The Sugar Quill
Author: Dogstar (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Join Hands  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

This story is an alternate point of view of the New Year’s Eve party scene in St

Author's Note: This story is an alternate point of view of the New Year’s Eve party scene in St. Margarets' Roger and Lisa: A Romance. The character of Uncle Arnie, briefly mentioned, is Arnold Peasegood who appears in canon as a friend of Arthur Weasley’s during the Quidditch World Cup. In my ficverse, he’s Neville’s godfather.

This story was written before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and appears as originally posted on Live Journal. Romilda wouldn’t have been in the battle, so I think it’s conceivable she might not remember Neville ten years on.

Join Hands

Neville surveyed the finger buffet gloomily. The contents of the platters appeared uniformly disgusting. He opened up a triangular sandwich surreptitiously. Ham ought to be innocuous. He bit a corner and dropped the rest of the sandwich under the table. It had mayonnaise in it – or something resembling it at any rate. He hated mayonnaise. He arranged a couple of pieces of cheese and fruit onto his plate, so he would have something to occupy his hands while he avoided making small talk.

Feeling it would be rude to lurk in hiding from his date any longer, he edged out of the shadows and into the bright glare of the central cabin of the huge barge. The ballroom was crowded and noisy, the dance floor full of little knots of lawyers and Ministry types and their over-made-up wives making boring shop talk. What on earth had possessed him to agree to come to this thing? At this very moment he could be reacquainting himself with The Leaky Cauldron over a civilised pint with Uncle Arnie. He supposed the pushy woman ironing out the import regulations for him was quite pretty, in a sort of sharp-edged way. It might be worth at least trying to make it to a second date. On second thoughts, it was probably better if the evening didn’t go anywhere. Not when he was planning on switching to a more competent law firm as soon as the bank holiday was over.

Who was he kidding anyway? He knew exactly what had brought him here. “Neville! Come over here, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Delilah had run him to earth. Holding onto his arm with a vice-like grip, she manoeuvred him towards a small group of elderly wizards.

*

Romilda McClaggen made sure she grabbed a fresh glass as she moved reluctantly over to where her husband was holding court with a bunch of old suits, probably making an utter fool of himself as usual. How irritating to be dragged away just she was being introduced to Lisa’s dishy husband. And she hadn’t even begun to quiz little Hannah MacMillan about Ernie’s new role. Romilda felt hard done by. If only Cormac could be relied upon to say the right things to the right people occasionally, she might have a comfortable detached residence in the country, rather than a poky flat at the wrong end of the King's Road. As she neared the group of Ministry drones Cormac was chatting up, Romilda perked up. Approaching from the other direction was Delilah Greengrass. It appeared she’d managed to inveigle some poor sap into escorting her after all. Although – Romilda’s eyes brightened still further – it looked as though she’d done pretty well for herself this time.

“Delilah, sweetie. How are you?” Romilda scanned the man standing next to her friend. The expression on his face suggested that he was attending his own execution but other than that he was quite handsome in a modest sort of way. His robes were baggy and several years out of date, as though he didn’t attend formal functions very often. He made a refreshing change from Delilah’s usual type. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Darling! This is Neville Longbottom – don’t you remember him from school? He was in the year above.”

The hand that clasped hers strongly was warm, dry and slightly calloused. Romilda squeezed it gently. Of course, he wasn’t as tall and muscular as her Cormac but it did no harm to flirt.

“I think I remember you,” the man said in a slightly strained voice. Romilda preeened. It was good to know her charms hadn’t completely deserted her now that she was a respectable married woman.

“Of course you do. Where have you been hiding all these years, Neville?” She lowered her voice coquettishly. “Do you work for the Ministry like the rest of these windbags?”

“N – no, I …”

“Don’t be silly, Romilda – does he look like a pen-pusher?” Delilah cut in, tightening her grip on her date’s upper arm. “Neville’s just returned from overseas. Our office is helping him with the paperwork for the samples he wants to bring back. He’s terribly naughty – just as I think we’ve got everything sorted out, he comes out with yet another species he’s ‘forgotten’ about. But somehow I can’t bring myself to get cross with him.”

