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You Are The Reason by rj_sunshine
Chapter 2 : Hannah: A Compelling Mask
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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   It turns out that Neville Longbottom is a really great person; he isn’t as bad as I thought he was. Thinking back, I have no idea why we weren’t friends sooner. We should have been. I admit it - Neville was a bit of a geek in the first few years of school, someone whom I paid little attention. And now, all of a sudden, being members of Dumbledore’s Army gave us a reason to talk, to be friends.

   And he was so cute. Carried my bag across the hall for me and everything. And I would never forget it because he was the first boy to ever do that for me. Not even Ernie or Justin had the decency to offer during the entire four or so years that we had been close friends.

   Three weeks after that incident, on a Saturday morning, I noticed him as soon as he came into the Great Hall for breakfast and observed curiously. He came in beside the Weasley twins, head low, hands in his pockets as if he wished to blend in with the furniture, to be unnoticed. But I noticed him. And in those moments, I realised how different he looked compared to when we were in our first year. He was much taller, much slimmer. His hair seemed a messier darker brown, but maybe that was just my observations, I noticed that he had lovely bright hazel eyes, a strong jaw line and was beginning to look like a man.

   I laughed to myself.

   Sliding off the wooden bench, I turned around and faced him before he got to the other Gryffindors further up the hall.

   He seemed shocked at my appearance, stumbled a little, but smiled anyway.

“Hi,” he said.

“Morning,” I replied cheerily. “Didn’t get into trouble with Snape, did you?”

   Instantly, he seemed to know what I was talking about even though it was weeks ago.

“No …” he said coolly. “He only took twenty points from Gryffindor. Nothing much.” He chuckled.

I joined in, feeling a bit bad. “I’m sorry, Neville.” Behind him, Susie entered the hall in her pyjamas, ginger hair tied back in a bun, yawning. She then raised her eyebrows at me and sat down, drawing up a bowl, eating and waiting.

   I moved closer to Neville in order to whisper to him. “Are you coming to the DA thing later?” I could find no other way to ask.

  He nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
 
“Okay,” I smiled. “Well … I’ll see you there.”

   I rushed away and sat down opposite Susie as she pushed away a half-eaten bowl of porridge, putting my hair behind my ears.

  Grabbing a yellow mug and a teabag, she said, “And what was that, Miss Abbott?”

  Frowning, I asked, “What was what?”

   I buttered a slice of toast, eyes staying down on the wholegrain bread.

“You and Neville are getting awfully cosy recently.”

“What are talking about? We’ve always been friends.”

“Hardly,” she replied. Susie shrugged. “But I suppose it’s long overdue really.”
 
“My thoughts exactly.”

   She poured some boiling hot water into her mug, the liquid mixing with the contents of the teabag. She swirled it around, took it out and added a small measure of honey to the yellow-amber liquid.

   She sniffed while watching her own hand mix the contents with a teaspoon.

“You okay?” I asked her, worry coming over my face. Herbal tea meant only one thing.

“My face hurts, my throat hurts, my stomach hurts. Just a winter flu, but besides that …” Her entire face was red and damp and I instantly reached across the table to feel her forehead.

  She flapped her hands and I leaned back. “Don’t touch me! I don’t want you to get it too. I am burning up.” She banged the table. “I knew that snowball fight was a bad idea.”

“I’ll take you back to the common room in a bit and then we can go and see Madam Pomfrey.” I was so concerned for Susie. She always got involved with whatever the boys did, no questions asked. And every time she was sick, it seemed to last forever; she always made it known when her energy was lacking and her usual bright presence was always missed. She had been my best friend since the moment we were Sorted into Hufflepuff House and we had never had any arguments - not serious ones anyway. She held my hair back when I threw up, comforted me when I was sad, shared chocolates and snacks during impromptu midnight feasts and I did the same for her; Susie was my sister.
 
“Deal,” she agreed. “I’ll just finish my tea first.”

