So here is my fourth one-shot for the six remaining rounds of the 34 stories, 106 reviews challenge on the HPFC forum: NevilleHannah.
This actually has some NevilleLuna action – very disturbing indeed, since I dislike NevilleLuna as a couple, especially in the last movie. I've come to the conclusion that they don't work for me as a long-term couple, but that in the middle of the war, they can indeed find solace and support in one another. That's how I compromise with my own mind ^_^
Named after The Offspring's song.
He could have noticed her earlier, really. They could have known each other. He could have been a Hufflepuff – for a long, long while he wondered what the hell the Sorting Hat had done with him, Neville Longbottom a lion, really. Probably a matter of families and legacy, but still, that felt even more of a pretence, he was not a lion. He was not brave.
He could have fit in her house. Sweet, fair, loyal...
He did fit in Gryffindor, the thing was, perhaps not enough. Ron and Harry were cool guys and Hermione had more or less taken him under her wing from their first trip to school already, but they were Ron-and-Harry and then Harry-Ron-and-Hermione, and he was a bit of a third wheel. Oh well. Everybody more or less liked him and he had even had his "hero" moment on the last evening of his first year, for a good half hour at least. Things were going quite well for him, all in all.
Still. Hufflepuff had that house-unity, travel-in-packs feel about them that truly fascinated Neville. Of course he only saw them in Herbology and he was so focused in that one class that he hardly took time to ponder over them. But once in a while, he would glance at them, working in pairs all right, but then reuniting in one close-knit group as the bell rang, laughing, chattering.
He could have noticed her then. But she remained one random Hufflepuff among the group, smallish girl with fair hair, not quite noticeable in that togetherness.
It took him five whole years to learn her name. Well, it took him five years to really, actually be part of a group, too.
DA was like nothing he had done before. It was the high of fighting – and trapped as they were in lies and rules, fighting felt like an escape, a blessing, and a duty rolled into one. They all knew it. Even as they laughed, they joked, they chatted about their OWLs and Umbridge's face and each other's aim, there was that new glint in their eye, dark, sharp.
She wasn't like her friend Susan or him, driven by a nameless, wordless awareness of what it could really be like and how what they did was needed. But she was serious and dedicated, and her lip curled in its very own and unique way as she focused on mastering a new curse. Then once she had made it, every so often, she would glance at him. He could have noticed. But he had a tiny crush on Lavender Brown at the time, and all in all, other fish to fry.
He only knew that her name was Hannah, and she seemed nice enough.
He was there when darkness caught up with her and settled in her baby blue eyes.
They were sitting at the same table in Herbology, and as always he was focused on his work. She was sitting opposite him with her friend Susan, trying to do things right, her hair getting in the way of everything. Neither of them looked up at once when the greenhouse's door opened.
"Excuse me," a clear voice spoke, "I am here to collect Miss Hannah Abbott."
He glanced up, startled. The man was dressed in Ministry robes, grave-looking. Professor Sprout seemed alarmed.
"Was is it?" she asked.
The man cleared his throat, his gaze finding Hannah's.
"I am very sorry to announce you, miss, that your mother has been found dead."
Professor Sprout gasped, her hand flying to her chest. Most of the girls gave little cries of shock. Susan appeared frozen on her seat and Neville could only stare at Hannah, her wide eyes that seemed to say this-cannot-be-true, her parted lips and the strand of hair against her suddenly white cheek.
She stood in stone silence. The door slammed after her.
Neville looked down at his plant.
His heart beating in his throat, he thought of delicate, wilted things, and of her face.
When he saw her again, he was considerably startled – for she had randomly popped in his head many times in the previous months, and then he had forgotten, swept away by the urgency of war.
Now here she sat again, in the Hogwarts Express, face white, lips tighter, eyes darker. She was slightly leaning against her friend Ernie's side, and contrary to many of the others, she wasn't whispering anxiously. In fact she looked very little alive – except for the occasional flash of something harsh in her blue eyes. She was nothing like the chatty-but-shy little blonde doll she had always appeared as from the corner of his eyesight. He stared for a moment, something unknown twisting in his chest, oddly longing to reach out and push back the pale strands of hair half-concealing her face – to touch her thin, tight lips, her white eyelids. She was staring at her knees, breathing slowly.
Someone poked his elbow.
