As the final month of winter
began, Violet suspected she was the only contented person at
Hogwarts. Concerns about Voldemort intensified the despondency brought on
by short, dark days and wretchedly cold weather. Each morning, the Daily
Prophet arrived filled with stories of misfortune and woe, none
of which were attributed to the dark
lord but all of which felt extremely suspicious.
The Slytherins assumed these pressures
explained Snape's sudden, fierce
protectiveness toward them and Violet, who understood a bit more, held her
tongue. They spent their evenings huddled around their common room
fireplace, craving warmth, and Snape obligingly took a chair farther away
to leave more room for the students near the hearth. He permitted their
illicit attempts to coax more heat from the fire with inappropriate charms
and glanced up from his book at regular intervals to confirm their
well-being, which they found immensely reassuring.
And when Marybeth
Montague, desperate for more comfort than a warm fire or a big brother
could provide, climbed into Snape's lap one night, he allowed that, too.
On a particularly chilly morning in the
dungeon, the fifth year Gryffindors and Slytherins huddled around
Hermione's copy of the Daily Prophet, trying to read between the lines of
a story about a fire at St. Mungo's as they waited for Snape to show
up for Potions class. He arrived just in time to hear Ron tell the
Slytherins that several Gryffindor seventh years were finding it harder
and harder to stay at school... "in light of the recent...
"Really, Mr. Weasley?" Snape asked
icily as the students hurried to their seats. "What good do they think
they'd be elsewhere?" Several Slytherins snickered and Malfoy gave Harry
a little shrug as he tried to suppress his grin.
Snape picked up a piece of parchment that contained the day's potion
recipe and shoved it into his desk drawer. "Instead of preparing Grillstop
potion," he murmured as he erased the potion name from his blackboard,
"why don't we spend the hour seeing how prepared YOU are to make a
difference at this point." He whirled on them, his tone suddenly icy.
"Oral quiz," he hissed. "Ten points from your house for each incorrect
answer. Put your books on the floor."
The teacher began to
stroll the aisles, searching for his first
victim. "Longbottom!" he thundered.
The Gryffindors winced. "How many speral roots do you add to a bloodstop
"Six, sir," Longbottom replied, and the
overjoyed Gryffindors burst into applause.
"Silence!" ordered Snape.
Bulstrode! What is the active ingredient in a sirian burn remedy?"
"Eucalyptus, sir," Millicent answered
"Finnegan. How long do you boil a
short-term invisible ink potion?"
"Three minutes, 35 seconds,
sir," Seamus responded, keeping Gryffindor in the black.
"Miss Parkinson. What color is the
crystal dust of a properly-prepared convalescious potion?"
"Oh, that's so easy!" Ron protested to
Harry in a whisper. Snape whirled on him angrily but then stopped himself
and said nothing. Instead, he gave Ron a small smile. But there was a
particularly malevolent gleam in his eyes.
"White, sir," Pansy replied.
Ron, Harry, Crabbe and Goyle all got
their questions right, too. Then Snape turned to Hermione.
"Miss Granger," he said with the same
little smile he'd given Ron. "From what country would you import simple
pero clippings?"        Hermione froze. The
were shocked to see that she didn't know the answer. Harry didn't blame
her. He'd never heard of pero clippings. "Guess!" he suggested in an
"Ten points from Gryffindor," Snape
smiled. Hermione turned red and bit her lip.
"Malfoy? What must you do to
flobberworm entrails before adding them to a rapid-sustenance potion?"
"Freeze them, sir," Malfoy grinned.
Snape nodded and surveyed the
students. Then he turned back to Hermione. "Miss Granger. What happens
if you add underaged Mandrake to a narcosepsis potion?"
Hermione knew all about Mandrake but
had never heard of a narcosepsis potion. She looked helplessly at Harry
and Ron who could only shrug. "I don't know, sir," she admitted.
Draco jumped, surprised to be called on
again. His second question was, "What potion ingredient would you feed a
hippogriff with an
"Oh!" Ron was appalled by the irony
of the question.
"Ground newt eyes, sir," Malfoy said,
but he wasn't smiling this time.
Every eye followed Snape as he strolled
through the room. He glanced at Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. Then
he whirled on Hermione.
"Miss Granger," he began.
"Oh, come on," Harry said just loudly
enough to be heard. Snape glared at him. Harry stared right back and the Gryffindors held their breath. But Snape just
smiled and turned back to Hermione.
"Why can't you mix feddergrass with
gillyweed?" he asked.
Hermione bit her lip so hard
her classmates wondered she didn't begin to bleed. They knew she was
desperately to hold back tears. She answered Snape in a tone laced with
anguish. "I don't know, sir."
"Dear me, Miss Granger, can't you get
even one right?"
Smiling nastily, Snape alternated
seven more times between
Malfoy and Hermione until he had taken an even 100 points from
Gryffindor. Ron's face flamed at the sight of Hermione, who sat so still
and defeated she seemed to be staring at nothing, lost in her own
world. Harry reached over and took hold of Ron's robes in case it became
necessary to force him to stay in his seat.
"Really, Miss Granger," Snape purred as
the quiz came to an end. "It takes more than a convalescious potion to be of use in
difficult times. One would think you don't care."
Sure enough, Ron leapt, and Harry had
to jerk hard to keep him in his seat, forcing a choked gasp from Ron's
throat. Snape spun on them and the three wizards glared at each
other, frozen in a furious tableau.
