How To Build A Better Mouse-trap: Snape-style
1. Recognizing The Need for a Mouse-trap
"So, Severus...what will you put up against your chess skills?"
Albus' eyes twinkled as he taunted Snape, smugly confident in his ability to manipulate the younger wizard. Snape snorted, still pacing Albus' office, irritated that, once again, he'd been pulled into a self-defeating contest by the artful old wizard. He had yet to win a game of wizards chess against Albus.
"I don't see why you insist on betting me," he railed. "What could I bet that you'd want?"
"Well, it doesn't have to be anything material," Albus said slyly. "It could be something else. A favor...a service...a joke?"
Snape's blood froze. "What joke?"
"Something like...prancing around the castle in fancy dress. Say...with bunny ears and fuzzy pink slippers?"
"Don't be absurd. I'd never bet that. You must have something else in mind."
"Actually, I was thinking of that twelve-year-old scotch you have stashed away in your rooms."
Severus turned and faced Albus, frowning. "How did you know about that? No, never mind," he answered himself as Albus opened his mouth to speak. "I know you spy on me."
"Codswallop. I do not spy on my friends. I simply noticed you bringing it in with you when you returned from your last trip to Diagon Alley. Where did you manage to find it, by the way? Gladfellows never has anything better than ripple, every time I go there."
"I do not shop at Gladfellows," Snape sneered. "I was given that scotch as payment for a potion I made for Crabbe--a sort of keep-it-up-all-night-even-though-she's-too-young-for-you sort of potion."
"Well, then," Albus stated triumphantly. "There's no problem, is there? You can simply get another bottle the next time you make that potion for him. I assume there will be a next time, yes?"
"Yes and no," Severus answered. "The potion gives him stamina; it will not improve his technique. He'll ask for something more, but the problem is, he won't ask me. I'm no longer in his good graces. He took offense at something I said to him when I gave him his potion."
"What did you say to him?"
"I told him that a voluptuous young witch was no excuse for missing an appointment with Malfoy, and that Malfoy was looking for him, with punishment on his mind. Crabbe accused me of informing Malfoy as to why Crabbe had missed the meeting, and I lost interest in the conversation. Since I didn't deny the accusation, Crabbe no longer trusts me to keep his confidences. Needless to say, I'm not losing sleep over it."
"And did you tell Malfoy?"
"Of course not. I couldn't care a fig what those imbeciles get up to. However, I have no other source for the scotch."
"Well, isn't there something you'd like me to wager? Something that would be the equivalent of giving up the much-coveted scotch?"
Snape narrowed his eyes, staring at Albus, though his thoughts were far away. This was the time...this was the game of his life...or could be...
"I want the Defense Against the Dark Arts class."
"Severus! Anything but that. You know the Ministry would never approve. And the position is cursed. I have explained to you over and over again that I had very good reasons for not having appointed you in the past."
"You could sway the Ministry; after all, I know you have more clout than you admit to. And bugger the curse! I don't believe it."
He stared the headmaster down, willing him to acquiesce. "Come now, Albus...you know I've never beaten you at chess before. What have you got to lose?"
Long seconds passed; all Snape could hear was the crackling of the fire in the hearth and the occasional rumbling chirp from Fawkes. But his mind was made up. Either this would be the game of games, or he simply wouldn't bother. There were a hundred other things he could be doing right now, and chess had not been his idea in the first place. He'd only come in here to avoid a chat with Minerva, who was trying to organize chaperones for the third-years' first visit to Hogsmeade.
"All right, Severus," Albus said quietly. "If I win, I get the twelve-year-old scotch. If you win, you teach DADA. I'll find something else for Quirrell."
Severus sat down before the board, clearing his mind and reinforcing his Occlumency barriers. It would have been beneath Albus to cheat, but this game would be for high stakes. Idly wondering if he could get away with Legilimency, he pushed a reluctant pawn into place. The game was on...
Disgusted, Snape pushed away the tea Albus had poured him. So...another year of Potions instead of the class he really wanted. Quirrell's job was safe. And Snape was out a precious bottle of mind-numbing spirits. Sure, he could stick to firewhisky, but it riled him that his skills, his sweat, and all his efforts had gone into the potion that had earned him the scotch. Now this chess master had effortlessly taken it from him.
"Congratulations, Albus," he said, forcing a civility into his voice that didn't want to be there. "Enjoy your scotch." He rose to leave Albus' office.
"You could always try to win it back, Severus," Albus said.
"I know when to stop kicking a dead thestral, Albus. My chess skills will never match yours."
"I think what I should have wagered," the old wizard said contemplatively, "was that when you lost, you'd have to make extreme efforts to be more optimistic and to show more humanity toward your fellow wizards."
"Preposterous. I'm as optimistic as I can possibly be, my life being what it is. And the day I feel inclined to show humanity toward my fellow wizard is the day I've had a lobotomy. However," he added, pausing as a new thought occurred to him. "If it doesn't have to be wizards chess..."
