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Chai, Zebras, and a Friend in the Wee Hours of the Morning by 800 words of heaven

Format: One-shot
Chapters: 1
Word Count: 3,410
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Fluff, Humor
Characters: Neville, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 01/12/2015
Last Chapter: 01/12/2015
Last Updated: 01/12/2015

Summary:


"Did you make a wish?" she asked as he stood up straight again.
"Yup," he replied, giving her hand – which he was
still holding – a squeeze.
"Are you going to tell me what it was?"
"Doesn’t that negate the wish?"


Neville/Hannah | Second in the Chai Series

Written for the Sathya Says Challenge | Banner by aurore. @tda


Chapter 1: Chai, Zebras, and a Surprise
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Hannah sighed, perhaps a little too dramatically than the situation called for, and surveyed her tiny kitchen. She really needed to find a new place, or seriously consider illegally magically enhancing her kitchen. How long did they send people to jail for something like that? She made a mental note to ask Neville when she saw him next time.

There was a soft rap at her door. She made another mental note to fix her doorbell. If she’d been cooking with her music turned up loud, like she usually did when she was at home, she’d have missed the sound.

Glancing back at the oven to make sure it hadn’t caught on fire in the fifteen minutes it had so far been in use, Hannah went to get the door. She peeked through the little peephole, and couldn’t help the smile that stretched her face. As if the mere act of thinking about him offhandedly had summoned him to her doorstep, Hannah was greeted with the sight of Neville’s dishevelled dark hair and distorted face. Her smile still in place, she swung the door open to let him in.

Her smile abruptly became a frown of worry at the sight of him, however. Neville looked exhausted – or more exhausted than usual, at least. The dark smudges under his brown eyes were stark against the unusually pale face, and there was a healthy overgrowth of stubble threatening to burst free into a beard.

“Neville?” Hannah said, a worried question creeping into her voice.

“Hey,” he said softly in reply. “Can I – can I come in?”

Without a word, Hannah stepped aside, opening the door wider to let him in. She shut the door quietly behind him, leaning heavily against it for a moment until she heard the lock click shut. Another item to add to the list of ‘things that need to be fixed in flat’.

Hannah followed Neville to her kitchen, where he slumped into a high stool, and placed his forehead against the cool countertop. Obviously, her flat was just too tiny for a proper dining area, so she made do with the high countertop that ran the boundary of her kitchen. When she was feeling especially fancy, she ate at her coffee table.

After that late night in the large kitchen of the Leaky Cauldron, she and Neville had become rather good friends. Over the course of a few months, Hannah had gained a new member in her small world of family and close friends. Things were so easy with Neville. They talked, they laughed, and okay – they flirted.

But this was the first time that she’d ever seen Neville like this. Stepping into the kitchen, she watched him out of the corner of her eye as she filled a glass of water at the tap. He hadn’t picked up his head off the counter, and his shoulders were slumped towards his ears.

It was a posture Hannah unfortunately recognised well from her years as a Healer. There was something about grief that convinced you that physically making yourself a smaller target, curling up on yourself to protect your vital organs, would somehow ease the pain. Loss suspended rational thought; how could you stop the hurting when it was inside you?

The timer on her oven went off, breaking the encroaching silence.

Neville raised his head and gave a faint grin, “You’re always cooking every time I come to your house.”

Despite how much Hannah wanted him to talk to her about what was wrong, she answered his grin with one of her own, “It’s like you have some sort of sixth sense about it.”

He nodded in agreement. “I can’t help myself – I love your cooking too much.”

It was rather telling to Hannah that Neville was preoccupied with something since his voice lacked his usual note of flirtation. It was new to her, someone using her own cooking as a tool to woo her. Or at least she liked to pretend sometimes that Neville wanted to woo her. She was fully aware that he saw her as no more than a friend, no matter how wicked his smile, or how soulful his eyes. And it was the same for her, of course. They were friends.

Just friends.

Hannah drifted over to the oven to remove the cake. She made certain to keep her back towards Neville, so that he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of it; it wasn’t quite done yet, and she had a special surprise in store for him. Ignoring how hot the tin was, she used the base of her wand to gently knock against the bottom to tip the oddly-shaped golden sponge onto a cooling rack. It had taken her a while to track down a cake tin in a suitable shape, but eventually she’d succeeded in her pursuit, finding the perfect one in a rundown muggle opportunity shop, of all places.