He turned towards Luna. Everybody had arrived by then – someone ought to say something, take the lead, bring a spark of hope to this nervous, whispering group DA had become – somehow. Luna's chin tilted towards Ginny. She was still standing slightly at the front, but looking down, her hair veiling her face. Her body was rigid, her hands painfully clenched. Neville looked back at Luna and she gave him a small smile, then lightly gestured him forward.
His throat tight, he fully faced the compartment full of his friends and fellows; he cleared his throat, and his audience looked up.
"Many of us are missing," he started in a low, slightly shaky voice. Some leaned forward and Luna nudged him with her toe. He turned up the volume. "We all... have names in mind. Dean. Colin. Ron. Hermione. Justin. Harry." He paused, a bit uncomfortably, swallowing hard. "Many of us have seen our families struck... with violence... with war. We all felt small, all felt hopeless." Another pause, another breath in his parched throat. "But we are together," he croaked, struggling for loudness and coherency, his eyes flickering from face to face. "And we shall fight together." A hum of what may have been approval came from the listening students. He fought not to let it unsettle him. "For Harry – for Dumbledore – for our loved ones, be they dead or alive, and for our futures... for our freedom... we will fight!" His voice nearly broke, but he pushed himself a bit further, clenching his fists against the chill in his chest. "Dumbledore's Army!" he eventually called, drained and desperate, ringing with conviction.
Ten seconds of ominous silence responded to him. Then, slowly, someone started clapping.
They all clapped him like they would have Harry, an alive glint in their gazes. Hannah straightened up, her eyes narrowing. Luna discreetly squeezed his wrist and Ginny stared right at him with a moist gleam to her brown irises. He hugged her first, all vehement warmth and flaming hair tickling his cheek, and then Luna.
"See," the latter said, leaning away with a smile, "you were perfect."
Weakly, he smiled back.
Astonishingly, he held on.
No one had really expected him to, probably. Their eyes upon him had been respectful, yet somewhat wary – thinking he would either end up chickening out, or do something really clumsy or reckless that would ruin everything. He was no Harry, and he wasn't even like Ginny... But still he managed to make it, to be their leader, because they needed one. To be their symbol.
Their eyes upon his back were mostly stunned. Ernie's were surprised and speculative. Hannah's seemed wordlessly expectant. Ginny's glances were sometimes unsure, sometimes wildly grateful – almost admiring. Luna's were warm, supportive and satisfied.
Maybe Luna had expected this of him, from the beginning.
They formed a trio of their own, Ginny, Luna and himself. They got closer than ever, relying on one another. He thought that without them, he would never make it. He thought that without Luna's soft, lilting voice, without her smiles and her trust, the war would become too harsh one day, or find him too feeble – and he would be crushed. One evening by the fireplace, he told her that he was so scared of failing them all, too. She told him that it was just the Wrackspurts speaking. He insisted that no, he had always been scared of failing everything, as long as he could remember, and she kissed him so that he would be quiet.
Kisses made some unconvenient creatures go away, she told him later, her head on his shoulder and her voice a bit muffled. But others were drawn to kissing couples, like Nargles. Things like that were quite unreliable, on the whole. He was the one to kiss her quiet this time, so they could just share warmth and strength, without a word.
When she was hauled off the train, he couldn't even find the breath to shout. He just watched her from a distance, frozen, Ginny's nails digging into his arm.
For the next few months, they kept telling each other that they were strong enough, that they were good enough, that together, they could handle anything. They told each other that all Luna would be all right, and that one day, the war would end. They promised that they would fight together, for DA, for Harry.
Then Ginny never came back after the Easter holidays.
For a while panic took over him, leaving him ice cold and paralyzed, eyes unfocused, vague terrors stuck somewhere in his throat making it hard to breathe. He cried, for the first time since he'd seen a little girl be tortured. Then he stood up on shaky legs and went on his way to join the rest of DA.
He felt Hannah's eyes on him as he entered the Room of Requirement. She was clinging to Ernie's hand, had been for months. She understood, he supposed. She nodded to him with grave eyes. The room fell silent, everybody staring at him.
"We keep fighting," he told them. "Did anybody doubt that?"
The uproar that followed told him that they had.
Somehow, somewhat, after the longest night of Neville's life – a night that seemed to race by him, and yet stretch on and on, he'd never known people could move so fast and shriek so loud and bleed so red – it was over.
He attended the war funerals with Luna.
