Chapter 16 : The Kissing Gate
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The frost that touched and tested the stones of Hogwarts Castle did not last much beyond first light and was almost gone as Luna looked out quietly from Ravenclaw Tower, her thoughts far in the distance.
Michael Corner broke the silence. "We'd better get going."
Luna nodded. "It's good of you to--"
"That's what the D.A. is for," said Padma sleepily as they headed out of the door, "though I hadn't expected such an early start."
She walked beside Luna, not speaking much, as they escorted her to the fourth floor corridor. Michael kept his distance, moving far ahead and pausing at each bend to look back. He held his wand ready, hidden under the folds of his robe but apart from a couple of wandering ghosts they didn't see anyone. When they reached the passageway he went to the far end and crouched in the shadow of a tall urn, looking back.
Padma stopped just before she and Luna reached the door to the disused classroom.
"You're not coming in?" said Luna.
"Ginny's orders," said Padma, offhandedly, tucking herself tightly against a pillar to one side of the door. "We'll be here when you come out - but concealed." She moved her wand and cast the charm upon herself. "Apparently there's a new recruit she doesn't trust yet to know everybody."
Luna nodded then entered silently; the others were sitting around a single candle flame hovering above four desks that had been pushed together. They had already begun discussions. She stood in the shadows near the door and watched for a while, assessing the new volunteer in the dim, flickering light.
Edmund Trevett was scowling as he looked around the disused classroom; he did not notice Luna in the darkness. An old wall clock tried to strike the half-hour but its chimes were muffled by years of grime and dirt. He shuffled his feet in the dust on the floor then turned back to the three students facing him.
"Well, I must say, I'm disappointed."
Ginny glared at him and was about to speak but Trevett continued, "Let me get this right--" He ran a hand through his thick, black hair. It sprang back neatly into place like the bristles of a soft, dark brush. "--you want me to consort with house elves, gain their trust? Why don't I just order them to tell me--?"
"Because they're on our side, you prat!" Seamus said. "They're friends, get it?"
"But they're just elves..." Trevett looked perplexed. "Then you want them to give me access to the headmaster's shampoo? Not for some grand takeover or assassination but... to turn his hair into a wig so we can humiliate him? It's plain childish. What good will that do?"
"It's part of the protest! A show of resistance!" said Hannah, flushing at their efforts being ridiculed.
"But we could use the opportunity to poison him - get rid of him for good!"
Ginny was shocked. "Are you out of your mind? We'd be no better than they are!"
"And You-know-who would be very upset, don't you think?" piped up Luna as she moved forward to join the debate. "We'd soon have lots more Death Eaters here and they would not bother about proof. Dumbledore's Army would be... finished."
Trevett looked startled. "And you are?"
"I'm Luna. I must say, you're not a very good spy. Don't you think you ought to be more... well, agreeable?"
"Luna!" cried Ginny.
"I'm no spy!" Trevett replied fiercely, rising from his seat. "Is that what this is about?" He looked around at the others and so did Luna.
"If he's a spy then he knows we're testing him and if he's not then it doesn't matter." Luna did not smile. She turned back to the Slytherin.
"They're going to kill me soon," she said. Her voice was quite flat. "--or worse."
Everyone was now staring at her.
"I'd prefer a quick death to Azkaban."
Trevett's dark eyes suddenly shone and he visibly sagged. He lowered himself down into his chair.
"I'm sorry, Edmund. That was cruel of me - I know about your friend but I don't have much time," she said. "You see, I have someone protecting me wherever I go - I'd like you to be permanently on that escort."
"Luna! Are you mental!" cried Ginny. "He's--"
"I want you to save me, Edmund."
Everyone was now looking at Trevett who was gaping at Luna in amazement. Eventually he nodded faintly. Finally, he stood up, walked to the door and opened it. He looked back at Luna for a few moments; then he slipped out, closing the door behind him.
"Well... that went well," said Seamus.
Padma stiffened. She silently cast a nudge charm in the direction of Michael then turned back to study the stealthy figure she had spotted lurking behind the statue of Destiny. All she could see were a couple of eyes glinting now and again. They seemed to be focused on the classroom entrance.
