I am third.
"You did not."
"I did too."
"You did not!"
"I did too!"
Snape turned to Malfoy
with a doubtful smile. "Did she really?"
"Ask Marybeth!" Violet
suggested. "She was there the first time I used it!"
All heads turned to a
table several feet away where Marybeth was sitting hunched over a sheet of
parchment. She looked up sourly at Snape and her housemates, then
returned her attention to her task. Several Slytherins chuckled but
Snape, who was spending Tuesday evening in the common room to give the
Slytherins a little of the attention they craved, just grinned and
stretched his legs before the fire, determined to warm himself as much as
possible before reporting for 10pm guard duty.
"Healing potion requires
powdered ivory," he reminded Violet. "Where on earth did you get it?"
"I crushed a cameo."
"Where did you get a
"Nicked it from the
orphanage lost and found when I was eight," Violet told him. Snape raised
an eyebrow at her and she shrugged. "It was there for months!" she
insisted. "I think whoever lost it didn't realize what it was."
With a loud scraping of
wooden legs against the stone floor, Marybeth pushed back her chair and
stood up, snatching her parchment and marching petulantly across the room
to thrust it at Snape. It was covered with lines of her neat, tidy
hand-writing. Snape had made her write 'Practice makes perfect' five
"Feeling a little more at
ease with the phrase?" Snape inquired.
Marybeth plopped down beside him
with a sigh. "Your mercy knows no bounds, sir," she assured him. The
Slytherins chuckled but Snape rolled his eyes.
"Miss Guilford, kindly
refrain from teaching her your speech patterns."
"Sorry, sir, " Violet
Snape bade them goodnight
and not two minutes after he left, Harry Potter arrived. "Ready?" he
asked Marybeth. She nodded enthusiastically even as she clenched and
unclenched her aching fingers.
Malfoy had heartily endorsed
Harry's idea. While Snape was on guard duty, the Slytherins and
Gryffindors were going to play a round of floo tag in which Marybeth would
provide vital assistance helping the prey evade predator Ginny. The prey
would floo simultaneously to Trelawney's abandoned north tower, traveling
together to make Ginny think she was hearing only one player choose that
path. Harry and another player would quickly descend through the trap
door and then cling to the underside of the spiral staircase, leaving just
enough room for Marybeth above them. She would lure Ginny through the
trap door and slip quickly into her hiding place, leaving Ginny to race
down the stairs and eventually exit the tower. The prey would then be
free to relax for the rest of the hour in Trelawney's warm classroom.
Only three people could emerge from her fireplace at the same time, but
that was just as well... successfully defeating Ginny with only three prey
would make Marybeth's triumph even sweeter.
"It will boost her
confidence a bit," Harry had suggested the night before. "Do you want to
be the third prey?" Malfoy had declined, fearing Marybeth would feel less
significant if two such accomplished wizards were involved. "Take
Crabbe," he'd recommended instead.
"What would really impress me,"
Snape insisted, "would be if you could change this wretched weather." He
gathered his cloak more tightly about him as the cold, damp air of another
snowy night poured in through the open door of the warming hut. Dobby
folded his bony little arms across his sweater-covered chest
"Professor Snape is jealous," the
"I most certainly am not!"
Snape roared back, completely validating the elf's theory. Dobby chuckled
and Snape scowled, folding his own arms to secure some additional warmth.
"I assure you, I can see anything you can see and hear anything you can
hear... if I compensate adequately."
They'd been discussing the
potential transference of Dobby's latest accomplishment... tracking. The
elf was convinced wizards simply did not have the necessary attributes to
pursue a fleeing enemy across the landscape... specifically, bat-like ears
and bulging eyes. Snape was confident he could offset these deficiencies
with his own brand of magic.
