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I Neville Longbottom was seriously depressed. In the nine months since Voldemort had fallen, Neville had become something of a hero. When Harry Potter's entire story had gotten out, people suddenly realized what Neville had accomplished by getting the Sword of Gryffindor and using it on Nagini, the snake and final horcrux. Neville became famous, his name now forever linked with Hermione Granger's and Ron Weasley's as the people from whom Potter received help in his vanquishing of Voldemort; as someone who would never have gone to the dark side, even under threat of torture. And Neville, suddenly and without warning, found himself with more fame than he had ever dreamed. He had fan letters, interview requests, job offers, book deals. You name it, Neville could have it. But Neville didn't want any of it. Those things came at a cost of countless lives and accepting any of those would have been taking advantage of a horrible situation. So what did he want? Neville didn't know. He wanted to stay locked up in his room at his Gran's house until the fervor died down, refusing to see anyone. His Gran didn't know how to treat him these days. She skulked around his bedroom every morning, trying to get him to get out of bed, at least take a nice walk down the street. Trying to get him to agree to the interview The Prophet kept asking for. At one point, Gran had tried to trick Neville into drinking a cheering potion. When Neville, who was never as bad in Potions as Snape had thought, realized what it was, he knocked it out of Gran's hand and yelled at her to go away. Neville had never been a boy who yelled at people. But that is the type of man he was turning in to. Neville was obviously suffering from guilt. All survivors of a war are likely to end up with some form of survivor's guilt, of course. And Neville did feel guilty, tremendously so, at having survived such a harrowing ordeal. But Neville's guilt was two-fold. He felt guilty about surviving and knowing his family had survived intact. Well, unless you count his parents, still stuck in the mental unit at St. Mungo's. His elderly Gran fought in the war and survived. His uncles lived. His closest friends were still here. He felt guilty at the lack of loss he had to endure, when little Teddy Lupin lost his muggle-born Grandfather for whom he was named and both of his parents, when the Creevy parents were going to have to deal with life without their brave son, Colin. The other part of Neville's guilt is knowing about all that loss, and knowing that somehow, the war had made his life better. If you think fame is something better. If you think having respect from the wizarding world is better. That was the reason Neville didn't want to have anything to do with the offers and letters and deals coming his way. Because he couldn't bear to live a good happy life at the cost of other human lives.

And so he spent his days locked away in his bedroom. Trying to write in a journal, but being unable to put his feelings into words. He stared at the ceiling. He refused to see Harry, Ron, Hermione and Luna when they came calling, which happened a lot at the beginning, but was becoming less frequent. He refused to use magic, even a simple summoning charm to get a dropped quill. Sometimes, late at night, when the insomnia would get unbearable, he'd take a walk. Breathing the fresh air, and hating himself for enjoying it, for needing it when Tonks and Lupin and all the others couldn't enjoy it. One day, Neville had no choice but to get out of the house, during the daytime. It was nearing his Uncle's birthday and Neville knew there was only one place to get his jokeloving Uncle a gift- Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. It would have been much easier if the joke-shop had still been an owl-order business. But they were beyond that now. They. Well, it isn't 'they' anymore, is it? Neville realized with a lurch that he was going to have to see George Weasley for the first time since the war. He was going to have to see George without his identical twin and partner in crime, Fred, by his side: a sight that Neville had never seen. Neville dressed slowly that morning, dreading what he had to do. He slowly descended the stairs into the kitchen where Gran was cooking breakfast. "Neville!" she exclaimed, surprised to see him up and about, particularly at this hour. "I need to go to Diagon Alley, Gran. Do we have floo powder?" Neville said, ignoring the huge smile on Gran's face. "Have some breakfast first, Neville." She waved her wand at the cabinet and a plate came flying out, landing softly on the table in front of Neville. Gran then waved her wand at the food on the stove and a fried egg flew out of the pan onto the plate. The toaster popped, Gran waved her wand and the toast landed next to the egg. Neville watched with mild interest. Gran had been bringing him his food on a tray in his bedroom, and Neville had started to forget what it looked like when food was being prepared. "Where are you off to?" Gran asked, as she cracked another egg for herself. Neville could tell that Gran was trying not to seem too eager, too happy, that he was up and about. "The Weasley twins' shop. Or George Weasley's shop that it. For a gift." "Ah," Gran said with a smile. "Do you need some money?" "No," Neville answered, "I'm good." He patted his pocket, jingling the galleons and sickles so Gran could hear. Neville began wolfing down the eggs and toast. He went to the refrigerator and got out a bottle of pumpkin juice, grabbed a glass from the cabinet and began to pour. Gran frowned. "You can't use your wand to do that?"

"Is there a problem with doing things the muggle way?" Neville asked. His voice was mild, but there was a hint of warning in it. A hint of something that suggested that he could run right back up to his bedroom and hide under the covers for another six months. He leaned on the counter and drained the juice in one large gulp. "Of course not." Gran answered quickly. She held up her wand. "Accio Floo Powder!" The small sack of powder came in from the front room into Gran's hand. She held the sack out to Neville. "Do you want any company?" Her voice sounded both sad and hopeful. "No. I can manage." Neville shoved the last bit of egg into his mouth, wiped his face, and kissed his Gran goodbye. He took the powder from Gran and walked to the fireplace. He took a pinch of the powder out of the sack and threw it on the flames. Once they turned green, he stepped in and said, "Diagon Alley!" A few seconds later, he was in Diagon Alley. He walked down the street, surprised at how different Diagon Alley looked since the last time he was here, when Voldemort's reign of terror was at its zenith and the alley was grey and dreary with more shops closed than opened. But now, stores were open again. People were bustling up and down the street, calling cheerful hellos to each other. The sun was shining and Diagon Alley had never looked more beautiful. And Neville just wanted to turn around and go back home. Neville stuck his hands into his pocket and wandered down the street, noticing with a start that Ollivander's wand shop was open for business. As he walked by, the door opened and a blond streak ran toward him, grabbing him around the waist and hugging him hard. "Neville!" cried Luna Lovegood as she looked up at Neville with her wide happy eyes. "You're out!" Neville gave Luna a small smile. "What are you doing here?" "I'm apprenticing with Mr. Ollivander." She smiled. "He says I have the mind of a great wand-maker. So I've been spending every other weekend working in his shop and I'll be taking over the shop after I graduate Hogwarts this year." "That's great Luna. Really. How is Mr. Ollivander doing?" "Oh, not well. He's very ill, you know. He's never quite recovered from his time as Voldemort's prisoner. That's why he asked me to apprentice. Daddy's a bit disappointed because we were supposed to go on a trek after I graduated to search for the crumplehorned snorkack. But he understands. He'll be very proud to have a wand-maker in the family." Neville had to smile internally at Luna's ability to hop from topic to topic in just a few short sentences.

Neville leaned down and kissed Luna on the cheek. She turned bright red. "I've got to go now, Luna. I have an errand to run. But let's get together soon, OK?" "Yes, definitely," Luna smiled at him. "It's great to see you out, Neville. People have been asking after you. I never knew what to tell them." Neville smiled sadly, wondering if he should say anything to Luna about what he'd been feeling. Instead, he held up his hand and gave her a small wave. Luna waved back. Neville turned and started toward Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, which he could easily see from blocks away. When he got there, Neville stood in front of the building looking at it. The window displays were just as colorful and dazzling as ever. Neville was transfixed for a few minutes. Then he took a deep breath. He opened the door and walked in the shop.

II When Neville walked into the shop, he was shocked by the color, the sounds, the lights surrounding him. He had grown accustomed to his somewhat drab bedroom in his Gran's ancient house all these months. He began to feel dizzy as all the color and bright objects seemed to press in on him. The colors in front of him swam and turned dark as his chest constricted and he gasped for breath. Neville closed his eyes and squatted to the floor, head in hands, before he could pass out. He was trying to take a deep breath, but not quite succeeding in getting a breath in at all. He heard a voice, which sounded far away, "Sir, are you OK?" He heard footsteps running toward him and someone grabbed his shoulder. "Neville? Is that you?" Neville turned his head and looked up at the blurred figure next to him. He could make out the red hair. As he regained his breath, Ron Weasley came into clear view. "Ron?" Neville asked weakly. "It's me," Ron said as he helped Neville back to his feet. "Are you all right?" "I'm OK now," Neville laughed shakily. "I just..." he stopped for a moment, unsure of what to say. "I just got a bit dizzy." "Come to the back and sit down," Ron took Neville's arm and led him through the bright shop to the back, through a door, and into a small office stocked with paperwork. He pointed to a chair behind a desk, and Neville sat obediently, breathing deeply and clearing his head. "Sorry 'bout that," Neville said, suddenly a bit embarrassed. "No worries." Ron stared at Neville, appraising him. Ron took out his wand, and waved it, conjuring up a glass of water, which he handed to Neville. "How've you been? It's been a while since anyone has seen you." Neville nodded and took a deep drink of water before speaking. "I haven't felt like being out and about." He refused to look Ron in the eye, instead stared at a thread coming loose from his sleeve. He picked at the thread, "I mean, it's been a little rough." Ron nodded, "I know." He sounded like he wanted to say something else, but shut his mouth and looked to the side. "I'm sorry about Fred." Ron smiled tightly and nodded again. "Thanks," he said, his voice shaking slightly.

"How's George?" Ron shrugged. "Terrible, if you ask me. He has his days where he seems fine, and days when he struggles to get out of bed. He's always in bed. He sleeps half the day." Neville frowned and Ron continued, "The worst part is that he's kind of gone off humor. Like without Fred, he's just not as, I don't know...funny. That's why I'm here. I'm helping out at the store for a year, to help George cope and get back on his feet. The store is still doing really well. I mean, people are just craving this type of stuff after the last few years. But all the product is the same as it was last year. George hasn't been inventing new things since Fred-" he broke off again. "I'm sorry to hear that." Neville didn't know what else to say. He felt the familiar pull of guilt in his stomach, realizing that he hadn't been able to get out of bed for six months for his own sense of self-pity, and George Weasley was at least making an attempt. It made him want to go right back home and crawl back in to bed. They were both quiet for a moment then sound of the store's front door opening jolted them both. "I better go up there. You can sit here until you feel better. Don't go, OK?" "I'll stay," Neville said. Ron left and Neville looked around the office. He noticed a large stack of boxes against one wall and was surprised to see that they were full of canary-creams. Neville had to hold back a smile remembering that he had been the first one that Fred and George had tricked into eating one, causing him to sprout yellow feathers all over his body. "Neville Longbottom!" Said a voice from the doorway. Neville turned around and saw George Weasley standing there. Neville smiled, "Hi George!" He tried his hardest not to stare at the hole where George's ear had been. Obviously he wasn't successful, because George turned his head so the hole was facing Neville. "Fancy a better look?" he asked, grinning. Neville wrinkled his nose, "Uh, no thanks." He pointed to the boxes, "overstocked with canary creams?" "Nah," George said. "We had to pull them off the shelves." "What? Why?" George sighed. "There were some complaints. Remember how you shed your feathers within minutes of sprouting them?" Neville nodded. George continued, "Well, evidently not everyone's body is so compliant. Some people were stuck with feathers for days and had to get them removed at St. Mungo's. So, until we find something that can get the feathers off people, we can't sell them." George shrugged, "What are you going to do?"

Neville brightened. "Have you ever heard of amorilios pennatenta?" "What's that?" "It's a plant. A yellow-leafy plant with white blooms. People who own pet birds use it to help birds who have a difficult time moulting. You know, some birds have leftover feathers that can get stuck and it can be painful. So these bird owners feed the leaves to the birds and it helps the moulting process go smoother. You could try using it as an antidote and selling it with each cream. I mean, you'd have to test it, but the plant isn't poisonous for humans." George grabbed a quill and some parchment. "What's it called again?" "Amorilios pennatenta. More commonly called Yellow Ivy, but that's a misnomer. It's not really part of the ivy family." "Where can I get some?" "I have it growing in my garden. Or rather, I did. I'm not sure how well Gran's been keeping it up. But yellow ivy is pretty hearty, so it might have survived even if she hasn't." George looked up from his parchment curiously. "Why haven't you been working in your garden?" Neville shrugged. "I just haven't felt up to it." George nodded. He grabbed Neville by the shoulder and faced him. George looked like he wanted to say something, but instead patted Neville's shoulder and turned around. "We've all been struggling," he said quietly. "I know it," Neville said. "I'm sorry," he looked down at his feet. "What are you sorry for?" George asked sharply. Neville shrugged again. "I should be handling things better. I," his voice broke off and he took a deep breath. "I've been unable to do anything. I've barely been able to get out of bed. I've barely been able to sleep. I shouldn't be feeling so bloody sorry for myself." George sighed, "Don't be sorry. Everyone handles things in their own way. I don't even know how to describe how I handle it. I never know how I'm going to feel from one day to the next. From one minute to the next, really." At that moment, Ron walked back in to the office and George changed the subject, his voice sounding more upbeat. "So Neville, can I buy some yellow ivy off you?" "I'll bring you some next week, if I have it. If not, I'll bring some seedlings and show you how to grow it indoors. It should be usable within three months. But you don't need to buy it, if you need it, it's yours." Neville stood up, feeling surprisingly better. "Well, I came here to get something for my Uncle Algie."

George and Ron followed Neville out to the store front. Neville wandered around looking at items as Ron gave a play by play on what everyone's been doing. Neville was more than happy to let Ron do all the talking as he picked up various items, sneaking sideways glances at George. Once, he caught George looking back. Ron droned on, "Hermione went back to Hogwarts to finish her seventh year. Harry and I decided not to. We both got in to the Auror training program without it, but we both decided to take a year off. I needed to help out here. Oh Neville, here're those invisible head hats, I bet your uncle would love that! And Harry's doing this weird traveling thing. He's trying to find wizards he's related to or something, you know he's got all these family issues, being an orphan and with Sirius dying, so he's doing this worldwide genealogy search. He said something once about making peace with that horrible muggle cousin of his. Oh, and Luna is working for Mr. Ollivander and learning wandlore and wand-making. Ginny's finishing up at Hogwarts this year. She's the quidditch captain and the Holyhead Harpies are interested in her. Um, what else? Oh yeah, Bill and Fleur are going to have a baby in a few months. Our mum is going bonkers over having a grandchild. She wants like twenty grandchildren or something." Neville listened to all this, with just an "mmm-hmm," or an "oh yeah?" placed here and there. It was kind of interesting, finally hearing what everyone else has been up to. But he was really concentrating on Uncle Algie's gift and on George following him. Ron continued, "Next weekend is a Hogsmeade weekend for the Hogwarts students. Harry and I were going to go and meet up with Ginny and Hermione. Why don't you come along?" "Really?" Neville asked. "But I can't apparate there. I never took my exam." Ron scrunched his face up, "why not?" When Neville didn't say anything and blushed, Ron continued, "Oh well, that's fine. Just meet me here and I can take you side-along." "You sure?" Neville asked. Neville himself wasn't sure if he was ready for a day at Hogsmeade. "Definitely," Ron said enthusiastically. "Well, all right then. I'll come by here on Saturday, drop off the plant for George, and we can go." "Sounds good, mate!" Ron slapped Neville on the back. "It's good to see you again." Ron walked off to help another customer. George watched Ron walk away, then turned to Neville. "You don't have to go if you don't feel like it. People would understand. Everyone who fought last year, we're all just," his voice drifted off and he stared in to space. "We're all just taking it day by day." "It's fine. Really." Neville said to George. "I can always leave early. It'll probably be good to see people again." As he said it, he wasn't sure he was ready.

George nodded. "So, do you want that hat?" he asked Neville, who was holding one of the hats that Fred and George had invented. When you put it on your head, your head (and only your head) became invisible. "Yeah, I'll take it," Neville held it out to George. "Take it then. No payment necessary." George smiled widely at Neville. Neville shook his head. "No. I can't not pay for it." "OK then. It costs one yellow ivy plant. I'll put it on your tab." Neville smiled back at George, suddenly feeling a little bit shy. George grabbed on to Neville's elbow, "Listen, I'm glad you were feeling well enough to come in here. If you need it, we can talk whenever you want. My flat upstairs, is connected to the floo network." Neville stared at his elbow, encased in George's freckled hand. "I wasn't feeling well enough at first. But I'm feeling much better now that I've come in." Another customer walked in to the shop and George dropped Neville's arm. "See you next weekend." He winked at Neville as he turned away to help the customer. As Neville walked out of the door, he thought to himself, 'Did George Weasley really just wink at me?'


Neville spent much of the following week feeling somewhat better. He tended his plants in the garden and in the small greenhouse his Gran had built for him a few years ago. Gran had made an admirable attempt at keeping up the garden, but the greenhouse was another matter altogether. The majority of the greenhouse plants were completely dead, unable to be revived with any means of magic or water. It depressed Neville to throw away some of the plants that he had tended so lovingly in what felt like another lifetime. Though a small part of Neville was hopeful that all new plants would signify an all new beginning. He was relieved that he was able to find that some of his yellow ivy was growing strong. It was already November, and it had thankfully had been a mild one so far. He was able to get a few good cuttings for George. He planted them in a small box that could be easily carried through the floo network and put it on the windowsill of his bedroom until Saturday. At times he found himself staring at the plant and thinking about George, wondering what George was doing, how he was feeling. Nights were still bad. Neville was still suffering from serious bouts of insomnia. The good feelings left over from the day would quickly dissipate as the sun set and Neville would find himself, once again, lying in bed staring at the ceiling with visions of the bodies of Tonks, Lupin, Colin Creevy, Fred Weasley, and all the others running through his mind. When staring at the ceiling got tiresome, Neville would turn to his side, staring at the wall or to his other side and stare at his bedroom door. And when that didn't help him sleep, he'd hold his pillow over his face until his chest burned and he couldn't take it anymore. Then he'd remove the pillow gasping for air. Eventually, he would give up and go downstairs, take a walk and clear his mind. Generally speaking, he would get back in to bed just before dawn, fall asleep and manage less than four hours before waking for breakfast. On Friday night, the night before he was to go to Hogsmeade with Ron, Neville asked Gran if she could make him a sleeping potion. Looking at her grandson's face, gaunt from six months of grappling with demons and with dark puffy circles under his pleading eyes, she couldn't say no. She wasn't a fan of sleeping potions, believing that they cured a symptom, rather than a cause of sleeplessness. Nevertheless, she was wise enough to know that only time would cure the causes of Neville's sleeplessness and in the meantime, if he needed a little assistance in getting some decent sleep every now and then, well, she wasn't going to deprive him. Besides, watching him work in the garden and in the greenhouse, she felt sure that he was on the mend and very soon he wouldn't need any help falling asleep.

So on that Friday evening, not quite dusk, Neville lay in bed and Gran brought him a draught of the potion. Neville drank it, and within minutes was consumed by glorious, dreamless, visionless sleep. A sleep like he had never had before. Saturday came, crisp and cool but with the sun shining brightly. Neville awoke from a nine hour sleep, feeling as refreshed as he could remember feeling in over a year. Even prior to the war, he had been having trouble sleeping; fear coupled by those hammocks in the room of requirement at Hogwarts had not been conducive to a long night's rest. He sat up in bed, yawned, stretched and moved his head in circles, working out the kinks that had found their way into his neck. He noticed his plant sitting on his window and he stood up immediately. Today was the day. He was going to bring the plant to George. And go in to Hogsmeade. But first, George and the plant. Neville dressed quickly and went downstairs. Gran was preparing breakfast, and she smiled at him. "Good sleep?" she asked. "The best," Neville leaned in to give her a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for the potion Gran." "You needed it." She slipped the eggs out of the pan onto a plate that already had toast and melon slices. She handed the plate to Neville. He began wolfing down his food. "I'm going back to Diagon Alley today," he was saying to Gran. "I'm bringing some plants to George Weasley, who might need them for one of his products. Then I'm going with Ron to Hogsmeade. We're meeting Harry, Ginny and Hermione." "That's really great, Neville. I'm so glad to see you getting out." She was positively beaming at him. They ate in companionable silence until both plates were clean. Neville walked his plate to the sink and began rinsing it. "Go," said Gran, waving her hand at him. "I'll clean up. You go meet your friends." Neville ran upstairs, brushed his teeth and checked out his reflection in the mirror. Certainly he had looked better. But he didn't think he looked terrible. Neville appraised his hair, now grown out to nearly his shoulders. He ran his fingers through it, thinking he might keep it long. He only had one visible scar on his cheek, from the abuse at the hands of the Carrows. He rubbed his finger over it and sighed, he remembered all too well having his arms bound and being punched by Amycus who was wearing a sharp ring with the dark mark on it. Neville knew about the other scars, the ones on his back. But to anyone looking right at him, they'd only see the tiny scar on his cheek. Say what you want about the Carrows, they'd had the brains at least to leave most of Neville's physical scars where they'd be covered by clothing, to say nothing of his emotional scars.

"George?" Neville called as he walked into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. The door to the rear office opened, and George Weasley walked out. He smiled broadly as he noticed it was Neville. It was still quite early in the morning, and Neville was the only one in the store. George motioned Neville to come back, and Neville followed him. In the small office, Neville put the box of yellow ivy on the desk, and with a small flourish of his hands, said, "Here it is! Yellow ivy." "Brilliant," George said. 'How does it work?" Neville shrugged. "I've no idea what to do for humans. But people who use it for the birds take off the leaves and grind them up and put it into the bird food. So, I guess you just try to use the leaves. Who're you going to test it on?" George looked at him like he was crazy. "Myself, of course. Fred and I always tried things out on each other first." Neville didn't say anything for a moment, thinking about Fred, and George continued, "Course now I'll need someone else there. You know, in case something goes wrong. How 'bout it Neville?" George smirked a little, and when he did, Neville's heart began to pound. "You want me to test this with you?" he asked, eyes widening just a fraction. "Sure." George was still smiling broadly, looking Neville directly in his eyes. "Someone's got to. Ron doesn't trust me. Something about being raised with me and knowing me too well to trust me." Neville laughed weakly and George went on, "But you, Neville. You don't know the half of what I'm capable of." And on that note, Neville answered, "Sure. I'll help you test this stuff out." He was anxious to see the half of what George was capable of. "Excellent," George said, rubbing his hands together. "Let's get started." He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth, when Ron came bounding down from the upstairs flat. He was jamming a piece of toast in his mouth. "Hey, Neville," he said, crumbs flying out of his mouth. He held up a finger as he finished chewing. Finally he swallowed the last bit, "Ready to go?" "Oh, uh. Yeah." He had temporarily forgotten about Hogsmeade, and his anxiety about going suddenly returned. He turned to George, "I'll stop back by later today. Before I head home." George nodded and pressed a small bag into Neville's hand. "Floo powder. For when you get sick of sitting around watching him," he pointed to Ron, "and Hermione arguing and Harry and Ginny snogging. Then you can come back to me." Neville nodded, not taking his hand away from George's. George also let his hand linger in Neville's before taking it away. Neville couldn't wait to come back to George.

Ron held out his elbow and Neville tucked the bag of floo powder into his pocket and grabbed onto Ron's elbow. In a second he was pressing through darkness before appearing in the center of Hogsmeade. "Ron! Neville!" called an excited voice. They both turned around to see Hermione Granger running toward them, her brown bushy hair being swept by the combination of wind and her running. Ron held out his arms, but Hermione ran right past him and enveloped Neville in a mammoth hug. Ron scowled. Tears were leaking out of Hermione's eyes. "Neville. We've missed you." She lowered her voice to a whisper, "What have you been doing?" she demanded. Neville gripped Hermione a little harder, "Wallowing," he whispered into her ear, "but don't tell anyone. Let them think I've been off having fantastic adventures." Hermione sniffed and gave a shaky laugh, still not letting go of him. "Are you all right?" she asked, her voice filled with concern and she let her finger run quickly over the scar on Neville's cheek. Neville's heart broke. Hermione's touch felt comforting, like she was blessing him in friendship. "I'm getting there," he assured her. Finally they broke apart. Neville looked around, Harry and Ginny were walking quickly towards them, hand in hand, both smiling widely. Neville hugged both of them, exchanging greetings and hellos. The group made its way toward the Three Broomsticks, which, at this time of morning, wasn't quite packed with students the way it would be around lunchtime. Neville thought vaguely of the Hog's Head and thought he needed to go visit Aberforth at some point. They got a table together in the corner and Hermione went to the bar to order butterbeers for everyone. Neville was having a nice time, enjoying a relaxed conversation. He couldn't quite make himself feel comfortable though. He wondered at how Harry Potter had been able to get up in the mornings, after all, Harry had faced worse than he, Neville, had. Harry lost his Godfather and several good friends, Remus, Tonks and Fred namely. And yet he managed to deal with his loss better. Neville sighed and wondered about the ways people deal with trauma. George wasn't kidding that Ron and Hermione's relationship was built on bickering or that Harry and Ginny couldn't keep their hands off each other. Even as he was explaining to Neville about the historical research he was undertaking of every witch and wizard buried in the graveyard in Godric's Hollow, Harry found a way to be in constant physical contact with Ginny, holding her hand, or wrapping his arm possessively around her, or even fiddling with the ends of her hair. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was that passion for another person that motivated Harry out of bed in the mornings. After about ten minutes, Luna Lovegood walked in. "Luna!" said Hermione "Come sit over here." Hermione made a point of shifting her body to clear a space right next to Neville.

"Hello, Neville," Luna said. "How are you feeling?" "A bit better this week, Luna." Neville smiled. "How are you?" "Oh you know. Things are basically the same." Hermione interjected, "Neville, did you know that Luna was named prefect? And that she's gotten top marks in Herbology?" Neville raised his eyebrows. "Really? Well, that's very impressive," he said politely. "Luna," Hermione persisted, "You know Neville's always had a special interest in Herbology." "Yes, I know," Luna said serenely. She turned to Neville, "I think Hermione wants us to have a conversation about Herbology, Neville." Everyone at the table laughed as Hermione's face turned pink. Even Neville had to laugh, though it was obvious what Hermione was doing, and it made him slightly uncomfortable. She really wanted him and Luna to get together. Then they could be a little six-pack, Three adorable doting couples. But it wasn't going to happen. Luna isn't his type. Neville sighed, and Luna turned toward him. "Let's go sit at the bar." They got up, Neville noticing Hermione's delighted face as they did so. Neville brought his butter beer, and he chivalrously ordered another one for Luna as they took a couple of bar stools as far away from the table as possible. "I think Hermione wants us to be a couple," Luna said in the same blunt way that she always has. Her uncensored observations made some people uncomfortable, but Neville always found it charming and delightful. Luna had the quality of making people feel that they could be, that they should be, completely honest around her, and it usually made for some interesting conversation. "You may be right," Neville said. He hooked one finger around the neck of his bottle and peered with one eye into the dregs of his butterbeer. " But don't be offended if I don't ask you out on a date, all right?" "Oh, I'm not offended. I already know you're gay." Luna said simply. Neville put his bottle down with a thud and turned to her, "How could you possibly know that? I've never told anyone." Luna smiled at him. "You didn't have to tell me for me to know. I just pay attention to my friends. I noticed you never look twice at pretty girls. But you do look twice at the handsome boys. Sometimes more than twice." Neville chuckled. "Well, that's very observant of you. Do you think anyone else has noticed?" He tried to sound non-chalant.

"Oh, no. Hermione wouldn't pick up on it unless she's recently read a book called How to Tell a Wizard is Gay or something. She's smart, but she lacks a bit of perspicacity. And Ron and Harry...well, you know straight boys are just a little thick. Deep down, Ginny might know. But she doesn't stop to think about anything but Harry and quidditch. That's pretty much all she thinks about anymore." "Yeah," Neville nodded. "God. Look at those two." They both looked at Harry and Ginny for a moment, canoodling in the corner booth, while Ron and Hermione quietly snipped at each other. Neville looked away when he saw Ginny's hand disappear under the table toward Harry's lap. "Harry lent Ginny his invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map. She sneaks out of school a couple nights a week and meets Harry at a room above the Hog's Head." Luna said, still staring at the two of them. "Really?" Neville was fascinated by this bit of information. He'd gotten quite close to Ginny in his seventh year. The two of them had been favorite targets of the Carrows, who were convinced that Ginny or Neville had to know where Harry Potter was. He turned to look at Luna, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Harry and Ginny stand up. He looked back toward them and they walked out of the Three Broomsticks, with a wave to Neville and Luna. Neville smiled and waved back. Good for Ginny. Though Neville contemplated whether or not to tell George. George. Neville really wanted to get back to him. "I hope you're not offended if I leave now, Luna." "You're not going off to get depressed again, are you?" Luna asked. Even her questions had a stab-you-in-the-gut type of honesty. "I'm not," he shook his head. "I'm going to go help George Weasley with something." "Oh, that's nice," Luna drained her butter beer. "Tell George I said hello. I'm going to the shrieking shack. I think there's a colony of young wrackspurts around there. I want to find them." Neville said goodbye to Luna and kissed her on the cheek. For the first time in a while, when Neville walked, he didn't feel a pressing weight on his shoulders.

IV The shop was crowded with weekend shoppers when Neville got back. George was at the counter, ringing up some purchases, but noticed right away when Neville walked through the door. He waved his hand and held up a finger, asking Neville to wait a moment. Neville wandered around the shop, stopping to smile at the memories some of the products brought back, skiving snack boxes, pygmy puffs and the like. Neville noticed that Angelina Johnson was behind the counter, helping George. He wondered if there was anything between the two. Though Neville thought it wasn't likely as he remembered Angelina and Fred being quite close and having an occasional snog in the darkest corner of the Gryffindor common room. It took about twenty minutes for the crowd at the counter to die down. George came from behind the counter, "Neville! Back already?" Neville nodded. "I said my hellos, but there wasn't much for me to do there." George grinned widely. "Let's go," and he motioned Neville to follow him to the back of the store and to the office. But when they got there, George grabbed the yellow ivy and began walking up the stairs to the flat. "Angelina can watch the store for a bit." "How is Angelina?" Neville asked, hoping to get some information out of George about the nature of his relationship with her. George shrugged. "All right. She's been a sport, coming here and helping me out when Ron can't." That wasn't really the information Neville was looking for, but he decided to drop it. He followed George up the narrow staircase. At the top of the staircase was a door with an old-fashioned lock. George obviously kept the place unlocked, as he turned the doorknob and the door swung open. Neville walked in and looked around. He entered immediately into a large square room. There was a caddy-cornered fireplace, with a few embers still burning. One long overstuffed red sofa was in front of the fireplace. The majority of the rest of the room was taken up with a large work table, piled high with bits of...well it looked like junk. Some dead plants, some dried up beetles, doxy droppings, pieces of felt, small empty capsules, paperwork and numerous other bits and pieces. All of it was covered by a thin layer of dust, suggesting to Neville that Ron had been right and George hadn't been working on his product. "Would you like the grand tour?" George asked.

"Sure." "This is my work room, obviously." Neville followed George down a long hall off the far end of the work room. George tapped the first door, "This is the loo," he tapped the second door, "This is my bedroom," The door was closed, so Neville couldn't get a good look. Then George tapped the third door, "This was Fred's room," The hall ended after that and opened up to a surprisingly bright and sunny kitchen. George began rooting through a cupboard and finally came up with a mortar and pestle. "I should keep one of these on my work table," he said absent-mindedly. "So what do we do?" George asked Neville after they returned to the work room and George surreptitiously used his wand to suck up the dust covering the work table. "No idea," Neville admitted. "Well," George said thoughtfully. "We'll just do this trial and error then, right?" He grabbed some leaves off one of the yellow ivy plants and began grinding it up with the pestle. Within moments, a clear yellow liquid began to ooze from the leaves. "Is that supposed to happen?" George asked Neville. Neville laughed, "No idea," he said again. George looked up and met Neville's eyes and laughed with him. "All right then, I guess I should be the first guinea pig." George handed Neville a stopwatch, "Time how long it takes my feathers to fall off." George pulled a box of canary creams from under the table, opened it up and grabbed a cream. He took a deep breath, "here goes nothing," he muttered and shoved the cream into his mouth all at once. He chewed thoughtfully and said, mouth full of food, "You know, these really taste quite goo-." He was cut off by yellow feathers sprouting all over his body. Neville hit the button on the stop watch. He and George were silent as they waited it out. After two minutes and thirty seven seconds, the feathers began to fall off and George was completely feather-less twenty seconds after that. "So some people are stuck with the feathers?" Neville asked. George nodded and opened another cream. "OK, time me again." Neville reset the stopwatch and waited while George ate the second cream. For a second time that day, yellow feathers sprouted all over George's body. This time, immediately after swallowing the cream, he scooped out the contents of the mortar and shoved it in his mouth, making a terrible face in the process. However, no sooner had George swallowed when the feathers began falling off his body. Neville stopped the watch, "Forty-two seconds," he exclaimed. "Blimey, George. I think it works." George jumped up and down, "Yes!" he said, pumping his fist in the air. He grabbed Neville by the shoulders, "We did it, Neville!" He leaned in toward Neville and planted a wet kiss right on Neville's lips.

Neville's eyes widened, too stunned to kiss back. The kiss lasted only a few seconds before George let go and turned around. George turned back to his work table and began speaking fast, almost maniacally. "We might be on to something, you know? With this yellow ivy. I think what I should do next is call those customers who couldn't moult, maybe offer them some sort of gold incentive to come try the creams with the yellow ivy. Maybe offer to pay for their stay in St. Mungo's if it doesn't work. I'd better get more yellow ivy though. We just might be able to get these back on the shelves in a few months if I can get enough." By the time George had finished babbling, Neville had backed up to the door. His back pressed against the door and his fingers running over his lips. What, exactly, had George meant by kissing him? George got quiet and still, his back was facing Neville, but he seemed to sense Neville's nervousness. He grabbed on to the work table, "I'm sorry, Neville," he said so quietly Neville wasn't quite sure he'd heard correctly. "It's all right," Neville said just as quietly, his voice cracking causing Neville to writhe in embarrassment. "I should go," he said a little louder. George turned around. "No! Stay. I'm sorry, I just...I won't do it again. All right?" "Are you...?" Neville trailed off. "What?" George was suddenly looking everywhere except at Neville. "Are you, like that? You like blokes?" The blush rose in George's face so fast it caught Neville off guard. He nodded slightly. "Oh." Neville said faintly. He heard himself saying, "Me too." Saying it to Luna was the first he'd ever admitted to it. He didn't think he'd have to admit it again so quickly. "I thought so." George said. They both stood there, quietly for a moment. Not speaking, facing each other. George's hands were in his pockets and he was rocking back and forth on his feet. Neville was still pressed against the door. Both wanted to say something, both were scared to say something. "So..." George said. "So..." Neville repeated. They locked eyes and began laughing at their mutual discomfort. Neville decided to do something uncharacteristically bold for him. He spoke up, "You can do it again. You know, if you want to." "Yeah?" George asked. "Mmm-hmm." Neville nodded.

