Snape drove the Slytherins until they dropped and they worshipped him for it, because exhaustion was the only thing that allowed them to sleep at night. Upon entering their common room each day, he kept them standing at attention for over an hour as he drilled them on their studies, his wand floating perilously above them as he strolled up and down the rows. An incorrect response brought a sharp rap on the head.
       After that, they ran. Snape made them race around and around the periphery of their mammoth common room until they dropped. Quitting was not permitted. They were required to run until they collapsed, at which point Snape would grab the exhausted Slytherin by the collar and drop him or her on a sofa out of the way.
       Better sweat than tears, thought Malfoy as he pounded his feet along the hard stone floor.
       To the rest of the castle, they were ghosts. They sat pale and still in class, never speaking until spoken to. Their answers to questions from professors were accurate but painfully brief while their responses to other students were monosyllabic. They were rumpled and generally untidy and Professor McGonagall wondered if they were sleeping in their clothes.
       They skipped Gryffindor's quidditch match against Ravenclaw. They were never in the Great Hall at mealtimes or in any other house's common room at night. Neither was Snape, who appeared in public only to teach potions classes that were rigorous, demanding, and completely devoid of intimidation. Even Neville Longbottom found his unwillingness to harass the Gryffindors offensive.
       "Are you learning?" Professor McGonagall asked them when they voiced their indignation in their common room one night.
       "Yes," Hermione admitted.
       "And does he take points for poor performance?"
       "Oh, yes," the twins nodded.
       "Then what is the problem?"
       The Gryffindors hesitated. Finally Neville spoke up. "When he doesn't single us out, it makes us seem less important."
       After a moment, the Gryffindors burst out laughing. "There's no pleasing some students," their head of house scolded.
       "Speaking of which..." Fred jumped on the chance to discuss what was really on their minds. "What's up with them, Professor?"
       George nodded. "You'd think the Slytherins would be glad of a clean house!"
       Harry frowned at this but nobody noticed.
       McGonagall didn't know what to say to her students. She heartily disapproved of the way Snape was handling the emotional crisis in Slytherin. "Are you stockpiling hours, Severus?" she'd asked about the extensive amount of time he was spending in his common room. She'd gotten no response.
       She could only imagine what he was going through and realized the bitterness emanating from Slytherin reflected far more than the loss of one fourth of their students. But to completely withdraw from the rest of Hogwarts seemed pointless, and she had told Dumbledore so. The headmaster had responded by laying down the law.
       "Withdrawal does not seem pointless to those who were alone to begin with. Severus will decide what is best for the Slytherins."
       Now Hermione added to the twins' questions. "Are they mad at us? They seem mad at us. Why would they be mad at us?"
       "Sometimes..." McGonagall chose her words carefully. "When people are under duress, resentments they might otherwise overlook become unbearable."
       The twins exchanged looks. "Professor," insisted Fred, "I can think of a hundred reasons to resent Slytherin. I can't think of one reason for Slytherin to resent the rest of us."
       Harry Potter gave a little grunt. McGonagall said nothing.
       "What do they do in there all night?" Ron wondered.
       "Why won't they talk to us?" Hermione added.
       "And what the heck..." Fred gave voice to the most important question of all. "... are they eating?"

       "Pass the curry," demanded Crabbe. Snape waved his wand and a book sailed across the room and knocked Crabbe in the back of the head. "Please," the fifth year added promptly.
       "Maybe that's the problem," Malfoy drawled. "Maybe it's our manners."
       "The problem is not your manners," Snape insisted even as he rapped Millicent on the knuckles for licking her fingers, "although I've seen better in a barn."
       The Slytherins were eating supper picnic style on the floor of their common room, wrapped up in bedclothes they had pulled from their cots. Snape had received permission from Dumbledore to order anything they wanted at every meal and was growing woefully weary of chips, curry and kabobs.
       "Lavender thought I was quite the gentleman," Bletchley insisted, setting off a series of hoots and catcalls. Snape rolled his eyes.
       "Bletchley. We're eating."
       But Goyle thought his housemate might be onto something. "That must be it," he nodded. "They're jealous of how desirable we are."
       Snape snorted into his glass and Malfoy turned to him.
       "What's so funny, sir?" he demanded. "You never come back from Hogsmeade alone."
       Snape gave Malfoy a dangerous look for the impudent remark. But then he remembered something, a bit of humor from his school days. Raising a glass, he quoted a cheer:
       "Stand up and cheer for Slytherin House. We'll shoot your dog and seduce your spouse!"
       The Slytherins roared. Several of them snorted pumpkin juice out their noses, making Snape grimace.
       "Who wrote that?" a delighted Violet wanted to know. "Salazar?"
       Snape looked horrified. "Good God, child, how old do you think I am?"
       "Salazar Slytherin lived centuries ago, Violet," Malfoy instructed her.
       "I know that!" Violet gave the older boy an indignant shove. "I just thought maybe it had been passed down from generation to generation."
       "Power and the delights of the flesh are more recent obsessions, Miss Guilford," Snape assured her. "Salazar had a different agenda. And not everybody remembers it clearly."
       The Slytherins stopped eating. Violet and several others crept closer to Snape, pulling their blankets with them as they went.
       "This is a powerful house," Snape lectured. "Power breeds resentment, and resentment breeds dishonesty. That is your problem. Just as nobody tells the whole truth about you, nobody seems to remember the whole truth about Salazar Slytherin." He took a drink before finishing firmly, "Slytherin was right to be concerned about terrorism against us."
       The students sat in silence. Then Violet whispered, "But he put a monster in the school, sir."
       Snape nodded. "Yes," he admitted. "Yes he did. Miss Guilford, do you know what a failsafe is?"
       Violet shook her head."
       "A failsafe," Snape explained, "is a means of compensating for the possibility of failure. Salazar helped create a school populated by hundreds of children and was then driven from it by conflict over their safety. So he provided a failsafe for Hogwarts. Should the remaining founders be proven wrong for trusting those who burned and stoned, a mechanism would be in place to rescue the innocent."
       The Slytherins remained silent. Then Malfoy spoke up cautiously.
       "That's a bit of a stretch, isn't it, sir?"
       Snape turned to regard him with a piecing stare.
       "How many times did Salazar release the basilisk, Malfoy?"
       "None," Malfoy admitted.
       "How many times was the monster released in total?"
       "Twice," Malfoy responded.
       "How many different people released it?"
       "Just one," Malfoy nodded.
       Snape let them chew on that for a while. Then Goyle jumped in.
       "Of course," he began tentatively, "that person was a Slytherin."
       "A Slytherin like our dads," Crabbe admitted.
       "And my folks," Pansy nodded.
       "And like my dad was," Malfoy confessed. "So what's the difference between. . . I mean..." He shook his head. "I'm ambitious, too," he admitted. "Why does the sorting hat say it like it's a dirty word?"
       "'Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition,'" quoted Snape. "'By that sin fell the angels.'"
       The statement made Violet defiant. "'Ambition is necessary to achievement,'" she quoted one of her own favorite authors. "'Without an ambition to surpass one's self there would be no superior merit.'"
       Snape was impressed. "That is absolutely correct," he praised. "'Ambition is a good servant but a bad master.'"
       "So. . . " Malfoy did the math in his head. "Death Eaters are weak Slytherins? Slaves instead of masters?"
       "Or petty whingers," Snape agreed, "blaming the wrong people for their suffering."
       "Oh, Dad," muttered Violet with a shake of her head. "You git."
       The Slytherins roared again. When they sobered, Millicent steered the conversation back to Snape's point.
       "We know how to deal with our enemies," she told her housemaster. "What do you do when people who are supposed to be your friends treat you unfairly? When they. . ." she thought back for Snape's words. "When they refuse to tell the whole truth about you?"
       "Miss Bulstrode," warned Snape sternly, "if you cry at what I'm about to say I will thrash you. I am truly sorry that being a Slytherin means you have to suffer injustice from allies more often than attack from enemies."
       Sure enough, Millicent's face crumpled at the eloquent summation of their situation; she clamped her hands over her eyes to hide her tears. Malfoy put an arm around her shoulders.
       "We're always going to be alone, aren't we, sir?" he asked Snape bitterly.
       Snape rose to his feet, shaking his head with disgust.
       "Do you realize," he asked Malfoy scornfully, "that you said 'we' twice in that sentence?"
       At that, Millicent uncovered her face and the rest of the Slytherins raised their chins.
       "The others may not always be with you," Snape insisted, "but you will never be alone. Now if you'll excuse me, I have potions homework to mark. I will return in an hour."
       He brushed the crumbs from his robe and swept out of the common room.
       The Slytherins broke up into small groups, talking over what Snape had said. Millicent turned to Malfoy with a cryptic smile on her face.
       "Do you want to hear a secret about Snape?" she asked him. "It's really good!"
       Malfoy nodded.
       "Half the first years who wind up in Snape's office for the first time don't get caned," Millicent reported. "He just rules them."
       Malfoy was shocked. "How do you know that?" he demanded.
       "It happened to me," Millicent smiled. "Half a dozen whacks on the palm for staying too late in the library. Any time you see a first year run straight to his room after his first trip to Snape's office, he's hiding his hand."
       Malfoy shook his head, a bemused grin on his face. "I don't believe it," he insisted.
       "I asked him about it third year," Millicent continued. "He said if students are scared to death, it makes no sense to cane them. They'll just grow resentful. If you show them just a little mercy, they'll start being honest with themselves about whether or not you were right in the first place, and they'll start trying to live up to your expectations. And they'll never fear just punishment again."
       "Does he say that?" Malfoy asked. "That he's showing mercy?"
       "Oh, no!" Millicent shook her head emphatically. "He acts like spanking a palm with a ruler is just as bad as caning."
       Malfoy looked around the common room and then smiled conspiratorially at her. "Who are they?" he whispered.
       "Sod off!"
       "Come on, Millicent! Tell me!"
       "Forget it, Malfoy!" she scolded, and he smiled at her.
       "Good for you," he drawled.
       They sat quietly for a while. Then, with forced casualness, Malfoy asked,
       "Have you heard from your parents?"
       Millicent shrugged. "I haven't got parents," she replied.
       She sounded fairly comfortable with it.

