Growing
written for the 30 Days of Neville challenge at xnevillelovingx on livejournal.

The warm sun greeted the Hogwarts students as they emerged from within the castle walls, having endured their final exam for the year. Hermione Granger and Susan Bones traipsed down the green lawn, chattering and laughing and heading towards their favourite spot underneath the shade of a beech tree, elated that their N.E.W.T.s were finally over. A few Hufflepuffs, including Megan Jones and Ernie Macmillan congregated around a flowering hazel tree, its long yellow catkins blowing slightly in the breeze, causing pollen to float down in large flurries. Two Ravenclaw boys took advantage of the kind weather to dress down to their swimming trunks and go for a dip in the lake, a few sneaky Slytherin girls spying on them from behind a grand old oak and giggling. Everybody was in groups of twos, threes or more, enjoying the company of their closest companions after surviving such a difficult year of study. Only one sat alone besides a sycamore maple tree, pretty white daisies spread out around his feet like a blanket.

An 18-year-old Neville Longbottom sat against the trunk of the tree, his arms propped up on his knees and dark-haired head touching the bark. His eyes were wide open, light green irises looking above him into the canopy of the tree where inconspicuous yellow-green flowers hung down between the leaves. He knew the maple would be producing its seeds soon, and distributing them in a way that made aerodynamicists proud. He looked down at the ground, where the daisies lay by his feet. He marvelled at the fact that where the maple might have shaded them, the flowers somehow managed to manoeuvre themselves into the sunlight, reaching for the energy source that kept them alive.

"Bellis perennis," he said to nobody in particular, and grinned to himself for remembering the scientific name of the common Muggle herbaceous plant. He breathed in and out slowly, feeling content in his world for the moment. School was officially over, and endless possibilities were making themselves known to him. Neville closed his eyes then, and thought about how far everybody had come over the past two years.

He no longer recognised himself in the mirror. His hair was longer than he had ever allowed it to grow, and hung stringy and messy on his head. There were gashes and gauges on his face, bruises on his arms and one of his eyes was swollen, vivid yellow and purple in colour. His robes were ripped and unkempt, but he didn't care. He had been living it rough in the Room of Requirement for months now, and was making another risky night trip down to the Greenhouses where his precious Mimbulus mimbletonia lived. A few weeks ago he had learnt that Professor Sprout had fallen ill. No doubt she was under so much stress, like all the other 'normal' teachers were, and he had received a note from the Head of Hufflepuff House herself, requesting that he might take care of the plants for her whilst she got better. It was also she who suggested he come down during the night time. Not only was the night a good time to water plants (the water could permeate completely through the soil without being evaporated by the sun), but it also meant that nobody was about, save for a Carrow or two, or one of their Slytherin cronies keeping a watch out. So far Neville had avoided them all, although sometimes only marginally.

Hannah Abbott stirred in her sleep on her Hufflepuff adorned hammock, and Neville thought he might have gotten away without a remark from her this time. Nobody else was ever bothered that he risked being caught just to attend to the Greenhouse plants for his favourite teacher, but Hannah consistently worried about him and never failed to tell him so before he left the Room.

Neville had almost reached the door to the 7th floor corridor when he heard a sleepy, female voice call out to him from the dim. "Neville…" He paused and waited for her usual chastising comment, but was surprised when it did not come. Instead, she said simply, "Let me know if the rosebay willowherbs are flowering. They're my favourite, and they haven't come back since the war started."

The moon was out and the air was chilly as Neville made his way down to the Greenhouses. Once there he attended to each of the plants individually, although some didn't need anything other than a bit of water to drain their pots. He noted that the snapdragons were growing – a relief, as he thought they had died. A lot of things had died over the year, and not just the plants, but people, on the inside. There did not seem to be an end to the tumult, and most of their rebellious efforts had just fuelled the fire. His Mimbulus mimbletonia was resilient however, and had grown so tall that it almost surpassed the height of the desks if it was placed on the ground.

As Neville walked back up to the castle, he looked over at the sycamore maple tree he loved, its green leaves beginning to return after the harsh winter. On the ground, the white daisy petals hung low and closed over their yellow florets. There was no sun to nourish them now. There's no sun to nourish anybody, Neville thought bitterly. Even in the daytime. Sadly, the rosebay willowherb, known to be abundant after a fire had passed (its more common name was fireweed), was nowhere to be seen.

When times were tough, one of the only things that kept Neville going was the thought of the plants and trees struggling to survive outside the confines of the Greenhouses. There was competition out there and nobody to give them water, or nutrients, nobody to prevent frost or damage. If the wildflowers could return prosperous and beautiful from months of darkness, the meadow buttercups, foxglove, bluebells and wild roses, then so could he.

So could they all. And the moment he pulled Gryffindor's sword out of the sorting hat that summer, he realised just how much they had all grown.

After the battle was over, the magical community strived to put the pieces back together again and grow in harmony once more, like the many different perennial plants on the Hogwarts grounds that died in the winter but returned to bloom in the spring and summer, just as Neville knew they would. Upon request from Kingsley Shacklebolt, Neville took on the arduous role of an Auror alongside Harry Potter and Ron Weasley for a few months, helping the Ministry find and capture escaped Death Eaters, putting them to justice for good. It was during this time in the autumn that he spotted the yellow leaves of the deciduous sycamore maple tree, not quite unlike his own, and felt a sudden urge to return to Hogwarts to complete his schooling the way he should have done if things had been right in the world.

And this is where he was now, snoozing underneath the hardy maple tree as the rest of his year celebrated in any other way they could. It had been a busy year for him, dividing his time between studying for Herbology, Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts as well as helping out Kingsley whenever he was asked to. Sometimes he didn't hear anything from him for months, and other times he was away from school for a week or two, as duty called. But he never strayed for long. He couldn't bear not to be at Hogwarts - he enjoyed watching things grow far too much.

Neville awoke suddenly from his slumber by the sound of footsteps approaching, swishing their way through the grass. His weary eyes focused on the person standing in front of him. It was Hannah Abbott, his true Hufflepuff friend and confidante, whom had stuck with him through thick and thin over the years. Her blonde hair hung in waves that framed her face, her eyes alight with laughter.

"I'm sorry Neville; I hope I didn't wake you!"

"No, I'm awake," he grinned sheepishly. "Just."

"May I join you?"

"No need to ask, Hannah," Neville replied tiredly, and patted the ground beside him.

There was a moment of companionable silence as Hannah settled herself next to him, her back against the tree, their shoulders brushing against each other. And then she spoke, a happy note to her voice. "I thought you might like to know that the willowherbs are in full bloom. First time since the war ended." Neville couldn't help but smile.

And as the pair chatted amongst the daisies, their white-and-yellow flower heads stretched towards the sun, Neville couldn't help but think that something else entirely was growing, something that didn't need the sun, or water, or a soil rich in nutrients to grow. Only love...

END