The Sugar Quill
Author: Dogstar (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Asking for Roses  Chapter: Chapter Three: The Open Door
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Thanks, as always, to my amazing beta reader, Suburban House Elf

Thanks to Mullvaney and Seaspray, who found time to read an early version of this chapter, and give me feedback. Thanks, as always, to my amazing beta reader, Suburban House Elf, and to gamma reader Whimsy.

Chapter Three: The Open Door

“Don’t come upstairs. I won’t be a minute.”

Hannah left Neville standing on the sticky carpet in the dingy hall of the boarding house, while she ran up three flights to the depressing little room she’d checked into earlier that day. It took her several tries to get the key to turn in the stiff lock and when she eventually managed to open the door, the smell of stale cigarettes assailed her nostrils.

“You’d better stay here, Zophy.” The kitten didn’t even deign to open her eyes as Hannah lifted her out of the bag and settled her on the shiny counterpane. “And remember, don’t draw attention to yourself, or you’ll get us thrown out.” This time, Zophy opened one eye lazily from under a tufted eyebrow and gave Hannah an affronted look, before closing it again. She went to the cheap pine wardrobe, dragged out her overnight case and snapped open the fastenings. Her wand lay loose in the bottom. She snatched it up without thinking about it and ran back downstairs.

“Here’s your jacket. Sorry, it’s a bit furry.”

“Doesn’t matter. Have you got it?”

“Yes, yes.” Hannah thrust her wand into the large pocket at the front of her coat. As though it mattered whether she had it or not.

*

They walked to Diagon Alley. Dusk was beginning to fall and there was a chill in the air. Neville had been almost silent since they’d left the Physic Garden. He looked as though he had a lot on his mind. She hadn’t even asked him about what had happened at school. Hannah’s face flooded with heat, and she was thankful it was too dark for Neville to see. Once or twice, when he thought she wasn’t looking, she’d noticed him surreptitiously close his eyes and hold onto his ribcage for a moment. She shuddered. What he had been through must have been dreadful compared to her dreary and uneventful months at home with Dad.

“So what’s the plan then?” The words came out more abruptly than Hannah intended. She wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to go to Diagon Alley, but it seemed as though Neville had taken her silence when he’d first suggested it as assent.

“Um, don’t know really. Maybe get something to eat?” he said awkwardly. The decisiveness he’d shown earlier appeared to have deserted him. “N – not if you don’t want to …”

Hannah wondered what he was sounding so nervous about. “That’s a good idea,” she said encouragingly. “Why do we have to go into Diagon Alley, though? Look, there are places round here. I’m not sure I’m …” Her voice trailed off. There was no logical excuse she could give for not wanting to venture into Wizarding London.

“I thought it might be nice for you. You know, for a change?”

“Oh,” she replied. “All right then.” That sounded ungracious. “I mean, thank you.”

He’s going to get me to try some magic. Hannah wasn’t sure if Neville had understood the worst of it. What if she’d given him the impression that her recent inability to do magic was simple lack of inclination? Something that could be fixed in an instant with a reminder of what she would be missing if she left the wizarding world behind her. Hannah hadn’t mentioned the day after her birthday, when she’d tried to use Wingardium Leviosa to levitate the washing basket down into the utility room. She’d said the words, been positive that the wand movement was correct. She remembered the rising panic as she realised the simple charm wasn’t working, and how her wand had slipped from her hand, almost flinging itself across the room. Her heart had hammered so hard it felt as though it would burst out of her chest. It had taken half an hour to get her breathing back under control. She hadn’t tried again.

Neville’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “You know, we probably shouldn’t be out here by ourselves at this time of night. Are you all right to go a bit faster?”

Hannah quickened her pace to match Neville’s, but inwardly she was curious. It wasn’t even dark yet. Besides, hadn’t she been on her own practically continuously for the last ten months? Nothing had happened. There was no way she was going back to the constant, pressing fear of those first, terrible days, not for anything. There wasn’t anyone after her, just as no one had been after Mum. Of course, it was different for Neville, like it was different for Susan. Perhaps it was his own safety he was concerned about. No, Hannah puzzled. That didn’t seem to fit either. She’d watched him practice duelling with Harry Potter of all people, and even get past him once or twice. Admittedly, that had usually been when Harry was staring at Cho Chang. Even so, Neville could defend himself better than most.