"Dismissed," Snape hissed when
the bell finally rang.
That evening in the common room, Violet
joined the older students near the fire. "Why aren't you in line, little
Snape snuggler?" Malfoy asked her. Marybeth and the other first year
girls were clustered around Snape, waiting their turns to climb into his
chair and listen to the soothing beat of his heart.
"There are other laps," Violet smiled,
and she climbed into Montague's. He was arguing softly with Malfoy about
potions class that morning.
"It just seems a little off to
me," Malfoy insisted. "Snape's the one who made us invite them over. And
now he's back to tormenting Gryffindor?"
"He wasn't tormenting Gryffindor," Montague countered. "Just Granger."
Violet flinched. "What did he do?"
"He took 100 points from Gryffindor
because Granger couldn't answer questions most of the staff would have
missed," Malfoy said with a shake of his head.
Violet gulped. "Maybe he's just trying
to push her to be her best," she suggested feebly.
The Slytherins looked at her through
narrowed eyes and Malfoy folded his arms across his chest. "So now she's a
Slytherin?" he asked so snidely that Violet quickly conceded, mumbling,
"I take your point."
She gazed into the fire, wishing
someone else would say something. After a while, she began to swing her
feet. Malfoy, remembering her nervous 'tell' from the sorting ceremony, reached out and caught
her shoes with one hand.
"Tell us about your trip to London,
little snake," he suggested with just enough sternness to make his
expectations clear. Violet recounted the tale as truthfully as she could remember and wasn't surprised, upon finishing, to see angry faces. Montague spoke first.
"It was Granger's idea?"
"And she took you to Borgin and
Burke's?" Malfoy's question seemed more like an accusation. Violet said nothing, and after a few seconds, Malfoy rose and
headed for his room. He
stopped after a few steps and whirled back towards the fire.
"Violet," he fumed, pointing an angry
finger at her, "if you ever let a Gryffindor push you around again, I'll
skin you alive."
He left the common room and Violet
glanced across the room at Snape, who smiled a mischievous little smile and gave Marybeth's hair a yank. The startled first year let out
a delighted squeak at being teased by her head of house. Violet shook her
This is not going to be pretty, she
At Gryffindor, Hermione spent
the evening in her room perusing advanced potions manuals she had borrowed
from the library. She refused to show her face in the common room.
"Hermione, you're being
ridiculous," Ron insisted from the doorway to her room where he and Harry
were beseeching her to reconsider. "It's Snape everybody's mad at, not
"I am NOT leaving this
room," Hermione shouted, "until I learn about feddergrass!"
"But you've read those books
before," Harry reminded her. "I've seen you."
"Well, I must have missed
something," Hermione blamed herself as she returned to her
reading. Harry and Ron shook their heads and left for the common room.
They found Fred and George deep
in conversation, their brows furrowed. "We've got a theory," George announced as they approached.
"There's only one reason
Hermione wouldn't know something in your potions class," added Fred.
Ron and Harry exchanged looks before asking in unison, "What?"
"If it were Dark Arts
material," George declared.
The younger Gryffindors were shocked. It
made sense, but would Snape do such a thing?
"How could we find out for
sure?" Ron wondered. Fred jerked his head toward the
common room door. The younger boys nodded and the four of them settled
down to wait for Professor McGonagall's nightly appearance. When she arrived, they surrounded her.
"Professor McGonagall, what's
"Feddergrass?" The head of Gryffindor regarded Fred sharply.
"And what are pero
clippings?" added George. Before she could reply, Ron blurted out,
"What's a narcosepsis
Professor McGonagall shook her
head. "Where did you hear those terms?" she asked, sounding somewhat exasperated. "Is Professor Snape teaching that
in seventh year potions?"
Fred pasted an innocent expression on his face. "Shouldn't he?"
"Well, it's terribly advanced
material," McGonagall replied. "You only learn potions theory on that level when
you're doing advanced work with a fellowship mentor. You wouldn't even be
able to find any material in our library to support your work in those
The boys looked terribly
disappointed and settled glumly onto sofas without even remembering to
thank their transfigurations teacher. Professor McGonagall's suspicions
were immediately aroused.
"Is there something you'd like
to tell me?" she asked the four boys. When none of them responded, she turned pointedly to Harry.
"No, Professor," Harry insisted,
shaking his head.
When Ron proved equally tight-lipped, McGonagall made a quick scan of the common room. "Where's
Miss Granger?" she demanded to know, and before anyone could shoot him a warning look, Ron announced,
"She's in her room, studying potions."
"Potions," murmured McGonagall with a bit of a snort. The teacher of that subject hadn't spoken
to her since she'd
removed Hermione from his office. She turned abruptly to
Harry. "Potter, how did the fifth years fare
in potions today?"
Harry looked to the twins for guidance
but they just shook their heads, defeated. "We lost 100 points," Harry
McGonagall pursed her lips. "Then
perhaps you should emulate Miss Granger's efforts," she suggested. The
boys obediently left the common room . . . and so did Professor
She had the good fortune to catch Snape
as he was leaving his common room for the evening.
"Severus, I'd like a word, please."
"I have potions homework to mark," he replied, striding angrily in the direction of his office.
She kept pace with him, carefully maintaining her composure.
"I think it's important."
They'd reached his office and Snape whirled on her. "So now you encourage tattling,
Minerva, is that it?"
"Severus! How dare you!"
