Life went on.
There were lapses in judgment. Neville went home for the summer to find Luna gone, the study restored to the bedroom it had been, with a note in her slanted handwriting assuring him that she would be sending an owl with her rent.
She'd lied. She came to deliver the rent personally, and the shock of seeing her was so great that Neville was not entirely certain exactly when they had ended up in bed. All he could recall for certain was the sudden feeling of "What the hell am I doing?" that immobilized him for the barest of seconds before the rest of him decided that at the moment, he just didn't care what the hell he was doing, because this was Luna, and he ached for her.
"This was not the most intelligent decision I've ever made," she said quietly later, nestled against his chest. It still felt like she belonged there.
"We are dumb," Neville agreed, and he held her more tightly.
"Monuments should be built to commemorate how dumb we are."
"I should go."
She didn't. Not for a while.
"This can't happen again," Neville said as he stood at the door, watching her make her way down the path.
It did, of course. But only once more. After that, Luna got her own flat.
They exchanged letters, polite things, and the ache faded to something that only hurt when he touched it, like a healing bruise.
Ginny broke off her engagement with Harry.
Not permanently. And it wasn't exactly breaking it off, it was putting it on hold, until she was done with her Quidditch career and could devote the time and energy to a marriage and a family.
Of course, Harry was in no place to see logic. He was, in turns, depressed, angry, lost, confused, and bitter.
Neville met him most nights after work. He'd read a quote once along the lines of "Shared pain is lessened." It proved true.
Life went on.
Harry married Ginny earlier than they'd planned. They also had their first son earlier than they'd planned. The two events were not unrelated.
Neville signed off on the approval of the change in leadership of Junior Herbological Society. He looked over the declaration before he folded it and dripped some wax over the seal of the envelope, pressing his signet ring into it as it cooled. He smiled to himself. He supposed he should have seen it coming - Fox and Perkins, that is. Since Fox had joined Society at the end of his second year, they'd been sharing shy glances and accidentally bumping into one another in the corridors. And now, just before the beginning of their fourth, they'd asked if they could be co-officers.
He hoped that, for their sakes, they'd be one of the lucky pairs who hit the mark the first time.
It was a Friday evening. Classes were done for the day, and Neville had a bone to pick.
Flourish and Blotts was closed, however, and as he'd come all this way, he supposed he may as well stop in at the Leaky Cauldron and have a drink.
He slid into a booth and a blond waitress approached the table, absently pushing her fringe behind her ear as she fished a pad of paper from her apron. "Good evening, sir, what can I get for you?"
Neville stared blankly for a moment. "I know you," he said slowly.
She smiled, a little impishly. "We were in Herbology together," she offered.
"Right!" Neville snapped his fingers. "Hannah. Hannah Abbott." He grinned. "How's life treating you?"
"Oh, you know," Hannah said dismissively, waving her hand around the pub. "I'm assistant landlady here. Normally I don't wait tables, but our regular girl is ill, and so, well, here I am. I hear you're the Herbology professor at Hogwarts now."
"Starting my fourth year there." He shook his head and chuckled. "You'd think by now that Flourish and Blotts would have learned to check with me before substituting the edition of the textbook they order."
"Is there actually a difference?" Hannah looked curious.
"Well, most of the time, no. I'll admit that this time, it's all ego. I wrote the revised entry for Mimbulus Mimbletonia in the new edition." He tried to keep the glow of pride from being too self-indulgent.
"Wow. A professor and published. Look at you." She winked, and Neville's mouth went slightly dry.
"Well, it's not like it's much... assistant landlady, you said?"
"That's right," Hannah replied, looking around the pub fondly. "It's going to be mine someday. You watch." She returned her attention to her pad of paper. "Now. What'll it be?"
Neville considered the bottles behind the bar for a moment. "What've you got in whiskeys from the highlands? Not too peaty?"
"A whiskey man. I like it." Hannah tapped her pen against her lip in thought. "We've a Mosstowie eighteen that might tickle you. Want me to bring a tot to taste?"
Neville raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know that was an option."
Hannah grinned mischievously. "It's not. But I'll make an exception for old acquaintances." She punched Neville lightly in the arm. "Herbology nerds have got to stick together."
He watched as she made her way to the bar, resting on her elbows on the counter as she talked to the barman. He marveled at the tiny twist of... something... in his gut, something that felt warm and just slightly frightening.
She returned with a tiny shot glass filled halfway with the amber liquor. Neville tasted hesitantly and found it very much to his liking.
As Hannah turned to get him a full serving from the bar, he screwed up all his courage and said it: "What time are you -"
"Midnight," Hannah cut him off, looking over her shoulder at him with a shy smile. "And I haven't got anyone expecting me home."
It felt like it had been a long while since Neville had smiled so widely.
Life went on.
He was surprised to hear, from Ginny, that Luna's definition of "home" now included occasional references to a man called Rolf Scamander, a name Neville felt he should know but couldn't bring to the front of his mind. He spent several days trying to determine how he felt about this, before coming to a conclusion that stunned him: the echoes of "could have been" didn't hurt anymore.
The letter he penned was perhaps a trifle formal. The letter he received in return was a little reserved. But it was the formality and reservation of two people who have once known one another and would like to again, not two people trying to dance around the pain of memories.
Neville decided he liked Rolf. He was quick to laugh and had a gift for odd metaphors and terrible puns that made Luna smile, and then he would snap a hasty photo before her smile could fade. She deserved to smile.
Luna approved of Hannah. She would not say why, not to Neville, but giggling conversations stopped when Neville was in earshot, and that was often indication that two girls got on, no matter how old they were.
Neville was pleased and not at all surprised to hear that both Fox and Perkins had achieved "Outstanding" in all their O.W.L.s.
The bells above the door chimed playfully as he entered. Lamps illuminated the shop, reflecting off the glass display cases, making the entire interior dazzle. A grandfatherly man looked up from a ledger in the back of the shop in response to the bells and looked Neville over.
Neville smiled nervously.
Willard grinned. "Now that's more like it."
- finite -