Thanks go, as always,
to the brilliant Suburban House Elf. Thanks, also, to Songbird, Seaspray,
Mullvaney and Skruvsta for pre-reading, encouraging and putting up with Professor
Binns’ History of Magic lessons. Last, but by no means least, a huge thank-you
to Whimsy, for invaluable feedback and suggestions on the latest version of
Chapter Two: Eyes
The street thronged
with office workers buying their lunchtime sandwiches under the shimmering
haze of a midday sun. None of them took any notice of the teenage boy in neatly-pressed
jeans and thick, black jacket, leaning against the glass frontage of the shabby
department store that never opened. Buses thundered past in both directions
but Neville was oblivious to the roar of the traffic and din of a thousand
strident voices. Finally, he could stop pretending to be buried in his well-read
copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi – because he could
A short, blonde girl,
cheeks pink in the sweltering heat, was striding towards him. She weaved in
and out of the crowd, looking perfectly at home ignoring the beggars and dodging
Muggle street vendors hawking tourist tat. Hannah Abbott. They’d shared a
table in the Herbology greenhouse off and on for more than five years, sat
next to each other in the Hog’s Head at the first gathering of what was to
become Dumbledore’s Army, and even danced one dance at the Yule Ball. But
Neville swallowed nervously
and wished he were somewhere else entirely. Back home preferably, reading
his new copy of Pruning Techniques for Dangerous Shrubs, or perhaps
mowing the lawn for his Gran. Why had he suggested they meet here of all places?
Even though they’d corresponded regularly over the last ten months, the girl
now approaching him, dressed in perfectly ordinary jeans and t-shirt with
a big, blue rucksack slung on her back, looked like a stranger. Now she was
just twenty yards away – ten – five ...
“Hello, Neville.” Her
voice was unfamiliar too. She hovered uncertainly, peering with curiosity
into the windows of Purge & Dowse. Should he hug her? Or shake hands ...?
“H – Hi.” Neville
dropped his book face-down on the filthy pavement, as a large woman with drawn-on
eyebrows and a great deal of heavy gold jewellery jostled his elbow.
“Tcha!” she spat, as
though it were Neville’s fault, and hurried on her way without apologising.
“Shall we get away from
this madhouse?” Hannah appeared to check herself. “Neville, I’m sorry. I didn’t
mean ...” Her cheeks were now crimson. At that moment, the sun disappeared
behind a tiny cloud and a fresh breeze attacked the litter on the dusty concrete
beneath their feet. Neville wasn’t offended. In fact, he felt relief wash
over him as he remembered that Hannah knew the reason for meeting outside
St. Mungo’s. He’d told her about Mum and Dad, a little at least, in his letter.
He wasn’t going to have to hide or explain anything.
“Forget it.” The ice
“Isn’t it hot? Maybe
we should find somewhere to sit down? A cafe or something.”
“Er – OK.”
Without another word,
she led the way down a narrow side street that twisted and turned confusingly.
Desperately, Neville recited the Muggle transport directions he’d memorised
and hoped that Hannah would be able to remember the way back. To add to his
concern, he noticed he was attracting odd looks from passers by. Could they
tell he wasn't one of them?
“Here’s one. It’s a
bit off the beaten track, so it should be fairly quiet.” Hannah walked confidently
into a dim, blessedly cool coffee shop and homed in on the only free table.
Two girls sneered at Neville as he squeezed past their table.
“Is he going to the
North Pole, d’you think?” they giggled. Neville sank gratefully into the chair
opposite Hannah. He could feel sweat trickling down between his shoulder blades.
Hannah ordered from the waitress in a business-like fashion, then sat back,
looking contemplatively at Neville. She lifted her rucksack onto the table.
“Why don’t you give
me your jacket and I’ll put it in my bag? There’s plenty of room and you must
“I – I can’t.
My book’s in the inside pocket. It’s heavy.”
“That’s all right, I
don’t mind. What is it? One Thousand ... Oh. Well, not to worry, we
can take turns carrying it.”
“And m – my wand.”
Neville lowered his voice to a whisper. “Gran made me promise to keep it to
hand, in case of emergencies.”
“Ah.” Hannah frowned
“Is yours in the bag
then?” He kept his voice low. “Isn’t it a bit, you know, inaccessible? Wand-safety
and all that.”
“No. I don’t have it
with me, actually. I left it at the hotel.” She sounded nervous, and her cheeks
were again flushed with embarrassment, but Hannah kept her head held up defiantly.
To cover his confusion, Neville took a sip of his coffee, which had just arrived.
