FIC: "Sunlight in the Garden" for _hannelore Recipient: _hannelore Author/Artist: ??? Title: Sunlight in the Garden Rating: (very light) R Pairings: Pomona Sprout/Alice Longbottom Word Count: 4,300 words Medium: Fic Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *References to the emotional fallout of the attack on the Longbottoms; references to memory loss*. Summary: Pomona hasn't seen Neville since he was a baby, but the moment he steps into her greenhouse, the past begins chasing her down. Author's/Artist's Notes: Dear _hannelore, it was such a pleasure to explore Pomona as a character, and I really hope you enjoy this! Thanks go to T, A and S for beta-reading. The title is, obviously, inspired by Louis MacNeice's beautiful poem, The Sunlight on the Garden.
Pomona spots Alice's son the instant she enters the greenhouse. Alice's hair used to be just that shade of pine; her lips that exact bow shape. Alice sat in this very room, eyes alight with curiosity and mischief -- and later, with desire.
She hasn't seen him since he was a baby. Even when she visited St Mungo's weekly, Saturdays were her day; Sundays were Augusta's. When she thought of him, it was as an extension of Augusta, and thereby of Frank, rather than as Alice's son. Only as he stumbled toward the Sorting Hat, and then stumbled away still wearing it, did she admit it to herself. He is Alice's son; he is part of her.
He's a Gryffindor, of course. Brought up by Augusta, he wouldn't dare be anything else. Even Alice could be cowed by Augusta Longbottom.
She doesn't speak to Neville in lessons that first week, but on the Saturday afternoon, she visits Alice for the first time in months.
What this actually means is that she visits Alice-and-Frank, because in the years since their torture they have been reduced to a single unit. Nobody at St Mungo's ever seems to consider that they might once have had separate lives, friends, interests. Lovers.
So Pomona is shown to the double cubicle. The curtains are pulled around for privacy and she hands over her wares: the colouring book that Frank likes, and some chewing gum and an illustrated botany book for Alice. Frank takes his cue along with the coloured pencils and bends to his task, leaving Pomona with Alice.
"I've got Neville in my classes this year."
Alice glances up from her book but her expression does not change.
"Seems a good little lad. Bit shy, but school'll knock that out of him soon enough." Or the reverse, but Pomona will do her utmost to prevent that from happening.
She talks until she can stand it no longer -- not because she wants to but because hope compels her beyond all reason. Alice is gone. She knows this. So why, whenever she visits, does she watch for any sign that the situation might be changing?
"I'm sorry," she says finally, and realises this is why she came. "I should have kept an eye on him. I should have done it for you, but I just couldn't. It hurt too much. I'm sorry."
Unwilling to face Hogwarts just yet, she holes up in the back seat of the Knight Bus, beset by memories. Alice when she was just Neville's age, shyness dissolving as she explores the greenhouse. Alice sitting her OWLs, informing the examiner of several new applications for shrivelfigs. Alice coming to say goodbye on a July afternoon, and to announce that she is joining the Aurors.
Pomona remembers the ache that surprised her then. The world is full of promising Herbology students who never value their talent or the discipline. Why should Alice be different?
"I've been looking at the syllabus," Alice says, frowning, "and it seems a bit patchy. No mention of Herbology at all."
Pomona takes refuge in the brisk tone that always serves her in times of stress. "Unfortunately, my dear, Herbology isn't generally recognised as having much of a role to play in combat or other matters relating to the Aurors."
They share a wry look.
"Well, I intend to change that," Alice says and shakes Pomona's hand. Her own is soft but strong and, Pomona knows, capable of taming the most obstinate mandrake or the fiercest geranium. Her smile lights a candle in Pomona's heart even now, as she hunches in the corner of the bus, arms cradling her memories. "I'll see you soon, Professor."
She was true to her word. And that, of course, is where it all begins.
Begins. Began. Pomona can't get her tenses straight. Since Neville stepped tentatively into her greenhouse, the past has been chasing her down.
"You've got your mother's green thumb," Pomona tells Neville at the start of his second year, when it's clear that his part in last year's Gryffindor House Cup victory has been forgotten. He is back to square one with his schoolmates: overlooked, condescended to and, she suspects, bullied.
"I know," he answers gloomily. "Gran always says I'll never take after my dad."
Shame on you, Augusta. Shame on you for belittling a good woman -- a clever, gorgeous, and bloody sexy woman -- because she married your Frank. Shame on you for making this gentle boy feel inadequate when you've given him idealised shoes to fill. Pomona remembers Frank well; he was just an ordinary boy, like Neville here, doing his best with what he had. For a moment, she imagines Owling Augusta to say exactly that.
