September 1

       September 1 was a blustery day. The students were so eager to board the Hogwarts Express and settle into warm compartments that none of them noticed the young witch hiding in the crowd, a broom clutched in her hands as she waited to take off and fly behind them for hours in the merciless cold wind and rain.
       Inside, Malfoy was pleased to see Violet rushing eagerly towards him down the aisle. Her presence would alleviate the need for an awkward farewell to the Gryffindors he'd spent so much time with. "Bye!" he called absently over his shoulder to Harry and Ron as Violet pulled him happily down the aisle and into the compartment where Slytherins were gathering.
       Crabbe and Goyle were already seated and as Malfoy stepped into the compartment, the boys took one look at each other and burst out laughing. Violet rolled her eyes as she plopped down on the opposite seat.
       "This year," she announced, "I'm going to be really nice to Pansy so she'll invite me to her house next summer."
       "So." Malfoy gave her a nudge as he sat down beside her. "Big second year now!"
       "Is it different?" Violet wondered. Malfoy shrugged.
       "You'll get a bigger cell, further down the corridor. One without bunk beds."
       Violet sighed and Malfoy frowned at her melancholy attitude. "Hey," he scolded the child who was clearly missing her former roommate, "I'm getting my own room, and I can't wait!" He tossed Crabbe and Goyle a condescending smile. "No offense!"
       "None taken," Goyle assured him. "We can't wait, either."
       "Captain?" Violet's mood brightened visibly. "You're quidditch captain?"
       Slytherin quidditch captains got their own rooms. Malfoy nodded, enjoying her excitement. But then Violet's face dimmed again. After a moment, she started pulling on her fingers.
       "Are we going to have trouble finding good replacements for Pucey and Bletchley?" the little seeker wondered. "With fewer Slytherins, I mean?"
       The four of them sat quietly, pondering the reason for the reduced snake population at Hogwarts.
       "What about Pansy?" Goyle finally suggested. "She's a pretty good flyer."
       "A girl?" The very idea made Crabbe snort. Violet kicked him in the shins.
       "Pansy wouldn't want to mess up her hair," Malfoy argued. "But I wouldn't mind some older females in the changing room."
       Violet was just about to tell him where he could shove his broomstick when the door to the compartment slid open and Millicent and Tracey stuck their heads in.
       "All right!" Crabbe clapped at the sight of them. "Nun stories!" He pulled Violet onto his lap to make room for the girls on either side of Malfoy. "Come on, Millicent. There have to be some you haven't told us yet!"
       Millicent shook her head. "I think I've told you everything that won't get me flogged," she replied regretfully. Malfoy asked whether they'd enjoyed the convent enough to go back the following summer and Tracey nodded emphatically.
       "What about you?" she asked her classmate. "Was muggle torture everything you'd hoped?"
       Draco shrugged. "It was entertaining. But proper torment takes a lot of effort. I think next summer I'd just like to relax at the squire's."
       Goyle shook his head, the memory of the ancient country Slytherin who'd hosted him and Crabbe for the summer still fresh in his mind. "It's a sad thing," he sighed, "to watch a snake wither into a Hufflepuff."
       Just then the compartment door slid open again and Pansy scowled in at them. "Would it kill you," she snapped at Malfoy, "to attend a first-day prefects' meeting just once?"
       Her indignation confused Violet. "I thought our prefects didn't go to the meeting on the train," she said to the older housemates surrounding her, "unless the head boy and girl are Slytherins."
       Malfoy leaned over to pat her on the head before winking at Pansy and slapping his thigh. The prettiest Slytherin climbed onto his lap and immediately began to twist and wriggle, searching for a comfortable position. "Bony!" she complained of Malfoy's late summer physique.
       "So what's the war news from the wizarding world?" Goyle asked her. "Are we all going to be dead by Christmas?"
       Pansy shrugged. "My folks were glad to see me heading back to school, that's for sure. And I hear Snape was only allowed to go to Hogsmeade through July. After that, his dates had to come to the castle through the floo network." She wrapped an arm around Malfoy's neck. "Dumbledore's developed a protocol involving the prefects. I'll tell you later."
       "What about Potter?" Crabbe asked Malfoy. "Any scar attacks? You'd have written us, right?"
       "No scar attacks," Malfoy assured him. He hesitated to add anything else. Snape was the only one with whom he looked forward to sharing the substance of his many late night conversations with Harry Potter. It had been a strange experience, lying awake on hot summer nights pondering where he and the Gryffindor sleeping 10 feet away would fit into the wizarding world's future. "He didn't tell me everything, you know," Malfoy insisted to his housemates.
       The others in the compartment exchanged looks.
       "What DID he tell you?" Millicent finally demanded.
       Malfoy had to think before answering. Their most interesting conversations had been about Snape, of course, and had shed little light on the complex relationship he had with each boy. Harry, who owed Snape his life and his best summer ever, had confessed to Malfoy that every time he saw Snape, he felt the sting of the man's hatred for his father even as he remembered the image of his face in 'Moody's' foe glass beside Dumbledore and McGonagall, the powerful trio who stood so strongly united against the dark wizard. . . who had killed his father. Malfoy, in turn, had admitted that his housemaster's example had probably saved him from a fate worse than death, but this salvation was forever tied to the realization that Snape was compensating for a father who hadn't loved Draco very much. The memory of that rejection followed rapidly on the heels of every good deed Snape performed. Malfoy wondered if it always would.
       "We talked about Sirius Black a lot," he told the Slytherins. "I think Potter wishes he could have spent as much time with Black as we do with Snape."

