It took a long time to get me anywhere near coherency. But Neville – gosh, he deserved a medal for just putting up with me – stayed by my side on the floor and stroked my back in soothing circles and let me sob into his shirt. In all the time since my mum had died, I’d never properly broken down and been completely inconsolable until then. When I finally did start to think somewhere near ration, I couldn’t believe how selfish I was being.
“Ernie,” I said quietly, then looked up at Neville. “Ernie – I need to talk to him. Is he okay? He- he’ll be wondering where I am, I should-”
I tried to get to me feet, but I could barely make it to a crouching position, my legs giving out beneath me. Neville caught me, but rather than escorting me to the door, he took me to sit down on something soft and comfortable, and it was only then that I realised we must have been in the Room of Requirement.
“Ernie’s fine,” Neville assured me, sitting down and pulling out a galleon and frowning at it. “Ginny and Terry got him out safe. Susan will look after him.”
“But he’s hurt-“
“So are you,” Neville pointed out firmly. “You can hardly stand, Hannah.”
“I can’t even feel anything,” I mumbled, wiping at my tear-stained face with the back of my hand. But when I looked at my hand, it had blood on it.
“Please, Hannah, you’re not going anywhere right now,” Neville said desperately, taking my hand in his. “Just rest… talk to me. You promised, remember? You promised you’d come to me.”
I mouthed wordlessly for a moment. I only really wanted to go through talking about this once, and Ernie was my best friend, my brother, the one person I told nearly everything; it almost felt like a betrayal to talk with Neville first. But I had promised, and I did trust him. There lay for a moment a particularly heavy silence in which I attempted to search for a start.
“I want to kill her,” I soon heard a voice say. It hardly even sounded like me, but it was definitely saying how I felt. “I want to kill her and him and feed them to a dragon.”
“Hannah, you don’t-“
“I do, Neville!” I cried, swooping up in a surge of rage, eyes welling up with stinging tears again, hands tugging at my hair. “I can’t stand knowing that they’ve been here all this time and I- I’ve just been doing what they tell me so I don’t get myself hurt. What sort of coward-“
“You are not a coward!” Neville snapped, jumping to his feet too and staring hard at me. “You didn’t know, Hannah. You’ve not just been abiding them; you’re in the DA, you’re breaking people out of detentions and going on missions and helping people out in standing up to them.”
“It’s not enough!” I shook my head, my tears not for sadness but for utter fury. The room swam before me and I stumbled, determinedly ignoring the physical pain. “Don’t you get it? It’s not enough! I want- I want to tear them apart like they did to my family. I can’t just see them every day and pretend everything’s okay!”
My face was hot and wet and disgusting and I think Neville was genuinely looking a little bit scared, but I didn’t care. All I could see was my mother, and the Carrows laughing over her dead body.
Neville came towards me, arms outstretched, “Hannah…”
I took a step back from him, shaking my pounding head, gasping between sobs. “It’s alright, Neville, I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” I insisted, turning away from him. “You don’t get it, how much this hurts. Knowing that by now I could have avenged her. So easily. And I’ve just been protecting my own skin…”
I fell against a wall, shuddering arms wrapped tightly around myself, my back to Neville. As soon as I got my strength back, I thought, I would get them. I’d finally get them.
“Getting revenge won’t bring her back,” Neville said quietly, after what seemed like an age. “Trust me: it’s not what you really want. Not like that.”
“You don’t underst-“
“Haven’t you ever wondered why I live with my Gran?”
The question was so abrupt that I had to turn around and meet his gaze. He didn’t shy away. I noticed his adam’s apple bob up and down nervously.
“They were Aurors, my parents,” he finally said, barely speaking above a whisper. “Back during the first Wizarding War against, uh… You-Know-Who. A group of Deatheaters tortured them – tortured them to insanity. They’re not dead, technically, but… they’re not really living. They don’t really recognise me or Gran properly, even though we visit them at Saint Mungo’s whenever we can…” He sighed and shrugged, taking a second to keep himself composed.
“And in that group of Deatheaters,” he wasn’t done yet. “Was a witch called Bellatrix Lestrange. She escaped from Azkaban about two years ago and I… I was faced with her. I wanted to kill her, Hannah, to get vengeance for my parents, just like how you’re feeling now. I wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway – nor would you, not on your own – and I still couldn’t now, but either way I’m glad I didn’t. Don’t you see, Hannah? If we give into our own pain and anger then we become just like them, torturing and killing people just to make ourselves feel better. I know you, Han, and that’s not you.”
He was right. I hated that he was, but… directly killing someone just for revenge? I could never do that. My mum wouldn’t want me to do that.
“But then… what do I do?” I asked weakly. “How do I get rid of this… all this pain? How have you handled that for so long?”
