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Chapter 4: Pox
After Nora heard the front door close, various items from downstairs could be heard smashing into walls. The portrait of Mrs. Black screamed in shrill protest as Sirius stormed from one room to the next, picking up random objects and hurling them at portraits and vases and every solid surface he could find, blasting the larger furniture apart with spells.
“Lumos,” Nora murmured, rounding the staircase and heading toward the direction of splintering china and sparks of red, green, and blue light, which seemed to be emanating from the drawing room. She found him standing motionless in a sea of broken things, his jaw tight and eyes frozen on the floor.
Nora waved her wand and overflowing candle stubs in the glass chandelier flickered to life. “Pity,” she lamented aloud, eyeing the mahogany bookcase that lay in pieces. “I was getting quite attached to things being whole and unharmed around here.”
“That makes two of us,” he muttered under his breath so quietly that she couldn’t overhear.
“I’ll help you clean up,” she said decidedly, and together their wands restored the room to normal in just a matter of seconds.
“Breaking things helps me vent,” he confided sedately. “I wouldn’t do it if it couldn’t all be fixed instantly again…I just feel better after the exertion.”
“Whatever works,” she replied. “I just yell into a pillow, but your methods also do the trick.”
He seemed to be much more peaceful now that an outburst was out of his system. “I’m sorry about that,” he apologized, looking embarrassed. “I shouldn’t have lost my head. You ought to be throwing things at me after having to witness that sort of thing.”
Nora reached out and softly grazed his cheek with the tips of her fingers, smoothing a lock of dark hair out of his eyes and then beaming dazzlingly at him. “No harm done. Although I should punish you for all the hints you were dropping about Tonks.”
Sirius just stared at her, his eyes smoldering. Usually they were a silvery blue-grey, and easy for her to get lost into. But now they were black as pitch. Nora dropped her hand, wondering if perhaps he was still angry. Or maybe he was one of those people who didn’t like being touched. Nora did not want to get on his nerves and reminded herself to keep her hands in check. “You alright, Sirius?” she asked delicately.
He hastily melted back into his typically warm, friendly self. “Just fine,” he said, flexing his fingers. “But how are you?” He looked worried, and Nora realized he must have thought she’d be scared out of her wits about a vicious werewolf drooling over pictures of her night and day. Sirius lifted a hand as if to touch her face as well, but bit his lip anxiously and hesitated. He then slipped both hands inside his pockets.
“Pretty average, actually,” she admitted. “But a bit exhausted. I should probably go to bed so that I’m not dragging in the morning. Wonder if they serve coffee to owls at Hogwarts?” She grinned and Sirius smiled soberly, watching her turn and head into her bedroom.
Sitting on his bed in the still, black room, Sirius released a strangled breath. How he had reacted when she touched him! Presently he rubbed his cheek where her skin had brushed his, and felt a warm tingling sensation there. His eyes still blazed, pupils dilated over nearly the entire iris, all because Nora had touched him. A meaningless gesture of friendliness, and he had responded like an idiot. A zombie idiot. Her amber eyes looked so confused by his expression, and she must have chalked it up to the rest of his bizarre conduct, throwing things and yelling…
Sirius sighed, hunching over to relieve the tension in his neck and burning a hole through the door with his gaze as if he could see straight into Nora’s room. She had not shut the door properly again and he was sorely tempted to go look at her, but thought better of it. She must already think he was mental, no reason to provide more ammunition for it.
Across the landing, Nora couldn’t sleep. Propped up on one elbow she watched her curtains flapping about the glass door which led to a narrow balcony, thinking miserably. What had possessed her to just go and touch his face like that? She’d found herself unable to resist doing so any longer, and now felt like an utter moron. It was much too intimate a gesture. She was going to scare him off and would end up having to move back to Muriel’s.
Nora had always been transparent in this way; Tonks usually knew immediately when she liked a boy, and was swift to remind her that she didn’t know how to be subtle. She always gave herself away. But this was different – Sirius was not a boy, he was a man. And Nora had never felt this kind of flame in her throat before when a man looked at her, the edges of her vision never went all fuzzy when a man spoke her name with a smile on his lips.
