New Year's Day began with a bang in the Slytherin common room as Malfoy dropped the final explosive ingredient into a hangover potion for Snape. Violet jumped at the blast and then giggled. Malfoy had been letting her help with the potion since it was essentially their thank you to Snape for their Christmas gifts.
       Violet had found hers at the foot of her bed on Christmas morning and had panicked, assuming the worst. She'd been so frightened by the possibility that the gift was some sort of snare from Voldemort that she'd fled barefoot through her dormitory and across the common room to find Snape, even though going barefoot in the Slytherin dungeon in December was a darn stupid thing to do. She'd stopped short at the stone door only because she'd spotted Malfoy out of the corner of her eye, sitting a table smiling at a similarly-wrapped box.
       "That from my dad?" she'd squeaked, pointing to the present.
       "Did you read the tag?" had come Malfoy's impatient reply. Violet had walked over to him and read over his shoulder, "To Malfoy, From Professor Dumbledore," . . . in Snape's handwriting.
       Inside they'd found the most glorious items. Malfoy had received a magnificently-tailored Slytherin-green windcheater and Violet a Slytherin-green jumper. Better still, they were from Agatha's Evergrowing Apparel, so they would always fit. "Nice store?" Violet had asked Malfoy.
       "I doubt the Weasleys have anything from Agatha's Evergrowing Apparel," Malfoy had nodded.
       Shortly after that the Slytherins had gathered for their annual Christmas morning tradition of making snake-themed cards for Snape. The competition to produce the best card had been fierce since the creator was usually permitted to deliver all the cards to Snape's quarters and this year there were many more card-makers than usual. In the end, they had decided to let the orphans deliver the cards so Snape could see them in their new clothes.
       "The common room had better be on fire!" Snape had roared from behind his parlor door when Malfoy and Violet had knocked that morning. Malfoy had smiled at Violet and assured her,
       "He always says that."
       Snape had been buried beneath a mountain of presents and had glanced up at them only long enough to mutter, "You look very nice."
       Malfoy had been quick to observe that, as usual, a large percentage of Snape's gifts were made of satin or chocolate. Violet had not been so perceptive.
       "Gee, sir," she had observed, gazing in wonder at the numerous remembrances, "you must come from a large family."
       Malfoy had hustled her out of the room as quickly as possible, but he still winced when he remembered it. Now he gave the hangover potion a final stir, picked it up and headed for the common room door, telling Violet, "You stay here this time."
       He knocked very softly but persistently on the door of Snape's quarters and waited patiently for a response. Inside, he heard Snape utter little groans with every step he took. The potions master opened the door in pajama bottoms and a "Snakes rule!" t-shirt and seemed barely able to see Malfoy. He took the potion without a word, downed it in one gulp, handed the beaker back to Malfoy with a little groan, and shut the door. Malfoy grinned and headed back to Slytherin.
       On his way he encountered Harry Potter who was coming over for a morning duel. Malfoy put his arm around Harry's shoulders and grinned.
       "I'll bet my head of house can drink your head of house under the table!"
       "You must be so proud," the Gryffindor replied.

       When school resumed, the fifth years began studying in earnest for their OWLs. The Slytherins fumigated the common room every evening trying to master the convalescious potion, a healing remedy that required perfectly timed additions of multiple portions of unicorn saliva. Added successfully, the slobber would generate a cloud of steam that covered people nearby with a fine layer of granulated white crystals, as if they'd been dipped in sugar. An imprecise effort would turn everyone nearby some other color.
       "Do testers really put stuff that hard on an OWL?" Violet asked Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle as she sat punching holes in parchment with her wand at the same table where they had set up their cauldrons.
       "You don't have to get a perfect score," Malfoy assured her. The statement brought a snort from Goyle.
       "Try telling that to Granger!"
       The whole school was aware of Hermione's determination to get the best score in every subject. "When is she gonna get over that whole insecurity thing?" Goyle added as he gingerly dropped spittle to his potion. It generated a cloud that turned the four Slytherins yellow. "Dammit!"
       "What's important," Malfoy continued over Goyle's expletive, "is to demonstrate competence in as many areas as possible. But it would be nice to at least outscore Granger in potions."
       Goyle jerked his cauldron off the table to empty it and almost slopped its contents on Violet's parchment. "Watch out!" she snapped, throwing the sleeves of her robe protectively over her project.
