There had always something about the summer months in England that made beauty seem dull by comparison, but in the depths of the Derbyshire countryside, even the most perfect porcelain face would look cracked and worn. This – nature – was beauty; pure, unsurpassable and untouched. She wished she knew the names for the deep hidden valleys and the winding of the riverside. She wished she could say that the clouds above were not white and fluffy but cirrus
but she wouldn’t know the difference if they spelled themselves out in the sky.
There were hillsides hiding caverns, caverns hiding so many secrets of so many years beyond what she could comprehend as time, and time was irrelevant. She couldn’t really remember when she’d arrived here. It sometimes felt like an age but still she could taste the burning of the world before this one on her tongue, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be told that it was only two weeks or if it had been two months. She liked the isolation from reality. It made it feel like home.
But, she decided, glancing down to her watch which was drawing closer to eleven o’clock, she presumed it had been one month. Why else would she have had a letter summoning her to a meeting with one of the founders? She didn’t know if one month was supposed to be significant or not. Perhaps she would get turned out of doors for not really doing much or maybe they would start pushing Healers that she didn’t need on her.
Dusting the dry grass off her clothes, she wandered towards the building. Inside, the fresh air circulating through the house hit her like a gale and she gulped it in, feeling the hair that had stuck to her forehead loosen and dry. The house was empty, the heat outside like a magnet for everyone. Her footsteps always echoed on the tiles and as she drew to a halt, she didn’t need to knock. The voice inside called, “Come in,” and the oak door creaked ajar of its own accord.
Even after seeing Augusta Longbottom around for a month, being in such closer proximity to her alone made Hannah’s stomach flip with nerves. Everyone had assured her on more than one occasion that she was harmless but something in the severity of her voice always made her feel she was back in Professor Sprout’s office, having to explain exactly why she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
The door shut behind her and Augusta said not a word, merely gestured to the chair in front of her. Hannah sat gently down in it, staring blankly at the desk and waiting for some kind of speech.
“Miss Abbott,” she said after what felt like an hour of silence. “Would you like some tea?” The elderly lady pointed to a steaming china teapot on the corner of the desk and Hannah nodded meekly. The steam clouded Augusta’s glasses and her hands shook when she held the cup out for her guest. The blonde thanked her quietly and sipped. “There’s no need to look quite so scared. I’m not about to chuck you out.”
“Sorry.” She took another sip of tea and lowered the cup down, clasping her hands around it an attempt to calm herself. Inside, the drink rippled across the surface and she looked up. Mrs Longbottom still looked terrifying, all straight-backed and proud in the way that purebloods tended to be from habit, but her face had softened a bit.
“After a month,” she began and Hannah placed the cup back onto the saucer for fear of spilling the drink down herself, “we offer the chance for you to spend a couple of days back where you were before being here. To see friends, any family, to do what you will,” she said and Hannah nodded slowly. “I understand you spent some time with the Dumbledore clown in Hogsmeade?”
“And you have some distant relatives in Suffolk, I believe?” Her aunt and uncle on her mother’s side lived over there but they hadn’t seen each other since Hannah was twelve. She nodded anyway. “Or maybe just a day or two with a friend? Then you can come back if you wish, if you feel you aren’t ready to face it yet.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“No,” she said, thinking on Aberforth and Ernie. “No, I’d love to.”
Augusta smiled and pulled the pair of glasses hanging around her neck up to her face, settling them carefully on yet still peering over the top to note something down on a piece of scrap parchment.
“Good,” she said. “When you’re ready to leave, just let someone know.” Hannah nodded her comprehension and scratched the back of her hand absentmindedly. “You can go, Miss Abbott.”
Hannah rose and said a quiet thank you to the woman, who smiled in a manner that Hannah assumed to be kind and caring. She’d always thought the women who ran the place were a little strange. She had met Mrs Figg only twice but she seemed constantly surprised to find other people in the building, and any conversation usually centred itself around Kneazles. She was sure that somewhere beneath the batty cat lady exterior, there was someone equally as broken and intelligent as the rest of the people there, it was just hard to imagine.
