"When are you two going to have one?" Ron asked. He held his son, Hugo and smiled, happiness radiating from him like light from a lamp. "You don't know what you're missing."
Neville laughed and answered with ease. "Sorry, I have no idea, but when we do, I promise you'll be the first to find out." He walked over to Ron and took the baby in his arms.
Hannah drifted to the back of the group and watched while Neville held Ron's son. She knew what it was like. She had just done it a few moments before. She could almost feel the surprising weight of the newborn in Neville's arms. She could imagine the baby glancing up at Neville, away and then up again, blue eyes meeting his fleetingly. Neville gave Hugo the smile, the one that said, "I'm a human. Let's be humans together." Neville looked completely at ease, and why wouldn't he be? He'd already held so many -- all the babies of their friends.
Hannah turned toward Rose, who looked as sad as Hannah felt. She took the child's hand and ledher from the room. I'm the Big Sister lay on the couch where the last adult to read the book to Rose had tossed it. Hannah wasn't in the mood for a story written to teach children to accept what they didn't want. She grabbed from a bookshelf a copy of The Witch Went Over the Water, her favorite when she was a little girl. She'd always expected to read it to her own kids.
Rose popped her thumb in her mouth and leaned against Hannah as she read. When they came to the end, Rose, without removing her thumb from her mouth, whispered, "Read it again." As Hannah began the story again, Rose's weight grew heavier and heavier, her breathing deeper, until she fell asleep. Hannah put the book aside and sat very still while Rose slept.
Ginny and Nevillewere talking in the hall. Hannah could hear them through the door.
"Ron's chuffed," Neville said.
"Well, after his Rosie he wanted a boy, and now he has him."
Hannah thought chuffed was a weak way to put it. The man was so happy he was bursting.
"Neville," Ginny said, "What's this I've heard -- you're in the running to be Herbology Professor at Hogwarts? I'm surprised. Doesn't your job already have everything – travel, growing things, strange and bizarre plants?" Her voice sounded teasing and amused.
"At Hogwarts, I'd have control of that beautiful plant collection. The greenhouses and gardens would be all mine," Neville said as they entered the room. He smiled at Ginny like a naughty boy. "I'd have a plant-buying allowance."
Rose must have been very tired. Their voices hadn't woken her.
"Seriously, I think I'd like teaching children," Neville said in a whisper. He must have noticed poor Rose.
Neville walked over to the couch where Rose lay snuggled against Hannah's side. He picked up a small plump hand and smiled at it.
"You'll wake her," Hannah whispered.
"Hannah looks as tired as Rose," Neville said to Ginny. "We'd better go. It's late and she has a very long day tomorrow."
"Every day is a long day when you run a pub," Hannah added.
Hannah stood up and gently lowered Rose onto the couch. Ginny hugged her as they said goodbye. Hannah could feel the pressure of Ginny's pregnant belly against her own. Ginny squeezed Hannah's shoulders.
"She knows," Hannah thought, "or she's guessed."
Neville helped Hannah into the fireplace and together they made their way home to their apartment in the Leaky Cauldron.
Hannah walked to the bedroom and lay down on their bed in her clothes. "That was very hard," she said.
Neville lay down next to her and put his arms around her. He leaned over and kissed the corner of her mouth. She didn't turn to kiss him back but stared off into space.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Why are you sorry? I'm the one with the problem," Hannah replied. She felt weightless and separate as if she were encased in a floating bubble charm.
The pamphlet the hospital had given her after her last miscarriage warned her that visits to new mothers and new babies might be painful, never explaining how she was to avoid them when all her friends were expecting.
Neville pressed his face into her hair at the back of her neck and pulled her tighter against him. He said nothing. Some things could not be talked about. Months before, for the fifth time, she'd lost a pregnancy. The impact of those five failed pregnancies sucked all the oxygen out of the room and left them gasping and unable to speak.
The Healers couldn't find the reason behind what she and Neville called the disappointments. Hannah appeared to be normal and healthy. The babies were alive and growing until the end. (When you've lost five, they tested such things.) No one understood what was going wrong. Apparently that was common for people in their situation.
Hannah was as close as she could be to Neville, but she might as well have been in another room. She didn't pull away from him, but she didn't relax her body against him either. She held herself exactly in the middle between acceptance and rejection. He kissed the back of her neck and got up from the bed. She could hear him walk around to her side. He knelt in front of her in the place her eyes were gazing.