       A week later, Professor Dumbledore tried to flush the Slytherins out by posting O.W.L. results for the first time in Hogwarts history. He mounted a piece of parchment in the entryway outside the Great Hall indicating who had received the top score on each exam, which to no one's surprise was Hermione, and which house had achieved the highest overall average in each subject, which to everyone's surprise was Slytherin.
       The Gryffindors immediately set up a hidden command post nearby to spy on the parchment. They watched the entryway in two-hour shifts for three straight days to see if the Slytherins would come look at it.
       They never did.
       Fred Weasley was hard-pressed to hide his disappointment. "Snape must have told them the results, that's all," he sniffed.
       "Yeah, Fred," muttered Harry. "That must be it."
       The sarcasm was lost on Hermione, who wanted to know,
       "How would Snape have known?"
       "Dumbledore would have told him!" the redhead insisted. But Hermione just raised an eyebrow at him.
       "The results?" she wondered coyly. "Or just that the parchment had been posted?"
       "Hmph," snorted a defeated Fred.

       One night soon after that, Crabbe and Goyle came running into the common room from their cell.
       "Sir, watch this!!" Crabbe cried excitedly to Snape.
       "It is so cool!" added Goyle.
       As the Slytherins gathered around, Crabbe put the handle of his wand in his mouth and spun it around a couple of times with his tongue. Then he pursed his lips tightly and puffed out his cheeks, blowing against the base of the wand. A small ball of fire shot out the end and struck Malfoy in the neck, leaving a short-lived red mark.
       "Ow!" he snarled.
       "Neat!" cried Violet.
       "Spellwads," said Snape with a shake of his head.
       Crabbe was crestfallen. "I thought I'd invented it!"
       Snape shook his head. "I did it to Professor McGonagall once when I was a student," he admitted, adding ruefully to himself, And only once. "She did it to Professor Dumbledore, and the Weasley twins..." His face grew delightfully dark. "... have done it to me," he finished with a snarl.
       "Do it again!" shouted Violet, rising cross-legged from the floor to jump up and down.
       "Do NOT do it again!" countered Snape. Crabbe nodded obediently, then turned his back and winked at Violet. As the Slytherins settled to the floor, he took a seat beside her; whenever Snape wasn't looking, he sneaked her a spellwad lesson.
       "Whose turn is it?" Snape asked when they were all comfortably seated.
       "Pansy's!" called Millicent.
       "I don't know yet," Pansy admitted, "but I'm leaning towards hit wizard."
       "Me, too!" cried Bletchley.
       "Then you two can work with me," announced Millicent, "because I'm going to be an auror."
       Snape shook his head. "Peaceful lot, aren't you?" he observed wryly. "Doesn't anybody want to be a potions master?"
       A long, uncomfortable silence followed; Snape nearly laughed at his students' embarrassment.
       "I want to be head of Slytherin some day," offered Malfoy.
       "Really?" Snape gave the boy a particularly sharp lift of his eyebrows. "Are you sure you have what it takes, Malfoy? It's not easy teaching obedience to strong-willed little snakes."
       He nodded slightly to Malfoy's left and Draco twisted around just in time to see Violet jerk the wand she'd been pointing at him out of her mouth. She smiled sweetly.
       "Or an auror," muttered Malfoy, turning back to Snape. "Auror is good."
       "Do the staff have to live in the castle, sir?" wondered Goyle.
       "Only the heads of house," Snape explained. "But most unmarried instructors do, too."
       "So if you got married and had kids. . . "
       Malfoy saw where Millicent was going. "Can you imagine?" he drawled. "Half a dozen little Snapes tearing around the castle?"
       The children laughed at the thought.
       "The Slytherins would dress them up in miniature green robes for quidditch matches," Millicent suggested.
       "And give them broom rides!" added Pansy gleefully.
       "And feed them garbage from Honeydukes until they puked," Crabbe confessed.
       "And Professor Snape would always be shouting, 'Stop spoiling my children!'"
       Malfoy delivered the line with such a spot-on imitation of his head of house that the Slytherins roared. Snape shook his head.
       "I wouldn't hold your breath," he recommended. "Miss Guilford, put that wand in your mouth again and I'll flog you!"
       "See, sir?" Malfoy cried as Violet yanked her wand from her mouth. "You're a natural!"
       Snape left soon after that, admonishing them firmly not to stay up too late. The Slytherins gathered the bedclothes that were scattered around the common room and laid them out in a large circle, pillows toward the center. Before Malfoy could climb between his covers, Violet asked to see his photo album.
       "What for?" the older Slytherin demanded impatiently.
       "Do you have a picture of Miss Worthington?"
       Malfoy fetched the album from his cell, setting it down before Violet with his finger stuck between the appropriate pages. Several Slytherins peeked over Violet's shoulder as she stared at a kindly-looking witch who was winking at the photographer while Snape opened the door to his quarters. They watched her in silence for several seconds.
       "I think she would have liked us, don't you?" Violet asked no one in particular.
       Malfoy grabbed the album and slammed it shut so hard Violet half expected Snape and Bedelia to cry out. He carried the album back to his cell, then returned to the common room and climbed beneath his covers.
       The Slytherins lay on their bellies with their chins on their arms, watching each other and thinking. Several of them began practicing spellwads, shooting over each other's heads toward the common room stone walls. Crabbe opened his mouth to speak and they all turned to look at him, but then he shut it again.
       "Who would name a baby Severus?" Violet asked suddenly. The question took the Slytherins by surprise. Malfoy spoke up immediately, insisting,
       "Severus is a great name!"
       "For Professor Snape," Violet conceded. "But can you imagine the minister at his christening? 'You're calling him what?'"
       The Slytherins laughed.
       "I wonder what his parents were like," murmured Millicent.
       "Permissive?" Malfoy suggested.
       "Skivvers," Bletchley added. The Slytherins laughed again. Then Violet slapped the stone floor in front of her and cried,
       "I've got one!"
       Her housemates all turned to her.
       "What," she asked the group, " is the angriest Snape has ever been at you?"
       Several Slytherins burst out laughing and Violet knew she'd hit paydirt.
       "Malfoy tried to curse Potter in the back once," snitched Goyle.
       "I was much younger then," Malfoy defended himself.
       "It was last year!"
