Chapter 1 : Talking Too Much
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Author's Note: So I changed it up a bit. I just really liked the idea, and wasn't happy at all with the direction it was headed in. This is the new and improved “The Good Life”.
Harry Potter had never been one for public speaking, but there was a certain determined ease to his countenance as he climbed atop the chair to face them. It was, undoubtedly, the product of not only the joyous glow in his emerald green eyes, but also the slight degree of alcohol-induced recklessness that made him the “oh-so-perfect” candidate for the speech. Now he wasn't exactly drunk yet (for there was still a lot of drinking left to be done that night), but Neville Longbottom couldn't help but smile at his old friend's beaming grin. The happy atmosphere was quite contagious, like the rash developed from the seemingly docile leaves on poisonous ivy.
“I mean, you guys obviously know why we're here,” Harry began, his voice drowning out the happy cat-calls and laughter. The crowd gather around him was comprised mostly of old friends, work-buddies, and a few red-headed Weasleys. A very tight-knit vibe emitted from them, and Neville was glad to be apart of it, especially now with a fresh drink in his hand and the pretty waitress Hannah Abbot drifting about in the corner of his vision. “Well, I just thought I'd say a few things before we're all too drunk to care. Nine years ago, on the train to Hogwarts, I met two of the most important people I will have ever met in my life. I didn't know at the time how special they were, but I doubt I would be here if it weren't for them.”
“You're going to make me cry!” George Weasley called.
Harry's face split into another happy smile as he struggled to ignore the sudden rise in laughter. “Therefore, I can't even find the words to say how happy I am that my two best friends in the whole world are going to get married. I think perhaps we all saw this day coming, and we knew it was going to be wonderful when it did happen. I want everyone here to join me in congratulating Ron and Hermione on their recent engagement!”
He raised his glass high in the air, and the little party of friends copied him. Neville raised his glass a little too quickly, and a trace amount of his drink splashed over the rim of his cup and onto his hand.
“To the good life!” Harry said.
“The good life!”
As Neville took a deep drink from his glass, he caught sight of Ron and Hermione standing beside Harry, their faces burning from all the attention. Underneath her curtain of thick brown hair, Hermione's eyes were brimming with happy tears. A surge of people rushed forward to congratulate the blissful couple, but Neville remained in his seat. He had already given both Ron and Hermione his “I'm-so-happy-for-you-two” hug at work earlier that day.
“Hey, Neville,” said a voice.
Nearly choking on his drink, he looked up to see Hannah Abbot, her blond-hair pulled back and an apron tied around her waist. The iconic Leaky Cauldron insignia sat possessively on her midnight blue robes. She had been working there ever since the war ended two and a half years ago, not that Neville had personally kept track of her. He had liked her for quite awhile now, but since she had left halfway during their sixth year when her mother died, he had not gotten the chance to get to know her.
Perhaps he was just too scared to confront her personally. Neville was not great with girls.
“Do you want another drink?” she asked, levitating a giant tray behind her.
He glanced at his own glass, which was three-quarters of the way full. “N-no, I think I'm good. Thanks, Hannah.”
“Okay,” she said. “I'm trying to make my way over to Ron and Hermione. I want to congratulate them at some point. It's so hard to believe that people I went to school with are actually getting married! It seems like only yesterday we were all in the DA. Can you believe it, Neville?”
“Yeah,” he replied, and then realized what he was saying. “I m-mean, no, you're right. It's hard to believe that they're g-getting married.”
She continued on into the crowd, the tray floating idly behind her. Neville watched her leave as somebody else sat down in the seat next to him. He turned to see Harry again, who had obviously just escaped the massive crowd toward the front of the bar. The years since the war had proven good to the Boy-Who-Lived. Harry had almost nearly lost that haunted “survivor's guilt” look that had dogged his eyes since Dumbledore's death. He wore his hair shorter now than he had ever done, but kept it just long enough to cover his famous scar.
