FIC: "Save the Last Dance for Me" for thisaestus Recipient: thisaestus Author/Artist: ??? Title: Save the Last Dance for Me Rating: PG Pairings: Poppy Pomfrey/Minerva McGonagall Word Count: ~ 3,5 k Medium: Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *None*. Summary: Poppy hadn’t expected to find someone this late in life, but she was far from complaining. Author's/Artist's Notes: I have never written either of those characters as the main focus of a fic before, let alone that pairing, and it was interesting as well as enjoyable. It probably wouldn’t hurt to know Minerva’s secondary canon for this fic as I used it quite a bit. Otherwise it sticks to canon as much as possible and takes place mostly during OotP. Many thanks go to W for beta’ing and cheerleading and to the mods for running this! I really hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, thisaestus!
The hospital wing was empty when Poppy entered. The students wouldn’t arrive for another two days, but she liked to return early to check everything was as it should be. When she had made sure she had a good stock of potions and herbs, she took a moment to appreciate the solitude before the students would return for another year.
She drew a deep breath.
The air tasted crisp and clean, a hint of sanitizer overlaying everything else. When she had started her training so many years ago, Poppy hadn’t been particularly fond of the smell, but she had got used to it fast enough.
She stroked her hand over the stiff linen of one of the beds, wondering what was to come. There had been signs lately, worse things than broken bones: dragon bites, petrified students, Dementor attacks and last year someone had died, something that hadn’t happened under her watch since the last war. She sighed and stepped up to the window. It was getting dark, a starless night, and the only thing she could discern was Hagrid’s hut. The lights were on and she smiled when she saw it. As much as she had enjoyed the holidays, she was looking forward to being surrounded by her colleagues and the students again. She always got restless when she went too long without mending something.
“I thought I might find you here.”
Poppy smiled and slowly turned around. “Am I that predictable?”
“Not predictable,” Minerva said and Poppy could hear the teasing in her voice. “Reliable.”
“I suppose that’s not a bad thing.” Poppy took a step towards Minerva and then changed her mind and stopped, hesitating. “A little boring maybe.”
Minerva laughed, the sound something Poppy found precious in its rarity. “I assure you, you are anything but.”
Poppy looked at her, just taking her in for a moment before their eyes met and she found she was too happy to smile. “I have missed you,” she said slowly, almost reluctantly.
Minerva’s eyes softened and she crossed the distance between them. She raised her hand to brush her fingers over Poppy’s cheek and Poppy couldn’t help but lean into the touch. “It hasn’t been that long.”
Poppy shrugged. “It was long enough for me.”
Something in her voice must have alerted Minerva for she pulled Poppy into her arms, tightly. “I missed you too.”
Feeling better immediately, Poppy nodded into her shoulder and let her stroke her hair, marvelling at how good the simple touch felt. She knew why affection was hard earned with Minerva, but there were still things she needed to hear sometimes.
It had been two years since Poppy had found Minerva at the lakeside in the middle of the night, shivering and drunk. She had only been out because she thought a quick walk and the fresh air might help her stay awake as she had a student she needed to give another dose of medicine at three in the morning.
At first she hadn’t seen Minerva. She’d been contemplating turning around because the usually peaceful grounds had an eerie, more hopeless feeling to them with the Dementors in near vicinity, when she saw a reflection on the water. She had followed it back to its origin – a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey – and held in a gasp when she saw the hand holding it belonged to Minerva, who seemed to be crying silently. Poppy had worked with Minerva McGonagall for several decades, but she had never seen her cry before.
It was for this reason that she hesitated for a moment before she went to sit next to her, grimacing a little at the feeling of the cold, hard ground beneath her. Poppy felt like she was too old to sit on something other than a comfortable chair, but she was rather sure Minerva didn’t share the emotion or just simply didn’t care at the moment.
They sat side by side, silently, for long minutes without either acknowledging the other until it got too much for Poppy.
“Can I be of any assistance?”
Minerva just shook her head and raised the bottle to her lips to take another swig, silent tears still running down her cheeks. Since Poppy wasn’t able to do nothing, she scooted a little closer and put her arm around Minerva. She was surprised when, after a moment, Minerva rested her head on Poppy’s shoulder.
