AN: So I wrote this epilogue ages and ages ago, shortly after finishing this story - because I suddenly understood why JK had such a hard time just ending the story knowing what more came after - and then promptly lost it among my things. I didn't have the heart to try and rewrite it, so I simply kept on the lookout for it and vowed I'd get it up eventually. Then while packing my things to move to my new flat, I found it tucked away in an old writing folder, so I've decided to share it with you all now. I actually have a basic storyline I could follow if I get the time to write a sequel, but I've got other projects to finish first, including my other Neville-centric story "Firsts." (yeah, I know, shameless plug.)
But here is the epilogue of "Courage of the Heart." I hope you all enjoy.
Epilogue - 12 Years Later
Beyond the brick wall that divided platforms nine and ten, the scarlet steam engine sat blowing clouds of smoke onto the platform. It was already crowded with large clusters of families and the noise was remarkable. Owls swooped through the air, appearing and then seeming to melt into the blackness like ghosts. Cats speckled the concrete, some of them lazily cleaning their fur or sleeping while others curiously inspected their neighbours. Children were hanging out of the train windows to talk to people waiting on the platform, most still dressed in Muggle clothes, some rather unconvincingly, and others had already changed into their black school robes so that they blended more smoothly with the sooty air.
It was a familiar sight and Neville Longbottom drank it in as he stepped through the brick wall, one hand pushing a trolley and the other clutching the hand of a little girl. Platform Nine and Three Quarters was an iconic piece of his history, the place where he had boarded the train at the start of every school year as a youth and disembarked at the end, and now it was the place where his children would start their own chapters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"Blimey," the little girl at his side said excitedly as she caught sight of the train. Neville smiled fondly at her, but was interrupted from answering as a young boy appeared behind him, pushing a trolley as well, and behind him came Hannah Longbottom, holding the hands of two younger children.
"This place seems to get more crowded every year," said Hannah and their group quickly shuffled forward as another family materialized through the wall behind them.
Twelve-year-old Damien Francis took one glance at his younger sister's face and grinned. "Can't tell Annie's excited," he said, a bit sarcastically, and shook his rather shaggy dirty blonde hair out of his face.
"Oh sod off," eleven-year-old AnnaMarie Alice shot back playfully. Neville wasn't worried about there being any fight behind the words. The pair was the closest in age of his children, only fourteen months, and had been practically inseparable for most of their lives, having many of the same friends. The last year had been hard on her, with her brother and several of her friends gone away to school without her, but now she was starting her first year and even more excited to go than Neville ever remembered being.
"Alright, you two," said Hannah, somewhere between exasperated and amused. "Let's get your trunks onto the train and then we'll see if we can find any of the others." Neville helped both of his oldest children load their trunks into an empty carriage and just as they had stepped back out onto the platform Hannah had pointed toward a group not far from them. "Look Neville," she said, "there's Harry and Ginny."
At the sound of his name, Harry glanced around and when he spotted them he smiled. He tapped Ginny on the shoulder and pointed, and a moment later their families had joined up on the platform. They exchanged enthusiastic greetings, especially between Lily Potter, Damien and AnnaMarie, who were all separated by only a year each and had grown up as best friends.
"Second one off to Hogwarts, huh?" said Harry, grinning down at AnnaMarie before looking back up at Neville. "Not quite as hard as the first one, although she is your first little girl to go away."
Neville just laughed. "It's not quite so hard on me, mate," he pointed out, and it seemed in that moment Harry had realized the same thing because he laughed. "I'm there with 'em, aren't I? Of course it embarrassed Damien, having his dad lurking over his shoulder the whole time." Neville nudged Damien, who just shrugged and didn't look bothered in the slightest.
"Not me," said AnnaMarie quickly. "I'm excited to spend so much time with Daddy." She beamed up at her father proudly and Neville felt the same familiar pride swell in his chest. While he had quickly grown sick of people on the street recognizing him and calling him a hero, it was entirely different when his little girl was telling her friends that her daddy was Neville Longbottom, the hero from The War. AnnaMarie almost idolized him, and Neville had no qualms about being someone his daughter could look up to.
"Heya," said a familiar redheaded man, appearing at Harry's side. Ron Weasley had an arm around Hermione's waist and his children quickly joined up with the cluster of Potters and Longbottoms. Neville happened to look over just in time to catch AnnaMarie staring at Hugo Weasley and then promptly turning red in the cheeks, and Neville felt a lurch in his stomach like missing a step going down stairs. Oh no, not yet, not my little girl interested in boys already, he thought nervously. He was feeling old enough knowing she was starting school now, there was no need to add boys into the mix so soon.
"You know this group is getting so ruddy large you folks are gonna force everyone else off the platform," remarked George Weasley, joining them with his own family. However they didn't have much more time to expand their group as the ten-minute whistle sounded from the train and everyone quickly began loading children and trunks alike onto the train.
