featherxquill: (Poppy)
[personal profile] featherxquill
Title: The Difference
Pairing: Rita Skeeter/Poppy Pomfrey
Rating: PG
Summary: For all you know, this could be the difference between what you are and what you want to be.
A/N: This is a very, very belated Christmas er... Chinese New Year (heh) gift for [livejournal.com profile] fey_spirit. I'm sorry it took so long, but I hope you enjoy it, Fey. The title and summary are Matchbox 20 lyrics. I decided just as I finished the story that they worked very well.

Hermione let her out of the jar in London.

It was a long flight, back to Scotland, and by the time she got there she could hardly fly. The window to the hospital wing was only open a fraction; she clipped it on the way through.

It was a woman who clattered to the floor in a jumble of robes and glasses and satin. She dropped a head of bedraggled curls onto stocking clad knees. Breath rattled in her chest like marbles.

A scraping of feet, and she lifted her head in time to see Madam Pomfrey step into the room and peer down at her with a look that registered both surprise and annoyance.

“I was just about to go home. You’ve been in your animagus form too long.” Blunt and bold. Rita had always admired that about the Matron.

Her head swam. She blinked, nodded, then felt her eyes roll into the back of her head and her body turn to lead.

Regaining consciousness felt like swimming through honey. She felt her chest heave, and her back muscles clench as she tried to sit up, but then there was a firm hand pressing against her chest and holding her down on – was it a bed?

“You know you could have gone to St Mungos. I would have been home in my slippers with my gin by now.”

Her eyes felt like lead, but she forced them open. Poppy was leaning over her. A crooked smile twitched at Rita’s lips.

“St Mungos asks too many questions.” Her voice was somewhere between a rasp and a croak.

“Yes, and you happened to remember my legal obligation to patient confidentiality.” Ice in the older woman’s eyes, anger at being taken advantage of.


“But you forgot that I am only obliged to treat students.”

“You know I won’t make it anywhere else. I remembered that you care too much.”

The ice softened a little, and an exasperated little smile twitched at Poppy’s lips. “You were an impossible child, and you haven’t changed at all.”

“I think I’m going to pass out again.”

“Go on, then.”

And she did.

Her eyes flickered open the second time, but her head still swam. A rumbling groan escaped her lips, and Poppy appeared by the bed once again. She held a large green mug in her hands. “You should be right to sit up now; drink this.”

Rita still felt weak and heavy in the limbs, when she moved them. Sitting stretched every muscle in her back. She pushed back into pillows, curled royal blue robes tighter around her. Allowed the nurse to press the mug into her hands.

She coughed after the first mouthful, curled her lip in disgust. “Ugh, what is this?”

Madam Pomfrey’s voice was terse. “Tea. It’s mostly potions, but I mixed it with tea to take the worst of the taste away. I shouldn’t have bothered.”

“It’s vi…” Words often dripped from her tongue like venom, so often that she hardly gave them a second thought. But she lifted her head to meet the Matron’s eyes and the harsh words died half spoken. There was steel in that gaze that seemed to pierce right through Rita, and remind her, quite forcefully, that she was being done a kindness. She was not often a woman to back down, but she could not hold that gaze, and so dropped her own. “I… Thankyou.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Skeeter.”

For some reason, ‘Miss Skeeter’ made her feel like an awkward little Slytherin first year, all over again. Her voice was quiet. “Call me Rita, will you?”

“Foot, please, Rita.” Her voice was all business again, and Rita looked up, wrinkling her brow in confusion.


“Your foot, please. I need to see how your circulation is.”

“Oh.” She lifted a booted heel into the nurse’s open hands, took another gulp of the potion-tea and watched Madam Pomfrey over the top of her glasses, through steam rising from the mug.

“Ridiculous heels,” Poppy clucked disapprovingly, tugging the zipper down over ankle and sliding the boot off a stockinged foot. Her fingers were warm when she caught it by the heel lifted it, tickling skin through sheer material. “Silk stockings, too,” she murmured. “My, you are vain, aren’t you?”

Rita smirked. “I never claimed not to be.”

Poppy peered at Rita’s toenails, wrinkled her brow in concern. “That’s the trouble with insects – a lot more strain on the witch. What on earth possessed you to stay transformed for so long?”

A bitter murmur. “I didn’t have much choice.” Madam Pomfrey arched a brow, and Rita scowled. “The Granger brat caught me in a jar on the night of the last task. Only let me out of it when the Express got to London.”

Merlin,” Poppy whispered. “If you were a mammal that wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but everything about an insect is so different. No wonder your circulation is terrible. Drink up.” She inclined her head toward the mug with a pointed glance, and Rita lifted it to her lips again. Poppy was removing Rita’s other boot, peering at the toes of her left foot and murmuring.

