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A Second Breath (The Jacob's Ladder Remix) [Harry Potter; Luna Lovegood/Neville Longbottom; NC-17]

Title: A Second Breath (The Jacob's Ladder Remix)
Author: justholdstill
Summary: Her skin is smooth once more, pale, unmarked, but bones don’t forget, and neither does Luna.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Luna Lovegood/Neville Longbottom
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: All belongs to Jo. Sadly.
Original story: A Second Breath by loony4lupin



A Second Breath (The Jacob's Ladder Remix)

as gentle as a butterfly
fluttering in the murdered light
you came through here
like fire singing
and when it was over
the walls came down
the flags went up
and love was finished

- “hail and farewell”, Charles Bukowski

~



She arrives on the other side of the war with nothing, or almost nothing.

Her ribs still ache when she stretches awake in the morning, the memory of something once broken, now mended, haunted and teased by an inability to forget a certain pair of sleek dragon-hide boots with steel in the toes. Her skin is smooth once more, pale, unmarked, but bones don’t forget, and neither does Luna.

But doesn’t it hurt? The healer had been a thin, handsome wizard with careful hands, and Luna had only been able to smile as he’d pushed the edges of torn flesh together, knitting them with his wand. She’d wanted to tell him that pain was one of the few things left that still counted for something - it meant she was alive - but hadn’t been able to find the breath.

So she watched an invisible needle singing through soft tissue and held her tongue.

There was no home to return to, somehow - where you are, home is, she’d said to her father, gracelessly dancing her way around the rubble in their burnt-out husk of a dwelling; they’d soon found that sentiment was comforting, but didn’t warm a sleep-deprived body the way a dry bed and shelter did. One of Luna’s paternal aunts is has a pair of empty rooms for them, “until your father gets himself sorted”; his wrecked, rescued creations peer down on her as she sleeps, or attempts to. Luna kindly disregards the fact that her father hasn’t shaved in days (weeks? How long has she been gone?), assuming that this too shall pass.

Three healing ribs; her father; her wand; mounds of ashes; sixteen bronze knuts and four galleons in an oily leather pouch. These things she has, and a small carved teak chest, spelled to be larger within than without, holding her late mother’s evening clothes. It was one of the few things they’d pulled from the ruins of the house intact, if scorched, the steel clasps scarred; it was a small, sweetly bitter miracle, to prise it open and find the shimmering textiles untouched while all about her the life she’d known smoked and murmured where kissed by a late June shower.

Now they are the only clothes she has.

Luna fans one of the dresses out on the bed. It’s more of a gown, really, more like traditional robes than the party frocks she’s chosen wear to some of the other funerals. Black and white are universal colours of mourning for cultures around the world; one is for grief and the other for joy - the secret is in whom you ask. For wizards, of the world but not in it, only colour will do, only the gaudiest patterns and most garish hues, for all that they’ve gazed upon the dark.
There was saffron silk for Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin, bright turquoise satin and yards of net for Colin Creevey, crushed red velvet with a matching cap and veil for Severus Snape. This garment is deep purple, almost blue, trimmed in gold. It’s sari fabric, purchased on her mother’s third expedition to India, carried back to England in a battered leather suitcase, and as Luna winds the slippery cloth around her body the word queen flits into her mind. The word shroud.

As she looks in the mirror (it stares back, reproachfully) she saves a regret for decisions made in haste; she misplaced her brush weeks ago, and patience with her hair was lost shortly thereafter. It had grown too long, tangled too easily; it snagged on chairs and door hinges, on her noisy bracelets, on the fingers of the deceased’s drunk relatives, who saw only a pretty girl and in her comfort - Luna is nobody’s comfort, not even her own. The night the war was over she borrowed a pair of heavy kitchen shears from her aunt and trimmed away everything but the last three inches; what is left lies close to her head in wisping curls, soft and pathetic as a duckling. There are spells for re-growing hair, or glamours, but as Luna runs her hands through the short crop she decides she is having none of it; if there’s one thing of which she has proof, it’s that she can do without.

~

There are pebbles in the road the muted sea-swept colour of cockle shells, but Luna has no time to stop and collect them. It’s quarter-past three and her hem is dragging in the dirt; she’s forgotten her wand and the exposed skin on the back of her neck feels pricked by sun, as though it’s burning. The Burrow is just over the next hill; who would notice if she picked up her purple skirt in both hands and ran the rest of the way, kicking up dust that will hang gold in the still summer air minutes after she’s passed through it?

