The Problem with Pansy

       "I wish they wouldn't do that," Minerva whispered as she sat bundled up on the last Friday evening in January watching the Gryffindors and Slytherins practice quidditch. Actually, they were practicing swinging one-handed around their broom handles like trapeze artists while they fired flipendo charms that knocked the quaffle back and forth in a spirited game of Slythedor dodge ball. The stunt made Professor McGonagall extremely nervous even though she'd forbidden the students to practice it from a height of more than 12 feet.
       "They're fine," Snape muttered just before Malfoy executed a triple spin that broke his grip and sent him flying on his arse in the snow. His broom made a bee-line for the stands and Violet, who was running back and forth several feet behind Snape and McGonagall, ducked just in time.
       "Malfoy!" she protested.
       "Accio broom," he drawled lazily as Snape glanced briefly at Violet over his shoulder.
       "Miss Guilford, stay where I can see you."
       What am I, five years old? Violet wondered to herself.
       "Acquiescing immediately, sir," she called out and skipped quickly down to sit several rows in front of him. He'd been awfully nice to let her watch practice while she was off the team, especially since he and McGonagall were woefully vexed that Dumbledore had refused to allow them to supervise combined practices individually.
       Minerva sneaked a quick glance at Severus who stared dully at the pitch. She couldn't imagine why he looked so tired. By her reckoning, they had roughly the same workload these days. They both taught, took care of their houses, and performed guard duty. Granted, he had the added burden of restructuring his potions lessons which took more time than being a deputy headmistress. But he'd never had trouble with a large workload before. Perhaps there's something going around, she mused. Miss Granger had looked mighty weary herself for a while, worse than during her third year, in fact, but she had recovered nicely and was now back to normal.
       "Severus?" Minerva said gently. He turned to regard her listlessly and she dropped her voice to a whisper. "I could wake you if I needed you."
       When Violet glanced over her shoulder to see if Snape was noticing her good behavior, she found him sound asleep on McGonagall's shoulder.
       The next morning at breakfast, Snape handed Pansy a letter from her parents that reduced her to sobs moments after she opened it. The little drama queen refused to share the contents with those around her, preferring to cast several teary-eyed, wobbly-lipped glances at her housemaster between ravenous bites of scrambled eggs and toast. When Snape finished his breakfast and departed the hall, Pansy followed him.
       A short while later, someone pounded on Malfoy's cell door so loudly he nearly jumped off his cot. "Pansy's parents have sent for her," Millicent announced, bursting in without waiting to be invited. "Dead grandfather. Dumbledore has arranged for the Hogwarts Express to take her home tomorrow morning."
       Malfoy raised his eyebrows only slightly. "Imagine riding the Hogwarts Express all by yourself!" he murmured.
       "Don't you think... you don't think..."
       She broke off at the sight of Malfoy's sour expression and then plopped down onto his desk chair, straddling it in a most unladylike fashion.
       "You saw her follow Snape out of the hall," Malfoy reminded her. "He knows our theory, and he's not an idiot, even if Dumbledore is." The Slytherins were furious with their headmaster for working Snape so hard these days; it made their head of house extremely unapproachable and left him with very little time for them.
       Millicent folded her arms across the back of the chair and leaned over them, staring pointedly at Malfoy.
       "Dumbledore's in charge," she reminded him.
       That gave him pause.
       "What if he's decided," the girl continued, "that it's in everybody's best interests to just let Pansy go without a fight?"
       That's right, Malfoy thought. In the end, Snape has to yield to Dumbledore. The boy shook his head vigorously as if to clear it.
       "We're leaping to conclusions," he insisted. "Maybe Pansy's grandfather died!"
       "I think we should talk to her."
       Malfoy flinched. "If we say a single thing to Pansy about her precious parents," he insisted, "she'll pitch a fit and run straight to Snape. I don't fancy six of the best from a cranky potions master."
       Millicent dropped her chin onto her arms, thinking hard. After a few moments she sat up straight as an idea lit up her face. "How about this?" she suggested. "I'll talk to Pansy, but I won't tell her anything. Instead, I'll try to pump her for information. If she reveals anything that sounds like new evidence, we can use that as an excuse to approach Snape!"
