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Chapter 1: Neville: The Hog's Head
The sky was white and white drops of snow floated down to the ground, light as cotton, light as feathers, both combined; students were walking this way and that around the small village, making the most of the visit in such adverse and chilling weather. Most, with hands shoved in pockets and hats pulled low, scarves wrapped tight, huddled in groups down the main dirt track, while the more indistinct few - like myself, those who would not be noticed, who were insignificant, invisible - veered left, feet swallowed up in inches of thick muddy snow to a place named ‘The Hog’s Head.’
We’d all heard of it; it was a dodgy place. You only went there if you didn’t want much of an audience, my gran said once. That meant one of two things: either lots of witches and wizards avoided it or those who did brave the smelly, dirty interior were of the lesser quality, the type of person who didn’t know their left from right and even worse after a couple of drinks. As I approached, I guessed she had meant both. The windows were grimy and you were unable to see through them, the door was firmly shut and unwelcoming, the hanging, aged sign was gruesome (obviously of a butchered hog, no body remaining), and to be perfectly honest, my stomach was giving me the telltale signs of danger. I felt ill, but plundered on anyway towards the door. Earlier on, I had watched Harry, Ron and Hermione enter, followed by some other students and they hadn’t run out shouting and screaming at the top of their lungs so I supposed it was safe to continue.
Ignoring the pungent stink of something rotten, I reached the door holding my breath. As a person did, I turned back to see if there was anyone behind me. Approaching, were more students, in the lead a girl with two long pigtails a straw blonde colour. Fingers clutching onto the damp wood, I waited for the group to reach me.
“Thank you,” she said as I held the door open for her.
Quietly, I found a seat beside Dean, the group following close behind me.
“You made it,” Dean said, smiling.
“Told you I would,” I replied, removing my gloves, hot blood pelting through my fingers. “Been here long?”
He shook his head. “But Hermione says more people should be coming.”
I looked around. There couldn’t have been more than twenty of us waiting for the meeting to begin. “I doubt it,” I replied, voice heavy with disappointment. It was a good number, but somehow I had hoped for more.
In front of us, George Weasley waved and moved to a closer seat to talk animatedly about the group we were about to form. I added in my own opinion here and there about Umbridge and her medieval methods, occasionally praised Harry and we voiced fears about You-Know-Who. The latter, we spoke of in whispers; I knew many people didn’t believe the rumours and then I was reminded that Seamus didn’t either.
“If he wants to believe the Prophet, let him,” George said.
“He’s our friend,” I muttered. “We have to defend him.”
“What, defend his ignorance?” George said briskly. “I say, forget about it. When You-Know-Who rears his ugly head, we’ll see who begs for forgiveness …”
“That’s a bit dramatic,” Dean said. “We’re not mad at him even if he’s mad at us. By the way, George … Quidditch. I need an update.”
George looked at him blankly and then suddenly a light turned on. “Oh right, you’re muggleborn!” He knocked his head slightly with his hand.
“All summer without many updates,” Dean said sadly.
“Where do I begin? Fred! Come here!” George called Fred over, after which they began relaying, in full detail, the current assembly of the Quidditch league tables, complete with game scores, future dates and estimations.
I was fuming. Why had Dean not asked me? I’ll tell you why: because I am Neville Longbottom, the idiot who couldn’t perform a decent spell without messing up, so why would I keep up to date with Quidditch? How would I know that last week Gwenog Jones just recuperated from her three hundred foot fall from her Firebolt during the Harpies/Wasps match twelve days ago? How would I know that she was in a semi-comatose state and that no spell would wake her - and what did was sniffing a confined jar of Troll Essence? No … no, surely I wouldn’t know that plans for England’s line-up had been put off over an apparent conspiracy to have an all Pureblood team. But then again, I am Neville. The only interest I have is in evading Slytherins and looking after my Mimbulus Mimbletonia …
If my parents could see me now, they’d be so embarrassed! They were both skilled in combat and had their lives ruined for what they believed in. And me? I was at the bottom of the social ladder, clawing my way up the school hierarchy in an attempt to make a name for myself. I gave up on that most of the time because every attempt was useless and this meeting wasn’t likely to change my life like it would others. Don’t get me wrong, I care very much about the welfare of the school and its students but if I could -
A light breeze of air came over my face in a wave. The air was not fresh and did not come from outside, it was the remainder of a singular swift movement, of the girl beside me yanking off her black scarf with vigour and setting it on her lap. The air smelt of perfume momentarily, sweet and sharp, a hint of pink grapefruit; then came something fresher - not mint, not that … she just smelt clean, if that was the way to say it. A waft of ash, orange peel and something bitter like nail polish and then the smell was gone as quickly as it came. She pulled her black hat further down her head over the top of her pigtails and began tapping her fingers on her lap with an erratic nervousness.