"All right then," George took a tentative step towards Neville, licking his lips nervously. When he got to the door, he leaned in and pressed his lips softly to Neville's. Neville was expecting it this time, and was able to respond to the kiss immediately. George pressed his whole body in to Neville's causing the door knob to dig in to Neville's back. Not that Neville cared. His body was singing, he felt impervious to pain. They stayed like that, standing, kissing, for several minutes. Neville wrapped one arm around George's waist, while George had his hands on Neville's neck and running fingers through his hair. Their mouths opened and they licked their way in to each others' mouths. They were startled apart by a knock on the door. "George?" Angelina Johnson's voice rang out. "We're getting a bit of a crowd down here!" "I'll be right down," he said. George looked at Neville, whose lips were bright red and seemed to be pulsating. All George wanted to do was to stay up here and kiss those lips over and over. was business. "I have to go down there," he said apologetically. "It's all right," Neville said. "Maybe I should go?" He didn't want to go. "No. No," George insisted. "Stay here. I'll come back up when I can." "All right," Neville agreed easily. George darted down the stairs. Neville took a look at his surroundings and sat on the overstuffed sofa. He was breathing hard, trying to wrap his head around what'd just happened. He'd known he was gay for a long time. Really since he was about twelve and had a horrible unrequited crush on Harry Potter. By fifth year, he was pretty well over that crush and came to think of Harry as a great friend. He'd always had a certain affection for the Weasley twins, who were so much who he wanted to be. Loud, outgoing, friends with everybody- they were everything Neville wasn't. He'd never really expected to find out either one of them was gay, though this last week he had been wondering more about George, particularly after George winked at him. This was Neville's first kiss. He hoped he did all right. All of a sudden, he began to feel self-conscious about his kissing abilities, though George's reaction to the kiss suggested he'd done just fine. Neville sat back in the chair and rubbed his eyes. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want to over-analyze anything. He didn't want to get too excited about George until he knew more about what George wanted. More kissing? A bit of snogging? An actual relationship? Neville sat up. God, a relationship. Stop he told himself. No use getting your hopes up. Neville needed to stop thinking. He needed something to do, some way to keep

busy. He stood up and started wandering around the flat. He peeked into the loo. It was small but clean. He skipped over Fred's room, but did open George's door and looked inside. It was a nice sized room, much of the space taken up by a large four-poster bed, not unlike the beds at Hogwarts, though a size bigger. It had a burgundy and gold bed spread and about ten pillows. Neville wondered who would need that many pillows. The walls were mostly bare, save for a picture of the Weasley family from a few years back plus a picture of the Griffyndor quidditch team. The people in both pictures began waving wildly as Neville walked into the room carefully. Neville looked closely at the photo of the Weasley family. Unlike most people, he'd never had trouble telling Fred and George apart. So alike in looks and demeanor and attitude, nearly everyone considered Fred and George one and the same. And in many ways, they were. Nearly inseparable, it made sense to most that they were one machine, Gred or Forge, whatever you wanted to call them. But Neville could always tell George by the slightly more rounded look of his shoulders. Or by the fact that Fred was an incurable flirt, while George occasionally had a more difficult time maintaining eye contact. Those are the types of things Neville noticed about people. In fact, as Neville reflected on it, it was surprising that he didn't consider that George may be gay until just last week. You'd think that his own gayness coupled with his ability to read people would somehow clue him in to others' homosexuality, but Neville had remained unsuspecting, and always, always convinced of the fact that being gay was a sentence to lifelong loneliness. Neville wondered if George had ever told Fred. Neville hoped so. He'd hate to think that Fred had died not knowing who his twin really was. That George had never gotten to truly open up to his brother, his best friend. Neville wandered out of George's room and shut the door carefully behind him. He made his way into the kitchen. Maybe it was the sight of the kitchen that did it to him, but Neville was suddenly famished. He searched the ice box and the cupboards and found the makings of bangers and mash. Methodically, and using his wand for the first time in months, Neville began making lunch for himself and George. Neville had just finished making lunch when George burst back in to the flat. "Sorry about that," he apologized. "It's all right," Neville assured him, "It's your business. Look, I made you some lunch." "Thanks, you didn't have to." Neville shook his head, "No. I wanted to." Neville and George sat at the table quietly, somewhat awkwardly. The were about halfway through eating when George said in a soft voice, "I'm glad you came to the shop last week, Neville. People have been wondering where you've been." Neville blushed and shrugged. "I just haven't felt much like being out." "I don't blame you," George said. "But blimey, Neville. You're famous!"

Neville laughed bitterly. "I know. I've got the fan mail and book deal requests and job offers. I don't want a single one of them." "But Neville, you've got to do something. You can't just have a lie-in for the rest of your life at your Gran's house." "I don't want any of those things. People died. I got the mail and the interview requests and job offers because people died. It's sick." George gave Neville a hard look. "Fred would want you to take advantage. He'd think you're being a bloody idiot turning down these offers." Neville shrugged. "I still don't want it." "Then what do you want?" George was challenging Neville, and Neville was glad for it. No one had questioned his desire to stay in bed for months on end. His Gran had been willing to let Neville work things out for himself without throwing him out to the real world. But maybe what he needed was to be thrown out to the real world. Neville shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm qualified for. Finding a sword in a hat and killing a snake doesn't exactly qualify me for much of anything. It just means I'm damn lucky." George leaned back in his chair and smiled at Neville. "I think I've got just the thing for you. Herb Ignatius runs the greenhouse and nursery where I buy a bit of plant that I need for my product. He's looking for help." "Where is it?" "Wales." "I haven't passed my apparition exam. I can't get to Wales." "So take your exam." "George." Neville stopped and thought. "It's not that I don't appreciate it. I just haven't even attempted apparition since sixth year. And then I wasn't any good at it." "So, you'll get good at it. I can help." Neville shifted uncomfortably. "You'd help?" George smiled, the biggest smile Neville had seen from him so far, "I'd love to." Neville took a last bite of his food and nodded his head. "Let's do it."

V It turns out that Neville's problem in sixth year had been like so many of his other problems in life. It was all confidence, or in Neville's case, his lack of confidence. At first, Neville couldn't apparate at all, even with George's help. But George was a patient teacher, much better than the instructor at Hogwarts, and within two days, Neville had managed to apparate about two feet. His success was rewarded with a kiss from George. Of course, most of his failures had also been rewarded with kisses from George. Neville and George never bothered to talk about what they were doing, what the kissing meant. They just let it happen. Once Neville managed to apparate regularly, he sent an owl with a request to the ministry to take his exam. He received a letter back the following day noting the date and time of his scheduled exam. Neville had four days. On the morning of his exam, Neville woke early. He made himself breakfast and left the house before his Gran had even woken up. He left a cryptic note saying he had things to do, which shouldn't surprise Gran, as Neville hadn't been spending much time at home the last couple weeks. Gran never asked him where he was going, as though asking him about it would somehow jinx him back into the safety of his bed. Neville walked to the nearest muggle underground station and took it to the visitor's entrance at the ministry. He hadn't been to the ministry since the end of his fifth year. It looked much the same, perhaps a little brighter. Or perhaps that was just his imagination. Neville went to the main desk, where he had his wand checked by a security wizard, and received a name tag. He was directed to a hall located right off the main lobby where apparition exams are given. Neville made his way down the hall, following signs to the apparition exam room. He was the first one there. He was there even before the examiner. Neville sighed impatiently and sat down on a hard chair to wait. He nervously tapped his wand against the side of the chair, making small red sparks fly out the end of it each time it struck. Finally, a short balding wizard with dark round glasses and wearing bright red robes approached looking frazzled. "Sorry I'm late," he apologized, rushing toward Neville. "Are you my first exam?" "Yes, sir." Neville answered.

The wizard unlocked the door and Neville followed him into a large room, about the size of a half basketball court. The room had a dark shiny floor, and almost no furniture save for a desk covered with paperwork and shoved in a corner. "All right," the wizard said. "My name is Lexeter Broome. I'll be taking your apparition exam today. May I see your wand?" Neville handed his wand over and Lexeter Broome examined it carefully. "Seems to be in good order," he said cheerfully handing the wand back. Lexeter waved his own wand and conjured a clipboard and a quill. "What is your name?" "Neville Longbottom." Lexeter looked up over the clipboard at Neville. "Blimey, are you really the Neville Longbottom? The one who helped defeat you-know-who?" Neville nodded uncomfortably. "Yeah, that's me." Lexeter's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Longbottom." For a moment, Neville didn't realize Lexeter was talking to him. He'd never been called Mr. Longbottom before in his life. "Call me Neville," was all he said. "All right, Neville." Lexeter seemed thrilled that Neville was there and stared at him with wide eyes. "Uh..." Neville said. He gestured to the clipboard. "Any other questions?" "Oh!" Lexeter looked down. He quickly scrawled Neville's name down. "Age?" "Nineteen." "Have you graduated?" "No. I didn't complete my seventh year." "Are you going to?" "Is this necessary for the exam?" "Somewhat. We do need to know if you're still a student. The school requires us to keep track of any student who is able to legally apparate. So if you were planning on going back, I'd need to notify Professor McGonagall." "Well, I probably won't go back." "Very well." Lexeter started walking to the other side of the large room. Neville began to follow him. "You stay there." When he got to the other side, Lexeter took out his

wand and made a large circle on the floor in front of him. "Your first task Neville, is to apparate to this circle." Neville concentrated, the way George taught him to focus, turned on the spot and heard a loud pop as he suddenly found himself being sucked through space and reappearing inside the circle. With that task down, Neville felt much more confident and comfortable. He followed Lexeter by apparition to the edge of London, to the field where the Quidditch World Cup had been held five years ago, to Hogsmeade, and finally back to the exam room. With George's hints, Neville managed them all perfectly. "Excellent, my boy!" Lexeter boomed. "Really great job! There is no problem, none at all with giving you an apparition license." Lexeter buried his nose in the clipboard once more, signed a few lines and handed the paper to Neville. "Take this to room 120, where you'll be given your license." "Thank you, sir." Neville said grabbing the paper. He was bursting with happiness. A feeling he'd not felt in over a year. Happiest still, because he realized he had someone to share his good news with.

George was still asleep. Actually that wasn't technically true, he was at that point where he was drifting between being asleep and awake. He wasn't ready to wake up, but knew he probably should. He wanted so badly to stay in the dream he'd been having. By the light he could see from behind his closed lids, he guessed that he'd need to open the shop in about an hour. Suddenly, he was jolted awake by a loud "pop!" sound. George sat up quickly and looked around to see Neville standing at the foot of his bed, a big smile on his face. "Neville!" Neville held out a small card. "I did it! I passed my apparition exam!" George gaped at him, "You didn't even tell me you were going to take the exam!" Neville smiled, a little shyly. "I wanted it to be a surprise. You know, in case I failed." George threw back the covers and patted the bed next to him. "Come here." Neville kicked off his shoes and jumped in to bed next to George. He gave George a kiss on the lips, "Thanks for helping me." George returned the kiss enthusiastically. "Glad to do it." This is how the last few weeks had been. Neville finding reasons to come visit George. George finding reasons to sneak up to the flat during working hours where they'd spend time kissing passionately. Of course, they also talked and joked and ate lunch and

dinner nearly every day together. But it was the kissing that Neville looked most forward to. It was something they'd never talked about. It happened organically. Neville wanted to talk about it, to ask George what, exactly, they were doing - what they were to each other. But he was having the same problem with self-confidence, not wanting to rock the boat. In the meantime, he was perfectly happy to go about kissing George. This time though, this was different. They were in bed, laying down. Both Neville and George were aware that this thing that they'd started, this relationship or whatever it was, this messing around was suddenly becoming more serious. George slept in pajama pants. That was it. No shirt, no socks, no underwear. Just pajama pants. Neville, on the other hand, was obviously already dressed. Underwear, socks, trousers, t-shirt with a sweatshirt over top of it. Neville was terribly overdressed, a situation which he was attempting to remedy. He kept his mouth glued to George's as he pulled his sweatshirt up, breaking the kiss just to remove it. George pulled anxiously at the hem of Neville's t-shirt, lifting it over his head. Neville kicked his socks off and settled in next to George, kissing him fervently. Neville tried to keep his hips several inches from George's. He was intimidated by George being able to feel just how turned on this kissing made him. But Neville didn't need to worry long, when George suddenly pressed his hips into Neville's, he (Neville) had no problem with feeling George's erection. And that suddenly made it all right. Neville gasped when George pulled at the waistband of Neville's trousers. "Is this all right?" George asked in a whisper. "Yeah," Neville said. "I've just..." he trailed off. "What is it?" George asked. "I've never done this before." George got a sly smile on his face. "It's all right. I taught you to apparate, right? Maybe I can teach you something else." Neville giggled, then realizing how much like a girl he sounded, clapped his hand over his mouth. George laughed loudly. "God that was cute," and he leaned in and kissed Neville's neck. From out in the hall, Neville heard a toilet flush. He sat straight up. George groaned. "Ron. He stayed here last night. We were up late stocking shelves and he crashed in Fred's room." Neville and George listened quietly to Ron's footsteps walking down the hall. He tapped on George's door. George pushed Neville's head under the comforter and threw a few of the many pillows on top of him, as he called out, "Yeah?"

"Can I come in?" " I'm naked." Neville stifled a giggle. "What? So? Like I've never seen you naked before." Ron paused and George didn't answer. "I just wanted to get you up. Shop opens in a half hour. I'm leaving early today to go out with Hermione." "All right, I'm up." George listened to Ron's footsteps heading in to the kitchen before pulling the covers back. He looked down at Neville and smiled. "To be continued?" he whispered. Neville nodded and stepped quietly out of bed. He dressed himself, gave George a kiss goodbye and apparated back to his house with a loud 'pop.' George watched Neville go, and walked into the kitchen to have breakfast with Ron. "Did someone disapparate?" Ron asked. "What? No." "Yeah," Ron nodded his head, shoveling a huge spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth. "I heard the noise. Someone just disapparated from your room. Who was it? Did you have a girl in last night?" George ruffled Ron's fiery red hair. "Oh little brother. If I did have a girl in last night, you'd never know about it." "C'mon..." Ron goaded. "Tell me." George looked at Ron appraisingly. "Tell me about Hermione." Ron spluttered. "What about her?" "You want me to kiss and tell, but you won't?" "Hermione'd kill me." George just smiled and poured himself some tea.

VI It was still early when Neville arrived back at his house. He apparated to the front porch easily. When he walked into his house, Gran was already awake, but it didn't appear she'd been awake for long. She was at the stove, making her usual breakfast of weak tea, eggs, toast and melon. Neville went over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Gran smiled. She had noticed a definite improvement in Neville's well-being over the last couple weeks, even if she could still hear him tossing and turning in his sleep. She had no idea where he was going when he left the house every day, and she didn't want to ask. Because obviously, whatever he was doing was working. Neville was an adult and she trusted him to tell her when he was ready. "I've got a surprise," Neville said. "Oh?" Gran asked. Neville reached in his pocket and pulled out his new license. "I passed my apparition exam," he held out the license to his Gran shyly. Gran looked up in surprise. "Neville!" she exclaimed. She took the license and looked it over carefully. "I didn't know you were going to do this." Neville shrugged, blushing slightly. "George Weasley told me about a position opening up at a greenhouse in Wales. I'd have to do this" he waved toward the license, "if I wanted to consider trying to get to Wales for work." "Work?" Gran asked handing him back his license. "That's great Neville." She held his face in her hands. "Oh, I'm so proud of you. Sit. I'll make you some breakfast." Neville sat obediently, quietly, only half listening to his Gran chatter about Wales and apparition and plant life. Gran placed a plate in front of Neville and sat down across from him. "Why so quiet, Neville?" "I have something to tell you." "All right, what is it?" "It's not an easy thing to say." "Are you ill?" "No. No. Nothing like that." Neville hesitated. "It's just. I had some help, learning to apparate. George Weasley taught me."

"Well that's nice." Gran said, sounding confused. "The Weasleys are a lovely wizarding family." "Yeah," Neville said dismissively. He knew the Weasleys were lovely, but that wasn't really his point. Gran was the most important person in his life. And as tough as she'd been on him when he was a child, she always loved him unconditionally and he'd always know he could trust her. He knew she'd done her best, raising him. So he took a deep breath. "Anyway, I've been spending a lot of time with George that last couple weeks." "Well, yes. I noticed you were gone quite a bit." Gran said uncertainly. Neville was quiet for several more moments. He took a bit of toast, then realized it was a bad idea when his throat was too dry to allow him to swallow. Neville took a gulp of tea to wash it down, but it didn't help the dry, scratchy feeling in his throat. "Neville," Gran put her fork down. "You can tell me anything." "I'm gay." Neville didn't look at his Gran, instead focusing on an area about one foot above her head. "Oh." Gran took a small bite of egg. "And George is..?" she trailed off. "Also gay," Neville said nodding. "So you two are..?" she didn't seem to be able to finish a sentence. "Yeah. We are." "I'm glad you told me." "Are you mad?" "Neville! Of course I'm not mad. I'm not entirely surprised either. I've had my suspicions that you are gay for a while now." "Have you?" That made Gran and Luna who suspected. Neville wondered if he was really that transparent. "Look, Neville. I just want you to be happy. You've been having such a tough time the last few months. I love seeing you happy again. And if we have George Weasley to thank for that, then all the better. Invite him to dinner! What do you say?" "Er...dinner?" Neville hadn't quite expected this. Gran seemed a little...too happy. He wondered if she was overcompensating. Neville wasn't sure that dinner with Gran was really something George would be keen on. Hell, he wasn't even sure that George would be keen on having been outed to Neville's Gran. "I'll talk to him about it." Gran didn't pursue the topic. On the inside, she was conflicted. Something she'd never let Neville know. On one hand, it wasn't a great surprise to her. She'd seen Neville

throughout the years glance vaguely away from witches who Gran knew to be good looking. And she'd seen him look with interest at handsome wizards. Half of her had been hoping it was just a phase, but when Neville made it through adolescence without any obvious crushes, Gran began to suspect more strongly exactly who her grandson was. And the gay thing didn't really bother her. What did bother her is that, even in the wizarding world, there was prejudice against gay witches and wizards. It bothered her that her shy, quiet, unassuming Grandson may have to deal with such prejudice. And in her heart of hearts, it did bother her a little bit that this could mean the end of the Longbottom name. Unless Neville could change who he is, he wouldn't be producing any offspring. But saying anything like that to Neville would put him in a truly unfair position. So she remained quiet on the subject, plastering a big fake smile across her face. "Dinner?" George asked Neville later that afternoon when Neville told him about his conversation with his Gran. The store was quiet, the last patron had left about two minutes ago and Neville was sitting there with George, alone, since Ron had left. The store was due to close in fifteen minutes. "Yeah," Neville blushed. "Can we put that off a bit?" "Definitely." "Good, because, you know, I haven't even told anyone in my family that I'm gay." Neville nodded. He'd guessed as much by the way George freaked out when Ron knocked on the door. "Did you ever tell Fred?" George grimaced, as he did so often when Fred's name was mentioned, and nodded. "'Course I did. He was fine with it. You know, my brother was my best mate. He wouldn't have cared." George was silent for a moment and a smile spread slowly across his face. "One time, I guess it was sixth year, he got me the eligible wizard issue of Witch Weekly and wrapped it up for me. He told me it was my wanking gift. Since he was getting some from Angelina and I hadn't gotten any since Oliver left Hogwarts-" Neville cut him off. "Oliver Wood is gay?" George shook his head. "Bi. He goes both ways." Neville sighed, "I had no idea." "Anyway. Fred was fine with it. Turned it in to a joke, just like we did with everything. It was one of our secrets, a thing we kept from our family." "You should tell someone else. It might make you feel better." "Better how?"

Neville shrugged. "I just know I feel better for having told Gran." "Yeah, but your Gran is different than my family. Your Gran is quiet and can keep a secret. My family is loud and obnoxious and everyone would be in my business." "All right," Neville held up his hands in surrender. "Anyway," George looked at his pocketwatch. "Let's close up a couple minutes early and head back upstairs. Didn't we start something this morning?" He smiled flirtily at Neville. Neville's heart skipped a beat. "Er. Yeah. I think we did." He could feel himself blushing as George waved his wand toward the door and windows, locking them. Then extinguishing the lights and heading toward the flat stairs. Neville followed George, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. When they got into the flat, George shut the door and immediately pressed Neville up against it, kissing him hard. Neville responded in kind, opening his mouth and letting George's tongue in. George wasted no time in pulling up the hem of Neville's shirt. Neville obliged him by taking it off. George backed up and stared at Neville. He kicked off his shoes, took off his own shirt and beckoned Neville back to the bedroom. Neville kicked off his own shoes and hurried after him. Neville was surprised that the bed hadn't been made. Neville discovered that George was uncharacteristically fastidious about certain things, and one of them was making his bed, which not only had to be made every morning, but all ten pillows had to be in their exact places. Still, Neville was a little distracted at this moment and didn't think to ask George why he hadn't made the bed. "What is this?" George asked, tracing a long thin scar that went across Neville's abdomen. "Scar," Neville said burying his head in George's neck and kissing lightly. "There're more on my back." George turned Neville around and gasped. He traced his fingers along the snake-like scars and counted them. "One, two, three, four, and just a hint of five," he whispered. "Where'd you get these?" "Seventh year," Neville sighed. "When people said I was the Carrows' whipping boy, they meant it quite literally." George pulled away and looked Neville in the eye. "You were whipped?" Neville nodded, "They thought I knew where Harry was. And later where Harry, Hermione and Ron were. They got Ginny also. They would have got Luna also, but you know the Death Eaters kidnapped her first." George went pale. "Ginny never told me."

"No. Probably only Harry knows. She and I agreed not to tell anyone unless they happened to see us with our shirts off." "So she's scarred like this?" Neville nodded. "The scars wouldn't be so bad if we'd gone to Madame Pomfrey. But we tried to treat them ourselves." "Why didn't you go to Madame Pomfrey?" "I don't think you realize what it was like there, at Hogwarts that year. Madame Pomfrey would have certainly treated us, but she would have paid a steep price for it by the Carrows. Any professor who was considered too friendly to me and Ginny and Luna was punished." "I can't believe this," George whispered, still tracing the marks on Neville's back. "I can't believe I never knew. I can't believe Ginny's been keeping it a secret." George pulled his hand away quickly and Neville could hear him hesitating. "Look," Neville tried to reassure him by poking at the scar on his abdomen. "You lost an ear, I got whipped and beaten. We're both battle-scarred, all right? It doesn't hurt anymore. You can still touch me." Neville lowered his voice, "I want you to." George ran his fingers gently along Neville's back, making Neville shiver excitedly. George pushed Neville down lightly on the bed and crawled on top of him. When Neville would later look back on this night, he'd remember a few things. The first is that George looked Neville straight in the eyes when he was unbuckling his trousers. The second thing Neville would never forget is how it felt the first time he felt another man's erection bump against his own. Finally, he'd never forget the realization that a handjob from someone else is far, far better than one you give yourself. It was a decadent night with Neville and George exchanging quick furious handjobs in George's luxuriously messy bed, followed by a dinner of cold leftovers from George's icebox, followed by a second round of snogging, this round much slower and more deliberate, and finally the two men falling asleep for the night, wrapped in each other, naked.

VII When Neville woke up the next morning, he turned and looked at George, who was already awake and staring wide-eyed at Neville. "Morning," George smiled. "You slept a long time." Neville nodded. "I needed it. I haven't slept well in...," he thought back. "Over a year now." "I had a dream last night," George said. "A good one?" George shrugged. "It's a recurring dream. Almost every night since Fred died, I have this dream. Fred is in it, and he has my ear," George pointed to the hole on his head where his ear had been cursed off. "And he's talking in to it. He's talking in to my ear. He can never see me there, but he's holding my ear and talking in to it, like he's talking to me and like I can hear him, right?" "Yeah," Neville said. "Anyway. I love to sleep. Because I keep having these dreams with Fred and it's the only time I get to see him anymore. I get to hear his voice and hear his jokes. You, Neville, have had trouble sleeping, but I have been trying to sleep as much as possible these last few months, hoping I'll get a chance to see Fred." "What types of things does Fred say to you?" George shrugged, "In the beginning, like right after he died, he say things like, 'I'm really happy here. You'd love it to. There's lots of pretty girls and handsome blokes. But don't hurry up to get here, I can wait.' Because I was thinking of killing myself, which I never told anyone, but which Fred would have known I was thinking." Neville grabbed on to George's hand. George continued. "So I started feeling a bit better, because dream Fred assured me that there was a place for me wherever he is, but I'm not supposed to be there yet. So once I started feeling better about that, he told my ear that I should contact Angelina. Because she was sad and hadn't found a job. So I did that and she started working at the shop for me." George smiled. "Then he told me that I needed to make sure Ginny knows a birth control spell. Which I never did ask her, but I did threaten Harry a little bit. So hopefully that worked." Neville laughed, delighted. Only George Weasley could get away with threatening Harry Potter. "A few weeks ago, Fred started telling me about you."

"Me?" Neville asked incredulously. "Yeah, you." George answered. "The night before you came in to the shop that first time, he said that I had to stick with you. Not to let you go in to hiding again. And so I did. I didn't know why I was doing it at first. I thought it was just to get the canary creams back on the shelves. But that seemed too small. And then I realized. Halfway through eating that first canary cream, I knew, I don't know how, I just knew why Fred was telling me to stick with you. And I kissed you, and sure enough, that was right." Neville rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow. "You kissed me because of a message you got from your dead brother in a dream?" This was too much. This was surreal. Thishad to be a classic Weasley prank. George nodded, his eyes glowing. "But last night he told me that he didn't need to keep coming to me in my dreams. That I'd done right by finding you and bringing you here. That we were going to make each other happy and that his work was done." "Is this a joke?" Neville asked. "No. I'm deadly serious." Neville looked at George's face and saw that he was right. He was deadly serious. "How do you feel about him not coming back to your dreams?" George shrugged. "A little untethered. But honestly not as bad as I thought I would have. The thing is; Fred has been dead for seven months now. I feel like I got an extra seven months with him. Those dreams gave me that. Fred is confident that I'm going to be happy. So I'm confident that I'm going to be happy." "I'm happy." Neville said suddenly. "Yeah?" Neville nodded emphatically. "I just realized it. I've spent months feeling sad and lonely and depressed. So I just kind of assumed I'd be that way forever. But now, laying here with you and thinking about it - I'm not depressed. I feel happy. Honest to God happy." Neville knew he was happy. But he also knew part of the reason Fred wanted George to come to him was for George's happiness. And Neville wondered if there was some work that needed to be done in that area. George laughed and leaned down to kiss Neville lightly on the lips. "I'm glad you stayed here last night." Neville nodded, "Me too." Scratch, scratch. Neville and George looked up. There was an owl at the window. George got up and opened the window, completely unconcerned that his window faced Diagon Alley and that he was stark naked. The owl hopped onto the window ledge and held out its leg. George took the note off and unfolded it.

"It's from Ron. He and Hermione and Harry and Ginny are coming over for dinner tonight. Hermione's cooking." George sighed and looked up at Neville. "Want to come?" "Sure. But I have to go. I'm heading out to Wales to see about that job you mentioned to me." Neville stood up and pulled on his pants. He leaned over and kissed George. "I'll be back before dinner." Dinner that night was a strange affair. Neville told George that he happened to see Professor Sprout at the greenhouses that afternoon. Rather than encourage him to get a position at the nursery, she told him she'd gotten permission to expand Hogwarts' greenhouses and their collection of magical plants. So she asked him if he'd like to manage the plants and greenhouses. So that was settled, though his new position wouldn't begin until after the current students left for the summer. Which was fine with Neville, he hadn't touched any of his magical plant books since halfway through his seventh year at Hogwarts and definitely needed to brush up. George was happy for Neville. Glad that things were looking up for him. George left Angelina in charge of the store for the remainder of the evening, while he and Neville retired to the flat and spent the hour before the arrival of the others wanking each other off in the bedroom. Hermione, who was surprised to see Neville there, had just spent a couple of weeks in China, visiting ancient Chinese wizarding locales. She came back armed with some recipes she was sure were delicious and wanted to try her hand at making. She was instructing all of them with the correct use of chopsticks and how to use them to shovel the rice in their mouths. Ginny charmed hers to work automatically, and Ron had transfigured his chopsticks in to forks. The six of them settled around the kitchen table. But before they could start eating, Ron tapped his fork on the side of his bowl of rice. "I have an announcement to make," he said happily. Everyone looked up expectantly and saw him grinning and Hermione blushing furiously. Ron grabbed Hermione's hand. "I've asked Hermione to marry me. And she said yes." "Oh!" Ginny gasped and got up from her seat to give Hermione a big hug. Harry patted Ron on the shoulder, "Good one, man!" Neville leaned over the table to shake Ron's hand. "Congratulations." George was silent as he shook Ron's hand, though he was smiling widely. When the cheering and congratulations settled down, George turned to Hermione, "Have you got a bun in the oven?" He asked it lightly, in a conversational tone and with a smile on his face. "George," Neville admonished him. But, wait. Was he right? "No," Hermione said haughtily. "George, what the hell?" Ron asked. "Can't you just be happy for us?"

George shrugged. "I am happy for you. It's just that you're only nineteen, I thought I'd ask what we're all probably thinking. Just to get it out of the way." "Mum and Dad got married at nineteen," Ron pointed out. "And Mum was knocked up with Bill." George answered. "No she wasn't." George rolled his eyes. "Of course she was. Haven't you ever done the math? Mum and Dad got married at the end of April. Bill was born in November. I'm telling you, Mum and Dadhad to get married." "Ron," Ginny said laughing. "Even I figured that one out years ago!" "OK, so fine," though Ron did look a little taken aback by this news. "But that doesn't have anything to do with me and Hermione, all right?" George nodded. "I'm sorry. This is a celebration, right? I shouldn't have asked it." George got up from the table and grabbed a bottle of firewhiskey. He poured six glasses and passed them around. He stood at the table and held up his glass, "To Ron and Hermione and everlasting love." The others raised their glasses, "To everlasting love!" they repeated. The truth is that dinner was delicious. And that once the firewhiskey took hold, all six of the friends were feeling woozy and deliriously happy. Hermione couldn't stop looking down and staring at the ring on her finger. Twice, George saw her tap it with her wand, trying to clean off non-existent smudges. Ron grabbed George by the shoulder, "I'm so happy, brother. Really. I want you to find someone too," Ron slurred. George laughed. "I've kind of been seeing someone the last few weeks." Neville looked towards George. He knew George was drunk and maybe would regret this. But Neville, having had quite a bit of firewhiskey himself, was in no mood to stop George from saying something he'd regret. Either way, George's comment certainly got the attention of the rest of the table. "Who've you been seeing?" Ron asked. "I haven't noticed anyone but Neville hanging around here lately." "Exactly," George said pointing at Ron. "Huh?" Ron asked. It was Hermione who got it first, after a small pause. She gasped. "George! Neville! Really?"

George nodded. Ron, Harry and Ginny still looked mystified. "I think that's lovely," Hermione said. She tottered unevenly over to Neville and hugged him. "Are you happy with him?" she whispered into his ear, her hot firewhiskey breath warming his ear slightly. Neville nodded. Hermione gave Neville a hug, then turned and gave George a hug. "Ohhhhh..." Ginny said trailing off, the metaphorical lightbulb clicking on over her head. "George, why did you never tell anyone?" "Tell anyone what?" Ron asked. He and Harry still looked utterly confused. Hermione and Ginny rolled their eyes. "It's Neville," Hermione said with mock patience. "George is seeing someone. It's Neville." Ron looked at George and broke out laughing. "No you're not." George nodded, "I am." "Wait." Harry said. "You're gay?" he asked George. George nodded again. "I am." "And you are too, Nev?" Neville nodded. "Yeah." Ron, who had been leaning back on the back two legs of his chair, let his chair come down with a thud. "Blimey. Is this a joke?" George smirked. "No way little brother. I am gay. Always have been, always will be." Ginny interrupted, "Honestly, George. Why didn't you tell any of us?" George sighed. "I did. I told Fred." "Why'd you keep it a secret?" Ginny asked. Her face was concerned. "Because." George looked wide-eyed, obviously unsure what to say. "I don't really know why I did. Sometimes there are things we just decide not to tell anyone for no good reason, you know? Like we're afraid to be judged about something that's not our fault, like being gay. Or maybe like being tortured and beaten by dark wizards." George gave Ginny a pointed look to let her know that he knew about being whipped. Ginny blushed, but persisted. "But it's not like you to care about something like that. To worry about being judged."

"No. It wasn't like Fred to care about something like that. Things like that always bothered me more than they did him." George's point was that even in his family, he and Fred were lumped together. Ginny got it, George could tell by the way she blushed even deeper. "Wait," Ron interrupted. "I just can't get over this. You're gay. You never told any of us. And now I find out Neville's gay. And I find out you two are snogging." Ron looked around, bewildered. "This is just a lot of new information in one night." George goaded Ron, "I also shagged Oliver Wood." Ron looked vaguely horrified, but Harry let out a loud, "Ha!" "Oh, Ron," Hermione said exasperatedly. "It doesn't matter, does it? George is still George, right?" Ron shrugged, "Yeah he's still George. But now he's shagging Neville." "Ron," Ginny spat at him. "It doesn't change anything." Ron looked for a minute like he was going to argue, but hesitated, "Yeah. You're right. Doesn't matter, doesn't change anything." But his face was bright red. "Ronald!" Hermione began. "What?" He got defensive. "I said it was fine. And it is!" "Anyway," George said loudly. "Isn't this supposed to be a celebration for you two?" The party continued, for several more hours. More firewhiskey was consumed as the six friends celebrated the impending nuptials of Ron and Hermione. At one point, when Ron went to the bathroom, Harry pulled George and Neville aside, "Listen. I'm really happy for you guys. Just give Ron some time. You know he doesn't do well with change." Harry hesitated, "I think he thinks your news overshadowed his." George nodded. That had always been Ron's problem. As the sixth boy, he was constantly overshadowed. "You know me, Harry. I've never gone easy on Ron before and I don't expect to start now." But he said it with a laugh. Sure enough, right as Ron walked back in to the bathroom, George leaned in to Neville and planted a big kiss right on his mouth. Ron flinched, but didn't say anything. Neville whispered into George's ear, "He's your brother. He'll be fine." George leaned his forehead to Neville's, "I know. I just...wanted everyone to take it like Fred did. Which was to not change anything about how he reacted to me, except to point out blokes he thought I'd find handsome."

"Ron isn't Fred," Neville pointed out. "You aren't Fred, and you like people to know it. So you can't expect others to be like Fred." George backed up. "That is a surprisingly good point, Neville. On that point, let's go to bed." George grabbed Neville's hand, "We're going to bed," he called to the rest of the group. "Conjure yourself some place to sleep, because no one here is in any condition to apparate."

VIII George went to dinner at The Burrow the following evening. Ron was going to announce the big engagement to the rest of the family. Hermione was coming along, as were Ginny and Harry. Neville was staying away. George decided that this dinner needed to be about Ron and his news. Anything George had to say could wait. Unfortunately, his big-mouthed soon to be sister-in-law opened her big mouth. Ron hadn't even been able to give his news yet. The whole family was there when George got in. Bill was sitting on the couch with Fleur, who was looking uncomfortably pregnant. Her pregnancy seemed to make her glow even brighter and George wondered if that happened to part-Veelas. George, of course, had always been immune to the charms of Veela, but he'd had a hell of a time poking fun at Fred about the Veela. Ginny and Harry were sitting on the coffee table, facing Bill and Fleur and the four were deep in conversation. Charlie wasn't there. It was too difficult to get him away from the dragons anymore. Percy was standing in a corner, glasses in his teeth, flipping through a book. He seemed to be trying hard to ignore the cacophony around him. Auntie Muriel (damn, George didn't know she'd be here) was sitting in front of the fire with Arthur, sour look on her face as always and complaining about the new ministry. Ron and Hermione seemed to have gotten there just before George, because they were just handing their coats to Mrs. Weasley. "Where's Neville?" Hermione asked George quietly. Only it wasn't quietly enough. "Neville Longbottom?" Molly asked. "Why are you asking that?" George shrugged and tried to ignore his mother. "George," Hermione tugged his sleeve. "Maybe you should say something." "Hermione, you don't get to interfere in my business. You aren't a member of this family yet." George commented through gritted teeth. "Yet?" Molly asked. "That's right, Mum." Ron put his arms around Hermione from behind. "I've asked Hermione to marry me." A slight pause and Ron continued, "And she said yes!" "That's fantastic news!" Arthur left Auntie Muriel's side and ran over to give Hermione a hug. "Oh my," Molly looked flushed. "There'll be so much to do! When's the date?"

"Not until after I leave Hogwarts," Hermione explained. "Oh," Molly suddenly looked much happier and relieved. "So you're not...I mean you don't need to get married quickly." Ron rolled his eyes, but Hermione smiled and politely said, "No. It's not like that at all," while George smirked behind Molly's back. Arthur went to the kitchen and came back with several bottles of wine. George, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry, not quite recovered from the previous night's drinking, all looked a bit nauseous at the thought of drinking more. But they each accepted a small glass to make a toast. Arthur stood on a chair and raised his glass of wine. "To Hermione, who will soon be my daughter-in-law. And to love and marriage." Everyone raised their glasses, "To love and marriage!" Dinner was a great celebratory affair. The only downside was Auntie Muriel's not-toosubtle hints about Hermione being muggle-born. By this point, everyone had learned to mostly ignore Auntie Muriel, though Arthur couldn't resist sticking up for Hermione, who he'd always considered such a good influence on Ron. After dinner, Harry, Ron, Ginny and Bill headed outside to play a two-to-a-side game of quidditch. Molly, Fleur and Hermione began doing the dishes. George sat at the kitchen table, blank piece of parchment in front of him and began trying to fill the sheet with ideas for new products. Arthur came in to the room, grabbed the last treacle tart and sat across from George, "What are you working on?" George sighed, "We need new products at the shop. Returning customers are starting to get bored with what we already have." "Maybe Neville could help," Hermione said slyly. George shot her a murderous look. "What's this about Neville?" Molly asked companionably. "It's the second time his name's been brought up." "Hermione, can I talk to you in private?" George asked, voice dripping with faux sweetness. He grabbed her arm and yanked her into the parlor, not even caring that her hands were dripping in dishwater. He cast a quick muffliato charm at the door before turning on her, "What the hell are you doing?" Hermione looked indignant. "They're your family. You need to tell them." "The hell I do! It's my business and I'll decide what to tell them and when." "So you're just going to live with having a major part of your life being a total secret? Your family loves you and wants you to be happy." "That's not the point. The point is that it's my decision, not yours."