Sirius had probably pitied her, thought her naïve and childish that she was attracted to him. Nora remembered stories about Sirius as a teenager at Hogwarts and how the girls had fawned over him. He was no stranger to admirers and could have his pick of any of them – of those who knew he wasn’t a mass murderer, that is. And now that he was a distinguished, fully grown man, what would he want with a pesky, wild and impulsive girl like herself? She’d never even gone on to train in an apprenticeship like all freshly-qualified witches and wizards from Hogwarts do. Her only motivation at the time had been to sprout wings and fly around looking for stranded Death Eaters.
Sirius was gorgeous and intelligent, witty and tender, shocking and passionate, strong and gallant. He wouldn’t waste his time on Nora after twelve years shackled in Azkaban. He would be looking for someone he deserved and wouldn’t settle.
“Might as well forget it,” she spoke into the gloom. “He’s already given me his time, his patience, a bedroom…wanting his romantic affection is probably pushing the envelope.” But she could not dissolve the image of Sirius’s ice-grey eyes plunging right through her barren soul, lifting it higher; she dwelled on the perfect curve of his lower lip, the way his shoulder-length tresses fell silkily around the shadowed jawline. Recalling the expression in those eyes just a few minutes ago when he stared at her as though drinking her in…it was unbearable.
She lay awake for hours, absorbed in her thoughts.
The next morning, Nora shut her bedroom door very carefully so as not to disturb Sirius and took each creaking stair one step at a time. But when she reached the kitchen, the door was already open and shining bright with a maze of lit candles. Sirius was seated and bracingly alert at the table despite looking like he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all. His eyes were highlighted with rings of lavender. She tried not to focus too much on the fact that his night robes were slackened at the top, revealing some of his smooth chest and a few intricate tattoos.
“I didn’t expect you to be up so early,” Nora chimed, grabbing a pumpkin pasty for a bite to eat before running off. It was still dark outside, the moon ghostly-white and swollen in the misty sky. “Usually Padfoot sleeps in until at least nine-thirty.”
He smiled, the deep dimples on either side of his mouth emphasized by candlelight. “Wanted to wish you good luck. This is your first watch at the Ministry, after all.” Sirius sighed. “Wish I could have a turn.”
“After your name’s been cleared, you can go out and put yourself in mortal danger as often as you like,” she said teasingly. “And now I’ve got to get to Hogwarts before it’s time for breakfast.” He followed her upstairs to the front door and opened it for her. She slipped into the oversized green travelling cloak – which would pop into nonexistence once she transformed into an owl and then come back when she needed it tonight at the Ministry – and turned to say goodbye.
“It would be so much faster and easier for you to just apparate,” he reminded her for the eighteenth time.
“It’s been ages since I’ve flown,” she said. “And I think feathers are a good look for me.”
“Be safe,” Sirius told her, his eyes gentle and grave.
“Be good,” she warned in return. He raised his eyebrows.
“Not a whole lot of ways to get into trouble here,” he said. “Unless that ghoul comes round again. Maybe I’ll go looking for him, call him pock-marked and see if he fancies a row. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a nice scrap.” But Nora merely smiled.
“See you tomorrow, Sirius.”
“Until then,” he murmured softly, watching her stride into the deserted road outside Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. She extended her arms out on either side and tilted her head sky-wards, shrinking instantly into a snowy owl with grey-tipped feathers, beating her wings roughly to remain airborne. Nora swiveled her head 180 degrees to pierce him with her magnified eyes under an arch of sleek white fur. Even as an animal, Nora’s unflinching gaze sent a flush climbing up his neck.
He watched, drooping in the doorway under a weight of exhaustion from having not slept all night, eyes burning despite the fresh morning winds flowing in. Sirius remained there until Nora was nothing more than a speck in the sky, until she was gone entirely, and then long after she was gone. He finally dropped his concentration, retreating into the empty House of Black, feeling hollow and lonely already. A small V-shape remained wherever his eyes darted, a result from staring so resolutely at the owl that its figure had stamped an imprint on his vision.
Today was October the first, and as October dignified itself as both scenic and chilly in temperature, it wasted no time at all in living up to its seasonal reputation. From Nora’s perspective far above, the treetops were a sea of rustling ebony leaves, their pale underbellies navy blue. She loved the feel of cool air encircling her wings, of fog shrouding her within a sheen of pearly white condensation. Nora stretched her wings just a bit more, shaking some of the moisture from her slick feathers and dipping below the clouds to gain a better view of the river. This river, she knew, would lead right through the mountains into Hogsmeade.
