The Bella and Voldy Show –Part IV
Dumbledore stared at Snape, blinked, stared at H-W-M-N-B-N, blinked again, and returned his gaze to Snape. "Severus," he said gently, "how would you know that? You were not watching."
"Because he always does it the same way. Now if it was me, I'd use different cards each time, but that means every time you do it you have to remember something new. So he just sticks to knaves and queens." When Dumbledore began to shake his head, Snape asked, "Was your card between a knave and a queen?"
"Well, yes. But that might have been a coincidence."
"Not the way he does it. That is why they're called card 'tricks,' you know. Because he tricks you. Now, what are we going to do about Minerva and Bella?"
"NO!" Potter screamed. "I have to kill you first! You can worry about Professor McGonagall and that Lestrange person later!"
"Turnipseed," said Snape, and it was a moment before the others realized he was speaking to Lobelia, "you're a young person. Can you figure out a simple way to explain to Mr. Potter here that it will be next to impossible for me to worry about Professor McGonagall and Bella Lestrange later if he kills me now."
"Sure, but the fee is by the hour, so I suggest you save up the things you want me to do if you want to get your full money's worth."
"Spoken like the true daughter of a solicitor. You don't happen to do any pro bono work…"
Potter raised his wand, got as far as the syllable, 'AV-' again, and sent Snape diving for the floor, this time behind Dumbledore.
"Now, Severus," said Dumbledore, "we have talked about this recent penchant of yours for…"
"See!" Snape exclaimed. "You do remember! Now make that little monster leave me alone!"
"Really, Harry," Dumbledore now addressed Potter. "I am certain we can discuss this sudden vendetta you have against Severus in a calm and reasonable fashion."
"If you don't step out of the way," snarled Potter, "I'm going to get him through you."
"But Harry," said Dumbledore, "surely you do not wish to kill me?"
"I can't kill you. You're already dead. You died in June and I'm avenging you."
"Eh, Harry?" said Ginny Weasley, and there was a new uneasiness in her voice. "Could we talk for just a moment?"
Potter lowered his wand, his eyes narrowed and menacing. "I already told you that we can't pick out the china pattern before we announce the engagement."
"This isn't about that," said Ginny. "It's about Professor Snape."
"That low-down, evil, murderous weasel of a…"
"Hey!" Ron shouted, but Granger shushed him.
"Harry," said Ginny quietly. "If you were an Auror and wanted to convict someone for murder, what would you need?"
"Witnesses," replied Potter. "I'm the witness. I saw it happen."
"Means – that's easy. Every wizard has a wand and a voice."
"Not Stan the Stickless," cried Longbottom, who suddenly decided to exhibit signs of life. "He didn't have a wand. And Mortimer the Mute…"
"…Totalus," said Potter, who had done the nonverbal 'Petrificus' as an automatic reflex the moment Longbottom opened his mouth. Longbottom returned to a state of stiff non-communication. "Opportunity," Potter continued as if there had been no interruption, "– that he had as well, there on the tower. I saw that myself."
"Before that" Ginny said.
"Motive!" Potter cried after a moment of thought. "And he had motive. He hated Professor Dumbledore!"
"I did not!" Snape shrieked from his defensive position on the floor. "I don't hate anybody!"
"You hate me!" Potter yelled back.
"I do not! I despise you, yes! You're an idiot and you frustrate the freaking poop out of me, but I don't hate you! I loathe the sight of you, but that's only because you look like your danged father. If your mother had been unfaithful, you and I would have had a marvelous relationship – relatively speaking, of course."
"Harry!" Ginny screamed. "There's one other thing you need for a murder case!"
"What's that!" Harry screamed back.
"A dead body," Ginny said softly, and the room became ominously quiet around her.
"We have a dead body," Harry said after a minute or two. "Professor Dumbledore's."
"But Professor Dumbledore is alive and standing almost next to you."
"No," said Harry fixedly. "That's more like one of the portraits on the headmaster's wall. It moves and talks, but it isn't real. His body's in the tomb."
"It was," Dumbledore admitted. "Right up until a day or two ago. But a pyromaniac convinced me to leave." He glared significantly at Snape.
"You mean you were in the tomb?" Harry was aghast.
"I was," replied Dumbledore. "Why go to all the time and trouble of designing the perfect tomb and then just up and die before you can enjoy it? The jacuzi alone…"
"Wait!" Harry cried. "Wait! You mean the tomb is now empty!"
"Empty? Not exactly. The staff for the restaurant and bar would still be there, and the physical counselor in the gym. Not to mention the pin boys in the bowling alley and the manicurist… And I suppose Trixie and Gale…"
"You rat!" Potter screamed. "You louse! You turd! I just spent the last nearly four months mourning you and you were with someone named Trixie!"
"Now wait a minute," interjected H-W-M-N-B-N, "Trixie is a very nice…"
"Shut up!" Potter was so livid as to be on the point of an apoplexy. He turned again to Dumbledore. "You poor excuse for a mentor! When were you planning on telling me you weren't dead?"
"I thought I did that about a half an hour ago, but you were not prepared to listen."
Potter was not to be brushed off so easily. "No," he said, "wait. I saw your body. You were dead."
"If you don't mind my asking," said Dumbledore, "what did I look like."
Potter thought for a minute. It had been more than four months earlier, so he needed a little time. "You were on your back," he said after a moment, "with your eyes closed and your arms and legs kind of bent in awkward positions. Your glasses were crooked."
"Blood?" asked Dumbledore.
"Yeah," Potter replied. "It was coming from the corner of your mouth."
"How much? A quart? A pint? A cup? A tablespoon?"
"About a teaspoonful."
"I see. Bones broken?"
"I don't think so. Just awkward, but not like they were snapped or anything."
"Good. Now, Harry, I want you to imagine a motorcar hitting a brick wall at, let us say seventy-five miles per hour."
Everyone's face immediately assumed an 'eeew-yuck' expression except for Lovegood, whose eyes were glittering, and Turnipseed, who started a mental fee calculation.
Dumbledore paused to allow the impression to sink in, then asked, "Did I look like that?"
"No, of course not!" exclaimed Potter.
"Well, I should have. The sight of my unconscious free-falling body splattered over the front lawn should have left all you lovely teenagers traumatized for the rest of your lives, which should lead to several conclusions."
"Wait!" cried Granger. "Harry said your body was on its back with the arms and legs out in awkward positions. If you'd fallen spread-eagled, wouldn't your robes act sort of like a parachute and slow the fall?"
"Severus," Dumbledore sighed. "Remind me to include physics as a course for next fall. It seems the Hogwarts curriculum is lacking something. Let us now go to the events on the Astronomy tower. Tell me what happened there."
Potter had already been thinking about this one. "Snape hit you with a killing curse, and you went up into the air and fell over backwards off the tower."
Dumbledore looked at Potter over his glasses. "I seem to recall a bit more than that, but we can start there. How did you know it was a killing curse?"
"He said the A-K thing and there was a flash of green light."
"Harry, have you ever seen anyone successfully cast a killing curse?"
"Yeah. Moody – well, Crouch – killed a spider in Dark Arts, and Wormtail killed Cedric."
"What happened to them?"
"They fell down dead."
"Did they get blasted into the air first?"
"Eh… no… but he probably put something extra into it because he hated you."
"What ever makes you think Severus hates me?"
"You wouldn't give him the Dark Arts job."
Dumbledore shook his head. "But I did give him Dark Arts, Harry. He had the Dark Arts job. Why would he kill me after I gave him what he wanted? You will have to do better than that."
Potter thought longer. "I just know he hates you," he said at last. "He always has that nasty expression on his face when he looks at you."
"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore. "He wears the same expression when he is blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. In fact, I do not think I have ever seen him without a nasty expression except that one time when your father hit him with a Rictusempra spell, but I do not think that counts. So if Severus's expression never changes, how can you tell by his expression what he is thinking?"
"That's easy," said Potter. "I just know. The first class I was in, he had this I'm-going-to-get-you' expression on his face, and then he asked all those embarrassing questions nobody could answer."
"I could answer them," Granger said, sulking a little, "but if you think I'm nobody…"
"Oh, come now, Potter," Snape interjected. "The answer to every one of those questions was on page one of the book. I happen to know you bought those books on July thirty-first, and your first class with me was on September sixth. If you were like your mother, you'd have read the entire book already and known the answers. If you were like your father, you wouldn't even be sure which book was the text for Potions. That was my I-wonder-if-he's-like-his-mother expression."
"You mean you wanted me to get those answers right?"
"Of course I did. I don't ask questions I don't want answers to. And I'd much rather you were like your mother than like your father."
"Well for one, your mother would never think that anyone had an I'm-going-to-get-you expression the very first moment they met. Also, your mother was too intelligent to throw a Filibuster Firework into another student's Swelling Solution. Not your father, of course."
"He did what?" Dumbledore exclaimed at exactly the same moment that Potter cried, "How did you know?"
'Oh come now, Potter. There were twenty students in the class, and ten of them were Slytherins who would have thrown the fireworks into your cauldron instead of Goyle's"
"Maybe one of them was trying to get me in trouble by doing something only I would do," said Potter, conveniently forgetting that he'd just asked how Snape knew.
"You forget that I was their head of house and knew them better than just about anyone. There wasn't a Slytherin student there with that amount of subtlety. Why did you do it?"
Granger cleared her throat. "He was distracting your attention from me," she said.
Snape gave her an appraising stare. "I don't usually need Potter's help to do that."
"Yes, but this time I was sneaking into your office to steal ingredients for Polyjuice Potion."
"Ha!" Snape exclaimed. "I knew you took materials from my office. But why did you need Polyjuice?"
"Harry and Ron wanted to turn into Crabbe and Goyle to prove that Malfoy was the heir of Slytherin."
