Don't Patronize Me

       Pansy's comment about Marybeth inspired Snape to pay a visit to his house that evening. He found his students clustered around Crabbe and Goyle, presumably enjoying a much exaggerated account of the day's adventures. "Well?" he demanded as they fell into line before him. "Don't just stand there gawking. Give me an account of yourselves!"
       Malfoy raised his hand with a sly grin. "Would you like us to remind you of our names first?" he asked politely.
       "I'm flunking Divination," Tracey Davis called impishly. Crabbe pulled his hand inside his sleeve and added, "I lost a limb in Care of Magical Creatures."
       Then Warrington jumped into the fray with, "I've got this strange rash all over my..."
       "That's enough!" Snape barked, thoroughly amused. He jerked his head in the direction of their furniture and they followed him to their sofas and chairs.
       "How else have you been improving your time this term?" Snape asked his students when they were all comfortably settled.
       "We've been planning our school!" Violet responded happily.
       "What school?"
       Millicent took a deep breath. "The Severus Snape School for Salazar's Orphans," she announced. "The Snape School, for short."
       "Good heavens!" Snape exclaimed. He folded his arms across his chest and inquired, "When do you intend to embark on this endeavor?"
       "Right after Hogwarts," Millicent explained. "Sooner," she added menacingly, "if we hear one darn word from the other houses about the Parkinsons."
       Snape fended off that topic with another question. "Am I to be headmaster?" he wondered.
       "And patron," Malfoy nodded.
       "What does that mean?"
       "You have to invent potions we can sell for a lot of money to pay for the place," Crabbe told him. Snape pressed his lips together to stifle a smile as Malfoy added,
       "We'll supplement that income with our crime fighting spoils, of course."
       "Oh!" Snape nodded, suddenly understanding. "It's to be a school for aurors!"
       "No, sir," Malfoy corrected him, "for fighting muggle villains."
       "Muggles?" Snape wondered if he'd heard right. "You want to help muggles?"
       "No," Malfoy repeated patiently, "I want to fight muggle villains."
       "Because there's money in it and I enjoy feeling superior."
       Snape had to chuckle. "I see," he nodded with a rueful smile. "And where will you build this fine establishment?"
       Goyle glanced at Crabbe. "We were just suggesting the country estate of a certain senile old Slytherin," he replied. With a cryptic smile, Millicent added, " We like the neighborhood."
       Snape wondered how serious they were. "Don't you imagine," he asked them delicately, "that the Ministry might have some objections to this endeavor?"
       "Shielding our activities from the Ministry will be part of the job," Malfoy acknowledged.
       Oh, my, Snape thought.
       "What do you think, sir?" Millicent asked. "I'm under the impression that you rather sympathize with do-gooders who choose to live... separate lives."
       Snape stared at her, dumbfounded by his students' ability to put him on the spot. Then, to his great relief, Dumbledore appeared in their fireplace and he was reprieved by a summons to the headmaster's office.
       "Thank you both for coming," said Dumbledore politely as Snape and Lupin stood side by side before him. "Remus, you're looking wonderfully well!"
       Lupin just beamed.
       "Severus..." Dumbledore turned to him and hesitated. "Perhaps an occasional nap?" he suggested gently. Snape gazed sourly back at him and made no response.
       "As a rule," Dumbledore began again, "I try not to interfere in the curriculum of my instructors. But I'd like to suggest that, given the dementors' return to Voldemort's service, it would be extremely valuable if every student from, say, third year and above could conjure a patronus."
       Bubotuber pus on a biscuit! Snape thought.
       "I feel this is an excellent time to pursue such a goal" the headmaster continued, "now that we have two fine defense instructors at our disposal."
       Dumbledore reveled in his own brilliance. He knew neither man standing before him would want to blink in the other's presence.
       "Certainly, Headmaster," said Lupin with only a slight stutter.
       "Excellent idea," Snape added calmly.
       "Professor Lupin has three more weeks of classes before the next full moon," Dumbledore concluded. "Do you think, gentlemen, that this could be accomplished in a month?"
       How he admired their self-control; neither of them gulped! "You will, of course, have the assistance of the students who are already capable of producing a corporal patronus."
       The silence that followed was so long, Dumbledore was on the verge of explaining that it was not a rhetorical question when Lupin finally spoke up.
       "A month sounds reasonable," he nodded.
       "Absolutely," Snape agreed.
       "I will tell you precisely what will happen," he lectured Dobby as they huddled together in the warming shack on their next tour of guard duty. "Remus Lupin, assisted by his precious Harry Potter, will spend all three weeks teaching only the best and the brightest..." Snape popped open a bottle of butterbeer. "...and I'll be left with the dregs," he finished morosely.