"Go on," Albus encouraged. "You have my attention."
"If I could, in fact, show more optimism and humanity, would it be worth the scotch?"
"That sounds like a safe bet. The day you can prove those things is the day you can retrieve your scotch. But be warned--I'll not make it easy for you."
Nodding his goodbye to Albus, Severus left the office and headed out the door.
In the staff lounge, he sat brooding, too immersed in his own thoughts to notice Minerva hovering near the tea table. As he pondered his situation, he mindlessly agreed to accompany her and several noisy, rambunctious and generally obnoxious children to Hogsmeade in two weeks' time.
2. The Base
Severus contemplated his situation carefully. Albus was no fool; Snape would have to attack from a quarter not considered. It was virtually impossible to catch the old wizard unaware. And he did mean to have his scotch back.
"Severus, are you listening to me?"
He looked at Minerva, smiling slightly. "Forgive me, Minerva...my thoughts were engaged in trying to solve one of life's little problems. I did understand that the first of the third-years' Hogsmeade trips will be two weeks from now, and for some reason, I actually agreed to help you with that."
"Too right you did," she said gleefully. "And there's no backing out now. What problem are you trying to solve? Perhaps an opinion from someone not involved might help?"
"Thank you, no. I'll just have to let the beginnings of an idea stew for a while. Ideas must sometimes ferment before they can be used. By the way," he added, "hadn't you studied under Niles Bennington in your youth?" Bennington had once been the leading Transfiguration expert in England, but that was many years before his death, some twenty years earlier.
"Yes, I did," she said, surprised. "How did you know?"
"I vaguely recall some mention of it," he answered casually. "It has been said, by some, that no one has ever surpassed his skill."
"Nonsense," she countered primly, with just a slight edge in her voice. "I was still working out my apprenticeship when I had proven that my skills were superior to his."
"Then why was he the one who gained all the notoriety?"
"Better PR. I chose not to flaunt my successes the way he did. It was a matter of pride."
"But his accolades could have been yours."
"Who needed it? I'm doing what I had always wanted to do. I'm teaching. What brought this up, anyway?"
"Just something I heard at a pub. I've been wondering about it ever since. Rumor has it that Bennington once Transfigured a lantern into a living beast that had never previously existed. I'll wager you can't do that."
"I can. I have done."
"I don't believe it."
Her eyes narrowed as she peered at Snape over the top of her glasses. "Why would I exaggerate my expertise? I have nothing to prove. And such a blatant display of prowess is beneath me."
Snape shrugged eloquently, and made no comment as he sipped his tea. Suppressing his grin, he watched from the corner of his eye as Minerva began to fidget, then as she stood and headed back to the tea table. Her movements were rigid with barely-suppressed indignation, and Snape mentally added a notch to the imaginary scoreboard in his head.
"There is, of course, the problem of what to do with such a beast once it's created," she said.
"Give it to Hagrid."
"He has trouble enough with the animals he's already hiding from Albus."
"You could always Transfigure it right back, couldn't you?" He kept the glee from his voice as he egged her on. "That's assuming, of course, that you could do it in the first place."
"No question of that!" she all but spit back at him. She darted a quick look around the room, as if to make sure no one was listening. "Besides, it's much easier to Transfigure something into a nonexistent animal than it is to Transfigure something into a known beast. At least, in a newly created beast, no one would know if there had been any mistakes made."
"So...you think of covering up your mistakes? Sounds like a lack of confidence to me," he said archly.
Blowing out an exasperated breath, Minerva grabbed the now-empty teapot while Snape automatically ducked, thinking she was going to throw it at him.
"All right. For once and for all...I'm going to Transfigure this teapot into...into...well, something."
Snape returned his cup to the table in front of him and leaned forward, all attention. "All right then...let's see it."
"This goes no further than these four walls, right? I think the Ministry, and of course, Albus, would frown on such goings-on between two alleged adults, don't you agree?"
"My lips are sealed, Minerva. Give it your best effort."
"Right, then." She put the teapot in the center of the low table, straightened her posture and pulled her wand from her robes. Focusing on the innocent teapot, she tapped it three times, then uttered, "Veriverto."
Snape, in spite of himself, was transfixed. He watched with increasing awe and respect for Minerva's skills as the teapot shifted, gradually becoming a four-legged beast, though smallish in stature and weight. What was once a spout was evolving into a long trunk, and its ears were becoming more pronounced. It seemed to be trying for a third eye, and when its tail began to broaden to the point where it upset the creature's overall balance, Minerva tapped it once more with her wand, stilling its growth.
"There," she said happily. "I think that should do it. Severus, you are the first to be introduced to my...to my...snorkdoodle."
"Well, do you have a better suggestion?"
Snape shrugged. "Seems to fit the little beast, doesn't it? No," he said abruptly, stilling her hand as she raised her wand once more. "Leave him, will you? He kind of grows on you, doesn't he?"
