It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time

       "Dress robes?"
       "No, his are gorgeous."
       "Potion ingredients?"
       "Too mundane."
       "A pet snake?"
       "We're his pet snakes!"
       Malfoy, Millicent, Crabbe and Goyle lounged before the fire in the Slytherin common room, trying to think of a Christmas gift for Snape. The snow had come early this year, falling in a thick blanket the first day of November, and the Slytherins rejoiced in it, reveling in the warmth of their common room as they gazed happily out windows or gathered in cheerful groups near the fire. It was a glorious thing to be snug and comfortable while the rest of the students, especially the Gryffindors, were at odds with the staff and generally living lives of quiet desperation.
       Violet and Marybeth approached the group carrying a catalog between them.
       "We have what you're looking for," Violet assured the older students smugly. She held out the catalog with a flourish and they all looked at the page she was showing them.
       "Wow!" Malfoy said in spite of himself.
       "It's expensive," Crabbe pointed out.
       "It's gorgeous!" Millicent gushed.
       "It's expensive," Crabbe repeated.
       "It's perfect," Goyle admitted.
       "It's expensive," Crabbe insisted.
       "If all the 'orphans' go in together, we can manage it just fine," Malfoy assured him, and Violet jumped on the statement.
       "That brings me to the second item on the agenda of this visit," she smiled sweetly. "Some of us have money..." She glanced pointedly at Malfoy. "...and some of us have nothing but willing hearts."
       Malfoy thought it over, then grinned. "I'm sure we can work something out," he drawled as he got to his feet, and Violet gave a resigned sigh as he put an arm around each girl's shoulders.

       So it was that the night before the first quidditch match found the two second years sitting cross-legged on the common room floor, polishing the team brooms to Malfoy's exacting specifications. "Circular motions, Marybeth, not back and forth," he insisted. Then he snapped his fingers and commanded, "Come, Violet." Violet rolled her eyes at Marybeth, climbed to her feet, and trotted obediently over to Malfoy. He handed her the latest in a series of parchment notes he'd been sending the Gryffindors, taunting them about the upcoming match. "Be sure to ask about a reply," he drawled as Violet set out wearily to climb the tower for the 4th time since dinner.
       Malfoy watched her go with a smile. He had never been so enthusiastic about an upcoming quidditch match, though his feelings about this one were distinctly different from his feelings about previous engagements with the Gryffindors. He had a new point of view this year, and he couldn't wait to flaunt it, especially after the self-aggrandizing lion cubs had dared to break into Snape's office.
       Snape's reaction to the incident continued to puzzle him. He appreciated how relieved his housemaster must have been to learn that the Slytherins had played no part in the creation of the list. But surely there was room left over in his heart for a good dose of cub-hating fury. Yet Snape continued to treat the Gryffindors the same way he had treated them all term... with the severe, unsympathetic sternness he inflicted upon all his pupils. Because his harshness had not escalated, he came across as the only instructor not caught up in the battle of wills that was raging between students and staff, and the office-breaking Gryffindors, though never convicted, were appropriately sheepish in his presence.
       Malfoy was not appeased.
       As for Violet, she couldn't understand why the Gryffindors kept answering her knock on their portrait hole, much less accepting the notes. "What, no tip again?" she cried as Ginny Weasley snatched the parchment scrap from her hand and slammed the portrait cover in her face. She called a cheery "Ta!" to the Fat Lady and skipped back to Slytherin, scheming how she might cajole Marybeth into taking her turn at polishing Malfoy's shoes.

       On Saturday afternoon, Pansy pulled off the first part of her assignment quite nicely and had Snape sitting beside her among the crowd of Slytherins waiting eagerly for the match to begin. In the changing room, Violet and Malfoy held the beater clubs while Goyle and Crabbe painted the ends with a gooey potion. Tracey and Warrington rushed in, already wearing their green robes, to announce that the gray clouds that had been threatening all morning had finally begun dumping new snow on the pitch, which brought loud cheers.
       "All right," Malfoy warned his team. "They're angry, they've got two Weasleys who are far better than the twins were, and their new beaters are probably better, too."
       "They're hard-working, thoughtful, non-showoffs, so that follows," Goyle agreed.
       "Remember," Malfoy concluded as he narrowed his eyes to slits, "whoever has the best time... wins!"
       The Slytherins let out a mighty whoop and raced out to the field.

