I'd Rather be Slythering

       The Slytherins lived in patient fear of retaliation but no response was forthcoming from the Gryffindors. Instead, the lions attacked the staff, reading aloud the Daily Prophet's accounts of disappearances and brutal violence and commenting openly on Hogwart's lack of response. "I'm sure glad we're all sitting around safe at school," Harry declared loudly at breakfast one morning after reading a story about the murder of group that included several children. "Maybe we could fit the entire non-Death Eater population into the castle!"
       The staff did not respond to these snide remarks, nor did Dumbledore yield to the demand that History of Magic be cancelled. But he did schedule an advanced dueling exhibition by Flitwick and Snape in the Great Hall the first Saturday in October that was extremely well attended.
       The students crowded close around the demonstration table as the two wizards squared off. Snape flicked his wand to the ready position with a loud swish and Violet jumped. "I flinch every time he does that," she admitted to the Slytherin next to her.
       The professors showed the students how to maximize the effects of their stupefy charms and then paired up volunteers to see who could hold an opponent at bay the longest. As the students' skills improved, the waiting time between casts grew longer and Violet's attention wavered. Her eyes fell on a nearby pack of Hufflepuffs.
       The badger house had been suffering a severe identity crisis ever since the siege, though Violet supposed it may have really begun when their only hero, Cedric Diggory, had died during the Triwizard Tournament. Nevertheless, it was the siege that had solidified their conviction that they were truly an ineffective house. While the Slytherins and Gryffindors had performed their hallway heroics and the Ravenclaws had kept Professor Flitwick alive without the aid of Madam Pomfrey, the Hufflepuffs had done nothing. . . except pass out cold after stumbling upon a pile of dead bodies.
       As a result, their behavior had changed substantially since the start of the term. If the Gryffindors were noticeably hawkish, the Hufflepuffs were downright fiendish. "Can you blame them?" Malfoy had asked his housemates when tales of one misdeed after another began to spread throughout the school. He remembered the first conversation he'd ever had with Harry Potter, when he'd insisted he'd rather leave Hogwarts than be a Hufflepuff. Now it seemed every Hufflepuff wanted to be a Slytherin.
       When the demonstration ended, the Hufflepuffs slinked quietly out of the hall. Other students filled in behind them on their way back to their houses, but Violet spied Eleanor Branstone and Owen Cauldwell, badger third years, sneaking off by themselves into the first classroom they came to. She grabbed Malfoy's sleeve and tugged, jerking her head in the wrongdoers' direction, and Malfoy grinned. The two Slytherins dropped casually behind the rest of the streaming students until they were alone in the corridor. Then they burst in on the Hufflepuffs.
       What they saw absolutely shocked them.
       The Hufflepuffs were polishing a fraudulent house points hourglass.
       All four students froze at the sight of each other. Then Malfoy threw his head back and roared. He laughed harder and harder as Owen scurried over to the classroom door and pulled it shut behind the Slytherins.
       "The house cup competition?" Malfoy gasped, wet-eyed with mirth. "You're going to cheat in the house cup competition?" He leaned against the classroom wall and slid to the floor, clutching his aching belly as he continued to chuckle.
       Violet was not so amused. "Why?" she protested, aghast. "You almost won last year!"
       Indeed, the hard-working Hufflepuffs had steadily racked up points as they'd patiently improved their skills in preparation for the inevitable. "You would have won," Violet continued, "if it weren't for the sie..."
       She bit the word back, but Malfoy, slumped on the floor beside her, punched her in the knee anyway.
       "But we didn't win, did we?" sneered Owen bitterly. "We lost out to quidditch and heroics. Again."
       Malfoy exchanged looks with Violet and then turned back to the Hufflepuffs. "Does it work?" he wondered, nodding at the fake hourglass.
       Eleanor stood the device on its end. "We're not sure," she admitted. "That's why we haven't told the others yet. If it doesn't work, we'll just take it back out again."