"What does Professor Snape
hear right now?" Dobby asked coyly. The wizard narrowed his eyes at his
partner for several seconds, then grinned slyly . "You're on!" he
declared, and the two jumped to their feet to flip on all the conch
Crabbe opened the door to
the Slytherin common room and quickly led Marybeth and Harry to the huge
fireplace. They grabbed hands and leaned in, but just as Harry shouted
the number for Trelawney's classroom fireplace, Crabbe sneezed.
They flew into the system
at break-neck speed and soared upward for so long that Harry began to
worry. This is wrong, he thought as they soared through the
castle. We're going too high! A moment later, they shot into the
cold, dark air of the snowy night and slid rapidly across the large sheet
of ice covering this particular section of the castle's roof.
immediately where they were. His shout, garbled by Crabbe's sneeze, had
sent them flying out of the warming hearth that stood in one corner of the
roof of the Astronomy tower... the highest tower at Hogwarts. Because of
the snowy nights, no one had been up here since last term, but the snow
had been accumulating, melting and refreezing until the entire area was
covered in a thick layer of wet, slippery ice. "Hang on!" Harry screamed
as the three students barreled straight for the edge, clawing desperately
at the ice as they slid.
"Switch!" Snape ordered,
and Dobby, leaning with his left ear out the door to the hut, jumped into
the air and spun around 180 degrees before landing and sticking his right
ear out the door instead. Snape, meanwhile, abandoned the conch he'd been
using and pressed his ear to a different one, the one relaying sounds from
the monitoring device closest to the grounds. They listened in silence
for a while. Then Dobby grinned.
"Snoring," he reported.
Snape chuckled and added,
"Dumbledore. Only the old man can rumble like that." He leaned a bit
closer to the conch and listened hard. "Thestral!" he breathed after a
few moments. "Near Hagrid's hut!"
Dobby nodded his agreement and put
a hand to his ear. "Two of them, Dobby thinks."
There was quiet for a bit, then
Snape whispered, "Wind. A few miles away. We'll have a breeze in a bit."
He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter still. Dobby shook his head and
grinned at Snape.
"That's not wind, Professor
Snape," Dobby assured him as the wizard glanced back over his shoulder at
the elf. "That's the floo system. The floo system always makes a..."
He broke off suddenly at the sight
of Snape's horrified face, then spun around just in time to see three
children sail right over the edge of the Astronomy tower roof. As Snape
tore from the hut, Dobby let out a piercing scream and raced after him.
"Hang on!" he cried to the children above as he raced across the grounds
behind Snape. "Hang on!"
Harry, Marybeth and Crabbe clung
to the edge of the roof, groping desperately with fingers that slipped and
slid on the icy surface. For a brief moment, Harry had hoped that they
might be able to drop safely to the ground using their stop technique, but
Dobby's screams tearing through the night told him they were too high.
It was too slippery. It was just
too slippery. They would never be able to hang on until help arrived.
Harry glanced at Marybeth dangling beside him and saw the terror in her
eyes. Her fingers were sore, he remembered, and Crabbe's were chubby. He
had to find a way to help them. Was there a spell he could use? Did he
dare let go one hand and reach for his wand? He tried loosening his
fingers just a bit and dropped several inches as his other hand slipped.
Marybeth let out a scream to split the night as Harry flailed desperately
to regain his grasp.
Snape, tearing through the castle
as fast as he could run, heard the child's scream and feared the worst.
I will never leave my room without floo powder again, he swore to
himself as he raced up staircase after staircase. He burst through the
door to the Astronomy tower roof and tore over to the ledge as fast as the
slippery surface would allow. All three children were still hanging on.
He grabbed Harry first, then
Marybeth, then Crabbe, tossing each child unceremoniously to the floor
after hauling them over the ledge. When the last dangling child had
disappeared from view, Dobby rushed into the castle and popped up to the
Astronomy tower roof with a snap of his fingers. He found Snape standing
over the sprawled children, dark and terrible, silent except for his
labored breathing. The teacher glared at Harry with a loathing the boy
hadn't seen in ages.
