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The Perils of Running a School

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     Despite all Snape's best efforts to find Dumbledore yesterday and this morning, the man had been impossible to track down until they were standing in front of the thrice-damned Kissing Booth itself, with the fair starting all around them. Not that his offer of substitution seemed to make a whit of difference.

     "That's actually what I wanted to discuss with you, Severus." Dumbledore stared at him mildly, patting the pockets of his robes as he looked for something.

     He didn't seem the bit least surprised or upset at Snape's request to change the personnel populating his wretched little booth at this dismal affair -- which was, perhaps, the most unnerving part of the entire interview. Not even the sight of Flitwick calmly testing the flight and dodge charms for the targets on his ring toss booth or of Slughorn training shills to stand in the crowd around his shell game made Snape want to crawl back to bed to pretend the sun had never risen quite so much as did Dumbledore's voice in that moment. The headmaster had completely circumvented Snape's prepared speech as to why Mr. Bill Weasley and Miss Delacour were better suited for the task of kissing Hogwarts students; his expression said he'd already considered the arguments and was well prepared to convince Snape to step inside the booth of his own free will.

     That, of course, presumed that any man's will could be considered entirely free once Albus Dumbledore introduced his powers of persuasion to the social equation. There had never been a point in their acquaintance when Snape had felt like his faculties were befuddled, but certainly several times when he'd felt like the application of reason had twisted his metaphorical arm. Above which, there was simply something unnatural about a man being so reliably able to prove himself right as Dumbledore always was. So, equally certain that he would never wish to step into a Kissing Booth, that it would never be a good idea, and that the papers Dumbledore was now pulling out with a mild look of satisfaction would somehow convince him (by heretofore unknown argument) that he ought to do it anyway, Snape sighed and flared his lip in disgust.

     "Ah, here we are," the Headmaster said. "My office received these petition letters all yesterday afternoon and this morning, requesting that you yourself -- and not your substitutes, as able as they are -- be responsible for the Kissing Booth. Some of them are quite eloquent." The papers were contained in an accordion file to compress them to pocket size. Once withdrawn, the stack of petitions stood noticeably taller than Dumbledore's hands could span, with three flags in red, yellow, and blue sticking out the side, and packed densely enough to feel as solid as a wooden block. There would have to be several hundred pages all told.

     Very close to three quarters of the school, Snape estimated with a growl. How had the students even found out?! His substitutes insisted they'd told no one!

     Dumbledore nodded at the papers in perfect mimicry of dumbfoundedness. "Given the sheer volume of requests from the populace, I'd say the Diligensia Determinus knew its business assigning you as it did. Obviously, the final determination is entirely in your hands. Hogwarts would not force you to take on any duty where your objection outweighs your commitment to the cause." Snape narrowed his eyes at the old man, but listened on in silence. "But before you make your choice, you ought to consider all the facts."

     He stared at the papers in front of him, recognizing the handwriting of Katie Bell on the first letter under the red flag, Ernie Macmillan at the top of the section marked in yellow, and the blue section of the pile topped by a letter from Padma Patil. None of them were signed, but one did not grade over a thousand handwritten essays each week without learning to tell one student's quill work from another. "I suppose I should take some satisfaction in knowing that no one from Slytherin submitted one of these letters. I assume they're sorted by House?"

     "Indeed. Although I can't guarantee that one of yours didn't slip a letter in with a friend's."

     And with one sentence, Dumbledore had guaranteed he'd have to actually read each individual petition to find out for certain whether anyone in Slytherin now needed detention. The requests themselves were of no consequence, of course. None of their opinions would sway his own, and he preferred to keep out of this business.

     Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Draco shoving Crabbe's shoulder and snapping, "I'm not going to snog Professor Snape! He's like my uncle!" The boy locked glares with him for one tense second before he said, "Let's go," and turned off toward McGonagall's shooting range.

     For the best. Those were questions Snape would not have relished hearing from Narcissa.

     To his other side, a dark-haired figure had approached Bill Weasley, a sneaking look about him and a blush on his impudent face as he glanced once over his shoulder back at Snape. Potter. No doubt the source of all of his troubles. The boy was growing up to be more like his father every day, in every respect -- except for his eyes, of course, but that may as well have been adding insult to injury. There was nothing else about him Snape wanted to compare to Lily. It was easier to just think of the boy as James reborn. Much, much simpler than the risk of introducing reasons to think of him as anything else.

