Marius looked up from greeting his grandson's friends, affecting a look of surprise, though he really wanted to smirk in delight. Albus' indignant outrage reminded him of a spoiled little child who was not used to being corrected. The Headmaster had had his way for far too long when it came to hiring and sacking Defense teachers. Occasionally, his choices were successful, but more often not, they were substandard educators that taught the children haphazardly and incompletely. Hardbroom was the worst of the lot, however, and it was time Dumbledore got his head out of the sand and saw the witch for what she truly was.
"The meaning of what, Albus?" he inquired calmly.
"This letter from the Board of Governors," snapped the other, for once not bothering with his usual genial façade.
"Ah. That. Might I suggest we retire to your office where we can discuss this in private?" suggested Marius, giving the students a pointed glance.
All of them were staring at Dumbledore with something resembling shock.
Albus quickly nodded and swept back through the Floo, Marius followed a moment later.
Once safe in his office, Albus turned to Marius and glared at him. "Now, old friend, care to tell me why the Board has issued both me and Haldana a citation?"
Marius' mouth firmed. "Albus, I would think that would be obvious. Haldana Hardbroom is a menace, if you read the attached document citing the many examples of her prejudiced attitude towards Slytherins, Muggleborns, and half-bloods, not to mention this latest incident involving Severus and young Sirius in her class, you should see that the Board members, myself included, are very concerned over what our children are being exposed to in her classroom. Haldana isn't teaching Defense so much as she is teaching the children her supremacist doctrine. Didn't you take note that all the Slytherin students suddenly dropped a grade in Defense since Hardbroom began grading? Now, four or five, that would be acceptable, but every Slytherin, even those who had received Outstandings last term?"
"Perhaps she grades harder than Professor Targus did."
"No, Albus. I have parents who have transcripts of their children's previous Defense tests and scores, including this year's homework grades, and all of us examined them closely. The Slytherin students' homework was no worse and in some cases better than those students in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff, yet they were given poor marks. There is no excuse for that. Furthermore, her cruel treatment and mockery of Lily Evans and my grandson is intolerable. Did Horace and Minerva never tell you how she gave the two detention and made them scrub the floor of the Defense classroom with toothbrushes till eleven o'clock at night? And during that time she used Stinging Hexes upon them for talking and taunted Severus about his mother being a prostitute for marrying his Muggle father and also Lily for being a useless stupid Muggleborn? And that was one incident! She also continued to harass them in class, taking points needlessly and allowing troublemakers like James Potter and Sirius Black to mock them without fear of reprisal?"
Dumbledore looked pained. "Marius, I'll admit Haldana is sometimes . . . overzealous in her methods, but the children have learned some very useful charms this year . . ."
"Albus, haven't you heard a bloody word I've said? Her "useful methods" nearly caused Severus to have permanent brain damage when she encouraged Sirius to attack him with unnecessary violence and to use curses that no first year ought to during a Defense lesson! That is a criminal offense, to put a student in danger that way and if you will not keep her leashed, then by Merlin's Grace, we shall!" Marius thundered. "Why do you defend her, Albus? Is she a long lost grand-niece or something? Did you know that she was rejected as a candidate at the Black Cloak Academy for excessive prejudice and intolerance? She is unfit to teach any child anything at all. What will it take for you to see that? A child dead?"
"Marius, please calm down. I shall speak with her, make her understand that she must grade all students fairly and not show favoritism and she must leave Severus and Lily alone. I do not think she meant anyone to be harmed."
Marius snorted. "You don't? I disagree. I've encountered her sort before, and let me tell you, they have no pity or empathy for anyone they regard as different or useless. I want you to make it perfectly clear that she is on probation and must pay a fine of 70 Galleons. Furthermore, if she oversteps her bounds again, you shall be facing an inquiry and a vote of confidence by the Board as well, since you are responsible for the safety of the students under your care and have been warned about her. We will then take steps to remove her from this institution and make sure no one else hires her to teach so much as how to pin a cloak correctly. If she is lucky, Vesper won't challenge her to Reparation Duel to defend Severus' honor."
