Summary: Despite their worldly accomplishments, longtime friends Neville and Hannah are missing one thing in their lives.
Disclaimer: Hannah and Neville belong to Rowling.
"According to my students, you're 'The New Rosmerta,'" clearing his throat to be rid of its slight squeak, Professor Neville Longbottom shuffled to the bar without looking up once. His arms were laden with a variety of items and articles and it was that he was focused on, therefore he didn't notice the cat he nearly tread over, nor the old Witch he almost mowed down. His grey eyes were aimed on the glass tub of plant-life in his arms, the satchel's hanging from his shoulders, and the bag to the left, where the contents—a vine cutting of some kind—were starting to sneak its way out of its confines.
Therefore it was that his appearance was the least of his worries, hat askew, robes singed and steaming slightly. He still wore a pair of well-used wellington boots, thereby tracking mud in, and Hannah bit her lip at the rant which was to occur once Maude caught sight of the "filth" he'd tracked onto "her" floor.
Hannah Abbott didn't mind. Neville had always been a distracted fellow, even in school, and floors could always be swept and mopped.
It wasn't as though he'd dropped a flesh-eating potion either—it was just harmless old dirt.
The barmaid drew forth his 'usual,' a golden-hued butterbeer in a tall tankard, as she finally responded, "well, that certainly explains the sudden drop in age of my would-be beus."
He froze in his movements, water tank safely deposited and the strap of one bag half over his head, then stared, "they haven't been, ah, um…have they?"
She laughed shortly, "of course not. Those questions are usually saved for my soused guests. Which belong to the group of 'Fat, Bald, and Toothless.' Still, it's nice to hear things from a younger crowd. Every woman likes compliments, even if it's only as practice for the girls they really fancy."
"Are you so sure about that?" he asked wryly, continuing to extricate himself. A job that was significantly more difficult with the escaping plant trying to wend its way around his wrist. Abbott laughed and reached out a hand down the familiar leaves, calming the self-aware cutting, before she helped him out of his predicament.
"So sure about what?"
"About every woman enjoying compliments. Because I'm fairly certain that compliments shouldn't make a girl cry, I imagine."
Her lips twitched with amusement.
"Moaning Myrtle still causing trouble for you, then?"
He shot her an unamused glance, "what do you think?"
The question drew her upright, one finger tapping her cheek in mock-thought, "I think that Moaning Myrtle has set her sights on the only handsome man in the vicinity who is either unwilling or unable to run away at the end of the year."
The stare he gave her was almost painfully confused, "Hannah. I'm not handsome."
The blonde snorted carelessly, "tell that to the gaggle of Ravenclaws that came through last week. They were absolutely certain that their Herbology teacher was the 'most handsome, most gentlemanly man they had ever met.'"
His shock turned into an angry flush, one finger reaching back to scratch a cowlick at his hairline, "you shouldn't tease me, Hannah."
"I'm not!" she exclaimed indignantly, summoning a rag and cleaning solution to wipe down the counter with, "they actually said that. Of course, it helps that you're a gentleman and all the boys their age are prats. And that, generally, you have difficulty saying no," she added, "which is probably the allure that Myrtle is drawn to."
He breathed in a good third of his drink, before gasping for breath and stating, with some asperity, "so you're saying that I should emulate Snape and that'll get them off my back?"
"No, I'm not," the former Hufflepuff rolled her eyes and sighed, "I'm saying that kindness—especially gentlemanly kindness, means more than looks. More than half of my house was in love with Cedric Diggory, but it wasn't because he was nice to look at—okay, only slightly so," she temporized, "but it was mostly because he was nice. And hardworking. An example to everyone. And when I think about him, it's that warm, buttery feeling that I focus on and remember. Is it really such a bad thing to be thought of that way, Neville?"
"No, I suppose not," he muttered bashfully.
"Good," reaching up to remove his tall Wizarding hat, she ruffled his hair before replacing it. Which actually seemed to improve the look, she decided, making him appear rakish instead of just disheveled.
It was then that he finally raised his nose up from the bar enough to look around, gaping, "Hannah…what have you done with the place. Erm," realizing what he'd said and to whom he'd said it, both of her arms now crossed, he instantly backtracked, "I mean it looks lovely—practically shines like a night-blooming Star-Plant."
"Nice save there, Neville," she teased, "and what I did to it was what I've wanted to do for years—make it feel like home. Or, at least, the one place I've ever felt at home."
