Disclaimer: I own nothing. Not even the idea. That's my friend Angelina's
Author's Notes: Thanks to my friend Angelina, for inspiring me to write this. And thanks to my Pre-Beta and my Beta, for editing it.
Neville's seventh year turned out much differently than he had expected it to. At the beginning of his first year he'd tentatively imagined that in six years' time he'd have a few loyal friends, have developed a little self-confidence, and perhaps do quite well on his NEWTs.
While he had good friends – how many other blokes could attest that they had two brilliant and gorgeous sixth-year girls helping them run an illicit club – and was more self-confident, he certainly wasn't going to do well on his NEWTs. Not when the entire world was going to hell, and they lived in the Sixth Circle.
He'd imagined spirited discussions in the common room with his mates, and laughing chats over breakfast. Instead, they bolted down what food they could afford from Aberforth, and donned bloody clothing to undermine a war they were sure to lose. How could a bunch of children stand up against the teachers of the school? Their best hope for survival – Harry – was gone, taking with him Ron and Hermione. The three bravest Gryffindors were off fighting other battles, and Neville, Ginny and Luna could only struggle to fill the void.
Then, at Christmas, Luna disappeared. Until she left, Neville hadn't realised how much he'd come to rely on his dotty friend to brighten up his dull, painful existence. She'd joked and laughed with him, even if the majority of the jokes were grim. The point was, in a time when laughter was scarce and even the Weasley twins were no doubt serious, Luna managed to bring golden sunshine out of the rain. He fell in love with her those long days and nights when the world seemed to tremble on its axis. She understood him in a way no one did; was happy to talk when he needed to forget everything, and be silent when he wanted to think.
With the loss of their best friend, Ginny and Neville worked even harder, struggling to teach all they could to those who wished to learn. They endured their Dark Arts classes, and gained more detentions than Fred and George put together, for their refusal to bow to the evil that held them captive.
Then, something amazing happened. He got a call from Aberforth, and he made his way to the Hog's Head, calculating how they could stretch their rations to another hungry mouth.
But it wasn't just one hungry mouth and another confused person who needed help: it was Harry, with Ron and Hermione. The time for vengeance was at hand! Amongst the many more people who arrived, finally Luna, the darling girl who had made him smile even while healing his wounds, stepped into the room accompanied by Dean. Neville's heart leapt.
Still, with all that went on, it wasn't until after the final battle, until after Neville killed the vicious Nagini, after Luna was nearly murdered by Bellatrix Lestrange and after Harry slew Voldemort, that he got a chance to talk to her.
It was amazing that he even had the courage to seek her out. At the beginning of the year he wouldn't have, but after the pain of her disappearance, and seeing her almost die at the hands of the Death Eater he most hated, he couldn't hold in his feelings any longer.
And so he made his way to the Ravenclaw Tower, stopping at the bronze knocker. He'd visited Luna many times during the year, so he knew the drill.
"I tell no lies, but few like my truths. I am the most common aid of vanity. What am I?" the eagle asked.
"A mirror," Neville answered.
"Good job, you may enter."
"Thanks." He walked inside, and found Luna curled up in front of the fire, tears dripping down her face. "Luna?"
"Oh, hallo, Neville," she said, smiling. "Come, sit with me."
Crossing the room quickly, he sat by her and handed her his handkerchief.
"Oh, thank you." She wiped her eyes, then blew her nose delicately. "I'll clean it before I give it back to you. Daddy told me about the most interesting thing over the summer. Did you know that Muggles have found a way to make babies out of teardrops? It seems like a lot of hard work to me, when the more conventional method works just fine."
"Er … I'm sure they have a reason," Neville said hesitantly. "Luna, I have something to tell you. But … first I need to know something. Are you going out with Dean?"
"Dean? Ginny's Dean?" Luna shook her head. "Oh no, I'm not. I did consider it, mind, I spoke to Ginny and she said it would be all right. But on further introspection I realised he did not make my stomach go funny like Harry does for Ginny, or Ronald does for Hermione. And I don't think it would be a good idea to go out with someone who doesn't make me feel like I ate a chocolate frog before the spell wore off, do you?"