Nora had forgotten how much clearer everything was behind these strong eyes, and suddenly her human memories felt blurry and obscure. Saying goodbye to Sirius had been like an electric shock – seeing him through her owl’s eyes was quite astonishing. Every inch of his face was distinct and more vividly striking than ever before, elegance and beauty carved into the array of colors that made up his skin tone, the lines and soft textures of his fine features. Handsome didn’t even begin to cover it.
The rising sun now glistened off of the illuminated river, churning white and liquid gold, and shining like a spectacular rainbow over all of the shimmering, water-beaded leaves. Amber turned to bronze, bronze became ruby under the stinging glare of sunrise. She flexed her neck and shoulder muscles, dive-bombing for thirty feet and then swirling back up to do a loop. No wonder she had been such a great flier on the Quidditch pitch – it was in her blood, searing in her veins. She had been born to soar at great heights.
Nora weaved betwixt a labyrinth of gnarled ash trees and shot like an arrow over the river’s foaming surface, skimming the tips of her wings along the frothy substance and watching idly as a school of neon blue fish streaked along below, feeling the overhanging boughs of springy moss on either bank caress her glossy feathers.
She catapulted into the clouds once more, losing the ribbon of water that threaded all through the hills as elation coursed through her lean body. She was designed to hurl and fly and fall through thin air with nothing but her own two wings to support her, wings made of steely muscle and dependent bones. And her eyes, so superior to other creatures’ eyes, were capped with reflective layers that rebounded light and made it possible for her to fly headfirst into the prism of diamond-flecked sunlight, challenging that gigantic ball of fire with her sharp vision and diving, tumbling, into circles as she did so.
Flying was definitely the way to travel.
The flood of liberation that accompanies flying made Nora forget why she’d abandoned the lifestyle in the first place. But then as she lost track of time and the river and swooped low to hunt for the heady scent of rushing water, her bubbling euphoria ebbed away and she remembered she had a school of witchcraft and wizardry to be getting to. Lowering her head along the same plane as her wings to provide a more aerodynamic effect and tucking her legs in, Nora steamed ahead like a jet of light.
The twinkling stars had evaporated along with hues of blue, pink, and purple. Now there was only coppery yellow, scarlet, and fiery orange on the scene as Nora flew over Hogsmeade, eyes focused on the stone-roofed Owlery of Hogwarts that rose out of the distance like a firing cannon. Towers loomed close by, and she could see the Astronomy professor straight through the window of one, spreading charts of constellations on her desk to prepare for a lesson. Nora curved faintly to the right and the professor vanished behind what was now brilliant ruby glass glinting in the sunlight, reminiscent of colorful church windows.
You’re going to be late, she thought anxiously to herself, rendered incapable of speaking aloud in this body. Yet another reason to look forward to coming back home tomorrow and living as a human. Having someone to talk to was definitely better than having wings.
She fanned out her wings and keeled her legs forward, gliding through the crumbling stone windows of the Owlery. And as her luck would have it, she found it vacant aside from a handful of snoozing owls. Nora knew the rest of them had already been let in through the towering front doors, were already delivering mail and preening their feathers on the rafters of the Great Hall. Bunch of show-off prats.
Nora inwardly grumbled and sped off towards the castle, examining all of the windows until she found one that had been left open and sauntered inside. Navigation got a bit tricky at this stage, as many students roaming along on the way to their first classes tried to grab at her.
“It’s a mad owl! They never try to go anywhere else besides the Great Hall.”
“Reckon this one’s gone rogue?”
“Offer him some of your toast, Neville. Owls love toast.”
“Don’t got any on me, though it does look a bit peckish. Think it might be lost?”
“Looks kind of like Harry Potter’s owl, now you mention it.”
“Oi, Harry!” another kid called out. “Is this your Hedwig?” Nora spotted the mop of untidy jet-black hair and the frazzled young boy beneath it, fighting his way through the crowd back to Neville just as he was about to descend a staircase into the dungeons.
