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Five Women Neville Longbottom has Loved and Lost

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1.

"I think," Luna says, "that pain can be a beautiful thing, but only on Tuesdays."

Neville stares at her and sighs, one hand twiddling with the gum wrapper in his pocket. "Why Tuesdays?" he asks, knowing he won't get an answer, but wanting one anyway.

Luna gives him a long look and laughs throatily, tugging at the spring grass beneath her fingers. He is captured (not for the first time) by the curve of her smile, the ease behind her eyes. "Neville Longbottom," she says, serious in an instant, "what have you lost?"

She is looking at him, hard, the clouds gone from each of her irises, and Neville realizes in a slow, languid sort of way that no one has ever asked him that before. He pulls the gum wrapper from his pocket and leans forward and kisses her, soft and sweet, by the lake in the sun on a Tuesday. She smiles into his mouth, shifts herself into an odd position (her legs, crossed over each other on his lap, are smooth under his hesitant hands), and he can feel her laughter, can taste its nutty flavor on his tongue.

This is hardly their first kiss—Neville has wanted her and had her in some strange places, some strange days. He thinks he might love her but it's hard to know; it would be like loving water, or air. Her hair is curled in his fingers, a thousand shades of pale, and her wrist is touching his face, leaving him aware that her pulse is erratic, echoing calls from too many directions.

"Luna Lovegood," he says, his lips so close to hers that he can feel his own breath bouncing, circling between them, "I think it's possible you're a bit mad."

Her smile is enigmatic (he can see it in her eyes) and when she says "You're kissing me anyway," the cadence in her voice is further away than it was a minute ago.

Neville holds onto her gaze, the taste of her laughter, for the long summer before their seventh year. When school starts, she is somewhere distant, a remote mental location, and there is no time for impossible quests in war.

 

2.

Neville inherits her entire estate when she dies. It is uneventful, the death—the first of September, which is fitting. He quietly misses the first few days of his teaching career to hold the funeral, which is small but well-attended. Augusta, after all, had been a presence. His Great Uncle Algie, barely able to walk anymore, mentions it in his speech.

At four in the morning, Neville goes through the house piece by piece, exhuming childhood memories like they will shatter in his shaking hands. He discovers in the basement a box of letters, charmed against the detrimental effects of age. They make him blush, a bit—the hand of his grandmother had apparently been a highly contested one. Neville had never known his grandfather but recognizes his missives easily: they are calming, never condescending, and often gently funny. Neville likes him best of all the men who wrote her.

In the attic, he finds another box—this one filled, predictably, with photographs. He resents the shots of his parents that she (always miserly with her memories) never let him see, and is promptly sick with the guilt of the negative feeling. When he is recovered, Neville uncovers a chest, filled with his old toys, letters from Hogwarts, and pictures of him he never knew she'd taken. There is one of him sleeping, four or five years old, clutching a gum wrapper in his right hand. He feels his eyes sting every time he looks at it.

In the kitchen there is a wooden spatula, burned in a dozen places, that Neville recalls her using to make eggs on Sunday mornings. He weeps over it wrenchingly, gasping for breath, and takes it with him when he leaves. It is years before he can bring himself to use it.

3.

"Harry's asked me to marry him," Ginny says, and her voice is soft like her palm on his cheek. They are in his office at Hogwarts; it's been convenient, having a place where Harry can't stumble across them. Her fingers are caught in his hair, as slender and light as they've always been, and Neville thinks bitterly that he should catalogue the way they feel now, before his chance is gone.

"Did you say yes?" he asks, mostly as a formality. He already knows the answer—he has known since she walked in an hour ago, that small smile playing around her lips, those perfect fingers straying to worry at the slightly paler line of skin on the third finger of her left hand. Even the hair on Ginny's knuckles in red; it used to make him smile, when he needed it to. Now it only makes him sad.

"Yes," she says, and she doesn't sound scared or sorry, just old and (horribly) a little bit happy. Neville smiles at her and almost means it, and he her free hand in one of his own and brings it to his cheek. She does look a bit sorry, then, and he closes his eyes and revels in it.

When she leans down to kiss him, hesitant for once, she tastes like he imagines poppies might, given the chance to produce a flavor. He snakes an arm around her and pulls her to him, and if he is holding her a little tighter than he should be, it is, this once, his right.

Ages ago, during that last year at Hogwarts, they'd fucked with animalistic grace, reeking of blood and crudely made healing potions. It had been a small comfort in the agony, the knowledge of a warm body waiting, of a mutually beneficial release. It was only after, when Harry had decided he had time for her again, that Neville began to realize that she'd been more than comfort to him, if less than perfection.