“You’re going to need to get these stockings off, I think.”

“All right.”

Whatever the potion was, it was working. Her skin felt warmer than it had, her muscles ached less. They were forgetting how shrunken they had been, and the fact that they had carried her from London to Scotland. Breathing was easier. Her lungs were remembering how to work after too long not existing.

She laid the mug down on the table beside the bed, pulled the blue robe open over her knees. Underneath, a pale blue satin skirt and blouse that she knew Poppy would thoroughly disapprove of. She smiled at the exasperated sigh that issued from the older woman’s lips, but turned her face away so it wouldn’t be seen.

For some reason, when she slid the hem of her skirt up over her thighs, she did it slowly, as if she were trying to tease, which she most certainly wasn’t. Even so, she knew the nurse hadn’t turned away, and could almost feel that steely blue gaze upon her as she unclipped stockings from suspender. Interesting.

Irritation in Poppy’s voice again, when she spoke, as Rita peeled one stocking down over her leg and off the ends of her toes. “Has no one ever taught you the appropriate charms to avoid all that muggle fuss?”

She flicked a glance up at the woman before returning to what she was doing, and was sure Poppy had become distinctly flustered. “Some people like muggle fuss.”

“It’s completely impractical.”

Rita dropped the stockings off the side of the bed, ignored the remark about practicality. She’d never been a practical person. Lifting her head to meet Poppy’s gaze once again, “Why was I taking those off?” She heard the musical note of amusement in her voice, felt the slight arc of a brow and the quirk of her lips, and knew she was teasing, after all.

She’d been told many times that she was an infuriating woman. She always took it as a compliment. But Poppy apparently was not amused.

“So I can get some blood flowing back into your toes, and stop them from dropping off. Or would you prefer I just left them the way they were?” Quick, cutting words.

Once again, Rita was speechless. The smile died on her lips in an instant. She lifted her foot into waiting hands, wrapped her own about the bedrail, examined her fingernails as though she’d never seen them before.

That was when it hit her.

Beetles were simple creatures, with room in their brains for only one thing at a time – simplified versions of the emotion she felt as a human. Instinct. Attraction to lights and scents. Acute hearing and quick reflexes. She could not mull over the things that she heard as an insect until she returned to human form.

The realisation that Hermione Granger had just blackmailed her into not writing for a year hit her like an axe-blow. No writing, for a whole year. She stared at her nails.

Writing was her life, her passion, the reason she got up in the morning. The quick-quotes quill had been like a second wand to her since she left school. The liquid that pumped in her veins was as likely ink as it was blood. How dare she, the naïve little bitch? She didn’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world, didn’t know the first thing about what it was like to be a Slytherin in the age of Voldemort. In school, everyone hated you but the others of your house. In the workforce, no one trusted you, no one respected your ambitions, and the only way to get on in the world was to fulfil the horrible Slytherin legacy of ‘using any means to achieve your ends’. Who the hell was Hermione Granger to take her livelihood away? How was she going to live for a year? How would that self-righteous little cow be if you locked her out of her library for any amount of time? Easy for her, friend of the Golden Boy, precious little Gryffindor. Shining lights of the wizarding world. They wouldn’t be hated and despised for the rest of their lives.

“Well, something’s got your blood pumping now.”

Rita looked up. It was like she’d forgotten Poppy was there, like she’s only just noticed how vigorously the nurse was rubbing her foot. Rita’s toes did feel warmer. Poppy smiled and there was an amused light in her eyes.

“What’s got you so riled up?” She laid the warmed foot down on the covers, lifted the other.

Rita’s lips twisted into a bitterly amused smile. “Granger. She’s told me she’ll out me to the ministry if I write anything this coming year. Little bitch. Just because I said a few unpleasant words about her. How am I supposed to live?”

Poppy arched a brow, glanced down at Rita’s toes, moved her hands from ankle to foot, and continued rubbing. Rita wriggled her toes. It was actually rather pleasant.

“Well, you know the solution to that, don’t you?” Poppy asked, sounding rather too amused by Rita’s plight.

“You can see one, other than living off leaves in beetle form?”

Poppy had moved on to toes, now. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just stop writing defamatory trash? Write something intelligent and meaningful and publish it under a pseudonym.”

Rita laughed bitterly. “That sounds easy, doesn’t it?”

“What’s stopping you?”

She snorted. “Have you tried being a Slytherin and being respected? Feared, yes. Hated, yes. Successful through bribing and cheating? Yes. But respected? No.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Poppy laid Rita’s foot back on the bed, then looked up, and their eyes met.

