Dismal. That was Violet Guilford's first impression of Hogwarts as she marched into the Great Hall. The returning students carried themselves with an air of resigned determination and the other first years seemed scared of their shadows. But something smelled awfully good.
       Food was an issue for tiny Violet because there had never been enough of it at the orphanage. She was sure that's why the administrator had so quickly accepted Professor Sprout's briefly-displayed credentials and the Hogwarts letter of admission. It made for one less mouth to feed. "Give it a try, Violet," she had urged. "It could be the making of you!"
       Now Violet listened intently to the murmuring about sorting. "My family doesn't want me in Hufflepuff after what happened to Cedric," whispered a nervous young girl next to her. "Where do you hope to be?"
       "What happened to Cedric?" Violet asked. The nervous girl stared at her, then nodded. "You must be muggle-born. At least you won't be in Slytherin. Cedric was killed."
       Violet tried to remember if anyone had ever been killed at the orphanage. When her name was called for sorting, she looked over each table full of students on her way to the stool. The various houses all looked pretty similar to her.

       "You're small," was the first thing the Sorting Hat said to her.
       "Which house do small people go in?" Violet asked.
       "And clever, how nice," the hat sniffed.
       "What's wrong with Slytherin?" Violet asked the hat.
       "There's nothing wrong with Slytherin."
       The hat waited. So did Violet. After a while she began to swing her dangling feet. At the Slytherin table, several students snickered. A dark-haired professor shot them a fierce look from the head table and they immediately sobered.
       "Would you like to be in Slytherin?" the hat asked.
       "Slytherin!" the hat announced.

       The nervous girl gasped. "She's muggle-born!" she hissed to the first year beside her, and the news spread quickly from table to table.
       The heads of the other houses all turned to the dark-haired professor who stared stonily ahead. At the Slytherin table, a thin-faced blonde boy who seemed to be a leader shrugged at his friends and whispered, "Green is green." He made room for Violet beside him and as soon as he was sure the dark-haired professor wasn't watching, he whispered to her.
       "Both parents?"
       "I don't know," Violet snapped. "They're dead." This made some of the Slytherins laugh, which Violet found rather hard to understand.
       But the food was great.

       After the feast, the Slytherins followed the blonde boy to the stone door of their dungeon common room and learned the new password. Once inside, Violet gasped at the two rows of huge stone pillars that supported the gigantic ceiling. She was shown to her small stone cell and met her roommate, Marybeth Montague, whose older brother was the captain of the quidditch team. Their cell had bunk beds and enchanted windows that displayed views from the highest towers. It was cold but the bunks had plenty of bedclothes and Violet liked all the candles on the walls.
       Eventually she wandered back to the common room where the Slytherins formed a subtle but unmistakable circle around her. They didn't say anything to her or each other. They just stared. Finally, the blonde one, the one they called Malfoy, walked up to her and poked her in the chest.
       "All right, Mudblood," he smiled. "There are two rules around here."
       Violet sized him up immediately. 1. He was playing with her. 2. He didn't mean any real harm. 3. He would never hit her. So she grabbed him by his ear and twisted with all her might. "I'm sorry," she said calmly as he howled. "I missed a word."
       Malfoy dug his nails into her wrist and tried to wrestle free while Violet pulled harder and harder. His large friend, Crabbe, grabbed her around the waist and had just managed to pull her loose when a shrill whistle from a 6th year split the air. The Slytherins dropped everything, including Crabbe, who let Violet fall to her bum on the cold stone floor. They raced to form two queues facing each other in front of the stone pillars. Violet scrambled to her hands and knees and then to her feet, rushing to join the nearer line.
       The Slytherins stood neatly at attention and Violet risked a peek up the aisle between the two rows to see what was going on. One of the professors stood near the common room door, the black-haired one who had kept a watchful eye on the Slytherins throughout the sorting and feast. Violet guessed he must be their head of house and wondered how long he'd been standing there before the 6th year had spotted him.
       He strolled slowly down the aisle with his hands behind his back and when he stopped in front of her and turned to face her, she knew. Too long.
       "I'm Professor Snape," he said gently, his voice barely more than a whisper, "and I'm the head of your house. Welcome to Slytherin."
       Yelling she was used to, but this wizard's gentle whisper scared Violet so badly she had to swallow before she could answer. "Thank you, sir."
       It happened so quickly she didn't even see it coming. He whipped a hand from behind his back, grabbed her ear so hard that tears sprang to her eyes, and began pulling her down the aisle beside him while he casually addressed his students.
       "We have two rules in Slytherin," Snape lectured, making eye contact with every first year. "Work hard. I do NOT like to be embarrassed in front of the other staff. And never..." He pulled Violet's ear so hard she rose to the tips of her toes with a gasp. "NEVER harm another Slytherin."
       He dragged Violet all the way up one line and down the other, speaking a brief word or two of greeting to some of his older students. Violet noticed the ones spoken to seemed to swell with pride at being addressed. Finally he made his way back to her original spot and released her back into the line.
       "First impressions are so important, Miss Guilford," he hissed. "And I've had a difficult summer. Do try to improve."
       "Yes, sir," Violet agreed emphatically.
       Snape swept from the room and the Slytherins relaxed. Malfoy walked up to Violet, laughing.

