Outwitted by the Witless
Just as Remus reached the entrance to the Slytherin common room, Aurora Sinistra was coming out. The dark skinned witch's normally smooth and placid face was taut with unmistakable worry.
Remus called out, "Aurora, hold the door. I need to speak with a couple of your students!"
As Remus approached closer, he realised that something was very wrong. The smell of fear was practically surging from her pores.
"Remus," Sinistra returned in greeting as she let the door to the common room rest on her foot to afford them some privacy.
"I can tell from the look on your face that there's a problem," Remus said quietly as he looked down at the shorter woman.
Aurora nodded tensely. "Yes. I need to find the headmaster. One of the students is missing."
"Who is it?"
"Gregory Goyle," she said apprehensively. "No one has claimed to have seen him since before lunch, not even Mr Malfoy. Do you think he may have been attacked, too?"
No, he didn't. Remus was more inclined to think that Goyle was in hiding or might try to escape from the castle during all of the chaos. But he only said, assuredly yet in a rush, "I'm sure Mr Goyle is just fine. We'll find him. Did you say Mr Malfoy was inside?"
Aurora nodded. "He was in his dorm with Messers Nott and Zabini when I did the head count, but everyone has been dismissed to roam freely in the common room now."
"I'll ask him about Goyle again," Remus said truthfully. "The headmaster is in the hospital wing with Severus and Harry. You need to tell him what you know."
Aurora replied, "Thank you, Remus," as she rushed down the dungeon corridor.
Remus slipped through the door into a short dark foyer lit by a single sconce that lead into the equally dark and depressing Slytherin common room. There was no natural light in the dungeon common room and the only windows looked out into the murky vastness of the Black Lake, casting the room in an eerie green glow. The lighted sconces only added to the effect by allowing the shadows to move in a wraithlike dance. It was no wonder that Slytherins were so surly, living in such a space nine months out of the year. The snake skulls on the mantel surely didn't help matters.
The sullen and scared students were gathered in groups, no doubt feeding each other speculative theories of what had happened to Harry. Some of those would soon be accepted as fact.
Nott and Zabini were sitting alone by a window hunched over a new game of Wizard's Chess, but there was no sign of Malfoy anywhere amongst the throng of restive students. For all of their supposed cunning, not a single Slytherin had noticed Remus' presence. Severus would be displeased.
A young girl of Indian descent who looked to be no older than a second-year was the first to notice Remus. "Professor! How…what are you…?"
"What can we do for you, Professor?" A large boy, as surly as he was burly, interrupted, placing himself directly between Remus and the rest of the students. The boy was every bit as threatening as he intended to look.
Remus recognised Mr Warrington, Slytherin's large Chaser, from two years ago. The boy might look like a sloth, but he had the wit of a fox and the quickness of a cat and stood eye to eye with Remus. He was not one to be trifled with, but then again—neither was Remus.
The already oppressive feel of the common room became even more so as the tension in the air began to thicken. All eyes were on Remus, and none of them were trusting, but Remus wasn't about to let himself be threatened by any student and there wasn't enough time to be diplomatic or tactful. This time, Remus had no qualms about using his anger to press his advantage.
"I am here at the direct at the request of your Head, Mr Warrington, and unless you want to deal with his wrath as well as mine, I suggest you get out of the way and tell me where I can find Malfoy and Goyle. Don't—move another inch, Mr Zabini!"
Blaise Zabini had abandoned his game and was about to head down the corridor that led to the boy's dorms. He had stopped cold when Remus called him out.
"Draco's alone in the dorm, Professor Lupin, sir—fifth door on the left," Zabini said in an overly loud voice, his head cocked ever-so-slightly to the side so his voice would carry down the corridor. "We haven't seen Goyle."
Remus shouldered past a stunned Warrington without bothering to excuse himself. As his frustration grew, he began to wonder how much of his rising temper was propelled by righteous anger and how much was of it was being influenced by his inner beast. He didn't need Zabini to tell him where Malfoy was. The Wolf was so close to the surface, Remus could smell Malfoy all the way down the corridor.