       Malfoy grinned and the Hufflepuffs scowled at the obvious question that hung unspoken in the air. How, exactly, were they going to get the hourglass into the Great Hall in the first place? "If I may," began the elder Slytherin pompously, and the Hufflepuffs looked up grudgingly to hear his advice. "You don't seem to have planned this very well. There are two ways into the Great Hall. Shouldn't you have a look-out at each set of doors?"
       The Hufflepuffs looked at each other, shrugged, and nodded. They were already caught. What did they have to lose?
       "Will you help us?" Owen asked.
       Malfoy stretched out his legs before him, crossing them at the ankles. He laces his fingers behind his head.
       "What's in it for Slytherin?"
       The two Hufflepuffs thought it over. Eleanor came up with a proposal first. "If, after a week, it seems to be working," she suggested, "the Hufflepuffs will do all the Slytherins' History of Magic homework for the rest of the year."
       Owen nodded in agreement.
       "More," Malfoy insisted.
       "And Divination," Eleanor added.
       "Deal!" Malfoy cried.
       He stood up to shake hands with the Hufflepuffs. Violet looked uncertain but shook hands obediently after Malfoy prompted her with a punch in the shoulder.
       The plan made Eleanor giddy with delight. She hid the hourglass under her robe, hugging it to her abdomen as she bragged, "If we get caught, Professor Sprout will take so many points from us we'll have a negative balance!"
       Violet rolled her eyes. "Point-taking's for sissies," she insisted. "Get a real head of house."
       The four miscreants crept carefully down the corridor and along the entranceway to the main doors of the Great Hall. Suddenly the doors flew open and Flitwick emerged. Malfoy and Violet turned quickly to face the Hufflepuffs as Malfoy without missing a beat, proclaimed,
       "That's because Professor Snape has such strong concentration. If Professor Flitwick would improve his focus..."
       He pretended to start with embarrassment at the sight of the Ravenclaw head of house.
       "Excuse me, Professor," he murmured smoothly. "That was quite an exhibition!"
       "Hmph," responded Flitwick as he strode away indignantly down the corridor.
       The Slytherins peeked into the Great Hall. It appeared to be empty.
       "What's he been doing in here all this time?" Violet wondered.
       But Malfoy shrugged off the inquiry, nodding to the Hufflepuffs before grabbing Violet's arm to hurry her through the hall and over to the side doors.
       Owen kept watch at the main doors as Eleanor hurried to the four house hourglasses and the Slytherins made their way out the side doors into the portrait-bedecked chamber where the Triwizard champions had gathered. There, they struck up a casual, conversational pose, sneaking an occasional glance at the other door to the chamber.
       "Malfoy," whispered Violet, "how can you be sure the Slytherins will go along with this? I mean, what if they don't think it's enough?"
       "It's not enough," Malfoy admitted. He smiled at her confusion and added with an exaggerated drawl, "Violet, honey...didn't they have blackmail at that orphanage of yours?"
       Violet's eyes flew open in delight. She clamped a hand over her gaping mouth, and that was a good thing, because otherwise she might have screamed when Snape flung open the side doors from inside the Great Hall. There stood Eleanor and Owen, cowering behind him.
       Malfoy froze like a mudblood before a basilisk. His mouth hung open in shock. Then comprehension dawned and he snapped it shut with a grimace. As Snape marched the four of them to Dumbledore's office, he leaned over to whisper to Violet.
       The older Slytherin nearly spit with vexation. "Dueling an invisible opponent," he hissed. "That's what Flitwick was doing in there all that time."

       Once they'd recovered from the initial shock, the Slytherins found it difficult not to giggle throughout the entire ordeal. It was just so perverse, standing in Dumbledore's office listening to the Hufflepuffs confess to Professor Sprout that they'd led two Slytherins astray. Snape cuffed his students repeatedly from behind, trying to encourage a more circumspect demeanor.
       The head of Slytherin didn't find the situation the least bit amusing. He listened to Sprout berating her students' recent pattern of misconduct with increasing irritation. The message was hardly subtle: Her students were debasing themselves with what she termed their "slithery new style." The headmaster did not speak until she was finished.
       "Would you like me to deal with this?" Dumbledore offered. It was not uncommon for him to handle serious transgressions involving students from multiple houses. But Sprout threw her students a ferocious glare and then turned to Snape.