       "Like I was saying..."
       "I heard him!" Violet snapped.
       Goyle put an arm around her shoulder. "Relax, Mudblood," he reassured her. "We're just trying to help you out."
       "Never lie to Snape," Malfoy counseled. "Snape canes Slytherins who lie to him."
       "Or misbehave in other teachers' classes," Crabbe added. "So choose your battles."
       "Or who pick on littler Slytherins!" came an angry voice from a few feet away. It was Marybeth, her arms folded neatly across her chest under the Slytherin crest on her jumper.
       "That, too," Malfoy admitted with a smile, and he led his cronies away. Violet watched him settle next to Montague into the most comfortable sofa by the fireplace. She marched over to him and sat down cross-legged on the low table in front of him, reminding him for all the world of Hermione Granger.

       Violet told them about the nervous girl at the sorting ceremony. "Who was Cedric?" she asked when she'd finished. "Why did Professor Snape have a difficult summer, and what the hell do you keep calling me?!"
       So they told her. They told about Voldemort and Cedric, about Gryffindor and Slytherin, about muggles and mudbloods and death eaters and Harry Potter. Finally Violet could understand the chuckles about her orphan status.
       "What's wrong with Potter?" she wanted to know.
       "There's nothing wrong with him," Malfoy admitted. "But they do think highly of themselves in Gryffindor and Harry's dad, James, was a real jerk to Snape."
       So Violet spent her first night at Hogwarts massaging her sore ear and pondering the legacy of hurt feelings.

       The muggle-born orphan took to her lessons like a monster to a lake. The Slytherins just shook their heads, unfamiliar with the muggle-born enthusiasm for magic. The staff praised her to Professor Snape who acknowledged their kudos with the curtest of nods. But he did enjoy her obsession with potions. She spent hours in the library trying to master one in particular, though she wouldn't tell anybody which. She spent nearly as much time studying as Hermione, but not quite. Unlike the Gryffindor bookworm, Violet made a conscientious effort to spend time in the Slytherin common room listening to her housemates.
       The morning of her first flying lesson, Malfoy, Goyle and Crabbe skipped class to spy on her from the nearest tower. Malfoy hogged the omnioculars. It was clear from the moment Violet kicked off that she was thrilled. "Funny," Malfoy murmured, "how much people raised outside the magical world love flying."
       "I can think of something funnier," said a silky voice behind them, and the boys jumped.
       "What are we neglecting?" Snape asked the miscreants.
       "History of Magic, sir," Goyle admitted as Snape helped himself to the omnioculars and checked Violet's progress.
       "Electrical appliances and their implications?" he murmured, adjusting the focus.
       "Yes, sir," Crabbe confirmed. Just then, Violet lost her balance and flipped over. She clung to her broom with her legs like a kid dangling from a monkey bar. The boys crowded on either side of their housemaster, leaning out the window to see better.
       "Ten extra inches of Binn's homework before bed," Snape decreed.
       "Yes, sir," the boys nodded absently, watching Violet right herself. They didn't notice Snape glaring at them until he thundered,
       The trio of Slytherins raced off to class, leaving Snape to spy by himself. Back in control, Violet was halfway through an inside loop when Madam Hooch ordered her back to the ground.

