December approached, but the tragedy that had befallen Malfoy drained the air of any anticipation for the coming holiday season. The gloom was palpable. The house elves worked frantically to tempt the appetites of the Ravenclaws who, aghast at the misfortunes of Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory, and Draco Malfoy, were convinced they were next and losing weight at an alarming rate.
       Dueling replaced flying as the diversion of choice and almost every night, Malfoy and Potter could be found battling on top of a table in the Slytherin or Gryffindor common room. They fought sixth and seventh years as well but no other fifth year dared to take them on. Violet, however, would settle for no one else.
       They tried to explain to her that wizards could only improve from battling their equals or superiors. "We're not doing this for fun, Violet," Malfoy insisted as he backed Potter to the edge of a Slytherin coffee table. "There are several lower years you can practice with."
       Violet stormed from the common room and down the corridor to Professor Snape's office. "Yes, Miss Guilford?" he inquired icily. He was marking potions homework, a task he always seemed to find disappointing.
       Violet held out a parchment form. "I need your signature to stay here over Christmas, sir."
       Snape waved her away with a flick of his hand. "Unnecessary. Our esteemed headmaster has determined that, due to the recent... unpleasantness... the entire student body will remain for the holiday." His tone revealed exactly what he thought of that.
       "Oh, no!" Violet cried, and Snape fixed her with an frosty glare. She had been counting on the departure of the majority of the students; then maybe Malfoy and Potter would have time for her.
       "Problem?" The required answer was implicit in Snape's tone.
       "No, sir," Violet smiled feebly as she backed out the office. Once in the corridor, she shredded the parchment and threw the pieces to the stone floor, stamping her feet with rage. Then she heard the legs of Snape's chair scrape the stone floor and she raced to pick up the pieces and flee before he could catch her littering outside his office.

       Back in the common room, the Malfoy/Potter duel was progressing stronger than ever and had attracted quite a crowd. Violet slumped in a nearby chair, her arms crossed, refusing to watch. When Potter finally managed to flip Malfoy off the table, Marybeth piped up on her roommate's behalf.
       "Now duel Violet, Harry, just for a few minutes? Why not?"
       "Because," Violet sneered. "He knows Voldemort's daughter could whip him with one phoenix feather tied behind her back and he can't bear to lose to the child of the man who killed his parents."
       The Slytherins were horrified. Montague thought Malfoy might actually beat her. He grabbed Violet by the neck of her sweater and dragged her over to the table.
       "I think Violet has something to say to our guest," he prompted.
       Violet smiled at Harry. "You're a self-important jerk who lives to show off."
       Malfoy rushed her but Montague caught him with his other hand. "Or," he said to Violet, "we could just have Professor Snape step in and sort this out."
       "Sorry, Potter," Violet capitulated immediately.
       Harry climbed down from the table and left without a word. Montague let Violet go and turned briefly to Malfoy, signalling him to wait. Then he turned back to Violet.
       "Violet, why don't you and Marybeth go back to your room and let me talk some sense into Malfoy."
       When they were gone, he turned to Draco with a grin.

       A few minutes later, Malfoy knocked on the door to Violet's cell. Montague was standing beside him. "Okay, Violet," the blonde teenager drawled when the first year finally opened the door. "I'm sorry we wouldn't let you duel."
       Violet refused to answer.
       "How about if I make it up to you?"
       Violet tried to sound noncommital. "How?"
       "Well... maybe you'd like to come to Hogsmeade on Christmas Eve."
       Due to the recent unpleasantness, only one trip to the wondrous all-wizard community had been planned so far, and it was restricted to fifth years and above. Violet was so thrilled she sprang into the air and hugged Malfoy around the neck.
       "I don't know, Violet," cautioned Marybeth from her cot. But her brother spoke up immediately, as if anticipating her objections.
       "It'll be okay," he insisted.
       "If all the Slytherins work together," added Malfoy with a sly smirk, "Snape will never know."

       The hardest part was securing Marybeth's cooperation. She had a little crush on Harry Potter and was horrified by what Violet had said. But she thought the plan was a bit much. And what if Snape DID find out?
       "Marybeth," Malfoy sweet-talked. "You don't want to be the only Slytherin not involved, do you?"
       "Besides," her brother added, "think what it would mean to Harry that you'd played such an important part!"
       "Shut up!" cried the youngster as she blushed bright red.

