"I've got another bouquet for you, Mrs. Bishop," said Neville with an impish grin. Deliveries like this were one of his favourite parts about his job at Harcourt's Herbology House. He set the flowers down on her desk and fluffed them, getting a few playful nips from the snapdragons that her husband had chosen. "He must've done something really bad this time," said Neville teasingly.
She laughed and nodded, reading the card. "He let the kneazle out into the garden, and she had her kits right in the middle of those awful petunias his mother planted," she confided, shaking her head. "I think I'll pretend to be mad for a few more days, though. I'll want some new flowers for the weekend since we're having company."
Neville laughed along with her. "Just let me know if you'd like something to replace those petunias, and I'll see if I can't steer Mr. Bishop toward a nice potted plant," he said with a wink.
One by one, the other office workers came over to admire the flowers, until nearly everyone was gathered for an impromptu break and chattering happily among themselves. All except one, who sat stubbornly at his desk, glancing over at them reproachfully whenever he paused to dip his otherwise busy quill. Percy Weasley did his best to frown at the lot of them, and Neville wondered again why Weasley begrudged them a few moments of gossip and some color to brighten up the place.
It was Friday when Neville returned, and Derek Bishop's second apology was large enough to warrant the special carrying case this time. "I see he feels appropriately guilty," said Neville with a chuckle, pulling out three vases of roses, each a different size and colour; a dozen fire-and-ice roses in a tall frosted vase, two dozen Classic Cezanne roses in soft pink with darker edges that filled a glass bowl of an even deeper pink, and three dozen long-stemmed red roses artfully arranged in a clear crystal sphere.
Maria Bishop blushed a little, then shrugged. "His mother learned of the mishap, and he got an extra dose," she replied conspiratorially. "I'll forgive him over the weekend, but hopefully he'll replace the petunias next week, so I'll get to see you anyway," she added with a laugh.
Neville grinned back. "I do enjoy our little visits," he teased. "Actually, Mr. Bishop's such a good customer the boss told me you could borrow the transport case, if you'd like," he said, reaching down to pull out one last vase. "I'll come get it on Monday, all right?"
"Oh, that's wonderful!" she said, clapping her hands in obvious delight.
Neville grinned and waved, moving off to make his final delivery of the day.
"Mr. Weasley?" said Neville shyly, stopping at Percy's desk while the rest of the office went over to admire the fragrant flowers on Mrs. Bishop's desk.
Percy looked up, obviously irritated. "What is it, Longbottom?" he asked, quill still poised over the form he'd been filling out.
Neville's smile faltered, but he rallied by telling himself as he so often did that if he could kill a snake in front of Voldemort, he could do this. "I have something for you," he said, setting the crystal vase on Percy's desk, to the left of his inkwell and quill stand. "Enjoy it."
Neville turned and fled before Percy could protest, hoping he'd done the right thing.
Percy's eyes followed Longbottom out, a part of him noting as it always did that the boy had grown from a fat fool into a fit, stocky young man. Then he turned with trepidation to look at the item cluttering up his desk. The vase was very fine and delicate, the simple lines gracefully drawing the eye upward to the flower it held. A cheerful yellow chrysanthemum stood atop a straight, green stem. The trailing petals surrounding the central blossom made it look like a firework lighting up the dark corner of his desk. An envelope was stuck to the front, and Percy pulled it off and looked at the card inside.
"When you know what the flower means, you'll know what it means," it read. Infuriatingly, there was no signature.
Percy knew, of course, that there was a secret language of flowers, but he'd never had reason to study it outside of the silly messages that went with Valentine's Day roses at Hogwarts. And even then, he'd only learned enough to send a pink one to Penelope, not wanting to either imply more than he could promise, or give her cause to feel slighted. He sighed, knowing it would bother him until he found out, and tucked his quill in the spelled holder that would keep the ink on it from drying and clogging the delicate nib. Given that the rest of the office was bound to be occupied, it was as good a time as any to take a break himself for tea and a mystery.
"Did you figure it out?" asked Neville cheerfully come Monday, having collected the case from Mrs. Bishop already, trading it for a pot of gently chiming bluebells that she'd declared a vast improvement over the old petunias.
Percy finished the line he was writing before he set his quill aside and looked up, face a mask of disapproval that put Neville to mind of the years he'd been a Prefect. "I'm not sure who thought it would be amusing to pretend at being my secret admirer, but I assure you the joke was not appreciated," he said, with just enough bitterness to twist something in Neville's stomach.