Minerva's eyebrows shot up, but she shrugged one shoulder. "On your own head be it. Remember, not a word to Albus about it. This thing is now your responsibility. And be warned--I have no idea what it eats, nor do I know anything about its personality. Keep in mind that it has traces of caffeine in it, and Merlin only knows how that will affect it."
"Not to worry, Minerva. I have great plans for it."
"And what would those plans be, Severus?"
He hesitated, not wishing to incur her wrath. "This is a perfect opportunity to seek Hagrid's favor, for reasons I don't intend to discuss with you, nor anyone else. I think I'll present this...this snorkdoodle...to our Keeper of the Keys. He can add it to his nefarious collection."
He gingerly picked up the snorting little creature, hoping it wouldn't turn out to be vicious. Making a pretense of petting it, he smiled wickedly at Minerva and left the room, hiding the snorkdoodle under his robes and ignoring the sudden concern on Minerva's features.
Going through the motions, he left the castle through the main entrance and headed out toward Hagrid's hut. Once there, and out of sight of whoever might have been watching him, he entered the Dark Forest and walked along a little-known path back to the school.
Once safely hidden in his chambers, he stuffed the confused animal into a corner, throwing down a pillow from the sofa. He waited until the snorkdoodle examined it with its long snout, then walked over it, apparently to shape it properly. When the beast let out a sigh and settled down to sleep, Snape went to his bookshelves, grabbed a well-used volume and raced to his private lab.
Tossing ingredients into a cauldron and setting the fire under it, he consulted his book, adding more components into the mix and stirring carefully. As he gave the brew a chance to heat through, he looked around for something that would pass for a collar. Giving up, he ran back to his rooms, going to the wardrobe in his bedroom for a belt, and magically reducing it in size until it looked as though it might fit comfortably around the snorkdoodle's neck. Taking it back to his lab, he checked the contents of the cauldron, and satisfied himself that the potion was ready.
Dropping the wizened belt into the potion, he stirred until all the magical powers of the Portkey Potion were absorbed into the leather. Extinguishing the fire, he used tongs to remove the strap from the potion and set it on the counter to allow it to cool slightly. He returned to his book, looking for the charm that would enable him to engage the Portkey at will.
Running back to his bedchamber, he pulled open the top drawer of his night table, frantically throwing things from it until he found a small pendant on a chain. He took it back to the lab, tossing it into the cauldron and repeating his stirring motions. Removing it finally from the potion, he set it on the counter next to the cooling collar. He bent his nose close to his book and read the words, checking again to see that he had them all right.
Chanting the charm to himself, he made sure he had all the words committed to memory. It wouldn't do for the collar and pendant to cool completely; he had to be quick.
Holding the collar up to eye level with his left hand, he used his right hand to wave his wand up and down the length of the leather while reciting the charm. He charmed the collar three times, just to make sure it took, then used an old rag to dry it off before uttering the second charm to the pendant. That accomplished, he returned to his rooms.
Glancing into the corner at the sleeping snorkdoodle, he carefully--not knowing how it would react to being awakened--arranged the collar around its neck, buckling it into place and patting the beast in gratitude for being so cooperative. He put the pendant around his own neck.
Picking up the still half-asleep snorkdoodle, he again made his way out to the Dark Forest, this time Disapparating with a quiet 'pop'.
3. The Spring Mechanism
Snape idly stirred his coffee, letting Quirrell ramble on about...whatever he was rambling on about. Apparently no responses were needed. He shifted in his seat, leaning away from the putrid odor coming from Quirrell's revolting purple turban, and cast another look around the Great Hall, his eye catching nothing out of the ordinary. The students were simultaneously filling their mouths and running them, and he wondered how it was possible. He'd read somewhere that infants had the capability to breathe as they fed, but had assumed that that particular skill was outgrown at some point in infancy. He had once, in a fit of boredom, used his concentration and some lip-reading and, in some cases, Legilimency, to sort of eavesdrop on some of the students' conversations; it hadn't been worth the effort.
Ah, now things would get a bit more interesting; the Bloody Baron had swooped into the Hall, startling a few of his Slytherins and causing them to choke on their food. The Fat Friar wasn't far behind, and he more gracefully floated above his Hufflepuff table, trading greetings with the students there. Snape stood up in the middle of Quirrell's dissertation, and casually headed over to the main entrance, choosing the path between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables.
Nodding pleasantly, he called out a greeting to the Friar in passing. "Lovely to see you again, Friar."
Knowing the ghost was following him, if only to ask why the sudden amiability, Snape continued on his way, leaving the Hall and loitering in the corridor. As the Friar joined him there, he smiled and headed toward the stairs that led to the dungeon rooms. He looked back once, just to make sure the ghost was still following.
"I must say, Professor Snape," he said, "you could have knocked me over with a feather. I can't seem to recall the last time you spoke to me."
"Nonsense, Friar," he asserted. "Perhaps I've been preoccupied lately, but I've always had the highest regard for you."
