Title: A Winter Walk
Author: Alcina vom Steinsberg
Word Count: ~1100
Characters and/or Pairings: Minerva McGonagall, Poppy Pomfrey
Summary:Written for the HoggyWartyXmas fest on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, for ldymusyc. Two longstanding friends share their annual tradition and have a lovely time together.
Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling
A/N: My warmest thanks to TheRealSnape for ultra-fast and efficient beta work and endless patience with me dropping out and in again, and for hosting this wonderful fest!
A Winter Walk
Large snowflakes fell incessantly from the darkening December sky, covering the world with a blanket of silence. Poppy Pomfrey, the heavily bundled up School Matron of Hogwarts, stood on the front porch of the castle, contemplating the wintery landscape. Despite living here for the larger part of her life, she still felt unaccustomed to the heavy Scottish winter and missed her snow-free, much warmer home in the South. The snow had its merits, though, she thought with a smile when she heard the large doors behind her opening with a creak.
"Sorry for being late," Professor McGonagall excused herself, slightly out of breath, "it was that Longbottom boy again. Sometimes, I'm really wondering what the hat was thinking." She wrapped her tartan scarf tightly around her neck and stowed her wand inside her fox muff, casting a quick warming spell over Poppy and herself in the process.
"Whereas I'm still not convinced that it's a good idea to let the fate of students be decided by a mere piece of clothing, sentient or not," she observed. "But you know how it is with Albus and Traditions. With a capital T, of course."
"Indeed, and thanks," Poppy smiled, "I was beginning to wonder what might have kept you. It's getting late."
"And you're getting cold, so let's get going," Minerva replied and started down the flight of stairs.
Poppy fell into step besides the taller woman. They walked silently for a while, each one letting the quiet calm of the peaceful winter day taking care of the hubbub and rush of the school routine they wanted to escape. The snow was high on the ground, and since it wasn't a Hogsmeade weekend, no path had been cleared behind the school boundaries. Minerva's wand, placed inside the muff on purpose, cleared a small path in front of them as they walked.
This outing had become a cherished tradition to the two of them over the years, and whenever they were both at Hogwarts, nothing could keep them from it.
When they were still students, the two unlikely friends had spent most of their Hogsmeade weekends with long walks, since inter-house relationships weren't exactly encouraged under Headmaster Dippet, and therefore outside activities were nearly the only opportunity for them to meet. Later, when Minerva came back to take the transfiguration position under the newly appointed Headmaster Dumbledore, she was more than happy to discover that her old friend had just started as School Matron some years previous.
In that first year, they had used the first real opportunity to get away from the castle, a frosty December weekend, and went for an extended winter walk, defying snow and cold for the sake of catching up and having undisturbed time for themselves.
Since then, both eagerly awaited he occasion every year.
"I always wanted to learn this spell," Poppy said after another snow-clearing of Minerva's wand, "but I only ever think of it during our annual walk."
"When you grow up North, it's one of the first you learn. You Sassenachs don't need it, you know," Minerva grinned, giving her usually well-controlled Scottish lilt free reign.
"Please, not that iSassenach/i nonsense again," Poppy sighed, rolling her eyes. "We've long since established that yes, I come from the South, and from an island to boot, and didn't grow up with snow, and that you're far superior dealing with it."
Now Minerva laughed out loud. "I can't tell you how much I miss our banter when we're at the school. Too bad one always has to be a role model for the brats."
Another stretch of comfortable quiet brought them halfway around the black lake.
"What was it this time with that Longbottom boy, Min? He always seems to get into one mess or other."
Minerva exhaled with a sigh. "You can say that. Augusta's son really is a handful, for all that he is her pride and joy. Always on the lookout for a prank, and so resourceful! If he had red hair, I would be the first to believe the rumours about Augusta and that Prewett boy back then."
Poppy, having rather fond memories of a red-haired Prewett back at school, blushed.
"Didn't I catch him with that Vane girl the other day, what was her name – Harriet? They seemed rather chummy. Perhaps she can calm him down a little."
"Well, romance didn't work at all for the Prewett twins, did it? And I thought Longbottom was dallying around with Alice Robins."
"Boys!" both exhaled at the same time, and then giggled, having said it in unison.
"Are we really down to school talk only?", Minerva asked with a frown after another short stretch of silence.
Poppy pondered the question for a moment. "It seems that we are both in urgent need for a break. Speaking of which, are you staying over the holidays?"
Minerva nodded. "Yes. I didn't want to, but with all the other Head of Houses gone..."
"You mustn't let Dumbledore take advantage of your good-naturedness," Poppy chided her friend. "I've seen it happen over and over again. It's not fair that it is always you who has to stay behind on the holidays."
Minerva shrugged. "It's not as if I had anywhere interesting to go."
Dusk was falling fast, and the lights of Hogsmeade came now into view. Poppy dug her hand out from under her many cloak-and-robe layers and linked arms with Minerva.
"Oh, fiddlesticks! You can always come and visit me, you know."
"But you never leave the castle either!" exclaimed Minerva and tucked the arm of her shorter friend firmly in the crook of her elbow.
Poppy was glad that the darkness hid her blush. "Well, I stayed because you stayed. I don't care much for being all alone on the holidays."
This time, the silence between them was heavy with innuendo, and it took them over the last stretch to the Three Broomsticks, their habitual destination on these outings.
Entering the rather noisy and warm, but cosy taproom, they were met by a beaming Madam Rosmerta.
"There you are, my dears! All cold and rosy-cheeked by that long trek through the snow. I say, I have no idea why you don't just apparate once you're outside the boundaries, and spare yourself the hike. Come, come, I have reserved your favourite chairs right before the fire for you, and my best mulled butterbeer is waiting for you!"
Poppy shot Minerva a mischievous grin, taking the warm tumbler out Rosmerta's pretty plump hands and took one of the three chairs before the fire. The meeting with their old classmate Rosmerta was part of their annual tradition, but tonight, she would have much preferred to be alone with Minerva.
Minerva's answering smile was full of promise.
A/N: Just to avoid misunderstandings, Augusta's son is, of course, Frank Longbottom.