The second week in November, Professor Dumbledore called an impromptu meeting of his heads of house. "In light of the recent unpleasantness," he mused, "I would like to request that each of you spend a bit more time with your students. I would suggest an hour or so with them in their common rooms in the evening."
       After a startled moment, Flitwick and Sprout began to nod and chatter, intrigued by this break with tradition. But McGonagall and Snape just stared at their headmaster. Then, as Snape pretended to rub his lip, he whispered to McGonagall from behind his hand.
       "You need to stay closer to him, Minerva," he hissed. "If we'd known this was coming, we could have prepared a united front!"
       "Don't you dare blame me for this!"
       "I realize your evenings are sacrosanct," Dumbledore interrupted, a slight sterness creeping into his tone, "so I thank you in advance for your efforts. That is all."

       Malfoy was sprawled in the most comfortable chair by the fire with Crabbe and Goyle perched nearby when Snape made his entrance. The Slytherins jumped into their rows and Snape rubbed his temples for several seconds before he addressed them.
       "Professor Dumbledore feels it would be wise..."
       He searched for adequate words but soon gave up. "I'll be here for an hour," he sighed. "Go about your business."
       After a dismissive flick from their housemaster's hand, the Slytherins slowly dispersed, gathering in groups of two or three to speculate on this new development. Snape took out a book, looked around for a moment, then walked over to Malfoy, who had dropped back into his favorite chair. The teenager looked up expectantly. Several seconds passed. The Malfoy blurted, "Oh!" and sprang up from the chair. Snape settled into it without a word as Malfoy retreated, followed closely by Crabbe and Goyle.
       They made their way to the far side of the common room where Montague and Marybeth were watching Violet, who sat on top of a large table playing with a wooden tumbler. "It's called the cup game," she was explaining. "Muggles do it all the time. I think it's going to improve my wand control."
       She pulled out her wand and tapped the tabletop beside her. "You tap your wand four times to set the tempo. Muggles just snap their fingers or count or something."
       Tap tap tap tap.
       "Then you clap your hands twice, tap the tumbler bottom three times, clap again, pick up the tumbler, and set it down a little bit to the right. It's based on music, so if you know how to count eighth and sixteenth notes, the rhythm is one and, two-ee-and, three and four."
       She demonstrated. Clap clap, tap tap tap, clap, lift, set.
       "Now comes the hard part," she smiled. "You're going to turn the cup all the way over. You do it in seven gestures that are an eighth note apiece, one and two and three and four, and each gesture has to make a sound."
       She clapped her hands once. Then she grabbed the tumbler on its left side with her right hand. Then she picked it up and smacked its rim into the palm of her left hand. Then she put the tumbler down rightside up with her right hand. Then she transferred the upright up cup to her left hand. While the left hand held the tumbler, she slapped the tabletop with her right hand. Finally, with her left hand, which was still holding the right-side up tumbler by its bottom, she inverted the tumbler in a little arc through the air and banged it down again.
       "One and two and three and four," she repeated. She demonstrated the second part alone, then did the whole thing at a run. Her audience gaped most satisfyingly.
       "That's incredible," Montague admitted.
       "You have to be sure you make every single sound," Violet explained. "You can't break rhythm and you can't skip any of the motions." She demonstrated again. "You can play it as a game, and in that case, you pass the cup to the person next to you on the final 'four.' You go faster and faster, and when someone screws up, they're out and you yell, 'You're outta there!' Or in our case..." She smiled at the five Slytherins who surrounded her. "You're Gryffindor!"
       They laughed and raced away to find items they could transfigure into wooden tumblers. Then they joined Violet on top of the table and sat cross-legged in a circle with their tumblers upside down in front of them. Violet gave them one last set of instructions.
       "No complaining when you lose," she insisted, shaking her finger at the Slytherins who were all larger than she. "But it's okay to swear because it's really, really frustrating when you're out."
       Tap, tap, tap, tap went Malfoy with his wand, and they were off.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       Violet picked up the tempo a bit and Crabbe fumbled his cup during the turn.
       "Crap!" he yelled.
       "You're Gryffindor!" the five Slytherins shouted gleefully as they pointed at him.
       "That hurts," Crabbe admitted, sliding back from the circle. The remaining five closed ranks and began again.
       Tap, tap, tap, tap.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       Marybeth was the next to fall. Then Goyle tapped the side of his tumbler too hard with his fingertips as he reached to pick it up and sent it skidding towards Malfoy.
       "You're Gryffindor!"
       Tap, tap, tap, tap.
       The final three made a fierce trio. Violet didn't want to lose because it was her game, and the fifth years didn't want to lose to a first year. Around and around they went, faster and louder all the time, until the noise became too intense to ignore and a crowd of Slytherins gathered to watch.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       The Slytherins on top of the table froze. Snape had sprung furiously to his feet and was now pointing his wand straight at them. "Bang that cup again," he thundered, " and I'll bang your heads!"
       Nobody moved. Then, after several petrified seconds, Malfoy began to climb very slowly and deliberately down from the table, never taking his eyes off Snape's wand. The others followed suit. They sat down and drew their chairs quietly up to the table, tucking their knees neatly beneath it and folding their hands in front of them. They sat very, very still.
       With one last menacing glare, Snape tucked his wand into his robe and returned to his book and chair. Across the room, six rigid Slytherins shook so hard with suppressed laughter that their faces turned as red as a Gryffindor quidditch robe.