"I've mucked the whole thing up again. I shouldn't have made you come with me," Neville said.
"You really didn't insist. I decided to go," she answered.
"I should have known. I should have gone alone," Neville said. "We could have come up with an excuse. You have to run this place most nights. That explanation would have been enough."
But Neville had been right. Ron and Hermione were their friendsand expected them to come to see their new baby. Soon Ginny would have her baby and then there would be others after that. Hannah didn't want to hurt her friends or let her problems drive them away.
"I didn't realize how hard it would be," Neville said.
Her fingers went out and rubbed the frown crease in his forehead, the place where his eyebrows drew together. "You can't help it if you don't understand," Hannah said.
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Neville had called Hannah supple and graceful, strong and resilient when he'd given her the small pot of bamboo that sat in the pub's front window. Neville had told her he would come to the Leaky just to watch her serve drinksand charm the customers. Hannah never thought of herself as graceful or strong, but she supposed she had to be to do her job. At the moment she carried a heavy tray of glasses above her head and swayed easily past first one customer and then another.
When she returned to the bar with her empty tray, Hannah glanced over to the table where Neville was sitting. His eyes were on her. Apparently he still liked to watch her serve drinks and charm the customers. When he could he did his paperwork in the pub room. Visitors would come in and interrupt him to share a drink. He'd act the skivvy when she needed help, but mostly he enjoyed working surrounded by people and noise.
She walked over to Neville and rested her hand in his hair. He looked up, kissed her and then returned to his work. She knew he was writing an article for some Herbology magazine. She glanced onto the page and read the words: failures in propagation. Her hand dropped out of his hair and she stepped back. She knew she was being silly and she tried to hide it, but she still turned and walked back to the bar.
Late that afternoon as she cleaned the empty pub, she felt embarrassedby her reaction to the article. Neville was the head propagator at Far Reaches Nursery, an expert on multiplying plants. What else would he be writing about?
Neville might think she was resilient, but Hannah knew otherwise. The last two losses had knocked her down and left her battered and flattened. They had been horrible disappointments. Her fourth pregnancy had lasted longer than any of her others. She'd had strong hopes for it and had been at the point of telling her friends when it ended. At the start of her fifth, she resolved to try every remedy, every protection she had ever heard of or could imagine. The Healers told her the methods were unnecessary and useless. They were right.
Sometimes Hannah wished that the Healers had found something wrong with herself and Neville. She'd have had an explanation, and an excuse to give her some peace. Other times she wished they had found something wrong with him alone, though she knew he was desperately glad they hadn't. If the problem had been Neville's, she'd have been accepting and understanding of him, which Hannah preferred to feeling she had failed at something other women did without trying. She was ashamed of the thought and supposed it meant she was selfish.
Neville joined her in the kitchen. He wielded a broom, as a mop followed behind washing the floor he'd just swept. He often helped when he could; he claimed it gave them more time together. When Neville finished the floor, he ordered the broom and mop to stow themselves away. The door to the broom closet swung open before the pair as they marched up to the wall and hung themselves on hooks.
Neville was smiling at her. Her cheeks turned pink and she wondered if he remembered too. One night when they'd been working late, Neville had pulled her into that broom closet and made love to her against the closed door.
"I can't remember," he said as he lifted her up. "Which way does this door open?"
She giggled. "In," she said.
"Good, I'd hate for us to fall through on to the floor. That would hurt."
"You're making me laugh," she warned him as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"How sad for me. I'd hoped for other reactions," he answered.
She'd laughed until the laughter dissolved into pleasure.
Hannah missed those early years of their marriage when they were simply alone and content to make each other happy.
An owl swooped through the kitchen hatch, circled around the room and settled on a counter by Neville's hand. Neville glanced at her quickly. He unwrapped the message from the owl's leg and read it. Suddenly he looked like he'd just taken a bite of something that tasted very good. "The Governors offered me the job, Professor of Herbology!" he exclaimed, his smile broadening with every word till he had quite a cheeky grin.
Her face must have shown some shock, because he immediately began to assuage supposed worries. "Remember, I'll still live here, Hannah. I can take the Floo network back and forth. They'll set up an alarm charm to tell me if a student comes to my office and needs me." He chuckled. "When they first talked to me about the job, I half thought the professors all lived in cells in the castle like monks."
"I don't understand why you want this position," Hannah said. "Why the big change now? You've refused other offers."
"Ministry jobs, shuffling paper, administering import regulation or such rot." He waved his hand in a dismissive manner.
