I'd turned to the board (stupid of me to give Malfoy my back) and was struck with a fit of itching and burning over my entire body. I looked down at my hands, and they were covered in boils.
Half the class was horrified. The other half giggled, and Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were both giggling and smirking.
"Quiet." I resisted the overpowering urge to scratch. "Miss Sommersby, put down your hand, there's no need. If Mr. Malfoy and his friends are done with their juvenile little prank, I'd like to proceed."
"Miss Hunter, how can you think I'd do such a thing?" The little shite's smile widened: he had the sense and guile not to deny it outright. "And what are you going to do about it? You look awful."
Crabbe and Goyle rewarded that with another snigger.
I stepped to the front of my desk and leaned against it, crossing my arms across my chest (to keep from scratching as much as to intimidate).
"That's not the right question, Mr. Malfoy. I'm perfectly happy to continue the lecture until the end of the period, after which I will report to the Infirmary to have Madam Pomfrey reverse your handiwork. And while I would never go running to Headmaster, I'm sure she'll have no problem informing him. I rather think he'll take a dim view of students hexing teachers, don't you? So the question is, really," and I lowered my voice and gave each word weight, "what do you intend to do about it?"
His face flushed and the smirk vanished, replaced by a sneer. He'd got a few giggles out of the stunt, but not the shock or horror he'd anticipated from me. I stared him down for a few more seconds and then addressed the rest of the class.
"If you'll turn to the next page of the handout, we'll take a quick look at some of the concepts I want to explore next week."
I went to the board to outline the next unit -- and to surreptitiously scratch my arms -- and when I turned back to the class the boils were gone.
It was Snape, and he looked even less pleasant than usual; Headmaster must have informed him of Malfoy's misbehavior. He strode over to the chair by my desk and sat uninvited with a swirl of his teaching robes, pulling the fronts across his chest and tucking his hands inside.
"Do you intend," he said icily and without preamble, "to run to Headmaster every time you are unable to enforce discipline?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," I said cautiously. "I dealt with the situation."
"By begging Headmaster to take points from Slytherin?" he sneered.
"I did not," I corrected him with as much restraint as I could muster. "In fact, I didn't even ask. If Headmaster took points, it's on his own account."
"Afraid of being unpopular, are you?" he goaded me.
I was already sick of the conversation: it was obvious how Malfoy's arrogant attitude was being reinforced. I capped my pen and wearily tossed it on the open essay-book. "Professor Snape, I am not here to be popular or otherwise, I'm here to teach. Mr. Malfoy not only got in my way: he did so in a particularly alarming manner, and if Headmaster wants to take points I'm not going to object."
"You think hexing a teacher is a laughable matter?" I said, outraged.
"Not at all. He should be sent down." Snape reached over, picked up the fountain pen with ink- and potions-stained fingers, and idly examined it. "Unfortunately that's not possible for reasons I'm not at liberty to discuss."
He seemed perfectly at ease fiddling with my personal property and it annoyed me no end, but I did my best to ignore it. "How many?"
I was impressed. "Good show, Headmaster," I breathed, and Snape shot me a sour glance. No wonder the Slytherin Head was in a foul mood: his House would be busy making up the deficit for some time.
"Are you certain you don't want to add to it?" he asked snidely. "Give him detention, perhaps?"
"Professor Snape, the day I am unable to cope with a personal affront by my wits alone is the day I pack my bags and leave. Besides which," I added dryly, "I thought the point was to punish Malfoy, not me."
His lips twitched, and I realized with a frisson of shock that he was laughing at my comment -- silently, to be sure, but enough that his sullen, immobile face lightened briefly.
So there is a sense of humour buried somewhere under all that starch and sarcasm.
He'd schooled his features back into their usual impassivity in the time it took me to process the thought.
"It will only get worse if you let him off," he observed as he unscrewed the pen nib and examined the plastic ink cartridge. "Ingenious," he murmured under his breath.
"I didn't let him off," I retorted. "Firstly, I didn't give him what he wanted -- I imagine he expected I'd run screaming from the room. And I might have done," I admitted, "had I not already sussed out the methods the more... hostile natives might use to torture me." That earned another twitch of his lips. "Secondly, I humiliated him into reversing the hex himself." I leaned back in my chair and took a deep breath. "I'd prefer to wait until he does something truly stupid before I take points."
Like hexing another student. I would dearly love to have seen the bouncing ferret incident Moody had pulled off.
"You'll probably get your wish." Snape shrugged and finally placed the re-assembled pen back on my desk with a delicate flourish. "Very well, you've had every opportunity." He rose and headed for the door. Well, I thought, we finished that with a remarkable lack of rancor.
I was too optimistic.
"Good evening, Miss Hunter," Snape threw over his shoulder at the doorway.
