At 9:45 that evening, Hermione
Granger knocked on the door to Snape's office. "I'll not keep you long,"
the potions master promised her, "as I have my first guard duty rotation
in fifteen minutes." He couldn't help sneering a bit at the thought. "I
was wondering if you would be interested in conducting some research for
Ten minutes later they emerged
from the office together, Hermione bright-eyed with excitement as she
hurried off to the library, Snape a good deal less cheerful as he headed
out the front door of the castle. He made his way quickly across the
grounds and down to the warming shed that had been erected for those on
guard duty, wondering which elf he'd be keeping company with for the next
two hours. Flitwick was in charge of organizing the staff guard duty
schedule; Dobby was managing the house elves. He pushed open the door to
the shed and stepped cautiously inside.
Oh, no, Snape thought. It
was the woolen hat hoarder himself. He was wearing several of them on
this chilly night, along with his Weasley sweater.
Dobby hopped ecstatically about
the shed, thrilled to be serving Albus Dumbledore in such an important
capacity. "Look, Mister Severus, look!" he cried, pointing out the
various spying devices Dumbledore had placed around the hut. There were
portholes that provided expanded views of the grounds and the forest
beyond. Next to them hung conch shells that, when pressed, would serve as
listening devices. Snape wondered how Dobby would react if they happened
to overhear centaurs engaged in amorous activities.
Mounted securely near the door was
a lantern connected to the fireplace in Dumbledore's office; they could
communicate with the headmaster, or, in his absence, the portraits
decorating his office. "Look, Mister Severus!" Dobby cried in excitement.
"It only takes a pinch!" He tossed a dab of floo powder in the lantern
and called, "Guards Dobby and Mister Severus reporting in, sir!"
Dumbledore did not bother to turn
to his own fireplace. "Thank you, Dobby," he called back. "Keep warm!"
The elf turned to Snape with a grin large enough to split his silly face.
"Dobby, don't call me 'Mister
Severus,'" said Snape curtly. The phrase was an unpleasant reminder of
just how long they'd known each other and under what circumstances. "I'm
not your master," Snape reminded the elf, "or a guest in your master's
home. Just say 'Professor Snape.'"
"Yes, sir, Mister Severus!" Dobby
chirped cheerfully, and Snape stifled the urge to kick him as he'd seen
Lucius do so many times by stepping outside the shed to check the gate.
Dobby followed him enthusiastically.
"Does Mister Sever... Professor
Snape think Dobby and Mister... Professor Snape will see any action
tonight?" the elf asked eagerly.
"We're not here to fight, Dobby,"
Snape reminded him. "We're here to watch for signs of an attack. And
wise soldiers," he added pointedly, "never long for combat."
"Dobby is not afraid, Mister
Severus," the tiny creature assured him. "Dobby is very... aaaaahhhh!"
house elf squealed in surprise as Snape suddenly levitated him into the
air and began spinning him in dizzying pirouettes. "Professor Snape,
Professor Snape, Professor Snape!" the house elf corrected himself
"I always knew you were a smart
elf, Dobby," Snape murmured as he set his guard duty partner back down.
The disoriented elf staggered about, then fell on his rump, muttering to
himself. Snape just made out the words, "Dobby could teach Professor
Snape a thing or two."
"Is that so?" the potions master
smirked as he turned away and reached out to check the sturdiness of the
locked front gate. Before his hands could close on the iron bars, they
disappeared from sight as the world turned black. Something had rendered
"Dobby!" Snape cried, reaching
instinctively for his wand. His sight returned instantly and he spun
around, heart racing, to find the house elf smiling triumphantly at him,
his hands on his bony little hips. Snape needed several moments to
recover before asking incredulously, "Can all house elves do that?"
"No, Professor Snape,
sir," Dobby assured him. "Dobby has been working to recover the skills we
possessed when we were 'happy hunters and gatherers.'"
"Happy hunt..." Snape
groaned. Dobby must have fished Malfoy's essay out of the rubbish last
year. The elf grinned at him.
"Young master Malfoy has
been making progress," he noted. Snape shook his head at the title.
