Every man dies - Not every man really lives.
~William Ross Wallace
Hannah remembers her first encounter with death far too clearly.
She was six years old and playing in the garden with her skipping rope. Mummy was inside reading her book and had told her to go outside for a bit before lunchtime rolled around.
Hannah was trying to skip as quickly as the girls in the village could. She fixated on her feet as she attempted to jump. That's how she'll always remember that she wore blue shoes that day. They had silver bows on them. She thinks Daddy sent them to her for Christmas, but to this day, she isn't really sure.
Mrs. Hilbert was planting flowers next door. She was a Muggle, like many of their neighbours, and never quite understood the Abbott family. Mrs. Hilbert always "forgot" that even though Mummy and Daddy were still married, they didn't live together and hadn't since Hannah was a baby. Hannah always hated when she came to call, bringing lemon squares and proclaiming in a loud trill, "Oh, and where is Mr. Abbott today?"
Mrs. Hilbert had an ugly tomcat named something derived from Greek culture – maybe Apollo or Hercules. The cat was roaming aimlessly in his mistress's yard, occasionally sprawling out in the sunlight. Hannah could easily see him from her garden, but chose to ignore him, focusing on her skipping instead.
Some time passed. It could have been a few minutes or a few hours. Hannah wasn't sure. But what she was certain of was the piercing shriek from Mrs. Hilbert.
"Oh, no, darling! Get that morbid thing out of your mouth!"
Hannah peeked over the fence separating the two gardens and when she saw what the cat had caught, her heart sunk. The disgusting creature was now abandoning his prey, a brown baby rabbit. The quarry's coat was now soaked in blood. It lay limp on the grass and Hannah felt her own blood curdle at the sight.
That poor, innocent bunny. How could that awful cat attack such a cute little thing?
"Hannah! Time for lunch!"
She is still thankful for her mother's call that day. Imagine if she had to witness Mrs. Hilbert tossing the bunny carelessly into the rubbish bin…
Grandma Connie didn't come round much. As the only live grandparent for most of Hannah's childhood, she was almost indebted to have some presence in her only grandchild's life. She visited for Christmas and Hannah's birthday, always arriving with a large parcel or two that normally contained clothes.
Grandma wasn't exactly bitter, but she wasn't very sweet or charming either. She smelt of vinegar and used her wand to keep a bun in her hair. She'd hug Hannah and politely kiss her cheek, but there were no other signs of affection. For the majority of her time spent with them, she'd knit on the front porch, stamping her foot to some imaginary beat. Hannah found her formidable yet soft-spoken.
The owl from St. Mungo's came when Hannah was nine, on a dreary February day. She remembered the date because Mummy was already in a distraught mood – she'd always become quieter around Valentine's Day. Reading the letter that said that Grandma Connie had wizards' pneumonia must have thrown Mummy completely over the edge.
Hannah remembers what happened after the letter came. Mummy sat with her on the front porch, on the same loveseat Grandma would lounge in while knitting. Her mother explained that Muggles had pneumonia too, but that the magical version of it was far more serious and deadly.
"Grandma may be in the hospital for a long time, dear," Mummy had said. "She may go there to live for some time."
Her mother's words didn't quite sink in for Hannah. She understood that Grandma was away, but when wasn't she? She knew that her grandmother was ill, but Hannah figured that it was nothing medicine and bed rest couldn't fix. Truthfully, she was barely fazed by Grandma's hospitalization.
As the months passed by, Mummy often left to visit Grandma, leaving Hannah with Mrs. Hilbert until she returned. Hannah liked to think that these visits with Mrs. Hilbert were almost as dreadful as Mummy's visits to St. Mungo's. When she told her mother this, Mummy only shook her head wearily and patted Hannah's hand. "Don't say that, sweet. Mrs. Hilbert is a very nice lady."
Autumn was nearly through when Hannah woke one morning to find Mummy with red eyes and uncombed hair. Once her bowl of cornflakes was empty, Hannah rose to leave the kitchen but was stopped by Mummy.
"Hannie…it's Grandma…she's gotten very sick and wants to see you at the hospital before…" It was there where Mummy chose to stop, assuming that Hannah would understand.
