Chapter 9: Dittany
Lunch was worth skipping. Taylor, too excited for nourishment, used her extra hour in an unconventional way. Alone, she explored the grounds. The prospect of finding alien creatures or experiencing mystical adventures intrigued her. Simultaneously, she hoped her escapade would lead her to the Hogwarts Greenhouses. Heading in a southerly direction, she spotted a small thatched hut at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The Grimm's Black Forest in Germany became a mild comparison: A bewitching landscape so densely forested with aspen and wych elm. Even the sunlight mistrusted the woodland. The gamekeeper, indifferent under the gaze of the impending forest, chopped wood. Limp weasels and polecats dangled from his shoulders with every hack.
Unable to investigate the forest further, she walked the perimeter. Black tufted saxifrage adorned twisting roots. Curiously, a playing field manifested in the distance. Oval in shape, the massive stadium was surrounded by towering bleachers. She peered through the fence inquisitively. This is definitely not a soccer field. At each end of the field, there were three hooped posts at varying heights. The area was deserted and jarringly calm in the forefront of the Forbidden Forest. Continuing, Taylor carefully hiked along the rocky shore of the Black Lake. The towers turned their faces as she circled the castle.
Taylor reached her destination with time to spare. The greenhouses played host to statues of elongated, serpentine dragons, which ran along the peaked glass roofs. Exotic plants lined the interior walls, thriving on sunshine. She found Greenhouse One, pulled open the door, and stepped into a tropical humidity. A pile of compost labeled Dragon Dung assaulted her nose on her way to the tables. Toadstools leaped about her feet with unmitigated delight. Peeling off dirty gloves, the professor approached Taylor.
"Could you help me gather up these toadstools? They are such a flight risk." Taylor had never been mushroom hunting before, and was not very good at it when she tried. Accidentally squishing the first two, she swept the remaining few into a bucket. The professor did not seem to mind the causalities. "Thank you. Very good! Five points to Slytherin." She took the bucket from Taylor and covered it with a tin lid. Taylor took a seat, proud of her contribution of Slytherin house points.
Lily took a seat next to Taylor and even invited Severus to join them. He declined. Professor Sprout began the lesson with a short introduction to Herbology.
"Greenhouse Three," she explained, "is restricted to students. It houses dangerous plants such as Venomous Tentaculas. Also, the tools in front of you will be of utmost importance. Keep them here in the greenhouse." From pottery to tweezers and shovel rakes, Taylor doubted she would ever consciously want to take the tools back to her dormitory. "Today, we are going to be learning about Dittany and fireseeds." The professor flicked her wand and boxes of dragon-hide gloves levitated off the ground. "As a safety measure, I would like to pair everyone up for this task. When I call your names, please take a pair of mitts and the properly labeled plants."
Using a list, Professor Sprout began to call out random names. Surprisingly, Lily was paired with Remus, which worried Taylor to a degree. Before long, her trepidation materialized.
"Taylor Lupin and Sirius Black."
Taylor raised her hand. "Can I please have a new partner?" Everyone laughed at the joke. I am serious. She folded her arms, snatched a pair of gloves, and walked toward the Dittany line.
"Hello, Salazar." Sirius joined her.
"That's not at all funny." Taylor picked up a green wooly plant with soft pink flowers. Sirius seized a satchel of fireseeds and followed her to a table.
"Dittany is used in potion-making as a powerful healing herb." Professor Sprout took a small knife and pricked her finger. The students watched intently. A dollop of blood formed. "Its use makes fresh skin grow over a wound when applied topically. The raw plant can also be consumed to heal shallow wounds or an ingredient in Wiggenweld Potion." She clipped a leaf from the Dittany and rubbed the wound on her finger. Miraculously, her extremity was healed. "Also known as the Burning Bush, Dittany releases flammable—"
Taylor wanted to do was strangle Sirius. The instructional lesson blurred into his incessant nonsensical chatter. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.
"In your satchel we have fireseeds from a Fire Seed Bush. Not very clever, I know. In order to be used, the seeds must be cooled down, otherwise they can curdle potions. The fastest way of doing this is using the Freezing Spell, Glacius—"
"They were just sitting in the drawer—"
"—the seed's temperature will lower—"
"—more security than just keeping them in a drawer."
Taylor turned to Sirius, her patience waning. "Do you talk when you sleep?" Her comments only bought her a brief reprieve. He quickly regained his thoughts.
"Have you had the pleasure of meeting my brother Regulus?"
