September 1, 1997

The first day of the school year usually brought smiles and joy to the castle. Hogwarts was always happy to see her students again and the staff was eager to greet their young charges. This year, however, a different feeling loomed over the castle. The grounds were quiet, and a cloudy haze hung over the Great Lake.

Pomona Sprout walked nervously into the Great Hall for the start of term feast. She had hardly seen any of her colleagues except during the mandatory staff meetings, which no one spoke unless spoken to. She had been spending the summer with her sister's family in Wales but had officially moved back into the castle just a week ago. For the most part, the staff had been keeping to themselves. Poppy had come by the greenhouses to restock essential items and Horace had come for his own supplies as well. She had nearly run over Filius two days ago, but other than that had very little contact with anyone.

While it wasn't unusual for her not to see some of the Professors, such as Rolanda or Sybill, before the start of term, it was completely unheard of for she and Minerva not to see each other. The two women had known each other during their own schooling and remained the closest of friends throughout the years. If everything didn't already feel foreign, not seeing Minerva definitely made her feel out of step with the start of the school year.

She tried to clear her mind of all apprehension as she entered the Great Hall. Pomona looked to the head table and the beginnings of a smile formed as she saw Minerva already sitting down and speaking softly with Poppy. Filius was already there, as were Horace, Septima, and Aurora. The smile faded when her eyes rested on the empty chair in the middle of the table. The feeling of dread continued to grow as she walked across the hall.

The ceiling of the Great Hall was a dark grey and the candles were floating hauntingly across the lifeless ceiling. The banners of the four esteemed houses hung limply above their respected tables; there was no shine in their colors and no sparkle in their crests. Hogwarts was crying. The stone walls were aching and the candles were barely lit. It was as if Hogwarts could feel their pain. Pomona had only taught under Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster and he had always brought life to the castle and joy to the people within her walls. As Pomona got to her seat at the head table, she wondered if this Hogwarts was now a reflection of the new Headmaster's soul.

Filius smiled weakly at her as she sat down in her chair next to him. He made a motion to the ceiling, saying, "I take it you've noticed."

"We all feel the same way," she murmured back. Filius turned his head back to stare sadly out at the empty hall. Glancing down the table she noticed that Minerva and Poppy's conversation was more out of habit rather than interest. Horace sat two chairs away, staring down at his wand which he was rolling around with his fingertips. Pomona's heart reached out for the elder Slytherin. She knew he must be feeling alienated by the other Professors.

"Horace, how are you feeling?"

"Hm? Ah, just well, just well, my dear." He painted a painful smile on his face before turning his attention back to his wand. She noticed Minerva and Poppy had stopped talking to look at her and the Head of Slytherin. Filius glanced at her nervously.

Anger swelled within her breast. How dare they? How could they be supportive of each other and fail to reach out to Horace? Not only has he taught many of them at the table, he had never showed support for the Dark Arts. The poor old man had come out of retirement as a favor to Albus and now the very people he had come back to help were turning their backs on him.

"Did you get everything you needed from the greenhouses?"

When he looked up at her to answer Pomona gave him a reassuring smile. "For the first few weeks, yes."

"I'm glad." Thinking quickly, she added, "And I expect to see you for tea this weekend. That way we can go over what ingredients you'll need for the next few months."

"Tea?" Horace looked at her in surprise.

Before anymore could be said, the Carrow siblings entered the Hall laughing loudly with each other. Pomona caught Minerva's eyes and pierced her with a glare that could give the stern Transfiguration Professor a run for her money, silently berating her friend for the treatment of Horace. A guilty look passed briefly over Minerva's eyes, but quickly faded into anger as the Carrows drew near.

"Shouldn't one of you be greeting the first years?" Minerva snapped at the two new Deputies. Pomona's jaw pulled tightly and waited for the beginning of an argument.

"I don't know why they can't just come in with the rest of the little kiddies," said Alecto.

"Because they haven't been sorted yet. It's the Deputy's job to fetch them." replied Minerva irritably. She stood up and Pomona felt herself start to raise with her, but Filius grabbed her wrist. Pomona's heart thumped in her chest as she watched her friend move around the table.

Amycus crossed his arms and frowned. He stood directly in her path. "Where do you think you're going?"

"To fetch the first years."

"Thought that was the Deputy's job," he replied sarcastically. Alecto stood beside her brother sneering at Minerva as she approached the pair.