"WhyHogwarts?" Hannah asked. "Neville, I was there when the seventh years were offered the chance to return. You told Seamus you were going to take your chances on your NEWTS. You said you were done with Hogwarts and not going back."
"When your best year at Hogwarts was the year you were tortured, you begin to suspect you were not meant to be a student there," he said. Neville always talked as if the failures and pains of his childhood were humorous parts to a play in which he played the role of chief clown, as if now the memory of that role amused him and he invited you to be amused too. To a great extent it was sincere. She liked it; her own mishaps seemed less important when Neville was around.
He'd once told her that he always secretly attributed his passing OWL in Transfiguration to the flock of flamingos she'd accidentally conjured during the practical. He claimed the sight of McGonagall and the proctors flapping their arms and chasing a dozen, giant, pink, honking birds around the classroom had worked better than a Riddikulus spell.
"I think I could teach," Neville said. "McGonagall and Snape, they were brilliant at their subjects, and I suppose they were great teachers, but neither of them had much patience for students who weren't smart. At work I train people all the time, and I'm good with the people who don't understand. I know what to say." His smile grew brighter;he positively shined as he spoke. "Don't you think it'd be great to start with children at eleven and watch them grow up and enter the world?" he asked.
Silence lay between them. Hannah had begun to speak when her chime spell signaled that customers were entering the pub. The afternoon crowd had arrived. Hannah was spared from having to answer him.
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"I know you, Neville. I know how you think. You've decided that we won't ever have our own children, so you're doing the next best thing: You're going to Hogwarts to teach the ones there, and you think it'll be almost as good as having our own."
Hannah stood next to their bed buttoning her pajama top. She was angry. It was late and Neville had made the mistake of asking her why she was unhappy about his taking the job at Hogwarts.
"That's what you do when you're unhappy, Neville. You accept things and then settle for whatever you can get, while you figure out how to be happy anyway."
Neville glared at her and then looked away abashed, made inarticulate by emotion.
"It's true," Hannah said. "I can see it in your face. But I don't want to settle for other people's children. I want my own. I don't want to be happy merely being Hugo's adopted aunt."
The hurt Hannah felt the night she visited baby Hugo had surprised her. She had grown accustomed to Ginny's pregnant belly long before. The obvious signs of happy, successful pregnancies had frequently greeted Hannah after her miscarriages; she had resigned herself to them. Ron's teasing question about having babies stung, but not badly. His remark proved he knew nothing about her situation. He would never have said anything if he'd suspected. But watching Neville hold Hugo like some kind of benevolent uncle had wounded her most of all.
Once Neville had told Hannah that the confirmation that his family considered him little more than a Squib came not from his great uncle's antics or his elderly aunt's strange remarks, but from the look of surprise on everyone's face when his Hogwarts letter arrived. Watching them, he knew they really doubted he was magical enough for the school. In the same way, Hannah realized that whatever Neville said, in his heart he'd given up. When Neville talked about the job at Hogwarts, Hannah knew he was preparing for a future without babies of their own, and that hurt her more than anything.
"Maybe there's some truth to what you say. Maybe," Neville answered. He was looking away from her, his hands fidgeting in his pockets. "But that's not the only reason I want to go to Hogwarts." He turned to face her. "You know why I left and why I want to go back."
He'd left Hogwarts to help Kingsley fight the last of the Death Eaters; capturing Voldemort's followers had eclipsed all other ambitions.
Neville pulled an old newspaper article out of a pocket in his robes and handed it to Hannah. She glanced down at the paper without reading it. She knew what it said. A sixth-year at Hogwarts had used the Cruciatus Curse against another boy in a fight. They'd been hurling hexes at each other, as Hogwarts students have since the school began, when the duel escalated and became nasty. The victim had attempted the curse first, but had failed. The students were quite ordinary, neither from Death Eater families or Slytherin. They weren't even pure-bloods.
"Those two..." He pointed toward the wrinkled article in her hand. "They both had brothers who were first years in Hogwarts when the Carrows were in charge. You remember what it was like, what their brothers must have seen."
Hannah reached out and touched the scar that ran across his cheek. She'd been there when he'd been cut.
"The boy who used the curse was proud of himself," Neville said. "He thought he'd proved how powerful he was."
Hannah had let every concern in the world shrink to nothing beside her childlessness. She was shocked, saddened by that, even embarrassed. At the same time she was angry at Neville, angry that he could talk to her about a job, about Hogwarts and other people's children, when they couldn't do the most basicand important thing of all.
