A/N: I haven't updated this story in a long time! I'm sorry for that, but I went a bit dry on how exactly I was going to exposit this story, but I think I've got my mind around at least the next few chapters. Again, sorry for the delay. I really appreciate reviews!

Chapter Three

The Fate of Mrs. Poppins

Mary carefully rolled her hair into a bun that sat neatly on the back of her head. Standing in front of a mirror in the girls' dormitory, she affixed her Head Girl badge—red and gold—to the front of her robes, taking the time to ensure it was straight.

The Common Room was empty when she entered it, most everyone having gone down for breakfast. There was no fire, owing to the warmth of the day, for it was the beginning of June, and there was something markedly different about the atmosphere: the Common Room felt far less cozy when it wasn't filled with people.

She walked down the main stairs and into the Great Hall where students poked at eggs with their forks and swallowed mouthfuls of porridge and pumpkin juice. As she sat down, an owl swooped down before her, depositing a letter and a copy of the Prophet before flying off towards the Owlry.

Dearest Mary, the letter began, written on shabby, cheap paper,

Your mother has told me she wants to see you. I told her you'll be studying hard for your NEWTs, but she insists. She doesn't think she'll live out the week, but she said the same last month. Do you think you ought to come? If Professor Black gives you leave, send word and I'll make certain my chimney is connected to the Floo this evening at five o'clock. You'll certainly be a sight for sore eyes.

With love as always,
Bert

Mary read the letter again, admiring the careless but strangely precise nature of his writing, an attribute she always appreciated. She tucked the Prophet under her arm and a piece of toast into her mouth and found herself en route to the Headmaster's Office. There was no doubt in her mind, she thought, that she should see her mother.

She was admitted to the Headmaster's office with a flash of her Head Girl badge and when she arrived inside his office, he was sitting at his desk writing intently.

"Professor Black?" she asked, pushing the door in further.

"Yes? I'm very busy."

"Professor, it's Mary Poppins, sir…Head Girl from Gryffindor."

He looked up from the papers on his desk with his brow furrowed. He wore a confused look that savored of contempt.

"What can I do for you, Miss Poppins?"

"Sir, I'm sorry to bother you, but I've just received a letter that my mother would like to see me. You see she's-"

"At St. Mungo's, oh yes, I've heard as much. Belinda MacMillan? Is she really so ill?"

"Yes, sir."

He hummed knowingly.

"You see, sir, the letter said she might not live out the week, and I'd like very much to see her."

What she would really like was to be away from Professor Black's omnipresence.

"You have your NEWTs coming up next week. You would leave your studies at a time so important?"

"To see my mother, yes."

"I must say, Miss Poppins, this does not reflect well on your academic drive, especially for Head Girl."

Mary's anger started to boil over. She'd never been very fond of Professor Black (nor had anyone), but in recent years she found his superior demeanor grating and caustic.

"I find it a bit odd, then, that you approved my appointment as Head Girl to begin with."

He gave her a menacing look. "I suppose I can hardly stop you from visiting your mother. No doubt you would find your way there one way or another."

"No doubt," she affirmed through clenched teeth.

"Very well, Miss Poppins. But know that upon your return, when you aren't taking your exams, you will be spending the remainder of your evenings at Hogwarts in detention."

Before she could argue, she thought better of it, and turned on her heel and left without a word. That evening she took the Floo from Hogsmeade.

::

At the click of the door, Phineas Nigellas Black took up his quill once more, but began a different sort of letter.

3 June 1925

Minister, he wrote,

Mary Poppins has just departed my office with the mission of visiting St. Mungo's, where her mother is ill. She says that her mother is near death. It would be wise, I think, if you sent someone to her before she passes. Belinda Poppins is undoubtedly a valuable source in your investigation, and as I know her recent illness has prevented you from taking advantage of it, it may soon be too late.

Your Servant,
Phineas Nigellas Black
Headmaster
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Order of Merlin, First Class

Upon finishing, he summoned an owl and sent the letter on its way to London.

::

Mary landed in the fireplace of Herbert Bones at two minutes past five in the evening.

"I think it might have taken a bit of a detour around Leeds," she said, brushing her face of ash and dust and stepping onto the rug in front of the hearth.

"Evening Prophet said most of York is down; they're diverting to other chimneys," Bert replied, taking her hand so that she wouldn't stumble.

"How is most of York down? The Floo just can't not function."

"The new muggle electrical lines they're putting up are causing interference. Bit strange, eh? First time for everything. I wonder if it'll ever have the same effect on Hogwarts."

