Severus Snape pulled the heavy doors of Dumbledore's office closed behind him. "You wanted to see me, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore looked up, smiling. He laid down his quill and gestured to a chair. "Ah, Severus. It's always a pleasure. Sit, sit."
Snape sat and looked around, feeling, as he often did in this room, like a wayward student with a guilty conscience. The Headmaster set aside the letter he had been addressing and, reaching into the top drawer of his desk, pulled out a sheaf of parchment covered in thin, wine-colored leather and stamped in gold with the words "Most Secret." Snape glanced at the parchment, his face carefully neutral, and then looked away.
"This arrived yesterday evening by special courier," Dumbledore said. "It was addressed to me, but it concerns you, Severus." He paused a moment, but when Snape said nothing, continued. "Are you familiar with the name Nigel Fitzwilliam?"
"It rings a bell," Snape answered cautiously.
Dumbledore smiled. "No doubt if you were a Muggle chemist you would know the name well. Nigel Fitzwilliam is a rather well-known researcher at one of Germany's foremost universities. He's British, but his wife, I believe, is from Berlin. While he has made several valuable contributions to the world of Muggle science his real, and most secret, work is the research and development of Defensive potions."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "He's a wizard, then?"
"Oh, yes," Dumbledore chuckled. "One of the best, too. However, as he has chosen to work among Muggles, the Dark Forces have taken little notice of him. Which, doubtless, is his intent." There was a little pause, then, "Perhaps you're familiar with the Imperceptus Infusion?”
Snape leaned forward intently. "That's his work? But that's a brilliant potion! One of the few in existence that induces short-term invisibility without the use of an Invisibility Cloak!” He gave a low whistle. “But I‘ve yet to meet someone who‘s brewed it successfully.”
Dumbledore nodded, gratified by the sudden, unguarded enthusiasm. Really, when Severus Snape forgot to be lofty and sneering, he looked like a different man altogether. It was a side of him his students--indeed, the world in general--never saw. Under that sour exterior, the Headmaster thought, there was a man who might be capable of enjoying life. And, if the war ended soon enough, he might even be salvaged....
"Oh, yes,” he told Snape, “It's brilliant, certainly. As a point of interest, he is also to be credited with the development of Sera Vigoria and of the Assuaging Unguent that is beginning to be used to such great effect among victims of the Cruciatus Curse. As well," he added thoughtfully, "as the most delicious cream scones I have ever been privileged to taste. I'd be happy to pass his recipe on to you, if you like."
The Potions Master smirked. "Thank you, no."
"Ah, well, then I suppose we must get down to the point. Professor Fitzwilliam has written that he will be conducting a course this summer on the making of Defensive and Offensive Potions. The course will deal with such potions as I have mentioned, and is open by invitation only to a select few who are already far advanced in the Potions field." The Headmaster leaned forward and tapped the leather-bound parchments in front of him. "I think you should go, Severus. This war promises to be long and difficult. The Dark Forces have learned from their mistakes in the last war. We must do the same. We need every advantage."
Snape steepled his fingers under his chin, considering. "How long is the course?" he asked.
"Six weeks. You would leave in a fortnight."
"So long? Have you considered how my absence from…my other activities is to be explained?” He gave the Headmaster a significant look.
Dumbledore picked up a small, teak snuffbox from the desktop, and turned it idly in his hands. "I have considered that, Severus. When you are needed you will have to go, or suspicions will be raised. But with your permission, Professor Fitzwilliam can be apprised of your circumstances, and will probably accommodate you. He is a man of good judgment and discretion."
Snape smiled a tight, humorless smile, and said nothing.
"I also think it wise," Dumbledore continued, holding the snuffbox up to the light to examine it, "if we arrange for you to seem very busy over the summer, so that you remain above suspicion." He paused, but when Snape still didn't speak, went on. "I've arranged for you to teach a summer course here at Hogwarts in Remedial Potions. The class will demand a great deal of time and attention on your part so, naturally, your activities will be above reproach. Several of the Death-Eaters’ children need to take the course, so your presence here will be quite visible to...those who matter."
Snape looked bitterly amused. "So I am to be in three places at once this summer? That will be a stretch, even for me."
Dumbledore was watching him closely. "That's why I've arranged for someone else to teach for you, in your stead. Disguised, of course."
Snape felt suddenly uneasy. "Whom did you have in mind?"
Dumbledore placed the wooden snuffbox carefully on the edge of his blotter, and tapped it once before looking up. "Actually, I believe Remus Lupin would be a good choice. He does not profess any great skills as a potion-brewer, but I think he should be able to handle a Remedial Potions class without arousing anyone’s suspicions. And with the help of a bottle or two of Polyjuice Potion, and some carefully timed.... er.... breaks, I think he would do admirably."
