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Pomona Sprout

"It's true," Pomona Sprout whispers to herself. "It's true, it's true."

She needs to hear the words spoken aloud, because even sitting here, in the hard reality of the St Mungo's spell-damage ward, she can hardly believe her eyes. It can't be strong, steady Minerva McGonagall lying motionless and pale in this bed in the "Serious Cases" room. It can't be.

But it is.

It's Minerva, felled by no fewer than four Stunners. Four! Those Ministry devils mowed her down without mercy. It simply doesn't bear thinking about.

Pomona cranes forward, peering through the glimmer of protective spells to watch the slow rise and fall of Minerva's chest. Of course alarms would sound if Min actually stopped breathing, but Pomona can't help herself. She's checked Min's respiration at least every five minutes since she first parked herself next to the bed, and she plans to keep on doing it for long as she sits in this chair.

She came to St. Mungo's as soon as she finished her morning classes. Her older, afternoon students are more than capable of doing projects on their own, so after lunch, she left them instructions, arranged for Hagrid to look in on them, and hurried to the Hog's Head to use Aberforth's floo. Hogwarts' floo was being watched, everyone knew that.

"Have I seen you?" Ab asked as she passed into his parlour. Such a lovely smart man, Aberforth. Understood a situation without needing to have everything explained to him.

"Not if it's that Umbridge woman asking," Pomona replied. "Or any of her Ministry goons, rot their worthless bones."

Ab grinned. "You always have a way with words, Pommy." He turned away before he could hear where she was going, bless his discreet old soul. The Order was lucky to have him.

Pomona tossed her floo powder into the flames, and five minutes later found herself being ushered into Minerva's private room in St Mungo's.

"Professor McGonagall hasn't opened her eyes once since she arrived," the healer whispered as she opened the door. Delia McDilly was a Hufflepuff old girl; she'd been a good and conscientious student, and Pomona was relieved to see her. Someone she could rely on.

Poppy Pomfrey was sitting dozing at Minerva's side, but she jerked awake as soon as Pomona came in. Dear Poppy, she'd been here for how many hours now? She looked worn to a frazzle, the poor thing.

"Poppy, you go straight back to Hogwarts and get some rest," Pomona ordered, placing her hat on the bedside cabinet. Goodness, how had she managed to get potting soil all over the brim? She thought she'd been so careful. "I'll mind the shop here."

Poppy shook her head. "It's kind of you, but -- "

"Not kindness," Pomona interrupted. "Just medical good sense. You can't take care of anyone if you don't take care of yourself first." She spoke in a tone that she hoped brooked no argument. If she'd learnt anything from years of watching Poppy cope with sick children and worried parents, it was that the person in charge had to Be Firm.

"You go home and rest up, have a good Hogwarts dinner and a good night's sleep, and come back tomorrow" she urged. "I'll stay until this evening, and then Irma will be along."

"Professor McGonagall won't be waking up for a while," Healer McDilly put in helpfully. "But we can floo-call you if there's any change."

"There, you see?" Pomona pressed her advantage. "Everything's under control. Now off with you, Poppy. You need rest."

Poppy looked for a moment as if she would resist, but then her good sense (or maybe her exhaustion) overcame her, and she nodded. "All right. But only because I need to check on Montague in the hospital wing, too. And yes, I promise I'll rest. But I'll be back at first light, you understand?"

"Of course, dear," Pomona said, giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder. "I'll see you later."

So that had been that. Poppy returned to Hogwarts, and Pomona took her place next to Minerva's bed, and now here she sits, watching Minerva breathe and wishing she could think of something to do, because if there is one thing Pomona hates, it is sitting around in idleness.

Well, actually, she hates many more things than just that one. Still, there was a time in her life -- back in her younger, more naïve days -- when she could truthfully have said that she never numbered people among the things she hated. But she's older now, and wiser, or more cynical, or something. . .and the truth of the matter is, she does hate a few people now. She hates You-Know-Who, of course, and yes, she has to admit it, she hates Dolores Umbridge, too.

