The Slytherins were truly dazzled by the suck-uppery propagated by the other students as they wormed their way into Snape's good graces and the cool waters of Lake Slytherin. The Ravenclaw specialty was extra credit essays on substitute potion ingredients while the Hufflepuffs preferred to shower Snape with yellow gifts... cool banana slushies, bowls of sherbert lemons, and a stuffed yellow Labrador which he passed off to Marybeth Montague the first chance he got.
       She and Violet were playing with the plush toy in a cool, quiet corner of the common room one night while the older Slytherins hosted their after-dinner guests. The lake became a bit crowded with the entire student body present so Malfoy had taken to banishing the younger Slytherins during the 7pm visiting hour. Now Harry Potter watched Marybeth intently as he bobbed quietly alongside Malfoy.
       The aggressive attitude he had developed during his week with the Weasleys had wilted beneath the oppressive heat. But as the cool waters of Lake Slytherin restored the energy level of Hogwarts' citizens, Malfoy saw again that eager, almost desperate gleam in Potter's eyes. His agitation was apparently contagious as Hermione Granger was already complaining about the contents of their lessons.
       "I just can't believe we don't have a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this term," she fumed. "It's never been more important! Why isn't Professor Dumbledore doing something about it?"
       Several Slytherins rolled their eyes. The empty Defense position didn't surprise them at all. What wizard in his right mind would want the job on the eve of Wizard War II? But they would stick porcupine quills in their eyes before they would defend Albus Dumbledore, so they just scoffed at Hermione as Malfoy whispered to Warrington, "Maybe they'll lighten up when the weather improves," and then asked Hermione, "Why don't you get your head of house to give you lessons? That's what we're doing."
       They were doing nothing of the kind, in fact; it was too bloody hot to do anything extra these days. But Malfoy made a mental note to ask Snape about it as soon as cooler weather arrived.
       "What's her story?" Harry suddenly whispered to Draco, nodding at Marybeth. Malfoy glanced briefly at her. The Slytherins had not told a soul what Marybeth had shared with them about life among the Death Eaters, and they had no intention of doing so. Meanwhile, the child's nightmares were intensifying; Millicent reported having to shut the door to her cell each night to keep her screams from waking the entire house.
       "It's not pleasant," Malfoy answered the Gryffindor shortly, hoping Harry would drop the subject.
       "What about the others?" Harry pressed.
       "What do you mean?" Malfoy demanded, a slight threat creeping into his tone.
       "The others who left," Harry expounded, ignoring the darkness that was filling Malfoy's face. "The ones who weren't killed in the siege.
       "What about them?" Malfoy challenged.
       Harry shrugged. "Are they all right?"
       All around them, students stopped splashing and bobbed quietly in the water, some drawing closer. Malfoy gave the non-Slytherins in his vicinity a fierce look before snarling at Harry, "What difference does it make?"
       Harry's eyes flew open in horror. "They're your housemates!" he protested.
       "Not anymore," Malfoy insisted quietly.
       Harry surveyed the faces bobbing above the surface of the water to see if the other Slytherins shared Malfoy's point of view. Their calm, even expressions assured him they did. He glanced at Marybeth again and turned back to Malfoy, disgusted. "Are you afraid?"
       "What are you talking about?" Malfoy snapped.
       "Are you afraid to try and help them?" Harry elaborated in the same contemptuous tone of voice.
       It didn't matter, Malfoy realized, how outrageous Potter's accusation was, because there was nothing anyone could to do him in the water but try and make him look stupid. So he sighed patiently and asked, "Is this about the belly flops?"
       Several Slytherins laughed but no one else did. Students from the other houses swam closer and folded their arms across their chests, scissor-cutting with their legs to keep themselves afloat. The Slytherins thought they looked rather ridiculous.
       "Either you're afraid, or you're disloyal," Harry insisted.
       An angry flush crawled up Malfoy's cheeks. "You know we're not afraid!" he spat. "You KNOW we faced Death Eaters to save McGonagall. You KNOW we faced Voldemort to save Snape!"
