A/N: All poor grammar in Hélčne’s speech is intentional. I based it off the errors my students made from my time in France.
Her landing was almost as rough as when she’d found herself arriving at the Centre, five or so weeks prior. She didn’t fall this time, merely stumbled out and almost went head over heels when her foot caught the bottom of one the chairs nearby. Exhaling deeply, she glanced around. It hadn’t changed. She didn’t know why she seemed to have expected it to. There was still the vague odour of wet goat, the sound of the floorboards upstairs creaking underfoot and the drip of the beer taps, and above it all rose Aberforth’s scratching voice.
He came around the bar and yanked her bag off her shoulder, clapping his hand down on it in welcome. She smiled and silently followed him through the bar and upstairs, trying to avoid the gaze of the stooped balding man by the bar who was hissing under his breath. As rough around the edges as the place was, she couldn’t help but feel a strange attachment to its atmosphere, its purpose. She had pulled a few pints, served several shots of Firewhiskey in her time there, before the Centre had come into her life, and there was something about it that made her come alive. You didn’t need magic for that; you merely needed charisma, a way with people. She’d never have thought herself much like that before but now, now she was starting to come out of her shell, bit by bit and though it wasn’t cracked yet, she thought that it wouldn’t be long.
They passed Miss Euthalia, the cleaning witch, with her mops and brushes, her wand clutched awkwardly between two warty fingers. Hannah thought for a moment that she caught a smile but on second look, it seemed it was more likely wind or a trick of the dim light. Aberforth opened the door to her old room, pushing hard at it so the hinges loosened and only opening it far enough for the pair of them to fit through the gap. Things really hadn’t changed.
There was a plate covered by a napkin on the desk, and with a flick of his wand, Aberforth lit the room. He’d at least tried to clean it, she noted. The floor was still unsafe to walk on in bare feet and the bed itself was sagging further than before but the woodwork shone a little and the dust that normally caught her eye around the streams of light was minimal. She smiled. It was his way of showing he cared.
“Some dinner on the table,” he said, poking his cane at the desk and then to Hannah. She hadn’t spent a great deal of time in close proximity to Professor Dumbledore when he’d been alive but the power of his eyes had always astounded her. It had the same effect in those of his younger brother; Aberforth stared at her, scrutinising her entire body. “You look better. I told you it’d do you good.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly and he looked at her for a second longer before sniffing loudly and hobbling out, yanking the door firmly shut behind him.
Hannah sat down at the desk, drawing the curtains tightly, and swept the cover off the plate. She laughed under her breath. It certainly wasn’t a match for the three courses at the Centre, cooked to perfection not within an inch of their lives like whatever was on this plate had been. She thought it might have been an attempt at fish and chips but the fish was a greasy brown, the chips hard and white, the pile of peas on the side were stuck together as though their lives depended on it. There was a soft knock at the door and it groaned open.
“I thought you might like something a little tastier,” Hélčne said as she squeezed through the door and Hannah grinned. The French woman placed her offering down on the little table by the door, which rocked precariously under the weight, and pressed two kisses to Hannah’s cheeks before letting the blonde hug her.
There was still the softest maternal scent about her. The memories of bath time and clambering into her mother’s bed after a bad dream lingered somewhere in the air between them and she let her eyes flutter shut for the slightest moment.
“How have you been?” she asked, sitting down on the bed as Hannah took the tray of food and began to dip her spoon into the stew. Maybe Hélčne could rival the house elves; she’d forgotten quite how good a cook her former ally in the pub was. The younger girl took another spoonful and then wiped her hand across her mouth gently.
“Better,” she said, honestly. “Every day, a little bit better.”
“And what has made it so hard for you to stop smiling?” Hélčne pressed on. Hannah touched the back of her hand to her cheek and blushed. The woman stood up and conjured a chair out of the air to sit beside Hannah to read her close up.
“Don’t lie.” Hannah turned away. Had it really been that obvious? Neville’s lips on hers had barely even constituted a kiss, if she thought about it. There hadn’t been time to react, to kiss him back. It had merely been a moment that now she thought on it might not even have happened. Or had she kissed him? The tiredness she hadn’t realised she was suffering from was beginning to overpower her. “There is a boy?”
Hannah was silent but her smile stretched further. The experience of this far older, far wiser woman was going to be invaluable, of that she was sure.
“Yeah.” She bit her lip. “Neville Longbottom.”
She said the name but expected very little response. Yet, Hélčne’s smile grew beyond the size of anything Hannah had ever seen on her face before and she wondered whether she had just revealed something that she shouldn’t have. He had kissed her, though. That meant something, surely?
“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. Her eyes twitched towards the closed curtains, beyond which lay the castle. In her eyes, there was something dark, something worrying that Hannah couldn’t quite help but notice. “He passes a lot of times at the castle. He does good work.”
The blonde nodded, eating in silence and not saying anything for fear of the pitch of her voice if she were to voice the praise she had for Neville. She had him to thank for so much. Last year, when she had been forced back to school against her strongest will, she had found in him a change. He had barely even looked at her but he had become an inspiration to them all. He had led with the confidence of one who was learning that the shadows were not a place to hide in the quest for victory. His strength made her desire her own even more.
She had never been Gryffindor material but she had fought. She had fought for Harry, for the good, for her parents and her friends but with each curse that she cast, there had always been a background thought given to what had kept Dumbledore’s Army going strong: Neville. Even when it was over, the battle won and the past now passed, he had still given her strength. When all seemed lost, he had found her an escape.
She owed him and she would pay him back, somehow.