Total silence greeted this revelation, and then Hagrid started to fizz in a manner resembling McGonagall. "Malfoy the heir of Slytherin – that's a good one, that is. Gotta be pretty dumb t' think of that one."
"Can we get back to me?" Dumbledore asked. "I should very much like to resolve the question of whether or not I am alive."
They all looked at him, and everyone except Potter nodded.
"Good," Dumbledore continued. "Now, let me recap, keeping in mind that we must revisit the preliminaries. Severus says the words of the killing curse, there is a flash of green light, but instead of dropping down dead, I rise into the air and fall backwards. If I were dead and therefore incapable of controlling my muscles, I would have fallen head first and, going nearly one hundred miles per hour, been squashed to a jelly on impact. Or at least scattered over a wide area. Instead, I land spread-eagled on my back, no bones even snapped, glasses still on my face. Can you think of anything pertaining to the killing curse that might have operated here?"
Forgetting she was not in class, Granger shot her hand into the air. At Dumbledore's nod, she said, "Professor Moody/Crouch told us that we could probably all say the killing curse together and not give him a nosebleed because it has to have power behind it. And that Lestrange woman in the Department of Mysteries told Harry that the Unforgivables don't work unless you mean them."
"I don't remember that," said Potter.
"Trust me," Granger told him.
"Very good, Miss Granger. Conclusions drawn from that…?"
Granger knit her brows. "We know you can arrest downward motion; you did it for Harry in third year on the Quidditch pitch. But can you do it wandless…?" Dumbledore rolled his eyes, and Granger said, "Right." She thought again. "So you could have slowed your own fall. But to do that, you would have to still be alive. Which means Professor Snape's curse didn't kill you, which means he didn't intend it!" The note of triumph on which she ended was electric. She turned to Snape. "You didn't kill him! It was an act, a pretense, something staged…!"
"Indeed," said Dumbledore.
"But why?" Granger asked.
"I can answer that," Snape replied.
"Yes, Severus," said Dumbledore. "We all know you can. The question is, can Harry?"
"Wait a minute," said Potter. "I need to get this straight. You should have been blood and guts all over the lawn?"
"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore replied. "That is what usually happens to unconscious corpses that fall such a considerable distance. Like a motorcar hitting a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour."
"You said seventy-five."
"I was being conservative. Besides, does it make a difference? As far as the human body is concerned, hitting the wall at seventy-five and hitting the wall at a hundred have the same effect. You get splattered all over the lawn, and you die bloody."
"Well then I guess you looked pretty good under the circumstances."
"I guess I did. Harry, now I want you to think about Fawkes."
"Okay. I'm thinking."
"Did Fawkes start to sing when I was blasted into the air?"
"When I hit the ground?"
"While you were dueling with Severus?"
"When you discovered my body at the foot of the tower?"
"When you went to the hospital wing to see Bill Weasley?"
"Not right away."
Potter was thinking again. "We talked for a while, and then Professor McGonagall finally showed up, and then Fawkes started to sing."
"About how long after I was blasted off the tower?"
"About… forty-five minutes to an hour."
"I rest my case. I did not die when I was blasted off the tower because Fawkes did not start singing until nearly an hour later."
"Eh, sir," said Snape timidly. "Fawkes did start singing. Does that mean you really died?"
Dumbledore glared at Snape. "Do not ask awkward questions," he admonished. "It so happens that a phoenix is like a UFO fanatic who can be misled by sponges, cheesecloth, and latex facial prosthetics. It was necessary to keep Fawkes away from the tomb because Trixie has an allergy to feathers."
"Why didn't you let people know!" Potter yelled. "I would have liked to have known!"
"Let me put it this way, Harry." Dumbledore said. "Announcing one is alive rather defeats the purpose of pretending to be dead. And face it, if you had known, the world would have known. You are not famous for keeping secrets."
"That's not true!" Potter insisted. "I kept the secret about Professor Snape's underpants!"
"Great!" said Snape. "Now he remembers to call me Professor."
Dumbledore grinned. "What about Severus's… undergarments, Harry."
"They were gray."
There was no mistaking the disappointment on Dumbledore's face. "Of course they were, Harry. It is the nearest thing to black he can get in cotton boxers. You have noticed, I hope, that everything he wears is either black or gray. Black gown, black robe, black shoes, gray shirt, gray dressing gown and pajamas… I suppose he could get black undergarments if he went to one of those stores that sell the little bikini things in silk with a rosette, but somehow gray boxers seem more like our Severus than… Harry, forgive me for asking, but when did you see Severus's undergarments." Dumbledore nodded toward Lobelia. "We may want to retain your father, child."
Potter shrugged. "It was in a pensieve memory of a prank my dad and Sirius pulled on him when they were in fifth year."
"I know," said Turnipseed before Dumbledore could open his mouth. "You don't need us. Not yet at least."
"All right," said Potter after some more moments had passed, "if I can't kill him for murdering you, can I kill him for being evil, disgusting, and immoral and for killing my parents and trying to kill me?"
"I do hate to keep butting in," said H-W-M-N-B-N. "I know my memory isn't what it used to be what with being disembodied and all, but I distinctly recall that was me. I like Severus and all that, but it really isn't fair for him to take the credit."
"I'm not taking the credit," Snape said, still on the floor behind Dumbledore. "It's being forced on me. You can have the credit. Really. I don't want it."
"There," said H-W-M-N-B-N. "Can we at least settle this? We both agree that it was me."
"But he gave you the prophecy about me so that you would kill me." Potter was like a terrier with a bone.
"Harry," said Hermione. "You're assuming a cause and effect that aren't logical. How could Professor Snape know months ahead of time that you were the baby who was going to be born on July 31?"
"You know," Potter snapped at her, "you really are an insufferable know-it-all!"
"Professor Snape," Hermione asked, "did you know at the time that the prophecy referred to Harry?"
"Do you want to know the truth?" Snape kept having to shift around on his hands and knees because Dumbledore was trying to look again at the cards. "I didn't know it was a prophecy. I'd never heard a prophecy before. All I know is that this ditzy woman that Dumbledore was trying to brush off and get rid of, all of a sudden started talking like a female impersonator and babbling nonsense."
H-W-M-N-B-N stared at him. "If you didn't know it was a prophecy, why did you give it to me?"
"You were killing me. I had to give you something. If I hadn't heard her saying those words, I'd have given you an inside tip on the Grand National."
"What do you know about horse racing, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
"Not a damn thing, but it wasn't a moment to be a stickler for accuracy."
"You see!" Potter screamed. "You see! He was willing to kill a baby boy just to save himself! He's disgusting!"
"Before we go into that, Harry," Dumbledore asked. "How old do you expect to get?"
"I dunno," said Potter, puzzled. "Seventy or eighty, I guess."
"And when you are seventy or eighty, Harry, would you like your whole life to be judged on the basis of one thing you did when you were nineteen?"
"No, of course not!"
"Keep that in mind, Harry. Keep that in mind."
"Actually," said Snape, his head now covered by Dumbledore's long sleeve, "the part of the prophecy I heard didn't say if it was a boy or not, and when it said 'approaches,' I was thinking of a Boeing 747 coming into Heathrow out of O'Hare. Silly me."
"It is the verb tense, Severus. 'Born as the seventh month dies' implies future, not past."
"Right. I'm being tortured to death and I'm supposed to remember grammar."
Dumbledore smiled at H-W-M-N-B-N. "Were you really going to kill him? I should have liked to have seen that. Normally Severus is quite self-possessed, but under the circumstances…"
"It was jolly fun, really," said H.W.M.N.B.N. "He was groveling on the floor in front of me – rather like he's doing now, in fact – and he kept insisting he'd tried. When he wasn't squealing like a stuck pig, of course."
"You mean he didn't give you the prophecy right away?" asked Hermione.
"Well… no. He must have forgotten about it. I distinctly remember asking, 'Didn't you bring me anything, and then he said, 'Wait! There was something.' At first I thought he was making it up just to get out of being executed."
"You know," continued H-W-M-N-B-N after a moment, "now that I think about it, he did try to bargain for you. Well, not you, of course. If he'd tried to bargain for you I'd have used his head to practice polo with, but he did try to save one of your parents. I think he fancied one of your parents." Behind Dumbledore, Snape was making desperate shushing gestures.
"Which one?" Potter asked without thinking.
Every person in the room turned and stared at Potter, who blushed furiously. "You'd still have let me and my dad die," he accused.
"Look," said Snape exasperated. "It was one or nothing. He'd never have let me have two, let alone three."
"Why my mom?"
"I tossed a coin."
"Why'd you say you fancied her?"
"I had to give some reason. You can't really say 'I'd like you to spare one of your mortal enemies because it's Thursday.'"
"You could have said it was the right thing to do," Potter protested.
It took them ten minutes to get H-W-M-N-B-N to stop laughing.
"I guess what hurts most," said Potter in the ensuing pause, "is that if it wasn't for you and that prophecy, my parents would still be alive."
"I doubt that," said H-W-M-N-B-N.
"What do you mean?" Potter asked.
"Well I don't like to brag, but even with the slight turn-around of the year leading up to it, overall we were still winning, and if I hadn't gone after your parents that night, I'd have done it two weeks later."
"They weren't exactly on my list of favorite people. As a matter of fact, they were way up on my list of people I wanted to do without, and I was planning to do seriously without them in any case. You just advanced the timetable a little. What is it the Americans say, Severus?"
"Terminate with extreme prejudice, sir."
"Exactly. So you see, the prophecy didn't really change anything as far as you were concerned. The only one it affected was me."
"What do you mean?" Ron asked, fascinated.
"Why, if Mrs. Potter hadn't gotten in the way even after I offered to let her live…"
"What!" Snape shrieked, clambering at last to his feet. "You told me you wouldn't spare her!"
