The Professor and his Landlady
'Wake up, Neville,' whispered Luna, shaking her companion by the shoulder. 'We need to go.'
Neville opened his eyes and looked into Luna's face. He could barely focus on her wildly staring grey eyes; she was so close that their noses were almost touching.
'You're in my bedroom, Luna,' he whispered.
'Of course I am. How else could I wake you? They're moving, every single one of them, at least every one that we've tagged. They all seem to be heading towards the ancient oak. I'll get the equipment, you get dressed.' Luna told him.
Neville was out of bed before she had finished speaking.
He dressed quickly and was still adjusting his robes when he left his bedroom. The second he entered their workshop/living area Luna picked up the plant sprayer and began to spray him. Her own robes were already clinging wetly to her slight frame. The spray was green and unpleasant-smelling, but he lifted his arms when instructed and allowed her to completely cover him in the stuff.
Bowtruckles, they had discovered, were surprisingly sensitive to smells. Their efforts to tag the creatures had proved almost impossible until two weeks ago, when Luna had announced that she'd come up with a solution to dampen their scent.
Despite her words, Neville had been surprised to discover that his friend had been speaking literally. She had, in fact, brewed a solution which dampened their scent.
Wet and uncomfortable, but invisible to Bowtruckles, Neville followed Luna from the tent they'd been sharing for a month.
Twelve hours later, back in their temporary home, they were eating a much needed lunch and discussing titles.
'What about "Cryptozoology or Cryptobotany? The Cryptic Life of Bowtruckles",' Neville suggested.
'"Bowtruckles: Ambulant Plant or Plant-like Animal?"' countered Luna.
Neville grinned, 'I like that one, put it down as a possible. How are we going to write this paper? And whose name will go first?'
'We have conclusive proof, and dozens of photographs to show that Bowtruckles have been incorrectly classified as "beasts" for centuries. Apart from his complete lack of information on Snorkacks, which is simple ignorance, this is the first real error I've found in Mr Scamander's book. Bowtruckles rightly belong in your area of expertise, Neville; this is a Herbology paper, not Magical Creatures. For that reason, your name should go first, and you should write the first draft of the paper. Also, alphabetically, N comes before V,' Luna told him.
Neville picked up a quill and carefully began to write the first draft of their dissertation. Despite the fact that they had gone out into the forest a little before midnight, and hadn't returned until almost noon, he was wide awake. Their observations, notes and the photographs of what they had begun to call "the great Bowtruckle budding ritual" would, he knew, make their names. Most witches and wizards would neither know, nor care, of course, but the specialists, especially the British Herbological Society, would appreciate this for the groundbreaking research it was. Despite his tiredness, Neville's mind was awash with the exciting possibilities created by their discovery.
Luna picked up Neville's morning paper, which had been delivered while they were out, and began to read it slowly and carefully. Neville ignored her. He had almost finished the first draft when his labours were suddenly interrupted by Luna. She thrust the newspaper under his nose.
'Stop writing,' ordered Luna.
'I have, Luna,' he said. 'I had no choice. I can't see the parchment, because there's a newspaper in the way.'
'Read this,' she said excitedly, handing him the Daily Prophet and pointing to a small headline on one of the inside pages, Hogwarts to get a new Headmistress. Neville read the short article with interest. According to the report, Minerva McGonagall was retiring at the end of the school year, in only three months' time. Her replacement had already been named. Deputy Headmistress Pomona Sprout would be taking control of the school.
Neville's heart leapt. He immediately realised what that meant; this, he realised was his big opportunity. He looked at his watch. It was almost four in the afternoon; if he left now he would be able to get to Hogwarts after classes, and before the evening meal.
'Luna…' he began.
'You're going to Hogwarts, aren't you?' she said. 'I thought you would. Good luck, Neville. Not that you will need it, you are the ideal man for the job. I'll take over here.' She picked up the quill, with a wave of her wand changed the colour of the ink from black to blue, and began to go through his draft, making corrections and notations.
'Go,' she ordered, waving him away. 'But you should shower, and change your robes first.'
Hannah finished her breakfast and checked her watch for the twentieth time that morning. She would need to leave soon. She should have told Neville when she'd spoken to him yesterday, but she hadn't. She hadn't told her boyfriend what she was planning. Her father knew, she'd gone to Hangingrigg Flatt to visit him, and had told him what she was planning. As she'd expected he'd said "Do whatever you think is best, Hannah. I will always be here for you, you know that."
She wondered what Neville would say. He'd be pleased, she was sure of it. After all, they had been together for three years, and although he was camping in the forest with Luna, every day she used her mirror to talk to him.
