Chapter 17 : Fluxweed
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Albus won both his duels on Saturday, something he attributed to the fact that he dueled fellow fifth years both times, but Peter and Blair both insisted it was due to his exceptional skills. The rest of the team did quite well, having used the shield charm Albus spent the past month teaching them. They were now well ahead of Hufflepuff, who were in second place.
Sunday was a lazy day, spent mostly in the Marauder’s Den due both to the raging storm outside and Matt sleeping most of the day. Kaden brewed with Burke the entire day, and Rose disappeared to the library for much of the afternoon, spending more than just her allotted tutoring hours there. But the entire group reconvened in the Den after dinner. Even Kaden showed up an hour after the rest of them, looking apprehensive.
“Thought I’d find you lot here,” he said as he closed the door.
Albus and John were in the middle of a heated game of chess. Rose and Amanda were researching careers in the Ministry. Matt was half-asleep on the couch, paying vague attention to the chess match.
“Kaden,” Albus said, still sore about his cousin missing the dueling tournament. “Nice to see you haven’t forgotten where this place is.”
Kaden reddened. “I’m sorry-”
“It’s not our fault Burke is insane, you know,” John added.
“Not helpful, John,” Rose muttered.
John shrugged, but didn’t apologize for his comment.
“I know it’s not,” Kaden said. “And I still don’t believe you, but it’s a stupid reason to fight.”
“That’s something we can all agree on,” Rose said.
“Sorry I missed your tournament, Albus,” Kaden said as he sat down on one of the chairs. “How’d you do?”
“Good.” He turned to look at Matt. “How long has he been asleep for?”
“Not asleep,” Matt mumbled.
“Did you take that potion this month?” Amanda asked.
“I don’t think it did any good,” Amanda said. “And to be honest, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to take it, given what we know about Burke-”
“We don’t know anything for sure,” Kaden interrupted.
“But either way, it’s not worth it,” Amanda said.
“It’s not going to kill me,” Matt pointed out.
“Amanda’s right,” Rose said. “You’re just as ill this month as you were last month, and this time you can’t use the blue moon as an excuse. You’ve been ill since Thursday. That’s a long time. And you’ve got to admit it’s worse than usual.”
Matt sighed. “I suppose.”
“I don’t know why you’re so determined to take it,” Rose said quietly.
Matt said nothing for two full minutes. Albus thought he’d fallen asleep, but then he spoke. “Because it still feels like progress. Doing nothing doesn’t feel like progress. At least taking this might teach someone something. Whether it’s Burke or my sister or Healer Sterling or whomever.”
Even Rose didn’t know what to say to this. Albus doubted there was anything any of them could say, but he wanted Rose to say something. She always knew the best thing, even if it wasn’t the most perfect thing.
“If Burke manages to create a potion that makes this easier, even if it doesn’t work like Wolfsbane is supposed to, even if it just lessens the symptoms beforehand, it’ll be worth all of this. And if he does it, I don’t care who he’s dealing illegal potions to or how many laws he’s breaking,” Matt added. “And you lot can’t turn him in, because he can’t brew if he’s in Azkaban.”
That was something Albus hadn’t thought of, and judging by the identical stunned looks on Rose and Amanda’s faces, they hadn’t either.
“Good, you’re on my side,” Kaden said, grinning.
“I’m not on your side, Kaden.”
“There are no sides,” Rose added. “We just agreed on that.”
They sat in silence as Albus and John resumed their chess match, and Rose and Amanda returned to their reading. Kaden sat in his chair and stared at the ceiling, apparently deep in thought. Matt didn’t move.
“Do you think he knows we wouldn’t turn him in?” Albus asked after a few minutes. “I mean, he had us help him brew what is basically an illegal potion. Why is he so certain we won’t turn him in?”
“He must,” Rose agreed. “That’s so complicated.”
Albus nodded. But it made sense. Why would Burke show them an illegal potion without knowing for sure they wouldn’t turn him in? Burke must’ve somehow known Matt wouldn’t want him turned in, and Albus, Rose, and Kaden’s loyalty would trump any desire to see justice served.
“You know I think all three of you are idiots, right?” Matt said, without looking at any of them.
“Er, which three of us?” Albus asked hesitantly. Was Matt so ill that he was talking gibberish? If he was, they needed to take him to see Madam Pomfrey.
“You. And Rose, and Kaden.”
“Going to harvest fluxweed during the full moon. Have the past five years of friendship with me taught you nothing?”
Albus and Rose exchanged glances. “It has to be picked during the full moon, and if we’re going to gain Burke’s trust enough that he’ll tell us what’s in his mystery potion, we’ve got to,” Albus said.
