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Story: What Makes You Different
Warnings: strong language, substance use/abuse
Written: 2 January 2010
Notes: Written for MadamMaurader’s Unconventional Couple challenge. HPDH+Ep compliant. Written in British English. Beta-ed by Cymie. Slightly altered to comply with hpff tos.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

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“Tell me again why I am out here with you of all people?” Draco Malfoy snapped as he crouched low over a cluster of peculiar six-leafed plants.

“Er,” Neville Longbottom stuttered as he tore his gaze away from Malfoy, who was kneeling close to the ground just a foot away, and recalled to his mind the right answer. “Because you need a plant for your new potions theory and I’m the most skilled herbologist you know? And I also happen to work in the vicinity of a forest which yields quite a plethora of the odd sorts of plants you’re seeking?”

“Yes, well,” Draco muttered, standing slowly and turning to survey Neville. “I’m not sure you had to come along with me.”

“Perhaps to be sure you found the right sample?” Neville suggested. He was a professor at Hogwarts now – though admittedly only working on his third year – but he had learned to handle his students, and found it was a transferable skill when it came to handling Malfoy. At least, he thought he was fairing better than he had as a student.

Things had changed since they were at Hogwarts.

“So, where exactly in your vast forest are we to find my potions plant?” Malfoy asked, turning and taken a few steps down the barely visible path. The Forbidden Forest was not Neville’s favorite place to be, but it wasn’t quite dusk yet, and the light brought him comfort. Really, it was unreasonable to be afraid of the Forest as his age.

“The particular plant you’re seeking grows best in low light and damp surroundings, so I’m afraid we’ve got to go deeper into the Forest if you plan on finding it,” Neville replied, following Malfoy along the path and then stepping around him to lead the way.

Malfoy was quiet, his footsteps echoing behind Neville’s. It was strange to be in the forest together, an odd pairing if he did say so himself. But it brought back a memory, too. First Year. Neville, Harry, Hermione, Malfoy, and Hagrid. Malfoy had sneaked up on Neville in the midst of the forest, when he was already scared out of his wits. It had been a cruel joke, a joke Neville, at eleven years old, was sure he never could forgive.

He had forgiven much since he was eleven.

“Are we there yet?” Malfoy asked in a way that managed not to come out as whining. It was more like his snappy voice, but controlled.

“Nearly,” Neville answered, plodding on. “What kind of potion are you making, anyway?”

“It’s…classified,” Malfoy responded slowly.

Neville stopped in his tracks and Malfoy ran into him, swearing loudly in the otherwise silent forest.

Neville rounded on Malfoy, demanding abruptly, “Is this some kind of Dark Potion? Is it Dark magic?”

Malfoy took a step backward. “No.”

Neville’s eyes narrowed. “Then why won’t you tell me what it is?”

“Just because I don’t want to tell you something doesn’t mean I’m keeping a secret and performing some kind of heinous crime!” Malfoy groused. “In case you hadn’t noticed, my family’s held a spotless record since the Battle of Hogwarts, and my potions were the ones that helped the children in Killarney after the rogue former Death Eaters tried to decimate their school!”

Neville watched Malfoy carefully. What he said was true, but it didn’t change the niggling doubts in his mind. Every step deeper into the woods made him question any trust he could ever have in Malfoy.

Neville turned slowly back toward the path, but Malfoy’s voice stopped him.

“I keep my new potions quiet, because there’s a chance other potion makers could discover the recipes and steal or disrupt my research and development. It’s a common practice in developmental sciences to never reveal what you’re working on in any detail until the time at which it’s patented and released for use by the Ministry,” Malfoy said in an even tone.

Neville nodded and then turned, guiding them back down the path. The overhead trees blocked the remaining light of day from their underbrush world. In the far distance, he thought he could hear the clops of centaur feet, roaming along their coves of trees.

“Just here,” Neville said, slowing and looking about his feet. He found the plant Malfoy was after, and squatted down to investigate. “You mustn’t take all of them,” Neville said as he plucked a healthy-looking sample. He turned to find Malfoy crouching next to him, and he handed over the peculiar greenish-purple plant. Malfoy took it with a delicate touch, his ring finger brushing against Neville’s hand in the exchange. Malfoy seemed awed with the leafy bulb.