"It was going to be a surprise. Call me sentimental, but I wanted to see the look on your face when I gave you… but no. She jumped in front of the spell anyway…"
"But… I… If I…" Snape stammered, confused and beginning to get a degree beyond upset.
"Shh, Severus," said Dumbledore quietly. "The world moves in mysterious ways."
"I still think," said Potter, though his tone indicated this was a last resort, "he should have done something."
"Harry," said Dumbledore gently, "if you were on top of a very tall building, and you saw someone fall off, would you jump off too, to try to save them?"
"Do I look daft?"
"It wouldn't do any good," said Harry. "I'd be killing myself for nothing."
"Do you know where Severus was the night your parents died? He was at Hogwarts. He'd been at Hogwarts for two months. He didn't have any idea what was happening until it was over."
"I guess you're right," said Potter.
"Good," said Dumbledore. "Because you know what the Bible says about people who judge other people too strictly…"
"No," Potter said. "What?"
"They go to hell for eating a cheeseburger."
"No, no," insisted H-W-M-N-B-N, "it's for taking your clothes to the Laundromat on Saturday afternoon."
"I thought it was for wearing cotton-polyester blends," said Snape.
Dumbledore smiled at Harry. "Just be sure neither your nose nor any other body orifice gets too tight," he said, "and you'll be fine."
"Does this mean nobody's going to kill me?" Snape asked.
"For the moment, Severus," replied Dumbledore. "For the moment."
Snape paused to let the others catch the distant thud of the trampoline. "So then what are we going to do about Minerva and Bella?"
"Ah," said Dumbledore, glancing at his pocket watch, "it is nearly noon. A complex transfiguration spell like that usually has an endurance factor of about two hours, but seeing as it is Minerva, I thought we might give her four…" There was a collective howl from outside as the trampoline reverted to the death eaters out of whom it had been formed, and those in the air at the moment were dumped unceremoniously on the ground. "Good. Now, shall we all go downstairs and see if we can mobilize our forces to defend against their next attack."
"Sir," said Snape to Dumbledore as the two of them were the last to leave the office. "Do you remember when I came to you…"
"When you turned your coat and betrayed…"
"Shhh! He doesn't know about that yet, remember? Do you recall what you said to me?"
"No, Severus. I do not. I distinctly remember forgetting it."
"Allow me then. You said I disgusted you because I didn't try to ask the Dark Lord for the lives of James and Harry as well as Lily."
"You know, Severus, I can be a self-righteous, sanctimonious, unreasonable, demanding, unrealistic, hypocritical, uncharitable, hateful, smug, holier-than-thou… you can stop me when you have sufficient adjectives, you know."
"You left out inaccurate, non-canonical, narrow, and bigoted."
"Right. I regretted my words almost instantly, particularly when faced with the degree to which you were willing to go to rectify any errors you may have committed. You know, Severus, to forgive is human, but unfortunately we are surrounded by people who are so convinced of their own moral superiority to the divine that they forget there is a second part to that adage. They deserve nothing less than to be judged by the same cruel, inhuman standard by which they judge you. Anything less would be unfair."
"Thank you, sir."
"Think nothing of it. Let us go see what we can do with Minerva."
"Well, there they are," Snape said to Dumbledore, looking down from the first floor windows on Minerva, Bella, and the crowd of Death Eaters swarming over the lawn twenty-five feet below. "What do you think that thing is?"
'That thing' resembled nothing more nor less than a giant log with a monstrous hollow metal head, something that might well have been stolen from the back lot of a film set, a film that dealt with elves who were not loath to accept clothes, and pretty fancy clothes at that. Some of the Death Eaters were even trying to get into character by chanting, "Grond, Grond…" – an action that momentarily confused Potter no end, since he understood them to be saying "Ron, Ron…" and accused his best friend Weasley of blatantly switching sides.
Weasley had subsequently approached Snape with an apology, "I think I know now what you've been going through all these years, sir, and I'm sorry if I ever did anything to make your life more difficult."
"He is a right git, isn't he, Weasley?"
Weasley shook his head sadly. "Understatement, sir. Understatement."
H-W-M-N-B-N now joined Snape and Dumbledore at the window, together with the Granger girl. Granger and H-W-M-N-B-N were deep in a discussion on the relative value of immortality, Granger using the example of Struldbrugs to illustrate the disadvantages of eternal life when not accompanied by eternal health and youth.
"They get old. They get arthritis and rheumatism, they lose their hair and their memory…"
"But they don't die?" H-W-M-N-B-N prompted, eager for confirmation.
"No, but what good is living if you're sick all the time and you can't remember anything, and…"
"But they don't die. Where did you say this country was?"
"Near Japan. But it's fictional. It's from a book that was written three hundred years…"
"But they don't die."
Granger gave up and stood next to Snape, looking out the window. "What's that thing?" she asked.
"Grond," Snape replied.
"No," Granger said, "he's in the Great Hall trying to get Harry to talk to him again. Why did they build a fire in its head?"
"I think," said Dumbledore, "so that when it hits the oaken doors they'll burn down."
"Poor excuse for a pyromaniac," Snape snorted. "They keep that fire going and it'll weaken the metal so that when it hits the doors, the head will crumple."
"But the doors will burn," said Dumbledore.
"Sir, did you ever try to start a campfire using just one big log?"
"Now that you mention it, Severus – no."
"A solid block of wood doesn't catch fire that easily, sir. They'd have more success hitting the wood with the cold metal. It'll break before it burns."
"Why don't you go down and tell Bella that," suggested H-W-M-N-B-N. "I'm sure she'd appreciate the advice." At the resounding silence that greeted this remark, H-W-M-N-B-N turned to Snape. "Well we are on the same side, aren't we?"
"Are you sure you aren't a Struldbrug?" Granger asked.
H-W-M-N-B-N started to respond to Granger, then stopped, leaned forward, and peered out the window. He shook his head, scratched the place where a nose would have been if he'd still had a nose, rubbed his nonexistent chin, then reached into his robes and pulled out a small contraption made of wire and carefully shaped glass.
Snape saw immediately what was about to happen and steeled himself from the expression of all emotion, though it was hard.
Taking the opposite, curved ends of the wire, H-W-M-N-B-N fitted them carefully around his ears and adjusted the two circles of glass in front of his eyes. Since he had no nose to speak of, the moment he moved, the pieces of glass dropped to about the vicinity of his mouth. H-W-M-N-B-N raised the contraption once more to his eyes and tried to hold it in place with just his left hand, but the thing twisted, dropping the right-hand piece of glass over the slit of his right nostril, fogging the glass with steam. He then removed the wire from his ears, wiped the glass pieces with the edge of his robe, and tried again.
Dumbledore was fizzing like a teakettle. Even Granger was smiling. "I didn't know you wore glasses, Tom," said Dumbledore.
"I am not certain, Headmaster," said Snape with exquisite control, "that 'wear' is the operative word."
"Drat!" exclaimed H-W-M-N-B-N. "These used to fit!"
"And when would that have been, Tom?"
"Over a period of forty-one years, you have to expect some things to change."
"Was there something, Lord, that you wished to look at?"
"Well naturally. Why would I take the blasted things out if I didn't want to look at something? Someone in fact."
"Who, Lord?" Snape asked, though again he had the horrible, sinking feeling that he already knew the answer.
"Her. The vision of my youth. The focus of my every waking and sleeping thought."
Granger looked out the window. "Bellatrix Lestrange?" she cried.
"Good heavens, no!" the Dark Lord exclaimed. "Aside from the fact that she has the most insanely jealous – and I do mean insane – husband on the planet, who would want a total psychopath? I mean, I have my foibles, I know I do, but Bella is over the top in every possible way. I realized that ages ago. I only tolerate her because she threatened to cut off…" H-W-M-N-B-N paused and quickly changed the subject. "No, it is the heavenly vision of the other one… of her."
"Professor McGonagall?" Granger gasped.
"That was the name!" shouted H-W-M-N-B-N in triumph.
"I didn't know you knew Professor McGonagall," said Granger speculatively, the whole uncharted world of what- happened- to- other- people- before- I- was- born opening in front of her eager mind like a giant tapestry.
"She certainly wasn't a professor then," admitted H-W-M-N-B-N. "She took Ancient Runes in the same hallway where my Muggle Studies classes were, and she had the loveliest curvy…"
"You took Muggle Studies!" cried Snape, all thought of emotional self-control vanishing as the secure basis of his hitherto stable world began to crumble. "Why would you…"
"Hush, Severus," said Dumbledore. "I want to hear about McGonagall's curves. Do continue, Tom."
But H-W-M-N-B-N had now stopped, staring suspiciously at Dumbledore. "Who are you?" he asked accusingly.
"I am Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, and I am headmaster of Hogwarts."
"I'm not so sure about that," said H-W-M-N-B-N. "Professor Dumbledore taught Transfiguration and would have known all about Minerva McGonagall's curves."
"Of course he's Professor Dumbledore," Granger insisted. "I know what Professor Dumbledore looks like, and it's him."
"We've changed our tune from a couple of hours ago," Snape commented frostily.
"But what if he has transfigured himself!" exclaimed H-W-M-N-B-N. "Then he could be anyone!"
Dumbledore smiled. "But it would take an expert at Transfiguration to do that, would it not, Tom? And who is the only one here who taught Transfiguration? Having the ability to transfigure myself merely proves that I am Dumbledore."
"No, wait," said H-W-M-N-B-N, trying to work it out. "Just because you were a professor doesn't mean you were the best. Who's best at Dark Arts?"
"Well, I suppose you are, Tom."
"Aha! But I never taught it…"
"Excuse me, Lord," Snape whispered hurriedly, "but the class isn't Dark Arts. It's Defense against the Dark…"
"You're being a party pooper again, Severus."
To the rhythmic chant of "Grond, Grond…" the enormous battering ram, head ablaze, reached and slammed into the great oaken doors of Hogwarts.
