Woo! The Caerphilly Catapults are in the Semi-Finals of QLFC Season 3, and I am back as their faithful first Chaser. My prompts this round included:
4. No using the pronoun 'I' (DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW HARD THIS WAS? THIS FIC IS 2,500 WORDS. I'M HALF-DEAD OVER HERE.)
8. 'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.' – Seneca
11. A picture of wilted roses in a vase.
Thanks very much! Hugs!
15 May 1962
'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.' – Seneca
Poppy wasn't going to take the interview, initially. In fact, she assumed that she had simply received the letter from Professor Dumbledore through an error at St. Mungo's—that every Healer completing his or her training this year had gotten the solicitation for a job application to replace Violet Sprigg, the retiring Hogwarts matron. But it was an error, in Poppy's case. She should not have received the letter, because she was not finishing her training, now or ever, and so she ignored it.
In fact, she had almost forgotten all about it until nearly an entire month later. One afternoon in the late spring, she chanced to run into Malcolm McGonagall when she was running errands in Diagon Alley. She and Malcolm had always been friendly at Hogwarts—he and his brother Robert had been in Ravenclaw with her, a year younger and a year older than she was, respectively, not to mention that their sister, Professor McGonagall, had been the one to push her the hardest through her N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration coursework when she was a seventh year.
So it was with some fondness and nostalgia, in spite of the difficulties of the last few months, that Poppy agreed to join Malcolm on his lunch break at the Leaky Cauldron.
"How've you been, Poppy?" he asked, grinning at her broadly after they had sat down and placed their orders. "You look like you're keeping pretty well."
"That's doubtful," she smiled, tucking a strand of loose brown hair behind her ear. "But thanks. Everything's been well enough with me. How about you? How's the newspaper life treating you?" She began to feel her cheek muscles aching with the effort to keep smiling, so she picked up her water glass and took a gulp.
Malcolm shrugged. "Not so terrible. They aren't really letting me do a lot of writing, yet. Lots of go-fetch, at the moment, but the editor's been letting me sit in on meetings… help with making press time… actual fact checking and archiving. That kind of thing. It's brilliant." He took a sip of his butterbeer. "'Well enough', eh?" he asked. "What's got Poppy Pomfrey less than chuffed, then?" He smirked a little bit.
Poppy shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Nothing," she lied. "There's just a lot of work on my plate, now. Final exams for training, you know, and they throw everything they've got at us now that we're specializing." She could hear the dishonesty in her voice, even if Malcolm couldn't; she was giving the answers she would have given if she was still training—but what was so wrong with persisting in the lie, just a bit longer, when she had neither the energy nor the emotion to spare for explanations?
"No wonder you look so tired," Malcolm teased. "Are you on your day off? You're not wearing St. Mungo's robes."
"Oh—yes," said Poppy, putting on another smile. Malcolm grinned, and then, to Poppy's great relief, the talk moved to other topics that weren't as close to her raw, frayed nerves. They chatted about their classmates, about the latest news out of the Ministry, and Malcolm's persisting fascination with Quidditch, which Poppy detested, but had always enjoyed ribbing him about.
But as the time wore on, Poppy began to feel resentful of her nostalgia and fondness for reminiscence, for she felt so distanced and detached from everything that Malcolm was saying, that it was like listening through someone else's ears. She returned to her cramped little flat that night feeling quite as gloomy and adrift as she had for the last six weeks, but now it was mingled with a strange emotion she couldn't quite place; she wondered vaguely as she sat down in her flowered armchair, if it was envy at Malcolm's obvious, exuberant happiness.
She put her feet up and flicked her wand so that her tea service began to prepare itself for her while she opened a book. This was the challenge, Poppy had found, now that she wasn't in training anymore: the struggle to keep her mind occupied, particularly when she was alone.
And after seeing Malcolm today, Poppy realized that she had never felt quite so alone in her life.
