Author's Note: For those of you concerned only with how Harry would defeat Voldemort and return to his family, your journey has ended. But for those of you who found themselves intrigued, perhaps surprisingly so, by "the Gryffindor screw-up and the weird, quiet Weasley cousin," this one's for you.
My parents and I had given it a good deal of discussion, and we decided I would finish up my sixth year at Hogwarts in the present day. With my break in early May, it wouldn't be easy, but my professors had all written to my parents to assure them they would accomodate my circumstances. I owled the Headmistress to officially drop Divination, and to assure her that I would work as hard as I could in my remaining subjects to keep up with my class.
Before I went back to Hogwarts, though, I had one last thing I had to do. Mum was back at work, and Dad was at the Ministry sorting out paperwork. (He'd been declared legally dead after being missing for five years, which was how I'd technically been in control of his Gringotts account all these years.) They'd left me to my own devices, trusting me not to do anything stupid.
Since Daisy, Mum's owl, had delivered a note to Neville telling him I was all right, I could find out where he lived just by casting a fairly simple tracer spell on Daisy. Thankfully, the moment I'd felt better, Grandpa had cajoled a friend in the Apparition Test Center into coming to our flat to examine me. After having been shuttled around by Side-Along Apparition so many times, passing the test was a breeze.
So I knew where I was going and how I was going to get there. What I was less clear about was exactly what I expected to get out of the trip, but I pushed that uncertainty aside and Apparated to Neville's town, a village outside of Cork, as soon as my parents were gone for the day.
I traveled with Dad's Invisibility Cloak on, and it was a good thing: I ended up in the middle of the town's High Street, in front of a building labeled "Longbottom Nursery." There were Muggles everywhere, so I went inside Neville's shop, which seemed to be deserted, and took off the cloak there.
I temporarily Vanished the Cloak and took a look around. I was in a tiny, dusty room that was filled with Muggle gardening supplies. To my left, there was a little counter with a cash register on it, but no one sat behind the counter. A door opposite the one from the street led into a back room that seemed to be the nursery in question; it was full of sunlight, unlike the room I was in now, and through the glass I could see rows and rows of green. Opposite the cash register, a narrow, rickety staircase led up, though it was blocked off with a little hanging rope.
I didn't know what to do with myself, but luckily, I didn't have to decide: a moment later, Neville headed through the glass door into the front room, wiping his soil-caked hands on his jeans. "Good morning, miss, what can I --" He got a good look at me and stopped. The silence was terrible. "Susan?" he asked, and his voice was little more than a whisper.
He stepped forward hesitantly, and I got my first good look at him. The baby fat was gone; he had gotten considerably taller, and while he was still stocky, his face had lost most of its softness. Other than that, he looked much the same as ever: dark, medium-length hair; clean-shaven chin; smooth, unlined face.
"Hi," I said, and immediately wanted to Apparate away again. Eighteen years had passed for him, and my first word was "hi."
He hesitated a moment, then said, "Would you like to come up to my flat? I'll put on some tea."
I nodded, so he turned the sign on the front door from OPEN to CLOSED, unhooked the rope to the second floor, and told me to lead the way.
Upstairs, we entered into a small kitchen. I sat down at the table; Neville washed his hands, took a kettle, poked it with his wand, and put it on a countertop to warm. Then he sat at the other chair and looked at me, apparently at a loss for words.
"So you live here?" I asked, and again could have died from how stupid I sounded.
"Yes," he said quickly. "I've had the shop for almost fifteen years now."
"Oh. This is a Muggle town, yeah?"
"Yes. But one of Ireland's best Herbologists has lived here all her life, and I came here after graduation to study with her. When I was finished my apprenticeship with her, I decided to open a shop for Muggles and wizarding people both. The boundaries are a little more . . . fluid in Ireland. The Muggles don't really think twice when they see someone in robes in my shop. And I make sure to keep the magical plants in a separate greenhouse."