"Well, that's certainly nice to hear. How have you been?"
"Busy, unfortunately. But I try to keep aware of what's going on around here. Have you heard the latest, by the way? About the ferocious creature that's been treading the grounds of Sherwood Forest? Out in Nottingham? It seems the legendary snorkdoodle has been spotted."
"Why, no, I haven't." He sounded offended. "Snorkdoodle, you say? You'd think he would have mentioned something as exciting as that." The Fat Friar and Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore, the leader of the Headless Hunt, were as thick as thieves. Snape suspected that in life, the two had been much more than friends.
"Perhaps he doesn't know about it yet," suggested Snape. "I thought I'd mention it to Sir Nicholas; it would be interesting to see if he could finally get one up on Sir Patrick, and capture the beast before the Headless Hunters do."
"Oh, I don't think I'd like to see that," the Friar countered. "I can't stand the thought of seeing that pompous knave gloating while floating. Would you excuse me, Professor?" He took off without waiting for his answer, and Snape grinned as he descended the steps, heading toward his rooms. Pausing before his chamber door, he rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully, then turned back toward the stairs.
Climbing up, then navigating the moving stairways, he entered the library, seeing no one except a few of the more industrious students, Madam Pince, and a ghost whose name he could never remember.
Leaving the library, he headed toward the staff lounge, wondering what these ghosts did when they weren't floating around the castle. Was there some sort of central meeting place? A ghost lounge? He ducked reflexively to avoid Peeves, who was heading into the library. Deciding against warning Madam Pince of the imminent mischief Peeves was sure to cause, he stopped the nervous-looking student heading toward him.
"Longbottom, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yes, Professor Snape. I-I'm just going to the library."
"Yes, fine. Have you seen Sir Nicholas about lately?"
"Sir Nicholas? Oh! Nearly Headless Nick!"
Snape narrowed his eyes at the boy, enjoying the anxiety he knew he was the cause of. Most first-years were intimidated by him, but he knew Longbottom's fear of him wouldn't pass with time.
"Yes, sir, I saw him just outside the Fat Lady's portrait a few minutes ago."
"Thank you, Longbottom. Carry on."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." The timid boy scurried out of Snape's line-of-sight as quickly as he could, almost tripping over his feet.
Snape headed off in the direction of the Gryffindor dormitories, wondering how difficult the Fat Lady would be--he wasn't sure of the password this week.
Snape held his breath, counted to ten, and tried to smooth his features into something resembling affability. The Fat Lady took her duties seriously, and there was no way Snape was going to gain entry into a dormitory that wasn't under his charge. He wondered what the odds were that Nick would leave by this conventional exit, then decided that no self-respecting ghost would use doors or portrait holes when it was much easier and more impressive to simply float through a wall.
"Isn't there some way you can signal to Sir Nicholas that I would like to speak to him?" he tried. He knew she could do it; he had been signaled in such a manner many times in the past, when someone who was unauthorized to enter the Slytherin dormitories had wanted a word with him.
"Only if properly motivated," she replied, looking as though she smelled something horrible. "And I rather doubt you could provide such motivation."
"Well, my good...my good woman," he forced out, "what can I do or say to, shall we say, put my best foot forward? It really is rather urgent."
She looked at him broodingly, but then he saw a light come into her painted eyes. "There is one thing," she began. He waited patiently.
"Now and then, the girls and I get together for a good game of Exploding Snap and gossip. But we lack the proper snack items we miss so much. Perhaps you could provide something for our next get-together? Some sort of potion that would enable us to enjoy some nibbles? A good wine?"
"The only thing I could do would be to paint something into your portrait. And I regret to say, I'm no artist."
"It wouldn't have to be done well," she said, getting more excited at the idea of being able to provide food that her friends couldn't. "Just make it look like cheese, or fruit, and do your best with the wine. Then, if you could use magic to make it better...the very fact that you'd be willing to try it would be enough to persuade me to deliver your message. Oh," she added. "You'd also have to promise that you won't do this for the others. I want to be able to one-up them just this once."
"Consider it done, then," he said. He'd worry about the details later.
Snape strolled leisurely down the corridor, leading Nicholas away from the students who were still lingering in the halls, heading to their evening destinations. "I thought that perhaps you would like the opportunity to beat them to it, that's all. I know it upsets you that you're not allowed into their little club."
"Plain and simple nepotism, there," the ghost brooded. "But I've never heard of a snorkdoodle before. Are they...you know...wickedly difficult to hunt down? I assume they're carnivorous."
"Truth to tell, I don't know what they eat," Snape answered. "But in any event, it would be something of a victory over them, as they can't hunt for an animal you've already captured. I assure you that there is no other snorkdoodle anywhere in existence."
"It would be a feather in my cap," Nick agreed. "They'd hardly deny me entrance into their exclusive gatherings with that hunt under my belt."
