During the course of a long career at Hogwarts, Poppy Pomfrey had grown used to students calling on her for help with strange ailments, often ones that they would prefer did not become widely known – anything from the bizarre anatomical effects of hexes cast in the corridors, to the unfortunate consequences of experimentation with potions of dubious legality. Except in the rare cases of true Dark Magic being involved, she had made it a fixed rule never to ask too many questions, nor to inform her fellow members of staff. It seemed … unsporting, somehow.
But even so, there was one problem that always seemed to cause far more all-round embarrassment than was, strictly speaking, necessary.
The start of the school year was often a quiet time, and on this particular night she was sitting in her office in the mercifully empty hospital wing, reading a Fifi LaFolle novel cunningly charmed to resemble a medical reference work. She was so absorbed in this pursuit that it took some minutes before she registered the hesitant knocking. With an annoyed sigh she marked her place, then flung open the door to find two seventh-years standing there, both of whom looked extremely uncomfortable.
“Mr Stebbins? Miss Fawcett?”
The students nodded. They were clearly nervous, but she had the distinct impression that underneath the surface the girl was seething and the boy cringing. Most odd, and somewhat worrying.
Stebbins managed to find his voice. “Madam Pomfrey, we have, er, a … slight problem …”
“Yes, Mr Stebbins, I did rather suspect that since you came to me. What can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s, um …” He glanced at the girl in obvious supplication, but she set her lips in a tight line and glared back at him. “That is to say, well …”
“Mr Stebbins, you will have to tell me what the problem is if you want me to help, I’m afraid,” she said wearily.
“Yes. I know. It’s, erm …”
“Oh, just show her, why don’t you!” snapped his companion.
He blanched. “No, I think I’d rather not, well …” He swallowed convulsively and then bent over to whisper a hasty explanation in Poppy’s ear. Her face cleared. Oh, that. Well, this was going to be … interesting.
“How did it happen?” she asked, in as brisk and businesslike a manner as she could manage.
Stebbins blushed. “Well, erm, over the holidays, I, er …”
Fawcett interrupted him, apparently having tired of his stammering. “Decided to visit the places off Knockturn Alley they tell you not to go into, especially if you don’t take precautions!”
“And then when you got back to school, I suppose the two of you …” Poppy looked at Fawcett’s grim expression with sympathy. “So you too then, dear?”
“Can you help us?” asked Stebbins. “Please?”
“I imagine so. Let’s take a look at you.”
The students exchanged glances and blushed furiously. After a moment’s hesitation, Poppy decided that it might be more tactful, under the circumstances, to put them in separate curtained-off enclosures while she examined them. She winced at what she found underneath their robes; it wasn’t surprising that they were uncomfortable, really. “Oh my dears,” she said as her red-faced patients made their way out from behind the curtains, adjusting their clothing. ”That’s nasty.”
“Is it curable?” said Stebbins desperately.
“Of course it’s curable, young man,” she retorted, to his immense relief. “I keep a potion in stock for this sort of thing. Just a minute …” Poppy opened a medicine cabinet and took out a small blue bottle, holding it up to the light; it was nearly empty, but she judged there would be enough for the two unfortunates in front of her. She hesitated for a moment. “There will be one or two … side effects that will develop, I’m afraid.”
“Will it fix this?” asked Fawcett tartly.
“It’ll clear it up in about a week, but …”
“Let’s get it over with, then.”
Poppy shrugged and split the contents of the bottle into two measures, which the students quickly forced down, grimacing at the taste. Fawcett slammed her goblet onto a handy bedside cabinet, gave Stebbins one look of purest loathing, and stalked out of the hospital wing. He followed meekly, looking thoroughly abashed.
Poppy sighed, returned to her office, and threw a handful of Floo Powder into the fire. “Professor Snape?” she called. “Can I have a word?”
His head appeared in the flames a moment or two later. “Yes, Poppy?”
“Severus, I’m afraid I need another batch of the Scourge of Venus Potion.”
Snape looked irritated. “Already? Have the students in this school nothing better to do with their time?”
“It seems not,” she said, with a half-smile.
“Oh, very well. I suppose the last thing we need at the moment is to receive letters of complaint from their parents – let alone the risk of our Ministry representative getting wind of it,” he added darkly. “I’ll assemble the necessary ingredients.”
“Thank you.” She hesitated. “Professor? I know you add one or two ... extras of your own to the recipe. Surely the potion doesn’t really need them to be effective?”
His black eyes gazed at her without expression. “What do you mean?”
“Well, what about the Puffskein hair? That’s not listed in Marlene McKinnon’s Manual of Medical Magic, and you know what effect it has!”
Snape smirked. “Yes, I do. A little hint to our students to keep their minds on their studies rather than their tangled love lives. I grow tired of telling them. Occasionally a practical reminder is required.”
She looked up at the classmate who had approached her corner of the Ravenclaw common room. “Yes?”
He tried not to flinch as she regarded him through narrowed eyes. They were the only feature visible through the bright purple hair that covered her face. And her hands too, he noted as his hastily averted gaze flicked down towards the table. What else it covered … was probably not something it was wise to enquire about just at the moment, he decided.
“Er, could I borrow your copy of Advanced Potion Making? I think I left mine in the dungeon and, um, …”
He trailed off as her glare deepened into something that would have had a Basilisk nodding in approval and taking mental notes in order to improve its technique. “Don’t talk to me about Potions!” she snarled.
“But Severus, the effects! They’re so … obvious.”
“Exactly. They will know better next time. Can you think of any method more effective than public humiliation for driving the point home?”
“No, but …” She threw up her hands. “Oh, forget it. I don’t suppose I’m going to get you to change your mind, am I?”
“No, I don’t suppose you are,” he said, sounding very pleased with himself. “And I’m afraid I shall have to talk to Pomona before I can brew this – the final ingredient will need to be picked fresh from her greenhouses.”
“Oh really, Professor Snape! Couldn’t you do without the Shrivelfig?”
“Not at all, Poppy. It serves to emphasise the necessity of … well, I think our erstwhile almost-colleague might refer to it as ‘elementary wand safety’.”
Stebbins tried to avoid catching sight of his appearance in the mirror when he nipped into the toilets between classes the following day. It wasn’t as if he needed a reminder, after all. Quite apart from the colour, the thick hair itched.
As he finished, he noticed one of his classmates staring in surprise. Now that wasn’t unusual … but normally it was impressed surprise. This kind, he didn’t like at all.
“Uh, Stebbers …”
“What?” He winced and desperately tried to seem less purple and hairy, with a notable lack of success.