Chapter 35 : The Mystery Potion
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They waited for what felt like ten minutes. If Albus had been alone, he would’ve left after Burke didn’t answer, but he was with Kaden, and Kaden knocked after Rose’s knocks didn’t seem to work. A minute later, the door slowly creaked open, revealing a fraction of Burke’s head. His eyes met Kaden’s and he opened it wider, stepping aside for them to enter.
Professor Burke, to put it bluntly, looked terrible. His hair, which normally defied all laws of gravity, was plastered to his skull, the ends hanging limply over his ears. He had also lost a significant amount of weight, and his face was now gaunt, with purple bags beneath his eyes. However, what was most noticeable, was the sleek, black cane he gripped in his left hand, which he leaned on heavily as he returned to his desk chair.
The room itself didn’t look any different. The mystery potion sat upon Burke’s desk, spewing ominous amounts of black smoke. A small flame flickered beneath it. The other potions bubbled and frothed as they boiled.
Albus coughed as he followed Kaden to Burke’s desk. Burke rolled the chair away so that his face wasn’t blocked by the smoke. He waved his wand and conjured four chairs, which fell softly in front of him. Kaden took one, and Albus, Rose, and Matt followed.
“Thank you for caring for the potions in my absence,” Burke said gruffly.
“You’re welcome, Professor,” Kaden said. “Are you…are you feeling better?”
“I’m fine,” Burke answered. “Spry as a baby hippogriff.”
Albus stopped himself from grimacing. Professor Burke looked anything but fine. He looked worse than Matt did after a particularly terrible full moon.
“I owe you an explanation,” Burke continued. His eyes rested on Matt. “All of you. However, none of what I am about to tell you can leave this room. Mr. Dursley, Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley, the three of you have proven yourself trustworthy over the past year. Mr. Eckerton, well, you know the consequences if I were to become unable to brew your potion before I finalize it and teach your sister how to do it.”
Were they about to learn why Burke had been illegally brewing Polyjuice Potion? That was more than Albus had hoped for. Whatever it was, it seemed they were right in assuming Burke didn’t care if they knew what he was doing, since his incarceration meant he would no longer be able to brew Matt’s potion, which, they knew now, actually helped.
Burke fingered his cane and breathed deeply before he continued. “I am dying.” He let out a short laugh. “Well, we are all dying. But I will reach the destination far before any of you, and far before I want to or anticipated I would.”
Burke paused, and nobody said a word. Even Kaden, who Albus could tell had a burning question on the tip of his tongue, remained silent. The only noises in the room were the steady bubbling of potions and a particularly loud cough from Matt.
“I have a chronic and degenerative disease,” Burke said, turning to Matt, “not unlike yours, in terms of its effects.”
Matt looked horrified, and Albus couldn’t blame him. What did Burke mean by that? Even after the worst full moon Matt never seemed as bad as Burke looked now.
Burke gave a wry smile, noticing the look on Matt’s face. “I merely meant it holds me back from doing what I’d like, what I need to do. It is slowly killing me, and before it does, it will leave me bedridden and unable to brew. As you can see, it is getting worse. That seizure I had, which led to my unplanned trip to St. Mungo’s, will not be the last. Unless…unless I am able to slow it down, to cure it even.” His eyes drifted to his mystery potion.
Suddenly, Albus realized what that potion was, why Burke was so secretive about it, and why it seemed to mean everything to him. Because it did mean everything to him. It was his cure, or at least the start of it.
“I have been unsuccessful thus far,” Burke said. “Which is blatantly obvious given my current state. But I will continue until I am no longer able to do so. If I am lucky, I will succeed before that and I will live as long as Albus Dumbledore, creating many breakthrough potions before I die.”
“You’re-“ Matt began, his voice hoarse, “you’re trying to cure your own disease?”
Burke smiled again. “I am, much like your sister is trying to cure yours.”
“She wants to fix Wolfsbane,” Matt corrected. “There’s no cure for lycanthropy.”
“Not yet,” Burke said. “Nor is there a cure for what I have, but it is my hope that this potion will turn into a cure. Or at least a way to stall the symptoms. I have far too many potions I am working on to die in the near future. If I expire before they are finished, I fear my current research will simply fall away. Very few people go into the field of potion research and no one has time to continue an old man’s projects after he dies.”
“Sir, are you going to stay at Hogwarts?” Kaden asked. “And I would continue your projects.”
“Yes, Kaden,” Burke said, smiling. “As long as Professor Kendrick will have me. And thank you. That means a lot.”
