just once more
(my last night here with you)

Alice Longbottom does not die in St. Mungo's.

After nearly forty years of the fourth-floor window and flowery curtains, Neville decides that enough is enough, and persuades the healers to let him take his parents home. They tell him that this is a bad idea - You're taking them out of the only world they've ever known. They won't thank you for it.

He thanks them for their concern, but insists that this is something that must be done. His oldest son has recently moved out and on to better and brighter and his youngest daughter is about to enter Hogwarts and even though Hannah tells him that he has too much on his plate already, he cannot sit by and watch this any longer than he's already had to. As the healers predicted, Frank and Alice don't like the move. Frank sits in the upstairs room at the window, watching the Muggle world flash by, confused; Alice wanders aimlessly around the house, upsetting books and lamps and sitting on the couch, eerily staring at pictures on the wall.

She seems to favor the one of Neville and Hannah and their three children. She watches it often and sometimes picks it up and holds it very close to her face, as if she can somehow make sense of it by bringing it closer, until Neville gently takes the frame out of her hands and sits next to her, explaining who each of these people are. She always smiles and nods and points at the waving Hannah for reasons he doesn't understand.

"Yes, Mum. That's Hannah. Your daughter-in-law."

Nod. Smile. Point.

"...And this is me, here, and there's Colin and Gregory and Marie, they're your grandkids. I brought Colin in to see you once, when he was a baby, remember?"

Nod. Smile. Point.

"No, I don't suppose you do. That was a long time ago."

His shoulders slump as his mother continues smiling like nothing in the world could be wrong, and he always does the same thing - puts the picture back on the mantle and guides Alice back to the upstairs room with a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

(The cake she eats, and messily, but the tea she never touches. Hannah asks him once, why he brings her tea when she won't drink it and he replies that it just seems right, and maybe one day she will touch it, maybe one day she will drink the tea and maybe one day she'll remember Colin or Gregory or Marie or Hannah or - )

(Maybe one day, she'll drink the tea and remember Neville.)

Frank dies quietly one day in the middle of winter, and Neville is determined to send him off properly. A few older people show up at the funeral and talk about the days when he was an Auror, and a couple of healers turn out to see him, and Harry and Ginny make a point to stop by and see him, but besides that, no one remembers Frank Longbottom, a casualty of the first war who took forty years to give up the ghost.

"He looks like anyone else," Ginny murmurs, "like he could be anyone's grandfather."

"Yeah," Neville says slowly. "Anyone's grandfather."

Alice holds on longer, wandering around his home like a lost spirit, trapped in the same loop for eternity. It's like she's a broken record, playing the same few seconds of the same song, over and over and over. It bothers Hannah, but she doesn't say anything because it's important to Neville, even though the exact same thing happens every single day.

Nod. Smile. Point.

"Do you remember Colin, Mum? When he was just a little baby and I brought him to see you?"

Nod. Smile. Point.

He wishes very badly that he could simply give up on her, but every day he takes her the tea and every night he takes a full cup of cold tea to the sink and washes it out, and then goes back and cleans the breadcrumbs from his mother's shirt and sheets. She doesn't speak at all, and this aches somewhere deep, because he can't remember her voice at all, and if he's perfectly honest with himself, he brought her here in the hopes that he could somehow reach into her mind and bring her back, if only for one moment, if only for one word - just to hear her voice once before he dies, just to hear her say his name and to know that his mother remembered him.

The day before she dies, it rains. She's been much weaker lately, but she always staggers down the stairs and sits on the couch and takes up the photograph of Neville's family and holds it right up to her nose like she can make sense of it if she tries hard enough.

This morning, he's tired and frustrated when he stands in the doorway and watches her. He can see how frail she's become, how she totters and wanders and seems to melt into the couch, but with shaking fingers, still determined to hold the picture and understand the concept of family - of marriage and children and love and life and Neville.

She tilts her head and the picture slips out of her fingers and falls to the ground, glass shattering at her feet. Immediately, he is by her side, picking everything up and making sure she doesn't hurt herself on the broken glass. As he kneels, holding the broken frame and balancing the glass fragments on top of the picture, she lays a hand on his head and smiles at him.

She doesn't say anything at all, but smooths his hair and smiles like she's the happiest woman in the world.

He doesn't give her a big send-off, but his friends show up anyway.

"Nobody should have to do this alone," Harry tells him, and Neville can never, ever tell if he's grateful for their presence or not.

(He lays the picture on her coffin before they lower it into the ground, and never goes back to her grave.)