Chapter 1 : Chapter One
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She felt no older than six as she stood on the threshold of her home. The door had been kicked in, hanging off its hinges, heavy footprints were stamped along the hallway carpet and the sound of her mother’s voice sang from the kitchen so loudly that it could have been real.
“Oh, Hannah, get those shoes off. I haven’t got time to clean tonight.”
The blonde felt her lips twitching up for a split second before a whisper of the spring breeze tripped over her body and made her shiver. The wind dropped, taking the smile with it and she ran a scarred hand down the door frame, shattered to pieces. Catching her palm on a splinter, she winced and let her hand drop, nursing it in the other, glancing back down the hallway.
The sound of her father coming through the front door, her mother sat in front of the fireplace waiting, the smell of home cooked food, always steaming hot, all of it was so clear and yet so distant at the same time. The smashed glass on the floor and the torn paper on the walls made her flinch and with one last look down at the cracked doorstep, she turned around and walked back down the garden path, letting the gate swing shut behind her.
It had been so perfect and yet she’d never noticed. Slanging matches at the top of the stairs when her mother wouldn’t let her stay at Ernie’s, slamming doors and broken china, the flutter of an owl as it made its escape, scared of the raised voices; they had all marred the truth. That place had been home. It had been family and promises and safety, and now it was nothing more than a ruin. A broken memory.
As she walked back through the village, her shoes scuffing over the loose tarmac, she shook her head and looked down at her hand. A bruise forming around the splinter lodged in her palm, she winced and clenched her hand together angrily. A speck of blood oozed out, damp against her fingers, and she relaxed. Once out of sight of any nosing Muggle eyes, she grasped her wand and Disapparated.
Her landing was rough and she stumbled. Her temporary lodgings above The Hog’s Head were dingy and damp, and she paused outside the door of the tavern for a minute or two before turning around and walking into the centre of town.
Hogsmeade had been quiet of late. The aftermath of the battle had radiated across the village, rippling and shaking every household one by one and the sight of the castle, its shattered outline now just a jagged lump on the horizon, was enough to draw silence from anyone. It had lost its magic, its zeal, and now it looked like nothing more than what it did to the Muggles who came across it by chance: a ruin.
The doors of The Three Broomsticks swung open as she passed and a momentary roar of noise erupted into the streets before the doors banged shut and the silence reigned strong once more. The occasional familiar face wandered past, people whose faces she knew from school, familiar looking robes or kind smiles of those who might have recognised her mother’s eyes set into her younger face. Nobody stopped to chat. There wasn’t time anymore. There weren’t questions to ask, tales to tell. They were all in the same boat and worried hands on arms, hugs and kisses, sympathetic smiles, they all meant nothing.
Hannah sank onto a bench, surrounded by neatly kept flowers and under the shade of an oak tree whose leaves swung in the breeze to their own melody. Glancing down at her hand, which she’d only just noticed was starting to throb again, she pulled out her wand and grimaced as she guided the tip along her wound, the splinter sliding out and the cut healing in a second. She’d have been a good Healer, if only she’d been more confident.
Her father’s words, not hers. He’d always had so much belief in her, so much more than she had in herself. His only girl; his only child, she could do no wrong in his mind and nor would she have ever considered doing anything that would change that opinion. She might never be brave enough to be the Healer, the banker, the teacher that he wanted but she had always promised to do him proud.
Glancing up, startled, she felt her smile – the one that she’d perfected over the last few weeks, masking everything with a veneer of happiness and pleasure at seeing familiarity – appear over her face at the sight of Neville Longbottom standing beside the bench, hands dug deep in his robes and his hair fluttering all over the place in the breeze.
“You don’t have to do that,” he said, smiling kindly and it lit up his face in a way that she hadn’t seen with anyone else. It looked almost genuine, almost real. She let her lips rise a little, a hint of truth and acknowledgement beneath the falsity, and then her mouth became neutral territory once again. Yesterday too fresh and tomorrow still growing, she felt torn between everything she once knew and everything she had come to know since. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been here in the summer,” she murmured, pulling awkwardly on the bracelet looped around her right wrist. He sat down beside her, the bench slats sinking with his weight and she tried to claw for the memory that would tell her when he grew from the little boy she saw at the occasional wedding as a child to the man, the adult sat beside her in the summer breeze of Hogsmeade village. He didn’t say anything for a moment, looking around at their surroundings as though it was the first time he’d seen them too. Then, cautiously, he looked back down at her, hunched and small beside him.
“That wasn’t what I asked.”
She looked up without thinking, taken aback by his answer. It was true. Avoiding the question had become a powerful weapon in her arsenal of late, twisting the subject around so the person in question either forgot or took the hint to drop the topic. Everybody did it and everybody knew what to do when on the receiving end. It had become a mark of common courtesy more than anything. Evidently word had not spread far enough.
“I – I live here.”
The questions were hanging over both of them, a tug-of-war game bursting over their heads. Don’t you live in Devon? Are you alone? Why didn’t you say that to start? Where’s your dad? Every single one was pouring from Hannah’s head and the way her face had sunk was proof enough that she didn’t want to answer a single one, nor hear them asked.
