Disclaimer: Characters from the Harry Potter Universe belong to JK Rowling and are used without permission but with no intent to defraud.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my fantastic betas bewarethesmirk and mayalaen. And thanks to D.J.Malfoy for the use of the plot bunnies.
This is very 'canon' and probably the least similar to my other stuff. Just so you know.
Pin the Tail on Snape
"You're going to get in so much trouble, Harry." Hermione's voice was loud in the corridor outside the Potions classroom, and several curious students turned to look at the trio huddled against the wall.
"Keep it down, would you?" Ron scolded in hushed, angry tones, moving his body around to present the back of his unkempt robes to the prying eyes of his classmates, inadvertently moving closer to Hermione in the process. "He's got enough to worry about without you harping on at him."
Harry's scowl deepened. He'd barely spoken two words through breakfast, only answering Hermione's peppering of questions with sharps nods and shakes of the head, letting Ron and Neville fill her in on the events of the previous night. By the time they'd reached the dank dungeon, he was struggling to maintain his calm, tension evident in every part of his body from the sharp furrow of his brow to his folded arms.
"I have to do this, Hermione," he said sharply. "I don't have a choice."
She shook her head, strands of hair whipping against Ron's robes and making the red-headed boy edge away from the contact. "Don't be silly," she said. "It's just a stupid dare."
"What?" Both boys looked at her in horror. But it was Ron who voiced the protest. "How can you say something so…so…?"
"What, Ronald?" she turned on him. "Something so…what?"
Ron's face reddened. "I dunno the right word," he snapped. "Not being as clever as you." He ignored the pursing of her lips and continued. "All I know is, dares are a matter of honour. He has to do it."
She tutted and glared at Ron. "I've never heard anything so stupid in my life. If I dared you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?"
"If I'd accepted the dare, then yeah." Ron nodded. "Or do the forfeit."
"Forfeit?" she repeated, her expression sharpening as she turned on Harry. "What forf-"
"I'm taking the dare," Harry interrupted before she could finish and she frowned.
"But why can't you…?"
"I'm. Taking. The. Dare. Hermione." Harry's tone brooked no argument and he turned away from his friends, leaning his shoulder against the wall and glaring at a group of oblivious Slytherins over Ron's right shoulder.
"But why?" Hermione turned back to Ron when Harry deliberately ignored her. "What's wrong with him? What could possibly be worse than what he has to do?"
Ron was fighting the urge to grin, or laugh, fully aware that Harry – although pretending otherwise – was listening to every word. Truth be told, sometimes he was a little frightened of both of his best friends. "If he doesn't take the dare," he explained, "he has to walk into the Great Hall wearing a ballerina costume."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly. Do you lot have nothing better to do with your spare time than come up with these stupid ideas?"
Ron shrugged. "We were bored."
"So why didn't you do your Transfiguration homework?" Hermione said, pointing her finger at the blotted parchment sticking out of Ron's pocket that he'd been scribbling on sporadically during breakfast.
"Don't be daft, 'Mione, we weren't that bored," he said.
She sighed heavily and looked at Harry, fixing her stare on his right ear, which was all she could see of his profile. "I can't believe I'm going to say this," she muttered, half to herself, and then continued, louder. "Harry, why don't you just do the forfeit? It won't get you in as much trouble."
Harry remained silent; the only indication he was even listening was a tiny flinch of muscle at the side of his ear. Undaunted, Hermione tried again.
"Dumbledore will think it's funny." She tried to put as much reassurance into the words as she could. "The worst thing you'll get is laughed at. But if you do this stupid dare, you could end up getting expelled… or worse."
Ron was looking nervously at Harry, the black-haired boy's darkening expression much clearer from Ron's perspective. "Hermione," Ron warned, "I really think you should…"
"What? Let him ruin his life without trying to stop him? What sort of friend would I be then?"