Still making sure that she blocked Neville’s view of her surprise, she stood in front of him, leaning against the bench on the opposite side.

“Are you going to tell me what’s happened, or would you rather just sit there and wallow for a bit?” she asked, not unkindly.

Neville didn’t reply for a long moment, staring down at his clasped hands, his glass of water still untouched. Then, “Wallowing sounds really good right now.”

She smiled, and reached out a consoling hand, resting it lightly on his wrist. His skin was warm, she noted as she made soothing circles with her thumb. He wasn’t clammy or feverish though, of which she was glad.

“Drink something,” she murmured. “It’s important to stay hydrated when wallowing.”

Neville gave her a small quirk of his lips at her lame attempt at a joke. She was usually good with people – it was part of the job description – but loss was always hard. Of all the ills modern magical medicine could remedy, sadness was yet to be one of them.

She turned back around into her kitchen and busied herself with making some chai, whilst giving Neville a few final moments to himself before she set to work extracting from him what had happened. It was all fine and dandy to suffer in silence, but you couldn’t let the sadness fester; you had to pull it from your body, like poison.

She got out two large mugs from a cupboard and measured the water into a pot. Placing the pot on her fire hazard of a stove, she poked her wand at it to get the water boiling. She went to another cupboard and pulled out her jar of tealeaves, and put a spoon into the pot. Returning her tealeaves to their place, she took out a smaller jar from beside it, which contained a blend of chai masala her mother had made from some secret family recipe which was apparently as ancient as the Indus Valley civilisation itself. Hannah was almost positive that this was pure hyperbole on her mother’s part. But it was a fun story to tell. Smiling to herself, she put a quarter of a teaspoon into the water along with the tealeaves.

As she waited for the water to boil, she glanced back over her shoulder at Neville, to find him watching her intently. She raised an eyebrow in question at him, but he simply smiled at her enigmatically, a gleam she couldn’t quite identify in his eyes. She shook her head and turned back to her now-simmering water. Strange boy.

Hannah traipsed over to her fridge – a muggle invention that her family wholeheartedly embraced, despite the fact that both her parents were wizarding folk. Sometimes, being muggleborn offspring had its advantages, however. She pulled out her carton of milk – she needed more milk – and went back to her simmering pot. She poured it in slowly, gauging the colour of the tea until it was just right. Then, she waited for it to come back up to a simmer. Once there, she quickly took the pot off the stove and brought it over to the first mug, over which a tea strainer sat ready to catch the leaves. She poured carefully, squinting to see how much tea was in the cup, before moving onto the next. A casual wave of her wand sent the unwanted pot – used tealeaves and all – to her sink, where it clanked against the cake tin. She brought over the two steaming mugs of chai to her counter, and placed one in front of Neville. Taking her own mug in her hands, she came around the counter and settled into the stool beside his. Their bodies faced each other, their knees almost but not quite touching.

Hannah took a cautious sip of her tea and waited.

Neville had his cup nestled between his large palms, close to his face. His eyes were closed, and he was taking long breaths of the fragrant steam.

“More Darjeeling in this mix, Hannah?” he asked, his eyes popping open to look at her.

She nodded as she took another sip from her mug. “I eased back on the Assam, since you didn’t like the last batch as much.” Another family tradition of hers, mixing their own tealeaves to their tastes. Since Hannah preferred her tea stronger, she always mixed more Assam tea than Darjeeling in, but Neville was like her parents in that respect: he preferred a milder flavour but still with the beautiful dark colour that adding more Darjeeling leaves brought. So she’d mixed her latest batch of tea leaves that way. For Neville.

Because they were friends.

Good friends.

Neville nodded, and took a sip.

They sat in companionable silence for some time, sipping their chai and listening to the sounds of her building settling its old weary bones for the night.

Hannah’s mug was half-empty when Neville finally spoke.

“Do you know who convinced me to become an Auror?” he began quietly.

Hannah shook her head no.

“There was this man who worked as an administrative clerk in the department, Atticus Dooley. He survived during the time the Death Eaters were controlling the Ministry because everyone in power deemed his job ‘too unimportant’ to really bother with him.”