But he certainly seemed jumpier than she remembered him and not quite so gentle. At one point during their journey back across London, he’d grabbed her arm and pulled her behind him, as a man wrapped in a filthy grey blanket lurched into their path, shouting unintelligible words that sounded like curses. Hannah hadn’t been scared then either. There were homeless people everywhere nowadays. 

Neville had grown taller during the ten months since Hannah had last seen him across the table in Greenhouse Five. His face was still round and friendly like she remembered, but there were dark shadows under his eyes. She almost hadn’t recognised him at first, leaning against the plate glass frontage of the shabby department store, head buried in his book. Although it was stupid, she’d half-expected to see a chubby boy in a Hogwarts robe, with mud under his fingernails. No wonder she was having trouble keeping up. Hannah broke into a run as she hurried across a busy road in Neville’s wake. He looked back and smiled apologetically. “Almost there.” She hesitated, then grabbed the hand he was holding out to her. Immediately, she could run a bit faster.

Suddenly Hannah felt reckless and joyful, for the first time in months. Perhaps Diagon Alley would be fun. It wasn’t as though she had anything better to do for the next few hours. There’d been no sign of her dad at the B & B. That morning, when Hannah had asked him if he knew what time he’d be back, he’d simply replied, “Who can say?” and given her a sad smile. Hannah was used to his enigmatic moods by now and hadn’t bothered trying to getting any more information out of him. He’d be OK, he wasn’t helpless. She had to try and encourage him to do things on his own, the doctor had said. So, she’d just said she’d see him the following morning, and reminded him what time they needed to catch the train.

When they reached Charing Cross Road, Hannah would have missed the Leaky Cauldron and run straight past. Neville pushed open the door and walked into the pub with an air of confidence that surprised her. Hannah found herself impressed, but also a little downhearted. On the crowded transport systems of Muggle London, the anxious boy she remembered from school, with little discernible talent for anything but plants, had still been in evidence. His uncertainty had been a strange sort of comfort. Now, she was the awkward one, the fish out of water, and Neville was in his element.

She remembered her first ever visit to Diagon Alley, trying to convince her parents that she could see the building described on the odd letter they’d received. How embarrassing it had been when they’d walked in and the entire establishment had stopped what they were doing and simply stared at the tiny group: the pretty young woman in sensible skirt and coat, the short man in a tight and uncomfortable-looking dark suit, and the apprehensive little girl with the fat, blonde pigtails. To Hannah, this outer wooden door had always seemed a bigger obstacle than the hidden archway into Diagon Alley on the other side of the building, even more than the solid wall in front of Platform nine and three quarters. At least on the other side of those barriers were to be found other families, some of them just like her own, rushing about in confusion, paying no attention to anyone else. Not like here. As she followed Neville through the door, Hannah kept her head down.

However, the room was quiet. Looking up, Hannah remembered how empty it had been the last time she had passed through. Business clearly hadn’t picked up in the intervening ten months. As they walked through the main room of the pub, the barman called out, “Hey, Mr. Longbottom, you off home now?” He raised one eyebrow and gave a slight leer in Hannah’s direction. Neville blushed and dropped her hand rather suddenly.

“Not quite yet, Tom, but I’ll be back before closing time.”

“Right you are,” said the barman and went back to polishing glasses. Hannah hung back as Neville headed for the door that led into the little courtyard behind the pub. She wondered if she could use the excuse of needing the loo. Her stomach was tying itself in knots, her head was pounding and her chest felt tight. As she struggled to compose herself, a cracked voice rang out harshly from a dim corner of the pub.

“Hannah! Is that you?”

Almost before the words had registered, she was aware of Neville whirling round and drawing his wand. He pointed it at the table in the corner where the words had come from. There were two shadowy figures sitting at it. Hannah darted forward.

“No! Neville, wait – it’s OK!”

Expelliarmus!”

Neville’s wand flew out of his hand and scuttered across the sticky floor, coming to rest just before it could roll into a gap in the floorboards. Hannah saw him dive for it again. A tall figure emerged from the gloom, rising from its stool at the little round table. She could see the outline of a wand held defensively at the man’s side, as he moved around to shield the owner of the first voice.

“Are you out of your mind, boy? Stop drawing attention to yourself.” The voice was low and friendly, if rather tired.  “Lower your wand, please. Can’t you see this man is a Muggle?” Hannah’s eyes were adjusting to the gloom, but she didn’t recognise the wizard who had disarmed Neville with such efficiency.

“It’s all right, Neville. It’s my dad!” She rushed round to the other side of the table. “Daddy! Are you all right - what are you doing here?”

