Author Note: Standard Disclaimer Applies. My beta is awesome because she tells me like it is. Her name is cecelle, and she writes beautifully. Check out her story Mist and Vapor – it's complete (well, except for maybe one chapter) and another great Severus Snape story on this site. The next chapter is also in her hands; hopefully, I don't have to rework it very much, but who knows? Maybe she'll think Voldemort is too over the top – er, I won't spoil it for you…
Are We Ready?
Emmaline gazed at her face in the mirror. Her skin was blotchy from all the crying she'd done that morning and chapped from the cold wash she'd just given it. She pulled her hair back from her forehead and peered further into the mirror. Shame and humiliation washed over her. She should have made the most of waking up next to Severus this morning. Unlike the morning they came back from the States with the Re'em, this time there had been ample time to laze about. The boys weren't especially early risers, and she supposed that recent events had tired them all so that they needed a good lie in. But…she had messed it up. Forgetting – even temporarily – where she was…who she was with… Unforgivable. She didn't blame Severus in the least for his grumpiness.
Sighing, she let go of her hair and looked away from the mirror. No matter how much or how many times others forgave her for her mistakes – her choices – she couldn't forgive herself. Holding her hands up before her, Emmaline noted that they were shaking slightly. It was a side-effect of the medicine she took for depression. She didn't mind it so much, as it meant the drug was working. She dropped her hands and looked around the bathroom. After a long look at the deep tub, she decided she needed some time with only hot water and a bunch of bubbles for company.
Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad…
Andrew's thoughts ran in circles, or rather in a continuous, repetitive line from which he couldn't deviate. It was odd, decidedly odd, to confront one's professor and reprimand him for his actions. Even odder was when that professor was also his dad… How could someone you knew so little about be your parent?
Despite all the details of his mother's life prior to his birth that he hadn't known, he knew his mom. Knew her likes and dislikes, knew her moods and how to handle them, knew sometimes without asking exactly what she was thinking. Professor Snape was certainly different from any other man he'd known, but he didn't know him. Well, he knew the professor had become a Death Eater, then had renounced, albeit quietly, that life, but he didn't know why. And that's the crux of the matter, isn't it? he thought. I don't know why he does the things he does – what motivates him – what drives him.
He barely noticed as Draco left the room, saying something about reading in the library. Instead, Andrew stared at the green canopy of his bed lost in his thoughts…
Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad…
There was a round little tower attached to part of the library. It was usually used by snogging couples as it was out of the way and had a cushioned window seat. During the winter holiday, it was available for the left-behind students to take advantage of. Draco sat there, glad he had put on a warm jumper, since the panes of glass that stretched up nearly the height of a grown man were not insulated. He stared off into the leaden gray sky, thinking of his favorite part of winter – dusk, when the air was a bit damp but very still. To sit quietly and watch his surroundings gradually fade into darkness – till you couldn't tell the gray tree bark from the surrounding gray world – gave him delicious shivers. He had snuck out of the manor on several occasions, avoiding his mother and her dramatics should she find out he was outside in the cold, to enjoy this sight.
Now, he sat in the cavernous library and thought about where he might store his thoughts. He could see numerous shelves and thousands of books from his vantage point; , Draco experienced a fleeting admiration for Andrew's method of offensive Occlumency. However, that was not the way for him. He needed something with which he was much more familiar.
Hogwarts was out of the question. It was just where he went to school. The Quidditch pitch was stupid for obvious reasons – where would one hide one's thoughts? Under a blade of grass? And Malfoy Manor – Draco shuddered involuntarily. No, he didn't think he could control his emotions if he were to think of home. There were too many turbulent memories there for it to be a place he felt comfortable. Emmaline had mentioned that she stored her thoughts in her office; he imagined it was a place with which she was fairly intimate. A library, of course, was right up Andrew's alley. Draco knew that his friend had prowled the whole of Hogwarts' library, genuinely curious as to its contents.
But where was he comfortable? Thinking of the N.E.W.T. potions laboratory where he had conducted research on the bats, Draco's thoughts drifted to his childhood and his first encounter with a potions laboratory. His paternal grandfather had not been a potions master but rather a dabbler at potions, preferring to hone his amateur skills with exotic and expensive ingredients. The man had kept a marvelous lab, one like no other. Ingredient cabinets set into the walls were made of English oak with a honey-colored stain. The drawers were lined with cedar, silver, or gold, as appropriate, so that the ingredients remained stable, and stasis spells were standard. There had been a matching oak desk with a huge mahogany leather chair behind it. The work table was a masterpiece of wrought iron legs with a marble top. The top was protected by layers of spells – spells that resisted corrosive and flammable substances, and stains . When he was little, before his grandfather died, it had been a strange paradise to Draco. He remembered fondly sitting in the big, leather chair while his grandfather demonstrated potions – usually ones that made funny noises, weird lights, or brilliant sparks – to entertain him. At the time, he had wanted to be just like his grandfather when he grew up.
Draco closed his eyes and began reconstructing the laboratory – item by item, inch by inch – as Emmaline had taught him. He needed to be able to recall the room in detail and at a moment's notice. Deep, steady breaths came from him as he explored the new repository in his mind.
When she emerged from her bath, Emmaline found Severus in her room, fingering the spell-resistant clothing. "It's been tested – both in the lab and in the field," she informed him.
"Yes, I know," he quietly responded.
"You're worried about the boys."