Snape looked at Nicholas, almost feeling guilty at the hope he saw in him. "I don't know why you bother with them," he said, almost kindly. "Why don't you simply gather your associates into your own club? Then you can decide who's in and who's out. You don't need the Headless Hunters, do you?"
"Capital idea, Snape! Don't know why I never considered that before." Snape left him to float away, mumbling to his ghostly self, and turned to head to his rooms. It had been a tiring day, and he still had things to do. The timing had to be just right...
4. The Locking Mechanism
Snape paced the dimensions of his rooms, picturing in his mind's eye the forest in Nottingham. The Fat Friar had had plenty of time to contact his friend, Sir Patrick, and Snape knew Sir Patrick would have wasted no time in gathering the hunters together and heading straight off to Sherwood Forest. Knowing what little he knew of the snorkdoodle, and wondering if it would be a quick runner, he left his rooms and entered the study hall.
He was gratified to see that there were a healthy number of students lurking about, making a pretense of studying as they pursued their amorous inclinations. As he'd suspected, Sir Nicholas was showing off before the Fat Friar, obviously boasting about the club he was about to form. As Snape wondered about the possibility that Nicholas wanted to join the hunt merely in order to impress the Friar, he fingered the pendant he wore. It was time, he was sure, to engage the Portkey he'd placed around the snorkdoodle's neck.
Taking a deep breath, and crossing his fingers for luck, he pressed the pendant between his thumb and index finger, feeling the slight vibration as it engaged. For an agonizing couple of heartbeats, the only sound was the soft murmur of students, and the odd word or two from Nicholas and the Friar in the background. Then he jumped, startled, as the crashing sound of broken glass and hoof beats disrupted the serenity of the halls. The hunt was on!
As Snape watched, the hunters invaded the study hall, their horses' sides all heaving; they'd been ridden hard. Sir Patrick led the group, as usual, and in his upraised hand, he held a snarling, squirming, and foaming-at-the-mouth little beast. Sir Patrick's voice boomed through the once-quiet hall.
"And now you see it!" he called out to the startled students. "Here is the beast they said no man could take! Here's the hideous monster that terrorized all those in the peaceful villages surrounding the forest! It took Patrick the Fearless to bring it down!"
Snape suppressed a satisfied grin as Sir Patrick's horse reared, and when all four hooves were again on the floor, Sir Patrick threw one leg over his saddle and slid off his steed with all the pomp and arrogance he'd always been noted for. As students scurried to get out of his way, he tossed the bewildered and still-snarling snorkdoodle to the table. The fearless hunter stood proudly, smugly waiting for his laurels.
The snorkdoodle, now that it had been set free, turned in circles on the table, then sighed deeply, licked the drivel from its face, and settled down for a nap. A slow, quiet sniggering began in the far corner, where Nicholas was smirking, and grew steadily over the group until the entire hall was chuckling. The chuckles turned into outright laughter before Patrick became aware that all was not as he'd expected.
"Oh, thank you, Sir Patrick, for saving us from such a vicious creature!" Nicholas threw his arm over the Friar's shoulders familiarly as he wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. "I simply don't know where you find the courage!"
The students began leaning over to pet and nuzzle the tired beast, who rolled over to have its belly rubbed. "Hey, it's purring!" One of the girls squealed when a long, black tongue snaked out of its mouth to lick her hand.
"Drugged!" Patrick protested. "Someone has poisoned it! You all saw the ferocity it displayed! It's a veritable monster!"
The Friar crossed his arms, looking out the window at the rising moon. "Some monster," he sniffed.
Snape let his hand hover near the wand in his sleeve as Patrick looked around the room, just on the off-chance he would be blamed for this. He almost felt sorry for the hunter. He glanced down to where Sir Patrick held his own head; the normally white face was reddening, and Patrick quickly leapt upon his horse, pulling tersely on the reins. "Let's be off, men! There's women's games being played here, and we've things to do!"
It was a less rowdy group that followed him, returning through the broken window to a new hunt. As the glass replaced itself into the window panes, Snape saw Nicholas and the Friar fading away, the image of the Friar thumping companionably on Nick's back the last thing he saw before they both disappeared.
He approached the table, scooping up the snorkdoodle and glancing sternly at the students.
"Get back to your studying at once. I'll take care of this...thing." He was surprised to see that the girl had been right; the snorkdoodle was decidedly purring. He knew now, at least, that he could leave it in Hagrid's care without lasting repercussions.
Snape pounded on Hagrid's door, unconsciously rubbing the snorkdoodle between its ears. As he felt, more than heard, the heavy footsteps beyond the door, he glanced back at the castle. There were lights going out even as he watched, and he hoped this wouldn't take too long; he had rounds tonight.
"Evenin', Perfessor," Hagrid said in greeting. "Everythin' alright? What 'ave you got there?"
"May I?" Snape asked, gesturing with his head toward the hut.
"Oh, right. C'mon in."