“I haven’t, if I’m honest with you,” Neville shrugged, smiling sadly. “But I guess the best way I’ve found of standing up to that pain is to carry on. Just… surround yourself with people worth fighting for, people you love, and…” he shrugged again, “Live. Keep doing what you’ve been doing. It’s not easy, but you can’t dwell on this your whole life or it’ll tear you apart.”
I looked to the floor and held my arms tighter around myself, suddenly quite ashamed.
“I… I didn’t know about…”
“No,” Neville cleared his throat. “Not many do. Ginny does, and so do Harry, Ron, and Hermione… but they found out accidentally. I don’t tend to make a habit of spreading it around.”
And I could understand why. People had treated me differently after my mother’s death, and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if they all knew about what I’d found out that night. I felt like Neville’s situation was much worse than mine, and although he seemed to have had a fine upbringing with his grandmother, I’m sure it affected him far more than he’d ever let on. I didn’t want to pity him, but it was difficult not to admire his strength.
For a second, I didn’t know what to say. When my mum died, people kept saying all these empty, useless things; everybody kept saying sorry, even though it wasn’t their fault. I appreciated the sentiment, but it did nothing. Neville’s parents were nothing to do with me… but I had to say something.
“I won’t tell anyone,” I assured him.
“I’m not ashamed,” Neville said quickly.
“I know,” I insisted. I took a shaky breath, then attempted a watery smile. “Thanks for trusting me.”
“It was long overdue,” Neville tried for a smile back. “Besides… I made a promise to you as well, remember?”
I grinned slightly and looked back to the floor, closing my eyes tightly to squeeze out the last of my tears. As I opened them back up, an arm curled around my shoulders and I was guided back to the couch. I looked up at him through spider-like lashes, slipping my hand into his to pull him down next to me.
“You need rest,” Neville objected, moving to get back up.
I kept hold of him quite unashamedly; the absolute drain of emotions had worn me out and, ignoring the drilling headache I had and all my stinging cuts that wouldn’t seem to stop bleeding, the tears had made my eyes very sleepy and so I was feeling terribly needy and cuddly.
Neville’s eyebrows jumped up a notch or two but he lay back, resting quite stiffly until I snuggled insistently against him, when he silently wrapped an arm around me. I smiled to myself; by this point I probably should have been all blushing and awkward, but really, all I wanted was a friend, and in that moment, Neville was definitely one of the best friends I could have ever asked for.
I awoke not too long later, head pounding and body aching, to Neville gently shaking me. Bleary-eyed, I squinted up at him, frowning my disapproval at being woken up so soon. He was looking anxious.
“Sorry,” he said immediately. “But you were… you kind of… were you having a nightmare?”
I flushed, “Was I screaming?”
“A little bit, yeah…” Neville mumbled apologetically.
“I’m so sorry,” I sighed, rubbing my eyes. “I don’t remember having any nightmares, but… apparently I do that. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Neville assured, pushing my hair back from my face. “I used to do that when I was younger. You weren’t that loud; I couldn’t sleep anyway.”
“Oh, sorry!” I said again, sitting up quickly. “I wasn’t squishing you, was I?”
“No, no,” Neville insisted. “I was quite comfortable, actually. You’ll have to be careful, I might get used to this soon.”
I grinned, focusing very hard on not blushing, “I don’t know; I quite like some of your habits...” I informed him, idly brushing my hair back again. I spotted a frown flicker very briefly across his face, but he grinned and shifted slightly to sit up.
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Neville said matter-of-factly. “But you’ve got a fair few cute habits yourself.”
“Oh, I do?” I laughed.
Neville smirked, nodding, “Yeah, you twist your hair around your finger a lot,” he said. “And you know when you’re studying in the library? You usually seem to have some liquorice wands with you or something.”
“Ah, I’m very aware of that one,” I smirked right back at him. “I couldn’t afford a decent birthday present for Susan’s birthday because of that particular habit.”
Neville laughed, and from there, it just… went on. The two of us talked for hours, about everything and nothing and all in between. It felt like Neville finally opening up about his parents had sort of broken down some kind of wall, and soon we were finding out things about each other that somehow, within over six years of knowing each other, we’d never before discovered. His favourite colour was blue, and although he was a terrible flier himself, he quite liked watching Quidditch.
He, of course, bloomed most when conversation inevitably came round to Herbology (bloomed, geddit?). I let him go on about plants for quite some time, smiling quietly to himself, until he spotted my expression and he grinned sheepishly, immediately turning the attention onto me.
“I don’t really know too much about Herbology-“
“Liar! You’re the best in the class!” Neville argued.
“Second best,” I corrected, pointedly raising my eyebrows at him. “With a big gap in between.”
Neville laughed, his cheeks a little pink, “Alright, so then what’s your favourite flower?”
“Well… I quite like sunflowers,” I mused. “I don’t really know why; they’re tall and kind of odd… and the way they look up for the sun… I mean, it’s kind of romantic in a… weird kind of way…”
My face felt very hot, but Neville was looking pensive. “Yeah, I never really thought of it like that,” he decided after a second. “The looking up at the sun thing, it’s kind of like… like hope…”
Now he was blushing. We sat in a particularly red silence for a moment, but when our eyes met, we instantly both burst out laughing.