“No, that’s not Hedwig,” Harry confirmed, glancing up at her and then quickening his pace. “I think I dropped my wand somewhere around here, though; It’s going to get stepped on and Snape’ll kill me if I show up without it.”
Nora zoomed around in a circle before promptly spotting the lost wand, and scooping it up in her beak she returned to Harry and dropped it into his outstretched palms.
“Smart bird!” Neville said with a note of awe in his voice. “Could’ve used Accio, I suppose. I forgot about that…”
“Hey, I know that bird!” someone very familiar shouted. It was Ron Weasley, Nora’s cousin, who had watched her fly around The Burrow as an owl hundreds of times. “That’s not an owl, that’s my –” But Nora did not let him finish his sentence. She nipped his finger with her beak and he shut up, thankfully getting the message. His friend Hermione, however, was frowning suspiciously.
Nora followed them down the winding stairs into a rather formidable classroom in the dungeons. The walls and floor were damp and cold, and everything thrown into dim shadows from the radiance of six torches spaced sparsely apart, gleaming in their rusty brackets. “You should finish your essays for McGonagall while we’re waiting,” Hermione told Ron and Harry after they’d gathered at a table near the back. “I’m going to work on my ‘spew’ pamphlets.” Harry’s eyes roved over the empty teacher’s desk, satisfied that whoever taught the class was missing.
“Enough about spew.” Ron rolled his eyes.
“It’s not spew, Ron, it’s S.P.E.W. and I think you really ought to be more respectful about it. I traced your family lineage and it turns out your ancestors had quite a lot of elves…” She drifted off, scratching her quill on some shuffled papers, her attitude one of fervent determination. Ron and Harry bowed their heads together, talking swiftly in low voices and looking resentful about something.
“That bloody old hag,” Ron sputtered, glaring peevishly as he pulled some scribbled-on parchment out of his bag. “How’re we supposed to pass our O.W.L.s when she won’t even let us pick up our wands? I’d like to take her neck and –”
“Ronald!” Hermione hissed, jerking her head into the direction of one corner they’d overlooked. A squat little witch with a bow in her hair was watching the trio with a broad grimace on her flabby, toad-like face. Nora knew her right away – this was Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic. She knew Umbridge was at Hogwarts to keep a tight lid over Dumbledore, and according to Sirius was not letting her students in Defense Against the Dark Arts actually practice magic. They were only permitted to learn theories from books, because the Ministry feared children would use these defensive spells against Fudge.
“She must be here to observe Snape and make sure everything he teaches is ‘Ministry approved’,” Hermione guessed sensibly.
“Excellent,” Ron said under his breath, eyes sparkling mischievously. “But who do we root for?”
“We root for them to do each other in,” Harry whispered. He glanced down at his table and wiped at it with his sleeve. “Dusty mess, this is. You’d think Filch might clean up once in a while.”
“Silence!” a loud, angry voice filled the room. So far, no one noticed Nora from her perch on a glass jar filled with a mysterious yellow liquid and globs of something that looked eerily close to human eyeballs. To her bewilderment, the violent voice was followed by Severus Snape, the Potions master with slick black hair, sallow skin, and a hooked nose. He strode into the room looking irritated, and waved his wand at the door to slam shut behind him.
“Open your books to page 291. There you will find a list of required ingredients and directions for the potion called Dragotoxius. Can any of your dense little minds tell me what this particular potion does?”
Hermione’s hand shot up into the air, but he ignored it. A sneer spread over his face, especially when his eyes flitted across Harry. “I see that most of you did not bother to pay attention last lesson, where I mentioned it. Of course, the famous Potter assumed he was too important to learn why a solution to dragon pox might be essential today.” Several students at the front of the class sniggered, even though they clearly had not known what the potion was about, either.
Harry looked mutinous, but he refused to be provoked. “It would enlighten you to know, Potter, that when brewed correctly, Dragotoxius successfully eliminates one’s body of the highly contagious disease called dragon pox. Dragon pox, as I’m certain you aren’t aware, was responsible for the deaths of over seven-hundred witches and wizards in the eighteenth century, as it was left untreated during a Quidditch World Cup.” Severus paused, fixing Harry with an especially haughty stare.
“Hem, hem,” a high, girlish voice piped up.