George Weasley will. He won’t smile.

He’s perched on his windowsill with Neville Longbottom for company; their legs look ridiculous, dangling in mid-air, George’s long and lanky, Neville’s slightly shorter, their dress shoes jutting out of the ends of their trousers. They’re smoking something, probably a joint, by the pungent smell that wafts lazily across the green lawn. George looks determined and focused, as though he’s never smiled in his life; Neville looks faintly bewildered, as though he can’t quite figure out where he is or what he’s doing there, and that expression deepens every time George passes him the joint between pinched fingers and he takes a smoky sip.

They’re being terribly obvious - the mourners filing up the drive have a clear view of the pair, but no-one seems to think it their place to say anything, and Mrs. Weasley doesn’t seem to care, she who looks as adrift as Neville, but whose face is more deeply lined with her loss. She hovers around the edge of the gathering, dressed in some absurd pink taffeta, until finally Charlie takes her gently by the arm and finds her a chair in the empty row at the front. Luna watches as Charlie locates Ginny, whispering in her ear as he leads her over to their mother. Frowning, Ginny sits down beside Mrs. Weasley and takes a small weathered hand between her own, biting her lip so hard it’s almost white.

Luna’s cheeks are flushed; she’s suddenly desperately thirsty. The heat is too much, too heavy, and she stumbles, almost falls, as she enters the house, looking for the lavatory, somewhere with running water she can splash over her face.


~

“It’s Luna, yeah? You’re Luna Lovegood.”

It isn’t as though he’s lying in wait, exactly; the only bathroom is off the third floor landing, and his door is open just across the hall - he’s still sitting on his windowsill, surrounded by a circle of dazzling afternoon radiance.

Luna washes her hands and combs some of the water (cool and fresh, tasting faintly of iron) through her hair, smoothes some over her pink shoulders and neck, and when she exits the room he is leaning suggestively against the opposite wall, his hands in his pockets, looking at her.

“You’re George Weasley.” She smiles apologetically. “This is your brother’s funeral.”

“It is.” His look betrays nothing.

Laughter bubbles up inside Luna, helplessly; she wishes she had her wand. She’d make bubbles pour out of the tip, fireworks, wine; a string quartet composed entirely of pigs dressed in top hats and tails. Mad, crazy, inventive boy, like her father - he should be laughing too, they should be doubled over with mirth together like there is nobody down on the lawn, like there’s only this hallway and this moment and this shifting light, nothing at all to do with the ghosts dancing around them.

And while she is laughing he takes her by the wrist and kisses her; it’s hardly a surprise but it catches her off guard anyway. She lifts her hand, goes to push him away, but for such a tall and slender person, he’s surprisingly strong.

“Come on,” says George softly; over his shoulder she can see his open bedroom door, the twin beds with matching green quilts. He’s hard against her, and for a moment lust roars through her body, makes her shudder in his grasp. For a split second she considers giving in, following him through the door, making him welcome between her thighs. His improbable bowtie is askew, his dark copper hair soft and unkempt. Luna touches it, fixes the tie. She lets him kiss her twice more.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” It’s a whisper, breathless, girlish. “I’m sorry about Fred.”

I‘m sorry.

“You’re more sane than they give you credit for,” rasps George, and there’s something tugging at his mouth that is almost a smile as he lets her go and ambles off down the stairs.

But someone else is standing in the doorway.

“Hello, Neville Longbottom.”

“Hi. Hi Luna.”

~

The grief is something no-one owns and everyone shares in - some have bigger portions than others, but they all have the bitter taste in their mouths. It touches everything, colours it. Lee Jordan is wearing dark glasses even though they’ve all moved under the shade of a broad white canopy and Luna wonders whether he’s trying to block out the blue tint that has settled over the crowd, giving Ron‘s lips and cheeks the same lifeless pallor as his brother‘s, turning Harry’s eyes the colour of the angry Atlantic ocean.