She woke the next morning with a bit of a start, to a tapping noise on the glass of her small kitchen's window. "The newspaper," she mumbled to herself, getting out of the chair where she'd fallen asleep, fully clothed. She got up, stretching, and went to the window. It was not a Daily Prophet owl, but a large barn owl that she didn't recognize. She let it come in and took its letter.
The letter was written in a familiar, curling script that Poppy recognized at once, although for a moment she couldn't possibly think why she would be receiving a letter from Professor Dumbledore. And then she remembered the first one she had received, when she was too sick and miserable to get out of bed.
Frowning, she opened the envelope, her eyes narrowing with each line she read. When she got to Professor Dumbledore's personal invitation to come and interview for Madam Sprigg's position, Poppy scoffed and dropped the letter on the counter. "It's absurd," she announced to her flat, striding off to her bedroom to find some fresh clothing to wear.
But then, something stopped her, like a hand at her back. Poppy turned around and looked at the letter, lying inoffensively beside a vase of now-wilted roses she'd had out for far too long. She went back and picked up the letter again. Professor Dumbledore said that if she was agreeable, he would like her to meet Professor McGonagall at the Three Broomsticks this Saturday, the nineteenth, for a drink and a chat.
Poppy bit her lip. Neither Professor Dumbledore nor Professor McGonagall had done anything to merit her scorn or irritation. At the very least, she owed the polite request a response and an apology for ignoring his first message.
At the very least, she thought to herself.
And so it was that at two o'clock that Saturday afternoon, Poppy Pomfrey was ushered into a private room she'd never seen in the back of the Three Broomsticks, where Professor McGonagall sat, awaiting her arrival with a smile on her face.
"Miss Pomfrey! It's good to see you," she said brightly. "Thank you for coming to meet me."
"Hello, Professor," Poppy said, genuinely surprised by this warm greeting. It had been almost three full years since she'd last seen Professor McGonagall, with whom she had had a very good relationship as a student; Poppy had been among her first-ever N.E.W.T. students, and in spite of her less-than-brilliant performance in the classroom, Professor McGonagall had committed herself completely to helping Poppy earn the marks she needed to apply for Healer training.
"It's good to see you," said Professor McGonagall, smiling at her.
"Yes, ma'am," she replied, smiling slightly, "and you as well."
"The headmaster asked me to pass along his regrets at missing your visit, but that he hopes to see you soon," said Professor McGonagall. She reached into her pocket and produced a small pad and a quill. "Hopefully you don't mind meeting with me, instead."
"Of course not, ma'am," said Poppy. "But there's something—"
"And don't hesitate to say so if it's getting too late; you must have studying you need to be doing now," said Professor McGonagall. "Shall we get started? As you know, there is a vacancy at Hogwarts which Professor Dumbledore and myself, as well as a number of other members of staff, feel you would be well-placed to fill, should it be of any interest to you."
Poppy hesitated, then blurted out, "Actually, Professor, there's been some misunderstanding. Have you spoken with my instructors at St. Mungo's?"
Professor McGonagall frowned. "No, but references won't be necessary yet—"
"No, Professor," Poppy interrupted. "It's not about references. It's just that…there won't be any exam results for me." She tried to keep her expression steady and her voice calm.
Professor McGonagall said nothing for a moment. "Did you quit your training?" she asked at last.
"In a manner of speaking," Poppy replied. "It seemed like it would be best for me to come and explain all this in person."
Poppy steeled herself and started the explanation she'd been rehearsing in her head since she had left her flat this morning. "Due to a few personal difficulties that've come up, it's become too challenging for me to complete my training at St. Mungo's. And although you're kind to think of me for the job—"
"Miss Pomfrey—Poppy, forgive me, but you're making very little sense," said Professor McGonagall.
Poppy could feel herself trembling, now, and knew that Professor McGonagall could see it, too. "It doesn't really matter," she insisted. "It just means that you don't want me for this job, and—" she hesitated. What had she been thinking, agreeing to this meeting? "And it was stupid of me to come here. Sorry, Professor—" Poppy jumped to her feet. She had thought she was being courteous, but she hadn't been prepared for this. Her wistfulness had gotten the better of her again.