       The argument drew the younger Slytherins back into the common room. Violet and Marybeth rose to their feet and approached the water.
       Harry nodded at Malfoy. "So it's disloyalty, then," he announced.
       "That's rich," Malfoy hissed, "coming from a house where people turn on you if..." He stopped suddenly. Harry was glaring at him, furious. Malfoy had no compunction whatsoever about revealing sworn secrets in a situation like this, but he decided to save Potter's revelation for another day. "You weren't here," he reminded Harry and the others. "You don't know what happened. We begged them to stay and they made their choice." He gazed around the cylinder, shooting defiant looks at the students from other houses. "Dumbledore let them choose and they chose."
       "Marybeth," Harry called in a honey-coated voice. "Did you choose to leave?"
       "She was the youngest one!" Malfoy protested. "And she had an older brother telling her what to do!" Then a thought occurred to him that made his eyes gleam triumphantly. "But she still managed to make it back here, didn't she?"
       "What's your point?" Harry retorted. "If she made it back here, anyone could have? No assistance necessary?"
       Malfoy gave Harry the smile that matched his drawl so well. Harry stared firmly back at him for several seconds and then responded with his final words.
       "Are you sure?"
       Malfoy's grin faded. "What I'm sure of, Potter," he hissed, "is that if a rescue mission were in order, Snape would have performed it already. He knows a lot more about it than you do!"
       Harry grinned broadly at these words and Malfoy could have kicked himself for accidentally referring to Snape's Death Eater days. The Gryffindor looked once more at Marybeth, who stood firmly at the edge of the cylinder, a defiant expression on her face. Then he flipped resolutely under the water and swam for the bottom. Ron and Hermione immediately followed him, as did Cho Chang and Ernie MacMillan.
       "Oh, damn, are we leaving?" Ginny Weasley moaned before drawing a deep breath and following her departing schoolmates out of the water and out of the common room.
       When the Slytherins were alone again, Goyle swam over to Malfoy. "That's gratitude for you," he sniffed.
       "He's just looking for an opportunity to show off again," Violet called from below before walking into the water and swimming to the surface.
       "It's not that," Malfoy corrected her, remembering again Harry's combativeness at summer's end. "But I suspect it's something equally stupid."
       "Let's ban them from Lake Slytherin!" Crabbe suggested. Malfoy shook his head. "Only Snape can do that," he drawled. "Besides," he added with a grin, "revenge is a dish best served cold."
       "How cold?" Goyle wondered.
       "I'm thinking November," Malfoy responded cryptically. He grabbed Violet by the arm and pulled her close as his eyes brightened with an idea. "Listen, you," he commanded. "I want you doing your level best in Transfigurations this term. I better not hear you've lost any points or gotten any detentions or you'll answer to me."
       Violet scowled at him. "Who died and made you Snape?" she demanded huffily.
       "This is your quidditch captain talking," he shot back, "so do as I say."

       The weather finally broke later that night as cool winds rushed down from the mountains and swept away the hot, sticky air mass that had been suffocating the school. Snape inspected them in their corridors Tuesday morning and then let them watch as he demolished Lake Slytherin, after which Malfoy announced that quidditch tryouts would take place that evening in the common room.
       "Don't you want to use the pitch?" Warrington asked in surprise.
       "Nope!" Malfoy called, refusing to say another word as he dashed off to his cell to dress for breakfast.
       That afternoon in History of Magic class, he scribbled madly on a piece of parchment before handing it to Goyle, who placed it on the edge of his desk where Crabbe could see it, too. They copied the contents rapidly onto their own sheets of parchment as Malfoy began scratching feverishly on a new piece. Millicent and Tracey leaned over and craned their necks to no avail... the three boys would not let anyone see what they were writing.
       Their frantic scribbling made so much noise that Professor Binns actually looked up from his notes and stopped lecturing. The boys froze as Binns and their housemates stared curiously at them.
