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ownficfest contribution: Returned into Sand

Title: Returned Into Sand
Author: vegablack62
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Neville, Hannah, their children, Harry Potter, Alice, Augusta, Enid, Agnes
Rating: PG
Warnings (if any): death, grief, two uses of the word f**k in a quote
Wordcount: 8,800
Summary: Neville comes to terms with his father’s death.
Author's Notes: Thanks to my daughter Rugi who did an excellent beta job at the extreme last minute. Written for Lyras for ownficfest. The title comes from Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan. Quotes in order of appearance from: Octopus’s Garden by Ringo Starr, This Be The Verse by Larkin, Psalm 49, Job 16:11 and Psalm 55. The bible quotes are from a modern translation. Consider that artistic license.

Floo calls from St. Mungo’s rarely arrive at a welcome time. When Neville Longbottom received his, he had just finished eating dinner with his daughters and wife and had been enjoying himself joking with them. His wife was expecting another baby, a singleton, a boy, whose coming had started as a surprise, but was now a welcome gift. His girls, Susannah and Daisy, a set of twins who looked nothing alike, had spent more than half of the meal coming up with silly names for the baby, becoming more and more ridiculous until their mother insisted they tell her about the visit they’d had that morning with his parents.

“Gran Alice told Dad she wanted to eat a kneazle for breakfast,” Daisy said, sounding highly shocked but really very amused.

Speech was difficult for Neville’s mother, so they had taught her to use cards to communicate. She’d taken to the system with gusto; she loved handing people things. This morning when Neville had asked her what she wanted for breakfast, she had passed him a picture of a tomato, and then an egg and finally a kneazle. He’d served her the first two and skipped the third.

“Are you sure she wasn’t asking after the kneazle?” Hannah responded. “Maybe she’s worried that you aren’t feeding it.”

Before a series of illnesses had forced their return to St. Mungo’s, Neville’s parent’s had lived with a small menagerie of animals in the cottage where they’d been cared for. The kneazle had been his mum’s favorite. Now it was Susannah and Daisy’s pet. They called him Charles. Neville could never figure out why, even after he’d asked the girls.

“No, she was saying she wanted to eat one,” Susannah insisted.

When Neville had held up the picture of the kneazle his mum had handed him, she had giggled along with her granddaughters. He hadn’t been able to tell if she was making a joke (an act the Healers claimed was too complex for her) or just laughing because the girls were.

Hannah glanced at Neville who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. He had no idea what his mother had meant. “What was your granddad doing, while this was going on?” she asked.

“Listening to his music,” Susannah answered.

“Asking for biscuits like he always does.” Daisy added.

All four of them smiled at Neville’s father’s notorious sweet tooth. He often nicked the girl’s treats, a habit which they had finally learned to take in good part. Sometimes friends would tell Neville that they thought Daisy took after him, while others claimed Susannah did. Neville thought they both in their own way looked like Hannah, especially at moments like this when they were happy and silly.

The day had been satisfying. His parents were getting stronger, so strong he had begun to consult the Healers about moving them from the hospital again. His mother had enjoyed the girl’s visit and they had enjoyed her this time -- he’d been proud of them for that. His father had been subdued and withdrawn, but happy in his way. The Healers told him often his parents could continue as they had for the last thirty eight years for another thirty eight and that was what Neville expected for them, which meant that the Floo-call that interrupted the end of the family meal came as a shock.

The caller asked Neville to come immediately. His father was having a prolonged seizure, which had become very dangerous. The Floo Regulation Panel was arranging an emergency connection to allow Neville immediate access to St. Mungo’s. Within minutes he left his family kitchen where he’d been laughing with Hannah and his girls to emerge from the green flames of the hospital’s emergency fireplace ready to make his way up to the fourth floor.

Neville burst into the treatment room to find his father surrounded by medi-witches, and Healers working to stop him from asphyxiating from the strength and length of this fit. Neville stood shocked and numb before he broke and rushed toward the bed where his father lay convulsing. A mediwitch stepped in front of him before he reached his dad. She told him that the fit had gone on for too long – more than thirty minutes, putting his father into Status Epilepticus. She led him to a spot by the bedside where he could watch but not be in the way.

Neville flattened himself, spelling himself smaller, wishing a Disillusionment Charm could meld him into the wall behind him after a mediwitch tripped on his clumsy toes. His father thrashed on his bed letting loose bursts of accidental magic that hurled random objects against the hospital walls and sent energy crackling about the room, brightening the light till it was almost too intense to see. A mediwitch asked Neville if he wanted to leave. He shook his head and said nothing. He wasn’t able to speak.

Suddenly his father stiffened and then quieted. The room became peaceful as the waves of energy ceased. Neville was relieved, believing that finally the Healers had stopped the terrible fit, but within moments he realized the Healers were frantically attempting resuscitation. His father had stopped breathing. Would this make him worse? Loss of oxygen during torture was partly to blame for his father’s condition. Had his past experience made him more vulnerable? Neville looked from Healer to Healer to mediwitch to mediwizard hoping to find the answer in their faces, too frightened of interrupting their work to ask.

