Neville stirred a couple of times in the night, his eyelids fluttering and an occasional moan escaping his mouth, but he didn’t properly wake up until the early hours of the morning. Although there was a hammock hanging just feet away from him, I’d left him where he was, worried that moving him could result in internal bleeding or something. Plus, my hands were still shaking too much for me to steadily levitate him. I hadn’t even looked properly around the room until a few hours before he woke; it was simple but comfortable, with the hammock and the Gryffindor hangings and a large wooden-cased wireless in the corner.
For a moment, it seemed almost like he couldn’t move. I watched his wincing profile for a few seconds from a few feet away, then softly spoke out, crawling closer to him and sitting cross-legged at his side.
“Hey,” I whispered shakily. “Rise and shine.”
Neville looked up at me through squinting eyes, “Hannah…”
I attempted a smile, “Me again,” I said apologetically. “Always seems to be me, doesn’t it?”
Poor Neville, having to wake up to find me as his carer again; possibly the most useless person imaginable in this scenario. In most scenarios. I was only grateful that he didn’t know that I’d spent most of the night crying.
Still, ever the gentleman, he smiled and I felt his hand scramble for mine out of what was left of my cloak, which I’d draped over him as a makeshift blanket. I wove our fingers together. Maybe I was better than nothing… maybe he was at least glad to have a friend.
“I sent a message to the others…” I told him, encouraged by this thought. “But… well, I imagine they’re all still asleep.”
There was a slight tilt of Neville’s head in what I assumed was an attempt to nod his head. Part of me wanted to ask what had happened, what he’d been hiding, but he didn’t seem up for a chat, and frankly my concern was stronger than my curiosity.
“Can I do anything for you?” I asked gently. “I tried to bandage you up a little, but… the room hasn’t exactly been at its best tonight.”
I shot a little glare across the room, half hoping it would respond with some sort of apologetic care package – or at least a book on healing – but nothing changed. Neville made a little noise, and for a second I thought he was coughing up blood, until I noticed the weak smile on his face.
“I don’t need anything,” he laughed, wheezing slightly. “I actually d-didn’t expect to s-see anyone for a f-few days.”
“Well, I couldn't sleep,” I explained, trying not to blush. “I had to find you.”
Neville’s eyebrows knitted together, apparently confused, but he attempted a smile. “I’m glad you did.”
Honestly, he was too polite for his own good. He was oblivious to what he did to me when he said things like that. I constantly had to remind myself that this was just his nature, that he was so generous with his kindness and friendship that he didn’t understand how he could make a girl – myself, Parvati, or otherwise – feel. Somewhere in my head, an eleven year old version of myself laughed at how odd that sounded when applied to the version of Neville that the eleven year old version of myself knew. But then, he wasn’t that little boy anymore.
“Your hair is so long now,” I said dumbly after a moment. “I… It makes you look so different.”
“Yeah, well, yours is longer,” Neville croaked, a whisper of a smirk at his lips. “Although I th-think I probably look different more because I’ve been b-beaten to a pulp.”
I barked out a little laugh, but now my eyes were stinging again. Merlin’s beard, surely there wasn’t enough moisture left in my body!
“Hey…” Neville said softly, squeezing my hand.
I shook my head, not at all happy that he should feel like he had to comfort me when he was in the state that he was in. “I’m just worried about you,” I told him truthfully enough.
Neville watched me wipe at my cheeks with my sleeve. I felt ridiculous, being pitied by him, looking like the silly little girl that everyone but him seemed to think I was.
“I’ll be fine…” Neville said weakly. For all his words of wisdom and fearless actions as a leader, he still seemed stumped by a weeping girl.
“I know you will,” I dismissed, sniffing. “Ignore me. I’m sorry. I really am sorry, Neville.”
“Hey, don’t be silly, it’s okay,” Neville insisted, seeming slightly alarmed, apparently having assumed that I was offering an oddly earnest apology simply for my tears.
“No, I mean… I’m sorry I left you,” I explained.
“I told you to,” said Neville blankly.
“And I shouldn’t have listened,” I shook my head. “You may be the big bad leader of the DA but you don’t dictate my every move. I know I’m not much with a spell, but if I’d stayed with you, maybe you wouldn’t be like this.”
Neville frowned, “I didn’t tell you to go because I was somehow convinced that I could take them on myself-”
“I know, Neville,” I said earnestly. “I know. You were trying to keep me safe. But, you know, maybe you should think about keeping yourself safe once in a while.”
Something flickered across his face. He avoided my gaze for a second, appearing lost in his own thoughts. I was just beginning to think about ordering him to go to sleep when he finally looked back at me.
“I was beyond keeping safe,” he mumbled quietly. “They, um… they’ve been at me for a while now. They know what I am, what I’ve been doing, but they’ve had no proof, so… they’ve been working through it in secret.”