       Violet gasped and Malfoy winked at her. "Oh, what a difference a quidditch match makes," he grinned, and told Violet the unpleasant story of Barty Crouch and the bouncing ferret. Violet was appalled.
       "A Death Eater did that?" she asked in disbelief. "To Lucius Malfoy's son?"
       "I guess Father didn't impress him," Malfoy shrugged. "Crouch was a Death Eater's Death Eater."
       "But that wasn't the problem," Goyle pointed out. "Nobody knew he wasn't Moody when it happened."
       Malfoy nodded. "If you're gonna get caught, try not to do it in front of another staff member," he advised Violet. "Especially a high-ranking staff member. The higher the standing, the angrier our head of house gets."
       "Weren't you on the quidditch team then?" Violet asked. "I heard quidditch players sometimes get special treatment."
       Bletchley fired a spellwad into the common room door and snorted. "What about Rachel Dockman?"
       "Rachel Dockman!" Malfoy's face lit up.
       "She was great!" panted Crabbe.
       "Rachel Dockman was a seventh year during our first year," Malfoy told Violet. "Very smart, VERY strong-willed, even for a Slytherin. Snape flogged her for charming a hole in the quidditch team's locker room wall to spy on Marcus Flint."
       Several Slytherins laughed at the memory.
       "When Flint found out about it," Malfoy continued, "he made plans to meet her under the stands after practice. So there they were, less than a foot apart. He hadn't touched her yet, he'd barely moved a hand, but I guess she lost her nerve. She dove between his legs, kicked him from behind and sent him sprawling face first in the mud."
       The Slytherins roared. Malfoy shook his head.
       "Snape not only caned him, he made him pay to replace his practice robe when the house elves couldn't get the mud out." He shook his head again. "I think they left the mud in on purpose."
       "Snape was there?" Violet shuddered at the thought.
       "Saw the whole thing," Malfoy confirmed. Millicent winked at Violet.
       "Snape sees all," she warned.
       "And excuses none," added Goyle dourly.
       "Did they ever get together?" Violet wondered, and Millicent nodded.
       "Oh, sure. They just waited until Friday night after Snape left for Hogsmeade."
       Several Slytherins chuckled, but then they all remembered Miss Worthington and sobered. After a while, Malfoy murmured, "Buckbeak."
       "Buckbeak," Goyle echoed. Beside him, Crabbe shivered. "That was the angriest."
       "Definitely," Crabbe confirmed.
       "Who's Buckbeak?" whispered Violet.
       "Not who," Malfoy corrected her. "What." And he told her about the time he tried to destroy a magnificent animal and get Hagrid fired just to torment the Gryffindors.
       "To make it worse," Malfoy finished, "the Ministry contacted him right after I'd milked my injury in class to get him to abuse them some more."
       Violet noticed several fifth years staring at the floor in front of them.
       "My God, Snape was mad," Malfoy whispered. "Worst backfire of my life."
       A hush descended over the room. For a moment, Violet thought she heard the echo of Snape's cane slashing furiously through the air. She extended a sympathic hand towards Malfoy.
       "Did you cry?"
       "From the beating?"
       Before Malfoy could reply further, Crabbe snorted.
       "Snape never makes anybody cry," he insisted.
       Malfoy held up his thumb and forefinger a half inch apart. "This close," he admitted. "And then it had to be a Slytherin parent who was supposed to execute the beast."
       "Who?" Violet wondered.
       "Mcnair's dad," Millicent told her.
       "The whole thing sort of got out of hand," Malfoy muttered, tugging at an imaginary loose thread on his sheet. Violet shook her head.
       "Couldn't somebody have just said something?" she demanded indignantly. "Couldn't Mcnair have refused to kill the animal?"
       "I'll bet Snape tried something," said Millicent unexpectedly. "For you as much as for Hagrid," she added disdainfully to Malfoy.
       Draco scowled at her. "I'm sorry I brought it up!" he snarled, adding harshly to Violet, "Once the ministry makes up its mind, that's it."
       Goyle shot an angry spellwad into a stone pillar.
       "The ministry sounds..." Violet wrinkled her nose as she hunted for the right word. "Starts with T," she told Millicent.
       "Totalitarian!" Violet cried. Malfoy shrugged.
       "We'll ask Snape about it tomorrow," he decided, crawling beneath his covers. With a stern look at Violet, he added, "Don't mention Buckbeak!"
       The seventh years extinguished most of the candles in the common room and the Slytherins snuggled beneath their covers. When everything was quiet, Violet called out,
       "Good night, Millicent."
       "Good night, Violet," Millicent replied. "Good night, Goyle," she said to the Slytherin lying next to her.
       "Good night, Millicent," Goyle replied. "Good night, Pansy."
       "Good night, Goyle. Good..."
       "Do we have to do this?" barked Malfoy from across the circle. "It's so. . . Hufflepuff!"
       Almost instantly, he was bombarded with so many spellwads that his bedclothes caught fire.
       "Son of a bitch!"
       He leapt to his feet and, unable to find his wand fast enough in the dark, snatched up the sheets and blankets.
       "Slytherin enough for ya?" Violet wondered as his housemates watched him slam the bedclothes repeatedly against the floor to extinguish the flames.

       The following Thursday, Professor McGonagall asked Professor Dumbledore to join the Gryffindors in their common room after classes. Fred spoke on their behalf.
       "With all due respect, Professor, truly," he assured the headmaster as he inquired about the Slytherins, "why are you indulging them? You never did anything like this for the Hufflepuffs when Cedric died."
       "Do you think it's the same thing, Mr. Weasley?" the headmaster replied politely. He hadn't asked Harry, so the fifth year kept his mouth shut, but given the choice between a noble death or betrayal by one quarter of his house, the boy who lived had no doubt which he'd rather see happen in Gryffindor.
       "I'm not so sure they are indulged," suggested Hermione. She'd never told anyone about the conversation she had overheard outside the library in March, but if ever there was a time...
       She turned hesitantly to Dumbledore. "Does Professor Snape really... hit them?"
       Professor McGonagall, who had never approved of Snape's techniques, turned triumphantly to the headmaster. But the kindly wizard just smiled.
       "Ever since the dark lord first came to power," he told them, "I've been asked repeatedly how I sleep at night in castle full of iron-willed snakes. I must say..."
       He paused, and though his eyes twinkled behind his half-moon glasses, his voice was deadly serious.
       "I sleep very well knowing the strong hand of Severus Snape guides the Slytherins."

