing. Thanks," he mumbled, and blew his nose more fully into the handkerchief. "Excuse me."


     "You should really be in bed Neville," Hermione scolded lightly. She took a seat on the other arm of the chair. "It's cold in here, and it's late." She reached over kindly to run a hand through his bangs, pulling them back, away from his face.


     "He didn't want to wake the other boys up," Ginny explained for him.


     "Ohhhh," said Hermione, understanding. "That's so nice of you," she cooed, and she sounded as though she really meant it.


     Ginny quickly agreed, as though to make him feel better than 'awful'. "It's very like you, Neville. You're quite considerate."


     He smiled in reply, another urge to sneeze building so that he could not speak. "huhIhkshhhhh! ihhhtChuhhh!"


     "Bless you." Hermione pulled a small pack of tissues out and forced them on him. "We could take you down to Hospital?" Hermione suggested when Neville had finished tending to his nose.


     "Madam Pomfrey makes a really good Pepperup Potion," said Ginny, speaking from experience.


     But Neville shook his head. "I've had enough of potions today," he moaned, though gave them a weak smile. "I think I'd just like to stay here, really. If it's all the same to you."


     "Of course, Neville!" Ginny soothed, petting his shoulder. "But Hermione's right, it is cold." Ginny and Hermione exchanged a look.


     At once, as though they had planned it, both girls got up and headed silently back to their dormitories. Before Neville could work through his confusion at this, they had returned with a pillow, several blankets, and a hot water bottle Hermione had charmed into staying warm all night. They pushed another of the armchairs over to his, front-to-front, so it made a sort of bed he could more easily stretch out in. Then they tucked him in, pushing a pillow between his head and the side of the armchair, and wrapping the blankets tightly around him as he hugged the hot water bottle to his chest for warmth.


     "Now don't you go and worry about keeping anyone else up," Ginny told him as Hermione strode up one dormitory staircase, then the other. "Hermione's putting silencing charms on all the bedroom doors."


     Neville wished he'd thought of that. But in his current state, his trying would probably have resulted in the doors blowing up or something. "Thanks," he said again as Ginny bent down and kissed the top of his head tenderly. He wasn't entirely sure if it was the hot water bottle's warmth he felt spread through him just then or if it was something much different. Either way, he closed his eyes and let his head sink wearily into the pillow, not wanting to fight it.


     Though he fell asleep before the girls had even left the common room, he woke up many times that night, needing to sneeze or cough or just blow his nose. While he was sure he would have been more comfortable in his own bed, the warmth and soothing crackles of the fire did much to make up for it, and the squashy armchairs were hardly uncomfortable. Many times he heard familiar footsteps coming down the right set of stairs as Ginny or Hermione snuck down to check on him. He wondered how in the world they were getting any sleep but for some reason it didn't seem to worry him as much as it would have normally. A few times he had woken to find them tucking the blankets tighter around him or forcing another pillow beneath his head. And he would have used up all the fingers on one hand were he to count the number of kisses they administered upon him during the night. The girls seemed to think those especially would help his recovery. Neville certainly wasn't going to tell them otherwise, though he tried to pretend he was asleep most times so they wouldn't feel guilty about waking him.


     And in the morning, when the sounds of footsteps up and down the stairs and of running showers filled his ears, it was Hermione who was down in the common room before everyone else to wake him up before anyone came across him. She offered to tuck him into his own bed, but he refused and thanked her just the same. He did go straight back to bed, however, though took the hot water bottle and what remained of the pack of tissues along.


     The other boys were all already up and out of the room, so he drew his hangings and pulled the covers up to his neck, thinking fondly of a day of rest. Trevor, it seemed, had come along as well. The toad rested on his other pillow, simply looking over at him like a dog might to his master. As he tried to remember back to the time when Trevor wouldn't stay around him if he had a choice, Neville fell back to sleep in no time.


* * *




     Neville woke but neither moved nor opened his eyes. He recognized Harry's voice, but reckoned that if he didn't look like he had woken, perhaps Harry would leave him be.


     "Neville? Come on, you're not snoring. I can tell you're awake." Harry reached out and shook Neville's shoulder gently.


     Damn Harry's extraordinary logic. But it seemed he could fake sleeping no longer as Neville's nose twitched. Without something close at hand, he turned his face into his pillow. "iiihhSHUSHhhhhhh! ihhhHutchuhh!"


     "Ah, see there? Sneezes, I knew you were awake." He removed his hand from Neville's shoulder. "C'mon, up."


     But, sniffling, Neville shook his head, still keeping his eyes closed. "I'm not going to class today. Tell Professor McGonagall I'm sick." He pulled his covers up over his head and shook with coughs.


     Harry pulled the covers back down to Neville's shoulders. "Ginny's already told her. McGonagall says not to worry and to stay in bed until you're feeling better. And Hermione asked me to bring you this."


