Cool Hand Luke
On the first of September, at eleven in the morning, Snape stood on his desk and regarded the verdant chaos that was his office. Surpassing the altitude of many of the oil-on-canvas paintings that the room boasted, his dark hair shimmered in the early autumn sunlight and his strong brow creased as he considered his next words. Unhindered by his teaching robes he cut a striking figure, but the impression was somewhat marred when he very nearly fell off the desk as he tried (and failed) to avoid treading on his favourite quill.
Perched on top of a large, glass display cabinet were four small, green, cotton-covered beings. Two more wobbled uncertainly on the rim of Dumbledore’s stone Pensieve before finding their balance. Six pairs of flat, scaly feet dangled merrily off the mantelpiece like so many Christmas stockings. The chairs, floor, windowsills and occasional tables were hidden from view by protuberant eyes and premature baldness. To Snape’s displeasure, one cocky individual balanced nonchalantly on Fawkes’ old perch and carefully darned a monogrammed tea-towel while tapping his big toenails against the wooden support.
The babble and squeak of over a hundred house-elves was deafening. Given the wealth of insider knowledge that is an inherent aspect of retained servitude, they did not fear Severus Snape in the slightest.
‘Quiet! All of you! Shut up so you can hear me!’
All conversation ceased abruptly. The sound of horny toenail on polished oak disturbed the sudden peace. Snape gave the wannabe phoenix a meaningful glance. The elf shrugged, shifted his position slightly and continued to sew.
‘I’ve called you all here so that I can address both house-elves and portraits simultaneously. Those of you who have seen the paper this morning will know that I have been appointed as Headmaster, and—’
The circular room was filled with the spontaneous applause and wolf-whistles of both its permanent and temporary inhabitants. Snape blushed painfully and ducked his head, hiding his pleasure at such a raucous reception behind his fringe. He made an awkward shushing gesture with his hands and raised his melodious voice.
‘— and we have a very difficult year ahead of us! I will need the help and support of each and every one of you. I’m afraid that the quality of our teaching staff has sunk to a new low, as I was unable to prevent the appointments of Alecto Carrow as Muggle Studies Professor, or her brother Amycus as this year’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.’
The elves booed and hissed their protest loudly. As he stared down at the turbulent green sea of ears below him, Snape remembered an amateur production of Puss in Boots that he’d been to see with Lily Evans at Christmas time when they were ten. He hastily quashed the urge to slap his thigh and break into song.
‘All of the students attending Hogwarts this year will be either Pure-blood or Half-blood, and many of them will have friends who have been affected by the Ministry’s new legislation. Given the insubordinate nature of some of the older students, I expect there to be trouble.’
Severus lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck ruefully. His voice was tinged with apology as he continued.
‘The Dark Lord expects me to deal with troublemakers without pity. He is in favour of the use of capital punishment to maintain discipline, and I have been commanded to dispatch any persistent dissenters to Azkaban. For these reasons, any disruption must be kept to a minimum, and if any individuals are foolish enough to be caught in the act by either of the Carrow siblings, I must prevent the infliction of serious injury.’
‘Here, here!’ bellowed Dexter Fortescue from his lofty vantage point. Several other eminent mages murmured their agreement and many of the elves’ eyes became glossy with empathy over Snape’s heartfelt devotion to duty.
‘I need you all to work together to report any incidents involving the children or the Carrows to me immediately,’ continued Severus sternly, slowly revolving on his desk-top platform so he could take in the gaze of his entire audience.
‘Do you all understand me?’ he asked.
‘Yes, sir!’ roared the crowd.
‘Will you all help me?’
‘Yes, sir!’ they shrieked enthusiastically.
Despite being pleased that his public speaking skills were still in tip-top condition, Snape was a bit narked that his quill was well and truly knackered, and that the wannabe phoenix was still darning.
‘Are you running out of thread yet?’ he asked gently.
The elf shook his head and demonstrated the point as he stretched his arm and pulled the white thread taut. Then he froze. Then he lifted his eyes to meet Snape’s glare, flattening his ears in preparation for his very own, monogrammed tongue-lashing.
‘What is your name?’
‘Did you hear what I said?’
‘How are you supposed to observe the students, if you can’t take your eyes off that bloody tea-towel?’