       Chasers Millicent, Tracey and Warrington got things started with a simple triple bogie curse. Ginny Weasley flew straight for keeper Malfoy, drew back the quaffle to hurl it at the goal with all her might, and then began to shake her arm violently as the bogie-covered quaffle stuck to her hand. She examined it more closely to see what the trouble was, and the instant she recognized the revolting sticky substance covering the entire surface of the ball, she screamed "Ew!" and flung her hand so hard the quaffle went soaring right into Tracey's grasp. A quickly whispered "finite incantatem" allowed her to fly down to the Slytherin end of the stadium and score.
       The Gryffindor team saw the Slytherins laughing heartily but there was no time for Ginny to tell them what was happening. She and her fellow chasers flew hard, retrieved the quaffle, and streaked for their own goal.
       Safely hidden by the flying snow, Millicent cast a quick engorgio charm and the quaffle grew and grew until it popped right out from under Ginny's arm.
       The spectators blinked and squinted through the snow, trying to see if they really saw what they thought they saw.
       "Reducto!" Millicent hissed. The quaffle shrank and Tracey snatched it and flew for the Slytherin goal.
       Meanwhile, Crabbe and Goyle clubbed the bludgers mercilessly. They weren't just beating them away from their chasers... they were pursuing them through the air as if they were quaffles. Each boy followed a bludger around the stadium, hitting it over and over until he'd covered every inch of its surface with blows.
       Then they flew off together and perched a safe distance away to watch the results.
       The bludgers streaked across the field. One headed straight for Harry and a Gryffindor beater zoomed up to it, slammed it away mightily, and then hollered with surprise as the end of his club exploded. He was left holding a stub that was heavily splintered on one end.
       The Slytherins roared with laughter. Madam Hooch put her whistle to her mouth but couldn't bring herself to blow as she had no idea what sort of foul she would call. "Reparo!" Harry shouted as he flew close and pointed his wand at the beater's club. But he missed his aim and was forced to cry "Do it yourself!" before streaking away to dodge the returning bludger. For the rest of the game, every whack of a Gryffindor beater's club against a bludger required a follow-up "reparo" charm. Professor McGonagall shot Snape a furious look from the teachers' stands but he couldn't see it from where he sat.
       Both teams racked up the points. While the rest of the Slytherins watched their chasers drive in a score, Pansy kept her eyes glued to Malfoy on the opposite end of the field. As soon as Slytherin scored, Malfoy gave her the signal, and Pansy jumped to her feet.
       "Stand up and cheer for Slytherin House!" she screamed. But before her housemates could respond with the second line of the cheer, Snape turned to her aghast and thundered, "Miss Parkinson!"
       "Sorry, sir!" Pansy cried with false sheepishness as she resumed her seat.
       While their housemaster was distracted, the Slytherin chasers drew their wands, aimed them squarely at the hands of the Gryffindor chasers, and cried, "Locomotor mortis!" locking their hands to their brooms. Then they cast three quick rictusempras and watched with delight as the red team chasers rolled uncontrollably through the air.
       Unaware that their hands were locked safely to their brooms, the spectators gasped when the tickling victims flipped upside down, their startled yelps calling Snape's attention back to the pitch. "What did I miss?" he demanded.
       Madam Hooch, who was trying to get close enough to a bludger to inspect it, missed the charms, too. The Slytherin chasers scored as often as their giggling would allow while the three Gryffindors spun helplessly. Finally, Ron had to abandon the goals to help Harry aim one finite incantatem after another at the revolving chasers until all three had been successfully hit with the terminating charm.
       At this point, the Gryffindors decided to fight fire with fire. But unlike the Slytherins, they had not been practicing casting charms at moving targets while flying rapidly themselves. All their spells missed their marks.
       Then, to his great relief, Harry saw the snitch. Slytherin was only ahead by twenty points and could still be soundly defeated.
       With a triumphant smile at Violet, he streaked off after the snitch, the young Slytherin tearing along behind him in hot pursuit. He edged closer and closer to the flying golden sphere, his hand outstretched, his fingers reaching, almost there, now closing around it... And with a shout, he flung it away again and shook his hand in pain. The moment his fingers had closed around the snitch, Violet had transfigured it into a loaded pin cushion, needle points out. The wingless orb dropped through the air, nearly reaching the ground before Violet returned it to its original state, after which it disappeared from sight. As Harry glared furiously at her, Violet laughed with joy, clapping her feet together beneath her broom.
       The game went on and on. The Gryffindors racked up the points only to be caught up again and again by the Slytherins who, thanks to the snow, were able to use even more magic than they'd originally planned. Millicent retrieved the quaffle after a Gryffindor score, gave Malfoy a wink, and flew for the goals. To the rest of the red team's surprise, Malfoy abandoned his post to follow her. He didn't want to miss this.
       Millicent tossed the quaffle right into Ron's arms for an easy save. Ron smirked, looked down at the ball to get a good two-handed grip on it, and screamed at the top of his lungs.
       The quaffle was covered with scampering spiders.
       Ron dropped the ball in terror and Tracey, who was waiting below, caught it easily. She tossed the quaffle back to Millicent, who fired it mercilessly at a keeper too terrified to catch it. Malfoy nearly sobbed with laughter.
       Slytherin scored repeatedly, catching up to Gryffindor again before Harry managed to hit the quaffle with a finite incantatem. He snatched the ball himself and then turned to Ron, who was red-faced with fury and humiliation. He bit his lips to hold back the question that was tearing him apart.
       "Ron, I didn't," Harry protested. "I swear! I didn't!"
       "Then who did?" Ron bellowed. "Who told him if not you?"
       By now all the players had gathered to watch the scene, and Ron scanned their faces furiously, as if daring anyone else to laugh. Then his eyes fell on Ginny.
       She was pale with guilt.
       "Ginny!" Ron cried. She looked up at him helplessly as Malfoy called to her salaciously, "All right there, sugar lips?"
       The Slytherins roared and a delighted Malfoy flew in a happy loop before settling back down to smirk at his summer fling. But when he saw the fury in the Weasley girl's eyes, the smile faded from his face.
       "Oops," he gulped.
       Ginny fired the hex so quickly Malfoy barely had a chance to duck. This time, Madam Hooch saw the infraction and blew her whistle.
       The Gryffindors merely drew their wands.
       "Scatter!" Malfoy screamed, and the Slytherins fled. They took off in pairs and Malfoy flew up to each of them as they streaked away from the furious Gryffindors.
       "Don't shoot back!" Malfoy hollered. "Whatever happens, don't shoot back!"
       Madam Hooch blew louder and louder but the Gryffindors just kept on firing. The Slytherins dodged for their lives as hex after angry hex zinged past their heads. A desperate Malfoy flew as close to Harry as he dared.
       "It's just a game, Potter! It's just a game!"
       He dropped down quickly to avoid a hex and then flew up again. "We'll stop, I swear it!" he begged. "We'll let you win! By a lot! THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DOING!!!!"
       But the Gryffindors continued to attack. Down below, Malfoy spotted Professors Snape and McGonagall climbing frantically down from the stands, Snape hauling Pansy Parkinson by her collar. But Goyle had already taken a flipendo to the shoulder and the Slytherin team captain grew desperate.
       "The stands!" he screamed to his teammates. "Fly into the stands!"
       The Slytherins immediately headed for the spectators, but their proximity to innocent bystanders did not deter the Gryffindors. Soon howls of pain were heard as every hex that missed a player struck a fan instead.
       I'm dead, Malfoy thought as the cries of his unintended victims filled his ears. I might as well fly into a wall at top speed and be done with it.
       Below them, Professor McGonagall, standing beside Snape, sonorized herself. "STOP THIS NONSENSE IMMEDIATELY!" she boomed. With a jerk of his head, Malfoy led his team down to the ground where they scrambled off their brooms and raced to the heads of Slytherin and Gryffindor, taking shelter behind their backs. Malfoy suspected it was the most cowardly he had looked since the night he'd fled the Forbidden Forest with Fang, leaving Harry Potter to fend for himself.
       The Gryffindors came in for a landing and stood silently before the two strictest professors at Hogwarts. Snape decided to let Minerva do the talking.
       "I have never," she began in a whisper more terrifying than any shout, "seen such repulsive conduct on a Hogwarts quidditch pitch in my life!"
       For some perverse reason, Malfoy felt a momentary surge of pride in himself and Harry Potter.
       "Detention," McGonagall continued. "Every one of you," she added, glancing over her shoulder at the cringing Slytherins. "100 points from your houses. Every one of you. And..." She focused her steely gaze squarely upon Harry. "This game is cancelled, and both teams will forfeit all points they would have carried forward towards the cup."
       That was a lot of points, and Harry's green eyes flashed. He took a menacing step towards McGonagall and snarled, "You can't do that!"
       The silence that followed was the most uncomfortable Malfoy had ever experienced. It went on and on as McGonagall and the Gryffindors stared each other down. Then Snape turned quietly to the Slytherins and said, "Change up and report to my office immediately," and Malfoy was so grateful for the opportunity to flee he could have kissed Snape's shoes.

