Idly I cast a charm to dust the thumb manacles suspended high over my desk. They originally belonged to Professor Montague, my predecessor as head of Slytherin house, and great-grandfather to our current Quidditch captain.
I remember like yesterday old Montague behind this desk, where I am now, and me in front of it, looking up at him as if I were still a student. Though he was nearly blind, his glare was still formidable. "How are you going to command any authority?" he demanded, sneering down at me skeptically. "A scrawny little man like you?"
I'm only little to someone half the size of a mountain troll, I thought indignantly. But even at the age of twenty-three, I was long experienced at hiding my emotions, and replied mildly. "Professor Flitwick gets all sorts of respect," I reminded him. "I'm three times as tall as he is, at least."
"Professor Flitwick is in charge of the willowy intellectuals," he said disdainfully. "People who brawl over books in the library. Give each other nasty papercuts. The students in our house require ... a firmer hand." He planted his own enormous hands on the desktop and peered at me more closely. "Look at you. I could snap your neck like a twig."
"Probably," I conceded politely. "Assuming your hand got that close to my neck. More likely, if it did, you'd be taking the bones in that hand to the hospital wing as if it were a glove full of pebbles. Assuming it's still attached." I smiled ingratiatingly, so that he would know that I was joking, of course.
He straightened and smiled back appreciatively. "Well, that's more like it." He shook my hand. I didn't wince visibly. "Makes it easier going into retirement, knowing I've left the house in capable hands."
Young Montague inherited all of his ancestor's thuggish brutality and great hulking size, and none of his brains. And now, what few brains he has left seem to be scrambled. Yesterday, he walked into the Great Hall for lunch, or more accurately, he danced, conjuring flowers and casting them randomly at any girls coming within range. Later in the day, I received an owl from Mr and Mrs Montague saying that the Malfoys had informed them that their son was behaving erratically (thanks again, Draco). In no uncertain terms they said they were coming to see me as soon as they could get away.
The Montagues were due at any moment, and I had the thumb manacles polished to a high gleam. Fortunately, the Montagues were both Slytherin students, so they would know what the thumb manacles were, and where to look for them. Not that I would use them on students, even if Dumbledore allowed it. But I never let dust build up on them, and they conveniently dangle menacingly over students' heads before I sentence them to, say, four hours of eviscerating cockroaches.
But now, thanks to Umbridge, my true philosophy of appropriate punishment is in danger of being exposed. Just the other day, I heard one Ravenclaw prefect whisper to another, "Did you notice, Snape never tortures students in detention?" The other one replied, "Of course not, Dumbledore doesn't let him. Dolores can because she works for the Ministry, and not Dumbledore." The first one retorted, "Dumbledore's gone, isn't he??"
Soon, the whole school will know. I could explain to Umbridge that corporal punishment just makes young people angry, bitter, defiant, sarcastic, and incapable of trusting anyone, but the students in my house will just think I'm spineless. And on top of the fact that everybody now knows I'm not a vampire, the students in other houses will fear me less. Eventually, they may even start to like me. And if they like me, they'll be coming to me with their problems. I can see it now: instead of evenings spent peacefully sipping tea and marking essays or catching up on my reading while a couple of terrified first years alphabetise my potions ingredients with quietly shaking hands, I'll be serving my tea to teenagers asking advice on matters I couldn't handle during my own adolescence.
In short, that Umbridge woman is making me look soft.
I could just go blind and deaf until the end of term, noticing only smaller crimes that warrant the usual detentions I have always meted out, and blaming anything retroactive on the Weasley twins. Their sudden departure has paved the way for all sorts of convenient scapegoating.
Take this incident with young Montague, for instance. Happily enough, the Weasley twins are actually to blame for this. All the Gryffindor students have been discussing it quite blatantly amongst themselves. I even heard Miss Granger agonising over telling me what happened so that Montague could receive "the proper treatment." I toyed with the idea of telling her I knew what happened, and that his condition was proving stubbornly resistant to Madame Pomfrey's best efforts. But better to let that pompous little know-it-all suffer a little from the consequences of her self-importance. Maybe it would help her get over that silly obsession with house-elves.
