GIFTEE: lionille as part of the summer 2006 hpslashnotsmut fic exchange.
WORD COUNT: 2088
WARNINGS: Er... *cough*Vampires*cough*. Nothing bad, though, I swear!
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks to my darling R for the bunny, the replacement bunny, and the beta, and to my sis for asking good questions even if she pretended Neville wasn't gay. :D
SUMMARY: Neville helps Harry out with a plant problem, but there are a few unintended consequences.
"Well? What do you think, Harry?"
Harry Potter eyed the plate doubtfully. He'd never been particularly fond of vegetables, and the stalks of celery did not look the least bit appetizing. He sighed. "It's no good, Neville. I just can't eat regular food. I'll have to stay home. Maybe someone else can do the ceremony in my place."
Neville was shaking his head. "They're not going to accept anyone else and you know it. Go on, just try a bite. Trust me."
Harry reminded himself of all the times Neville had been right, especially when it came to plants. A quick glance at the wall, covered with Neville's commendations and awards, testified to the man's expertise. Harry gathered his courage and picked up a piece of celery. He sniffed it. Vegetable. His taste buds tried to protest, but one more look at Neville's earnest face convinced him. He took a bite.
He almost choked when the celery turned out to be warm, and juicy--and the juice turned out to be thick and sweet and tangy, just like the taste of blood.
Neville looked concerned. "How is it?"
"It's… good," Harry admitted in surprise. He swallowed the bite and looked more closely at the celery.
Neville sat back in his chair looking pleased. "It looks normal, doesn't it? I call it blood celery." He kicked his feet onto the desk and grinned.
Harry felt an answering grin spread across his face. "It's brilliant, it really is. It smells disgusting, but the taste is really not bad. You're a genius, Neville."
"Nah," Neville said. He waved a hand toward the greenhouse attached to his office. "Genius would have been getting the turnips and potatoes to work, too. You'll have to make do with celery, I'm afraid."
"That's no problem," Harry said. "It just has to be something 'grown in the soil of my homeland.'" He shook his head. "Who would have thought that a simple peace treaty would give me such problems?"
"Well, I doubt that they had a vampire negotiator in mind when they came up with the ceremony." Neville turned to look at a calendar on his desk. "We still have a week. I'll see if I can do anything about the smell."
"Thanks, Neville. I mean it."
They shook hands, and Neville became almost bashful. "What are friends for?"
Harry insisted that Neville be his guest at the ceremony. Neville wasn't sure about sitting at the head table, right between Harry on one side and a centaur on the other, but at least he knew the food was going to be good. Except for Harry's celery, of course.
He found himself tuning out during most of the speeches. He couldn't help it; interspecies peace was important, but not something Neville Longbottom was used to dealing with on a daily basis. Harry gave a speech, and Neville tried to pay attention to it, but he kept getting distracted by the flashes of sunlight on Harry's extra-long incisors.
It was hard to believe that one of Neville's best friends was a vampire. Luna thought it was perfectly normal, and Ron and Hermione had seemed to adjust quickly enough, but what about Harry? Was he adjusted to the idea, even after all this time? Neville wondered what it had been like, the first time Harry had tasted blood. He shivered.
Then it was time for the ritual meal. Neville looked at the food carefully as it was brought out, but even his professional eye couldn't tell the difference between the blood celery and plain old Apium graveolens var. dulce. Harry wrinkled his nose as the plate was set in front of him, but he would have done that at either type of celery--Neville hadn't been able to make his modified version smell any better to vampire senses.
A centaur was speaking, Neville realized.
"…And so, to seal this pact, we brothers of the forest partake of the food brought down on our soil, with our own weapons."
The centaur sitting on the other side of Harry was lifting a hunk of raw, bloody meat. Neville couldn't see Harry's face, but he thought it was pretty ironic that the food Harry could have eaten was the one assigned to the centaurs.
"While the brothers of the field and farm partake of the food grown in the soil of their homeland."
Neville held his breath. Harry picked up one of the stalks of celery… took a bite… chewed… and swallowed.
A cheer went up from the tables, and a regular meal was served to everyone attending.
Harry turned to Neville, a victorious gleam in his eye. Neville recognized that look from the Quidditch pitch.
"I owe it all to you, Neville."
"Don't be silly," he said, a little nervously. "I wasn't the one who worked on the terms of the treaty for six months with people who had just been trying to kill me."
Harry shrugged and polished off the stalk of celery he'd been munching. "Still, it would have fallen apart if it wasn't for your help." He held out his hand, his bearing suddenly formal.
Neville grinned and shook his hand. He turned back to his baked chicken, not noticing the sudden, strange look in Harry's eyes, or the way he held his hand to his nose and sniffed at it.
"Neville," Harry said after a moment. His voice was tight.
"What's the matter, Harry?"
Neville glanced up at Harry, but everything seemed to be normal. Normal enough, anyway, if you didn't count the fangs.
Two days later, Harry couldn't stop thinking about that celery. There was something different about the taste of that blood. He tried all his normal favorite sources of 'nutrition' to no avail. He pulled out his emergency stash of blood-flavored lollipops from Honeyduke's, but they were bland and uninteresting compared to his memory of that blasted celery. He even went so far as to give regular celery a try, with his fingers firmly clamped around his nose, but the taste of that made him gag.
