Hannah Abbott counted her breaths and did her best not to move. She had her back pressed to the wall, her wand gripped tightly in her hand, and her ears were straining to hear where her opponent was. She was getting better at reading the sounds of footsteps, but it was still difficult to tell in the echoey hallways of Hogwarts. Night missions for Dumbledore's Army were always the most exhilarating, but with that exhilaration came the fear of being caught. She was willing to risk it though – this job in particular was going to be fun, and it would make tomorrow's mandatory Muggle Studies class even more fun.
Provided she could get to the Alecto Carrow's office. The footsteps were taking forever to leave, and Hannah could now even hear the person breathing, they were so close. She was careful to breathe slowly and silently, measuring out her air carefully so as not to make any noise. The breathing sounded masculine, and Hannah thought it must be one of the Carrow's goons or Amycus Carrow himself. She really hoped it wasn't either Crabbe or Goyle. The breathing didn't sound heavy enough, and whoever it was wasn't walking with Crabbe's distinctive, slightly shuffling step... Hanna couldn't help but smirk at that.
Watching Neville Longbottom hex Vincent Crabbe directly in the knee had been the moment that Hannah knew Neville wasn't the same bumbling boy she'd grown up with. She'd felt that for a while, of course, but she hadn't really known it until then. There had been no hesitation in his eyes, no shake to his hand, no looking around to be sure that he was doing the right thing – he had seen the shot and taken it. That had also been the moment her crush, which had previously been tiny and easily ignorable, had flared into life with such strength that she couldn't even look at Neville without her heart racing and her stomach fluttering. It was maddening, and it made it very hard for her to pay attention to anything else when he was in the room. She gave her head a little shake. Now was not the time for such thoughts. She had a job to do.
Focusing back on the mission at hand, Hannah rolled her eyes as the footsteps continued to shuffle around. It was just getting irritating at this point – it seemed less likely now that someone was looking for her and more likely that whoever it was was just shirking off their patrol. But she couldn't afford to wait much longer – her part of the mission only had until one in the morning to be completed before the next phase would set in. She didn't know what or who was responsible for the next part of the fun. The leaders of the DA tried to keep everything as hush-hush as possible, so no one could blab if anything went wrong.
She renewed her grip on her wand and readied herself to cast a silent stupefy. She peeked around the corner, slow and easy, and then shot the stunner at one of the seventh-year Slytherins. Despite having had classes with them for the last six and a bit years, she couldn't bring herself to recognize this one.
Everyone had changed, people and relationships and everything, she thought as she ran a quill down the lock on Alecto Carrow's office. Terry Boot had come up with a charm for opening doors that were spelled shut, but they also knew from previous experience that the locks on professor's doors had been spelled to not let anyone cast magic around them without sounding out an alarm. Thus the need for the spelled quills, which Hannah thought was an incredibly elegant solution. If they were caught, the quill would just look like another piece of student paraphernalia.
She slipped into the office carefully, relying on her sense rather than her magic to reassure her that she was alone. It was the work of a few seconds to search the few drawers of the desk and retrieve the teacher's edition of Mudblood Magic: A Study of Stolen Wands. Hannah allowed herself to scowl at the hated book by Lord Aldous Lestrange, with its archaic cover and outdated ideas, before hurrying silently back out of the office and securing the lock behind her.
Hannah took hidden passageways back to the rendezvous point as much as she could. At the first meeting of the DA that year, Neville had called everyone together in the Room of Requirement. He had had a giant map of all the levels of Hogwarts up on one of the boards and had told people to draw out all the secret passageways they knew of. What had resulted had been rather astounding. It turned out that while many of the passageways were known by most students, there had been a few that only one or two people knew about. The DA tried to use these lesser-known ones as much as possible, in hopes that their oppressors (Ernie Macmillan had called the Carrows and Snape that once and while Hannah had gotten a good few giggles out of it, it was a word that fit) wouldn't know about them either.
Hannah met up with Seamus Finnigan behind a tapestry on the third floor. His teeth glinted as he smiled wickedly at her in greeting. She never saw the Irish wizard more... wild, she thought was a good way to describe it, or impassioned, or full of flames, than when he was on a mission for the DA. It both worried her and gave her a rush of excitement, like his passion was contagious. Hannah had never felt anything more for Seamus than friendship, but at the same time she knew exactly why Lavender looked at him like he was the sexiest thing on two legs.
