Disclaimer: Not mine. No really. Not mine.
Summery: Dolores Umbridge makes a mistake and gets her comeuppance.
Severus Snape liked Wednesdays this year. Not only did he have the last period of the day free but it was also the only school day when he was not timetabled for the Gryffindor/Slytherin 5th year class. Yeas, Wednesdays, were most definitely his most pleasant days. He was just contemplating this fact, sitting next to the fire in the staff room, perusing the latest edition of the Daily 'lets make it up as we go along' while revelling in the peace and quiet. Or at least, he would have been revelling in the silence if it were not for the fact that Umbridge also happened to have the last period of the day off and was presently making a great deal of noise with a china tea set in the corner of the room. Thus said, he was grateful when the bell marking the end of classes rang through the castle; at least the Toad couldn't be expecting to have an 'in-depth' conversation with him. A few moments later and Pomona Sprout backed through the door with two armfuls of fresh flowers.
"Afternoon." She greeted them cheerily as she began to replace the stems in the vases that were strategically placed around the room, mostly on her desk. In addition though, each of the Heads of the four Houses were usually graced with a small display of some sort as well. There was a bunch of crocuses, hyacinths and bluebells for Fillius, Severus's desk played host to a tasteful array of silver ferns, ivy and grasses but as ever the Slytherin had to admit that the blood red roses with a dusting of gold on top that were Minerva's gift were absolutely gorgeous. At that moment the Deputy Headmistress herself arrived, her arms laden with books and rolls of parchment. She had developed a rather impressive frazzled air over the last eight months or so, and it had only intensified since Dumbledore's abrupt departure. It was obvious to him, and probably to the others that she was as usual, running around no-doubt listing all the other places she ought to be in her head as she completed one task, dropping the books off on her desk.
"The roses are beautiful, as always. Thank you Mona." She commented, taking the time to smell one of the blooms before turning before turning, presumably to leave again. Severus repressed a smirk as Minerva stopped abruptly – only just succeeding in preventing her essays from toppling all over their new Headmistress, who had planted herself firmly in the other woman's path. He was sure why she bothered; the women's feelings for each other were widely known and hardly what one could describe as 'friendly' but Minerva, at least was walking a thin line in order to prevent her summary dismissal.
"Dolores, what can I do for you?" She asked with a small, forced smile.
"Nothing, nothing. I just wondered if you might like a cup of tea? You look a little stressed." She added as if this was a full and frank explanation. He Gryffindor looked a little taken aback by this offer.
"Yes I suppose…" She answered hesitantly. "Black please. And I'm going to have to take this and run."
"That's fine Minerva, lust make sure that we see you at dinner though." This was most surreal Severus thought as his counter part produced a hand from beneath a stack of parchment and took the cup and saucer she was being proffered. After Umbridge moved on, the other woman stood for a moment before shaking her head and returning to her previous intentions and hurrying out of the room.
"Is there enough left for another cup?" Pomona asked as she threw herself down onto the sofa opposite where he was sitting. This time it was the High Inquisitor's turn to look a little shocked.
"Why yes, I suppose there is." She replied pouring another cup and handing it over. "Can I offer you Severus?"
"Thank you, but no. I only drink coffee." He replied with his usual characteristic snarl toned down into something that resembled respect. They both turned to look at the herbology professor though, when she started coughing and spluttering.
"What on earth did you put in this?" She asked, carefully placing her cup down on the low table that sat between them. Severus folded up his paper and laid it to one side sensing that something was about to happen; the Hufflepuff usually drank herbal tea so what Umbridge had put in her brew to elicit that reaction from her.
"Just the usual…" She replied looking a little edgy. They both looked at her until she continued. "…and maybe a little catnip." The last was barely audible. Severus felt as if his stomach had suddenly been filled with ice.
"Catnip?" Pomona asked glancing nervously up at him. Umbridge nodded.
"How much?" He asked sharply. She looked the other way and mumbled. "HOW MUCH?"
"About half and half."
"Shit." He swore uncharacteristically and glanced around the room as if he hoped to find Minerva's teacup there untouched, halting the sense of panic rapidly swelling within him.
"I don't see why…" The Headmistress began indignantly.
"Minerva happens to have a very serious allergy to the stuff." He told her trying to pull his thoughts together.
"But she's a cat!" Severus was sure he was going to hit this woman in a minute.
"No she's an animagus whose animal form happens to be a cat." Pomona replied pointedly.
"It's called irony." Severus muttered under his breath.
"What happens?" Umbridge asked a little hesitantly.
"If she comes in direct contact with it, touches it, she'll come out in a rash, and if she ingests it, she'll go into anaphylaxis." Pomona informed her while it was rapidly dawning on Severus that it had no impact whatsoever whether the Toad had put a sprig or a bloody bush worth of catnip in the tea- if a drop so much as passed he lips the reaction would be the same.