"It's not a joke," said Neville weakly, feeling terrible that Percy might have taken it as such. "Perhaps they're just shy. At any rate, they like you enough to send these," he said, putting the new vase right where the old one had stood and wondering if the poor chrysanthemum had gone straight into the rubbish bin. He proffered the card rather than leaving it stuck to the vase, wanting to be here this time to temper Percy's skepticism. If that was even possible.
Percy glared for a moment, then snatched the small envelope and pulled out the card inside. "Don't doubt my sincerity," read Percy aloud. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Neville shrugged, pointing to the vase where two tall hyacinth stems held dozens of blue and white blossoms. "Hyacinths are for sincerity," he explained. "Maybe your admirer knew you wouldn't believe him. Or her."
Percy's eyes narrowed. "I sincerely doubt he -- or she -- could have found much to admire."
Neville gaped for a moment, then shook his head. "Honestly, Percy, I don't remember you being this dense. You've got loads of admirable qualities, and if you're sometimes a bit proper, well, maybe that's part of your charm."
It was Percy's turn to stare in astonishment, and Neville took that to mean it was time for a good exit line. Unfortunately, the only thing he could come up with to say was, "At least don't toss the vase this time, you can always give it to your mum."
"I didn't," said Percy, as Neville was turning away. Neville glanced back to find Percy was red-cheeked, but seemed earnest. "I took it home, I... it smelled lovely."
Neville grinned. "The hyacinths are even better," he said, then left before he could put his foot in it, again.
On Thursday, Neville brought another pot of flowers for Mrs. Bishop, and three stargazer lilies for Percy. This time, the card said, "For both of our ambitions," which Percy found faintly baffling. The gaudy pink and white flowers attracted the attention of his coworkers like bees buzzing around the bright yellow stamen. He was grateful when it came time to quit and he could take them home.
The chrysanthemum had ended up under a preservation charm on the otherwise useless shelf next to his bathroom mirror, where it sparkled with moisture after every shower, mocking him with its promises of admiration. The hyacinths had gone by his bedside, also charmed, so that their sweet scent could lull him at night, covering up the miasma of the cheap neighbourhood in which he lived. The lilies he ended up tucking away in a corner of his kitchen, though something made him preserve those as well despite his dislike for the lurid colouring, and the next morning he found himself stroking the petals while he waited for his tea to boil, and contemplating the idea of ambition.
His own ambitions had been set since he was a boy, and it was only since the war that he'd begun to doubt them along with everything else he'd had wrong. The Ministry took more than it offered a man like him, exploiting his diligence and eagerness to please without giving him the satisfaction he'd craved all his life. Not even the work they'd done to restore the Ministry to rights after the dreadful purge following You Know Who's defeat was well rewarded, either through promotions or praise. At least, not for him.
Percy looked at the lilies as he sipped his tea, and contemplated a future where he was appreciated, at least by one person.
When Neville came on Tuesday, he had nothing but Percy's gift with him, which he'd saved for the last delivery of the day. This time it was a living plant, a single orchid stem with four blossoms and a little placard stuck in the soil with care instructions. Percy's stare of disbelief led Neville to the inescapable conclusion that he'd been studying up on the flower language since that first delivery, and didn't find the message of delicate beauty to be a particularly good one.
"Same spot?" Neville asked, noting that there was a distinct empty space there now, the surrounding items subtly moved to make room.
"Please," said Percy, sounding almost warm for once, friendly. "Do you know... can you tell me, please, if it's," he swallowed nervously and lowered his voice, "if it's a man or a woman?"
Neville couldn't help but smile, leaning in conspiratorially. "Your admirer is a man," said Neville, feeling shy himself over giving out the tiniest hint to his identity. "I hope you don't mind."
Percy shook his head, then returned Neville's hesitant smile. "That's preferable," he admitted, holding his hand out for the card.
Neville grinned and passed it over, feeling his heart do a little flip-flop at the thought that he might actually win Percy for his own, and not just over to the idea that flowers weren't all nonsense and foolishness. "I'll be sure to pass that along," he said with a wink.
Neville escaped before Percy could read the card, though he heard the incredulous splutter as he slipped out the door. He supposed it might be a bit early to wax poetic about Percy's looks, but something about the way colour stole over his cheeks had brought the delicate blush of this species of orchid to mind. When Neville found out the meaning of the flowers, he hadn't been able to resist.
"Is he blind?" asked Percy tartly when Neville returned on Friday, Mrs. Bishop's weekend bouquet already drawing the usual crowd.
Neville blinked. "Don't you like blue?" he asked, looking down at the five little Bachelor's Buttons.
Percy looked confused for a moment, then laughed. "Not the flowers, they're fine," said Percy with a shake of his head. "Me. This," he said, showing Neville the card from last time.
