Author's Note: This story was written for the Reviews Lounge's Valentine's Day Challenge on Fanfiction.net, and therefore had to include a box of chocolates, as well as three other items (in this case, a rose, a kiss, and a ring).
Note the Second: You don't have to read anything to understand this, really, but the idea was spawned by a comment Neville made in Family Tradition, about dropping the ring when he tried to propose, so this might make the tiniest bit more sense if you've read that. But tisn't necessary!
DISCLAIMER: They aren't mine, even if they are the cutest thing in the world. Oh and this is also probably the fluffiest thing I've written recently, so . . . well, I'm not claiming that, either.
The Magic of a Half Eaten Box of Chocolates
Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott had been dating for almost fourteen months when she first told him that she didn’t like Valentine’s Day.
Actually, what she said was, “Oh, and just so you know, I’m working the pub on the fourteenth, so we won’t be able to go out, which is actually just as well, to be perfectly honest.” He had asked what she meant, and then she had explained that she didn’t much like Valentine’s Day. “I’ve always found the holiday to be a little ridiculous, actually. If you are romantically involved, it’s just an overused excuse to buy expensive, trite presents and be lovey-dovey in extremely inappropriate places; if you’re not romantically involved, the day only serves as a pathetic reminder of that fact.” And then she’d brushed past him, rag in hand, to continue wiping down the tables of the Leaky Cauldron Pub.
“You didn’t mention any of this last year,” Neville pointed out. Hannah shrugged.
“Well, last year was the first Valentine’s Day that we were together. It was supposed to be special, if only for the sake of tradition. But now it’s over and done with and out of the way, for which I am exceedingly grateful. I get enough of its traditions vicariously just by working. I mean, really. Do you know how many marriage proposals I’ve seen happen on February 14? How unoriginal! Really, I pity those girls.”
Hannah didn’t know it, but this point of view posed a bit of a problem.
“Yes, I quite agree,” Neville murmured uncomfortably, fiddling with the ring he’d been carrying in his pocket for the past few weeks.
Neville had never been what he would call a romantic person. For most of his life, he’d been rather uncomfortable around girls. He’d never known how to talk to them, and he’d never been able to pull off eloquence and charm very well. He’d known for a long time now that he wanted to marry Hannah; he’d bought the ring weeks ago. He just hadn’t been able to figure out how to ask her.
And so Valentine’s Day had seemed quite perfect. Take her out to a nice dinner, pay one of the waiters to bring her a bouquet of roses at the end of the meal, their stems held together by the ring he’d spent so long picking out. On Valentine’s Day, it wouldn’t have mattered that it was over the top, and one didn’t need to be eloquent or romantic; the holiday took care of that all on its own.
Hannah turned to watch her boyfriend as he frowned at the floor of the pub. “Is it a problem, Neville?” she asked, and then she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. “You’d already made plans!” she said, distressed. “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry! It’s just, all the extra help begged off, and Uncle Tom needed someone, and you hadn’t said anything, so I just – I’ll make it up to you, Neville, I promise!”
Neville forced himself to smile. “Nothing had been finalized,” he told her, trying to act casual and brush it off.
“Are you sure?” she asked, looking concerned still, a hand on his arm. He covered her hand with his and smiled more convincingly.
“Perfectly,” he said, and he leaned down and kissed her.
But as he walked out of the pub a few minutes later, pulling his cloak around him to ward off the cold, the smile faded from his face. He had a problem.
When he thought back on it, Neville found he could define his relationship with Hannah through three key moments, comprised of a date and an object. Purely by coincidence, the dates corresponded with the three most significant days in his life: the second of May, the thirtieth of July, and the twenty-fourth of December. The day Lord Voldemort was defeated, his birthday, and Christmas Eve. This had all started May 2nd nearly two years ago, with a rose.
May 2, 2001: A Rose
On the third anniversary of Harry Potter’s defeat of Voldemort, Neville found himself in the Leaky Cauldron with a bouquet of roses on the table in front of him. The roses were very special roses; he had cultivated them himself in the greenhouse he’d built on his grandmother’s property. Through a variety of means, he had cross-bred and nurtured until he had developed a species of roses: white lightly veined with red, gold, green, and blue, to signify the final battle, all those who had fought in it, and the unity that had ultimately been its goal. For the past two years, he had lain a bouquet of these roses at the base of the memorial that now stood on Hogwarts’ grounds. But this year, for some reason, he had felt compelled to visit the pub first.
Tom the bartender had brought him a cup of tea – he wasn’t in the mood for anything stronger – and he’d been left more or less alone since then. The others in the pub were caught up in their own celebrations of the day, which left Neville alone to his memories, at least, until someone caught sight of him and recognized him for who he was.
“Aren’t you Neville Longbottom?” came a voice, shaking him out of his thoughts. He looked up. The voice belonged to a very pretty girl who couldn’t be much younger than he was. “The war hero?” Without waiting for a response, she squealed and clutched at his arm. “Oh, I can’t believe I’m meeting you in person! I was at Hogwarts three years ago; only a fifth year, but I remember you perfectly, of course!”
