Teatime With Albus

Served for your enjoyment by Lady Dien

It tastes like a 'G.' (for earl GREY, of course)

JKR owns all the china... I merely pour the tea.


It is Friday again. The last class of the day is first year Slytherins and Gryffindors-- always difficult. I survive, as usual, and after cleaning up the classroom from the mess the brats have made of it, begin to climb the stairs to the Headmaster's office.

Monday is Minerva McGonagall's day, Tuesday Flitwick's. Sprout has Thursday, and the teachers who are not Heads of House rotate for the Wednesday. Leaving me with Friday.

"Friday's child is full of..." Woe? Grace? Something.

'Tea with Albus,' they call it, with no concern whatsoever in their voices, and once again I have to admit my admiration for the old man. He really is a cunning old bastard.

Very wise of him, to do it in this manner. Even the teachers he gets on best with (well, he gets on with everybody, so that's rather redundant, but nevertheless) but even someone as trusting as, say, Sprout, would unconsciously clam up if he came right out and said 'this is a Headmaster/Teacher meeting, and I'm checking up on you and your classes. How are things going?'

But under the guise of an innocent tea, he draws more information from them then they realize they're giving away, and it's much more effective than outright questioning would be anyway. Yes, let them ramble and chat over scones and sugar, and tell him all their worries and woes. When he acts on whatever problems they've unknowingly confessed, they marvel at his perspicacity ("How on earth did he know I was having discipline problems with so-and-so?" "Oh, that's Albus, he knows everything, you know")... As a Slytherin, I can't help but be impressed.

The password this week is 'almond fudge.' It's a long climb up the stairs. I have time to order my thoughts on the way up.

I made it clear to him from the very start that I knew what he was doing with the 'teas.' So I know, and he knows, and he knows I know, and it doesn't have to be said out loud. We can comfortably dispense with the small talk, and move on to the actual affairs he wants to know about. It's actually quite refreshing. I spend so much of the week wrapped up in the politics and stratagems of my House (devious little bastards that they all are) that the straight talk with Albus is rather like a gust of fresh air.

The door opens at my touch; I enter without knocking. I am, after all, expected.

The office is charming, even quaint. It takes careful looking to see what lies hidden underneath. Under the worn pillows and comfortable chairs, the kitsch and bric-a-brac that Albus draws to himself, I observe the lines and swirls of energy and power. Magicks old and deep burn and tingle in the air, if you take the time to see them. The office is powerfully defended, fully functional under the carefully cultivated air of endearing harmlessness.

Steel hidden under licorice swizzles and lollipops. A ruthless and very Slytherin pragmatism under the pretended senility and foolishness.

People do not understand what a great skill making people underestimate you is.

Albus looks up from his desk and smiles expansively at me. I nod in return and take my chair by the window, the wicker one that I find least offensive to my sense of aesthetics. It's a little joke between us now. Every so often Albus will put a ghastly pillow or throw on it that he knows I'll disapprove of. And I'll take it right off, open the window, and toss it out. Drives the house-elves mad.

Which is a reward in itself.

But today the wicker chair is thankfully un-defiled. I lower myself into it carefully, take the cup of Earl Grey that the old man holds out to me. It's black. The way I like it. It's frightening sometimes, how much he knows of us, how much of ourselves we've given away to him over the years.

He waits for me to speak first. Since he knows I won't let him work charm on me.

"The Cody twins have another 'business' going already-- quite a profitable one too, it appears."

"Who are they distributing to?"

"Nobody below third year-- yet. And all in Slytherin. I haven't yet decided whether or not to let them know I'm well aware of their newest little venture."

"What exactly are they selling?"

"Some ambrosia, some Fly, and some cocaine-- a Muggle drug."

"Will they keep it within the house?"

Oh yes. We must keep the Slytherin taint from the other Houses, mustn't we Albus?

"I think so. They believe it was the behaviour of the addicted Ravenclaws that got them caught last time, and are being more cautious. If they do expand, they'll take their time about it."

A sigh from the old man. "How long do you intend to let it continue?"

I shrug. "I'd like to find out where they're getting their supply from. I know they're not making it on campus-- they'd have to have space to work, and that sort of 'potions making' is hard to disguise."

"As you know from your own student days," says Albus with a twinkle in his eye. I acknowledge the humour with a dry nod.

"I was damn well more subtle about it and you know it. Our Head of House never even guessed. Not once in my seven years."

"I knew." The twinkle again.

"You know everything. You're Albus Dumbledore, remember?"

He smiles and sips his tea. I do likewise, staring out the window. It's a cool November, though we haven't yet had snow. Soon, however, if the grey and somnolent clouds above are any indication.

I continue. "Two of the first years had a rather bad time of Slytherin 'initiation' rituals last week. I've seen to it that their tormentors lay off, but... perhaps you can extend particular charity towards Bridges and the youngest Moon, if they're sent to your office anytime soon."

He nods acceptance. On the other side of the glass, the wind howls mindlessly, whipping dead leaves along the stone walkways. I feel like going for a walk.

"Malfoy, Junior, is his usual self. Little ever changes there. The fifth and sixth years are starting to pay more attention to him, however. And I believe he's trying to get in on the Codys' business."

"Is he partaking, or--"

"No-- apparently Lucius taught him self-discipline in that matter, at least. But he's slept with half the girls in fourth year now. Getting quite a reputation."

"What do you do?"

"As little as possible, while maintaining discipline. You know how fine a line I have to tread with him..."


