On the fifth day of the Easter holidays, my dad and I were cleaning up after dinner and listening to Potterwatch on the wireless when I heard something that made me drop the cutlery in my hand with a noisy clatter in the sink. My stomach dropped as Lee Jordan’s solemn voice rang out through the kitchen.
“Muggle police found the bodies of Sally-Anne Perks, eighteen, and her father, Robert Perks, in their home in Wirrall last night. Her mother and sister, Eleanor and Samantha Perks, are also confirmed as missing. The family had no previous known connection to the movement against You-Know-Who, however—“
I put my head in my hands and slid down into the closest seat. Sally-Anne had been my dormmate. She was sweet and smart and got along with everyone. We weren’t very close but we were friends and classmates shared a dorm room for over five years and she didn’t deserve this—
I couldn’t remember the last thing I’d said to her.
Ernie sent me a letter, having heard the same broadcast. He said that it was hard not to think about Justin. I knew he never would have said that to me face-to-face. I replied in brief agreement, choosing not to add that Justin had actually been second to my mind, after my mother.
I could hardly stop thinking about Sally-Anne for the next few days, and when I was finally boarding the train back to Hogwarts that Sunday, she was still on my mind; which is possibly why I didn’t notice that I was about to walk straight into Neville.
“Sorry!” we said in unison.
“No problem…” we laughed nervously in unison. We did a little dance to get around each other, and when it went on for a few seconds too long, we stopped in unison.
“I heard about, uh…” he said quietly. Sally.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, looking down at my hands.
“Are you okay?” asked Neville.
I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t cried since I found out – it sounds heartless, but I suppose my system was getting used to terrible news. But, I don’t know, something about Neville’s question made me want to just completely break down. So I shrugged, not looking up at him for fear that he might notice my trembling lip or my eyes starting to go red, and murmured a barely decipherable, “Thanks.”
“Ginny’s not coming back,” Neville announced abruptly. “Her family figured out what was going on when they saw some of her bruises and stuff – did you know that the Carrows tried to get Harry’s location out of her? She never told me, but… she says she doesn’t know anyway. But yeah, we’ve lost Ginny.”
“Oh…” I sounded, shaky hands fiddling nervously with the ends of my hair. “That’s a shame. I hope she’s okay.”
Down at the end of the carriage, Ernie popped his head out of the compartment and waved me over. Neville followed my gaze, looking over his shoulder.
“Do you want to come sit with us?” I offered timidly, swallowing the lump in my throat.
Neville looked back at me, his eyes meeting mine for a second before he hastily broke away, a frown briefly flickering across his face. “No thanks,” he said. “I ought to find Seamus. The train’s so empty these days that he can’t be hard to spot.”
“All right,” I nodded a little dejectedly as we slipped past each other. “See you…”
But as I turned to go, Neville grabbed my wrist and pulled me into his arms. There was a beat in which I attempted to wade through my own deep confusion, but before I could even think to react, he was gone. I opened my mouth as he turned to walk away – I had to say something, I couldn’t stand us being like this – but nothing came out, and we parted separate ways once more.
After a terribly solemn feast that night (after all, Sally-Anne was by no means the only person to have recently been found dead) I was one of the first back to the common room. I passed straight through to my dormitory, wanting to avoid having to talk about Sally or the DA or anything with any of my housemates. But I wasn’t alone.
She looked up from her trunk, gazing back at me for a moment with an undistinguishable expression.
The emotion seemed to break out over her face and she clumsily got from her knees to her feet, rushing over to me and throwing her arms around me. She gasped and I felt something warm on my shoulder and I realised that she was crying. I hesitantly wrapped my arms around her and patted her back. But then she pushed and stepped back, wiping at her pink face with the back of her hand.
“Why didn’t you write to me?” she snapped.
I blanched. It had been a week, and we hadn’t even been talking to each other.
“I… you didn’t write to me!” I returned indignantly.
Her face instantly changed again. She wiped the back of her sleeve over her cheek once more, her eyes now dry.
“There it is again,” Susan said quietly. “It always has to be me that makes the effort.”
I frowned, “What, so being friends with me is an effort?”
“It has been lately!” Susan shot me a hard glare.
I moved to my bed. I hated conflict; I could never think straight when things got heated. As soon as I started to feel pressure, I would always start to panic. But apparently we needed to get this out, because I was sick of feeling like this, and I hated not being friends with her.
“Go on,” I said reluctantly, sitting on the edge of my bed.
Seeing that I was trying to take the calm approach, Susan sat opposite me on the edge of her bed, although the colour was high in her cheeks.
“I just… I feel like we’re drifting apart,” she confessed. “And I hate it.”
