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Chai, Dancing, and a Friend in the Wee Hours of the Morning by 800 words of heaven
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Chai, Dancing, and a Surprise
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What one had to understand was that it had sounded like a good idea at the time. Hannah had thought that her simple crush on her good friend would never go anywhere. She’d been rather content with being forever in the friendzone. It wasn’t that bad a place, all things considered. Having Neville as a friend was quite splendid.
But then he’d asked her to be his Valentine, and she’d agreed.
Eight months later, she found herself hopelessly in love with Neville Longbottom.
Hannah bit her lip as she leaned against her front door, giving it a good push to ensure that the lock clicked shut. She still hadn’t gotten around to fixing that. She stood there for a moment, watching Neville as he sidestepped the rangoli on the floor, the glittering sands swirling slowly into new patterns. Her heart flip-flopped – like it had been doing all night – as she was struck by how handsome he looked in a dark green kurta. She bit her lip as he unbuttoned the silver-grey Nehru vest, and flopped onto the couch with a soft sigh.
It was well past midnight, and they’d just returned from her parents’ home. It was Diwali today, the Festival of Lights, and as they did every year, her parents had hosted the celebrations for their family and friends. This year had been rather more momentous for Hannah, as it was the first time she was taking a boy home for a family celebration.
She’d been nervous about the whole thing for weeks. Neville had met her parents a few months before, but taking him home for arguably the biggest holiday of the year, to meet the entire clan… that was something else entirely.
Thankfully, the night had gone rather well. There was only the good-natured sort of yelling, and the only bangs that were heard all night were of the fireworks they’d set off in the backyard after the pooja and potluck dinner. Those fireworks were probably still lighting up the sky – one of her cousins had somehow managed to procure a vast quantity of Filibuster’s fireworks, and the younger members of their gathering were determined to light them all. When one of the aunties had suggested that they could perhaps save some for the new year, there had been a chorus of fervent protest. Hannah had to privately agree; they would bring in the new year with all new fireworks.
There was a special place in her heart for Diwali, but she knew this year would remain forever crystallised as a blur of happiness and colour in her memory, simply because it was her and Neville’s first holiday together.
“Chai?” she asked, already filling the kettle with water, knowing full well what the answer would be. Neville’s caffeine addiction rivalled only her own. That’s what came of training for rather gruelling vocations, she supposed.
“Do you even have to ask?” Neville answered, still lounging on the couch, his eyes closed.
Hannah laughed, and set the glass kettle on the stove to boil. She busied herself readying the tealeaves, chai masala, cups, and tea strainer, before making her way over to the couch, and plopping rather inelegantly beside Neville. The long, full skirt of her lehenga flared out, partly draping over Neville’s stretched legs.
“Did I mention how beautiful you looked tonight?” Neville murmured, turning to face her, and nuzzling a soft kiss to her temple.
Hannah couldn’t help a giggle, slightly breathless at the soft brush of his lips against her skin. God, she had it so bad. “You may have mentioned it, once or twice,” she replied, twining the fingers of her left hand with his right, and laying her head on his shoulder.
“How did you hold up, tonight?” she asked.
“I had fun!” Neville said, his eyes lighting up. “Do you reckon your mother would make me palak paneer for the rest of my life, if I asked her nicely?”
“Are you saying that you prefer my mother’s palak paneer over mine?” Hannah asked, raising an eyebrow in mock indignation. She knew her mother’s palak paneer was better than hers – she hadn’t quite got the hang of puréeing the spinach as smooth, yet. Neither could she ever balance the garlic properly – it was always a touch too much, or a touch too little. Hearing the kettle start to bubble, she got up to add the tealeaves and milk.
Neville followed her into the tiny space, looking vaguely guilty. “Um… is there a way of answering that tactfully?”
Hannah couldn’t help her smile. Neville’s sheer sincerity was difficult to resist. “I don’t think so.”
Neville grinned back. He took the now-ready tea, and poured it into the two waiting cups. After, he sent the kettle and strained tealeaves zooming into the sink.