Severus did not acknowledge Umbridge, who was tapping her foot on the floor and trying to capture his attention. “No doubt these unfortunate souls thought that watching an ongoing Quidditch match for sixteen straight days in the north of Russia was much more imperative than trivial little nuisances such as curing dragon pox. I should mention that a Seeker was one of the first to die. Weak, he was. Too arrogant to listen.”
“Today I am going to infect you all with a dose of dragon pox.” There was an eruption of yelps throughout the classroom, which he silenced with one look. “It will be up to you to concoct your own cauldron of Dragotoxius, the only known treatment.”
Dolores Umbridge then stepped out of the corner, smiling blandly. “Hem-hem,” she repeated.
“Is there a problem?” he finally asked her, his voice cutting.
She bestowed him with the most civil of smiles. “Professor Snape, I am sure that you are spot-on about Potter’s unfamiliarity with potions and all-things-academic. However…” she drew a breath, smiling even wider, “it has fallen upon me to inform you that administering dragon pox to a classroom full of underage and unqualified children is in direct violations of Ministry guidelines.”
“Too late,” he breathed silkily, not the least bit intimidated. “I already distributed a fine powder laced with the infection all over their desks. By now, they’ll be starting to itch. In a moment, they’ll be cropping spots.”
Lavender Brown, who had been scratching her elbow absentmindedly with her wand, gave a little squeal of panic, her face white as parchment.
“After one half hour, there is danger of permanent scarring,” Severus continued, clearly relishing the audience’s reaction. “After approximately sixty minutes, the spots will ooze black liquid when touched. If you wish to prevent this, I recommend whipping up the potion quickly. Let’s see how well you follow orders when you experience a little itch.”
“I’m going to die!” Neville whispered from across his table to Harry, trembling and looking stricken. “I’ll never get it right. I’ll die from dragon pox in sixteen days!”
“I’m sure he’s bluffing,” Hermione replied assuredly. “A professor can’t infect his students with a deadly contagion. It says specifically in Hogwarts, a History –”
“Twenty points from Gryffindor for your incessant chattering,” Severus snapped, his black eyes flashing fiercely at Hermione and her friends. “Go and fetch your ingredients and begin working. You have one hour. I will not provide a remedy if you are all too thick to make your own.” All of the students jumped to their feet, knocking into each other in a hectic rush to reach the store cupboards filled with ingredients.
Severus craned his neck very, very slowly to scowl at Umbridge. “What?”
“Do you often allow birds to sit in your classroom and observe lessons about potion-making?” she wanted to know.
His eyelids drooped with loathing. “What are you on about now?”
Umbridge pointed one pudgy, ring-adorned finger at Nora, who cast the woman her most odious stare. “You’ve got an owl up there, or haven’t you noticed?”
Something registered in Severus’s eyes, which narrowed when he turned them upwards at Nora. A half-smile crept upon his lips. “Ah. It seems we have a guest.”
“Yes,” Umbridge replied in a huff. “Now, do get one of your students to see this creature to the Owlery. If there is one thing I do not like, it’s those lice-infested bats the Headmaster so freely deems fit to sit in the Great Hall every morning, roosting above our heads while we’re supposed to eat. I insist you hurry and rid us of the filthy thing.”
Nora was offended. She had been dirty before, as an owl. She had been rain-soaked and rather smelly, and once suffered a sprained leg from an attack by a raven who did not like sharing his tree. But never in all of her eight years as an Animagus did she ever have lice. She took off, beating her wings perilously close to Umbridge’s face and hooting loudly, coming to a rest on Severus’s desk.
“Aaghh!” Dolores screamed, patting at her hair and face. “It touched me! It touched me!” Severus met Nora’s memorable amber eyes and looked simply bemused. “Get it out of the classroom!” she raved. Nora hooted again, ruffling her feathers and sticking her beak up in the air like the very dignified owl that she was.
The students seemed torn between the anticipation of watching a stray owl attack Umbridge again and mixing a cure for the disease that had manifested itself as pale purple spots all over their skin. Ron was scratching the ones on his back by rubbing against the edge of a table and Harry dug vigorously at one on his scalp. Hermione alone seemed immune to the itch, resisting all urges to claw at herself.