Neville lowered his wand and tucked it away in his jacket again. “Who – who are you?” He still sounded wary.

“Don’t you recognise me? Perhaps not … You were rather badly hurt the last time I saw you. I don’t think we were formally introduced.” The tall man held out his hand. “Arthur Weasley. How do you do, Neville? I’ve heard a lot about you.”

*

A few minutes later, they were all sitting down, squashed awkwardly around the tiny table. Neville, still looking troubled, was gazing into his Butterbeer and playing with a beer mat. Hannah felt reprieved. The dark pub was warm and safe, compared to the unknown on the other side of the archway. She looked from her dad to Mr Weasley. The wizard towered over her dad, even sitting down, although they both had similar exhausted lines around their eyes.

Looking faintly embarrassed, Mr Weasley drained the last drops of his drink and stood as if to go. “Perhaps it’s time I was getting along home.”

“If it’s possible, Arthur, I would be very grateful if you could stay for a while.” Hannah was amazed. While low and cracked, her father’s voice was firmer and more distinct than she had heard it for a long time. He sounded almost like his old self, a far cry from the careworn shadow she had nursed for months. “I need to explain things to my daughter and I want her to hear your thoughts on the situation.”

“By all means, I won’t be missed at home for an hour or two. The way things are at the moment, we’re all working practically round the clock.” replied Mr Weasley cheerfully. He didn’t sound at all reluctant, thankfully. Hannah wasn’t sure she could bear to sit through another fruitless, awkward conversation, while her dad ranted and raved and whatever visitor he’d persuaded to stay for ‘just a quick one’ tried desperately to get away. Mr Weasley went on. “I must admit, I would very much like to hear Hannah’s version of events. It could help confirm my hypothesis.”

What hypothesis? She hoped he hadn’t been encouraging Dad. That was all she needed.

“Thank you, Arthur. I feel as though there might be light at the end of the tunnel, at last. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am.” His eyes were beginning to water. Neville looked up at this little speech with a puzzled frown. Please no, she thought. Not here Dad. Not in front of …

 “Dad, you’re talking in riddles. What’s going on?” Hannah struggled to keep her voice calm. “I knew you were coming to London to see someone about Mum. But you never told me it was a … ”

She broke off, the old anger and pain rising rapidly in her chest, an almost solid lump that choked her. When was he ever going to let it go? She’d believed, no, she’d hoped, that this mysterious meeting would be the end of it. That the outcome would finally convince him that nothing more remained to be discovered. The accident had been just that, however difficult that was for him to accept.

Her father seemed to be in control of himself again. “It was one of those owls that bring you your post, love,” he said mildly. “It turned up with a letter addressed to me while you were at work the other day. It was from Arthur here, after that last one I sent, remember?” His tone was pleading. She nodded, tight-lipped. “I didn’t know what to do at first, the bird was just waiting and waiting. Then I remembered I’d seen you paying them, so I went and got a few of those funny coppers of yours out of your room. Seemed to do the trick. I’m sorry, love, I should have told you but – but I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”

Hannah raised her eyebrows, still not trusting herself to speak, shocked at how close she’d come to losing her temper. Getting angry at her dad wouldn’t help. It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t let go. But hopes? There wasn’t anything to be hopeful about. Mum wasn’t coming back. They had to move on with their lives. He needed a job, something to occupy him, not this endless letter-writing and obsessing over the past.

For the first time, Neville spoke. “Er – why you, Mr Weasley?”

“Please, call me Arthur.”

“Er – OK. What I mean is, Mr – I mean, sir – I mean A – Arthur, I thought you didn’t have anything to do with Muggles anymore? Ron told me you’d been promoted.”

“Well, yes, that’s perfectly true.” Mr Weasley looked pensive for a moment. “It’s complicated. As you might expect, there are very few resources going into day to day Muggle liaison at the moment. In my own department, there’s only a clerk in Misuse of Muggle Artefacts left – my old right-hand Perkins. They drafted in cover for a while, but the witch concerned went on compassionate leave several months back. The office is pretty much in tatters. A bit of an oversight if you ask me …” His voice trailed off mournfully, then he seemed to realise he hadn’t actually answered Neville’s question.

“When your father’s latest, and most – er – eloquent letter arrived last week, it somehow found its way onto the desk of the Minister himself.”

“Rufus Scrimgeour?” asked Neville, wonderingly.