Snape stepped into his office and spun around, glaring at McGonagall as he blocked her entrance.
"Instead of coddling the whiners," he
hissed, "perhaps your time would be better spent reigning in those
reckless marauders you call students!"
And with that, he slammed the door in her face.
Late the next morning, the
Slytherin fifth years clambored noisily through the door to
Transfigurations class, their last lesson before lunch in the Great
Hall. They stopped at Professor McGonagall's desk to help themselves to
some of the tree bark they would be transforming into dragon-hide gloves
and converted the bark temporarily into wooden tumblers for a little cup
game action before class. When Professor McGonagall entered, they were
tapping and banging away merrily, completely unaware of her presence.
"Stop this nonsense
immediately!" she commanded. The Slytherins froze, the tumblers still
clutched in their hands. Professor McGonagall waved her wand and the
tumblers transformed back into bark with a jerk, giving several of the
"Ow!" Pansy gasped without
"Silence!" Professor McGonagall
snapped. She strode angrily to her desk and Montague leaned over to
"They finked," he whispered.
Malfoy couldn't believe it. He
shook his head at Montague. "Let's see what happens with the points," he
"        "Kindly come stand at the front of
the room," McGonagall commanded.
When he arrived, she told him to hold out his hands. Draco raised them
tentatively in front of him, palms down. "Leave them there," she ordered. Then she turned on the rest of
the Slytherins and proceeded to harp at them through an hour of
Each time they successfully produced a pair, she brought
the gloves forward and tried them on Malfoy's extended hands. As class
wore on, his arms began to ache. Halfway through the hour, Professor
McGonagall noticed his clenched jaw.
"Problem, Malfoy?" she asked
"No, Professor," Malfoy
"I should hope not. It's not that difficult a task."
As the noon hour approached,
she brought one last pair of gloves forward to try on Malfoy's hands. She jerked them snugly into place and Malfoy cried out in
gloves had adhered themselves to his flesh, fusing with his skin. He
looked like he had dragon paws for hands. Malfoy gaped at Professor
McGonagall, who merely smiled.
"Montague," she chided, "it
would seem you've gone a bit too far with the form-fitting aspect of your
gloves." She smiled kindly at Draco. "Accompany the rest of your class
to lunch, Malfoy, and I'll come remove the gloves as
soon as I'm able."
Her purpose could not have been
clearer. When the fifth-year Slytherins entered the Great Hall, the
Gryffindors who were already present took one look at Malfoy's hands and
roared. Several Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws stood up to see what was so
funny. The Slytherins abandoned their table to cluster protectively around
Malfoy. "Just pray McGonagall gets here before Snape does," he told them.
But Snape stormed in while the
Gryffindors were still laughing uproariously. When he spotted Malfoy's
hands, Violet trembled.
Snape jerked his head furiously in every
direction, searching for McGonagall. Not finding her, he rushed to Malfoy
with his wand drawn and destroyed the gloves with one angry blast, leaving
Malfoy's hands reddened but sound. The Great Hall fell silent.
From the corridor came the
sound of Professor McGonagall's high, light-hearted laugh as she
approached the hall accompanied by Professor Sprout. When she entered and
saw the silent students and the infuriated head of Slytherin, she paused
and cleared her throat. Then she marched confidently up to Snape
with her head high. Snape glared at her with a dangerous glitter in his
eyes and was just about to open his mouth when Dumbledore entered. He,
too, paused at the sight of the silent students and the two staff
members standing toe-to-toe.
"Good afternoon," he said after
an awkward pause. Snape and McGonagall turned from each other without a
word and took their seats at the head table. The Slytherins sat down,
Violet grabbing a spot across from Malfoy and Montague.
"What happened?" she whispered, leaning across the table.
"They finked," replied Montague.
In one unison gesture, all of Slytherin turned to
glare at Gryffindor.
On Friday morning, a notice
from Professor McGonagall in her capacity as deputy headmistress was
delivered to Snape, Sprout and Flitwick. Snape carried his copy to the
common room and read it to the Slytherins before they left for breakfast.
"By order of the deputy
headmistress," he recited, "all students will report to the Great Hall at
7pm this evening for an introductory lecture on animagus training with
Snape rolled the parchment back up
meticulously. "You will not be going," he added, inspiring Malfoy to sigh
"Oh, thank God."
"Furthermore," Snape continued,
"you will not be going to potions class today."
The first, third and
fifth years exchanged looks. They had double potions on Fridays.
feel compelled," Snape explained, "to give a little extra attention to the
As soon as he was gone, the
Slytherins whooped for joy.
This time they told. It was
Hermione, accompanied by a Gryffindor first year and third year, who
marched resolutely up to Professor McGonagall at the head table during
supper in the Great Hall. None of them spoke loudly enough to be heard by
anyone other than their head of house, but every Slytherin and Gryffindor
noticed that the first year teared up ... twice. Snape watched the entire
conversation with a satisfied smile on his face and continued to smile as
the three Gryffindors returned to their seats and McGonagall turned to
glare at him. When his students finished eating, Snape escorted them to
their common room and settled in, foregoing his usual Friday night
activities to keep watch over his Slytherins.
At 7:10, someone knocked on the
common room door. Snape opened it to find Professor Dumbledore standing in
the corridor. "May I have a word with you please, Professor Snape?" he
asked politely. Snape stepped into the corridor, pulling the door shut
Dumbledore spoke very
firmly. "Severus, did you excuse the Slytherins from potions classes
"My students excel at potions,
Headmaster," replied Snape evenly.
