“I really don’t know…this sounds rather risky, don’t you think?”
“Stop being so fussy all the time! Really, Hannah, this is enough!”
Hannah Abbott looked up miserably. Nearly two weeks had passed since Susan’s announcement of her intention to renovate. Even with Uncle Tom’s blessing, Hannah had successfully managed to postpone the inevitable for a little while: she’d faked busyness, then a cough, then another cough. But one could only manage to get sick so many times.
Susan was half-way to livid. “My goodness, do you have to be so worried all the time? What d’you reckon is going to happen if we take responsibility for this place? Think it’ll blow up or something? Detonate?”
“It’s not that…” Hannah knit her fingers together and held them under her face, a gesture she’d repeated since she had been three. “Uncle Tom’s had this place for so long.”
“I know. Like fifty years or so, right? It’s ancient. He’s ancient. All the more reason to clean this place up properly.”
“It’s just – it’s just – ”
“It’s just,” Hannah’s voice shrunk. “I think he wants me to have this place soon. As soon as we’re done cleaning it up.”
“Are you sure? Positive?”
“Almost,” murmured Hannah. “He hasn’t said too much, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? He’s been wanting to retire for a bit now – he’s been saying something about his bones…and the other day he said he thought it’d be a good time for a change.”
“Hannah,” said Susan, squeezing her shoulder. “This is a good thing. A good thing. Remember that, no matter how worried you get. This is wonderful news. You’ll be getting something that’s been in your family for ages. This place is full of memories and it’ll belong to you. Your parents would be so proud.”
Hannah managed a feeble smile backwards. It slipped off as soon as she attempted it.
Her dad had died when she was four. There had been her mum – her lovely, strong, vivacious mum. Her mum who had fought till the very end.
In the end, Hannah hadn’t given her mum all that she had promised her.
Hannah’s mum was different. Not at all meek or anxious or nervous. Not at all as reserved as she was. Emma Abbott had grown up stronger, loved more, taken more, eaten less, done more. And after it all, she only had Hannah left to give everything to – her weaknesses and love and most cherished wishes. All the faded promises of the last generation were still feebly beating in the Leaky Cauldron – somewhere.
Her mum had filed past these same rows as a teenager. Her aunt Amelia had met Uncle Edgar only a few tables down. Her mother’s parents had built the cabinets in spare summers. The rough wooden edges and crude sides were testaments to a childhood ebbed away in happy laughter in a place that had become a photograph.
Uncle Tom – great-great-uncle Tom, really – was leaving this place to her.
Hannah was dull. Hannah wasn’t like her mum; she had only a handful of friends and stuttered and blushed. She’d had all of two dates in Hogwarts and her first boyfriend had run for the hills after a few months together. She’d splinched herself three times, broken more things than she could care to remember, and had burned food straight into oblivion.
But she was an Abbott. She was a step forward from the generation that had fought and won. This was the generation that would carry on.
“Alright,” said Hannah. It came out as a whisper.
Susan grinned happily, before spreading parchment over an empty dining table. It was lined with long lists of materials they’d need to buy and paint swatches and ideas for new floor boards. Hannah could see Uncle Tom peek curiously behind a table he had been cleaning.
Hannah took a deep breath. “Let’s get started.”
It was getting later into May and the air was blue with sky.
Green leaves bathed in the sunshine and spotted the ground with speckled tales of the coming summer. The cherry trees outside their flat sang promises of a summer spent staring at the night, of gorging more food and tea than possibly healthy, of hours spent in front of the muggle television dramas that Padma and Hannah adored, of Butterbeer and night markets and days melding into one.
They were the inevitable rolling days of a spring passing fast. Orange sunsets, laughter, and the remembrance of days long gone.
For Padma, nothing of much occasion had occurred in the Department other than the return of Mrs. Marchbanks to the office.
She had slowly become more used to Theodore Nott. It wasn’t much. The awkwardness had susbsided, though he still made her cringe when he insisted on resurfacing memories that were better – far, far, far better – left in the past.