The harm that woman does, to the children, to everyone. . .with her bigotry and her self-righteousness and her hypocrisy and. . .

Pomona realises that she's striding about the room; her anger has driven her out of her chair and onto her feet.

Now, this will never do. The last thing Minerva needs in her condition is someone thundering around her bedside like a lovesick troll.

Smiling to herself, Pomona takes her seat once more. She remembers the first time she heard that expression, about a troll in love, and how it made her laugh.

She'd been at the 1982 staff picnic, the one Albus used to host every year to mark the start of term and to welcome any new staff members. She knows it was 1982, because that was Poppy's first year as matron of the hospital wing.

Of course, given the state of the wizarding world these days, no one seems to have the heart or the time for such celebrations now. The last time they had the picnic was. . .when? 1989? 1990? Not since Harry Potter's been at Hogwarts, probably.

But back in the '80s, after You-Know-Who had been defeated the first time, things had been. . .lighter. Happier. The staff picnic was always such a good time: getting back together with Hogwarts friends after the long summer holiday, trading travel stories, meeting new colleagues. . .just having one last carefree evening before the children returned and regular life started up again.

The weather was always glorious; Albus and Filius saw to it, charming the castle's walled garden to be warm and dry and sunny no matter what the actual weather. There was so much food: pasties and sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches and egg-and-cress and fruit and Turkish delight and cherry Bakewells -- things you could pick up in your hands, no mess. And drinks, of course. . .how Pomona had loved to sit down on a perfect summer evening with a long G&T and watch Minerva with her firewhisky (neat) and Hagrid with his tankards of mead and Filius with his fizzy pink gin and the others with their ales and ciders.

She remembers Poppy's first year particularly because everyone had been quite anxious to meet her. . .and not all of them in a welcoming frame of mind, she's sorry to recall. Some people felt that Poppy's predecessor, Maleva Honeycott, had been unfairly forced out, though Pomona perfectly understood Albus's and Minerva's reasoning: Maleva had been getting up in years, poor dear, and was becoming a little forgetful, and around Easter that year, she almost dosed a student with the wrong potion. She caught herself in time, to be sure, and no harm was done, but the mistake could have been fatal, and Minerva was no doubt right to say that Hogwarts couldn't take the risk of keeping Maleva on. Albus had arranged a comfortable retirement cottage for her, but poor Maleva had broken down in tears on her last day, and well. . .the long and short of it was, some of the staff were determined to dislike Poppy on Maleva's behalf. Sybill Trelawney, for one, and Silvanus Kettleburn and his wife Netta.

But Pomona liked Poppy from the start.

"And here is Pomona Sprout," Albus had said heartily, as he introduced Poppy personally to each staff member. "She's our herbologist, and luckily she's a long way from retirement, for I don't know what Hogwarts would do without her."

It was the headmaster's typical puffery, of course, and Pomona was a little embarrassed, but Poppy gave her a wink and said, "I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about; wherever you find healing potions, plants aren't far behind."

She was a no-nonsense woman, unfussy, thin, with slightly grey-streaked brown hair pulled back in a knot and a black pince-nez round her neck on a chain. Pomona had a quick impression of kind blue eyes surrounded by laugh lines, and then Albus was leading Poppy off to greet the others.

"Now, you've already met Minerva," he said, apparently ready to pass her by, but Minerva laid a light hand on Poppy's arm and said, "Yes, indeed, so good to see you again." They were both smiling.

"Well, well, well, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" a voice murmured in Pomona's ear. Rolanda Hooch had slipped up behind and was nudging Pomona none-too-gently in the ribs. "They look pretty cosy already, what?"

"Ro, you stop that this minute," Pomona hissed. Hooch was an inveterate match-maker and had been trying to find a romance for Minerva for the last two years, ever since things had gone sour between Min and Amelia Bones. Pomona considered herself one of Minerva's best friends, yet even she didn't know the full details of that break-up. "Two careers," was all Minerva had said, sadly rather than tersely. But that was her business. Poppy was a firm believer in letting people manage their own love lives without interference from their friends, however well-meaning.

