Bad Friday

       "I guess everybody had the same idea," Violet whispered as she and Marybeth followed the floating form of Professor Binns into the Great Hall late Friday afternoon. All of Hogwarts seemed to be coming to Snape's lecture, even the ghosts. Only the house elves and Peeves were missing.
       The older students looked rather surprised to see the rest of the school joining them but Snape said nothing as teacher after teacher and class after class filed into the bare hall. He stood at the front of the room with his arms folded across his chest, watching them. The students sat in rows on the floor while the staff queued up along the side wall.
       Violet leaned back and forth, twisting her head this way and that to watch the hall fill up. Occasionally she sneaked a furtive glance at the front of the room to check Snape's thin, pale face, studying him as long as she dared before forcing herself to look away again. She was watching the last set of students process through the main doors when Lupin appeared, supported by Hagrid. The werewolf was apparently still a bit woozy from his last bout with the moon; Hagrid led him to an open spot at the head of the queue of teachers and Lupin sank gratefully against the wall.
       Watching this, Violet experienced a sudden surge of anger that propelled her to her feet. She pulled Marybeth up with her and dragged her along behind as she marched resolutely to the front of the crowd. Tossing a defiant scowl at the inhabitants of the hall, she plopped down firmly on the floor between Snape and the crowd, pulling Marybeth down beside her. Almost immediately, Slytherins from all over the room followed suit, marching forward to take seats on either side of Violet and Marybeth, creating a buffer between Snape and the rest of the students. Through it all, Snape stood cool and silent. When the last of the Slytherins had reseated himself, he cleared his throat and began.
       "When I am finished, you will ask no questions," he announced. "You will not make a sound and you will never mention this lecture in my presence again."
       Several students blinked and Violet was suddenly very glad Malfoy was now sitting beside her. Snape began to pace slowly back and forth across the front of the hall.
       "No one in this room is innocent," he began. "Everyone here has practiced contemptible conduct on more than one occasion. As a result, every person in this room has suffered - suffered injustice, suffered cruelty, suffered... damage."
       I guess he's not starting with a joke, thought Goyle.
       "When a person is wounded," Snape continued, "he may insist that the harm done him was reprehensible, and perhaps it was. The ability to assess misconduct is tied to moral fiber. The shallow or self-centered will always contend that the suffering they've endured or seen inflicted upon those they love is positively atrocious; the nobler among us will be more exact. They will acknowledge all of the facts, not just the ones that support their indignation, and they will accurately assess the true gravity of an injury... or the lack thereof. You see..." Snape stopped short and turned to stare at them. "The truth is more important than your feelings."
       "Oh, my," Lupin whispered under his breath.
       "Ssh!" McGonagall hissed.
       Snape began to pace again and every head in the room followed his progress across the floor. "Your feelings," he explained, "will tell you you've been harmed when you haven't. Your feelings will tell you you're right when you're wrong. Your feelings..." He stopped again and every head stopped with him. "Lie," he finished simply.
       He waited a moment but neither Lupin nor anyone else made a sound. After a few seconds, Snape resumed his pacing. "What happens, then," he asked, "when you give way to your feelings, when you let anger determine your response, when you indulge your fury instead of subjecting it to rigorous scrutiny?"
       You grow up to be Voldemort, Millicent nodded to herself while beside her Pansy was thinking, I hope that's a rhetorical question.
       "You become a Death Eater," Snape informed them. "Death Eaters are nothing more than people who indulge their feelings."
       It occurred to Crabbe that he would never have described Snape as someone who indulged his feelings. But Potter would, he nodded to himself. Then he jumped at the startling experience of having an insightful thought.
       "These people value style over substance," Snape went on. "They prefer pleasantness to goodness even though pleasantness often masks a lack of integrity. Goodness they despise, because its very existence, when juxtaposed with shallow, spineless affability, reveals the selfish, destructive behavior that pleasantness seeks desperately to hide."
       Out of the corner of his eye, Malfoy saw movement in the row behind him and stole a glance backwards to find Hermione Granger, a few spots to the left of him, leaning forward, fascinated. Snape caught her eye and held it a moment before moving on. "You may rest assured," he asserted, "these people are a constant source of wrongdoing. And most of them..." He paused to fold his arms across his chest. "...will never acquire a tattoo."
       "Oh, my!" Minerva whispered as eyes all over the room flew open wide. Dumbledore raised one bushy eyebrow and smiled.
       "But how do you know," Snape mused waspishly, "if you are one of these people, if you are contemptibly self-indulgent, if you lack integrity?" He stopped to face them again. "The guilty live their lives on the defensive," he said simply. "They are defensive because they know, in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds, that their point of view lacks merit and should be abandoned. But it serves their selfish purposes and so they cling to it, responding to all challenges as if they were attacks. They lash out furiously when contradicted and rail insipidly against what they don't like, hurling snide observations or belittling remarks while pretending to engage in substantial discussion. Theirs is not the calm, straightforward dialog of the well-developed mind and you will rarely see them concede any substantial point."
       Throughout the room, people began to squirm. Violet assumed they were unused to sitting cross-legged on the floor... or leaning against a wall.
       "How surprised they would be," Snape continued mildly, "to discover that admitting we're wrong is not the nightmare we imagine. The sky does not fall upon your head, nor does the world collapse beneath your feet, even if you confess the character flaw that motivated your misdeed. You are not perceived to be stupid as a result, or ineffective. Prior statements and accomplishments are not dismissed out of hand. You do not lose friends or status, dignity, money or position. On the contrary..." He paused to make eye contact with Dumbledore and every head followed his gaze. "The process is often beneficial," he murmured. A bright-eyed Dumbledore gave Snape a gentle smile. "Common ground is discovered," Snape continued, "and from there, progress is made." The two men continued to regard each other for a moment or two. Then Snape turned abruptly towards the windows on the opposite side of the hall.