But Hannah just stared at her mother questioningly. Whatever did Mummy mean? Grandma was fine, wasn't she?
But when she stepped into her grandmother's room at St. Mungo's, Hannah saw that she was not fine. Grandma Connie was shrivelled and pale, too weak to even lift her head from the pillow. A very cautious Hannah was pushed to the bedside by her mother. Grandma's eyes lit in recognition.
The older woman simply reached out and took Hannah's hand, barely clinging on as she closed her eyes to rest. Unsure of what to do, Hannah finally sat down in the chair next to Grandma's bed. Eventually, a Healer came in to talk to Mummy. Hannah overheard bits of their conversation.
"…She hasn't got much longer, Mrs. Abbott. I'm sorry…"
"I know…I lost hope some time ago…"
Grandma died about two weeks after the visit to the hospital. Mummy ultimately decided that Grandma's burial procedures were too harsh for Hannah and sent her to stay with Mrs. Hilbert until after the funeral. Hannah didn't have a clue of what she missed, being so young and naive at the time. Her daily routines remained the same after the death. Now, Christmas and her birthday were just a little more hushed than before.
But from then on, Hannah always avoided the loveseat on the front porch…
Things grew more pleasant once Hannah went to Hogwarts. For the first time, she had real friends, ones who liked her for who she was and understood her personality. Justin, Ernie, and Susan were three immensely different housemates of hers, but somehow, the four of them met and bonded tremendously only days into their first year. They had some happy times together over the course of their first three school years, despite the terror experienced in second year when Justin was Petrified. Even that incident brought them closer together. For the longest time, Hannah felt so content with her life…she should have known that that was a sign for trouble.
She vividly remembers the pride that Hufflepuff displayed when Cedric Diggory was chosen for the Triwizard Tournament in her fourth year. How often they had all flashed their Potter Stinks badges in Harry's face! Hannah couldn't help but feel a little hostile towards Harry – Cedric was the true Champion!
She and her friends strutted through the school that year, obtrusively displaying the yellow colour on their robes. That was the proudest time for Hufflepuffs of any age. She can still hear the cheers and applause at the first two Tasks, in which Cedric did so well. She remembers that she, among many other girls, had developed a fancy towards him and had seethed with envy of Cho Chang. Cedric was a school-wide idol – every girl wanted to be with him and every boy wanted to be him. At least, that's how Hannah filed his status.
The Hufflepuffs painted their faces yellow the day of the Final Task and arrived at the Quidditch pitch waving House flags triumphantly. Hannah's seat was fairly close to the ground and she could easily see Cedric's lit and anxious face before the Task. She clapped, shouted, and whistled along with her friends when their Champion entered the maze. If Hannah had known what was about to occur…
Sometimes when she sleeps, she still hears the confused and frightened uproar that rang out when a bloody Harry Potter suddenly appeared with a still Cedric Diggory sprawled on top of him. Next to her, Susan had screamed and grasped Hannah's arm, whimpering like a little girl. Hannah had grabbed Susan's hand, but stared in horrified disbelief at the sight in front of her. It wasn't happening; it was all a dream…
There were the black tapestries and the solemn faces. There were the tears and the wide eyes. There were the shocked and saddened Hufflepuffs, refusing to believe that their hero was dead. When summer holidays came, Hannah sat in silence on the train ride home. All she could see was that pale, immobile body hanging limply from Harry's arms.
His was the first corpse she ever saw…
Even with being away at school nearly all year round, Hannah never forgot about her mother. She wrote her every week and sometimes even more if she had the spare time. Mummy knew of how proud her daughter was to be in Hufflepuff, how terrified she was when Justin was Petrified in second year, and how traumatized the school was in reaction to Cedric Diggory's death. Hannah never expected that Mummy was in danger at their quaint, peaceful cottage on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole.
She should have known that something would happen. Her mother wasn't Muggleborn, the breed that You-Know-Who strived to kill, but she wasn't a pure-blood either. After Muggles and Muggleborns, half-bloods were next on You-Know-Who's list. And what with her father completely out of their lives, Mummy had little protection. How could Hannah have been so stupid?