‘Luke is paying attention, sir! Luke is seeing Dobby stroking your travelling cloak, Winky helping herself to your Firewhisky and Professor Dumbledore picking his nose!’
Dobby whipped his covetous hand away from where the cloak was hanging, and somewhere amongst the crowd the crystal stopper of a decanter fell back into place with an audible clink. Dumbledore rearranged his beard self-consciously.
Despite himself, Snape was rather impressed.
‘Well, Luke. You’ve just been promoted to elf-in-waiting for the Carrows. I wish you the best of luck, and I expect to hear your weekly report in this office on Sunday evenings at nine o’clock.’
The house-elf blinked rapidly and beamed adoringly at Snape.
Six weeks later, Luke had listened avidly to every tale the older house-elves had to tell of the school-aged Severus Snape. When he was commandeered to accompany Alecto Carrow into Hogsmeade and carry her shopping, he expertly swiped some Muggle sweets off the, “Everything Must Go” rack in Honeydukes and hid them in his magical tea-towel pocket. He took them along to his Sunday rendezvous with Snape, who thanked the elf profusely and stashed the contraband in a secret niche behind the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
Later that night, Severus hid behind a suit of armour on the seventh floor and very quietly worked his way through a large bag of fizzy cola bottles. The sweet and sour flavour drew a satisfying rush of saliva into Snape’s mouth as he enthusiastically munched on five of his favourite chewy snacks simultaneously. He leaned his head back against the cool stone wall behind him, closed his eyes and pondered the fact that ambition was clearly overrated.
Being Headmaster absolutely sucked troll arse. He hadn’t had a moment’s peace for days. He hadn’t felt the need to hide behind this particular suit of armour since he was seventeen years old, but if one of the Carrow siblings hammered on his office door one more time, he would chop them into little tiny pieces with a Super-Strength Sectumsempra. To make matters worse, the house-elves and the community of head teacher portraits were engaged in a fierce competition over the (entirely imaginary) position of Best Student Protectors at Hogwarts.
Snape jumped in alarm, banged his funny-bone on the suit of armour trying to stuff his sweets back into his robes and choked on the remains of his mouthful of cola bottles. His eyes streamed with sugar and pain-induced tears as he gasped for breath and tried to cough discreetly.
‘Severus! I know you’re down here somewhere, I can hear you!’
The voice echoed eerily down the corridor. It was followed by an indignant, ‘Mangy cur!’ then a muffled yelp.
Clearing his throat and wiping his eyes, Snape approached his hailer with caution. In the next oil painting he got to, he found Sir Cadogan in a fierce choke-hold, and a rotund silver pony snuffling Phineas Black’s dark hair inquisitively.
‘Stop imitating Albus Dumbledore and get your arse back to the office!’ barked Phineas. ‘Some of those students you’re so worried about have broken in! You need to sack that imbecile Dobby, if you ask me. I overheard them saying that he gave them the password. I always said you can’t trust those house-elves to keep a secret …’
Terrified that a passing Carrow would spot the students and begin doling out some on-the-spot retribution, Severus ran as fast as he could. His robes and his beleaguered respiratory system held him back a bit. By the time he reached a bashful looking gargoyle, the familiarly shambling figure of Neville Longbottom had tripped off the end of the office staircase and beckoned at Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood to follow.
‘Hurrumph! Ahem! Stop right where you are, Mr Longbottom. What are you doing in my office, without my permission?’
Snape used the cover of folding his arms and squaring his shoulders to inhale a gloriously unhindered lung-full of air. He stood fully erect, tummy sucked in and chest expanded. His billowing robes settled becomingly around him, and his raven hair fell interestingly across his alabaster forehead. The three pupils stared resolutely at the floor and missed Snape’s pose completely. Ginny shifted uncomfortably, and Snape noticed she was trying to hold something under her robes against her side with one arm. He drew his wand from his sleeve and scowled.
‘Miss Weasley! Hand over whatever it is you have pilfered from my office immediately, or I will escort you straight to the Ministry for a professional interrogation.’
The empty threat worked a treat. All three pupils went pale and shuffled closer together.
‘Give it to him, Gin,’ murmured Neville.
Ginny shakily produced a large, heavily jewelled sword from under her school robes. Snape nonverbally Summoned it, caught it neatly by the hilt and brandished it gracefully with a flick of his wrist. The pupils gawked at him in terror. At the same moment, the all too familiar growl of Amycus Carrow alerted the group to some very unwelcome additional company.
