Minerva, bless her heart, came up with a brilliant way to make two hours a night fly by: Common Room Show and Tell. They gathered in Slytherin most nights - it was far larger than Gryffindor - and Snape and McGonagall helped the students master whatever skills they wanted to work on.
       "Control your breathing," Snape was telling Malfoy one evening. "Everything you do must be calm and steady, even your breathing."
       Malfoy was levitating the largest round table in the common room. Sitting cross-legged on top of it were the Weasley twins, fifteen feet in the air.
       "The higher it gets, the heavier the souls weigh," Snape cautioned.
       Malfoy frowned. "Why?" he wondered, never taking his eyes off the table.
       "I suppose," Snape replied after thinking it over, "because it's not their time to rise."
       Malfoy chuckled. High in the air, the table wobbled.
       "Whoa!" yelled George.
       Malfoy leveled the table off, eventually raising it to a height of twenty feet. From their lofty perch, the twins waved at the students below, who clapped politely.
       "Malfoy, that is outstanding," his housemaster praised.
       Malfoy beamed, then began to grin slyly. As he did, the table began to turn, very slowly at first, rather like a merry-go-round. Snape glanced at his student but said nothing. In the pocket of his robe, he palmed his wand.
       The table began to spin faster. The twins slammed their palms down on its surface to hold themselves in place.
       "Malfoy?" called George with growing consternation.
       "What are you doing, Malfoy?" added his twin.
       The table spun faster and the twins sprawled on their bellies, grabbing hands and hooking their toes beneath the table's edge to hold themselves on top of it. The on-lookers laughed uproariously as the twins yelled for mercy. The Gryffindors, who'd been the victims of their pranks for months if not years, laughed louder than the Slytherins.
       Snape walked over and stood beside Minerva who was pressing her lips together to hold back her mirth. "Say when," he muttered. Minerva nodded, but she didn't say a word. Several seconds passed. Snape gave his colleague a sidelong glance but she remained absolutely silent.
       "Minerva!" Snape scolded in a whisper. He turned sternly to Malfoy and added more loudly, "Enough!"
       Malfoy put the table down and the twins climbed off and immediately fell to the floor, holding their heads as the room spun around them. The Gryffindors and Slytherins applauded enthusiastically.
       "Never do that again," Snape lecured Malfoy perfunctorily. The boy grinned once more.
       "Once was enough, sir."
       Marybeth stepped up next and requested Professor McGonagall's help with a Flipendo spell.
       "I can produce the ball of energy," she insisted. "I'm just not a very straight shot."
       "Um, Minerva. . ." Snape murmured, but the head of Gryffindor cut him off.
       "Let her try, Severus," she admonished him privately.
       "Minerva, I really think. . ."
       "Severus! Hush!"
       She turned to Marybeth's older brother. "Bring me that vase, please, Montague."
       "My mother gave me that vase!" protested Snape.
       "That vase was here when YOU were a first year. And you broke it three times yourself!"
       Snape was impressed. "How did you know that?" he wondered, but before McGonagall could answer, Montague arrived with the vase.
       "Here you go, Professor."
       "Take it to the far side of the room, please," McGonagall instructed. "Have Crabbe and Goyle help you turn that large rectangular table on its end and then set the vase on a chair in front of it." To Snape, she added, "If she misses, the table will absorb the shot."
       Snape didn't say a word.
       Professor McGonagall coached Marybeth on her stance, her wand grip, and her diction. "All right, dear," she announced when the child seemed ready. "Let her rip."
       To her horror, Marybeth shut her eyes when she cast. The spell zoomed straight into the air, ricocheted off the ceiling and began to zing madly around the common room, bouncing off the rock walls.
       "Hit the deck!" yelled Ron, and every witch and wizard in the room dropped to his or her belly on the cold stone floor. The spell finally smacked into a set of green velvet curtains, setting them aflame. Snape, lying beside Minerva, rolled onto his elbow to regard her sourly as he reminded her,
       "It's a stone common room, MINERVA!"
       McGonagall climbed stiffly to her feet, brushing the dust of the common room floor from her robes. "How was I to know the child can't hit the broad side of a barn?"
       "She's no good at quidditch, either," Snape sighed. He rose and mended the curtains while McGonagall coaxed Marybeth out from under a table.
       "Never mind, dear. We'll work on it another time."
       Next up were Hermione and Neville, who placed Hermione's cauldron on a large table and began laying out potion ingredients. Snape recognized the contents of an extremely difficult illumination potion immediately.
       "Oh, I don't think so."
       Neville flinched but Hermione waved her wand confidently, dimming the candles in the common room. She'd chosen Neville as her partner, she explained, because a key element of the potion was precisely-snipped karo roots, and Neville had a keen eye for which sections of a root were most productive.
       "Have you seen them do this before?" Snape whispered to McGonagall.
       She shook her head.
       "It's a paradox potion," he warned her.
       McGonagall nodded.
       A paradox potion required the simultaneous performance of two contrasting skills, in this case, preparing the majority of the potion at rapid pace while adding the karo roots slowly. The illumination potion could light up a huge section of space with far more intensity than anything shot from a wand and was usually attempted outside under stressful conditions involving bad weather or a skirmish of some sort. The rapidness with which it was prepared made it a good choice for urgent situations if the wizard preparing the potion could discipline himself against the tendency to rush every aspect of the task.
       Hermione and Neville worked well together. Neville cut the roots with amazing accuracy and speed. But the room remained dark.
       Snape stood up and strolled casually to the table, pretending to examine the contents of the cauldron. The darkness hid his face as he whispered to Neville, "Slower." So Neville cut quickly but added slowly and suddenly the room burst into brilliant light.
       The Slytherins and Gryffindors clamped their hands over their eyes to shield them from the brightness. Then they screwed their eyes tightly shut so they could applaud loudly. Even Snape had to admit it was a very impressive bit of brewing.
       "Who's next?" asked McGonagall. Violet, waving frantically, jumped up and down so she could be seen among the taller students.
       "All right, little snake," Snape acknowledged her. "What's your trick?"
       Violet nodded at Harry, who immediately left the common room. Then she turned to Snape.
       "Pick a number," she instructed.
       "Twenty-six," Snape suggested.
       Violet nodded to Marybeth, who opened the door to let Harry back in. He walked up to Violet and she said very distinctly, "Wah see tok."
       "Twenty-six," Harry told Snape.
       Minerva burst out laughing but Snape regarded Violet doubtfully. "How is speaking parseltongue going to help you, young lady?"
       "It won't," Harry assured him. "She can only do numbers."
       Violet kicked him in the shin.
       "All right," Snape announced, pulling the little Slytherin out of kicking range. "That's enough joy for one night. Take your cauldrons and go home."