       "It's not fair," Violet pouted later that day as the Slytherin quidditch team prepared to leave the common room for practice. "We only have flying once a week!"
       "It's against the rules, Violet," Montague informed her. "Nobody can fly at quidditch practice except team members."
       Since they wouldn't take her with, Violet waited until the boys were gone to sneak out of the common room. She fetched the best school broom from the shed and headed quickly for the quidditch pitch. If anybody stopped her, she planned to say that Malfoy's broom had broken and she was bringing him a replacement.
       The team never saw her coming until she was aloft in the center of them. Malfoy flew up to her and grabbed her by the ear to drag her to the ground, a furious set of Slytherins close behind.
       "Violet!" Montague raged at the little Slytherin, " I told you no!"
       Malfoy let go of her ear even as he hissed, "You'll get us all in trouble. You have to go back."
       Violet nodded. "I will," she promised. "If you catch me." And she hopped on her broom and kicked off.
       The chase was glorious for Violet. She used her small size to her advantage, outmaneuvering the team with lightning quickness. Up, down, swoop, swoop! No price was too high to pay for this thrill, she thought. The boys tried their best to catch her and came close often. Twice they almost collided and Malfoy began to imagine increasingly painful ways to make Violet pay for this.
       Suddenly she stopped short and bounced in place. The boys braked quickly and stared. It was as if she'd flown the front of her broom into an invisible wall of gelatin and couldn't get loose. She tried frantically to back up but only wobbled.
       Malfoy knew without looking that they would find Snape below them. A resigned group of Slytheirns flew down to face him.
       "Back to the common room," Snape snarled. "No practice for a week. Your punishment... for letting a first year outfly you!"
       So the team headed inside, sneaking as many peeks over their shoulders as they dared at wobbling Violet.

       She emerged from her first trip to Snape's office in more pain than she thought possible but forced herself to move calmly and deliberately until his door was shut firmly behind her. Then she tore back to the Slytherin common room at a dead run, frantically whispering a mantra to herself. "Temporary, temporary, temporary, temporary..."
       She bounced on her toes in agony waiting for the common room stone door to open and sprinted to her cell with only a quick "Hi, sorry," to the quidditch team, now surrounded by glowering Slytherins. "Temporary, temporary, temporary..."
       Marybeth was on the top bunk when Violet burst into the room and dashed to her footlocker. She plucked a jar of white salve from below her spare jumper, tore off the lid and smeared the goo all over her backside, then fell on the lower bunk with a deep sigh. "Aaaaaah," she moaned happily as Marybeth leaned over, pried the jar from her hand and read the homemade label written in Violet's handwriting.
       'Instant, External Pain Relief and Healing,' it read.
       From the bottom bunk, Violet gave her a smirk.
       "Potions ROCK!"