       "Maybe you should do that someplace else, Violet," Malfoy drawled.
       "What are you making, anyway?" asked Crabbe. He leaned briefly over his cauldron to examine the bits of parchment sticking out from under Violet's sleeves, then laced his fingers together, cracked his knuckles, and took a deep breath as he picked up his unicorn saliva.
       "It's something for Snape," was all Violet would say as she stacked the hole-punched pieces of parchment on top of each other and tied some green ribbon through the aligned holes. She pointed her wand at the ribbon and murmured "Spiralate!" and it curled neatly.
       Crabbe bent close over his cauldron, carefully adding the saliva. Poof! A cloud of steam sent blue dust all over the three Slytherins still present at the table, turning them effectively green. Malfoy held up the backs of his hands to study the new color. "This isn't so bad," he laughed at the Slythery hue.
       Violet rose, brushed off as much dust as possible, and headed for Snape's office. Secretly, she was glad the fifth years were obsessed with their studies. It kept Malfoy from noticing her own preoccupation, which he surely would have tried to quash. What she really wanted to do was just waltz into Snape's office, put her feet up on his desk, and ask point blank, "So you worked for my dad, eh?" But that would work about as well as Goyle's convalescious potion. I've got to be subtle, the girl coached herself as she approached her housemaster's office door.
       She knocked and was given permission to enter. At the sight of the tiny green Slytherin, Snape nearly laughed out loud. "You're looking well, Miss Guilford," he smiled.
       "Let's hope I never get sick, sir," Violet replied, taking her usual seat. She handed Snape the bound parchment. "I made this for you."
       "What is it?" Snape wondered, flipping through the blank pages.
       "It's a notebook, sir," Violet told him. "You write down your thoughts in it. I figured . . . in light of the recent ... unpleasantness . . . you might be having a lot of thoughts lately about . . . " Violet took a breath. "Death Eaters," she finished in a whisper.
       Snape dropped the notebook onto the top of his desk without a word, never taking his eyes off Violet. He was not smiling now. But Violet forged ahead.
       "I think," she continued delicately, looking everywhere except Snape's face, "that you understand . . . how I feel about this topic. And I was hoping that . . . eventually . . . you might let me read it." She took a breath and looked up at him.
       Snape raised one eyebrow at her, and with one finger he pushed the notebook to the far corner of his desk. "I can't decide," he murmured softly, "if you're brave... or extremely stupid."
       Violet folded her arms across her chest and tried not to pout. I wish I had a sickle for every time he's called a Slytherin stupid, she thought. Hoping the man would feel compelled to compensate for this fresh insult with a slightly more charitable attitude toward whatever followed, Violet introduced a new topic. "I also wanted to ask you about next summer."
       "Next summer?"
       There was a distracted quality to Snape's repetition. Was he stringing her along while he plotted vengeance for her inquisitiveness? Violet gulped.
       "Will I be allowed to stay here?" she prompted. "I really don't see how I can be expected to return to a muggle orphanage after . . . everything."
       It was a lame finish, she realized, and for a while Snape just stared. Then he settled back into his chair with a frosty little smile.
       "Miss Guilford," he lectured silkily, "no one knows what our world will be next summer. But let me assure you. If it is at all possible, you will not remain at Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore will be responsible for your safety, but no one, not Potter, not Malfoy, not you, will remain here if we can possibly avoid it. We do not want you here over the summer. I do not want you here over the summer."
       Violet felt her face flame. She climbed to her feet and demanded in a tone that was barely civil, "May I go, sir?"
       "The sooner, the better."

       Violet marched straight to Gryffindor. The fat lady in the portrait started to speak when she saw the small green Slytherin but decided against it. "Too easy," she smiled to herself as Violet knocked.
       "May I please see Potter?" she asked Lavender Brown, who admitted her to the common room and sent Colin Creevey to fetch Harry. The Gryffindors crowded around to stare at the little green witch. Already in a bad temper, she opened her mouth to tell them where to get off, but Fred cut her off with a jerk of his thumb at the far side of their common room. There stood Hermione, fuming at her cauldron, covered in pink dust. Violet smiled in spite of herself.
       Harry Potter couldn't help laughing when he saw her. "You shouldn't stand so close," he counseled gently. Violet took hold of his sleeve and pulled him to a secluded part of the room.
