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bloom. by milominderbinder
Chapter 1: bloom
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She’s five years old the first time she hears her father call her a nuisance.
Not that it’s especially surprising, even to her so young. Her father is old and grumpy most of the time, and Poppy loves to play more enthusiastically than he’d like. Her mother scolds her too, of course, when she breaks a vase or tracks mud into the house, anything that could be considered ‘unladylike’, which she’s very used to being told she is. But her father is the most annoyed by her shenanigans. And this particular day, she’d been trying to slide down the banister of the stairs, and managed to rip a brand new dress that she was supposed to be saving to wear to a family wedding the next week.
Her father yells at her, like he always does, but it doesn’t have much effect on her, like it always doesn’t. It’s as he’s turning away that he mutters to her mother, “That girl is such a nuisance. She gets this from your side of the family, you know.”
In a house with four rowdy older brothers, she supposes her parents had been hoping for a break when they were finally blessed with a baby girl. But her mother says she screamed without stopping for the first six months of her life, so really, they should have figured it out then.
By the time she turns eleven, she thinks she’s worn down her father’s will enough that he’d do anything just to get her out of the house. She knows he loves her, of course, but she also knows that he almost cries with happiness when her Hogwarts letter comes on the morning of her birthday. One of her elder brothers is a squib, and while her parents are good about it, she knows they’ve been praying she won’t turn out to be one, too, because she’s only showed the weakest signs of magic up until now and her father has already gone prematurely bald from looking after her full time for a decade.
They send her off to school and make her promise that she’ll write, but they’re probably not surprised when she doesn’t. She comes home in the holidays with a smile on her face, and that’s enough for them.
At school, she scrapes through, with bad grades and a detention here or there. She’s not the worst behaved by far, but - she’s restless. Doesn’t really see the point in any of it. She could do better, she knows, she does understand the lessons, but when it comes to homework or exams she just doesn’t care.
She takes a mild liking to Herbology and Potions, because she can get her hands dirty there - but again, as soon as it comes to the written work, she grumbles and doesn’t do a thing.
By the time she’s in third year, several teachers have written home to her parents. Poppy is a bright girl, but needs to try harder. Poppy has potential, but must try harder to realise it. Poppy intentionally misbehaves - she must try harder at her studies.
Must try harder. A good suggestion - but she doesn’t actually want to.
And so she proceeds to her fifth year without actually doing an ounce of work, except on the elaborate pranks she likes to play on her cruelest teachers and her attempts to discover a rumoured secret room on the seventh floor. There are more important things than essays, you see.
Her parents have had dreams for her, she knows. By the time she gets through her OWLs with no grade higher than an A and several Ts staining her record, they’ve given up on most of them.
Instead, they set their sights on getting her a husband they approve of. Figure that way, at least, they won’t have to worry about her taking care of herself. If someone else is there to do it for her. They're not the kind to care about status at all, being only very lower middle class themselves, but they do know that Poppy needs some kind of stability in her life. And to them, that means a man.
Poppy goes along with it, but she knows in advance she won’t ever marry one of their set ups. She already likes boys a little too much, sneaks out with them at night to under the Quidditch stands and does things that would make her father cry if he knew. It’s fun. Not just boys, either - there’s a girl in Poppy’s dorm who has small plump red lips like cherries, and Poppy is intimately acquainted with them. Poppy likes kissing, Poppy likes having fun - Poppy has no desire to settle down.
He’s in her year, a Ravenclaw, tall and stick thin in a way that seems to display his bones more than it should. He has a mop of black curls atop his head, dark skin marred on his face with acne scars, big wire-framed glasses which he is constantly having to push back up his crooked nose. He is a hilarious contrast to her short, plump frame and fashionably groomed appearance. He is the son of a man who works with her father in a boring low-level ministry job, and she would never have looked twice at him if their parents hadn’t set them up.
On their first date, he takes her to Madam Puddifoot’s. She wears a new dress her mother has owled to her; it has a floral patterned collar that hangs heavy against her collarbone, and she obsessively smoothes it down with the gentle edge of her fingers over and over again. The rest of the dress is a nondescript navy blue colour, hanging to her knees and awkwardly cut, too big around the waist and too tight across the bust. But it’s still the nicest thing she owns, and he seems to like it.
They drink tea and talk about their classes and families and what they plan to do that summer, and he blushes a lot, fumbles with his cup, stutters over his words sometimes. All she can think is that he’s her exact opposite. She’s too loud and rowdy, she knows, gets scolded far too often that her behaviour is unladylike, and she doesn’t care about her grades and she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. And he’s quiet and sensible, a straight-O student, already planning for his future working for the Ministry in International Relations. She thinks she can imagine the kind of girl he should end up with - Milly Pommelkins, from her dorm, would be perfect for him. Sweet and neat and clever and quiet and headed towards a life as a perfect little housewife. Poppy can’t think for a moment he would want her over Milly, or someone Milly-ish. And she assumes that as soon as they stumble their way through this strange arranged date, he’ll never want to see her again.