The door swung inward at that moment and Trevett emerged. He hesitated in the doorway before he finally closed the door and walked off slowly towards the stairway at the side of Destiny. The figure there dropped to a crouch and squeezed partly behind the statue, its eyes averted or closed. Trevett seemed preoccupied for he walked straight by and proceeded down the first few steps. There he stopped and flattened himself against the side wall.
Padma stifled a cry as she felt breath on her neck. "S'me," whispered Michael. They watched, fascinated, as Trevett crept slowly back up to the top of the stairwell and the dark figure came out from behind the statue and started to creep towards them.
They raised their wands but before they could do anything they heard the whisper "Incarcerous." The dark figure started to whirl around but was too late. It collapsed into a twisting heap as ropes entwined it, gagged but growling muffled expletives. Beyond the sorry pile, Trevett advanced, wand in hand. He raised his other hand, palm outward towards them. Despite being hidden by concealment spells, he seemed to know they were there.
Trevett backed off and obscured himself with the same charm before lighting his wand. As he crouched over the fallen figure, Padma let out a yelp and came over to them. "Neville!"
"Ah!" said Trevett, nodding invisibly to himself.
"He's one of us," said Padma, unnecessarily. "Sorry, Nev - what you doing, slinking about?"
Neville mumbled something from behind his gag and Michael chanted "Finite Incantatem," to reveal them all and release Neville.
"I was waiting for Luna to leave so I could speak to Hannah!" spluttered Neville as he clambered to his feet, rubbing his arms and legs. He looked at his assailant. "You must be Edmund Trevett - where'd you learn that trick?"
"My grandmother. She used to teach here long ago."
"Let me guess - Defence Against the Dark Arts?"
"How'd you know we were here?" asked Michael.
"This young lady's talc is scented - honeysuckle, peach, and bergamot, I think - and I felt the warmth of her body as I passed by."
Padma went scarlet and looked around as if searching for a hole in which to bury herself.
"Welcome to the D.A.," said Neville, reaching out and shaking Trevett's hand. "You've got my vote!"
There was the sound of a door handle and Neville scurried towards his statue. Luna emerged and looked around.
"Oh - I see you've all made friends." She leaned towards Trevett but she was gazing over his shoulder at the statue. "Tell Neville he can go in now."
As she, Padma, and Michael went off in the opposite direction, Trevett beckoned to Neville. "Girl trouble?"
"Something like that," said Neville. He shoulders drooped slightly as he recalled why he was there. He was extremely tired and the darkness beneath his eyes gave that away.
Edmund looked closely at Neville in the gloomy corridor. Neville had the feeling he was being evaluated. There was a long silence before the Slytherin finally spoke.
"So... you've broken off with her?"
"Kind of... It's a long story..."
"She's... She found someone else?"
"No, no - it's... complicated."
Edmund stared some more at Neville before finally turning on his heel and striding off towards the stairs without another word. Neville looked after him. What in Merlin's name was that all about?
As Neville entered the classroom, Seamus and Hannah were just coming out. Neville reached out to grab Hannah's arm but pulled back, self-consciously. "Hannah, can I talk to you? Have you got time?"
Hannah's eyes lit up. "Of course, Neville - we've got well over a quarter of an hour. What's--"
"Just give me a few minutes then we can go down to breakfast together." Neville suddenly realised how that sounded and his face went slightly pink.
Now Hannah unabashedly took Neville's arm and turned back with him into the room. "You look dreadful by the way. Hangover?"
"Let's just say it was a long night - not to mention I met our new D.A. member outside. Being cursed before breakfast doesn't agree with me."
"See you later, Neville," smirked Seamus as he closed the door on them and walked away.
Ginny was still sitting down. Her head was turned away and her face was hidden by her long hair. She seemed startled when they came in.
"Sorry, Ginny," said Neville, "are you--"
"S'alright - I'm only sorting out my books for History class." Ginny suddenly became very interested in rifling through her bag and spilling out nearly everything in it. "I didn't quite finish my homework..."