"No … I suppose not," Neville replied, amused and relieved. "Do … er, that is, does anyone make your stomach do that?"
Luna wrinkled her nose up, looking at the fire. "I'm not sure, Neville. One person has done before, but he exhibited no interest, and I didn't want to press. Daddy told me that I shouldn't press boys about romantic things, because they're very sensitive. He said they find me hard to deal with because I'm very smart, but one day a special boy will find me so lovely that he won't care that I'm smart. I hope it happens soon, being single is lovely, but I'd like to experience kisses and fights and making up. It will be interesting, I'm sure. Why?"
"Because …" He took a deep breath. "Because … well, you do that to my stomach, Luna. And I don't care that you're smarter than me, I think it's pretty brilliant, actually." He blushed.
"Oh." Luna's eyes widened. "Well, that's quite nice to hear. In fact, you just made my stomach do the jumping thing again. It only ever did that before when I met you on the train, did you know that? I really think it's very –"
Neville was getting desperate. It was all very well and good to talk, but she'd just said she liked him, and now she was still talking! He leaned forward and kissed her.
She was the first girl he'd ever kissed, and the first girl he ever made love to. Giggling like the schoolgirl she still was, Luna had led him outside, ("I think loving should be done out of the confines of a house."), to the caring boughs of a frangipani tree that had somehow managed to survive the terrible cold, and he knew he'd never be the same.
But the next morning she was gone, called home to take care of her father. And he never saw her again …
Luna Lovegood, well known and loved Professor of Underwater Magic and Creatures at the Salem Witches Institute, crouched behind a spindly bush and pushed her damp platinum-blonde hair away from her face. Three years ago she had taken a sabbatical from her teaching position at the prestigious institute to travel to Africa in search of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
Five years had passed since she gave her heart and her virginity to Neville Longbottom in that man-made hell. She was whip-staff thin, freckled and tanned by the hot suns she lived under, hair turned even whiter than before. Her eyes were still the colour of silver, but no longer bulged in her face, since she'd grown into her features. Still, she wasn't beautiful, merely interesting with those slanted eyes and lithe figure.
By her side a little girl of four and a half with curly brown hair, silver eyes and a round tubby body knelt, knowing not to ask questions about when they were going to stop for the night. She'd been on the road with her mother for the past three years, and possessed a maturity that belied her young age.
"Yes!" Luna hissed. "Fran, we've found it!"
Frangipani grinned, displaying gaps in between her baby teeth. "Finally?"
"Finally." The twenty-one-year-old gathered her daughter into her arms, holding her close. It may have been her imagination, but she could always smell the faint scent of frangipani flowers lingering in the girl's soft hair.
Just beyond, cropping on the sparse vegetation of the African Savannah was a Crumple-Horned Snorkack and two of her young.
Quickly, Luna took out her camera and began taking pictures. Fran got out their dinner, two hard bread rolls and a flask of vegetable soup, and poured water into the magi-kettle, which immediately set to work heating it.
"Appears to look after young in the same way as her Muggle relation, the Zebu," Luna murmured, her Quick-Quotes quill taking it all down.
"Similar appearance, with the hump of fat on its withers, fawn in colour but with six black strips, large dewlaps and large ears. Bristled tail, most likely to keep away flies. Large horn on its forehead, twisted widdershins twice, perhaps reason it is called 'crumpled'?" Ah, the time when she'd thought her father had a Crumple-Horned Snorcack horn … and it had turned out to be an Erumpent horn instead … a bitter smile twisted the blonde's mouth for a moment, before she composed herself again.
"Young do not have their horns yet, but I can see the beginning of humps on their withers. Same amount of stripes. Possible connection between young and parent over stripe numbers?
"There appears to be a bull arriving. No, two bulls, who seem to be fighting over the mother. She has herded her young out of the way.