"Dobby," Snape hissed to the
frightened elf who was nervously twisting his sweater in much the same
manner he used to abuse his tea towel, "go wake Professor Flitwick and
tell him you will require a new partner for the rest of your guard duty
Dobby disappeared without a word
and Snape turned to Harry.
"Get out of my sight," he snarled,
spitting each word furiously at the boy.
Harry climbed carefully to his
feet. Then he stood silently before the potions master, refusing to be
intimidated. It won't be long before we're the same height, he
thought, meeting Snape's angry gaze with an indignant glare of his own.
He cast a quick, sympathetic glance at Marybeth and Crabbe, then departed.
Most of the Slytherins had gone to
bed but Malfoy was sitting by the fire reading when Snape arrived back at
the common room. He hauled Crabbe and Marybeth by their collars in one
hand and clutched his cane tightly in the other. "Line up! All of you!"
the housemaster thundered, and as Malfoy's housemates began spilling out
of their rooms, he watched Snape thrust Crabbe and Marybeth aside so he
could grab a common room table and drag it furiously into position at the
top of the two queues. Oh, no, Malfoy thought.
Snape grabbed Crabbe and bent him
firmly over the table. Then he did the same to Marybeth. Oh, no,
Malfoy thought again just before his housemaster grabbed him by the collar
and bent him over the table as well. What did I do? Malfoy
wondered desperately even as the first stinging stroke landed solidly on
his backside. Malfoy gasped and grabbed desperately for the far side of
the table, clutching the edge tightly with his fingers as he clenched his
teeth. Swish came the second angry stroke and an image of Buckbeak
suddenly leapt to Malfoy's mind. Behind him, he heard his housemates
whimper in sympathy. What did I do? he wondered again as Snape
administered four more equally painful strokes.
Crabbe's six were just as hard and
Malfoy prayed Snape would go easier on Marybeth. She's just a little
girl! he pleaded silently in his head. But Snape's fury had not
abated when he reached the youngster and spanked her hard enough to make
her cry pitifully, "Ow!" after each stroke.
He didn't bother ordering them to
stand when he'd finished. Instead, he whirled furiously on the remaining
Slytherins and snarled, "You will NEVER play that game again. EVER! DO
YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"
The Slytherins trembled, their
lips wobbling with fear. Some of them managed a weak, "Yes, sir." The
rest could only nod. Snape stormed from the room without another word and
his three victims climbed slowly off the table. Malfoy flashed furious
gray eyes at Crabbe.
"What the hell did you do?" he
demanded before spying something that startled the anger right out of him.
Crabbe was crying. He was quiet about it, but tears were streaming down
"Crabbe?" Malfoy whispered
uncertainly. But the boy just turned away, staring straight ahead as he
walked slowly between the two queues and then down the boys' corridor to
his room. Goyle started to follow him but stopped when Marybeth broke
into anguished sobs. She threw her arms around Violet and cried on her
shoulder. Violet slipped her arms around Marybeth's waist and rested her
cheek against the top of her roommates' head, gazing helplessly at Malfoy,
who put a hand on Marybeth's shoulder.
"Marybeth," he said gently, "what
Marybeth cried as if her heart
would break. The Slytherins broke ranks and clustered around her, anxious
to hear what she had to say. Finally she lifted her woebegone little face
and whispered the words that would tear every Slytherin heart in two.
"He saved Harry Potter first."
It took Malfoy a week to figure it
all out. He sat on his cot the following Tuesday evening, replaying the
events of the past seven days in his mind and trying to talk himself into
doing what had to be done.
Snape had arrived in the common
room Wednesday morning to find the Slytherins cool and remote, which had
infuriated him. He'd actually looked a bit penitent as he'd approached
them, but when they had refused to meet his eyes, he'd become enraged,
counting them quickly and warning them they would do well to be on their
very best behavior.