Rolanda, however, had other ideas. "Stop what?" she asked, widening her eyes innocently. "I'm just saying that Minerva and this new Poppy woman look like they could have a lot in common. And if we can help them get to know each other better, where's the harm?"

"Hmph," said Pomona. "Ro, you don't even know if Poppy Pomfrey is interested in women."

"Oh, believe me, I know a Sapphic sister when I see one," Rolanda declared, nodding earnestly. "Trust me, Poms, Madam Pomfrey joins the ranks of the Lesbian Legion of Hogwarts."

"There's a 'Lesbian Legion' now, is there?" Pomona laughed.

"Yep. When there were just the two of us, me and Min, we didn't qualify. But add a third. . .and I think the name 'Lesbian Legion' is justified."

"Well, it's got a nice alliterative ring to it, anyway." A house elf was waving to them, so Pomona turned and headed to the picnic buffet. "Come on, it's time to eat."

After everyone filled their plates (she was entitled to two Bakewell tarts, Pomona decided; one had to build up one's strength once term started), she couldn't help but notice that Minerva had ended up sitting next to Poppy Pomfrey.

Rolanda noticed, too, and raised a knowing eyebrow at Pomona before taking a huge bite of a mustard-daubed sausage roll.

The table conversation tended to center around summer trips people had taken and their concerns or hopes for the coming academic year, but as always, personal gossip crept in.

" -- turned around in Flourish and Blotts," Aurora Sinistra was saying, "and who should be standing there but Lemuel Biggens?"

"You don't say!" Filius was interested. "The poor man went away so fast at the end of last year that I didn't get a chance to say good-bye."

"He'd hardly have wanted to hang about, not after being nearly decapitated by that gang of rogue doxies," said Silvanus. "Albus, you really have to do something about the curse on the Defence Against the Dark Arts position."

Albus beamed on them all benignly and polished off a scotch egg. "Oh, now, Silvanus, you know that's just a myth. Lemuel is a good man, but he simply wasn't suited to teaching. Nothing more sinister to it than that."

Several people at the table exchanged veiled looks; everyone knew there was more to it than that.

Minerva, loyal deputy that she was, came to the headmaster's rescue. "Well," she said, "I'm glad to know that Lemuel turned up safe and sound, but face it, Silvanus, a man that clumsy had no business being a DADA professor. He was a constant menace, always crashing around his classroom like a troll gone mad with love."

Pomona burst out laughing, she couldn't help herself, and she could hear Ro beside her snickering into her ale. The image was just so apt -- poor over-enthusiastic Lemuel with his small head and large middle, he did rather give the impression of a Cupid-deranged troll.

She and Ro weren't the only ones laughing; even young Severus's face bore the rictus that served him as a smile.

"Minerva, that's priceless," Rolanda said. "Rude, maybe, but priceless."

"I'm all in favour of love," Poppy Pomfrey said, and truly, it did look as if she were smiling directly at Minerva as she spoke. "For trolls as much as the rest of us."

"Hear, hear," said Albus, raising his glass, and Rolanda poked Pomona with her wand.

"Told you," she smirked.

The whole evening comes flooding back to Pomona now as she sits in St Mungo's. That picnic happened less than fifteen years ago, but it already seems like something from another lifetime; she can't remember the last time she felt that light-hearted. They are living through dark days, indeed.

Still, one mustn't forget -- good things do happen. Like Minerva and Poppy. Rolanda was right about them: by that very Christmas of Poppy's first year, they'd become quite the romantic item, and now you can't think of one without thinking of the other, they're such a unit. Pomona can't even imagine how worried poor Poppy must be.

She gets stiffly to her feet -- goodness, but she'd been sitting for a long time -- and steps to the bed.

Still breathing, thank Merlin. It's odd to see Minerva silent and asleep; she's always so full of energy and motion, her heels clicking through the halls of Hogwarts, with so much to do, so much to see to. Albus gives her too much work, Pomona always thinks, though Min brushes aside the idea.