       I'm too pretty to be a part of this, Pansy thought indignantly as she stood in line with the quidditch team in Snape's office.
       "For the record," Snape lectured as he strolled back and forth before them, "I agree with you, and I admire your scheme and the skill you displayed on the field." He stopped at the far end of the row so he could see all their faces at once. "But you didn't bring it off, did you? You didn't get through to the Gryffindors... you turned them violent!" He folded his arms meticulously across his chest and added, "That's because you didn't care to get through to them. You just wanted to show off how much you understood."
       He began to stroll again, his arms still crossed. "On the other hand," he acknowledged, "you held your fire when the hexes began to fly, a decision that was clearly intended to limit my wrath." Malfoy gave his teammates a quick lift of his eyebrows. "But," Snape added, spinning around to face the team captain, "you flew into a crowd of innocent bystanders in an attempt to shield yourselves, which is hardly good form. So I'm going to give you a choice." He stood solidly in front of Malfoy but turned to face the rest of the students. "Three apiece... or six for Malfoy."
       Malfoy's eyebrows flew up involuntarily this time. He turned quickly to his teammates only to behold Millicent, Tracey, Crabbe and Goyle already assuming the position across Snape's desk. But Violet put her hands indignantly on her hips and protested, "Couldn't you have made him squirm for a few seconds first?"
       "Sir," Malfoy called pleasantly, "Violet would like to volunteer to take my strokes for me."
       "Stand aside," their housemaster commanded dryly.
       Snape spanked his Slytherins and sent them on their way, then sat for half an hour pondering whether or not to check on Minerva. In the end, he decided against it.