Unfortunately, he was pressed for time and did not have the luxury of taking a couple of minutes to control himself. He had to find Draco Malfoy and get his hands on that venom now.
Remus didn't even bother to knock. He removed his wand and easily countered any spells that Malfoy might have put in place to lock the door. There was so much power behind his counter-charm he nearly blasted the door off the hinges.
Malfoy had been lying on his bed when he was caught off guard by his professor's sudden intrusion. With nowhere to go, Malfoy was backed up against the wall, reminding Remus of a trapped rabbit. But Remus was beyond sympathy.
"Where is it, Malfoy?" Remus demanded as he pushed Malfoy onto his bed. Draco's momentum was cushioned by the mattress and he bounced slightly as he sat down.
"Where's what?" Malfoy asked in a voice a half an octave higher than was normal for him. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Remus ignored addressing Malfoy's language and began rummaging through his dresser without permission. "The Mamba venom—where is it!"
"Hey! Who said you can…"
Remus cut short Malfoy's protest when he slammed shut the bottom drawer. The venom wasn't there. He turned to Malfoy and practically growled, "I don't have time for games, Mr Malfoy. You either tell me where the Mamba venom is now—or you can tell the Aurors an hour from now!"
The fear that grew in Malfoy's eyes was very real. Remus had no idea if it was because the boy was afraid of him or afraid of going to prison. It was probably a bit of both, but either way, fear worked. Malfoy was now on his knees pulling his trunk out from under his bed.
Malfoy opened his trunk and pulled out his potions kit. "I don't understand. What's going on? What does my Paralysis Potion have to do with anything?"
Malfoy handed Remus a brown phial. The wax-sealed stopper had evidence of tampering and the small bottle looked as though it was missing some of its contents. Remus grabbed Malfoy under his arm and forced him to stand.
"For one, this," Remus held the phial up to Malfoy's face for emphasis, "is illegal in Great Britain. You, Mr Malfoy, have a lot of explaining to do!"
"What! Let go of me you filthy bea…. " The boy protested as he tried in vain to break Remus' grip.
"For a Slytherin, you seem to have an underdeveloped sense of self-preservation, Mr Malfoy." Malfoy wisely stopped struggling as his already pale faced paled all the more. "And don't tell it to me. Tell it to the headmaster…and Professor Snape."
As Remus marched Malfoy out of the room, the boy looked up to him in one last show of defiance. "My father will be hearing about this!"
Malfoy sobered when Remus gave him a feral grin and said, "Actually, Mr Malfoy, I'm counting on it."
Severus sat in the chair next to Harry's bed and held his boy's seemingly lifeless hand. He had experienced this kind of intolerable wait and feeling of impending doom before…the night the Dark Lord had visited Godric's Hallow.
That night Severus waited alone for news of the fates of the Potters—of Lily, helpless to control the momentum of events to come.
Harry was sleeping for now, but it was far from a peaceful sleep. The old Isangoma sat on the other side of Harry, not daring to leave the boy's side. Mzilikazi had cast a powerful life support spell on Harry, something Mzilikazi called Phefumula Kahlenje. It was similar to a Spiro that healers often used for artificial respiration, but much more powerful and capable of withstanding the interference of additional incantations.
Without the antivenin, Mzilikazi could only treat Harry symptomatically, and the effort was taking its toll on the old witchdoctor. Harry needed the antivenin or soon no spell would be able to hold back the course of the poison that at that very moment was trying to eat the life out of him.
Severus was ready to jump out of his own skin. He was afraid that if Lupin did not return soon, he would do just that.
Severus had found out that it was the quick thinking and simple first-aid of Harry's friends that had saved the boy's life—not to mention simple dumb luck.
Mzilikazi had mentioned that the loose tourniquet Ms Granger had applied had slowed down the spread of the toxin, and she had managed to keep Harry's heart pumping with her Muggle methods. Severus had never seen Mr Weasley run so fast; the speed in which he sought help bought Harry precious time. However, all of their efforts would have been for naught if that quill had stabbed Harry through a vein. Harry would have been dead before Severus even arrived on the stairs. Severus' son was still in critical condition but, thanks to his friends, he had a fighting chance.