“I gave him what for, didn’t I love? Do you remember what I said?” said Mr Abbott proudly. Hannah nodded quickly, in the hope of preventing him from repeating any of it.

Mr Weasley continued. “He requested that I take care of it. His instructions were that I was to meet with your father personally to go over the Ministry evidence regarding your mother’s tragic accident. I was to reassure him that the investigation had been carried out ‘energetically and in compliance with guidelines set down by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.’” Mr Weasley said this last bit hurriedly and with obvious distaste. 

This time Hannah wasn’t even slightly surprised. She might have guessed it would be something like that. It was the same condescending wizarding attitude she’d observed at the inquest. The Minister had clearly planned to palm her dad off with someone who hadn’t even been involved in the investigation, although Mr Weasley seemed pleasant enough. He seemed gentler, more softly-spoken, than his children. Although she’d never had too much to do with them, Hannah had always found the Weasleys rather intimidating. Whenever she’d seen them en masse, usually on Platform nine and three quarters at the start and end of the school year, they always seemed to be laughing and shouting and taking up a lot of space. Take Ron, for example, in her own year: she’d always tried to evade his notice whenever she’d encountered him in Herbology lessons or, later, at prefects’ meetings. She’d seen some of the quieter firsties in tears on occasion, and once, she was almost certain, she’d heard him refer to Ernie as “that pompous berk”. Hannah found Harry Potter and Hermione Granger more approachable, despite the former’s bizarre celebrity status and the latter’s frighteningly high marks. She wondered what made Neville so different from any of them. He wasn’t intimidating at all. If anything, she felt as relaxed in his company as she did with Ernie and Susan.

Mr Weasley had begun to make small talk with Neville about his grandmother, and she heard him suggest a trip to the bar. They went up together, giving Hannah time to absorb the situation. Her initial shock at encountering her dad in the company of a Ministry of Magic employee was subsiding. It made sense to make the most of the opportunity, she reasoned. She could barely even remember the wizard who had spoken to her at the inquest, and she had been in no fit state to ask the many questions that later occurred to her. When Mr Weasley and Neville returned from the bar with a second round of drinks, her mind was made up. “Do you have the original documents here? Can I see them?” she asked.

“Not here, I’m afraid. Case files are protected from removal by a number of magical seals and charms. However, I do have a summary of the main points with me.” 

Mr Weasley handed Hannah a short, tightly-wound scroll.  She spread the parchment out on the table and stopped it from springing back by holding it down at each corner with their four empty glasses. She proceeded to scrutinise it closely. It was just as she suspected, it told her nothing she didn’t already know. “This summary’s no use, Daddy. It’s even less detailed than the coroner’s report and that’s saying something.”

“I know, love but wait – ”

“I don’t understand, it’s nearly eight o’clock. I don’t see what can have taken you all this time, even if you told Mr Weasley our entire family history.” Hannah moved the glasses and let the scroll of parchment roll itself up again. She rubbed her eyes wearily. For some reason, she wished she could grab hold of Neville’s hand again. Maybe she just wanted him to stop worrying at that beer mat.

“That’s just it, my love.” Her dad was sounding dangerously excited again. “Arthur’s been asking me all about it, proper questions, you know? Not like that whitewash at the inquest. If any of them had known your Mum, or bothered to find out, they’d have known she – she wouldn’t have …” His eyes were misting over again. Across the table, Neville was looking increasingly uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry, I’m intruding. Maybe I should leave you all to it?” He swept his shredded beer mat into a little pile and half-stood.

Please don’t go. “Neville, I’m so sorry. I don’t mind you hearing, do you Dad?”

Mr Abbott shook his head. “No, love. You go ahead, explain what happened to your mother. Then Arthur can tell you what he’s come up with.” 

“It would certainly be useful to go over the events once more …” Mr Weasley prompted gently. Neville sat back down.

*

So, for the first time, Hannah spoke about exactly what had happened on the day her mother died. She’d gone over the details so many times in her mind that she felt word-perfect but her voice sounded strangely detached, hard, almost. “You remember how I said it was a road accident – a car crash?”

Neville gave a small nod, as Hannah paused, collecting her thoughts. For heaven’s sake. He knows what cars are. Just get on with it. “Mum was on her way home from work. It was her normal route, the one she took every day. Except, that day, as she was pulling out of a side road onto the main road that leads into our village, a lorry crashed into her. It shouldn’t even have been there. There’s a bypass for heavy lorries and cars heading for the motorway.”