       Reaction to the match was mixed. The Gryffindors remained furious for days though Violet sensed their anger was directed primarily at McGonagall. The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws were delighted with the green team's perspective and quite willing to overlook the stray hexes they had endured, but that, Violet was sure, reflected their joy at the possibility that one of them might win the quidditch cup for the first time in about a dozen years. "Talk about missing the point," she hissed to Marybeth.
       Then a midweek copy of the Daily Prophet brought news of more butchering beyond the walls of Hogwarts and the quidditch match faded from conversation as they were once again reminded of the menace without.
       At lunchtime on the second Saturday in November, Snape handed Violet a forward from the Owl Post Office in Hogsmeade. "Who's it from?" Marybeth asked as Snape moved away, handing out the rest of the Slytherin mail. Violet shook her head and broke open the seal. Marybeth peeked over her shoulder as she read.

       Violet's face fell. Katie had cried despondently at her departure on September 1 and the young Slytherin had been dreading a letter like this ever since.
       She knocked on the door to Snape's office after lunch and found him inventorying his teaching supplies. "Someone has removed far more powdered bicorn horn than necessary for the assignments I've given so far," he told her menacingly, and normally Violet would have enjoyed observing the cat and mouse game he would play for the rest of the day as he hunted down the guilty student and uncovered his or her nefarious scheme. But today, Snape noticed, the young Slytherin looked troubled and distracted. He closed the door to the cupboard and gave her his full, glowering attention.
       Violet brought him the letter and Snape read it silently. Then he gazed at her with the sternest expression he could muster.
       "Could you take me, sir?" Violet asked. "Please?"
       Snape gave the letter back and took a seat at his desk. "Sit," he commanded, not unkindly, and Violet sat down across from him.
       "There are two children in this situation," Snape explained as Violet listened closely. "Each is equally important. Each lives with the possibility of death. It just happens that the one I am responsible for is you." Violet bit her lip. "I cannot allow you to go," Snape said. He checked her face carefully. "Do you understand?" he asked.
       Violet nodded. "Yes, sir," she whispered. Her eyes filled with tears and she didn't care if Snape saw.
       "Miss Guilford," Snape assured her, "Dark times don't last forever. They may come more than once in a lifetime, but eventually, they do pass." Violet's face crumpled and Snape added quickly, "You may go."
       Violet hurried out of the office. She raced to the nearest alcove and sank to the floor of the dark, private corner to cry. After a few minutes of that, she pulled herself together and thought long and hard. Finally, about an hour later, she rose and marched resolutely to Gryffindor Tower, glad for the first time that Hermione Granger had once bullied her into sneaking off to London.
       Professor McGonagall's office was easier to break into than Snape's, and the time turner was exactly where Hermione had found it last January. Violet smiled at McGonagall's faith in her students and then helped herself to the magic little hourglass.

       Katie died unafraid in her arms, and Violet was deeply grateful for that. But as she eased the little girl out of her embrace and tucked the bedclothes around her, a grubby urchin burst into the room and snatched the time turner. Horrified, Violet sped after him, but the worthless brat dropped the precious device before she could reach him. Violet snatched it up and inspected the tiny hourglass closely. It seemed unharmed and she thanked her lucky stars both then and again that night when she was tucked safely in bed in Slytherin House.