Neville had no idea how to respond, and before he could come up with anything, he was suddenly surrounded by fawning witches, as if the original had summoned them with Accio. It was a highly uncomfortable situation for the young man.
Is this what it’s like for Harry? he wondered, panicked. There were so many people, surrounded him, all vying for his attention. He wanted nothing more than to Disapparate on the spot. He felt like he was suffocating, buried under females. Then –
“Okay, okay, for Merlin’s sake, let a man breathe!” came a crisp, authoritative voice. Slowly, the pestering girls dissipated, and Neville felt able to draw breath again. He looked around for his savior, and was met with the sight of a familiar blonde girl, hands on hips, glaring after the gaggle as they made their way back to their individual celebrations.
“Thanks for that,” Neville said. “I think I may owe you my life.” The girl laughed.
“I’m happy to do anything I can to save someone from death by vulture, Neville Longbottom.” And she smiled at him, and Neville couldn’t help but smile back.
“Hannah Abbott, right?” he asked, and she nodded. “It’s been ages.”
“Three years,” she said. There was a long pause. Then, “Well, if you’re all right,” and she turned to go. Before he had really registered doing anything, Neville had half stood up, saying, “No, wait!” Hannah turned back, waiting, and Neville realized he had no idea what to say next. “I –” he started, and, casting desperately for something else, finished with, “They might come back.”
Oh, well done, Longbottom, he thought sarcastically as soon as the words had left his mouth. Real smooth, Longbottom. Excellently well done. Make her think you’re afraid of a bunch of twittering girls. Impressive. I’m surprised she managed not to fall at your feet with that one.
Wincing at his stupidity, Neville took a deep breath, ended his mental berating, and tried again. “What I meant was, if you’re not too busy right now, would you like to sit and catch up?” He glanced up at her, fully expecting her to look at him with pity and then say no, probably calling him ‘sweet’ in the meantime. He hated that word.
He didn’t expect her to be smiling with laughter. And it was even kind laughter. Dumbstruck, he watched as she walked behind the counter, took off her apron and called, “Uncle Tom, I’m taking my break!” She glanced back at him when she said, “There’s an old friend here.”
A few moments later, she returned to his table, two Butterbeers in hand, one of which she offered to him as she sat. “Thanks,” he said, taking it from her. As the two of them sipped their drinks, Neville tried hard not to notice how awkward he felt. He’d asked her over here, and now had no idea what to talk about. He opened his mouth, probably to utter one of a thousand incredibly boring and cliche icebreaker statements, but he never got the chance because Hannah spoke first.
“These are unusual roses,” she said, her fingers lightly brushing the petals of the one nearest. “Your work, I suppose?” And she glanced to him.
“Oh, I – yes,” Neville sputtered, mentally kicking himself once more. Why was it that the only female he could actually talk to with ease was Luna Lovegood? “I bred them.”
“They’re beautiful,” she said, her gaze returning to the flowers. “I’ve never seen anything like them. Do they have a name?”
Neville shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, but it’s kind of dumb. I’m not great at naming things.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Hannah insisted kindly.
“They’re – I call them Unity Roses,” Neville mumbled apologetically, looking down.
“That’s beautiful,” she breathed sincerely. Then she snapped her fingers and looked up at him. “That’s where I’ve seen these! You leave these at the memorial every year!”
“I – yes, I do. You – you’ve seen them?”
“Oh, yes, I note them every year when I visit. They’re very . . . unique. I’ve often wondered where they came from. But I suppose I should have known it was you.” Neville cleared his throat, trying to dispel his sudden inexplicable nerves.
“Oh?” he asked, hoping to sound casual. She glanced at him, hiding a smile.
“Well, you did outshine everyone in Herbology, including Hermione Granger.” Neville could feel himself blushing. Hannah laughed. “Oh, come now, Neville. You’re a great war hero. Can’t you take praise?”
It took Neville a few moments of defensive mumbling to realize she was teasing him.
“Speaking of war heroes,” she said, recognizing that he was uncomfortable, “why are you not off celebrating like the rest of the wizarding world?”
Neville shrugged. “I celebrate in my own way. Quietly. I bring these roses to the memorial, and I go to the Ministry remembrance. But other than that, I’m inclined to agree with Harry. It’s a day to remember, not to be forgotten. But I lost too much and too many that day to ever really celebrate it.”
Hannah nodded contemplatively, rolling her bottle back and forth in her hands. “I can understand that,” she said softly.
“You lost people in the war?” Neville said, halfway between a question and a statement. Hannah nodded.
“My mother,” she said, looking down. “She was killed by Death Eaters in our sixth year.”
“I’m sorry,” Neville said softly. Hannah smiled.
“It was a long time ago,” she said.