The news came in sixth year, in the midst of the war. Hannah was called out of Herbology class by McGonagall, and the professor led her into the castle to a secluded corner. McGonagall turned back to face her, starting to speak quietly, almost in a nurturing, sympathetic way.
"I'm sorry, Miss Abbott. Your mother has been…"
She doesn't remember any more words after that. But Hannah can still hear the thud of her body hitting the floor in shock. She was brought to the hospital wing after that, and only an hour later, Susan appeared with Hannah's things packed in her trunk. At the time, Hannah was drifting in and out of consciousness, afraid to face the reality of her horror.
She opened her eyes the next morning and found herself looking up at her father for the first time in years.
She tried. She honestly tried. But Hannah couldn't muster out the word. It was entirely foreign to her, nearly taboo.
"W-what are you doing here?"
He looked nothing like the old pictures she had seen. He looked old and haggard, not fresh-faced and twinkle-eyed as he was in his wedding portrait. The corners of his mouth were turned down and he showed no joy in seeing her. It was probably due to her mother's death, but Hannah couldn't help think that it was because he didn't like what he saw in her.
"What do you expect me to say?" His voice was snippy and rough, and Hannah concluded from the tone that he was a smoker. "Dumbledore wrote to me. I had to come and get you, didn't I?"
"Yeah…I suppose so."
"Come on, then. You're all better. I have your trunk here – let's go."
Hannah tentatively rose from the bed. "Where are we going?"
But he was already striding towards the door, having cast a Locomotor spell on her trunk. Hannah began to walk; before she could stop the urge, she began to sob silently.
It was at that moment when she began to call herself an orphan…
Wartime memories are faint. Some choose to completely expunge them from memory; others just don't remember at all. Hannah believes she was in an ever-present fog from the time of her mum's death up until the end of the Final Battle. She remembers wandering away from the joyous, weeping crowds and sitting down in a deserted alcove. There was no trace of the battle there, and Hannah had pretended that she was an innocent first-year hiding from Filch. To achieve this vision, she just had to look straight ahead, away from her bloody hands and bruised knees…just straight at the unmarred wall, a ceaseless pattern of stone upon stone…
"Hannah…come and eat something." Neville. Hannah remembers Neville appearing, standing rigidly by her side. She hadn't spoken to him since the previous summer. At that time, Neville was a distant memory of hers.
She remembers wanting to confirm it with someone, even though she saw him fall. "He's dead, Neville. Justin's dead."
"…Yes. He is."
"Is it true? Is one of the Weasleys~"
"And I saw Lupin~"
"Shh…don't think about it. We won, Hannah. It's over." He had sat down next to her after saying this, cautiously placing a hand on her shoulder. "They died for us, Hannah. They wouldn't want you to~"
"Damn it, let me be!" Hannah remembers immediately regretting that sudden explosion. The reality of the situation had finally sunk in – her feelings were suddenly boiling, anxious to be let out in the open.
Neville had said nothing. He had only taken his hand away from her, seeming unsure.
To rectify this mistake, Hannah remembers taking a deep breath and starting fresh. "I was so scared, Neville…I forgot everything I knew…I saw him die…"
"And my mum…" Here, she had hesitated, but then continued. "I wanted to do it for her, but I couldn't."
"It's okay, you don't have to~"
"Kill." The sharp word had echoed in the empty corridor, and a chill had shot up Hannah's spine. "I couldn't kill. I had a bloke cornered…but…I got scared. I ran away."
"It's okay. You're alive, it's all right~"
"Justin's dead. My best friend is dead."
They had observed a moment of silence then. Hannah remembers looking down at her lap and seeing her wounded hands. And it all came rushing back…but suddenly went away when she felt a light, cool pressure on her cheek. She'd glanced back up to see a reddening Neville leaning away from her.
He'd blushed ferociously, as if he was replaying the bold kiss in his mind. "Sorry, I didn't – I mean, forget it~"
Hannah remembers biting her lip, contemplating whether to say the truth. She ultimately did. "No. I – I liked it…it felt nice."
"Er…" If Neville had been any redder, she would have mistaken him for a tomato.
"You were amazing…you are amazing." She had heard of what Neville did for the student body, what a great leader he was.
"Seriously, I couldn't have done what you did…it was brilliant. Your grandmother is so proud; I can tell."
