9. A Garnet Gem
Right after my return I head down to my office. The house-elves are already there, one loaded with plants and roots from the greenhouses, while the other keeps cringing and wringing his hands over a half-filled sack. Both are shooting me pleading looks.
"Blonky is so sorry, Professor Snape sir", the house-elf with the sack sobs. "Professor Hagrid sir didn't give all the items to Blonky Professor Snape sir requested. Blonky insisted that it was terribly important, but Professor Hagrid sir said it was always terribly important with Blonky and he couldn't take anything from his dear darlings every time Professor Snape sir wanted him to and..." With an outcry he throws himself at my feet. The other house-elf looks up at me out of her tea cosy, her face a curious mixture of supplication and apprehension. "Please Professor Snape sir, don't punish Blonky too hard. Tibby has seen that Blonky has brought more than half of the items on your list, and the deliveries from the greenhouses are all there. Professor Hagrid sir has been rather testy with Blonky recently, but if you want Tibby to go and try again Tibby would be happy to oblige."
The prostrate elf sobbing onto my shoes reminds me forcibly of a similar but far more uncomfortable situation. "Up with you, Blonky," I snarl, concealing my awkwardness. For Merlin's sake, I'm not the Dark Lord. "What did Hagrid refuse to give you, and why?" Blonky gets to his feet in a hurry. "Salamanders and a murtlap, Professor Snape sir. Professor Hagrid sir said the salamanders were breeding in his fireplace, and the new murtlaps were too sweet to take any out of the lake and chop them."
I let out a groan of exasperation. The breeding salamanders are understandable, but Hagrid must be the only one in the world to find purple jelly-bags with fangs and tentacles sweet
. At least the ingredients from the greenhouses are actually complete. "What is this?" I ask sharply, going through the other ingredients. "Four Jobberknoll feathers? I thought I had ordered at least thirty. Does Professor
Hagrid have a problem with my handwriting, or has he forgotten how to count?"
"Blonky doesn't think so," the elf answers, cleaning his nose with the pillowcase he's wearing. "Professor Hagrid sir gave Blonky those feathers that had fallen out themselves and were sticking to the nests. He said he wouldn't pluck the poor birds and perhaps hurt them."
"Professor Hagrid sir can count himself very lucky that this is not an emergency case," I mutter under my breath. Admittedly the half-giant has helped me out a few times when I returned late at night under certain... circumstances, and I'm grateful for it. Yet there are times he drives me up the wall. "What else is still missing? Flobberworm mucus, leeches, horned toads...?"
"They are all in the sack," Blonky squeaks eagerly, and Tibby nods in agreement. "Professor Hagrid sir finds them boring, Professor Snape sir." Indeed. Thank Merlin for small favours. "Tell Hagrid," I say slowly, "that in two weeks time I expect the missing items to be here in my stores, unless he wants me to come over and take care of them myself." I add a nasty smile for effect. "He will be surprised what can be got out of his dear darlings when you set your mind to it."
Blonky nods quickly and darts towards the door, but I grab him at his pillowcase. "Not at once, you fool", I snarl, "and not you. You are headed to..." I rack my brains and finally give up. "To wherever you house-elves hang around when you're not busy in the kitchen." His eyes widen in astonishment. "And the punishment?" he blurts out. "Your punishment is to take a rest", I hiss. "And you get my meaning. No irons or oven doors, if you do it again the Headmaster will hear about it."
He wanders off half-dazed, and I turn to the remaining elf. "Tibby, you will deliver my message to Hagrid, but get Blonky a clean pillowcase first. That snotrag he's wearing is a disgrace." A wide smile appears on Tibby's face. "Gladly, Professor Snape sir", she replies and hurries after her mate.
With a slight sneer I proceed to putting the fresh ingredients where they belong - those I'll need very soon onto my desk, the rest into the classroom cupboard or into my private store. Then I take out some more of the available ingredients and carry the whole lot into my laboratory. Yesterday's potion has matured well, its burgundy colour has deepened and turned more opaque. I relight the fire under it, fill another cauldron with water, arrange my ingredients and equipment on my working space and begin.
Soon the to-be Wolfsbane Potion is happily bubbling on its fire, and the other potion has been simmering long enough to acquire the necessary overall temperature to continue. With a last stroke of the knife I finish chopping the aconite and sweep lavish amounts of the green mass into the boiling cauldron. Then I return to the other side of my working space, pick up the crushed leprechaun wings and pour the tiny pieces into the dark-red fluid, along with a handful of dried melissa leaves. I stir clockwise, stir counter-clockwise, until the faintest herbal scent begins to emanate from it.
Satisfied I turn my attention back to the Wolfsbane Potion and add a hint of ground scarab beetles before stirring it as well. Now there should be a silvery mist rising from the cauldron... yes, there it is. I take up the big bottle of armadillo bile and, still stirring with the other hand, with an experienced flick out of the wrist I add one, two, three dashes to the greenish-blue liquid. It turns a violent green, and without pausing in the movement I lower the fire with my wand, sharply change the stirring direction and pour the dishful of powdered bicorn horn into it. The draught wells up with a loud hiss, but I keep stirring, stirring patiently until slowly the sound becomes softer and finally dies out. The liquid has acquired a very dark shade of brown by now, almost black. I take out the ladle, set the fire low enough for a silent simmer and allow my stirring arm a brief massage. I glance at the clock and feel a momentary surge of pride that I've hit exactly the right moment to reach this stage, even without regularly checking a watch. Besides it's soon time for lunch.
