Gran invites her friends over for tea every few weeks. These nice old witches who storm the place with smiles and hugs and Sickles for Neville, who they declare is a perfect young man just like Augusta's Frank.
Gran used to require him to attend these teas. In fourth year it became a matter of choice and since then he's attended a few a year. Despite himself, Neville likes Gran's friends. They knew his father, who attended these teas in the exact same way, and they occasionally tell him a story or two about Frank Longbottom. They don't speak so much about Alice, but they refer to her as "dear Alice," and Neville imagines that before it happened, his mother was smiling, mild, pleasant.
He tries not to imagine anything anymore. There really is no need to. He's experienced most of what he imagines about them that he expects will ever occur: the war and the danger, and even the Cruciatus Curse. He has experienced Bellatrix Lestrange. He used to imagine their married life as he's seen it in pictures, but he knows he'll never experience that.
It's not fear or worry that drives him into the garden. It's not even boredom. It's just a natural inclination. Even before he entered Hogwarts, he'd spent the majority of his time outdoors, looking after the garden. It bothered him, then, to see delicate flowers and plants barely beginning to bloom and how they stood with no protection in the face of the elements that could so easily strike them down. An eight-year-old Neville constructed a wooden shelter for Gran's Biting Begonias, in case of heavy rain or lightning or animals.
Gran had taken it apart as he watched. "Nothing and no one can hide or be hidden from the world," she'd said sternly, pulling each nail from the wood with a charm. "The only way to survive is to weather it all."
It was once Gran's garden, and now it's his. He is no longer practically a Squib, so he could be doing something else, but he still prefers a trowel to a wand. It might be sentimental, but he's good at it.
He crouches in trousers ripped at the knee and a old worn shirt, thumbing the dirt to see if it's the right consistency for a replacement Flutterby bush to enter. From this spot, he can hear and see Gran and her friends having tea, though he pretends he can't see them. The witches are not, however, so subtle.
"How precious, Herbology is a very useful discipline -- "
" -- always said that if you can work with your hands you're capable of anything -- "
"I was so happy when he took up gardening," Gran says warmly. "Such a perfect skill for someone of his temperament."
He pulls the Flutterby bush towards him and draws it out of its box. As he touches the roots, the bush quivers, but he hums Celestina Warbeck's old song "You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me" in a hopeful off-key murmur, and the bush relaxes enough that he can begin to replace it. An old trick, but a good one.
Luna should be there soon. He had figured Luna was more into Magical Creatures, but Sprout positively adored her and claimed that she got an O on her Herbology O.W.L. Luna had always unnerved him with her sheer curiosity, as though she would stare him down with her pale eyes and figure him out if he dared to talk directly to her. When he finally asked her, the response had been as enthusiastic as she got, a mild statement with a thin, dreamy smile: "I didn't have to study, Neville, you just have to be willing and able to speak to nature. Once you can do that, you can do anything."
Neville doesn't pretend to understand Luna all of the time, but she understands him and the garden, and that's closer than a lot of people get to any sort of connection. She doesn't seem to mind.
He's on the second verse of "You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me," and the Flutterby bush's leaves only quiver when he stops for a breath. There is a brief shadow and a small thump, and Luna is sitting beside him in the dirt.
"Hello, Neville," she says, though her greeting seems to be more to the garden than to him.
"'Lo," he says, not looking at her in turn. No point. In his peripheral vision he sees that she's wearing a blue sundress, her legs stretched out in front of her. Neville resists the urge to see if the witches are watching them, reddens a little at what they might say, and decides he doesn't want to see their faces.
"Just Flutterby? I brought seeds of dragonsteeth." Her fingers run lovingly through the upturned dirt. "It would do so well here, and your grandmother could make very good teas."
"That's a mythical plant." Neville packs the Flutterby into the dirt, finishing the transplant.
Luna is astounded at this statement, and chides him in a loud voice that carries to the witches. "Neville Longbottom, nothing is mythical, except a few things!" The witches titter at this, and one of them loudly says something about 'Young love.' He reddens again, but Luna seems oblivious as she slips her sandals off and presses the bare soles of her feet against the equally bare earth. "Even if dragonsteeth were mythical," she goes on, "no harm would come to your garden. It likes you too much."
"It's been a good year," he has to agree. He sits back and away from the Flutterby bush, allowing it the chance to acclimate. "Almost more lovage than I'd ever need, really." He starts to get to his feet, but she grabs his hand; her hands are already rough with dirt.
"Don't you ever just sit here?"
"Sometimes," he admits, "but I should -- "
" -- stay," she suggests easily. He sits beside her, examining the torn-up knees of his trousers.
"We can plant the seeds if you want," he says. He's told himself a thousand times, she's mad isn't she, and this is his garden, his -- what if something goes wrong or she gets him to plant something dangerous? Neville doesn't mind dangerous plants, but prefers to know about the danger so as to protect the others from a threat they're unprepared for.
