Author's Note: Hi there! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this story! I've wanted to write this for a really long time and honestly it's nerve-wracking to start putting this out there. I'm not sure how long this will end up being, but I know it'll take quite some time so I hope you want to see these two sweet plant dorks fall in love as much as I do! This first chapter doesn't contain a ton of Hannah but the next will, I promise!
When he arrived at the Leaky Cauldron, Neville was still trying to convince himself that excitement was causing the slightly queasy feeling in his stomach. It would be easier if it were that simple. Besides, he tried to assure himself, he was excited. More than a month had gone by since he had last seen his friends and he longed to be with them. The churning feeling persisted, though, refusing to align with the heart-fluttering idea of excitement that he held in his mind.
The pub was packed and uncomfortably warm. Neither of these things were surprising for a Friday night in mid-July, but they still weren't ideal. Of course meeting with his friends in any public place always seemed to be significantly less than ideal to Neville. This time, however, it was the best-case scenario. The Leaky Cauldron was a good central location from everyone's jobs, with Harry and Hermione coming from the Ministry and Ron from Diagon Alley. That's also where Luna was coming from, having been out doing deliveries for the Quibbler. And Ginny had had a full day of meet and greets at Quality Quidditch Supply along with the rest of the Holyhead Harpies. Add in the fact that 12 Grimmauld Place was undergoing a full renovation, Hermione and Ron's flat was still half unpacked, Luna lived in a tiny loft, and Neville still lived with his grandmother and it became clear that the Leaky Cauldron was really their only option.
Neville reminded himself of these facts, plastering a smile on his face. He'd made it towards the tables in the back of the pub and began scanning the crowd for familiar faces.
His head whipped towards his name. Between the folded top of a wizard's hat and the wild grey hair of an elderly witch he could just make out the source of the call. Ginny raised her hands, flagging him down to a small corner booth.
Neville made his way over and found that only a few of his friends were there so far. He was met with hugs from Ginny and Luna and a slap on the back from Ron.
"Good that you're here," Ginny said as she slid into the booth. Ron followed suit while Neville and Luna sat in the two chairs that were on the round table's outer edge. "People keep eyeing us like we're committing a crime taking this table with only three people."
Neville grinned, looking back into the crowd where there were indeed a myriad of patrons staring. It seemed more likely to him, though, that they did so not because of the table but rather due to the identities of its occupants.
"I think it is because of the painting behind you," Luna suggested, her soft voice flowing dreamily. "It is rather beautiful."
All eyes went to the painting. It depicted a bored looking Goblin seated at a writing desk who scowled back at them, his eyes narrowing at his audience. When they failed to look away in a timely manner he sighed and picked up his quill, beginning to scrawl something onto the parchment that lay before him.
As they turned away Ron caught Neville's eye. He raised an eyebrow in Luna's direction, but wore a warm, easy smile. Neville shrugged, hoping that his expression somehow matched.
"We ordered already, by the way," Ron said. "Figured it wouldn't hurt with these bloody crowds."
"I guessed on what you'd want," Ginny said.
Neville nodded at them, "Anything would've been fine, and thanks. Can't imagine it'll come anytime soon."
He was about to ask Ginny how her day had gone, how training was, but she was already standing again, an arm raised. She opened her mouth to call out but Ron interrupted.
"Don't," he advised, "You'll start a riot."
Neville turned and looked back into the crowd. He spotted Harry and Hermione weaving through people, both scanning the pub. "I'll get them," he said, rising from his seat.
When Neville was about halfway to them Harry noticed him and grinned, raising a hand in a wave. He turned and said something over his shoulder to Hermione. She then looked in Neville's direction too, smiling just as warmly and making her way to him. Hermione threw her arms around Neville's shoulders, exclaiming, "It's so good to see you! How was Egypt? I can't believe I still haven't been. You have to tell me everything!"
"Let him breathe, Hermione," Harry laughed.
Hermione pulled back. She looked Neville up and down quickly and he knew what she was doing. It was all too common for all of them to feel the need to check on each other's physical wellbeing. They were too used to being on the lookout for injuries of all sorts, cuts and bruises that were being ignored. They hadn't needed to for years, but it turned out that wartime habits were hard to kick.
Harry and Neville hugged quickly before the three made their way back to the booth, Neville shouting information to Hermione over the din of conversation that filled the pub.
"Apparently some of the plants can even extract water out of the air if they need to for survival," he told her as they approached the table.
"That's incredible," she said happily.
Ron rose to embrace his girlfriend quickly. "What's incredible?" he asked, stepping aside so Hermione could slide into the booth and sit next to Ginny.
She told him while Harry slid into the booth next to Ginny, who beamed at her boyfriend, pecking his cheek quickly and letting their hands find each other on the table's surface. Neville noticed the glint of the ring on Ginny's finger and reminded himself, fiancé not boyfriend. He hadn't seen his friends much since their engagement, and while he was happy for Harry and Ginny the change in terminology was taking some getting used to.