       "Fascinating, sir," Malfoy assured the teacher, pretending he had simply been taking copious notes, and Crabbe and Goyle nodded in unison.
       "Well," said Binns rather loftily, "I'm pleased to see someone appreciates the importance of my subject at a time like this." He shuffled his notes as if to tidy them and continued in a somewhat wounded tone, "This morning some of your schoolmates had the temerity to ask if I might not like to take a vacation right about now."
       The Slytherins exchanged looks. On Tuesday mornings, Binns taught the Gryffindors after Potions class and the Ravenclaws before lunch. "Two sickles on the cubs," Malfoy whispered to Millicent, who immediately called back, "No bet."

       "I'm not fat, don't draw me fat!" Goyle snarled at Marybeth that night as the second year sat at a common room table drawing a thank you card for Snape. It showed all her housemates holding hands in a ring around Lake Slytherin as if embracing the body of water while a few choice Gryffindors were poised to belly-flop above them. "Thanksssssss awfully!" read the caption inside, beneath which every Slytherin had added a signature.
       "This isn't fat!" Marybeth insisted of her work. "This is solid!" When Goyle continued to scowl, she added, "I'm not drawing you like Cedric Diggory!"
       Violet wrapped her arms around Goyle's waist and squeezed him tight. "Who'd want her to?" she asked him stoutly. "You're a real man, not some Hufflepuff pretty boy."
       "You've never even seen Cedric," Malfoy reminded her, glancing over her roommate's shoulder at the drawing. "Marybeth, I'm taller than that!"
       Marybeth rose in a huff and took her project back to her cell. Warrington and Crabbe joined Malfoy, Violet and Goyle in hauling the table to the center of the common room, where Slytherins aspiring to be chasers lined up on the other side. "Lose your brooms and grab your quills," Malfoy instructed. "Then step up to any current team member, receive an application, and complete it honestly, because we'll be checking with Snape."
       Millicent, who was applying at Malfoy's request, took from Violet one of the parchment forms that had been created in History of Magic class and examined it curiously. "List your OWL results in Charms, Transfigurations, and Potions," read question #1. A note instructed students below 6th year to skip to question #2. "List your final exam scores for the last 3 years (last two years if you've completed OWLS)," was the second question.
       Millicent completed the application and returned it to Warrington. "What's going on?" she demanded. But Warrington just smiled cryptically and thanked her for applying.

       Several Gryffindors approached them at breakfast the following morning with a parchment of their own. "Sign this," Harry commanded, handing Malfoy a petition. Angry dark letters across the top proclaimed:

       The first signature on the form was Harry's, followed closely by Ginny Weasley, then Ron and Hermione. Dozens more followed representing every house except Slytherin. Malfoy smirked.
       "Did you write this, Potter?" he asked coyly.
       "He wouldn't let me help," Hermione whispered, sounding appropriately embarrassed. Malfoy shook his head and handed the parchment back. "It won't work," he told Harry simply. Harry scowled as Malfoy explained, "Human beings are outstanding resources to use in pursuit of your goals. But they have to be managed properly. What good is a brilliant idea..." He gave the petition a flick with his finger. "... if you can't bring it off?"
       The Slytherins waited for Harry to ask Malfoy for a better approach. But the Gryffindor just rolled up the parchment and declared loudly, "Slytherin doesn't want to help," as if it came as no surprise. Then he leaned over, taking care not to be overheard by any Hufflepuffs, and added innocently, "What color is your house again?" before turning his back and marching resolutely to the head table. Crabbe rose to his feet as if to call after him but Malfoy held up a hand and waved him back down. "We don't want to miss this," he insisted, and the Slytherins twisted around to join the rest of the students watching Harry Potter approach Albus Dumbledore.