Hannah nodded in encouragement, and took another sip of her cooling tea.

Neville took a big gulp of his and continued, “Yeah, he – he knew my dad.”

Hannah nodded again. She’d met Neville’s parents once. As a trainee, she’d been required to do the rounds of all the different wards at St Mungo’s – including that particular one on the fifth floor.

“Shacklebolt offered me a position as an Auror, no NEWTs qualifications required.”

Hannah nodded again. That had been the case for many jobs after You-Know-Who’s demise. Unfortunately, St Mungo’s hadn’t been so accommodating, so she’d gone back to Hogwarts to complete her seventh year. She was glad that she had, despite the memories the old castle held for her. But in some way, it had been cathartic, going back. She’d helped to rebuild her beloved school – and it had cemented her desire to become a Healer.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Neville murmured.

Hannah placed her mug down on the counter and waited for Neville to meet her level gaze. When he finally looked up, he found no judgement there; just a quiet welcome to continue his story.

“My parents were both Aurors, you know,” he continued. “Before they were – before what happened to them, they were Aurors. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be like them.” His gaze shifted off to the side, looking beyond the dimness of her flat to a place beyond Hannah’s ken. “But when Shacklebolt gave me that letter… I dunno. I didn’t want to do it.”

“Why?” Hannah asked softly.

“I guess… for the same reason I’ve shied away from most things in my life. Because I didn’t think I could. I mean, you knew me back at school. What I was like. I just didn’t see myself cut out for the job.”

Hannah frowned. Yes, she did remember what Neville had been like at school. He’d been shy, sure, but there had never been a doubt in her mind that he wasn’t brave. That he wasn’t up to the task. Hell, he’d pulled the students together. Kept them going. Those terror-filled moments amongst the Death Eaters. Those long hours cooped up in the Room of Requirement. That final battle.

“Neville, you were…” Amazing. Wonderful. Inspiring. Those were things she wanted to say, but before she could finish her thought, Neville interrupted her.

“But Atticus convinced me otherwise,” he rushed to say. Hannah was a little taken aback. Was he afraid of what she had to say? He must know the high esteem she held him in – the way everyone saw him as a hero. But she let the matter drop, wanting him to finish his story.

“Yes?”

He nodded. “I was coming into the Ministry to say no in person when I bumped into him in the atrium. I didn’t know who he was, of course, but apparently he knew all about me. We chatted for a bit, and somehow he convinced me to take tea with him at his desk – just for a few minutes.” Neville’s gaze wandered away again to a time past. “He was good like that – convincing you to drink tea with him, and then somehow extracting all your secrets. Kind of like you, Hannah.” Neville flashed her a quick smile.

Despite the seriousness of their conversation, Hannah couldn’t help her answering smile. She ducked her head to hide the inexplicable heat climbing into her cheeks. Merlin’s wooden spoon, it was just a smile! And a compliment. Couldn’t forget the compliment.

“So you had tea with him?” she prompted, shoving her confusing feelings aside for the moment.

“Yeah, so we had a cup, and he got out the entire sordid story about why I wasn’t going to accept the offer.”

“And then?”

“And then he told me that I was being an arse.”

Hannah quirked her lips. “I have to agree with him.” She got up off her stool and headed back into the kitchen. The cake was sufficiently cool for icing, and Neville seemed to be quite willing to continue talking now that he’d started. And besides, she wanted to get her surprise ready in time…

“Harsh.” By the way Neville’s own lips quirked, she knew he knew that she didn’t mean it meanly.

“And what then?” she prompted, pouring some icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. She flicked her wand at the lemons that were waiting for her on the counter, and they started squeezing themselves into the bowl along with the sugar.

Neville turned in his seat to watch her work in front of him, before continuing, “Then he said that I was a blind fool and that I would be making the biggest mistake of my life.”

“By not becoming an Auror?” She twirled her wand at the bowl, and the sugar and lemon juice started to meld into icing. Hannah hardly paid it any attention, focusing on Neville again.

“By not becoming an Auror for such a dumb reason.”

Hannah nodded. “Again, I have to agree with him.”

