Faery Heroes

Response to Paladeus's challenge "Champions of Lilith". Harry, Hermione, and Luna get a chance to travel back in time and prevent the hell that England became under Voldemort's rule, and maybe line their pockets while they're at it. Lunar Harmony; plenty of innuendo, dark humor, some bashing included; manipulative!Dumbles; jerk!Snape; bad!Molly, Ron, Ginny

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8233288/1/Faery-Heroes

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33. The Slug's Return

With a deft twist of his wrist, Albus tied up the Intruder Charm and let himself into the house. The individual he was after was a hard man to track down, and hopping from one bolt-hole to another every other week made the task even more difficult. If it were not for Mundungus's efforts, he was sure his quarry would have taken even longer to locate.

Once inside, however, it was obvious where the man was, and Albus allowed himself to drift along the currents of light jazz that flowed through the hallway and into the sitting room. He waited a few minutes for the piece to end before he greeted softly, "Good evening, Horace."

Horace Slughorn jumped a good two inches into the air before landing back on the bench, his hands slapping the keys of the baby grand he had been playing. The rotund musician whirled around, eyes wide before they took in exactly who had spoken. "Albus?! How in Merlin's name did you get in here?"

"The front door, obviously." He nodded at the piano. "You always did talk about taking up music when you retired. That was actually quite good."

Horace harrumphed dismissively. "Don't try to butter me up. What do you want?"

"Can't I just visit an old friend?"

"No, you can't." The short Potions Master folded his arms over his broad belly and continued looking expectantly at the older man.

He sighed. "I might have another reason for coming by besides catching up. How would you like to return to Hogwarts?"

"My, my, this is certainly a change. For some reason, I recall you pressuring me to retire about fourteen years ago, something about having 'earned a chance for some peace and quiet'. I dare say that teaching your death-trap of a Defense class would be the exact opposite of relaxing."

"Then it's a good thing I'm not here to ask you to take that position, isn't it?" he countered brightly.

Had he expected that to mollify the man, he would have been sorely disappointed. "Really? What other class would have lost its instructor only a month into the term?"

"That should be obvious. I was hoping you would return to your old positions as the Potions professor and head of Slytherin house."

Horace chuckled, the sound sharp despite his mirth. "Can't say I'm surprised, though I didn't think Severus would last even this long. He is brilliant when it comes to brewing, no doubt about that, but there was a reason I never asked him to tutor younger students."

"Yes, I should have listened to you when you recommended I not give him your position," Albus replied with a false smile plastered onto his face. No, Severus had been anything but a talented professor, but the Prophecy had to be leaked somehow, and Severus was both qualified to take Horace's place and in a position to direct Tom to his downfall. Once the sacrifice — though he knew small-minded individuals would call it a betrayal — of the Potters was accomplished, he also had to grant the dour man the protection he promised. Had he not, Severus would have been thrown into Azkaban, which was not a place conducive to returning to the Light. "Unfortunately, what is done is done. Severus had to depart suddenly for better things, and it left me with a very important gap in the schedule. Would you not consent to teaching again, even if just for one more year?"

"I don't know. I'm old and tired, and I've become used to the slow life," equivocated Horace, a ghost of a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. They both knew that the chances of Albus finding anyone else willing and able to take over a class at such short notice was practically zero; this was just the old Slytherin trying to squeeze a few fringe benefits out of him as punishment for the forced retirement.

If only he could promise Horace the chance of claiming Harry as part of the soon-to-return Slug Club! There was little the rotund Potions Master loved more than ingratiating important students to himself, and as both the Boy-Who-Lived and Lily's son, Harry would have been a prize never to be seen again. Horace would not have put up even a token protest if that opportunity was on the line. Unfortunately, the boy was behaving in a maddeningly unpredictable fashion, his hostility plain to see. It was a good thing Albus knew this was just Tom's own boundless rage influencing the boy's natural adolescent temper.

If he did not, he would have to suspect his pawn of knowing the full details of his plots!

"What is it that you want?" he finally sighed.

"Well…"

A sharp ringing dragged everyone's attention to Dumbledore as he tapped on his goblet. "Students, if I might have your attention? It is my pleasure to inform you that I have been able to fill the absence Professor Snape's sudden passing left. He could not be here tonight as he is rather busy organizing his office, but starting bright and early tomorrow, Potions class will resume under the direction of Professor Slughorn. I know some of you might have become used to the extra study block, but I insist that you report to his class as usual." Announcement made, the old man returned to his chair.

