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Chapter 4: The Sacrifice of the Root
It didn’t smell like she’d expected.
Pomona remembered the first time she had ever used a mandrake root for a potion. She had been studying to become a healer, then, before sickness began to scare her, and death became something to avoid at all costs.
It was a sweet smell, nutty, a little bit like cinnamon, but without the edge. It was warm, and enveloping, and like mint on the skin--refreshing, tingling. Your lungs would swell with the scent, and you felt light, like a balloon.
She found out later from Lumina, to whom she’d written daily while she was away in London, that mandragora wasn’t an uncommon aphrodisiac. That made sense. Pomona had nodded curtly at the letter, promptly folding it and shoving it into a drawer.
Pomona treasured Lumina’s letters. She kept them now, with her, in her small briefcase; the most special ones. That particular letter did not travel with Pomona, but remained in the same drawer in the same desk in a small flat in Hogsmeade. The letters were bright, warm, emanating life. She’d take them out from time to time to stare at them, tracing the generous curvature of the y’s and g’s with her eyes longingly.
Pomona started as there was a timid rap on the greenhouse door. She could see through the waved, frosted glass that it was a child--a student. She carefully placed her knife down beside the cutting board and made her way slowly towards the other end of the long building. She had stationed herself in Greenhouse 1, but there were still some grabby plants with generous feelers she would rather avoid.
She saw a little more clearly the elongated dome of a black robe set and the Hogwarts uniform pointed black hat through the glass. Trailing down from the hat a thin quantity of dirty blond hair. Pomona’s heart gave a queer little beat and she steadied herself quickly.
She opened the door to see little first-year Luna Lovegood standing serenely at the outside of the greenhouse door. It was budding summer beyond her, the Hogwarts grounds a brilliant display of green lawns and flowering bushes and trees.
“Hello, Luna,” she said, keeping her voice level with some difficulty.
“Good evening, Professor Sprout! Professor Snape sent me to help you--he’s not available for another couple hours. He told me,” she said, bending towards Pomona slightly with awe and reverence for the information she was about to impart, “that he had to go see Professor Dumbledore.”
Pomona smiled gently. “Dumbledore is a wonderful man. I’m so glad he’s back,” she added with a shiver. “Pure idiocy to send him away.” She bristled at the thought of Lucius Malfoy and his yes men on the school board. “But do come in, dear, come in!”
She stepped aside to let Luna in. It wasn’t until Luna had passed her and Pomona was safely out of the girl’s sight that she allowed herself to heave a quiet sigh, wiping a tear from her eye.
She thought that maybe...maybe if they had ever figured out what had done it. Maybe then she could find some sort of peace.
Henry had been inconsolable. Pomona had been confused; it wasn’t that she didn’t love Lumina, of course not. She had just rather...rather fancied that she had been his favourite. That Pomona had been his favourite. Only it was no excuse, favourite or not--he would obviously feel grief. He just seemed to feel it more than the rest of them. More, even, than Pomona.
At first. It was a shock to her. She numbed. She began fearing the lime green robes, the smell of the corridors, the glimpses she had of patients through the small windows in the doors. It was the fear of many things, packed into a single feeling of a fleeting heart and a body willing, at any moment, to collapse in on itself. It was a fear of what was here--sickness. It was a fear of death. It was a fear of the fallibility of even magic to cure every ill--to catch, to identify every sickness.
Because they never knew what it was. Her symptoms were nonexistent until...the end. Like they waited to get it over with quickly. There was nothing that Pomona, or even the more experienced healers could have ever detected of her clandestine demise.
That never helped the guilt go away. She knew it was irrational. But she was always guilty.
Seeing Luna--knowing Xeno had lost not only Lumina, but later on, too, his wife--it brought back the old fears.
But Luna knew nothing of her history...her innocence, despite all that she had witnessed, was enviable.
“This is quite a lot of Mandrakes,” Luna said quietly as Pomona joined her before the long table. It was true--they covered cutting boards stretching from end to end of the long wooden planks. She had been cutting the roots all day.
“We need so many,” Pomona explained gently, finding it very easy to resume a professor’s tone, “because they’re a bit younger than you’d preferably use. But they’re old enough to use, and we don’t want the poor dears who were petrified to stay in their state longer than needed.”
“What are you going to use to revive Sir Nicholas?” Luna asked interestedly, picking up a knife very carefully and pulling an uncut root towards her. “Oh, this isn’t very pleasant, is it? They look like children.”
Pomona nodded sympathetically. “I know, dear. It’s difficult for me. Why it takes me so long.” She sighed, preparing a few of the other ingredients for the restorative draught while Luna worked diligently. “For Sir Nicholas, it will be more like a steam bath.”
Luna nodded. “You’ll heat it for him, and the steam will wake him up?”
“I can’t pretend to understand the specifics of it,” Pomona replied, brusquely decapitating a dead toad. “You’d have to ask Madam Pomfrey for details, but it’s rather like you say.”