She pulled out quill and ink and parchment and looked slightly flustered as she was trying to open two books at the same time. She looked up at Neville and Hannah. "Oh! Are you...?"
"I was just going to erm..." Neville began.
"We were--" said Hannah, "--going to... talk..."
"Oh - yes..." Neville's face lit up as he had a sudden inspiration. "Hannah, I was going to ask you if you knew where Hogwarts' old chapel room is."
Hannah looked surprised. "Chapel?" Disappointment clouded her features and she said rather sharply. "Never heard of it. There isn't one."
Neville looked dismayed and confused for a moment. Hannah seemed to pick up on that for her face softened and she sat down on one of the chairs around the cluster of desks. "Let's think about it for a few minutes..."
He sank down slowly into the seat between Hannah and Ginny, unsure how to proceed. Ginny wondered whether to excuse herself and leave them to it but she wanted some privacy to contact Harry. She had only sent half a message: A Slytherin wants to kill... She shuffled through some more of her books as if she were studying them but she was listening intently.
"There are supposed to be some ghosts--" offered Neville, trying to keep the sticky discussion going. Hannah's eyes lightened.
"Of course!" she said, "- we can ask our house ghost. If anyone knows about chapels, he should."
Ginny looked up. Hannah grinned at Neville. "The Hufflepuff house ghost - the Fat Friar - you must have--"
"Oh yes," said Neville. He glanced at Ginny. "Why didn't we think of that!"
Hannah turned to Ginny. "You're looking for this chapel too?"
"It's a... kind of... joint project, yes," said Ginny. There were a few seconds while everyone stared at everyone else.
"You look awful, Neville," said Ginny, to break the slight unease.
"Tell me about it," said Neville tiredly.
"Wait here," said Hannah. She got up quickly and went out, leaving the door open. Presently, they heard a low whistle and she came back in and stood by the door, smiling. "He's often up and down the stairs at this time of day."
He glided in through the wall. "No need to hold the door for me, young lady! - Ah, a committee meeting!"
"Friar, we were wondering... erm... Take a seat."
The Fat Friar bowed slightly towards Hannah for the courtesy and slipped through Neville onto the opposite vacant seat. Neville shuddered at the sudden chill.
"Hope this chair can stand my weight!" laughed the monk, clutching his portly sides and making them wobble.
Hannah rolled her eyes at the others. Ginny got the impression she had heard the joke too often.
"What we wanted to ask you, Sir," said Neville. "Do you know if there is a Hogwarts' chapel and where it is?"
The Fat Friar beamed. "Chapel? Oh yes, there certainly is - but where, I know not. I, myself sought it two hundred years ago as a young student. A little prayer can be a great source of comfort after a difficult Potions class you know! You should--"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Hannah, quickly. "If we could find it then--"
"But how do you know it exists?" said Ginny.
"Oh, it has often been mentioned through the centuries." The Friar's eyes looked distant. "It was pagan originally, of course, but seems to have disappeared shortly after it was converted and sanctified. What a waste! It would be nice to conduct a few services - perhaps a funeral or two."
"Disappeared?" said Neville. "You think it was magically hidden? Why?"
"No one knows. There was a... terrible tragedy." The old clock struggled to chime a quarter to the hour. The Friar's eyes suddenly opened wide. "Lord! Is that the time!"
He leapt up and glided backwards through the wall. "Can't miss breakfast for any--" His voice was cut off as he disappeared.
Ginny cried out in exasperation, "But he can't--"
"Eat - I know," said Hannah. "He's always like that. Just likes to torment himself watching I suppose. Probably why he's stuck here actually."
"So, we're no further forward," said Neville, gloomily. "We've searched the corridors and endless books..."
"Well, if it was pagan originally then perhaps we could see if there's anything on that in the library," said Ginny. She did not sound very hopeful.
"I suppose you've already looked through the one Padma gave you?" mused Hannah. "I can't really think of anything else."
"What one Padma gave me?" said Ginny.
"That pagan book she gave you."