Now that everyone was there conversation swelled. Initially there was talk of Neville's trip to Egypt, with Ginny commenting on how tan his skin was and Luna asking about mummies, but soon that gave way to what everyone else was up to as well. Ginny told them about the meet and greet, confiding that she had tried to hang back after the fifth question about Harry's kissing techniques. Harry groaned in response to that while the rest of the group laughed. Ginny touched Harry's cheek.
"Don't worry," she said, "Some of them also wanted to know how you were in bed."
In an attempt to end that portion of conversation, Harry told them about an investigation that he and a couple other Aurors had just wrapped up.
"Didn't you work on this case before leaving the department?" Harry asked Neville at one point.
It was an innocent enough question, but Neville still felt his gut lurch when he answered. "Err, yeah," he said, "but we didn't get very far with it then."
Neville rubbed the back of his neck. It shouldn't have bothered him to talk about it, he'd left the Aurors by his own choice, something his gran still couldn't believe. But still, it didn't feel good to know that his friend was finishing work that he hadn't been able to complete.
"Neville seems uncomfortable talking about the Auror department," Luna observed pleasantly, "Perhaps we should change the subject."
Neville felt the skin of his face turn hot as soon as Luna spoke. The table fell into an uncomfortable silence.
No more than twenty seconds could have passed before a figure appeared by Neville's shoulder, though it felt much longer.
"Hannah!" Ginny said brightly.
Neville turned to see a sheepish looking Hannah Abbott standing behind him, a tray full of their food and drinks balanced on her hip. Her light blonde hair hung from two pretty twists on either side of her head and her cheeks were slightly pink.
"Hi," she said, her voice quiet compared to the pub's volume. She shifted the tray a bit, as if trying to explain her presence. "Sorry this took so long." Hannah then slipped her wand out of her pocket and began levitating their plates onto the table.
Ginny frowned. "Wait, I want to catch up! I haven't seen you in forever!"
Hannah offered a small smile. "I'm sorry," she said, as the last plate landed and she started in on their drinks, "I'd love to, but I have more tables I have to get to."
Another silence fell. Neville saw Hermione and Ron exchange a look, obviously communicating something to one another silently.
"Well," Harry said, glancing around the table, brow furrowed, "Maybe later? We should be here awhile."
"Um, yeah, of course," Hannah said, but her eyes were on her wand work and refused to meet with those of anyone sitting at the table. Once the final glass had landed she tucked the emptied tray under her arm. "Enjoy."
"Thanks, Hannah," Neville said, but she had already slipped back into the crowd, disappearing just as quickly as she'd arrived.
"That was odd, right?" Ginny asked immediately.
Everyone murmured their agreement.
"She didn't seem to want to talk with us any more than necessary," Luna said, "But she's been quiet for some time now."
"That was more than being quiet," Hermione said. "That was avoiding us."
"It definitely felt like that," Ron added, backing her up.
Harry ran his hand through his messy black hair. "Maybe she has a reason though," he said, "I mean, we probably don't bring back the best memories for her."
Neville and Harry locked eyes. Neville thought back to what was supposed to be their seventh year, when slowly all of his closest friends were taken away from him, at least temporarily. Hannah had been there, working with what was left of the DA to help keep everyone as safe as possible, to fight back for what was right. But even then she hadn't been speaking to him much. Small smiles, helpful tips about some healing charms, relaying information—that was most of it, really. But she'd also been working tirelessly to aid their fight. And all of that was after her mother had been murdered during their sixth year.
"Harry has a point," Neville said.
Ginny glared at both of them. "Don't be so sorry for yourselves," she said, "You aren't the embodiments of everything that was awful about that time."
A grim silence fell at their table.
"So," Ron said after a moment, "Who wants to hear about a failed product test George did today? The story ends with two enlarged thumbs and a few bruised noses."
As Ron spoke Neville could feel his friends' spirits being lifted. And he smiled, glad that they could rally so quickly. Yet he didn't feel it. Everyone else had started eating, but he didn't move. He looked around the table at them, forcing himself to laugh in all the right places, and he saw them as everyone else in that pub must have, even Hannah. He thought that maybe, just maybe, he knew what the feeling in his stomach was, as much as he didn't want to admit it. He was seated at a table of war heroes who had all already launched successful careers. From left to right there was Ron, who was half of the management team for the most successful joke company in existence, Hermione, in her professional-looking, expensive robes, whose work in Kingsley Shacklebolt's cabinet at the Ministry was gaining her more and more attention and acclaim, Ginny, who was already in talks with the national Quidditch team and rumored to be an MVP candidate for her current season with the Harpies, and then Harry. Harry, who had gone straight into work with the Aurors, who hadn't waited like Neville had, or bailed like Neville had. Who was well respected not just because of what he'd done as a child but for the work he'd done since joining the forces of the Auror department as well. Add in Luna, who was making the Quibbler more and more beloved with each issue, and what was Neville compared to this group? An almost twenty-one year old unemployed wizard whose directionless travels were being financed by his great-uncle?
Shame and embarrassment pooled in the pit of his stomach.
He was happy to see his friends, really, but who his friends were was a continual reminder of what he wasn't. And after all of these years, that was still more than a little unsettling.
So, there it is, I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Thanks again for reading! Comments are always welcome and very appreciated! A Hannah-centric chapter is coming your way soon.