Chapter Three: Fourth and Fifth Year

I: Neville Longbottom's Long-Overdue Realization

It was fourth year, February 24th to be exact, when Neville Longbottom finally came to a very important realization. He, along with everyone else, had been in the stands, watching the surface of the lake for signs of movement, for signs of the Triwizard champions. After Krum emerged with Hermione (the girl everyone knew the Bulgarian was sweet on), Neville wondered. He had never fashioned himself fit for entry into the Tournament-he wasn't old enough, anyway-but he found himself briefly imagining who would have been waiting for him at the bottom of the lake. He saw the image of Hannah Abbott, her long blonde hair dancing around her like ribbons, her eyes shut as if in sleep. And he was startled that was the person he first pictured. And it's funny how a single image can fetch such startling emotions from a person, but as Neville pictured her underwater, surrounded by lakeweed, something clicked in his mind... and suddenly everything was crystal clear and rushing at him full-force. She was the girl.

The girl who he didn't get deathly nervous around, the girl he had spent hours with and never noticed the passing of the time, the girl he had saved chocolate frog cards for. She was the one who had helped him write essays and create outlines for them, the one who had patiently tried to help him with flying a broomstick (and I do mean tried—they were both rubbish). She was the girl who was even worse at Exploding Snap than she was, the girl that always, always stood up for him no matter what. She had even knit him a cap with a pompon last Christmas... it had a very clumsily stitched N on the front. He was wearing the hat that day.

Mouth opened, Neville gawked around, looking for her. She was just a few rows over, cheering as Cedric, her housemate, returned with Cho Chang, his girlfriend. Neville looked at Hannah long and breathlessly, his heart beating fast. Of course, it made perfect sense! Why hadn't he realized before? The only thing he could think was how much this complicated things, and at this point, he was having a hard time breathing. Beside him, Ginny shouted Neville's name for the fifth time (and he did not hear that time, either).

After that day, Hannah began noticing a change in Neville. He didn't speak to her as much. He seemed preoccupied and jittery, and kept dropping things all the time (well, all right, this was pretty normal for Neville, but still. He did it more than he had before.). Hannah wondered if perhaps he wasn't getting enough rest, or if maybe the weather was affecting him. Neville, however, was trying not to notice things. Trying not to notice the flowery smell of Hannah's hair or the way sunlight reflected off of it, or the way she stood, toes pointed toward each other. He was trying not to notice her dimples when she smiled, or the way she held her quill, or how even when she blew her nose it was cute. But most importantly, he was trying not to be noticed as he noticed. Neville Longbottom was hopeless, and he didn't want anyone to know.

So he said nothing at all to Hannah that might jeopardize things or embarrass himself-after all, Neville was a large-percent sure she probably didn't like him back. Either way, Christmas came and went and Neville said nothing. Summer break arrived and Neville sadly watched Hannah evaporate out of his life for the few months, mouth closed. And then, fifth year began and Neville still said nothing, even as things began to look worse and worse. There were whispers of You-Know-Who returning and building some sort of weapon, and a rather unpleasant lady by the name of Umbridge became the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. All of the students were suddenly submerged in a school that wasn't familiar or safe anymore. And Neville often found himself looking at Hannah, hoping he could protect her against whatever dark storm was coming their way.


II: When Children Are Forced to Grow Up

Neville looked tired and worn thin the entire fifth year, and Hannah felt the same way. The worries of the world seemed to be entirely theirs, and to top it off O.W.L.S. were just around the corner. While Hannah mostly worried about grades and studying (partly because they seemed more real than You-Know-Who, and partly because she didn't want to think about bigger realities), Neville's mind remained on darker things.

One day, just as dusk was setting in, Hannah was getting ready to leave greenhouse four when Neville looked up, a very serious look on his usually nervous face. "Times are bad, Hannah, you know?"

"What are you talking about, Neville?" She was tired and didn't honestly feel like talking about how difficult studying for the O.W.L.S. was, or how behind she was, either (thank you very much). He stood, brushing his hands off.

"I just think that, er, you really need to know how to defend yourself in case of... in case of... I dunno, more attacks or when You-Know-Who returns, or..." he trailed off into a heavy silence.

Hannah drew her coat tighter around her body, suddenly uncomfortable with how seriously Neville was looking at her. "Neville, d-don't talk like that. It's...you're scaring me."

"Well maybe you ought to be scared," Neville said a bit louder than necessary. Immediately an apologetic look overcame his face and he quickly continued. "I didn't mean-I just want you to be safe, you-you know?"

Hannah suddenly felt very old and tired. She swallowed the lump in her throat and thought of her mum. Not a day passed when Hannah didn't fear her father would return to kill her. And now everyone seemed to think You-Know-Who was coming back soon...

"Hannah?" Neville looked at her a bit nervously. "What is it?"

Hannah met his gaze. "Don't you ever just wish things could be all right?"

"Yeah, all the time," Neville said glumly, thinking of his parents and feeling a familiar, deep pang of something beyond sadness. The same thing he felt was mirrored on Hannah's face.

"Is everything going to be all right?" she asked quietly, feeling like the child she still was. On impulse, Neville closed the distance between them, encasing Hannah's smaller frame in a big hug. They stood like that, Hannah's face buried in Neville's shoulder, his chin just on top of her head. The next week, Hannah, along with a handful of others, joined Dumbledore's Army.

III: The Trouble With Studying

"I can't DO this!" Hannah burst out, throwing her quill haphazardly across the oak library table. Neville quietly accioed it back, only to have Hannah grab it out of his hand passionately, glaring at the stacks of parchment in front of them. "I'll never learn all of this in time for O.W.L.S.!" she exclaimed dejectedly, then suddenly became quite depressed. "I'm too stupid to take exams..."

Despite the constant DA training and knowledge that things were indeed changing for the worst, somehow most of the students managed to still worry about homework before Volde-I mean, You-Know-Who.

Hannah threw her head back and breathed out heavily like a dragon. She had a tendency to act a little crazy when she was upset and stressed. Lately, with the added stress of Umbridge and O.W.L.S., Hannah was quite on edge. However, Neville now knew after four years of friendship how to calm her down. After giving her a moment to lapse into silence and subsequently become horrified with herself, he cleared his throat and gave her a hopeful smile.

"Sorry," she apologized quietly, a sheepish smile on her face.

"S'okay."

She chewed on the inside of her cheek as she looked with anxiety at the stack of textbooks in front of them, tapping her quill like a jackhammer against the solid oak table.

"Want a game of exploding snap?" Neville asked, knowing she would never turn down a chance to try to beat him. Her face brightened immediately at the prospect of procrastination, and she began rummaging in her satchel for the cards (she carried them with her now, all the time, just in case).

Neville looked at the way her eyelashes fanned downwards towards her rosy cheeks, and his heart lodged in his throat. "And, Hannah... you're not stupid at all," Neville said thickly, giving himself away in the tender way he spoke. Hannah stopped rummaging and looked up curiously, and he didn't look away. For just a moment, he wasn't afraid to let her know how he felt. And then, just as Hannah was leaning forward with a very odd look on her face, she spilled everything in her satchel.