Do-gooder's Remorse

       "I don't think the corridors are that cold, Malfoy," Harry Potter mocked as he leaned against the doorway of the cell where Draco was tying his dashing new cloak around his neck. The blonde Slytherin gave Harry a sly glance over his shoulder.
       "Git," he pronounced.
       Harry plopped down on Malfoy's bunk, looking appreciatively around the spacious cell. "Nice room!" he admitted.
       "No date?" Malfoy asked him.
       "No time," Harry shrugged. "The Gryffindors only decided we were going last night. Like most everybody else."
       The Christmas dance was an all or nothing affair. Because the staff were hosting and therefore unavailable to stroll the corridors providing the extra security required these days, each house had to choose between attending or remaining in its common room all evening.
       Malfoy dropped onto the opposite end of the bed. "All better, then?" he smirked at his peer.
       Harry shrugged again. "I can't speak for the other houses," he admitted. "But the Gryffindors and McGonagall... we had a nice talk."
       Malfoy gazed at him through narrowed eyes. "They love you, you know," he told Harry almost accusingly. "Dumbledore and McGonagall." He watched for Harry's reaction, then added, "The way I can tell is, they sure don't love us."
       Harry folded his arms across his chest. "Unlike Snape," he retorted, "who loves everybody the same."
       "Snape's compensating," Malfoy reminded Harry as he climbed off the bunk to comb his hair in the mirror.
       "So are Dumbledore and McGonagall," Harry shot back.
       Malfoy turned to him with a frown. "No, I meant for..." He broke off with a shake of his head and returned to his grooming. "Never mind," he decided. "Pointless."
       Harry watched him for a while. Then he asked softly, "We're never going to be friends, are we?"
       The question took Malfoy by surprise. His stopped the downward sweep of his comb an inch above his ear as he stared at himself in the mirror. Why would Potter ask him such a thing? He had plenty of friends.
       Malfoy put the comb down on top of his bureau and plucked at its teeth as he contemplated a response. Was it lonely, being a Gryffindor? Maybe it's just lonely being Harry Potter, he mused. It occurred to him that even the best of Harry's friends could be selfish and disloyal except for Granger, whom Potter would never fully appreciate because she was a girl. Too bad, Draco thought. If he wants an equal for a confidant, she's his best bet. We'll never be more than colleagues because... Because what? Because Slytherins were as comfortable alone as in a group? Because they found more integrity in accuracy than agreeableness? Malfoy nodded to himself. Because our values don't match, he realized. He turned straightforwardly to Harry.
       "No, Gryffindor," he admitted. "We'll never be friends." Then he smiled. "But you can enter the Great Hall in my company anyway."
       "No date?" Harry smirked.
       "Where's the fun in that?" Malfoy drawled. And with one last check of his reflection, he swept his new cloak dramatically over his shoulder and set off for the dance alongside the sweet prince of Hogwarts.

       Snape stared at the bottle on the counter before him and contemplated climbing inside of it. A bright-eyed, nauseatingly cheerful Minerva had brought the offering of Ogden's Old Firewhisky, bedecked with a large scarlet ribbon, shortly after he'd returned from opening gifts with the Slytherins that morning. She'd banged it down on the counter, grabbed him by both ears, kissed him loudly on the forehead, and warned him never to lay a finger on a Gryffindor again.
       The bottle from Dumbledore was even larger.
       More impressive still was his present from the orphans of Slytherin, which he wore now as he sat glumly considering inebriation. He'd tortured them by untying the ribbon on their gift as slowly and methodically as possible until poor little Violet was positively bouncing on the tips of her toes in anticipation. Then the first glimpse of rich green silk had slipped through the wrapping paper and everyone had gasped.
       They'd given him a Slytherin-green insulated silk dressing gown. "For warm and stylish inspections," the card had read. Plus there had been the usual compliment of home-made, snake-themed cards from the rest of his students and the pile of remembrances from the women of Hogsmeade, which he'd scooped together for transport to his quarters; no amount of cajoling from the older boys could persuade him to open them in public.
