The Calm Before
Hogwarts is my home.
For most of the year it is home to a great many people, both teachers and pupils. I am neither.
I survey my domain, and it is mine, no one else rules here. Even dear old Albus has always treated this part of the castle differently to the rest. He was Headmaster, of that there was no doubt, but here I was always in charge. He would sometimes argue, sometimes protest, especially where Harry Potter was concerned, but he always deferred to me. Because in my domain, I am in control, I am Matron.
I gaze around my Ward, ensuring that everything is as it should be. The Hospital Wing is empty and the beds all made. The beds, like me, are waiting for the inevitable. The two patients I had, Wainwright, a second year with inflamed tonsils and Carter, a third year victim of the Carrows' punishments-the last, I hope-have been sent home.
Minerva McGonagall helped me to change the sheets on those two urgently-emptied beds. As we worked, we watched young Carter hobble out, supported by his sister, a sobbing first year.
'The Carrows are in the dungeon. Fastened up in the chains they used to imprison young Carter.' Minerva answered my unasked question conversationally while helping me tuck in the clean bottom sheet on what had been Carter's bed.
I hadn't asked her, because I did not want to know where they were. I took an oath, "heal without favour, do no harm," but I am afraid that I would break it if I were faced with those two monsters. What would I do if Amycus Carrow was brought into my ward, injured and dying? I do not know.
The first time I protested at the Carrows' use of both Unforgivable Curses and physical violence the Headmaster agreed with me. To be fair (though I don't know why I should be) Snape did try to rein in the Carrows on many occasions in the first two terms. This term, however, they simply ignored him.
I check the last entry in my ledger, "Daniel Carter, age 13: subjected to the Cruciatus Curse by Amycus and Alecto Carrow, 30 April, also deep leg wound caused by Sectumsempra, permanent scarring and impaired movement." That is what my ledger says. It was signed by me and countersigned by all four Heads of House. We cannot stop this, and we cannot leave, because Merlin knows what would happen to the children if we did, but I have recorded everything. If we win ... no, when we win, because we must ... I have records of every foul act carried out by the Carrows and by the bullying thugs they call "The Inquisitorial Squad".
I filled more pages of my ledger in the first term than I filled in the whole of last year, and last year was not easy, either. Albus dead by the hand of the man who is now our Headmaster and two pupils almost killed, one by curse, one by poison. And the boy responsible for those outrages was rewarded by being made Head Boy.
'That is the thirty-second child you have brought to me this year and the twelfth you have permanently scarred,' I told Amycus. He seems to be completely unaware that I am keeping a record.
'Why do you care?' Amycus Carrow asked me when he delivered Carter to me. 'It's not as if they're your kids; you ain't got no kids.' "You ain't got no kids?" This man is supposed to be a Professor, and he can barely speak, never mind teach. It is obvious that Amycus Carrow has no idea what the word Matron means. It means that while they are at school, I am their mother. I have hundreds of children, and I care for them all to the best of my ability. I soothe their aches, heal their cuts and put right whatever little magical accidents they may have. Minerva understands this; the Carrows cannot.
Minerva is long gone - she is in the Great Hall preparing to defend her school, my school, our school.
The double doors open, and Irma Pince enters.
'Good evening, Poppy.' She greets me with a pinch-faced and thin lipped smile. 'I doubt that the library will be busy tonight, so I thought that I would offer you my assistance.' I can see the anxiety in her face; our home is about to be attacked, and neither of us are fighters.
'I'm very much afraid that I'll need it,' I admit. And, for the first time, a sense of foreboding overwhelms me. I have, unfortunately, seen students die before now. But tonight I fear that I'll see more than ever before.
'I'll make us some tea, shall I?' Irma suggests. 'Best get something to drink now...' She stops. Neither of us can finish that sentence. We silently agree that neither of us will speak the words "...because we may not have time later." - that way, perhaps, we will be able to spend a quiet night doing nothing but drinking tea and gossiping.
'Have you seen them?' Irma asks when she brings the tray into my office. 'Have you seen the troublemakers, the saviours? Potter, Weasley and Granger.'
'No, and I hope that I don't,' I tell the Librarian. 'But if I don't, then it will be the first time since they started school that I haven't had at least one of them in my ward.'
Irma smiles ruefully at my observation and we sit in silence, sipping tea and watching the clock on the wall. When it reaches midnight, there is a loud explosion and the castle wall shakes. It has begun. I wonder whether, if we fail, the Death Eaters will respect the sanctuary of the ward. I fear that I know the answer. Even St. Mungo's is short-staffed, because almost one quarter of their Healers were Muggle-born and have been dismissed as "unfit to practice." These Death Eaters respect nothing, no one.
I stand and check my stock cupboards for a final time: Blood Replenishing Potion, Skele-Gro; I tick item after item off my list.
It is only fifteen minutes past midnight when the first bed is occupied. Irma opens my ledger and makes the first entry while I treat Shirley Bramfitt, a Ravenclaw sixth year. She has been clubbed by a troll and has multiple fractures, but it is nothing that I can't deal with.
That will come later.