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Ding Dong Merrily on High

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1 – Here We Come A-Potioning

Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington was lacking in holiday cheer. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, glum. The other Hogwarts ghosts were no better, despite it being the night of the annual Hogwarts holiday party where faculty, staff, and their guests were welcomed for an evening of fun and frolic ("welcomed" being loosely interpreted, since Dolores Umbridge and Lucius Malfoy were among those who had accepted their engraved invitations).

To be fair, the Grey Lady rarely, if ever, smiled, the Bloody Baron was never happy, and the ghost of Professor Binns was, as usual, asleep in the Staff Room, under the mistaken but persistent apprehension that a warm fire made even spectral beings sleepy, so it was difficult to say whether he was happy or not. He may very well have been. But it is certainly fair to say that Sir Nicholas and the Fat Friar, at least, were not their usual jolly selves.

Gazing down on the festive, noisy crowd that thronged the Great Hall below them, the Fat Friar shook his head sadly. "Splendid banquet. Fruitcake and trifle, cakes and ale, prawns and pickles, chicken vol-au-vents and smoked salmon..." He paused and drifted a few feet lower, casting an appraising eye on something large, green, and topped with masses of clotted cream. "Mmmm. Wish I could sample a bit of that. What is it, do you s'pose?"

Sir Nicholas, unaware that a bough of holly was poking through his partially-severed neck like a spiky ascot, heaved a mournful sigh. (For a ghost, who has neither breath nor lungs, this was something of an achievement.) His eyes were fixed wistfully on the enormous crystal bowl of punch, occupying a place of honor in the centre of the Head Table. "I overheard Poppy telling Minerva that Madam Hooch's punch is the finest ever this year – lemons from Florence, Neisson rum from Martinique, and the spices came from Slughorn's private stock. Oh, how I miss a good Yule libation!" He blinked away a misty tear.

"Dear Sir Nicholas," murmured the Grey Lady, giving him an insubstantial pat on the back, which of course passed right through his broad shoulders. "Don't be downcast. Christmas is a time for love and good cheer."

Sir Nicholas gave her pale, somber face a dubious glance. "You don't say."

"Love," the Bloody Baron snorted, his dark eyes glittering. "Good cheer. Ha. Never had any use for either. Gloom, that's what Yule is all about. Longest night. Darkness. End of the year. Death."

"Did someone say death?" trilled a merry voice. "Oh, don't let's talk about that. I'm far too happy tonight, and I want everyone else to be happy too!"

The four ghosts looked up to see a girl's face protruding down through the ceiling of the Great Hall, wearing a smile of utter delight. So unfamiliar was this particular expression on that particular face that it took them several seconds to recognize her.

"Myrtle?" the Grey Lady said at last, her voice rising in a question.

"Moaning Myrtle?" Sir Nicholas echoed in amazement.

"More like Merry Myrtle, I'd say," the Fat Friar chortled. "And wishing all of us to be merry as well! Bless my soul! Been so long since that one's felt anything but disgust for others, tis a wonder she don't die all over again of shock!"

Myrtle descended, the rest of her appearing gradually through the ceiling. Instead of the usual faded grey of all ghosts, she was suffused with a rich iridescent glow, a silvery white shot through with muted rose and lavender, like mother-of-pearl. "You're so funny, Friar. I do love you," she said, and dropped a ghostly kiss on his bald pate.

Sir Nicholas' eyebrows shot up so far that they appeared to be trying to crawl off the top of his head.

"Well well," the Friar mumbled in a pleased tone, his cheeks flushing a darker grey. "Been a long time since a pretty girl gave me a kiss."

"I should bloody well hope so," the Baron growled. "And you nearly a cardinal. Now then, miss," he said, turning to Myrtle. "What is all this? You are not yourself at all."

Myrtle made graceful figure-of-eights in the air before them, a half-smile curving her lips. "Well, I was sitting in the U-bend thinking how dark it was down there and I lost track of myself – you know how that can happen when you don't concentrate on keeping yourself together?"