“That doesn’t matter,” Neville said. And they shared a smile, and in that moment, things shifted and eased between them. “Look,” Neville said. “I don’t want to seem to forward or presumptuous or anything, but would you like to come to the memorial with me?”
Hannah looked away. “I can’t,” she said.
“Oh,” said Neville. “Well, I understand, it’s not –”
“No, I mean I really can’t,” she said, that hint of a smile returning. “I work until four. But if you can wait . . .?” Neville grimaced.
“I really can’t,” he said apologetically. “The Ministry’s remembrance is tonight, and I’m expected to be there.”
There was a slight pause, then Hannah said, “Can I ask you something?” At Neville’s nod, she continued. “Why attend if you dislike the attention so much?” Neville shrugged.
“Harry, Ron, and Hermione won’t be there for the celebration, so I guess I have to be the token hero.” Hannah frowned.
“Harry won’t be there?” she asked.
“He’ll be at the remembrance ceremony, but he’s not staying for the celebration after, no. It’s his niece’s second birthday, so he has a legitimate excuse. All three of them do,” Neville clarified. Hannah nodded, still frowning slightly.
“I see,” she said finally. “I have to get back,” she said, an apologetic smile on her face. “I’m glad you stopped by, Neville.”
“So am I,” he said with a smile, surprised to find he really meant it.
“Don’t be a stranger, all right?” she said, standing. Impulsively, she reached down and squeezed his hand before turning to go.
“Hannah!” he said suddenly, calling her back. “Here.” And he held out a single rose. Looking confused but touched, she reached out slowly and took it.
“Why are you giving this to me?” she asked him.
“Because you made a sacrifice for unity,” he said. “This rose is as much yours as it is anyone’s.” She looked down at the rose, genuinely touched.
“Thank you, Neville,” she said softly.
“No problem. And anytime I need rescuing, I’ll be sure to give you a call.” She laughed.
“You do that.”
He left the pub that day with a smile on his face.
To Neville, May 2nd had long been a day of somber remembrance and reflection. But from then on, in the years to come, when he thought of that day, he would think of a rose and of the day that he first got to know Hannah Abbott.
July 30, 2001: A Box of Chocolates
It was just after the dinner hour of his twenty-first birthday that Neville walked into the Leaky Cauldron pub and sat down in what had become his usual table. It only took Hannah a few minutes to hang up her apron and come over, Butterbeers in hand.
“It seems I should no longer be surprised by when you choose to come in here,” she said by way of greeting. “I mean, if you come in on your birthday, which you should be spending with family and friends, you’ll come in any time.” Neville smiled indulgently, then realized what she’d said.
“Wait, how do you know today is my birthday?” he asked. She shrugged.
“Same way I know anything, I suppose,” she said. “At some point in my life, someone told me.”
“And you held onto the information?” The look she gave him was unreadable.
“Yes?” she answered finally. “Neville, I think that you would be surprised and a little bit uncomfortable with just how many people know that today is your birthday.” He considered her point.
“It just always gets overshadowed by Harry, that’s all,” he said.
“That all depends on who has the information,” she informed him. Neville smiled.
“Sit,” he said. She did.
“So, you still haven’t answered the question,” she told him, opening her bottle with a twist of the cap. “What are you doing in a pub on your birthday?” Neville shrugged and looked down, tracing a burn in the tabletop with his finger.
“I spent the morning with my parents,” he said finally, wondering how much Hannah knew. Over the course of his lifetime, Neville had told precious few people about his parents, but things had changed since the war. Now, obviously, things he’d previously thought to be relatively secret had somehow become common knowledge, and he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with that notion.
However, Hannah’s response proved that this, at least, still was mostly secret. With an understanding grimace, she said, “They’re that bad, huh? Well, you’re not alone there; I know plenty of people who need a stiff drink after a day visiting the folks.”
Still looking down, Neville smiled sadly. Her words didn’t hurt the way someone else’s might have. And somehow, where in many other situations, he would have kept quiet, Neville never thought twice about telling her.
“My parents are in St. Mungo’s,” he said softly. He heard Hannah’s gasp and glanced up. Her hand had flown to her mouth and she looked quite horrified.
“Oh, God, Neville, I’m sorry! I didn’t know! For how long? Are they all right? What happened?” she said, apologizing. Neville just gave her another small smile and shook his head.
“Almost twenty years ago now, when I was just a few months past a year old, Bellatrix Lestrange and a group of Death Eaters broke into our house and tortured my parents into insanity,” he said softly, matter-of-factly. He met her eyes then. “They’ve been in Mungo’s ever since. It’s the only way I’ve ever known them.”
“Oh, how horrible,” she whispered. “Neville, I’m so sorry.” He shrugged.
“I’ve long since come to terms with it, Hannah,” he said gently. “They gave up their lives rather than give in to Lestrange’s demands. They were heroes, and I spent most of my life trying to live up to them, knowing I never could.” Hannah frowned, twisting the end of her long plait around her fingers.