       "Listen, Potter. I've been thinking. If you, Malfoy and I stand together, I bet we can persuade Professor Dumbledore to let us stay at Hogwarts over the summer."
       The suggestion took Harry by surprise. But almost immediately, he shook his head "Violet," he told the girl gently but firmly, "I'm not going to do that. I've done what Dumbledore has asked me to every summer and I will next summer, too."
       Violet whirled around without another word and marched to the portrait hole. "Thanks a heap, St. Potter," she muttered to herself as she climbed through. The portrait swung shut prematurely, banging her on the butt on her way out.

       When she arrived back at Slytherin, Snape was there, and several of her housemates were covered in fine white dust. Each cloud of steam brought a round of applause from the dazzled Slytherins, but Violet refused to watch the potion master's exhibition. She settled into a comfy chair in front of the fire to pout.
       "Do Millicent's next, sir," Malfoy requested. "She looks terrible in orchid."

       The Slytherins moved to a table several feet further away. Violet watched them go and then turned to gaze into the fire.
       Somebody was staring back at her.
       Only the eyes were there, two red eyes that blended so closely with the colors of the flames that they were barely discernable. Violet gasped, but the Slytherins were too far away to hear. Without thinking, she pushed her chair back from the fire.
       She gripped the arms of the chair tightly and forced herself to breathe slowly and regularly. She glanced at the Slytherins and then back at the fire.
       The eyes were still there.
       She checked the Slytherins once more to be sure they weren't watching her. Then she looked back into the fire again and slowly held up three fingers.
       POP POP POP! Three embers in the fireplace suddenly exploded onto the common room stone floor. "Oh!" Violet shrieked, lifting her feet onto the chair and clamping a hand over her mouth. From Millicent's table, Snape regarded her with annoyance.
       "Problem, Miss Guilford?" he asked curtly.
       Violet stared at him for several seconds, stung. Again. Finally, she answered him.
       "No, sir."

       Night after night Violet stared into the fire. Occasionally Marybeth would encourage her to join some activity but Violet always refused.
       After a week, Tracey Davis entered the common room shortly after supper, covered in white dust and bearing bad news from the Gryffindor common room; Hermione Granger had mastered the convalescious potion.
       All the Slytherins groaned but Montague held up a hand to silence them. "It's all right," he insisted. "It's a good thing. One day we may be glad a Gryffindor can make herself useful."
       "That's right," Malfoy agreed. "Remember Lupin."
       Millicent dropped dejectedly into the chair next to Violet, who asked, "Who's Lupin?"
       "Lupin was the Defense teacher two years ago," Millicent told her, "and a werewolf. He was one of the Gryffindor marauders along with James and Sirius and he let students make fun of Snape in his class, but Snape still made him a potion all year long so he could teach here."
       Violet stared at Millicent for several seconds, her face contorted with pain. Then she sprang to her feet, grabbed the poker, and attacked the fire, jabbing it ferociously over and over until she was red and panting with the effort.
       She carried on more and more violently until every Slytherin in the room was watching her, bewildered. Snape arrived for his hour in the common room and, upon seeing Violet's display, held up a hand to excuse the Slytherins from queueing up. He approached the young girl cautiously. "Miss Guildord," he asked quietly, "what are you doing?"
       Violet whirled, the poker still clenched in both hands. At the sight of Snape, she seemed to calm down a bit. She lowered the poker. "Eyes!" she whispered, her own open wide. "Red eyes in the fire. Watching us!"
       The Slytherins gasped, surging toward the fireplace to see. "Don't move!" Snape growled. His students froze where they stood.
       He took the poker from Violet and followed her gaze to the fire.
       "I don't see anything," he reported after a thorough examination of the hearth.
       "They're gone now," Violet admitted.
       "How long were they there?"
       "A week."
       "A week?!" Snape's shout made Violet start. She looked up to find her housemaster and fellow Slytherins staring at her in horror. Her own expression grew defiant, but she said nothing.
       "Go to bed," Snape commanded, adding harshly to the rest of his students, "All of you!" The Slytherins left the common room as Snape counted back in his mind. A week.
       When he turned to leave he nearly ran into Malfoy, who stood blocking his path. There was concern on the boy's face, and something else, too. Snape recognized it immediately. He suspected it was on his own countenance as well.