"I do that on occasion," the Grey Lady murmured. "It's rather restful, just letting oneself go."

"Well, an air current must have caught me because the next thing I knew I'd drifted into someone's room and there was this cauldron full of potion."

"Whose room?" asked the Friar.

"I don't know. But I love them, whoever they are. Just like I love all of you." She glanced down at the crowd below. "Oh look! A party!" She smiled beatifically. "I love all of them, too."

The other ghosts exchanged puzzled glances. "Myrtle," said Sir Nicholas firmly, "please explain. You drifted into someone's room. There was a potion. Then?"

Myrtle's eyes opened wide. "Oh yes, a potion. Simmering in a big black pot, simmering and shimmering and glimmering, and the steam rising in beautiful curlicues. Such a lovely potion, I wanted it so much!"

"And?" prompted the Baron.

"So I went and sat in it," she said. "The steam, not the potion. And then I loved everybody!" She clasped her hands in ecstatic remembrance.

"I think," said the Grey Lady, "we need to see this potion."

 

A few minutes later, having followed the no-longer-moaning Myrtle up stairs, down passages, and through several walls, the four ghosts found themselves in an empty room in the centre of which a large iron cauldron hung over the embers of a low-burning fire. Slow bubbles rose and burst on the liquid's mother-of-pearl surface, releasing puffs of steam that rose in graceful spirals.

Myrtle drifted forward and settled above it, in the midst of the cloud of steam. "So much love," she crooned, closing her eyes and smiling blissfully. Her pearly glow brightened almost immediately.

"Amortentia," pronounced the Baron, in his deep, rough voice.

"Amortentia!" exclaimed Sir Nicholas. "But...how can such a potion affect Myrtle? We are ghosts, after all. We have no corporeal being, no blood or brain to be influenced or altered."

The Grey Lady moved slowly round the cauldron, studying Myrtle's relaxed form. "We cannot drink a potion, of course," she mused. "And it is true we have no physical being, else we would be unable to pass through walls. Yet we are visible to living beings, therefore something in us reflects light; we are able to speak to them, so something in us is able to move and shape air to form speech."

"True," said the Friar in surprise. "Never thought about it, but yes. Something's there. Must be."

"And so, perhaps," she went on, her eyes bright with Ravenclaw interest in a knotty problem, "we have substance enough to absorb, or entwine with, or catch onto molecules of a potion that are suspended in steam."

Sir Nicholas snapped his fingers. "I think you have it!" he said excitedly. "Yes, why not? Just as exhaled breath on a winter morn can mingle with smoke from a fire, why could not steam mingle with our ghostly substance and alter it?"

"But Amortentia, well, it's powerful stuff," objected the Friar. "Creates not just love, but obsession. Not what Myrtle seems to feel at all – more a sort of general benevolence. Love for the whole world."

"As incorporeal beings we would no doubt be less strongly affected," the Lady said thoughtfully. "But yes, the effect on Myrtle appears to be not only muted, but different."

"You have forgotten your basic potions knowledge," growled the Baron.

"Trust a Slytherin to know all about potions," muttered the Friar to Sir Nicholas, earning himself a glower from that gentleman.

"Like Polyjuice potion," the Baron went on, "Amortentia as initially brewed is neutral. It requires as the final step the addition of some small part of a person – a curl of hair, an eyelash, even something as tiny as a flake of skin – to customize it, so that it will arouse passion for that person in he or she who consumes it. Without that added ingredient, the potion has only a generalised effect. A non-specific love for others."

The Lady nodded. "Yes, that is logical." She gazed at Myrtle, her head tilted thoughtfully. "I wonder how long it lasts."

"Well, I say we all try it," Sir Nicholas said heartily. "I admit to feeling a bit glum, unable to get into the holiday spirit, don't you know. A bit of a boost in my feelings of fellowship wouldn't go amiss. And since we can't sample Rolanda's Yule Punch, which always fills me with brotherly affection, this seems a fine substitute."