"The bulls are hitting one another with their horns, which are larger than the cow's. They have two humps on their withers to her one. The smaller bull's horn snaps off, leaving a triangular-shaped hole in his head. Odd, it's not bleeding, but instead leaking a pale white liquid.
"The larger male is now sniffing the cow's flanks, and her calves. Her nostrils are flaring, and he bows his head. Submission? Is the cow the dominant one in this relationship, even though the bulls seem to fight for the right to mate?"
She took more pictures, swallowing slightly when the large bull's head turned to look in her direction. She didn't move a muscle and Fran, who had finished setting up and was now staring at the sky, daydreaming, hadn't even noticed.
Eventually, the Crumple-Horned Snorkack trotted away, the cow and calves following him. The smaller bull was still standing in the open, flanks quivering.
Slowly, Luna rose to her feet. "Crumple-Horned Snorkack does not move in herd, but in families," she noted softly. "Possibly, bulls travel from family to family, impregnating cows. I am going to take a closer look at the bull that lost. Stunning spells are at the ready."
She disenchanted the quill and turned to Fran, placing one hand on the brunette's shoulder. "Fran, stay here, okay? You have the Portkey which will send you back home should something go wrong? We wouldn't want the goblins getting a hold of you and turning you into their queen."
Fran nodded, touching the necklace of bottle-caps that she wore. "Be careful, Mummy," she said quietly. "I love you."
Luna kissed her daughter's forehead, not really concerned. She'd never been hurt yet. "Love you, too."
Making sure to look as unthreatening as possible, Luna removed a halter from her pack and made her way over to the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
Although the halter looked like an ordinary Muggle one, made of faded blue cotton with shiny purple buckles, it wasn't anymore. Luna had enchanted it, using the Curse of Belleropon so it would now tame any animal it was put on. There was, as with all magic, a downside to this. Anyone who mistreated a beast wearing a Halter of Belleropon would suffer a very painful death of countless broken bones, much like a person would get from falling out of one of those Muggle aeroplanes at 30,000 feet.
Humming a soothing melody under her breath, she soon had the bull swaying from side to side. As she slipped the Halter over his neck a small, self-satisfied smile settled on her lips. She scraped the liquid still leaking out of his head into a potions vial, labelled the vial and placed both it and the crumpled horn into her bag.
"Have placed Halter of Belleropon on the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Query: This is no bull, but a young buck; so why was it fighting a full-grown bull?" Luna murmured, her quill once again taking down her every word.
"Subject is also fawn in colour, the bull was dark brown. Subject has six black stripes …" she trailed off, realisation dawning. Gently, the blonde stroked the Crumple-Horned Snorkack's nose. "Oh, was she your mama? Were you trying to protect her?" she cooed, the Quick Quotes Quill recording the inappropriate interruption of her detailed analysis.
Coughing, Luna continued. "Subject currently is approximately ten hands high, but it is estimated that its mature height will be closer to thirteen. Subject has dark hooves. I plan to bring the subject back to America with me for further study.
"Query: Does the horn have any specific properties? How has the Crumple-Horned Snorkack managed to remain out of sight for so long? Is there any truth to the rumour that Crumple-Horned Snorkacks' horns have healing properties that lead them to live long lives if left to age naturally? I have the subject's horn and plan to ask the Shaman of the village I passed on my way here."
She dis-enchanted the quill, slipping it and the parchment into her bag, removing a lead rope at the same time, which she clipped onto the Halter. The Crumple-Horned Snorkack was quite happy to follow her back to where Fran sat eating her dinner calmly.
"We'll camp here tonight and then go back to the last village tomorrow, okay, hon?" Luna asked.
Fran nodded. "Otay. Mummy, what's the amnimal's name?"
"I don't know, Fran. What would you like to call him?"
The chubby girl frowned contemplatively. "Stripe," she decided.
"Very well," Luna agreed. "From now on his name is Stripe."
 A Dewlap is a fold of loose skin that hangs under the throat of cattle or canines.