       "No one ever regrets admitting he was wrong," Snape insisted, gazing out the nearest window to the grounds below, "not even when punishment or restitution follow. But oh, the agony, the unceasing, festering turmoil that plagues a dishonest, compromised life. Woe to those who daily choose avoidance, self-indulgence, rationalization, or denial. They fill the world with pain and injustice, with torment that rankles and rots and swells, accelerating down a path so destructive it can only lead to..."
       He turned from the window to face the students and froze at the sight of them. They were staring at him wide-eyed with dread, their mouths hanging open, their bodies as stiff as statues. They looked for all the world like a roomful of toddlers being terrorized by the horror stories of a thoughtless baby-minder. Snape reddened a bit. "Ruin," he stammered in an uncertain whisper. He cleared his throat and quickly resumed his pacing.
       "You see," he continued more perfunctorily, "the conduct is not as destructive as the lie. All people do wrong. But some do far more wrong than others. What is it, then, that allows some people to be idealistic while others are merely..." Snape glanced slyly back at them over his shoulder. "...pleasant?" He stopped to face them again, clasping his hands behind his back. "Are they principled because goodness is somehow easier for them? Were they born smarter, braver, more ethical? Are they safer, richer, or somehow more fortunate?"
       An image suddenly popped into Malfoy's mind of two young wizards sleeping in a hot, dark room at 4 Privet Drive. He wondered for a moment what he and Ron Weasley would be like if they'd been raised by the Dursleys. "No," Snape assured them. "It is not easier for them. They are simply more honest. They tell the truth about themselves and, by their own accountability, hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct from which we all benefit."
       He paused, then smiled a bit. "So there you sit," he noted with a trace of that acid tone his audience knew so well, "wondering which you are, a person of integrity or a liar? If you are insisting to yourself that you are a font of nobility even as a gentle flame warms your cheek or a slight tremor within prickles your heart or nose or scalp..." He smiled that nasty little smile. "Think again," he suggested. He resumed his pacing once more. "Or try this," he called over his shoulder. "If you fancy yourself admirable or think someone you love is particularly commendable, or if you've heard someone described as a truly great wizard..."
       Harry, who'd been thinking about Sirius, suddenly flinched, remembering Ollivander's remarks about Voldemort.
       "Ask yourself what that person has accomplished, or contributed. Has he made a difference in the lives of others? What use has he made of his time or ability or power?" Snape walked so far across the room that he was standing beside Lupin when he stopped and turned to face the students. "The pleasant are often popular," he admitted. Then he sharpened his steely gaze and added, "But they are seldom altruistic."
       He gave them a moment to ponder that before starting back across the floor. "Conversely," he went on, "history demonstrates repeatedly that those who benefit mankind the most are often social misfits, secretly or openly despised by those who prefer..." Snape rolled his eyes. "...pleasantness."
       He had reached the middle of the front row where he stopped, turning to face them once again. "It would seem we are back where we started," he noted. "But I must share a word or two about principled human beings, those idealistic people of integrity." He folded his arms across his chest. "They are as far removed from Death Eaters as a person can be, because there is no greater indicator of esteem for others than principled conduct. Nevertheless..." He turned away from them and stared out the nearest window for so long that Violet wondered if he'd lost his train of thought. Finally he drew a deep breath and finished quietly, "They are capable of inflicting even greater harm."
       A soft noise from behind them caused several Slytherins to turn their heads. Violet was pretty sure the sound had come from Hermione; Ron and Harry were both staring curiously at her troubled face. Violet glanced at the teaching staff and found Dumbledore and McGonagall regarding Snape with a look that reminded her of a particularly kind-hearted matron's response when she'd scraped her knee back at the orphanage. Snape, still staring out the window, did not seem to notice.
       "Principled people understand the harm caused by liars," he explained softly. "They see the suffering created by those who lack integrity, and as a result, they despise choices that are not high-minded. Unfortunately..." He paused, then added in a strangely flat tone, "Sometimes they despise the choosers as well."
       He glanced over their shoulder in their general direction but Violet suspected he did not really see them. "They worry," he continued somberly, "that the harmful choices won't stop until the shallow admit their faults and pledge to do better, for how can wrong-doing be avoided without first being perceived?
       "But there's more to it," he went on. He turned as if to look at them but gazed instead at the wall behind their heads as if he could see right through it. "They hate wrong-doers for refusing to admit they're wrong because they understand how this refusal leads to more suffering," he explained. "They seethe when wrong-doers choose not to embrace principled conduct despite being equally capable of it."
       He forced himself to look at them with a defensive curl of his lip. "They rage because wrong-doers refuse to care as they do," he admitted icily, and Violet, Dumbledore and McGonagall all snorted back a laugh. Nobody else made a sound.
       Snape glanced around the room for several seconds, then shrugged. "What of it?" he asked. "They remain principled human beings despite their anger, never stooping to the unscrupulous conduct of their counterparts. What does it matter if they hate and seethe and fume and rage?"
       He turned and made his way slowly to the window, gazing out over the deserted grounds. "It matters," he murmured, and only the absolute silence in the hall permitted his voice to carry to every ear, "because their condemnation breeds resentment when our only hope lies in fellowship."
       Snape raised one hand to the window and began to trace its ledge with the tip of his finger. "Their hard-won superiority inspires more lies, not repentance," he confessed, "making their good example worthless, for what do we accomplish when others see the error of their ways but remain too spiteful to change?" Out of the corner of her eye, Violet saw Hermione bury her face in her hands. She tugged on Malfoy's sleeve, pointing at Hermione as she whispered, "Does she think Snape's talking about her?" Malfoy studied Granger a moment, then shook his head grimly. Violet returned her attention to the front of the room to find Snape facing them again, his arms once more folded across his chest.