“Who’ll you visit?” Neville’s voice startled her as she closed the door and she jumped, letting the handle go too quickly and it sprung out of her grasp with a twang. “Sorry.” She shook her head dismissively and stepped forwards. The light down the corridors was always dim, the candles burning behind dusty shades and the heavy wooden panelling made the wide expanse feel as though it was closing in deeper and deeper with every second spent under its darkening gaze.
“Aberforth, probably,” she said, thinking back to the days before Neville had brought her to this sanctuary and the way she had felt herself growing attached to the poor old man. He really wasn’t quite as strange as rumour had claimed throughout her time at school, regardless of how strongly he felt for goats. “And Ernie and Susan. I’ll write to them now.” Neville nodded slowly. “Why do you want to know?”
He shook his head with a small smile. “No reason.” She looked up at him narrowly but he wasn’t meeting her gaze. “Are you going to come back?”
There was something in his tone that made him sound younger than he had before, something weaker and gentle. He wasn’t quite meeting her eye, focusing somewhere else; on her nose or her mouth, she couldn’t tell. Trying not to let herself give into the smile that she so dearly wanted to let free, Hannah looked to the ground for a moment to slow her breath down once again.
“It’s just a visit,” she said. “I’m nowhere near ready to -,” she trailed off. She wasn’t sure what she wasn’t ready to do. She wasn’t ready for a job but she wouldn’t have been ready for that even without the war. She wasn’t ready to live alone, but she’d always planned to live with her parents until she had the job sorted. She most certainly wasn’t ready to leave this place, but at the same time, she knew she couldn’t stay there forever. “You know.”
He nodded solemnly. The questions she had asked herself were lit up between them in a language they were both slowly learning. “You can stay here as long as you need,” he said.
She glanced back up at him once more and then down the hallway, where the sound of voices was beginning to echo through, the crowds escaping the grasp of the midday heat that was about to reach its peak. She pointed and smiled apologetically. He shook his head and smiled back, holding up one hand in farewell. She tentatively lifted one of her own, waving the tips of her fingers subtly before disappearing into the light. She caught Dean’s London twang from outside and Daphne’s laugh echoing up above the voices. The heat was radiating through the open doors and Hannah glanced to her watch. Lunch wasn’t for another hour or so. She had plenty of time to write to those whom she needed to contact. There was something in thinking of it that made her smile without realising and she ran up the stairs, two at a time without looking back. Why would she?
“I’m going to miss you,” Daphne said as Hannah packed the last of her things into a bag. The blonde laughed and shook her head.
“I’m going to be gone for a week. You’re not going anywhere, are you?”
“No,” the redhead said, “but that’s beside the point.” She flopped down on Hannah’s bed and sprawled herself across the mattress, tugging on the blonde’s hand until she sat down. Daphne propped herself up on her elbow and traced hearts across the bed with her wand. “Would you have bet on this, a month ago?”
‘This’ could have meant so much and Hannah had a feeling that implied everything from the friendship the two girls had formed to the joy that was slowly starting to creep back into her life. Now, she thought little of blood on stone or screams radiating through the air. At least, she didn’t think of them in the day. Night was different but everybody knew that. Night was when things came back. Night was haunting; it lingered within the shadows but even they didn’t scare her anymore.
“No,” her roommate eventually replied, her honesty shining in the conviction with which she spoke. She shook her head. “None of it, no.”
She nudged Daphne’s hand out of the way and lay down so they were lying beside each other. Hannah tugged on the pieces of hair falling in her face, winding them around a slender a finger and letting them curl of their own accord upon relinquishing them. They both stared blankly at the ceiling, high and off-white and beyond reach. Daphne twirled her wand in her hand and a row of glittering stars shimmered above them.
“When do you think you’ll leave for good?” Hannah said after a moment of silence. It had been a question she’d dreaded having to pose and Daphne tensed next to her.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ve talked about it.” With Dean, Hannah presumed, and of course they had. The only reason she’d leave would be if she had the assurance of someone there for her, someone she trusted above all else. “Sometimes I can be here and think ‘I’m ready to go’.” Hannah always found it hard to listen when Daphne’s voice started wavering. She had always oozed so much confidence before their friendship and even though she had shed so many of her memories of her from the past, there were some that were harder to shake. “And others,” Daphne continued and out of the corner of her eye, Hannah saw her bite her lip and wipe her cheek, “others I…” she stopped. “I don’t understand why they can’t just Obliviate us and have done with it.”
