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Chapter 4: Chapter Four
The house had been spectacular but it was nothing compared to the outside. Buried against the silent hills of the Peak District, merely a speck on a mountainside, she realised just how irrelevant size was. Heather sprouting on the hills, cars winding along the hairpin bends oblivious to her standing there, against the backdrop of a house that in itself was huge, the entirety of it was too much. She sat down on the grass, newly mown and covered sporadically in daisies. It was gorgeous.
Serenity had always been just a promise for her. A night where her mother would stop screaming at her father long enough to say goodnight and tomorrow they would go into town and buy a gingerbread duck from the baker’s then sit on the moors and watch time dissolve on the horizon. They never did. Tomorrow always led to routine, to scraped pigtails and her mother’s tight bun and a briefcase with Top Secret documents buried within. A kiss on the cheek and a locked door at night, that was what tomorrow brought.
This was different. This was so serene that it was almost frightening. No wind, no noise, nothing except her and her thoughts and the solitude was on the verge of deafening. A stone in a graveyard, newer than the rest; a night with a pillow pulled over her ears to block out her father’s sobbing; a dull throbbing silence when the mashed potato wasn’t right, wasn’t like it used to be, wasn’t like when she did it.
“Knut for them?”
Hannah started and looked up, the sun bright above her head and she slipped a hand like a visor to squint at whoever had disturbed her. She bit her cheek to stop the smile and looked away again.
“I thought you were busy.”
There was a thump as he dropped onto the ground a little in front of her, twisting so she was in his line of vision. He shrugged.
“I’ve worked non-stop for them for the past four weeks. I thought I deserved a break.”
“I can take care of myself,” she assured him, slowly and meaningfully in the hope that he would take the hint and realise that she didn’t need his protection. He smirked.
“I know. I’ve just come to lend a hand to Gran and when she sent me to find you, check you’d settled in okay, your room was empty,” he said, as though it explained everything and at the same time as though he didn’t believe a word of what he said. “Thought I’d check you weren’t planning on throwing yourself in Ladybower.”
“Reservoir. Just down there.” He pointed off to the left where, if she squinted, Hannah could just make out a stream of water stagnating. Rooting her feet deeper against the grass, she nodded slowly. “Don’t take that as an invitation to do it,” he added quickly, almost nervously and she glanced to his face, lined with worry marks. With a shake of her head, he relaxed. “Good, good.”
There was a shout from inside and they both turned to see two figures – unidentifiable save for that it was two women – darting around near a set of French doors. Laughter sang down towards the end of the garden and with a shudder, Hannah looked away. It was like a stab to the chest.
“The Montgomery sisters,” Neville supplied after he’d turned around too, not looking at Hannah anymore but out at the countryside. He looked with such intensity that anyone would have thought he’d never seen it before, and yet at the same time like he knew every nook and cranny out there. “Their parents thought it would do them good.”
“And has it?”
Moving his eye from the hillside, where a line of sheep were slowly climbing upwards, he crossed his legs and turned to face her. In the harsh light of the late morning sun, she looked washed out. Her round cheeks shone, her hair lank down her back, her eyes looking down and dark, and it made her look ill.
“You don’t believe this is going to help.” A statement not a question, and one that seemed to tease and give an air of resignation at the same time rather than anger. She looked over to him, not making eye contact but finding her gaze held firmly on his knees, and shrugged dismissively. “Come in.”
He stood to his feet, dusting the grass off his robes and holding a hand out. Peering up at him, she toyed with the idea for a minute before shaking her head, turning her back on him to look over the hillside. He didn’t move for a moment, and when he did, he first stooped down to her and said, “I’ll be inside if you need me.” His hand landed on her shoulder again and this time she did flinch. Closing his eyes for a second, he nodded to himself and then moved away, twice looking back in the vain hope that she was doing the same. Nothing.
She wasn’t entirely sure how long she’d sat there, but when the sun dipped around and started to blind her, she took it as time to leave. There was clattering from inside and the sound of voices gradually died away with it. Shaking the grass off her robes, she disappeared into the house, following the smell of lunch into a dining hall. Far smaller than that of Hogwarts, the table was neatly set for at least thirty, if not more. Hesitating at the doorway, she looked out to those seated, some faces familiar, others not. Seeing Dean and Daphne with heads close and the latter’s sister nearby, laughing with a dark haired man who she didn’t recognise, made her take a step forward and then a hand on her shoulder made her jump.
“Sit down, dear,” Mrs Longbottom instructed, flapping her hand idly at the table. She hurried ahead and pointed to an empty seat. Obediently, Hannah followed and let the woman pull the chair out on her behalf before she could muster the courage to speak.
“Where’s Neville?” The old woman looked startled for a moment before waving her hand dismissively.
“Sit down,” she repeated, tapping the top of the chair and stumbling back down the length of the table, seating herself by a woman of a similar age who people seemed to be giving a wide berth. Reluctantly, Hannah took her seat beside a man easily twenty years her senior and a boy not much older than her who she thought she might vaguely recognise from the Gobstones club. They didn’t try and make conversation, opting to staring blankly at their empty plates, and she mimicked their silence.