"Neville told his Gran. And George, you know she's way more formidable than either of your parents. The only one who'll care is Auntie Muriel, and aren't we all past caring what she thinks anyway? She'd still probably like Neville more than me, because at least he's pureblood." "Hermione. Stop. You have to let me do this my way." "If you wait too long to tell them, then you'll have to contend with them wondering why it took you so long to say anything. Then you'll have to deal with them possibly being offended that you didn't think enough of them to say anything. You're twenty-one years old, George. Just..." Hermione trailed off. "You owe it to yourself to be able to be who you really are. I mean, George. Aren't you sick of keeping it a secret?" "Of course I'm sick of it. I wish things were different and I wish gay wasn't this terrible thing to be. I wish Ron had handled hearing I'm gay the same way he would have handled me saying something like, 'I don't like watermelon.'" "The longer you wait the stranger it's going to seem to your family." "Not another word, promise me Hermione." Hermione nodded. She'd said what she wanted to say. Now it was up to George to think about what she said. Hermione and George walked back in to the kitchen just as Ginny, Ron, Harry and Bill walked back in. Molly looked up at Hermione and George, "What were you going to say about Neville?" "You told them about you and Neville?" Ron asked incredulously. "No, but your dear fianc seems to be forcing my hand about it." Ron looked at Hermione like he wanted to admonish her. But she just crossed her arms over her chest and looked away, nose slightly in the air. "What is going on?" Arthur asked looking bewildered. "Yes, I'd like to know what this is about Neville Longbottom and what George could possibly be trying to keep us from finding out." George looked around. Everyone except Percy and Auntie Muriel were in the kitchen, and every single person was looking at him, save for Ron who was still staring at Hermione, trying to catch her eye. "It's nothing." George said after several seconds of silence. A breath that everyone seemed to be holding collectively was let out in a disappointed sigh. "George," Ginny said quietly. "This is stupid, just tell everyone. Please." George looked at his only sister. After him, she'd taken Fred's death the hardest of everyone in the family. George knew that Ginny adored all her brothers, but she had a

special place in her heart for the twins, who made being the youngest of seven children something fun and exciting. The twins more than any of her other brothers considered her a contemporary and not some little doll that needed protecting. And especially now that she was seventeen and had turned in to quite the skilled witch, quite possibly the most magical member of the family. And knowing what she'd gone through at the hands of the Carrows George found himself actually respecting her. And so, it was because of the look, the pleading look that Ginny gave him, that George found himself opening up to his family. "I'm gay," he said quietly. No one said anything for a second. Finally Bill spoke up, "George. That's fine. Really, we're fine with it, right?" He looked at Fleur. Fleur nodded emphatically. "I know eet might be a beeg deal 'ere. But I can assure you George, that een France, there eez way less, how you say...prejudice against gay wizards." "Well," Arthur said, clearly wanting to defend Britain, "It's not that bad here either. Most witches and wizards don't care." "Right," George said. "Most. But not all" "George," Arthur said. "We just want you to be happy. All right? However you find happiness is fine with me. With all of us, right?" There was a murmur of consent and nodding heads. "What is this about Neville then?" Molly asked her voice had the slightest quaver to it. "Oh yeah." George sucked in his breath and held it for a moment before exhaling and saying, "I've been kind of seeing him for the last few weeks." "They seem quite happy together," Hermione said to everyone brightly. "We just saw them last night. And really, George and Neville are quite good together." Ginny snickered and everyone smiled at Hermione's pomposity. Even Hermione herself was smiling. The only person left unsmiling was Molly, who was quietly standing there with tears streaming down her face. "Mum?" George asked. Molly shook her head, "I'm sorry George. I just need some time to think about this," she brushed past him and went up the stairs to the master bedroom. Everyone could hear the door shut from the kitchen. "Thanks," George said to Ginny and Hermione sarcastically. "Great advice. Tell everyone." George grabbed his coat and walked out the door and disapparated on the spot.

George was being sucked through space and quickly appeared in front of Neville's Gran's house. He didn't really feel like speaking to Neville's Gran, so he skulked around to the back of the house, hoping to find Neville there. Sure enough, Neville was working by candle light, weeding out the frosty back garden. "Psst." George called. Neville looked up and smiled. "George! Do you want to come in for tea?" George shook his head. "No. Come back to the flat with me. Stay with me tonight." "All right. Let me get washed up." "Just meet me there. Apparate right inside the flat, OK? I think some of my family members are probably by the front door waiting for me. So just, apparate, right at my bed like you did the day you passed your exam." "Is everything all right?" "No. Just...come." Neville nodded seriously. "I'll be there in a few." George turned on the spot and within seconds he was standing in his work room. Sure enough, he heard pounding on the door. "George! Are you in there?" It was Hermione and she sounded like she'd been crying. "George!" That voice was Ginny's. "Let us in, please." George tiptoed to his bedroom, which was lit only by the light of the full moon. George went to the window stared out for a few moments. The full moon always reminded him of Remus. He wished Fred would come to him in another dream and this time George would ask if Fred had seen Remus or Tonks. God, he missed those two so much. Pop! George turned around. Neville was standing there, worried look on his face. "I can hear people knocking on your door." George nodded. "I'm not talking to them right now." "Want me to send them away?" Neville asked. "Really?" Neville nodded. "You can try." George lay down on the bed while Neville went to the work room. George could hear everything going on. Neville yanked the door open. "George said he doesn't want to talk right now."

"Hello, Neville," said a deep voice. "Hi Mr. Weasley." "Can you ask him please?" "Sorry. He'll talk to you later. Just not tonight." "Neville-" Hermione started, but Neville shut the door before she could get another word in. Neville went back to George's bedroom. "That's that." Neville smiled when he saw that George had taken his shirt off. George looked up at him, smile on his face, "My hero," he said, pressing his hands over his heart. "What was that about?" Neville kicked off his shoes, pulled off his socks and removed his own shirt before climbing in to bed next to George. "Eh," George said waving his hand like he was pushing something pesky away. "My family found out I'm gay tonight." "How'd they find out?" "I told them. It didn't go so well, and I don't really feel like talking about it, if that's OK. I just want shag the hell out of you." Neville knew George was using sex as an excuse not to talk. But it's not like Neville was going to say no, so he leaned in and touched his lips to George's gently. If Neville had planned on being gentle to help George's feelings, George had other plans. George grabbed Neville by the back of the neck and pulled him in for a deep bruising kiss. He ground his hips hard into Neville's and Neville pushed back with a soft "oh..." George began fumbling with the fly on Neville's pants, trying to kiss him at the same time. It was difficult and the two had to separate and quickly shuck the rest of their clothes. George pushed Neville back on the bed and climbed on top of him. Both of them were excited, as demonstrated when George thrust his hips in to Neville's. Neville grabbed on to the burgundy comforter as George began trailing kisses from Neville's mouth, down his neck and on to his chest. Neville sighed contentedly while George ran his tongue along the length of Neville's abdominal scar, while pinching Neville's nipples lightly. But Neville had to bite his lip to keep from crying out as George let his tongue wander lower and lower.

Nothing, no amount of guy talk in the Gryffindor common room, no amount of anything Neville could imagine, could prepare him for what it felt like when George first took him into his mouth. Neville could barely keep from thrusting his hips skyward. His eyes were wide open and his breathing became ragged as George worked his mouth up and down the length of Neville's cock. Something with his tongue. Neville recognized that George was doing something amazing with his tongue, but he couldn't figure out exactly what it was and frankly he stopped trying to even figure it out and just lay back and enjoyed what was happen, what George was doing to him. The familiar build up, and finally Neville moaned, "George...I'm about to come." George pulled off, to Neville's slight disappointment, and finished Neville off with his hand. Neville came all over his own stomach. While Neville panted and caught his breath, George grabbed his wand to clean Neville's stomach off. Then he lay on top of Neville and kissed him hard. Neville reached between George's legs and began stroking his cock slowly. Neville pulled out of the kiss. "George. I don't really know what I'm doing," he admitted. George smiled. "It's all right. Just go for it and I'll tell you if I need something different." Neville looked incredibly nervous, but he nodded. He pushed George off of him and had him lay face-up on the bed. Neville tried to mimic what he remembered George doing to him. Slowly planting kisses down George's body. While Neville was unsure of himself, George's reaction seemed to be that he was doing all right. Finally, Neville held George's penis, gave it a couple of strokes before taking it into his mouth tentatively. The low moan from George's throat gave Neville a shot of confidence and he began working his mouth up and down, trying to maintain the same rhythm as George's hips. Neville couldn't take all of him, and used his hand to stroke what wouldn't fit in his mouth. The rhythm became faster, George breathing small encouragements, like "Oh yeah, this is perfect," and not much later he said "I'm going to come!" in a strangled voice. Neville pulled off and finished George with his own hand, though he wondered if he should have attempted to swallow. Not that George seemed to mind. Laying on his bed, spread eagle, staring at the ceiling, and smiling, George seemed the picture of contentment. Obviously Neville had done a good job of taking George's mind off whatever had happened at The Burrow earlier. Neville lay down next to George and cuddled in hard, kissing him on the temple. George turned his head and smiled, returning the kiss to Neville's lips. "That was..." Neville whispered trailing off. "God." George smiled. "It was, wasn't it?" He pulled Neville in for a tighter hug, and the two lay there, silent and wrapped up in each other for several minutes. Finally Neville broke the silence. "What happened at dinner?"

George sighed and told him the story, while Neville looked sympathetic and rubbed his arms. "So what are you going to do?" Neville asked. George shrugged. " I just...I just didn't expect this from my mum. I'll talk to Ron tomorrow. See what happened after I left." George yawned. "I don't want to think about this anymore, all right?" Neville nodded. "Good night." George gave Neville one last quick kiss. "Night, Neville."

IX Molly Weasley woke up the next morning on a mission. She'd behaved terribly the night before, and she knew it. She knew it even as she was escaping the kitchen and she knew it as Arthur came home from George's flat in a fury at her behavior. Last night marked her least-proud moment as a mother. Now she only needed to figure out how to fix it. Being a mother for twenty seven years had taught her that food was always a good start to fixing things. So Molly began mixing up some biscuits. While she mixed up the biscuits she took a moment to reflect on what had happened the night before. It wasn't necessarily the fact that George is gay that bothered her so much. She didn't really have any problem with gay people, although she'd never really known anyone who is gay. The problem is that she'd always had certain expectations. And one of her expectations for the twins was that they were going to be her kids who made the best parents. Kids like Fred and George, kids who had a terrific sense of humor and who seemed to maintain a permanent sense of childishness were always the best parents. Then Fred died, and Molly grieved not only for the loss of her son, but for the loss of his future and the loss of any future grandchildren. She was still grieving and was doubtful she'd ever stop. So last night, when George made his announcement, she felt like she was grieving for the loss of these beautiful future grandchildren that she'd never have. Except that she would, of course, have grandchildren. Bill and Fleur were expecting. She knew Hermione would want children later in life, and she figured Ginny would too. But Fred and George were the two that she really wanted to see become parents, because she knew that they'd be the best at it. They were both so much like Arthur in personality. And if Molly were to admit something that she didn't want to, it's that she'd secretly harbored a dream that George would fall in love with Angelina Johnson. It was a scenario she'd worked out in her mind one day, and one which she couldn't let go once he'd hired her to help out in the shop. Molly liked Angelina. Of course, Molly liked Neville too. Ginny had told her that Neville was a rock for her during her sixth year at Hogwarts. When Molly had asked about details, Ginny just shook her head and refused to say anything more. And you couldn't forget the boy's bravery in battle. Anyone who wanted to call gay men sissies needed to do nothing more than take a look at George and Neville who'd fought so hard and taken so many losses so gracefully. When Arthur came home from trying to talk, unsuccessfully, to George, he was so mad at Molly for what she'd done. And really, Molly couldn't blame him. So she went to bed alone, certain that she'd ruined her relationship forever with George.

She dreamed about Fred. Fred was holding her clock, her special magical clock, and talking to it. She looked at the clock and noticed that it was a little different. The Fred hand was pointing to an area that said Safe. There were other hands on the clock now too. Fleur was there, and so was a smaller hand pressed up against Fleur's that said Victoire. Who was Victoire? Is that Bill and Fleur's baby? Hermione had a hand, Harry had a hand. Everyone's hands were pointing to Home. Everyone's except George's. George's hand was pointing to a word that said, Hurting. Molly listened to Fred talking to the clock. "It's not so much that George is hurting," he was explaining to the clock. "It's that he's a bit angry. Look, clock. You've made a hand for Hermione. You've made one for Harry. Why not one for.." he trailed off. Then Fred smiled, "That's right," and he held up his hand and another clock hand appeared magically in it. Molly leaned over. The hand read Neville. Fred put the hand right on top of the George hand, and immediately both hands moved from hurting right next to Fred's safe. Fred continued to talk to the clock, "If only mum would go here," Fred moved the clock hand that read Molly and pointed it to yet a new location, which read George's flat, "she could work this thing out. It's not too late. Mum didn't mean to make anyone feel bad. I know that and you know that. But I don't think George knows it. The only way it'll be all right is for mum to be completely honest with George. He isn't a child anymore." Molly woke up in a cold sweat, reaching out to try and touch Fred. She knew. She knew what she had to do. She would make things right with George. She had to. She'd do it for Fred. No, it was too late for that. She'd do it for George. Molly apparated to George's front door. She tried the handle. It was unlocked, not that it would have mattered if it was locked. George had given her a key long ago. Molly walked inside the quiet flat. George was most likely still asleep. Molly tiptoed to George's room and knocked quietly. There was no sound. She pushed the door open silently and saw George and Neville on the bed. Both boys were lying on their sides, facing each other. They were naked. Or at least Neville was. He was closest to Molly, with his back facing her. A sheet was pulled up to just his hips, just below the start of his buttocks. Molly grimaced to see several long scars, which look like whip scars running down his back. But what really got to Molly was the position the boys were in. Facing each other, arms interlocked. Molly was sure if she pulled the sheets down, she'd see a tangle of four feet as well. Molly shut the door and leaned against the wall, tears streaming down her face. It wasn't seeing George in bed like that, naked with another man. That actually didn't concern her at all, in fact, now that she saw it, it seemed quite natural for him. It was the position that they were lying in. Molly remembered so clearly when the twins were two and a half years old and Molly moved them out of one big crib and got them each a bed. "Now you boys each get your own bed!" She had said to them, trying to get them excited for the prospect of more room to sleep.

It didn't matter. Every morning until they were about eleven years old, Molly would wake them up, and they'd be lying in the same bed, face to face, arms and feet interlocked in the same exact way she'd just seen George and Neville's. A very clear memory came charging at Molly with sudden ferocity. One morning when the twins were three, she went into their room and found Fred awake but George still asleep. They were in that same position. She disentangled Fred and pulled him to the empty bed with her. He stood on her lap, with some difficulty as she was quite pregnant with Ginny at the time. "Freddy," she whispered, trying not to wake George. "I've got you and Georgie each your own bed. You don't need to sleep together." Fred leaned in and hugged her and whispered in her ear. "Yes we do, mummy. It makes us safe at night." And really, what could she do about it? So she let them sleep like that as long as they wanted to. Safe. Neville makes George feel Safe. Molly told herself. That's what Fred told me in my dream. Molly went to the kitchen and laid the basket of biscuits on the table. She got some marmalade out of the icebox and set it next to the basket. She searched George's cupboards for plates and chose two. She thought about it some and chose a third plate. Then she sat in a chair and waited. It wasn't long before she heard the sounds of George and Neville waking up. She heard low voices, but couldn't tell what they were saying. One boy went to the bathroom, then back in to the bedroom. Then the other went into the bathroom. After the toilet flushed, they walked into the kitchen together. "Mum!" George gasped. "Maybe I should go," Neville said nervously. He crossed his arms over his bare chest. Molly was just grateful that they'd both at least pulled on pants. "No," George said angrily. "You're welcome here. Mum should go." Molly held up the basket. "I made biscuits. I want to talk." George crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't want to talk." Molly started crying. "Georgie, I'm sorry. I need to explain what I did last night. Please, have a biscuit." George hesitated before sitting down on the edge of the chair. Neville was still standing in the doorway, unsure if he should interfere with this mother/son moment. "Go ahead," George said to Molly.

Molly took a deep breath. She explained everything to him. She explained about grieving not only for the loss of Fred but for future grandchildren. She explained that she thought the twins were going to be the best parents of all her children. She told George that parents sometimes have expectations for their kids, and it's an awful thing to do to a kid - saddle them with certain expectations, but all parents do it. And she'd never meant her expectations of Fred and George's potential parenthood to be anything that could tear them apart. She told George about her dream with Fred. George looked up. "Fred was in your dream?" he asked, his face, which had been blank this whole time, showing sudden interest. Molly looked taken aback. "Yes. With my clock. He told me to come talk to you. And that Neville makes you feel safe." Molly looked at Neville with an embarrassed smile. Neville was taking all this in with interest. Neville had spent nearly his whole life aching for the care of a mother. If George let his mother, this fantastic woman who came to admit her mistakes, go without forgiving her, well, he was going to have a real problem with George. George leaned back in his chair. He looked like he wanted to admit something. It was silent for a few moments before he said something completely unexpected. "I've always thought the wrong twin died." "What?" Neville asked sharply. He was horrified to hear George saying this. Either twin was the wrong twin. "George!" Mrs. Weasley admonished. George shrugged. "I can't give you grandchildren. Fred could have. Fred would have had a nice normal life with a wife and children. I'm an outcast. I'm the gay one." Mrs. Weasley balked. "George. No. That wasn't my point. My point is that I was wrong for feeling that way. For making you pay for my expectations of you. The truth is, I care aboutyou. Not about any would-be grandchildren." George shook his head. "I get what you're saying, Mum. I'm just saying that ever since Fred died, I've felt like it should have been me, not him. But I wasn't quite sure why I felt that way. But you just gave me a reason. Fred could have given more to the family than I can." "No. No." Molly was insistent. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that again. If it was going to be anyone, it should have been me or your dad. Parents are supposed to die before their children. We should have been there to protect Fred." "It was war Mum, and Fred was of age. You protected Ginny." Molly shrugged. "It's true," George insisted. "Mum. Ginny would be dead if it wasn't for you. We all know it."

"So would I," Neville added. "Ginny, Hermione and Luna were fighting Bellatrix. But it was me she wanted. I could feel it. You came in, Mrs. Weasley. You saved my life too. You saved Hermione and Luna's. Not just Ginny's." George looked at Neville with interest and he turned to his mother. He leaned in and kissed Molly on the cheek. "It's all right, mum. I love you." Molly looked surprised. "George. Honestly. I don't ever want you to think you should have died in Fred's place. I don't. I've never thought that. Your father has never thought that." George shook his head. "I understand. I just surprised you yesterday. I think there was no good way of telling you about..." George trailed off and waved his hand vaguely between himself and Neville, "this." Molly hesitated. "Are you sure? Are you sure you aren't angry with me?" George nodded emphatically. "Very sure." Neville, still standing in the doorway, came to the table and sat down gingerly. George said, "We need to make this up to Ron." "Make what up?" Molly asked. "Mum," George said exasperatedly. "Two nights in a row, this announcement about me and Neville completely stole Ron's thunder. He asked Hermione to marry him. Last night should have been about him and Hermione." "I suppose you're right. I think we'll throw them an engagement party," Molly thought out loud. "Hermione and Ginny just started Christmas break and they don't go back until the third of January." Molly looked up at Neville and George, "Maybe we could do a New Year's Eve party?" "Mum, that sounds good." George grabbed a biscuit and started chewing. "Mmm. Good," he mumbled handing a biscuit to Neville, who started eating tentatively. "Let us know if we can help." Molly stood up. "I've got only ten days to prepare for this party!" She started mumbling incoherently as she waved her wand and a quill and parchment flew out of her bag. The quill began taking notes on its own while Neville watched, impressed. George stood up, "Mum. I've got to open the store soon." He leaned in and kissed her again on the cheek. Molly stopped in the middle of a sentence and the quill and parchment fell to the floor. She ran a hand over George's cheek. "I'm sorry," she said again. "About last night." George shrugged. "It's all right. Really, mum. I'm glad you came over."

Molly turned to Neville and smiled. "You're one of mine now," she said. Neville laughed and hugged her. "I'm glad to be."

X Ten days can pass in the blink of an eye. And that is just what happened during the ten days following Molly's heartfelt apology to George and Neville. In that time, there was Christmas, of course. Neville was nervous about Christmas. What type of gift should he get for George? He'd never had a significant other with whom he could share the holiday. Finally, two days before Christmas, he was wandering around Flourish and Blotts, panicked because he hadn't been able to find anything for George when he came across a thin book with a set of cards. Muggle Magic, the book was called. Neville flipped through the book, which was all about how muggles use sleight of hand for these card tricks. It was interesting and it seemed like something George would like. He didn't think it was a perfect gift, but he honestly wasn't sure what the perfect gift would be. Also in that time, George did come over for dinner with Neville and his Gran. It was an awkward time, though Neville appreciated the effort Gran put into making George feel welcome. It was just that George came from a very different family than Neville's small family of just him and Gran. Neville and Gran were quiet and not always overly affectionate. The Weasleys, of course, were big and loud and crazy in love with each other - and not afraid to open displays of affection. Neville loved being at the Burrow, nearly as much as he loved spending time with George at his flat. He was spending so much time away from his Gran that he was beginning to feel guilty. And so, he chose to exchange gifts with George on Christmas Eve, so that he could have the entire day of Christmas with just his Gran for their annual trip to see his parents at St. Mungo's. They arrived at St. Mungo's during a blustery snow storm. The streets were dead, muggles not being as well able to travel during such weather. As always, Neville and Gran headed toward the psych unit to the familiar room where his parents lived. Neville removed his coat because the ward was always kept overly heated. He leaned over his mother. "Hi mum," he said softly. His mother glanced vaguely his way, but didn't make eye contact. Neville sat on a chair next to her bed while Gran went over to see Frank. Usually Neville had trouble talking to his insane mother. He could never think of anything to say except for what the weather is like or what kinds of grades he got in school. But this year, he grabbed on to his mother's hand and started talking, without even thinking about what he was saying. He knew he was babbling, but he was powerless to stop himself. "I had a really big year, mum. I think you'd be proud of me. Right after getting back to Hogwarts last January, it was terrible. Horrible things going on. And there were these teachers, the Carrows, who worked for you-know-who, and they hated me. Because

they knew whose side I was on. They believed that I knew where Harry Potter was, and so they tortured me, mum. They did and I have the scars to prove it. I didn't know though. I didn't know where he was, but even if I did, I wouldn't have talked. I'd remember what happened to you and dad, and I knew I'd never say anything. But it got so much worse. There was a battle and a lot of people died. People I knew and people I loved." Neville started crying now. This was the first time he'd really spoken openly about how he felt. "I helped though. I did. Harry gave me instructions and when You-know-who was torturing me, trying to burn me alive, I was braver than I thought I could be. I killed this snake. I didn't even know what I was doing, just that Harry had told me it was important to kill the snake. So I did - and do you know what it was? It was a horcrux, it was part of you-know-who's soul. But I don't even care that I was able to help, because so many people had to die. "I wish you could have been there for me, afterward. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't close my eyes without seeing dead bodies. I couldn't eat without feeling traitorous to everyone who died and couldn't eat anymore. I laid in bed all day and night. Mum, I couldn't do anything. I didn't want to do anything. All I felt was guilt in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to die a thousand times." Neville stopped and sniffed hard. "Gran tried to help me. I know she did. She was patient. She never yelled at me. She never thought I needed to get over it. But I didn't open up to her. I never told her what I was thinking. I never told her what really happened when I was at Hogwarts my seventh year. I wish you could look, mum. I wish you could just open your eyes and see the marks on my back. I was whipped. The Carrows, they got me and they got Ron Weasley's little sister and they used to chain us up to the wall and whip us. A whip is a muggle weapon. I can't believe they used a muggle weapon on me. Do you see the irony, those muggle-haters using a muggle weapon? "Do you know what it feels like to be whipped? God, what am I saying? I hope you don't. I know you know what it feels like to be tortured though. If you could just listen to me, I know you'd understand. I know you could make me feel better about this." Neville stopped to sob more into his hands. He could feel his Gran sitting across the room, next to his dad's bed and listening carefully without interrupting him. Neville grabbed back on to his mother's hand. "So that's what happened to me, in a nutshell. I could go in to more details, but I just can't. I don't think I'll ever be able to. "But I don't want you to worry about me, mum. Because there's something else I want to tell you. I know we think you can't understand me, but just in case, I need to tell you these things, just like a real son would tell his mother. It's nothing bad, at least not to me it isn't. I wanted to tell you that I'm gay. And I hope that is something that would be all right with you and dad. I've known that I am since I was about twelve years old. Well, really I think I've always known it, but around twelve is when I realized what it was, what it meant. "And now I've gone and met someone. I think you'd like him. His name is George. He's funny, a real practical joker. But he lost someone in the war. He lost his twin brother and best friend, so he's been having trouble being funny, trouble making jokes. His

brother is one of the people I feel guilty about surviving. You'd have no idea what he'd be capable of if only he'd lived. But he didn't and I found George." Neville paused. "I think I might love him, mum." Neville was quiet for about half a minute, wiping the last of his tears off his face, before starting again on a different topic. "I got a job. I'm going to be working at Hogwarts with Professor Sprout. I'm going to manage the greenhouses and the care of magical plants. Professor Sprout got permission from Professor McGonagall, who is the headmistress now, to expand Hogwarts' plants and I'm going to be a part of it. The pay isn't very much, but I don't have many expenses." Neville quieted down again. He couldn't really think of anything else to say, so he sat there, patting his mother's hand and trying to make eye contact with her. It was the lack of eye contact that had always bothered him. Like he wasn't even there. From the corner of his eye, Neville noticed Gran getting up from her seat and walking over to him carefully. "Up," she commanded. Like the child his Gran often made him feel like, Neville immediately obeyed and stood up. Gran began fumbling with the hem of Neville's shirt. Neville knew what she was doing, but stood rooted to the spot, not helping her. "Lift your arms," Gran said. Neville lifted his arms and Gran used her wand and an incantation Neville had never heard to remove his shirt. Gran choked back a small cry when she noticed the mark on Neville's abdomen. "Turn around," her voice was shaking now, and she seemed frightened and not at all demanding the way she had been just seconds earlier. Neville slowly turned around, his scarred bare back facing his Gran. He was unsurprised by the gasp that escaped her lips. She began to cry. "Why didn't you tell me?" Neville put his shirt back on and shrugged his shoulders. "It's not important." "It is." Gran insisted. "I had a plan Neville. I had an escape plan to get you out of Hogwarts and to hide abroad. But I thought you were safer there. I thought you'd let me know if things got out of hand." "It doesn't matter," Neville insisted. "It does. Obviously it matters to you or you wouldn't have brought it up to your mum." A high pitched cry escaped and Gran put her hand to her forehead. "I was supposed to protect you. When I took you in as a baby, all I wanted to do was protect you." Now Gran was sobbing for real. "I'm sorry, Neville. I failed. I failed." "Gran, no!" Neville assured her. "You didn't fail. Even if I had known about your plan to go in to hiding, I never would have gone with you. I felt...responsible for protecting Ginny. You think my scars are bad? She's a Weasley with a history of dating Harry Potter no less, stuck at Hogwarts. The worst place to be a Weasley or to have connections to Harry. I had to be there with her. If I was with her, in the room where they did it, the Carrow brother, Amycus was his name, he wouldn't...try to do things to her." Gran put her hand to her mouth and took a quick breath in.

Neville hoped Gran wouldn't ask for details. He remembered all too well the night that Ginny came in the Gryffindor common room an hour after everyone else had gone to bed, robes torn, hair messy and her face tear-streaked. After a little prompting from Neville, Ginny admitted that Amycus Carrow had followed her out of the library that evening, and forced her into his office and chained her up. Up to this point in the story, Neville was unsurprised. Three weeks earlier, both the Carrows had nabbed him and Ginny for their first torture session. Neville didn't think it'd be the last. Ginny began hiccuping as she continued her story. Amycus took her wand from her and chained her up. He grabbed his whip and Ginny closed her eyes to prepare herself for the feeling of the whip violating her skin. Instead she felt the movement of her robe and opened her eyes to see Amycus slowly opening her robe in the front. She was wearing a button up shirt underneath and he slowly began unbuttoning the shirt. Please, let it stop there, she thought. Just take them off and whip me, she begged silently. Once both were open, Amycus grabbed his whip and struck her once across the abdomen, saying "You gonna tell me where your boyfriend Harry Potter's at?" She tried to remain silent, but cried out in pain. Amycus laughed and used his wand to tear the robe and shirt off her body. He reached around and unhooked her bra. When he realized he couldn't take it off with Ginny's hands chained up, he ripped it violently. He whipped her one more time across the abdomen before dropping the whip to the ground and coming toward Ginny. He grabbed her breasts roughly and kissed her hard on the mouth. Up to that point, Ginny said that she'd been scared. But feeling violated like this turned that fear in to anger. Ginny used all her strength, gripping her hands on to the chains, and raised her knee hard into Amycus' testicles. Amycus spluttered and fell back. "You little bitch. You've no idea what you've just done." He pointed his wand at her, shouting "sectumsempra." Fortunately in his rage and pain, Amycus was shaking and managed to just skim the side of Ginny's rib cage with the curse. Here is the thing about the magic that resides in witches and wizards. Everyone thinks it's most powerful with a wand. But extreme circumstances and extreme emotions, such as anger, can cause a surge in magic not unlike a runner's surge in adrenaline. And a truly powerful witch or wizard, when faced in these extreme circumstances can perform magic without a wand. And so, when Amycus came toward Ginny, his wand pointing to the clasp of her skirt, she shouted "Protego," instinctively. And it worked. An invisible shield popped up in the inches between herself and Carrow. Amycus looked around. "Who did that?" He asked. "I took your wand, little girl." When Ginny considered the fact that she'd just done a pretty powerful spell without her wand, she got distracted and dropped her defenses enough so that the protego barrier dropped. Amycus took advantage of the moment of weakness and came at her roughly pushing her skirt up around her waist and thrusting his fingers inside her underwear. A mistake on his part, as Ginny could feel the magic swelling within her. She could feel the power within her from her toes to the very roots of her hair. Her body tingled with

magic, she could feel it flying out her pores. She knew she'd be able to perform any spell without her wand. She looked up at her chains, trying to kick Amycus away, and shouted "relashio," and immediately yanked her hands free of the chains. " Accio wand," she held out her hand and her wand came flying into her hands. As soon as her hand made contact with the wand, Ginny was nearly knocked down by a strong jolt of magic. She could barely grip the wand it was vibrating with such strong magical force. She didn't know what to do with this amount of power, but pointed the wand directly at Amycus' body and without uttering an incantation, a strong golden bolt leapt from the end of the wand and struck Amycus in the gut, sending his body flying back and hitting the wall. He slumped to the floor. Ginny grabbed her clothes, nudged Amycus with her foot - he was still alive- just knocked out, and ran to the nearest bathroom. She was in there for over an hour, crying and shaking and waiting for Amycus to come find her. Finally, she dressed and left, hoping to find the Gryffindor common room empty, but finding Neville there instead. "I'll kill him," Neville had said roughly when Ginny finished her story. He stood up suddenly and grabbed his wand. "What good would that do?" Ginny asked bitterly pulling Neville back down on the couch.. Neville paused. She was right. All it would do was land him in Azkaban. And he'd be no good to anyone, especially to Ginny, in Azkaban. Still, Ginny had nearly been raped, and he couldn't let go of the desire to kill Amycus. He took a deep breath attempting to transform his rage, his desire to kill, into something more positive. A way to protect Ginny. "I'm not leaving your side," Neville said. "Amycus knows what you're capable of now, so I expect you're safe from him. But if they're going to torture us, they're going to torture us together, all right?" Ginny nodded. "That means we walk to classes together, we study together in the library, we eat meals together. I wait for you outside the bathroom. Let me in there with you if no one's around. I'll find boys' rooms that are empty and you come in with me, all right? We are going to go through this together. You can even sleep in one of the empty beds in my dorm. It's just me and Seamus up there now, so there're three empty beds." Ginny thought carefully. "I think you're right. We're stronger together." Neville shook his head. "Ginny, you are strong alone. You did really powerful magic without a wand. Do you know how rare that is?" Ginny shrugged. "I couldn't do it again if you asked me to." "I hope you never have a reason to need to do it again." Ginny ignored that. "I need to treat my wounds."

Neville raised his wand, "Accio apocatheria," and out of his dorm flew the travel apocathery kit he'd gotten for Christmas. He opened it up, looking at the different herbs and potions. "I can do it." Ginny hesitated. "I think I should do it myself," she crossed her arms in front of her chest. It took Neville a minute to realize why Ginny was hesitant. She didn't want to remove her shirt in front of him. Neville took a deep breath. "Ginny," he said gently, "I'll be able to reach the wounds better than you can on yourself." She didn't look convinced and honestly, Neville couldn't blame her. She'd just been violated and all she'd need is someone else ogling her. "Ginny," he continued softly. "I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anyone. And what I want you to forget as soon as I tell you." She looked up at him, her eyes were wide and starting to fill with tears again. Neville leaned in close and whispered into Ginny's ear, "I'm gay." Ginny gasped and pulled back. "Neville?" she asked. "Don't tell anyone. Act surprised if it happens to come up later?" "All right," Ginny agreed. She eyes seemed to lose focus as she pulled open her robes and unbuttoned her shirt. In her haste to leave Amycus Carrow's office, she'd forgotten her bra. Neville looked at Ginny's naked torso. "Which is the sectumsempra?" Ginny pointed to the long mark on the side of her rib cage going up her left breast. Neville knew to start with that wound. As a magical wound, it would heal with the magical potions. The whips were a muggle tool, and as such magical cures were much less effective. All Neville could do for those were cool the wound with essence of magical mint for pain relief and wrap her in bandages. Ginny was still shaken, but seemed calmer once she had Neville's caring hands cleaning and trying to heal her wounds. And so, it was nearly three in the morning before the two friends headed up to the boys' dormitory to try and get the best night of sleep they could. True to her word, Ginny never said anything to anyone about Neville. So much to the point, that Neville would occasionally forget he'd ever mentioned it to her. And as Neville looked back on a few nights earlier, when he and George came out to Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione, Neville smiled to remember Ginny focusing her attention on learning that George is gay. Back in the present, Gran asked, "What did they do to Ginny?" "I can't talk about it Gran. Really. She wouldn't want me to." "Did you take care of her?"

Neville nodded. "But Gran, she's so strong. Stronger and more magical than I am. She didn't really need it." "But she needed a friend," Gran said. Neville nodded. "I failed because I never told you how proud I am of you." Gran started crying again. Neville hugged his Grandmother. "It's OK, Gran. I know."

XI Molly really outdid herself for Ron and Hermione's New Year's Eve / engagement party. She must have felt terrible about her behavior, because she really went above and beyond. Of course, it helped that Arthur was back at the ministry, in a higher position and that they only had one child left at home, giving the Weasley parents more money to spend than they'd ever had before. And Molly didn't spare expense when it came to quickly setting up this party. Invitations were magically written and sent by a team of owls to the entire Weasley family, Ron and Harry's friends from Hogwarts, Hermione's friends from Hogwarts, and even to Hermione's muggle parents. Molly rented a tent, not unlike the magical pup tent Harry and Ron had taken the prior year on their journey. Only this one was slightly larger and was enchanted on the inside to look like a ballroom. It was a plain ballroom, though and Molly went to work erecting extra fireplaces (it was cold and snowy after all), tables, chairs, and decorations which looked festive and wintry. Twinkling faeries spelt out Congratulations Ron and Hermione in a living sign that moved from wall to wall. The party being planned at the last minute, Molly wasn't able to hire a caterer. She spent ten days frantically preparing food and drinks. Fleur, Neville, Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny helped all they could, but were faced with the task of meeting Molly's expectations. And when it came to cooking, no one had expectations like Molly. "I'd rather not even have this party if I have to put up with this," Ron grumbled one day as he tossed a lumpy bowl of dough outside for the birds and gnomes to fight over. Molly complained it was too lumpy and wouldn't make proper bread. "Who still hand makes bread anyway? We can just buy it from the store." "Ronald," Hermione admonished him. "You always complain about store bought bread. Your mum is doing this for you. For us." "But I don't know how to make the bread." Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's called reading a simple recipe," she snapped. "Why are you so bent out of shape?" he asked. "Because after I graduate and we get married, I'm going to be working and starting a career. So I hope you don't expect homemade bread every day like you grew up with." "Oh." Ron was quiet for a minute. "I don't expect that." But it sounded like this was news to him. Neville smiled inwardly as he continued peeling potatoes. It had always

struck him that Ron never knew that, despite coming from one of the poorer wizarding families, he was really quite spoiled in many ways. Harry and Neville, two parentless children, had always been able to see clearly how rich Ron really was. Neville, still unemployed, volunteered his services to Molly. His reasons for doing so were partially genuine (he really did want the party to be successful for Ron) but partially it was an attempt to get on Molly's good side. He felt awkward around her since she'd come over to George's a few mornings prior. In a way, Neville felt that her being there when he woke up in the same bed as her son, she'd witnessed an intimate moment. So he'd spent several afternoons at the Burrow, put to work weeding the frosty garden, pulling all edible plants from it, peeling potatoes, beating curtains, fixing loose steps and anything else Molly could think that needed doing around the house. Though Molly was definitely kind to him, she had not yet developed the same easy motherly manner that she had with Harry and Hermione. Time Neville kept telling himself, Give her time. George couldn't believe that Neville was willing to give up his time to help around the Burrow. "You don't have to do it," he'd said the night after Christmas when Neville got back to the flat. "No one expects it from you." Neville shrugged. "I don't mind," he said simply. "You have the shop. I'm unemployed. I want to help." "Mum's a slave driver," George warned. Neville shrugged again. It'd always bothered him to hear people complain about their mothers. "I like your mum," he said quietly. George got it, right away. It hit him suddenly what Neville must feel like every time someone complains about their mother. "I'm sorry," he pulled Neville onto the bed, enveloping him in a hug. "You're right," he buried his face in Neville's neck, "My mum's great." New Year's Eve arrived. Neville stood rooted in front of his closet at his house staring at his robes. He wondered what the dress protocol should be. Regular robes? Dress robes? Muggle clothes? Neville, like most wizards under the age of forty, didn't like wearing robes and mostly wore jeans and T-shirts. (Muggle clothes the old witches and wizards called it derisively.) Nicer trousers and a knit shirt if the occasion called for something nicer than denim. Why hadn't he talked to George about this? Finally Neville settled on dress trousers and a button up dress shirt. He didn't care that much, he just wasn't willing to wear robes. He ran downstairs where Gran was polishing his shoes, tapping her wand on the shoes over and over until she could see her reflection. "Thanks," Neville said taking the shoes from her, failing to care that he didn't actually like it when his shoes were so shiny and reflective, and started to lace them up. "Are you sure you won't come?" Molly had decided to invite Gran, as a way to get to know her better.