       Harry marched up to the head table as superciliously as Percy Weasley and Violet could just imagine his green eyes flashing as he slapped the parchment petition down in front of the headmaster. From the gentle expression on Dumbledore's face, Malfoy deduced the elderly wizard was being his usual polite self as he picked up the parchment and began to read, blinking a few times behind his half moon glasses. On either side of him, Snape and McGonagall peeked at the paper with properly respectful stealth, their faces growing dark as they scanned the list of signatures. Then Snape looked up with a little smile and gave the slightest nod to his Slytherins while Minerva pressed her lips into a thin, tight line. Dumbledore gave Harry a polite, dismissive smile and as the Gryffindor returned to his seat, Violet turned desperately to Malfoy.
       "Take me to Transfigurations with you," she demanded. "I want to go with you. Take me with you!" Malfoy chuckled and Millicent promised her, "We'll give you a blow by blow account."
       "Oh, I shouldn't think it will come to that," Malfoy drawled with a smirk.

       The 6th year Slytherin N.E.W.T Transfiguration students loitered outside the door to McGonagall's classroom, letting the Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors enter first. They wanted to get a peek at the Transfigurations teacher before she put on her game face.
       "Lavender Brown told me the Gryffindors have been asking McGonagall about her battle experience in the first Death Eater war," Millicent whispered to Malfoy. Tracey Davis nodded, adding somberly, "They think she doesn't have any."
       Malfoy scowled. "Potter was in the Shrieking Shack last December," he reminded the girls. "He knows how well she can fight. He'd be dead if she couldn't."
       Professor McGonagall came marching up the corridor, her face disappointingly calm and composed, and the Slytherins shuffled inside to take their seats.
       "I want you to know," McGonagall announced smartly from her desk as the lesson began, "that the staff are extremely pleased with your efforts in classes so far this term."
       Malfoy smiled to himself. See, Potter? he thought. Resource management. But to his shock, Harry whispered a cutting response just loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room.
       "Wish we could say the same."
       In the startled silence that followed, the Slytherins turned their heads as much as they dared to take in the determined expressions of their classmates from the other three houses. McGonagall chose to ignore the situation. "Today," she informed the class, "we will be transforming robe fabric into rope, most useful for those who are unable to conjure rope at this point."
       Harry stuck his hand in the air.
       "Yes, Mr. Potter?"
       The Gryffindor had the good grace to rise before asking somewhat peevishly, "Why don't we just learn how to conjure rope, Professor?"
       Malfoy's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline but McGonagall just smiled like someone about to trump an ace and responded, "Rope conjuring is a skill you might acquire in 7th year N.E.W.T. charms class if you master fabric transfiguration now, Mr. Potter. Transfigurations prepare you for the mastery of energy required for conjuring."
       Malfoy expected Harry to settle down after that, but Potter had a follow-up question.
       "And why are either of those necessary to someone capable of a Petrificus Totalus charm?"
       The Slytherins thrilled to the possibility of seeing McGonagall take points from a Gryffindor in class. But instead the teacher smiled rather tartly at Harry and asked him to step to the front of the classroom. Then she handed him a piece of chalk and invited him to write the reasons on the board where everyone could benefit from them.
       "One," McGonagall enumerated, "binding and stupefication spells have limited durations, particularly when cast by less experienced wizards. Two, rope will bind someone who may have cast a shield charm against petrificus totalis or other incantations. Three, as I believe I already mentioned, transfiguration exercises prepare you for advanced conjuring." McGonagall waited until Harry was finished writing, then asked him pleasantly, "Do you have any more questions before we proceed, Potter?"
       "I don't think so," Harry replied evenly, "but it's hard to be sure. I'm having a little trouble accepting the wisdom of people who think it makes sense to just sit around conducting lessons as usual at a time like this."
       Malfoy had to consciously shut his mouth. Millicent left hers hanging open, as did Tracey and Warrington. But McGonagall continued to smile.
       "If you'd been paying attention in History of Magic class, Potter," she assured him, "you would have learned about the direct relationship between advanced preparation and success in battle. . . not to mention the value of patience and faith in qualified leadership."
