Disclaimer: The characters and names in this story are the property of JKR and her publishers. No disrespect or copyright infringement is intended.
Author's note: This is another in the 'What If…?' series. In this case the 'What if' scenario has Lupin taking over the Potions class.
Many thanks to Cecelle for beta-ing this story, and encouraging me to post it.
This story is set in Harry's third year (i.e. PoA ) in about mid-February.
ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES…. LUPIN?
The class was becoming restive. They had been in the dungeon at least ten minutes and there was still no sign of Snape. It wasn't like him to be late. If he insisted on perfect punctuality from the students, he demanded no less from himself. Tardiness was most unusual.
Hermione had already cleaned the blackboard and handed back last week's homework essays – meticulously checked, marked and curtly annotated in red ink - which Snape had left in a neat pile on the front desk. It was a job she often volunteered for anyway: it gave her the chance to note everybody else's grades as she distributed the scrolls or sheets of parchment. Besides, she enjoyed reading Snape's trenchant comments (as long as they were not aimed at her own work). Today she had earned an E-. It was so unfair! How could she ever 'exceed expectations' when everyone always expected her to be perfect? Alongside the mark, Snape had added 'Exhaustive and exhausting. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, but quality and concision would be preferable.' She had to ponder that for a while before deciding whether or not to be offended. At the top of Harry's paper (he'd actually got himself an Acceptable this time!) she read: 'Factually correct; profoundly uninteresting'. Ron's 'D' merely gained him 'Deplorable but mercifully brief'; while Neville's essay, almost obliterated beneath the red corrections, had received the remark, 'A potentially explosive and lethal solution to the problem. It would be advisable to set up a precautionary containment field around your cauldron before attempting the Practical. See me.'
Poor Neville. Had he ever, Hermione wondered, got a piece of Potions homework back which did not end in those ominous, gut-churning two words: 'See me'?
She barely had time to look at Malfoy's mark before he snatched the essay from her hand. 'Thoroughly researched and clearly expressed. A more detailed analysis of the uses of fluxweed would have merited an E.' So, wonder-boy wasn't perfect after all!
"Don't you think we should get our ingredients out?" Hermione asked Harry. "Then, when he does come, we'll be ready to start? We won't want to waste any more time…"
"Whew!" Harry ducked an ink pellet, laughing and twisting round to see who had flicked it. "So he's late? So, make the most of it! Hey!" He dodged again. The four Slytherins on the right looked suspiciously innocent… Aiming an index finger loaded with 20:20 contempt, Harry shot Malfoy between the eyes, mouthing the bang: "Ka-Pow!"
"Try these –" Ron had his whole arm plunged deep into his pocket, groping about in the furthermost recesses. It reminded Hermione unpleasantly of that time she'd stayed with her parents at the farmhouse B&B, and she'd seen a vet performing an internal examination on a pregnant cow. Ron eventually drew out a fistful of tiny black balls – dried currants, maybe, or possibly peppercorns or Moke droppings.
"What are they?" asked Harry as Ron trickled a dozen or so of the bullets into his cupped hand.
"Sootspore. They're some kind of a gall. They grow on that thingummy bush round the back of Hagrid's hut. You know, the one with the spotty flowers…"
"… that smell like beaver piss? Yeah, I know. I've never noticed these though."
"That's cos Fred and George always pick 'em all first! They're great –they don't look like much, but when they hit something they go 'Pooufff!' and all this black stuff comes out. It takes ages to come off. My Mum goes absolutely spare…"
"Excellent!" exclaimed Harry, glancing evilly at the unsuspecting Slytherins. He was debating with himself whether to use his quill as a pea-shooter or whether it would be better in the long run to Transfigure his ruler into a catapult – a regular dilemma – when there was a thud and a grunt and the dungeon door opened. In ambled Professor Lupin, his arms laden with books, a sheaf of notes, bits of brewing equipment and, inevitably, his old, battered briefcase.
