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Darkest Hour

by Northlight

Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 1:05 PM

     Title:  Darkest Hour
     Author:  Northlight
     Fandom: Harry Potter
     email: temporary_blue [at] yahoo.ca
     Summary:  Poppy Pomfrey looses faith.
     Characters: Poppy Pomfrey, Minerva McGonagall.
     Rating:  PG13.
     Distribution:  List archives and those who ask.
     Disclaimer:  J.K. Rowling created, writes and owns all
     "Harry Potter" characters.  I am in no way affiliated with
     the books.  No profit is being made from this fan work.  No
     harm is intended.
     Date:  Jan. 1, 2003.

Minerva's presence, thought not unexpected, was not quite welcome. "Poppy," Minerva called out softly. Madam Pomfrey, hovering over Aisling Acantha's still form, did not look up. Her sole concession to good manners was the slight tilt of her head in recognition of Professor McGonagall's presence. Poppy closed her eyes briefly at the sound of Minerva's quickly muffled sigh. Her heels clicked against the scuffed floor as Minerva approached. "Really, Poppy, you must get some rest. You'll do no good to anyone like this," Minerva said as she came to stand beside Madam Pomfrey, shoulder to shoulder.

Poppy pulled the blanket higher over Aisling Acantha's sharp shoulders and rested a soft hand against the Ravenclaw's damp forehead. The girl's eyelids looked too thin, so very delicate in her unnatural sleep. Poppy drew her suddenly shaking hand back into the dark folds of her robe. "It's too quiet, Minerva." Poppy did not have to look around in order to see the still forms of the children in her charge. Still and silent all of them as they healed: quick and efficient, they would be magicked into wellness so that they might fight again.

"It is necessary," Minerva said, no conviction in her voice. Poppy peered at the other woman from the corner of her eye. Minerva's face was pinched with fatigue, her thin lips white as she looked down at Aisling's slack face. "How I wish that it were not," she murmured and brushed her hand across the girl's forehead in some long remembered maternal instinct.

"Some nights, I wish that I had never listened to Albus," Poppy said abruptly. She would have lived out her life as a Muggle--if not with pleasure, at least with some degree of peace. Poppy still owned the house she and Howard had bought in the final years of tranquility before Voldemort's first rise. She would have lived there, tending to her gardens and Howard's memory; growing old and odder yet in the eyes of her neighbours. She would have kept candies in a dish by the front entrance and would have tended to children's skinned knees and scrapped palms. "I wish--oh, Minerva, how I sometimes wish that I had never returned to this place!"

"Poppy!" Minerva gasped, shock overlaying a deeper strain of understanding. She took Poppy's elbow and gently led her away from the children's beds. "You're needed here--"

Poppy shook off Minerva's guiding hand. "What good am I doing here, truly?" Poppy demanded, surprised at the bitterness in her own voice. She turned her face away from Minerva's dark eyes, staring out into the moonlit night. "They destroy minds and bodies faster than I can heal them--and I am so very tired of seeing young lives ruined by a war they can barely comprehend."

Magic had seemed such a glorious thing, once. Poppy had arrived at Hogwarts, wide-eyed with wonder and she had felt complete. She had learned of wonders beyond imagining and had eagerly immersed herself in a world which had seemed to be so much more than that from which she had come. She had been a foolish child, Poppy thought now: blind and too easily impressed by glitter and surface gloss. It had taken her years to fully appreciate the violence that lay behind so much of the magical world's charms. The discovery had been a painful one.

"Your Matilda might still--"

Minerva's back straightened further yet and her hand was back at Poppy's elbow, tight now. "Don't," she warned. Minerva's voice was harsh and Poppy was shamed at her unthinking anger. Minerva drew in a deep breath and deliberately loosened her hand though she did not release Poppy's arm. "Sleep now, Poppy. It will be morning soon."

Poppy pressed her knuckles to her watering eyes. "I'm sorry, Minerva. I'm sorry, I am," Poppy breathed and imagined that she would have been sitting in her garden with a cup of tea, watching the stars. She imagined knowing nothing of war and misery and agony shining from children's eyes. She imagined Howard's hand in hers and how tenderly he had held her at night. She could not remember what it had been to believe in magic. "I do believe that I am tired."

Some of the deep lines in Minerva's face eased slightly. "I'll watch the children."

"Thank you," Poppy replied. "I don't want to be a bitter old woman, Minerva."

Minerva's lips curled. "No," she said, "no. You're just tired. We all are." Minerva turned Poppy towards the open door to her office, where a cot and pillow awaited her. "Perhaps, when this is all over.. ."

"Perhaps," Poppy agreed and did not smile. She went into her office and left the door open behind her. Poppy lay in a tangle of robes and blankets, listening to a silence deep enough to make her heart ache. She did not sleep.

~end~


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