Title: All Black Robes And Brood
Spoilers: Angel Season Five Spoilers, and OotP for HP.
Disclaimer: Don't own any of them.
Summary: When something particularly bizarre happens to his students, Albus Dumbledore is forced to look elsewhere for help . . .
Notes: Mid-Year Fic-A-Thon for Cinnamongrrl. Thanks to Houses and TaraKeezer for the betaing.
I sat patiently on the corner of Harry's cot with my shirt sleeves rolled up to my armpits so that the paranoid seventeen-year-old could have a close look at my arms. Minerva assured me that he wasn't going to hurt me, but that he was checking for something called the Dark Mark. Harry wasn't willing to take it on anyone's word that I didn't have this mark-thingy that he was worried about, and so I sat still as he examined me.
"Okay, she's clear," he finally confirmed. A collective sigh of relief went from the beds closest to us as I was allowed to roll my sleeves back down again. "All right, so you're not a Death Eater, from what I can tell, so that means Professor McGonagall is telling the truth when she says you're just a Muggle."
"Yup, that's me," I nodded. "Just a regular old Muggle scientist with some questions to ask."
"What sort of questions?" he asked suspiciously.
"Harry," Luna interjected softly. "She doesn't mean you any harm. Just answer her questions."
Harry glanced at his friend sharply before turning back to face me. He gave a small nod, though the suspicion did not leave his eyes. I just shook my head and took out my notepad and pen. Flipping to a blank page, I started the questioning.
"Two weeks ago, you and the rest of your Care for Magical Creatures class were asked to go collect some items from the forest," I started off. "Now Harry, I need you to tell me as much about what happened in that forest as you can. Where did you and your friends go?"
"We went right where Hagrid told us to go," Harry replied, his voice cracking just a bit. "But Malfoy and his goons got there first. Ron wanted to fight them for the spot, but Hermione forced us to go find another shrub. We went a little further in than Hagrid wanted, but so did other kids. We weren't that far from each other, a couple of meters. We collected the shrubs and went our way."
"Nothing strange happened?" I pressed. "Nothing out of the ordinary?"
"Not really — other than some pollen," Harry replied. "It was gross and sticky. The wind carried it out of the Forest and a few bits of it got on my face, but that was it. We left the forest, gave Hagrid the shrubs and went to our other class."
"Harry, this is very important, so I need you to concentrate," I told him, trying to keep my voice soft so not to startle him. "Where did the pollen come from?"
"I don't know," he answered defensively. "I didn't see it until I got some on my face. Why are you asking about the pollen? What's wrong with it? It wasn't really pollen, was it? It was poison, right? That's why we've been locked up here since last week. Someone used that pollen to poison us, didn't they? It was Voldemort, wasn't it? Wasn't it?"
And that's about the time that the room erupted into chaos. Harry's voice got steadily higher and higher, to the point where he screeched the last of his words out. All the affected students began to quiver and squeal in panic. Ginny looked helpless as she tried to restrain her brother while simultaneously trying to reassure a hysterical Hermione. Minerva and Poppy emerged from Poppy's office and immediately tried to calm the children down. Luna sat next to Harry, her hand on his shoulder as she whispered something into his ear. Harry wasn't listening to her by this point and he clutched his wand to his chest protectively.
The chaos would continued for another ten minutes before the children finally began to calm down. I fiddled idly with my pen as I watched Poppy and Minerva run between the beds to soothe their students. Luna looked slightly disappointed look on her face as she patted Harry's shoulder in comfort. The young man slowly began to relax and I thought that maybe I could continue on with my questioning, but all that was blown out the window when Snape came walking through the doors.
His appearance was a surprise but definitely not something frightening. He didn't throw open the doors suddenly, but rather, he pushed them open and strode in without stopping. I wouldn't even have noticed if the students hadn't reacted so badly.