"As does Miss Granger, I
believe. And now you've excused them from Professor
Snape barely nodded. "That is
Dumbledore waited a few
moments. When Snape remained silent, he asked, "Is there anything else
you'd like to say,
Dumbledore nodded. "Then I'd
like you to return to your common room, send your students to the Great
Hall immediately, and report to my office, please."
Snape promised his students
he would return later that evening to check on them. As they made
their way to the Great Hall, Malfoy tried to reassure them.
anything to us with the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws there," he
The Slytherins filed into the Great
Hall, took seats at
their table, and bore silently Professor McGonagall's tart remarks about
their late arrival.
"Now let's see, how shall we
begin?" she asked when they were all settled. "Dear me. I'm not sure
there's room to demonstrate properly with all of you here!"
Oh, no! thought Malfoy.
"I think it would be
best," Professor McGonagall continued cheerfully, "if the Ravenclaws and
Hufflepuffs returned to their common rooms. I'll provide a second
demonstration for them tomorrow night."
As the confused Hufflepuffs and
Ravenclaws took their leave, Malfoy pulled Montague and Goyle close. "She
doesn't touch the three youngest years!" he whispered fiercely. "That's
the best we can do."
The Slytherins passed the word
up and down their benches to protect
their youngest housemates at
"The hard part," McGonagall
lectured as she strolled among them, "is accepting the nature of your true
inner animal. Those who dream of being lions. . . " She paused to smile
fondly at the Gryffindors. ". . . often discover they are merely
weasels." And she turned to stare pointedly at the Slytherins. Several
Gryffindors snickered. "Of course," McGonagall continued, "there is no
shame in being a weasel." Now she stood next to her Gryffindors and they
all stared at the Slytherins. "Weasels make excellent food for
lions," she concluded.
The Gryffindors laughed and
clapped and McGonagall climbed gracefully on top of their
table. "Montague!" she commanded, pointing her wand at a spot beside
her. Montague dutifully joined Professor McGonagall on top of
Gryffindor's table and all the Slytherins stood up in their places, tensed
and ready. "Sit down," McGonagall hissed, and, fearing any
resistance would make things worse for Montague, they obeyed.
"If you select a form that does not
reflect your true inner animal," McGonagall explained, "you may achieve
transformation, but the change will be short-lived. Far more important is
will, which is the lesson I would like to stress tonight. Attempting
animagus transformation in the midst of conflict can produce severely
compromised results if your adversary is present. . ." McGonagall paused
to look at the Slytherins again. ". . . and equal or stronger in will."
She turned to look Montague straight in
the eye. "Now, Montague. Select the first animal form you would like to
Montague thought hard. "A
Labrador," he decided. McGonagall nodded.
"Now concentrate, and will your
selection with every fiber of your being," she instructed. It sounded
like a threat to the Slytherins. Montague shut his eyes and clenched
his fists as McGonagall waved her wand. When he opened them again, he was
regarding her with the sweet beady eyes of a skunk. Only his back half
was a Labrador. The Gryffindors roared.
Then it got worse. Montague's front
half spotted his back half and the skunk tried to flee in terror from the
back paws of its natural enemy. The cockeyed animal waddled desperately
off the edge of the table and fell to the stone floor, banging its little
skunk head on a bench on the way down. Violet covered her eyes with a
whimper and Malfoy savagely tore her hands away from her face. "Sit
up!" he snarled at her, and Violet saw that every Slytherin was sitting
straight and tall and stone-faced, glaring tight-lipped at McGonagall.
Montague, returned to human form and sporting a large bump on his
forehead, shook his head to clear it and looked up. McGonagall pointed to
the spot beside her again and without a word, he stood up and climbed back
onto the table to face her.
"Now what?" she asked pleasantly.
"A cougar," Montague replied with a
determination that gave the Slytherins fresh hope. McGonagall smiled and
waved her wand. This time, Montague mastered the front half of the
animal. Unfortunately, McGonagall had willed his back half to become a
porcupine, and it came as no surprise to the Slytherins when the cougar
snapped and got a face full of quills. They were still lodged in
Montague's lips when he converted, and even after McGonagall waved the
quills away with a flick of her wand, the swelling remained. If the
Slytherins had been able to tear their eyes from their housemate, they
might have noticed that the Gryffindors were not laughing anymore.
"One last time," McGonagall suggested,
Montague tried desperately to think of an animal with no natural
enemies. He picked a walrus. Again he won the front of the animal, but
McGonagall made his backside a polar bear, which frightened the walrus so
badly it began to bark hysterically. Montague came to on his hands and
knees, racked and heaving with frantic exhortations, retching from the
violence of his own spasms.
Professor McGonagall excused Montague
and made Millicent and Pansy clean up after him without the benefit of
magic. When a working order had been restored to the hall, she turned to
the Slytherins to select her next example.
rose instead, holding Violet down in her seat with a hand on her shoulder.
"Excuse me, Professor," he said
"but Violet isn't well this evening. I'd appreciate it if you
would allow me to be next instead."
The teacher could not refuse such a
well-mannered request, and she pressed her lips together tightly, furious that she'd been outmaneuvered by Slytherin
cunning. Then she smiled. "If you insist, Malfoy," she replied
so archly that Violet trembled.
