My wand is calling to me and it's very hard to ignore it.
I'm sitting at my kitchen table, staring at the mirror on the wall next to me. My face is pale and my eyes look too big. I look down at my hands. I have bitten my nails down to the quick, a couple of them have bled and they look angry.
I'm frustrated with myself. I thought it was clever, hiding in London as a Muggle. For the first couple of years, I dyed my hair blonde and used Muggle hair products to tame it down. After awhile, I figured people would have given up.
I figured people would have forgotten.
The years have passed quicker than I realized. Honestly, I've forgotten what it was like to be a witch. I know that I still am – sometimes when I feel an emotion too much for words…I can feel the magic, long suppressed and bubbling within, longing to escape. Luckily, I have been able to control it.
But what separates – or used to separate me – from an ordinary Muggle was the culture. To use my wand daily to achieve a goal. To know who the Minister of Magic was. To be involved in the politics.
To be a part of the world that I was no longer.
I stand up and walk into my bedroom. I go to my nightstand and open the drawer. My wand is there, laying innocently, nothing more than a piece of expensive wood at this point. I haven't used it in years. I pick it up and close my eyes. It is like saying hello to a dear friend. It's cold in my hand.
I take a deep breath and decide to do it.
A stream of bright orange erupts from the tip of my wand, illuminating the walls, and my room is suddenly full of the sound of soft chirping and flapping. I sit on the floor and watch in wonder at the birds I conjured. They aren't real, no, but the illusion is so great that they might as well be. It's wondrous to behold. The first magic I have done in –
Well, I guess seven years.
I am suddenly aware of a strange sound in my living room. I stand up, quickly, soldier-mode and terrified. I walk out of my bedroom, wand out, as if I had just done this yesterday. Old habits die hard.
I hear another noise. A creak, as if someone is walking slowly. I curse at myself for not being smarter with my defenses.
"Whoever you are, I'm armed," I call out. My voice is harsh and too loud in my ears.
"I'm not here to hurt you."
I rush into the living room and find myself staring at Neville for the second time today. I can't run this time. This is my home, and he has intruded. I realize that the birds have followed me, chirping peacefully above my head.
As if there was a change in the wind, all of the birds suddenly shoot straight at Neville at once. They run into his chest, bursting into dazzling poufs of orange; the sound is terrifying. If they hurt, I wouldn't know. He doesn't even try to dodge them. All he does is stare at me.
Silence. I cannot find words to speak. Looking at his face is really too much right now. I turn my head abruptly. I look into the kitchen, at the mirror on the wall.
My face is still pale; my eyes are still far too big. I try to convince myself that this is not reality. Neville is not standing in my living room, and I am just having a dream. Seven years of hiding, for what? To have the boy I helped in Potions track me down and expose the worst part of me?
He spoke again, his voice rough, "Hermione, please. I'm not here to hurt you."
I can't – won't – look at him. I look down at my wand. My hand is wrapped around it too tightly; my knuckles are white. I lift it up and point it at the candle centerpiece on the kitchen table.
Flames burst to life, and my candles lit without any more effort from me than a channel of thought. The simplicity of it is astounding.
I finally force myself to look at Neville again, who is watching me warily. He is eying my wand and I notice he is fingering his nervously.
His wand flies to me and I catch it. I expect him to do something, but his expression only changes minimally. I think he might look more worried, now, but it doesn't satisfy me at all.
He doesn't move for a moment, but I have him cornered. He sits on the couch, hands on his knees. His eyes are frightening. They bore into me like they can see my soul.
I stand on the other side of the coffee table. I want to be intimidating – to scare him off. But I am also curious why he would take such pains to find me.
"What do you want?" I finally say.
He bites his lip. I think he might look more worried than he did before.
"I haven't been following you," he says. I furrow my brow.
"Then how do you know where I live?"
"I saw you a couple weeks ago. In that restaurant you were at today." Neville takes a deep breath. "I didn't think it was you at first. You were dressed like you were today, those high heels and a black dress. I couldn't believe my eyes. We gave up looking for you…a long time ago."
There is a sadness in his voice. It's as if he truly felt the weight of my disappearance. I shake my head quickly.
"Get to the point."
"Well…I decided to check back at that restaurant a few times a week. Just in case. And…when you came out today I knew it was you. You ran off but I went inside and asked about you and the waiter told me your name and where you worked. I told him I was an admirer but couldn't get the courage to talk to you." He blushes slightly, but only misses a beat before carrying on. "So I went to your firm and got your records there and got your address. With magic. I don't expect you to forgive me for breaking into your house and invading your privacy…but I think I have an idea why you left. It's much safer now than it was then. Harry misses you. Hogwarts is restored and fully operating again. The Ministry has regained a lot of credibility and lots of our old classmates work there."
His speech came out in quick succession. I almost let the rhythm of his words make me forget exactly what he was saying.
The outburst is inevitable. "Who do you think you are? You took the pains to track me down; you should have gotten the hint. I changed my name and disappeared because I didn't want to be found." The last words come out in a hiss. I am shaking, and I am trying very hard not to hurt Neville.
"Hermione, please. You have to understand. When – when I saw you that day, it was like seeing a ghost."
I look at him, straight in the eyes. "I don't understand. I haven't the luxury of seeing anybody's ghosts."
He knows what I mean. He lowers his eyes, and looks at the floor.
"You can't convince me to go back."
Neville nods. It's a simple gesture, but I know it has more meaning.
"It's…it's just…after the war, I thought things would be okay." Neville's voice sounds weak; tight. Like he's about to cry.
My chest feels constricted.
"Don't you dare cry," I snap. I remember I am holding his wand and set it down on the coffee table.
"I'm not going to," he replies indignantly. It's the first negative response I got out of him tonight. "I just missed you," he says quietly.
I fold my arms and huff. I know I'm being terrible, but I don't know how else to be. I disappeared and hid to avoid something like this happening. Having him here is too much. He is a walking piece of the world I can't be a part of.
Although having him here in front of me, I'm starting to wonder why I can't rejoin. He's making me question the rationality of leaving in the first place.
I can't be mad at him anymore. He did exactly what I would have done, had it been Harry.
"Are you hungry?" I ask suddenly. Neville cocks his head to one side, wary again. "I'm making myself dinner. If you want some, come help."
I walk into my small kitchen and open the refrigerator. I pull out the salmon I bought yesterday and begin to prepare it: basil, garlic, and lemon juice and put them on a baking sheet. After I turn the oven on, I turn and see Neville standing behind me, watching me curiously.
"Second cupboard, there's rice and a can of corn."
He retrieves the items without comment.
"You really are a Muggle now," he says conversationally, but I get the feeling he's testing his boundaries.
I don't reply for a moment. I open the corn with my handheld can opener and pull out two small pots.
"I suppose I am."
He pulls at the collar of his shirt. "I saw you using magic earlier…but it was like you couldn't believe your eyes when it worked."
I measure out water and fill the pots up, put them on the stove and turn it on.
"I haven't used magic in over seven years." I look at Neville to see if he has any reaction. His face is still passive. "I…forgot what it was like, I guess."
"I wasn't very good at magic at first. When it started to get easier, it felt amazing." He runs a hand through his hair, thoroughly ruffling it up. "You were born to be a witch, Hermione. You're doing yourself a disservice trying to be something you're not."
The oven beeps incessantly and I put the salmon in. I try to avoid letting him see my face, because I can't control it at this point.
His words hit me somewhere deep within. Somewhere I thought didn't exist anymore.