“He has won your heart,” the woman said, each word spoke measuredly and cautiously as she tripped over her h’s. Hannah put her spoon down and turned. She had always imagined this conversation to be with her mother. Together, they had spoken of that short-lived relationship with Anthony Goldstein; her mum had laughed when Hannah recounted the story and told her there would be many more to come, many more mature and who loved her. They never materialised and now she would never get to introduce another man to the woman whose opinion she had valued above anyone else’s. “Hannah?”
“Yes?” she said and Hélčne smiled, reaching forward and covering the girl’s hands with her own.
“Don’t let him go.”
Hannah shook her head firmly and when Hélčne stood, she handed her the tray with a grateful smile. The woman left and when the silence fell, Hannah let the laugh she’d been dying to release out. She bit her lip and wished she could speak to Daphne but it would wait. Now, she needed sleep. She only had a week and then she would see them all again. Whilst at the Centre, she had not forgotten about the other friends in her life but she had found it easier to cope with their absence.
Here was her opportunity to show them that she was well, that she was getting better and that she still thought of them all the time. Their letters had often gone unanswered for a day or two, her guilt never ceasing until she saw the owl blurring with the sky, a vague assurance that they would not be angered by her apparent laziness. They were a new set of opinions. They perhaps would see something that she couldn’t in her; perhaps she wasn’t doing as well as she had convinced herself she was, perhaps they’d think Neville wrong for her. She dearly hoped that both would be merely the darkest worries in her mind at that moment and with them still clearly in mind, she changed into her nightclothes and slipped into bed. She would wait and see what tomorrow would bring.
She woke up in the morning stiff and feeling as though someone had cracked her head open with a sharp rock. Groaning as she sat up, her entire body ached from head to toe and she made a note to suggest Aberforth do something to rectify the problem with his guests’ rooms. He had enough money. She knew full well that he spent the bare minimum on everything. He didn’t seem to see that paying out to start with would make a difference, would entice more people in. The landlord lacked a passion for the business that Madam Rosmerta or Tom from The Leaky Cauldron had always oozed, that she’d always admired in them. Passion for a job had seemed nothing more than an added bonus for her once. Now, she felt that she would never be able to work anywhere if it didn’t pull at her heartstrings. She envied everyone who felt like that about anything they did.
After showering and dressing, Hannah trooped to the kitchen, rubbing her neck and wincing with every step. On the table, in the place reserved for her amidst the odd looking clientele that she knew to be the other guests, she found a small glass of ice cold green liquid. She stared at it blankly. “For the pain,” Hélčne said. “I thought you might feel sore. These beds are not for a good night’s sleep.”
Hannah thanked her and drank it quickly. It tasted like liquorice and the cold burned the back of her throat, making her cough and drawing the attention of the hissing man from the night before. She looked down at her plate. The breakfast was simple. She quite missed the smell of the bacon, the toast cooked to perfection and always warm. The butter sat on this bread heavily and though she ate it without complaint, she was sure her stomach would have welcomed a sausage sandwich more.
“What do you do today?” the woman asked, as the other guests made their way back to their rooms. The doors all creaked shut and the keys clattered in the locks. Only hissing man remained, sipping at his mug of coffee and flickering his eyes towards the two women every few seconds. Hannah turned in her seat, trying to block him out of her peripheral vision.
“I’m going to see a friend of mine,” she said, picking up a glass of orange juice and washing down the food with it. “Susan. I’ve not seen her since, you know.” She couldn’t find the way to say the war yet. It didn’t feel like it was old enough to warrant the word. Wars were things of the past, things studied in lessons and with a sinking feeling, she realised students would start learning of her life – of all their lives – for an immeasurable span of time into the future.
“Well, be safe,” Hélčne said, taking Hannah’s empty plate away and putting it in the pile to be washed. The younger girl nodded, draining her glass and placing it next to the rest of the crockery. She shut her door heavily behind her once she’d returned to her room and glanced to her watch. There was still plenty of time before she had to leave and tentatively, she drew back the curtains.
Above the rise of the roof of the building opposite, the castle gleamed under the touch of the sunlight. It looked as statuesque as ever against the tinted orange sky. The swell of the Highlands around it still paled into the background when there was the castle to stare at instead. It was hard to make out what anything was from the distance but it still seemed incomplete. Perhaps it was that she had never seen the castle outside of term time before; it was like it was lost, no purpose without the ring of voices, the owls flitting in and out, the buzz that Hogwarts’ magic gave to everyone and everything it touched. Perhaps there was work left to do to make it feel the same but somewhere inside her, she knew it had been tainted by every flash of green light that had flown past her eyes that night.
She turned back around and lifted her handbag off the floor. With a final glance in the mirror, she shut the door and made her way downstairs. Aberforth was cleaning the glasses with the same dirty old rag as he’d been using the last time she had been there. Sighing, she leant against the door frame. “Why don’t you use magic?” she asked. It had been a question she’d often posed to herself when thinking about the pub.
“They don’t care about it being clean,” Aberforth said, his voice croaking. He put the glass he was holding down and gestured to the tavern’s guests who were already sipping at the bar. She shook her head.
“That’s not the point. You’d get more punters if you made the effort.” He scowled but didn’t argue when she pointed her wand at one of the glasses. She muttered the spell under her breath and all the dust fell off it, the cup sparkling. She grinned. “See?”
“Fine,” he said. “If you want to do it, go on. I don’t do any of that domestic rubbish.”
“Later,” she said, putting her wand away. “I’ve got places to be.” She pulled her bag up her shoulder again and with a wave, she disappeared out of sight, the last trace of her the echo of her voice as she called Susan’s address into the fireplace.
A/N: Eep, I thought I'd last updated this in July. Turns out it was May. I'm really sorry. The writer's block hasn't really eased and I'm running out of pre-written chapters. I hope you enjoyed :)