       The following evening, Snape and McGonagall lingered in the Great Hall after dinner, postponing the inevitable. Dumbledore tarried as well, prepared to order them into action if necessary, and Sprout and Flitwick stayed behind to watch him do it. The sight of them gave Snape an idea.
       "Care to trade?" he asked Professor McGonagall.
       The Transfigurations teacher seemed delighted by the idea. "Absolutely!" she cried.
       "Absolutely not!" Dumbledore corrected. "I can just imagine what you two would come up with if you had charge of each other's houses."
       "Muzzle potion," Snape admitted.
       "Toast rack transfiguration," countered McGonagall.
       "You don't hear Professors Sprout and Flitwick complaining," Dumbledore chided, a criticism which brought a snort from his deputy headmistress.
       "Teddy bears and study bugs," she whispered to Snape, who nodded and leaned forward to address their counterparts.
       "Would you two care to trade?"
       Dumbledore shook his hoary head. "Now what's so awful?" he demanded earnestly. "Tell me what they do at night."
       Snape curled his lip so hard he nearly spit. "The cup game," he sneered petulantly. "It's a dexterity exercise Miss Guilford imported from her muggle orphanage. A very noisy dexterity exercise, I might add. She thinks it will improve her wand control."
       Nobody spoke for several seconds. Then Minerva asked, oh-so-nonchalantly, "Really? Improved wand control?"
       Oh, no, Snape groaned to himself as he realized too late the stupidity of mentioning improved dexterity to two tranfigurations teachers and a charms professor.
       "How does it work, Severus?" Dumbledore asked lightly.
       I suppose I'd best leave out the part about Gryffindor, Snape decided as he called for a house elf to bring him five wooden tumblers. He placed one upside down in front of himself and turned to Flitwick.
       "I need four taps from your wand," he instructed. Flitwick obliged and Snape ran through the sequence once.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       The staff stared, open-mouthed. Then McGonagall whispered, "That's intoxicating!" and within moments, a fierce battle was underway.
       The teachers were vastly superior to the students and the noise from their game soon resounded throughout the castle. In the Gryffindor common room, Fred turned curiously to George and asked, "What the hell is that?"
       The Slytherins knew. They raced for their common room door where Montague held up a hand to prevent a mass departure. "Only the six who played last night," he insisted, and he, Marybeth, Violet, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle streaked down the corridors to the entrance to the Great Hall.
       Flitwick and Sprout were eliminated first. Then Dumbledore skipped one of the three taps near the beginning of the sequence. Snape stopped the game.
       "You skipped one," he pointed out.
       "I did not."
       "All right!" Dumbledore conceded grumpily. Snape and McGonagall turned to face each other.
       "And then there were two," Snape murmured with a menacing smile, to which his opponent retorted,
       "Tap, pot-watcher!"
       And they were off.
       Faster and faster their hands raced, whipping the cups across the table at each other. As the game wore on, the cups became a blur and the sounds a mere rhythmic pulse. Small bolts of lightning began to flash during the hand-offs, making Sprout, Flitwick and Dumbledore back away slowly. Then smoke started to rise from the wooden blur. Suddenly, Snape and McGonagall jumped back as both cups simultaneously burst into flames.
       No one spoke as the tumblers crackled merrily, eventually burning to small piles of ashes. Then Dumbledore nodded. "It would appear Miss Guilford is right," was all he said.
       A burst of applause exploded from the entrance where six Slytherins expressed their delight at the exhibition. Dumbledore smiled at them.
       "It was impressive," he had to admit. Then he turned to Snape with a slightly different grin. "I'm sure your head of house would be happy to help you achieve that level of competence..." he promised the students as he smiled slyly at their housemaster, "even... if it takes months."
       Minerva hid her mirth behind her hand as Snape glared at the headmaster for as long as he dared. Then he stormed obedientlyfrom the room to walk his students back to Slytherin. As soon as he was out of Dumbledore's sight, he cuffed the back of Violet's head.