The Friar bounced excitedly. "Oh my, yes. Yes indeed. As a churchman, of course, I'm bound to love my fellow man, though they did execute me, but—"

"Some might feel that pulling rabbits out of the Communion cup was a bit beyond the pale," the Baron pointed out dryly.

The Friar sniffed. "No sense of humor, the Inquisition. As I was saying, as a churchman I'm bound to love my fellow man, but I do have trouble with a few of them. This seems like a delightful way to help me achieve a higher level of virtue. Budge up, budge up," he added, floating closer to where Myrtle lounged above the bubbling cauldron.

Myrtle blew him a kiss and wafted a few feet off, where she hung with a dreamy smile. The Friar settled his bulk in the center of the cloud of steam, which wreathed around his bald head like a smoky tiara, and closed his eyes. "Aaaaahhhhh....." he sighed.

"Well?" said Sir Nicholas eagerly, watching as the Friar's normally pale-grey presence took on a rich, pearly hue.

The Friar was silent for a long moment, then opened his eyes and lazily beamed upon his companions. "I must say, I do feel remarkably well-disposed towards you all. Always been rather jolly, you know, but this is far beyond. It truly is as though I love you all, quite fondly. And chastely, of course," he added.

"No sign of obsession? Madness? Possessiveness?" inquired the Grey Lady, twisting her fingers together. "We know what that can lead to." The Baron looked away with a scowl, fingers absently rubbing the silvery bloodstains on his doublet.

The Friar rotated thoughtfully in the curling mist, as though basting himself in it. "Not at all, not the slightest bit. Simply awash in brotherly love. Philadelphia. Possibly even ἀγάπη."

Sir Nicholas brightened. "Well then. Let another fellow have a chance!"

"Course, dear boy. Selfish of me," said the Friar. "Do join me! Or no, you take it all," he added generously.

Sir Nicholas floated into the space vacated by the Friar. As the steam rose through his misty form, his dusty grey began to give way to a milky translucence, touched with subtle washes of color. "Hum," he said thoughtfully, his face relaxing and taking on a benevolent expression. "Yes, I quite see what you mean."

The Baron shook his head. "No good will come of this," he said gloomily, but Sir Nicholas, contentedly steeping himself above the cauldron, merely smiled indulgently.

"May I...?" the Friar asked diffidently after a moment. "A bit more would be a help, y'know?"

"Indeed, indeed."

The Friar, Sir Nicholas, and Myrtle took turns steeping themselves in the aerosolized Amortentia, circling in and out, growing more and more contented and pleasantly disposed towards the world by the moment. The other two watched with interest.

Just as Sir Nicholas was about to embark on his fifth immersion, he paused. "Madam, how remiss of us!" he said, gesturing politely to the Grey Lady. "Do please take a turn. Or you, Baron?"

"I think not," the Baron said, looking sideways at the Grey Lady. "It might..."

"Open old wounds?" she finished tartly, a touch of anger in her usually smooth voice.

"Righty-ho, righty-ho," the Friar said hastily. "Nicky, old pal, old chum, shall we have another go?"

Suddenly a high-pitched cackle echoed round the room. "Peeves wants love!" shouted the poltergeist, whizzing madly past them. "Me, me, me! Wheeeee!" He plunged into the cloud of steam and sat there grinning like a mad Buddha. His orange bowtie clashed unpleasantly with the silvery spirals of steam.

The Friar laughed delightedly. "A Peeves who loves the world! Happy thought, ain't it? No more pranks and tricks. No more things dropped on people's heads."

"Get out of there, Peeves," the Baron growled.

"Oh, let him stay," Sir Nicholas said comfortably. "Even my usual dislike for Peeves can't survive all this love infiltrating my spirit." He watched with interest as Peeves' usual expression of slightly menacing mischief altered to one of mischievous affection.

The Baron shook his head. "Peeves is a poltergeist, not a ghost. He can move physical objects. His substance differs from ours – there is more of it, whatever ‘it' is. The effects of the Amortentia steam may be...unfortunate."

