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Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen
Hannah shifted in her seat so that she could take the mug of steaming tea off Neville and cradled it in both of her hands. The old library was silent, the shelves at the far end now neatly ordered but the floor still covered with so many piles that it had become more of a battle than ever to meander a way through to the sofa that still sat in front of the window, unmoved from the last time they had sat there, late at night in one of the most comforting silences she had ever heard.
The seat heaved as he sat down and a little plume of dust puffed up from the cushion. He dusted off his robes and pulled his legs up onto the sofa in the same way that she had. The nights were drawing in again, the sun low in the sky and in the distance, across the grounds that seemed to stretch on to the horizon, Hannah watched three figures lying on the grass, bodies still except the movement of their mouths as they spoke in what she was sure would be the same gentle whisper as everyone used around the building; caution, worry and despair evident in every word.
“I meant it,” she said after another minute of watching the stillness of the garden. “Thank you.”
She could see him shifting out of the corner of her eye, his feet slipping as they tried to curl over the lip of the cushion. It wasn’t awkward, exactly, as they sat there in the peace and quiet but it wasn’t altogether natural and Hannah sipped at her drink, the steam still unfurling in sweeping spirals. There was no intensity between them now, no urgency and the words that were so important now wouldn’t quite come.
“Any time,” Neville said, stammering slightly and taking a gulp of his drink. Conceding defeat, he slipped the mug onto the floor and tapped his hands on his lap as he followed her gaze out into the garden. The sun had slipped lower again, barely even visible over the climb of the hills and Hannah heard him take a deep breath before he spoke. “The Healer said your dad was Snatched.” He paused, as though expecting a reaction but when none came aside from the steady sipping of tea, he continued. “You know what some of them were like, thick as they come. He got away.”
She felt the soft swell of relief around her chest, the same overwhelming happiness that the slightest victory had brought her over the last year. Perhaps he’d been subjected to torture, beaten to an inch of his life but he’d got away. It was defiance and strength, everything that she had never valued in herself, never thought of in her father but always there, waiting for its shining moment.
“What took him so long?”
The question forced itself from her lips, the niggling worry in the back of her mind: why hadn’t he come back? The celebrations the day after Voldemort’s fall had been unbelievable, lights bursting above the skies well into the depths of the night. She had watched from the top floor of the Hog’s Head, in a room she was sharing with a handful of others not fortunate enough to escape with a family intact. Her dad had seen it all before, told her the stories of November 1st and the endless drama in tracking down all those who had brought the Statute of Secrecy within an inch of redundancy. She used to laugh, say she wished she could have seen it but now she thought that nothing had seemed quite as inappropriate as that May day.
“He couldn’t hide forever,” Neville said gently, turning to look at her for the first time but she couldn’t bring herself to break her stare out across the countryside. “They got him again, kept him with some others ready to take to Azkaban.”
She bit her lip, flashes of empty cells and broken walls from years of photographs in the Prophet. The cold, the bitter wind, the howl of the sea and everything in it came alive with the image in her mind; nothing made her feel quite as empty as seeing that place.
“Only Harry scuppered their plans a bit.” There was a lilt to his voice, a gentle amusement that seemed so wrong. “Fought the battle, lost the war but I suppose there was still work to be done. The Aurors got a tip-off last week that five people were being kept in this house and well, there you have it.”
“And the Snatchers?”
Hannah wasn’t entirely sure what the question even meant but it seemed like the only question worth asking. Who were they? Why did they do it? Are they clamped in the hell that they’d have put her father in if it weren’t for a schoolboy’s resistance?
“Burke, Perkins and Baines, awaiting trial.” He took a breath and she couldn’t help but turn her head now. Biting his lip, he paused before adding, “One of the people they took was dead when they got there.”
The three figures outside shifted, the breeze tumbling over their bodies, and suddenly everything she had loved here only a few minute ago had become cold. One of the people could have been anyone; someone’s mother, someone’s son, someone’s husband or wife. Death did not deserve dismissal. She bent down and put her mug on the floor, turning her head away from him so she was staring at a row of books, glimmering in the sunlight that was slowly ebbing away into the horizon.
“He looked so broken.”
Her voice was high-pitched, almost frantic, but she kept her eyes pinned to the gold on the spines of the books that she had once lined up with a smile on her face and a throb in her heart. Her lips now twitched, the pain in every single cell of her body started to waver inside her, tears catching on her eyelashes. She had wanted to be strong, to show that she was better now, a heroine of sorts, but she could feel her body crumbling like an avalanche. She was weak.
