Chapter 1 : Chai, Samosas, and a Surprise
| ||Rating: 12+||Chapter Reviews: 28|
Background: Font color:
Okay, she knew what she was doing – she was wiping down tables at the Leaky Cauldron just after closing time, but that didn’t really count.
She’d survived a war.
She’d survived healer training at St Mungo’s.
She’d survived an epidemic outbreak of a highly virulent strain of dragonpox in rural Japan.
She’d survived telling her parents that she was moving out of home at the tender young age of twenty-five.
But here she was, cleaning tables at the Leaky Cauldron.
Hannah loved working at St Mungo’s, she really did, but after three gruelling years of training, and three more as a junior healer, she’d had enough. There were only so many I-don’t-know-how-my-wand-ended-up-in-that-particular-orifice, and I-swear-I-followed-all-the-instructions-for-a-love-potion-correctly-I-have-no-idea-why-they’re-hiccupping-green-hearts stories she could take.
So she’d quit.
But of course, you couldn’t just quit. She needed a way to pay the bills for her barely-safe flat, and to buy all those exotic and exciting ingredients for her cooking obsession. Let it not be said that she stopped being a Hufflepuff after she left Hogwarts.
So Hannah had basically begged for a job from the old caretaker of the Leaky Cauldron, Tom. He was getting on a bit, his grizzly grey beard looking more and more grizzly, and less and less grey each day. Hannah still thought this was a rather impressive feat, since Tom was balder than a hard-boiled egg.
“Oh, alright,” the man who had once been somewhat friendly had conceded with ill grace. “I suppose we could do with another pretty face around here.” And then he’d leered at her, revealing yellowing teeth that were a decidedly less impressive sight than his beard. Hannah had had to physically restrain her hands from grabbing her wand, some extra-strength antiseptic mouthwash, and a toothbrush, and give this man a lecture in dental hygiene.
But she wasn’t a healer anymore. And neither was Tom five years old, although clearly someone had been remiss in his dental health education.
But, whatever. She’d got the job, and hadn’t been forced to move back in with her parents. Yet.
Hannah sighed, and pushed away the bout of self-pity. A trained healer who’d burned out before hitting thirty she may be, but there was work to be done.
Even if it was just cleaning tables and stacking chairs.
Working at the Leaky Cauldron did have its perks, however. Her mother could rant all she liked about how she was too over-qualified for this job, and threaten to send her to live with her grandmother in Delhi, whilst her father just asked her to pass the daal, but all of that could hardly compare to the one delightfully surprising bonus: the kitchen.
It wasn’t huge, but it was large enough to comfortably feed everyone who graced the dining room during the office lunch rush, even at slightly over-full capacity. Hannah loved how it bustled and hummed during those times, but she loved it best when she had it all to herself, after closing time.
She wasn’t really sure if the head cook who ran the place with a wand in one hand beefy hand, and a spatula in the other during serving hours knew that she used the place from time to time. He’d caught her once, asleep on an uncomfortable wooden stool in front of the stove, but hadn’t mentioned anything about it. Either he thought she was homeless, or he didn’t mind her using his kitchen.
Hannah sighed again, but this time with happiness. She dumped the sack of groceries on a workbench and got to work.
First, she overturned her bag of potatoes into the sink and turned on the tap full blast. She set a gentle rolling charm on the potatoes so that they were cleaned evenly and well. Then she waved her wand to get the peas to shucking themselves out of their pods. She remembered her grandmother describing the pods as sleeping bags when she used to shuck peas with her on the kitchen table during the lazy afternoons of the summer holidays, a constant cacophony of car horns and construction the only sounds disturbing the sluggish pre-monsoon air.
Hannah measured out flour, threw in a few teaspoons of carom seeds, added a pinch of salt, and sloshed a liberal helping of oil into a wide shallow dish, resembling a small, steel birdbath. When she’d first seen an actual birdbath, she’d been rather confused as to why someone would use the bowl in which they kneaded dough for their rotis as a swimming pool for birds. And they’d called her strange. Another flick of her wand had the mixture kneading itself. She kept a keen eye on the consistency of the dough as she trickled water into the bowl, making sure that it didn’t become too sticky; she hated adding extra flour because then she ended up with all this extra dough.