They leaned against the bench, side by side, and sipped on their chai in companionable silence. Hannah loved her family, and loved spending this holiday with them; but there was a magic to having a few moments of quiet, a cup of tea in hand, amongst all the friendly chaos that the holiday season entailed. Now that Diwali was over, she was already thinking about gearing up for Christmas. She had a few ideas for the Leaky Cauldron that she wanted to discuss with Tom…
“Hey,” Neville nudged her gently, bringing her out of her thoughts. “What is that nefarious mind of yours plotting, now?”
“Hufflepuffs don’t have nefarious minds,” Hannah snorted.
Neville’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Or is that what you simply have the rest of us believe?”
Hannah huffed out a surprised laugh. “Oh, no! You’ve discovered our secret!”
Neville chuckled, too, and wrapped his arms around her. Hannah leant into his body, her own relaxing.
“Want to go to bed, now?” he asked, resting his cheek on top of her head. It was one of his favourite hugging positions, Hannah noted with fondness. Where she should be annoyed that he was rubbing in his superior height, she was oddly charmed. Love had her all addled up.
“I’m not sleepy,” Hannah replied, reaching up and bumping her nose with his.
Neville raised his eyebrows, even as he blushed. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked, his voice all soft and rumbly.
Hannah’s lips quirked in a devilish smirk. “Probably not.”
Neville’s eyebrows climbed higher on his forehead, as his large, warm hands slid around from her back to rest on her waist. His fingertips gently ran across the bare skin between her cropped top and skirt.
Hannah twitched at the sensation. “Hey! That tickles!”
He stilled his hands with a devilish smirk of his own. “Are you sure?”
Hannah pushed away with a laugh. “I’m in the mood for cooking.” She reached back, trying to feel for the pin holding her dupatta in place. She didn’t want to damage the shimmery gold fabric. Oil stains were a nightmare to remove, even with all the magic in the world.
She heard Neville sigh. “Fine, fine. Cooking now. Sexy times later.” His warm fingers covered her hands where she was still struggling with the pin, stilling them. She brought them down by her side, whilst she waited patiently as Neville fiddled with the pin, freeing it in a moment. She turned her head towards him, and gave him a smile of thanks. His eyes, the colour of rich chocolate, crinkled with a smile of his own. The heat in them made Hannah blush. He took the dupatta from her shoulder, and draped it across the back of the couch, along with his own vest.
Hannah went to her pantry and grabbed the two aprons. She often didn’t bother with them, but their traditional Indian attire was a touch too fancy with which to be so cavalier. Of course, the most sensible solution would’ve been to change into something more practical, but Hannah was reluctant to let go of the magic of the evening. Changing into her old pyjamas would be far more comfortable, certainly, but she wanted to linger in the unique excitement and joy of the holiday season.
Neville was rolling up his sleeves, “So, my darling chef, what is on the menu for us, tonight?” Oh, my god. He’d called her darling.
Be cool, she reminded herself sternly. Surely, it had been a slip of the tongue. Neville was quite affectionate; the endearment was a natural extension of that, she rationalised. She wasn’t his actual darling. They’d only been dating for eight months.
Or, maybe… he’d meant something more?
She mentally shook herself, and answered Neville’s question, hauling her kadai onto the stove at the same time. Her mother had probably noticed that it had been missing for quite some time, now, but since she’d never brought it up, neither had Hannah. “We’re making gujia.” That “we” still sent pleasant shivers through her whenever she said it. It was so incredibly delightful to be a “we” with Neville.
“What’re those?” he asked. Knowing that the appearance of the kadai meant frying, Neville readied a plate with paper towel, and fished out a long-handled slotted spoon from the drawer, placing them on the bench beside the stove, ready for use.
Hannah quirked an amused eyebrow. I’ve trained you well, it said.
His answering sheepish grin replied: I know.
“Gujia are these fried, filled pastries. Depending where they’re made, people fill them with nuts, and dried fruits, and other sweet things.”
“That sounds exceptionally decadent.”
Hannah nodded. “Very much a festival food. Dad makes them for Christmas.” In the Abbott household, both Hindu and Christian holidays were celebrated in full force. Growing up, it had been a little difficult explaining what Holi, and Dushera, and Diwali were to some of her friends, but now, Hannah felt pretty lucky to have twice the reasons to celebrate.
