Orion's funeral was a rather lavish affair, simply because there were so many people there. Besides the Black family and friends, there were the entire Auror force, a good many Ministry officials, the entire Hogwarts staff, the Auror Academy staff and many of the trainees, and even some of the hospital staff from St. Mungos. Orion had been well respected and liked during his many years serving in law enforcement, and the manner of his death caused people to mourn him even more than normal.
Sirius, Regulus, James, Severus, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Rufus Scrimgeour were pallbearers, carrying the coffin to the gravesite. Bartemius Crouch, Head of Magical Law Enforcement, did a eulogy, citing the many accomplishments of Auror Black, who always gave 110%, above and beyond the call of duty. "We shall not see his like again, in this generation or the next. I was honored to have known and served with him, he is the example all who aspire to be Aurors should look to. May Merlin welcome him beyond the Veil in Paradise."
Walburga and her daughter-in-laws also spoke of how Orion was not only a great Auror, but also a loving father and husband, one who valued family as well as duty, and bore no prejudices towards half-bloods or Muggleborns like many purebloods.
There was much applause at those words, and it echoed on the air, for there were over a hundred mourners at the funeral, making it one of the largest funerals on record. Once the speeches were done, the coffin, a gorgeous cherry wood box with carved angels on it at the corners, was lowered into the ground. The Black family threw in a handful of dirt each on top of the coffin before stepping back and letting the rest of the mourners process up to the grave and also throw in a handful of dirt.
Walburga was pale beneath the veil of her black hat and long black dress, but she shed no tears. Tears were for in private, and she was too proud to let strangers and acquaintances see her lose her composure. Her sons were likewise stoic, though her daughter-in-laws allowed a few tears to escape.
While they watched the long procession pass by the coffin, Sirius spoke quietly to Regulus, "I still can't believe he's gone. Even though I saw it happen, it still feels unreal. Like a nightmare."
"I know. When I was in that cell, with his blood all over me, there was still a part that expected him to come for me. He'd just walk down the hall and unlock the door and say, "Come on, Reg. We're going home." Just like that." Reg's jaw clenched hard.
Sirius nodded. "When I think of all the times I argued with him, I was such a little prick, all that time wasted . . . I just want to kick my own ass."
"He forgave you, though."
The elder Black brother shook his head. "Don't ask me how. He should have kicked my ass more often."
"He had Mum for that," Regulus teased.
"I guess so. Still . . . when I look back at everything I did . . ."
"You shouldn't. Past regrets pay no debts," Regulus reminded his brother, quoting a phrase Orion had often used.
"Easy for you to say, little brother. You don't have much to regret. You were the good son."
"Was I? I lied to him for years about what I was doing. I figured for sure once he knew he would throw me out. Him and Mum both. I wanted so many times to tell him, to ask for help, but I didn't dare. I was afraid to put them in danger, afraid to tell them the truth. It was only when he was dying that I finally found the courage to tell him what I was."
"And what did he say?"
"He said . . . he'd like to make Dumbledore pay. He understood." Reg blinked back tears.
Sirius was quiet for a moment, thinking about all the times when they were in school that he had mocked and ridiculed his little brother, accusing him of going dark, while all the while Regulus had been risking his neck spying on the enemy. "I was such a huge ass to you, Reg."
"Uh huh, you were. But that's typical." Regulus managed a smile.
"I don't know how you can forgive me."
His brother shrugged. "You're my brother, that's how."
"Thank you. How's Cindy holding up?"
"As well as can be expected. I'm just thankful this news didn't make her go into premature labor."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "That would be terrible."
"It wouldn't be good, that's for sure. Cindy and I decided that if we had a boy, we'd name him Orion, after Dad."
"That's good. He'd have liked that."
"I haven't decided on a girl's name yet. I think I'll let Cindy pick that one."
"Are you hoping for a boy then?"
"I'll take whatever God sees fit to give me. But I'm expecting a boy because the Black line usually runs to boys."
"Except with Uncle Cygnus," Sirius reminded him.
"Right. Then again . . . sometimes I wonder about that. Bella, Andi, and Cissy all look so different . . ."
Sirius nearly choked on his laughter. "What are you suggesting, Reg? That Aunt Druella had some men on the side?"
"Hey, you know what they say about the Rosier family. And Cygnus was never what you'd call . . . exciting or handsome and it was an arranged marriage. If I had to speculate, I'd say he sired Bellatrix and the other two are from secret lovers." Regulus smirked.
Sirius put his hand over his mouth, his shoulders shaking with silent mirth. "Don't . . . Merlin help you, Reg! Don't let Mum hear you say that. She'll skin you for casting aspersions on the family name."
"I doubt it. She's too busy plotting with Eileen and Lily's mum Polly on ways to revenge themselves on Dumbledore."
Sirius scowled. "That bloody old fart! How could he use kids for spies, put them in danger like that?"
"You have to admit, it was clever, but . . . he did it for the greater good. Or so he told us."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Greater good, my mother's ass!"
"Excuse me?" Walburga turned to glare at her eldest.
Sirius blushed. "Sorry, Mum. I was just discussing the old man in the office."
