Neville stumbled on the dark, uneven stairs. Sure enough, as he passed the landlady's door, it opened a crack.
"Good evening, Mrs. Lambert," He mumbled as he continued up the next flight. He could feel her eye him as he climbed. The only light came from his wand. Mrs. Lambert didn't think gas was worth wasting in the stairwells.
He hated this place. But it was all he could find. After the war, wizarding housing was hard to come by. So many homes had been destroyed. He should feel grateful there was an opening here in this dismal dump. But he didn't. He missed his old home. He missed his Gran. He missed life as it was, not how it will be.
He sighed, as if to banish the negative thoughts away. His magical key slid into the lock and the door opened onto his rooms. Trying not to see the mess, he waved the wand at the wall sconce and it came to a weak light. Lighting the other three, and the room was finally bright enough to push most of the depressing shadows away.
Neville set the bag of groceries on the table and pulled his cloak off. Flinging it on a chair, he turned to the tiny kitchenette in the nook, only to find the pile of dishes still unwashed. With a sigh, he rolled up his sleeves and turned the water on. He wasn't used to housekeeping. Oh, Gran taught him, but their house elf, Jettie, wouldn't let him lift a finger if he could help it. But Jettie was with his Uncle and Aunt because Mrs. Lambert thought house elves were nasty creatures and didn't want them in her place.
Two more weeks to go. Two weeks until training starts. Then three weeks in the dorms. After that, he has this place to come back to. The next few years seemed a bit…he couldn't think of a word. Dull, bleak, unending, lonely. Lonely, that was the main one. If he could get through the next year of training, then the next year with the internship, he'd be able to afford a real place to live.
He had placed Longbottom house for sale in muggle ads, but as soon as someone in the ministry knew, he received an offer right away. St. Mungo's Hospital was looking for a place in the country to expand it's long term facilities. Too many cursed injuries and patients that might never integrate in society again. His parents were among them. Longbottom house would be a healthy place for them to live and for some-maybe recuperate. The hospital itself could use the ward for other patients.
The sale had happened so quickly, that Neville didn't have much time to vacate. Furnishings went with the house. Personal possessions were stuffed in the tiny shed on the property. He kept with him only what he absolutely needed. It all fit in his old school trunk.
After all debts and taxes were dealt with, the money was more than he planned on, but it was placed in investments and savings. Who knew what the future held. He had to stand on his own two feet.
With the last dish rinsed and placed on the open shelf, Neville turned back to the groceries, still on the table. All of a sudden, the idea of boiling an egg and heating a tin of beans was just too much. He grabbed his cloak and did what he did twice already this week and went to the Leaky Cauldron.
The noise, the people, the real food. Just what he needed.
"Oi, Neville!" Ron shouted from across the large room. Sitting with him were Hermione, Harry and Ginny.
They scrunched together closer and Harry grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table. "Join us!" Harry said and patted the back of the chair.
"I thought you'd still be in Italy." Neville said as he settled in.
"We got back last night." Hermione said with a little grin. "We just finished school shopping." She motioned to a little black, beaded bag.
Neville raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. For all he knew, she had half of Diagon Alley in there. He'd heard of stranger things.
"So, what brings you out tonight? I heard you sold your house while we were gone." Harry set his empty glass down and wiped his chin.
"Yeah, to St. Mungo's. I just have a case of the glooms." Neville said with a wry grin.
"The glooms? Is it contagious?" Ginny picked up a chip and ate, waiting for her answer.
"I hope not. No, my new flat is terrible, and I can't stand to be there any longer than I have to." He waved towards the bar and saw their old schoolmate, Hannah Abbott weave across the floor.
"Hey Nev., What can I get you?" She said with a tired smile.
"What's the special tonight? Is it fish and chips?" He asked, feeling more hungry than he ought to.
"Yep, every Friday night. That and butterbeer?" At his nod, she turned with a wink and went back to the kitchen.
"So, Neville, tell us more of your glooms." Ginny touched his hand and he realized he had been caught staring after Hannah.
"Oh, yeah. Um, not many places to let nowadays. I took what I could get." He sighed, trying not to let his dinner companions feels his glooms.
"Where are you?" Hermione asked.
"A place just a few blocks from here."
"Oh Merlin, not the Lambert place." Ron looked ill at the idea.
"You know of it?" Neville was curious.
"My brother Bill stayed there for a few months when he started at Gringotts. He said that he got out of there as soon as he could. Dismal place. Makes Grimmauld place at it's worse seem like a palace." Ron explained.
"Yeah, that describes it. But it's just temporary. After training, I'll find something better."
"After tr… Neville, that's over a year!" Ginny turned to Harry and raised her eyebrows. Some unspoken communication was happening, but Neville turned away out of politeness.
He looked around, to find Hannah doing a dance-like move to avoid a rowdy group of kids. Her tray was high above her head.
"Here you go, Nev. Eat up. Can I get you guys anything else?" She looked around. Harry held up his empty glass, while Ron pointed to his cleared plate. "A butterbeer and another fish and chips? Or would you rather have a big slice of custard pie? It's chocolate tonight."
"I'll take one." Ginny said, she was always up for chocolate. Ron and Harry both agreed but Ron held up two fingers.
"Four pies, and you too?" She looked at Neville with a smile, no longer tired.
He nearly choked on his first bite of hot fish. *Cough*, "Uh, that sounds great."
Neville forced himself not to watch her walk away. Getting caught once was bad enough, but twice would be too much.
Neville noticed Harry nod, as if the interrupted conversation was settled, "Neville. I, er, we have an idea. We have three empty rooms. No rent and good food. What do you think?" Harry ate the last chip on his plate and looked expectantly.
"Think about what?" Did he hear right?
Ginny gave a half laugh, "We can't let you live with the glooms. Move in with us."
Neville sat there. He didn't eat, he didn't dare to breath. "You mean it?" He asked, looking all around the table. "You're still on your honeymoon."
"Luna's there. What's one more?" Ron shrugged his shoulders.
They were interrupted again by Hannah with yet another tray. When she had left, Neville again had to think of a reply.
"Can I have Jettie?" He asked, feeling stupid. What a silly question to ask.
"What's Jettie?" Ginny said before she dug into her pastry.
"His house elf." Hermione said, stealing a bite from Ron's plate. "Where is Jettie now?"
"With my Uncle and Aunt. Mrs. Lambert won't let an elf in her place."
"Of course you can have Jettie. In fact, Kreature could use the help." Ginny smiled, whether at the thought of him joining them, or at the pie, he didn't know.
"I…I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll join us. How long will it take you to pack?" Harry had set his spoon down and looked at him, daring him to turn down the offer.
He made the decision. "Would an hour be alright?"
"Good, in the meantime, eat up." Hermione reached into her bag and brought out a scrap of parchment and her ever-ready quill. She handed them over to Ginny who scribbled quickly. When Hanna was close by again, Hermione flagged her down. "Please, could you floo this to Grimmauld Place for us?" She slipped the note into Hannah's hand along with several sickles. This was a common service available at the Inn.
"Sure. Give me a few minutes and I'll get right to it." She pocketed it and turned to clear the nearest table.
As they were finishing the final bites, Hannah came back with a return note and the check. Harry pulled out his wallet while Ginny read the note out loud.
"Mistress and Master, A room will be made ready on the third floor, back. Jettie will be pleased to meet his master at 12 Grimmauld Place after packing his master's belongings.
"Well, I guess it's settled." Neville leaned back and smiled.
"Welcome to the family, Neville.