“As if anything at Hogwarts could be behind the times!” she had exclaimed with indignation. “We have the very best equipment. All my remedies are made here, not broomed in from some unknown witch, who may or may not know what she is doing.”
Maeve had tried to soothe the irate witch, but she was beyond any placatory words and could barely tolerate the presence of Healer Hurtmore. She had now taken to leaving the room, with a swish of her indignant skirts, as soon as he entered it.
Within hours of the Healers’ arrival, both Maeve and Severus had been summoned to Dumbledore’s office to meet the newcomers. They had been pleased to see that, initially, the Healers were prepared to listen to what both professors had to say. Maeve had been most interested in any similar cases that the Healers might have come across, but neither of them could remember any instance that involved such deep sleep and left no visible marks or irritation on the body of the sufferer.
“It’s as if they simply went to bed and didn’t wake up,” Healer Goldspur said. “We have tried every test we have at our disposal, and nothing fruitful has come of any of them.”
“Have you had your oldest Healers look at them?” Maeve continued. She had heeded Phineas’ words well and was now convinced the answer was already there, if they only knew where to find it.
“The oldest Healer we have is one hundred and forty-five and he doesn’t recognise the affliction.” Healer Hurtmore spoke for the first time and his tone was patronizing. “I don’t believe we will find the solution to this by looking backwards. This is a new malady that Lord Voldemort has launched on our world. We will have to continue to find new ways of testing the sufferers before we find a cure.” There was a zealous look about the man she didn’t particularly like.
“I think my colleague has a valid point,” Severus said coldly. “We both have a long history in research, and from experience we know that you cannot move forward without at least, in part, looking back.”
“You have your opinion and I have mine,” Hurtmore responded. “Let us see which of us is proved right when this is finished.”
“Now, Gentlemen. This is not a race to see who can be first to find a cure and prove their theories right. We must work as a team to find the answer, not disagree amongst ourselves.” Dumbledore stepped into the midst of the disagreement and poured oil on the troubled waters.
Maeve watched the hard faces of both Severus and Hurtmore. She knew that was exactly what it had been about to become. If she knew Severus at all, and she believed she knew him very well, then he would work his fingers to the bone to find a solution, just to prove a point to the Healer. But, of course, that was probably what Dumbledore had anticipated. He was a very clever manipulator of people and would know exactly what to do to get the very best from Severus. She lagged behind the group as they left Professor Dumbledore’s office to make their way to the Hospital Wing. The Healers reminded her too much of the events of Christmas Day and she didn’t want to spend too long in their presence. Snape was in deep discussion with Goldspur, whilst she could tell Dumbledore was busy trying to convince Hurtmore of the quality of the facilities.
As they pushed open the doors and entered the ward, Poppy Pomfrey sucked at her teeth in displeasure.
“Professors,” she said, by way of a welcome. “Please follow me and I will show you to our latest residents.”
“Thank you very much, Poppy,” Dumbledore said, seemingly unaware of the undercurrent of discomfort between his nurse and the new arrival.
Craig Luckton, the new Hufflepuff Seeker, propped himself up on the bed, where he had been since taking a Bludger to the head, and showed a lot of interest in their progress down the ward. He gave a cheery wave to Maeve, who suspected that now he had his senses back he was beginning to enjoy the forced period of convalescence.
“Who’s in that room, Professor?” he asked as she paused to ask him how he was doing.
“Can’t tell you that, I’m afraid,” she replied, helping herself to one of the Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans that were scattered by his bedside table. “And don’t be trying to take a peek, or you’ll have Madam Pomfrey to answer to.”
Craig shuddered and sank back onto his pillow; he’d had enough badgering from the starched Madam Pomfrey to last him until the end of the year.
“No thanks,” he said, as he picked up Quidditch Weekly and began to absently study the teams for next week’s Quidditch fixtures. But all the same, he couldn’t help watching inquisitively as everyone in the ward disappeared into the charmed room at the end.