Snape suddenly felt as if a hot, greasy hand had clenched his stomach. He sneered openly. "And how many full moons are expected in the time he will be here?"
The Headmaster looked thoughtfully at him. "I'm sure, Severus, that your objections to Remus are based on past history between the two of you, and not on any suggestion of bigotry. I don't believe you are that kind of person."
"Just as you wish," Snape bit out, after a short hesitation. "I have a good supply of Polyjuice Base stored. It only needs several days of brewing, and a few ingredients." Privately, he seethed, and wondered if spitting into the potion would have the same effect as adding a few strands of hair. He was strongly tempted to try it. His mouth felt as if he had just bitten into something extremely unpleasant.
"Thank you, Severus." Dumbledore was smiling. He handed the leather portfolio across the desk, and Snape took it automatically. "This is your syllabus and equipment list. Also, your travel itinerary. You'll Portkey from my office on the fourteenth of July and return home at the end of August." They rose to their feet. "I'll send your acceptance letter by return courier then."
Snape nodded curtly, and turned to go.
"Oh, and Professor Snape?"
He paused at the door, and turned.
"Perhaps you'd be so good as to leave behind a supply of Wolfsbane Potion as well?"
Snape didn't trust himself to speak. He jerked his head and left the room in a whirl of black robes, slamming the door behind him.
Two weeks later
“Matches? Muggle Matches?” Molly Weasley eyed the handful of little wooden sticks Fred had dropped onto the kitchen table of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. It was a Sunday afternoon in July, and several members of the Order of the Phoenix were lounging around the table finishing off the last of Mrs. Weasley’s sticky toffee pudding.
Across the table from her, Remus Lupin chuckled. “Haven’t you learned by now, Molly, never to take Fred and George’s inventions at face value? They may look like matches, but I’ll eat my own wand sideways if that’s all there is to them.”
“Right you are, Remus. Take ten points for Gryffindor,” said George.
“Well, what are they?” Mad-Eye Moody prodded at one of the matches with his wand.
Fred picked up one of the wooden matchsticks and held it aloft, like a teacher demonstrating something new to the class.
“Though to the unschooled eye this may appear to be an ordinary Muggle matchstick, in truth, there’s nothing ordinary about it. There is more, so much more here than meets the eye.” He turned to his twin. “Will you, George?”
Gravely, George picked up one of the matchsticks and twirled it like a little baton between his fingers. He put it in his trousers pocket and, with his hand still in his pocket, lounged against the kitchen wall. For a moment, nothing happened. Then he coughed into his fist and the pudding in Tonks' bowl disappeared with a loud ‘crack.’ In its place sat an enormous toad, blinking up at them and gulping wetly.
Tonks and Molly screamed and jumped away from the table so fast they upset their chairs. Moody had his wand out and trained on the toad almost before it had completely transfigured.
“How--what--” gasped Molly.
Arthur frowned. "Wandless magic? But how..."
“No, Dad,” George crowed, pulling the matchstick out of his pocket. “Not wandless at all. Behold, our latest invention, a product that has been nearly two years in the making: the Mini-Wand.” He pointed the matchstick at the toad. “Evanesco.” The toad Vanished.
Arthur scratched his head. “Are you saying these are real wands?” he asked, “Only pocket-sized? Let me see that.”
“Well, not exactly real wands,” Fred admitted, handing one to his father. “Each one only has about three or four good spells in it. After that, you have to throw them away. But the beauty of them is, they’re disguisable. You can carry a box of them in your pocket and use them when you’re not supposed to be doing magic. No one will see a wand, so no one will ever suspect you.”
Molly looked thoroughly annoyed by this information. “Wonderful,” she sniffed. “You can wreak more havoc than ever, only now you’ll get away with it more often.”
“Oh,” George assured her, “don’t think for a moment that we haven’t thought of that. We recognize the potential of these little sticks to revolutionize mischief-making, the world over.”
“We could make a fortune just selling them at Hogwarts,” added Fred. “Think what a couple of dozen of these, in the right hands, would mean for old Filch.”
“Think of the poor students in detentions, doing sordid things like polishing trophies and skinning boomslangs without the benefit of magic.”
“Yeah, picture it,” Fred said with a dreamy expression. “Snape sets some poor First Year a nasty detention and takes away his wand. Ordinarily, the poor sot would have a hard night‘s slog ahead, but with a pocketful of Mini-Wands--”
“That’s quite enough!” Molly cut in sharply. “You two have done your damage at Hogwarts. Can’t you leave it at that? There’s a war on now. Dumbledore has enough to think about without you lot peddling your--your tomfoolery among the students, making more trouble for him!”
Fred looked wounded. “We know there’s a war on. Haven’t we joined the Order?”
“Yeah,” said George. “Do you think we’ve spent two years developing these wands just for our own pleasure and profit?”
“Give us some credit,” Fred continued. “We’re doing this for the good of all Wizard-kind.”
