"Charming," hissed Snape as he hauled Goyle and Queenie Greinglass off the bunk where they'd been snogging and dragged them down to his office.
       Outside, the snow continued to fall. But inside the House of Slytherin, spring had arrived with a vengeance in the form of surging hormones and students who could not keep their hands off each other. Everywhere Snape turned he saw loosened ties, rumpled shirts, and happy smirks.
       At first the Slytherins rotated partners, eager to kiss as many people as possible to maximize their skills and enjoy variety, the spice of life. But after Snape caught and caned Warrington and Tracey Davis, the Slytherins paired up permanently and made a competition out of seeing who could go the longest without being apprehended.
       Professor McGonagall confided to Snape that she was having the same problem in Gryffindor. The situation drove the teachers to distraction.
       "I'm really a little offended," Malfoy told Millicent one afternoon as they necked in his favorite hiding place. They were the last couple still in competition besides Montague and Pansy. "How stupid do they think we are? Nobody wants to go too far and risk missing out on anything that's coming!"
       "Maybe we should just tell them that," suggested Millicent.
       Malfoy gaped at her. "How?" he demanded, unable to even imagine such a conversation. "Besides, they wouldn't believe us. I'd rather worry them."
       He peeked out from behind the plush red curtain that was hiding the two of them just a few feet from the portrait hole inside the Gryffindor common room. Professor McGonagall was practicing preventive medicine, putting the Gryffindors through a daily set of rigorous calisthenics. Malfoy shook his head.
       "They're definitely getting the short end of the stick."
       "So glad you think so," responded a familiar silky voice from the portrait hole.
       Malfoy jumped, a profanity springing from his lips before he could stop it. "Sorry, sir," he shrugged in response to Snape's raised eyebrow as he climbed to his feet and exited the secluded nook. "I've got 10% of Violet's five galleons on me,"
       Snape was appalled. "Miss Guilford is gambling on promiscuity?"
       Malfoy and Millicent kept their mouths firmly shut so they wouldn't laugh at the word 'promiscuity.' Snape stepped back to make room for them to exit through the portrait hole. After they'd climbed out, he peeked back at the Gryffindors.
       "What are they doing?"
       Malfoy glanced through the hole. "Squat thrusts, sir."
       Snape allowed himself a derogatory snort, inspiring McGonagall to throw him an indignant look. He shrugged and turned back to his own students.
       "After you."
       So Malfoy and Millicent trudged back to the dungeon and spent an unpleasant three minutes in Snape's office, eventually counting themselves far luckier than Violet the bookie, who did two hundred squat thrusts a night for a week.

       The following Friday afternoon, McGonagall caught Lavender Brown in the arms of Bletchley. Horrified by the potential for a full weekend of exciting new interhouse pairings, she knocked frantically on the door to Snape's office.
       "How can they be this stupid?" he responded when she told him the news.
       McGonagall frowned at the insult. She took his quill and a piece of parchment, wrote something on it, and handed it to him. Snape picked it up and beheld a two-digit number.
       "What's this?"
       "That's the number of women who said hello to you at the Three Broomsticks last month."
       "You counted?" Snape was aghast.
       "No. I made the number up. But you take my point."
       Snape shoved the parchment back at her and McGonagall shrugged. "This is what happens in frightening times," she suggested. "People get. . . affectionate."
       "And what do we get," Snape demanded, "when we stand for it?"
       McGonagall opened her mouth but Snape cut her off.
       "Ron Weasley!" he spat, "and the Weasley twins!"
       "Severus!" McGonagall laughed in spite of herself. Then she sobered. "Clearly," she nodded, "we need to do something." But before she could suggest anything, her mind drifted back to Snape's remark. "I never thought of it that way before," she admitted. "How many of our students do you suppose are. . . what would you call them? Voldemort babies?"
       "Minerva. Please." Snape looked nauseous.
       They sat in silence for several moments. Neither wanted to be the first to suggest it out loud. Besides, Snape enjoyed watching Minerva squirm. He considered being a gentleman and decided against it.
       "You came to me," he prompted her. She grimaced and he relented. He opened the deep lower drawer of his desk and took out a flask with a bubbly white potion in it which he set down firmly before her.
       "You already made it!" she breathed in horror. Snape shrugged. A few drops in the pumpkin juice and their students would settle right down. McGonagall raised beseeching eyes to her colleague. "Talk me out of it, Severus," she implored.
       "You first," came the surly reply.
       Just then, someone knocked on Snape's door. Both instructors jumped. Snape whisked the potion back into his drawer and barked a hostile, "Come in!" just as soon as they'd managed to plaster innocuous expressions on their faces.
       The moment he saw Dumbledore, Snape regretted his tone. He and McGonagall had not been alone with their headmaster since the morning of their misconduct in the Great Hall. They rose to their feet and when Dumbeldore saw their patently innocent expressions, he leaned against the wall and smiled.
       "Are these your poker faces?"
       He chuckled at their souring expressions and waved them to sit down. "Anyway, it's nice to see you two in cahoots again," he admitted. " And I was thinking that, for the rest of the year..." He took up a casual stance before them and spoke as pleasantly as if he were announcing salary increases. "You two might like to spend TWO hours a night in your common rooms."
       He let himself enjoy their silent vexation for just a moment before he opened the door again. "Who knows?" he speculated as he stepped into the corridor. "It might even help with your current dilemma. And Severus..."
       His eyes twinkled as he prepared to deliver the parting shot."
       "I'd like you to begin tonight."
       The door shut with a definitive click and for a long time, Snape and McGonagall could only stare at it. Then Snape opened the desk drawer, took out the potion, and helped himself to a healthy swig.

