"What the hell was that, Longbottom?" Kingsley Shacklebolt yelled, slamming his fist on his desk. This was the first time Neville had ever seen Shacklebolt lose his temper. He knew the Head Auror was mad at him, but did not fault him for it. He was mad at himself too. "Dawlish is going to be in St. Mungo's for at least a week!"
Neville let out a deep breath, one he had not even realized he was holding. He'll recover. He's hurt, badly, but he'll recover.
"Well, Longbottom? Do you have a reason for casting an Entrail Expelling Curse on the best Auror we have the day before a Death Eater raid?" Shacklebolt asked.
Neville didn't answer. He didn't know how to, couldn't think of anything to say to help Dawlish, to defend himself with.
"I'm waiting for an explanation."
"He cast a Body Bind Curse on me," Neville mumbled after a moment.
"You cast an illegal Dark curse on your instructor because he cast a first-year charm on you?" Shacklebolt bit off the last seven words slowly, almost as if he was allowing each word to linger on his tongue, giving himself more time to process Neville's answer.
Shacklebolt stared at him. Neville squirmed in his seat uncomfortably, doing his best to look away from Shacklebolt's gaze. He felt like Shacklebolt's deep brown eyes were boring into him, mining his soul for an explanation.
"Longbottom. . . " Shacklebolt paused, and shook his head. "Neville. Are you OK?"
Neville shrugged. It was a silly question; it was obvious to both of them that he was very much not OK. He just cast an illegal curse on a fellow Auror, after all. Even worse, he didn't have any sort of explanation for doing it.
"Neville, I know you've had a rough few months," Shacklebolt said gently. "It's been tough for everyone, since the war ended."
He shrugged again.
"And I can tell that you're having some trouble controlling yourself, your reactions, your feelings. Do you have anyone you can talk to about this?"
Neville didn't move, couldn't answer the question.
"Your Gran, maybe? Luna? Ginny?"
He shook his head. "I'm fine."
Shacklebolt looked at him gently, softly, and Neville just wanted to scream at him. For being so understanding, for being so gentle, as if Neville were fragile, something easily broken. If he was strong enough to lead a resistance against Death Eaters, he was certainly capable of dealing with his emotions in the aftermath.
"Neville, I think you need to take some time off. What happened today wasn't okay. You need to work things through before I can let you back on the force."
"But I'm needed here! You're understaffed. There are still tons of Death Eaters out there, and you need me to be an Auror to help you catch them."
Shacklebolt just shook his head. "Neville, go home and get some rest. Meet up with some friends, spend some time with your Gran. Relax."
"I really want to stay, sir," Neville whispered.
"I know. You could be a great Auror, Neville, and we want you here. But until you get your temper under control, I can't have you in the program."
Neville swallowed, hard, but nodded. He stood up, and shook Shacklebolt's hand.
"If you ever want to talk, I'm here, and I'll be holding a spot for you whenever you're ready to come back."
"Thank you, sir," Neville said as steadily as he could manage.
He turned and left the room, trying to ignore the tears pooling in his eyes.
He found himself in Diagon Alley a short while later, his feet tracing the familiar path to the Leaky Cauldron.
He was there more often than he cared to admit.
He entered the pub and sat down in his favorite seat, a small armchair nestled in the corner with a perfect view of the front door. He set up camp there sometimes, sitting there for hours, nursing a cup of tea, or more often, a bottle of Firewhiskey. It was quiet there, and hidden, and Neville felt gloriously, gloriously alone. Away from the journalists and photographers who kept on asking him for interviews. Away from the various school friends who wanted to talk about the War. Away from Gran and Ginny and Luna and everyone who would be so disappointed in him for failing to be an Auror, for failing to control his feelings, for failing to be the perfect war hero that everyone expected him to be.
Here, in this small frumpy chair, in this quiet, invisible corner of the pub, he felt like he could just be. He didn't need to be a war hero, or an Auror, or even Harry Potter's friend. Here, he was just Neville.
Tom came round a few minutes later. "What'll you have to drink, lad?" he asked. "Or maybe you want some lunch?"
"A bottle of Firewhiskey would be nice," he said.
"Are you sure, lad? It's a bit early in the day for that, isn't it?"
Neville shrugged, and Tom walked away.
A few minutes later, Hannah Abbot stopped by. She worked at the Cauldron, and while he had never been too friendly with her in Hogwarts, they had formed a tentative friendship over the last few months as Neville visited the Cauldron more and more often.
"Neville, I brought you a cup of tea," she said.
"I wanted some Firewhiskey."
"You drink too much Firewhiskey. You can choose between tea and water."
"I'll take the tea then."
"I thought as much." She placed the mug gently on the table. "What happened today, Neville? Why aren't you at the Ministry?"