Neville glanced at the clock. A lot of time had passed. How long could a wizard live without breathing? A mediwitch tried to pull him away, but he would not move and stood planted firmly in his place as he searched for signs the crisis was ending. Everyone seemed to be moving very slowly. A Healer looked to the clock and the others followed. A mediwitch announced the time. The chief Healer stepped back and declared Neville’s father dead. Everything in the room seemed to stop, even the clock. Neville’s mouth fell open. He looked to the Healer. Surely she was going to do something more for his father.

The Healer, one he had never seen before, turned to Neville and said, “I’m sorry.” Her hands were still. She had nothing more to do.

Mediwitches drifted from the room. Neville shook his head trying to clear it, as the Healer explained what had happened. He listened dully, nodding as the words blew by as unintelligible as the wind.

“Mr. Longbottom. We need you to step out for a moment while we clean up your father.”

He turned; a young mediwitch was talking to him. The Healer had already begun to give instructions to her staff.

“Mr. Longbottom, would you like some tea?” she asked. “There’s a lounge outside. I could take you there and you could have a cup, while we look after your father.”

Why would this witch think he wanted tea? He didn’t want tea. He stared at her blinking, wondering why she wasn’t making sense.

“Mr. Longbottom, it’d time to go. Really it would be better for everyone if you stepped outside. You can come back when we’re finished.”

Neville moved as close to his father’s bed as he could. Turning to the chief Healer he asked, “May I stay here with my dad? I would like…” He stopped and took a deep breath looking steadily into the Healer’s face. “I would like some time alone with him. I won’t take long. I promise.”

The Healer agreed and led the others from the room. An older mediwitch, the last to walk away, lingered by the body, before hurrying out. Neville pulled the sheet off his father’s head. He wasn’t surprised by what he saw; he knew dying wasn’t peaceful or easy. His father’s eyes had been closed, probably by that lingering mediwitch, but his mouth gaped in a twisted grimace, a product of the last moments of his seizure. Neville was glad he was with his father before the Healers used magic to pretty things up. He didn’t want to hide from what his dad’s death had been like.

He picked up one of his father’s hands. He had blood under his fingernails, whether his own or some mediwitch’s who had struggled with him in his final moments, Neville didn’t know. He brushed the hair back from his father’s face and pulled out his wand trying to use magic to relax the twisted features. He couldn’t. A Healer or a mediwitch would do it soon enough, hopefully before his gran reached the hospital.

He laid his hand on his father’s chest and felt for the heartbeat that wasn’t there. Death was a thief. After so much had been taken from his father, death had stolen what little he had left. Frank Longbottom’s life was small, enclosed, pathetic, but it was his. He enjoyed what he could in his life. Now even that little bit was gone, a last cheat in a long line of cheats.

Neville had never shared his friend Luna’s calm acceptance of death. Death made him too angry. It had since he was a little boy who’d lost his grandfather. After the old man had died, the great-aunts had tried to comfort him, telling him about the after life and how he would see his granddad again there. It hadn’t worked. Neville hadn’t needed his granddad in some future after life; he had needed him then.

Luna might be comforted by the thought that she would meet her mother someday, but Neville could never forget that Luna had lost her mother while she was still a little girl, barely older than Neville’s girls. What distant happiness could make up for that? Besides, Neville didn’t believe in an afterlife. He expected oblivion to follow death. When he’d heard his grandfather whispering from behind the veil in the Department of Mysteries he’d been mesmerized, but he’d suspected he’d heard only heard the voice of his own memories and his own wishes. He and Luna still disagreed about that.

When he’d run out after Voldemort, he’d been eaten up with anger at him and at death. That man had been wrong to kill Harry, to kill Neville’s friends, teenagers whose bodies Neville had carried off the Hogwarts lawn, wrong to steal their lives from them, and the people who cared about them. Looking at his dad he felt the same anger rise inside of him. If he, like the brothers in the story, met Death he would spit in its face. He smiled bitterly. Of course then Death would immediately kill him.

Neville cast a cleaning charm on his father’s dirty fingernails, face and body. He grabbed a blanket and smoothed it over his dad, folding it back at the shoulders like he was tucking one of his daughters into bed. His gran would want to see her son looking decent.

What had his father been thinking when the seizure struck him? The man had had fears and desires. Neville knew that. His father was a night-owl and the staff often let him stay awake as long as he entertained himself in his own portion of the ward. Was he listening to one of his songs or pointing incessantly at one of the pictures in his communication book, laughing as the book repeated the same words over and over until the attending mediwitch wanted to scream?

He felt so sorry for his dad. Most of his life, his feelings for his father had been unfathomable and overwhelming. Love, obligation, frustration, sadness and pity – he’d felt pity until it choked -- pride, tenderness, anger, even amusement, he’d felt them all, sometimes simultaneously. Neville may have at times resented his father, been embarrassed by him, and even been a little jealous of him, but he had always loved him. He never probed why; he just accepted it. It was too painful to do otherwise.