She saw him a few times a week in passing and the hellos and goodbyes were cordial and enough. They worked briefly together once on some papers and he’d been polite enough, never mentioning anything about bedpans. She’d talked a bit about her work and he seemed to agree to everything she said and the angry tension of weeks before seemed dispersed.
To Fanny Folwell, however, it seemed that they were never quite enough.
“I still reckon there’s something happening between you two and you’re not letting on.”
“Go away. I’ve got work to do. Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“You still haven’t told me what happened before!”
“That was weeks ago…”
“It’s important, Padma!” Fanny sounded deeply offended. “It’s very important! This is a build-up!”
“To what, precisely?”
“I’d rather not. Honestly, I’m telling you – ”
“Hello Patil, Folwell.” Ella Chambers from two desks down passed them with her head turned away. “Folwell, be sure that the Yemen notes get on my desk by this afternoon.”
“Right you are, Ella,” said Fanny, smiling cheerily as Ella passed. As soon as Ella had turned the corner, Fanny rolled her eyes. “Snooty bitch. She’s going to end up with her and a dozen or so cats.”
Padma, privately relieved that Fanny had been distracted, took the opportunity to race back to her work.
“I think he should go out with you. Take you out somewhere nice, you know?”
“Go away!” Padma grabbed a quill off the top of her desk and chucked it with a vengeance at Fanny’s hair. Fanny ducked. “Go away, will you?!”
“Go talk to him!”
“No! I have work to do!” Padma looked up in alarm to see Fanny marching away. “Folwell, I’m serious, don’t – ”
Fanny stopped midway. “Before I send him back here again, go talk to him. It’ll be less awkward that way.”
“I hate you. Go away.”
Another quill was thrown and aptly dodged. The frantic whispering between the two was drawing the wide stares of the public around them. Padma rose, blushing furiously.
“Fine. I’m going to talk to Anthony.”
“Do whatever you want,” muttered Padma, still not looking up.
Within a few minutes, she was immersed again in her work.
Thank God for work at least. From the corner of her eye, she could see Fanny and Anthony together, heads bent in conspiracy.
Perhaps she ought to investigate…
No, some things were better left unknown.
“Are you planning on talking to the Wizengamot soon?”
“Yes, I think I should.” Hermione’s hair was everywhere – frizzy and brown and as much of a mess as she was.
Cho looked cautiously over the pile of wobbly books stacked on her desk. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” said Hermione waspishly, before giving the room a wild stare. “It’s just that I’ve been reading so much and I’ve had so much to do and I’ve barely been keeping up! And Ron’s been completely – completely ugh and I don’t – and Harry’s just been horrid – ”
“He’s been horrible since this whole breakup with Ginny’s been happening. Honestly, he’s eighteen, not eight!”
“Why? What happened?”
“Oh, he’s been staying over with Ron and Ginny’s living with me now and they’re driving me both up the wall! Nobody’s letting on why they broke up and for the past few weeks, both of them’ve been sulking around each other, moaning – so pathetic, honestly, if they’d just be mature about it, I’m sure they’d see – but no – and I’ve been telling Harry that he really just needs to stop working so much – ”
It was a bit rich hearing those particular words of wisdom sprout from Hermione Granger, thought Cho placidly as Hermione tunneled on.
“ – but nobody listens to me! And Ginny’s trying to pretend that none of it really even mattered in the first place and she’s having a lovely time in my new flat, living there on my sofa and drinking all my tea! They both need a proper break from each other, but nobody’s leaving each other alone and everyone’s just being ridiculous and – oh – ”
In an angry gesture, Hermione had waved her hands over the wobbly stack of books, sending them toppling over. She peered over blankly. “Lovely. Perfect. How wonderful.” She pressed her head into her elbows and took on a very high-pitched voice. “I’ve got loads of work to do and here I am, driving myself to insanity.”
A few meters down, there was a steady knock on the door.
“Hermione?” Tom’s amiable voice floated through. “Uh – Harry Potter’s here for you…”
Hermione looked up at the door. “Damn. He’s here already.”
Cho stood up. “I’ll keep him away for a bit. Pack up and then come out when you’re done.”
