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Poppy Pomfrey was distracted. She bustled about the small workroom off of the Infirmary attempting to bring yet more order to the tidy and already organized space, but her disturbed spirit was not soothed by the activity.

I am so disappointed in Albus, she thought, feeling sad, and, she realized, lonely.

Poppy was rarely plagued by loneliness, having so dedicated herself to the welfare of her "children" that she had little time for the emotion. But it oppresses me now, doesn't it?

She knew that there was only one thing to do at such a time.

I must pray.

The witch allowed herself to ignore the barriers she had accepted as a requirement of her existence and entered the shelter of the copse of trees that surrounded the earthen altar she had constructed shortly after coming to Hogwarts to live.

She found that she was not the only adherent of the Old Ways to seek solace in the holy place.

"Greetings, Firebright, Herd Mistress of the Centaurs," Poppy greeted the half-horse, half-human being who knelt before the mound in the center of the clearing in concentration.

The centaur rose gracefully and dipped her head in obeisance to the witch. "First Priestess, do you bring a blessing?"

"All blessings flow from Isarat, our Mother and Guide," Poppy intoned, her voice thrumming with the power of the Goddess.

"The Star is the Way, our Guide in All."

"What troubles you, my child?" the witch asked, approaching the centaur and reaching out to stroke the being's mane.

"I read strange portents in the sky, and I do not understand them, my priestess."

"And I have not come for some time," Poppy said, glancing about the clearing which was bare of all floral adornment, a state she knew she would have to correct.

"I do not presume to teach you your duties," Firebright said, accepting the woman's caress.

"A time of trouble is at hand, my child. And while it is not my place to question Isarat's ways, it is my duty to help those who are guided by Her to accept and bear them."

"We have always borne the Mother's will, lady, yet . . . the young ones . . . are unsettled."

So I see. "Your people are strong, Firebright. They will manage."

"They seek my strength, First Priestess, yet I do not feel it as I ought."

And that is because I have neglected you, I fear. "Shall we then pray together for guidance?" Poppy asked, taking her position on the mossy mound.

It had been a great age since any altar to Isarat had been made of stone. The earth and sky were all that the Goddess required to focus her children's prayers--the earth, the sky, and a Daughter of Her Hand.

The centaur raised her head and issued a call in the language of the Herding Folk, and soon, the tread of four-legged beings could be heard as they pushed through the branches of the trees and entered the temple.

"Gather in the cause of Peace," Poppy called, extending her arms as if to enfold the other worshipers in an embrace, and then she opened herself to receive Isarat's love so that it might flow through her and into the assembly.

She and the centaurs gasped as one as the Blessing washed over them, cleansing them of their fear and bathing them in the silver shimmer of the Goddess' power.

"Our Mother loves us, children, and She is with us. Cleave unto each other and know Truth."

"Our Mother is Love, our Guide through the All," the herd responded.

Tendrils of power wound through the beings in the silent wood, connecting the adherents in a Sharing that gave them strength, courage, and the peace of knowing that they each had a place in their Mother's Great Plan.

"Fear has no place amongst us, my children," the First Priestess told them in a voice not her own, as dewy green stems burst from the earth beneath the hooves of the Herding Folk, bearing with them shining silver blossoms of sweet scent.

And nor does loneliness, Papavera of the Wilds told herself, as Isarat's altar was consecrated anew.

Rededicating herself to her sacred purpose, she pledged, "I was created to heal the loss of our Mother's Presence, and here before you now I again accept my duty with the will of my mind, the love of my heart, and the gift of my very being."


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