The Malfoy heir's entire body went rigid as if her words had Petrified him. Then, he dropped his hands from her arms and coolly walked towards the door. In a voice as cold as Lucius' had ever been, he said, "Do you know the problem with bait, Potter? It's meant to be eaten. So, don't expect me to cry over your dead body. You've made your choice, and it isn't me."
The door closed behind him with a soft snick. As Rose stared blankly at the dark wood, a cold chill sank in Snape's gut. Malfoy's words had sounded forebodingly like an epitaph. He would do everything he could to prove the boy wrong.
When Rose finally realized that Draco wasn't coming back, she desperately turned to Narcissa. "He doesn't understand! I don't want him giving up everything for me! Draco doesn't know how to be normal! He'd hate it! He'd hate me! I'm doing this for him as much as anyone else! Why can't he understand that?"
She answered in a subdued voice, tears welling in her eyes. "Oh, Rose, you're wrong in that. I think my son understands all too well."
With a strangled sob, the young witch flung open the door and sprinted down the dim corridor. Snape would have run after her, but Narcissa held him back.
"Don't. She needs to have a good cry with her friends. They'll tell her what an arse my son has been, and she'll defend him for a while, but eventually she'll stop. She'll be fine, at least about this." Staring at her forgotten tea, she added contemplatively, "I wish I could do more. It takes a long time to heal a broken heart."
"You think her heartbroken? I know she cared for him, but they are both so young."
"I wasn't speaking of Rose, Severus."
Of course she wasn't. Her son had just offered to give up his birthright and been summarily rejected. It didn't matter that Rose hadn't meant to reject him as well as his proposal. It must seem so to the proud, young wizard. Snape wanted to scoff and dismiss it as nothing more than teenage drama, but he couldn't in the face of his own experience with Lily. Besides, he had seen the fear underneath Draco's anger even if Rose had not.
"I am too," she said sadly. "But you're right. They're young yet. And, we have more pressing matters to discuss. You deliberately did not name the Death Eater. I can only assume there is a reason."
"Forgive me; Rose and Draco would not have understood the significance, and I wished to deny reality for as long as possible. I'm afraid Barty Crouch, Jr. is not as dead as everyone thinks."
He did. His account took longer than Crouch's interrogation as he described how he had become suspicious of the imposter in the first place. She asked no questions, although by the end, her expression had hardened so much that her appearance mirrored that of a statue of Titiana, the mythological queen of the faeries—beautiful, ice cold and deadly.
"How arrogant can the old fool be? Crouch should be Kissed. If he could throw off the Imperius once, he can do so again. If Dumbledore's supposition is correct, then he is of no more use."
"The Headmaster does not kill in cold blood, Narcissa. It is one of the cornerstones of his beliefs."
"Is the other using a child to fight his battles? Honestly, Severus, haven't you considered simply leaving with Rose? She's not bound to Hogwarts and neither are you."
Taking her in his arms, he rested his head on her shoulder. Her long, silken hair smelled faintly of violets, and the sweet smell of jasmine clung to her neck. It reminded him of spring and the hope of new beginnings. How he wished he could inhale that heady scent and agree.
As Rose's guardian he could spirit her away against her protests. She might hate him, but finding a safe haven would be worth her scorn. Perhaps, she would forgive him—eventually. He had, in fact, considered moving to a boarding school in Canada several times. But he might as well wish to take her to Valhalla or Shangri-La or Avalon itself, for the Dark Lord would never allow her to live a life of peace and obscurity.
No, the damn prophecy precluded that. Obsessed with immortality, Voldemort would not be able to accept his potential bane living unmolested on another continent. He would hunt her down with the tenacity of a hound hunting a fox. No one understood that better than he.
Still, he allowed himself to dream of the fantasy as he leaned against the woman he loved. For all the years he'd held Lily's memory so tightly in his heart, he'd kept his burdens to himself. It was a relief now to be able to share them with another. He hoped Narcissa felt the same. Just the simple act of conversing with her eased some of the tension in his neck. While it had been mere months since he had declared his feelings openly, she had become a true partner and an integral part of his life. Gathering strength from her embrace, he brushed his lips against hers before finally answering.