But she had kept this from him, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew why. She was worried that he'd say no, that he wouldn't approve. After the battle, Justin had wanted her to leave the pub, he'd said that it was a dead-end job, she'd refused, and that's why they had split up.
The moment that realisation struck, she changed her mind. Neville wasn't Justin; she should have told him sooner. She would tell him now, she decided, pulling out her mirror.
'Neville,' she said.
She waited, but there was no reply. She tried again and again for several minutes, but he didn't answer her calls. He wasn't there, she realised sadly; she'd missed her chance. She wasn't worried about him, not really. He hadn't answered, so he was out observing the wildlife. He'd have placed his mirror in the tent, in a soundproof box. Loud noises, like a girlfriend calling your name, were no good when you were hiding in the middle of a forest and you needed to keep quiet.
Hannah rechecked her watch. It was time to go! She adjusted her robes and looked down worriedly. Was her neckline too low, or not low enough? Fear and doubt fluttered through her stomach and she suddenly, desperately, wished that Neville was around to advise her. He should have been with her, she was about to make the biggest commitment of her life.
You are only twenty-two, Hannah, she reminded herself; if you are making a mistake then you will be able to recover from it. Looking down at her chest again, she decided that the Goblins probably didn't care what she was wearing, and strode determinedly along Diagon Alley and into Gringotts.
'I am here to discuss a loan,' she told the Goblin who approached her. The parchment scroll on which she'd made her calculations was being tightly crushed by her trembling left hand. In her right hand she held the cutting from Monday's Daily Prophet "Pub for Sale – Going Concern."
As she watched the Goblin scurry away she ran through her arguments in her mind.
The pub was her life; it had been for five years. She'd effectively been running it for the past year. Tom still signed for the orders, but these days he rarely worked behind the bar. He didn't do much, except put the profits into the bank. You can do this, because you're doing the job already, she told herself.
She had hired the last three new barmaids. Admittedly she had also been forced to fire one of them for theft and inappropriate behaviour, but that wouldn't happen again. She had arranged for Chang's Interior Designs to give the entire place a facelift, too. In fact, Mrs Chang had done less work than Hannah had expected. Cho's mother had her staff scrape off the accumulated muck of centuries and remove the dark oak facings put in place by Tom in the sixties. She had revealed the hidden beauty of the ancient building and had then repainted the place in its original colours. What had been a dingy old pub was now a bright, though still very traditional, drinking establishment.
Hannah had been the one who had suggested that Tom turn the lounge, which was usually almost empty, into a restaurant. Thanks to a conversation with Hermione she had found some excellent kitchen staff. Three house elves whose circumstances had been investigated by Hermione's new section in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures—the Sentient Entities Rights Division—were now very happy paid employees. The restaurant was already bringing in a lot of money, and it could make a lot more.
Neville was grinning from ear to ear as he strode out through the familiar grounds of Hogwarts and towards the gates; Minerva McGonagall was at his side.
'The post will be advertised next week, but there are no guarantees, Neville,' the Headmistress said for the fourth or fifth time. 'Nevertheless, Pomona seems to be very excited by your discovery.'
When they reached the gates, the Headmistress drew her wand, but she did not open the gates. Instead, she turned to face Neville.
'I will not be on the interview panel, Neville,' said Professor McGonagall. 'You will be interviewed by my successor, Pomona, by her new Deputy, who is likely to be Professor Vector, and by the Chairman, the Secretary, and the Treasurer of the Board of Governors. It is a majority vote, and because I will not be on the panel, I have no hesitation in giving you some advice. Make sure that the interview panel know everything about you. You are one of the most self-effacing men I have ever met. You need to tell them what you have achieved.'
'But Headmistress…' Neville began.
'Pomona will be impressed by your research and knowledge, and it is very impressive, but you need to think about the rest of the panel, too. When you write your curriculum vitae, include the battle, remind them that you killed the snake and that you hold the Order of Merlin, First Class. Tell them that you were an Auror and that you helped bring many of Tom Riddle's followers to justice. You have a habit of playing down your remarkable achievements. Don't!'
'Yes, Headmistress,' Neville said meekly.
Professor McGonagall sighed. 'You will be required to provide two character references. Have you given any thought as to who you could ask?'
'I thought, perhaps, Head Auror Robards, and Mr Mulch, the commissioning editor of Herbology Today,' Neville suggested hesitantly.
'Fine men, both of them, but…' Minerva McGonagall shook her head. 'Robards may be Head of the Auror Office, but I'm sure that a more junior, but rather more famous, member of that office would be better.'
'I couldn't ask Harry,' Neville protested. 'He's my friend.'
'That is exactly why you should ask him, Neville. Do you want this job?' she asked.
'More than anything else,' he said. 'Except Hannah,' he added immediately.
