Dumbledore was gone, the DA disbanded and the evil witch was now our Headmistress, her grotesque face smirking happily at the top of the Great Hall, reminding us all of this madness during every meal.
“This has got to be Hogwarts at its worst,” I muttered aloud to no one in particular.
Everyone around me nodded, including Hufflepuffs I did not know. But no one spoke, as if afraid that she would overhear us.
The members of the DA had already suffered a week of lengthy detentions after she had found the list of all of our names in the Room of Requirement. And everyone was giving Marietta Edgcombe rude looks even with her covering the spotty ‘SNEAK’ written across her face with a scarf. Who would have known that a Ravenclaw would be the first to break? But we all weren’t really mad at her. We were mad at Umbridge and at Dumbledore for abandoning us.
“He isn’t gone for good,” Ernie said quietly as we walked away from the Hufflepuff vs. Slytherin Quidditch match before it finished. I had had enough of this lacking school spirit and wasn’t even in the mood for watching a match despite half of the school (even the Gryffindors) pretending that they were having a good time.
“I know, but … if he isn’t here, who do we have?” I said while as we approached the castle, the crowds cheering in the background. Umbridge had already gotten rid of Hagrid, Trelawney and Dumbledore at the same time as alienating the remaining teachers.
“McGonagall? Sprout? Most of the other professors?” he said.
“It’s not the same. And with the DA finished, I feel like I’m going crazy. She’s winning.”
“Just put all of your focus on exams for now. Then the school year will be over and we can go home.”
“And hopefully, when we come back next September, Umbridge will be gone.”
O.W.Ls came and went, just like the Weasley twins, remnants of the crafty wandwork left in the corridors. For once, I was confident that I had passed all of my exams, but whether I got and Es was another thing entirely. Rather than fretting over my academic ability, I got on with school life and the day to day of Hogwarts while under the rule of the High Inquisitor. I had written a letter to my parents and my mother gave me some great advice on just getting on with life and school and enjoying myself while I could. I planned to try.
I hadn’t heard from Neville in a while. I had wanted to find him to thank him once more for helping me, even though we were all caught in the end anyway. I expressed my thoughts to Ernie one evening as I sat on his bed in his dormitory.
“Have you seen Neville today?”
“No,” he replied stiffly. “Why would I?”
I shrugged. “Just wondered. I haven’t seen him for two days.”
“Didn’t realise that you had to see him everyday,” Ernie muttered while he took off his school shirt. I looked over his body, his smooth pale skin and, eventually, he pulled on a blue top.
“And I didn’t realise that bothered you,” I retorted firmly. “What is up with you? You’re so different nowadays.”
He sighed. “Exams? Who knows?”
“Please don’t take it out on me. I did nothing to hurt you.”
He smiled. “I know. Hug?”
Grinning, I held out my arms and he embraced me roughly like I was one of the boys, both of us falling down onto his bed. He touched the side of my stomach beneath my shirt but I ignored it; he always tried to touch me but I just put that down to him being a teenage boy.
The door opened.
Laughing, we sat up.
“Hey, Ernie, you’d never guess - What were you two doing?” Zach asked, smirking.
“Hugging it out,” I replied. “Ernie was getting jealous.”
“I was not,” Ernie told him, holding my arms behind my back. “What’s happened?”
“Oh, erm, Susan just told me that she was coming from the library earlier when she bumped into Dean and he told her to tell Hannah that Neville is at St Mungo’s.”
“What?” I tried to shuffle away from Ernie but he still held my hands.
“Yeah, he’s alright though. Apparently, he went with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Luna Lovegood to the Ministry of Magic and got into a huge fight with some Death Eaters and -”
“Death Eaters! But Neville’s not a good dueller …”
“That’s not the worst of it, Hannah.” Zach held up the Evening Prophet where the thick black letters said ‘HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED RETURNS.’
“Oh my God,” Ernie muttered beside me.
It was now official; the whole Wizarding World knew now. And although we had all been aware of the truth for a year, this suddenly made it all real.
“Apparently he was in London too. A year later and the world finally accepts it. I can’t imagine how Harry’s feeling …”
“Fudge’ll definitely be out,” Ernie analysed.
I stood up, shocked and afraid. “Let go of my arms, Ernie.” He did not. “Let go!” I dragged myself away from him.
“Where are you going?” he asked as I went to the door.
There was no need to answer because he knew where I was headed.
