|In His Name
Author: moira of the mountain PM
After the Final Battle, a fallen Snape is hidden, bearing Tom Riddle's last Unforgivable. There are three Secret Keepers and a Muggle healer to protect him, but will it be love - or an obligation - which finally frees him?Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort - Severus S. & Minerva M. - Chapters: 14 - Words: 92,706 - Reviews: 161 - Favs: 68 - Follows: 92 - Updated: 11-19-12 - Published: 11-28-08 - id: 4682603
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Tokens Of An Uneasy Devotion
She was quiet - at last - just as the hourglass marked its last grains of midday, though it had taken the threat of exile to an anteroom of the Great Hall to convince Narcissa Malfoy to swallow a Calming Draught and lie down on the bed adjacent to her son's.
"The curtains between us, Madam Pomfrey, you're not to close them. Are we clear?" She had walled her voice in ice. "Order your elves to keep them open. If… iWhen/i Draco wakes, he's to know that I have not left him… One hour… Understand me… No more… Until the Headmistress returns… I'm to be informed without delay when she does… or if my son…"
Poppy simply nodded, biting back a sharp response. It was pointless to waste her effort parrying words from a woman who was clearly marshalling every possible defense against her terrors.
Slumping back against the pillows heaped behind her, Narcissa abruptly shielded her face with her hands, her voice faltering into little more than a whisper as the Draught began to take effect.
"Your pardon, Madam… I do regret… I am behaving so badly… making demands with you of all people… I have no right and you have little cause to be kind to me… or my son... except for who you've always been…" Narcissa let her hands fall heavily to her sides, as though lifting their weight was more than she could bear. "Please… Madam… Poppy…" she forced a rigid smile, "I only meant… if you would… if I do sleep… wake me… should anything… "
With only a moment's patience needed to confirm that emotion, exhaustion, and the Draught had drawn Narcissa into surrender, Poppy studied the woman who had crumpled onto her side as though felled by a brutish fist.
The manor-born perfection of Narcissa's profile was dulled by the shadows of strain that bruised her high, pale cheekbones. One fine-boned hand was tangled in the dishevelment of her unbound hair while the other, drooping with lethargy, still reached for her son. At rest, the grim set of her mouth had softened, as though behind her grief she sheltered some precious revelation.
Her charcoal robes of fine loden cloth hinted at careful alteration, but failed to hide that her figure had passed from fashionably slender to merely under-fed. Their severity boasted no trace of the Alencon laces and Kashmiri embroideries she'd always worn with such indifferent elegance, even as an ornament of a girl already plighted in her Seventh year to Lucius Malfoy. She wore no jewels other than her trothring.
Though Poppy knew it was unlikely she'd be heard, it was in her nature to offer the rhythm of her voice as a cornerstone for those lulling reassurances that urgency had not allowed earlier.
"The IProphet/i said you refused to give up that ring when the Aurors came for your husband, and our Harry says you lied straight-out to Tom Riddle there at the last. Terrible risks to take… and brave…" The starched wings of Poppy's cap fluttered as she shook her head. "First our Severus lost to us, and now the two of you come to Hogwarts of all places… Far more, I'd say, to the Slytherin heart than most would give credit to… We see what we look for, I suppose…" She gave Narcissa's outstretched hand a small squeeze. "You'd give all that's left you for Draco to be safe, wouldn't you? And Lucius, if he's ever free of Azkaban… So, here you are, and more like your Andromeda than you knew…"
Poppy's gaze shifted to Draco, as still as death in the bed beside them. "I believe you'd ransom your last breath to protect your child… You and Molly Weasley ought to have a chat." She laughed, softly, a little surprised that she could. "Now, there would be something to relish."
Careful not to jostle her awake, Poppy tugged at Narcissa's cetus-leather boots, grateful they came off without any problem. The fact that shoes of sylphan silk had been forsaken for something far more sensible wasn't lost on her. "Planned ahead for being on foot - and in rough places, I see," she smiled in approval. "You're a survivor at heart, aren't you, my girl? Good to know." With a practiced flick of her wand, she settled an eiderdown coverlet around Narcissa's shoulders. "Now, you stay asleep, and give me a bit of time to see what this son of yours has done to himself… Nothing good, that's plain…"
Relieved to be spared the hindrance of a desperate mother, Poppy rolled her sleeves above the elbow and wanded a pile of flannels, a pewter basin, and a ewer of steaming water, fragrant with cedar, to settle on the bedside table. Without a fuss, she began to tend to Draco, her thoughts sorting themselves as she moved along her familiar path.