       Their head of house was not in the Great Hall when they arrived, inspiring Violet to break free from the gaggle of Slytherins surrounding her and race for the dungeon, scattering the first years who were waiting for Professor McGonagall. After a moment, the rest of the Slytherins follwed her. Their feet pounded along the stone corridors.
       They found the door to Snape's office open but the potions master was nowhere to be seen. The Slytherins crowded inside and looked about.
       "Why would he go off and leave the door open?" Crabbe wondered.
       Violet grunted as she banged into something invisible near Snape's desk. With a snap of his fingers, their silky-voiced head of house appeared before them.
       "Guess what I learned to do this summer?"
       The Slytherins burst into applause and Violet threw her arms around Snape's waist. He was just about to tell her to get off when he realized her head reached higher up his robe than last year. He placed the palm of his hand flat against the top of her head to measure.
       "You grew!" he exclaimed.
       Violet beamed at him. "Two inches!" she boasted.
       Then Snape noticed Malfoy. "You shrank," he observed darkly.
       "Fifteen pounds," Malfoy confessed, making Snape think to himself,
       Those bloody people!
       "You look wonderful, sir!" Pansy observed.
       Snape shrugged. "I had a nice summer."
       His students grinned and Snape rewarded them with a particularly fierce scowl.
       "You might have asked!" he added petulantly.
       With that, and a barely concealed smile, he led his laughing students out of the office and up to the Great Hall.
       They were stopped just outside the entrance by Dennis Creevey, puffed up with pride to be serving as messenger. "Professor Dumbledore wants to see you in his office right away, sir!" he told Snape.
       As their teacher swept away, Crabbe leaned over to whisper nervously in Malfoy's ear.
       "You don't think he'll use that invisibility trick to spy on us, do you?"