She won't, of course. She and Augusta have rarely seen eye-to-eye over anything. Why should Neville be any different?
Alice comes to her on a Saturday as the daffodils are coming into bloom, full of the Aurors, of the strict regimes the trainees have to follow. With her unruly hair and dishevelled robes, she looks the opposite of regimented.
"Oh, I know," Alice admits when Pomona says so, and tucks a strand back into her ponytail. "But it's good for me. I've always been a bit of a mess."
No, you're beautiful, Pomona thinks, and that's when she knows her feelings have crossed a line.
Alice is here for an extra-curricular project: identifying the uses to which Herbology can be put in the defence of the realm. She visits every Saturday afternoon, and together she and Pomona thrash out ideas, tackle some of the feistier plants, and make notes.
"I hope they're paying you well for this," Pomona says after a messy encounter with a leaping toadstool.
"No," answers Alice, wiping her hands on her robes. "I just need to show them I'm right."
By August, by the flowering of the snapdragons, Alice has enough information. Pomona thinks she has enough for a thesis, but as Alice says over their customary cup of tea, "It's the Ministry, so you really have to hit them over the head with it if you want them to take notice."
Pomona doesn't answer. She has felt this day approaching; has considered further excuses for meeting, and is wondering whether she dares broach one.
"Thank you," Alice says, and leans forward. They are in the little sitting room off Greenhouse Six, and the armchairs are suddenly uncomfortable: both too far apart and not distant enough. "I really am grateful for all your help."
"Oh..." Pomona gathers her thoughts. "You're very welcome, my dear."
"No." Alice leans again, her hair tumbling forward over her shoulder. "You've given me your Saturdays for all this time, and really, there was nothing in it for you."
"The least I could do for such a noble cause," Pomona says, but when she meets Alice's gaze she does not feel noble at all.
She's almost relieved when Alice stands to go, certain she is betraying herself with every look, every too-careful movement. But as she reaches for the door handle, Alice's hand closes over her fingers and she steps close. Pomona turns; Alice's eyes are bright, her lips pursed with awareness of what she is about to do.
As Pomona takes a breath, Alice bobs forward like a bird and kisses her. And as she opens her mouth, Alice lays a finger over it. "Don't," she says. "If you want this, please, just don't say a word."
Pomona does protest, eventually. She may no longer be Alice's professor, but she is still the elder and more experienced.
"I'm too old for you," she says into Alice's shoulder one languorous afternoon, with the rain trailing down window panes that are already misted on the inside. "I could be your mother."
Alice laughs and Pomona considers Alice's mother, an ethereal Pole who fled Grindelwald's party for London in the Forties. "Well, perhaps not your mother," she says. "But I'm her age or thereabouts. Probably older."
"Yes?" Alice kisses Pomona's forehead and wriggles down so that they are face to face. "What of it?"
You won't want me forever. Too pathetic, so she edits: "You might want to be with someone your own age."
Alice kisses her and hooks her slim leg over Pomona's heftier one, reviving all those nerve-endings that were so recently tingling with pleasure. Pomona sighs and squeezes her closer, but she forces herself to continue.
"You might get tired of this -- all the secrecy, the sneaking around."
Alice's hand slides across Pomona's belly, coming to rest between her thighs. "How could I get tired when the benefits are so...beautiful?"
Pomona's legs open in obedience to the pressure. God, she can't get enough of this. It must be a decade, maybe more, since she's enjoyed herself this much in bed.
"You...you might want children," she says breathlessly, and Alice's hand stills.
"Well," she says, eyes on Pomona's mouth, "I do want children at some point."
"But I'll deal with that when I come to it." She kisses Pomona, who, having said her piece, is content to be silenced.
The castle is shrouded in a sense of approaching doom during Neville's third year. Sirius Black is on the loose -- and on the hunt, if the rumours are to be believed.
Pomona watches Remus Lupin watching Harry, as she is watching Neville. Remus is struggling, too, although as far as she knows, there was nothing improper about his relationship with James and Lily Potter. Or was there? Surely not: Remus, the buttoned up, too-good prefect... although he did like to be led astray. She always suspected that he didn't dare misbehave in case Dumbledore changed his mind and threw him out because of what he was. So he was easy to talk into mischief and twice as good at it. Much more convincing than young Sirius ever was.