 Belleropon, for anyone who didn't know, was one of the sons of Poseidon, and a hero in Greek Mythology. Famed for taming a Pegasus and defeating the Chimera, he fell off Pegasus's back when he decided he was so powerful he should be a god and tried to enter Mt Olympus.
"Hmmm …" Safara murmured. "Interesting. A Crumple-Horned Snorkack? My tribe has not seen one of those for generations." She had a guttural accent that sounded like she had swallowed sandpaper.
"Yes," Luna replied. "Stripe is just outside with Frangipani."
"You named him Stripe?"
"Animals need names, too, lest they feel unloved," Luna said sternly.
"Of course." Safara shrugged her slim shoulders, the red tunic she was wearing shifting with her muscles. "Well, the Crumple-Horned Snorkack lives a very long life if left alone. In fact, it doesn't reach maturity until it's one hundred years old."
Luna nodded. "And the horn?"
"The horn falls off semi-annually, and has remarkable healing properties, specifically centred on those illnesses of the mind and soul. Crumple-Horned Snorkacks do not communicate through sound, but through telepathic images," the African woman said, her slanted eyes glowing with knowledge. "I would be interested in buying this horn from you."
"No." Luna shook her head. "This is a gift for someone." If it could be used to cure illnesses of the mind … what could it do for Neville's parents?
"Now add the dewberry oil," Neville coached his assistant. "Gently, gently, not too –"
"– much," he finished, wiping the potion off his face.
Tara Huberts wrung her hands. "I'm sorry!" she wailed, blue eyes filling with tears. "I'm so stupid! I don't know how you put up with me, Mr Longbottom, I'm such a klutz and I always do things wrong, and –" A timer 'dinged', and she stopped talking, bustling over to the Soothing Solution she'd been making and bottling it. "That's next week's quota filled," she said, satisfied, all trace of tears gone.
"Good," Neville said. "Why don't you head off for today, I can clean up."
"Are you sure, Mr Longbottom? Normally I wouldn't dream of it, but Dennis and I have a date …"
"Yes, off you go." Neville grinned. "And tell Dennis I said hello. Is he getting anywhere at the Prophet?"
Tara nodded, golden curls bouncing. "He'll be head photographer any day," she said happily, fastening her lavender cloak around her shoulders. "See you on Monday, Mr Longbottom."
She disappeared with a loud 'crack' and Neville set about cleaning up, the smile gone from his face now.
The years had been kind to him. He had a few white streaks from the Battle, but they just added to the quiet dignity of his features. He'd never be gorgeous like Harry, or striking, like Ron, but he was, to quote Hermione, 'well put together'.
His frank blue eyes shone with intelligence and his brown hair curled in a way that made him look decidedly handsome. Years of traipsing up and down the stairs at Hogwarts had taken the fat off his bones, and lugging various plants around his greenhouse all day kept him in good shape. He had an overall long and elegant appearance, even if he was caked in dirt and potions ingredients more often than not.
After the Battle there had been several positions he could have taken up. He had been offered the position of Herbology Professor, but had turned it down in favour of trying to find a way to cure Cruciatus Madness. He felt as though he had a duty to his parents to cure them, before he could live his own life.
Along with Ginny Potter, the best Medi-Witch St Mungo's had to offer and his assistant, the bright but clumsy Tara Huberts, he was working on many experimental potions to cure various maladies.
Unfortunately, all his attempts so far had failed. One had almost worked. For five minutes, his mum knew him. Then she went back to screaming her head off and handing him bubble-gum wrappers as presents.
He was close; he knew it. There was just one missing ingredient …
Shaking his head, Neville finished cleaning up and headed home. He'd redo his calculations and see what went wrong … again.
"I refuse to allow my Stripes to remain in Quarantine an instant longer!" Luna said in a sniffy voice, playing up her role as rich collector to the extreme. The poor official at the Quarantine office of Salem Airport looked terribly worried. "If he isn't released immediately I shall withdraw my support of this establishment and take my business elsewhere!" The minute she'd stepped off the plane she'd stopped doting on Fran, sending the girl an apologetic glance as she donned her Madame Riche role for the Airport.