The pause lengthened. Finally, she said, “Look, why don’t you put your wand
in your pocket or something? It’s not as if you’re going to need it. You’d
get into awful trouble. Your birthday isn’t for three weeks is it?” She
knows my birthday. Then her words began to sink in. It seemed like she
had no idea how bad things were now.
His Gran’s warning earlier
that morning came back to him. Wasn’t Hannah in more danger than most, given
what had happened? He tried to remember what had been reported in the Daily
Prophet, but only the haziest of details came back to him. There’d been
mention of an investigation… When writing to him, Hannah had referred to some
letter-writing campaign of her dad’s a few times. He’d got the impression
the inquiry into her mother’s death was still going on, but hadn’t liked to
pry, thinking that she wouldn’t want to be constantly reminded about why she’d
had to leave school.
“We might as well be
comfortable.” Hannah didn’t seem to have noticed the awkward silence. “It’s
three buses to get to the Physic Garden, I looked it up.” She smiled, her
composure perfectly recovered. “Pass me your jacket over. I should introduce
It was as though the
sun had come out again. Neville decided to drop the subject of magic for the
time being. He shoved his wand into the belt loop of his jeans and pulled
his t-shirt out to hide it, resolving to be on his guard, under age or not.
Hannah reached down
and lifted her rucksack onto the table. The long zip around the top was undone.
She gently reached inside. “Zophy. Wake up. I’ve a friend for you to meet.”
A head with large pointed ears, tufted eyebrows and a squashed nose emerged
from the bag. The cat opened its eyes reluctantly. The expression on its fluffy
face was distinctly disgruntled. “She didn’t like the train journey, but she
would insist on coming. She’s still in a bit of a mood. Normally she
rides along with her head sticking out. She’s awfully tame, considering she’s
still a baby really.”
“She’s sweet,” said
Neville, scratching between the cat’s ears. She purred. At last, he was doing
something right. “Where’d you get her? You never had her at school, did you?”
“No, I got her about
six months ago, from an ad in the paper.”
“No, a local paper.
Zophy isn’t magical, she’s an ordinary moggie, even if she is a beautiful
Cats were never just
ordinary, that’s what Gran always said. “Well, she looks like a proper witch’s
clouded again. What had he said now? Would he ever learn not to put his foot
in it? She took a sip of her coffee and said, brusquely. “Well, she isn’t.”
She rolled up Neville’s jacket and tucked it into the bag next to the kitten,
who looked pleased and began to knead it into a comfortable cushion with her
paws. He resigned himself to a jacket covered in cat hair. For the next few
minutes they drank coffee in yet another tense silence, while he searched
frantically for something to say. All he wanted to know was why, as
a qualified witch whose seventeenth birthday had come and gone, Hannah wasn’t
carrying her wand. It still didn’t feel like the moment to ask.
Neville drained the
dregs of his coffee. Ugh. He had no idea how to pay, but wasn’t it his responsibility,
as the one who’d issued the invitation? Hannah waved his handful of Galleons
away. “It’s fine, you can treat me later.” This at least seemed to indicate
that she wasn’t planning on ditching him yet, but the day was starting to
feel less and less like any sort of date. Neville wondered again whether his
Gran had been right, that he’d have been better off at home, out of harm’s
way. Then there was Hannah. Risking her life, luring her into the open without
any means to defend herself had not been part of the plan. A stupid plan,
he now realised, and one based on an almost certainly unfounded fantasy. There
was no way Hannah, or any girl for that matter, would ever like him in that
They stood up to leave.
As Neville picked up the bag and swung it gently onto his shoulders, Hannah
smiled up at him. He felt a fluttering somewhere in the region of his stomach,
which distracted him from the constant, dull ache in his ribcage. She was
as pretty as he remembered. He thought back to the polite, brief note of sympathy
he’d sent after Hannah had left Hogwarts so abruptly. Asking Professor Sprout
for her home address the following day had felt like the bravest thing he’d
ever done. Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it.
The Physic Garden was
busier than Neville had ever seen it. He was dismayed. He’d wanted Hannah
to enjoy its cool seclusion, see in it the same peaceful, ordered beauty as
he did. “I’m sorry, it’s as packed as everywhere else.” He tried to
hide the disappointment in his voice.
He stood aside to let
a woman pass. She was pushing a wheeled contraption that took up the entire
width of the gravel path. Neville winced as she bellowed in his ear. “Clarissa,
what have I told you about needing the potty!”