Finally Monday morning came around, and he knew he had to go see Neville.
"Sorry to disturb you so early," Harry greeted his old housemate. Neville looked surprised but ushered him into the office.
"Not a problem, Harry," Neville said. "I was just about to have a cup of coffee. Care to join--oh. Sorry."
Harry shook his head tensely. "Don't worry about it." He could smell it--that same sweet tang he'd been remembering for the last two days was here, in this office. "Neville... do you have any more of that celery?"
Neville looked up from his coffee in surprise. "The blood celery? I think so. I'd have to check the greenhouse."
Harry could feel his hunger swelling, and he tamped it down impatiently. "Maybe there's some here in the office? I can... I think I can smell it."
Neville's eyes widened slightly. "Smell it? I... no, not here, if there's any left it'll be..." He trailed off when Harry stood up.
There was something here. Harry's nose had become less sensitive in some ways--he could no longer scent the difference between peppermint and Pepper-Up Potion--but when it came to the smell of blood, he was never wrong. He prowled the small office, sniffing along the walls, toward the desk, and finally to Neville himself. The smell was strongest here. Harry looked at Neville in confusion.
"Do you have some celery in a pocket or something?" Why would Neville have lied about that?
Neville's face had gone pale. It occurred to Harry that most people wouldn't exactly feel comfortable with a hungry vampire standing so close to them, but he found he couldn't take a step back.
And then Harry noticed the small nick on Neville's jaw line, where he must have cut himself shaving. His vision tunneled down until all he could see was that small red mark, bright against the pale skin. The hunger in him leapt up, smelling its prey.
Neville was chattering nervously. "I had to splice the celery with some source of blood, Harry, I didn't know--"
Harry felt a sinking sensation. "What source, Neville?" There was a silence. Harry put his hands on Neville's shoulders, not sure if he were trying to shake an answer out of the man or keep him out of range of Harry's incisors. "What source?"
"Me." Neville's whisper was barely audible. "I didn't know it would cause a problem, honest."
Harry let out a strangled noise, somewhere between a laugh and a groan. He closed his eyes. "Of course it would, Neville. I've never had human blood before. I've… heard about the effect, though, the first time you taste it. The hunger will go away. Eventually."
A moment of quiet, then: "I'm sorry, Harry. This is all my fault."
Harry wanted to sit down and give his shaking legs a rest, but he couldn't let go of Neville's shoulders. His fingers moved of their own accord, rubbing smooth circles against the other man's shirt. When Harry let his eyes open again, all he could see was the nick on Neville's jaw. It called to him.
Warm hands covered his own, but they weren't trying to move his hands away, they just lingered, almost caressing his skin. Neville was trying to get his attention, he realized belatedly.
"What did you say?" Harry's voice sounded oddly distant to his own ear.
"I said…" Neville drew in a breath. "You should try a little. From me, I mean. See if that helps."
"What?!" Harry looked at Neville in shock. "Are you out of your mind?"
Neville shook his head, looking into Harry's eyes levelly. "It's my fault this happened at all. Maybe it would be better if you… I mean, just a taste…"
This was a terrible, horrific idea, Harry knew. He'd sworn off human blood when he was first transformed for just this reason… only right now he was having trouble remembering the reason. Neville had tilted his head slightly, exposing the cut and the rest of his neck. Harry was so tempted, and Neville was so willing…
A heartbeat later, Harry was lost.
Neville gasped in surprise when Harry's arms slipped around him and pulled their bodies roughly together. There was a sudden warmth on his cheek--Harry was kissing, licking at the spot he'd cut--and Neville steeled himself for the sharp pain of a bite.
It didn't come. He felt instead the stinging sensation of the cut, reawakened by Harry's tongue sweeping across it, but it was a normal enough feeling--not at all what he'd been expecting. Harry seemed content to suckle for the moment, and Neville began to get a little flustered. Harry's body was warm, and that tongue was-- No one had ever given Neville tips on being kissed by a vampire. His hands dropped lightly onto Harry's shoulders, unsure of what else to do.
Harry moved then, trailing his mouth up towards Neville's ear. His hands on Neville's back tightened, bringing them even closer, and Neville suddenly realized that this had the potential to be very, very embarrassing. He hadn't known he was going to react like this.
Before he could say anything, Harry pulled away and looked at him with glassy eyes. "I… Are you okay?"
Neville tried very hard not to squirm. Harry's arms were still around him, and if he moved too much there would be the awkward moment to end all awkward moments. "Fine," he said, a bit breathlessly. "That wasn't… uh… how do you feel?"
Harry seemed to realize that they were still wrapped up in a rather close embrace. He let go, and Neville felt the loss of contact down to his bones.
"Better, actually," Harry said. Neville couldn't quite read the expression on his face. "Neville…"
Harry shook his head, taking a step back. "Never mind. I should probably go."
Neville took a step too, keeping Harry in arm's reach. "Harry… it's all right."
Intense green eyes met Neville's gaze. "What are you saying?"
"Just that…" Neville gave a small shrug. "Maybe we could do this again sometime."
Harry stared at him for a long moment, not comprehending, so Neville screwed his courage up even further and stepped forward to place a small kiss on Harry's cheek. He stepped back, feeling shy again.
"Oh," Harry said. A smile started to form on his lips, slowly spreading into a full-fledged grin, and Neville grinned right back.