Neville couldn't help but smile to see it looking slightly careworn, as though curious fingers had touched it many times over the past few days. "I think he's got perfectly good taste," said Neville, setting the vase down in its usual spot and propping the card up in front of it enticingly.
Percy snorted. "You would say that," he said, snatching up the new card. "The moments we share are much sweeter for the anticipation of our time apart," he read, shaking his head. "What does that mean? Is it someone I already know?"
"One would hope, or else it's a stalker," said Neville. "Otherwise, how would he ever have come to admire you?"
Percy glared, though he didn't try to argue the logic, for which Neville was grateful. "Why one more flower each time, then?" he asked, fingers gently touching the edge of one blue blossom.
Neville shrugged, but inside he was cheering, to have caught Percy up in the game so well. "Perhaps his affection grows with each passing day?" he said teasingly. "Or he's leading up to something."
"But... What?" asked Percy, looking for once adorably bewildered rather than annoyed or upset.
"Guess you'll have to wait to find out," said Neville with a grin. "I'll be seeing you next week, I'm sure," he added, turning to leave.
Softly enough that Neville almost didn't catch it, Percy said, "I hope so," to his retreating back.
Neville grinned like a fool for the rest of the day.
Percy was surprised to hear a knock on the door to his flat on Saturday afternoon, which he'd taken off in order to do some mundane chores around his flower-bedecked flat. He opened it to find Neville standing outside with a sheepish grin on his face and a vase of flowers in hand, half a dozen tall delphiniums swaying in the light breeze. "I wasn't aware you did home deliveries," said Percy, blurting the first thing that came to mind.
"Of course we do," said Neville, cheeks pinking though Percy had no idea why. "I don't usually work the Saturday shift, but since it was you, I told the boss I'd take care of this one."
"You might as well come in," said Percy, catching Neville trying to peer past him into the flat. He stepped back and opened the door fully, gesturing Neville inside.
"Thanks," said Neville. The warmth of Neville's body as he brushed past drew an answering heat into parts of Percy's anatomy that weren't strictly welcome to it at the moment.
"I'm sorry it's in a bit of disarray, I was doing chores," said Percy lamely, hoping to distract from the carefully preserved bachelor buttons on the coffee table, and the orchid on the mantel with its instruction placard still stuck in the pot where he could easily refer to it. The room was bright and sunny and quite neat except for the pile of folded laundry on the couch, and the basket of wash still half-full next to it, thankfully linens rather than something embarrassing like underpants.
Neville chuckled. "Only you would consider this messy," he said, glancing around. "Where shall we put these?" he asked, looking absurdly delighted to spot two of his deliveries in the room.
Percy bit his lip. "Um, the kitchen table, I think," he said; the vase was big and the flowers tall, and that was about the only spot he could think of where they'd be safe.
Neville's grin widened even further when he saw the lilies still tucked into their little nook. "The flowers really brighten the place up," he said, fluffing the arrangement slightly after he set them down. "Great preserving spell, too, though you always were good at whatever you did."
Percy didn't know what to say to that, so he retrieved the envelope tucked in the stems and read the note inside. "I hope it's not too bold to send these to your home, but I wanted to brighten up all the corners of your life and not just the corner of your desk," read the now-familiar handwriting. Percy found himself smiling and shaking his head.
"What?" asked Neville curiously.
"He's too clever by half," said Percy with a chuckle, setting the card down.
Neville shrugged and said, "I'll have to pass that along." There was a long moment of awkward silence, and then he blurted "Did you want a hand with the towels?"
Percy raised an eyebrow at that. "Somehow," he said, moving to the cupboard, "I don't think that's part of the service. But if you're done for the day, you could stay for a cup of tea."
Neville's grin brightened up the room even better than the flowers, not that Percy would ever have told him such a foolish thing. "I'd love to," said Neville, face going all soft as he moved around the table, leaning against the counter by the sink.
"I've only got ginger digestives," warned Percy as an afterthought, hands already busy measuring out the tea leaves. "I'm afraid I wasn't expecting company.
"Anything's fine," said Neville nonchalantly. "I'm here for the company anyway, not the biscuits."
Percy chuckled, wondering if his secret admirer knew just how much he was coming to admire the messenger. "That's good, since it's not the best tea, either," he admitted jokingly; actually, it wasn't bad, just not top of the line. Percy didn't indulge himself in much, but a good cup of tea was worth a few extra Sickles now and then.
Neville, stepped around Percy with another of those teasing brushes to pick up the tin. "This is Gran's brand, though she prefers the Earl Grey," he said, setting it back down, "so I assure you I won't notice a thing."
