All of the talk around me somehow dissolved into nothing as Neville approached. At the same time, all I could feel was Ernie’s arm around my waist; there was no way that he would budge easily.
I saw Susie look between Neville and I, biting her lip, nervous. There really was no need.
“Shall we - erm - go?” Susie tried.
Neville was opposite us now, but he didn’t say anything. In the background, I saw all of his friends on the Gryffindor table watching anxiously.
“Hannah just got here,” Ernie expressed, eying Neville sternly. His words seemed more guarded than the arm that kept me close to him. I licked my lips.
“Still,” Zach interrupted, “we have all night to talk with her.” I think it was plain to see that Susie had told him what she thought about Neville and I.
I glanced at Neville.
“Hannah …” he muttered, ever so quietly.
Without thinking, I asked, “How’s Luna?”
Susie sighed and her head hung low. I had said the wrong thing. No ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’, just a rude comment about another girl, stemming only from jealousy.
In my head, it was supposed to be a joke - and I was supposed to be smiling, but in actuality, my face was as serious as it could be. I felt so bad and I looked at the ground for a moment, feeling the sting of my words.
Neville frowned sadly and tried to speak. “What …? Hannah, I …”
I wanted so desperately to apologise, but not here in front of my friends. That would be even more embarrassing than what had just occurred.
Ernie and Justin looked at each other and then me. I just wanted them to go.
Looking into Neville’s eyes as sincerely as I could, I asked quietly, “Can we talk?”
Before he even replied, I slipped away from Ernie’s grasp (even though he was reluctant to oblige) and began to walk out of the castle. The sky was still bright as it was only after five, so I continued on, listening for Neville’s footsteps behind me. He was right there, following me out and I did not want to imagine what my friends thought. And when I took a moment, I felt that I did not care what they thought. None of this had anything to do with them.
The courtyard was almost empty as we walked through it, but we continued on. As I went down the bridge, I had to turn around, to see if he was still with me. He was. So I stopped and waited for him to reach my side.
“Neville. I’m so sorry.” I wanted to hug him but I withdrew.
But he took my hands and pulled me into him. I rested my head on his chest and I felt his chin on my hair.
“You haven’t sent me a letter in months,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry,” I squeaked. “But I couldn’t, I -”
“And you never told me that you wanted to see me.”
“I said I missed you. I thought that was enough to -”
“I don’t like Luna Lovegood.”
That meant that he liked me. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.
I said nothing but my heart thumped hard, speaking volumes more than my mouth could. I was struggling to breathe.
“You have carrot - o-on your …” I pointed at his chin and then dusted it off with my fingers.
Neville went a little red but continued on. “Thanks. How are you and your dad?” he asked as we gazed out to the mountains and the hills around the bridge.
“He’s better, I think. He let me come back.”
“I don’t know. I cry a lot less than before. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with myself, to be completely honest.”
“You look a lot skinnier.”
“Oh … hadn’t noticed. But I guess eating wasn’t really a top priority of mine. Plus my dad’s food tastes like crap.” He just nodded. “What about you and your grandmother?”
Neville smiled, as though shocked that I had asked. “She’s fine. I’m fine.”
“I heard differently.”
“I’m okay now … now that you’re back.” My cheeks heated up. “Are you leaving this evening?”
“No!” I moved away from him to look into his eyes. He seemed relieved. “My dad said I can stay for a few nights. He’s visiting his parents in Wales. My exams are all in the next three days and I have lots of assignments to hand in, so …”
“How has it been, studying at home?”
There was only one word to describe it. “Lonely. But then again, it makes me focus more. I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve missed being here so much but then I’m glad that I was away for a while. It certainly has made things a lot easier to deal with.”
I watched as a group of students walked by us, laughing.
“I’m glad.” He took my hand and lead me to down the bridge and out on the hill, where we made our way to the lakeside. His hand in mine didn’t feel as strange as before and it was a feeling I missed.
“Have you learnt to fully Apparate yet?” I asked curiously as we walked.
“Yes, actually. I’ll be taking my test in the summer.”
“I don’t know if I ever will,” I mused.
“Well - I may leave it a few years. It has never appealed to me.”
“I don’t think anyone finds Apparition appealing.” He chuckled.