"No, Albus. Justice. For every student, but especially those she has persecuted. I may be a barrister, but I'm not without ethics, as you know perfectly well." Marius said sternly. "Do heed what we say, old friend. I would hate to put a lawsuit out for damages done to my grandson, or a warrant for your arrest, but I will do it if I have to."
Albus sighed. "I am sorry you feel that way. I shall speak with Haldana as soon as possible."
"Good. Know that she has also received a letter from the Board with the citation against her. Make sure she takes it seriously. Should it become necessary to hire her replacement, I will volunteer my bodyguards for the rest of the term. Black Leif can teach the fifth, sixth, and seventh years and Black Conor can teach the younger years." He rose to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I need to bid Severus goodbye, I have a case pending that I need to brief myself on. Good day, Albus."
With that, Marius left the office, this time using the staircase, as he felt the need to walk off some of his temper. He hoped the Headmaster would heed this warning, and not try and play Exploding Snap with the Board of Governors, because none of them would tolerate the old meddler's machinations this time. Not when their children were threatened.
Hardbroom was in her office, grading the latest batch of tests, and taking great pleasure in crossing out incorrect answers and commenting on them with her usual spiteful flare with her red quill. Really, some of these children were such dunces, it was a miracle they even finished wizarding primary school. Then again, some of them hadn't even attended a decent wizarding primary school, like the little know-it-all Evans and her best friend Snape, who had had private tutors, the privileged little snot. She hadn't reached their papers yet, but she was sure to have a field day when she did.
There came a soft hoot and the Defense teacher looked up, a sour expression on her face, to see a brown owl delivering her a letter. "Yes, what is it?" she demanded irritably, feeding the bird a stale cracker. She removed the letter from the leg cylinder and the bird flew off.
Upon opening it, she discovered it was from the Board of Governors.
She went pale as she read the citation against her. Then she snarled a curse so vile that her curtains caught fire and she had to use a swift Extinguishing Charm to keep her office from going up in flames. She could not believe she was on probation and fined as well! She began to pace her classroom, randomly shooting Stinging Hexes at various objects, her temper sizzling.
Finally she calmed enough to sit down and it was then a letter came by inter-office memo from the Headmaster, requesting her presence in his office.
She set down her quill and locked up her office, striding down the hall, her heels tapping out a death march.
"Haldana, I presume you have received the letter from the Board of Governors regarding your teaching methods and discipline policy?" Dumbledore began, his twinkling blue eyes grave.
She eyed him coldly, clearly outraged. "Headmaster, I cannot believe that the Board would be so unfair as to put me on probation for doing my job. And fine me 70 Galleons as well! Did you or did you not tell me to teach the children Defense as best I knew how?"
"I did, however, you must admit, Haldana, that you do tend to be a little . . . shall we say . . . overzealous in your lessons at times."
Hardbroom stiffened. "This is about those brats Evans and Snape, isn't it? Did they go whining to their mummy and daddy about how I gave them detention like they did to Slughorn and McGonagall? Is it my fault that those two are insolent disrespectful little brats in need of a good spanking? I am well within my rights to give them detention, Headmaster!"
"True, but you did go too far with that first one. You know the school policy forbids the use of magic on students as a form of punishment and the maximum you can keep a student in detention is two to three hours and never past nine for first years." Dumbledore lectured.
"Ridiculous!" muttered the witch.
"Haldana, you must follow policy this time and quit picking on Mr. Snape and Miss Evans. Marius Prince is a well-respected member of the Ministry and on the Board of Governors as well. He wields considerable influence and has told me in no uncertain terms that if Severus is injured again during your class, he shall take steps to remove you from your post, and I shall be forced to dismiss you or else be brought up on charges myself. Also, Horace claims you have graded Slytherins unfairly and insists you adopt a more egalitarian approach when grading his House."
"What? I grade as the students deserve! Slytherins are arrogant and sneaky, they cheat and mutter behind their hands during exams and all of them are probably going to join You-Know-Who as soon as they finish school anyway, so why should I give them any advantage that they can use against us?" Haldana growled.
"Nevertheless, do try and remember that you cannot blame a whole House for the downfall of one member. You might consider giving at least some of them Outstandings or at least Exceeds Expectations. It is only fair, as I am sure some Slytherins merit those marks."