     "And you're absolutely sure?" the boy was asking the oldest Weasley. "Nothing wrong at all?"

     The young man shook his head. "Clean as a whistle, Harry, although you mustn't touch any spores if you happen on that last batch we haven't accounted for yet. I hope those trackers find it soon. But really, you shouldn't worry. I cast three detection spells on everyone in your class, and you came out as safe on all of them. Is there something in particular that's got you in a twist?"

     Snape thought he saw Potter glance back at him again before he answered, "... No, sir. Just wanting to be safe."

     If he found a letter from Harry Potter in this stack, he'd find a reason to give the boy detention even if, as a Gryffindor student, Snape technically had no say in whether he was punished for submitting a cheeky request to the administration. Snape doubted a reason would be hard to find.

     He set the pile of papers down on the counter behind him. The thump tolled like thunder over the horizon. "Headmaster, I'm afraid my decision is final. I doubt these petitions are anything more than the pernicious humor to which students are so widely prone, and I am in no mood to be made a fool. If there is nothing further--"

     A quiet crackling interrupted him, quickly growing into snaps of wood and the tell-tale heat of a roaring fire pushing against his neck. Snape and every witch or wizard in the vicinity turned around at once to see what was once the Kissing Booth and a stack of student petitions erupting into flames. Between Mr. Weasley, Miss Delacour, Dumbledore, and himself, their extinguishing spells made short work of the fire, but the dried, blackened wood collapsed to a heap in the same instant. Only the glass jar where students were meant to deposit their knuts and sickles had survived to roll across the floor to Snape's feet.

     Madam Hooch ran the several yards from her high striker, brow twisted up in surprise. "I've never seen anything like it! Bones brought the mallet down, and the puck flew up to hit the bell so hard, sparks flew right off! I never would have thought one would get all the way over here..." Snape held out an arm to stop her from getting any closer. That sort of bad luck simply could not have been a matter of chance.

     "Mr. Weasley, Miss Delacour, would you do the honors?" he asked. He eyed the smoking rubble where, he hoped, no one would be required to kiss anyone.

     Their consultant waved his wand quickly, and sure enough the aubergine smoke coming from its tip hovered in a cloud over the burnt out ruin. "I believe we may have found the last nest. At least, I hope it's the last one. Thank you, Professor."

     Barely three seconds later, the floor stones collapsed into a hole, and the probing pink tendrils of a shrimp lily close to exploding into another shower of spores rose up into view.

     "Contineo!" Weasley shouted at the plant, arresting its movement before it could explode or burrow any further -- the first third of the annoying process of dealing with a shrimp lily: Contain, dessicate, then clean up both the physical matter and the residue of misfortune. Snape had to begrudgingly admit that the Weasley man was worth his fee. This morning, he'd proved to be one of the very few wizards Snape had ever seen perform the second spell simultaneous with the first. The containment of the pernicious little buggers required a spellcaster to cast the first spell and hold his lock on the plant until the second spell had been completed. If his attention broke, the shrimp lily would inevitably wriggle away to parts unknown. Even now, Bill Weasley had his wand trained and his eyes locked on the twitching flora as if holding it on an invisible leash.

     Plants near to bursting with new spores, of course, were more troublesome than the immature specimens they'd faced this morning. A single sprout was something a skilled witch or wizard could hold in thrall while they silently dessicated the budding end, and Snape had seen this Weasley manage as much as seven at a time, but this was closer to wrestling with seven hundred at once (if not seven thousand). Miss Delacour and Snape himself, however, wasted no time, yelling in chorus, "Exaresco!" as they blasted it with their wands from both sides. The pod started to shrivel, still shaking in the invisible grip of Weasley's spell.

     They all saw the end of another tendril, nearly as ripe as the first, crawling out from a blind spot between two rocks. They couldn't let this one go before it'd been killed completely, Snape thought, shouting another, "Exaresco!" as fast as he could alongside Miss Delacour, but the second couldn't be allowed to burst all over the assembled populace of the school.

     Teachers had stepped out of their booths to raise Shield charms between the threat and all the students nearby, and Snape could see Dumbledore reaching for his wand with the blackened remains of his right hand. Greatest wizard of all time though he might arguably have been, it was hard to believe he had the muscular control at the moment to win a grip match over his wand with a cornered, frightened shrimp lily. Not a risk he planned to take with this institution, nor with Dumbledore's reputation. Snape glanced at Miss Delacour, who nodded at him that she had the situation under control, and he moved his aim at the new bud about to burst.