Two years later, on her nineteenth birthday, she marries him in a tiny chapel in Wales while their parents and his best friend watch. It’s raining outside, and her dress is second hand and doesn’t fit her right, and it has a stain on it where she’d dropped her cup of tea earlier. But after they say their vows, he kisses her like she’s the only girl in the world, just like he always does. And she feels happy.
They’ve waited until their wedding night to have sex, of course, because while she plays fast and loose with society’s rules he has far more scrupulous morals. He doesn’t mind that he’s a virgin and she isn’t; he never seems to mind about her variety of rebellious behaviours, though she still has yet to figure out why none of it bothers him. Her only working theory so far is: he’s just good to his soul.
It’s two months later that she finds out she’s pregnant. She’s been feeling nauseous on and off for a few weeks and it’s lasted too long to be a simple virus, but she doesn’t have any other real symptoms; she goes to the healer, and they give her the happy news. At first, she’s not sure how she feels about it. But when she tells Dewey, he’s thrilled.
Poppy’s never thought about kids, except occasionally, at boring family functions when her relatives would enquire about her opinion of them, with a twinkle in their eye like they knew it was only a few more years until they could start harassing her about expanding the family. And her response to those sort of queries had always been - well. Had always been rather rude, and definitely leaning towards the negative point of view. While she’d never outright said she never wanted kids, she’d bemoaned their icky, sticky, noisy natures, and decided they would crash thoroughly with the lifestyle she planned on leading, so she didn’t really consider them part of her future, no. She usually said it with the kind of language which made her aunts blush and frown at her, and eventually, leave her alone.
But Dewey’s just so excited when she tells him. He’s a family man, of course, he’s always wanted kids. It doesn’t matter that he’s only just turned twenty and she’s still technically in her teens, that their cottage is tiny and his job doesn’t pay much and that they both still have so much growing left to do. He wants the baby, and the baby is coming, whether Poppy likes it or not.
So she decides to like it. Simple as that. It’s not like she had anything else planned for the next eighteen years, right?
Pregnancy sucks. Dewey tries to be sympathetic but only makes things worse. Poppy feels sick, and gets fat, and feels no attachment to the creature growing under her skin except when she’s cursing it for the fact that she can no longer see her toes.
About once a week she informs Dewey that she is never going through this again. This kid is their only shot.
They hadn’t had a proper honeymoon - there was no way they’d have been able to afford it, a single night in a cheap bed and breakfast two towns over was the best they could manage - but everyone still calls Marigold a honeymoon baby, because she comes nine months after the wedding.
Poppy delivers her in St Mungos in the early hours of a warm spring morning, and they hear her first cry just as the shining rays of the sunrise leap through the window. As soon as she is out, she is shoved, crying and sticky and squashed, into Poppy’s arms. She has skin the colour of a macadamia shell, closer to Dewey’s than to Poppy’s, but her small tuft of hair isn’t dark and frizzy like his - it’s a deep, rich red, like Poppy’s.
She is the most beautiful thing Poppy has ever seen, and in that moment, everything falls away.
Dewey’s hand on Poppy’s sweat-slicked hair means nothing; the stares of the healer and the nurse mean nothing. The pain and exhaustion still radiating through her body, the warmth of the sunlight now streaming through the window, the noises she can hear outside, every thought she’d be tempted to have, every thought she has ever had, every feeling that wasn’t for this bundle in her arms, this squirming screaming bundle - it all fades away, as it should.
For the first time in her life, Poppy finds herself overwhelmed with purpose. She knows, in that instant, that she is not the aimless girl she once was. Will never be that girl again. Everything she is belongs, now, to her daughter. She may be barely twenty, not wise in the ways of the world or rich in material things, but anything of worth she does have, she bequeaths in that second to Marigold.
Marigold’s nose scrunches up, and Poppy moves as if in a haze to brush one of her fingers against Marigold’s tiny dark lips. They pucker against Poppy’s finger, and a tear drops from Poppy’s eyes even as she breaks into the widest smile she has ever worn. She can vaguely hear Dewey talking beside her, his voice hushed and reverent and choked with tears. She doesn’t register his words, though. There are more important things, like the high whine of Marigold’s perfect, perfect cry.
A cry which, five seconds later, suddenly stops.
By that point Poppy’s eyes are blurred with tears, so she doesn’t have such a clear of Marigold’s face anymore. She smiles down at it, though - clearly her daughter is just as happy to be here as Poppy is to have her here, knows there’s no need for screaming, no need to ever be unhappy ever again.
Except then the healer is snatching Marigold out of Poppy’s arms and speaking in a sharp quick voice to the nurse, and Poppy doesn’t understand. And she tries to ask but her voice comes out all thick and she can’t take her eyes off Marigold’s face but everything is blurry so she can’t see how it looks and then Dewey’s hand is gripping tight at her hair where before it had been stroking, and it hurts, but the pain doesn’t really register, because she’s not sure what’s going on and she doesn’t know what to think what to say what to do.
And then Marigold is surrounded by a strange white light coming out of the healer’s wand and she is being put into a small wheeled cot and being rushed out of the room and nobody is saying anything and Poppy doesn’t understand.
