It was – according to Hagrid – the hottest September ever at Hogwarts. The sky was cloudless and blue with a mercyless sun burning whatever and whoever was careless enough to stay outside for longer than necessary.
The Gryffindor seventh years – along with the rest of the school – had suffered through their first week of the new school year. For once, Potions was the most favoured subject at Hogwarts. Not even professor Snape´s spiteful behaviour could spoil the sudden appeal the cool dungeons presented to the student body.
The weekend – at other times awaited eagerly – was faced with dread. At least the classrooms were relatively cool, but the corridors of the castle were hot and uncomfortable. Everybody longed for the evening, when they were going to be able to spend some time outside, on the lawn. If they were lucky a cool breeze was going to find its way from the not too far sea to their mountain residence.
The headmaster, ever thougtful and looking out for his students, had ordered dinner to be served outside.
After some light salad and grilled chicken, Harry Potter and his friends found a quiet spot near the edge of the forest, hidden from plain view of the rest of the school by Hagrid´s hut and some bushes.
They settled down on blankets in a circle and did what they had been doing for the last four evenings: listen to each other´s tales of the summer holidays. Harry had disappointed them all by mumbling something about having stayed at his muggle relatives´ all summer, but others had more interesting summers to tell about.
Dean Thomas had entertained them a whole evening with his tale of his very first encounter with his wizarding aunt Tusnelda, who was a potions mistress. "None like Snape," Dean had informed them when they had expressed their pity with him for having spent his summer in the clutches of a potioneer. "Aunt Tusnelda has her own line of beauty products for witches. You know, all kinds of creams, lipsticks and rouges. Shampoos and moisturisers."
"Not Tusnelda Fairchild," cried Levander. And Parvati gaped at Dean in admiration.
Dean smirked. "The woman. We stayed at her house for the whole summer. She has a huge pool and a private quidditch pitch in her garden." They had dwelled on ´s luxurious home for the rest of the evening.
It was Seamus´ turn to entertain them this Saturday evening. "I stayed with my uncle Paddy," said the Irish wizard. "My Mum and Dad are still on their study tour to India. It was fun. You all know I´m an only child, but uncle Paddy has four boys around my age. Seamus, Paddy, Joe and Ian. We played a lot of games. It was great fun."
"What games did you play?" asked Ron.
"Most of the time Exploding Cauldron."
"I never heard of a game called Exploding Cauldron," Neville pointed out suspiciously. He had a somewhat strained relationship to cauldrons, exploding or not.
"How does that work?" asked Parvati. Several of the others seconded her curiousity.
"Well," said Seamus, "actually, it´s quite simple. You need a cauldron, obviously, and a dice. And then you brew. The rules are simple. Every player has to add an ingredient when it´s their turn and stir. You use the dice to determine how many stirs you have to add. You lose, when the cauldron explodes or you can´t think of an ingredient to add. Each can be used only once, obviously. – Want to try?"
"Throwing random ingredients into a cauldron sounds rather dangerous to me," said Hermione.
"But it isn´t!" cried Seamus. "You´re not allowed to leave the circle of light produced by the fire, so you can´t go and get ingredients from somewhere else. And who in their right mind carries anything dangerous with them all the time? You don´t have dragon scales in your pocket, do you?"
Hermione had to admit that they had only harmless substances at hand and they decided to give the game a try. Seamus had brought a small cauldron and they put it up in the middle of their circle.
"First I throw the dice. Here. Four. Okay, whatever I put into the cauldron, I have to stir four times clockwise. The next one stirs counterclockwise. – Here we go. I add pumpkin juice to our caudron. It´s good to have a liquid base." Seamus emptied his goblet into the cauldron and stired. "Parvati!"
Parvati stepped forward. "I add chocolate to the cauldron." The girl broke off a leg of a chocolate frog and added it to the brew.
Soon it became apparent that the charm of the game lay not in waiting for the explosion, but in thinking of new ingredients.
Ron sacrificed a sip of the butterbeer he had brought back to school. Hermione caught a ladybird, Neville added a leaf from the nearest bush. Harry tugged a cotton thread from his blanket and Dean threw a handful of soil into the bubbling mixture.