"No, dear," Gran said. "My arthritis is acting up." Neville nodded, and looked at his Gran critically. Certainly she was elderly. She'd been older when she'd had his dad, and his dad had been well into his thirties when Neville was born. There was no mistaking that her body was starting to slow down, though her mind was as active as it'd ever been. Still, Neville worried about her and made it a point not to spend too many nights at George's flat so he could check in on her. "I won't be home late," he promised. Gran waved her hand. "It's New Year's Eve," she said happily. "Have a good time and I won't worry about you unless I don't see you by late tomorrow." Neville laughed, "Are you sure?" "Did I ever tell you about New Years Eve when I was nineteen?" Neville laughed again, "No Gran. Is this something I want to know about you?" "Probably not. I was a wild one in my day." Neville kissed her on the cheek and walked out the door and disapparated to the Burrow. He stood just feet from the entrance of the Burrow, listening to the loud music already pulsating from the tent. Someone was playing a Weird Sisters phonograph. Neville heard a noise behind him and turned around curiously to see a car pulling up next to the Burrow. He realized at once it must be Hermione's parents, the only ones who'd be arriving by muggle transport. Sure enough, Hermione stepped out the back door, just as an older woman who looked astonishingly like Hermione stepped out the passenger door and a tall skinny man got out from the driver's side. Neville was relieved to see Hermione had also foregone the robes. "Neville," Hermione called, waving to him. "Hermione," he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "This is my mum, Dr. Jean Granger and my dad, Dr. Owen Granger," Neville shook their hands. He's hardly ever had any contact with Muggles and wasn't quite certain what a doctor was. "Pleasure." "Mum and Dad, this is Neville Longbottom. He was in my class at Hogwarts and he's dating one of Ron's brothers." "Hermione," Neville said, exasperated. Just as Dr. Owen repeated Neville's line of "Pleasure." "What?" she asked innocently.

"Can I ask you not to out me and George to everyone?" "Oh, is it still a secret?" "Yes!" Neville said defiantly. "It is!" Hermione's parents were blushing deeply. Neville walked into the tent with Hermione and her parents, her parents looking quite surprised at seeing a large ballroom appear in front of them. He quickly pulled her aside. "Hermione. You owe George an apology." "What? Why? Everything worked out." "But it might not have. You can't go poking your nose in other peoples' business like that. George gets to decide who he tells and when he tells, all right? This whole thing with him. With me and him, it's so new. You need to stay out of it for now." "I'm sorry." "Don't tell me, tell George." Neville looked around. Where was George? Neville wandered around the party, nibbling on delicious food from the long table he'd set up just the day prior. He couldn't believe the spread. Even with help, Molly had really outdone herself. Neville looked around and waved and chatted with a few others. Harry, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Luna, Mr. Lovegood, the Patil twins, Lee Jordan (who remarked, embarrassingly loudly, "the guy who's going to get Georgie Weasley to settle down!"), Bill and Fleur, Percy with Penelope Clearwater, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, and Tonks' mother with little Teddy whose hair was looking rather purple these days. (Neville felt a connection with little Teddy Lupin, knowing full well what it was like to be raised by a single Grandmother). Plus countless others that Neville didn't recognize. This was clearly the place to be on New Year's Eve. Finally, Neville spotted George walking in with Ginny. Neville started to walk toward him, but he saw Hermione grab George and pull him back outside. Neville was impressed. He didn't think Hermione'd ever be able to admit she was wrong and actually apologize. When George got back in, he headed straight for Neville. "Let's grab some food," he said. They stacked their plates with roast beef baguettes, salmon rolls, treacle tarts and everything else Molly had made. George guided Neville to a table in a corner, where no one else was. "Let's sit here," Neville sat. He and George were quiet for a moment, chewing their food. "Ginny talked to me," George finally said quietly.

"Mmm-hmm?" Neville asked taking a sip of butterbeer. "She told me." "About what?" "About Amycus Carrow." "Oh. That." Neville was quiet. "You saved her." Neville shook his head. "I didn't. She didn't need saving. She saved herself. George, do you have any idea how powerful a witch she is?" "She's a seventh child. Seventh children are always extra powerful." "Really?" Neville had never heard that before. George nodded. "Families aren't so big nowadays, so you don't see as much of it. And a lot of people don't know it anymore. But yeah, a seventh child always has special powers. Fourteenth children do too." He paused. "All multiple of seven, actually, so twenty-first children do too, but that's only ever really been the case like once in wizarding history." "Huh. Interesting." "Anyway, that's not how I meant it. You saved her." "I didn't do anything but make her stay with me at all times. Until we started making camp in the Room of Requirement." "You were her friend. You were there with her and that's what she needed." "Really, George. I didn't do much." "She just told me that if it wasn't for you, she would have hunted down Carrow and tried to kill him." "But she stopped me from doing just that." "And stopping you stopped her from doing it also." George hesitated and softened his voice. "She also told me she was suicidal, but you just being there kept her from doing anything about it." "She was what?" Neville was shocked. George nodded. "She said she even stole a Tschiffely plant from the greenhouse."

Neville sucked his breath in. Tschiffely was extremely useful for tanning dragon hides, but was instantly fatal if ingested. It was, sadly, the most common form of wizarding suicide. Students weren't even allowed in that area of the greenhouse. Thinking back, he actually knew when Ginny stole it. They were in Herbology class and Neville had stayed after to talk to Professor Sprout. Because he and Ginny were sticking together, Ginny waited for him, but was wandering around the greenhouse. Neville had seen her in the restricted section, but hadn't though anything of it, And neither had Professor Sprout, who didn't lecture Ginny. "I didn't know I was saving her," Neville explained to George. "I like Ginny, you know? I just wanted to be there for her." "Thank you," George said. "For what?" "For my sister," George rolled his eyes at Neville not realizing what he was being thanked for. "You're welcome." They continued eating and George finally said in a cheerful voice. "Well! That was serious." Neville laughed. "Let's lighten the mood then," he said. "All right," George agreed and took a shot of firewhiskey, and handed one to Neville who downed it quickly. "Move in with me." "What?" Neville asked, shocked, and coughing on his firewhiskey. "Move in with me. Move into my flat. Let's live together," he explained. "We've been together, like, two months." "So?" George asked. "Well it's awfully fast." "Can I get serious for one more second?" George asked. "Sure." "I love you." "You what?" "You heard me. I love you." He paused. "Look, I'm not Mr. Romantic and I'm not big on hearts and flowers and all that bullshit, so don't make me say it over and over again, all right? I. Love. You. I do and I want you to know it." Neville laughed. "You're an idiot."

Now George was laughing. "What?" "I love you too, all right?" Neville answered, blushing furiously. "I knew it," George leaned over and pinched Neville's arm. "I knew you loved me. I knew it from the way you can't keep your hands off me." "Ow!" Neville held his arm where George pinched it. "I think that's the other way around, friend. You can't keep your hands off me." George was still laughing when he said, "See? We love each other. We should live together." Neville shrugged, "Maybe." "Come on...why not?" George wheedled. Neville felt the heat in his face as his face reddened a deep shade. "I..." he croaked. He had no idea how to say what he needed to say. "What?" George prompted. "We haven't even..." Neville waved his hands vaguely between their bodies as he drifted off. George still looked blank, so Neville tried again. "We haven't even really had a proper shag yet. Have we?" He closed his eyes, horrified at how much he knew he was blushing. He knew he shouldn't have been embarrassed, because really, once you've had someone else's cock in your mouth, what else is there to be embarrassed about? "Ahhh." George said, nodding his head. "So we're laying in bed at night, nearly every night for the past month or two, and fooling around and you want more, but you don't think to ask for it?" Neville knew George was teasing. But he still felt the need to defend himself. "I've never done this before. I don't know how long it's supposed to take before it happens. I mean, how long before you shagged Oliver?" "I was an early bloomer," George answered. "How long George?" "It's not going to make you feel any better." "How long?" "Pretty much right when we both realized the other was in to it. My fourth year. Oliver's sixth." "God." Neville said. "God! You were fourteen!" Neville shook his head. "I'm so stupid when it comes to this. I'm nineteen, all right? You were fourteen and you jumped right into it with Oliver. Why're you waiting so long with me?"

"Look, Nev. Oliver was just a...a nothing. We weren't in some kind of relationship, all right? We were just messing around. He wanted to mess around with birds and blokes, but he only wanted to date the birds." "So?" George sighed. "Look, you say you're new to this, but so am I! I've never done the boyfriend thing, all right? I've done the making out with Oliver thing, the shagging Oliver thing. But I don't know when it's the proper time to shag a boyfriend." "So we're both idiots about this then," Neville said. "Exactly." "Well, that's a relief." Neville said, and George laughed. "So let's do it." "Move in together? George, I don't know. My Gran needs me." "No. I meant shag. Let's do it." "Now?" Neville looked around. "Yeah now." George insisted. "Not here, obviously. But now. Let's go." "But the party..." "They'll be fine without us. Come on. I always wanted to get laid in my childhood bedroom." "Oh." Though Neville was a bit nervous, he had a sudden surge of boldness as he said, "Yeah, let's go." He drained his butterbeer and followed George running and laughing out of the tent into the cold night.


"So this is your childhood room then?" Neville asked looking around. "Yeah. Mum and dad haven't really touched it since Fred and I moved out." Neville wandered around. It was a small room, not much bigger than his room at Gran's, but with twice the amount of stuff. Two beds separated by a large chest of drawers. Two desks lined the wall opposite the beds. One small closet so crammed with clothes and boxes that the door didn't even shut. Walls papered with posters of Quidditch teams, the movement of the players on brooms creating a dizzying effect of the walls moving. The top of the chest was filled with framed photographs of the Weasley family. Neville looked at the photos and his throat caught to see that the most well-dusted photo was of Fred. Clearly Molly Weasley came in here especially to look at that photo. Neville cleared his throat and turned around. "Which bed was yours?" "This one," George sat down on the bed farthest from the door and bounced up and down a couple times. "Come here," he patted the bed next to him. Neville sat down next to George, his palms slightly sweaty from nerves. "So this is where Weasley's Wizard Wheezes began." "A truly historical site," George nodded. Neville smiled and pressed his hands between his knees. "Are you nervous?" George asked. "No." Neville said. Then quickly, "Well, yes." "We don't have to do this yet. There's no rush." "I want to," Neville reassured him. "I just..." he faltered. "Are you sure we have privacy?" George grabbed his wand and pointed it at the door. The door shut, locked and Neville saw it magically seal from the inside. "No one's getting in here, Neville." It wasn't really the privacy issue. Neville wasn't sure why he was so nervous. He'd been to bed with George plenty of times. It was just this part. The actual sex was, like the final frontier in a relationship that, truthfully, was pretty new.

Neville kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed. George smiled and took his shoes off also. "Are you sure about this?" He asked. Neville nodded. "I'm sure." He stared at the ceiling as George sat down on the bed next to him and gently took his hand. "Is it going to hurt?" Neville felt himself blush and he wanted to die with embarrassment at how much like a little kid he sounded. George paused. "Probably, at first." He played with Nevillle's fingers. "I'll go slow, and do whatever I can to keep it from hurting too bad." "Come here then," Neville said shakily and pulled George toward him. George lay down next to Neville and kissed him gently on the mouth. Neville reached up and ran his fingers through George's fiery red hair. George leaned in and kissed Neville on the neck, right on the pulse point, and when he bit a little, it elicited a small "oh," from Neville. A sound which obviously turned George on, as he smiled and climbed on top of Neville, sinking his hips into Neville's. Neville relaxed. The feeling of George, this feeling of having George with him felt so natural. It was stupid, really, for Neville to worry about how fast their relationship had been moving, The fact was, that he felt like he was at home when he was with George. He felt comfortable and happy and warm. So why not share a home with George? George had slipped Neville's shirt off and was kissing his chest. When he started sucking nipple and stuck his hand down Neville's trousers at the same time, Neville gasped and bucked his hips upward instinctively. He would never get sick of the feeling of George's hand around him, stroking. Neville reached up with shaky hands and began unbuttoning George's shirt. It was awkward and George had to stop what he was doing to get in a better position to help Neville out. "Screw this," he finally muttered and stood up, taking his shirt off quickly, then unbuttoning his trousers and removing them. Neville smiled and removed his own trousers and boxer shorts. When they were both naked, George jumped back on to the bed, laughing. It hurt less than Neville feared, but it certainly wasn't comfortable at first. George was so careful, so gentle with him. George used a lube charm ( How does he know about these spells? Neville wondered) to slick his fingers and try to work Neville loose. Then he used the same charm on his cock as he pressed as carefully as possible into Neville. Neville gasped and tried hard to relax, attempting to concentrate all his anxiety and fear into his hands, which were gripping the bedspread so tightly his knuckles were turning white. "Is this all right?" George asked in a strained voice. "It's fine," Neville reassured him, his voice equally strained. "We can stop."

"No!" Neville said quickly. "I want this." And he did. All of a sudden, the pain, the discomfort didn't matter. Because he was sharing this very important part of himself with George. With the man he'd fallen in love with faster than he would have thought possible. George smiled and thrust into Neville several times, each time burying himself a little deeper in Neville's body. Neville was taking deep breaths, willing himself to relax and after a few minutes, it worked, he was relaxed enough to be able to enjoy the feeling, the sensation, of being filled by George. He bucked his hips slowly, creating a rhythm for George to follow. George reached down and stroked Neville's hard cock as he followed the rhythm. It was so good, getting lost in Neville. Fred had been right in those dreams. This was the reason Fred wanted George to talk to Neville. Because George needed something like this, something to share with another person, a man he could love. "I can't last," Neville whispered, "Ah!" He spilled over himself, hot and sticky. When he came, he involuntarily tightened up, putting pressure on George's cock. George thrust once more, as deeply as he could go, causing Neville to gasp in shock, and himself to come hard with a loud moan. The two men lay in bed for a few moments, breathing hard, trying to catch their breath. George pulled back and pulled out of Neville and lay down next to him, cuddling in tight. George kissed Neville's shoulder, "How was that?" he murmured. Neville turned his head and met George's eyes. He smiled, "Mmmm," and he leaned in and kissed George hard on the mouth. George kissed back before pulling away slightly and leaning his forehead on Neville's. "I guess that's good then." "Very good," Neville agreed. They lay there, quietly wrapped in their own thoughts. Finally Neville asked softly, "Are you happy?" "Happy how?" Neville sat up. "In general, are you happy?" George thought hard. "I'm working on it, Nev. I'm not unhappy, which is an improvement over how I was right after Fred died. This whole thing with him dying and me living? It's like...It's a process. And it's a long way to go between 'complete and total near suicidal unhappiness' and 'blissful happiness.' I'm working on it." "Fair enough." "It's you, Neville. You've made me happier."

Neville looked at George seriously. "George, I could barely even get out of bed until that day I saw you in the shop. You have no idea how happy you've made me." "This is getting a little serious again," George warned. Neville laughed. "I know, I'm sorry." George shrugged. "I guess Fred really knew what he was talking about in my dreams, huh? He told me to talk to you for a reason." "Well, good on Fred then," Neville leaned in for another kiss. They kissed and cuddled for a few more minutes before George pulled back with a sigh. "We should probably get back to the party." "Yeah," Neville agreed. Neither one moved. They laughed a little before pushing themselves up off the bed and slowly got dressed. "The moving in thing?" George said. "You can take your time thinking about it if you need to." "I want to." Neville said, realizing suddenly that he truly meant it. "Really?" George seemed surprised and happy. Neville nodded. "I just worry about Gran," Neville bit his fingernail. "But I can go over there lots to check in on her, right?" "Whatever you need," George reassured him and took his hands. "We're really gonna do this?" "Yeah," Neville nodded. "I love you." "I love you, too." Neville and George held hands as they walked down the stairs of the Burrow, and into the chilly December 31st air. Back to where their friends and family had just started noticing that the two were missing. When they walked into the tent together, relaxed and happy, some of their friends exchanged knowing looks with each other about what the two had been up to. Not that Neville and George noticed, and not that they would have cared if they had noticed. Because that's how new love is. It's feeling heady and exuberant and wanting to shout your love to the world. It's being wrapped up in each other and the rest of the world falling away. It's the love that makes the bad things in life seem bearable and the good things in life that much sweeter. They danced and ate and drank the rest of the night. And when the clock struck midnight, Neville and George were among the revelers lucky enough to have someone else to share a kiss with. This New Year started out much happier and far more hopeful

than the last one had. As Neville and George broke apart from their kiss, long after all the other couples had, they were both giddy with the feeling that this new year was going to bring good tidings and happiness, something that both of them deserved.



I Neville Longbottom estaba seriamente deprimido. Desde haca nueve meses desde que Voldemor haba cado, Neville se haba convertido en algo as como un hroe. Cuando la historia completa de Harry Potter sali a la luz, las personas sbitamente comprendieron el papel que Neville haba cumplido al matar a Nagini, el ltimo Horrocruz, con la espada de Griffindor. Neville era repentinamente famoso, y su nombre estara para siempre ligado al de Hermione Granger y Ron Weasley como el de una de las personas que junto a Potter haban ayudado en la cada de Voldemor; y como uno que incluso bajo la tortura se neg a entrar al lado oscuro. Y Neville, sbitamente y sin advertencia, se encontr a s mismo rodeado de ms fama que la que nunca haba soado. Tena cientos de cartas de fanticos, peticiones para entrevistas, ofertas de empleo, peticiones para la escritura de libros. Pero Neville no quera nada de ello. Aquellas cosas le haban llegado a costa de muchas vidas y aceptarlas sera tomar ventaja de una horrible situacin. As que qu quera? Neville no lo saba. El quera permanecer encerrado en su habitacin del segundo piso de la casa de su abuela, con un temor constante de bajar y encontrarse con alguien. Y su abuela no saba como tratarlo en aquellos das. Ella desandaba alrededor de su habitacin cada maana, tratando de sacarlo de la cama y buscando que al menos tomara una buena caminata en la calle, a la vez que tambin deseaba que accediera a una entrevista con el Diario el Profeta. Su abuela haba llegado incluso al punto de verter una pocin de nimo en la bebida de su nieto. Cuando Neville, quien nunca fue realmente malo en la clase de pociones de Snape, comprendi lo que era, lanz el lquido lejos de las manos de su abuela y le grit que lo dejara en paz. Neville nunca haba sido un chico que les gritara a las personas, pero era el tipo de hombre en l cual se estaba convirtiendo ahora. Neville estaba obviamente sufriendo de culpa. Todos aquellos que superaron la guerra estaban sufriendo en mayor o menor medida del sndrome del sobreviviente. Y Neville se senta tremendamente culpable de haber sobrevivido a tan tortuosa lucha. Pero la culpa del chico tena dos trasfondos. l se senta culpable de sobrevivir y saber que toda su familia haba sobrevivido a Voldemor intacta. Por supuesto no contaba a sus padres quienes permanecan todava en la unidad mdica del hospital San Mungo. Su anciana abuela haba luchado en la guerra y haba sobrevivido. Sus tos vivan. Sus amigos cercanos todava estaban all. Un peso ms de culpa le cay encima cuando se

enter que el pequeo Teddy Lupin haba perdi a su abuelo Muggle, as como a sus dos padres; y tambin cuando los padres de Colin Creevy encontraron sin vida a su valiente hijo. La otra parte de la culpa de Neville era saber todo lo que los dems haban perdido y sin embargo saber que la guerra haba hecho su vida mejor. Si llamas a tener fama como algo mejor. Si crees que ganar el respeto por el mundo mgico es lo mejor. Esa era la razn por la cual el chico no deseaba tener nada que ver con aquellas cartas, ofertas y contratos que le llegaran sin fin. Porque el no poda vivir una vida buena y feliz a costa de otras vidas humanas. De esta manera el pasaba sus das encerrado slo en su habitacin. Trataba de escribir un diario sin ser capaz de poner sus sentimientos en palabras. Entonces pasaba horas contemplando el techo. Se rehusaba a ver a Harry, Ron, Hermione y luna cuando ellos llamaban, quienes lo hacan mucho ms seguido al principio, pero que ahora era menos frecuente. Tambin se rehusaba a usar la magia, incluso en simples encantos como manejar una pluma. Algunas veces, tarde en la noche, cuando el insomnio era inmanejable, tomaba una caminata. Respiraba el aire fresco, odindose a si mismo por disfrutarlo, por necesitarlo, cuando Tonks y Lupin y todos los dems no podran hacerlo. *** Un da, Neville no tuvo opcin y tuvo que salir de la casa durante el da. Se acercaba el cumpleaos de su to Algie y el chico saba que haba un solo lugar donde poda encontrar un regalo apropiado para su bromista to: La tienda de objetos mgicos de los Weasley. Poda haber sido mucho ms sencillo si la tienda de bromas tuviera todava su servicio de envo con lechuzas, pero ellos haban dejado de realizar aquel servicio. Ellos Bien, ahora que no eran ellos... Qu eran? Neville comprendi con congoja que iba a ver a George Weasley por primera vez desde la guerra. l iba a ver a George sin su gemelo idntico y compaero de crmenes, Fred. Neville se visti lentamente aquella maana, ansioso sobre lo que iba a hacer. Lentamente descendi las escaleras y entr en la cocina donde su abuela estaba preparando el desayuno. Neville! Exclam ella, sorprendida de verlo despierto, particularmente a aquella hora. Necesito ir al callejo Diagon Abuela. Tenemos polvos Floo? Neville habl ignorando la abierta sonrisa en el rostro de su abuela. Come algo de desayuno primero Neville. Ella gir su varita haca la despensa y un plato sali volando y aterriz suavemente en la mesa al frente de Neville. Ella nuevamente gir su vara haca la comida y un par de

huevos fritos volaron haca el plato. El tostador expuls el pan y con un vuelo suave terminaron junto a los huevos. Neville la observaba con inters. Su abuela se haba ofrecido llevarle la comida a su habitacin y l se haba olvidado de todo el proceso de preparacin. A dnde vas a ir? Le pregunt ella, mientras coma un huevo. Neville pens en decirle a su abuela que tratara de disimular su alegra por verlo despierto a aquella hora. La tienda de los gemelos Weasley. Uhm... La tienda de George Weasley. Voy por un regalo. ah Contest su abuela con una sonrisa. Necesitas algo de dinero? No. Contest Neville. Estoy bien. Tante sus bolsillos y su abuela pudo escullar el tintineo de los galeones. Neville sigui engullendo sus huevos y tostadas. Fue al refrigerador y sac una botella de jug de calabaza, alist un vaso de la despensa y se sirvi. Su abuela lo observ. No puedes usar tu varita para hacer eso? Existe acaso algn problema si hago esto de la forma Muggle? Le contest. Su voz estaba calmada, pero tena un dejo de advertencia. Un dejo que sugera que poda salir corriendo de vuelta a su habitacin y esconderse bajo las cobijas por otros seis meses. El chico se sent nuevamente y bebi su jug en un largo trago. Por supuesto que no. Su abuela le respondi rpidamente. Ella alz su varita. Accio Polvos Floo. El pequeo sac de polvos vino de la habitacin del frente directo a las manos de la abuela. Sostuvo el saco fuera del alcance de Neville. Deseas compaa? Su voz sonaba a la vez triste y esperanzada. No. Puedo manejarlo. Neville meti el ltimo trozo de huevo en su boca, se limpi, y se despidi de su abuela con un beso. Tom los polvos de las manos de su abuela y camin a la chimenea. Cogi un pellizco del polvo y lo lanz entre las flamas. Cuando se tornaron verdes, el camin y dijo: Callejn Diagon!

Unos pocos segundos despus estaba all. Camin bajando la calle sorprendido de lo diferente que se vea el callejn desde la ltima vez que haba estado all, cuando el reinado de Voldemor estaba en su cenit y la calle era gris y haban ms locales clausurados que abiertos. Ahora todos los negocios estaban abiertos de nuevo. Las personas abarrotaban las calles, saludndose alegremente unos y otros. El sol estaba brillando sobre el callejn, y nunca antes se haba visto tan hermoso. Y Neville solo dese dar media vuelta y regresar a casa. Neville meti sus manos en los bolsillos y camin calle abajo, notando que la estrella de la tienda de Ollivander estaba encendida y abierta para los compradores. Cuando pasaba junto a ella la puerta se abri y un destello rubio corri tras l rodeando su pecho y abrazndolo fuertemente. Neville!. Chill Luna Lovegood mientras lo miraba con los ojos abiertos y felices. Saliste! Neville le sonri a Luna Qu ests haciendo aqu? Soy aprendiz del seor Ollivander. Sonri. l dice que tengo la mente de una gran hacedora de varitas. As que he estado viniendo todos los fines de semana al almacn y lo seguir despus de que me grade de Hogwarts ste ao. Es fenomenal Luna. En serio. Cmo le est yendo al seor Ollivander? No muy bien. Est muy enfermo, t comprendes. El quiz nunca podr recuperarse del tiempo que estuvo como prisionero de voldemor. Esa es la razn por la cual me convirti en su aprendiz. Mi padre est un poco desilusionado porque nosotros supusimos que bamos a viajar despus de mi graduacin a buscar un Snorkack de cuerno estrellado. Pero l entiende. Estar muy orgulloso de tener una hacedora de varitas en la familia. Neville agradeci internamente a Luna por su habilidad de saltar de tpico a tpico en solo unas pocas frases. Neville dej a Luna con un beso en su mejilla. Ella se ruboriz con un tono rojo brillante. Me tengo que ir ahora Luna. Tengo un encargo que realizar. Pero encontrmonos pronto, OK? S, definitivamente. Luna le sonri. Es grandioso verte fuera Neville. Las personas han estado preguntando por ti y yo nunca s que decirles. El chico sonri tristemente, preguntndose si podra decirle a Luna algo acerca de lo que l haba estado sintiendo. De hecho, l alz sus manos y tom las de ella con un pequeo gesto. Luna se lo devolvi. Neville se volvi y camin rumbo a la tienda de objetos mgicos de los Weasley, el cual se poda ver fcilmente desde negocios atrs.

Cuando lleg all, Neville permaneci en el frente del edifico observndolo. La vitrina era tan colorida y destellante como siempre. El chico permaneci hipnotizado por unos pocos minutos. Entonces tom un profundo respiro. Abri la puerta y entr en la tienda. Cuando Neville camin a la tienda, estaba noqueado por los colores, sonidos y luces a su alrededor. Se haba acostumbrado a las formas de su habitacin en la antigua casa de su abuela durante todos aquellos meses. El empez a sentirse mareado por todos aquellos colores y luces que parecan presionarlo. Se zambull en los colores y todo se torn oscuro, su pecho se contrajo y perdi su respiracin. Neville cerr sus ojos con la cabeza en sus manos, buscando contenerse. Trat de tomar un gran respiro, pero senta que el aire no le alcanzaba en lo absoluto. Escuch una voz, que provena desde lejos. Seor, Se encuentra bien? El percibi una mata de pelo rojo. Cuando control su respiracin su vista se aclar lo suficiente y pregunt dbilmente Ron? Soy yo. Contest el pelirrojo ayudando a Neville a recuperar su orientacin. Ests bien? Estoy bien ahora. Neville ri nerviosamente. Yo solo.. Se detuvo por un momento, no muy convencido de decirle slo estoy desorientado. Ven y sintate. Ron tom el brazo del chico y lo dirigi a la parte trasera del negocio, cruzando una puerta y entrando en una pequea habitacin llena de papeles de oficina. Lo dirigi a la silla detrs del escritorio, y Neville se sent obedientemente, respirando profundamente y aclarando su cabeza. Lamento, eso. Neville dijo repentinamente abochornado. No te preocupes. Inici Ron observndolo. Sac su varita y con un giro conjur un vaso de agua que le ofreci a neville. Cmo has estado? Ha pasado un tiempo desde la ltima vez que te vi. Neville cabece y tomo un largo trago de agua antes de hablar. No me he sentido muy bien para andar por ah. Se rehusaba a mirar a los ojos de Ron. Quiero decir, he estado algo decado. Lo s. Cabece Ron. Sonaba como si quisiera decir algo mas, pero cerr su boca y mir haca otro lado.

Lamento lo de Fred. Ron sonri tenuemente y cabece de nuevo. Gracias. Dijo con voz aguda. Cmo est George? Terrible, si me preguntas. Mascull el pelirrojo. Tiene sus das donde se ve bien, y das donde lucha por salir de la cama. Casi siempre est acostado. Duerme la mitad del da. Neville suspir y Ron continu. La peor parte es que parece haber perdido su humor. Es como que sin Fred el no supiera.. Bueno no s ser gracioso. Por ese motivo estoy aqu. Estoy ayudndolo en sus ventas por un ao, hasta cuando vuelva a recuperarse. El almacn ha estado yendo bien, las personas estn recuperando su furor por estas mercancas, despus de lo sucedido el ltimo ao. Pero los productos son los mismos del ao pasado. George no ha podido inventar nuevos chismes desde que Fred. La voz de Ron se quebr de nuevo. Lamento escuchar eso. Neville no saba que otra cosa decir. Senta su familiar vaci en el estomago por la culpa, la misma que no le haba permitido salir de la cama en los ltimos seis meses. El mismo sentimiento de autodestruccin que George Weasley estaba sintiendo. Aquello lo hizo desear ir directo a casa y enterrarse en su cama. Los dos chicos permanecieron en absoluto silencio, hasta que el sonido de la puerta de la tienda los sobresalt a ambos. Ser mejor que suba all. Puedes permanecer aqu hasta que te sientas mejor. No te vayas, De acuerdo? Estar aqu. Dijo Neville. Ron sali y Neville observ atentamente la oficina. Not que haba una pila de cajas contra una de las paredes y se sorprendi de ver que estaban llenas de cremanarios. Neville sonri recordando que el haba sido el primero al que George y Fred engaaron para que comiera uno, causando que su cuerpo entero se llenada de plumas amarillas. Neville Longbottom. Dijo una voz desde la puerta. Neville se volte y vio a George Weasley parado all. Hola George. Neville sonri tratando de no notar el hueco donde antes haba estado su oreja. Obviamente esto no funcion porque George volvi su cabeza con el hueco apuntando a la vista de Neville.

As tienes una mejor vista?. Pregunt sonriente. Uhm, no gracias. Neville arrug su nariz. Sobreproduccin de Cremanarios? Nahh.. . Contest. Las pusimos aqu por seguridad. Qu? Por qu? Ocurrieron algunos incidentes. Recuerdas como cayeron tus plumas pocos minutos despus de que aparecieran? Neville aprob con su cabeza. Bueno, continu George. evidentemente no todos los cuerpos funcionan igual. Algunas personas permanecieron con las plumas por das enteros hasta que tuvieron que ir a San Mungo para ser removidas. As que hasta que encuentre algo que remueva eficientemente las plumas no puedo venderlos. George suspir. Y t que haces por aqu? El rostro de neville se ilumin. Alguna vez has odo de amorilios pennatenta? Qu es eso? Es una planta. Es amarilla con pequeos botones blancos. Las personas que tienen pjaros como mascotas lo usan para aquellas aves que tienen dificultades en mudar su plumaje. T sabes, algunos pjaros tienen plumas muy gruesas para mudarlas y algunas veces es muy doloroso. Por este motivo lo alimentan con sus botones los cuales les ayudan a que el proceso de muda sea suave. Podras tratar de usarla como antdoto y venderlo con cada cremanario. Digo, tienes que probarlo primero, pero la planta no es venenosa en los humanos. George agarr una pluma y pergamino. Cmo es que se llama? Amorilios pennatenta. Comnmente conocida como Ivy amarilla, pero esto es en realidad un error, ellas no hacen parte de la familia de las Ivy. Dnde puedo conseguirla? Estoy cultivndola en mi jardn. Bueno, lo haca. No estoy seguro que tan bien a cuidado el jardn mi abuela. Pero el Ivy amarillo es muy adaptable, as que puede haber sobrevivido sin cuidados. George levant la vista de su escrito con curiosidad. Porqu no has estado trabajando en tu jardn?

No me he sentido con nimos. Neville carraspe. George asinti. Tom a Neville de los hombros y lo puso frente a frente. George se vea como si quisiera decir algo, pero zarande los hombros del chico y luego se volte. Hemos estado bajo mucha presin. Dijo suavemente Lo s. Contest el chico. Lo lamento. Sus ojos estaban fijos en sus pies. Que lamentas?. Pregunt George desconcertado. Pude haber manejado las cosas mejor. Neville suspir. Yo Su voz se quebr y tom entonces una profunda respiracin. Me siento impotente para hacer algo. Apenas si soy capaz de salir de mi cama, o incluso dormir. No puedo dejar de sentirme terriblemente culpable. No te sientas culpable. Todos manejan las cosas a su propia manera. No sabra como describirte como yo he manejado todo. Nunca s como voy a sentirme de un da para el otro. De un minuto al siguiente, en realidad En aquel momento Ron regres a la oficina y George cambi de tema, su voz sonaba alegre. As que Neville, Puedo comprarte algo de Ivy amarrillo? Podra traerte algo la prxima semana, si tengo todava. Si no, puedo enviarte algunas semillas y ensearte como hacerlas crecer en interiores. Podran estar listas para utilizarlas en slo tres meses. Pero no tienes que comprrmelas, si las necesitas son tuyas. Neville se puso en pie sintindose sorprendentemente mejor. Bueno, yo vine aqu por algo para mi to Algie. George y Ron siguieron a neville al frente de la tienda. Neville estaba maravillado preguntado por todos los productos y Ron iba paso a paso explicndole lo que cada uno haca. El chico estuvo ms que feliz cuando Ron le permiti probar varios de los artculos, mientras George lo observaba atentamente. Una vez Neville lo pill mirndolo. Hermione regres a Hogwarts a finalizar su sptimo ao. Harry y yo decidimos no hacerlo. Ambos vamos a presentarnos al programa de entrenamiento de aurores, pero decidimos descansar este ao. Ron cerca de l le murmuraba. Neville, aquellos son los sombreros cabeza invisibles, creo que tu to los amar. Y harry est haciendo ese raro viaje, tratando de encontrar familiares o algo, t sabes como son esas cosas de familia, creciendo como un hurfano y con Sirius muerto, est haciendo ese rbol genealgico a nivel mundial. Incluso dijo algo sobre hacer los pases con su horrible primo Muggle. Oh, y Luna est trabajando con el seor Ollivander, aprendiendo a ser una hacedora de varitas. Ginny termina en Hogwarts ste ao, es la capitana de Quidditch de Griffindor y las Holyhead Harpies estn interesadas en ella.

