Stone Cold Faces

       It was a whole new world the Slytherins entered when they emerged from their house Wednesday morning. Gone were the whispered insinuations of cowardice, the corridor conversations about violated rights, and the outbreaks of classroom surliness. Their stone-faced schoolmates traversed the castle in silence, compelling the Slytherins to refrain from hallway interaction as well; the first few times they tried to talk amongst themselves, their voices reverberated embarrassingly loudly through the quiet passageways.
       Throughout their shared classes, the non-Slytherins kept their eyes on their desks, their books, or the object of study before them, never once raising a hand or making eye contact with an instructor voluntarily. When called upon, they would lift their chins, look the instructor right in the eye, and deliver the correct answer with a terse "Professor" added to the end of every response.
       That first day, Malfoy and the older Slytherins were at a loss for how to conduct themselves and spent most of the day in passive observation. As they left their first period N.E.W.T. Transfigurations class, Malfoy whispered to Millicent, "I wish the second years had Tuesday/Thursday Transfigurations instead of Tuesday/Wednesday."
       But Violet and the rest of her classmates were well-prepared for their lesson with the deputy headmistress. They sat at their desks with their hands neatly folded before them and sweet little smiles on their faces. When McGonagall entered, the entire class chanted in unison, "Good morning, Professor McGonagall!"
       To her credit, the dignified professor blinked only once. Then, a few minutes into her lecture on beetle button reversal, she asked if they had any questions and every single hand shot into the air. She looked their sober faces over thoughtfully before settling on Marybeth. Every other student's hand stayed up as she asked her question.
       "Professor McGonagall, since Professor Dumbledore has decided we'll all be staying for Christmas again this year, would you be willing to give us lessons over the break on how to transfigure a cane into a really long wet noodle?"
       Down came every other hand simultaneously as the students waited somberly for her answer. Professor McGonagall kept herself in check for about 5 seconds. Then she burst out laughing in that high tinkling giggle of hers and every Slytherin smiled along with her.
       The non-Slytherin sullenness continued throughout lunch and dinner. In the common room that night, Malfoy beckoned Violet to his side and ordered her to trek once again to Gryffindor Tower. "Make up some excuse for being there and don't stay long," he commanded. "Just come back and tell us what they're doing."
       It was an hour before Violet returned. "No one would answer my knock," she explained. "At first I was afraid they'd finally managed to escape the grounds and were off on another rescue attempt."
       Malfoy shook his head. "I don't think that's likely."
       "Why not?" Violet wondered.
       "The heartsick don't rise up righteous, Violet."
       "What do they do?"
       Malfoy thought it over. "Doubt," he replied. "Submit," he added after a bit.
       Violet frowned. Then she gave a little shake of her head and continued with her story. "Hermione finally came back from a trip to the library and I found out that nobody's in the common room. That's why they didn't hear me knocking. Everybody's in their dorms instead."
       "Was McGonagall there?" Malfoy asked her.
       "By herself?" Violet scoffed.
       Malfoy smiled a bit. "No," he murmured. "I guess not."

       Things continued in much the same vein until sixth year N.E.W.T Potions class Thursday morning after breakfast. As soon as the cauldrons were simmering, Harry Potter stuck his hand in the air.
       "What is it, Potter?" Snape called dismissively as he inspected Susan Bones' cauldron.
       "Professor Snape, why doesn't the Ministry fund more research into the use of potions in combating dark wizards?"
       Malfoy was so startled by this inquiry he nearly knocked over his cauldron. He turned to exchange shocked looks with Millicent, then spun back to gape at Harry only to find the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs all staring eagerly at Snape.
       The potions master was equally perplexed by their sudden interest in his opinion. But after a few moments' hesitation, he folded his arms across his chest, tilted his head slightly, and made his way slowly to the front of the room, musing as he went.
       "If you're questioning the ministry's commitment, Potter, I can hardly say I blame you," he began thoughtfully. "I might even go so far as to say that, for some, Ministry work is a more legal and covert way to pursue the same sort of power that so captivates the Dark Lord." Snape leaned against the front of his desk and crossed his legs. "That being said, there are three primary drawbacks to the use of potions in crime-fighting. One, their behavioral effects are usually temporary. Two, their physical effects can be permanently damaging. And three, their forced use constitutes a violation of rights."
       Hannah Abbott raised her hand. When Snape nodded at her, she asked, "But, sir, couldn't veritaserum be offered voluntarily so the innocent would have a chance to clear themselves?"