Walburga's lips pursed. "They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, so is the road to the greater good. Thank Merlin he's gone, it was all I could do not to spit in his face when he offered his condolences."
"That makes two of us," Sirius murmured.
"Just what are you going to do to him?" asked Regulus. "You aren't going to kill him, are you?"
Walburga rolled her eyes. "Killing's too good for the likes of him. I want him to suffer for his presumption and audacity."
"Who? The one who killed Orion?" asked Dickon. He had come up to toss in a handful of dirt and overheard Walburga's statement.
"No, he's already dead, my son took care of that, Dickon. You mean Severus or Eileen didn't tell you yet?"
"No, but I was going to when we had a free moment," Eileen said, coming up beside her husband.
"Tell me what?" Dickon asked, looking puzzled.
Eileen pulled her husband over behind a large oak tree that overlooked the grave and whispered in his ear.
Dickon went pale and then flushed a furious red. His eyes blazed and he snarled, "Why that . . . that miserable manipulative bastard! I trusted him to keep my son safe and all this time he was . . . throwing Sev to the wolves! And Lily and Reg too. What were you planning on doing to the bloody bounder? Because I want to help, Eileen."
Sirius and Regulus were staring at the astronomer. Neither of them had ever seen Dickon lose his temper before. They didn't even know Dickon had a temper until now. And it was scary.
"Am I glad he's on our side," Sirius murmured to Regulus.
"Me too," Regulus agreed. "If I were Dumbledore, I'd be leaving the country right now."
"He won't leave. He'll think he can talk his way out of it, as usual," Sirius remarked. "Only there is no talking to three enraged mothers whose kids were manipulated into spying for the greater good."
"Or fathers," added Regulus. "I could almost feel sorry for the poor bastard. But I'm not that nice."
"Nine times," Eileen stated firmly. She was sitting in her kitchen along with Polly Evans, Walburga, and Dickon. Jess had been put to bed long ago, and the four outraged parents were meeting to discuss what to do about Dumbledore. Polly had been as furious as the two witches once she found out what the old Headmaster had allowed her daughter to do—even helped her daughter to do, infiltrating a cabal of deadly terrorists, for that was the closest comparison Polly could come up with. And they had been undercover agents since they were teenagers—fourteen and fifteen! "I didn't dare tell Henry, he would have gotten his service revolver and gone after the old coot, and I must say I would have been tempted to let him. But I don't want my husband in jail for murder, and your way sounds more satisfying."
"Nine times," Eileen repeated again, and Walburga and Dickon nodded.
"Nine times what, Eileen?" asked Polly. They were all enjoying a cup of tea and some small tea cakes.
"Nine curses over nine days," the witch explained. "All of them last up to 24 hours and cause painful or humiliating but not life threatening effects. Nine is a sacred number among us. And this way he gets three times the punishment for putting our three children in harm's way."
"Sounds good to me." Polly agreed.
"Are you going to confront him before you start the curses?" asked Dickon.
"No, dear. That's not the Slytherin way." Eileen said, smiling at him.
"Slytherins are subtle," Walburga explained. "We have revenge down to an art form. And one of the first tenets of revenge is to keep the target of your vengeance off balance. Not knowing who your enemy is or where he will strike next is terrifying. We could send an anonymous note after each curse, warning that it will only get worse and telling him this is for past sins committed against children under his care."
"That will really scare him," Eileen said. "Now, let us discuss the curses . . . I believe one should be the Ass Kicking hex Lily is so fond of . . ."
"What's that one?" asked Polly curiously.
"It's a hex where a very large army boot comes out of nowhere and proceeds to kick the recipient's ass good and hard all over the place." Eileen told her.
"How ingenious!" Polly giggled. "I'd love to see it in action."
"But you will, dear! We're going to put a visual tracking spell on Albus so we can watch everything that goes on," Walburga chuckled wickedly. "Orion showed me that spell, it's one the Aurors sometimes use when they send one of their own undercover."
"Walla, that's brilliant!" Eileen grinned. "All right, what else?"
Albus Dumbledore arose at his usual time of six AM and had the house elves draw him a bath and trim his beard. He had a meeting with his staff this afternoon and wanted to look presentable. After choosing his favorite moon and star robe with purple stripes, he hurried into his office to open his morning correspondence. He always liked to get a head start on the mail, otherwise it tended to pile up and overflow onto the floor and take him hours to sort it all out.
He quickly sorted the mail into piles. Letters, invitations, and bills. He opened the bills first, most of them were for various items of clothing and books and supplies for the school. He would send them to his goblin accountant to deal with. The school account would cover the supplies and his clothing.
He opened the three invitations next. One was for the annual Ministry ball, the other for a benefit for Hogwarts, and the last was for dinner at the Valois residence. The Valois were very rich and always trying to curry favor. He quickly signed his name stating he would attend.
Then he moved onto the letters. Most were from acquaintances, some from parents concerned about how their child was doing in certain subjects, and then there was one that was not signed, written on poor quality parchment.
It contained a few lines.
Bravery comes in many forms.
As does cowardice. Sending children to do your dirty work
Is the act of a coward and shall be treated as such. Beware the nine-fold curse!
Albus found it odd there was no name, then shrugged and figured it was a prank.