The longer they played the more difficult it became to think of an ingredient that hadn´t been used yet. Hermione tried to use a summoning charm, but the crowd wouldn´t have it. At last she added a tiny snippet of parchment from her transfiguration text.
The group had a good laugh at her unhappy face when she had to blamish her book and only when Harry pointed out that she could repair it later with simple magic, the girl looked a bit happier.
When it was Harry´s turn, he looked around to find another ingredient, but no unlucky beetle flew by. They had already used all the plants growing near their little fire, as well as shoe laces, blankets, books and the remains of their dinner. Harry was just going to admit defeat when an idea struck.
With a triumphant outcry he plucked out one of his hairs and added it to the brew before starting to stir – his rotten luck for the magical dice to show fourty-five!
"Potter! What are you doing?"
Professor Snape, of all people, had found their little hideout and come to have an eye on them.
"What are you brewing?" Snape stepped into the circle and grabbed the rod from the unlucky Gryffindor.
The brew chose that very moment to explode rather spectacularly. Snape and Harry were both splashed with the hot liquid. They both howled with pain and it took Harry a moment to realise that the pain wasn´t limited to the part of his skin that was actually hit by the brew.
Around him the other Gryffindors were gasping with shock, the girls even shrieking in fear.
Understanding dawned on Harry when he looked where he thought Snape was and stared at himself. He looked at his hands and found his fingers too long, too stained and too Snape-ish.
"Oh my God!"
"You call it out," said the false Harry. "We´ll go to the headmaster immediately, Potter."
"Yes, Sir." Harry scrambled to his feet, which were actually Snape´s.
"What are you waiting for?" Harry-Snape glared at the Gryffindor crowd. "Move!" The teaching robes were too long for Harry´s smaller frame and he stumbled over the hem. The forbidding glare stopped the Gryffindors from laughing even with Snape´s trademark glare softened by Harry´s youthful features.
They followed their enraged teacher up the lawn, stopping only once for Harry to hand his glasses over to Snape. Harry had difficulties to adjust to Snape´s longer legs and he stumbled twice. Hermione and Ron rushed to help him, but were stopped by the figure stalking in front of them.
"Don´t you dare touch me!" hissed Harry-Snape.
"They´re just trying to help!" protested Snape-Harry.
"I will not be seen touching students!" Harry-Snape spat back dangerously. "Now stop moving like the bull in a china shop and come!"
"Good evening, Sir!" Draco Malfoy hinted a bow to his head of house as the strange group passed by. He didn´t miss to whisper "Oh, you´re so in trouble," to who he thought to be Harry on their way past him and his little group of Slytherins.
They – or rather Snape-Harry – were greeted by more students as they hurried through the entrance hall and up the marble staircase.
"This is so ridiculous," muttered Harry-Snape. "Potter, come to the front and lead the group like I´d normally do."
Snape-Harry obeyed. He only stopped in front of the gargoyle guarding the staircase to Dumbledore´s office.
"The password, Sir?" It was weird to ask himself, Harry thought, and watch his own face display impatience, anger and resignation in quick succession.
"Ton-tongue toffee," said Harry-Snape. The gargoyle hopped aside and the group, now led by Harry-Snape, rode the staircase up to the oak door. Harry-Snape knocked and they were asked inside.
"Severus! What a pleasure!" Dumbledore greeted Snape-Harry. "How may I assist you? Certainly you haven´t come here to ask me to expel all of Gryffindor´s NEWT students?"
"Of course not," said Harry-Snape. "We have a problem."
Dumbledore cocked an eyebrow as he turned to who he thought was Harry Potter.
"Severus? Oh, what have you done now?"
The Gryffindors snickered at the headmaster´s hint that the whole mess might be Snape´s fault, but were silenced by a glare that would have petrified braver men and women.
"Potter," spat Harry-Snape, as if using the worst curse-word, "and his imbecile friends indulged in the most unwary ways to use a cauldron."
Dumbledore looked lost, but for only a moment. "Ah," he cried merrily, "exploding cauldron! What a game! I´ll never forget how I played with my old friend Gellert and he ended up with an extra... But I guess you don´t want to hear that right now."
Harry-Snape looked disgusted, the rest guilty.
"What a spectecular result," continued the headmaster. "I take it only you two were splashed? The brew must have been something similar to polyjuice." He looked at Harry-Snape expectantly.
