A/N: Written for the HogwartsIsHome dueling challenge. I was rather hesitant to write Snape and Hermione, because I'm not that confident with their characters, but hey, anything to earn points for my house. (I got placed in Slytherin, yay!)

Challenges

(aka Hermione Demands Validation aka Annie sucks at titles)

How she had wound up in this predicament, she wasn't quite sure. It possibly had something to do with her irritation at Professor Snape's lack of respect for her abilities- she was the only student in their year who could consistently cast nonverbal spells and he refused to give her any credit for it!- and determination to do something to make him take heed. Most DADA classes were a waste of time, since it was spent on students either writing essays she had already finished or making pitiful attempts at casting nonverbally while she tried to refrain from eyerolling (particularly at some of Ron's more laughable efforts).

So she came up with a diversion by challenging herself to try doing nonverbal, wandless spells. This was more difficult than she had imagined, since students became accustomed to doing magic via wands, but it made her triumph all the sweeter when she finally managed to pull it off after a few weeks of intense concentration.

Admittedly, 'it' was only a humble Trip Jinx, but considering this was a feat no other student could manage in silence without a wand and that her hapless victim was none other than Professor Snape, Hermione's smugness was well-earned. Unfortunately, caught up in self-congratulatory thoughts and pondering the advantages of casting spells in such a a manner ('For instance, Prior Incantato is rendered useless, as there is no trace of the spell on the caster's wand, leaving no evidence...' And that was not memorized from any book, so there!) Hermione forgot one very salient fact. Never make the mistake of looking in Professor Snape's direction while thinking guilty thoughts that implicate one in any wrondoing.

The detention wasn't so bad- or it was the worst of all, depending on your perspective (being a perfectionist, Hermione found it quite vexing). She arrived apprehensively, having heard horror stories of bed-pan scrubbing and flobberworm-sorting by hand. When she walked in at the appointed time and didn't see Professor Snape, she wandered around, studying the disgusting posters on the wall.

Then suddenly, shockingly, her entire body turned rigid, her limbs refusing to co-operate as she struggled against this terrifying paralysis, and she collapsed.

Professor Snape appeared out of the shadows from the corner of the room, so suddenly it was like he'd Apparated, although Hermione knew that was impossible. Sneaky git, she thought resentfully. He'd lurked in the corner on purpose, to take her by surprise before she could defend herself- ohhhh. He'd decided on tit-for-tat as opposed to making her handle slimy guts. Poetic justice.

"What was your mistake, Miss Granger?" he prompted.

Excuse me, Professor, busy being paralyzed at the moment, she thought scathingly- then felt a jolt of surprise as the muscles around her jaw and throat were released, allowing her to speak. "I assumed the room was empty. Sir," she added hastily. Always respectful at the best of times- well, when she wasn't setting him on fire or thwarting his attempts to apprehend escaped criminals and so forth- it behoved her to be additionally so while completely at his mercy.

"How succint," he observed. "And less insufferable for not being parroted from a textbook. Perhaps the Body-Bind has a beneficial effect upon long-winded know-it-alls. How would you assess if there are any threats upon entering potentially hostile territory?"

She bit her lip. That...was a good question. It pained her not to have an answer.

He clearly read her confusion, sighing as he rapped out, "Homenum Revelio. I advise you to look it up once you are able to leave this room. And since you failed this exercise, I will see you back here next week, same time." With that, he swept off, smirking slightly as he reinforced the full Body-Bind on his way out.

Oh, hell. This is some payback. Nonverbal incantations were child's play for her, but without her wand in hand... It was a long, tedious couple hours before she finally managed a Finite Incantatem to end the Body-Bind. Disadvantage: it requires too much time to be practicable in a duel, she decided ruefully, and rubbed her aching back.