"Yeah, I suppose so." He had been blushing again, this time because he'd thought she was exaggerating his accomplishments.
They had sat in silence again, although then with some comfort that wasn't there before. The stillness was broken by Neville's voice.
"…Where do you suppose you'll go after…all of this?"
"Dunno. Anywhere, I suppose."
"Where were you…you know, this entire year?"
Hannah remembers wondering what to say to this question. In the end, she had chosen the simplest answer. "With my cousin. Distant cousin, that is."
"Will you go there?"
"Probably not." Elena hadn't wanted to come to Hogwarts for the battle. Hannah couldn't be with someone who didn't even want to help.
More silence. She remembers lots of it. But then she had decided to speak up, to thank him for his presence.
"Thank you, Neville. For this, I mean. I don't suppose many boys would listen to me drone on and on, eh?" She had unconsciously thrown in humor and almost felt guilty for doing so.
"I guess not."
"I suppose we should go back in? You being the hero that you are…" More ignorant humor. Hannah recalls cursing herself silently.
"Are you sure?"
"…Have they moved the bodies?"
"Yes, to a classroom."
"Right then…we'd better go in…"
She remembers feeling bold as they stood up, feeling things that were unfamiliar to her. Something had suddenly possessed her to reach out and entwine her pallid, icy hand with his.
Her heart had sunk when Neville glanced down at their hands blankly. "…Oh…"
"Is that all right?" Hannah had quickly yanked her hand away, blushing. "I'm sorry~"
"No…" She can still feel the leap of her heart when Neville reached out to hold her hand. "I don't mind. It feels nice."
He was the first to make death seem less horrific…
Sometimes Hannah hates herself for being so insecure and frightened of the world. Her phobia has diminished over the years, but it is and always was present. There was a time in her life when she was split into two, when she felt one way but desperately wanted to be another. It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life, but it became nearly the opposite of that.
This time was when she was pregnant with Alice, her and Neville's first child. It was only after Hannah had confirmed her suspicions for the fourth time that the pregnancy sank in. What did she know about motherhood? What did she know about raising a child with another adult? For Merlin's sake, what did she effin' know about children? She was an only child, raised by a sole parent who was killed when Hannah needed her the most.
She knew that she shouldn't have acted that way. Neville had been so happy. He was like her, nearly alone in the world until they fell in love. Neville craved his own family, one that he helped create, one that he would always belong to. He seemed more in love with Hannah than ever when she was carrying that baby. She needed to be strong for him, the man she goddamn loved. She couldn't' tell him all of that – Hannah would cringe just thinking about his possible reaction. So, for Neville only, she shut up and feigned total happiness for the rest of the pregnancy.
Alice Pomona was born on a muggy day in August 2005. The birth had been hard for Hannah up until the Healers drugged her with severe painkilling spells. Once her daughter had been born and swaddled, Hannah attempted to stay up, to hold her baby, but the spells were too heavy to fight. She fell asleep in her hospital bed while Neville sat next to her, cuddling that little girl he was already in love with.
Hannah woke up an hour and a half later due to a ruckus outside in the hall. She could see Healers rushing back and forth, calling out orders to their inferiors. Neville had moved to the chair while she was sleeping and still held Alice in his arms.
"What's happened, Neville?"
"Premature baby. They could've saved it, but something went wrong. I guess they're trying to find a spell that'll help."
"Hasn't something like that happened before? They should know what to do!"
"It was really premature, apparently. I heard a Healer say that it was a high-risk pregnancy…"
Somehow, she dozed off again. By the time she woke up, it was night time. Her husband still sat loyally in the chair. Their daughter had been taken to the nursery. Hannah smiled wearily at her husband, reaching out for his hand. He took it and, without a word, they each knew that the other was still in disbelief that they were a parent.
"Neville…do you know what happened to that baby?"
"Oh." His face fell and Hannah gulped. "They couldn't…it's gone."
"Ah…I see…that's horrible."
The wheels in her mind had begun to turn. Some woman had come into that hospital looking just like her, with an enlarged belly and swollen ankles. But, in the end, Hannah would be able to walk out with a baby and the other woman would not.