       "Now remember!"
       Snape was lecturing the group of Slytherins assembled inside the common room door for the trip to Hogsmeade on Christmas Eve.
       "Stay together. Go to Honeydukes and Zonko's only. And come straight back afterwards. Under no circumstances are you to wander away from the heart of town. All right, you may go."
       Marybeth, pretending to duel with Millicent on the tallest table at the far side of the room, waited until half the Slytherins were out the door before jumping to the ground and crumpling with a shriek. Snape whirled around and three 4th years quickly sidled up to the remaining departers. Violet crept from behind them and slipped out the door before Snape even reached Marybeth.
       For the rest of the day, it was simply a matter of running several diversions that would keep Snape too distracted to notice who was present and who wasn't. The Slytherins left behind suspected they were having almost as much fun as those who actually made the trip with Violet.

       Violet pulled her robes tightly around her for the walk back to the castle as the Slytherins left Honeydukes together.
       "Well?" asked Malfoy, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Did you have a good time?"
       "Sure! But aren't we going the wrong way?"
       Malfoy clamped a hand over her mouth and grabbed her arms while Montague lifted her feet. In no time they had transported her out of town and up the hill to the shrieking shack.
       They carried her to a shabby room upstairs and left her tied up on the floor. "It's just a little initiation, Violet," Montague assured her. "Everybody knows the place isn't really haunted. We'll be back after we've had a few butterbeers at the Three Broomsticks."
       He and Malfoy laughed all the way down the stairs. The shack might not really be haunted, but with Ron, Harry and the Weasley twins hiding downstairs with a bag of joke shop tricks, it might as well have been!
       When the boys reached the bottom of the stairs, they found four hooded figures waiting for them.
       It wasn't the Gryffindors.

       "The fates are with us!" whispered Millicent to Marybeth in her best imitation of Professor Trelawney. "Dumbledore wants to see Snape in his office right away!" Marybeth, resting her "twisted" ankle in front of the fire, watched Millicent carry the news to their head of house, who seemed relieved for any excuse to escape the demands of the common room.

       The Death Eaters retrieved Violet from upstairs and threw all three Slytherins, securely tied, into a closet with Ron, Harry and the Weasley twins. The Slytherins were surprised to find the Gryffindors still alive.
       "Why didn't they kill you?" Malfoy asked Harry.
       "They're not sure what to do," Harry whispered back. "They're in town for some other plan, and they thought if we didn't show up back at school..." There was more, but Harry hesitated.
       "They couldn't light a fire without someone finding out they're here," George finished the unfortunate details for him. "So... they've sent an owl to Voldemort. That's all the time we've got."

       "I've received word from Hogsmeade," Dumbledore told his staff, "that one of the owl post employees thinks he spotted a Death Eater buying an owl earlier today. I'm sure our students are quite safe, but I think it would be best if Professors Snape, McGonagall, Flitwick and I went to fetch them, just to be sure."

       A 4th year Slytherin sent Marybeth to the door of Dumbledore's office with a potions book in hand. "If Dumbledore hasn't assigned Snape something to do that keeps him away from the common room," he suggested, "tell him you need help with an anti-swelling potion!"
       So Marybeth was waiting when the spiral staircase to Dumbledore's office descended with Snape, Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall at the head of the house staff. "I think it's best if we stay in pairs," Dumbledore was saying. "Professor Flitwick and I will check Honeydukes and you two can go to Zonko's. Severus, how many Slytherins are in town?"
       Snape was about to answer when he spotted Marybeth. "Miss Montague, go back to the common room immediately. Tell all the students to stay there until I get back."
       Marybeth opened her mouth but no sound came out.
       "Now!" Snape ordered.
       She turned and walked slowly down the corridor, her heart racing. Something was wrong. Why were the professors going to Hogsmeade and why did they need to stay in pairs? What if she told and then it turned out the Slytherins were already back together and safely on their way back to the castle?
       What if they weren't?
       Snape's voice froze her in her tracks. She couldn't even turn around, she was so frightened. Instead, she looked over her shoulder at him.
       Snape strode slowly towards her, his voice growing more menacing with every word.
       "Why... aren'"
       "What?!" Snape demanded, a terrible look on his face.
       Still, Marybeth couldn't speak. Snape picked her up and shook her.
       "Tell me!"
       "Malfoy and my brother took Violet to the Shrieking Shack!"
       Snape looked baffled by the sudden pronouncement. "Why?"
       "They're going to scare her. Ron and the Weasleys. And Harry Potter. With jokes the twins made. It's because of what she said!" finished Marybeth with a hopeless whimper.
       Snape put her down and Marybeth watched him race away with Dumbledore, Flitwick and McGonagall, his black robes billowing behind.

       Later, Fred would tell the other Gryffindors that the worst part of the experience was only getting to hear the spells fly from behind the closet door instead of seeing the battle. The staff, he told them, seemed to know exactly what the others would do all the time and were amazing together. McGonagall was cunning, Snape ferocious, Flitwick lightning quick and Dumbledore supremely powerful.
       No one wanted to admit it, but they were all secretly glad the Death Eaters were packed off to Azkaban and all Hogwarts personnel were safely back at the castle before Voldemort responded to the owl. The thought of the dark wizard's reaction to events at the shack would eventually keep Harry smiling throughout his entire detention.