Now, for the last time, they make…something that could be love, in the right light. Neville's hands know all the places that will make Ginny moan, and they have a mind of their own, touching each spot in turn with tender precision. He slides her skirt off and doesn't cry, doesn't, at the small birthmark on the outside of her right thigh. He knows he will never see it again, and rubs it softly in parting.

"Neville…" Ginny says, quietly, and he ignores her, calming lifting her off the stone floor to lay, eagle spread, on his desk. "Neville," Ginny says again, her voice thick with desire, and he unbuttons his pants and pushes into her slowly, closing his eyes and breathing as slowly as he possibly can. He will remember every moment of this, this last night, this final note.

He says he name only once, as he comes—"Ginerva," because he's always believed that beautiful things should be called by their full names. She gasps and her eyes are wide and blue and he holds them with his own, pleased that she doesn't call him Harry, this time, and half-wishing she would.

She is quick to go, afterwards, with her red hair swinging behind her and the taste of her last kiss so heavy on his tongue that it nearly chokes him. She is so quick to go that she leaves her sweater behind. It is dark green, knitted, and she won't miss it; Neville doubts she'll remember she was wearing it, scatterbrained as she's been about Weasley customs since Fred died. He tucks it into the bottom drawer of his desk, wincing at the crinkling noise that is its weight crushing a hundred gum wrappers. He stares at it for a long moment, tracing the inlaid "G" with his fingers, before quietly closing the drawer and returning to work.

 

4.

Neville remembers, vaguely, the shy girl his wife had been in school. Blonde pigtails, round cheeks, a tragedy hovering over her head in his sixth year—these are the fragments that come to him, when he focuses on the memory. She had not been there for his seventh year, and his memories predating that are spotty at best: times with Luna by the lake, DA meetings, the Yule Ball. He had not known her, and had not sought to.

Hannah is anything but shy now; this Neville knows too well, feigning sleep in their double bed when she comes in reeking of cologne and someone else's semen. "It's just the bar," she'll whisper, if he asks—he has tried. He doesn't ask tonight, choosing instead to stay safely silent as her added weight causes their mattress to creak. If marriage has proved Neville anything, it is that there is more than one kind of courage.

She had been easy to love, when he'd met her: a buxom, brazen blonde that he found hard to equate with the hazy image of her he had once carried. Her laugh had been infectious, and Neville had allowed himself to catch it. He had allowed himself her bright happiness and her brassy security, and married her three months into their whirling, rapid courtship.

Perhaps it was the ease Neville found in loving her that made it hard for him to trust her; after a lifetime of women who had been, if nothing else, hard to love, ease had been unnatural and off-putting. He had kept from her those moments he held closest: mornings with his Gran, the taste of Ginny's fingers, the smell of Luna's sweat. He never told her about his mother, though he held her several times when she awoke from dreaming of hers.

For all that he kept from her, he had loved her—her heart had felt pure enough, reassuringly true. Ironically, that had been her greatest failing, but Neville had always been better with judging the outcomes of crops than of people.

He has considered leaving her, but their life is comfortable, and he is settled, if not happy. Besides, she has become hard, nearly impossible, to love over the years, and Neville relishes the nostalgia of it all.

She shifts in her sleep, and Neville considers waking her like he once would have, to taste the cidery spice on her breath. He doesn't.

5.

Neville's mother dies on a Tuesday. He thinks of Luna with a chuckle that catches in his throat, and wants, very desperately, to cry.

There is no funeral—none of the healers have the time to mourn a patient long beyond their care, and Hannah wouldn't have come even if he had told her. Instead, Neville digs Alice's grave himself, hollowing out the space with great care. The dirt is soothing, comforting under his fingertips, something solid and real, and he doesn't use magic to place her casket it the ground. The spells he uses, with one exception, are small: a charm to force the grass over her plot to remain green, a weed-preventing mist that sprinkles lightly from his wand. He saves most of his energy for when he needs it.

When he is finished, when Alice is firmly, safely ensconced in the earth Neville has learned to trust, he sighs and pulls a small box from his pocket. Inside, shrunken to a manageable size, is every gum wrapper she ever handed him, every time she said I love you. With all of the magic he has in him, Neville casts, and in a long, fluid motion, the wrappers soar from the box and become a while alabaster headstone. It is in the shape of an iris (she always liked them best, when he visited—he'd taken bouquets for weeks, watching her eyes light up). It reads merely "Alice Longbottom."

Though the back of his throat itches frantically with the want of it, Neville does not cry until he is back in his own home. It is then that he reaches into his pocket, searching for a gum wrapper to catch between his agitated fingers. He doesn't have one—of course he doesn't have one—and it is then that the tears fall, a quiet tribute to the last great woman he loved and lost.