Because I know how much Charlotte loves Hannah. :-P Seriously guys, tell me if this makes ANY sense without the whole context of the last ten years background of the break up and Neville's revenge shenanigans with Luna and Lavender which are all still pretty much only in my head...
Kind of rough and scratchy, unbetaed.
“A gillywater, please.’ Hannah paid for her drink and turned to survey the dim interior of The Leaky Cauldron. In the cool dimness of late afternoon, the pub was almost empty,a far cry from the halcyon days following Voldemort’s defeat, more than a decade ago, when traders and Ministry workers, young and old, had taken frequent long lunches and early evenings, time off from rebuilding the economy to rebuild other things, in the security and company of friends and colleagues.There had been many changes since then—in her own life, and in other ways.
Without thinking about it, she found herself gravitating towards a particular table, a tiny circular one tucked away behind a pillar with a strategic view of both exits. She sipped her beer, closing her eyes to savour the faint fizz on her tongue, and let memory take its course.
In her mind’s eye, her father, dead of a heart attack six months before her marriage, faced her across the table. It had been twelve years or more, but for a moment she could see him, leaning in and frowning in concentration, hanging on the words of a tall, balding man in glasses seated to his left.
Arthur Weasley, according to the letter she had received while still in Cairo, was ‘thriving’ following his appointment as Minister for Home and International Muggle Affairs. Thinking about her friend and mentor, a nostalgic smile crept across her face for her time working at the Ministry of Magic after the war. She had relished the quiet days spent poring over dark Objects, enjoyed putting together the reports that could, with painstaking work salvaging traces of their use, help lead to a conviction. Unfortunately, method hadn’t always been enough.
She took another gulp, the brief rush of affection for the good old days dissipating into the familiar bitterness of regret, the alcohol mingling with the sour taste of failure in her mouth. Difficult and dangerous though it had been, Hannah had found satisfaction in her work. If she’d been able to stay quietly in her cubbyhole of an office, left to her own devices to control the levels of exposure and her own response to them, she might have survived longer. However, in the chaotic and unpredictable months and years following Voldemort’s death, the careful, even tenor of her days had been constantly interrupted by bright and jarring spasms of excitement, sent out to the field to support the Auror teams in scouring the countryside for evidence of Dark infestation. Those excursions had exposed her to high levels of dark magic many times over, shortening her days in Object Analysis and, eventually, putting an end to her Ministry career.
Across the table, on Hannah’s left, was a third empty stool. Eyes still closed, she stretched out her hand, feeling the grain of the table top under her fingers.If she just reached a little further, he would be… Hannah sighed, opened her eyes. Neville wasn’t here, not even in her imagination. He would never be ‘here’ again. The thought of him brought only cold resentment or searing shame– either emotion cauterised her memory as effectively as an Obliviation spell.
A gust of cold air blew in from the open door to Charing Cross Road. Hannah froze, disbelieving the evidence of her own eyes. Head and shoulders framed in the low doorway, Neville was staring straight at her. He didn’t look happy to see her. In fact, he appeared to be backing straight out of the door onto the busy pavement he had just left.
“Mind my foot!” The voice was as familiar to Hannah as the expression on Neville’s face. “Neville, get inside, it’s freezing ut here.”
Recovered, Neville stepped towards her, determination in his eyes. As he approached her table, she noticed grey threads in his thick brown hair, and a deeper frown line between the dark brows than had been there the last time she’d seen him,several months earlier, in the diplomatic compound in Cairo’s wizarding quarter. Not that she’d been in a fit state to notice much then, eight months pregnant, out of her mind with worry and about to go into early labour. Hannah sat up straight, and took a deep breath. “Hi, Neville, Hermione,” she said nervously.
“Oh my goodness, Hannah, I heard you were coming, but I didn’t expect to see you here! I was going to Floo you.” Hermione sounded breathless, and looked from friend to the other anxiously. “When did you get back into town?”