       "The principled will sacrifice their time, their possessions, their health, and even their lives for the well-being of others," he said proudly. "They will do the right thing no matter what. But those among them who seethe and hate, who fume and despise, will do one more thing as well, a thing that makes them more dangerous than any Death Eater."
       Malfoy glanced briefly at Hermione whose head was still cradled in her hands.
       "They will demand redemption as if they were God."
       Dumbledore drew in a sharp breath but Violet did not understand the remark at first. Her mind raced to process the statement but Snape did not wait for her. "Do you know what that means?" he demanded, and the young Slytherin turned to see if Granger would raise her hand since she obviously did. But Hermione just lifted a wet-eyed, stubborn face to Snape and folded her arms across her chest, too. Violet turned back to the front of the room, noticing as she did that Lupin looked close to tears as well.
       "Liars may become Death Eaters," Snape observed calmly, "but only the principled of this world can become its Voldemorts. And in the end..." He dropped his arms to his side and stood defenselessly before them. "Only Voldemort can make a Death Eater."
       With that, he swept from the room without another word.

       There was no sign of Snape for the rest of the day and on Saturday morning, the Baron conducted inspection in his absence. By Saturday afternoon, Violet could stand it no longer. She stumbled into Malfoy's cell with tears streaming down her cheeks, pulling miserably at her fingers.
       "Why must everything be our fault?" she demanded petulantly.
       Malfoy closed the book he'd been reading. "He didn't say that, Violet," he corrected the younger Slytherin firmly.
       "He said everything was his fault," Violet insisted.
       Malfoy thought it over and nodded almost imperceptibly. "In a way," he admitted. He thought of Granger and how she'd grieved Snape's self-deprecation. "He meant that if you're going to be good, you have to be really, really good," he explained.
       "Malfoy," Violet croaked, "Do you think... you don't think Professor Snape would... would... "
       Malfoy put his book down and shook his head. "So long as Voldemort lives," he told her bitterly, "we're safe. How ironic is that?"
       Then he rose from his cot and grabbed Violet by the elbow. "Come on," he said in a business-like tone as he pulled her out of his cell and steered her towards the common room door.
       "Where are we going?"
       "Blow your nose," he commanded, handing her a handkerchief, "but don't wipe your face. I want those tearstains nice and deep."
       Lupin was visiting when Ginny admitted the two Slytherins to the Gryffindor common room. Malfoy came straight to the point.
       "We'd like to see Professor Snape," he said with a meaningful look at Harry. "We'd like to know where he is."
       Harry didn't even have to check the marauder's map. "He's in the Owlery," he told Malfoy promptly, "in that little room off to the side where the straw bales are kept."
       "The Owlery?" Draco repeated. "All this time?"
       "Every time I check," Harry nodded, and Violet was touched to think he'd been keeping an eye on Snape. Lupin spoke up gently.
       "You know, Malfoy," he pointed out, "the reason I scheduled Professor Snape's lecture for the last class before the Easter hols was to give him some time to himself afterwards."
       Malfoy bit back a snide response. It was bad enough having to ask a Gryffindor where Snape was without letting another one tell him whether or not he should speak to his own head of house. As far as he was concerned, Lupin could shove the next full moon right up his...
       "He'll be in his office at 2 am," a lighter voice suddenly chimed in, and all heads turned to regard Hermione Granger sitting in a chair several feet away staring stubbornly at the book in her lap.
       "How do you know that?" Malfoy demanded. But Hermione just repeated firmly, "He'll be in his office at 2am."

       Snape took one look at Malfoy sitting on the floor outside his office door at 1:45 in the morning and spat contemptuously, "Granger!" But Malfoy just climbed to his feet and slouched insolently against the stone wall, shoving his hands into the pockets of his bathrobe.
       "How come she knows more about the whereabouts of my housemaster than I do?" he asked. Snape refused to answer. He unlocked the door to his office and entered, making no attempt to stop Malfoy from following him inside.
       The potions master opened a cupboard and began withdrawing ingredients that he carried to a long workstation against the far stone wall. Malfoy thought of offering to help but decided to pull up a stool near the station instead to get a good view of the proceedings. The ingredients puzzled him. He recognized some of them but others were a mystery and even the ones he knew had never been used in this combination before.
       "What is it?" he asked as Snape fired up his cauldron and began to brew.
       "Illegal," came the curt response. "And nameless, so far. I'm leaning towards 'Lupin's Remedy.' Or maybe 'Snape's Curse.' You see, it's extremely time-consuming and requires an extensive amount of night work."
       In an instant Malfoy realized why Lupin's health had been improving throughout the term even as Snape's had begun to deteriorate.
       "Here's the brilliant bit," Snape smiled as he added a few drops to a beaker and watched the solution turn red. "It only works in wolfsbane. Any werewolf hoping to strengthen himself so he can maximize his monthly mayhem will be entirely out of luck."
       Malfoy hadn't felt this confused since the night Harry Potter had saved the Slytherins from the wrath of Dumbledore.
       "Why is it illegal?" he wondered.
       "Potions have to be approved by the Ministry before they can be used on human beings," Snape explained, "and I didn't want anyone to know what I was doing. A bit immoral," he admitted, "dosing Lupin without his knowledge. But Granger's research confirmed, as if the evidence of our eyes weren't enough, that Lupin had nothing to lose."
       Two questions tugged at Malfoy's tongue. He couldn't believe which one popped out first.
       "Why Granger instead of me?"
       Snape smiled at the beaker. "Malfoy, you are the finest potions student in the school," he acknowledged. "But I needed research and theory about the life expectancy of stagnant werewolves. Granger excels at research and speculation. Besides," he added with a firm glance at the boy, "I needed YOU in Slytherin House as much as possible this term."