       But she wasn't smiling the next morning when she discovered that all of Slytherin was shunning her. Not even Marybeth would tell her why they were so angry.
       "Look," she insisted at breakfast, "I'm the one who got flogged, the team just got grounded for a week. What is the big deal?"
       "Quidditch is the big deal, Mudblood," Montague snarled, "so shut up!"
       Violet shrugged it off. She'd started formulating her next plan to increase her flying time while accompanying Snape to his office the day before and it was brilliant. The Slytherins were going to love it and THEN they'd talk to her again. All she needed was a little extra charms practice.
       The next evening after supper, Violet sneaked down to the broom shed to fetch the Slytherin brooms. She returned with them to the common room where her housemates rose to their feet and glared at her. But Violet just smiled, put the brooms down, took out her wand and cried, " Wingardium Leviosa!"
       To the Slytherins' amazement, half the furniture in the Slytherin common room rose into the air. Violet handed Malfoy a broom, mounted one herself, and grinned, "Race ya!"
       Between the stone columns already in place and the furniture she had charmed into the air, Violet had turned the mammoth common room into a huge obstacle course. She streaked away on the team broom, diving in and around, over and above objects for several minutes, establishing a course. Finally she came in for a landing beside Montague and Malfoy.
       "It's not against the rules," she insisted.
       The boys looked at each other. Then Malfoy grinned, and Montague cried, "Brilliant! Positively, bloody bloody brilliant!"
       Almost immediately the air was full of flying Slytherins. Malfoy raced Violet repeatedly and she beat him every time.
       "You don't have to let me win, Malfoy!" she mocked.
       "It must be an orphan thing," he stung back.
       The Slytherins streaked around their common room for more than an hour, and Violet thought they might finally be ready to explain the big deal about quidditch when Snape entered the room.
       The Slytherins flew down to queue up and Violet, grabbing a spot near Montague, wondered if she should put the furniture down. But Snape strolled beneath it, inspecting it, so she left it in the air.
       Snape pointed to the furniture with one finger. "Whose idea?" he asked. Violet stepped forward, a broom in hand, fully prepared.
       "Mine, sir," she replied dutifully. "I don't believe I've broken any rules."
       Snape walked over to her with his hands behind his back, which Violet refused to let intimidate her. Instead, she held out the broom in her hand. "I'd be honored if you'd give it a try, sir," she said. Then she summoned all her courage and added, "Perhaps you'd like to race."
       Snape paused. Then, to everyone's surprise, he actually smiled a bit. He took Montague's broom and bent down nose to nose with Violet. "Loser," he murmured, "polishes every stone in my office."
       The Slytherins cheered as Snape strode purposefully to the starting point. "Wipe the floor with her, sir!" Malfoy called. Violet scurried into position and mounted her broom.
       "Two galleons on Snape," Malfoy whispered to Bletchley.
       "Sod off," his teammate replied.
       When Montague dropped a green scarf, Violet kicked off with all her might.
       Snape waited until she was half way through the course before he took to the air. Violet flew as fast as she could and actually thought she might beat him when, less than 10 yards from the finish line, he did something incredible. He caught up to her and circled her vertically in a spinning motion that flipped her sideways a full 360 degrees. It took several seconds for Violet to reorient herself, allowing Snape to win the race handily.
       "What was THAT?" Montague sputtered, amazed by what he'd just seen.
       "That," Malfoy replied with a broad grin,"was a Severus twist."
       Violet came in for a landing and shook her housemaster's hand. "Saturday morning," he commanded. "10am."
       "Yes, sir."
       Snape left and Violet put the furniture down. The Slytherins settled in.
       "How did you know?" Montague asked Malfoy. The rest of the Slytherins crowded close to hear what the blonde fifth year would say.
       "My dad told me," Malfoy confessed. " I tried for three summers to learn that move."
       He turned suddenly to Violet.
       "You could do it."
       A few Slytherins gasped. But before anyone could protest, Montague spoke up for them. "She's not on the team," he reminded Draco firmly. The seeker ignored him.
       "We play Gryffindor first," he told Violet instead. "That's why we were so mad at you. You cost us a week of practice before we play Gryffindor."
       Violet didn't follow. "And that matters because..."
       "Because James Potter is the reason Snape could never play quidditch at Hogwarts. And his son is Gryffindor's seeker. And I..."
       He turned defiantly to Montague.
       "I would give up my spot to beat Gryffindor for Snape."
       Montague seemed unconvinced. Behind him, Bletchley gave him a nudge. "Remember the new brooms just three years ago? We still didn't win. Why not try something else?"
       Still, Montague hesitated. "She's not better than Potter," he reminded the others. "Even if she masters that trick, she's not better than Potter."
       "True," Malfoy agreed. "We'll need a plan." He turned to Violet. "So, Mudblood, are you in?"
       Violet nearly jumped out of her seat with excitement. "For more flying?" she squealed. "Sure!"
       After all, she thought as the Slytherins drew closer together and began to scheme, he's had a difficult summer.

       The Slytherins flew joyously around their common room every night. When the team wasn't practicing, their housemates ran the course. Violet practiced with the team and alone. Mastering the Severus Twist made her literally ill; she would have to stop every fifteen minutes or so to land and be sick.
       Their absence on the quidditch field was the talk of the school. No one could figure out why they weren't practicing. "Maybe they're going to forfeit," Fred Weasley speculated. "At any rate, I don't see why we shouldn't take advantage of the situation."
       So the next time the Slytherins were scheduled to practice, the Gryffindor team headed for the field. To their dismay, they found Professor Snape near the sidelines reading a book.
       "Maybe he just wants some air," George whispered to the others. His teammates mounted up, but when Harry looked up to watch Fred release the balls, he found Snape staring straight at him.
       "Good evening, Professor Snape," he mumbled politely.
       "Goodbye, Mr. Potter," replied Professor Snape.
       The Gryffindors headed back to the castle.