“You’re right.” We sat down beside the lake, opposite each other with legs crossed. I linked our fingers together. His were soft and long albeit a tad sweaty. He was nervous but I was fairly calm; I knew what I needed to do and what I needed to say.
“You know, I never really noticed you before,” I told him. “You were just that clumsy boy, that Neville Longbottom.”
“Nothing special?” he asked.
Smiling, I agreed, “Nothing special.”
“And now you’re one of my best friends,” I answered honestly.
“Wow,” he said quietly, his voice a bit nerdy - in a cute way. “Wow.”
“What is it?”
“It’s nothing, I just … I still remember last year when we barely spoke … and then the next thing we knew, we were both in the DA. It gave everyone a common purpose.”
“I miss it,” I admitted. “I still have the fake galleon and I wish it would alert me to our meetings sometimes.”
“Me too. But mostly, I’m just glad Harry did it. Because, if - if he didn’t, I would have never gotten so close to you. You’re my best friend too.”
“You don’t think we would have become friends?”
“I’m not sure, but, for now, it doesn’t really matter much. We’re here now.”
“Yes … we are,” I said slowly.
He was going to say something, I know it, but there was this look in his eye. He watched me carefully while I sent a burning gaze back at him. We were here. This was now. There was no turning back. Last time we were in a situation like this, things went badly and I had wanted to change it ever since. There may not be a tomorrow, Neville reminded me of that himself, so why not kiss him like I had wanted to? It was an experience I felt that I needed and especially from him. I had never been kissed before and it was only fitting that he gave me this one thing.
My hands went shakily from his arms up to his shoulders while I got up onto my knees. He barely touched me and just sat still as though he were afraid. His hands held my elbows while mine found the back of his neck. The hairs were short and prickly there but they definitely stood on end. He was exhilarated too so why wasn’t he reciprocating, why wasn’t he holding onto my waist? That was supposed to happen, wasn’t it?
Our faces were level now, and I moved closer to his mouth. But then he moved away from me, the slightest movement making me feel the most embarrassed I had felt in all of my life. I leaned my head to the side, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” When he did not reply for a while and looked away, I did too, letting my hair fall over my face. “Neville … please …”
“No, I don’t think you’re ready.”
Somehow, I found it in me to tell him something I had only ever told myself. “Neville … I - I am so insecure. I just need you to -”
“Your mum just died, Hannah. You probably don’t want to really rush -”
I rolled my eyes and stood up. “Please don’t tell me how I’m feeling. I’ve had that so many times already.
“I’m not telling you. I’m just trying to help.” He got up and ran after me as I strode back up the hill towards the bridge. “Hannah, I really care about you and I want to tell you before we just - we just go ahead and -”
“So tell me.” I stopped in the middle of the bridge, waiting. But I wasn’t being confrontational. I was genuinely ready to hear.
He caught his breath. “Ever since we went to Hogsmeade together, probably before then, I knew how I felt about you, Hannah. And the thing is, everyone else knew as well. I really really care about you and that is why I don’t want to do this now. I don’t know whether you want to ki - I don’t know whether you want to do this because it’s easy or because it’s right.”
I understood him, I really did, but it didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. I knew that he cared because I cared just as much about him.
That didn’t stop me from turning away from him and walking towards the courtyard.
“It’s fine, Neville,” I said as I walked. “I get why you said what you said.”
“Please don’t be mad at me,” he said as he fell into step with me.
“I’m not.” I kept walking briskly as water began to accumulate behind my eyes. Blinking them away, I tried to smile at him. Could he see the drops hanging in my lashes like flies caught in a web?
“You are.” Neville looked distraught, as though he regretted everything he said. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to be. Forget this ever happened.”
“But it did,” he said as we ascended the steps.
I glanced into the Great Hall. Dinner was still commencing, so I continued on towards my common room. I stormed down the corridor, hair flying behind me, fists clenched, trying not to burst out into tears. I wished I wasn’t like this, but I was. I was an insecure, sad teenager who just wanted some kind of reassurance.
“I know you probably wanted some kind of reassurance, but you don’t need that from me,” he told me from behind, as though he could read my mind. “Hannah, please, stop walking!”