Once again, every Slytherin stood up as
Malfoy climbed onto the Gryffindor table. This time, McGonagall did
not order them to sit back down. She was already focused on the task at
"Well?" she demanded when Malfoy
reached the appropriate spot on the table.
"A fox," Malfoy responded, making
"Clever," she assured him. "Clever,
clever Malfoy. A pity it's not enough."
"Please, God," Violet heard Millicent
pray softly beside her. But in McGonagall's eyes she saw four long years
of anger stacked against five short months of progress. She had no doubt
whose will would prevail.
McGonagall waved her wand, and Malfoy's
top half transformed into a beautiful silver fox.
His bottom half became a skinny white
To the Slytherins' horror, Malfoy began
to snap viciously at his own torso. Blood spotted the ferret's white
"Stop it!" Violet cried, springing
Montague grabbed her and jerked her
back. "Be still," he commanded. The rest of the Slytherins stood
straight and unflinching.
McGonagall waved her wand to speed
Malfoy's return to human form and he found himself on all fours on top of
the table, panting and bleeding. His robes flopped to one side and where
his jumper hitched up, the Slytherins could see blood spotting his white
"On your feet, Malfoy," Professor
McGonagall commanded. As he rose, Malfoy wondered to himself what in
God's name Snape had done to the Gryffindors.
"Ready to try
Just then, Filch burst into the hall.
He ran to the Gryffindor table with noisy, slushy strides, his boots
dripping wet, his trousers soaked to the knees.
McGonagall," the frantic caretaker called as he ran. "I'm sorry to
your lecture, but someone's cast a flow charm in your office and I can't
make it stop! The water's already two feet high and I'm afraid your
rugs and plush chairs are ruined!"
As McGonagall streaked from the hall,
Montague threw his arms over his head. "Yes!" he shouted as the
punched triumphant fists high in the air, chanting,
"Snape! Snape! Snape! Snape!"
Malfoy climbed carefully down from the
table to rejoin his housemates. Violet flung her arms around his waist,
making him wince.
The Gryffindors rose quietly and had
just begun to head for the door when Montague called out, "Bye bye,
hag!" in the general direction in which Professor McGonagall had
departed. At this, the Gryffindors
"What did you say?" George demanded as
the Gryffindors turned to face the Slytherins.
"You heard him, Weasley," Goyle
answered for his housemate. "And he meant it."
"Say it again," suggested Harry, taking
a step closer to Montague.
"Potter," the other boy shot back, "I
wouldn't know what to call her first."
Before things could go any
further, Hermione thrust herself
between the two boys. "Drop it!" she commanded Montague. "Snape started
this, so you just drop it!"
"Snape?" Malfoy stepped
forward himself, Violet clinging to him all the while. "You started it,
Snape did was teach you to pick on someone your own size!"
Hermione looked stricken, but Ron
didn't notice. He was so infuriated by the idea of Snape teaching a
Gryffindor morals that he burst forward, his face as red as his
hair. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded.
Harry noticed Violet clinging to Malfoy
and suddenly understood. "London," he murmured, astonished. His voice
began to rise. "This whole thing has been about Hermione's trip to
London!" He shouted it at the Slytherins as if revealing an atrocity.
But Malfoy just grinned loftily.
"Someone's finally teaching the
Gryffindors," he nodded, "they can't run roughshod over smaller Slytherins
any time they feel like it."
The Gryffindors gaped at this
revelation. Then, to
Malfoy's chagrin, the twins burst out laughing. But Harry shook his head
"Are you serious?" he asked
Malfoy. He looked at the Gryffindors all around him and then turned back
to the blonde Slytherin. "You tell your head of house, Malfoy," he
seethed. "You tell him... from all us Gryffindors... to GET OVER IT!"
Violet released Malfoy to rush
forward and shove Harry
in the stomach. "Don't you
dare!" she cried, pushing him into the twins. "Don't you dare make what
they did small, you marauding
Ron laughed and pointed at her. "Who
are you calling bastard, Voldemort?" he asked, saying the name
easily for once.
"Who are you pointing a finger at,
Percy?" Malfoy responded. Every Gryffindor flinched and
Malfoy grinned broadly at their distress. "Excuse
me," he pretended to correct himself as he pulled Violet back to the
safety of his side. "Ron."
The twins took a menacing
step forward but Harry held up one hand to stop them.
"You don't know what you're talking
about, Slytherin" he told Draco evenly. "And you shouldn't talk anyway,
should you. . . Malfoy." He said the name as deliberately as
possible, and, never taking his eyes off Draco's face, he continued to
spit out equally suspect names born by Slytherins. "Or
Crabbe. . . or Goyle . . . or Mcnair. . . or
Nott. . ."
"You'd better stop," Malfoy warned, but
Harry just smiled and added one more name.
". . . or Snape."
Malfoy's clenched jaw shook with
rage. He felt Violet tremble against him and remembered her trick. He
waited until the perfect response came.
"Snape," he reminded Harry, "was a
Eater War hero. That makes him the only Death Eater War hero Head
of House at Hogwarts."
The Slytherins smiled
triumphantly. But so did Harry.
"I'd like to see how heroic he
is," Harry replied, "when he's not hiding behind Dumbledore's robes."
Malfoy moved so fast Harry never saw it
coming. He tore out his wand, spun loose from Violet and lunged to
deliver a curse right between Harry's eyes.
"Malfoy!" Violet screamed.