“I think I'll kill George,” he said, although still smiling. “He interrupted a perfectly good and rehearsed speech.”
Neville raised his eyebrows. “You still pulled it off alright. Is Ginny here tonight?”
“No, she had Quidditch practice. I swear Gwenog Jones is trying to make sure we never get to see each other.”
“Yeah, no offense, but I always thought you and Ginny would be the first to get married.”
Harry choked on his drink, but laughed once he had finished spluttering. “Yeah,” he said. “But Ron wasn't going to let his famous friend beat him again. I wasn't going to steal his thunder anyway. He can be in the tabloids for a while if he wants.”
Sure enough, the telltale click and shutter of cameras sounded from the corners of the pub. There were only a handful of reporters inside, and even then they were only there because the current landlord Tom had grown tired of chasing them out the door. Neville was used to this kind of attention around his friends, although his name did occasionally show up beside them in a tiny article or so. His Gran was always so ecstatic whenever she found him in the Daily Prophet, even if he was mentioned only in passing.
“Hey, Neville,” Harry asked. “Have you heard from Luna in a while? I was hoping she'd be here as well.”
“Last I heard she was in Romania. You know, Harry, she found a guy and I think they're pretty serious.”
Behind his round glasses, Harry's eyes blinked in shock. “Wow, leave it to Luna to go looking for Crumbled-Horned Snorkacks and come back with some random guy. What did she say about him? Does he respect her for who she is? I don't want our Luna dating some jerk who wants to take advantage of her or something.”
“All I know is that the guy's name is Rolf Scamander,” Neville replied. “He's the grandson of the naturalist Newt Scamander. I think he may be okay. Luna's got a pretty good sense of judgment anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, looking somewhat relieved. “Have you been talking to her a lot?”
Neville drained the last of his drink in one big gulp. “Yeah, for the most part. We write back and forth when we have time. She's a big comfort, that Luna. Especially with everything that's been bothering me lately.”
“Oh yeah. You're talking about what you told me earlier, right?”
Harry ran a hand through his thick black hair, and summoned two more drinks from Hannah's distant tray. “Do you want my honest opinion?”
“I'd love it, Harry,” said Neville, looking grim.
“Your Gran is a great person. She's been through a lot, and seen a lot of grief. However, no one should expect you to 'replace' your father. That's stupid. You don't have to take the Auror job with Ron and me. In fact, I think it would be best for you if you didn't. Just tell your Gran that you're Neville, not Frank. You should be able to do what you want.”
Neville frowned somewhat. “Yeah, I know, but I wish it was that easy.”
Harry replaced Neville's drink with the new one, his eyebrows raised in the expression that the Longbottom boy had long since associated with being up to something. “Look,” Harry said. “Life doesn't always turn out quite like you plan it.”
Neville's intention was to sleep in that next morning, but he was awoken rather rudely by an unannounced visit from his cousin Mildred. Millie, as she was more often called, was twelve years older than his nineteen, and was almost always in a sour mood. She stormed into his flat in an explosion of noise (which didn't help his headache), and seemed quite angry to find Neville still in bed.
“Were you out drinking last night?” she asked disapprovingly.
“Two of my friends got engaged, sorry,” he grumbled back, climbing out of bed. “What are you doing here?”
She was a small woman, and was plump like the rest of his family. With her hands on her hips, she made a frightful image. “It's your grandmother. She's ill.”
“Millie, is she alright?” he asked, concerned.
“Nothing bed rest won't cure, but she thinks she's hit the end of her line again. Talking about tunnels and lights, and I just can't deal with her right now.”
Neville groaned inwardly, and beginning digging through his drawers for a pair of fresh trousers. His grandmother had pulled this kind of incident twice already, and he was not in the mood to visit her. However, the elderly woman had been living with Millie for the past two years, and although Neville didn't particularly get along with his cousin, he felt like he owed her for this favor. There was no room for dear old Gran in his apartment.