   Nodding, I took a bite of toast and cast my eyes over Neville as he sat with Dean, Ron and Ginny. I don’t know what made me do it; my eyes simply wandered over at the blue jumper he wore on his back and his downcast face hanging over his breakfast. He was so insular and it made me sad to think that a person could still be so uncomfortable in their fifth year of school. Most people didn’t act like that during their first day of Hogwarts. I never really noticed it before, but Neville was unhappy here. It seemed like a far-fetched idea, but somehow I knew it. Just by looking at him with his friends, the people he was supposed to be himself around, I could see how much of himself he was hiding. Sitting there, at the Gryffindor table, was not Neville Longbottom, it was a mask for something much more compelling.

   Turning back to Susie after a moment, she smiled knowingly at me after sipping from the steaming mug and I smiled back, embarrassed, lowering my head into my plate, sure that my face had gone red; I would have to learn to ignore her accusatory glares.

   Susie and I walked slowly through the dimly lit common room, past the honey-coloured chairs and throws, the roaring fire, relaxing students and down the stone staircase into our dormitory, where Leanne was sitting cross-legged silently reading on her bed, Megan and Isobel still asleep.

   Our room was a mess, as usual. It was a miracle that it was ever clean. If it wasn’t clothes all over the floor, falling out of trunks or stuffed under beds, it was books, parchment, make-up, hair products or whatever else we managed to bring along from home with us.

   Gently pushing aside a large pink teddy bear with my foot, I sat Susie down on her bed, seized her dressing gown and pulled it over her shoulders.

   She shoved her arms in.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said quietly, finding a tissue in the pocket. “I have tonnes of - of homework to get done. Potions, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Care of Magical -”

“You could ask Neville to -”

   He was good at Herbology.

“Neville?” Susie smiled with her watery eyes glaring at me. She sneezed and moped sadly afterwards, holding her face.

“Or - or Hermione … you could ask Hermione for help …” Suddenly, an intense fear came over me. What if she couldn’t finish her work? But no, surely Madam Pomfrey would get her fit and healthy soon. But then the fears transferred onto my own achievements. I had not completed one piece of homework at all or satisfactorily for the past few months, since the beginning of the year. Already, the professors were badgering us about O.W.Ls and they were months away. This academic year was serious, far more serious than I imagined. I didn’t want to fail it. What would my parents think of me if I failed?

“Hannah.” Susie stood by the door. “I thought you were taking me to the Hospital Wing.”

“Coming.” Worried, I rushed to her side.

   When we arrived, there was a few others being treated and so we waited for a while until there was a free bed. Susie laid down while Madam Pomfrey whipped up the remedy in a large bottle.

“I’ve had so many students up here wanting treatments for the flu.” She placed her hand on Susie’s forehead and waved her old willowy wand. “Hmmm,” the matron mused. “Take this, Miss Bones.” She shoved the potion into her mouth and Susan gasped and swallowed. “You should be better soon, but I’d like to keep you overnight. This virus is very stubborn. It’s best if you’re not exposed to anything detrimental to my treatments, like any more snowball fights or noisy common rooms.”
 
   Madam Pomfrey went away, attending to other patients and I grabbed Susan’s arm nervously.

“Does this mean you can’t come to the DA meeting tonight?”

“Unless you can sneak me in,” she joked weakly.

   I pouted, upset that I would have to deal with the boys alone. Ernie, Justin and Zach were annoying only some of the time, but I simply preferred to have my best girlfriend around instead of them.

“I’ll come back for you tomorrow morning,” I promised after we talked for a further half an hour about exams and essays and other homework. I hoped that she would make a speedy recovery and that I could survive without her for the next twenty four hours.

   I spent the rest of the day in the library, attempting to complete my Defence Against The Dark Arts essay that Umbridge had cruelly set for us. It was due on Monday, in two days, and I had not yet completed a paragraph. The assignment title, ‘Non-Violent Alternatives To Ward Off Dangerous Beasts and Possessed or Unsound Wand-Bearers,’ baffled me completely. What was I supposed to write? There were so many alternatives that I was afraid that I would write the wrong thing.