"You did, of course," said Snape as an afterthought, "magically reinforce the doors against physical assault."
"Of course," Dumbledore huffed, then, "I'll be right back."
"It's all right," Snape said to no one in particular. "He'll get there long before they make any headway with that thing. At least they're not catapulting severed heads over the walls at us."
"Severed Heads?" said Ron Weasley, coming up from behind. "Isn't that a…"
Snape spun on him in fury. "Don't say it! Don't you dare say it! I'll be boiled in oil before I give that kind of free advertising. Besides, aren't you supposed to be talking to Potter?"
"I'm not getting anywhere – he can be awfully pigheaded, you know – so I thought I'd see what you lot are doing. Why do they keep saying my name?"
"Grond," Snape ground through his clenched teeth. "Gutteral at the beginning – dental plosive at the end." He glanced at Granger. "You two should get together. You're a match made in heaven."
"Thank you, sir," Granger responded. "What severed heads were you referring to?"
"Only that if they captured any of your people they used to cut off their heads, put the heads in the catapult, and fling them over the walls. It was a way to demoralize a defending garrison."
"That's given me an idea," Granger said.
"Does it have anything to do with either heads or catapults?" Snape asked.
"Not a bit."
"No, really," Granger insisted. "We could lower the students down to the ground on the west side, and then they could come around to the front and attack the Death Eaters and defeat them. There are two hundred eighty students and only about fifty Death Eaters. That's better than five to one."
"And with a gatling gun two men could hold a hill against five hundred. What are these students going to use as weapons?"
"We've been studying spells for years."
"Right. Miss Granger, did you ever go to a muggle school?"
"Could you tell me what happened in 1215?"
"I… eh… not really, sir."
"Do you remember anyone ever mentioning 1215?"
"Let me give you a hint. King John, Runnymede, cornerstone of western democracy…"
"Let me tell you something about students. The vast majority of them cram their studies into the night before an exam, learn just enough to get an acceptable mark, then forget it all five minutes after the exam is over. You'll have two hundred eighty bodies, but only around thirty will be able to do anything. That means you're out-numbered."
"I really think you're underestimating…"
"And what about logistics?"
"Logistics, sir?' Granger gulped.
"The west side of the castle is a cliff, and the windows of Hufflepuff house are narrow slits, so you could only lower the students from the windows of the rooms off the entrance hall. It would take about ten minutes per student for a total of 2800 minutes, which is forty-six and two-thirds hours. Even if you had them going simultaneously out of all ten windows, it's nearly five hours. You don't think they're going to hang around waiting for you, do you?"
Granger sighed. "I'm developing a truly sympathetic understanding of H-W-M-N-B-N," she said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You can poop a party faster than anyone else I know."
"Look," Weasley burst in suddenly. "Why do we have to lower anyone at all. Why don't we just zap them with spells right here from the first floor?"
"That wouldn't work, Ron," said Granger. "First you'd have trouble with the…"
"Who's pooping parties now?" Snape stage whispered. Granger glared at him.
"No, really," Weasley insisted. "We could get the thirty good students up here and hit them with all kinds of things: bat boogeys, monkey ears, anteater snouts, bear eyes…"
"Whoa! What are bear eyes?" Snape asked.
"Gladly eyes," Ron explained as if speaking to a dim-witted younger brother. "Gladly the Bear eyes. You know… Gladly the cross-eyed bear?"
Snape rolled his own eyes heavenward and prayed for patience.
"Actually, sir," said Granger, "now that I think about it, it isn't such a bad idea."
It took several minutes of good, solid forensics work to convince Snape, but at last he was willing to concede that it probably wouldn't hurt, and it might do some good. Word went out to the four houses that their best spell casters were needed to repel the Death Eater attack.
Surprisingly, the biggest turnout was from Slytherin house. Once they had ascertained that they would be hidden from view by pilasters and thus unidentifiable, and would be able to strike back at Death Eater parents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, people they had to kiss at Christmas, and their mothers' mahjong partners, you couldn't keep the Slytherin students away. They were at the forefront of the battle, ready to die for Hogwarts.
"Take that, Aunt Gertrude, you smelly old cow!" cried one particularly petite and refined Slytherin girl, typifying her entire house.
"Which one's Aunt Gertrude?" Lobelia Turnipseed asked. "And by the way, I'm Hufflepuff."
"Hufflepuff sucks eggs," replied the Slytherin girl. "And the tall one with the pigtails is Aunt Gertrude."
Lobelia hit Aunt Gertrude with the curse of a thousand pigeons.
"Good one," the Slytherin girl said with unfeigned appreciation. I'm Saramantha Pushcart."
"Lobelia Turnipseed," said Lobelia. "You have any other relatives down there?"
"Just my cousin Duane. He's right over…"
Cousin Duane experienced a curse meant to drive cockroaches from a second floor pantry and was last seen hopping down the hill on his right arm and leg, the left appendages waving frantically in the air.
Back in the castle, Lobelia and Saramantha were cheering wildly for Slytherpuff house and hugging each other in triumph.
At about four o'clock in the afternoon, the Death Eaters that had followed Bella and Minerva to Hogwarts retreated to the bottom of the hill, nursing their wounds. 'Wounds' – let us be frank about this aspect of the battle – was an overstatement. Among the withdrawing Death Eaters there was no trace of spilt blood to be seen. What was to be seen was a variety of pig snouts, elephant ears, beaver teeth, kangaroo tails, duck feet, shark gills, and the fabled appendages of stallions and bulls that were a serious impediment to the movement of any Death Eater shorter than five foot eleven – these last being mostly courtesy of the Gryffindor boys.
The halls of Hogwarts echoed to the cheers of its victorious students. Cheers that Snape was quick to quell. "Idiots!" he snapped at anyone who would listen. "They're not giving up, they're just regrouping. Get back to that window, you fool Ravenclaw, or you'll be scratching fleas from your ears with your hind claws. You're not the only one who knows how to cast a Felinum Transmuto curse, you know."
The students listened and stayed at their posts. What they got was not another onslaught. It was instead a timid little emissary named Gaspar Lactebiscotti who practically pulled his own fingers off while wringing his hands. "Please," he pleaded, "consider the consequences. They're working on the alchemical formulae even as we speak."
"Alchemical formulae," said Snape, sniffing suspiciously. "That sounds like a red herring. I've yet to meet the alchemist who could reason his way out of a paper bag. Our Sopio Celonis will stop anything they can send against us."
He was about to find out how wrong he could be.
The next messenger was Bella herself. "Hey there, Snapey," she crooned. "How's it hang… I mean, how have you been getting along since we last talked? I took your advice. I became the mouthpiece for our lord and master. We seem to have lost him, though. Is he up there with you? Tell him I'm sorry. Tell him I need his…"
"Tell him yourself," Snape yelled down at her. "He has this really vivid memory of you leaving him paralyzed on the floor of his own office."
"I do?" asked H-W-M-N-B-N from a secure vantage point in the corner of the classroom from which Snape was speaking. "I'm sure if you say so it must have happened, but truth to tell I'm a bit fuzzy about the details right about…"
"She left you paralyzed in your office!" Snape screamed at his Dark Lord. "We had to step across your prostrate body when we came in by floo…"
"You know, you don't have to be explicit about intimate physical details…"
"Prostrate! It means lying down on the floor! Godfrey Daniels! If I had a nickel for every time you didn't understand a simple vocabulary word…"
"What's a nickel?"
Snape turned, found the nearest wall, and proceeded to bang his head against it.
"I understand," Bella cooed from below, "that you two are having a slight difference of opinion right now. Don't worry, Lord. Lots of people have had that experience with Severus. He can poop a party faster than any…"
"You're going down!" Snape shrieked at her from his window. "Nobody stabs me in the back like that. You're going down!"
"Now that," said Bella calmly, "is a perfect example of what I would designate as vitriol. Vitriol is acid and biting. I'd say our Severus is astoundingly acid and biting, even when he doesn't intend it. Vitriol is green. What's the color of Slytherin? I don't really think I have to answer that question…"
"You witch!" Snape yelled at Bella. "You're inventing this as you go!"
"I don't have to invent anything, Sevvie my love. You hand it to me on a silver and green platter. Minerva's working out the alchemical formulae as we speak and believe me, dearest, you're the vitriol."
"Bellatrix Lestrange," Snape hissed with all the sting of sulfuric acid, "you have no business twisting people's minds. Those of us inside the castle are the good guys. You and your friends are the bad guys. No amount of vitriol is going to change that relationship."
"No?" said Bella, and her voice dripped with wounded sincerity. "What about the black stage in the process. What about the white and red stages? Wouldn't your friends on the inside like to know about them? Wouldn't they like to know how you're leading them down the garden path?"
"You're a liar!" Snape shouted.
"Well now," Hagrid interjected, "I'm not convinced o' that. Just what white 'n black stages might we be talking about now?"
"There, Sevvie my poppet, someone does want to know." Bella crooned. "And if what Minerva told me is true, precisely the right person. You see, if you want to acquire the Philosopher's Stone, you have to follow the right procedures."
"Oh," said Hagrid. "Y're too late. We already had the Philosopher's Stone. We didn't want it no more, so we destroyed it."
"Destroyed it!" cried H-W-M-N-B-N. "And after all the trouble I went to, trying to get it? Living in the back of that nincompoop's head for months! To think how nearly it was in my grasp."
"But that ain't neither here nor there," Hagrid pointed out. "They're on about making something that's not only already been made, it's been destroyed. No reason for anyone to go there."
Bella was tapping her foot impatiently. "We're not making the real stone, you fool," she snapped up at Hagrid. "It's a metaphor for the goal we're trying to reach. We just call it the Philosopher's Stone. And we have to go through the proper stages. The first stage is black, and that was clearly my cousin Sirius."
"Why couldn't it have been Regulus?" Snape asked, the picture of innocence.