Minerva McGonagall smiled at him. 'Then fight for it,' she advised. 'Ask Harry to be your referee. He'll do it, and a reference from Harry will almost guarantee you the job. You might consider asking your former Head of House, too.'
'As I said, Neville, I will have retired by the time the interviews are held. 'There will be no conflict of interest. I can look over your CV before you submit it, too; in fact, I'd be honoured to. Think about it.' She waved her wand and the school gate opened. 'Hogwarts needs teachers like you, Neville, farewell,' she told him as he stepped through the gates.
'Goodbye, Headmistress, and thank you,' he told her.
'Call me Minerva, Neville, you are not my student anymore,' she said firmly as she closed the gates.
He watched the Headmistress—Minerva—as she walked back towards the school. He pondered his future. He would not return to the tent; instead, he would Apparate to London, to the Cauldron. He had to tell Hannah his news. Finally, for the first time since he left the Auror Office, there was a chance that he would have some money.
He had been eking out a living as a Herbological researcher and writer for a year, ever since he'd helped Ron and Harry catch Colin Creevey's killer. He'd resigned from the Auror Office, as had Ron, the moment that duty had been done. Ron had walked straight into a job with George. Neville, however, did not have another job to go to. He'd had to give up his flat and he had severely depleted the money he'd saved from his Auror earnings in order to carry out his researches. Hannah, wonderful Hannah, had never complained.
He was effectively homeless. Sometimes he stayed at his Gran's house in Oakenclough, and listened to her half-hearted complaints about the fact that he had thrown his life away by resigning his well-paid Auror job in order to grub around in the soil. Sometimes he stayed in his tent, living rough, making sketches and carrying out observations of plant life. Sometimes, the best of times, he stayed in Hannah's room at the Leaky Cauldron. Very rarely he stayed in a hotel—at someone else's expense—in order to give a lecture on magical plant-life.
Now, things would change. He did not have the job yet, but his (and Luna's) groundbreaking discoveries about Bowtruckles would catapult him to the top of a very short list of eligible candidates for the Herbology Professorship. The interviews would be held after term ended.
If he got this job he would be a Professor, and on a decent salary for the first time since he quit the Auror Office. No more poorly paid freelance work for the botanical journals. No more weeks in the wilderness searching for exotic plants to sell to the markets. He would become a teacher. He would be able to treat Hannah.
He would be able to buy a ring! Suddenly determined, he Apparated to Charing Cross Road.
Hannah fretted as she strode back to the pub. She should be happy. The Gringotts Goblins had agreed to her loan request. Her formal offer was in her hand and she was certain that Tom would accept it. It would take twenty years to pay off the loan. But if the further improvements to the business she was planning worked, then twenty years could become fifteen, or even ten, if she worked hard.
What would Neville think? Perhaps they could settle down together. He'd never asked her, not in so many words, but there was a sort of settled expectation that, one day, they would marry. People were beginning to marry. Parvati had been first, then Dean. No more yet, but Harry and Ginny were engaged, and so were Ron and Hermione. However, getting married required Neville to ask the question.
But that was the future. She wondered if Neville would be prepared to help her run the pub; he was jobless, after all, scrimping a living by writing articles and selling plants. Her wages were not good, either. But a landlady could pay herself more than a barmaid, and the place was hers, at least it would be. If she could persuade Neville to help, to take paid employment at the Leaky Cauldron, that would help both of them. They could live off the profits. She'd even build him a greenhouse! The flat roof above the kitchen was ideal.
But, what could Neville do? He wasn't a barman, and he was a hopeless cook. He couldn't be a waiter, either. Sometimes Hannah wondered if her boyfriend preferred plants to people. At least his lectures had given him some experience of public speaking. She'd seen him in action at the Mages' Hall; he was knowledgeable, and surprisingly passionate. Actually, his passion wasn't really that surprising.
'Where have you been?' Natalie asked when Hannah returned to the bar. 'You're all dolled up, Hannah. It can't be for Neville, because he's off sharing a tent with his other girlfriend. Have you finally got fed up with him? Have you got yourself a new bloke?'
'It's none of your business who I see or where I go, Natalie,' Hannah told the tiny dark-haired girl.
Natalie looked at her curiously and Hannah immediately regretted her words. Her fellow barmaid was the worst sort of gossip, the type who doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Not long after Hannah had started, Natalie's jibes had been enough to make Hannah worry about Neville's relationship with Luna. They complemented each other in so many ways, the botanist and the zoologist. After fretting for a few days, she'd become so worried by Natalie's jibes that she'd actually asked Luna whether she fancied Neville.
The best thing about Luna was the same as the worst thing about Luna, it was her brutal honesty.