       Several students actually rocked forward on their toes to better hear his response. Snape gazed around the room at their engrossed expressions. Then he commanded, "Sit," and they grabbed their stools and pulled them as close as they could without completely abandoning their stations.
       Snape turned briefly to Draco. "Watch the clock, Malfoy," he muttered, "and remind us when brewing time is complete."
       Hmph, Malfoy thought.
       Snape turned back to the others. "Do me the courtesy of being honest," he began smoothly. "How many of you thought Potter was the Heir of Slytherin during your second year?"
       After a startled moment, nearly all the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff hands went up, including Hannah's.
       "There are many reasons," Snape continued, "that an innocent prisoner might refuse veritaserum. Impress me and name a few."
       Hermione's hand shot up. Malfoy scowled and thrust his into the air even harder. "Miss Granger?" Snape called.
       "Well, you just mentioned one, sir. Maybe veritaserum causes permanent damage of some sort." Her eyes grew wide as another possibility occurred to her. "We might not know the full effects of any of the potions we use."
       Snape nodded. "Now be even more clever," he suggested. Malfoy's hand shot up again, more quickly than before, and Snape nearly laughed at the obvious attempt to outstrip Granger. "Yes, Malfoy?"
       "If the investigation is corrupt, the potion could be, too," the Slytherin pointed out. "It could be part of a frame-up."
       Snape nodded again and turned to Hannah. "Now, Miss Abbott. Keeping in mind your confession of a moment ago, if you read in the Daily Prophet that a prisoner had refused veritaserum, what would you deduce?"
       Hannah had the good grace to blush. "That he's guilty," she admitted.
       "You would not be alone," Snape told her. He turned back towards the station Harry was sharing with Ron. "The best use of potions in defense against the dark arts, Mr. Potter," Snape concluded, "is to strengthen or to heal. Remember that any potion developed specifically for battle will continue to exist long after the fight is over."
       The discussion continued until the potions were done simmering but the Slytherins made no more contributions to the conversation. After class, they gathered in the corridor outside the classroom door.
       "What the hell was that?" Malfoy demanded. As far as the Slytherins were concerned, the wit and wisdom of Severus Snape were the exclusive domain of their common room.
       "The nerve of some people!" Millicent huffed, and the Slytherins set off indignantly for their next class.

       On Friday morning, they found themselves once again sitting through a quiet meal in the Great Hall. The clink of plates and silverware was almost laughable to any snake who took the time to notice how much louder it sounded in a conversation-free room. "It's contagious!" Violet whispered to Marybeth about the silence. Even the staff were too uncomfortable to speak until Dumbledore stood up and tapped his goblet for attention.
       "If I may interrupt you for just a moment," he began, and Malfoy chuckled in spite of himself. The students from other houses were not amused. They stopped eating, setting their silverware down beside their plates, but none of them turned to face the headmaster.
       "Your teachers and I have decided to host a bit of a celebration for you this holiday season," Dumbledore announced. "We would like to invite you to join us for a Christmas dance." He glanced at Professor McGonagall who was watching the tables full of students expectantly. "I am pleased to inform you that it will be a casual affair," Dumbledore added. "You will not have to wear formal robes but may instead treat us to a display of youthful wizarding fashion at its finest."
       The Slytherins watched their schoolmates closely. There was absolutely no response to Dumbeldore's announcement. Malfoy looked to Snape for a cue but found his housemaster's attention focused squarely on the cup of tea he was silently stirring.
       Violet sneaked a peek at McGonagall who was scanning the four student tables with what Violet thought was a rather hopeful expression. After surveying the hall, McGonagall pressed her lips together, picked up her fork and returned her attention to her plate. Watching her, Violet suddenly experienced the most uncomfortable twinge near her heart. "Ow!" she whispered.

       That night, she traipsed once more to Gryffindor Tower, McGonagall's party-hosting book tucked under her arm. She paused hopefully at the entrance to their common room only to be told by a morose Fat Lady that the social area was once again empty. So she continued on to the deputy-headmistress's office and was not surprised to find the door open and the room flooded with warm lamplight. McGonagall sat working at her desk.
       "I brought back the book you loaned Professor Snape," Violet called when McGonagall looked up eagerly in response to her knock. "I thought you might need it to plan the dance." She crossed the room to place the book on McGonagall's desk, smiling at the elderly teacher as she added, "The Slytherins are really looking forward to it. We like strutting our stuff in public."
       "Thank you for returning the book," McGonagall smiled back at her.
