This story was written
in February 2007, and posted first on quillerfluffers
for Valentine’s Day, in response to the combined prompts “chocolate” and “conflict.”
It has been
tweaked slightly to incorporate some thoughts I’ve had post-DH, namely that
Neville would not go straight into teaching. The Professors at Hogwarts, almost
without exception, are not “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” people
– they are experts in their chosen fields. I think Neville would be
a Professor in that mould.
This story is unbetaed,
but I am very grateful to the reviewers who gave me feedback on the early
version of this story: St. Margarets, Anya, Girlyswot, Kate HC2, Arya, Whimsy,
Starsea, Seaspray, Xianiane, J Forias, Ardie Bea, Kerosinkanister and TDU.
Chocolate and Spice
Hannah stared out of
the kitchen window at the lowering sky outside. The wind howled, a freezing
draught sneaking in under the back door. She shivered and put her hands around
the electric kettle to warm them. Almost twenty-three years old, and here
she was on Valentine’s day making cocoa for her dad, when she could be on
the other side of the planet with the person she loved most in the world.
A traitorous tear splashed onto the cheap vinyl worktop. Was this old kettle
ever going to boil? Hannah couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. She filled
the mug with cold water from the tap and pointed her wand at it. As always,
the scalding liquid bubbled its way over the rim. She watched the brown puddle
spread and mingle with the round droplet of her tear before sliding off the
counter and dripping onto the floor. Damn. Now she’d have to clean that up.
When she’d taken the
mug to Dad – who merely grunted, not lifting his eyes from his crossword
– she went back into the kitchen to start making a chilli con carne
for her lunch the next day. The food in the Ministry canteen was excellent,
but it was too expensive to eat there every day. As a lowly employee in the
Accidental Magic Reversal Squad Hannah’s salary didn’t stretch far. She managed
to keep a roof over their heads and food in the cupboards, but not much more.
Dad had promised to look for a job now that she was living with him again,
but she’d believe it when she saw it.
Adding the grated dark
chocolate to the bubbling pot of chilli, Hannah remembered last Valentine’s
day. How the evening had started so promisingly … and yet ended so badly.
She’d been staying with Neville in a rented flat in the wizarding quarter
of Mexico City, where they were holidaying for a few weeks following the successful
completion of their most recent specimen-collecting assignment. They’d spent
a hot and tiring day wandering the cobbled streets of San Angel, taking in
the colourful sights and smells of the local market stalls, coming home to
enjoy a late-afternoon dip in the salt-water pool attached to their apartment
complex. They hadn’t bothered getting dressed again after their swim. The
old apartment, the best they could afford until the next instalment of their
fee arrived in their Gringott’s account, wasn’t air-conditioned and soaked
up the sun’s heat during the day.
“Chocolate in chilli?
Are you sure?” she asked Neville, who came up to the cooker to tip in the
little pile he’d prepared with the nutmeg grater. They both enjoyed the preparation
stage of cooking, the chopping and shredding and peeling, but it was Neville
who was the creative one when it came to combining the ingredients. Hannah
would be intent on sticking to the recipe, terrified that the dish would turn
out wrong. Neville, on the other hand, was happy to experiment, take daring
risks which nearly always paid off.
“Trust me,” he said,
standing behind her as she stirred, wrapping his arms around her waist. His
thumbs stroked her ribcage in the gap between her sarong and the top half
of her bathing costume. In a minute, she knew, they’d find their way underneath
her bikini top. She leaned back against his bare chest and breathed in the
scent of his skin, slightly salty from his swim and intermingled with the
rich smells of cumin and tomatoes and onions steaming from the hob. Underneath,
however, its familiarity was unchanging – sun, rain, the earth. Even
in South America, Neville always reminded her of the English countryside,
the garden behind their little house in North Yorkshire after fresh rainfall.
A year later, it was a scent Hannah was beginning to find hard to bring to
mind during long days buried in the dusty airlessness of her office.
“I do,” she replied,
struggling to keep her mind on the task in hand. “But you’d better stop that
if you want to eat tonight.”
“I am hungry,”
he said contemplatively, slipping his hands out of her top, but only to snap
open the fastening at the small of her back. “I’m just not sure what for.”
“I – I think it’s
done anyway,” she gasped. “It needs to be left to simmer now for half an hour
“How cooperative of it,”
said Neville, tugging at her sarong, while simultaneously drawing her by the
hand into the bedroom next to the kitchen.
The chilli, Hannah remembered,
had tasted wonderful. They ate sitting cross-legged on the bed, with bread
to soak up the juices, scooping up the meat and beans by hand. Then as they
lay back with their coffee the conversation turned, again, to the future.