Ginny shook her head. "She never gave--"
"It's right there in front of you," said Hannah, beginning to laugh and pointing at one of Ginny's scattered books. "Snape in a cooking pot, remember?"
Ginny stared down at a fat old tome titled 'Pagan Rituals and Ceremonies' and understanding started to dawn in her eyes. "That thing! I've been carrying it around all this time! No wonder my bag felt heavy!"
The three clustered around and turned a few of the thin, decaying pages.
"It'll take us a week to go through this," said Neville. He looked at the clock; they had less than fifteen minutes to get down to the Great Hall. Ginny drew her wand.
"Accio Page about Hogwarts Chapel!"
There was a tearing sound and a page ripped itself out from within the book and fluttered at its side.
"Oh," said Ginny. "I didn't think of that... I thought it would just open..."
"The book's only a copy, remember," grinned Hannah, pouncing on the loose sheet. She read it out loud as they all leaned in close, trying to read it with her.
"One of the finest pagan shrines was on the fifth floor of Hogwarts Castle."
Ginny's medallion trembled and she felt anxiety in Harry's kiss.
"Though very small, the heathen shrine was used for several centuries by a few students whose families still clung to the old ways."
Ginny leaned naturally towards the page and pushed Neville a little closer to Hannah before pulling quietly away; they didn't seem to notice her. Silently she stood putting away her books and pretending to listen to Hannah should either of them look up. But neither looking up nor moving their heads apart was something they seemed inclined to do.
"The Harken Tapestry records the conversion of the shrine to a chapel for more general use in 1413. Sadly..."
Ginny tip-toed out of the room and slipped behind the statue of Destiny to look at Harry's message:
I'm here - A Slytherin wants to kill who?
Ginny's head jerked back in shock and she quickly kissed her medallion:
Here? Where? What do you mean?
I'm at the gate.
Ginny was already running. She cast a concealment charm upon herself and raced down the stairs to the Entrance Hall. Students were beginning to throng towards the Great Hall for breakfast so she had to avoid a few collisions but within minutes she was outside and heading for Hogwarts' gate.
The dawn was gloomy - the sun hidden behind the Forest and thick, grey clouds. She could barely see the gate in the distance. Her heart was pounding. Harry is there! Harry is there! All thought of chapels, breakfast, lessons, the Carrows, even of surviving - all was forgotten in her blind haste to reach the one she loved above all else.
The curse which hit her came from the side. She struck the cold ground hard, her legs like jelly, and rolled, all the wind knocked out of her. Two figures approached.
"Homenum Revelio!" It was Draco. By his side was Astoria Greengrass.
"Well, well, well - if it isn't the Weaselette. - what you doing out here?" he snarled. "Up to no good I'll bet."
"It's not curfew now! I was out for a walk! Is that a crime, Malfoy?" said Ginny, tried to rub some stability back into her legs.
"Liar!" spat Astoria. "You were running! That's how we heard you! Why did you use a concealing spell then?"
"Because of people like you!" She gave up on massaging her limbs and reached for her wand.
"Expelliarmus!" The wand was barely in her grasp when it flew to Draco who caught it then gleefully swaggered about waving it in front of Astoria. "What shall we do with her, Astoria?"
"Apart from a month of detentions, you mean?" smirked Astoria.
"Give it back, Draco!" cried Ginny from the ground. "I've done nothing wrong!"
"I suppose you were running to keep fit? Is that your excuse?" said Draco.
"I was running because I didn't want to be late for breakfast, you prat!"
Draco looked quickly at his watch. "Hell - we'll miss it if we don't hurry, Astoria."
"The wand, Draco! You owe me!"
"I owe you nothing! We're quits, remember!"
"What's she talking about, Draco?"
"Nothing. Come on..."
"You've not told her?" said Ginny, sensing an edge she might use against him.
"Keep your mouth shut, Weasley."
"What's she mean, Draco?"
"It's alright - I told you about the Stone, Astoria."
"What's it got to do with her?"
"It was me that told him it was safe to use the Stone. It was me that brought you two back together."
Astoria stared down at her. Draco glared. He grabbed Astoria's arm and turned on his heel and headed back to the castle with her.
