FIC: "Not Exactly the First Blush of Youth" for chantefable Recipient:chantefable Author: ??? Title: Not Exactly the First Blush of Youth Rating: PG Pairings: Galatea Merrythought/Griselda Marchbanks Word Count: ~2650 Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *A bit of graphic detail of dismemberment*. Summary: Galatea Merrythought may be seventy-two years old, but she's not without the ability to be useful. Author's Notes: My deepest thanks to my beta, who will be credited after reveals, and to chantefable, who inspired me to write about characters I had never before even considered. Thank you!
Galatea ducked down behind the stone wall just before the world exploded in a burst of green sparks. Her back twinged in protest even as shards of the wall rained down on her, tearing through the top layer of her cloak.
"Renew that protection charm, Merrythought!" Griselda shouted from her vantage point behind a rapidly-dwindling oak. "All the trinkets in the world won't save you from a direct blast."
"Trinkets, she calls them," Galatea muttered, the sound washed away by the explosions taking place around her. "See if I save her sorry arse." Impervious to the contradiction of thought to deed, Galatea chose a vial at random from the five strapped to her waist and tossed it in the direction of their attackers.
Quick wand work delineated the area around the dark wizards so that when the noxious potion burst from its vial and filled the air with fumes, they didn't affect anyone from her team.
A mirroring spell put the image of herself in the open to draw any lingering fire, and after ten seconds of quiet, Galatea used the wall to aid her in climbing to her feet, then calmly dusted debris from her trousers. "Adams?"
"You don't think you could have used that sooner?" Michael Adams asked, limping toward her while trying to perform a tricky bit of self-healing on his shoulder. Galatea brushed his hands away, tending to the injury herself.
"Marchbanks stayed in my line of sight," Galatea inclined her head toward Griselda, who appeared to have just sat down to tea with the Minister himself, "but I didn't see Phillips get off."
"He used the confusion of the ambush to Apparate." Michael's calm sounded far too forced, understandable due to his long partnership with Quenton Phillips.
"How much time will your little bomb afford us before they wake?" Griselda asked, her wand trained on the copse of trees just ahead of them on the country lane.
Galatea pressed around the burn mark on Michael's shoulder, reading the efficacy of her burn salve and healing spells in his lack of tension. Repairing both the cloth of his shirt as well as renewing the protection charms woven into the fabric, she said, "We've at least another ten minutes."
"Good. Adams, search the bodies and snap their wands. We'll provide cover."
"Tracking spells too?"
Griselda took a moment to consider that before nodding. "We know where their nest is, but it won't hurt."
As soon as Michael stepped beyond the tree line, Galatea used the outermost trees to hang a high-level shielding spell. "That should hold until he's done."
Griselda's arms wrapped around her from behind, and Galatea relaxed back into them.
"I think my heart stopped when that wall exploded." Griselda's lips pressed against the skin of Galatea's neck, tickling as she spoke. "Who knew two seconds could last a lifetime?"
Turning, Galatea cupped Griselda's age-lined face in her hands. "I had far more protection than you did. You must do a better job of choosing your cover during firefights. I didn't leave my post at Hogwarts just to watch you die."
"You left your post at Hogwarts to help bring an end to this bloody war. But I appreciate the sentiment."
The clearing of a throat reminded them both of Michael's presence and caused them to draw apart. "If you've finished, ah, checking one another for damage, we've a manticore preserve to save."
Griselda shuddered. "Manticores. Whatever could Grindelwald want with those horrible creatures?"
"Besides their stings and skin? Hmm, no idea."
Griselda rewarded her sarcasm with a withering glare. "As soon as we get the Apparation coordinates from Phillips, we'll leave. I don't relish feeling the sting of a manticore first-hand."
Michael's face lit up with a grin. "You mean these coordinates?" he asked, waving his wand to produce a series of letters and numbers that lingered in the air for a moment.
Galatea stared around her at the destruction of the preserve. The low murmuring of the manticores sent shivers down her spine, but she ignored them. They were the least of her worries. The Muggle-repelling charms had been blown to hell, and it was only a matter of time before one of the Muggles' bomb-dropping aeroplanes took notice of the preserve.
"What are our orders?"
"The Ministry is sending a team of charms experts to do the heavy work. We're meant only to secure the manticores and ready their handlers for transport to St Mungos." Griselda sounded as overwhelmed as Galatea felt, but they both squared their shoulders and turned toward the enclosures that held all but two of the manticores. The remaining two were in hospital, one a breeding mother, the other having been wounded in the attack on the preserve. Its tail had been cut from its body and the manticore had nearly bled to death before Michael found it and staunched the bleeding.