       Malfoy felt a twinge of shame at the thought of all the hours he'd logged playing Floo Tag. But surely Snape could arrange some assistance for this time-consuming endeavor if only... He asked his other question.
       "Why don't you want anyone to know about it?" he demanded. "You're falling so far behind on your sleep! Surely there are people who could help you."
       Snape sighed. "There's nothing illegal about research, but I can't have students helping me make illegal potions, and I don't trust the staff, they can't keep secrets to save their souls." He gave Draco a brief glance. "It's just for a few more months, Malfoy. Then, if the headmaster decides Professor Lupin is to remain with us next year, I'll have the entire summer to revise my lesson plans for next fall instead of having to do it at night after my other obligations."
       You didn't answer my first question, Malfoy thought as Snape continued to add ingredients to the beaker. But he had bigger concerns at the moment. He watched to see which item Snape would pick up next and then asked,
       "Is that related to shrivelfig?"
       "Yes," Snape told him. "It has the same properties except it can grow above the tree line."
       Malfoy wiped his hands on the insides of his bathrobe pockets, surreptitiously drying his palms and fingertips. "Does it matter if it's been frozen?" he asked.
       "Can you harvest it anywhere in the northern hemisphere?"
       "Are you going to kill yourself once Voldemort is dead?"
       The beaker slipped from Snape's fingers and Malfoy grabbed it neatly as it fell, saving every drop. He held it before Snape with one hand and whispered, "Caught." Then he set the beaker down, climbed off the stool, and hopped up onto the workstation to sit facing his housemaster, his legs dangling over the edge of the counter. Snape stared at the boy, horrified.
       "Why would you ask me that?" he whispered.
       Malfoy shrugged. "Even Violet knows, sir."
       Snape seemed to recover a bit at that. He picked up the beaker again and poured the contents carefully in his cauldron. "Last year," he reminded the teenager, "Miss Guilford knew I wouldn't survive a confrontation with the Dark Lord."
       Malfoy's mouth popped open in protest. "I saved you!" he insisted.
       Snape put aside mentioning the incidents he'd handled on his own to ask, "And now you wish to save me again?"
       Malfoy shrugged. "I wouldn't mind."
       Snape scraped the last of the ingredients out of the beaker. "When Voldemort is dead," he told Malfoy as he stirred the contents of the cauldron, "I will leave. I will live the rest of my life in seclusion and you will not know what becomes of me."
       "Then what's the point?" Malfoy demanded, and Snape stopped stirring.
       "Of what?"
       "What's the point of killing yourself if no one's going to know?" Malfoy repeated.
       Snape froze, wide-eyed. He seemed appalled by the question and when he replied, it was with great difficulty.
       "As I understand it," he said haltingly, "the point is to escape pain."
       Malfoy folded his arms across his chest. "I thought the point was to punish those responsible for the pain," he argued.
       Snape shook his head. "Then you may put your mind at ease, Malfoy," he assured the boy as he threw a few dittany sprouts into the cauldron. "In my case, those responsible are dead and gone, canonized and untouchable. Only the innocent remain."
       Not quite, Malfoy thought. But he put aside thoughts of grown-ups who set his teeth on edge to ask, "If Potter is so innocent, why torment him in class for years?"
       Snape stared into the cauldron, an evil smile growing slowly across his thin lips. "Because, my boy," he whispered icily, and Malfoy shivered. "I believe in the ability to look down from Heaven."
       For a long time, nothing more was said. The only sound in the room was the bubbling of Snape's potion. He stared down at it, mesmerized, and Malfoy wondered what he was really seeing there. He was just about to lean over to get a better view himself when the potions master suddenly twitched and shook his head violently as if to clear it. He should not have been so candid with the boy, he realized. He turned towards Malfoy to issue some sort of disclaimer and found his student calmly bouncing his eyebrows at him.
       "Then why not let Potter fall off his broom first year and mend him afterwards?" Malfoy demanded. "We might have won the match that way!"
       That's my little Slytherin, Snape thought with an inward smile of relief. "We can't take chances with Potter, Malfoy," he berated the teenager. "We need him."
       "What about Lupin?" Draco countered.
       "We need him, too," Snape said wearily, picking up a pestle to pound some fluxweed.
       "Then why not tell him about the remedy? Why don't you want anybody to know you're helping him?"
       Snape had had enough. He slammed the pestle down on the work station and turned furiously to his student. "I'm helping ME!" he snarled at the boy. "NOBODY stands to benefit more from the death of Voldemort than I!"
       "Because you can leave?" Malfoy was not impressed. "It's no picnic being a Slytherin at Hogwarts, either, sir," he assured his housemaster. "So why not go with us and help us create our new school once Voldemort is dead?"
       Snape made no response. Instead, he extinguished the flame beneath his cauldron and set up an hourglass-timed feeder to add armadillo bile drop by drop over the next twenty-four hours. Malfoy knew he hadn't much time left. He gave up on the current topic and introduced the one remaining subject he was longing to discuss.
       "Your, um... fruitfulness," he began timidly as Snape adjusted the dropper. "Did Voldemort ever..."
       Malfoy hesitated. "Could Professor Dumbledore..." he began, but Snape cut him off.
       "If I asked him to," the teacher assured the boy, "he would spend every spare moment seeking a solution."
       "But you never have?"
       Snape shook his head. After a moment, Malfoy asked delicately, "Is that because of the women of Hogsmeade?"
       Snape actually chuckled. "It may be a factor in my popularity," he admitted. He packed away his potion ingredients and said nothing more on the subject until he'd ushered Draco out of his office and back to the door of his house. "I've raised 150 Slytherins, Malfoy," Snape reminded him. "That's more than enough children for anybody. But if you choose to have children of your own one day..."
