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Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
There was something almost terrible about the feeling of weightlessness found from running so fast that the ground seemed to be moving too. Beneath her, the stones rippled and ripped and crumbled beneath her and as the corridor – the never-ending corridor of bowing, bending rubble – grew ever longer, she cracked. She felt the cold sweat seeping down her neck, down her chest, her socks soaked through with it. The stench of blood and perspiration, of fear, of everything burnt her. She retched. She coughed. The hands on her wrists were like ice and with an almighty gasp as though emerging from underwater, she woke up.
Daphne was leaning over the bed, pinning her back against it and in the darkness, Hannah could still make out distant worry lines in the pale girl’s forehead. This wasn’t an unusual thing. Sometimes she would be the one lying over Daphne’s body to stop her from injuring herself in the midst of an unshakeable nightmare, and other times, like tonight, she returned the favour. Once the redhead was sure that Hannah was awake and safe, she backed off, sitting down on the edge of the mattress and the blonde shuffled backwards so she was propped against the headboard. She watched Daphne pull her wand out – nobody had quite escaped the habit of keeping it on their person yet – and the lights came on dimly, just enough for the two sets of tear-streaked cheeks to shimmer against the black.
“Sorry,” Hannah mumbled, though they both knew it was unnecessary to apologise. Daphne smiled and handed her a tissue, Hannah taking it gratefully in one white, shaking hand. Her eyes stung with it and the paper was rough against her skin. She felt her heart slowing down once more and pressed the ball of her hand against her chest to feel the throb of it settling, a confirmation. Nothing was ever sure anymore. “What time is it?”
“Three-ish, I think,” Daphne said, her eyes wide and alert as though it was so much later. Hannah nodded slowly, resting her head gently against the wall and clenching and unclenching the duvet cover in her fists. She knew it had only been a dream but the room around her seemed to be closing in, tighter and darker and she kicked the covers off, sliding out of bed and standing up blankly beside Daphne.
“I’m going to go for a walk. Clear my head,” she said, pulling on a pair of trousers and her coat. Daphne stood to join her but Hannah shook her head. “I’ll be fine. Go back to bed. I won’t be long.” The redhead didn’t argue, but stood up and placed a gentle hand on her roommate’s arm. Neither girl smiled, yet the echo of one hung in the air between them. A mark of a fledgling friendship, marred by bloodshed and the indescribable hurt of loss.
The lights dimmed and Daphne’s bed sheets rustled and then silence swept back around them like the silent phantom of the past. Hannah grappled for the door handle and stepping out into the hall, felt suddenly stronger. The sound of only her awake at this most serene time of the night made her feel an empowerment that she had only ever felt before under the duress of adrenaline, of life or death. She was the only one awake in the entire house and she drew herself up to full height, pretending for a moment that she was in charge, she was mistress of a house not in ruins but standing tall, proud amongst what she believed truly to be the most beautiful landscape in England.
Then her shoulders hunched back over, her pace slowed down and around her, everything crumbled to rubble again. Dreams didn’t last and they certainly didn’t come true. There was a blandness to everything she hoped for. There was no depth, no excitement in it. It had wings but it could never fly.
Her mind had taken a break and she found herself on the threshold of the old library that she had spent so long inside with Neville. Now more than wide-awake, she pushed the door open and glanced around. The candles lit automatically on her presence and the window, enormous but not big enough to show even a fraction of the landscape outside, showed a dance of the most spectacular shadows.
She made her way in a neat, tidy line to the wooden chair nestled in the window’s alcove. The sill was rotten and old but her elbow fitted neatly in one of the holes and she watched the stillness of the world at night with the greatest envy and desire. The sky was clear, scattered with stars that felt as far away as they really were. The expanse of everything shook her to her centre. Out there, somewhere, beyond even what she could see and hear and touch could be another world, perhaps more than one, with Muggles and wizards and magic so much like her own that it would be hard to distinguish the two.
Maybe, out there, another war was raging. Maybe for them, it was the end.
The voice made Hannah gasp, the shock of breath pulling itself right from the depths of her stomach. She clutched her hand to her chest and turned. On the settee sat Neville, hair stuck on end and clothes crumpled. She didn’t move from her chair, but shook her head and looked back out of the window. She could just about see his silhouette in the reflection of the glass, moving steadily against the stillness of the trees.
