Severus was still standing guard near the sleeping witch when Dumbledore swept into the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey intercepted the Headmaster for a low voiced chat before they both made their way over. The light was fading fast through the westward facing windows, and there was nowhere left to move the bed, so Severus stopped fussing with it. Since his last report, Severus had observed the patient move her head once more, this time with an expression of discomfort before she settled moments later. Her eyes were still moving beneath the lids, and Severus was of the opinion that she might be reading in her sleep. Considering exactly what text might be found written under her eyelids had been his current occupation when the bed started to move away. Startled, Severus whipped his head around, only to find himself the subject of intense scrutiny from the Headmaster himself. “How goes Mr Snape’s recovery, Poppy? Will he be rejoining his Housemates soon?” Before the Mediwitch could answer, Dumbledore chortled onwards, “Cat’s got your tongue, lad?”
Severus’ expression darkened, and the room dimmed along with it as the “lad” raised his wand to compose a response.
A flash of concern crossed Madam Pomfrey’s face before she interjected angrily, “Albus, that was unkind!” It was the Gryffindor Lions who did it, those favoured cubs who were not particularly punished for the act either. The Mediwitch was not so insensitive as to misunderstand the imbalance of karma that had been played out here.
After a heartbeat’s pause, his expression sincerely conciliatory, the Headmaster apologised with an incremental bow. “I simply could not resist the jest, Mr Snape. Forgive an old man.”
Madam Pomfrey sniffed irritably, and resumed pushing the bed back across the Infirmary.
Letting his fingers relax, Severus closed his eyes, counting to ten before he opened them again to return the slight bow in silent acknowledgement. The pair was turning away already, without the initial question answered - all to the better to his view. Considering how little he wanted to be back in his dormitory just yet, Severus moved to a section of the wall with a clear view of the mysterious patient’s current position, becoming almost as invisible as he felt.
Next to him, the Grey Lady stepped into view through the stone, bearing witness, and causing Severus to shiver. The air had chilled markedly in her proximity.
Dumbledore stood still at the girl’s bedside, like a heron at the water’s edge, watching intently. He had already heard the report from Poppy. With a shrug and a sidelong glance at the Mediwitch, he reached over and gently shook the sleeping form’s shoulder. Madam Pomfrey looked somewhat chagrined. No, of course, she hadn’t tried to do that. Augh. In a firm, commanding voice, the wizard said, “Miss. Young lady, it is time to wake up!” Nothing happened.
Severus had been holding his breath without realising. Why hadn’t he thought of that? He exhaled in a quiet puff of bemusement.
The Grey Lady appeared at the head of the girl’s bed and held her hand over her brow in a gesture of maternal protection. “She will wake when it is time, and no sooner, Headmaster. Your cursebreaker has determined that this sleep is not linked to her curse. Leave her be.”
Madam Pomfrey, feeling better about herself, nodded briskly. “It is so, Headmaster. She is still healing. It is described in the Healers’ tomes. We will continue with the nutrient potions. It will be well.” She reached over to pat his forearm in reassurance.
Dumbledore appeared to be annoyed with this, but backed off, stepping away from the bedside. He bowed his head, eyes closing for a moment, as if saying a prayer.
Albus found himself standing in a vast green meadow, its grasses rippling in the breeze. Before him, a road approached a bridge that crossed over an idyllic river. Sea birds soared high in the clear blue sky overhead, riding the thermals in wide, gentle circles. On the opposite bank rose a city, built up in a spiral to perch on a hill, towering overhead. Its walls were straight and white and impossibly high, and it seemed familiar, somehow. To the west, a mountain range stood shoulder to shoulder with the city, and if he went off of the path, he could touch the toes of the white-granite mountain to his right in mere moments. Steeling himself, Dumbledore strode forwards, leaving the meadow behind. He was pleased that the landscape allowed him to reach the river quickly without demanding that he run or find a horse.
What awaited him on the bridge, however, made him draw up short. A tall woman in white enameled armour stood there, her shield set down before her, its emblem shone blinding bright in the sun. It was a White Tree, lined in gold on a green field. Hovering above the stylised branches of the tree, seven stars twinkled with polychromatic light. She looked like she had just returned from battle. Her side bled freely, and a rent in her armour over her right shoulder gave him free view of pale flesh split cleanly, dark muscle laid open to the air. A huge broadsword was sheathed in a scabbard slung across her back, its hilt bloodied. A winged helm sat on her head, shading her face from view, but her eyes glinted therein. Her lips were set in a thin line. At his approach, she shifted her stance so that only her side was presented and her left arm was flung up, gauntlet-clad palm facing out. Clearly, he was being told to halt.
Albus opened his arms wide, an attempt to establish himself as an unarmed traveler. No threat.
An alarming growl rose from the maiden’s throat. Her left hand wheeled up, and at that signal the sky darkened with thousands of arrows, all heading straight at him. The ground jostled beneath him, and Albus was falling…
Severus stilled, his magical senses on high alert. Surely, the Headmaster wasn’t doing what he thought he was doing? The young wizard pushed away from the wall with a silent snarl on his face, with no clear plan on how to intercede on the girl’s behalf. Distract the Headmaster, at least.
He needed not have worried, as the matron was already intervening, one hand jostling the wizard’s sleeve insistently. “Albus! Desist immediately!” Her tone was sharp, reminding everyone that the infirmary was her bulwark, and it was her authority that ruled in here.
The Grey Lady’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. She looked at the Headmaster as though he were a boy who had been caught lifting skirts.
Dumbledore jerked under Poppy’s hand, and his eyes flew open. A faint blush spread over the Headmaster’s cheeks and he quickly changed what had been a shocked expression to one of innocent puzzlement out of some dusty corner in his past. In truth, he looked pale and drawn out.
“Perhaps it is best if I retire back to my office. I have other matters to attend to. It seems that our wait is not yet over.” He smoothly transitioned the focus of the conversation back to the Mediwitch. “May I compliment you, Poppy, on the excellent care you are providing to our guest? Surely not even the best of St Mungo’s could do better by her.” The Mediwitch relaxed her grasp on the wizard’s cuff, but her glare was still stony with disapproval.
Severus smirked at Dumbledore’s discomfiture. Caught with your telepathic hand in the biscuit tin, sir? Wait. Why wasn’t the girl transferred to St Mungo’s again? Before he could ponder this further, the Headmaster beat an oh-so-casual retreat. Nosy Legilimens. He was fortunate that his mother harboured some talent for the mind magics and had trained Severus as a way of protecting him from his father’s anger from a young age.