My head began to pound as she looked at me. It came so suddenly that I sank a little in my seat.
“Exciting, isn’t it?” she said.
It was Hannah Abbott. Her face could not be mistaken. She was a plain-looking girl, small light brown eyes, pink cheeks on this winter afternoon, hair in a style she wore often since our first year. If there was any wonder why I sat blinking at her, the answer is this: we had never really spoken. I say ‘really’ because she had said something to me once and that was ‘When was that Charms homework due?’ as she passed me in the Great Hall in the middle of a conversation she was having with Susan Bones in our second year. That was odd … I actually remember … I guess that was because we shared so few experiences and now I wondered why on earth she -
“I am talking to you,” she said firmly.
Why on earth was she talking to me?
“Neville …” she said slowly.
She knew my name. Of course she knew my name. I needed to shake my head a little, jig my brain about, rearrange my scrambled thoughts, halt the beats of my heart and the shaking of my knee, the moisture arising on my skin.
Running my tongue around my dry mouth, I said, “I - I know.”
She nodded slowly. Great, she thought I was a socially incompetent idiot who had issues with new situations. Or did I think that? Oh God, I thought that …
Hannah turned away, to resume chatting to the other Hufflepuffs, when I forced my hand into tapping her shoulder. I didn’t even have to think about it or talk myself into not doing it. I didn’t have to count up the pros and cons, imagining possible future outcomes. I just did it.
Hannah turned to me and waited patiently until I said, “It is exciting. I-I actually miss Defence Against the Dark Arts even though I wasn’t very good at it.”
There was a large intake of breath and her hands came up with enthusiasm and fell back to her thighs with a thud. “Oh wow, that is exactly what I was saying to Ernie yesterday!” (Ernie continued to mutter suspiciously with Justin and Zacharias) “No matter how much of a bore some people think Defence is, it’s even worse now. Think about it; first year was rubbish because we were so tiny and they didn’t trust us to curse a gnat. Second year, we had that self-obsessed idiot Lockhart, then Lupin, who was pretty decent but had to go because he was a werewolf and parents thought he would eat us, and then it’s Moody, showing us all sorts of cool yet illegal spells, yelling at us as if we should all be thrown into Azkaban for chewing gum in class or arriving two minutes late. There certainly was something to live up to and now Umbridge has just …”
Hannah stared at the ground with wide eyes.
“Sucked the life out of Defence Against the Dark Arts?” I suggested quietly.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. I jumped a little. “Thank God Harry’s here, eh?” she said jovially.
“Yeah, thank God …” I muttered. No one ever thanked God that I was here … “What about Cedric?” I asked bluntly.
She seemed caught unawares and frowned a little. “What about him?” she asked.
“He was a Hufflepuff. Most of the school, you guys in particular, haven’t so much as looked at a Gryffindor since Summer.”
“That’s silly,” she scoffed.
“Yeah?” I looked at her friends. “So why is Justin avoiding my gaze?”
She ignored the comment. “Justin’s a strange kid. Suspicious of everybody. Look, I’ll admit, I wasn’t on Harry’s side during the Tournament - and why would I be? He was a Gryffindor. The Gryffindor who shouldn’t have been in the competition and it was only natural of me to support someone from my own house. Plus, Cedric was extremely good-looking …” I rolled my eyes. “But no matter how much I didn’t believe Harry at first because his accusations seemed ludicrous -” She raised her voice so her friends could hear. “- I saw Harry when he came out of that maze, we all did - crying, upset and so defeated … I haven’t ever seen anyone like it, and no one lies about something that serious. Why would you? The Prophet have always been liars, my Mum said - and Susan’s family too. Harry didn’t ask to be famous. He never liked the attention so why would he want more?”