“The more you scratch it, the more the pox spreads,” she informed them airily. Ron, indeed, was so covered in purple pox by now that he looked like a pygmy puff in a red wig.
“Do you think Madam Pomfrey will set me right if I can’t make the potion?” Neville was asking Harry, jumping around and scratching himself so roughly that he accidentally spilled six lacewing flies into his cauldron instead of the mandatory one. “I wonder if dittany works for dragon pox scars.”
“I would have thought you wouldn’t want to get rid of your dragon pox, Fatbottom,” a boy with white-blond hair and a pale, pointed face jeered.
“Ignore him,” Hermione urged, chopping her gurdyroots and scraping the juice into her already-steaming potion.
But Neville, whose round face had crumpled with uncertainty, said, “What do you mean by that?”
Nora had paid attention to the lives of existing Death Eaters, kept tabs on those she suspected to still be in the loop. This boy was Draco Malfoy, Lucius and Narcissa’s son. And from the looks of it, he had inherited his father’s self-righteous smirk. “I meant, you brainless dunderhead, that with dragon pox you earn a free ticket to St. Mungo’s. Plenty of opportunity to check in with ole Mum and Dad.”
“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry said through his teeth.
“Yeah, how ‘bout you take a trip into the Forbidden Forest and ask a giant spider for directions,” Ron added. And in an undertone, he added to Harry, "What's he talking about?"
Draco tossed a few extra beetles through the air, which scattered into Harry and Ron’s cauldrons. What had previously been olive green potions simmering demurely now flushed pink and started bubbling. “Have fun with the pox, Potty and Weasel. Tell Mummy my aunt says hi, Neville.”
Nora screeched indignantly. The Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom had been Gideon and Petula Prewett’s best friends. Nora played with baby Neville as a child, had gone on holiday with their family. Even after Bellatrix Lestrange tortured Neville’s parents into insanity, Nora visited them very often. Her mother had once shared a hospital room with them while her own ward was being remodeled. Petula had been in St. Mungo’s for many years, her brain addled by the memories of Gideon’s violent death. And Nora would be damned if she’d let a snot-nosed little Slytherin like Malfoy have a go at the Longbottoms and get away with it.
She swooped around Draco’s head and scratched at him with her talons, smacking his face with her wings and consequently multiplying the pox all over his eyelids. They were soon so weighed down with dragon pox spots that he could not open his eyes at all, and screamed in anguish. “Get it off me!” he demanded, and two rather burly-looking boys bumbled over to his aid, strangling Malfoy in an effort to get at the furious owl.
A jet of yellow light nearly zapped Nora right in her hindquarters, and she screeched again. Rapidly soaring away, she saw that Umbridge had her wand out, aiming curses at her. “No!” Severus protested. “You could hit a student by mistake.”
Umbridge was not listening, she was still firing mixtures of yellow, orange, and green sparks at Nora, who was doing a sort of dance to miss them. “How does it know?” Umbridge cried shrilly. “Every time I point my wand, it moves!”
Ron Weasley had collapsed on the floor laughing, and Harry and Neville were simply dumbstruck. Hermione was laboring over her potion, which matched the color and consistency of a picture of Dragotoxius in her open book. Draco was batting blindly at the air above his head, paranoid that the owl might still be hanging around up there.
“Get away, you nasty parasite!” Umbridge ordered the owl, flinging open the classroom door in vain hopes that Nora would leave. “Shoo!” Nora scuttled from desk to desk, clicking her beak and nipping Slytherins at random. “For Merlin’s sake, Professor Snape, conjure up a cage and stuff that vermin into it!”
“Are you sure I’m qualified to do that?” Severus responded in an irked tone. “Your review there states that I am an incompetent teacher and in dire need of shampoo.” Umbridge snatched the clipboard from where she’d dropped it at his feet and clutched it to her chest, but the damage was already done. “I assure you that I know more about potions than the entire Ministry collectively.”
Umbridge looked like she had swallowed a lemon and was preparing to rebuke him when Nora passed by and with one easy swish, nicked the witch’s wand.
“No! My wand!” Umbridge made to swipe it from her but Nora was already gone, zooming overhead in circles. Pandemonium ensued and the only person with potion that resembled the creamy mauve one in the book was Hermione.
