It was a clear, sunny morning in London, England, and the light shining through his window was near to blinding. Neville threw an arm up to shield his eyes while the other searched for is wand. A muttered command and a flick of the wrist gave him relief as the drapes snapped closed. It had no right to be so bright, not now. Not today.
"Dad?" The voice was soft and uncertain, followed by the shuffling of feet.
He grunted his acknowledgment, eyes still covered.
"Dad," she began, her voice still soft, but more confident now. "You have to get ready."
"Alright," he rasped, turning his bleary eyes to take her in. "Are you and Poppy ready?"
She gave a small nod, then patted a pile of clothes on his dresser. "I got your clothes together, too."
Just like your mum would. He nodded, murmuring a thanks. She nodded again, leaving him to dress. Neville sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed as he did so, his head swimming a bit with the sudden movement. He gave a great sigh as he stretched, feeling stiff and tired still, despite the ample amount of sleep he'd gotten. His slumber was hardly restful lately. He padded over to the chest of drawers and began to dress, not bothering to shave. He wasn't trying to impress anyone.
He stared into the mirror as he twisted the necktie into a poor excuse for a Windsor knot. He was always such rubbish with ties, and if he should try a spell he was sure he'd only end up strangling himself. Not that it sounded so unappealing at the moment.
"Let's not think like that, Longbottom," he chided, straightening his vest.
No need to tempt himself.
Neville frowned at his reflection, earning a smart comment from the mirror. He looked, in a word, pathetic. His hair was a disheveled mess, hardly helped by a comb, and his chin and cheeks were covered by patchy stubble. His eyes were rimmed with black circles, ruining any chance he had of fooling anyone that he was sleeping well. The suit, once his best, had seen better days. The knees were still a bit green from a fall he'd taken at Harry and Ginny's garden wedding. The jacket still held a faint aroma of pine needles from the Christmas gala where he'd fallen into the tree. And the pocket of his vest had a rip from the night he proposed to Hannah. He had been so nervous that he'd torn it trying to get the ring out.
"I can't do this," he whispered, running a hand down his face.
There was a knock at the bedroom door, followed by a soft, "Neville?"
"Come in, Ginny."
She entered, her red hair standing out brilliantly in the dreary room. "I just came to see if you needed any help with the kids," she said kindly, her dark eyes filled with sadness. "But I believe they're all set but for trying to find Fenny's stuffed slug."
The stuffed slug that he'd gotten Hannah after an unfortunate garden incident.
He nodded and swallowed the lump that formed in his throat at the thought of his children. "D'you think you could take them with you, Ginny? I-I think I'm going to need a moment before I'm able to Apparate."
She nodded quickly. "Yeah, that's fine, I can go ahead with them. We'll see you there, yeah?"
He nodded, not trusting his voice to stay quite so even this time. She left, shutting the door behind her, and Neville sat on the edge of the bed. He took the picture frame from the bedside table as he heard Ginny gathering the kids all together downstairs. The frame held a candid shot from only seven months ago at the Three Broomsticks' Christmas party, and he could feel the tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. There she was, waving and blowing him kisses while the Neville in the picture just smiled with his arm about her shoulders. It was the first night they'd had out since Fennel was born.
Little Fenny, who had to grow up without his mother now. And his sweet Poppy, who still didn't quite understand what had happened. And Azalea, who was being so strong and brave for her siblings...
"How are we going to make it without you, love?"
He set the photo down and sighed, swiping bitterly at the moisture forming in his eyes. No, he wasn't going to cry. Not right now. He had to go and be strong for his children. He would save the crying for tonight when they were asleep and he was alone again.
He left the bedroom and descended the stairs, just barely catching the crack that signaled Ginny and his brood had left. The house was deadly silent in the absence of the three blonde rascals that usually filled it with such life. He sat heavily on the bottom step, earning a loud creak that seemed to echo around him. Neville suddenly felt quite alone indeed.
When the tears came this time, he let them.
A/N: As always, there's some etymology to these names;)
Azalea Alice Longbottom: Azalea flowers are a symbol of femininity and softness, but also give the message, 'take care of yourself, for me.' Alice is obviously after Neville's mum. He wanted to name her for his Gran as well, but Augusta refused to pass her "horrid" name on to anyone. Neville named her for his Gran's favorite flower instead.
Poppy Pomona Longbottom: Named for two women that cared for Neville and Hannah during their time at Hogwarts, although the poppy flower is a symbol of peace and remembrance as well.
Fennel Franklin Longbottom: Fennel is an herb that, when properly mixed or brewed, can be used to help minor ailments. Frank is for Neville's father. (This was the hardest to think of – wanted to keep with the alliteration but there aren't many plant names that start with F for boys.)