At eight o’clock on Thursday evening, Severus followed Lockhart onto a golden stage along one wall of the crowded, noisy Great Hall. Lockhart, of course, was strutting as he called out to the students, and Severus barely resisted rolling his eyes at his vainglorious prattle.
"Let me introduce my assistant, Professor Snape," Lockhart said, after his own introduction. As if any of the students didn’t know who he was. "He tells me he knows a tiny little bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now, I don't want any of you youngsters to worry - you'll still have your Potions master when I'm through with him, never fear!"
Severus’ lip curled, and with a flick of the wrist, his wand slipped into his hand. Lockhart turned to him and bowed, with a showy twirling of hands that would never be seen on the duelling circuit; Severus forced himself to bow his head. Briefly.
They raised their wands.
"As you see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position," Lockhart told their audience, looking away from him, like a fool. "On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course."
“Not yet,” Severus murmured under his breath. Today , he was aiming to humiliate. He had planned his moves already, and he doubted Lockhart would surprise him enough to require alteration of that strategy.
“One - two - three - “
Both of them raised their wands above their heads and pointed them at their opponent; Severus cried: “Impedimenta!”
Lockhart was forced to stumble back as an invisible force knocked into him, even as he shouted, “Dextrous duellus declamato!”
Powder blue light flew in Severus’ direction; he dodged easily.
“Verdimillious,” he snapped, and near-harmless green sparks shot at Lockhart, slightly to his left. Lockhart dodged right, straight into Severus’ “Tarantallegra”.
Lockhart’s legs were spasming in a wild dance now, and to credit the braggart, he did raise his wand once more, but not fast enough.
Severus smirked as Lockhart was reduced to helpless laughter, ‘kindly’ waited a few seconds to give him an opportunity to fail to get out of it, then caught him in a body bind to put him out of his misery.
Lockhart’s jaw locked shut, his arms clamping to his sides and his legs stiffening, then fell slowly backwards to land, stiff as a board, in an artistic pile of plum-coloured robes on the stage.
Severus looked at him for a long moment, fixing the memory in his mind to share with the others by pensieve, and then turned to the crowd.
The Slytherins broke into cheers (and not a few of the older students from other Houses joined them). Creevey’s camera flashed, and for once, Severus didn’t mind it. Severus took it in with a thin smile, then raised his hand to motion them to silence.
“As you can see,” he informed them, “even simple spells can be used to defeat an opponent, if used with skill. First years, you should be capable of learning all five of the spells I used, if you have not already.
“You should also,” he added, savouring their attention, “note the importance of physical agility. Even the darkest of spells is ineffective if it does not hit its target. To defend yourself, watch the wand of your opponent, and learn to dodge. As a duellist, practice your aim.
“Finally,” he said, “be mindful that if your opponent cannot cast, they are defeated. Spells that affect speech make an opponent helpless unless they can cast wordlessly. Sixth and seventh years, you should therefore practice wordless casting assiduously. Third years and up, practice the Disarming Charm, which will divest your opponent of their wand if cast successfully.”
At last, he turned his attention back to Lockhart. Once released from the body bind, the man would be furious, and Severus was not inclined to provoke him to retaliation. “On a more serious note, you should all know that if I discover the person who confunded or otherwise hexed Professor Lockhart to cause his performance in this duel, I will ensure that person gets what they deserve.” He looked sternly about the room, then stalked over to Lockhart and ended the jinxes on him. “Perhaps you should visit the Hospital Wing, Professor,” he suggested smoothly. “To see about that hex, and to check you didn’t hit your head too hard at the end of that duel. I’m afraid I don’t have your expertise with healing spells.”
Lockhart seemed a little pale, for some reason, as he got to his feet, smoothing his rumpled robes and brushing his hair back into place. “An excellent suggestion, Professor Snape,” he said, plastering on his usual toothy smile. “Now that you mention it, I do feel a little under the weather - it seems you got lucky this time!” He turned to the crowd. “Sorry to disappoint, everyone! It looks like you’ll have to wait for my own duelling expertise until our next session, after the holidays! But I’m sure Professor Snape will do his best to fill in for me!”
Severus carefully did not gloat. “Perhaps we can have a rematch,” he murmured lowly. “After the holidays, of course. When you’re at your best.”
Oddly enough, Lockhart didn’t seem to hear him, hurrying off the stage and out of the hall.
Severus faced the students once more. “We will begin an exercise to practice aim and dodging,” he announced. “Choose a practice partner and line up in rows perpendicular to the stage - first years, second, third, fourth, and so on.” He gestured as he spoke, and the crowd began to break up into muttering groups as students tried to find a partner. “This is not an opportunity to work out your frustrations. Any person that I see using spells I have not authorised will be expelled from the Hall, and lose five points from their House.”
The students gradually formed into rows, mostly paired with others from their own House, and he saw some of the prefects moving among them, helping younger students find practice partners. “We will begin with the Stinging Jinx…”