I turned swiftly in my chair. "There is one thing you can do for me," I spat out, and the words sounded icy and bitter, even to me. He noticed as well, and when he turned his face was closed and rigid. "Tell me," I continued, "do you intentionally insult all junior faculty, or only those that are Muggles?"
He started to respond in kind, his face thunderous, but I stopped him with a raised hand. "Malfoy called me Miss Hunter today, quite deliberately, and I assume he picked it up from you. I would appreciate if, in future, you could trouble yourself to use the proper form of address -- at least in front of students."
He stared at me, hand at one side of the door, and slowly leaned against the opposite jamb. I waited, challenging him: he broke the eye contact first, looking down at the floor.
He finally looked me in the face again. "I beg your pardon." It was said softly, without warmth, but truthfully. "It was not intentional, I assure you. Entirely unconscious."
I repressed the urge to snort. I doubt the man has ever made an unconscious move in his entire adult life, I thought, and I longed to say so out loud. But I confined myself to an uncharitable, muttered "Subconscious, perhaps," and I turned back to my work.
"Malfoy will be dealt with," he volunteered in that same low tone.
"Thank you. Good evening," I countered dismissively, and pulled the cap from my pen to continue marking.
I felt his eyes still on me from the doorway, but I worked on steadily, ignoring him. He finally offered, "Good evening," and abruptly left.
I tried to work for another minute, but it wasn't any use. I was too upset to concentrate, and the pen was still warm from his hands. It felt violated, somehow, and like part of him remained in the room with me.
I capped it and tossed it into the drawer in disgust; then I went back to my rooms, sat in the dark on the patio, and smoked one cigarette after another until the packet was empty.
That didn't matter, really. Junior faculty have no business speaking to -- all right, ticking off -- senior faculty, as I'd done to Snape. I was going to have to apologise.
But I was coward enough to wait for the chance, rather than seeking him out.
By some quirk of fate I wound up standing next to Snape. He looked supremely bored with the proceedings and ignored me.
"Good evening," I offered as I sidled a little closer.
He grunted and kept his eyes fixed forward.Not a good sign.
"I should like to apologise for acting like a fishwife over the Malfoy business," I said under my breath.
He glanced at me, surprised, and swiftly turned away. "It's forgot," he muttered.
"Not by me." He didn't respond, so I continued. "I couldn't take my temper out on Malfoy, so I took it out on you instead of behaving civilly."
He sighed impatiently. "You had some justification. I take it there have been no further incidents?"
"No." In fact, Malfoy and his sycophants had been unusually quiet since then; Snape must have blistered their figurative hides.
"Good," he said abruptly. "There was no lasting offence taken, I assure you; the matter is closed."
"Good," I parrotted idiotically. "Thank you -- Good God --"
A huge, blue object appeared over the crest of the mountain on the other side of the lake, and we could soon make out that it was a monstrous carriage drawn by equally monstrous horses. "Which school would this --?"
"That," Snape said dryly, "would be Beauxbatons. Unnecessarily showy, the French; it's entirely possible to Apparate across the Channel. And of course Durmstrang will try to outdo them."
And though I didn't think it likely, Durmstrang did best Beauxbatons. The only thing that would have made their entrance more impressive would have been the overture to The Flying Dutchman.
The teachers had been asked to assemble in the anteroom prior to supper to welcome the foreign Heads and the Ministry delegates, so I dutifully appeared.It was actually quite interesting, observing the dynamics between all the parties involved. Dumbledore was the only one who seemed at ease with everyone. Madame Maxime was certainly affable, though her sheer size was intimidating: but she, and several of the Hogwarts teachers, displayed a distinct chill toward Karkaroff.
I couldn't stand him. He was one of those people for whom the little alarm bell in my head rang shrill and loud; I had the urge to scrub my hand after he'd kissed it with an entirely proper but distinctly slimy Old-World courtesy.
Bartemius Crouch -- Head of International Cooperation -- was noncommittal, thank goodness: he seemed preoccupied, and barely noticed when I was introduced. But Ludo Bagman was another matter. He seemed to think I was an idiot by virtue of my Muggle status.
"So you're the little lady that Dumbledore's caused such an uproar about!" he said with that forced jollity that sets ones' teeth on edge. "It's caused quite a stir at the Ministry, let me tell you."
I hadn't known that. (And I was not little, and if Bagman had known the thoughts that were going through my mind he wouldn't have called me a lady, either.)
"Has it?" I smiled sweetly. "I don't see why it should. I'm a fully qualified teacher, and my nephew is a student, you know."