She suppresses a shiver and turns back to Neville. He's too pale; she should speak to Minerva about it. Of course, it was stupid of him to write down those passwords, but everyone knows his memory isn't what it could be -- and the possible reason why. Neville has enough to deal with without being maligned by an influential teacher.
You old softie, Alice murmurs, and Pomona closes her eyes. If she doesn't think too hard, she can almost feel Alice's breath on the back of her neck; Alice's strong thumbs working their way down her back. It's as if the past is coming for her, and she almost welcomes it.
"I think I've found a solution for the baby thing," Alice announces. It's their Saturday; they've finished in bed -- for now -- and are raking out the fanged geraniums.
Pomona glances across the table. Alice has taken to dropping 'the baby thing' into the conversation like a small grenade, as if seeing what it will do. Pomona will not fuss; she will not push. So she waits, until Alice continues: "You remember Frank Longbottom?"
Pomona frowns and then she has him: Alice's year, large, gentle, unassuming. Now she comes to think of it, Alice has mentioned him before, hasn't she? Is he perhaps on her course?
"Yes," she answers. "A nice boy, if I remember rightly."
Alice edges around the table to grasp Pomona's hand. "How would you feel if I had a baby with Frank?"
The world is falling away, all around her. "If that's what you want," she says.
Alice squeezes her hand, hard. "Pomona," she says, "oh, my dear."
"I understand." She forces a smile. "I wanted a child once, you know. I never had the opportunity, but I won't stand in your way."
Alice is shaking her head. "I didn't mean it like that. God, Pomona, if I was going to break up with you and fall in love with a man, I wouldn't spring it on you like this."
Pomona turns and aims her wand at a weed beneath the nearest geranium, which snaps at her with infant fangs. "Then what exactly do you mean?"
"I want a child," Alice says, her gaze flickering away and back. "Maybe more than one. But I don't want to change anything with you, either."
This isn't quite true. As the seasons have turned, she has dropped hints about moving into Pomona's cottage in Hogsmeade. Plenty of women share accommodation and nobody thinks anything of it. But there's the baby thing.
"Frank isn't...isn't interested in women." Considering what she was doing to Pomona not half an hour ago, it's amazing that Alice blushes, but she does. "He likes -- well, you know. But his mother's a bit of a Tartar, and she's starting to get onto Frank about carrying on his lineage. A well-respected family, and all that."
"So..." Pomona prompts.
"So...Frank and I get married. Give Mrs Longbottom an heir to dote on. And we carry on as we are. Frank carries on as he is."
"But you'll have a child."
"Yes." Alice makes no attempt to veil the joyous light in her eyes. "I know it won't be quite as simple as that. I know what children do to people -- I've seen enough of my friends, the way they become consumed by the whole thing." She squeezes Pomona's hand again. "But please, Pomona, this seems like the perfect chance for everyone to get what they want. We can Apparate between our homes, and it'll almost be easier than it is now, because there'll be Frank and the baby."
Only Alice could think of a baby as being 'easy'. But Pomona will not be the one to destroy her dreams.
He's an excellent Herbology student. She can hear herself now, saying the words that placed Neville in Barty Crouch's trap.
"I'm so sorry," she says, holding Alice's thin hand in hers. "And Frank." She turns to him. "I failed you. I was trying to keep an eye on him, and instead I handed him..." She stops herself just in time.
Did Barty Crouch torture Neville when he was a baby? What sick perversions crossed his mind while he gave Neville tea and told him about his parents?
"I'll do better," Pomona promises, and squeezes Alice's fingers. "I'll look after him from now on -- I'll make sure he's all right."
It feels little better than a lie. Voldemort has broken the laws of life and death; how can she be sure of anything?
Just like that, Alice and Frank are married; just like that, Alice is pregnant; just like that, Neville is born.
He's an easy baby. Pomona is starting to wonder if Alice's life is charmed, because everything goes the way she wants it to. Even Augusta, suspicious and disapproving of the hasty marriage, seems to warm to Alice and tolerate Pomona after the birth.
But Alice's charmed life can't withstand full-scale war.
An autumn evening, the fire crackling in the grate, Frank mixing G&Ts in the kitchen. Neville stumbles from the coffee table to the armchair, hands out to steady himself, while Alice and Pomona call encouragement from the sofa.
Pomona is their secret keeper; the one good aspect of their clandestine relationship is that nobody suspects her. Augusta, yes -- Edgar Bones or Mad-Eye Moody, perhaps. Even Dumbledore. But Pomona Sprout, Herbology Professor?