"Good afternoon everybody!" he greeted them. "I could hear you lot from right down the corridor. It's a miracle no one's been in to tell you to keep the noise down. Ooof!" With a sigh of relief, he let the heavy armload drop onto the desk. A narrow, orangey tube rolled away from the heap towards the edge of the desk, fell, smashed and disappeared. "Ah. Um. What on earth was that, I wonder?" Lupin mused ruefully. "Well, then. Good afternoon everybody," he said again, straightening up and grinning at them. "Sorry I'm late. Took me a while to sort out my Potions bits and bobs. Couldn't find them at all, this morning! It's a while since I've done this kind of thing."
"Are you taking us for Potions then, Professor Lupin?" They couldn't believe their luck. Only Malfoy scowled.
"Me? Er, yes, I am. Afraid you're stuck with me today. Can't be helped. Hasn't anybody said? As you know, several times when I've been feeling, ah, 'under the weather', Professor Snape has been kind enough to take my Defence classes for me. Now it's time for me to return the favour."
"Is Professor Snape sick then, Sir?" asked Draco, not so much concerned for Snape, but reluctant to take instruction from this shambling, shabby apology for a wizard.
"It's nothing serious, I'm sure," smiled Lupin, oblivious to the disappointment with which this news was received. "Right, let's make a start, shall we? Cauldrons ready? No? Well, hurry up now." He peered at a page of his notes, squinting slightly at the tight hand-writing – Snape's, presumably. They could see his head nodding seriously as he checked off the utensils and ingredients on his desk with the list of instructions. When he looked up, his expression did not exactly inspire confidence.
"'Nightsight Solution' today, is it? Never one of my favourites, I must admit, but very useful; oh yes, exceedingly useful."
"For burglars?" Harry quipped.
"Ha, yes, very amusing, Harry. Not much good there actually – the residue is easily detectable in the eye. Bit of a give-away for the average nocturnal criminal. No, I was thinking more of shift-workers – nurses, night-watchmen, security guards, that sort of thing…"
"You mean Filch? I always thought his eyes were bloodshot because…"
"Now, now, Ron. Let's not get personal. Attention everybody! It says here, you'll need your small conical flasks… and the bracket so that you can suspend them in the steam from your cauldron… No, Mr Crabbe, that's a medium sized… Ow!"
Lupin exclaimed in pain as he hopped away from the desk, grasping hold of one foot. "Something spiky!" he grumbled. "Gone right through my shoe."
That wouldn't have been difficult. Lupin's shoes, like the rest of his possessions, were so old they were thin and threadbare. He toppled down onto a chair, untying his laces, removing a pitifully holey sock and examining his punctured toe. Hermione moved forwards to help him, a textbook in hand.
"Professor? I think you've probably trodden on some broken glass. That smashed tube didn't disappear completely – it's just invisible. Could it have been Demiguise Oil, do you think? It says here in the Potions Index… Listen: 'even in dilute suspensions the orange, lymphatic oil of the Demiguise will confer invisibility for several minutes when exposed to air. The silvery pelts of the Demiguise…' oh, well, we don't want that bit."
"Whatever it is, it hurt! You're probably right, Hermione. Snape said I'd need it for the NEWT class later on. I wonder if he's got any more in that store cupboard of his. I'll have a look in a minute. Do you know," Lupin went on reflectively, still poking at his foot with a grubby fingernail, "I used to be able to suck my toes…" For a dreadful second Hermione was worried that he might be going to give them a demonstration, but the professor thought better of it.
"Let's have a bit of hush, please! Everybody turn to page 93 and follow preparatory steps 1 to 4, while I clean up this invisible mess. I'll come round and check your ingredients in a minute." So saying, Lupin thrust his shoe back on and limped round – treading carefully this time – to the front of the desk.
"Evanesco!" he exclaimed, waving his wand in a generous arc to encompass both spillage and seepage. "Oh bother! That's done it! Should have thought of that…" Caught up in the wide angle of the spell, his entire desk plus cauldron, class notes, books, briefcase and the rest, vanished from sight.
"Incompetent, indigent and ugly!" Malfoy muttered to his cronies.
A titter of disbelief rippled through the classroom, swelling to laughter, choked back guiltily as Lupin swung round to face the students.