Screams of panic rang off the walls and Luna threw me to the ground as Harry rose up in his bed. "Death Eater!" the boy shouted as he leveled his wand at Snape. "Death Eater in our midst!"
The rest of the students picked up his call, and soon I heard Latin words being shouted from both sides of the room. I tried to look up and see what was happening, but Ginny came tumbling down next to me and kept me still.
"Don't move!" the girl ordered. "Don't move until it's over!"
And it was soon over. I heard some painful yelps come from the students before silence reigned. Hesitantly, I raised my head to look around. The students were still in their beds but looked far worse than before. I heard frightened whimpers and wrinkled my nose when I picked up the faint odor of urine.
"He was supposed to wait!" Ginny hissed angrily. "Now look at what he's done now."
"I think Neville has soiled himself," was Luna's only comment.
"Really? I think it was Malfoy."
"I think you just want to think it was Malfoy so you can pester him when this is over."
"You make it sound like it's a bad thing."
I ignored the whispered conversation between the two witches and got up to rest on my knees to survey at the damage. The students were shaken but all in one piece. The staff members were also undamaged, though judging by the look Minerva gave Snape, that might not hold true for long. Poppy was clucked her tongue as she moved to collect the wands that were piled around all three faculty members, while Snape turned his head to examine the giant scorch mark on the wall just behind his head.
"Well, at least one of them can still aim," Snape muttered. "Somewhat."
"Severus," Minerva grounded out. "A word, if you please."
"I'm afraid that I was only sent here to collect Miss Burkle," Snape replied briskly. "Angelus requires her presence."
"I'm sure Mr. Angel will not mind waiting for a few minutes," Minerva said firmly. "Outside, if you please? Miss Burkle?"
I nodded and grabbed my things. Luna and Ginny were back on their feet and at their friends' bedsides again. Harry avoided looking me in the eye as he huddled under his blankets. A couple of the students shied away from me as I made my way out, movingly as slowly as I could manage. It seemed to take forever to get out of the infirmary, and I breathed a sigh of relief once I cleared the doors.
"Severus, you know the rules!" Minerva hissed at the Potions Master once the doors had closed. "You are supposed to knock first! We must take precautions to avoid alarming the children."
"I did not jump into the room with my wand flying about," Snape returned darkly. "I merely entered and sought a word with you. It was Potter who overreacted."
"They are not in the right frame of mind for any surprises," Minerva insisted. "Severus, you Either respect the rules, or do not bother to come down here. As it is, it is going to take Poppy hours to calm them down once more."
"And I suppose I will be called upon to make more sleeping draught," Snape said smugly. "It seems my presence is needed-"
"I never said it wasn't," Minvera interjected angrily. "I merely said that you need to take extra care not to frighten them. The rest of us are trying our best. Surely you don't believe it is not unfair to ask the same of you."
"The vampire demands to see his Muggle," was the only reply he gave. I made a face at the way he said that, deciding yet again that Snape had to be my least favourite wizard. He was just so mean, and usually without reason to be mean. And I was fed up with all this "Muggle" business.
"My name is Fred. You can call me Miss Burkle," I said coldly before turning to Minerva. "I guess I better go, but I'll be back. When do you think they'll be up to another visit?"
"I'm not certain," Minerva sighed. "Perhaps sometime tonight? Tomorrow morning?"
"Better make it tonight," I said. "I want to get on this as fast as possible. This situation is not only damaging their physical health, but it's wreaking havoc on their mental health. There might be a problem though."
"What sort of problem?" Minerva asked.
"I'm going to need a blood sample."
Snape snorted. "Now, why would a vampire's consort need a blood sample?"
"All right, that's it buddy," I snapped. "I don't know what crawled up your butt and died, but I don't care. I'm here with my friends, trying to clean up a mess that you and all your precious magical know-how can't handle. You're lost and you need us, not the other way around. So take whatever problem you have with me and my friends and just shove it, because I'm tired of hearing it. I'm not a 'vampire consort.' My name is Winifred Burkle, and I'm a scientist. Deal with it!"