"You see if you can find Poppy, I'm going to see if I can find her before it's too late." He said before anyone else had a chance to speak. She nodded and he followed her out of the door at quite a pace.
He hadn't even noticed the Toad following him until she piped up again.
"Well it was rather stupid of her not to make it known…"
"We all know perfectly she's allergic. She knows well enough o stay away from it when she's in her cat form and it's not something she usually comes across it when she's in her human form. Hence the fact that it's rarely a problem and she's never had a serious attack in all the time I've taught here." He pointed out. That was true, he'd certainly never seen her in full anaphylaxis but he had seen after she had shaken hands with someone who had just finished playing with their cat…
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of chine shattering on a hard stone floor. He had been making his way to her study hoping that that was where she was headed and she would wait until she got there before drinking her tea but now he took off running in the same direction, climbing the stairs two at a time he was only vaguely aware of the students he passed on his way. The group of students that had begun to congregate around something a little further down the corridor was the first sign he got of where she was.
"Get out of the way! Give her some room!" He called as he approached them robes billowing behind him. As they parted he saw her for the first time; she was upright, which he took to be a good sign but even with her back to him he could see she was leaning heavily against the wall. He rounded her and came to an abrupt stop placing a hand on her shoulder to attract her attention. When she looked up he was shocked by the open fear in her eyes as she already struggled to draw breath. Carefully he guided her to her knees as her legs began to give way. She was trying to talk to him, to tell him something but he knew he had far better things to be doing with her breath.
"Shush Minerva. It's okay, we know." He said, the uncharacteristically soft and reassuring phrases flowing naturally for once. The relief in her face was palpable. "It's okay, just relax." She managed to raise an eyebrow at this and he had to admit that perhaps that was a little too much to ask.
"Have you got a pen on you?" He asked, referring to the epi-pens, muggle devices, that she kept strategically placed around the castle. With an effort she shook her head. "Okay, no problem. There's one in your desk in the staff room though, mmm…" He said more to himself than to her. Looking up at the students around them who had backed up after his arrival. He tried to identify a muggle born child who was likely to be able to grasp the concept of, 'something that looks like a pen'.
"Creevey!" He called and Colin immediately sprang forward, his uncharacteristic silence probably due to the shock that was written as plain as day across his face. "I need you to go to the staff room and in the second desk from the right on the far wall you'll find a yellow pen thing."
"Top…" Minerva began closing her eyes and trying desperately to get enough breath enough to say what she wanted too. "Right hand …drawer." The boy nodded feverishly before bolting down the corridor. Severus turned his attention back to Minerva as he could feel her struggle continue.
"Right lets get you out of this." He said as he undid the clasp of her robes and began pulling them off. He felt so helpless but hoped that by removing the heavy velvet garment he would be removing a weight from her shoulders quite literarily and make her breathing a little easier. Underneath she wore a dark Victorian style dress with high neck, long sleeves and low hem. Even as his thoughts were going in the same direction she lifted a trembling hand to begin pulling at the collar. He guessed there must be a fastening at the back as he couldn't see one and put a hand in order to search for it. As he did he caught her eyes again and saw that they had become almost frenzied as her chest heaved, each breath a battle won.
"Don't worry. It's okay. It's going to be fine." The stream of assurances much quieter this time, meant only for her ears. He found the fastener and pulled it down almost as far as it would go and pulled the fabric down away from her neck and off her shoulders. As he revealed what he supposed was usually ivory skin he was shocked by the red welts that had appeared, angry and hot to the touch. He placed cool hands back on her shoulders to steady her as he heard a hitch in her breath. For a fraction of a second he was certain she had stopped breathing altogether but once again he heard the unnerving rattle as she fought on.
He could feel that her muscles had contracted in as far as they would, everything tensed to the point of snap. He continued to try and reassure her as he began to attempt to loosen her shoulders and hopefully ease her laboured breathing. At one stage she leant forward so that her head leaned against his shoulder, obviously an attempt to keep from falling down as her body began to protest that it wasn't getting enough oxygen. He didn't know what to do though; to lay her down on the floor would save her the task of staying upright but he was certain it wouldn't help her breathing any. He also knew that being folded over to lean on him wasn't the best solution either though. Shuffling around he ignored the fact that his legs were fast asleep and forced them to work in any case while, keeping a firm grip on Minerva he moved around until he was behind her. Kneeling up while she sat on top of his legs meant that she could lean back against him, straightening her posture and therefore opening up her chest. He could feel the heat radiating off her as she turned her head to one side, towards the wall. Severus supposed that she might be trying to preserve some of her dignity from the students prying eyes and if he hadn't been so preoccupied he might have tried sending them away. This made him think of Umbridge again, whom he could now see and seemed to be standing frozen to the spot in shock. Though he did wish perhaps that she would be a little more pro-active in at least trying to take hold of the situation he couldn't help but be glad that she seemed to grasp the seriousness of what she had done. He was aware that Minerva's wheezing was becoming even slower and more laboured as he noticed the damp patch that was forming on his robes. Looking down he could see that though her eyes were shut tight the tears were pouring from beneath her lids.