Three figures lay prostrate on the beds that lined the wall of this small, but clean, room. To anyone who didn’t know better they looked like they were having a nice, well-earned nap. Healer Goldspur handed Maeve and Severus an identical piece of parchment each. These parchments were crammed with all the intricate details of the tests that had been performed on the three Sleepers. Cornelius Fudge, Imelda Snodgrass and Simeon Caldicott all displayed no symptoms other than their deep sleep. Cornelius was the oldest, and the most unfit, having spent rather too many of his latter years sitting at a desk, eating too much. Imelda was quite young at only twenty-two and a very well built witch, known for her copious amounts of physical activity. Simeon was a fairly average wizard of thirty who worked for Flying Fidelity, a large wizarding insurance company. Goldspur and Hurtmore answered a few more of their questions before excusing themselves and leaving the Hogwarts professors alone with the patients.
“I’m not sure,” Maeve said as she surveyed the sleeping trio, “just what it is we are looking for?”
“Anything,” Dumbledore prompted. “The smallest pinprick, the faintest odour, the most infinitesimal oddity. There has to be something, otherwise we can’t hope to fight this particular battle.”
“There will be something,” Severus said confidently. Maeve wished she could have shared his certainty, but the more she looked at their subjects, the less likely she believed it was that something could be done to help them.
They left with their parchments and the promise that they would start work immediately. Professor Dumbledore had taken away all their extra duties. There would be no more private Potions or Occlumency tuition for Harry. Professor McGonagall would oversee the D.A. meetings, and Severus had been relieved of all monitoring activities. As Maeve sank into her chair at the end of the school day she realised she didn’t have the first notion of where to begin with this. She found herself with the terrible feeling that this time she was well out of her depth.
Over the next four weeks they made little progress, but, providentially, there had been no more cases of this sleeping sickness. Dumbledore had been away from the school a great deal as the goblin question began to heat up. There was talk that accounts held at Gringotts would be frozen and Rita Skeeter, writing in the Daily Prophet, had fuelled this with a very irresponsible and grossly exaggerated report of money being misappropriated by the goblins. People had already begun to withdraw their savings and search for alternative places to store it; most of them just stuffed it under their mattresses, hoping for the best. The last thing the wizarding world needed was the collapse of the banking network, so the Ministry was doing all it could to maintain a degree of calm.
Other measures were being taken to restrict general movement within the wizarding world, and Apparating licenses were being revoked to try and prevent unnecessary travel. The Floo Network was being watched more closely than ever. There had been some accusations that owls were being intercepted, and in some cases the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had to deny allegations of impropriety.
The Dementors had been mercifully absent from the war so far, but now there were reports of sightings. They seemed to appear throughout the country and always late at night, spreading unhappiness through small rural communities and frightening young wizarding children in their beds. There were also other, less noticeable, consequences of the escalation of the war, as Hermione found out one morning when she read her Daily Prophet.
“Have you seen this?” she said crossly. They were at breakfast the morning before half term was due to start. Ron dropped a sausage as she flung the newspaper down in front of him.
“What?” he asked, as he struggled to swallow a particularly large mouthful of beans. With one mammoth gulp, he got them down and looked at the front page. “Bouncing broomsticks cause chaos on Muggle street?”
“No, you idiot, that!” Hermione jabbed an angry finger at the story lower down.
“House-elves plight ignored as casualties of the war increase,” Ron read, rolling his eyes at the prospect of another S.P.E.W. inspired lecture. “Tell me more,” he added sarcastically.
“It’s not funny, Ron,” Hermione protested, grabbing the newspaper from his hands. “Listen.… Concern is growing amongst the magical creatures care agencies that the fate of numerous house-elves is in jeopardy after their owners were cruelly cut down by He-Who-Must–Not–Be–Named and his followers. At least fifteen house-elves have been found wandering the streets in varying states of confusion after they were left with no masters or mistresses. It is feared the situation could worsen. Florence Dolittle of the ‘Society for the Prevention of the Abuse of Magical Mortals’ said today that unless the Ministry acted quickly to provide accommodation and re-homing for these poor creatures, they were destined for a life of poverty and anti-social behaviour. None of the displaced house-elves were available for comment. Our reporter on the streets said they were too busy clutching at the legs of passers-by and begging for work and a roof over their heads to stop for an interview.”
