I awoke, stiff and tired, early the next morning. For a moment, I was disorientated in the unfamiliar surroundings, lying still under what most certainly were not my comfortable canary yellow bed covers. But, after a brief second, I registered the feeling of a hand gently stroking my hair, and smiled to myself as I remembered. The touch was so tender and soothing that I almost fell asleep again; but I didn't dare move.
Then slowly, I registered my position: my head rested on his chest, hand beside it, a few centimetres from my nose, and my leg curled curled insistently around his. Apparently, I realised with heating cheeks, I was a cuddly sleeper.
He must have noticed some change in my breathing, or perhaps my body had tensed slightly, as Neville's hand suddenly froze in my hair.
"Good morning," he said after a moment's hesitation.
I lifted my head off his chest to smile at him, wholly aware that my hair was sticking up at the front and the collar of my school blouse was folded out at an odd angle.
"Personal space invasion," I said apologetically, shamefully uncurling my leg and detaching myself from him. "Sorry."
"I-it's fine," Neville said brightly, although his cheeks were distinctly pink. "You kept my warm."
I grinned weakly, then looked at his head, my hair falling forward, "How do you feel?"
"A bit funny," Neville admitted, absently tucking my hair behind my ear. Apparently that was becoming something of a habit of his. "Weak? Like there's something really heavy sat on my brain."
I frowned anxiously, nibbling on my bottom lip, then got to my feet, poured him a glass of water, and handed it to him as he sat up.
"Drink it slowly," I advised. "Terry should be here soon."
And with a small smile, it was over. As I woke Seamus up and handed him a glass of water, I effectively put an end to this weird little bubble that Neville and I seemed to conjure around ourselves when we were alone together. We acted like nothing happened - which, I suppose, was once again true. Maybe from his point of view it was a nothing, just a near-mistake that he had luckily managed to avoid at the last second.
And wasn't that just a kick in the teeth for me. Brilliant. I could only hope that he'd thought it had been a near-mistake for me, too. I suppose it really would have been a mistake if we had kissed and it had turned out not to be what he'd wanted. Merlin, that would've stung. Maybe I was grateful.
I stopped over thinking things when Terry arrived. Seamus was usually great as a distracting third party, but he was feeling a bit weak that morning, and and Terry was so insistent upon telling us about how he and Michael had made the healing potion that it was hard to even start a thought of my own. Terry was also thoughtful enough to bring us fresh clothes, so that we didn't look suspicious, walking around on a Saturday with our school robes; Seamus had clothes from Terry, Neville's were donated by Michael, and mine from Padma.
"You're a star, Boot!" Seamus grinned, after perking up a little from the healing brew. "Cheers for this, mate."
"Yeah, just try not to get them covered in blood, will you?" Terry teased. "I know red is your house colour, but you've been taking that a bit far recently." He dodged Seamus' weak little punch at his arm and looked to me, pulling something from his pocket, "Padma said you might want this, Hannah."
"I would indeed!" I sighed happily, taking the comb from him in exchange for a hug. "Pass that hug onto her, won't you?"
"I'd rather keep it for myself, actually," Terry decided, grinning broadly. "Right, I'll leave you guys to get changed. See you on the train, yeah?"
"Thanks again for this, Terry," said Neville. "See you."
Terry left with a modest shrug, and I couldn't help but wonder, as I watched the door close behind him, if he was still interested in me at all. After all, the previous night and that morning had begun to lead me to feel that I really needed to give up on Neville. Maybe that could be my Christmas present to myself, I considered. That is, I considered it up until the point that Neville needed a hand changing shirts and I had to help him, by which I was thoroughly distracted.
I was feeling slightly queasy when we finally left for breakfast, and the sight of the Carrows didn't help. We followed them at a distance down toward the Great Hall, keeping slow anyway for Neville's sake. They didn't seem to notice us, too involved in their own murmuring.
As we hit the Entrance Hall, Wayne Hopkins stopped us to gawp at Seamus' black eye, and then proceeded to tell me that Ernie wasn't coming down to breakfast.