   Hopeless and expecting a lengthy detention come Monday afternoon from Umbridge, I retired back to the common room to get the boys before we met up with the rest of Dumbledore’s Army.

   After I placed my books in my room and changed into blue jeans and a peach-coloured top, I found Justin and Zach sitting in the communal area, laughing and talking about something I was not concerned with.

“Hey, you two. Where’s Ernie?”

“He went looking for you. Library,” Justin said, standing up.

“Well, I’m here now. Let’s go. He can meet us up there.”

   Justin and Zach walked beside me up to the seventh floor corridor. My mind still on schoolwork, I asked vacantly, “Finished Umbridge’s homework yet?”

“Yeah,” Justin replied.

“Did mine last night,” Zach said proudly. “Why?”

  Biting my lip, I muttered, “No reason.”

   The staircase slammed into place and we hurried up, suddenly silent to avoid attracting attention from patrolling teachers or prefects.

   We slipped into the Room of Requirement without a fuss, the Room almost full, Harry, Ron and Hermione already preparing for another lesson. We walked through the other casually-dressed students to the corner of the room while Harry began to talk about how this was the last session before Christmas and New Year (there was an unhappy response) and that he’s glad everyone enjoys it and that we would go over everything again after the holiday and then launched into the spell we were practising next: the Leg-Locker Curse.

“It’s handy for enemies,” Harry continued beside Ron. “And seeing as a lot of us are underage -” He nodded towards some older pupils in their final few years, excluding them. “ - this is a good spell to use that won’t get you into any trouble with teachers or parents or the Ministry. It’s better to use a non-fatal spell when it’s not necessary than to use a fatal one and cause a lot of damage.” He turned to Ron and pointed his wand. Ron grimaced, waiting to be hit. “Locomotor Mortis,” Harry said firmly.

   Instantly, Ron’s legs sealed; he wobbled, tried to balance but then fell to the ground with a clatter. There was laughter, but Harry helped him back up onto a chair.

“What about the counter curse?” Padma asked, nervous.

“Who cares? Leave him like that!” One of Ron’s twin brothers called. I couldn’t tell which.

“Shut up, Fred!” Ron retorted.

“Erm … Hermione or some of the older students will perform the counter curse when you’ve done it and at the end of the session,” Harry explained.

   The elder students agreed to share the responsibility and, beside him, Hermione smiled, but I knew what that meant. He couldn’t remember the counter curse. That was funny. Harry was extremely talented at performing spells, but the reversals sometimes escaped him. Well, we were all human - and if you had Hermione Granger to help you out, I suppose it wasn’t much of a problem.

   The group separated off into pairs while Hermione unstuck Ron’s legs. The pair of them worked together while Harry floated off to work with Cho Chang, Ginny worked with Luna, the twins worked together, Fred and George, Parvati and Padma, Gryffindors with Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs with Hufflepuffs.

   Zacharias looked at me sadly.

“Sorry, Han, I’m working with Justin.”
 
“You’re just going to ditch me?”

“Ernie will be here soon,” Justin said. “Anyway, it’s your fault he’s late.”
 
“I didn’t tell him to - oh, forget it!” Grasping my wand, I gazed around the room at all of the people as the spells went flying around the Room. Nearly everyone was paired up. Nearly. I spotted Neville entering the Room, the door dematerialising behind him. All I thought about was working with him before I was left on my own.

“Neville!” I half-ran over to him, but noticed that he was already walking over to Dean. “Oh, sorry,” I muttered, embarrassed.

“It’s okay,” Dean said. “You can work with him if you want.”
 
“I don’t - Really? You don’t mind?” I looked between the two of them. Dean smiled happily while Neville looked partially stunned. “It’s just that Justin and Zach left me out and Ernie’s not here yet. I don’t mean to take Neville from you.”

“It’s fine,” Dean continued. “Unless you …” He looked at Neville.

“Oh, n-no,” Neville stuttered. “Yeah … erm … let’s do it.”