       Zing, zing, zing, thought Malfoy, and it was all he could do to sit quietly while she assigned Harry an extra foot of History of Magic homework on those very topics.

       The Slytherins were relaxing in their common room after dinner and Malfoy, who'd been enjoying a fireside chat with Crabbe and Goyle about Potter's homework assignment, nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of the small explosion. His frantic first thought was that Voldemort had found a way to apparate into the Slytherin common room and he leapt to his feet in terror. But then, as several more pops followed in rapid succession, he realized the noise was coming from a table where Violet had set up her cauldron and was currently engaged in catching fluffy white kernels in her mouth as they exploded into the air. The first and second years who surrounded her applauded wildly and then began snapping at the kernels themselves as they flew out of the cauldron.
       "Violet," Malfoy snarled, "if Snape catches you, he's going to whip you pink!"
       "It's just popcorn, Malfoy," she argued as she reached into her pocket and withdrew a mouse that Spellwad had caught for her in the Forbidden Forest. She kissed the tip of his furry little nose before letting him nibble on one of the kernels. "He's a little shook up," she told the older boys, stroking the small creature reassuringly, "but he should be ready by tomorrow night."

       "As you add the first half of your puffer fish eyes, notice the slight change in both color and aroma," Snape lectured the second years the next morning as they made their first batch of swelling solution. While the Slytherins and Gryffindors bent studiously over their cauldrons, Violet glanced at Marybeth's potion and then down at her own. Marybeth's was a nice hunter green and boasted a pine fresh scent. Violet's was brown and smelled rather rancid. The stench wafted through the room, eventually reaching the hooked nose of the potions master who turned to regard Violet darkly. The youngster shrugged.
       "I don't think I'm brewing glory here, sir," Violet admitted.
       Snape examined the contents of the cauldron and then the ingredients that lay scattered about her desk. Finally he illuminated the tip of his wand and examined the inside of her kettle more closely. When he rose to face her, his black eyes glittered dangerously. "What have you put in this cauldron since Tuesday?" he seethed.
       Violet gulped. "Popcorn, sir," she confessed, feeling incredibly stupid.
       Snape looked appalled. "Buttered popcorn?" he stammered, seeming pained by the very thought.
       "No, sir," Violet shook her head. "I made the popcorn..." She pointed to the inside of her kettle. "... in the cauldron."
       For a moment Snape could only stare at her. He scrutinized her face as if wondering whether a Hufflepuff could have polyjuiced her way into one of his Slytherins. Then he drew himself menacingly to his full height and Violet felt her legs break out in goose flesh. "Detention!" Snape snarled furiously before obliterating the contents of her cauldron with a scathing "Evanesco!" and storming away to check the other students' work.
       Marybeth gave her a sympathetic smile but the Gryffindors jeered openly the moment Snape's back was turned. Infuriated, Violet waited until neither they nor Snape were watching and, with a discrete wave of her wand, transfigured the nearest Gryffindor's puffer fish eyes into black beetle eyes. When the oblivious cub added the altered ingredient to his cauldron, the resulting explosion covered the entire classroom in black soot. Every single swelling solution was ruined.
       I'm dead, Violet thought. If he catches me, I'm dead.
       A terrifyingly still and silent Snape let the horrified students tremble for several seconds before storming down from his desk to scourgify each work station. He checked the unfortunate Gryffindor's cauldron and then carefully examined the ingredients on his desk. When he spotted the transfigured beetle eyes, his lip curled in fury and he jabbed one with the end of his wand and waved it under the Gryffindor's nose. "Is your memory so short," he hissed at the boy, "that you can't retain the visual characteristics of puffer fish eyes for two minutes?" He wiped his wand clean on the boy's robe before taking ten points from Gryffindor. Then he stormed to the front of the room as Violet wondered desperately whether there was any way that he could know what she'd done.
       "Would anyone like to confess?" Snape asked silkily as he leaned against his desk with his arms folded. His black eyes burned down on them, searching their faces one by one as he waited to see if anyone would speak up.