       "I hope you don't mind that I kept it for a couple of days," Violet continued. "I like looking at all the different goblets. We never had anything but plastic tumblers at the orphanage."
       McGonagall smiled again and invited her to sit down. "Your friend at the orphanage," she began gently. "I hope, after your trip, you had a chance to... That is, I'm sure you and Professor Snape... discussed..."
       Violet stiffened a bit and looked away, searching for a reply that would not reveal Snape's secret. "Sometimes Professor Snape knows things without being told," she said carefully.
       "No, I meant..." Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. "Well, it must have been hard for you, losing your young friend."
       Violet thought back to the letters she had exchanged with Snape over the summer. A small smile tugged at her lips. "He always knows what to say, though, doesn't he?" she whispered softly.
       "On any occasion," McGonagall agreed rather tartly, and Violet looked up from her reverie to find the formidable teacher smiling archly at her. After a startled moment, she shot back, "Live with the man!" and they both burst into giggles of mutual understanding.
       "He watches us like a hawk," Violet complained to her sympathetic listener. "He scolds us every time we turn around, he spanks at the drop of a hat, he demands an explanation for everything..." She sucked in a deep breath. "He insists on good manners and hard work and watching out for each other and he never lets us..."
       She broke off suddenly when she realized McGonagall was no longer smiling at her but staring thoughtfully at the top of her desk. Violet rose nervously to her feet.
       "Well," she muttered sheepishly, "I suppose all heads of house are like that." She added a quick goodnight and hurried to the door but then remembered something and turned back.
       "Your time turner!" she called from the doorway.
       Professor McGonagall looked up, still frowning, and Violet told her, "I can start earning you another one right after Christmas. Until then," she added with mock despair, "Marybeth and I are toiling exclusively under the tyranny of Master Draco Malfoy to earn our share of Professor Snape's Christmas present." She leaned back into the room and gave McGonagall a wink. "Don't let him make us serve his detention, all right?"

       It was fairly late when Minerva knocked on his office door, but Snape demanded the caller's identity anyway, to be sure it wasn't a Slytherin. She'd wandered down to the dungeon on the off chance, realizing he might be sequestered in his quarters engaged in his usual Friday night activities. Instead, she found him at his desk, thumbing through a clothing catalog.
       "Isn't that a bit colorful for you?" she teased, glancing quickly at the bright items. Snape shot her a disgusted glare and she looked again, noting the 'Owl early for delivery by Christmas' message in the corner of each page. It was a children's clothing catalog from Agatha's Evergrowing Apparel.
       "Oh!" she gasped tenderly. "That's right! How many children are you raising single-handedly these days, Severus?"
       "Twenty, if you count Miss Rosich and Miss Montague," he replied wearily. "May I hide these in your tower? The Slytherins will find them if I try to hide this many gifts in the dungeon."
       Minerva smiled and nodded. "What are you leaning towards?" she asked eagerly.
       Snape slid the catalog under her nose and pointed to a set of cloaks available in a variety of colors including a rich Slytherin green. The boy's model had a particularly swashbuckling cut to it and the girl's. . .
       "Read this," Snape said, pointing to the description under the more feminine garment. "When you first put it on, it wraps around you and squeezes for three seconds while it warms you."
       Minerva read the catalog and then raised bright eyes to the potions master. "This is the most darling thing I've ever seen," she insisted, and she didn't mean the cloaks. Snape scowled.
       "They're orphans, Minerva," he reminded her as he snatched the catalog back. "Or as good as. If I buy them a cloak that hugs them, I won't have to do it myself!"
       Her smile in response to that was feeble at best and faded quickly, which did not surprise Snape. After a moment she said, "Professor Sprout does." Snape frowned at her and she continued insistently. "She hugs her students. She touches them on the shoulder, she pats the younger ones' heads..." She waited for Snape to say something and when he didn't, she took a seat across from him and asked point blank, "Do you think I should do that?"
       It was less than two months ago, Snape realized, that he'd told himself McGonagall would never be interested in his opinion about children. "Minerva," he sniped impatiently, "if you want to hug your filthy little Gryffindors, be my guest."
       "Do you?" she pressed him, and Snape looked horrified. "The Slytherins, Severus," she clarified impatiently.
       Snape shook his head. "I don't have to hug them," he insisted. "They hug me. They cry on my neck, they cling to my waist, they grab my hands. . . You'd think I was raising house elves."
       Minerva smiled but her eyes dimmed and she turned away to gaze out the darkened window. How sharper than a serpent's tooth, Snape thought as he watched her. "They're brats, Minerva," he dismissed her concern, "brats going through a sullen patch. I cannot believe you're letting this bother you."