'Neville is very nice, I love him dearly, but most people do, don't they?' Luna had said, making Hannah's heart crack. 'At least half of the DA girls fancy him, and Ginny says he's her best boy friend after Harry. Neville is kind and brave, and even rather attractive in a strange way. However, I certainly do not want to copulate with him. Does that help?'
'Yes, thanks,' she'd said rather feebly.
'I could do with some help, Hannah,' said Natalie petulantly. 'Did Tom tell you that you could leave? The new owners won't let you swan about as though you own the place, Hannah. Things will change.'
'They will indeed,' Hannah said firmly. 'Do you know where Tom is?'
'He's in his room, I think,' said Natalie.
'Thanks, I'll be back in a few minutes,' Hannah replied. She walked behind the bar and through the door marked "Private".
Her discussions with Tom took no time at all.
'I'm prepared to offer four thousand Galleons less than your asking price,' she said, mentally running through the reasons she's found to justify her starting point.
'Fair enough,' he said, and he shook her hand. There was the paperwork to be signed, of course, but the handshake was contract enough. The deed was done. She felt a little guilty; she had more idea than Tom did about the potential of the place. She'd expected him to negotiate, she'd hoped to get two thousand Galleons off, though she'd have paid his asking price. Four thousand Galleons will go a long way, she told herself.
Hannah thanked Tom, left him, and went straight downstairs to the bar. The place was busy and bustling and Natalie was struggling to serve the crowd at the bar. She was immediately hailed by one of the regulars. He was so regular that she didn't even need to ask what he wanted.
'There you are, Robbie,' she said as she placed the goblet of mead and double Firewhiskey in front of him. 'I can't stop to chat, sorry. We're really busy. Later, perhaps?'
'You're always busy,' the man grumbled. 'I preferred it when the place was quiet.'
'Busy is better for us, Robbie,' she told him as she looked along the bar at the hands, which were all waving Galleons at her. 'Right, who's next?' she shouted, and launched herself into the maelstrom of demands.
Neville watched Hannah lock the door as the last recalcitrant customers finally left.
'I assume that you're staying,' she said.
'If you don't mind,' he said.
She smiled and shook her head in disbelief as she pulled up a chair and sat opposite him. 'I haven't seen you for almost five weeks, Neville. You've been sitting there patiently for hours, waiting for me to finish working. Of course I don't mind. Will you be going back to Shivering Stone tomorrow?'
'Yes,' he said regretfully. 'I've left Luna to do all of the work. But I had to see you. I don't know if you've seen the Daily Prophet…'
'Of course I have,' she said delightedly. 'I'm surprised that you have.'
'I didn't,' he admitted. 'Luna spotted it.'
'And told you, bless her,' Hannah beamed. 'You're too late to offer advice, Neville, I've already done it.'
'You've done … wait,' Neville was confused. 'What are you talking about, Hannah? What have you done?'
Her face fell, she suddenly looked worried. 'What are you talking about, Neville?' she asked.
Neville pulled the article from his pocket and handed it to her.
'I know I'm not much of a boyfriend, Hannah,' he said. I don't have any money. I haven't been able to treat you since I left the Auror Office, but this is my big chance. I haven't got the job yet, but … Hogwarts Herbology Professor … It's perfect! We could be together. You move to Hogsmeade, you'd easily get a job at the Three Broomsticks. We could even … I mean I'd have a good job and you wouldn't even need to work if you didn't want to … We could … I shouldn't ask because I haven't got a ring but I can't afford one until … This is hopeless … I'm doing it all wrong, I should ask you to marry me, will you? But you haven't told me what you were talking about.'
She didn't answer. Instead, she reached into her pocket and handed him a cutting from the Daily Prophet. She watched him look at her cutting, at the advertisement.
'I've bought the pub,' she said quietly. 'At least, I will have when the paperwork is signed.'
'Wow!' Neville looked as if he'd been hit by a Bludger.
'Wow,' he said again. He stood, pulled her to her feet, and embraced her. 'You'll make a great Landlady, Hannah. This place is booming, and it's all because of you. What can I do to help? I'm skint, but I won't be, not if I get this job. This is brilliant, it's what you've wanted, isn't it?'
'It is, Neville, but Hogwarts … it's the other end of the country.'
'I get school holidays, and it's only a fireplace away from here.' He brushed her concerns aside. 'We've managed to stay together while we've both been penniless, and hundreds of miles away from each other. It'll be easy if we've both got good jobs.' He beamed happily and gazed into her grey eyes.
'Yes, Professor,' she said. 'The answer to your question is yes.'
'I'm not a Professor yet,' he began, and then he realised what she was saying.
He kissed her.
'We need Champagne,' he said. 'I wonder where we can get some.'