"Nothing," he muttered.
She sighed. "Neville, it's two in the afternoon. You're normally at work now, and you're not the type to slack off. Obviously something happened."
"Shackebolt fired me."
Her eyes widened. "Why?"
"I sent Dawlish to St. Mungo's with an Entrail Expelling Curse." Hannah's mouth narrowed. "It was an accident, I swear," he said quickly.
"How do you accidentally remove someone's digestive organs?"
"He put a Body-Binding Curse on me!" he shouted.
"He casts a first-year jinx on you, and you send him to the hospital?"
Neville froze. 'I don't want to talk about it.'
"And I do. This is not okay. You haven't been okay since the war ended. What happened, Neville?"
He stood up. "I'm leaving."
"Neville, the war changed you," Hannah whispered. "You did so much for everyone those last months at Hogwarts. You singlehandedly led a rebellion against the Carrows. You kept everyone's spirits up. You made everyone feel safe. Now you're upset and hurting. Let someone in, Neville. Let us help you now."
He suddenly found that he didn't have the strength to stand, and he let himself collapse into the chair.
"I can't," he whispered. "I can't."
"It's okay, Neville," she said quietly. "Tell me whatever you want."
He stared at her, his mind whirling with thoughts he hadn't dare think and with emotions he hadn't been brave enough to feel since the war ended.
"Whatever you feel comfortable with," she repeated.
"I don't like Body-Binding curses," he said finally, to his cup of tea. He couldn't look at her, couldn't bear to see the look of pity that would undoubtedly be on her face.
"Why not?" she said softly. She pulled a chair over, and sat herself down beside him.
"Don't you have work?" he asked, stalling.
"For some reason, I don't think you're going to hang around until my shift ends," she said.
He shrugged, because he was right.
"So, instead I'm going to sit here with you until you tell me whatever you need to say."
"Won't Tom be upset? If you stay here instead of working, I mean." He'd feel even worse if he knew he'd gotten Hannah fired for staying with him instead of working.
"Tom likes you, and he's worried, with you drinking all that Firewhiskey. He'll probably pay me double to sit here and listen to you."
"You sure?" he asked. He looked around the pub. It seemed like the other two servers would be able to handle the other patrons. There weren't too many of them at this time of the day.
She nodded, and placed an arm on his shoulder. "Tell me why you don't like Body-Binding Curses."
He sighed, resigned. "Were you at the Battle of Hogwarts?"
"Yeah, but what does that have to do with the curse?"
He decided to ignore her. If he was going to be talking about his bloody feelings, he was going to do it his way. "You know, at the very end, when we all thought Harry was dead?"
"When Hagrid came out of the Forest behind Voldemort and holding Harry?"
"I was terrified," she said. "I was sure that Voldemort had won, and that he was going to kill us all. Everyone was pretty terrified then, except you. You stood up to him, Neville. It was the craziest thing I'd ever seen in my life. He won, and you told him to piss off. I still can't believe you did that."
"And then what happened, Hannah?" he asked. He could tell his heart was beating faster, faster, faster, and he was sweating, his hair clamped to his forehead and neck.
"He placed a Silencing Charm on you, and then a . . ." she swallowed thickly. "And then a Body Bind Curse."
"And then?" he asked. He felt the memories tugging at him, pulling him away from the pub and back to Hogwarts, back to that early May morning when he had almost, almost, almost -
"He conjured the Sorting Hat, and placed it on your head, and then, and then -" she couldn't finish.
"He set it on fire, yes."
"Neville," she whispered. "That's, that's awful."
"I couldn't move, and then I was set on fire. And that's why I don't like Body Binding Curses," he said.
"Neville, you must – "
He ignored her. Now that he started, he needed to finish the story, to explain to someone how his little act of bravery has slowly been eating him alive. "And today, today Dawlish cast a Body-Bind curse on me. He's not nearly as strong as Voldemort, so I managed to break it. But I needed to defend myself, the best I could. And then Dawlish was in the hospital, and I was fired." He paused, considering. "Can I have some Firewhiskey now?"
"No. You can drink some more tea, and if you behave, I may decide to let you have some butterbeer."
"Lovely." He eyed his now-cold tea with distaste, and drank the tea after casting a warming charm on it.
They sat in silence as Neville slowly sipped at his tea.
"Neville," Hannah said slowly after a few minutes, "Why do you like Firewhiskey so much? You never used to drink it, back in Hogwarts."
He shrugged. 'It distracts me, helps me sleep."
"You're having trouble sleeping?"
"Yeah. I get - I get nightmares, sometimes. About the Carrows, and the Battle. The more I drink, the easier I sleep."
"Does your Gran know about all of this? The - the nightmares, and the drinking?"