       "Open or shut?" Violet asked Marybeth about their cell door as they prepared for bed that night.
       "Open," Marybeth replied. "I'm going to the owlery in a few minutes."
       The answer pleased Violet, who loved going to bed with the door open. All the girls' cells opened onto a single corridor off the common room. Snuggling under her covers to escape the chilly air of the dungeon while she listened to the gossip, giggles and goodnights of her housemates was one of the things Violet loved most about being a Slytherin.
       She watched Marybeth writing a note to her parents, informing them she had a cold in the hopes of receiving sympathy gifts in the mail the following morning. "If I get any mail at breakfast, will you bring it to me?" she asked Violet. "I'm staying in bed tomorrow."
       When the owls flooded the Great Hall at breakfast Saturday morning, there was no mail for Marybeth. Snape got three pieces but wasn't there to receive it, so Professor Dumbledore asked Montague to bring it to him instead. The Slytherin picked up the pile, thumbing casually through the envelopes. The handwriting on one made him pause.
       Then he grinned.

       He entered the common room a short while later to discover Bletchley surrounded by Malfoy and several male Slytherins. "I don't know what she uses on her hair," Bletchley was saying about Lavender Brown, "but she smells really nice. And she does this really cool thing with her tongue."
       "Gross," called Violet in passing.
       "You'll change your mind, little snake," Malfoy assured her before nodding at Bletchley to continue. But Montague was waving an opened letter tantalizingly under the keeper's nose.
       "What's that?" Malfoy wondered.
       "Something very interesting," his housemate smirked.
       "Can I see?" Violet plucked the letter from Montague's grasp. "I never get any mail."
       Montague promptly snatched the letter back. Oh, no!" he taunted the smallest Slytherin. "You're too young!"
       The boys crowded closer together. "What is it?" Goyle demanded, and Montague grinned.
       "It's to Snape," he leered, "from. . " He paused to sniff the parchment, which was apparently scented, and sang out the name with mock tenderness. ". . . Bedelia Worthington." Then he grinned again, adding lecherously, "And it's filthy."
       Crabbe and Goyle snatched the letter and read it between them, then passed it on to the others who crowded around for a peek. Soon nearly half the Slytherins had seen it.
       "Omygosh!" cried Pansy, reading a particularly descriptive passage. "Do you think they really did these things?"
       "That's our boy!" Goyle cried, slapping Crabbe enthusiastically on the back. His friend shook his head.
       "I don't even know what that is," Crabbe admitted, pointing at a certain word on the parchment.
       "Montague, you moron!"
       Millicent stamped her foot with indignation. Violet and the other Slytherins who agreed with her gathered around, folding their arms across their chests to stare disapprovingly at their nosy housemates.
       "Did you already give Snape the rest of his mail?" Malfoy wondered, pointing at the letter that was now back in Montague's possession.
       "He didn't answer when I knocked," Montague shrugged, "so I left it outside his door."
       Malfoy shook his head in disgust. "Well, how are you going to give him that piece now?"
       "I'm not!" grinned Montague, completely unruffled. "I'm going to give it to Gryffindor... then Ravenclaw... then Hufflepuff!"
       The idea met with a storm of protest from the Slytherins surrounding Millicent. "This is bad enough!" Malfoy pointed out, gesturing to the bright-eyed, flush-faced Slytherins who'd thoroughly enjoyed the letter. Montague shook his head.
       "Malfoy," he cajoled, taking a subtle step backwards towards the common room door. "You're always trying to prove the superiority of our head of house. Let me help you out for once!" And with that, he, Crabbe and Goyle bolted from the common room.
       The reaction at Gryffindor was about the same. Half the students couldn't wait to see it while the other half were appalled by the invasion of Snape's privacy.
       "Harry, you're really missing out," Ron called as he read the letter for the third time, the twins perched on either arm of the chair he sat in to re-read it themselves. Harry, sitting opposite, said nothing, not even when Hermione entered the common room and approached Ron from behind. The twins noticed her arrival and immediately rose and moved to a safe distance.
       Hermione peeked over Ron's shoulder to see what held him so spellbound. Before long, she was blushing furiously.
       The youngest male Weasley sprang to his feet, took one terrified look at Hermione's face, and bolted for his dormitory, flinging the letter back at Montague as if it were on fire.
       "How could you?" Hermione demanded of Harry. The teenager threw up his hands.
       "I didn't touch it," he assured her. "Hermione, you're all red!"
       Hermione put her hands on her hips and stomped her foot at Montague and the Slytherins, who immediately left for Ravenclaw. After they'd gone, she admitted sheepishly, "It was really filthy!"
       "Did you read all of it?" Harry demanded with a grin, making Hermione blush redder still.

       Snape emerged from his quarters around 9am and headed for the kitchen to get a glass of charged water. No potion was more effective for the relief of nausea, he knew, than plain old bubbles. On his way, he encountered Dumbledore soothing an enraged Filch, who held a dead owl by its feet.
       "Good morning, Severus," Dumbledore smiled. "Do you recognize this owl, by any chance?"
       "I don't own an owl, Headmaster," Snape grumbled, eager to tend to his stomach and not some trifling concern of the caretaker's.
       "It's a prank!" cried Filch, "killed and left to rot in my clean corridor by some ungrateful. . . . "
       Dumbledore cut him off before Filch could say something he'd have to reprove. "The owl wasn't killed, Argus. It has died of some illness at a rather young age." He turned again to Snape. "It's not a school owl," he pointed out. "It may have made a delivery this morning but it could also belong to one of our students, so I'm concerned someone will be missing it. Are you sure it doesn't belong to anyone in Slytherin?"
       Snape didn't bother to mask his irritation. "Headmaster," he began with a barely concealed sneer, "I know everything about my house. . . except what my students' owls look like." And with that, he excused himself to fetch his soda water and return to bed.