“This is a perfect specimen,” Malfoy whispered in amazement. One would have thought he was talking about a woman’s body or a sinful piece of chocolate.

“The plant will continue to grow and spread in a healthy manner if you take less than a third of them. How many do you need?” Neville asked.

“I was hoping for ten samples just like this one,” Malfoy replied, raising the one in his hand and letting his eyes meet Neville’s.

“Ten should be fine,” Neville agreed, and he began to pull specimen jars from his pockets, shifting to his knees and examining the patch of plants, choosing samples that didn’t grow next to one another, so as to avoid leaving a bald spot in the natural environment.

They were on their way out, Neville relieved to be leaving Malfoy’s presence soon, and Malfoy seeming giddy as he pulled the jars of plants from his pockets every so often, smiling widely as he examined them again and then put them back.

“I appreciate you helping me, Longbottom. I really owe you for this,” Malfoy said as they emerged out of the Forbidden Forrest.

“You do. When can I take you up on that?” Neville asked, cocking an eyebrow upward as they stood facing each other at the mouth of the path. Dusk was settling in.

“Any time!” Malfoy insisted, surprising Neville with his willingness. Apparently finding the Scorijer plant was the key to making Malfoy happy.

“All right, then come by this time next week,” Neville said, challenging the truth to Malfoy’s words.

“Next week? Here, at Hogwarts?” Malfoy asked, eyebrows lowered. Neville nodded, a slow smirk spreading on his face. Malfoy schooled his own features. “What for?”

“I need a wingman,” Neville said matter-of-fact.

“A wingman? For what?” Malfoy responded, confused.

“You’ll see,” Neville grinned. Then he turned and headed up the grounds toward the castle. If he was lucky, he might still make supper before a long night of grading essays. He didn’t bother to turn around and check that Malfoy had left without problem. Malfoy was a big boy; he knew his way on and off Hogwarts grounds.

..:..


“This is so much more than what I owed you,” Malfoy snapped through his teeth as he settled himself at the bar beside Neville.

“Oh, really?” Neville asked, amused. “And how is that potion of yours progressing? I’m sure you would have gotten very far without the Scorijer,” he added in mild sarcasm.

Malfoy glared at him, then tapped the bar and requested a Firewhiskey from the barman.

“It’s not like it’s difficult,” Neville said, speaking reasonably as he sipped his green-coloured cocktail. “You just stand there for the evening. It’s hardly worth the plant, really.”

“Longbottom,” Malfoy replied in a low growl. “This is a gay bar.”

His eyes were locked on Neville’s, heated and angry. Neville held the gaze for a moment before he grinned and laughed.

“This isn’t funny,” Malfoy argued. “People are going to get the wrong idea about me.”

“Are they?” Neville smiled. “Relax, Malfoy. No one here knows you.”

Malfoy appeared to stew in his anger, taking heavy swigs from his Firewhiskey until he needed a second one.

“Just because no one here recognises me," Malfoy snapped bitterly, "doesn’t mean I want to be prancing around with a load of -”

“Relax!” Neville interrupted, setting a hand to Malfoy’s shoulder. He quickly drew it back when Malfoy glared at him.

“I do have a reputation, you know," Malfoy said, glaring at him.

Neville rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “You’re the perfect wingman, really,” he said, trying to recover the downward turn that the night was taking.

“Why’s that?” Draco bit back.

“Well, you’ll attract the men over with your dashing good looks, and when they find out you’re straight, you can direct them all to your pal, Neville.” He grinned and Malfoy rolled his eyes.

..:..


“Fine then, let’s have a gay evening, shall we?” Malfoy responded, finally letting go of the reluctance in his gut; he took a quick shot of some red mixture Neville had ordered for them, and then slung his arm around Neville, smirking as his shirt pulled up and revealed a flash of skin to the room at large.

The evening wasn’t terrible. After enough drinks, Malfoy and Neville were having laughs, and Neville even got to snog a few blokes in the process, but he hadn’t deemed any of them worth taking home. Malfoy couldn’t believe it was the same Neville Longbottom he’d been so hateful towards in school. Something had changed in Neville, and Malfoy thought it had started at Hogwarts – probably with Potter’s silly Defence classes.