His fury had escalated when Harry
Potter had refused to be intimidated by him in potions class. Malfoy
supposed Potter was simply too old to be frightened by Snape's wrath
anymore, especially when his conscience was clear, which it seemed to be;
he'd returned every murderous glare from Snape with an equally filthy look
of his own. The incident did seem to have some sort of negative impact on
the House of Gryffindor, however, as Malfoy noticed that Granger and
Weasley were constantly running to try and keep up with Potter, who seemed
determined to stalk angrily by himself everywhere he went. Feeling the
pressure, Chosen One? Malfoy had smirked to himself. McGonagall, he
had noticed, watched her student with a more tender but nonetheless
exasperated expression. Malfoy had no idea what punishment, if any,
Potter had received for the incident.
The Slytherin was more
concerned about Crabbe anyway. His performance in Defense class had
completely deteriorated until Lupin had held him back after class on
Monday to discuss it. Malfoy and Goyle had lingered in the hallway to
"I'm just no good at
Defense, sir," Crabbe had insisted. "You'd best concentrate on the
"Vincent," Lupin had
responded earnestly, "why in heaven's name would you say that? You helped
defeat the Montagues last term, you generate a strong, shiny Patronus..."
"Those things don't
matter, sir," Crabbe had explained. "Others are better, and that's what
counts now." He'd gone on to tell Lupin about what had happened on the
roof, finishing up, "I figure Professor Snape saved Potter first because
he's so good at Defense. That's what counts now, being good at Defense
for fighting Voldemort."
Lupin had buried his face
in his hands with such a pained groan that Malfoy had found himself
wondering how much he knew. "Vincent," the teacher had insisted,
making a feeble stab at Snape-like sternness, "I can assure you, Professor
Snape values you very highly indeed. He would be very..." Lupin had
hesitated, then cleared his throat before trying again. "He would be
very... hurt... " The eavesdroppers had stifled snorts. "...if he heard
you felt this way."
Crabbe had said nothing
more, and Lupin had finally risen to his feet, murmuring, "Perhaps I'll
have a little talk with Professor Snape."
At that, Crabbe's eyes had
flown open wide. "I wouldn't, sir, if I were you..."
"Nonsense, Vincent," Lupin
had smiled. "I can talk to Professor Snape. He's not going to hex me."
It had taken Madam Pomfrey
all night to clear up the triple-sensitive hemorrhoids.
It was the hex, or more
specifically, Snape's regression to school-day behavior, that had finally
provided Malfoy with the insight he needed to understand his housemaster's
conduct. He now knew exactly what to say to the Slytherins, but thanks to
the prophecy, he couldn't say it. He knew precisely what to say to
Snape, too, but Snape wasn't on speaking terms with the Slytherins. That
left only one person he could turn to. So, galling as it was, he dragged
himself off the bed, departed his house, hiked grudgingly through the
castle, knocked on the appropriate door, and stepped resignedly into the
"Will you help us?" he
"I'll do my very best,"
Knowing surprise was her
best weapon, she opened the door to his office without knocking, then
fended off his fury with a straightforward inquiry. "Why is it you never
come to me at times like this?" McGonagall wondered. "I come to you."
That staggered Snape
enough to give her time to cross his office and assume a seat across from
him. By then, she was ready with a spirited offense.
"I should punish you for
what you did to Lupin. I could, you know."
Snape recovered at that.
"Did you have in mind the technique you employed after the spellwad
incident?" he wondered. "Or am I too old for that?" Minerva chuckled and
he added sourly, "You would do better to discipline me for neglecting my
house while assisting that feral former student from yours."
To his surprise, Minerva
nodded. "You may be right," she mused. "At the moment, I understand your
house better than you do."
"You do not!"
"I do, too."
"You do not!"
"I do, too! And for the
record, Severus, this time around, they understand you better than you
That gave him pause. He
would have liked to think it true, actually. The past week had been one
of the worst of his career; he had never been at such odds with his
students, never. He missed them. He wished they were thinking
"You may explain," he told
his colleague loftily.
