Close Enough to See
Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.
A/N: All I can say is... wow. Reader response to this fic has been absolutely phenomonal, and I really just can't thank everyone enough for taking the time to get involved with this story and letting me know what you think. Hugs for everyone! And now, for the third and final instalment...
Poppy Pomfrey hissed in pain as she knocked her head on the underside of one of the hospital wing beds. Hot tears stung at her eyes as she backed out from underneath the bed, and she rubbed the throbbing spot near her forehead. Idiot, she thought, a mediwitch and I can't even keep myself from injury…
Still rubbing her head, she sat on the bed and tossed an unopened packet of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and an old toothbrush into a box on the floor. The box was filled with an assortment of odds and ends that Poppy had discovered stashed around the hospital wing – under beds, behind bedside tables, under mattresses – the trails of the many students who had spent time as her patients here over the Hogwarts year.
Poppy sighed. This was her end-of-year ritual – cleaning the hospital wing until it looked brand-new, re-stocking medical cupboards, getting all the linen washed – so that everything would be ready when everyone returned for the new school year. This time, however, Poppy couldn't help but feel that her work was in vain. There was a good chance that Hogwarts wouldn't even reopen for another school year. She looked around at all of the empty hospital beds, wondering whether she'd ever mend another broken bone here, or clean up another spell gone terribly wrong.
Deciding that such thought was perhaps just as hopeless as cleaning out a hospital wing never to be used again, Poppy pushed herself off the bed and headed toward her office – she needed to find a mirror to judge whether the damage to her head was bad enough to warrant a healing spell. She had almost reached her office when the doors to the hospital wing suddenly opened.
Turning around, Poppy immediately identified her visitor as the young Harry Potter, who had become quite a regular patient of hers. But what was he doing here now, at this time of night?
"Harry? What is it?" She queried, hurrying over to the boy. As she drew near she saw that he had a very peculiar expression on his face, as though he were somehow in the midst of both confusion and understanding at the same time.
"Are you ill? Injured?" Poppy prompted concernedly.
"No," Harry replied, and he took on a very serious tone, "I don't need your help."
Poppy frowned at Harry. "Harry, if you're not-"
"-I think Professor McGonagall needs your help."
Poppy stopped short, completely taken aback.
Harry nodded, a strange sort of look still playing on his features. "I needed to speak with her, so I went up to her new office…" He trailed off, and it seemed to Poppy as though he were replaying something in his head.
"Yes?" Poppy encouraged. Harry blinked, and looked her in the eye again.
"She kind of…" Harry spoke uncertainly, as though he weren't sure whether he should be saying what he was about to say, "… uh, broke down. Crying."
If Poppy had been taken aback before, it was nothing compared to how shocked she felt now.
"She… started crying? In front of you?" Poppy uttered in an almost-whisper. Minerva had refused to even show a glimmer of emotion over Dumbledore's death in the presence of her closest friends. Not even the funeral had been enough to crush her stolid veneer. And she had burst into tears in front of her sixteen-year-old student?
"Well, I kind of… yelled at her, first," Harry said guiltily, and his gaze fell to the floor.
Poppy looked at the boy before her, and instead of feeling worried for her friend she suddenly felt a sense of relief. It had finally happened. Minerva had broken.
"This isn't your fault, Harry," Poppy said, and rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You just happened to spark an explosion that's been waiting to happen ever since Dumbledore passed away."
Harry peered up at Poppy, and she watched as he tried to process her words. He eventually gave a half-smile, apparently understanding but still harbouring some sense of guilt. He shifted on his feet, and Poppy realised how uncomfortable it must have been for him to be confronted with the delicate side of a Professor when all most saw was sheer professionalism. She removed her hand from Harry's shoulder, a signal that he was free to go.
"I just thought I should tell someone," finished Harry. "Professor McGonagall seemed pretty upset. I thought… she could use a friend, maybe."
Poppy smiled. "Thank you, Harry."
Harry gave a last nod, and turned to leave the hospital wing. Poppy too, followed him toward the hospital wing doors. She would go see Minerva at once, and fetch Rolanda on the way.
"Wait, Madam Pomfrey?" Harry said, stopping and turning around so suddenly that Poppy almost ran straight into him, "There's something else you should know. Before, I helped Professor McGonagall clean out Dumbledore's desk. I found… a photograph…"
Poppy raised a curious eyebrow as Harry's cheeks went slightly pink.
Poppy knocked gently on the large door that led to Dumbledore's old office – and for now, Minerva's new one. When there was no reply, Poppy shot a worried look at Rolanda beside her.
"Minerva?" Rolanda enquired, raising her voice slightly so it would carry through.
Again, there was no response from within the room. Poppy bit her lip, and exchanged another glance with her friend. It was true that they had both expected this moment to eventually arrive, and they were indeed glad that Minerva was finally showing her grief, but now that they had to deal with it neither could deny they weren't at least a little bit nervous. If there was one emotion that Minerva McGonagall was known to express more than successfully, it was anger. Poppy couldn't help but unseat a slight fear that she would be transfigured into a horrible creature of some sort if Minerva took offence to their concerned visit.