"Poppy, wait a moment," said Professor McGonagall, sounding, for one of the only times in Poppy's memory, flustered and confused. She stood as well. "Please, can't you explain? Sit down, tell me what—"
"Sorry—sorry, Professor, no," said Poppy, rushing from the room and ignoring Professor McGonagall's calls for her to come back.
Poppy was in a state as she hadn't been for weeks when she finally made it back to her flat. She felt like screaming and crying and tearing her hair out, but she was too exhausted, and far too sad. She sank into her chair, her knees shaking under her. Even if she did fall apart now, she would be the only one left to pull herself back together, and she didn't think she would be able to.
She shouldn't feel so alone; by all rights, she should not. It wasn't fair. She had done everything right when she had found out about the baby almost exactly four months ago, and Henry had made clear his intentions to leave. Heartbroken and hurt as she was, Poppy worked to remind herself that new beginnings were a part of life, as natural as the cycles of the moon—and that they rarely came without the conclusion of something else. So she had scaled back her workload, and communicated with her training Healers, and began to find ways to support herself and her child so that she would never need to rely on anyone.
But all of her planning, hoping, and investment in the 'new beginning' she believed in wholeheartedly had all come to naught six weeks ago, when all the care and love she had felt for the baby hadn't stopped the loss of the pregnancy.
Poppy pushed the thought away and got up from the chair, her mind now a cloud of painful thoughts and memories, swirling into a great storm. Her eye caught, again, on the wilted vase of roses on her kitchen counter, and she approached it, putting out a finger to touch one of the buds. Poppy had bought them for herself out of pity, out of a desire to remember the name she had wanted for a baby girl—that same nostalgia that had been making a fool of her all week long.
Unable to stand gazing at them any longer, Poppy reached into the nearest cupboard and drew out the rubbish bin, then tipped the dead flowers into it. She righted the vase on the counter with shaking, but deliberate hands.
And then, she was alone.
The next morning, Poppy opened her door to find none other than Minerva McGonagall in the act of knocking on her next-door neighbor's door.
"Professor?" she asked, suddenly conscious of the dark circles she knew must be under her red, puffy eyes.
Professor McGonagall turned and faced her in surprise. "Oh—Miss Pomfrey. St. Mungo's had your address in your file, but not your flat."
Poppy's stomach turned to ice. "You—you went to—?"
Professor McGonagall's gaze was kind, but shrewd. "Would you allow me to come in?"
Poppy started to stammer that she had an errand to run, but fell silent under the look Professor McGonagall was giving her. "Of course," she mumbled, stepping back.
Poppy braced herself, following her inside the flat again, knowing what was coming; endless apologies and expressions of grief, and probably a nudge or two to be more careful in the future—Merlin knew she'd heard more than enough of that. She grit her teeth and opened her mouth to speak before Professor McGonagall could.
"This won't take long, Miss Pomfrey," said Professor McGonagall, cutting across her. She pulled her square spectacles from her pocket and placed them on her nose.
Poppy stared at her, watching as she produced a quill and pad from her robes, just as she had yesterday, and settled herself in one of the chairs in Poppy's sitting area. "What are you doing, Professor?" she asked warily.
"Completing our interview. We didn't get very far, yesterday," said Professor McGonagall.
Poppy shook her head. "Professor—"
"If you still feel that you won't be sitting your examinations by the time we've finished, then we'll part, and that will be the end of it," Professor McGonagall promised. "Would you indulge your old professor that much?"
"You aren't old," Poppy said, just a little irritably, and Professor McGonagall smiled. "But ma'am, you don't—you don't understand, it won't work out—"
"Grief is a powerful motivator, Miss Pomfrey," said Professor McGonagall. Poppy sucked in her breath, and felt a pain in her throat; Professor McGonagall was looking at her as though she, too, could feel the pain and heartache that Poppy had been carrying for weeks. "Don't let your grief motivate you in a direction you'll regret. Now," she said gently, gesturing toward the empty chair before her, inviting Poppy again to sit down, "tell me about the experience you've had with younger patients."