When, about an hour later, we finally got back onto more personal stuff, we covered everything from family to school, and he seemed quite surprised to find that I used to struggle a lot in classes.
“No, but you’re all clever and stuff!” he insisted.
“I’m really not, Neville!” I objected, laughing. “I’m terrible under pressure and I panic in exams. In fourth year, Moody asked me to answer a question, and I nearly had a panic attack!”
“Yeah, but Moody did turn out to be a maniac,” Neville pointed out fairly. “And he was terrifying. That whole year was ridiculous.”
“It really was,” I smirked. “The whole female population of the school went completely insane because of the Yule Ball.”
I grinned sheepishly, “Maybe a little bit.”
“Anybody would go insane with all those boys running after them,” Neville teased. “Dean asked you, didn’t he? And you turned him down.”
“Neville!” I laughed indignantly. “Only because I’d already said I’d go with Ernie!”
“I am not!”
Neville prodded me in the side, smirking, “I bet you were practically beating them off – how many hearts did you break, eh?”
“None!” I denied, but my voice suddenly went unnaturally high-pitched.
Neville’s eyebrows jumped up again and his smirk flickered very slightly, but he kept it up and prodded me again. “Go on, what happened?”
“Nothing!” I tried again, but my voice was more like a squeak now. Upon knowing look from Neville, I deflated and gave in. “Alright, but… don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“My lips are sealed,” promised Neville.
“It’s no big deal,” I lied. “I just… well, I had my first kiss that night.”
Neville’s face didn’t move, “Oh?”
I nodded, biting my lip. Was he actually trying to get me to talk about it, or trying to fill the gap of conversation, or just being polite, or…? I suddenly severely regretted even mentioning fourth year.
“At the Yule Ball?” he asked.
“Yeah…” I admitted a little sheepishly. “With Justin.”
“I know, it feels so weird now that I ever liked him like that,” I smirked. “It was very short-lived – ended that night, actually.”
“He was that bad?”
“No!” I laughed defensively. “He… I mean, it was a first kiss for both of us and we bumped noses and it was… it was Justin, you know?”
Neville chuckled, “No, I can’t say that I do know.”
“Well, I’d liked him for a while,” I explained. “And Susan found out that he apparently liked me back. And then we kissed, and it was sweet and everything, but it didn’t feel right, so we just agreed to be friends.”
“So do you regret it?” asked Neville.
I gave it a moment’s thought, then, “No,” I decided. “No, because I think people put too much pressure of first kisses, and even though it wasn’t exactly perfect, and it was with someone I trust and care about. If it’s something that I’m going to remember for a long time, I think I’d definitely rather look back and remember a close friend than some random boy. Don’t you think?”
My question met silence. By this point, we were both still kind of sat up, but over the course of the last few hours had shifted around and ended up sort of cuddling again (I think it might have been when I’d commented on Neville’s hair getting longer, or perhaps when he’d brushed a bit of blood from my cheek) so I couldn’t really miss the way his ears had suddenly started to glow.
He avoided my gaze, looking instead down at his chest. I followed his eyeline only to see our hands, fingers intertwined, rested atop his shirt. I somehow hadn’t been aware of that, and it seemed that he’d only just spotted it too.
“I wouldn’t know,” he finally said.
I looked back up at him, meeting his eyes, confused.
“I wouldn’t know who it’s best to share a first kiss with,” Neville admitted. “Because… well, you know… I’ve never…”
I don’t know if I was shocked. All I know is that at that moment, Neville was very close to me, we were very much talking about kissing, and my heart was beating very, very loudly.
“I think it might be, though,” he added.
My brain was a puddle. I blinked at him in bewilderment. His green eyes were now fixed very firmly on my hazel.
“I think, maybe, that the best person to share a first kiss with would be a close friend,” Neville went on. “Someone that you trust and care about and feel comfortable with.”
His hand left mine and very gently swept my hair back from my face; I couldn’t help but smile weakly.
“I think you’re probably right,” I said.
Neville smiled back at me – the most adorable, heart-melting little grin that made my face heat up and my body go all jittery. But I kept still, all too aware of what was about to come as his head very slowly began to move in, his hand sliding from my hair to my cheek.
He wasn’t hesitating or turning away. There was no Seamus to snore or interrupt. Oh Merlin, I was going to faint before he got to me. My finger hooked rather coyly into his collar and I guided his head down as he tilted it slightly and finally, after so long, our lips met.
My hand slid up from his shirt and met its pair behind his neck; one of his fell to my waist and sent a tingle down my spine that made my body curve against his.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that it was the most technically brilliant kiss, but the way he held me made me feel so safe and warm and far happier than I’d felt in a very long time. Honestly, had I not been so busy, I probably would have gotten up and done a little dance.