"Nor is the Dark Lord so bound, Narcissa. It matters little where Rose resides when he would pursue her to the ends of the Earth. At least here she is among friends and can count on the protection of one of the world's most powerful wizards. I cannot believe Albus wishes her harm. Though, you are right. I will not allow him to use her as a pawn on a chessboard."
"Perhaps not, but you put far too much faith in that man, Severus. If he is so powerful, why did he not challenge the Dark Lord to a duel? It is how he defeated Grindlewald, is it not?
"That was fifty years ago."
"And his strength and influence have only grown."
He found himself in the awkward position of defending his mentor to his lover. Many of the points Narcissa subsequently raised mirrored his own doubts. However, when she voiced them, it was all too easy to explain them away. Of course Dumbledore kept things from him. He was a spy, his risk of capture all too real. The Headmaster couldn't afford to trust him with such valuable information. He had been attracted to the Dark Arts at a very young age. Albus was right to shield him from new temptations. No matter how much he argued, however, the witch wouldn't budge in her opinions.
"I love you dearly, Severus Snape, but your regard for that man blinds you to his faults."
A spark of ire flared at her accusation only to be doused by the loyalty and protectiveness shining from her eyes. He knew Albus could be a cold, manipulative bastard all in the name of the greater good. He'd seen the powerful wizard influence the Ministry, not to mention the Hogwarts staff, again and again. Hadn't Dumbledore used his guilt against him that very night? Perhaps she was right; perhaps he allowed his feelings for the old man to blind him to the truth.
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he entwined his fingers with hers. "Then, I am indeed fortunate that I have you to tell me so. I couldn't ask for a fiercer advocate, Narcissa. Thank you."
His comment unbalanced her for a moment. He didn't think she had expected him to agree. Quickly, though, she regained her equilibrium and answered with a small smile of her own.
"So long as you listen, Severus, you're welcome."
"I promise. Unfortunately, even with his faults, he is still the best hope for Rose at the moment."
"Of course," she agreed without hesitation. "I merely ask you to question his methods before committing to them. In his own way, he is as much of a fanatic as Barty Crouch."
"To that end, I hope Sirius returns with some useful information."
"How long before you think he will return?"
"I've no idea." Just then a yawn overcame him. Ruefully, he added, "Long enough to ensure a missed night's sleep. I shall need an Invigoration Draught before the Dueling Club tomorrow."
Settling with her on the couch, Severus spent the next few hours chatting with Narcissa about their respective weeks. She had not been idle. Instead, she had spent much of the week with her solicitor securing her position as Lucius' successor to the various boards upon which her husband had had a seat. In fact, confirmation of her position on the Hogwarts Board of Governor's had come through that very day.
Severus wondered if Albus knew or if the information was just another tidbit he intended to keep for himself. Although he and Narcissa had made no secret of their relationship, the Headmaster could be strangely obtuse about his Potion Master's personal life. Even now, he suspected Albus believed his guardianship of Rose stemmed more from guilt than affection.
By the time Sirius knocked quietly on the door just before dawn, Narcissa slept soundly against his chest. Carefully shifting her to the opposite side of the sofa, he let the Marauder inside once he had confirmed his identity. Tight-lipped, Black shoved the Invisibility Cloak towards Severus before noticing the bottle of Firewhiskey near the sink. He immediately poured himself a generous drink and downed it in a few swallows.
"You're lucky you left with your memory intact, Snape. Moody sure as hell didn't. He's in the Hospital Wing recovering from a supposed nasty fall. You should see the bump on his head."
If the glassware the Potions Master owned had been fine crystal, the tumbler in Sirius' hand would have cracked under his tight grip. Still, Snape pried the cheap highball out of his friend's fingers just in case. He'd never seen the other man quite so angry, except when discussing Peter Pettigrew. He had the same manic sheen to his gaze as well, which put Severus on alert.
"We both know Albus is not above using Obliviation. I am more interested in what happened to Crouch."
"Barmy Barty? Oh, he's Stunned and locked in the trunk, which now sits in the Headmaster's office. I swear Fawkes could see me, but thankfully Dumbledore was too busy playing God to notice."
Picking up the tumbler off the counter, he poured another inch or two of the potent whiskey and downed it with a grimace.
"Fuck a dragon, Snape!" How the bloody hell do you stand it? He's mad as a bag of ferrets or as calculating as a sphinx. I can't tell anymore. Leastways, he's an unscrupulous bastard to use Lily's death against you like that."