I nodded. I was out of ideas for topics of conversation.
Thankfully, Neville took up the task as he poured the water for tea: "How are your parents?"
I smiled. "They're going to get married soon, I think some time around Dad's birthday. Mum needs time to make the arrangements and send out the invitations. And after that, I think the chances are good that I'm going to find myself with a passel of little brothers and sisters."
"That's brilliant," he said, also smiling as he handed me my mug. "They must be over the moon."
"They really are," I said. "After all these years, they're finally getting their chance." Then, realizing what I'd said, I colored and shut my mouth abruptly.
Neville realized too, because he paled. Then he regained his composure. "Yes. Well. I'm glad you came to see me, Susan. I was hoping I'd get to see you again."
His tone was so cool and collected that I quailed inside. He had obviously long since gotten over me; it was my hard luck that I'd only just left him a couple weeks ago. "Not at all," I said lightly. Then a thought struck me: "How's Leonora?"
He smiled. "I've got a little plot of land to myself out back with a fence round it; I planted her out there. You should see how tall she's got. I sell her wood for wands every spring."
"D'you get to know who's using her wood?"
"Once in a while I get a letter from a wandmaker telling me how well-suited she is to a particular core, generally the dragon heartstring. The British ones also mention how partial those wands are to Gryffindors."
We both smiled at the mutual memory. "So you've been doing all right, then," I said tentatively after a moment.
"All right?" Neville took a sip of tea and seemed to turn it over in his mind for a bit before answering. "I suppose I have."
He looked uncomfortable, but I couldn't stop myself from pressing on: "So, has there been anyone else?"
He frowned into his mug of tea. "You mean, other women."
"Yes," I said. I was embarrassed at having asked, but I had to know.
He chuckled humorlessly, still not meeting my eyes. "Well, I snogged Parvati Patil at our ten-year reunion." He looked up at me and saw my dismayed expression. "She'd had a little too much butterbeer, and I was . . . lonely."
"I'm sorry," I said honestly.
"But you were really asking if I'd been with anyone seriously." I nodded mutely. "Well, a lot of my customers are older women, and they're always setting me up with their daughters and granddaughters. So I've been out with a lot of girls, mostly Muggles. A lot of them were very nice, very sweet girls. There were a few I dated for several months at a time. Don't think I ever hit the six-month mark with any of them."
I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. "Anyone at the moment?" I asked, utterly failing to sound casual.
"No," he said carefully, tracing the handle of his mug. "I wouldn't have been much of a boyfriend to anyone for the past year or so. I've been up nights worrying about you."
My heart thumped painfully. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," he said. "No one was sure you'd make it back alive."
"I almost didn't," I offered.
I was bursting to change the subject. "Uncle Ron told me what you did during the last battle. That was very brave."
He waved off the comment, his expression betraying a hint of irritation. "No it wasn't."
"Neville, it was."
"Susan, thanks to you, I knew I wouldn't die. It wasn't bravery."
Something in his tone nearly froze me. "Are you . . . angry with me?" I asked meekly.
He looked into my eyes, his face a picture of contrition. "Oh, Susan, no. I'm not angry."
"You seem it."
"I'm angry at myself," he admitted. "I thought --"
I leaned forward. "Yes?"
"I know I'm too old," he burst out. The words came pouring out of him, and he sounded much more like the 17-year old I'd known. "I would've stayed young if I could've, Susan. I even brewed a Youth Potion once -- me! I didn't even get an O.W.L. in Potions -- but it gave me horrible side effects. I hoped for all these years -- I went out every night to look for our constellation -- but I know -- I'm too old. You're not even eighteen, and I'm closer to forty than thirty. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He took a deep breath. "You came here to be polite, and here I am, nattering on like a madman. You'll be on your way now, I expect."
He was looking at me so earnestly, and he was so mistaken, that I couldn't help it: I grinned. I felt tears pricking my eyes, but they were mostly happy ones. "You're an idiot," I said.