She doesn’t understand.
Still too weak from labour to move from her hospital bed, too confused to form proper words, abandoned by anyone who would know what was going on, with only Dewey stood beside her and him also seeming incapable of action, and feeling as though something has been ripped out of her, like the empty space above her arms now had once held some vital organ and she is now bleeding out without it - Poppy takes a deep breath, and then screams.
It isn’t long until another healer comes into the room and tells them what’s happening, but it feels like Poppy’s whole lifetime a thousand times over, the waiting. And the healer doesn’t really tell them properly, she says things like increasingly common among wizarding babies and doing all we can and will keep you updated, and Poppy’s not sure what’s happening, not sure at all, but she throws up until there’s nothing left in her stomach, and then the waiting game begins.
“No news is good news,” Dewey says an hour later, his voice trembling, and she bursts into a fresh wave of sobs. She just wants to know.
After two hours, she gets changed from her gross hospital gown into her own flannel pyjamas, and then sits on the end of the bed, clutching at her stomach. She’s never been skinny but with the added weight she’s gained in pregnancy, there’s a big enough curve there for her to imagine there’s still a baby in there. Except there isn’t, anymore. It’s only been a few hours, but Marigold’s out, now, in the world.
Marigold had been inside her just a few hours before. Safe and sound.
After three hours, their original healer comes back in, alone, and Poppy stands up off the bed to face him, thinks no news is good news, and knows what has happened before he’s even said a word.
“I’m sorry,” says Healer Fitkins. “There was nothing more we could do.”
Poppy hears it, but doesn’t hear it. She hears it in that the sound enters her ears, but it’s like there’s nothing left of her inside for the sound to relay to. It bounces around her empty skull for an amount of time that’s impossible to measure. Seconds, minutes, years, lifetimes. The words bounce, and she looks past the healer, to the corridor, where there is a crib being wheeled past, and in it a tiny figure covered fully by a sheet.
Then she hears Dewey’s sobs from beside her, and her legs give out.
Slow motion. She crumples to the floor. Her chest has caved in, there’s nothing left of her, she wheezes for breath but everything hurts, everything stings, there’s a buzzing all around her, she feels a set of hands on her back but doesn’t know whose they are - Dewey, a healer, maybe? It doesn’t matter, she can’t understand it anyway, the touch means nothing. She feels like she might throw up again, but there’s nothing left in her stomach. She retches anyway.
It’s like - it’s like there’s pain on every inch of her body, so maybe somebody is poking a million needles into her, only the needles are coming from the inside, it hurts from the inside out, it hurts from her core and reaches out to everywhere on her body, radiating through her. She’s gasping, the pain is too much, she can’t get enough air. Her face is damp with tears, but she doesn’t know when she started crying. A lock of frizzy red hair gets stuck to her lip, the strands clouding her vision of the sterile hospital floor. She can just make out her hands, gripping at nothing on the smooth ground, knuckles white.
She wishes she would just pass out. But she doesn’t. She has to feel it all, and it doesn’t stop.
She lets Dewey make the decisions. She can’t, won’t. We’ll cremate, he decides, and they do, and he buys an oak tree sapling and plants it in their garden with the ashes, and says, This way we can still watch her grow up, and she will always be with us, and we will know her soul is in the oak, and oak is strong so it will take care of her better than weak flesh ever could. And Poppy doesn’t say a word. And at night she waits until Dewey falls asleep and then slips out of their big bed and goes and sits on the floor of what would have been Marigold’s room. Stares at the empty cot, the mobile hanging from the ceiling which she had made out of bundles of dried herbs, the toys and clothes they haven’t yet had the heart to move. She falls asleep in there, eventually, every night, grabs three or four hours at the most before Dewey wakes for work and finds her, slumped awkwardly on the floor, clutching at the small red cardigan they were going to bring Marigold home from the hospital in, her knuckles white and her face stained. He tries to help her, talk to her, fix her, but he’s not grieving in the same way she is. He’s grieving by doing everything just as he used to, and trying to move on.
It’s hard. They mostly stop speaking, after a while. It’s like they’re two ghosts, moving through the same space without being able to see the other. They can only feel a chilling other presence that they’ll never be able to reach.
Months pass, and Poppy learns to go through the motions.
Eat, sleep, wash. Cook, clean, garden. Kiss Dewey on the lips before he heads off to work in the mornings, hand him his lunch, ask what he wants for dinner. Go out with her friends and smile, join in their laughter at the appropriate moments, repeat that line of gossip she heard in the post office the other day. Find a part time job, simple clerical work at the ministry, and file things away in the right places, respond to flying memos with the appropriate amount of sugar in her tone. Come home at the end of the day with a paycheck and a purpose, to a husband and a home. To happiness.
She does it all, and none of it means anything.
Until the day when she’s idly tidying the house because her mother is due to visit later, and comes across a scroll of parchment she recognises all too well, tucked on a shelf between two of Dewey’s boring old books on the Goblin rebellion. Somewhere she’d never look, if she hadn’t felt the spontaneous urge to dust.