He turned wondering eyes back to her, "so then, this…this is…"
"Very much like Hufflepuff's common, yes," she beamed, and seemed more than willing to wait as he examined each nook and cranny.
Well, everything was immaculately clean, for one, from the worn tables to the rafters above. The ever-present blackening of soot had been scrubbed out and, with a fresh coat of varnish, the furniture practically glowed.
The pub's ratty armchairs had been reupholstered in rich brown leather and the flowery blue of forget-me-nots. The flagstones were clean, and in places where wood and tile were missing they'd been replaced with colorful cousins, making a pale mosaic of the stonework.
Auburn lampshades perched proudly upon cheerful amber lamps, completing the yellow-red-blue color scheme, and the high-hanging windows had been cleared of filth. Revealing a surprising array of simple stained glass pieces.
"How…how did you do it?"
"Elbow grease, mostly. Although I had a lot of help," she coughed and conspiratorially lowered her voice, "borrowed a few of the Hogwarts House Elves that liked me best—with permission, of course. And paid them for their time in a currency they appreciated—recipes," she grinned mischievously, "don't tell Hermione, though. She's sure to blow a gasket."
He was tempted to ask what a gasket was, but instead remarked, "well, that certainly explains why Flon couldn't attend on me for all those months."
"Yes, Flon helped organize the rest, so he was somewhat necessary. Good news is that he likes serving you, though, so you should take that as a compliment."
She paused a moment to fill up a Regular's glass, before the wizened man retreated to his own corner. By then Neville had bypassed his heated flush enough to come up with a response.
"I'm only treating them decently. It's not that big of a d-deal."
"I might not agree with Hermione on everything, but she's right about the state of House Elf oppression within their life of servitude. You might be doing the 'decent thing,' but you're really in the minority. You have to at least face that reality, Neville—not all Witches and Wizards are nice to those who are below them in station or magical ability."
"Well, what about you, then?" he asked shortly, "you said that you had the help of the ones that liked you best, and that has to mean fair treatment."
"Yeah but I'm a Hufflepuff," she said simply, as though that explained everything, "why do you think that ours was the only House near the kitchens? Because the founders knew that we would never abuse the privilege or treat the elves ill."
"I always did want to see the inside of Hufflepuff house," he murmured, distracted once more his eyes roved over the hearty fire and content atmosphere, "I mean, I wondered about it. Because I always imagined I'd be Hufflepuff."
"I can see that," she leaned forward on her elbows, "and I admit that a few of us wondered, too. But overall the Sorting Hat was right—Gryffindor suits you."
He flushed, ducking his head and not sure how to respond to that from his longtime friend.
"I'm just trying to be the man that Gran would have me be. And Professor Lupin."
"I imagine it's more Lupin than your Gran," she stated with some dryness. Her tone softened seconds later, "but I can definitely say that you're the kind of Professor he would be proud of."
Paying no mind as his head darted up to stare at her, she changed the subject, "anyway, there's no need to see the Hufflepuff House now. Not when you can see it here," she waved a hand at the building interior, "minus the rounded doors, of course. Hufflepuff is rather like a Hobbit hole, in that way."
"Hobbit hole?" Neville repeated, sipping his butterbeer.
"It's from this Muggle fantasy book," she said, smiling slightly, "Mum…Mum and Da used to read them to me before bed. When I was young, I mean. You might like them—there's this gardener in them as well, in the main series of novels, anyway."
"Maybe when I'm not so busy," he responded dryly, "I never imagined that being a Professor would involve so much work. I love it, I really do. But if I thought that it was painful writing essays, I never realized how difficult it was reading them. In duplicate."
"Far better that they work on projects, then?"
"Not with my plants, they won't," he grumbled, making her laugh.
It was then that Old Tom came by, nodding respectfully to the Professor before turning to the blonde, "I'll just start turning the Cauldron in for the night then, eh Boss?"
She laughed quietly, "thank you, that's fine, Tom."
When she turned back to Neville Longbottom it was to find his eyebrows peaked and mouth opened, "w-what was that about, then? What did he mean by, 'Boss'?"
"Hadn't you heard?" she asked, amused, "it was in the Daily Prophet for weeks."
When he shook his head Hannah pulled up her shoulders and shrugged, "well, you're not the only one who's been working non-stop, you know. So. I saved up my Knuts and bought the place from Tom."