She could feel the weight of him moving towards her and then a sickening scrape that made her turn. The sofa he had been sprawled on was by her side and he seemed to effortlessly lift her chair back away from her so that the seat fitted awkwardly in against the window. She sat next to him, ensuring there was a safe gap of at least six inches between their bodies, and together, in silence that only they could appreciate, watched the stars.
Her eyes drooped at some point, though she couldn’t tell if it was five minutes or fifty, and she felt her body lulling, dragging itself towards the warmth of his. Even if she’d had the slightest wish to sit up and apologise, she wasn’t sure she could and just as she felt sleep tightening its grip, she could have sworn she felt his lips against her hair and whisper of goodnight drifting past her ear.
The sound of pots and pans being banged somewhere in the building was what eventually woke Hannah from the depth of her dream. She kept her eyes closed tightly for fear of what she might find when she finally opened them; her body horizontal on the seat, alone. The feeling of someone beside her had warmed her, calmed her, and now she felt that admitting it was merely a single occasion would lead to the sinking of her heart, of the hope that had kept her going. She thought it might send her flying back to the world of nightmares and closing walls.
It wasn’t until she felt whatever she was lying on shift that she braved squinting; her head against his chest, his almost resting on hers and the feel of an arm around her shoulders. She thought her heart might actually break one of her ribs from the force it was beating with. Carefully, she placed a hand on the seat to steady her and leant gently away from him, feeling cold when his arm fell from her. He was awake, smiling awkwardly in a way that only he could ever get away with, and she blushed.
“Daphne came in about half an hour ago, she was worried.”
“What time is it?”
She edged away from him, feeling sticky and drained from the restless night. Now the sun was burning unbearably through the glass and she felt frail under its gaze and she couldn’t quite bring herself to look Neville in the eye. He glanced over to the clock on the mantle and she followed his gaze.
“I’d best go and get dressed,” she said, and without a second glance towards him, she left the room, feeling torn between letting her dishevelled appearance get the better of her and letting the soaring feeling she had felt under his care continue. Her legs carried her faster and when she ran into her room and collapsed on her bed, the fact that her forehead was damp and her hair was greasy and her eyes felt so sore from the tiredness didn’t matter.
She lay spread-eagled on her mattress and laughed from her heart, and if anyone else had heard it, they might have joined in.
“You look like the cat that got the cream,” Daphne said when she came back and Hannah was fastening her hair back into a ponytail in front of the mirror. The surprised raising of the blonde’s eyebrows did nothing for her roommate’s curiosity and she jumped onto Hannah’s bed, batting her hands away and tying her hair for her. “I saw you on the sofa. You were as snug as a bug in a rug.”
“He put his arm around me.”
“I saw,” Daphne said, her grin as obvious as Hannah’s. “You like him.”
“Shut up,” she replied, but everything from the dancing of her eyes to the tell-tale chewing of her lip gave her away and she smiled. “Do you think he likes me too?”
“No, he just put his arm around you to stop you dribbling on his sleeve,” Daphne said blankly. “Of course he does, you daft cow. You’d think you’d never had a crush on anyone before.” Flashbacks to kissing Antony Goldstein one Christmas and swooning with Susan over seeing Cormac McLaggen in their common room, topless, came back like moments from a past life. She shook her head.
“Not like this, no.”
She’d never felt something so strong that the prospect of nothing coming of it made her want to break down. The idea that he might talk to other girls, the very thought of someone else’s shoulder under his arm, the whisper of his voice in the ear of someone who could never appreciate it as she did, made her feel sick to the stomach. She had had butterflies and a racing heart but this, whatever it was, between her and Neville made her past feelings feel like the schoolgirl fantasies that they indeed were.
Daphne’s smile faded a little and Hannah’s brow furrowed.
“Nothing,” Daphne said. “I just didn’t expect things to happen for you quite as quickly as they have.”
Hannah felt her smile tugging on her lips again. For the first time, she understood exactly what Daphne meant. She wasn’t reading into it for a hidden meaning that wasn’t there. She wasn’t looking for a flaw. She took the words for what they were: she had been broken and now everything was starting to fit itself together again and it all worked in the most beautiful, unbelievable way that made her soar above anything she’d felt before.
Still, somewhere deep inside her, she felt the throbbing sorrow that had consumed her, but for now, she pushed it aside and let the moment take its hold.