Snape looked about ready to murder me, or hex me in some horrible way at the very least. Minerva was grinning like crazy, and me, I felt slightly embarrassed, but not sorry in the least. The grouch had it coming.
Snape snorted once more and then spun around on his heel. I watched him march down the hallway with unimpressed eyes, waving goodbye to Minerva before finally following him. He led me back down to Albus's office, his shoulders stiff and head straight forward. He growled out the password and stepped onto the staircase without so much as giving me a look. I rolled my eyes at his behaviour, my arms folded across my chest as I waited for the stairs to stop moving.
I stepped back into Albus's office was pretty much as I left it. Angel and Wesley stood at his desk and looking over maps. Spike was off to the side, kneeling beside an open trunk as he talked with Hagrid and Albus. Snape didn't so much announce his presence as let it be felt. He stomped into the room, immediately going to Dumbledore's side and whispering furiously into the Headmaster's ear.
"Well, she is right, Severus," Albus told him, loud enough for everyone else to hear. "She's a scientist, and we have no other choice than to let her try and solve this problem her way. As for her impudence, I dare say you exhibit some yourself, so you should not take too much offence."
"Told him off good and proper, eh Fred?" Spike asked with a grin. Snape glared at the vampire, and Spike actually had the audacity to yawn in the face of Snape's glowering. Hagrid suddenly came down with a coughing fit that sounded a lot like stifled laughter if you listened close enough.
"How did it go?" Angel asked me without looking up from his map.
"Okay, until Oscar the Grouch over there nearly scarred the kids for life," I muttered darkly. "I managed to talk to one boy about what happened, and the only strange thing he can remember is the pollen."
"The pollen again," Wesley murmured.
"Exactly," I said with a sigh. "Harry said he remembered that the pollen was wet and sticky, and that he wiped it off quickly. I'm thinking that the pollen could have been something else entirely. The sticky stuff Harry talked about could be whatever potion or poison we're looking for. My guess is that it absorbs into the skin, and if every one of those kids got even a little on their hands or face, it could be what we're looking for. I want blood samples from all of them so I can start running tests."
"And you're going to get a bunch of pissed-scared teenagers to let you stick a large needle into their veins how?" Spike chuckled.
"We can sedate them first," I replied. "Worst comes to worst, we'll dose them with something. But right now, I'm not willing to do anything without unless I get parental consent for it."
"And you have it," Albus interjected, coming up to me with a small smile on his face. "Arthur and Molly Weasley have granted permission for their son, Ron."
"The redhead?" I groaned. "He's got to be the worst of them all. I'm lucky he didn't curse me when I first stepped into the room. Seriously, the kid is really paranoid. He was going off about a war and Death Eaters killing him the second he left Hogwarts."
"I'm afraid Molly and Arthur are the only two parents to send me their consent, so Ron will have to be your first subject," Albus told me. "Now, we have sent your things off to a room in Hogsmeade, and Mr. Wyndam-Pryce overlooked the assembling of the equipment. You can start your work there as soon as you like."
"That's great, but how am I going to get back and forth?" I asked nervously. "Floo sounds very simple and all that, but what if something goes wrong?"
"Are you frightened, Miss Burkle?" Snape asked with a smirk.
"Not frightened," I returned firmly. "Just cautious."
"And with good reason," Albus agreed. "I'm sure Severus would not mind accompanying you to and from Hogsmeade."
My heart just sank all the way down to my toes. Snape must have felt the same way, if the look on his face was any indication. "Headmaster, I really must protest-"
"Then it's settled!" Albus clapped his hands together and ignored Snape's protests entirely. "Shall we get on with the plan?"
"What is the plan, by the way?" I asked Angel.
"We go in with two teams," he said. "Spike and Wesley enter from the south end, Hagrid and I from the north, and we're going to work our way through the places we know the shrubs to be located. If we find nothing, then we go in deeper until we do."