A knock at my door drove these musings from my head. I showed Mr and Mrs Montague into my office.
Montague doesn't need much describing. He looks like his son, only older. Like many athletes, he'd never learned to stop eating like a 19-year-old Quiddich player as he aged, and had gone to fat around the middle. Mrs Montague is more elegant. She is pridefully distraught, flaunting her anger as well as a handkerchief coordinating with her dress, which looks like it cost more than my entire wardrobe. Most likely it did; I know she goes shopping with Narcissa Malfoy. And I get a discount, buying black robes in bulk.
I had Summoned an extra chair for in front of my desk earlier in the day, but only Mrs Montague took a seat, the one under the thumb manacles. Mr Montague remained standing, glaring down at me, looking so much like his grandfather did all those years ago. I resisted the urge to glare back while I contemplated how I was going to handle this situation. You might say diplomacy is not my strength.
But I could see my office was having the desired effect on Mrs Montague. Everything is arranged to make the person facing me feel intimidated and overwhelmed--the thumb manacles, the glint of dim light off the jars behind me, the contents of which cannot clearly be seen because I push them back slightly on their shelves, out of the direct light. Mrs Montague sat down with a great deal of arrogance and poise, but as she looked around, she seemed to shrink slightly. Especially when she looked up.
Mr Montague approached my desk. Like his grandfather and his son, he stood a head taller, and was at least twice as big around as me. Like me, he's obviously accustomed to intimidating people. But big men don't need any brains to do it. They just stand there and loom. Skinny bookish types like me have to be more creative.
I continued to weigh my options.
"What happened to my son?" Montague demanded, looming unimaginatively.
I replied quietly, "He was shoved into a Vanishing cabinet, and re-appeared elsewhere in the school."
If possible, he loomed even bigger. His grandfather used to do this. I think the Montagues have an innate ability to put Engorgement charms on themselves at will. "IN THE TOILET?" he barked, with barely controlled rage.
Montague had given me an idea.
"Is that a rhetorical question?" I replied snidely.
"WHAT?!" he roared, clenching those enormous hands into gigantic fists.
"I mean, why ask me if he was found in a toilet, when you know he was because the Malfoys told you?" I answered logically.
I looked surreptitiously up at the thumb manacles and did some fast thinking. When Dumbledore got back, he was going to be asking me in his gentle, aging hippie way, what I'd got up to while he was gone. Surely Dumbledore would understand the pressure I'd been under, what with all the havoc at the school lately, and that brat spying on my most embarrassing memory. Just to be on the safe side, though, anything I did had better be in self-defense.
I continued, "Your son's treatment has been complicated by his natural state of slight confundment." I glared challengingly at the two of them, distracting them from the movement of my right hand as I slipped it into a pocket.
Montague yelled, "WHAT?!" and started coming at me with those big hands. Neck-snapping hands, I would remind Dumbledore.
After all these years, the spell still came easily to mind. To celebrate his last day at Hogwarts, and as one last test to make sure I was thoroughly prepared to be the Slytherin head of house, old Montague had let me practice it on him. It was highly amusing, aside from the warning that if I didn't get him down inside of ten seconds, he was going to Transfigure me into something slimy, limbless, and incapable of speech.
I performed the requisite complicated wand wave, and Montague found himself suspended over my desk, yelling loud enough to rattle the jars on my shelves. Dungeon walls are exceedingly thick, thank goodness. That's why they always put us Slytherins down here.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH ME??" he demanded.
"Surely you know," I responded, now allowing myself to smirk. "You spent enough time here in school." I don't know this first-hand, as Montague was ten years older than me. But I could guess.
With an inarticulate cry, Mrs Montague sprang forwards to tug at her husband's feet. He yelped in pain.