The Friar looked at the grinning poltergeist. "Don't think we'll get him out of there any time soon, friend Nick. What say we go to the party?"

 

2 – Deck the Hall with Boughs of Folly

Sir Nicholas and the Fat Friar drifted peaceably across the Great Hall just above the heads of the crowd, brimming over with a deep fondness for everyone in sight. Laughter, animated conversation, and the occasional snatch of song rose about them, while the platters were beginning to show empty spots, the enormous fruitcake had been reduced to a pile of crumbs, and Madam Hooch was overheard saying to Poppy that she'd refilled the enormous crystal punchbowl nine times. The annual Hogwarts Christmas party bid fair to be, as always, a rousing success.

"Pleasant feeling, this love for all," the Fat Friar said, the benevolent smile still adorning his round face. "Haven't felt such a cozy internal glow since my breathing days. Don't even mind that I can't taste the pudding and such. Just happy to be here among such lovely, lovely people."

"I even find myself well-disposed towards the Headless Hunt," Sir Nicholas said, drifting absently through a candelabrum. "After all, they can't help it. Rules are rules. What would we be without them?"

"Anarchists," the Friar shouted, waving a pudgy hand and causing one or two heads to turn. "Would even have a drink with one of those tonight. If I could drink," he added happily.

The two of them drifted along, beaming pleasantly at everyone around them, and thoroughly enjoying the sight of so many wonderful people having such an excellent time. Even the sight of Dolores Umbridge lecturing Kingsley Shacklebolt on the need for stronger anti-centaur legislation failed to puncture their sense of charitable goodwill.

The Fat Friar nudged Sir Nicholas, his ghostly elbow passing through the space occupied by Sir Nicholas' ribs. Naturally, Sir Nicholas completely failed to notice. "I say, Nick old chum," said the Friar, trying again. "Look over there. There someone who could use a bit of love and fellow feeling, don't you think?"

Sir Nicholas followed the direction of the Friar's glance and saw Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination, standing alone in a corner, twisting a strand of her hair round her finger and muttering to herself. She had exchanged her usual dull browns and blues for colors more suited to the holiday: red and green, white and gold. Festooned as she was with filmy scarves, clattering bangles, and tangled strings of beads, the effect was as if someone had Locomotored the entire Christmas section of Gambol & Japes and sent it on walkabout. Her expression – what could be seen of it under a hat shaped like a Yule tree complete with animated light-up angel topper – was decidedly unfestive.

"Poor old trout," said Sir Nicholas, feeling a surge of affection for the strange woman. "She's a bit odd, but not a bad sort. Let's go and cheer her up, shall we?"

"Yes indeed," said the Friar.

"Stout fellow!"

"Boon companion!"

Sir Nicholas made a courteous gesture. "After you."

"No, no, after you."

"Together then!" and off they zoomed, arm in ghostly arm.

Professor Trelawney's eyes, already huge behind her spectacles, widened further at the approach of the two cheerful spirits. "You are here to tell me that you too have sensed the doom that approaches, are you not?" she said in a low tone, before they could speak. "Your unusually pearly luminescence signifies danger, I know well the signs!"

"No, no, dear lady, not at all!" Sir Nicholas said heartily. "We are here to wish you happiness, health, good fellowship!"

"And to tell you how very much we esteem you," added the Friar, bowing as well as could be expected from a levitating fat man.

Sybill's eyes narrowed. "The Spirit Realm informs me that great chaos is approaching," she intoned, though her dire words were somewhat counteracted by the fact that the angel on her hat was now doing an energetic samba.

"Oh, twaddle," said the Friar comfortably. "It's a party, Sybill. Enjoy yourself. Let your hair down. Got quite a lot of it, it's probably dying to get out and have a bit of fun."

"I cannot be distracted by such nonsense as holiday cheer," she said with a moue of distaste, and turned to leave in the general direction of the punch bowl. The two ghosts slipped quickly round her in an attempt to block her path, but she simply walked straight through them both.