"It's just not my day!" he announced, shrugging away his embarrassment. "You lot get on with those first four steps and, er, you had better make a start on the decoction, too, otherwise we'll run out of time. That's fairly straightforward: the crushed juniper leaves, marigold pollen and sambux stems are… somewhere. Where does Professor Snape keep them, Hermione?"
Lupin gazed helplessly round the huge dungeon, knowing full well that he was woefully unprepared to teach this lesson. It had been sprung on him at the last minute, after all.
"They're all over there on the counter by the sink," Hermione pointed out patiently. Snape often laid out the ingredients the night before a class, to ensure that he had sufficient quantities available and to optimise his teaching time, rather than squander it rummaging in cupboards. "It's alright, Sir. We'll sort ourselves out. You'd better do some Reverse magic and find your stuff."
"Hermione! Er, Miss Granger! Could I borrow you for a moment?"
Hermione obediently approached Lupin's magically retrieved desk. The cauldron, briefcase and clutter formed a convenient barrier between the professor and the rest of the class – convenient, because he appeared to be shuffling the pages of notes rather frantically, a look of consternation on his grizzled face. "They're all out of sequence!" he hissed. "Snape's notes – they've all got in the wrong order… What do you do after the decoction has simmered for fifteen minutes? If I just knew what I was looking for…if I could find the next page…"
Hermione applied logic to the problem.
"We did the Boil Cure Potion in the first year, so that page all about the dried nettles and crushed snake fangs will go with this one where it talks about the stewed horned slugs… And I know Ginny's doing Swelling Solution this week, so that page will be for the second year class. Anything that mentions Invisibility will be for the NEWT people. We don't do Wit-Sharpening Potion till the fourth year…so it's not that one… or that one, because that's describing ground scarabs and armadillo bile… and that one…"
She sorted through the pile of papers, putting them into some kind of order, and identifying the sheets which dealt with the Nightsight Solution. Lupin watched her thankfully.
"Lucky you've got a better handle on this than I have," he commented. "I haven't a clue which potions you do when… It was different in my day – far less emphasis on the students getting hands-on experience. It's such a finicky subject – never really my cup of tea. Don't know how Snape can stand it year after year." One day of Potions was enough for Lupin.
"Here you are, Remus." Hermione handed him back the papers, sorted into seven piles according to year group. "And look, it says you have to demonstrate this next bit because it is a sensitive stage of the procedure. Snape's underlined it, see?"
He had also written a couple of enlightening footnotes for Lupin's benefit. 'Do not allow Gs undue initiative; adherence to the given recipe is vital' was one of them. Another read, 'Do not allow Rs to engage you in ethical debate on the acceptability of testing potions on animals – persuasive, but time-consuming.'
Hermione wondered how, if Snape had been taken ill, he had found time to prepare such a detailed set of lesson plans. Perhaps he had them anyway, just in case. Punctilious to a fault – that would be just like him.
"Off we go then! Is it alright if I use your potion for the demonstration? Gather round Hermione's cauldron, everyone," Lupin called, without waiting for her reply. She wasn't too keen on the idea, but what could she have said? He ran his eyes hurriedly over the instructions again, memorising them, and strode confidently forward.
"Oh yes, I remember this. It's all coming back to me now," he declared, smiling more cheerfully than he had all lesson. "Can everybody see? Are we all up to this stage? You've strained the decoction and added the Tiger's Eye? Yes? Now you have to be very careful about the next bit. The Tincture of Torrac must be added slowly. Three drops, OK?"
As the golden droplets fell, the liquid in the flask changed colour from a watery sage green to a cloudy pressed-apple colour and finally to a clear, glowing chartreuse. Lupin's ability as a Potions master rose slightly in the students' esteem.
"Quite pretty, isn't it?" he commented, standing back to admire his work. He stood, his hands on his hips, surveying the gently bubbling fluid, and a dreamy look glided into his eyes.
