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Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
She stared at herself in the mirror and tugged awkwardly on the green cotton. It was soft as anything on her skin but she couldn’t quite get comfortable in it. The neckline was a little too steep, the hem too high, the chest tight and constricting and she exhaled deeply. She’d refused the make-up offer. She wasn’t going to get a snog on the doorstep. She was going because she’d mistreated a friend, her support, and she needed to pay him back.
Daphne had scoffed but not pressed, flicking over a page of her magazine and saying, “But you wouldn’t say no to a snog on the doorstep, right?” Hannah had merely blushed brighter and buried her head in her wardrobe under the premise of trying to find a pair of shoes. She hadn’t come here for that and nor would she give in to the pressure of whatever it was that was singing at the back of her mind. She had priorities and she would keep them.
Now, fully clothed, fully prepared, she twiddled the clasp of her bag between two fingers before groaning and turning around. Dean had swept Daphne away for dinner and left Hannah to make her way to Neville’s home; Dean had given her the address when she had made an attempt to join them downstairs instead of going. That was twenty minutes ago and still she couldn’t quite find the motivation to move, couldn’t prepare the words to say, couldn’t even begin to think of how she could apologise.
There was a gentle tapping on the door and she turned. Hesitantly, she called, “Come in,” and held her breath when the door swung open. She sighed when the girl on the threshold was only Astoria Greengrass and tried to force a smile. “She’s at dinner.”
“I know. She sent me up to check if you were still here when I finished.” Faith, Hannah thought, but didn’t say anything. “Daphne said you’re not going back next year.” The older blonde just shook her head. “I don’t want to either but she’s making me.”
“You should,” Hannah said, no conviction in her tone. Nobody could force her back into it, no matter what they said, but Astoria didn’t have an O.W.L. to her name yet. Daphne hadn’t thought twice about going back; to her, it was the only option. She’d let Hannah’s decision slide but the way she spoke to her roommate of her sister, of the concern, made the blonde think twice about encouraging Astoria to ignore Daphne. “Really. Even if it’s just for your exams.”
“But it won’t be the same.” She had a Ravenclaw mind over her sister’s Slytherin tendencies. She had prospects. She had options. She wasn’t like Hannah or Daphne.
“No. It won’t be,” the older girl said, glancing behind her to the mirror, “but that doesn’t mean it’ll be impossible.” She glanced to her watch. “I’m really sorry but I’ve got to go. Daph’ll have my head if I don’t.” Astoria laughed and followed Hannah from the room, a bounce in her step reminiscent of her sister. She moved away from Hannah, towards her own room down the hall, before pausing and looking back.
“Hannah?” The older girl stopped and looked at her. Against the bright light flooding in from the open doors, the sixteen-year-old’s skin looked almost transparent and her hair shimmered in the light. “Good luck.”
Blushing, Hannah nodded her thanks and turned away, her heels clicking noisily on the wooden floors as she walked. She scurried out of the house, past the open door of the dinner hall, and to the gate at the end. Once out of the anti-Apparition zone, she pulled out her wand and in a flash, had disappeared from view.
Neville’s house was small and quaint. Somewhere near Huddersfield, the little two-up two-down was just like every other in the street that she’d wandered to from where she’d landed. Hannah found herself staring at the door for what seemed to be an age before her hand – shaking, though she ignored it – and pulled the knocker back. It clattered against the door with such noise that she leapt back to the edge of the pavement, just about calming herself before the door swung open.
“Oh.” Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt two sizes too big, he ran a hand back through his hair, stopping at the back and cupping his neck awkwardly. “What are you – ” he trailed off, knowing that she knew the rest of the question. She made a hesitant move forward but he showed no sign of opening the door further.
“Can I come in?”
He swung the door open, to her surprise, and stepped away to let her into the cosy room. She’d thought on first look that he would have had the place magically enhanced but no, its interior matched the same size as the house outside and now she was indoors, she felt claustrophobic and cold. She didn’t ask before taking a seat on the threadbare sofa, watching him sink into a seat at the tiny dining table and pointedly avoid looking at her.
“I’m sorry,” she began but found when she went to continue, that the words she’d run over in her head before knocking weren’t quite up to it. “I know it’s not enough but I wanted you to know.” He glanced over to her and then sighed, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, looking out to the window and then back to her. His face had softened now and he was looking at her with an intrigued gaze. “I’m – you’re looking a bit dolled up.”
“Yeah,” she said, blushing a little bit and pulling on the hem of the dress as though she’d rather be wearing anything but it. “It’s Daphne’s.”
“I gathered,” he said with a laugh, “but why?”
She looked away from him, over to the window covered by net curtains and little ornaments that must have belonged to the previous owner – or his grandmother – lined along the sill. She found herself smiling and looked back, trying to repress it.
“I was wondering if you fancied that lunch? A late one, mind you.” They both glanced to the clock and he smiled, nodding and standing up. He leant on the back of the sofa behind her and she turned to face him. For one second, she thought she could hear his heart beating faster and then he spoke.
“Give me five minutes to get changed.”
