The Stench of Formaldehyde (aka The One with All the Swearing)
by Lauren "Rabies" Greenleaf
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There can be no escaping it... the METMA Challenge! *evil laugh* And Mandy has set an absolute doozy this time. Grrr. Oh well...
And as anyone who read my last challenge entry will remember, this will be a continuation from the end of that, where Snape was hustling Neville, Ron, Malfoy (bantam!Malfoy, in fact), Harry and Hermione back to Hogwarts after a disaster at the Three Broomsticks. We rejoin them now, not far from the pub, to find out what else is happening...
Oh, disclaimer. (That'd make a good swear word, actually.) Harry Potter characters belong to J.K. Rowling, I'm not making any money off this, although if she doesn't get publishing soon I think I'll sell my little brother, fly overseas, and beat her head in with a hardcover copy of GoF.
Not really. Nobody would *buy* my brother.
Dedicated to Landry Anne for continuing "Fire and Ice", and to Mandy for being all-round insane, not just the child genius sort (gotta love the injokes).
They were barely at the end of the street, however, when a voice called to them from the Three Broomsticks, and Snape stopped and turned around.
"Severus! Oh, Severus!" Professor Trelawney fluttered up to them, all a-quiver. "What's going on? I felt an immense psychic emanation from the function room!"
"Nothing important," Snape said, eyes firmly fixed anywhere but on Trelawney's legs, which were beautifully (or not) exposed by the slit in her dress that went all the way up to her thigh. It was quite a change from her usual floaty robes, although the red did not do her justice, making her look rather like a wizened tomato. "Go back and enjoy the show, Sibyl."
But Trelawney insisted on accompanying them up to the castle - "Just in case it has something to do with poor dear Harry!" - and actually linked her arm through Snape's, beginning to enthusiastically discuss his pregnancy.
"Isn't it disgusting?" Ron whispered to Hermione. "She's actually hitting on him!"
"Hey, Sinistra likes him too. Maybe he's not all that bad," Hermione said. She slapped herself. "What am I thinking?"
"Are you insane?"
While Ron and Hermione were trying to establish Hermione's state of mind, Harry had pulled the thing that Rabies had thrown to him out of his robes and was looking at it. It was a tiny orb, about the size of a marble, and was flashing red. For the life of him, Harry couldn't work out what it was, or how he was supposed to "use" it.
"What have you got there, Harry?" Neville, still carrying the white bantam that was Draco Malfoy, came up beside him and peered curiously into his hands.
"I haven't a clue," Harry said as they started out of the town proper and along the road which led to Hogwarts, walled on both sides by pine forest. The trees cast long shadows over the already dark road, and somewhere a wolf howled. Harry looked up. It was the full moon - maybe that was Lupin howling. A sad smile hit his lips. Poor Lupin.
"Can I see?" Neville pulled out his wand, muttered "Lumos!" and held it up. "Ooh, that's a little, um, what are they called? I can't remember, but they detect enemies."
"And what do they do when they're detecting enemies?" Harry said.
"They... flash... red..." Neville's voice trailed off as the relative silence of the night was broken by a horrendous coughing, hacking sound from the forest just off to their right. Trelawney screamed. Snape immediately cast a powerful light spell and held up his wand, pacing towards the woods.
"Who's there? Show yourself!" he said loudly.
Something came crawling out of the woods... something from a nightmare. Draped in black, white-faced, red-eyed, and clutching its throat desperately.
"VOLDEMORT!" Harry yelled, grabbing his own wand. The little, red, flashing thingy was nearly exploding in his hand.
"Potter! Settle down!" Snape said. He strode forward. "Get up!"
Voldemort, for indeed it was he, struggled to his feet, trying to speak, but unable to. In his left hand he held the remains of a fish - a fish, Harry noticed, which might have even been alive when Voldemort began eating it.
"He's been talking to Acqua," Neville said, and giggled. Harry heard the hysterical note in Neville's giggle, and awkwardly patted his arm. They couldn't flip out now, not with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named right there in front of them.
"What's wrong?" Snape was asking the Dark Lord. "Cat got your tongue?" He kicked Voldemort in the side, and instead of pulling out his wand and treating Snape to Avada Kedavra, Voldemort actually cringed.
"He's got a bone in his throat, Can't you see that?" Hermione said. At this, Voldemort nodded eagerly. "We have to get him to the hospital."
"Hermione, he's the Dark Lord. He doesn't need a hospital. We should just kill him," Ron said.
"We can't," Harry said, rather regretfully. "He knows too much - he could get Sirius acquitted - he could do so much..." He'd quite forgotten not to mention Sirius in front of people. Snape's eyes narrowed at the name, but instead of commenting he growled a spell and Voldemort was levitated as well as being tied with thin cords. Trelawney found his wand and pocketed it.
"You'd better come with us," Snape said. "I don't trust you to go back to the castle alone. Besides, we still have to turn Malfoy back." The bantam in Neville's arms clucked loudly in agreement.
"All right," Harry said. "Let's go then."
They turned back the way they had come, a strange little procession in the moonlight; and away somewhere the wolf howled again.
St. Mungo's Hospital wasn't extraordinarily full. It was Muggles who were the ones who needed hospitals - witches and wizards could easily mend any normal ailment with a spell, so it was only magical maladies that brought them there... and fishbones in the throat.
Dumbledore was waiting for them at the hospital; Snape had notified him on the way with a rather interesting spell that had temporarily turned his wand into a kind of walkie-talkie.
"So... at last we come face to face again. You're looking rather annoyed, Tom," Dumbledore said.