An irate voice rose from the sofa. "Like what?"
Stunned, Black looked over to see his cousin watching them with a dangerous expression on her face. Taken aback, he picked up the Firewhiskey and took a chug directly from the bottle.
"Cissy! I didn't see you over there."
"Obviously." Rising, she crossed the space to stand between the two men. Before either one could protest, she poured the rest of the alcohol down the sink. "Now," she said in a sugary sweet voice, "I think you both should tell me why the Headmaster saw fit to drag a dead woman into tonight's discussion. Just what haven't you told me, Severus?"
Snape glared at Black, who sheepishly looked to the ground. Knowing he'd get no aid from that quarter, he braced himself for an assault.
"Barty had orders to enter Rose into the TriWizard Tournament. Dumbledore plans to do the same to fool the Dark Lord into believing nothing is amiss. According to Albus, the base for the Potion to resurrect his body takes almost a year to brew. He believes such a course of action will give him time to track down the Dark Lord and defeat him once and for all."
Feeling intensely uncomfortable, he reluctantly added, "I objected rather strenuously to the plan, but as the Headmaster so readily pointed out, my Unbreakable Vow to protect Rose was made to him, not Lily, since the dead cannot accept such oaths. He commanded that I not tell Rose of what is to come, nor object to her participation in the Tournament. Should I go against him, I hazard breaking the Vow. He sincerely believes taking such a risk might forever rid her of the danger the Dark Lord poses. My hands are tied."
"Draco was right. He will use her as bait, and you will allow it. And, if Dumbledore fails, Severus? What then?"
He couldn't meet her eyes. "I truly do not know."
He waited for her condemnation, but she wrapped her arms around him to rest her head against his chest.
"You poor fool of a man. When will you learn to put faith in yourself rather than others? He has you trapped as securely as the Dark Lord ever did. You must find a way to tell Rose. Or he most certainly will use it against you."
Incredibly, the mutt started to laugh. "I think he already has, Cissy. Merlin, Snape, but you truly are a step ahead of everyone, aren't you?"
Black! How could he have been so thick? Black could tell Rose whatever he wished. Although that wasn't the reason he'd originally wanted the Marauder as a witness, it was certainly a happy accident. For the first time since seeing Crouch's name on that blasted map, Severus thought he might just have the upper hand.
Chasing down an Invigoration Draught with a cup of coffee, the exhausted Potions Master studied his busy schedule. He had two Defense Against the Dark Arts classes to teach that morning. Unfortunately, he would be forced to cover the subject of Unforgivables in the N.E.W.T. level class. Worse, he had Double Potions in the afternoon with the fourth year Gryffindors and Slytherins. While the class would normally be one of his favorites, he wasn't keen to see how Rose and Draco would react to each other in such close proximity to volatile Potions ingredients. He truly didn't need the drama.
The first meeting of the Dueling Club had been scheduled for late that afternoon, and he had no idea how many students to expect. He'd told the House Elves to prepare for twenty, but he had a strong suspicion the number might be closer to fifty. He'd be anxious about such a large turnout, except Filius had offered to assist. Perhaps when Moody returned to his duties, he would offer to help as well.
He was debating the merits of eating breakfast in the Great Hall when there was a knock at the door. With a flick of his wand, he spelled it open. Only Rose used that ridiculous rhythm to announce her presence. Taking in her drawn face, he quickly summoned a house-elf to bring them a tray.
"Did you sleep at all?"
He smiled as he gestured for her to sit. "Touché. I am pleased you came. There are some things I would like to discuss with you in private."
"I'm here to make sure you eat something, Dad."
He had to bite back a smile. So, she was back to calling him Dad. She must be feeling very protective at that moment. He couldn't blame her. While Narcissa had removed the Charms early that morning, he could see little difference in his appearance. It would take several days of rest to overcome the shock of the previous night, and he simply didn't have the time.
"After last night, I could eat a Hippogriff."
"You could have died!"
He ruffled her unruly hair. "Hardly. The Marauder's Map alerted me to the danger, and I had the imposter subdued before he knew what was happening."
Taking the time to study her face, he noticed the telltale signs of prolonged crying. Before he could comment on it, the house-elf had returned with a huge breakfast platter. They spent the next twenty minutes eating in relative silence. Rose's coloring improved after she devoured six sausages, three pieces of toast and two hardboiled eggs. He truly didn't know how someone so tiny could put away so much food, but he was glad to see her eating after the previous night's ordeal. She must have been watching him as well, for when he finished his plate of scrambled eggs, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans, she had the audacity to applaud.