"Here now," said Sir Nicholas, but without heat. "Don't you know it's rude to just stroll through a non-corporeal being as though he were nothing more than some sort of fogbank?"

Sybill stopped dead as though turned to stone. "Don't feel badly, though," he added hastily, not wanting to upset her. "I have such an excess of goodwill tonight that I can't possibly be angry with you, and—what's all this then? What are you doing?!"

For Sybill had turned round and flung her arms wide, a smile of pure joy on her face. "Dear Sir Nicholas! Dear Friar!" She clasped her hands on her breast, her face positively glowing. "How good of you to be concerned for me, how very very kind! I do have such great affection for you both!"

The Fat Friar grinned at the apparent success of their stratagem, and Sir Nicholas, recovering from his surprise, made a gracious gesture. "Entirely our pleasure, I assure you, dear lady," he said.

"And indeed I do feel so much better now," she went on, "entirely different, how very extraordinary, and yet how pleasant, quite a warming sensation I must say." She drained her cup of punch and smacked her lips. "I must let Rolanda know that I adore her punch this year. And I haven't told dear Minerva how much her friendship means to me, how very kind she is. And Albus too, the dear man... Thank you both. Oh I could just hug you!" She threw herself towards Sir Nicholas, stumbled, and nearly fell; whether this was due to her arms meeting no resistance as they passed through him, or to that last cup of punch having been her seventh was impossible to say. Recovering, she staggered off.

Nicholas and the Friar watched as she made her erratic way through the crowd, stopping frequently to embrace someone or other. "Well, well, that worked a treat, eh?" said the Friar with a jolly laugh. "Who'd have thought a kind word could work so well?"

But Sir Nicholas was frowning. "Odd," he murmured. "She walked straight through us, which by all rights should at least have chilled her thoroughly, if not actually made her rather sad. Sadder," he corrected himself.

"That is the usual effect of walking through a ghost," the Friar agreed. "And yet instead, she was immediately—" He broke off, and then began to chuckle. "Oh. Oh, my. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Sir Nicholas tried and failed to suppress a mischievous smile. "We did rather steep ourselves in that fresh Amortentia steam," he said slowly. "It is possible..."

"That some of it rubbed off on her when she walked through us?" the Friar chortled, his fat face creased in helpless delight. "Oh dear, oh dear, that's the best trick I've ever heard of! Hoo hoo hoo! Heh heh heh!!"

Sir Nicholas wagged an admonitory finger at his fellow ghost. "Ah, but we must test this, my friend! It could be that this was a coincidence. After all, she had been drinking, and Rolanda's hooch" -- at this the Friar fell speechless with laughter -- "has been known to alter the behavior of those with far stronger wills than Sybill." He looked around the room. "It must be a good test, someone challenging..."

"That one," suggested the Friar promptly, pointing at a glowering man with a scarred face, grey hair and a patch over one eye. Although the man was in close conversation with Kingsley Shacklebolt, his wary gaze roved the Hall unceasingly, as if expecting an attack at any moment.

Sir Nicholas' jaw dropped. "Mad-Eye Moody??" he exclaimed. "The man's sour as a lemon! He'd as soon love his fellow man as poke out his other eye!"

"Exactly!" the Friar shouted happily. "No better test than that old battle-axe. Haw haw haw!!"

"That would be indisputable proof of our theory," Sir Nicholas admitted. A brief snicker escaped him. "Now, here's what we'll do..."

 

Alastor Moody, known as Mad-Eye for both his terrible temper and his magical eye which (rumor had it) could see round corners and through excuses as well as behind his back, was not a man to be taken by surprise. Had he been watching Kingsley's face instead of scanning the Great Hall for nonexistent threats, he surely would have noticed the other man's attention being caught by the two pearly figures floating up behind him, both of them manfully – or ghostfully – suppressing fits of giggles.