"Let's just call him
'Draco.'" he suggested. "Between you and me." Dobby beamed with delight.
"Now," Snape added more severely, "...about those things you could teach
The 6th years held their
breath when he swept into Defense class two weeks later.
The Slytherins hoped desperately that he would show up Lupin; it would
make the situation so much easier to endure. As for the rest of the
students, they just wanted the week to pass without incident. Snape had
taken such good care of them during Flying Defense lessons; he'd even
taught them a thing or two. It would be a shame to lose ground now.
"He looks tired," Harry
muttered to Malfoy as Snape entered the hall, which was cleared of desks
for today's lesson but still contained the head table platform.
"So does Granger," Mafoy
shot back, and Harry had to agree. Hermione looked very self-satisfied
these days but distinctly weary nonetheless.
"Silence!" Snape ordered
before commanding them to form two lines facing each other, an arm's
length apart on all sides. "Professor Lupin has asked me to strengthen
your shield charms. You will work with the person across from you."
He mounted the head table
platform and turned to face them. "I trust you are all aware that a
properly cast shield charm will deflect many curses and hexes. However, a
shield cast simultaneously by the hexer will produce a ricochet effect
that will bounce the curse back and forth between the two wizards. If
both shields are sufficiently strong, the curse will disintegrate
harmlessly. Otherwise..." He gave them a nasty little smile. "Victory
belongs to the strong."
He looked them over and
then called Justin Finch-Fletchley and Padma Patil to the platform. A
wave of disappointment washed over Malfoy until he spotted an equally
disgruntled Harry Potter. We're idiots, Malfoy realized with a
Justin and Padma squared
off. "To strengthen your shields," Snape coached them, "cast from your
side in a fluid motion rather than chopping your wand in front of you.
This is easy to do if you have the good sense to turn sideways in the
first place, presenting your attacker with a narrower target." The
students practiced the motion a time or two, their wands in their right
hands. As their right arms came up, their left arms flew out behind them.
"Keep your left hand against your body," Snape insisted. "Put all your
energy into the motion of your wand arm."
When they were ready, he
ordered Justin to cast a tickling curse and warned him not to cast his own
shield until after Padma had cast hers.
They were a comical sight,
their faces scrunched with effort as they held their wands on each other.
Then Justin fell to the floor in a fit of giggles and Padma lowered her
wand, breathing hard.
"Errors?" Snape asked.
Hermione raised her hand tentatively and Snape nodded at her.
"You said to keep the left
hand down to conserve energy for the wand arm," Hermione remembered. "Did
they lose power to their shields because they were gritting their teeth?"
"Very good, Miss Granger,"
Snape nodded. "Remember that any energy spent on extraneous effort is
that much less you can extend to your shield." He dismissed Justin and
Padma and set the class to practicing with each other, ordering them to
change partners every five minutes. After half an hour of walking among
them, pointing out tensed knees and inquiring as to whether their toes
were curled inside their shoes, he called them back to order and once
again mounted the platform.
"The benefit to this
method of practice," he explained, "is that curses lose strength as they
bounce. It is therefore a fairly safe way to improve skills among
equals... whatever eventually hits one of you will probably do little
However..." He took out his own wand and Neville whimpered. Harry gave
a sharp jab in the ribs. "A curse from a more powerful wizard will
pierce a weaker wizard's shield. Does anyone know the best method for
practicing with a stronger wizard?"
Malfoy's hand shot up. So
did Hermione's, of course, but to Malfoy's delight, Harry Potter's did
"Malfoy?" Snape called.
"Time trials, sir," Draco
"Line up!" Snape ordered.
The Slytherins grabbed the
top spots in the queue and Harry had to grab Neville's arm to keep him
from seeking the bottom.
"We'll start with five
seconds," Snape suggested. "Rictusempra!" And he cast a curse at Malfoy
who responded immediately, "Protego!" and held Snape off proudly for the
full amount of time. Every Slytherin succeeded in fending off the five
second curse but several Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were eliminated before
Snape reached the Gryffindors.
"Ready, Potter?" Snape
asked evenly. Harry nodded, wondering if Snape would play fair. But
every Gryffindor except Lavender Brown came through the first elimination.
