Chapter Five - Pomona
What with one thing and another (one of the things being a lot of time spent with Hannah), Neville didn't get a chance to talk with Pomona about the staff Christmas party until the beginning of the next term.
But he'd continued to feel worried about the whole "Headmistress's bedroom" business, so he brought it up to Pomona one afternoon as they repotted the winter Flitterblooms.
"Pomona, about the party at Minerva's," he began, and she cut in enthusiastically.
"Oh, yes, wasn't that a good time! Felton and I agreed - - one of the best Hogwarts parties in a quite a while. Albus always used to host it at the Three Broomsticks, which was nice, but you know. . .not much of a change from ordinary life. I was glad when Minerva took over and decided to have it at her own house. Of course, after the first few minutes I hardly see Felton; he always ends up out in the stables with Will, talking about thestral breeding."
Neville looked up, momentarily diverted. "I thought thestral-breeding was illegal."
"It is, outside of the Ministry-approved program. But Will is one of their official breeders; she's been for years. Very good at it, Felton says. Some of her animals are part of the Hogwarts herd, you know."
"No, I didn't," Neville said. "But, Pomona, about, well. . .about Hannah and me being in the Headmistress's bedroom. We were just looking around, but, I mean. . .I know we had no business to be there, and I, well. . ." He trailed off, not sure where he was going with this. He suspected he just wanted Pomona to assure him that everything was all right.
Which she did. "Oh, Neville, really! Do you think I believed for a moment that you were doing something you shouldn't? I know you're not the prying sort. And anyway, if Minerva hadn't wanted anyone in there, she would have warded the door. But people often want to look at her books, and she's happy to let them. In fact, I usually have to go in there to shoo Irma out; if I didn't, she'd spend the entire party sitting in Minerva's armchair with a pile of books on her lap and wouldn't socialise at all."
"I wasn't really looking at the books, though," Neville said, determined to make a clean breast of things. He wouldn't feel comfortable having Pomona think more highly of him than he deserved. "I was looking at the pictures."
"Well, and what of it? Minerva wouldn't leave them sitting out if she minded people seeing them. Think of who you're dealing with, Neville - - between them, Minerva and Will are capable of charming and transfiguring the whole world into something else entirely. If they wanted to, they could certainly change a few family photos into. . .oh, I don't know, pictures of sunsets on Crete or something. Or at least use a Notice-Me-Not charm."
Neville thought of what Hannah had said about the picture of the unicorn and busied himself with the Flitterbloom pots; he thought he was probably blushing.
"What did you think you were going to see, anyway?" Pomona asked, laughing. "Pictures of Minerva cavorting with Dark wizards?"
Suddenly she looked at Neville sharply and shook a dirt-tipped finger in his direction, a knowing smile on her face.
"Ah, I know what you were doing! You were trying to figure out the situation between Minerva and Will, weren't you?"
Neville knew he should have known better than to try to keep anything from her. People who thought Hufflepuffs were not as smart as Ravenclaws were people who had not met Pomona Sprout.
"Well, I, er. . ." he stammered, blushing now in earnest. "I was, well, uh. . .curious?"
Pomona gave a little sigh, though not an impatient one. "Oh, Neville, dear, you're not the only one. People have been speculating about that almost since the day Minerva moved her traps into the house. Are they friends or lovers or just flatmates or what? I confess, I've wondered myself."
Neville felt himself breathe easier, and he risked a small smile. "Really? My gran says no-one over about thirty would ever wonder such a thing."
Pomona's snort of derision was worthy of Gran herself. "Don't you believe it. And don't you believe she believes it, either."
"It's not all about sex, Gran says."
"Well, she's got the right of it there. I don't know if it's about sex at all with Minerva and Will, to tell you the truth. I don't think anyone does, except them."
Pomona's hands stilled, and she stood for a moment, her brow furrowed in thought. "I suppose you're wondering," she said at last, "why I've never asked Minerva or Will about their relationship. I mean, we've been friends, the three of us, for more years than I care to count."
"Well, it can be a delicate topic even with friends," Neville said, trying to imagine what circumstance could ever make him ask Seamus and Dean whether they slept together.
"It can be, but that's not why," Pomona said. She returned to work on the seedlings. "It's because it doesn't matter."
"That's what Gran said, and Hermione, too," said Neville, beginning to feel exasperated at last. "But why doesn't it matter? Why shouldn't it be important for Minerva and Will to find love and sexual satisfaction?"
And then it all came out in a rush, how he'd initially thought "Will" must be Minerva's husband and had disliked the idea, but hadn't been at all sorry to learn that Will was a woman, how he'd been happy for them, but now. . .
"Now it seems like there may not be any 'them' at all," he finished. "They're what - - eighty or so? That's almost old, Pomona, and all they've got after all those years of living is someone to share expenses with?"
"Of course there's a 'them,' Pomona said, Levitating the Flitterbloom pots to a shelf under the special plant candles and cleaning the worktable a quick charm. "Come along, Neville. Time for tea."
- / - / -
"Of course there's a 'them,'" she said again, once they were seated with steaming cuppas in the little sitting room charmed into a corner of Greenhouse Three. "I don't know if it's a sexual 'them,' though, and if you think sex is essential to happiness, well, then I can't swear they have it."
She grinned at him. "Not that I have anything against sex, mind. But it's not all there is to being with someone. I'll tell you what we do know about Minerva and Will: whatever they have, it's lasted nearly sixty years. And that's impressive. If you're still friends with Potter and Weasley and the rest of them in sixty years, consider yourself blessed."
"I will," said Neville, and he meant it. But somehow the idea of sitting around with grey and balding old men, however close he felt to them, wasn't really what he wanted out of his so-called golden years.
Pomona looked at him shrewdly. "But you don't think that's enough, do you? You still want. . .what did you call it? 'Love and sexual satisfaction?'"
Neville nodded, and Pomona patted his arm.
"Well," she said, "as to sexual satisfaction, I make no pronouncements about that. To each his own. . .or her own. But love, Neville. . .if that's what you're worried about, don't be. There's love aplenty, all sorts of it. Enough for all of us to find the sort we need." She looked at him meaningfully. "You included. You'll find your sort. And I'll tell you this: Minerva and Will have found their sort. Whatever else they share or don't share, they share that. I'd bet Greenhouse Three on it."
She freshened her tea and Neville's, added milk to hers, and stirred briskly. "Now tell me. How is Miss Abbott finding life at the Leaky Cauldron? I thought she looked very well at the Christmas party. . ."
She chattered on, sipping her tea, patting his hand again, pressing him to take another choccy biccy, while the late afternoon sun slanted lower and lower through the windows, and Hogwarts settled ever deeper into Neville's bones.
He sat back and gave himself over to the comfort of Pomona's voice and to the pictures in his head: of Hannah in her pretty blue party robes. Of Ron, beaming as he handed round pictures of a wrinkly baby.
And of Will and Minerva, standing side-by-side in the shimmering glow of their Christmas tree.