A/N: This is set before Luna is kidnapped at Christmas – since it didn't seem to me that JKR was explicit in when, exactly, Neville first defied the Carrows, I'm making it a one-off thing, after which he loses that courage. This is a story about getting back your courage.
Neville Longbottom had taken to hiding in the cupboard down by the greenhouses. The Carrows never seemed to find him there.
He snuck out at night for food, and the house elves were more than happy to assist him in some minor sustenance smuggling. They liked Neville. He always said 'please' and 'thank you' and never once did he attempt to hex them into next week.
On his way back to his cupboard, laden with apples and a couple of sandwiches made of cold chicken, he heard a familiar voice.
It was thin and sad, feminine and airy. He turned towards it, a mild fear that he was being tricked hovered at the edge of his thoughts.
He made out a bright figure in the dark hallway. He squinted, trying to sort her out.
She stepped farther down the hallway, and her identity revealed.
But her silky white-blonde tresses were gone. In their place, was a messy, hacked hairstyle, no strand longer than an inch and a half, sticking out in all directions. And her eyes were rimmed red and puffy.
"Luna," he whispered. "What're you doing here?"
"I saw you. Few nights back. I knew you hadn't left. I knew you were here." Her voice did not quaver, and it was never a solid voice, always distracted, but this time it was more grounded, and he wondered what the Carrows had done to her to make her lose her fantastical innocence.
"Luna, you've got to go back to the dormitories. If they catch you out here…" He looked around in the dark, empty hallways, his ears attuned to the slightest disturbance.
She dropped his gaze, and her fingers went to her hair, which she fingered and turned her eyes to stare at the movement of her own hand. "My hair," she whispered, not to him, but to herself, and he watched her, his arms full of his food, touching her hair and looking strangely dejected.
He looked around nervously again, and then nodded his head towards his cupboard. "Come on," he whispered sharply, and catching her eye, nodded his head again in the direction he had been heading.
She shuffled quickly towards him, and he winced at the echo it made in the stone hallways.
She followed him in silence until he reached his destination, and with a wave of his wand, the door appeared, and he opened it, and beckoned her to enter before he did.
His eyes were used to the darkness, but he set down his fare and whispered 'alohamora' and lit the end of his wand.
He watched her eyes rake the deep storage closet. There were blankets on the top shelf, and a few brooms and rakes and hoes shoved in the corner. He had made a bed of blankets in the one corner, and she could see where he'd made a small stack of books he'd been reading.
"How do you hide here?"
"Just a glamour. Make it look like the door isn't there. If Filch didn't think he was going crazy, all he'd have to do is reach for the handle. It's still there…" he trailed off, ashamed of his meager magics.
"What a great idea, Neville," she said monotonously.
They stood there in silence for a moment. "I…I can make you a…a potion from some plants in the greenhouse that would…regrow your hair," he offered.
He wasn't sure what made him say it. She just looked…she looked so sad. So…not-Luna. He wondered if it was the way her hair stuck out at those strange angles.
Or maybe if it was because he knew she didn't do it. The Carrows did.
Maybe that made all the difference in the world.
If she was happy, she might look cute with her hair like that. If she did it…
Her eyes widened, but her voice did not rise like he expected it would. "Really?"
He nodded. "Yeah." He scratched his head and looked at his shoes. "I was…I was good at Herbology…once."
She smiled, and there was the tiniest glimmer of the old Luna in it. But it didn't quite reach her eyes. She stepped to him, and took his hands in her own, holding them loosely, down just below their hips. "Thank you, Neville. You're the only friend I have left."
They were both quiet, thinking about the three who hadn't returned that year. The three on whom all their hopes had rested.
"Well, come on. Have to do it before dawn. Can't be out in the daylight." He extinguished his wand, and opened the door with a soft click, and in the semidarkness of the corridors, waved Luna to follow him towards the greenhouses.
# # # # #
Professor Sprout had given him a key to the greenhouses years ago. He was her prize student, and she trusted him implicitly with her precious plants.
