Cho doesn't like to be touched. She'd never been a girl who freely gave physical affection, not like Luna with her cheek-cupping and hand-holding and hair-twirling, or even Marietta with her constant hugging. But she had liked kissing, and, well, other things. Back before the endless misery of her fifth and her sixth and her seventh years.
It is exactly six weeks after Voldemort's collapse at Hogwarts, and she is sitting in the Leaky with Padma and Marietta and Anthony. They are all sitting rather silently as they wait for their drinks, the quiet thick like a heavy blanket on a summer night. She is tracing patterns along the hardwood surface of the table, distracted by her own chipped nail polish. It is easier to focus on the small things—the cornflower blue of Marietta's eyes, the way the light shines through the dirty window over their table, and the ever-chipping, saffron yellow polish on her nails. Thinking too deeply brings out things she isn't quite ready to look at right now.
She looks up from the imaginary runes she has been tracing over and over again for the last thirteen minutes, meeting Padma's steady, dark gaze without hesitation.
“Yes?” she answers, fingers hovering over the table. There is a pain quickly growing in that space just behind her eyes, but she ignores it. Later, while she is sitting on the floor of her bathroom by herself, she will remember to take something for her headache. The routine is a familiar one, and Cho will ignore the pain for now.
“Are you all right?”
Cho shuts her eyes for a moment, taking in the question.
“Yes,” she says, and she is lying.
Padma looks unsatisfied with this answer, but she does not question her further. For this, Cho is grateful. Her friends, for the most part, know her well enough to not ask certain questions or pry too deeply.
It has been years since Cedric—the memory of him, so handsome and kind and untarnished, lingers even now—and she is still waiting for that relief that is supposed to come after somebody you love has died.
It has been years since Cedric and the relief has not yet come. Like a dream she never managed to shake off, every morning she wakes up with the sadness of it hovering in the back of her mind. She often wonders if it will ever really go away, if it will ever truly leave her.
Sometimes, she talks to Harry. He is that last link to Cedric, the last person to see him alive, and she can never stop herself from grabbing his hand, or touching his face, as if somehow that last bit of Cedric will flow into her through him. Most of the time it is difficult to be near Harry, that sweet tragedy of a boy, without bursting into tears. Cho has always been good at crying.
The drinks come—three butterbeers and a water for her—and she ignores the Why don't you take a sip of mine to loosen you up a bit? from Marietta. She is beautiful, even with the faded markings on her face that look to Cho like freckles. Instead of answering her, Cho takes a delicate sip of her water.
“Are you sure you're all right?” Anthony whispers, and his voice is right in her ear, lips brushing against her pearl earring.
“Fine,” she replies, struggling not to pull back, away from him. He is too close and she wishes she had decided to sit next to Padma instead. She is the most proper girl that Cho has ever met, always sitting very straightly in her chair. Even now she can see the other girl's hands folded neatly on the table, shoulders pulled back. Padma wouldn't lean into her like Anthony does.
He gives her the same, sceptical look that everybody else gives her whenever Cho responds with a “fine” or an “okay” or an “all right,” but scoots an inch or two away from her. She draws the rune for happy with her index finger, her throat loosening with every bit of distance forming between them.
Death is next, all harsh lines and mean angles, and her finger shakes a bit as she finishes it. It is disconcerting how relieved she is that Anthony has moved away from her.
They finish their drinks in relative silence before making the move to leave, Cho winding her scarf around her neck in an effort to distract her ever-restless hands. It trails after her, tangling in her thick, dark hair as she ties it, but she doesn't really mind. It is the least of her worries right now, and the crumbling store fronts of the shops that have not yet been able to recover only serve to emphasize the fact. Marietta steps out first, giggling like a little girl at the cold, with Padma just a few steps behind her. Anthony holds the door open for her, and Cho tries not to brush against him as she walks into the whiteness of a winter day in London. Snow coats the slick streets and broken buildings like sugar, and fresh flakes moisten her hair and face.
Anthony grabs her hand then, and Cho is unable to stop herself from yanking it back violently.
“I'm sorry,” she whispers by way of explanation, “I just can't.” He does not say anything back, and she forces herself to look away from the hurt in his eyes. They are brown, like Cedric's were, and his dark hair curls on his forehead in a way that she can't help but find endearing. There is so much guilt bottled up inside of her that she feels as if she may simply combust—explode into nothingness, leaving only the memory of Cho Chang's life behind. Sometimes she wonders if that would be better than what she is now.
She takes the long way, and when she reaches the rickety little flat that she still cannot manage to think of as “home”, she sets her wand very gently on the table by the door and removes her coat and scarf. They are set very neatly on the same table, because she really can't stand messes.
That same spot behind her eyes twinges again, but Cho still ignores it.
Later, she will sit in her bathroom and remember to take something for her headache.
Later, she will fire-call Anthony to apologize because she doesn't think she can stand to see him in person right now.
Later, she will cry, because Cho has always been good at crying.
Now, she sits at her kitchen table and merely stares at the pale yellow walls for what feels like an eternity. She wonders if anything will ever change.