He was in a hurry to finish his mail before breakfast, and so paid no attention to the slight tingling sensation that shot up his hands. He set the parchment down and turned to open another letter.
The parchment vanished.
Breakfast in the hall was the usual noisy affair, what with all the students getting the morning post and talking about class or groaning about how tired they were. Up at the staff table, the professors were yawning into their tea and coffee or nodding off over their toast, eggs, bacon, and oatmeal.
Severus was quietly eating his poached eggs on toast and surreptitiously eyeing his employer beneath his lashes. So far, he saw nothing to indicate Dumbledore was in distress. He knew his mother, Polly, and Walburga had plotted to avenge themselves on the old wizard for deliberately putting him, Lily, and Reg in harm's way, using them as spies for his agenda against Voldemort. At the time, Severus had thought there was no other alternative than to agree to Dumbledore's request to spy on the Death Eaters and their master. Lily's prophecy had only added fuel to the fire. It was only now, years later, that Severus realized there might have been another way to interpret the prophecy and that Dumbledore should have never required them to do what a grown man should have done. But it was too late now to back out. He was an established agent, and would play the most dangerous game to the end.
He glanced at his wife, who was calmly sipping her tea and eating some oatmeal with dried fruit in it. And so would Lily. He gently squeezed her hand beneath the table and smiled at her. He loved her so much and wished there were a way to keep her safe at home. But he knew better than to even hint at that. She would only grow angry and tell him that her place was by his side, come hell or high water.
Dumbledore announced that they were going to have a staff meeting around one in the afternoon. "We can make it a . . . working lunch, as the Muggles say. Right, Severus?"
Severus looked up at the old wizard. "Hmm? Sorry, I missed what you said. I'm not quite awake yet until I've had a second cup of coffee."
Dumbledore repeated his question and Severus affirmed his use of the term. Then he went back to eating his breakfast. He had seventh and sixth years to teach this morning and afternoon, as well as an OWL study group, where he gave practice tests in preparation for the fifth year OWLS. That was something that Lily had suggested he do, and it seemed to be working well so far. He was the only teacher who offered a study group like it, and many of his students were grateful for the extra help. He decided he would inform his colleagues about it at the meeting, and see if they would like to follow his example.
All of the teachers were sitting around the staff table, waiting for the arrival of the Headmaster. The house elves had brought in trays of sandwiches, salad, and soup, plus cheese and crackers, as well as sweets for lunch. Pomona and Filius were grumbling about Dumbledore's lateness, they were starving and wanted to eat before things got cold.
"Figures!" growled Professor Morhaven, the new Defense teacher. "We're on time and he's late. I guess rank hath its privileges, eh?"
"Sometimes Albus can be a little . . . forgetful," sighed Minerva. "Perhaps I shall call Winken and ask him to remind Albus of the time."
"No need for that, Minerva," Albus called from the doorway. "I have arrived. Sorry I'm late but . . . there was . . . err . . . an incident in my office . . . a prank was played on me and it took me awhile to . . . counter it." He was carrying a cushion under his arm.
"A prank?" Minerva repeated. "By whom?"
"I have no idea," Dumbledore said ruefully. "But a large boot came out of nowhere and it . . .kicked me hard several times on my backside before I managed to banish it." Wincing slightly, he started to make his way over to the head of the table.
Frowns and gasps of indignation came from some of the staff. "Bloody children!" Severus muttered, concealing a smirk. He knew that hex, it was one of Lily's favorites, and he doubted if a student had cast it. No, this had to be his mother or Walburga's doing. How very Slytherin of them! If only he could have seen it. He knew it was petty and mean spirited to gloat, but after all he, Lily, and Reg had endured over the years and endured still . . . he could not help himself.
Dickon exchanged glances with his son, his hazel eyes gleaming with forbidden knowledge and satisfaction. He winked at Severus.
"Well, that's unfortunate, Albus, and I hope whoever did it is caught, but can we please eat now? I feel like my stomach is rubbing my backbone," groaned Flitwick.
"I apologize, Filius. You could have started without me," said the Headmaster, and waved a hand to indicate everyone should begin eating.
The teachers eagerly began putting food on their plates.
Just then there came a loud popping sound and a huge army boot appeared in the room. It flew straight at Dumbledore's bony vulnerable bum. The Headmaster glanced behind him and cried, "Oh, blast it, it's back!" He thrust the pillow behind him and started to run for his seat, the boot swooping after him, it was wicked fast and delivered solid kicks that could be felt even through the pillow.
It chased the hapless Headmaster around the table.
At first none of the teachers reacted, they just sat staring at the spectacle. It was rare as snow in August that one ever saw Albus Dumbledore totally caught off guard. Albus always seemed perfectly serene, perfectly calm, and perfectly in control, no matter the situation. It was shocking to see the powerful wizard fleeing the flying boot like a child fleeing the wrath of a parent. Shocking . . . and more than a little amusing.
Morhaven began snickering into his hand. Flitwick's eyes twinkled madly with mirth. "Oh, dear, Albus!" Pomona cried, her mouth twitching into a grin. "Run for your life!"
"Somebody call a shoemaker!" tittered Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies teacher.