More silence. My eyes are drawn again to the heavy and threatening stormclouds. The warmth of the office and the tea are suddenly oppressive. Perhaps it is only me, growing melancholy as forty approaches, but autumn becomes lovelier and more inescapable every year. A Muggle I knew once described the season as 'a beautiful precursor to death.'

I long for the chill air, for the wind to whip my hair out of my face and press my robes against my body. If I close my eyes, I can smell woodsmoke and decay. I want... I want to walk in the dead leaves, feel them crunching under my feet. I wish for perpetual autumn. For the breath of winter to be held in waiting, for Christmas to stay her icy hand and false cheer.

I want the barren hills and November bonfires, as I had when I was a child. If... If I close my eyes...

Albus coughs lightly, and I come back to myself. I have been staring out the window for a good ten minutes. My tea is getting cold. I rub a hand across my face, trying to wipe the weariness from my features as I wipe chalk from the blackboards.

I seem to tire more, these days. Always tired...

Albus clears his throat and breaks routine by taking the initiative to ask a question. "And how goes the, ah... experiment?"

I rouse myself with an effort, looking away from the view from the window. Bring my gaze back to Albus, who is summer. Or spring. Something alive.

"It... progresses." I know he does not like speaking of it overmuch. For all the cold practicality, even ruthlessness, that the supposedly gentle Headmaster possesses, this latest scheme of mine has met with but guarded approval from him.

Intellectually, he knows the validity of my arguments. But then, intellectually he is as much Slytherin as I. It is his heart that is Gryffindor, and this... thing that I do grates on his heart.

But we are at war. And the heart is the first thing to be sacrificed.

And we have sworn, he and I, that we will not lose another generation of Slytherins to the dark. Even if we must resort to such methods as this.

It was a flash of inspiration in a late night of work (though some might question from whence said inspiration came, since the idea is admittedly not a... pleasant one).

I have long had a fascination with the so-called 'bottled curses.' This involves casting a spell part-way, then stopping before it leaves your wand (which takes a fine amount of control, by the way). Then, you bottle the essence, the magical pattern, of the spell. And have your enemy (or whoever, if it's a nice spell) drink it. It will act just the same as if you'd actually taken out the wand and cast it on them.

It's quite a complex potion to make. I've spent years working on the effect, trying to get rid of the bugs and flaws that make it so unreliable.

I have also long had a fascination with the idea of the 'timed' potion-- brews that, after imbibing, may have no discernible effect for days, weeks, even months. They hide in the veins, waiting to betray their host, the subtlest and most untraceable of poisons. The ideal version would be cued not even by elapsed time, but rather by your spoken word. Imagine: you get someone to drink a potion-- slip it into their wine, perhaps-- and wait. Not that night, not the next, nor the next. Nor many months after that. Nor years. But someday, the moment comes. All you have to do is speak the activation word, and the poison in their veins, long dormant, flares to life...

It's the Potion maker's dream-- but a pipe dream. They said it couldn't be done.

I've had working samples for six years now.

And that particular night, two or three am (the hour when most of my more... monstrous flashes of brilliance arrive) I had The Idea.

A safeguard. A safeguard against the children of my own House, all my little Slytherins, a safeguard to be invoked only in case of last emergency.

I talked to Albus about it. When he first realized what I was proposing, he flatly refused me. I kept trying. I got the potions ready and perfected them, for the day when I knew he would come around to my way of thinking.

And he did. Wearily, exhaustion and grief and worry plain on his face, the face none of his students and few of his teachers ever see. He agreed to my plan.

And I started poisoning my house. It's not that hard, really. They have to test their own potions in my class, so it's easy to mix in my own concoctions beforehand. Or at the dinner table. Or in the kitchens beforehand, with sharp orders to the elves not to interfere.

I don't bother with Ravenclaws or Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs. They turn out very few Dark Wizards and Witches anyway, certainly not enough to merit this safeguard. No, it's my little snakes I need to work on. These children of Death Eaters. The junior Malfoys and Crabbes and Goyles.

And 85% of my Slytherins (with more every day) now have bottled Imperio in their bloodstreams, on a time-lapse keyed to spoken command.

Let us imagine the scene. Voldemort rises up, in power, storms Hogwarts' walls. The loyal Death Eater children rise up to him, in a tide of devotion and Dark Marks. And then I tell them all to sit down, and they do. No choice in the matter.

The sight of Voldemort's face on such a day is partly what keeps me going.

But Albus has asked how it progresses... I tell him how many are now 'prepared.' He nods and forces down his disgust, reminding himself that we are at war. I hide my smile-- sometimes even he is transparent-- and return my gaze to the autumn afternoon, outside my window.

Three black-robed little figures are trudging up the hill back towards school from Rubeus Hagrid's hut. I don't need to see the bright shock of red hair on the Weasley boy, or the fluffy brown hair of the girl, or Harry Potter's scar, to know who the three are. They have tea every Friday too, with Hagrid.

Somehow, I doubt their teas are quite as interesting as mine.

I thank Albus and set down the cup, only half-empty. I have papers to grade, after all, and we've talked about everything we need to. I begin the descent back into the hubbub of students, away from the kitsch and lollipop haven, down from the scones and tea kettle. Back into Hell, down into Slytherin.

Autumn gets lovelier every year. I long for the scarlet and yellow leaves, for the stone walkways under my boots, for chill winds on my face.

But I have a visit to the kitchens to make first. And papers to grade after that.

It's Friday again. I survive, as usual.