   Dean went off the work with Terry Boot while I walked slowly with Neville to the side of the room where there was space enough to practise. I explained what spell we were doing and also all that Harry had spoken of when the meeting began.

“I’ll go first,” I nominated. “Locomotor Mortis!

   Neville doubled over, legs fused together by my fast wandcraft. He fell straight to the ground and onto his face.
 
“I’m sorry!” Rushing to his side, I dragged him up, hoisting at his arms. My entire face went red. I had embarrassed him, I could tell. He was silent for a while, so I helped him hop over to Hermione, where she quickly undid my work.

“I am sorry,” I said again still lightly touching his arm.
 
“It’s okay,” he reassured, rubbing his chin and elbow. “Just surprised me, that’s all.”

  Breathing deeply, I relaxed a little. “Okay, your turn. Curse me.”

   Tucking my wand into my pocket, I stood opposite him, waiting.

  Neville hesitated. “Hang on.” He went to drag over a huge cushion that others were using for when people fell down and lost their balance. He positioned it behind me so that I could hopefully land on it once he cast the spell. As I said before, he was thoughtful and I didn’t fail to miss it.

   His hazel eyes sharpened as he focused and his grasp on his wand went tight.

Lomoco - Lo - Locomotor …
 
  Laughing, I said, “Neville, calm down. Nothing will happen if you’re so nervous.”

   I stood waiting, watching him as he stretched out a little, relaxed and focused on me and not the spell. His eyes struck mine with a loud blow. There it was, the connection between us was uninterrupted even as spellfire flew between us. I was waiting, patient yet impatient for him to hit me.

   And then his lips moved.

   I couldn’t hear the spell. My legs fused together. All I knew was that I felt tight, breathless all over and then I was falling. There was no balance left, no gravity holding me up. My body went down as if weightless, arms forgetting to save myself. And the strange thing was that they didn’t need to. He was there, faster than I could register, his arms catching me despite the fact that I would have had a soft landing. Neville became my safety as I fell to the side, my arms slipping over his shoulders as one of his hands held me under my arm, the other at my waist. Nobody else noticed. Why would they? It happened so fast that only the two of us really lived within the moment. I could smell him; he smelt of wool, cotton, fresh and homely. I could feel him; his arms were strong and sturdy, supportive. I could hear his breath next to my face; along with this came the thumping rate of his heart. He was afraid I would fall, but was that the only reason he was catching his breath and inhaling and exhaling as if he had run the length of the Quidditch Pitch? It wasn’t my reason. I wasn’t having heart palpitations because I thought I was going to hit the ground fast. My stomach was doing flips because a boy had caught me and caught me unawares. And of all the boys, it was Neville.

   Strange …

   He gently pushed me back to my feet and I held onto his shoulders to stay upright.

  My mouth forced a laugh. “You’re fast, Neville. Thanks.”

   He smiled back, but looked at the wall behind me, closing his eyes briefly because he was embarrassed. He was so adorable it hurt.

  Trying to break the awkwardness, I said, “That was really good, honest. I’m impressed.”
 
“No,” he said quickly. “I’m don’t usually pick spells up this quickly. I’m still having trouble with the Disarming Charm.”

  Sympathetically, I said, “I could help, if you’d like. You help me with Herbology and then we have a deal.”

   He took my outstretched hand and we agreed to help each other with our shortcomings, two underachievers trying desperately to keep up with the rest.
 


 
   Neville and I met up on and off over the next few weeks in the library and spare classrooms, him teaching me the ins and outs of Herbology (plus Charms, History and Transfiguration) while I helped him out with certain Defence spells. He got me through Umbridge’s essay just in time, saving me from a detention. We were both failing Potions to an extent and so we helped each other with that too.

   This so happened to be what we were working on in the library at around midnight on the last week of term in December, the night before each of our classes had our second and final attempt at brewing the Draught of Peace - but this time from memory.

“ … we use … er, we use … porcupine quills,” I muttered, one eye open, the other closed.

