Hannah woke up six days later with a lighter head than over the past few nights. The weight of everything was lifting, slowly, and with Daphne and Dean – who she had come to realise really were as close to inseparable as it was possible to be – around her close to constantly, she found her mind drifting from the reason she was there.
It was at those moments, however, waking up and adjusting to the light shining from a different direction, to the whispered breathing of a sleeping Daphne, to the sound of gentle footsteps sneaking down the hallway, when it came back. The fact that she wasn’t there to make friends, to spend every day basking in the midsummer sunlight, that this wasn’t school and she was there to cope came flying back like a Dementor’s descent upon her. The sharp intake of breath at the thought was becoming routine now and she swallowed back the lump in her throat, leaping to her feet and grabbing her things from the chair before making her way to the bathroom.
By the time she’d showered and dressed, Daphne was just stirring. Cautious not to wake her too abruptly, or drag her out of bed unnecessarily, Hannah tiptoed to the door and slipped out, trying to block the crack of light from the door tipping over the redhead’s bed. Shutting it behind her quietly, she let her hands twist nervously in front of her as she made her way to breakfast. The house was still and it was only when she got to the staircase that she began to hear signs of life; the low buzz of chatter and the occasional ring of laughter above it. She felt her heart jump in her chest and for a moment, nearly turned around until the sound of footsteps behind her and a hand on her shoulder made her stop.
Looking up to see Dean, a lopsided smile on his face and his eyes lit up by the call of the morning, she relaxed and after polite greetings, they sank into two adjacent chairs and ate in silence. Around them, a few new faces were sat looking as shy and reserved as Hannah was sure she had been on her arrival. Draining her glass of pumpkin juice, she pushed her half-empty plate away.
“Full?” Dean asked through a mouthful of cereal. She nodded, playing with the unused fork at her side. “Liar.” It was said lightly but it still made her shift uncomfortably in her seat. The day wasn’t old enough yet for the feeling of guilt to leave her and she could feel the rumble of unsounded laughter echoing in her brain. He didn’t chase her for more, but finished off the cereal and downed the cup of tea he had set in front of him. “Where’s Sleeping Beauty?”
“Who?” Hannah said, cocking an eyebrow up and Dean shook his head in mock despair.
“She was just waking up when I left,” she said, glancing around behind her. Silently, she stood up and tucked her chair beneath the table, brushing her hair out of her face and behind her ear. Dean made to join her but she shook her head. “I’m going to the ten o’clock.”
He smiled and nodded, looking to the centre of the table for something else to eat. She ran her hand over the back of her chair and walked from the room, passing a grinning Daphne – all floating white skirts and dangling earrings – on her way. Hannah turned for a moment, watching the inevitable kiss, so innocent and so meaningful, brush between her roommate and Dean, before smiling to herself and walking back upstairs.
The ten o’clock meeting was one which she’d found of particular use. A meeting run by someone who had survived the First War, and watched the Second from afar, it provided those who attended a sense that things might right themselves as it did for their leader.
Today, a squat woman of no more than forty was sat on the table at the front of the room when Hannah walked in, a couple of men already seated in chairs near the front. The blonde took her seat between them, pulling awkwardly on her watch strap until four or five more people walked in and the woman looked up. Her face from the back of the room had looked wrinkled, but it was more than that. Scars struck through the lines showing her age, a darker shade of pink than the rest of her complexion.
“Is this it, then?” The brunette’s voice was high pitched and proper. She smiled, all plum lipstick and crooked white teeth, and put down the book she’d been playing with. Hannah glanced around to see if she could find a familiar face but to no avail. Three of the seven around her had their heads bowed together, sharing some private joke. The others all sat stonily, their gazes fixed on individual spots, none crossing the others’ paths.
“Jolly good.” She slapped her hands down on the side of the desk and smiled. “My name is Mary Crook,” she said, tapping long fingers along the edge of the table and looking out at her audience. “I, like some of you, lost some of the closest people to me in the First War.”