Voldemort coughed at him.
A smiling nurse wearing a clean white uniform bustled Voldemort off to a treatment room, apparently unconcerned as to who he was. This was taking the rule about not discriminating against patients on the basis of who they were a little too far, Harry thought, but he didn't say anything (except to Ron, who agreed wholeheartedly).
The rest of them settled into soft armchairs in a lovely waiting room which had everything you could possibly want in a waiting room, except that the stench of formaldehyde from just down the hall pervaded the air and made everyone feel slightly sick after a while.
They had been sitting there for about five minutes when the door banged open and Rita Skeeter hurtled in.
"Dumbledore, *delightful* to see you," she gushed. "Severus! Sibyl! How *wonderful*!" Her eyes lit on Hermione, who was tapping her foot. "Oh shit."
"Watch it, Skeeter. I still have my jar," Hermione said.
"Listen, little girl, this is the hottest story of the decade! No! Of the century! No..."
"What, that the Dark Lord's got a fishbone stuck in his throat?" Ron asked.
"The who has what? No, I meant *dear* Harry losing his scar. Tell me, Harry, how do you think it happened?" Rita whipped out her quill just as her photographer came lumbering in, loaded down with equipment.
"Er," said Harry eloquently.
Rita seemed to realise something. Her mouth dropped open. "Wait a minute... did someone mention the Dark Lord?"
"Yes," said everyone except the photographer and Malfoy.
"Oh," was all Rita could say. She looked at Hermione. Hermione rolled her eyes. Rita perched on the arm of one of the comfy chairs and started to scribble on her notepad.
"Was this anything to do with the incident which removed your scar, Harry?" she asked.
"No," said Harry, happy that it was a question that he could answer.
"You did lose your scar," Dumbledore said, looking at Harry. "How did that happen?"
So Harry explained that, and then Hermione explained how they'd found Voldemort, and Ron explained that he was hungry, and Neville explained that Malfoy had just messed on his robes (the chicken had a decidedly smug look on his face), and the nurse came back in and explained that Voldemort's fishbone had been removed and he was now in Recovery.
They didn't quite all fit in the room, so Rita and the photographer got shut out (by Hermione), although Rita was happy for the moment to write her article, and the photographer had a couple of shots of Harry's scarless head.
Voldemort lay on the bed, wearing a green hospital gown that tied in the back and didn't really cover everything adequately. He looked decidedly un-Dark-Lord-like, but Ron still shuddered when he looked at him.
"So you have me at last, Albus," Voldemort croaked.
"Yes, Tom. Your time had to come. How unfortunate that it was without honour." Though they might have been laughable, Dumbledore's words were without humour. "Would you care to remain here, or be moved to Azkaban, where you would no doubt receive worse treatment?"
"I think I'll stay here, thank you."
"Then we shall bring in the Ministry, and we can begin clearing things up - including who is truly innocent and who is truly guilty," Dumbledore said, casting a look at Harry as he said this.
"I agree. I'm tired of being evil," Voldemort said. "I'd love to clear Sirius Black's name - I'm sure people will be relieved to know that I want everyone to know that he's not guilty." He smiled - sort of - at Harry. "I'd love for you to be able to have your godfather back."
"Really?" Trelawney gasped, leaning closer to the bed as if to hear better.
"No," Voldemort said. He sat up, grabbed his wand from Trelawney's hand, cast a rather explosive spell and... didn't disappear.
"Bugger," he said. He threw himself off the bed, across the room, and out of the open window. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they were only on the first floor, so he didn't have far to fall. Trelawney dashed to the window - the others had been thrown around by the spell and Voldemort's exit - and saw him dashing away across the darkened field outside, only a twinkle of bare Voldemort tushy giving any hint as to his direction.
The others were all tumbled everywhere. Hermione was the only other person standing, but Harry looked to be out cold against the door and Neville was sitting, dazed, on top of the cupboard.
"Harry!" Hermione said. She jumped to go to him, slipped on the skiddy lino floor, and went down in a perfect split. Snape applauded sarcastically. Someone was banging on the door.
"Harry, are you all right?" Ron asked, sitting up. Harry was slumped against the door, eyes shut, blood trickling from a nasty gash on his forehead. It looked like a water pitcher had hit him.
"That's a no, then."
Harry opened his eyes and smiled dreamily. "Ha kova sheli shalosh peenot," he said.
"He said his hat has three corners. I think we'd better call a nurse," Snape said.
"What, to help him?"
"No, because Malfoy's still a chicken."
"What are we gonna do about Voldemort?" Hermione yelled. "You can't just let him go!"
"Believe me, he's already long gone." Dumbledore rubbed his own forehead and got up. "Sibyl, if I was a nastier person I'd fire you for that. As it is, I think I'll just let Filch have a go with his thumbscrews."
So Voldemort escaped again. Harry ended up with his scar back, even more pronounced for a few days. Malfoy got turned back into a person, but showed a tendency to cluck when he was impatient for the next few days, and also an unnatural attraction to feather pillows. Hermione decided that gymnastics
was fun after her impromptu split and started training in the basement. Ron didn't do much. Snape managed to fend Trelawney off and persuaded Sinistra to come down from her Astronomy tower (kinda Rapunzel-ish) for the second Linden performance the next night. And Trelawney, rejected, unloved, and feeling like a bit of a moron, went and locked herself in her Divination tower and cried for three weeks.
Dumbledore, on the other hand, got quietly busy. He sent out a few owls, got a few statements, and began working on his plan to have Sirius's name cleared... not to mention to have Voldemort found. But that's another story and shall be told another time.