Severus started chuckling at that comment.
Dickon started laughing loudly at Charity's wit, then added, "Hurry, Albus! It's doing a quick step and it's gaining on you!" If anyone noticed the profound note of satisfaction in his comment, they didn't seem bothered by it.
Then some of the others started sniggering, except for Minerva, who rolled her eyes and cried, "Oh, for the love of St. Andrew, Albus!" she rose and began to chase the boot around the table, trying to Transfigure it into something harmless.
It was like a comedy show, and before you could say House points, the whole table was laughing their asses off at the sight of Dumbledore, the boot chasing him, and Minerva trying to catch up and hex it.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" gasped Trelawney, she was laughing so hard she could barely catch her breath.
Next to her, Andra Silvestri, the Magical Creatures teacher, got hiccups from laughing so long.
Flitwick was giggling so hard he had tears in his eyes, and Morhaven was pounding the table in mirth, vowing he was going to die.
"It would seem . . . like someone wants you to . . . get the boot . . ." Severus managed to say before snickering uncontrollably. Like my mother!
Finally Minerva managed to Transfigure it into a bouquet of flowers and banish it. "Take that!" she cried. "Albus, dinna fash yerself, 'tis gone."
Albus sank down in his chair on top the pillow, panting, his hat and glasses askew. "Thank you, Minerva."
"You're welcome," she said, then snorted in reproof at her colleagues. "You could have helped!"
"But Min, you had the situation under control," Filius grinned merrily. "Quite a good charm if I say so myself."
"Filius!" the Head of Gryffindor gasped. "How can you say that?
"It's true. I've never seen anyone cast a charm that got the better of both of you at the same time. Tee hee!"
She glared at everyone, but then relented and said, "I suppose it was, if you weren't the one chasing it."
Severus coughed and managed to get his mirth under control. For now.
Dumbledore cleared his throat and said, quite red-faced, "The students grow cleverer ever year, it seems. Now then, I called this meeting to ask if anyone is having problems with the end of term, grading and such, or any ideas of how to help students study better and avoid test anxiety? Poppy has been complaining to me of how many students are collapsing due to anxiety and overwork lately, she's been handing out Calming Draughts like crazy."
Severus spoke up then, revealing his OWL study sessions, and suggesting that might be a way to better prepare students for the test.
"Why, that's a marvelous solution, Severus!"exclaimed Minerva. "I shall definitely implement it."
"As will I, son." Dickon agreed. "I should have thought of that long ago."
Several of the other professors agreed. Severus found himself reddening slightly with all the praise, as the youngest professor he rarely got the opportunity to impress his colleagues with new ideas.
The meeting finally ended and Albus rose gingerly and declared he was in need of a long hot bath. "My backside hasn't ached this much since I was a boy and was thrashed by my Headmaster for playing a prank on Lucy Ledbetter."
Serves you right! Severus thought. And this is only the beginning.
If Albus thought the boot was banished, he was quite mistaken. It returned just as he was processing into the hall for dinner, and chased him all over the dais and out the door of the hall and back up the stairs to his office. He could still hear the gasps and giggles of the students. He felt deeply ashamed at letting some ridiculous prank get the better of him, but there was little he could do about it now. Since gaining the refuge of his bedroom, however, the boot had not shown up. With relief he curled up on his side, resting his aching backside.
Sometime later, he called Nod and asked the elf to bring him a pain reliever and an ice pack. He fell asleep soon after but had nightmares about the boot kicking him down the stairs.
On Tuesday, the "lesson" continued. Albus woke up, remembering he had a meeting with the Minister today, and groaned. He forced himself to rise and change and then went into the office for the mail. As before he found an anonymous piece of parchment that read,
A boot up your ass was only the beginning
For what you have to answer for
You pledged to keep the children safe
Not shove them out the door
Into harm's way,
To face an evil you cannot bear.
This is but the second trial.
As before, Albus left the parchment on his desk and it mysteriously vanished.
He went down to breakfast as usual, but just as he was about to cut up his pancakes, Pomona took a glance at him and gasped in horror.
"Albus! Your face! You're breaking out in spots!"
"I'm what?" he sputtered, feeling oddly itchy all of a sudden.
"Spots!" Minerva exclaimed, her eyes wide. "Blue and purple spots!"
He reached up to touch his face and felt strangely hot, as if the room were too warm.
His staff was staring at him with mixed expressions of alarm, disgust, and horror.
"Seems to me like you've contracted some form of wizard flu, Albus," Flitwick remarked, eyeing him with concern.
"I feel very hot all of a sudden," the Headmaster murmured, using a napkin to wipe his brow.
"Not the flu, Filius," Severus spoke up then. "Spattergroit."
There was a gasp from Professor Morhaven. "Spattergroit? Are you sure, Snape? That's bloody contagious!"
"Only if you haven't had it before. Or been inoculated," answered the Potions Master. "And yes, I'm sure, I studied diseases as part of my Mastery."
"I haven't!" cried Nicholas Morhaven, looking panicked.
"You've never gotten inoculated?" Zoey spoke up suddenly. "When I was a first year, all of us were required to get it."