       "Do you know what the problem is?" she asked lightly. "It's all that time Albus made us spend with them in the common rooms last year." She smiled a bit sheepishly. "I've suppose I've grown accustomed to their company."
       Snape's insides twisted uncomfortably at the pain in her voice. Then a memory distracted him. "One night," he related, "mine were sitting around a table a dozen feet away, comparing notes on teachers while I read a book. I suppose they wanted to know if I was listening, and of course I was."
       Minerva leaned closer as Snape continued. "Malfoy sneaked up behind me, stood there for a while, and then leaned over my shoulder to announce, 'I finished this page five minutes ago, sir.'" Snape shook his head. "I swear it was just a reflex, Minerva, but I slammed his head so hard with that book, I had to send for Madam Pomfrey to enervate him." Minerva burst out laughing. "Do you suppose Sprout does that?" Snape finished innocently.
       They sat a while longer, swapping stories from the trenches, and Minerva left feeling much cheerier than when she'd arrived. But Snape knew he hadn't really helped her and truth be told, he hadn't intended to.
       He liked seeing the students at odds with somebody besides him.
       And he wasn't too worried about the effects of a little Gryffindor hostility on McGonagall and Dumbledore, either.
       After all... they'd never been too worried about its effects on him.
       The best part was, he'd had nothing to do with the situation. He'd kept himself completely distanced from the strife until the day they'd insisted he flog a Slytherin in public, and who could blame him for his conduct after that? It was only a sin of omission, after all.
       He knew he should say something. In class, while the cauldrons were bubbling and the students were hanging on his every word, he should tell them that they were out of line and that Dumbledore and McGonagall were right. But he couldn't. He was experiencing something new at Hogwarts these days, and he didn't want it to stop.
       The Slytherins had always adored him, of course, and the Hufflepuffs had become fans after he'd restored their faith in their house. But now the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, who'd felt their intellectual or idealistic sensibilities thoroughly violated by Violet's punishment, joined the crowd of admirers, too. They'd been predisposed to admire the man who'd fought off hordes of intruders while their heads of house lay helpless, who'd made them a lake during the worst heat wave in Hogwarts history, who'd refrained from fighting back while they'd protested their seemingly pointless activities. Now they credited him with vigorously opposing the brutal spectacle that Sprout and Flitwick had passively observed, and while their perception of the incident wasn't entirely accurate, he chose not to disabuse their point of view.
       He liked being the most popular teacher at Hogwarts.
       He could remain as cold, terse, and cutting as he pleased and still be greeted warmly with "Good morning, Professor Snape," "Good afternoon, Professor Snape," and "Good evening, Professor Snape," wherever he went. And he adored the rapt attention the oldest, smartest students paid to his every utterance. He would be damned if he would risk losing it by trying to explain McGonagall's and Dumbledore's point of view.
       Besides, he reasoned, McGonagall was a brick. The same stoicism that let her turn a blind eye all those years ago would see her through now. It better, he thought to himself as he pondered the many generations of Gryffindors currently inhabiting the castle. Remorse is not their strong suit.

       "Dammit, Violet, you have to let me lead!" Malfoy snarled for the third time, emphasizing his point with a good swat this time. Violet blushed with embarrassment and threw her hands over her face.
       "I'm sorry, Malfoy!" she giggled helplessly. "I'm just no good at this." But Crabbe came to her rescue, tapping Malfoy on the shoulder with an affected, "Pardon me," before taking Violet in his arms to whirl her gracefully around the common room.
       "Who would have thought?" Snape smiled to himself from his comfortable repose before the fire as he watched Vincent "Twinkle-toes" Crabbe spin Violet around the tree Pansy and Millicent were decorating on this cozy Christmas Eve. Snape had ventured out into a gentle snowfall to fetch the tree from the Forbidden Forest after Pansy had insisted she would not spend another holiday at Hogwarts without a tree in her house, just like she had at home. Now she smiled adoringly at him as she draped the Slytherins' pet snakes, charmed to glow in the dark as they crawled through the branches, on strategic spots throughout the tree.
       "Don't pout, Malfoy," Snape scolded as the disgusted teenager plopped sourly on the floor beside him to watch Crabbe flip a squealing Violet neatly over his shoulder.