A broken bone from a Quidditch fray or a bloody gash from a dragonbriar? Either would seem a blessing. The bruises and stings of wayward spellwork? Little more than splinters. Now that there were students again, with all four Houses studying and - Merlin protect them all - living in such close quarters - she'd soon enough see a goodly share of such things. There'd be cauldron scalds and the like, and those she'd be all right with, too. Horace was an able enough Potions master, but he was no Severus. He'd admitted as much, many's the time, over the last few months…
Severus… Dear gods, what to think about all of that… How many years had he been at Hogwarts? Seven as a student - and sixteen - or seventeen, was it - as a master and the Head of his House? Had it truly been so many? His lifetime was in those years, and yet so few, really, if you measured them against the flow of wizardly time… And his one awful year as Headmaster… Hardly more than the chiming of a clock at the quarter hour…
All that time - and not even the most dim-witted of his students ever suffering a brewing injury of any real consequence. Quite remarkable, what with Potions being such a volatile study. Not that anyone thought to offer him much praise for the importance of such a thing, but she'd certainly noticed… Noticed… and appreciated the wonder of it…
There'd been all the lesser brewing mishaps, of course - that was to be expected - just part of a thorough Potions education. Such rivers of tears to be diverted before she could quiet the anxious tics that usually followed close behind, or soothe whatever plaque of blisters and boils appeared. She'd always sent Severus' students straight on back to the dungeons with her assurances that, yes, they would, indeed, survive.
Odd, how that had become just another thread of the ritual woven for them over time - she, bristling to Severus that it absolutely wasn't necessary, for any reason whatsoever, to bully his students so mercilessly just to keep them out of her infirmary - and he, scowling that he'd leave the coddling of puerile idiots in her more-than-capable hands. Rarely, though, had any student ever repeated whatever potions error sent them to her in the first place.
Never acknowledged, really, their comradeship - not something they'd ever felt the need to labor over, not even the handful of times he'd come to her for help, broken beyond what he could remedy himself. Not so many times that it had made any real difference in their understanding - watching him retreat to his dungeons, after his assurances to iher/i that, yes, he would - as long as was necessary - survive…
Almost to the end, until the Tower… when Severus had dealt their alliance its killing blow, past any healing…
She'd been so damn sure of its ugly death… until Horace had found that hidden potions chest and left her bloody near undone…
But this Malfoy boy, he seemed to truly be undone - scarcely breathing, body thinned right to the bone, skin as dry and white as chalk… All his spun-silver hair, tarnished dark by sweat and heavy with dirt, straggling past his shoulders in tangled hanks… And his hands, freckled with half-healed burns, his fingertips newly calloused… A young Potioner's hands, with their own text of scars… So much here that reminded her… No… too much, to think of that just now…
And there… right there… on his left arm…. as black as bier smoke…
It wasn't quite right, then, was it, to think of Draco Malfoy as a boy any longer? Well, then… What to do about this young man…
"So low in the flesh, so high in the bone… lad, I hardly knew ye…" From the look of things, the verse of that old lament could have been written for him.
She'd patched him often enough. If it were put to her, she'd have to admit he'd usually managed to be infuriating but he'd been endearing, too, and more than once… Damnably good at both, he was…
Such a vexing child - far too attached to his family's influence in wizarding society. Full of his own sly intrigues and crowing Quidditch victories, and always with some reason to seek her immediate - and preferably undivided - attention. In the scope of Draco's perceptions, any injury could be elevated to the status of a near-fatal wound.