Malfoy frowned, wondering for a quick moment what it would have been like to have Harry Potter as Defence teacher. Rubbish, probably. But then again, with Potter’s aid, Neville had become proficient at Defence despite his terrible performance with all of the Defence professors at Hogwarts. Malfoy frowned in thought, eyeing Neville with curiosity.

The end of the night found them laughing alongside each other, far too bladdered to have any wits about them any more. The barman politely ordered them out, and they hung on to each other’s shoulders as they tried to navigate through the door. The cool breeze in Diagon Alley brought a little more clarity than the dark, dankness of the bar inside.

A wizarding gay bar in London. Diagon Alley was certainly expanding its borders.

“Thanksfer bein’ a goodsport,” Neville slurred, grinning as he still hung onto Malfoy for balance.

“You all righ’ to get back t’ Hogs-wart?” Malfoy said, then laughed at his mistake.

“Yeah, Appatishun. Er, Apparaton. Apparation,” Neville laughed.

“You can’ Apparate when you’re pissed!” Malfoy protested, shaking his head.

He was right, and Neville gave in to his sound (though dunk) logic. They spent another hour at an all-night café, trying not to laugh too loudly as they drank a few cups of coffee and several glasses of water. Finally, Neville moaned as reality swept over him, telling Malfoy that it was a good thing tomorrow was Saturday and he didn’t have any classes to teach. Though it still didn’t appear to help with the headache already settling in, and the sloshiness in his brain.

They departed, each safe to Apparate by that point, and Malfoy spent most of Saturday sleeping.

..:..


“It’s finished!” Malfoy said through the fire in Neville’s private rooms at Hogwarts.

“What’s finished?” Neville asked, crossing the room from his desk, where he’d been working, and crouching down on the hearth.

“My potion! It’s got the Ministry seal on it, too! It’s official! So let’s celebrate!” Malfoy insisted through the flames.

“Are you going to tell me what the potion does, now?” Neville asked, eyebrow raised.

“If you’ll meet me in Hogsmeade, I will.” Malfoy smirked.

“It’s a school night,” Neville replied, frowning as he picked at the hearth rug.

“Oh, come on! You’re not a student! You don’t have any rules!”

It wasn’t true; he did have some rules at Hogwarts as a professor, but none of them involved leaving the grounds to meet a friend in Hogsmeade. That was perfectly permissible.

“All right, all right. Give me half an hour and I’ll meet you in Hogsmeade,” he agreed.

Malfoy grinned before his face disappeared from the fireplace.

In Hogsmeade, Malfoy was waiting for him, his light jacket unzipped and flapping in the evening breeze. It was odd that he wasn’t wearing wizard robes.

“What’s with the Muggle clothes?” Neville asked as he walked up the High Street. Malfoy approached him, meeting him halfway.

“Sorry, I was in London, getting the potion certified at the Ministry. I needed some Muggle clothes, as I spent a few hours in Muggle London as well,” Malfoy answered.

“Muggle London? What on earth would you be doing among Muggles?” Neville asked, sceptical. The two began to walk, as if they both knew where they were going, despite not yet verbally agreeing to any particular place.

“You forget the sentencing I received from the Minister when I was seventeen?” Malfoy asked, speaking quietly. Minister Shackelbolt, rather than punishing mere students with something like Azkaban, decided that the students fighting with Voldemort and the Death Eaters at the Battle of Hogwarts would be required to serve community service hours, as a repayment to the world for their actions in the war.

Part of Malfoy’s service had involved time spent with Muggles, though Neville didn’t know much of the details.

“Do you have Muggle friends?” Neville asked curiously.

“Er, one or two. Acquaintances, really,” Malfoy said quietly, then changed the subject. “Anyway, how about the Three Broomsticks?”

Neville nodded and the two walked the short distance it took to get there, chatting easily about Neville’s classes and the advantages of being a professor rather than student.

At the bar, Malfoy ordered Firewhiskies for them both, and grinned as they clinked their small glasses together.

“Cheers!” Malfoy said.

“Wait!” Neville interrupted, grabbing Malfoy’s hand before he could get the glass to his lips. “You’ve still not told me what the potion does! How do I know if I can toast to it?”

Malfoy set his glass down again. “Well, you know of the Hate Potion, right?”

Neville nodded, brow lowering. It didn’t seem like a good way to begin the description of a potion he was meant to toast.