Just now, she looks deathly pale; if it weren't for her long dark hair spilling over the pillow, you'd hardly know where her face ended and the sheets began. Her brow is furrowed, her lips pursed, as if she's in pain even while unconscious.

"Oh, Min," Pomona whispers, impulsively taking her hand. The thin fingers are unresponsive and cold as a. . .well, Pomona wishes that the word "corpse" had not so quickly occurred to her.

"That's right," says a voice from the doorway. "I've read that it's good to talk to people in comas; they can hear you."

It's Irma Pince, the Hogwarts librarian, come to take her turn sitting with Minerva. Pomona looks round with a smile; she'd recognise Irma's deep voice anywhere, of course, even if it hadn't just uttered her trademark phrase: "I've read. . ." Irma does more reading than anyone Pomona knows, and if it does make her a bit of a know-it-all, well, Pomona doesn't mind. Better knowledge than ignorance, and in any case, she learns a lot from Irma.

"Irma! I'm glad you're here," she says. "Minerva's holding her own. The healers check her regularly, but I feel better knowing that one of us is with her, too. How is Poppy holding up?"

"Worried to death, of course," replies Irma. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if she shows up here in a few hours, no matter how much everyone urges her to get a good night's sleep."

She unshrinks a capacious bag and then shrinks her hat to put inside it. As always, Irma has come prepared: Pomona catches a glimpse of at least half-a-dozen books and a large bar of Honeyduke's caramel chocolate. The sight makes her stomach give a loud rumble; it's past dinner-time.

Irma notices and cocks an eyebrow. With her dark hair in a bun and her long hooked nose, she looks like she could be the elderly love child of Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape. Pomona stifles a giggle. Hunger must be making her giddy.

"Been skipping meals, have we?" Irma asks. "Weren't you saying at breakfast how important it was for all of us to keep our strength up? Or was that just an excuse to have more bacon?"

Pomona lets herself laugh now and Summons her own hat from the cabinet top. "I'm sure I'll find plenty of sustenance back at the castle," she says. "I'll say good-night, then, Irma. See you tomorrow."

She takes one last look Minerva's still form and hurries away.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Irma Pince

After tsk-ing at how wan Minerva looks, Irma settles herself in what had been Poppy's chair and takes out the library's copy of Spell Damage: Its Neurology and Treatment by Norla Dendrite, MMH (Mistress of Magical Healing, St Juliana's Institute for Healer Training, 1962). Injuries such as Minerva's require a long recovery period and rehabilitation, and the more people at Hogwarts who know how to help her, the better. She's a private person who hates fuss, but she'll just have to learn to accept some aid from her old friends, and that's all there is to it.

Irma opens to the first chapter but for once finds herself unable to concentrate on her reading. Her mind keeps flitting back to Hogwarts, where everyone is in an uproar; the whole wizarding world is at sixes and sevens, and it's all just anathema to Irma's order-loving soul. Darkness and chaos are winning the day, and if they can take out someone as stern and stalwart as Minerva McGonagall, then literally anything can happen.

But there, she mustn't give in to negativity. She thinks of how Poppy looked at Hogwarts this afternoon, her face lined with worry and fatigue, but her head held high as ever, keeping the hospital wing running despite her personal fears, despite the darkness lapping at all their feet.

Unconsciously, Irma straightens her back, too, and returns to her reading with new determination. But it's not long before she's wool-gathering again, remembering odd snippets of the past, like the time Albus called an end-of-term staff meeting that turned out to be a day trip to Mykonos. He'd simply handed them all portkeys, and they'd found themselves on a private beach in the sunshine.

Somehow, the excursion had been a success. As prickly and difficult and odd as the staff could often be, they all ended up relaxing and enjoying themselves. Minerva transfigured everyone's clothes into bathing costumes; they splashed in the crystal-blue waters, feasted on dolmades and spanakopita, drank sparkling wine and ouzo. True, Severus had spent most of his time sitting alone under a tree, and Sybill had wandered the beach reading disaster in every swirl of seaweed, but all in all, it was a wonderful afternoon. Irma can still see Minerva sitting under a striped umbrella while Poppy plaited her hair; then they walked hand-in-hand into the surf.