"I can´t tell as I have no idea what they threw into that cauldron. And if I knew, I´m still not sure it would mean anything to me as I have Potter´s brain at the moment."
The headmaster paled. "You think you exchanged knowledge, too?"
"How am I to know?" Harry-Snape grew more agitated by the second.
The headmaster looked at Harry-Snape and Snape-Harry taxingly. "Any of you two, give me a list of the ingredients for Euphoria."
There was a short pause before Harry-Snape started to give them in quick succession. "Aspodil, phoenix tear, eagle feathers, newt eyes, peppermint,... , and finally a pinch of lemon cest." He looked smug.
"Thank goodness! You each have your knowledge! Now, what to do?"
"First of all we need to make sure that this doesn´t get commonly known." Harry-Snape pointed out.
"I see your point. If Voldemort learns about this, we really have a problem."
"As far as I´m concerned, we already have one," huffed the false Harry. The real one agreed fulheartedly, but didn´t dare say anything.
"I´m sure we can rely on Harry´s friends to keep the secret." The headmaster beamed at the group benignly.
"I´d rather not have my life in the hands of some foolhardy Gryffindor kids."
"Professor," cried Hermione, "we're quite aware of the damage this piece of information could cause!"
"And the fact that you´re talking to Potter is so reassuring!" mocked Harry-Snape.
"I´m afraid you´re right," sighed the headmaster. "When the situation is too complicated for even Miss Granger, it´s better they don´t know." He drew his wand with – for a man of his age – amazing speed and left the assembled Gryffindor NEWT class blinking and looking slightly disorientated. "You may return to your common room. Thank you very much for your assistance."
Harry watched his friend file out of the office.
"What about me?" he asked shyly.
"Well, as much as I´d enjoy it, we can hardly obliviate you when you´re in my body." Harry-Snape looked as if obliviating Snape-Harry was his dearest ambition.
"Severus," interfered the headmaster, "have you any idea how long this body exchange will last?"
"It may last an hour like polyjuice or a month. It may even be permanent. I have no idea."
"Can you brew an antidote?"
"Not without knowing more about that brew. And we don´t know what those imbeciles used."
"Harry knows," the headmaster pointed out. "We can view Harry´s memories of the game. Would that be helpful?"
"It would at least give me a start," sighed Harry-Snape.
"Good." Dumbledore pointed his wand at one of his many cabinets and the heavy stone basin slid forward. "If you please, Harry."
Harry blushed. "Professor, it was quite a long game and we had some butterbeer and pumpkin the memory may take some time. May I use your bathroom first?"
"Certainly not, Potter!" cried Harry-Snape.
"I don´t see why not, Severus," the headmaster was bewildered.
"I will not be molested by a student!" cried the false Harry. "Use a spell!"
"A spell? How weird is that?" the false Snape shouted back.
"Boys! This doesn´t help." The headmaster cast a spell at Snape-Harry. "The spell will do for the moment."
"Ouch!" cried the false potions master. "That hurt!"
"Don´t be touchy. Give us that memory, Potter," ordered Harry-Snape.
Snape-Harry sighed and pointed his wand at his temple. Carefully he withdrew a white memory strand and dropped it into the pensieve.
The headmaster motioned Snape and Harry both to enter the memory. The man himself followed a moment later, handing parchment and quill to the potions master.
"I thought you might need this," he smiled.
Harry-Snape accepted the items and together they watched the Gryffindors put up the cauldron. The potions master noted down the ingredients and the number of stirs they had used, commenting from time to time. "A ladybird? Have I taught you nothing at all? Ladybirds expand the time of effectiveness of a potion! Idiot children! – Old chewing gum? How am I supposed to make an antidote when I don´t know whose spit is in that brew? – Broom leaves? Well, I shouldn´t be surprised as it´s Longbottom. – Stop that memory, headmaster!"
Dumbledore rose his wand and the scene froze. Dean was holding a small pebble above the cauldron. Harry-Snape went closer and examined the item from all sides. "We´re doomed. That´s not a stone. It´s a piece of the shell of a dragon egg. Chinese fireball, I´d say. That makes the brew a highly magical one. The dragon egg and the ladybird together may as well make the change permanent."
"Severus, are you sure? Dragon eggs don´t just lie about. I really don´t see how one would end up on the lawn." Dumbledore looked doubtful.