He glowered at me, but I didn't give him a chance to retort. "For that matter, so am I," I continued. "I was convinced that in all this time, you'd have completely gotten over me. I thought you'd see me as a lovesick little girl coming to her old boyfriend in desperation, and that you'd pat my head and send me on my way."
He fumbled across the table to take my hands in his. "What are you saying?" he asked.
"Neville, I just left you a couple of weeks ago. Of course I'm still in love with you. I don't care that you're a bit older, as long as you don't care that I'm a bit younger."
"Care?" he laughed. "No, it's all right with me that you're seventeen and gorgeous."
I blushed, but couldn't stop smiling. "Are you planning on kissing me any time soon?" I asked, and almost before the words were out of my mouth, he'd leaned forward to do just that.
Oh, it was good, and all was right with the world. He was still mine, unbelievably, after all these years.
When he broke away, he said, "You still have another year at Hogwarts."
I nodded, touching my fingers to my lips almost unconsciously.
"What do you want to do, then?" he asked.
"We'll owl each other," I said. "I'm actually quite looking forward to your letters. I need to know what you've been up to all these years! And, of course, I've got an Apparition License and an Invisibility Cloak."
He grinned. "I guess you are tops at sneaking out of school."
"And when I graduate, I'll be happy to actually keep that promise I made you," I offered.
"You'd . . . move in? Here?"
"If you'd have me."
"Of -- of course. But -- won't your parents mind?"
I waved that off. "I'm an adult; they can't stop me. And I don't imagine they'd really be so miffed. They know you, after all."
"That they do," he said. "Won't you -- I mean, people will talk, Susan. And the talk won't be kind."
"Neville, I grew up as the bastard daughter of the Boy Who Disappeared," I said matter-of-factly. "You think my mother and I were immune to criticism just because she was grieving and I was a little girl? I've developed quite a thick skin in my life. Don't fret."
"What will you do out here, though? There aren't many wizarding folk, so you probably couldn't get a job that actually uses your magic."
"I've thought a lot about it," I said pensively. "What I really want to do is further research the Fidelius Charm. I think I can get funding from the Ministry for it. After that . . . who knows?"
I looked at him happily, but he still looked uncertain. "Neville, for the first time in my life, I haven't a clue of what's going to happen in the future. And I'm quite happy about it. There's nothing I must do, no predetermined course I must follow. I can do what I wish, and I wish to be with you. Are you objecting because you're truly worried for me, or because you have your doubts about whether we'll be able to pick up where we left off?"
He looked chagrined. "Both, I imagine."
I took his hand again. "Don't worry about me, please. I can take care of myself. And as for us . . . we'll give it a go, yeah? It's not like before; there are no deadlines and no secrets. We've been through so much already. It's high time we got to be a little bit boring."
He smiled at that, though there was still a little worry line between his eyebrows. I leaned in and kissed that spot. "We've got the rest of our lives ahead of us," I murmured. "No worries, all right?"
"All right," he said, and I felt him let go of most of his anxiety.
"I'm going back to Hogwarts tomorrow, probably," I said, "so I should go home and pack."
"Oh," he said, and his disappointment was obvious.
"I could stay a little longer," I hedged, "but you've probably got to get back to the shop."
"Mornings are pretty slow," he offered. "And you haven't seen the rest of the flat."
I raised my eyebrows. "Just how many other rooms are there?"
"Only three," he admitted. "The sitting room, the bathroom, and . . . well."
I grinned. "Yes, well. Maybe you ought to show me. I will be living here, after all."
"That's a fair point," he said, an identical grin spreading across his face as he stood up and took me by the wrist. His hand was trembling, or maybe mine was. I followed him without a second thought.
That's all, folks. If you've enjoyed this, put me on your Author Alert list; I may just take up the pen to write about these guys again. Thank you, one more time, to all of you who've reviewed.