Hermione's voice was getting louder, and eyes were once more turning in their direction. A couple of the Slytherins turned to look at them and Harry suddenly found himself the focus of a pair of calculating grey eyes. Draco Malfoy's lips twisted into a sneer before he turned his back on Harry, making a show of his disinterest in the trio's conversation.
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Ron missed out the best part," he said.
Hermione looked at the side of his head expectantly as Ron turned his face away, pretending to scratch his cheek, but really trying to cover the smile that was threatening to form.
"I have to walk into the Great Hall," Harry said, his eyes not leaving the back of a blond head. "Pirouette down the aisle." His fingers clenched into his biceps. "And ask Malfoy for a dance."
Ron let out a semi-splutter of laughter, trying to disguise it as a cough. Harry turned his head slowly to glare at his friend and Ron – red-faced and swallowing heavily – gasped out, "Sorry, mate… it's… just… it's funny."
Hermione, however, was not laughing. She was looking at Harry's half-turned face. "So, you either have to humiliate yourself in there," she nodded her head in the direction of the classroom, "or in front of Malfoy?"
Harry shifted his weight off the wall and twisted around, finally meeting Hermione's gaze. "Yeah, that's pretty much it."
Hermione considered the situation for a few seconds, the Muggle-hating Slytherin in question clearly visible beyond Harry and Ron.
"I think," she said, thoughtfully, looking back at Harry, "that if you're going to do this dare, then you're going to need a distraction."
For the first time since breakfast, Harry gave the ghost of a smile. "And I guess you have something in mind?"
"Not yet," she replied. "But I'm sure I can come up with something."
"Brilliant," a sobered Ron said, slapping Harry's shoulder with the palm of his hand. "I told you she'd help, didn't I?"
They both looked at him in surprise, but whatever they would have said was silenced by the booming voice of their Potions Master, bidding them to 'Enter and sit down, before the residents of Hogsmeade start complaining about the noise' from the newly opened door of the classroom.
Hermione didn't wait for the two boys; she skirted past them and headed into the classroom, leaving Ron – and a reluctant Harry – to trail after her.
Harry slid into his seat beside Ron and slumped down in his chair, staring at the back of Hermione's head. Neville twisted around in his seat on her right and leant over to whisper excitedly, "Are you going to do it?"
Harry rolled his eyes as Ron nodded enthusiastically, causing Neville to wobble precariously on his stool in an attempt to shift even further around.
"Mister Longbottom," Snape snapped, appearing quite suddenly at the side of Neville's desk. "I would be obliged if you…"
But whatever Snape wanted was cut off as Neville toppled off the stool, crashing onto the floor with a large handful of the Potion Professor's robe clutched in his fist. Laughter broke out across the room, but was swiftly silenced as Snape slammed a hand down on the desk. "Mister Longbottom," he said, arching an eyebrow as he looked down at the terrified boy. "Kindly unhand me, and retake your seat."
With an expression of suspicious relief, Neville immediately let go of Snape's robes. "Sorry, sir," he apologised, scrambling to his feet as the Professor took a step away.
Snape waited until Neville had settled back down before swivelling on his heel and striding to the front of the classroom. "Oh, and fifty points from Gryffindor," he said as he turned back to the class, quieting the chorus of groans from the Gryffindors with a predatory stare.
"Good one, Neville," Ron hissed under his breath and Snape's sharp eyes whipped in his direction.
"Something to say, Mister Weasley?"
"No, sir," Ron replied, staring intently at the top of his desk.
"Are you certain? Because I am in a particularly giving frame of mind this morning."
Ron's face was almost as red as his hair. "I've nothing to say, sir."
"A tragic loss to us all, I'm sure," Snape observed. "But if the need arises, do feel free to contribute to the class. I'm sure we would all benefit from the brilliance of your oratory."
Ron frowned; he had no idea what Snape had just said, but he knew it must have been an insult. A quick glance at Harry, and from the slight shrug of his friend's shoulders, he could see that he, too, had no idea what the Professor had just said.