He shook his head. "She got hurt - in the Battle. She's been in St. Mungo's these last few months, and I haven't wanted to worry her.'"'What about Ginny? Or Luna? You're good friends with them."
He paused, thinking. "I need you to swear you won't repeat what I'm about to tell you. The Ministry doesn't want this to be public." He waited until he saw her nod."Ginny's busy with Harry. He's even more messed up than I am, freaks out whenever someone uses a wand around him. Ginny found herself on the wrong side of his wand for trying to cast a cleaning spell on him after spilling some tea on him. That's the real reason why he's not in the Auror department yet, not because he's busy helping rebuild Hogwarts."
"Wow," Hannah said. "I didn't know Harry was that – affected by the Battle."
"We all were," Neville said, shrugging.
"How's Luna been doing? Could you talk to her?"
"She's left England, and didn't give me any way to contact her. I guess I could write her, but . . . "
"That's not really helpful if you need to talk to someone right now," Hannah finished. "So you've basically been dealing with all of this alone?" she asked. Her lips were pursed.
"That's not acceptable, Neville."
"Well, what do you want me to do?" he shouted. Several other customers turned to look at him. He flushed, and lowered his voice. "All of my friends are too busy dealing with their own problems. Hermione still can't leave the Burrow, Luna's has left England, and Harry instinctively curses anyone he sees using a wand. So what if I couldn't sleep a few nights, or if I drink a little too much Firewhiskey?"
"I don't know what you should've done before, but it's not okay, Neville,' Hannah said softly. "You're a goddam war hero, and your country is letting you suffer alone. No one's giving you the help you need, and you've even been fired from your job because of it. From now on, you're going to be talking to someone."
"Who? Who the hell cares enough to listen me talk about all of my issues?"
"You? Why you?"
"Because you shouldn't deal with this alone. I know I wasn't part of Harry's little gang, but you can still talk to me, Neville."
He laughed, a high, unnatural sound that forced its way out of him.
"You want to listen to me talk about how messed up I am?"
"No. What I want is you to be capable of sleeping through the night without downing bottles of Firewhiskey first. And if yelling and ranting at me is the only way you'll be able to talk about your feelings, then I will gladly listen to you talk about how messed up you are."
"Bloody hell," he muttered, rubbing at his eyes. "Can I go now? Please?"
"Where are you planning on going?"
"Back to my flat, of course!"
"No, you're not. I don't think you should be alone right now."
"So I should stay here with you instead?"
She brightened. "That's a great idea! You can stay here until my shift ends, and then we'll figure out what we're doing about tonight."
"What? No. I'm not staying here, and I'm not doing anything with you tonight!" he said quickly.
"Neville," Hannah said, patting his shoulder, "you've had a very long, very emotionally draining day. You just told me you drink a lot of Firewhiskey when you get stressed, especially before you try to go to sleep. Do you really think you should be alone right now? Or tonight?"
He shook his head slowly. He knew she was right, that drinking away his problems wasn't the solution, but it was hard to admit he needed help.
"I don't want to stay with you tonight, though," he said. He really didn't want to wake her up when he woke up screaming from his nightly nightmare regimen. She already knew how broken he was, and he didn't feel the need to make himself look even worse in front of her.
Also, Hannah's parents were dead, so as far as he knew, she lived alone. Neville couldn't really imagine that his Gran would approve of him sleeping overnight at a single girl's house. Alone. Just the two of them. Yeah, not such a brilliant idea.
She studied his face. "You feel that uncomfortable staying with me?"
He nodded. "It's very kind of you to offer, but, I'd really rather crash at my own place."
"Could you maybe stay at the Burrow? You're good friends with Ron and Ginny."
"Ginny's been staying with Harry in London, and I couldn't stay at the Weasley's. They're still getting over Fred's death, and Hermione still panics whenever there are too many people in the room. I couldn't do that to them." He sighed. "I get that it probably wouldn't be too good if I stayed alone, though. I guess I can stay here, let a room from Tom. That way I'd at least be around other people."
He expected her to be happy, that he was compromising with her, but when he looked up, he saw Hannah frowning instead, her lips pursed in a thin line. "I thought you said you didn't want to stay with me," she said.
He gaped at her. "You live here?"
She nodded. "Tom is my dad's uncle," she said, pointing at him. "I've been staying with him since - since my parents died," she said in a whisper. Her face became drawn and splotchy, and Neville was pretty sure he could see tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. He didn't say anything though. He knew what it was like to lose his parents.
Hannah was silent for a moment, and then added, "I sleep upstairs, and help out down here most days." Her voice was still a bit shaky, but it seemed like she was ready to continue the conversation.
Neville took a deep breath. "I'll - I'll stay with you two here tonight, then. If I run into any trouble, I'll be able to talk to you."