He heard a sound by the door. The mediwitches were waiting. He smoothed the blanket one last time, ready to go. A corpse had its own schedule and ignoring it had ugly consequences. That was one solid truth about death he’d accepted from experience.

“You can see a seizure took him.”

Neville looked up with jerk. His gran was standing with two mediwizards. He’d kept them away from his dad for too long and now Gran was here and they hadn’t finished with him.

Gran made a small noise in the back of her throat as she approached. Neville had an urge to step in front of his dad, so she couldn’t see his face.

“I asked them to leave me alone with him,” Neville said quickly. “They would have done more if I had let them.”

His grandmother gave him a curt nod. She pulled out her wand and transfigured his father’s face, making it more relaxed and peaceful. “I want him to have some dignity,” she said, tucking the blanket closer around her son’s body.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

They didn’t get home from St. Mungo’s until three in the morning. Gran sunk into a chair at the kitchen table like a collapsing puppet. “Did they make any effort to save him?” she asked, speaking her mind now that she was free of the mediwitches and Healers.

“They did their best. They couldn’t stop the fit. It went on and on.” Neville stood behind her chair and very tentatively rested his hands on her shoulders.

Gran briefly brought her hands down on to Neville’s to give them a small pat and then pulled her hands away and clutched them in her lap.

The sound the two of them made coming through the Floo must have woken the girls. They appeared in the doorway to the kitchen big-eyed and attentive. Hannah hovered over them explaining in a careful voice what had happened. Neville didn’t mind that they were awake, late as it was. He thought they had a right to know what was going on in the family.

Gran took a deep breath. “The Healers had no warning? Surely they noticed something before the attack?”

“I don’t see how they could. He’s had seizures before. How would they know this one would be unusual?”

For just one moment her eyes said, I would have known.

Gran hadn’t visited today. Instead she’d spent the day with friends far from home. St. Mungo’s had had to send an owl to even find her. She would never admit to him out loud, but he could tell she was wondering if things would have been different if she had been there. Neville was used to the little games that were so tempting to play when visiting the hospital. Sit by a bedside long enough and your devotion had to be recognized and rewarded with recovery. But illness and death didn’t work that way. Gran knew that better than he did.

“Some things aren’t preventable or stoppable.”

Gran made an angry gesture with her hands, before dropping them into her lap and crying. Finally at home with the family she allowed herself to cry. “He was my only son and I’ve lost him all over again,” she said.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Susannah stared at Gran’s face. She was crying but didn’t seem to know it. Tears ran down her cheeks and she didn’t try to wipe them off. One dripped off her chin and another off her nose, but she acted like she didn’t know they were there. Mum pressed a handkerchief into Gran’s hand. Gran dropped it and then burst into loud tears.

At that Daisy and Susanna both started to cry. Mum led them back to bed, patting and comforting along the way. Susanna knew she wasn’t crying because she was sad. She cried because she was scared. She had never seen Gran cry before.

Mum tucked her in and kissed her, whispering, “It’s hard for Gran. It hurts for a mum to lose a son even when the son is an old man like granddad Frank.”

Susannah stared silently back at Mum. It felt funny to know that granddad was dead, that he wasn’t alive anymore, so she would not be seeing him again. It would be strange to visit Gran-Alice and not see Granddad. Everything was strange. She had even seen Gran cry.

Susannah lay on her bed staring at a picture from a trip she and Daisy took with their Mum and Dad. They’d gone to a forest of huge evergreens, that stood tall and straight on roots held high like stilts, so far off the ground she and Daisy could hide underneath them. They’d waved from one of those caves of roots, peering out from the undersides of the tree at Dad while he took their picture. Sometimes, when she looked at the picture, she liked to pretend that the tree was a giant’s arm and the roots his fingers about to grab her and Daisy.

Now the tree was just a tree, all mossy and ferny, surrounded by fallen trees with other baby ones growing from their sides. Nurse logs their dad called them. The tiny trees would grow on the log until they grew tall and the log crumbled away. Dad said that when the tree fell it let in the light and made space for the new baby trees to grow.

Was that why Granddad died? Susannah wondered, to make room for the new baby? She didn’t like thinking that. It didn’t seem fair. Granddad didn’t take up much room. All he had was a bed and a night table at St. Mungo’s.

Susannah wanted to reach out and touch the picture, but she didn’t want to move from the place in bed where Mum had tucked her in. The photo always made her think of Dad. When she and Daisy waved out from under the tree, she knew they were waving at him. “Good night Dad,” she whispered to the picture. “I’m sorry your dad is dead.”

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Neville was having a nightmare; one he’d had often when he was young, but hadn’t had in years. He was at his grandmother’s, the house where he’d grown up. His gran, great-uncle Algie, great-aunt Enid, all the relatives, and even McGonagall were talking in the kitchen. His parents were with them; he could hear their voices, their laughter. Neville rushed in, but as the door popped open, the laughter stopped and everyone grew quiet, turning to him in surprise. He searched for his parents, but they were gone.