Uhm, que ms Si, Bill y Fleur tendrn un beb en pocos meses. Nuestra madre est que rebota de alegra porque va a tener un nieto. Ella desea tener como veinte nietos o algo as. Neville escuchaba todo y solo decauhmm jumm o De verdad? Mientras paseaban de aqu a all. Era interesante escuchar finalmente que todo el mundo haba seguido adelante. Pero l solo estaba concentrado en el regalo para su to Algie mientras George los segua con la vista. Ron continu. El prximo fin de semana es salida de Hogsmeade para los estudiantes de Hogwarts. Harry y yo vamos a ir a encontrarnos con Ginny y Hermione. Por qu no vienes? De verdad?. Neville pregunt. pero no puedo aparecerme all. Nunca tom mi examen. Ron lo mir detenidamente con rostro de desconcierto. Cmo Neville no deca nada y enrojeci, ron dijo. Bueno, est bien. Slo encontrmonos aqu y yo puedo dirigir tu aparicin. Ests seguro?. Neville pregunt. El chico no estaba seguro de que estaba listo para un da en Hogsmeade. Definitivo!. Dijo Ron entusiasmado Est bien entonces. Vendr aqu el sbado, le entregar la planta a George y podremos irnos. Suena bien compaero. Ron palmeando la espalda de Neville. Es bueno verte otra vez. Ron se alej para ayudar a otros clientes. George observ a Ron alejndose y entonces le coment a Neville. No tienes que ir si realmente no lo deseas. La gente podr entender. Todos los que lucharon el ao pasado, todos. Su voz se apag y entonces dijo pausadamente. todos estamos tomndolo da a da. Estar bien, de verdad. Neville le dijo a George. Siempre podr irme temprano. Probablemente sea bueno ver gente de nuevo. Cuando lo dijo no estuvo seguro si estara listo. George le sonri. As que Quieres el sombrero? Neville sostena el sombrero que los gemelos haban inventado.

Cuando lo pones en tu cabeza, tu cabeza, y solo ella, se hace invisible. Si Lo llevar. Neville le contest a George. Tmala entonces. No es necesario ningn pago. George le sonrea ampliamente a Neville. No. No puedo llevarlo sin pagarlo. Neville neg con su cabeza. Bien. Entonces esto cuesta una planta Ivy amarilla. La pondr en tu cuenta. Neville le devolvi la sonrisa a George y repentinamente sinti una punzada de vergenza. George murmur tomndolo del hombro. Escucha, estoy muy contento de que te sientas lo suficientemente bien para que vengas aqu. Si t me necesitas podemos hablar las veces que queras. Mi apartamento est arriba, est conectado a la red Floo. Neville lo mir sobre su hombro. No me estaba sintiendo lo suficientemente bien al principio, pero ahora me siento muchsimo mejor. Otro comprador entr en la tienda y George desliz su mano por el brazo del chico. Te ver el prximo fin de semana. Le gui a Neville y se volte a ayudar el cliente. Cuando Neville sala de la tienda solo pensaba, George Weasley realmente me gui el ojo?

II Neville gast mucho de su tiempo durante la siguiente semana haciendo cosas para sentirse mejor. Visit sus plantas en el jardn y en el pequeo invernadero que su abuela haba construido para l aos atrs. Su abuela haba atendido y mantenido admirablemente su jardn, pero el invernadero era otra historia. La mayora de las plantas del invernadero estaban completamente muertas, imposibles de ser revividas con agua o por algn medio mgico. Esto deprimi a Neville de volver a trabajar con las plantas que haba atendido con amor en lo que pareca otra vida. Sin embargo, una pequea parte de si mismo estaba esperanzada en que si todas aquellas plantas retoaban significara un nuevo inicio. Estaba aliviado de haber encontrado algunos tallos de Ivy amarrilla los cuales haban crecido con vitalidad. Era casi noviembre y estaba agradecido de que el invierno no hubiera llegado con fuerza, por lo que pudo obtener unos buenos tallos para George. Los plant en una pequea caja para cargarlas fcilmente atraves de la red Floo y las puso en el marco de su ventana donde permaneceran hasta el sbado. A ratos se encontraba a si mismo observando la planta y pensando en George, preguntndose lo que el chico haba vivido y el como se haba sentido. Las noche todava eran malas. Neville an sufra de serios ataques de insomnio. Todos aquellos clidos sentimientos del da se disipaban rpidamente en el atardecer y se encontraba a si mismo, cada noche, impvido en su cama, observando el techo con visiones de los cuerpos de Tonks, Lupin, Colin Creevy, Fred Weasley, y todos los dems cruzando por su mente. Cuando se cansaba de observar el techo, el chico se volva haca alguno de los lados, observando las desnudas paredes, o apreciando la puerta de la habitacin. Cuando esto no lo ayudaba a dormir, pona su almohada sobre su rostro y apretaba hasta que sus mejillas le quemaran y no pudiera aguantarlo ms. Entonces remova su almohada dando grandes bocanadas de aire. Casi siempre despus de hacer esto, se levantaba y sala de la casa para tomar una caminata para aclarar su mente. Generalmente volva a su cama antes del amanecer, caa rendido y menos de cuatro horas despus se despertaba para tomar su desayuno. El noche del viernes anterior a la del viaje a Hogsmeade con Ron, Neville le pregunt a su abuela si podra hacerle una pocin para dormir. Mirando el rostro de su nieto, cadavrico despus de seis meses de luchar con sus demonios internos, y con profundas ojeras bajos sus ojos, ella no pudo negarse. Su abuela no era fantica de los pociones para dormir, porque crea que ellas curaban un sntoma, pero no las causas de dichos desvelos. Sin embargo, era lo suficientemente

astuta para saber que slo el tiempo podra curar las causas del insomnio de su nieto. Mientras eso suceda, si necesitaba una pequea asistencia para tener un sueo decente cada cierto tiempo, ella no iba a privarlo de ello. Adems, observndolo trabajar en el jardn y el invernadero, estaba segura que segua el camino de recuperacin y que muy pronto no necesitara ninguna ayuda para dormir. De esta manera el viernes en la tarde, cuando las luces de la casa apenas se encendan, Neville se acost y su abuela le brind la pocin. El chico la bebi y en unos minutos fue consumido en un glorioso sueo libre de imgenes. Durmi como nunca antes lo haba hecho. El sbado lleg nublado y fro pero con la luz del sol brillando. Neville se despert despus de nueve horas de sueo, sintindose tan descansando como no poda recordar sentirse en ms de un ao. Incluso antes de la guerra haba tenido problemas para dormir. sentir miedo de ser atrapado mientras estaban en la sala de los menesteres del colegio no le propiciaba una larga noche de descanso. Se sent e su cama, bostezado, desperezndose y moviendo su cabeza en crculos, trabaj con ella hasta que escuch un chasquido en su cuello. Record su planta puesta en el alfeizar de la ventana y se levant inmediatamente. Hoy era el da. Hoy iba a entregarle la planta a George. Y tambin ir a Hogsmeade. Pero primero, George y su planta. Neville se visti rpidamente y corri escaleras abajo. Su abuela estaba preparando el desayuno, y le regal una gran sonrisa. Buena noche?. Pregunt La mejor. El chico se dirigi a ella y le dio un beso en la mejilla. Gracias por la pocin abuela. Necesitas esto. Desliz los huevos cerca del pan en un plato que estaba listo con tostadas y rebanadas de meln. Le tendi el plato a Neville. l comenz a devorar su desayuno. Hoy voy a volver al callejn Diagon, le dijo a su abuela. Le llevar algunas plantas a George Weasley quien podra necesitarlas para uno de sus productos. Entonces ir con Ron a Hogsmeade, donde nos encontraremos con Harry, Ginny y Hermione. Eso es realmente excelente, Neville. Estoy tan contenta de verte salir. Su alegra era increble. Comieron en silencio hasta que sus platos quedaron limpios. Entonces Neville recogi su plato fue al fregadero y empez a lavarlo. Vete. Le repuso su abuela posando su mano en su hombro. Yo limpiar. T vete a encontrarte con sus amigos.

Neville corri arriba, se lav sus dientes y se observ en el espejo. Ciertamente l se haba visto mejor, pero ya no se vea tan terrible. Se observ el cabello, ahora tan crecido que llegaba cerca de sus hombros. Corri sus dedos por el cabello pensando que podra dejarlo largo. Solamente tena una cicatriz visible en su mejilla, recuerdo de los abusos de los hermanos Carrows. Corri sus dedos sobre ella y suspir, recordando todas las veces que haba sido castigado por Amycus, quien sola usar un anillo cuadrado con la marca tenebrosa. Neville saba de sus otras cicatrices, una de ellas en su espalda. Pero para alguien que lo observara slo lograra ver una pequea cicatriz en su mejilla. Las cicatrices decan mucho de los Carrows, al menos haban utilizado el cerebro y le haban dejado marcas en lugares que cubra la ropa, sin contar por supuesto, con las cicatrices emocionales. *** George?. Llam Neville y camin dentro de la tienda de Sortilegios de los Weasley. La puerta de la oficina se abri y George Weasley pas por ella. El sonri ampliamente cuando not que era Neville. Era todava muy temprano en la maana y Neville era el nico en la tienda. George lo invit a pasar atrs y el chico lo sigui. En la pequea oficina, Neville puso la caja con el Ivy amarillo en el escritorio y con una pirueta de sus manos dijo: Aqu est, el Ivy amarrillo. Brillante. Dijo George. Cmo funciona? Neville carraspe. No tengo idea como funciona para humanos. Pero las personas que usan esto para los pjaros toman los botones los secan, pulverizan y los ponen dentro de las comidas de las aves. As que supongo que slo debes usar los botones. En quien vas a probarlo? George le regal una mirada de loco. Conmigo por supuesto. Fred y yo siempre probbamos los productos en cada uno de nosotros primero. Neville no dijo nada por un momento, pensando en Fred. George continu Por supuesto ahora necesitar a alguien ms. T sabes, en caso de que algo salga mal. Qu piensas acerca de esto Neville?. George parpade un poco y cuando lo hizo, el corazn de Neville dio un vuelco.

Tu quieres que probemos juntos esto?. Pregunt. Sus ojos se abrieron slo un poco. Claro!. George estaba todava sonriendo y mirando directamente a Neville a los ojos. Alguien tiene que hacerlo. Ron no confa en mi. Alguien debe aventurarse conmigo, alguien que me conozca y confe en m. Neville ri por lo bajo y George continu. Pero t Neville, t no sabes la mitad de lo que soy capaz de hacer. En aquel preciso momento, Neville contest: Seguro. Yo te ayudar a probar ste material contigo. Estaba ansioso por ver la mitad de las capacidades de George. Excelente. Contest juntando sus manos. Vamos a comenzar. Apenas salieron aquellas palabras de su boca, Ron lleg del apartamento de arriba. Tena un pedazo de tostada en la boca. Hey, Neville!. Dijo. Trozos de tostada salieron de su boca. Mantuvo su dedo en alta hasta que finalmente trag. Cuando mastic el ltimo trozo pregunt: Listo para irnos? Oh, si. Claro. Temporalmente se haba olvidado del asunto de Hogsmeade, y su ansiedad sbitamente retorn. Se volvi haca George. Me detendr de nuevo aqu ms tarde, antes de irme a casa. George cabece y le entreg una pequea bolsa en la mano. Polvos Floo. Para cuando te sientas enfermo de estar mirndolo. Apunt haca Ron. Y para cuando Hermione suelte cantaletas y Harry y Ginny se pongan muy animosos. Entonces t podrs venir aqu. Neville cabece, manteniendo su mano extendida haca George. l la mantuvo as hasta que Neville se alej. Al salir el chico pudo mirar de nuevo a George. Ron le ofreci su hombro, Neville guard la bolsa de polvos Floo en su bolsillo y se agarr. En un segundo se sinti presionado haca la oscuridad antes de aparecer en el centro de Hogsmeade. Ron! Neville!. Llam una voz excitada.

Ambos voltearon para ver a Hermione Granger corriendo haca ellos, su cabello castao despeinado por el viento. Ron abri sus brazos, pero Hermione corri derecho y envolvi a Neville con un abrazo de oso. Ron carraspe. Lgrimas corran por el rostro de Hermione. Neville, te hemos extraado. Su voz se volvi un susurro. Que has estado haciendo?. Demand. Neville se solt un poco de su abrazo. Culpndome. Le susurr en la oreja. Pero no le digas a nadie. Djalos pensar que estaba teniendo fantsticas aventuras. Hermione suspir y ri por lo bajo, sin dejarlo ir todava. Ests bien?. Pregunt. Su voz se filtr lentamente, mientras sus dedos corran sobre la cicatriz de su mejilla. El corazn de Neville se encogi. El toque de Hermione era confortable, haba sido bendecido con su amistad. Estoy en eso. Le asegur. Cuando finalmente se separaron, Neville mir alrededor y vio a Harry y Ginny caminado rpidamente haca ellos, tomados de la mano y sonriendo. Neville los abraz y cambiaron saludos, mientras iban de camino a las tres escobas, que a esa hora de la maana no estaba tan atestado de estudiantes como lo estara a la hora del almuerzo. Neville pens en el cabeza de cerdo y se dijo que deba ir a visitar a Aberforth en algn momento. Tomaron una mesa en una de las esquinas y Hermione fue a la barra a ordenar cervezas de mantequilla para todos. Neville estaba disfrutando el momento y la relajante conversacin, aunque no se senta completamente bien. Se preguntaba como Harry Potter poda levantarse cada maana. Despus de todo, Harry se haba enfrentado a cosas peores que l. Haba perdido a su padrino y muchos buenos amigos: Remus, Tonks y Fred, por nombrar algunos. Y pareca manejarlo todo de la mejor manera. Neville se pregunt acerca de la forma en que las personas manejaban los traumas. George no estaba bromeando acerca de que la relacin de Ron y Hermione fue construida en momentos difciles y de que Harry y Ginny no podan mantener sus manos lejos del otro. Incluso cuando Harry le explicaba a Neville sobre la investigacin histrica que estaba realizando de cada bruja y mago enterrado en el cementerio de Godric Hollow, buscaba maneras de mantener un constante contacto fsico con Ginny; sosteniendo su mano o agarrando sus brazos de manera posesiva o incluso jalando las puntas de su cabello. Quizs eso era. Quizs tener ese tipo de pasin por otra persona motivaba a Harry a salir de la cama cada maana.

Despus de diez minutos, Luna Lovegood entr en el tres escobas. Luna!. Clam Hermione. Ven y sintate aqu. Hermione movi su cuerpo para hacer un lugar a la derecha de Neville. Hola Neville. Dijo Luna. Cmo te ests sintiendo? Un poco mejor esta semana, Luna. Neville sonri. Cmo ests t? Oh, t sabes. Las cosas son bsicamente iguales. Hermione intercedi. Neville sabas que Luna fue nombrada prefecta? Y que tiene las ms altas notas en herbologa? Neville alz sus cejas. En verdad? Bueno, es muy impresionante. Contest educadamente. Luna, Hermione persista, t sabes que Neville siempre ha tenido un inters especial en herbologa? Si, lo saba. Dijo Luna serenamente. Ella se volvi haca Neville. Yo pienso que Hermione desea que tengamos una conversacin sobre herbologa, Neville. Todos en la mesa rieron y el rostro de Hermione se volvi rosa. Incluso Neville ri, pensando que era obvio lo que Hermione estaba haciendo, y aquello lo hizo sentir incmodo. Ella realmente deseaba que l y Luna salieran juntos. Entonces podran ser un pequeo six-pack. Tres adorables y cariosas parejas. Pero eso nunca sucedera. Luna no era su tipo. Neville suspir y Luna se volvi haca el y lo invit a la barra. Se levantaron, y Neville not como haba un brillo de deleite en el rostro de Hermione. Neville se llev su cerveza de mantequilla y pidi otra cerveza para Luna cuando se terminaron de acomodar en las butacas de la barra, tan lejos de la mesa como les fue posible. Yo pienso que Hermione quiere que nosotros seamos una pareja. Coment Luna con la misma calma con la cual siempre hablaba. Sus observaciones directas hacan que muchas personas se sintieran incomodas, pero Neville siempre las haba encontrado encantadoras y placenteras. Luna tena la cualidad

de hacer sentir a la gente como deban sentirse, y no como deberan hacerlo. Su cualidad de ser completamente honesta haca sus conversaciones muy interesantes. Puedes tener razn. Dijo Neville. El puso uno de sus dedos en el cuello de su cerveza de mantequilla y se concentr en el liquido restante de su botella. Pero no te ofenderas si no te invito a una cita, cierto? No. No me ofendera. De hecho s que eres gay. Dijo Luna simplemente. Neville puso su botella en la barra y se volvi haca ella. Cmo es posible que t sepas eso? Nunca se lo he dicho a nadie. Luna le sonri. No tenas que haberme dicho nada para saberlo. Yo slo presto atencin a mis amigos, y not que nunca mirabas a ninguna chica bonita. Pero observabas ms de una vez a los chicos apuestos. Algunas veces ms de dos. Neville se sonros. Bueno, eso es muy caracterstico de ti. Crees que alguien ms lo haya notado?. Trat de sonar calmado. No. Hermione no podra notarlo a menos de que recientemente se haya ledo un libro llamado Como sabes si un mago es gay o algo as. Ella es inteligente, pero le falta un poco de perspicacia. Y Ron y Harry bueno t sabes que los chicos heteros no son muy detallistas. Me preocupa sin embargo Ginny. Podra saberlo. Pero ella ltimamente no piensa en nada ms que en Harry y el Quidditch. Siii. Neville cabece. Buena suerte a esos dos. Se pusieron a observarlos por un momento, acaramelados en una esquina, mientras Ron y Hermione permanecan ligeramente juntos uno del otro. Neville not cuando la mano de Ginny desapareci bajo la mesa rumbo a la pierna de Harry. Harry le dej a Ginny la capa de invisibilidad y el mapa del merodeador y se escapa de la escuela un par de noches a la semana para encontrarse con Harry en la habitacin del segundo piso del cabeza de cerdo. Coment Luna mientras seguan observando a esos dos. De verdad?. A Neville le fascin aquella informacin. l haba sido muy cercano a Ginny durante el sptimo ao. Ellos dos haban sido el blanco favorito de los Carrows, quienes estaban convencidos de que Ginny y Neville saban donde estaba Harry Potter.

El chico se volvi haca Luna, y por la esquina del ojo vio a Harry y Ginny levantarse. Volvi la vista y los vio caminar fuera de las tres escobas, con una saludo haca ellos. Neville les devolvi el saludo y sonri. Bien por Ginny, pens Neville, contemplando la posibilidad de contarle a George aquello o no. George. Neville realmente quera regresar con l. Espero que no te ofendas si me voy ahora Luna. No vas a irte a deprimir de nuevo.. O si? Pregunt. Incluso sus preguntas eran muy honestas. No. Neg con su cabeza. Voy a ir a ayudar a George Weasley con algo. Oh, eso es bueno. Luna bebi de su cerveza de mantequilla. Dile a George que le envo saludos. Yo voy al Caldero Chorreante, creo que una colonia de jvenes escarabajos espinosos rondan por all. Quiero encontrarlos. Neville se despidi de Luna y la beso en la mejilla. Por primera vez en mucho tiempo mientras Neville sala, no sinti aquella conocida presin en sus hombros. La tienda estaba a reventar con los tpicos compradores de fin de semana cuando Neville regres. George estaba en el mostrador, realizando algunas cuentas pero not inmediatamente cuando Neville atraves la puerta. Hizo un sea con su mano, pidiendo al chico esperar un momento. Neville camin por el almacn, sonriendo ante los recuerdos que le causaban muchos de los productos para la venta, cajas mordedoras, pigmeos rosados y otros ms. El chico not que Angelina Jonson estaba detrs del mostrador ayudando a George. Se pregunt si habra algo entre ellos dos. Los pensamientos de Neville corrieron sin querer al ocasional encuentro que haban tenido Angelina y Fred en la esquina ms oscura de la sala comn de Griffindor. Pasaron algo ms de veinte minutos hasta que finalmente el gento se disperso. George sali de detrs del mostrador. Neville! Tan rpido regresaste? Neville cabece. Fui y los salud, pero no tena mucho que hacer por all. George sonri.

Vamos. Invit a Neville a seguirlo haca la oficina detrs del mostrador. Cuando llegaron all, George tom el Ivy amarrillo y camin escaleras arriba haca su apartamento. Angelina puede cuidar la tienda por un rato. Cmo est Angelina?. Pregunt Neville esperando obtener algo de informacin sobre la naturaleza de la relacin que George mantena con ella. George balance su cabeza. Bien. Ella siempre ha sido muy activa y viene aqu a ayudarme cuando Ron no puede. Aquella no era el tipo de informacin que Neville estaba buscando, pero decidi dejarlo as. Lo sigui hasta el final de la escaleras. En la cima de las escaleras haba una puerta de estilo antiguo. Obviamente tena su puerta sin seguro, porque abri la puerta apenas gir la manija. Neville cruz aquella puerta y observ alrededor. El lugar era una larga y cuadrada habitacin, haba en ella una acogedora chimenea donde unas pocas brazas todava chispeaban. Un sobrecargado sof rojo se hallaba frente a la chimenea. El resto de cosas de la habitacin se hallaban apiladas sobre una gran mesa de trabajo en una larga columna que pareca basura vista de lejos. All haban algunas plantas secas, escarabajos y dixxies disecados, elementos sospechosos, empaques y cpsulas vacas, hojas de trabajo y otra cantidad de piezas similares. Todo ello se hallaba cubierto por una capa de polvo, lo que le sugiri a Neville que Ron haba estado en lo correcto al decirle que George no haba estado trabajando es sus productos. Te gustara tomar un tour? Pregunt George. Seguro. sta es mi habitacin de trabajo, Obviamente. Neville sigui a George a lo largo del pasillo lejos del cuarto de trabajo. George abri la primera puerta. ste es el despacho. Abri la segunda puerta. sta es mi habitacin. George cerr rpidamente la puerta y no le permiti una buena ojeada a Neville. Entonces George abri la tercera puerta. sta es.. era la habitacin de Fred.

El pasillo se termin en una puerta que mostraba una brillante y soleada cocina. George empez a buscar en los cajones de los cubiertos y finalmente sac una copa y un mortero. Debera mantenerlos siempre en mi mesa de trabajo. Dijo pensativamente. As que que vamos a hacer?. Dijo George despus de haber regresado al cuarto de trabajo y haber removido con su varita el polvo de la mesa. Ni idea. Admiti Neville. Bueno. Expres George afablemente. Slo debemos arriesgarnos a la prueba y el error, Correcto? Y empez a arrancar los botones de la Ivy amarrilla y triturarlos con el mortero en la copa. En instantes un claro lquido amarillo empez a salir de los botones. Se supone que esto debe sucedes?. Pregunt George a Neville. Neville solt una carcajada. Ni idea. George no pudo resistirse y se ri tambin. Correcto entonces.. supongo que yo ser el primer conejillo de indias. George le dio a Neville un cronmetro. Toma el tiempo en cuanto se tardan mis plumas en caer. George tom una de las cajas de cremanario de debajo de la mesa y la abri. Tom una profunda respiracin Aqu vamos murmur y se tom toda la caja en un instante. Mastic lentamente, y an con la boca llena dijo: Tiene un sabor realmente bueno. Y se cubri de plumas amarillas en todo su cuerpo. Neville puls el botn del cronmetro. Ambos se mantuvieron en silencio. Despus de dos minutos y treinta y siete segundos las plumas empezaron a caer y George estaba libres de ellas veinte segundos despus. Algunas personas se quedan emplumadas?. Pregunt Neville George cabece y abri otro cremanario. De acuerdo, el tiempo otra vez. Neville resete el cronmetro y esper mientras George coma la segunda crema. Por segunda vez en aquel da, plumas amarillas cubrieron el cuerpo de George. sta vez inmediatamente despus de tragar la crema, col el contenido de la copa y lo verti directo en su boca, haciendo horribles gestos en el proceso. Tan pronto como George trag aquel lquido, las plumas empezaron a caer de su cuerpo.

Neville detuvo el cronmetro. Cuarenta y dos segundos!. Exclam el chico. Caray George Yo cre que funcion. George saltaba arriba y abajo. SI!. Tom a Neville de sus hombros. Lo hicimos Neville. Se acerc al chico y le plant un hmedo beso en los labios. Neville estaba tan asombrado que no tuvo tiempo de devolverle el beso. El beso termin unos pocos segundos despus y George dio la vuelta y volvi a su trabajo sobre la mesa, hablando rpidamente como un manitico. Nosotros podramos hace algo, T sabes? Con esta Ivy amarilla. Pienso que debera llamar a los compradores que tuvieron problemas con las plumas y ofrecerles algn incentivo dorado para que vuelvan a probar el cremanario con Ivy amarilla. Quiz podra ofrecerme a pagar por sus estadas en San Mungo si no funciona. Es mejor obtener ms Ivy amarilla supongo. En el momento en que George ya balbuceaba, Neville se acerc a la puerta. Se recost en la puerta mientras se paseaba los dedos sobre los labios. Qu exactamente haba significado aquel beso de George? Cuando George se tranquiliz, not el nerviosismo de Neville. Entonces habl desde la mesa de trabajo Lo lamento Neville. Lo dijo en un susurro y Neville no estuvo seguro de haberlo escuchado correctamente. Est bien. Neville le contest con una voz tenue y quebradiza, hacindolo sentir avergonzado. Tengo que irme. Habl un poco ms alto. George se volvi haca l. NO! Espera Lo lamento yo solo no lo har de nuevo. bueno? Acaso eres...?. Neville no pudo continuar. Qu?. George repentinamente miraba a todas partes menos a Neville. Te gusta eso? Te gustan los tipos?

El sonrojo en el rostro de George fue tan inmediato que dej a Neville fuera de guardia. Cabece comprensivamente. Oh. Neville habl lentamente. Se escuch a si mismo diciendo: Yo tambin!. Luna fue la primera persona a quien se lo admiti. No pens que lo tendra que admitir de nuevo tan rpidamente. Creo... Dijo George. Ambos se mantuvieron all, congelados en el momento. No hablaron, slo se miraban uno al otro. Las manos de George en sus bolsillos mientras se meca adelante y atrs. Neville todava estaba recostado en la puerta. Ambos queran decir algo, pero estaban aterrados de decir nada. As que. Dijo George. As que . Repiti Neville. Se miraron a los ojos y empezaron a rer en medio de la incomodidad. Neville decidi hacer algo completamente extrao viniendo de l. Slo habl. Puedes hacerlo de nuevo.. bueno, si t quieres. Si?. Pregunt George. uhmmmm . Neville cabece. Muy bien, entonces.

III George dio un paso tentativo haca Neville, mordiendo sus labios nerviosamente. Cuando finalmente lleg junto a la puerta, se inclin y presion sus labios suavemente sobre los de Neville. Neville estaba esperando y respondi al beso inmediatamente. George presion su cuerpo contra el de Neville, causando que el pomo de la puerta se clavara en su espalda. Pero a Neville eso no le importaba. Su cuerpo estaba cantando, impertrrito haca el dolor. Estuvieron all besndose por varios minutos. Neville pas su brazo sobre el hombro de George, mientras l pona las suyas en su cuello y deslizaba lentamente sus dedos por su cabello. Sus bocas se abran y se cerraban al comps de las respiraciones. Repentinamente se apartaron cuando llamaron a la puerta. George?. La voz de Angelina Johnson se escuch clara. Tenemos mucha gente aqu abajo. Bajar en seguida. Contest George. George mir a Neville, cuyos labios estaban rojos y parecan latir. Todo lo que el chico deseaba era estar all y besar aquellos labios una y otra vez. Pero los negocios eran los negocios. Tengo que bajar. Dijo a modo de disculpa. Est bien. Dijo Neville. Tal vez deba irme. l no deseaba hacerlo. No! No!. George insisti. Permanece aqu. Subir lo ms pronto posible. Bien. Neville accedi. George sali y baj las escaleras, mientras Neville tomaba conciencia de todo y se sent en el sof. Estaba respirando apresuradamente, tratando de comprender todo lo que haba sucedido. l saba que era gay haca mucho tiempo. Realmente desde los doce aos, cuando haba sufrido un horrible enamoramiento haca Harry Potter. Despus de cinco aos haba superado aquel sentimiento y empez a ver a Harry como un gran amigo. Tambin haba desarrollado cierto afecto haca los gemelos Weasley, quienes eran mucho ms de lo que aparentaban ser: ruidosos, compinches, amigos de todo el mundo. Ellos eran todo lo que Neville no era. Por esta razn nunca tuvo expectativas de saber que uno de ellos

fuese gay, aunque en la ltima semana se haba estado preguntando sobre George, particularmente despus del guio que le haba regalado. ste haba sido el primer beso de Neville, y esperaba estar hacindolo bien. Repentinamente empez a ser consciente acerca de sus habilidades para besar, pero segn la reaccin de George pareca estar hacindolo bien. Neville se recost en el sof y cerr sus ojos. l no quera hacer eso. No quera sobreanalizar todo. No quera tener demasiadas expectativas hasta saber que era lo que George buscaba. Ms besos? Un poco de sexo? Una relacin? Neville se levant del sof. Dios, una relacin. Alto. Se dijo a si mismos. No dejes que tus expectativas te sobrepasen. Neville necesitaba dejar de pensar. Necesitaba hacer algo que lo mantuviera ocupado. Camin a lo largo del apartamento. Entr en el despacho, el cual era pequeo pero limpio. Se salt el cuarto de Fred, pero abri la puerta de la habitacin de George. La habitacin tena un buen tamao, mucho del cual estaba ocupado por una gran cama de cuatro postes, no como las de sus habitaciones en Hogwarts, sino mucho ms grande. Sobre ella haba un cubre-lechos borgoa y oro, y cerca de diez almohadas. Neville se pregunt quien podra necesitar tantas almohadas. Las paredes estaban desnudas, a excepcin de una fotografa de la familia Weasley de varios aos y un pster de equipo de Quidditch de Griffindor. Las personas en ambas imgenes empezaron a gesticular agresivamente cuando Neville entr en la habitacin cuidadosamente. Neville observ de cerca la foto de la familia Weasley. A diferencia de la mayora de las personas, el nunca tuvo problema en reconocer a Fred o a George. Aunque se vieran o reflejaran cierta actitud, la mayora de las personas cercanas consideraban Fred y a George como uno solo, y en muchas formas ellos lo eran. Al estar siempre juntos daban la sensacin a muchos de que eran una sola mquina; Gred o Forge, o de la manera en que quisieran llamarlos. Pero Neville siempre haba reconocido a George por la silueta de sus hombros y a Fred por el hecho de que era un Don Juan incurable. George al contrario tena ms dificultades incluso tratando de mantener un simple contacto visual. Aquel era el tipo de detalles que Neville notaba de la gente. De hecho cuando Neville reflexionaba en ello, se sorprenda de no haber considerado que George pudiese ser gay, sino hasta la semana anterior. Siempre crea que su identidad le ayudara a reconocer y a leer a las personas, a ver pistas sobre la homosexualidad en otros, pero Neville haba permanecido sin sospechar nada. Adems siempre haba estado convencido de que ser gay era un castigo que condenaba a las personas a vivir una vida solitaria. Neville se preguntaba tambin si George se lo habra dicho a Fred alguna vez. Crea que si. Odiaba pensar en que Fred haba muerto sin saber lo que su gemelo realmente era; que George nunca se haba sincerado con su hermano, con su mejor amigo. Neville camin fuera de la habitacin de George y cerr la puerta cuidadosamente. Contino en su camino hasta la cocina. Cuando entr all experiment una sensacin que lo hizo sentirse repentinamente en casa.

Busc cubos de hielo y tazas y se encontr haciendo bebidas y panques. Metdicamente y usando su varita por primera vez en meses, Neville prepar el almuerzo para George y para l. Justo Neville haba terminado el almuerzo cuando George entr aparatosamente en el apartamento. Lamento el ruido. Se disculp. sta bien. Neville le asegur. Es tu casa. Mira he preparado algo para comer. Gracias no debiste hacerlo. Neville movi su cabeza. Fue un placer. Neville y George se sentaron a la mesa en un silencio algo incmodo. Ambos ya iban a la mitad de su plato cuando George le susurr. Te agradezco la visita de la semana pasada Neville. Muchas personas se han estado preguntando donde estabas. Neville se sonroj y murmur. Solamente no me senta muy bien saliendo por ah. No te culpes. Dijo George. Pero rayos Neville, tu eres famoso. Neville ro con amargura. Lo s. Ahora recibo correos de fanticos, y un folder lleno de ofertas de trabajo. Pero no quiero hacer nada de eso. Pero Neville, tienes que hace algo. No puedes slo vivir una vida falsa el resto de t vida en la casa de tu abuela. No quiero ninguna de esas cosas. Muri gente. Recibo correos y peticiones para entrevistas y ofertas de trabajo por aquella gente que muri. Es enfermizo. George observ a Neville fijamente. Fred querra que tomaras ventaja de la situacin. l pensara que ests actuando como un maldito idiota dejando pasar todas estas oportunidades. An as Neville dijo. No las quiero. Entonces, Qu es lo que quieres? George estaba haciendo frente a Neville y l se lo agradeci. Nadie le haba cuestionado su deseo de permanecer en la cama por meses. Su abuela haba sido muy complaciente

por permitirle a su nieto encerrarse en su mundo y dejarlo al margen del mundo real. Pero quizs era necesario que se enfrentara a la realidad del mundo. Neville se atragant. No lo s. No s para que estoy cualificado. Encontrar una espada en un sombrero y matar una serpiente no me califica realmente para algo. Eso slo significa que soy un maldito suertudo. George se recost en su silla y le sonri a Neville. Creo que tengo lo apropiado para ti. Herb Ignatius tiene un invernadero y una enfermera que es donde yo compro las plantas que necesito para mis productos. Est buscando ayudantes. Donde es eso? En Wales. No he aprobado mi examen de aparicin. No puedo ir a Wales. Toma el examen. George, Neville se detuvo y pens. No es que no aprecie esto, es slo que nunca consegu aparecerme desde el sexto ao. No soy muy bueno en ello. Puedes mejorar, yo puedo ayudarte. Neville suspir contrariado. T podras ayudarme? George sonri. Fue la sonrisa ms grande que Neville haba visto. Me encantara hacerlo. Neville termin el ltimo trozo de su plato y aprob con su cabeza. Hagmoslo. *** Con el entrenamiento retornaron los problemas que Neville haba tenido durante su sexto aos en Hogwarts, uno de los muchos problemas de su vida. As que el asunto fue tratado de manera confidencial. Al principio Neville no pudo aparecerse en lo absoluto, incluso con la ayuda de George. Pero George result ser un maestro paciente, mucho mejor que el instructor del colegio,

y en apenas dos das Neville haba conseguido aparecerse un metro. ste logro fue recompensado por un beso de George. Por supuesto, la mayora de sus fallos tambin haban sido recompensados con besos. Tanto Neville como George nunca hablaron acerca de lo que estaban haciendo, cual era el significado de aquellos besos. Ellos slo se dieron tiempo. Una vez que Neville logr aparecerse de manera regular, envi una lechuza con una peticin al ministerio para tomar el examen. Recibi la respuesta al da siguiente notificndole el da y la hora del examen. La programaron para cuatro das despus. En la maana del examen Neville se despert temprano. Prepar su propio desayuno y dej la casa antes de que su abuela se despertara. Dej una nota crptica dicindole que tena cosas que hacer, lo cual no sorprendi a su abuela, ya que Neville no haba pasado mucho tiempo en casa en las ltimas dos semanas. Su abuela nunca le preguntaba donde iba, pues pensaba que hacerlo sera como echarle un hechizo que lo regresara a la seguridad de su cama. Neville camin cerca de la estacin del metro Muggle y tom la entrada de visitantes del ministerio. l no lo haba visitado desde el fin del curso del quinto ao. En general se vea igual, o quizs un poco ms brillante. Pero crey que era su imaginacin. Camin hasta la entrada principal donde chequearon su varita y recibi una tarjeta con su nombre. Fue directamente hasta el pasillo localizado a la derecha del vestbulo donde se realizaran los exmenes de aparicin. Camin por el pasillo siguiendo los carteles que indicaban el saln de la prueba. Fue el primero en llegar, y lo hizo incluso antes que el examinador. Suspir impaciente y tom asiento en una de las sillas del pasillo. Para calmar sus nervios tom su varita y deslizandola haca uno de las patas de su silla, la haca echar chispas rojas de vez en cuando. Finalmente un mago pequeo y calvo con anteojos negros y una tnica rojo brillante se present visiblemente avergonzado. Lamento la tardanza. Se disculp sonrojndose frente a Neville. Eres t el primero en tomar el examen? Si seor. Respondi Neville. El mago abri la puerta y Neville lo sigui dentro de un gran saln, del tamao similar al de media cancha de baloncesto. La habitacin tena un piso negro brillante y estaba completamente despejada, salvo por un escritorio lleno de documento en una de sus esquinas. Muy bien. Dijo el mago. Mi nombre es Lexeter Brame y tomar t examen de aparicin el da de hoy. Puedo ver tu varita? Neville le entreg su varita al mago quien la examin cuidadosamente. Se ve bien y en orden. Dijo alegremente devolviendo la varita.