       Violet, bereft of Marybeth and annoyed with half of Slytherin, spent the first part of the morning in the library fetching books for Malfoy as he completed a History of Magic essay. She'd tuckered herself out thoroughly hauling a good-sized tome on elf domestication and was sitting quietly by his side resting when they overheard Hermione confronting Montague and some other Slytherins. They slipped into the corridor to see what was going on.
       "You really ought to be ashamed," Hermione was insisting to Montague and his cronies who were bringing Snape's letter back from Hufflepuff. Montague dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
       "Really, Granger, you're such a prude."
       Seeing her chance, Violet snatched the letter from his hand and took off at a run. The Slytherins gave chase, Malfoy racing to outstrip them and catch her first. Violet cursed her short little legs as Malfoy scooped her up.
       "What are you thinking, little snake?" he asked as he set her back down.
       "I'm gonna tell!" Violet's proclamation was as sure as her face was flushed. "I'm gonna take the letter to Snape and I'm gonna tell!"
       Montague and the others started for her but Malfoy held up a hand. He took Violet by the arms and gave her a gentle shake as she clutched the letter in both hands.
       "Listen to me," he scolded the young housemate before him. "I understand how you feel. And you're right." He shot a pointed look at Montague. "They shouldn't have taken that letter. It was a lousy thing to do. But this isn't the usual six we're talking about." He bent down nose to nose with her and announced ominously, "If Snape finds out what they've done, he will flog them within an inch of their lives."
       Violet stared at him. She studied all the Slytherins, one by one, and then Hermione. Then she nodded.
       "Good," she decreed, pulling loose to head for the dungeon. Montague grabbed her, tore the letter from her hands, and, with Violet and the others chasing after him, sprinted into the library to toss the letter into the nearest fireplace. Then he turned to menacingly to Violet. But Malfoy shrugged, so he restrained himself, placing a hand on her flushed forehead instead.
       "You must have Marybeth's cold," he spat. "The fever has impaired your judgment. Go to bed!"

       "Where is everybody?"
       At Malfoy's question, Millicent looked around the Great Hall. It was lunch time, but half the student body seemed to be missing.
       Snape showed up and McGonagall whispered to him as he passed her on his way to his place at the head table.
       "Where have you been?"
       "Too big a swig," was all he replied before settling into his seat with a groan. McGonagall took a worried look around the hall and rose to slip over to Snape's seat. She crouched beside him and spoke in a whisper.
       "Severus! Did you. . ." She couldn't finish.
       "Did I what?"
       "Did you . . . give it to them?"
       It took Snape a second to figure out what she meant. His face darkened as he snapped at her with as much ferocity as he could muster in his weakened state. "Of course not! And I resent the question."
       "Well, where is everybody?"
       Snape surveyed the hall. Attendance was decidedly lacking. He turned to McGonagall, puzzled.
       "Where is everybody?"
       McGonagall pursed her lips, clearly suspicious. Snape glowered right back. "Minerva, what did I JUST tell you?"
       The head of Gryffindor looked him up and down, unconvinced. "Well," she couldn't help pointing out, "you're sick..."
       "I did NOT give it to them," Snape insisted, his voice rising. He lowered it again when he saw Dumbledore studying them. "They've probably just caught Miss Montague's cold."
       He glanced aside to see Dumbledore still watching them and despised the immediate guilty reaction the headmaster's stare inspired. But all Dumbledore had to say was,
       "Where is everybody?"
       So after lunch Snape checked a few rooms on the boys' corridor and found that several students had indeed gone to bed with muscle aches and stuffy noses. "Good!" he muttered to himself, always pleased with the prospect of a quiet night in the common room.

       He spent the evening surrounded by a much smaller crowd of Slytherins who listened with delight as he deconstructed Malfoy's essay.
       "This is rubbish. The house elves were not happy hunters and gatherers made wretched by brutal servitude. They were miserable little thugs who were slaughtering each other to the point of extinction until. . ."
       He turned contemptuously to Marybeth who had appeared beside his chair in her nightgown and was now tugging on his sleeve.
       "What can you possibly have to contribute that's more stimulating than my discourse?"
       "I think Violet's really sick," Marybeth told her housemaster.
       "Well, tell her to go see Madam Pomfrey." Snape gave the youngster a dismissive wave of his hand. "I'm fairly certain she knows the way."
       "I can't wake her up," the first year protested.
       Snape scrutinized the girl through narrowed eyes. Then he rose with a sigh and handed the essay parchment to Malfoy. "Do it again," he commanded before following Marybeth to her cell.
       The older Slytherins watched them go. When they'd disappeared from view down the girls' corridor, Millicent turned to smirk at Malfoy, who grinned right back at her. "It is NOT rubbish," he flirted. "It's painfully clever. I'm easily the most brilliant person standing next to you."
       Millicent giggled and Malfoy rewarded her with a bounce of his eyebrows. They were still flirting shamelessly moments later when Snape tore across the common room with Violet in his arms... and Marybeth at his heels.