“You just missed them,” Gran said with a sympathetic shake of her head.

He threw doors open and checked rooms in a house that had become inexplicably large, finding visitors, old teachers, acquaintances, but never his parents, always knowing they had just been there. He heard them leaving the house and ran out the door, but he could not reach them. He couldn’t move forward; he stumbled, clumsy and slow, as they left him behind.

Frustration welled up until he awoke as he often had awakened as a boy, angry, very angry. He frowned at the ceiling and then sat up. Light poured in through the window. He had slept late, when he had too much to do today to lie in bed. He dressed quickly making enough noise that Hannah heard he was up and stuck her head in the door to tell him breakfast was almost ready. Her eyes were red.

“Do you want me to close the Leaky for a few days?” she asked, before returning to the kitchen.

Neville shook his head. He knew that Hannah couldn’t close in late summer. The Muggleborns were coming with their parents to get ready for their move to Hogwarts. They needed the Leaky.

He tried to put on his shoes, but could only find one. Searching for the other seemed an overwhelming task. He stood, one shoe in his hand, struck by the thought that all the hoping and trying was over. There would be no change, cure or improvement. He would never get any closer to his father. The wizard was a book that had been shut. He sat down on the bed dropping the shoe on the Floor. The dream felt final in a way it never had before.

The wish that crept up on him at times had been granted. He was free of his dad. For the first time that he could remember, concern for his dad did not lurk in the background of his mind. He no longer needed to make decisions about his care, or to worry over whether he was sad or lonely or if the medics were treating him kindly. He need never worry about the man again.

Neville rested his head in his hands.

There was a knock and Neville looked up to find Harry dressed in his Auror robes standing in the doorway, while Hannah and the girls crammed behind him. Harry had parchments tucked under his arm, some bearing super-secret seals and others the mark of the Office of the Minister of Magic. He must have stopped in on his way to the office.

“Neville, I came because… Well, I’m very sorry about your father. I can’t even begin to say how much, but I have a request.” He took a long breath and leaned forward just a little. “I would like to have the department give him an official funeral – only if you agree, of course – one with full honors, assembled Aurors, dress robes, Kingsley and the Minister of Magic in attendance. Full honors.”

Neville stared back without speaking. His heart stopped in mid-beat. His chest felt squeezed like he barely had air to speak. “You would do that?” he croaked.

His father had been out of the department for a very long time. Besides he wasn’t the kind of hero who was lionized. Declared non compos mentis, locked up, cared for, he was more often an object of pity than tribute. In some quarters even mentioning him or Neville’s mother brought uncomfortable silences, embarrassed looks and dropped glances.

Harry took a few more steps into the room and stopped. His face was screwed up with concern making his scar scrunch together like an accordion. “Of course I’ll do it, if only because your father was one of us and suffered for it. Really, that’s what killed him in the end. But more to the point, your father was a hero of the first war. We should honor him -- and your mother in her time.”

Neville swallowed and steadied himself. “Thank you. This means a lot.”

“Yes, it does. To me and to the department, I think.”

Neville scrunched up his eyes and looked down at his feet. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to find Hannah holding his missing shoe. She dropped it on the floor beside its partner without a word.

“Come. It’s time to eat,” she said.

Harry joined them for breakfast to discuss the funeral, wanting to start the arrangements as soon as possible. Neville agreed to all of Harry’s plans. He was too grateful to care much about the details. He was particular about only one point: he would give the eulogy. It was a son’s responsibility and one he wanted.

Harry warned Neville that an official Auror funeral would attract a lot of newspaper coverage. Neville didn’t mind. Strangely, though he hated such attention for himself, he positively craved it for his father.

“Dad,” Daisy asked interrupting one of Harry’s questions about the burial. “Will Granddad be fixed now that he’s in heaven? Will he get to be like he used to be, before, when he was a hero?”

Neville rubbed his face, as both Susannah and Daisy watched him expectantly. How could he answer when he wasn’t even sure there was a heaven? He looked to Hannah who actually believed in such things for guidance and tried to gather his thoughts enough to answer. He started to speak when Harry interrupted.

“He’ll be young and healed like he was when he was strong and happy.” Harry turned to Neville who was staring at him, a little shocked that he would butt in like this. “Don’t ask me how I know, but believe me, I do,” he said, speaking as if he knew important things that he wanted to share but couldn’t, reminding Neville powerfully of the old days at Hogwarts.

Neville was sure that Harry believed what he was saying. He reckoned that this all had to do with Voldemort. Harry was convinced he had discovered something from fighting him, probably something to do with the Horcruxes. Whatever it was, Harry was speaking the truth as he saw it, the truth with some hidden details. As always he held some facts back for himself. Was there ever a wizard for secrets like Harry?

Hannah’s eyes darted from Harry to him, a worried expression on her face. Neville shrugged at her and then glanced pointedly at the girls. They were both watching Harry with fascinated expressions.

“I knew it,” Daisy said, nodding. “Granddad’s happy now.”