"Oh, it just isn't done," he confided. "Of course, Dumbledore's always gone his own way. Respected wizard, Dumbledore; the Ministry allows him his little experiments and eccentricities. Oh, I say, Flicka --" he turned suddenly to Hooch, who'd had the misfortune to enter the room at that moment, "-- did you hear they're coming out with the Nimbus 4000? Goes like a shot, I understand --"
I took the opportunity to slip away, despite Hooch's agonized look at me. "You're on your own, Flicka," I mouthed at her: she glared at me as I made for the darkest corner I could find.
It was the second-darkest, actually. Snape had already claimed the darkest and had observed Bagman harassing me, with obvious amusement.
As it was Halloween, the Hall was littered with jack o'lanterns, and bats swooped overhead. The House ghosts were making more than their usual appearance, as well. The Goblet of Fire was placed on the High Table, before Dumbledore. I was more than a little wary of it: some of the magical artifacts I'd read about could be unpredictable.
As junior faculty I was seated at the end of the table, thankfully away from Bagman, so I wasn't forced to endure any more tactless chatter. I wasn't forced to listen to any, in fact, as Hooch hadn't forgiven me for leaving her to Bagman's tender mercies the night before.
"Well, the goblet is almost ready to make its decision; I estimate that it requires one more minute," Dumbledore announced when the plates were cleared. And then he gave the instructions for the selected champions.
He couldn't resist adding a final dramatic touch. With a sweep of his wand all the candles in the Hall were extinguished, leaving us in the still-considerable light of the jack o'lanterns.
The blue-white flames of the Goblet shimmered and sparked, and everyone held their breaths as the fire turned red and rose further; and then it spit a bit of charred parchment into the air.
Dumbledore caught it, and read.
"The champion for Durmstrang will be Victor Krum."
Even though it was a foregone conclusion -- Krum was a Big Fish in the Quidditch world, I was given to understand -- the students were quite appreciative.
The Goblet -- which had reverted to its neutral, blue-white flames -- turned red again, and it produced the Beauxbatons champion, Fleur Delacour, to much the same reaction.
It was a surprise that the Hogwarts champion was a Hufflepuff. I'd got the impression that Hufflepuff was the least-respected House: its students were seen as plodding (although it was tactfully explained as 'not afraid of toil'). Hufflepuff hadn't taken the House Cup for years, and it was almost always ranked lowest at Quidditch.
But a Hufflepuff, Cedric Diggory, would represent Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament. The Hufflepuffs went wild -- including Ian and Sprout. And, barring Dumbledore's closing remarks, that was that. Or so we thought...
...until the Goblet again sparked red, and belched out one more piece of parchment.
This was very, very wrong: even I had managed to notice that there were only three champions required. I could tell, too, from Dumbledore's expression as he silently scanned the name and then gave a startled look at the Gryffindor table.
He cleared his throat and read, "Harry Potter."
There was dead silence for many seconds. No applause; not even stunned outcries. Even the faculty and staff were floored.
Snape was positively snarling, and I wondered why.
Then there was the problem of the enigmatic Harry Potter himself. I didn't know Potter well. He was quiet in class and didn't contribute much to the discussions; but I knew he came from the Muggle world. There was something about him -- a vague air of notoriety that clung to him, like the Weasley Twins' tarnished reputations -- but he was unremarkable in all other respects.
And unless I gave him extra work, as unusual a step as that was, he was going to wind up with a less than average mark in my class. No matter who was tutoring him on the factual information -- and I was certain someone was, probably Granger -- his lack of participation and the unoriginality of his essay work was hurting him. Even Ronald Weasley, who had terrible grammar, showed more enthusiasm and originality of thought.
"Take them off, if you please," I said casually. "The Diggory badges too," I added in attempt to forestall objections, though I hated to stifle harmless House and School loyalties.
"I don't think you should make us, M-- Professor Hunter," Malfoy challenged me. "It's not hurting anyone." That, despite the fact that it obviously was.
"This is my classroom, Mr. Malfoy, and I can and am," I said firmly. "You may take them off now, or I will confiscate them and you may collect them from Headmaster after dinner."
The little masterpieces were obviously dear to his heart, for he started to protest again, and I shut him up with a glare worthy of the Potions Master.
"Ten points from Slytherin," I barked out icily, "and for every minute they remain in my sight, I will take another ten -- for each badge. If you wish to play infantile games in the corridors and other classrooms, I'm perfectly willing to let you do so. But not in here." I had to glare at the Gryffindors as well, to stifle their giggles.
He sulkily complied, as did the rest of the Slytherins; they couldn't afford not to. It's hard for Slytherins to make up points, and they were still hurting from the hundred Dumbledore had levied. It appeared there was something to be said for Snape's methods.
I hated to admit Snape could be right. But I was learning.
Back to BNW Index
I now have a Brit Beta! Kudos and many, many thanks to rohansmummy. Any errors and misusages found in BNW are due to my goofs or deliberate (i.e., stubborn) insistence to keep it as 'twas. Don't blame her.