"Constant vigilance, Shacklebolt!" Moody was growling. "That's the ticket. Only thing that'll save us. Constant vig—"

"Now!" cried the Friar gleefully, and he and Sir Nicholas dove together at Moody's back. The old Auror was quick, but not quick enough: they shot straight through him before he could turn round. Unable to check their momentum, they zipped straight through Kingsley Shacklebolt as well – "Whoops!" said the Friar – before turning to see the results of their experiment.

Moody's face changed as if someone had flipped a switch, becoming relaxed, soft, almost – dare one say it? – sentimental. The light of love shone plain in it. "Sybill," he whispered. He looked anxiously around the room, peering through the crowd. "Sybill my love, where are you? Kingsley, have you seen her?"

Shacklebolt simply stood there, his mouth curved in a smile, his eyes fixed on Moody with a dreamy look. "Alastor," he cooed. "I have never noticed how blue your eye is. And your scars...so attractively placed..."

Sir Nicholas and the Friar exchanged startled glances. "Not quite what I expected," whispered Sir Nicholas.

Moody seized Kingsley by the lapels of his robe. "Where is she, Shacklebolt? I must find her. My love, my robin in her nest of scarves, my magpie with her sparkling beads. Sybill!?"

"And your voice...so deep, so husky," Shacklebolt went on, his eyes shining with love. "Say ‘constant vigilance' again!" he begged.

Moody dropped his grip on Shacklebolt's robes and took a step back, eyeing him warily. "Don't talk mince, man. Sybill!" he bellowed. Startled silence fell upon those nearby, interrupted by a few stifled chuckles.

A few yards away, Sybill's owlish face peered out from the other side of a befuddled Minerva McGonagall, to whom she had been describing the new love-based philosophy her Inner Eye had unveiled to her. "Y…yes?" she quavered.

Moody's eye lit up. "Ah, there she is, my songbird, my petulant prophetess, my sensuous Seer!" Like a man shot from a cannon he charged towards her, elbowing people out of his way, closely followed by Shacklebolt.

"We'd best follow them, hadn't we?" said Sir Nicholas.

The Friar stifled a snort of laughter. "Wouldn't miss this for the world!"

Moody halted in front of Sybill, who looked rather alarmed at his energetic advance. "Sybill," he breathed rapturously. "You're a vision of loveliness. I adore you!"

Minerva stared open-mouthed at the old Auror, bewilderment at this fresh assault on sanity rendering her momentarily speechless. Sybill clutched her beads and blinked. "Alastor, the Fates have gifted me with quite an unusual degree of affection for everyone here this evening, but I cannot say I have particular feelings for—"

"Alastor, please," Kingsley interrupted. "I love you madly, more than—"

"Get off me, ye numpty!"

"—more than anyone ever—"

Sybill tittered, and Kingsley turned his eyes on her.

"—except Sybill," he went on without missing a beat. He glanced back and forth between the Divination teacher and the Auror. "Yes! The two of you, you are all I think about!!"

"What d'you reckon?" whispered the Friar, his fat face creased in puzzlement. "Worked a treat with Sybill. Why not Moody?"

Sir Nicholas shook his head. "What changed? It's almost as if..." He trailed off as a sudden suspicion gripped him. "Friar, what if Sybill, er, left something of hers when she walked through us?"

"Left something?"

" ‘A curl of hair, an eyelash, even something as tiny as a flake of skin'," Sir Nicholas said. "Enough, perhaps, to customize the Amortentia we passed on to Moody?"

"Oh," said the Friar, light dawning. "Oh. Oh dear...." A snicker escaped him. "And then Moody added his own bit when we went through him."

"An-an-and then," Sir Nicholas went on, dissolving into laughter, "Shacklebolt got both when we went through him!"

Something swooped just over their heads, cackling loudly. "Love's a beautiful thing," Peeves shrieked in a voice like sandpaper on a rock. "The more the merrier!!"

"Happy accident, really, not our fault it went a bit wrong," the Friar added, looking up at the poltergeist with a grin. Peeves had evidently been soaking above the cauldron for the past hour: every bit of him glowed with an intense pearly sheen.