The next few sessions followed a similar pattern- she entered warily and braced for an ambush. And got soundly beaten every time. Hermione supposed she could've objected; after all, Professor Snape had no tangible proof of her infraction, and even Harry had only suffered one detention for cheeking him, but she actually found it...invigorating. A real challenge for her to overcome. Something worthy of her skills. She wasn't receiving much stimulation from other areas, after all. The DA had been disbanded, Harry was too busy obsessing over Draco, the Half-Blood Prince or Ginny in turn, and Ron...well, best not to think of Ron. At least what she was doing was useful, and essential, considering the way they traditionally attracted life-or-death situations near the end of the school year.

There was one more lesson before the holidays, and Hermione was determined to finally score a hit, a palpable hit. She Disillusioned herself, then prodded the door open and scuffed her shoes very deliberately while remaining in place. A jet of light immediately shot in her direction- but she was not standing at the door as Snape had expected. Ducking out of his line of fire, she circled round and silently cast, Impedimenta!

The beam shot out- but rather than make contact with her DADA professor, it rebounded off an invisible shield and she had to skip nimbly to the side to avoid being taken out by her own spell. Unfortunately, the squeak she emitted with this tricky maneuver betrayed her position, and he followed up with a few more hexes in her general vicinity that forced her onto the defensive.

Wingardium leviosa, she incanted silently and levitated the desks to form a barricade.

"Deprimo," she heard Snape's silky voice intone, and the desks exploded. Her eyebrows rose in interest, and she filed that spell away for future reference, as he likely intended by vocalizing at this stage.

Damn the defensive tack anyhow, she decided, and went for shock value. She bounded forward, dropping the Disillusionment Charm on the way to reveal herself right in front of Snape. He started in surprise at her unexpected strategy, automatically stepping back, and she raised her wand, uttering crisply, "Legilimens!"

As she'd hoped, this prompted Snape to instinctively switch gears to employ Occlumency- against a mental intrusion that wasn't forthcoming. She took advantage of the split-second window of opportunity as he responded to her feint and pronounced with relish, "Expelliarmus!" Snape's wand flew through the air to her outstretched hand and she caught it with an unbelievable surge of joy.

Hermione laughed, half-disbelieving that she'd actually accomplished this miraculous feat, and met Snape's eyes with a wide smile she couldn't suppress. He looked...stern as usual, but was there a slight softening about the eyes, an infinitesimal quirk of the lips? No, surely not, she must be light-headed with pride.

"My wand, Miss Granger," he demanded, but that was not in his usual harsh tones.

"Are you going to Obliviate this memory if I give it back?" she dared to ask.

He glared. She capitulated.

"That was...certainly superior to the bumbling efforts of your fellow classmates," he conceded grudgingly. She smirked. Effusive praise, considering the source. It was actually more rewarding than getting points. Finally, some positive feedback from the one teacher who'd never liked her! (Trelawney didn't count; Hermione had never wanted to impress her)

Snape nodded stiffly at her before moving away, but, greatly daring, she called out, "Sir? Are we- will we still- after the break, I mean, can we...?" she motioned vaguely at the room.

He considered her for a long moment. "Submit an essay on the theory behind Memory Charms, and how I would go about Obliviating specific memories from you. For instance, these lessons, should you prove to be too big an annoyance and I wish to be rid of you."

There was a time when she would've responded negatively to the harsh words, but now, all she heard was light sarcasm, not intended to wound, just part and parcel of that snarky Snape demeanor.

"Yes, sir," she nodded demurely, even as she exulted inside at the opportunity to further prove herself.

"And clean up this mess before you leave," he ordered, before exiting the room in a billow of black robes. She rolled her eyes- the nerve, as if it wasn't him who'd destroyed the furniture!- and as she set about restoring the room to rights, Hermione was already planning her strategy for their next duel.


A/N 2: It was a real challenge for me to think of a way Hermione might conceivably win in a duel against Snape. Really, no matter how proficient she is, I think in a real duel between them, life-or-death, no holds barred, he'd win every time, but if it were simply a training exercise against a student, a suitably sneaky strategy might be able to overcome even his defenses. ^_^