He should have given up after he’d broken his wrist the second time — but he didn’t. He ploughed on through the third, the fourth and the fifth, through two broken ribs, a fractured ankle and several concussions. No one was surprised to see him in the Hospital Wing week after week, and he wasn’t surprised that no one ever asked what it was that constantly brought him there.
They just assumed it was clumsiness — and they weren’t wrong; he was graceless. He was chubby, little Neville Longbottom, the stooge of Gryffindor — terrible at everything and forgetful and hopeless. Silly Neville had broken something again? Well, that certainly wasn’t a surprise. It happened more or less every time they saw him, apart from class, that he was waddling down the corridor to have something mended by Madame Pomfrey.
She always asked — and he always lied. Because who would believe that Neville Longbottom — the boy who’d fallen nearly twenty feet from his broom during his first flying lesson — had sustained every injury thereafter while playing Quidditch? Of course, he hadn’t started out with the sport — he’d accumulated a number of breaks and bruises while learning how to fly. It wasn’t easy for him, and even four years after his first lesson, he was still very bad at it. It was a wonder he’d found anyone willing to watch him on a broomstick, never mind a friend who wanted to toss a Quaffle around.
But Cedric did. Neville never knew why, and the one time he’d tried to ask, Cedric simply smiled. It was eerie, he’d thought at first — because the Hufflepuff boy was very handsome, and clever, but surprisingly shy. He did quite a bit of talking with his eyes, rather than with words, and some days Neville wondered if he’d bothered to speak at all. He suspected that Cedric was one of those people who simply didn’t like speaking — as if the words cluttered the silence, rather than filled it. Not that Neville objected, he tried not to talk very much either — mostly because he stumbled over words and never knew exactly what to say. Cedric never seemed to notice, though. And thankfully, he made an exception about speaking when it came to flying lessons.
First year students at Hogwarts were required to take lessons on the rickety old school brooms for the first half of the school year. After the Christmas holidays, they could choose to continue on, under the supervision of Madame Hooch, or they could drop the class and pursue other interests. There were all sorts of clubs at Hogwarts to fill the students’ time — for chess and gobstones and collecting Chocolate Frog cards — but none of those interested Neville. He had two very great passions in life: Herbology, at which he was surprisingly good, and flying, at which he was unsurprisingly bad.
Needless to say, he’d chosen to continue flying lessons, despite his inability to sit upright on a broom. Madame Hooch had been shocked when Neville showed up on the first day of classes following break, wearing elbow and knee guards, and the most determined expression she’d ever seen on an eleven year old. She’d briefly considered turning him away — the boy was a disaster on a broomstick, and more accident prone than- well, there really wasn’t any thing he could be compared to. Longbottom was the epitome of ungainliness. But he tried; he tried very hard — and that was reason enough for her. She kept him on and helped him as much as she could.
Neville met Cedric for the first time shortly after the start of his second year. The school’s flying lessons stopped at the end of term for first year students, and for the first month or so of the following year, Neville was almost entirely on his own. He’d begged and pleaded and urged his gran to get him a broom for his birthday, and — grudgingly — she’d complied. It was a nice broom, not a flashy Nimbus, but the latest in the Comet line. The saleswizard at Quality Quidditch Supplies had casually informed Augusta that it was one of the safer models — slower, better brakes, and more stable (in other words, just what Neville needed). He cherished it, laboured over it day after day and painstakingly cared for each twig as though they were living, growing branches on some beautiful tree he was studying in Herbology class.
And every day after September 1st, he would sneak out to the Quidditch Pitch when it was blissfully empty and try to remember all the things Madame Hooch had taught him over the last year. He practised calling it, and was overcome with delight when — after two weeks — it finally responded, lifting a few feet off the ground to hover beside him. He spent several minutes checking his grip and making certain his hands were in the right place before he even considered pushing off as gently as possible from the ground.
It was Cedric who approached him, interrupting one such moment on a crisp, October morning. Charms had been cancelled due to excessive corgarbling — whatever that meant — and Neville had three wondrously free hours to himself, to run down to the broom shed, fetch his beloved and sprint to the Quidditch Pitch. What Cedric had been doing there, Neville was never sure. Later on in their friendship, he suspected that Cedric had been watching him for some time — no doubt entertained by his imbecile behaviour, but of course — Cedric would never say.
But for whatever reason, they both happened to be at the Pitch that morning, and after half an hour of watching Neville reposition his hands, Cedric approached. Without introducing himself, he corrected Neville’s grip. He showed him the proper way to sit (Neville had always been too far back, a common mistake for students who learn using the school’s brooms), and how to push off without launching himself into the air. Neville listened, complied — and for once in his life — felt like he learned.
Almost two years to the day after their first meeting, it was as if nothing had changed. Despite the circumstances and the complications, Cedric always seemed to have time for Neville, and Neville — well, Neville didn’t really have anyone but Trevor and his plants. He didn’t mind terribly much, he had quite a few people that he considered his friends — but none that he really felt compelled to call his best mate. It was Harry and Ron, and Seamus and Dean — even Ginny had whatever boy she was dating. He couldn’t speak to Hermione without turning bright red, despite his best efforts.
But then there was Cedric — and he wasn’t entirely sure what to call him, either. Cedric was one of the most popular boys in the school, and Neville was — well, Neville. He doubted anyone would believe him if he mentioned that he’d been to the Diggorys’ home in Ottery St. Catchpole four times now, or that Cedric had spent part of the Christmas holiday with him and his gran last year. Whether by choice or coincidence, they never interacted in front of other students and Neville found that very confusing.
Not confusing enough to ask, of course. Neville never asked any questions — unless it was about flying.
“How do you manage to keep upright?” he yelped, clinging to his broom. Cedric swooped under him to catch the Quaffle, cradling it neatly under his arm.