"When can I go, mum?" nine-year-old Emily Susan asked, looking hopefully at the train.
"Not for a few more years, honey," answered Hannah, wrapping a comforting arm around her youngest daughter. Six-year-old Matthew Colin was clinging to his mother's hand silently, looking up at the steam engine with both eagerness and fear. Of all his children, Matthew was the one who reminded Neville most of himself as a child, although he hoped that Matt might grow into the confidence his other children had picked up on.
Families up and down the platform were saying their farewells. As Hannah hugged both of her children good-bye, Neville could tell she was trying not to cry. He felt bad for her; the term was always harder on her than him, because he still saw his kids nearly every day while she was limited to holidays. Damien gave his father a hug before slipping onto the train, already deep in conversation with Lily. AnnaMarie gave her father a huge grin before throwing herself into his arms.
"Hey, you don't have to say such a big good-bye," reminded Neville, despite the fact that he was hugging her so fiercely he nearly lifted her from the ground. "I'll see you in just a few hours."
"Can't I just come with you?" asked AnnaMarie.
Neville laughed. "No, honey, trust me, you'll want to go on the train. That's half the fun. Are you nervous?"
AnnaMarie shook her head, her expression still bright as always. "No," she said calmly, shrugging. "I already know I'm a Gryffindor, just like you."
Neville smiled and pressed a quick kiss onto her brow. "That you are, Annie," he agreed. AnnaMarie hugged both of her younger siblings, gave Hannah another, longer hug, and then jumped onto the train just as the whistle screamed.
As the compartment doors began closing, Neville slipped an arm around Hannah's waist. Together they watched as Damien and AnnaMarie both leaned out of a window and waved while the train pulled away. Even though Neville knew that he would be seeing them both again in only a matter of hours, there was something heartbreaking in watching his two oldest zooming out of sight on that scarlet steam engine. He knew it must be how every other parent on the platform was feeling, and Neville drew Hannah closer to his side and placed a hand on Matthew's shoulder.
"We're having a lunch at the Burrow again," said Harry. The families around them had already begun slowly trickling back toward the barrier wall. "For all of us left home for the term. And you, Neville, even though you're going back to school."
"Thanks, Harry," said Neville. He and Hannah had gone last year too after they'd had to watch their first child go away to school, and Neville knew it helped his wife to know she wasn't the only one losing her children for three-quarters of the year.
"Oh and Teddy and Victoire will be there," added Harry suddenly and his grin widened. "It'll be the first time you've seen them since they got engaged, won't it?"
"Looks like he's really gonna be part of the family now," said Neville with a laugh. "Alright, we'll see you there." Harry and Ginny Disapparated, and after the Longbottoms slipped out of the platform into the Muggle world, they took a Muggle cab back to Charring Cross Road. The Leaky Cauldron was far emptier today than it had been the day before, and Lionel waved at them from the bar before turning his attention back to the pretty dark-haired witch he was chatting up.
Hannah crossed to the fire and tossed in a bit of Floo powder. Most of the other guests would have been arriving by Apparition, like Harry and Ginny had gone, but since Neville still had children to take with him they felt it was easier to just Floo than to bother with side-along Apparition, especially since Hannah had never really gotten the hang of it and didn't like to Apparate without Neville if she could avoid it. One by one the Longbottoms stepped into the fire, shouting "The Burrow," and were sucked up the chimney.
Neville was the last to go, and when he staggered out of the fireplace at the Burrow, knocking his head against the mantle, he saw that the living room was already rather crowded. The bright red of every Weasley from his generation was there with their spouses. The three children who were yet too young for Hogwarts had already slipped out into the back garden visible through the window, including Neville's own two as well as Percy's youngest daughter, Lucy. Teddy Lupin, highly conspicuous with his favourite electric blue hair, was standing to one side with an extremely happy Victoire Weasley in his arm.
The family accepted Neville and Hannah into their conversations as if they were Weasleys as well, and it was only when Molly Weasley, her hair now liberally streaked with gray, announced that she was going in to start dinner, that Neville realized it was starting to get dark outside.
"Oh sorry folks, I really gotta go," said Neville in the middle of their conversation about the Quidditch league. "I'm supposed to be up at the school already." It took nearly ten minutes to say good-bye to everyone, and Hannah pulled him aside to say a more private farewell. "I'll sneak home at least one night this week," he promised, "and I'll be home this weekend so long as nothing comes up."
"Keep an eye on the kids," said Hannah. "And tell them I love them and I expect letters." Neville smiled and kissed her once more before he went over to the place where his children were now playing on the stairs with Lucy.