"I never thought I'd see you eat like that again!"
"With two Defense classes and Double Potions, I doubt I'll have time to eat lunch."
He'd mentioned her Potions class intentionally. Her cheery mood instantly evaporated, and she began to wring her hands.
"About that. I was wondering if you might let me miss it today? I could make up the lesson tomorrow. You know I brewed loads of antidotes this summer."
"Rose, you cannot avoid Draco forever."
"He's a selfish git."
When he didn't respond, she huffily crossed her arms. "Well, he is! How else could he expect me to abandon my friends and run away with him?"
He arched an eyebrow. "There is no reason to become testy. I don't believe I defended him. I merely said you can't avoid him forever."
"I hate boys."
"Be that as it may, you can't avoid an entire gender unless you wish to hide yourself away in a convent. You shall be on time for my class or I will deduct points."
She sulked silently as he drank the rest of his coffee. Suspecting she had more on her mind, he waited for her to speak.
"Draco's a git and Ron's a pig-headed arse."
"Language, young lady."
"I don't care. If I could, I'd turn them both into newts. Lavender decided on her own this morning to tell Ron all about Draco. Care to know what he said?" (He truly didn't, but this was one of those times when he knew better than to express his opinion.) "He said I should have known that Draco was good for nothing a long time ago and that he'd probably just been pretending to like me so you would like him. He's a—"
"Pig-headed arse. Yes, I see what you mean. Although, I'm sure somewhere in that brain of his, his commisery sounded much better than it actually did. I hope Miss Granger expressed her sympathy more appropriately."
"She said . . . uh, she said that Draco was probably scared of me being killed, and that he has a tendency to hide his concern behind anger. But that he's still a git for running away."
Wearily, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall telling you not to breathe a word about the captured Death Eater or the Headmaster's plans for him. Please tell me that Lavender Brown was not privy to the conversation when you explained to Miss Granger exactly why Mr. Malfoy feared for your life."
Silver charms flew in all directions as Rose finally yanked her bracelet hard enough to unravel the Anti-Breaking Charm he had placed upon it. "No, Dad! I wouldn't do something that stupid. We were alone in the lavatory. I made sure of it. Hermione had waited up for me all that time, you see, and I was too upset to make up a convincing story. She won't say a word, even to Ron. I swear!"
"Accio charms." The tiny treasures flew into his hand, and Rose gravely placed the broken chain on the table. "Don't swear. It is a dangerous habit in the wizarding world. You will attend class this afternoon, and you will meet me in the Great Hall afterwards for the Dueling Club. Failure to do so will result in detention."
"Yes, sir," she muttered, her arms still crossed defensively over her chest as she slouched in the chair.
All of a sudden, he couldn't stomach her bad temper. "Come here, Rose."
Warily, she did, and he took the opportunity to give her a hug. For a moment, she didn't react, and then her grip tightened around him.
"Take it from me, even the biggest gits mature eventually. Besides, anyone who can face the Dark Lord can face two teenage boys. They're hardly basilisks."
Her lips twitched. "More like flobberworms."
"Precisely." Releasing her, he tapped his wand on the broken bracelet and watched in satisfaction as it swiftly repaired itself. She held out her right hand and he fastened the clasp around her wrist.
"The maturity of adolescent males aside, I'm glad you came to see me. I wish to assure you that you are in no greater danger than you have ever been. The Death Eater is currently locked in a trunk inside the Headmaster's office. Voldemort does not know he has been captured, or that the real Alastor has taken his rightful place at Hogwarts. You are safer now than you were the day before."
She stared at the tiny golden rose on her bracelet. "I know. I just . . . it's hard to explain. But, Professor Dumbledore's told me a few times that it's our actions which define us, and I don't understand his actions anymore. I mean, not really. Isn't he the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot? Doesn't that mean he has to turn over the imposter to the Aurors? I don't know what's right anymore."