‘Evening, Severus. What’ve you got here, then?’
‘Just a routine disciplinary matter, Amycus.’
Amycus’ piggy little eyes gleamed malevolently when he recognised Godric Gryffindor’s gaudy, goblin-made sword. Snape’s brain whirred into action as a crafty plan suddenly popped into his sugar-inspired imagination. He could take advantage of the situation, if he could get rid of Carrow and his thieving little pupils.
‘Need a hand?’ asked Amycus, fingering his wand lovingly. ‘I ain’t busy at the moment.’
‘I’ll handle this matter in my office, thank you, Amycus. I’m sure you have plenty of marking to be getting on with.’
The Death-Eater-cum-school-teacher shrugged but made no move to leave.
‘Upstairs, now,’ snapped Snape at his trembling pupils. To his relief, Neville, Ginny and Luna obeyed without protest.
As soon as he’d got the office door safely shut, Snape whirled around, checked that all the picture frames but one were empty and unleashed his wrath.
‘Tell me, children, which are you most eager to gain? First-hand experience of the Cruciatus curse, or of Azkaban under the Dark Lord’s regime? Believe me, both can easily be arranged.’
The students flinched noticeably and flicked Snape hate-filled, fearful glances, which was exactly what he wanted. He was desperate to get them to behave. Thanks to an exhausting schedule of elf patrols and portrait hopping, the Carrows hadn’t held a detention for weeks, and they were getting antsy about it. Any schoolchild who put a toe out of line in their presence would likely be Crucio’ed before the elves and head teachers could find Snape and put a stop to it.
‘The sword belongs in Gryffindor House,’ declared Neville, with a surprising amount of idiotic bravery.
‘The sword belongs to the school, and well you know it!’ shouted Snape. ‘Thanks to your ridiculous behaviour, I’ll have to go to the trouble of sending it to Gringotts for safe-keeping, and the school will have lost one of its most prized treasures. I hope you’re satisfied with yourselves!’
Once more, all gazes were pinned to the floor. In the background, Albus Dumbledore’s image cracked open a curious blue eye and emitted a very theatrical snore. A cold sweat broke out on Snape’s forehead. He needed to talk about his plan for the sword with Dumbledore, and he could feel his bag of fizzy cola bottles sliding inexorably out of his inner robe pocket. Scary Death Eater Headmasters were not supposed to enjoy Muggle sweets. He’d have to act quickly before they made an unscheduled appearance on the office carpet. Hastily deciding that one of his usual punishments would be convincing enough for the Carrows, but harmless enough for the trio of troublemakers, he set his features into a believable sneer and hissed dramatically, with some added spitting for effect.
‘Detention, with Professor Hagrid, in the Forbidden Forest, tomorrow! We’ll see how the centaurs and werewolves take to you three dunderheaded, imbecilic nitwits. And a hundred points from your blasted houses for each of you! Now, get out of my sight!’
Neville, Luna and Ginny fled. Snape heaved a sigh of relief and shoved his sweets back into his pocket as Luna stumbled through the office door.
‘Gringotts, Severus? Is that strictly necessary?’ enquired Dumbledore.
‘Not strictly,’ drawled Snape, ‘but I’ve got to get this bloody sword to Potter somehow, and I’ve been trying to think of a way to dissociate myself from it for weeks. Now I can create a fake version to send away to Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringotts vault, on the grounds of security. If Potter gets himself caught with this...’ He waved the sword happily at Dumbledore. ‘She’ll get blamed for it, not me!’
‘What a splendid idea, Severus! Isn’t it fortunate I had that little chat with Dobby yesterday?’ exclaimed Albus. ‘With any luck, you’ve frightened those students into behaving themselves as well!’
Snape glared at Dumbledore’s oh-so-innocent expression. Fuck it. He’d been set up.
‘Merlin’s tits, Albus! Will you ever learn not to put students at risk? I’ve half a mind to cut you out of your frame and keep you rolled up in a cardboard tube!’
Dumbledore ran for it.
Chuckling to himself, Snape carefully laid the sword on his desk, pulled off his extra- fluttery robes and strode over to his drinks tray for a well deserved nightcap. His chuckles faded into exasperated silence when he discovered that, once again, Winky had been at his Firewhisky.