She pulls the parchment out and slowly unfurls it, fingers numb. For a moment, she just stares at it, not quite sure what to do, what she’s feeling. She was right about recognising it - there’s no mistaking the gaudy St Mungos logo inked on the back, or the vivid blue ink it’s written in.
It’s Marigold’s hospital file.
She has to sit down. There’s no chair near so she crumples to the floor instead, pushes her back against the bookcase and draws her knees up to her chest, letting her skirt splay out around her hips and expose the bare skin of her thighs. She pushes the parchment against them, tickling the hairs. Stares at it some more.
It’s – it’s complicated. She doesn’t understand most of it. Numbers and data logged in careful boxes, long scientific names she couldn’t pronounce if she tried. It feels alien, somehow. And – and wrong. That she doesn’t understand this, when it’s about her own child.
Her daughter. Poppy hasn’t been able to think of herself as a mother, really, because she’s not one in any of the ways that matter to her. But she can recognise that she has a daughter. She knows, from the groups she has been made to go to, that most people in her situation think of themselves as a mother without a child. But that’s not how Poppy sees it. She has a daughter growing in an oak tree out in the garden, she has a daughter somewhere in the air, in the stars. And her daughter might have only breathed for a minute, but Poppy had thought she’d had that minute, at least. Now she realises – she didn’t understand. That minute was a minute which led to tests and healers and these strange long words, and when she realises that, it feels like her daughter’s just been taken away all over again.
At some point the parchment slips out from between her numb fingers, and she cries. She doesn’t know how long she cries for, but it feels like a lifetime, until she doesn’t have any tears left to give, until her lips are dry and cracked and her nose is streaming and her hair is a damp frazzled mess from her running her hands through it. Dewey still isn’t home from work, and she is glad of that. These days, she feels like she doesn’t want him to see her – to see the vulnerable parts of her, for some reason, even though his ability to get through her walls had been the thing she liked most about him at first. There’s distance there now, though, and they aren’t the same. She knows she’s hollow these days, and it feels like their relationship is too. All front.
She draws her wand out of the waistband of her skirt and taps the parchment, mumbles a quick Gemino, and slips the original file back into its hiding place, no evidence left that she ever came across it. Then she folds up the copy - she never was perfect at charms so it has faded ink instead of bright and the St Mungos symbol is lopsided, but all the words are the same which is what matters - and tucks it into her bra. She doesn’t quite know what she’s going to do with it. But she knows she has to do something.
The next day, she wakes up with Dewey. She makes them breakfast - sausage and eggs - and eats with him, listens to him talk cheerfully about what he plans to do at work that day, nods along as if she understands a thing of it. She hands him his lunch - corned beef sandwiches cut into triangles and a chocolate frog, because he likes to eat something sweet as a snack - and kisses him out the door.
As soon as he’s gone, she gets dressed, puts on her best red lipstick, and apparates to Diagon Alley.
The library in Diagon Alley is down a shady side street, in a building which is large but run down, and when Poppy enters, she’s the only one there apart from the librarian at the front desk.
“Hello,” Poppy says. She tries to keep her voice quiet but she knows she’s always too loud no matter what, and winces as she hears her voice echo around the high ceilinged room. The librarian, a woman who must be barely older than Poppy but has the air of an old maid already, glares. “Um, could you direct me to the medical journals?”
She feels herself being looked up and down, and judged accordingly. She suddenly wishes she had worn trousers today, or something smart. Instead she’s in a baby pink flower-patterned dress, a large yellow petticoat underneath, and it’s showing entirely too much of her cleavage, and she’s wearing bright makeup and her hair is curled into ringlets as usual. She doesn’t fit in here, she knows. Looks to young, too domestic, too dumb.
“You should try the household section,” the librarian suggests, sneering ever so slightly. “It’s the third shelf on your right. Look for ‘tips and tricks for the modern house-witch’ or ‘a wife’s guide to household cures’ – those are our most popular amongst housewifes. Perfect for when your child gets a runny nose or scraped knee.”
And Poppy had been ready to be apologetic, to gently correct this woman as to what it was she wanted - but it’s the world child that does it. Her bones stiffen, her head raises, and she feels a sudden flare of anger in the pit of her stomach that makes her glad she’d worn the red lipstick. She will not be reduced to a single impression.
“Actually,” she says, tone sharp, and leans over to place one hand on the woman’s desk. “I’m looking for some academic healer’s texts. I’m doing research into Polygemagianatura disorder.”
She feels suddenly glad that she’d spent the last night trying to wrap her tongue around that word, practicing it in front of the mirror, running it over in her mind. At the time she’d only wanted to know what it was for her own sake, to give herself a little peace, a little understanding of what took her daughter from her. But now, saying it right feels like a victory, as she watches the librarian’s eyebrows raise up ever so slightly.
“Oh,” the woman says, in a halting kind of way, and takes a moment to shuffle her papers. “Well. Er.”
Poppy taps her shoe against the ground impatiently, and this time doesn’t worry when the echo sounds around the room.