"I'm a few years older than you, and when I was in school, they didn't have an inoculation," Morhaven told her. He looked like he wanted to run away from the table.
"Perhaps you need to see Poppy and get one," she suggested gently.
Suddenly Dumbledore began shivering and coughing.
"Sev, why don't you help the Headmaster Floo to the Hospital Wing?"
"All right, Zoey." Severus said, rising. He knew he was the only one able to handle the old man, since Nicholas couldn't go near him and Dickon was sleeping in, having had class at midnight last night. "Come, Albus. Let's get Poppy to look at you. I'm surprised you haven't had spattergroit as a child."
"I did." Albus said, coughing louder now.
"Maybe it's a new strain," Severus mused, taking the Headmaster's arm and draping it over his shoulder. He knew this was probably another curse manifesting. He tossed down Floo Powder and when the flames turned green called out, "Hospital Wing!" Then he helped the old wizard through the Floo.
Poppy hurried towards them. "Great Asclepius! Albus, you've got spattergroit!"
"Hello, Poppy! Just give me a potion and I'll return to my office," the Headmaster began.
"I will not. Spattergroit is highly contagious and you're staying here under quarantine until you're well." Poppy waved her wand and Albus robes became hospital pajamas. "Now, into bed with you."
"But Poppy, I have a school to run . . ."
"And right now you're a very sick old man who need to be in bed. Minerva's Deputy, she can run the school while you recover," Poppy said briskly. "I cannot let you go until you are better, do you want an epidemic? Now get in bed and mind you stay there while I get my potions." She ordered firmly. "And don't think I will hesitate to Stick you to the bed, Albus Dumbledore, if you try and make a break for it."
Albus sighed and reluctantly lay down. He might be the Headmaster, but in the infirmary, Poppy ruled, and he knew better than to test her. Plus, he was feeling rather awful.
He looked up at Severus. "Severus, please tell Minerva . . ."
"I shall," said the younger wizard. "Poppy, Morhaven's never gotten vaccinated for spattergroit."
"Oh, dear. That's not good. Would you mind, Severus, giving him an injection? I dare not leave Albus, at least not till I've gotten some potions into him." She Summoned a syringe and the vial of vaccine. She filled it, wrapped it inside a plastic bag and sealed it. "Here. Give it in the upper right arm muscle."
"I know. I assisted you giving vaccinations to the students, remember?" Severus reminded her gently.
"Of course, I just wanted to give you a brief refresher course, just in case." Poppy smiled at him. "Now off with you, lad."
Severus took the syringe and placed it in his pocket, then Flood back to the hall.
He told Minerva that she was in charge until Albus was well, which she had expected. Then he walked over to where Morhaven was sitting, next to Filius. "Nicholas, roll up your sleeve. Poppy gave me some vaccine for you." He withdrew the bagged syringe from his pocket.
Morhaven eyed him uneasily. "You're not a Healer, Severus. How come you know how to give shots?"
"Because I took a few extra courses at the Academy than normal. I'm Poppy's assistant when she needs one, and inoculated students along with her in the beginning of the year. Now come on, Morhaven, let's not dawdle here. I promise it'll only sting for a minute."
Nicholas scowled at him, but rolled up his sleeve.
Severus cast a disinfectant charm over his hands and the syringe and also Morhaven's arm. "Relax," he ordered calmly, then administered the vaccine. Nicholas winced, but otherwise made no sound. "There, all done. Want a lolly?"
"Shut up, Snape!" Morhaven growled, flushing.
Severus smirked slightly as he Stuck a small piece of gauze to the injection site and rolled the other's sleeve down. "Be nice, Nicholas. I could have offered you a lemon drop."
Morhaven made a face. "Those are some of the most disgusting sweets I've ever tasted. I don't know how anyone can like them."
"Neither do I," Severus chuckled, banishing the syringe. Then he returned to his place at the table and finished his breakfast. He could almost feel sorry for the Headmaster, for spattergroit was not a fun illness. But then he recalled Regulus being made to kill innocent Mariah, his cousin by marriage, and how many people ,he himself had watched tortured and given potions that killed mercifully, and suddenly he didn't feel so bad anymore over Albus' predicament. After all, spattergroit might be unpleasant, but it wasn't permanent.
Albus' fever broke finally at dawn. The swelling on his face and the spots started to fade and the painful cramps in his arms and legs had lessened. Still, Poppy kept him in bed for the morning. When she finally declared him cured, he went back to his office to get caught up with his paperwork. Once more, he received a parchment note unsigned. This one read:
It's far from over, so don't get comfortable.
Then it disappeared.
Absently, he reached over and grabbed a handful of lemon drops. He popped them in his mouth . . . then abruptly spit them out.
They tasted horrible—like manure.
He spent three minutes spitting to get the taste out of his mouth.
Then he called a house elf to bring him some water. Breakfast was the same, even his favorites tasted foul.
At first he thought it might have been due to being ill, but Poppy said it was not anything she'd ever heard of coming from spattergroit.
He had lunch with the Minister, and hoped that the food would prove to be different away from the school. However, he had no sooner placed a bite in his mouth of the tender roast beef with gravy when it changed to manure and he spit the offending morsel out . . . right at the Minister.
