"Hey, Wonder Boy, wake up!" a low, sultry yet annoyed voice said loudly in John Hercules' ear.
He groaned and slowly lifted his head off of the table. His eyes were blurry, but he was able to make out the slender shape of Madam Meg Ara, the highly sarcastic and quick-witted owner of the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, as well as the love of Hercules' life.
"Mmmm...morning, Meg," he grumbled, rubbing his throbbing head. He didn't think he drank enough to induce a headache. But, then again, he supposed it could have been the fact that he fell asleep on an old, worn bar table.
Meg rolled her eyes and magicked a cup of coffee. He mumbled a thanks and took a sip.
It was then that he remembered he only had one drink before passing out on the bar table, too weary from the night before to make it up the stairs to the private apartments he shared with Meg.
Meg sat down next to him and reached for his free hand. He looked up and saw the question in her eyes before she even said it out loud.
"John...what happened last night?" she asked quietly.
Hercules set his cup down, and rested his newly freed hand on top of hers.
"Lucinda sent me to Godric's Hallow to retrieve something," he answered.
Meg lifted an eyebrow and stared at him dubiously. Hercules avoided her gaze and a heavy silence fell between them.
Suddenly, Hercules felt a biting pain dig into his hand. He yelped and pulled both his hands back. He rubbed them in an effort to alleviate the pain as Meg shot him an accusing glare.
"Well? Are you going to tell me what this 'something' is that took you halfway across the country and all night to get, if you even did retrieve it?" she demanded.
Hercules sighed. Hesitantly, he reached for her hands. When she didn't pull them away, he brought her hands closer to him and kissed her knuckles.
"Meg, I really wish I could. But the less you know about it, the safer it will be for you," he released one of her hands to stroke her cheek. "I can't lose you. Not again." he admitted in a whisper.
Meg's hard, violet eyes softened. She relented and gave him an understanding nod.
"I also went to a very tiny village close to Godric's Hallow to follow Adam de la Bête," he added later.
"Excuse me?" she said, once again becoming defensive.
"You know Lucinda keeps tabs on the him. When Forte informed her that he disappeared again, she located him and asked me to check up on him," he explained.
"And?" she urged.
"And to get him out of any trouble he might find himself in. Which he didn't," Hercules ran a hand through his hair. "He's with one of the students...um...what's her name...she's a Ravenclaw, and honestly one of the brightest witches I've seen in years..."
"You mean Belle French?"
"Yes! Belle French. Nothing to worry about,"
Meg chuckled and stood up. She walked behind the bar and started taking inventory. "For her, maybe. But for Adam? He hasn't got a prayer,"
Hercules laughed as well. "Yeah, I guess you're right,"
It was quiet once again. Hercules drank his coffee while Meg got the pub ready for the day.
"You know, I'm not upset about Lucinda Powers sending you off on a mission," Meg admitted suddenly.
Hercules turned in his seat towards where she was standing behind him. He looked up at her quizzically.
"I understand why she sent you. Especially with the Sea Witch returning...I get it," she said. "I'm upset because I wanted to spend Christmas with you. Because I missed you."
He nodded. Then he stood up and pulled Meg into his arms.
"I know. I'm sorry."
Hercules felt hot tears seep into his shirt.
As he held her, Hercules recalled the years before he taught at Hogwarts, when he was still, in many ways, a student himself.
At the time, the Sea Witch wasn't in power yet. Instead, it was uncle, Matthias Hades, who held the wizarding world in his dark grasp. He wasn't quite as evil as she was, but he certainly frightened people enough that no one stood up to him. Not even Hercules' father and the Minister of Magic at the time, Zeus Hercules. John Hercules was barely out of Hogwarts when he had no choice to end his uncle's tyranny. It took a few years, and many missed holidays with Meg, when they were still sweethearts.
After Hades was finally imprisoned in Azkaban, he promised Meg that he would never miss another Christmas again.
Hercules realized that, nearly fifteen years later, he broke that promise.