He almost said that he didn't either, but she was still enough of a child to expect reassurance rather than the brutal truth. After a moment's consideration, he admitted, "There are times when right does not necessarily mean legal, Rose. The Headmaster must weigh his responsibility to protect this school against his responsibility to turn a fugitive over to the Aurors. Currently, the imposter is locked up where he can do no harm. However, should he be sent to Azkaban, the Dark Lord would surely know that his strategy had failed. He would therefore devise another plan, one that might prove more successful."
Her left hand went towards her charm bracelet, but stopped before she could tug on it. "But, how does he know when it's alright to ignore the law? At what point does doing something noble turn into an abuse of power?"
Gravely, he replied, "That, Rose, is the dilemma with which every witch and wizard must struggle, student and Headmaster alike."
Rose walked into the Potions classroom with Hermione Granger seconds before the bell rang. Draco, who had been one of the first to arrive, didn't look up as she walked past. Crabbed and Goyle, however, sniggered nastily at both girls as they took their place in the back of the room. Ronald Weasley, who had partnered with Seamus Finnegan, silenced the two idiots by asking out loud if they fancied Miss Granger, which enraged Gryffindors and Slytherins alike.
The tension in the classroom rivaled that of the year prior when the two Houses were embroiled in a nasty feud. Ironically, that feud had started over Mr. Malfoy's treatment of Miss Potter, and he had no desire to endure a repeat of the same. His instructions, therefore, were stringent and to the point.
"There will be no foolishness tolerated in this class. The instructions for the Deflating Draught are on the board. One person at each cauldron shall retrieve the necessary ingredients from the Potions stores. I advise you to pay particular attention to the stirring guidelines, as I will be testing your potions against a Swelling Solution. Do not tempt me to test the Swelling Solution on your hand. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
Time dragged. He answered several questions from individuals who had not correctly read the instructions. He kept a discreet watch over certain students' cauldrons, including Rose and Draco's. And to his mortal shame, he nodded off while reading a first year's essay.
It couldn't have been more than a few minutes. One moment, he remembered reading the tedious essay, and the next, he'd snapped awake as his chin had dropped to his chest straining the back of his neck. Rose and Draco stood anxiously on opposite sides of his desk while the rest of the class tried to pretend they weren't watching.
"Are you alright? I saw your head bobbing a few times, but I couldn't get your attention. Maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing. I wouldn't want you to have a relapse."
Draco sneered. "That's rich coming from you, Potter. If you were concerned for his health, you wouldn't be here. Or could you possibly be so thick as to think that you're the only one being used?"
He was going to kill the mutt. Sirius must have told his young cousin everything. Rose stared at the teen in angry bewilderment, and he knew he was seconds away from the two forgetting where they were.
"Enough, Mr. Malfoy. This is neither the time nor the place to air your grievances with Miss Potter. I suggest you return to your cauldron and attempt to undo the mess Mr. Nott has made of your work by adding puffer fish liver before the dried shrinking violets."
"I already have a month's worth of detention. Remember, sir?
Bloody hell! Would the day never end? The last thing he wanted to do after dinner was find some busywork for Draco. While he needed to have a long chat with the boy, he didn't trust himself to have a rational discussion in the face of his sleep-deprived temper.
"I am postponing your detention until Monday."
A muffled gasp came from the front row. He glared balefully at Daphne Greengrass, who hastily returned her eyes to her cauldron.
His uncharacteristic behavior only convinced Rose that something was terribly wrong. Unthinkingly, she put her hand against his cheek. "Are you sure you're alright, Dad? You feel flushed."
"Potter, you're in the middle of class, you moron!"
Snape froze knowing every eye was upon them. Draco's hissed warning had alerted the few students who hadn't been watching them that something momentous had occurred. Even though Rose removed her hand as quickly as if she'd burnt it, she couldn't take back what she'd said. Her eyes widened with realization and then, incredibly, she smiled. However, the defiance he saw in her grin reminded him of James at his arrogant worst.
"So? He's a better father than yours ever was, Malfoy. I'll call him what I want."
He'd never seen the blond's face turn quite so scarlet. When the teen pulled out his wand, Severus clamped down on his wrist before he could do something stupid.
"Go back to your dorm, Mr. Malfoy, and don't leave until it is time for dinner! I will not have you losing your temper like you did earlier this week. Insults are not to be answered with hexes no matter how well deserved!"
Glowering at Rose one final time, Draco stalked out of the classroom, his posture unrepentant. The Potions Master could only hope Sirius could calm him before he retaliated in a way Rose was certain never to forgive.