That was not what he had intended, but it was what happened.
Minister Bagnold was justly offended and when Albus tried to apologize to her, saying his tastebuds had been off since his recent illness, claimed he should have eaten nothing rather than behaved in so gross a fashion. "Perhaps we shall meet at a later time, Headmaster, when you are truly better," she declared coldly and then she left.
Albus sat there, staring after her, feeling ashamed and disgraced. He did not know why or how these things kept happening, but he was determined to find out.
In the days that followed, a series of unfortunate and unexplainable events plagued the Headmaster of Hogwarts. He did his best to ward his office and his person to no avail. He wasn't able to prevent the misfortunes from occurring, despite the fact that he was the strongest wizard in Britain. The faceless enemy continued to steal a march on him.
On Thursday he went out to visit Hagrid and discovered that every bird in the area had targeted him as their personal perch to dump on. Soon he found himself covered in bird poop and Hagrid let him borrow his umbrella, though most of the mess was already in his hair and beard and all over his robe. But even with that protection, he could not escape, since Hagrid's roosters suddenly strutted over to him . . . and pooped on his boots.
"Sorry, sir, sorry," Hagrid apologized in horror. "Dunno what got into them, sir." He chased the roosters off by waving his hand. "Shoo! Shoo, ya naughty things!"
The roosters scuttled away, squawking.
Hagrid handed Dumbledore a rag, but most of the mess clung to him, and he walked back to the castle spotted with white, as if snow had fallen all over him.
Most of the students who were outside the castle tittered and gasped when they saw their Head walking by covered in something that looked—and smelled—like bird droppings.
Rumors also flew about that Dumbledore was a victim of a master prankster, and in whispers in the hall discussed who among the students it could be.
Friday came and another note also. Don't think you can get away. For what you have done there is no escape.
Dumbledore spent an hour pacing and trying to cast banishment charms on himself. When nothing occurred he thought he had managed to avert the curse. Until he went to have breakfast with the staff and saw Minerva.
Now Minerva had been on the staff for over twenty-five years and Albus had always been rather fond of the Scottish witch. She was practical, courageous, and as a girl had been a great beauty . . . and she had aged well. Sometimes he looked at her and felt his heart race.
That morning, his heart did more than speed up. It experienced a full blown bout of desire. Desire that was unlike anything he'd ever felt before. "Minnie!" he cried, his eyes gleaming with lust. "You are so beautiful! Like the sun in the sky. Come and give me a kiss, love!"
"Albus!" Minerva cried, looking as if she were about to pass out. "Have ye gone mad?"
"Mad? Only madly in love with you, my dear!" He reached for her and planted a smacking kiss on her lips. "Ah, you taste like roses! I can't get enough of you, my darling!"
Minerva sputtered and jumped up, thrusting the amorous Headmaster away from her. "Albus Dumbledore, how dare you? Control yourself, you horny old goat!"
"But Minnie, I can't live without you!"
Blanching, Minerva turned and backed away.
Undaunted, the Headmaster began to chase her around the table. "Just one more kiss!"
"Keep away, you old lecher!" Minerva yelled. "Afore I hex it off!"
By now, all the students were watching the crazy drama being played out at the staff table. Most were in shock to see their Headmaster and Deputy behaving so, but some of the older students were whistling and howling with laughter.
"I can't believe . . ."
"Who would have thought he had a thing for McGonagall?"
"What a dirty old man!"
"Isn't he like . . . over a hundred? I thought by then you were, like, done with sex."
"Maybe he took one of those virility potions?"
"Like . . . eeww! That's totally gross!"
"Somebody ought to turn a hose on him! Poor McGonagall!"
Minerva managed to get around to the opposite side of the table, but before she could hex the panting Dumbledore, Severus did.
Dumbledore toppled over in a Full Body Bind.
"Thank you, Severus! I never thought . . . he must have been under some kind of curse," Minerva said, scowling.
"My pleasure, Minerva." Severus replied.
"Must have been," murmured Morhaven. "Either that or maybe he drank a virility potion by mistake."
Several of the students clapped and cheered when Dumbledore fell down.
Minerva went and sat down in her seat, after ordering the house elves to put Dumbledore to bed and lock the door.
"He's never going to live this one down!" said Professor Silvestri.
"Good!" declared McGonagall.
Dumbledore stayed in his quarters all the rest of that day, until the evening, when the Body Bind had worn off and so had the lust curse. He felt terrible about accosting Minerva in public like that and sent her an apology note, but the witch never responded to it. He tossed and turned all night trying to figure out who would despise him so much as to visit such embarrassing things upon him, but all he could come up with was Voldemort, and this really wasn't his style. Riddle didn't go in for pranks, or if he did, they were the kind that killed. He fell asleep still pondering.
Saturday brought a new vanishing note and promise of more retribution. Dumbledore burned the note, but the curse still struck, this time in the form of spontaneous combustion.
Severus was helping Pomona collect herbs in her garden for a few drafts he was brewing when they suddenly saw Albus streak across the lawn, his backside sprouting flames and fling himself into the lake.
Pomona gaped at Severus. "Merciful Merlin! But did I just see Albus jump in the lake because his bum was on fire?"
