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Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
She wasn’t sure which feeling was stronger as she ran as though her life depended on it through the never-ending corridors of the hospital: the dread that was nestling deep in her gut or the adrenaline that was making her shake with the ferocity with which it pumped through her body. People stared and others shouted but it was background noise, fuzzy against the rapid beat of her heart, the tick of a clock counting down in her ears. There was one place she needed to be and nothing was going to stop her.
The ward was there, right in front of her as she wound her way down another passage, and she stopped. The thrum of silence from the other side of the door was overbearing and even when she tried to move, she found herself stuck. Through this inch or two of pale wood could be the salvation she had been hoping for, or the real end of everything she had ever known. There was no saying that the man lying in the hospital bed even was her father; people made mistakes all the time and if she got her hopes up, would she find herself lying amongst the broken shards of them five minutes later?
She knew that he had intended to be a silent comfort but the heaving of Neville’s breath behind her, out of practise at running these days, gave him away. Regardless, the feeling of his hand slipping into hers gave her a surge of confidence and she watched him push open the door, following him into the room quietly.
There were eight beds lining the ward, clipboards and quills hovering in the air beside each one, occasionally jotting something down with a tidy flourish. Hungrily, as though she were nothing more than an animal seeking out her prey, she scanned the ward for the face, the sound, the smell that would make her world start turning again.
“Here,” Neville murmured and she followed his hand to the third bed up on their left. The entire room seemed to black out except for the figure lying on the crisp white sheets. She knew that somewhere amongst it all someone had sneezed and there was a quill scratching and that the smell of disinfectant was so strong that it was almost a part of the air she was breathing, but it was all obscured by the overwhelming darkness that the rest of the world was doused in. She could smell his aftershave, hear his laughter, feel his kiss on the crown of her head before she went to bed but as he stared blankly at the ceiling above them, she could not find the sparkle in his eyes that had once shone every time he waved her off to school.
She wanted to speak. More than any other time in her life, she wanted to say something, anything, but it was like the air in the ward was choking her. Each time she opened her mouth, the words dissolved into the air, her throat battling against an invisible smog that gagged her into an unbreakable silence. Her cheeks were damp and it was a moment before she realised that the steady, rhythmic gasping in the back of her mind was coming from her own mouth.
Her father’s head turned a fraction on the pillow but she could not quite bear to look at him. She was distantly aware of Neville’s thumb gently drifting across the back of her hand but any soaring inside that she might have felt a few days prior – even a few hours ago, perhaps – had been replaced by a heavy indifference to the touch of anyone except her father.
His voice was a croak, almost inaudible but there nonetheless and her hand ripped itself out of Neville’s grasp to free her arm, so that she could wrap both of them tightly around her father’s neck. He groaned under his daughter’s weight but she didn’t relinquish her hold until Neville gently took her arm and pulled her back, the Healer that had appeared at the foot of the bed torn between disapproval and sympathy. Hannah pushed her hair back from her eyes, sitting down on the edge of the hard mattress and covering one of her father’s scarred and bruised hands in hers.
“Can I have a word?” the Healer said, though when Hannah rose, he shook his head and looked somewhere to her right. Neville shifted and with a squeeze of his hand on Hannah’s shoulder, sidled past and hurried down the ward with the Healer. There was a throb of discomfort in her stomach at the way she had been dismissed but the warmth of her father’s hand in hers took the edge away and she turned herself to face him, careful not to break the tight hold she had.
There were questions to ask, deaths to report, two lives to repair but this was not the moment for it. She glanced from her father’s bandaged head to his scarred neck, down his arms to the bruised hands. With a pang of anger, she could not ignore the absence of his wedding ring.
“You look well,” he said, his voice still scratchy, unfamiliar. There had been, in her childhood, a sweetness in his tone, younger than his age and playful. Now it was dark, empty; he sounded like he had lived a hundred years more since they had last seen each other and Hannah felt the thrum of the blood pumping through her quicken. Her father winced as he lifted his arm to cover their entwined hands with his other, and he clung to her as though it were the only way he might keep afloat on a rapidly sinking ship. Hannah, biting her lip to stop herself from letting out a sob that she would save for later, smiled her old smile, the distant one which would not reach her dark eyes no matter how much she tried.
Her voice, too, was hoarse and strained, teetering on the verge of shattering but if there was one thing that the Centre had taught her, it was the importance of strength. She could save her tears for later. She was not the concern today.
“I will be,” he said, smiling in the same way that his daughter had and groaning as he moved. She stood to her feet as though the bed beneath her had burst into flames and patted down the creases in the sheets that her weight had left behind. “Don’t worry about me, sweetheart.” He heaved himself upwards again, the strain shaking his arms as he shifted against the pillows. “These gentlemen know what they’re doing.”