       In Gryffindor, Harry approached Hermione on behalf of Ron as she settled into a common room chair to read her copy of the Daily Prophet.
       "Ron says you're overreacting and please don't be mad anymore."
       Hermione put the paper down and glared at him. "Why doesn't he bother to tell me himself?"
       "He's sick," Harry replied. "He's in bed. But he says he's sure he'll recover faster if you stop being mad at him."
       Hermione returned her attention to the paper. "Tell him I'm still mad," she instructed Harry archly, "but perhaps I'll see if I can find him something stimulating to read while he's bed-ridden."
       As Harry left to relay the bad news to Ron, Hermione watched him from behind her paper, wondering as he went why so many students were sick today. Then she returned her attention to the news of the greater wizarding world.
       The story she found on the front page turned her white as a sheet.
       Without a word of explanation to anybody she fled the common room, racing as fast as she could to Slytherin, the paper clutched in her hand.

       "She's been poisoned."
       Madam Pomfrey confirmed Snape's suspicions, adding firmly, "Organic impression absorption."
       Snape turned immediately to Marybeth. "Tell me everything you can think of that Miss Guilford touched today!"
       Marybeth could only shake her head. "I don't know," she cried. "I've been in bed all day."
       Snape sagged visibly at this news. But he spoke calmly to Marybeth, ordering her, "Go find Professor Dumbledore. Bring him back here as fast as you can."
       "Professor Snape!" Madam Pomfrey made no effort to hide her horror. "If you don't find. . ."
       Snape glowered at the matron to ensure her compliance, then returned his attention to his student. "Go on!" he urged Marybeth, who fled. With the child safely out of the room, Madam Pomfrey began again.
       "You have to find the source!" she insisted even as the potions master began tearing through her cupboards. "You have to find the inorganic surface containing the poison. Without it, you might have to perform dozens of blood tests to identify the poison!"
       Snape ignored her and began mixing ingredients for a blood-testing potion. Madam Pomfrey made one last attempt to reach him.
       "She hasn't got that much time!"
       Snape whirled on the woman, furious. "Half the student body is sick!" he roared. "How do you propose we find the one thing they've all touched?"
       Madam Pomfrey fell back, her hand to her heart.
       "Stop wasting time and draw all the blood she can spare," Snape finished. Then he fired up Madam Pomfrey's cauldron and began to brew.

       Hermione tried Snape's office first, then his quarters. Finally she banged desperately on the door to the Slytherin common room. Millicent opened it.
       "Where's Professor Snape?"
       "He took Violet to the hospital wing. I guess she's pretty. . ."
       But before the Slytherin could finish, Hermione tore off down the corridor and disappeared around a corner, leaving Millicent to call helplessly after her,

       "Four," Madam Pomfrey said softly to Snape as she mopped Violet's brow while he ran the next test.
       "There are five potions for treating poisonings. I can only make four."
       Snape made no reply.
       "I can't make a convalescious potion," she went on, her voice rising, "and you said half the student body is sick."
       She turned away from Violet, unconsciously twisting the cloth she'd been using to mop the child's forehead. "One person could only make enough potion to treat half that many cases in time," she finished quietly. "Nobody has that many bezoars."
       If Snape was concerned, he didn't show it. "Miss Granger can make a convalescious potion," he replied coolly.
       "But what if she's sick?" Pomfrey persisted. "How will you decide. . ."
       "Dumbeldore will decide!" Snape's shout made the old woman flinch. "Stop interrupting me!"
       At that moment, Hermione burst into the hospital wing. Snape had never been so glad to see a Gryffindor in his life.
       "Sit!" he ordered. "And don't go anywhere!"
       "Professor Snape..."
       "Not now!" the teacher hissed. But Hermione was adamant.
       "Yes, sir. Now."
       She put the Daily Prophet down in front of him and pointed to the pertinent story.

Bedelia Worthington Murdered
Bedelia Worthington, a young witch beloved by many for her gracious gentleness, was found murdered late Friday night in her home near Hogsmeade. "It's such a tragic loss," insisted a friend, speaking on condition of anonymity. "She was so warm and refined, she never harmed a soul."

An initial investigation revealed that Miss Worthington was subjected to the Imperius curse before she was killed.

