Assistant for the Defense

       Shortly before winter classes began, Dumbledore called the staff together in his office.
       "I want to thank you for your extraordinary efforts on behalf of this school and its students," Dumbledore praised. "My gratitude knows no bounds."
       He better mean me, Snape thought. After all, Flying Defense lessons had proven extremely popular with the staff as well as the students. Not that Snape had minded; he'd derived a certain amount of pleasure from making the Gryffindors run around and around the quidditch pitch as their teachers and peers fired on them from above.
       "I especially want to thank you," Dumbledore continued, "for a lovely Christmas holiday." He beamed at them for a moment and then sobered, glancing at a copy of the Daily Prophet on his desk.
       "I fear the time has come for increased security measures," he told them gravely. The staff were hardly surprised; there had been a suspicious incident at one of their homes over the holidays. Snape imagined Dumbledore might eventually require all of them to reside at the castle full time. "Beginning immediately," he told them, "no student will be permitted outside the castle without adult supervision. This includes quidditch practice, and I would ask the heads of house to please share the burden of supervising this activity with Madam Hooch."
       Snape immediately leaned over to McGonagall. "Combined practices, half the effort," he whispered conspiratorially.
       "Done," she agreed.
       "All staff who reside at the castle are restricted to campus and are required to check with myself or Professor McGonagall before leaving the castle," Dumbledore went on. "Beginning immediately, the house elves and staff will patrol the grounds and guard the entrance in shifts from 10pm to 6am."
       Several people grunted involuntarily.
       "There will be absolutely NO visitors without my prior approval and the castle's floo system will be shut down except for in-house travel. The fireplace in my office will be the only one connected to the outside."
       "Uh, Headmaster..." Snape began.
       "No, Severus!" Dumbledore told him firmly.
       Snape turned away with a frustrated scowl only to find Minerva smirking at him. He held her gaze for several seconds and then gave her a thorough going-over, from head to toe and back again. Minerva blushed a nice shade of Gryffindor scarlet before turning her attention back to Dumbledore, only to find Snape smirking at her every time she dared to glance in his direction. The moment the meeting was over, she grabbed Snape's arm and pulled him aside as the other teachers filed out the door.
       "What do you have to say for yourself?" she demanded in a furious whisper.
       Snape gave her a wink. "You'd be my first choice," he replied. To his delight, she blushed again, and he reveled in folding his black-robed arms across his chest and watching her storm towards the door. Then a gentle voice said,
       "Severus, may I have a word?"
       The smile on Snape's lips died a quick death. "Certainly, Headmaster," he replied, and took the seat Dumbledore offered across from his desk as the headmaster called to McGonagall, "Minerva, I'll need a word with you when I'm done." She nodded and left to wait in the hall. After she'd gone, Dumbledore spoke quietly.
       "I have decided to fill the Defense position for the remainder of the school year," he told Snape.
       The potions master tensed at the prickly subject but said nothing.
       "Remus Lupin has agreed to return and Severus, I know this is asking a great deal, but I'd like you to assist him."
       Snape didn't move. Not even an eyelash flickered. His elbows, resting on the arms of his chair, suddenly ached, as if his blood had turned to poison and was scourging him as it tore through his joints. It made its way back to his heart and that began to ache, too.
       "He will teach for 3 weeks each month and you will teach the remaining week," Dumbledore explained. "You will need to devise a lesson plan together accordingly. I feel we should attempt to make up for lost time, now that we're able, so we will combine all four houses into one class per year and hold lessons in the Great Hall. I would like each class to meet 4 times a week."
       Say something, Snape thought to himself. You have to respond to him.
       "What about potions?" he asked falteringly and despised himself for stuttering.
       "Potions will be suspended for one week each month. Please alter your lesson plans accordingly."
       Snape's jaw twitched. He nodded once.
       "Severus," Dumbledore implored, "I want you to know how much it means to me that I can rely on you."
       Snape rose. "Will that be all, Headmaster?" he asked.
       "If you could please send Minerva in, I'll ask her to rearrange the schedule."
       Snape nodded and left. When Minerva saw his face, her eyes grew wide, but Snape just jerked his head towards the office and then swept away down the hall.

       He allowed himself 15 minutes to compose himself before telling the Slytherins. He didn't want them to hear it second hand the way Harry Potter used to hear things from Malfoy. As his students queued up before him, Violet grabbed a spot near the top of her line. When she heard the news, her reaction exploded from her mouth before she could stop it.
       Only she didn't say 'heck,' and the Slytherins' fury at this latest slight was momentarily slackened by their shock at Violet's response. No Slytherin had ever said the 'F' word for Snape to hear.
       Everybody stared at her and Violet looked uncertainly back and forth from Snape to the other students. Then she shrugged.
       "I honestly don't know what I feel at this moment," she confessed. Snape raised an eyebrow at her.
       "Then let's see if we can't summon a little remorse," he suggested dryly. He touched the tip of his wand to Violet's lips and she grimaced hugely as a bitter taste flooded her mouth. Crabbe grinned knowingly at her and called, "What do you have to say for yourself, Violet?"