"The triwizard tournament," whispered Harry.
They watched the cauldron explode and when Harry and Snape´s change – it looked a lot like a polyjuice change to Harry – had finished the headmaster led them out of the memory, back to his office.
"So?" the old wizard asked, looking at Harry-Snape expectantly. "Can you come up with an antidote?"
"You certainly didn´t believe I´d exit the memory and present one?" the false Harry snapped back. "I need to analyze that concoction in detail, rebrew it step by step. It could take months! And I will need what´s left of the mess. Make sure nobody touches it."
The headmaster nodded and asked them to wait for him at the office while he went down to the lawn to retrieve what was left of the potion.
Harry-Snape sat on the sofa while Snape-Harry stood by the desk, uneasy. What was he to say? If Snape couldn´t sort things out, he – Harry – was going to be caught in the potions master´s body, possibly forever.
"I´m sorry." Harry gave in to the urge to word his regret about putting the older wizard into that situation.
"Apologies won´t change a thing," said Snape. "Nor will regret."
They waited in an uncomfortable silence and both were glad when finally the door opened and the headmaster entered the office followed by Colin Creevy of Gryffindor.
"Did you find the remnants of the potion, Albus?" asked Harry-Snape.
"Yes," said Colin Creevy.
Harry-Snape groaned, while Snape-Harry looked at the other three persons in the room in turn.
"Tell me that it isn´t what I think it is," muttered the false Harry, groaning again.
"I´m afraid you guessed right," said Colin-Dumbledore.
The false Dumbledore sat beside Harry-Snape and chuckled. "Weird, Harry, isn´t it?"
Harry-Snape didn´t wait for Snape-Harry to answer. "Congratulations, Potter," he spat, "you managed to leave Hogwarts without a principal, the order without a leader and without their only spy, all in one go. The Dark Lord will thank you."
"It´s not like I enjoy the situation," Harry blurted out. "I´m the one who´s not even allowed to go to the bathroom!"
"Is that all you´re worried about?" Snape spat back. "Your bladder?"
"Well, there are times when it is my main worry," Harry shouted, "and just to make things clear, if I´m going to use spells, so are you."
"Boys," said Colin-Dumbledore, and Harry had to suppress hysterical laughter when the seemingly youngest present called them that, "we must cooperate, not quarrel about minor issues."
"If you have a suggestion to make, spit it out," huffed Harry-Snape.
"First of all, I think we should all remain within these rooms. We can´t risk that Voldemort finds out about this," said the headmaster, now junior Gryffindor. "Next, I think we need help. I´ll write to my old friend Horace."
"Horace? Like in Horace Slughorn?" snapped Harry-Snape. "Don´t you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you, but you can´t be seen and recognized in Harry´s body. I´m no longer in a position to go on errands for you, either. So, what will we do if you need something only a potions expert can get you?"
Snape had to admit that the headmaster was right.
Colin-Dumbledore sat at his desk, rummaged for parchment and started to write, only to stop an instant later. "I´m afraid I not only acquired ´s body but also his handwriting. Horace won´t believe for an instant that this letter comes from me."
"If you write like Colin, maybe Colin writes like you," suggested Snape-Harry.
"Brilliant, Potter," sneered Harry-Snape. "None of us others would have thought of that."
"Maybe, but I beat you at saying it," retorted Snape-Harry.
"Boys," said Colin-Dumbledore. "Stop this petty quarrel. , kindly come over here and write down what I say."
Dumbledore-Colin took over the seat at the desk and looked at his false self expectantly.
"Horace," said Dumbledore. "I need your help urgently. Kindly come to my office..."
"Not so fast!" cried Dumbledore-Colin. He wrote as quickly as he could, nibbling the tip of his tongue.
"Urgently is written with a U, Creevy," said Harry-Snape, who was looking over the false headmaster´s shoulder.
Colin took a fresh piece of parchment and started anew. With Harry-Snape breathing down his neck and the headmaster speaking too fast, it took more than two hours and a good dozen of parchments to finish the letter. By the time it was ready, Dumbledore-Colin was in tears. Colin-Dumbledore ushered the exhausted boy to the sofa and handed him a bowl of toffees.