"You've got to keep fighting Min." Severus could hardly imagine how hard this was for her, what it must feel like. To know your body was over-reacting to something so innocuous, reacting to the extent that your airways were swelling up to prevent it's entry into your body. She probably thought she was going to die here in this draughty corridor and if Severus was honest he wasn't sure that she wouldn't.
The sound of footsteps hurrying up the stairs before they flew around the corridor was the first sign Severus got of the impending arrival of Colin Creevey. The young Gryffindor had obviously run all the way, his cheeks flushed and breathing heavy, as he handed over the epi-pen.
"Thank you." He said taking it and looking up momentarily only to find him retreating back to the small group of students that still congregated. It wasn't hard to use, he guessed that that was why the muggles had invented them and it was far easier than the incantation a professional medi-wizard or witch could have used to deliver the correct amount of epinephrine into her blood stream. He pressed the end up against the exposed skin of her upper arm and listened to the quiet hiss he supposed signalled the medication had been released. The effect was neither immediate nor drastic to begin with and for the first twenty seconds he was not sure it had worked at all. Then he began to sense that Minerva herself was feeling the difference. Though they still sounded laboured, her breaths became longer. Carefully he moved again so that his right leg remained behind her, propped up so that she could lean on it and his left he tucked underneath him where he sat to her side. Placing a hand on her upper back he began rubbing gently back and forth.
"Better?" He asked. She nodded at this even though she still seemed to be breathing with her whole body and looked thoroughly exhausted. It was Poppy Pomfrey 's voice that signalled her arrival.
"Excuse me! Would you let me past!" These were more orders than requests and the students responded as if she were a drill sergeant. They parted to let her through and a moment layer she was kneeling on the floor next to them, managing to avoid the wrecked teacup that still lay there.
"You used the pen?" She asked picking it up from where he had discarded it .
"Yes, but only a minute ago."
"This is her after the adrenalin?" She asked sounding slightly surprised. For once, Severus noticed, Minerva seemed to be willing to let them get on with it as she concentrated on her breathing.
"We had some hairy moments." He said catching the medi-witch's eye ensuring that she understood what he had said by a curt nod. Pomona had obviously returned with the other woman as she was now ushering the students away to no-doubt ply them with sweet tea until she was sure, in her very Hufflepuffish fashion, that none of them were in shock. What Severus wouldn't have admitted was that he might have been in need of the same treatment.
The no-nonsense mediwitch soon had her patient moved to the medicinal calm of the hospital wing within a few minutes and an hour later, Severus sat just inside the ward, watching the shadow of Dolores Umbridge through the frosted glass of the door that had been shut firmly in her face. The Slytherin leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and chin on steepled fingers until, at the sound of clipped steps from the other end of the ward he sprang up.
"She's stable and relatively comfortable for the moment." Poppy said before he had opened his mouth. Despite any and all pretences of nonchalance he might and would have made if asked, the relief he felt at this news was immense. "I've loaded her up with some more adrenaline, and some steroids, which should ease her breathing some more. She's thoroughly exhausted which is hardly surprising but she is doing much better."
"Can I …" He asked gesturing in the direction from which she had come, before he pulled his thoughts together. "That is to say… Would it be all right if I stopped by."
"I don't see why not as long as you don't wake her up if she does asleep and that you don't get her worked up if she is awake." He gave a perfunctory nod before following her into a small private room at the far end of the ward.
"What should I tell our esteemed Headmistress?" She asked just before they entered the room.
"Nothing yet I would say, let her stew for a little longer?" He suggested and was treated with an almost wicked smile in return before she bustled off towards her storeroom.
When he did open the door it was slowly and with some trepidation, yet again his usually brusqueness having vanished for the time being. The only light came from the window to the right of the bed head, and he noted absently that the spring sunshine was beginning to fade. It had after all been a long afternoon. The most prominent sign of that was of course the state of the figure lying in the sheets before him now. She looked far more peaceful, propped up in a bank of pillows than she had done when last he had seen her. The steady flow of what he was assuming was probably nebulised albuterol that was being magically held in front of her face had obviously done it's work despite the fact that he could still see the unnatural rise and fall of her chest and could still hear her wheezing. Signs that he really hadn't taken the time to notice in the heat of events were plain to see now though, her face looked puffy and swollen and he could see the fiery welts of the rash he had noted earlier creeping above the neckline of her conservative nightdress. Severus had yet to move when her eyes opened slowly and felt almost uncomfortable under her slightly bleary eyed gazed.