"Exactly," she said, giving him a small smile. She was still a bit sad, he could tell, but the smile made him feel a bit better.
"I'm going to need to pick up some stuff from my flat for the night," he said. His Gran had gotten pretty hurt in the battle, and she was staying in St. Mungo's for now, and he was living alone now. He visited his Gran when he could, but he was pretty lonely these days.
"That's alright," Hannah replied. "Stay here, calm down a bit, and we'll go together after my shift ends, okay?"
"Okay," Neville said.
Once she left, Neville pulled a book out of his sack. He had been wanting to read Flesh Eating Trees of the World for a while now, but being an Auror had consumed all of his spare time. He had a lot of free time now, though, he thought, trying not to be too bitter about it.
Hannah came back a few hours later, holding a steaming bowl of stew and a plate of chicken. It smelled amazing.
"Is that for me?" He really, really hoped it was. He wasn't the best cook, not after eating the house elves' food for seven years at Hogwarts, and his Gran's when he was at home. Now, he was an eighteen year old bachelor who was utterly hopeless at cooking spells. He considered himself lucky if he managed to get water to boil.
"Yeah. Eat up, and then we can go round to your place. I've had Tom set up a room for you, so once we get your stuff, you're all set."
"Sounds good," he agreed. He ate his food quickly. Hannah was a really good cook, he discovered.
"How do you want to get us to your flat? Floo, or do you want to Apparate?" Hannah asked as he finished up his dinner.
He cleared his throat. "Uh, I don't have a Floo, and I've set up my flat with anti-Apparation wards."
"Why?" she asked.
"It's – It's silly."
"It's okay, you can tell me anyway."
He found that he wanted to tell her.
"I'm – I'm sca-." His heart was fluttering again. He took a deep breath. "I don't want anyone to be able to get into my flat." He was proud that he managed to keep his voice steady.
"Is it okay if I go with you to your flat then? I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable."
"No, it's alright." Neville didn't know why he was making an exception for Hannah, just that it felt . . . right.
"So how do we get to your flat then, if we can't Floo or Apparate?"
"I Apparate to the end of the block, and walk to my flat from there. There's a bunch of wards on my flat, though, that I have to undo. It takes some time, so if you have somewhere better to be . . ." he trailed off, giving her another chance to back out. He couldn't imagine why she would want to come with him.
"No, I'm coming," she said.
"Oh, um, okay," he said. "Okay. Well then, let's go."
They Apparated out of the Leaky Cauldron to a small residential street in a quiet neighborhood.
"My flat's this way," he said, pointing.
They walked up the block quietly, until he stopped in front of a small building.
"I gotta undo the wards now."
She nodded, and he began the familiar pattern of wand movements that unlocked - protected - his home. It took a while, a good ten minutes or so, until he finished.
"Yeah. Come on." He cocked his head towards the open door, letting her go through first.
"You can wait down here while I pack an overnight bag," he said.
"Alright. You'll be down soon?"
"In a few minutes." He wandered upstairs, to his bedroom, and began sifting through the mess that lived on his floor in an attempt to find a clean pair of pajamas.
A few minutes later, he was packed and headed back down to Hannah. Surprisingly, she wasn't in the dining room where he had left her, but in his small office.
Well, it wasn't really an office now, anymore. It was more of a conservatory than anything else, a place to keep his indoor plants.
He found her sitting there, in the large rolling chair that dominated the small room, surrounded by all of his plants, all of the green growing things that he's managed to keep alive over the last few months, despite the nightmares, despite the drinking, despite all of the tears and sweat and pain that had overshadowed every moment of his existence.
"Hey," he said. "I've packed."
Hannah didn't seem to hear him. She was too busy staring at a mini magical palm tree that slowly fanned its leaves as she watched. He wasn't too surprised. That particular species had some exhibitionist tendencies. "Neville, these are beautiful," she breathed. "Are they all yours?"
"Yeah. Well, most," he said, a bit bashfully. No one had ever seen his conservatory before. "I mean, sometimes people hire me to grow the more tricky ones. But the rest, yeah, they're mine."
"You're really good with them, Neville. Everyone always knew you were the best at Herbology, but still, this is amazing."
He watched her look at his plants some more. He was proud of his conservatory, and happy that she enjoyed looking at it.
"Have you kept up with Professor Sprout since the war ended?" Hannah asked while prodding a Fanged Germanium.
"Not really," he said, shrugging. "Right after the Battle, I was busy with the Auror department, and she was helping McGonogal repair Hogwarts. Last I heard, they fixed up most of the inside of the castle where students live, but the grounds are still a mess."
"Do you ever want to go back? To Hogwarts?"