They stayed like that until Poppy had to go to administer medicine to an unwilling student. She didn’t want to leave Minerva alone so she convinced her to come along. It wasn’t easy, but Poppy had some experience in dealing with not-quite-coherent people. She put Minerva to bed in her own quarters because Poppy knew she would hate for the students to see her like that. By the time she returned, Minerva was fast asleep, the only lines on her face the ones caused by age, not suffering.
Poppy was still up by the time Minerva woke, partly because she had felt the need to keep watch and partly because her bed had been occupied. There was no explanation, just a stiff thank you before the other woman rushed off to get ready for her first class.
The incident wouldn’t leave Poppy alone so she started paying closer attention. Minerva was just as composed as always, but after watching her for a while Poppy saw the rifts and fissures in her act and she couldn’t believe they had all been so stupid. Of course Minerva wasn’t all right. She’d lost her husband just a few years ago and hadn’t ever stopped to grieve for a moment, how could they all have assumed it hadn’t affected her? Yet she had never uttered a word about it and Poppy admired her sheer stubborness to move on. She thought it was stupid and entirely unnecessary, but she admired it nonetheless.
For a while she thought about ways to help, but Minerva never seemed as upset again and she didn’t want to pressure her, knowing that good intentions didn’t always lead to good results. They didn’t mention what had happened for the next few months.
At the staff Christmas party, Minerva approached Poppy for the first time since that evening.
They had been having supper together before, every other week. Most nights they all ate together in the Great Hall of course, but sometimes Poppy had patients and Minerva had work and on the nights neither of them managed to be on time, they'd dined together. But this year things had been a little different so Poppy was surprised when Minerva took the initiative.
"I am sorry if I was rude," she said, her voice low so no one would overhear. "I did not intend to be."
Poppy nodded and smiled. "I know. No harm done."
Minerva smiled back, her lips pressed together too tight to make it look convincing. Poppy knew there was more to come, but she didn't push.
"I’m sorry you had to see me that way." Minerva lowered her gaze and Poppy instinctively leaned forward and put her hand on her shoulder.
"There's no shame in grief, Minerva."
Minerva made a disbelieving sound. "There is in getting horribly drunk and in public too. Any number of students could have walked by and seen me." She winced a little. "Maybe they did."
"It was past curfew," Poppy tried to reassure her.
Minerva gave her a look over the rim of her glasses. "I have never known that to stop them before."
Poppy inclined her head. "Still. There was no one around."
Minerva nodded and Poppy didn't know what to say. She felt a little strange with her hand still on Minerva's shoulder so she dropped it.
"It's not a regular occurence, in case you were wondering," Minerva said a few moments later.
"What you witnessed. I'm not... I'm not always miserable." She looked up, so determined, it reminded Poppy of a certain patient who'd been frequenting the hospital wing the last few years. She smiled.
Minerva mistook it for disbelief. "I really am not. I'm fine.”
"Are you?" This time, there was real disbelief in Poppy's voice, even though she tried to hide it.
"Yes," Minerva said firmly. "It's just that one day a year. One day a year that I let myself..." She broke off and shrugged.
"Let yourself what?"
"Feel," Minerva admitted. "It was my birthday. I don't like to make a spectacle out of it, never have really. But Elphinstone... He always spoiled me on that day, the sentimental fool. There were flowers and presents and... I know it should be the anniversary of his death or his birthday, but it's not. It's mine."
There wasn't much to say after that. Poppy hugged her colleague and knew they'd be more than that from now on.
The changes were subtle – they met more frequently. Minerva would ask Poppy to join on the nights she had dinner with Pomona and Filius and often they ended up chatting well into the night, only the two of them over a glass of wine. Elphinstone didn't come up again right away, but over time Minerva told her the whole story – how they'd met at work, back when Minerva had still been working for the Ministry, how he'd proposed until she'd finally accepted and finally how he'd died after only three years of blissful marriage.
"It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged somewhere," Minerva told her late one night. "I gave up love before, for my job, and then it turned out less fulfilling than I thought it would be. It was only when I started teaching that I felt genuinely happy and it was so nice to be able to share that with someone. I have never really wanted children, but I valued the family I had."