       He hesitated, weighing the decision to continue very carefully before he advised the boy, "Marry a muggle-born."
       Snape made no appearance at Easter brunch so after the meal Lupin climbed the stairs to the Owlery and made his way quietly across the feather-strewn floor to the entrance to the straw-bale room. He peeked through the door and found Snape sitting half-buried in a pile of straw, staring at the owls flying in and out of the window. "Like a bird from these prison walls I'll fly," Lupin murmured, and as Snape turned to scowl at him, he grinned broadly.
       "I've had a revelation!" he announced. Snape curled his lip. "No, wait until you hear it!" Lupin insisted. "It's nearly as clever as Remus' Remedy!"
       "Lupin's remedy!" Snape barked automatically, then immediately hissed to himself, "Damn that Granger!"
       "Actually, it was Malfoy," Lupin informed him as he entered and took a seat on a bale across from Snape. "Are you ready?"
       Snape rolled his eyes and looked away. Lupin pointed at him.
       "You should have been the fourth marauder," he declared, and Snape turned back to him with a start. "Instead of Peter Pettigrew, I mean. Then Voldemort would be dead, the Longbottoms would be sane, Harry Potter would be a normal little boy with parents, and you and I... well, who knows what you and I might have accomplished."
       Snape just stared. Lupin gave him a sad little smile before turning to gaze out the window. "Alas," he continued more softly, "Sirius hated all Slytherins, James enjoyed being idolized, and I valued companionship above ethics." He turned back to Snape with a regretful little shrug. "So here we sit."
       He waited patiently for a reaction. It was several seconds before Snape spoke, and when he did, it was with a disdainful curl of his lip.
       "Fascinating," he sneered. "I fail to see how it changes anything."
       Lupin cocked his head to one side. "Do you?" he asked pleasantly. He jumped down suddenly and strode quickly across the room to squat beside Snape. "Don't you see what it means?" he asked earnestly. Snape pulled back a bit, frowning, and Lupin smiled and rose to pace back and forth in front of him.
       "You think it's unfair," he began patiently, "that a couple of unrepentant prats get to be remembered as heroes by everyone who counts." He tossed Snape a sly glance. "I'll bet you spend hours fantasizing about how little James and Sirius would have amounted to had they led normal lives after leaving Hogwarts."
       Snape nearly grunted with surprise. His estimation of Lupin rose several notches.
       "Try my shoes, Severus," Lupin continued, a sudden sharpness creeping into his normally mild tone. "I had a conscience every day, not just when someone's life was at stake."
       Well, well, well, Snape thought. He gave Lupin the tiniest smile and said, "If it makes you feel any better, you were always the one I hated the least."
       "High praise indeed," Lupin grinned. He sat down beside Snape and continued with an earnestness that bordered on urgency. "Severus," he explained, "there's a reason James and Sirius perished while we survived. There's a reason we are the ones who have been preserved to make sure Harry Potter defeats Voldemort."
       Snape couldn't wait to hear it, though he'd have died before telling Lupin so.
       "It's because we are the ones who are worthy," Lupin insisted. "We are the ones who can succeed where they failed."
       The speech took Snape's breath away. He could see in Lupin's eyes how much the werewolf longed to prove himself, but he wondered if the former marauder had any idea how much that word, 'worthy,' meant to the Head of Slytherin House.
       Lupin looked away, gazing around the tiny room, and Snape sensed the discomfort that came over him as he changed the subject. "Severus," he began uncertainly, "when this is all over... do you think... would you be willing..." He glanced sideways but couldn't quite bring himself to look at Snape. "Do you think you could introduce me to one of your friends in Hogsmeade?"
       The hopefulness in his voice gave Snape's heart its first tug on behalf of the lonely man beside him. How Bedelia would have loved this poor, kind, gentle werewolf. But there was no point in being maudlin. "If they haven't replaced me," Snape agreed.
       The promise cheered Lupin enormously. "How could they?" he asked with a wicked grin, and Snape shrugged and offered a little smile of his own in return.
       "I confess I grew a bit weary of cleaning the taste of Gilderoy Lockhart out of so many mouths," the potions master admitted.
       Lupin roared with laughter. Then he crawled across the floor to cover himself in his own pile of straw. Warm and content and sleepy from his enormous Easter meal, he soon fell fast asleep.
       When Harry Potter wandered in a half hour later, Snape didn't bother to stifle his groan. The boy plopped down beside him in the exact spot where Lupin had sat earlier and Snape was overwhelmed with a desire to box the presumptuous youngster's ears.
       "I suppose," Harry said with a nod at the sleeping Lupin, "that if I tried to thank you for a kind deed, you'd just insist it was something else."
       "I'm sure Professor Lupin will prove useful," the potions master sniffed. "If you think you're going to defeat the forces of evil single-handedly, Potter, you are sadly mistaken."
       Harry shook his head. "It would just kill you," he accused, "to praise a marauder, wouldn't it? To admit he might be a good person."
       I don't know how much more I can take, Snape thought. He turned steely gaze upon the youngster beside him. "Tell me something, Potter," he demanded. "Exactly how do you reconcile this idealized image of your godfather with the fact that Lupin suspected him of betrayal before he suspected Peter Pettigrew? And have you given any thought as to why Pettigrew chose to betray your father in the first place?"
       Harry leapt to his feet, his fists clenched with fury.
       Oh, Snape thought. I see you have.
       "I wish my father and Sirius hadn't treated you so badly," Harry stormed. "And I think your treatment of me has been ATROCIOUS! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF WITH EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR BEING!"
       Snape stared at him as if he were a curiosity in a zoo. Who does he remind me of? the teacher wondered. Then it came to him. Potter sounded like Snape himself, railing in the Shrieking Shack. "Agreed," he told the boy in a rather bored tone. "I apologize."