Severus looked gratefully over to Harry's friends. Both teenagers had been given a Sleeping Draught and Ms Granger an additional sedative. She was suffering from a mild case of shock from her ordeal, and Mr Weasley was emotionally exhausted from worry for both of his friends. The boy was slumped over in the chair next to Ms Granger's, still holding the girl's hand.
Minerva had gone to London to inform Ms Granger's parents of their daughter's condition and of her heroic acts. Ms Granger would fully recover in a day or two, but the deputy headmistress would still bring the Muggles to Hogwarts if they wished to see her.
Severus had no idea if word had gotten back to the Order as to Harry's condition. No doubt, Albus had at least informed the Weasleys, as their son was involved, even though he suffered no real injuries. But had word gotten back to Black? Severus assumed that it had not, because the mangy cur had yet to bust through the Floo. Reluctant though he was to admit it, someone needed to inform Harry's godfather. It wouldn't be Severus. Wild hippogriffs couldn't drag him away.
On the other end of the hospital wing, the door creaked open, breaking the deafening silence. Severus upended his chair as he got up in a rage when he saw who Lupin was escorting into the hospital. Severus wanted to put his hands around the throat of the swine that had done this to his son.
Severus wasn't thinking straight as stormed his way to Draco, forgetting that Malfoy was still a boy not much older than Harry. He must have looked as fearsome as he felt, because when Draco spotted Severus, the teen uncharacteristically ducked behind Lupin for protection. To Severus' amazement, Lupin did not allow the little coward to seek refuge and forced Draco in front of him so Malfoy would have to come face to face with the consequences of his injudiciousness.
"Professor Snape…please…I don't understand," Draco blathered as he held his hands in front of him, as if he could distance himself from Severus.
Severus was only two steps short of wringing Draco Malfoy's scrawny little neck, when the headmaster's booming voice stopped him short. Albus had been in Poppy's office and must have heard the miscreant's protests. Blast Albus Dumbledore for still having the reflexes of men one-third his age.
"I will not have you threatening my students, Professor Snape."
"Then I demand that he be handed over to the Aurors this instant!" Severus seethed. "Possession of Mamba venom, much less bringing it into a school, is enough to have him locked up in Azkaban!"
"But I didn't hurt anybody," the brat tried to deny, the fear of Azkaban clearly plastered across his face. "Can somebody please tell me what the bloody hell this is all about?"
Lupin pulled a small brown phial from his robe pocket and offered it to Albus. "This was in Malfoy's trunk. The boy confirms that it's Mamba venom."
As the headmaster inspected the venom, Malfoy finally noticed took notice of Harry's seemingly lifeless body lying at the far end of the wing. "Wha…what happened to Potter?"
Severus took a threatening step forward, "Why you little shi…." How dare the boy feign ignorance.
"Severus! Sit down! I will handle this!" The headmaster never attempted to temper his tone, and Severus instinctively did as he was told.
Severus tried to look as if he wasn't sulking when he took a chair directly across from Harry's bed. He wanted to hear the headmaster's interrogation of Malfoy, but he also wanted to watch Mzilikazi administer another round of charms as the old Isangoma chanted melodically in some exotic language that Severus had never heard before. He tried to keep his attention on Harry and the witchdoctor, but Albus' questioning of Malfoy won out.
Albus carefully popped open the stopper of the phial that Lupin had and passed it quickly under his nose, just to catch a quick whiff of the contents. The headmaster's blue gaze narrowed as he looked down his crooked nose at Malfoy.
"You may be under the impression that this is Mamba venom, Mr Malfoy, but unless I am mistaken, this phial contains Bundimun secretion. Do you intend on helping the house-elves clean the dorms this term?"
"That can't be," Malfoy protested as he reached to snatch the bottle out of the headmaster's hands. The old man evaded Malfoy's grasp rather deftly, for someone who was older than the ocean was deep. "That's the same bottle I nic…erm…father gave me for my Potions project."
Severus couldn't sit any longer; he was at the headmaster's side before anyone noticed he was out of his chair. The headmaster simply handed Severus the phial he knew Severus wanted to inspect for himself.
