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my heart beat like the wings of wild birds in a cage

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Stupid, was all Leta could think as she retched into the toilet.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She should have known better when Vaisey started suggesting more and more secluded places for them to meet and letting his hands roam further and further.  She hadn’t even liked him that much.  But she had liked being liked, had liked being wanted, so she had gone along with it when he suggested sneaking up to his empty dorm room.

She had known, of course, that pregnancy was a risk, and that there were things one could do to prevent it, but other worries – what if it hurts and what if I’m bad at it – had overwhelmed her and she’d forgotten.

In the end, the sex itself had been anticlimactic.  Not terrible, not amazing, just fine.  The best part, as far as she was concerned, had been the few minutes of cuddling they’d done afterwards. 

She hadn’t even thought much about it afterwards.

About a month later, she’d started feeling nauseous.  She’d thought it was something going around – or possibly even N.E.W.T year stress – but then she realized her period was late, too, and not just by a couple of days.

She had hoped, desperately and pointlessly, against the obvious explanation, even as she looked up the charm to check.  But it came back positive, as she'd known it would.

She knew, from hushed dorm room gossip, that there were ways to get rid of a pregnancy – specifically, a potion.  But she didn’t know what potion, or how to make it, or where to get it, or who she could ask about it without getting in trouble.  Or, worse, it getting back to her father.

Which was why, almost a week after the discovery, she was still pregnant, and therefore still vomiting at the drop of a hat.  At least this time there was no one else around to witness her suffering, as it was close enough to curfew that most people were back in their common rooms.

Of course, as soon as that thought crossed her mind, there was a knock, followed by the sound of the bathroom door being pushed open.

“Is everything all right?” the intruder asked, and Leta realized from the voice it was Professor Dumbledore.  “I thought I heard someone being sick.”

“I’m fine,” called Leta quickly, lying before she could think about it.  Then she vomited again.

“May I come in?” Dumbledore asked, and he must have taken her lack of response as assent, because the next time he spoke he was much closer.  “Can you make it to the hospital wing, or should I fetch Madam Epione?” 

“I don’t need the hospital wing,” Leta said, trying to tamp down her panic.  If she went, they’d surely discover she was pregnant.

Unsurprisingly, Dumbledore didn’t believe her.  “Leta, you’re sick.  Madam Epione can help.”

“I’m not sick,” Leta insisted.  “I’m –”

She broke off, because what could she say?  I throw up on purpose sometimes?

Somehow, she didn't think Dumbledore would that answer reassuring.

"Leta?" he prompted, gently.

She chewed on her lip, thinking. Maybe she could tell Dumbledore the truth. He'd been nice after she ran away from the boggart in class, and he never got impatient when students asked annoying questions. And there had to be a reason Newt was so fond of him. Maybe he would help.

And it wasn’t like she had any better options.

"I'm not sick," she said again, but quieter this time. "I'm pregnant."

She reached up to flush the toilet, unable to bear being still while she waited for his response.  But when he spoke, it wasn’t even about what she'd just confessed.

“Here,” he said, and she turned to find that he had joined her on the floor, and was holding out a glass of water and a mint.  Leta suspected she must have looked confused, because he added, “To get rid of the taste." 

She accepted, and took a few gulps of the water, then popped the mint in her mouth.  It got rid of most of the sour aftertaste, though she still rather wanted to brush her teeth.

It was only after she put the glass down that Dumbledore spoke again.  “Have you talked to anyone else about this?”

Leta shook her head.  “Please don’t tell anyone,” she said.

“I won’t,” Dumbledore promised, “but I still think you should tell Madam Epione.  Whether or not you want to carry the pregnancy to term, she can help.”

It took a second for Leta to grasp his meaning.  “You mean I don’t….” she trailed off, unsure of how to phrase her question.  “I can get rid of it?”

Dumbledore nodded.  “If that’s what you want.  There’s a potion Madam Epione can give you.”

Hope bubbled up inside her, until she remembered another problem.  “I don’t… My father can’t know about this.”  She wasn’t sure what would happen if he found out, only that it wouldn’t be good. 

“He doesn’t have to.  Anything you discuss with Madam Epione is covered under Healer-patient confidentiality.” 

Relief swept through Leta, so powerfully that she sat there for another moment before pushing herself to her feet and washing her hands.