“Well, a Hate Potion causes you to focus on the negative aspects of a person. People like to take it, for example, when they need help falling out of love with someone, right?” Neville nodded, following along. Malfoy continued. “So, you would think the opposite potion is the Love Potion, yeah?”

“Isn’t it?” Neville asked.

“No!” Malfoy said with vigor. “Love potions don’t create love, because love can’t be manufactured. All a love potion can do is influence a kind of obsession within the person who’s taken it. That, however, can be extremely unhealthy.”

“Yeah, Ron Weasley suffered from an over-done Love Potion in sixth year. It was…scary,” Neville agreed. “Or, so we heard…”

Malfoy paused for a moment to absorb the information, and then spoke again. “Well, I started thinking, could it possibly be useful to have a potion that, rather than bringing to mind all the negative aspects of a person, it actually brought to light their positive qualities?” Malfoy asked. Neville thought it over.

“Now, really, I don’t know if it is useful,” Malfoy went on. “That remains to be seen. The Ministry deems the Potion acceptable, but next we have to start the rounds of human testing, to see how the Potion can best be utilized. But think about this, if we’d had a Potion like this, back when people were choosing sides in a war…? It could have changed the course of history!”

Malfoy was grinning, and Neville started to as well. It would have changed a lot, indeed. But the past was what it was. They couldn’t go back now.

“Well, congrats, Malfoy,” Neville said. They shared a “Cheers!” and drank their Firewhiskies, quickly following it with butterbeers and a few cocktails.

“I really couldn’t have done it without that Scorijer plant, so I owe you big time,” Malfoy admitted, looking slightly buzzed already.

“No worries, mate,” Neville said, patting him on the shoulder. “You already paid me back, remember?”

Neville smiled at Malfoy, who returned it. He watched as Malfoy order a quick shot from the barman and drank it immediately, looking as though he were steeling himself for something. Neville frowned.

“What–”

Malfoy’s hand grabbed his face, and then he pressed his lips against Neville’s.

When he could push Malfoy away, it took a minute to figure out what the hell had just happened. Neville subconsciously felt himself wiping a hand across his mouth as he stared at Malfoy.

“What was that?!” Neville snapped.

“A kiss, what did it feel like?” Malfoy bit back, reaching for his glass of butterbeer. Neville grabbed his hand to stop him.

“Malfoy, we’re getting on as mates at the moment, but who the hell do you think you are, after all the shite you put us through at Hogwarts?” Neville raised his voice. The barman gave them a wary glance but didn’t come over to interrupt.

“I…we were children. I was a prat. We all were,” Malfoy stammered.

“I wasn’t,” Neville argued with passion.

“No,” Malfoy ceded the point. “And there’s no excuse for all the things I said about you, the things I did to you.”

He was quiet for a moment as Neville tried to recover himself and control the sudden burst of anger he’d felt.

“But,” Malfoy went on, turning his hand over to try and hold Neville’s. “I…respect you now. Admire you even. You’re not the same boy, no thanks to me, I know. But a professor? A successful herbologist? The way you fought in the war, and the things you did while the Carrows were at school? I couldn’t even do those things, when it was left to me. You’re…you’re not who I thought you were, or who I thought you’d become.”

Neville thought Malfoy was about to apologise, but was unsurprised when he didn’t. Still, he could almost see Malfoy struggling with it.

“You’re not having me on?” Neville asked with hesitation.

“No, I’m not,” Malfoy answered solemnly, his thumb now brushing along Neville’s palm. Neville pulled his hand away, folding it into his lap.

“You can’t change what you did in the past,” Neville said.

“I can’t,” Malfoy agreed. “But I can choose to be something different.”

It was quiet again as the two of them eyed each other, Malfoy appearing to wait impatiently as though Neville held his future in his hands. It was…unsettling. Neville drank from his glass, thinking. Malfoy fidgeted, turning his own glass in its place, scratching at his hair, glancing at the barman.

Everyone deserved a second chance.

“Two conditions,” Neville said, finally turning to look fully upon Malfoy, who nodded for him to continue.

“One. You meet me here once a week for the rest of the term. And we see where this goes.”

“No problem. It’d be my pleasure,” Malfoy agreed, chancing a smile. “And number two?”

“Number two,” Neville said, pushing his glass away from him and leaning toward Malfoy. “Kiss me again.”





THE END.

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