He caught my hand with his and gripped tightly. It killed me to face him. My eyes were watering so much that if I blinked I would be a crying mess.
“What?” I asked of him.
“Please don’t cry because -”
I blinked, and multiple tears fell. “I’m not crying because of you. I - I just need time to think over a few things. You were right. You were totally right, I need to figure out what I want. Even if I think I already know …”
But I was sure that I knew.
My head hurt …
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” he told me.
“You didn’t. I suppose I needed the rejection really.”
“Don’t be like that,” he begged of me.
I wiped my face with my arm, letting most of the tears leak onto my shirt to hide my sadness from him.
“Please, Hannah, I’m only doing this b-because I -”
“Goodnight, Neville.” I turned towards my common room.
“Are you okay? I can’t let you leave if you’re not okay.”
“I’m fine. Goodnight.”
Disappearing into my common room, I heard him kick the wall.
Four hours later, Leanne came into our dorm to find me laying over the edge of my bed, lacking life.
“Hey, Hannah,” she said quietly. “How have you been? I missed you being here.”
I sat up to give her a hug. “I’ve been okay.”
I plopped back down on my front and sighed.
“Well, I’m glad you’re back. This empty bed has been creeping me out for weeks.” The other girls came in, including Susie, all prepared for bed.
“Trust me, I would have loved to come back sooner, Leanne, but …”
“I know.” She smiled. “But anyway, I came to tell you that Ernie wants to see you in his dorm.”
I cringed. “Why?”
“I dunno,” Leanne replied. “He didn’t say.”
“I am not in the mood for him right now,” I muttered to myself, annoyed. I rolled over and buried my face in my pillow. “He can wait. I have five professors to chase down tomorrow.”
“He said it was urgent,” Leanne called from her bed.
Huffing, I stood up and changed into my blue nightdress and then pulled on some socks. “It better be important.”
As I got to the door, Susie called me and we stood outside the dorm whispering.
“What is it?” I asked, knowing what was coming.
“What happened with Neville?”
“Something and nothing,” I said, with emphasis on the ‘nothing’.
“Hannah, I know that you two -”
“It doesn’t concern you, Susie. Honestly.”
“But it concerns me when you want his address? Don’t pull that with me, Hannah. I know something is up.”
“Nothing is up. We walked to the lake. We walked back. That is all.”
I left, genuinely upset that my closest friend thought I was a liar, but I had told the truth really. In some way.
Passing through the common room, I kept my eyes down. I took the steps to the boys’ dorm two at a time and, when I entered, Ernie embraced me in a tight hug.
“I can’t breathe … You’re smothering me!” He held on. “Ernie, let go!” I chuckled lightly and sidled over to his bed. He sat beside me grinning like an idiot.
“I thought we weren’t talking after what you said before. On the way to Hogsmeade.”
Copying my words from that day, he said, “I’ve grown up. And I’m sorry for saying those things. I was really stupid.”
“Listen, if you’ve called me in here just to tell me how much you missed me, I already know. I may as well go back to my -”
“But I have, Hannah. It has been so … terrible without you here. How were things at home?”
I gulped. “Good.”
“Don’t lie to me.” He took a moderate pause. “I know that your mother dying must have been a huge thing to get over.”
“No, you don’t. And who said I was over it?”
“Of c-course,” he stumbled. “I mean, no one gets over the death of a parent. If it helps, my great-uncle passed away when I was six and I didn’t speak for ten months.”
“You’re kidding ...”
“Not a word until before my seventh birthday. My family thought I was having a breakdown because I was really good friends with my great-uncle Ed.”
“Why didn’t you tell us this before?” I wondered aloud.
“Wasn’t really necessary to say so.”
I nodded. “I didn’t receive any of your letters.”
“I didn’t send any,” Ernie said honestly. “What would I have said?! That I would have done anything to get you back in the castle?”
“Okay, Ernie, this is getting weird …” He was really acting up. When did he ever acknowledge any human feeling or emotion? The answer was rarely.
He ignored me. “I don’t know, I just didn’t think I could. Either that or I was afraid that you wouldn’t reply.”
“I replied to Susie,” I told him. “And I would have written to the rest of you guys if I wasn’t so busy doing essays. Trust me, it’s much harder without being taught the information by an expert …”
“I heard you wrote to Neville.”