Snape groaned. "Would you
believe," he interrupted her, "that I was actually nervous, going into the
house for inspection?" He snorted. "I haven't been nervous about
housemastering since my first day on the job!"
Minerva smiled. "What was
troubling you?" she inquired gently. Snape glanced up at her and scowled
at the loaded question.
"I thought perhaps I'd
been a bit too harsh," he admitted peevishly. "I soon discoverd I hadn't
been harsh enough."
"Oh, Severus," Minerva
protested, rubbing her temples in such a Snape-like manner that if the
Slytherins had seen her, they would have laughed. Snape bristled at her
"How dare they?" he
argued. "How dare those little swine presume to judge..." He stopped. A
wave of shame washed over him. He did not think his students were
swine. "Minerva," he began again, "I've always been strict with the
Slytherins." He raised pained eyes to her wise old face. "They've never
resented it before!"
Minerva hesitated. Then
she reached out and laid her hand on top of his to cushion her response.
"When you feel you've been attacked, Severus," she counseled him, "you
have great difficulty remembering you might not be the only victim in the
Snape's face darkened and
he tried to pull his hand away. She held tightly to it as she continued
earnestly, "They are no more angry with you for taking a firm hand then
you are with them for playing Floo Tag. Or with Harry Potter for putting
himself at risk." She let go of him but Snape left his hand where it was.
She folded her arms on the desk and leaned closer to him. "Your having to
put Harry first hurt them, too, Severus," she whispered. "Not as much as
it hurt you, I admit..." Her tone sharpened a bit at that. "...but a
She rose to go and marched regally
to the door. But before she left, she turned back to Snape and addressed
him with her usual businesslike tone and suspiciously bright eyes. "Some
day, Professor Snape," she announced, "we are going to have a long talk
about the idiocy of students and housemasters who believe they have
nothing in the whole wide world except each other." She marched out the
door and shut it firmly behind her, then opened it again and stuck her
head back into the room. "By the way," she called more softly, "if you
have any thoughts on how to reach an extremely defensive teenage boy, do
let me know."
Crabbe was not in the
common room so Snape ignored the students who lined up for him and
proceeded straight down the boys' corridor. With a jerk of his head he
ordered Goyle out of the room. Then he leaned against the boy's desk,
folding his arms and crossing his legs at the ankles to calmly study
Crabbe, who stood awkwardly beside his cot.
"Do you think I've ever lied to
you, Vincent?" he finally asked.
The question confused Crabbe. He
looked uncertainly to his right and his left as if seeking help with a
trick question. Snape rolled his eyes. "Come here, Crabbe," he said
quietly, pointing to the floor directly in front of him. "Right here."
When the boy reached the designated spot, Snape took hold of his chin and
lifted it to look Crabbe straight in the eye.
"Do you think I've ever
lied to you?" he asked again, more intensely this time.
Crabbe's eyes filled with
tears but Snape ignored them, keeping his face carefully neutral. After a
moment, the boy shook his head. It was all he could manage.
"Then promise me
something," Snape went on. "One day, you will learn why I saved Harry
Potter first. Promise me now that, when that day comes, you will remember
that saving Harry Potter first hurt me more than it hurt you. Ten times
more. Maybe a hundred. Maybe a thousand."
Crabbe couldn't stand it
anymore. He buried his face in the front of Snape's robes, clutching the
black fabric in both hands. Snape put a reassuring hand on the back of
the boy's head and another on his shoulder.
"I know, Crabbe," he
murmured. "You're always third, right?"
Crabbe looked up,
"You're third behind
Malfoy and Goyle, and now you're third behind Potter and Miss Montague,
isn't that what you've been thinking?"
Crabbe barely nodded.
"You're not third,
Crabbe," Snape insisted. "You're tied for first with approximately 150
other children, and you always will be." He gave the back of the boy's
head a reassuring squeeze and reminded him, "I've never lied to you."