“Powdered porcupine quills,” Neville corrected. “You’ve got to finely grind them first. And the unicorn horn.”

  I nodded vaguely. “And the last thing is stirring the potion seven times clockwise and counter clockwise alternately and then add the syrup of hellebore. And then the steam should turn …?”

  Neville frowned and said cautiously, “Blue?”

“Silver!” My face fell onto Neville’s open copy of 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore. “There’s no point. Snape’s doing this on purpose. He’s already graded us on this.” Last time I got an Acceptable, just scraping a pass.

“Well, Snape’s just like that. Cruel to the core. Must be doing it to us just for the amusement of it all.” He paused. “Could I have my book please?”

  I sat up swiftly, brushing my fringe from my face and handed him the large book. “Are we done for the night?”

   Neville nodded after a long yawn and we slowly packed up, Madam Pince watching closely as we made our way out of the empty library.

   The castle was echoing as our feet walked out to the staircase, the only sound surpassing them was the loud clatter of the stairs meeting one another.

   We were silent for the most part. That often happened. Whenever we were out of things to say there would be a terrible silence between us, flies and spiders and breath making more noise than us. Dithering about on the landing of the third floor corridor did us no good either; figuring out how to say goodbye was never easy. The first few nights we parted with a mere goodbye, others with good tidings and anticipation for the next meeting … But here, now, our mouths were devoid of the right thing to say until -

“What will you be doing for Christmas?” I asked him, staring at my shoes. It was awfully difficult to talk to him considering the fact that we had only really been friends since a few months ago.

“My gran said I should stay at Hogwarts this time so I can use the library and study for the O.W.Ls.”
 
“Great. I’m staying too.”

“I’ll be gone for a few days at New Year though,” he added. “Just a few days.”

   Those last words were nice and so I wondered why he said them. Was it comfort or reassurance?

  Whilst I was in thought on this matter, Neville said, “Well … good luck in Potions.”

“What?”

“Good luck tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh, erm … you too. For tomorrow morning,” I replied, stammering. He began to walk away, but I continued to stare at the leather backs of his shoes as he took one step up towards his common room.

  He turned back, noticing my still figure. “Did you want me to walk you to your common room?” he asked kindly.

“Oh … no, that’s fine,” I told myself quietly. “You go on, Neville. I’ve kept you up far too late.”
 
“It’s no trouble, Hannah. Anything to help a friend.”
 

   I was sitting with Susie, Ernie, Justin and Zach on Christmas morning in the bustling Common Room. They were all talking about how happy they were with gifts from home and from each other, fawning over some new gadget or something, boasting and bragging, convincing the others that their gift was the best. Mine were nothing on theirs, it was true. My parents bought me some new clothes, more school supplies, a muggle romance book I’d asked for and some other little things.

   It was this book that I had grasped between my fingertips while my best friends talked over me, my mind focused only on the title of the book: The Beginning and End of Us.

   This struck me deep down where I never would have thought. Already, I knew the plotline. A couple, young and ambitious, lose something special, something great that had occurred between them, something which would have made things a whole lot better had their relationship started off that way to begin with.

   I feared reading it, scared to see who survived in the end. Months ago, I was so certain that I wanted to read this. Susan was starting a collection of muggle books and had told me of another muggle novel by the same author she had read filled with romance, love, scandal, adventure, sex, anger and triumph. I yearned some of that since my life so far lacked so much, but now I didn’t even want to turn the first page.

   Instead, I sat silently while my best friends talked over me.

“Yes, Susan, the necklace is nice,” Justin drawled. “We don’t need to see it again.”

   Susie had, within her grasp, a silver chain with a glittering ‘S’ on the end. She tied it around her neck and tucked the pendant beneath her jumper.
 
“Who bought it for you?” Ernie asked.

“No one,” Zach said quickly. “No one.”

   Susan turned red. So that meant Zach had bought it. I did not fail to notice this even though my mind was still elsewhere. An idiot would have noticed.