Sir Nicholas glanced at Moody, who was now down on one knee in front of a discomposed but clearly flattered Sybill, and Shacklebolt, who was trying desperately to get the attention of both of them. "Still, at least only these two were affected—"

"Peevesy will fix that!" came a joyful cry. "Share the love, share the love!" The poltergeist took a swooping dive and zoomed straight through the nearest person, who happened to be Dolores Umbridge, then, howling with glee, flew off into the crowd, swerving left and right to pass through everyone he encountered.

"Peeves!" Sir Nicholas shouted desperately. But it was too late.

 

3 – God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen

"Oh, dear…" murmured the Friar.

From their higher vantage point, he and Sir Nicholas could trace the poltergeist's progress as he ranged back and forth through the crowd, his shrill laughter rising and falling like an air raid siren. When struck, each new victim fell silent for a moment as the multiplied potion took effect, then immediately began to rapturously declare his or her undying love to all those whom Peeves had struck before them, while simultaneously attempting to fend off the advances of those who were affected after them.

"What is the meaning of this?" came a sharp voice from below them, and they looked down to see the fiercely inquiring face of Minerva McGonagall. "Sir Nicholas! Friar! I demand an explanation!"

Nicholas and the Fat Friar exchanged guilty glances. "It was all in the holiday spirit," the Friar mumbled.

"I assure you, we meant no harm," Sir Nicholas added. "We only wanted to spread a little brotherly love, Minerva. And then Peeves…"

She raised an expressive eyebrow. "Peeves what?" she inquired.

"Well, there was this vat of Amortentia, you see," the Friar began.

As they explained, Minerva's expression shifted from confusion to comprehension to deep disapprobation. "So the entire Hogwarts faculty and staff—"

"And guests," added Sir Nicholas helpfully.

"And guests," she went on, "are now victims of an overloaded Amortentia, transmitted by poltergeist." She shook her head. "It's enough to make one think a Weasley was involved. Or two."

"Not as bad as it looks, really," said the Friar, trying for a reassuring tone.

"No, it's worse. Look at this chaos." She gestured around the Hall. Peeves had made it through almost the entire crowd; the result was a sort of mad pyramid, with a frantically gesticulating and increasingly discombobulated Dolores Umbridge at the apex, the extremely unwilling target of literally everyone's affection.

"I am very disappointed in both of you," Minerva went on severely, hands on her tartan-clad hips. Even her hat looked cross. "Experimenting on living subjects like this. It's shocking, that's what it is. If you were not already dead I should have no hesitation in recommending that you be referred to the Wizengamot for appropriate punitive action!"

Sir Nicholas looked shamefaced, the Friar apologetic. "Very sorry, I'm sure," they mumbled.

"We shall have to fix this, eftsoons and right speedily," Minerva went on. "I don't suppose you know—"

Laughing like a hyena, Peeves came zooming triumphantly towards them. He made a quick detour to pass through Argus Filch, then shouted joyfully "Last one!" and hurled himself straight at Minerva McGonagall.

Fortunately, Minerva's years on the Quidditch pitch had made her more than a match for one mischievous poltergeist, and she sidestepped him at the last moment. Peeves let out a wolf whistle as he passed her, then looped back around just as Lucius Malfoy and his icily elegant wife entered the Hall, both of them clad in fur-trimmed robes of green and silver.

"Darling, what on earth...?" Narcissa said, looking round in condescending wonder.

Lucius sniffed. "Typical. No sense of order or propriety."

"Peeves! No!" shouted Minerva with all the authority she could muster.

Peeves hovered a moment, stuck out his tongue, waggled his eyebrows in gleeful anticipation, then dove at Lucius. Lucius, who was staring down his aristocratic nose at the pandemonium in the Hall, didn't notice until it was too late. He froze, his eyes going vacant for a moment, then they snapped into focus…on Argus Filch.

"Argus!" he trilled. "Argus, my love!!"

"Oh, pull yourself together, man," Minerva said in disgust.