Maybe it was just because she was hormonal, or maybe some sense finally knocked into her. Hannah called for her nurse and asked to see Alice. Since it was after hours, it took much pleading and convincing, but soon, an attendant came around with a wheelchair for her. Neville helped her sit and he rolled her to the nursery himself. There, the night nurse placed Alice Pomona into Hannah's arms for the first time.
Hannah looked down at her little baby and, miraculously, just like Neville, fell in love with her. Maybe she hadn't known a thing about babies, but perhaps that was how things were supposed to be.
That was the first time a death made her realize…
She had never been told that the illness was hereditary. Hannah gasped when the Healer said that he believed that her mother would've gotten it too had she lived longer.
"But – I – I'm younger than my mum was! I can't possibly have~"
"It's an ageless disease, Mrs. Longbottom. I understand that your grandmother died from it at an old age~"
"~But it was always a possibility that you or your mother would've gotten it earlier on. Weren't you ever tested?"
"…I was never told…"
"Well, once your children reach the age of fifteen, I recommend that they start taking annual screening tests. As for you…"
That's what Hannah remembers most from that conversation at St. Mungo's on that dreadful, dreadful day. First the bloody Healer made her seem stupid – but who would've told her that wizards' pneumonia was genetic? It's not like the disease was highly publicized. Then he practically sentenced her children to a bout of the illness. But suddenly, her Healer became the least of her troubles
…Neville - she had to write to him right away and tell him…and poor Alice, away at school for the first time…Hannah hated to make her worry when she was having such fun. Little Frankie and Eleanor – they needed her, she couldn't leave them…
She wrote to Neville that afternoon, on a Friday, and he flooed home immediately after his last class. When he came inside, Hannah was curled up on the sofa, too stunned to work downstairs in the pub. Frankie and Eleanor were at Luna's for the day, so she didn't need to worry about them. Surprisingly, Neville didn't ask where their younger children were. He only sat down without a word and hugged her.
It was then when reality sank in. Hannah began to weep in his familiar arms, terrified of the unknown.
The pneumonia kicked in only two days later, on Sunday morning. Neville had stayed for the weekend and hurriedly checked her into St. Mungo's. A family friend brought Frankie and Eleanor to Luna's once again. What happened after that was all a blur. All Hannah remembers is burning, throbbing, smoldering. She could feel herself deteriorating only hours into the disease.
Neville left his teaching position to stay with her. Whenever Hannah woke, there was Neville sitting by her bed, ready to comfort her. She'd smile at him every time until she was in the hospital for nearly a month and there was no strength left in her.
It was then when she was positive that she'd die. There must be some survivors of that hell, but at the time, Hannah was sure she wouldn't be one of them. For a while, death didn't seem so bad. She'd be with Grandma Connie, Mummy, and Justin again. She'd know no pain or suffer. She'd find complete and total happiness.
But her family was here. She had loved Neville for over fifteen years now and with this love they had three children, who were her lights and sometimes her only reason for being happy. Hannah remembers how lost she felt when her mother died and her father showed zero interest in her. She had had no one. But she gained love once again through her husband and children.
She couldn't leave the children. She couldn't let them grow up without her. They were even younger than she was when Mummy died! Hannah had no doubt that if she passed, Neville would dedicate himself to the three even more than he did now. But it'd be an incomplete life. She partially fell in love with Neville because all he wanted was a family, and deep down, she shared this desire. She couldn't let her children experience even an ounce of the sadness their parents had endured. She had to live.
For several days, there was only excruciating pain. Later, Hannah learned that she had been going through the worst of it. She remembers feeling so hot, as if her skin was on fire. Then she recalls blackness. But then, she remembers waking up, feeling cool, and seeing her husband's face for the first time in what seemed like weeks, but in actuality was only five days.
She had completely recovered. The Healers called it a miracle.
Hannah now sees how silly she has been about life. She has always been expecting the worst, worrying about uncontrollable things, and dreading what won't come in ages. Life shouldn't be about the endings.
…It is all about the beginnings.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed it! I'm sorry it was so long, haha. I haven't written any fics lately, so I hope this doesn't show that I'm a little rusty. Please leave a review with a word or two! Thanks! And another thank you to Jay for reading through it for me! =)