Hardbroom sniffed. "Very well, Headmaster. I shall take it under advisement."
Dumbledore smiled, failing to note the nasty gleam in the other's cold blue eyes. "Very good, Haldana. Don't worry. Just pay the fine and obey the school policy and you shall last out the year. Lemon drop?"
"No, thank you, sir."
"Well, good day, Haldana. I shall see you at dinner."
Hardbroom nodded stiffly and then turned and departed through the Floo back to her office, where she proceeded to smash several things before mending them again and returning to her grading. She mentally cursed all those miserable pathetic Muggleborn lovers like Marius Prince to the depths of perdition.
Severus was released from the Hospital Wing the next afternoon, just in time to eat lunch with Dorian, Tav, and the rest of his House. Most of the Slytherins seemed glad that he was back among them, except for Nott, Avery, Rosier, and Mulciber, who thought he was a wimp for letting a Gryffindor out-duel him. As he entered the hall, Lily, Frank, Alice, Peter, and Remus smiled and waved at him. He cautiously waved back. Then he turned to sit in his usual spot next to Dorian.
"All better, Snape?" asked his prefect, Lucius Malfoy.
"Yes. Only Madam Pomfrey said to come back and get a Headache Remedy if my head starts hurting while I'm studying," Severus told him.
"That makes sense, since you hit the wall pretty hard," Lucius nodded. Then he scowled. "Next time you duel Black in class, Snape, you kick the little shit's arse. He thinks who the hell he is."
"I know," Severus grimaced. He wouldn't mind doing just that, but feared that Hardbroom would take over fifty points if he dared best one of her precious lions.
"Hardbroom never said a word to him about what he did, either," Tav groused, scowling across the room at the Gryffindor table. "He should have gotten a week's worth of detention from her for almost killing Severus."
"That'll be the day," Dorian snorted. "Hardass kisses all the Gryffindor's arses." Then he looked at his best friend and said teasingly, "Hey, Sev, did you know you left a permanent imprint on the wall of the Defense classroom when you hit it? I say we should put up a plaque there—Severus Snape—has a head harder than solid rock. What do you think, Tav?"
"Sounds good to me. About time a Slytherin was famous besides You-Know-Who," the other boy murmured.
Severus flushed. "Shut up, Dorian!" An instant later, he felt a warm weight in his lap as Greymalkin jumped into it, purring ecstatically. "Hi, Grey! Did you miss me?" He rubbed the big gray and white tom behind his ears, and Grey stood up and hugged him, putting both paws about Severus' neck and snuggling.
The cat had been forbidden to stay with Severus in the infirmary, and Madam Pomfrey had spelled the entrance so Grey couldn't set a paw across the threshold. The cat had been quite upset, but there was nothing he could do about it except wait. Now that Severus was free from the Hospital Wing, Greymalkin refused to let him out of his sight.
"Aww, isn't that cute?" drawled Sirius, peering over at the Slytherin table. "Snivvy's kitty missed him. Probably the only one in the whole castle that did!"
Beside him, James and Mary started sniggering.
"Shove it, Black!" Severus snarled.
Greymalkin got down and turned and hissed at Sirius, his green eyes narrowed angrily.
"Oooh, is the little kitty mad?" mocked Sirius.
Grey's tail lashed and he gave a loud growl.
"Piss off, you little turd," Lucius suddenly spoke up. "Before I tell the cat to wreck your pretty face, Blackie."
The look he sent Sirius made the other suddenly quit snickering and turn away. Malfoy had a nasty reputation and no first year would dare cross him, not even one as brash as Sirius.
Severus helped himself to a tuna and cucumber sandwich, giving Greymalkin a quarter of it. The cat jumped on the table and ate from a small dish hungrily. His master calmly ate the sandwich and some chips and drank some lemonade.
"That cat spent the entire time you were stuck in the Hospital Wing moping on your bed," Sebastian Zabini commented. "Wouldn't eat or anything."
"Yeah, he gets like that sometimes," Severus said, stroking Grey's sleek fur.
Greymalkin purred as he devoured the tuna, licking his lips after he was finished. Then he jumped down and curled up in Severus' lap, happy to be near his wizard again. Severus scratched him under the chin, and thought about his afternoon class of Herbology and History of Magic. Thank goodness Lily had given him the homework for each class so he didn't have to worry about playing catch up.