"Here," she breathed after she'd cast a muffling hex on the tapestry. She passed the book over. "Good luck."
"Thanks Hannah. Get back safely." He winked at her with all the roguish charm in the world and then darted off through a hidden door to his left. Hannah shook her head and then slunk back out into the corridor, crept down four flights of stairs and back into her common room.
Sighing as she flopped down into bed, she returned to her thought from earlier. They had all changed. Neville was just the tip of the iceberg, though he was certainly one of the more noticeable ones. She beat down that thought as a blush flooded over her cheeks. She had always found him attractive. He was brilliant at Herbology and such a sweetheart, but this year he had gotten all... muscly. All the members of the DA had been forced into athletic training, in order to better preform on missions and also so that even if they had to run for their lives, they'd still be able to cast spells without gasping for air.
It had been hard for the first three weeks. Hannah had gone to sleep drained and sore so many nights, her homework left undone, her arms too painful and heavy to lift even a quill. She had stumbled from class to class on leaden legs, tripped both up and down stairs, and run into more corners and doors than she'd known the school had.
And then suddenly, Hannah hadn't been as tired. The exercises became satisfying rather than destroying, she had more energy, and best of all, she had finally lost the fifteen extra pounds she'd been carrying around for longer than she'd like to admit. She and some of the other girls had had a sewing night where they refit all their robes to match their newly slimmer and fitter frames, and Hannah had been unable to keep a smile off her face the few days after that. She'd been more confident after that, though never confident enough to even try to flirt with Neville.
Because the boys, especially him, had shown changes too. Now it wasn't just the Quidditch teams that were fitter than most, it was the majority of the sixth and seventh year students in Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw. And Neville, the boy Hannah had always had just a bit of a crush on (maybe more than just a bit, but she'd never admit to that), became the handsomest man she had ever seen.
It had been a lost cause after that. Susan Bones had teased her mercilessly about Neville and Hannah had buried her bright-red face in her pillow or arms or robes or whatever she had to hand at the moment. It became harder to pay attention in meetings too, with Neville explaining things, planning missions, and being in command like he'd been born for it. She sighed, a happy smile on her face. Then she scowled at herself and rolled over irritably. Neville didn't see her as anything more than a friend. And that was fine. Probably better, given the current situation at Hogwarts.
Hannah forced herself to clear her mind of thoughts of him. They were fighting a clandestine war against the establishment. She had no time for boys, no matter how sweetly they looked at her with pretty brown eyes, dirty blond hair always a little scruffy and falling into his face, quiet power radiating from him more and more each day...
Dammit, was Hannah's last thought before she drifted into unconsciousness.
During break the next day, Hannah was sitting alone under the big tree by the lake. Most students were outside, basking in the light of the weak February sun. The Giant Squid was even moving around, rippling the surface of the lake lazily. She was so zoned out that she nearly shrieked when Seamus Finnigan plopped down beside her.
"Merlin, Seamus!" She exclaimed, halfway to her feet with her wand in her hand. "Give a girl some warning before you scare the daylights out of her, eh?"
Seamus grinned at her. His smile wasn't filled with quite as much hellfire as the one he'd given her the night before, but he was still pretty damn attractive. Hannah scowled at herself. She needed to quit thinking about how handsome all the boys in her class were.
"Hey, what's with the stormcloud?" Seamus asked.
"You just looked mad all of a sudden. What'd I do?"
"Nothing, sorry." Hannah blushed a bit, then burst out, "There's a practically a war on and all I can think about is how attractive you stupid boys are!"
Seamus couldn't contain his laughter at that. Hannah glared at him until he quit laughing, her arms crossed and lips pursed. "It's not funny," she complained.
"Darling, if you're finding me attractive, then beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and I think you need your vision checked."
"Oh don't give me that nonsense. You've looked decent since last year, even if you were a bit gangly and awkward before that, and you kept burning your eyebrows off in Potions and Charms." She rolled her eyes at him. "Lavender can hardly take her eyes off you. Ever. Don't tell me you don't notice that."
"She doesn't look at me all that much."
"Please. Just because she is sneakier about checking you out than you are about admiring her doesn't mean her eyes aren't on you for the better part of most days." Hannah paused for a few seconds. "And dammit, you're not helping! We're fighting a clandestine war and all I can think about is how nice Neville's arse has gotten over the past few months!" She buried her face in her arms and groaned, hearing Seamus crack up again.