"Do you know," he said, addressing the class at large, but in a low, distant tone sweetened with reminiscence, "when I was about your age we made this same potion… And we – my friends and I – and some of them were a lot sharper about potion brewing than I ever was – we experimented with all sorts of variations on the basic recipe. Got glimpses of the whole spectrum, could even see those 'auras' that Sibyll's always banging on about – they're just layers of light energy, after all – but don't, for Merlin's sake, tell Professor Trelawney that I said so…
"It was all fascinating, but do you know what – in the end the standard formulation was the one we used most. Just goes to show how these Potions masters know a thing or two… We even, er, 'borrowed' some of the Nightsight and tried it out after dark. Remarkable to be able to walk along pitch black corridors without a lantern or even a Lumos!"
"Professor! You mean you were wandering about the castle after dark?" Lavender was scandalised. Hermione met the eyes of the other girls with a frown, but the boys – Gryffindors and Slytherins alike – were viewing Lupin with a new respect. The erstwhile Potions rebel shook himself back to responsibility.
"Ah, er, only briefly. Didn't make a habit of it – why would we? And I'm not in any way suggesting that any of you should doctor your potions, or put them to any clandestine… er, unusual uses. Certainly not. I can't stress enough how unwise it would be to walk about unsupervised in the current circumstances…"
With Sirius Black on the loose. Admittedly there had been no sightings of the convict for a couple of weeks, since the night he had found his way into the Gryffindor dormitory and slashed Ron's curtains, but there was no excuse for complacency. What did he, Lupin, think he was doing – undermining discipline like that? Black was a dangerous, vicious criminal – it simply didn't do to obscure the harsh reality with fond, foolish memories of the past.
Lupin bridled his thoughts and reined them back to the softly glowing, viridescent potion, which was now popping little, pale green powder puff bubbles of scented smoke.
"There's another interesting thing about this potion," he told them, unable to help himself. Having recaptured a fraction of his schoolboy wonder at the properties of this mixture, he needed to share it. "You see, with three drops of the Torrac it looks like this –" He gestured towards the flask and the class nodded. "But – watch now – if you add just one more…"
Hermione's eyes widened in horror as he squeezed the dropper – that was her potion he was ruining!
With the addition of the fourth droplet, swirls of darker blue appeared in the potion, staining and contaminating its liqueur translucency, darkening from turquoise to ultra marine to navy and indigo and finally to a dull, muddy black. The class gasped.
"Note too how the texture has changed," said Lupin happily, prodding the dark sludge with his wand. Hermione could see him as a little boy, making mud pies, damming streams… "It is unrecognisable, coarse, granular, yet surprisingly slimy to the touch… and I probably don't need to mention this, but it now has no vision enhancing properties whatsoever. Extraordinary, isn't it, what you can do with just one drop?" His face was now flushed with enthusiasm – perhaps there was something to this Potion-making lark after all.
"But you all stop at three drops, OK? Three. Think of this as, er, a demonstration of what not to do…"
Was this sound teaching practice? She seriously doubted it. He would hardly instruct his Defence classes how not to confront a Boggart…
"Well, your turn now! Hermione, you work with Neville for the rest of the lesson. Only three drops, mind!" Laughing feebly, he headed for the store-cupboard to hunt for some replacement Demiguise Oil.
Moments and one loud crash later, Lupin reappeared, brushing down his robes and looking extremely flustered. He shut the storeroom door quickly and firmly behind him.
"Crikey! What's he gone and done now?" whispered Ron to Harry.
Twitching, Lupin continued to pat at his robes with jerky smacks. Then he gave a shuddering, all-body shake and pawed at his head, appearing to trap something in his hair… As Hermione watched, she was sure she saw a separate, independent movement – a miniscule shape detached itself from the Professor's trouser leg and scuttled away into a crack in the flagstones.
He had gained the total, undivided attention of the class. How was it he could never get them this interested when he was teaching?
"Slight accident with a jar of Chizpurfles," he explained apologetically. "Nothing to worry about. I'll sort them out later."
Forlorn and itchy, he trailed round the room inspecting their flasks, scratching rather too often to be socially acceptable.