There was a strange normality to their conversation, as if she had come to visit for a regular weekend.

"Doubt it," she said with a weak sort of chuckle.

He smiled at her. "You've a bit of dust in your hair."

"I rather hate the Floo," she announced. "Dust everywhere! Give me a moment."

She patted more dust and ash off of her skirt and walked across Bert's shabby flat. It was old and small and muggle-built. Its wallpaper was yellowing and peeling in the corners and the meager furniture that had obviously come with the rooms was rickety and dented. While the rest of the building had been wired for electricity, Bert's had not, and was instead lit with Everlasting Candles. Mary hadn't the heart to ask him whether this was because as a wizard he really didn't need electricity, or if he just couldn't afford it.

She finally found herself at the loo, where she looked in the mirror and wiped out the dust from her hair and off of her face. Perhaps it was the weak lighting of the small, windowless room, but she noticed her face looked particularly pale and tired. The year had not treated her entirely well, and to counteract her pallor, she pinched her cheeks with her thumb and forefinger to force a healthy glow.

Bert knocked on the door. "You all right in there?" he asked.

Mary opened the door. "Fine," she said, "just fine." She paused then and looked him over. She hadn't seen him since Christmas and it was now that she was getting a good look at him since having stepped out of the fire. "Don't you look dashing," she continued.

Bert's face immediately turned red. He was wearing a suit and tie of a distinctly muggle persuasion, but Mary felt he sported the look quite smartly.

"You decided not to apply to the Ministry, then," she said. It wasn't a question. If he had taken to wearing muggle clothing, he'd likely given up any attempt at respectable wizarding employment. Even she couldn't tell if there was a touch of disappointment in her voice.

"Until there's an office that actually cares about the business of muggles, I'm not entirely sure I'm welcome there. Boy, do I feel sorry for the fella who'd work there."

"You're not a muggle, though," she responded, ignoring his attempt at a humorous distraction.

"I'm as good as, Mary. You should know that more than anyone."

Mary flinched.

"Let's go visit Mother." Bert recognized a change of subject when he heard one, and he nodded his head.

"Are you staying here, then? Or taking a room at the Leaky Cauldron?" he asked, grabbing his hat.

"I thought I might stay here, if that's okay with you."

"Of course it is; I just wanted to know if we needed to take your bag with us. Do you want to dine before we go? There's a muggle place up the street, or I suppose we could go somewhere in Diagon Alley…"

She shook her head before reaching into her aforementioned large carpetbag, from which she extracted her own hat and pinned it in at a jaunty angle.

"That bag is next to bursting, Mary. You really ought to consider and Extension Charm." In return she gave him a look of half-hearted irritation, snapped her bag shut with only minimal force, and together they walked out the door and onto the dusky streets of London.

::

Healer Dobson pushed open the door to Room 230. There were three beds: one was empty, in one lay a man Imperiused into a state of constant sleep, and in the third, next to the window, lay Belinda Poppins, who looked steadfastly out onto St. Martin's Place.

Once a beautiful woman, Belinda Poppins was now sallow and emaciated, her hair—still black as ever—existent only in clumps around her scalp.

"Mrs. Poppins," the Healer said, "your daughter is here to see you."

Belinda Poppins turned slowly from the window and looked at Healer Dobson. While her body looked frail and neglected, her eyes, bright and focused, were almost normal. There was something deeply unsettling about them, a terrible sort of awareness that seemed to cast a shadow into the yellow light of the room.

"Do you feel well enough to see her?" the Healer—a man with a very bushy mustache—continued.

She nodded and the Healer Dobson exited the room, returning moments later with Mary.

"Mary," her mother greeted in a gravelly voice. She attempted to bring up her arms in welcome, but she only managed a shrug of her shoulders. Her physical weakness was palpable, and the weariness of her mind made evident as her eyes flitted in and out of focus. Mary sat down in the chair next to her bed and smoothed out her skirts in a half-hearted attempt to distract herself from creature lying in her mother's bed.

"Mamma," Mary whispered, finally chancing to look directly at her mother, and she frowned. "Why did you not tell me you were…why didn't Bert…?"

"My dear, come over here." Mary glanced again slowly at her mother, as if the longer she took to look, the less likely she was to meet with inevitability.

"Your NEWTs are next week, are they not, darling?"

"Yes, Mamma, but-"

"You ought to be studying for them, dear, not visiting me."

"You asked for me to come. I got here this evening."

"Oh! Did I? I'm terribly sorry, dear. Give your mamma a kiss, then."

Mary kissed the hollow that was once her mother's cheek.