“Last night. I’ve been staying in Cornwall, with Susan and Justin during the last four months, since I left Egypt.”
Neville cleared his throat, and, without greeting or preamble said abruptly, “I –I heard what happened. I’m s – sorry…”
Hannah’s heart sank. Please God, let it not be the talk of...
Hermione interrupted her catastrophic train of thought. “I told him. The separation has been in the papers. Nothing else. Have you seen Ernie?”
Hannah flushed. “Not since I came back to England. We agreed it was for the best.”
“I was concerned about your health,” Neville said. “Considering how things were last time we met.” The formality of his words hurt more than the way he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
Unable to respond to this, Hannah returned to Hermione’s earlier statement. “We’re not separated.” To the people she cared about—had once cared about—everything had to be clear, out in the open. They looked at her questioningly. “We’re divorced. The decree absolute came through last week.”
“Oh.” Hermione didn’t look embarrassed, just sad. “I didn’t realise things had got that far.” Tears sprang to Hannah’s eyes for what she had done, how many she had hurt, not only herself and Ernie, but all the people who had survived that terrible time, and loved them both. Neville, as red as Hannah, pushed back his stool and headed for the bar, muttering something about another round.
She made an effort to move the conversation onto less sticky ground. “How’s Ron?” she asked. “And the kids?”
“Very well, thank you. Don’t change the subject. Are you well? I mean, properly? What are your plans now?”
“I’m all right.” Hannah knew how not all right she looked and sounded, and that Hermione wasn’t Susie and wouldn’t be fooled. She rushed on, before her friend could probe her emotional state. “I’m looking for a place to live. Ernie sorted out the sale of the windmill while I was convalescing, so I’ve enough for a small deposit on something. Then I’ll need a job. Doing what, I’m not so sure. I thought about freelancing, but that’s no go. Gus—my Healer—says he won’t approve me for a licence for another six months, and only if I make first class on my Shield Charms, and even then he wouldn’t be happy. Anyway, I’ve decided to listen to the medical professionals for once. My analysis days are over for good.”
“Glad to hear it. It’s ‘do as I say, not as I do’, but health is more important than work, especially where curses are concerned. Should I know ‘Gus’?”
“Healer Pye, Head of Spell Damage at St. Mungo’s. He treated me after I got caught up in that awful ambush, the one Harry saved me from last year before I left the Ministry.”
Hermione shuddered. “Don’t remind me. I thank God every night before I fall asleep that Ron’s days of constant contact with dark magic are over. Of course I remember Pye, we’ve used him as an expert witness a few times. Quite dishy, isn’t he?”
“I’m not really looking at the moment,” Hannah said, aware of Neville on the edge of her peripheral vision. Nothing ever changed. Her senses had always been heightened in his presence. He was worse than a surge of magical wave energy in a Dark hot spot. Being a Sensitive could be a royal pain in the backside sometimes. However, getting older had its compensations. Years of training, calming and protecting herself meant she could at least keep her appearance and demeanour under control these days—except in the most extreme circumstances. Hannah patted the tight coil of plaits around her head for reassurance. Not for the first time, she envied Hermione’s complete lack of self-consciousness about her hair.
“Come for dinner,” urged Hermione. “Ron’s in a meeting with a supplier, and then he’s joining us at the restaurant. He’d love to see you.”
“What about him?” Hannah jerked her head in the direction of the bar, where Neville appeared deep in conversation with old Tom. “Anyone else coming? I don’t want to be a fifth wheel.”
“Lavender Brown is Flooing down after the first years are in bed,” Hermione said, sounding a little nervous. Hannah felt every muscle in her body tense. “She and Neville work together now, did you know?” Hermione rattled on. “Lavender helps out around the grounds. She’s taken over some of Hagrid’s duties in the Forest and works part-time in the greenhouses, as well as helping out with the youngest ones. I’m not sure it’s what she really wants though. She’s not as good as you at managing without Potions, and they’re still working on getting the balance right. If the claustrophobia can be dealt with, I think she’s hoping that eventually she’ll be able to take over as Divination Professor and teach properly.”