       "Yes, don't pout, or we'll send you to Gryffindor!" Pansy teased. Pouting wasn't quite the word Snape would have used to describe the on-going harassment the Gryffindors were inflicting upon Minerva. For weeks she had born the brunt of their contempt; Dumbledore could retreat to the sanctity of his office. Besides, he didn't teach. But McGonagall was a head of house and a deputy headmistress as well as an instructor; even after classes ended, she endured a hundred cutting snubs a day. Neither she nor Dumbledore seemed able to figure out what to do about it. Snape agreed with Millicent when she insisted, "They're all being so childish, it's hard to remember who are the adults and who are the kids!"
       Speaking of childish, Snape thought to himself as he eyed the presents under the tree. There were several for the students who were still on good terms with their parents, including a dozen for Pansy; Snape suspected the opportunity to flaunt her parents' adoration was the primary motive behind her desire for a tree in the common room. But the gift with the biggest, floppiest green ribbon had his name on it, and it was all he could do to keep his hands off of it. That reminded him. He had offerings of his own to fetch from Gryffindor Tower.
       He shoved his hands in his pockets as he made his way jauntily through the deserted corridors, whistling "Joy to the World" as he went. All of his students were making merry in their common room. The rest were stubbornly refraining from all holiday frolics and were no doubt holed up in their dormitories studying, which suited him just fine and positively thrilled Filch.
       As he passed the portrait of the Fat Lady on his way to McGonagll's quarters, she called out shrilly, "Excuse me, Professor Snape. She's not there." Snape stopped short, the whistled tune dying on his lips, then spun smartly around to return to the portrait.
       "How do you know I'm not just out for a stroll?" he smiled, and then almost rolled his eyes at the realization that he was flirting with a portrait. The Fat Lady sighed.
       "She went the other way," the reubenesque subject told him sadly. "I think she wanted to be alone... someplace where it wouldn't seem so odd that she was alone."
       Snape pondered that a while. Then he suggested, "Her classroom?" The Fat Lady shrugged and Snape turned back the way he'd come, whistling, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."
       A few moments later, the portrait swung open and Harry Potter emerged. "She's not there, dear," the Fat Lady called as she swung shut, and Harry jumped.
       "Who?" he demanded.
       "Oh, excuse me, dear. I saw that item in your hand and hoped it might be a gift for your head of house."
       Harry looked down at the book he was holding and shook his head. "It belongs to Professor Snape," he explained. "I was just on my way to return it."
       "Well, he's on his way to the Transfigurations classroom, looking for Professor McGonagall, if that helps," the Fat Lady told him.
       Yeah, Harry thought with a smile. Yeah, that helps. He would just love thanking Professor Snape for a favor in front of Professor McGonagall.
       Snape had finished with tidings of comfort and joy and was strolling the deserted classroom corridors quietly when he spied the half open door to McGonagall's room. He slowed his pace and began tip-toeing along the wall, relishing the knowledge that McGonagall was in there and doubtless convinced no one else was nearby. Delighted by a mental image of how high she would jump, he sprang silently into the doorway, prepared to shout, "Boo!" What he saw rendered him speechless.
       She was crying.
       Snape watched her silently through the half open door. She was sitting at her desk with one hand pressed to her forehead. In the other, she clutched a balled up handkerchief in her fist. Her sobs were shuddery, gasping, ... hopeless.
       Her head drooped, as if she were too weary to hold it up any longer, and that's when it hit Snape like a ton of bricks.
       She was old.
       They were all old.
       McGonagall, Sprout, Flitwick, Dumbledore... All of them, charged with this staggering responsibility, to safeguard these children in a time of war, were old.
       Only he was young.
       He stepped quietly into the room.
       Minerva looked up, startled, and fell silent, but the tears continued to course down her cheeks. He cut her off before she could speak.
       "If I promise to be more helpful in future," he said earnestly, "will you please stop crying?"
       The tears only flowed more freely at that. He came to stand beside her, and when he reached her, she threw her arms around his waist and buried her face in his abdomen, sobbing hard. With one strong hand, he hugged her head to his belly. His other hand he placed reassuringly on her thin, shaking shoulder.
       "Oh, Severus!" she cried in despair. She looked up desperately at him. "What if I fail them?" she moaned, clutching his robes in her fists. "I can't fail again!" Her eyes beseeched him for help, for understanding, for mercy. "What if I fail!?" she cried, plunging her face back into the dark fabric of his robes.
       He prayed for something to say, something about how it wasn't her fault, that they were shallow, callous, self-important...
       A movement from the doorway caught his eye. He tore loose from McGonagall's grasp and whirled around to discover Harry Potter standing there, wide-eyed and silent.