“The letter said both
of us,” Neville said stubbornly, his voice full of hurt. “I don’t see why
you can’t stay with me and accept the job.” They’d been talking round in circles
for over a week but Hannah didn’t feel any impatience with him. She just felt
sadder every time she looked at the clock and counted down the minutes until
she would have to leave. Talking it over made the fact of her going home seem
less real, as though somehow they might yet find a way to stop it happening.
“How can I do that now?
I’ve already turned it down. I doubt your employer would be impressed with
me shilly-shallying. Anyway I have to go back. The Ministry is waiting for
me. You know they weren’t keen on me extending my sabbatical.”
“Stay. This job uses
your talents. Pushing paper and Obliviating Muggles – is that what you
want to do forever? You’ve got five N.E.W.Ts.”
“You know it isn’t. But
I like the contact with the families and the little ones. I feel like I can
do some good where I am. And besides, I’m not the only one who hasn’t worked
“That’s not true.” Neville’s
voice was stubborn. “I just don’t think I’m ready yet. It isn’t an option
at the moment anyway. ”
“What if it never is?
Professor Sprout isn’t showing any sign of letting go, even though she should.
According to your Gran she’s in pain every day.”
“Yes, but she’s promised
Madam Pomfrey … when everything’s back to the way it was … You read her last
“That could be another
five years. Come back with me. You can look for something permanent, we’ll
…” set another date … Hannah bit the end of the sentence off before
it could escape.
“I have to take this.
I’ll learn loads and we’ll be able to put so much away.” Neville moved so
that he was kneeling in front of her. “It’s an amazing opportunity but I don’t
want it without you beside me.” He took her hands and looked directly at her.
“We make a good team. I’d never have found those specimens on my own without
you to sense the magic in all that jungle.”
Hannah’s eyes slid sideways.
“You’d have got them eventually. I helped speed the process up, that’s all.
In the mountains you won’t need me at all.” She voiced her one unassailable
argument. “It’s obvious they only offered me the chance to stay on to keep
you sweet.” Neville opened his mouth to argue, but she didn’t let him cut
in. “Besides, it’s more than the job. You know why I have to go back to Britain.”
Her voice was quiet.
She didn’t want to mention Dad, but Neville shouldn’t push her this way. It
was different for him. His parents didn’t know he existed, any more than they
knew how much it cost to keep them at St. Mungo’s since the new administration
had introduced top-up fees for long term care. For that reason alone it wasn’t
fair or kind to try and drag him back home, leaving aside the fact he’d been
looking for work that would hold his interest for over a year before getting
this job, going from one small contract to another, always over-qualified. There
was nothing left in Britain for him to learn.
She understood why he
didn’t want to live in the country where everyone expected him to be ‘Neville
Longbottom, big war hero’ everywhere he went, and tolerate their surprised
looks on discovering that he hadn’t taken on some high profile role in reconstructing
the brave new society. He wasn’t interested in a flashy job description, or
being forced to participate in round after round of drinks with near-strangers
every time they went to the pub. Continually being cast in the role of mousy
little girlfriend hadn’t been a whole lot of fun for her either, if she were
honest. If only they could find a safe place where they could hide away and
no one would bother them. Hannah still enjoyed working at the Ministry, but
she hated London. She thought wistfully of the home they’d shared for two
and half years after the war ended, and the little church on the outskirts
of Upper Flagley where they’d planned to marry, following in the footsteps
of Neville’s parents and grandparents.
No, she couldn’t mention
the wedding. It would be spectacularly unfair to whine about putting it off
yet again. He’d be quite justified in bringing up the fact that it was in
no way his fault they’d had to change their plans once already, before leaving
England twelve months earlier. Dad again, putting in one of his periodic disappearances
only weeks before the ceremony. They’d laughed it off, joking about how he
was worse than Neville’s old toad, Trevor. It hadn’t seemed to matter too
much at the time, they were so excited at the prospect of setting off on their
big adventure. Now, facing separation from Neville for the next two years
while he continued travelling around the world for a demanding boss, Hannah
couldn’t help wishing that the pretty heirloom on her finger was already completed
by a simple gold band.
They were back to where
they’d started. Hannah’s portkey route to Britain was set for the following
day, as was Neville’s to take him onto Popocatépetl.
The conversation had ended there, Hannah mute with the effort of not begging
him again to come back with her. After a final attempt to persuade her to
stay, Neville too had lapsed into pensive silence.
It had been the last
time they’d seen each other until the following Christmas, four long months
later. It was an awkward holiday, uncomfortably divided between Hannah and
her Dad’s cramped rented flat and Augusta’s pin-neat, welcoming home. The
cosy little house on the hill nearby had changed hands since they moved out
and was now let to a faceless Ministry employee – an Unspeakable, Augusta
had informed them. They hadn’t even bothered to make the walk up Odin’s Hill
for old time’s sake.