"When I was with Kingsley, we arrested a Death Eater, who had two young sons with him. Those boys wailed as we took their father away."
Hannah remembered that man. Neville had told her before about him and his children. That Death Eater had done terrible things to Muggle-borns. She'd been surprised he had a family, and had been loved.
"The man's sons are probably at Hogwarts now." Neville sat down on the bed. His face was turned up towards her as he spoke. "I don't want to be fighting an imitation mini-Voldemort in ten years," he said.
Without thinking she brushed back his hair from his forehead. The burns there were barely visible. Madam Pomfrey had done a good job on his face.
"Hogwarts is important. I think I could do things for the students there. I know I could." He reached up and pulled her on to his lap. "But Hannah, you're worth more to me than a job," he said. "If you don't want me to take the position, I won't, and it wouldn't even be a sacrifice. I enjoy my work -- you know that – and I'm not so arrogant as to think I'm the only wizard who can help the kids of Hogwarts."
Hannah had been twisting Neville around; she knew she had. She loved him, but since her last miscarriage, she'd clutched her unhappiness to herself like a lover.
"I love you, Hannah. Could that be enough?" Neville asked. "Maybe this will make you angry, but it's true. I don't care if we have a baby as long as you're with me and happy."
She stared at him for a long time, andthen she started to cry. She cried big, ugly, sloshy tears until her head hurt and her eyes ached and her nose ran. He held her close against his chest while she soaked his robes.
"It's not fair," Hannah said. She was breathing in shuddering gulps.
"No, it isn't fair," Neville replied. "Fairness is for Quidditch and Exploding Snap. Nothing that really matters is ever fair."
She conjured a wet handkerchief, washed her face and then vanished the cloth. "I'm sorry," she said as she rested her head against his shoulder.
"I'd rather have tears than that thousand--league stare. You've been scaring me, Hannah." He rubbed the top of his hand against her cheek.
"You never had proper parents or a proper family. I want you to have children – a real family."
"I've told you, Hannah, you're my family," Neville said. One hand made slow circles on her thigh, while the other rested against her chin. He gently rubbed a knuckle against her lower lip and said, "Do you remember back at Hogwarts I named a flower for you?"
"That wasn't so special," she said, "you've named flowers for other girls." Her voice was still rough from crying.
"They weren't all compliments. I dubbed one of my Snake's head Arisaemas, Pansy Parkinson." His chin rested against the top of her head. "They're pollinated by dung beetles."
A giggle bubbled up inside of her.
"I called it Pansy until I decided it was nasty to name a dung beetle attracting Snake's head after any girl, even Parkinson. I almost named it Draco, but I changed it to Salazar."
The giggle turned into a real laugh. She snuggled up closer and hugged him.
"Actually, I think it was a male then. They can change their gender at will. I don't remember if I'd figured out yet how to make them female. It's hard to do. Whenever things aren't to their liking they flee fearfully to the masculine."
"Fearfully?" she asked.
"Bearing fruit is hard, even for plants. You should remember that. It's much easier to throw pollen around," he said as he kissed the top of her head. "I've always... liked you. At school I gave you my orchid, my best plant."
Neville loved orchids and bred them, naming theprogeny for her. His favorite was a white flushed with pink he called Blushing Hannah. Like all orchids, it was lovely, but sensitive and prone to languish.
"Orchids are the most beautiful flowers, and their most beautiful petal is called the labellum, the lip." He traced the outline of her mouth with his finger. "It guards the entrance to the column – the fusion of the male and female parts at the center of the flower."
"Are you luring me tobed with enticing herbology stories?" Hannah asked.
He lay down on their bed and pulled her down with him till they were lyingside by side facing each other.
"Flowers are all about sex. That's why we give them to girls." He leaned forward and kissed her.
She drew back from the kiss and said, "Neville, I think I'm pregnant again and I'm afraid." She cupped her hand around his face. "I'm afraid this one will end the way the others have. That's why I've been so unhappy. It's not you, and it's not Hogwarts."
He sat up and looked down at her, a question on his face.
"But I don't want to be afraid anymore," Hannah said. "I want to live like normal wizards do when they have babies."
He smiled. "I'm all for living like normal wizards. It's one of my goals," he said.
Neville slowly pulled her pajama bottom aside and kissed her on her belly where the baby was.