A/N: A big thanks to my betas—Arnel, Cindy, and Mary.
Neville stretched his arms and sent the last box up the Floo to Gran’s. He was done. Seven years was enough to give for one’s country and magical society. He’d been taken into the Auror service on the strength of his battles during seventh year, and because so many Aurors had been killed during the war they had been desperate. But he was tired of finding the last of the Death Eaters. He was tired of seeing some of them (any of them was too many) get away with reparations and repairs instead of going to Azkaban.
He gave his office a final look-over before he locked the door. He was done. He was tired of going to court and testifying against the people he arrested. He was tired of interviewing the victims—so many small children. He was tired of cleaning up Voldemort’s mess. Let Harry and Ron do that. They seemed to enjoy it. He didn’t.
He looked at his letter from Hogwarts' Headmistress McGonagall one more time. He was done. No more fighting criminals. It was time to get to the business of growing and creating and teaching. Professor Longbottom. He smiled. He could still hardly believe it. Then a nagging thought let doubt cloud his mind. What did he know about teaching? Who would he have as a friend at Hogwarts? Being ‘best mates’ with McGonagall was laughable, so who would he spend his non-teaching time with? Plants. What was he thinking? He took a deep breath. He’d find a way to make it work.
He went to Apparate home, and then stopped himself. He was done. No reason to get up early in the morning now… he strolled to the Leaky Cauldron instead. He hadn’t allowed himself time to just relax very often. Between Gran and doing his job as Auror, free time had been rare. That, and the two years he was assigned to the continent to clean up the Death Eater remains there. Would he have time once he started at Hogwarts? He thought of his professors there. They had always been there, it seemed. He knew he had better enjoy himself during these months off before Hogwarts started.
He walked through the swinging doors, glad to see not much was changed. But then he looked towards the bar, and something was definitely different. No Tom, hunchbacked and whistling, leaning over the bar… ah, yes; he’d heard Tom had sold out a few months before to a distant relation. He wondered who it might be. He looked around and caught the back of someone taking an order. Female. Strawberry-blonde hair. Quite curvy in all the right ways. Hmmn. He grinned. She looked familiar.
She turned and looked at him, her face breaking into a smile as she hurried over. “Neville! Neville Longbottom! How are you?”
He stood up and took off his hat. “Hannah Abbott. You’re looking brilliant. Life must be good to you.”
She gave his formalities an amused smirk and pulled him into a hug. “I heard you were an Auror. Do you like that?”
“I was glad to do my part, but I’m even gladder I’m done. I start a new job next fall,” he answered. “But tell me about your job. Do you own this place, or just work here?”
“I own it,” Hannah answered proudly. “I never would have without…” She looked at him uncomfortably for a moment. “…seventh year changed everything. We all grew up in a hurry.”
Neville looked at her quietly, wondering what she wasn’t saying. He didn’t press her. “What’s good for supper?”
“Everything. They’re all my recipes, or rather, my mum’s recipes. It was one way to honour her. Of course, I’ve added a few modifications of my own.” She handed him a menu. “See for yourself.”
He looked over the menu. It was filled with homey, comfort food. “I’ll have the steak and mushroom pie, a small loaf of your fresh bread, and a pint of your best ale.”
“Excellent choices. How about pudding?” she added, jotting down his order.
“Surprise me,” he answered with a grin. She turned to leave. “Hannah?” he asked. She stopped. “If you have time, bring your own dinner over, too. I’d love to have you join me. I’ll pay.”
“I’ll see what I can do, Neville.”
He watched her hurry away, noticing that her current outfit showed off how nice she looked walking away far more than her Hogwarts robes had. When she returned, she hadn’t brought dinner for herself, but she did bring herself a butterbeer. She sat right across from him at the tiny table.
“Merlin, it’s good to see you. Why haven’t you come in here more often? I’ve missed you,” she added with a slight blush.
“I’ve been busy. But I’ve a little time now, since I’m going to be starting a new job.”
“Yes, your new job. You said you were starting one in the autumn. What is it?”
“I’m the new professor of Herbology at Hogwarts,” he answered with both shyness and pride creeping into his tone.
“Oh Neville! I’m so proud of you. No one deserves that position more than you do.” She stood up and kissed his cheek impulsively.
Now it was his turn to blush. He cleared his throat nervously. “Hannah, I… ah… erm… would you like to go out with me sometime?”
“I’d be honoured to go out with you, Neville. But my hours, even as owner, keep me awfully busy, especially weekends and evenings. Would you be all right with taking me out on a weekday after breakfast?”
Neville nodded. He was done with Auror schedules. He had four months off before he reported to Hogwarts. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… what would be good for you?”
“Yes,” she answered.
Neville looked at her, puzzled, and then smirked. Hannah, realizing what she had said, blushed Gryffindor scarlet.
Neville put his hand over hers. “Let’s try Monday then. If you can still stand me, we’ll go for Tuesday as well. Wednesday you can quit if you’ve had enough of me.”
Hannah only grew redder. “I’d better let you eat. I’ll be back with your pudding.” She hurried off.
Neville ate his dinner slowly, pondering what had just happened. Hannah fancied him. When did that start? She hadn’t ever acted like that before. But she definitely fancied him. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the sensation of knowing he meant something to her. He couldn’t wait to see what she’d bring him for afters.