   Ernie and Justin did not notice.

   Justin came down to sit beside me by the fire. He grabbed my book.

“What are you doing?” I asked him angrily.

“I just want to see, Hannah, calm down.” He looked at the title and cover, a pair embracing one another against a backdrop of destroyed buildings and smoking countryside. “Didn’t know you were into war-time romance novels. And muggle ones at that. I think my mum reads these.”
 
   Ernie and Zach laughed with him as I snatched the book back and held it to my heart.

“Leave her alone,” Susie told him. “She wanted it so her parents got it for her. Just because you three can’t read, don’t take it out on her.”

“Hilarious, Susan,” Ernie replied sarcastically.

“You know you secretly want to be a Ravenclaw,” Susie replied lightly.

“I have never said that!” Ernie retorted.

“You did!”
 
“Didn’t!”

“Well you thought it.”

“Actually, you told me that in second year,” I muttered quietly as I stood up and made my way to my room. I just wasn’t in the mood for this boring talk today. I was actually quite sad, despite the fact that it was Christmas. All in the space of one day, I realised how unsatisfied I was with my life. I was close to failing most of my subjects, I was close to losing my best friend and I had no one to talk to about it all, not really. Ernie and Justin were great but never were ones to participate in serious conversations.

   Behind me, there was laughter as I skipped down the stairs and enclosed myself in my room.

 

  The Hogwarts students and I ate a lovely, warm Christmas dinner in the Great Hall later that day. The Turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy were all so delicious that I could hardly fit in anything else; ice cream, cakes and custard, tarts, trifles, homemade muffins, Christmas Puddings and Yule Logs were later presented by Professor Dumbledore once our first meal had aptly filled our stomachs.

   A roar of laughter suddenly erupted from the Gryffindor table, so I peered over as the group continued pulling Christmas Crackers and telling jokes despite Umbridge’s glares. Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys were absent, but the others were over there enjoying their evening.

“What is wrong with you today?” Ernie asked as he got stuck into a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

“Nothing,” I insisted.

“It’s Christmas. Lighten up,” he said.

   Smiling at him, he smiled back cheerfully, but a moment later my face became sad once more.

“You okay, Han?” Susie asked me. She laughed and the glint of her chain caught my eye.

   I shrugged.

“What’s up?” she asked more strongly.

“Just schoolwork, you know?” I said briefly.

“I thought Neville was helping you with that?”

“He is,” I replied. “Doesn’t change the fact that Snape and Flitwick and Sprout predict that I’ll get Acceptables in my O.W.Ls. How will I be able to do my N.E.W.Ts?”

“You will. Don’t worry about it, Hannah,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

“You have Zach, Susie,” I whispered quietly. “You won’t have time for me.”
 
“How did you know about that?” She nearly took my ear off as her hand went to the pendant hanging over her heart.

“It was obvious. And I’m your best friend. You shouldn’t have let me guess, you should have told me.”

  She glanced briefly at him on her left and then back to me, whispering, “I’m sorry. It was his idea to keep it quiet.”

“We wouldn’t have said anything,” I reassured. “I thought you didn’t care what Ernie and Justin thought?”

“Turns out people can be exactly what they think they’re not. On the outside, I’m confident, but really … I’m just a girl on the inside.”

   She could try to convince me that she would always be there to help, but this was life; people moved on, friends floated apart once the other sex got in the way and I would have to simply be content with the new Susie as she juggled her relationship with Zach and her friendships.

“I’m going back to the common room,” I told my friends. “See you later?”

   They all said goodbye, not one of them trying to convince me to stay. Typical.

   Annoyed, I walked down the middle of the Hall towards the doors through all of the exciting goings-on. One more annoyance and I would be mad at the world.

“Happy Christmas, Hannah,” Lavender called to me on the Gryffindor Table (although many people sat wherever they wanted).