       Two days later, Dumbledore and McGonagall called the other three heads of house into the headmaster's office. Snape's heart sank when he saw Minerva clutching the time turner furiously in her white fist.
       The crack was so small as to be unnoticeable to the naked eye. But the contents had leaked slowly to the floor until they'd formed an unmistakable pile on Professor McGonagall's rug.
       The distress that filled the room was palpable and Snape spoke very softly. "I believe you can dismiss Professors Sprout and Flitwick," he told the headmaster and deputy headmistress calmly. "I just need a few minutes."
       They nodded and he headed back to the dungeon where he found Malfoy in the corridor returning to the common room from the library. "Send Miss Guilford to my office immediately," he ordered the blonde sixth year.
       Violet bounced in cheerfully but sobered the moment she saw her housemaster's face. Snape did not invite her to sit down.
       "Did someone drop it?" he asked quietly. As Violet's eyes widened, he continued gently, "The crack is too small to notice, but the contents eventually began to leak."
       Violet swallowed hard. "Is it expensive?" she whispered back.
       Snape rose to his feet. "That, Miss Guilford," he said sadly, "is the least of your worries." To Violet's surprise and complete horror, he took hold of her hand before leading her to the door. The thought of being in so much trouble that even Snape felt sorry for her made Violet tremble.
       He held her hand all the way to Dumbledore's office where he opened the door and waited for her to enter ahead of him. For just a moment, Violet thought Dumbledore and McGonagall looked disappointed that Snape had actually found a culprit. But they recovered quickly and stared at her with formidable sternness. She stood quietly, assuming she should wait to be addressed, but when they all just watched her silently, she gave a little nod and began to speak.
       "I took the time turner to visit a little girl at the orphanage who was dying," she explained. "She was afraid and wanted me to be there when she died. I had asked Professor Snape to take me to see her and he explained very clearly why I couldn't go. I chose to disobey him, and I understand that, by making that choice, I put not only myself but anyone who might have needed to rescue me in danger."
       The three adults stood quietly for a moment, then Dumbledore said softly, "Thank you, Miss Guilford. You may return to your common room." After she'd gone, he turned to Snape and said gently, "Severus, would you please wait in the corridor?" Snape's dark eyes flashed and Dumbledore assured him, "We will not make any decisions without consulting you."
       When they were alone, Minerva spoke first. "We're in a very difficult position, Albus," she said regretfully. "I cannot tell you how many hours I've spent lately, pondering the events of 15 years ago, wondering if there was anything..." She broke off abruptly and forced herself to return to the matter at hand. "Deference has become a matter of life and death," she insisted. "We have to get through to them." She drew herself up to her full height and added, "We owe that to their dead parents."
       "A bit surprising," Dumbledore mused, "that it was a Slytherin." He gave her a gentle smile but Minerva did not return it.
       "I do not want the next one to be a Gryffindor," she replied coldly. "I do not want the next one to be anyone at all!"
       "But how does one persuade children?" Dumbledore wondered softly as he walked across the office to stroke his phoenix. "Children have always believed they are immortal."
       Minerva watched him caress the flaming red bird for several seconds before suggesting firmly, "By removing those who fail to comply."
       Dumbledore turned away from Fawkes and took a seat at his desk.
       "Expulsion," he argued, "is the equivalent of a death sentence. If the child had committed a capital crime, she would be on her way to Azkaban. How can we impose a death sentence on a child who has not committed such a crime?"
       "We've tried everything else," Minerva reminded him. "How can we maintain control at a time when lives depend on it if expulsion is not an option?"

       It's a terrible thing to be afraid to go home, Violet thought as she let herself back into Slytherin. She'd wondered all the way back from Dumbledore's office whether there was any way to keep her transgression a secret. No, she decided, a clean breast is probably the safest bet. She didn't even have to announce her desire to speak to them; the proud possessor of the world's worst poker face needed only to stand quietly in the center of the room to gather a silent, expectant crowd.
       By the end of her confession, Malfoy was predictably furious. "Don't touch her!" he snapped when Marybeth reached out to put an arm around her roommate. "And I better not find out you knew a damn thing about this!"
       "Malfoy," Violet began, just before he slapped her sharply across the face. Several Slytherins gasped but Malfoy's fury raged unabated.
       "We need him," he snarled. "Without him, we could all be killed. To say nothing of what he's worth compared to you!"
       Violet looked at the housemates who surrounded her and nodded calmly. "He's right," she admitted. "You're right," she told Malfoy. "I put a small child ahead of Snape and every student at this school, and I did it on purpose. But Malfoy. . ." He'd grown disgusted with her and turned away so she took him by the sleeve and tugged earnestly. "What if it had been me?"
       The teenager snorted and Violet continued desperately. "What if I'd been the one to get sick, and I'd written to YOU and said I was afraid and begged you to come?"
       The rest of the Slytherins turned expectantly to Malfoy. He just scowled at them. Then he jerked a thumb in Violet's direction and ordered Goyle, "Punish her!"
       "Me?" Goyle sputtered. He turned speechless to Violet and then back to Malfoy, who strode to the nearest chair and dropped into it, folding his arms across his chest to observe. Goyle turned back to Violet and shrugged.
       "You're off the quidditch team until after the next match," he said with a shake of his head.
       "Oh!" Violet gasped as several Slytherins covered their mouths in horror. "Oh, ow! Ow!" The exclamations slipped from her mouth like involuntary whimpers of pain. She clutched the arm of the nearest chair and sank into it. "Ow. Ow."
       Marybeth drew close and peered into her roommate's face. "Are you okay?" she asked nervously. Violet nodded. "Yeah," she insisted. "I'm fine. Ow. Ow."