       "Five card draw, jacks or better," Snape decided.
       He sat at the table nearest the common room door and dealt so rapidly to the Slytherins around him that Violet, standing next to him, gasped.
       "Don't set them on fire, sir," she cautioned. "That's my only deck."
       Malfoy regarded her suspiciously as he arranged his hand. "Why aren't you playing anymore?" He turned to Snape. "Sir, are you two cheating?"
       Snape just smiled and handed Violet a biscuit he'd won in the last pot. "I'm sure you can beat me," he assured his students, "if you all work... together."
       "I'm out."
       "Me, too."
       Goyle, Crabbe, Millicent and Pansy all tossed in their hands, their backsides twitching involuntarily at the mention of Christmas Eve. Violet raked in their antes for Snape as Malfoy threw down his cards in disgust.
       "Toady," he called Violet.
       Just then, the Bloody Baron floated through the common room door and over to Snape.
       "Why aren't you at your post?" demanded Snape.
       The Baron had been standing guard outside the Slytherin common room door for nearly two weeks.
       "Professor McGonagall craves an audience," he now informed the Slytherin housemaster.
       Indeed, the deputy headmistress was positively fuming as she paced the corridor outside of Slytherin. Dissatisfied with the results of Dumbledore's visit to Gryffindor a half hour earlier, she had decided to take matters into her own hands and was furious to discover that Snape had locked the common room door against the other heads of house, a gross violation of protocol.
       "I believe you know the policy," Snape told the Baron.
       It was posted on two signs the Slytherins had made and pinned up on their common room door. "Go away," read the first one. "When we're bloody well good and ready," insisted the second.
       The Baron floated back out to the hallway. "Professor Snape bids you good day," he informed Professor McGonagall.
       The Transfigurations teacher turned pink with fury. She drew in a deep breath and when she spoke, her voice resounded throughout the mammoth Slytherin common room without the benefit of a sonorous charm.
       The command reverberated throughout the room, bouncing off the stone pillars and echoing down the dormitory corridors. Snape's students turned to him, wide-eyed, but their head of house merely smiled.
       I just love her, he thought to himself as he sent an obliging alohomora towards the door.
       McGonagall stormed into the room and stopped short, horrified by what she saw.
       The Slytherins seemed to be living in their common room. There were puddles of bedclothes everywhere and robes hanging from the furniture or heaped in piles on the floor. The students were running around in their stocking feet and their shoes were so scattered, McGonagall wondered how they'd ever pair them up again. Half-eaten kabobs and cold piles of chips littered the floor while partially-burnt tumblers and small piles of ashes adorned the tabletops. The sofas and chairs were covered with books, parchment, quills, and everything else a student might keep in his room. On one wall, someone had painted a huge green mural depicting Slytherin's quidditch victory over Gryffindor.
       Several of the students were dancing in the far corner of the room to a song about it being more fun to laugh with the Slytherins than cry with the saints that was blaring from a contraption she'd once described in a Muggle Studies essay. In another corner, Bletchley was giving a merry-go-round ride to several first years floating in the air on a round table. They ducked quaffles being thrown over their heads by seventh years as they spun.
       The Slytherins seemed healthy enough; their cheeks were pink and their eyes calm and clear, but their clothes were a rumpled mess. Miss Guilford appeared to have biscuit crumbs down her front.
       But the most shocking sight of all... was Snape. He was leaning comfortably in his straight-backed chair, his legs stretched out before him, wearing dark trousers and a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His robe hung neatly folded over the back of his chair. Never taking his eyes off Minerva, he snapped his fingers and a Slytherin scurried to stop the music. Bletchley put down the table and all the students stood quiet and still, watching Professor McGonagall. Snape smiled indulgently at her.
       "Welcome to Camp Slytherin."
       The speech McGonagall had prepared flew right out of her head. She glared at Snape, then at his students, then back at their head of house, and cried, "ENOUGH!"
       Then she marched right back out of their common room.
       The Slytherins turned to their housemaster, who was still smiling that indulgent little smile as he gazed at the door through which McGonagll had exited. "You heard the deputy," he murmured silkily as he rose, rolled down his sleeves, and put on his robe. Then, fully dressed, he whirled decisively on the Slytherins.
       "Cleaned, pressed and in the Great Hall for supper in 30 minutes. AND CLEAN UP THIS MESS!"
       The Slytherins jumped.
       Snape departed. Thirty minutes later, he and the entire staff and student body watched as two straight rows of Slytherins marched back into the Great Hall.

       The next night was Friday and Professor McGonagall paused just outside the Great Hall, puzzled by an odd sound. A moment later, Snape strolled around the nearest corner on his way to the front door.
       "Did I actually hear you whistling?" Minerva asked him, a smile playing on her lips. Snape ignored her and brushed past, but Minerva grabbed the door handle first. "Severus, do you really think it's a good idea to leave the castle?"
       Snape turned to her with a glint of danger in his eyes. "Minerva," he began calmly... but his voice rose throughout his speech. "I have nursed those children from four in the afternoon until eleven at night for the past two WEEKS! Kindly get out of my way."
       She moved aside but continued to frown. Snape tossed her a bone. "They're not completely without supervision," he assured her, completely misinterpreting her concern, and before she could set him straight, he slipped out the front door, slammed it behind him, and set off eagerly for Hogsmeade.

       "You don't have to stay, Baron," Malfoy told the imposing silver house ghost as the Slytherins entertained themselves in their common room. "We don't really need a baby-minder."
       I'd be happy to disobey Professor Snape, Mr. Malfoy," the spectre countered. "Right after you do."
       Malfoy grinned. "I take your point," he nodded as he sorted through the hand Crabbe had just dealt him.
       "What could Snape do to a ghost?" Violet wondered just before she accidentally spilled her cards all over the table. "Dammit!"
       "Snape would think of something," Crabbe assured her.
       Someone knocked insistently on their door and the Slytherins jumped. Goyle opened it to reveal Harry Potter standing resolutely in the corridor, wand in hand, a determined look on his face. He gave his wand an impressive triple spin. "We're getting a bit out of practice, don't you think?" he asked Malfoy pointedly.
       Malfoy hesitated, unwilling to admit the outsider and bring to an end the final element of Slytherin's recovery. But Potter was almost glaring at him and Malfoy realized he wasn't going to take no for an answer. He nodded at the Gryffindor.
       "Where's Professor Snape?" Harry asked as Crabbe and Goyle cleared their largest table for dueling. The Slytherins smirked.
       "He's got the night off," said Malfoy with a cryptic smile.
       Harry decided not to press for details.

       Snape's friend Elizabeth and several other witches and wizards surrounded him in the Three Broomsticks as he faced all comers who wanted to compete for drinks over lightning-quick rounds of the cup game. It took him only thirty seconds to defeat a grizzled wizard named Packard who observed, "You've got amazing hands for a potions master, Snape."
       Elizabeth giggled and Snape pointed a finger at her. "Hold your tongue," he warned as Rosmerta set down the latest drink he'd won. He drank half the glass of mead as the next wizard sat down across from him. The new competitor rubbed his hands together eagerly and the crowd pressed close.
       No one noticed the red eyes that watched them from the window.