"Well and done, then," said Percy, spelling the kettle hot and pouring the water over the leaves to steep, inhaling the fragrant steam for a moment before he remembered he was being observed. "Biscuits are in that second cupboard, bottom shelf," he said, pointing just past Neville, "If you would?"
"Glad to do my share," said Neville back teasingly. He found the packet of them easily enough in the meagre cupboard, and Percy busied himself getting out a plate rather than talk about how little he kept on hand. It wasn't so much that his pay packet was short, as that he had trouble spending on things just for himself. He had built up a respectable savings in his Vault, enough that if he did ever get sacked -- or, heaven forbid, quit -- he'd have some leeway before things grew tight.
"Smart, in a place like this," said Neville, arranging the biscuits on the plate in a neat circle, "not keeping a lot of food around. Gran's always going on about pixies in the flour this time of year."
Percy liked Neville just a little more for it, and he found himself smiling again as he poured the tea into two plain white mugs. "Mother always bought what she needed just for a week at a time, and I guess the habit sank in," he replied, realising it was true. It wasn't just that they hadn't much money from week to week, but that she left very little sitting about for the fieldmice that always seemed to find their way in past the anti-vermin charms.
Tea poured, Percy added just a touch of sugar to his, and was pleased to find he had milk for Neville's as well. They sat at the couch in the bright sunshine, talking until the tea was gone, the towels were folded, and it was nearly time for dinner. "Well, I'd best be going," said Neville, wearing the pleased little smile that had hovered around his mouth all afternoon.
"I'd invite you to stay, but," Percy began.
Neville held up his hand. "But you've nothing for two to eat, it's all right," he said, standing. "I won't impose any longer, though I must say I rather like those biscuits." They'd eaten every last crumb, and Percy would have to get more tomorrow, but he found he didn't mind one bit.
They stood and said their goodbyes, Neville's eyes twinkling when he assured Percy, "I'll see you next week, don't worry."
Percy flushed a little to realise how they'd carried on despite his other, secret admirer, but he found he couldn't mind it too much. Neville was charming and kind, and no matter how the rest of it turned out, Percy was hoping that he'd made a friend. "I'll look forward to it. Maybe," he said, ducking his head shyly, "maybe you'd like to have lunch one day?"
There was that grin again, big and bright and far happier than Percy thought anyone should get over an invitation from him. "I'd love to. Tuesday, perhaps? I bet you're a late lunch sort of bloke, say one o'clock?"
That was actually earlier than Percy ever left, but he didn't think anyone would mind, though they were sure to notice. "Tuesday at one," he agreed, as Neville made his way out into the hall. "Thank you."
"For what?" asked Neville, pausing to look back.
"For bringing me flowers," said Percy, feeling his cheeks heat.
Neville's smile warmed and his voice was terribly pleased as he replied, "Anytime."
Monday brought Neville back to Percy's office with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Mr. Bishop had apparently been good over the weekend, so all he had with him was the seven white camellias he'd chosen for Percy this time. "Thank you for the tea the other day," said Neville cheerfully, setting the flowers down on Percy's desk in their usual spot.
Percy smiled back, face lit up in a way that Neville had never thought he'd see directed at him. "It was nice to have company," he replied.
"You're good company to share," said Neville, feeling like a boy with a crush again. He fidgeted for a moment, then said, "Aren't you going to read your card?"
Percy shook himself, then turned and plucked it from the vase where it was stuck. "At least this venture has been educational," he said, mostly to himself. He turned back to Neville with the card still unopened and said with that forthright sincerity only he could pull off, "I'm glad we're friends now, Neville. If... if it doesn't work out with this bloke, you'll still see me sometimes, won't you?"
Neville smiled reassuringly and patted Percy's hand. "I'll be here delivering Mrs. Bishop's apology flowers, if nothing else," he said truthfully, then added, "but more invitations to lunch wouldn't go amiss, I'm sure."
Percy relaxed and nodded, then opened the card. "Would you grace me with your presence... Neville, he's asked me to meet him!"
Neville's smile stiffened a little. "Does it say when?" he asked, though of course he knew.
"Saturday for dinner, he says I'll know him by the flowers," said Percy. "Do you think I should?"
"Of course I do," chided Neville gently. "If I didn't think you'd like him, I'd have told him you refused the first delivery."
Percy laughed, tucking the card away in a pocket. "Then if you see him, will you tell him I accept?"