“That doesn’t sound much like coming to terms with it,” she said, clearly not sure whether she should be mentioning that or not. Neville laughed.
“No, it doesn’t, does it?” He sighed. “Greatest irony. I only finally lived up to their legacy when I stopped worrying about being able to. That’s when I came to terms with it. Three, four years ago.” He looked past her, caught up in his thoughts.
After a few moments of heavy silence, Hannah said, very softly, “I really am sorry for what I said, Neville. I didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t know.”
Neville shook his head. “No, Hannah. There are very few people who do know. Most just assume my parents are dead. I think . . . I think in some ways I almost prefer that.” The last was said in a very pained voice. “It’s not that I’m ashamed of them; I’m not. I love them. I just wish . . .” He looked away. He didn’t know how to say it. “They were so full of life, you know?” he asked, meeting Hannah’s gaze. “From all accounts, they were so full of life. They were Aurors, they were heroes . . . I can’t imagine they would have chosen this. But I’ll never know. I can see them, I can talk to them, but I’ll never know them. They gave up their lives at 21. As surely as Harry’s parents, they gave up their lives. They exist still, yes. But they aren’t living. And I’ll never get to know them. I’ll only ever know the legends, the heroes. I only ever got to know what I could never be.”
He felt breathless, admitting it. He’d never said so much to anyone before, never. Nervously, he glanced at Hannah, hoping he hadn’t scared her off, hoping she didn’t now think he was a horrible person.
She was frowning, and she didn’t meet his gaze. For a moment, his heart lurched as he thought the worst. Then she spoke. “Who said you could never be that?” she asked quietly.
“My grandmother,” he answered honestly. The answer had slipped out before he’d intended to speak, but he’d been painfully honest this far. “My whole life, she wanted me to be someone I never could.”
“My father.” He said it without bitterness, without anger or pain. It was a truth he’d long ago accepted. “In her eyes, I always fell short of him. Until the final battle. I like to think she was proud of me because I came into my own, and I think she was, but I also know a lot of it was more because I had finally done what my father would have. And it’s all too mixed up for her to separate it.” Hannah looked almost furious to hear that, and strangely enough, that touched him.
“It took her the final battle to be proud of you?” she asked, forcing her voice to remain soft. “After everything you did our seventh year?” Neville shifted, a little uncomfortable.
“I didn’t really do anything our seventh year –”
“Yes, you did!” she cried passionately. “Neville, how can you say that? Of course you did! Do you have any idea how many people you kept going? When Dumbledore was gone and Harry was gone and Snape and the Carrows were in charge? There were times when we all wanted to just give up and despair, but then you were always there! You gave so many people hope, Neville. You gave me hope, and the strength to get through that year.”
Neville stared at her. She looked down, coloring. “Really?” Neville whispered.
“Really,” she replied. Then, with a small half-smile on her face, she said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but . . . you were my hero.” Neville looked down, smiling, truly touched now. A moment or two of silence passed then, before Hannah said, in a much different tone of voice, “Neville, this is horrible birthday conversation!” She glared at him, accusing, but a smile was playing around her lips.
“Er . . . sorry?” Neville said, amused.
“As well you should be,” was her prim response. “Lucky for you, I have just the thing to fix it. Be right back.” And she was up and away, leaving Neville sitting alone at the table.
He wasn’t alone for long, however. Within a few moments, she was back, setting a thin white box ceremoniously on the table in front of him with a cheery, “Ta da!”
“And what is this?” he asked, glancing up at her. She rolled her eyes.
“Well, I don’t know, Neville. When you get a gift for your birthday and you want to know what’s inside, what do you usually do?” With a roll of his own eyes, Neville lifted the lid. He stared at what was inside for a moment.
“It’s a box of chocolates,” he finally said.
“Yep!” she said with a grin, sliding into her seat.
“It’s a half-eaten box of chocolates,” he added. If possible, her grin widened.
“Quite right,” she said, crossing her arms and looking extremely proud of herself.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever given me a half-eaten box of chocolates for my birthday before,” he informed her.
“See how lucky you are to have me?” she asked, reaching across the table to help herself to more of his gift. He stared at her as she popped the candy into her mouth, the full impact of her words hitting him as he realized something he hadn’t quite been able to put together before that moment. “What is it?” she asked when his gaze didn’t falter, self-consciously holding a hand in front of her mouth.
Wordlessly, he shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, before smiling and eating one of his chocolates.
To Neville, July 30th had always been a day of half celebration and half pain, another year gone by, added and lost. But from then on, in the years to come, when he thought of that day, he would think of a box of chocolates and of the day that he fell in love with Hannah Abbott.
December 24, 2001: A Kiss
In the months that followed, Neville made several very important decisions: the decision to leave the Auror program when his three-year contract expired mid-August; the decision to enroll in schooling to become a teacher; the decision to take Professor Sprout’s advice and vie for the Herbology post when she retired in a few years. But the decision he hadn’t been able to make was the one concerning the newfound realization that he was in love.