“I can imagine,” breathed Romilda, giving Neville her best come-hither look. He took half a step back. “Such important work.”

“They’re for the new greenhouses, at Hogwarts. The restocking project is finally nearing completion.”

“Oh – you’re at Hogwarts now? How – fascinating.” A school master. Not quite the intrepid explorer she’d had him pegged as then. Romilda turned to her husband and pulled him into their little circle. “Cormac is expecting promotion to partner any day now.”

Neville nodded politely at Cormac, who scowled and turned back to the argument he was having with the former head of the Wizengamot. “I’m not working there yet,” he explained. “I’ll be assisting Professor Sprout for the rest of the school year and substitute teaching various subjects until she retires in the summer.”

“Dear old Professor Sprout," said Delilah reminiscently. "She looked after us Hufflepuffs. Not the world’s greatest careers advisor mind. She wasn’t at all supportive of my decision to go into law. Didn’t I see you speaking to Hannah MacMillan earlier, Romilda?”

“Um, yes.” Romilda was getting a little bored. “I think she’s around somewhere.”

*

Hannah escaped onto the deck for some fresh air and leaned over the side. She pulled her stole more warmly around her shoulders, smiling as she thought about the conversation she’d had with Lisa. Ernie came up to her and handed her a cup.

“What is it?” she asked, sniffing it.

“Mulled ginger. You looked like you could do with something.”

“Thank you so much.” Hannah sipped at the warming beverage, feeling her stomach settle.

“Are you all right?” her huband asked solicitously.

“I’m fine. Just a bit of nausea.”

“Is it the …” Ernie’s voice was anxious.

“It’s normal. Don’t worry. Can we go home soon, though? I’m a bit tired.”

“Of course, of course. Just as soon as I’ve had a chance to catch up with the diplomat from East Africa. I won’t be long, promise.”

“It’s fine. Did you see I was talking Lisa Turpin from school? She’s doing really well, working at the Department of Mysteries and married now – to Roger Davies can you believe it? They seem ever so happy. They’re having a baby too, Lisa’s a lot further along though – well you can see for yourself. She’s going to invite me over to their new house and I thought there might be time to ask them both over for dinner before we go …”

“Ah, look – there he is!” Ernie cut across Hannah’s chatter, peering over her shoulder at a tall man in white robes. “I’ll be back in five minutes.” He hurried off.

*

Neville had managed to give Delilah the slip again by offering to fetch her a drink and was taking advantage of the breather to pull himself together. He leaned against the huge window that separated the cabin from the deck and cooled his forehead on the glass. It wasn’t though he hadn’t known she’d be here – hadn’t he come to this awful bash with the hope that she might be attending because of Ernie’s – he forced himself to think it – her husband’s job. However, to actually hear her name and confirmation that she was here had taken the wind out of his sails.

He’d had little bits of news over the last few years, most recently a couple of details that Professor Sprout had mentioned in her letters. In the first, the one offering him the opportunity to take over when she retired, she’d volunteered the information that after their marriage, Hannah and Ernie had moved into a converted windmill in the depths of Sussex. She’d included the address, ‘in case you want to wish them well in their new home’. Neville had almost suspected her of sarcasm. In her second letter, once he’d accepted – after the ten page list of all the plants she needed before she handed over the stewardship of her precious greenhouses – she’d noted that Hannah had left her job at the Ministry. He hadn’t responded to either prompt. It was long over between them, and it was time that people, including his gran, accepted it. 

He froze. He could see her. She was outside, talking to a stocky guy in immaculately tailored dark robes. As Neville watched, the man – it had to be Ernie – put his arm around her and handed her a cup of something. Her face was glowing, animated as she chattered in the excitable way he remembered so clearly. Then Ernie hurried away. Neville saw Hannah’s face fall slightly, then settle into a perfect imitation of composure. She continued to sip at her drink and smile to herself, turning away to lean over the side of the boat. She was probably humming, like she always did when thrown off-balance. Suddenly, he couldn’t wait a second longer to talk to her. He was about to step out outside, when he felt sharp nails digging into his elbow.

There you are. I’ve been looking all over.”