"By all means, pull on his legs," I said. "He'll drop free after you break his lateral metacarpals. But no worries; our matron can heal fractures in a second."
They both froze and looked at me. At last, I had their undivided attention, along with some sort of grudging respect. Though before long, Slytherins that they are, they would be trying to gain the upper hand. Whatever they tried I could use against them.
"Your son's behavior," I began silkily, "Is an embarrassment to this house. I want him removed until he regains his sense of decorum." Or at least his continence. His morbid fear of toilets was highly inconvenient.
"So ... St. Mungo's, then?" said Montague, his voice a bit strained from holding his considerable weight over his head at the end of outstretched arms.
Mrs Montague looked up at her husband, and back at me. I caught a glimpse of a calculating look in her eye, which she quickly masked.
With honeyed tones, she said, "We value your opinions, Professor." And she smiled coquettishly.
I had to look away. I was grateful that they understood the situation well enough to start scheming their way out of it, but I'm not used to women looking at me like that.
Well, Bellatrix used to pull this sort of thing, and I was able to betray her just as easily as the others. I took a deep calming breath and replied, "They should be able to sort him out in time for final exams." And I smiled respectfully, raising my wand as if to free Montague. Not quite yet, though. They were still just a little too defiant.
Looking at me with those enormous aquamarine eyes, Mrs Montague purred, "You aren't going to put this on his permanent record, are you?"
Best not to look these sorts of witches in the eye, but if I looked away again, she might think she's affecting me. I studied the bridge of her nose and replied, "Might come in handy, depending on the type of job he's applying for."
She raised an impeccable eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?" she asked in a less sultry voice.
I risked a quick glance into her eyes, and then up at his. Yes, this had been long enough.
I smiled winningly. "Getting stuck in a toilet isn't the kind of information that's pertinent to a student's academic record." I raised my wand and performed the counter-incantation. Montague landed on my desk surprisingly lightly for so big a man.
Montague hopped off my desk, massaging his thumbs. I could see the murderous rage in his eyes. And then he looked at my wand, and suppressed it. Very wise, Mr Montague. And now both Montagues were smiling at me ingratiatingly, though their eyes remained cold.
Montague shook my hand. His handshake didn't hurt a bit. "Thank you for all your helpful advice in this difficult matter."
"You're welcome," I replied, and meant it. First time in fourteen years I got to use the thumb manacles. And it wasn't on a student, so I shouldn't get in too much trouble.
"One more thing," said Mrs Montague a little timorously. "What of the culprits?" They both regarded me anxiously, their concern for their son weighted against their fear of aggravating me any further.
Really, if it were my son, I would have asked this first. "The culprits fled the school in anticipation of the punishment I had in store for them as a consequence of the attack on your son." Yes, it's a pretty outrageous lie, but I would like to see anybody prove otherwise.
They looked at each other. "That is satisfactory," said Montague. "We'll be off, then." They both gathered themselves to depart.
"Allow me to escort you to the hospital wing," I said.
Almost in unison, they each said, "Oh no, I can remember the way."
I didn't doubt it. Anybody who attended school under old Montague could hardly forget. Especially during Dippet's waning days, when the Slytherin headmaster had him terrorized. But I hadn't thought of a way to publicise my confrontation with the Montagues. They certainly were not going to be bragging about being bested by a teacher.
And I was almost caught up with my marking. So I took the time to follow the couple up to the hospital wing, ruminating the whole way, and careful not to turn my back on the family until well after they had left the castle. Young Montague was conjuring butterflies until the three of them were out of sight.
But in the considerable time it took to walk to the hospital wing, I still hadn't thought of a way to let the whole school know of this disciplinary event of which Umbridge herself would be proud. Feeling slightly vexed, I was about to descend back into the dungeons when I felt the irritating presence of someone right behind me.
I whirled suddenly, hoping to startle the person into moving away.
But he stood his ground, smiling faintly. "How's Montague?" he asked.
I could not help but smile back, and gestured for him to follow. "Walk with me, Draco."