The headmaster swore that Fawkes was able to deliver a letter quicker than a post owl. The old wizard – in a sixteen year old body – insisted that Horace Slughorn was going to receive his letter within the hour and that they could expect the wizard to turn up before midnight.
Each of the four wizards spent their waiting time different. Dumbledore-Colin munched toffees all the time. Snape-Harry stood by the window and looked out into the darkness. Colin-Dumbledore sat by the desk, twiddling his thumbs and Harry-Snape paced the office like a caged lion.
Horace Slughorn arrived earlier than they had expected him to.
"Albus!" cried the wizard, "You were lucky I was staying at the Three Broomsticks. I had business in Hogsmeade yesterday and Rosmerta served a wonderful stew for dinner." The man approached the toffee-munching, white-bearded man on the sofa.
"I´m over here, Horace," cried Colin-Dumbledore.
The potions master looked at the old man and the young Gryffindor in turn. "Oh my, you definitely do need help," he sighed then. "Though – why didn´t you ask Severus? He´s more than capable..."
"Because the problem is bigger than it seems at first sight," said Harry-Snape.
Horace Slughorn uttered a hysterical laugh. "How many exchanged bodies is this about?"
"Only us four," said Colin-Dumbledore. He explained about Exploding Cauldrons.
"A dangerous game," said the older potions master. He shook his head. "It´s unbelievable that NEWT students were so stupid to play it. And on magical grounds!"
Harry-Snape added the information about the ladybird and dragon egg.
They ended up showing Slughorn Harry´s memory of the game. The older potions master´s reaction was quite similar to Snape´s. He scolded the Gryffindors´ carelessness, Longbottom´s stupidity, Granger´s thoughtlessness, Potter´s foolhardiness, and youthful stupidity in general. After he had viewed the memory, the man insisted on conferring with Snape and Dumbledore.
Dumbledore-Colin and Snape-Harry were banned to a quiet corner of the room with a deck of cards.
Harry thought it was weird to play Exploding Snap with a fearful Dumbledore, for Colin seemed unable to remember the true identity of his opponent. Harry didn´t resent him. It must be scary to play Exploding Snap with Severus Snape. He decided to help the other boy with some lighthearted talking, but a rude "Shut up, Potter, people are trying to think over here!" from the desk put a stop to his efforts.
The three older wizards discussed the situation from all angles. Dumbledore insisted that the shell of dragon egg had been the crucial ingredient, Snape favored the ladybird and Slughorn thought that Harry´s hair had triggered the process.
"Don´t forget," he said loud enough for the boys to hear, "that Potter is a highly magical being. His hair carries more power than a piece of dragon egg or a ladybird by far. I´m not even sure that we can counteract the powers provided by that hair."
"You may have a point," said Harry-Snape. "The hair must have been very magical. Let´s see." He reached for his fringe and pulled out a hair. The three wizards examined it.
"I can´t see any extraordinary properties," said Colin-Dumbledore.
"Nor can I," agreed Slughorn. "That´s unexpected."
"Let´s not forget that I´m not Potter." Harry-Snape strolled over to where Snape-Harry and Dumbledore-Colin were playing and plucked out a hair from Snape-Harry´s head before the latter could protest.
A quick examination of the new hair didn´t show any properties either.
"We need a hair of the original Harry," said Colin-Dumbledore.
"But where from?" asked Slughorn.
"You don´t happen to hand out locks to your fans?" Harry-Snape sneered at Snape-Harry.
"Of course not!" snarled Snape-Harry from behind his cards.
"There should be some on his pillow or cloak," suggested Colin-Dumbledore. He called for a house-elf.
The creature bowed deeply, amazingly enough in front of the right person. "How can Elfie be of assistance for wizard-headmaster, Sir?"
"You know who I am?" Colin-Dumbledore asked, puzzled.
"Of course, wizard-headmaster, Sir. You is Albus Dumbledore."
"Do you know the other people present?"
The little elf looked at the headmaster as if he had asked whether the sky was blue. "Of course." He said the names of all present wizards, bowing to the right person with each name."
"How come you recognize us despite the body exchange?" asked Snape-Harry.
"Elfie sees masters´ magic."
"Can you tell whether the exchange is similar to polyjuice potion?" asked Harry-Snape urgently.
