19 May 1998
"Hey, Gran," Neville said, poking his head in the sitting room. "I'm going to the Leaky Cauldron with a few friends, okay?"
Gran seemed to startle awake in her armchair, and Neville felt a twinge of guilt. Brilliant and bold she may have been in the war, she was still getting on in years, and was very tired, even weeks later. She gave Neville a gentle smile and nodded, one hand at her throat.
"Of course, Neville, dear," she said. "What time will you be home?"
"Late, I expect, I don't have a definite plan yet," he answered, and Gran frowned slightly. Neville braced himself for a remonstration.
"Do be careful, won't you?"
Neville blinked. "Er—sure, Gran," he said. He paused, hesitating for a moment, then hurried over to her great leather armchair, leaning over to give her a hug and a kiss. "I'll see you in the morning."
Gran patted his back, smiling, and kissed his cheek. "Have a good time, dear." Neville nodded and left, heading out the front door to the garden, where he turned on the spot.
Seconds later, he was standing before the dingy little tavern. He hoped none of the Muggles on the street had noticed his arrival from nowhere—his Apparition still left something to be desired. He glanced around, but the street was not crowded, and it didn't seem that anyone was startled by his appearance.
Neville sighed heavily and walked into the dark little tavern. The Leaky Cauldron was one of the few places that had remained open in the last year, perhaps because it was so vital to Diagon Alley and Gringotts, but somehow, it was taking absolutely forever to even resemble its pre-war self. One of Neville's first memories of ever really belonging to the magical world had happened in this bar on his eleventh birthday: his first Hogwarts shopping trip to Diagon Alley. It made him sad to see it so gloomy.
The bar was mostly empty, and Neville glanced around for a corner table. So perhaps he'd exaggerated a bit with Gran; he wasn't truly meeting anyone, but he was at the Leaky Cauldron. Surely that earned him some leeway. Probably best not to mention to Gran that he was out alone, just the same.
He found a place to sit down and a little dark-haired witch came over, smiling. "What can I get you?" she asked.
"Can I have a firewhisky?" Neville asked, and she nodded.
Neville shook his head, and the waitress left, returning moments later with a glass and a bottle to pour his drink. He thanked her and settled back in his seat. It was not the first night he'd spent here. For the last three weeks, he had spent most of his waking hours at Hogwarts, helping rebuild, clean, and repair the castle and grounds. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were regular fixtures, along with Dean and Seamus, and most of the rest of the DA. Neville hadn't seen Ginny in a while, but Hermione assured him that she was all right, and that things at home were just busy.
And after working all day, it was fairly common for Neville—with whoever wanted to come along, Dean, or Seamus, when the newly romantic prat wasn't with Katie—to go to the Leaky Cauldron for a drink. They'd talk about everything; catch up, swap stories, make plans for trips to Quidditch matches. Sometimes it was nice to pretend that there had been no gaping wound in the middle of their lives that had nearly swallowed them whole. Sometimes, it was nice to pretend that they had had a normal year at Hogwarts, where Dean had been there, and the Carrows hadn't, where Voldemort had never existed, and where being at school meant being safe.
But it seemed as though the others—Dean, Seamus, Lavender, Parvati—they were more successful than Neville was at imagining such a thing. But Neville…he was having a hard time forgetting things like Hannah Abbott, who had stumbled into the Room of Requirement, blood pouring from a wound in her side that a man who was supposed to be a teacher had given her. Or running from a werewolf through the Forbidden Forest, dragging Seamus, all the while wondering whether Ginny was truly behind him or if he had seen her for the last time.
Or carrying Colin Creevey's body from the lawn at Hogwarts, where he had died like a hero to save Ernie Macmillan's life.
Yes. Tonight, Neville had desperately wanted to be by himself.
He wanted to ruminate alone. He wanted to think about Colin, and Fred, and Ron's mother, and Bellatrix Lestrange, and Professor Lupin, and Professor Snape, all by himself, and it was too difficult to do that at home, where Gran was always so close by. Dean and Seamus didn't want to talk about the war. They wanted to talk about the future. They wanted to keep on living. Well, that was all well and good, but it left Neville feeling as though his friends were going back to life, and he was stuck somewhere between 'back then' and 'right now,' when all he wanted was to feel like he could start living again too.
