“You’re staring at me again.”
Neville blushed and looked away when he heard the soft voice. She hadn’t even looked up from her parchment and he’d still been caught! Perhaps the lower years were right with their whispered tales of Hermione having eyes in the back of her head. He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa and gazed into the firelight.
The crackling wood reminded him of her hair: dark brown with lighter bits that almost looked red, especially in sunlight and firelight. It intrigued him, the way her hair was just plain old brown most the time but, in a different light, it was full of color and really quite beautiful. He wasn’t very smart, had never been particularly good at figuring things out unless it was Herbology, but Neville knew she was a lot like her hair.
His gaze drifted back to her unconsciously. He shouldn’t be looking at all, but he couldn’t help it. She was lying in front of the fire on a pillow, the feather of her quill brushing against lips he knew were chapped and broken from the cold weather, and there was a smudge of ink on her cheek, near her mouth. Her hair was down, a wild mess of thick curls that were brought to life by the light of the fire.
A lot of people never noticed the colors just like they didn’t notice Hermione. Krum had seen her, really seen her, and Neville rather hated him for that. He’d finally gotten the courage to ask her to the Yule Ball, the bravest thing he’d ever done, but he’d been too late. He was always too late.
He’d gone with Ginny instead and had a most enjoyable time. It should have been easy to convince himself that he was over the silly infatuation for Hermione that had started the first time they met on the train when she’d helped him find Trevor.
Ginny was pretty and really very nice. He should have been able to fancy her and forgotten about things he’d never have. Others had noticed Hermione after the ball, but he preferred her with her hair in a mess, with big teeth that most boys were too superficial to look past, and a smug arrogance that he found endearing while others found it annoying.
When she’d been injured at the Department of Mysteries, Neville had found courage he’d not realized he even had. He’d wanted to fight, to hurt the man that hurt her, and, for a few brief moments, he’d felt strong and capable. He’d carried her, kept her safe, and protected her. Afterward, she’d given him a chaste kiss on the cheek and thanked him.
He’d been foolish enough to think that maybe she’d finally seen him in the same way he’d always seen her. Then Ron and Harry had interrupted and Neville had backed out of the room as he’d been unable to deny that it was a hopeless dream. After all, in stories like theirs, it was the hero that always got the girl. And Neville was definitely no hero.
“Neville, you’re still staring.”
Neville blinked as he realized that he had, indeed, been staring at her again. If possible, his face turned redder than it had been and he mumbled, “Sorry. I was thinking.”
“What about?” Hermione looked up then and smiled at him.
“Your hair.” He cringed as he realized what he’d just said.
“My hair?” she asked with a puzzled frown, the curious gleam entering her eyes as she tried to figure out what he meant. “Is that why you’ve been staring? Is something wrong with it?”
She reached up and nervously ran her hand through her hair, and he felt bad for making her feel insecure. He might not be that bright at his subjects or that adapt at magic, but he had spent the past six years watching Hermione Granger and knew her nearly as well as he knew Herbology.
He knew about all the little things she did that not even Harry or Ron noticed. The way she always went for a walk by the lake after receiving an owl from her parents and would usually cry silently as she worried about them or missed them. The way she was so bloody confident about so many things but sometimes let a glimpse of an insecure little girl peek through.
It had been her, that girl with the bushy hair and big teeth, with the matter-of-fact bossiness and amazing wealthy of knowledge, with the nervous shyness and insecurities carefully hidden behind facts and quotes, that was the girl he’d first begun to fancy so many years ago.
“You’re---It’s beautiful,” he whispered as he looked anywhere but her face.
There was silence where he could swear he could hear the beating of his heart racing so fast and then a sharp intake of breath followed by a whispered, “Oh.”
“I should go,” he stammered as he got to his feet. He didn’t look away from the fire as he gathered his books and parchments so he could escape. He’d rather die of humiliation in his own bed than look like an even bigger fool in front of her.
“Neville…” She started to say and then drifted off before he heard her take a deep breath. “I---I don’t mind you staring.”
Amazed at what he’d heard, he looked up at her, convinced he was imagining things. She was blushing and her fingers were tugging on a stray curl as she nervously stared at the fire. He looked from her to the fire to his books. Neville squared his shoulders, put his books down, and did the bravest thing he’d ever done.
He walked to her side, knelt down, and brushed his thumb tentatively against the ink stain on the corner of her mouth. She looked up at him in surprise, the fire making her hair look gorgeous, her face flushed, and he licked his suddenly dry lips. “You, uh, had ink on your face.”
She looked disappointed. Oh God, she looked disappointed! He suddenly didn’t know what to do and just let his thumb trace the curve of her lips as he wondered if he’d fallen asleep while studying and this was just another dream. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips and brushed against the tip of his thumb.
“Hermione,” he said her name in a strangled groan before he lowered his head and hesitantly brushed his lips against hers. She shifted and he gasped when he felt her hand behind his head, bringing him closer as she deepened the kiss. As she deepened the kiss!
It was a bit awkward as their noses bumped and he wasn’t sure what to do with his tongue because it was really wet and sloppy but soon he just tangled his fingers in her hair and went on instinct. He was kissing Hermione Granger! And she was kissing him back!
When they parted, both a bit dazed, lips swollen, their breath coming in soft pants, he looked at her shyly. He was convinced she’d pat him on the head and send him to bed or let him down gently with talk of mistakes and being just friends.
Instead, he was shocked when she tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and smiled just a bit timidly. “It took you long enough,” she said in the matter-of-fact tone that took him back to a crowded train and a take-charge little girl that had amazed him even then.
Neville returned her smile and lowered his head. Before he kissed her again, he whispered against her lips, “Some things are worth the wait.”
For coffee_n_cocoa who asked for Neville/Hermione. Happy holidays, hon!
Originally Posted: December 6, 2005
“You’re staring at me again.”