Hannah patted his arm
soothingly, and he felt the jump in his stomach again. “Don’t worry about
it. It’s the school holidays. Everywhere’s like this. It’s lovely, really.
I’ve hardly been out of doors for weeks, except to walk to work.” They skirted
a small child crouching on the path in front of them.
“I must say I was a
bit surprised when you suggested coming here.” Hannah stepped off the path,
held her arms out and closed her eyes, smiling beatifically at the heavens.
“Where did you hear about it?”
Neville stopped to wait
for her, looking round nervously at the tall buildings surrounding the walled
garden. There were a lot of windows, he noticed. Hannah was standing by herself
on a patch of grass. The thought crossed his mind that she looked like a target.
He patted his wand, to check it was still safely tucked into his waistband
and moved off again, praying that she would follow him back into the crowd.
“I used to come here
with Grandad when I was little, after visiting Mum and Dad. It was one of
his favourite places.” They reached the open space of the pond and rockery
in the centre of the garden. Hannah stopped walking again. She looked puzzled.
“I don’t understand.
Was he a – um ...?” Mid-sentence, Hannah changed what she had been about
to say. “I thought the Longbottoms were a pure-blood family.” she said in
an odd tone of voice.
“Oh, yeah, we are. Most
wizards don’t know about this place, unless they’re really into Herbology
or Potions, but when it started, this was a school for Apothecaries. Sometimes
wizard families would send children here as apprentices, if they were poor
and couldn’t afford Hogwarts.”
“You mean wizards and
M – Muggles together?” asked Hannah, frowning at a leaflet they’d been
handed on their way in.
“Mmm. It was a long
time ago. Grandad told me it was a witch who saved this place when it looked
like it’d have to close down. That’s why it’s still here after four hundred
years. She made some sort of gift in – in ... something or other.
“Um, right. Her name
was Elladora something ... Ketteridge!” Neville produced the name triumphantly.
“I’ve heard of her -
she’s on a Chocolate Frog Card ...”
“That’s right. She discovered
Hannah’s eyes were shining
with excitement. “I remember now, we learned about this in History of Magic.
It was before the International Statute of Secrecy! Wizards and M –
Muggles living and working alongside each other in places like this. Professor
Binns said it all became too difficult to control, so there was the split.
Th – they went one way and we went the other.”
Neville was impressed
that Hannah had managed to stay awake long enough to hear anything Professor
Binns had said, let alone remember it. “I dunno. Sounds about right. My granddad
told me the Muggles think it was one of their lot that kept the place going.
I think that’s his statue over there.”
Now, it seemed, Hannah
was getting interested. She led the way into the Garden of World Medicine.
“They’ve got dittany over here, and what’s this? Geranium.”
“Not the Fanged one
though. That was banned when it first appeared. There were laws against experimental
breeding, Professor Sprout told me. Hard to imagine now, isn’t it? With stuff
like Devil’s Snare around and it’s not even a controlled – y’know –
thingummyjig.” His mind wandered. He should have noticed that time
at St. Mungo’s. If only he hadn’t been so shocked at seeing Hermione and the
rest of them …
Hannah had fallen silent,
apparently lost in thought. She wandered from plant to plant, looking as sad
as she had in the coffee shop when Neville had made the remark about Zophy
being a witch’s cat. She only smiled politely when Neville showed her his
favourite exhibit, a blue plaque entitled “The Mandrake Myth.”
“But Mandrakes do scream,
don’t they?” she asked vaguely. “We did it in second year. We had to wear
those special ear muffs.”
“Exactly!” Neville said
eagerly. He crouched down and pointed out an innocuous-looking plant. “Muggles
think this is a mandrake. But sometimes the magic variety turns up
in the wild and causes havoc. It happened a few years ago near a Herbology
nursery in Lincolnshire. It got into the local paper and they had to Obliviate
twenty thousand people.”
Neville couldn’t help
wishing his only anecdote had gone down a little better. He couldn’t put it
off any longer. “Hannah,” he began tentatively. “Why don’t you have your wand
with you today?”
She turned to face him.
Her eyes were very blue in the strong sunlight. “It’s a long story. Perhaps
we’d better sit down.”
Neville led the way
down an almost hidden path. It was quieter in this part of the garden and
cooler in the shade of tall trees. Under the overhanging branches, he found
what he was looking for. The slatted wooden bench was more weathered than
he remembered it, and smaller. When they sat down, their knees almost touched.
He looked around, quickly. The place was deserted and they’d be able to hear
anyone approaching. He took his wand out and placed it on his lap, relaxing
for the first time that afternoon. He glanced at Hannah, who frowned and said,
“I’m not sure how to begin.”