Lexeter hizo una pirueta con su propia varita y conjur una tablilla llena de documentos y una pluma. Cul es tu nombre? Neville Longbottom. Lexeter lo observ sobre su tablilla. Rayos! Eres en realidad Neville Longbottom? Uno de los que ayud a derrocar a quien t sabes? Neville cabece incomodo. Si, ese soy yo. Lexeter sorprendido arque sus gruesas cejas. Bueno, es un placer conocerlo seor Longbottom. Por un instante Neville no comprendi que Lexeter estaba hablando con l. A l nunca le haban hablado de seor en toda su vida. Llmame Neville. Fue todo lo que respondi. Correcto, Neville. Lexeter segua sorprendido. Ejem.... Exclam Neville mirando la tablilla. Alguna otra pregunta? Oh!. Lexeter baj la mirada a sus documentos. Edad? Diecinueve. Graduado? No. No complet mi sptimo ao. Lo completar? Es necesario para el examen? Quizs. Necesitamos saber si todava es un estudiante. Generalmente el colegio nos enva los requerimientos de cada estudiante que legalmente puede aparecerse. De sta forma si est planeando regresar al colegio necesitamos notificar a la profesora McGonagall. Bueno... probablemente no regresar. Muy bien.

Lexeter camin al otro lado del gran saln. Neville quiso seguirlo. T permanece aqu. Cuando lleg al otro lado del saln Lexeter tom su varita e hizo un gran crculo en el piso frente a l. T primera prueba es aparecerte en ste crculo. Neville se concentr de la forma en que George le haba enseado. Adentrndose en la bruma y escuchando un sonoro POP. Sbitamente se encontr movindose a travs del espacio y reapareciendo dentro del crculo. Cuando la prueba continu Neville se senta mucho ms confiando y seguro. Se apareci junto a Lexeter en la periferia de la ciudad de Londres; en el campo baldo que sirvi de asentamiento para la copa mundial de Quiddicth cinco aos atrs; en Hogsmeade, y finalmente de regreso al saln del examen. Con lo tips de George Neville hizo todo perfectamente. Excelente muchacho, Lexeter le felicit. realmente un buen trabajo. No habr ningn problema para darte la licencia. Lexeter meti su nariz dentro de los documentos que haban en su tablilla una vez ms, escribi unas pocas lneas y finalmente le entreg un documento a Neville. Ve al saln 120, all te darn la licencia. Se senta pleno de entusiasmo y felicidad, un sentimiento que no senta haca ms de un ao. Y Su felicidad permaneci porque tenan con quien compartir las buenas noticias. *** George an permaneca dormido. De hecho aquella no era tcnicamente la verdad, se hallaba en un punto en el cual se encontraba en duermevela, entre dormido y despierto. No estaba listo para levantarse an, pero saba que deba hacerlo. Enojado deseaba permanecer en aquel pacifico sueo que haba estado teniendo. Pero la luz que se colaba a travs de sus prpados le sugeran que tendra que abrir el almacn en menos de una hora. Repentinamente salt completamente despierto despus de escuchar un sonoro POP. George se sent en su cama y rpidamente busc a travs de la habitacin hasta que encontr a Neville en los pies de su cama con una gran sonrisa en su rostro. Neville!. Exclam Neville le ofreci una pequea tarjeta.

Lo hice. Pas mi examen de aparicin. T nunca me dijiste que ibas a tomar el examen. Dijo George algo ofendido. Neville sonri un poco avergonzado. Quera que fuera una sorpresa.. t sabes.. en caso de fallar George levant las cobijas y palme la cama. Ven aqu. Neville se quit los zapatos y salt a la cama junto a George. Le dio un besos en los labios. Gracias por ayudarme. George le devolvi el beso con entusiasmo. Fue un placer hacerlo. As haban trascurrido las semanas pasadas. Neville encontraba razones para visitar a George y l encontraba razones para subir a su apartamento durante las horas de trabajo. All ellos gastaban su tiempo besndose apasionadamente. Por supuesto ellos tambin hablaban y bromeaban, almorzaban y coman. Pero eran los besos lo que ms buscaba Neville. Pero aquella situacin fue algo de lo que nunca hablaron. Todo se dio de forma natural. Neville deseaba hablar de ello, preguntar a George sobre que lo que hacan exactamente, cual era su relacin. Pero tema que pudiera arruinar las cosas. Mientras todo avanzaba estaba completamente feliz de que besar a George. sta vez pens que era diferente. Estaban en la cama, acostados. Ambos estaban a la expectativa de aquella cosa que haban iniciado, fuese una relacin o algo ms. Sentan que repentinamente todo se estaba poniendo serio. George dorma con unos pantalones de pijama. Eso era todo. Sin camisa, medias o ropa interior; slo pantalones. Neville en cambio se hallaba bien vestido, ropa interior, medias, pantalones y una camisa con una estrella amarilla. Neville se senta terriblemente sobre-vestido. Pero era una situacin que pensaba remediar. Mantuvo sus labios junto a los de George mientras suba su camisa, y slo rompi aquel beso cuando la levant. George se la ayud a jalar cuando se le enred en la cabeza. Neville se quit tambin las medias y regres buscando los labios de George. Trataba de mantener sus caderas separadas varios centmetros de las de George. Se senta intimidado que George se enterase en que se estaba convirtiendo aquel beso. Pero Neville dej de preocuparse cuando sbitamente George presion sus caderas. Sinti la ereccin de George, por lo cual no senta ningn problema, cuando repentinamente tuvo la suya.

Neville resopl cuando George le jal de la pretina del pantaln. stas bien?. Susurr George. Si.... Dijo Neville. Slo.... Se detuvo. Qu sucede?. Pregunt George. Nunca he hecho esto antes. Una tierna sonrisa se desliz por el rostro de George. No pasa nada. Puedo dirigirte. Si? Quizs pueda ensearte algunas cosas. Neville solt una risita nerviosa y comprendi que haba sonado como una chica. Tap su boca con las manos. George ri sonoramente. Dios, eso fue muy lindo. Beso a Neville en el cuello. Afuera en el pasillo Neville escuch el agua del bao correr. Se sent asustado en la cama. George Gru. Ron se qued aqu anoche. Estuvimos hasta tarde realizando un inventario. sta en la habitacin de Fred. Neville y George escucharon en silencio los pasos de Ron caminando a lo largo del pasillo. Entonces toc a su puerta. George empuj a Neville bajo la cobija y puso almohadas encima de l antes de continuar. Si? Puedo entrar? Esto... No... estoy desnudo. Neville solt una risita. Qu? Y que? Cmo si nunca te hubiera visto desnudo antes. Ron hizo una pausa que George no contest. Slo quiero que te levantes. La tienda abre en media hora y me tengo que ir temprano para salir con Hermione. Bien. Estoy despierto. George escuch los pasos de Ron dirigindose a la cocina antes de correr las cobijas. Mir a Neville y sonri.

Continuamos?. Susurr. Neville movi su cabeza y lentamente se baj de la cama. Se visti y le dio un beso de despedida a George antes de desaparecerse con un sonoro POP. George vio a Neville desaparecer y entonces de dirigi a la cocina a tomar el desayuno con Ron. Alguien desapareci? Pregunt Ron. Qu? No! Si... Ron mova su cabeza mientras coma un esponjoso omelet. Escuch el sonido... alguien se desapareci en t habitacin. Quin era? Estuviste con una chica anoche? George cepill con su mano el cabello rojo de Ron. Hermanito, si hubiese estado con una chica anoche t nunca lo sabras. Ven.. . Pidi Ron. Cuntame. George observ a Ron condescendientemente. Hblame sobre Hermione. Sobre ella?. Ron mascull. Quieres decir que la has besado pero nunca t... Hermione me matara. George simplemente sonri y empez a preparar t.


Era todava muy temprano cuando Neville regres a su casa, aparecindose fcilmente frente al porche. Cuando entr, su abuela ya estaba despierta, aunque an utilizaba su bata levantadora. En aquel momento preparaba su desayuno usual: t, huevos, tostadas y meln. Neville se aproxim a ella y le dio un beso en la mejilla. Su abuela sonri. Ella haba notado que su nieto haba tenido una gran mejora, pues haba mejorado su semblante en las pasadas dos semanas; a pesar, de que tarde en la noche, poda escuchar sus murmullos y sentirlo cuando se volteaba en la cama, tratando de conciliar el sueo. No tena idea alguna de haca a donde iba cada maana despus de levantarse, pero no quera preguntarle. Neville era ya un adulto y ella confiaba en que l se lo dira cuando estuviera listo. Te tengo una sorpresa. Dijo Neville. Si?. Pregunt su abuela. Neville busc en sus bolsillos y sac su nueva licencia. Aprob mi examen de aparicin. Dijo sosteniendo la licencia frente a ella. Su abuela lo observ sorprendida. Neville!. Exclam. Tom la licencia y la observ cuidadosamente. No saba que ibas a hacer esto. Neville carraspe incomodo, tornndose prpura. George Weasley me coment sobre un puesto de trabajo en un invernadero en Wales. Tena que hacer esto, seal la licencia en las manos de su abuela, si quera conseguir ese trabajo. Trabajo!. Pregunt sorprendida. Eso es excelente Neville. Tom el rostro de su nieto entre sus manos. Estoy tan orgullosa de ti. Sintate, preparar algo de desayuno.

Neville se sent obedientemente y muy quieto, escuchando a medias la charla de su abuela sobre Wales, las apariciones y la vida de las plantas. Al finalizar su abuela puso un planto frente a l y tom asiento. Porqu ests tan callado Neville? Tengo algo que decirte. Muy bien. Qu sera eso? Es algo, que no es fcil de decir. Ests enfermo? No! No! Nada de eso. Neville dud. Es solo... tuve alguna ayuda cuando aprend a aparecerme. George Weasley me ense. Bueno, esto est bien. Contest su abuela claramente confundida. Los Weasley son una amorosa familia de magos. Si.... Neville respondi apocado. l saba que los Weasley eran amorosos y tiernos, pero ese no era en realidad el punto de aquel asunto. Su abuela era la persona ms importante de su vida, y eso se deba a que ella haba estado junto a l desde que era un nio, siempre lo haba amado incondicionalmente y siempre haba podido confiar en ella. Saba que se haba esforzando mucho sacndolo adelante. Frente a todos estos pensamientos, finalmente dio un profundo respiro. Bueno.. es que he pasado mucho tiempo en estas dos semanas con George. De acuerdo, not que te ibas de la casa muy temprano. Contest su abuela con certeza. Neville se paraliz por algunos momentos. Dio un mordisco a su tostada y entendi entonces que aquello haba sido una mala idea cuando su garganta seca por la ansiedad casi no le permiti tragar. Tom un sorbo de t para que bajara, pero esto no le ayud con su problema. Sinti que su garganta se raspaba cuando finalmente la tostada baj. Neville. Su abuela baj su tenedor y lo puso sobre la mesa. Me puedes decir que sucede? Soy gay. Neville dio un pequeo mordisco, esta vez al huevo. Y George es?. Aventur ella. Tambin gay. Neville cabece.

As que ustedes dos estn.... Su abuela no estaba segura de como terminar aquella frase. Si, estamos. Estoy contenta de que me lo contaras. Ests enojada? Neville por supuesto que no estoy enojada. De hecho no estoy completamente sorprendida. Tena sospechas desde hace un tiempo que eras gay. Las tenas? El hecho de que Luna y su abuela lo sospecharan hizo preguntarse a Neville si l era un persona realmente tan transparente. Neville, bueno, yo slo deseo que seas feliz. Haz sufrido unos momentos difciles en estos ltimos meses y estoy encantada de verte feliz nuevamente. Y si tu cambio fue causado por George Weasley, ser apropiado agradecerle. Invtalo a cenar. Qu dices? Cmo? Cenar?. Neville nunca esper oir eso. Su abuela se vea un tanto exageradamente feliz, y pensaba que estaba sobreactuando. Adems Neville no estaba completamente seguro de que una cena con su abuela era lo que George quera. Diablos, de hecho l nunca estuvo seguro de que pensaba George de su abuela. Hablar con l sobre el tema. Su abuela no contino con el asunto, pues en su fuero interno tena conflictos que nunca le permiti saber a Neville. En una mano, esta situacin no era para ella una gran sorpresa. Ella vio a travs de los aos, que Neville tena vagas miradas haca magos que saba eran simpticos, lo cual incrementaba cuando estos eran realmente apuestos. Por dentro se senta dividida, y una de esas mitades siempre tuvo la esperanza de que aquello slo fuese una fase. Pero cuando Neville se hizo adolescente y no hizo mencin a sus gustos o enamoramientos, empez a sospechar con ms exactitud lo que era su nieto. Aunque el asunto de ser gay no le molestaba realmente mucho. Lo que le molestaba de esto era, que a incluso en el mundo mgico existan prejuicios contra los magos y brujas gays, y le molestaba que su tmido, callado y tierno nieto pudiera sufrir algn tipo de ataque u ofensa. Adems, en el fondo de su corazn le molestaba un poco que aquello podra significar el final de la lnea familiar Longbottom, a menos que Neville cambiara, nunca podra engendrar un retoo. Sin embargo, ella dej de lado aquellos pensamientos dejando asomar una gran sonrisa falsa a su rostro.

*** Cenar?. George le pregunt aquella tarde, cuando Neville le habl sobre su conversacin con su abuela. El almacn se hallaba solo despus de que la ltima oleada de personas se haba retirado haca un par de minutos. Neville estaba sentado con George a solas. Si. Afirm Neville. Podemos aplazarla la invitacin por un tiempo? Por supuesto. Bien, porque t sabes... no le he dicho a nadie en mi familia que soy gay. Neville cabece mientras se preguntaba por la forma en que George se alter cuando Ron toc a la puerta. Alguna vez se lo dijiste a Fred? George palideci ante el nombre de su hermano y asinti. Por supuesto que lo hice. l estaba de acuerdo con el asunto, t sabes, mi hermano era mi mejor amigo, no habra podido ocultrselo. George guard silencio por un momento y una sonrisa lentamente asom a su rostro. Una vez, supongo que en sexto ao, l me estuvo buscando un mago disponible para regalrmelo un fin de semana, algo como un regalo. Algo que l no haba tenido desde que anduvo con Angelina y desde que yo anduve con Oliver. Neville se sorprendi. Oliver Wood es gay? George asinti. Bi. Le gustan los dos caminos. No tena idea. Suspir Neville. En fin, Fred estaba bien con el asunto, y de hecho lo convirti en una broma, como hacamos con todo. Fue uno de nuestros secretos, algo que resguardbamos de nuestra familia. Debera decirlo a alguien ms, har que te sientas mejor. Mejor? Cmo? Yo me siento mucho mejor por habrselo dicho a mi abuela.

Si, pero tu abuela es diferente a mi familia. T abuela es calmada y puede mantener un secreto, mi familia es ruidosa y obviamente todos se metern en mis asuntos. Neville tom la mano de George y susurr, de acuerdo. En fin. George observ el reloj de su bolsillo. Cerremos un poco ms temprano y subamos. No empezamos algo esta maana?. Sonri morbosamente a Neville. El corazn de Neville dio un vuelco. ehmmm... yo creo que lo empezamos. Pudo sentir como se sonrojaba cuando George movi su varita haca la ventana y la puerta, cerrndolas. Entonces apagaron las luches y subieron las escaleras haca el apartamento. Neville segua a George con el corazn retumbando en su pecho. Cuando entraron en el apartamento, George cerr la puerta e inmediatamente presion a Neville contra esta, besndolo salvajemente. Neville respondi abriendo su boca y permitiendo entrar la lengua de George. Sin perder un instante George alz la camisa de Neville y este se la dej quitar. George se alej, pate sus zapatos y se sac la camisa, sealando a Neville la habitacin. A tropezones Neville se quit lo zapatos y lo sigui. En la habitacin la cama estaba revuelta y a Neville le pareci aquel hbito fastidioso, aunque curiosamente las diez almohadas permanecan en sus lugares exactos. Aquellas divagaciones pronto se desvanecieron cuando George pregunt. Qu es esto?. Seal una larga y delgada marca que cruzaba el abdomen de Neville. Una cicatriz. Contest Neville hundiendo su cabeza en el cuello de George, mientras lo besaba suavemente. Hay ms en mi espalda. George gir a Neville y se qued sin aliento. Luego pase sus dedos a lo largo de las cicatrices en forma de serpiente y cont. Una, dos, tres, cuatro... y finalmente cinco. Susurr.Cmo las obtuviste? En el sptimo ao. Neville suspir. Cuando las personas dicen que yo era el mueco de azotes de los Carrows, esa descripcin es un poco literal. George tom de los hombros a Neville y lo mir directo a los ojos. Fuiste azotado? Neville afirm.

Ellos crean que yo saba donde se hallaba Harry, despus cuando desaparecieron Ron y Hermione, lo creyeron tambin. Despus creyeron que Ginny saba y la... bueno, por poco Luna pasa por lo mismo, slo que los mortifagos la secuestraron primero. George estaba plido. Ginny nunca me dijo nada. No. Probablemente slo Harry lo sepa. Ella y yo hicimos un pacto de no decirle a nadie a menos que alguna persona nos vea sin camisa. As que... Ella tiene cicatrices como estas? Neville cabece. Las cicatrices no seran tan evidentes si hubisemos ido a ver a Madame Pomfrey, pero tratbamos de curarnos por nosotros mismos. Porqu no fueron con Madame Pomfrey? No creo que comprendas la situacin en la cual estbamos all, como fue Hogwarts ese ao. Madame Pomfrey pudo tratarnos, pero por ese motivo pudo haber pagado un precio muy alto a los Carrows. Cualquier profesor que fuera amistoso conmigo, Luna o Ginny era castigado. No puedo creer esto!. George se agit todava sintiendo las cicatrices en la espalda de Neville. No puedo creer que nunca supe nada, no puedo creer que Ginny mantenga esto en secreto. George alej sus manos repentinamente y Neville pudo orlo murmurar. Mira. Neville quiso ensearle sealando la cicatriz de su abdomen. T perdiste tu oreja, yo fui azotado y torturado, ambos tuvimos nuestras marcas de batalla. Comprendes? No me duelen, t puedes tocarme. Neville baj su tono de voz. Yo quiero que lo hagas. George corri sus dedos gentilmente a lo largo de la espalda de Neville, hacindolo sentir excitado. Acost a Neville sobre la cama y se sent sobre l. Los recuerdos de Neville de aquella noche fueron confusos. Record a George mirndolo fijamente a los ojos, cuando le quit la ropa interior, record la sensacin de sentir la ereccin de otro hombre presionando su vientre. Fue una noche decadente donde se intercambiaron rpidos y nerviosos trabajos manuales en aquella lujuriante cama, seguida de una comida de tarta fra de la nevera y finalizada por un segundo round de manoseo, sta ms lento y deliberado. Finalmente el cansancio los hizo dormir, uno junto al otro, desnudos.

Cuando Neville despert la maana siguiente, busc a George quien ya se hallaba despierto y se dedicaba a contemplarlo. Buenos das. George sonri. Has dormido lo suficiente? Neville afirm con su cabeza. Lo necesitaba. No he podido dormir bien. Volvi a recostarse en la cama. Desde hace ms de un ao. Yo son anoche. Dijo George. Un buen sueo?. George carraspe. Es un sueo recurrente. Casi todas las noches desde que Fred muri tengo este sueo. Fred siempre est en el, y tiene mi oreja. George apunt a donde sola estar su oreja. Y el habla en ella, el le habla a mi oreja. Nunca puedo verlo pero sostiene mi oreja y habla dentro de ella, como si me estuviera hablando a m, y yo puedo orlo. Comprendes?. Si. Contest Neville. A pesar de todo adoro dormir. Porque sigo teniendo estos sueos con Fred y es el nico momento que tengo para saber de l. Puedo escuchar su voz y or sus bromas. T Neville, has tenido problemas para dormir, pero yo he tratado de dormir todo lo posible estos ltimos meses, con la esperanza de tener una oportunidad de ver a Fred. Qu tipo de cosas de dice Fred? George suspir. Al principio, justo despus de su muerte, l me deca cosas como "Estoy realmente feliz aqu, t amaras esto" "Aqu hay cantidades de chicas lindas y de tipos apuestos" "Pero no te apures en venir aqu, yo puedo esperar". Deca esto porque yo estaba pensando en suicidarme, algo que nunca le haba dicho a nadie, y slo Fred podra saber lo que estaba pensando. Neville tom la mano de George. l continu. As que empec a sentirme un poco mejor porque Fred me aseguraba que haba un lugar al cual ir, pero al cual no poda ir todava. Una vez que empec a sentirme mejor, le dijo a mi oreja que contactara a Angelina, porque estaba muy triste y no poda encontrar trabajo. Entonces la contrat en la tienda. George sonri. Entonces me dijo que necesitaba estar seguro si Ginny saba el encantamiento del control relajante, sobre el cual nunca le haba preguntado a ella, pero con el cual haba estado tratando un poco a Harry, con la esperanza de que funcionara.

Neville ri deleitado. Slo a Fred Weasley se le ocurrira un encantamiento para tratar a Harry Potter. Hace un par de semanas Fred empez a hablarme de ti. De m?. Pregunt Neville incrdulo. Si, de ti. Respondi George.La noche anterior de que vinieras a mi tienda la primera vez, l dijo que debera tratarte bien. Que no permitiera que te escondieras nuevamente. Y lo hice. No saba porqu estaba hacindolo al principio, supongo que slo quera que el Cremanario volviera a venderse, pero eso no era suficiente para sacarte de tu encierro y entonces entend. A la mitad de la prueba del Cremanario lo supe, no s como, pero lo supe. Supe porqu Fred me dijo que te tratara bien. Entonces te bes, convencido de que estaba en lo correcto. Neville rod haca un lado de la cama, y se levant en la cama sobre sus rodillas. T me besaste por un mensaje que tu hermano muerto te dej en un sueo? Es demasiado, es irreal, esto huele a una clsica broma Weasley. George cabece, sus ojos brillaban. Pero anoche el me dijo que no necesitaba seguir viniendo a mis sueos, porque yo haba hecho lo correcto encontrndote y estando contigo. Que ambos seramos felices y que su trabajo estaba finalizado. Es una broma acaso?. Pregunt Neville. No. Esto es realmente serio. Neville observ el rostro de George y vio que estaba diciendo la verdad. Estaba completamente serio. Cmo te sientes porque no regrese ms a tus sueos? George se encogi de hombros. No s. Quizs un poco perdido. Pero honestamente no es tan malo como cre que sera. La cuestin es que Fred lleva siete meses fallecido y yo siento que obtuve siete meses extras con l. Esos sueos me hacan sentir eso. Fred confa en en que voy a ser feliz, as que yo confo que ser feliz. Yo estoy feliz. Dijo Neville repentinamente. Si?. Neville cabece enfticamente.

Comprendo que perd siete meses de mi vida sintindome slo y deprimido, pensando que as sera el resto de mi vida, pero ahora, acostado aqu contigo y vindote feliz, no estoy deprimido, de hecho me siento realmente feliz. Neville saba que era feliz, pero tambin saba parte de la razn por la cual Fred visitaba a George, buscando su felicidad. Y se preguntaba cual sera su trabajo de all en adelante haciendo feliz a George. George ri y se desliz hasta besar suavemente lo labios de Neville. Estoy contento de que te quedaras anoche. Yo tambin. Neville sonri. Scratchs, Scratchs. George y Neville se levantaron. Haba una lechuza en la ventana. George se acerc, abri la ventana inconsciente de que estaba desnudo y que la ventana daba al callejn Diagon. La lechuza se pos en el marco de la ventaba y levant su pata. George sac la nota y la ley. Es de Ron. l, Hermione, Harry y Ginny van a venir a una cena esta noche. Hermione cocina. George suspir y observ a Neville. Quieres venir? Seguro. Pero ahora me tengo que ir, debo ir a Wales para averiguar sobre el trabajo que mencionaste. Neville se levant, se puso sus pantalones y luego se acerc a George y lo bes. Volver a tiempo para la cena. *** La cena de aquella noche tuvo un extrao encanto. Neville le dijo a George que haba visitado a la profesora Sprout en el invernadero de Hogwarts aquella tarde. Le haban propuesto un lugar en la enfermera, a la par de expandir los invernaderos en el colegio y su magnifica coleccin de plantas mgicas. De esta manera entonces le haba invitado a manejar alguno de los invernaderos o llevar el cultivo de plantas, pues su nueva posicin no le permita dictar clases a los estudiantes despus del verano. Y aquello le caa muy bien a Neville ya que no haba tocado ninguno de sus libros de herbologa desde mediados del sptimo ao y necesitaba refrescar su memoria. George estaba realmente feliz por Neville, y agradecido de que las cosas se le estuvieran dando de manera tan fcil. Antes de que llegaran sus invitados haba dejado a Angelina a cargo de la tienda y estuvieron durante una hora masturbndose mutuamente. Hermione, quien se sorprendi de encontrarse a Neville aquella noche, haba pasado un par de semanas en China, visitando a antiguos magos y estudiando magia local; lleg

cargada de recetas que aseguraban eran deliciosas y que pretenda practicar. Ense el uso correcto de los palillos chinos y de como llevarse el arroz correctamente a la boca. Pero Ginny encant los suyos para que lo hicieran automticamente y Ron transfigur los suyos en un tenedor. Los seis se hallaban alrededor del comedor y antes de iniciar la cena, Ron descans su tenedor al lado de su bola de arroz. Tengo un anuncio que hacer. Dijo alegremente. Todos se detuvieron en sus lugares y lo observaron expectantes. l se vea radiante y Hermione avergonzada y rosa. Ron tom la mano de Hermione. Le ped a Hermione que se casara conmigo y ella acept. Oh!Exclam Ginny antes de ponerse en pie y darle un gran abrazo a Hermione. Harry palme a Ron en el hombro. Bien hecho hombre. Neville dio la vuelta a la mesa y le dio la mano a Ron. Felicitaciones. George permaneci en silencio hasta que tom la mano de Ron y sonri ampliamente. Cuando la algaraba y los agradecimientos terminaron, George se dirigi a Hermione. Acaso tiene un pastel en el horno?. George lo pregunt con ligereza y con un tono de voz convincente, as como una sonrisa en su rostro. George!. Neville lo reprendi. Pero, espera... Tiene razn? No. Dijo Hermione rindose. George, Que diablos te sucede?. Pregunt Ron. Acaso no puedes ser feliz por nosotros dos? George Farfull. Estoy feliz por ustedes, es slo que apenas tienen 19 aos, as que me gustara saber en que estn pensando. Slo para aclarar las cosas. Pap y Mam se casaron a los 19. Apunt Ron. Y Mam estaba esperando a Bill. Respondi George. No, no es cierto.

George gir sus ojos. Por supuesto que lo estaba. Acaso no has hecho la cuenta? Mam y Pap se casaron a finales de abril y Bill naci en noviembre. Te lo digo, nuestros padres tuvieron que casarse. Ron!. Exclam Ginny riendo. Incluso yo llegu a esa conclusin hace aos. Bien, comprendo. Contest Ron percatndose de aquella noticia. Pero eso no tiene nada que ver conmigo y Hermione. Correcto? Lo lamento. George se disculp. Esto es una celebracin y no deb preguntar eso. George se dirigi a una de las gavetas de la cocina y tom una botella de Whisky de fuego. Llen seis copas y las reparti. Permaneci en pie y alzando su copa exclam. A Ron y Hermione y al amor eterno. Las copas tintinearon. Al amor eterno. Respondieron todos. El resto de aquella cena fue deliciosa. Una vez que el whisky de fuego hizo efectos en los seis amigos, todos se sentan maravillosos, encantadores, felices y maravillosamente mareados. Hermione no paraba de observar el anillo en su dedo y George la vio usando su varita para limpiarle una suciedad inexistente. Ron tom los hombros de George y lo sacudi. Estoy tan feliz hermano. Deseo que encuentres a alguien tambin. Ron le confes. George ri. He estado viendo a alguien en las ltimas semanas. El comentario de George atrajo la atencin de todos. Neville observ a George. Saba que se encontraba ebrio y que podra decir cosas de las cuales se poda arrepentir. Pero Neville tambin sufra los efectos del Whisky de fuego y no estaba en condiciones de detener a George de alguna indiscrecin. Qu has estado viendo a alguien?. Pregunt Ron. No he notado a nadie ms que a Neville ltimamente. Exactamente. Puntualiz George. Eh?

Y la primera que comprendi fue Hermione despus de una corta pausa. George, Neville, Es verdad?. Exclam. George cabece. Ron, Harry y Ginny todava se vean confundidos. Creo que es hermoso. Dijo Hermione. Se acerc a Neville y lo abraz. Eres feliz con l?. Le susurr al odo. Su aliento de whisky de fuego puso roja la oreja de Neville. Neville cabece. Hermione dio otro abrazo a Neville y entonces le dio un abrazo a George. Ooohhhh!. Exclam Ginny comprendiendo la situacin. Como si la metafrica bombilla hubiese iluminado su cabeza. George porqu no lo dijiste antes? Decir el que?. Ron pregunt. l y Harry estaban todava confundidos. Ginny y Hermione intercambiaron miradas. Es Neville. Dijo Hermione un poco impaciente. George est viendo a alguien y es Neville. Ron observ a su hermano y solt una carcajada. No, t no eres... Cabece George. Espera. Dijo Harry. Eres gay? Lo soy. George cabece de nuevo. Y t tambin Neville? Si. Cabece Neville. Ron, quien haba ido retrocediendo poco a poco se tropez con una silla y qued sentado. Rayos! Es esto una broma? George pestae.

No lo es pequeo hermanito. Soy gay, siempre lo he sido y siempre lo ser. Por favor George, Porqu no lo dijiste a ninguno de nosotros?. Ginny le interrumpi. lo hice, de dije a Fred. Porqu lo mantuvieron en secreto?. Pregunt de nuevo. Su rostro estaba rojo. Porque,. George abri sus ojos inseguro de seguir. no s realmente porqu lo hice. A veces hay ciertas cosas que simplemente decidimos no decirle a nadie por ninguna razn en absoluto. Como tener miedo a ser juzgado por algo que no es culpa nuestra, como ser gay. O como haber sido torturado y golpeado por magos oscuros. George le dio a Ginny una significativa mirada. Ginny se sonroj, pero persisti. Pero no es lo mismo preocuparse por algo as, que tener miedo de ser juzgado. No. Con Fred todo era diferentes. l comprenda que las cosas como esas siempre me afectaron ms. El punto de George era que incluso en su familia, l y Fred eran un paquete. No eran diferentes, eran un todo en comn. Ginny lo entendi y enrojeci. Espera. Ron interrumpi. No puedo comprenderlo. Eres gay y nunca lo dijiste a ninguno de nosotros, y ahora me entero de que Neville es gay tambin? Y me entero de que ustedes dos estn de novios?. Ron mir alrededor, mareado. Es demasiada informacin para una sola noche. George puntualiz. Tambin anduve con Oliver Wood. Ron se vea vagamente horrorizado, pero Harry fue el que dej salir un sonoro HA! Oh Ron. Exclam Hermione exasperada. Eso no importa O si? George es todava George Correcto? Ron murmur. Si, l es todava George pero ahora est de novio con Neville. Ron, Ginny palme su espalda. Eso no cambia nada. Ron por un minuto se vea como si quisiera gritar algo, pero dud. Si. Tienen razn, no importa, eso no cambia nada. Pero su rostro era de un color rojo brillante.

Ronald. Empez Hermione. Qu?. Contest a la defensiva. Dije que estaba bien, y lo est. De cualquier manera, Dijo George sonoramente No se supone que esta era una celebracin para ustedes dos? La fiesta sigui por unas horas ms. Muchas botellas de Whisky de fuego fueron consumidas y los seis amigos celebraron las prximas nupcias de Ron y Hermione. En un momento, cuando Ron fue al bao, Harry abraz a George y Neville lado a lado. Escuchen. Estoy realmente feliz por ustedes chicos, slo denle a Ron algo de tiempo. Ustedes saben que l no es bueno con los cambios. Harry dud. Yo creo que l esta sobredimensionando esta noticia. George cabece. Ese haba sido siempre el problema de Ron, como un nio de seis aos el siempre agrandaba todo. Tu me conoces Harry, yo nunca me la llev muy bien con Ron antes, y no espero que empecemos ahora. Aunque era una frase triste George la dijo riendo. Para cumplir eso, justo cuando Ron volva del bao, George se dirigi a Neville y le plant un gran beso directo en los labios. Ron se estremeci pero no dijo nada. Neville le susurr al odo de George. Es tu hermano, estar bien. George junt su frente con la de Neville. Lo s, slo.. esperaba que todos lo tomaran como Fred lo hizo. Que no habra ningn cambio sobre como me percibiran, excepto cuando me vieran observando algn tipo simptico. Ron no es Fred. Neville puntualiz. T no eres Fred. No puedes esperar que todos reaccionen como lo hizo Fred. George retrocedi. Ese es un muy buen punto. Neville, ese es el punto. Vmonos a dormir. George apret la mano de Neville. Nos vamos a dormir!. Exclam al resto del grupo. Conjuren algn lugar para dormir, porque ninguno aqu est en condiciones de aparecerse.

V George fue a comer a la madriguera a la tarde siguiente. Ron haba ido a anunciar el gran acontecimiento al resto de la familia. Hermione tambin haba acudido acompaada de Ginny y Harry. Sin embargo, Neville permaneci alejado del festejo, pues George haba decidido que la cena deba ser exclusivamente sobre Ron y su noticia. El tema de George era algo que por el momento poda esperar. Desafortunadamente, su prxima cuada abri su gran boca. Ron ni siquiera haba sido capaz de dar la gran noticia todava. La familia entera estaba all cuando George lleg. Bill estaba sentado en el sof con Fleur, quien se vea incmodamente embazada. Su estadio de embarazo la haca ver an ms brillante de lo habitual, haciendo que George se preguntara si eso era normal en las mujeres que tenan sangre Veela. George, por supuesto, siempre haba sido inmune a los encantos de las Veelas, pero haba pasado tiempos difciles alejando a Fred de ella durante el torneo de los tres magos. Ginny y Harry estaban sentados a la mesa del caf, frente a Bill y Fleur; y los cuatro parecan sumergidos en una intensa conversacin. Charlie no estaba all. Era muy difcil alejarlo de su trabajo con los dragones. Percy estaba en una esquina de la sala, con un vaso entre sus dientes y concentrado en un libro. Se vea que trataba a duras penas de aguantarse la algaraba que giraba en torno a l. La ta Muriel (George maldijo, porque no pens que ella estuviese all), estaba sentada en frente de la chimenea con Arhur, quien con la cara larga se quejaba sobre muchas de las nuevas cosas del ministerio. Ron y Hermione parecan que haban llegado solo momentos antes, porque estaban entregando sus abrigos a la seora Weasley. Dnde est Neville?. Pregunt Hermione a George por lo bajo. Slo que no fue suficientemente bajo. Neville Longbottom?. Pregunt Molly. Porqu preguntas eso? George trag y trat de ignorara a su madre. George, Hermione tir de la manga de su camisa, quizs deberas decir algo? Hermione, no deberas interferir en mis asuntos. T no eres todava un miembro de la familia. George la reprendi entre dientes. Todava?. Pregunt Molly. Es correcto mam. Ron pos sus brazos alrededor del cuerpo de Hermione. Le he propuesto matrimonio. Tras un respiro continu, y dijo que si!

Fantsticas noticias!. Arthur dej a la ta Muriel de lado y corri haca Hermione dndole un fuerte abrazo. Oh dios!. Molly estaba excitada, hay mucho que hacer, Cuando ser la boda? No hasta despus que deje Hogwarts. Explic Hermione. !Oh!. Molly repentinamente se vio mucho ms feliz y aliviada. As que ustedes no... quiero decir, no necesitan casarse rpidamente. Ron se resign, pero Hermione sonri y educadamente contest, No, no es nada de eso George detrs de Molly le guio el ojo. Arthur fue a la cocina y trajo consigo varias botellas de vino. George, Ron, Hermione, Ginny y Harry, no recuperados completamente de los tragos de la noche anterior, se vean un poco asqueados de tener que beber ms. Pero cada uno de ellos acept una copa para hacer el brindis. Arthur se par sobre una silla y levant el vaso de vino: A Hermione, quien pronto ser mi cuada. Y al amor y al matrimonio. Todos levantaron sus copas: Al amor y al matrimonio! La cena que sigui fue una gran celebracin. El nico inconveniente no muy sutil, fueron los comentarios de la ta Muriel, dado a que Hermione era nacida de Muggles. Sin embargo, todos trataban de ignorar dichos comentarios, hasta que Arthur no pudo resistirse y defendi a Hermione diciendo que siempre la haba considerado como una buena influencia para Ron. Despus de la cena, Harry, Ron, Ginny y Bill, salieron de la casa a jugar en el patio un dos contra dos en quidditch. Molly, Fleur y Hermione empezaron a limpiar la mesa, mientras George, sentado en la mesa de la cocina, tena un pergamino en blanco frente a l, tratando de maquinar ideas para un nuevo producto. Arthur camin desde la sala, tom el ltimo pedazo de tarta y se sent frente a George. En que estas trabajando? George suspir. Necesitamos nuevos productos para la tienda. Los compradores cada vez que vuelven se estn empezando a aburrir con lo que tenemos. Quizs Neville pueda ayudar. Dijo Hermione astutamente. George le lanz una mirada asesina.