"What lovely hair," her mother praised. "But you should really stop wearing it up like this; it makes you look so severe."

"Mamma-"

"You ought to put it in waves. That's how it is in all the magazines. And if you just pin it under, dear, I think it would flatter your jawline."

"Mamma, please, why don't you let them help you? They can make you better. You don't have to be sick-"

"Hush, Mary," her mother said with surprising resoluteness.

"But, Mamma-"

"Did you know," her mother began, her voice again becoming rough, "that your grandfather died of a cancer of the lungs?" Her tone was disarmingly conversational.

"Your papa?" Mary asked, confused that a Pureblood wizard would ever simply let himself die of something so inconsequential as disease.

"Oh, heavens, no. Your father's father."

As a rule, Belinda Poppins only mentioned her late husband under duress. Mary's frown became even deeper, but she persisted in their conversation.

"And didn't Papa try to help him? He could have."

"Of course he tried, Mary," her mother said sounding a touch exasperated, so much that it was almost like having her mother back to normal, "but your grandfather wouldn't have any of it, and then your Uncle Robert kicked him out of the house. They didn't really talk much after that."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because sometimes I think they're keeping me alive in case I change my mind, love. Oh, and do tell that kind man I am sorry I couldn't tell him all he asked; I simply couldn't remember. I feel so dreadful about it."

"Mamma, what man? Healer Dobson? What are you talking about—"

"Oh, darling," she whispered, crouching lower and so close that Mary could smell next-to-putrid nature of her flesh, "sometimes I think they've used the Imperius on me and forced me to will myself alive. There is so much forced magic in my veins, Mary, and it isn't natural. My body is fighting so hard to die."

Mary choked back a sob.

"But I'm not going to change my mind, my dearest. I'm going to see your father."

"You're going-?" It dawned on her. "Mamma, please, please stay. I need you to stay." She was now shaking with tears, and she looked up at her mother as if to beg her to stay with her.

"I don't think you don't need me," her mother said attempting to sooth her daughter. "Mary Poppins, you don't need anyone, you know."

"You can't die; I'll be all alone."

"It is better to be alone, my dear. You will do better that way."

Her eyes unfocused and she looked around the room, when her eyes finally settled back on Mary and widened with surprise.

"Tell me, darling. You never did write to say. What house did that hat sort your into? Remind me before you go back and we'll go to Diagon Alley and by you new robes; only three months at Hogwarts and you've already grown out of these." She looked at her daughter, whose hem laid a few fashionable inches above her ankles.

Mary looked at her mother with acute confusion.

"Mama, what's going on?"

"Excuse me," Mary heard from behind her. Healer Dobson had walked into the room. "Miss Poppins, might I speak with you?" She nodded, gently patted her mother's hand, and walked over to the Healer by the door.

"If we don't heal her soon, Miss Poppins, it's going to be too late," he whispered.

"I think it already is. Her body is deteriorating; what have you been doing to her?" Her voice was sharp and angry.

"We've been sustaining her bodily functions. We thought she might finally change her mind."

"Are you telling me you've used the Imperius curse? Healer Dodson, that is illegal!"

"We've not used the Imperius, just a matrix of spells to keep her alive. My point, Miss Poppins, is that the cancer will, soon enough, win the day. She won't let us intervene. If you could talk some sense into her, perhaps…"

"She won't do it. Remove the matrix."

"She'll die immediately. It's the only thing sustaining her."

"I know. She does, too, I think."

"But Miss Poppins-"

"Look at her, Mr. Dobson." She pointed over to her mother. Her body had the crumpled look of a person having lost the will to live. "She is so disoriented, she does not know where she is."

"But we could still save her! She's still young."

"Mr. Dobson, you will remove the matrix and allow my mother to die. I should hardly think you would let a Pureblood witch of such an established family die miserable and broken."

"Established?" the Healer asked.

"Belinda Poppins nee MacMillan."

The Healer's eyes widened. "Oh, yes! My apologies. I—I'll, of course. We'll make sure she's comfortable and then I'll…"

"Thank you," Mary said finally with coolness in her voice, and she walked towards the door. In looking at her mother, she could not distinguish what gave her such resolve. She was a pitiful sight, and her mother a proud woman, a fact that made the woman who sat in the bed the less her mother. Perhaps alone was better, because she had been as much for so long already, and it would not make much difference now. And she had Bert, who was company enough.

"Will you not stay with her, Miss Poppins?"

"No," she replied standing in the doorway, looking between Bert in the corridor and Healer Dobson at the side of her mother's bed. "No, I daresay she is already gone."

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(I promise things will start to make sense soon!)