The Sugar Quill
Author: Dogstar (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Asking for Roses  Chapter: Chapter Two: Eyes and Tears
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Thanks go, as always, to the best beta reader in the world, Suburban House Elf

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 this chapter.

Chapter Two: Eyes and Tears

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 see her.

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 now ...

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 was broken.

“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 be boiling.”

“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 a little.

“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 you anyway.”

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. “Introduce me?”

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.”

The Prophet?”

“No, a local paper. Zophy isn’t magical, she’s an ordinary moggie, even if she is a beautiful one.”

Cats were never just ordinary, that’s what Gran always said. “Well, she looks like a proper witch’s cat.”

Hannah’s expression 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 way. 

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.

Work?

“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. ”

“Perpetuity.”

“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 Gillyweed.”

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.”

“Awful.”

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 around you.”

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.”

“So?”

“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.

“What?”

“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?”

“It’s complicated.” 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 return.

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 that?”

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 Muggle-related’”.

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.

Fortunately, Hannah 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 King’s Cross?”

“Yes, we go back in the morning.”

“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 in perpetuity.

//
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