Author's Note: This
story is an alternate point of view of the New Year’s Eve party scene in St.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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,
“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,
“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
“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.
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
“I thought you loved
that new job,” he heard himself say.
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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 – ”
“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.