Characters: Poppy Pomfrey and Severus Snape
Warning (highlight to view): For canon-consistent violence, implied and otherwise.
Word Count: 1930
Summary: Some gifts are intangible.
Disclaimer: This work of fan fiction is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from (and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by) the posting of this fan work.
Author's Note: Written as part of the 2012 HP reversathon. Thank you, fairyniamh, for beta'ing.
9 January 1998, Hogwarts
"Happy birthday, Severus."
Severus looked up from his reading to find Poppy standing in his office. He couldn't believe it; she hadn't spoken to him except in a perfunctory way since he'd returned to the school as its Headmaster, and the idea that she might continue their tradition of celebrating their shared birthday had never occurred to him.
But I didn't get you anything, he thought, saying instead, "What are you doing here?"
"You know perfectly well what."
It was difficult for Severus to see Poppy standing there, drawn and pale, fidgeting with the package she held. She looked older than her years; all the staff did, of course, but the signs of age seemed to sit especially wrong on Poppy's usually plump, happy features. True, she'd dressed like a matron since she'd begun working at Hogwarts the summer after her seventh year to make herself appear more mature and capable, but the creases around her forty-eight-year-old eyes and mouth were premature and ones of strain. Severus hated to see that strain mark her, knowing as he did that he was greatly responsible for it.
This was your choice. This is your duty, he thought. He took a deep breath and released it. "Leave it and get out, Madam Pomfrey. I have work to do."
"No," she said. "The purpose of a gift exchange is to—"
"I haven't anything for you, woman, so leave!"
"Severus Snape, you will not speak to me like that."
"I am the Headmaster of—"
"Idiocy, pain, and death, yes, I know."
Flushing to consider just how much she did know about him, Severus rose. "Don't make me show you the door . . . Poppy," he added, hoping that his one small act of familiarity would make her oblige him.
He already had so much in his mind to hide from the Dark Lord that he didn't think he could bear more, and he had no wish to draw his master's attention to Poppy.
"That's better," she said, smiling slightly as she moved to sit in one of the chairs before his desk.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Giving you your birthday present," she told him, placing the package on his desk. "As it seems you've been too preoccupied to secure one for me, I'll take mine in an intangible form."
"Madam Pomfrey, this is completely—"
"Unacceptable, I know. I can't believe you're a part of this. I can't believe you allow them to hurt the children. I can't believe . . . . Oh, just open it. I'm not leaving until you do."
Severus sat down and picked up the package. He knew Poppy well enough to know that he would have to force her to leave if she refused to go, and Dumbledore's murderer or no, he didn't think he could bring himself to be rough with her. The more quickly things were over and done with, then, the better. He made short work of the wrapping.
"Fuck!" Inside the carton was an ear. "What have you done?"
Her expression neutral, Poppy replied, "I have done nothing. Amycus Carrow, on the other hand, has taken to slicing bits of them off."
"Whose ear is it? Why haven't you reattached it?"
"As the 'Dark Arts' students are learning and you should know very well, a cursed-off body part cannot be reattached."
This was your choice. This is your duty. Severus felt nauseated. Swallowing, he said, "I'm certain that the former owner of this ear deserved what he got."
"She did not. Her only 'crime' was to refuse to apply Cruciatus to a Firstie." Poppy's eyes filled with tears. "Severus, how can you allow this to go on? I know you. You're not this man. Make it stop, Severus, please."
Severus closed the carton and his eyes, leaning back into his chair as thoughts of choice and duty flooded his mind. At long last, he replied, "Your concern has been noted, Madam Pomfrey. I shall remind Carrow to go carefully."
"Amycus Carrow can go to hell!" Poppy exclaimed, rising to her feet.
Severus looked at her, perversely pleased to see some colour return to her cheeks. "It would stand you in good stead not to speak so. Must I remind you why?"
"No! You needn't remind me of anything," Poppy spat, placing her hands on his desk and leaning towards him. "I see it all in the Hospital Wing! Cuts, scrapes, breaks, burns, nerve-damage—they're going to kill someone, and sooner rather than later. I know it!"
"I can assure you," Severus replied hoarsely, "that they will do no such thing. In fact, I'm certain that the loss of the ear was an accident."
"And I will continue to be certain of that until such time as I'm . . . able to be otherwise." There, he'd said far more than he should have done. "Now then, you were saying something about an intangible form of present?"
"If you hadn't killed her, Lily would be so disappointed in you, Severus."
Severus barked out a sharp, practised laugh. "That Mudblood died sheltering one of the Dark Lord's enemies. Why in Salazar's name do you think I'd give a damn what she'd think?"
Her eyes narrowing, Poppy leant closer to him. "Are you in there, Severus? Have you forgotten everything that makes you worth anything?"
"Yes!" Oh, fuck. "Yes, I think that's quite enough of your impertinence, madam. You will leave, and leave now, or I will give the Carrows the task of disciplining staff as well as students."
Poppy squared her shoulders. "Do it. Call them. Let them try and 'discipline' me. I won't break."
"You have no idea what you're saying!"
"My Healing studies may have been cut short by Roger's death, but I know enough of care to already have been tortured almost to the point of breaking. I can't do this anymore! I absolutely cannot continue to put the students back together just to have them taken apart again!"