He lit a few small lamps, the overgrowth blocking most of the light from escaping out, evident to any eyes that scanned the area. He pulled a mortar and pestle out from under one of the long work tables, and then headed towards the back of the room, searching for his first ingredient.
Luna walked idly around the greenhouse, fingering plants and smelling flowers.
She reached out for a green velvety leaf, which, at her touch, curled its vine tendrils around her hand and sprouted a tiny five-petaled flower in pale pink, looking like a tiny, tiny lily, with white streaks in the middle of the petals. She smiled and let out a small noise of surprise.
Neville turned from his machinations removing a scraping from a hardy root to look at her.
"Careful with that."
"Hmm?" She didn't look at him at first, then seemed to be overcome with the possibility that it wasn't what it seemed. Her faith in the world and its wonders had decreased as of late. She found she no longer always believed the best of things. Or of people. She looked at him with her eyes wide.
She cocked her head.
"Lover's Ivy." With a snick! he folded his knife back into itself and shoved it into a pocket. He stood, slices of root in his hand, which he examined before continuing. "Likes body heat. Twines real tight if you're not careful." Then he added, as an afterthought: "And only sprouts flowers when it's happy."
You make it happy. How can you afford to give it away when you don't have any left for yourself?
"Happy? Plants can be happy?" Her curious tone bordered on airy, and he looked up at her. Really looked at her.
Neville let out a short laugh. "You can believe in invisible things that chew on your hair, and that some other strange creatures exist only to steal your left shoes, and you can't believe plants can be happy?"
She pressed her lips together, the thumb of one hand stroking the velvety leaves gently, prompting several more tiny flowers to sprout along the vine. "I've never known a plant to be happy," she said softly, watching her thumb on the leaves, watching the tiny flowers burst open.
He raised his eyebrows. "And you know those wrackspurts or whatever will steal your shoes?"
"Wrackspurts don't steal shoes."
He shook his head and headed back towards her, not looking at her, his concentration on the mishmash of organic matter in his mortar.
She untwined her hand from the vine, and left it, a curl in the shape of her hand hanging from the bigger cluster.
She walked to the other side of the table where Neville stood, one knee on the bench, leaning over his mixture. She sat on the bench across from him and folded her arms on the table.
"Do you think they'll ever come back?"
Neville didn't look at her, didn't stop his circular wrist motion with the pestle. "I don't know. Whatever they're doing, it must be important, for them to…you know. Not come back."
She stared at the table. "What do you think they're doing?"
"Not getting killed, I would hope."
There seemed to be a strange silence that fell between each exchange. Her forced acknowledgement of their situation, without their fearless leaders, wasn't something he wanted to think about overmuch.
Now he had a greenish brown paste. He filled a watering can with water, and set it down next to the paste.
"I think this will be easier if you lay across the table. Then your clothes won't get wet."
She nodded, and climbed up on the table, tipping her head over the side. She closed her eyes.
Neville stared for a moment. Her porcelain skin, almost translucent, marred by the dark circles under her eyes. Her delicate fingers, folded together on her stomach. Completely still.
He raised the watering can and through its tiny holes, water cascaded down onto her head, droplets splashing on her face, making her scrunch her forehead.
"Sorry," he whispered.
She didn't say anything, and he made sure what remained of her hair was thoroughly damp. Then he set down the watering can, and scooped a handful of the paste onto his fingers, and with just the barest hesitation, began to massage it into her scalp.
It was grainy from unbroken chunks, but it was important that it cover her scalp, encouraging the roots to grow.
They were silent as he massaged, and scooped more paste, and massaged again. He looked up once, breaking his concentration, and watched her eyes dart back and forth under the lids. He wondered what she dreamt of. Hopefully not what he dreamt of.
His parents, screaming.
She snapped him out of his daydream. "Neville?"
He realized he'd stopped, and then he looked down at his hands, bits of the paste under his fingernails, the mortar almost scraped clean. He stepped back from her.