Hermione looked at Ron with troubled eyes as she folded the newspaper up and put it down. Harry tried to get up from the table without Hermione buttonholing him, but he failed miserably.
“And where are you going?” she asked sharply as he attempted to stand up. “We have to concentrate S.P.E.W.’s efforts on helping them. It’s the least we can do after all the work they do for us.”
“Why can’t Dumbledore just offer them work in the kitchens here?” Ron asked with a shrug.
“I think there’s a limit to what Professor Dumbledore can do, and anyway, there will probably be a lot more by the end of this than Hogwarts can handle,” Hermione said, pulling a notebook and quill from her bag.
“How many house-elves can there be?” Harry asked. “After all, it isn’t as if everyone one has them. Ron’s family doesn't have one; I don’t have one.”
“Well, there’s Dobby, he’d come and be your house-elf at the drop of a hat,” Ron said, swirling a piece of toast around his plate to mop up the last of the beans. Hermione made a disgusted face at Ron’s table manners and licked the end of her quill to indicate she meant business.
“Well, there are more than you think,” she told them. “We don’t have any exact figures, but most reasonably well-off families have them.”
Harry looked at Ron, who was suddenly concentrating very hard on his now empty plate. He hated any discussion of wealth, and talk about house-elves, or the lack of them, just served to remind him how poor the Weasleys were. And with Arthur laid up at St Mungo’s, things must be looking fairly bleak without his income. Harry just hoped the Ministry was still giving them some sort of sick pay.
“There are more people being killed — latest figures have it at ten a day, and Voldemort’s going for families so it will definitely increase.” She looked from Harry to Ron and wondered why they were frowning quite so hard.
“Do you have to put it so bluntly, Hermione?” Harry said with a pointed look at Ron. “We read the Prophet too, you know. We know that the casualties are on the increase.”
“Sorry.” She looked at Ron and gave him an apologetic shrug of her shoulders, which he accepted with good grace. “So, will you help me?”
“What do you want us to do?” Harry asked. He could hardly refuse her request after she had offered her help with the potion for Remus. He knew she had everything prepared and was ready to take it to Grimmauld Place with them for the half-term holiday. Professor Dumbledore had reluctantly agreed to allow Harry to spend the holiday there because one or two Aurors were taking a well-deserved break from their work. He felt they would offer Harry adequate protection.
“I’m going to get some leaflets done. I’ll try and encourage people to write to the Minister in charge of this. If enough people show an interest they will have to do something. You should also get your S.P.E.W. badges out again, and I’m going to contact Miss Dolittle and get her to send some of her badges up here so we can show support for her cause as well.”
“Oh, great,” said Ron, unhappily. “We’ll have S.P.E.W. and S.P.A.M.M.… fanbloodytastic.”
Hermione began to scribble something on her parchment, ignoring Ron’s histrionics. Harry sensed it was a good time to escape, before she had another one of her great ideas. He leapt up from the table and barged straight into Neville, sending him flying onto the floor.
“Careful, Harry!” he called, although he was rather pleased to be the one knocked over and not the one doing the knocking for a change. Harry reached down to pull him up and couldn’t help noticing the glossy wand that was sticking from the inside pocket of Neville’s robes.
“New wand, Nev?” he asked as Neville brushed himself off.
“What? Oh yeah. Gran finally accepted that even Mr Ollivander couldn’t patch up Dad’s old wand so she finally gave in and bought me a new one.” He reached into his robes and pulled out the brand new wand, which glinted in the candlelight of the great hall. “It’s willow, so it’s nice and springy.”
“That’ll help when you try to break this one!” Ron interrupted with a snort.
“And the core is a Dragon heartstring,” Neville continued. “I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, but we’ve got Charms this afternoon, I’m actually looking forward to it for once.”
“Good for you, Neville,” Hermione said, having taken a break from her rapid writing. “I can’t understand why your gran wanted to get that old wand fixed anyway. Surely she knows they never work properly once they’ve been broken.” Ron winced as he remembered all the problems his old wand had caused in their first years at the school.
“It was my dad’s. I just think she wanted me to have something of his, and that was the best thing she could think of.” Neville looked sad for a moment, but it soon passed. “See you later. I have to pop into the greenhouses before Potions.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Harry offered. “I have to collect something as well.”