"Old Albus was kind enough to supply us with some weapons," Spike added with a kick to the open trunk he had been looking in before. I glanced into the chest and saw a number of swords, daggers, and axes, and I wondered why on earth Albus had all this stuff was lying around around at a school.
"Sun's setting soon," Wesley continued to say. "We'll be heading then."
"And I'm going back to the infirmary to get my samples, and then I guess it's off to Hogsmeade for me," I said without enthusiasm.
"Let us know if you find anything," Angel advised me.
"Same to you," I replied. "All right, let's go professor."
Snape scowled before turning and leading the way out of the office.
"You didn't have to do that."
I was annoyed and damn determined to make sure Snape knew it. He hardly seemed concerned with my feelings, wandering around the room and glaring at my things with obvious disdain. Albus and Wesley had done a great job in setting up my equipment, though it was a far cry from the lab back at the offices. If my tests here didn't produce any results, I was going to head back to LA to run more indepth tests.
"You said you needed blood," Snape finally said. "Now you have it. Just be grateful and
do your work."
"I didn't say you had to hex the kid still just so I could get it," I shot back at him. "You'll be lucky if he isn't completely traumatized by that."
"Well, if you find the solution to our problem with all your science and machines, then I won't have to worry about any permanent damage, will I?" he retorted. I gave up trying to talk to the man and took out the samples that I had just barely managed to take from Ron Weasley. The boy had put up quite a fight and nearly sent the entire infirmary into a riot, before I was able to draw what I needed. Snape helped, though I still think that using a hex on the kid was over the top. Poppy had a sedative all ready to go before Snape stuck his big nose into things and just used his wand to solve the matter. We didn't stick around to see the chaos that would follow when Minerva released Ron from the spell, but I was pretty sure that Poppy and Minerva had their hands full.
I began taking out slides and my microscope, intent on starting a preliminary work-up on the blood, which would take me no longer than an hour. I set to work, putting the samples from Ron under the microscope when I caught a glimpse of Snape eyeing my laptop with confusion to my right.
"Don't touch that," I warned the wizard without looking up. "You break it, you buy it. And I don't think you could afford to on a teacher's salary."
Snape grumbled unhappily, but he stepped away from the computer. He watched me as I worked, curious in spite of himself, and if I'd had enough time, I probably would have rubbed his face in it. But I didn't. The kids were getting worse as time passed, and Poppy was concerned that they were becoming more violent as well. Better to find out what the hell is going on before the whole mess explodes.
"What is this going to tell us anyway?" Snape asked suddenly. "What are you looking for?"
"Anything," I replied shortly, taking my eyes off the scope to jot down a few quick notes. "Unknown agents in the blood, any signs of toxins, a chemical imbalance-whatever I can find."
"And this is going to solve what?" he continued to needle me.
"Well, if I can locate an unknown agent in the blood, then it's a good chance I've found whatever's in their system and making them act so loopy," I explained distractedly. "Thhen I isolate it, extract it, run tests on it, figure what it's made of, and find out how to stop it."
"But you can't guarantee that," Snape sneered.
"At least I'm trying," I said angrily. "Which is more than I can say for you."
"Yeah," I nodded. "Right now, you're the essence of not-helping. You just stand about and complain about me or Angel or someone else. You're not even nice to those poor kids, and I think you kind of like scaring them witless by just showing your face. Albus gives the impression that he trusts you and finds you useful at some things, but I don't see why."
"And what do you see, Miss Burkle?" he demanded acidly.
I spared him a glance before turning back to my microscope. "All black robes and brood, which is not something I'm unfamiliar with."
"Hello? Have you met Angel?" I asked with a giggle. "You're just like him, only more alive and definitely nastier, but still, it's nothing new to me."
"Perhaps I'll surprise you yet, Miss Burkle," he suggested darkly.