"Did it get easier?" Poppy had known loss in her life, but she knew it was different for everyone.
Minerva looked thoughtful as she gazed into the fire, the wine making her more communicative than usual. "In a way."
Neither of them brought it up again afterwards. Poppy knew Minerva didn't like to dwell on things that couldn't be changed and it wasn't like they didn't have other ground to cover. Poppy appreciated Minerva's intelligence and dry humour and often she wished she was there to entertain her on the nights she had to keep watch over students.
Their relationship evolved into something else over time and Poppy still wasn't quite sure how it had happened. She recalled wondering if it was more than friendship, once or twice, especially when she felt that violent twinge inside of her when Minerva talked of lost lovers and present friendships, but she had thought it was just her and didn't want to let herself feel hope where there was none.
She shouldn't have been surprised when one night, the talking led to more, but she never even remembered who had made the first step. The time was just right and not much changed afterwards. They were both still dedicated to their jobs and their friends, but when they had free time, they spent it together. Poppy would stay in Minerva's rooms more often than not and when Poppy had overnight patients, Minerva would take her Transfiguration Today and make herself comfortable on Poppy's sofa until she returned.
They never expressely said what they felt for each other, but most of the time Poppy felt like they didn't need to. She just wanted Minerva to be happy and it seemed like she was.
Poppy broke the embrace after a while and took a good look at Minerva to check she was unharmed.
"Did everything go as planned then?"
Minerva nodded. "More or less. And I won't be gone as much now that I'm teaching again."
Poppy supressed a relieved sigh. Minerva had been gone on Order business all summer and while she knew the other woman was a supremely talented witch, it didn't stop her from lying awake most nights, worrying she wouldn't return.
"Good," she said firmly. "Would you care for some brandy and a round of chess?"
"Most certainly," Minerva said. "I have been looking forward to it all week."
Poppy hid another smile, not wanting to admit to even herself how happy the thought of Minerva thinking of her when she was gone made her and led the way to her rooms. She was glad Minerva was home; things would be better now.
"I swear to god, if this... this woman tries to undermine me one more time-"
"She's not succeeding in any case," Poppy interrupted. "The students respect you too much to believe anything she says."
"I would hope so!" Minerva was pacing up and down furiously. "Everything that comes out of her mouth is either a lie or a mean ploy to ridicule someone who is not what she considers normal."
Poppy had rarely seen Minerva this angry and she was at a loss as to how to calm her. "She must be very scared of diversity indeed."
"She must be," Minerva agreed. "I just wish she'd be scared somewhere else."
Poppy chuckled and pulled Minerva into her arms. "I'm sure she'll be gone soon enough."
She rolled her eyes when she could hear the unmistakable sound of teeth being ground together. "Haven't you heard of the curse that is on that position?"
Minerva pulled back "The Defence Against the Dark Arts one?"
"I have." Minerva snorted. "I highly doubt that is true."
Poppy shrugged. "I'm sure the last few Defence teachers would disagree with you."
Minerva laughed and went to sit down at the table, where their dinner was waiting for them. Poppy was glad she had sufficiently distracted her and followed suit. Later that night, the subject came up again.
"I cannot believe the sheer nerve of that woman!"
"Umbridge? I know," Poppy said. "I don't agree with her methods either."
"Appointing an Inquisitorial Squad?" Minerva was pacing again. "And made out only of Slytherin students! It’s like she’s spitting on the whole prefect system."
"Is there nothing we can do? Alert the parents?"
Minerva shook her head. "Nothing will change until Fudge grows tired of her or someone else becomes Minister."
"I suppose so. Is there any way I can help?"
Minerva shrugged and then shook her head. "Listening to me is helping. I'm sorry I am ranting and raving at you, it's just because I have to keep myself in check in front of the students all day long. I would like to give her a piece of my mind."
"I know, dear, I know."
Minerva gave her a surprised look. Poppy forced herself not to grimace at herself. They were not typically prone to using terms of endearment. She had wanted to, sometimes, but they had been colleagues and then friends for so long that she didn't want to overstep the line and besides – she was rather sure Minerva didn't appreciate them in any case. It had slipped out and she wished she could take it back.