From a distance, with a spell. Galatea hadn't taught Adams to be stupid, after all.
"When we're done here," Galatea said, "I'm going home and drawing the hottest bath I can stand."
"I think I'll join you."
Galatea raised her eyebrows and smiled. "It's been a while since we've shared."
"Decades, probably. But we've more than earned it."
Galatea looked up, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun until she saw Quenton Phillips standing on the rise of a hill. "What is it?" she called back.
"Can you spare a moment? There's a wounded handler who needs some emergency field healing that's a bit beyond my capabilities."
Almost before the words were out of his mouth, Galatea was standing beside Quenton, having Apparated the distance between them. "What's the condition?"
"It's bad. His arm has been severed."
Galatea made a quick mental inventory of the potions and medicines in the shrunken battlefield kit attached to her belt. "Manticore bite? I don't know that I have anything to help with that."
"No, it appears to have been cut off by one of Grindelwald's followers. Grab on. I'll side-along us to the hospital." Quenton didn't give her any more warning than that; Galatea didn't need it.
When the world re-focused, the sterile environment of a hospital surrounded her. "Which bed?" she asked.
Three beds were occupied; Quenton pointed at the one closest to the fireplace. Galatea hurried toward it, pulling out her field kit and returning it to normal size. When she reached the bed, she nearly dropped the whole thing. The deathly pale face of the boy on the bed was far too familiar. She could all too easily imagine his blood-soaked handler's uniform to be the black robes of a Hogwarts student.
Silvanus Kettleburn's eyelids flickered before slowly opening. "Professor Merrythought?" he asked, his voice hoarse with pain.
"No longer a professor, my boy," Galatea said, attempting a reassuring smile even as she surveyed the damage to his arm. The flesh appeared to have been chewed away rather than sliced. Turning to Quenton, who'd followed her across the room, she asked, "Are you certain a wizard did this?"
The answer, when it came, was from Kettleburn. "I'm positive."
Galatea shook her head, tsking at him. "Don't try to speak. Phillips, if you'd be so good as to firecall St Mungos?"
"Can he floo in his condition?"
"Of course he can," Galatea said, not wanting to mention in Kettleburn's hearing that the only other option was death. "Strapping young lad like this? A bit of long-distance floo travel would be nothing to him."
Kettleburn's remaining hand came up, weakly grasping at her arm. "Will they be able to regrow it?"
"Would you rather hear the harsh truth or a lovely bit of fiction?"
"I don't know." When he stirred himself to argue, Galatea silenced him with a spell. "I'm not lying to you. I honestly don't know. It will depend on what the wizard who did this used. Was it a spell? Just nod, my boy. You really don't need to be taxing yourself right now."
One of the other injured handlers spoke up then. "He cut off its tail and used the spike. Just sawed away at Silva's arm until he reached bone. And then he..." The handler swallowed hard. "He snapped the bone in half. I'll never forget the sound it made."
Placing her hands flat on the bed, Galatea closed her eyes and drew three deep breaths, letting them out slowly to stop the involuntary reaction of her body to that tale. "How are you still alive?" she whispered, opening her eyes again to stare into the face of the young man who'd been such a hellion in her classes just a handful of years before.
"They'd already removed the venom. There weren't any reason to take the tail, really. They got buckets of venom, but this wizard... he wanted trophies. He took a tail and Silva's hand."
"And they call the manticores monsters," Quenton said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "St Mungos is prepared. They've asked that we place him under stasis for transport."
"I'll go with him to direct him through the interchanges and make sure he gets out at the right floo."
Galatea nodded and was about to perform the stasis spell when Kettleburn grabbed for her again. She removed the silencing spell and waited for him to speak.
"I won't be a handler anymore, will I?"
"If they can regrow your hand, anything is possible. But if not...?" She shook her head.
His eyes closed with an expression of pain that had little to do with his arm. "It's all I'm good for," he said, his voice thick. "I've never wanted to do anything else."
Galatea wasn't the sort to offer false hope, but a helping hand was another matter entirely. "Headmaster Dippet is in need of a new Care of Magical Creatures teacher. You'll have to give up the more dangerous aspects of your current job, but you'll still be able to be around the animals you love. And you'll teach the students to love them as well."
"Assuming he'd hire me. He didn't exactly enjoy my stay last time I was at Hogwarts."
"You're no longer the reckless boy you were in school, I'm sure," Galatea said, then placed her fingers over his mouth to stop whatever his reply would have been. "No more. I'm going to put you under now. When you wake, you'll be in St Mungos. And I'll instruct Headmaster Dippet to call on you at his earliest convenience."