“Just let me take a shower. I'll be there in a minute,” he told her, pushing her out of his bedroom.
It did not take him long at all to get ready, and he was at Millie's house within minutes. The cottage door was wide open, though whether it was to circulate the house with the crisp autumn air or an effort to get him in quicker, Neville did not know. Millie was standing in the kitchen, wand in the pocket of her apron as she prepared a pot of soup. The look she gave him was angry, as though he had not managed to come as quick as she had intended. Ignoring her, Neville climbed the stairs to the little room that was reserved just for the little old lady that had raised him.
“Gran,” he said, knocking on the door. “Gran, it's Neville.”
It was as hot as a furnace inside the room, but Neville still found his grandmother lying under what appeared to be five different quilts on her bed. Although she still appeared as strong and sharp as she had been that day she came to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, the lined skin on her face was pale from whatever ailed her.
“Hey, Gran. Just came to see how you were feeling.”
“Neville, my boy,” she said, holding out her claw-like hand to him. “Glad to see you here at my deathbed.”
“Gran, you aren't dying. Millie says you just need rest.”
The elderly woman rolled her eyes and let out a derisive snort. “That girl knows nothing! I have come to the end of my days. The light is near, Neville. Your dad and your granddad are waiting for me.”
“No one is waiting for you,” Neville said stiffly. Despite what he grandmother said, his father was still alive. He and his mother were still in the ward at St. Mungo's, and would probably remain there for many more years.
“You are in denial, my love. These are the stages of grief. I myself have already arrived at acceptance.”
Neville sighed, already missing the comfort of his bed. He loved his grandmother very much, and would be concerned if there actually was a problem, but the only problem she seemed to be suffering from at the moment was acute boredom. She had simply made up an illness because life with Millie certainly wasn't interesting enough.
Neville let his eyes wander to the picture frames on her bedside table. They were moving photographs of him as a baby and some of his parents before the incident. His grandmother followed his gaze, and with the bravado of a Shakespearean actress, seized the picture of Frank and Alice's wedding day. To his great surprise, she began to sob.
“Oh, the woes of dying too soon!” Augusta Longbottom wailed. “I won't get to see my grandson get married.”
“Gran,” he said, sheepishly. “You aren't dying.”
“Yes, I am! Besides, at the rate you're going, you wouldn't make it even if I weren't dying prematurely!”
He frowned at the weeping, elderly woman before him. “I have plenty of time to meet someone, Gran. I'm only nineteen.”
“No excuse! Frank was already courting Alice at your age and thinking of marriage!”
“But I'm not my father―”
The woman's howls drowned out the rest of his sentence. He frowned, lowering his gaze from this display of self-pity. He wanted nothing more than to sink through the floor and out of sight, away from his grandmother and her disillusions that he was anyone more than clumsy, inarticulate Neville.
...and then suddenly, an inspiration struck him. He sat up in chair, hardly breathing. It was a foolish idea, but it just might make the woman cheer up. What he really wanted was for her to say something nice about him for once, and not his father.
“I-I am seeing someone, a-actually, Gran.”
She stopped sobbing immediately, her red eyes as round as dinner plates. “What? Why didn't you say anything?”
“N-new thing. Didn't want to j-jinx it.”
“Merlin, Neville, what is her name?”
He paused, biting his lip. His intention was to just create a person out of thin air, but now that he had commanded his grandmother's complete attention, he found himself nervous and unable to think. The only image in his mind was that of a pretty blond whose smile could light up the entire pub, and whose round hips swayed as she made her way carrying a tray full of glasses.
“Well, this is incredible, Neville! I'm so happy for you!” squealed the older woman, wrapping her arms around him in a vice-like grip. “I bet she's just like Alice! Where did you meet her? Work? I bet she's beautiful! Top of her class? Smart as a whip? Will I meet her? Soon I hope!”
This was not the Saturday Neville had envisioned.