       Violet didn't dare.
       "Very well," Snape said, drawing his wand from his robes. "Wands up."
       Violet held her wand before her like everybody else and watched curiously as Snape approached the Gryffindor at the far end of the classroom. She'd never seen a Prior Incantato before. Snape touched the tip of his ebony wand to the cub's holly one and when a ghostly representation of the flame the Gryffindor had used to ignite his cauldron fire slipped out in response to Snape's incantation, Violet gasped.
       Then she stuck her hand miserably in the air.

       "What part of 'Do not try the patience of those responsible for your well-being' didn't you understand?" Malfoy asked her in the common room late that night.
       "The part where all I did was make popcorn!" Violet snapped as she alternatively licked and blew on the burns that covered her hands and arms. Snape had thrashed her soundly and then detained her in his office, making her scrub out her cauldron while it roasted over a scorching flame to open its pores. "How long shall I do this, sir?" she'd asked through gritted teeth. "Until you are quite certain your cauldron will not malfunction again," Snape had suggested, the consequences of another failed potion implicit in his tone, so she'd kept at it until her hands and arms were as inflamed as her backside.
       "Hang in there, Violet," Goyle yawned at the youngster. "Madame Pomfrey will patch you up in the morning."
       Crabbe, who was peeking into the corridor from the common room door, shook his head. "Snape's told you a hundred times," he reminded Violet, "don't put anything in your cauldron except potion ingredients!"
       "It was only a swelling solution!"
       "For want of a nail, Violet," Malfoy lectured her. "Everything that goes on in class is life or death now. Learn to get your fun at the expense of others instead."
       Violet whirled on him, furious. "That's what got me tushwhacked!" she protested.
       "Not by ruining their potions, you twit," Malfoy responded scornfully. "The Gryffindors were working hard. You know perfectly well that's going to warm the cockles of Snape's heart."
       "What are cockles?" she asked, pulling her mouse out of her pocket.
       "A first year binding potion ingredient," Goyle reminded her impatiently. "And don't get attached to that thing, Violet, Mrs. Norris just might catch him."
       "Here she comes!" Crabbe hissed from the door, and the four of them hurried out of the common room and into the corridor.
       Mrs. Norris stopped when she spotted the Slytherins. Then she meowed softly and trotted over to them. Malfoy scooped her up with a warm, "Nice, kitty kitty kitty," and began scratching her behind the ears. She purred and stretched in his arms and then curled up to leap back to the ground.
       "Wait, Mrs. Norris," Malfoy whispered temptingly, "we've got a treat for you!" Violet dangled the mouse by its tail in front of Mrs. Norris' nose. The cat immediately made a swipe with its paw and Violet yanked the mouse out of reach as the Slytherins set off down the hall. "Wait for it," Malfoy drawled to the cat as he stroked her in between the tantalizing peeks at the mouse. "You're going to have so much fun!"
       The Slytherins slipped into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, greeted her with as much false warmth as they could muster, and hurried over to the appropriate sink. "We love you, Salazar," Violet whispered in a hissy parseltongue that made Mrs. Norris' fur stand on end. Malfoy stroked her reassuringly as the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets slid open.
       "Nice kitty kitty kitty," he whispered while Violet dangled the mouse over the entrance. "Wanna watch, Myrtle?" Draco called over his shoulder as Violet dropped the mouse down the pipe. Mrs. Norris sprang from Malfoy's arms to give chase and Myrtle flew down the pipe right behind them.
       "All right," Malfoy said, dusting off his hands as the Chamber entrance slid shut. "That takes care of the night watch. Now let's go melt the Fat Lady."

       "You're not Gryffindors!" the Fat Lady declared, refusing to swing open despite the Slytherins' use of a password easily obtained after a few hours of spying. "No, ma'am," Goyle replied tragically. "We're not Gryffindors. We're in love with Gryffindors." Beside him, Crabbe nodded and added moonily, "Have you ever been in love, ma'am?" The Fat Lady turned to Malfoy and Violet, who shook their heads. "Not us," Malfoy assured her. "We're the prompters." The Fat Lady furrowed her brow and he added, "You know, like Cyrano?" He held up some parchment crib sheets which in fact contained instructions for applying slow-spreading coloration potion.