Once she’d cleaned up, Dumbledore opened the door and followed her into the corridor.  “I’ll escort you to the hospital wing so you don’t get in trouble for breaking curfew,” he said.  “Unless you’d rather go back to your dormitory and see Madam Epione later?”

“The hospital wing is fine,” said Leta.  She wanted to take care of this as quickly as possible. 

They didn’t run into anyone on the way, for which Leta was thankful – she didn’t need any more gossip about her going around.

Once inside the hospital wing, Leta stammered out the truth to Madam Epione, who took it in stride.  (Leta supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised; she couldn’t be the first student in this situation.)  Inside her office, Madam Epione ran through Leta’s options – abortion, adoption, and parenting, mentioning the support services available for each.  She also said that Leta didn’t have to decide immediately, that she could think it over for a few days, but Leta had shaken her head and said she wanted an abortion, as soon as possible.

After that, she’d been shown to a bed and given a pair of pyjamas and an annoyingly thick sanitary napkin to wear.  A beaker of potion waited on the side table.

Although she had spent the last week wishing for little else than to not be pregnant, she found herself hesitating.  There was a living thing inside her right now, and – if she took the potion – soon there wouldn’t be.  She had known that, obviously, but she hadn’t thought about it in those terms until now.

Unbidden, memories of Corvus sinking under the waves, a mass of blankets and that little hand, filled her mind, and she felt the familiar swell of grief and guilt before she shoved it back down.  It wasn’t the same, not at all.  The thing in her wasn’t a baby, and what she had done to Corvus was exactly why she couldn’t let it become one.  She downed the potion before she could agonize about it anymore and pulled out her Transfiguration textbook, determined to keep her mind on homework until she was ready to sleep.

The next morning Leta was tired, but otherwise felt well – the cramps and nausea that had interrupted her sleep were gone, and the bleeding was no longer any heavier than a normal period.  She was well enough that Madam Epione let her go to class without a fuss, which Leta was grateful for – she didn’t want people speculating on her absence, and she was happy for the distraction.

However, her last class of the day was Defense Against the Dark Arts, and as it drew nearer she became progressively more nervous about seeing Professor Dumbledore again.  After all, he had seen her vomit, he knew she was – had been – pregnant, and therefore knew she’d had sex.  His kindness wasn’t enough to stop her from being decidedly embarrassed about the whole thing.

When the class arrived, Leta studiously avoided making eye contact with Dumbledore, even as she kept him in her peripheral vision.  It was silly of her, she knew, but she couldn’t help herself.

They had a lecture that day, rather than a practical lesson.  Normally this would have been a disappointment, but Leta was preoccupied enough that she was glad to only have to take notes.  She started to feel relieved when the end of class finally came and their previous essays were handed back, but then she saw the words “Please stay after class” were written atop hers.  

She briefly tried to convince herself that it was just about the essay, but she’d received an E, a perfectly respectable grade (and something of a minor miracle, she thought, given that it had been written while panicking about the pregnancy).  Then she considered ignoring the directive and leaving after class anyway, but quickly discarded the impulse.  She couldn’t hide from him forever, and running now would only make eventually talking to him more awkward.

So when the bell rang, she slowly packed her things into her bag as the rest of the class left, trying to convince herself that Dumbledore wouldn’t have bothered being nice before if he was going to reprimand her now.

Once it was just her and Dumbledore left in the room, she rose and walked towards him.  “You wanted to speak to me, sir?” she asked, holding up her essay in a useless pretense of normality.

“Yes,” he said, and moved so he was sitting on the front of his desk.  Leta followed his lead, sitting on the student desk opposite him.  “I don’t wish to pry,” he said, once she had done so, “but I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were all right.”

She opened her mouth to say I'm fine, but she realized that no matter what she'd been telling herself all day, it wasn't the truth. And something about Dumbledore's piercing, non-judgmental gaze made it impossible to lie.

"I don't know," she said. "I had an abortion," she admitted, figuring that Dumbledore had probably assumed as much, "and it’s what I wanted and I don't regret it or anything, but…”

She trailed off, but Dumbledore seemed content to wait in silence while she untangled her thoughts.

“I don’t think it’s the abortion itself, or even the pregnancy, that’s bothering me,” she finally said.  “It’s that it made me realize how much I can’t stand the thought of having kids, ever.”

“Many people don’t want children.  It doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with them,” Dumbledore pointed out.