Of course, not everyone had been accepting of them as a couple.

"I don't hold with it."

That had been Argus's first response back in '82. They -- Irma and Argus -- had walked together to the Headmaster's Yule party, and he'd spoken these words seemingly out of the blue.

"With what?" Irma asked, not unreasonably, she'd thought.

"With that," he said, jerking his chin toward the end of the corridor, where Irma could see Minerva and Poppy Pomfrey ahead of them. Even though Poppy had been on the staff for only a few months, she and Minerva had clearly hit it off, and it had been no surprise to anyone (except perhaps Sybill) that the two of them were now "keeping company," as Irma's grandmother would have said.

"Them two women, a-carrying on like that," Argus continued. "Romancing each other. 'Tain't natural. Depraved, even, some folk would say."

"Why, Argus Filch! What's brought this on? Surely you knew that Minerva was interested in women. She and Amelia Bones were together for years."

"Aye, but she kept it separate, like. Away from Hogwarts. Did her consorting with Madam Bones down to London." He spoke the word with great significance, as if the very idea of London were enough to explain Minerva's "depravity."

Irma opened her mouth to remonstrate with him but then thought better of it. Poor man, it was likely his mostly-Muggle upbringing that left him with such backward notions about love and sex. The wizarding world, on the whole, was more tolerant. From what little she knew, Argus had led a difficult life, forced to fend for himself from a young age while battling wizarding prejudices against squibs.

He didn't have much formal education, but he was curious about the world, and they'd struck up an unexpected friendship after he'd sidled into the library late one evening, looking sheepish and asking for a book about the history of magic. "To teach myself, like." Since then, they'd read and discussed many books together, and Irma knew that Argus Filch was no dullard.

So best let him learn for himself.

The next day, she stole into his office and left a book about wizarding sexuality. He never referred to it, but a week or two later, it had appeared back on the library shelf, and another title on the same topic had been removed. Irma noticed, too, that he kept an observant eye on Minerva and Poppy when they were together; he couldn't have avoided seeing how good they were for each other, how Poppy's level-headed realism tempered Minerva's occasional bouts of self-righteousness, and how often Minerva's witty humour lightened Poppy's sometimes over-serious outlook.

It was at the start-of-term staff picnic the next August -- 1983 -- that Argus sat himself next to Irma in the garden and jerked his chin at Minerva and Poppy just as Poppy threw back her head to laugh at one of Min's remarks.

"Reckon I was wrong," he said. "About them. They're all right."

He's a thoughtful man, Argus, and willing to listen to reason once he sees it, though getting him to see it can be the devil's own job sometimes. He still refuses to accept the truth about that pink disaster of a "headmistress," Dolores Umbridge. He actually admires her.

Irma shakes her head. Over the years, Argus has dropped several hints that he would like to be more than friends with her, but she simply can't consider it. Not in the face of his lapses of judgement like the Umbridge business. A pity, perhaps, but there it is. One feels the way one feels.

After another minute spent looking at a page without taking in a single word, Irma gives up and puts her book back in her bag. She's just not going to be able to focus on reading tonight, that's plain.

Her eye is caught by a flash of something, and she steps quickly to Minerva's side. Is Min moving? Waking up, perhaps?

But it must have been a trick of the light, for the figure on the bed is as motionless as ever. Minerva lies on her back, her arms at her sides atop the hospital blankets, her loose hair looking even blacker against the pallor of her skin and the sterile whiteness of the bedclothes. Still, although Min may be down, she's definitely not out. Even unconscious, she has that steely set of mouth and jaw that mark her strength of character.

"Can you hear me, Minerva?" Irma asks. "Are the healers right about that? It's an interesting concept. I've read about some Muggle tests where they used their machines to measure brain-waves and all.