Once the sound of Draco's boots had faded in the hallway, Severus turned to his ward. While the defiance was still visible in the set of her chin, the smile had been wiped completely off her face.
"Miss Potter, the same goes for you. Return to your dorm until dinner time. What you said to Mr. Malfoy was inappropriate and inexcusable. Twenty points from Gryffindor for the blatant disrespect you displayed towards a fellow student."
In an undertone, he added, "I am sorely disappointed in you, Rose. I know you are upset with Draco, but I never thought you cruel enough to compare him to Lucius. You seem to have forgotten that he saved your life last year. Your taunt was a vicious way to repay him. You know full well that no one chooses their relatives."
A tear rolled down her cheek. With an odd pang of regret, he knew he had made his point. She left as swiftly as Draco had, but without the anger that had marked his exit. Her shoulders were hunched and visibly trembling. For her sake, he hoped she made it to Gryffindor Tower before she started sobbing.
One glare sent the rest of the class scurrying to look busy if not actually return to work. While he knew the low buzzing of conversation most likely revolved around the scene between the two banished teens, he did his best to ignore it. Unfortunately, he could not stop dwelling on what had happened. As irrational as it seemed, he believed it to be his fault. If he hadn't fallen asleep, then both would have stayed at their cauldrons.
"Professor? Professor Snape, sir?"
Damn it, his eyes had closed again! Snapping them open, he found Hermione Granger nervously hopping from foot to foot, a vial of perfectly brewed Shrinking Solution in her hand.
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"I've finished the potion and cleaned my workspace. May I be dismissed now, sir?"
Rubbing his hand across his forehead, he privately lauded her courage. She was truly a loyal friend. "So long as you return to your dormitory, Miss Granger. I'll not have students who should otherwise be in class wandering about the castle."
She nodded eagerly. "I will, sir. Thank you."
"Thank you, Miss Granger."
Flustered, she had to run back into the classroom as soon as she had left in order to place the Potions vial on his desk. Several of his Slytherins looked at him as if he had lost his mind, but he didn't care at that moment. If it were possible, he would have followed her. Instead, he had to endure another hour of tedium as he fought sleep.
When the bell finally rang, he accepted the other students' vials, and then staggered to his apartments. If he didn't take another Invigoration Draught, he feared he would fall asleep in the middle of dueling. The dunderheads would no doubt get a good laugh out of that.
Temporarily revitalized, he jogged up the stairs to the Great Hall. Instead of the twenty students he had expected, around a hundred and fifty milled about the empty room. As soon as he entered, a quiet hush settled over the lively crowd. Grateful that the students had chosen to be respectful for a change, he cast Sonorus upon his voice and began.
"I'd like to remind you that the Dueling Club is open to third years and above, although first and second years are welcome to watch the formal dueling competitions that will begin in a month's time."
About a dozen girls, mostly second years, skipped away when he mentioned the eligibility requirements. As they giggled their way to the Entrance Hall, he briskly continued.
"Today, Professor Flitwick and I will demonstrate the proper forms of competitive dueling. Next week, you will begin to practice spells traditionally used in the sport. By the beginning of October, we will hold our first tournament. If that goes well, we will sponsor interschool tournaments during the months in which there are no TriWizard challenges. Please be sure to take a copy of the rules before you leave today and sign the attendance sheet."
Removing the spell, he watched in fascination as a long dueling platform suddenly popped into existence where the Head Table usually sat. The house-elves had certainly done an impeccable job restoring the ancient stage. A six foot high rectangle, thirty feet long and six feet wide, it was comprised of equal halves white marble and obsidian. Silver and gold protective runes were etched on its sides. A relic of power and splendor of a bygone era, it thrummed with enough protective energy to keep bystanders safe from the forces any duelist might unleash.
"She's a beauty, isn't she, Severus? I won the Interschool Dueling Cup on that platform in 1948. I beat Digory Kirke using a combination of Tarantallegra and a Tickling Charm. Poor Dig laughed right through the award ceremony."
"It is certainly better warded than the wooden platform we used when I was a student. When Sirius Black sent a Blasting Curse towards his brother's feet, half the platform exploded. Twelve spectators were sent to the Hospital Wing."
"Oh, yes, I remember that. The Dueling Club was disbanded the next year, wasn't it?"