Harry's eyes narrowed minutely, and a faint grin appeared. So Sluggy's back, after all? Excellent. He turned to Hermione, who he noted sported a similar expression. "When do we have our first class with this Professor Slughorn?"

She pulled their schedule out of her bag. "Let's see… How convenient, we're in his first class. This should be interesting."

The time-travelers were understandable intrigued when Slughorn was yet again missing from the Great Hall the following morning. Moving into the office and quarters would not have taken more than a few hours, and the portly man had been at every meal in the old timeline, so what had kept him?

"What do you think the odds are that he was brewing unusual potions like he did for us?" Harry whispered to his brunette lover.

She thought for a moment before looking back to him. "Pretty low, I'd expect. Last time, he had a full month to prepare, but there aren't a lot of impressive concoctions he can create in just under a day. Unfortunate, really; I wouldn't mind getting a little Felix Felicis again."

"Can't you brew it yourself?" Luna asked with raised eyebrows. "Your Healing apprenticeship did have a large Potions component, after all."

"I wouldn't want to chance it," Hermione replied. "It's a finicky potion, definitely Mastery level. Time intervals that have to be accurate almost to the second, hazardous components, exacting temperatures… There are probably a hundred ways for it to go wrong, and most of them would turn it into a lethal poison. Merlin's beard, the primary ingredient is concentrated malaclaw venom; that stuff is basically the Dire Misfortune Curse in liquid form. That he could brew it for his little demonstration in the first place proves just how much skill he has in his field."

"Too bad." He checked his watch and rose from the table. "Well, I guess we get to find out. It's almost time for classes to start."

Luna sighed and pushed her half-empty plate away. "You two have fun with that. Meanwhile, I get to play in the dirt some more. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate Herbology?"

"Just every day it's scheduled," Harry answered shortly.

They were not the first to arrive at the classroom; several Slytherins, among them David Greengrass and Theodore Nott, along with Seamus, Lavender, and Parvati, had already claimed their seats. The pair of Lions settled themselves at their habitual table for the few minutes the rest of the class needed to make their way from the Great Hall. Finally, just as the clock sitting on a shelf at the front of the room chimed half past eight, Slughorn walked in and closed the door.

"Good morning, good morning, everyone." The man called as he picked up a roll of parchment from the desk at the front. "Let's see… Miss Brown, where are you?"

Snape had done the same thing their first class, Harry remembered, though unlike when the dungeon bat had reached his name, Slughorn looked at him with barely restrained curiosity. Which is to be expected, I guess. I didn't go with Dumbledore to convince him to come back this time, so in his eyes, I'm a completely unknown quantity.

"Mr. Weasley?" Ron did not answer as the others had, and a quick glance around showed that the redhead was not in the room. Hermione shrugged when he glanced at her, and Neville, who had taken the seat Ron normally sat at, mirrored the gesture. "Well, that's one person who will be receiving zero marks for the day. This is actually a very important point I would like to impress on each of you. There are only three ways you can not get at least some credit in this class: not preparing beforehand, not brewing, or not showing up at all. Even if your final result is completely worthless, you will have the opportunity to regain some points, often by explaining where and how you went wrong. Now, Mr. Zabini? There you are."

Nodding to the dark-skinned Snake, the walrus-like man pocketed the roll and began to pace, thumbs tucked into the belt loops of his trousers. "I've taken the opportunity to glance over the scores for this class, and I must say, the distribution of those who are acing the subject and those who are barely scraping a pass concerns me greatly. So, before we get started with an actual brewing, I think a bit of a review quiz is in order."

Harry was amused at how several of the Slytherins, particularly Malfoy's retinue, paled at that innocuous statement. He had long wondered if Snape had prepared his students for the questions that would be asked in class; when Crabbe or Goyle could answer a question that had the Gryffindor contingent — minus Hermione, of course — scratching their heads, it was obvious that something was going on behind the scenes.

"First off… Mr. Thomas. What are the first three ingredients for the Pepper-Up Potion?"

Dean blinked rapidly before tentatively answering, "Belladonna extract, crushed verbena, and… rat spleen?"

"Are you asking me or telling me, son?" Slughorn prompted gently.

"Telling, sir."

The professor waggled a finger in Dean's direction. "Almost. The first two were correct, but you were just a tad off on the third. Can you help him out, Miss Parkinson?"

"Rat bile, Professor."

"Correct. Take a point for Slytherin, and Mr. Thomas, take two for Gryffindor." All the teenaged Lions gaped at that, and for good reason; this was the first any of them could remember points being awarded to their house in Potions. "Now, what is the purpose of these ingredients? Mr. Goyle."

