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Chapter 20 : No Comparison
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I froze, my hand holding the sponge still in the bowl of water. "Sorry?"
"About Neville," explained Seamus, looking across at me over a sleeping Neville. "I mean, you're a really good friend to him."
I unfroze, ringing out the sponge and continuing to gently dab at Neville's head. "How do you mean?"
"Well, I've only noticed the two of you getting close this term," Seamus shrugged. "And yet here you are, volunteering to stay and happily mopping up his blood."
"Seamus, I'd do this for any of my friends," I said, in all honesty. "Including you."
Seamus grinned appreciatively, raising a hand to his shoulder where I'd attempted to patch him up while we'd waited for Neville to drift off (we didn't want to keep him awake by fussing over little things while he clearly needed rest). I was certainly no healer and I didn't really know what I was doing, but I'd given it a go.
"No, but this is different," Seamus suddenly decided. "I'm not stupid, Hannah. I know what this is."
I tried not to appear affected and casually continued to sponge the blood from Neville's skin as I asked, "What what is?"
"It's all right, Hannah," Seamus lowered his voice. "I kind of feel the same."
I had to stop at that, my hand and the sponge resting in the water again.
"Don't worry; I'm with you," Seamus said dismissively. "You know, you spend time getting closer to someone and the way you see them change, especially with how Nev here has been changing over the last few years."
I stared at him in complete shock. Surely, he couldn't be saying that he...?
"Neville's like a real leader to us now, but none of us really respected him much when we were younger. I mean, I've always been his friend, but I feel just as guilty as you do that I never saw before who he really could be."
"Oh," I sounded, struggling not to smirk at my own assumption. "Oh right, yeah... yeah, I- I feel the same."
And I did. I've said it before; I'll always regret not taking the time to notice Neville earlier. But it was a bit of a surprise to know that Seamus felt similar - even if he misunderstood the context of my side a little bit - and knowing that we shared such a personal feeling of guilt made me feel a rush of affection for him.
"But, y'know, I think we might be excused a little bit for feeling so ashamed," he added after a moment. "I mean, his lack of confidence did keep him - the real Neville - kind of hidden away from us for a while. I know it's not for the best of reasons and everything, but I am glad he seems more comfortable this year."
"Me too," I agreed, smiling fondly at Neville as I put the bowl aside and went to take his tie off for him. "I've always thought he seemed lovely, but I'd never have been able to get this close to him if he hadn't changed."
Between us, Neville exerted a gentle little snore.
"Hey, maybe now, Neville could even bag himself a decent girl," Seamus commented, smirking. "Parvati seemed impressed before."
Despite suddenly finding myself imagining pushing Parvati off the Astronomy tower, I forced a little laugh. "All the girls are probably impressed by him now," I mused ."Hey, maybe even Lavender-"
"If you're trying to antagonise me, it's not going to work," Seamus rolled his eyes. "I've already had enough of that today."
But he nevertheless smirked as he got to his feet and offered a hand to help me up so that we could sit away from Neville to let him sleep in peace for a while.
Oddly enough, I had just mentioned sunflowers to Seamus when Neville eventually came back around. Perhaps his Herbology super-senses started tingling. Seamus was starting to get a bit drowsy by that point, so he went to check to see if any blankets had appeared as I went to Neville's side.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"You stayed with me," Neville noted. He must have been really out-of-it earlier.
"Yeah, and she cleaned you up!" Seamus informed brightly from the other side of the room, his head in a cupboard. "Everything we need is in here, Hannah."
"I'll expect a medal via owl," I said sarcastically to Neville, gently laying a hand on his arm. "You didn't answer my question."
"A lot better than before, thanks," Neville replied quite cheerfully. "What happened?"
"Luna and Parvati fixed you up as much as they could," I said anxiously. "I... I cleaned you up a bit and bandaged your hand while you were sleeping. Terry Boot is coming first thing in the morning with some healing potion. You don't remember anything?"