"Yes, it is, but you just made it quite clear you were going to do it, so I'm relieving you of the duty." Minerva, a tall woman to begin with, had about three inches on Amycus, but Alecto was larger than her brother and stood eye to eye with the Transfiguration Mistress. Pomona shook off Filius' hand and stood up. However, before anything could happen, Severus Snape strode into the Hall.

The new Headmaster took one look at the two seething women and rolled his eyes. "Professor McGonagall, please take your seat. Madame Carrow, your chair is to my right. I expect you to be sitting there by the time I get to the table. Professor Carrow, please go attend to the first years. The other students will be here momentarily."

The air seemed to stand still as Minerva stood in front of the three Death Eaters. Pomona drew her wand and she saw Filius stiffen next to her and noticed he too had taken out his wand. Down the table, Rolanda and Septima had both risen to their feet as well. All waited for Minerva's next move; she and Snape were staring at each other in silence. But after a moment that felt like an eternity, Minerva turned on her heel and walked back to the head table.

Pomona took her seat and let out a deep breath. Alecto followed Minerva up to the table and Amycus left the Hall in search of the first year students. Snape slowly slinked to the ornate chair in the middle of the table. Pomona felt nauseous as he sat down in Albus' seat. She had seen many a student that had turned to the Dark Side over the years. Only a handful in her own how House, something she was immensely proud of, but she taught a number of dark wizards and witches over the years. That included the three occupying seats at her table.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Pomona tried to steel herself for the year ahead. Then, the sound of hundreds of feet brought her eyes open. Their students filed in with a somber and nervous chatter. Pomona knew that as much she was unsure about what this school year was going to hold, the children in front of her were probably even more scared. Therefore, she put a pleasant smile on her face as her hesitant Hufflepuff's looked up to her for guidance.

October 14, 1997

Students were anxiously skirting around the doorway to the Staff Room when Pomona made her way down the hall. They were whispering and glancing uneasily at the closed door. As she drew closer, it was apparent why. Albeit muffled, a great deal of shouting and yelling could be heard from the Staff Room. Smiling at the passing students, Pomona slipped in the door and what she saw shocked her.

The majority of the staff was present, and it seemed everyone was shouting. Several were pointing accusing fingers and others had their wands drawn. Minerva, Rolanda, Filius and Horace were in the thick of it all and she knew them well enough to know they were the cause of the uproar. It seemed they were taking sides because Minerva and Rolanda were standing up against Filius and Horace. Bathsheba was in the middle of the four, wand drawn, trying to separate them. The rest of the staff had made a circle around them.

They were so involved in their argument that none of them had noticed her entrance. Raising her wand in frustration, she let out a loud bang with purple sparks. Complete silence fell over the room, though it was clear tempers were raging high. Letting out a deep sigh, the usually calm and patient Hufflepuff let her colleagues have it.

"WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU THINKING? Do you realize that everyone can her you down this corridor? You are scaring the children. Even worse, you are acting like children. You are grown adults who should know better than to be fighting with each other. Minerva, keep your mouth shut," Pomona snapped as her friend made a motion to intervene. "I have never been more embarrassed of all of you! Now, Bathsheba, since you seem to be the only person who hasn't completely lost their head, would you care to explain what is going on.

The elder woman sighed, and Pomona noticed how exhausted she looked. Bathsheba Babbling had been teaching Ancient Runes at Hogwarts for so long, she looked ancient herself. With a shaking voice Bathsheba replied, "Tempers have just run dry, m'dear. They all have different opinions about how to fix this school and they are at each other's throats for a change."

"Fix this school?" Pomona's eyes flashed dangerously at the four guilty parties. "What exactly is wrong with it? And Minerva, you have permission to speak now."

"There are Death Eaters taking over the castle and our students are suffering!" exclaimed Minerva. "Are we just supposed to stand by and watch it happen?"

"It's our job to protect them!" added Rolanda, solidifying her position with Minerva.

Filius glared at her and retorted, "But without risking our own jobs. We cannot protect them if there is no one left at Hogwarts!"

Pomona could see this was the heart of the argument. As soon as Filius stopped talking, Minerva had turned back to argue again. Around the room, voices were beginning to raise again. She looked to Poppy for help, but the poor woman had tear stains on her face. Another burst of sparks came from her wand to get their attention once more.

"Rolanda is right: it is our job to protect our students. However," she said a little louder as Rolanda was beginning to look smug, "Filius has a valid point. We cannot act rashly."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" muttered Aurora. Most of the staff had years on the young Astronomy teacher and Pomona knew she was looking to her elder colleagues for guidance. Before Aurora's words could spark another debate, she interrupted again.