The first time she'd had any real dealings with him - some recklessness with his glorious new broom - how stunned he'd been that his lineage failed to impress her.
i"I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, your blood is quite red. Whatever blue blood's in you hardly counts with me. You've not lost enough of either to keep you off the pitch and certainly there's nothing here to excuse you from your studies. No need to owl your father about this, I should think. I believe Professor Snape will agree."/i Something akin to relief had crossed his face, and she'd briefly wondered just what it was he dreaded answering to. i"Hold steady, now, young man, and let me finish up with you."/i
Purely unreasonable demands, more often than not - soap and water, a bit of ice, and a simple balm usually did the trick. Magic wasn't even a factor. The Hippogriff incident had been more serious, no denying that, but the trauma had healed perfectly in less than a week. Somehow, though, young Mr. Malfoy had managed to wring every last drop of sympathy from his parents - or at least his doting mother - and more than a few of his Housemates, enough to serve his ends for nearly three months.
He should have been thoroughly throttled for the dreadful upset he'd created - and the terrible damage that had spilled over to poor Hagrid.
Heedless… selfish… disgraceful behavior… unworthy of any Hogwarts House…
Why had Severus tolerated such a thing, even though he tended to favor Draco? The lad had proven to be keen on the study of Potions, so certain allowances might have been made. But perhaps that hadn't been entirely the case. Slytherin House did tend to keep its personal disciplines to itself…
Of course, she'd been wary when Draco first stepped outside the preening and posturing of his privilege. From the start, she'd tended to refuse his entourage admittance to her infirmary, and without his attending audience, a subtle shift in temperament would often surface. Since he wasn't busy ibeing/i watched, he began ito/i watch - most attentively, and with a measure of respect that she wouldn't have expected, since she wasn't a professor he'd want to court for House points.
It wasn't so long before he'd begun to comment on her wand work, her spells and charms, and to question her potion choices for the treatment of even the most trivial ailment. He was off-handed about it all, but it would have been naïve to assume he was simply being conversational. Idle chats didn't suit most Slytherins. Severus had always been proof enough of that.
What a curious pattern they'd fallen into, debating healing traditions - potions always holding Draco's favor, of course. He was truly bright, and Circe's robes, the boy did have a wicked wit. In fairness, she couldn't fault him for having been bred to an aristocratic bearing, but what she saw and heard of him in the public eye, she didn't much care for. Only in the haven of her infirmary, would young Draco Malfoy show a side of himself she actually enjoyed knowing - enough to think she might encourage him towards a field of Healers' study if that's where his talents lay.
An unguarded and fierce pride - reverence, some might have said - always sparked in the boy's eyes if Severus was even mentioned. There was no question that he, too, hoped to master the "subtle science and exact art of potion-making". How many times had he quoted that speech to her - every word, every intonation - as if it were some Potioners' Creed?
i "Professor Snape swore if I disturbed these Morgaine's Tears before they were safe in your office, he'd have my head for a cauldron. He's been called away, so he's allowing me to bring them even though they're his personal brewing. Of course, who else would dare try to take credit for these - not with his hand-trace so strong on them."/i
How devoutly the young Slytherin had handled the opalescent bottle, raising it up to the window to watch the late-day light shiver through it.
i"Lunar-eclipsed larkspur distilled through crushed aragonite. The Headmaster requested these because of the Tournament, is what I've heard. My father provided the funds, naturally, at the Ministry's request. The petals alone were over one-hundred galleons."/i Draco's rapt expression had soured as he placed the potion on her desk. i"Dumbledore really should be more appreciative of what my family provides to this school. Professor Snape would be, if he were Headmaster. He respects the obligations of tradition… not like some."/i
Intolerable, for a student to speak about the Headmaster so dismissively, but she'd paused in her reprimand, seeing how fixedly the boy's attention had fastened on the potion, shimmering softly in its vial like flowing mother of pearl.
i"For one full day, a single Tear will hold death dormant within the living, even if the very heart has been pierced."/i The words had been ancient and epic, and she'd known Draco was quoting what he'd been taught. i"Professor Snape lectured us on the Arcanum to prepare us for Advanced level potions. They're deadly, even to the maker, if you're careless with the brewing… but they're the most powerful of any, all about the balances between life and death… I don't think he's told us everything, though… There's more…"/i
To her amazement, a sudden wash of pain had flushed Draco's face.