       "Harry Potter would be happy to assist Professor Snape, sir," Dobby suggested. "Not that Professor Snape will need it."
       Snape smiled bitterly and took a warming sip of beer. "I never thought I'd be glad of those last few months with the Death Eaters," he confessed.
       They fell silent a while, lost in the unpleasant thoughts that comment inspired, until Dobby whispered, "Winky won't clean in Slytherin House anymore. Miss Montague's screams..."
       "I know," Snape nodded. "They're heart-stopping." He decided it was time to change the subject. "Tell me about the sock again," he suggested, grabbing Dobby's hand and sprinkling some white powder on it from a shaker that stood between them. So Dobby launched into his favorite story, the one about Tom Riddle's diary and the slimy piece of Gryffindor foot-warming apparel. Snape particularly enjoyed his description of the look on Lucius' face.
       When he'd finished his tale, Dobby held up his hand before him, smiling a bit at the powder on it, and murmured shyly, "Dobby is most grateful for all that Professor Snape does for Harry Potter, sir."
       "Strictly self-preservation, elf, I assure you," Snape snorted.
       "Dobby knows, sir," the tiny creature said quietly, "but Dobby doesn't believe that."
       Snape turned curiously to him. "What do you know?" he demanded.
       "Professor Dumbledore made Dobby a member of the Order," the elf said proudly, "the night he put Dobby in charge of house elf guard duty."
       "Does that mean... do you know..." Snape hesitated, then continued tentatively, "Dobby, there was a reason I could never again..."
       "Dobby was most grateful for the one time, sir," the elf replied. "Professor Snape gave Dobby... hope."
       Imagine that, Snape thought. He raised his bottle of butterbeer and toasted, "Hope."
       "Hope," Dobby echoed, licking from his hand the anti-elfin-inebriation powder Snape had made before helping himself to a large swig from his own bottle.
       In Defense class on the 4th Monday in February, Snape lined up the sixth years and commanded them to produce their patronuses. He separated the 75% who were successful from the 25% who were not and was just about to speak when Hermione Granger thrust her grubby little hand into the air.
       "Please, sir," she asked politely when called upon, "may we see yours?"
       Snape actually reddened a bit. "Absolutely not!" he snapped, and Harry Potter let loose a tiny doubtful snort which he immediately regretted.
       "Just for that, Mr. Potter," Snape murmured silkily, "you may spend the next two days polishing up the efforts of your more accomplished schoolmates. I'm sure Miss Granger will be happy to fetch your assignments for you. You may begin with your fellow sixth years." And with that he herded the remaining students out of the Great Hall, pausing at the door to add, "I'd work hard if I were you."
       He escorted the patronus-free students, including Crabbe and Goyle, down to the dungeon and into his office. He lined them up across the room, then retrieved his cane from the corner and gave it a vicious swish through the air before placing it carefully on his desk. "There will be no smirks, no titters, no laughter of any kind in this class," he warned them. "If any of what follows brings a snicker to your lips, I strongly recommend a quick glance in this direction."
       The threat hardly seemed necessary to the sad sacks who stood before him. Theirs was a long history of landing miserably at the bottom of the academic heap. Patronus training had yielded nothing but a new low in morale.
       "I see before me," Snape observed frankly, "the wretched of this institution. Your transfigurations rarely hold, your charms often sputter pointlessly, your potions seldom set, and now, when we need you desperately, you fail to produce a patronus." The students stared at their shoes, a familiar hot ball churning in their stomachs. "However," Snape went on, "I can assure you..." He paused, maintaining his silence for so long that eventually every student looked up at him. "That is about to change."
       The students glanced curiously at one another as Snape began to pace back and forth before them. "There is nothing wrong with your technique," he told them, not bothering to mention that Lupin had instructed them rather well. "The fault lies with your happy thoughts." He paused to mutter over his shoulder, "You have none." Then he began to pace again, elaborating more loudly, "As the academic underachievers of this institution, you know few felicitous moments, and no amount of quidditch-playing, mischief-making, or general camaraderie can compensate for the lack of self-respect that accompanies academic inadequacy."
       He paused next to his desk and began speaking more earnestly to them. "Happy thoughts are vital to the production of a patronus," he explained, "because they contain energy. They spring from the joy/love family of emotions, and no set of human feelings are more potent, not even anger or hatred.. save one."
       He lifted one leg to sit on the corner of his desk, folding his arms across his chest. When he spoke again, there was a pointed slyness to his tone. "This set of feelings is, in fact, even more productive than joy, and as luck would have it, people of pubescent age are particularly well-endowed with the thoughts they inspire. For the sake of discretion, we are going to call these musings... He paused and looked them over carefully before finishing delicately, "warm thoughts."