"No!" he whispered. His hands starting shaking. Some tea spilled out of his cup onto the floor. "No." He was shivering and sweating, and he could feel that the collar of his shirt was glued to the back of his neck with sweat.
Memories swamped his mind, trying to pull him back to that last year at Hogwarts.
He's standing just outside the Great Hall, standing on the rubble that composed Hogwarts' gorgeous pillars and walls just minutes ago.
Voldemort stands opposite him, with his army of Death Eaters behind him. "You are pureblood, aren't you, my brave boy?" he asks.
Neville shrugs. "So what if I am?"
"You show spirit and bravery, and you come of noble stock. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom."
Neville smiles, a harsh thin line tight across his face. "I'll join you when hell freezes over. Dumbledore's Army!" He raises his arms, and he hears the cheers of the people standing behind him - his friends, the teachers, the Order.
He could tell Voldemort wasn't too happy with that though. An instant later, the Sorting Hat is on his head, covering his eyes, and it's on fire. An acrid smell fills the air, and he knows that his hair is burning too. He tries to reach up, to get the burning hat off of his head, but he can't move. He's been immobilized.
He knows he's going to die here today. He was one of Harry's main supporters, was the leader of Hogwarts' own resistance against Voldemort.
Neville thinks he should be scared, but he's not. He's just tired. So, so tired. He wants it all to end. After the hell he's lived through over the last year – and last night – he just wants this all to be over. He's scared to admit it, even to himself, but he thinks that he would rather die right here than let Voldemort use him as an example to force his friends to surrender, just like he tried to do with Harry.
But he can't let himself die, or at least not yet. The last thing Harry told him was that Nagini needed to be killed in order to defeat Voldemort. Neville wasn't quite sure he understood why the snake was so important, but Harry was the leader. Neville's going to do his best to follow his instructions, even though Harry's dead now, his body small and limp in Hagrid's arms. Neville's going to do it for him, and then, once his fulfilled Harry's last wish, maybe he can join Harry. Get away from the Carrows, from Snape, the Death Eaters. The memories of all of his dead friends and mentors. Voldemort.
But first, he's got to kill a snake. How the hell he was going to do that, paralyzed and on fire, he's not sure. But he's determined to do this last thing, for Harry.
A voice pops into his head. You're a brave boy, lad. I know it seems hopeless, but you've got courage. You're a true Gryffindor, and Godric would be honored if you would use his sword.
And then, he can move; he's free from the immaterial bindings that constrained him. The burning hat slips from his head, and he feels the cool morning breeze fluttering against his head. There's something heavy, metallic, in his hand. He looks down, and realizes he's holding the bloody Sword of Gryffindor. He knows exactly what he's going to do with it. He's going to try to kill Nagini, just like he promised Harry. And if he dies in the process, well, he won't be the first sacrifice in this terrible, long war against Voldemort.
He felt tears spilling down his cheeks, and realized that he was sobbing. He couldn't seem to catch his breath, and he was shaking, his body shivering. He wanted to run, to his parents, to his Gran, to anywhere that wasn't here.
But he couldn't. Not while Hannah was hugging him, her arms enveloping him, holding him,tying himto here and now, keeping him warm and maybe even safe.
"It's okay, Neville," she was whispering. "You're okay, you don't have to go back. You're safe, and here, in your flat. You're okay. You're okay, Neville."
She continued like this for a while, whispering reassurances into his ear, stroking his back. He rested his head on her shoulder, and held her tight. Eventually, his breathing slowed, and his heart stopped racing.
"Are you okay now?" Hannah asked softly.
"I- I think so," he said, still a bit shaky.
"Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Neville shook his head. "I'm not ready to," he whispered.
"That's alright. I'm going to get you some water, okay?" She moved to get up.
"Don't go," he said quickly, clutching at her shirt. "Don't go."
She sat back down. "It's okay, I'm right here." He rested his head on her shoulder again, leaning into the touch.
"Can I conjure some water for you?"
"Yes, please," he said. He closed his eyes, and heard her mutter Augmenti. He felt the brim of the cup at his lips, and he slowly slipped some water.
"Feeling better now?"
They sat there for a while, in silence.
"I think I'm ready to go back to the Leaky Cauldron now," Neville said eventually.
"You're all packed up?"
He nodded, and she smiled at him. Neville realized he really liked her smile. It was warm and reassuring and was just the thing to make him feel comfortable.
Before he left the townhouse, Neville made sure to redo all of his wards. It was a long process, taking about ten minutes or so to reactivate all of the protective magics that surrounded his home. Hannah just stood there, watching the procedure silently. He was happy that she didn't comment on his wards. He didn't want to bring Ginny here. He knew she wouldn't approve.
They Apparated back to Diagon Alley, and walked to the pub. It seemed that it was a slow night for the Leaky Cauldron; the taproom was nearly empty even though it wasn't that late.