Neville sighed and rested his hand on Susannah’s head. She smiled up at him. Harry might have his secrets, but Neville could keep some of his own. He had no intention of telling the girls that he had doubts about an afterlife for Granddad to be happy or unhappy in. He wasn’t sure what he thought of Harry’s answer, but the girls were comforted by it and for now that was enough.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

As soon as Uncle Harry left, Dad left for St. Mungo’s to see Gran Alice. After he came back, he went straight to his room to lie down. Mum told Susannah and Daisy that they were to give him some peace because he was tired and sad, but that was hard to do. They never left their dad alone; they couldn’t just start doing it today. Mum said Dad was upset. They didn’t know their dad could get upset.

Susannah and Daisy snuck up to the room to see what he was doing. They found him not asleep but sitting on the bed with Granddad’s box of special things open next to him. He held Granddad’s broken wand while the tambourine man song that Granddad listened to all the time played in the background. Granddad’s talking book lay open on the bed. It made Susannah a little sad, because no one would ever use it again. No one else needed it.

Dad looked up, catching them staring at him and waved them over. “Come here. I’m trying to decide whether we should bury Granddad’s wand with him or keep it here with us.” He tapped the music card and the tambourine man song stopped. “Normally we bury wands with their wizard. Gran wants us to follow the tradition, but I don’t know if I want to give this one up.”

“That wand was yours too, Neville,” Mum said from the doorway frowning, which made Susannah a little nervous, because she had caught them not leaving their dad alone.

Dad smiled at Mum and shook his head. “No, it was never mine. I just borrowed it for a bit.”

“You used it on an important mission, so that makes it yours,” Mum said. She slid the box over so she could sit down next to Dad on the bed. She smiled at Susannah, seeming not to mind that she and Daisy were here.

“Well, that’s one way to put it.” Dad laughed and put his arm around her. “If we’re talking about missions, I think he has the bigger claim.” He gave mum a squeeze and then rolled the wand pieces up in an old piece of cloth that he fished out of the box. “If I bury this with him then it’ll be his again,” he said.

“Well if you keep it with us then it will be the whole family’s. Something they can remember him by.” Mum took a breath. She often complained that the baby made her out of breath all the time. “And you too,” she added softly.

But Dad wasn’t paying attention; he was hunting around in Granddad’s box. “I have something for you girls that I think you’ll both like.” He pulled out a brightly colored Muggle picture of men with very long hair.

He tapped it and the picture began to sing, I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade. He grinned at them as he handed it over.

This song was fun, unlike a lot of Granddad Frank’s music.

“Your granddad loved Muggle songs. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t like Muggle things. Your grandfather was a very powerful wizard and he did.”

Charles slunk into the room and rubbed himself around her legs. Today was Susannah’s day to feed him. She was done visiting Dad. They would spy on him again later. She grabbed Charles and ran off for the kitchen. Daisy followed carrying the octopus’s garden song, letting it play as they went. While Susannah spooned out the kneazle food she started thinking about Granddad Frank and what Uncle Harry had said about the next life, about him being himself now, different from how she had always seen him.

“Daisy, what if Granddad is a ghost? Granddad is a regular person in the afterlife, who can do regular person things, so he could talk to us now. He could talk to Dad.” They knew that their dad didn’t know his father back in the old days when he was a hero, before he was messed up. Susannah thought for sure Granddad would come back as a ghost so he could meet Dad grown-up.

“Granddad won’t come back as a ghost,” Daisy answered. “He moved on to heaven. That’s better than being a ghost.”

What was wrong with being a ghost? Susannah wondered.

“The fat friar told me. I asked him why there weren’t ghosts everywhere. He said most people moved on because it was better to be in heaven with God.”

“Well he should know,” Susannah said, still a little disappointed that her idea had fallen flat.

“Nearly Headless Nick was there and he said people stayed behind because they were afraid of death.”

They’d spent a lot of time over the last summer with the Fat Friar who looked out for them when their Dad brought them with him to Hogwarts. Sometimes Nearly Headless Nick came to talk to them too. Since their parents came from Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, they considered Susannah and Daisy theirs until they were sorted.

“Granddad wouldn’t be afraid to die. He was very brave.” Susannah wished that Granddad could come as a ghost for only a few days, but she supposed that ghosts didn’t work that way.

“Granddad deserves to go to heaven. Dad will have to wait,” Daisy said firmly.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Hannah was feeding the girls their dinner. He didn’t join them -- he was more tired than hungry. The girls were enjoying the music card. He could hear it playing as they moved around the flat. He had been a little afraid when he gave it to them that they would lose it and something of his father’s would be gone, but such things needed to be loved, listened to and appreciated to be worth anything. Besides the song connected them with their grandfather and he wanted that very much.

He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. His mother had been very distraught when he visited today. She knew his father was not around. Whatever she could or couldn’t understand, his father had rarely been out of her sight in almost thirty-six years. All of them, himself included, should have expected this and prepared for it. Keeping his mother and father together had seemed the kindest thing to do, but now his poor mother was frantic without his dad.