"My wand, Draco!"
"Consider yourself lucky you get no detentions, Weasley!" he called back.
Ginny scowled. Then she stopped and became thoughtful. Then she smiled to herself. It was not her own wand; it was the spare she had been using for the last few weeks. She rolled over onto her stomach looking in the direction of the gate. She began to crawl with her arms, dragging her useless legs behind her. It took only a few minutes of increasingly painful scratches to realise that an hour of worming along would not even get her halfway.
Luna Lovegood looked carefully at her D.A. galleon as she spooned alphabet creatures into her mouth. She wondered if Edmund Trevett was as clever as she had heard and as quick as she hoped. That he was watching her carefully from the Slytherin table she knew, so, once certain nobody else was observing her, she formed the word 'Go!' with her lips and flicked her eyes to the door.
Trevett had few friends even within his own house so he needed no excuses and no one was interested in his movements. Luna watched him leave out of the corner of her eye as she looked again at her Galleon.
Luna. Need your help. Urgent. Outside. Ginny.
After allowing a half-minute to disassociate herself from the Slytherin, she scraped up the unicorn swimming in the last few drops of sweet milk from her cereal bowl. The huge plateful of hot, buttered toast would have to wait. She cast a warming charm upon it.
Luna shared at least one thing with Edmund: she also could stand up, and fiddle with her bag, and even scrape her chair back, with few to take any interest in her. She spoke to Padma and Michael on the way out to tell them to stay and finish their meal because Edmund would accompany her.
Outside of the Great Hall, the moment she could not be seen or heard from within, she began to run and could see that Edmund was running with her. He asked no questions until they were outside the castle entrance.
Luna was scanning the ground and soon saw what she sought. "Edmund, can you wait here and watch out for me, please? Ginny needs my help; she may be badly injured. It looks like she's been attacked - she might need some... privacy."
She set off at another, faster run, the milk and corn puffs sloshing uncomfortably in her stomach, towards the figure laying on the ground. Edmund Trevett watched her go. The matter-of-fact way she had spoken of her friend being attacked was unnerving; and the body he could see lying in the distance confirmed it was no fairy tale. If he had had any reservations about the seriousness of her previous claims, he now dismissed them.
Luna saw a movement, an arm raised, and relaxed and slowed ever so slightly as she drew near.
"Hello, Ginny. That's a funny place to lie down."
"Looks like you're in a fix."
"Jelly-legs - and Draco took my wand."
"You missed breakfast," Luna said, setting down her plate of toast on the grass.
Luna looked about in surprise. "That's nice - I'm glad he's well hidden. Ginny - don't tell him about me."
Ginny looked puzzled. "Wh--"
"He has enough problems I'm sure without worrying about me."
Ginny nodded. "Luna - my legs if you would."
"Oh, yes, of course - Finite!" She gave an extra flourish with her wand that wasn't necessary but she enjoyed doing it and Ginny struggled up to a sitting position.
"That Trevett over there? - can you get rid of him?"
"Yes, we'll go back inside now. Enjoy the toast and give my love to Harry. Tell him I... No, just give him my love." Luna turned and walked back towards the castle entrance, signalling to Edmund that he should go back inside.
When Ginny reached the gate she had a wry smile for the young man on the other side who was removing his invisibility cloak.
"Ginny? What the hell was that all about? Are you alright? I couldn't do anything through these shields. What's going on? Who's being killed? Why--"
"Good to see you too."
Harry smiled. "I take it everything is OK again, Gin?"
"Sorry, Harry, I was interrupted when I was sending that message. I meant to say, 'A Slytherin wants to kill Snape - whatever next!' We have a Slytherin who wants to join the D.A."
"Are you mental? Have they--?"
"'Me mental? What about you! You're crazy coming here! Weren't there Dementors at the gate? And how will you get away?"
"Only two. And I can Disapparate from here because I'm outside Hogwarts." Harry was eyeing the plate of toast Ginny held.
"Hungry?" Ginny held out the toast.