"Well, if you can hear me, you'll want to know that Hogwarts is in good hands. Filius is looking after your Gryffindors, and everyone is trying hard to keep the school running normally despite Umbridge's best efforts to send everything pear-shaped. But we all want you back. Rolanda and Hagrid have been up to the castle every ten minutes to ask about you, and of course Poppy is beside herself."

"Poppy is beside you, too," says a voice behind her, and Irma jumps.

"Merlin's beard, Poppy Pomfrey, do not startle people like that!" she cries. "I should think a healer would know better that to deliberately try to give someone a heart attack."

"Sorry." Poppy advances into the room and pats Irma on the back.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Irma asks. "I thought you promised everyone you'd get a good night's sleep at Hogwarts."

"Yes, well. I can sleep here just the same."

Irma is about to protest further when a smiling healer appears with a medi-wand. Irma recognises her, a Hogwarts old girl from several years back, though she doesn't remember much about her beyond that she never caused trouble in the library or was careless with the books. But then again, what more does one need to know about a person?

"Sorry to interrupt," says the healer, "but I need to run some scans and check Professor McGonagall's vitals."

"I'll be off, then, Poppy," Irma says, giving Poppy's shoulder a quick squeeze and gathering her bag. "Mind you do get some rest, now."

Poppy offers a nod and an abstracted smile, and by the time Irma reaches the door, the two healers are deep into the medical chart that has been magicked onto the wall.

Smiling, Irma lets herself quietly out. Minerva couldn't be in better hands.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Poppy Pomfrey

"So she could wake any time now," Healer McDilly concludes, waving her wand to erase the medical chart.

"I'll be right here when she does," Poppy replies.

"Well, just speak to the ward elf if you need anything. But for now, everything looks good." With a tip of her wand, McDilly heads out, and Poppy lets herself sink into her chair, weak-kneed with relief.

She's going to be all right. Minerva is going to be all right.

"You scared me to death, you know that, don't you, McGonagall?" Poppy says sternly. Now that the serious danger is past, she can finally bear to speak aloud to Minerva. "What on Merlin's green earth were you thinking, haring off on your own to take on four Ministry Aurors and a walking pink peril?

"No, never mind, don't answer that. I know what you were up to. It's what you do, you Gryffindors -- put yourselves at reckless risk to save others." She reaches for Minerva's hand, threading the chilled fingers through her own. "It's what healers do, too, sometimes. I get it."

She leans back, content to sit and feel the warmth gradually return to Minerva's skin. If she closes her eyes, Poppy can almost imagine that they are in Minerva's sitting room, spending a quiet evening together as they so often do. It's one of Minerva's many appealing qualities, her ability to sit in comfortable silence, speaking only when she has something worth saying.

Poppy doesn't believe in love at first sight, but if she did, she'd say that's what happened when she saw Minerva at that long-ago staff picnic. They'd met a few weeks earlier, when Poppy had interviewed for the Hogwarts job, but at that time, she'd had other things on her mind beyond sexual attraction. She'd seen Minerva only as the deputy headmistress, not as a woman.

Ah, but at the picnic, though. . . She can still feel the heat of that summer evening, smell the spice of the half-eaten curry puff she'd been holding when Albus re-introduced her to Minerva.

Then "woman" was all Poppy could see. Curry puff forgotten, she was aware only of a trim figure in light summer robes that draped softly over enticing breasts, of thin lips curved in a delicious smile, of soft fingers brushing her arm in welcome.

That touch sent a searing shaft of heat straight to Poppy's core; at that moment, she'd understood totally what the ancients meant by the idea of Cupid's arrow. One had just hit her broadside, and she'd welcomed the sting.

Of course, neither she nor Min was the sort to rush into anyone's bed, so it had been almost two months before Poppy had the chance to cure Cupid's wound with the healing balm of sex.