When he arrived she’d handed him a card with a picture of his father. She’d been doing it to the mediwitches all day. When that didn’t work she’d grabbed her speaking card that said where and handed it to him along with his father’s picture. She’d even done it in the correct order, an achievement that on a normal day would have pleased him and gained her a lot of praise. He tried explaining to her what had happened to his dad, thinking it was not fair to assume she didn’t understand. She had the right to know as much of the truth as she could take in.

In time she abandoned the cards and simply cried. He and Gran spent the day comforting her. The Healers had wanted to give her a sleeping draught, and at first he and Gran had balked at the idea. The accumulated effects of years of calming draughts, spells and potions had done his dad in. What’s more, Neville thought she had a right to be sad. His father, who had been her husband for ten years and her constant companion for over thirty, was dead. Why shouldn’t she cry over it?

Finally, in the face of her exhausting grief he and Gran had agreed to allow it and were grateful when she fell asleep. Great-aunt Enid, who’d come to give her support to Gran, had insisted on sending them both home to rest. “You’ve been up half the night. I’ll sit with Alice. When the poor girl wakes I’ll Floo-call Augusta.” Both old ladies had been adamant that he stay away till the next morning. “You have two children and a pregnant wife who need you.”

He went along with it, because he was tired and he knew tomorrow would not be any better. What would they do tomorrow? Were they going to drug his mother everyday in the hope that she’d eventually simply forget his father was gone? She needed to grieve, but Neville didn’t know how much to allow her to suffer when she seemed so uncomprehending. Neville rubbed his face in frustration. Making decisions for another person never became easier.

The girls had quickly finished eating; he could hear them running down the hallway to their room. The slap of their feet on the floor a counter- beat to the sound of the music card they still carried. He smiled amused. Poor Hannah must be getting tired of that song by now.

He’d told his gran and great aunt about Harry’s offer and they’d been thrilled as he knew they would be. His gran’s eyes had glittered so brightly he’d thought she might cry again, but she’d kept her composure.

“You must thank your friend for me, Neville,” she’d said, before immediately sending a hospital owl with her own crisply worded note of thanks to Harry.

Well yes, he would have to thank him. He smiled to himself; how many times had Gran told him to thank Harry when he was a boy. Poor Harry always having to help his hapless friend. When Harry had offered the funeral, he’d had the same pained look of sympathy he’d had at school when he and Ron would try to cheer Neville up after some scholastic calamity. Neville had a sudden sharp memory of Harry’s face the Christmas he’d walked in on Neville and his parents in the James Thickey ward at St. Mungo’s. Neville shook his head. Nostalgic memories were coming like cars on the Hogwarts train today. The offer wasn’t an offer of help for Neville. It was a debt owed his father. He needed to remember that.

The old ladies had approved of Harry’s proposals. Who wouldn’t want Harry to speak at a son’s funeral, or Kingsley -- a former minister of magic? But his aunt had been a bit concerned over Neville’s decision to give the eulogy.

“Perhaps your grandmother should do it, dear?” his great-aunt had asked him. “After all she knew your father. Perhaps she should give you some help.”

His gran had answered before he could. “Don’t be ridiculous Enid. A man’s son should give the eulogy at his funeral. Neville knows that.”

Neville and Gran thought remarkably alike sometimes.

All his life people assumed that his parents didn’t understand who he was and that he didn’t know them at all.

Well, what did it mean to know someone? Had his father known that he was his son, that the baby he had raised was grown up and now a man? No. Neville didn’t think his father had any idea what a son was. But when he had visited his father, had the man remembered him? Yes. Had his father been glad to see him? Definitely. Did it matter that Neville’s father had never understood who exactly he was? Not any more.

It irked him when people said he didn’t know his father, because so much of his life had been devoted to him. Neville’s childhood had been marked by visits to St. Mungo’s to see him, and boring hours spent waiting while his gran consulted the Healers about him. He’d spent his youth trying to please an image of his father and had spent his adulthood caring for him.

Of course he knew the broken man who’d survived a Death Eater attack quite well. He knew that man as well as any human did, including his gran. Most people ignored that, wanting to pretend that his father had been asleep for the last thirty seven years. Neville knew otherwise. Besides he had always suspected bits of the first heroic wizard was still there and could be found if you looked carefully enough.

He rolled over on to his side and stared at the box where he kept his father’s things.

By the time he was a fifth year, he’d figured out that his gran fed him her preferred image of his parents. He’d spent a lot of his time hunting through boxes of their things searching for evidence of the people behind his grandmother’s stories. From these bits and pieces, the few stories that other people told him, and what he knew from Gran he built an image of his father, a different one than his gran’s but one he liked all the same. Was that man real? Who knew?

Neville did know that at the funeral he was going to honor both men: the broken father and the imagined one.

Neville sat up and rooted around inside his father’s box. A book of poetry lay at the bottom. Neville had never read it before, not being a poetry person and not thinking his father one either, but Neville was curious about the book. Everything of his father’s interested him today.