Her smile was true, honest, Hannah could see that, but behind it there was something in her eyes that didn’t quite light up as expected. She sat and listened, enraptured – perhaps sadistically so, she noted – to the story, of how this woman was barely older than her when she saw her father taken from her home, when she fought tooth and nail to keep her brothers from joining Voldemort, when she had screamed with joy and a wrench of sorrow at the news that he had been defeated. Defeated, but not gone, and with him the lives of James Potter – a summer kiss on the Quidditch pitch in fourth-year – and Lily Evans, a lost friend, a roommate snatched away.
It was a textbook story.
“I was just shy of my twenty-second birthday,” Mary said to close, and now Hannah saw her eyes shimmering with tears that were proof enough that everything that the Centre strived for would not be a complete cure. It would not heal everything. “I was lucky.” She stopped again, pulling on the ring on her left hand. “There were nine people in Gryffindor in my year. There are only two of us left. Three killed first time around, four suffered this time. It doesn’t make it any easier if you’re twenty or forty.”
She glanced around at every face in the room, knowing full well that most spanned that generation gap. A man at the front sheepishly turned in his seat to look to a guy just to Hannah’s left, perhaps three years older than her, before turning to the front. The man at her side scoffed under his breath and pulled the sleeves of his top down around his hands, looking off to the other side of the room.
“What I’m trying to say,” she continued, having caught her breath and in a far firmer voice, “is that it’s never going to go away but that doesn’t mean you can’t move on.”
“It’s only been a month,” one of the men said sceptically and Mary shrugged.
“Okay, it’s been a month. Today, I passed a girl who when I first saw her, looked like she was going to break if I so much as blew on her. She came flying down those stairs this morning so much stronger.” The brunette smiled again. “She told me she’d met a boy.” Hannah didn’t need her to go on. Daphne and Dean; her, the visage of a china doll and him the appeal of a soldier back from his final battle. “I’ve seen grown men who have bonded together here. Women who’ve made friends for life. Age is irrelevant.”
She sounded now like she was reading from a book and the statement had been reiterated so many times that its significance was beginning to wane in everybody’s minds, no matter how true the words. Hannah had found Daphne and Dean, yes. Friends for life? Possibly, but even if they managed to take her mind from everything for an hour, maybe two, she would still find herself drowning in it once they disappeared. It was all so temporary, so contained.
Before now, these lectures had proved mildly inspirational. Today, Hannah left the room – having sat through a lifeless question and answer session – feeling as down as she’d gone into it. She didn’t even reach her room before knowing that Dean and Daphne were inside, and turned on her heel without a second thought. The sound of her own footsteps made her on edge and when she reached the carpeted hallway, she was glad of the blurred silence.
“In a rush?”
She didn’t turn to start with. The voice made not only her body halt but everything and her next breath came out a gasp. Looking over her shoulder first, to check she wasn’t hearing things, Neville crossed in front of her and smiled as if to prompt her into an answer. The front door swung open and shut as a middle-aged man came in from the heat, rubbing his reddened forehead. He said a brief hello to Neville, who was perfectly polite in return, and disappeared into the dining room.
“No, not at all, no,” she said once he’d repeated his question and she found herself following him outside. He slowed down until she’d caught up and they walked as though each step could break the ground beneath their feet. Cautious, silent, they passed out of the gates and were walking down the rest of the driveway before either spoke again.
“I’m sorry about the other day,” he said, scuffing his shoe through the loose gravel and glancing down to her awkwardly. “I just –” he trailed off and shrugged. She smiled, tugging on the inside of her mouth with her teeth to try and bring it down. The inappropriateness of her own reaction made her wince.
“I know.” Things got too much. It happened a lot, moments that seemed to be okay – average was as good as things got – ruined by one silent slip from the present into the past. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” he said immediately, brushing his hair back with his hand. “How’s things?”
“So so.” She almost felt him perk up beside her and she shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s kind of strange. Some days I’m fine, others – well, you know.”