When the silence grew uncomfortable, or at least that was how Poppy experienced it, she lifted the blanket and climbed into bed. "I'm going to sleep. Do you want to join me or do you have work left to do?"
"No, I'm done." Poppy could feel Minerva's eyes on her even though she couldn't see her as she was looking at everything but her. "Poppy..." The mattress lifted a bit as Minerva settled on the other side of the bed. "Are you..."
Minerva didn't continue so Poppy turned around and looked at her. There was colour in her cheeks and Poppy raised her eyebrows. "Am I what?"
"Are you happy?" Minerva burst out. "I know we never really talked about what this is... I don't want to give you the wrong impression."
The words were like Skele-Gro in her veins and Poppy was sure it showed on her face because Minerva winced when she saw her expression.
"No, that's not what I mean at all!"
"Well, what did you mean?" Poppy wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer, but she felt like she needed to.
Minerva sighed, looked away. "Do I really have to say it? The last two times I did, it didn't end extremely well."
Poppy felt a smile break out across her face and shook her head. "No. No, you don’t. And I feel the same, in case you wanted to know."
Minerva's answering smile was brilliant and Poppy had never seen anything that made her so happy. "I wanted to know."
A few months later it all went awry.
Poppy knew something was wrong when someone banged at her door in the middle of the night, but she hadn’t thought it would be Minerva.
Four Stunning Spells straight to the chest.
For a timeless moment, Poppy had thought Minerva was dead. It had taken a moment for her training to kick in and then she’d acted faster than she ever had in her life. Almost no pulse, barely breathing… It had been two hours before Poppy had known she’d make it and they had felt like eternity. She had transferred her to St Mungo’s then – if something happened to Minerva because of a mistake she made she would never forgive herself.
She couldn’t stay at her side for longer than a few hours at a time because she still had students to take care of, but Poppy went to St Mungo’s whenever she could. It took Minerva a long time to regain consciousness, so long that Poppy feared she would never wake up next to her again.
When she did, the first thing she said made Poppy want to slap her and kiss her simultaneously.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Funny,” Poppy allowed. “Considering you almost died, at least. Overall? Not the best joke you ever made.”
Minerva grinned. She looked more tired than usual, but the Healers had told Poppy she would make full recovery and she had run some tests to confirm it herself when they had left them alone.
“Noted.” Her expression turned serious and Poppy took her hand.
“You’re going to be alright, don’t worry.”
“Oh good,” Minerva said, but she didn’t look relieved and a moment later Poppy realised why. “What happened? Hagrid…”
“Is alright,” Poppy reassured her. “As is everyone else. Well…” Despite her profession, she had never got used to delivering bad news. “Sirius Black… He died. You missed a lot.”
“What?” Minerva sat up and looked around. Poppy knew she was searching for her wand.
“Lie down,” she said. “I will explain, but there is nothing you can do right now, I promise. I’m sorry.”
Minerva didn’t lie down, but she didn’t get up either. Maybe she had realised she wasn’t strong enough for it yet.
“How did he die?” The words were stiff and Poppy gripped Minerva’s hand more firmly.
“There was a battle in the Department of Mysteries. Bellatrix Lestrange got him. Everyone else is fine though and I will let Albus explain because I wasn’t there,” she added before Minerva could ask. The only reply was a nod and Poppy tried desperately to come up with a more cheerful subject.
“It looks like we will need to find a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher… again.”
At this, Minerva looked up. “I thought you said everyone else was fine?”
“Well…” Poppy wasn’t usually happy about anyone’s misery, but there was no excuse for what Umbridge had done to Minerva. “She’s alive. She’s just a little… confused. I’m sure she’ll be fine eventually, but I doubt Umbridge will return for another year.”
“Interesting.” Minerva smiled and leaned up to give Poppy a brief kiss. “Maybe you were right about that curse.”
“Maybe I was.”
Minerva moved and held her duvet up. Poppy stepped out of her shoes and joined her in the too small bed to wrap her arms around her, gently.
“It’s starting again, isn’t it?” It was a question, but Poppy had a feeling Minerva already knew the answer so she just kissed the top of her head and held her close.
“You won’t be alone this time.”
“Neither will you.”
They weren’t the most loving words Poppy had ever heard, but they were the most honest and she appreciated them more than she could say.