       Snape stared at the boy, but the youngster's eyes were glued to McGonagall. The head of Gryffindor turned her face quickly away, desperate to conceal her suffering. Snape took a step between them, as if to shield his colleague, and that's when the second epiphany struck.
       She wasn't some dishonorable foe who could be expected to look out for herself.
       She was a vulnerable, struggling, idealistic human being who'd been victimized by a pack of superficial, self-aggrandizing Gryffindors.
       But this time, he was the adult.
       This time, he was strong. This time, he was respected.
       Would he go on turning a blind eye?
       Snape took one last look at McGonagall and then turned to face Harry Potter.
       "Not this time," he hissed.
       Harry took one look at Snape's face and fled.
       Snape stormed into the hallway after the boy, striding powerfully through the corridors as the teenager raced away ahead him. When he reached the first intersection, Snape stuck his hand in the air and thundered, "Accio!"

       "Professor Snape? We're finished decorating the tree!" Malfoy called out as he knocked on the door to Snape's office. When no one answered, he tried the knob and found it unlocked. He pushed the door open and stuck his head inside, calling, "You should see our snakes, Millicent's turned them pink, you have to make her... Whoa!"
       Malfoy ducked just in time to avoid Snape's cane, which flew across the room at him and soared right out the door. He watched in confusion as it sailed up the corridor. Then, as it rounded the first corner, he took off after it at a dead run.
       He chased it up deserted hallways and staircases until it suddenly stopped short at the intersection of two corridors. Malfoy skidded to a halt, hesitated for just a moment, and then leapt inside the nearest classroom doorway, peeking carefully into the hall. Sure enough, here came Snape, storming down the cross corridor, snatching the cane furiously out of thin air without breaking his stride as he swept through the intersection. Malfoy waited until the robes billowing behind him disappeared and then took off after him.
       "Can I be this lucky?" he wondered joyously to himself as he sneaked along behind his housemaster. When Snape turned to mount the steps to Gryffindor Tower, Malfoy fell to his knees in gratitude. "Yes!" he cried, thrusting his fists triumphantly into the air. "Yes, YES! Merry Christmas!" Then he jumped to his feet and scurried to catch up.

       The Gryffindors were actually in their common room when Harry burst through the portrait hole; Hermione had gathered them together, insisting the prefects make some attempt at inspiring a little holiday cheer. They looked up in surprise when Harry crashed into the room and gawked desperately at them, gasping for breath, his mind racing. "Out!" he shouted. "First, second and third years, out! Run to your dorms! And hide under the beds!"
       "Harry, what's the matter?" Hermione cried as Harry began shoving the younger students towards the stairways to their dormitories. He told them what he'd overheard in the Transfigurations classroom and, after a horrified moment, Hermione began shoving the younger students out of the room as well, shouting at Ron to help her.
       Neville tugged on Harry's sleeve and pointed to the sixth-year dormitory staircase, where Finnegan was slipping stealthily away. "Seamus, get back here!" Harry commanded.
       "But Harry," his classmate protested. "I really didn't do anything, and..."
       "If there aren't enough of us," Harry shouted, "Snape will send for the others!"
       So Seamus returned just in time to see Snape storm through the portrait hole. The Gryffindors froze, most of them plainly terrified as Snape glowered at them with a fury that surpassed any they'd ever seen. Then he roared.
       "Line up!"
       He only hit each student once, but it was more than enough. The whipped cubs trembled as Snape thundered, "If you EVER turn a STONE COLD FACE to her again..."
       "We won't!" Harry promised, and the other Gryffindors echoed him adamantly. "WE WON'T, WE WON'T, WE WON'T!"
       Snape gave them one last menacing scowl before sweeping dramatically from the room. He slammed the portrait cover shut just as Minerva came scurrying up, wide-eyed and gasping for breath. "Severus!" she cried, noting with horror the switch in his hand. "What did you do?"
       Snape shed his fury instantly and assumed an air of calm, bored disdain. "Minerva," he assured her, "I wouldn't touch your students with a six foot cane."
       And as she scrambled frantically through the portrait hole into a common room full of penitent, conciliatory Gryffindors, Snape shouldered his willow switch and strolled merrily away.
       When he rounded the first corner, he found Malfoy leaning against the wall, a sly smile on his face.
       "Five and a half?" Malfoy asked.
       "Shorter lengths are more efficient for flogging multiple students," Snape explained.
       "Good to know," the boy replied, and together they walked back to the dungeon.

An Obedient House