       The pleasant evenings in the common room took everybody's mind off what was happening beyond the grounds of Hogwarts, but the following Thursday, Professor Dumbledore called an emergency meeting of his staff to discuss the violence and suffering that were proliferating throughout the wizard world.
       "For the past few weeks," he began, "I've received at least five letters a day from parents requesting that we keep the students here over the summer for their own safety. Many of the letters are signed by groups of parents. There seems to be a widespread consensus that Hogwarts is the safest place for underaged wizards at this time."
       "Poisoning aside."
       "Severus, please." Dumbledore took a deep breath. "Nobody wants this, of course," he continued. "It's painful that a fight for freedom should require locking children up in a castle, and if the situation improves, we will of course send them home. But I am going to announce tonight that, for now, the plan will be to keep our students at Hogwarts through the summer."
       Snape frowned, clearly distressed. But when Dumbledore made his announcement at supper that night, Violet immediately turned around to make eye contact with Harry Potter. He nodded and winked at her. She grinned back at him and then turned to share her delight with Malfoy. But he was staring in the direction of the head table. Violet followed his gaze and saw Snape lost in thought, a worried expression on his face.
       The next morning at breakfast, dozens of owls flew into the Great Hall and dropped letters in front of Dumbledore. Violet had never seen anyone get so much mail at one time. Everyone watched as Dumbledore gathered the letters together and set them on the floor under his chair. Then, to the Slytherins' surprise, Snape rose and abruptly left the hall.
       He was distant and quiet in class, allowing his students to spend the time reading as he sat at his desk and stared out the window. He was missing at lunch and again at supper.
       That evening, he knocked on the door to the headmaster's office. Dumbledore seemed to be expecting him; after inviting the potions master to sit down, he picked up a handful of the letters delivered that morning and told Snape,
       "They write the most disparaging things about you, Severus. Congratulations."
       Snape ignored the compliment. "How many, sir?" he asked.
       Dumbledore looked down at the letters in his hands. "Half," he replied as gently as possible.
       It wasn't gentle enough. Snape's jaw twitched. He swallowed, hard, and when he spoke, his tone was uncharacteristically humble and beseeching. "Headmaster, couldn't we..."
       "Force them to stay?" Dumbledore shook his head. "That would be pointless, Severus, and could even have serious repercussions."
       Snape thought it over. "I suppose," he finally admitted. Another thought came to him and he looked up hopefully. "But will you allow them to chose?"
       "Of course!" Dumbledore couldn't have been more emphatic. "And you may tell them that those who choose freedom will always find sanctuary here."
       "We have over two months." Snape rose, heartened by Dumbledore's declaration. "Perhaps we could..."
       Dumbledore held up a hand. "I'm sorry, Severus," he interrupted sadly. "I blame myself. I shouldn't have made the announcement so prematurely. Their parents want them sent home on the Hogwarts Express tomorrow morning."
       "Tomorrow morning?" Snape collapsed back into his chair. After a moment, Dumbledore rose and crossed the room to sit beside him.
       "It's rather like an OWL, isn't it?" the headmaster murmured. "There's really no cramming at the last minute."
       Snape made no reply. After a few moments, Dumbledore returned to his desk. He made a tidy stack of all the letters and held them out to Snape.
       "Good luck, Severus."
       Silently, Snape rose, took the letters, and departed.

