Characters: Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy
Prompt number: 250
Word Count: 1,042
Summary: Waiting for the Hogwarts Express to carry them off to their 8th year at Hogwarts, Neville and his friends spy Draco Malfoy standing on the platform.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters, settings, etc. do not belong to me, and I make no attempt to claim that they do; I am simply borrowing them while I play in their sandbox, and no profit is made from the production of this fanfic.
Author’s Notes: This prompt was a pleasure to write for. Thanks to my beta for all of her hard work, and to the mods for such a lovely fest. Enjoy!!
Neville waved off the offer of sweets from Ron as he passed them around the compartment, keeping his attention focused on the Herbology text splayed open across his lap. Less than ten minutes remained before the Hogwarts Express would pull out of the station and carry its passengers off to Hogwarts; some for the first time, and others, like himself and the majority of his friends, for the eighth. It had been a strange sensation, boarding the train again. He'd expected it to feel a little heavier than it had, when he glanced into compartments as he trudged down the aisle and noticed a scar on one old friend's face, or a seat saved for someone who should have been returning to the castle for another year, but never would.
Not that it had been exactly easy, either. The losses from the war still weighed on most of them, whether in small burdens or large. He supposed that's why it had been comforting to hide behind something familiar, even in the company of Luna, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, who had joined him in the compartment that he'd claimed. It made things easier, for a little while. A brief moment of 'normalcy' to balance out everything that had changed during the war.
"Look who's come back."
Ron's tone pulled Neville's attention away from his book and toward the compartment window, that looked out onto Platform 9 ¾, still bustling with first years hugging their parents goodbye and a handful of the later years who'd run late, arriving to catch the train. A bit apart from the rest of them, however, hovered Draco Malfoy. His trunk was sitting beside his feet and his hands were fisted at his sides as he looked up at the train with an unreadable expression. Ron made a snorting sound as he threw himself back against his seat and wrapped a possessive arm around Hermione's waist.
"Can't imagine they'd let him come back at all, could you?" Ron asked of no one in particular.
Outside on the platform, Draco's mask faltered slightly as he pulled his lower lip between his teeth. The train's whistle had blown, offering its last warning to those on the platform that it was about to be departing. Neville drew his gaze away from the window to glance down at his watch and frowned. Five minutes.
A surge of footsteps in the aisle outside of their compartment as the last stragglers began working their way onto the train caused Neville to look up again. Draco hadn't moved, and, if anything, looked even more uncertain, as he continued to simply stare at the train. Neville watched him through the glass until one minute had ticked by, and then two, all while Draco remained as though rooted in place.
"Oi, where are you going?"
Neville ignored the question as he exited the compartment, his Herbology book carelessly discarded on the floor in front of his seat in his rush to get out into the aisle. It was crowded, forcing him to weave between students as they milled about, all of his attention focused on reaching the nearest door that opened onto the platform. More than once, he raised his arm to check his watch, as every second he hesitated while waiting to move past a group of chatting third-years or duck around an opening compartment door felt like it had taken up those last minutes before the train would lurch forward and it would all have been for nothing.
At two minutes, he flung open the door in front of Draco, and watched as his eyes widened in surprise. For one, long moment, the two of them simply stared at one another, Draco with a mixture of nervousness and fear, and Neville almost expectantly. When Draco swallowed and shifted, obviously waiting to be threatened, or worse, Neville took a step down onto the platform and nodded at his trunk.
"Can I help you bring that on?"
Draco's voice no longer held the haughty tone that it once had. Instead, the question came out as a near-whisper, that bordered on a croak toward the end, as though his voice had been about to crack. Neville took another step until both feet were on the platform, with only a few feet between himself and Draco, as he offered him the barest smile.
"I imagine that you'll need it, won't you? Unless you've stuffed all your school things into your pockets."
Draco's brow furrowed suspiciously, and he cast a glance around the platform, as though he was expecting someone still hovering around to draw their wand and attack him while he was distracted by Neville. "Are you actually saying you don't see a problem with me going back?"
Neville's gaze flicked briefly to his watch again.
"Yeah," he answered simply. "So, are you coming or aren't you, Draco?"
The seconds that ticked by felt too long to Neville, as he waited for Draco to speak. To move. To do anything more than stare at him. When he finally did, reaching down to curl one pale hand around the handle of his trunk before stepping forward, Neville couldn't help the sigh of relief that escaped him.
Stepping forward, Neville took the handle on the other side of Draco's trunk in his hand and helped him load it into the storage compartment beneath the train, tucking it in beside the others. A shrieking whistle startled both of them, and Draco looked at Neville with another flash of uncertainty crossing his face.
"Come on," Neville said, taking a small step back as another smile pulled at the edges of his mouth. "Before both of us get left behind."
Draco followed Neville onto the train without a word, and no sooner had the door clicked shut behind them than the train lurched forward and began rolling its way slowly along the tracks. Neither of them moved for several moments, though whether they were each waiting for the other to say something, or for the train to feel more steady beneath their feet, Neville wasn't certain.
Finally, Draco took a small step forward into the aisle between compartments, and hesitated, looking back at Neville with another unreadable expression.
"Thank you... Neville."