Matt groaned. “Is it really worth that risk? You shouldn’t go out during the full moon, let alone into the forest.”
“You’ll be in the Shrieking Shack,” Rose said.
“It’s not me I’m worried about. Remember those kids from last year?”
“And your dad made sure their parents kept them safely locked up,” Rose reminded him.
“There is always, always a risk. That’s how all of this started,” Matt said quietly.
“Burke will be with us,” Kaden said, as if Burke was the best protector ever.
Matt groaned. “My dad was with me, not 500 yards away, when I got bitten. And he was head of the Werewolf Control Unit. But even he couldn’t save me. Werewolves are unpredictable. If you have any sense, you won’t do this.”
Albus was torn. He knew the risk, but the risk was small, so small it was miniscule. There weren’t any werewolves in the forest. Kendrick and Hagrid made sure of that, otherwise it wouldn’t be safe for students to live so close. But in the end, it was his curiosity over the mystery potion that made his decision. He needed to gain Burke’s trust, and to do that, he needed to help him harvest fluxweed.
“We sort of promised Burke we would,” Rose said, clearly torn as well.
“Yeah, and it’s so cool!” Kaden added. “Getting the ingredients ourselves, just like wizards did in the past.”
“Fine. Whatever,” Matt muttered as he turned away from them. “Risk your lives for something stupid.”
Matt didn’t speak to Albus, Rose, or Kaden the following day, the day of the full moon. Albus wasn’t sure if this was because he was still mad at them about their decision to pick fluxweed or simply because he was exhausted, ill, and spent the entire day in bed. Albus was beginning to agree with Amanda about Burke’s potion doing the exact opposite and Matt needing to stop taking it. But he had a feeling Matt would only stop taking it if Amy told him to.
Picking fluxweed in the forest that night was the only thing on Albus’s mind throughout the entire day. He even forgot about Astronomy until Rose reminded him. Albus was tempted to skip it since he’d have to go there immediately after picking fluxweed and it would surely make for a long, exhausting day, but Rose would drag him there no matter what his intentions were.
Burke made no mention of their moonlit task during potions that afternoon, ignoring Albus and Rose completely while he tried (and failed) to prevent Marina and Karina’s cauldron from exploding halfway through class. It was a small explosion, but Burke reacted as if they’d blown up the entire castle, asking them over and over again if they’d sustained any burns (they hadn’t) or if they needed to see Madam Pomfrey (they declined). Since Matt skipped class, Albus brewed alone, earning him quite a few stares from Scorpius. However, Scorpius didn’t say a word to Albus, even when they accidentally bumped into each other in the storage closet as they were putting away their supplies.
Albus and John returned to their dormitory after dinner to check on Matt, leaving Rose, Kaden, and Amanda in the common room. They found Matt fast asleep, the curtains pulled around his bed. Deciding not to bother waking him up for another half hour, Albus and John returned to the common room.
“Asleep?” Rose asked.
Albus nodded. “We’ll go back up in a half hour or so.”
“He’ll probably come down before that,” Rose said. “Moon rises in an hour.”
Albus turned and saw James standing behind him, a large grin splayed across his face. James smiling so widely was never a good sign. “What is it, James?”
“I was wondering if you could patrol for Meg Johnson tonight.”
“Wait, what?” Albus asked, confused.
“Meg Johnson. I need you to take her patrol tonight.”
“I want to take her on a moonlit walk around the lake, but she says she can’t because she has to patrol and then do homework. But if you take her patrol, she’ll have an hour,” James explained.
“I didn’t know you two were going out.”
“We are. And the full moon is romantic, so I want to take her out tonight.”
Albus stifled a laugh at what Matt would’ve said if he heard that. “And where did you hear that?”
“Gabriella,” James said. “So, can you? Or you, Rose?”
“Sorry, James,” Albus replied, happy to have a real excuse to say no. “Rose and I are both busy tonight.”
“Is it really that surprising that I could have plans? I could have a date.” Albus felt himself blush.
James laughed. “You, Al? A date? Seriously, what are you doing?”
“We’re helping Professor Burke harvest fluxweed,” Kaden piped up.
James nodded. “Okay, that’s more believable. Do you know of anyone who could patrol for her?”
“No,” Albus said shortly, more than a little irritated at his brother for assuming he couldn’t possibly have a date.
James shrugged. “Guess I’ll keep trying.”
“Good luck with that,” Rose muttered once James left. “Honestly. Sounds to me like Meg just doesn’t want to go out tonight.”
“I thought she was the one who wanted to go out with James,” John said.