       He carried the letters to his office and made the list. Then he proceeded down the corridor to the stone door of the Slytherin common room. He was just about to utter the password when he stopped himself.
       Perhaps he should wait. What impact would more time have, he wondered? Would they talk themselves into the right thing... or out of it?
       He opened his mouth again but was stopped by the sound of voices coming down the corridor. A few seconds later, all of Gryffindor paraded around the nearest corner, chattering happily about the new feats they were prepared to display.
       "Hello, Professor Snape!" called Lavendar Brown. "Professor McGonagall is on her way, she had to. . ."
       She stopped when she saw the look on Snape's face. All of Gryffindor stopped with her, none of them able to speak. Finally, Hermione stepped forward.
       "Sir... what's the matter?"
       Their faces... how they tormented Snape. So genial and appealing, these Gryffindors, simply because they were accepted and appreciated by others. He ached with jealousy for his Slytherins.
       "Go back to your common room," he told them quietly. "And I would appreciate it if you would tell Professor McGonagall that I would prefer not to be disturbed tonight... not even by the dearest of friends."
       He let himself into Slytherin.
       His students jumped promptly into their queues and smiled expectantly at their housemaster, eager for the arrival of their guests and the commencement of the evening's festivities.
       For a long time, Snape could only study them. He thought about the first day of school, when he'd dragged the smallest Slytherin up and down the rows, extolling the virtues of Slytherin solidarity. Finally, he spoke.
       "The letters you saw delivered to Professor Dumbledore this morning were from your parents. Many of them, but not all, have written to express their displeasure with his decision about summer. They demand that you be returned home immediately. The Hogwarts Express will be at the station tomorrow to take you to London."
       Several Slytherins gasped. Snape kept his face calm and still as he continued firmly, "You don't have to go. Professor Dumbledore has promised that you may remain at Hogwarts as long as necessary. And I would like you to know. . ."
       He stopped. Young Violet, he noticed, had tears in her eyes. She wasn't the only one. When he spoke again, it was with the most ardent tone his students had ever heard.
       "I would like you to know that, if I had it to do over again, I would do things differently."
       He unrolled the parchment list. "When I've finished reading your names, I will return to my office. Please come and see me if I can assist you in any way."
       Spines stiffened. Side by side, the Slytherins stood straight and tall and listened ... as denial came to an end.
       "McNair. . . Crabbe. . . Goyle. . . Nott. . . Montague. . . "
       Malfoy buckled as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Beside him, Violet began to sob. He picked up her up and buried her face against his neck to stifle the sound.
       "Bulstrode. . . Davis . . . Baddock. . . Bletchley. . ."
       Snape read aloud until he'd called half the names in Slytherin. Then he left without another word.
       When he was gone, the Slytherins gathered into a circle, staring silently at each other. Malfoy put Violet down. He looked at Montague and Millicent, Crabbe and Goyle, Tracey and Bletchley, every face that matched a name on the list.
       "Don't go," he beseeched them. "This isn't about summer. You know it isn't. You know what this is about. If you go. . ." He stopped, then forced himself to finish. "If you go, you'll never come back."
       The Slytherins on the list looked at each another. Montague spoke up forcefully on their behalf.
       "You're wrong," he insisted, doing his best to look Malfoy in the eye. "This isn't about Vol. . . " Like Malfoy, he stopped, and like Malfoy, he forced himself to begin again. "This is about parents. You haven't got parents. But we do. And I'm not putting Severus Snape ahead of my parents!"
       Violet, standing beside Malfoy, gave a small whimper. The older boy ignored her. Instead, he waited until the right words came. Then he told Montague softly,
       "I don't think you have parents anymore."
       The two boys stared at each other across the circle for a long time. Then, moving almost simultaneously, Millicent and Tracey crossed the room to stand beside Malfoy.
       The circle was broken.
       "Please!" cried Pansy Parkinson, who had not been on the list. "Think. THINK! They sent Snape a poisoned letter!"
       Malfoy whirled on the girl, horrified. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Several of the designated students pulled angrily away from the group, including Crabbe and Goyle, who stormed to their room. Malfoy raced after them.
       When he arrived, they were pulling their trunks out from under their beds. Malfoy watched as they began piling clothing on their cots. "She didn't mean it!" he protested as his best friends continued gathering their possessions. "Crabbe! Goyle! Pansy didn't mean what you thought! She..."
       In unison, the boys turned to face him. "Our fathers did not. . ." Goyle sputtered, glaring at Malfoy. "They did NOT . . ."
       He broke off, and Malfoy stretched an imploring hand out before him. "Greg," he whispered. "Vincent. Please."
       To his horror, he saw their faces crumple, and without another word, they shoved their way past him out the door. Malfoy followed them and watched as they stormed from the common room.
       Several Slytherins had already retreated to their cells to pack. Others sat with their heads in their hands as housemates spoke earnestly to them, gesturing beseechingly.
       Violet sat on the floor against a stone wall, her arms around her knees, staring blankly ahead. Malfoy sat down beside her and for a while, they just sat there, silently watching their housemates. Then Violet whispered,
       "Do you want to hear something stupid?"
       Malfoy sighed. "You wanted your name to be on the list," he predicted tonelessly, and when Violet nodded, he assured her, "That is stupid, Violet."
       The child threw her arms around his neck.
       "Do something!" she sobbed into his chest. "Do something, do something, do something!"
       Millicent joined them, her face smudged from crying. Malfoy pried Violet loose, shoving her into Millicent's arms instead. He sat with them a while longer. Then he rose and marched resolutely out of the common room.