Frank hands out the drinks and squats for Neville to totter into his arms. Alice leans on Pomona's shoulder and Pomona smiles.
"My little hero," Alice murmurs, stretching a drowsy arm toward Neville. "You're going to be a hero one day."
It's a dangerous world, especially if you're a wizard. More so if you're an Auror; even more so if you're Alice and Frank, or James and Lily Potter. But here, now, they are safe.
"I want you to know," she tells Neville at the end of term, "that if anything's worrying you -- anything at all -- you can come to me. I want you to have someone in authority, someone you can trust."
He looks at her, pale but calm. "I'm not meaning to be rude, Professor, but why?"
A question she should have anticipated, but didn't. "I was...close friends with your parents. With your mother. What happened to them isn't fair, especially to you. You should have..." She blinks back unexpected tears. He should have had Alice. He should have had a mother. "You should have someone in authority you can trust."
"But nobody else here has someone looking out for them. Not even Harry."
Oh, doesn't he?
"Nobody else is dealing with what you have to deal with," she says. "I'm sorry, Neville, but it's true."
His hair is a little long; no doubt Augusta will drag him straight to the barber's tomorrow. But he's tall, with Alice's clumsiness on Frank's frame, and he's growing up. Perhaps he no longer needs her support.
He sets down his mug with an air of finality, then picks it up again. "You said you were friends with my mum."
"Yes." She swallows.
"Will you...tell me about her? I mean, not the Auror stuff. Just, things she liked. What she was like."
Alice gazes out of that face, in the compressed lips and wide, brave eyes. Pomona takes a breath.
"It would be my pleasure."
It was supposed to be over.
Minerva's Owl is terse. Alice and Frank have been attacked. I don't know how bad it is, but you'll want to get to St Mungo's.
At the hospital, Augusta Longbottom paces the corridor, barely registering Pomona until she lays a hand on her arm.
"They're in there." She jerks her head toward the double doors and her hat slips. "They're doing... tests."
"What happened?" Pomona demands.
"Some sort of ambush; nobody seems to know who or why." She is breathing slowly and with great concentration. "But it must be to do with You-Know-Who."
"Have you seen them?"
Augusta nods, her gaze fixed on the wall. "It's not good. Frank doesn't... he's not responding. To anyone." Her lips compress so thinly that they almost vanish.
Augusta shakes her head. Pomona leans against the wall, legs trembling.
It was supposed to be over. They'd believed all this was finished with James and Lily, bar a few arrests and ill-considered news reports. How naive, she thinks now.
She rouses herself. "Have you had anything -- tea, water?"
"I just want Frank!" Augusta shrieks, and then deflates, holding onto the wall for ballast. "Perhaps a cup of tea."
Pomona hurries away, leaving Augusta to the tears she will not shed in company.
They are on their second cup when a cherubic-looking healer pops his head around the door. "You can go in, Mrs Longbottom." His arm bars Pomona from following. "Family only, I'm afraid."
"I am the head of the Longbottom family," Augusta snaps, "and I say she can see them."
He wilts, and Pomona trails them onto the ward.
Over the next few weeks, she tries everything. Gentle words, loud words, threats, pleas. Tea, gin, Alice's favourite meals. She even sneaks in a couple of greenhouse remedies that the healers haven't tried.
She tries everything, but Alice, her lovely Alice, is gone.
After her surprising support on that first day, Augusta grows colder. Alice and Frank have not improved -- will never improve, according to the healers -- and as public interest fades, they become just two more inmates of the Janus Thickey Ward.
When Pomona encounters her, Augusta is reluctant to talk, which is odd given the loss that draws them both here. Pomona thinks she understands. Alice and Frank are together in St Mungo's, unable to give any sign that their relationship was not built on love and commitment. Augusta has Neville, the heir, and now his parents, the perfect family unit. Only Pomona blots this picture.
When the small talk becomes too strained, they adopt separate visiting patterns: Augusta takes Sundays, leaving Saturdays for Pomona.
Saturdays in the ward bear no comparison to Saturdays in Greenhouse Six, but Pomona appreciates the symmetry nonetheless.
With Snape in charge and Dumbledore dead, Neville comes into his own. He takes charge of the DA, about which Pomona does not officially know, protects the younger children, eludes and antagonises the Carrows.
Their weekly tea breaks are abandoned, but he's the only NEWT Herbology student left, so lessons become a form of sanctuary. Neville listens avidly to Pomona's stories about Alice: about how she used to question everything, how she loved daffodils, how she managed the mandrakes. He is still hungry for information about the past and she dare not talk about the present, although she longs to caution him.