"I had no idea they were alive!" he murmured to Harry.
"Alive? What's alive?" drawled Malfoy, who had sidled up behind Harry, eavesdropping. "You don't mean to say we are being taught in a classroom infested with Chizpurfles? Aren't they notifiable? Isn't that against regulations? I'll have to report this. I'll owl the Pest people at the Ministry."
"I think you'll find their official title is the Pest Sub-Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures," Hermione corrected him primly.
"Whose side are you on?" Harry shot at her.
"Come now. No need to panic. Don't let's argue. Let's tackle this as… as a 'learning experience'," said Lupin, aiming to sound positive. "What do we know about Chizpurfles? Eh? Anyone? Ron?"
"They're smelly little crawlies who bite," answered Ron, standing well back.
"They are indeed! And they do! Small, parasitical creatures with disproportionately large fangs. I'll vouch for that! Anything else about them? What, for instance, do they do? Apart from bite? Any ideas? Dean? Millicent?"
"They can be after eatin' your wand," offered Seamus. "Me Mam's wand got gnawed almost through to the core…"
"Excellent example, Mr Finnegan," beamed Lupin. "Absolutely right. Pets may become infested… and they are particularly fond of the dregs left behind in dirty cauldrons – but then, I'm sure that won't be a problem in this classroom. You're all very conscientious about cauldron cleanliness, aren't you?"
Less than convincing mutters of agreement.
"So," said Lupin, clapping his hands together decisively, "what are we going to do about this nuisance? What would be our plan of attack, eh?"
Malfoy sneered at him disdainfully.
"If I were you, I'd obtain an aardvark. A big one. And fast."
The rest of the class found this suggestion rather appealing.
"We could Transfigure one!" Ron was excited; he'd never seen an anteater. "We could borrow an animal…"
"Don't look at me," squealed Neville, "you're not having Trevor!"
"Alright, Nev. Keep your hair on. We get one of Hagrid's ferrets, or something, and Transfigure it… and shove it in the cupboard and then…schluurppp!" Ron mimed a revolting licking action. "Um, exactly how big are anteaters, anyway?" he asked in a rare moment of self-doubt and sanity.
Hermione had her nose in another text-book.
"Chizpurfles," she quoted, "may form the staple diet of the Moloch desert lizard and the American Bronze Tailed Frogon… In the British Isles, however… um, blah, blah… oh, it just says we're better off using Anti-Parasite Potions." Rather an anticlimax.
"That's a relief! I'll have to check with Professor Snape which formula he recommends. Or Hagrid might know. But then he'd probably want to adopt them, not eradicate them… In the meantime, nobody is to go into the store cupboard. Got that?"
"Sir? Shouldn't we be getting on with the Nightsight? It's almost time for the bell," Hermione reminded him.
Lupin pulled a guilty face and picked up Harry's flask. Holding it up high for all the class to see, he directed his wand into the liquid.
Absorbing the light, the potion began to glow, dimly at first and then with dazzling intensity, so bright that they had to shade their vision. It shone and flashed like mirrored sunlight, like cats' eyes in the dark.
"We need a volunteer," said Lupin, searching their faces hopefully. "One drop in each eye is all it takes –"
"Put that stuff –"
"…in my eye?"
"Not bloody likely!"
Having somehow, despite all setbacks, managed to get the class to produce a workable potion, Lupin was crestfallen that none of them was brave enough to try it. He suspected that Snape would not have requested volunteers…
"Or we could try it on an animal, if you like. Just to reassure you that it's perfectly safe," he added.
"You're not having Trevor either!" squeaked Neville.
"Scabbers isn't very well," Ron excused his rat.
"Professor, do you consider animal experimentation to be ethically justifiable?" asked Hermione wickedly.
Then the bell rang.
"Flasks (stoppered and labelled) on the front desk, please," called Lupin, unheard amidst the flurry of end-of-lesson activity. "And please, PLEASE, empty the cauldrons and wipe up any potion drips. Don't leave anything that might be attractive to –"
"Professor!" A gruff voice growled in the doorway. "I've been asked to tell you that your 'visitor' has arrived." Filch cast him a sour, meaningful look and stumped away, indifferent as to whether Lupin had understood the message or even heard it.