       "How about this?"
       Crabbe and Goyle stood side by side in the owlery, trying to compose a letter to their fathers. "'If you tell us you killed Lucius,'" Crabbe dictated, "'we'll come home immediately.'"
       Goyle threw down his quill in disgust. "Crabbe, that wouldn't fool a first year Hufflepuff," he scoffed.
       "We need help," Crabbe agreed. "We need Malfoy."
       "We can't ask Malfoy, you moron!"
       Crabbe flinched at his friend's shout. Then he hollered right back.
       "I just meant we need to ask somebody!"

       Malfoy found the door to Snape's office wide open. He entered and sat down.
       "Millicent's staying," he told Snape. "So are Bletchley and Tracey Davis. Maybe it won't be so many who go."
       "Which ones can we do without, Malfoy?"
       The question made Draco's eyes smart. "Couldn't you say something, sir?" he begged his housemaster. "Please?"
       "What more could I possibly say? What more could I do?" Snape shook his head. "I've done my best." He gave Malfoy a firm nod. "So have you, Draco. Never forget that.
       Malfoy nodded gratefully. "I said something," he confided to Snape. "The people on the list... I told them they didn't have parents anymore."
       Snape frowned. "Was that wrong, sir?" Draco asked his head of house anxiously.
       "No," Snape assured him. "Just ironic."
       He reached into a drawer and withdrew a piece of parchment that he handed to Malfoy.
       It had four words on it.