i"Do you know, Madam, I have… I had… Lyra… My sister's name… For a star, the same as mine. Mother and Father took her to Constanta, on holiday for her first birthday. I wasn't even born yet, not for another six months… She didn't feel well one morning and by moonrise, she just… died. Ty'erian Fever… from the East…"/i Draco's voice had dropped so low, he could scarcely be heard. i"There aren't any portraits or pictures… so I don't know quite how she looked, but like the rest of us, I would think. My father doesn't … Sometimes… some days, he goes a bit mad… He destroys… things… rare, beautiful things… uses his cane to do it… My mother just goes quiet for days…"/i
So dreadful, hearing that, never having known - so unexpected, seeing vulnerability in Draco's eyes, but there it had been, bleak and raw.
i"There hadn't been any Ty'erian deaths in pureblood families for three generations, so probably it was some… half-blood… she caught it from… No one could brew the Arcanum against it quickly enough - or well enough - to save her. They buried her there in Constanta and came home right after. Father was afraid for my mother… and for me, I suppose."/i
Draco had cupped his hand around the small vial, as though yearning to hold it again.
i"Professor Snape could have… He doesn't make mistakes… I've asked but he says I'm not likely to be ready for the Arcanum anytime soon. It doesn't matter - eventually I'll master them - all of them…"/i With a shrug, he'd shed his reverie, hardened his face. i"The professor said you'd want to have some of this in supply. Potter's probably going to need it the very first day of the Tournament. That would be brilliant - the bloody Chosen One having to show some respect…"/i
Unnerving at times, those drawling nuances of Lucius' mentoring reflected in Draco's voice…
i"Are you certain that you're quite content here, Madam Pomfrey, being simply the Matron for so many years? That hardly seems much of a life. I could mention something if you thought you'd prefer a more suitable position at St. Mungo's…"/i
Arrogant pup, he'd bruised her pride with that, enough to get himself pointed out the door without another word. It was only later that she'd considered the odd notion that perhaps he'd fancied himself as her benefactor, that he'd intended his offer as payment for a favor owed… Hardly appropriate, and disheartening that he'd thought it necessary…
She might have written him off as yet another entitled pureblood, destined for some pinnacle of empty acclaim. Maddening, that she couldn't quite dismiss him, though…
She wasn't fooled, not a bit of it, whenever he'd pretended to fall asleep on one of her beds, but no real harm in it, allowing him to stay another hour before rousing him with a cup of tea and releasing him to his House. Perhaps he'd hoped to be catered to just a while longer - or had simply craved the calm and peace. She'd seen self-doubt and false bravado often enough to know the signs. Surrounded by admirers and rivals, Draco Malfoy was terrified of falling into failure and obscurity - and was quite alone, even with his flanking guard of Crabbe and Goyle, not to mention the grasping affections of Miss Parkinson and the like.
The pity was, the boy had strong instincts for Healing theory - she'd seen it, knew it. He could actually deserve the princely success his House expected of him. Somehow, she'd thought she'd like to see that happen. But hadn't she thought the same thing about Severus, years ago, and failed to act quickly enough? A bitter pill, that she might make the same mistake again…
And of course, there'd been Draco's smile…
Without fail… just at the doorway as he'd leave her infirmary…
Not his usual cultivated smirk, offered in counterpoint to the properly gauged nod… This was an open and genuine smile… The slightest bit crooked… Beautiful because it wasn't quite perfect…
i"Thank you, Madam, for always taking care of me…"/i
But, she hadn't quite managed that, had she?
Almost the end of his sixth year… the last time she'd spoken to Draco, when Severus had ordered him to her. He'd looked dreadful. Eyes narrowed against the light, wand hand clenched against its own twitching, he'd paced and prowled, refusing to have his scarring wounds examined, however much she'd threatened and coerced. She'd already heard the whispers that he'd taken the Dark Lord's Mark and she'd wondered if he was proud to carry it… She hadn't asked… Merlin's Heart, she should have done…
i"I've only come because Professor Snape expects it. He's already seen personally to my recovery from Potter's attack, so there's no point to my being here. There's nothing I want from you… Matron."/i
Matron… Not Madam or even Pomfrey… Denying her… Distancing himself…
He'd had only one question for her that day.
