Accidental Heroes
by zahra

Neville thinks it was easier to be with Harry during the war.

Between the Crucios and the Imperios, Neville didn't have time to worry about whether or not they fit together properly or if he was the right one for the wizarding world's favoured son. There was no gay or straight or whatever, it was only us versus them. Amongst the death and carnage, there wasn't time to wonder what the great Harry Potter was doing with the lowly Neville Longbottom. They were just together, and that was it, full stop. As far as Neville could see, people accepted it because they couldn't be arsed to think about it.

'Harry and Neville' was this tertiary thing hovering in the background like pixie dust and dust motes. They weren't in the Daily Prophet every morning after a night out at the Leaky Cauldron. There weren't photographs of them leaving for holiday in Spain. People were too busy with the business of staying alive to care if Harry and Neville were buying robes at Madam Malkins or cheap Muggle trousers in Neal's Yard in Covent Garden.

During the war survival was key; sex was just this thing, and who you loved wasn't as important as who died or was captured in a midnight raid.

Neville spent so much time hiding out in abandoned barns and derelict Muggle churches that he never gave a thought to life after, except to think about how nice it would be to see a blue sky again or to tend his Lingering Lilies without coming across hastily buried skeletons in the garden.

He knows he wasn't the only one who never tended to think about life after. They all talked about it, but not in a real way. It was always fanciful wishing for Fizzing Whizbees or a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. Seamus wanted to visit his favorite Muggle bar in Dublin, and Dean wanted to see his beloved West Ham play for their silly UEFA trophy. Parvati wanted to get a flat in London. Hermione wanted to find out where Dumstrang was. Ron wanted to get married.

The people Neville knew had these phantom dreams that kept them going, but nobody thought about the price of the milk or what sort of jobs they would have to get to pay the rent. When the war started they weren't even legal to drink, and no one was really sure there was going to be an after anyway, not with all the dead bodies and fallen spirits. There was no point in obsessing over the mundane details.

Sometimes Neville thinks life was easier that way.


They got a flat together after the war, because it seemed the thing to do. It was never something they gave great thought or discussion to, it just sort of happened. The war ended, and they no longer had to spend night after night stretched out on dusty floors or muddy ditches. They didn't have to shag in the chicken coop or with people treading the floorboards overhead. They could have sofas and beds. They could have nice linens and pillows. Neville had missed pillows. He had missed washing with hot water and soap.

Neville had missed the everyday things that he'd always taken for granted like self-heating kettles and pumpkin juice. He'd forgotten what it was like to lie about with nothing to do and nothing to worry about besides what to have for tea.

Harry said he missed the same things.

He said he wanted whatever Neville did.

So now they have a two bedroom flat in Muggle London near a large park, and on Sundays they join the other couples in the park, reading the newspaper and lying in the grass. And after they've dissected the paper and eaten entirely too many tuna and cucumber sandwiches, they walk around and watch the Muggles play their broom-less sports.

It's not quite the life that Neville saw for himself, but it's the one he has, and that's more than can be said of most of the people he's known. Except he's not sure what his gran would say about that. He knows she thought highly of Harry, but he can't imagine she would approve of him staying in a relationship just because he's not sure what he's supposed to do with his life.

He works at a lovely private nursery for a cousin of Professor Sprout, which is better than Harry, who fans about in his dressing gown all day. But Neville keeps thinking there must be something else. He knows there's something he's missing, and this is when Harry goes on about pets and holidays and Neville just needing to get away. Except that Neville's sure that Harry doesn't know how much Neville needs to get away. Sometimes it's all he can think about -- apparating somewhere else, anywhere where he doesn't have to keep living like this. Whatever 'this' is.

He's supposed to be happy.

In the evenings they visit with Ron and Parvati or have drinks with Seamus. They talk about things that are only relevant in their post-war lives, and they never discuss the enormous holes where certain people used to be. It's as though if they don't talk about it, the holes might disappear, but it hasn't happened yet, and Neville for one, has stopped waiting.


Neville buried his grandmother next to the remains of what used to be their family home in Salisbury, and Hermione has a headstone where the Burrow used to be. Her final resting place is a Muggle cemetery in northern London, but Ron wanted there to be something for her with his family, so there's a commemorative stone for her between Fred and Ginny. There are also stones for Dean, Padma and Dennis Creevey. Mrs. Weasley makes a point of keeping the gnomes away herself.