“Practise,” he answered with a soft smile, slowly drifting up to where Neville’s wild flailing had carried him. “You have to use your legs and your abdominal muscles.”
“I don’t think I have those,” Neville replied, still sprawled out across his broom, with both hands wrapped tightly around the handle.
Cedric chuckled and moved closer. Dropping the Quaffle into his lap, he braced his feet against the broom’s stirrups and leans over, carefully prying Neville’s fingers away from the wood. They were little more than fifteen or twenty feet of the ground, but he was well-versed in Neville’s ability to fall from any height. Luckily for the round, young Gryffindor, he always seemed to bounce a bit if the height was ever too perilous.
“Straighten up,” he coached. “I’ve got you.”
Neville took a deep breath before carefully pushing himself upright. He was wobbly — he always was at first, but after a moment or two of leaning heavily towards Cedric, he managed to find his balance on the broom again.
“Now hook your feet over the rungs, like mine are.”
Neville glanced down — and wobbled precariously for his trouble. “I c-can’t,” he answered. I’ll slide off.”
Cedric’s broom was at an angle — it was the preferred seat of most Quidditch players. It was more dangerous, because there was a slight risk of sliding off the back end, but it allowed players to control the broom with their feet and weight, rather than their hands.
“Just trust me, Nev.” With one hand, he smoothly tipped Neville’s broom up just enough to force him to change his posture. The Gryffindor shook with fear, and clung to Cedric’s arm, but managed to stay seated all the same. “Now move your feet where I showed you.”
Neville silently and slowly obeyed, shifting first one foot and then the other onto the bars. “L-like this?” he asked.
Cedric smiled, nudging his left foot back just a tad. “Well done,” he answered. “Do you feel more comfortable?”
“Nope,” was Neville’s immediate answer.
The Hufflepuff chuckled. “Does your stomach feel tight? I don’t mean sick, I mean-” he reached out and gently placed one hand just under Neville’s ribs. “Here, is it tense?”
He tried to focus on what Cedric was saying, he really did — but his legs felt like jelly, and his mind was in shambles, and nothing made sense any more. “Sorry, what?” he asked — blushing at his own incompetence.
Cedric glanced up from their brooms, to Neville’s face — eyes lingering on his rosy cheeks. “You know that feeling you get after flying,” he answered patiently, “a bit like sore muscles, but not quite that tender?”
Neville’s face contorted as he tried to recall what Cedric was talking about, putting one hand over Cedric’s and holding tight. “I think so?”
“It’s muscle weakness… because you don’t practise enough,” Cedric finished. “If you come out here every day, like you used to, then you’ll be sitting up right and not wobbling at all.”
“Oh,” Neville mumbled, hanging his head slightly. He knew he wasn’t very fit, and as much as he wanted to come out and fly every day, he simply didn’t have the time. The fourth year workload was crushing him — especially Potions — and it seemed like no matter how hard he tried, he never got anything accomplished, even with Hermione’s help.
Cedric watched him for a moment before speaking up again. “Nev, look at me.”
Neville looked up. He had the most pitiful expression — half way between a pout and self-loathing, but there was no denying how painfully adorable it seemed from Cedric’s point of view.
He smiled, a genuine and caring expression of his affection for the younger Gryffindor. “It’s a busy year… you’ll make it. Just don’t give up, alright?”
Neville could have cried. He wasn’t very strong or fierce or anything particularly Gryffindor-ish. Dumbledore had said he was brave once upon a time, but even he doubted it. Reckless might have been closer to the truth, but according to Professor McGonagall, they were often the same thing. Still — he was awkward and bumbling, and here was Cedric — the school’s champion, holding him up like some incompetent child. Cedric had faith in him, in ways he was sure even Harry didn’t — and Harry was a wizarding hero. Cedric made him feel like he could be brave, or smart, or strong — maybe not all at once, but he certainly could be some of them.
“Ced-… Cedric, are we friends?” he blurted out. “Because we play Quidditch together all the time but whenever I see you outside of class, it’s-…” he cut himself off before he could seem like even more of an ass.
Cedric leaned back slightly, a puzzled expression creeping across his face. He didn’t let go of Neville, and it rather seemed like he didn’t intend to. “I thought we were a bit more than that,” he answered quietly.
Neville blinked. “Like… close friends?” he asked? He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘best mates’ — it seemed too improbable.
Chuckling, Cedric reached up and ruffled the younger boy’s hair. “Yeah, close friends. Very close.”
Neville beamed. It was such a simple statement: ‘very close’ — but it meant the world to him. It felt so honest coming from Cedric. He adored his housemates, but it was easy enough (even for him) to see how they simply tolerated him most of the time. He’d never, in the two years that he’d know Cedric, ever felt like a burden in the way that he did in his own house. More than once Cedric had told him that he wished Neville was a Hufflepuff — for his determination, if nothing else. Neville liked being a Gryffindor — but he liked being told he belonged somewhere, too.
“Great. Yeah… cool.” He grinned. “We should… go grab lunch, or something. I’m starving.”
“Just us?” Cedric asked.
“Well, no- … or. It’s just up to you — if you want to invite your friends. I mean, it’s the Great Hall, whatever works…”
Ced held back another laugh. Someday, he’d manage to get the younger boy to stop stammering through his words. It might take ten years — but he’d make it happen. “Sounds good to me,” he answered, matching Neville’s smile. “After you,” he added, nodding towards the ground — but tipped both of their brooms towards the Pitch in a slow, smooth descent.
Something had occurred to him up in the air. Something that — despite the Gryffindor’s naivete and gentleness — he was keen on continuing for as long as Neville would allow.
They’d been holding hands for nearly twenty minutes.