A comfortable silence passed between them. It felt just a little bit like old times, stewing nonsensical potions, made-up brews, in the back shed with Lumina when they were about Luna’s age.
Luna emanated the same sort of inquisitive calm, the same dependable light. The similarities between her name and Lumina’s were not lost on Pomona, either. Pomona knew that Xeno had been paying just a little tribute to a girl who had made many of his young adult years worthwhile.
“You’re good at Potions,” Pomona said. Her tone voiced a question, but it was unnecessary to ask--Severus would never have sent a student unless she had quite more than a bit of competence at brewing.
“Oh,” Luna said modestly, slicing perfect medallions. “Professor Snape seems to think so. You know, he’s grumpy a lot of the time, but sometimes he looks at me in a very kind way. Like he likes me a little. Not like he treats Harry Potter,” she said casually.
Harry Potter. Pomona shook her head with awe. “I heard he saved little Ginny Weasley from the Chamber of Secrets!”
Luna nodded. “Ginny is my friend! I’m so glad Harry saved her. I also heard it was You-Know-Who who opened it, both times.” Luna was a little solemn, her tone dropping, barely perceptible.
“Yes,” Pomona said, holding a hand to her chest. Her heart quivered in a pulse of fear. “Merlin, I never thought I’d hear that he was still cavorting around, causing trouble.”
“My father says he thinks Voldemort isn’t really dead. He thinks he’s in a spirit form, searching for the Deathly Hallows.”
“Your father was always a staunch believer,” Pomona whispered genially, shaking her head.
“You know Daddy?”
Pomona froze, her hand hovering over a pile of glittering black beetle eyes. She nodded quickly and went back to work. “We were at school together.”
“I never knew that! Was he very strange as a child, too?”
“Eccentricity isn’t something I’ve generally found advances with age,” Pomona said lightly, smiling a bit. “It’s always in you.”
“Ah, yes. I would have been very surprised, I suppose, if you said he hadn’t been.”
There was a brief quiet in which neither spoke. It was thin, comfortable, easy to breathe.
“Then you probably went to school with Professor Lockhart, too!” Luna said suddenly. “Daddy said he was at school with him.” She paused, and Pomona’s heart beat quickly. “Daddy doesn’t like him very much. Although, I suppose he won’t speak so ill of him now,” she added.
A dousing cold flooded Pomona’s veins. Her heart beat slowly, pounded in her ears.
“Why? What’s happened?”
Luna appeared slightly alarmed at Pomona’s desperate tone.
“You didn’t hear?” the girl asked softly, timidly. Her eyes were suddenly wise, sympathetic in a way that Pomona did not welcome. “His memory’s been wiped clean. He hardly remembers magic, even.”
It wasn’t like she would have expected to feel. She was suddenly very light, and when she looked about her, she was looking down on life, everything from above, suddenly put into perspective.
“Oh,” she said simply, turning to prod the burner with her wand. “Oh, how very sad.”
They worked in silence. Pomona’s heart began to twist and turn, to pulse and shove against her ribs. It needed out. It needed somewhere safe.
Her mind flashed back to You-Know-Who--it being him who opened the chamber.
It didn’t seem like anything was safe.
She gathered a small pile of mandrake root into her hands and held them tenderly, thanking them quietly for their sacrifice, dipping them into the giant cauldron tenderly, with a sudden passion. Tears streamed down her face as she thought the children will wake. The children will wake, and they will be safe.
It had been a week since Harry Potter had saved Ginny Weasley’s life in the Chamber of Secrets. It had been a week since Gilderoy had had his mind wiped clean.
Pomona hoped that at least he was happy. Perhaps his insecurities had vanished with his memory.
She had taken the first train to London she had been able to book, and she had headed straight to St. Mungo’s, up to the fifth floor, where they were keeping him. Where, she should say, he was staying.
To her surprise, although with hindsight, she should not have really been surprised--she had found a long queue snaking through the corridor into the lobby after she exited the lift. But of course. Gilderoy was, after all, a self-proclaimed novelty. Pomona couldn’t help but notice that most of the people waiting were witches.
She clasped the small pot of Snapdragons closer to her chest, clearing her throat mildly. She had tied a lavender ribbon around its middle, in the faint and desperate hope that it might trigger something--some memory.
Pomona sighed, looking at the backs of the women ahead of her in line. She counted at least fifteen. As the queue inched forward, she caught a small glimpse of Gilderoy through the blinded window of his luxury suite, colour-coordinated, as always, in deep blue indigo robes and a matching hat.
She smiled widely, tears prickling the corners of her eyes. I haven’t lost him, she thought, reaching into her robes and running a finger over a smooth envelope, over the smooth wax seal.
Here I am and I’ll wait in line always...always.
a/n: last line is a section of lyrics from Coldplay's Parachute.
Hope you enjoyed!