       Lucius Malfoy relished his lunch. He savored everything about life now, especially the time alone with Narcissa, who gazed at him while he ate as she'd gazed at him upstairs. When the mark on his forearm began to burn, she saw it on his face. "Always ready," she promised.

       Voldemort was alone except for Peter Pettigrew. "I wish you to travel to Hogwarts and bring Draco to me," he told Lucius. "By sunset."
       Lucius hesitated. Could this be a test? Had the Halloween fiasco planted doubts about his loyalty? "My lord," he asked as deferentially as possible, "how can that be done? After Halloween, I would not be permitted on the grounds of Hogwarts, and Dumbledore won't send Draco to me just because I ask."
       "That is your challenge to surmount," Voldemort said gently, and Lucius knew he was a breath away from death.
       This is the day, he thought. After the quidditch match in September, he and Narcissa had begun to plan for it. There was no undoing their past, no escaping the consequences of their actions. But there was Draco. They could try to keep Draco from Voldemort no matter what the cost. Lucius would return home for Narcissa and they would go into hiding immediately. Perhaps they would survive a week, or even a month. He doubted he would ever see his son again.
       "My lord?" Peter Pettigrew waved a timid paw, hoping to curry favor with a helpful suggestion. "Why don't you send Crabbe and Goyle with him? Surely they are still permitted on the grounds. Their sons might even prove useful."
       "They serve me elsewhere," Voldemort seethed. Relief washed over the senior Malfoy. "Sunset, Lucius," Voldemort prodded him gently, and Lucius fled.

       At home, he grabbed an owl and some parchment and rushed to send a note to Draco, cursing the haste with which he had to act. What could he write in so little time? "We're sorry, we were wrong, goodbye and be good?" The soul of wit, Lucius grimaced to himself. Then he heard something that nearly stopped his heart.
       There were voices emanating from the bedroom upstairs. It sounded like two of them, though Narcissa was supposed to be home alone.
       Quickly, desperately, he wrote four words on the piece of parchment. He addressed it, grabbed the owl, attached the message, and threw it out the window. Then he raced to his bedroom.
       Narcissa was already dead beneath Crabbe's wand. Goyle had his fixed upon Lucius.
       "I prayed you'd go to Hogwarts, Lucius," he told his friend. "I really did."
       Then he did something unforgivable.