His feet thundered up the stairs and above her, she could hear the clanging of hangers in a wardrobe. There was a thump and a hissed curse that she couldn’t quite decipher, and then another bang as he shut the door and hurried back down to the living room. He almost tripped off the bottom step and his hand gripped the bottom of the banister, a deathly white colour against the dark varnished wood. Disguising her smile behind her hair, she stood up.
They stood awkwardly, neither quite sure of where hands should be and how big smiles ought to grow. The sun had sunk behind a pillow of clouds and it splattered through the frosted glass of the door, dancing over their faces.
“Know anywhere?” she asked, realising with a jolt that he was waiting for her to take the lead and guide them to a predetermined location. He frowned and then tugged on his lip with his teeth, deep in concentration.
“Yeah, but give me your hand.” She didn’t need telling twice and feeling it slip back inside this grasp that was becoming close to familiar, made her heart swell again. “We’ll have to Apparate. It’s a bit far to walk, especially in them.”
He tugged their joined hands to flap at her sandal-clad feet and she laughed. He opened the door and the brisk wind of the north of England swept over them coolly. Locking the house with a surreptitious flick of his wand, he turned and hurried them up the hill towards a small gap in the houses where he tightened his grip on Hannah’s hand and without warning, Disapparated them both from the spot.
She tripped on landing and only his firm grip on her hand allowed her to keep her balance. Not used to walking in heels let alone Apparating in them, she blushed and apologised quietly, trying not to pay any attention to the increased ticking of her heart against her chest yet again as he checked she was okay. When he released her hand, she wiped it softly on her dress, her nerves showing through every pore of her skin. Her stomach was turning uneasily and as they walked, in a silence that she couldn’t help but note as it had fallen around them so heavily that she was sure it was visible as a thin grey mist, she put all her concentration on keeping her breathing measured and quiet. Every now and then she glanced sideways at him, a little hunched and keeping his eyes straight ahead. The scars that lashed his cheeks were faint in the gloominess of the slowly falling day and he looked so sure, so content that it made her want to shake him.
His choice of location wouldn’t have been anything like she’d imagined. Not a classy, upmarket restaurant with overpriced dishes and food so small that it looked like you were viewing it from space, but instead a pub. A simple country pub complete with overflowing hanging baskets and empty barrels lined up along the side. Even in the miserable looking weather of the north-east of England, a select few brave souls were gathered underneath parasols, their trousers soaked through from the damp wood of the picnic tables that they were hunched over. She smiled. Tradition never got dull.
They had arrived early enough that most people weren’t home from work and certainly not ready to sit down to a full meal. Neville hid them behind a looming fireplace that Hannah was quite sure would be big enough for the entire Weasley family to Floo from at once, and passed her the menu without looking at her. He didn’t open his and she felt that with every move of her eyes across the page, he was judging her. Patiently, she looked up and raised her eyebrows.
“Is something wrong?”
He looked astounded to hear words directed at him and he started. With a firm shake of his head, he wiped his hand over his forehead.
He said it as though she should have been assured but instead it just made her click her tongue angrily on the roof of her mouth and shake her head. He had not even made a decent comment about the way she looked. He had been abrupt and to the point and not even added a ‘You should doll yourself up more often’.
“Well, we’re here to talk,” she said, trying to sound kind but feeling her patience reaching its end with each further second of silence. He relaxed as though her words had given him permission and she lowered her eyes back to the menu before shutting it. He wiped his forehead again, brushing his hair back a little and chewing on his lip.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said and it didn’t sound as though it was paining him to apologise. Hannah said nothing but shook her head as though to brush it off like it had been nothing. “No, really. I was bang out of order.”
“Well, I was inconsiderate too so let’s just call it quits, yeah?”
Determined not to make this one friendship she had faith in fall flat on its face before it had even kicked off, she spoke with a deep conviction and even deeper hope that it would come across. He looked at her and then his lips broke into a smile.
“Yeah, of course.”
She felt her whole body melt into comfort and smiled, feeling for the first time in a long time that it might just have looked like she meant it.
When she collapsed on her bed that evening, Daphne reading The Evening Prophet on her bed and Dean sketching at the bottom, Hannah had laughed at their teasing remarks. He had threatened to go and ask Neville for his verdict in person, and Daphne had kicked him gently but not hesitated in asking for the details as soon as Dean had left for his own room.
“Nothing happened,” Hannah assured her for what felt like the hundredth time. “It was just a meal between friends. Nothing sordid.”
Daphne didn’t argue again. She just smiled as though she knew something more than Hannah did, which infuriated the blonde beyond belief although she kept her anger quenched since Daphne was all she had when Neville was not around, and flipped over the page of her newspaper with an elegant nonchalance that only she could pull off. Hannah sighed and picked up a book. The pages felt light in her hand and no matter how hard she tried, every word passed over her as though it was written in Danish. She hadn’t lied. Nothing had happened over the meal but that wasn’t to say that there hadn’t been the prospect of something happening eventually.
She lifted the book higher in front of her face. She wasn’t going to let Daphne see her smile. She’d never live it down.
A/N: Super late update, I’m so sorry. Writer’s block has kind of got me down lately but it’s been a month so I thought it was high time I gave you the next chapter. Thank you so much for reading. I hope you liked ^_^