       "Malfoy," he told the boy firmly, "I want you to leave this to me. Do you understand?"
       Malfoy hesitated only a moment. "Yes, sir," he nodded.
       Snape sent him to bed and left the common room.

       With her convalescious potion safely mastered, Hermione Granger moved on to other subjects and Violet knew it was time to put Plan B into effect. She peeked at Hermione from behind a bookshelf in the library the next morning as she reviewed her speech one last time in her head. All right, Miss Granger, she thought. Let's see just how determined you really are. When she was ready, she walked over and sat down next to the smartest Gryffindor and gave her a sweet little smile.
       "I was wondering if you might help me," she asked in a voice younger than her eleven years. "Actually, I'm trying to help the Slytherin fifth years. I'm sure you've already figured out that, in light of the recent ...unpleasantness... there's probably going to be a lot about Death Eaters on the History of Magic OWL. And it's so hard for Slytherins to find out about death eaters, what with . . . " She let her voice trail off forlornly. . . "Well, you know. They can't ask Professor Snape, and they don't have time to go looking for resources with their other studies. So I thought I'd ask you and then tell them."
       Violet could almost see the wheels spinning in Hermione's mind. And they call us ambitious, she thought to herself.
       The two girls worked together for several days searching every inch of the library but they couldn't find a thing on the subject they didn't already know. Violet figured she was out of luck but Hermione wasn't ready to give up.
       "I know a place we could go," she told Violet. "Harry's been there. It's a shop where. . ." She hesitated, then continued. ". . . where we might be able to find some of Lucius Malfoy's personal papers, now that he's . . .well, you know."
       Violet nodded. "Where is it? In Hogsmeade?"
       Hermione shook her head. "No," she admitted slowly. "It's in Knockturn Alley."
       "Where's that?"
       "Well, it's across from Diagon Alley."
       Violet's shriek rang out across the library. Hermione clamped a hand over her mouth, removing it only when she was sure the younger girl had recovered from the shock. "We can't go to London, Hermione!" she protested in a whisper. "How would we get there?"
       "We could fly," Hermione suggested. "We could follow the tracks of the Hogwarts Express."
       "But we'd be gone all day, and then some!" Violet reminded the older girl. "We'd be missed!"
       "Not necessarily." Hermione seemed to be considering something very carefully. "I've been in two places at once before."
       I've created a monster, Violet realized. But Hermione was still talking.
       "There's something else. I need you to get me one of Millicent's robes for the trip. We both have to be Slytherins."
       "Just do it, Violet!" Hermione snapped so dismissively that Violet felt more than a little hurt.

       When she saw Borgin and Burke's, her indignation increased tenfold. A dark arts shop, she thought. A fifth year Gryffindor has brought me to a dark arts shop. She grabbed the Slytherin robe that hung on Hermione's back and jerked hard.
       "Hermione, I am NOT going in there!"
       Hermione grabbed Violet by the hand. "Will you please let go of my robe and start acting like a Slytherin!" she demanded. "Now come on!"
       She dragged an outraged Violet into the store where they found the oily Mr. Borgin standing behind his counter. Violet plastered a smile on her face to match Hermione's.
       "Well, well, who have we here?"
       Violet thought Mr. Borgin's smile was more scary than solicitous.
       "Here are two charming young ladies who should be at Hogwarts, even if it IS always a pleasure to have Slytherins in my store."
       What? Violet's indignation climbed another notch. But before she could ask Borgin what he meant by that remark, Hermione began her speech.
       "I'm Millicent Bulstrode, and this is Marybeth Montague. We're looking for a birthday present for our Head of House."
       "How charming," Borgin assured them. But his smile slipped a bit.
       "I'm sure you know," Hermione continued, "that Professor Snape was a dear friend of Mr. Lucius Malfoy's, and we thought . . . we hoped . . . that you might have something really special we could give him . . . perhaps some personal papers?"
       Her voice faltered only slightly and Violet couldn't help but be impressed. But Mr. Borgin's expression changed throughout Hermione's speech, and now he regarded them with an uncertain smile and narrowed eyes. He shook his head just a little and leaned closer to them for a tete-a-tete. Violet flinched and Hermione dug her fingernails into Violet's hand.