       "I'd consider it a personal favor," she told him with a hard-bitten tone he'd never heard before, "if you would handle this."
       The Hufflepuffs whimpered in horror. But Snape just glared at Sprout. Clearly she hoped that exposure to one of the more severe elements of life in the dungeon would eliminate all Slytherin attributes from her students' characters, and she didn't seem to care whom she had to insult to achieve her end. Look at their faces, you stupid cow, Snape thought furiously. They need guidance, from their own head of house! But she'd asked politely and she'd done it in front of Dumbledore, so he was stuck.
       As he escorted the four students from the headmaster's office, he thought bitterly to himself, I have to do everything around here.
       The Slytherins choked back giggles as they sneaked peek after peek at the frightened Hufflepuffs all the way down to the dungeon. They marched conspicuously into Snape's office and whirled neatly on their heels to face their head of house, almost smiling with pleasure at showing the Hufflepuffs how it was done. Their guests mirrored each piece of behavior with shaky knees and trembling lips; Violet suspected they would never take their sweet-natured head of house for granted again.
       Snape picked up his cane and tucked it under his arm. "Explain the part that doesn't make sense," he demanded of the Hufflepuffs.
       Eleanor and Owen glanced sideways at the Slytherins, bewildered. Violet rubbed the tips of two fingers against her thumb, the universal sign for 'pay-off.'
       "Oh!" nodded Eleanor. She turned to Snape and said, "We promised that the Hufflepuffs would do all the Slytherins' History of Magic and Divination homework for a year if they helped us."
       Snape took a contemptuous step closer to them. "So," he murmured silkily. "You intended to win the cup. . . " He paused to look pierceingly into each Hufflepuff face before continuing. "...through much hard work."
       He shoots, he scores, Violet thought proudly as the Hufflepuffs hung their foolish heads.
       "Turn," commanded Snape, at which point the smirking Slytherins spun around so smartly Snape was tempted to give them each a solid pre-bend stroke just to sober them up. "Bend," he snarled and nearly groaned aloud when his little show-offs not only spaced themselves evenly across the front of his desk but pushed the Hufflepuffs into proper alignment as well.
       Six stinging strokes apiece later, the snakes were still smiling, albeit through a great deal of pain, because their desk neighbors, the Hufflepuffs, were slowly beginning to smile, too. They'd survived an actual caning from Severus Snape, and they were still standing... so to speak. Malfoy gave Violet a wink and Snape decided the time had come to wipe the smiles off his students' faces.
       "Stand," he said firmly. . . to the Hufflepuffs. The Slytherins he left bent across his desk. Their smiles disappeared in a heartbeat.
       Owen and Eleanor turned to face the Slytherin head of house again, but this time their chins did not hang by their chests. They looked calmly at Snape, who asked them firmly, "Have you ever known anyone to achieve anything of value without perseverance?"
       The Hufflepuffs looked at each other. Then they shook their heads uncertainly as Owen murmured, "No, sir."
       "Stamina?" Snape suggested. "Tenacity?"
       The Hufflepuffs shook their heads again.
       "If the final battle against the dark lord is fought by Slytherins, Gryffindors, and Ravenclaws only," Snape said smoothly, "we will lose. You may go."
       The Hufflepuffs took their leave quietly and walked several feet down the corridor before Eleanor stopped and turned thoughtfully to Owen.
       "Do you believe him?" she asked her housemate.
       Owen thought it over. Then he nodded emphatically.
       "Why?" Eleanor asked.
       "Because Slytherin and Gryffindor failed to destroy the dark lord last June," Owen responded.
       He grabbed Eleanor's hand and together they hurried home to share their new perspective with their housemates.

       Snape closed his office door behind the departed Hufflepuffs and then turned slowly back to his desk. Violet was so frightened she grabbed Malfoy's hand. "I can't take 12!" she whimpered. "I know I can't! Say something!"
       Malfoy shook his head. "It won't do any good," he hissed, his cheek pressed against the top of the desk as he scowled at Violet.