“You mean, you asked Susie and she told you the truth?"
I shrugged. “So?”
“So … I was curious as to why.”
“He understands … the situation.”
“I don’t think that is any of your business,” I told him bluntly. “Is there something else that you really want to ask me, Ernie?”
He inhaled. “Is Neville your boyfriend?”
I had no problem answering that. “No.”
“Good - I mean … erm …”
I stared at him deeply and could have laughed in his face. He was blushing and I recall that he had once told me that ‘Ernie Macmillan did not get embarrassed’.
“Ernie, you do realise that you look ridiculously uncomfortable right now, don’t you?” I asked him, stifling laughter.
“Do I? Oh …” He flattened down his short blonde hair and looked at anything but me. He was ridiculous. If he liked me, why didn’t he just -
“I really like you, Hannah. Like, really really like you. In that way.” Well, at least someone was being straight with me for once. And I really appreciated it today.
I took his hand. He sort of flinched, but still, I said, “Thank you for telling me.”
He deflated. “Is that all?”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“I have known for a while. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Tell me h-how you feel … about this.”
I shifted a bit on his bed. “I feel glad that you told me, happy sort of.” How could I phrase this so that he did not think that I was being a bitch? Susie would know. “Just give me a day or two to think about it and I’ll get back to you. That is, assuming you want me to …”
I guess he was sort of asking me to be his girlfriend. I had decided that I would never initiate a relationship if I’m not one hundred percent in it. And so when he asked me, only then would I decline him. For now, I wanted to make up with Susie by getting her opinion on this whole situation.
“You okay?” I asked, smiling at him.
“Perfect,” he replied. “You?”
“I’m good. Well … I’m gonna go to bed now, so … goodnight.”
I got up and refrained from hugging him like I usually would in case it gave him any ideas. Waving as I got to the door, I was glad to be getting away frankly.
I opened the door.
Ernie hurtled towards me. When his arm went around my waist and then to my bottom, I looked down at it confused, only for his lips to plant themselves on my own, groping and moving and pressing in a way that I did not find awkward. That, in itself, was weird.
He drew away.
“Goodnight,” he whispered.
Then, he continued to kiss me.
He was my friend, so it was not wholly strange, but that tiny percentage of doubt that made me upset stemmed from the fact that he had stolen my first kiss and I had secretly reserved that for Neville. I could not take it back (not like I had wanted it in the first place) and I could not change it. He forced it on me and so, I guess, that this was the way it was always meant to be. Me, pinned to the door by my tall best friend, one of his hands groping my arse, the other in my hair, messing it up well and proper. I was stiff and shocked, but thought that I may as well make it a decent first kiss while I had the opportunity. I refused to look back and say that it was a total disaster. Seeing as I wouldn’t date him, I may as well please him a little. If my first kiss was with Neville, it would have been beautiful anyway, but seeing as it wasn’t, I would have to make it so.
I joined in, working my lips against his, slowly putting my arms around his shoulders adamant on getting the kiss I deserved today after all of the disappointment. At that, he got more passionate, moving harder and faster against me, my neck getting a tiny bit cramped against the door. We didn’t stop for minutes. I had to admit, he was a damn good kisser, better than I could have ever guessed and my insides did squirm a little bit, especially when he rubbed one hand over my nightdress, from top to bottom.
But, no matter how enjoyable I found it, we could not continue.
As he flicked off one strap of my dress with a finger I pulled away, finally able to breathe.
“What is it?” he asked.
“No,” was all I said. I put the strap back over my shoulder and tried to flatten my hair.
“But, Hannah -”
“No,” I repeated, pointing one finger at him. “I need to think.”
I swept out of his dormitory even more confused and upset with myself than I made out.
It was just before dinner the next day that I decided to tell Susie. I had asked her to meet me in the library after I had spent the day handing in essays and getting fast tutorials from McGonagall, Flitwick and Snape for Transfiguration, Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts practicals, going over all of the spells I had learnt the theory for while being at home. I had gotten the general gist of them all, so I finished up and ran to the library, where Susie was waiting for me at a small table by a large window.