Malfoy froze. Harry's hands hung at
his sides, one of them close to his wand, ready to draw if Malfoy broke
eye contact for even a moment. In the time it had taken Violet to
cry out, every Gryffindor and Slytherin in the room had drawn a wand on
Malfoy and Harry stared, their eyes
locked. Malfoy's face grew angrier and angrier, his jaw clenching tighter
and tighter. Suddenly, he threw his wand to the floor. The Slytherins
and Gryffindors relaxed, lowering their wands to see what
would happen next. Malfoy and Harry continued to stare each other down,
and Malfoy began to growl.
He flung himself at Harry with a force
that knocked them both to the ground and pummeled the Gryffindor
mercilessley with his fists. Instantly every Slytherin and Gryffindor in
the room except Violet jumped on another student and began
punching. Drawing on her institutional upbringing, Violet crept a safe
distance from the melee and settled
down to watch. "That's better," she nodded to herself as her
pounded each other.
They'd been beating each other
senseless for about three minutes when Dumbledore walked in. Violet gave
him the briefest glance and a quick, "Hello, sir," before returning her
attention to the action. Not a single battling student noticed his
presence, so a stunned Dumbledore tapped Violet on the shoulder. "Miss
Guilford?" he murmured bemusedly, hoping for an explanation. But Violet
"It's all right," she assured the
headmaster. "They're not biting or gouging. It's a clean fight."
Dumbledore shook his head in
disbelief. He pointed his wand at his throat, murmured "Sonorus," and
then took a few steps away from Violet to spare her ears before he
The Slytherins and Gryffindors
froze. Some were splayed on the tables, some were straddling the benches,
some were knotted together on the floor. They stared at their headmaster
in horror and released each other, rising abashedly to their feet.
"Quietus," Dumbledore charmed himself
again. Then he turned to Potter and Malfoy who, as best he could make
out, were at the center of the brawl.
"What is the meaning of this?"
The boys stared at each
other. Something would have to be said, and it certainly couldn't be the
truth. Finally an answer came to Malfoy
and he smiled.        "The Gryffindors claim
you like them better, sir," he told Dumbledore.
The headmaster left without another
"You did very well, " Violet assured
the Slytherins when they reassembled in their common room a few minutes
later. "For people used to fighting with wands, I mean." She wandered
sympathetically among her housemates, admiring the Gryffindor
handiwork. Every face in Slytherin except hers was bruised, blackened, or
swollen. Malfoy was in particularly bad shape since he'd had the
misfortune to jump a wizard who'd spent a lifetime fending off Dudley
Dursley. Pansy was revolted to the point of nausea by the blood from a
loosened tooth. Her queasiness suddenly reminded Violet of something.
"I saw her!" she cried. The
Slytherins could barely be bothered to look up from their suffering, but
Violet continued anyway. "Hermione," she explained. "I saw her the night
after our trip when I returned Potter's pensieve." Violet brought to mind
Hermione's pale, wretched face. "She didn't look good," Violet recalled.
"I'm sure McGonagall creamed
her," Malfoy nodded wearily. Goyle dropped onto the sofa beside him,
chewing on a swollen lip.
"This is stupid," he insisted. "They
torture us, so we beat each other?"
"We have to sort this out," Malfoy
agreed. "If we don't meet with Gryffindor and come up with a plan, our
own heads of house will destroy us long before Voldemort can get his hands
on us." He turned to Montague, who said nothing. "What do you
think?" Malfoy pressed him. "Tomorrow morning, in the Great Hall after
"Hang on!" Millicent waved a hand at
him. "Don't you imagine we'll be spending the entire weekend right here?"
Malfoy considered that. He turned
to Violet. "Find Snape," he ordered. " Ask to talk to him
in his office
and tell him some tale of woe that will keep him there for hours. Keep
him out of the common room for the rest of the night so he doesn't see us
"Wait a minute," Millicent
objected. "He said he'd check on us. And what if Dumbledore's already
told Snape about the fight?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Chance we'll have to
take," he insisted.
Millicent covered her face with her
hands. "I cannot live the life of a Slytherin!" she moaned.
Violet thought of another
obstacle. "What about breakfast?" she reminded everybody. "Snape will see you then."
Malfoy looked appalled. "We're still
gonna look like this at
breakfast?" he demanded incredulously, making Violet smile. She ran to
room and returned promptly with a small container which she handed
she slipped out of the common room to find Snape.
When Fred Weasley admitted Malfoy,
Crabbe, Goyle and Montague to the Gryffindor common room a few minutes
later, they found Harry Potter wandering among his housemates, tending to
their wounds as best he could. The Gryffindors regarded the four
Slytherins with more chagrin than anger.
"We're wondering if you'd like to talk
this through a bit," Malfoy asked no one in particular. Fred and George
nodded and so did several other Gryffindors. "Tomorrow morning, after
breakfast in the Great Hall?"
Fred shook his head. "It might have to
wait a few weeks."
"Or months," George added.
"Maybe not," countered Crabbe.
"Violet's boring Snape to tears as we speak."
Fred got the idea and took a quick look
around the common room. "Patil," he decided, pointing out the only
Gryffindor who'd taken all her licks to the stomach and still had an
unblemished face. Parvati nodded and immediately left the common
"Here," Malfoy went on, offering
the small container he'd received from Violet. "Come up with a potion for
more of this, and send us the recipe or make enough for us, too, all
Hermione took the container and
checked the label.
'Concealer,' it read.