"In order to get through the different stages, they have to have a reaction with the vitriol, and they have to be destroyed. They have to die."
"I thought you said I was the vitriol."
"You are, my love."
"But I didn't kill Sirius," Snape said flatly. "You did. That means you're the vitriol. You were in Slytherin house. You're just as green as I am. Maybe more so. Besides, my metaphor for attaining a goal is climbing a mountain. So the stone metaphor is irrelevant."
"But you did kill Dumbledore, and he was the white stage. His name's in a old document – Albus – it means white. And the red stage is there, too – Rubeus. So you see it all works out."
"I take it then," said Snape snidely, "that the Latin for black is Sirius."
"No…" Bella began just as Dumbledore and Hagrid figured out where this was leading.
"I'm quite alive," Dumbledore pointed out calmly as Hagrid roared, "Over my dead body!"
"Well, yes, you poor excuse for a grounds-keeper, that rather was the idea," Bella snarled up at them. And who was the other one, the geezer?"
"That was Professor Dumbledore," Snape replied rather absent-mindedly, as he was momentarily absorbed by the spectacle of Hagrid's broad features turning the precise shade of pickled beets. "You know, Bella, I was about to offer a counter argument that Sirius's hair was black, and Albus's white, but that Hagrid's wasn't red, except that Hagrid's in the process of supporting your 'red' theory as we speak. But you've still got the vitriol wr…"
"What do you mean, that was Professor Dumbledore? Dumbledore's DEAD! You KILLED HIM!" Bella had advanced to the fist shaking stage.
"Not really. I just tossed him…" Snape's protestations were interrupted.
"Let me assure you, Bella my little cabbage," – Dumbledore was doing a superb Rudy Vallee imitation – "that the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, I faked the whole thing in order to take a well-deserved vacation for several months…"
"Bella, this is hardly the time for recriminations…"
"There is no reason to take this personally…"
"Why Bella! You amaze me! The previously untapped wealth of your vocabulary…"
The bolt of green light struck its target, and Dumbledore slumped to the floor at Snape's feet. As Bella's wand recalibrated its angle, Snape dove for the same floor, seizing H-W-M-N-B-N and dragging him down out of range as well. Hagrid crashed next to them, and the students fled in panic.
The first sound came from Hagrid. "Ahem. I hope ya don't mind my pointing out that in the moment of truth, in the face of death, ya chose to save him and not me."
"You did, didn't you!" cried H-W-M-N-B-N. "And here I was on the verge of doubting your loyalty."
Snape neither flinched nor blushed. "In such a situation, Lord, one cannot even speak of choices. There was only one sane course, and I took it." As H-W-M-N-B-N preened himself, Snape hissed at Hagrid, "How was I supposed to save you? You weigh ten times as much as I do! Get real!"
Down below, Bella had reverted to her coaxing voice. "Sev…vy. Oh, Sev…vy. Come out, come out wherever you are. Bellatrix isn't going to hurt you… You can show your face."
Snape raised himself so that his head was just above the window ledge, but behind a pilaster. "Right!" he yelled. "That's two for two, Bella. Sirius and Albus. I think we know who the vitriol is now, don't we? And now that I think about it, wasn't there a yellow stage? Don't you need someone to represent yellow? What about me, Bella? I'm hiding behind a wall! Is that yellow enough for you? You can't go after Hagrid until you get me first!"
A bolt of green light hit the outside face of the wall, and Snape again dove for the floor. There he confronted a Hagrid on the verge of tears.
"That there's the nicest thing anyone ever did for me," Hagrid gushed. "I ain't going t' forget it."
"That's nice," said Snape and raised himself up again. "Cheap, Bella! Really cheap! No motive, no foreshadowing, no moral lesson… Not even the pathos of a hack writer! Just bam, slam, thank you, ma'am, and he's dead. You're pathetic, you know! You and this metaphor of yours!"
As the next bolt of green light slammed into the exterior wall, a sound came from Snape's left. The sound sounded like 'psst,' and it seemed to come from the dead body of Dumbledore.
"Sir," Snape whispered, "are you alive, sir?"
"And if I am," Dumbledore whispered back, "it is due to my exceptional powers of recall and my rapport with the students. Did you know that Bella barely squeaked an 'Acceptable' on her Charms OWL? Never did do the NEWT courses. That poor woman could not Kedavra fish in a barrel."
"Then why did you fall?" Snape asked, and added as an afterthought, "Sir?"
"Tactics," replied Dumbledore. "I thought it might give us a strategic advantage."
"Severus," whined H-W-M-N-B-N, "who are you talking to?"
"Yes, Severus," Dumbledore echoed, "who are you talking to?"
Snape glowered. "Professor Dumbledore," he told H-W-M-N-B-N.
"It's very unkind of you, you know," the whining voice continued, "to pretend to have such a low opinion of my intelligence."
"Lord," Snape replied as Dumbledore snickered silently, "I would never pretend any such thing. Why do you think that?"
"I'm not blind, Severus. I just saw Bella Kedavra him. You can't hold a conversation with a dead man."
"No, Lord. I shall cease at once." Snape turned to Hagrid. "Would you take Dumbledore's body downstairs to the Great Hall? No. Wait. Take him up to his… to McGonagall's office."
From below, Bella's voice drifted up again. "Did I get you, Sevvie? Tell me I got you… You know, if I got you, it isn't nice to hide it from me." The voice was increasingly irritated. "Snape, are you going to admit I got you, or not?"
Snape could resist no longer. From behind the pilaster he called down, "You're absolutely right, Bella. You got me. I'm dead."
"Well at least one thing went right today," Bella sighed.
Next to Snape, H-W-M-N-B-N was fizzing. "Bella's dumber than I thought. She thinks she can talk to… She didn't really get you, did she?"
"No, Lord, I am unscathed."
"Beggin' yer pardon," Hagrid broke in. "How am I supposed to get into the office without the password?"
"The same way you always do," Snape said. "With the pink umbrella."
"How did you know?" Hagrid had now narrowed his eyes in a threatening way.
"If wands could be mended by ordinary magic, Weasley wouldn't have had to use Spellotape on his after he drove that car into the Willow. I figure it was elves who fixed yours, and since they can get into the office to make beds and lay fires, so can you."
"Well I ain't saying y're wrong," said Hagrid, clearly impressed. He bent down to pick up Dumbledore's body.
"Now don't go banging his head against things," Snape cautioned.
Hagrid giggled. "He's dead. He won't care."
Snape watched with some trepidation as Hagrid swung the limp Dumbledore over his shoulder and headed for the potentially lethal staircases.
Before going up to the headmistress's office to talk to Dumbledore, it occurred to Snape that he might need fortification, sustenance, in a word – food. He was hungry, and the house-elves were figuratively beckoning him down to the kitchens. Even before he got to the second floor, though, he could hear the loud voices arguing in the entrance hall. Girls' voices. Granger and the Weasley girl. (It wasn't that Snape recognized the voices of all his students – far from it – it was just that those two talked so much that they were hard to miss.)
"Professor!" Granger cried as Snape stepped onto the landing at the top of the marble staircase, "You have to help us! We've just figured out that Harry's a Hor…" Potter was frantically trying to stop her.
"I don't think it's gotten that bad," Snape replied with a sarcastic smile. "A bit of an apple polisher, maybe. I might even go so far as to say 'toady,' but…"
Granger eluded Potter's grasp. "Horcrux!" she shouted. "Harry's one of Voldemort's Horcruxes!"
"Offirmo Labrarum!" Snape shrieked, clutching his left arm with his right hand.
"Very cute," said Granger. "What would that have done if you'd been holding a wand?"
"Locked your lips as tight as a miser's fist," Snape grumbled. "I told you not to say that word."
"Sorry. Look, we've decided…"
"You decided," Potter snarled. "The rest of us don't agree. Right, Ron?"
Weasley glanced from Potter to Granger. "Sorry, mate," he said. "There are priorities in life, you know. Hermione's right." He leered at Granger, who ignored him.
"Hmmm..." Snape mused. It was meant to be a pensive 'hmmm,' but it came out sounding nastily speculative, probably due to the lack of visual and performing arts in Hogwarts's curriculum. "I can see where taking that idea to its logical conclusion might be something Potter would find unappealing. Have you decided how to kill him yet?"
"We're not going to kill him," Hermione informed Snape and everyone around her. "Not permanently, anyway."
"I see," Snape said with admirable gravity. "You're going to temporarily kill him."
"No!" Ginny insisted, then relented. "Well, yes, that's sort of the idea. We're going to remove Harry's soul from his body, then kill him to destroy the soul fragment of the Horcrux, then put Harry's soul back to reanimate him."
"I see," Snape said again, that being the most neutral thing he could think of. "I take it you've done the research and this is, in fact, a physically viable action."
"If you mean has anyone ever done it before," retorted Hermione, "the answer is no. But it works in theory."
"In theory," Snape said, "the Titanic was unsinkable. How are you going to extract Potter's soul?"
"They're not!" Harry stated flatly. "I'm not cooperating."
"We were thinking of getting a Dementor," Ginny explained. "When the Dementor has the soul partway out, Hermione 'll chase it off with a Patronus and…" She blushed. "I'll store Harry's soul for him."
"We won't even discuss domesticating Dementors," said Snape. "What if you get the wrong soul?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if you 'store' What's-His-Name's soul and kill Harry's? How will you know you have the right one?"
"That's easy," Ron answered. "We've known Harry for ages. We look for the soul that's part muggle, had an unhappy childhood, can speak Parseltongue, is a decent Legilimens but a lousy Occlumens, is really good at dueling, and has this thing about quietly disobeying rules."
"You've just described the Dark Lord," said Snape gently.