Ron works as an Unspeakable while Parvati works for her father-in-law as a sort of Deputy Minister. They have a little girl, Meena, and once a month Harry and Neville take her out for ice cream at the Muggle zoo. When she gets older, Harry wants to take her on day trips to Brighton. Neville's not quite sure why this is so important, but he humours Harry because sometimes it's all he can do. Except that all anybody ever does is humour Harry, and sometimes Neville says no just because he can. Sometimes he says no to things he really wants, because he can't think of any other way to get across that maybe this isn't the life he's meant to lead. He says no to the dog and no to the house, even though he would really love to have his own garden.

He can't explain why he deliberately sabotages the things that make him happy, but he keeps thinking that perhaps it's his way of paying for this domestic settling, which Neville is sure isn't meant for him. He continually finds this life strange for a pudgy, clumsy boy who was never quite good at anything and continually lost his frog and his Rememberall. As far as he can tell the things that he did during the war were done by someone else, and he can't quite reconcile that Lieutenant for the Order of the Phoenix, with Neville 'Breaks Everything He Touches 'Longbottom. To top the whole thing off, he lives in a flat with Harry bloody Potter for Mordred's sake. They're together. They're lovers.

Before the war, before Harry came along, Neville's conquests were limited to fumbling in broom closets with various Hufflepuffs and the occasional Ravenclaw. And then there was the war, and experience was hand jobs under the table and shagging people who were dead the day after. Neville never meant to fall for Harry. Sometimes he thinks it was a really fucking stupid thing to do.

One minute they were friends, and he's proud of that, but he just doesn't understand what caused them to turn it into something more. He can't quite understand why it was him out of all the possibilities. Even when Harry insists that it was always there, Neville can't quite reconcile what Harry sees with the freckle-faced boy with bad posture he sees in the mirror in the middle of the night. Yes, he's lost a few stone, and his hair is shorter, but underneath it all, he's still the same hapless boy Snape terrorized unmercilessly.

When Harry touches him, sometimes Neville feels as though it's happening to someone else -- another Neville who's sure of himself, smart and self-confident. This Other Neville is the one that Harry's meant to be with, not him.

He wonders when Harry is going to see this.


Things are much harder now that the war is over. When Neville wakes up in the morning, he's not quite sure what he's supposed to do with his life. For so long there was the unspoken fear, and then there was preparation, and then there was The War. And now it's just After.

Sometimes Neville thinks the carnage of war is all he's ever known: his parents, Sirius Black, his grandmother, Dean, Ginny and Hermione. Almost losing Harry.

Neville knows the fear that war brings, he can recognise it and live with it.

Living without the fear of war is an altogether different kind of terror.


Neville has nightmares full of dead people and clinging hands. He dreams of charred owls falling from the sky and being too late to save his grandmother from the Death Eaters. He wasn't even there the day she died; he was in fucking Chelmsford scouting out potential Death Eater hideouts with Seamus and practicing childish hexes, because at eighteen they were barely more than children. They were just two boys caught up in something much bigger than themselves.

Neville remembers that the sky was clearer than the water inside a Terra Globe, and he had the smell of burning leaves in his nose. He remembers Seamus cracking jokes about his flying ability and hexing him so only bubbles came out his mouth. Seamus kept trying to get Neville to talk about the details of his shagging Harry, and Neville nearly poked Seamus' eye out with his wand.

When they apparated back to the Burrow, Harry was waiting by the front gate. Seamus made hooting noises and crude depictions before he went in the house, but all Neville can think about is the way his stomach dropped into his shoes, and he was sick by a rotted gatepost. Harry rubbed his back. Neville can't remember if he cried or not. He thinks his tears might have been dried out by then, and every night he dreams variations of this memory.

Sometimes his grandmother is waiting to tell him about Harry. Sometimes he goes scouting with Ron and Dean. Sometimes it's Hermione waiting to tell him about Ginny. Sometimes he dreams of Ron telling Harry about him, and he thinks these are the only dreams he doesn't wake screaming from.

If he's dead then he doesn't have to worry anymore, and Neville can't remember what he dreamed about before the war.

Inevitably he wakes up shaking and screaming about heroes falling out of a green sky. Harry tries to comfort him by rubbing his back and wiping away the sweat that beads on Neville's head even during the coldest nights in December. They've tried potions and natural herbs and Muggle remedies that Harry picks up from the chemist at the corner shop, but nothing really works. Harry tries to tell him that it'll get better, and Neville pretends to believe him. If anybody would know, Harry would -- he used to scream the roof down during the war.