       " 'It's because of what she said,' " Snape quoted that evening. Fear ruled every heart in the Slytherin common room. He had all of them neatly queued up except for Violet, Malfoy and Montague, who stood apart where he could conveniently whirl on them whenever he wanted them to bear the brunt of his fury. "Enlighten me, Miss Guilford."
       Violet was sobbing openly and for once, Malfoy had no desire to jab her in the ribs to shut her up. Snape stood before her, his arms crossed, drumming one set of fingers menacingly on the sleeve of his black robe. "I said," Violet hiccuped. "I said..."
       Then it occurred to her that this was her one chance to salvage something from this awful situation. She wiped her face resolutely on the sleeve of her robe and stiffened her spine. When she spoke, she was as calm as if she were reciting the ingredients for a cauldron-repair potion. "I told Harry Potter the reason he wouldn't duel me was because he didn't want to lose to the daughter of the man who killed his father. So I think this is all really my fault."
       The other Slytherins saw a glimmer of hope. They turned their heads to Snape, only to snap them back again when he glared at them. The housemaster lifted Violet's chin and spoke very softly to her.
       "If I thought that, Miss Guilford," he assured the girl, "I'd have you expelled."
       The threat seemed to pierce Malfoy's conscience, or perhaps he just feared the house's loss of a good seeker. He jumped between Snape and Violet to blurt, "It's our fault, sir!" A fierce glance at Montague secured an emphatic nod of agreement. "It's our fault for not handling a first year better and for talking everyone else into helping us. Please, sir. Please. Don't punish the entire house. We're responsible."
       Snape shifted his steely gaze from Violet to Draco. "One more word out of you," he hissed at Malfoy, "and you'll be...responsible... for teaching an entire house the difference between six... and twelve."
       Malfoy's knees buckled. He stepped back without a word.
       "As for you..." Snape glared at Violet. "You..."
       He took his time and Violet trembled.
       "...promised!" Snape finished furiously, escalating the child's distress to a wail. The housemaster swept from the room, pausing long enough at the door to command menacingly,
       "Don't move."

       As soon as an air of calm was restored to the Gryffindor common room, Professor McGonagall hurried to Snape's office. She knocked on the door and was not surprised when Snape barked a surly "What?" instead of inviting the knocker in. She took a deep breath and entered, determined to persuade him. She found him staring out his enchanted window at the snow which had just begun to fall as darkness settled in.
       "Don't do it, Severus," she implored. "I know they gave us a fright, but they're safe and it's Christmas Eve."
       Snape regarded her coolly. "I thought perhaps you'd come to borrow it," he murmured silkily.
       Professor McGonagall pursed her lips. "It crossed my mind," she admitted. Then she walked over and put a hand on his arm.
       "Severus," she began in the most beseeching tone he'd ever heard from her, "I am truly sorry that Gryffindors were part of such a harsh prank against one of your students."
       They stood for a moment, thinking about tiny Violet tied up alone in the Shrieking Shack. Then Minerva started to laugh. She pressed her fingers to her mouth but couldn't stop and wound up throwing her arms around Snape and laughing out loud.
       "Oh, Severus! The mouth on that child! I am SO glad she's in your house."
       "She'll be the death of me," Snape deadpanned. "Literally. I'll wake up one night to find her standing over me, her father at her side..."
       Professor McGonagall laughed until she shook and even Snape smiled. Finally she let go of him, straightening her robes and smoothing her hair. She started to leave but paused at the door to his office, much as he had just a short while earlier at the entrance to the Slytherin common room.
       "Don't do it, Severus," she pleaded gently.

       But he did. He flogged his entire house. It was the most traumatic hour of Violet's life, because they all had to suffer together. When Snape punished a Slytherin in his office, he was so offhand about it that the incident was practically forgotten by the time the student reached the door to leave. But this. This was a nightmare. And he made it worse when he was done. "I am APPALLED by you!" he snarled before storming from the room. Violet cried and cried.
       "Violet!" Montague barked at her as he slammed the door behind their departed housemaster. "He'll get over it!"
       She fetched the healing potion from her room and the Slytherins shared it as far as it would go, starting with the youngest students. Violet, Malfoy and Montague abstained, of course.
       Violet lowered herself gingerly into a chair and sniffed. "Do you suppose," she asked the others, "that Snape gets in trouble when we behave this way?"