       "Professor Snape's birthday isn't in January*," Borgin whispered conspiratorially. He glanced out the window of his shop to be sure no one was coming, and then added even more softly, "He sent you for it, didn't he?"
       Violet and Hermione looked at each other. Violet turned back to Mr. Borgin to tell him what she thought of anyone who would think Snape would send a student to a place like this. But Hermione silenced her by grinding her heel on Violet's toes.
       "Yes," Hermione replied, pulling Violet behind her. "Yes, he did."
       Without another word, Borgin left them to retrieve something from his storeroom. From behind, Violet shoved Hermione with both hands.
       "You let him slander my head of house, you sheep in snake's clothing!" she protested.
       "What?" sputtered Hermione. But Borgin was returning and the two girls fell silent. He placed a shallow wooden box on the counter and opened it slowly, revealing a green silk-covered journal with a small serpent and a large silver "M" in one corner. It could only be Lucius Malfoy's personal diary.
       Hermione's mouth fell open. Her fingers crept towards the box. Violet, so angry now she was turning red, was just about to reach out and slam the lid on them when a voice cried, "Hermione!"
       The two girls jumped. As Hermione turned to see who had discovered them, Violet heard Borgin whisper to himself, "Granger?" He surreptitiously placed the diary beneath the counter.
       "Percy!" Hermione gasped.
       Weasley, Violet concluded, noticing the unmistakable red hair.
       Hermione was so shocked and flustered to be caught, it didn't seem to occur to her to wonder what he was doing at Borgin and Burke's.
       But the question certainly crossed Violet's mind.

       "How could he do that?" Hermione asked wretchedly as the two girls stood side by side in Snape's office. The Slytherin head of house was still in the hallway consulting with Professor Dumbledore. "How could Percy turn me in like that?"
       "Because if he hadn't," Violet said snidely, feeling a lot smarter than the Gryffindor genius for once, "it might have occurred to you to wonder what he was doing at Borgin and Burke's!"
       "What?" Hermione asked.
       "Why did you let that man think Snape sent us for that book?"
       "What!?" Hermione was more confused than ever.
       "WHY DID YOU LET MR. BORGIN THINK SNAPE SENT US FOR THAT BOOK!" Violet shouted as loudly as she dared.
       "What difference does it make?" Hermione asked, bewildered. "He doesn't think that anymore."
       "Why did you let him think it for EVEN ONE SECOND!?" Violet cried. Then the door opened and Snape entered and the two girls fell silent.
       Snape crossed his office until he stood before them. His fury, Violet was surprised to discover, seemed to be directed entirely at Hermione. "Sometimes," he hissed, his face pressed menacingly close to hers, "I cannot fathom the depths of your stupidity."
       Hermione didn't respond but she did turn her head calmly away from him to look out the window, which Violet thought took a lot of nerve. Snape waited to be sure she wouldn't dare open her mouth. Then he whirled away from them to take a seat at his desk.
       For the next hour, he ignored them. Their feet grew sore, as did their ankles and knees. Violet contemplated as many objects as she could see in the room without moving her head and eventually noticed that her notebook was still on Snape's desk, exactly where he had left it the day she gave it to him.
       She wiggled her aching toes inside her shoes and noticed Hermione was doing the same. Twice Hermione almost opened her mouth to speak, but each time Violet caught her eye and shook her head slightly with the most dire expression she could muster.
       Finally, someone knocked on the door and Professor McGonagall entered. Snape was so angry he wouldn't look at her. "If you don't mind," he snarled as he stared at the book in his hands, and Professor McGonagall quickly escorted Hermione out of the room. As angry as she had been with the Gryffindor, Violet was sorry to see her go.
       Snape put down his book and folded his arms across his chest. He stared at Violet for several seconds. Finally, he spoke.
       "Come here."
       Violet forced herself to walk across the room to where Snape sat behind his desk. He regarded her almost curiously.
       "Do you know what you are, Miss Guilford?" he murmured. "I don't know how this is possible, but you are a spoiled child. And a poor excuse for a Slytherin."
       "That's not true!" Violet blurted out.
       "No?" Snape raised an eyebrow. "Where shall we begin? With your callous disregard for the well-being of your housemates? With the stupendous feeble-mindedness of following a Gryffindor to London?" Violet felt her face flame. "Or with your recalcitrant refusal to mind your own business!"