Rose glanced at Burke suspiciously. “But why did you come to Hogwarts? Teaching only takes time away from your research.”
“At first glance, yes, Miss Weasley, it does,” Burke answered. “But teaching is a noble profession, and it is my hope that I will inspire a few Hogwarts students to go into brewing as a career. By teaching, I can secure the field of brewing even beyond my death. That was my first reason. My second was selfish. I needed help with the day-to-day task of caring for my potions, and that will only increase in necessity as this terrible disease robs me of fine motor skills.”
“Why not hire assistants?” Rose asked.
“I do not have the funds for that,” Burke said. “Brewing is expensive, and I use all my gold for ingredients. The Ministry provides funds for potions researchers, but I choose to do it on my own, so I am not affiliated with them. The Ministry has great control over what potions are researched with their money. I use private grants, but they take time to secure, so I must be careful about how I spend.”
Albus exchanged a glance with Matt, knowing he was thinking the same thing. Was money the reason Burke brewed Polyjuice?
“The third reason,” Burke continued, his eyes resting on Matt, “was you, Mr. Eckerton. You began taking my experimental Anxiety Potion with aconite almost a year ago, and the opportunity to see its effects firsthand was too good an opportunity to pass up. I must say it’s working quite well, unless you disagree?”
“N-no,” Matt stammered. “It’s working fine.”
Burke looked rather pleased with himself as he fingered the top of his cane. “Excellent, excellent. I must ask you to leave now, as I am in need of rest. I will see you in class tomorrow, Mr. Potter, Mr. Eckerton, Miss Weasley. Kaden, I will see you tomorrow evening. I am afraid I require more assistance with the potions than before my visit to St. Mungo’s.”
Without waiting for a reply, Professor Burke rose unsteadily from the chair and shuffled to the door leading to his living quarters. Albus stood up and left, his friends following.
“That,” Matt began, “was weird.”
“Are you okay?” Kaden asked, looking at Matt. “Your face is all red and blotchy.”
“It’s the aconite in there,” Matt said. “I’ll be fine. There wasn’t very much.”
“Then you shouldn’t have gone in!” Rose said.
“I wanted to hear what Burke had to say,” Matt said. “I’m fine. I promise.”
Rose didn’t look convinced, but Albus thought Matt looked a lot better than he had when they’d gone into the apothecary in Diagon Alley. Clearly he wasn’t having a full allergic reaction.
“Did any of you think he was ill?” Rose asked as they walked up the stairs to the Entrance Hall. “Before he had the seizure?”
“No,” Albus said. “I thought he was just clumsy, but I suppose he always dropped things and knocked stuff over because of his illness, right?”
Rose nodded. “He did a really good job of hiding it.”
“Everyone will know now,” Kaden said. “As soon as they see him, what with that cane. And he looks terrible.”
“He doesn’t really think what I’ve got is similar to what he’s got, does he?” Matt asked. He looked worried.
“He can’t,” Albus said. “You’ve got lycanthropy. He’s obviously got something else. You get ill and then get better every month. There are only lasting effects if you injure yourself.”
Matt sighed. “Not exactly, Al. People’s bodies aren’t exactly designed to change shape and back again once a month. It’s got lasting effects. Even if Amy comes up with better Wolfsbane, it’s still going to have lasting effects.”
That hadn’t ever crossed Albus’s mind. “What sort of effects?”
“General aches and pains all the time, not only just around the full moons. Some people react differently to the transformations and develop other conditions because of it. I’ve been lucky enough not to had to deal with that yet, unless you count the anxiety. And…people like me…tend not to live as long as normal,” Matt said quietly.
“Unless someone cures it,” Rose said quickly. “It’s fully possible that that’ll happen in your lifetime.”
“But even that wouldn’t undo the damage that’s already been done. Remember what happened with my leg in December? That’s only going to happen more often as the bones and joints and everything weaken with every full moon.”
“Don’t think about that now,” Albus said. “We’ve got enough to worry about with O.W.L.s.”
“Al is right,” Rose said, forcing a smile. “Let’s get breakfast and get to the library before all the good tables are taken.”
Professor Young was arraigned on Monday, the same day Professor Burke resumed his teaching responsibilities. It was hard to say which topic was discussed the most in the Great Hall during meals that day. Burke’s cane and general sick look were discussed at length, with everyone speculating what exactly he had. During one of these discussions, Albus realized Burke never told them the actual name of his illness, just that he was ill and would eventually die from it. As always with the Hogwarts rumor mill, the speculations ranged from plausible to outrageous. One of the more popular rumors was that Burke was a vampire detoxing from human blood.