She'd gone with Minerva to chaperone a student trip to Hogsmeade, and throughout the day, the tension had built between them until Poppy had almost been ready to suggest that they rent a room at the Three Broomsticks instead of enduring the wait of a walk back to Hogwarts. The pub had been crowded, so they'd ended up squeezed together at a small table. Poppy still doesn't know how -- or if -- she managed to eat any of Rosmerta's excellent shepherd's pie; all she remembers is the intoxicating pressure of Minerva's thigh next to her own, and how hard it was to resist the temptation to reach over and trace her thumb along the edge of that sharp McGonagall jaw.

Somehow they did make it back to the castle without embarrassing themselves, but once they got there, Minerva didn't bother with any polite fictions about stopping in for a drink or whatnot. She'd simply ordered, "Come to my rooms," and Poppy happily obeyed.

They'd barely got inside the door before their mouths were joined and their fingers tangled in each other's hair, and somehow their glasses got removed, and their clothes ditto, and then it was all a confusion of creamy skin and soft tits and wetness and warmth and moans and bucking hips, and Poppy's next coherent memory is of lying entwined with Minerva on a soft pile of robes in the middle of the floor, her lips tingling with the delicious aftertaste of sex.

That was the official beginning of the best years of Poppy's life. There have been many hard times since: the return of You-Know-Who, of course, but more individual woes, too, like the death of Poppy's beloved mother (there's no grief and guilt quite like being a healer who is unable to cure the ones she loves best). Through it all, Minerva has been there, sharp-tongued and steadfast, loving and fierce and fiercely loving, and Poppy can't even bring herself to imagine a world without her.

Her eyes start to prickle; if she keeps up this line of thought, she's going to a sobbing wreck.

"Bugger that," she mutters. Tears are all well and good in the right time and place, but not now, not when she knows Minerva will be fine, and a lovely long summer is nearly upon them, Dark Lord or no Dark Lord. Now is definitely not the time to cry.

"Irma's right, you know, Min," she says, with determined cheerfulness. "Everyone's been asking after you at the infirmary. Miss Granger sacrificed part of her precious cramming time to stop by before her History of Magic O.W.L., and Mr Potter came bursting in -- heedless of the other patients, as usual -- demanding to talk to you. You should have seen the shock on his face when I told him you'd been sent to St Mungo's. He's reckless, that boy, but he does have a good heart. And he's not the only one. Even Argus Filch and Mrs Norris stuck their heads in, if you can believe it."

She can just imagine the sardonic eyebrow that this little nugget of information must be raising in the depths of Minerva's mind. Min and Argus have never seen eye-to-eye. "There must be something redeeming about the man, if Irma can be friends with him," Min has said more than once. "But I'm damned if I can see what it is."

"He does love cats," Poppy always points out.

Minerva sniffs and replies, "Yes, and Grindelwald apparently loved dogs. Irrelevant."

The memory makes Poppy chuckle. She lays Minerva's now-warm hand back on her bed and stands up to give her stiff back a stretch. It's probably time to think about getting a little sleep herself. As Pomona said, she'll be of no use to Minerva or anyone if she doesn't take care of herself.

She transfigures the straight-backed hospital chair into a recliner; even if it's not quite as elegant a job as Minerva would do, it's comfy nonetheless. Long years of keeping vigil in the hospital wing have given Poppy the ability to fall asleep anywhere, and now she barely manages to lower the lights before she drifts off.

She's not sure what wakens her, or when, but the hospital is dark and quiet when she finds herself sitting bolt upright, wide awake and listening. She's just about to mutter a quick Lumos when she hears it.

"Poppy?" Just a whisper, but unmistakably Minerva's whisper. "Are you there?"

Poppy is on her feet in an instant. Around her, monitor lights begin to blink. She can hear a far-off alarm beeping and hurrying footsteps in the corridor.

The whisper comes again. "Poppy? Are you there?"

Poppy grabs Minerva's hand and squeezes hard.

"I'm here, my love," she says, then says it again. And again, as if she'll never stop. "Yes, I'm here. I'm here, I'm here, I'm here, I'm always here."

If there are tears on her cheeks now, she doesn't notice.

~~The End