Neville smiled, feeling a bit deceptive, but not so much as he might if he'd let it go on longer. "I'll let him know," he assured Percy, before taking himself off. The guys at work would want to celebrate with a drink at the pub; they'd taken a proprietary interest when Neville started paying for flowers out of his own pocket, and delivering them himself. He'd had to tell them the whole story, in case Percy came to the shop to try to find out the identity of his suitor.
Less than a week, and there'd be no more secret to keep. And maybe, just maybe, Percy would be his.
Percy felt fidgety and anxious on Tuesday, finishing his before-lunch work in plenty of time and then watching the clock tick by with painful slowness while he waited for Neville to arrive. At precisely four minutes before one, Neville came in with a huge bouquet for Mrs. Bishop, making his way over to Percy after delivering it.
"These are for you, there's no card this time," said Neville, setting down a bowl with eight gardenias floating gently on the water.
Percy leaned in and inhaled their heady fragrance, already thinking about where he'd put them. "Joy," he said softly, taking another deep whiff.
"Indeed," said Neville, glancing up at the clock. "Do you have anything to finish up?" he asked, sounding almost as anxious as Percy.
Percy smiled and shook his head, standing up and gesturing toward the door. "After you," he said, acutely conscious of every eye in the room watching them leave a full hour earlier than he'd ever taken lunch before.
Neville led him down the hallway in discreet silence, though his grin was enough to give them away. They got a lift to themselves, and it was all Neville could do not to press Percy against a wall and see if he could win his prize a few days early. "Excited about Saturday?" he asked instead. "He is. Your admirer, I mean."
Percy turned that same delicate pink as Neville's earlier gift of orchids, and nodded. "I am, but I'm also nervous. I've never been admired before."
"I suspect you just haven't known when you were admired," said Neville, feeling a bit like an old man speaking from experience. He'd been surprised when someone told him how much he was an inspiration to the other students during his seventh year, and he remembered looking up to Percy and his apparently effortless rise to Head Boy.
Percy's laugh was disbelieving, though it wasn't as bitter as it might have been before the flowers began, Neville thought. "You must be right, since I didn't know about this bloke before he spoke up."
Neville grinned. "Well, there you are, then," he said, stepping out on the main floor of the Ministry. "Apparate? I thought maybe we'd go to the Black Cat Cafe, they've got great sandwiches."
"Oh yes, let's. I love their soup. I'll meet you there?" said Percy, more animated now that they were out from under the eyes of his direct coworkers.
Neville stepped back and brandished his wand. "Meet you there," he said, then Apparated. He'd had to learn for the deliveries, and he was proud that he hadn't splinched himself once since he started -- even magic that seemed hard at first wasn't so bad with enough practice, he'd found.
Percy popped in next to Neville a moment later, tucking his wand away and straightening his already-neat robes and hair before turning to Neville. "Ready?" he asked, too polite to check for any stray missing parts, though Neville could tell he sort of wanted to.
"All here," Neville assured him, giving a little showy turn. "I Apparate all over the place for work now, you know," he teased.
Percy laughed. "I didn't, actually, or at least I hadn't thought about it before, but it makes sense," he said, opening the door so Neville could precede him into the cafe.
They were seated and both ordered the soup and half sandwich combo, though they spoiled the symmetry of it by getting completely different sandwiches.
"I guess we can't be too compatible," said Neville with a chuckle.
Percy got a speculative look, but he was smiling when he replied, "A little variety keeps a friendship interesting, or so I'm told."
"That must be what Hermione sees in your brother," teased Neville, and they were still laughing when their food appeared with a little pop.
They traded plates, then got to the business of eating. Their conversation was light and friendly and just a little flirty, nothing overt, just a small tension that kept Neville's ears perked the whole meal. By the time the food was gone, he'd come close half a dozen times to giving up the game and telling Percy it had been him all along, but he thought that they both deserved to see it out to the end at this point. Percy was worth wooing all the way, and not just three-quarters.
Percy's smile as they left the cafe was enough to make it all feel worthwhile, as long as Neville didn't lose him completely at the end. When the sun hit Percy's hair and turned the highlights to molten copper, Neville knew just what tomorrow's flower needed to be.
Nine tight, many-petaled Ranunculus blooms were arranged in the vase he brought on Wednesday, a cheery red-orange just exactly the shade of Percy's hair. "Thanks again for lunch yesterday, it was fun," said Neville, fluffing the blossoms unnecessarily while Percy read the card.
Percy grinned up at him, and Neville's heart skipped a beat. "It was great, maybe we should do that every week?"
"I'd love that," said Neville, with complete sincerity. "Tuesdays good for you?"
"It's as easy to make time then as any other day. Do you usually have something for Mrs. Bishop on Tuesdays?" asked Percy.