“No,I didn’t know.” Hannah voice was trembling slightly. This was ridiculous. She had no right on earth to mind, least of all now. “Are—are she and Neville together?”
Hermione shot her a perceptive glance. “Not as far as I know. Mind you, she only started a few months ago, and it’s pretty close quarters up there, so…” She paused. Then, tentatively, she said, “Hannah?”
“Is there anything left—between the two of you? Unfinished business, I mean. I wonder sometimes.”
“Oh, Hermione,” said Hannah sadly. “You’re such an old romantic. No, there’s nothing left. Neville despises me, and so he should.”
“Enough of that. I won’t have you talk about a friend of mine in that way.” Hermione reached out and put her hand on top of Hannah’s. It was cool and comforting,and it soothed her. “He hasn’t fallen in love with anyone else, I can tell you that much. There’s no guarantee he won’t some day, but for now, he’s still hurt and angry. That alone should tell you something.”
“So angry he...” Hannah stopped. No way was she going to betray how much it still hurt, still felt like a betrayal, however illogical that was.
“Lavender was…well, I don’t want to be mean, but she was there. Yes, he could have handled things better, but you didn’t exactly make it easy, did you?”
Hannah wasn’t going to make excuses, whine, “But I only did this…I never meant that…” She had made certain choices, and things had fallen out the way they had. She had remained true to herself, and whatever had happened since, she didn’t regret telling Neville the truth about her feelings. How abandoned she had felt, and that she couldn’t go through that again, not even for him. Of course, back then she had believed she knew what loneliness was. Hermione, none of her old friends, could have any inkling. They knew nothing of the past five years of Hannah’s life, her frozen existence shut off behind the blank façade of an unhappy marriage, how she had watching people, friends, from a long distance away, permanently disengaged, dangerously so. Wasn’t that how she had tricked herself into believing she was safe, that the flat, insulating calm of her relationship with Ernie meant that she’d ‘grown out of it’, and thereby the risks that having a child incurred. She had been selfish, and stupid. It was her fault, all of it.
“You don’t have to tell me what a mess I’ve made of my life,” she said dully.
Hermione visibly winced. “I didn’t mean that. No one blames you, except yourself. You were all in it. Neville knows that. Perhaps Ernie does too. God, I’m such a tactless oaf, worse than Ron sometimes.”
Hannah smiled. That was enough self-pity. Scarlet woman in the eyes of certain elements of the Wizarding World she might be, but things were getting better, and would continue to do so. She’d weathered worse storms. “Thanks for the invitation, but I think I’ll just go back to the hotel. I don’t think I’m quite ready to make small talk. Give my apologies to Ron, and to Neville when he gets back.”
“Fair enough. Ron will understand, but I strongly suggest you go and say your goodbyes to Neville in person. He’s right there.”
“All right, I will. I’d like us to be friends again, if he can forgive and forget.”
“Have you forgiven him?” said Hermione, again with the flicker of perception that always threw Hannah off-balance.
She paused, thinking. Neville had saved Ernie’s life, and probably her own, but Hermione didn’t know that. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Hannah picked up her bag and coat. Way over by the bar, she saw Neville break off his conversation and swing round to face her. The strong beam of his gaze was a lighthouse guiding her through the drinks-after-work crowd.
From somewhere, he conjured her a barstool. “Can I get you another?”
“Thanks. Just a glass of water.”
“Tom! Over here.”
“Hi, Miss Abbott, ah, Mrs Macmillan. Long time, no see.”
“Hello, Mr Good. It has been a while. But you were right the first time, it is Miss Abbott. How are things with you and the pub?”
“This old dump?” Tom patted the bar top affectionately. “Now there’s a question…”