     Another voice got to the spell half a breath before he did. "Contineo!" yelled the cheeky young hero-presumptive, whose assistance had been entirely unnecessary and would no doubt claim later that he'd saved the day. Potter grabbed his wand with both hands as soon as he realized how difficult the tug of war with the shrimp lily would be, a look of shocked panic coming over his face.

     "At least you did it properly," Snape snarled and whipped his wand at the plant. "Exaresco!" It shriveled quite properly under his fury, and within the next minute, the four of them had reduced the entire infestation to dead, dry husks.

     Before much longer, Professor Sprout had brought out the containment bin where they'd put the various bits of the shrimp lily for containment, and Weasley slotted the root of their present infestation into the primary pod. "Well, that accounts for all the missing spores, and there don't appear to be any broken offshoots. We'll still want to do one more run-through after curfew, just to be sure we've decontaminated anything it might have touched, but we're in good shape now." He threw a grin at Potter, who looked entirely too pleased with himself. "And look who was paying attention in class!"

     "For once," Snape scoffed.

     The boy looked at him with that wounded, defiant expression in his eyes that always brought Snape uncomfortably close to forgetting that this was James Potter's son. "I always pay attention in class. Sir."

     Weasley turned back to the rubble of Snape's fair booth, breaking the tension in the air. "Well, let's get this cleared up. Iucunditas invalesco!" A spray of chartreuse sparks flew out of his wand, and where they hit, the dark purple of the clouds above the wreck faded to a candy pink.

     "Iucunditas invalesco!" the rest of their party joined in. Bit by bit, the cloud cover telling them where the bad luck had stained the area all faded to pink, and eventually winked out of existence entirely.

     Snape brushed the remnants of dust and ash off his robes, turning to Dumbledore as he resettled his collar. "Well. If your fundraiser enchantment knew what it was doing by assigning me as it did, perhaps it was simply able to divine where I'd position myself for such a ridiculous assignment, such that a trained team would be at the ready when the shrimp lily emerged and no sensible attraction would be affected." Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at him with an inscrutable bemusement on his face. "This situation will end all talk of Kissing Booths or petitions for me to be in them, I should devoutly hope."

     He felt a hesitant pressure on his elbow from someone out of his line of sight, and Snape whipped around to demand to know what could be so important as to pull on his arm at this moment, but he never got the chance to speak. Instead, he found Harry Potter, up on his toes and pushing up too fast to avoid kissing him on the lips. The boy's grip tightened when the realization hit him, making him impossible to push away while retaining any semblance of dignity. Luckily, it only took a few seconds for him to retreat on his own. Blushing bright crimson with his eyes as wide and terrified as a deer's, Potter dropped back croaking, "Meant... cheek..." so low under his breath it could barely be heard. Even as he looked to his feet to avoid Snape's silent stare, his ears betrayed the flames in his face.

     With all the school looking on in a hush, however, no student with Potter's reputation could let himself go for long without repairing his impudent bravado. Snape almost laughed -- internally -- as the boy pulled himself up, put on a face that screamed, 'I meant to do it exactly as I did,' and rolled the collection jar upright with his foot. "For the roof," Potter said, dropping a Galleon into the glass with a brash clink.

     He did have his mother's eyes. For that, and because there was no trace of scorn in the boy's palpable embarrassment, Snape kept his tongue and let Potter walk away from that unscathed. Straightening his robes once more, he turned back to Dumbledore to rest his case as to how they ought to end this farce once and for all.

     And found the headmaster smirking as almost every Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw, not a few Slytherins, and a fair number of other professors had formed up in a line headed right for Snape. Dumbledore looked immensely pleased with himself, for all that he'd done nothing but deliver a few hundred petitions. With a snarl, Snape rated his chances of escaping that line without incurring more ill-will than he could afford at present, alongside accusations of favoritism for how he'd clearly been willing to kiss Harry Potter.

     Minimal.

     With a glance at Mr. Weasley and Miss Delacour and their helpless shrugs of confusion, he growled, "This is preposterous," and whipped a levitation spell onto the collection jar and its single gold Galleon within. He could at least meet his fate with dignity.