Snape was watching him with a slight twist to his lips, but Ron managed to bite down on his rising anger and say nothing.
Disappointed, Snape flicked the hem of his robe. "Well," he began, "if there are no more interruptions, perhaps we can begin with today's lesson."
As the Professor launched into a detailed lecture on the importance of chlorophyll content in potion ingredients, Ron's eyes glazed over; beside him Harry pretended to take notes, all the while trying to think of how he was going to complete his task without Snape casting an Unforgivable on him.
Harry reached inside his robes and touched the coarse hair coiled into a bundle in his inner pocket. With the ribbon tied at one end, it was pressing uncomfortably under his arm. He shifted in his seat, trying to move it into a better position.
What ever had possessed him to agree to this stupid dare? The night before – after a couple of mouthfuls of Seamus' hidden stash of Firewhisky – it had seemed a good idea. He'd even laughed when Seamus had looked at him and said, "I dare you to pin a tail on Snape." It had sounded funny, so he'd replied, "You're on, mate," then sealed the deal with another swallow. Now – sitting in the Potions classroom with a nagging headache and a bloody tail in his pocket, for Merlin's sake – he wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
He scowled, which only deepened when he realised Ron was grinning in his direction. Ignoring Ron, he withdrew his hand and settled it on the table, tapping his finger lightly on top of a piece of blank parchment, and pretended to listen to Snape as he looked around the room.
Hermione's head was bowed, and the movement of her shoulders suggested she was industriously copying down everything Snape was saying. Neville was equally engrossed, but not with note-taking; he was patting his parchment furiously with the sleeve of his robe, his other hand holding his quill which was dripping heavy splodges of ink from its tip.
Harry rested his elbow on the desk and propped up his head with his left hand, looking across the room to where the Slytherins were seated, each one studiously writing on parchment. Probably listing 'A Million and One Ways to Kill Harry Potter', Harry thought.
He didn't need to look behind him to know that at least the Gryffindor portion of the class had most of their attention focused on him. It was making his neck itch. If he turned in his seat, he was certain to see Seamus and Dean with identically stupid smiles plastered on their faces.
What did they expect him to do? Jump out of his seat, race up to Snape, and jab the tail on his arse with an enormous pin? Although, at that moment, it was the best plan Harry had.
Ron suddenly pushed his chair back and Harry flinched, startled out of his thoughts by the sudden movement. All around, students were likewise getting up, and Harry realised they were going to collect the ingredients for that day's potion.
"What are we making?" he asked Ron, lifting his head from his hand and sitting straighter in the seat.
Ron paused, halfway to standing, and frowned. "Were you not listening?"
Harry shrugged and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Nope. Got other things on my mind."
"Like how fast you can run from Snape, eh, Harry?" Seamus ruffled Harry's hair from behind and Harry dodged his head out of the way.
"Leave off, would you?"
Ron stood, grinning. "Give the bloke some space; he's trying to work out a cunning plan."
"You're all so funny," Harry muttered, trying unsuccessfully to flatten his hair down.
"You'll be all right, mate," Ron said, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder, ignoring Harry's growl of annoyance. "I'm sure Hermione will come up with something."
Harry looked over to where Hermione stood, picking out potion ingredients with deliberate care. Had he be paying attention to Snape's lecture, he would have realised she wasn't picking the ones for the day's potion, but since he hadn't, he narrowed his eyes in annoyance that she could so easily ignore his plight.
"Yeah," he grumbled, "she really looks like she's helping."
Neville, still sitting on his stool, checked that Snape wasn't paying attention before turning around. "You don't have to do this, Harry. No one would mind…" A ball of paper whacked off his forehead and simultaneous snorts of derision sounded from Harry's roommates.
"Hey, Nev, he's not a coward like you."
"Don't be daft."
"Stop being a tosser."
Neville's face flushed and he dipped his head, covering his embarrassment by rubbing his nose with his sleeve and leaving a smear of ink across his face.