"Firstly, we are not going to argue. That is exactly what they want." A heat was rising in her chest which was becoming all too familiar. Her eyes were dark with determination as the staff watched her. The gentle Hufflepuff was not known for being this outspoken. "We are stronger as a team; no dark force can penetrate us as long as we stick together. There are only three of them and what, a dozen of us? You-Know-Who gets stronger every time we fight with each other. Right now you are making fools of us."

The rest of the staff was beginning to look ashamed of themselves. Slowly, they made their way to various chairs and couches as she continued her speech. She had their attention now and she knew what she needed to do.

"Secondly, we are going to do everything within our power to help our students. However, there are probably some things we will not be able to protect them from. We can't stop the Carrows from serving them awful detentions. But we can find ways to stop them from getting caught." The words flowed easily from her mouth and she could feel herself standing taller with every sentence.

"And third, our students need to know we are on their side. They are feeling so alone in the world right now. They are separated from their families and many of their friends. They are basically in the dark about what is going on outside the castle walls. Many of them fear they may never see their loved ones again. We need to be their support system and we cannot do that if we are arguing amongst ourselves. Do I make myself clear?"

A gradual murmuring filled the room as the rest of the staff took in her stern words. Many had tears in their eyes and others had true admiration written on their faces. Poppy leapt from her seat to wrap Pomona in a hug which Pomona graciously received.

"Thank you, Pomona," said Minerva quietly. The two long-time friends stared at each other with understanding. "I believe we all deserved that."

Filius was quick to act on Pomona's words and he said, "Minerva, you have led this school through thick and thin. I believe we need a leader in this, and I believe you are the right person for the task."

"I second that," followed Horace as he met Minerva's thick gaze.

Minerva sat down at the head of the room and everyone seemed to settle in around her. To Pomona's relief the atmosphere of the room had calmed remarkably. They were, in fact, some of the brightest witches and wizards of their fields. If You-Know-Who had anything fear, it was the staff at Hogwarts.

They remained in the Staff Room until the wee hours of the morning. With all of their minds working as one, they laid out a plan to hold the school together.

January 24, 1998

The sun was streaming through the glass of Greenhouse Two in the early light of a Saturday morning as Pomona struggled to get the last of her pruning done. Some plants did not respond well to being trimmed in the sunlight, so she had been working for a few hours to tend to the most temperamental of her precious plants. The month of January was coming to an end and her famous Hufflepuff patience was wearing thin.

The Carrows were making everyone's life miserable. The children were being interrogated for the slightest offenses and the teachers were being scrutinized at every turn. Never would she had thought she would actually prefer to work with the likes of Dolores Umbridge, but these Death Eaters were making Hogwarts everyone's personal Hell. And That Man. All he did was roam around like an overgrown bat or lock himself in Albus' office. It infuriated her to no end.

Therefore, she spent long hours in the comfort of her greenhouses. It was the one thing You-Know-Who had yet to take from her. Here, she could pour out her frustration and sorrow into mending and nurturing the life around her. As the Herbology Professor, she had always felt at home in her greenhouses, but now she came here to escape. When she felt as if she was going to break under the pressure, she found herself digging in the mulch. She had found physical work was the best therapy.

The last time she had spent so much time among her plants was when poor Cedric Diggory had been murdered. Pomona could never forget the pain of sitting vigil with Amos and Ellen Diggory that dreadful night. The next few nights had been spent sleeping in the Hufflepuff Common Room; they had been so scared and sad, that she couldn't leave them alone. But for weeks after, she poured out her own sorrow in the only way she knew.

This year, it seemed that her students found solace in her greenhouses as well. She had noticed that they were more willing to come talk to her here instead of her office or classroom. She guessed it was because they felt that the Carrow's reach did not extend past the large, haunting doors of Hogwarts. Here, just like her, they found comfort in the calm and quiet and could pour their worries out to her.

At first, it had been first and second year Hufflepuffs led by their older housemates that came to her with their problems. She was quick to dry their tears and relieve their fears. And, while she could not make promises about when this dreadful time would be over, she opened her door to them at any time. The older students would help her work with her plants to relieve their anger.

