Chapter 17: A Very Snarky Ending
Four shimmering entities shot through the Forbidden Forest so quickly that they might have been a mirage. They stopped short and crouched behind a fallen log as they reached their destination.
"I don't feel invisible," House complained, "How do I know that you aren't going to use me as bait?"
"Well if you keep talking loudly, I may reconsider your role in this operation!" Snape hissed back under his breath.
The shimmering space where House's voice had erupted before snorted derisively in reply.
"Now, if there aren't any further disruptions, I shall endeavor to tell you all what I know," Snape's voice continued in a hushed whisper, "Their little base of operations is right through there, hidden in the side of the hill."
"How will we get in?" Madam Pomfrey's voice said worriedly.
"That," Snape said, his Disillusionment sliding off of him like water, and holding up a small stone, "Will not be a problem."
The others grew visible in the half light of the evening sun as it shed its last rays into the thick foliage of the Forbidden Forest and stood quietly waiting for an explanation.
House had a bored expression on his face while Hermione and Madam Pomfrey shared a glance that told him that Snape was not about to offer anything
"How can we be so sure that she came here?" Hermione asked softly, wringing her hands around the base of her wand. She was still obviously very cross at herself for her earlier blunder and felt responsible for how badly everything had gone.
"Simple," Snape replied, his lips curling upward into a ghoulish grin, "After Albus...met his end...the Ministry added extra non-Apparition Wards all the way to the outskirts of Hogsmeade that could be turned on and off at will at the Headmaster's decree. Ostensibly, this was to silence the panicked parents who had been afraid that Death Eaters could get into the school and then escape so easily once they reached the outskirts of the forest. The first thing I did after recovering from that ghastly snake bite was to ensure that the documents regarding this power...mysteriously disappeared. She will be unable to Disapparate or use a Portkey unless she swims ten miles out to sea- a feat that I highly doubt she has in her."
He grasped Hermione's hand and motioned to the others to link hands as well. They crept silently down the side of the rock face and Snape pulled them all into a pocket of space that looked like solid granite and cast a quick Muffliato.
It was merely a facade.
Once they were through, they all dropped hands. Three wands were drawn and held at the ready while House rummaged through the sack until he pulled out a rather large cast iron pan.
Hermione arched an eyebrow at this.
"It's heavy and it hurts when it connects," House explained as he grasped the handle tightly, "I did my best with what I had."
"Where did you even get that?" Hermione whispered back from behind her hand.
"I just asked that elf guy who keeps appearing and asking if I need anything," House replied with a shrug, "I asked him to bring me something that feels unpleasant when it connects with any part of the human body. Little guy said he tested them out personally."
"Don't worry," Madam Pomfrey replied, patting Hermione's hand, "I fixed Nib up afterwards and he was no worse for wear. Little guy was beaming like crazy at having been such a help to Master House. You'd have thought it was Christmas come early."
"Master House, eh?" House remarked with a smirk, "You Brits sure know how to class a guy up."
"Don't get used to it, doctor," Snape said, rolling his eyes, "We will have you back causing mayhem in the States and leaving the Wizarding World in peace before too long."
"Seems to me that you don't need my help in the chaos department," House replied with a sniff.
"Doctor! Professor! Can we stop the bantering and go teach that horrid bitch a lesson instead?" Hermione replied, stepping between the two men, who had begun to eye each other up and down as though sizing up the other for a fight.
"Excellent idea, Hermione," Snape purred, his eyes narrowing as they all reached the window on the little shack and peered inside.
"I'll drop the wards and disable any traps," Hermione replied, flashing him a gentle smile as she set to work.
"Be careful," Snape replied, setting a hand on her shoulder for a moment before turning to Madam Pomfrey and House as Hermione began to silently cast the appropriate spells.
"I know, I know, Severus. I'll be on defense," Madam Pomfrey said with a grim expression.
"I knew I could count on you," Snape replied with the smallest of smiles.
"And I'm going to be more than your American pack mule slash comedic relief," House replied, brandishing his pan, the straps of his overflowing rucksack digging into his shoulders.
"You are aware that you look absolutely ridiculous, correct?"
"You still haven't told me no."
"Fine. You get to be vanguard. You know what that means, I assume?" Snape admonished with a wave.