Harry threw an annoyed glance at his friends. "Ignore them, Neville. They're just a bunch of pillocks." He ignored the grumbled comments as he added, "They are right though; I've got to do it. I promised."
At his desk, Snape lifted his head and focused his steely gaze on the cluster of boys around Harry's desk. "Potter," he said sharply. "Could you hold your fan club meetings in your own time? Get to work, the lot of you." Seamus and Dean hastily moved off to collect their ingredients, Neville pivoted back around to face the front and Snape's eyes narrowed. "Longbottom, I know that Gryffindors have a notorious aversion to cleanliness, but in my classroom I expect certain standards to be maintained." At Neville's blank look, he snapped, "Clean your face, you stupid boy."
Around the room there was muffled laughter as Neville peered at his reflection on the side of his cauldron, wiping at the smudge on his nose, but only managing to make it worse. Snape shook his head in disgust and turned his attention back to the book he'd been reading.
"I can't leave you boys alone for even a minute," Hermione scolded, laying down an armful of ingredients on the desk, and vanishing the dirt on Neville's face with a quick flick of her wand.
Neville muttered his thanks, and Harry glared.
Ron, sensing Harry's mood and not wanting to get caught in the middle, made a hasty departure to collect their supplies.
"You've been busy," Harry observed, his tone sharp.
Hermione frowned, but didn't look up, busy sorting through the pile of herbs on the desk and passing some over to Neville, who was waiting to chop them. "Yes, of course I have," she said.
Harry could feel the solid lump of tail pressing under his arm. "Bully for you," he said.
Her hands stilled and she looked at him. "What is your problem?" she asked.
Leaning back in his chair, Harry met her gaze with accusing eyes. "You said you'd help me."
"And what exactly do you think I've been doing?" she asked, her hands gesturing at the cluttered desk.
"Your work," he snapped back. "As usual."
Hermione's lips pursed and her fists clenched into tight balls at her side. She leant in towards Harry, forcing him to tip his seat backwards, and spoke in a deceptively soft voice. "At this precise second, Harry, I'm tempted to do exactly that, and leave you to do your stupid dare on your own."
Confused, Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Where exactly on the board has Snape listed Firethorn leaves? Or Whomping Willow bark? Or Bristleberry root?" With each question, Hermione pointed at a different pile of vegetation on her desk.
Harry flicked his eyes to the board behind Snape's bowed head and scanned it quickly. He flushed. "Erm… he hasn't? They're not there?"
"Of course they're not there," she snapped.
"So, what have you got them for?" Harry asked, completely lost.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "They are for your distraction," she said. "Obviously."
"Obviously," Harry repeated, and immediately said, "Sorry," when her eyes narrowed. "So… er… what do they do exactly?"
A smile flitted across Hermione's face. "Oh, I think it's safe to say that they'll capture everyone's attention." She slid into her seat and picked up her knife, twisting around to add cryptically, "Just be ready," before turning her attention to the herbs.
Harry stared at the back of Hermione's head. What was she on about?
He felt Ron thump into the seat beside him and a pile of leaves and tangled roots scattered across the desk as Ron relieved himself of his burden. "All right, mate?" Ron asked nonchalantly.
Harry shrugged, picking up a small sprig clustered with tiny leaves and rolling it in his fingers.
"You need to crush the leaves down," Ron said, picking up a knife and reaching for a thick, orange root.
Still keeping his attention on Hermione, Harry pulled a small bowl towards him and began ripping the little leaves off, tossing them haphazardly into the container.
Hermione was whispering to Neville and pointing over to the far side of the room, pushing a bowl into his hands. Neville nodded and got to his feet, taking a stumbling step backwards, and with an over-exaggerated swing of his arm, he tipped the bowl over, sending the contents – a mass of bright red berries – scattering across the floor and underneath the desks of the seated Slytherins.