“Thank you,” said Hermione in relief.
As Cho walked out and shut the door behind her, she saw Harry in a lone chair a short distance from Hermione’s door. Genevieve and Tom were still ogling him in curiosity, but he ignored them and continued a deadpan stare at his feet.
Merlin. None of those four were looking very good these days, were they?
“Harry?” began Cho hesitantly in a high-pitched voice. He seemed alive. Mostly. He looked up blankly. “Hermione wanted to tell you she’ll be out in a bit.”
“Are – are you alright?” she stepped around him.
“You look- you’re looking a bit off.”
He laughed harshly. “Yeah, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
“Do you want some water or anything?” She was sound pathetically more like a secretary by the minute. “You look really bad.”
Without waiting for a reply, she walked behind him to the cabinet and reached for the water pitcher and the lone glass. She pressed it into his hands.
He gave it a passive look, before gulping it down in one swallow.
“Um. Hermione’s been telling me about – about you, actually. Is everything alright?”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“No, not particularly.” Back to the deadpan stare.
God, he was stubborn, wasn’t he?
“Here.” He waved the empty glass at her and she plucked it from his hand, brushing against his callused fingers as she did so. They radiated an angry heat against her cool skin. He blinked slightly at the small contact.
Familiar, but different all the same.
Cho and Harry.
Three years in the past and a few minutes into the future. Familiar but new. Explored but unknown. Awkward dates, tears, anger, stupidity. It was all part of one overarching sentiment that had once been them, that she had buried long ago in some distant memory.
Today meant Hannah and Padma and Alicia, just as once had meant Harry.
But this…this was something. It was meant to be nothing, but it was something.
She had told herself she had forgotten. She had lamented at never knowing what they could be, but she had left it all in the past.
Then – then –
Then what was this?
“Thanks. For the water.” He cleared his throat and looked away.
“Harry,” said Cho softly, “do you think – ”
The room was getting very warm.
“Do you think we could go out to eat sometime?”
Hannah was resting herself against her elbow, propped against the kitchen table. “And? What did he say?”
“He said yes,” said Cho, still lost in disbelief. “Well, it was more like ‘we’ll see’, but he sounded happier about it. Then I suggested next weekend and he seemed alright with it!”
Hannah frowned. “You’re sure this is what you want? This is like your third try with him, Cho.”
“Second,” said Cho.
“Third,” said Padma, who was dangling upside down on the sofa, attempting to flick the channels on the aged television set. “Fifth year, Yule Ball. Try one. He failed. Sixth year. Try two. You failed. Now would be try three.”
“Third time lucky, I suppose,” said Cho.
“You’re sure this is what you want?” asked Hannah. “Absolutely positive?”
“D’you really fancy him?” asked Padma. “Always thought he wasn’t very good looking myself. Too skinny and that black hair everywhere and those hideous glasses. He looks like a beetle.”
“You’ve had a grudge against him since Yule Ball when he brought his friend along.”
Padma let out a sound of disgust at the mentioning of that great offense. “Oh my god, don’t even mention his sidekick! Ron Weasley! He spent the whole evening moping around! And he was wearing those hideous dress robes and it was clashing horribly against that hideous red hair – he looked like an ugly carrot wrapped in a curtain.”
“I don’t know if I fancy him,” admitted Cho. “I really haven’t even seen him for a year or so. I only wanted to go eat with him because maybe – maybe I’ve been wondering what could have happened to us for all these years. I just wanted some closure to be done with this.”
“Michael Corner wasn’t enough closure?” asked Padma skeptically. “Are you sure you’re not just hanging on to some weird vision of him? It’s been years. He’s probably really different now.”
“What on earth would lead anybody to think Michael of all people was any kind of closure? He made me cry! He was horrible!”
“True. He was a supreme idiot.”
Hannah sighed, flipping through another list of paint swatches. “I can’t choose anything. I can’t decide at all. And I don’t want Susan doing all of it – I think she wants to paint the Leaky green and that won’t turn out well.”
“Green!” echoed Padma and Cho together.