Nora hovered just over the toad-like woman’s head as if to taunt her, and Umbridge tried to steal Severus’s wand so she could continue casting Stunning Spells. “I don’t think so,” Severus snarled.
“Drop dung on her, drop dung on her, drop dung on her,” Ron encouraged under his breath, eyes glittering and potion completely abandoned. He was so sidetracked by the pandemonium that he’d forgotten to scratch his spots. Draco’s friends, however, were tearing at their skin and smearing a black inky substance all over themselves. It had been sixty minutes – the spots were now oozing.
Hermione reached over and tried to rectify Ron’s potion, muttering about him being a prefect and not caring in the least whether he failed all of his end of the year exams; he was going to sabotage any chance for a career because he hadn’t paid attention in class and bothered to learn how to properly dice a line of puffapod seeds before adding them to a boiling Dragotoxius potion.
“Pathetic,” Severus was telling Neville, ladling a bit of oily brown goop and letting it plop, plop, plop back into the cauldron. “Obviously not stirred anticlockwise after every third ingredient, and your lack of dexterity cost me five lacewing flies and at least three Himalayan beetles. Let us hope you do not actually ingest this worthless muck, Longbottom, or you’re likely to gag to death on your own vomit.”
Harry’s potion was billowing with an acrid orange smoke, and Severus waltzed over to him next with an evil leer on his face, ignoring Umbridge’s pleas to help her kill the owl. Nora picked and poked at Umbridge while Severus upbraided his students for their substandard tonics, declaring they would all die a painful and imminent death if not for the inconveniently-soft Hospital Wing staff. “How very tragic that would be,” he told Harry in a derisive manner. “Another Seeker with miserably insufficient talent when it comes to any type of skill requiring intellectual aptitude. You can all look forward to failing your Potions O.W.L.s.”
“By decree of the High Inquisitor, you are hereby suspended if you do not help me get rid of this flying rat!” Dolores Umbridge howled at him.
“I wish I was able to help you,” Severus replied softly. “But as teachers are no longer permitted to use jinxes or hexes in front of students, thanks to your latest rule at Hogwarts, it appears I am helpless.”
“I’m not talking about jinxes or hexes, you idiot!” she ranted. “I’m talking Avada Kedavra!”
She was then encased in such a flurry of angry wings that she could do nothing but cower on the floor and shriek incantations even though she’d lost her weapon. Ron Weasley had tears streaming down his purple face, Hermione was sulking over mediocre marks on what Severus had called an ‘adequate’ potion, and Harry looked eager to join the blind brawl between Draco and Neville, who were slipping and sliding on an ocean of black goop that trickled fluidly from their pores.
Umbridge then tore away from the scene, waving her arms as she went and screaming. “You’d better dash, Nora,” Severus casually advised, watching the owl with his cavernous black eyes and suppressing a smile.
Nora hooted and dropped Umbridge’s wand – thank goodness, it tasted like toad sweat – and nibbled on Severus’s ear. He blushed, an unexpected reaction on that sallow skin, and actually laughed.
The room fell silent, like a cloud of death.
Every single student had turned to gawk at their Potions master, jaws dropped as if they’d just been Stunned. Even Draco had his head turned toward the source of baritone laughter, although his black-and-purple eyes were shut.
Severus seemed a bit unnerved, and hesitated as though not knowing what to do for a moment before bellowing, “Twenty-four inches of parchment on the elements of Dragotoxius and how they influence one another to provide a healing effect, to be handed in next lesson.”
Just then Argus Filch burst into the room with Umbridge hot on his heels and Nora decided now would be a good time to make a break for it – faster than a Snitch she zoomed over his head, up the stairs, and out the window. Dumbledore would not be pleased that Nora would only be able to check on Harry during breakfasts with other owls so as not to draw Umbridge’s attention, but she did not regret attacking that vile woman or Malfoy’s son.
And then the image of Sirius fluttered into her mind as she swept toward the sky in the direction of London and the Ministry of Magic. He would have undoubtedly thought the whole ordeal very humorous, and he would have gotten that cocky grin on his face when he heard the retort about Snape needing shampoo, his twinkling pale eyes creasing as he doubled over laughing. It was all such a very realistic prediction in Nora’s mind that she wondered for a moment if she didn’t have a bit of Seer blood in her.