Snape left the group of students still squabbling over the best way to separate Potter from at least one of his souls and continued his journey to the kitchens and food. The entrance to the kitchens was supposed to be controlled by a picture of a bowl of fruit (the work of an artist whose fidelity to lifelike portrayal combined the perspectives of Dali and Picasso), but Snape couldn't find it. Instead the walls of the underground passage were adorned with pictures of wizards and house-elves, except…
Snape peered closely at the pictures. It was like looking into a chamber of horrors, a glimpse of Hades. The house-elves in them were depicted in a variety of locations – beaches, ski lodges, cruise ships – and were either engaged in activities such as playing tennis and polo, or were lounging in deck chairs or reclining in hot tubs. The waiters bringing them cocktails, and the masseuses massaging their ears were all… wizards and witches!
Studying the horrifying images, disgusted by the intrinsic indecency confronting him, Snape searched for anything that might resemble a key to open the doors. He found it not in a painting, but on a braided rope hanging on the wall that had a large sign next to it saying, 'Pull for Admittance.'
How quaint, Snape thought, and pulled the rope. The door panel, cleverly disguised as a stone wall, slid open, and Snape found himself staring at a small, humanoid creature with blue breeches, a lime green belted tunic much too big for him, a soft purple Phrygian cap, and a vapid expression on his face.
"Which one are you?" Snape snapped at the stupid-looking elf, wondering what had happened to its towel.
"Dopey," said the elf, and closed the door.
Incensed at being called insulting names, Snape pulled at the rope again. The answering elf this time had a deep pink belted tunic, a brown cap and breeches, a white beard, a nose reddened by overindulgence in something – though Snape hesitated to guess what – and an irritated scowl on its face that was decidedly un-elflike. "Who are you?" Snape asked.
"Grumpy," stated the elf trying to slam the door shut but foiled by the unexpected interference of Snape's foot. "You're not wanted here." It pushed harder on the door.
Thankful for the thickness and stiffness of the leather in his boots, Snape smiled sweetly at the 'elf.' "You're a dwarf, aren't you?" he said.
"Ain't none o' your business," replied the elf… eh, dwarf… eh, dwelf. It pushed against the door again. "You'd best leave while the leaving's good."
"I don't think so," said Snape. "First, the Castle is under attack from people who think you're the scum of the earth, and it looks like they may win, so you'd do well to accept all the help you can get, and second I'm hungry. Where are the real elves?"
"We are the real elves," the dwelf replied, only to be interrupted by a high, squealing voice.
"Is that you, Professor Snape, sir? It's Dobby. Tell Mr. Harry Potter we 's been overrun by subtyrants…" The voice went silent as clubbing sounds issued from the kitchens.
"Subtyrants?" said Snape. "Subterranean tyrants? Underground workers? Miners? In a word, dwarves? I think you'd better… OWCH!" He managed to pull his foot free, but just barely. "You're going to regret this! I really was hungry!"
Snape eased his way out of the kitchen area with its hideous, obscene artwork and headed upstairs, limping badly. It's a metatarsal, he thought, maybe several metatarsals. That's what you get for trying to argue with a theme-park refugee. If I'd had my wand… It only then occurred to him to wonder where the dwarves had come from. 'Subtyrants' Dobby 'd said. I know about the Chamber of Secrets and the place where we guarded the Philosopher's Stone. What else is there under Hogwarts?
The question is, Snape thought as he hobbled past Potter and his still-bickering friends, who would know about the underpinnings of Hogwarts castle? Gryffindor and Ravenclaw have their heads in the clouds. Dumbledore and H.W.M.N.B.N. have their heads – well Merlin alone knows where they keep their heads. Slytherin is physically, mentally, and metaphorically under water all the time – though that does put them closer to the problem – and then there's… Hufflepuff.
Remembering the rapid-fire curses from the first floor earlier that afternoon, Snape started up the main staircase two steps at a time. Started, but never finished. The metatarsals turned out to be more than hypothetical, and Snape came down on the injured left foot with a howl of pain. When the mist cleared, he realized he was sitting on the fourth step, his foot still on the second. There are things enthusiasm can overcome. This was not one of them.
Above him floated a voice like the tinkling of all the bells on a Christmas sleigh and the cooing of doves. "That's your head of house? Looks a bit soft to me."
Shaking his head to expel the last traces of fog, Snape looked up into the eyes of the evil midget who masqueraded as a doll-like child. "Turnipseed," he said. "Right? Who are you?" This last question was addressed to Lobelia's companion.
"Doesn't even know the students in his own house," Lobelia gloated. "Some professor."
"If you, Miss Ice-Wouldn't-Melt-In-My-Heart, had ever bothered to pay attention to recent history, you would have noticed that I haven't been head of house all term, and you're both first years." Snape tried reaching for the banister to pull himself to his feet. It was too far away.
"Some wizard," added Lobelia.
"Wizard enough to kidnap that ridiculous teddy-bear and cut its eyes out with a penknife."
Her own eyes wide, Lobelia held up the innocent bear and gazed at it with passionate affection. "Could you really? I tried holding his paws in a candle flame once, but all they did was smolder, and he didn't let out a peep. I'm beginning to think my parents were gypped. He was supposed to be a Good-Time Bear."
"Parents!" Snape retorted. "Who might they be? Attila the Hun and the Wicked Witch of the West?"
"I'm Saramantha Pushcart," said Saramantha politely, "and I want you to know that I think all the other Slytherin students are wrong. I think you're cool."
"Great," said Snape. "A testimonial. What I need is a mole. You." He addressed the tiny Lobelia. "Badger. Hole-Rat. What do you know about what's under Hogwarts?"
"What's in it for me?" Lobelia countered.
"I'm going to sue the Sorting Hat," said Snape. "What was it thinking of when it put you in Hufflepuff?"
It was a sellers' market. Lobelia got the promise of ten hours worth of tutoring in each of Potions, Defense against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, Charms, and Herbology. She tried to hold out for Transfiguration and History of Magic as well until Snape confessed to her what his OWL scores had been. In addition, Snape promised to sneak into the files and change the mark of one course that year to a grade higher if Lobelia was dissatisfied. Then she overestimated her market value.
"I will not create a magical glockenspiel to play 'Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja' for your birthday." Snape insisted. "It's not that I don't like Mozart, but that Flute thing just gets on my nerves. Let What's-His-Name win. It's an acceptable trade-off from where I'm sitting."
"Fine!" cried Lobelia. "Get your own mole!"
"Maybe I will!" Snape retaliated, employing his greater debating skills and wider vocabulary.
Lobelia was incensed, and ready to terminate negotiations. Then Saramantha, true Slytherin that she was, stepped forward. Having listened to both sides, she recognized that the problem was not the glockenspiel, nor even Mozart, but the Flute.
"Why can't the glockenspiel just play 'Happy Birthday to You?'" she asked.
A compromise was reached, a deal was struck, and Lobelia led Snape down into the bowels of Hogwarts.
[Now, before we go any further, we must remind the gentle reader of the nature of this 'leading.' Snape's left foot was broken, and he had no wand. Both girls had wands, but they were not healers. They might have lent their wands to Snape, but they refused to trust him further than fish could fly. He had thus to hobble, with an arm across the shoulder of each small (as in short) girl to the dungeons near Slytherin house, passing Potter, Granger, and an unspecified number of Weasleys on the way. There was, for good or ill, nothing clandestine about it.]
"Why are we going to Slytherin house?" Snape asked as the two girls assisted him down the third flight of stone steps.
"We're not," Lobelia answered. "There's a lot more down here than Slytherin."
"Aren't you afraid the Slytherin students will catch you trespassing on their domain?"
"Let me tell you a secret, Snake Breath – Slytherins wouldn't notice a charging rhinoceros in a maze of Legos."
"Hey, Badger Brain!" cried Saramantha. "I resent that!"
"Did you ever notice me hanging around the not-so-secret Wall?" Lobelia wrinkled her snub nose at the blank expression on Saramantha's face. "Case rested," she said.
"That case may be closed," Snape growled, "but mine isn't. I'm going to have you hauled in front of the headmaster for disrespect to a staff member… OWCH!" Lobelia had 'forgotten' to support the left foot as it touched down on the next step.
"Headmistress," she said, "and I seem to recall that you were replaced by someone whose résumé didn't include making unauthorized administrative changes."
They reached a landing where there was a corridor heading north under the castle. Lobelia pointed and informed Snape, "The entrance to the mines is that way."
"What mines?" said Snape. "There aren't any…"
"I thought you were looking for dwarves. Besides, where do you think they get the money for the overhead? Have you ever heard of the wizarding world being taxed? And where do you think all those galleons, sickles, and knuts come from? The Royal Mint? Face it, the school's a front. According to my father, it always has been."
Snape held out until they got to the sloping passage leading down to the mines. On the way, Lobelia told him of the great wealth under the hills. There were mines of gold and silver, of copper and tin, of iron and lead. There were jewels, too. Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, opals, pearls…
"Wait a minute!" Snape cried. "You don't mine… OWCH!"
"Are you calling me a liar?" Lobelia asked, her dainty foot poised over Snape's left metatarsals.
"No," said Snape. "Of course not. Can we go back to the entrance hall now?"
The three hobbled their way back to the staircases, at which point, as if they had agreed beforehand, Lobelia and Saramantha stood aside.
"Come on," Snape insisted. "Help me up the stairs."
"We'd rather watch," said Saramantha.
"Are you sure you're not related to the Marquis de Sade, you little snake?"
"Flattery," said Saramantha, "will get you nowhere."
Once again Snape started to climb a flight of stairs, and once again his enthusiasm fell short of his goal. The third step this time. He sat on the cool stone, the foot inside his boot throbbing. Lobelia settled beside him. "Now," she said, "about those marks."
"You agreed to one class."
"That was then. I'd prefer ten."
"You only have seven classes. I'll give you three."
"Just to show you how fair I can be, I'll go down to nine."
"All right! Seven!"