"It means I'm covering your ass," House snarked back.
"Preparations are complete," Hermione said, turning back to the rest.
"Come here, all of you," Madam Pomfrey said, ushering them all close to her, "Tightly in a circle, now! This maximum shield charm should work against most forms of dark magic for at least ten minutes."
With a swirl of her wand, each of them began to glow a bright yellow for a moment before the light receded once again.
"Everyone! Get into formation, now!" Snape hissed, positioning himself in front of the door. Hermione stood to his left with Madam Pomfrey behind them and House at the rear, pan in hand.
With a blasting hex, the door exploded into tiny fragments. and they rushed in, expecting resistance.
What they didn't expect was the giant stone golem with fiery eyes standing in the entrance hall.
"EVERYONE SCATTER!" Hermione screamed, rolling out of the way as a massive fist flew towards where she'd been only seconds before.
"NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!" House shouted from behind a pile of rubble that appeared to have been a kitchen counter only moments before.
He chanced a glance over the top of the debris, his eyes widening as he watched Snape throw spells at the giant creature, which seemed to be larger than the room it was standing in, taking out one of its legs in seconds with a particularly nasty spell that seemed to continually cut away at the place where it originally hit until the creature had sunk to one knee to keep from collapsing onto its side.
Meanwhile, Madam Pomfrey was throwing up tiny points of light that flitted into the golem's eyes and flew around its head, distracting it away from the dark wizard. She even stopped a rather large piece of ceiling that had almost flattened Hermione with a split-second Shield charm, deflecting it into a nearby wall instead.
House scrunched low to the floor, reminding himself that he was not actually being a coward, he was merely trying to avoid being hit with something large and lethal, be it a spell or some large bit of the cottage that seemed to be flying every which way. Squinting with his face near the floor, he noticed a pair of very fine-patent-leather pink shoes running through the fray.
"So, the bitch in Prada thinks she can give us the slip after all of the misery she's caused me?" House muttered under the blasts and shouts in the room around him, "I don't think so!"
Ducking under an airborne bookcase, House ran with his head down after the ugly high-heeled shoes and the squat witch who was wearing them. He turned a corner and found himself in an impossibly long, darkened hallway. Someone was breathing heavily as the soft clicking of heels on carpet made their way down the hall.
"Hey you!" House bellowed, "Yeah, you, nasty toad lady! Where are you hopping off to? Tired of your fun already?"
"Impudent Muggle!" Ardette turned, and her face changed abruptly as though water was shimmering over her.
An older, lumpy-looking woman in a pink dress and a wide, ugly grin turned to face him.
"What the?!" House was taken aback.
"Hem hem...that's much better," the woman said, patting her face with a powdering puff, "Now, to take care of you once and for all!"
She pulled out her wand so quickly that House barely had time to throw up his pan like a shield. The Slicing Hex hit it square in the middle, but instead of breaking through it, it merely bounced off, sending the flash of light back at the woman like a tennis volley.
"Aghhh!" screamed the woman as she dove out of the way, leaving one of her shoes behind.
"That's what you get for being a murdering psychopath!" House called out from behind the pan.
"No one talks to Dolores Umbridge like that! I won't miss this time!" the woman snarled back, sending another curse flying down the hallway.
House was prepared this time. He swung the handle of the pan until the wide part connected, lobbing the spell back at the woman. It tore a long gash up her leg, and she screamed shrilly from the pain of it.
"How's that for a taste of your own medicine?" House said with a wicked grin. He was finally enjoying himself, not that he'd ever tell anyone this. He made a mental note to be sure to complain loudly about how he'd done all the hard work once Snape was back in hearing range. He was going to miss that violent shade of purple on the dour man's face when he tried to choke down an angry outburst.
A bright light shot down the hall from behind him and immobilized the horrid Umbridge woman instantly, her mouth frozen in a wide, toad-like scream.
"You'll do no more evil in my halls or anywhere else, for that matter!" Madam Pomfrey shouted, her eyes wide with rage as she pointed her smoke-stained finger at the offending woman.
Hermione appeared behind the Mediwitch, attempting to brush her bushy, debris-filled hair out of her face with one hand to no avail. With a snort of irritation, she finally pointed her wand at the dark tangle of snarls and conjured a ribbon, which tied her hair back in a messy ponytail.