It was a strange and distracting feeling for him, and he really didn’t know what to do with it. He had always assumed that falling in love would be a rather disastrous and uncomfortable experience for him, given his track record with girls in the past. There just seemed to be a much higher potential for embarrassment when the idea of spending an entire evening trying to be romantic was involved.
But things were different with Hannah. Not counting the beginning of his first attempt at conversation, he’d never had any trouble talking with her. He was more comfortable around her than he’d ever been around really anyone except maybe Ginny seventh year.
But the fact of the matter remained that he had no real idea how to go about being in love. So he kept it to himself until he had time to sit down and figure it out.
And so it was that he entered the Leaky Cauldron nearly five months later, on Christmas Eve, the only person in the world who knew that he was in love with Hannah Abbott.
Hannah was the first person to see him as he entered the pub; the way her eyes lit up when she looked up to see who had jingled the bell on the door made his heart skip a beat or two. Grinning, she left the small cluster of people gathered around a half-decorated tree and came over to him.
“Christmas Eve, Neville?” she asked by way of greeting. “Really?” And he smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
“What can I say? I missed your beautiful face,” he said, completely serious but knowing she wouldn’t take it that way. And she didn’t disappoint.
“Why, Mr. Longbottom!” she said, faking shock, a hand pressed to her chest. “If I had known the evening included such flattery, I’d have invited you long ago!” Her eyes twinkled, physical sign of the laughter he had learned was never far from her lips.
When she hugged him, he relished the feeling of her in his arms and leaned down to whisper, “Merry Christmas, Hannah,” in her ear.
“Come on,” she said with a smile, tugging at his hand. “Help us decorate the tree.” He let her lead him the direction of the enormous pine tree in the pub’s corner. “Our other guest for the evening won’t,” she called over her shoulder. “Something about a nargle infestation, I think?” Neville’s head snapped up.
“Luna’s here?” he asked, stopping and looking around. Hannah snapped her fingers, dropping his hand.
“That’s her!” she said, hitting herself lightly in the forehead. “If there’s one person I should be able to remember, it’s her, but her name just went completely out of my head.” Neville laughed.
“You forgot Luna Lovegood?” he asked. She grinned and rolled her eyes.
“I know, right?” There was a slight pause as Neville continued to scan the pub, then Hannah said, “You two are good friends, aren’t you?”
“You could say that,” Neville said. “It’s . . . complicated.” The fact that ‘complicated’ didn’t even begin to explain the relationship he and Luna shared wasn’t something he really wanted to get into tonight.
“Neville!” came a very familiar voice then, and Neville turned to see Luna hurrying toward him, bright green robes billowing out behind her, a large poinsettia clipped behind her ear, long hair flying.
Neville grinned, and then she was in front of him. “Merry Christmas, Luna,” he said.
“Indeed,” she responded, and then she kissed him.
She had been greeting him in this manner since the summer after his seventh year for reasons that he halfway but did not entirely understand. But by now, Neville was so accustomed to this response and the fact that nothing he could say or do would ever dissuade her from it that he just mentally rolled his eyes, smiled into her mouth and embraced her.
It was then that something pushed forcefully past his shoulder and he heard a tight voice say, “Excuse me, please,” and then Hannah was gone.
Neville could have killed himself. He really was far too stupid sometimes to be allowed to have romantic attachments, and the way things were going now, he never would. Turning away from Luna, he called, “Hannah!” but she didn’t stop. Angrily, he ran a hand through his hair, wondering how he was possibly ever going to fix this.
“She looked quite upset,” Luna said, following Neville’s gaze.
“Yeah,” he said, more sigh than word. “She did.”
“Well, you should go talk to her,” Luna told him, looking up at him, her gaze as serious as it ever was.
“Yeah, I think I will,” he said, distracted. And without looking at her, he began to follow the path of retreat Hannah had made.
“And be sure to mention that you’re in love with her,” Luna called after him. Stunned, Neville froze, then turned slowly to her, mouth open. “I think that’s quite important,” she stated matter-of-factly.
For a moment, Neville considered asking how she had known, how obvious he had been, if she knew whether his feelings were reciprocated, and a million other things, but in the end, he settled for a soft, “Luna, how is it that you see everything?”
The look she gave him was unreadable. “I look,” she said simply. When their eyes met, Neville knew this was a moment where she was being serious in a normal person’s kind of way.
“Thank you,” he said sincerely.
“Go,” was her only reply.
He did. He moved toward the kitchen of the pub as fast as he could ever remember moving toward anything in his life, Voldemort’s snake included. Ignoring the strange looks he received from Hannah’s family clustered around the tree, but halfway noting that no one was stopping him, he rushed through the swinging doors. “Hannah!” he called, hoping she hadn’t left or Disapperated, but knowing that even if she had, he wasn’t going back home tonight until he’d found her.