He nudged Dorian and whispered, "Are we meeting tonight to practice Transfiguration and Charms?"
"Sure. You still worried about bringing your marks up?"
"A little. I want to get at least an E by the end of term," Severus said determinedly.
"You will, Sev. Don't sweat it. Now finish your lunch."
"Whatever you say, Mum."
"Snape, don't be a wiseass," his friend mock-threatened, grinning.
During History of Magic, Severus passed along a note to Lily about meeting in the Room of Requirement for tutoring that evening. Lily was only too happy to oblige. She understood Severus' desire to bring up his grades, as she felt the same about Defense. That evening, the room looked like the Charms classroom, and had desks and an array of small objects that could be charmed or used for Transfiguration practice.
Before they began, Dorian shared some interesting news. "Have either of you noticed something . . .strange with Hardbroom?"
"Like what?" Lily asked, puzzled.
"Like all of a sudden she's become . . . almost normal. I had Defense this morning, and she actually awarded Tav five points for answering a question correctly. Then when we paired up, she actually allowed us to choose our own partners. And she took points away from Gryffindor because Marie Louise and Kayly Anthony were talking. I nearly passed out. She hasn't ever taken points from Gryffindor, not since the beginning of the year. Weird."
"You sure it was her and not some substitute Polyjuiced to look like her?" Severus asked.
Dorian chuckled. "Tav asked the same thing. Like I said, it was strange."
"Well, Dumbledore did get a mysterious letter yesterday that he seemed really steamed over," Lily recalled. "Maybe it was from parents complaining about her. So maybe he finally told her to shape up or else he'd sack her."
"Could be. I just hope it lasts." Dorian said.
Severus nodded. "We have Defense on Thursday. I wonder if she'll still pair me with Black?"
"I hope not. He's a little bugger," Dorian scowled. "I can't believe he got off without any point loss or detention for doing what he did. Hardbroom's such a bitch! She wanted something like that to happen, I'd bet my bank vault."
"But wait, Sirius did get detention. Not from her, but from McGonagall, a whole week's worth," Lily told them. "He's still complaining over it, but McGonagall told him, in front of our entire House, that he was lucky to not have been expelled for using a curse like that on a fellow student, and she was ashamed that a Gryffindor could behave so unchivalrously. She was really steamed. She even took points—thirty of them."
"Good for her! It's about time somebody took him in hand." Severus said, satisfaction in his tone. "Have they tried anything lately?"
"No . . . that charm your grandpa showed me to keep people from touching my things works great," Lily said happily. "Let's practice some Charms, Sev."
They practiced Cheering Charms and a Notice-Me-Not Charm, which was what they had studied while Severus was in the hospital, and then went back over Levitation and Summoning Charms as well. Severus was happy that he could finally cast the Levitation Charm without Lily guiding his wand.
"See, you did it! By the time we have a test, Sev, you'll pass with flying colors."
"You're a good teacher, Lily," he said, giving her a smile.
Dorian went over the key principles of Transfiguration, then had Severus practice changing a mirror into a music box and a miniature teapot into a hedgehog. That took a while for Severus to get the hang of, but at last he mastered it. Wiping sweat from his brow, he said, "I think maybe we should take a break. I'm starting to get a headache."
Mindful of his condition, they called for a house elf to bring them butterbeer, popcorn, and pumpkin pasties and they sprawled on the sofa that suddenly appeared in the room, relaxing until it was time for the first-years to return to their dormitories.
In Defense the next day, Severus hurried into class and took his seat quietly as usual. Soon all the other students had entered and been seated. Potter and Black barged in just before the bell, talking loudly about the next Quidditch match and how Gryffindor was sure to pulverize Ravenclaw. They didn't shut up until Hardbroom entered and swept the room with her icy gaze. Severus felt her eyes on him, and kept his eyes firmly fixed upon his notebook. He waited for the familiar sneer and some comment about his half-blood ancestry, but Hardbroom said nothing and turned to look at the opposite end of the room, glaring oddly enough at Pettigrew, who cringed and shivered.