Albus cast Severus a glance that seemed to say, I thought I told you to sit down. Severus returned a glare that said, Make me.
"The headmaster is correct, this is Bundimun secretion," Severus said coolly as he held it towards Lupin without relinquishing the phial. "But it is tainted."
Lupin leaned over and sniffed the contents of the phial. "He's right," Lupin agreed. His precise sense of smell had caught the same off-scent that Severus' expert nose had. "But I don't recognise the contaminant."
"How can that be?" Malfoy asked. "I never opened it."
"I seems as though you have fallen victim to what Muggles refer to as, 'the old switcharoo, Mr Malfoy," the headmaster said with a surprisingly straight face.
That now familiar sense of panic began to rise in Severus' gut again and he could taste the bile in his throat. If it wasn't the venom, then that would mean no antivenin… and Harry was running out of time.
Albus snatched the phial out of Severus' hand and went to consult his friend. In the meantime, Severus took the opportunity to interrogate Malfoy himself.
He crossed his arms and leaned in. "I know your father did not give you that venom. Even he isn't obtuse enough to give a Class-five toxin to a teenaged boy. Care to tell us how it came into your possession? The truth this time, if you please, Mr Malfoy."
Malfoy took a step back and bumped into Lupin. He looked up in terror, but did not move. He apparently thought the protection the surly werewolf offered a safer alternative to Severus' wrath. The boy was right.
"Alright…I nicked it! So what? I just wanted it for my Potions project!"
"For all the good it would have done you." Severus retorted. "I would have failed you as soon as I realised what you had used. You weren't thick enough to tell anyone else about this, were you? I know how fond you are of gloating."
Another look of fear crept into Malfoy's eyes. It was the fear of realization. "I showed it to Greg on the train."
"Mr Goyle might be a bully, but he has never done anything this drastic," Remus interjected. "Do you know if he had a motive to want to hurt Harry like this…or kill him?"
Malfoy nodded then looked back and forth between his two professors in a near panic. "I think he did. Really…I didn't think he was serious at the time. I thought he was just trying to sound important and he was just venting because of Vincent," he said defensively.
"What did Mr Goyle tell you?" Severus asked impatiently.
"His father told him that Vincent's murder had something to do with Potter," Malfoy replied hurriedly. "Greg said that Mr Goyle told him that…"
Malfoy shut up when he remembered he wasn't speaking in front of allies.
"That the Dark Lord would reward the person who manages to bring him Mr Potter—perhaps even initiate their firstborn into the Inner Circle," Severus finished darkly.
Malfoy's jaw dropped at Severus' open declaration.
"Stop blubbering and think, Mr Malfoy!" Severus snapped. His peripheral vision just managed to see Filius Flitwick rush past to speak to the headmaster, most likely assuring him that the castle was now secure. However, Severus' attention swiftly shifted back to questioning Malfoy. "Did he have access to the venom at any time? Did you leave him alone? Did you even bother to ward your effects? "
Malfoy's face contorted as he realised his stupidity. "I put it back in my bag and placed in the overhead compartment, then stepped out to use the loo when the attack happened on the train. I was held up for about twenty minutes while the Aurors handled things. It was the only time he could have gotten to it. He stayed up late last night after the feast."
"Mr Malfoy, do you know where Mr Goyle is right now?" Lupin asked with only slightly more patience than Severus would have managed.
Malfoy shook his head. "No, Professor, I haven't seen him since Potions."
Lupin turned to Severus and said needlessly, "We have to find Mr Goyle as soon as possible."
"Spare me your Gryffindor proclivity for stating the obvious," Severus retorted. He sharply turned to go speak to Albus.
Filius stood with the headmaster and the Isangoma, speaking urgently. The Ravenclaw Head of House handed something to Mzilikazi and the old wizard had a look of relief, whilst Albus still seemed grave.
"Is that the venom?" Severus asked hopefully.
"It is," the Isangoma replied. "It is good that it has been found now. Your Ingane…there is not much time. I must make the Isibiba now if he is to have a chance."