Then the strangest thing happened. Her Hufflepuffs began bringing Gryffindors and Ravenclaws to her greenhouses. Although it was rare, she had found herself counseling a student of another house over her years teaching. Minerva and Filius had always been more than capable of soothing a shy or troubled first year or giving life advise to a seventh year. At first, she did not ask why they chose to come to her with their troubles. However, as the numbers grew, she asked one of her fourth years why everyone seemed to be coming to her, the Hufflepuff Head of House, instead of their own.

The young woman had a simple answer: they felt as if they were letting their own Head of House down. The Gryffindors worried that the brave and independent Professor McGonagall would see their fears as a weakness. Ravenclaws feared there was a flaw in their logic and the ever-busy Professor Flitwick had more important things to worry about, as there was so much for him to worry over. It seemed that word had spread that Professor Sprout's door was always open.

The current situation had caused each Professor to fall back on their own defenses to protect themselves from the harm this war was causing them. Minerva had become sterner than ever; building a wall of strength around herself and lashing out at anyone who threatened her or her charges. But that wall was keeping her students out as well. Filius, on the other hand, had a more reserved character. Some days Pomona wondered if she had even heard him speak all day. He was doing his best to stand between his students and any harm that could befall them. So, his Ravenclaws tried their best not to bother him. The poor children were just trying to please their teachers.

Footsteps entering the greenhouse pulled Pomona from her thoughts. Brushing off her hands on her already dirty skirt, she placed a gentle kiss on a pod of the puffapod she had been tending to. Then she turned to the doorway to see who was visiting her so early on a Saturday. Much to her surprise, instead of a first or second year child, a nearly grown man was standing in the dawning light of the day.

"Mr. Longbottom, I must say I wasn't expecting a visit." Neville Longbottom had been a great surprise to her. Not just in the natural ability he had shown over the years for Herbology, but also for the leader he had become in just a few short months.

"Hello, Professor." He nodded at her and picked up a rake by the door. With a smile, she grabbed a second rake and motioned toward the mulch in the back of the greenhouse. Silently, the young man started working. Pomona knew he would tell her why he was here when he felt like it. Right now, he needed the same therapy she did.

They worked side by side for almost two hours. By the time Neville spoke, they had finished cleaning Greenhouses Two and Four and were well on their way with Five. His face was red and he was covered in sweat, dirt, and other unspeakables, but she could see he was much more relaxed.

"Professor, I have a favor to ask."

"Oh?"

"I have a feeling that at some point the Carrows may want to get rid of me," he said matter-of-factly. The thought made Pomona shudder a bit, but she didn't interrupt him. "I don't expect this to happen right away, but let's face it, I haven't made their life very easy. And I don't plan on backing down."

Pomona stopped raking and rested against one of her shrivelfig trees. "What can I do to help, Mr. Longbottom?"

"I've been stealing from your greenhouses." The statement was blunt, but she could sense he was ashamed about his actions.

"I know." Her answer apparently shocked him more than his revelation had shocked her. With a sigh, she added, "I thought it was you."

"I'm sorry, Professor, but we needed something to help heal…" He trailed off, his dark eyes looking at her wearily. "I've been making murlap, but it isn't enough. We need fluxweed, dittany, nettles, and all sorts of plants for making potions."

"Are you asking my permission for you to keep stealing them?"

"No. I'm asking you to help the others once I'm gone. I know what the plants look like and what each one does, but not everyone is as good at Herbology." Neville had a point. Many of her students wouldn't be able to identify the difference between a flitterbloom and nightshade and that could be a deadly mistake. "They already know how to make the potions they need, but they are going to need someone to give them the ingredients."

"Tell them to come to me, Mr. Longbottom." A look of pure relief passed over his face at her words. He grinned and set down his rake.

"Thank you, Professor. I ought to be getting back now. Don't want the Carrows to think I'm up to something." With those words, he trotted back off towards the castle. Pomona put her own rake down and gave a large sigh.

She knew what she had to do, though. Every day was a battle for these children. Even the ones that were becoming adults right before her eyes. Someday, they will be free of the hands that tortured them. Someday, You-Know-Who and all those who followed him will fall. Someday, a Hufflepuff will avenge Cedric Diggory. Hufflepuffs were true to their roots and when it came to it, unafraid of toil. They were patient and Pomona believed that they could withstand the heartache the world was handing them now. They were strong and loyal, and someday, they would help lead this fight.

Someday, Pomona Sprout would be able to return to her more reserved and calm nature; she would be able to sit quietly in her greenhouses. But for now, she had to stand up for her students. She had to take a stand for good in this fight against evil. And that place was between You-Know-Who and her children.