     Neville opened one eye to see Harry standing over him, holding out a cup of tea. It was just what he needed right then, and he sat up excitedly to take the cup at once. He scooted over and patted the side of his bed to indicate that there was room for Harry to sit. Harry took the invitation, giving Neville a soft smile. Neville took a large gulp and sniffled, then rubbed a tissue at his nose. "Thank you."

     "Of course," Harry replied. "You might have told us you weren't feeling well, you know."


     Neville shrugged. He wasn't used to telling people things. He felt he was easy enough to figure out if you had half a mind. But Harry understood well what it was like to have secrets he didn't feel like sharing, and this seemed to show in his eyes as he looked at Neville. "Honey and lemon," Neville remarked, gesturing to the tea. "Just how I like it."


     "Some of us do pay attention to you, Neville," replied Harry, giving him a smile. "In fact, Ron wanted to bring you up a tray of breakfast and Colin said that wouldn't be a great idea because of how little you felt like eating last night."


     Neville smiled back, not knowing what to say to that.


     "All right then," Harry said, standing up. "I guess I'll head off to Transfiguration. Unless there's something else you need?"


     He could, actually, do with another handkerchief or two, but how in the world was he supposed to ask for those? He went red again and tried to pretend it was just the warmth of the tea getting to him. Before he could say anything however, he sneezed. It was a sudden sneeze, one he hadn't been expecting in the least. Or, perhaps, he would have noticed it if he hadn't been so used to sneezing by now. He managed to bring one hand up halfway to cover his nose and mouth. "ihhhHUHshhhhh!"


     The sneeze had rocked him forward, and made him spill a bit of the tea. The blankets were thick and the tea wasn't hot enough to burn too badly, but he did transfer the cup into his other hand and lick at the tea which had spilled onto his hand. After wiping his hand on his handkerchief, he then used the handkerchief to sop up the spilled tea, feeling foolish for not putting the cup down the instant he felt the tickle coming on.


     Harry reached down and took the cup from him kindly, allowing Neville to clean himself off better. Neville examined his hand again, giving a small wince. Apparently the tea had burned him just a little. "Could you get me that plant on the far right of the windowsill, Harry?" Neville asked, gesturing with his good hand. Harry retrieved it, a tall plant with long, thick spikes for leaves. Neville squeezed a bit of what looked like a yellow-beige cream from one of the leaves and applied it to his hand, giving a sigh of relief as it worked its way in. "Aloe," Neville said to Harry, who had looked curious. Harry took the plant back to its spot with a nod. Not so very magical, but magical in its own way.


     He returned to Neville, looking again as though he were trying to find something to do for the other boy. Then, as Neville balled the handkerchief up and set it on the nightstand, his eyes widened. "Oooh!" He was beginning to sound like Hermione when he exclaimed, and Neville suppressed a laugh at this. Harry quickly handed the tea back, darted away, and returned with a few handkerchiefs and a box of tissues. "Dunno which you prefer, but keep them both," Harry said, placing them on the bed beside Neville. "I know I go through tissues pretty quickly when I have a cold..." Harry looked away with an embarrassed smile. "Probably too much information, that."


     Neville started to say that no, it wasn't, but Harry seemed eager to move from the topic, and Neville could understand that feeling well. "Thanks, Harry."


     Harry nodded and started to leave, but hesitated and turned back. "Hey, Neville... do you remember back in first year when you--"


     Neville groaned inwardly. "When I broke my arm falling off the broomstick or when I fell backwards under Hermione's curse?"


     With a light chuckle, Harry shook his head. "No, no. When you went out in the middle of the night to tell us about Malfoy." Neville nodded and probably from the disgruntled look on his face, Harry understood that Neville was indeed recalling the right memory. "Well, I don't know if anyone told you... but we really did have a dragon. And we really could have used you watching our backs. Especially after your help last year. So..." he took a deep breath, "Thanks for that."


     Neville grinned. Even the most timid lion was still a lion.  "Better late than never." Neville wanted to ask all sorts of questions about where they had gotten the dragon from and what they were doing with it, but realized that that really wasn't Harry's point. Point was that they hadn't been lying to him and he hadn't gone out in vain. Point was that Harry trusted him enough to tell him the truth about that night. And point was that Harry knew Neville was looking out for him at times like that, just as Harry was looking out for him now.


     "Yeah, suppose so," Harry said with a smile. "I'd better be off. Transfiguration now and even though McGonagall knows I came to see you I'm sure she won't like me coming in late." Neville nodded, certain about that.


     Harry picked up his bag, then paused. He suddenly leaned over and patted the back of Neville's shoulder. "Feel better, Mate." Then Harry was off to class, leaving Neville with that same oddly warm feeling he had felt at the kisses the night before.


     Sipping more of the tea, and careful to put it down now every time he felt the need to sneeze, Neville settled back down in bed with a smile. It was hard to imagine that just twenty-four hours ago he had been holding his breath, squatting on the floor of a greenhouse thanks to a mistake that had, for once, not been his own. And now he had not only his toad but half the Gryffindors in his year and below looking out for him. Feeling much better already, he finished off the tea and snuggled back under the covers, nobly resolving to do as much for any of them the next time they fell ill.