       "You wouldn't have killed him, anyway," Malfoy was saying as the Slytherins surrounded him and Potter during a break in the dueling action. Harry was holding forth on the night he had almost killed his own godfather in the Shrieking Shack before discovering that Peter Pettigrew, not Sirius Black, sold his parents to Voldemort.
       "Why not?" Harry wondered.
       Violet giggled. "Because," the child pointed out, "Avada Kedavra curses don't just pop out like toast!"
       The muggle appliance metaphor flew right over most heads but Malfoy shook off the confusion and continued explaining to Harry. "A killing curse takes great strength and power. I doubt any student at Hogwarts could perform one." He smiled wickedly as he added, "It's not something you can practice, after all."
       Harry shook his head. "I don't EVEN want to know how you know all this," he told the Slytherins as he climbed back up on the nearest table to resume dueling. Crabbe climbed up opposite him and had just taken his stance when Harry fell to the floor, doubled over with pain, clutching his forehead.
       "What did you do?" screamed Violet as Malfoy rushed to Harry's aide.
       "Nothing!" Crabbe insisted. "I just got up here!"
       "It's not him." Harry struggled to his hands and knees, one hand still gripping his forehead. "I have to go. I have to find Dumbledore!"
       "Why?" asked Malfoy, unnerved by Harry's urgency. "What is it?" But as he climbed to his feet, Harry just kept insisting,
       "I have to go. I have to go!"
       He started for the door, but the Bloody Baron flew across the room and blocked his path.
       "Tell them!" the imposing silver ghost ordered.
       Harry couldn't imagine how the apparition knew, but arguing, he realized, would waste more time than telling. "My scar hurts," he informed the Slytherins. "When my scar hurts, that means Voldemort is threatening."
       The Slytherins fell back, stunned. "Are you serious?" Malfoy asked, his voice barely a whisper. Violet, terrified, grabbed his hand.
       "He's here?" she squeaked as she clutched the older Slytherin. "On the grounds?"
       "No, no." Harry bent down to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Voldemort can't get on the grounds. But he might be nearby."
       The statement turned Violet pale.
       "What is it?" Harry demanded.
       "Nothing." Malfoy grabbed Violet and pulled her behind him before she could answer. "You better hurry, Potter."
       Harry straightened up and that's when he noticed that all the Slytherins looked paler than a moment ago. But the Bloody Baron had slammed the common room door open and, after hesitating just a moment, Harry turned and bolted from their house.
       The Slytherins waited until the sound of Potter's running footsteps faded around a corner before racing for the door.
       "Stop!" Malfoy cried, blocking the door with his arms. "Only the four oldest years!" Violet rushed him but he just grabbed her and threw her to the floor. There was no time to argue. "Baron!" he commanded.
       The Baron threw up his arms and instantly the younger children were engulfed in a ring of fire. The older students raced out of the room as the younger children shrieked with fear. But as soon as they were gone, the Baron doused the flames as quickly as he'd ignited them.
       "Run!" he commanded the remaining Slytherins, who wasted no time in tearing after their older housemates.

       Snape had won so many drinks he'd treated nearly the entire pub to a round and was in the process of whipping Elizabeth for the third time when he suddenly dropped his cup and clutched his forearm in agony.
       "Severus?" cried Elizabeth.
       Before he could even look up, a frantic young witch burst into the tavern, breathing hard and looking wildly around the room. All eyes turned to her; Snape recognized the former Slytherin immediately.
       "Professor Snape!" she cried, racing to him and throwing herself at his feet. "The Dark Lord has Rachel! Rachel Dockman! He says he'll kill her if you don't come to him in five minutes. I ran as fast as I could but there's not much time left!"
       Snape leapt from his chair and pulled the girl to her feet. "Where?"
       "He's not there!" the girl cried. "We were coming here on the trail by the stand of trees, near the path to Hogwarts, but they disappeared with a portkey. He said you'd know how to find him."
       Snape moved immediately for the door and several of the pub's occupants rose to join him. He whirled on them, determined to limit the number of deaths on his behalf.
       "Stay here!" he thundered. "If the Death Eaters are waiting, they'll pick you off one by one! Wait until first light!"
       He flew out the door and apparated instantly to Voldemort's side.
       The dark lord was ready for him. He held Rachel's hands pinned in front of her, his wand at her throat. He spun around the instant Snape appeared, placing the girl between them.
       They were outside, several dozen yards from the Riddle House. The structure was ablaze with light and from inside Snape could hear the raucous carrying-on of several Death Eaters who sounded as if they'd had too much to drink. In the distance, he saw the lights of Little Hangleton, the nearest village. On the ground near Voldemort were Rachel's broken wand and the old sock that had served as Voldemort's portkey.
       "So glad you could join my party," came Voldemort's sinister welcome.
       Snape looked at Rachel who stared back at him with complete faith. "Let her go," he pleaded, stalling for time to develop a plan. "She's harmless without her wand."
       "Speaking of wands..." Voldemort smiled through his thin slit lips. But Snape glanced at the house instead. Voldemort followed his gaze.
       "We have much to celebrate these days, as I'm sure you know from the Daily Prophet," he taunted. "And tonight I will reward the faithful with a special surprise. . . a celebration dance around your corpse!"
       Snape forced himself to speak calmly. "Perhaps you're working alone because you can't afford to fail in front of them again?"
       Voldemort checked his temper and kept his focus. "Your wand, Severus," he commanded. "Very slowly. Or she dies very quickly."
       As slowly as he could, Snape inverted his wand in front of him so that the tip pointed to the earth. "You'll kill her anyway," he told Voldemort. "A shame, really." He stared straight into Rachel's eyes. "She's a flinty little soul."
       Voldemort removed his wand from Rachel's neck for the briefest second to summon Snape's wand and the moment he did, Rachel dove between his legs and kicked him from behind as hard as she could. The dark lord flew forward as he caught Snape's wand and Snape lunged for him, grabbing him around the waist with his left arm as he snatched the portkey with his right hand. The last thing he saw before the portkey yanked them back was Rachel running towards the village as fast as she could go.

       As usual, Dumbeldore reacted calmly and with clear purpose. "I'll notify the staff," he told the dark-haired Gryffindor. "Harry, do you need to see Madam Pomfrey?"
       Harry shook his head. "I'm fine, sir."
       "Then I'd like you to return to your dormitory," the headmaster suggested, "and stay there for the remainder of the evening." He raised a hand to cut short Harry's protest. "You don't have to go to bed," the kindly wizard assured him. "But it would be best if you spent your evening some place more restful than the Gryffindor common room. And if you should encounter Professor McGonagall on your way, would you please send her to my office immediately?"
       The staff gathered in short order except for Professors Snape and McGonagall. The headmaster sent Professor Sprout to hunt down the Transfigurations teacher and headed for the dungeon himself, leaving the rest of the staff to wait for him in his office.
       He checked Snape's quarters and then his office before proceeding quickly to the Slytherin common room door, where he was met in the corridor by the Bloody Baron.
       "I'm looking for Professor Snape," the headmaster explained quickly. "It is imperative that I find him as soon as possible."
       "He's jogging, sir," the Baron lied. "Through the corridors, with the Slytherins."
       Dumbledore blinked.
       "It's a program they began a couple of weeks ago," the Baron explained. "Would you like me to search for them?"
       "Please," Dumbledore nodded. "Send Professor Snape to my office as soon as you find him."