“No, I know, it’s not –” she broke off, trying to think of the best way to explain.  “Having kids isn’t just something I don’t want, it’s something that terrifies me because I know I shouldn’t.”

Now it was Dumbledore’s turn to fall silent for a few moments, clearly thinking over her words.

“I know your mother died giving birth to you,” he said gently.  “Is that what…” 

But Leta was already shaking her head.  “No,” she said in answer to his unfinished question, almost sure it was true.  “It’s the having to raise a kid that scares me.”

“You always stay at Hogwarts for breaks, except for the one Easter when you visited the Scamanders,” Dumbledore said, leaving Leta thrown by the apparent change in topic, “and your father has a reputation for being unkind.  And you seemed quite adamant that he not know about your pregnancy.”

His gaze was kind, but Leta found herself looking away from it anyway. 

“Am I correct in guessing that you don’t have a close relationship with him?” Dumbledore continued.

“I…” Leta kept her eyes on the floor, considering how much of the truth to admit.  Saying he doesn’t love me would sound pitiful, even though it was, apparently, obvious.  Eventually she settled on, “I’m not the kind of child he wants.”  Too dark, too female, she thought, but didn’t say.

“If you’re worried that you can’t be a good parent because your father isn’t –” 

"I don't just think I shouldn't raise a kid, I know I shouldn't!" Leta blurted out.

Dumbledore looked at her, confusion plain on his face, and Leta realized she was tired of carrying around this terrible secret on her own.  Dumbledore had seen her throw up, knew she'd gotten pregnant and hadn't kept it, knew her father didn't love her - what was one more confession, at this point?

"I'm the reason my brother died," she stated, before she could change her mind.

She expected Dumbledore to react but instead he just sat, face impassive, waiting for her to elaborate.  So she did.

“My father believed that Corvus – my brother – was in danger.  He arranged for our nanny to take him to America, and leave him with an adoptive family.  I was taken on the trip as well.

“Our ship ran into a bad storm.  Everyone was panicked, running around, and I was left alone with Corvus.  He was crying – he’d cried for most of the voyage – and I was so angry at him.  Our father loved him, his mother was alive, he was why we were on that ship, he wouldn’t be quiet and I just –” 

She took a deep breath, steeling herself for the next words.  “The cabin across from ours was occupied by a woman and her son, who was the same age as Corvus.  She’d left him in his crib, and he had slept through all the chaos.  I took Corvus in there, put him down in the crib and picked up the other baby, and went back to our cabin.

“I don’t know what I was thinking.  All I remember was wanting to not have to hear or look at Corvus for a minute.  I think I meant to switch them back.  But then our nanny returned and started pulling me away to get to a lifeboat and it all happened so fast and I didn’t know how to explain so –”

Her eyes suddenly grew wet, and she blinked furiously at the ceiling to try to clear them.  “I didn’t say anything.  The other woman got into another lifeboat with Corvus, but – it capsized.  I watched as they both drowned.” 

“Your boggart,” Dumbledore said quietly.

Leta nodded in confirmation, swiping away the tear that had escaped down her cheek.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he continued.  “It was sheer chance that his lifeboat capsized, and yours didn’t.”

“I still – I hated him.  As soon as he was born – even before he was born I hated him.  I hated him so much I abandoned him on a sinking ship, because he was loved and I wasn’t.  If I did that - what sort of mother could I possibly be?” 

“You were a child,” Dumbledore pointed out.  “Of course you had intense emotions and poor judgement.  It doesn’t say anything about the kind of person you are now.”

“I don’t know,” said Leta, shrugging hopelessly.  “I think it does.”  She certainly still felt like that little girl, so horribly desperate to be loved, more often than she wanted to admit.

“Leta,” Dumbledore said, and she felt compelled to meet his gaze.  “I am confident that you could be a fine mother, if you chose.  But you don’t need to in order to prove that you’re a good person, or to be happy.”

Him saying that wasn’t enough to make her believe it but – it helped, more than she would've thought.  “Thanks, Professor,” she said, and even managed a small smile.  They sat in comfortable silence for a few moments before Leta slid off the desk and picked up her bag.

“Have you ever wanted kids?” she asked as she straightened up.

“No,” said Dumbledore, and Leta was sure she saw guilt flicker over his face.  “I never trusted myself to raise a child, either.”

Leta paused at the door.  “For what it’s worth, I think you’d be a good father,” she said, then slipped from the room.