Crabbe nodded and blew his
noise loudly on the sleeve of his robe.
When the boy was dry-eyed again,
Snape suddenly whirled on the door, banging it open with a flash from his
wand to reveal 51 sniveling, eavesdropping chips off the old block crowded
together in the hallway. Stifling a laugh at the startled expressions on
their faces, Snape roared, "DID I TELL YOU TO BREAK RANKS?" which sent the
Slytherins scampering back to the common room as fast as they could go.
Snape watched them go with a satisfied grin, then turned a mild gaze upon
"Promise?" he asked.
Snape slipped quietly from
the room, then marched briskly up the corridor and down the aisle between
the two queues of Slytherins standing neatly at attention in the common
room. "Since you listened," he told them pleasantly when he reached the
top of the two lines, "perhaps you would like to spend the next thirty
minutes standing here thinking about what I said."
The Slytherins just smiled
at one another. "Love to," Violet whispered to Marybeth.
"Malfoy, come with me,"
Snape ordered before marching out of the room.
He held the door for
Malfoy when they reached his office, then entered behind him to close it
and lean against it. After a few moments of studying the slender blonde
teenager, he shook his head and confessed, "I am sorry, Malfoy, that I was
so hard on you."
"Don't apologize, sir,"
Malfoy insisted. "It was flattering, in a way, the correlation between
how hard you hit us and how much it hurt to save Potter first." The
teenager grinned ruefully. "You give a whole new meaning to the phrase,
'This hurts me more than it hurts you.'"
Snape laughed out loud.
Then he stopped abruptly as a thought occurred to him.
"Did you ask Professor
McGonagall to speak with me?" he demanded.
The boy hung his head with
false modesty but Snape could tell he'd be wagging his tail if he had one.
"You do make it hard not
to play favorites, young man," the housemaster murmured before turning
away to head to his desk. But Malfoy did not follow him. Instead, he
stood by the door, his visage suddenly darkening. Snape sat down and then
peered quizzically at the troubled teenager.
"Something else?" he
whispered, more to himself than to Snape. The potions master frowned and
Malfoy, catching sight of him, suddenly crossed the room rapidly to stand
before Snape's desk.
"Do you love us?" he
Snape blinked. He
squinted at the boy. Then he frowned uncertainly and asked, "Is this
about Potter again?"
Malfoy shook his head once
and waited for an answer. After a moment, Snape raised an eyebrow and
said defiantly, as if he were admitting an unpopular point of view he
refused to abandon, "Yes. Yes I do."
He expected a flush or a
bashful ducking of the head. Instead, Malfoy looked nervously around the
office for several seconds, then turned back to Snape and narrowed his
eyes to ask,
Snape stared back at the
boy for a moment, then leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers
thoughtfully across his stomach. "Malfoy," he began slowly, "that's not
the sort of information one has at the tip of one's tongue."
Malfoy slipped into the
chair across from Snape as unobtrusively as possible as his housemaster
continued. "Each of you has qualities that would make a parent or
guardian proud. And we're bound by a common hardship, of course. Plus,
no one cares for children in a substantial way without developing some
degree of affection for them. But I suppose the primary reasons are..."
gave Malfoy a little shrug. "You deserve it, and you value me."
Malfoy thought that over,
eventually dropping his gaze to his lap. Snape watched him quietly, then
murmured, "You must miss your parents terribly."
Malfoy looked up in
surprise. He raised one eyebrow and shook his head. "I hardly miss them
at all," he confessed. His eyes narrowed again and added, "That's mostly
because of you."
Snape could not imagine
why the statement sounded like an accusation. "Draco, whatever is the
matter?" he asked earnestly. Malfoy took a deep breath and spit it out.
"Montague," he replied.
"The night he came back..." Snape couldn't help wincing. "He said you...
said we had no idea..." He took another deep breath and blurted it out.