       "Please come in, Severus," Dumbledore invited him back into the office. McGonagall refused to meet his eyes, so Snape turned to Dumbledore instead. "We have decided," the headmaster told him, "that it would be best if you handled this situation in your usual manner. . . tomorrow night. . . at 7:30. . . in the Great Hall. . . before the assembled student body."
       The potions master lashed out so quickly he startled even himself. "I will NOT!" he snapped furiously. His superiors both raised eyebrows at him and he turned away in embarrassment, wondering if he should apologize or just glare. He turned back to them full of righteous indignation.
       "Headmaster," he began more civilly, "I am anything but lenient with my students." Dumbledore held up a hand and nodded reassuringly but Snape pressed on. "The child is neither thoughtless nor cruel," he insisted. "She was dealing with an extraordinary situation. . ."
       "So are we," McGonagall interjected. Snape considered her a moment and then turned back to Dumbledore.
       "I don't punish my students in front of each other unless I'm punishing all of them," he lectured. "I don't think it's appropriate!"
       "Then think again, Severus," Dumbledore said gently. He turned away and walked over to his desk. Minerva came and stood beside him and the two of them stared calmly at Snape.

       He broke the news to the Slytherins as gently as possible, keeping his tone carefully neutral. Everyone except Violet was horrified. "It's because of the Gryffindors!" Malfoy stormed angrily from his spot in line. "They want to humiliate a Slytherin to save the Gryffindors!" His fury delighted Violet. Flip, she thought happily. He loves me again!
       "Don't be ridiculous!" their housemaster snapped. "I've known Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall longer than you've been alive and I've never met more admirable people." Snape permitted no further discussion of the matter but hurled one last piece of advice at them before departing. "If you don't like being in hot water all the time," he hissed, "TRY BEHAVING YOURSELVES!"