“Sorry,” said Neville automatically. “Um, can I get you a drink?”

“Oh Neville! Haven’t you been to the bar yet? No, don’t tell me – you forgot.”

“I’ll go now.”

“Don’t worry. Here we go.” Delilah scooped two glasses from a passing tray and handed one to him. “It’s champagne time anyway. Oh look! There’s Hannah from my old house. She’s such a dear. Let’s go and say hello.” She steered him confidently through the door and onto the deck.   

*

Romilda Vane, in the act of Summoning another drink, took the opportunity to scan the party for potential scandal. Lisa and the dishy Roger were over by the potted plants, heads very close together. There was Delilah, chatting to mousy little Hannah as though they were old friends, and her date, the dreamy gardener. Neville had said nothing earlier about knowing the MacMillans but he was staring at Ernie’s wife with a rather odd look on his face.

“Cormac, I’m just going to circulate.” Her husband ignored her. Romilda edge her way to the exit and paused in the shadow of the door frame. She could hear them perfectly.

*

“I hear you’ve left the Ministry?” At Delilah’s inquisitive question, Hannah glanced towards the floor, in a gesture that Neville remembered all too well. She looked different. Her hair was up, he realised. However, it seemed that these days she didn’t need it to hide behind. She nodded, with a bright social smile.

“It was time for a change.” Her hand was resting on the rail. Neville dragged his eyes away from something flashing and catching the light and fixed them on a point just above Hannah’s head.

“I thought you loved that new job,” he heard himself say. 

“Six years ago I loved it. Things change.”

“So you two are old friends? I didn’t realise.”

What was with this woman? His arm was going to be black and blue in the morning. Neville thought it politic to remain silent, besides his mind had gone blank. Would Hannah cover for him?

“Neville and I used to sit together in Herbology,” Hannah said lightly. He took it back. She hadn’t changed a bit. He lowered his gaze. The smile was now genuine, and alight with suppressed mischief.

“Oh! How sweet. The good old days. So, Hannah will this be an extended leave of absence for you – or perhaps, a career change?”

Delilah gave a tinkling laugh, nudging Neville rogueishly in the ribs. He could hear Big Ben striking the quarter hour in the distance. How soon could he get away? He might even make last orders. His godfather would still be at the pub with a whole crowd from Magical Law Enforcement. It would be good to catch up. He’d bet ten Galleons that Hannah would rather be there with her old friends than with this bunch of fossils. 

“My husband has been seconded to Egypt. He’s taking over the negotiations between Gringotts and the wizarding bank out there. It’s reached a particularly difficult stage of arbitration.” Hannah’s words called Neville back to the present.

“You shouldn’t be going to Egypt,” he said bluntly. “There’s Dark Magic everywhere from last year’s uprising. I went through Cairo six months ago. It’s not safe.”

“We’ll be staying in the Diplomatic sector, well away from the treasure sites. Living quarters are well-protected. It’s Ernie who’s at risk, not me.”

“Still dear, it’s his job, not yours,” Delilah sounded concerned. “What will you do in such a dreadful place? How long is the posting for – six months, twelve?”

“Ernie doesn’t want to be without me for that long. And it suits me.”

The words forced themselves out, despite himself. “You never wanted to live abroad before.”

“My father remarried last year. There’s nothing to keep me here now.”

“Except your safety.”

“Really Neville, I’m sure Hannah knows her own mind. Come and dance, it’s nearly midnight …” 

Neville shook off Delilah’s arm angrily.

*

Romilda watched and wondered who would win the battle of wills clearly going on. Her money was on the politician’s wife, whose voice was still calm and distant, although she was gripping the handrail a little tighter. For the second time that evening, Romilda noted the size of the rock on Hannah MacMillan’s ring finger with disgust. Now she waited excitedly for the explosion she was sure was coming. She edged closer, peering outside from behind a large rubber plant so that she could enjoy the panicky expression growing on Delilah’s face. Romilda had dismissed the man as ‘nice but dim’, but it appeared she’d been wrong. The gentle-looking gardener was frowning, his face suffused darkly. At that moment, his date for the evening appeared to twig that she was surplus to requirements, and walked away. Tsk, thought Romilda. Silly move, Delilah.