"Hannah, sweetheart, we could get tortured to craziness any day. We might even do something so rebellious that they kill us. I look around and I see some of us, especially some of the younger ones, so close to falling apart that it's all we can do to keep their spirits up. People keep getting killed, things keep getting destroyed, and the future looks just a little darker every day. Hearing that all you can think about is – " he snickered through the next few words " – how nice Neville's arse has gotten gives me more hope than you could imagine."
She looked up at him in stark disbelief, the blush still fading from her cheeks. "My stupid observations about the bum of our fearless leader give you hope." Her tone was as dry as she could make it.
"You're a lunatic, you know that? I should be paying attention in meetings, trying to help with strategy, trying to really do anything. But instead I'm plotting the best way to trap Neville in a broom closet with me and have my wicked way with him. Because that's really all I think about at this point whenever I've got a scrap of downtime! I'm a wreck."
"No, you're fine. You're still normal." She gave him a look of confusion. "We're all changing," he explained, echoing her thoughts of the night before. "We're changing and I don't know if it's for the better. I don't just walk around corners anymore, I have to check them first to be sure that no one's waiting to attack me. Whenever I enter a room I plan out as many ways as I can of exiting it – through windows, other doors, blasting a hole through the ceiling, whatever. I don't feel like a teenager anymore, even though I am. Hearing you mooning over our fearless leader like he's your first crush makes me think that there's hope that we might not all end up like me."
Hannah's irritated expression had slowly softened as he went on. "Seamus..." she said, reaching out to touch him on the arm. "You'll be okay."
"Will I?" Hannah was a little surprised at the combination of despair mingled with acceptance in his tone. "I'm so tired but I can't sleep because I'm always on edge, always ready for an attack. Whenever I'm in a group of people, especially the younger kids in the DA, I always look for danger, look for places to hide them, determine which ones could help protect the others and which ones could be sent to find help without me worrying too much about them. I'm not who I was last year, last month even. I don't know if I can be that person again. I don't know if I can stop being so ready to fight, even if someday this does all end."
Hannah couldn't think of anything to say, so they were both quiet before Seamus sighed and slumped down. "I'm so scared of losing anyone else, but I know it will happen and I just can't really deal with that." She heard him take some racking, bracing breaths and she knew he was trying to not fall apart himself.
"Seamus, it's okay to cry." She tsked at him when he shook his head. "I know what it's like to lose someone, you know. I've lost something I can't replace. My mother was murdered. I was a mess for months. I had tears streaming down my face from dusk until dawn and then back around again. I can never get her back, and that's never going to be okay."
Seamus looked up at her, eyes red and shimmering too much to be normal. "I... I forgot that. You never mention it."
Hannah took a deep breath of her own, feeling hot prickles behind her eyes. "Because I still can't deal with it. I ran through every stage of grief I could find, but in the end the only thing that helped was realizing that my mum... she wouldn't want me to shut myself away behind closed doors for the rest of my life and vow nothing but revenge and spend the rest of my days in hate. She would want me to live for her, feel the sunshine on my face, smell the flowers, dance and sing and fall in love and just be alive." Hannah let out a watery laugh. "And maybe that's why I can still be a stupid teenage girl. Because I know loss and I know how to lock myself away, but I also know my mum wouldn't want that. So as ridiculous and useless as it makes me feel, my mum would be so sad if I didn't get the last few years of being a kid."
They sat in silence for the next few minutes, the sounds of their classmates and the lapping of the lake water and the light wind the only noises around them. Hannah felt the tears slowly recede and she took one last deep, settling breath. "When did this conversation get serious?" She asked jokingly, her voice still shaky but a lot more stable than before.
Seamus grinned at her, a spark of his usual flame there in his eyes. "When we stopped talking about how you fancy Neville."
"Oh Merlin," Hannah rolled her eyes. "Don't tell him."
"Wouldn't dream of it, darling." Seamus winked at her as he stood up. "And hey, don't worry about not being able to pay attention to anything except his bum. Like I said, it gives me hope."
"You are a strange, strange man, Seamus Finnigan," Hannah yelled after him as he started to walk away.
"Never claimed to be anything but!" He called back, waving a hand over his shoulder in farewell.
"And you'll be okay," she whispered at his retreating back. "I can't promise that, but you will be." I won't let you just be a soldier for the rest of your life. I will help you learn from my mistakes, and I won't let you lock yourself away. After this is all done, I will try to fix you.