       "Why don't you run, Severus?"
       Voldemort was clearly delighted with the way things had worked out. Snape was leaning against a tree, bleeding from a gash on his forehead he'd received when the two wizards had crashed to the ground upon landing. The small stand of hardwoods along the trail was halfway between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. Snape knew it would do no good to shout, but if he tried to run, he might get a killing curse to the back that would end the pain Voldemort kept inflicting at regular intervals.
       But Snape would not flee. Keep breathing, he thought. That's all you have to do. Just keep breathing.
       "Why do you cling to hope?" Voldemort baited him. "Why do those black eyes search desperately for a way out of this?"
       He stepped just a bit closer, wand raised, ready to crucio Snape again at any moment. What he said next hurt more than any curse.
       "It's because you know where I'll go first after you're dead, isn't it?" he hissed with a twisted little smile.
       Voldemort pointed his wand at Snape with his right hand; with his left he twirled between his fingers the wand Snape had traded for Rachel Dockman's life. "I'll wager I can do more with yours than you could do with mine," he said lightly.
       "I'll take that bet," Snape replied.
       Cruciatus. 5 seconds. The pain drove Snape to his knees and when it stopped, he collapsed against the tree. Keep breathing. Keep breathing.
       "That would be entertaining," Voldemort sneered, "but that's not why I summoned you. I must tell you, Severus, that I am extremely disappointed in the education my daughter is receiving at your hand." He smiled his tight-lipped smile again. "I think a little parent-teacher conference is in order."
       He stiffened his legs and straightened the arm that held a wand on Snape. "Did you really initiate an end to the enmity between the houses?" he asked with a shake of his head.
       Snape made no response.
       Cruciatus. 10 seconds.
       "Did you try to remove my daughter from Slytherin?"
       Cruciatus. 20 seconds.
       "Did you encourage the children of my associates to defy their PARENTS!?"
       Cruciatus. One minute.
       When the pain ended, Snape found himself wondering if Rachel Dockman would amount to anything and realized with horror that he was losing control of his mind.
       "You don't mind my raising these issues, do you?" Voldemort asked as he clung to the bark of the tree and struggled to keep breathing. "Parental involvement is so important."

       Professor McGonagall arrived at Dumbledore's office in a plain black robe thrown over her dressing gown, fuming that Severus Snape could escape the castle for an entire evening while she couldn't even enjoy a bubble bath uninterrupted. She refused to respond to Dumbledore's light-hearted comment about the soothing power of a nice soak, so he quickly sobered and got down to business.
       "Mr. Potter has had another attack signaling a threat from the dark lord," the headmaster announced. "I'd like the heads of houses to spend the night in their common rooms with their students and the rest of the staff to guard the front door, grounds and entrance in shifts. But first..."
       He broke off with just the slightest bit of a sigh. "I'd like you to help me find Professor Snape, who the Bloody Baron tells me is jogging through the corridors of the castle."
       He turned to share an exasperated smile with Professor McGonagall and that's when he noticed that, for someone who'd just had a hot bath, she was looking remarkably pale.

       "I want you to tell me why, Severus," the dark lord whispered. "I really do."
       Snape, now reduced to all fours, refused to answer, and Voldemort waved his wand slightly, reminding, coaxing. "Come now, educator," he encouraged gently. "Educate me."
       He gave Snape another minute of pain to formulate an answer. Then he shot a flipendo charm at him that knocked Snape off his hands and knees and slammed him against the tree. Snape slumped to the ground and sat there for several seconds before raising his head to stare at his adversary.
       "I found your mistake, Riddle," he whispered. "And now I teach others."
       He watched Voldemort struggle to control his fury. Ambition triumphed and Snape received another minute of pain instead of death. He curled tightly against it and fell over. When it stopped, he found himself lying on his side, his face pressed against the earth.
       "Enlighten me," Voldemort suggested. He waited but Snape refused to answer and the next cruciatus curse brought him to the edge of death.
       Still Snape would not speak.
       "Then pray you taught them well, hero," Voldemort hissed, "because I will teach them next."
       With the last of his strength, Snape raised his head and the wizards locked eyes. "The world has had enough of you, Severus Snape," Voldemort declared, and he aimed the killing curse. To his surprise, his victim's courage seemed to fail him. The dark lord allowed himself just a moment to drink in Snape's horrified expression.
       Then he realized Snape was gazing beyond him.
       He whirled just in time to see every wand in Slytherin drawn against him.
       It took Voldemort less than a second to aim his left hand. He held them all frozen in place, a pointed wand in each hand.
       "That's Snape's wand!" Violet whispered to Malfoy of the implement pointed at them, and Malfoy, who knew perfectly well which wand was which, shoved her behind him. Violet peeked around him, pointing her wand squarely at her father.
       "Don't move," the dark lord warned the Slytherins. "Don't even breathe. I can kill him and you can't kill me."
       "Are you sure?"
       Snape's question was quiet but full of conviction. Voldemort checked the determination in the eyes of Snape's students and considered his next step very carefully. So long as Snape lived, he knew, the Slytherins would hold their fire for fear of the wand he had trained on their housemaster. But to kill Snape and escape successfully, he would need a shield.
       "Violet," he said gently. "Come here."
       "Don't move!" shouted Snape and the Slytherins with one voice. From her safe spot behind Malfoy, Violet called flippantly, "Sorry, Dad."
       Snape struggled to rise but fell to the ground again and Voldemort, regarding him almost tenderly, spoke again in that same gentle voice.
       "Violet," he said kindly, "did you know that, if you torture someone painfully enough, he will actually sweat blood?"
       He straightened the arm pointed at Snape as the tenderness disappeared from his face. "Don't move, Violet!" screamed Snape.
       Suddenly, Malfoy spun around, turning his back on the horrific scene. The gesture amused Voldemort, who held his spell and smiled.
       "Why, Draco!" he murmured. "No stomach for torture? You're no chip off the old block!"
       He returned his attention to Snape, and as he did, the best levitator in the house suddenly screamed, "Wingardium leviosa!" and the smallest Slytherin shot into the air.
       She twisted more nimbly riding Malfoy's spell than on any broom, spinning rapidly to avoid Voldemort's curses as she arched towards his head. As she came down on top of him, she thrust her wand several inches into his left eye and grabbed Snape's wand from his left hand. With a bloodcurdling scream, Voldemort disapparated and Violet fell right through the space where he'd stood to crash to the ground, a wand in each hand.
       The Slytherins raced to help Snape to his feet and then cleared a path for Violet to bring him his wand. She held it up before him and as they waited for his strength to return, they watched the conflicting emotions that battled on his face, anxious to see which would prevail.
       They didn't have long to wait. Snape snatched his wand and turned to roar at Malfoy. "HOW COULD YOU BRING THE YOUNGER YEARS?"
       "We didn't!" Malfoy shouted right back. "We're going to cane them right after you cane us!"
       Snape stared. Then he shut his eyes in a desperate attempt to keep from laughing and Millicent and Pansy threw their arms around him. "No, get off!" he shouted again. "I'm in pain!"
       The girls let go and Violet took Snape's hand very gently. "Do you feel like you might be sick?" she asked softly from somber experience. Again, Snape almost laughed.
       "Maybe later," he told the child. Then he looked around and his gaze took them all in.
       "I am immensely grateful," he announced simply.
       "That's funny," Malfoy observed with a meaningful lift of one eyebrow. "So are we."
       They all looked at each other for several seconds, drinking in each other's faces. Snape glanced over his shoulder in the direction of Hogsmeade. There was nothing he needed to tell the patrons of the Three Broomsticks, he decided, that couldn't wait until morning. So he nodded gently at his Slytherins.
       "Let's go home."
       They set off slowly, the Slytherins forming a protective phalanx around their housemaster. Several minutes passed before Violet spoke up.
       "Are you going to punish us, sir?" she inquired timidly.
       "I can't," came Snape's bitter reply.
       "Why not?"
       "Because it's my fault," Snape admitted. "I should have listened to Professor McGonagall when she told me to stay in." He sighed. "I despise it when she's right." After a moment, he added with as much vigor as he could muster, "Wait until I get my hands on that bloody specter!"
       Violet shuddered. "What are you going to do to him?" she breathed, feeling sorry for the Baron already.
       "I'll think of something," Snape assured her.
       "But sir..." Violet just couldn't let it go. "Why are you mad at him and not us?"
       "Violet!" A disgusted Malfoy shoved her from behind. "Could you shut up for one minute? Would that just kill you?"
       Snape allowed himself a chuckle this time before speaking sternly to his Slytherins. "If you hadn't just lost one quarter of your housemates," he assured them, "I probably would have punished you."
       He thought for a moment and then continued. "I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to tell me the truth. Why did you come after me on your own?"
       The Slytherins thought it over. For the first time, they realized the full implication of their actions. But after considering it some more, Malfoy gave a derisive snort.
       "I don't care," he insisted. "I don't care if they'd be insulted that it never occurred to us they'd help us. They can bloody well live with it."
       The rest of Slytherin nodded in agreement. Snape sighed.
       "I appreciate how alone you feel," he said carefully. "But I cannot let it stand. You have to give others the chance to stand with you."
       The Slytherins slowed their pace, hanging on Snape's every word.
       "No matter how many times they've been unfair, no matter how often they've indulged in convenient inaccuracy or even abandoned you, you must show grace to your allies. They are far more likely to come through in the end if you keep faith than if you hold grudges."
       A bell went off in Malfoy's head but he kept his mouth firmly shut.
       "Grace is hard," Violet pouted, kicking a stone out of her way.
       "You're a powerful house," Snape replied casually, "you'll manage." He stopped suddenly, his hands on his hips. The Slytherins stopped with him.
       "Because if you EVER," he began, "pull a stunt like this again..."
       "I'll flog you!" the Slytherins chorused, and Snape had to smile.
       "You do make a housemaster proud."
       They walked in peaceful silence for several minutes. Snape reveled in the feel of his strength slowly returning. His mind grew clearer and suddenly he stopped short. Millicent and Crabbe banged into him.
       "Wait a minute!" he demanded, whirling to face his students. "How did you know?"
       "Know what, sir?" asked Millicent.
       "About Voldemort! Why did you come for me?"
       "Oh, that!" Malfoy nodded. "Potter had a scar attack in our common room."
       Snape just stared. Eventually, he demanded, "Again."
       "Potter's scar goes off when Voldemort is threatening," Malfoy explained. "Pains him, I mean. He came over tonight and it happened while he was with us."
       Snape was dumbfounded. "Amazing," he admitted as he started the group walking again. "I'm surprised he didn't tag along."
       "He didn't know we were coming," Malfoy clarified. "He didn't even know you were out of the castle. He just went to tell Dumbledore."
       Snape stopped once more, a horrified look on his face. "Potter told Professor Dumbledore about a threat from Voldemort?" he demanded.
       The Slytherins nodded.
       "And you still came after me on your own?" he added, his voice rising.
       The Slytherins nodded again.
       "YOU IDIOTS!" their housemaster shouted. "Dumbledore will grind you into convalescious dust!"
       Still too weak to carry her himself, Snape picked up Violet and shoved the short-legged Slytherin into Goyle's arms, all the while berating his students.
       "It's one thing to feel that nobody stands with you," he admonished. "It's quite another to thumb your nose at the headmaster for it! Now run!"
       He sprinted for Hogwarts with the Slytherins at his heels.