Severus nodded, biting his lip. "It certainly appeared that way. I've often heard Minerva threaten him with that. I wonder what he did to provoke her?"
Pomona sniggered. "Maybe it's payback for him chasing her about and trying to . . . kiss her! That'd be enough to provoke me."
"Of course." He turned, as Albus was splashing his way out of the lake. "Did you get on the wrong side of Minerva, Albus?"
"Are you hurt?" asked Pomona.
"Err . . . no. Just a bit singed." Albus said, looking rather like a drowned shaggy dog. "I . . . ahh . . . got a bit too close to the fire." He flicked his wand over himself and was instantly dried.
"I see," was all Snape replied, but he sounded as if he were merely humoring the older wizard.
Albus winced as he recalled standing in front of the fire in the Great Hall at lunch, for some reason he was freezing, and then feeling a sudden heat on his backside and then a student shouting, "Professor, you're on fire!"
He had panicked and ran from the hall with his bottom ablaze, though he could have extinguished the fire with magic, his only thought had been to get to the lake.
Now the students would have this as well as the other hex to discuss for a few months at least. His mouth tightened. When he discovered the author of these infernal pranks . . .or maybe it was more than one student . . . he would be sure to punish them properly for their audacity. Pity he had banned corporal punishment.
"Well, I'm going back to my office. If you need to talk, my door's always open," he said to Sprout and Snape. "Oh, Severus, have you noticed any type of . . . incendiary missing from your potion stores?"
Severus frowned. "Incendiary, Headmaster? Surely you don't think a student could have caused you to catch on fire?"
"I don't know what to think!" Dumbledore snapped irritably. "All I know is that someone is pranking me and I cannot figure out who."
"But Albus, what's been happening to you is magic that's too advanced for a student, even a seventh year." Pomona pointed out.
"It has to be someone in this school! Someone who bears a grudge against me," Albus growled. "And when I find out, that someone will be very sorry!"
Then he stomped away towards the castle, reminding Severus of a petulant toddler.
We'll see who's sorry in the end, old man, the Potions Master thought bitterly, realizing that Dumbledore was oblivious to the pain and sacrifice he had caused his spies to endure. Oblivious . . . or maybe uncaring.
On Sunday, almost everyone noticed something smelled rotten at the staff table, like old sweat and moldy socks. Wrinkling her nose fastidiously, McGonagall said, "What died? It stinks to high heaven in here."
No one else knew what it was, though Filius conjectured it could be a dungbomb.
"No, I've smelled them before and it's not the same."
The odor grew so nauseating that half the teachers couldn't eat their breakfast and had to leave the table. Pomona turned as green as her beloved plants and hastily departed.
Finally only Minerva, Severus, and Dickon remained, along with Albus. The witch frowned and sniffed, then she coughed. ''Tis you, Albus! Ugh! Go take a bath!"
"Minerva . . .!" he called, but she was already leaving. "The bloody curse has struck again!" He glowered then said, "When I catch those pranksters, I'm going to take a paddle to their behinds!"
"You mean . . . you don't find them funny?" Severus couldn't resist saying, recalling his schooldays of being tormented by the Marauders and this man refusing to do anything much about it.
"Not in the least!" Dumbledore cried.
"I seem to remember you telling me once that the Marauders pranks on me were just jokes," said Severus pointedly.
"Uh . . . well . . ."
"Because some of what they did to me was as bad as what you're getting and you never paddled any of them. Not even that time when they hung me upside down by the lake and threatened to strip me."
Dumbledore sighed. "I . . . regret that now. Maybe I should have."
Severus snorted. "Now is too late for regrets." He wrinkled his nose. "Maybe you ought to bathe in tomato juice, Albus. That neutralizes most odors."
Dumbledore did as Severus suggested, but the terrible odor lingered until the next morning, and so did pangs of guilt that he had done nothing to help the Potions Master when the Marauders pranked him.
Monday came and brought a note saying You brought all of this down on your own head, letting others pay the price that should have been yours.
Immediately he was assaulted by a terrible migraine, that made him take to his bed. It made him nauseous and puke all over, and see colored lights. His house elves cleaned up after him, and Poppy brought him Headache potions that seemed to only dull the pain a little.
"It's the curse!" he muttered.
Poppy just looked at him. "Nonsense, Albus! You're overstressed and tired. Try this one."
But no matter how many potions he swallowed, the headache remained, making him sick as a dog. He was sick all night until early in the morning, when the headache suddenly vanished and he fell into a deep sleep.
"That man is certifiably crazy!" Morhaven stated angrily as he stalked into the staff room that Tuesday, the ninth day since the curses began. "He yelled at me for twenty minutes this morning for not having stronger wards about the castle. He thinks there's a group of Death Eaters in the castle cursing him and wants me to find them or else he's going to sack me." he practically threw himself into his chair. "Now, I ask you, if Death Eaters had penetrated the castle, would they be cursing him with pranks like these? No, they'd be killing him, and the rest of us too! But try telling him that!"
"Nicholas, please calm down." Minerva began. "We all realize that Albus has not been himself lately. You should not give any weight to what Albus says, he is obviously not in his right mind."