As Snape approached the table in the middle of the room, Hagrid picked up the end of it and lifted it high enough to clear the plate, fork, knife, and stein from it. Ignoring the crashing as Hagrid's dinnerware hit the floor, Snape sat at one of the chairs, waiting for Hagrid to join him.
"This, Hagrid, is a snorkdoodle."
"I never heard o' such a thing," Hagrid said in wonder. "Where'd it come from?"
"This has to stay quiet, Hagrid. Can I trust you?"
"I'm offended you even need to ask, Perfessor. Ain't I the one tha' came up with Fluffy?"
"No offense intended; I was just making sure. Minerva conjured it up. We don't know what it eats, and all I know about its behavior is that it seems to sleep a lot. It can snarl somewhat when trapped, but settles down quickly, and likes to have its belly rubbed."
Hagrid grinned and reached out to take it from Snape's arms. "Do ya mind?" Snape let the beast go, almost missing the warmth of its odd, dense body and the feeling of serenity he'd felt from its purring.
He watched as Hagrid held it up, then looked away politely while Hagrid frowned. "Can't tell whether it's male or female," he confessed. "I suppose we'll know when it's mating season. You say Perfessor McGonagall conjured it?"
Snape cleared his throat. "Yes, she did. As such, it's the only one in existence, so there will not likely be a mating season for it. Would you like to take over its care? I'll have to turn it loose into the forest, otherwise."
"I'll do what I can for it...though it don't seem fair. Poor thing...Do yer suppose Perfessor McGonagall would see fit to conjure another one? I mean, soon's I figger out what sex this one is?"
"Well...perhaps...if you approach her at the right time, in the right way. Though I fail to see how you'll determine its sex. I don't even know if it's an adult or a pup."
"Hmm...I reckon a little observation for a while won't hurt."
"And Hagrid," Snape added, knowing Hagrid as he did, "you might keep it away from any students until you know more about it."
"Understood, Perfessor. Thanks for bringin' it to me. No way of knowin' how it would fare in the Dark Forest."
Snape let himself out as Hagrid murmured nonsensical words to the snorkdoodle, who was already sleeping on the table.
5. The Cheese
"Stop badgering me, you troublesome spirit!" Snape hid a grin at Sir Nicholas' words to Peeves. The poltergeist, undaunted, was quickly circling round and round Sir Nicholas' head, and Snape knew the nearly headless ghost was secretly pleased to be sought after. "You know my club is for ghosts only."
"But a poltergeist is a ghost, Nicky!"
"Balderdash! You have never lived, Peeves. That makes all the difference, you know..."
Their voices trailed off and Snape waited patiently in the empty corridor. Soon enough, Peeves came darting quickly back from around the corner in a huff.
"You'd think someone named him Grand Duke of the Castle, the way he's acting!" He finally noticed Snape, and turned his frustration around toward his new audience of one. He began to sing loudly in an out-of-tune, squeaky voice. "Snivellus, Snivellus, say have you met Snivellus, Snivellus the taaaaatooed wizard! What's wrong, Snapey? Snake got your tongue?"
"You know, Peeves, there are certain things I can persuade Sir Nicholas to do. You might do yourself a favor by being nice to me."
Peeves froze in mid-air, every part of him seeming to concentrate on Snape's words. "You would talk him into letting me join his club?"
Peeves swirled around in an inside loop, stopping before Snape and smiling brightly. "What will it take, Snape? Severus? What can I do to get you to do this for me?"
"I like emeralds, Peeves. I want all the emeralds you can find."
"That's it? Emeralds? What's the catch?"
"Do you mean to imply that you have access to emeralds? I don't want just any sort of stone, you know." Snape smiled evilly. "I want the ones that are shaped like smooth, long eggs. No others will do. And I want lots of them."
"I can get them...will you talk to Nicholas?"
"After I get the gems, Peeves. Not a moment before."
"How do I know you won't weasel out on me later?"
"Peeves!" Snape put his hand to his heart and endeavored to look hurt. "You have my word. What good would it do for me to back down, after all? It does me no harm to think of you as a member of Sir Nicholas' exclusive club. I know how much you want to be part of the 'inner circle'. And I have no wish to get your dander up, do I?"
As Peeves chortled gleefully and sped away into the higher regions of the castle, Snape climbed the stairway and entered the Great Hall, barely noticing the noisy chatter of students all around him. He made his way over to his customary seat--next to the odious olfactory obscenity that was Quirrell--and waited for his plate to fill up with his dinner.
Glancing to his left, he noticed Quirrell's hand trembling as the stuttering wizard reached for his tea. He knew he'd have to keep a close eye on the man, and he wondered if he'd missed anything important lately. Something was upsetting Quirrell, and he doubted it was his own presence. Perhaps it was time he allowed Quirrell to know that he suspected him of...well, of not being exactly who he appeared to be. Snape had wondered about him ever since the last Quidditch match, when young Potter's broom was being hexed. Although everyone's focus had been upset when Snape's robes had caught fire, most had stared at Snape. Everyone but Quirrell, whose eyes had gone straight to Potter. There had been no mistaking the frustration Snape saw in the eyes that had trouble meeting his own.