"I still can't believe that she tricked us!" Hermione grumbled loudly, her face streaked with dust and grime from the fight with the golem.
A pale hand rested on her shoulder as Snape materialized behind her.
"Hermione, it is not your fault," he said quietly, "We were all fooled. She may be a nasty creature, but she is also clever and possesses more than a little cunning."
"I suppose you're right," Hermione mumbled, absentmindedly placing her hand over his. She turned and looked back to see his somehow immaculate black robes and gaped at him in astonishment, "Wait, how did you-?"
"My attire is unimportant," he replied in the same soft, cool voice, "But now that her stony friend is dealt with and Madam Pomfrey has finally meted out some degree of punishment, we ought to decide what to do with our prisoner, don't you agree?"
"She escaped a Total Body Bind before," Hermione replied darkly, her eyebrows pressing together in a deep scowl.
"Then might I suggest something a bit more...fitting, considering her likeness to a certain...amphibian?" Snape replied, smirking ever so slightly.
Hermione's scowl lightened as she grasped the meaning of his words and she smirked back wickedly.
"Um...guys...what's with the evil expressions?" House said, reminding them of his presence, "And why won't you let me in on the joke?"
"It's not a joke," Hermione said with a short laugh, "At least, it won't be for her."
House turned and noticed that Umbridge had gotten one of her hands free and her eyes, while still wide with frozen shock, were moving slightly in their sockets.
"What the-?!" He jumped back as one of Umbridge's fingers wiggled towards where her wand lay, only inches away.
"I've been wanting to do this ever since I knew who was behind this horrible epidemic," Hermione said, her voice frighteningly full of disgust as she advanced upon the squat, frozen fuschia form. House could see the way those buggy, reptilian eyes stared with undisguised hatred at the bushy haired witch, and he wondered exactly what sort of checkered past the two had.
"Go get her, Hermione!" Madam Pomfrey said with uncharacteristic fervor, prompting a raised eyebrow from Snape, who said nothing.
"Bufo Mutatio!" Hermione said loudly, brandishing her wand and pointing it directly at Umbridge's nose.
A bright orange light filled the room for a moment and House could hear a horrible shriek that grew more and high pitched until it subsided altogether as the spell wove its way through the air, engulfing the woman altogether.
House blinked as the light returned to normal in the dimly lit hallway. The first thing he noticed was the pile of empty pink clothing that lay in a large heap against the wall where the horrible woman had been.
"Wow. Remind me not to piss you off," he quipped, stepping away from her.
Hermione stepped forward and grabbed something small with one hand. She turned around, holding a rather fat brown toad by its legs as it struggled in vain against her superior strength. Pulling out a small phial from her inner robe pocket, she enlarged it and placed the struggling creature inside, poking small holes in the top as she sealed it closed.
"It's more than you deserve, you know," she said, "But unlike you, I'm not a monster."
Snape nodded as he crossed paths with Hermione, who slid the loudly protesting toad into the rucksack that House was still carrying, smirking slightly when he flinched involuntarily at the pressure of her touch on the bag. Meanwhile, the professor had reached the discarded wand and summoned a strange, metallic cloth from House's rucksack. Without touching it, he used magic to levitate the piece of wood and slip it inside, wrapping it several times in midair before binding it with twine and tying a double knot.
"This will render the wand inert until such time has passed to pass formal judgement on this...criminal…." he said, staring pointedly at the loudly croaking bag on House's back.
"Can't you shut her up?" House whined, wincing and covering his ears, "I don't think I'm going to make it back to the castle if she keeps up this racket!"
"It would be good for you to experience what the rest of us must endure when it's you making the annoying noises," Snape replied with a dismissive sneer, "But then again, we'd still have to listen to it as well, and given the choice between punishing all of us or punishing none of us, I find the latter less...unpleasant."
With a wave of his wand, the noise ceased. House took a deep breath and sighed with relief.
"It's not over, you know," Hermione said, her hands on her hips, "We still need to fashion an antidote and treat the patients before we suffer any further casualties!"
"Not to mention proper pest control," Madam Pomfrey added, wringing her hands nervously.