       "Ah, my favorite Slytherins," said the fat lady in the portrait. "The ones with a little meat on them."
       "Potter," said Goyle simply when Fred answered his knock.
       "Are you people ever gonna visit anybody besides Potter?"
       The two boys just stared blankly at him. Fred turned and shouted into the common room.
       The youngest male Weasley fetched his roommate and tried to follow Harry into the corridor but Crabbe shoved him back through the portrait hole and slammed the fat lady shut with a bang. Then he came to stand beside Goyle, who asked Harry,
       "Were they really there?"
       "Our dads," Goyle explained. "The night Cedric died."
       "Oh." Harry's face clouded over. He shook it off and studied the Slytherins curiously. "What's going on?"
       "Just tell us!" Crabbe demanded, advancing on Harry menacingly. Harry didn't even flinch. "Please," Crabbe added, backing off immediately.
       Harry hesitated. Then he nodded. "Yeah. They were there."
       "What did they do?" asked Goyle.
       Harry thought back and remembered. "They . . ." He stopped, wondering if he should tell them.
       "Please," said Crabbe again.
       "We need to know," Goyle added. So Harry told them.
       "They promised they'd do better this time."
       The Slytherins shook his hand and left without another word.
       When they got back to their room, they found Malfoy on his bunk, holding a piece of parchment. Silently, they shoved their trunks back under their beds and then sat down on Goyle's bunk.
       "Thank you," was all Malfoy said.

       "I waited until morning," Professor McGonagall told Snape when she came to his quarters at six the following morning. He was up and dressed and McGonagall wondered if he'd even been to bed. "Is there anything I can do, Severus? Anything at all?"
       To her surprise, he nodded.

       The carriages arrived before breakfast, and Violet, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle huddled together in the cold spring breeze as the students climbed into them. Violet threw her arms around Marybeth and the two girls clung to each other and cried. Then Violet flung herself into Montague's arms and sobbed on his shoulder. "Don't go," she begged him one last time. "I'm sorry I said I would tell on you. Don't go! We beat Gryffindor for Snape!"
       Montague took her chin in his hand and looked her straight in the eye. "We'll be back, Violet," he told her firmly. "I promise."
       At that, Malfoy reached out and took Violet firmly away from Montague, setting her down beside him. The two boys stared at each other, Malfoy's face a mask of bitterness.
       The Montagues climbed into the last carriage and Marybeth waved frantically as it pulled away. But Malfoy clutched both of Violet's hands tightly in his so she couldn't wave back.

       "How many?"
       Justin Finch-Fletchley and Ernie MacMillan crowded onto a bench at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. The Slytherins were not at breakfast.
       "Mandy Brocklehurst says one fourth," Hermione told him. "I think she sneaked outside to watch them leave."
       The response left Justin speechless.
       "Didn't you see them go?" asked Ernie in disbelief. "Your tower overlooks the carriage path!"
       The Gryffindors shook their heads.
       "McGonagall kicked us out," Ron replied. He was about to explain when Harry banged his elbow. "What's the matter with you?
       Harry was frisking himself desperately. "I forgot my wand," he moaned.
       Hermione started to scold him but Ron came to his defense. "She gave us two minutes, Hermione," he said of McGonagall's expulsion of the Gryffindors from their tower. "We're lucky we're decent."
       Harry rose. "I'll be careful!" he promised before Hermione could protest a return to the house. "If I have to, I'll just explain."
       He hurried back to Gryffindor tower but paused at the portrait to ask the fat lady who was in the common room.
       "I'd keep out if I were you," was her advice.
       Harry opened the portrait as quietly as possible and peeked through the hole. Unable to see anybody, he climbed into the common room. He'd taken just a few steps when he spotted Snape, his back to Harry, staring out the window that overlooked the carriage path.
       Harry froze, uncertain whether to proceed or go back. Snape sensed his presence and turned to regard him with those piercing black eyes.
       "I'm sorry, Professor," Harry mumbled.
       Snape watched him for a few moments, a quizzical expression on his face. He seemed to be trying to solve a dilemma in his head. Finally, he asked Harry a question.
       "How shall we decide, Mr. Potter?"
       Harry had no idea what he was talking about. "Sir?"
       Snape walked across the common room and stopped in front of Harry. He looked a little disappointed.
       "Who gets to kill him?" he added, as if it should have been obvious. Then he climbed through the portrait hole, leaving Harry Potter to stand alone in the middle of the Gryffindor common room for a long time.

       Dumbledore found him in his darkened office late that night, sitting behind his desk, staring into the flame of a single candle. Snape did not acknowledge his presence.
       "If not for you, Severus," Dumbledore insisted, placing a hand on his shoulder, "it would have been one hundred percent of the parents, and one hundred percent of the Slytherins."
       Snape made no response.
       "Don't stay up too late," Dumbledore murmured before slipping quietly away.
       But Snape was still sitting there long after the candle burned out.

The Smallest Slytherin