“Be very careful you’re not late for old greasy git’s lesson,” Ron said darkly.
“Don’t remind me,” Harry grumbled. It would be true to say that Harry’s resumed lessons with Severus were not going well. It was a battle of wills now between the two of them as to who could get the snidest comments into a conversation. Harry seemed to have lost any trace of his fear of Severus, and the satisfaction he got from answering him back was worth the detentions that he frequently served for the Potions master.
“You all right then, Hermione?” Ron asked, making no attempt to move from his place even though he had finished his breakfast. She raised her head again and looked at him thoughtfully.
“Erm… yes,” she said with a half smile. “Are you?”
“Yes, fine thanks.” He blushed a little and Hermione looked at him in bemusement as he fidgeted in his seat. When Ron didn’t say anything else, she returned to her writing and forgot he was there until he gave a little cough. She looked up again.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked, watching him turn even redder.
“I just wondered…” he began, and then stopped to cough again, “if you wanted to maybe… well… when we get to London, maybe you would want to…”
“You’ve gone as red as your hideous hair!” Ron turned away from Hermione to see Draco Malfoy’s leering face walking past the table. “What’s the matter? She turned you down? I don’t know, Weasel, can’t even pull a Mudblood. What a tragedy you are.”
“Do you have a problem, Mr Malfoy?” Professor McGonagall’s cool voice prevented either Ron or Hermione from responding. Malfoy gave them one last wicked smile before hurrying out of the hall. Hermione looked at Ron and waited for him to continue, but for him, the moment seemed to have passed. He muttered a ‘never mind’, before grabbing his stuff and heading off for Potions.
Abbeylara was quiet beneath a leaden sky, and from a distance it appeared unoccupied. Only a single candle flickered in one of the first floor windows. The once well-tended gardens were now blighted by spell damage. Trees lay where they had fallen, their trunks split in two by all manner of dark curses. The halls and corridors were almost silent. Only the dripping of a leaking tap in one of the bedrooms broke the stillness. The Death Eaters that remained there were sleeping in their attic rooms, well away from the rather grander accommodations that their masters had chosen. The candlelit room was occupied by two people, who sat close to a blazing fire holding an intense conversation, their voices barely rising above a whisper.
“They are allowing the boy to move tomorrow,” the woman said, her face distorted by the flickering flames.
“Meany has his uses,” Voldemort replied. “But I think for the time being we will leave Potter.” His fingers dug into the arm of the chair as he thought briefly of the boy who had defeated him on so many occasions.
“We still haven’t managed to isolate the woman.” Bella sounded disappointed. She knew that Voldemort had promised Maeve O’Malley to Niall, but it still didn’t stop her dreaming of the day she would finally get to torture her. It was nothing personal; Bella just enjoyed using the Cruciatus Curse on anyone who got in her way.
“All in good time, Bella, all in good time.” He shifted in his seat to poke viciously at the fire, creating fiercer flames. “Do we have a new batch of the poison ready for use yet?”
“Almost. Our contacts have reported some difficulty with this second consignment. Several of the workers were killed picking it, but it is nearly ready for use. There will be a larger amount this time, so we can kill far more effectively.”
“And have our people made any advances in making it effective against Muggles? The two we tested it on survived. That’s not good enough for our purposes,” Voldemort hissed. His disappointment on hearing that the affected Muggles had mysteriously woken up without even the vaguest snippet of a memory had been profound. It wasn’t enough that it could kill wizards; it had to wreak enough harm on the Muggle world to ensure his complete domination of everything and everybody.
“Not yet, Master. Unfortunately, they seem to react in a different way to our own kind and it’s making progress difficult. We may need to procure more Muggles in order to proceed.” Bella’s eyes glowed at the prospect of bringing in a few more of the squealing Muggles; she took a great deal of delicious pleasure from seeing people suffer.
“Whatever is necessary, but be wary when venturing into their world. We don’t want to make ourselves too obvious too soon. We must be ready. I don’t want any mistakes or carelessness spoiling this particular venture,” he warned, his snake-like face hidden beneath the folds of his black hood.