"He's as mad as a hatter!" Nicholas snapped. "He's jumping at shadows, seeing things that don't exist."
"Quite," Minerva agreed. "That is why we are considering making Albus resign temporarily until he is well. No one trusts him in this state. I think he needs a long holiday. Don't worry about your job, Nicholas, Albus is not fit to make any decisions at the moment."
There were murmurs of agreement all around at that statement.
Morhaven looked somewhat mollified.
Then they began to discuss whether or not Dumbledore should be kept in his quarters here at the school or made to go home and have a nice rest for two weeks or more.
Finally they decided to send him back home, where there were no people and it was quiet. Minerva, Filius, and Severus went to find him. After a quarter of an hour, they discovered Albus halfway to Hagrid's hut, peering around a large boulder.
"They're coming!" he hissed upon seeing them. "Coming for me! Don't you hear them?"
"Albus, there's nobody here," Minerva said.
"There is! I know it!" he babbled, his eyes wild. He suddenly darted around the boulder and hid behind Severus. "Don't let them get me!" He grabbed Severus tightly about the waist.
"Albus, for heaven's sake, let me go!" Severus ordered, feeling as if he were being squished to death. "You're safe, nobody here is your enemy!"
"Yes they are! Everyone's my enemy! You're all out to get me!" Dumbledore shouted. "Save me, Severus!"
"Minerva, Summon a Calming Draught, please," said the Potions Master through gritted teeth.
"Right away, Severus," she said and waved her wand.
"No, you shan't have me!" Dumbledore shrieked, and he abruptly released Severus and shoved him hard.
The Potions Master staggered and went to one knee.
"Leave off, you daft coot!" Minerva ordered, holding the vial in one hand. "I think you really have lost it. Filius, help me get this down him."
Filius cast a Leg Locker jinx and pinned down Albus' shoulders, as a part goblin he was quite strong.
Then Severus came and applied firm pressure to his jaw, forcing it open while Minerva poured the potion down Albus' throat. She stroked his throat to make him swallow.
Almost instantly his breathing steadied and he lost the wild air and relaxed. "Where am I? What are you doing to me?"
"Trying to keep you from making an ass out of yourself," said his Deputy. "'Tis time you had a good long rest, Albus."
"No! I can't do that! We're in danger!"
"Only from you and your crazy notions," Filius said quietly.
Severus helped put the Headmaster on a stretcher and they took him back to his rooms. Tomorrow they could transport him back to his home in Godric's Hollow. They put him to bed and gave him Dreamless Sleep.
When he woke early the next morning, he found three very angry mothers standing before his bedside.
He blinked, then said, confused, "Eileen? Walburga? Polly Evans?"
They nodded and eyed him coldly. "You have much to answer for, Albus Dumbledore!" declared Walburga frostily.
"I do? Why?"
"How soon you forget what you've done to our children!" Polly accused.
"Or don't you remember making Regulus and Severus become your spies?" growled Eileen. "And then drawing Lily into it too! How could you? You were supposed to keep them safe! Not sacrifice them on the later of your ambition, old man!"
Dumbledore blanched. "You . . . how did you . . .?"
"We have our ways," Walburga snarled. "And we don't like the fact that you coerced our children into doing your dirty work. My son was only fourteen when he began spying for you. Fourteen! Still a child! You were supposed to protect him, not put him in harm's way!"
"I never would have believed it, until I saw it with my own eyes!" Eileen snarled.
"And you call yourself a good wizard?" Polly demanded. "What kind of good wizard sends teenagers off to fight a madman?"
"You're lucky we didn't kill you for what you did to them!" Eileen said menacingly.
"Believe me, I wanted to," Walburga stated chillingly. "But we needed you alive, so we placed the nine-fold curse on you instead."
"That was you?" Dumbledore's mouth dropped open.
"Yes!" they chorused.
"I didn't cast the spells, of course, but I did give suggestions," Polly said.
"You . . . you don't understand . . ." he began, shrinking away from them. "I had to do something, we needed a spy in their camp. And Severus and Regulus were Slytherins, perfect for infiltrating the Death Eater families. I never wanted Lily involved, but she insisted, said there was a prophecy she'd had and it was true."
"You could have said no!" Polly cried.
"Found someone else!"
"Wars are meant to be fought by adults, not children!"
He held up his hands, feeling a frisson of fear run down his spine. The look in their eyes was terrifying. They sliced him to ribbons with their glares and he could feel the power of their magic roll about the room, deadly as a tornado. "I . . . I am sorry . . . but I truly felt that they would succeed when everyone else had failed. And they did!"
"That's no excuse!" they all cried. "Now that we know the truth, we'll be watching. And if you dare try and recruit another innocent child to do your dirty work, we'll be back . . . and we'll make what you suffered these last nine days look like child's play."
They fastened their raptor like gazes on him, and he quivered like a mouse in the talons of a hawk.
"Good," Walburga purred, a wicked smile on her face. "Let's hope you remember it."
"We won't be half as lenient next time," Eileen said icily.
Then they Flooed away as quickly as they had come, leaving a shaken Headmaster behind.
A/N: Finally got this posted, I'm still not feeling too great. But hope you all liked.
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