       Harry stared at him, open-mouthed with disbelief. That's it? he thought furiously. That's all I get? A two-word apology? He turned around to lean against the wall, sinking dejectedly to his rump at the woeful inadequacy of the response. After a moment, he asked Snape quietly,
       "Why do you hate me so much?"
       Snape rolled his eyes. "Don't be childish, Potter."
       Once such a response would have infuriated Harry. But he'd learned a thing or two from Snape and the Slytherins over the course of the year. He sat up straighter and continued politely, "Very well, Professor. Why are you so ashamed of yourself, sir?"
       He expected Snape to rise and whirl on him with murderous fury. Instead, the teacher just stared at the wall in front of him.
       I am so tired, Snape thought. He took a deep breath and said quietly, "I killed your parents."
       Across the room, Lupin's left eye popped open. But Harry had heard this line before.
       "That's what Sirius said," he snorted contemptuously.
       Snape looked surprised. But after a moment, he nodded. "There's plenty of blame to go around," he agreed. "If Sirius hadn't been so prejudiced, if James had treated Peter better, if McGonagall had taken a firmer hand with the marauders..."
       "If Lupin had shown a little backbone," the Defense teacher called from the other side of the room, making Harry and Snape jump. After a moment, Snape shrugged and turned back to Harry.
       "I assure you, Potter, I outdid them all."
       "How?" Harry wondered.
       Snape turned to look out the window. "I selected your family to die," he murmured.
       Across the room, Lupin froze, and Harry grew so still that Snape wondered if the boy had stopped breathing. Still staring out the window, he drew a deep breath and related the story as calmly as if he were expounding on the sources of cabotal root.
       "The Dark Lord called me into his presence alone," Snape explained. "That had never happened to me before. He told me what he knew of the prophecy and asked me where he should go. 'You were at school with all of them, Severus,' he reminded me. 'Who would be my undoing?'"
       Lupin sat up slowly, his eyes on Harry.
       "I must say," Snape concluded, "the interview certainly permitted me to report back to Albus Dumbledore with a high degree of certainty."
       He braced himself for Harry's reaction, but it was Lupin who spoke first.
       "You made the right choice," he called suddenly from the other side of the room. Both Harry and Snape turned to stare at him as he continued urgently, "They were stronger. Frank and Alice were fine wizards and outstanding aurors but James and Lily were stronger. You picked the only couple with a chance to survive."
       Snape raised an eyebrow at this, then curled his lip and whispered coolly, "That's what Dumbledore said."
       He turned back to Harry but Harry turned away, staring at the door so he wouldn't have to look either man in the eye as he waited for the anger to come. It was Snape's fault. Snape was the reason he was in this position. Snape was the reason he was an orphan instead of Neville. Snape had selected his parents to die. Snape...
       He waited. He braced himself for it. But no anger came. Instead, there was only realization. He turned to Snape and whispered,
       "You had to choose." The wizard beside him could only stare as Harry continued, "You had to pick someone or Voldemort would have killed you on the spot. Then how could you have warned Professor Dumbledore to send my parents into hiding?"
       Snape shook his head. "Would the result have been any different?" he asked the boy.
       "I believe we covered that before Harry came in," Lupin reminded him. But Harry ran the possibility through his mind. Would he rather have parents who'd been tortured to insanity? What if Voldemort had killed Snape, then come after his family anyway? Peter Pettigrew might have remained a mole inside the Order for who knows how long or with what consequences.
       On the other hand, Sirius might have avoided Azkaban! Could Sirius have raised him instead of the Dursleys, if Snape had sacrificed himself? The selfishness of that question shamed Harry almost immediately. He thought of all the times Snape had raged at him for putting himself at risk. Would Sirius have kept him from risk? No. Sirius would have reveled in allowing Harry the freedom to be as reckless as James. But would that have been so wrong? Harry wondered. The others only care about me because their lives depend on it. That was a childish thought, he knew, but how could he avoid thinking it? He was like a rich man in a world full of poor young women. How would he ever know who loved him for himself? The fate of mankind rested squarely on his shoulders and Snape had put it there.
       "It was a punishment," Snape said softly, calling Harry back from his reverie, "in case I should prove disloyal. I realize that now." He turned to look Harry in the eye. "Potter, I swear, if there was any way I could take your burden upon myself, I would. And I will do everything in my power to help you prevail."
       There are some things worse than death, Harry heard a voice say in his head. Besides, there was some comfort in Snape's pledge. Then Harry thought of something that would make him feel even better. "Would you do something for me?" he asked his teacher, and before Snape could reply, he continued earnestly, "Would you say something good about Sirius?"
       The request stunned Snape. He turned helplessly to Lupin and Harry shouted, "No cheating!" As Lupin laughed, Snape turned angrily back to the young man beside him, completely nonplussed. Then an idea occurred to him that wiped the anger from his face, leaving only that superior expression Harry knew so well.
       "I have a better idea," he murmured. "Why don't you tell me?" Harry frowned and Snape prompted him, "Name one good thing Sirius ever did."
       So many words tried to rush out of Harry's mouth at once that he stammered. "There are a million things!" he finally sputtered.
       "Then it should be relatively simple to name one," Snape assured him.
       Harry said the first thing that came to mind. "He bought me a firebolt!"
       Snape seemed to be expecting this. "Lucius Malfoy bought the entire Slytherin quidditch team new brooms," he reminded the Gryffindor. "Does that mean he was seven times the man Sirius Black was?"
       Harry almost sneered with contempt. "That was different," he argued. "He was trying to buy Draco's way onto the team!"