As he turned to Quirrell, intending to ask him how his DADA classes were going, Albus caught his eye. He lifted his eyebrows in question, but Albus simply raised his tea cup in silent salute and turned back to Minerva. Wondering if the headmaster was mocking him over the lost chess game, he forgot what he was about to say to Quirrell. It was just as well, though, because the rank odor of the turban was beginning to nauseate Snape.
Scooting his chair further away from Quirrell, Snape began picking at his dinner, his appetite now gone.
"Severus," Albus called as Snape made his way out the back door of the Great Hall. "I must admit, I'm happy to see that you're trying."
Snape sighed. "All right, Albus, I'll bite. What, exactly, am I trying?"
"I understand that yesterday you offered to accompany Minerva and her young charges off to Hogsmeade for their first trip. That would qualify as a small step toward humanity. Still, you must realize that it will take much more than that to win back your scotch. It is vintage, after all."
"Well, Albus," Snape rejoined, "you can't expect me to leap canyons. I'm fighting several years' worth of inhumanity, aren't I?"
"And it all starts with one small step, doesn't it? We could be talking about years here, Severus. Am I to hold onto that scotch for so long? I think we should set a time limit."
Snape stopped, looking silently at Albus while he considered his options. "Very well," he said after a few moments. "Shall we say...a deadline of midnight tonight?"
Albus lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "You sound very confident, Severus. Or...you haven't given up on winning it back, have you? This isn't some sort of Slytherin retreat, is it?"
"Headmaster, I'm wounded," Severus said, sounding almost sincere. "The word 'retreat' isn't in the vocabulary of any decent Slytherin. Unless," he added as an afterthought, "it's to our advantage to engage in a tactical pause in operations."
"Very well then, Severus. I will call your bluff. If I don't see evidence of true humanity from you, or any trace of real optimism from you by midnight tonight..."
"I keep the scotch, and you will wear those bunny ears and those pink fuzzy slippers all day tomorrow, including during your classes. Agreed?"
"And no later than midnight tonight, when you hand me that bottle of scotch, you will also hand me a parchment, complete with your signature, that I am to be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, taking over from Quirrell, who will suddenly have come down with a terrible case of insanity."
"Now, Severus, you can't expect him to go along with insanity."
"I'll feed him a Babbling Beverage. It won't last more than a few days, and his sanity will still be intact, such as it is."
"No, Severus. There are reasons I cannot divulge as to why I can't go along with that. It is crucial that Quirrell remain in his position as DADA instructor."
"I'm aware of that, Albus. I just had to try. Very well then..." Snape paused, swallowing his disappointment, and thinking hard. He would figure out another way to get that post, but in the meantime, he would not be dissuaded from retrieving his scotch. "Allow me to at least monitor Quirrell's activities as far as his charms go as he adds his to ours in guarding your precious cargo up on the third floor. I've completed mine, by the way. It will take an extremely intelligent scoundrel to get past my potions trap."
"Excellent. And just for the record, I have my eye on Quirrell too, as well as everyone around me. So...it's a bet then? Midnight?"
As Snape turned toward the stairs leading down to his office, he glanced at the House Points in the hourglasses on the wall of the entrance hall. Hoping Peeves wouldn't let him down, he shook off the tension that was trying to settle into his shoulders. He didn't want to think about his future if he had to parade around in that ridiculous get-up. Bunny ears, indeed. And here he had thought that being suspended upside-down, underwear showing for all to see had been bad...
6. The Sound of the SNAP!
Snape added the finishing touches to the cheese and the smaller bowl of biscuits that he'd painted onto the Fat Lady's canvas. Using his quill to write in a good year on the wine bottle's label, he reached for his wand. Murmuring the spell that would make it all real for her and her card-playing friends, he watched as his poor attempt at painting began to approach something that rivaled the original artist. The Fat Lady clapped her hands gleefully, thanking Snape once again for coming through for her.
"And you're sure it will never fade? The wine will keep replenishing itself? The cheese never dwindling? The biscuits?"
"No fear," he said, happy that his efforts weren't for nothing. "As long as you keep away from lacquer thinner, you'll be fine."
He charmed away his paints, looking over his shoulder at the sound of Sir Nicholas' voice as he greeted a student. Walking quickly to cut off the ghost as he rounded the stairway's landing, he said, "Sir Nicholas, if I may have a word?"
"Certainly, Professor Snape."
"How is your new club getting on?"
"Splendidly, thank you. I'm having a bit of a problem with Peeves, but I think I can deal with him."
"Actually, that's what I wanted to speak to you about," Snape began. "I realize he's a troublesome being, but have you considered...you are the leader of this club. As such, you would have a power over him that you don't have now. Imagine Peeves listening to you, when he doesn't listen to anyone else? Consider the influence you'd have over him if he was bent on being a member of good standing in your exclusive club? Even the Bloody Baron can only control him with threats. But you could have him at your beck and call...think of the power!"