The other potion is almost ready for the condension, but I'm torn whether to be glad about it or not. It is imperative that the doses remain constant at all times, and it would be foolhardy beyond measure to have them take care of that themselves. Besides a bit of camouflage could be useful, but which one? Well, I'll have to think about that later. First things first, so I tip the coarsely cut scurvy-grass into the cauldron and send two drops of Glumbumble fluid after it. Come to think about it, more might be necessary... With a smirk I add two more drops of the greenish treacle, vanishing into the rich deep-red fluid, and the herbal scent grows a tad more intense. The condension will have to wait until I find a feasible solution for the camouflage and the doses. I extinguish the fire under the cauldron and put the potion into a stasis, so it looks like frozen burgundy cream. The Wolfsbane Potion still has to simmer for another hour, which should about fit the lunch-break.
This time Minerva is present at the High Table. I take a seat next to her and notice that she looks rather worn out - she was absent at breakfast, I recall. My first suspicion is that she has spent the night over lesson or Quidditch timetables for the next school year. Her reaction to my gentle taunt about "wasting time on unteachable children" doesn't confirm it though.
"First off, Severus, I thought we had agreed to disagree about the teachability of our students", she reprimands me, but the remark lacks its usual acid. "Secondly, it had nothing to do with Hogwarts business. Dedalus informed Albus on a rather short-term basis that he has caught the Fluttering Flu, so I volunteered to take over his nightshift." Order business then, or to be more exact, guard duty. "I wasn't aware that you would even sacrifice your sleep for the snotty brat", I sneer - but I can't help thinking of his last words to me yesterday, and the odd new string in me vibrates again.
Minerva scowls at me. "Anyone in the Order would willingly stand guard for the 'snotty brat'", she shoots back. "Present company excepted." I straighten up at that, offended, and narrow my eyes. "How very right", I say in a deceptively soft tone. "Present company excepted, and for good reasons. If you should ever feel the urge to be completely at the beck and call of a raving madman every other night, just let me know. I'm game for trading places if you are."
She looks quite taken aback at that. "I'm sorry, Severus - I didn't mean to imply that your sacrifices are less vital for all of us than they are. I just..." She rubs her face tiredly. "Probably it's the lack of sleep, I'm not your age anymore. But I shouldn't have vented it on you like that." She gives me an apologetic look, and her eyes tell me that she really means it. "For once I'll let it pass", I say silkily, "under the condition that it won't become a habit." Cutting my roastbeef into neat square pieces I add: "I hope that there was at least something fishy that was worth wasting your night for. Did the Prophet's ratpack pay a visit to our shining hero, or were there just these mousy relatives of his?"
She swats my arm but doesn't quite manage to suppress a smile under her reproachful frown. "Whatever you may think, I do not
spend my guard time searching the dustbins for catfood", she retorts. "Not even when it turns out as uneventful as last night. At eleven p.m. all the lights were out, and stayed out until the morning." She sighs, and suddenly all her seventy years show on her face. "Only Potter's light stayed on longer than that. Apparently they allowed him to do his homework at least, and he's trying to catch up with it before they change their mind. It wouldn't be the first time... I wonder why Albus wouldn't let us reveal ourselves and step in whenever they do such things to him, the poor boy just won't ask for it himself."
"As far as I remember his orders were to attract as little attention as possible", I say in a casual voice, turning my own attention to the potatoes. "It's just a wild guess of course, but maybe wizarding folk appearing out of nowhere in a muggle area and hurling spells and insults around are just a bit too obvious." She smiles wryly. "Of course, but there must be other ways...", she replies with a pensive look. "Perhaps", I say disinterestedly. "By the way, did the owl with today's Daily Prophet reach you this morning?"
Her grimace really looks a sight. "Don't remind me of that", she answers sourly. "The bird must have flown all the way up to my rooms, it might as well have pecked a hole into my door if I hadn't opened it in time. And before you ask the next question..." She pulls out her moneybag and counts fourteen galleons onto the table. "Here's your prize. Remind me not to repeat that foolish kind of bet, or at least kindly try not to goad me into it again."
"Fourteen?" I ask, raising my eyebrows. "The Falcons made twenty goals, Minerva." But she puts her purse away, her face set. "And the Magpies made six in turn", she retorts. "The last time I checked, twenty less six were still fourteen. End of debate." She is
an old miser. Just to make a point I take out the receipt from the apothecary. "I thought I'd let you know that I have stocked up my stores in Diagon Alley, in addition to Aberforth's delivery", I say silkily and push the piece of parchment over to her. "You'll be pleased to hear that it was slightly less than last time." She takes the receipt, and her eyes widen at the sum. "That must be about the only positive thing in it", she sighs. "Well, at least you use our own sources too and take care that the hospital wing is always properly stocked."
"I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise", I reply with a smirk. If only some students were as aware of the costs of their thievery. We keep chatting over dessert until eventually I have to get moving. "I'm sorry to say that, Minerva, but I have business to attend to in my laboratory now. This afternoon at four o'clock?" She nods in agreement, and I push my seat back and take my leave.
The time passes rapidly with the last preparations for the Wolfsbane Potion and for a bowl of Burn-Healing Paste, and before I'm aware of it it's almost four. I fill a goblet with the smoking potion, push the cauldron with the rest aside so the house-elves won't spill it in my absence, toss a black travelling-cloak over my robes and stride up to Minerva's office. She is already prepared, wearing a tartan muggle costume, and on our way off the Hogwarts grounds I catch sight of her smile at my outfit. I glare at her, and only at the very last moment - as always - I Transfigure my clothes and the goblet before we Disapparate.