"Um. Done. Just…just have to let it…set. Fifteen minutes or so," he mumbled, and gathered up the mortar and pestle and walked over to a big sink, washing everything clean, wiping his hands back and forth across each other in the running water. He set the mortar and pestle upside down on the drying rack. Then he seemed struck by an idea, and disappeared into another greenhouse without a word.
She sat up on the table, and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her chin on her kneecaps. Her head felt funny – tingly, and she thought about reaching up to touch it, to see what was happening. But she'd seen that paste. Her head was likely covered with it. She decided not to touch it.
What has happened to me?
She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the world wasn't as shiny and bright as it used to be.
She ran a finger along her arm, over the fine, fair hair there, over the tiny bruises and scrapes and burns. She never remembered being so clumsy in Potions – but her concentration was off too. And she remembered doing really well in those extra lessons in the D.A., but this year…she was failing miserably.
She wouldn't do that. Not to a dust mite. Much less a classmate.
"Lovegood! You miserable excuse for a pureblood! Do it now!"
She had her wand pointed, but shook her head, and then lowered her wand. "No."
"No?! What do you mean, 'no'."
A sneer spread across Amycus Carrow's face. "If you don't learn how to defend yourself by using the same tricks as your enemy," he said it with such a mocking tone. This wasn't defense against the dark arts. This was dark arts. She was not going to even pretend to strike a classmate with an Unforgiveable.
"…then you will never defeat them! Do it, you stupid little cow!"
She had ground her teeth together. She never got angry. It was unfamiliar. She narrowed her eyes and just stared at the professor. She remembered Neville, who stood up in Muggle Studies and cried out against the use of the word 'mudblood'. She straightened her body, pride infusing her muscles.
Then Amycus laughed, and there was a feeling like knives, and her face was rent, she felt blood trickle down her cheek. She watched as locks of palest gold fluttered to the floor.
"I will do that to your face, to your entire body, to one of them!" He turned his wand on the Ravenclaw who shared her desk. A girl named Cassie, whose eyes were round with fear.
"I will do it to all of them if you do not do what I say, and do it now." His voice was calmer this time. But she did not suspect his threats were empty. He would.
She looked at the boy who stood before her, in the direct path of her wand. She looked around the room, at everyone else who might suffer.
Her heart was in her throat. Carrow would punish more than just her. He would do it. She wasn't saving anyone.
She lifted her wand, and whispered 'I'm sorry', and said the word, but did not put any feeling into it. She watched the boy twitch, and then fall to his knees, and his fingernails dug into his arms, and a tear escaped from the corner of his eye. She felt a mirror of it tremble at the corner of hers. She lowered her wand, hoping it was enough – knowing it was too much, the least she could do, and knew that hard sour feeling in her chest would never go away. Never.
She waited several minutes, and he still hadn't returned.
She straightened, and slid off the table, being careful not to garner a splinter she wouldn't be able to reach to remove.
She walked in the direction he had headed, and peeked into the other greenhouse. He was mumbling to a big aloe-shaped plant with large yellow blossoms. In his hand was a jar of milky-white liquid that seemed to glimmer in the candlelight.
"What're you doing?"
He stood up abruptly. "Nothing, nothing. You…you ready to wash that out?"
She just nodded, and they walked back to the other greenhouse in silence.
She climbed up on the table, and hung her head over the end.
He looked around, and pulled a garden hose down from its hanging perch on a metal bar that ran the length of the greenhouse.
"Figured. You know." He gestured with the water hose, and she just nodded.
The water reacted with the paste after it'd set, and as it rinsed out, gathering in swirling eddies around the drains that ran through the center of the room, under the tables, as his fingers massaged her scalp in the gentle spray, getting out every trace of greenish brown, her locks lengthened, spreading between his fingers like wet cornsilk.
He chanced a glance at her, and again, her eyes were closed, her hands folded on her chest.
His jaw tightened, and he felt a flash of anger.
How could they do this to you? How could they take you away? What happened? What did they do to you?
It became more and more difficult to rinse her hair as it grew, impeding his attentions to her scalp. And he began to worry if he used too much, or if it was too strong, because he thought her hair must be longer than it had been.