He searched through the pages and was disappointed to find that the name on the inside cover was not Frank Longbottom but Caradoc Dearborn, an old Order name. He almost tossed the book aside thinking that it really wasn’t his dad’s, when he noticed a dedication on the frontispiece congratulating his father on what had to be his own coming birth. The writer went on to encourage his father to pay careful attention to the poem he had marked for him. Neville turned to a dog eared page where a poem was circled in black ink. He burst out laughing when he read it. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to but they do.” Neville had to hand it to Caradoc Dearborn. He was a prophet of great insight.

“Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, and don’t have any kids yourself.” Frank Longbottom must have thought this advice had arrived a little late.

When Neville was a boy at Hogwarts, he would often hear other kids complain about their parents. He would listen and wonder how much they would have liked not having any. Perhaps he and Harry should collaborate on a poem. It fucks you up, your orphanhood. You may not think so but it does… do? There was a reason that he didn’t write literature.

He tossed the book aside and went looking for Hannah. He found her laying on one of the girl’s beds, a pillow under her heavy belly supporting it, the octopus’s garden song playing from the card the girls had abandoned on the night table.

He’d let us in. Knows where we’ve been.

He silenced the song with his wand and then lay down on the bed next to his wife.

“Thank you. That song was driving me around the bend. I couldn’t bring myself to roll this dead weight over enough to turn it off. I’ve been laying here hoping the spell would play itself out.”

“I’d like to be, under the sea in an octopus’s garden with you,” he whispered in her ear, reaching his arm over and around her. “You didn’t have to lie down here. You could have been in our bed.”

“I wanted to give you a little space,” Hannah said as he spooned around her making nonsense of her words. “Feeling better?” she asked.

“Not really. I did find a poem in a book of my dad’s. I think I’ll keep it at school. It applies very well to teachers. But no, I am not feeling better.”

She pulled his hand over her belly to a place where the baby was kicking, getting a strong rhythm going. This one moved a lot more than the girls had. His hand made a slow circle around the little kicky thing.

He’d been ridiculously, stupidly proud when he had found out the baby was going to be a boy, as if he had done something clever, when all he’d done was make love to his wife after casting a sloppy birth control charm. A few drinks too many on New Year’s Eve and the surviving Longbottom old ladies were pleased to have another boy in the world to carry on the family name. A different sperm and the baby might have been another girl, which would have been fun, but not as pleasing to the old aunts. If he’d stayed a bit more sober, the charm might have worked.

“If a few things had gone differently, we would have had a different baby, maybe not even a baby at all,” he said.

She chuckled; he could feel the vibrations through his hands. “Of all the babies we could have had, this one is the one we’re meant to have. I know it.” After all the misery over the miscarriages and the difficult time she’d had having the twins, this baby had been strangely easy, causing Hannah none of the anxiety the others had. She had floated through this surprise but uneventful pregnancy as serenely as a swan.

He closed his eyes and felt himself drift – being sad had made him tired. Hannah believed in God, to whom all things mattered, our births, our babies, whether we lived or died or did good or evil. At death we returned to him. Hannah expected to see her mother again, in the afterlife when she went back to God.

Neville didn’t think that way. Death was death and no one knew what happened there, not even ghosts, especially not ghosts. Birth and survival followed the laws of nature, chance and magic. Humans lived on a small blue ball floating in a void empty of life. They had only each other, so they had better take good care of each other while they could.

Today he often found himself thinking of his father, alive and fully himself again. It was a wonderful thought, an appealing thought, one he wished were true. He was tempted to call Harry and ask him where his certainty came from. He decided not to. He didn’t want to hear Harry apologize because he couldn’t tell him. He would have to take Harry’s faith on faith. He smiled. Now that was a silly idea.

“You made your father’s life a lot better, even if you couldn’t fix anything. I know everyone tells you that, but that’s because it’s true,” Hannah said. She pulled his hand up to her mouth, kissed his fingers, and then settled them against her chest.

“Where are the girls?” he whispered.

“Cleaning rooms with the staff – they’re helping.” She laughed; he loved that sound. “Dean’s coming by to take them to play with his girls. They’re going to stay the night. He wants to give us a rest.”

He pulled his hand away from hers and stroked her belly. If Hannah agreed, he would name this boy after his dad. He hadn’t wanted to before. He’d thought it would be hard on a child to look at his dad the way he was and think this man and I are linked. We share the same name. A child would see the brokenness and not the bravery. Oddly death had given his father back his heroism. Now people thought of the martyred Auror. Dead men made convenient heroes.

“Do what you want with that wand. It became yours when Augusta gave it to you. She should remember that.”

“You’re just angry with her, because of that only son remark. I know how you think Hannah.”

“You’ve been a son to her and she’s been a mother to you.”

“I know and she knows it too. It was just the grief talking.” He kissed the back of Hannah’s neck. “I want to make her happy. She’s my dad’s mother and that’s given her a hard life.”

“I want you to be happy.”

“I am.” He stroked his hand over her breast and down over her belly.