       Fully dressed, Professor McGonagall entered the Gryffindor common room and called the students who were present together, commanding their silence and explaining the situation rapidly.
       "Several of the staff are patrolling the grounds and guarding the entrance and front door. Professor Dumbledore and I will go to Hogsmeade to retrieve Professor Snape," she told the white-faced Gryffindors. "Professor Flitwick is fetching the Slytherins, who will stay in Ravenclaw until we return. I would like you to gather any students who are in the dormitories and go immediately to Hufflepuff. You will stay with Professor Sprout and her students until I return."
       She left without another word and Seamus raced to fetch Ron and Harry from the fifth years' dormitory. When Fred had filled them in, Harry looked horrified.
       "Snape is in town?"
       He shook his head as if to banish a possibility that was forming in his mind.
       "I told them," he admitted to the Gryffindors with growing horror. "I told the Slytherins about Voldemort."
       They pondered the implications for all of two seconds. Then Harry tore across the room and out the portrait hole with all of Gryffindor chasing madly behind him.

       Snape and the Slytherins gazed miserably at Hogwarts from behind some trees a short distance from the front gate. Professors Sinistra and Vector were guarding the entrance as others patrolled the grounds. The front doors opened and Snape squinted to make out Dumbledore and McGonagall emerging, armed with torches.
       "We're licked," groaned Malfoy wearily.
       "Not yet!" hissed his head of house.
       He took off running along the wall around the grounds, his students following close behind. He stopped about fifty yards from the entrance and drew his wand, touching four bricks several feet apart as he muttered, "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs." To the Slytherins' astonishment, a six-foot wide hole appeared in the stone wall. Snape grimaced at their amazement.
       "Yes, all right," he admitted. "We owe the marauders one. Now MOVE!"
       The Slytherins sprinted through the opening. Snape followed them and charmed it shut behind them. Then he did something only his devotion to his students could compel him to do.
       "Loudly!" he hissed before setting off at a healthy trot.
       "Stand up and cheer for Slytherin House," Snape called as he set the pace for what appeared to be a vigorous evening constitutional. The Slytherins immediately fell in behind, hollering the appropriate response.
       "Stand up and cheer for Slytherin House!"
       "Stand up and cheer for Slytherin House!"
       Up at the castle, Dumbledore and McGonagall turned in amazement to watch Snape and two rows of Slytherins jogging towards them across the grounds. Just then, the front doors to the castle burst open and the Gryffindors charged out, Harry Potter leading the way. They stopped short when they saw their head of house and headmaster, following their gaze to behold Snape and the shouting Slytherins.
       "What do you think you're doing?" demanded McGonagall demanded of her students. Harry, extremely puzzled by the sight of the trotting Slytherins, opened and shut his mouth several times before muttering vaguely,
       "We... came to tell you... the Slytherins might not be in the castle."
       A moment later, Snape and the Slytherins arrived, panting cheerfully.
       "Good evening, Headmaster," puffed Snape innocently.
       Dumbledore regarded him skeptically. "Where have you been, Severus?" he inquired firmly, and the Slytherins thought 'Professor Snape' might have been more appropriate in mixed company, even if the headmaster did suspect misconduct on Snape's part.
       "We've been getting a little exercise, sir," Snape replied evenly.
       Dumbledore stared at him for several seconds. Then he pointed with his wand at the gash on Snape's forehead and raised his eyebrows.
       "Hazards of running in the dark," Snape explained.
       Everyone stood without speaking for a while; the only sound was the panting of the Slytherins. Then Dumbledore spoke again, very quietly.
       "Severus, did you go to Hogsmeade tonight?"
       "Yes," was all Snape replied.
       Dumbledore waited. When Snape remained silent, he pressed, "Don't you think that was a rather foolish thing to do?"
       Snape nodded deferentially. "That's why I came right back and spent the evening with my students instead," he lied, and saw the first flicker of pain in Dumbledore's eyes. Dumbledore turned to the Slytherins.
       "Did you go into Hogsmeade tonight to rescue your housemaster from Lord Voldemort?" he demanded sternly. The Slytherins regarded him silently and Snape spoke on their behalf.
       "Why would you suspect that, Headmaster?" he murmured silkily. "Why would they act on their own instead of turning to the rest of you?"
       The triumphant condemnation in his eyes made McGonagall's jaw twitch with fury. The pain in Dumbledore's eyes increased tenfold. Snape stared them down.
       First and foremost, he was a housemaster.
       It took Violet a long time to understand what happened next.
       Harry Potter stepped around McGonagall and crossed Dumbledore to stand with the Slytherins. "I'll vouch for them, Headmaster," he announced.
       McGonagall's mouth dropped open. She snapped it shut and took a step forward to stand side by side with Dumbledore as Harry continued.
       "I know you told me to go straight to my dormitory. But I felt just fine so I went back to Slytherin instead for more dueling. Professor Snape was there to take them jogging, so I went back to my dorm instead."
       At first, nobody knew what to say. Then McGonagall stammered, "If that were the case, you'd have to be punished."
       Harry just shrugged. "I guess so."
       Snape and the Slytherins stared at Potter as if he'd lost his mind. But Harry just looked calmly at his headmaster and head of house, and something passed between the three of them that neither Snape nor the Slytherins understood. Whatever it was, Violet noticed, it erased the pain in Dumbledore's eyes and removed the anger from McGonagall's face.
       The next thing they knew, Hermione stepped around McGonagall and Dumbledore to join Harry. So did the Weasley twins, dragging Ron along with them. Then, one by one, every single Gryffindor crossed Albus Dumbledore to stand with the Slytherins.
       Violet turned her head this way and that, searching the faces around her for answers. The Slytherins looked completely confused, the Gryffindors looked extremely satisfied, Professor Dumbledore looked proud enough to cry, and Professor McGonagall looked triumphant enough to crow. As for Professor Snape, he looked nauseous enough to . . .
       "Oh, dear," Violet murmured, as the head of Slytherin ran to the nearest tree and threw up.