       The last accusation angered Violet. It seemed petty, even bullying. Her fear began to evaporate, and as Snape waited to hear what she had to say for herself, she tried a trick that had worked magnificently for her at the orphanage. She stared at him in silence until the perfect response came to her.
       "Death Eaters are everybody's business, sir."
       Snape glared, his anger rising. He grabbed Violet by the arm and jerked her closer. Violet flinched but forced herself to keep looking at him.
       "I am not your business, Miss Guilford," Snape hissed. "You are my business. And if you ever forget that again, it will be the sorriest moment of your life. Do you understand me?"
       More than anything in the world, Violet wanted to say no. She didn't dare. But she did dredge up the courage to say nothing, to stand silently before him, refusing to answer. Snape waited. Violet stood her ground.
       "Speak!" Snape commanded.
       "I did not disregard the well-being of my housemates," replied Violet coolly. "I would never harm another Slytherin . . . or let anybody else harm one!"
       "I see." Snape stood and began to pace around Violet as if she were some sort of curiosity. "It's all right for you to play with fire," he suggested contemptuously, "because you can handle anything that comes along. Suddenly, Miss Guilford, you remind me of a certain Gryffindor."
       "I didn't say that!" Violet snapped. "I just meant that. . . you can't accuse me of endangering other Slytherins because nobody was closer to that fire than I was!"
       "So now you're a hero," Snape sneered, "a spy protecting the rest of us!"
       Violet didn't even hesitate. "Well, you'd know, sir."
       Snape stared at her, unable to believe what he'd just heard. For a brief moment, Violet worried that she'd gone too far. But what could he do to her? She wasn't afraid of being hit, and he couldn't expel her into a world with Voldemort in it. What was the worst he could do?
       "I never realized before," Snape said more to himself than to her, "how much you have in common with. . . "
       He stopped, because he was the adult, but it was too late. Violet's blood boiled. She whirled on Snape with her fists clenched.
       "Do YOU have a father, sir?" she almost shouted, advancing on Snape step by furious step. "Because if you do, then perhaps some day I could work for YOUR dad!"
       She nearly punched him in the stomach with the accusatory point that accompanied this last declaration, and her breath came in ragged heaves. But Snape didn't make a sound. Instead, he nodded, once.
       "Perhaps," he told Violet, "you would fare better... in another house."
       Violet's heart stopped. How, she berated herself desperately. How could she have failed to realize what might happen? She grabbed Snape's desk to hold herself up and struggled to keep breathing, afraid her very soul would explode. "Don't," she begged him in a whisper. "Oh, please, sir. I'm sorry. I take it all back. Don't!"
       Snape knew a child on the verge of hysterics when he saw one. "Go back to the common room, Miss Guilford," he ordered. "We'll finish this later."
       Violet ran to him and grabbed his hand. "Please, sir. I'm begging you!"
       "Go!" Snape thundered, and Violet fled.

       By the time she reached the common room, she was crying so hard she could barely speak. She threw her arms around Montague and sobbed her story to a crowd of horrified Slytherins. Expulsion from their house was a punishment too terrible to contemplate, even for ignoring a threat from Voldemort. "Gee whiz!" Marybeth murmured. But Malfoy was not so sympathetic.
       "Violet," he snapped, "you are not the only person at Hogwarts who's been through the ringer. Pick your damn side and be done with it!"
       Violet stared at him, confused and devastated. Then she ran to her room and slammed the door.

       "It should have been done after the fireplace incident," Snape insisted to Dumbledore, "and if you didn't agree with me then, Headmaster, surely you must now."
       "I don't, Severus," Dumbledore told him, settling more comfortably into his chair as he watched Snape pace around the headmaster's office like a caged animal.
       "Headmaster," said Snape with remarkable restraint, "if you had removed her the first time I asked, there would not have been any trip to London."
       "Perhaps," Dumbledore agreed. "But you're not concerned about more trips to London."
       Snape ignored the bait. "I have never asked you for a thing in all the years I've taught here. I want that child out of my house!"
       Dumbledore rubbed his nose. "I'm disappointed, Severus," he obsserved gently. "I would have thought you would be the last person to give up on someone."