Hannah sat up and twisted so she was cross-legged on the bed. She glanced at the clock. She was meant to be leaving in four minutes but Aberforth would wait. She could cope with his grumblings later.
“Because,” Hannah said, hugging her stuffed Kneazle close to her and looking concernedly at Daphne who had stopped wiping away her tears now and was letting them trickle down her cheeks, “that wouldn’t solve anything and you know it.”
Daphne looked sceptically across to her and then her silent tears became louder and Hannah leant down to stuff the toy into her bag. She knelt upright and pulled Daphne’s hand gently until her roommate sat up and let Hannah place her arms comfortingly, softly around her. She wouldn’t deny it was disconcerting to see her like this. If she had been questioned on it, Hannah would have always labelled Daphne as the stronger one but there was something about this moment that made her wonder whether the other girl was merely better at concealing it; the deceptiveness of the Slytherin shining against the Hufflepuff’s meekness.
“You need to get going, don’t you?” the redhead said and Hannah nodded shyly against her.
“Shall I get Dean?” she said after Daphne had drawn away and was wiping her eyes almost angrily. She shook her head but a moment later, gave a small nod and Hannah passed her one of the tissues off the bedside table and squeezed her hand softly. She hurried quickly to the boys’ corridor and once she’d finally located him, trying to find a sock that he had kicked under his bed the week before and now needed, took him back.
They exchanged their goodbyes quietly, filled with assurances that everyone would be back in a week. Hannah slung her bag onto her shoulder, assured Dean she didn’t need help and shut the door on the gentle murmurings of comfort that he had begun to bestow on Daphne.
She smiled. There was something about seeing the pair together like that that always made her heart soar. If soul mates did indeed exist in the way that Lavender and Parvati had always talked about at the back of Divination, she could think of no greater example than the two she had left behind. She would never deny her jealousy of them, of the intimacy and silence that they could share so comfortably, but she would never claim it to be a bad thing. It was merely one example among many of perfection.
She knocked on the directors’ door loudly. There was no permission to enter but the door opened and she read the message floating above the desk:
To whom it may concern,
Please leave your message in the pink tray. It will be dealt with as soon as possible.
Hannah slid the forms neatly onto the pink tray and turned. The place felt empty. It was turning towards night outside and the doors had been closed to keep out the draught. Her footsteps bounded around her and as she drew closer to the room she recalled the fireplace being in, she could hear the house elves clattering around, their high pitched voices bleating occasionally down the corridor. She pushed open what she thought was the right door and peered around it. It looked distantly familiar and she pulled out her wand to light the candles on the wall.
It was only a week – she’d said it so often to so many people – yet there was a heaviness in her mind as she thought on leaving the place. So much had happened in that time here but she knew almost nothing of the outside world. She was caught in her own bubble of ever-increasing serenity and she now realised that could burst any moment.
“Hannah?” This time, Neville’s voice didn’t make her jump so much. He was out of breath and she cocked her head to the side questioningly as he leaned against the door. “Have a good week.”
“I’ll try,” she said and he smiled, holding his side and coming closer to her. She felt her chest throbbing and her head was starting to mix her words into an incoherent string of sounds. The three lit candles shone in just the right place as he stopped in front of her, catching his eyes and the rise of his jaw. She glanced down to his arms, sleeves rolled up to the elbows – she vaguely recalled him saying that it drove him mad to wear long sleeves – and watched him wringing his hands together.
She went to step back but he met her movement with two and out of nowhere, his lips found their way onto hers.
It lasted only a second or two and as soon as he pulled back, he stepped out of reach. It was her turn to search for breath and she felt her forehead crease in a moment of sheer confusion and surprise.
“Enjoy yourself,” he said and then with a hand behind his neck, scratching awkwardly, he edged out of the room, throwing the occasional glance back over his shoulder before disappearing completely.
She didn’t take the time to process any of it. She grabbed a handful of the Floo powder off the stand beside the hearth, threw it in and let the flames consume her.