Someone in the back row is crying. Kingsley Shacklebolt, mountain of a man, is blowing his noise. Neville, stoned, watches clouds, and Luna doesn’t cry, can’t cry, won’t, as dry inside as bones, ashes, pebbles in the road. Her knees bounce, her bracelets jingle - Neville grabs her wrist -

I’m sorry. I can’t do that -

Shhh, Luna, you have to be quiet. Percy’s about to give the eulogy.” His cheeks are wet, warm, and laughter burbles up inside her a second time - cars full of clowns, fifty men dressed in ballet costumes, exploding flowers, exploding houses, the dancing dead - but she lets it die in her throat, unvoiced, because Neville holds her hand and doesn’t let go.

~

Time unrolls, then.

When the service is over - “I don’t understand that Lovegood girl,” Muriel Prewett is heard to sigh later, pursing her lips, “she should know better!” - liquor flows like a river into the gulf between the now and the then; witches and wizards she has known for years hurtle headlong toward intoxication, simultaneously boisterous and maudlin, as though they can’t decide whether they are mourning or celebrating. In any case, a funeral like this is “as good an excuse as any for a right good piss-up” - Charlie, already in his cups, shows no sign of surfacing.

In a corner of the garden, someone has charmed a number of instruments to play themselves. It’s not a bad bit of magic, and the violin seems to have an uncanny sense of timing; whenever the gathering threatens to get out of hand, it dovetails into something sweet and sombre; if the mood is too quiet the full band starts into a song with an upward lilt, but never anything disruptive, disrespectful.

Luna shimmers in and out. Her glass empties and refills itself; people float past her, and some of them speak to her, but it’s hard to hear what they’re saying. Suddenly - suddenly night is falling, and there are shoes and chairs and broken glasses scattered across the lawn, and in the trees fairy lights have flickered on. I don’t think they took them down from the wedding, Luna thinks. Her brain swims. She hiccups.

The invisible players give the impression of being weary; the guitar only tosses out an odd, dissonant chord now and then, and the fiddle’s bow is starting to rasp as it pulls across the strings. The harp has fallen into silence completely.

But the music hasn’t stopped. Rather, it swells and spreads expansively into the night, echoing back out of the apple orchard, wave after wave of sound. Luna moves, or is moved by it. She begins to sway, and then to spin, to revolve. Her hips tilt and the world reels dangerously under her feet - she lifts her arms, flings them out in front of her to stop the fall that never comes. Someone takes her glass from her hand but Luna keeps dancing. Her robes are slipping off her shoulders, and she thinks she might have lost one of her silver anklets in the flowerbed but she keeps dancing -

- smack into something solid.

Neville.

His hand flies up to cover her mouth as she struggles in his arms, arrested mid-flight. “Luna,” Neville whispers hoarsely, “look.”

She does, and quiets.

It’s hard to see them at first, in the dark, flush against the wall of the broom shed; their heads are bent together as if they are having a conversation, but soon she knows they aren’t talking at all. Harry’s robes are open, partially sheltering them both, but Ginny’s apricot shift is hiked up around her waist, and her pale legs, bent, are luminous even in the gloom. The scent of roses is thick and everywhere; Luna gently takes Neville’s hand away from her mouth and he shudders at the touch just as Ginny shudders under Harry, crying out almost too softly to be heard.

It’s that last, the moan, which breaks the spell. “We shouldn’t be watching,” Neville exhales, blushing fiercely. He lurches away from her, veering off the gravel path toward the tree-lined meadow south of the house.

Luna follows.

“Oh, I know they wouldn’t mind. People like having others watch them while they fuck. I’ve always thought it would be nice to watch them. Ginny’s got lovely freckles and Harry’s arse is delightful.”

Luna.” She can’t quite puzzle him out, Neville Longbottom. She’s always made note of this tiny line that appears between his eyebrows when he’s talking to her, and she’s never sure whether he’s irritated with her, or fascinated, or merely perplexed. “You can’t just….you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s private.” But all of heartache is private, and Luna wonders if Neville knows what she knows, that even Harry, watching Ginny all day from a distance before he met her in the middle of her mother’s roses, is an intruder, a voyeur. They are all of them voyeurs and interlopers and thieves, all of them victims together.

“No more private than you smoking with George this afternoon. It’s comfort, Neville.”

Neville stammers and reddens again and falls silent. Luna becomes aware that his chest is heaving, and he is looking at her as if he’s seeing her for the first time after a long absence. The space between them momentarily stretches and then collapses inward; Neville staggers forward, pushing her back by inches until her spine is flush against the trunk of a slender birch tree. His mouth descends on hers, briefly.

“Are you very drunk?”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

“Me too.”