"Yes," he acknowledged curtly as they climbed the steps to the narrow stage.
The reason Dumbledore had disbanded the club was not something he liked to remember. During a practice session, Rodolphus Lestrange had hit a Hufflepuff with a Stunner and then proceeded to cast a Blood Draining Curse on her while she was unconscious. She'd been forced to drink Blood Replenishing Potions for three days while Madame Pomfrey researched the counter curse. Lestrange had been expelled, and the girl had spent two weeks in bed recovering. She'd later withdrawn and emigrated to Australia. He'd had nightmares for weeks that Lily had been the one hit with the curse.
Standing on the obsidian surface, he focused on the upcoming demonstration. Once the two teachers had both taken their places on the opposite ends of the platform, they bowed to each other and then raised their wands. Although the duel would normally begin at that point, Severus paused to explain the etiquette of bowing before allowing Filius to cast the first spell. They had both agreed to cast only verbal spells during this particular contest, and he easily dodged a Jelly-Legs Jinx before sending a Stinging Hex flying towards his diminutive colleague.
Ducking, Flitwick let it sail over his head where it dissipated harmlessly at the edge of the protective wards. The Charms professor then sent two Binding Spells hurtling towards him, but his hastily conjured Shield Charm easily repelled them. As his opponent's spells grew more complex, Snape forgot the crowd standing nearby. While he was forced to throw up Shield Charm after Shield Charm, he managed to launch some attacks of his own.
Sweat dripping into his eye and rolling down his beaked nose, he sent a Disarming Spell rocketing towards the older wizard's wand. Preoccupied with a flock of angry birds dive-bombing his head, Flitwick failed to see the path of the spell. His wand flew out of his grip to clatter onto the cold marble.
"Do you yield?"
It was the traditional query when disarming an opponent for the first time. Not many could perform wandless magic, and the question precluded those who couldn't from being Stunned while defenseless.
Since they had already agreed to keep the demonstration simple, Filius bowed in defeat. Summoning his wand, he walked to Snape's end of the platform to shake his hand as the Potions Master dismissed the students.
"I'd forgotten how cunning you could be, Severus. The jays were the perfect distraction. I shan't underestimate you next time."
"Next time we'll have a proper duel," he promised. "Thank you for showing these dunderheads the correct form. Lockhart was less than useless as a Dueling Instructor."
"I remember," he chuckled. "Speaking of which, where are Rose and Mr. Malfoy? I thought they'd be cheering you on from the front row."
"They've had a falling out. In fact, I had to send them both to their dorms for disrupting class this afternoon."
Stumbling on the steps, Flitwick grabbed at Snape's robes to steady himself. "Oh dear, that's unfortunate. I do hope this doesn't cause the feud between Gryffindor and Slytherin to flare."
He spoke to Flitwick for a few more minutes before excusing himself. As he walked out of the Great Hall, he passed several groups of chattering students, but they all fell silent as he approached. Having had enough of students and people in general that day, the tired wizard appreciated the lack of questions and comments. If he hadn't been so fatigued, he might have found their reticence odd, but the effects of the Invigoration Draught had already begun to fade. He wanted nothing more to crawl into his bed and sleep until Sunday. In the future, he would come to regret that decision very much.
Author's Notes - Hi again! I have a new New Year's resolution. I'm going to work on updating this story as quickly as I can and stop feeling guilty when real life gets in the way. Since I'm definitely writing this for the enjoyment it brings me, I can't let an arbitrary missed deadline bother me so much. Which, I guess is a very backwards apology for taking two weeks to update. I hope everyone understands.
If you read the first paragraph closely, you'll notice I changed the wording a bit. The phrase, "It gets eaten" has bothered me since I posted it. For some reason I didn't think it sounded like Draco's speech pattern. (Yes, I obsess about dialogue way too much.) So now, I've changed it to "It's meant to be eaten", which probably won't matter to anyone but me.
I hope you enjoy the new chapter. I know some of you would like Severus to bash Dumbledore on the head by now, but he can't help Rose from Azkaban. Give him some time to strategize, but don't expect him to try to get the Headmaster sacked. Snape's relied on him for many years to make the tough decisions. Rightly or wrongly, he still looks up to the man who gave him a second chance.
Thanks so much to everyone who has reviewed and put this story on Alert or favorites!