But she hadn’t left. She was standing in a corner of the kitchen, facing away from him, braced against the counter, her shoulders shaking with barely held in sobs. The sight broke his heart. He wanted to go find the bastard who’d made her cry and make him pay. Then he remembered just who that bastard was.
“Hannah, please, let me explain,” he started, but in the next instant, she had turned, hastily trying to hide the evidence that she’d been crying only moments before.
“You don’t need to explain anything,” she said, brushing past him, refusing to look at him. She busied herself on the other side of the kitchen while Neville searched desperately for something to say.
“Look, Hannah, Luna and I –”
“It really doesn’t matter, Neville,” she said, cutting him off in a tone of voice that said quite clearly that it really did matter. “I’m not sure I want to hear it, anyway. Not sure I could handle the explanation, and I think I’ve got a pretty clear picture of it on my own, thanks.”
“Hannah–” he tried again, getting quite frustrated now with the way she kept cutting him off. But he was prevented from voicing anything of that frustration because she barely stopped talking. Her voice and actions both got more and more frantic and agitated as she went on.
“I mean, it’s really my fault in the first place, right?” she said in a rush, moving piles of dishes to new spaces on the counter without purpose or direction. “I mean, after all, I just assumed that, in six months of friendship, you would have mentioned a girlfriend or a–a complication, I think you called her? Instead of letting me get my hopes up, you know, but that’s my fault, I just assumed, and I should have asked. Never mind that you never gave me any indication that I needed to, but still, that’s on me, right?”
If it had been anything less important, Neville might have laughed at the ridiculousness of what he was seeing, or, more likely, stood and stared at her. Luna? His girlfriend? That’s really what she thought? If it had been less important, he would have laughed. But something prompted him to stride across the kitchen and grab her by the shoulders. He didn’t know what it was really, he just had to do something, and that’s what seemed right.
“You think I love Luna?” he asked her, almost insulted that she really thought he wouldn’t have mentioned it before now.
“I don’t know, Neville,” she said, still refusing to look at him even though their faces were now less than a foot apart. “I think–” She swallowed. “I think she kissed you, and you didn’t exactly object. And–”
But he couldn’t let her continue. So this time, he spoke over her.
“I don’t love Luna,” he said, still holding her by the shoulders and trying to force her to look at him. “I couldn’t! I’ve been in love with someone else for months!”
It hadn’t come out at all the way he’d intended it to. She froze at his words, and Neville watched something shatter in her. For a long, horrible moment, she blinked back new tears, clearly determined not to cry in front of him. “Thank you,” she said in a deadened voice that wasn’t hers. And she gently slipped from his grasp. He curled his hands into fists, furious and wanting to punch something, preferably himself. In the mouth. Several times.
“It’s you, okay?” he all but shouted. He had nothing left to lose now. Some brave hero. He’d messed everything up so far, and he was pretty sure there wasn’t anything left for him to say that would make this any worse, so he might as well just get it all out. Closing his eyes, he shook his head, feeling like the absolute lowest creature on the earth. He sighed. “It’s you,” he repeated, still not turning around, not knowing if she was even there, listening.
“Me?” came her voice, very small and full of emotion.
“Yeah,” he said angrily.
Not trusting himself to speak, he just nodded, his jaw clenched in frustration. There was a long silence, and he was afraid she might have left. But then she spoke again, the one question he knew was inevitable.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” He could hear the hurt in her voice, and maybe that’s what unleashed everything he was holding in, he didn’t know.
“Because!” he said angrily, finally turning to her. “Because you’re beautiful and smart and perfect and I’m me! And I’m –” Then her eyes met his, and he softened, his anger leaching out and leaving only regret and self-loathing. He sighed turning away again. “And I’m bad at this,” he muttered. “And I didn’t want to ruin things, so I didn’t say anything and managed to ruin it all anyway, which was, quite frankly, predictable. That’s all I ever seem to do, really, ruin things. I’m brilliant at it, at that and nothing else, really.” He spat the words out bitterly, intended to continue, to go on kicking himself, but his was stopped by an iron-clad grip on his wrist, a grip that practically radiated anger on its own.
“Don’t ever say that again,” Hannah said in a hushed but furious tone, glaring up at him. He from her face to her hand and back again. “Don’t you dare, Neville, you hear me?” Unable to say anything, Neville nodded. “You are brilliant, and smart and brave and passionate and –” Her voice caught in her throat and as she took several deeps breaths to regain control over herself, Neville thought she had never looked more beautiful. “And I love you, too,” she whispered fiercely.
Neville couldn’t breathe. Not after hearing those words from her and seeing the look in her eyes. It was a long few moments before he trusted his voice.
“So why didn’t you –” he started in a whisper, but she didn’t let him finish.
“Because I’m bad at this, too,” she said, dropping his wrist and turning away.