Hearing his name from across the room, he gave her a gap-toothed smile.
"So I guess you could say that I really am the 'New Rosmerta,'" Abbott said with the tiniest bit of a smirk and mischievous eyes, "of course, I haven't really had an evening off since then, and I've been rather busy putting the place back together now that I have the means to do it."
The former-barmaid broke off as she glanced at him, a fond look overtaking the feminine features. He may have grown a foot or two, gained a few edges and a leanness of form, but in many ways he was the same old round-faced Neville Longbottom she'd met on the train.
"I'm really proud of you, Hannah."
She blushed charmingly, tucking a golden strand back into the mass of curls upon her head, "and I you, Neville. Although we are undoubtedly the most unattached of our peers, accomplishments aside."
He groaned, running a scarred hand over his face, "don't remind me! It's the topic of conversation every time I visit Gran. 'Why aren't you married yet?' 'Why haven't you settled down with a pretty young thing by now?' 'Why is it that all your mates are wed or have bairns in their arms, yet you haven't dated in over a year?'"
The harpy-ish mockery came to a halt as Neville froze, belatedly realizing whom his audience entailed. Mortified, the Professor dropped his head into his hands, "scratch that last bit."
"Well," Hannah began sharply, "I'm sure that one of those Ravenclaws would have you, should you be willing to wait four more years."
He lifted his head up just enough to glare at her from between his fingers, "I just knew it was those third-years. Were their names Desmena, Flora, and Agnes, by chance?"
"They didn't say," remarked cheekily, tongue-in-cheek, "but if it's any consolation, despite my numerous wedding proposals," Hannah beamed as he scowled once more, "I haven't had more than two dates all this year. Not that my Da seems to mind—all things considered, I think he's rather glad that he has me all to himself. The Cauldron takes up enough of my time as it is. Not that he's not proud—he loves what I've done with the place, the perfect mix of magical and mundane."
She swelled at the memory his words, joy suffusing her being. Neville dropped his hands and straightened at the sight of it, love changing her so that she not just glimmered but shone, her hair lit by candlelight.
Just like a night-blooming Star-Plant.
Neville Longbottom swallowed harshly, breath caught and heart racing. At least the trembling he could mask by bringing his drink to his lips.
"But, you're right, a successful career—even carving a place for ourselves out in the world—doesn't mean that either of us is successful at love. Apparently," her words brought him down to earth, "not that I mind. And maybe, this way, we can work on it being our next big goal in life. Finding someone, I mean," her lashes seemed long and full in that moment, bow-shaped lips pink and devoid of augmentation. Logically Neville was aware that she had developed into a rather pretty young woman, but this was the first time he'd…
Well, the first time he'd taken in her parts as a whole. Round cheeks had become rosy, leading into a heart-shaped face. Light green eyes—green like grass, like the fields surrounding his favorite Greenhouse—were flecked with slightly darker striations and the lightest hint of caramel in their centers. Trademark pigtails had become an intricate confection at the back of her head, curls framing her face and escaping the confines of a Muggle hairclip.
She'd once been small and round, like him, but in growing up she'd filled out, the softness of her form shifting with time. Her arms were smooth and soft, but subtly strong from scrubbing, hands calloused. But they were still so tiny that the juxtaposition struck him then—that he could probably envelope one of her hands in his and completely hide it from view.
Comparing Hannah Abbott to his own size, she was practically diminutive. But she was in no way 'delicate'—after all, he'd seen her spell-work in action.
It was a very odd feeling, what with all those realizations.
The next words he spoke cleared past his brain's censor, alarms somehow shut off.
"Why didn't we ever…you and me…?"
She chuckled lightly, "that really is the question of the day, isn't it?" Hannah pulled him in for a quick hug before brushing her lips against his stubbly cheek, "I'll see you later, Neville."
He gaped at her as the scent of apples and cleaning lemon wafted after her. The same combination he'd picked up all those years ago, upon smelling the cauldron of Amortentia Hermione had been determined to get right.
AN: So! This was just supposed to be the first part of another story, but kind of, um, morphed into its own, somewhat similar but not-entirely-the-same story. And then I realized that, while the dialogue between the two was alike, this was the better-written fanfic. From there deciding which one to publish was a fairly obvious choice.
It's definitely a plotless bit of exposition, I'll give you that, but I enjoyed the friendly banter that went back and forth between Neville and Hannah.