Neville nodded in agreement, but his expression became sad once again. She noted that it wasn’t the all-consuming emotion of before. Talking had helped, at least a little. In the blooming silence, she halved the icing, and added a few drops of black food dye to one bowl, and flicked her wand to mix it in.

She watched Neville from under her lashes as he fiddled with his mug. “He died this afternoon,” he murmured.

Hannah walked back around the counter to stand in front of him. Neville turned to face her. She stood close, but didn’t touch; waiting, just being there. His hands were lying loosely in his lap, and he spoke his next words to them, “He wasn’t really that old, but heart problems, you know? He was hospitalised last week, and the Healers had said…” For a moment, it became so quiet, that Hannah could feel it pressing down on her, invading her lungs. But the tension broke when he shrugged. “I was just glad that I could be there with him, in his final moments. It was…”

Hannah wasn’t sure if he’d noticed that he’d leaned forward, but her reaction was almost instinctive. She wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders, and hugged tight. A half moment later, his arms snaked around her waist as he returned her hug. They stood there a long while, she, resting her cheek on his shoulder, and he, burying his silent tears in her hair.

Hannah sensed his body shift, and slowly, she pulled away. Neville gave her a watery smile, which she returned, again, without conscious thought. She returned to the kitchen and started icing the cake, giving Neville some time to himself. Her hands were steady as she wielded the icing knife, alternating the black and white. As the minutes ticked by, their usual comfortable quiet settled over them like an old blanket. She heard the scrape of the stool as Neville got up, the clink of their cups in the sink, the soft whoosh as the dishes began to wash themselves. Somewhere, out in the quiet bustle of a sleepless city, she heard bells chime the midnight hour. A new day was beginning.

“What’s that?” Neville’s rich chocolate voice asked from somewhere near her right ear.

“Ack!” she yelped.

Her insides became gooey like half-melted chocolate at the sound of his chuckle. “Is that… a zebra?”

Adding the finishing touches, Hannah took a step back, and bumped into his rather solid chest, stumbling a little. Neville’s hands came to her upper arms, steadying her.

“No. It’s a zebra cake,” she amended. Stepping away from his hold, she levitated the cake over to her high bench/dining table, and fished out a candle from a drawer. She stuck the candle in the zebra’s ear, and a little dip of her wand had a merry yellow flame burst into existence.

“I realise this isn’t the best time, but…”

“Hannah,” he murmured.

She stopped and looked at him, the candlelight reflecting in his dark eyes. His gaze hadn’t left the cake.

“This is perfect. Thank you.”

“Oh,” she whispered, surprised at the warmth in his voice. “You’re welcome.”

“How did you know that zebras were my favourite animal?”

She laughed. “I have my ways,” she replied mysteriously.

He grinned and took her hand in his, pulling her to the other side of the counter with him.

“This is amazing,” he said as he scrutinised the cake. “You never cease to amaze me, Hannah.”

“It’s just a cake,” she said, suddenly feeling shy and flustered. “Now blow out the candle before it becomes a puddle of wax. I think the poor zebra is in danger of becoming blind.”

“We can’t have that,” he replied gravely. He gave her another smile before bending down to blow out the candle.

“Did you make a wish?” she asked as he stood up straight again.

“Yup,” he replied, giving her hand – which he was still holding – a squeeze.

“Are you going to tell me what it was?”

“Doesn’t that negate the wish?”

Her shoulders fell. “I suppose so.”

He laughed at her reaction. “Fine. I’ll tell you!”

She looked up at him expectantly. When he just looked back at her for a long moment, she huffed in exasperation and poked him in the chest. “Well?” she prodded.

“I wished for more chai, zebras, and a friend in the wee hours of the morning.”

Hannah smiled. Sometimes, life sucked. But what else were chai, zebras, and a friend in the wee hours of the morning for?




AN: Hello, friends! This little story was written for monstrosity’s Sathya Says Challenge. My prompt was to “write a one-shot about friendship lost, featuring a zebra”. This is also a sequel to Chai, Samosas, and a Friend in the Wee Hours of the Morning. I hope you guys enjoyed it – let me know what you thought of it, either way :P

Glossary of Hindi terms: chai – tea; chai masala – tea spice mix

Adios, amigos! :D


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