       Pansy had nothing suspicious to say and by breakfast time in the Great Hall the following morning, Millicent had pretty much given up on her plan. She promised to help Pansy pack and then lingered briefly to sneak a few more glances at Snape, who looked perfectly at ease over his toast and tea.
       She returned to her cell a short while later to discover that Pansy had laid out all the clothes she'd received for Christmas and several other items as well.
       "Pansy," Millicent protested, "how long are you going to be gone?"
       Pansy shook a jumper to fluff it before packing it. "Oh, just a few days, I'm sure," she replied absently. "But mum said I should bring home all my favorites for our house elf to launder. She does the most amazing thing with fragrances and the elves here make Slytherin clothes smell just like Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, don't you think?"
       But Millicent had fled. In the common room, Crabbe and Goyle glanced up from their game of exploding snap to watch her streak across the room and fly down the boys' corridor to Malfoy's cell. Almost immediately, she re-emerged with Malfoy at her heels and they raced to the door and out into the corridor.
       "Interesting," Goyle murmured.
       "Quite," Crabbe agreed.
       They rose and sauntered to the common room door, opening it just wide enough to stick their heads into the corridor and listen. From down the hall they could hear Malfoy and Millicent pounding on the doors to Snape's office and quarters crying, "Professor Snape, Professor Snape!" Then they watched as their housemates tore past them on their way out of the dungeon.
       "Excuse me," said a prissy voice from behind them, and they stood aside to let Pansy depart, watching her march down the corridor and disappear from sight. Then Goyle turned casually to Crabbe and inquired,
       "Fancy a walk?"
       "Yes, that would be lovely."
       Millicent and Malfoy tried every place they could think of, beginning with the Great Hall and the staff room. They screamed "Professor Snape!" over and over as they raced through the castle but they could not find their housemaster anywhere. They hurried back to check the Great Hall once more and as they burst inside, Millicent grabbed Malfoy's arm so hard she dug her fingernails into his flesh. He followed her gaze to the nearest window and saw Pansy climbing into a carriage that waited by the castle's front doors.
       Malfoy gazed desperately around the hall. It was full of students finishing a late breakfast or playing games at the long tables. Finally he spotted someone who could help them and cried out, "Potter!"
       A short while later, he and Millicent were running to Hogsmeade as fast as they could, side by side beneath Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.
       "I wish we'd had more time to think this through," Millicent huffed.
       "I wish this cloak were bigger," Malfoy puffed, thinking how nice it would have been to bring Crabbe and Goyle along.
       The carriage was still at the station when they arrived and Malfoy put a finger to his lips, then jerked his head towards the station house. They slipped quickly inside, keeping an eye on Pansy as she watched for the train on the platform next the tracks.
       "We have to wait until the carriage leaves," Malfoy whispered. "Otherwise, Pansy might go back to school to tell Snape."
       "So?" Millicent hissed back. "Snape won't punish us when he hears about the clothes."
       "I want her to go!" Malfoy insisted. "She can do a little spying!" Millicent glared at him and Malfoy shrugged. "I want my owl back," he admitted. Millicent turned away with a sniff and they panted quietly for a few moments, catching their breath. The heat and heavy breathing reminded her of something and she turned back to Malfoy with a grin.
       "Remember the last time we were this close and steamy?"
       Malfoy grinned back. "I remember we wound up even warmer," he nodded.
       The words had barely left his lips when two powerful arms closed around them from behind, squeezing them tightly together and pinning their arms to their sides. Someone they couldn't see clamped his hands solidly over their mouths. They squirmed and struggled as they were lifted off their feet and hustled inside the nearest lavatory. Then their abductor put them firmly back down and there was a snapping sound just before the cloak was yanked from their heads. They spun around to find themselves standing before a furiously tight-lipped Severus Snape.
       Their housemaster let them tremble before him for a few moments as their minds raced to catch up. Of course! Malfoy realized. Mr. Invisible can go with her! But that would be awfully dangerous, he knew, and he wondered if it had been Dumbledore's idea. It took a great deal of energy to remain invisible; most wizards required short breaks at regular intervals. What if Snape got caught resting up in a linen closet or something?