“The medical section?” she prompts, when the woman seems to be struggling with remembering what’s going on.
“Right. Um. The very back of the room, on the right, the two tallest shelves. There should be a ladder there if you need to reach anything down. I’m afraid I can’t tell you if we have any literature on that particular disorder, though.”
“No,” says Poppy. “I didn’t think you would be able to. I’ll find it myself.”
And she does. She heads to the back of the library, finds the shelf, which is covered in dust and filled with thick old leather-bound volumes which all look indistinguishable from each other. Poppy doesn’t, truthfully, have any clue what she’s looking for. Any one of these books could contain the information she needs. There’s no real way to tell what will be helpful and what won’t.
But there’s a little rickety table and chair crammed against the wall at the end of the shelf, so she has somewhere to work, and Poppy never has been one to give up easy. She grabs the first three books off the very bottom of the shelf, and gets to work.
For three days, she comes back, and works her way through the shelf. She squints at the indexes of ancient stained text and new, shinier medical journals, with no real idea of how to find what she’s looking for except to look. And for three days, there’s nothing, and she doesn’t feel discouraged for a second. She spends her whole day there, leaving only just before Dewey is due home, and returning again the next morning.
Occasionally, the librarian comes over and eyes her curiously, asks if she needs any help. Poppy always says she’s fine.
This is something she wants to do alone.
It’s not until the next week that she finally finds a mention of the disease. It’s in a huge Encyclopaedia of medicine, and though she feels a moment of brief achievement when she spots the entry, it’s immediately followed by disappointment when she actually reads it.
A disease developed prenatally which causes fatality to wizarding infants shortly after their birth.
She already knew that.
But still, when she checks, the back of the Encyclopaedia cites a few other sources. So she makes a note of all the titles, and searches the shelves for them, instead.
When she can only find one of the books, she goes up to the front desk, and finally asks for the librarian’s help. The woman - Genevieve, Poppy soon learns - seems interested, but doesn’t ask why Poppy needs them.
Poppy’s grateful for the semblance of privacy to her affairs. She doesn’t, somehow, want to share this with anyone. Even if it would make it easier. This is hers.
A couple more weeks pass, and Poppy keeps reading.
She doesn’t tell Dewey about it, still, because he wouldn’t understand, would tell her she’s obsessing and that it’s unhealthy. She still works two days a week in the ministry, but every free second she gets, she heads to the library. And Poppy never has liked reading, but now, oh boy how she reads.
She reads until she understands how the disease works. She reads until she knows exactly what it does to a baby’s body, and she reads until she knows why there’s nothing the Healers can do. After the second week she starts bringing a parchment and quill with her to the library, to make notes, because a lot of the books have information which overlaps, or some phrase things in complex ways whereas others oversimplify. She wants to make sure she hasn’t missed anything, so she writes it all out by herself. Every single stage of the disease, everything that could possibly be relevant.
And finally, one rainy October night when she’s hunched over in the library, shivering slightly with her fingers numb against the edges of the pages she turns, and she’s lied to Dewey about where she’s going without feeling bad about it, and she’s not had dinner and not slept more than three hours in as many days and she feels a little loopy but also close to something she can’t explain, more focused even than she has ever been so far -
Finally, she reads a sentence and it’s like all the pieces just fit together in her head, like she all of a sudden just understands and it’s all so simple and she doesn’t know why nobody ever saw it before, and maybe it’s not perfect and it’s not all clear yet but it will be clear, she has faith, because the concept works -
It’s raining outside but Poppy feels warmer than she has in a long time, and she thinks, I can cure this.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Instead, she is just filled with a determination a thousand times stronger than she knew she possessed. It makes her feel almost dangerous at times, but she knows she has to do this. No matter what it takes.
And then, Genevieve.
The librarian who Poppy had felt so insulted by on her first trip to the library, who she had resolved to hate. The librarian who Poppy had then seen every single day for months on end, in a library that was more often than not deserted but for the two of them. The librarian who clearly only got more and more interested in what Poppy was doing as time went by.
At one point, Genevieve started offering Poppy cups of tea. Poppy started accepting them. Later still, Genevieve started keeping the library open later than she should have, any time Poppy could find an excuse to be away from home for longer. And then Genevieve helped her find books, and started gently enquiring as to what Poppy was doing. And Poppy started telling her.
Genevieve’s surname is Borage, and it made Poppy happy the first time she found that out, because her mother used to pick borage out of the hedge, and make a bitter tea out of it and some other favourite herbs which she always swore could cure anything.
Somehow Poppy begins to associate Genevieve with healing, because of that.
And months later, one winter evening when it’s already dark outside and they are drinking tea, Genevieve leans over and kisses Poppy, with all the sweetness and warmth the world possesses. And Poppy lets her.
(She has Dewey at home, in a cold bed that feels oceans too big for the both of them, and they never kiss, these days, let alone do anything more, and she knows he knows her smiles are all fake, but he hasn’t said anything about it yet. He just works longer and longer hours, and Poppy feels alone, and cold.)