On the nights Neville can't get back to sleep, he lies awake in the sitting room, watching self-help programmes and chat shows on the television set that Harry insisted upon purchasing. The telly is an expensive, gaudy monstrosity that Neville marvels at every time he walks through their sitting room, but he likes the fact that he can turn it on and be reminded that not everybody is as happy as they seem.

Neville knows you can have everything you want and still not know what you need. Except it's on nights like these that Harry will wander into the sitting room with his pyjamas wrinkled and his hair askew, and he'll curl up next to Neville as though this is perfectly natural and nothing is wrong at all.

Neville knows differently.


Their trips into wizarding London are few and far between. Their house is connected to the Floo network, but on a specialised, monitored network so that people can't just pop in and out as they like. Their friends, of course, have leave to come and go, but since the day that Neville came home and found adoring fans of Harry's in the sitting room having tea, he's had no problems with taking the hard line. He suspects that Harry needs him to since he was rather overtly grateful once Neville had shown the Harry Potter Appreciation Society the door. But Neville doesn't want Harry to be grateful to him. He's just Neville sodding Longbottom, Accidental Hero, but just because Harry's the one with name recognition is no reason for people to invade their home. Neville vaguely remembers a time when he would have been honored by all the attention, but it's not for him that people call.

On the few occasions they do go to Diagon Alley, it's like the bloody Quidditch World Cup. Everybody wants to be next to Harry and to talk to him, but they're wary and watchful of Neville as though he's in running to be the next You Know Who. The people who don't pretend he's invisible, stare and point as though he's a dangerous animal in a cage. They whisper about Harry Potter's male lover and wonder aloud about the things they do behind closed doors. They make loud noises and then feign ignorance when Neville turns their way.

People love Harry; he gets the fame. He gets the accolades. People look at Neville and either don't recognize him or aren't impressed by what they see. A few are afraid.

Neville killed Voldemort, but clearly people still don't know what to make of him.

He knows how they feel.


Neville wonders whose life he's living, because he's fairly sure it's not his own. He's not meant to be the hero. He's not the one who was meant to have the happily ever after. He thinks he was the one who was supposed to die in battle so that Harry could carry out the prophecy the way it was meant to be. He should've died, Harry would have mourned, and that would have been the end of it. But Neville didn't die, and they're still together, and every day Neville wonders why. He loves Harry. But he's not sure if it's the right kind of love. If it's the love his mum felt for his dad, or the kind of hero worship that just hasn't died properly. He suspects it's neither. He thinks it's darker and more sinister. Perhaps their relationship is really just a deep co-dependency based on the misassumptions of other people and their need to be loved.

If Neville had died like he was supposed to, he wouldn't have to think about things like this.


He tries to leave on a Tuesday but never gets past the front door. When Harry comes home from visiting with Ron and Parvati, Neville is sitting in the dark, in his favourite broken-down chair, with his head in his hands and a small suitcase at his feet. There's stuffing pouring out of the right arm of the chair, because Neville incessantly picks at it like a scar he's afraid to let heal.

"Were you going somewhere?" Harry asks after turning on the overhead light.

"I need to leave," Neville says to his knees. "I can't keep doing this."

He turns away when Harry crouches down to look him in the face. Neville's not anyone's coward, but this just isn't working. He's going crazy trying to be whomever he thinks Harry wants him to be.

"I thought I could be this person, this Neville who killed Vol -- Voldemort, but I'm not. I'm not meant to be a hero; this isn't me," he says sitting up and gesturing at the life they've created.

Harry's eyes flash behind his glasses, and his gaze is wary as he places a consoling hand on Neville's knee. "What are you on about? Have you been in the firewhiskey? Did something happen at the nursery today? You haven't been smoking Muggle plants again, have you?"

"I'm not that person you knew at Hogwarts," Neville says, shaking his head to avoid eye contact. "We look the same, and we've got the same name, but -- I'm nobody's hero, Harry. I'm not meant to have people staring at me when I go out. I'm getting paranoid. I can't sleep. This life -- I'm not supposed to be here with you."