Neville shrugged. "Some weeks yes, some weeks no, but it's not hard for me to Apparate over," he said with a wink. "I'll just have to keep bringing you flowers on the days I don't have any for her."
Percy went pink again and Neville couldn't help but think that he'd like to see Percy's face flushed for other reasons, in other, more naked circumstances. He felt heat rising in his own cheeks and cleared his throat. "Anyway, next Tuesday sounds good. One again?"
"One will be fine," said Percy. "I wonder, though, if you'll have an excuse to bring flowers for me after Saturday."
Neville made a scoffing noise. "Flowers don't need an excuse," he said, and figuring he wouldn't get a better exit line, he left with a wink.
Percy spent Thursday too nervous to stay on any one project for long, and as a consequence many small jobs he'd been putting off got done, finally, and he was so distracted he didn't even realise when the hour rolled around for Neville to bring his daily bouquet. One moment he was pulling office supply records for Mrs. Havisham to review, and the next he was looking up at a vase packed with ten tall green spears dotted with blooming white Stars of Bethlehem.
He looked up further only to see Neville waiting with a mysterious little smile gracing his features. If he didn't know better, he'd swear that Neville thought of him... well, fondly. He blushed. "Oh, thank you! I'm sorry, I hope you weren't waiting long?"
"Of course not, I'd have spoken up the moment I got tired of watching you," said Neville, something in his voice implying that it might perhaps take longer than Percy expected. "There's no note again, I trust you got his message?"
Percy laughed and nodded. "Yeah, it's pretty clear. I hope Saturday goes even half as well as he expects," he said, nerves showing through.
"Oh, Percy," said Neville, laying one warm, solid hand over Percy's, "You'll knock his socks off."
On Friday it was Neville whose anxiety was getting out of hand, so he chose flowers to buck up both their spirits -- eleven sunny yellow Black-Eyed Susans.
"Oh, no, you didn't tell him about yesterday, did you?" asked Percy when he saw them.
Neville couldn't help but laugh. "No, no, but he's as nervous as McGonagall in a room full of rocking chairs," he said with a wink. "I think these are as much for him as you."
Percy relaxed. "Oh, thank goodness," he said, touching just a few petals. "They are rather cheering, aren't they?"
Neville looked at them, lovely in their very ordinariness, and nodded. "If someone can want these, even though they're really quite common, it makes you feel like anyone could be wanted, doesn't it?" He tried not to sound too wistful, but he was afraid Percy caught it anyway.
Percy just smiled softly. "It really does," he agreed.
And for a moment Neville felt it might all work out all right, after all.
On Saturday Neville arrived early, arranging a vase of twelve red roses on the table at the restaurant and trying not to let himself hide behind them. He wasn't sure what would happen when Percy saw him there, though he should've expected the confusion that clouded Percy's features when his seeking gaze found first the flowers, then Neville.
"So, its..." Percy began, fingers raising up toward one of the deep red roses, barely blooming from buds now but promising further beauty when they opened.
"It's me," said Neville quickly, realising it might seem as though Percy was being sent another delivery. "Your admirer, I mean. It's been me all along." He knew he was turning some unflattering shade of red, but he held on to the earnest and honest affection he'd developed for Percy over the past days.
A slow smile washed over Percy's features, and he sat down across from Neville at the table. "Is it strange that I'd begun to hope... Well, actually I'd hoped that he'd stand me up and leave me with you to console me, but this is better."
Neville laughed and reached out, squeezing Percy's hand. "It's not strange," he assured Percy, "it's wonderful."
Percy sat, and Neville moved the impressive roses to the far side of the table, adding a stabilising charm to keep them from taking a tumble over the edge.
"So," said Percy, when they were both done fumbling with napkins and menus, "have you eaten here before?"
Neville shook his head. "I asked the guys at work, and they all agreed this was a good place for a first date, impressive without being, you know."
Percy glanced at the prices in the menu, which were neither cheap nor prohibitively expensive. "Ah, yes. I do know," he said, smiling. "I wonder what's good?"
As if conjured by the question, their waiter came to chat with them both, admiring the flowers, reciting the specials, and helping them decide on their orders with such good cheer that Neville felt like he should be sending flowers to the guys at work in thanks, if they didn't all work at a florist's.
"He was nice," said Neville, after the waiter left with their menus. "I think he knew we were on a date."
Percy chuckled. "Neville, everyone here knows we're on a date with those," he said, gesturing toward the roses. "You don't bring a big bouquet for a night out with the guys."
"Oh, right," said Neville sheepishly. "Well, at least he had a good wine recommendation. I like wine but I'm terrible at choosing."