They headed upstairs together, and Hannah stopped in front of a wooden door with a large six on it.
"This is good night," Hannah said. "I'm going to go to sleep now, but if you need anything, please don't' hesitate to wake me up, okay? I'm room number ten, just down the hall."
Neville didn't like that idea too much. "I don't really want to inconvenience anyone. If I need anything, I'll Conjure or Transfigure it."
"And what if you need someone to talk to?"
"I won't," he said firmly.
"It could be that you won't. Maybe sleeping in a building that actually has other people in it for once will make you feel less alone, and more safe. Maybe you'll actually be able to sleep. But I want you to promise me that if you can't sleep, you won't do anything rash, like leave in the middle of the night back to your flat. I want you to promise that you'll come get you if you need someone to talk to."
"Hannah, I can't do that. I'm not going to wake you at three AM because of a nightmare. I can talk to you in the morning."
Hannah smiled then. It wasn't a happy smile, didn't reach her eyes. It seemed just a bit sad to Neville, but he wasn't quite sure why. "I know you can. But I want you to also know that you can wake me up in the middle of the night if it'll help you sleep. You're tired, Neville. Tired and hurt and scared, and I want you to feel safe and comfortable. I want you to be able to sleep the night. I want you to have someone you can talk to. I want you to promise."
He stared at her for a long and hard minute. He knew that he liked the fact that Hannah cared so much for him, but it was still hard, so damn hard, to let someone else in. After Luna was kidnapped during Christmas, and Ginny never came back to Hogwarts after Easter, Neville hadn't really had anyone he could talk to at Hogwarts, anyone to confide in. All of his friends were gone, Harry and Hermione and Ron and Luna and Ginny, and his Gran was in hiding from the Death Eaters. It was up to him to defend the school from the Carrows and Snape, and he had to it all alone.
And after the Battle, it wasn't much better. His Gran had gotten seriously hurt, and he didn't want to worry her after that, not after what had happened to his parents in the last War. Most of his friends were dealing with their own issues, with their own losses, and he couldn't burden them with his own troubles too.
And now, Hannah wanted him to let her in. But he didn't know if he could do that, didn't even know how to do that. He wanted to confide in her, to trust her, but it was so, so hard, and he was so, so scared. Scared of pity. Scared of disapproval. Scared of rejection.
But Hannah really seemed to care. She wanted to listen. She wanted to understand. She wanted to help him get better, feel better. And he felt safe around her. And he was scared to admit it, even to himself, but he felt like he could trust her.
He took a deep breath. "I promise."
She ran over to him, enveloped him in a big hug. "I'm so proud of you, Neville. I know how hard that was. You're going to go to sleep now, and remember, you're not alone. Tom is here if you need anything, and I'm just down the hall, okay?"
He nodded. "I'll be fine."
"And if you're not fine . . ."
"I'll wake you."
"Good. Have a good night, Neville."
He swallowed. "Okay. You too, Hannah."
She turned and left the room, and Neville began his nightly pre-bed ritual. He did the wards on the window first, and then the door. He could almost do them in his sleep at this point, even though he wasn't so good at defensive magics. That had always been Harry's thing. But it seemed that doing the same spells at least twice a day, every day, for over three months made him marginally competent at them. No one's managed to break in, at least.
He then showered, got into his pajamas, and brushed his teeth. He checked the window again, and set up some magical alarms that would wake him up if anything Flooed through the fireplace opposite the door. He climbed into bed, and lay there for a while, fitfully, tossing and turning uncomfortably. He eventually fell into an uneasy sleep.
"Muggles are filthy creatures," Alecto Carrow announces. "They're stupid, disgusting animals that force wizards like us into hiding. We must exterminate them, remove them so that we can take our natural place as the rulers of mankind."
"Professor, I have a question," Neville says, jabbing his hand into the air.
"You and your brother seem pretty disgusting to me. How much Muggle blood do you lot have?"
She's standing beside him suddenly, shaking with anger. "Apologize," she hisses.
He smirks at her. 'I'm sorry, ma'am, for implying you're a Muggle." She seems mollified, until he adds, "I should've said you seem like a pig. That comparison suits you much better."
"Cruciatus," she shouts.
He flinches, but he doesn't feel any pain. He's confused, just for an instant, until he hears Lavender Brown screaming a couple of desks away from him.
He jumps out of his seat. "Stop hurting her," he yells.
"You're lucky you're a pureblood, you little blood traitor. Otherwise, this would've been you. Instead, I'm going to hurt your halfblood friends until I've decided you've been punished enough."
The whole time she's speaking, she keeps her wand trained on Lavender, who's now writhing on the floor, moaning in agony. Her face has gone ashen-white, and her mascara is running down her cheeks in a river of tears.