Getting out the dish she used to knead dough, Hannah began to measure out the flour and ghee, waving her wand to mix them together. Another wave, and water trickled into the mix to get it to the right consistency.
“Could you chop the nuts?” Hannah asked.
“If by chop, you mean smash, then yes, most definitely,” Neville grinned.
Hannah laughed, and took out the jars that held the almonds, cashews, and sultanas. Thankfully, she’d restocked for the holiday season; a large glass tray currently held pride of place on her coffee table, filled with almonds, cashews, pistachios, sultanas, and dried apricots and figs. As family and friends dropped by around Diwali to give gifts of well-wishes and sweets, they could happily snack on these dried fruits and nuts, along with sipping on some piping hot tea. Hannah would continue to refill the large tray throughout November and into the Christmas season. So many of the little traditions of Diwali flowed seamlessly into those of Christmas.
“Smash away!” Hannah agreed. “But not too small – we don’t want powder.”
“I shall endeavour to control my strength,” he said solemnly, getting the mortar and pestle ready. “But no hard and fast promises.” Hannah bit her lip to stop herself laughing. That roguish twinkle belied his grave tone and expression.
As Neville got to happily pulverising the nuts, Hannah fished out a packet of desiccated coconut from the back of her pantry. She placed a pan on the stove, next to the kadai, and started to dry roast the coconut. At the best of times, Hannah wasn’t particularly fond of coconut, but her father always put it in his gujia. In deference to her teacher in the noble art of gujia-making, she included them in hers tonight.
“I’m amazed the tealights have remained burning for so long,” Neville said, coming up to stand beside her.
Hannah nodded in agreement. It was customary to decorate the house with light for Diwali. As late afternoon had approached earlier that day, she’d lit what had felt like a hundred little tealight candles, scattering them around the communal space. She’d bought these candles especially for the occasion, some scented subtly with cinnamon, others with ilaichi, and others still with apple. The vendor had assured her that she could leave them lit for hours unattended without fear of burning down her home; the protective enchantments had been imbued into the wax itself. Since the shop, owned by a wizarding family who’d emigrated from Mumbai a decade ago, ran a thriving and well-respected business, she’d taken their word for it. So far, her curtains remained intact, and she hadn’t noticed any spilt wax either. Best of all, they bathed her home in a warm glow that perfectly complemented the dreary October weather.
“I’m going to be sad taking down the little jars,” Hannah said, flicking her wand to empty the roasted coconut into a waiting bowl. Its job done, the pan flew across the kitchen to land with a dull thud in the sink. Hannah glanced about, before pointing her wand at a cupboard, and levitating a saucepan out. Filling it with water from the tap, she jerked her wand towards her, pulling along the saucepan. It came to land on the recently-vacated flame, the water gently sloshing along its side.
“You don’t have to take all of them down,” Neville mused, looking at the little jars floating near the ceiling. Each held a bright flame of a different colour, dancing merrily inside the confines of the glass. “You could leave the red and green ones up for Christmas.”
“That’s an excellent idea!” Hannah exclaimed, measuring out some sugar into the saucepan. Neville stood up from where he’d been leaning against the bench, and gently nudged Hannah out of the way. “Are we dissolving the sugar in the water?” he asked, grabbing the wooden spoon that Hannah had used for the coconut, and began to gently stir the mixture.
Hannah nodded. “And let it thicken a little.”
“Sort of like making caramel.”
Hannah beamed. “I have taught you well, young grasshopper.”
“Thank you, master,” Neville replied with a small bow.
Hannah laughed again, feeling giddy. She twirled out of the kitchen towards the wireless in her living room. It had been so wonderful introducing – and fine, she admitted it – showing off her boyfriend to her extended family and friends. She’d been pleased that he got along so well with everyone. Of course, everyone knew who Neville Longbottom was; Neville had confessed to her a few days before that he was nervous about what they’d think of him. He’d worried that he’d rub them the wrong way, his unwanted fame often being the thing on which people solely focused. Hannah had tried to allay his fears. She’d seen him around other people. Yes, some sneered because he was famous, but once you got to know Neville, you couldn’t deny that he was down-to-earth and humble, simply shrugging off all that he’d done during that horrific year at Hogwarts, and after, at the Auror department.