i"Tell me… Matron… has anyone died that you were responsible for? I wonder, did you grieve, knowing that you'd failed them?"/i
Even as his words twisted in the air, he'd moved towards the door as though any reply she'd give was hardly worth his attention. Gods, how she'd wanted to hex that damn fatalistic arrogance straight out of him, to purge whatever had poisoned him. She could see no trace of the annoying, elegant boy she'd rather grown to like… and she could taste her bitter pill.
i"Yes, Mr. Malfoy - twice over, the answer is yes. I've suffered both, and will again, no doubt."/i The shadow of something unreadable had darkened his face, just then. His signs hadn't been so clear, anymore. It would have been easy enough to reach out, touch his arm - the marked one - but the rigid set of his stance had warned her off. i"Since, as you've said, there is nothing you want from me, I'll ask you to leave. I'd hope not to see you here again."/i
i"Then, I'll leave you to that hope."/i He'd bowed, then - formal and unsmiling - as graceful as a crane descending. i"I do thank you… Madam Pomfrey… for having been… kind… to me."/i
With the slightest gesture, he'd conjured a sprig of white bellflower and one of monkshood, placing both on the table just inside the door as he departed.
She wouldn't have expected him to bother knowing the language of flowers. He'd once dismissed the humble posies her patients left outside her office door by way of thanks.
i"Pitiful weeds… Really, Madam Pomfrey, if you enjoy bouquets, I can have them sent to you from my mother's gardens. She wouldn't mind, if it pleased me. Our rooms at the Manor are always full of roses, even in the dead of winter…"/i
Of course she'd cautioned him against excessive gifts, but seeing she'd hurt him a little by her refusal, she'd told him how a single bloom, sincerely given, could speak volumes. He'd simply shrugged and changed the subject.
Bellflower…left in token of gratitude and constancy? For all those times she'd cared for him, challenged him, and looked past his mask? But, he'd willingly chosen both the Mask and the Mark, hadn't he?
And the monkshood… The perfect flower for a Death Eater… telling of poisonous words and mortal danger, a warning to beware and yield before the power of a superior enemy - all cloaked in the dark chivalry of a born Slytherin…
She'd meant to spell the flowers into ash, but she'd waited a bit too long. A house-elf had tidied later in the day, and they were simply… gone. Draco Malfoy had made no more visits.
Yet, here he was…
And with a terrible need for kindness, Poppy thought, as she slid her arm behind his neck, intending to deal with the ravages of his hair.
Carding gently with her fingers, she suddenly felt the resistance of a short plait, worked deep within the matted locks. Cradling Draco's head in the crook of her elbow, hefting the woven hair gingerly in her palm, she could feel the weight of something trapped inside its length. Wary, averting her eyes as she shielded his face with her free hand, she murmured a spell to counter the magic that kept it bound.
"Solvo vestri captivus. Free your captive."
Slowly, the strands of hair began to unwind, sliding lightly across her skin like a trickle of oil, until the object within was visible.
With a start, Poppy realized she was holding a great viper's fang, a tapering crescent of sinister grace, as long and thick as her thumb. The deadly tip was blunted with silver filigree, and the hollow throat was capped with a faceted emerald stopper. Her cautious shake produced a faint rustle of whatever was hidden within. Not liquid then, she reasoned, but something else… something solid but light...
"A brother to that vial of yours, Draco?" Poppy muttered, setting the fang to one side and returning to her task. "We'll leave this for Minerva and Horace, I think. They can speak with Albus' portrait about it if they like. I only wish that…. Ah, never mind… a hope long gone… "
A few minutes more, and all was done. Mother and son, both settled with as much peace and safety as either might dare hope for.
There was other work to be started elsewhere in the infirmary, but Poppy found she was unwilling to move away from either bedside - not with Narcissa's voice still sounding in her head.
"He means to go to Severus… "
Narcissa had whispered those words, over and over, until a gorgon's glare from Minerva had silenced her. Her litany made no sense. If Draco thought to follow his Head of House through the Veil, why had he crafted a potion that would send him only half the way on that dark journey?