The hand on Neville's knee tightens considerably, going from comforting to painful rather quickly. The pain is like an old friend. "You're talking rubbish. You're Neville Longbottom. You killed Voldemort. You love plants, and you're a great man. You fulfilled the prophecy --"

"Sod the sodding prophecy! It was just a globe with a bunch of muddled words in it. I'm twenty years old, and I feel like I'm losing the plot, and I don't want to go to St Mungo's. I want to be happy, but I can't fucking remember how!"

The smirk on Harry's face does nothing to comfort Neville. "The Muggles call them mid-life crises," he says, "I think you're a bit early on for yours."

"You're not listening to me," Neville says, frustrated. When he attempts to push Harry away and get to his feet, he's forcibly pushed back into the chair. Harry looms over him in the larger than life way that he always has. This is something else that Neville recognises too. At least he knows he can carry his own against The Boy Who's Not Nearly as Tough as He Looks.

Neville's seen Harry cry. He's seen Harry rail. He's been there to pick up the pieces; it's never occurred to him that this could work both ways.

"We've lived enough for several lives though, wouldn't you say?" Harry asks, carrying on without giving Neville a chance to speak. "Of course that's neither here nor there I suppose. I know it's not easy, the whole feeling as though the entire world is looking at you and judging you. If anybody knows that feeling, I do."

Neville's mid-sigh when Harry's suddenly swoops down and peers at him like a hawk.

"We all thought the war was going to be the hard part, but it seems that life after isn't that much easier. The thing is though, no one said it was going to be easy, Neville, and the only person you have to be is yourself."

Neville's neck strains from trying to crane away from Harry's piercing stare. "What if I don't know who that is?"

Harry shrugs. "Then you find out."

"And what if I can't do that with you?"

"Too fucking bad then, really. I'm not going anywhere and neither are you." Harry punctuates his point by kicking Neville's suitcase across the sitting room. It bangs against the coat stand with a hollow thud.

"Who died and put you in charge?" Neville shoots back, shutting his mouth with an audible snap too late.

"No one died, but you did off the last bugger in charge, so you brought this on yourself." Harry's grin is slightly manic, and Neville finds it rather comforting, which really goes to show how gloriously messed up they both are. Except that Neville knows this Harry. This is the Harry he fell for in the first place.

"You made this world," Harry begins.


"I know it's not much, but you've done it and you're stuck with it now."

"I didn't make it; I don't want it."

"Again, I say, too bad."

Harry's eyes are enormous behind the thick lenses and black frames, and Neville has to keep darting glances up and down to gage his reactions. Currently he seems rather amused.

"I was supposed to die," Neville protests, "I'm not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be married to Ginny and have a zillion children."

The look of horror on Harry's face is priceless. "Not you too? Where did everyone come up with that crap idea? I loved Ginny and I miss her, but not in a million years would I have married her. It would've been like marrying Hermione, either one of which probably would have resulted in Ron being put in Azkaban for killing me."

Neville purses his lips, but something in his chest unclenches. "I never thought about life after the war. It was never really supposed to happen, and now I don't know what I want. I don't know how to go about getting it. I feel like I'm living someone else's life, and I keep waiting for the real Neville to come along and tell me to shove off."

Harry's dry chuckle isn't the most appropriate response Neville can think of.

"I'm glad this amuses you," he says wryly.

Harry laughs again. "It's all right to be scared, you know. I am -- scared I mean. I can't keep walking around the flat in my dressing gown for the rest of my life, but without the war, I'm at a loss too. My whole life was about the fucking thing, and nobody's bothered to give me a clue about what to do now that it's over. All the same, this is not a bad thing."

"I'm not scared," Neville corrects, "I'm fucking petrified. And you need to get a job."

Harry shrugs off the job bit. "Then be petrified, but don't run off."

"Then what am I supposed to do?"

Harry shrugs again. "Live."

"That's not as easy as it sounds," Neville points out as Harry pulls him out of his chair.

His voice gets muffled in the neck of Harry's jumper when Harry pulls him into the circle of his arms. Neville's body naturally melds against Harry's as though they've grown to fit together, and he wonders how he could have honestly thought that leaving this would solve any of his problems. For all the things that war took from him and defined for him, at least it gave him this.

At least someone knows what to make of him, even when he doesn't. He suspects that most people probably spend their lives looking for someone who knows who they are.

"I know," Harry says, his lips brushing against Neville's ear. "It would've been nice if, at school, they'd bothered to tell us that 'life' was the hard part."


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