The next morning at breakfast,
Albus Dumbledore was extremely confused. Professors Snape and McGonagall,
clearly furious with each other, showed no irritation at all with their
students. Yet the students looked completely healed, which would have
been impossible without the intervention of their heads of house or Madam
Pomfrey, who had assured Dumbledore she'd had no customers the night
After breakfast, the Gryffindors and
Slytherins hid in classrooms or milled around the corridors in
strategically small groups until the Great Hall was deserted. Then they
slipped back in and sat down next to each other around the tables. Malfoy
stood on top of a bench so they could all hear him.
"We've got two problems," he began. He
paused and then continued with a little shake of his head. "There's
nothing we can do about the row between Snape and McGonagall. Every
student at Hogwarts thinks his head of house is the best. If we tried to
interfere, we'd just ending up pounding each other again."
and Gryffindors nodded in agreement.
"But we have to find a way to keep
them from taking it out on us," he continued. "We can't go to Dumbledore
and we can't very well tell them to stop their nonsense..."
A few students chuckled at the
"... so does
anybody have any
He waited for several seconds but
nobody made a sound. Then Millicent, who was sitting at the end of a
nearest the door, sneezed violently. She took out a handkerchief and blew
her nose, accidentally removing the concealer hiding her bruised lip.
That's when Snape walked in.
Millicent saw the concealer on her
handkerchief and immediately put the handkerchief back up to her nose to
hide her lip.
Snape gazed contemptuously around the
room at the intermingled Slytherins and Gryffindors. He turned to Malfoy,
who was still standing on the bench. "What," he snarled, "is the meaning
this little gath. . ."
Then he noticed Millicent, who still
had the handkerchief at her lip.
"Miss Bulstrode? What are you
Millicent swallowed hard. "I'm going
to sneeze, sir," came the muffled response from behind her handkerchief.
Snape waited. So did Millicent,
who began to redden as the seconds ticked by. After a while, she faked a
sneeze, rather poorly. She kept the handkerchief
pressed firmly to her nose. It came as no surprise to anyone when Snape
strolled slowly over to her and jerked the handkerchief
away. When he saw her face, he grabbed her chin and wrenched her head
for a better look. He wiped the rest of the concealer away with
his own handkerchief, making Millicent wince as he scrubbed her bruise
"Who did this?" he demanded to know.
Millicent opened her mouth, then
looked confused. "I'm not sure, sir," she had to admit.
Snape shoved her chin away and whirled
on Lavender Brown, who was sitting next to Millicent. He spotted the
concealer on her
face and on that of the Slytherin sitting next to Lavender. One by one,
he grabbed the chin of each Gryffindor and Slytherin to tilt their heads
up and roughly wipe their faces clean, revealing black eyes, bruised
cheeks, and swollen lips. He'd made his way up one table and halfway down
the other and had Hermione in hand, wiping off concealer that hid a black
eye, when Professor McGonagall entered the hall.
McGonagall froze, shocked by the sight
before. She marched furiously over to Snape, who tightened his grip
on Hermione's chin and twisted her head to show Professor McGonagall her
face. "Behold," he said softly. "The noble Gryffindor."
Professor McGonagall stamped one
foot. "Let go of her!" she snapped, barely in control of her temper.
Snape released Hermione's chin with a
shove and Malfoy, who was still on his feet, spoke up tentatively.
"Sit down!" Snape roared. Malfoy
dropped instantly onto the bench. Snape turned back to McGonagall with
a dangerous glitter in his eyes.
we send for the headmaster?" he
baited her. "Or is this another transgression you'd prefer to cover up?"
McGonagall was so angry she shook. "I
have NEVER shielded a Gryffindor from punishment," she retorted, "and
you're a fine one to speak of cover-ups!"
"Of course!" Snape's voice
rose as he took a step closer to McGonagall. "You know little of such
dark things in Gryffindor. You leave others to fight those battles!"
"Don't you dare question the courage of
my house!" McGonagall cried. She thrust her chin defiantly at Snape. "We
have an integrity you'll never possess!"
"You have a hypocrisy you'll never
confess!" Snape thundered back. "Your courage is opportunistic, your sport
is at the expense of others, and your heralded bouts of heroism are the
epitome of self-centeredness!"
McGonagall clenched her hands into
tight fists, perhaps to prevent herself from reaching for her wand. "My
students," she all but shouted, "are exemplary!"
"Your students are worthless!"
"YOUR STUDENTS ARE
"YOUR STUDENTS ARE SAVAGES!"
"Your students... are present," said
Dumbledore quietly from the doorway.
Snape and McGonagall jerked their heads toward the door where Dumbledore stood regarding them
with unspeakable heartache. In an instant, their anger evaporated. They
turned to each other, shocked and horrified, then looked around the room
at their students. Snape hoped he would never see expressions like
that again as long as he lived.
"Prefects," Dumbledore said gently,
"please take your houses back to their common rooms."
The students filed out without a sound,
leaving the three adults alone in the huge room. Minerva stared at the
floor and Snape wished he could step closer to her, stand side by side
with her. There was nothing to do but wait for Dumbledore to speak.
"When I need you the most," Dumbledore
said so softly they had to strain to hear him. "I am sick with
He turned and walked across the room
but paused at the
doorway to turn back to them, his face suddenly contorted with rage. "A
plague on both your houses!" he roared. Then he left them.