       Snape looked stricken. But he pushed the paper away as if to force himself to deal with the news at another time. Hermione spoke again.
       "Sir, please listen to me because this is very hard to tell." The girl bit back a sob. "She wrote to you. A letter arrived this morning. But some Slytherins stole it and brought it around to all the houses because. . . because..."
       Hermione took a deep breath. "Because it was obscene," she admitted. "But Professor Snape..." She picked up the paper again, holding it up before her. "It doesn't sound to me like she was the kind of person who would write a letter like that."
       The adults reached the logical conclusion simultaneously, the realization shocking Madam Pomfrey so badly she dropped the flask with Violet's blood. It shattered, spreading blood in a pool on the floor.
       Snape grabbed Hermione and pulled her close. "Where's the letter?"
       "It's gone," the girl admitted, her eyes filling with tears. "Violet took it to bring to you and they stole it back and burned it."
       The news was more than Snape could bear. He grabbed a beaker full of water-proof binding potion and hurled it at the nearest wall, shattering the glass and spreading the contents over several feet of stone surface.
       Horrified and helpless, the three of them watched as the potion began to form adhesive strips on the wall. The sinewy fibers spread as if to form a stringy cobweb. Snape stared, entranced. Suddenly, his eyes flew open wide.
       "The owl," he cried, whirling on the witches beside him. "The string on the owl!"
       At that moment, Marybeth returned with Dumbledore. Snape grabbed Violet from her cot, shoved her into the headmaster's arms, and then turned to Madam Pomfrey.
       "Bring all the sick Ravenclaws to Slytherin," he instructed, "and send the Hufflepuffs to Gryffindor."
       Without another word, he grabbed the testing potion in one hand and Hermione's arm in the other and raced away with her to Filch's office.
       They found the caretaker asleep at his desk with his head on his arms.
       "He's sick!" Hermione cried.
       "Good," Snape replied. "That means we're right."
       He shook Filch brutally until the caretaker woke up and told them what he'd done with the dead owl. It was still in his office, he explained groggily, stuffed in a burlap sack awaiting disposal. Snape quickly tested the string and confirmed that the convalescious potion was the appropriate antidote for the poison placed on the letter.
       "It will take two of us," he told Hermione as he prepared to move Filch. "I'll make it at Slytherin. You make it at Gryffindor."
       The thought of half of Gryffindor's lives in her hands turned Hermione pale. Snape grabbed the terrified young girl and squeezed her arms painfully tight.
       "Don't you realize what has happened here?"
       The urgency in his voice spoke of more than a school full of dangerously sick children. It radiated the frantic anguish of inescapable culpability.
       "You have to HELP me!"
       Hermione stared at the desperation in those black, black eyes. Then she stiffened her spine, her jaw set... and nodded.