"Six seconds!" Snape
declared as he stalked back to the head of the queue to start again. Soon
the eliminated students were clapping and cheering from their seats on the
floor as the exercise proceeded. It was amazing how much harder it got as
the time increased. Most of the remaining students could handle eight
seconds, but by 10 seconds, only Malfoy, Millicent, Harry, Hermione and
Neville remained. Snape eliminated Millicent and Hermione, then paused to
scold the girls for not having a representative in the final three.
"If you've reached the ridiculous
age where you are afraid to look smart in front of the boys," he snarled,
"I highly recommend you move beyond it as soon as possible."
Eleven seconds made Malfoy
turn red and perspire. Harry's wand arm trembled but held up. Then Snape
turned to Neville, who had barely endured 10 seconds.
"Can you do anything a
Slytherin can do, Mr. Longbotton?" Snape whispered for only Neville to
hear. Neville drew himself up to his full height, then immediately
slumped again so as not to waste energy on posture. Eleven seconds later,
he was still standing.
Twelve seconds were too
much for Malfoy. As he collapsed with giggles, Snape hurled an
anticipatory "SILENCE!" at the Gryffindors who'd sprung to their feet to
cheer their house as the last one standing. They froze with their mouths
and their hands in the air, looking for all the world as if they'd been
immobilized by a freezing charm. Snape raised an eyebrow at them and they
sat back down, applauding politely for Malfoy before turning their
attention to Harry and Neville.
Both boys endured thirteen
seconds, then fourteen. Fifteen proved too much for Neville, who received
a nice round of applause for his accomplishments as he crawled across the
floor to sit beside Ron. Harry made it through just as his glasses began
to slide down his sweaty nose. Snape put his wand away, congratulated
Harry, and gave the Gryffindors permission to celebrate with the curtest
of nods. They leapt to their feet again and surrounded Harry, pounding
him on the back. "Brilliant!" Ron shouted above his housemates' cheers.
"Enough!" Snape finally
commanded. "Back to your lines!" When the students were once again
facing each other in two queues, Snape ordered them to take three steps
backwards, creating a wide swath down the middle of the hall. He placed
himself at the head of the queues in the center of the path.
"Now," he told the students who
gazed curiously at him, "I will reward you for your concentrated efforts
in class today." He placed his right foot behind him, rocked backwards on
it to lift his left foot a few inches in the air, then brought his left
foot back down and gave a leap. He sailed forty feet across the room,
almost reaching the hall's main doors.
"Whoa!" Ron cried as the
other students gasped. Snape whirled smartly around and marched back up
the path to his starting position, then turned to face them.
"That," he explained
imperiously, "was a demonstration of a skill I acquired from one of our
magical bretheren. It served the house elf well in his days as a happy
hunter and gatherer..." He tossed a sour look at Malfoy. "...enabling
pursue or evade over uneven ground, chasms or small bodies of water. It
should serve you equally well."
The students began to
bounce with excitement. Frankly, it looked like the most fun a person
could have without a broom.
"A few precautions," Snape
noted. "Concentrate on your landing, not on maximizing your distance.
This maneuver is prone to injury, even moreso for human beings. It is
also extremely draining, and while energy abounds at your stage in life,
you will find battle a bit more demanding than the activities of Hogwarts.
Try to perform this exercise with as little energy expenditure as
possible." He wondered sourly if anyone was listening to him besides the
Slytherins and Granger or if they were too busy imagining themselves
leaping across their common rooms in a single bound. Then he saw in his
own mind's eye Neville Longbottom jumping right over Albus Dumbledore's
head during a chance hallway encounter. The image cheered him enormously.
He taught them how to do
it and then scattered them throughout the nearby corridors to practice.
For the rest of the week, students spent every spare minute leaping
through the halls of the castle. Never had anything so useful been so
much fun. And by the end of the week, Harry could hold off Snape's
tickling hex for a full 30 seconds.
The only thing that made
him happier was seeing how much healthier Lupin looked when he returned to
class the following Monday.
An Obedient House