My throat felt dry, “And by ‘working through it’ you mean…”
“Cruciatus curse, yeah,” Neville closed his eyes. Now he almost seemed on the verge on tears, “I didn’t crack, though. I kept thinking about my parents, about… all the people I care about.” He cleared his throat, assumedly trying to get rid of the lump blocking it. “They did it to Ginny before she left, too.”
“But they underestimated you,” I smiled, hoping the expression would somehow quell the unpleasant feeling in my stomach.
“No,” Neville said firmly, although his voice still wavered and trembled. “If that term had lasted another couple of days I don’t think I’d have made it. It was just dumb luck for me and bad planning on their end. So I kind of had a chance to rest last week.”
He cleared his throat again; I knew that, if he kept pushing himself like this, he’d slip out of consciousness again soon. But he didn’t need to say much more; I was beginning to piece it together.
“So… you thought that when you came back, you’d make one big stand against them? One last push back before they could topple you?” It still seemed oddly reckless, even for this new Neville. Even new Neville, I thought, had that same old earthiness, and his courage was born of intense selflessness and loyalty. He wouldn’t have done something this desperate – something with such a sense of finality – just for the pride of a last push.
“What else did they have against you?”
Neville smiled grimly, “My gran,” he sighed. “They concluded that the only way to get to me was through other people, so… they went after my gran.”
And I had thought that the Carrows weren’t smart enough to think of using bait. Well, that explained why he wouldn’t let me go with him. To my surprise, however, I found that Neville was suddenly grinning.
“They got more than they bargained for,” he said. “My gran’s not quite what they expected, I guess. She sent me a letter before half term, explaining that I was to be careful when I got off the train at King’s Cross.” He paused to cough gruffly, his face twisting with pain. “Long story short… we spent last week in hiding, and Dawlish is in St Mungo’s. Gran’s on the run now.”
“So… the Carrows realised that they really respected you and invited you round for tea?” I joked weakly, unwilling to verbalise the real deduction I’d made. Having realised that they couldn’t stop him, and stopping him was the way to stop all of us, the Carrows had been set out to kill him.
Neville smiled grimly, confirming my real conclusion correct. I didn’t seem to have any tears left in me.
“And that means,” I continued. “That you thought you might only get one more chance to get them, which is why you insisted that the fireworks were all used at once.”
“That was stupid of me,” Neville murmured. “I shouldn’t have put you all in danger.”
“Everyone’s fine,” I assured him. “Everyone except you. Why didn’t you tell us?”
Neville averted his gaze once again. “I didn’t want you worrying.”
“I- we- have been worrying all night!” I pointed out a little sharply; he was lying again! “What’s the real reason?”
“I thought you’d try to talk me out of it,” Neville admitted hoarsely. “Try to make me go straight into hiding.”
I bit my lip. I didn’t want to admit that he was probably right.
“Did you plan to end up in here, then?” I asked.
“Not really,” Neville said, frowning. “To be honest, I… I didn’t really think I’d be able to escape them.”
“The other Carrow turned up.”
I sighed. There was so much more to say, yet although I knew he was trying his best, his eyes were unfocused and his voice nearly gone.
“You should sleep,” I decided.
“So should you,” replied Neville.
“Probably,” I said, glancing doubtfully at the hammock, quite sure that not a wink of sleep could catch me yet. “But I didn’t nearly die tonight.”
Neville slowly looked at the hammock too, as if only just noticing it, then back at me. He frowned, mouth opening and closing like he was struggling on how to phrase something.
“I thought it might be dangerous to move you,” I explained, assuming he was trying to ask why he wasn’t in the hammock without sounding rude or demanding.
“What? Oh, right…” Neville mumbled, brow furrowing even further. Apparently my assumption was wrong, but he seemed to have given up anyway.
“Where you going to say something?” I prompted.
“Erm, actually, I… I was kind of hoping that you’d lie here with me,” Neville said a little awkwardly. “Sorry, I just… it’s been a bit of a hectic night…”
My first response was a no. No, that wasn’t a good idea; I really didn’t think I could handle that, after everything I’d felt that night, after how much I was really trying to come to terms with the platonic nature of our relationship. But I looked down at him, waiting patiently in silence for my answer, a weak and slightly apologetic smile playing at his lips, and I nodded. He needed me to be a good friend.
I hopped over him, snatching a pillow from the hammock and returning to his unwounded side, where I slipped the pillow beneath his head, satisfied that I wouldn’t be agitating any head wounds.
“I understand,” I said softly. “Cuddles always make me feel better. Or, they used to. My mother’s fault, I suppose. She was a very strong woman but sometimes I think she believed that hugs could solve anything.”
I carefully lined myself up next to him and lay down, trying not to really rest on him, but Neville wrapped an arm around me and pulled me closer.