They stood silently for a long
time. Finally Minerva lifted her head and Snape recognized his old
friend, shame, on her face. My world and welcome to it, he thought
Professor McGonagall's eyes grew
dangerously bright. "Don't!" Snape commanded. "DON'T!"
She didn't cry, but she did go to him
and lay her head on his shoulder, wrapping one arm around his waist. He
put one arm around her shoulders and they stood quietly for a full minute,
just breathing. Then Minerva pulled back suddenly, a horrified look
on her face.
"Severus!" she gasped. "You don't
think. . ." She paused, unable to finish her horrible thought.
"What?" Snape scoffed at her concern.
torture our students to get back at us?"
"Just because we did," McGonagall
Snape stared. After a moment, his
mouth actually dropped
open. Then he grabbed her hand and they tore out of the Great Hall and
down the corridors at a dead run, eventually separating to race to
their own houses.
Snape burst through the stone door of
the dungeon common room and stopped short, breathing hard. There stood
all his Slytherins, silent, stone-faced, and blessedly healthy.
NOT line up.
Snape sighed with relief as his
head began to throb. "I need a drink," he muttered to himself and left the
"Hello, Severus!" said the barmaid at
the Three Broomsticks warmly. "Professor," she added politely to
"Keep 'em coming,
Rosmerta," Snape requested, handing her several galleons. He sat down at
a table across from Professor McGonagall, but before either of them could
speak, an attractive young witch walked by, touching Snape softly on the
shoulder as she passed.
"Hello, Severus," she smiled at him.
"Hello, Bedelia," he answered
politely and then turned to McGonagall. "All right," he told her. "Take
your best shot."
Minerva waited until Rosmerta
had set down the first round. Then she spoke gently but shot from the
"You hold grudges, Severus," she
insisted. "Far longer than any adult should. And you overindulge in
Snape made no
response. Another witch passed their table and greeted him and he
responded in kind. Then he sat in silence.
"You're doing it right
now!" McGonagall pointed out.
"No," said Snape. "I'm holding
"Well, don't," McGonagall
admonished. "I'm sure I can take as good as I give."
"Hello, Elizabeth." Snape took
a swig of mulled mead. Then he said, "You think you're superior. You
criticize me easily and often unfairly."
McGonagall looked taken
aback. "There ARE things to criticize, Severus," she responded guardedly.
"But that's not all there
"Hello, Madeline." Snape
glanced briefly at the fifth witch to greet him, then returned his
attention to McGonagall. "People
who strive make mistakes. You don't criticize me because my wrongs are so
terrible. You criticize me because you resent my achievements."
"Think of the war we've been
fighting, Minerva," Snape reminded her. "Think of what I've
accomplished. What have YOU accomplished?"
They sat in silence long enough
for three more witches to greet Snape before Minerva came up with a
"I taught you," she said
Snape nodded. "That's why it
bothers you so much."
"That our outlooks have grown
McGonagall shook her head. "I
don't accept that," she insisted.
"And you probably never
will," Snape admitted. "And I don't want to accept that."
"Oh, for pity's sake,
Severus!" Minerva chided him. Snape just shrugged. Rosmerta brought
another round and McGonagall picked up a fresh glass of mead.
how long we'll be stuck with each other?" she mused. When Snape didn't
answer, she pressed him. "If you could leave tomorrow, Severus, would
Snape responded in a tone that
was almost harsh. "I would never leave decent people who need me," he
insisted. "But the time will come when I am not needed any more, and then
I WILL leave."
"Won't you miss it?" McGonagall
wondered. "Being an educator?"
"You're an educator,
Minerva," Snape responded. "I have a different calling."
McGonagall rolled her eyes
before continuing earnestly. "Severus, you're an outstanding
educator. You have the most determined students in the school."
Snape thought of the picture
she'd given him. My God, this woman can nurture, he thought. He
her the smallest of smiles and said, "See? I told you we do-gooders are
Minerva settled back in her
chair and took a long drink. "Speaking of mistakes," she said mournfully
after emptying half her glass, "you know what we have to do, don't you?"
Snape shuddered. "I haven't
had enough alcohol for THAT yet."
"Well," McGonagall prodded,
"I'd rather do it on our own than wait for him to force us."
and rose, offering Minerva his arm. They got as far as the door before
she stopped him for one last question.
"Severus, if I ever need one, will you
be my Secret-Keeper?"
"If you'll be mine," he promised.
"You old honey dripper," she teased.
Together, they made their way slowly back to Hogwarts.
Once more unto the
educator thought as yet again he found himself surrounded by students in a
"Nothing that has gone on between
Professor McGonagall and myself
is your fault," he told them. "I regret the way I
have treated her and her students more than I can say. She has been my
friend for many years and there isn't a Gryffindor in this school who
doesn't deserve the respect and admiration of every staff member at
He took a deep breath. "I
offer no excuses," he continued. "They don't fix problems, so what good
are they? I am
profoundly sorry. Nothing you heard today was true. Not one word. My
conduct reflected my own flaws and no one else's. You are the pride of
this institution and of the wizarding world. And you are extremely
important to me.
"You know what the future
holds," he nodded, adjusting his voice just a bit. "And I understand that
it is your future. I've had
my turn. I promise you that I will teach you and serve you to the best
of my ability to give you the brightest future possible. And I ask your
forgiveness for all my transgressions."
Snape's apology left the
students speechless. Finally one of them whispered. "Yep. That's pretty
heroic." So they answered him in perfect unison.
"Certainly, sir," said the