*

Through a haze, Neville watched Delilah teeter away on her high heels. Hannah was staring at him in shocked surprise but he felt only vaguely guilty. He noted with satisfaction that her hair had started to unravel from its smooth knot and that little strands were standing out in a fuzz around her forehead. Perhaps the Hannah he knew was still in there somewhere. He felt like trying to find out. After all, he had nothing left to lose.

“You said there were other reasons – to give up your job. What were they?”

Hannah’s patience snapped in an instant. “I’m not going to talk about it.”

Yes, he thought, that was more like it. Righteous anger slowly filled him as she continued.

“Neville – I waited and waited. I wrote and you didn’t even answer my letter …” She paused, took a slow, deep breath and lowered her voice again. “It’s been five years. You can’t just turn up now and start questioning my decisions.”

“What was the point in answering? You’d made your choice.”

“I said he’d asked me, I didn’t say I’d said yes.”

“You gave me an ultimatum.”

“I just asked you to come back.”

“I had a job. It was money – money we needed. You expected me to just drop everything. And do what – come home and find every door closed to me? Find work as some jobbing apothecary or market gardener? You could have stayed with me but you chose not to.”

“I couldn’t. Not then. You understood that – or I thought you did – like I understood why you had to take those contracts. It wasn't supposed to be forever. We had plans too – or have you forgotten?”

“Let’s not go over all that again.”

“No, let's not.” Hannah turned her head and gazed at the red and blue lights twinkling on the Embankment.

That wasn't fair. “It wasn't me who changed the plan, remember? All I got was a letter telling me you were seeing someone else, and he’d asked you to marry him and it was ‘now or never’. What did you expect?”

“I expected that you might come back, if you still thought we had a chance. I drew the obvious conclusion.”

“You gave up on me.”

“I hadn’t heard from you in months. Not one word. Was I supposed to spend the rest of my life alone? Don’t look at me like that, Neville. Ernie’s a good man and he loves me and we’re – ”

“What?”

“Leaving. I should go and find him. And you need to go and talk to Delilah. You were appallingly rude to her, you know.”

*

Annoyingly, Romilda now couldn’t hear a word that was being said but the intent expression on Neville’s face was unmistakeable. He must be about to kiss her, or possibly hex her. It looked as though it could go either way. She looked around wildly, hoping to see portly Ernie MacMillan heaving into view.

All around her, people were dancing. Delilah had found a junior clerk from somewhere and dragged him behind another rubber plant, where they were now snogging each others’ faces off. No wonder she couldn’t keep hold of a bloke for more than five minutes. Roger and Lisa Davies had left already, before Romilda had had a chance to bring Cormac over to talk to them. She cast a fleeting look at her husband, but he was still deep in slurred conversation with the old gits.

*

“Don’t talk to me like a bloody prefect.” Neville lowered his voice. “Let’s not fight Hannah. We never did before.”

“Oh, before …”

“Are you leaving because of me – don’t you trust me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s not the issue.”

“It should be.”

Her eyes flickered towards the ground again for a second but she didn’t respond. He shrugged, feeling guilty, and not about Delilah. “You were always the sensible one.”

“Yes, that’s me – sensible, dull Hannah MacMillan.” Her voice was bitter. “Ernie and I are a perfect match. Goodbye, Neville.”

She held out the hand that had been resting on the rail, and he took it. He opened his mouth to protest that wasn’t what he’d meant, but thought better of it. What good would it do? The shape of her hand was as familiar as his own, but there was a hard, sharp thing scratching his palm that he didn’t want to think about. With a determined look on her face, Hannah stepped forward and stood on tip toe to press a kiss to his cheek.

*

On the surface, it looked perfectly innocent but Romilda had the feeling that if either one of them had held the embrace a second longer, they would have Disapparated away without a thought, unable to help it. She shivered, feeling sad, and realised that she could hear midnight striking. Just another year passing. She hurried back into the ballroom. She snaked an arm around her husband’s waist and whispered throatily in his ear, making him flush an even deeper red and finally break off his conversation.

//
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