A chorus of indignant shouts broke out and Snape's head snapped up. "Longbottom!" he barked, rising out of his chair to look down at the mess on the floor. He lifted his gaze and regarded Neville with loathing. "Are you completely incapable of performing even the simplest of tasks without wreaking havoc in my classroom? Get that mess cleaned up this instant."
Stuttering words of apology, Neville dropped to his knees and began to gather up the fallen fruit, pushing between the rows of the seated Slytherins and forcing them to their feet.
Harry, watching the drama unfold with the rest of the class, jerked in his seat as something hard cracked into the side of his ankle. He turned, startled, to see Hermione looking at him – the source of his pain a well placed kick under the desk.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
Her expression tightened with annoyance. "Get the tail out and have the sticking spell ready," she ordered. "Right?"
Harry nodded quickly, pulling the tangled hair from his pocket and raising his wand.
Hermione gave a sharp bob of her head and slipped out of her seat, turning to watch Neville's abortive path under the desks to the far side of the room. He got to his feet, red-faced and dishevelled, lifting the bowl triumphantly in the air as he said, "I've got them-" But the words were cut off as his arm knocked into the side of the nearest cauldron sending its contents spilling onto the floor.
"Get out!" Snape bellowed, skirting the desk and striding in Neville's direction with his wand raised. "Get out of my classroom before I forget I am a teacher and hex you into the next century." Neville stared at him, frozen in fear. "Now, you imbecile!"
Needing no further words of encouragement, Neville dropped the bowl he was holding on the nearest desk and raced for the door, darting through it and out of Snape's sight.
Harry looked over to Hermione, wanting to know how he was expected to stick the tail on Snape when he was on the other side of the room. But Hermione was gone.
She was standing beside Malfoy's desk. The blond boy's attention was entirely focused on Neville and Snape, and he didn't notice her drop a handful of herbs into his brewing potion. Quickly retracing her steps back to her desk, she raised her eyebrows at Harry before sitting back down.
The effect was almost immediate. The cauldron began to rock on its base, spiralling tendrils of green smoke rising from the top as an appalling odour filled the room.
Malfoy's head snapped around to stare at his potion in horror. "Professor, I think-" he began, just as the contents erupted out, splashing every nearby surface with a layer of hideous green slime. Everything, including a spluttering Draco Malfoy.
Snape skirted around the room and was at the side of Malfoy's desk in an instant, spitting out a series of charms Harry had never heard of, his wand aimed directly at the overflowing cauldron.
The smell in the room was overpowering. Students nearest to Malfoy's desk were stumbling away, faces contorted as they held hands over their noses. Malfoy was making distinctly un-Malfoy-like noises, loud gagging sounds as he spat onto the floor, flailing hands trying to wipe the noxious potion off his robes.
"Everybody out," Snape ordered, not looking away from the cauldron. "NOW!"
The students moved as one, a mass exodus towards the doors and away from the noxious smell.
Ron surged into the centre aisle and Harry followed, the tail in his hand as the distracted Snape towered over Malfoy's cauldron, entirely focused on quelling the uncontrolled reaction. The Professor didn't even notice as Harry pressed the top ribbon to the back of his robes, muttering a quick Sticking Charm and releasing his grip to allow the tail to hang free. Without even a backwards glance, Harry followed the rest of the class out of the doors and into the corridor where even the dank dungeon air was sweet nectar compared to what they'd experienced in the classroom.
Hermione was waiting on them, leaning against the wall where Harry had brooded earlier and looking at Harry with a question in her eyes.
"Well?" she asked. "Did you do it?"
Coughing a few times, Harry nodded. Ron, who had collapsed against the wall, looked between the two of them with surprise. "You… She… The two of you…?"
"Yes, Ronald," Hermione said, looking rather pleased with herself. "We did. And I think it went rather well. Don't you think so, Harry?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but was thudded to the side as a wailing Draco Malfoy raced past, leaving a sticky trail of drips on the floor. They all wrinkled their nose at the smell he carried with him, and Harry was the first to grin.