"I dunno," Wayne shrugged uselessly when I inquired further. "Didn't look like he was feeling too well. Told me to tell you that he'd meet you and Susan later. Hey, why are you three coming from the that direction, anyw-?"
I ignored his question, cutting him off by turning to Neville, who looked at me oddly, like he was having to resign himself to talking to me or something.
"Something's wrong," I explained. "Ernie's never sick. He was being weird last night, too... I shouldn't have just let it go." I shook my head, then looked between Neville and Seamus, "I'm glad you two are okay. Get some rest over the holidays, okay? Merlin knows you'll need it for next term. Merry Christmas."
And with a very brief hug from Neville, I turned for the basements, feeling a little like I'd left my stomach behind me.
The common room was eerily empty, the dormitories all spilled out into the hall for breakfast and goodbyes; very few people were staying for Christmas that year. In fact, I don't think anyone was. We all wanted to get home and see our loved ones - letters just didn't seem enough when we were all fearing for each other's and our own lives.
I found Ernie sat on the side of his bed, in his dormitory. He didn't notice me at first, sat with his back to the door, his head in his hands, elbows on his legs.
"Finished packing?" I asked a little timidly.
"I can't decide whether to take my posters," Ernie replied to his hands.
I took a seat beside him and looked up at his Quidditch posters, "You- you're coming back, aren't you?"
A pause. Worried, I watched Ernie closely, my eyes wide. After a moment, he looked back at me, shrugged, and slumped onto his back on his bed, looking defeated.
"I'm not needed around here, Hannah..."
"This is school, Ernie," I pointed out. "None of us are needed here as individuals."
"You are," retorted Ernie, sitting back up. "People need you because you comfort them. And Anthony, Michael, and Terry... they're needed because they're smart. And Neville - people need him because he's a leader. We're not here as students anymore, Han... they're all just live meat, now. We would be too if it weren't for the DA. All they're doing here is trying to make little Deatheaters, and for the people that don't take... they're just going to get killed. Don't look at me like that, Hannah, you know it's true. But if I'm no use to the DA, then... aren't I just one of them? I can't sit around and wait to get killed - especially not if it means that other people are in danger because of me."
"What do you mean, Ernie?" I asked warily, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Why would people be in danger because of you?"
Another pause. Then slowly, with the air of somebody about to throw themself into battle, he lifted his head to look at me.
"It was me, Hannah," he said. "The graffiti. I thought, you know, that it would be good idea... help people feel safe and get Snape quaking in his boots. Stole the brush and paint from that fourth year who does those paintings of the owls all the time - remember when she gave one to Justin? I did it quickly, nobody saw me... I thought I'd done something great."
My hand dropped off his shoulder. Even now, I'm not sure exactly what I was feeling at that point. I think, over everything, I was just a little hurt that he hadn't told me.
Ernie got to his feet, fingers woven through his own hair. "Neville, he... spotted a flick of white paint on my shoes, " he explained. "I could have lied to him, but he said that he understood why I did it. So I owned up, and he never told anyone. And now... he could have told them it was me... he... they tortured him because of me."
I almost agreed with him. I'd been so scared for Neville the night before that there was a part of me that wanted to shout at Ernie, blame it all on him. But he was already doing that to himself. Besides, I knew that I would have been just as scared if it had been Ernie in Neville's place.
"Listen, they didn't torture him because of you," I said sternly, looking up at him with an expression that I'm sure read 'I am not going to let you do this to yourself'. "He chose this path for himself; it was nothing to do with you. If it hadn't been the graffiti, then it would have been something else, you know that."
Ernie looked down at me, then at his posters, then sat back down beside me with a smile.
"And anyway," I continued. "You are needed here. Even if you won't believe that you're an asset to the DA - which you are, by the way - then you have to accept that I would go insane without you. Come on, Ernie, you're my rock. I honestly don't know what I'd do without you in this place - we're a team, remember?"
Ernie grinned appreciatively, and the two of us stood up to hug comfortably. As we separated, he sheepishly shrugged a shoulder.
"Mum would never have let me leave anyway."
I shook my head and laughed, pushing him away, wondering if he really had seriously been considering not coming back after Christmas.
I never told anyone that I considered the same thing.