Throwing a clean tea towel over the dough, she placed the metal birdbath aside, and moved onto her next task. The head cook had been unknowingly kind and left the large pot that he used for stews on the stove. A wave, and the pot filled with water; another, and the water began to boil; another still, and a pan levitated itself down from a nearby shelf to rest on the lit burner beside the stew tub. She added cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, a couple of cloves, a stick of cinnamon, a few bay leaves, and some grated nutmeg to her pan and gave the entire thing a few pokes with a wooden spoon so that they’d all roast evenly. She could’ve just bought the garam masala ready-made, she knew, or asked her mother for some since she’d run out of her usual store (and her mother had a secret recipe for garam masala that apparently Hannah was only getting as a wedding gift), but for this dish, she liked to make it from scratch. And besides, it was a Friday night, and there was nowhere else she’d rather be but here. She took the pan off the burner to allow the spices all to cool a little. She turned her attention back to her large pot and levitated her potatoes and peas into the bubbling water to boil.
Turning back to her spices, she tipped them into a bowl, and was just about to cast the spell which would reduce them to a fine powder when a voice sounded from behind her, “It smells lovely in here. What are you making?”
She whirled around guiltily, her wand still raised, to see Neville Longbottom, leaning against the entrance to the kitchen.
He grinned at her and raised his hands. “Easy, Hannah. I come in peace.”
She looked at him, a little confused. He raised his dark eyebrows, and somehow, they pointed towards her still-raised wand. She glanced down at it, and quickly lowered it, feeling a little embarrassed.
“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled, sure she was flushing pink. It was an unfortunate involuntary bodily function she’d inherited from her father, along with his thin blade of a nose and long eyelashes. “We’re closed,” she said a bit louder.
He stood up straight and walked into the kitchen. “I know.”
Hannah paused and looked at him. Neville Longbottom; leader, hero, Auror, crush that one time in sixth year. She’d seen him over the years since they’d left Hogwarts, here and there, but her job hadn’t allowed much time for socialising. She assumed it was a similar situation for him, even without a crazy old coot aiming for world domination around. This was confirmed by the dark smudges under his brown eyes.
“Oh.” She was at a loss for words. “What do you want, then?” She didn’t mean to come off as sounding rude or anything, but it had been a long week, with only dinner with her parents to look forward to on the weekend, and she didn’t have another graveyard shift until mid-next week, so this was basically the only time she’d have in a kitchen that was bigger than a public bathroom stall for a few days. She also wanted to go check on her potatoes and peas. They’d be almost ready by now.
He shrugged and shot her another grin, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his pyjamas. “I smelt something nice from my room, and I wondered what it was, so I came to check it out.”
“Oh.” Hannah decided that turning away from Neville might help her get words out that were longer than one syllable. She poked at the potatoes in the tub with her wooden spoon a little distractedly. He was a guest here, she remembered, renting one of the rooms for a couple of weeks.
“My room’s just above the kitchens, you know,” he continued, coming to lean against the workbench where her dough was resting, just behind her. No, she hadn’t known. Why in the name of Merlin’s egg timer would she know something like that?
“That’s nice. Did you need something?” The potatoes looked done, so she waved her wand and the heavy pot followed her obediently over to the sink, where she’d placed a colander about the size a toilet bowl earlier. A jab to its side made the pot tip its contents into the sink, then float back to the stove.
“What are you making?” he asked again, completely ignoring her question. Apparently all he needed was to be annoying. Fine, whatever. She had two younger brothers; she knew all about annoying.
Hannah hoped that her pointed silence was a clear indication that she wanted to be left alone to her cooking in peace. Letting the peas and potatoes drain, she turned back to her bowl of spices, pointing and muttering two quick spells under her breath.
Neville, who was according to all and sundry a brilliant Auror and great general human being, apparently terrible at reading social cues, because he completely ignored her ignoring, and came over to inspect her spices, which were currently smashing themselves into a pulp. Or a fine powder, since they were all dry.
“I think someone once threw a similar hex at me one time,” he remarked, bending his tall frame low over the bowl, so that his eyes were level with its lip. “It hurt like hell.”
“It’s an adaptation of that hex,” Hannah admitted reluctantly. Cooking had always been her thing, and whilst she wasn’t jealously guarding any culinary secrets, she wasn’t used to explaining what she was doing either. “One of my brothers once used it on someone, and my mum gave him a right scolding, saying that if he wanted to hit things so badly, he could grind the masala by hand for her.”