"Oh, yes. Is it that time already? Just coming. Be along in a minute. Just finishing off here," Lupin shouted, but Filch had already gone. Pressed for time now, the Professor was chivvying them all out of the dungeon, but he held Hermione back. Harry, Ron and Neville dawdled on the threshold waiting for her.
"I'll see that you get full marks for today's potion, even though –" I ruined it. "Professor Snape might not appreciate the circumstances."
"Thanks, Remus. Today's lesson was very…interesting," she said, being kind.
"Yeah, great lesson!" chimed in the others from the doorway.
"Will you be teaching us again tomorrow, Remus? What's wrong with Sn— Professor Snape?" asked Harry.
"Is it bad? I hope it's something bad. Is it terminal?" Ron wanted to know. Hermione huffed at him impatiently.
"Professor Snape has been awfully irritable all week," she commented. "I thought yesterday he looked like he could do with some Pepperup…"
"We could send him a card! A 'get well' Screecher!" Ron was off on another creative train of thought.
"What's a Screecher?" Harry hadn't come across this term.
"Like a Howler, only more piercing! I'm surprised your Gran hasn't sent you one of them yet, Nev. It keeps repeating and getting louder and louder until you zap it with a Silencio! Has to be a direct hit though. Yeah, that should knock him out for a few more days…"
"And a present?" laughed Harry.
"Yep. Definitely. A 'get well' present – like that fruit Fred and George brought me in the second year. Do you remember? Those green, spiky things that smelled like a cross between raw sewage and bad eggs. What were they called – Damian, Durian, something like that? Or what about flowers or a pot plant? Nev, this is your sort of thing. What are those whiffy flowers called? The ones that stink like a rotting carcass?"
"You mean like Skunk Cabbage? They smell pretty bad - like skunks, so they say – the name's a bit of a give-away – or some people say it's more like burning rubber, or garlic, or decaying offal."
Ron mimed a 'Thinker' pose as though the suggestion were worthy of serious consideration, but then wagged a finger at poor Neville.
"Hmm. Cabbage isn't much of a gift. What would our dear, esteemed professor say if the best we could do was to give him a cabbage? No, Neville, it needs to be something more decorative, something attractive, ideally exotic, but with an extraordinarily nauseating stench… Ring any bells, O great, green-fingered one?"
"The Rot Rose? Star-shaped, red and yellow? Stap… stapelia…something," Neville answered, frowning with concentration.
"I don't care what colour it is, you nerd. I just want something that reeks so much Snape'll want to throw up…"
Neville was still giving the decorative angle some thought. "Or, if you want something even showier, there's always the Stinking Corpse Lily - Rafflesia. That looks fabulous, but phew!" He pinched his nostrils, wrinkling his nose in graphic disgust. "Or, hey, what about the Carrion Arum? Now, that is big: the spadix can be up to eight feet tall!"
"An eight foot spadix, eh!" Ron gave a smutty chuckle, which croaked into a cough under Hermione's withering glare.
"I'm sure I'd be awfully impressed – if I knew what a spadix was." Harry was already rather impressed with the depth and range of Neville's expertise. It seemed they had struck on a subject the boy had studied in some detail. Harry wondered if his learned friend were equally well-informed on bird-trapping Bell-flowers and the monkey-eating Swamp Orchids of Borneo.
"The blossom of this Arum," went on Neville enthusiastically, "generates such a smell that people have been known to pass out…"
"Now you're talking! But if it's that tall, Pomfrey won't let us in the ward…" Ron objected. Hermione could tell that he was now egging Neville on for the sake of it. If Neville were aware that his erudition had become a joke in itself, he showed no sign of it. He was grateful for any opportunity to air his knowledge in front of an interested audience.
"Huernias have a slightly foetid odour… or, there's the Lantern Stinkhorn - now that's extremely rank: it smells like fresh canine faeces…"
"Dog shit? Wow! Eureka! Literally – get it? Neville my man, you're a genius!"