"Please stop," he whispers. "I'll do anything."
"Come to my office tonight, after dinner. I think it's time you've had a detention for all of the unruly behavior you've been encouraging amongst the students."
"Yes ma'am," he says quietly, and her arm lowers. Lavender stops screaming, and curls into a small ball. Parvati races to her side and tries to comfort her.
Carrow steps in front of him, her voice tight and hard. "You're going to be disciplined tonight, boy. I'm going to teach you about pain. Nothing debilitating, of course. I wouldn't harm your pure blood. But there are many, many spells that can make you hurt without permanently harming you. We'll see how many you can take. If you're not there, Miss Brown will be invited to my office instead. She and I will play a little game, and see how long it takes to break a halfblood's mind with the Cruciatus curse."
Then she slaps his face. His left cheek begins aching, a low dull throb that seems to hurt more when he moves his mouth. He's sure it's going to leave a nasty bruise. "That's to remind you to behave until tonight."
He woke up suddenly. He was shivering, but sweating also, he noticed absently. He reached for the bottle of Firewhiskey he normally kept at his bedside table, but his hand just couldn't seem to find it.
He sat up, scrubbing at his eyes. This wasn't his room. His heart began beating frantically, until he remembered that he had agreed to stay in the Leaky Cauldron overnight. Well, that explained why he couldn't find his Firewhiskey.
He sat there for a moment, unsure what he should do now. Normally, he'd just drink himself back to sleep, but he obviously couldn't do that now. Besides, he didn't think Hannah would approve.
He thought about heading downstairs, seeing if Tom needed any help. But it was past midnight, and he couldn't imagine that there was that much to do in a pub this late at night.
He looked at the door. Hannah did say he could wake her up if he needed to talk . . .
He quickly got up, before he lost his question, and undid the wards on the door. He headed down the hallway, and knocked lightly on Hannah's door.
"Hannah?" he called.
He heard some scuffling, and Hannah opened the door a moment later. Her face was red, and she seemed – unnerved, frantic even.
"Neville! Are you okay? Did something happen?"
Suddenly he felt extremely silly. He'd woken her up, frightened her even, in the middle of the night, because he couldn't sleep. It's not like that was so unusual; he hadn't had a good night's sleep since before the Battle, before the beginning of seventh year if he was being honest with himself. And now he had woken up Hannah, so she wouldn't be getting sleep tonight either. And she actually needed to go to work in the morning.
"I'm sorry, Hannah. I shouldn't have woken you. Go back to sleep, and I'll talk to you in the morning."
"Neville, what happened?"
"Nothing happened," he mumbled. "Look, I'm really sorry for waking you up. I'm going to go back to sleep now."
He turned and trudged very slowly back to his room. He was just about to redo the wards on the door when Hannah walked through it. She shut the door behind her, pulled out the chair from the desk and sat down.
"Don't feel bad about waking me up," she said firmly. "I told you I wanted you to. And now I want you to tell me why you're awake."
Hannah could be very stubborn, Neville knew. He stared very carefully at the doorknob. "I had a nightmare," he said quietly.
"Does this happen a lot?"
"Come on, Neville, you can tell me."
He sighed, resigned. He knew her well enough by now that he knew she wouldn't let him leave until he answered of her questions. "Yeah. Most nights. I have insomnia, and I wake up with nightmares a lot."
"What are the nightmares about?"
"The Carrows, Snape, and Voldemort. Trying to torture or kill me, or people I care about. You know, my entire seventh year."
"That's awful," Hannah breathed.
Neville shrugged again. "Yeah." He paused, and then asked slowly, "Do you ever have nightmares? About what happened last year?"
"Yeah," she said. She didn't look at him, kept her eyes trained at his feet. "Not as bad as yours, it seems. I don't really want to talk about them though."
"That's okay," Neville said quickly. He didn't want her to think he was prying, didn't want to force her to talk about things that were obviously painful for her. He didn't want to hurt her any more than the War already had.
At the same time, he felt kind of disappointed that she didn't trust him enough to share with him, like he had shared with her.
"Do you want to tell me about yours?" she asked.
"Not really," he said.
"So what should we talk about?"
"Don't you need to go to sleep? We both know that I can't, but that shouldn't stop you from getting a decent night's rest."
"Neville, I don't think you should be alone right now. You've had a very emotional trying day. You got fired! Once you can convince me you can fall asleep, I'll go to bed too."
"Okay, then." He thought for a moment. "What was your favorite subject in Hogwarts?"
"That was random," Hannah said, laughing.
He shrugged, huffing a little. "You told me to pick a topic of conversation," he reminded her.
"All right, all right," she said. "I really liked Charms. We always learned the most interesting things, and Professor Flitwick was always my favorite teacher. What about you?"