(Genevieve kisses her, and Poppy hasn’t felt close to another person in so long. So she kisses back, and doesn’t feel bad about it at all. Too much has been taken from her already for her to feel bad for wanting.)
A year passes.
A whole year.
And she never tells Dewey what she’s doing.
She never tells Dewey and she never tells anyone but Genevieve, who as it turns out is the most amazing listener Poppy has ever met. There’s a few study rooms at the back of the library and Genevieve lets Poppy turn one into a lab, since they’re always abandoned anyway.
A year passes and Poppy mixes a thousand different potions, changing ingredients and ratios and timings and methods. She spends some time distracted in Genevieve’s bed, and some time keeping up appearances at the part time job she still holds, and some time putting on whatever act is left of her and Dewey’s relationship at home. But mostly, the sum of her year can be shown in the time she spends in that library, with her potions, surrounded by books and scrolls of parchment covered in her notes, half of them crossed out and rewritten and edited and changed, the sign of a hectic thought process.
It takes a year. One near-whole year of a life.
And then, one completely unremarkable day, she’s done. She’s made the right potion. She’s cured it.
And she has no idea what she’s supposed to do next.
She goes home that night, and Dewey has waited up for her. It’s dark but for a few candles he’s lit, and he’s sat at the table, head bowed, hands clasped. He almost looks like he’s praying, but he’s not the type to do that. He’s just - waiting.
“Poppy,” he says, as soon as she walks in. “I think we need to talk.”
And she knows what’s coming.
She takes a seat opposite him, and watches his sad face, and doesn’t say a word - waits for him to go first.
“I’ve been having - feelings,” he begins, in an awkward, stilted, heartbroken sounding kind of way. As if he thinks this will crush her. “For someone else. A woman at work.”
“Right,” Poppy says, as if she had known this already. And. Well. She hadn’t. Suspected, maybe though, that he would find someone else, simply for how their relationship has become so much less than enough. She never really thought he’d do it, but she can’t begin to blame him.
“I haven’t told her, or done anything physical, of course,” he assures her quickly, in that same choked tone of voice. “I wouldn’t - couldn’t, while we were still - together.”
“I’ve been -” Poppy begins, wonders what the value of honesty even is at this stage, and decides to bet on it anyway for her soul’s sake. “I’ve been having sex with somebody else. For a while now. Feelings haven’t come into it. Well, maybe a little. Mostly I thought feelings were the bit that would be properly cheating. It was about comfort, or something. I never thought to tell you.”
There’s a pause, and it’s like something just falls away from Dewey, in that moment.
“I had wondered if you had,” he says, voice suddenly small. “You haven’t been in much of a telling mood recently, though.”
He doesn’t say since Marigold, since less than a year after we were married, for far longer in our relationship than you were okay, but she knows it’s what he’s thinking because it’s what she’s thinking, too.
“No,” she agrees, and can’t think what else to say. “What’s your girl like?”
“Oh - Poppy - don’t ask that, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“No, it’s - it’s fine.” And strangely, somehow, it is. Merlin, Poppy feels good just to be talking about it, after how long everything between them has been going unspoken. “I just want to know you’re happy, Dewey.”
He pauses. Looks down, adjusts his glasses. She knows he’s crying but doesn’t mention it.
“I guess it’s been over between us for a while, then,” he says. She doesn’t respond. He’s not asking. “Merlin, sometimes I just think about how happy we could have been in another life and it just makes me cry, Poppy. We could have been soulmates. Sometimes I still think we are, but what kind of soulmates are we if we can’t even end up together?”
And really, what can she say to that?
“I know,” she settles on. It’s not enough, doesn’t even begin to touch on heartfelt, but she’s can’t put another ounce of false effort into their relationship. She’s done. And Dewey seems to know it, now.
“I think it would be best for both of us if you left,” he says, rubbing at his eyes. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Yeah,” she says. Nothing more. She lets out a long slow breath, and looks at Dewey, who is crying and looking at her with such sorrow and hurt, and she knows she should be reacting like that too, but she can’t bring herself to fake it. She doesn’t know why she doesn’t feel the right things, anymore. But she doesn’t, can’t, somehow. So she just leans over and kisses him, once, one last time, softly and with not an ounce of passion, but with every feeling she can dredge up nonetheless.
Then she goes to their room and packs her favourite clothes into a suitcase, and leaves.
That night, she goes to Genevieve’s house, because she has other places to go but she doesn’t want to be in any of them. She brings the big suitcase which now holds all her worldly possessions, but she promises Genevieve she’s only staying the one night. She just wants to be with someone she doesn’t have to explain to, at first.
Genevieve says it’s no problem, says Poppy can stay as long as she wants. And the next day, when they’re curled between the sheets together and Poppy is just thinking how cold she feels, Genevieve suggests they just move in together. Says, I love you, like it’s something Poppy should be glad to hear.
But Poppy can’t feel a thing inside anymore, see. So she takes her suitcase and leaves again, to her eldest brother’s house this time, and doesn’t look back.