Lupin, who had been scrabbling about in his briefcase, regarded them tolerantly.
"I hope that's not how you talk about me when I'm ill. Off you go now. Haven't you got another lesson to go to? You'll be late. Go on lads. Skidaddle! Not you, Hermione. I'd like a quick word."
The boys sauntered off.
"It's alright," they called back to Lupin, "we've only got Divination now - she'll be expecting us to be late… " Their laughing voices grew fainter. "Who scheduled Divination straight after Potions anyway? Could you get two classrooms any further apart? Do let me read your palm… Oooh, Professor Snape, the Grim has been here – the room smells of doggie-do! Your life-line ends very abruptly! This afternoon in fact! That's a Bad Sign…"
Professor Lupin got straight to the point.
"Can you do me a favour, Hermione? I'm running out of time. I've got the Goldstein's pet Ghoul waiting in my office; they've very kindly lent him to me for the afternoon, to show the first years. But I can't keep him waiting much longer. They're mild creatures, on the whole, but you don't want to get them roused… And I promised Professor Snape I'd let him have these results by lunchtime – so I'm late already." He thrust her several handwritten pages on which were drawn a rough set of tables, completed in a loose, untidy scrawl, the figures filling or over-lapping the crooked boxes.
"You want me to give these to Professor Snape?"
"If you wouldn't mind. Tell him I'll pop in later to report on all today's classes. You don't mind missing a few minutes of Divination, do you? No, I rather thought not. And, while you're there, could you ask him a couple of questions…?"
X X X
Madam Pomfrey greeted Hermione shortly.
"You're not feeling poorly are you, dear? Thank Merlin for that! I'm rushed off my feet as it is! If it's not one thing, it's another…"
She did appear unusually harassed. Over one arm were looped the handles of at least a dozen stacked buckets, while under the same arm a number of clip-boards, each with notes attached, were precariously gripped against her side. In her other arm she was balancing a towering pile of clean towels, sheets and pillowcases. Her Medi-wand was stuck behind her right ear; a quill behind her left. Hermione wouldn't have been surprised if she had been carrying a bottle of medicine between her teeth.
"Has something happened?" asked Hermione.
"Oh, no. Just some half-baked house-elf putting Malaclaw in the Lobster Bisque. You didn't have the soup at lunch, did you dear? Just as well. I've got half the school dropping down with food-poisoning…cramps, gripes, and the rest! Anyway, what can I do for you? Anything, so long as it's quick."
"I've got to give these to Professor Snape. Is he here?" Hermione had glanced round the ward but she couldn't see him. "Is that what's wrong with him – food-poisoning?"
Despite being red-faced, hot and less than her crisp, matronly self, Madam Pomfrey still managed to inject some starch into her disapproval.
"The Professor? Oh, I don't think he can have any visitors, dear."
"But it's important. It's a message from Professor Lupin." Hermione felt herself unfairly trapped in the middle of a triangle of potentially annoyed teachers: Snape, Lupin and now Pomfrey. "I'm not stopping. It won't take long."
"Yes, dear. But you see, Professor Snape's in isolation. He's contagious. For all I know, the whole school might be infected!" No wonder she was fraught.
"With what? What's he got?"
"Measles." Madam Pomfrey lowered her voice, as though merely articulating the word might spark an epidemic.
"Measles? But that's a kiddies' thing!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Not necessarily. Have you had it? No? There you are then. It is, of course, much better if you can acquire immunity as a child. It can be quite nasty if you catch it as an adult. So, you see, visiting the Professor is really out of the question."
Unexpectedly, Hermione laughed.
"But Madam Pomfrey. It's alright. We – that is, Muggles, or, um, Muggle-borns – we get inoculated against Measles. They give us jabs for all sorts of things: Smallpox, Typhoid, Polio – well, that's a sugar lump, not a jab – TB, Mumps, Rubella…"
The matron frowned doubtfully.