This was your choice. This is your duty. Your choice. Your duty, Severus thought, but in the face of Poppy's distress, his mantra failed him. "Poppy, as your friend, because you do know me, I am asking you to stop. . . . I need you to stop."
"Tell me why! Tell me why you're doing this, why you're allowing it to hap—"
"I am just one man!" Severus shouted, leaping to his feet. "I am not in control of any of this!"
"Oh, Severus," said Poppy quietly, "this hurts you. I know it does, so why—"
"Stop." Severus smoothed down his robes in an attempt to collect himself. "I am the true and loyal servant of the Dark—"
"His name is Vo—"
Before Poppy could speak the name, Severus vaulted over his desk and into her, knocking her to the floor and covering her mouth with one hand. She struggled with him, but he managed to pin her easily with the weight of his body.
Breathing heavily, he hissed, "You know that to say his name is Taboo! Are you asking for death?"
Continuing to struggle, Poppy bit him.
"Stop that! S—stop."
Her eyes widening, Poppy rolled her hips against Severus' and shook his hand between her teeth.
"Fuck!" Severus threw himself backwards so fast and so hard that his head struck the front of his desk. It stunned him, but not enough to keep him from finding his wand. "Silencio!"
Poppy shot him a hateful look.
"I'm . . . I'm . . . I shouldn't have, but—"
Words failed Severus as he watched Poppy wipe her mouth free of his blood on her sleeve . . . and smirk at him.
Poppy never smirked; she always smiled, even for him. She'd always smiled at him, no matter what awful thing he'd crept into the Hospital Wing to unburden himself of as a student. Once a professor, he'd continued to rely upon her generous discretion and come to view her in light of a friend and older sister.
Touching her shouldn't have . . . I shouldn't have . . . . "Oh, God."
He shouldn't have got hard from fighting with her.
Repressing all thought of it, he said, "You can't say it. You can't say his name. They'll come for you. They'll kill you. I . . . I don't want you to die, Poppy."
She glared at him and mouthed, Take it off.
"You'll only shout again."
Take it off.
"P—promise me not to shout. Nod."
Severus raised a shaking hand and ended his incantation.
"Well," said Poppy breathlessly, "you are a masochist, aren't you?"
Severus opened his mouth to speak but Poppy cut him off before he could.
"Would you like a diagnosis, Severus? I imagine not, but here's one, anyway: it's you who's asking for death, and I warrant it'll come to you like a blessing given your current state. Look at you," she continued, rising to her feet, "you're practically in shock from the strain of whatever it is you're doing."
"I have to—"
"No, don't tell me. It'll make less work for you when you Obliviate me."
"I understand that you believe you're doing all you can to protect the students," Poppy said, "but to do it alone is madness. Why won't you—"
"I can't. I can't, Poppy. I just can't. Don't ask me . . . please."
Poppy sighed. "I won't. But before you raise your wand to me, let me help you alleviate the strain of," she waved her hand over him, "all this."
"I don't think—"
"Severus, you're going to make me forget, anyway, and I expect you'll modify your own memory in some manner before seeing him again, so there's no reason to suffer more than you must. Please, it can be your gift to me."
His eyes burning, Severus nodded.
Poppy slowly drew her wand and said, "I'm just going to cast a few minor spells to Heal your hand and, er, calm you, all right?"
"Get into your chair. It wouldn't do for you to relax all over the floor," Poppy said, averting her eyes.
"It shouldn't have made me . . . ."
"It was a perfectly normal reaction under the circumstances," Poppy told him. "Don't dwell on it. I know you didn't mean it, and I'm glad that you stopped me from doing something stupid. . . . All settled?"
"Severus?" prompted Poppy.
Oh, Severus thought, realising that he'd have to speak. "Yes, settled."
"Good," said Poppy, turning quickly. "Obliviate!"
Severus blinked and looked up. "Madam Pomfrey. What are you—"
Reflexively, Severus leapt to his feet and drew his wand as he looked from the carton that Poppy had just thrown upon his desk to her. Fuck.
Poppy's eyes held no contrition as she said, "Forgive me for startling you."
"What is that?" demanded Severus. "Some sort of sentimental remembrance of the day?"
"That is the cursed-off ear of Amanda Temple. Would it be possible, do you think, for you to caution Professor Carrow against going too far with his 'discipline' in future?"
This was your choice. This is your duty, Severus thought, taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it. "Yes. . . . Is that all, Madam Pomfrey?"
Poppy's mouth worked as if she would speak, but she didn't say anything. Instead, shaking her head, she left the room.
"Oh, God." Severus stared at the carton in horror. They're slicing bits of them off now, and there's nothing I can do.
He'd never chosen this. He didn't want it to be his duty.
How she must despise me.
Knowing that was almost too painful to bear, but bear it, he would. He drew his wand and Vanished the carton.
Happy birthday, Poppy.
P.S. Here's my belated monthly wrap-up for August:
What Friendship Means (PG; Severus, an unlikely house guest, others; 6700 words): Young and old, old and new, Severus has friends; it just takes an unlikely house guest to remind him of that fact. (Written for hp_friendship.)
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