"So why didn't you go into that after the War ended?" she asked.
He felt his chest tighten. "I wanted to," he admitted quietly, almost under his breath . "But right after the Battle, I felt like I was needed too much in the Auror department. There are so many Dark Wizards, and there aren't enough wizards trained with them. So I become an Auror." He sighed. "But now I can't even do that anymore." He knew his voice was bitter, but didn't try to soften it. Hannah knew him, and knew how he felt by now. He actually thought she'd be upset if he tried to hide his feelings.
"Do you miss it?" she asked. "Being an Auror?"
He thought about it. "I don't know. I don't think so, not really. I never really liked Defense, and I was pretty awful at it until Harry helped me out in DA fifth year. I got good enough at Defense that everyone decided I should be the leader of the DA last year. Shacklebolt was so desperate for semi-qualified wizards that he let me become an Auror even though I didn't go through the normal training program."
"But you don't actually like it?"
"No. I like Herbology," he said. "It's what I'm good at."
"I'm sorry, Neville," Hannah said. Her voice was quiet, tense.
"I'm sorry that you were forced into a position you didn't want, into a job you didn't like. You shouldn't have had to do that."
"And students shouldn't have had to become soldiers." His voice was hard, tight, and he felt his fingers curling into fists on his lap. "Harry shouldn't have had to lead a war at age seventeen. What I did wasn't unusual, Hannah. I did what I had to do, what I could do, to help."
"I know, Neville. You were brave, so brave during the war. But now you're hurting. And now you need to let other people help you."
"I'm trying," he shouted. "I don't know what you want from me."
Hannah got up from the chair and sat beside him from the bed. She wrapped her arms around him, enveloped him in a huge hug.
"I know, Neville, I know. You're confused because you're so used to feeling alone. You're just learning to let people in, and I know it's very hard for you. I want to help you, Neville, I do," she said. "And I'll do whatever it takes to help you. I promise."
Hannah continued her soft, encouraging whispers, and Neville slowly felt himself relax. They sat there for a while, cuddled up together on Neville's bed. Neville found that he liked this, liked being held, liked being cared for, liked being loved.
He realized he liked being with Hannah most of all.
"Hannah, can I kiss you?" he blurted out suddenly. He felt himself turn red, and pulled himself out of her arms.
Hannah was silent, for a very long while. He finally gathered up the courage to look up at her, steeled himself for the rejection he was so sure he'd hear.
"Neville, I like you too," she said, her cheeks a bit pink. Neville's heart began fluttering. Why had it taken her so long to answer him then?
She cleared her throat. "I've like you in that way for a while, actually," she said. "But I haven't said anything because . . ." she trailed off.
"Why?" Neville asked quickly.
"Because Luna," she quietly.
'"Luna?" he repeated. "What about her?" Neville didn't really understand what she had to do with anything.
"Aren't you with her?" Hannah asked.
"We're over," he said. "She left me months ago now."
Hannah's face cleared, but she said, "I'm so sorry, Neville. I know you liked her."
"She actually told me she loved me."
"Neville," Hannah breathed. "She told you that, and then she left you?"
He shook his head. "It wasn't like that. She said she needed to leave England. There were too many bad memories here for her. She decided to go hunting for Crumple Horned Snorkbacks in Sweden. She told me . . ."
"What did she tell you?"
"She said that she loved me, but that we weren't right for each other. She said she wouldn't be good for me, and that we couldn't be together."
"That's a little harsh," Hannah said. "She couldn't have been a bit more tactful while dumping you?"
"Well, you know Luna," Neville said. "Very honest, but very, very blunt. I don't think she was trying to hurt me. She just wanted to make sure I would end up with someone who would make me happy."
"Weren't you upset?"
He shrugged. "I was for a while, but when I thought about it, I realized she was right. She was too flighty, too fickle, too impulsive. I ignored it, telling myself we'd work it out. I wanted it to work out, but mostly because everyone expected it to work out. Harry paired up with Ginny, and Ron was with Hermione. Everyone just thought that the last two members of Harry's little gang should be a couple too. I thought so too, until Luna told me we couldn't. It took me weeks to accept it, but now I know that she wouldn't be right for me."
"What kind of girl would be right for you?" Hannah asked quietly.
"Someone predictable. Someone dependable. Someone supportive, and caring, and loyal." He stopped, felt his heart racing in his chest. But this wasn't fear, or hurt, or frustration, like he'd felt so many times over the last few months. The flutter in his chest was a new feeling. It was anticipation. It was hope. It was love. "Someone like you, Hannah. Someone perfect."
Hannah ducked her head. Her cheeks were pink again. "For that kind of compliment, I think you deserve a kiss."
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