       Yes, he sat literally surrounded by tokens of affection. And he would be missed if he skipped a dance being hosted by the staff; his tenacious and intrusive Slytherins would no doubt come looking for him. It would do no good to have them find him sprawled in his new robe, face down in a puddle of satin undergarments, chocolate bonbons, and hand-drawn pictures of serpents.
       You had a good run, he comforted himself. No sense pining.
       There were more important things than being the most popular teacher at Hogwarts.

       The atmosphere in the Great Hall was awkward at best. Chairs lined the four walls and students sat in them by houses, failing to mingle, much less dance. A house elf band led by Dobby on the cornet played lethargically from atop the head table platform, and a few of the staff were waltzing. Snape found a corner to stand in, folded his arms and assumed a chaperone's glower.
       Violet bounded over to him sporting the green jumper he'd given her last Christmas. "Nobody will dance with me!" she pouted.
       "Neither will I," Snape assured her, seeing through her ruse immediately.
       "But, sir, you..."
       "No!" Snape thundered, and Violet narrowed her eyes to slits like the good snake she was and stomped away.
       As the evening wore on, the discomfort increased. Occasionally a pair of students from the same house would take to the floor only to flee back to their chairs as soon as the song ended. The Slytherins seemed to be having a good time, snickering and jostling each other happily over the unease that filled the hall. They refused to dance, foregoing the opportunity to show off their skill in favor of perpetuating the self-consciousness of the other students.
       Minerva wandered over to Snape with a concerned expression. "I don't understand," Snape whispered to her. "Are they angry with each other now?"
       "I don't think so," McGonagall whispered back. "I think it's embarrassment." She watched the students' furtive glances at one another and the staff. "Reconciliation can happen fairly quickly but I suppose fellowship takes more time," she concluded.
       Snape glanced beyond her to the hall's main entrance, then jerked his head in that direction. Two Ravenclaws were trying to slink away early. Minerva hurried over to corral them and Snape took advantage of her absence to sneak a peek at the Gryffindors.
       They were looking at him. Not all of them, but several. Then they put their heads together to whisper. They did this repeatedly throughout the evening.
       The dance was scheduled to end at midnight, but by 10pm, Snape was wondering if Dumbledore shouldn't pack it in. The same question occurred to Malfoy who wandered over to ask his housemaster if the Slytherins had fulfilled their social obligations and might be permitted to retire to the more festive atmosphere of their common room. Snape's reply was cut short by the sudden approach of a pack of Gryffindors led by Harry Potter.
       "Good evening, Professor," said Harry politely.
       "Potter," Snape responded in a carefully neutral tone.
       Harry shoved his hands in his pockets while the rest of the Gryffindors folded their arms across their chests and regarded Snape with serious, purposeful expressions.
       "A bunch of us have been talking," Harry explained, "and we think the ability to cast defensive charms from a speeding broom might come in very handy some day."
       Snape raised an eyebrow and said nothing.
       "I'm sure, as a teacher," Harry added quickly, "you're worried that practicing such a thing would be terribly dangerous."
       Snape bit back a snide response to that understatement and limited himself to an earnest, "Nice to see you considering other points of view, Potter."
       Harry forced himself not to roll his eyes. Instead, he looked Snape straight in the eye and said, "We wanted to ask if you would consider supervising some practice sessions during the break. You see..." He glanced at the students on either side of him and finished, "There's no one we trust more to keep a student safely on a broom."
       Snape's heart swelled so hard he felt stupid. Responses rushed through his head. I'm sorry I didn't speak up sooner. I promise to listen if you ever need someone to talk to. I think you're becoming an admirable young man. "I'd be honored," he told the Gryffindors. And he held out his hand. After a startled moment, Harry shook it. Then, quick like little bunnies and with mischievous smiles to boot, the other Gryffindors thrust their hands out so Snape would have to shake those, too, which he did with a scowl they found extremely heart-warming.
       The Gryffindors headed back to their seats just as McGonagall returned from another corridor round-up. Snape glanced aside to avoid her eyes and found Malfoy still standing beside him, a small smile on his face. But instead of asking again if the Slytherins could leave, Draco slipped quickly away and hurried up to the band's platform.
       "Should we ask Albus to call it a night?" Minerva wondered.