“Of course, Master.” Bella licked her dry lips in anticipation as she allowed herself to relax for a moment. She found being in the presence of the Dark Lord both a thrilling and a nerve-wracking experience. She never knew which direction he would take. He could be silkily persuasive one minute and harshly critical the next, a combination that never failed to excite Bella, but then, Bellatrix Lestrange had never been a woman of ordinary tastes.
“I do think it is time we acquired the half-blood, Lupin,” Voldemort breathed, his voice slithering around Bella with a deepening caress. “It will do no harm to prepare the ground for when we wish to reel in the woman.”
“Lupin has been very difficult to bring down. He seems to have some sort of charm around him that returns spells to their casters, leaving him unharmed.” Bella disclosed this piece of information guardedly. The Dark Lord did not like failure and this, so far, had been one of their more prominent failings. It should not have been this hard to bring in a werewolf.
“Find a way, and find it soon. Use Fenrir if necessary, no doubt he will enjoy meeting Lupin again. Once we are producing enough of the vapour, I will want to move quickly against Potter and she must go first. I cannot risk her being alive when I finally engage with the boy.”
“You don’t think her father will…” Bella didn’t get to finish her question as Voldemort slipped his hood back and sliced through her with his horrifying, red eyes.
“Her father is powerless. He can only look on and observe his child being ground into the dust. The darkness will at last pierce the side of light with an exceedingly painful thorn.” He laughed and Bella joined him with a high screeching cackle that resounded around the house. It woke one or two of the Death Eaters, who smiled as they tried to imagine what future dark deeds their master was planning.
The glass bottle flew across the office, shattering into infinitesimal pieces against the wall. Green liquid, once freed from its captivity, flowed down the pale stone and into a sticky pool on the floor. The salamander that had been slumbering in the fire snapped open its bright green eyes, surveying the mess with only mild interest. As long as the liquid stayed away from the fire, and didn’t disturb its habitat, the creature wasn’t too worried. It slowly closed its eyes again and continued to lie there, its skin glowing a vivid blue in the intense orange flames.
Maeve made no move to clear up the mess as it started to give off a faintly bitter smell. Instead, she closed the large book she had been working from and thrust it back between its companions on the shelf. She was beyond feeling frustration now. Her failure to make any sort of progress with identifying the problem of the Sleepers became more pronounced by the day. She had even resorted to taking a sample of their blood, which Madam Pomfrey had thought barbaric. Maeve, however, was getting desperate, and she knew that Muggles used this method a lot with great success. Severus had displayed a professional interest in the procedure, but wasn’t at all convinced that it would produce any results, and he had been right. There was nothing unusual about any of the three patients’ blood apart from Simeon’s, which had been a touch green. Maeve suspected that at some point a Verdant Vulture had bitten him, but that bore no relation to the current malady. She thumped her hand against the wall petulantly, immediately regretting it as her knuckles went pink and pain shot up her arm.
“What is this thing, Bran?” she asked the owl. Bran was perched by the window, watching her every move with his intelligent, yellow eyes. He blinked a few times, but could offer her no more than a brush of his wings against her cheek as she stroked his head. “What has Voldemort come up with this time?”
She sighed as she picked up the huge sheaf of parchments that sat on her desk. It was homework from year six that needed to be marked over the holidays. She really should have got it back to them before they all left for their half-term break, but she didn’t think they would mind too much. They all had other things on their mind. Martin Shuttleworth had been taken from her class just yesterday to be told of the death of his father in an attack by a gang of Death Eaters, and had eventually returned to her lesson white-faced and crying. She had immediately sent him back to the common room with a classmate to await the arrival of his uncle, who was going to transport him back to his home in Scarborough. It had been a sobering end to the week and she was glad the students would have the chance to spend some valuable time with their families. She had been very surprised to hear that Dumbledore was allowing Harry out of the school, expressing some concern to all parties involved, but Dumbledore seemed very sure of his decision so she had had to let it rest. Hermione and Ron would be accompanying him, so she supposed it was really the best place for him to be. Although it didn’t stop a little voice at the back of her mind telling her that something bad would come of the excursion.