His fingers tangled in the long, white-blonde locks, like wet ropes of silk. Sometimes he would accidentally graze an ear, and pull his hand back in shock, only to discover that her hair was twined around his hand, and that he'd yanked her hair. Then he was embarrassed all over again.
But she never moved. Never made a peep.
He even thought he saw her almost smile.
When he decided he'd rinsed it to the best of his ability (who was he, a hairdresser?), he let off on the hose, and set it down on the bench. It slid off the bench and onto the floor with a clang!
"Done?" She asked, her eyes still closed.
He bit his lip.
"No. No. Not yet."
He grabbed the jar of milky white liquid – totally unnecessary. But…he wanted to. He wanted to do this for her.
He poured it over her head, a small bit at a time, this time working it into her lengthened strands rather than her scalp. He figured it was safer – he wouldn't touch her face, or her ear, or her neck this way. But the silky feeling of the pearlescent liquid as he worked it between his hands, into her hair, still made him feel like some sort of intruder.
He pushed the thought away, and after a few minutes, bent down to pick up the hose again. He used the same light spray, and the stuff spun down the drain, mixed with the water, making glimmering bubbles.
"Done," he said, and she reached behind her head, her hands finding more hair there than she had gotten used to over the last three days. She smiled, and wrung out the water. Then with a swish and flick of her wand, her tresses were dried, and as she sat up, they billowed down her back, like waves of sunlight, and he smiled.
She spun on the table to face him, her feet now planted on the bench he stood in front of.
She smiled at him, a huge, bright, shiny-eye smile. She ran her fingers through her new hair.
"It's so soft! New hair is soft!"
"That's the…that's the other stuff I put in it. It's a giant Gypsy aloe…from…from Romania. Or well, native to Walachia, but since that doesn't exist anymore…"
"I thought it looked familiar," she said airily.
She threaded the locks through and through, smiling. He had never thought her vain, and even now, wasn't sure it was vanity.
"It looks really…nice," he managed to mumble.
She jumped off the table and threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you, Neville. You are the bestest of friends!" Then she kissed him on the cheek, a loud smack, and he blushed.
"I'm glad you like your hair, Luna," he whispered.
"Oh, no no! It's not the hair!" She pulled back, her arms still looped around his neck, and stared at him earnestly.
He was momentarily crestfallen. He thought she liked it.
"Oh Neville, you look so confused! I'm happy because I wasn't, because they were so cruel, and it felt like we were losing, like there was nothing left. But you fixed me, Neville. You were my friend, and you cared, and my hair was just a metaphor for my spirit, which they hexed away, all choppy and uneven. And then you fixed it, and there is hope, and you are surviving, and we have to do something! We have to stand up to them! You and I are both proof! We can!"
"Neville, you're my hero!" She hugged him again, and he frowned awkwardly. He reached up and hesitantly patted her on the back once, twice. She hugged him tighter.
"You'll help me, won't you Neville? We'll get Dumbledore's Army started again, and we'll show everyone that we don't have to be scared – not with you around!"
"With…with me?" He choked out.
"Yes, silly, with you." She pulled away again, and looked him in the eyes. "Everyone thought you were gone, after you talked back to them in class that day – you were gone! They thought you were dead," she said soberly. "But I saw you, I knew you weren't. But no one ever believes me. Probably a good thing, because those Carrows would come after you. But now you'll have us, you'll have all of us, and you can be our hero, and we can make things right again. We can help our friends, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. We can make sure Hogwarts is safe for them to come back to!"
This time, in her glee, she intended to give him a sound smack on the lips, but when hers met his, she suddenly seemed to be unable to pull away. Her eyes were closed, and his were not, shocked into immobility.
And then when he realized she wasn't going to go away, his eyes fluttered closed, and his hands found their way, trembling, to her back, his fingers now threading into the dried tresses, still the colour and texture of cornsilk. And she melted into him, and he thought he might like being a hero after all.
A/N: I'd like to think they helped each other, and that when Luna was taken it made Neville step up and be the person she seemed to think he was already – the person we all knew he was already.