Hannah leant over and rearranged the cushions behind her father, each shift in their movement making him wince. “There,” she murmured, smoothing them down and perching on the chair beside the bed, picking up his hand again. There were questions to ask but she did not think there would be a moment today suitable for such things. When? Where? Why? How long? Her father had always been an ordinary man, a man of fair standing in the magical community and to see him like this, so bruised and battered, the disillusion in his eyes, made her feel another surge of rage at everything that one evil man had built around him and everything that he had destroyed to get there. Never again would she underestimate the power of a single person with a single idea.
“I won’t bite.” Hannah looked at her father, another smile toying on his lips as he stared back at her, the happiness perhaps not reaching his eyes but the love was unquestionable. She had been without it for so long, without that unconditional comfort that her parents had so often bestowed on her, that she had almost forgotten how it could make her feel. “Tell me,” he said when she didn’t reply. “Tell me what you did this year.”
She hesitated, her mouth half-open as she tried to find the right words, the right phrasing to treat the tale with. She had become so accustomed to everyone knowing, everyone understanding, that to start a story from scratch, to treat it like it was history, seemed like yet another impossible move.
“We fought.” She paused, licking her lips and swallowing carefully. “I fought.”
The D.A., the Room of Requirement, giants and trolls and Acromantula, getting knocked off her feet by one of Professor McGonagall’s galloping tables, telling Moaning Myrtle to flood the place out, grabbing Seamus’ hand when she saw the flash of green and watching the arc of Lord Voldemort’s body as it sunk to the ground, dead.
Her father said nothing, staring at her as though she were a stranger. Each flicker of his eyes was with a new light, something switching on inside him and he squeezed her hand gently.
“I’m so proud of you.”
“I wasn’t that important,” she said, hiding herself behind her sheet of hair as it fell before her face, obscuring part of him from view. “I didn’t do much.”
“You were amazing.” The voice came from behind her and she shook her head vigorously, turning to face Neville as he sat down in the other chair. She opened her mouth to protest but he cut across her, “It’s good to see you, Mr Abbott.”
“You too. I expect your gran’s safe and well?”
“Fighting fit,” Neville replied, a smile teasing his lips and a chuckle in his voice. He glanced to the clock above the bed and then to Hannah. “The Healer’s giving us five more minutes then we’ll have to go.” Her eyes widened and she stammered over words that came out as nonsense. “You can come back tomorrow afternoon, visiting hours. You know how strict they are.”
They had watched classmate after classmate emerge from the hospital over time, let in as the clock struck the hour and thrown out midway through a goodbye sixty minutes on. She wasn’t sure why she expected it to be any different now but it struck her hard and she shook her head.
“I’m not going anywhere,” her father said softly, tightening his grip on her hand again and giving her a tug. “Come here.” With surprising strength, he pulled her off the seat and through a tight grimace, wrapped his arms around her. She could almost smell the old aftershave and the flowery shampoo of her mother’s that he used to use without telling her, both just a faded memory now. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She kissed his cheek softly and stepped away as the Healer began to edge up the ward towards them.
“Take care,” she said softly before turning and following Neville, who gave a wave of goodbye to her father, out of the room. The doors swung shut behind them both and she let go of a breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding, the tears that she had so much wanted to spread starting to burn her eyes. “What happened to him?”
Neville looked down at her, his mouth hanging open ready to relay to her what he knew when something in him shifted and without saying a thing, stepped forward and pulled her towards him. She didn’t sob or wail. She didn’t even feel out of breath as each tear rolled down her cheeks, trapped between her skin and his cloak, and there was a strange comfort in the soft hushing noise he was making into her hair, the hand drifting down her back so lightly that she could easily have thought it part of her imagination.
It was mumbled into his cloak and he drew away a little, an eyebrow raised. She wiped her hand across her cheeks and leant back from him, repeating it softly and feeling the words tugging themselves from every part of her being.
“Let’s get you home.”
They set off down the corridor, winding their way through the Healers in their vibrant green robes, the spare beds in the halls and worried-looking visitors whose faces Hannah knew were not too different from hers. It was only when they emerged in reception and joined the small queue before the exit fireplace that she realised that Neville’s hand was still nestled against the small of her back, fingers clenched in her robes, and when he let go to hand her the pot of Floo powder which rested atop the mantelpiece, she found everything in her droop.
Without giving much thought to it, she threw the powder in the flames and watched them glow their bright green. She ducked her head to step inside and said clearly, “Derwent House.” She glanced out at Neville, stood only a foot or two away, and watched his eyebrows rise again before he disappeared from sight. Only then did she remember that she wasn’t supposed to be there. Only then did she remember about Aberforth, Ernie, Hélène and the others.
Only then did she realise that home had only meant one thing to her for a very long time. She owed them her happiness and in return, she had given them her love. Dean and Daphne, Arabella and Augusta, and Neville, the boy who’d become a man before her eyes.
Her mother always used to say that home is where the heart is and Hannah felt a tug of guilt as she realised that only now did she truly understand what that meant.
A/N: I'm a terrible, terrible person! I'm so sorry for the delay and the awful quality of this update. Life's really just got the better of me and I'm struggling to find time to sit down and properly get back into writing. Hopefully I'll be able to update soon!