Neville waited. After
a minute, she began again. “I suppose I’m worried that if I say it out loud
it’ll sound stupid, and you’ll think I’m crazy. Maybe I am.”
“I won’t think you’re
mad,” he said quietly.
Hannah looked at him
sideways and said heavily, “Well, you know I’m Muggle-born?” She stopped again.
“I know. So are a lot
of people.” Neville spoke gently, aware of how much was at stake. “What does
that have to do with not having your wand with you?”
“Two worlds. I have
to live in one of them. I have to choose.”
Somehow, he’d expected
something like this. The hints in her letters perhaps. Or the breezy way she’d
dealt with all the nuisances and hazards of their journey across London, as
though determined to say, without words, This is where I belong. She
was wrong. But how could he get her to see it?
“Why did you come and
meet me then?” he asked simply.
“I don’t know.” She
bowed her head, so that Neville could no longer see her face under the curtain
of straight blonde hair. Her shoulders heaved, silently, and a tear splashed
onto her hands.
“Hannah, when did you
last do any magic?”
She didn’t answer. “Your
birthday was in May, wasn’t it? Anything since then?” Mutely, Hannah shook
her head. A few more tears landed on her jeans and soaked into the fabric.
“It must have been at school then.”
“I suppose,” she said
dully. “What difference does it make?”
“Well, er, take a look
She lifted her head.
Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks streaked with tears. He could feel a deep
shaking reverberating through her body, from her knee now pressing against
his. Surrounding the bench, in a perfect circle were white, umbrella-shaped
mushrooms, getting larger by the second. “They weren’t here a minute ago,”
said Neville, keeping his voice matter-of-fact. “Even fast-growing varieties
take twelve hours.”
“I think you’re doing
it. Accidental magic – you know, like babies do.”
Hannah gave a mirthless
little laugh. “You think I’m causing fungus to grow. Great.”
“Think about it. Has
anything like this happened before?”
“Of course not, except
...” Hannah fell silent.
“Well, I suppose I have
been taking my moods out on the garden. It’s a mess. And then the nettles
and stuff grow as fast as I can cut them back.”
“There you are then.
Magic will out.” He gave an embarrassed shrug as Hannah looked at him
in surprise. “That’s what my Gran used to say about me anyway.”
“You don’t understand.
I can’t be a witch anymore. Not now.”
“Do you want to tell
me about it?”
For a long moment, Hannah was silent. Neville said nothing, just waited. He’d
offered to listen but he had no idea if he’d have anything useful to say in
Eventually, with a deep
sigh, Hannah began to speak. She told him about how she’d been taken out of
Herbology, all those months ago and taken to her Head of House’s office, where
Professor Dumbledore had been waiting to give her the news that her mother
had died in a suspicious accident. Half an hour later, her trunk had been
brought to her, so that she hadn’t even gone back to her dormitory, but had
taken the Floo Network straight to Diagon Alley. “Professor Sprout came with
me. She kissed me goodbye. I think she was crying.”
“What happened after
She told him how her
father had been waiting for her in the Leaky Cauldron. That had been her last
contact with the wizarding world, except for a man who had turned up at the
inquest two weeks later. Throughout the proceedings, the man had only addressed
himself to Hannah, acting as though her dad wasn’t even there. “I didn’t like
him. He told me the Ministry were satisfied the ‘incident’ had been ‘entirely
Hannah repeated what
she’d said in her last letter: that if it hadn’t been for her classmates writing
to her, it would almost have been possible to forget that the wizarding world
existed for the next ten months. With a catch in her voice, she told Neville
about sitting up night after night with her dad, while he went over and over
the details they’d heard at the inquest, his almost crazed grief as he tried
to make sense of them and come to terms with what had happened. “Of course,
I had to look after him, and the house. He couldn’t do anything for himself,
couldn’t go back to work. He lost his job in the end, they couldn’t hold it
open for him forever. So, I got a part-time job to make ends meet.”
She didn’t talk to him
about her own grief, any more than she had in the letters. She hinted again
at long sleepless nights, and her struggle to work out a possible future for
herself, one that combined the friends she’d made over the previous six years
with taking care of her father. She said how hard it had been to imagine a
wizarding career or even a job that made such a life workable. “And I couldn’t
do any magic, all those months. I thought I’d forget everything. On my seventeenth
birthday I had to go to work. I came home so excited at the thought of doing
magic again, but scared too. I made myself wait until I’d cooked a meal for
Dad. I told myself it was because I don’t know any cooking spells, but it
was really because I was too nervous. I went upstairs afterwards and just
lay on my bed, cuddling Zophy. I stared at my wand for hours and couldn’t
remember a single spell.”