Next to her, Neville said nothing and the sun swooped lower again behind the fields that they had once crossed together. She sat still, her body set like stone, the tears tumbling down her cheeks the only sign that she was alive. His fingers teased around her hair, the tips tracing shapes against her neck and she bit her lip, her crooked teeth digging into it so hard that she could almost taste the blood. His hand flattened against her neck, sweeping down her back, through each twist and curl of her hair, and the cries that had been so silent before broke from her throat as she turned to face him. His expression didn’t change. With a determination burning in his eyes that she had never before seen, he closed the space that had grown between them.
She stood up. Backed up against the window, the remains of the sunlight dying away, Hannah looked down at him and the confused look on his face, his arm still hanging limply where she had just been sat.
“It could have been him. That’s what you meant, isn’t it? I’m lucky?”
“No, don’t be stupid.”
“Yes, yes, you did. You think I’ve come out of this well!”
Neville stood up too, grabbing her wrist and holding it tightly despite her squirming. Towering above her now, he looked different, stronger and older and like something inside him was on fire. His jaw was set, his eyes unblinking and she was almost scared until he dipped his head and kissed her.
Their first had been innocent, gentle and short. This was different, incomprehensibly different. In the throes of dusk, the night growing darker with every passing second, she felt closer to him than she had been to anyone for so long. It was not about the dryness of his lips or the feeling of her fingers teasing the tips of his hair. It was new and exciting and she could feel his heart beating against her, hers straining back as though it was trying to break free of her body, yearning for one millimetre more of closeness.
“I would never wish this upon anyone,” he said softly as he drew away, cupping her face in both of his roughened hands. The fire had gone now, burnt out to nothing. His eyes were big and pleading, dark blue and impossible.
“I know.” She couldn’t feel the tears anymore or the pain. She knew she would wake up in the morning and it would all come back but nothing would take the feeling that now coursed through her veins away from her. She felt alive. “Would it be okay to stay here tonight?”
He slipped his hands down to her waist, fingers softly tracing the curve of her body as he nodded.
“Course. I’ll tell Gran, get her to get your bed done.”
“No,” she said, covering one of his hands with hers. “Here.” She gestured to the battered old sofa and the view across the steadily fading hills. “Both of us.” His expression didn’t change and she squeezed his hand. “Please?”
He didn’t give her an answer, his lips quirking into the smallest of smiles before he dipped his head and kissed her again. Hannah smiled against him despite herself, despite everything, and held his hand even tighter in hers. A part of her hated it, hated the smile and the beating of her heart and the heat that rose in every part of her; hundreds of miles away, her father was ill and alone and she was all he had. Happiness, she knew, was only ever temporary.
“I’ll go and fetch a blanket.”
His breath was warm and gentle on her lips as he spoke, his smile shining from his eyes, and when he let go of her hand, she went cold. His footsteps echoed away and she looked around at the room, the furniture mere shadows in the fallen night. She slipped her wand out of her pocket, whispering, “Lumos,” under her breath, and watched the light trickle over the messy piles of old books, the broken furniture, the wonky portraits against the walls. From the ceiling hung an old chandelier, edged in silver dust, the candles long burned out. With a tentative flick of her wand, she siphoned off the worst of it and concentrated harder than ever to light four small balls of blue flame from nothing over each holder. Satisfied, she knelt on the sofa, tucking her legs underneath her and watching the flickering flames in the reflection from the window.
Hannah wasn’t entirely sure how long it took Neville to come back but when he did, a blanket bundled in his arms and two teacakes on a plate in his hand, she struggled to fight the smile. He drifted the blanket over the two of them and she shuffled closer to him, leaning her head gently on the back of the seat as he offered her the plate.
“I swear these are the best things ever to be made,” he said, taking a bite of one half of his teacake and resting his head back on the chair too. His voice was still low, quiet, and he chewed on his lip before adding, “Gran always used to get them in after we’d been to St Mungo’s, to try and cheer me up.”
“Did it work?”
“Not really,” he muttered, brushing his hair back gently. “It’s the thought, though, in’t it?” She nodded gently, polishing off the last of her food and dusting her hands over the back of the settee. Above them, the flames still burned, licking at the empty holders and drifting in a non-existent breeze. Hannah yawned. “Come here.” He lifted the blanket up and she ducked under his arm without hesitation. He slipped the plate onto the floor and shuffled so that they were both comfortable on the battered old seat. “Your dad’s going to be fine.”
She did not look up at him, didn’t even blink. She pulled the blanket up even tighter to her chin and pressed a kiss against his cheek. There were so many things to worry about, so much more than him simply being alive, but at that moment, that was all that mattered. They would deal with the heartache and the pain and the emptiness when it struck. Her father was alive. She was no longer alone and she had Neville. She slipped her hand into his again and squeezed softly, closing her eyes.
A/N: I told you this update would be quicker! Typically it’s exam/assessment time so my muse is starting to grind stuff out again. Life! Hopefully I’ll be able to put chapter 16 up soon too.