Taylor stared at him a moment. A semi-trailer truck of cognizance enveloped her. The cruel second year Slytherin from the early morning looked exactly like Sirius. Taylor did not reply, she feared he would seize the opportunity to break into a fully fledged conversation. Sirius opened the satchel and dumped the fireseeds on the Herbology table. The wood work scorched black under the extreme temperatures. A stray seed rolled toward the Dittany plant, and flames erupted in a minor explosion. Professor Sprout hurried over and sprayed the plant with a jet of water.
"Be careful! As I said before, Dittany is very flammable!" Sirius rubbed the back of his head, bemused by the minor explosion. The class finished up and Taylor was happy to head on to her last class.
The Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood. Professor Slughorn waddled down the aisles and handed out a pamphlet. Taylor took notes on the parchment. Who knew Dragon's Blood was an excellent oven cleaner?Daringly, she chose to sit next to a lanky Slytherin boy with copper red hair. A crystal phial of dragon's blood circulated around the room for reference. The boy passed the container to her and returned to his notes.
The scarlet liquid swirled in the bottle mesmerizingly. Through the glass, the room was tinted a dark rouge. She turned to the Hufflepuff behind her and set the phial on the table.
"Now if you'd please open Magical Drafts and Potions to the first chapter, we can discuss the Wide-Eye Potion. By next class, we will gather our materials and make our first draft." Taylor ducked under the table to get her textbook; her neighbor mimicked her. He cursed quietly to himself. Looking over, she noticed his frustration over his knapsack excavation. Bookless on the first day. I could help him. But knowing my luck, he'll be insulted. She hesitated to consider her options.
"Here," Taylor flipped the book open to the chapter and positioned it between them. "We can work out of mine today." The boy stiffened in his chair and judged her sincerity. "Don't make it weird. I'm just helping out a fellow Slytherin." He thanked her begrudgingly.
Professor Slughorn stood at the front of the class. "Also known as the Awakening Potion, the Wide-Eye potion prevents the drinker from falling asleep. It is an antidote for the Draught of Living Death, which we will be learning later in the semester." The boy flipped to the recipe.
Powder 6 Rattlesnake Fangs and 4 measures of Belladonna in a mortar.
Heat the cauldron to a medium temperature.
Add 6 Dried Billywig Stings to the cauldron, char.
Add the crushed ingredients to the cauldron.
Fill the cauldron with a generous measure of Horklump Juice.
Stir 3 times, clockwise. Raise temperature to a boil.
Add 2 sprigs of Wolfsbane.
Stir 4 times, anti-clockwise and chill.
"Tasty." He muttered sarcastically. Taylor wrinkled her nose in agreement.
"This is pointless. Who would want to connect the dots to find a goat-fish?" James squinted through a tiny telescope. In the top-most level of the Astronomy Tower, the Gryffindors observed the night sky. The midnight heavens were blustery at their elevation. Lily rolled her eyes at James's incompetence, and edged away from him. Sirius did not bother with the astronomical toys. Instead, he leaned on the tower railing and watched the canopy of the Forbidden Forest sway in the breeze. Named from a star, Sirius knew his share of constellations. He did not need a telescope to point out the triangular Capricornus.
In order to locate the proper position from the ground, Remus used a sextant. "Capricornus reaches its highest point on September first. I can't believe we just missed it." He looked through his scope eagerly, head cocked obnoxiously to the left. "Still beautiful though." Lily searched the cosmos, but lowered her telescope disappointed.
"I can't find her. Remus, can I borrow the sextant?"
Remus brought his star-seeking instrument to his side. "Absolutely!" A gleaming black hoop shimmered around the perimeter of his eye. Horror-struck, Lily took the sextant.
"Seriously, James? Your own friend? That is the oldest trick in the book." The Gryffindor shook her head, although, she was slightly amused by Remus's bewildered expression. James lowered his own telescope, to reveal the contagious black ring.
"What did I do now?" He blinked innocently. Deviously, Sirius looked over the tower's edge holding back a laugh.
Lying in bed, Taylor leafed through her Transfiguration homework. Ambitiously, she finished her heaviest assignments before the dormitory began filling up. She stared at the ceiling and fondled the opal pendent around her neck. Did you know all along? A warning would have been appreciated. Taylor rolled over stared into the stone.
Made up of the glories of the most precious gems, to describe it is a matter of inexpressible difficulty: there in it the gentler fire of the Ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the Amethyst, there is the sea-green of the Emerald, all shining together in an incredible union. Her father's love of the classical echoed in Pliny the Elder's whimsies. She could almost see his reflection in the microcosms of her gem.