Severus raised his head, enough to look about the room and see that the wall where he had crashed into last time he'd been in this class was still cracked. He felt a phantom throb in the back of his head as he recalled how much it had hurt and rubbed his neck. He caught Lily's eye for a moment and raised an eyebrow. What was up with Hardbroom?
Lily shrugged and made an I-Don't-Know gesture before turning around.
Hardbroom began to lecture about certain types of dark creatures that could be dispelled with certain curses and wards, she told them today they would be practicing Shield Charms and minor ward spells. To Severus' shock, she paired them up with students from their own House, and totally ignored him and Lily.
Instead she marched about and made sarcastic comments to Peter. "Pettigrew, how is it that you were Sorted into Gryffindor when you act like a mouse? This is Defense class, not a dance class, now focus!"
Peter flushed and muttered, "Yes, Professor Hardbroom."
Remus, his partner, shot a glare at her as she turned away to critique James and Sirius and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "Ignore her, Pete. You're doing good."
"Nicely done, Potter and Black." Hardbroom praised. "Ten points to Gryffindor."
She moved on to Lily and Alice next. She studied them for several moments, her face pinched and mouth pursed, and finally she said grudgingly, "Adequate, Evans and Starkey. Carry on."
Lily almost dropped her wand, she was so startled that Hardbroom hadn't criticized her or Alice.
Behind her, Sirius and James burst into loud applause. "Oi, will you look at that? It's the first time since September that Silly Lily hasn't lost points."
"It's amazing, isn't it, James?" Sirius snickered. "But I guess it's true, eventually Muggleborns can be taught."
"Uh huh, it just takes them almost half-a-year to learn something." James guffawed. "We ought to have a party and celebrate." He gave his best mate a high five.
Until Hardbroom shot him a glare and snapped, "Less chatter, more wand work, Potter!"
James sobered and went back to casting.
Severus rubbed his eyes and wondered if he were dreaming. If he was, it was one of the best dreams he'd ever had.
Hardbroom assigned her usual two feet of parchment on what they had studied and the next chapter in their text before dismissing them. Severus passed her desk and she looked up and gave him a glare worthy of a harpy about to stoop down and tear him to pieces, but she said nothing. Shivering, he hurried out of the room, grateful that for once she hadn't taken points from him.
Thursday morning was double potions for the third years. Slughorn smiled at Severus as he arrived and said, "Welcome back, Mr. Snape. Glad to see you're on the mend."
"Thank you, sir." He went to his desk and sat down, ready for today's lesson.
"Today we shall be brewing a Beast Tongue Draft, which will allow you to speak the tongues of all mammals," Slughorn began, and the directions wrote themselves upon the board.
Severus quickly copied them down into his notebook while his professor lectured about the properties of the draft. Soon he was at his cauldron, preparing the ingredients, and thinking how good it felt to be behind a cauldron again.
He finished his solution before the time allotted and turned it in. Slughorn put his hand on his arm and said, "Just a minute, Mr. Snape. I wish to inform you about a change we need to make in your tutoring schedule."
"What about it, sir?"
"Well, as you know, Mr. Connelly was going to be tutoring Potter, Black, and MacDonald in potions, but he has too many students to take on three more. You have only five students, and you can tutor up to eight, so I have decided to put them with you, separately of course, and monitor them for half an hour, make sure they aren't giving you problems. Will this be satisfactory?"
Severus looked uneasy. "Uh . . . I guess so . . ."
Horace patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Mr. Snape. The first sign of disrespect I shall give them detention, and warn them that if they do not learn what you teach, they shall fail for the year. Think you can handle it?"
Severus nodded. "Yes, professor." The last thing he wanted was to have more class with those three, but he could hardly refuse his Head.
"Good lad! You're dismissed, you can go to lunch early," Horace waved him out of the classroom.
Severus hurried away, he couldn't wait to tell Dorian and Lily how he now was going to be tutoring Potter, Black, and MacDonald. He wondered if Slughorn had told them yet and figured probably not, otherwise the whole school would hear them bitching and moaning.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Dorian exclaimed when Severus told him of the new turn of events over lunch. "I can't believe you're stuck with the three biggest arseholes in Gryffindor to tutor."