Que es todo eso acerca de Neville?. Pregunt Molly amigablemente. Es la segunda vez que sale a la conversacin ese nombre. Hermione, Puedo hablarte en privado?. La voz de George sonaba dulce pero falsa. La tom de un brazo y la tir haca la sala, sin importarle que tena sus manos goteando, ya que estaba lavando unos platos. La empuj escaleras arriba, la encerr en la primera habitacin que encontr y lanz rpidamente el encant Muffliato a la puerta. Puedo saber que demonios ests haciendo? Hermione lo observaba indignada. Son tu familia. Necesitas contarles. Maldicin, debo hacerlo. Pero son mis asuntos, y yo debo decidir cuando y donde. As que, t quieres vivir con una parte tan importante de tu vida, siendo un total secreto? T familia te quiere y desea que seas feliz. Ese no es el punto. El punto es que esta es mi decisin, no la tuya. Neville le dijo a su abuela. Y George, tu sabes que ella no es tan comprensiva como tus familiares. La nica quien dir algo es a tu ta Muriel, pero sabes lo que piensa ella de cada uno de nosotros. Es probable que le guste ms Neville porque al menos l es sangre pura. Detente Hermione. Djame hacer esto a mi manera. Si esperas mucho tiempo, entonces ellos te atacaran con preguntas acerca de porque no les habas dicho nada. Entonces debers dar excusas por haberlos ofendido, ya que pensarn que no se merecan conocer eso de ti. Ya tienes veintin aos George, solo... . Hermione se detuvo. Te debes a ti mismo ser, quien en realidad eres. Es decir, George, No estas cansado de mantenerlo en secreto? Por supuesto que estoy cansado de esto. Deseara que las cosas fueran diferentes y ser gay no fuese algo terrible. Deseara que Ron, hubiese manejado mejor las cosas cuando dije soy gay. De la misma manera que si hubiese dicho que no me gusta la sanda. Cuanto ms tiempo esperes, ms extrao te vas a ver para tu familia. Ninguna otra palabra. Promtemelo Hermione. Hermione accedi. Haba dicho lo que quera decir, y ahora le tocaba a George pensar en el paso que debera tomar. Hermione y George caminaron de vuelta ala cocina, justo en el momento en que Ginny, Ron, Harry y Bill entraban del patio. Molly se qued fija en Hermione y George. Qu estaban ustedes diciendo acerca de Neville?

Ya les has hablado sobre t y Neville?. Pregunt Ron incrdulo. No, mi querido prometido, pero pareces que t ests forzando el tema. Increp Hermione. Ron mir a Hermione buscando comprender lo que haba dicho. Pero ella se cruz de brazos y mir haca otro lado con la nariz en alto. Qu est pasando?. Pregunt Arthur completamente desconcertado. Si, me gustara saber que es todo este tema sobre Neville Longbottom y que George quiere evitar que se sepa. George los mir. All en la cocina estaban todos excepto Percy y la ta Muriel, y cada uno de ellos lo estaban observando detenidamente. El nico que no lo observaba era Ron, quien trataba de buscar los ojos de Hermione. No es nada. Dijo George despus de un par de segundos de silencio. El aliento que todos estuvieron conteniendo involuntariamente se convirti en un suspiro decepcionado. George, Dijo Ginny en voz baja, esto es estpido, slo dilo a todos, por favor. George mir a su nica hermana. Despus de l, era ella la que ms haba sido afectada por la muerte de Fred. George saba que ella adoraba a todos sus hermanos, pero ella haba tenido un lugar especial en su corazn para los gemelos, quienes haban hecho de su niez algo divertido y excitante. Los gemelos ms que ninguno de sus hermanos la consideraban una compinche, y no una muequita que necesitaba proteccin. Y especialmente ahora que tena diecisiete aos y se haba convertido en una experta bruja, la cual era posiblemente la que posea ms magia en toda la familia. Adems, sabiendo lo que haba vivido con los Carrows, George de alguna manera le tena mucho ms respeto. Y as fue, que frente a la mirada suplicante de Ginny, George encontr la fuerza para abrirse al mundo. Soy gay. Dijo en voz baja. Nadie dijo nada por unos segundos. Finalmente Bill habl: George, eso est bien. En realidad no tenemos ningn problema al respecto, cierto? . Lo dijo mirando a Fleur. Fleur asinti enfticamente. Set que aqu podra sert una gran cosa. Pero tet puedo asegurart, George, que en Francia hay menos, como dicen, prejuicios contrat magos gays.

Bien, Arthur dijo claramente buscando defender a Inglaterra, para aclarar, no es tan malo aqu tampoco. A la mayora de brujas y magos no les importa. Correcto. Dijo George. A la mayora, pero no a todos. George, dijo Arthur, Nosotros slo deseamos que seas feliz. De acuerdo? Donde sea que encuentres la felicidad est bien para mi. Est bien para todos nosotros, verdad? Ocurri un murmullo de aprobacin y cabezas asintiendo. Qu es eso acerca de Neville, entonces?. Pregunt Molly, su voz tena un tenue temblor. Oh, claro. George contuvo el aliento y lo sostuvo hasta que exhal y dijo, lo he estado viendo, en las ltimas semanas. Parecen felices juntos. Dijo Hermione en voz alta a todo el mundo. Los vimos anoche y realmente, George y Neville se ven muy felices juntos. Ginny ri y sonri a todos por la manera en que se haba expresado Hermione. Incluso Hermione misma estaba sonriendo. La nica persona que no estaba sonriendo era Molly, quien se hallaba de pie, con lgrimas corriendo por su rostro. Mam?. Pregunt George. Molly neg con su cabeza. Lo lamento George, slo necesito un poco de tiempo para pensar sobre esto. Luego sali pasando junto a l, subi las escaleras y se dirigi al dormitorio principal. Todos oyeron la puerta cerrarse. Gracias, atac George a Ginny y Hermione sarcsticamente, gran consejo, dganle a todo el mundo. George tom su abrigo, sali por la puerta y desapareci en el acto. *** George se estaba moviendo a travs del espacio, cuando de pronto se apareci en frente de la casa de la abuela de Neville. En realidad no tena ganas de encontrarse con la abuela de Neville y hablar con ella, as que camin dando vuelta a la casa esperando encontrar a Neville. Efectivamente, Neville se hallaba trabajando a la luz de las velas junto a la ventana del invernadero. Psst. George lo llam. Nevillo lo mir y sonri.

Quieres venir a tomar el t? George neg con la cabeza. No, quiero que vengas al apartamento conmigo. Por favor, qudate conmigo esta noche. Est bien. Djame alistarme. Nos vemos all. Puedes aparecerte dentro del apartamento, De acuerdo? Creo que algunos miembros de mi familia estn frente a mi puerta esperndome. As, que slo aparcete, directo en mi habitacin, como el da en que pasaste el examen. Est todo bien? No. Slo, ven. Neville cambi su semblante y se puso serio. Estar all pronto. George se dio vuelta, y en el acto se hallaba de pie en su habitacin de trabajo. Efectivamente escuch golpes en la puerta. George, ests ah?. Era Hermione y sonaba como si estuviese llorando. George, era la voz de Ginny, Permtenos entrar, por favor. George se dirigi en punta de pies a su habitacin, que estaba suavemente iluminada por la luz de la luna llena. George fue haca la ventana y permaneci all por unos momentos. La luna llena siempre le recordaba a Remus. Dese que Fred viniera a l en otro sueo, para preguntarle si haba visto a Remus o a Tonks. l extraaba mucho a esos dos. POP! George se volvi. Neville estaba all de pie, con el rostro fruncido. Puedo or gente golpeando la puerta. George cabece. No quiero hablar con ellos ahora. Quieres que los despida?. Pregunt Neville. En serio? Neville le afirm con un gesto.

Puedes intentarlo. George se recost en la cama mientras Neville baj a la tienda. Poda or todo lo que pasaba. Neville abri la puerta. George dijo que no quera hablar con nadie ahora. Hola Neville. Dijo una voz profunda. Hola seor Weasley. Puedes pedirle por favor que baje? Lo siento. El hablar con usted, pero no esta noche. Neville.... Hermione comenz a hablar, pero Neville cerr la puerta antes de que ella dijera otra palabra. Entonces se dirigi haca la habitacin de George. Eso es todo. Neville sonri cuando vio que George se haba sacado su camisa. George lo miraba con una sonrisa en su cara. Mi heroe. Dijo pulsando su mano sobre el pecho de Neville. Que fue todo eso?. Dijo sacando sus zapatos, medias y camisa antes de subir a la cama junto a George. Eh.... George empez a mover sus brazos como queriendo alejar algo de si. Mi familia se enter esta noche que soy gay. Cmo se enteraron? Yo les dije, aunque no sali muy bien, y realmente no quiero hablar de eso en este momento. Slo quiero pasarlo bien contigo. Neville saba que George usaba el sexo como excusa para no hablar. Sin embargo, no es que Neville se fuera a rehusar. As que se acerc y toc gentilmente el labio de George. Pero si bien Neville haba planeado ser gentil con George para confortarlo en sus problemas, George tena otros planes. l lo tom por la parte posterior del cuello y tir de l dejndole algunos moretones. Le apret con fuerza sus caderas, mientras lo sostena boca abajo, haciendo qe Neville empujara su cintura haca atrs soltando un suave, Oh.... George empez a hurgar en los pantalones de Neville mientras trataba de besarlo al mismo tiempo. Era tan complicado que tuvieron que detenerse para sacarse rpidamente el resto de la ropa. George empuj a Neville boca arriba sobre la cama y se subi sobre l. Ambos se hallaban tan excitados que George empuj sus caderas sobre Neville. ste se aferr al cubrelechos granate de la cama, conforme George besaba sus labios y luego fue bajando a travs de su cuello y su pecho.

Neville suspiraba y gema mientras George pasaba su lengua a lo largo de la cicatriz que tena en su abdomen y mientras le apretaba suavemente los pezones. Tuvo que morderse los labios para no gemir cuando la lengua fue cada vez ms abajo. Nada, ningn tipo de charla sucia en la sala comn de Gryffindor, ni nada que se pudiera imaginar lo prepararon para sentir lo que sinti cuando George se llev su miembro a su boca. Neville apenas poda resistir no empujar sus caderas hacia el cielo. Sus ojos permanecan plenamente abiertos y su respiracin entrecortada cuando George abri completamente su boca y la pase arriba y abajo a lo largo de su pene. Era algo con la lengua, Neville reconoci que George estaba haciendo algo sorprendente con su lengua, pero no poda comprender exactamente que. Entonces francamente, dej de pensar en aquello y slo se dedic a disfrutar todo lo que George le estaba haciendo. La contraccin tan familiar apareci y finalmente Neville pidi, estoy a punto de venirme. George se hizo a un lado, para cierta decepcin de Neville, y termin sobre su propio estomago. Mientras Neville jadeaba y segua sin aliento, George tom su varita para limpiarlo. Entonces se acost sobre Neville y lo bes con fuerza. Esta vez Neville empez a buscar entre las piernas de George hasta alcanzar su miembro y comenz a acariciarlo lentamente. George no s exactamente que es lo que estoy haciendo. Admiti Neville. George sonri. Esta bien, slo tienes que ir por el y te dir si necesito algo diferente. Neville estaba increblemente nervioso, pero asinti. Empuj a George a un lado de la cama y lo dej boca arriba. Entonces empez a imitar lo que recordaba que George haba hecho. Lentamente empez a plantar besos bajando por el cuerpo de George, mientras segua inseguro, pero al ver la reaccin de George supo que lo estaba haciendo bien. Finalmente lleg a su pelvis, en donde tom su pene, y le dio un par de masajes antes de probarlo con la boca. Los gemidos que afloraban de la garganta de George, le dieron la confianza para utilizar su boca y as subir y bajar por su falo, tratando de seguir el ritmo de las caderas de George. Pero todo aquello no le caba en la boca y tuvo que usar sus manos para acariciar lo que le faltaba. El ritmo empez a ser ms rpido como si fuese una carrera frentica, mientras George daba pequeos espasmos y exclamaba cosas como as, es perfecto. No tard mucho tiempo antes de que dijera, Me vengo, me vengo, con una voz estrangulada. Neville se alej al tiempo que George se derram en su propia mano, aunque se qued con la inquietud si el hubiera podido tragar eso. No era algo que a George pareca importarle. Ahora acostado en la cama, extendi sus brazos como un guila, mirando al techo y sonriendo, pareca totalmente satisfecho. Obviamente Neville haba hecho un buen trabajo alejando la mente de George de todo aquello que haba sucedido en la madriguera.

Neville se acost junto a George y lo abraz con fuerza, besndolo en el cuello. George volte su cabeza y sonri devolviendo el beso en sus labios. Eso fue.... Neville no encontr palabras. Dios... George sonri. Lo fue, Cierto? Apret a Neville sobre si, con un fuerte abrazo y se quedaron alli, silenciosos y entrelazados por varios minutos. Finalmente, Neville rompi el silencio. Qu sucedi en la cena? George suspir y le narr la historia, mientras Neville observaba atentamente y le frotaba los brazos. As, que... Qu vas a hacer?. Pregunt. George volvi a suspirar. Yo solo..., no esperaba est reaccin de mam. Debo hablar maana con Ron, saber que pas despus de que me fui. Bostez. No quiero pensar ms en esto. De acuerdo? Neville sonri. Buenas noches. George le dio un ltimo beso. Buenas Noches Neville. *** Molly Weasley se despert a la maana siguiente con una misin. Se haba comportado de una manera horrible la noche anterior y lo saba. Lo saba cuando se escapaba de la cocina y lo saba cuando Arthur volvi hecho una furia del apartamento de George. La noche anterior haba sido el momento menos orgulloso que haba tenido como madre. Ahora, ella slo necesitaba encontrar la manera de solucionarlo. Haber sido madre durante veintisiete aos, le haba enseado que la comida siempre era un buen comienzo para arreglar las cosas. De esta manera Molly empez a mezclar la masa para hacer algunas galletas. Mientras ella mezclaba y horneaba las galletas se dio un momento para reflexionar sobre lo que haba sucedido la noche anterior. No era necesariamente el hecho de que George fuese gay, en realidad eso no le molestaba tanto. Pues de hecho, nunca haba tenido ningn problema con la gente gay,

aunque nunca antes haba conocido a alguien as. Pensaba que el problema principal era que siempre haba tenido ciertas expectativas. Y una de esas expectativas para los gemelos era que ellos seran los mejores padres para sus propios hijos. Nios como Fred y George, quienes siempre haban tenido un gran sentido del humor y siempre mantuvieron esa conexin con su nio interior. Aquellos siempre eran los mejores padres. Entonces Fred muri, y Molly no slo perdi a su querido hijo, tambin haba perdido su futuro, y el futuro de su posible nieto. Ella todava estaba de duelo, el cual quizs nunca lograra superar. De esta manera, cuando la noche anterior George hizo aquel anuncio, sinti que perda aquellos futuros nietos, los cuales de repente se desvanecieron. Sin embargo, ella tendra nietos. Bill y Fleur estaban esperando. Ella saba que Hermione quera tener nios en un futuro no muy lejano, y se imaginaba que Ginny pensaba lo mismo. Pero Fred y George eran los dos a quien Molly quera ver convertidos en padres, porque saba que seran los mejores. Ambos compartan mucha de la personalidad de Arthur. Y aunque Molly no lo quisiera admitir, secretamente haba albergado el sueo de que George se enamorara de Angelina Johnson. Era un escenario que haba construido en su cabeza da a da, sobre todo despus de que ella empezara a trabajar en la tienda. A Molly le gustaba Angelina. Por supuesto a la seora Weasley le gustaba Neville tambin. Ginny le haba contado que Neville la haba apoyado mucho durante su sexto ao el Hogwarts. Pero cuando le haba preguntado los detalles, ella slo haba sacudido la cabeza y se haba negado a decir nada. Y no poda olvidar la valenta del muchacho durante la batalla. Cualquier persona que llamase maricones a los gays, slo deberan dar una mirada a la manera en que George y Neville haban luchado, y haban soportado tantas prdidas. Cuando Arthur regres a casa sin lograr hablar con George, se hallaba muy enojado por lo que Molly haba hecho. Y realmente Molly no poda culparlo. Se fue sola a la cama muy segura de que haba arruinado su relacin con George para siempre. Aquella noche so con Fred. Fred estaba sosteniendo su reloj, su reloj mgico y especial que estaba en la cocina, y le estaba hablando. Molly lo observ detenidamente y not que el reloj era un poco diferente. Not que Fred estaba apuntando con su mano a un rea del reloj que deca Seguro. Haban otras dos manos en el reloj. La de Fleur se hallaba ah, con una mano ms pequeita que deca Victoria. Quien era Victoria? La bebe de Fleur y Bill? La mano de Hermione y la de Harry as como la de todos estaba all apuntando a Hogar. Todas excepto la mano de George que apuntaba a una palabra que deca Herido. Molly escuch entonces a Fred hablndole al reloj. No es que en realidad est herido, le dijo Fred al reloj, es que est un poco enfadado. Mira, t le has puesto una mano en el reloj a Hermione y otra a Harry, pero mira, porque no una a.... Se detuvo. Entonces Fred sonri.

Es correcto. Levant su otra mano y un reloj apareci mgicamente en este. Molly se inclin y ley. Pudo leer que la mano deca Neville. Fred puso la mano derecha sobre la mano de George e inmediatamente ambas manos se movieron de Herido a Seguro. Entonces continu hablndole al reloj. Si solo mam pudiera quedarse aqu. Fred movi la mano del reloj que deca Molly y apunt a una nueva locacin, en la cual se poda leer, apartamento de George. Ella podra trabajar en esto, todava no es muy tarde. Mam no tena la intencin de hacer sentir mal a nadie. T y yo lo sabemos. Pero no creo que George lo sepa. La nica manera de arreglar las cosas con George es siendo completamente honesto con l. Ya no es un nio. Molly se despert con un sudor fro cuando quiso ir a tocar a Fred. Ahora ella saba. Saba lo que tena que hacer, lo hara por Fred. No, era demasiado tarde para Fred, hara las cosas por George. Molly se apareci en la puerta principal de George y trat de abrirla. Estaba abierta, aunque no hubiese sido un problema si hubiese estado cerrada. George le haba regalado una llave tiempo atrs. Entr al tranquilo apartamento de George, y por su silencio comprendi que lo ms probable es que an estuviese dormido. Se desplaz en silencio y llam en voz baja. Al no haber respuesta abri suavemente la puerta de su habitacin y vio a George y Neville uno junto al otro en la cama. Estaban desnudos, o al menos Neville lo estaba. l era el ms cercano a la puerta y estaba de espaldas a ella. La cobija le cubra las caderas justo donde iniciaban sus nalgas. Ella hizo una mueca al apreciar las largas cicatrices en forma de ltigo que corran a lo largo de su espalda. Pero lo que realmente apreci, fue la posicin en que estaban durmiendo, uno frente al otro, con las manos entrelazadas. Molly estaba segura que si corra la cobija, descubrira tambin que sus piernas estaban en aquella posicin. Molly cerr suavemente la puerta y se recost en la pared. Lgrimas corran por su rostro. Nunca se haba imaginado ver a su hijo as, desnudo, en la cama con otro hombre. Siendo completamente honesta, no le preocupaba en absoluto este hecho, ahora que lo haba visto as, aquello pareca muy natural. Era aquella la posicin en que solan dormir. Molly recordaba claramente cuando los gemelos tenan alrededor de dos aos y medio, y los movieron de la gran cuna a dos camas separadas. Ahora chicos, cada uno tiene su propia cama. Les haba instado con alegra tratando de entusiasmarlos por la perspectiva de tener ms espacio en el cual dormir. No importaba. Todas las maanas hasta que tuvieron cerca de once aos, Molly les despertaba y dorman en la misma cama, frente a frente con los brazos y las piernas entrelazadas, de la misma manera que acababa de verlo con Neville.

Un recuerdo claro apareci repentinamente en la cabeza de Molly. Una maana cuando los gemelos tenan tres aos, entr en la habitacin y encontr a Fred despierto, pero George todava dorma. Ellos estaban en aquella misma posicin. Ella lo desenred, lo sac y lo puso en la cama vaca, con cierta dificultad ya que se estaba embarazada de Ginny en aquel momento. Freddy. Susurr tratando de no despertar a George. A ti y a Georgie les dimos una cama. No necesitan dormir siempre juntos. Fred se inclin, la abraz y le susurr al odo. Si tenemos mami. Nos hace sentir seguros en la noche. Realmente, qu poda hacer entonces al respecto? De esta forma les permiti dormir as tanto como quisieran. Seguro. Neville hace que George se sienta seguro. Molly se dijo a si misma. Eso es lo que Fred dijo en mi sueo. Molly se dirigi a la cocina y puso la canasta de galletas sobre la mesa. Tomo un frasco de mermelada de la nevera y lo puso junto a la canasta. Busc en los armarios de la cocina y escogi dos platos. Lo pens por un segundo ms y puso un tercer plato. Entonces se sent en la silla a esperar. No mucho tiempo despus oy sonidos de la habitacin, dejando claro que George y Neville estaban despiertos. Oy voces bajas, pero no comprendi lo que ests decan. Uno de los chicos fue al bao y volvi a la habitacin. Entonces el otro fue al bao. Despus de escuchar el sonido del agua correr en el bao, finalmente caminaron juntos a la cocina. Mam.... George se qued sin aliento Tal vez debera irme.... Exclam Neville nerviosamente, cruzando sus brazos sobre su pecho desnudo. Molly slo estaba agradecida de que ambos tuviesen puestos sus pantalones. No!. Contest George enfadado. Tu eres bienvenido aqu, quizs mam es la que debera irse. Molly levant la canasta con galletas. He hecho galletas, quiero hablar. George cruz los brazos sobre su pecho. Pero yo no quiero. Molly entonces comenz a llorar.

Georgie, lo lamento. Necesitaba explicar lo que hice anoche. Por favor toma una galleta. George dud antes de sentarse en el borde de una silla. Neville estaba simplemente de pie bajo el marco de la puerta sin saber que hacer o si deba interferir en aquel momento madre-hijo. Adelante. George le dijo a su madre. Molly tom un fuerte aliento y le explic todo. Le explic sobre el duelo que llevaba de Fred, y de su posible futuro nieto. Le dijo que ella pensaba que eran los gemelos quienes iban a ser los mejores padres de todos sus hijos. Le confes que los padres tienen expectativas sobre la vida de sus hijos y que siempre los imagin en la labor de paternidad. Le dijo acerca de su sueo con Fred. George levant su mirada Fred estuvo en tu sueo?. Su rostro que haba permanecido desinteresado y plido repentinamente mostr inters. Molly lo observ desconcertada. Si, con mi reloj. l me dijo que viniera a hablar contigo. Y que Neville te haca sentir seguro. Ello observ a Neville con una sonrisa avergonzada. Neville estaba tomando todo esto con gran inters. Haba pasado casi toda su vida preocupado por el cuidado de su madre y poco saba de estos asuntos. Pero si George dejaba que su madre, esa fantstica mujer que haba venido a admitir sus errores, se fuese sin haberla perdonado, bueno, iba a tener un gran problema. George se recost en la silla y pareca que quera admitir algo. Se qued en silencio por unos instantes antes de decir algo completamente inesperado. Siempre he pensado que muri el gemelo equivocado. Qu?. Neville solt bruscamente. Estaba completamente horrorizado de haber escuchado a George decir eso. Cualquiera hubiese sido el gemelo equivocado. George!. La seora Weasley lo rega. George se encogi de hombros. Yo no podr darte nietos, Fred podra hacerlo. Fred habra tenido una vida normal con esposa e hijos. Soy un paria. Soy gay. La seor Weasley segua enfadada. George, no. Ese no era mi punto. Mi punto era que yo estaba equivocada por sentir y actuar de esa manera. Por crear expectativas sobre tu vida. La verdad es que me importas t, no cualquier posible nieto.

George neg con la cabeza. Eso es lo que tu dices mam. Slo digo que desde que Fred muri, siento que deb haber sido yo y no l. Y t me acabas de dar la razn. Fred podra darle ms a la familia de lo que yo podra. No, no. Molly segua insistiendo. No digas eso, nunca lo digas de nuevo. Si iba a ser alguien, debera haber sido yo o tu padre. Los padres se suponen que deben morir antes que sus hijos. Debimos haber estado para proteger a Fred. Fue la guerra mam, y Fred ya era mayor de edad. Tu protegiste a Ginny. Molly hundi su rostro entre sus manos. Es verdad. Insiti George. Mam, Ginny pudo haber muerto si no hubiese sido por t. Todos lo sabemos. Tambin yo. Neville agreg. Ginny, Hermione y Luna estaban luchando. Pero era a mi a quien me buscaba. Poda sentirlo. Y usted lleg, seora Weasley y me salv tambin la vida. Salv a Hermione y Luna, no slo a Ginny. George observaba a Neville con inters y se volvi haca su madre. Fue haca ella y la bes en la mejilla. Todo est bien mam. Te amo. Molly lo mir completamente sorprendida. George, honestamente, yo no quiero que vuelvas a pensar que deberas haber muerto en lugar de Fred. Por favor no lo hagas. Yo nunca pens en eso, y t padre tampoco lo ha hecho nunca. George agit la cabeza. Entiendo. Yo slo te sorprend anoche. Pienso que esa no era la manera de decrtelo, de decirte, bueno..., George se detuvo y agit vagamente la mano apuntando a l y a Neville. esto. Molly dud. Ests seguro? Ests seguro que no ests enojado conmigo? George sonri y afirm con la cabeza. Muy seguro. Neville, quien todava estaba de pie bajo el marco de la puerta, se dirigi a la mesa y se sent cautelosamente.

Tenemos que remediar lo de Ron. Solt George. Remediar qu? Mam, dijo George. en dos noches y en dos fiestas, ste anuncio acerca de Neville y yo. Le hemos robado los reflectores a Ron. l le pidi a Hermione matrimonio. Anoche debera haber sido para l y Hermione. Supongo que tienes razn. Debemos organizar una buena fiesta de compromiso. Molly solt en voz alta. Hermione y Ginny acaban de salir a vacaciones de navidad y vuelven el tres de enero, dirigi una mirada a Neville y luego a George. Quiz deberamos tener una fiesta de fin de ao. Suena bien mam. Contest George antes de tomar una galleta y empezar a comerla. Deliciosa. Murmur, antes de darle una galleta a Neville. Avsanos si podemos ayudar. Molly se levant de golpe. Slo tengo diez das para preparar esta fiesta. Dijo antes de empezar a murmurar cosas incoherentemente, mientras agitaba la varita, y una pluma y un pergamino sali volando desde su bolso. La pluma bailaba a gran velocidad sobre el pergamino tomando notas, mientras Neville la observaba impresionado. George se puso de pie. Mam, tengo que abrir la tienda pronto. Le dio un beso en la mejilla, haciendo que ella dejar una frase a la mitad y la pluma y el pergamino cayeran al suelo. Le pas una mano por la mejilla a George. Lo lamento. Dijo de nuevo. lamento lo de anoche. George sonrio. Todo est bien mam. Me alegro que vinieras. Molly se volvi haca Neville y sonri. Eres uno de los nuestros ahora. Dijo. Neville sonri. Estoy contento de serlo.

VI Diez das pasaron en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Y lo que ocurri en aquellos diez das fue a Molly ofreciendo disculpas una y otra vez a George y Neville. Mientras esto suceda, lleg la navidad. Neville estaba nervioso sobre la llegada de aquella navidad. Qu tipo de regalo debera darle a George? Nunca haba tenido a nadie, una pareja con quien compartir las aquel tipo de fiestas. Cuando finalmente faltaban dos das para la navidad, se hall paseando por Flourish y Blotts en completo pnico porque no haba encontrado nada que darle a George. Repentinamente cruz la calle y en un aparador vio un delgado libro con un set de cartas. Magia Muggle se llamaba el libro. Neville oje el libro, y ste trataba de como los muggles usaban sus manos para hacer trucos de cartas. Era algo interesante y se vea como algo que le gustara a George. No pensaba que fuese el regalo perfecto, pero honestamente no estaba seguro de cual podra ser. Tambin en aquellos das, George haba accedido a ir a cenar con Neville y su abuela. Fue una visita incomoda, aunque Neville agradeci el gran esfuerzo que su abuela hizo para hacer sentir a George bienvenido. Lo que sucedi era que George vena de una familia muy diferente a la pequea que haba tenido Neville, que principalmente estaba compuesta por l y su abuela. Ambos eran personas muy tranquilas y no muy cariosas. La familia Weasley era, por supuesto, grande y ruidosa, y no tenan miedo de demostrar su afecto con grandes gestos. A Neville le encantaba estar en la madriguera, as como perder el tiempo con George en su apartamento. Estaba tanto tiempo fuera, alejado de su abuela, que empezaba a sentirse culpable. Por este motivo, l eligi cambiar regalos con George la noche de navidad, para de esta manera estar el da entero con su abuela, y realizar as, su tradicional viaje de visita a sus padres en San Mungo. El da de navidad llegaron a San Mungo durante una fuerte tormenta de nieve. Las calles estaban completamente vacas ya que los muggles no eran capaces de desplazarse en sus automviles con aquel clima. San Mungo a aquella temprana hora estaba solitaria, pero no tardara mucho tiempo en llenarse de familiares esperando celebrar las fiestas con sus parientes internados. As, igual que siempre, Neville y su abuela se dirigieron a la unidad de pacientes internados donde sus padres vivan. Neville se quit su abrigo apenas llegar, porque aquella ala siempre estaba tibia. Hola mam. Dijo suavemente al dirigirse a su madre. Su madre lo observ vagamente, pero pareca que en realidad no se haba percatado de su existencia. Se sent entonces en una silla junto a su cama mientras su abuela se acerc a ver a su padre Frank. Usualmente Neville tena problemas para comunicarse

con su madre, nunca saba que decirle excepto hablar del tiempo o las calificaciones que obtena en la escuela. Pero esta vez, l tom la mano de su madre y comenz a hablar de tantas cosas que ni siquiera pens en lo que le estaba diciendo. Ha sido un gran ao, mam. Creo que estaras orgulloso de m. En enero cuanto volv a Hogwarts sucedieron cosas terribles. All estuvieron unos maestros, los Carrows quienes trabajaban para quien-tu-sabes, y ellos me odiaban porque saban de que lado estaba. Ellos crean que saba donde estaba Harry Potter y me torturaron. Tengo suficientes cicatrices para probarlo. Pero aunque me torturaron nunca le dije nada a nadie. Recordaba lo que le sucedi a pap y a ti, y supe que no deba decir nada. Pero luego se puso mucho peor. Hubo una gran batalla y mucha gente muri, gente que quera y amaba.... Neville no pudo contenerse y empez a llorar. Era la primera vez que hablaba abiertamente sobre sus ideas y sentimientos. Ayude mucho, supongo. Harry me dio algunas instrucciones y cuando quien-tu-sabes me estaba torturando y tratando de prenderme fuego, fui valiente y lo pude hacer. Mat a su serpiente. En realidad no saba que era lo que estaba haciendo, solamente saba que era muy importante. As que lo hice. Y sabes lo que era? Era un horrocruz, era una parte del alma de quien-tu-sabes. Pero no me importa mucho si fui de ayuda, porque muchas personas murieron. Neville dio un fuerte suspiro. Deseara que hubieses estado all, para consolarme. No saba que hacer. No poda cerrar los ojos sin ver todos aquellos cuerpos inertes. No poda comer sin sentirme traidor y culpable por todos aquellos que murieron y no podran comer nunca ms. Todo el da y la noche permaneca acostado en mi cama. Mami, no poda hacer nada... No deseaba hacer nada... En todo momento senta la culpa recorriendo mi estomago. Dese morir cientos de veces.... Neville se contuvo y se sec la nariz. La abuela trat de ayudarme. Trat. Ella fue paciente y nunca me grit. Nunca pens que yo no me recuperara. Al menos no tan pronto. Pero fue que nunca me abr con ella. Nunca le dije lo que estaba pensando. Nunca le coment lo que en realidad haba ocurrido en Hogwarts durante el ltimo curso. Me gustara que me mirars mam. Deseara que abrieras bien los ojos y observaras las marcas en mi espalda. Los Carrows nos dieron a la hermana pequea de los Weasley y a mi muchos castigos. Nos solan encadenar a una pared y utilizar un ltigo. Ltigo! El ltigo es un arma Muggle. Me pareci irnico que utilizaran un arma Muggle, ellos que siempre odiaron a los Muggle. Repentinamente se puso en pie. Aclar su garganta y volvi a tomar asiento. Sabes lo que se siente cuando te azotan? Dios! Qu estoy diciendo? Espero que no. Se muy bien que sabes lo que se siente ser torturado. Si pudieras entenderme seguro que lo comprenderas. Se que trataras de hacerme sentir mejor. Neville se detuvo y llor nuevamente, tratando de ocultar su rostro. Poda sentir a su abuela sentada en el otro lado de la habitacin junto a su padre, en total silencio escuchando todo lo que haba dicho. Neville tom nuevamente las manos de su madre.

As, que... eso es lo que me sucedi, en pocas palabras. Podra darte ms detalles pero no puedo. No creo ser capaz de hacerlo. Pero no quiero que te preocupes por m, porque era algo que tena que decirte, algo que cre que entenderas. Es algo que un hijo tendra que decirle a su madre. Sin soltar las manos de su madre. Baj la cabeza. Pudo apreciar un par de lgrimas resbalando al piso. Hay algo ms que necesito decirte. No es algo malo, al menos no lo es para mi. Quera decirte que soy gay, y espero que no sea un problema para ti y pap. Lo he sabido desde que tena como doce aos. Bueno, en realidad siempre lo he sabido, pero cuando tena doce fue que entend lo que realmente significaba. Sonri. Y he conocido a alguien. Creo que podra gustarte, su nombre es George. Es divertido, un bromista de tiempo completo. Perdi a alguien en la guerra, a su hermano gemelo el cual era su mejor amigo, as que ha estado teniendo algunos problemas siendo divertido y fabricando bromas. Su hermano, Fred, es uno de los que me hacen sentir culpable por haber sobrevivido. No tienes idea de las cosas graciosas que sera capaz de hacer si hubiese sobrevivido. Pero no lo hizo y as encontr a George. Hizo una pausa. Creo que podra amarlo. Neville permaneci all sentado por un par de minutos sollozando, hasta que pudo controlarse antes de cambiar de conversacin. Obtuve un trabajo. Voy a ir a trabajar a Hogwarts con la profesora Sprout. Voy a estar al cuidado del invernadero y del cuidado de las plantas mgicas. La profesora obtuvo el permiso de la directora McGonagall, para expandir el invernadero y voy a hacer parte de este proyecto. La paga no es mucha, pero no tengo en realidad muchos gastos. Neville se call, pues realmente no saba que ms decir. As que permaneci sentado all, con la mano de su madre entre las suyas y tratando de que su madre se fijara en l. Despus de un buen rato, not que su abuela se haba levantado y caminaba haca l. Arriba. Orden. Como si fuese un nio pequeo, Neville inmediatamente obedeci. Su abuela empez a soltarle la camisa de dentro el pantaln y entonces comprendiendo que era lo que ella quera, mantuvo sus brazos juntos. No quera ayudarla. Levanta los brazos. Le mand. Neville entonces alz sus brazos y su abuela tom la varita y us un conjuro que nunca haba odo para sacarle la camisa. Su abuela solt un ahog un pequeo grito cuando vio la marca en el abdomen de Neville. Date la vuelta. Su voz ahora temblorosa y asustada no era igual de exigente.