And now, only a few weeks into his teaching career, he was fast becoming a favourite of the students.
A few taps of her wand on the wireless, and she found the station that played Bollywood songs after ten in the evening. She swayed and twirled to the upbeat song, singing along to the lyrics softly. It was approaching the wee hours of the morning, and her sexy boyfriend was toiling away at the stove on her behalf. It was Diwali, and Christmas was approaching, and the flames of the diyas swayed with her, despite how low they were now burning. For these few moments, Hannah felt completely and utterly happy.
She held her arms up in the air, pretending that she was a ballerina, and spun in a tight circle, taking a childish delight in the way her lehenga spun out in a circle around her.
As the song came to an end, she stopped her mad, uncoordinated dancing. Breathing fast to catch her breath, her cheeks flushed she was sure, her long hair in disarray around her face, her eyes connected with Neville’s. He was leaning forward on the bench next to the sink, watching her intently, a smile pulling gently at the corners of his mouth.
“Are you… laughing at me?” Hannah asked. She couldn’t quite make herself care if he were – she was still a little dizzy from all that spinning.
“Never,” he murmured. Her breath caught at the unexpected sincerity in that one word. They stood there, the candles still dancing sleepily around them, and Hannah’s heart felt as if it were about to burst. So what if they’d only been dating for eight months? They’d been friends for a while before that. And she knew that Neville would never repudiate her abrupt declaration of love. He may not say the words back, but he wouldn’t turn away from her, either. This was Neville Longbottom they were talking about, for goodness’ sake.
Neville stood up straighter, as if he’d read her mind. “Hannah…” he began, but didn’t continue.
She waited for him to say something more, but when he didn’t, she opened her mouth, fully prepared to declare her feelings.
“Is the sugar syrup ready?” Hannah asked.
Neville’s shoulders dropped, and he turned away before Hannah could see the disappointment on his face. He’d been so sure that she was…
Never mind that now, Longbottom, he thought. “Yes, it’s ready,” he replied chirpily. Had that been too chirpy? Damn. Hannah was too good at detecting too much chirp.
She came back into the kitchen, her floor-length golden skirt swishing along with each of her steps. Her cropped top, the red fabric shimmering subtly gold in the candlelight made her look radiant, especially with her hair wild around her from her exuberant dancing. He’d teased her earlier that evening about wearing Gryffindor colours for him.
She’d blushed, but had teased back, with a smile and that adorable dimple. “Wait until you see what I’ve got on underneath, Gryffindork.”
Hannah, thankfully, didn’t notice the excess chirp, and busied herself with pouring the roasted coconut, and the nuts and sultanas he’d smashed earlier, into the sugar syrup. She began humming along with the next song that the wireless was playing, continuing as if they hadn’t just had a moment.
Neville frowned, but brushed it aside. Whatever was weighing on Hannah’s mind, she’d tell him when she was ready. She was always so considered with her emotions, pondering and meditating on ideas and feelings before she was comfortable enough to voice them. It was just one of the many things he loved about her.
How could he have possibly stopped himself from falling head over heels in love with Hannah Abbott? If he lived a thousand years, he didn’t think he’d find the answer.
They chatted about this and that as Hannah finished mixing the filling, and brought it over to the dough. He told her some of the amusing things that his students got up to at Hogwarts as he made small balls of the dough, and she rolled them out into thin, round, discs.
They giggled over the antics of the sometimes-colourful patrons of the Leaky Cauldron, as Hannah heaped a spoonful of the fruit-and-nut mixture into the centre of each disc, and Neville sealed the sweet half-moon shaped dumplings with a neat pleat.