Not caring about the curfew, I ran out of the Common Room, ran up the staircase right to the top, ran through the seventh floor corridor and finally stopped outside the Gryffindor Common Room and the portrait of the Fat Lady.
“I need to get in,” I told her, catching my breath.
“Password?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know the password!” I yelled. “I’m not even in bloody Gryffindor, I just need to talk to somebody!”
“Well, young lady, I’m sorry. I can’t let you in if -” The Fat Lady swung across and Dean and Seamus came out. It was nearing eleven and they looked wide awake.
“What’s happening?” I asked, scared.
“It’s okay, Hannah,” Seamus said, “we’re just meeting Neville and Luna in Dumbledore’s office.”
“I thought nobody could get in after - Wait, Dumbledore’s back?” I asked, stunned, as I walked with them down the stairs.
“Yep, but McGonagall is meeting us there. Dumbledore’s still in London with Harry,” Dean said. He then ran through what he knew had occurred. Apparently Neville was with Ginny and somehow they went to London with Harry and his friends. McGonagall had told Dean in brief detail what had happened, that some of them had passed through St Mungo’s and told him to come down to the office to welcome Neville and Luna.
We went up the moving staircase, knocked on the office door and were told to come in by our Transfiguration teacher.
“Now, please, all of you, do not be alarmed when they return - which should be any moment now via portkey. They have been through an ordeal which they probably would appreciate not being questioned about.”
“Is Ginny okay?” Dean asked.
“Why were they in St Mungo’s?” Seamus asked. “They aren’t seriously hurt, are they?”
“No they weren’t. Just cuts and bruises. The others required more care from curses but nothing serious. As you know, Professor Dumbledore is with Harry in London dealing with the Ministry and the press. Please make sure that Mr Longbottom and Miss Lovegood get to their common rooms safely and do not badger them. They’ll get enough of it in the morning once this all gets out.”
“Yes, Professor,” we all chorused. I was so relieved that everyone was okay.
A moment later, Neville and Luna appeared beside the desk holding a rusty candelabra. Instantly, I rushed to Neville and just looked at him. He seemed fine, healthy, only he had a mixture of emotions written all over his face: pain, anger, fear, sadness as well as relief.
“Are you two alright?” Dean asked after the candelabra fell to the ground.
Luna nodded. “I just need to sleep for a while.”
“Well, I’ll take Luna to her common room,” Dean offered. “I’ll catch up with you guys in a bit.”
He left the room with Luna following beside him quietly.
“How do you feel, Longbottom?” McGonagall asked him.
“Neville, what happened? I just found out that you were in London and I was so worried! For a moment there, I thought -”
“Miss Abbott, I said not to bother him!” McGonagall barked at me.
“I’m sorry, Professor. I just don’t like not knowing things …”
“Please, at least leave him alone until tomorrow,” McGonagall ordered, knowing that I would not stop until I got answers. “Get to bed.”
We left the office silently, Seamus a few paces ahead of us, knowing that I would want to talk to him.
I looked at Neville and the pale expression on his face.
“Why did you go?” My voice shook.
“My friends needed me,” he replied quietly. I needed him too.
His clothes were ripped and dirty, his wrist was bandaged and there was a large dried bloodstain on the arm of his shirt and some splashed down his front.
“How did that happen?” I asked, afraid to hear the reply.
“My - erm - my nose was bleeding.”
“What’s with all the questions?” he asked.
“I’m concerned about you. There were Death Eaters there, Neville, and, let’s face it, you’re not that good at magic.”
Seamus looked back at us, sensing the shift in Neville’s attitude. “I’ll see you in the common room,” he told Neville, who had stopped walking up the steps.
Seamus left and Neville turned to me stiffly.
“I’m not good at magic?” he said, staring at the ground. “My entire family have spent my whole life teasing me, saying that I’m practically a Squib … I just survive dozens of Death Eaters and you’re saying that I’m -”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I replied quickly, upset with myself. “I meant t-that I was scared something had happened to you. You’re my friend and I care about you.”
He did not move and I was afraid that he did not believe me. After all, I cared for him just as much as I did Susan or Ernie; he was fast becoming my best friend although I would rather not admit it.
“Here you are, blood all over you … You were in the same place that You-Know-Who was. Don’t you expect me to be a little agitated? Anything could have happened to you.”
“Well, it didn’t, Hannah. Harry’s godfather was killed, Ron was cursed, Hermione was cursed, Ginny was injured, but nothing happened to me. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Neville … why are you being like this?”