“Good.”

~

This is the game, she thinks foggily, the obscenity of it. He bites and suckles, and she makes noises she’s sure the guests can hear in the house. In the stifling summer heat grief opens her to him like a wound. He kisses her stomach. He kisses her fingers and her knuckles and her wrists. Her eyebrow, her ear. The sweet curve of a breast; the line of her throat where her heart beats strongly. It seems wrong to be enjoying this, but it doesn’t seem much different than the raucous music blaring into the night air, the drunken shouts, Ginny’s sobs as she hunches over on the doorstep, Harry hovering at her shoulder. The feeling of Neville inside her is a balm for the raw anguish barely suppressed during the day, and when he moves she can’t help but move with him, first slower and then more swiftly. Luna thinks of the strength evident in Harry’s back as he pressed up against Ginny, the deliberation in his slow thrusts against her. She thinks of Ginny’s leg curved almost delicately around Harry’s waist, her flimsy shoes sliding off to reveal a naked white foot, the most erotic part of the whole tableau.

Neville nuzzles her ear, licks a soft wet line from the lobe to her collarbone. Luna arches beneath him with a little sigh, moving one hand down to gently touch the place where they’re joined, wondering what her skin tastes like to him.

Salt.

Soap.

Vaporous hints of flowers soaked in alcohol, applied to her pulse points earlier in the day.

Her breath catches in her throat as Neville’s pace changes, and she cries out against his ear, willing him to understand what she cannot put into words: they make love because they are alive and Fred Weasley is dead, because none of them were chosen for what happened to them , because none of it matters, and because what they do now matters very much.

“I’ll hold on to you,” she croons into his ear, gasping for air. Neville moans, and his hair (shadowy brown, the colour of the earth he coaxes life from) slips down over his damp forehead; her fingers curl tightly into his expensive shirtsleeves, and she’ll hold him fast, she will.

That in itself a relief, a blessing, kind of.

~

Those who stayed behind are scattered all over, now. Mrs. Weasley was taken up to bed hours ago; Charlie is snoring serenely in the azaleas; Bill and Fleur have gone upstairs to Bill’s old room. Everyone else is in the sitting room, dozing, talking in short bursts, bottles still in hand. Mr. Weasley is in his study with Kingsley Shacklebolt, weeping into his tea.

The kettle is still hot to the touch, and Luna takes a pair of chipped stoneware mugs off a high shelf to fix them each a cup of tea, doctored with a splash of gin. It’s the most disgusting thing she’s ever tasted, but the briny concoction quiets the hum in her head, a fine buzz that leaks out into her fingers and toes, ripples in her nerves.

“Water would be better,” says Neville. She can’t fail to notice that he gulps his tea just as thirstily as she does.

In the icebox there are platters of food, picked over and left, from the wake. Luna isn’t hungry; she puts half of a dusky red strawberry into her mouth and shivers at the tartness, but doesn’t chew, can’t swallow. Her ribs hurt again

She watches Neville’s lips slide closed around the smoothness of a boiled egg, almost feeling the sensation in her own mouth, the weight of it on her tongue. She remembers with a queer, quick joy the secret delight of marbles when she was younger, six or so, rolling them in her mouth and hearing them clack against her molars, the noise of glass on bone not unlike the ticking of a clock. The dampness of saliva when she spat them back into her palm, fearing that Mother would see and admonish her.

“I never know what you’re thinking about,” says Neville, smiling through a mouthful of egg. Luna bites down on the strawberry. “Gurdyroots, plimpies, umbugular slashkilters…sometimes I swear you’re not even thinking about your dad’s mad theories at all, and you’re just trying to put the rest of us off the scent.”

“Just because you shagged me against a tree doesn’t mean you know everything,” Luna replies, but she’s smiling too.

~

She thinks she wore shoes when she arrived here, paper-thin gold sandals, but they’ve been lost for hours now, and the cool grass feels good against her feet. Neville still has shoes, sturdy black ones, and he gallantly offers to carry her all the way home; Luna declines the offer, but asks if he wouldn’t mind holding her hand again and walking her there.

There are pebbles in the road the muted sea-swept colour of cockle shells, and Luna has all the time in the world to collect them.


fin

Tags: character: luna lovegood, character: neville longbottom, fandom: harry potter, original author: loony4lupin, pairing: luna/neville, remix author: justholdstill
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