Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 1200 words
Summary: Neville realises something. Features fireside reflections, the utility of flowers, and the word "brazen".
Beta: accio_draco, evilsource, goneril
Note: Written for the Late Bloomer ficathon (originally posted here).
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Neville Longbottom had always liked looking at fire.
He especially liked the way the flames would dance and twist together, yellow and orange and red and that slight bit of blue in the middle. Fire was like a wonderful, sentient flower. Neville didn't care for flowers usually -- he preferred plants which served a purpose beyond simple decoration. However, if there were ever to be flowers that could do what fire did, Neville would grow a garden full of them.
He stared into the fireplace of the Gryffindor common room, unconcerned with the shadows cast by the flickering flames, mesmerised by their dance.
His fascination with plants was wholly based on tactile sensations: the gritty yet soft feel of earth, the cool tingle of stems, the smooth texture of thick, supple leaves. Whenever Neville was near a plant, he wanted to touch it in order to feel what it was like. Things were entirely different with fire.
Neville had never entertained serious thoughts of touching the dancing tongues of flame. His reluctance arose not just out of practical considerations that involved burns, boils, and pain. Touching fire would disrupt and distort it, make it different from what it was meant to be. Touching fire would make it behave differently, thus making it look different, and that thought felt almost sacrilegious. There was something deep and eternal, yet fickle, about fire that made him think it unwise to try and interfere with it. Neville was content with just looking.
A spark detached from a cluster of flames in the middle, soaring gracefully through the air for just a moment. As it fizzled out and disappeared, Neville heard a noise from the direction of the portrait hole. He turned around in time to see Dean and Ginny climb through. Ginny's face was set in a deep scowl, making her look quite unlovely. Dean looked ill at ease as well.
"Hi, Neville," muttered Dean, barely glancing at him.
He crossed the common room in several long strides and disappeared up the staircase leading to their dormitory. Neville blinked after him then turned to Ginny, who was still standing by the portrait hole. She looked cross. It showed even more in the way she held herself than in the look on her face. She was standing rigidly, with her arms at her sides, her jaw set and her neck jutting slightly forward.
"Hi, Ginny," said Neville, sounding like Trevor. He cleared his throat.
"Hi." She strode over to the fireplace and sat down cross-legged on the hearthrug, obscuring the fire from view. "What are you doing up so late?"
"I was just looking at the fire," said Neville with a shrug.
"Oh. D'you want me to move?"
Neville shook his head. He rather liked the way Ginny looked against the backdrop of the fireplace -- the loose strands of her hair gleamed like a sort of fine mesh in the soft amber light. He felt heat creep up his neck to his cheeks and looked away, focusing on a burnt spot in the hearthrug near Ginny's knee. They sat in silence for a while; Neville felt like he should ask about Dean but he didn't know what to say.
"Do you think I'm brazen, Neville?" asked Ginny suddenly.
He looked up at her with a slight frown. "What do you mean?"
"Dean says I'm brazen -- shameless."
Neville squinted at her. "Maybe a little. Why?"
She sighed, folding her hands in her lap. "I just wonder if there's something wrong with me or with everyone else, I guess."
"Er, why would there be anything wrong with you?"
"I dunno. Dean gets upset with me, and I can't figure out why. When I ask him, he says I'm too in-your-face. Brazen."
Neville peered at her, thinking. He'd had no idea that Ginny and Dean were having problems of this sort. Dean rarely talked about Ginny in the dormitory, probably because Ron would always get a sort of tense look on his face and start knocking things over. He chewed on his bottom lip, frowning.
"I don't think you are," he offered. "Not so much. Do you know why he says that?"
Ginny sighed. "No. I think maybe he doesn't like that I'm so outspoken about everything."
Neville picked up the book he'd been reading before he was distracted by the fire -- Magical Plants and their Mundane Uses by Ann Honeycutt -- and ran his finger along a crack in the spine. Ginny was very outspoken, even more so than Hermione. It was one of the things he liked about her -- she called things as she saw them rather than dress up the truth. Even Harry listened to Ginny. He put the book back down and looked at her.
"But it's not a bad thing. Why wouldn't he like it?"
She shrugged, pursing her lips. "Maybe I should ditch him."
Neville realised something.
Like all realisations, it just sort of materialised in his mind rather than going off like a lightbulb or creeping up like a shadow. It just appeared, like an often-seen friend had come in for a spot of tea. He liked Ginny. Not that he'd disliked her before; she'd always treated him with kindness and respect. Neville was willing to fight for her even though he wasn't much of a fighter. That was friendship, though; he'd fight for Hermione if he had to, as well. But when Ginny mentioned ditching Dean, there was just this tug in Neville's chest, right around his heart.
Gran always told him to stay away from girls until he finished school. She said they would distract him and make him do even worse in his classes. She needn't have worried, really. Neville didn't have much use for girls; like flowers, they were rather nice to look at but mostly impractical, as he'd observed. Ginny, though, wasn't like the other girls. She didn't ignore Neville like Lavender and Parvati did. She wasn't overbearingly kind like Hermione, and she certainly wasn't mean like Pansy Parkinson.
Ginny was engaging; she had interesting things to say; she played Quidditch and hung out with older boys, and yet none of that intimidated Neville or made him feel inadequate. He looked at her face, which was turned slightly downwards as she worried the hem of her robes. The fire behind Ginny cast her in a warm glow and her eyes seemed brighter in the scant light. Ginny, he realised, was like that flower made of fire -- one that could be warm and fascinating, yet burn and hurt at the same time.
Neville blinked. "Maybe you should," he said in a sure sort of tone he didn't know he had.
"Should what?" asked Ginny, looking up with surprise on her face.
He must have lost track of time, Neville realised, blushing. He felt as though a rope wound about his ribs was holding him together and if it gave way, he would explode. He searched for that sure tone again, barely able to trust himself to speak.
"Ditch him," he said.
Ginny gave him a long, pensive look. "It's a thought," she said, getting up from the floor and brushing off her robes. "I'll sleep on it. Good night, Neville."
He stared at the girls' stairwell for a little bit after she was gone, then turned his gaze back to the fire. It was dying now, embers glowing like soot-covered carnelians, stray flickers of flame appearing now and again in random spots. Neville moved to where Ginny had just sat on the hearthrug and reached forward, holding his palm above the ashes.
Maybe he should try to touch fire.