       The Fat Lady, who had always rather enjoyed the solidly-built Goyle and Crabbe, smiled sweetly at their lovestruck faces before swinging open with a wistful little sigh. She wished them the best of luck as the Slytherins scampered gleefully through the hole into a tower full of sleeping Gryffindors.

       "I couldn't keep up," Myrtle called down from the window ledge when they returned to her bathroom an hour later. Violet reopened the Chamber entrance and called, "Here, Birdfood!" Within moments, the mouse scampered up the pipe and into her waiting pocket. Mrs. Norris shot out of the entrance right on his heels, nearly knocking Malfoy over as she collided with his chest.
       "Aw, Mrs. Norris!" he clucked sympathetically at the panting feline whose lamplike eyes were wild with excitement. "No luck?" He held her out to Goyle who fed her some consolation scraps he'd saved from dinner. The cat devoured them eagerly and then sprang from Malfoy's arms. Crabbe opened the lavatory door for her and, just before she strutted away, she threw the Slytherins a meow of thanks for the entertaining evening.

       At first Violet couldn't understand why they'd gotten away with it. She had been sorely tempted to back out of the whole thing Thursday night; with so many of her extremities on fire, she had not relished the thought of another trip across Snape's desk. Only the fact that she alone among Slytherins could open the Chamber of Secrets had made her honor her commitment to her fellow pranksters. But when the sixth year Gryffindor boys stormed into the Great Hall Friday morning, even Professor McGonagall seemed hard-pressed to hide her mirth. "What's the matter, Potter?" Malfoy called as he and every other student turned to stare at the green and silver hair of Harry and his furious dormmates. "Was it a rhetorical question?"
       Now, as Violet sat devouring her lunch, she asked the older boys to explain it to her again.
       "The Fat Lady can't tell on us," Goyle insisted. "She'll lose her job."
       "That's not the point, Goyle," Malfoy interrupted. He turned impatiently to Violet. "We didn't get in trouble because we didn't do anything asinine," he insisted. "And McGonagall's probably hoping we'll distract the Gryffindors from doing anything asinine as well."
       "I thought you were done doing Potter favors," Millicent reminded him. Malfoy turned to her with narrowed eyes and replied, "You're doing 100 push-ups at your first quidditch practice."
       "I'm on the team? Wow!" Millicent cried in delight. Malfoy scowled. "Two hundred," he amended.

       Snape was strolling down the corridor to his quarters that evening, wondering who might be available to floo in from Hogsmeade for a visit, when he was distracted by an odd tapping emanating from a secluded alcove nearby. He peered carefully into the dim nook and found Violet sitting cross-legged on the floor, lost in thought, absently tapping the tip of her quill against a hand-made parchment notebook in her lap.
       "What are you doing, Miss Guilford?" he demanded.
       Violet jumped. "Thinking, sir," she responded quickly, rising to her feet as she added, "...about the difference between green hair and blackened swelling solution."
       "I don't want you loitering in the corridors by yourself," Snape admonished. Then he nodded at Violet's book and added, "Did you manage to work it out?"
       Violet nodded back. "I think so," she told him, falling obediently in step beside him as he turned to walk her back to the common room. They traveled in silence for a few paces before she asked, "Professor Snape, why are the Slytherins different from the Gryffindors?"
       "You have more in common than you might imagine," Snape responded. "But the differences to which you are referring are generally the result of upbringing, choice and experience."
       "Well, did Potter experience a drop on his head? Because he's being a real idiot these days."
       Snape smiled inwardly before replying, "While I wouldn't put it past James Potter to treat his infant son like a golden snitch, I seem to recall you found the boy rather brilliant last year."