“Hey.” I placed my purple bag on the table and Susie closed the novel she was reading. “Two things. First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really really sorry for what I said yesterday. It is your business because you’re my best best friend and I love you so much and I will tell you everything, in time, I just need to figure it out myself, but, then again, I know you can help me, so that’s why I’m here …”
“Could you have said that any faster?” she asked, laughing a little.
“Sorry.” I sat down and put my face in my hands.
“The second thing?”
Without moving, I muttered, “Ernie kissed me.”
“What?!” My teeth clenched together at the response I knew she would give.
A hissing noise came out of Madam Pince as she skulked around her library.
“He what?!” Susie said, gasping. “When?”
“Last night when I went to his dorm!”
“Have you talked to him since then?”
“No, the opposite. I’ve avoided him ever since! I feel so embarrassed. I mean, it was good but -”
“It was good?” she said, disgusted.
“I know! It’s Ernie, for goodness sake. I sure wasn’t expecting him to be so -”
“Wait wait wait, you liked it?”
“I said it was good.”
“There’s a difference between acknowledging a good kisser and liking a kiss,” Susie said clearly.
“Look at you,” I teased. “You’re an expert, now?”
“I’m being serious,” she said. “He is your best friend. You can’t kiss him and just -”
“He kissed me. He told me that he liked me and I said that I will think it over so that I could discuss it with you.”
“Not much to discuss,” Susie said. “Either you like him or you don’t.”
“Please say you didn’t kiss him back, because then he’ll …” I guess she saw my guilty face because she started lecturing me. “Why did you do that?! Hannah, you are so stupid! Now he’ll think that you’re this heartless, unfeeling bitch who led him on!”
“I told him to stop …”
“So? He’s going to think that you two have something now.”
“But we don’t. Anyway, what’s done is done.” I pushed my hands through my hair and watched the sunset as Susie stared at me incredulously. “That was my first kiss, Susie …”
“It was? I would have thought that -”
“Stop it,” I warned. I swear, if she mentioned Neville one more time …
She halted before I bit her head off. “I - didn’t realise is all I’m saying,” she said softly. “I understand that you want to recognise it as something, but, if you don’t feel anything for him, you have to tell him.”
“And I will. Ernie’s a good friend but nothing more.”
“You do believe me, don’t you?” I asked her, squinting at her curiously.
“I know, Hannah.” She smiled.
Justin found us talking moments later, not having heard any of it, thank God. He offered to take us down to dinner, so we dropped our bags off in the common room and headed to the Great Hall. Justin and I were in the middle of discussing muggle music (because I did listen to it from time to time) when I saw Susie throw something across the hall beside me.
“Susie, what -?”
“I just dropped my charm bracelet.”
“I’ll get -” Justin began.
“No, Hannah will go.” She shoved me with one arm and I moved across the Entrance Hall, gazing back at her over my shoulder. Only when I bent down to pick up the bracelet that I had bought her for her thirteenth birthday did I realise her scheme.
Just around the corner, I could see him standing there, Neville, talking heatedly with Hermione - about me. I could have taken the bracelet back to Susie and ignored the whole thing, but curiosity got the better of me and, while crouching down on the ground, I waited and listened.
“ … never thought I would say this but, that was stupid, Neville,” Hermione said quietly.
“Just a little bit.”
“What?” Neville replied, sounding lost.
“You should have kissed her. It would have been romantic and, frankly, she needed it.”
“But what am I supposed to do now, Hermione? She won’t speak to me again now that I’ve screwed up.”
“You’re forgetting one thing.”
“And that is?”
“She likes you as much as you like her,” Hermione told him, as though she were positive.
“How do you know?”
“I just do. And that means that all you need to do is talk to her. Look, it’s dinner now so …” Her shadow moved towards me and I hauled myself off the ground and skipped along to Susie, dropping the bracelet into her hand as Neville and Hermione came out of their hiding place.
“I saw that,” I whispered into her ear. “And I know what you’re trying to do.”
“I don’t know what you’re t - Neville!” Susie greeted him as he came beside us, probably pushed along by Hermione’s glare. He said hello to her and then looked at me.
Susie dragged Justin into the hall as I stood opposite Neville, neither of us saying a word. His beautiful - no, his guilty eyes glanced at me full of pain and adoration. As much as I loved him, I did hate him sometimes - especially today.
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