Hannah paused. Then, with an effort, she continued. “During the inquest, the driver’s statement said that as he approached he saw Mum’s car waiting in the side-street. At the last minute, she just pulled out in front of him without looking.”

 “As if she would!” her dad exploded. Although Hannah wasn’t looking in his direction, she could feel his distress, sense the feverish expression on his face that appeared whenever he relived his wife’s last moments. Strangely, Mr Weasley was also agitated, and seemed to be restraining himself from butting in.

“Dad, we’ve been through this. He was breathalysed. And the traffic lights were in his favour, the camera confirmed it.” Hannah looked up at Neville. His face was calm, and he held her gaze unwaveringly. It gave her the strength to continue. “The coroner decided that Mum must have been tired or under stress or something. ‘Death by misadventure’ he called it. The lorry driver was completely exonerated.”

“What’s ‘misadventure’?”

‘Well … basically, it’s the law’s way of saying that they thought she did it deliberately, without having to return a verdict of suicide.”

“Oh.” Neville was silent for a minute as he digested this.

“Of course, we never believed that.” Her voice sounded positively chirpy. Hannah cursed herself. Then she remembered Neville’s nervous laughter when she’d made that crass remark about madhouses in front of St. Mungo’s and felt marginally better.

“Hold on,” said Neville. “I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t know about cars and stuff but this sounds all wrong. What about the Ministry? What about their investigation?” To Hannah’s surprise, Neville sounded angry. “Couldn’t she have been under the Imperius Curse or – or anything?” He was gripping his tumbler of Butterbeer so tightly that his knuckles were white. “They’re so useless!” he muttered, shooting an apologetic glance at Mr Weasley, who did a good impression of being very interested in his glass of elf-made wine.

“Yes,” said Hannah. She just wanted to get to the end of the story now. “They did investigate, or so they told me, anyway. It’s here too, on this parchment. At first, I was convinced it must have been some kind of attack on Mum. That she’d been Confunded, or – or something worse. My fault, anyway.” She glanced at her dad, worried that he was going to explode again but his eyes were dry and he appeared composed, merely nodding for her to continue.

“But there was nothing. She wasn’t under the Imperius, or anything else. And they examined the car. They said if magic had been performed anywhere near th – the body, it would show up. You know what it’s like. Magic that needs maintaining for more than a few seconds takes concentration, eye contact usually. The man from the Ministry – not you, Mr Weasley – the one who came to the inquest, he said that aiming a spell into a moving car would be practically impossible. I didn’t believe him at first. I was so frightened.”

Hannah began to feel the familiar rising, choking panic and took long, slow breaths until she could speak again. “And then he said, ‘What makes you think You-Know-Who would be interested in someone like your mother, a Muggle?’

Neville gasped. “He didn’t?”

Mr Weasley looked horrified. “Oh no, really. That’s very serious.”  

“I don’t think he meant to be nasty. He was trying to reassure me, probably.”

“Even so … quite unacceptable.” Mr Weasley shook his head, still looking outraged.

“When nothing else happened, I realised he was right. And that was the end of it.” Despite herself, Hannah could feel her eyes beginning to smart. “I just wanted to put it behind me.”

Mr Weasley cleared his throat. “Well, there are two things here. The first is that – er – You-Know-Who has been responsible for Muggle killings. It appears, in fact, that it is fast becoming one of his preferred political weapons.”

It was Hannah turn to gasp. “I never knew that!”

“Yes, well, that is precisely the problem, as your late Headmaster repeatedly attempted to bring to the attention of the Wizengamot.”

What did that mean? Hannah turned her head nervously from Mr Weasley to Neville, and back again.

“I knew,” said Neville bleakly. “It’s never in the Prophet – not that Gran gets it anymore – but there was something about it on the WWN last week.”

Mr Weasley’s voice was sombre, but he spoke with authority. “The Statute of Secrecy is all very well, as a general rule of thumb. The rules governing its relaxation when witches or wizards are born into Muggle families are relatively straightforward. In most circumstances, the current system for communicating general information, relating to schools and transport and so forth, works perfectly well. Are you with me?”

“Yes, go on, please,” said Hannah. This was interesting. Neville looked less sure but nodded his head doubtfully.

“However, it’s never been ideal, given the attitudes of certain sections of the wizard population. And there is less consensus, even within the Ministry, about the amount of specific information that ought to given out on a need-to-know basis to those living, as it were, on the boundaries of Wizard and Muggle society. It has long been a grey area, a very grey area indeed. In times like these, the implications for the safety of Muggle-born wizards and their families … Well, the war has only thrown the problem into even sharper relief.” 