Neville knew somehow, inherently, that this was the moment. She was waiting for him to say something, and it had to be the right something. But he had no idea what to say. He stood there, grappling with himself, going back and forth, until a voice in his head that sounded remarkably like a lucid Luna said, Oh, for goodness sake, Neville! She loves you! And you love her! What more do you really need to know? So he stopped worrying about what was going to come out of his mouth and just spoke.
“Do you maybe want to be bad at this together, then?” Inwardly, he winced, but it was too late now, so instead of wasting time kicking himself, he just watched desperately for her reaction.
She let out a watery half-laugh, shaking her head. His heart leapt. “I’d like to get better at this together,” she told him, turning to face him. Slowly, he nodded.
“Me too,” he said. She smiled at him then, and he smiled at her, and they just stood like that for a long few moments as relief washed over Neville, a relief so great he couldn’t hardly put it into words.
“Neville, this is usually the part where the girl gets kissed,” Hannah eventually pointed out, bringing Neville back to himself.
“Right,” he agreed, and took her in his arms and did just that. And it was nothing like kissing Luna, for which, he thought with the very last vestige of coherency that kissing Hannah left him, he thanked each and every lucky star, god, or denizen of Fate that might be listening.
To Neville, December 24th had always been Christmas Eve, a day of celebration. But from then on, in the years to come, when he thought of that day, he thought of a kiss and of the day when he first knew that Hannah Abbott loved him in return.
February 16, 2003: A Ring
Three days, scattered over two years, three days, three things, had brought him to this point. Of course, Neville had known since the first time he kissed her that he wanted to marry Hannah Abbott. He’d just had to decide how to make it happen. He’d thought he had the perfect plan. Then she’d gone and ruined it.
Which is how Neville found himself pacing outside the Leaky Cauldron at closing time two days after Valentine’s Day, fiddling with a ring in his pocket that he had no idea what to do with. He knew he loved her and he knew she loved him and that because of that, the where and when didn’t really matter all that much, but he wanted the moment to be perfect. For once in his life, he wanted to be charming and romantic.
He had no idea how long he’d been standing outside the pub when a tapping on the window made him look up. Hannah was watching him, a teasing smile on her face. She pointed to the door with raised eyebrows. Neville nodded.
A few minutes later, a voice rang out. “Neville, dear, I’m standing here holding the door open for you, and it’s a little cold.” Cursing himself, Neville stepped quickly inside. So much for charming and romantic.
“Sorry,” he said, kissing her briefly.
“You all right?” she asked, looking up at him. He nodded. Then his hand found its way into his pocket again, returning to its by now old habit of fiddling with the gold ring there. “Neville!” Hannah said sharply. He forced his attention to her. She was looking at him, somewhat concerned.
“Sorry,” he said again. “Zoned out. What were you saying?” She looked at him for another moment longer before she replied.
“I said, I didn’t expect to see you here tonight. Are you sure you’re all right?” Neville took a deep breath, trying to dispel his nerves.
“Yes,” he said, smiling down at her. “Just distracted is all.”
“Okay,” she said slowly. “I’ll be finished in a minute, if you want to sit and wait.” And she turned and walked away. Thinking it might somehow be easier to ask her if her back was turned, Neville tried to fish the ring out of his pocket, saying, “Actually, well, I, uh . . .”
But it wouldn’t come out, as if, by spending so much time there, the ring had become to attached to the inside of his pocket and now did not want to come out into the open. Mentally cursing once more, Neville fumbled with the fabric. Finally, his fingers grasped metal. Unfortunately, they were shaking so badly, they couldn’t hold on to anything.
Neville’s eyes followed it as it fell, time seeming to slow down as he watched, panicked. It hit the ground and began to roll, and he prayed, one, that Hannah hadn’t seen, and that, two, he would be able to casually make his way across the room to retrieve it.
He had no such luck. “Neville, you dropped something,” Hannah said, as if he wasn’t aware. And then, to his horror, she dropped to her hands and knees in search of it.
“No, no, no!” he cried, dropping to a similar position and trying to beat her to the ring now resting under a nearby table.
“Neville, I’ve got it,” she said, just as he said, “Hannah, please, don’t!”
They met under the table just as her hand closed around her engagement ring, and Neville didn’t know how the evening could get any worse. “Neville, I told you I had it,” she said with a laugh. “You didn’t need to – oh.” Her sentence ended so abruptly because she had opened her hand and seen what lay in her palm. Neville sat heavily on the floor, one knee still propped in the air. Resting his elbow on top of it, he put his head in his hand, wishing that he could pull out his wand and freeze time, or that lightning would just come into the pub and finish him off.
Unfortunately, no such respite occurred. “This was planned out so much better in my head,” he muttered.
“Neville?” came Hannah’s soft voice. “Is . . . is this what I think it is?”
“Yes,” he sighed, not looking at her. He was disgusted with himself. Absolutely disgusted. He was pathetic, the most pathetic excuse for a wizard and a man that had probably ever existed.