       Violet made no response and after a while, Snape continued in a measured fashion, as if each word cost him ten galleons.
       "Potter's situation is difficult," he explained, "and I'm not merely referring to the death of his godfather. A bit of tolerance from his fellow students would not be out of line. Beyond that, Miss Guilford, you needn't concern yourself. His situation is not your problem." Snape grimaced a bit at these last words and Violet smiled, supremely glad she was Snape's student and not Snape himself.
       "What would you do about Potter if he were in your house, sir?"
       "That's not a fair question, Miss Guilford," Snape reproved gently. "He hasn't been in my house from the beginning."
       "All right," Violet nodded. "But what if Professor McGonagall died in the night and Professor Dumbledore assigned all the Gryffindors to you. Then what would you do about them?"
       The question was so intriguing that Snape actually mulled it over for a moment or two before remembering that, even if he devised the perfect solution, Dumbledore and McGonagall would doubtless disregard it. He looked down to find his young Slytherin waiting eagerly for his answer.
       "Miss Guilford," he scolded, "kindly refrain from inflicting Gryffindors upon me hypothetically or in any other manner."
       Violet smiled and gave her robes a little flounce. "Are you going to visit the common room as you did last year, sir?" she asked earnestly. "We miss you."
       Snape cut his eyes at her. "I suppose next you'll tell me that accounts for your atrocious conduct so far this term."
       "It's a desperate plea for attention," Violet agreed.
       Snape shook his head with a wry smile. "Heed the example of your older housemates, Miss Guilford," he recommended. "You'll notice I haven't been putting many of them across my desk this year."
       "Wise counsel, sir."
       They walked in silence for a while until they reached the common room door. Violet turned to say goodnight but Snape spoke first, his concern poorly masked as he inquired, "How is Miss Montague faring?"
       The question troubled Violet. She looked away, glancing in the opposite direction they'd been traveling, down the corridor that led out of the dungeon and to the rest of the school. For a moment she thought she saw something move at the nearest corner. Then she blinked and it was gone.
       "Marybeth has bad dreams," she told Snape sadly.
       "How often?"
       "Every night." Violet reached out and took hold of Snape's hand. "Couldn't you give her something, sir?" she beseeched him.
       "Every night?" Snape asked dubiously, and Violet nodded. "I take your point," she admitted, releasing Snape's hand. She stepped up to the spot in the wall that contained the common room door.
       "Does it disturb your rest?" Snape asked her.
       Violet turned back to him, thinking it over. "At first it did," she remembered, "because I'd ask her what she'd dreamt about and we'd talk about it." Violet shuddered. "I can't imagine living that way, sir," she said with a miserable shake of her head. "I just can't imagine it!" Then she remembered who she was talking to and froze. She looked up nervously but her housemaster didn't seem angry. "Now," Violet finished quickly, "I just ask if she's all right and then go back to sleep."
       She glanced up the corridor again while Snape considered what she'd said. When he spoke, his voice was calm and even. "Don't concern yourself too much, Miss Guilford," he reassured her. "Miss Montague is in the best possible situation for someone of her experience."
       Violet ached to ask him what he meant. She so wanted to understand what Marybeth was going through, and no one would know better than Snape. But the women of Hogsmeade were probably waiting at the Three Broomsticks for a summons from their favorite bachelor and besides, Snape forbade any discussion of his Death Eater days. With this in mind, Violet turned towards the common room door, murmuring over her shoulder,
       "Good night, sir."
       "Good night, Miss Guilford," Snape replied, refusing to move until Violet was safely back inside her house. So she stifled a giggle and announced clearly the password Malfoy had just set after dinner.
       "Agent Snape."
       The common room door slid open and Violet slipped quickly inside, clamping a hand over her mouth to hold back the laughter as Snape roared for Malfoy to come and change the password immediately.
       Neither of them noticed Harry Potter gazing somberly at them from the nearest corner before turning and heading back to Gryffindor.

An Obedient House