“Not even a first year
one?” Neville interrupted for the first time in several minutes, trying not
to sound sceptical.
“It’s like I had some
kind of mental block. I got more and more frightened, it was like not being
able to remember who I was. In the end, I couldn’t summon up any more energy
to try. There didn’t seem any point, if I was going to be stuck at home for
the rest of my life. It seemed better to forget, really. Finally, I drifted
off to sleep just as it was getting light and the birds started singing.”
Neville looked at his
wand. No one else had touched it apart from him, not since the day Gran had
bought it for him. Maybe this was a way he could help her. “What if …” He
hesitated. “You could try something small ... ”
At that moment, he noticed
a Muggle with a dog walking towards them, looking curiously at the mushrooms
as he went past. Neville checked himself, shocked and flustered at his stupidity.
Had he really been about to suggest she cast a spell here … now, with all
these people around? He had to stay more alert. He glanced up and down the
path, checking they weren’t attracting more unwelcome attention.
seemed unaware of his confusion. “Neville, it’s kind of you to want to help,
but I don’t know if I even want to try again. I might as well stay here, and
keep living as a Muggle. Why not? Sometimes I think it’s where I belong …
It’s not as if there’s any use going on about it. You’ve all got enough to
deal with. What use am I to anyone, except Dad? I can’t go back to school
and I can’t fight like this.”
By this time, Hannah’s
voice had become slower and heavier. “It was easier, in some ways, when I
thought my magic was gone for good. It felt … safer. Then your owl delivered
your last letter. I had to answer, I couldn’t stop myself. Maybe I needed
to tell someone.”
Neville wished he could
think of something, anything, constructive to say. “What about your other
friends? Ernie ... you were prefects together, weren’t you? Have you talked
to him?” He tried to ignore the selfish part of him that was hoping for a
negative answer to that question.
“Ernie wouldn’t understand.
He’d say that I should come back to school and think about my future. He’ll
say I’m throwing everything away and that we all have to stand together or
they’ll win, th – the other side.” Against his will, Neville felt a
rush of liking for Ernie. He’d always found him a bit condescending at school.
“And Susan would be sympathetic and get upset when she couldn’t help. I don’t
want to burden her, especially not now.”
Something Hannah had
said in her letter came back to him. “You said your Dad was coming down to
London today as well, to meet someone?”
“Yes, I left him at
the tube. I don’t know who it was, some private detective I think. He's been
writing letters non-stop for months. It’s all he does. I told you he got me
to send an owl to the Ministry. Nothing came back except a letter to me telling
me to get him to stop bothering them, that they had more important things
to worry about at the moment, and didn’t I realise there’s a war on? You should
have seen the one he sent back.” She sighed.
Neville was at a loss.
He was no good at this. He felt like he was walking along an uncertain path
in the dark where any false step could send him plunging to his doom. But
Hannah needed help, and she’d come to him, not someone she knew better. There
had to be a reason for that. He hit upon something.
“But you still carried
your Galleon with you.” It was statement, not a question. For a moment, Hannah
glared at him, with the same defiant look she’d given him in the cafe. As
Neville regarded her steadily and didn’t say anything else, her expression
changed. Her eyes widened and she seemed to relax a little. Her head dropped
again but this time her hands stayed dry.
He sensed she had said
enough for one afternoon. Other passers-by were beginning to stop and stare
at the beautiful white mushrooms that were now as wide as dinner plates. After
a moment or two, he said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
Hannah looked up from
her examination of the patches on the knees of her jeans. “Wh – where?”
“You’re staying near
“Yes, we go back in
“Then there’s loads
of time.” Neville stood up. “We’re stopping off at your hotel first and getting
your wand and then we’re going to Diagon Alley.”
A/N Chelsea Physic
Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of the Apothecaries of
London. At that time, botany and medicine were indistinguishable and the purpose
of the garden was to allow students to study plants used in healing, hence
its title of ‘physic’ garden, the old name for the art of healing. The continuing
existence of the garden for more than four hundred years is credited not to
Elladora Ketteridge but to Dr. Hans Sloane, the noted collector and physician
whose acts of munificence included the foundation of the British Museum. In
1713 he purchased the 4 acres on which the present Chelsea Physic Garden garden
stands, and leased it in 1722 to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year