Having received many grants for her research, and been paid well at the Institute, and counting the substantial sum she'd received from her father upon his death, Luna was a very wealthy witch. That was the reason she could afford to traipse around the country using Muggle transport rather than the cheaper magical sort. She knew that eventually Ginny at the very least would begin looking for her, and she didn't want anyone to guess her little secret until she'd had at least given Neville one more chance to be a father.
Once she'd realised she was pregnant, Luna had sent Neville an owl telling him to meet her at their tree because she had something important to show him. She'd waited all night, but he never showed up. She'd left the next day, and hadn't heard from him since.
But … she cast her daughter a fond glance, even with all the pain and the inconvenience being pregnant and a mother had caused, she didn't regret one bit of it. Even the heartache and loss that gnawed away at her every time she smelt frangipani or saw Fran smile was worth it for the overwhelming love she felt for the little girl.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry, we c-can't." The poor man stuttered.
Taking pity on him, Luna hummed low in her throat. Immediately, his eyes glazed over. "Lady Lunarii did not bring any animals back with her from Africa," she said softly, using the alias she always used.
"Lady Lunarii did not bring any animals back with her from Africa," the man repeated obediently.
"There is nothing in container A6."
"There is nothing in container A6."
Meanwhile, Fran was leading Stripe over to the car from container A6, which Luna had opened with a casual flick of her wand.
With another soft note, Luna broke the trance and walked away.
What she had done was not technically legal. Then again, it wasn't technically illegal, either. It was just frowned upon, a grey area, since no one but Siryns were supposedly able to use Voice Magic, and Siryns didn't care enough about the human world to meddle.
Luna wasn't your average witch, though, and the Siryns had been intrigued by her fierce protectiveness of her daughter when most mortals, entranced by their beauty, would have handed over their own offspring if asked.
That intrigue had turned into a genuine friendship and Luna had learnt more about herself and about magic in those six idyllic salty months than she had during her entire time at Hogwarts. Fran had only been five months at the time they arrived, but had been taught to swim and sing with the Siryn offspring and sometimes it seemed that the girl was half-wild the way the Siryns were.
Luna loaded Stripe into the horse-trailer and buckled Fran into her seat. "We're going on a long journey, Franny. Over the hills and far away, in fact," she told the girl.
"Well," Luna turned the car onto the highway that would lead to Salem Centre. She needed to find the nearest Portkey terminal. "I was born in England and went to school there. You were born here, I know, but your father is English, too."
"He's a doctor, right?" Fran asked. She couldn't say 'Medi-Wizard'
"Yes." Long fingers tightened on the steering wheel momentarily. Luna had kept up with Neville's career. She wanted her baby to know her father, even if that father didn't want to know his daughter.
"Oh. Are we going to see him?"
Luna sighed. "I hope so, Franny, but who knows what Fate has in store. She is notoriously difficult to predict."
"Mr Longbottom, there's someone here to see you," Tara Huberts said on Monday morning.
Neville didn't look up from his paperwork. "Do they have an appointment?"
"Then I can't see them until they have one."
"She says you never made her make an appointment before."
"Tell her she has to make one now."
"What if I don't want to?" a voice he remembered well asked.
Slowly, Neville looked up. No, he wasn't imagining it. It was Luna all right. Dressed in an orange sari with a red and black kerchief wound around silvery hair, she might look older and prettier, so pretty she took his breath away, but he recognised that look. It was the look she'd had on her face right before she killed Lucius Malfoy for using Imperio on him in his fifth year, and it was unmistakable.
"Luna." He stood up. "What're you doing here?"
The grim look was exchanged for a watery smile. "I brought you a gift. Two, even."
"Sit down, sit down. Tara, cancel all my appointments, refer them to Ginny."
Nodding, his assistant left.
"I'll need two seats, Nev," Luna said softly. Even her voice had changed. It was deeper, more melodic.