He can tell himself this, but she's rather persuasive in the way that she doesn't try to persuade him and appeals merely to his curiosity. Luna is no past, no fear or memories or photographs or imagining what's past, she is all future and possibilities and impossibilities, at that.
Luna is silent, eyeing the garden before she gets to her knees and begins to crawl away from him, hand feeling along the open dirt. Puzzled, Neville follows in a similar crouch, briefly wondering what Gran'll think of this (he suspects she'll think it's "quaint") and then she stops and he is very close against her. He quickly scrambles away a little. "Here," she says matter-of-factly, eyes fixed to one single spot in the dirt. "Here's where we should plant them, a line here." One dirty, blue-green painted fingernail draws a line to her knee.
He tries to recall everything he's read about dragonsteeth, but there's very little because they are supposedly not real. "You think so?" he asks stupidly. "It seems like it would be a lot of work here. And that close together?"
"Oh, each warrior will find his own space," Luna says, turning a peculiarly questioning gaze to him. "We all do, don't we?"
Neville hates to bring this up, but... even he can only take something like this so far. "...Luna," he starts, hesitant, then finishes it off. "It's a plant. It'll... er, you know. It'll make a plant."
She ignores this or just doesn't hear it, but either way he is not insulted, as he is too interested in that her hand now strays into her pocket and pulls three small seeds from it. She easily takes his hand, presses the seeds into them. He examines them as she shuffles away from the line where they will be planted.
They fit the mythical herbological profile -- white, triangular, a smooth underside. He would break one open, except that if they are real, they are extremely rare, and he wouldn't dare miss an opportunity like this. "Where did you get these?"
Luna scratches her head and leans back, tilting her gaze to the sky, the tips of her hair brushing the earth. "I asked my dad if he had anything I could give you," she says. "He knows all about you and me and I told all about the garden so he gave me these. I'm very curious. We'll have to take notes, Neville, we'll be the first since Ashley Weatherton! The dragonsteeth ate him."
That's all rather a lot at once and Neville looks warily at the seeds before recalling, no matter how inspirational, exactly who it is he's sitting next to. "Can you hand me the trowel, please?"
She lays back entirely and stretches her arms back, pulling back the trowel and offering it to him. "I'm glad you're going to plant them. I promise that they won't eat you. I told you, this garden loves you."
"Right. I'm glad, too." Neville wishes she hadn't gone through the trouble, almost, almost, if he didn't want to see the result of this so much. He begins to dig and prepare the spot from what little he can recall of what he'd always dismissed as myth.
"Oh, no! No, no, Neville." She takes his hand in hers, guiding the trowel to move in a clockwise swirling motion. To even herself out, she straightens and leans over along with him, her thin body against his back, and he miserably remembers that this is Loony Lovegood which does not stop him from flushing to his neck. He allows her to guide his arm, and eventually she releases him, and there are three evenly spaced holes waiting to accept dragonsteeth.
"Tip first," she instructs, resting her hand on his shoulder as she oversees the process. "Or then the porlocks will eat the sprouts."
"Right," he mutters. He places each seed into the dirt in this way, and covers it meekly, her hand brushing over his to even ensure that.
"You're very good," she tells him serenely once it's done. She sits back, leaning her elbows on her knees. "They'll be full-grown and strong for you."
He had an O on his Herbology O.W.L., too, and he wants to tell her that, but he suspects that arguing would be futile, and ... "Thank you. For the seeds." He can't be too excited, because almost nothing ends up as the optimist or the dreamer expects. He's always known better, hasn't he? Why start now, over a couple of seeds?
Luna suddenly crawls up to him, an indignant sort of look on her face. "They'll sprout. Don't you doubt nature. Nature likes you. Just because people don't doesn't mean nature doesn't."
A backhanded compliment. Neville doesn't really appreciate it. "I hope they sprout," he says honestly. Hope doesn't mean anything.
"Know they will, and they will," she recites out as though it's obvious. "Believe, Neville Longbottom."
"I -- " Oh, this is just ridiculous. "They're not real, Luna," he says timidly. "I don't know where you got them but if they're real, they're so rare that they deserve better space than this."
Had Neville been asked a moment earlier if Luna was a good kisser, he probably would have said yes, because she seemed to be very good at everything she wanted to do, so if she wanted to kiss, she would be a good kisser. When she does kiss him, though, it isn't good as Neville might define it, because she clearly has never done it before and it's awkward and --
Well, unexpected. Neville isn't sure he likes the unexpected.
Her expression is the same when she pulls away from him as it was the instant before she kissed him. "Was that real?"
He wonders if she is a Legilimens, as she read his thoughts. Was that real? His body thinks so. "I think so."
"Did you think it would ever happen?" she persists.
"...Well -- " he's considered her that way a few times, precious few, but -- "no."
Her smile softens, and his eyes drop to her lips as they spread full with satisfaction and they kiss this time; a mutual kiss of belief, knowledge, and reality, which tastes faintly of dirt.