"Alright kids, I've got to go to work," he said and in an instant both Emily and Matthew were wrapped around his waist. "Listen to your mum, and no causing trouble just so I'll come home and punish you."
"That was Annie's idea," replied Emily with a quiet giggle.
"I know, but no getting ideas from her," said Neville, brushing his youngest daughter's bangs out of her eyes so he could see the pale blue that was identical in all his children.
"When will you be home, da?" asked Matthew in that same quiet, glum voice that reminded Neville so much of himself thirty years ago.
"I'll come home as often as I can, I promise," said Neville assuredly, making sure to meet Matthew's eyes as he said it. "I won't be gone long enough for you to miss me, okay?" Both children hugged him tightly again and Neville wound his arms around them, drawing on this moment of closeness to last him for the next few days. As much as he loved his job, he hated being away from his family. Having this big family was everything he had dreamed about as a young child, alone with his older relatives.
"Okay, I've gotta go now or else I'll be in trouble," said Neville and he carefully extracted himself from his kids' arms. He kissed them both and they called out one more farewell as he moved back to the fireplace. Hannah seized him and kissed him soundly once more, earning them a few wolf whistles from the watching Weasleys, namely George and Ron, and then Neville stepped into the fireplace and the domestic scene was quickly swept from his view and, after a swirl of flickering green flames, replaced with his office.
Neville had barely had time to stumble out of the grate when there was a knock on his office door. Opening it, Neville saw Headmistress McGonagall standing on the other side, looking as prim as always. "Oh good, you are here," she said and then her eyes took in his sooty Muggle clothes. "Although it looks like only just."
"Yeah, sorry, Professor," said Neville hastily. "I got a side-tracked with the family. I'll just change and be down in a moment."
"Hurry," said McGonagall firmly, although he thought there might have been a bit of a smile on her thin lips. "The train's just pulled into the station, so the students will be here soon." With this she turned and walked back down the corridor. Neville shut the door and hurried into his chambers, changing out of his dirty clothes and into a pair of simple black robes. Once he'd checked the mirror to see that he didn't look a total mess, he headed down to the entrance hall.
It had only been a few minutes when the loud knock came on the double doors. Neville walked forward and hauled the doors open to let in the night. Hagrid was standing there, looking exactly the same as Neville remembered from when he was a student except for maybe a few extra wrinkles around his beetle-black eyes, and a cluster of shaking little kids stood behind him in their new school robes, almost all of them gazing up at the school in awe and nerves.
"The firs' years, Professor," Hagrid said, tipping Neville a quick wink.
"Thanks, Hagrid, I'll take them from here," Neville replied. "First years, follow me." With that he turned on his heel and led the little group through the entrance hall to a side room. With quick instructions to wait for him there, he went back out into the entrance hall.
"Sure like scarin' them li'l things, doncha?" Hagrid asked with a quiet chuckle.
Neville grinned and shrugged. "It's all part of the experience."
Hagrid laughed again and shook his head. "That li'l girl of yers is a whirlwind," he said. "Got yer hands full wit' her. Smart as a sphinx, she is."
Neville snorted. "And as devilish as a pixie," he said. "Just you wait."
Their conversation was interrupted as the older students started filtering into the entrance hall. Hagrid went into the Great Hall ahead of them, while Neville stood and kept watch on the other students. Several of them said hello to him on their way past. Damien called out a "Heya, dad," as he walked in, and then went back to the conversation he was having with Lily and a Ravenclaw student who Neville knew to be the daughter of Terry and Paravati Boot.
Once he'd seen the last of the students through, he got a nod of affirmation from Professor McGonagall and went to retrieve the first years. As he opened the door he distinctly heard AnnaMarie's voice say, "My brother said we gotta Stun a dragon." Neville bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. He remembered, as if from a lifetime ago, standing in that same little room waiting for his own Sorting and listening to similar stories; Hermione rambling on about all the spells she'd learned, Ron saying how his brothers had said something about wrestling trolls, Ernie MacMillan talking about having to duel each other. He also made a mental note to talk to his son later about terrifying his little sister with tales about dragons.
"First years," Neville said. A silence swept over the room like Neville had cast a Muffling Charm. "Follow me for the Sorting Ceremony. Into a queue now, all of you. Single file." Once the students had lined up into a queue he led them into the Great Hall. The four tables of students peered curiously at the newcomers, while the first years seemed more interested in the extravagant hall. Neville glanced up at the ceiling, which was his favourite shade of deep violet, speckled with stars.
As Neville took his place in front of the students, preparing for the Sorting Ceremony, he felt a sort of contentment wash over him. He had found his place, here in the school where all of the pivotal moments of his childhood had occurred. From the Gryffindor table he could see Damien give him a quick grin, and he could make out AnnaMarie's eager face among the crowd of first years. This was where he belonged.
And all was well.