"You might," I agreed. "But not right now. I've got work to do."
Angel arched his eyebrow and looked at me curiously. "Seriously, Fred?"
"Seriously," I said as I looked down at the results in my hand. I didn't have to turn around to see that Snape was all smug about the fact that my science had failed right along with his magic, but I wasn't about to let him get the final word. The samples had already been sent to the LA office and I had some of my best workers on it. I didn't have anything at the moment, but I didn't doubt that my team in L.A. would come through for me.
"The only thing that I found was an abundance of adrenalin in their system," I explained. "It accounts for their agitation and contributes greatly to their immediate 'fight or fly' reaction to just about anything that happens. Knox and the others might be able to tell me more when they've run some more tests, but I've got nothing for now."
"It seems you aren't as useful as Albus thought," Snape told Angel. Angel glared at the smug wizard and I had to resist the impulse to do the same.
"You didn't find anything?" I asked Angel.
"Nothing suspicious," the vampire confirmed as he contined to glare at Snape. "We'll go in further tomorrow night, but it's just too close to sunrise to continue the search."
"Then where are Spike and Wesley?" I demanded. "They're cutting it awfully close."
"I'm sure they'll get here on time," Angel replied, though his tone spoke volumes about how little he did cared about Spike's fate. I was going to say more, but was interrupted by Spike's voice.
"We've got a problem!" the vampire announced as he dragged a grubby Wesley into Albus's office. "Watcher Junior here has come down with a case of the heebie-jeebies."
"Wesley?" I said his name with some panic, but I'm not too sure he heard me. If the kids in the infirmary were bad, Wesley was the worst you could get. He was sweating and panting heavily, his hands locked around Spike's arm for support. His eyes moved constantly and he twitched quite frequently. Angel took a step in his direction a tad too fast, and he gave a startled yelp before trying to hide behind Spike.
"Oh no," I moaned.
"Tell me about it," Spike grumbled. "He won't let go of me, and he won't even say why. It's like he's completely shut down."
"What happened?" Angel demanded.
"The pollen," Spike explained. "We were just finishing up and about to head back in when Wes here accidentally collides with a tree. It was damn funny, especially when all that white stuff came tumbling down on his head. I didn't know what it was at first, and Wesley panicked right away. He got out his water bottle and washed the gunk right off his face. Five minutes later, he's acting all twitchy and whimpy."
"Where?" Angel asked.
"We've marked the spot off," Spike replied. "A few metres further away from the last of the shrubs in the south-eastern sector."
"We've got to get him to the infirmary," I murmured worriedly. I reached out to touch Wesley's cheek, but he jerked away from my touch. His eyes were wild with fear and it was only after a few minutes that he was able to recognize me.
"Fred?" he asked in a hoarse voice. "Fred, we have to get out this place. It's a deathtrap!"
"It'll be okay Wesley," I promised him, though I wasn't feeling too sure about that. "But right now, I think you should go get some rest. Why don't we take you to the infirmary-"
"And be surrounded by those jittery wizards?" Wesley shouted. "No, I will not go. I demand that we leave right now, or there will be-"
The hex came out of nowhere, and soon Wesley was laying out cold on the floor before us. I turned incredulous eyes to face Snape, who held his wand in his right hand. Angel gave a growl and I barely had time to stop him from choking the daylights out of Snape.
"What did you do?" Angel roared in anger.
"He's far too agitated to listen to any of us," Snape shot back. "This way he can be moved and restrained later on, if need be."
"Listen you slimy little-"
"That's enough!" I held up my hands for peace. "Angel, though not the best way of doing it, Snape is right. Wesley wouldn't have listened to us, and at least we can get him to the infirmary now. We could stand around and argue some more, but we really need to get back to that spot and see if there's any of that pollen to be salvaged."