Looking around, every eye had turned to her, even the old grey man arranging glasses on the bar. Hannah blushed and lowered her head as Harry, Ron and Hermione gave her an appreciative smile (Harry still looked nervous and as though he was about to throw up) and Ernie struggled between pride and shame. Susan clapped her hands in applause as she sat three chairs down, closer to the door, commending her best friend.
Once quiet chatter again ensued, she put her hands to her face.
“I hate when that happens,” she muttered to herself.
Eying Ernie, I said, “Why is he even here?”
“Ernie’s confused. Doesn’t know what to think. I reckon Zach’s been whispering into his ear too much,” she said stiffly. “So Susan and I dragged Ernie and Justin along to give them a little faith. Plus, it would look bad if no Hufflepuffs turned up. We’re not like Slytherin - we are civil and open-minded.”
“Right,” I nodded and placed my chin on my hand, thinking blandly about how thirsty I was. Did this place only sell alcoholic beverages? Even if it didn’t, I guessed their water would not be extremely sanitary …
Cho Chang came in (Harry’s eyes followed every move she made and not just the ones on her face) and behind her was the girl with extremely curly hair she always was with; they went to sit with Luna Lovegood, each House trying their best to keep together in their uncertainty and anticipation of the secret meeting.
“Ernie, get us a drink,” Hannah muttered to him.
“From this place?” he questioned, his nose upturning.
“Please,” she begged. “Susan and I are thirsty.” Susan grinned from where she sat. I could tell that these two were smart enough to dominate the boys of Hufflepuff House, no matter how subtly.
Just as Ernie and Justin were scrambling in their pockets for change, Hermione called for our attention.
I gazed around. A good number of people had turned up and that gave me hope. My life was all about making a difference - at least, I hoped it would be.
All week, I had been sitting around waiting for the coin to burn in my pocket. As soon as the day was over, I would find myself holding it, or watching it as it sat on my bed. It was sad, an obsession, but nothing else in my life was worth looking forward to.
And so that hot glow occurred after my final lesson on a Friday. I must admit, it was warmer than I thought it would be, almost like fire, but leaving no scar on my skin. I checked with Ron that it was all correct and he confirmed the meeting would take place that night at six.
I turned up on the seventh floor corridor, my eagerness making me one of the first ones there, wand out and ready to learn some Defence from the best in the year, Harry, the boy with all the experience.
We all piled into the secret room, the Room of Requirement Hermione explained as we spread out and found an empty space in the vast room. It was all amazing really; it was the right size, had books, chairs, targets and all sorts and I marvelled at all of the equipment as Harry began discussing what we were going to do. I had to admit that I was disappointed with the fact we were doing the Disarming charm; the older students rolled their eyes conspicuously, but went on, performing the charm with ease.
Me, however … I found it a little more difficult.
I did exactly as he had said. Aim … (I pointed my wand at Dean) … Focus … (All I thought about was protecting myself) … Chant (Expelliarmus, I told myself to say).
My eye strayed to the left of me where Hannah Abbott had doubled over in laughter when Susan flung herself out of the way of her spell and fell on all fours. Hannah nose wrinkled, her cheeks flushed pink and a few blonde strands of hair rushed over her pale skin like golden wheat on a windy field.
“Expelliarmus!” The spell stumbled awkwardly out of my mouth even though my attention had not strayed far. Even as my wand fell to the ground, I was more interested in watching her tuck her hair behind her ears and help her friend up.
“Neville,” Dean called.
My eyes came back to my friend before he noticed.
“Huh?” He pointed at my wand, abandoned on the ground.
We tried again. And again. And again.
Dean pretty much got it perfect after the third practice, but I still could not concentrate on such a simple thing, a spell I was supposed to have mastered indefinitely by my second year. Maybe I really was hopeless.
“I’m hopeless,” I muttered to Dean as we walked back to the common room that evening. Our pace was fast as we hurried to avoid any patrolling prefects or Umbridge herself.
“You wouldn’t have made it to fifth year if you were hopeless,” Dean said encouragingly.
“I suppose …” He did have a point. I had passed my exams even if it was close. Herbology was the only subject I was comfortable in, getting an Outstanding every time without really trying. It was such an interesting subject and so relevant and applicable to real life; the healing properties were listless and it was a science, an art to master. To think, me, Neville, could potentially save lives with plants and even make discoveries that could change the wizarding world as we know it. That really was the only thought that kept me going - that and my family.