The discussion of Professor Young centered around debate of whether anyone would post bail following his arraignment. There was also the subject of who Kendrick had gotten to replace him, and Young’s replacement was none other than Albus’s father. Albus hadn’t been entirely surprised to see his dad sitting at the staff table at breakfast Monday morning, and mostly he felt relieved they’d have a decent Defense professor to help them review for O.W.L.s.
An article about Young’s arraignment was the front page article in the Prophet on Tuesday morning. Albus skimmed it, as it did not contain anything new, until he reached the very end, which gave details about the trial.
“Trial is set to begin on May 31st,” Albus said, setting down the paper. “But they’ve only charged him with the Hogsmeade Murder. Did you know that, Rose?”
“Yes,” Rose answered. “It was in Sunday’s paper. They don’t have evidence to charge him for the Knockturn Alley one, even if they suspect it was him. I’m sure the prosecutor is hoping he’ll confess at some point during the trial.”
“Has anyone bailed him out?” Matt asked, taking the Prophet from Albus’s empty plate.
“No,” Albus said. “It’s really high, since he’s on trial for murder. 500,000 Galleons.”
“Bloody hell,” John whispered. “No one has that kind of money.”
“Only rich purebloods,” Albus said. “And I don’t think Young is rich.”
“So he’s stuck in there for three weeks,” Matt said. “That’s awful.”
That it was. However, Albus found little time to think about Professor Young and his unfortunate arrest and subsequent murder trial over the next three weeks. O.W.L.s were drawing ever nearer and every single professor was now assigning twice as much homework as they had the previous month, all of it review. No one was teaching anything new, for which Albus was grateful. He would’ve thought the review classes would be less work than learning new things, but he was wrong. It surprised him every day how little he remembered from previous years, especially in History of Magic. They’d also lost their study hall time during Defense Against the Dark Arts, since Albus’s dad actually taught. Not that anyone complained.
During the three weeks in which Professor Young sat in Azkaban, surrounded by dementors, three more fifth years required Calming Draughts from Madam Pomfrey, resulting in three raving rants about the exam system and how it brought too much stress upon growing minds. Luckily, Matt was not one of the three who needed to visit the nurse. Professor Burke’s potion seemed to be working, at least during the day; Matt had not had to leave any classes due to panic attacks. The middle of the night was a different story. Albus’s midnight essay writing had become something of a habit and he witnessed two more of Matt’s nightmares that turned into panic attacks, one of which had taken place the night before the full moon and the other the night before Young’s trial was set to begin.
There was much talk in the Great Hall at breakfast on May 31st. The Prophet had reached new levels of insanity, publishing not only a life story of Young and restating everything they’d already published about Michael Sheldon’s murder, but also a description of his arrest, in which Auror Johnson greatly exaggerated his own heroics.
“This is utter crap,” Matt said, tossing the paper onto the table. He looked exhausted and Albus doubted whether he’d gotten any sleep after he recovered in the wee hours of the morning. “He didn’t put up any sort of struggle that I heard. The only thing he did was argue with Johnson.”
Rose sighed. “Come on, Ancient Runes. I don’t want to be late.” Albus and Matt hurried after her.
Albus had a difficult time paying attention in Ancient Runes. His whole mind was focused on Professor Young. How long would the trial take? Would the members of the Wizengamot be influenced by Auror Johnson and Laurentis or would they remain impartial? Albus was sure there was no way they could convict him if it was the latter.
“So they must still be investigating the Knockturn Alley murder,” Albus said as they walked to Herbology after Ancient Runes. “Right? Since Young was only charged with the Hogsmeade Murder.”
“Supposedly,” Rose agreed. “But I think they’re probably hoping people will assume Young did both.”
“It’s easy to, the way the Prophet is implying that he did both.”
“I think I might skive off History of Magic,” Matt said, changing the subject entirely. “I don’t think I’ll make it to Astronomy unless I get a nap. Sorry, what were you talking about?”
“The trial,” Albus said. “Are you all right?”
Matt shook his head. “I feel all jittery and on edge. I don’t think anything except sleep will help.”
“Why doesn’t that potion work at night?” Rose asked. “Should you take more of it?”
“It’s because I can’t control what I dream about. My nightmares are about my worst fears, and that sets it off.”
“You ought to learn Occlumency,” Rose said. “Learn to close your mind. My mum could teach you.”
