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
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
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
"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
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
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
"Will you help us?" Owen asked.
Malfoy stretched out his
legs before him, crossing them at the ankles. He laces his fingers behind
"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.
"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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
where the Triwizard champions had gathered. There, they struck up a
conversational pose, sneaking an occasional glance at the other door to
"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,
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
The Hufflepuffs looked at each
other. Then they shook
their heads uncertainly as Owen murmured, "No, sir."
The Hufflepuffs shook their heads
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
Owen thought it over. Then he nodded
"Why?" Eleanor asked.
Slytherin and Gryffindor
failed to destroy the dark lord last June," Owen responded.
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
"You may go," Snape began softly,
froze. Snape flicked his cane gracefully through the air to rest the
tip against Violet's nose.
"You will return at 7..."
flicked the cane again.
"...and 7:15," he added,
resting the tip on
"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
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
"Proceed," Snape ordered.
"I will be more obedient from now
on," she promised, "because I... trust you. For the
reasons." She whipped out the piece of parchment and unfurled it with
"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
"Sorry!" she smirked. Then she
skipped happily back to her
cell to finish a similar list she was writing about Malfoy for his
"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
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
You saved me from a fate worse than
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
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."
"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
and the location of his bed."
A tenuous expression replaced
the smile that was fading from Snape's face. "Doesn't that attitude
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...
"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
"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
treated you unfairly in class or said a disrespectful word to me," he
"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?"
"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
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