       The Slytherin common room looked like it had been hit by a snowstorm.
       The convalescious dust settled thickly along the rows of cots where the sick Ravenclaws lay. Professor Flitwick and several seventh year Ravenclaws and Slytherins administered the antidote as fast as Snape could brew it. He gave the first dose to Dumbledore to feed to Violet and watched anxiously as the headmaster, Malfoy and Millicent hovered over her. But he could not leave his cauldron until enough of the remedy had been prepared to treat all the students.
       Violet would not take the medicine. Death was so close that she ached for it, for the world was hard and full of pain and sleep was sweet. Besides, what could the future hold that could possibly compare to the past seven months of being a Slytherin? Her father was just going to be a git anyway. "Bastards," she murmured to the gentle hands that tried to force her lips apart.
       When the last student had been treated, Snape extinguished the fire beneath his cauldron and joined Dumbledore, who was cradling Violet in his arms, trying to coax the potion into her mouth. The smallest Slytherin refused to take it. "Violet, you little pissant," Malfoy scolded the barely-conscious child desperately. "Why do you always clutch?"
       "It's her size, Malfoy," Snape explained. "The poison has twice the impact because she's small." He reached for the child, urging the headmaster, "Give her to me."
       Dumbledore handed Violet over and Snape sat down in the large chair before the fire, holding the smallest Slytherin in his lap. Violet, supremely thankful for such a warm and comforting place to die, settled her head gratefully on his chest.
       As Dumbledore, Malfoy and Millicent watched, Snape held the potion to Violet's lips and began to gently stroke her cheek with his thumb. It looked comforting, but Violet flinched from the caress as if in agony. Snape was pulling her back, back from sweet rest to that cold world with pain in it.
       "Quit it," she muttered.
       "Take some of the potion and I'll stop," Snape promised softly.
       So Violet drank a sip. After a few minutes, Snape began to stroke her cheek again, eventually coaxing another drop into her mouth. Awed, Dumbledore turned to Malfoy and Millicent.
       "What have we learned?" he quizzed them.
       "There's more to potions than the brewing," Malfoy replied.
       Dumbledore smiled. "Well done," he praised, and Malfoy wasn't sure if he meant him or Snape.
       A short while later, Dumbledore left to check on Gryffindor. Snape ordered Malfoy and Millicent to bed.
       "Can we sleep out here, sir? Please?" begged Millicent.
       Snape, busy torturing Violet's cheek again, conceded wearily. "Separate sofas!" he added sternly.
       Malfoy and Millicent dropped onto sofas facing each other on either side of Snape's chair. They watched him feed Violet drop by drop for over an hour before falling sound asleep.
       By two in the morning, the treated students were writhing painfully in their sleep as the convalescious potion stripped their blood and organs of the poison. Professor Flitwick slipped anxiously among the cots and in an out of the rooms off the corridors, checking on the recovering patients, while Violet dozed fitfully in Snape's arms, whimpering and twitching in her sleep. Dumbledore returned from Gryffindor bringing word that the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors were pain-wracked but improving nicely.
       "How is she?" he asked, nodding at the tiniest patient in Snape's arms.
       "Spoiled," Snape insisted, clutching Violet a little more tightly nevertheless. Dumbledore smiled.
       "Isn't it amazing," he observed tenderly, "how different we feel about things in the dark?" He held out his arms. "Would you like a break, Severus?"
       "There is something I'd like to do," Snape admitted, and he rose and gave Violet to Dumbledore, who settled into the chair with the sleeping child.