"I believe that both of you are in luck," Snape replied smugly as he led them to the end of the hallway, "As you can see, we caught Umbridge just in time."
A door with a number of fairly impressive locks, a large snake door knocker (which writhed and threatened to strike as though it were alive) and the humming energy of several quite formidable wards sat at the end of the dimly lit and impossibly long hallway.
Hermione exhaled sharply when she saw what lay before her and started to work on the wards. To House's surprise, Snape stood at her side, helping Hermione with her ministrations. He watched their magic work seamlessly side by side as they broke through the wards together. Within minutes, they were through and the door was opened. Hermione beamed up at the professor as she clutched her wand in both hands and he gave her a slight smile in return before remembering that that they were not alone.
"Come on, then," he said gruffly, as Madam Pomfrey tittered behind him and House flashed him a knowing grin.
They entered the small room, which, though it was painted a horrible shade of pink and every flat surface appeared to be covered with lace doilies complete with a shelf that consisted of a prolific set of gauche plates with kittens that moved magically, was immaculately organized. The shelves with books and papers on them were categorized clearly, which made finding the notes on Umbridge's plan laughably easy. And after breaking through into another heavily warded safe, they found what they were searching for- an antidote.
There were twelve small phials of greenish liquid, along with a notebook full of information on its manufacture.
"This should be enough to treat about half of our current patients," Snape said as he leafed through the notebook.
"That's fantastic!" Madam Pomfrey exclaimed, helping Hermione to pack the phials away into the rucksack, "I shall begin administration to the most dire cases the moment we return to the castle!"
"Don't mind me," House said sarcastically, "I'm just a pack mule. Hee haw!"
"Don't tempt me," Snape retorted, his hand on his wand.
"Or me," Hermione said playfully from behind him.
House rolled his eyes but said nothing. After all, he'd seen firsthand what had become of the last person stupid enough to properly piss her off.
Their trip back to the castle was relatively uneventful, other than the massive blast in the side of the hill and the pieces of golem that littered the forest clearing. A number of small trees had been sheared off near their roots and they had to be careful to skirt some of the larger bits of debris in the dark to avoid tripping.
"Does anyone mind explaining exactly what happened in the, what, five minutes that I was out of the room?" House remarked, his eyes huge in the darkness.
"That is for us to know, and for you to find out when we're not racing against a rather lethal deadline," Snape said, lengthening his stride as though he was walking around in the middle of the day.
"I'll never understand how you do it," Hermione remarked, walking twice as fast to keep up.
"It's quite simple, Hermione," Snape replied, "You just put one foot in front of the other…"
"Oh my gosh, Severus!" she hissed, snorting loudly into her sleeve, "No, I meant..the whole walking about in the pitch black dark without a light thing as silent as a shadow that you appear to be so skilled at doing."
"It's easy," he replied, more quietly than she'd expected, forcing her to lean closer to him to hear, "If you spend enough time fumbling around in the dark without a light, you either figure it out or spend years arse deep in mud. Funny thing how pain and embarrassment can be some of the best motivators, though I'd never recommend them to anyone."
Hermione stumbled on an outstretched root and caught herself easily enough, but not before she realized his hand was on her elbow, steadying her.
"It wouldn't do for you to fall down on the job," he said stiffly as Madam Pomfrey and House caught up with them, "We all have a long night ahead of us."
"For all the wrong reasons, too!" House replied loudly, shrinking back when he saw Hermione's glare, "Ok, ok, I'll shut up! Let's just get inside where it's warm before my teeth rattle out of my mouth!"
They spared no more words as they sped towards the castle. House went with Madam Pomfrey and Hermione up to the Infirmary to administer the antidote while Snape went down to his lab with the books to start working on more. They left the silenced toad on a shelf next to a skull and a pickled newt to watch them balefully as they undid her hard work.
Breathing and basic vitals began to return almost immediately upon administration. Hermione nearly sobbed with joy when she saw the first of her "terminal" patients draw a deep breath. They all still seemed to be in a deep sleep, but when Madam Pomfrey checked their vitals, she beamed with relief and clasped her hands together excitedly. House didn't have a wand, but he knew how to check basic vitals the old fashioned way. He passed the time by taking pulses and checking breaths manually for most of the night. There was enough to fully treat everyone in the infirmary as well as a final phial that could be used to treat both Kingsley and the Headmistress as well as at least ten individuals down in the Great Hall.