       "Try!" she pleaded, adding desperately, "I'd rather beg for mercy now than scream for mercy later!"
       Snape let them stew for a few more seconds before he commanded acidly, "Stand up!"
       "Oh, thank you, sir!" Violet cried, and the Slytherins rose and turned to face him with unspeakable relief.
      "You may go," Snape began softly, "but..."
       The Slytherins froze. Snape flicked his cane gracefully through the air to rest the tip against Violet's nose.
      "You will return at 7..."
       He flicked the cane again.
       "...and 7:15," he added, resting the tip on Malfoy's nose, "at which time you will convince me that you are going to be more obedient in future, or we will do this..."
      He nodded at the desk.
       He swished the cane sharply towards the door and the Slytherins fled.

       At 6:55pm, Violet marched confidently out the door of the common room, a rolled up piece of parchment in her hand. "Good luck," she called spiritedly to Malfoy, who she was certain had no chance of successfully following her act.
       Snape had left the door open for her and Violet marched smartly up to the edge of his desk, her hands behind her back.
       "Proceed," Snape ordered.
       Violet smiled.
       "I will be more obedient from now on," she promised, "because I... trust you. For the following reasons." She whipped out the piece of parchment and unfurled it with a flourish.
       "You help Harry Potter over and over despite what his father did to you," she read from her list. "You hold all Slytherins accountable to the same rules equally. You saved me from Lord Voldemort last Halloween and from the Death Eaters last Christmas. You sat up with me all night when Voldemort crucio'd me and when I got poisoned. You told us to invite the other houses to our obstacle course. You saved Rachel Dockman. You apologized to the Gryffindors. You took Marybeth back."
       To his horror, Snape felt himself begin to blush.
       "You got me a jumper for Christmas and a thesaurus for my birthday. You got yourself into trouble with Dumbledore to protect..."
       "That will do," Snape interrupted icily. "You may go."
       Violet smiled warmly at him. "Thank you, sir," she said. "Really." She placed the parchment on his desk and took her leave.
       She found Malfoy waiting for her outside Snape's office door.
       "That was sickening," he insisted.
       "Sorry!" she smirked. Then she skipped happily back to her cell to finish a similar list she was writing about Malfoy for his Christmas present.
       "You haven't got a prayer," Snape assured the blonde sixth year as Malfoy stepped into the office to take his turn. "But have a go."
       "What's it worth to you?" was all Malfoy said in reply.
       As he'd expected, his approach caught Snape completely off guard. The head of Slytherin was still trying to raise his eyebrows high enough when Malfoy continued,
       "You're a head of house. You get paid to administer discipline. I don't see why I should make your job easier unless there's something in it for me."
       Snape stared at the boy. Malfoy did a remarkable job of maintaining a straight face and Snape pressed his lips together hard, determined not to be the one who broke first. The two Slytherins stared each other down until Snape finally cracked, laughing so hard he had to put his head down on his desk.
       "Malfoy," he declared when his chuckles eventually subsided, "I'd have bet a thousand galleons you couldn't top that girl!"
       Malfoy permitted himself a brief grin of delight at his own cleverness. Then he glanced at Violet's offering resting on Snape's desk and his smile softened.
       'You saved me from Lord Voldemort,' he read to himself from the parchment. 'You saved Rachel Dockman.'
       You saved me from a fate worse than death, he thought.
       But he didn't want to talk about that. So instead, he said, "It must have been pretty funny this afternoon, watching us in the Great Hall."
       Snape couldn't help smiling again and he nodded at the chair on the opposite side of his desk as he sat up and leaned back in his own. As Draco sat down, he regarded the boy curiously. "I must say, Malfoy, you didn't seem to require much compensation for surrendering the house cup."
       "We were going to blackmail them," Malfoy responded simply, and Snape's eyebrows shot up before he could stop them. Malfoy continued with a shrug. "Really, sir, it's all rather childish, isn't it?"
       Snape narrowed his eyes at the boy. "How do you mean?"
       Malfoy took a deep breath. "This afternoon, Violet told the Hufflepuffs that point-taking is for sissies and they should get a real head of house."