When she returned with a rich pudding, filled with raisins and nuts and dripping with rum caramel sauce, he noticed she had brought two spoons. She sat down next to him, picking up one spoon. “I’ll be ready Monday, Neville. What should I wear?” she asked.
“Something you can wear outside, if that’s all right with you.” He loved the idea of walking through the magical arboretum with her. The flowers would suit her perfectly.
“I can do that.”
“Tell me how you came about buying this place,” he asked, finally taking a bite of the pudding.
“Tom is Father’s third cousin. Tom decided to retire and offered the inn to family first. I worked here helping with the baking already. Father and I had the reparation money paid us for Mother being killed by Death Eaters.” Her voice grew suddenly quiet. “So we bought seventy percent of the inn.” Hannah answered businesslike and did her best not to think about what her words said, Neville noticed. “I have two years to pay Tom the other thirty percent, but he’s my silent partner for now.”
“You seem very skilled at this, Hannah. Your father and mother weren’t in this business, were they?”
“No. Father is a barrister. Mother was a writer, although you’ve probably not heard of her work. She used to write for the romance series that was broadcast on the WWW. As the Cauldron Bubbles.”
“My gran used to listen to that. Your mum was good. Let’s see—Feline and Frederic, right?”
She nodded with a wistful smile on her face.
“I’m sorry you lost her, Hannah. I remember that day. When I saw you led away in tears, my heart went out to you.”
“Thank you, Neville. I remember too. I think you had it worse than me, although I didn’t know about it at the time. All those years. Are your parents still in St. Mungo’s?” she asked, touching his hand.
“When did you find out?” he answered quietly.
“A few years ago, on Valentine’s Day. I was working here baking before I bought the place. I was bringing a pie a group of older witches had ordered for Professor Lockhart’s birthday and saw them in the same ward,” she added in explanation.
He nodded silently. He loved his parents, but having them still in that childlike state of disconnection from the rest of the world and then growing up without them, hurt. It was easier not to speak of it. Maybe, maybe if he and Hannah grew closer, commitment closer, maybe then he’d feel better about sharing them. He felt his stomach do a flip at the thought of having a commitment with Hannah.
He redirected the subject away from his parents. “I know the reparation money didn’t replace your mum, but at least it was used for something good. I’m glad you have this place, but…” How could he say this? He thought of Hannah, not only breaking down when her mother was killed, but breaking down during OWLs and creating a flock of flamingos, and being so foolish as to believe Ernie when he said Harry was the Heir of Slytherin. The Hannah he remembered had never shown the ability to be a confident proprietress of her own inn. All this self-assurance must have come from somewhere.
“But?” she urged.
“Nothing.” He had changed too. He had gone from a completely incompetent, near-Squib, to cutting off the head of Voldemort’s snake and becoming an Auror. “We all change.”
“You didn’t see me as assertive before this?” she supplied, seeming to know what he was thinking.
“Yes. But I knew you could do it. You just had to believe in yourself.” And I wonder when that changed, he added silently.
“Neville, when I was a little girl, I had a prominent barrister father, and a mother who was writing romance for the wireless that every witch loved. They both could do anything. They always seemed a little disappointed that I was shy and didn’t really have any stand-out talents. When I went to Hogwarts, I was surrounded with talented witches and wizards. I had to work so hard. But I was a Hufflepuff. I understood working hard for what I wanted. But I still compared myself with everyone else.”
“I couldn’t tell you were shy, but… well, if you were comparing yourself to everyone else, you were a lot like me.”
“Yes, I suppose we were alike that way. But, Neville, I watched you. You were one of the best members in Dumbledore’s Army. Then seventh year, you led it. You were so brave. You were hurt, again and again, but you stood up to them. Just watching you made me feel brave.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Neville started. “I was just Harry’s friend… Harry was the hero, not me.”
“Hippogriff feathers, Neville!” Hannah answered, nearly angry. “You were my hero. You may have fallen from your broom first year, but you got back on. You kept going back to potions even though Snape hated you. You were the one who showed me how to stand up for myself and face what I’m afraid of. Not Harry. He wasn’t there seventh year, standing up to the Death Eaters in the school. You were. He didn’t cut off the head of the snake. You did.”
Neville dared glance at her face and was astonished by what he found in her eyes. He looked down quickly.
“Neville Longbottom, you gave me what my parents couldn’t give me, what Hogwarts couldn’t give me, what all my friends in Hufflepuff couldn’t give me, what Harry Blessed Potter couldn’t give me. You gave me confidence. It was the one thing I had never had. It was what enabled me to dare own my own business. I owe it to you, Neville.”
She stood up and leaned over the table, kissing him softly on the lips. He was too surprised to kiss back at first, but at the moment he finally acknowledged what was happening and returned the kiss, she pulled away. “I’ll be ready Monday. And Tuesday too. And until you can’t stand me, Neville.” She hurried back to the kitchen.
Neville took a deep breath, his heart pounding in his chest unexpectedly. He hadn’t given anyone anything. He hadn’t meant to. He was just doing what had to be done. Just like he’d always done. Harry was gone that year… but, if that’s what it meant to her, then he wasn’t going to tell her otherwise. His fingers went to his lips where she had kissed him. Did Hannah realize what a gift she’d just given him? Probably not, but it was worth waiting seven years for. He smiled and put a Galleon on the table for his meal, strolling out the door with a new lightness in his step.