"Seven it is. There, you see, that wasn't so hard." Lobelia patted Snape on the shoulder.
The trek back to the marble staircase was an arduous one, but Snape managed to keep his focus off the pain by thinking of every synonym for snake that he could, both ancient and modern. Viper… adder… reptile… serpent… worm… And then there were the types of snakes. Cobra… rattlesnake… asp… Slughorn and Sprout were going to hear from him if it was the last thing he did.
Madam Pomfrey looked grim. "It's broken," she said.
"I think I figured that out already," replied Snape, lying on one of the hospital beds. "By use of the singular, are you indicating that it's only one bone, because it certainly feels…"
"I'm indicating that it's only one foot. It looks like three bones. It also looks like some idiot has been walking on it instead of coming directly here. A waste of a good boot if you ask me."
"I still don't see why you had to cut it apart."
"No? Maybe I should have pulled it off. You would have provided the entire castle with a most entertaining concert."
"I think I could have controlled my reactions."
"Not the way this foot is swollen. As it is, we'll have to get it down to at least half its present size before I have a hope in Hades of even trying to set the bones." Pomfrey turned to a glass-fronted cabinet to get a bottle ominously labeled 'Deflating Unguent: For external topical use only. If applied to healthy skin, call Poison Control. If accidentally swallowed, call undertaker.'
Pomfrey pulled on three pairs of surgical gloves. "Now don't move," she warned Snape as she began applying the unguent.
Snape had seriously miscalculated his ability to control his reactions, but by shoving half the blanket into his mouth, he was able to muffle those reactions sufficiently that only Pomfrey was aware of them. To himself he conceded that cutting off the boot had been wise.
"There you are," said H-W-M-N-B-N, sticking his head around the hospital wing's door. "That Potter boy said you might be here. He seemed to find it amusing."
It was a few minutes before Snape was able to remove the blanket and respond. "That 'Potter boy' would be amused by the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," he said, then shrieked, "What are you doing, you medical hack! Haven't you ever heard of painkillers!"
"I've always admired the exceptional control you have over your reactions," said Pomfrey dryly. "It's an inspiration to us all."
"I'm going to report you to the Wizard Medical Council for malpractice!"
"Those two little girls are going to have fun describing your activities at the hearing." Pomfrey had clearly dealt with difficult patients before.
"You've been having activities with little girls?" H-W-M-N-B-N grinned. "And here I thought you were so stodgy. This is a whole new Snape."
"Oh, shut up!" Snape snapped at him.
The click-snort-wheeze that followed this outburst was the sound of H-W-M-N-B-N clamping his jaws shut and then trying to breathe through virtually non-existent nostrils. After a moment's valiant effort, his face began to turn purple, a color that clashed gruesomely with his crimson eyes. Madam Pomfrey had turned away to prepare for the bone setting part of her duty and didn't notice, but Snape felt like he was going to be sick.
"What did you want, anyway," Snape asked H-W-M-N-B-N grumpily, staring momentarily at the ceiling in self-defense.
H-W-M-N-B-N looked miffed, but was at least able to breathe again. "How can I tell you that if I'm supposed to shut up?"
"Forget I said that. What did you want?"
H-W-M-N-B-N nodded toward Madam Pomfrey, who was preoccupied with choosing her next round of salves and ointments. "I think it would be better if we waited until You-Know-Who is gone."
"That's just dumb," Snape retorted. "How can you tell me what you want if you're gone?"
"Not me, you fool!" cried H-W-M-N-B-N. "You-Know-Who!" He nodded again towards Pomfrey.
"Look," Snape huffed. He was tired and in pain, and didn't appreciate games. "If you don't want to tell me anything, fine. Don't tell me anything. But I know who You-Know-Who is just as well as you do, and if You-Know-Who walks out before I know what You-Know-Who wants, then you know who is going to punch You-Know-Who right in the mouth."
There was a pause while H-W-M-N-B-N tried to digest this. "Let's start over again," he suggested.
Madam Pomfrey chose that moment to return to her patient. "I think the swelling has gone down enough now to proceed," she stated, starting to probe the foot, only to have Snape block her hand.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he said. "What did I ever do to you?"
"I can always tell when you're upset," said Pomfrey, "because your nostrils get all thin and pinched. Do you want to tell Poppy what's wrong?"
"I want you to give me an analgesic before you start twisting my broken bones, you descendant of Torquemada."
"Well, why didn't you say so instead of insisting on your own fortitude or asking me foolish questions? You know the contents of my cupboards. You could have requested anything you wanted instead of playing coy for hours."
"It hasn't been hours!" Snape protested.
"Figure of speech," Pomfrey said, her mouth pursed in a splendid imitation of McGonagall. Behind her, H-W-M-N-B-N was fizzing like a shaken soda can. "What do you want?" Pomfrey continued.
"Sodium pentothal," Snape replied, "or at least an aspirin."
"I think I have something in between those two extremes," said Pomfrey, and went to get it.
"Now," Snape hissed at H-W-M-N-B-N, "what do you want?"
"Well, seeing as how Dumbledore is finally dead – and mind you, I'm not going to assign blame, or credit either for that matter – it was you several months ago or Bella this afternoon – given that incontrovertible fact, I think that a certain rearranging of relative status is in order, not only vis-a-vis you and me, but also with regard to Miss… eh, Mrs… eh, Ms… Oh, you know!"
"The goddess with the Ancient Runes books?"
"See! You do understand!"
"So, what did you have in mind?"
"There's a vacancy, isn't there? One that would put whoever filled it into a very advantageous position with regard to underlings… I'm sorry, that was an unfortunate way of putting it… with regard to subservient… no, that's not kind either…"
"How about inferior?" Snape prompted.
"Well now, I wouldn't have suggested it myself, but as it comes from the ranks, why not? Advantageous with regard to the inferior ranks. Yes, that sounds all right. In any event, it occurred to me that I might do very well by becoming headmaster of Hogwarts."
At that moment, Pomfrey returned to Snape's bedside, thereby distracting H-W-M-N-B-N and giving Snape time to think of a response.
One problem in coming up with that response was that for the life of him Snape could not think of a better alternative. Even before Dumbledore's blatant desertion of the sinking ship, Snape had begun having doubts about the former headmaster's grasp of essentials. There was, after all, that unfortunate business with a ring that was known to be cursed. Snape pondered whether or not he wanted Dumbledore back in command and came up with a resounding 'probably not' as an answer. A week earlier he might have supported McGonagall, but she and the wizarding world's answer to Elizabeth Bathory (try typing 'Blood Countess' into wikipedia) were even now demonstrating what a naive idea that had been.
Who did that leave? Nobody in the Ministry of Magic had the administrative skills, and none of the currently employed professors had the academic background. Snape himself had no intention of taking on the job (he would be too tempting a target), but there was always the possibility of being the Eminence Grise behind the metaphoric throne. Not that a cardinal ever sat on a throne, but Snape never expected perfection from a metaphor and was therefore seldom disappointed in them.
This entirely profitable line of reasoning was interrupted by Pomfrey's inexplicable insistence that Snape swallow something.
"What are you trying to force down my throat, woman?" Snape roared, lashing out at both the hand that held the pill and the other that held a glass of water. "Are you trying to poison me?"
Pomfrey masterfully avoided the attack as if she a) had anticipated it at least five minutes earlier and b) was used to such behavior from her patients (or at least this patient). "It's your painkiller," she said. "You requested it."
"Oh," said Snape. "Which one did you chose?"
"The archetypal opioid."
"Morphine," Snape nodded. "That would certainly work for the pain, but isn't it constipating?"
"A Type A personality like yours, who would notice?"
"I might notice."
"When you do, I'll give you an enema."
Snape took the pill. "You are a truly evil woman," he told Pomfrey. "I'm going to report you to the British Medical Association."
Pomfrey chuckled. "And they would all love meeting you. You've been the subject of several well-received articles."
"Oh, really?" said H-W-M-N-B-N, rubbing his hands gleefully together. "On what medical topic?"
"You keep your big nose out of this!" Snape shouted.
H-W-M-N-B-N fingered the place where his nose used to be. "Still big, eh. I suppose I could have one more operation."
"There's the subject for your next medical article," Snape told Pomfrey. "Anorexia of the nasal appendage. You'd get both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize."
Pomfrey just went back to her office. "Let me know when you need another pill," she said as she left.
"Wait!" Snape yelled. "Aren't you supposed to set the bones in my foot?"
"The swelling hasn't gone down yet," Pomfrey replied over her shoulder. "Besides, are you in any pain?"
"Well… I… eh…" Snape started to say as he realized that he was not, in fact, any longer in pain, and then he was waking up from an infinite blackness into glaring brightness. The 'morphine' had been sodium pentothal. And lest there be any attempt at discussion as to how sodium pentothal can be administered in pill form – well just consider it a stupendous feat of transfiguration.
"Web-eye?" Snape said, not yet in full control of his tongue. Or maybe it was the verbal center of his brain. There were other things he was no longer in control of, but those could wait.
It was Hagrid who answered – dear, beloved Hagrid, Snape thought foggily, who was always there when Snape needed him. "Well, about that…" Hagrid said. "Y're in…"
"Silence!" a razor-sharp voice cried, slicing through sentiment like a chopping knife on Iron Chef. A harsh, unmusical voice. Bella's voice.
"Wasee dune inna cassle?" Snape whispered to Hagrid, but even as he spoke, the brightness was resolving into colors… chartreuse and magenta plaid. Dark blobs took shape as furniture, sofas and chairs, and in those sofas and chairs sat figures. Sheepish, hunched over, defeated figures with long silver beards, and red, viperish eyes, and spiky black hair…
"P'fessa Dubbadoe?" Snape shook his head to clear the cobwebs that blocked neural transmissions from his medulla oblongata to the intrinsic muscles of his tongue. "Lord? Potter!" He tried to move, only to find that his broken foot was now encased in plaster past his knee. "What happened?"