“She isn’t the best with colors, but she’s good with – ”
“Green!” said Padma again. “Green!”
Cho and Padma shared a look.
“Clearly, something needs to be done,” said Padma.
“I concur,” said Cho, “before it’s too late.”
“Cho, ring up Cee and tell her the three of us will be heading down to the Leaky Cauldron come Saturday morning.”
“You lot don’t need to,” began Hannah as Cho reached for the phone.
“Green!” said Padma once more. “We’ve got to, Hannah! For your sake!”
On the Friday of that week, Alicia Spinnet stretched, yawned loudly (earning glares from Romilda Vane and Penelope Clearwater in the process), flicked through the upcoming edition of Witch Weekly and tossed it aside.
“Heading out early?” asked Mandy from the side.
Alicia put a hand through her earrings. They were dangling like miniature chandeliers on her ears. “Yeah. I’ve got plans for tomorrow and I’m spending today preparing.”
“Really?” Mandy’s skeptical tone wafted over the distance. “Sounds mostly like you’re trying to leave early again.”
“I take great offense at that,” drawled Alicia lazily, looking at her shoes with mild interest. “Besides, can you blame me? With a job like this?”
“Don’t complain so much.”
“Not all of us’ve wanted to work at this bloody place since we were seven,” said Alicia. “And not all of us are Brocklehursts. Doesn’t your whole family work with newspapers?”
“Maybe,” said Mandy. “Seems like it, doesn’t it? My brother works for Quidditch Today, mum and dad both edit the Prophet. My Uncle Kevin’s in horticulture, actually, but he’s a bit odd like that. My aunt Vera owns a newspaper.”
“Hold on, she owns a newspaper?”
“It’s got a decent circulation abroad. It’s an international paper. She specializes in international issues and trade and culture and all that. She and her team travel around the world and write about important stuff they come across. Wars, poverty, that type of thing. I think they’re in Spain right now, actually, but she should be coming home in a bit.”
Alicia sighed. “Your aunt is the luckiest woman in the whole world. Just tell her I said that. I’d die for her job, honestly. I nearly did during the war, so I’m not joking about it.”
Mandy shot her an odd look. “You’re strange, Alicia. Almost as strange as Aunt Vera. She’d probably like you.”
“I’d marry her paper,” said Alicia, still floating in a dream. “I’d marry her job.”
“Isn’t this one enough?”
“Don’t joke,” snapped Alicia. “Shoes, bags, dresses, earrings. Don’t get me wrong – I love them. I love clothes, I love dressing up, I love ogling guys on Quidditch magazines and cheering at Roger Davies shirtless on magazine covers, but I want more than that. It shouldn’t be my life.”
“I don’t see a problem with it.”
“It isn’t what I put everything in for, Mandy. This is your ten year dream, and honestly, there isn’t anything in the world wrong with it. It’s lovely that your dreams come true. But this isn’t my dream. It isn’t what I put myself through horrible times in Hogwarts for. It isn’t what I hoped for in my future.” Alicia sighed. “Imagine what it’d be like if you didn’t get this. It’s like that for me. So excuse my bitterness. I’m just an angry old hag groaning because she didn’t get what she wanted. I know I sound spoiled.”
Mandy sighed. “I’m going to have to do the right thing here, aren’t I?”
“What?” asked Alicia blankly.
“Nothing,” Mandy murmured. She opened her desk and slipped her hand into a drawer, drawing a fresh sheaf of parchment. While Alicia was busy packing her things into her bag, Mandy gave the window and the coming sunset one long look.
My dream. My dream. My dream.
Mandy sighed once more and dipped her quill into her inkwell as she began writing.
Dear Aunt Vera,
I’ve got a friend and I was wondering...
Author's Note: Thanks so much for the wonderful support for the last chapter! Padma, Alicia, Cho and Hannah all have their lives slowly getting set in place and I'd love to know what you think of their progression thus far. There's only five chapters left in the story and I plan to update every 3-4 days, so we'll be done relatively soon.
Thanks again for reading! Please don't forget to review!