He finally glanced at her. "Yes."
"Severus…" She paused until he turned to look fully at her. His gaze was not heated, as it had been many times over the past few days, but rather thoughtful and even a bit sad. Emmaline clasped her hands in front of her and drew a deep breath. "I've talked to the boys," she began to explain. "I've told them that I'm going, too."
At first, he just stared at her. Then his brow wrinkled. "You're going," he repeated, obviously dumb-founded.
"Don't be absurd." He turned back to the garments.
"They need me –"
"Hmph," Severus grunted. "They're nearly grown men. I think they have quite outgrown being mothered."
"Andrew maybe," she admitted, though she felt a small pain in her heart at doing so. "But Draco… Can you say that he has ever known what it's like to have someone take care of him?"
When Severus didn't answer, she pressed on. "I know he needs me. I can tell. And I'm going to stand for him."
Severus turned to look at her then with a piercing look. "You're going to stand for Draco and not your son."
"That's right." Gathering her courage, she said, "I had hoped that you would stand for Andrew."
Severus opened his mouth to speak, but paused. "I am not sure that I should."
"Why not? He has taken to you – even before he found out his paternity – and I've never known him to do so as quickly with any other male. It took him several years before he was comfortable with Kenneth."
"I'm not sure I can keep my feelings buried as it is," he hissed. "The Dark Lord will be looking for any weakness from those who stand for the boys. It would be better for Lucius to do it, though I know how you'd loathe that. It is also the reason that you should not be there!"
Emmaline lifted her chin. "You need to trust me, Severus. I am standing for Draco and I need you to stand for Andrew. It'll never work otherwise."
"What are you planning?" he asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. Stalking over to glare down at her, he growled, "The Dark Lord will punish us all if he even imagines that he is being deceived. I will not let you endanger us all! This is not the States, Emmaline. Your friends are not available to come to our rescue! We are on our own," he discouraged.
"And that is precisely why you need to trust me," she returned, determination shining in her eyes.
They continued to glare at each other until he said, "Fine. If the potion works, we will at least not have to worry about the Cruciatus curse. But – if it doesn't, we may not all make it back alive."
"We know that, Dad," Andrew interjected from the doorway. "We're doing this for Draco – just like you are – because he shouldn't go through this alone. And before you tell me that his father will be there – the man terrifies him, and I don't blame him for being scared."
"Where is Draco?" Emmaline asked, peering anxiously past Andrew. "He mustn't know about Severus!"
Andrew smiled crookedly. "Don't worry. He's still in the library."
"How much did you overhear?" Severus asked, pained that Andrew was privy to yet another argument between the adults.
"Enough." Andrew sighed as his parents just stared at him. "Well, your raised voices drew me in here, so…when did you start shouting?" As his dad stalked past him and out the door, Andrew made a face.
"You shouldn't bait him," Emmaline said disapprovingly.
"Neither should you, then."
"Hey, don't whine to me. I'm dealing with a lot, too." He strolled over to still his mom's hands, which were rearranging the gear. "Here, sit down. I know you're having a hard time right now, Mom. And…well, it can't be easy for you to, you know, deal with all that you've found out." Andrew paused before admitting, "I'm kinda having a hard time assimilating it myself."
Emmaline sighed as she wrapped her arms around her son and pulled him tight to her. "We'll get through it together, sweetheart. We'll figure it out together." Her eyes watered as she stared into the distance. "All of us." She smiled warmly at Andrew as she released him from the hug. He smiled back at first, but then his expression turned serious.
"But you're sure you can do this tonight, right?" he asked worriedly.
"Yes! I can be focused if I know I'm helping Draco. I have to do this! I can't let either of you take the Mark!"
"I know," Andrew sighed as he pulled his mom into a hug. "I know."
Severus, unseen, stepped back from the doorway.
They stood in a line in Severus' parlor. Each had donned a spell-resistant undersuit, among other protective gear. Now they waited to take a dose of the Laxo Excrucio potion. Severus finished reading over the weathered and aging potion instructions that Andrew had originally brought with him to Hogwarts. He eyed the others, who were waiting stoically, eagerly, and apprehensively. "One ounce of potion for twenty pounds of body weight," he finally pronounced.
Andrew stepped forward to perform a weight-measurement charm as Draco knelt at the low table to pour out the potion into dosing cups. "Nine…Seven…Draco, you're six…And seven for me," he finished as the numerals from his charm faded away.
Draco passed out the cups, then stood, using both hands to steady his cup. Emmaline smiled at him and rubbed his shoulder soothingly.
Andrew managed to force out the words, "Bottoms up," before downing his dose. He wrinkled his nose a little at the taste but managed to down all of it easily. Draco followed without a word, but Emmaline looked at Severus before steadily drinking hers. Severus watched the others to see if they developed an allergic reaction – though nothing in the brew should elicit one, except maybe the Re'em blood, which they knew very little about. After five minutes, when Draco had commenced pacing the length of the room and Andrew had finally taken a seat to watch him, Severus quickly drank his share.
"Do we need to go over the ritual again?" he asked.
"They'll invite us in," Draco recounted.
"But you'll speak first," Andrew reminded.
"Do not speak unless you're spoken to," Severus ordered, though it didn't sound as stern as he normally could be.
Emmaline noticed this and touched his arm. "We're all ready. Let's go."
Severus set his jaw, nodded, and then stalked out of the room. The other three followed silently.