“Masala?” he asked, standing up, once again digging his hands into his pyjama bottoms. It was a little charming to see the action; she remembered him doing it a lot from when they were at school.
“Spice mix,” she explained.
“Oh, cool. What’s next?”
Hannah had to blink at how rapidly the conversation had changed. But she let it slide and continued, “Potatoes. They need to be peeled and chopped.”
“I can do that!” he said enthusiastically, pulling out his wand with a sort of dueller’s brandish and lumos in his eyes.
“Er… are you sure?” she asked, taking a step back.
“Of course! My grandmother had me peel and chop potatoes all the time – by hand.” He paused and scrunched his nose in thought. “She still does, actually, but I cheat a little now.” He gave her a conspiratorial smile, and she couldn’t help her answering smile. His genuine excitement at peeling and chopping potatoes was surprisingly endearing. “What size would you like them to be?”
“About the size of your phalange,” she replied.
At his blank look, she touched the tip-most section of her index finger. “Phalange,” she repeated. She’d forgotten, as usual, that bones of the body were not standard units of measurement.
“My phalange is bigger than your phalange.” He’d extended his palm toward her, as if offering it to have his fortune read, a perplexed expression on his face, but a twinkle in his eye.
She quirked her lips and raised her eyebrows. “Your phalange is just fine, Neville.”
He grinned again, and turned to the sink to get to work.
Leaving Neville to his task, she returned to the stove, swapping the pan for a large kadai she’d – ahem – borrowed from her mother’s kitchen. As big as it was, it wasn’t as if she’d miss it since it was only really used to make halwa three times a year. Pouring a little oil into it, she then threw in some cumin seeds, crushed ginger, and a few chopped green chillies, and sautéed them until the seeds had gone from there dull brown, to a brighter, redder colour.
“Are those potatoes done?” she called over her shoulder.
“Yes, ma’am,” Neville replied cheerily, bringing the colander over to her beside the stove.
“Good. Just tip that all in here, please.”
Neville obeyed, upturning the colander and then taking a hurried step back at the angry sound of cold water colliding with hot oil.
She grabbed her bowl of spices, now crushed to a fine dust, and added some to the kadai, along with some salt. She stirred the whole thing for a few minutes more, until she felt that the spices had all cooked and lost their rawness. Her grandmother had told her that cooking was easy – the only real secret was in knowing when something was done cooking. Hannah felt that this was true for a lot of things in life; it was easy to start things, but the real trick was knowing when you were done. She turned off the heat and turned back to her dough.
“What are we doing now?” Neville asked.
“We have to make the pastry shells from the dough,” she explained, whipping the tea towel off the top and kneading it lightly with her hands.
“And we can’t use magic for this?” he asked, watching her hands move in fascination.
“We can,” she replied. “But the charms don’t really give the desired results. They’re great if you’re in a hurry, or if you have a lot to make, but for as little as this, I like to do it by hand. Besides, I find it… relaxing.” Her hands had been busy whilst she was talking, separating the dough into golf-ball sized sections, then rolling each one out flat with a rolling pin, cutting it in half, applying a little water to the edge with a pastry brush, and pinching the semicircle into a cone. She placed the shells she completed off to the side of the bench, where she’d spilt out some flour for it.
“I know that sounds weird,” she said, seeing his raised eyebrows and slightly gaping mouth.
“No, that’s not weird!” he rushed to say. “I get it. I like looking after my plants by hand as well.”
“Ah, that’s right. Top of our Herbology class back at school. I think Professor Sprout was a bit disappointed that you hadn’t been in Hufflepuff.”
He smiled, and it looked almost… sad. “I wouldn’t have minded being in Hufflepuff,” he said quietly. She couldn’t help but wonder that there was more to those words.
But she also knew when she wasn’t to pry, so she shrugged and turned her head to smile at him, “You would’ve liked our Common Room. Always full of sunshine and there were plants everywhere. You’d often have to fight for studying space with some rare species from the heights of the Andes Mountains, or something.”
He laughed at that. It was a lovely sound, rich but light, like folding melted chocolate into whipped cream. “We just had to fight other people. I kind of prefer your situation, though.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Those vines could hug.”