       Lucius Malfoy came to watch the match, which entitled Draco to sit between him and Snape in the staff stands. If the senior Malfoy was disappointed to see his son off the team, he didn't say so. He said nothing, in fact, and neither did Snape. Draco sat between them with an odd little smile on his face.
       In the changing room, Violet couldn't take her eyes off her resplendent green robes. It was all she could do to sit still and listen to Montague; what she really wanted was to get up and twirl around and around.
       "Just stay calm," Montague insisted. "No matter what happens, stick with the plan. We'll have time."
       The plan was simple. Forget the quaffle, forget the goals. Just keep the bludgers away from Violet and help her find the snitch. All she had to do was catch it before Gryffindor reached a hundred and fifty points.
       The teams took to the air and Gryffindor scored almost immediately. The Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and Gryffindors in the stands screamed their support but stopped when they heard the Slytherins clapping politely. "What are they doing?" Hermione wondered to Ron. High above them, Fred looked down to see why the cheering had stopped and took a bludger in the knee.
       The Gryffindors scored two more goals while three Slytherins clustered around Violet and the other three surrounded Harry. None of them made any attempt to score goals for Slytherin. "What are they doing?" Ron wondered to Hermione.
       In the air, George flew up to Fred. "What's the story?" he wanted to know. "It's like they're all playing beaters!"
       Harry soared upward to shake the Slytherins surrounding him. Only Montague followed him. Harry dove and Bletchley, who was already below, caught him with no trouble. By sending only one Slytherin after him at a time, they were able to make Harry work three times harder to escape them.
       Violet traversed the air in patterns Malfoy had taught her from arithmancy, searching for the snitch. The other three Slytherins followed, keeping the bludgers away.
       Gryffindor continued to score and had reached 100 points when Violet spotted the snitch. But Harry saw it at the same time. It was above them both and somewhat closer to Violet, and for a split second she was tempted to fly straight for it. But Montague's words rang in her ears. "Stick to the plan," she reminded herself. She could never outstreak Harry Potter. So, as Harry flew for the snitch, his three shadowing Slytherins cleared out and Violet flew straight for Harry. She twisted him so hard that Harry spun twice, giving Violet plenty of time to catch the Snitch. Slytherin won, 150 to 100.
       The Slytherin fans exploded with joy, rushing onto the field to congratulate their team. Violet shielded her eyes from the sun and scanned the stands for the inventor of the Severus Twist. When she found him, she spied the oddest thing. Snape was watching them, all right. But he didn't look happy. He had a thoughtful, almost pained expression on his face. Draco was watching him... and Lucius was watching Draco watching Snape.
       The other thing she noticed was that not a single Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw came onto the field to extend the winners any congratulations. Instead, they crowded around the Gryffindors to express their condolences.
       "Mother pussbucket!" Violet snarled.
       "Forget it, Violet," Montague advised her. "It's always like that."

       They danced all night in celebration, forming a conga line to march around their common room singing, "We beat Harry Pah...TER, We beat Harry PAH...ter."
       "Make the most of it," Malfoy advised Violet when they paused to catch their breath. "Potter won't be fooled by the Severus Twist again."
       "That's okay," Violet replied, watching with a satisfied smile as the rest of her housemates celebrated. "Once is all you wanted, right?"
       After a while, she gave a shy tug on his sleeve. "Malfoy?"
       Violet hesitated for a second before confiding, "I have never felt prouder in my life."
       Just then, Snape entered the room. The Slytherins sprang into their rows, every single one of them trying but failing to supress a goofy grin. Several first and second year girls were teary-eyed with joy.
       Snape stood silently before them for so long that Violet wondered if the man could possibly be at a loss for words. Finally, he spoke.
       "Perhaps," he mused, "it is time to invite the other houses to visit your obstacle course."
       He left without another word and Violet tugged Malfoy's sleeve again. "Okay," she nodded. "NOW... I've never been prouder in my life."

The Smallest Slytherin