       The Slytherins were expecting Snape when the door to their common room opened that evening. But it was Professor Dumbledore who entered. The students rose uncertainly to their feet. No staff member but Snape had entered their common room uninvited since as far back as they could remember.
       Montague stepped forward. "Good evening, Headmaster," he said haltingly. "Professor Snape isn't here, if you were looking for him."
       Dumbledore smiled his gentle smile. "Thank you, Montague. Actually, he's in his office, and Draco..." He turned to Malfoy. "He'd like to see you there."
       Violet felt sick. Without thinking she took hold of Goyle's hand. But Malfoy never flinched. He left the common room without a word or a look back at anybody.
       Montague's muscles tensed. Every Slytherin stared at Dumbledore, who suddenly seemed fascinated by the nicks and scratches on one of their lamp tables. "I remember once," he began with a smile. But then he seemed to remember something else and stopped. With a sigh, he looked up at the Slytherins and nodded. "Good night," he murmured and left.
       The second he was gone, Montague, Goyle and Crabbe bolted from the common room and raced down the corridor towards Snape's office. In order for the eavesdropping charm to work, they had to arrive before the door closed behind Malfoy. As they rounded the final corner, they saw they were too late.
       "Dammit!" Montague swore.
       There was nothing to do but sit down and wait. It was cold in the corridor and they pulled their robes tightly around them.
       Finally the door to Snape's office opened and Malfoy emerged, his face pale and still. Montague, Goyle and Crabbe rose to their feet but Draco drifted past them as if they were invisible and made his way slowly down the corridor. Crabbe turned to Snape.
       "Professor, what..."
       "Silence!" Snape hissed. He ordered them back to their common room in the harshest tone they'd ever heard. But then he called Montague back. "Follow him," the housemaster commanded.
       Malfoy walked straight to Gryffindor. He knocked on the portrait of the Fat Lady and Fred Weasley opened the entrance. The expression on Malfoy's face left him speechless.
       Malfoy climbed through the portrait hole without a word. Behind him, Fred spied Montague in the corridor. Montague waved Fred off and Fred nodded.
       He followed Malfoy, who walked straight to Harry Potter's dormitory. Ron was the only other person in the dorm. The two Gryffindors got to their feet when Malfoy entered. From the doorway, Fred beckoned Ron to leave the room.
       The two rivals stood inches apart, and Harry noticed for the first time that they were exactly the same height. They stared at each other for a long time. Then Malfoy dropped his head onto Harry's shoulder.

       An hour later, Hermione's copy of the special edition of the DAILY PROPHET arrived. The Gryffindors crowded around her as she read the article to them.
       " 'The Ministry of Magic cannot confirm that Voldemort or any of his associates were involved with the killings,' " Hermione read. " 'Nor are they willing to speculate about a motive at this time. But the DAILY PROPHET has received confirmation that the medical exam revealed that the Malfoys were killed by curses from two different wizards.'"
       Hermione looked up as that sank in. "Two?" she puzzled. "Oh, no. Oh, NO!"
       Ginny Weasley buried her face in Fred's shoulder. "In his own house," she moaned.
       "Hang on!" George tried to calm everybody down. "The paper says they don't even know for sure that Death Eaters were involved! And even if they were, not every death eater has a child in Slytherin!"
       "Still..." Fred gave Ginny an absent pat and glanced in the general direction of the dungeon. "I wouldn't want to be green tonight."

       "I used to worry about it," Harry was telling Malfoy, who was sprawled on top of Ron's bed. "The summer before our third year, I did magic at the Dursleys. I thought I'd never be able to go back there OR come back to Hogwarts." He thought about it some more. "We're not little" he insisted. "I'd be okay. You'd be okay. Do you have any other family?"
       "Distant relatives," Malfoy mused. "Family friends." He gave a little snort. The look on Harry's face suggested the Gryffindor could just imagine.
       "I'd give up anything to be a Weasley," he confided to Malfoy suddenly. To his relief, the Slytherin did not joke. He just thought it over, then asked,
       "Even your name, Potter?"
       For the first time, Harry realized Malfoy had also been separated from his father for years by forces beyond his control. "No," he admitted. "Not my name." After a moment, he added, "And not Hogwarts."
       Malfoy grinned as a memory sprang to mind. "We asked Snape once why the Weasleys have more children than they can afford," he related. "We were sure he'd say something cutting and brilliant we could quote for years."
       "What did he say?"
       " 'Because they love each other!'" Malfoy snapped in such a near-perfect imitation of his head of house that Harry laughed. Malfoy decided the time had come to take the plunge.
       "You know, Potter," he began quietly, "he really is the best teacher at Hogwarts. You should give him a chance."
       Harry was so shocked he nearly fell off his bed. "I should give HIM a chance?" he shouted. He sprang to his feet, unable to believe what he'd just heard. Malfoy rose to face him down.
       "Your dad," Malfoy said with the steeliest voice he could muster, "was a real JERK to Snape!"
       Harry whirled away so he wouldn't punch a boy whose parents had just been killed. He clenched his fists harder and harder until the words he needed came to him. When he turned back to Malfoy, he was calm and firm.
       "Last year," he began, "when my name came out of the goblet of fire, Ron was a real JERK to me. And sometimes you're a real JERK. And sometimes I am. That's because we're kids. And if my father and Sirius were jerks when they were at Hogwarts, that's because THEY were kids!" He stopped and took a breath, then finished calmly. "Snape was an adult when he joined the death eaters."
       "What are you saying, Potter?" Malfoy took a step closer to the Gryffindor. "So was my father? They only joined because of the way they were treated by YOUR damn father!"
       But Harry did not rise to the bait. Instead, he reminded Malfoy quietly, "...who was killed by Voldemort."
       Malfoy stared at him. Then his face softened. Without another word, he climbed beneath Ron's covers. Harry got into his bed, and when the candles were extinguished, Malfoy called,
       "Good night, Harry."
       "Good night, Draco."