A simple poison would have served him well enough if he truly meant to die… But why would he intend to do so? Draco had always shown affection - a fierce devotion, even - to his mother. Why would he abandon her to such a torture? She would never recover… he must know that…
And would he willingly choose to become his father's Dementor by ending his own life? His worship of Lucius and the pendulum shift between harsh disdain and fond indulgence that was the response - perhaps that was what had passed for love between them. Poppy had seen Lucius Malfoy as he tore through the Great Hall in search of his son - the madness of shame and grief harrowing his face. Whatever epiphany he'd reached that awful night, she'd leave him to it.
"What hope is it that you were holding to, Draco, to make you craft this Traveler's Blade? Poor lad… Severus is dead… You cannot bring him back to us, and you mustn't go to him…" Her attention lingered on the pale scarred hands, the heavy cowl of oily hair and the too-thin frame. "Were you thinking you'd somehow find a path that would let you become Severus, child? That wouldn't do, either … You must come home, you know…"
Thoughtful for a moment, Poppy raised her wand.
"Courage and protection be at either hand," she whispered.
With great care, she tucked the summoned stalk of yellow mullein into Draco's hands, pushing away the unbidden image of his body blessed for burial with a gift of flowers. Wherever he was journeying, perhaps he'd see - and understand - her talisman offered against both their failures.
Rolling down her sleeves, Poppy settled herself to keep watch.
"Minerva, you may choose to arrange your office however you wish. I often found that to be a most pleasant diversion, adjusting one's surroundings to suit the mood of the moment. A change of the patterns in the room might be best - a fresh start, as it were?"
From the comfort of his frame, Dumbledore cautiously watched the Headmistress circle the vast parameters of the room as though they were the Castle ramparts and she the only sentinel. The air around her was fairly crackling, though what had loosed this particular storm was unclear.
Approaching Minerva through an envoy of mild interest had seemed best, but he was still being thoroughly shunned, and the Headmistress' silent tirade had not lessened. Her pacing continued, the heels of her walking boots pummeling the carpets into submission.
"A change of patterns, Albus, that's what you thought? Oh, and certainly, let's discuss the wisdom of making a fresh start. You've set me such a fine example to follow, after all," she abruptly shattered her silence, slowing not a whit, every angle of her body taut. "Which pattern shall I change, then? So many to pick from, and all of them quite tidily woven together. A very fine tartan, indeed, we've made, and all the Houses well represented, wouldn't you agree?" A grim amusement made a furtive dash across her face. "Pull one thread wrong, and we'll have quite the new tangle. But you've always had your talent for dealing with tangles, haven't you? Just as well - you've certainly had a wand in making a good many of them."
An uneasy murmur of curiosity rippled through the room, every portrait that happened to be awake suddenly alert and eyeing Dumbledore, wondering how he might react to such an accusation.
"I was speaking, actually, of that fine Aladdinian carpet you are destroying, Minerva, but since that is quite obviously not the problem, perhaps you would enlighten me?"
For several long moments, there was no response. Minerva had stopped to stand in spare silhouette against the wavering light filtering in from the massive window that overlooked the courtyard. Dumbledore found himself wishing she would move away to another part of the room. Any part, really, would do nicely, just not that ever-accusing window, though at one time he had favored it himself. Part of his penance, now, to be continually reminded of his lost Keeper - equally spare, scarcely more than a shadow at the last - standing in that same window, hour upon hour - waiting, watching, knowing…
Nodding the other portraits into silence, he remained motionless until the heavy quiet caught Minerva's attention, and she turned to confront him. Dumbledore rose from his cushioned seat to face her.
"Tell me, then, Headmistress… what has happened?"
Nothing else would have served in that moment but to fully acknowledge her authority, what she offered by her expression - regret and sorrow, surely that - courage and strength, always and beyond measure - an angry stain of loss, no question of those traces - but something else, now - an anticipation, ferocious and fragile…
Her Silencing Charm fell over the other portraits, as Minerva crossed the room.
"The worst and the best of our old patterns, Albus, come back to haunt us, yet again." She hesitated for a moment, shaping her words as carefully as a spell.
"Draco Malfoy - and his mother - they are both in the South Wing, with Poppy. I discovered them at the gates, just at dawn. Young Mr. Malfoy is in a very bad way, and Narcissa is close to collapse."
There was only the sigh of her robes as she stopped in front of Dumbledore's portrait, so close he could see the glint of the fairie-silver chain around her neck.