As Hannah fried off the gujia to golden perfection, and Neville brewed another kettle of chai, they discussed when they could see each other again. After finishing class for the day, Neville had flooed over to Hannah’s place, so that he could celebrate with her, this holiday that was so close to her heart. He hoped today was the first such holiday of many with Hannah. Luckily, Diwali had fallen on a Friday this year, and so he was able to spend the entire weekend down in London with her. His lips twitched in amusement as he remembered the excited whispers – in the staffroom no less! – when he’d returned from a weekend down in London the previous time. Granted, he hadn’t done much to hide the hickey on his neck; rather, he’d decided to wear it with not a little amount of pride. When he’d told Hannah about it, she’d blushed and threatened to leave hickeys in less conspicuous places next time, although she’d been laughing. (She’d yet to carry out that threat.)
It had been difficult doing this relationship semi-long distance since he’d started his tenure as the new Herbology professor in September, but so far, they were making it work.
“I think I’ll have a weekend off in two weeks’ time,” Hannah said with a thoughtful frown, carrying the plate to the high bench that formed the border between the kitchen and the living room.
Neville followed with two steaming mugs of chai, the spicy scent of the masala mixing deliciously with that of the fried sweetness Hannah had just put down. “I could come down again,” he suggested.
Hannah’s frowned deepened. “Assessments for the first term are coming up, aren’t they?”
Neville sighed, and nodded, taking a sip from his mug.
“The kids will need you around to pester,” she smiled. “And besides, you’re still new. It’s important for you to be at Hogwarts on the weekends, to build trust with both the students and the staff.
She was right, of course. But still – “I’ll miss you,” he mumbled, taking a large bite of the gujia. “Ow! It’s hot!” He quickly dropped the dumpling onto the counter, the broken crust gently allowing steam to escape from inside its crispy, golden, cage.
Hannah laughed, completely unsympathetic about his burnt tongue. “You know they just came off the stove.”
Neville pouted. “I just wanted to eat some of the delicious food we’d made, that’s all.”
Hannah rolled her eyes at his dramatics, but leant over and kissed him gently on his lips. Pulling back after a few moments, she said, “There, I kissed it better.”
“I don’t think it’s quite fixed, yet,” he replied, their faces still close. Both of them were smiling, utterly delighted with each other. “I think you’ll have to kiss it better, again, just to make sure.”
She leant forward, laughing, and kissed him again.
As they both finished their chai, and it came time for the wonderful evening to come to an end, Neville tried to work up that famous Gryffindor courage to confess his feelings for Hannah. Sure, they’d only been dating for eight months, but they’d been friends for longer than that. It wasn’t too early to say those three little words.
Hannah got up to place their cups in the sink, and Neville screwed up all his courage.
“I love you,” he mouthed to her back.
By the next moment, when Hannah turned around to face him again, he’d whipped out his wand and was busying himself cleaning up around the stove.
Hannah watched Neville as he tidied up one half of the kitchen, his back turned to her. Once more, she opened her mouth to tell him.
“I love you,” she mouthed to his back.
With a frustrated shake of her head, she turned to set the dishes to washing, and a wet cloth to wiping down the bench.
It wasn’t until the morning of Christmas eve that Neville blurted out that he was deeply and madly in love with Hannah. Mid-omelette flip, no less.
Hannah, at least, had the wherewithal to wait until the omelette was safely back in the skillet, sturdy on the stove, before declaring that she was deeply and madly in love with Neville, too.
Adios, amigos! :D
A glossary of Hindi terms:
Chai – tea
Diya – oil lamps. Here, Hannah uses the term more broadly to apply to the tealight candles, which aren’t strictly diyas
Dupatta – long piece of fabric, like a shawl, worn by women with traditional Indian attire
Gujia – sweet, fried pastry, the filling depending on the region in which it is being eaten
Ilaichi - cardamom
Kadai – round-bottomed cooking pot, with round handles on either side
Kurta – upper garment for women and men, serving the same function as a shirt
Lehenga – long, embroidered, pleated skirt
Masala – spice mix
Palak paneer – savoury dish made of spinach and a type of cheese, paneer, that’s like ricotta
Pooja – prayer
Rangoli – art form in which patterns are created on the floor using materials like coloured rice, sand, or dry flour. Usually, they’re static, but in the story, I have it changing – because magic!