“Maybe she just liked hugging you,” he suggested. “I could understand why. You’re quite the talented hugger.”
I smirked, relaxing slightly into the crook of his shoulder, although still not properly resting the full weight of my head on him. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if Parvati would be happy with me hugging Neville when they inevitably started going out.
“Your mum was onto something, though. I never really understood how comforting a hug could be until lately,” Neville added after a second. “I mean, I never really got it from my parents, obviously, and… well, my gran’s not the most touchy-feely person in the word. I get it now, though.”
“I- I guess it… I think it must have been you,” Neville responded simply.
“Me?” I shook my head, trying to sit up, although not really struggling too hard against Neville’s grip, worried about hurting him. “Come on; just get some rest, Neville. We can talk when you’re all healed up.”
“Hannah, please,” Neville sighed, giving my arm a little squeeze. “I’m trying- I’m trying to… say, you know… I want to apologise for putting you in danger tonight-“
“Don’t be silly-“
“Do you even know why I asked you to stay with me today?” he asked abruptly.
I faltered at the suddenness of the question. “I… I figured you were sticking to that… representative from each house thing…”
“Did you see me grabbing hold of Terry’s hand?”
It almost felt like he was teasing me. I shook my head, properly sitting up. “But Terry’s smart, he always seems to know what’s going on – he doesn’t need you to look after him.”
Neville made a breathy noise that I’m sure was something like a laugh. I felt my face heat up; was he actually teasing me?
“Nor do you.”
I looked down at him with a frown, easily brushing away the hand that reached out for me.
“Hannah…” he said slowly, suddenly realising I wasn’t getting the joke. “You know I’d love to protect you as much as I can, but you don’t need someone to look after you. Surely you know that?”
“I…” I still wasn’t getting it.
“I know I’ve changed, I feel so much more confident now and, I don’t know; I am different,” Neville mumbled. “But not that much. Everyone seems to have forgotten the last six years – there’s still so much of that left in me. I’m still me. I still need help.”
“Neville, you… I know you do,” I said. “That’s why I shouldn’t have left you-“
“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about,” he cut me off as quickly as he could. “I mean… what I’m trying to say is that I need… I need you to know how strong you are. Because you make me stronger.”
I almost laughed. No, he was definitely making fun of me now. I offered a weak smirk, shaking my head, trying to take it in good spirit.
“Hannah, I’m serious,” he had hold of my hand again. “You are one of the strongest people I know.”
“All right, come on now, this isn’t funny,” I ordered, starting to feel the back of my neck heat up. “Go to sleep, you shouldn’t be exerting yourself like this.”
“You aren’t listening – I’m not trying to be funny, I’m trying to be honest with you!”
I, having begun to fuss about with his cloak blanket to make him comfortable for sleep, froze in my tracks. I cleared my throat and tried not to look him in the eye, but remained silent to let him go on.
“You’ve got this… sense of delicacy, about you,” Neville disclosed immediately, like it was written for him somewhere on my face. He cleared his throat to make his voice a little stronger. “But you’re still so grounded. I can’t describe it. You address things with this… this gentle approach; you take things at a steady pace, you kind of… softly knock people off their feet without even realising. You’ve got this quiet strength to you that’s unlike anybody I’ve ever known.”
I didn’t know how to speak. I spluttered and mumbled something like “You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d seen me earlier” but it might not have made sense because Neville was undeterred.
“And… when you’re around, I feel better,” he continued. “W-with your hand in mine, I feel like… I don’t know, like I know what I’m doing. That’s why I asked you to stay with me tonight, because when my arms are around you, I… my chest just doesn’t feel as tight as it usually does. I know it’s awkward because… you know, people can’t help how they feel or who they feel it for and sometimes things are left unresolved or…”
He faded out, and I choked for some words, “I- I don’t know what they did to you but there’s something wrong with your brain,” my eyes were stinging salty again. “I’m not strong at all, look at me.”
Neville squeezed my hand. “Crying doesn’t make you weak, Hannah,” he said quietly. His hold on my hand slackened, “But, look… I just wanted to tell you because you deserve to know. No other agenda. I don’t want to… you know, with other things that have happened between us in the past… this whole situation. I don’t want to be… inappropriate or anything again.”
Again? It was me that had kissed him and made things awkward, not the other way around.
Yet there he was, clearly telling me how he felt about me, and it was beyond anything I’d dreamt. He genuinely respected and cared for me. Not liking him beyond friendship was still going to be a struggle for me, but him finally being outright with me was definitely a step in the right direction.
I lay back down and craned my neck to kiss his cheek. “You’re crazy, Neville,” I whispered. “But if you really believe all that is my effect, then I’m happy to stick around. I do love you, you know. I’m very lucky to be your friend.”