Molly tutted loudly but Tonks leaned forward, brushing her canary-yellow curls out of her eyes, and picked up one of the Mini-Wands. Pointing it at Fred, she muttered “Varicellus.” A grinning Fred broke out all over in red, oozing pustules before their eyes. “Chicken pox,” she breathed, her eyes wide. “They really work! Say, these would make great--”
“Weapons?” George finished. “Yeah, that’s what we thought.” He waved his matchstick at Fred, and the red pustules began to fade. “Because of their size, they can go places no ordinary wand can go. They’d be the perfect weapons for undercover Order work.” He tossed the spent Mini-Wand into the waste bin in the corner.
Remus tucked one of the little sticks into the cuff of his shirtsleeve, where it was hidden, and waved casually toward a stack of dirty plates. The plates whisked themselves off the table and zoomed across the kitchen, settling themselves gently onto the drain board.
“These are amazing!” he said. “Every Order member should be required to carry a supply. Imagine what it could mean if one of our people was captured, and his wand confiscated!”
“It could mean escape,” said Moody slowly. “The difference between torture or death, and…escape. Life.”
Tonks tucked a Mini-Wand behind her ear and jerked her head, steering a volley of cutlery into the sink. “We’d be able to work among Muggles without worrying about keeping our wands out of sight.”
“Right,” said Fred, whose blemishes had faded completely. “So what we want is for you,” he turned to Mad-Eye, “to test them against your Magic detectors. If they’re going to be of use to the Order, they should be undetectable. The magical cores are small enough that we’re hoping they won’t even register.”
Moody was squinting down the length of one of the wands. “What’re the cores made of?”
“Different things,” said Fred. “We’ve had to experiment of course--”
“Had better luck with some than with others.” George grinned. “We got some pretty bad results with Phallic Fungi spores, for instance.”
“Yeah. Every spell we tried with those wands left a dark cloud in the air shaped like a humungous--”
“So what did work?” Remus interrupted hastily.
“Venemous Tentacula seed--”
“What?” Molly cried. “That‘s a Class C--” but Moody interrupted her.
“Best to leave it, Molly.”
She sat back, arms folded across her chest and shut her mouth into a thin, hard line.
“Venemous Tentacula seed extract,” repeated Fred, “dragon bone marrow and, strangely enough, powdered moon rocks. We’re still experimenting of course, to see what works and what doesn‘t.”
Molly made an odd, strangled-sounding noise and her left eye began to twitch. She seemed to be fighting some battle within herself. "Well," she said at last, rising from the table and scraping the leftover pudding into a bucket of scraps for Buckbeak, “I daresay the Order will find a way to put them to good use.” Fred and George grinned at each other. It was as close to her approval as they were going to get.
Moody pocketed two of the Mini-Wands and stood up. “I’ll run these through the detectors tonight and let you know how they fare. Right now, I have a training session with some Aurors in Kent, so I’ll be on my way. Molly, thanks for dinner. It was a treat, as always.” He stumped off into the entryway to collect his traveling cloak.
Remus stretched his legs out in front of him and yawned. “I vote for a nap.”
“Oh no you don‘t!” cried Tonks. “What you need, after that heavy meal, is a good, long walk.”
“No, Tonks, don’t do this to me,” he protested. “I’ll just take a short nap. Then I’ll go for a walk, I promise.”
"That's how men of a certain age get portly," she said cheerfully, wagging her finger at him. "Come on, I'll go with you."
Remus, who was in no danger whatever of growing portly, groaned, but allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
“We’re off too,” said Fred. “George here has people to see this afternoon.”
“Oh?” said their mother. “Who do you have to see?”
“It’s a girl,” Fred informed her.
“A girl?” Molly raised her eyebrows. “What girl?”
George took a roll from the basket on the table and stuffed it into his mouth, whole. “Ainvy Diffon,” he said, around the roll.
“Ainsley Dixon,” Fred translated. “A new friend of his from Diagon Alley.”
Tonks had stopped, halfway to the door. “Only a friend?” she said archly.
George waggled his eyebrows at her, still chewing.
Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “For now, that’s all she is. George is working on it though.”
Remus frowned. “Her name sounds familiar. Isn’t she a student?”
George swallowed the roll. “Yep. A Ravenclaw. Going to be in her last year.”
"Dixon... Dixon...." Remus said slowly. "Doesn't she have the sister who--" He broke off hastily. "No, of course not," he said a little too brightly. "I'm thinking of someone else. Anyway, it was good to see you both. Don’t forget the meeting on Tuesday night.” He turned to follow Tonks from the kitchen.
“Cheers!” she called to them, over her shoulder.
George put an arm around his mother‘s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “Dinner was great, Mum. We’ll see you Tuesday then.” And with a ‘crack,’ he and Fred Disapparated.