By the time morning had arrived, a very bedraggled-looking Snape had entered the Great Hall with another twenty vials full of the antidote before rushing out to continue brewing. Meanwhile, Filch was patrolling the halls with other members of the staff, large sprayers filled with a special insecticide as they sought out any remaining carriers of the horrible disease. The Ministry had been alerted by owl about the cause of the mysterious ailment and were dispatching insecticide by floo to all areas that had been known to be affected.
Within twenty-four hours, the first of the patients had begun to awaken as though out of a deep and restful sleep. Most were ravenous and could not be deterred from stuffing themselves full of Madam Pomfrey's special nutrient rich gruel. Rosmerta brought Minerva and Kingsley's son to see them when they awoke.
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" Minerva said with tears in her eyes as she held her squirming child close to her chest, "I do not know what I would have done without all of your help!"
Snape looked a little uncomfortable and stepped back to lean against the wall while House preened under the praise.
"Your little boy is quite adorable indeed," Rosmerta said with a shy smile, "I'd be honored to look after the little tyke if you'd both like a night off in the future for something a bit more fun than bedrest."
"And let me just say," House remarked, smirking, "That, while I do not like children on principle, he was probably one of the least offensive specimens I've encountered. Other than his noxious...excretions, of course."
"You're one to talk about noxious excretions!" Hermione said from the doorway, "Oh, Minerva! Kingsley! I'm so glad that you're both up and about!"
"My only question is how both of them were affected by the flea bites but not the baby," House said thoughtfully, "After all, it's not like he has some special baby protection….or does he? I'm still not all that knowledgeable about this magic stuff."
"Oh, that's easy," Minerva said, laughing weakly, "It's family tradition to string the bassinet with garlic. It's an old custom, but we've kept it up. Fleas hate the stuff. It's just too bad that we didn't do the same for our bed."
"To be honest, Minerva," Snape said, "I doubt that bathing in garlic would have spared you when Umbridge put her mind to making sure you were affected by her horrible concoction as well. She'd have crawled in and bitten you herself if that's what it took."
Minerva curled her lip in disgust. "Horrible woman, that Umbridge. Like a nasty, warty toad."
Hermione burst out laughing, which set off Rosmerta and House. Even Snape snickered softly as Minerva and Kingsley looked bewildered.
"Is there some joke that I'm missing here?" Minerva asked, looking at them as though they'd gone mad.
"Not exactly, but just wait until you see the punch line," House said.
"Thank you, Doctor House," Minerva said, after the laughter died down, "Severus has told me all about your hand in helping us arrive at such a quick cure. While I know that you were put out quite a lot by your unconventional journey, you've helped us save our people, and for that we are eternally grateful."
"Well, I'd call any situation in which lives are saved and I get to figure out the answer to my puzzle a net win, wouldn't you?" House replied with a shrug, turning back to Snape, "Now what was that about getting me back to my side of the Atlantic?"
"Not soon enough, as far as I'm concerned," came the snarky reply.
"Oh, and Hermione? Keep on kicking ass with your fine ass and turning horrible people into horrible things...as long as it's not me, of course!" House said, grasping Hermione's hand and shaking it firmly. He smirked as she gave him an utterly bewildered look of her own and then, before she could react, reached in quickly and kissed her on the cheek.
"Come on then Doctor House. I'd say that I think it's best we go before you wear out your welcome, but it looks like I'm already too late," Snape said, crossing his arms irritably as Hermione flushed red and stared at the floor.
"Don't worry, I won't steal her," House replied sardonically, "After all, it's fairly obvious that she only has eyes for y-"
He didn't see the spell being cast, but knew enough to feel the energy as it struck him.
"Ahhhh, silence," Snape said, grinning evilly as he yanked the doctor down the hall by one ear with House shouting silently behind him.
He pulled angry doctor unceremoniously out the front of the castle and down the gentle slope of a hill until they'd reached the place they'd appeared before.