“Being like what?”
“Rude. Mean. This is not like you.” My heart quivered.
“Well maybe you don’t know me as much as you thought!”
“So tell me about you,” I yelled at him. “Clearly there’s something you want to say, some deep dark secret you want to get off your chest, so spill it!”
He finally looked at me, nothing but pain translating back to me, tears forming. “Years ago, a gang of Death Eaters, including Bellatrix Lestrange, tortured my parents into insanity. Before I really knew them, they were taken away from me, not dead, but not even knowing the difference between their own son and a doorknob. Do you have any idea how that feels? To live my entire live with them but without them, while everyone else’s lives are so straightforward?”
“No, I -”
“And the moment I found out they had all escaped Azkaban I wanted to hurt somebody, everybody. I wanted my revenge and I had my chance tonight. She was there, attacking me, trying to hurt me, taunting me about them and all I wanted was for her to die …”
“Neville, I’m so sorry.” I never realised how hard it was for him every single day of his life. In the past few minutes I had learnt all about him, about his childhood and everything he had been struggling with, alone. Hopefully, now that I knew, I would be there for him when he needed me. I could not imagine if something like that happened to my parents.
“You have no reason to be sorry, Hannah.” He sat down on the steps and I sat beside him, watching him carefully. “I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself down to her level.” He laughed pitifully shaking his head. “Besides, I couldn’t even cast a simple Stun Charm.”
“You can, you’ve done it so many times before,” I encouraged.
“But not when it mattered.” He sighed.
“Fear can get the better of us. I’m glad you didn’t confront Bellatrix,” I told him softly. “It wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to do anyway.”
“I’m not stupid,” I said defensively.
“No, but actions can be stupid even if a person isn’t. Could you imagine what might have happened if you did?”
We sat silently for a moment, imagining.
“You’re right. I couldn’t do something like that. I just couldn’t …”
“I know.” I shuffled closer to him. I didn’t know what he had wanted to do, and I doubt he did, but it couldn’t have been good.
“I really don’t know why I’m a Gryffindor. I’m not brave or courageous. At all.”
“Of course you are. It took guts to even get to London, let alone to fight off all of those Death Eaters and being so close to Voldemort. And it took bravery to decide not to exact your revenge on Lestrange.”
“I suppose,” he said, unsure.
I was suddenly reminded of what Susie had said to me weeks before. “But, sometimes, it’s okay to just be a boy. A brave person can be bold and take risks even if they don’t necessarily end up the way you intended. You can be vulnerable and make mistakes. Just don’t let those mistakes be the ones you end up regretting.”
Neville smiled strangely at me, tears still glistening in his eyes. “What?” I asked.
“You surprise me,” he said. “Just when I thought I was getting to know you, you come up with all of these wise words.”
“I am full of surprises. I have been told so.” I smiled. “But, seriously, Neville, don’t sell yourself short. You do that a lot.”
“You do. I don’t know, maybe you would have been suited off in a different house. Hufflepuff maybe. We are the best.”
Neville didn’t cheer up as I thought he would, even when implying that he would be better off closer to me. “I wasn’t meant to be a Gryffindor …” he mused.
“Neville, haven’t you been listening to me?” I half-shouted while I placed my hands on his face and turned it to mine. “Bravery isn’t measured by success, it’s measured by how often you try even when things seem impossible, by persistence and by the strength of your heart and of your soul. Nothing more than that is expected of you, of anybody. Who cares if you can’t perform a spell? All that matters is that you try because, eventually, all that you’re owed in life will come to you.”
His face softened as he finally stopped finding a way around my words. “The one thing I am is persistent.”
“Yes,” I said smiling. I was so proud of him. “Hug?”
One of his arms came around me as we cuddled on the steps, forgetting about the things we should have been most concerned with. We forgot about Umbridge’s departure, about Dumbledore’s reappearance and, most importantly, that You-Know-Who’s presence meant that life as we knew it would never be the same.
Not that I didn’t mind the miniscule dose of fame that was bestowed upon me, but all of the random Hufflepuffs asking me about Dumbledore’s Army was a bit much. Word got out in school about the secret organisation and Harry’s return to the castle after You-Know-Who’s sighting sparked that old flame again. First years would follow my friends and I around, asking to see some of the spells we were taught by Harry. Susan and I were worried for him, Ron and Hermione. Harry was shut up inside Gryffindor Tower and I hadn’t seen him since before he went to London. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through losing the last family member he had. I had offered to bring Harry some food from the Great Hall and so I got some sandwiches and a drink and passed them along to Neville to give him.
