It hadn't been long since the fighting had stopped. Since Harry Potter had saved them all. Only now, without the clattering, ear-splitting screams and the constant stream of spells darting around, could he see the sky. He could really, properly see the sky; and the stars--and they were beautiful. Beautiful enough that the very sight of them through the clearing smog of spells had made him forget to breathe.
He had almost forgotten how they looked--wondering during the final battle whether he would ever be able to see them again. And now, finally, after an eternity of fighting, he could. But Neville couldn't stand to just gaze at them from the blood-beaten ground; he needed a better look.
Without a word to anyone, the brunet bolted up the crumbling stairs of the familiar castle--his home. Hogwarts. Well... what was left of it. As expected, the astronomy tower was abandoned, the one great window ahead calling to him. Once at the top, Neville stood there for what seemed to be hours, just staring out into the brisk night air.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
The voice startled him, but not nearly so much as what--or who, exactly--it had come from. "Astrid..." he breathed out, frozen in place where he stood. He couldn't believe he was seeing the ghost of a girl who stood behind him. It couldn't be, though. He couldn't be seeing her.
Astrid had died in the war, long gone in the battle of the previous morning. Astrid Lovegood, Luna's elder sister, and the girl he had fallen so completely in love with. But he could never make himself tell her.
And now it would be even worse.
She could never know. Not because of shyness, or that he just was too embarrassed by it. He knew it would only make the pain worse. That she wouldn't be able to move on.
"Hello, Nev," she finally answered, managing a slight smile. He stared at the scars across her skin, the clothes ripped, faded, and singed by the ever-present flames that had accompanied the battle.
"Now, don't do that."
Neville could only stare on in awe. "How did you..." he started, but she shushed him. "How isn't important... There are a lot of us walking around right now," Astrid murmured, taking a step closer to him. He swallowed down his grief for the moment, noticing just how pale she looked.
"C-Can I...?" his sentence trailed at the end, as he was having trouble forcing anything out of his mouth that wasn't drowned in tears. He slowly extended his hand toward her, reaching for her face. "You could... but--" His turn to shush her.
His fingertips brushed against where her cheek should have been. Where he should have felt some sort of warmth. He knew that he wouldn't, but... He could hope. "I tried to tell you," she muttered. "You won't feel it, love." He paused. "But you will. Right?" he asked, unsure. Judging by her unconscious lean into his hand, he guessed that she could.
After a moment, Astrid looked up to him through big green eyes, and Neville started to remember just how she died. It had been his fault. It had been his fault that she...
The battle had been raging for hours, no sign of Harry yet. It seemed that everyone was waiting for him; only him. But someone had to take charge. Someone had to be there at Hogwarts to fight for them while the Chosen One was still missing-in-action. War was every bit as nightmarish as Neville Longbottom could have ever imagined. But this--this was the end for him. He knew that he couldn't stand in the shadows any longer, waiting for someone else to save him.
"Neville, stay back! She just wants to--" Choking. "Silence!" She was being held at wand-point, tip of the wand shoved into her throat by the only woman he had ever come close to hating. His Astrid was caught, and he had this burning feeling that only one of them was going to walk out of this moment. But he was absolutely not about to let her die.
"What do you want, Bellatrix?!" he snapped, face twisted up in the most anger he had probably felt in his life. He was not going to lose anyone else to her. Especially not to her. "Want?" she quipped. "Why does it always have to be about wanting something?" Mock-innocence dripped from her voice, but he wasn't having it. This needed to end. The young witch writhed under the Death Eater's grip, only to have the latter's wand pressed even further into her throat. "Nev, leave me. Run!"
"No! I'm not leaving anyone else, Astrid!"
"You have to, plea-"
That last word was choked at the end. "Who's it going to be, Longbottom? You or her?" Bellatrix Lestrange sneered. "Let her go," he warned, gripping his wand tighter. As the woman opened her mouth to say the dreaded words, he spoke out. "Wait!" Neville threw down his wand and held his arms out from his sides. "Please, let her go. Don't you wanna finish us off?"
"No, no! Neville, what are you doing?!" Astrid shrieked. "Quiet!" the elder snapped, kicking her off to the side. "Oh, I've waited for this," Bella exclaimed, her eyes full of child-like glee. "Practically dreamed of it!" Her arm snapped up toward his chest, the unforgivable curse spoken just loud enough for Neville to hear. He had closed his eyes. He didn't want to give anyone the satisfaction of being able to speak of the fear in his eyes. He didn't want to know it was coming.