His voice was doused in concern more than surprise, and she didn’t want to look at him for fear of seeing that look of pity that she had so cleverly evaded until now. She shrugged.
“Yeah. Aberforth said he’ll put me up for as long as I like.”
“And how long is that?” Another shrug. “Listen, I like Aberforth a lot. He’s been fantastic, we both know that, but,” he paused, awkwardly scratching his chin, the scrape of nails over bristle soft on the air, “it’s not exactly full of home comforts, is it, The Hog’s Head?”
“It’s enough,” she replied firmly, hoping he’d catch on. The way he sighed and sat up straighter beside her made her feel uncomfortable, scrutinised, and she shifted in her seat too. Out of the corner of her eye, in her determination not to look at him for fear that he might be able to break her resolve, she saw him fiddling inside his robes and withdraw a leaflet. He ran a finger gently over the edges and then pushed himself off the bench.
She felt momentarily guilty for being so uncooperative until he held the leaflet out to her. The words blurred before her eyes, kept low, and she took it with some hesitation, barely registering the soft weight pressing against her hands.
“At least give it a try,” he said, before placing a solitary hand on her shoulder and then walking away.
The words on the page came into focus and she frowned, looking back up the street in the hope of catching the back of Neville’s retreating body, but he had already Disapparated or disappeared into a shop or house. Running her fingers along the edge of the leaflet, much as Neville had done before her, she read it properly this time.
Serving those who have loved and lost during the Second War.
All ages and circumstances welcome.
Mrs Arabella Figg or Mrs Augusta Longbottom at the above address
She wasn’t sure how long she had sat there, poring over the text in the leaflet, until it had become blurry and hard to focus on. Her stomach was rumbling lowly and the breeze had picked up, a chill in the air that made her shiver uncontrollably. Folding the pamphlet back up neatly, she felt for her keys in her pocket and hurried back down the village in an attempt to keep warm.
The pub was colder than outside and as she heaved the front door shut, Aberforth looked up, scruffy and messy as ever as he fussed around the bar. The room was empty, save for a goat trying to graze off the stuffing of a chair in a corner, and the old man was lining glasses up and down the worn surface. As he grabbed one from the bottom shelf, bending over with a sickening crack of his bones, a plume of dust soared up and his coughing soon followed.
“It’s a bloody mess in here,” he muttered as she drew closer, pulling herself up onto a bar stool. “This glass,” he wheezed, plonking it down unceremoniously in front of Hannah who began to twirl it between her hands, “was here when the bloke before me ran it.” She smiled and looked down into the bottom where an inch of dust was making a suitable bed for three small beetles, crawling around quite content amongst the dirt. She pushed it away in mild disgust, wondering for a second exactly why she was still lodging in the ‘temporary’ accommodation she’d been put up with after the last battle. “What’s that?”
A long finger jabbed at the paper in her hand and she turned it over, as if she hadn’t spent the last goodness knows how long studying it intently.
“You should go.”
“You don’t even know what it is,” Hannah said almost as quickly as Aberforth had spoken. He laughed, a hollow chuckle with little of the warmth that his brother’s own laugh once brought, and picked up another glass, rubbing his filthy rag across the lip.
“It’s that business of Augusta Longbottom,” he said, clanking the glass down and dropping the rag on the bar too. “It’d do you the world of good.” She scowled at him and he shrugged. “Please yourself.” He turned around and hobbled to the back of the bar, leaning on a battered crutch that had seen far better days. “Out of it,” he mumbled and another goat reared its head from behind a stack of lopsided wooden crates. “There’s some dinner in your room.”
Hannah sat there for a moment before registering the comment was aimed at her, and picking up her leaflet, she wandered upstairs. The floorboards groaned heavily under her weight and the sound of a goat bleating downstairs floated up as a strange accompaniment. The key was stiff in her door and she had to push her whole body against it to loosen it from the frame.
She had cleaned the place the moment she’d stepped foot in it, but still the ancient wardrobe and sagging bed were as welcoming on twentieth look as they had been on the first. A metal pot of something steaming was propped up on the table by the window, which looked straight into the bathroom of the house opposite. Drawing the curtains and flicking her wand so the lights sprung into life around her, she sat down and began to eat, slowly and carefully, her eyes still very much focused on the yellow leaflet that she’d barely let out of her grasp.
It wouldn’t do any harm, she decided, opening it again to see the pictures of shining twin rooms and freshly cooked meals and smiles that looked like they might be real. She would write to Mrs Longbottom straight after dinner. If that is, she noted, looking down at the soup which was beginning to bubble loudly, she survived the night.
A/N: This is my new pet project. I love writing it - for the moment - and it's a lot of fun. I need to give a few thank yous first: to Melanie (RonsGirlFriday), Gill (butterbeergal) and Ty (tydemans) for their help with the title, summary and naming of the centre, as well as to Molly (SnitchSnatcher) and Celeste (Celestie) for reading this over.
Anything you can say on this: the characters, the concept of the story, anything would be hugely appreciated. I hope you enjoy it :)