"A simple matter of military mathematics," said Headmistress McGonagall from behind her desk. "An undisciplined force, minus its commanders, generally equals defeat. Bella took out Albus, though not as permanently, it would seem, as she intended, then Poppy got you. By the way, how are your metatarsals?"
"Fine. But why didn't Madame Pomfrey just heal the bones? Why the cast?"
"Casts are very useful things for young men who have a tendency to be too mobile."
"I'm thirty-seven. I'm not that young."
"Relatively speaking of course." McGonagall smiled sweetly. "How on earth did you manage to break them in the first place?"
"Grumpy!" Snape cried, remembering.
"Now, now," pointed out Dumbledore. "There is no need to insult Minerva, especially when she has the upper hand."
"No, you don't understand," Snape explained. "Grumpy's a dwarf. In the kitchen."
"I thought I knew all of them," mused Dumbledore. "Dobby and Winky, of course. Then there's Sniffy, and Jaunty, and Goopy… I do not recall a Grumpy… and really, Severus, I don't think they would appreciate being called dwarfs."
"Dwarfs," Snape insisted. "Not house-elves, dwarfs. There's Dopey, too. And I imagine there's Sleepy, and Sneezy, and Happy, and Bashful, and Doc!"
"Bashful and Doc?" said Dumbledore. "What kind of names are those for house-elves?"
"Dwarfs! They're dwarfs! They're holding the house-elves prisoner."
"That is just silly, Severus. Nothing can hold a house-elf prisoner."
"I am more interested," interjected McGonagall, "in how Grumpy broke your foot."
"I got it caught in a door he was trying to close."
"Oh dear. That was less than wise."
"You live and learn. How are they controlling the house-elves?"
"That's very simple," said McGonagall with what, in another person, might have been a simper, but on McGonagall's face it was a smirk. "The house-elves are required, by contract, to obey the headmaster. Or in this case, the headmistress. Strictly speaking, they are not prisoners; they have merely acquired another level of administrative supervision."
"Does it have anything to do with the mines under the castle?" Snape asked innocently.
"How do you know about the mines?" McGonagall and Dumbledore exclaimed simultaneously, then stared at each other across the office and repeated, on a more personal level, "How do you know about the mines?"
"I stumbled across them in my fifth year," said McGonagall. "After I left Hogwarts, it took me twelve years of intricate spell work to get Dippet to the point of being a blithering idiot, forcing the Deputy Headmaster to take over most of his work and freeing up the Transfiguration job. Since then I've been biding my time. You have no idea how thrilled I was at the end of last school year when Severus here decided to avenge himself…"
"I was following orders," Snape pointed out, looking to Dumbledore for confirmation.
"…decided to avenge himself for all those years of being insulted, browbeaten…"
"Tell her I was following orders," Snape hissed at Dumbledore.
"…overworked, underpaid, and denied a promotion…"
"On the other hand, I may have a legal case – extreme mental cruelty, or temporary…"
"He was following orders," said Dumbledore.
The door to the office opened at that moment, and Hermione Granger entered, with Ginny Weasley immediately behind, followed by Lobelia Turnipseed and Saramantha Pushcart. "The school is secured," Hermione told McGonagall, totally ignoring the four men and Harry. "We had a little trouble with Ravenclaw. Apparently the girls there think they already have the upper hand, but Luna talked to them about the balance of power, and they came around."
"There is no balance of power," said McGonagall. "Not anymore."
"Exactly," Hermione replied.
"Wait a minute!" Snape cried. "You mean this is all about gender? Feminine domination? But you had male Death Eaters fighting for you!"
"Well," McGonagall smiled shyly, "I will admit there was a wee bit of deception going on there, but they're not the brightest pennies in the mint. After all, the real threats have been sitting in Azkaban for more than a year. Not that they were much better. No offense, dear, I hope," she added, looking over at Bella.
"I never did have any trouble wrapping Dolph and Rabs around my little finger," said Bella with a shrug.
"And what's left –" McGonagall continued, "Carrow, Yaxley, Greyback – would be a waste of a good frontal lobotomy."
A protest had apparently been rising in Potter for the last ten minutes, for he suddenly blurted out, "What have you done with Ron, you traitor? He'd never give in to this kind of tyranny!"
"Ron has been trailing after me like a faithful lapdog," Hermione sneered. "I swear, we're going to have to donate his hormones to science."
Snape had been thinking (not too quickly, of course; the sodium pentothal had taken a toll). "Let me get this straight. Are you telling me the girls were on McGonagall's side all along?"
"Of course not," said McGonagall. "That's what I meant earlier about taking out the commanders. Albus was the first to be hors de combat, as it were, and Tom is little better than Ron."
"She knows my name," H-W-M-N-B-N sighed.
McGonagall didn't even glance at him. "Once you put yourself at Poppy's mercy, the battle was over. It did take a little persuasion, but the girls saw reason in the end. I am, after all, in my prime, and there is no force in the world that can best a woman in her prime. You already heard from my lieutenants that the boys were a pushover."
"And the teachers?" Snape insisted. "There are male teachers and staff, you know."
"Ah, yes." McGonagall counted them on her fingers. "Flitwick, Slughorn, Carrow, Binns, Filch – just which of them were you expecting to stand up against us? Filius tried, dear little man, but one against a hundred fifty – Poppy's repairing him even as we speak. No, the only danger is securely locked in this room."
"What about the ministry?" Snape asked. "They're going to notice right about the time they need to meet their next payroll."
"You forget that there's no place more secure or impregnable than Hogwarts. We have supplies. We can withstand a siege."
Snape turned to the four girls. "I can't believe you've let yourselves be conned into abetting this woman's megalomania. She's just using you to get what she wants."
"Logical error," Hermione said. "You've made the false assumption that what she wants is different from what we want."
"You're not going to get away with this!"
"The way I see it," said Ginny, "is we have a secure base, a ton of magic, food that'll last decades, and a fabulously productive gem mine. Not to mention owls for mail order service."
"And loads of boys at our beck and call," added Saramantha. "Don't leave that out."
"What about personal integrity?" Snape pressed them. "She's already sold us out. She'll sell you out, too, when it suits her."
"Personal integrity," giggled Lobelia. "Let me see if I have the story straight. You sold out the wizarding world to You-Know-Who. Then you sold out your old girlfriend for personal advantage. Then you sold out You-Know-Who to Dumbledore…"
"Wait a minute," ventured H-W-M-N-B-N, but no one paid any attention to him.
"Bottom line," Snape said. "Who do you think has your best interests at heart, Professor McGonagall or me?"
"Professor McGonagall!" the girls chorused as if it were a no-brainer. Behind the desk, McGonagall leaned back in her chair in satisfaction, a beam of triumph in her eye and a smile of victory on her face. At her side, Bella crossed her arms on her chest and grinned.
Snape wasn't through driving his own coffin nails. "Who's going to see you get the best deal in life, me or Professor McGonagall?"
"Who understands best the way you think?"
"Who can anticipate your every need?"
"Your every wish?"
"Your every action?"
The response was a little slower this time as this sank in. "Professor McGonagall," was the slightly less than enthusiastic reply.
"Who's easier to manipulate, me or Professor McGonagall?"
Lobelia's reactions were the swiftest. Faster than Sammy Davis Jr. with a six-shooter her wand was in her hand and pointed at McGonagall. "Petrificus totalus!" she screamed, and McGonagall went rigid as a board.
It was determined at the medical hearing at St. Mungo's that Professor McGonagall had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the added pressures of being headmistress while continuing to teach full time. "The paperwork alone," Snape testified in her defense, "would drive anyone crazy. I would have started feeding students to the squid weeks ago." It was not a good sign that the attending Board of Governors all jotted this statement down in their notebooks.
The next question was who would be the new headmaster of Hogwarts.
"I really think it ought to be me," Dumbledore told everyone who would listen. "I have the prior job experience and an excellent set of credentials, not to mention a sterling recommendation from the previous headmaster."
"You were the previous headmaster," Snape pointed out. "It doesn't count."
"I take it then that you want the job?"
"Not unless everyone wants the squid to develop a weight problem. You might, you know, consider going back into teaching. I understand the Transfiguration job is open."
The three of them were sitting at a table in the Three Broomsticks. Dumbledore drummed his fingers on the wood, then stroked his beard. "On the other hand, there is also the position in Dark Arts now that poor Amycus has toddled off to Azkaban."
"No," said Snape. "Absolutely not. I'm the Dark Arts teacher. I waited for years for it, I got it, and I'm going to keep it."
"But you forget, Severus, the job is cursed. No one can keep it for more than a year. You had your year, now it is my turn."
"Cursed?" said H-W-M-N-B-N, taking a sip of his fire whiskey, choking, and blowing the brown liquid out through the slits of his nose. "That's some trick. I bet it would take a really powerful wizard to curse a job like that," he went on after the other two had patted him on the back for several minutes.
"But Tom…" Dumbledore seemed confused. "You're the one who cursed it."
"Who told you that? Honestly, Albus, you have to stop jumping to wild conclusions. Why would I put a curse on a job I never really wanted in the first place? Give me a break."
"I have a great idea," said Snape as they paid the bill and strolled together back up to the castle. "Why don't I take Dark Arts, Professor, you take the Transfiguration position, and the Dark Lord here can be the headmaster. You've always wanted to control Hogwarts, haven't you, sir? And this way you get the pension plan, and the life insurance policy, and…"
"Vacation time?" H-W-M-N-B-N asked hopefully.
"Six weeks a year," said Dumbledore. "There are worse ways to make a living."
"I don't know. Winters at Hogwarts would cut down on my skiing at St. Moritz…"
The three of them were still discussing the options in the staff room well into the evening.
Here ends the 'story,' such as it is.