       "Shut up!" Violet snapped back. Then she gasped. Two shiny clear bubbles had popped out of her mouth when she spoke and now floated down the aisle between the two lines. Violet clapped her hands over her mouth and laughed with delight at the Slytherin version of having one's mouth washed out with soap. Then she pulled them away and called, "What was I thinking?" Pop, pop, pop, pop, out came four more bubbles. The younger Slytherins giggled hysterically but Malfoy just rolled his eyes and stuck his hand in the air.
       "What about potions classes?" he asked indignantly when Snape acknowledged him.
       "You will have potions three weeks each month," Snape explained. Malfoy had the good sense to swear under his breath before asking furiously, "Why does Professor Lupin need a whole week off? The moon's only full one night. Dumbledore should cancel Defense class for one day, not Potions for an entire week."
       "Yeah!" said several Slytherins indignantly, including Violet, who nearly collapsed with giggles at emitting the biggest bubble yet. Snape ignored her.
       "It is the headmaster's prerogative to make decisions concerning staffing and scheduling. Goodnight."
       For an hour after Snape departed, Violet entertained Marybeth and the first years with her new twist on the bubble head concept. But then one of the younger students nodded at a clutch of older snakes heatedly discussing Lupin's return and asked, "Why is it such a big deal anyway?"
       Violet tried to do justice to the story Millicent had shared with her last winter, but it just wasn't possible to convey the proper sentiment with bubbles accentuating every word. Finally she gave up and approached Crabbe.
       "Try swearing now," he suggested, and she shook her head in frustration.
       "What the hell for?" she demanded, and then exploded with giggles when the third bubble came out blue. After she'd sobered again, she asked him how to make it stop.
       "Go to Snape and repent," he told her.
       "Then what?"
       Crabbe shrugged. "I got two," he admitted. "They were pretty half-hearted."
       "What word did you say?" Violet wondered. Crabbe refused to tell her. "They weren't that half-hearted!" he noted ruefully.
       So Violet made her way to Snape's office, giggling all the way as she sang, "Tiiiiiiiiny bubbles..." But when she tried to express her remorse to her housemaster, the bubbles mocked her every word and Snape chuckled behind closed lips. "I would appreciate it, sir," Violet sniffed, "if you would enable me to apologize properly."
       Snape performed a quick "finite incantatem" and Violet snorted with indignation. "Is that all it took?" she fumed. Snape nodded. "So any of the Slytherins could have done it?"
       "Could have?" her head of house asked. "Or would have?"
       "I see your point," she admitted as she sat down. She took a deep breath and said earnestly, "I'm very, very, very sorry for the unspeakably rude word I said in front of you. And I want you to know that..." She paused and searched for the right words. "I really, really enjoyed your Flying Defense lessons."
       Snape stared thoughtfully at the child. Secretly, he was glad her little outburst in the common room had deflected attention from his own agonized state. "Three hundred lines," he decided. "'I must not use rude words.' You may go."
       "Thank you, sir," she replied. She rose and crossed his office to leave but paused at the door to give him what she hoped was an encouraging smile.

       Lupin arrived the day before classes began and Snape met with him after dinner. As he entered Lupin's office and looked the thin, shabby man over, it occurred to him that no amount of chubby Molly Weasley's cooking seemed capable of fattening him up.
       "I know," Lupin nodded at the look on Snape's face. Then he smiled warmly. "Hello, Severus."
       "Lupin," Snape replied.
       "Please have a seat," Lupin invited after an awkward pause, and as Snape sat down, he continued very politely, "Thank you for coming, and next time we could meet in your office if you prefer."
       Snape made no response. Lupin took a deep breath and plunged in.
       "Well, the enlarged classes present a challenge, but I have some ideas and I'm very eager to hear yours."
       He waited. Again, Snape made no response, but this time Lupin stood his ground and remained silent until Snape spoke.
       "It's your class, Lupin," he said evenly, his voice flat, his eyes dead. "I have been asked to assist. You may set your lesson plan and I will teach whatever you wish during your absences."
       Lupin nodded slightly, them assured Snape, "If you change your mind, I'll be very happy to..." He paused and shrugged. "I'll be very happy," he finished simply.
       He took another deep breath and began to speak much faster than usual while he shuffled some papers on his desk. "Most of the course should be practical, I think, but I believe it's extremely important..."
       His eyes filled with pain at these last words and his voice failed him. "Extremely important," he whispered to himself. He cleared his throat harshly, put the papers down, folded his hands on top of his desk, and began again. "I believe it's vital, at this point in wizarding history..." He looked up at Snape with those calm, kind eyes. "... that we have a lecture on why people become Death Eaters, delivered to a combined session of the oldest three classes. I was hoping you could deliver it, perhaps the last day of instruction before the Easter holidays?"
       The two men stared at each other across the desk for a very long time. Eventually, Lupin found himself praying silently in his head, never taking his eyes off Snape's face. Finally the potions master murmured, "As you wish, Lupin," and rose to sweep from the room without another word. But Lupin stopped him at the door. "Severus?" he called hopefully.
       Snape refused to turn around and merely looked back over his shoulder at Lupin. The scrawny, ragged werewolf appealed to him with an almost desperate earnestness.
