That’s not true… he thinks as he fidgets with his starched collar and tries to ignore the squeak of his shoes on the cobblestones of Diagon Alley.
Not all change. He likes to see the seasons change, for instance. The first shoots of spring and the turning leaves of autumn, those changes aren’t bad. They’re welcomed—new and exciting. They hold promise. And he likes change when he knows in his gut it’s right—like rebelling against the Carrows, going underground, fighting—those things were right and he knew it deep down in his marrow. So that sort of decision isn’t difficult. It’s necessary and good.
The type of change that he doesn’t care for is the kind that’s unexpected. Change that pushes him out of his comfort zone, and comes on suddenly. Change that has him stretching for something that he’s not quite sure he’s capable of—change that makes his gut roll over in nausea and say ‘wait, hold up a minute’.
That’s the sort of change he’s not fond of.
But he’s agreed to it. He’s agreed to change—and there is no going back now. And even though he’s as nervous as hell, he’s not sure that he really wants to go back anyway. Because, really, he knows he can do it. It’s just different… unexpected… this change.
Neville ignores the shaking of his hand as he runs it through his hair and glances at his pocket watch. His visit to the flower shop had taken hardly any time. A puff of air escapes his lips. A good two hours to kill—no need to have heart palpations. Yet.
Professor Sprout’s decision to retire came as a surprise to Neville. He thought for certain that she would continue teaching until the day she died, but apparently she and her husband thought differently. Borneo. They decided to move to Borneo. She said it was because of the interesting flora, her husband said it was because of the tropical climate. Either way, they were moving.
The last week had been a flurry. Monday, Neville had found out that Professor Sprout was retiring. Tuesday, he had been asked to give a toast during cocktails at her retirement banquet on Friday. Wednesday, he’d been told by the now-retired Professor McGonagall that he would be saying a few words between dinner and dessert as well. Thursday, he’d been fitted for new dress robes and today, the new Headmaster of Hogwarts had arrived on his cottage doorstep to ask him in person if he might consider filling the newly vacated position. Flustered by the sudden offer, Neville had accepted without thinking.
But now he’s thinking. He is thinking about it a lot.
Several couples bustle by him, dressed for an evening out, and he tugs on his starched collar. His tie feels uncomfortably tight, his shirt scratchy, and his shoes squeak. All combined, these are not good omens. He fusses with his collar again, and knows that since he isn’t twelve he should find a spot to fix them—a loo, somewhere?
The Leaky Cauldron.
The wooden sign rattles on its metal bracket, catching the last orange rays of the summer sun. The pub has a loo. And alcohol. Perhaps a drink wouldn’t be a bad thing. Calming, really. He’ll Floo to Hogwarts when it’s time.
He pulls open the heavy oak door and it swings open to a rush of air and a wave of laughing conversation. China tinkles in the background and the smell of braised lamb and roasted potatoes hangs thick on the air, enticing his tongue to tingle. The room is lit with twinkling lamps and packed with people, most at tables heaving with food, but others stand, mingling around the full and crackling fireplaces sipping on their tankards of mead.
Something is different—although, he can’t quite place it. Cleaner, maybe? Brighter somehow? It certainly smells better.
He spins on his heel and is surprised but pleased.
Her midnight robes make her skin glow like porcelain and her eyes shine bright like robin’s eggs. With elbows akimbo, her smile is radiant, and without warning she rushes to give him a bone-crushing hug.
“How are you?”
Neville feels her press against him and the tips of his ears go red.
“Fine—just fine, thanks.” He gently pats her back, but his fingers tangle in the straps of the apron that he hadn’t noticed she was wearing. He detangles himself. “You?”
“Perfect.” She beams before pulling him by the arm over to a seat at the bar. Retrieving a rag from her apron pocket, she wipes off the seat before gesturing for him to sit and drags another bar stool up beside him.
Neville blinks before sitting.
“Are you—are you working here now?”
Her laugh is bright and airy as she leans towards him as if to tell him a great secret.
“I own it.”
“You—what? The Leaky Cauldron?” His amazement travels from his lungs to his head. “Wow, that’s fantastic!”
“Tom wanted to retire and my aunt—I don’t think you’ve ever met her—heard about it. She knew that I might be interested and so here I am.”
Hannah’s eyes sparkle as she glances over at the barmaid wiping down the bar. “Marie, would you bring us two butterbeers, please?”
Marie complies with a smile and Hannah pushes one into Neville’s hand. He willingly takes a long swig. It tastes sweet on his tongue. It’s comfortable, familiar, and he feels his tension draining away. “This is just what I needed.”
Hannah’s smile turns to a grin.
There is a startling clatter of dishes behind them and Hannah’s gaze darts to its source. Neville tries to follow but is flustered by the brush of her knees on his thigh, and he can only look awkwardly over his left shoulder without displacing her, not willing to move another inch. Her knees stay there, pressed just so—but she is distracted by something else, craning her neck scanning the room and Neville puzzles. Everyone seems happy—the waitresses are jovial, the patrons are contentedly digging into their food. No one is upset, yet Hannah still chews her lip. Neville watches her worried expression for only a moment longer before turning back to his drink and clearing his voice.