"Uh… to make Pepper-Up?" the slow Slytherin suggested.

"True, but not what I was getting at." The professor looked over the students and frowned. Harry could only guess that he was disappointed in the lack of comprehension he saw. "Okay, let's break it down. Who can tell me the properties of belladonna?"

Hermione raised her hand after a moment, and he nodded to her. "It excites the body, causing increased heart rate, breathing, and reflexes among other things."

Slughorn beamed at her. "Very good. Why would that be important for this particular potion?"

"Stimulation is the essence of what Pepper-Up does. We're trying to get the drinker up and moving, even if she has been working the entire day. For that reason, this potion is the most widely abused substance among witches and wizards undergoing their Mastery training."

"Take three points for that excellent summary, Miss Granger, and another two for the extra titbit. While true, it's not something often talked about in 'polite society'." He walked to the blackboard and began writing. "Knowing the characteristics of the first ingredient, or base, of any potion is essential. Oftentimes, the rest of the ingredients are just there to alter the effect or, in this case, remove a toxicity the base has. Belladonna taken by itself will excite you straight into a heart attack, and I personally would rather claim my forty or so winks on the lab bench and just deal with the lecture afterwards." A few hesitant chuckles followed that declaration, causing his left eye to twitch minutely. "All of you are going to need to lighten up, or you'll find this class most tedious. Next, the verbena. What property does this plant have that makes it useful for getting the weary wizard back on his feet?"

Neville timidly cleared his throat. "It also has stimulant effects, not to mention it's a mild thickener."

"Indeed, indeed. I was going to ask why we would use this plant rather than some other restorative agent, but you beat me to it. Three points to you, as well." Neville blushed at the effusive praise while Slughorn looked over them with a gimlet eye. "This next question is the hardest so far. We have belladonna, we have verbena. Why in the world did we just add bile taken from a poor rat to our cauldrons?"

'Armadillo bile — in fact, bile from all land animals — is associated with the element of Fire… Great care should be taken when introducing strongly Fire ingredients to a mixture, as while they allow the brewer to reduce the flame under his cauldron, adding too much can have the opposite effect and actually raise the internal temperature higher than is safe for more delicate ingredients, hairs in particular…'

Who knew that potions reaction book was going to come in handy this quickly?, Harry asked himself as he raised his hand. "Biles contribute heat to potions, which means we can lower the flame we're using before we add the next ingredient. Porcupine quills react… badly with high temperatures, something we've all seen firsthand in this room."

"Exactly, my boy! Yet another three to Gryffindor. You Lions are just racking up the points this morning. Mr. Malfoy, maybe you can turn the tide. Why do we want to use bile in this potion as opposed to, let's say, shredded ginger?"

This clearly stumped the blond, and he grimaced for a moment before grudgingly responded, "I don't know, sir."

"Not to worry; this is a tricky question. Miss Davis, do you know?" At her shaking head, he continued, "Miss Bulstrode? Mr. Greengrass? Miss Patil? Nobody? I had hoped one of you would know." Slughorn walked closer to Harry and smiled down at him. "Can you help us out, Mr. Potter?"

'Ingredients that have traits from a number of elements are naturally less potent than those that are more "pure". For instance, powdered sweetgrass root, while still producing the mental clarity the plant is known for, has less of an effect than the sap or even a tincture because being a root tempers the plant's natural Air leaning with Earth, Air's fundamental opposite. Such an diminishment may come with its own benefits; continuing with this example, this form of sweetgrass would grant sharpness of mind while allowing the brewer to continue monitoring his surroundings rather than risking absentmindedness that could cause him to miss a danger developing right beside him…'

"A root would further thicken the potion. We already have enough of that between the verbena and the soon-to-be-added quills. Pepper-Up needs to have a syrupy consistency, and while bile would not thin it, per se, it would prevent our potion from becoming a paste."

"Excellent, excellent! It's clear you've inherited your mother's talent. She was a dab hand at Potions, Lily was! Five points to Gryffindor for that wonderful answer."

Harry smiled somewhat sadly as Slughorn clapped him on the shoulder; he had forgotten that this professor was the only one who had been willing to talk about his mother to him. He had heard all about his father's exploits since his very first year, but very little about his mother until the end of his fifth year, and even that was only in reference to his father's bullying tendencies. Did they expect him to already know all about her thanks to Petunia, or had the culture of magical Britain subtly biased them towards his Pureblood parent? There was no way to know for sure.