       Snape smiled again.
       "I almost swatted her for it," Malfoy continued, "because she knows what happens when you insult someone's head. But she's right. I don't want to be the kind of berk who bases his motivations on a trophy cup and the location of his bed."
       A tenuous expression replaced the smile that was fading from Snape's face. "Doesn't that attitude rather undermine Professor Dumbledore's primary method of discipline?" he asked the boy across from him.
       Malfoy knew exactly where the conversation was going, and he plunged into the subject gladly. "It's not your primary method of discipline," he shot back. He leaned forward and rested his arms on Snape's desk. "In the headmaster's office," he reminded Snape, "Sprout all but called us scum, and Professor Dumbledore allowed it. He always does! It's interesting, isn't it, sir, that at Hogwarts, students are encouraged to compete as if other houses are wicked and it's a moral victory to defeat them."
       He sat back and folded his arms across his chest. "It's considered contemptible here," he continued archly, "to judge someone based on their lineage, on who their parents are. But it's perfectly all right to judge someone based on what house they're in. Would you call Albus Dumbledore's 'primary method of discipline' a double standard, sir, or a set-up?"
       Snape had grown very still throughout this speech. Now he measured his response carefully. "Mayfoy," he began deliberately, "I should remind you that I owe Albus Dumbledore... everything."
       "I know that, sir," Malfoy nodded. "And I know how he treats you as a result... the way he's always treated Slytherins, the way he encourages other Gryffindors to treat Slytherins."
       "For example?" Snape demanded.
       "Hagrid," replied Malfoy.
       "Hagrid has a grudge against Tom Riddle, so Dumbledore lets him think all Slytherins are scum."
       Snape shook his head. "Hagrid has never treated you unfairly in class or said a disrespectful word to me," he insisted.
       "That's loyalty to Professor Dumbledore, sir," Malfoy explained, "not fairness to us. Did you know he told Potter all dark wizards come from Slytherin?"
       Snape flinched.
       "You'd think he'd never heard of that incident where a dozen people were killed with a single curse," Malfoy spat, and Snape wondered if sending the boy to the Dursleys' for the summer had been such a great idea after all. But Draco was on a roll.
       "He breaks policy, he spills secrets, he demonstrates miserable judgement...but he's a warm-hearted Gryffindor, so he can do no wrong."
       "Tell me something, sir. What happened to the marauders after Sirius Black tried to kill you? Besides James becoming head boy, I mean. Oh, and Professor Dumbledore making you protect their secret."
       Snape felt nauseous. "The headmaster," he told Malfoy slowly, "didn't know about the marauders' escapades or their animagus status."
       "My point, sir," said Malfoy calmly, "is that we have ample evidence it wouldn't have made any difference. Were there no other indicators of their behavior? Or how about a few years ago when Dumbledore finally learned what they'd done? Did he say anything then?"
       Snape groped frantically for something to say, but he'd already played his ace. He opened his mouth to stall for time but Malfoy forged ahead. "That's what's nice about dying young and a hero," he observed. "You never have to pay for what you did wrong, or even apologize. Only those left behind get held accountable for their sins... unless, of course, they're Gryffindors."
       Snape couldn't speak. Malfoy watched his face for several seconds, wondering if he had gone too far. "Do you know what I mean, sir?" he asked tentatively.
       Snape turned away and stared out the darkened window. After a while, he turned back to Malfoy, and, hoping the boy wouldn't misunderstand him, he said quietly, "Over the past several months, I have come to the conclusion that certain honors, and respect from certain parties, aren't nearly as important as I thought."
       To his relief, the teenager didn't smile. He just nodded and stood up.
       "Malfoy," Snape continued gently. "I will never be the wizard Albus Dumbledore is. And through no fault of your own, you will never be the equal of Harry Potter."
       Malfoy stood quietly before him and though Snape scrutinized the boy's face carefully, he could not make out what the youngster was thinking until he spoke.
       "And they," Malfoy insisted, resting his fingertips lightly on Violet's parchment, "will never be Slytherins."
       With that, he bade the potions master a good evening and returned to his house.

An Obedient House