Harry looked at it longingly through the protective charms that made the gate impregnable. "I wish!"
"Guess I'll have to eat it all myself then," grinned Ginny as she crunched on a slice.
"What was Draco up to? That was him wasn't it?"
"Playing the superior prefect as usual. He took my wand - don't worry, it was a spare. I've got my own stashed away."
"Foul git - I'll take his bloody wand one day - see how he likes it," snarled Harry.
He watched Ginny eat for a while. "Wish we could meet..."
"We are meeting," Ginny spluttered on her toast. "Merlin! This is really good!"
"It's not quite what I had in mind. I wanted to..."
"Wanted to what?" said Ginny nonchalantly stuffing herself. "Mmm... yummee!"
"Not had a proper snog in ages..." grumbled Harry.
Ginny burst out in a fit of giggles and nearly choked on her toast. She put the plate on the ground and came close to the gate, putting her hand to cover Harry's pressed up to the other side of the shield charm.
Her eyes widened. "I can feel the warmth! The heat comes through like the light!"
"But no touch..." said Harry, wryly.
"Come on, give me your other hand too - mine are cold from lying on the ground."
"It was frosty early on; your hands do feel cold."
Ginny pressed up close to the wrought iron and whispered. "But my lips aren't..."
The two lovers kissed through the protective spells of Hogwarts and looked into each others eyes. The moment came when it seemed the old castle wards relented to this affection and their lips really touched. Or perhaps it was simply old magic overpowering the new.
"Ginny... You know, there were a couple of times when we used the medallions... something happened."
"I thought that was you doing it."
"No, I think it's when we both kiss it at the same exact moment and... there's some pressing need - some strong emotion - it's like Legilimency - only feelings and words mixed together."
"I think we have a pressing need right now, don't you?" said Ginny.
They practised for quite some time before they got it right - and then they practised some more to make sure. Ginny suddenly pulled away, fear and confusion in her eyes.
"Hey - thanks, Gin - you're not bad yourself," grinned Harry, his face still pressed up to the metal, his lips puckering.
"No - I mean..." She backed further away. "I shouldn't have come!"
"Ginny? What's wrong?" Harry was alarmed now.
"You don't feel... ill... or anything?"
"Always with the sickness thing. Ginny, what's this about? Cards on the table, remember?"
Ginny's shoulders sagged and she looked thoughtful. "I never did tell you, did I?"
"Tell me what, Ginny! I know about the sword - you said."
"No - it was when we did that - Snape..."
"He... invaded my thoughts..."
Harry cursed and his face twisted into one of hatred. "I'll..."
"I had to put up a defence - so he wouldn't know your feelings for me." Ginny's eyes remained dry; she could finally talk about it unflinchingly. "I had to focus on my most powerful feeling - it was my worst fear - all those years when I thought you wouldn't ever... want me. It not only blocked him - it convinced him you didn't care about me."
Harry stared. "Ginny... I always cared about you."
"This was when you fell ill wasn't it - when you were in the hospital wing?"
"Yes. It... affected me. The pressure, the... intense focus of his mind - you know what it's like yourself - it multiplied that fear. My old doubts started hurting again... only far worse."
"Ginny - you need never, ever doubt me. I love you."
"I know..." Ginny gave a wry smile. "But I did something silly."
"There's a magical trysting stone deep in the Forest. I thought it would clear away the doubts - it did clear them away! But the Stone was cursed. I was scared it might have..."
"I'm fine, Ginny - really." Harry smiled and jerked his head to tell her to come near again.
"All that's behind us now. Look, I have to get back to Hermione. Feed the birds with your toast, Ginny. Even when I'm gone - you know we're always together."
Ginny smiled. "It'll be Christmas soon. I'll be at the Burrow. I always go for a walk every morning at ten and in the evening at five down the lane towards Ottery..."
Harry pushed his glasses back towards his raised eyebrows. "I didn't know that."
"Well, I've not started yet always going for a walk have I?" laughed Ginny, then her grin faded. "You've not got anything planned for Christmas, have you?"
"No - not even thought about it."