“She was,” Albus answered. “Maybe she’s realized how annoying he is.”
“Or maybe she’s just responsible and puts her homework and prefect duties before snogging my irresponsible cousin,” Rose said. “Now could you all be quiet? I need to finish this essay before we leave for the forest.”
The boys quieted and the whole group worked steadily on homework for the next twenty minutes, until Albus paused to stretch and noticed Matt emerging from the dormitories. He saw Albus and made his way over to the table.
“Going now?” Albus asked quietly.
Matt nodded. “Still going into the forest?”
“Er, yeah,” Albus mumbled, not making eye contact.
Matt sighed. “Okay. Good luck.”
“You, too,” Albus said. The others nodded in agreement.
“At least he didn’t need us to walk him there this month,” Rose pointed out.
“He might’ve, if he weren’t pissed off at us for going into the forest tonight,” Albus said.
“Hey, I’m not stupid enough to go into the forest tonight. And neither is Amanda,” John said.
“If Burke had invited you, you would’ve gone,” Kaden said.
“But I wouldn’t have,” Amanda said.
“Point is, he didn’t look ready to pass out,” Rose said.
No one could argue there. Rose stuck her nose back in her book, which was the cue for the rest of them to get back to work. They worked steadily until 7:45, when it was time for Albus, Rose, and Kaden to meet Burke in the dungeons.
On their way, they passed Meg Johnson leaving the library, carrying a stack of books. She didn’t look at all ready to go on a date with James, and instead just looked like she was on her way to Ravenclaw tower to drop her books off before patrolling.
When they arrived at Burke’s brewing room, the professor was stirring his mystery cauldron while simultaneously pouring some sort of frothing liquid into it. Albus suppressed the urge to blurt out a question regarding the potion, and instead took Kaden’s lead and waited for him to be done. They waited a full five minutes before Burke acknowledged their presence.
“Ready?” Burke asked, as if they’d been keeping him waiting all this time.
“Yes, sir,” Kaden said.
Burke grabbed four brown sacks off the table and led them out of the room. “Let’s go.”
Albus and Rose walked a few paces behind Burke and Kaden, not speaking, but still able to hear the conversation going on between Kaden and Burke.
“Have you ever done this before? Harvested fluxweed?” Kaden asked.
“Plenty of times,” Burke answered as they walked across the grounds. “I won’t use fluxweed that I didn’t harvest myself, or supervised the harvesting of. And considering fluxweed is a necessary ingredient for polyjuice, well,” he chuckled, “let’s just say I’ve harvested a lot of it.”
Albus raised his eyebrows at Rose, who met his gaze. What was that supposed to mean? How long had Burke been in the business of shady potions?
“Do you harvest all of your own ingredients?” Kaden asked.
“I try to. Whenever possible. Sometimes it’s just not possible since there are ingredients only found in obscure places of the world. But since fluxweed grows in the forest, we might as well.”
Kaden and Burke continued to talk about potions and ingredients for the remainder of the trip to the forest. Albus let his mind wander to the Matt and the Shrieking Shack, since the howling was much louder outside than in the castle. Albus suddenly felt horrible about disregarding Matt’s warning, since it was painfully clear he was only trying to keep Albus, Rose, and Kaden safe. Yet here they were, in the forest on a full moon. It was stupid, especially since fluxweed could be purchased at any apothecary. Most wizards weren’t nearly as paranoid as Burke.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Albus whispered to Rose, after a particularly loud howl.
“It’s just Matt,” Rose said. “That howling.”
“But still. I think he had a point.”
“It’s too late now,” Rose said as they entered the forest.
Albus swallowed, wishing he could turn around and go back to the castle, but Rose was right. They were in the forest, and there was no turning back.
“Wands out,” Burke said as he drew his own wand. “Lumos.”
With all four of their wands lit, the forest didn’t look quite as scary, but as soon as Albus looked beyond the reach of their wandlight, his stomach churned. Burke handed each of them a burlap sack and Albus took his with shaking hands.
Burke reached into his own sack and pulled out a small green plant with green leaves protruding from its stem. “Fluxweed,” he explained. “This is what we’re looking for. It’s hard to find since there’s nothing distinctive about it. If you see anything you think might be it, harvest it. We’ll sort through it all when we return to the castle.”
Of course, Albus thought, fluxweed would be a plant that had no distinguishing characteristics yet had to be harvested after the sun set.
“And stick together. Kendrick will have my head if I lose any of you in here.”