Neville looked around the bar, his eyes narrowed. None of the people in here knew who he was. None of them knew that he had helped pull the bodies of his professor, and his professor's wife, from a pile of wreckage just three weeks ago. None of them knew that he had tried very hard to kill someone, while all the hatred he had ever felt pounded in his veins. And more than everything else, none of them knew that while the rest of them were feeling, thinking, breathing, and just being alive, he felt like he was being left behind with the people who had died that night.
Neville took a sip of his drink and coughed, attracting the chuckles of a group of older wizards who sat a few tables away. Neville scowled, and suddenly, he had a realization. He didn't want to be alone at all. Checking that the wizards had returned their attention to their own table, he drew his wand and waved it.
"Expecto Patronum," he murmured. His small silvery toad appeared on the tabletop and he smiled. "Hey, are you busy? I'm at the Cauldron. Come by if you can." He waved his wand again, and the toad hopped away, dissolving into a pinprick of light.
Neville did not wait long, but the bar emptied out in that short time. At nearly eleven, the door opened, and Luna walked in, smiling at him.
"Hey," he said in a relieved voice as she sat down beside him.
"Hi," she said, patting his arm. "How are you?"
Neville nodded, looking away from her searching eyes. "How are you?"
"Coping," said Luna softly, and Neville looked up at her. "I was visiting with Ginny. She sends her love."
"I didn't mean for you—"
"She wanted to get back to her mother," Luna said, waving a hand. "Mrs. Weasley hasn't been feeling well."
"She's ill?" Neville asked, alarmed, thinking wildly of Bellatrix Lestrange and curses and duels.
Luna cocked her head to one side, almost inquisitive. "Not ill, exactly."
"She was fine after—"
"Her son died, Neville," Luna reminded him gently, and that simple fact seemed to hit Neville hard in the stomach.
"Right," he said softly, looking down at the tabletop and folding his hands. Luna placed one hand over his.
"How's your grandmother?" she asked, and Neville nodded. "She's feeling better?"
"Think so," he mumbled. "We're going to go see my parents next week, that usually means she—" But the words stuck in Neville's throat. He couldn't speak, so he took a hurried gulp of firewhisky and his eyes watered. He looked around, gaze darting everywhere but those huge, silvery blue eyes that were just so inviting, so understanding, and ran a hand quickly beneath his nose.
"How about you?" he managed, directing his gaze to her hand, which was still holding his. "You've been eating and sleeping, yeah?"
"Oh, Malfoy Manor was ages ago," Luna said in a voice that only slightly betrayed a bit of bravado—and of course, only Neville would hear such a thing. "I feel much better. Shell Cottage—that's Ron's brother's house, you know—it was a wonderful place." She was quiet for a moment. "I'd quite like to live by the sea," she said. "It does wonders for the imagination."
And Neville gave a little laugh, finally meeting her eyes. Luna smiled, putting one hand up to his neck, and they both froze like that for a moment.
"There's a little life," Luna said at last, narrowing her eyes and smiling knowingly. "I knew there had to be some still in there."
"What?" Neville asked, his voice dry.
Luna scooted a bit closer to him on the little bench. "You are not dead, Neville. You are alive. I know you are."
Their eyes locked for one infinitesimal second, and suddenly, Neville was in Luna's arms. She clung to him as he began to sob, holding him much, much too tightly, but for right now, it was all that made Neville think that finally—finally, he could come back to life.
"Someone to hold you too close...someone to know you too well...someone who, like it or not, will want you to share a little—a lot...that's being alive." —Stephen Sondheim, Company.
Aww...I know it's kinda short compared to some of the other things, but I just had so many thoughts and ideas for Neville that I had to bring it into one big moment. I really do think Neville and Luna had a thing for a while. Don't know when/how/where/why yet (although Pottermore may be the place to learn it...don't know), but I definitely think there was something before they both fell in love with their respective spouses. I envision Will and Grace apartment living, minus Neville being gay.
Anywho, in other news, SOMEONE! Someone very nice and sweet and wonderful, and I have forgotten to write down who it was, requested a Neville/Luna story. This is for that human. :) Well, I make the assumption that you are human. But I don't discriminate! You can still have it if you aren't human. :) Enjoy!
EDIT: This was for iDeathMonkey! That was it. Mystery solved. :)