Lucius paid her no mind, but ran down the stairs towards the old caretaker, leaving Narcissa gazing after him with a look on her face that boded nothing good for her erring husband.

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Sir Nicholas said anxiously. "I do feel a certain amount of responsibility."

"As well you should," Minerva retorted with some asperity. She looked towards the front of the room where Dolores Umbridge was standing on the Head Table, shrieking with fury and using her wand to fend off the advances of dozens of putative lovers. Lucius was sobbing nearby because Filch had refused to kiss him, being too busy declaring his love for Rita Skeeter, who in turn was attempting to drape herself over a grim-faced goblin, who was ignoring her in his attempts to gain the attention of Madame Maxime, who, being eight feet above his eye level, had not even noticed.

Minerva's mouth twitched. "It is tempting to let it run its course," she admitted. "But no. As acting headmistress I am, regrettably, expected to maintain a certain level of decorum."

"We could consult Albus," suggested the Friar.

"And let him know what you've done?" she shot back. "I think not. We shall fix this without disturbing him." She tapped her wand against her chin thoughtfully. "Obsessive love is a sort of poison, I suppose. It wasn't exactly ingested, but still, I wonder." She waved her wand. "Accio bezoar!" she said, holding out her other hand. A moment later a small, wrinkled, greyish pellet smacked into her palm.

"Brilliant!" said Sir Nicholas enthusiastically, anxious to get back on her good side.

She gave him a quelling glance and he subsided into a meek silence. "Now, how to dose them all?" Minerva narrowed her eyes, thinking hard. "Ah!" She tapped the bezoar with her wand and murmured "Pulvero." The stone instantly became a heap of fine greyish powder. "This should do it."

Sir Nicholas frowned in puzzlement, but the Friar nodded. "Golpalott's Second Law," he said. "Method of delivering antidote should match the method of delivering the thing it's counteracting."

"Precisely." She held out the handful of dust towards the two ghosts. "If you can carry particles of Amortentia, let us see if you can carry the dust of a bezoar. If you would be so kind," she added, in a voice that was in no way a request.

The Friar drifted forward, then paused just short of touching her hand. "Think it's safe?" he said. "Mean to say, wouldn't want you suddenly falling for Shacklebolt, Moody, and Trelawney."

"Good gracious," Minerva said, startled. "No indeed. Thank you, Friar. We'll do it this way." She waved her wand and with a few swirling motions, raised the powdered bezoar into the air in a little cloud and directed it towards Sir Nicholas and the Friar. The dust vanished as it encountered them, and when none fell to the floor, Minerva nodded in satisfaction. "Now that you're loaded," she said with the hint of a smile, "go and do your duty to your school. Oh, and send the Baron to me, so we can, er, deactivate Peeves. We don't want him starting it all up again."

 

Twenty minutes later, the chaos of the hall had largely subsided. Witches and wizards had paused, laughed in slight embarrassment, apologized to one another for being a bit silly, and were getting on with the business of having a (normal) good time. Most of them would later attribute the strange events of the evening to "a drop too much of Rolanda's punch," and in fact the bowl next year would empty at a much slower rate, wild passion not being the sort of thing one wants to experience in a crowd of a hundred or so people.

"Peeves?" Minerva asked as Sir Nicholas and the Fat Friar, restored to their usual dull-grey glimmer, returned to her side.

"Dealt with," said Sir Nicholas. "The Baron has confined him to a suit of armor on the fourth floor until it wears off, on pain of... Well, I'm not sure what, but it worked."

"I say," said the Friar. "We missed one!"

They followed his gaze and saw Lucius Malfoy on his knees passionately kissing Filch's boots, despite the old caretaker's vigorous efforts to dislodge him. Narcissa was tugging on her husband's arm in vain, hissing furiously at him that she would never, never, never let him forget this.

"Yes, well, you're looking a bit worn out, both of you," Minerva murmured. "Let's give it just a moment or two longer, shall we?"

And to all a good night...