Rita arched a brow. “What, you think it’s easy, being a Slytherin in a post You-Know-Who world? You think it was easy when he was rising to power? Just out of school, and knowing that your classmates were going off to join him? You whispered with Bellatrix Black in second year transfiguration so now you’re a Deatheater by association. Intelligence and concern from Syltherins doesn’t sell papers, it gives the public no one to blame. Investigative articles get edited until they sound like gossip. Real gossips gets notoriety – the juicier the better. It’s what the public want to see – a Slytherin using any means to achieve the acclaim that her ambitious nature desires. If you think changing that would be easy, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know very well what I’m talking about.” Poppy replied with some of that earlier hardness in her voice. She circled the bed, lifted the mug off the table, hit it with a warming charm and pressed it back into Rita’s hands. “You may not know that I started school two years after the end of the first war. 1947. You may have forgotten – or perhaps no one bothered to tell you – that Grindelwald was a Ravenclaw.”

Rita stared.

“Many of his Knights of Walpurgis were Slytherin, yes, but Grindelwald himself was a Ravenclaw. Clever, we are, and that’s what people were afraid of. Grindelwald was clever; he was clever enough to ally himself with Germany’s muggle leader. He was clever enough that those of us who can remember still bear scars from some of the horrors he vested on the world. Do you think it was easy to be in Ravenclaw in the wake of that?

“It’s never going to be easy. I’ve healed many students here over the years, and of all the houses, Slytherin are the most inclined to be indulgent, lazy and self-pitying; to assume that the world has some obligation to make things easy for them. You hold too much store in labels, which I suppose isn’t surprising for a house full of people who judge and are judged by the names of their families.”

Rita wasn’t sure if she resented that or not. Part of her wanted to bristle and spit and defend the honour of her house, but Poppy wasn’t speaking argumentatively, and Rita could not help but admit that she saw a lot of truth in Poppy’s words. So she just held the mug in her hands and listened to the older woman, waited for her to speak again. The reporter in her was well trained to fall silent when someone opened up, and although, for once, she had no quick-quotes quill, nor any intention of ever quoting Poppy, her curiosity and desire to listen to tales of human experience had not diminished.

“Slytherins are ambitious, yes, but they fail to consider that it takes cleverness to create and work towards goals, and a lot of hard work to reach them. None of that’s easy, but that’s where bravery comes in, I suppose, and a certain Gryffindor recklessness – to get past obstacles and succeed in any way that really matters.”

Rita considered this. “So you think there’s some Gryffindor in me, some Ravenclaw, some Hufflepuff? Or that there needs to be?” She sounded doubtful and unsure, but not derisive.

“Yes. I think there’s some in all of us. I think it’s the people who’ve found the balance between the four that can really call themselves successful, and maybe even wise. People like Dumbledore, for example.”

She thought of the Headmaster and all the things she’d written about him. Remembered how in awe of him she’d been as a student, how she’d had to hide it to avoid being scorned by her housemates. Realised she was still hiding behind that façade, really; using it as an excuse. Being hated for being Slytherin was much easier to handle than opening yourself up, and having people hate you for being you.

The idea of breaking out of such a mould just seemed so hard.

“Why do you even care?” she whispered bitterly, sliding back beneath the shield of the Slytherin, or trying to, but feeling as though it didn’t quite fit anymore. Not here, not now, at any rate. She felt more exposed under Poppy’s eyes than she’d ever felt before. Felt like a child for those words, stared into the coffee mug, anywhere but at the other woman.

A moment later, two strong fingers slid under her chin and lifted it, and those ocean-deep blue eyes would not let her look away.

“I care because I see so much potential in you. So much understanding, or wanting to. You’re brave and brazen and cheeky, and that charisma gets under people’s skin. It could be used for things so much more important than gossip. It’s not right that so many people should hate you for telling their secrets. Far better for people to hate you for your passionate convictions. Because then there would be an equal number of people who loved you for them.”

There was a breathlessness to Poppy’s voice that both intrigued and unnerved Rita. It was almost a caress, and it made Rita’s breath catch hot and tight in her chest. Her heart pounded, and she felt that maybe, just maybe she could become a better person. Maybe she did have Ravenclaw cleverness and Hufflepuff loyalty and Gryffindor bravery in her, or she could if only Poppy would talk to her like that all the time.

Poppy lifted her chin just a little further up, and Rita let her eyes flutter closed, and then there were lips on hers, soft and strong at the same time, close-mouthed but all the more passionate for that, and Rita knew, just knew, that she could be anything she wanted to be.

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