       "How do you know that?" Snape asked coolly, and for a moment, Harry was stumped. "How do you know Lucius didn't buy the brooms AFTER Draco made the team, Potter? After all, he didn't make the team his first year, did he?" Harry sat fuming and Snape decided to prod him just a bit more. "Had you ever seen Draco fly before leaping to that conclusion, Potter?" he asked, knowing perfectly well the Gryffindors and Slytherins learned to fly together. Harry scowled, remembering his thoughts the first day of flying lessons... that Draco could fly well.
       "Spending money on children is not inherently admirable," Snape concluded. "Try again."
       Harry felt Lupin's gaze upon him and glanced up at the werewolf, then smiled. He turned triumphantly to Snape and announced, "He became an animagus to help his friend."
       But Snape was ready again, pausing to give Lupin a brief glance before asking Harry, "Is that why he did it?"
       More memories flooded Harry's mind... Sirius' eagerness for the full moon after completing his DADA O.W.L., Hermione's horror at the risk the marauders were taking with Lupin's future ("What if you'd given the others the slip, and bitten somebody?"), the way the four friends saw Lupin's condition as a chance for adventure... He could think of nothing to say, but it didn't matter, because Snape was speaking again.
       "Next you'll tell me that's why he joined the Order."
       Harry had had enough. He rose furiously to his feet and strode angrily towards the door. But Snape's voice stopped him before he could escape.
       "Sirius Black was a hate-monger, Potter," the potions master called, and Harry spun around to see the teacher rising menacingly to his feet. "Why else would Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall and every person you've ever admired think him capable of betrayal and mass murder?" He walked ominously across the room towards Harry as he spoke and Lupin made no move to stop him. "He was vile-tempered and self-indulgent," Snape hissed, "as prejudiced as any Death Eater, and he never made a single noble use of any of the gifts he possessed. His every move was calculated to bring him glory or pleasure." He had reached Harry and he placed a palm against the wall on either side of the boy's shoulders, pinning him in place between two black-robed arms. "Sirius Black was a hate-monger," Snape said again, his face so close to Harry's that the boy could feel the heat emanating from Snape's skin.
       Only Lupin's presence kept Harry from drawing his wand and blasting a hole right through Snape's abdomen. The fierce, dark-eyed teacher leaned in closer until he was nose to nose with the boy. "Say it!" he seethed. "Say, 'Sirius Black was a hate-monger.'"
       There was no escape, Harry realized. He couldn't harm Snape, and if he ducked under the man's arm and raced out the door, he would look like a frightened child fleeing a bully. Why wasn't Lupin saying something? Why wasn't Lupin doing something? Harry looked desperately in the Defense teacher's direction and Snape grabbed his chin, twisting it painfully back to its original position.
       "Just say the words, Potter," Snape hissed again, and Harry was surprised by the plea in his voice. This was not like the time Voldemort tried to force him to submit. Snape commanded him as though lives depended on it.
       Harry shook his head.
       What Snape did next took both wizards by surprise. He dropped his arms, spun smartly around, and marched a few steps away as if he were leaving the room. But then he whirled back around, drew his wand, and aimed it squarely at Harry's chest, shouting so loudly that Harry jumped and the owls in the next room fluttered madly from their perches.
       "SAY IT!"
       Harry's heart began to pound. Surely Snape would not dare harm him in front of Lupin. Why wasn't Lupin saying anything?
       "Are you so pathetic," Snape hissed, "that you can't even consider a possibility? JUST SAY THE WORDS, YOU COWARDLY LITTLE WEAKLING!"
       It was the 'cowardly' that did it, or perhaps the 'weakling.' Harry did the only thing he could think of. He sneered and curled his lip in the best imitation of Snape he could manage and snarled the words viciously so Snape would see what he looked like to the Gryffindors. "SIRIUS BLACK WAS A HATE-MONGER!" he spewed.
       Snape lowered his wand. But it was Lupin to whom Harry's eyes were drawn. The werewolf climbed off his pile of straw and came to stand beside Snape, his eyes glued to Harry's face. He seemed to be looking for something, and even as he searched, the sight of the two adult wizards standing side by side suddenly filled Harry's mind with images: Sirius sending Snape to his death for revenge, Lupin's and Dumbledore's lives ruined, Sirius laughing maniacally, Sirius putting the Order at risk for his own pleasure, Sirius lashing out at anyone who disagreed with him, Sirius trying to manipulate Harry into aping his father's lesser qualities, Sirius petulant, Sirius moody, Sirius angry, angry, angry.
       Sirius Black WAS a hate-monger! Harry thought. The realization shocked him. Immediately he began to think of excuses, the miserable way the Blacks had treated Sirius, the encouragement he'd received from Harry's own father, the agony he must have felt over Peter's betrayal... Harry turned defiant eyes upon Snape, wondering if the wizard was trying to read his mind, daring him to gloat. But all Snape said was, "How do you feel about him now?"
       The question took Harry by surprise. He lowered his gaze and stood quite still, waiting for powerful new emotions to wash over him... anguish, resentment, rage. But none of those came. Nothing came at all, except Sirius' face, followed by a flood of warmth. He stilled loved him! Sirius had been hateful, and Harry still loved him. He'd been angry and vengeful and thoughtless and had made terrible, terrible mistakes... and Harry still loved him. He lifted shocked eyes to his teachers.
       "The same!" he whispered, and Lupin smiled. But Snape just raised a single eyebrow. "Imagine that," he murmured. "The sky didn't fall, the world didn't collapse." He shoved his hands in his pockets and returned to his seat in the hay. After a moment, Lupin followed suit.
       Harry just stood where he was, remembering one occasion after another where he'd stubbornly refused to admit the truth to Snape. It now seemed like an exhausting waste of energy. Why had he been so afraid to acknowledge bad things about the people he loved? "You should have said something before," he berated Snape, then grinned with delight at the sputtering fury this admonition brought to the potions master's face. Lupin roared with laughter and Harry gave him a satisfied smirk before resuming his seat beside Snape.