Leafing through the parchments, she glanced at their contents only briefly; Harry’s scrawl, Hermione’s tight, neat handwriting, Ron’s splotches, and Seamus’ haphazard grammar. All of them saying the same thing, but using different styles to get there. She didn’t give any of them more than brief passing glances, until she came to Neville’s and stopped to read his first paragraph.
‘There are several species of Carduus (common thistle) that have been adapted for magical misuse. Of these, Carduus Dulcis (sweet thistle), Carduus Mucidus (mouldy thistle) and Carduus Amara (bitter thistle) are the only ones worthy of a mention. Carduus Dulcis, when ground down and used as an infusion, normally promotes a feeling of great well-being, but with the addition of a sprinkling of Belladonna and an advanced Unhappiness Charm can make the recipient very melancholy and prone to depression. Carduus Mucidus can be dried and turned into a very fine powder which, when sprinkled on any edible item, will cause it to immediately fester, growing a thick skin of dark purple and green mould, thus rendering it completely inedible. Both of these can be grown and adapted for magical misuse relatively easily by anyone with just the smallest knowledge of Herbology and a garden big enough. Carduus Amara is not like this. It is an extremely dangerous plant to grow. Just a few grains of pollen are enough to kill a grown wizard instantly. It has long been banned in this country and no instances of its cultivation or use have been recorded since 1125, when an entire community was wiped out. A group of witches, who had been cast out of their village for continually putting Silencing Charms on anyone that disagreed with them, managed to obtain a few seeds from a travelling gypsy. They planted the seeds in a field close to the village and left the area. Carduus Amara does not need much care, and given light and plenty of water will grow very rapidly. By summer the plants had grown and flowered. One night the wind changed direction and began to blow quite strongly in the direction of the village, sending waves of pollen into the homes and lungs of the unsuspecting villagers. Thirty-seven witches, wizards and children died that night, and since then, it is an offence punishable by a life term in Azkaban to grow this plant.’
Maeve paused and looked up at the clock; it was already past eleven. She should be thinking about getting to bed, but she always enjoyed reading Neville’s essays on plants and their misuse. He had a natural affinity with things that grew and understood their properties better than most. She got up and moved across to the shelf that contained a bottle of Firewhisky. It was normally reserved for Severus’ sole use, but he wasn’t here and she felt she needed a drink to relax her mind a little. Pouring a small amount into a glass, she returned to her desk, pausing for a moment by the window to pull the curtain back slightly. The sky was deep and murky, with clouds that gathered together ominously over Hogwarts. The moon was waxing, but it, and the stars, were well-cloaked by the cloud cover. The occasional animal noise floated up out of the forest and she could hear splashing down at the lake, which she assumed was the Kraken taking a late night swim. It had taken up permanent residence in the lake, having found itself a friend in the Giant Squid, which also lived there. No amount of coaxing could get it out and eventually they had had to admit defeat and allow it to continue to live with its new-found companion.
She let the curtain fall, returned to her seat, and picked up Neville’s parchment once more. Sipping from her glass, she began to read again.
‘Carduus Amara, once fully grown, can be harvested, and with the proper preparation (which is classified information and only accessible to very few wizards,) makes a deadly gas known as the Funestus Somnus Vapour. The effects of this vapour are not fully known, although it is believed to kill more slowly than the plant when in its natural state.
‘All three share the same physical characteristics: long silver stems, jagged leaves and a flower of electric blue that is made up of long, sharp petals. They can be sown in late September and will flower from May through until the end of August. Although, in the case of Carduus Amara, the flowers can last until late October and will glow with a bright blue light at night time to alert unwary people to its presence. Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the village didn’t realise until it was too late just what the glow signified.’
She stopped reading abruptly. What had she just seen? There was something there, something she couldn’t grasp as it floated just beyond her mental reach. Her breathing slowed as she tried to concentrate her mind on what it was trying to tell her. Her eyes scanned upwards and carefully re-read the passages. What was it? She took a huge swig of Firewhisky and there it was! Funestus Somnus.