The thing is - she has no official qualifications, nothing to make any Healer take her seriously. So the next day, figuring there’s no time to waste, she takes her potions and notes to St Mungo’s. But she doesn’t really know what to do from there.
So she does the only thing she can think of, and asks for the Healer who had delivered Marigold - Healer Fitkins. The man who had given her checkups all throughout her pregnancy, and who had said those final words, ‘there was nothing more we could do’.
He, at least, will feel bad enough to hear her out.
He’s with a patient when she gets there, so she says she’ll wait. And she does, for almost an hour, sat on the single rickety chair outside his office. When his patient finally emerges - her belly swollen and her face happy in a way that has Poppy biting back bitter tears - she stands up, and heads straight in.
He’s surprised to see her, needless to say. Even more surprised when she says why she’s there.
There’s a moment, at first, where she can tell he thinks she’s crazy. But the thing is, with this manic sort of determination Poppy is feeling, she doesn’t actually care about that. So she gets out everything she’s bought with her, and asks him to read her findings.
He does, and is floored.
He asks her if she’s a trained Healer, and she says no. He asks if she’s had some training at least, or thought about it, even. She says no, again. He calls her a natural, a prodigy, and it flies right past Poppy, she couldn’t care in the least. He apologises that without official credentials she won’t be able to take full credit for the work, he will have to publish the findings, but she hardly even hears him. He tells her he’ll put the cure into trials right away, that it could be used in less than a month if everything goes well - and that. That is what she cares about.
When they’re done talking, he walks her out, still shaking his head a little in amazement. He looks like it’s the happiest day of his life.
And Poppy goes back to the spare room of her brother’s house, sits on the side of the bed -
And feels, once again, the hollow aimlessness she’s so used to filling her up.
She’s never really had to be on her own. Had gone from her parents to Hogwarts, from Hogwarts straight to Dewey. She’s never lived alone - has never even had her own bedroom, since she shared with two of her brothers as a child.
But now she doesn’t have a choice. She could go to stay with one of her brothers, or with her parents, or with a friend - but she can’t quite bring herself to do it. Can’t quite bring herself to ask for help in that way. So instead she picks up more shifts at her part time job at the ministry, and uses the money to rent herself a tiny flat in Diagon Alley, above an apothecary which means it always smells a little strange and she occasionally hears things blowing up beneath her. She doesn’t mind all that much, though. She’s gotten far too used to potion ingredients, the past year.
So she works at her ministry job, filing endless scrolls of parchment and sending memos and gossiping with her colleagues, going about her days exactly as she always has at that job.
A month later she suddenly decides to quit. So she does, and gets a job at a cafe instead.
And that’s how it goes.
She’s taken having a purpose for granted, she now realises. For the too-short year she was working on the cure, she’d absorbed herself in it totally, and that had felt good. And now she’s back to how she was before, only worse, because she knows what she’s missing now. Now there’s an added restlessness on top of her uncertainty about what she should be doing, like she knows she’s looking for something. She just can’t find it.
After two months, she quits the cafe too. Gets a job repairing second hand robes. Quits that one after just one month. Then it’s fact checking work at the Daily Prophet, and there she only lasts two weeks. Then a book shop - two weeks there, as well. Then a position as an assistant to a magical beast tamer, hoping it will be exciting, but it’s the wrong kind of exciting, a kind that feels more cold than hot in her bones, so she quits that, too, after just two freaking days.
Everything feels wrong, and Poppy feels closer and closer to snapping with every purposeless day that goes by.
Healer Fitkins has been giving her updates on the cure. He tells her when it enters clinical trials, and when just a month later it’s approved and they start to administer it to patients. He tells her the first time it saves a baby’s life, and she finds that she doesn’t feel anything at all.
Six months later, the cure wins an award. It’s not the kind of thing with a fancy ceremony, but an article is published in some prestigious Healer’s journal, and Healer Fitkins asks Poppy out for a drink to celebrate.
She doesn’t personally feel there’s anything worth celebrating - the cure’s not even credited to her, after all - but she says yes anyway. Figures he’ll probably pay, and she has a weakness for the rum they serve at the Leaky Cauldron.
She spends most of the night getting drunk, and he spends most of the night watching her with a worried look in his eyes, asking her questions about her life. She dodges them all as best she can.
A week later, he sends her a letter asking to see her again. She tells him to come by the pub where she’s working now, and he does. He doesn’t say anything much while he’s there, just nurses a firewhiskey and looks like there’s something he’s itching to say but can’t work up the nerve to scratch. Poppy stands behind the bar and serves the customers who come in, but it’s a pretty small pub, so mostly she stands in front of Healer Fitkins and listens to the strange kind of small talk he tries to make.
When her shift ends, he’s still there, so she goes back to his house with him. Figures she might as well. He doesn’t put up any fight at all.
Later, when she’s pulling her clothes back on and he’s sat, blushing, in the middle of his bed, he insists, “This wasn’t why I came to see you today. I wasn’t - expecting anything.”
“I know,” Poppy assures him, buttoning up her soft blouse.