The bedroom door swung open and both girls seemed to barge in at the same time. “Mum, Uncle Dean is here and he says we’re going with him.”

Neville rolled backwards off the narrow bed and fell on to the floor. He stood up. “I’ll go talk to him,” he said. “Let Mum have some rest.”

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

The next morning Neville arrived in St. Mungo’s to find his mother sitting red-eyed next to her friend Agnes, calm but obviously sad and confused. She ignored all of his attempts to use her picture cards and of course neither woman could speak. Neville was unsure what his mother understood about his dad’s death or if she understood anything at all. She rested her head on her friend’s shoulder; at intervals Agnes howled.

He sat with them quietly, until finally his mother fell asleep. After his great-aunt Enid arrived to watch over her, he slipped away to meet his grandmother at the family burial site. She wanted his help choosing his father’s plot. Helping his grandmother consisted of following her while she considered the choices and then agreeing with her once she had decided. Neville didn’t mind this. He didn’t care which plot held his father’s body; he didn’t even care which one held his own. While she considered the relative merits of various tombs, and the possibility of Neville and his family choosing burial near his father, Neville wandered studying the epitaphs.

One amused him terribly, an ancient stone that looked like something from out of the time of the Statute of Secrecy at least. A skeleton head which could easily have passed for a Dark Mark cried out, Oh the foolishness of those who think they can not die. Harry should have had that message carved on Voldy’s tomb -- if he’d had one.

He turned from that little spark of stone-etched wisdom to the next, an epitaph that knocked the smile off his face and tore into his guts until he had tears in his eyes. God has turned me over to evil men, and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.

It was silly of course. It was stupid. Neville didn’t even believe in God, and certainly not one who would throw a man into the clutches of the wicked, but it didn’t matter. His father could have cried out those words.

He knew his father’s work had been dangerous, his choices risky, that for the one time his enemies had broken him there had been a dozen where he’d prevailed or his friends had arrived to save him. How logical that one time, a terrible time he’d been overcome. None of those things he’d told himself for years mattered. His father had fallen into the clutches of evil men.

The tombstone was badly weathered, the inscription long and much of it unreadable. He knelt before the stone and spelled in clean. He could barely make out the words, which had worn away. He charmed the stone to speak, closing his eyes as he did it, concentrating, because his magic went to hell when he was upset. A voice craggy and flat, the words as old-fashioned as the oldest portraits at St. Mungo’s, spoke about having a witness in heaven, and pouring tears to God, which meant nothing to him.

There was a pause and the voice pronounced a final message, which Neville decided would be the final message: Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would hurry to my place of shelter far from the tempest and storm.

He hoped his father had found such a place. The man needed to find rest, real rest, not oblivion. His whole life, Neville had known his father needed a place of shelter, far from the turmoil and pain that roiled within him.

The words at the bottom of the tombstone were barely clear enough to read. He took his wand and copied them on to his arm. He didn’t have a notebook and he didn’t want to risk his memory, not on his father’s epitaph.

A blighted life, one like a scrawny plant sown in the parched wayside, needed a second chance to live. Neville thought of Harry’s words to the girls. Neville still didn’t know what he believed, but he desperately wanted his father to be restored, in his right mind and at peace.

Days later after the funeral he stood with his family waiting for the carriages to take them to the private burial. The tombstone carved with his chosen epitaph had already been prepared. Hannah told him the eulogy had been beautiful. People thanked him for it but he had no memory of what he’d said. He was at peace, because his father was.

His mother stood next to Agnes. Both women wore large earmuffs of the kind used to safeguard against the cry of the mandrake, because no one had been sure how they would react to the ceremonial firing of the Auror’s wands. A pygmy puff, a recent gift from Ginny, rested on his mother’s shoulder, while she clutched the cloth that had covered his father’s coffin close to her chest. She’d reached for it calmly when the Auror had approached her and then held it to her face. (He’d been about to give it to Gran but after a discrete signal handed it to Alice, the wife.) Neville wondered if his mother had attended Auror funerals in her past, if the distant fractured memory was guiding her now.

The girls shrunk a little at the looks strangers were giving Agnes and their grandmother. They were used to the pair, but had never seen outsiders react to them before.

Gran must have noticed. She leaned over and said, “This woman is your grandmother’s friend and a comfort for her. So she’s spell-damaged. Anyone who doesn’t understand isn’t worth caring about.”

The girls pushed closer to him. He rested his hands on their heads. His father’s wand poked at him through his robe pocket. Moments before the funeral, Gran had pulled the broken pieces of wand out of the coffin handing them to him. He’d told her then what Hannah and he had already decided -- they were naming the baby for his father.

The coffin was loaded into the first carriage, as the second and third pulled up for the family. A photographer took a picture as they waited, a row of Aurors at attention behind them.

Susannah turned to him. “Dad, I can’t see the thestrals pulling the carriages.”

Neville had warned the girls about the beasts just in case. He kissed the top of her head. “I know and I’m glad,” he said.


Japanese child
Vega Black

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March 2011

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