"You're not just good to us so you can steal us from our parents for your
own nefarious purposes, are you?"
The question hung in the
air between them. Malfoy held his breath. To his surprise, when Snape
finally responded, it was with something like a grin.
"I'm not laughing at you,"
he assured the boy. "And it certainly isn't funny, the idea of Death
Eaters indoctrinating former Slytherins against me. It's just that..."
thought about it some more and his grin grew sly. "When people
propagandize against you, it's generally a sign that they fear your
capacity to thwart their evil purposes. I confess I enjoy the idea that
my former tormentors and would be assassins live in such fear of me."
Malfoy was not amused.
Snape cleared his throat, sobering substantially before continuing.
"Malfoy," he lectured,
"when a quarter of our house defected but the others remained, Professor
Dumbledore gave me credit for setting an example that allowed so many to
choose to resist Voldemort. And I took it!"
Malfoy smiled just a bit.
"If you were to ask me, in
another burst of Potter-like subtlety, if I hoped to turn as many children
away from the path of their Death Eater parents as possible during my
tenure as a Hogwarts head of house..." Snape shrugged again. "I'd have
For some reason, this
fretted Malfoy, and that made no sense to him. He, himself, had tried to
persuade his housemates to choose Snape over their Death Eater parents
last April, and he certainly didn't think Marybeth would be better off at
home these days. Why did Snape's words trouble him?
"Malfoy," Snape went on,
"this is rather like the flogging I gave you last week. As much as it
hurt me to see those seventeen children leave, and as proud as I am of
those who stayed..." He sat up straight in his chair, pulling it neatly
the way up to his desk. "I'm proudest," he insisted, "of the 50% of the
parents who did not write in the first place."
Much better, Malfoy
thought, his relief registering on his face. He rose to ask permission to
leave when an idea occurred to him. While he held no grudge against Snape
for the caning of last week, a little vengeance couldn't hurt. Besides, he
figured, if he could make Snape apologize to Potter, he wouldn't have to
do so himself.
"There's one more thing
you should know about that game of floo tag, sir," he told Snape lightly.
"It was Potter's idea. He thought it might boost Marybeth's confidence."
And with that, he spun around so he wouldn't grin at the sight of what he
knew would be Snape's sourest expression.
Ginny answered Snape's
knock on the fat lady's portrait and carried the message that he wished to
speak with Harry Potter to the rest of the inhabitants of the Gryffindor
common room. "Oh, thank God!" Hermione sighed with relief. Harry tossed
her an all-too-familiar scowl before striding menacingly out of the room.
He struck a defiant stance as he stood before a mild-looking Snape in the
corridor, his arms folded across his chest, and Snape nearly laughed at
their inverted attitudes.
It had taken a repetitive chant
of, 'You owe Minerva, you owe Minerva, you owe Minerva,' to propel him up
the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. Now he reminded himself firmly that no
marauder offspring was more honest than Severus Snape. "Because you had
the decency to acknowledge that Sirius Black had flaws..." he began.
Harry's green eyes flashed but he
"I would like to acknowledge your
attempt, misguided though it was, to bolster the spirits of Miss
Harry took a step backwards and
squinted at the man in front of him as though not quite certain who he
"I am fond of the Slytherins,
Potter," Snape said somewhat acidly, "and I do appreciate those who show
Harry shook his head in wonder.
"How did you know?" he asked.
'How did you know, SIR,' you
miserable little... "Malfoy told me," Snape responded shortly.
Huh! What a guy! thought
the naive Gryffindor. Snape narrowed his eyes at the boy's smile.
"Potter," he continued more
coolly, "you do understand..."
Harry placed one hand on the
corridor railing and leaned against it. "That you feel I torture you when
I make you put me first," he interrupted, "because you moronically insist
on telling yourself that you only care about the Slytherins?"
Snape raised both eyebrows, but to
Harry's surprise, he did not lose his temper. Instead, he simply nodded,
"Well put!" and whirled around to march away down the corridor.