"Feeling better?" He asked after a moment as he finally took up the seat next to the bed.
"Certainly glad I'm not feeling worse." She said in a voice deep, gravely and barely audible.
"Well lets just say that even if our resident High Inquisitor gets what's coming to her she wont have gotten what she deserves." She smiled a little at this, and in that instant Severus was sure he had never seen her look so vulnerable.
"Bit of a mess I'm afraid." She said obviously embarrassed by how she appeared.
"Don't be ridiculous woman." He said trying to resurrect his usual condescending tone. "I don't think I've seen such a welcome sight in a long time." He leaned down and gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead.
"Oh!" She said huskily just as Severus was pulling back and he jumped away from the bed, scared he had hurt her. She read him well by reassuring him that she was fine and he sat down once more.
"It's just that I had a rather interesting idea..." She began, in the same hoarse tone. Severus' interest peaked immediately and he leaned in closer, eager that she shouldn't strain her voice. "Where is our Headmistress?" She asked first off.
"She's waiting outside the ward. When we established she'd put catnip in the tea we told her you were allergic, and well, she saw most off what went on in the corridor after she followed me when I went to look for you." He explained. "Poppy didn't… well I didn't think it would be the done thing to let her into the hospital wing so she's been waiting outside since you were brought here."
"But she hasn't been told anything else?"
"No - we thought we might as well let her stew with the fear of arrest for murder, or at least manslaughter hanging over her head."
"A well, that's where I might have an idea…"
Severus had always had a huge respect for his Gryffindor counterpart even if he showed it in rather a vicarious fashion but his admiration for her had grown hugely after she had explained her thinking. He had spoken to Poppy when he had left Minerva's room, explained what was going on so that she was able to play her part if called upon. Now, he paused just before the doors out of the hospital wing composing himself before he faced this challenge. After a moment he pulled the door back and slipped out, shrouding himself in an air of nervous apprehension. Umbridge was standing, staring off down the corridor before him, lost in thought and observably nervous. She turned to face him, her eagerness to hear good news painted all over her face.
"Well? How is she?" She asked.
"Not too good. She's had something of a relapse." He said quietly, using his usual mask to simulate shut off emotions. "Poppy isn't holding out much hope." This final statement was enough to send the other woman over the edge, the look of panic in her eyes spiralling out of control.
"Is there anything… anything I can do?" She managed to stutter after a moment.
"If I were you Headmistress," Severus began, in a sarcastic drawl. "I'd been getting in touch with Professor McGonagall's next of kin, doing anything I could to keep them on my side so that they might not push for a charge of murder over simple manslaughter." And with that he turned and re-entered the wing in a swish of black fabric. He stopped just beyond the doors though, hoping to hear some sign that she was going to react in the way Minerva had predicted. When just seconds later, he heard the characteristic shuffle of Umbridge's walk, speed up down the corridor he allowed himself to smile. It was at times like this when he was quite certain that the current Head of Gryffindor would have made a superb Slytherin.
Dolores Umbridge's mind was in turmoil as she hurried up the stairs towards her office. There was the ambitious part of her trying to rally an optimistic point of view, after all Minerva McGonagall had been a huge obstacle to her plans, but it had little success up against the reality. If she had actually caused the death of the woman then there was every possibility she could and would be put on trial for murder and somehow she didn't think Cornelius would be able to get her out of that one. She had only intended to embarrass and discredit the woman, hoped that the plant would have had some effect on her behaviour that would have brought the woman some disrespect. That however was unlikely to get her off in front of a jury. Reaching her office she took far longer to unlock it than usual just because her mind was all over the place. It didn't take her long to find the Deputy Headmistress's folder in the staff filling cabinet and she pulled it out and started leafing through its contents. Finding the sheet she wanted she pulled it clear and scanned down the information.
"Next of kin… next of kin…" She murmured to herself as she ran her finger down all the other personal information. When she came to that section of the form she was somewhat surprised to see a neatly scribed 'none' as the answer. Underneath however was an additional piece of information written in the same distinctive copperplate. 'Nominated guardian of best interests; Albus Percival Wolfrick Brian Dumbledore.' Her heart sunk. It wasn't unusual for those with no family to nominate officially a representative of their interests should they be injured or die but in this case it was the final nail in her coffin. Sitting down on the floor she let the sheet of paper that had condemned her future in her own eyes fall to the ground next to her. Not being able to gather her wits to do anything further the High Inquisitor sat there and contemplated her fate until Mrs Norris found her there several hours later.