"It´s not like polyjuice," said the small elf. "Masters´ magic is unchanged. Polyjuice changes magic."
Slughorn interrupted the exchange. "Elfie," he said, "we need hair from master Harry before the exchange. Can you go to his dormitory and search his bed and things?"
Elfie bowed and disapparated with a crack.
The elf returned five minutes later. It bowed and offered Colin-Dumbledore some black hairs. "Elfie took these from Harry Potter´s pillow."
The three adult wizards examined the hair.
"Can you see the difference?" cried Slughorn excited. "Before the change his hair was very powerful. In fact the only substance more powerful I can think of is unicorn hair!"
"Who´d have thought we could make a fortune by shaving Potter bald," muttered Harry-Snape.
"I wonder, why this hair is different," mused Slughorn. He pointed at one of the hairs. "No extraordinary magical properties at all."
"It seems," sneered Harry-Snape, "that doesn´t detest his personal fanclub as much as he´d like to make us think. We´ll have a word about that after this mess is cleared, Potter."
After a breakfast of tea, porridge and fruit, Horace Slughorn went to the library to fetch some references on antidotes and shapeshifting. The adults started to work on a way to counter the potion.
"Can´t we help?" asked Snape-Harry. "I´m bored."
"No, you can not help," hissed Harry-Snape. "This couldn´t be done by most fully qualified wizards. It needs potions experts and alchimists. And being your potions teacher, I can tell for sure that you are by no means a potions expert. If you´re bored, find yourself an occupation. Tapdance, if you must, but don´t disturb us!"
Snape-Harry glared at his own figure angrily. "Oh yes," he hissed back. "Why don´t I study a routine and give a show in the Great Hall?"
"You will not leave this office, Potter!" snarled Harry-Snape. "You´d do well to remember that if you damage my reputation while in my body, you are going to pay. Dearly."
Snape-Harry swallowed hard. "Yes, Sir!" He returned to Dumbledore-Colin, who was giving the cards a shuffle.
Several hours later, a cry of triumph lured him back to the desk.
"We need a hair of an equally powerful wizard," announced Slughorn. "Now that shouldn´t be so difficult. We can take one of Albus´!"
Colin-Dumbledore paled. "I´m having my bed and clothes cleaned of hairs every morning."
"Why´s that?" asked Harry-Snape, Slughorn and Snape-Harry in unison. Dumbledore-Colin was shuffling the cards on the sofa.
"I can´t risk to be copied by polyjuice!" cried Colin-Dumbledore. "I´m one of the most powerful wizards alive! Just imagine what a malevolent person could do in my body!"
Harry-Snape nodded in understanding, while Slughorn muttered something about paranoia.
"We´re lost," stated Slughorn when he had muttered to his heart´s content. "You were our only chance!"
"Well, there are other powerful wizards and witches," said Snape-Harry.
"Do I need to remind you that there´s only one who is your equal in power?" snapped Harry-Snape.
Even Dumbledore-Colin on his sofa paled.
"And he happens to be bald!" Harry-Snape delivered the next piece of bad news.
"He can´t have been born bald," said Snape-Harry.
"He can," Slughorn said irritatedly. "Many babies are. But he wasn´t bald all his life, of course. But where to get one of his hairs? Every single room of this castle has been cleaned thousands of times since Tom Riddle may have been there. There´s no way a hair can have escaped the house elves for such a long time."
The five wizards remained silent for a while, each coping with their shattered hopes.
"Lunch, I think, is going to cheer us up," Colin-Dumbledore broke the silence at last. He ordered a meal from the house elves, which was delivered a little later by Elfie.
"You know," said Snape-Harry, waving a drumstick, "I think I have an idea."
"Merlin help us!" muttered Harry-Snape.
The others glared at the potions master.
"The Chamber of Secrets," Snape-Harry continued, unperturbed. "Tom Riddle must have been in the Chamber of Secrets multiple times. It was disturbed only once ever since."
"Only once?" chuckled Harry-Snape. "I, myself, was down there three times to harvest basilisk scales, venom, blood and saliva."
"I was there to have a look at the basilisk." Colin-Dumbledore smiled sadly.
"The only important question is whether you sent the house elves to clean there."
"It´s worth a try," said Slughorn. "Especially seeing that it´s the only chance we have."