       Snape thought he heard voices inside Dumbledore's office as he ascended the spiral staircase. One of them sounded rather youthful and high-pitched. He stepped into the chamber to find Dumbledore standing next to a youngster who was sitting wrapped up in a blanket, shivering by the fire. The moment Snape entered the room, the child threw off the warm covering and raced across the office to throw her arms around his waist, clinging to him for dear life.
       It was Marybeth Montague.
       For a moment, Snape feared he might faint, or at least be sick. His knees shook and he could not conceal his horror as he gazed helplessly at Dumbledore. The elderly wizard spoke gently and very kindly.
       "Miss Montague ran away from home this morning," he told Snape. "She has requested and received permission to return to Hogwarts. I leave it to you to decide whether or not she will return to Slytherin. You may use my office." And with that, he left them for the happier environment of the sorting and feast.
       Snape looked down at the child who clung to him, her face buried in his robes.
       Thirty seconds ago, he thought. Thirty seconds ago, I was happy.
       He took a deep breath and placed his hands on Marybeth's shoulders. "Miss Montague," he began uncertainly, whereupon Marybeth clutched him so hard he nearly grunted. A fresh wave of despair broke over him, making him nauseous. The image of her brother, dead beneath his wand, sprang to his mind. Snape wondered which would be worse, hearing her story or telling his.
       It's only girls now, said Malfoy's voice in his head.
       He'd worked so hard to banish all thoughts of what Voldemort and the Death Eaters might be doing to his departed Slytherins, no small task for a man of his experience. Now, as the child's death-grip on his waist proved, there would be no escaping a first hand account.
       "Miss Montague! Release me immediately!"
       Marybeth let go. She stepped back with a sniff, her eyes glued to the floor.
       "Return to your seat," Snape commanded, and as Marybeth resumed her place by the fire, Snape summoned Dumbledore's chair from across the room and sat down opposite her.
       "Very well," he began again, more gently this time. "Tell me what happened."
       Marybeth's mouth worked silently for several seconds and eventually she closed her eyes against the pain that was gagging her. Finally the sobs broke forth and she climbed into Snape's lap and buried her head in his robes.
       It's all right, Snape soothed himself as he recoiled from the embrace. At least this way you can't see her face. With a deep sigh, he wrapped his arms protectively around the child and resigned himself to the pain.
       She sobbed first. Then, because she felt warm and safe, she rested for a few minutes. Finally, she began to speak in a voice that was flat with bitterness. Snape heard little that was unfamiliar and was not surprised to find that time had done little to diminish the horror of the experiences he now shared with this child. Eventually she revealed that her father had indeed survived the siege.
       I suppose we can expect a call, Snape thought morosely.
       She stopped when she reached the part about deciding to return to Hogwarts. Then she sighed deeply and leaned against him, resting quietly. After a few moments, she whispered, "I can hear your heartbeat."
       Snape cocked his head to scrutinize her face. Marybeth gave him the tiniest smile. "It sounds the same," she admitted. "It seems like it should be different. But it sounds just like last winter." She pressed her ear against his chest again. "Malfoy used to call us Snape snugglers."
       Snape grimaced. "Sounds like a woolen undergarment," he groaned, and as Marybeth giggled, he shifted her from his lap to his knee so he could look her in the eye.
       "About your brother," he began, and Marybeth nodded, cutting him off.
       "I know," she told him. "Harry Potter killed him."
       "Potter?" Snape repeated incredulously.
       "He told me," Marybeth explained.
       Snape looked utterly bewildered. "Harry Potter told you he killed your brother?"
       "No," Marybeth shook her head. "My brother told me he was going to kill Harry." She looked miserably at her hands that were clasped tightly together in her lap. "I think he thought he could earn himself another eye that way. But he only told me about it to punish me for complaining so much, for wanting to come back to Hogwarts." She looked up at Snape, her face frightened. "He was so determined!" she whimpered. "I thought he might even kill me first, to practice. I thought he might actually bring it off!" She dropped her eyes into her lap again and whispered the worst part.
       "I was glad when he didn't come home."
       After that she was quiet, her head bowed, her eyes on the folded hands that twitched slightly as she waited for Snape's response. He watched her for a long time. Then he whispered just as softly,
       "I killed a Slytherin to save a Gryffindor."
       Marybeth froze. Then, slowly, almost haltingly, her head turned bit by bit until she was gazing open-mouthed at her former housemaster, her eyes filled with horror. Snape sat motionless, staring intently back at the child. Silently they watched each other, and after a few seconds, Snape realized he was holding his breath, until Marybeth suddenly folded her arms across her chest.
       "Don't be stupid, sir," she declared stoutly.
       Snape was so startled he sat up with a jerk and Marybeth grinned hugely.
       "That felt good!" she cried. "No wonder you say it so often. Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she chanted, swinging the feet that dangled over Snape's knee. Then she wriggled back into his lap and wrapped her arms around him.
       "He never really felt like my brother after Christmas," she continued more comfortably. "I don't think he liked how often people listened to Malfoy instead of him." She looked up at Snape. "Did you know he was the one who stole your letter last March?"
       Snape's face clouded and Marybeth leaned against him again.
       "And in February, when Malfoy said if we didn't stop you two. . ." She paused and then giggled at the impertinence she was about to get away with. "If we didn't stop you and Professor McGonagall from fighting, you'd destroy us long before Vol. . ."
       She stopped. The amusement faded from her face and her eyes filled with fright. Snape prompted her firmly.
       "Voldemort," he insisted.
       "Voldermort," Marybeth repeated obediently with that proud little Slytherin lift of her chin. "You'd destroy us long before Voldemort could. My brother didn't agree with him."
       She climbed off Snape's lap and stood solidly beside him. "You killed a Death Eater, sir," she declared. "I'm a Slytherin."
       Now it was Snape's turn to fold his arms. He stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed them comfortably at the ankles.
       "Well, let's see," he began. "There's Hufflepuff, but even I'm not cruel enough to inflict a Slytherin upon Hufflepuff."
       Marybeth smiled.
       "Gryffindor?" Snape continued. "No, I don't think we'd better send the little sister of the boy who tried to kill Harry Potter to Gryffindor."
       Marybeth screwed up her nose and shook her head.
       "Ravenclaw," Snape suggested. "They're smart enough."
       Marybeth tilted her head as if thinking it over.
       "But you just wouldn't get the sort of hands-on care you'd receive in Slytherin, now, would you?"
       Marybeth grinned from ear to ear.
       "Besides," Snape concluded, giving Marybeth's hair a yank as he rose, "I don't see why I should let myself in for six years of hell from Miss Guilford."
       "You're the best housemaster in the world, sir," Marybeth insisted as they left Dumbledore's office and headed for the Great Hall.
       "So I've been told," Snape replied.

