Harry Potter was nearly glad to see Snape arrive for his DADA class - he was almost looking normal again. Still thin, unhealthily so (but he often looked that way...), but Harry could feel a sort of energy to Snape that he hadn't had last week - like a live wire, rippling with energy.
Snape strode his way through the class, students instinctively sidling away from his path. He leapt up onto the small dais, and said, "Slytherins, choose your partners." Nearly as one, the Slytherins turned their eyes to the rest of class. Even Goyle's sleepy eyes looked keen as a knifeblade. Malfoy ended up standing by Hermione, his face turned into a sneer of disdain. And, yet, he'd still chosen her? It was an odd match, those two behaviors. Goyle was standing beside Harry, looking as dull as a clod of dirt. Yet, his eyes were wary and light on everyone. Harry somehow had the impression that not much got past those eyes, though Goyle was the type to keep his own council. Nott was standing by Boot, and Harry vaguely recalled that both of them were in Arithmancy with Hermione, so they perhaps at least knew each other. Bulstrode was paired with Crabbe, and Harry couldn't help but think that would be an interesting combination to fight. The Big and Uglies. That would be mean to say about someone else, but - as of this precise moment, it was both accurate and a compliment. They didn't have to work to be intimidating (as Malfoy would have to, if he ever hoped to... Harry viciously cut the thought off. There were things he didn't want to think about - things that ought not to exist in his mind.)
"Hufflepuffs, you're next." This was mainly 'puffs choosing their own, Hannah and Susan together, Justin and Ernie. Somehow, and nobody was surprised, Zacharias was left alone, and wound up standing with an ugly smile next to Neville Longbottom. "Stick with me, kid, and you'll be fine." he said - somehow managing to be more arrogant than Malfoy.
"All the people who were so unfortunate as to not get picked, find yourself a partner." It was really strange, when you thought about it, how distinctly unsympathetic Snape could make his voice. It was a move designed to make people feel awful, and yet - they hadn't really done anything. Last year, Harry would have been... provoked. This year, he merely waited. And wondered exactly what was going on.
"Does everyone have a partner?" Snape said, before ordering, "Face your partners, two paces away from them." Harry was looking around as he maneuvered to the proper position. Many had their wands in hand, others looked as if they were about to draw them. "Now bow." Everyone did, with varying degrees of grace. Goyle, looking more like a stone golem than a person, bowed carefully at his waist. Harry mimicked him, if not in his stoniness, at least the level of his bow. He vaguely recalled that it was considered an insult somewhere to not bow as low as your partner.
"Can anyone tell me why I asked the Slytherins and then the Hufflepuffs to choose their partners?" Snape asked. There was a loud silence in the room, as people uneasily shuffled their feet. Snape lept off the dais and strolled the room, his dark, intent eyes causing most people to look down. Harry met his eyes solidly, his hands automatically turning into fists at his sides. Snape stopped in front of Granger, his robes swaying back and forth with the abruptness. "Well, well, well, have I finally asked a question that Miss Know-it-all cannot answer? What's the matter, dear, was it not in your books?" The Slytherins (particularly Pansy) were snickering lightly at this - and Harry could, at least briefly, understand enjoying someone's comeuppance. But this was his friend, and Harry didn't like people poking his friends. His hands were true fists at his sides, and he shook with anger.
"Potter," Snape drawled, his penetrating eyes still locked on Granger's, "Whatever is the matter? Are you really so upset that I haven't called on you?" How did Snape know? He wasn't even looking at me! Shite, I'm really that predictable. Snape let out an aggrieved sigh, "Very well, answer the question Potter."
"You wanted the best matches. You chose the Slytherins first, because they're the ones most likely to select good partners. Everyone else is more likely to choose based on who they know, or their friends, or something like that. But Slytherins are both cunning and ambitious, so they're more likely to take advantage of the opportunity to forge a new relationship." Harry got to the end of what he was saying, and then wanted to ask how in hell he'd gotten there. Every word had made sense, but he hadn't had half of them when he'd started.
"And the Hufflepuffs?" Snape prompted.
"They, like the Gryffindors, are likely to choose based on friendships. But, it's right when a Hufflepuff does so, and generally wrong when a Gryffindor does so. Hufflepuffs work better together with their friends, even when shooting stinging hexes at each other." As Harry talked, he could see flashes of their study sessions, of how people worked together.
"Very good." Snape said, glancing at Potter with a crisp nod that was just shy of approving. His gaze turned back to Hermione's brown orbs. "You might have tried to answer, at least. Not every response is contained within a book. There will be more allowances for ineloquency - as was the case with Potter's stumbling answer." Hermione tried to look contrite, but Snape wasn't looking at her. His words finished, he whirled away to the dais again, his tall form looming over them like a living incarnation of Death himself.
"It is at this point, that I would like to announce a pop quiz." Snape drawled.
[a/n: Harry has rather a habit of not answering things that he does know the answer to. Snape's calling him on it here.
Hermione honestly didn't have a clue. There was really no way for her to win that.
The title to this chapter is a clue to what's coming next. Guesses welcome, reviews heartily appreciated!]