Neville se volvi lentamente mostrando su desnuda espalda llena de cicatrices. Entonces la escuch jadear por un momento y empez a llorar. Porqu no me lo dijiste? Neville se visti nuevamente, se encogi de hombros y simplemente contest. No me pareci importante. Lo fue, lo es. Insisti su abuela. Yo tena un plan, un plan para que pudieras escapar de Hogwarts y pudieras ocultarte en el extranjero. Pero pens que estaras seguro all. Cre que me diras si las cosas se salan de control. No importa. Volvi a insistir. Claro que importa. Obviamente es importante, sino, t no le hubieses contado todo esto llorando a tu mam. Su abuela solt un grito agudo y se llev una mano a la frente. Se supone que deba protegerte, cuando te tom siendo un beb todo lo que quera era protegerte. Ahora ella lloraba amargamente. Lo lamento Neville. Te fall, te fall. Abuela no, Neville se apresur a calmarla. No me has fallado. Incluso si hubiese sabido sobre el plan para huir, nunca lo hubiese hecho. Yo me senta responsable de proteger a Ginny. Crees que mis cicatrices se ven mal? Ella era una Weasley con la historia de que haba sido novia de Harry Potter, y estaba all atrapada en Hogwarts. Era el peor lugar para ser un Weasley o tener conexiones con Harry. Deba estar all con ella. Si no hubiese estado con ella, en aquella habitacin con los hermanos Carrows, Amycus hubiese tratado de hacerle... cosas.. Su abuela se puso las manos en la boca y trag respirando rpidamente. Neville esperaba que no le preguntara por los detalles. Recordaba muy bien la noche cuando Ginny entr en la sala comn de Griffindors despus de que todos se hubiesen retirado, con la tnica rota, el pelo enmaraado y la cara rasguada. Despus de algunas preguntas Ginny admiti que Amycus Carrows la haba seguido despus de salir de la biblioteca en horas de la noche y la oblig a ir a su oficina donde la haba encadenado. Hasta este punto de la historia nada le sorprenda. Unas tres semanas atrs los Carrows los haban atrapado a los dos y les haban dado su primera sesin de torturas. Neville crey que no sera la ltima. Conmocionada, Ginny empez su historia. Amycus tom su varita y la encaden. Tom su ltigo y entonces cerr sus ojos preparada para sentir el ltigo romper su piel. En cambio sinti moverse su tnica y al abrir los ojos vio a Amycus quien lentamente la abra. Llevaba una camisa debajo y entonces empez a desabrochar los botones uno a uno. Por favor detente, pens. Slo tienes que detenerte y usar el ltigo, rogaba en silencio. Una vez que su torso estaba desnudo Amycus tom el ltigo y la golpe en el abdomen, gritndole, Me vas a decir donde est tu novio Harry Potter?. Ella permaneci en silencio pero solt gritos de dolor.

Amycus se rea y usaba su varita para rasgar su tnica y su camisa. Cuando qued a la vista su sujetador empez a desabrocharlo, pero cuando record que tena las manos encadenadas lo arranc violentamente. Entonces se puso a su altura, apret con fuerza uno de sus pechos y la beso en la boca. Hasta aquel momento Ginny no haba sentido miedo. Pero la sensacin de que iba a ser violada convirti aquel miedo en angustia. Ginny us toda su fuerza y agarr las cadenas entre sus manos, dndole equilibrio para dar un rodillazo en los testculos de Amycus. Amycus resopl y cay. Pequea puta... no tienes ni idea de lo que has hecho. Exclam apuntando con su varita mgica antes de gritar Sectumsempra!. Por fortuna, en medio de su dolor, Amycus no tuvo la mejor puntera y apenas si roz el pecho de Ginny. Y he aqu donde reside la magia de las brujas y los magos. Todos creen que la magia es ms potente con una varita. Pero en situaciones extremas, y bajo situaciones de estrs como la ira, la adrenalina puede causar un incremento de la magia. Y un verdaderamente poderoso mago o bruja, pueden bajo estas circunstancias hacer magia sin varitas. De esta manera, cuando Amycus vino a por Ginny y apunt con su vara en su pecho, ella grit protego instintivamente. Y funcion. Un escudo invisible apareci entre ella y Carrow. Amycus mir a su alrededor. Cmo hiciste eso?. Pregunt. Yo tengo tu varia, pequea perra. Cuando Ginny not que haba lanzado un hechizo tan poderoso sin su varita, se distrajo y dej caer aquel escudo defensivo. Amycus tom ventaja de aquel momento de debilidad y volvi a empujar fuertemente su mano alrededor de su cintura metiendo sus dedos dentro de su ropa interior. Fue un error de su parte, pero Ginny sinti la magia rebozar en su interior. Poda sentir el poder correr desde sus pies hasta los cabellos de su cabeza. Su cuerpo se estremeca de magia, poda sentirla emanando de sus poros. Supo entonces que poda realizar cualquier encantamiento sin su varita. Se concentr en las cadenas, tratando de empujar a Amycus atrs y grit, Relaxo! e inmediatamente sus manos quedaron libres. Accio Varita! grit e instantneamente su vara vol haca sus manos. Tan pronto como sus dedos tocaron la varita, Ginny fue golpeada por una fuerte sacudida de magia. Apenas si poda agarrar la varita la cual vibraba con fuerza. No saba que hacer con todo aquel poder acumulado, pero apunt directamente al cuerpo de Amycus, y sin pronunciar un conjuro, un fuerte rayo dorado sali disparado y golpe a Amycus en el vientre, enviando su cuerpo atrs y golpendolo contra la pared. Cay desvanecido al suelo. Ginny tom sus ropas, dio un puntapi a Amycus quien an permaneca en el piso, Estaba todava vivo, noqueado y corri al bao ms cercano. Estuvo all durante ms de una hora, llorando, temblando y esperando que aquel Carrow viniera a buscarla.

Finalmente se arregl lo mejor que pudo, y se fue directo al saln comn de Gryffindors esperando que estuviese vaco, pero all encontr a Neville. Lo voy a matar. Exclam Neville cuando Ginny termin su historia. Se puso en pie repentinamente y tom su varita. Y eso de que servira?. Pregunt Ginny amargamente, jalando a Neville de nuevo al sof. Neville se detuvo. Ella tena razn. Todo lo que hara era ir derecho a Azkaban. Sin embargo, Ginny haba estado a punto de ser violada y el no poda dejar de lado aquel deseo de lastimar a Amycus. Respir profundamente tratando de transformar su rabia, su deseo de matar, en algo ms positivo. Una manera de proteger a Ginny. No voy a dejarte sola. Dijo Neville. Sabemos que es capaz de hacer Amycus ahora, as que debo tenerte protegida. Si ellos nos van a torturar, entonces que nos torturen juntos, De acuerdo? Ginny cabece. Eso significa que caminaremos juntos a clase, estudiaremos juntos en la biblioteca, comeremos a la misma hora. Te esperar a la salida del bao, o me dejars entrar si no hay nadie cerca. Yo encontrare un bao de chicos vaco para que entres conmigo. Ests de acuerdo? Vamos a hacer esto juntos. Incluso puedes dormir en una de las camas vacas de mi dormitorio. Slo estamos Seamus y yo, as que hay tres camas vacas. Ginny lo medit detenidamente. Creo que tienes razn, somos ms fuertes juntos. Neville neg con la cabeza. Ginny tu eres fuerte estando sola. Entiendes cuan poderosa debe ser tu magia para hacer un encantamiento sin una varita. Sabes lo raro que es eso? Ginny se encogi de hombros. No podra hacerlo de nuevo, si me lo pidieras. Espero no tener una razn para que lo hagas de nuevo. Ginny ignor aquel comentario. Necesito curar mis heridas. Neville levant su varita y exclamo Accio Botica y desde su dormitorio vol un kit de viaje de boticarios, que haba recibido por navidad. Lo abri y mirando las diferentes hierbas y pociones dijo Puedo hacerlo.

Ginny dud. Creo que debera hacerlo por mi misma. Y cruz sus brazos sobre su pecho. Le tom unos instantes a Neville comprender porque Ginny haba dudado. Ella no quera remover su camisa frente a l. Entonces dio una respiracin fuerte. Ginny, dijo suavemente, yo ser capaz de tratar las heridas mejor que t misma. Pero Ginny no pareca convencida y honestamente no poda culparla. Acababa de ser casi violada y lo que menos necesitaba es que alguien se quedar nuevamente vindola. Ginny, continu suavemente, voy a decirte algo que nunca le he dicho a nadie. Y te pido que lo olvides tan pronto te lo diga. Ella lo mir a los ojos, los cuales brillaban y empezaban a llenarse de lgrimas. l se inclin y le susurr al odo, soy gay. Ginny solt un jade y retrocedi. Neville? No se lo digas a nadie, y por favor acta sorprendida si se llega a saber despus. Entiendo. Ginny acept. Sus ojos se perdieron en el vaco cuando abri su tnica y se desabroch su camisa. En su afn por salir de la oficina y dejar a Amycus detrs, haba olvidado su sujetador. Neville observ el torso desnudo de Ginny. Cual es el sectumsempra? Ginny le indic que era la larga marca en el lado izquierdo de la caja torcica y que suba hasta su pecho. Neville saba que deba empezar con aquella herida. Como era una producida por la magia, se curara ms rpido con pociones mgicas. El ltigo como era una herramienta Muggle, era mas complejo de sanar por mtodos mgicos. Todo lo que pudo hacer por aquellas heridas fue aplicar una infusin de menta mgica para aliviar el dolor, y envolverlas heridas en vendas. Ginny an estaba alterada, pero despus de los cuidados de Neville, se sinti algo ms segura. Eran cerca de las tres de la maana cuando los dos amigos se dirigieron al dormitorio de los chicos, tratando de conciliar el sueo de la mejor manera. Fiel a su palabra, Ginny nunca dijo nada a nadie acerca de la situacin de Neville. El secreto fue guardado tan celosamente, que Neville ocasionalmente se olvidaba que se lo haba comentado a ella. Y como Neville haba recordado algunas noches antes, cuando George y l salieron del armario frenta a Ginny, Harry, Ron y Hermione; sonri al ver a Ginny tratando de centrar su atencin en que su hermano George era gay. Con un suspir regres al presente y su abuela le pregunt.

Qu le hicieron a Ginny? No puedo hablar de eso abuela. En realidad ella nunca quiso... Qu t la cuidaras? Neville afirm. Pero abuela, ella es muy fuerte. Tiene ms fuerza y magia de la que yo nunca tuve. Ella realmente no me necesitaba. Pero ella necesitaba un amigo. Le respondi su abuela. Neville volvi a darle la razn. Yo fall porque nunca te dije lo mucho que me enorgullecas. Empez a llorar nuevamente. Neville se acerc y abraz a su abuela. Esta bien abuela, siempre lo supe. *** Molly sac adelante realmente por si misma la fiesta de ao nuevofiesta de compromiso de Ron y Hermione. Debi sentirse muy mal por su comportamiento, porque hizo cada cosa a la mxima perfeccin. Por supuesto, ayud que Arthur regresara al ministerio en una mayor posicin y que slo tuvieran a un hijo en casa, pues ahora tenan mucho ms dinero para para aquel tipo de gastos. Y Molly no escatim en gastos a la hora de organizar la fiesta. Las invitaciones fueron escritas mgicamente y enviadas por un equipo de bhos a toda la familia Weasley, y a los amigos de Ron y Harry en Hogwarts. Tambin se enviaron a las amigas de Hermione e incluso a sus padres Muggles. Molly alquil una carpa mgica no muy diferente a la que haban tenido Harry y Ron el ao anterior en aquel viaje. Pero esta era un poco ms grande y estaba encantada para que en el interior pareciese un saln de baile. A lo largo del saln de bailes, Molly levant unas chimeneas adicionales pues haca fri y nevaba mesas, sillas y decoraciones que parecan festivas e invernales a la par. Haban hadas que centelleaban exclamando felicitaciones Ron y Hermione como una seal viva que se mova de pared a pared. Como la fiesta fue planeada para el ltimo instante, Molly no pudo contratar un servicio de catering y pas diez das de frentica preparacin de alimentos y bebidas. Fleur, Neville, Ron, Hermione, Harry y Ginny ayudaron en lo que pudieron, pero se encontraron de frente con las expectativas de Molly que eran bastante difciles de satisfacer. Y en cuanto a la cocina, nadie tena tan altas expectativas como ella.

Preferira no tener esta fiesta, si tengo que aguantar eso. Se quej un da Ron cuando tiraba un plato con una pasta grumosa y vea como aves y gnomos luchaban por ella. Molly le haba dicho que la pasta estaba muy dura y que no dara el pan adecuado. Quien hace todava el pan a mano? Nosotros slo lo compramos en la tienda. Ronald!. Hermione le advirti. T siempre te quejas de ir a la tienda a comprar pan. T madre est haciendo esto por t, por ambos. Pero no s como se hace el pan. Hermione puso sus ojos en blanco. Para esto estn las recetas. Lo nico que tienes es seguir una receta. Expres. Entonces porque pierdes la cabeza por esto?. Pregunt. Porque despus que me grade y nos casemos, voy a estar trabajando y estudiando una carrera. As que no esperas tener pan casero todos los das. Oh.... Ron no supo que decir por unos momentos. No me esperaba esa respuesta . Todo sonaba tan nuevo para l. Neville sonri para sus adentros mientas segua pelando patatas. Aunque Ron haba crecido en una familia con ciertas condiciones de pobreza, haba sido afortunado en muchos aspectos. Harry y l, dos nios sin padres, siempre haban visto claramente como en realidad Ron era afortunado. Estando todava desempleado, Neville se haba ofrecido voluntariamente a Molly como su ayudante. Sus razones para aquello en parte fue un gesto amable, (pues quera que la fiesta de Ron fuese un xito), pero en parte quera ganarse a Molly. Se haba sentido incomodo con ella cuando lleg aquella maana al apartamento de George. De hecho, l haba sentido su presencia cuando dorma junto a su hijo, ella haba sido testigo de un momento muy intimo de su relacin. En los muchos de sus trabajos como ayudante no pago de aquella fiesta, Neville haba gastado muchas tardes en la madriguera desyerbando el jardn escarchado, trasplantando todas las plantas comestibles, pelando patatas, desempolvando las cortinas, fijando algunas piedras sueltas del camino del patio, y cualquier cosa que Molly pensaba que necesitaba hacerse fuera de la casa. Aunque Molly era amable con l, todava no lo trataba de aquella manera maternal con la cual trataba a Harry y Hermione. Tiempo.... Se deca Neville a si mismo. Dale tiempo. George no poda creer que Neville estuviese dispuesto a gastar su tiempo ayudando en la madriguera. T no tienes que hacer esto. Le dijo la noche despus de navidad cuando Neville regres al apartamento. Nadie espera eso de t.

Neville se encogi de hombros. No me importa. Solt. T tienes la tienda, yo estoy desempleado, simplemente quiero ayudar. Pero mi madre es una negrera. George le advirti. Neville lo ignor esta vez. Siempre le haba molestado escuchar a la gente que se quejaba de sus madres. Me gusta t mam. Dijo en voz baja. George se acerc inmediatamente, lo abraz sbitamente haciendo sentir a Neville aquel mismo vaco que experimentaba cada vez que alguien hablaba de sus madres. Lo lamento. Tir a Neville a la cama envolvindolo fuertemente en un abrazo. Tienes razn, sumergi su rostro en el cuello de Neville, Mi mam es genial Noche Nueva lleg. Neville de pie estaba en frente del closet de su habitacin observando su tnica. Se estaba preguntando para que tipo de protocolo deba vestirse. Una tnica regular? Tnica de coctel? Ropa Muggle? Neville como la mayora de magos por debajo de los cuarenta, no le gustaba usar tnicas y llevaban en su mayora jeans y camisetas. Ropa Muggle como la llamaban los viejos magos y brujas. Un pantaln de tela y una camisa de punto, si la ocasin requera algo ms. Porqu simplemente no haba hablado con George sobre esto? Finalmente se decidi por unos pantalones de tela y una tradicional camisa con botones. No es que le importara mucho como se vea, simplemente no estaba dispuesto a usar tnica. Corri escaleras abajo donde su abuela estaba brillando sus zapatos, tocndolos una y otra vez con su varita hasta que pudiera ver su propio reflejo. Gracias. Le dijo Neville tomndolos, sin comentar que en realidad no le gustaban sus zapatos tan brillantes y la observ por un instante. Ests segura que no quienes venir?. Molly haba decidido invitarla como una forma de conocerla mejor. No querido, contest. Mi artritis est molestando. Neville cabece y la mir con cierta preocupacin. Evidentemente ella era bastante mayor. Ya tena cierta edad cuando dio a luz a su padre, y este a su vez ya pasaba de los treinta cuando Neville haba nacido. No haba duda de que su fuerza empezaba a disminuir, aunque su mente permaneca ms activa de lo que nunca haba estado. De esta manera, Neville se preocupaba y se propuso no pasar todas las noches en el apartamento de George, para estar pendiente de ella. No llegar tan tarde a casa. Prometi. Ella hizo un gesto con su mano y expres.

Es la vspera de ao nuevo, coment alegremente. Que la pases muy bien y no voy a preocuparme por t a menos que no te vea tarde en la maana. Neville ri. Ests segura? Te he contado del ao nuevo cuando tena diecinueve? Neville ri nuevamente. No abuela. Es algo que quiero saber? Probablemente no, solamente que fui salvaje en mis das. Neville la bes en su mejilla y tan pronto como sali se desapareci, para aparecer inmediatamente en la madriguera. All de pie a pocos metros de la entrada de la madriguera, escuchaba el ruido que produca la msica y el murmullo de las personas que palpitaba en la tienda. Alguien tena en el fongrafo a las Weir Sisters. Al escuchar un ruido tras l, Neville se volvi con curiosidad para ver a un auto que se parqueaba junto a la casa. Se dio cuenta casi inmediatamente que deban ser los padres de Hermione, los nicos que deban llegar en transporte Muggle. Efectivamente, Hermione sali de la puerta de atrs, al igual que una mujer mayor que se vea asombrosamente similar a ella, y del otro lado un hombre alto y delgado. Neville se sinti aliviado al ver que Hermione igualmente haba renunciado a su tnica. Neville!. Ella le llam saludndolo. Hermione, dijo antes de inclinarse y besarle la mejilla. Entonces ella los present. Ella es mi mam, la Doctora Jean Granger y l es mi padre, el Doctor Owen Grander. Neville les saludo sacudiendo vehementemente sus manos. La verdad era que tena poco o ningn contacto con los Muggles y se estaba preguntando que significaba eso de doctor. Un placer. Mam, pap, l es Neville Longbottom. Estudiamos en la misma clase en Hogwarts y est saliendo con uno de los hermanos de Ron. Hermione!. Exclam Neville exasperado. Entonces el doctor Owen repiti con el mismo tacto la lnea de Neville.

Un placer. Qu?. Respondi Hermione inocentemente. Podra pedirte que no digas lo mio y lo de George a todo el mundo? Oh, interpel tratando de sonar inocente. Siguen siendo un secreto? Si!. Le respondi Neville desafiante. Lo es. Los padre de Hermione se ruborizaron profundamente. Sin cruzar una nueva palabra, Neville camin al interior de la tienda con Hermione y sus padres. Ellos se vean un poco sorprendidos al apreciar aquel gran saln de baile que apareci frente a sus ojos. Con un movimiento rpido, Neville se puso a un costado de Hermione. Hermione, le debes una disculpa a George. Que? Porqu? Todo sali bien. Pero puede que no. No puedes ir por ah metiendo tu nariz en los asuntos de otras personas. George debe decidir a quien se lo dice y cuando de lo dice. De acuerdo? Todo esto entre l yo es tan nuevo, que debes permanecer un poco al margen. Lo siento. No me lo digas a m, dselo a George. Neville entonces observ a su alrededor. Donde estaba George? Se dedic entonces a pasear por la fiesta, pellizcando y probando la deliciosa comida que estaba dispuesta en una larga mesa. No poda creer que haba tal cantidad. Incluso con la ayuda que haba recibido, Molly realmente se haba superado a s misma. Mientras caminaba por la fiesta hablaba y conversaba con otras personas. Harry, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Luna, el seor Lovegood, Las gemelas Patil, Lee Jordan (quien coment embarazosamente en voz alta, el chico que har que George Weasley siente cabeza), Bill y Fleur, Percy y Penelope Clearwater, Hagrid, la profesora McGonagall, y la madre de Tonks con el pequeo Teddy, quien tena el cabello mucho ms purpura en estos das. (Neville sinti una conexin con Teddy Lupin, al saber muy bien lo que era ser criado por una abuela soltera). As mismo como a otros que no reconoci. Este era claramente el lugar para estar en una fiesta de fin de ao. Finalmente, Neville alcanz a George quien estaba caminando con Ginny. l empez a caminar haca George, cuando vio como Hermione tiraba de l haca atrs. Neville estaba impresionado. No crea que Hermione fuese capaz de admitir que estaba equivocada, y menos que se disculpara. Cuando George volvi a aparecer, se dirigi directamente haca Neville.

Vamos por algo de comida. Dijo Apilaron en los platos Baguettes de carne asada, rollos de salmn, melaza de tartas y todo lo que Molly haba hecho. George Gui a Neville a una mesa en un rincn donde no haba nadie ms. Sentmonos aqu. Neville se acomod. Entonces empezaron a comer en silencio por momentos. Simplemente masticaban su comida. Ginny hablo conmigo. Dijo finalmente George con voz baja. Hummm?. Tuvo que tomar un sorbo de cerveza de mantequilla. Ella me lo dijo. Te dijo que? Sobre Amycus Carrow. Oh, eso. Neville estaba tranquilo. T la salvaste. Neville neg con la cabeza. No. Ella no necesitaba que la salvaran. Ella se salv a si misma. George, no tiene ninguna idea de lo poderosa que es ella. Ella es la sptima hija. Los sptimos hijos siempre son extraordinariamente poderosos. En serio?. Neville nunca antes haba odo decir eso. George asinti. Las familias actuales no son tan grandes, por lo que estos casos no se ven mucho. Y de hecho un montn de gente no sabe de esto, pero si, el sptimo hijo tiene un poder especial. El catorceavo hijo tambin lo tiene. Se detuvo un momento. Todos los mltiplos de siete, en realidad, as que el vigsimo primero tambin lo tendra, pero eso ha sucedido una vez en la historia de los magos. Humm... muy interesante. De todos modos, no era esto lo que quera decir. T la salvaste. Yo no hice nada ms que estar con ella en todo momento. Hasta que empezamos a acampar en la sala de los requerimientos.

Tu fuiste su amigo. Estuviste all con ella y eso era lo que necesitaba. Siendo honesto George, no hice mucho. Ella me dijo que si no hubiese sido por t, habra tratado de cazar a Carrow e intentar matarlo. Pero ella me detuvo de hacer justamente eso. Y detenindote a t, ella tambin lo hizo. George vacil y suaviz su voz. Tambin me dijo que era suicida, pero que t te mantuviste cerca y le impediste hacer algo al respecto. Ella era que?!. Neville estaba trastornando. George Cabece. Incluso me dijo que rob una planta Tschiffely del invernadero. Neville repentinamente dej de respirar. La Tschiffely era muy til limpiando las pieles de dragn, pero era completamente fatal si se ingera. Por desgracia era muy comn en los casos de suicidios de magos, y de hecho a los estudiantes no se les permita la entrada a esa zona del invernadero. Pero pensndolo bien, l en realidad saba cuando Ginny la rob. Se hallaban en una clase de herbologa y Neville se haba quedado despus de terminada, a charlar con la profesora Sprout, y debido a que ambos andaban siempre juntos, Ginny lo esper mientras vagaba por el invernadero. De hecho la haba visto pasear por la zona restringida, pero nunca se le pas por la cabeza algn pensamiento sobre ello, ni incluso a la profesora Sprout. Yo nunca supe que la estaba salvando. Le explic Neville a George. Me gusta Ginny. lo sabes? Slo quera estar ah para ella. Gracias. Dijo George. Porqu? Por mi hermana. George mantuvo su mirada sobre Neville, quien no entenda completamente porque l le estaba agradeciendo. De nada. Continuaron comiendo hasta que George finalmente dijo con voz alegre. Bien. Eso era algo serio. Neville rio. Vamos a aligerar el ambiente entonces.

Correcto. George asinti y se tom un trago de Whisky de fuego, y le dio otro a Neville, quien se lo bebi rpidamente. Quieres vivir conmigo? Qu?. Neville pregunt, sorprendido y tosiendo el whisky de fuego. Mdate conmigo, a mi apartamento, vivamos juntos. Explic. Hemos estado juntos, como... dos meses. Y?. Pregunt George. Bueno, es un poco rpido. Puedo ser serio por un segundo ms? Claro. Te amo. T que?! Me escuchaste. Te amo. Se detuvo por un momento. Muy bien, yo no soy mister romance y no voy regalando corazones y flores, y toda esa mierda. As que no me lo hagas decir una y otra vez. De acuerdo? TE AMO. Lo hago y quera que tu lo supieras. Neville ri. Eres un idiota. Ahora George era el que rea. Qu? Te amo demasiado. De acuerdo?. Neville le respondi ruborizndose. Lo saba. George se inclin y le pellizc un brazo a Neville. Saba que me amabas. Lo saba por la manera en que no puedes tener tus manos alejadas de m. Ay!. Se frot Neville el brazo donde George le haba pellizcado. Creo que es al contrario mi amigo. T no puedes mantener tus manos lejos de m. George permaneca riendo cuando dijo. Ves? Nos amamos. Deberamos vivir juntos. Neville se encogi de hombros. Tal vez.. Vamos... Porqu no?. Le rog.

Neville sinti que toda su sangre suba a su rostro, y estaba de un rojo mate. Yo.... No saba como decir lo que quera decir. Qu?. George le presion. No hemos tenido ni siquiera.... Neville movi nerviosamente sus manos tratando de mantener a raya a George. No hemos tenido realmente sexo todava. O si?. Cerr sus ojos, horrorizado por lo rojo que estaba en aquel momento. Saba que no debera estar avergonzado, pues de hecho ya haban tenido el pene del otro en la boca. Que ms habra de avergonzarse? Ahhh. Respondi George agitando su cabeza. As que hemos estado en la cama durante muchas noches en el ltimo mes, tonteando y t queras ms, pero no lo pedas. Neville saba que George le estaba tomando el pelo, pero an as, sinti la necesidad de defenderse. Nunca antes haba hecho esto. No s cuanto tiempo se supone que deba tomar antes de que estemos listos. Es decir Cuanto tiempo te tom antes de follar con Oliver? Yo fui muy precoz. Respondi George. Cuanto tiempo George? Esto no va hacerte sentir mejor. Cuanto tiempo. Mas o menos cuando nos dimos cuenta de lo que queramos el uno del otro. Mientras estaba en cuarto ao y Oliver en sexto. Dios!. Exclam Neville. Dios! T tenas catorce. Neville mova la cabeza. Soy tan estpido en estos asuntos. Tengo diecinueve, cierto? T tenas catorce cuando lo hiciste con Oliver. Porqu estas esperando para estar conmigo? Mira Neville. Oliver fue... nada. Nunca tuvimos algn tipo de relacin, entiendes? Slo nos encontrbamos y juguetebamos. l buscaba encuentros con chicas y tipos, pero solamente quera tener relaciones sentimentales con chicas. Y? George suspir. Mira, dices que eres nuevo en esto, pues yo tambin lo soy. Nunca he hecho cosas de novio, correcto? Hice algunas cosas con Oliver, como follar. Pero no s como es eso de acostarte con un novio. As que simplemente somos dos idiotas en este tema. Dijo Neville.

Exacto. Bueno, eso es un alivio. Solt Neville y George ri. As que hagmoslo. Vivir juntos? George no lo s. Mi abuela me necesita. No. Quise decir follar. Hagmoslo. Ahora?. Neville mir cuidadosamente a su alrededor. Si, ahora. Insisti George. No aqu, por supuesto, pero ahora. Vmonos. Pero la fiesta... Ellos estarn bien sin nosotros. Vamos, siempre quise tener sexo en mi habitacin de nio. Oh! Aunque Neville estaba un poco nervioso, tuvo un repentino ataque de impulsividad. Si, vamos. Apur su cerveza de mantequilla y sigui a George corriendo y riendo a travs de aquella tienda, en aquella fra noche. *** As que este es el cuarto de tu infancia?. Pregunt Neville mientras miraba a su alrededor. Si. Mam y pap en realidad no han tomado nada desde que Fred y yo nos mudamos. Neville se pase por ella. Era una habitacin pequea, no mucho ms grande que su habitacin en la casa de su abuela, pero tena dos veces ms cosas. Dos camas separadas por una cmoda llena de cajones, dos mesas alineadas en la pared frente a la cama. Adems un pequeo armario tan repleto de ropa y de cajas que la puerta casi no poda cerrar. Las paredes estaban repletas de varios carteles de equipos de Quidditch, en los cuales sus jugadores de movan a velocidades vertiginosas. Pero las partes superiores de sus cuerpos eran fotografas de todos y cada uno de los miembros de la familia Weasley. Al fijarse en los rostros, Neville sinti un nudo en la garganta al notar que una de las polvorosas fotos perteneca a Fred. Era evidente que Molly entraba en aquella habitacion especialmente para ver aquella imagen. Neville se aclar la garganta y se volvi haca George.

Cul cama era la tuya? sta. George se sent en la cama ms alejada de la puerta y salt sobre ella un par de veces. Ven aqu. Dio unas palmaditas en la caja junto a l. Neville se sent junto a George, mientras trataba de limpiarse las manos sudorosas a causa de los nervios. As que aqu fue donde inici Sortilegios Weasley. Un lugar verdaderamente histrico. Aprob George. Neville sonri y apret sus manos contra las rodillas. Ests nervioso?. Pregunt George. No. Contest Neville. Entonces dijo rpidamente, bueno si... No tenemos que hacer esto todava. No hay prisa. Yo quiero.... Neville le tranquiliz. Es slo... Vacil. Ests seguro que aqu tendremos privacidad? George tom su varita y apunt a la puerta. La puerta son y qued cerrada mgicamente desde el interior. Nadie entrar aqu, Neville. Pero no era en realidad un tema de privacidad. Neville en realidad no saba porque estaba tan nervioso. Haba estado con George en la cama muchas veces, donde el sexo no fue en realidad la ltima frontera a superar. Entonces se quit los zapatos y se tendi en la cama. George sonri y tambin se quit los zapatos. Ests seguro acerca de esto?. Pregunt. Neville asinti. Estoy seguro. Y empez a mirar el techo mientras George se acomodaba en la cama junto a l. George le tom la mano. Me va a doler? Se ruboriz al instante y quiso morirse de la vergenza debido a lo consentido que haba sonado. George no dijo nada por unos momentos. Probablemente, al principio. Respondi mientras jugaba con los dedos de Neville. Ir lento, y tratar de hacer todo lo posible para evitar hacerte dao.

Ven aqu entonces. Dijo Neville con voz temblorosa y tir a George sobre si. George se acost junto a Neville y lo bes suavemente en la boca. Neville le acarici el cabello rojo fuego que tanto le gustaba. George se inclin y bes el cuello de Neville, y cuando lleg al punto exacto le dio un pequeo mordisco, que sac un pequeo suspiro y un -ohhh- de l. Aquel gemido excito a George, quien sonri y se apret contra las caderas de Neville. Neville se relaj, el tener a George tan cerca en realidad le pareca tan natural que por unos momentos dej de preocuparse. En verdad era una estupidez la forma como se estaba preocupando por la rapidez con la cual iba su relacin, siendo que cuando estaba en el apartamento de George se senta cmodo, feliz y clido. Porqu no compartira una casa con l? George se las haba apaado para sacarle la camisa a Neville y le estaba besando el pecho. Cuando empez a succionar su tetilla, meti la mano en sus pantalones al mismo tiempo. Neville por unos instantes se qued sin aliento y sacudi sus caderas instintivamente. Nunca se cansara de la clida sensacin de la mano de George, acaricindolo. Neville con sus manos temblorosas empez a desabrochar la camisa de George. Lo hizo de manera torpe y George tuvo que detenerse para brindarle una mejor posicin. Maldicin. Murmur y se puso en pie. Se quit la camisa rpidamente, se desabroch sus pantalones y se los quit. Neville sonri y se quit sus propios pantalones y boxer. Cuando ambos estaban desnudos, George salt nuevamente a la cama, riendo. Trat de hacerlo de la mejor manera para evitarle dolor a Neville, pero sin duda la primera vez nunca era realmente cmoda. George entonces fue tan cuidadoso y amable como le fue posible, utiliz un encantamiento para lubricarlo (Donde aprendera ese tipo de encantamientos? Se pregunt Neville) y utiliz sus dedos para relajarlo. Luego utiliz aquel mismo encanto sobre su pene, mientras presionaba con el mayor cuidado posible sobre l. Neville jade y trat difcilmente de relajarse, intentando concentrar su ansiedad y temor moviendo sus manos, las cuales de tanto apretarlas se tornaron completamente blancas. Ests bien?. Pregunt George con voz tensa Bien. Afirm Neville con voz igualmente tensa. Podemos detenernos. No!. Contest rpidamente. Quiero hacer esto. Y as lo hizo. De sbito, el dolor y la incomodidad ya no importaba, porque estaba compartiendo una parte muy importante de l con George. Con el hombre del cual se haba enamorado

ms rpidamente de lo que hubiera podido imaginar. George sonri y entr varias veces en Neville, cada vez un poco ms profundo. Neville respiraba lenta y profundamente, tratando de relajarse, y despus de algunos minutos de trabajo empez a disfrutar de aquella sensacin, la sensacin de ser llenado por George. Empez a mover sus caderas lentamente, dndole un ritmo a George, el cual prontamente lo sigui. George tom el miembro de Neville, el cual se puso duro. Neville se senta tan bien, y Fred haba estado en lo cierto, aquel era el motivo por el cual le haba hablado a su hermano. Porque George necesitaba compartir aquello con alguien, con un hombre que en realidad amara. No puedo ms. Susurr Neville. Ohhh!. Se derram sobre su propio vientre teniendo una contraccin involuntaria, que presion el miembro de George, quien a la vez empuj ms profundamente, causndole un shock e hizo que terminara con un fuerte gemido. Los dos hombres permanecieron en la cama por algunos momentos, respirando con dificultad y tratando de recuperarse. George se separ de Neville y se recost junto a l, abrazndolo fuertemente. Le dio un tierno beso en el hombro. Cmo ha sido?. Pregunt en un murmullo. Neville gir y observ a George a los ojos. Sonri. Mmmmmm.... Fue todo lo que dijo y le dio un beso en la boca. Supongo que fue algo bueno entonces. Muy bueno. Afirm. Y se mantuvieron all, en silencio, cada uno en sus propios pensamientos. Despus de unos momentos Neville pregunt suavemente. Eres feliz? Feliz? Cmo? Se levant y qued sentado en la cama. En general, Eres feliz? George permaneci pensativo por unos momentos. Estoy trabajando en ello Nev. No soy infeliz, que es un adelanto respecto a lo que vena sintiendo desde la muerte de Fred. Todo esto sobre el sentido de la muerte y la vida, es como un proceso. Y es un largo camino entre la infelicidad suicida y la completa felicidad. Estoy trabajando en ello. Me encanta.

Eres t, Neville, me haces feliz. Neville observ a George seriamente. George, yo apenas si poda salir de la cama hasta el da en que te vi en la tienda. No tienes idea de lo feliz que me has hecho. Esto se est poniendo un poco serio de nuevo. Advirti George. Neville solt una carcajada. Lo s, lo lamento. Me pregunto si realmente Fred saba de que estaba hablando en mis sueos. El me dijo que te hablara por alguna razn. Bueno, gracias a Fred entonces. Neville se acerc a George para darle otro beso. Y lo siguieron haciendo por algunos minutos ms, antes de que George se alejara para tomar un respiro. Deberamos volver a la fiesta. Claro. Afirm Neville. Pero ninguno de los dos se movieron, y de hecho primero se rieron mucho y se empujaron fuera de ella hasta que empezaron a vestirse lentamente. Sobre la mudanza, inici George, puedes tomarte todo el tiempo que necesites para tomar una decisin. Yo quiero. Le dijo Neville, antes de darse cuenta que aquella respuesta era bastante seria. En verdad?. El rostro de George se ilumin. Solamente me preocupa mi abuela. Se mordi la ua. Aunque supongo que puedo ir a visitarla todas las veces que sean necesarias. Cierto? Todas las que sean necesarias. George le tom las manos a Neville. Realmente vamos a hacer esto? Si. Afirm. Te amo. Yo tambin te amo.

Neville y George caminaron tomados de la mano mientras bajaban por las escaleras de la madriguera, y haca el fro de aquel 31 de diciembre. Al encontrarse con sus familiares y amigos, se dieron cuenta que ellos ya se haban percatado en mayor o menor medida de su desaparicin. Cuando entraron juntos a la tienda, relajados y felices, algunos de ellos intercambiaron miradas cmplices, acerca de lo que pudieron haber estado haciendo. No era que George y Neville no se hubieran percatado de ello, era simplemente que no les haba importado, porque as era aquel nuevo amor. Se senta fuertes y exuberantes, y queran gritarle su amor al mundo. Se sentan completamente conectados y el resto del mundo se hallaba muy lejano. Era el tipo de amor que haca soportable las cosas malas de la vida y mucho ms dulces las cosas buenas. Y bailaron, comieron y bebieron el resto de aquella noche. Y cuando el reloj marc la medianoche, Neville y George fueron de aquellos afortunados que tenan a alguien con quien compartir un beso. Aquel nuevo ao empez mucho ms feliz y ms esperanzador que el ao que acababa, y pudieron compartir un gran beso, al igual que las otras parejas, y ambos tuvieron la sensacin de que este nuevo ao les traera buenas nuevas y felicidad, algo que ambos tenan muy bien merecido. FIN