After casting the stasis spell, Galatea watched as Quenton entered the floo with Kettleburn's unconscious body and twirled away in the green flames. As soon as they were gone, she upended the flimsy metal hospital bed with a shout of fury.
Familiar arms came around her for the second time that day. "Hush, my love. You'll scare the manticore handlers." Griselda applied pressure to Galatea's shoulders until she turned, then they locked arms around each other. "We're done here. Michael will see to transporting everyone to safety. You and I are for home, love, and that hot bath."
Galatea sank into Griselda's embrace, and the comfort of her understanding.
Water sluiced over her head, rinsing the suds from her hair. Griselda's body was a soft cushion at her back.
"And has today made you regret your choice?"
Galatea shifted in the tub. "Hmmm? Which choice? Joining the war effort?"
"In part. Mostly, though, I meant leaving your position at Hogwarts."
Galatea thought about that for a moment—Griselda's courage in asking deserved a considered response. "No. Nothing has really changed. I'm tired of teaching."
"There will be more days like today if you stay with the effort."
"True, but... Do you know why I stopped teaching?"
Griselda's fingers traced a vein in Galatea's arm. "I thought it was to do with the tragedy of last term."
"Myrtle's death was more of a final straw than the actual impetus behind my retirement. Defense is for the young, Griselda. At least, that's what the young believe. When you reach a certain age, and you stand before a classroom of teenagers who barely know the business end of a wand from its grip, though... They start to give you a look. It's less about boredom and more about pity. They look at you and no longer see you as a pool of knowledge from which they might drink. They simply see you as old and slow and beyond your prime."
"Did they injure your feelings?"
Galatea slapped Griselda with the wash cloth. "Shut it, you."
Water trickled down Galatea's chest, chased by Griselda's fingers. When they found her breast, they squeezed, and it wasn't the firm grip of a young woman. Nor the firm breast of one. "We are old, though, Gala. Seventy-two isn't exactly the first blush of youth."
"'Old' and 'without use' are not synonymous. We proved that today." Galatea raised her hand from the water and covered Griselda's with it. "And age has its benefits," she said, relaxing into Griselda's touch while allowing her hands to do some wandering of their own.
"Are you certain I can't tempt you to return?" Headmaster Dippet asked, pouring more wine into his goblet.
"Not a chance. The war may be done, but I'm not fool enough to take up the teaching robes again."
"Thank the gods for Albus Dumbledore. And your instruction of him, my dear. No one will forget that it was you who taught him everything he knows."
"Everyone will forget, is what you mean. It's no matter, though. Hundreds of students passed through my classes. I can't take credit for everything they do or have done."
"We're alone, my dear; of course you can."
Galatea covered the mouth of her goblet when Dippet moved to pour again. "No, thank you. And I suppose a bit of congratulations are in order for us. The entire war effort would surely have crumbled without our side having been taught by... well, by us."
"To us," Dippet said, laughing as he raised his goblet and took a long swallow.
"To us," Galatea answered before draining her wine.
"And what's to become of you now? The war's done, but for the cleaning up. A new generation of professors have arrived to torment all future students. Thank you, by the way, for directing the Kettleburn boy to me. What will you do with yourself now?"
"With Grindelwald imprisoned, his followers will be more active. I expect several attempts on Nurmengard in the next few weeks. That will keep Griselda and I occupied for a while. After that... who knows? Perhaps I'll join her on the board of the Wizarding Examination Authority. They always need extra examiners in the practical subjects."
"No political aspirations?"
"The Wizengamot, you mean? Heavens, no. Watching what Griselda went through with Ursula Umbridge was enough to put me right off politics."
"Umbridge? Oh dear. You're referring to that kerfluffle with the subversive gnomes?"
"Goblins, actually. But can you imagine? Griselda? I'm not against a little subversion now and again, and the goblins are always good in a fight, but..." Galatea rolled her eyes. "Subversive goblin groups. Honestly!"
"What did the Umbridge woman say they were subverting against?"
"She didn't, of course. Scandal need not contain the seeds of truth."
"How right you are, my dear." He glanced at the clock, and his eyes darkened with disappointment. Their appointment was nearly over. "Well, I wish you nothing but happiness. And if you ever do decide you'd like to teach again, please don't hesitate to send an owl." Dippet reached across the desk that separated them and grasped Galatea's hands. "You'll always be welcome at Hogwarts."
"Thank you, Headmaster," Galatea said, lightly squeezing his hands. "I think, however, after all the excitement of the past seventy years that I'm rather looking forward to what the next seventy will hold."