       "I'll give you half my pay this term if you'll call me Remus."
       Snape just stared at the man. After a few moments, he replied, "I never invited you to call me Severus." Then he departed, shutting the door loudly behind him, leaving Remus Lupin to stare at the hands still folded on his desk.
       Dumbledore again. Snape scowled and looked up grudgingly from the plate of eggs he had been staring at ever since sitting down. It was the first morning of classes and he had no wish to interact with Lupin or any of his fellow teachers beyond what was absolutely necessary.
       He found Dumbledore and the rest of the staff staring openly at him. The headmaster nodded slightly in the direction of the four student tables and Snape looked out to discover that the Slytherin table was completely empty. For several seconds he could only stare. Then he turned to Dumbledore and said helplessly, "They were at inspection."
       At that moment, Madam Pomfrey burst into the hall. She stood just inside the door with her hands on her hips and when she spotted Snape, she called tersely, "A word, Professor?" He climbed down from the head table and strode menacingly up the aisle but she would not be intimidated. Instead, she turned smartly on her heel and marched out of the room, leaving Snape no choice but to follow her. She proceeded quickly to the hospital wing and banged open the door.
       "Raging head colds," she announced. "Fifty-two raging head colds."
       He peered over her shoulder at the two rows of cots. They were actually a rather charming sight, his 52 Slytherins packed two and three to a bed. They hadn't bothered with anything from Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. Millicent simply let loose with one of her pathetic fake sneezes at regular intervals.
       Snape took Madam Pomfrey by the arm and led her a safe distance from the door. "Can't you threaten to spank them or something?" she hissed furiously under her breath. "We have a standing agreement," Snape replied. He left her by the far wall and then folded his arms across his chest as he crossed slowly to her desk, lifting one leg to perch comfortably on the edge of it.
       "I could thank you," he began smoothly, "for this dubious demonstration of support." His eyes flickered at the cot where Violet and Marybeth lay snuggling up to Goyle and Violet gulped. "Or I could remind you of the big picture," he continued, "Voldemort and Dumbledore, Lupin and defense classes..."
       He flicked an imaginary piece of lint from his robe and finished in the same bored tone of voice. "But I think, instead, I'll simply count to three." He looked up at them with a diabolical little smile that disappeared in a heartbeat as he roared, "ONE!"
       The Slytherins flew out of bed and raced from the room as fast as they could go.
       They missed breakfast because of their little demonstration and when the Slytherin sixth years sauntered casually into Defense class, the Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors were already presented and seated. The Great Hall was filled with individual desks rather reminiscent of OWL exams and the head table platform held a larger desk for the teacher.
       The statement made by their mealtime absence was not appreciated by their fellow students who watched with baleful expressions as they took their seats. Any verbal expression of hostility, however, was prevented by the immediate arrival of Professor Lupin who chose to overlook the Slytherins' earlier conduct and greeted them all pleasantly from behind the teacher's desk. His salutation was cut short by an immediate burst of welcoming applause from the Gryffindors who were joined enthusiastically by several Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs.
       "Thank you," Lupin beamed. "Thank you very much. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be with you again."
       The remark made Malfoy snort and Lupin turned his mild gaze upon the blonde youngster. "Was there something you wished to add, Mr. Malfoy?" he asked politely.
       Draco's first instinct was to hold his tongue as Snape had taught him. But when he noticed several Gryffindors glaring indignantly at him, he changed his mind. "Yes, Professor," he replied with equal civility. "I was wondering why you're pleased to be back in service to those who didn't have the decency to appreciate you the first time. Or was it only Slytherins and their parents who complained?"
       Several of the other students looked a bit sheepish at this. The Slytherins kept their eyes firmly on Lupin as he thought it over. "No, Mr. Malfoy," he finally he admitted. "It was not." He walked around to the side of his desk and pressed his fingertips on its hard, smooth surface. After more consideration, he added, "I'm not going to answer your question, Mr. Malfoy. But I'm going to suggest that you give it a great deal of thought. I think it's very important for you to have a thorough understanding of the ramifications of injustice and pardon."
       "Professor," Malfoy replied in a much cooler tone, "I think about ramifications all the time."
       They stared each other down for several seconds. Then Lupin clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. "Good!" he declared. "Now let's see where you're at."
       He paired the students up for some practice drills and was delighted with their level of expertise. The Slytherins, who'd been studying with Snape, could not imagine how the students from the other houses had become so accomplished. "Excellent, just excellent," Lupin beamed, and Malfoy could have smacked the silly smile his praise inspired right off Potter's face.
       "I will tell you straight out," Lupin lectured after they'd returned to their seats, "that we are going to work tirelessly on combat skills. Keep in mind that battle consists of far more than wand to wand conflict." He strolled among them, looking each of them in the eye as he passed. "Battles," he explained, "are fought on the field, in the air, within the body and through the mind. Therefore, my demands are going to be relentless." He returned to the front of the hall and turned to face them. "I hope you're up for it," he concluded.
       Malfoy shook his head at the teacher's frail form and anemic complexion. Look who's talking, he thought to himself.

An Obedient House