He waited, remembering the Tower… the trembling wand hand of a desperate and terrified young man, struggling to summon enough will to tear his soul forever... reprieved by another soul already bloodied…
"Oh, yes, Albus, it's quite true. Now he holds a Traveler's Blade, instead. And, there we have our pattern. A young wizard who's far too untried for whatever choice he's made, however willing and able he might think he is," Minerva whispered, as though she'd seen Dumbledore's thoughts. Perhaps they were written too plainly on his face, or she had simply learned, too well, how to read them.
"Ah, a most dangerous and unwise turning of events, certainly, for our young dragon. Still, not so unlikely as most would think." Seating himself, the old wizard picked up one of the silver trinkets that had been painted into his portrait, idly setting its gears spinning. " I must believe, though, that our Draco has moved beyond rash choices, given the length of time the Blade requires for its completion. Considerable ability with potions, as well… It must be brewed to a singular intent. Was there a reason given for this making?"
Minerva's gaze dropped to the hand-worn volume of Cicero's essays, resting on the corner of her desk, exactly where she'd placed it the day she'd first taken up her reluctant residence and heard Albus' terrible confessions. A private talisman, she'd decided. If the book remained in place, the one who'd left it would return to take it up again.
"Narcissa was quite clear on that, to the point that I wanted to hex her into eternal silence. Over and over, she kept saying… the same thing… that Draco means to walk Between, that he intends to go to… " Minerva hesitated, despair and hope still bannered in her eyes.
"A courageous friend, perhaps?" Dumbledore gently prompted.
"Yes," she nodded, "though I've not been told why the boy wishes to do so. And before you shame me, Albus, with my own words, I do recall what I said about a Slytherin's willingness…"
Before she could continue, Dumbledore raised his hand for her to cease.
"Perhaps, dear friend, that is one of the first tangles we should undo - allowing our shame to overshadow what we learn from past mistakes." The familiar balance between gravity and levity sparkled in his eyes.
"That may be, Albus," Minerva replied "but this immediate thread is the one we need to stop from fraying any further. The boy may be beyond his senses to try such a thing, not to mention he's on entirely the wrong path… "
Dumbledore frowned, tucking his diverting toy into a sleeve, and rising to begin his own pacing within the confines of his frame.
"Regretfully, Minerva, we cannot simply bring him back. Those who wield the Blade and find no answers have been known to lose their way and not return, or else return in body but leave their spirit behind." The Headmistress' sharp hiss of dismay brought him to a halt, and he nodded. "I know, Minerva, I know - the same words and all too familiar. That is not to say, however, that this young wanderer may not have companions on his travels. Has Poppy hung any paintings on her infirmary walls just yet?"
Minerva allowed her memory to scan the infirmary - Poppy had been so pleased to have established a usable space, scrupulously clean, well-lit, and reasonably stocked - had made quite the tour for her, just yesterday, a short while before the Welcoming Supper…
i"Did you notice, Minerva, that the old painting of the Hesperides' Garden is here? I thought one of the elves had found it, but they said that wasn't so. It was right there, already in the room, leaning against the wall. The Castle… perhaps She wanted me to have it again… I've missed the nymphs and their songs…"/i
"One painting, Albus, there is one… hanging between the two largest south-facing windows…"
"South, is it? Close to Draco and his mother?" By now, Albus was seated once more, combing his fingers through his beard, smiling in anticipation.
"Within five paces of both, but why does…" Minerva stopped, a realization forming. "Dear and blessed gods, Albus, do you believe…? Draco? One of his own? Oh sweet Circe… how right that would be… But the path is wrong…. Very wrong…."
Seeing that, Dumbledore nodded in satisfaction.
"For the moment, we will be patient, and I will visit our charming nymphs. Near enough to allow me to keep a useful watch and be of some benefit, I believe. Would you consent to that, Headmistress, and consider joining me in Poppy's infirmary as soon as you're able?"
"That I'll do and gladly. " Minerva replied, wasting no more time in heading for the door. "And, Albus, on your way, do consider advising me on the ethics of ioblivating/i Horace… Dear old fool, how he does go on, blathering the very thing I'd most want not to hear…"