Albus didn’t need telling twice. He didn’t venture further than three yards from Burke, and Rose stuck by his side the entire time. They crouched down low and grabbed anything that remotely resembled the plant Burke showed them. Albus attempted to ignore Matt’s howls as well as the sounds of nighttime in the forest, but it was pointless. His heart hammered the entire time.
Kaden, on the other hand, kept up a steady stream of chatter and seemed no more afraid than he was in the castle, causing Albus to to question why he ever thought Kaden would wind up in Hufflepuff. Kaden was braver than he and Rose put together, at least when it came to harvesting potion ingredients under a full moon. Although Albus couldn’t think of another time in which he’d have to do this. If Burke ever asked again, Albus had a feeling Kaden would be the only one accompanying him.
They searched for an hour, until all four sacks were crammed full of what Albus hoped was plenty of fluxweed. He didn’t relish the idea of saying no to Burke if he asked them to do this again next month.
“What about twenty-four hour polyjuice?” Kaden asked as they left the forest. “Have you ever brewed that?”
“A couple times,” Burke answered. “It’s very finicky, and it’s difficult to tell when you’ve done it right. Polyjuice gets more volatile the longer it’s made to last, so I don’t recommend people use the twenty-four hour kind. So long as you can have it at hand, the regular is better. It’s been around for centuries, whereas the twenty-four hour kind has only been around for ten years or so.”
“What’s the most difficult potion to brew?”
“That’s a hard question. I suppose Veritaserum or Wolfsbane. Neither of which the average person has any use or need for.”
Albus wished he could sneak some Veritaserum into Burke’s morning tea so he could ask him both about his mystery potion and whether he sold illegal polyjuice.
It was almost nine-thirty when they reached the dungeons, giving Albus and Rose two and a half hours before they had to be at the Astronomy tower. Burke cleared a table and gestured for them to dump their sacks out onto it. Albus did so, and saw immediately that about half of what he had collected was not fluxweed.
“See?” Burke said, once they’d all dumped their sacks. “Very hard to tell in the dark. You should be able to pick out the fluxweed now. I’ll be in my study if you need me.” Burke disappeared into his study, leaving the door open a crack as usual.
“How did I ever think this was fluxweed?” Kaden said, holding up a clump of clover. “It’s got flowers on it.”
Rose laughed. “Better than this.” She held up a sprig of lavender.
Albus picked a few clumps of fluxweed out of the pile and set them aside. As he did so, he suddenly realized what exactly they were doing. They were helping Burke brew polyjuice, which toed the line of legality. “Rose,” he said quietly.
“Is this,” he whispered, “what we’re doing that is, is it illegal? You know, helping him brew an illegal potion?”
“His brewing it isn’t illegal. Witches and wizards can brew whatever they want. It’s in the Freedom of Magic Act. People can do whatever magic they want, so long as it’s not harming others. Think of it this way. The Cruciatus Curse is an unforgiveable curse, an illegal curse. But, if you wanted to perform it on, say, your living room couch, you couldn’t get in trouble because you wouldn’t be harming anyone. Potions work the same way. If you brew the Draught of Living Death, for example, you are perfectly in the right to do so. But if you were to force somebody to drink it, that would be illegal.”
“So he can brew it, but he can’t use it?”
“That’s where it gets tricky. He could use it, so long as he wasn’t using it to harm anyone. If he and his wife-”
“He’s not married.”
“It’s hypothetical,” Rose said. “If he and his wife wanted to take polyjuice and pretend to be each other for the day and play a prank on their family members, that’d be their choice. It wouldn’t harm anyone. But, polyjuice is a Class C non-tradeable potion. He can’t sell it without the proper permits. That’s what’s illegal.”
Kaden stared at Rose as if she was insane. “How do you keep all of that straight?”
“It took me hours to figure it out. I’m not going to forget it.”
“So what you’re saying is, us helping him brew it isn’t illegal?”
“No, especially since we’re students. Burke’s allowed to teach us how to brew anything, so long as it’s properly disposed of and never administered to any human.”
“That,” Albus said, “is bloody confusing.”
Rose nodded. “No arguments there.”
“Remind me again why Amanda wants to go into the Ministry?”
“To make a difference. These laws, no matter how convoluted they are, make a difference. The reason they’re so confusing is so people can’t get around them.”
“But people clearly are,” Albus pointed out.
“And that’s why Amanda wants to go into the Ministry.”
That made sense, in a very confusing and convoluted way. Yet, Albus could see the appeal. Making a difference in the world was alway something Albus wanted to do; it was just a matter of finding out how to do it.
A/N: Thanks for all the lovely reviews! I was at work all day, so I didn't have time to respond to them before posting this, but I'll try to get to them this weekend.
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