After a shower and brushing my teeth, I stumbled into bed before the others came up from the common room. As the build up of warm breath in my chest was finally exhaled into the silent air, I finally allowed myself to consider (or admit) why I had failed this evening. It was her, I think. She had been too distracting; Hannah Abbott. Why? Why was it I was distracted by girls all the time? As much as I tried to deny the undeniable truth, I was a teenage boy with hot red blood pulsing through my veins. I had liked Hermione briefly, hence the reason why I asked her to the Yule Ball last year and even thought I may have liked Ginny after we went together. I didn’t. Girls made me nervous full stop. Whenever anyone of the opposite gender came by or spoke to me, I’d find my hands went clammy or my heart raced or my throat went dry - or all simultaneously. And just a few hours ago, I found myself entranced with Hannah, a girl I had known and ignored for five years. It annoyed me how things such as this crept up on you, pounced like an unsuspecting predator, a sharp-toothed shadow of a lion racing relentlessly towards a herd of slower and weaker animals. That was me; as hopeless as an antelope while the fearful teenage hormones took me down in one swipe and devoured me.
Was it possible that I was developing a crush on her? She was a pretty girl, not as plain as I previously thought. But what did it matter? I was me and she would never talk to me again. And even if she did, I would choke and she would walk away. Simple. It always happened. I decided to put her out of my mind, erase her face from my mind’s eye and focus on more important things. Honestly, Neville, you should be thinking about how not to embarrass yourself in the next DA meeting: Learn the Disarming Charm!
First period, Herbology.
I got myself down to the Greenhouses with apt time to browse the shelves before class began. Professor Sprout let me in and I gazed at the potted plants, fanged geraniums and other interesting entities until the class began to fill. The air smelt green, if that was the word to use; it smelt of the earth and sweet flowers. Excitement ran through my veins at the prospect of being in my comfort zone, in the one place I knew I couldn’t really fail. Potions, on the other hand, my next lesson, was the subject I dreaded most of all.
Taking my usual seat on the left side of the greenhouse, I pulled out my textbook and waited impatiently, browsing over last lessons material with curiosity and delight.
Behind me, I heard a familiar voice.
“ - told you yesterday was worth it, Ernie. You should believe in me more.”
“I did. I do.”
Susan laughed somewhere to the right of me.
“You told me that I was deluded last week,” Hannah said in a light voice.
“Okay, I admitted I had fun in the meeting,” he muttered quietly. “Give it a rest.”
“She’ll hold it against you for life now,” Susan said.
“That’s what I do when people don’t listen to me,” Hannah retorted. Silence. “Let’s sit over here,” she said as I watched Sprout write ‘Page 348’ on the blackboard.
“Why?” Ernie asked and I could tell that he was unhappy.
Within the next moment, a heavy lilac bag slammed beside me on the table and the faces of Hannah and Susan appeared, bright and alert, while Ernie and Justin sat a few seats away.
“Hi, Neville,” Hannah greeted cheerfully.
“Hi,” Susan said also.
“Hey,” I mumbled, nervous.
“How great was yesterday?” Hannah asked me excitedly.
“Should you be talking so much about that?” Susan asked. “It’s supposed to be a secret.”
“I agree,” I replied, flicking the pages of my book. “You never know when Umbridge is lurking around.”
“Good point.” Hannah dove into her full bag, dragging out her thick Herbology book with vigour. Suddenly my mind wondered whether she would have liked help carrying all of those books around the castle. Any gentleman would have offered to take on this task for her, but I couldn’t really do that; she would say no …
What was I thinking, trying to be friendly with Hannah? Just yesterday, I was convincing myself to forget about her existence and now I want to carry her books. It was all her fault for talking to me. Things would have been fine if she had simply sat where she usually sat with the other Hufflepuffs on the other side of the greenhouse. Then I could have pretended that she didn’t fill my mind at every appropriate (and inappropriate) moment ever since that visit to the Hog’s Head. I could simply be me and get on with the essay on the examination of ‘Toxic Plants and Herbs in Eastern Wizarding Communities and What Can Happen When Wrongfully Handled and/or Administered.’
While most students placed their chins in their palms with boredom or fatigue, Professor Sprout began going over further ideas and notions for this particular essay (which we had been working on for the past two weeks in preparation for the long-awaited O.W.Ls). I listened, both attentive and detached, for I had already completed this essay and was currently working on the third draft to get it just right.