       "We tried to find you, sir," Millicent blurted out and went on to explain about Pansy's packing. Snape's anger abated and he nodded briefly as Millicent asked, "Are you going with her, sir? Secretly? That's a great idea!"
       Nice to know Miss Guilford can keep things to herself, Snape thought. "Back to Hogwarts," he ordered his students. "Immediately!"
       He handed Malfoy the cloak as Millicent asked, "How long will you be gone, sir?"
       "I'm not sure," Snape admitted. "Behave yourselves, and help the Baron keep order."
       Malfoy flipped the cloak around his and Millicent's shoulders. Before covering his head, he asked Snape, "Can we ride back in the carriage, sir? It will be quicker... and safer!"
       Snape frowned. He slipped the lavatory door open a crack and peeked outside, confirming that the carriage was still waiting.
       "Why hasn't it returned to school?" he wondered.
       "Perhaps Professor Dumbledore told the thestrals to wait until you and Pansy were safely aboard the train, sir," said an invisible Millicent beside him. Snape continued to frown, but then the train whistle blew in the distance. "Hurry up!" he snapped at his indiscernible students, quickly disappearing himself. He groped about until he found Millicent's arm and then led the two teenagers to the carriage, keeping them behind him until he could open the door and check to see that it was empty. He hissed a quick, "All right!" in their general direction and then hurried away towards Pansy.
       Millicent and Malfoy climbed awkwardly into the carriage, moving slowly and carefully to be sure they didn't reveal any limbs or jiggle the coach lest Pansy discover she wasn't alone at the station. But she was looking in the opposite direction, watching the Hogwarts Express pull into view. The duo plopped down simultaneously onto the seat and Millicent let out a scream loud enough to curdle the blood.
       Somebody was already sitting there.
       Pansy whirled around at the sound of the scream and then jumped as Snape suddenly appeared beside her. "Stay here!" he commanded, and she watched him race back to the carriage as the train pulled into the station. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed two more people running and squinted to make out Crabbe and Goyle, streaking towards the carriage from the trees nearby.
       Inside the carriage, Malfoy and Millicent felt a layer of cloth descend over their heads as they twisted their necks to look behind them. Through the filmy layers of two invisibility cloaks they saw they were sitting on the laps of Mr. Montague and his wife. The couple grasped them tightly, pinning their arms to their sides just as Snape had while Mrs. Montague glanced frantically out the carriage window. "Snape's coming back!" she cried, and Mr. Montague pushed both children to the floor, flung open the door, leaned back on his seat, and kicked the two youngsters out of the carriage with a mighty shove from the soles of his shoes.
       They fell to the ground, tangled in the cloaks, and scrambled madly to free themselves. But they had no time to pull out their wands before the man's voice called, "Avada..."
       "EXPELLIARMUS!" cried two younger voices in stereo. Crabbe and Goyle had arrived just in time, but their choice of spells left something to be desired. The Montagues' wands flew from their hands, then bounced off the carriage walls right back onto the seat beside them where they were quickly retrieved. By then, however, Snape had arrived and Millicent and Malfoy had scrambled to their feet. A deafening triple "STUPEFY!" rendered the Montagues temporarily harmless.
       Pansy watched all of this with her mouth open, glued to the spot where Snape had ordered her to stay. Then a squeal behind her signaled the opening of a train door and she spun around just in time to see her parents climb down to the platform. "Mum!" she cried, and as they gazed beyond her to the figures near the carriage, she rushed to the safety of their arms.
       "Pansy, NO!" Snape shouted. But it was too late. The Parkinsons snatched their daughter and held her firmly between them, putting both wands to her throat.
       "Release them!" was all they said to Snape.
       Snape hesitated. He knew he didn't have much time. He kept his wand trained on the Montagues and stared intensely at Pansy's face. What was it he saw there, he wondered. Was it despair? Shock? Anger? Please, God, he thought desperately, let it be anger. Keeping eye contact with the girl, he raised his empty hand and snapped his fingers as loudly as he could. His students jumped... all of them except Pansy.