“We can’t again. I’m - married,” he admits in a guilt stricken, apologetic kind of way. She just smiles at him.
“I know,” she says, because she isn’t blind, he wears a wedding ring and there’s a picture of him and his wife on the bedside table that she’d noticed the second she entered his room.
“I wanted - will you meet me, tomorrow afternoon? I have something to show you, I think it might help.”
She pauses for a moment in the middle of lacing up her left shoe. Hesitates. She’s wary, doesn’t know what he wants, what to expect, what he thinks will constitute as helping or what he thinks is wrong with her in the first place. But then she figures, hey. What has she got to lose?
“Okay,” she says, voice quiet, sounding just as hollow as she feels. “Where?”
The next day, at three in the afternoon, Poppy stands in front of a small cottage in Yorkshire. She doesn’t know what she’s doing there, doesn’t have a clue what awaits her on the other side, except probably Healer Fitkins, since he’s the one who told her where to come. She thinks in another life she would have felt nervous, or excited, or maybe even scared at walking into such an unknown event.
As it is, she doesn’t feel much of anything at all, and raises her hand to knock on the chipped blue paint of the door.
It’s pulled open less than five seconds later, to reveal a beaming woman who Poppy has never met before in her life.
“You must be Poppy,” the woman says. “Come in, come in.”
Poppy finds herself ushered inside this stranger’s house before she can say another word, is having her coat pulled off her shoulders and being offered a drink within the next second, and she’s thoroughly confused by it all.
“Uh -” she starts to ask, but the woman beats her to it.
“Healer Fitkins is in the next room,” the woman says, smiling. “With the baby.”
Poppy wonders what she’s doing here.
So she goes through to the next room, and sure enough, there is Healer Fitkins. Sat with a man who Poppy doesn’t know. The man has a baby cradled in his arms - a baby who can’t be more than a couple of months old, and has wild tufts of black hair, and skin the same colour as Marigold’s had been. Poppy’s breath hitches in her throat, for a second. This couple, with their baby - maybe they were her and Dewey, in another life.
“Poppy,” says Healer Fitkins, smiling and waving her over. “Come and meet Nicholas.”
Nicholas is not the man. Nicholas is the baby. Nicholas is a baby who had been born with Polygemagianatura, and would have died, if it weren’t for Poppy’s cure.
They ask her to hold him. He is warm and soft in her arms, and blows a spit bubble, and looks up at her with wide eyes, full of every kind of innocence that exists in the world.
His mother cries when thanking Poppy for saving the life of her son. She says they have lost two babies before, and this boy is their miracle. He has saved them. He is everything to them.
Poppy smells his head. It smells like all babies heads smell, some kind of gorgeous fresh powdery smell. It fills her up, and somehow makes her frozen core seem just a little warmer.
Poppy goes back to her flat that night, and realises that not once since she moved in has she called it her home.
Her divorce with Dewey is official now, and she hasn’t been back to the house they used to share in months. She thought she would feel sad about leaving the tree where Marigold’s ashes were buried, but truthfully, that was always more for Dewey - she feels just as much connection to her daughter as she always has. She doesn’t have many possessions anymore, has sold or donated most of them in an effort to fit into this tiny flat, and she finds she doesn’t miss any of it. She hasn’t held a job for longer than a month all year. She hasn’t felt excited about anything for - well, for longer than she cares to remember, really.
She hasn’t felt connected to anything in even longer.
Poppy always felt aimless, when she was growing up, but she realises now she hadn’t even begun to touch on the word until after Marigold. The last two years have truly been her aimless time, and she’s hated every second. She knows the reason behind it, of course, and she knows so much of the pain she’s been feeling all this time is still because of the hurt of losing Marigold. But also - well. The pain, the hurt, the constant tension in her stomach which never quite let up, that strangely piercing echo she felt in her hollow chest - she knows it’s all at least partly to do with having no purpose.
And the only time she’s felt it lift, even for a second, was when she was working on the cure.
She thinks about baby Nicholas. A baby who wouldn’t be alive without her.
She did that. She is Poppy Pomfrey, aimless girl. A lifetime of must try harder has created her the way she is today, a lifetime of flitting between people, passions, disciplines, of never settling in one place, of never wanting to, but of having no real desire to travel either, having no real desire to do anything. A lack of purpose has built her soul and she’s never really thought about it before, but when she realises that she has saved a life -
And not just one, more, she has saved the lives of more than one child, and she has too in a way saved the lives of their parents, for if her and Dewey are anything to go by a couple are unlikely to survive that -
She has saved lives.
She has saved lives and she knows it, and she could save more, if she tried.
And after realising that, how could she feel like she doesn’t have purpose?
Three years later, she finishes training to become a Healer. She passes her final exam with an ‘O’ grade. The highest she’s ever gotten on anything.
Healer Fitkins and his wife take her out to dinner to celebrate, afterwards, and Poppy laughs and jokes and talks with them, as she’s gotten quite close to the both of them during her training. And not once during the evening does she feel empty, or broken, or hollow at all.
She doesn’t always feel good, but she feels. Always. Which, for her, is enough.