       Malfoy threw Dumbledore a sneer every chance he got. What the hell had the old man done with the Slytherin head of house? Not that Snape's presence would have made any difference. The mere half dozen new students sorted into Slytherin no doubt reflected the substantial number of families who were no longer sending students to Hogwarts. But Snape could have at least thrown the stupid Sorting Hat a reassuring glower or two.
       When the head of Slytherin finally entered the Great Hall, Violet took one look at the snake beside him and flew off her bench with the speed of a Cornish Pixie, racing into Marybeth's arms. The rest of her housemates looked a little less certain about the return of a prodigal Slytherin. But Snape paused on his way to the head table to whisper sternly to Malfoy,
       "I'm relying on you."
       Malfoy nodded and glared the rest of the table into submission.

       When they walked into their common room after dinner, Marybeth wrinkled her nose. "What's that?" she whispered to Violet about the unmistakable odor the house elves had been unable to eradicate. VViolet shrugged.
       "We spent a lot of time here last May," she explained.
       "On the floor, mostly," added Crabbe.
       "Why doesn't everybody unpack," Malfoy advised, "and then we'll catch up." So the Slytherins, old and new, headed to their cells. Violet and Marybeth were delighted with their roomier but comfortingly familiar quarters still boasting stone walls, flickering candles, iron cots, and warm rough bedclothes. It was all so tough, so serviceable, so absolutely Slytherin.
       "Your clothes don't fit," Violet observed.
       "They're last year's," Marybeth admitted. "I've got nothing to sleep in, nothing else to wear, and not a knut to my name."
       "Wow!" Violet breathed. "That's exciting!"
       "I wonder if I could sell my broom?" Marybeth muttered, sitting dejectedly on her bed.
       "You don't have to sell your broom," Violet assured her. "You can borrow my stuff until yours turns up."
       "What do you mean, turns up?"
       Violet shrugged. "I don't have any money," she reminded Marybeth. "But somehow I always get everything I need. It just shows up." She sat down happily beside her restored roommate and cupped her hands to whisper in Marybeth's ear.
       "It's magic!"
       She grabbed Marybeth's hand and the two girls raced to the common room to join their housemates.
       The Slytherins settled in and Marybeth listened happily to their stories of everything she'd missed, cheering and applauding wildly over their rescue of Snape and their escape to the Chamber of Secrets. The Slytherins prodded each other for every detail they could remember, postponing as long as possible the moment when their story would end and Marybeth would be forced to tell her hers. Just as they seemed to run out of memories, the common room door opened and Snape entered.
       The Slytherins sprang quickly into their two rows and when Snape began, "We have two rules in Slytherin," Violet and Marybeth beamed with contentment.
       He ignored them during his tour of the lines, which they accepted as appropriate given their lowly second-year status. But just before he turned to sweep from the room, he focused his steely gaze upon Violet and hissed her name.
       "Sir?" Violet squeaked.
       Snape crooked a finger at her and Violet walked obediently up the rows to stand before him. Snape held out his hand and Violet suddenly blushed with embarrassment. She reached sheepishly inside her robe to hand him something none of her housemates could see. Whatever it was, Snape held it up in front of him. He pulled out his own wand and as the Slytherins watched in amazement, he traced its illuminated green tip upwards in a straight line and Violet's wand materialized before their eyes.
       When he was finished, Snape raised one eyebrow at the child.
       "I was hoping you wouldn't remember for at least a week," Violet confessed.
       Snape turned her around and gave her a stinging swat with the wand before returning it and heading for the common room door. Violet scampered happily back to her place in the queue, where she whispered to Marybeth,
       "Don't you think that he's just..."
       "...the best housemaster in the world?" Marybeth finished.
       The two girls hugged with joy.

       The wind and rain were still pummeling the castle when Dumbledore stopped by his office a while later with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. "Thank you, Severus," he said warmly, "for taking her back."
       "You're welcome, Headmaster."
       Dumbledore took a seat across from the instructor. "Some time," he told Snape, "I'd like to hear what she told you."
       Snape gave him the tiniest diabolical smile. "Then step into my common room, sir," he invited the old man, "for she's surely telling the Slytherins about it right now."
       Dumbledore shuddered in horror. "How will they sleep tonight?" he protested. "They'll have nightmares for months!" He shook his head and added, "I wouldn't be you, Severus, for all the floo powder in Diagon Alley."
       Snape just smiled.
       He waited until 11pm. Then he stormed into the common room, glowered menacingly at his students as they sprang from their horrified sofa-bound tableau into two straight queues, and thundered,
       "Go to bed!"
       The Slytherins raced to their cells and hurried into their beds, all thoughts of Death Eaters obliterated by the wrath of Severus Snape. They slept soundly all night except for Marybeth, who woke from a nightmare around 2am, sat up with a gasp, took one reassuring look around her cell, and then snuggled back beneath her covers to sleep peacefully until morning.

An Obedient House