  Smiling, I said, “You too, Lavender.” She was always so giggly, I thought absently. The mood was certainly jovial over on that table considering the days we lived in. Professor Umbridge and the prospect of exams usually dampened everyone’s mood but it seemed the festive season brought some much-needed happiness back to the castle.

   Neville, wearing a lopsided pink paper hat, looked back at me and caught my eye before I could even think about calling his name. He was smiling, but then he looked at me strangely as if I had my white Persian cat, Fudge, on my head or something.

“Are you alright, Hannah?”

“I’m fine.” Everyone was asking me that today and it was becoming quite exasperating.

  He must not have believed me because he said, “Do you have a minute?”

“Sure.”

   I followed him down the hall and outside into the Entrance Hall and it was only when I turned to face him that I realised he was blushing.

“Neville, we haven’t said anything yet,” I laughed.

“I know. I just realised that you talking to me happens a lot more often than I thought it would.”
 
“What do you mean?” I asked sadly.

“Don’t be sad,” he rushed. “I just never thought we’d actually be real friends. If that’s what we are …”
 
“Of course we are, Neville. Give yourself some credit. You are much more than you think you are. You’re funny, clever, you helped me with homework, carried my bag …”

   I had not reeled off so many compliments to someone I barely knew, but it just happened. What can I say?
 
“Erm - thanks.” He frowned at me. “Where did that come from?”

“Just wanted to say something nice, I suppose.” My stomach flipped.

  He took a step closer and said, “To be completely honest, it looks like you need cheering up, like someone needs to say something nice to you.”
 
“Any suggestions?”

  Neville looked at the ground and occasionally at me as he thought hard about what to say, his hand to his face. “I … erm - well … I like your - you …”

  A smile appeared in the corner of my mouth. He really had cheered me up without even trying. “It’s okay, Neville, I know one day you’ll find the right words.” Sighing, I said, “I really do wish we were friends sooner.”
 
“Me too, Hannah, but it happened now for a reason, I suppose. That’s what my gran says: ‘Life never gives you more than you can’t handle.’ And I think I can handle a belated friendship.”

“Well,” I smiled. “In that case, I can too.”

   We stood for a moment.

“I’m going to go to my dorm now,” I told him.

“Why?”

“I just don’t feel up to celebrating.” I paused. “And I need a break from my friends.”

  Neville laughed. “I get what you mean, but … erm … do you - do you want to sit with me - a-at my table for a while? I called you out here to make sure you were alright and seeing as you insist you are, I think you should at least stay,” Neville said to me. “Maybe you just need a change of scene.”

   Somehow, every sense in my body told me that it wasn’t such a bad idea to branch away from my friends, so I nodded and followed him back into the Hall. Susan was sitting beside Zach helping him to decipher a riddle that had appeared before them from a Christmas Cracker, her red hair and his blonde close, while Ernie and Justin were trying to see who got brain-freeze first from loading their mouths with ice cream.

   Shaking my head, I looked towards the table decorated with red glittering tinsel. The Patil twins talked with Lavender and many others were either eating or otherwise distracted by gifts or other things.

   I slid into the space between Padma and Dean, squeezed beside Neville, diving straight into a game of Wizard’s Chess, me and Neville against three first years, two girls and a boy. Neither of us experts, we would whisper our moves to each other before taking action, the first years doing the same.

   After those sneaky first years stole our Queen, I whispered into Neville’s ear, behind my hand, “I was not expecting that. I say we take the Bishop, sacrifice our Knight so that they take him, but then we check the King with the Rook once their Knight is out of the way.”
 
“Okay,” he whispered back.

  I laughed and said aloud, “You’re just agreeing with whatever I say!”

“No,” he lied. “Come here,” he beckoned. I leaned next to him and he whispered into my ear. “By the way, Merry Christmas.”

   Very very quietly, I whispered back the same message.

   We drew away from one another once one of the kids complained that we were taking too long, however, our eyes lingered, both of our faces turning red.

   In the end, we lost the chess match, but that was the least surprising thing to occur that Christmas.
 


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You Are The Reason: Hannah: A Compelling Mask

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