They stood side by side, holding hands, wordless. They grieved for everyone and everything their world had lost. They hugged their crying friends, looked up at the sky, and thought that the future looked so big and empty. They never really talked about it, but at the second to last funeral, Luna raised a hand to touch his cheek, and then slowly walked away. They both had felt it coming, they'd even known it from the start, and Neville didn't want to mourn. He wanted to celebrate what they had shared. For a moment his friends didn't seem to understand, but then they remembered that Luna was always Luna. With her things were often unusual, beautiful and right.
At the end of the ceremony, he went to seek her out. She was dressed in a black summer dress, her hair flying around her face in the wind. She was clutching a few red roses. For a while he'd been watching her. She would put down one rose on each of the graves. Her hair was always getting in her way and her cheeks were still paler than they had been back when she was nothing but a young girl, before her world had crumbled. She looked up at him, grave blue eyes questioning.
"Hello, Hannah," he simply said.
They walked back in silence, her frail arm curled around his. They didn't need speak – for now. Once, he brushed a strand of hair out of her face, and she glanced at him. They didn't say that it had been a while. They didn't say that they were scared. There was no need.
"Thanks for walking me," she told him eventually, "I think I'll go home now."
He turned towards her.
"In two days..." he started, hesitating.
She cut him in. "Justin's funeral," she spoke, her voice hard as steel.
Neville allowed her a moment, watching if her thin, tense shoulders would relax, and then carried on:
"Would you like some company there?"
"Yours?" she asked.
He blinked, taken off guard, quite wounded. "That was what I meant, yes, but..."
"Yours, all right," she interrupted again, "but I don't really need company, in general."
In the little while of silence that followed, he pondered the difference he'd always known was there, but never realized quite that much before, between the bashful, anxious girl he'd once known from a distance, and this harsh-spoken young woman. She had changed. He still wanted to wrap his arms around her – all the more.
"Thank you, Neville," she repeated, breaking through his thoughts, and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
When she turned away to Disapparate, her face was flushed a shade of pink he fondly remembered.
All through the last ceremony she didn't speak a word, her eyes either glued on her feet or focused on the grave with an almost eerie intensity. She didn't shed a tear, but at the end when she looked at him at last her eyes were gleaming like shuddering, icy waters. She didn't come any closer to drop a rose for Justin, instead she slowly, precisely placed her spread palms on his cheeks and kissed him, Neville Longbottom. She kissed him imperiously, ferociously, letting off the steam, the anxiety, the passion and the anger, and he kissed her back.
While she was looking down, breathless and chewing on her swollen lips, he placed the last of the roses in her hair.
They went to dinner at the Leaky Cauldron for she claimed to want a change of atmosphere, but she didn't touch her food all evening, leaning away from the table with a faraway expression. Sometimes she focused, staring at him so steadily it made him blush, chattering too quickly and telling him how much her mother had loved this place. Then she'd go silent, looking way past him, far off in the distance. Midway through he reached out to take her hand. She stiffened, but relinquished it to him all the same, cold and thin, never truly relaxing.
Late in the evening they took a stroll in the night air and she babbled about Justin, and Ernie, and Susan. She couldn't seem to talk of herself. He walked her to her brand-new Diagon Alley flat, and she kissed him on the doorstep before disappearing.
Three days later, she sent him an owl. Ginny and Hermione both spectacularly told him off for not having dared to do so himself, and they resolved to see each other again. Dates and dinners rushed by before he knew it. She offered him her hand to hold, they danced together, laughed together, stepping on each other's feet. He told her about his grandmother and his parents, she talked about her mother. They didn't speak of the war, merely of the people – the people that had been, the people they had been. One morning he found himself drinking overbrewed tea in her kitchen in a pair of underpants, and the next evening she borrowed his shirt for bedtime. She started working in the Leaky Cauldron and beat his fears up when he got accepted to teach at Hogwarts. He moved in with her, but his frog remained at his grandmother's, after a long bargaining. They attended Ron and Hermione's wedding, and witnessed Harry and Ginny's breakup.
"They'll get back together," Neville muttered convincedly. "They belong together."
Hannah made a non-committal sound at the back of her throat, and turned off the light.
"Neville," she asked him one day as they were closing the pub, "how do you feel about bringing another being to this world?"
He turned to face her, speechless. She held his gaze, patting her stomach absent-mindedly.
"Hannah," he croaked, "how do you feel about marrying me?"
And she gave a wide smile, all blonde strands and flaming pink cheeks.