       Crabbe and Goyle pressed their lips tightly together and bit down hard, casting one desperate glance after another at the cane on Snape's desk.
       On Wednesday morning, the segregated sixth year students met outside Snape's office and then marched resolutely behind him back into the Great Hall.
       "Well, Potter?" Snape called silkily. "Have you been polishing your peers' patroni?"
       "Yes, Professor," Harry lied. He'd worked a bit with the younger students but found the efforts of the fifth, sixth and seventh years more than adequate.
       "Line up, then," Snape called almost sweetly, taking care to place his underdogs at the top of the queue and Harry Potter at the bottom of it. "Whenever you're ready, Goyle," he said with a nod.
       "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Goyle called confidently, an odd little leer playing about his lips, and a bright shiny giraffe burst forth and cantered gracefully around the room. As student after student stepped up to perform, it soon became clear that each of Snape's underdogs could produce a larger, brighter, shinier, sharper patronus more quickly than any student in the room, save Harry Potter.
       "What's the trick?" Harry demanded, completely forgetting his manners. On either side of him, Malfoy and Millicent scowled with annoyance, so vexed at being outperformed by Crabbe and Goyle that they completely forgot how desperately they'd wanted to see Snape show up Lupin.
       By lunchtime, vivid accounts of the stellar efforts of the underdogs in all three morning classes had reached Dumbledore's ears. He called Snape to his office that evening.
       "I can't tell you, Headmaster," Snape explained demurely when Dumbledore demanded to know his technique. "You see, having a secret that enables them to outperform the more accomplished students is one of the reasons these children can finally produce a patronus. I admit I learned this technique from the Death Eaters but I assure you, there is no dark magic involved."
       Beyond that, the only clue Dumbledore and the rest of the school ever received as to the origins of the late-bloomers' patroni was the shiny green buttons the underdogs wore for the rest of the term. They proudly proclaimed, "Think warm thoughts!"
       On Thursday evening, an exhausted Snape made his way down to the dungeon after dinner to find Violet waiting for him outside his office. "I want to learn how to make a patronus!" she pleaded.
       "No," Snape growled. "You're too young. It would require far too much effort to teach a 2nd year."
       Violet hung her head but refused to give up. "I would never presume to argue with you, sir," she murmured deferentially. "But..." She sneaked what she hoped was an endearing peek at him from beneath her lashes and added insistently, "I'm good at magic! I can do a Severus Twist! I can brew as many potions as Malfoy could at my age and..."
       "Child!" Snape exploded, "Can't you see..."
       Violet fell back a step, startled by Snape's loss of control. Then she clenched her little fists tightly at her side and stared solidly back at him. Something about the certitude in her eyes made Snape snort, giving Violet fresh hope.
       "How about this, sir?" she suggested cautiously. "If I can guess the form of your patronus in one guess, will you give me just one lesson? If I'm not good enough at the end of it, you don't have to teach me anymore."
       Snape sighed with exhaustion. It will take less energy to listen to her than to cane her, he thought. "Have a go," he muttered wearily.
       "Is it a deer?"
       Snape's weariness disappeared in a heartbeat. Before Violet knew what he was about, he snatched her furiously beneath the arms and heaved her across his hip, holding her there with one arm while he flailed at her backside with the palm of his hand.
       Violet, well-protected by her robe and several layers of warm winter clothing, threw her arms wide with triumph and shouted, "Whoo hoo!" She laughed and clapped with delight at her success as she waited patiently for a vigorous but harmless spanking to end. When his fury finally abated, Snape set her down with a thump and demanded,
       "How did you know?"
       "It was obvious, sir!" Violet grinned. "It was the only thing you absolutely wouldn't want to mention!" She jerked her thumb in the direction of the common room and added, "Malfoy's running a pool, five sickles a guess, and none of those morons have it right."
       She clamped a hand over her mouth, horrified to have called the Slytherins morons in front of Snape, but he had more pressing concerns at the moment.
       "What are they guessing?" he asked.
       Violet ticked them off on her finger tips. "Jackal... hyena... mule..."
       "Mule!" Snape objected.
       "I think that was Professor McGonagall," Violet nodded. "Millicent's was really clever! She guessed a dove!" She looked to Snape for a reaction and, receiving none, began to explain. "You know... wise as a serpent, gentle as a..."
       "Yes, yes, I get the reference," Snape snarled. He escorted her into his office and gave her an hour of his time, at the end of which she inquired eagerly as to whether or not more lessons would be forthcoming.
       "If you say yes, I promise not to tell anyone what your patronus is," she smiled sweetly. Snape could only stare in disbelief. Violet clasped her hands behind her back, adding innocently, "Discretion wasn't part of the deal, sir."
       In the end, he let Crabbe and Goyle teach her.

An Obedient House