"Bits, yeah," Neville looked down at his bandaged hand. "When I left the Carrows, I had to make sure I wasn't followed, so I went the long way around, and then... then I was in here, and you... you touched my face... and your hand was warm a- and soft... and Ginny, I remember her voice... and Luna too, muttering incantations by my ear..."
"You don't remember Parvati?" Seamus asked, appearing behind with a blanket tucked beneath his arm. "Gushing with praise for you, she was. Called you brilliant - think you're in there, mate."
Neville grinned very awkwardly, the tips of his ears glowing red. I focused very hard on try not to be annoyed - after all, he was at perfectly liberty to like whomever he wanted. Besides, Parvati was a friend of mine, and as good a match for Neville as anyone else...
"Are you thirsty?" I asked Neville before Seamus could say anymore.
"Parched." Neville replied, weakly trying to sit himself up. I went to help, but he shook his head, frowning slightly, determined to do it himself. Seamus, yawning loudly, went about setting up a little bed for himself, while I watched Neville with concern and handed him a glass of water.
"Is he okay?" Neville asked quietly between sips, nodding at Seamus' back.
"Yeah, I... I think so," I nodded. "He just needs some sleep for now. The girls are fine too - Lavender and Parvati. I- we were more concerned about you, to be honest."
"Me? Oh, I'm on top of the world!" Neville dismissed.
"That's what you said before," I pointed out fondly. I watched him take another sip and wince slightly when he moved his arm. "Come here..." I muttered, taking the glass from him and raising the brim to his lips. He looked very embarrassed, but drank nonetheless.
I remained by Neville's side all night, as Seamus sank gracelessly into sleep, snorting and grumbling every now and then. I didn't feel at all like I could sleep - much as I'd expected - and after his nap, Neville said that he couldn't either.
So we just... talked. For hours. About school and our friends and the DA and everything that was happening and Harry and where he was and what he could be doing, up until I was wrapping a blanket around myself and Neville said something that made me stop in my tracks.
"I do wish that people would stop comparing me to him, though."
"To Harry?" I checked, looking up at him. By that time, we were sat together on his pillow bed, my legs crossing his at a sort of 90 degree angle.
Neville nodded. "I know they do it. But there really is no comparison: he's a true hero. Look at all the things he's done!" Neville sighed, looking down at his hands. "Harry lost all the bones in his arm when he was twelve years old and a few months later he was battling a giant snake. Whereas... here I am with a few little cuts and I had to get you to help me to drink."
I considered it carefully for a moment, nibbling pensively on my bottom lip, watching him carefully. Then, very gently - incredibly gently, so much that I barely even touched him - I put my hands on his.
"First of all, you didn't get me to help you; you had very little choice in that," I outlined calmly, firmly. "Secondly, Harry had just one arm out of order; you have two. And third, you never know what the future might bring. It might not be slicing snakes up with swords, but we all know there's a big fight coming... no doubt you'll be in that. You and me both, hopefully. Merlin, I never thought I hear myself saying that I hope to be in a fight - you Gryffindors have had an effect on me, clearly."
"You're as much of a hero as I am, Hannah." Neville laughed.
"Maybe I am," I grinned. "But I'm not the one that goes around saving girls and having them call me brilliant all the time, am I?"
Neville grinned sheepishly, looking uncomfortable even at the mentioned of his praise. Feeling a little guilty for putting him on the spot, I took my hands from his to unwrap the blanket from around myself and instead share it with him, shuffling a little closer so that we both got a good amount of cover. Smiling gratefully, he wrapped an arm around me, wincing only slightly.
"You're very comfortable, you know," I murmured absently, content in the warmth of his hold, although very conscious not to properly rest against him.
"Brilliantly so?" Neville joked.
I laughed, although perhaps it came out a little bit more like a scoff, because Neville then shifted to look down at me.