       When he entered the Gryffindor common room a few minutes later, he found Sprout, Pomfrey and McGonagall asleep in chairs. Sprout's was perched near a row of cots full of writhing Hufflepuffs. Hermione Granger, Snape noticed, was asleep at a table with her head on her arms.
       The only person awake in the room was Harry Potter, who was slowly stirring the contents of a cauldron simmering on the table top where Hermione slept. Snape studied him curiously.
       "You're well, Mr. Potter," he murmured softly, and a listener would have been hard-pressed to tell if he was disappointed, pleased, or just confused.
       "Yes, sir," Harry confirmed.
       Snape stared at the young wizard for a long time. When he saw Potter begin to frown at him, he realized a reply would have been appropriate.
       "Good," he sputtered feebly, and saw immediately in Potter's face how inadequate the response was.
       Promising himself to do better next time, he ordered Harry to make himself scarce. "The potion will be fine and I'd like a word alone with Miss Granger."
       Harry shook Hermione gently awake before heading for his dormitory. When the girl saw Snape, she broke into one of the most enchanting smiles he'd ever seen.
       "Well done, Miss Granger," Snape nodded, bowing slightly. As he extinguished the fire beneath her cauldron, he added, "I'm happy to know that, if things had gone according to plan, I wouldn't have died."
       Hermione turned bright pink and Snape wondered what pleased her more, his admiration for her skill or his certainty of her goodness. Smiling in spite of himself, he took a seat across from her. "I'd like to ask a favor of you."
       Hermione just nodded, too weary to speak.
       "I presume you've been a bit too busy to discuss our conversation in the hospital wing with any of your fellow students?"
       Hermione nodded again.
       "Then I'd like to request that you keep it between us," Snape revealed, adding, "I don't want the guilty students ever to know that the staff are aware of how they got sick."
       Hermione looked confused. "I don't understand," she said with a shake of her bushy head. "I'm sorry they got sick, but what they did was awful. They deserve to be punished!"
       "If you hold your tongue," Snape replied firmly, "they will be. Severely."
       Hermione just shook her head again. "I don't understand," she repeated.
       "Miss Granger," Snape told her as he rose to go, "I sincerely hope you never do." And with that, he turned to head back to the portrait hole. But before he could take more than a few steps, Hermione called him back.
       "I'm so sorry about Miss Worthington, Professor Snape. It's. . ." The grief-stricken girl struggled to find the right words. "It's not FAIR!" she cried with a woe that spoke of much more than one witch's death. Snape couldn't help but be touched.
       "Thank you, Miss Granger," he nodded.
       He headed for the portrait, stopping at the chair where McGonagall slept, her glasses askew on her nose.
       Wake up, you lazy cow, Snape smiled to himself, giving her foot a gentle kick. McGonagall jumped awake and fumbled for her glasses. She squinted to make him out in the dim light.
       "Oh! Severus!"
       "The polite thing would be to see me out," he suggested, and she rose and took his arm, giving it a little squeeze.
       "Are you all right?" she asked as they headed for the portrait.
       "Why?" he replied sourly. "Because I nearly killed half the student body?"
       "Because of Miss Worthington," came Minerva's reproach.
       They had reached the portrait hole. Snape turned to face her. "She was the kindest person I ever met," he confessed. "Extraordinary."
       Minerva just nodded. Snape took a deep breath and looked away.
       "Speaking of extraordinary," he began in a more vigorous tone. He jerked his head in Hermione's direction, all the while carefully avoiding McGonagall's eyes. "She's a keeper," he admitted before hurrying through the portrait hole to escape the house of Gryffindor as quickly as possible.