Severus felt the now-familiar rush of panic well up inside him again. He felt he could drown in it but, for the sake of his son, he could not give in to it. As Mzilikazi vanished into Poppy's office to create the antivenin, Severus looked upon his son. It was obvious that, despite Harry's comatose state, he was in pain. Even in Harry's apparent sleep, his young face was tight, fighting an unseen battle in which Severus was helpless to intervene. The witchdoctor's charms were slipping, and so was Harry's time.
"Harry needs me," Severus said faintly—almost to himself.
Albus had gently grabbed Severus' forearm. Over the headmaster's shoulder, Severus caught sight of Malfoy sitting on the edge of an empty bed, soberly awaiting his fate whist Lupin stood menacing guard.
"What is it, Albus?" Severus inquired numbly. "Harry needs m…," he nearly repeated.
"Severus, Filius found young Mr Goyle."
Severus took a sharp breath and forcibly pushed down the intense anger that threatened to explode out of him. "Is he with the Aurors?" he asked hotly. "I want him tried as an adult."
"There will be no trial, Severus."
Severus clenched his fist tightly, fighting back the urge to punch his employer. "What do you mean, there will be no trial!"
Severus looked down on his colleague when he heard Flitwick's small voice. "I found Mr Goyle dead in one of the abandoned classrooms in the dungeon," he said sympathetically. "It looked as though he was attempting to sabotage more quills when he accidentally scratched himself."
Ashamed though he was to admit it, Severus felt no sympathy for Gregory Goyle just then. Goyle unintentionally killed himself by the exact means he intentionally meant to kill Harry. As far as Severus was concerned, the gormless idiot's cock-up with the venom had saved Severus from becoming a murderer. Perhaps later, when Harry was stable, could he spare some sympathy for the boy—but not right now. Severus took a deep breath and fortified the wall that kept his surging emotions at bay. He did not bother to answer.
"Filius, when Minerva returns, inform her that I want Slytherin House moved into temporary quarters in the East Tower. All of his effects need to be searched, as well as the whole of the dungeons. It seems to me he had a secondary target." Albus cut a meaningful glance to Severus. "He may have inadvertently dropped one of these quills or even managed to plant one on Severus' desk. We can't risk anyone else stumbling upon one."
Severus inwardly agreed with Albus. Gregory Goyle might not have had the wits know the difference between dragon dung and rabbit pellets, but he had managed to successfully get to Harry. They did not have the luxury of underestimating the boy again.
There was a note of reluctance in Filius' voice when he asked, "And the boy's family?"
"I will inform them. Unfortunately, I cannot be subtle about the circumstances lest the Goyles insist upon involving the Ministry."
Filius nodded dutifully and left to fulfill his task.
Once his colleague was out of earshot, Severus said knowingly, "They won't want Ministry involvement. David will not wish to attract their scrutiny. Doubtless, he will publicly attribute his son's death to a freak accident or a heretofore unknown illness. He will see his need to have his… associations… to remain undisclosed as advantageous. "
Albus then turned to Severus. "I know it is customary for the Head of House to accompany the headmaster in situations such as this, but with circumstances being as they are…."
"I have no desire to speak with them," Severus agreed. If he were to confront David Goyle, Severus would most likely be the one sent to Azkaban. "As David cannot breach the castle wards, you should find Magda having tea with Narcissa Malfoy at Malfoy Manor. According to Lucius the ladies gather together on Mondays. She will need someone with her when you break the news."
Albus patted Severus caringly on the shoulder. "Stay here with your son, Severus. I'll see to your House and your lessons." The headmaster sighed as he looked over to Malfoy and Lupin. "I'll have Professor Lupin break the news to Mr Malfoy about his friend and inform him of Harry's mission. We are running out of time and we cannot wait for Harry's recovery." He shook his head. "His two best friends inside as many weeks…poor boy."
Severus swallowed hard. It seemed that, although Draco had been infinitely stupid in bringing the Mamba venom to school, he had no involvement in the attack on Harry. He allowed himself a little pity for the boy, but decided to allow Narcissa to give him comfort when she undoubtedly would arrive with Magda. Severus had his own son to attend to.