       "I am NOT giving up on anyone!" Snape whirled on the old wizard, stung by the remark. "But it is LUDICROUS that this child should make. . . the decision we all have to make. . . based on how she feels about someone at Hogwarts!"
       "You did," Dumbledore replied. Snape glared at him and Dumbledore clarified himself. "I refer, of course, to your second decision."
       Snape struggled to control his tone. "Headmaster, she has needs I can't possibly meet. If she must make a parent out of a head of house, let her make a mother out of McGonagall!" His voice had risen to a shout. He lowered it again before finishing, "I am not the right person for this."
       "Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling. "You're not the warmest coal in the fire, Severus," he agreed. "But you're the only person for this."

       Malfoy carried the tale to Harry Potter, who was also appalled . . . by Malfoy. It was amazing to him that people who had known love or acceptance all their lives could possess so little compassion. But all he said was, "You know, Malfoy, sometimes you remind me a lot of Ron."
       With a shake of his head, he climbed off his bead. "Come on," he called to the Slytherin as he headed for the dorimtory door. "We're going to see Dumbledore."
       The headmaster was delighted with Harry's plan and told him exactly where in Diagon Alley he could find a portable one, suitable for younger people with fewer memories. He gave the boys two doses of floo powder and permission to use his office fireplace, admonishing them to stay together and hurry back. Soon Harry was knocking on the door to Violet's room with a gift in his hands.
       "You asked me about summer," he explained as he handed Violet the pensieve, "so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about summer with you."
       He explained how it worked and Violet accepted the gift gladly, grateful for anything that would get her mind off her shattered future. Harry and Malfoy left her alone and she settled cross-legged onto her bunk, put her pillow between her back and the cold stone wall, and leaned back to enjoy Harry Potter's past.
       An hour later, she was shaking with rage. But it wasn't for the unrelenting abuse that had been heaped upon another small wizard for years and years (for Harry had shared not only his summers but most of his childhood at the Dursleys' with Violet).
       Briefed by Malfoy, the Slytherins watched furious little Violet tear across the common room and out the stone door on her way to Gryffindor. "She's a quick little snake when she's mad, isn't she?" Malfoy grinned.
       Violet pounded on the portrait covering the entrance to Gryffindor common room and when George opened it, she threw the pensieve into the room so violently it took the twins plus Alicia Spinnet and Angelina Johnson to catch it without spilling any of Harry's thoughts. "Where is he?" she screamed through the hole at Ron, who was sitting near the fire with his arm around a white-faced Hermione. Fred nodded at Ron who left to fetch Harry. Violet glared at forlorn, nauseous-looking Hermione.
       When Harry arrived, he spoke to Violet at the portrait hole, blocking their conversation from the rest of Gryffindor.
       "What is this, Potter," Violet demanded, "a PISSING CONTEST?"
       Harry shook his head. "I just thought it was time you realized," he explained. "It's not about who loves you."

       Snape spent his obligatory hour in the common room that evening showing the Slytherins how to make leprechaun gold out of knuts and cheat at wizard chess. Nobody noticed when Violet returned, and she sat quietly behind a soft green curtain, watching the Slytherins with their head of house for nearly half an hour. Then she slipped away.
       At eight-thirty, Snape headed back to his office to ponder what to do about Violet Guilford. Three hours later he was still without a plan so he began to pace back and forth in front of his desk. That's when he noticed its bare corner.
       The parchment notebook was gone.
       Snape thought it over and headed back to the common room.
       It was dark except for the warm glow of the fire, and nearly deserted. All the Slytherins were in bed except Violet, who was sitting on the cold stone floor in front of a sofa, staring at the fire. Snape walked over and stood a few feet from her.
       "Why are you sitting on the floor?"
       "I was praying," Violet responded simply. It did not escape Snape that 1) she didn't say 'sir,' and 2) she didn't rise.
       "Why aren't you standing now?"
       There was no menace in his tone. He merely wondered. Violet thought for a moment and, without a trace of disrespect or resentment, explained,
       "Only Slytherins do that, sir."
       Touché, thought Snape, taking a seat beside her on the floor. He followed her gaze to the fire and for a brief moment, he feared he would find two red eyes staring back at him. But all he saw was a parchment notebook burning to ashes.
       He looked at Violet who gave him a little smile. Then she thought of something and asked quickly,
       "You didn't write anything in it, did you?"