They ate up quickly. Harry-Snape even suggested to forego dessert, but that was refused. When Colin-Dumbledore had finished his second helping of chocolate ice-cream, they went to Moaning Myrtle´s bathroom.
Snape-Harry stepped in front of the sink that hid the entrance to the secret chamber. He focussed on the little snake on the tap.
The sink obeyed the sound of snake language and sank back to reveal the slide down to the chamber. Snape-Harry took the lead and slid down first. The five wizards – Slughorn had to hold Dumbledore-Colin´s hand – proceeded with determination. They had just reached the entrance to the inner chamber, when Snape-Harry cried "Close your eyes!" urgently.
The warning came too late for Dumbledore-Colin. Slughorn shrieked like a banshee when the hand he was holding turned to stone, but kept his eyes firmly closed.
For a while the chamber was filled with urgent hissing and the potions master´s shrieks.
"You can open your eyes now," Snape-Harry said at last.
"What was this about?" asked Colin-Dumbledore.
"The basilisk I killed was breeding. The young hatched last winter. They are too small to kill yet, but as we can see," Snape-Harry pointed at the still form of Dumbledore-Colin, "they can petrify. I negotiated a truce. They hide from us today and we don´t attempt to kill them. We´ll leave them to live in the chamber in peace."
"Are you crazy, Potter?" snarled Harry-Snape. "You want us to allow basilisks – plural! – to dwell under the castle, undisturbed?"
"They had us trapped!" retorted Snape-Harry. "We´re lucky they were ready to negotiate at all. They found the mutilated body of their mother and are scared. If they weren´t still babies, they´d have waited for us to open our eyes. We couldn´t have escaped with our eyes shut."
"Boys," interrupted Colin-Dumbledore, "we´ve come here for a purpose."
Slughorn refused to let go of Dumbledore-Colin. "The poor boy! The poor, poor boy!" he kept muttering, looking at the headmaster´s petrified face.
"Don´t fuss, Horace," said Colin-Dumbledore. "It´s not his first petrification." He helped his old friend lean the petrified wizard against the wall.
Snape-Harry and Harry-Snape had meanwhile proceeded to the inner chamber.
"Accio Tom Riddle´s hair!" cried Snape-Harry.
They waited anxiously. Snape-Harry was about to give up, when three hairs landed on the palm of his outstretched hand.
"We´re lucky," remarked Harry-Snape. The lack of his usual acerbity showed how relieved he was.
They returned to the headmaster´s office. Slughorn levitated the petrified Dumbledore-Colin in front of him after Colin-Dumbledore had cast a concealment charm on the unlucky wizard.
They set up two cauldrons in the office.
Harry-Snape was to make a mandrake draught for the petrified Gryffindor, Horace Slughorn was to brew an antidote for the accidental body exchange potion. It was agreed that Harry-Snape being involved in the body exchange couldn´t be trusted to be calm enough to brew it.
Tom Riddle aka Lord Voldemort´s three hairs were stoppered in a bottle, being the most valuable potion ingredient to be used within the castle, ever.
Horace Slughorn confered with two former headmasters, who happened to have been potions masters, before he started the brew.
Snape-Harry and Colin-Dumbledore were banned to the part of the room where Dumbledore-Colin lay waiting for his restorative potion.
Astonishingly enough, Slughorn finished his brew first. The addition of the Dark Lord´s hair caused the potion to emanate a cloud of black smoke.
Colin-Dumbledore volunteered to try the brew. When nobody tried to stop him, he took a spoonful. "Not bad, but it could do with some salt," he grinned cheekily at his old friend.
"There´s no salt in it," huffed Horace Slughorn, oblivious to the teasing, "because it´s not supposed to."
He, as well as the others, stared at Colin-Dumbledore expectantly.
"Don´t forget to stir, son," one of the former headmasters reminded Harry-Snape, who had watched from his cauldron. "We want at least one successful brew today."
Slughorn admitted defeat when Albus Dumbledore still looked like Colin Creevy after a half hour.
"Severus," he asked his younger colleague. "What was that suggestion you made about shrivelfig earlier?"
They discussed the supposed benefits of shrivelfig in the potion while Harry-Snape added diced mandrake to his brew.