She leapt up from her seat, and clutching the parchment in one hand, dashed from her room, slamming the door closed behind her. Roderick, who had been slumbering in the alcove by her door, woke with a start and was just in time to see her robes disappearing around the corner. Wondering what the cause of her nocturnal visit was, he took up the pursuit, following her as she headed for the dungeons. She finally came to a halt outside Severus’ rooms and hammered on the door violently. Roderick watched from a safe distance as the door was finally flung open. He could hear Severus’ harsh voice asking her what she was playing at. She disappeared into the office and Roderick prepared to wait again.
“You’ve been drinking,” Severus said accusingly, as the smell of the Firewhisky on her breath hit his nostrils.
“I had one glass,” she replied indignantly. “But that’s not important. I think I’ve found the answer to our dilemma.”
“Really?” he drawled. His eyes moved to the parchment in her hand and he immediately recognised the handwriting of Neville Longbottom. “The answer is in an essay written by the clumsiest student in the school? Are you sure?” There was a sarcastic edge to his voice, and she gave him a look that would curdle cottage cheese.
“Neville has picked up on something in our Misuse of Magical Vapours class. I don’t know how we missed it,” she admitted. “Look.”
She flung the parchment at him. He was forced to take it, and cast unimpressed eyes over the flowing writing. He read it all while she stood watching him, barely able to keep her mouth closed.
“Well?” she asked finally as he stopped reading.
“Well what? It’s the ramblings of a sixth-year who has his head in a greenhouse all day. The heat must have affected him,” he sneered.
“For the love of Merlin!” she cursed as she looked over his shoulder and tapped her finger at the paragraph containing the information about the Carduus Amara.
“Carduus Amara, nasty but effective thing. What about it?”
“Read it,” she insisted.
“Carduus Amara,” he began in a weary voice, “once fully grown, can be harvested, and with the proper preparation (which is classified information and only accessible to very few wizards), makes a deadly gas known as the Funestus Somnus Vapour. The effects of this vapour are not fully known…” He broke off and his eyes slid back up to the same words that had caused Maeve such excitement. “Funestus Somnus,” he said quietly.
“Deadly sleep,” she announced triumphantly. “That has to be what they are using. I’ve heard of this before, a long, long time ago. Neville doesn’t know the effects; not many people do. It causes the person who has inhaled it to fall into a deep sleep from which they never recover, and in many cases they will eventually die. I knew it was there somewhere. We just needed pointing in the right direction.”
“It may be a coincidence,” he said, tempering her excitement with a note of caution. “This plant is forbidden in this country, and for that matter, most countries. It won’t retain its properties unless used immediately, so it wouldn’t really be possible to bring it into the country for this particular use.”
He stopped and she could see his brain ticking over. There was something stirring in his black eyes as he rubbed his arm subconsciously.
“What are you remembering?” she asked in a quiet voice, not wanting to disturb his train of thought too much.
“It’s nothing,” he said quickly. But his look of concentration was at odds with his words because, inside his head, wheels were turning and he was somewhere else. Again he rubbed his arm and she knew he was back with the Death Eaters and his former master. There was a recollection there that had some bearing on this.
“What is it?” she demanded, her voice more insistent this time. “Severus, you have to tell me.”
“It may be nothing. It is nothing,” he repeated.
“You’ve heard of this before, haven’t you? Was this going on when you were… when you worked for….” She didn’t want to finish her sentence because she could see his misery at the course the conversation was taking.
“Yes,” he said finally. “I heard vague mention of a plan. A house somewhere, a willing owner and a contact within the Order. It was so vague, and I never heard anything more about it. The plan may or may not have been put into motion.”
“But if it wasn’t, then it sounds like it may have been now,” she said. “We have to see Dumbledore.”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, we have to see Dumbledore.”
But before they could make a move, the door opened without warning and both looked on in surprise as the headmaster himself stood there, a deep look of sadness on his face. Maeve instinctively moved closer to Severus as they waited for Dumbledore to speak.
“I am glad I have found you both in the same place,” he said sternly. “It saves me from having to repeat my news. I am very sorry to have to say that Simeon Caldicott died an hour ago.” The words hung in the room for a few moments before crashing down on Maeve’s ears. She stared open-mouthed at the Professor. The triumph of a few moments ago was lost, along with the life of the dead wizard lying on a lonely bed in the Hospital Wing.