       "No," Snape assured her.
       They watched the flames destroy the last of the parchment. Then Violet asked, "Do you know who I love, sir?"
       "Whom do you love, Miss Guilford?"
       "The kids at the orphanage. And they have no idea." There was a touch of sadness in her reply.
       Snape thought it over. "We are foolish," he had to admit, "when we assume others know how we feel."
       The observation puzzled Violet. Then she giggled. "No, sir," she clarified for her head of house. "I meant about Voldemort."
       "Oh," Snape said with a nod.
       They sat in silence for a while, and when Violet spoke again, her voice calm and assured.
       "You were right," she told him as she stared into the flames. "About the way I behaved in your office, I mean. I am truly sorry for the things I said. I don't deserve to be here, and I will go wherever you say, and I will do my best there."
       Snape studied her mild, still profile for a while. Then he asked, "Do you have a preference?"
       Violet thought it over. "No," she said with a shake of her head. Then she giggled again. Snape sighed.
       Violet jerked her thumb toward the common room door. " 'You're Gryffindor!' " she quoted herself with a grin. Snape couldn't help but chuckle. Violet shook her head.
       "We shouldn't have done that," she decided in retrospect. "I like Potter. He's kind. But I'd have some fences to mend with Granger."
       At the mention of Hermione's name, Snape's face clouded. Violet found his fury strangely comforting.
       "Don't be angry with her, sir," she beseeched her teacher. "I led her into it."
       Snape regarded her shrewdly. "You certainly did," he agreed.
       They gazed into the fire again and after a while, Violet asked him, "Why do you think Percy Weasley was at Borgin and Burke's, sir?"
       The question was an intriguing one. Snape leaned a little closer to the child. "I'll tell you something about Gryffindor," he confided. "They haven't produced a leader in two generations."
       The statement surprised Violet. She considered the Gryffindors she knew or had heard about. . . James and Sirius, Hermione, the Weasleys, Harry Potter. . .
       Snape seemed to read her mind. "Harry Potter is courageous," he admitted, "and heroic, and compassionate. But he is no leader. Nor would he care to be."
       Violet thought about that for a long time. She considered what qualities would be most effective in a leader. Suddenly, she turned to Snape, her eyes wide.
       "Malfoy is a leader," she realized.
       "Malfoy is a leader," Snape confirmed. He let Violet enjoy her flash of insight for a moment. Then he asked the child, "Do you understand why students are sorted into certain houses?"
       Violet nodded, remembering the Sorting Hat's song. "Because of their abilities," she responded.
       "And who develops..." Snape hesitated, then stopped. He abandoned his thought, announcing instead, "You're not going anywhere, Miss Guilford."
       "Oh, Professor Snape!"
       Violet flung her arms around Snape's neck so violently she almost knocked him over. "Thank you!" she cried, hugging him as tightly as she could. "Oh, thank you, sir! Thank you! Thank you!"
       Snape took her firmly by the arms and pulled her loose. "You and I," he told her with a little shake, "need to come to an understanding. I am not here to compensate for your weaknesses. I am here to help you enhance your strengths. Do you understand?"
       "Yes, sir," Violet nodded.
       "Then go to bed, Miss Guilford," said Snape, suddenly terribly weary.
       Violet rose, but she didn't leave. She stood before Snape, pulling on one of her fingers, searching for the right words.
       "Mr. Borgin," she began. "He said. . . he seemed . . . unfair."
       "What do you mean?"
       "To Slytherins," Violet added, her face suddenly crumpling. Snape felt a flash of anger for all the world's hypocrites but forced it aside to focus on the child's pain.
       "At least," he observed with that caustic sarcasm that compensated for so much, "he's the only one."
       Violet grinned, and Snape smiled back for just a moment. Then he grew serious indeed.
       "If you can't take the heat," he counseled Violet, "get out of the cauldron."
       Violet thought it over. "Never," she decided, and held out her hand. They shook once, and Violet said, "Good night, sir."
       "Good night, Miss Guilford."
       When he was alone, Snape stood and looked once more into the fire. "Big mistake," he promised whoever might be listening before he called it a night.

*Date this story was published: Spring 2003
Date Rowling declared Snape's birthday to be in January: Winter 2005
Odds it was a coincidence: 1 in 12

The Smallest Slytherin