As Nicholas hovered there, thinking things over, Snape glanced nervously down the stairway to the entrance hall, toward the hourglasses that held the House Points. Looking over at the Tower Clock, he saw it was well after eleven. Less than a half-hour until midnight...
"You make an excellent point, Professor," Nicholas was saying. "I will most definitely consider it..." He began fading away, and Snape looked frantically around the corridors, listening, hearing nothing unusual. He walked toward the Slytherin common room, almost leaping down the gap left when the staircase chose that moment to change.
Blowing out an impatient breath, he was forced to go through the third floor corridor for the shortcut that would lead him, eventually, to the door to the common room. As he passed by the door that hid that three-headed beast which guarded Albus' precious package, he paused, then retraced his last few steps to the door.
"Alohomora," he uttered, then pulled open the door to peek at the sleeping dog within. Satisfied, he pulled the door shut again and continued on his way, entering the Slytherin common room through the back door.
No one was in the room; he'd trained his students well. Looking over to the corner where the Bloody Baron usually hovered, he saw that the floating chair was empty; that was a good sign. Just then, a blood-curdling shriek sounded in the hall outside the door, and Snape rushed over to investigate. He yanked open the main door, pulling his head back inside just in time to avoid being assaulted by Peeves, who was shooting around the hallway outside at the speed of light. Fast on his heels was the Bloody Baron, shouting obscenities and brandishing his sword wildly.
As Peeves neared the door again, Snape hissed, "Upstairs! Get to Albus!"
Hoping the poltergeist heard him, he pulled back inside the common room, again heading for the back door and the quickest route to the headmaster's office.
"Raspberry truffles," he tried, hoping he'd gotten it right. Snape relaxed slightly as the gargoyle began to turn around, the stairs appearing and lifting him to Albus' door. He heard what sounded like a riot before he got there, and didn't bother to knock. Throwing open the door, he stood motionless as he took in the sight before him.
Peeves was flying laps around the room, the breeze of his wake disturbing the portraits lining the walls. As the Baron gave chase, books were knocked from shelves by his sword, and Snape could hear the sound of delicate instruments breaking against the floor. The Sorting Hat was cringing at the onslaught, and there were phoenix feathers wafting in the air, slowly making their way to the floor. He made a mental note to skive some of them away for his stockroom. The surface of Albus' desk had been blown clear, and the headmaster himself was sprawled inelegantly on the floor next to it, flat on his arse, a look of confused wonder on his face. He looked up at Severus as he approached, flinching as another hourglass hit the floor nearby.
"Severus, what in the world has gotten into those two?"
Snape got down on one knee, resting his arm on it, and looked at the chaos around them. "This, Albus," he drawled, "is one for the books."
"GIVE ME BACK MY EMERALDS, YOU THIEVING LITTLE SHIT!" The Baron's voice competed with Peeve's high-pitched protests.
"I only did what Snape told me to do!"
Albus looked at Severus. "You had something to do with this?"
"I never told him to steal the emeralds from the Slytherin House Points."
"Why were emeralds needed?"
"It's rather complicated, Albus. What I would like to point out, however, is that I'm very optimistic about getting back my bottle of twelve-year-old scotch."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Albus, let's go over this carefully, shall we? Point one: Minerva has proven that she is the most skilled Transfiguration expert England has ever known. Thanks to me.
"Point two: Hagrid is as happy as a Kneazle because he has a truly unique and harmless animal to care for. Thanks to me.
"Point three: Sir Nicholas no longer feels slighted because of the rude hunters that deny him entry to their hunting trips. He has his own club now. Thanks to me.
"Point four: Peeves will now be allowed to join that club, and so we have another means to control him. Rather, Sir Nicholas will now be able to control him. Thanks to me.
"Point five: The Fat Lady is now as happy as a clam because she'll have a proper snack to offer her fellow hens for their weekly get-togethers. Thanks to me.
"Point six: The students, staff, and all unprepared innocent bystanders will not be subjected to the sight of me in a bunny costume and pink slippers. Thanks to me.
"These are six significant things that should prove to you that I'm just loaded with humanity toward my fellow wizard. I've already mentioned the optimism. And Albus," he added with a grin as he swiped the scotch from Albus' desk drawer, "look at the hourglass before Peeves breaks it."
Albus automatically looked over at the time. The few grains of sand left in the upper half proved that it wasn't quite midnight. The blue eyes twinkled as he looked back at Severus. "I never would have believed it possible..."
Peeves shot through the wall, the Baron still in pursuit, as Severus found two unbroken shot glasses. He poured a generous amount of scotch into each, and handed one to Albus. He raised his glass in salute.
"To you, Albus. I've enjoyed this game. I think you must agree that it took much more strategy to accomplish this than the average game of wizards chess..."