"Yeah, Hermione, I think it safe to say that did go rather well." He clapped a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Now what do you say to some lunch? I'm absolutely starving."
Ron nodded enthusiastically, and the three of them started to follow the rest of the students up the stairs towards the Great Hall, where the House Elves would be starting to serve lunch.
In the Potions classroom, an uncharacteristically harassed Professor Snape finally managed to stop the cauldron bubbling over. A few swift cleaning spells and the room, and his robes, were back to their usual ordered state.
He tucked the wand away and straightened, smoothing back his hair. It was nearly lunchtime, he realised, and a nice soothing cup of tea might be just what he needed to calm his nerves.
With an impressive flurry of robes, he turned on his heel and walked briskly towards the door, confident that he was exuding his usual intimidating air in case any students had decided to loiter outside the room.
Behind him, topped with its bright purple bow, the tail bounced with each assured step.
Snape strode towards the Hall.
The Great Hall fell silent as Snape slipped through the side door and walked forwards towards the head table. Every one of the students was looking at him, and it made him feel distinctly uncomfortable as he slid into his usual seat beside Professor McGonagall. She regarded the silent students with a puzzled frown and turned to him with raised eyebrows.
"Do not look at me for an explanation," he said sharply, still feeling aggravated. His robes bunched uncomfortably underneath him, and he shifted in his seat. "I have long since ceased to try and understand teenage behaviour."
"You and me both, Severus," she responded, returning her attention to her lunch as a low murmur of chatter began to spread through the Hall.
Throughout lunch, Snape could not shake off the feeling that he was being watched. Wherever he looked about the Hall eyes seemed to snap away from his, and the back of his neck began to prickle with tension. He tried to enjoy his lunch and the anticipated cup of chamomile tea that he had felt sure would calm his nerves, but the longer he sat, the more his anxiety increased.
The usual bustle of the Hall was absent. Although students entered and took their seats, not a single one left. It was almost as though they were waiting for something. Waiting for him.
Snape scoffed at the notion. He was just being paranoid. What he really needed to do was go to his room and have a lie down; a short nap was just what he needed to recuperate from the morning's excitement. Anyone could be excused from having raw nerves if they had to put up with Longbottom in their class.
Laying his tea cup carefully on its saucer, he rose from his chair, politely nodding to his fellow professors as he turned and took a few steps from the table.
The roar of laughter that broke out across the room startled him, and he whirled around. It appeared that every single child in the room was staring in his direction and giggling hysterically, the sound echoing throughout the enormous room. He turned to the head table looking for explanation, and was shocked to see his fellow staff members trying to hide expressions of mirth, in most cases highly unsuccessfully. Professor Flitwick was holding a handkerchief to his mouth and his shoulders were shaking.
Snape was at a complete loss, unsure how to react, and Dumbledore, sensing his discomfort, smiled benignly. "Ah, Severus, I believe you may have something stuck to the back of your robes."
Snape's eyes narrowed and he twisted around, looking down at the bobbing tail with a pinched expression. He very slowly drew his wand from his sleeve and pointed down at the offending article, muttering a spell and vanishing the tail in a puff of purple-coloured air.
He turned back to the students, eyes searching through the crowds until he found his target. Black eyes focused on the only student in the room not insensible with laughter.
Harry shrank back, reading clearly the threat implicit in Snape's stare. He swallowed heavily and looked away.
Gathering together what little dignity he had left, Snape turned and strode from the room without a backwards glance.
As soon as he left the room, it erupted into an unprecedented cacophony of noise, which even Dumbledore did not attempt to quell. Harry found himself swamped by a flurry of patting hands and words of congratulation, and even the Slytherins were eyeing him with some respect.
Over the swarming crowd, Harry caught sight of Dumbledore, twinkling eyes staring right at him.
It may have been a trick of the light, but Harry could have sworn the old man winked.
But it must have been his imagination.