"That sucks big time," Tav remarked, grimacing. "MacDonald's a snooty bitch that wouldn't throw water on a Slytherin if their robe was on fire, and Potter and Black are a pair of arrogant buggers who need to be taken out back and taught some manners with a stick. Poor you!"
"But at least Slughorn's going to keep an eye on them most of the time, so they can't prank you," Lily consoled him. She was leaning on the table eyeing Severus worriedly. "I almost wish Sluggie would let them fail, but I guess that's not real sporting of him, and he'd have to listen to their parents scream at him if he did. I've heard MacDonald's mother had a screech like a banshee. Don't take any lip from them, Sev."
"I won't. I might not like it, but I'll deal with it." Severus sighed.
Just then a shadow fell over them. "Evans, go back and sit where you belong," ordered Lucius.
Lily looked up at the tall blond prefect, with his haughty sneer in place, and said, "I was talking to my friends, Malfoy. It's a free country."
"So it is. And therefore I'm free to tell you to quit invading our space and go back over to your own table, girl."
"Or what, you'll hex me?" she challenged.
"Maybe," he snapped, glaring at her.
"Leave Lily alone, Lucius!" Severus cried. "There's no call to be rude to her."
"Snape, you're getting too big for your britches. Don't make me teach you a lesson," warned the older Slytherin. Then he turned and walked down to the far end of the table where the older Slytherins sat.
Severus glared angrily after him. "Nosy arrogant git!"
"Sev, be careful," Tav warned softly. "Malfoy's dangerous. Don't cross him, it's not worth the beating you'll get."
"I'll see you after class, Sev," Lily said, not wanting to get her friend in trouble. She turned and went back to sit next to Alice and Remus, her head held high.
The rest of the week passed uneventfully, with Gryffindor beating Ravenclaw on Saturday's Quidditch match. Of course, that meant that Potter and Black strutted about in the common room bragging to anyone within hearing about how they had predicted all along that Gryffindor would win and how they had the best team and had won several Sickles and Galleons off those foolish enough to bet against them.
Remus, who was trying to finish up his Herbology homework, finally got disgusted and snapped, "Merlin's pants, would you two please shut the hell up? I can't even hear myself think! Go somewhere else if you want to rehash the whole bloody game, will you?"
Sirius looked over at the other boy. "What bug's crawled up your chimney and died, Lupin?"
"For your information, Sirius, I would like to get better than an A in Herbology this term, but I can't unless I can concentrate on my homework." Remus said testily.
James rolled his eyes. "God, but you're getting as stuck on grades as that know-it-all Evans and her pal Starkey, Lupin. Put the pen down and come fly with us, why don't you? Before you start to gather moss."
"No thanks. I have to get this done." Remus told him and went back to studying.
"What a bunch of boring old farts," James muttered, shaking his head. "Sirius, let's get out of here and do something fun and forbidden."
"Right on, mate." Sirius agreed.
Once the two were gone, the rest of the students trying to study in the common room breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"Good riddance!" Alice said, wishing she had taken up Lily's offer to go and study with Severus and Dorian.
It was two days before Severus' birthday, and he was hoping he could get through Defense without losing any points. He was convinced that last week had been a fluke or that maybe someone had spiked Hardbroom's tea with a Friendship Draft, so she acted nicer towards him and Lily. He was fully prepared to have her target him this class and went inside the room with the air of a wary abused animal.
He saw that Lily and Remus and Peter were already there. Lily beckoned him over. "What do you think is going to happen today?"
"I don't know. But I don't trust her. I'm going to be prepared for anything."
"Me too." Lily sighed.
"I was sort of hoping she might have changed," Remus said ruefully.
"Don't count on it, Lupin," Alice said.
Peter was shuffling through his papers and looking nervous. "I hope I got all the homework questions right. Otherwise she'll make me re-do it and give me extra besides."
The tap-tapping of heels was heard. "Quick, get in your seat!" hissed Lily.
Severus hurried back to his seat, neatly avoiding the foot Sirius stuck out. "Nice try, Black." He sneered once he was sitting down.
Hardbroom came in, looking grim and irritated. "Put away your books, we won't be needing them this period. Today we are going to practice dueling, so you can show me how well you learned last week's lesson on shielding and repelling charms."