       The other heads of house informed their students Tuesday morning during inspection. All day long, the outraged Slytherins prowled the school like wounded animals and everyone took care to keep a safe distance.
       Throughout the morning, Violet caught the non-Slytherin students gazing constantly in her direction, their faces filled with concern or sympathy. She encouraged their support by assuming the most woebegone expression she could muster until Snape snatched her from the bench at lunchtime and threatened to send her to Madam Pomfrey for a dose of extremely distasteful pick-me-up tonic if she didn't improve her demeanor immediately.
       She really couldn't understand what all the drama was about. As far as she could tell, she was getting off fairly lightly; the usual six from Snape didn't seem like much of a punishment for a crime of this magnitude. Without the interference of Dumbledore and McGonagall, she suspected she would have had her first taste of 12.
       When Snape came for them that evening, he made one last statement before leading the Slytherins from their common room. "Look around," he suggested. "You won't see one face jeering at you."
       He was right, as usual. When the Slytherins entered the Great Hall, they found the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs already in place, standing in neat lines facing the head table. They looked back over their shoulders to watch the Slytherins march in and Violet thought every last one of them looked ill.
       The Slytherins stopped when they reached their spots and Snape stopped with them. Then he placed a hand on Violet's shoulder and steered her up the aisle to the platform that held the head table. Dumbledore was standing just to the right of his usual spot in the center with McGonagall next to him. To the left of center stood Sprout and Flitwick. The silence in the hall made Violet's face flame. She wished Snape would remove his hand and just let her walk beside him.
       When they reached the platform, Snape lifted her up and turned her around, setting her down facing the students. Then, even though the platform was only a foot high, he left her there and walked around behind the head table to climb the center steps.
       Violet gazed out at the sea of miserable faces staring up at her and suddenly understood. This was just awful. The regimentation, the forced solemnity, the spectacle. . . It was nothing less than brutal. The young Slytherin nearly teared up at the sense of violation. She wished Snape would hurry up and reach her.
       When he did, he paused to give Dumbledore and McGonagall a look Violet would have guessed would be reserved for Voldemort alone, and even from behind the students could see the fury in his stance. Professor Sprout flinched but the headmaster and deputy headmistress stared stonily back at him and Snape finally lowered his gaze to Violet. To her relief, he didn't say "turn" or "bend." He just nodded at her and Violet turned gratefully away from the wretched faces of her classmates.
       Then, just before she bent over, the most delightfully perverse idea popped into the young Slytherin's head. She bit down solidly on the inside of her lip to keep from smiling and then raised her chin to give Dumbledore and McGonagall the most forlorn, beseeching expression she could muster. The dignified administrators twitched with guilt at the sight of her tragic little face, and Violet almost snorted with laughter. Ahhhh, she thought as the violated feeling evaporated. Much better. And she bent over quickly to hide her smile in the tablecloth.
       Malfoy watched the crowd carefully. It was just as Snape had said. Not a single student jeered at the Slytherins, or grinned or chuckled or pointed or nudged, not even Weasley or Finnegan. They all stared solidly ahead at McGonagall and Dumbledore, a cold fury in their eyes. As Snape drew back the cane to deliver the first stroke, Malfoy's gaze settled on Hermione's face. The stinging thud brought tears to her eyes. Good grief, Granger, Malfoy thought disdainfully. Pull yourself together.
       He glanced at the other Slytherins and found them looking around the hall, too. Goyle caught his eye and nodded in the direction of Harry Potter. Harry was staring furiously at Dumbledore and McGonagall, refusing to watch the beating. But he couldn't help hearing and Malfoy noticed that every stroke made him flinch. He would steel himself after each one as if determined not to react again, and his flashing green eyes grew angrier and angrier. Interesting, Malfoy thought.
       The Ravenclaws were exhibiting much the same attitude while the Hufflepuffs were staring stubbornly at the floor. Malfoy wished he could see Snape's face, but his housemaster kept his eyes firmly on Violet.
       There were only two strokes to go and Violet clutched the edge of the table desperately, determined not to whimper. She was certain Dumbledore and McGonagall would suffer more if she didn't whimper. The little snake searched her mind frantically for anything else she could do to compound their distress. But then it was over and Snape was commanding her to stand up. As she righted herself, she was suddenly overcome by a horrifying wave of stage fright. Oh, no! she thought. He isn't going to ask me. . .
       "Is there anything you'd like to say?" came the standard query, and Violet could have kicked herself for not thinking to compose something in advance. Snape stared quietly at her, his expectations clear, so Violet did her best.
       "I don't know where to begin to apologize for what I've done," she said to the students before her. "I swear to you, it does not reflect how I feel about you. I would not endanger you or take one of your teachers from you for the world." She took a deep breath. "The only explanation I can offer is that there are others I care about just as I care about all of you, and I did what I had to do. Please don't be angry with me."
       She turned to face Snape, Sprout and Flitwick. "I am ashamed to even stand before you," she told the teachers, "as you are the ones I put at risk. Please forgive me." Finally she turned to Dumbledore and McGonagall, and she almost bounced with pleasure at the words that filled her head. "My deepest shame," she told them firmly, "is for the distress I've caused my housemaster. But I want to apologize for putting the two of you in this position. I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything, and I am truly sorry I made the jobs of such brave, selfless, dedicated people harder."
       Malfoy stifled a snort.
       Violet was just about to turn back towards the students when she remembered something else. "Oh!" she cried, giving McGonagall the tiniest smile. "I haven't got a knut to my name, Professor, but I'd be happy to work off the price of a new time turner." She turned to face the hall again with a satisfied little smile on her face and Snape murmured silkily, "You may go." Violet hopped down from the platform and marched out of the room.
       Snape turned to Dumbledore and McGonagall as if waiting for them to address the assembly. This was not in the script and the two administrators glared uncomfortably at him, color rising in McGonagall's cheeks. Snape let them stand that way for as long as he dared before turning to nod at the Slytherins. Several of his students gave Dumbledore and McGonagall unpleasant little smiles before they turned around with their hands in their pockets and sauntered casually out of the Great Hall, missing completely the last furious looks the Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Gryffindors cast at their headmaster and heads of house as they were dismissed.