He sat down next to Harry and took his son's hand. Harry's hand was cold. If it hadn't been sticky with clamminess, it would have felt like the hand of a corpse. If he had bothered to look behind him, he would have seen a devastated Malfoy, weeping piteously on the shoulder of his most hated professor as he stubbornly refused Poppy's entreaties that he take a Calming Draught.
After a few minutes, Severus could feel tremors emitting from deep within Harry's skin. The charms would be broken soon and the convulsions would begin again before death took Harry. Severus was wondering what was taking the Isangoma so long when the old man finally emerged from Poppy's office.
Severus gave Harry's hand an encouraging squeeze then bent over and whispered into his ear, "You only need to hold on a little bit longer, son."
He stepped back as the witchdoctor approached. "There is hope now," Mzilikazi announced unceremoniously. "No matter what you see, you cannot stop the Ubuthakathi." With no further word or explanation, he poured the antivenin over the haze of the stasis charm that sustained Harry. The mist seemed to drink in the potion as it turned from blue to purple.
Severus paced back and forth in front of Harry's bed as the Isangoma began to chant, "Ulalela mina umntankhe. Buya ukufa. Buyela impilo. Buyela uyihlo…Ulalela mina umntakhe. Buya…"
By the third incantation, Harry began to shake and convulse. Every instinct in Severus' body screamed to him to run to his son, but Mzilikazi said the spell could not be interrupted and the wizard seemed unconcerned with the change in Harry's condition.
Severus bit the inside of his cheek and pounded his fist against his thigh. He couldn't remember the last time he had given in to his nervous tics. It was all he could do to keep from snatching up his son and trying to take on the boy's suffering himself.
Finally, Harry's seizures began to quiet, but still Mzilikazi continued to chant.
"Severus, can I get you something?"
Severus turned abruptly at the sound of Lupin's concerned voice. Poppy was standing behind him. They had apparently talked Draco into the Calming Draught and the boy had drifted into a fitful sleep.
Severus shook his head. "No, I'll be fine," he said dully. "Perhaps it's time you fetched Harry's… dog," he said cryptically.
Lupin touched Severus' arm, but he shrugged off the man's hand. Lupin replied warily, "Perhaps I should wait until after we know something."
"But what if after all of Mzilikazi's efforts, it doesn't work? He will want to say…want to say good…." Severus nearly choked on the words.
"You mustn't think like that, Severus," Poppy said emphatically. "Harry is young—he is strong. It will work."
Poppy was right. They were so close. It wasn't time for Severus to give into despair. But come what may, Black would have to be told something soon.
The next few minutes, as Severus watched helplessly while the old wizard continued his work, seemed like an eternity. The children still slept and time stood still. Mzilikazi's words echoed in Severus' head and he began to chant the silently, Ulalela mina umntankhe. Buya ukufa. Buyela impilo. Buyela uyihlo. He had no idea what the words meant, but still chanted them silently, like a desperate prayer, until they reached a deafening crescendo in his mind.
The Isangoma had stopped his chanting. This mist around Harry was gone and Harry seemed to be breathing normally.
Mzilikazi was obviously tired. He leaned on his staff, breathing heavily and sweating profusely. He looked up at Severus and smiled broadly, his mouth full of small teeth. "He will need rest, Ubaba, but your boy will live."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~To Be Continued~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Rough isiZulu translation (I apologise now if I have gotten this wrong. I hope I didn't butcher it): Ulalela mina umntankhe. Buya ukufa. Buyela impilo. Buyela uyihlo.
Obey me (Severus') son. Come back from Death. Come back to the living. Come back to your father.
If you wish for more translations, just let me know and I'll pop you a PM.
Special thanks to my wonderful beta, badgerlady. Any mistakes are my own.
I invite you all to check out the new story I am writing with my friend, Luck, The Unexpected Snape. She has also created two awesome fan videos, one for this story and one for Severus Snape and the Potion Master's Daughter. The links can be found on my profile page.
Thank you all for your continued support and enthusiasm for my stories. This year has not been a good one and I know updates have not been very timely, but these stories mean a lot to me, as does your encouragement.
Thank you again,