"You do? What a fanciful notion! A short course of potion would cure most of those with no trouble – if you treat them early enough. If people would come to me straight away, instead of being martyrs and battling on until they're fit to drop…" she said, with a pointed glare at the far end of the ward where, Hermione now noticed, the curtains were drawn around one bed.
"I thought he was just getting a cold," said Hermione, feeling guilty now.
"The early symptoms are very similar. Very well, dear. I haven't got time to argue. If you're sure about this. You can give him Lupin's message. But don't stay long. He's not at all well. The password for the Isolation Spell is 'Comfrey'. Make sure you close the screen curtains behind you. Now, if that's all… I must be off."
Like a circus juggler with her stack of linen, she wove her way through the swing doors, buckets rattling. Why doesn't she use a Levitation Charm, Hermione wondered briefly, then dismissed the concern. She had more immediate things to worry about.
Whispering 'Comfrey', Hermione slid through the screen, shutting it behind her as instructed. Inside the curtains the lighting was dimmed.
"Sir? Excuse me, Sir."
Snape turned his head and peered at her through the gloom. He felt shivery and weak, and the rash, though responding to Pomfrey's potion, was still horribly uncomfortable. The last thing he wanted was to be pestered by kids, and least of all this irritating Gryffindor child.
"Granger? Not now, girl. Whatever it is, it'll have to wait. I can't deal with it now." His voice sounded scratchy.
"I'm sorry, Sir. Professor Lupin asked me to give you these. He's tabulated the results that you wanted. Do you want to look at them? Shall I put the light on? Oh, no, sorry – I forgot." His eyes would be light sensitive – he had to stay in the dark.
"I'll look at them later. Was that all?"
"Well, no, actually. There's a message from Professor Lupin, and some questions."
"Questions? Oh Merlin! What's that clumsy brute done now? Blown up the Potions lab?"
"No, Sir. We've just had a lesson with him, and it was… fine."
Hermione was torn between her loyalty to Remus and her honesty. "He says, Sir, that the delivery of gillyweed arrived, but do you want him to decant it and store it in saline, or leave it in the air-tight boxes? That was the first thing. Then he wants to know, Sir, if it's still alright to use the shrivelfigs if they've gone yellow and are covered in a 'variegated furzy fungus'. I think he left the lid off the container…
"And he asked me to tell you that he substituted some kind of Meloid beetle for the dried cockroaches with Hufflepuff year two this morning, and that seemed to work rather well; but is a single application of Balsam Balm sufficient to counteract the irritant effect of any possible splashes…?"
"How many possible splashes?" Snape instantly saw through the flannel.
"Quite a lot, I'm afraid. When Lupin says 'splashes'…" Hermione didn't want to tell on Remus, but 'splashes' seemed a very delicate way of describing the Potion bath that poor Hufflepuff kid had endured. She'd half expected to find him here, in the hospital wing. "I think the cauldron tipped, and Bruno skidded…"
And Snape could imagine the rest.
"Doesn't the fool know that Meloids are vesicant(1)?" he croaked weakly.
Hermione was confident Lupin did not know anything of the sort. Whatever it meant.
"Also, Sir, he needs to know if you have any more supplies of that orange stuff - was it Demiguise Oil? - or if it would be OK to owl the Apothecary for a rush order… And, in a purely hypothetical case of Chizpurfle infestation, would you recommend using the concentrated ParaPurfle Potion, or would normal Doxycide do just as well?"
Snape shut his eyes and lay back with another sigh.
"I leave Potions in the hands of that shaggy prankster for one day… and look what happens! Miss Granger, you'd better ask him to come and see me."
See me! Lupin and Neville both! Hermione didn't envy either of them.
"Yes, Sir. That was all, Sir. Professor Snape?"
"What is it now, Granger?"
"I hope you get well soon, Sir. Professor Lupin does his best, but we learn a lot more in your lessons."
She closed the curtains carefully as she left. Snape pulled the covers more closely round him and turned over to sleep. He gave a wan smile. Who would have thought that anything that annoying child could say could possibly make him feel better?
Hope you enjoyed that light-hearted look at Lupin! Please review and let me know. Thanks.
1 Vesicant – causing blisters