This was it...
...but the pain never came.
"Oops." His eyes snapped back open, but Bellatrix was gone. It took a moment for his eyes to readjust to the dim light, but he honestly wished that they hadn't.
"No..." he mumbled, cradling her falling form.
She had taken it...
She had taken that spell.
"Why would you do that... You're so stupid," he was close to crying. So close. But he could grieve later. Even if she was gone, somebody had to keep going. Somebody had to rise against, and he hadn't exactly seen anyone else volunteering.
"Sorry, love. But I had to."
Neville's memory shattered when she spoke again. His hand had dropped back to his side.
"Don't give me that look. I died protecting my best friend. And I could never take that back," she gave a bittersweet smile. He tried not to look so sad, to reflect her smile--so full of love. But he wasn't... would never be that good, that pure. Not after what he'd just lived through. He doubted he would ever even come close.
"Now listen, I've only got a few moments left, so you'll have to focus. Once my body's gone, once it's buried and everyone has had the time to grieve, erase me. Take those memories of me away." "What?! But you can't--"
"No, I can't. And I know it's painful now, but I don't want people to hurt because of me...." A sigh. "Especially not 'cos I went and died out there. So please, Nev. I know it doesn't fix much, but it's all I can do," she pleaded. Neville Longbottom finally gave in to her, though he wasn't about to actually do it. Was he?
Wouldn't it be better to hold the good, even if it meant the bad would stay with it?
His mind went back to after she'd been hit. Back only a few hours ago when he had carried her back to the castle. He remembered it all so clearly. He couldn't tell if it was just because of how recent it was, or if it was the trauma.
Probably the trauma.
He had always been under the impression that people died instantly when hit with the killing curse. After all, that was what had happened to Sirius Black. He'd just always heard it explained that way.
And maybe... maybe that was why he was so determined that she would be the one to make it. She would just be another one of those "Kid Who Lived" stories. He knew that Harry was the only known survivor, but he still had hope. She was going to make it, he thought. She had to.
She was slipping quickly; she would be gone before they were even halfway.
"Neville... I'm scared. I don't want to watch everyone cry over me... I don't want to watch you.... cry..." She struggled to breathe at that point. "How am I supposed to keep from it?" he asked softly, running with all he had to get her to McGonagall. If anyone would know how to help, it would be her. But the last thing she had said--those last words had stuck with him.
"One star... Count one for every time you miss me... And.. Name one of them for me, so you don't feel so alone..."
"I'm really begging, Neville, please don't back out on this one," she sighed out, voice bringing him back, once again, to reality. After a quick nod from him, she began to fade away. Neville panicked, and determined that he would be courageous--just this once.
He tried to force it out, just those three words, but he failed to. Again. "I'll see you again. Promise," she smiled, almost completely transparent now. "Wait! Astrid!" he tried again. She looked him straight in the eyes, listening. "You know that I--" "Yeah." she interrupted.
"And... I do too."
And she was gone.
Over the next couple of days, after she had been buried, he had done as she'd asked and erased everyone's memories of her. Once his work was finished, Neville found himself walking through the cemetery.
So many names he recognized... So many who had died too young. He wrapped his arms around himself. It was May, sure. But something about graveyards made him feel so cold..
His chest throbbed once when it hit him that he was the only person on earth that remembered the name on her headstone. He stared a while.
Astrid Xenia Lovegood January 27, 1980- May 2, 1998
He stood there for what seemed ages, just waiting for the right moment. The darkening sunset struck him. The stars were barely peeking out by that time. Starlight--Astrid would have liked it.
A shaky breath rung through him before he reached for his wand. This was it, this had to be it. Holding the tip of his wand to his temple, Neville prepared to alter his memory forever.
He tightened his sweating palm around his wand, about to cast the spell. His eyes began to well up. He didn't want to forget. He knew it was what she wanted, but god damnit, it just wasn't fair!
His chest throbbed again as he looked up. A tear slipped as he looked about the sky, looking for the perfect star. He chose the first one that he saw. "That'll be yours, Astrid," he whispered to himself. He could feel his face burning from holding back his cries. His nose, especially, was increasingly warm. He wasn't sure he'd be able to keep this up much longer. He knew he was alone, but it just... it didn't completely feel like it.
"You'll be alright, yeah?" That voice... He spun to see her standing there. She took several steps toward him, just in front of him when she spoke again. He really wanted to remember that smile. He started to lax his grip on the wand before she placed her own hand over his. He could almost feel her touch. He tried his best to copy his memory of it to this moment.