“Isn’t Occlumency just about closing your mind to intruders?” Matt asked skeptically. “No one’s trying to read my thoughts.”
“That is the main goal of it, yes,” Rose said. “But it’s also about learning how to fall asleep with an empty mind. If you’re thinking about nothing when you fall asleep, you might not have as many nightmares.”
“But I can’t control what I think about after I fall asleep,” Matt said.
“It might still be worth a shot,” Rose said. “Couldn’t hurt, could it?”
“I suppose not,” Matt agreed.
Rose nodded. “I’ll owl her and maybe you could do it over the summer.”
“Thanks. In the meantime, I’ve learned all the History of Magic that I possibly can. I’m taking a nap after lunch. And don’t try to convince me not to.”
“I won’t,” Rose assured him. “It’s not like you want to skip for a stupid reason.”
Albus pushed open the oak front doors, revealing a beautiful spring day. The air was warm, with just a slight breeze, and only a few white clouds obscured the mid-morning sun.
“Maybe I’ll spend History of Magic out here,” Matt said. “Great day to nap by the lake.”
“If you do that, I’ll be tempted to fake a headache and skive off,” Albus said.
“No, Albus, you really can’t afford to do that,” Rose said as she led them down the path to the Herbology greenhouses.
Albus sighed. He couldn’t wait until exams were over and he could enjoy some well-deserved time wandering around the grounds. Even more so, he was looking forward to the summer holidays.
They arrived at the greenhouses a few minutes later. Rose opened the door and Albus and Matt followed her inside. Matt stopped short upon seeing what was sitting on the work tables.
“I thought we were done repotting mandrakes,” Matt said, eyeing the closest mandrake warily.
“We are,” Professor Longbottom said. There was a glint of excitement in his eyes. “Today we’re harvesting them! Although I suppose you won’t be able to do that either, will you? No…we’ll have to take them out of the pots to harvest them and they’ll scream…we’ll stun them straight away, but there will still be a few minutes of screaming. You’ll have to return to the castle. Madam Pomfrey would have my head if I didn’t excuse you.”
Matt nodded, looking extremely relieved. He turned to Albus and Rose. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
“Now you won’t have to miss History of Magic,” Rose pointed out. “You can use this time to nap.”
“I suppose,” Matt said, shrugging. “I’ll see how I feel then.”
Matt left and Albus and Rose quickly found their seats. Albus hoped Rose would help him after she and Amanda finished their own mandrakes. Without Matt, it would take him twice as long.
“This is the day we’ve been waiting for all year!” Professor Longbottom said, clapping his hands together. “Today we harvest the mandrakes. Mandrake harvesting is a tricky task, owing to the fact that the mandrakes are squirmy and must be stunned before harvesting can take place. After they are stunned, they must be chopped into pieces about the size of a Galleon. Put the chunks in the jars provided and I will perform a preservation charm on them after class.
“Next year you will use these same mandrakes in Potions, if you choose to continue with the subject. Professor Burke is very excited for you to use them….”
“I’m not surprised,” Albus whispered to Rose, “he’ll know exactly where these mandrakes have been.”
“…Knives can be found on the back table, jars on the front. Earmuffs must be worn throughout the period, as the stunning will wear off if you are not quick enough.”
Longbottom released them and there was a mad scramble for earmuffs, jars, and knives. Albus took his supplies back to his table, put on his earmuffs, and stared at his mandrake. They looked perfectly harmless while potted, the only indication of life being the occasional movement of the leaves.
Grimacing, Albus brandished his wand and grabbed hold of the mandrake’s leaves with his other hand. He yanked, and it broke free of its pot, letting out an awful scream. The scream was even louder than before, most likely since the mandrakes had reached maturity. Not wanting to listen to it any longer, Albus stunned the mandrake and it fell limp.
Once stunned, it was surprisingly easy to harvest the mandrakes. It was very similar to preparing potions ingredients, something Albus had much experience with. However, more than a few of Albus’s fellow students had difficulty since their stunning spells weren’t nearly as strong as his and wore off in mid-harvest. At this point one person was needed to hold the mandrake while another person stunned it again.
By the end of the class all the mandrakes had been harvested and were contained in a pyramid of jars, ready for Longbottom to preserve them. Albus couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction that the mandrake project was over. It was something they’d been working on all year, and the fact that it was over seemed to signify the end of term. Only three weeks remained, and only O.W.L.s stood between the fifth years and the freedom of summer.
A/N: Only four chapters left! Thanks for all the lovely reviews!
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