Harry watched him go, clenching
and unclenching his fists with rising frustration. An opportunity he
needed badly was disappearing down the hall and he might not get another
one any time soon. "Professor Snape!" he hollered, then sprinted down the
corridor to where Snape had stopped in response to his shout. "May I
please ask you something?"
Snape frowned slightly. "Is this
something you might discuss with your own head of house?" he wondered.
Harry shook his head emphatically.
"No, sir," he explained. "It has to be you. Please?"
Snape sighed but nodded. Harry
took a deep breath and began working out a difficult question. "On your
way up the stairs, as you were running to the Astronomy tower... were you
talking yourself into saving me first? Were you arguing with yourself all
the way up, worried you wouldn't be able to do it?"
Snape stared at the boy
for several seconds, then shook his head slowly. "No," he replied. "I
knew what I had to do, I knew I would do it, and I did it." He took in
the boy's worried expression and added firmly, "So will you, Potter."
Harry raised doubtful eyes
to the potions master, then hopped up to sit on the corridor railing,
dangling his legs in front of him as he wrapped one arm around a support
post. Snape resisted the urge to grab the boy's free arm and pull him
back down. Instead, he reminded the teenager, "You've already done things
that had to be done, Potter. Several times, in fact."
Harry shook his head. "I
didn't kill Sirius when I was a third year," he confessed.
Snape rolled his eyes with
annoyance. "Well, that didn't need doing, did it?" he chided impatiently.
"That just proves you can rely on your instincts."
Harry ran the fingertips
of his free hand along the surface of the support post, then worried a
scratch he found in the finish for several seconds before asking quietly,
"Professor Snape, did you ever kill anybody before the siege?"
Snape stood quietly before
him for so long that finally Harry looked up, only to lock eyes with the
older wizard for several seconds. Then a thoughtful Snape slowly crossed
the corridor and leaned on the railing next to Harry. "At a trial," he
began carefully, "they don't just convict the person who cast the spell.
Many people can be considered guilty of the murder of one person, and
anger and hatefulness..." He looked up to see Harry watching him
"Indulged feelings can place you in situations where crimes of omission or
cowardice or apathy can make you just as guilty..." He shook his head and
stood up abruptly. "This isn't helping you," he insisted. He took Harry
by the arm and pulled him firmly down from the railing. "You are not
alone, Potter," he insisted. "We will help you. You will be ready."
With that, he stepped around the
boy and headed for the staircase, only to spin back around and ask
suddenly, "Do you know what I imagine the Dark Lord will do first if he
lives and you die?"
The question horrified Harry, but
after a few moments, he merely shrugged and shook his head. "Come looking
for you?" he guessed.
Snape smiled at that.
You wouldn't be dead if he were alive, foolish child, he thought
before giving the boy the answer. "Granger," he said simply, and Harry's
eyes flew open wide. "If I were the Dark Lord, I'd get rid of Granger as
soon as possible." He started down the hallway again, then turned back
one last time. "Potter," he called to the boy who was still staring after
him, " I think Professor McGonagall would appreciate a promise that you
won't play floo tag anymore."
Harry blinked a few times,
then smiled and nodded. Snape turned smartly on his heel and started back
down the corridor. Harry watched him for several paces, then waved at his
back and shouted, "Thanks for stopping by!"
Snape paused long enough
to mutter exasperatedly, "Good night, Potter," then squared his shoulders
and stormed off.
"Good night, sir," Harry
whispered when he was sure Snape was out of earshot.
Snape stopped in the
common room long enough to bid the Slytherins a goodnight, then proceeded
to his quarters and let himself in with a satisfied sigh. All's well
that ends well, he smiled to himself. He gave the door a firm push to
snap the lock into the latch; the moment it clicked, his eyebrows burst
"LUPIN!" he roared so loudly the
owls in their tower fluttered indignantly off their perches and flew away
into the night.
An Obedient House