They shared one last kiss through the gate and after Harry had Disapparated, Ginny circled around the fringes of the Forest, throwing scraps of charm-warmed toast to the sparrows, wood pigeons and others. The tiniest of the birds fought with the best of them, risking the sharp beaks to get a share without much success. Ginny sat down upon the forest litter and coaxed it to the slice she held. As it fluttered gratefully onto her forearm and began pecking at the toast, a very large bird above Ginny attracted her attention.
"Audrey!" Ginny stared thoughtfully at the great tawny as she flew down to a low branch at her side and took the half-slice the girl offered. The owl brought no message but Ginny had her schoolbag with its quill and parchment - and there were still ten minutes until the first lesson...
When Ginny had left Neville and Hannah to go to Harry at the gate they had scarcely noticed. Deep down, it seemed to Neville that he had been working towards this moment for a long time but now he lost the will to move. He could see the words about the pagan shrine and hear Hannah speaking them aloud but all he was aware of was the soft breath that carried them; the delicacy of the hand that moved down the page; and the binding magnetism of her presence.
She stopped talking and they stayed with the silence. Neither of them knew or cared if she had reached the end of the text. Both were paralysed by the stillness of joy. Finally, Neville heard himself speaking.
"Hannah... what I really came here for..." he began. There was no hurry. To Neville, it seemed he had forever.
Hannah tilted her head slightly, the better to see his face. He was still so young but his features and his demeanour were reformed by old bruises and new challenges. There was a tiredness around his eyes though they were clear and unwavering as he returned her gaze.
"The real reason I cannot see Luna anymore... is because... my true feelings have been... uncovered."
He paused to give Hannah time to stop him if she wished, then he continued.
"Hannah, I've been wanting to tell you. " He sounded slightly formal, like he had the words prepared, but he only hesitated a moment at the edge of his courage, then dived in. "I've always liked you but the more we've talked together the more my... fondness for you is... has grown."
Hannah remained silent and for a few moments he wondered if he was mistaken about her - but he was prepared for this eventuality. "Would you... encourage my affections or--?"
Hannah smiled and spoke one word. "Wow!"
Neville froze as he realised what a prat he had sounded like then relaxed when he saw that Hannah was not laughing at him.
"You said all that really well." She meant it.
"I was up most of the night practising."
"I thought you looked weary - hope I'm worth it."
There was concern in her tone but whether for him or herself, Neville could not tell. He suddenly, desperately, wanted to hold her hand but instead gave her his broadest smile and trusted she saw her answer there.
"So... what d'you think?" he asked. "Would you, you know - we could do things together?" Then, emboldened by her lingering smile he added quickly, "Would you be my girlfriend?"
Hannah's Hufflepuff practicalness took over. "Would you still want to avoid letting Luna see us together?"
Neville frowned slightly but there was only one answer. "Yes... For now."
"And you think it's worth us trying to see if--?"
"I don't need to try, Hannah - I know."
"You thought that with Luna."
"So - now I know the difference. I love Luna - I'd do anything for her - but I'm in love with you." He instantly realised he'd said it without intending to. "It took magic to--"
"Magic cannot create love, Neville." Was there a flicker of doubt in her tone? Yet she was still smiling - and her eyes were now shining.
Neville reached down into his bag. He fumbled slightly then came up with an empty hand which he held out.
"Magic can reveal things though, Hannah - show you what's already there."
He murmured something very softly, like an ancient poem, and a small red rose appeared, laying across his palm.
"It's everlasting - you can crush it, destroy it, but of itself it will never wither."
Again, Hannah's mouth formed the word "Wow!" but this time no sound escaped her lips. She and Neville were still very close together. She took the rose then hesitantly breathed in its fragrance, all the while keeping her eyes on his face.
He laughed. "I've got nothing else rehearsed so I'll probably start babbling real soon. So... if you want to think about it... if... Erm..."
There was no time for her to think about it because she was in his arms before he finished speaking. They kissed and both felt a new purpose in their lives; a common centre they could share. The old clock dully struck the breakfast hour but they did not hear it. And Neville was finally holding Hannah's hand.
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