He laughed again, and she laughed with him this time. She felt as light as fluffy egg whites, a way she hadn’t felt in… a long time. A very long time.
“So what do we do with the cones?” Neville asked.
“We fill them with the potatoes and peas mixture,” she called over her shoulder as she went to grab it off the stove where she’d left it to cool a little. When had I become we?
“You can help with this if you like,” she offered shyly, holding out a large spoon for him.
“Really? I can?” he looked as if she’d declared that he could open his Christmas presents the night before.
“Sure. I’ll show you.” She proceeded to show him how to hold the cone in his hand, how much of the mixture to spoon in, and then how to pinch the thing closed, forming a sort of pudgy triangle.
They got to work, moving through the pattern of pick, position, fill, and pinch in a comfortable silence. Neville began to hum tunelessly to himself as he worked, a slight furrow between his brows and his lips pressed into a line of intense concentration. Hannah tucked a quiet smile behind her bowed head at the sight.
Once all the cones had been filled, Hannah returned to her kadai, flicked a quick cleaning spell over it, and poured in enough oil to fry.
Waiting for the oil to reach the right temperature, she turned back to Neville and crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you doing here?” she asked, curious.
He shrugged, “Here, specifically, or here, in general?”
She pursed her lips for a moment in thought, weighing whether or not their shared experience of filling cones made of flour had formed enough of a bond to ask an answer to both. “Both.” She rationalised that if he didn’t want to answer one or the other, he wouldn’t have offered her the choice.
“My flat’s being renovated at the moment,” he said. “A leaking pipe from upstairs got bad enough to threaten the structural integrity of my wall that even my landlord agreed that it was unsafe and needed to be fixed. Not to mention the mould. I think they discovered a new species there yesterday.”
“Couldn’t you have stayed over at someone’s place?” she didn’t mean to be nosy, but it wasn’t as if Neville didn’t have friends and family who couldn’t offer him a couch to crash on for a while.
“I could,” he agreed with a nod of his head. “But my hours are long and crazy, which means I’m even more of a nuisance than your average houseguest, and well, it’s been a really long time since I lived with my grandma. I’m used to having my own space.”
She nodded in understanding. She liked having her own place to live too, as small as the kitchen was, and no matter how many pots and pans she had to steal from her mother.
She turned to the oil, dropping a bit of leftover dough in to see if it was hot enough; it was. She levitated over her triangles and dropped them in one by one, until there were five in the kadai. She muttered a spell which would turn them over, and then out onto some paper towel next to the stove when they were done. The rest of triangles still hovering beside her elbow, she turned back to Neville to ask, “And the other question? Why are you here, specifically?”
He shrugged, and looked away. “I couldn’t sleep, and then I smelt something nice wafting in, so I thought I’d check it out. I’m glad I did, Hannah. This was fun.” He looked back at her, and smiled.
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” she smiled back.
“I’m sorry for barging in on you like that, though. I know you wanted to be alone, but…” he left the sentence unfinished, but there was a look in his eyes that requested that she not ask him to finish the thought.
She obliged. “That’s alright,” she shrugged. “It was nice to have someone listen so attentively. And you’re a quick learner.”
“Would you like some chai – I mean – tea? Would you like some tea?” The rest of her triangles were now cooked, lying cosily next to each other on the paper towel, content to drain away their excess oil.
“I’ll grab the kettle.”
Hannah smiled in thanks and went to find two cups and plates.
When she returned to the stove, the kettle happily boiling away and the tea leaves lying on the bench next to it.
“By the way, what did we just make?” Neville asked as they watched the kettle boil away.
“Samosas,” Hannah replied. “They’re an Indian snack food that’s super popular. Have you ever had one?”
He shook his head, no.
“Would you like to have one?” she asked, feeling shy again. She was a good cook, she knew, but she always got nervous when anyone but her family ate the food she made.
“I’d love to,” he smiled.
“Good. There’s nothing like chai and samosas in the wee hours of the morning.”
“Chai and samosas and a friend,” he corrected, his brown eyes warm.
Hannah nodded slowly in agreement.
She didn’t know what she was doing with her life, but at least she had chai, samosas, and a friend in the wee hours of the morning.
Other Similar Stories
Catching Up ...