"There you are, Hannah working again while everyone else plays." Neville shook his head. He had walked up to her just as she slipped one foot out of her shoe and wiggled it. Her feet hurt. It had been a long day. Half the wizarding world had decided to celebrate Christmas Eve with a drink at the Leaky Cauldron.
"That's the pub life," she said hoping a bright smile would cover for her naked foot. She set it gently onto the ground unwilling to put it back in its shoe just yet. She could feel her face turning red with embarrassment.
"Why are you still here?" Neville asked. "Didn't you want to go to that late night church thing?"
"Midnight Mass? I don't know that I can. The place is too full for me to get away and my Great-uncle Tom's gone home. He's pushing one hundred and is getting a bit old to work the extra late nights."
"Michael and I thought as much. We want to help you go. Corner will work the bar, while I wash up in the back. You can close up when the Mass is over." Neville looked very sweet, standing there all excited about helping, but she couldn't agree to this. Her Great Uncle would kill her if she gave the pub over to other people on one of their busiest nights.
"You can trust us. Corner has served drinks before. While I would be pants at the bar, I'm an expert at washing up. I had a lot of practice scrubbing cauldrons at school. You'll see."
She shook her head in protest but smiled at the same time, because really Neville would be pants at mixing drinks.
"You'll still have staff to help us," he reminded her as Cecil, the dishwasher, called out encouragement, laughing at her discomfort.
"See, he agrees that you should go," Neville said with a nod toward Cecil who winked at Hannah in agreement.
"Go on. It's our present." Neville smiled shyly, looking both apologetic and determined; as if he were asking for something very difficult that had to be done. Hannah felt like she was in the DA again, getting encouragement from Neville before a particularly frightening mission. She found herself slipping her foot into her shoe ready to change her clothes and leave for church.
She returned to the pub much later than she expected. The church had been full so leaving after Mass had taken forever. Her Great uncle Tom had been surprised when she'd slipped into the pew with the rest of the family, but had only winked at her when she'd explained why she'd been able to come. He'd seemed to be perfectly happy with the arrangement.
The house lights were dimmed and the back kitchen lit up, when she stepped through the Leaky's floo. She lit her wand and walked around the room checking to see how much damage Michael had done at the bar. Every thing looked fine; there was nothing amiss that couldn't be fixed in the morning. When she walked into the kitchen, Neville was sitting alone at the table a towel folded over his shoulder. He stood up when she came in and tossed the towel on to the table.
"I'm sorry Neville, it took me for ever to get out of the church. The crowd was huge. Where's Cecil?"
"The dishwasher? I sent him home. He was itching to get out, and I could clean up by myself as easily as I could with him. Michael Corner left when he closed out the bar, which was probably for the best. He looked like he drank a little himself every time he served."
"That's Michael," Hannah said with a shrug. "I expected that. I'm just grateful to you two for all the work you did." She made her way to the wine cellar. The least she could do was celebrate with Neville with a drink. The kitchen looked even better than the tap room. "You are the sweetest man; this place looks beautiful," she called to him as she pulled out her best bottle of red elf-wine.
"We owe it to you. You're going to have the whole DA in and out all day tomorrow after working like a deranged house-elf today."
"I told you that's the pub life," she said as she stepped back into the kitchen. "I like it most of the time. It puts me at the center of all the excitement, like I'm the host of the most popular Christmas party in the world and everyone's thrilled to be invited."
"I could see how that would be fun," Neville said. "You never have to worry about being lonely."
"Exactly." Hannah levitated two goblets to the table and opened the wine bottle. "Don't you dare try to pay me back for hosting the DA at Christmas. It makes sense for me to do it. I have the room, the kitchen, the pub, and the drinks. Merlin, I even have rooms for them to sober up in if they can't Apparate home. And I want to have everyone over at Christmas. Sometimes I feel like they're more my family than my real one is."
She poured a drink for herself and Neville, sat down next to him and kicked off her shoes. She was going to enjoy her time off her feet.
Neville lifted his glass. The red wine in the cut glass goblet glittered like a goblin carved ruby. "To the DA," he said.
Hannah ran the wine over her tongue. It was very good. She was glad she'd opened it for Neville; he deserved it. The kitchen was spotless, better than Cecil would have left it. All that work and he'd even given the wizard time off.
"Neville, you should have been a Hufflepuff," Hannah said lifting her glass to him.
"People have said that more than once, believe me." He took another drink and smiled. "And yet I was in Gryffindor. Life is full of mysteries."
"Yes, It is a mystery, why you're in Gryffindor," Hannah replied. "I know I wondered watching you run out all by yourself to tell Voldemort to go to hell. When you stood in front of us all, burning after he set you on fire I asked myself how you were ever placed in that house." She smiled at him. He stared back for a moment and then looked away embarrassed, before giving her an uncomfortable smile in return. She liked that about Neville, that he was bashful. She had to deal with bombastic, pushy men all the time.
She'd heard Ginny gossiping with Hermione that he'd been seeing someone at his job, a girl from Beaubatons who'd gone to school with Ginny's sister-in-law Fleur. The relationship was supposed to be over. Hannah wondered if it was.
"You know if you'd been in Hufflepuff you would have had more fun in school. I guarantee it. We Huffs always knew we enjoyed ourselves more than the other houses."
"Don't believe me? Did any of the other houses have their own wine cellar?" She took a drink of her wine to emphasize her point.
"I would have to say no."
"There you go -- Hufflepuff wins."
"I never understood how your heads let you get away with that for years and years."
"It was only open to seventh years and we all took a pledge not to abuse the privilege."
"Now that sounds very Hufflepuff."
"Yes, we know the value of protecting our blessings." She leaned a little closer to him as she spoke. His eyes looked very blue in the flickering light of the candles.
"And why do we have our own wine cellar? For the same reason our door is a painting of fruit spilled out on a table. In that picture there's one peach that's bitten. It's luscious and juicy. I used to look at that peach and think that it was Hufflepuff. We savor the sweet in life – warmth, friends, wine. The good things."
What was she saying? She hadn't drunk that much. She must be babbling because she was tired. Neville was looking at her like she was the luscious peach. She blushed, but smiled. He looked downright bashful in response to her smile, tentative like a little boy who wasn't sure he was welcome. She reached over and poured him another glass of wine. "Happy Christmas, Neville," she said.