“That’s what I said in my letter to you! Do you remember Neville?” At last, it appeared she’d met an adult wizard who grasped the bigger picture. Hannah felt vindicated, almost triumphant in fact. Practically every Muggle Studies lesson for three years had ended up with Hannah arguing with the teacher, while the rest of the class rolled their eyes affectionately and passed the time attempting to surprise each other with whatever the latest fashionable hex happened to be. Even Ernie would laugh along uncomfortably and turn his chair away. On one occasion, he’d said to her afterwards, “Stop rocking the boat, or you’ll make yourself as unpopular as Hermione Granger with all that S.P.E.W. rubbish of hers”.

“As I said before, there was a second point.” Mr. Weasley paused, thoughtfully. “Politics aside, your mother’s death may have been caused by something rather more mundane, although just as unpleasant.”

Hannah looked at him in puzzlement. Neville, too, looked completely mystified. Mr Weasley seemed to be struggling with something.

“Muggle-baiting. A nasty word. We saw more and more of it in my final twelve months in the Misuse office. It was the sequence of events in your mother’s case that suggested it to me. As both you and your father have now described, it would appear that, far from being under the influence of magic, your mother’s behaviour was perfectly in line with her normal, day to day decision-making, apart from one small detail.”

“She pulled out in front of a lorry. That wasn’t normal.” Hannah was indignant. “She was a good driver.”

“Wait a minute. I’ve been getting your father to explain about Muggle traffic systems.” Mr Weasley was getting into his stride again. “As I understand it, your mother reached the, um, T-something? Ah yes, junction, quite so. Then normally, she would wait for a visual signal before turning into the bigger road?”

“Yes, she’d wait for the lights to change.”

“And there was a similar set of coloured lights for the lorry driver to observe also?”

“That’s right, on his side.” Hannah was starting to see where Mr Weasley might be going with this, although a glance at Neville told her that he was still several steps behind.

“Well, at first sight, it seems pretty clear that it didn’t occur to the Magical Law Enforcement Officer assigned to the case to look into whether or not these lights had been tampered with.”

“And the camera on the traffic lights …?” said Hannah, beginning to feel excited.

“… Confirmed the sequence in line with the only witness still able to give evidence, the lorry driver. Green for him, red on your mother’s side. It would be the work of a moment for a witch or wizard, even one without any significant talent, to make the light on your mother’s side change out of sequence as she waited or approached the junction. The difficulty, of course, will be proving it, now that the Ministry consider the case closed.”

Hannah sat back, her head spinning with this new information. Neville’s eyes were narrowed in concentration. Mr Weasley was looking mournful again. He couldn’t be going to leave it there, not when he’d just revived her hopes. Of course, it was all theoretical to him. He hadn’t known Mum. Suddenly Hannah remembered something. Her heart leapt into her throat again, this time with elation rather than panic.

“Mr Weasley, I’m sure I’ve heard of a spell that can detect magical traces on objects a long time after significant magical events. Professor Binns mentioned it once in History of Magic. Neville, do you know the one I mean?” Neville shrugged apologetically. Hannah remembered him telling her at the beginning of last year that he’d been lucky to get a D in History of Magic. She looked anxiously at Mr Weasley.

“I believe you may be right, my dear but even if we find it, it’s still a question of access.” 

A phrase came back to her. “He also said it works better in places and on objects not routinely in contact with atmospheric magic.” Yes, she was sure that was it.

“I must say it sounds plausible in theory.” Mr Weasley sounded enthused for a moment, then his face fell. “If only I still had my old job and time to research it. So interesting.”

Silence fell around the table once more. Then, in a troubled voice, Mr Weasley changed the subject. “Hannah, I can understand why finding out the truth about your mother’s death is important to you and your father and I promise I will do everything possible to think of a way forward.” He leaned forward and spoke more quietly, even though there was no one else in the pub except for Tom, who was still polishing glasses behind the bar. “But in the meantime, there is something even more pressing that has concerned me, ever since I read your father’s letter and became aware of your isolated situation.”

“What’s that?” For a few minutes, a chink of light had re-entered Hannah’s world. Now she felt dull and listless once again. The pub was no longer cosy and welcoming, but merely dark and oppressively warm. 

Neville spoke, for the first time in several minutes. “Your safety.”

//
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