       The three of them sat quietly for a while, listening to the hooting and fluttering of the birds in the next room. Then Harry asked softly, "What about afterwards?" Both men looked curiously at him and he clarified, "What's going to happen to me afterwards?"
       Lupin made no response but Snape nodded at him. "You'll find out who your friends are," he acknowledged. "You probably won't have many, just as you didn't when the basilisk was released or when your name came out of the Goblet of Fire."
       Lupin snorted. "You're assuming no one listened to you, Severus!" he observed coyly. Snape gave him the barest flicker of a glance before returning his attention to Harry, who wondered,
       "Why should I bother, then?"
       Lupin sat up straight but Snape held up a hand, cutting off whatever he was about to say. "For those who deserve to live," he answered the boy. "Can you name anybody who deserves to live, Potter?"
       It was a startling question, but almost immediately, names began leaping to Harry's mind. "Hermione," he declared first. "Ron. Ginny. Neville." His eyes fell on the teacher across the room and he smiled. "Professor Lupin," he added firmly.
       He felt Snape's intense gaze upon him and looked squarely back at the teacher beside him. "I don't put you in that category, Professor," he announced calmly. He wasn't sure he meant it, but Snape just rolled his eyes. Then he pulled out his wand, took hold of Harry's hand, turned his palm upward, and gave it a light tap. Harry glanced in confusion from Snape's face to his hand and back again before inquiring, "What was that?"
       "That's what the nuns do when you get the answer wrong," Snape said mildly. He raised his wand above Harry's palm and commanded, "Try again."
       "I... I..." Harry sputtered, laughing helplessly at the pointlesness of Snape bringing the wand down on his palm again, just as gently as before.
       "Too slow," Snape declared. "Think harder."
       Snape's voice was deadly serious and Harry tried to sober up. He looked to Snape's face for a clue. The housemaster was staring so hard at him that Harry could see his reflection in the man's eyes. Then it came to him.
       "Oh," he murmured with an abashed little nod. "Me."
       Snape let go of his hand and turned to gaze out the window again. Harry glanced at Lupin, then took a deep breath and asked cautiously, "What about you, Professor?"
       "What about me, Potter?"
       "Do you intend to be my friend afterwards?" the boy asked pointedly. Snape turned to him with a somewhat nauseous expression and Harry added defiantly, "I'd say you owe me, wouldn't you?"
       My turn, Snape realized sourly. He took a deep breath and said firmly, "Potter, there is no one on earth more deserving of true friendship." He paused and added with a thoughtful shrug, "Except maybe Granger."
       Hermione chose that exact moment to enter the room, a bundled napkin in her hand. She was followed closely by Ron, and Snape climbed furiously to his feet at the sight of them, all thoughtfulness disappearing from his face. Before Hermione could speak, he roared at her, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
       "I brought you a ham sandwich from brunch," Hermione replied, holding out the napkin. Snape glowered at her.
       "Anything else?" he demanded acidly as Harry and Lupin got to their feet.
       Hermione nodded. "Thanks awfully for telling Malfoy I'm good at research and theory."
       Snape snatched the sandwich from her hand. "Spellwad!" he thundered, and Hermione flinched as if expecting to be struck by a curse. Instead, a feisty barn owl flew into the room and landed happily on Snape's shoulder. With a disdainful glare at Hermione, Snape offered the owl the sandwich. The creature was hooting and gulping contentedly when Professor McGonagall marched into the room.
       She strode purposefully up to Snape with barely a glance at the others and declared, "Severus Snape, I... what is that?" She pointed at the item Snape was holding up to his shoulder.
       "A ham sandwich," he replied coolly.
       "Oh," Minerva nodded. She reached out and brushed Spellwad off Snape's shoulder with an irritated, "Shoo!" and the bird grabbed the remainder of the sandwich and flew away.
       "Right. Where was I? Oh, yes!" She took Snape by both shoulders and announced, "Severus Snape, I confer upon you the Order of the Order, for duty above and beyond the call of duty... on behalf of another member of the Order." Lupin and the students burst out laughing at this ridiculously-worded pronouncement and McGonagall tossed them the tiniest hint of a smile before grabbing Snape by the ears and pulling his head forward to peck him dryly on both cheeks.
       When Snape pulled away he was as red as a beet and while the witches and wizards surrounding him laughed and clapped, he seethed, "I hate you all, and if one more Gryffindor comes through that door..."
       "Hello!" Dumbledore called cheerily, poking his head into the room. He had no idea why his appearance should inspire such mirth but chose to ignore the giggles and applause that accompanied his every step as he walked across the room to usurp Minerva's position in front of Snape.
       "Severus," he commanded lightly, "go to bed. And don't get up until you're good and ready. Then write down for me and Lupin, Malfoy and Miss Granger the recipe for Lupin's Remedy, if you would. I'll take full responsibility."
       Snape nodded curtly and as Dumbledore stepped aside, he made to sweep dramatically from the room. But suddenly he stopped and turned slowly back towards Professor McGonagall. The Gryffindors watched, intrigued, as a diabolical little smile spread across his lips. With a glint in his eye and no other warning, he suddenly grabbed Minerva around the waist and pulled her up against him, kissing her squarely on the mouth.
       "Oh!" she gasped breathlessly when he released her.
       "Maybe it wasn't such a bad term after all," he whispered naughtily in her ear.
       He swept from the room without another word and Dumbledore turned reassuringly to Minerva.
       "Don't worry," he whispered. "I'm fairly certain he won't do that again."
       Jealous, old man? Minerva thought indignantly. "What makes you so certain?" she asked rather haughtily.
       Dumbledore just smiled. And when Snape returned to his quarters, he found Elizabeth waiting for him with plateful of Easter dinner and a warm smile.
       "Hello, Severus."

An Obedient House