"Just like you, he's good at what he does," said Percy, soft and a little wistful.
Neville cocked his head, then asked curiously, "You're good at what you do, aren't you? You always were in school."
Percy shrugged. "I try to be, I guess... It's not that I'm not good at it, so much as I don't get a lot of appreciation for it."
"Ah, yeah, that can be a problem. Sometimes it's hard for me, when I'm bringing flowers to people who are still too mad to appreciate the gesture or whatever, but then I have people like Mrs. Bishop to look forward to seeing. And you." Neville smiled flirtatiously. "I'm glad I decided to take a chance on you."
"Me, too," said Percy, smiling back. "I really did think it was a joke at first, especially after the orchids."
Neville blushed and laughed. "I knew it was too soon, but I couldn't seem to help myself," he explained. "They're exactly the same pink as your cheeks when you're embarrassed, in the middle, and the outsides are pale with those darker spots like freckles..." Neville trailed off when he saw how much he was making Percy squirm.
"Sorry," said Percy, squeezing Neville's hand. "I never did take compliments well."
Their wine arrived, along with an appetiser that Neville didn't remember ordering but looked delicious. "So, have you thought about what else you might like to do, if you left the Ministry? I bet you'd make someone a brilliant bookkeeper."
Percy looked up, surprised. "You really think so?" he asked.
Neville felt something inside him ache, to see someone as intelligent and competent as Percy so unsure of himself. Percy had been good at everything back in school, and Neville had seen how he went through stacks of parchment, his in and out boxes always more full than everyone else's. "I think you'd be brilliant at whatever you did," said Neville softly. "You always were, in school."
"Everything except the people bits," said Percy with a sigh. "I'm crap with people."
"You're good with me," said Neville, pulling Percy's hand up to kiss the back softly, then letting go so they could both taste the food and wine.
That seemed to be the right thing to say, because Percy blushed and smiled, and began to slowly relax, losing some of the underlying sadness that Neville was only just beginning to realise he always carried with him.
"We're good together," replied Percy, taking a sip of his wine. "And with this wine, mmm."
Neville couldn't help but laugh, and the conversation turned to less volatile topics like Neville's garden and Percy's family. Before they knew it, pudding had been eaten, the bill paid, and all that was left was to go home.
Percy gathered up the vase of roses and then paused, asking softly, "About these, did you... Did you really mean it?"
Neville blushed; it had been a bit of a risk, choosing love over something simpler, but as he looked at Percy cradling the vase, face full of hope, Neville found the answer came more easily than he'd expected. "Yeah," he said, going up on his toes to press a soft kiss to Percy's mouth, "I mean it."
Percy turned a delicate shade of pink, then nodded. "I... I'd like you to come back with me. To my flat. For a cuppa?"
Neville was charmed by Percy's awkward uncertainty, that feeling of wanting and not quite knowing how to go about it that they both shared. "I'd love a cup of tea," said Neville, taking Percy's arm and leading him out the door where they could Apparate safely. "Meet you there?"
Percy smiled and bent down for a quick, self-conscious kiss. "Meet you there," he said, then stepped back and Apparated away.
Neville gave Percy a moment or two to compose himself and his flat before following, knowing Percy would want Neville to see him at his best, tonight of all nights. Someday, he'd get Percy to understand that Neville liked him just fine when he wasn't at his best, but for now Percy deserved that extra bit of confidence. Neville took a deep breath and gathered his own courage, then Apparated.
Percy set down the vase and looked around his flat. It was spotless as usual, though not nearly as stark as it had once been. Bright splashes of colour adorned the nooks and crannies now, a vase here and a pot there, filling his life with bits of joy he'd never known he craved until they were there.
Until Neville put them there.
That was the thought that must have shown on his face when Neville Apparated in, because an answering smile blossomed as soon as Neville saw him. "Good thoughts?" asked Neville, stepping kissably close.
Percy blushed, but nodded. "I was just thinking how much the flowers, well, make me happy," he said, and then he allowed himself another indulgence and leaned down to kiss Neville very sweetly indeed.
This time he gave Neville a chance to kiss back, and he put it to good use, lips soft and warm against Percy's, and strong enough to make Percy's knees feel weak. "It makes me happy to see you smile," said Neville, staying close and twining his arms around Percy's neck like thick vines. "You never smiled much, before."
"I smile now," said Percy. Anything else he might have said was lost when Neville took the initiative and kissed him, tongue coaxing its way into Percy's mouth and making Percy feel positively melty inside.