       The Slytherins found Violet lying on her belly on a common room couch, an open book between her elbows, her feet swaying in the air behind her. They settled silently into sofas and chairs around her, lost in thought. Pansy ran out of introspective fodder first and cleared her throat loudly. "Somebody say something!" she demanded impatiently of her housemates.
       "You should have seen their faces, Violet," Goyle told the younger snake. "They were really upset."
       "Why was that, do you think?" Pansy wondered.
       "Because they knew who was really being punished," Malfoy told her.
       Millicent shook her head. "That doesn't make sense," she insisted. "I mean, no offense, Violet, but watching you get a well-deserved six didn't fuss me at all."
       Malfoy tossed her a loaded question. "So you're not mad at Dumbledore or McGonagall?" he asked pointedly.
       "Hey," Millicent snarled, "those gits aren't my problem. Snape didn't want to do it."
       "That's what I'm on about, Millicent," Malfoy said emphatically. "The others are angry because of what Dumbledore and McGonagall were trying to do to them."
       "I wouldn't have gone," Crabbe spoke up suddenly, and Goyle nodded in agreement. "Me, neither," he insisted. "If I were a Gryffindor, I'd have found a way out of it. I'd have broken every foot in the house if I'd had to."
       "No, Mr. Goyle, you would not," said Snape suddenly from the doorway. "Not if you were a Gryffindor." He held up a hand to excuse them from lining up as he walked across the common room to join them.
       "Why not, sir?" several students asked him at once.
       "Because, young Slytherins," Snape told them smoothly, "Ours is a long, proud history of battling openly. Theirs is not."
       He nodded at Violet. "Commendably handled, Miss Guilford," he praised her. "Thank you, sir," Violet replied, beaming into the pages of her book as Snape swept from the room. When he'd gone, Malfoy turned thoughtfully to Millicent.
       "Last summer," he told her, "I asked Potter how he got caught helping that moron, Hagrid, get rid of his dragon despite McGonagall not believing me when I told her what they were up to." Several Slytherins leaned closer and Malfoy smiled. "It turns out they were so excited about my getting in trouble, they forget Potter's invisibility cloak."
       "Ha!" Violet cried in delight.
       "The interesting part of the story," Malfoy continued carefully, "is how angry their housemates got over the points the three of them lost trying to help a friend."
       The Slytherins thought about that for a while and Millicent shook her head. "That sounds more like us," she joked, and several Slytherins chuckled. But Malfoy remained quite serious.
       "No," he insisted quietly. "That's just it. There's a world of difference between what turns us against each other and what turns them against each other. They turn at the first sign of trouble, and they always have."
       Violet closed her book, trying to figure out what he meant by that. Then she remembered the story Potter had told them last spring about the night he'd almost killed Sirius Black. Even Lupin and Dumbledore had suspected him of mass murder.
       "Think about Longbottom, how little it takes to upset him in class," Malfoy reminded them. "Think how easily the Weasleys lose their tempers." He shook his head. "Snape's right. They can't handle conflict." He rose resolutely and headed for his cell, pausing long enough to tell Violet, "You were wrong. Point-taking isn't for sissies. Point-taking makes sissies."

       Shortly before retiring that night, Violet knocked on the door to Snape's office and was startled, upon entering, to see him smile at her. "I was just thinking about you," he confessed.
       "Why is that, sir?" she asked, gingerly taking her usual seat.
       Snape placed an elbow on his desk and rested his cheek on his palm. "What did they do to you?" he asked her, anticipating the answer with mild amusement.
       It took Violet a moment to figure out who he meant. Then she nodded and said simply, "I'm off the quidditch team until after the next match."
       Snape's smile disappeared. "Oh!" he sputtered, straightening up again. "Oh, my." He thought it over and added earnestly, "Would you like to appeal to your head of house?"
       Violet giggled. "No, thank you, sir," she assured him. "I have to live with them, after all." She sobered and added, "The only thing that's bothering me..." She stared into her lap, pulling on her fingers. Finally she looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "Are you mad at me for going when you said no?"
       Snape stared at the child. His cheek muscles tightened as he assumed a stern expression. Then he opened a drawer and removed a book which he placed in front of Violet. "I wonder, Miss Guilford," he said curtly, "if you would do me a favor and return this book to Professor McGonagall."
       Violet glanced at the cover, wondering if the answer to her question was on it. The jacket featured a picture of a proud witch displaying a magnificently set dinner table beneath the title, Every Day Objects, Elegant Transfigurations. "Why did you borrow a book about teapots, sir?" Violet asked in confusion.
       "Because," Snape said simply, "I needed an excuse for being in her office after deciding not to warn her to hide her time turner after all."
       Violet looked up with a jolt and her mouth dropped open. But as her mind raced from the discovery that he'd known she would go, to the realization that he had let her, her shock transformed rapidly into indignation.
       "I could have been killed!" she protested.
       "I don't think so," Snape replied. And he reached inside his robe and withdrew a tiny green time turner which he set down on top of his desk.
       At first Violet could only stare at the Slytherin-colored object. Then she lifted tear-filled eyes to Snape who shrugged and confessed, "Invisibility requires practice."
       He bore with fortitude a fierce hug from the child who catapulted from her seat to fling her arms around his neck. I am the most tolerant person in the world, he thought to himself as he gave her an obligatory pat or two. Then he pulled her loose and shook a finger under her nose. "The book!" he reminded her sternly. "And I would be most grateful if you would keep this between us, young lady. I don't want anyone making a spectacle of me in the Great Hall."

An Obedient House