Severus swallowed hard, recalling all too well what had happened last time they had a practical like this. He both did and didn't want to be paired with Sirius again. A part of him did because he wanted to do as Lucius said and kick Black's arse, but another part was fearful of getting badly hurt again. He quickly squelched the fearful part, and waited for the Defense professor to call out the pairs.
She began with, "Wilkes and Snape!" then moved on to "Lupin and Potter!" and "Black and Starkey!" then "Longbottom and Evans!"
As she called out each pair, the students moved to stand next to each other.
Finally, only Pettigrew was left, since Nancy Jenkins was in the infirmary, sick with a nasty flu.
Hardbroom frowned at the boy, who took one look at the tall witch and started to breathe in short bursts, like a panicked mouse in a trap. "Well, well. It seems we are a student short, which means I shall have to partner you, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Y-yes, ma'am." Peter squeaked. He looked as if he wished he were struck down with a deadly disease.
Hardbroom gestured and all the desks and chairs were shoved back against the wall. "All right. You know the drill by now. Spread out, no more than two feet between each pair, inscribe a dueling circle and then pick one person to attack and one to defend."
The students moved into position. Hardbroom grabbed Peter by the arm and dragged him up to the front of the room, close to her desk. "Now then, Pettigrew, you shall defend and I shall attack. Are you ready?"
Peter gulped and went white. "I . . . guess so."
"What do you mean, you guess so? What sort of answer is that? Either you are or you aren't. Stand up straight, boy! And quit that infernal trembling! You're a Gryffindor and Gryffindors are supposed to be brave. Right?" she whirled upon the rest of the class.
"Yes, ma'am," came the response from over half of them.
"Good! Begin!" she ordered the other pairs.
Severus began to defend against Wilkes, deflecting his Jelly Legs Jinx easily and then attacking with a Tickling Hex.
Two pairs over, Lily deflected Frank's Leg Locker Jinx and then cast a Dancing Feet Jinx on him, making him dance a jig uncontrollably.
Remus caught James with a Sneezing Hex, making him sneeze uncontrollably for several minutes.
Black was twirling his wand lazily, taunting Alice. "Whatcha gonna do, Starkey? Glare me to death? Ooh, I'm so scared!"
"You will be, Black." Alice promised, then she cast a Tripping Hex on him, something he wasn't expecting.
He ended up face-first on the floor, his bottom sticking up in the air.
Lily looked over and started laughing and then Frank joined her and so did Severus and Wilkes.
"Starkey, you dumb—" Sirius swore and started to get to his feet.
Alice smirked and whispered, "Accio ruler!" A ruler flew into her hand and she smacked Sirius on the bottom with it.
"Oww! What the hell are you doing?"
"Spanking you for being such a naughty brat," Alice replied.
The rest of the students watching roared with laughter.
"Go, Starkey! Teach him who's boss!" Lily cried.
Sirius jumped up and tried to hex Alice, but he was too embarrassed to concentrate properly and his spell fizzled.
Meanwhile, up at the front, Hardbroom was pressing Peter hard. She cast a Stinging Hex at him, and he tried to deflect it, but was so nervous that he pronounced the spell wrong and Hardbroom's hex caught him on the leg, making him jump and cry out.
"Pathetic!" she sneered. "You are a coward, Pettigrew! A whiny little baby, unfit to be counted a Gryffindor. You are weak, boy, to be undone by a mere Stinging Hex. Come at me, boy!"
Peter was trembling so hard he could barely hold his wand. His breathing was fast and shallow, he was so terrified of the witch that his anxiety was starting to trigger an asthma attack. He tried to cast a Jelly-Legs Jinx, but Hardbroom blocked it easily and sent it back upon him.
He collapsed to the floor, landing with a thump.
Some of the students looked over to see what was happening.
Hardbroom stood over the boy, her wand aimed at him. "Get up, you useless lump! Is this how you fight an enemy, by lying on the floor? On your feet, you spineless worm!"