“So you decided to go about that by… not talking to me…”
Susan didn’t laugh. “It’s always you and Ernie,” she continued. “You and him, that’s how people see it. It was all right when Justin was around because, I don’t know, we were more of a group and we kind of tended to pair off in girls and boys or, you know, if you did go with Ernie then I was left with Justin. But now… oh, this all sounds so petty, but in all its simplicity, I suppose I’m jealous. Maybe not jealous, but… I just feel neglected, I suppose.”
I didn’t say anything. In that moment, she was right; it did sound petty. In the grand scheme of everything that was going on at that time, to me her thinking seemed childish and even selfish. But at the same time, I didn’t want my friend to be unhappy, especially not if it was because of me.
“Look, I just want you to think of me sometimes,” Susan went on. “Lately it feels like you only ever think Ernie and Neville because maybe they’re the people you’re closest to, but I—“
“I do think of you,” I cut in. “You are one of my closest friends, Susan.”
“Yet you’ve been so close with Ernie for so long that he’s the person you always go to first with everything,” Susan explained earnestly. “And you’ve got this close friendship with Neville now too and I know you like him – don’t look at me like that, I know you do – and he’s just another person to come before me, which wouldn’t bother me so much if… well, then who do I go to when I need someone?”
“You come to me, you can alw-“
“Friendships don’t work like that, Hannah,” Susan shook her head. “I don’t want to keep taking if I can never give, you know? It’s the same with Ernie. I know it sounds stupid with everything going on – believe me, what happened to Sally-Anne made me realise how silly I was being – but I just… I feel lonely. And with everything going on, it’s a lot harder to cope with it when you’re alone.”
She was tearing up again, voice getting shakier. Swallowing a lump in my throat, I moved to sit beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said, “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that. I didn’t know. But you’re not alone, of course you’re not, and I’m sure Ernie would say the same.”
Susan made a noise somewhere between a sniffle and a giggle, raising her eyebrows in a way that made me feel like I was still missing something. My arm unfurled from her shoulders and I gave her a patient smile, waiting for further explanation.
“I… Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a while… a long while… but we’ve both been so busy and we haven’t really had a moment to ourselves and I was annoyed with you and then we weren’t talking which I know is down to me but-“
“Oh, well the thing is that… I kind of like Ernie,” Susan admitted quietly. “In a kind of more than friendship way.”
It took me a moment to take in what she’d said, and when it did, I didn’t know what to say. But I didn’t need to, for it seemed she wasn’t done yet.
“Except there’s something that I probably should have told you before that which makes it a little more complicated,” Susan went on, frowning a little like she didn’t even understand what she was about to say. “You see, the thing is… I used to like Justin. Quite a lot, actually. And for quite a long time. It sort of faded out last year – I don’t know if I ever told you this but things felt quite different without you around – except now I have this weird kind of guilt because Justin is who-knows-where and maybe I would still like him if he were around but- oh, I just don’t know! You know?”
“Erm…” I murmured vaguely. “Yeah, sure…”
“But then do you remember the first break-out we did?” Susan continued; apparently she’d been holding a lot in for a good while. “I mean, it turned out that you were off trying to steal a sword or something but before we knew that, we… Ernie was so protective of me and kept me safe and – I mean, you know he’s always very loyal to his friends but, oh, that time felt different.”
That night, I’d asked Ernie personally to keep a watch on Susan, to make sure she was safe. I certainly was in no way willing to give myself any position in this odd situation (I felt bad enough that Susan had clearly been waiting for someone to confide in for quite some time) yet I couldn’t help but wonder if Susan had fallen for an Ernie that had just been doing a favour for me, or if she really was finally seeing the Ernie I’d known for over six years.
“I won’t go into detail about why I like him because it’ll only make you go all weird,” Susan decided with a weak little smirk. “But you can understand how I’m feeling, can’t you? Even disregarding whether either of them might ever like me in that way too, I still feel as though liking Ernie is some sort of betrayal to Justin. I mean, as a friend too. Like I’m… moving on without him or something. It doesn’t feel right.”
“I understand,” I assured gently, moving back a strand of hair that had stuck to a tear track on her cheek. “But I don’t think you should fret. Justin’s a smart guy; he’d get that we can’t just sit around and think about him all the time. Besides, moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. Just because you like Ernie now doesn’t mean you’ll feel any less excited if– when we finally hear from him.”
Susan sniffed again and wiped at her face. “Do… do you really think he will?”
My mouth suddenly felt a little dry and my face very hot, but I nodded. “I have to.”
Susan and I embraced again, and as we parted, her with puffy eyes and me with a pink face, the dormitory door opened. Megan Jones looked at us for a second, bit her lip, then moved over to what had once been Sally-Anne’s bed. On the bed-side-table, which used to be adorned with pictures and hair ties but was now bare, Megan placed a small white flower; then she turned back to face us.
“I want to join the DA,” she announced.
I stood up, brushing hastily at my cheeks, then shot Megan a small and slightly watery grin. “About time.”