Heading back on New Year’s
Day, this time to Nepal, Neville promised to be back for her birthday on May
1st. At the same time he broke the news that it was unlikely he’d
be able to get away before then. They had kissed desperately, until they were
breathless, but Hannah had felt ice starting to form around her heart the
minute he’d gone, remembering the eagerness in his eyes winning over sadness
at leaving her behind again. The separation between them was turning into
more than physical distance. She feared she was losing him, and it hurt almost
As she charmed the chilli
to stir itself while she grated the chocolate into the pan, Hannah leaned
into the aroma, allowing the steam to warm her chilled face. When all the
ingredients had gone in, she sat down at the table and listened to the wind
howling. She twisted the engagement ring on her finger, wondering if she was
a fool even to be wearing it still. A small scratching noise started up behind
her, which she ignored. Her cat really ought to have learned how to use the
cat-flap properly by now. This wasn’t the house in Yorkshire, protected by
all of Alice and Frank’s security spells. Nor was it as safe a place as Augusta’s,
who had looked after her pet during Hannah’s stay overseas. In this anonymous
inner London suburb the back door stayed firmly locked at all times, even
though it would take only a half-brick launched through the frosted glass
if someone were determined to break in.
Was it really scratching
she could hear though? It sounded more like … tapping. And it wasn’t coming
from the bottom of the door, but higher up. Hannah turned round in her seat
and then jumped to her feet at the sight of a figure outlined in the door
frame. Her heart beat faster, and she grabbed the wand that was lying on the
“Who is it?” Her voice
was a feeble, strangled squeak. She took herself in hand. For heaven’s sake,
she could defend herself perfectly well. “I’m warning you,” she called, standing
up and moving towards the door. “I’m armed.”
A very familiar voice
answered, “For the love of Merlin, Hannah, it’s me. Let me in, I’ve been travelling
all day. Couldn’t get a last minute Portkey for any price.”
Neville. She threw
herself at the chains and bolts on the back door. “Wait!” she cried. “I’ll
have it open in a minute.”
“I’m not waiting a second
longer. Stand back.” The door swung open slowly to reveal Neville standing
there, wand upraised, looking very tanned and not at all cold, in a thick,
fleecy coat she hadn’t seen before which made him appear twice his usual width.
No wonder she hadn’t recognised his silhouette.
“Happy Valentine’s day,”
he said simply, holding out a bunch of delicate blooms in a depth of blue
Hannah thought only existed in dreams. She took them from him, and laid them
reverently on the counter, revelling in the knowledge that Neville would take
responsibility for dealing with them – because he was here.
“Come in out of the cold,”
she whispered, pulling him inside and shutting the door. She was overwhelmed
by the suddenness of the change from dark, cold misery to bright light and
warmth. “Why didn’t you ring the front door bell?”
“I wanted to surprise
you. And avoid your dad. I didn’t mean to give you a fright, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I can
hardly believe it’s you, that’s all.” She moved closer, into the circle of
Neville’s presence, shutting her eyes to drink in the smell of mountains,
of clear, open sky. “Are you hungry? I made chilli, and I even remembered
to put in the chocolate.”
His arms came up to enfold
her, pulling his coat around her. She yielded to the fleece’s incredible softness
and warmth, feeling the tight band of ice around her heart loosen and begin
to melt. “Starving,” he murmured. “May I?”
He lifted his wand again,
and severed the elastic band that was holding her hair back. He dropped his
wand on the worktop, next to the flowers. “That’s my Hannah,” he said, running
his hands through her hair and tipping her head back, so she was gazing directly
up into his brown eyes, hot with concentration as they roamed her face, taking
in every inch as he always did, making her feel like the most important thing
in the universe. She stood on tiptoe to reach up for her kiss, in her impatient
fashion. He didn’t keep her waiting.
His kiss was harder,
more urgent than she remembered, and his lips were slightly chapped, that
was different. But after a moment or two, it all came back to her, and she
found her body responding in the way it always had, melting and moulding itself
to his, more muscled and defined than even two months earlier yet still, indescribably,
him. If she weren’t careful, in a minute Dad might walk in to find
her on the kitchen table in a state of considerable disarray. That would be
embarrassing. Worse, they might have to stop and have a conversation.
“My room,” she managed
to articulate, as Neville’s mouth moved to her throat, his hands pushing up
the back of her shirt to trace a line up and down her spine.
“How long has that chilli
got to go?” he asked, nudging the flowers into the sink with his elbow and
releasing her long enough to turn on the tap so that the ends of the stems
were in water.
Hannah took his hand
to lead him from the kitchen and along the corridor to her bedroom. She stopped
by the cooker on their way out. “If I turn it down, a good hour,” she answered.