"Nev, you're strong. You can do this--you have to do this," she spoke softly. Her opaque form shifted as she leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Goodnight, Neville." And at that, she was gone.
His head hung as her form dissolved into dust, scattering through the breeze and toward the sky. He was silent a moment while he lowered himself to his knees, leaning his forehead to the cool stone in front of him. He finally let his feelings free, a few tears dripping from his chin. He felt like his heart was missing.
"I love you, Astrid.. I don't know how to let you go...."
He stayed like that for what felt like an eternity. He should have told her before. He should have kept his damn eyes open instead of letting her take it.
Everything he had been holding in, he let out. Days and weeks worth of pain he had kept inside were flowing freely from him. He wished he could say he felt better afterward.
Everything ached by the time he found the strength to stand again. His whole face was sore. He sniffed quietly, wiping his face clean on his sleeve.
Neville clutched his wand once again, his knuckles white from the harshness of his grasp. He put a charm over the stone, making her name disappear. He took a long moment before casting a growing spell just in front of the headstone, causing several daisies to spring up. He smiled to himself; she loved watching him in herbology class. She also loved daisies...
He looked up once again. It was completely dark now.
He lost count after a few minutes, forgetting which stars he had already counted. He tried to find the one he had named for her, but it was getting too difficult through all the tears he'd finally let loose of. Forget it, he thought to himself.
You said one star, Astrid... I know you said one... But how am I supposed to do that..? How do I choose one when you're the whole sky?
He took in a deep breath, chin pointed upward. He wanted them to be the last thing he saw, while he could remember. While he could still see her silhouette in their light.
He exhaled; he knew it was now or never. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut before replacing his wand at his temple. It was time.
~19 Years Later~
He woke up suddenly, another sleepless night in the castle. He silently slipped out from his bed while doing his best to not wake Hannah. He smiled at her sleeping form before taking a walk around the room.
Hannah Abbott pretended to be asleep when her husband left the bed. She couldn't rid herself of the clouds in her mind. She knew what was happening. He would never admit it to her. Probably because she knew he couldn't remember.
Neville felt a familiar soft throbbing in his chest as he paced the floor. He didn't know why, but he felt sad. Like something was missing. He told himself it was probably the time of year, though this empty feeling plagued him all year round. But May always seemed worse...
Hannah listened to his footsteps. To his breathing. She was the one living person left who knew about Astrid Lovegood. She knew little about the girl except that she died during the war. And that her husband was hopelessly in love with her. Still. After all this time of not even being able to remember her name or her face or anything about her. Just like everyone else.
He touched his chest--he could feel his heart thumping. Of course, he did lose several friends during the war... It would have made sense if that was all it was. Just a subconscious remembrance. That's what he kept telling himself, anyway.
She didn't know why she was the only one that remembered. But she wished that she didn't.
He went toward the large windows, opening one just enough to see the sky. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen it so clear. The throbbing continued. One by one, he began to count the stars. It was the only thing that could calm his racing heart on nights like this. He didn't know why or when he had started doing this, but it was very soothing to him.
She wished that she didn't have to know exactly what was waking her husband up in the middle of the night, even when he didn't.
She wished that he didn't have nightmares and cry out for Astrid while he slept.
She wished that she didn't notice the way his eyes lingered over old school photos and old trinkets Astrid had given him that he refused to give up. She wished that she didn't have to pretend to overlook the way he always paused over a single unmarked headstone every time they met up with the Weasleys and the Potters to visit Fred's grave in the spring. And she wished that she didn't feel the way that she did about this... He didn't even realize he did it.
Hannah knew that Neville loved her. She knew he loved her very much, but she couldn't help but feel like she was only a replacement. Like it wasn't even her that Neville was seeing sometimes--he just looked through her. And she knew that it was unfair to think this way. She just couldn't help it. Nobody wants to live in a shadow.
He usually got to about forty-something before he forgot which ones he had already counted.
She could hear his breathing relax while he was at the window; he would be back soon.
Once the throbbing had finally ebbed away, he returned to bed, but he left the window open so he could still see outside.
She closed her eyes as he crawled back into bed, immediately providing the entire mattress with heat. He was like a furnace. She drank in his warmth, though still pretending that he hadn't woken her up.
"One," he whispered, staring out of the open window and starting to count again. Eventually, his heavy eyelids drew him back to sleep.
She just wished that, sometimes, he would look at her the way he looked at the sky.