She moved slightly, revealing a girl with a moon-shaped face that he knew well. His mother's face. His face. "Because your daughter is too big to sit on my knee."
Three hours and countless cups of tea and juice for Frangipani – he couldn't get over that name – later, the entire story was finally told.
"I … I never got that letter," he said. "I didn't know. Merlin, Luna …" He pushed a hand through his curly hair. "If I'd known … I thought you left because you didn't want to be with me now the war was over."
"Of course I did, Nev. You were my only …" She blushed. "I've loved you since I first saw you. When you said you were nobody, I knew then that you were a somebody. A real somebody. And when you stood up to those Death Eaters in my fourth year …" A dreamy smile so like her old one crossed Luna's face for a moment. "Well believe me, my thoughts right then were decidedly adult. I was hurt beyond belief, I just had to leave, I couldn't stay."
"Is that my gift? A chance to meet my daughter?"
"That's part of it." A shy smile, then Luna reached into her bag, pulling out a rather twisted, squashed object. It looked like a piece of driftwood. "This," she said, placing it on the desk between them, "is the horn of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. I finally found one a week ago in Africa. After all these years. His name is Stripe, by the way. Franny named him."
The little girl nodded briefly but kept quiet, her bulging eyes focused steadily on her parents.
"This horn, according to a shaman, has amazing healing properties. She said it's unrivalled when it comes to healing psychological maladies." She leant forward, silver eyes intense. "Just think, Neville … psychological maladies … maybe your parents …"
"Luna, I love you," Neville breathed, moving around the desk and seizing the startled twenty-one-year-old in his arms. He placed a heated kiss on her lips then picked up the horn. "I really, really love you. I can't believe this!" He laughed. "A chance to finally … maybe this is the missing ingredient!"
Smiling, Luna picked up Frangipani. "We'll see him later," she told the little girl, leaving the excited man to his work. She wouldn't take his announcement seriously. Not just yet. Who knew, time might tell that he did truly love her, but things said in the heat of the moment could not be taken as fact.
"Yes, that's right, the square goes in the square hole," Frangipani coached one-year-old Lily Potter.
The green eyed little girl cooed happily when the blue square peg slid into its hole. "Circle," she said, holding up a red peg.
"This hole." Frangipani pointed.
Luna sighed, leaning back in the deckchair and taking a sip of her pumpkin juice. "Isn't that sweet?" She smiled. "They're bonding like crazy glue."
Harry Potter, proud papa of the bouncing toddler, nodded. "Very," he agreed. Unlike Ginny, he didn't work, but looked after their two children. The war had left him without any desire to be an Auror, and he'd decided to be a stay-at-home dad, instead. Still, he spent as much time playing Quidditch as when he was a student, since the graduating class got together often.
"Franny, Franny, watch!" Jimmy Potter, a red-haired, green-eyed little scamp commanded, jumping from his perch in the willow tree by the sandpit.
Fran sniffed, unimpressed and pretended to ignore him.
"Ooh, is love in the air?" Harry laughed.
"It would seem so," Luna agreed serenely.
An excited scream shattered the peace as a red-haired bombshell dived into Harry's lap.
"It worked!" Ginny crowed. "Oh, Luna, your horn fixed them! It fixed ALL the patients suffering from Cruciatus Madness! They're all better!"
"Mr and Mrs Longbottom?" Luna asked, hardly daring to hope.
"Back to normal! They need to be filled in on everything that's happened, but they're well again. Neville just told me through the fire, he'll be here in a minute."
Her statement was punctuated with a 'crack' as Neville arrived. He made a beeline for Luna, picking her up out of the chair and swinging her around. "You did it!" He crowed. "You made it all possible! Because of you, I have a second chance with my parents!"
Luna smiled, feeling a rush of love for him. "You have a second chance with me, too," she replied hopefully.
"And that's a better gift than anyone could ever give me," he said hoarsely.
Frangipani wandered over. "Hello, Daddy," she said blithely. "Can I have a kiss?"