Peter stared up at the harridan, noting her fierce expression and glittering eyes, eyes that seemed to freeze him where he stood, like a mouse mesmerized by a cobra. "S-sorry . . . I c-can't . . ." he gasped for air, feeling his throat begin to close. Panicked, he struggled to sit up, one hand reaching into his pocket for his vial of Breath Ease, but to his horror he found it was not there. He had forgotten to put it in his pocket and had left it upon the nightstand. Eyes bulging, he tried to breathe, but found he couldn't.
Hardbroom was incensed that the boy was ignoring her, whimpering on the ground like some sniveling Slytherin or whiny Hufflepuff. "Pettigrew, aren't you listening? I said—get up!"
By then Peter was wheezing and turning blue.
Remus was staring in horror. Then he shouted, "Professor, he's having an asthma attack! He can't get up because he can't breathe!"
"Nonsense, Lupin! He's shamming, he just doesn't have the guts to face an expert," Hardbroom sneered.
"Remus, go get Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore! Hurry!" Lily cried. "He could die!"
Remus bolted from the room.
Sirius and James ran up to the front of the room, James bent to loosen Peter's tie and robes and Sirius was trying to sit him up.
"Ma'am, do something!" James cried. "He's turning blue!"
Severus came and began to search through Pettigrew's pockets. "Pete, where's your Breath Ease, dammit? Thought you always carried it?"
"What are you talking about, Snape?" Black cried, looking terrified.
"Breath Ease is a potion for asthmatics, to help them breathe when they get an attack. He's supposed to have a vial on him at all times, but it's not here." Severus said. "Let me try Summoning it." But when he spoke the charm, nothing happened, since the potion was locked inside Gryffindor Tower.
Peter was making horrible wheezing noises now, his eyes bulging as he fought for air.
"Professor, can you help him?" Sirius asked.
"I'm not a bloody Healer, Black!" snapped Hardbroom. "Pettigrew, quit this faking and pull yourself together, you miserable little brat!"
Just then Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey burst into the room, holding a small smoking vial of a grayish substance in her hand. "Move out of my way!" she cried and raced over to the stricken Peter.
She shoved the vial under the boy's nose and said soothingly, "Calm now, Peter. Inhale this. That's good."
Peter began to inhale the fumes of the potion and soon the wheezing began to lessen and he started taking normal breaths again. The bluish color began to fade from his cheeks.
"Blessed Merlin, but that was close!" Pomfrey muttered, conjuring a stretcher. She glared at Hardbroom. "Don't you know better than to frighten a child with chronic asthma, Professor? What were you doing, standing there berating the poor child instead of trying to help him?"
"How dare you criticize me? This is Defense class, and I don't coddle my students. The boy's a weakling and a crybaby."
"No, because you prefer to run them into the ground until they drop, right?" Poppy declared furiously. "Headmaster, this is inexcusable! She almost caused a student to die because she was too busy taunting him for being weak and totally ignoring the fact that the boy was suffocating! If Lupin hadn't come when he did, Pettigrew would have been dead in another minute." The mediwitch levitated Peter upon the stretcher and marched out of the infirmary.
"We told her, sir, that Peter was having an attack and she ignored us," Lily put in.
"Yeah, she just kept shouting at him to quit faking it and get up," James added. "I kept telling her to help him and she wouldn't."
"You heard her yourself, sir," Severus put in. "She's an incompetent instructor and ought to be sacked."
"Why you little—" Hardbroom reached out a hand to grab Severus, her eyes blazing with hatred.
Dumbledore stepped in front of the boy, and said in a soft but furious tone, "Professor Hardbroom, you will not lay a hand upon that boy. It is against school policy for you to strike a student and if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed you could stand there and watch a student nearly suffocate and not do anything!"
Hardbroom paled. "Headmaster . . . I . . . was not aware the boy had a condition . . ."
"No? It was written down and given to you the first day of term, along with the roll of students, as is policy for any student with an allergy or medical problem. Regardless, when you saw Peter turning blue, why did you not attempt to bring him to the Hospital Wing? I find your actions to be reprehensible and cruel. This is not the first time a student has been injured in your class, but by Merlin's Beard, it shall be the last! Pack your things, Professor Hardbroom. Marius was right about you—you are a cold unfeeling harpy. You're dismissed!"
Okay, review if you're happy that Hardbroom was given the boot! Or that Dumbledore finally wised up!
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