       It was nearly eleven when Montague answered a knock on the Slytherin common room door and found Ron standing alone in the hallway in his robe and pajamas.
       "What do you want, Weasley?," he grumbled
       "I need a place to sleep," Ron replied sullenly.
       "What's wrong with your common room?"
       "It's full of half of Hufflepuff," Ron complained, noticing over Montague's shoulder that the rest of them seemed to have come to Slytherin to pay their condolences. "There's nobody left in their house to let me in."
       Montague led Ron to Malfoy's room where Crabbe and Goyle were already in bed. They sat up to see what was going on and that's when Ron noticed they'd been crying. Before he could stop himself, he started to laugh.
       Montague shoved him from behind. "Hurry up, Weasley!"
       Ron climbed into Malfoy's bed and Montague extinguished the candles and left. In the dark, Ron continued to chuckle quietly. Then, in the most disgusting of eruptions, Goyle let out a loud, wet burp. It sounded exactly as if he were burping up a slimy amphibian. A moment later, he burped again. Crabbe followed suit with a similar belch. Ron stopped chuckling, but the Slytherins kept him awake with croaky, gagging burps for almost an hour.
       At midnight, Snape sat alone at his desk, staring at a picture in his hands. It showed the Slytherin quidditch team and several of their housemates cavorting on the field after their victory over Gryffindor. The picture was a gift from Professor McGonagall, and he treasured it, because she hadn't sent it after the match.
       She'd sent it after the Slytherins had invited the Gryffindors to their common room.
       It meant the world to him, but right now, he thought, he would be willing to suffer anything, undergo any curse, if only she could transfigure it into an image of Draco and his father in the stands that day.
       Lucius had been his dearest friend. He'd stood by Severus through every bit of abuse the charismatic Gryffindors had seen fit to inflict upon their schoolmates. And yet, at the quidditch match, when they'd stood side by side again with only a child between them, Snape had refused to speak to him.
       Now his pitilessness was killing him, because there was an owl on his desk, and a piece of parchment with four words written on it.
       "Take care of Draco."
       "I'm sorry, Lucius," Snape whispered. "I'm so sorry."
       Someone knocked on his door. It opened silently and a somber little face peered around at him. Snape was actually comforted to see Violet. Every Slytherin suffers tonight, he thought.
       Violet walked up to him and stood beside him for just a moment. Then she reached into her robes and withdrew a wooden cup which she placed gently on his desk. She left as quietly as she had come and Snape did not notice that she left his office door open a crack. He merely stared at the cup. He'd never felt so alone in his life.
       Then he picked it up and began to tap.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       What was that?!
       He thought he'd heard something. He stopped tapping, but the noise continued. One and two and three and four.
       The Slytherins were tapping with him.
       So Snape started again. One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       One and two-ee-and, three and four.
       One and two and three and four.
       The noise woke Crabbe and Goyle, who sprang from their beds and raced to the common room. Ron followed, pausing only to pull on his robe. When he arrived, he saw an astounding site. Every Slytherin except Malfoy was seated on the cold stone floor of the common room, banging out an exercise with a wooden cup, their faces screwed into expressions of fierce concentration, as if... as if...
       As if their souls depended on it, the redhead thought.
       As their speed and determination grew, the noise became thunderous. Snape would have been pleased to know that they woke nearly every person in the castle, including Dumbledore, who would not be able to get back to sleep for hours.
       In his tower dormitory, Harry Potter sat up and lit a candle. "What IS that?" he asked Malfoy.
       But Draco slept through the din as if it were a lullaby.

The Smallest Slytherin