"Well, we've observed the niceties," said Rolanda quietly, though not lacking a touch of her typical offhandedness. With that, she reached out and opened the door before Poppy could even react.
The wooden door swung open to reveal the large, circular and rather empty office. For a moment Poppy thought that Minerva was in fact not there, but Rolanda quickly pointed to the distinct hem of emerald-green robes sticking out from behind the large desk on the opposite side of the office. Silently Poppy approached the desk, Rolanda at her side.
Poppy knelt down beside Minerva, who was leaning back against the desk, knees tucked up to her chest and staring at the wall before her. Her eyes were puffy and red, but for now it seemed the tears were at bay.
"Minerva, are you alright?" Poppy asked softly, and placed a hand on her friend's arm.
Minerva didn't speak, but continued to stare tiredly at the wall. Poppy looked worriedly up to Rolanda, who responded by lowering herself to the floor as well.
"Come on, Minerva," Rolanda spoke, her tone firm.
Minerva closed her eyes for a second, and when she opened them her gaze had finally turned to her two kneeling friends. And to Poppy's surprise, Minerva gave a weak smile.
"You've been speaking with Mr. Potter," she said, matter-of-factly. Her voice was quiet and hoarse.
"Yes," Poppy admitted. "He seemed rather worried about you."
Minerva smiled again, but this time her expression seemed to convey a sense of irony.
"He was quite upset with me. He thought I was… betraying Albus by clearing away his things," she said, and paused for a moment. "I just-" she suddenly inhaled quickly, as though she were about to cry, "-didn't know what else to do…"
And then Minerva did a peculiar thing – she started to laugh nervously. Yet with each breath she took, her laughing turned more into sobbing than anything else. Her inhalations were deep and strained, and a pained look overtook her features.
"Minerva-" Poppy began, but that was all it took for tears to begin spilling down Minerva's face. Poppy felt her insides crumple as she watched Minerva cry – her dear, strong friend, reduced to a sobbing wreck. Poppy did all she could think to do – she pulled herself right up to Minerva and wrapped her arms around her.
Poppy heard movement behind her, and in a moment Rolanda had brought herself around to the other side of Minerva and wrapped her arms around her too. Poppy felt Minerva clutch onto her arm tightly as she continued to sob, and saw that she was holding onto Rolanda too.
"It's alright," Poppy whispered, rubbing Minerva's back, and she was slightly stunned to find that her own voice was starting to waver. Minerva's sobs were so painful that tears began to form In Poppy's eyes, and it wasn't long before she was crying too – for Dumbledore and for her friend.
"Why are you crying?" Exclaimed Rolanda in an attempt at mockery, but Poppy could see that Rolanda's eyes were also glistening with tears. Poppy laughed through her own sobs, and watched as Rolanda too couldn't help but burst into both tears and laughter. Minerva was glancing between both her friends, and it wasn't long before she too was infected by the laughter, despite tears still gushing from her eyes. And this time it wasn't the nervous laughter Poppy had heard before, but the kind of hearty laugh that warms your insides. Poppy wondered what a sight this must be – three grown women clutching each other on the floor, hysterically crying and laughing.
It was several minutes before the crying stopped, and several minutes more before the laughing stopped. Soon the three women were all leaning back against the desk, still holding each other, the only sound a quiet sniffle every now and then.
"Were you and Dumbledore…" Poppy trailed off.
Minerva looked sideways at Poppy, and didn't speak for a moment as though she were considering her answer.
"We were involved…" Minerva finally answered. Apparently responding to the confused expression on Poppy's face, she smiled knowingly. "Romantically, intermittently, sporadically… It was a long and complicated affair. Very complicated, for many reasons…" A nostalgic look had fallen across Minerva's face, and she stared at the wall as if seeing something that Poppy or Rolanda never could.
Poppy didn't ask any more. Of course, she was curious as to how Minerva's relationship with the great Headmaster had remained hidden for so long – even from her closest friends – but for now, Minerva had said enough.
"You okay?" Rolanda asked, rubbing Minerva's arm.
Minerva broke from her reverie, and smiled. "Yes. Yes, I am. Thankyou," she said gratefully, and Poppy had a comforting feeling that she was telling the truth.
"Excellent! Now what say we nick down to the kitchens and pinch some of Hogwarts' finest wine?" Said Rolanda, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Some of Hogwarts' finest chocolate probably wouldn't go too astray, either…"
Minerva grinned, and let Poppy and Rolanda pull her up. Poppy opened the office door, and she turned to let the others through. As Minerva went to exit, however, she stopped and looked worriedly at Poppy. Poppy felt her stomach fall – hadn't Minerva gotten over the worst for now?
But Minerva's concern was quite unexpected and indeed entirely forgotten by Poppy -
"Poppy, what's that great lump on your forehead?"
That's all, folks! Once again, a big thank you to everyone who took the time to read this story. I'm so grateful to you all, and I really hope to bring you all some more lovely AD/MM fiction sometime soon...