“Is he okay?” I asked Neville outside the Gryffindor Common Room.
“I don’t know. He says he’s fine but …”
“Let him know I said hi, okay?”
He nodded and left me standing alone.
One evening a week later, in the Hufflepuff Basement, I sat quietly between Ernie and Justin while they conversed, but my ears only pricked up once they got to a topic of particular interest for me.
“Relationships never last in school,” Justin told Ernie who was convinced otherwise. “The chances of having a successful one is, like, a million to one!”
“No,” Ernie said, “plenty of people’s parents’ have met at Hogwarts and had long marriages.”
“That doesn’t mean that they are happy. Besides, mine didn’t.”
Justin smiled, smug. “The point is, lifetime love and marriage is rare. Even summer romances are not sustained because of the distance.” I wondered whether he was speaking from experience. It wouldn’t be the first time that a friend did not tell me about a relationship.
“But when they’re at school -”
“It’s like living together before you’re ready. Too much time together. Either that or they’re busy with schoolwork. Friendships sometimes don’t even last the summer break.” I knew that was true.
“That is ridiculous! Tell him, Hannah!”
I pretended to think for a moment but I knew who I agreed with. “Ernie’s right, Justin.”
“Thank you!” Ernie said, exasperated.
“Relationships can and have worked. Even in the muggle world, I guarantee most relationships happen because of school whether it is with schoolmates or through connections.”
Ernie smiled triumphantly while Justin looked sceptic. I had the feeling that Ernie thought I agreed with him for some other reason but that did not show on my expression.
“Now if you two will excuse me …”
I rushed out of the Common Room and down the steps to my dormitory where Leanne and Susan were trying to pack their trunks; there was clothes everywhere.
Hopping over the mess, I sat on my neat bed, where my trunk was packed and leaning against it, ready for when the train took us all back to London tomorrow morning.
“Still not done?” I asked.
“Nope,” Leanne muttered, folding her clothes. “I think I have double the amount of things I came with.”
Not caring particularly, I thought of Neville. “Hey do you guys think I should -?”
“Should what?” Susan asked.
I wanted desperately to ask Neville for his address so that I could speak with him during the summer, so that our friendship could stay in tact; I did not want Justin to be right about that or a lot of things. Also, he had been through so much and I wanted to make sure that he was okay.
“Do you think I should wear heels or flats tomorrow?” I couldn’t possibly let Susan know that I wanted Neville’s address. It was Neville, after all.
Susan laughed while Leanne rolled her eyes.
“If you’ve got someone to impress, heels,” Susan said.
“I’m afraid I don’t,” I replied.
“May as well wear them anyway. Why not?” Leanne added. “You never know what might happen.”
And so, foolishly, I hobbled to the Entrance Hall the next day with my trunk, balancing in my high black shoes that my mother had bought me last summer. I wore a fancy blue dress with them, tying my hair up.
I grabbed Susan’s shoulder. “This was a bad idea,” I whispered to her.
“It was not,” she said back. “Most of the boys can’t keep their eyes off you. You look like a woman. And they haven’t seen us girls dressed up since the Yule Ball.” Ah yes, the Yule Ball. That was a joke. Susan went with Zach, while I went with both Ernie and Justin; it wasn’t the best arrangement.
“I don’t want them to look at me!” I muttered harshly into her ear.
“Too late. Even the Slytherins are taking a peek.” My eyes avoided Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy.
Blushing, I turned to Zach. “Could you take my trunk please?”
“Sure.” He pulled my trunk out of the doors and down to the courtyard.
“I’m going to kill Leanne.”
It took us about twenty minutes to get to Hogsmeade Station in those infernal shoes and the one thing I did not want was for Neville to see me like this. Not because I liked him, because I didn’t. I didn’t want him there because all of the rest of my friends had already seen my humiliation.
Susan stepped onto the train. I was about to follow her when I noticed Neville approaching with Dean and Seamus in tow. Missing the step, I tripped and fell on my chest into the train, legs flailing out after me.
Wailing, I let Susan pull me up. My entire face looked like a beetroot.
“Did anybody see me?”
“No, Hannah,” she replied, grinning, “only everybody in this entire compartment.”
Seething inside, I ripped the shoes off my feet and threw them onto the platform, then went to find a seat with my friends.
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