       Snape had been watching the snow fall for half an hour when someone knocked on his office door. He assumed it was Minerva again and was surprised to see the Headmaster enter instead. Immediately, his hackles rose. It was, after all, an unwritten law at Hogwarts: The Headmaster did NOT interfere with a head of house's discipline of his own students.
       "This place is looking very nice," Dumbledore said as he admired the highly-polished stones. Snape sat down dutifully across from his superior, determined to get this over with.
       "I am concerned, Severus," Dumbledore continued gently, "about what happened today."
       Snape decided to try a spirited offense. "They're children, Headmaster," he reminded the old man. "You can't expect them to rise to a difficult situation like the conditions we're living under with the same self-control as an adult."
       "What concerns me," Dumbledore countered, "is the why of the matter. Why did they feel compelled to go so far for a little fun, a little adventure, a little... liveliness? I worry, Severus, that the 'conditions we're living under' rob our students of any felicitous moments. They have no joy, no excitement, no..."
       He left the final word unspoken and rose to go. Snape stood up but said nothing.
       Dumbledore waited until he'd closed Snape's office door almost all the way before pushing it back open just wide enough to stick his head in and call, "Merry Christmas, Severus!" Then he shut the door quickly and waited to hear what he knew would be Snape's private reply.

       He slipped silently into the Slytherin common room where the sobbing of Violet and some other first years had finally given way to a morose silence. The only sound was the crackling of their fire until suddenly, Violet giggled.
       "What?" Marybeth wondered.
       Violet smirked. "I don't have to put up with this, you know," she told her roommate and everyone within earshot. "I can just pack a bag and go spend Christmas with my dad!"
       That got a laugh. Malfoy, reclining on top of a table, rolled onto his elbow to take the pressure off his sore backside and drawled with much rueful hindsight,
       "I guess we should have let you duel!"
       The Slytherins laughed again and Snape smiled to himself. There are no sissies in Slytherin, he thought. He reached behind him and opened the common room door again so he could shut it loudly.
       The Slytherins jumped at the noise. Beyond that, they were so suprised to see Snape again, they couldn't move. But then Malfoy, with a sly grin at Violet, began to pull himself off the table, over-articulating the agony of moving while in so much pain. He limped to his usual spot in line as if permanently crippled and the other Slytherins immediately followed his example, hobbling, groaning, and leaning on each other.
       "Hysterical," Snape assured them.
       He settled into a large comfortable chair by the fire and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of it. "All right," he sighed, nodding at his students. "Gather 'round. I'll tell you about the time James and Sirius turned a first year into a coat rack and brought him to Transfigurations during a blizzard."
       At first the Slytherins could only stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Then they raced pell-mell over each other to crowd as close to their housemaster as possible, delighted by the prospect of tales out of school.
       Snape took Violet by the arm and pulled her into the big chair beside him, allowing her to share it. Then he regaled them with story after story about the parents of their classmates, boisterous examples of Gryffindor courage, Hufflepuff warmth, Ravenclaw cunning and Slytherin solidarity.
       As he talked, the Slytherins crowded closer and closer together, climbing into each other's laps and leaning on one another's shoulders. Eventually Snape paused and Montague shifted Marybeth from one knee to the other to ask, "Sir, did you always know you wanted to be a teacher? Do you ever wish you could so something else in the future?"
       Snape jumped when Violet spoke up from under his arm. He'd forgotten she was there.
       "He hasn't got a future," she observed plaintively.
       "Bloody hell!" Snape lifted his arm to regard the top of her head. "You've got a lot of confidence in me!"
       Violet just leaned against him and sighed. "I have every confidence in you, sir," she assured her hero.
       Snape looked around and saw it on the face of every Slytherin. They were all convinced they would eventually lose him to the final showdown with the dark lord.
       "Well, I got YOU back from Voldemort, didn't I?" he snorted.
       The Slytherins gasped and held their breath. They had been DYING to hear the story of Violet's rescue. Perhaps, with just the right prompting, their housemaster might now tell it.
       "Well, sir," drawled Malfoy with a perfectly straight face, "we assumed that was mostly Dumbledore."
       The Slytherins howled with laughter as Snape regarded them balefully, shoving Violet out of the chair to give Marybeth a turn. "Listen and learn," he admonished as he settled in for a long tale, "how discretion is the better part of valor."
       So he related a saga full of caution, simple planning, and conservation of effort, with as few confrontations and as many rapid resolutions as possible. A near-miss avada kedavra curse had sent a splinter of doorframe into his forehead; Dumbledore had escaped completely unscathed.

       Outside, the soft snow continued to fall. The common room fire crackled and eventually burned to warm embers as the Slytherins shared their stories and a sense of communion only the scorned can know. Snape sat with them until their eyes grew heavy and eventually, all of Hogwarts slept in heavenly peace.

The Smallest Slytherin