       "Not just yet," Snape replied as he watched Malfoy's movements. The teenager whispered something to Dobby that made the house elf shake his head emphatically, his ears flopping beneath his Father Christmas hat. Malfoy grabbed the elf by his Weasley sweater, pulled him close, and drawled in his ear as he pointed to Harry Potter, then Snape, then Dumbledore. Dobby gulped and nodded and Malfoy hopped down from the platform and slipped quickly over to the Slytherins, rocking on his heels expectantly.
       The house elf drummer banged out a plucky 4/4 tempo on his high-hat cymbal that made everybody jump. They looked up curiously as the bass player laid down a repetitive line of three half steps followed by three half steps and a jump.
       "That's catchy," Minerva murmured, unconsciously tapping her foot. "I wonder what it is?"
       Snape smiled and said nothing.
       The saxophone players put their horns to their mouths and blew through the first snippet of verse that teased the beginning of the song. The second time through, they broke into thirds as the Slytherins climbed nonchalantly to their feet and began casually swaying a bit to the music. Dobby leaned back and wailed on a lick so high that mouths and eyes popped open wide except among the Slytherins, who seemed to be expecting it. They watched with pleasure as the elf blew himself scarlet, then nodded and clapped appropriately when he finished. Then, as the band's singers stepped forward, the Slytherins suddenly raced onto the floor, forming two lines just in time to begin stepping and hopping, weaving and spinning as the crooners sang, "Down them stairs, lose them cares, where? Down in Birdland!"
       "Whoa!" Ron cried as all of Hogwarts' citizens stared transfixed at the smooth, light-footed Slytherins. Their lines moved forward and back and side to side as they slid and sashayed in elegant, stylish unison.
       "Where did they learn that?" Minerva asked breathlessly, unable to take her eyes off the captivating spectacle. When Snape made no response, she glanced at him and found his face decidedly blank. A slow smile of realization crept over her own countenance, causing Snape to shrug. "I always said you should have spent more time at the Three Broomsticks," was all he had to say for himself.
       As Dobby broke into a long solo, the Slytherins abandoned their lines to cut loose in pairs, whirling and spinning about the floor. Minerva shook her head.
       "My, that looks like fun," she said with a sigh. Snape stared curiously at her for a moment or two, then leaned close and whispered, "Care to cut a rug?"
       Minerva gave a little gasp. She shook her head emphatically, smiling and blushing. "I don't know how!" she insisted.
       "You don't have to," Snape assured her. Then, as the band broke into the bridge, he took her in his arms and swept her onto the floor.
       The Slytherins immediately retreated to the side lines and the citizens of Hogwarts formed a circle to gawk. Snape spun Minerva this way and that, his strong hands twirling and lifting and dipping her with such delightful skill that she found herself thinking, This must be how the women of Hogsmeade feel. As Dobby built the bridge to feverish climax with escalating high notes, Snape grasped Minerva firmly by the waist and flipped her so high over his shoulder she seemed to hang in mid-air before swooping back to the floor in an arc that gave the on-lookers a brief glimpse of her tartan bloomers. "Oh!" she cried in delight as the party-goers burst into applause. Then the Slytherins spilled back onto the floor, lining up on either side of the two heads of house, and as the band broke into the final rousing repetitions of the chorus, Snape showed her how to step and lean, shuffle and slide in a fluid, intoxicating jazz line dance.
       The students watched them enviously. There was something almost taunting about the fun the Slytherins were having. The Gryffindors looked at each other, then at the Hufflepuffs, who shook their heads and turned to the Ravenclaws. The band played louder as the dancers stepped wider and spun harder. The Ravenclaws turned to Dumbledore and the staff. Several students began to bounce with eagerness and frustration. Then Neville Longbottom cried, "If the Slytherins can do it, I can do it!" and charged onto the floor.
       The rest of Hogwarts followed him en masse, quickly forming lines that filled the Great Hall as they laughed and giggled, spun and twirled and slid. The band played on and on, the chorus of "Birdland" echoing throughout the corridors as the joyous students and teachers danced.
       Together, they fairly rocked the castle.

An Obedient House