"Way ahead of you, pet," Spike interjected with a smirk. He held reached into the pocket of his duster and withdrew a folded up piece of paper. "Now, don't get any on your skin. Wouldn't want you to end up like the rest, now would we?"
I accepted the paper with awe. I smiled at Spike and gave him a quick hug.
"Spike, you're the best!"
The vampire smirked, but brushed off my compliment. "I already knew that, ducks."
"Just say it already."
Snape glared at me and refused to speak. "You'll feel better once you do," I promised him.
"I sincerely doubt that," he retorted.
"Just say it, you big git," Spike called out from somewhere next to Fawkes. "You bloody well know that you have to, so just do it."
"This is ridiculous," Snape said. "Angelus, control your employees."
"Spike doesn't work for me," was all Angel had to say.
"Come on," I needled him. "I don't have all day. Just say it."
Snape looked like I had just asked for his firstborn. He refused to meet my eyes, instead letting his gaze wander around the room. I assumed he found no support from Albus or Minerva, because he gave a frustrated sigh soon after. I just stood there with my arms folded over my chest, content to wait as long as it took for him to do it.
"Your Muggle science has its uses," Snape finally managed to get out. I giggled at the look of self-loathing that came over his face as he said it, and as usual, he took offence. "That's quite enough out of you, Miss Burkle. You have our thanks. Does that not suffice?"
"Not entirely," I replied cheekily. "Say the rest."
Snape glowered, but for one moment I thought I saw the corner of his lips twitch like he was withholding laughter. "Very well, you were right, I was wrong. Are you satisfied?"
"You could apologize to Angel and Spike for all the means comments you made this week," I suggested.
"Don't push it," was his reply.
"I do agree with Severus," Albus spoke up. "You do have our thanks, all of you. Without your aid, I do not know if we could have solved this mystery."
"Imagine, a demon like that in our Forest," Minerva looked uneasy. "So close to the students."
"I'm surprised none of you lot noticed it before," Spike stated. "It's a giant hairless anteater with holes in its snout. Kind of sticks out, you know?"
"Well, in all fairness, the Wuogi-tiant didn't actually come up to anyone," Wesley said. "Though I'm still curious as to what on earth could have flattened the creature to such an extent as to force all of its venom out of its body. I saw the footprint. Whatever did it had to be twenty-feet tall at least."
Hagrid at this point looked very comfortable, and I saw Albus give him a sly wink before returning to the conversation. "Indeed, quite a puzzle. But as for your departure, are you sure you cannot stay longer? The children do enjoy having you around."
"I'm sure the girls love having these guys around," I giggled. "But we do have to get back. We can't leave Charles and Lorne in charge of the offices forever."
"The blighter probably already took the opportunity to redecorate everything," Spike said with distaste. "Everything's going to be bright and neon when we get back."
"And on that note, I'm ready to leave," Angel said, shaking Albus's hand heartily. "Good to see you again, Albus. If you ever need help with Tom, let us know. We'll be more than glad to come back."
"I'll keep it in mind," Albus assured him before handing Angel what had to be the portal-key thingy. We all said our goodbyes quickly, Snape more briskly than the others, and I joined my friends in placing a hand on the rubber chicken that was going to get us home. I didn't even want to know where Albus got this thing from. Angel activated the device and soon we were on our way.
When my feet touched the ground again, we were in Angel's office. Charles and Lorne were there, with an armload of Chinese food each. I grinned at the sight, gratefully taking some chicken from Charles before collapsing into the nearest chair.
"So, how was it?" I heard Lorne ask.
"Okay, if you ignored that Potions prat Snape," Spike replied.
"He wasn't that bad," I said before another word could be exchanged.
"Please Fred," Angel said in disbelief. "He was the worst to you."
"Yeah, but still, he wasn't that bad," I insisted. "We kind of got along at the end."
"Give me a break," Spike scoffed. "That bloke is just all black robes and brood, pet."
I grinned and turned my attention to my food. "True, but I like that in a man."