"This won't hurt a bit…" he said, grabbing House around the arm and pulling the small object from before from his robes, "Needless to say, judging from your previous performance, you'll probably lose your lunch and your breakfast when we arrive."
Before House could think of something to mouth silently to the dark wizard beside him, he was being pulled inside out once more into darkness.
"Hah! I didn't throw up this time!" House said ruefully, pointing at Snape, who was on his knees in the grass, retching horribly.
"Well bully for you. Do you expect a party with balloons and streamers?" Snape replied, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, "There's a first time for everything, I suppose,"
"Well, I am a doctor. Perhaps there's an alternative reason for your gastronomic distress," House replied matter-of-factly, "Like food poisoning, for example."
"Wizards do not get food poisoning!" Snape replied balefully.
"Maybe you're just so sad to see me go that you feel ill about it?" House continued, trying to look innocent but failing miserably.
Snape crossed his arms. "That is highly doubtful."
"Well, in any case, do that thing where you make stuff disappear to that particular patch of grass, because it stinks horribly," House pinched his nose theatrically to accentuate his claim.
"What, you don't want a reminder of our meeting after all?" Snape said, arching a brow.
"No. but that does remind me," House replied, rubbing his hands together, "You promised that if I won, you'd make my pain go away. So. Make the pain stop. Forever."
Snape sighed and raised his wand. "I suppose a promise is a promise. And, lucky for you, I always keep my word if I can help it."
A strange prickling sensation rose from House's toes to his hip, growing hot until he felt as though his bones were on fire, but he merely gritted his teeth, unwilling to show Snape that it pained him so terribly. When he almost got to the point where he'd barely been able to hold back a scream, the pain began to lessen before dissipating altogether.
"There," Snape said, catching his breath, "It is done. But I warn you, if you take your Muggle medication, it may reverse the effects of the magic. If you give into your cravings, then on your head so be it."
"You know, you could probably purge me of any withdrawal symptoms," House said, his eyes widening as he took in the meaning of the dark wizard's words.
"Indeed, I could if I put my mind to it," Snape replied, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead, "But that was not our deal."
House opened his mouth as though to protest, but closed it again and nodded.
"Fair enough," he said, putting his hand out to shake, "It hasn't been a pleasure, Professor, but it's been a hell of a ride."
"Aptly put," Snape replied, shaking the doctor's hand, "Don't worry, I'll let myself out."
With a dark billowing of robes, the professor strode out into House's backyard with a deliberate relief at finally being rid of the troublesome doctor.
"You'll stop by and say hello when you two get hitched, right?" House called out, leaning nonchalantly in the doorway to his small back yard area.
"I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about," Snape said, turning and nodding curtly before he disappeared into thin air with a loud snapping noise.
House smirked and slid the glass door shut, mentally preparing for the long night of detoxing ahead. That British bastard was right. He had to do this on his own.
"God, I can't wait to tell Wilson everything," House said, smirking at himself, "Preferably at 3 A.M. when I'm puking my guts out and about to crawl towards my secret Vicodin stash so that his invariably ridiculous reactions distract me from doing so. Not that I'll tell him that, of course."
With a noticeable spring in his step and a mental note not to look at either his pager or his cell phone messages, Gregory House began to gather supplies for the long detox process ahead of him and hoped that he'd be strong enough to weather the pain that was to come.
A year later, a letter addressed to one Gregory House, M.D. arrived by owl. The invitation inside announced a certain ceremony between two certain individuals of note that would most certainly be happening an absurd distance away and he'd most definitely only be able to attend at great personal expense. He grinned ruefully as he leaned on his new favorite cane- the one with the flame design running up its base- and knew that, though things hadn't turned out the way he'd planned, he'd been right about one thing.
He'd had a hell of a time indeed.
Author's End Note: Dear, sweet, amazing, patient readers! Thank you for your patience on this fic! I wanted to update it more regularly, but life got in the way (as life is wont to do!). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the conclusion, even though (as you probably guessed), there's a bit more Snamione than some people would like. Still, the mental image of House dodging Golem fists and being pulled by the ear by our favorite Potions Master were some of my favorite scenes to write. Hopefully you enjoyed the mystery, too! And as far as we all know, Umbridge the toad still sits on that shelf, silently shaking her little webbed foot at all of the good being done. XD