"You doubt my brilliance?" he asked, mock-offended.
"I most certainly do not," I returned. "I merely doubt the speed of certain people's perceptiveness."
Neville frowned, genuinely confused now. "Huh?"
"Oh, Neville, you've been brilliant for a very long time," I explained, shrugging my free shoulder. "I guess it just takes a while for people to catch on sometimes. The fact that you never noticed made it harder for everyone else to see, I suppose..."
I trailed off, noticing the expression on his face; lips parted in shock, brow furrowed slightly in confusion, eyes fixed firmly on mine, as if he was checking to see if I was discretely making fun of him.
"Neville..." I was suddenly whispering, as if too much noise would shatter the tender moment. "I... surely you know how highly I think of you?"
Neville licked his lips, apparently struggling for what to say. Hardly even seeming aware that he was doing it, he gently brushed a strand of hair behind my ear.
"Hey, if it helps at all... I never compare you to Harry," I offered softly. "I mean... there'd be no point, because... well, I guess because nobody can really compare to you."
His hand had landed at my neck, his thumb resting just beneath my jawline. I couldn't figure out if I had moved or he had, but our faces suddenly seemed tantalisingly close. He wasn't blushing and grinning awkwardly like he usually did when someone complimented him; he seemed nervous, but his eyes smiling.
"I wish I could say something as equally nice as that to you," he whispered after a moment, his thumb moving softly back and forth along my jaw. "I- I mean, I really appreciate you staying here tonight. But I... I don't know; I don't think there are any words good enough to suit. They'd have to invent new words for you, Hannah."
Touched, I smiled and rested a hand on his chest. It's funny how, from little movements and touches like that, people can tell what you're hoping and willing them to do. Or maybe he could just feel the same tension between us that seemed to be pulling us closer together that I could feel.
Either way, his eyes flitted down to my lips as if to check that they were still there, he tilted his head very slightly, and gradually - as though he was all the while checking that I was okay with it - brought our lips closer together until-
A deep rumble from nearby. A great snort from Seamus that shocked me and Neville apart. I slipped off the pillows and onto the hard, cold floor, which hit me like the cruel slap of reality. Of course we wouldn't kiss. The moment was now forever gone. Again.
Neville and I looked over at Seamus, then back at each other in mild amusement. And there it was. We had now created such a strong friendship that, even despite Neville's naturally slightly awkward (endearing) demeanor, we could go through weird moments of almost-more-than-friendship-ness and come out shining at the other end. I was embarrassed, of course, and I could tell that he was too, but any awkwardness had been helped to be moved along by Seamus' snort and my comedy bump to the floor.
He hadn't wanted to kiss me. Not really. Maybe, swept up in the moment, flattered by what I'd said, feeling a little tender because of his physical state... maybe, for a second, he'd thought he did. But he didn't really. No, he probably just saw me as a close friend, hopefully somebody he could trust; maybe he was even beginning to see me as he did Luna and Ginny, as a sister. Merlin, I sincerely hoped not.
"Here," Neville grinned, taking both of my hands in his and pulling me back to him, back onto the pillows. "You should get some sleep."
"We both should," I corrected, pushing my hair back from my face. "How's your head?"
"I don't know; I guess I feel kind of dizzy but it doesn't hurt all too much," Neville answered dismissively. Then suddenly, his arm was around me again, almost like he had expected me to immediately jump away. "You'll stay with me?"
I grinned, "Well, somebody's got to look after you."
Pleased (and inadvertently making me suddenly want to slap him for not liking me as more than a friend) Neville sank back down into his pillow bed. Only hesitating slightly, I glanced over at Seamus and then slid down beneath the blanket, trying to to keep my skirt from riding up as I did. Neville's arm found its way back around me again so that I could rest my head in the crook of his shoulder.
"Comfortable?" Neville checked.
"Very..." I murmured in reply, my eyelids already sliding shut as weariness crept in on me from nowhere.
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