Alice would not tell him to stand down, and nor will she.
She visits St Mungo's when she can, because Alice and Frank have a right to know how their son is doing. On one occasion she encounters Augusta, straightening her cloak as she leaves the ward, and they both pull up short.
"Professor Sprout," Augusta says, a little breathless. "I gather you're keeping an eye on my boy."
It takes a moment for Pomona to realise that she means Neville, not Frank. "I do what I can."
Augusta nods, glancing over Pomona's shoulder as if to check for eavesdroppers. "I have a letter for him. I meant to Owl it, but perhaps you could do the honours." She is gone in a flurry of black robes and shadows, leaving Pomona holding the parchment.
By the time she locates Neville, the news has broken: Augusta Longbottom attacked an Auror and is on the run. Which would explain the uproar breaking out across several floors of St Mungo's while Pomona was trying to entertain Alice and Frank.
Neville clutches the letter as he reads it, eyes scanning for clues he won't find. Augusta won't put the Longbottom heir at risk.
My boy, the hero, Alice whispers. At least she and Augusta agreed on one thing.
"Was she..." Neville breaks off. "How did she...was she all right?"
"Absolutely fine," Pomona says. "Sauntered out of there as if she was on her way to a picnic."
A grim smile -- all Frank this time -- breaks across his face. "She'll be all right, won't she?"
It isn't really a question, and she does not answer, only nods her head toward the galloping irises they are working on.
Harry Potter is dead. There in Hagrid's arms are all their hopes, wrapped up in the body of one young wizard. Pomona hears Minerva's scream, but she doesn't know the heartbreak behind it until Neville steps forward.
She can't move. Voldemort is circling Neville like the snake he should have been, and Pomona is reaching desperately for her wand, because she has to stop this, she has to.
Warm breath against her neck. My son's going to be a hero, Alice murmurs drowsily.
Neville is engulfed by the Sorting Hat, much like the first time she saw him, but this time it's going to kill him. Pomona screams: for Alice, and Neville, and Frank, and Augusta, who do not deserve this. For Neville again, and for Alice, always.
There is Alice after the birth, sweat and tears on her cheeks and Neville in her arms. There is Neville stumbling toward the Sorting Hat, and his face, at the end of his first year, when he won the House Cup for Gryffindor. There is Alice laying a hand on her arm, electrified with awareness of what she is about to do. There is Alice's head on her breast, Pomona's heart bubbling with love. There is Neville frowning at a snargaluff tree, turning to her and looking so like Alice.
We could use these, couldn't we, Professor? If anyone attacked the castle.
My son's going to be a hero.
Neville pulls off the flaming hat, hefts a sword that's appeared from nowhere and beheads the giant snake. Pandemonium erupts.
The Easter Holidays, and Pomona comes to Alice on a Saturday as the daffodils are coming into bloom, to the cottage Neville has bought in the Peak District.
The garden is already colourful, yellows and a few pinks blossoming amid the greenery and the dark earth. Alice smiles up from her latest botanical guide and pats the garden seat beside her. Pomona smiles back.
"I brought some flitterbloom seeds," she says, pulling them from her bag. "It's a little late, but I'm sure between us we can work a bit of magic."
Alice turns a page and Pomona leans over, just in case. But no, she isn't looking at the flitterblooms, only a random page. Some things can't be changed.
But she is eating more now that she's not on hospital rations, and there's a hint of a blush in her cheeks. Pomona pours tea for them both and leans back in her chair.
"Next year we can put in some lupins," she says. "They ought to keep you out of mischief while Neville and I aren't around."
Slowly, Alice blows the biggest chewing gum bubble Pomona has ever seen. She splutters, and Alice giggles.
They have created this garden between them, Pomona, Alice and Neville, with Frank watching from a warmed chair on the patio. Even Augusta has graced them with her presence and pronounced the result 'rather attractive'. Pomona and Neville come up with the ideas but Alice can play her part, digging and raking meticulously, talking to the plants under her breath as if they are pets.
The old Alice is gone, but she's still present in Pomona's memories. Her voice still whispers out of reach of conscious thought; in dreams her fingers still trail across Pomona's thighs or slip into the warmth between them.
The woman on the lawn is not the old Alice, but she looks and sounds more like her now, with her bubbling laughter, and in the way she tends the daffodils.
Pomona dumps her mug on the grass and hefts the seed bag in one hand. "Let's get started."
Alice rises, and together they amble over to the empty flowerbed in the corner.