"Good," said Neville, and then there were no more words for long minutes and they kissed and kissed, standing and necking like kids right there in the parlour.
It felt so good to Percy, warm and right in a way it never had with Penny, comfortable instead of faintly disconcerting. "Very good," he whispered between kisses, and that was enough to bring them to a close.
"Did you really want tea or," said Neville, trailing off suggestively, with just enough uncertainty in his voice to make Percy feel better.
Percy shook his head. "I'm not thirsty," he said, and then he bit his lip. "But I, I don't think I'm ready for, erm, the full course."
"Oh, love," said Neville with a chuckle, "I wouldn't rush a meal such as this. Tonight is just, y'know, an amuse-bouche, something to make us both know to our toes that we want more."
"Food and flowers," said Percy, amused. "I am a lucky man."
"I was just thinking the same thing," teased Neville. He led Percy over to the chair by the fire, a wide wingback that Percy didn't really feel was big enough for the two of them until Neville pushed him gently down into it, then climbed to straddle his lap. "Let me touch you?" asked Neville, hands brushing over the front of Percy's formal robes.
"Yes," said Percy. He hoped it didn't sound quite as desperate as he felt, seeing Neville so close now, feeling the weight of him and the press of their clothed cocks. "But only if I can touch you, too," he said, though he was confident of the answer.
"Oh, yes," said Neville, and there were more kisses then and a lot of awkward shifting, but soon enough their robes were undone and shoved aside enough that their cocks could touch without anything at all between them.
"I think I'm the lucky one," said Neville, hips rocking. "You've got some surprises in you, don't you?" Percy blushed a little at the compliment; although he knew it was considered a good thing for a man of their sort to be large, he'd always felt a bit awkward about his size. Neville's was shorter but just as fat, which was something of a comfort even if it took a hand from each of them to encircle both cocks.
Percy rocked his hips as well and made a face as their cocks rubbed a little too fast for the sensitive skin. He extricated his wand from his robes and summoned a phial of lubricating potion. "This'll help," he said shyly, pouring a few drops over their cocks and sighing as the slickness alleviated the discomfort and turned the friction entirely into the good kind.
Neville moaned and helped him spread it around, shamelessly exploring the length and shape of Percy's shaft which gave Percy the freedom to do the same. Neville's cock was smoother than his own, tapering to a smaller head, and Percy couldn't help but think how easily it would slide into his arse. His own cock twitched at the thought and he moaned, using his clean hand to pull Neville's face down for a kiss.
Neville's free hand delved its way down between their bodies, fondling bollocks indiscriminately as he could reach them. It was all too much for Percy, and he pressed their mouths together harder as a wave of pleasure swept through him and he came, spurting messily on their hands and cocks, adding blobs of translucent seed to the slickness already there.
"God, Percy," gasped Neville. He threw his head back and thrust into their hands, the feeling against Percy's sensitive cock an exquisite torment. Percy drank in the sight of him, transported in pleasure as he came, adding his own contribution to the heady mix slicking their hands. "You're perfect," said Neville with a grin, leaning down for a long, hot kiss before he'd allow Percy to summon a towel and clean up the mess.
"Now," said Percy, running long fingers over Neville's body and finding it firm and stocky, but strong, nothing at all like the soft, round boy he remembered from school. "Now, how about that tea?" he managed, after an embarrassingly long pause.
Neville laughed. "I'd love some tea," he said, pressing another kiss to Percy's mouth and grinning. It made Percy wonder if his own mouth looked like that, full and bruised and ripe, or if it was just Neville's lips that were kissable and lush already.
Percy smirked after Neville stole a third kiss without budging. "You'll have to get off me first," he said, mock-testily.
Neville's laugh was delighted and warm, and Percy wanted to hear it over and over, just as he wanted to see that look when Neville came, to feel that warm body under his hands.
"Instead of just getting you off?" teased Neville, though he stood up anyway and even fixed his robes, after a fashion, anyway.
Percy stood and straightened rather more thoroughly, though he didn't bother to remove the creases their lovemaking had left in his robes. "Getting me off is wonderful," said Percy, pulling Neville in for another warm kiss, "and even getting off on me, but neither one will make a pot of tea."
They made their way to the flower-bedecked kitchen and shared the task of tea again, comfortable in the silence, and comfortable when they talked. It was, Percy thought, rather the best part about being with Neville -- even when they were naked and awkward and trying to rid one another of their underpants there was still something very right about it all.
The next day Percy bought a pot of Geraniums and set it growing in the bare spot on his desk, despite having never successfully nurtured a houseplant in his life. After all, had every faith that Neville would help them to thrive.
Title: Say It With Flowers