A little later, Horace Slughorn started a new potion. Harry-Snape helped as much as he could without abandoning his own potion. The last ingredient was the second of Tom Riddle´s hairs.
This time Snape-Harry volunteered to test the potion.
"No petty jokes about the tastes," sneered Harry-Snape from his work station.
The Gryffindor hero impersonating the Head of Slytherin shook his head before he took a large gulp of potion.
The result was spectacular. Harry´s (or rather Snape´s) face changed to all colours of the rainbow in quick succession.
"I should sell the recipe to Weasleys´," mused Slughorn.
"I´m not sure they´ll be able to get hold of enough hair to go into mass production," said Colin-Dumbledore.
Slughorn, Harry-Snape and Colin-Dumbledore then had a row how to use their last hair. It took more than two hours for the wizards to settle on a plan. When they finally agreed on how to proceed, Slughorn returned to his cauldron and started to brew anew. Again, he finished quite quickly, minutes after Harry-Snape had made it known that the mandrake draught needed to cool before it could be administered to Dumbledore-Colin.
Harry-Snape was made the volunteer – "Come on, Severus, my boy, you don´t want Harry to think he is braver than you!" – for the final attempt to use Tom Riddle´s hair in a potion.
It didn´t work. Instead Harry-Snape sprouted whiskers, which luckily disappeared after ten minutes.
Everybody was depressed.
"I don´t want to stay in this form forever!" protested Snape-Harry.
"Oh, why didn´t we think of it before? We ask famous Harry Potter whether he wishes to maintain the change and if he says no, we simply change back!" mocked Harry-Snape.
"Shut up!" shouted Snape-Harry. "You improved, but look at me!"
"Oh, you lost your famous scar!"
"I don´t care about the bloody scar! I was good-looking yesterday and look at me now!" He pointed at his (Snape´s) face.
"Insulting me won´t help! Insolent brat!"
"Stop it," ordered Colin-Dumbledore. "Severus, administer the mandrake brew to . Harry, just sit down and be quiet."
Both wizards obeyed. Snape-Harry watched closely, for he had wondered how a petrified person could take a potion ever since his second year. Harry-Snape filled the brew into an aerosol can and sprayed it all over Colin-Dumbledore´s form.
The change wasn´t immediate, but it started within five minutes. The greyish colour of the wizard´s skin became more vivid, the hair and beard followed the pull of gravity, the chest started to move with Colin-Dumbledore´s breath. The wrinkles disappeared, the nose straightened, the hair became blond and shortened. Within a quarter hour, Colin Creevy sat on the sofa and stared at his identical twin, Colin-Dumbledore.
"You found it, Severus!" cried the latter. "The mandrake draught restores our true form! Spray me!"
The potions master obeyed, but nothing happened.
"I don´t understand this," lamented Colin-Dumbledore.
"You weren´t petrified," Horace Slughorn pointed out.
"Do you think you can get one of those baby basilisks to cooperate, Potter?" asked Harry-Snape.
An hour later everybody was their own self again. Snape, Harry and Horace Slughorn stayed as hostages in the Chamber of Secrets while the headmaster went to get the basilisk´s reward, enough food for him and his siblings for a century.
The old wizard returned within an hour with an item that looked like an overgrown birdhouse.
"Tell the basilisk that I put a spell on it to replenish once a week," the headmaster instructed Harry.
The basilisk tried the snake-house and announced the quality of the food provided sufficient.
The wizards left the chamber before the reptile could call its family for a feast.
"They will be quite a problem in a century," Snape pointed out. "How many of them are there?"
"Seven," Harry informed the potions master.
"I added a simple draught that will prevent them from growing," said Dumbledore. "And it will shorten their life span considerably."
"You didn´t kill them!" cried Harry. "I gave my word!"
"No, my boy, no!" Dumbledore smiled happily. "They have a whole century to live happily. – But not more."
Both, Harry and Snape, were content about the headmaster´s solution to the problem.
When the four wizards – Colin had been sent to Gryffindor Tower after a good memory spell earlier – left the girls´ bathroom, each of them returned to their own life.
In Harry Potter´s case that meant to the Gryffindor Common Room, where his friends were playing a game of Exploding Cauldron in a quiet corner of the room. The wizarding hero smiled. "May I join you?" he asked merrily. "I have a basilisk scale!"