“It’s not even been a week yet,” he said calmly, wringing his hands together as they reached the end of the drive. The narrow lane that crossed their path was quiet but they paused at the junction. “Give it time.”
Time. They all made it sound like it was expendable, that it wouldn’t keep passing by and that she could store it up and use it for another time. Only it wasn’t. It was constantly diminishing in front of her. Day after day passed and improvement fluctuated with every hour. She felt imprisoned and free, happy and discontent, a hundred contradictions in every movement she made.
“Shall we head back up?” she said after a moment of silence, glancing at her robes and then to the house, which looked even more imposing from their distance. He followed her gaze then shrugged.
“If you want. Nobody’ll see us if we carry on. It’s quiet around here.”
The idea of being away from the house made Hannah a little uncomfortable but Neville had started walking off before she could protest. She caught up and in their silence, she looked around. The house was hidden behind the trees that lined the road, valleys dipping here and there on the horizon, fields bare and empty. The smell of the country – fresh air and emptiness – numbed her for a moment and when the wind picked up as it was prone to do, she shivered.
“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea up here,” Neville said, shrugging his cloak off and hanging it over her shoulders. She didn’t protest, pulling it tighter around her as the wind continued to growl through the thickset trees. He rolled up the sleeves of his robes and smiled. “I like it.”
Tranquillity was something hard to come by. The Peak District may have been cold even in the climb to summer, and the sun might burn heavier and the wind might blow stronger but there was something magical about it. An unwritten promise of something else.
That was what made her shiver more than anything, but the weight of Neville’s cloak around her shoulders seemed to take something else off them. One weight gained, another lost. She pulled it closer again.
“You said you came twice a week,” she said, trying to make it sound as unconcerned as possible but the way he bit his lip made her think that perhaps there was something more to his absence than busyness.
“I got called to Hogwarts.” His smile burst a little brighter. “Professor Sprout wants me to help her restore the greenhouses.”
“Like an assistant?” Hannah said, trying to keep her voice optimistic but instead feeling her whole demeanour sinking into the ground. He nodded, his grin growing to a point where any attempt to stop it would be beyond the ability of even someone with the most serious and severe of characters.
“Starting in a couple of weeks. We’re going to try and get enough grown for the first few weeks of term.”
“So it’ll be ready? The castle?”
“For September?” he asked. She nodded and he looked away. “Yeah. They’re going well with it.” He dug his hands in his pockets. “I’m not much help, really. Transfiguration, Charms, not really my forte.” She went to protest but it would be futile. He was almost a big a disaster as her, really, only he hadn’t spent one of his O.W.L. practicals chasing an angry flamingo around the room. “Listen,” he said, and then paused. The shadow of the trees surrounding them made it hard to see him but there was an obvious pink flush to his cheeks. “Do you fancy going out for tea tonight?”
“Yeah,” he said, stopping and looking at her. The blush was more obvious now that the light was still on his face and she looked away, feeling as though she was intruding on something. “There’s this really nice Muggle pub in the village.”
“I don’t -” She bit her lip and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve got no nice Muggle clothes.”
“You must have something.” She shook her head, her mouth a little open and she sighed.
“At home. My decent clothes are still there.”
The tone that she laced her voice with should have been enough to make him drop the subject. Doused in a nervous finality, she turned and began to walk back towards the house. His footsteps behind her made her confident that he’d understood.
He had stopped again and she turned to look over her shoulder. He stuck his hand out and she hesitantly held hers out too, refraining from touching his just yet. He held her wrist – small enough that his fingers overlapped in gripping it – and before she could protest, he had Disapparated them both from the spot.
A/N: Super late update, for which I really am sorry. My internet situation is still not fixed [3 months after I moved here] and with Christmas and the queue closure and other updates and stories to fit in, I've had to prioritise a little.
I hope you liked the chapter. I'm just debating at the minute how long the story's going to be. Maybe another 10 chapters after this? I don't know. However, I hope everything with this was consistent with previous chapters and that the pacing's okay. I'd love to hear what you thought! Also, added brownie points if you can give me Mary Crook's maiden name :P