Then Hannah laid one hand on his knee. “Neville, this is the sweetest–”
“I didn’t want it to be sweet!” he said passionately and irritated. He hated that word. “I wanted it to be romantic and perfect and – ” He sighed. “And when people ask how I proposed, I don’t want to tell them that I did it by dropping the ring on the floor,” he finished, agitated.
“Neville,” Hannah said, and when he didn’t look at her, she said his name again, more firmly. “Neville.” Slowly, he turned his head. There wasn’t a trace of laughter in her eyes, for which he was grateful. “Neville, why don’t we try this again, then? You can take this back,” she said, holding out her hand, “and come back in, and we’ll pretend this never happened.”
“No, I don’t want to do it over,” Neville grumbled. “I just – when I ask, I really don’t want it to be on the floor under a table. Please?” So without another word, Hannah crawled out and stood up, waiting for Neville to do the same.
But Neville had made the mistake of wondering how the evening could get any worse, and so, when he tried to stand up, he discovered just how that was possible. Looking back, he supposed it could have happened to anyone. Plenty of people have tried to stand up from under a table, misjudged the distance and hit their heads. But in that moment, to him, that was the final straw.
Sitting on the ground, before Hannah could even ask if he was all right, he held out his hand. “Give me the ring,” he demanded.
“Just give me the ring,” he said again, staring straight ahead, a muscle twitching in his jaw. Gently, Hannah laid the ring in his open palm, and he stood up and stormed out the door of the pub. Hannah took out her wand and silently unlocked the door.
A few moments later, Neville came back in, a smile forced on his face.
“Good evening, Neville,” Hannah said.
“Good evening, Hannah,” he responded evenly. “I wonder if I might have a moment?”
“I always have a moment for you,” she told him. And she let him take her by the hand and lead her to a chair by the fire.
“Hannah, you told me not to make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day this year, and I hope you notice that I didn’t.” She nodded, a little confused. “But I do have to tell you that your request threw me for a little bit of a loop, since I already had your gift.”
Hannah gasped as she realized exactly why Neville had left the pub that day with that look on his face. “Oh, Merlin, Neville, I –”
But Neville held up his hand to stop her, an odd little smile on his face. “It’s probably better this way” he whispered, and then he dropped to one knee in front of her. “Hannah, I have spent my entire life trying to live up to other people’s expectations,” he said, and she could already feel her eyes filling with tears as a thousand emotions welled up in her. “Almost from the moment I was born, so many things were expected of me from so many people, and there was no way I make everyone proud. After the final battle, I was suddenly a hero, and it seemed that I always had to be. Wherever I went, whoever I was with, there wasn’t a single person in this world who didn’t expect me to be a hero. And I thought it was just the price I had to pay, just something I would have to live with. And then I met you.
“And you were different. You never expected me to be heroic or to live up to any sort of legend, and so, I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to be a hero. But for the first time in my life, I wanted to be. Because you . . . you are, you have been, more than I could ever have asked for. You rescued me from them and you understood the one thing in my life that was too complicated to explain and . . . one day, you gave me a half-eaten box of chocolates and made me fall in love with you.” By this point, the tears were thick in Hannah’s eyes, and she could hardly see the man in front of her. But, biting her lip, she smiled through them and waited for him to finish, her answer already on her lips.
“I’m not good at a lot of things,” he said, and a brief pause followed, during which he was obviously trying not to mentally berate himself. “But I seem to be – no, I know I’m better at them when you’re with me.” There was another brief pause, then, “All evidence to the contrary.” Hannah let out a watery laugh. “But the things I’m not good at don’t matter, as long as I have you. Hannah Abbott, I love you. And I have known I wanted to marry you since the first time I kissed you. So I just want you to know that you will make me the happiest person in the world if you agree to marry me, and to not tell anyone about what happened the first time I tried to do this.”
“Yes,” she whispered, grinning through her tears, and he closed his eyes and sighed in apparent relief. Then he held out a ring and moved to slide it onto her finger. But just before he did so, he stopped and looked up at her.
“Just to be clear,” he said, “that ‘yes’ is to . . . which half of the question again?”
“The first,” she said, the teasing twinkle reappearing.
“And the second?” he asked.
“Is going to depend on my general mood,” she told him as he sighed with good nature and slid the ring onto her finger. She placed both hands on the side of his face. “And just for the record, Neville Longbottom, that was the most romantic thing I think I’ve ever heard anyone say.”
“I just figured I had nothing to lose at this point, so I might as well just go for it,” he admitted. She smiled.
“It really all started with that box of chocolates?” she asked him. He grinned.
“Yep,” he said, and then Neville Longbottom kissed his fiancee for the first time.
To Neville, February 16 had never before held any real importance. It had always been just another day. But from that moment on, in one instant, it became the most important day. In years to come, when he thought of that day, he would think of a ring, and of the day that Hannah Abbott said yes.
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