       "Miss Bulstrode," Snape began quietly, never taking his eyes off Pansy's face, "Malfoy, train your wands on the Parkinsons." His students shifted their aim immediately. "Crabbe, Goyle, ready on the Montagues." Crabbe and Goyle moved closer to the carriage. Snape rubbed the fingers of his empty hand together, staring at Pansy as hard as he could. "Finite..." he began, not even looking at the Montagues, "incantatem!"
       Pansy flung herself to the ground as Millicent, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle screamed, "Stupefy!" The Parkinsons froze but Crabbe's and Goyle's spells merely bounced around an empty carriage burning holes in the upholstery. The Montagues had disapparated the moment Snape released them.
       Dumbledore dismissed him to check on Pansy in the infirmary after completing an interrogation of the Parkinsons under veritaserum. Neither wizard believed their story that the Montagues simply wanted to coerce Marybeth into coming back home with the imperius curse. But they couldn't decide whether the Parkinsons had developed a resistance to veritaserum or simply didn't know Voldemort's real plan.
       "Why did they need my parents?" Pansy pouted as she sat up against the pillows on her cot waiting for Madam Pomfrey to return.
       "Your parents were going to bring them all the way to the front door of the castle," Snape explained, "by bringing you back to Hogwarts to pay a courtesy call on Professor Dumbledore. They were going to tell him they needed you to stay home for several weeks to keep your grandmother company until she adjusted to the loss of her husband."
       "Is my grandfather really..."
       Madam Pomfrey returned to bandage Pansy's pretty nose, the only part of her body that had been injured during the skirmish.
       "There you are, my dear," she smiled, giving Pansy a comforting pat. "You'll look as good as new by morning."
       "Then I'm staying here until morning," the prissy-butt insisted, and Snape smiled in spite of himself. Madam Pomfrey rolled her eyes and marched away to give them some privacy.
       "Millicent was here," Pansy told her housemaster.
       "Did she say how Crabbe and Goyle got to Hogsmeade?"
       "They told Mr. Filch that Professor McGonagall wanted them to clean the guard duty hut for detention. Then they body-bound him and used the devices in the hut to scout out a safe path to town."
       It'll cost me a bottle of firewhiskey to get out of flogging them, Snape thought.
       "She also said," Pansy went on, "that Marybeth is frightened to death her parents are going to try it again."
       Snape frowned at that, then noticed Pansy was staring expectantly at him. "I'll speak to Miss Montague," he promised.
       "And what will you tell her, sir?" Pansy asked sharply. "That they could care less about their daughter? That they probably had far more sinister intentions?"
       Snape stared at the child, unsure how to respond. Pansy stared right back, then suddenly looked away, drooping visibly.
       "I've been trying to tell myself," she began softly, "that maybe they're not so far gone. Maybe they wouldn't have killed me." She nodded to herself as she continued. "They were just an easy target for the Montagues because they adore their daughter. Don't you think?"
       She raised hopeful eyes to her housemaster and he nodded at her. "That seems reasonable," he agreed, greatly relieved by the shift in her thinking. But suddenly her eyes turned cold.
       "Then why did you let the Montagues go?" she demanded in a whisper.
       Snape froze, caught in her trap. He considered proffering an excuse but decided against it. Instead, he leaned back against the footboard of Pansy's cot and folded his arms across his chest.
       "It occurs to me," he murmured silkily, "that you've made remarkably few trips across my desk for a child so spoiled." Pansy bounced her eyebrows at him in a dead-on imitation of Malfoy and Snape nearly laughed out loud. "Miss Parkinson," he declared, rising to his feet, "I think your housemates and I have underestimated you."
       "Well, I certainly don't intend to come out of this situation empty-handed," Pansy snorted, reaching behind her to fluff her pillows.
       "What did you have in mind?" Snape wondered.
       Pansy tilted her head to smile at him. "A Slytherin-green cloak that hugs me for three seconds every time I put it on," she replied."
       That's right, Snape thought. Twenty-one. "Done," he promised before whirling around to march out of the infirmary and track down Argus Filch.

An Obedient House