“ … yet another mistake is that certain herbs should be handled the way muggles would. This is often a mistake easily rectified, of course …” Sprout ploughed on in her exuberant manner while people frantically looked through their essays and made extra notes, myself and Hermione excluded from the panic.
“ … how colours are important, Susie, I have no idea. Neville. Neville.” Hannah whispered my name, low enough so that I could hear her beneath Sprout’s loud voice.
I turned to her. “Yes?”
Dragging her notes closer to my side, she said, “You’re good at Herbology.” I was glad she noticed. “Sprout was talking about the colours of certain plants being tricky when combining them for potions. I have no idea what she meant.”
This was simple. “Oh, well, she meant that most plants, the leaves especially can sometimes change in different climates and temperatures, in colour and in properties. That’s why preservation is so important when using plants from different parts of the world -”
“Mr Longbottom, please pay attention,” Professor Sprout called at me.
My ears turned red as everyone looked at me.
“Sorry, Professor,” Hannah muttered, drawing away from me. “My fault. I was asking Neville about something you said.”
“Well, please save your questions for after class. Moving on … When you write the essay in the examinations in the summer, remember to get straight to the point. I have no place for time-wasters who give me lessons on the world’s hemispheres …”
Hannah did not speak to me at all for the rest of the class. We all sat writing what was left of our essays in near-silence, the concentration evident on each face.
My gaze often fell on her. Her eyes, eyebrows, the bridge of her nose, nostrils, cheeks, lips … If someone had seen me it would have been an embarrassment to be caught, to be so focused and entranced by her long yellow hair.
At the end of the lesson, I dragged my eyes away from her as she ran to Professor Sprout, asking many questions that I would have happily answered had she asked me. And so I said goodbye to Susan and began the walk to the castle and the dungeons behind Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dean.
With my nose in my Potions notes, I hardly noticed Hannah calling me. She had been running and by the time I turned around, she was out of breath.
“Didn’t you hear me calling?” she asked as we reached the courtyard.
“No.” I held up the folded parchment. “Reading Potions notes.”
“Have you got Snape next?” I nodded. “I have him this afternoon.” The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had some other subject next, as I recalled. History of Magic or Astronomy or something.
“Sorry for getting you into trouble,” she explained while shoving her heavy book into her bag. I had wondered why she wasn’t going ahead to walk with Susan, Ernie and Justin.
“It’s okay,” I replied. We walked along slowly while all of the students tried to walk up the steps and through the front door, some going in, some going out, creating a bit of a disruption.
We stood for a while in silence, occasional glances between us, occasional smiles.
She was so pretty.
Hannah hauled her bag upon her shoulder once more, my eye catching hers for just a moment.
“Do you -?” I stopped.
And then started again. “Do you want me to carry that?”
She smiled. “What? My bag?” She had already begun to take it off her shoulder.
“It looks heavy,” I muttered.
“Okay. But I’m only going across the hall to my common room. You won’t be late to Potions, will you?”
“I’m sure Snape wouldn’t mind if I was a few minutes late.” He would be furious. I knew it. She knew it. And so we laughed together about it as I hauled her bag onto my shoulder. I needed to get fit, I pondered wearily. It was so heavy, but I didn’t complain; we only went a couple of feet once we got through the crowd at the doors and in the Entrance Hall.
We slowed to a stop on the farther end of the Entrance Hall, at which point, I slowly transferred her bag back to her. Our hands touched for a moment and for once I wasn’t nervous; I was happy.
Hannah adjusted the bulging bag. “Thanks Neville.”
“That’s okay … Hannah.”
At the sound of her name, she grinned and said, “See you later.”
And I really hoped so.
I watched her from behind as she walked to her common room until she was out of sight, hair swaying, feet shuffling heavily. She didn’t look back. But that was okay, she didn’t need to.
Suddenly awoken to the prospect of an angry Professor Snape, I checked my watch, realised I was three minutes late and ran down the steps to the dungeons.
A/N: And there is my first attempt at a Neville/Hannah fic. I feel Neville is a bit of an unsung hero in fan fiction land and right now I'm expanding on the characters I write about. I hope you all like it because I loved writing it. Leave a comment below :)