The rest of the class passed thusly, Slughorn quizzing them about every ingredient of the Pepper-Up Potion before moving on to the significance of direction and repetition in stirring. When it became clear that none of them had any clue what he was talking about, he started lecturing, quickly dragging in a little Arithmancy and, to their surprise, Astronomy. Who knew that it was the relative powers of Ursa Major and the Southern Cross that determined whether a potion was stirred clockwise or not?

It was without a doubt the most informative Potions class Harry had ever experienced.

"Now, the half-hour we have left in this period is nowhere near enough time for us to actually brew Pepper-Up, so we'll have to put that off until Monday. All of our classes will start with a discussion of the salient points about the potion to be produced that day, special emphasis going to the more unusual or dangerous steps, so your homework will be to study up beforehand. I've found that to be more productive than writing essays." A wave of his wand opened the door. "Well, what are you all still sitting around for? Out, out."

The students quickly packed up the parchment and quills they had been using and headed for the exit. "Mr. Potter, could you stay behind for a moment?"

"What is it, Professor?" he asked when it was just the two of them and Hermione remaining.

Slughorn eyed the brunette warily before Harry entwined their fingers. "I found it curious that you were the only person who was able to answer certain questions I asked, questions that I honestly did not expect anyone to know at this stage in your education. Elemental affiliation is a sixth or potentially seventh-year topic; wherever did you learn about it?"

"A book discussing potions reactions that I read over the summer."

The professor's face lit up as he grinned, the expression taking years off his appearance. "Ah. Bublé's Clearing the Haze, I take it?"

"No, sir. Potion Ingredients and their Properties by Dramm." Harry was confused when Slughorn slumped a bit in his chair. "Is something the matter?"

Slughorn waved his concern away. "Nothing that's your fault. I would have thought Dramm to be a bit technical for you at this point; even I have issues getting through some of his chapters, and I've been working in this field for almost seventy years."

"I may have only understood the first half of what he wrote. The second section was way over my head," Harry admitted. Luna, too, had thrown up her hands when she arrived at the portion of the book detailing the effects of minor variation in procedures; Hermione alone had been able to comprehend bits and pieces of it due to her post-Hogwarts training.

"Well, what do you expect, my boy? Dramm was an expert potioneer writing the definitive reference guide for other Masters and the odd prodigious apprentice. The idea that enterprising fifth-years might try to wade through it probably never crossed his mind," the portly man laughed. "Bublé, on the other hand, penned a text geared more towards students, and it's a must-have for anyone at NEWT level. Another reason I mentioned it beyond its academic worth, however, is that your mother had a copy that she annotated quite extensively during her pregnancy and following your birth."

His eyes narrowed. "If she did that years after she left Hogwarts, how do you know about it?"

"Because she routinely came by on the weekends to pick my brains! She talked about gaining her Potions Mastery in addition to her Charms one when you were a little older." Slughorn's joviality faded. "Of course, then that maniac attacked… Lily was always a favorite student of mine, perhaps my most favorite. It may be wrong of me to say this, but her dying was the worst part of the War."

The professor drew himself up and roughly cleared his throat. "Anyway, I know it will probably be painful, but go through her mementos when you have the chance and look for that book. She would have wanted you to have it."

"I will, but… I'm not sure how much good it will do me beyond its sentimental value. Potions isn't exactly my favorite subject."

"I'm not surprised by that. Disappointed, but not surprised. As I said in the beginning of the class, I looked over the scores Professor Snape recorded for all of you." Slughorn met his gaze squarely. "When two of the only three people who can answer questions about application are at the very bottom of the class, there is something seriously wrong."

Harry pasted a carefully neutral mask over his face. "Let us just say that Snape's personality, rather than his competence, created a few issues."

"Oh, dear. I suppose I need to have a chat with Minerva, Pomona, and Filius, then," the rotund instructor muttered to himself as he waved the pair out.

Four corridors later, Hermione threw up a silencing charm around them. "What the hell was that?!"

"I know. We should have expected something like this, though; after all, we already have Daphne Greengrass becoming a guy and two Rookwoods when there was only one before. Compared to those, Slughorn using a different teaching style is relatively minor."

"No kidding," she groused. "What I'm concerned about is how else he's different from the Slughorn in our timeline. Our ideas to deal with him were predicated on him being unchanged."

He shrugged, much to her ire. "Look, the basic strategy is the same. We'll still interrogate him, and we'll still let his answers determine our response. We just need to be a little more… delicate about it."

"You have a plan," she accused.

"I have a plan."

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