“The place looks great, you know. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this busy—or remember it ever smelling—” he takes a deep breath, filling his lungs, “—so delicious.”
“You think so?” She sits back onto her chair and Neville feels the absence of her knees. Her lip is still pale from where she was biting it. “Do you like it?”
“What? The Leaky Cauldron? How could I not like it?”
“It’s just that I’ve changed so much.” She budges towards him on her chair. “I mean, people like the familiar, don’t they? I’ve changed the food—the lighting—the silverware. Not to mention the rooms—the linens are fussy—the mattresses are new—”
“Hannah, please.” Neville cuts her off, never more confident about anything. “Look around—people are laughing, enjoying themselves—you’ve made them feel welcome here. The changes you’ve made are all for the better. Seriously.”
Her few scant freckles stretch across her cheeks and her eyes brighten at this.
She takes a sip of her butterbeer before tilting her chin.
“You look sharp,” she says simply, pressing a hand over his collar, smoothing it. Her fingers are nimble, light and quick until suddenly she gasps, her eyes widening. “Oh! I’m not keeping you from something, am I? Were you on your way to some big formal thing when I dragged you over here for a drink—oh god,” she slips off her stool as if ready to usher him to the door, “do you need to go?”
Neville laughs despite himself. “No. I came in here to get a drink.”
“Really?” Hannah raises her eyebrows, sinking back onto her bar stool. “In formal robes?”
“Yes, really.” Neville smiles before turning to study his bottle, twisting it in his hands. “I’m headed up to the school in a little bit. Professor Sprout is retiring. There’s a formal banquet. I’ve been asked to speak and I’m—well, I—I’m even supposed to offer a toast.”
“Oh.” She pauses, biting her lip as if trying to keep her smile in check. “Neville, you’ll be fine. Trust me. It’s the school; you’re a great hero there. They won’t care what you say. You could sing the alphabet if you wanted to.”
“Yeah, Professor McGonagall would love that.”
Hannah laughs, and Neville smiles, secretly pleased.
“I bought her a corsage—Professor Sprout. Would you like to see it?”
His words are awkward on his lips, rushed, but he pulls the delicately arranged item out of his pocket anyway so that she can see. It looks foreign to him now, too fancy and not earthy enough. It needs more twigs like Professor Sprout.
She leans over the bar and barely touches the pale colored tissue wrap. “A Stargazer?”
He nods. “The professor—well, you see, she moans constantly, saying that Stargazers are ostentatious—too showy, but then as soon as she smells one she sighs—quite happily, actually. Always.”
Hannah’s hair falls over her shoulder as she bends forward, and he watches how her eyes flutter closed when she inhales the blossom. And he can smell it too, though this time only an imprint from memory.
She smiles softly, glancing up at him.
“She was very lucky to have you as a student.” She sits back, and her hair catches on her shoulder, splaying across her collar bone. The ends fall softly against her neckline with one lock curling beneath it. “She’ll love it. It smells beautiful.”
He can only nod.
“Do you know who’s filling her position at school next term?”
Neville clears his throat, and takes another swig of his drink. He hasn’t told anyone yet. Not even Gran.
“I am.” His voice sounds raspy, uncertain, to his ears.
“You’ll be brilliant.”
“You think so?” He searches her face, suddenly needing to know.
Her smile stretches wide like a bloom in full blossom and she leans toward him, her expression as earnest as ever.
And the way she looks at him makes his head spin and chest swell with confidence and before he can catch himself he breathes her name and it soothes like a healing balm.
She gazes at him expectantly and Neville finds it hard to swallow. He hadn’t come here for this… hadn’t been expecting…
“Hannah, would you—would you like to come to Hogwarts with me tonight?” he follows it quickly, nearly blurting “—I mean, if you’re not too busy? I don’t have a date, and it’d be nice… ” to spend more time with you.
As quickly as it came, his confidence wanes; even worse, he feels the heat rise on his cheeks. Blasted poor delivery… too hasty, too quick… she’s obviously working.
Hannah bites her lip, but her cheeks are pink and her eyes dance. She glances over at Marie, who’s calmly going about her job, and then looks back at Neville. She nods with a smile.
“I’d love to.”
Relief washes over him like a calming breeze and his toes warm as if he’s just sunk them into an inviting tropical sand. She stands, brushing his knee lightly with her hand.
“Let me just go chat with Marie a minute.”
Before he can say anything else, she’s behind the bar and speaking with Marie and Neville grins, twisting his butterbeer in his hands, pretending to study the bottle but ignoring it completely. So this is what it feels like… this tender shoot of a feeling… change… it’s different, but welcome. And while this comes unexpectedly, it feels right… this… this… her… and maybe it’s time. It certainly could be time. Definitely time. After all, seasons change.
And who knew? Who knew that the turning of leaves could be so easy? Effortless, really.
Hannah returns, radiant, and Neville smiles, taking her outstretched hand.
Never more simple than that.
Author’s Note: I’ve finally bowed to the inevitable and written Neville/Hannah, but I’ve found that I quite like Hannah… she owns the Leaky Cauldron, for goodness sake!
Special thanks to Sherylyn who put up with all my little tweaks and edits, and even more thanks to those of you who enjoy Neville as much as I do. Couldn’t you just squeeze him?