       When he arrived back in Slytherin, it was to discover that Professor Flitwick had departed. "The other students are resting peacefully," Dumbledore explained, "so I sent him to bed."
       Violet was still twisting fitfully in her sleep. Snape took more than a little satisfaction in the fact that she seemed to be resting far less comfortably in Dumbledore's arms than she had in his.
       "Speaking of students, Severus," the headmaster continued, "have you decided what you'd like me to do about our... correspondence fans?"
       "Absolutely nothing," Snape replied, his lips curling in a knowing smile.
       Dumbledore's eyes grew wide behind his half-moon glasses. When he spoke, his voice was hushed with awe.
       "Severus!" he whispered. "That's the cruelest thing I've ever heard!"
       "Thank you, Headmaster. Now give me back my snake."
       Dumbledore handed him the smallest Slytherin and took his leave. Snape whispered a warning in the fitful child's ear...
       "You'd better hush!"
       ... and settled back into the chair before the fire, willing himself to stay awake as long as possible so he could use this quiet interlude to remember Bedelia, the gentle witch who'd been killed because she knew him.

       Violet awoke early the next morning, positively euphoric. Just as the poison had had twice the effect on her, so now the convalescious potion was filling her with stupendous joy. She was still a little wobbly, but as she gazed around the common room, she was overwhelmed by a fierce appreciation for everything she saw . . . the sunlight streaming in through the dungeon windows, Malfoy and Millicent and the Ravenclaws sleeping peacefully, the housemaster who had saved her life. They were wonderful! She FELT wonderful!
       "Wow!" she yelped, jolting the other inhabitants of the common room out of a sound sleep. Snape seemed especially confused to be sitting in front of the fire with a child on his lap. Violet beamed at him.
       "Nice... potion... sir!" she cried emphatically a word at a time, and as the other recovered students clapped their agreement, she kissed him right on the tip of his hooked nose.
       It was the single most mortifying moment of Snape's life.
       He rose with a shudder, handing Violet the rest of the potion after plopping her back down in the big chair. "Finish it!" he snapped before leaving the common room to check the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs one last time.
       Violet sat in the big chair, sipping the potion wiggling her happy feet. Malfoy, watching it all propped up on one elbow, tossed Millicent a smile before settling back onto his sofa.
       Then he realized something that made him sit back up with a start.
       They were alone.
       He roused Millicent with a loud "Psst!" and winked at her.
       They were alone in a common room full of attractive Ravenclaws.
       With a jerk of his head at Millicent to follow his example, he climbed off his sofa and sauntered casually over to the row of Ravenclaw cots.
       "All right, Mandy?" he asked Amanda Brocklehurst, the first girl he came to.
       She smiled warmly at him.
       "Hello, Draco."

The Smallest Slytherin