       Dumbledore and McGonagall sat up late in his office playing the cup game. On the corner of Dumbledore's desk were two stacks of galleons, one his, one hers. Minerva checked the time; it was 11:30pm.
       "I believe midnight was the deadline?" she taunted the headmaster.
       "This is correct, Minerva," Dumbledore told her, completely unruffled. Professor McGonagall scowled at him.
       "Albus, you didn't cheat, did you? You didn't send for him?"
       "I did not," the headmaster assured her. "But he will come."
       "Well," said Minerva doubtfully, picking up her tumbler for another round, "if he does, it will be the best five galleons I ever spent."
       Almost immediately, there was a knock on the door. Dumbledore smiled and pocketed all the coins. Minerva hid her relief behind pursed lips as she rose to admit Snape and let herself out.
       The potions master came to stand before the headmaster's desk and waited dutifully to be addressed. "Well, Severus Snape," his employer inquired mildly, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
       "I couldn't let you punish my Slytherins for being right," Snape replied.
       It wasn't quite what Dumbledore had been hoping for.
       "Then why are you here?" the headmaster asked archly, raising his eyebrows high above his half-moon glasses. Snape bristled.
       "To apologize for lying," he insisted, "and to assure you that I am NOT the reason the Slytherins feel the way they do. I am the reason they will do what's right regardless of the way they are treated. And frankly, Headmaster..." He made no attempt to hide his contempt. "I find your coyness more than a little insulting.
       The flash of pain in the old man's eyes made Snape wince. What's next, he wondered of himself, kicking house elves? He reached inside his robe and withdrew a folded piece of parchment which he laid on Dumbledore's desk on top of another piece of parchment lying face down. Dumbledore's eyes narrowed.
       "That better not be what I think it is," he warned the youngest member of his staff. Snape just shook his head.
       "Tonight was the third incident this year, Headmaster," Snape reminded him. "Don't you think it's time to revisit the math?"
       Dumbledore sprang furiously to his feet; Snape couldn't help but fall back a step.
       "What math is that, Severus?" the headmaster demanded. "Seventy-five percent of Slytherin still here? Harry Potter's life saved on multiple occasions?"
       He pointed an angry finger at the instructor. "I knew the dark lord's priorities when I hired you, Professor Snape, and I am growing very weary of how frequently you think you know better than I do!"
       Snape blanched, chagrined. "I would never think that, Headmaster," he assured the elderly wizard.
       "Then pick that letter up and burn it in my fireplace immediately!" Dumbledore commanded, and Snape did as he was told. He returned to his place before the desk to inquire,
       "Will that be all, Headmaster?"
       Dumbledore sat back down and regarded Snape calmly. "I'd like you to tell me," he murmured, lacing his fingers across his belly, "why I'm going to let you walk out that door without any reprimand."
       Snape stared at him in disbelief. Then he frowned and looked away. When he sneaked a peek at the headmaster, he found him smiling and waiting expectantly.
       So Snape took a deep breath and said it.
       "Because Harry Potter solved a problem I couldn't," he admitted.
       Dumbledore nodded. "Again," he commanded.
       "Because Harry Potter solved a problem I couldn't," Snape repeated, a little louder.
       "You know, Headmaster, the Death Eaters would probably take me back if I brought them a big enough sacrifice."
       "Severus," Dumbledore countered, "whatever happened to that chalkboard Miss Guilford wrote on after Halloween?"
       " Because Harry Potter solved a problem I couldn't, because Harry Potter solved a problem I couldn't, because Harry Potter solved a problem I couldn't!" Snape recited loudly.
       "Thank you, Severus. You may go."
       Snape stormed towawards the door. Before he could escape, Dumbledore called him back.
       "Tell me, Severus," he inquired gently. "Could I possibly compel you to feel about the other students the way you do about the Slytherins?"
       "There are precious few saints at Hogwarts, sir," Snape seethed in reply. "I'm certainly not one of them."
       He left without another word. Smiling, Dumbledore shook his head. Then he picked up the piece of parchment that had been lying face down on his desk and read again the testimonial from Rachel Dockman that had been waiting for him when he returned to his office.

And now, the Slytherin Chorus presents, "Let Me Be There"
(Made popular by the Muggle singer Olilvia Newton-John)

Wherever you go
Wherever you may wander Friday night
Surely you know, the Slytherins'll be there.
Holding your wand
And levitating first years who are small.
Seeing you through, what Voldemort can do

Let me be there in your torment
Let me be there in your fright
Let me change your miserable odds to win this fight (win this fight)
Let me save you from that killing curse that Voldemort must bear.
All I ask you (ooh ooh ooh ooh), is let me be there.

Watching us grow
And going through the skin sheds in our lives
We always know our head of house will be there
Whenever you need a Slytherin to lean on, here I am
Whenever you call, a snake will be there

Let me be there in your torment
Let me be there in your fright
Let me change your miserable odds to win this fight (win this fight)
Let me save you from that killing curse that Voldemort must bear.
All I ask you (ooh ooh ooh ooh), is let me be there.
All we ask you (Severus Snape), is let us be there.
The Smallest Slytherin