The lunch had done little to convince her of the powers this place held, and minute by minute, she wanted to leave more and more. If there was nothing here aside from company, she might as well be at The Hog’s Head, where at least she was earning a wage helping Aberforth behind the bar if things did get busy or if he had to go out. As soon as she’d finished the last of her apple, she dropped the core on her plate and pushed it away, staring around the room. The enormity of the building had diminished over the last few hours, and even the majestic paintings of faces she had never known and never would know could not convince her that this was a place she wanted to spend time in. As soon as the first person excused themselves, she mimicked them and hurried out of the room. Her instinct led her to the staircase but at the sound of more chairs scraping from the dining room, she turned and walked around them, down the same corridor she’d been led in on.
The servants’ passage, once upon a time, it was narrow and dark and most of the doors led to small cupboards or rooms that were now filled with boxes and books. Sunlight breaking under one door, she knocked lightly before opening it and stepping inside. A library with empty shelves, she frowned until she shut the door and saw the piles on the floor. Dozens, if not hundreds lining one wall and a stooped figure slowly perusing each title before placing it in another set of stacks behind him.
“Having fun?” she asked and he jumped, knocking the table behind him over and sending a pile of paperwork over the floor. “Oh God, I’m sorry!” She pulled out her wand only to find he’d also reached for us and together, not taking their eyes off the other, they pointed the tips at the spilled paper. He laughed first. “Which of us was worse at Charms?” she asked, stepping towards the mess and looking quizzically up at him. He contorted his face into one of faux deep thought before jabbing his wand at her, laughing as blue sparks spat at her and she stepped back. “Thanks.”
“No worries,” he said, before setting the table upright and sending the papers back into order with another flick of his wand. He set it on the top and pointed to two armchairs by the window, moth-eaten and threadbare. She nodded and followed him to the seats. “Careful, they’re a bit unstable.” She smiled and sat gingerly down, feeling it rocking on the floor and clinging to the cushion tightly as he sat beside her, just as tentatively. “How’s it going?”
“Er,” she stammered, unsure of how to tell him that nothing was going anywhere. It was as dormant as the reservoir he’d pointed out before. He didn’t say anything to that, looking out of the leaded window over at the side of the house. “It’s okay.”
“The first day’s hard,” he said, still not budging his glance from the wall that the room looked out upon. “And the second and the third,” he continued, a smile playing on his lips, “and then you find someone who feels just as lost as you and you start to enjoy it.”
“I don’t want to fall in love,” she said, her mind immediately moving to the way that Dean and Daphne had acted, the way their hands were twisting on top of the table, the way that they didn’t say a word to each other and yet looked entirely comfortable. She’d noted the smile that was on Daphne’s face every time Dean looked away, every time she looked at him. They had moved on and they were forgetting and that was like sacrilege.
“Who said anything about love?” he asked softly, looking sideways at her. “Yeah, perhaps people have found partners but others have found confidantes who turn into friends who will turn into best friends eventually.” He stopped again, running his hand over the windowsill and leaving a trail in the dust. Her mind flashed painfully to the bar at The Hog’s Head. “And I’m fairly sure you don’t usually get a say about falling in love.” She cocked her head to the side, imploring him to go on but he just smiled and shrugged. “It’d make it too easy.”
A clock somewhere in the house struck two and he glanced to his own watch. Turning his head for the first time in minutes to look at her, he stood up and looked around at the library.
“What are you doing in here?” she asked as if on cue, standing too. He beckoned her to follow him and looked to the piles of books, gesturing for her to join him.
“Rearranging,” he said simply and she struggled not to roll her eyes. “It kills the time. I’m just putting them in alphabetical order.” She lifted one off the pile, a Muggle book that she remembered hearing about in Muggle Studies. She only glimpsed at the cover before placing it back on a pile. “It’s oddly therapeutic.” Lifting another up, she slid it carefully beneath the one she’d picked up earlier: Cook came after Austen, after all. She tugged on her bracelet for a second before looking over at Neville who had started sifting through another pile not far away.
“Do you need a hand?”
He looked up at her, placing one of the books on a pile just behind him and replacing the others on the floor.
“No,” he said, moving around a little to lift another stack up. She couldn’t pretend it hadn’t hurt and she turned her back on him, stepping away before pausing and looking over her shoulder. “But I want one.” She didn’t hesitate before picking up the first book she came to and lobbing it at his head and laughing. He paused, just for a split second, to look at her in the sharp lighting of the room, the candles flickering in the chandelier making her hair glimmer down her back. She raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘what?’ and then it hit her.
She had laughed.
And, just because of the sheer ridiculousness of the situation, she did it again.
A/N: I love this story…is it really arrogant of me to say that? :P I wrote this a long time ago and reading back, it’s the one story where I don’t want to rewrite every single chapter. So thoughts? Always welcome and I owe huge you all huge apologies: I’ve moved abroad and I’m currently in an apartment without internet, which makes updates hard. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing!