Part 1: The Last Summer


       "I am extremely disappointed in you!" Dumbledore lectured the miscreants who sat before him in his office. "You know how important this summer is, and we are not the only ones making sacrifices. I'd like to remind you how fortunate you are to be here!" He stabbed the top of his desk with a gnarled finger for emphasis, then folded his arms to give his final words added weight. "Your attitudes are woefully inappropriate and I expect you to cease this infernal pouting immediately!"
       He leaned back in his chair, knitting his bushy eyebrows together as he waited for a response.
       Snape and McGonagall just folded their arms and glared.
       "Oh, for heaven's sake!" the headmaster scolded, wondering why they couldn't be more like Sprout and Flitwick. "You two deserve the houses you head!"
       It had been a long and hectic first of July. Dumbledore had looked the other way when his heads of house had confined their students to their common rooms so they could spend the first day of summer term ironing out the program they'd thrown together after he'd decided to let the students remain at school with Harry Potter. The children hadn't minded. They'd spent the day putting away summer clothing that had been arriving in the mail and speculating about what the next two months might hold.
       Now the headmaster dropped his hoary head into his hands and asked his dour colleagues, "What do you want from me?"
       "Move inspection to 8am," Minerva began.
       "Oh!" Dumbledore lifted his head again. "That's actually a very good..."
       "And let the house ghosts perform that duty more often."
       Lazy, belligerent... "Fine," he agreed less pleasantly. "Anything else?"
       "The children," Snape murmured, "will do all the chores."
       Dumbledore frowned at this jab at his spontaneity. He and Hermione Granger had persuaded most of the house elves not only to accept a modest wage but to take time off during the summer. Now the majority of them were unwilling to change their plans for a group holiday. He'd managed to talk them out of popping into empty seats on the rollercoasters of Euro-Disney by arranging for Professor Kettleburn, former Care of Magical Creatures teacher, to take them on safari in Africa. While he was looking forward to pictures of house elves in pith helmets, he had to admit, the castle was going to be a bit short-staffed. "I trust you don't mind, Severus," he replied with a coolness the potions master found rather admirable, "that Professor Sprout has already volunteered to help with the cooking."
       "Not at all, Headmaster," Snape assured him. "But please don't expect the same from me." Dobby, he knew, was one of the elves who'd stayed behind in the kitchen.
       "Fine." Dumbledore rose to his feet. "Anything else?"
       The two heads of house realized the interview was over. "Thank you for your time, headmaster," Snape smiled, and Professor McGonagall pressed her lips together as Dumbledore ushered them out the door. He shut it firmly behind them and leaned against it, frowning, until Phineas Nigellus called from his portrait,
       "Aren't they cute when they think they've gotten the last word?"
       Dumbledore winked in reply, then returned to his desk to begin drawing up a list.
       "What's your census?" McGonagall asked Snape as they rode down the spiral staircase. While most of Hogwarts' students had wanted to stay, not all had been allowed to do so. Some had been called home by their parents, and some...
       "An even 40," Snape replied. "The seventh years asked to stay but I wouldn't allow it. What's the point of all this if not to have a life of one's own?"
       Minerva nodded. "Mine couldn't get away quickly enough," she observed as they exited the staircase and set off down the corridor. "They're so eager to join the fray!"
       They walked in silence for a while. Then Snape murmured, "I sent the first years away."
       "So did I!" Minerva cried, and Snape realized she'd shared the same concern... that Dumbledore would see their actions as a kind of insubordination. "They're too young," Minera insisted. "Too young to master the material, too young to... look after themselves."
       Snape smiled. Miss Guilford had been furious when she'd heard of his decision. It made her the youngest Slytherin at Hogwarts, except for Michael Bletchley.
       "I think they've gone into hiding," Minerva went on, interrupting his reverie. "The families of the children who went home, I mean."
       Snape nodded. "Good," was his only response.
       The next morning, Violet scampered back to her cell after inspection, anxious to get dressed and hurry to the Great Hall. She couldn't get over how excited she was. It's the clothes, she realized as she pulled on her shorts and t-shirt. There was something exhilarating about the idea of running around the castle with so little on.
       They were being silly, of course, especially the dungeon-dwelling Slytherins. It was too cold here for shorts and t-shirts, at least early in the morning and after sunset. But everybody insisted on wearing them. That's okay, Violet decided as she laced up her trainers. We'll just throw a cardigan over them.
       Nobody ever dressed this way at Hogwarts, that's what was so exciting. A person had school clothes and summer clothes and one didn't wear summer clothes at school, not even those first few weekends in September or the last few evenings in June. Students didn't even bring summer clothes to Hogwarts, because school was school and summer was summer. School clothes meant a schedule and structure and discipline; summer clothes meant freedom and informality and adventure. But here they were, the girls in bright cotton, the boys in denim cut-offs, and the notion of dressing for freedom and adventure while residing at Hogwarts was so thrilling, the students could hardly stand it. "Come on, Marybeth!" Violet wheedled, and soon the two girls were racing off to breakfast.
       Summer uniforms had been considered and, to the students' delight, rejected. "They need a break from the regimentation of the academic year," Dumbledore had insisted. Now the children were anxious to hear how their summer activities would reflect his mandate. Besides, Violet couldn't wait to see how the staff dressed in summer.
       The head table was sparsely populated as the two girls found places for themselves on the Slytherin bench. Professor Trelawney was there, wearing a sundress that looked very nice on her despite her pale skin and baggy arms. Her presence surprised Violet, who thought the teacher might have used the summer to get away; rumor had it most of the staff were traveling or visiting family in case Dumbledore restricted them to the castle full-time beginning September 1. Trelawney remained extremely skittish after her encounter with the Death Eater who stole her thoughts and thus continued to live down the hall from the Gryffindors instead of returning to her lonely North Tower.
       A handful of Gryffindors sauntered in and sat down and Violet began to count heads as the house tables filled up. It looked like roughly half the students were present. The Slytherin table was the fullest, reflecting the large number of 'orphans' in their house. The other tables boasted around 35 students each, many of whom were now orphans as well. There were no first or seventh years to be seen save for Michael Bletchley, leading Violet to suspect she might be the youngest girl in the whole school at this point. She was just about to run this concern by Marybeth when Dumbledore and the four heads of house processed into the Hall.
       Violet gasped at the sight of them. Dumbledore was wearing a lighter version of his purple robes, elegant yet comfortable. But it was Flitwick and Snape who took her breath away. They had exchanged their normal regalia for what Violet guessed was the summer version of academic robes. Over trousers and button-down shirts, each was wearing a colored version of something resembling an overgrown commoner's robe. It hung full-length but didn't close in front and had generous, flowing flaps with slits for the arms. The robes billowed nicely as the men walked; Flitwick's was a vivid royal blue while Snape's was a strong Slytherin green. Sprout and McGonagall had them, too, in their house colors, and wore them over light floor-length gowns. Just looking at them made Violet want to sit up a bit straighter.
       They had just taken their seats when Lupin came running in, wearing similar attire, except his robe was brown. This surprised Violet; she would have expected red. Apparently Malfoy shared her point of view as she heard him mutter, "Huh!" to himself as Lupin hurried forward to take his seat. When everybody was settled, Dumbledore rose and smiled at them all.
       "Welcome, welcome!" he cried, "to Camp Hogwarts!"
       The children cheered while Snape and McGonagall exchanged sour looks.
       "I am happy to announce," Dumbledore went on, "that the aurors have agreed to remain with us throughout the entire summer, allowing me to provide you with far greater freedom than you might otherwise have enjoyed. Please show them every courtesy as they labor to preserve your safety."
       He nodded once at Professor Sprout. "You may be aware," he told the students, "that several of our house elves are on holiday and we will all have to pitch in to keep our school tidy. Professor Sprout and some of her students have generously produced this morning's repast. In future, we will divide the work thusly: Professor Sprout and the Hufflepuffs will cook, the Ravenclaws will do our laundry, the Gryffindors will clean the castle, and the Slytherins, being the largest house in attendance, will maintain the grounds.
       "Yes!" cried Malfoy, and the Slytherins turned briefly to the Gryffindors to bounce a few eyebrows in their direction. Except for the first and seventh years Snape had sent away, the Slytherins were all present and accounted for, and it delighted them to think this fact had secured for them the most enviable work assignment.
       "We have personnel with us who are experienced in these areas," Dumbledore was saying, "and they will provide any necessary guidance. Dobby, the house elf, will assist the Ravenclaws and Professor Sprout and her students, while Mr. Filch will supervise the Gryffindors."
       "HA!" cried Malfoy again.
       "The Slytherins' efforts will be overseen by Hagrid."
       "Bugger," Malfoy muttered, deflating visibly.
       "Students will be responsible for maintaining their own living quarters, including their common rooms. Sheets will be washed on Saturdays. The Ravenclaws will post a schedule for other laundry. As for your studies..."
       The students leaned forward expectantly.
       "Professors McGonagall, Snape, Lupin and I will be your primary instructors," the headmaster announced. Several students gasped at the idea of studying with Albus Dumbledore himself and the old man's eyes twinkled as he continued. "Your schedule will be as follows: Each weekday, you will have a two-hour physical conditioning or practical defense lesson and a ninety-minute classroom theory session. At times you will study together; on other occasions, you will divide up by year. Please check your notice boards each morning for that day's schedule."
       The students exchanged startled looks. "Is that it?" Millicent whispered. That was just three and a half hours of supervised activity per day!
       "You are required to be inside by 8pm each evening and you may not leave the castle until after inspection each morning," Dumbledore explained. "As Professor Trelawney continues to reside in Gryffindor Tower along with our visiting aurors..."
       Harry flinched. Rumor had it his request to divide the protective visitors among the four houses had been dismissed without discussion.
       "... the uninhabited North Tower is off limits to the entire student body," the headmaster continued so firmly that Millicent and Goyle gulped. "You are to be in your houses by 11pm each night with lights out at midnight."
       Violet felt a thrill crawl up her back and all around her, students began to wiggle with excitement. So much free time, so many playmates!
       "This afternoon," Dumbledore concluded, "I would like each house to meet with the appropriate chore supervisor to learn your work schedule for the summer. Lessons will commence tomorrow." He smiled warmly at them. "Enjoy your day!"
       Chatter broke out the moment he sat down, even as the students tore into their eggs and toast. Pick-up quidditch, dueling clubs, flying competitions and hide-and-go-track were just some of the extra-curricular activities already being discussed. Violet suspected the conversations would take a more mischievous turn once the students were out from under the watchful eyes of their heads of house.
       Sure enough, for the rest of the day, wherever she went ("Let's go to the library and check out some interesting books before Granger takes them all!" she'd urged Marybeth) Violet heard schemes for less-than-academic pursuits. The excitement grew as students planned necking parties, kitchen raids, experimental potion-making and corridor tag-team flying races. It was all Violet could do to keep from bouncing on her toes every step she took.
       That evening, the students of Slytherin gathered in conspiratorial groups throughout the common room to discuss their nefarious schemes. Many of them did not notice right away that Snape had entered, and when they did, it took them a bit longer than usual to queue up. Then, Violet noticed, it took them longer still to quiet down.
       Snape said nothing, just waited patiently, and Violet stared in confusion at his oddly placid expression. Then she noticed he had his hands behind his back. When the Slytherins were appropriately quiet and attentive, Snape whipped his cane out with a sharp swish, then toyed casually with the tip.
       "No doubt," he murmured silkily, "you'll be dressed... as you are now." With that, he spun around and marched right back out of the room, leaving the Slytherins speechless with horror.

       That's right! Violet realized. Snape spanked his students in whatever they were wearing at the moment. Normally, that would be a robe and several layers of warm, protective clothing. But in summer...!
       Violet shuddered. The thought of nothing between her and that fierce implement of correction except two thin layers of cotton frightened her so badly she couldn't move... until Malfoy shoved her from behind.
       "Relax!" the older Slytherin chided. "It's an idle threat. He'll pull his punches!"
       "Do you think so?" Violet squeaked. Several Slytherins pricked up their ears for Malfoy's response. "Well..." The teenager thought it over and added a caveat. "Don't do anything stupid!"

       "We will begin," a sonorized McGonagall announced Thursday morning as the students assembled along the 6-inch retaining wall that lined the carriage path, "with warm-ups and endurance training." Lupin and Snape strolled among the students, as did Flitwick, Hagrid, and a few other staff. "Security?" Violet wondered to Marybeth. "Or moral support?"
       "I think they just want to get in better shape, too," her roommate replied. Snape, passing behind, gave each of them a sharp swat and they clamped their mouths shut as he assumed a spot in line near Malfoy.
       "I'm sure many of you are anxious to begin Defense training as soon as possible," McGonagall acknowledged. "But you will fare far better if your bodies are strong and limber. We will repeat this routine tomorrow and you will complete it on your own once a day over the weekend. Do NOT attempt more than that; you will only strain yourselves and wind up farther behind than you began."
       She showed them how to gently, thoroughly stretch their muscles and then taught them a stamina-building routine. "Step up with your right foot," she ordered, putting hers on the retaining wall. "Bring your left foot up, climb down with your right foot, then bring your left foot down. Oh, for pity's sake!" she cried when Flitwick and some of the students mixed up their feet. "It's not that difficult!"
       The first set of instructions took four counts. Then, for four more counts, they stepped to the right, brought their feet together, stepped to the left, and brought their feet together again to wind up back where they started. Then they repeated the entire eight-count sequence beginning with their left foot.
       "One, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight!" McGonagall counted shrilly as she climbed and stepped along with them from the opposite side of the retaining wall. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!"
       At first it was easy. They smiled at one another as they marched up and down, side to side with great vigor and precision. The sun shone down on them, warming their ears and the tops of their heads as an occasional breeze blew past.
       After a while, it got harder. Beads of sweat appeared on their foreheads as teachers and students began to huff and puff. Malfoy could not resist sneaking a peek at his watch. It had been only six minutes; there were nearly two hours of conditioning class to go.
       "How long do you think..." he murmured to Snape, remembering a Transfiguration class his fifth year that had stretched on for an eternity.
       "Twenty minutes!" McGonagall called. "You can do it!"
       Several people chuckled at this uncharacteristic encouragement, including Lupin, who suddenly broke ranks and jumped over the wall. He trotted along the drive until he was standing opposite Snape. Then he grinned broadly and eased back into the rhythm, stepping up smartly to come nose to nose with Snape each time they mounted the wall.
       "I know I can," he murmured.
       Snape scowled and shoved his sweat-matted, greasy hair out of his eyes.
       "Thanks to Lupin's Remedy," Malfoy reminded the werewolf the next time they stepped up.
       "Very good, Malfoy," Snape nodded to his student.
       McGonagall's counting grew less and less shrill. Soon only her "One!" rang out with authority. The other seven counts faded away as the teacher struggled to respire and count out loud at the same time. Losing your breath, old woman? Violet snickered to herself, completely overlooking how well the elderly head of Gryffindor was keeping pace with children half a century younger.
       Suddenly a new voice rang out, loud and clear, making Violet and several other students stumble as they stepped onto the retaining wall. "One, two, three, four," shouted none other than Neville Longbottom. "It's great to be a Gryffindor!"
       The students snorted with laughter, and by the time they'd completed another eight counts, Justin Finch-Fletchley was ready with his own offering. "Five, six, seven, eight," he cried. "Hufflepuff is really great!" Applause accompanied the giggles this time as they marched steadfastly up and down, side to side. Soon Padma Patil was waving her hand in the air.
       "Nine, ten, eleven, twelve!" she sang out as the exercise went on. "Ravenclaws just love ourselves!"
       All eyes turned to the Slytherins, who could do this sort of thing in their sleep. "Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen!" Pansy cried, scarcely missing a beat. "Nothing's keen like being green!"
       The students clapped and cheered, then took up the chant in boisterous unison, marching up and down with renewed vigor as they sang over and over,
       "Five more minutes!" McGonagall cried, and the students responded by chanting louder than ever. Dumbledore stuck his head out the front door of the castle and waved at them.
       In no time at all, McGonagall was shouting triumphantly, "Time!" and with a mighty groan, the citizens of Hogwarts collapsed onto the lawn. "Five minutes!" McGonagall announced. "Then on your feet to walk it out for five minutes before we resume!"
       So ten minutes later they queued up and remounted the retaining wall. But this time they made a game of their chant. They started at the bottom of the line and each person shouted one count's worth of words, making all of them giggle madly at phrases like "a gryff" and "fullpuff" and "thing's keen."
       "Very clever, I'm sure," McGonagall called tartly after a few times up and down the ranks. She cast a meaningful glance at Snape and Lupin, then asked the students, "I wonder if you can do it randomly." So they mixed things up, calling out the phrases from different parts of the line, leaning forward to make eye contact with one another so as to avoid duplicating each other's efforts. The rhythm of their chant grew hilariously choppy, resulting in much giggling and shoving of the 'losers' who accidentally overlapped.
       Halfway through the second twenty minutes the game palled and soon McGonagall was counting for them again. She called out only every other set of steps to save breath until Malfoy took advantage of one of the silent sets to shout, "One, two, three, four, Gryffindors can really snore!"
       The line nearly collapsed with giggles.
       "Five, six, seven, eight!" called Stewart Ackerly. "Hufflepuffs avoid debate."
       Harry Potter looked about a bit shyly, then took a deep breath and shouted, "9, 10, 11, 12, Ravenclaws make sturdy shelves." Hannah Abbott finished things off with, "13, 14, 15, 16, Slytherins have extra spleens!"
       The next ten minutes flew by as the students competed to make up new rhymes. Soon McGonagall was dismissing them for another ten minute rest period.
       During the third and final set of repetitions, the students grew quiet. The exercise was working its own magic, relaxing their bodies and loosening their thoughts. They lost all track of time as they let their minds wander and before they knew it, McGonagall was shouting, "Enough! Thirty minutes until lunch!" At that, they broke free of their musings and rushed down to the lake, hollering all the way as they plunged into the water. The staff followed at a more sedate pace, shedding their robes before wading up to their waists and plopping down to sit neck-deep in the cool, muscle-soothing water.
       The students were segregated by age for their afternoon theory lesson. The second and third years, along with Michael, went off to crowd around Professor Dumbledore in the Defense classroom while the fourth, fifth and sixth years ambled into the Great Hall for a session with Snape and Lupin. "When do we get to be seventh years?" Millicent had grumbled about the designations on the notice board that morning. "September 1st, I guess," Malfoy had replied. He wondered what his absent classmates were doing this summer. Learning to apparate, he supposed.
       "Next week," Lupin announced when the students had all settled onto the cool stone floor, "we'll begin an exercise I think you'll enjoy immensely... steeple stoning." He sat down on top of the teacher's desk; Snape stood beside it with his arms folded. "Think steeple chase," he expounded. "Instead of performing the stoning spell in pre-arranged pairs with an even-tempoed cue, you'll chase around the grounds trying to freeze your prey with whatever partner you can find, as you might in an actual battle situation. I'm sure," he added with a smile, "that we'll all be most interested to see who can escape petrifaction the longest."
       The students began to smile and nudge each other, already imagining using their leaping technique, powerful shield charms, and general gracefulness to avoid being stoned. Snape stepped forward and cleared his throat and the room fell silent.
       "Can any of you tell me," he asked smoothly, "the reason for this exercise?"
       Several hands flew up. Snape nodded at Malfoy.
       "We're to use it on the Death Eaters," the boy replied.
       "Why?" Snape asked again.
       Malfoy frowned. His thinking had gone no farther.
       "Anyone?" Snape asked with a raised eyebrow. Hermione Granger lifted her hand hesitantly, as if the words were coming to her bit by bit. When Snape nodded at her, she spoke that way, too.
       "We need... to keep the Death Eaters... away from Harry," she theorized, "...and... anyone who is near Harry."
       "Stand up," Snape commanded the girl, "and continue."
       Hermione climbed to her feet and turned around to address her classmates, her thoughts apparently more organized now. Then her eyes fell on Harry and she hesitated.
       "Speak when I tell you to continue!" Snape barked. Hermione winced, then nodded.
       "The Death Eaters can't kill Harry," she theorized, "but they can weaken him so that he's easier..." She stopped again and bit her lip. For the first time, she looked sorry to be so smart.
       Then Snape whispered icily, "You're not helping."
       Hermione clenched her fists, stamped one foot, and said loudly and clearly, "They can weaken him so he's easier for Voldemort to kill!"
       Several students grunted but Harry didn't bat an eye. Hermione folded her arms across her chest and turned defiantly to the potions master. "They'll also want to kill anyone who might be assisting Harry," she added coolly, "shielding him from injurious curses or hurling injurious curses at Voldemort."
       Snape nodded. "You may sit," he told the girl, and Hermione plopped to the floor as gratefully as if she'd just completed four hours of McGonagall's endurance exercises.
       "In a way," Snape lectured, "our situation is simplified by Mr. Potter's... predicament. Imagine..." He turned away and strolled to the nearest window. "... if there were no time constraints, no need for Voldemort to eliminate Harry Potter in fairly short order."
       "'Eliminate,'" Ron snorted, annoyed on Hermione's behalf that Snape had found a more palatable verb. "He thought that up before class." Snape's eyes flickered briefly in his direction; then he turned to gaze out the window again.
       "Our knowledge that he must confront Potter, sooner than later, should be our greatest advantage," he insisted. He let them chew on that for a while as he watched the aurors patrolling the grounds.
       Goyle thrust a hand into the air. "Yes, Gregory?" Lupin acknowledged him. But it was to Snape that Goyle addressed his question.
       "How much time has Potter got?"
       Lupin and Harry grunted. Snape folded his arms thoughtfully across his chest. "Though we live considerably longer than muggles," he began, "the wizard's body reaches its physical peak at the same age, roughly eighteen. It is reasonable to assume that Potter's health will begin to deteriorate rapidly after his eighteenth birthday. Potter," he added as an aside, "turns seventeen this summer."
       "We'll have to throw you a party!" Malfoy leaned forward to grin at Harry. "You know... last one and all."
       The joke broke the tension and several students giggled. Harry thrust his hand patiently into the air.
       "Permission to shoot a spellwad at Malfoy?" he requested of Snape.
       "Fire at will," the housemaster conceded.
       The Slytherins sitting around Malfoy flopped to the floor as Harry fired a shot that hit the blonde Slytherin squarely on the earlobe. Malfoy glowered at Snape who said only, "Maintain that aim, Potter." The students laughed again and Snape headed back to the teacher's desk.
       "The more pressing concern," Lupin noted when the students had quieted down and Snape was once again standing beside him, "is Voldemort's condition. He is not a young man approaching his prime." The werewolf smiled briefly at Harry. "He is a middle-aged wizard who has had only two years to regain his strength. He will not stand by to see that strength ebb away even as Harry Potter sharpens his prowess at Hogwarts."
       Hermione raised her hand again. "What about Hogwarts?" she asked. "If Voldemort..." She stopped, then shook her head at her own reticence.
       "Kills Harry?" Ron finished, enjoying a moment of revenge for all the times the Dark Lord's name had tripped easily off her tongue. Hermione glared at him before continuing.
       "Will he want to destroy the rest of us and take over the castle?"
       The two teachers stared at her and Hermione couldn't help enjoying rendering them speechless. Then Lupin turned to Snape, who never took his eyes off the young girl's face. "We were saving the "If Potter dies' scenarios," Snape told her acidly, "for August."
       Hermione flushed. Harry gave her a little nudge. "It's okay," he assured her. "I think about it all the time."
       "So do we," Lupin confessed, and the students turned to the teachers with a jolt. "We've come to one conclusion. Harry Potter must not die."
       The room grew still as its occupants mulled that over. They regarded one another soberly. Then Lupin clapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly. "All right, then!" he cried. "Let's begin!"
       He leapt off the desk. "Our basic strategy is this," he announced. "Keep the Death Eaters out of the castle, and keep Harry in it. His confrontation with Voldemort is inevitable, but all other enemies must be kept away from him."
       "They have to come to us, you see," Snape explained, "because Voldemort will weaken sooner, and faster. Once here, he will try to flush Potter into the open, where his forces can attack him en masse, to soften him for..." Snape decided to leave the rest of the sentence unspoken.
       "Wait a minute," Justin Finch Fletchley spoke up. "Potter stays safely inside while we march out like lambs to the slaughter?"
       "He's not safe inside!" Ron growled. "Weren't you listening?"
       "It's all right," Lupin raised a hand to quell the argument. "We're here to discuss just that sort of thing. No, Justin, you will not march out like lambs to the slaughter. We will discuss every conceivable point of entry the Death Eaters might use and devise defense strategies accordingly. You will practice steeple-stoning from the grounds, the castle windows, even your brooms!"
       The students murmured with excitement.
       "And in this class," Snape added, "you will consider the detrimental impact of fear and violence on magical ability."
       All murmuring stopped. The students turned queasy faces to Snape, who gave them a nasty little smile.
       "But today," Lupin interjected, "we will spend the remainder of our time addressing any questions you might have at this point." He smiled encouragingly. "Come, come," he urged, "you must have hundreds."
       The children looked at each other, unsure what would be appropriate. Then Harry stood up and stuck his hand in the air. Lupin smiled and nodded at him, but Harry, like Goyle, addressed his question to Snape.
       "What's the difference," he asked the former Death Eater, "between the dark arts and regular magic, and why isn't it okay to use dark magic to defeat Voldemort?"
       He expected his inquiry to bring a glare, or at least a narrowing of Snape's eyes. Instead, the man began to smile, which Harry found unnerving. "I mean," the boy stammered, "we studied boggarts and grindylows in the same Defense textbook..." He glanced briefly at Lupin and his resolve returned. "... that had a chapter on werewolves!" he spat defiantly.
       "Whoa!" Malfoy whispered, then scowled at Ron Weasley who'd muttered the same thing. But Snape, still smiling, just glanced briefly at Lupin, too, before telling Harry, "Sit down, Potter." Harry resumed his seat as Snape began to stroll among the students.
       "An excellent question," he assured the students, "and one I'm pleased to address." He paused before a knot of Gryffindors, calling out, "Miss Granger."
       "Sir?" Hermione looked up expectantly.
       "On your feet!" Snape snapped, and Hermione leapt up with an embarrassed, "Excuse me!" Snape took a few steps back, leaving Hermione standing quite by herself, then demanded, "Give us your impressions of Victor Krum."
       The students turned expectantly to Hermione who couldn't help blushing. Snape rolled his eyes but said nothing. "Well," the girl stammered, "he was... he was..."
       Lavender Brown giggled and Hermione shot her an angry look. "Quiet!" she snapped, and it was Lavender's turn to blush. "Quiet... and introspective... independent... disciplined... hard-working... civil ..."
       "Evil?" Snape wondered.
       "No, sir!" Hermione protested.
       "Schooled in the dark arts?"
       Hermione grew defensive. "Some, yes, sir."
       Snape smiled again. "I assure you, Miss Granger," he murmured smoothly, "the curriculum at Durmstrang includes more than 'some' dark magic. You may sit down." Hermione sank gratefully to the floor and Snape resumed his strolling.
       "Only the shallow," he insisted, "consider a contempt for dark magic a sign of nobility. In fact, those who proclaim such a contempt are often using it to mask a far baser prejudice."
       Harry scowled at what he was sure was an attack on his father and Sirius but Lupin just winked at him and hopped back up on the desk. "Consider, for a moment," Snape went on, "the difficulty committees have classifying new magic as dark or not. Ministry officials seldom agree among themselves, much less with their international colleagues."
       He made his way slowly back to the front of the room. "Lupin's Rememdy," he told them, "will surely be approved by our own Ministry, for it only works in Wolfsbane potion. But what," he smiled archly, "will they make of stoning?"
       He let the students murmur among themselves for a moment before continuing. "Stoning appears to be more harmful than petrification, which has been definitively classed as dark magic. Yet it is simpler to cure and, more importantly, it requires two wizards. Harm cannot be inflicted without another's consent. Easy enough to achieve, perhaps, among Death Eaters, but how could it possibly serve their purposes? Would it make a useful kidnapping technique? Perhaps, but a rope-bound body, or a stupefied one, would be easier to carry away. Maybe a villain could use the technique to indefinitely detain an enemy, assuming he could find a private enough place to store the victim. But why involve a second party who might one day turn traitorous..."
       Ron Weasley let out an involuntary snort and Snape whirled on him. "...when magic provides more permanent and confidential ways to eliminate one's enemies," he finished menacingly, and Ron gulped.
       "Maybe you just want to get him out of the way for a while," Harry suggested.
       Snape raised an eyebrow at him. "Until a quidditch match is over?" he asked the boy, "or a teaching position is secured?"
       At least he included himself this time, Harry thought.
       "You'll need a memory charm," Snape spat, "which, I might add, is NOT classified dark magic."
       Millicent stuck her hand in the air. "Are you saying, sir," she asked when Snape nodded at her, "that something should be classified as dark magic based on how easy it is to use for dark purposes?"
       "Not exactly," Snape replied. "Let's try an exercise." He shoved Lupin aside a few inches to make room for himself on the desktop. "Stand up, Potter," he called as he took a seat next to the werewolf. Harry climbed to his feet. "No, not you," Snape changed his mind. "Longbottom!" Harry sat down amid chuckles as Neville stood up instead. "Do you know what a Hand of Glory is, Longbottom?"
       "No, sir."
       Snape seemed surprised. After a moment, he turned expectantly to Malfoy. Draco stretched his long legs out before him and gazed innocently back at Snape. The potions master narrowed his eyes and Lupin laughed out loud as Draco sighed and thrust his hand into the air.
       It's a device that gives light only to the holder," Draco told Neville.
       "Now, Mr. Longbottom," Snape turned back to the Gryffindor. "Name a noble use for such a dark device."
       Neville didn't even hesitate. "You could use it to navigate a Death Eater's pitch black lair," he suggested.
       Snape pressed his lips together to hide a smile. "Anything else?" he asked Neville. The boy seemed stumped but Millicent raised her hand. "Yes, Miss Bulstrode?"
       Millicent climbed to her feet and clasped her hands innocently behind her back. "A head of house could use it to check on his sick students without disturbing their rest," she suggested, and her schoolmates burst out laughing at the image this put in their minds.
       "Silence!" Snape thundered, adding furiously, "Sit down, Miss Bulstrode!" He considered assuring the students he had never done such a thing but thought better of it. Instead, he turned to Hermione. "Miss Granger," he called, and Hermione stood up. "Name a noble use for a quill that tortures the user by carving his skin as he writes."
       Hermione paled and Harry Potter jerked his arm as if trying to hide his hand inside the sleeve of his robe before he remembered that he wasn't wearing one.
       "I... I... I..." the Gryffindor stammered. She shrugged helplessly. "I can't."
       "Neither can I," Snape replied. "Sit down." Hermione flopped back to the floor and Snape turned once more to Harry. "Well, Potter?" he called, and Harry climbed obediently to his feet. "What do you conclude about the nature of dark magic?"
       Harry shoved his hands in the back pockets of his cut-offs. "I get to decide," he replied, and several students gasped before turning expectantly to Snape.
       The potions master stared at the boy. Then he nodded. "Correct," he announced, and even Lupin jumped. But Snape paid no mind. He climbed down from the desk to stand tall and straight before his students.
       "Let your conscience be your guide and seek forgiveness, not permission," he counseled the young warriors before him. "But remember, too, the words of St. Augustine: 'Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside of yourself.'"
       "That's not fair!" Violet protested after the older students recounted the lesson in the common room before dinner. "Dumbledore didn't talk about anything like that!"
       "What did he teach you?" Malfoy asked.
       "How dumb we are!" she pouted, and Crabbe and Goyle snickered in unison.
       "That wasn't it!" Jennifer contradicted her classmate. "He told us we shouldn't concern ourselves with fighting as much as with defense. He said if we didn't acknowledge our lack of experience and focus on keeping ourselves alive, we'd wind up getting ourselves... and others... killed."
       "In other words," Violet summarized, "we're too dumb to fight so we'd best just run and hide.
       "Violet!" Jennifer protested. "You're being unreas..."
       Her words were cut off by the bang of their common room door slamming open. Snape stormed in, a piece of parchment clutched in his fist, and the Slytherins, who were draped about their furniture with their legs in the air or their heads hanging off the cushions, barely had time to scramble to their feet before Snape stalked through the center of them. He paused long enough to cuff Violet ("Ow! What did I do?") and Malfoy ("What did I do?") before proceeding to their notice board to post the parchment. The two smacked Slytherins flinched as Snape strode past on his way out but the potions master could not be bothered with them. He slammed the door behind him and the Slytherins stared curiously at it before turning to cautiously approach the notice board.
       "That song at the closing feast," Ron told Harry as the Gryffindors gathered around an identical posting in their common room. "That's where he got idea." Dumbledore's idea, for it was his notice the heads of house had posted, was the formation of a choir that would rehearse on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8pm, beginning that very night. The list of students required to participate bore an unmistakable theme.
       "To keep us out of trouble, I suppose," Harry admitted, shaking his head as he surveyed the names of Hogwarts' most notorious transgressors, "for 4 more hours a week."
       Ron tapped a certain paragraph with his wand. It said that Professor McGonagall would be conducting while Professor Snape would serve as accompanist. "Can McGonagall direct?" he wondered.
       Hermione Granger folded her arms indignantly across her chest.
       "Why am I on this list?" she demanded.
       "Why aren't I on this list?" Violet demanded of the Slytherins who stared in disbelief at the notice before them.
       "I think that's a compliment, Violet," Millicent murmured before turning to Pansy to ask, "Can you sing? I can't sing."
       Malfoy tapped the parchment with a grin. "Can Snape play the piano?" he wondered.
       "It's not a compliment!" Violet insisted. "They just don't think we younger kids are a force to be reckoned with!" She marched off to her cell, even as her stomach growled for its supper. Marybeth shook her head.
       "She's not going to take this lying down," the second year fretted.
       Sure enough, when the two girls crossed paths outside the Great Hall a half hour later, Violet was wearing a confident grin. "I am NOT going to be left out!" she assured her roommate before hurrying into the hall to grab some supper before choir practice.
       They gathered at 6pm in the Transfigurations classroom, five Gryffindors (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny) seven Slytherins (Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Warrington, Tracey, Millicent, and Pansy) four Hufflepuffs (Justin, Eleanor, Hannah, and Owen) and four Ravenclaws (Terry, Stewart, Luna, and Amanda). Snape and McGonagall had not yet arrived, so Malfoy felt free to observe, "Bloody waste of time, this."
       "Yeah," Ron agreed. "Thanks a lot, Malfoy."
       "Sod off, Weasley!"
       "YOU sod off," Ginny snarled at the Slytherin, "or I'll make a soprano out of you!"
       "Look at this!" Hermione cried. The students stepped carefully over the risers that had replaced McGonagall's desk to surround a harpsichord sitting a few feet away.
       "It's filthy!" Harry marveled. He reached out to scrawl 'Potter' in the dust on the cover. "I wonder where it's been?"
       "Or what they used it for?" Millicent added.
       Crabbe gave one key a tentative poke and the children jumped at the sound of the clear, tart note. The boy grinned foolishly, then Goyle came to stand beside him and soon they were banging out a merry version of "Chopsticks," never quite managing to finish up the phrases together.
       "Get away from there!" barked McGonagall from the door, and the students jumped back as if fleeing a Death Eater's portkey. Snape appeared behind McGoangall and stepped around her, crossing to the harpsichord where he flipped his robes out behind him preparatory to sitting down. He froze halfway down to the bench at the sight of 'Potter' scribbled in dust on the instrument's cover, then turned to gaze sourly at a red-faced Harry. The boy rushed over to the harpsichord, wiped the lid clean with the hem of his t-shirt, and returned to the group as Snape settled firmly onto the bench.
       "What are you standing around for?" McGonagall demanded. "Onto the risers!" The students climbed awkwardly aboard, having no idea where they should stand, while McGonagall took up her position behind a conductor's podium. She had just opened her mouth to bark at them for shuffling when a small head peeked into the room.
       "What are you doing here?" the Transfiguration teacher demanded.
       "May I speak with Professor Snape, please?" asked Violet. McGonagall nodded and Violet hurried over to her housemaster.
       "Please, sir," she begged. "Please. May I turn the pages for you? I'll be as quiet as a mouse, I promise."
       It seemed like a good idea to Snape, who nodded his consent. Violet climbed onto the bench, shivering with joy.
       McGonagall picked up her baton and banged it against the podium several times for attention. Beside Snape, Violet sat up nice and straight.
       "How many of you can read music?" McGonagall inquired. After a few sheepish glances from side to side, about half the students raised their hands. McGonagall turned helplessly to Snape, who shrugged.
       "Stand them next to the ones who can't," he suggested.
       "Oh!" McGonagall realized. "That's right! We need to sort them into their sections." She turned menacingly back to the students. "Form a queue behind the harpsichord," she commanded. "Professor Snape will test your vocal range."
       Snape blinked. The students exchanged nervous looks, then climbed slowly off the risers, pretending to obey McGonagall while jockeying for positions at the back of the queue. They reminded Violet of a story she'd heard about the extras in a disaster movie depicting a burning skyscraper. They hung to the back of the crowd that was gathered around the only elevator even as they pretended to be fighting for the chance to get on; once you got on, you were out of the film and off the payroll.
       "Hurry up, hurry up!" McGonagall snapped, and Malfoy gave Ron Weasley a strategic shove that forced him to the front of the line. Snape played a major chord and then ran his fingers up and down the keyboard, do re mi fa so fa mi re do, for Ron. The boy stared blankly at him.
       "Sing the notes, you dolt!" Snape snarled.
       "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la," Violet demonstrated helpfully before remembering her promise and clamping a hand over her mouth. Snape played the notes for Ron again.
       "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la," sang Ron with surprising accuracy. Snape played the chord again and then another one, half a step lower, Dum DUM.
       "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la," sang Ron.
       Dum DUM.
       "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la."
       Dum DUM.
       "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la."
       Lower and lower Ron went until Snape smiled in spite of himself. "The boy's a bullfrog!" he marveled. Ron became the first baritone, followed by Crabbe and Goyle, Warrington and Justin Finch Fletchley. They counted themselves far luckier than tenors Malfoy, Harry, Neville, Terry, Owen, and Stewart who had to stretch in the opposite direction, singing higher and higher for Snape until they blushed at their own shrieking. Ginny, Pansy, and Mandy Brocklehurt had no such qualms and competed fiercely for the honor of highest voice, filling the room with winces before Snape made them and Luna the soprano section. Millicent, Hermione, Tracey, and Eleanor became the altos.
       "All right," McGonagall called when they were standing in two rows on the risers, girls in front, boys in back, sopranos and baritones to McGonagall's left, altos and tenors to her right. "Let's try a C major scale. Professor Snape?"
       Do re mi fa so la ti do ti la so fa mi re do, played Snape. McGonagall gave the students a downbeat with her baton and away they went. They managed to stay together all the way up to 'do' despite varying widely on the pitches. On the way back down, however, the mixed up the syllables and fell apart completely. McGonagall drummed sharply on her podium with the baton. "Rubbish!" she declared, and several of the boys snickered. "Listen to each other, for pity's sake! Work together!" She gave Snape a nod and he played the notes again. Once more the students climbed up and back, and once more they sang woefully out of tune with each other and garbled the syllables on their descent.
       McGonagall pursed her lips. Then she turned to Snape and asked, "Professor Snape, are we required to dismiss the students at 8pm?"
       Snape responded with that snarky little smile of his. "No, Professor McGonagall," he replied. "I believe you may detain the students as late as 11pm."
       McGonagall turned back to the students with a gleam in her eye and they gulped. "Shall we try it again?" she asked archly.
       The Slytherins returned to their house to find Marybeth sitting on one of the large common room window ledges, snug in her cardigan, enjoying the brisk night air flowing into the room. "Do you think it will always cool down this much at night?" she asked as Violet joined her on the ledge. The Slytherins loved sleeping snug beneath their covers.
       Violet told her all about choir practice, how the students had finally acquiesced to singing a scale in unison. "But then McGonagall tried to get them to sing parts on 'Shall We Gather at the River'."
       "What's that?"
       "A hymn," Violet explained. "Everybody learns to sing from hymns. But they just wouldn't do it!" She shook her head sadly. "They said they couldn't sing parts, even though it's really simple harmony that just slides up and down the scale. And they giggled and giggled at the words!" Violet shook her head again. "I thought it was a clever choice, because it talks about strife ending and hearts made happy by peace."
       "What did Snape say?"
       "He mostly kept his mouth shut," Violet recounted, "just played the notes real hard to help the singers hear their parts, but I think they thought he was banging at them." She grinned at the memory. "He glowered when they giggled, but I guess the singers just don't see the point. And you have to admit..." She rubbed her head where Snape had cuffed her. "The heads of house didn't have the best attitude, either."
       Their discussion was cut short by a shout from Crabbe. "Hit the deck!" the boy cried. The Slytherins flung themselves to the floor as another rogue spell from the hand-me-down wand of Michael Bletchley tore through the common room, bouncing off the walls before smacking into the ancient portrait of a medieval Slytherin witch. With much sighing and shaking of their heads, the Slytherins climbed to their feet, brushing themselves off while Malfoy jogged over to the tapestry to fix it with a reparo charm. Then he turned to Michael.
       "Give it a rest, Bletch," he suggested. The poor boy was having no luck at all with the wand Dumbledore had supplied after refusing to allow the youngster to make the usual trip to Ollivander's.
       "Here, Bletch!" Violet hopped down from the window to offer him her seat on the ledge. "Come watch the clouds roll in with Marybeth." She gave him a boost up, then skipped quickly over to the now unoccupied Crabbe and Goyle, wearing her sweetest smile. "How about another patronus lesson?" she suggested.
       "Forget it, Violet," Goyle told her.
       Crabbe agreed. "Talk about embarrassing!"
       "You couldn't even produce wisps," Goyle reminded her. "You just had little lights coming out the end of your wand! It looked like a bloody sparkler."
       "Ah!" Violet exclaimed. "But now I have..." She whipped her new wand from behind her back. "Pseudo-Salazar!"
       "Pseudo-Salazar?" the boys repeated doubtfully.
       "Pseudo, for short."
       Crabbe shook his head. "She named her wand," he moaned to Goyle.
       "Violet," Goyle counseled the younger Slytherin, "that is SO mudblood."
       "Girly mudblood," Crabbe added.
       Violet folded her arms stubbornly across her chest. "Look," she demanded, "are you two morons gonna help me or not?"
       "I'm thinking... not!" Goyle decided, and Violet was just about to draw her wand back to hex him good when an earth-shattering clap of thunder made her shriek. Several other Slytherins yelped as well and most of them paled visibly. Only Michael and Marybeth seemed undisturbed.
       "No wonder it got so much cooler," Malfoy called with forced casualness as the rumbling slowly died away. "Close the window, Michael, and Marybeth, you go close the other... DAMMIT!" Another clap of thunder, louder than the first, made him jump, and Violet threw her arms around Goyle and clung to him.
       "Let's go to Professor Snape's quarters!" she cried.
       "We are NOT going to Snape's quarters!" Malfoy insisted. "It's just a little thunderstorm, for heaven's..."
       "Bloody hell," the sixth year swore, "let's GO!"
       The Slytherins tore out of their common room and raced all the way to Snape's domicile, piling into the students who reached it first and squashing them against the door as they pounded on it with their fists. Snape opened it in his green dressing gown and, if he was surprised to see the tableau of frightened children posed before him, he didn't say so. He merely raised an eyebrow as another clap of thunder set the Slytherins to whimpering. "The Von Trapps, I presume?"
       Violet beamed with delight at the reference "If we agree," she grinned, "will you sing to us?"
       Malfoy spoke up quickly before Snape could shut the door in their faces. "It's the siege, sir," he explained. "Summer thunderstorms at Hogwarts make us a little jumpy now."
       "Can we come in, sir?" Jennifer begged. "Please? Just for a little while?"
       "You most certainly may not!" Snape seemed appalled by the idea of so many grubby urchins in his inner sanctum. "I'll come down."
       They waited while he extinguished the candles in his parlor and then walked with him back to their house. The common room was now chilly enough to justify a fire, which Snape lit for them on his way to the most comfortable chair. He paused by the damaged tapestry, turning to raise an eyebrow at the Slytherins as he pointed at the fresh patch.
       The Slytherins all pointed at Michael.
       "Reparo antiquitus," Snape charmed with a shake of his head, and the spot Malfoy had amateurishly mended aged nicely to blend with the rest of the tapestry. Snape sat down and the Slytherins settled in around him.
       "I believe Professor Flitwick has his evenings free, Bletch," Snape observed, and the Slytherins in the choir snickered. "Perhaps your practice sessions would yield better results under his supervision."
       "It's the wand, sir," Crabbe insisted, and Goyle nodded, adding, "Why can't someone... why can't Bletch have a new wand from Oll... from Diagon Alley?"
       Snape glanced at Michael, who sat on a footstool, taking everything in through calm, mild eyes. "Had you been here last fall, Bletch," Snape told the boy, "you might have learned the hard way not to take unnecessary risks in the face of peril."
       "But sir," Violet pointed out, "his wand's hopeless! He's practically defenseless!"
       Snape shook his head. "It will have to do," was all he said, and the Slytherins assumed the subject was closed. But Michael held the wand up before him and asked, "Whose was this, please, sir?" and for one nauseating moment, Malfoy feared it might be one of the wands Harry Potter had confiscated from the dead Death Eaters during the siege. Snape pursed his lips a moment before replying,
       "Cedric Diggory's."
       The Slytherins gasped. "How in the world..." Malfoy began, but the answer came to him before he could even finish the question. "My dad," he whispered, lifting weary eyes to Snape. The potions master nodded.
       "Get rid of it, Michael!" Marybeth cried. "It's been with the Death Eaters! It's contaminated!"
       "Don't be ridiculous!" Snape snapped, adding more gently to Michael, "Just do your best, Bletch."
       Michael nodded, completely unperturbed. "It's a shame he wasn't a Slytherin," the boy mused. "I might do better with a Slytherin wand."
       This speculation made Millicent sit up straight. "I wonder what happened to your brother's?" she asked, then wilted when she saw the effect this question had on Michael. Snape scowled at the girl, but Michael recovered enough to assure him, "It's all right, sir," before telling Millicent, "I might know. Or it might have been a dream."
       Now all the Slytherins sat up sharply. They'd heard nothing specific about the death of Miles Bletchley and they were desperate to know what had happened to their friend. Snape frowned, but Michael smiled that wistful little smile of his and after a few moments, the teacher nodded his consent.
       "The last thing I remember," Michael began, "is waiting for Mum to fetch me for breakfast. They started locking us up, you see. We didn't know why at first. We didn't even know it was happening to anybody else.
       Malfoy nodded. "Marybeth told us."
       "It was so strange," the child murmured. "They never talked about it. Mum or Dad would let me out for meals and eat with me in the dining room like nothing was happening, then they'd lock me away again when we were done.
       "When the 'training' started," he went on, " they brought us together, and that's when we found out what they were up to." His eyes grew glassy with tears and his voice faltered. "Those of us whose brothers and sisters hadn't come back from Hogwarts..." He broke off for a moment, then wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his t-shirt. "We were so proud," he announced, lifting his chin. Then his eyes clouded over. "We paid for that," he whispered.
       Several Slytherins squirmed and Violet wondered how many of the April 'orphans' had younger siblings at home. All that worrying about the missing seven girls, she remembered, and we never thought about younger siblings! She glanced at Malfoy, who was an only child. He scowled and looked away.
       "I don't know what they did to my brother," Michael went on. "The last thing I remember is getting up one morning and sitting on my bed, waiting for Mum to come get me for breakfast. I don't even know who put the imperius on me." He wrapped his arms around his knees. "There's some hazy stuff from when I was cursed," he told them. "I remember Marybeth trying to talk to me in Professor Dumbledore's office. And I remember all of you talking to me in the hospital wing."
       Malfoy flinched. Then he saw that Snape also looked nonplussed and the boy's concerns about Bill Weasley faded away.
       "One image is really clear," Michael told them. "I don't know if I actually saw it or if it was just a dream, but it's my brother. He's lying very still on the floor of a room I've never seen, so Professor Dumbledore thinks it might be his apprentice flat. His head is turned to one side and his eyes are open and he's not moving, so I guess he's dead."
       Violet's face crumpled and Marybeth put an arm around her shoulders. "Bletchley," Violet whispered, clutching her wand. "Bletchley!"
       "There's a noise," Michael went on, "a clattering sound. It's his wand, rolling across the floor and then falling down a hole."
       "What hole?" Malfoy asked.
       "A doxy hole," Snape explained. "Poorer accommodations have them, to trap doxies and other vermin."
       "Do you think the wand is still there?" Millicent wondered.
       "It's likely," Snape admitted. "Murderers would not have tarried long enough to retrieve it, especially since possession would be evidence of participation in the crime."
       The occupants of the room grew quiet and for a while there was no sound but the rumbling of the storm and the crackle of their fire. Then someone banged on the common room door and the Slytherins jumped. Malfoy hurried to his feet and jogged across the room, pulling the door wide to reveal Harry Potter standing in the corridor with a Weasley on either side.
       "See?" the Gryffindor cried, pointing out Snape's presence to Ron and Ginny. "I told you they'd be scared!"
       "Potter, you jackass!" Malfoy shouted, unable to believe Harry would tell his housemates the Slytherins were afraid of thunderstorms just because Draco had exploited Ron's fear of spiders at their quidditch match. I'm never spending the summer with him again, he snorted to himself. Then he got a brilliant idea.
       "Hey!" he cried, turning eagerly to Snape. "Do you think we could reschedule our quidditch match, sir? From last November? Play it this summer instead?"
       Snape rolled his eyes. "Why don't you form an intramural league?" he suggested. "Mix things up a bit, give more people an opportunity to..." He stopped. He hadn't meant to reference his school days, truly he hadn't, but he was sure he would find Harry Potter's green eyes flashing at him nevertheless. Instead, the boy regarded him thoughtfully and after a moment, he smiled.
       "Would the teachers form a team, sir?" he wondered.
       Snape's heart skipped a beat but he managed to keep his expression neutral. Then he barked at Malfoy,
       "Were you brought up in a barn? Invite your guests in!"
       So the three Gryffindors settled in among the Slytherins to ride out the storm while Snape entertained them with descriptions of quidditch matches from years gone by.
       All in all, Violet decided, it wasn't a bad first day.
       The next morning, Dumbledore announced that, instead of theory lessons, Friday afternoons would be given over to 'jump school.' Jump school, he explained, tactfully avoiding any references to feinting spells or floo tag, would increase the height from which the students could employ their free-fall stop technique. For ninety minutes, the entire student body would trot in a large circle around half the castle. Snape and McGonagall would levitate them to the top of the curtain wall, where Lupin would be waiting to catch them as they dropped onto a bed of cushions. They would then scramble to their feet and jog along the curtain wall half way around the castle until they reached the jump spot; Dumbledore would be standing below to assist them with their landing if necessary.
       The reason for the large distance between the levitation area and jump spot was three-fold. The constant jogging would increase their stamina and prevent lines at the levitation site. But most important, the exercise would teach them to jump without pause. "There must be no rocking back and forth as if you were steeling yourself for a jump in the lake!" Dumbledore insisted with a twinkle in his eyes. "I'm sure you realize, in the heat of battle, those who hesitate may be lost."
       Snape and McGonagall hated the exercise, having received the worst assignment, but the students loved it. However much the two heads of house frowned, it was a glorious thing to run to them and feel Snape's strong hands grasp you firmly by the waist before hoisting you into the air. Then the spell from McGonagall's wand would connect with your abdomen and send you soaring, rejoicing in the view and the wind in your hair as you flew to a height several feet above the curtain wall. There was a brief hang time before the slow descent into the waiting arms of Lupin, who smiled warmly as he guided you in for a landing, then helped you to your feet again.
       Without fail, each student trotting along the curtain wall picked up speed as the jump spot drew near, running faster and faster before barreling over the wall with a mighty, "Look out below!" Dumbledore never tired of hearing it.
       After ninety minutes of leaping and falling, the children gathered around Snape and McGonagall, waiting for the last jumpers to finish up and trot back from Dumbledore's station. "What about the staff?" Harry asked the heads of house, and before either could speak, Hermione shouted, "I'll go get Professor Dumbledore!" and took off at a run. Malfoy drew his wand and stepped up eagerly.
       "Let me, sir, please?" he begged Snape. His housemaster looked more than a little wary but Minerva pressed her lips together in one of those blasted tight-lipped smiles of hers and he was forced to comply with his student's desire to be his levitator.
       At first things went well. Malfoy propelled Snape twenty feet into the air, then thirty, then forty. But the task became more difficult the higher Snape got and as Malfoy struggled to raise him the rest of the way to the curtain wall, the teacher began to wobble. He flung his arms out in a desperate attempt to balance while Malfoy grabbed his wand with both hands. The boy grunted and squinted, laboring to keep Snape aloft, but slowly and surely, the potions master began to tip forward. "Help him, you idiot!" he shouted at Harry as he sprawled on his belly high above them. He looked like a swimmer doing a dead man's float in midair.
       Harry, standing beside Malfoy, whipped out his wand and quickly added to Malfoy's spell, only to flip Snape head over heels until he was hanging upside down, robes dangling over his head. Supremely grateful he was wearing trousers, Snape flailed furiously at the fabric in front of his face and screamed, "The other side, you idiot!"
       Harry darted beneath Snape. The cessation of his spell caused the potions master to drop several feet, making Violet and Millicent scream. The Gryffindor whirled around to cast his spell from the opposite direction, gradually returning poor Snape to an upright position just as Dumbledore arrived on the scene. Snape folded his arms and glowered at the boys beneath him who, because they could not stop chuckling, levitated his rigid form the rest of the way to the curtain wall in hiccupy jerks.
       To add insult to injury, Lupin was roaring with laughter on the cushions below him as Snape made his descent. "I'm... I'm... I'm sorry, Severus!" Lupin gasped between howls, "but it was just so... just so..."
       Snape made no response. Instead, he glanced briefly over the curtain wall to confirm Dumbledore's arrival, then grabbed Lupin by the collar and back of his robe and tossed him over the edge.
       Minerva screamed at the sight of the plummeting werewolf and Dumbledore jumped back, drawing his wand, but Lupin managed to right himself, pause, and touch down without assistance. He raced over to his colleagues and cried, "What a ride! Minerva, I mean Professor McGonagall, you've got to try it!"
       Minerva paled. She glanced uncertainly at Dumbledore, then shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand as she gazed up at the curtain wall. Snape was nowhere in sight. "I wonder where Severus went?" she asked falteringly.
       "He's probably sitting on the cushions waiting to help you land," Lupin replied, and Malfoy and Harry hurried to take up positions on either side of the transfigurations teacher. Dumbledore reached out to clasp a wrinkled hand around Malfoy's wand. "Perhaps you'd allow me?" he requested politely before levitating Minerva smoothly up to the curtain wall. Snape brought the white-faced teacher in for a landing, then peeked with her over the edge of the wall.
       "High, isn't it?" she whispered. Snape just nodded.
       Lupin waved at them. "Any time you're ready!" he called. Snape and McGonagall scowled and stepped back from the wall.
       "Listen," Snape said. "Are you quite certain you can manage this?" Minerva hesitated, then nodded. Snape smiled wickedly at her and, though they were quite alone, pulled her close to whisper in her ear.
       The crowd below watched the curtain wall expectantly and a few people gasped when Snape and McGonagall mounted the wall together, hands clasped. Then they jumped and plummeted so far that Hermione screamed and Dumbledore and Lupin thrust their wands into the air. The two heads of house halted a mere five feet above the ground and even managed to look quite bored in the process. Then they bowed to one another and took each other in their arms. They waltzed through the air for a few seconds, dazzling their onlookers. Then Snape flipped Minerva over his shoulder as he had at the Christmas dance and they floated gracefully down for a landing amid thunderous applause.
       "Incorrigible," Dumbledore muttered to Lupin.
       "Which one?" the younger wizard wondered.
       Dumbledore just smiled.
       On Saturday morning, the students did their chores for the first time. The Slytherins stripped their beds and forced Violet and Michael, the youngest, to haul the sheets to the laundry where they heard the Ravenclaws thanking Dobby for remaining behind all summer.
       "Dobby doesn't mind," the elf assured them. "Dobby is saving his money for a trip to America. Dobby is going to visit the New York clothing district, where he understands the merchants give away free samples."
       On the lawn, Hagrid was showing the rest of the Slytherins how to operate the lawn-cutting machines. "Yeh don't have to push 'em," he explained. "Yeh jus' walk behind 'em with yer wands trained on 'em. Mind yeh keep a sharp eye out fer animals! I don't want no critters gettin' chewed up!"
       But the boys, Violet noticed when she had rejoined her housemates, preferred to push the cutters themselves. They also liked to prune, shovel and rake the muggle way. And while they were performing these physical tasks, they liked to take their shirts off.
       Violet couldn't imagine why.


       Three weeks later, she had her answer, which was why she was sitting on top of a wall with Marybeth and several other girls, some housemates, some not, watching the deeply tanned, nicely chiseled boys of Slytherin mow the lawn late Friday afternoon. They insisted on cutting the grass several times a week and the boys from the others houses insisted on helping. It was hard to say which was more breathtaking, the beautifully groomed lawns or the magnificently sculpted young men.
       They weren't the only ones showing improvement. Snape and McGonagall were looking more serene these days, thanks in part to their faithful attendance at Professor Trelawney's relaxation classes. And twenty-some days of vigorous activity had noticeably slimmed Millicent while plumping Pansy and Tracey in all the right places. Their curves pressed against the fabric of their t-shirts as they leaned forward to watch Goyle whip his mowing machine around a tight corner.
       "He looks just like he does in speed-dueling class," Tracey sighed. "So... sinuous!"
       Violet had to agree. She adored speed dueling and wished Snape and Lupin would let the younger students participate more often. How she loved watching the queues peel off right and left as the students spun around, hexing and releasing in a steady, fluid motion. But the second and third years had only been allowed to join twice and stoning class remained completely off limits.
       Hermione Granger was more egalitarian. She welcomed all comers to her study club and Violet did her best to keep up with Millicent, Tracey, Ernie and Stewart, the most faithful participants. But their in-depth analyses of historical magical conflicts went right over her head and the profiles of famous wizarding villains gave her nightmares.
       Everybody's advancing except me, Violet thought as she stretched her legs in front of her. Well, that wasn't entirely true. Michael Bletchley was having an awful time with his wand. And she was keeping up with the big kids in some ways. There were those water calisthenics classes with Snape, for instance.
       Not all the younger kids could last the full hour of continuous jumping jacks and leg kicks in chest-high lake water. But when Snape had caught her grimacing one morning after her right leg had cramped, he'd hissed, "Find a way to keep going!" instead of simply dismissing her, and she'd soon discovered that if she slowed down and landed with one foot, she could keep exercising right along with the older students.
       But two days later, in the same class, she'd gotten the hiccups. Each hic had blasted her several inches into the air, making the rows of students kicking and splashing around her giggle helplessly. When their hilarity had reached the point where they could no longer balance, Snape had whirled on her and blasted her with his wand.
       "Can you cure hiccups, sir?" an astonished Hermione Granger had gasped after Violet had fallen silent.
       "Of course not," came the potions master's surly reply. "I scared her."
       The incident still made Violet grimace. No one takes me seriously, she thought, turning to Marybeth to demand, "How come nobody listens to me?"
       "What are you on about?" The responder was not Marybeth but Millicent, who sat up to gaze over Marybeth's head at her petulant housemate. "We sing your song, don't we?"
       Violet's Saturday morning chore parody was, indeed, a big hit; the students sang it zestfully whenever the staff were out of earshot.

       Yes, the big kids loved her song, and they were generous about sharing the contents of their afternoon theory lessons. But they agreed with the staff that the second and third years didn't belong in stoning class, not even to serve as volunteer targets, and they fell uniformly silent when approached during common room bull sessions about the opposite sex. Even now, Millicent jerked her head in the direction of the younger girls and elbowed Mandy Brocklehurst in the side when she observed too loudly, "That Draco Malfoy is one tall, cool drink of water!"
       Violet scowled at Millicent, then shielded her eyes from the sun to gaze down at Malfoy, who was running his fingers through his sweat-soaked blonde locks to let the breeze cool his scalp. He spotted Violet staring at him and gave her an insolent wink. That just made her scowl again.
       "Condescending git," she snorted to Marybeth.
       That night, she watched with interest as he paraded through the common room in his dressing gown, a scrub brush slung over his shoulder, on his way to the prefect's bathroom for a soak. As soon as he was out the door, Violet grabbed Marybeth by the wrist and whispered, "Wanna peek?"
       "Peek at what?" her roommate wondered.
       "Not 'what'," Violet hissed. "Who! Malfoy's about to take a bath! Let's sneak out the front door and climb up the wall to the prefect's bathroom window for a look."
       Sneaking outside between 8 and 11pm was a popular pursuit among the older students who preferred to neck where, if caught, they would be discovered by aurors, not staff. Aurors didn't punish; they just sent you back inside.
       "Violet!" Marybeth cried, appalled by her roommate's suggestion. "That bathroom's on the fifth floor!"
       "I know!" Violet sprang to her feet. "We'll have to hurry!"
       She pulled Marybeth across the common room and out the door. They traveled rapidly up and out of the dungeon and through the castle, slowing as they approached the open doors to the Great Hall. A quick peek inside revealed several people, including Snape, Crabbe, Goyle, and Harry Potter, playing the cup game around various house tables.
       "Let's go back!" Marybeth begged.
       Violet shook her head and, before Marybeth could protest, she darted quickly to the other side of the doors. No cry from within the hall suggested she'd been spotted, so after a few seconds, Marybeth took a deep breath and scurried over herself. The girls rushed to the front doors, opened one just wide enough to squeeze through, and slipped outside.
       They dropped to their bellies on the front steps, lifting their heads just high enough to search the grounds for patrolling aurors. There were two walking back and forth inside the entrance.
       "They won't notice us in the dark," Violet insisted. "They're watching the wall, not the castle!" She hurried down the steps, crouched low, then raced to the nearest bush with Marybeth right behind her. Once they were enshrouded in the dark shadows that surrounded the base of the castle, they could move more easily, and soon they were standing beneath the wall to the prefect's bathroom. They watched, smirking, as an occasional silhouette moved across the yellow patch of torchlight. But when Violet put her hand on the wall, Marybeth protested again.
       "I don't know, Violet," she complained, gazing at the window several stories above. "It's awfully high."
       "We'll be fine!" Violet insisted. "If you fall, just use the stop technique."
       She began to climb. It was harder than she'd imagined, even with the help of the many vines clinging to the stone walls. After several minutes, she looked down to discover she'd made very little progress.
       Marybeth watched as Violet slowly climbed to a height of six feet. Then she wrapped her fingers around the closest vine and set her foot on the nearest protruding stone to begin her own ascent. She'd barely lifted herself a few inches into the air when Violet let out a blood-curdling shriek and jumped to the ground.
       "What!" Marybeth cried. "What is it?"
       But Violet had no time for words. She grabbed her roommate by the hand and tore back to the front doors of the castle as fast as she could go. "Violet!" Marybeth protested, racing along behind. "What IS it?"
       They found Snape and Harry Potter waiting for them on the front steps along with several other students who had rushed out of the Great Hall at the sound of Violet's scream. The aurors near the entrance had run half the distance to the castle and were now paused on the lawn watching the activity on the front stoop.
       Violet catapulted right into her housemaster's belly, clutching him in terror with her free arm. Behind her, Marybeth could only shrug in response to Snape's glare and try to pull free from Violet's death grip on her hand.
       "What is it?" Snape demanded, grabbing Violet by the collar to peel her loose. "What has frightened you?"
       "Something... something ..." the child hiccuped. She gulped down several mouthfuls of air and tried again. "Something... touched me!" The memory made Violet shudder and she scrubbed vigorously at the violated portion of her arm with her sleeve. Snape jerked her sideways to give the arm a brief inspection, then peered into the darkness in the direction from which she'd come.
       "It's a thestral!" Harry said, pointing in the same direction. Sure enough, one of the gangly dark animals was loping across the lawn, pausing occasionally to sniff the grass or look about.
       "What's a thestral doing on the grounds?" Harry asked Snape.
       "What's a thestral?" Violet sniffed.
       "Nothing to be afraid," Snape chided the youngster. "Get inside, all of you." He ushered them back into the castle, pausing to gaze once more at the lanky creature even as the aurors closed in on it and began herding it back towards the forest.
       A short while later, Violet and Marybeth bent fearfully over Snape's desk for their first hiding of the summer. Malfoy, it turned out, was right. Snape gave their backsides a thorough warming but he didn't spank them as hard as he did during the school year. In fact, the embarrassment of having to confess their lewd intentions stung far more than the willow switch. "A word of advice," the housemaster counseled his red-faced deviants after the thrashing. "Treat boys as you would have them to treat you."
       He excused them with the usual, "You may go," whereupon Violet confused him utterly by beaming gratefully at him on the way out. She was just so thankful he'd taken them seriously instead of insisting they were too young for boys or something equally dismissive.
       "That was good advice," she realized as the two girls made their way back to Slytherin.
       Marybeth nodded. "All those Hogsmeade women can't be wrong."
       "Oh!" Violet stopped short and gave the floor a frustrated kick. "We should have asked him about the thestral! Why do you suppose it was on the grounds?"
       Marybeth shrugged. "Let's ask the older kids," she suggested. "They've studied Care of Magical Creatures."
       But when they returned to their common room, they found Malfoy sitting among their older housemates, along with Crabbe and Goyle, who were smirking openly at the failed Peeping Toms. So they hurried instead to the girls' corridor where they spent the remainder of the evening in their cell frantically beating back a copy of the "Monster Book of Monsters" they'd foolishly pilfered from Millicent's room.
       Malfoy left the common room shortly after the girls' return to make his way to Snape's office. He hesitated a few moments before knocking on the door and Snape, after admitting the boy and inviting him to take a seat, found himself facing an uncharacteristically tongue-tied Slytherin.
       "I... I wanted to ask you..." Draco stammered, "about... well... Violet and Marybeth..."
       "Malfoy," Snape interrupted, "they're young, and they're curious, and they admire you. You should overlook..."
       "No, sir, it's not that." Malfoy shook his head. "I'm talking about how they wanted to... how I want to... how we ALL want to..." The young man groaned with frustration and rubbed his temples. "Sir, " he tried again, "have you noticed that the older girls have been... changing... lately?"
       At first Snape smiled. Then a horrible possibility occurred to him. "Please tell me," he murmured, his voice faltering a bit, "that you know where babies come from."
       Malfoy grinned. "Of course, sir!" he chuckled, and Snape sagged with relief.
       "I'm glad to know," he nodded at the boy, "that your parents fulfilled some of their filial obligations!"
       Malfoy grimaced and looked away, making Snape wonder if he'd overstepped his bounds. "Actually, sir," the boy confessed, "it was..."
       "Oh, no!"
       "I'm afraid so," Malfoy nodded. "I learned the facts of life... from Dobby."
       Now it was Snape's turn to groan and rub his temples. Malfoy grinned again and began to recite in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, "When a mummy bird and a daddy bird love each other very much..."
       "Enough!" Snape cut him off. He raised an eyebrow and added, "Perhaps I should check your facts."
       "Oh, no, sir, Dobby was quite..."
       "Never mind!" Snape had no desire to hear Dobby's version of the birds and the bees. "Just tell me what the problem is."
       Malfoy shifted in his chair. "It's Millicent," he announced.
       "Oh," Snape nodded.
       "And Pansy."
       "And Tracey..."
       "Oh, dear."
       "...and Hannah, and Amanda... and... and I wanted to ask you..." He took deep breath and blurted it out. "How old were you your first time?"
       The potions master blinked. Several seconds passed. Then some more went by. Remain composed, Snape thought. He stared at the boy as evenly as possible. Then he said one word.
       "You may not. That's all."
       "But, sir!" the boy pleaded. "Have you seen the girls lately? I can't stop thinking about them! And not just from our house, either!" Malfoy pointed an accusing finger at a row of Snape's potion ingredients jars as if the bewitching temptresses were in the room with him. "Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones..." He shuddered and pounded his temples in frustration. "Even Granger, sir!" he cried. "EVEN GRANGER!"
       Snape smiled. "You know, Malfoy," he counseled, "the smart ones are often..." The teacher caught himself and shook his head, clearing his throat at the same time. He sat up straight and admonished the boy, "Malfoy, this very simple. Never, ever, EVER, with a co-worker. And that's what these girls are... your co-workers." He raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Do you really want something complicated between you on the battlefield?"
       There was no denying the wisdom in that. Malfoy nodded and thanked Snape for his time, resigning himself to a summer of necking and petting. Snape saw him out, shutting the door firmly behind him before turning around to lean against it. The boy's visit had reminded him of something. He thought for a few minutes, then retrieved a piece of parchment and a quill from his desk and hurried away to the Owlery, composing as he went.
       Two hours later, he had Madam Rosmerta's reply in hand.
       He gathered his students around one of their large enchanted windows after inspection the next morning to watch a thrilling sight. The school owls were taking off from their tower, soaring high above the grounds as they flew away to deliver this year's batch of admittance letters.
       The spectacle seemed to make Snape a bit melancholy, but he shrugged it off as he turned to his Slytherins. "What fresh hell are you up to today?" he asked, and the children smiled. With their yard work already done, the day stretched temptingly before them.
       "Slythedor dodgeball with the Gryffindors right after breakfast," Malfoy told him. "Winning team plays Ravenclaw after they finish the laundry."
       Perfect, Snape thought.
       "Except it might rain for a while this morning," Millicent added.
       Malfoy shrugged. "Then we'll play in the afternoon."
       "No!" Pansy protested. "It's too hot by then! I want to swim!" What she meant was, she wanted to lie on the raft floating on the lake and improve her tan. Several students pointed this out after Snape dismissed them and left the house.
       After breakfast, he turned invisible and hurried to Gryffindor Tower, where he hovered outside the Fat Lady's portrait until a large group of children, including Harry Potter, emerged from the common room, happily discussing the forthcoming game. Snape slipped gracefully into the room behind them, completely evading the Fat Lady's notice. Then he tiptoed to Harry's dormitory and helped himself to the boy's invisibility cloak from his trunk.
       "Professor Snape?" called the portrait indignantly when he let himself out again. "Is that you?"
       Why couldn't it be Dumbledore? Snape wondered as he set off down the hall. He chose not to answer the portrait, and since he was going and not coming, the portrait decided not to press the issue.
       The warm, gentle rain began around 10am and the students debated quitting their game but decided instead that it might prove useful to practice hanging and firing from their brooms in inclement weather. This taught them a valuable lesson; flying defense doesn't work too well dangling from a wet broom handle. Harry Potter lost his grip and plummeted to the ground, neatly snapping the bones in his wrist.
       "Go on with your game," he suggested when Ron and Neville offered to walk him to the hospital wing. "I'll be fine."
       But the Slytherins and Gryffindors assured him it would be no fun without him. "You forfeit, then, right?" Malfoy couldn't resist adding, so Ginny plastered him with a nice mudball as they set off for the castle.
       Once inside, Violet returned to her cell and changed out of her wet shorts and t-shirt, then headed for the lavatory, where she made a startling discovery.
       Violet sighed with relief to discover that she wasn't alone in the bathroom. "Would you get Millicent?" she asked the girl in the next stall.
       "What's wrong?" Jennifer wondered.
       "Just... get Millicent!"
       Jennifer scowled at her housemate's bossy tone... until she was safely out of the bathroom. Then she grinned with anticipation and hurried away to the older Slytherin's room. "Oh, MILL-i-cent!" she sang out as she peeked into the appropriate cell, and soon the sixth year was reaching under the stall door to hand Violet what she needed.
       "Thanks!" Violet smiled as she emerged, a bit embarrassed but bright-eyed with excitement.
       "Any questions?" Millicent asked.
       "Yeah!" Violet nodded. "How do I get more?"
       "You'll have to tell Snape," Millicent responded matter-of-factly.
       Violet froze. The smile faded from her face, to be replaced by a look of absolute horror. "I can't!" she almost sobbed.
       "Violet, they're essentials," Millicent explained patiently. "You know the policy. Snape covers the essentials."
       The younger girl felt herself blush full force. Anything else, she realized. She could talk to Snape about anything else, but not this! Not... her monthly.
       "Couldn't I just keep borrowing them from you?" she wheedled, and Millicent lost her temper.
       "Look!" the older girl snarled. "I spend all the pocket money I can on them just so I won't have to go to Snape that often!" She softened a bit when she saw the wretched look on Violet's face. "It's uncomfortable," she admitted more kindly, "but we all have to do it." She put a hand on Violet's shoulder and looked her straight in the eye. "You don't want Snape looking for you in a few years, wondering if you need an exam or something, do you?"
       Violet nearly fainted at the thought. She shook her head, then took a deep breath and squared her little shoulders as she set off for her housemaster's office.
       "Yes?" Snape asked brusquely when the wretched-looking child was standing before his desk.
       "I... I need... there's something I need," Violet whispered.
       "Speak up, child!" Snape snapped.
       "I need..." Violet blurted. "You see... well, I'm... I'm getting... older, sir."
       Snape stared at her blankly.
       "You know. OLDER?"
       She looked hopefully into his eyes but Snape just shrugged.
       "When a girl gets ... older.... she starts to... change." Violet's voice dropped back to a whisper. "Her body."
       "Her what?" Snape seemed to be shouting by comparison.
       "Her body!" Violet cried, the color standing out on her cheeks. Snape said nothing. He looked hopelessly confused. Violet began to tug at her fingers.
       "Haven't the other girls talked to you about this?" she almost sobbed.
       "About what?" Snape demanded, his patience apparently wearing thin. Violet's eyes dropped miserably to the tops of her shoes.
       "A girl," she tried again, "needs thing to keep herself..."
       "Miss Guilford, please do me the courtesy of looking at me when you speak."
       Violet put both hands over her flaming face and shook her head. She peeked at Snape through her fingers for a moment before dropping her hands, taking a deep breath, and saying as quickly as she could,
       Snape scowled. "Again," he snarled. "One word at a time."
       Bloody hell, Violet thought. "When."
       "Um hm."
       "Like yourself."
       "'Older'," Snape nodded.
       "What 'things', Miss Guilford?"
       "FEMININE PRODUCTS!" Violet screamed, balling her fists and stomping her feet. "I NEED FEMININE PRODUCTS!"
       At first Snape could only stare, trauma freezing his features. Then, to Violet's astonishment, he began to grin, and soon his grin turned into chuckles. He laughed harder and harder, eventually putting his head down on his desk as he pounded its surface with mirth, his shoulders shaking as he roared.
       Behind her, the door to Snape's office flew open, and Violet whirled around to see Millicent, Pansy, Tracey, Jennifer, Marybeth, and several other Slytherins girls clumped together in the corridor, laughing uproariously. Marybeth covered her face with her hands and collapsed to the floor while Pansy held her belly from laughing so hard.
       "What?... what?..." Violet looked helplessly back and forth. Snape pulled himself together, lifting his head to rest his cheek on the palm of his hand.
       "It never gets old!" he marveled. "No matter how many times they do it!"
       "OH!" Violet shrieked as realization came crashing down. "OH!!!!!" She spun back and forth between her housemaster and the gigglers in the corridor, her fists clenched with rage. "You...! YOU...!!!"
       "Madam Pomfrey will assist you," Snape told the child, his calm, quiet tone an infuriating contrast to Violet's sputtering outrage. She whirled around and marched furiously out of the room; the girls in the corridor jumped back to give her a wide berth as she passed.
       She found Madam Pomfrey standing beside a cot in the hospital wing, chatting quietly with Harry Potter as she mended his broken wrist. Violet stomped up to the two of them, her hands on her hips, and hollered, "I NEED FEMININE PRODUCTS!"
       Poor Harry froze like a deer in the headlights, a blush staining his face and ears bright red. He stared desperately at the empty space in front of him while Madam Pomfrey reached into a cabinet marked 'Slytherin orphan girls' to retrieve what Violet needed. "Why are you girls always so angry," she asked as she handed Violet the supplies, "the first time you come after these?" But Violet just snatched the box and marched out of the room.
       Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "It's not really a curse, you know!" she shouted helpfully after the departed child, then threw a hand to her chest and added earnestly, "Oh, I am sorry, Potter!" to the boy who looked like his head might explode.
       After lunch, Snape made his way to Lupin's room where the werewolf was enjoying the last day of a week's respose that had begun with the full moon on Sunday. "Tidy up," Snape ordered his colleague. "We're going out."
       "Where are we going?" Lupin wondered as Snape flung Potter's invisibility cloak over the two of them after Remus had washed his face and combed his hair. But the potions master just put a finger to his lips and led Lupin into the corridor, through the castle, out the front door and across the lawn. He glanced nervously at the aurors a time or two but forged ahead; there was no sign of Mad-eye Moody. When the two men reached a particularly part of the wall, Lupin gasped. "Severus, how do you know ... you're not going to..."
       Snape silenced him with a fierce "Ssh!", then drew his wand and whispered, "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs." The hole appeared and the two men rushed through it, Snape closing it behind them as quickly as possible.
       "Severus, where in blazes are we going?" Lupin demanded.
       "Room 2," Snape told him, "the Three Broomsticks. Together, now!" He linked arms with Lupin, clutching his part of the cloak more tightly, and Lupin barely had time to secure his own half and apparate before the two men were arriving with simultaneous pops in an upstairs chamber of the Hogsmeade pub.
       "It is so wonderful to see you!" Madam Rosmerta cried, rising to rush across the room as Snape removed the cloak and folded it across the back of a chair. He accepted a warm hug from the barmaid as he followed Lupin's frightened gaze to the table where Rosmerta had just been sitting. It was set with a lovely tea. Across from Rosmerta's seat, on the far side of the table, sat a striking young woman whose presence seemed to terrify Lupin.
       "You'll like her!" Snape whispered before drawing back from Rosmerta to announce, "Rosie, you remember my colleague from Hogwarts. Madeline, this is Remus Lupin. Lupin, this is Madeline Barstow."
       "How do you do?" Madeline smiled warmly and rose to offer Lupin her hand. The werewolf managed a weak smile and crossed the room to shake with her, murmuring "Did we know each other at Hogwarts?"
       "I went to Beauxbatons," Madeline told him, "but I think I can hold my own with a Hogwartian."
       "Don't let Severus be your guide!" Lupin risked a joke, and everyone but Snape chuckled as they sat down. They sipped and nibbled and talked stiffly about the weather. Then Snape rose abruptly.
       "I'll give you a three second head start!" he told Madam Rosmerta, who sprang from her chair and raced into the hall as Snape stepped over to the wall. He checked his watch, then apparated next door, leaving Lupin and Madeline quite alone.
       He found Rosmerta waiting for him when he popped into the neighboring chamber and she threw her arms around his neck the moment he appeared. "I've missed you!" she cried, hugging him tightly. Then she let him go and took a step back to look him over. "I'm surprised at you, Severus," she admitted, nodding at the wall that separated the two room currently hosting runaway Hogwarts instructors. She shook her head at him. "I think the world of you, of course, but I remember how things were, when you and the Gryffindors would wander into the pub at the same time."
       Snape pursed his lips and made no response. Instead, he settled into a comfortable chair near the bed and put his feet up on the footstool, crossing his legs at the ankles. He pulled Rosmerta into his lap and sat quietly with his arms around her.
       "I always thought he was rather sweet," Rosmerta insisted, resting her head on Snape's shoulder. "Do you talk much?"
       "No," Snape told her.
       Rosmerta smiled. "Well," she murmured, picking a piece of lint off his summer robe and giving him a little pat, "I think this was very nice of you." She hugged him around the neck again and gave him a warm kiss on the cheek just below his ear.
       An hour later, Snape decided it was time to be getting back. He walked over to the wall and bounced his eyebrows at Rosmerta in a fashion so reminiscent of his student, Draco Malfoy, that she nearly laughed out loud. "Shall I pop in on them?" he suggested. They both chuckled and Snape headed for the door instead, opening it slowly to peek across the walkway to the drinking area below. It would not do to be spotted by a Death Eater on the way from one room to another.
       Something he saw made Snape draw back sharply and slam the door shut. He whirled, ashen-faced, to Rosmerta and hissed, "Dumbledore and McGonagall are down there!" Then he hurried over to the wall to apparate into the next room
       "Severus..." Rosmerta began, but Snape cut her off with a furious, "Bugger Lupin's privacy!" Before she could suggest that she go down the hall instead, Snape was gone.
       He found Lupin exactly where he'd left him, sitting at the table with his elbows propped on top, resting his head in his hands as he gazed dreamily at Madeline. "On your feet!" Snape snapped. "Dumbledore and McGonagall are downstairs!"
       Lupin paled, then jumped up and hurried over to Snape, who threw the cloak over their heads. The door opened and Rosmerta slipped inside, quickly shutting the door behind her.
       "Goodbye, Severus!" she called, glancing uncertainly around the room. "Goodbye, Remus!"
       "Owl me!" added Madeline, waving in the direction of the two shrouded wizards, "and come see me again, Remus, the second Voldemort is dead, yes?"
       Lupin grinned like an idiot beneath the cloak and Snape rolled his eyes. "She can't see you!" he reminded the werewolf. "Say goodbye!"
       "Goodbye, Madeline!" Lupin called, and both women smiled, enchanted by the sweetness of his tone. Snape linked arms with Lupin and opened his mouth to signal the joint apparation. Then he froze, his mouth hanging open, his eyes suddenly blazing.
       "Severus?" Lupin whispered, gazing nervously at the darkening visage of the wizard beside him.
       Snape turned to his colleague with a murderous fury in his eyes. "Wait a minute!" he hissed. He snatched the cloak from their heads and thrust an arm at the door, pointing an accusing finger in the general direction of the drinking area.
       "How long have they been coming here?" he demanded of Rosmerta, who pressed her lips together to conceal her mirth at Snape's discovery.
       "Just since summer, Severus," the barmaid assured her visitor, trying hard not to laugh. "On weekends, mostly. Through the floo system."
       Snape wadded up the cloak and threw it at Lupin. Then he grabbed the werewolf by the arm and dragged him along behind as he stalked out the door, across the hall, down the stairs, and right up to the headmaster and deputy headmistress of Hogwarts.
       "Oh!" Dumbledore gasped at the sight of them and McGonagall choked on her mouthful of chilled gillywater. Lupin looked mortified but Snape glared openly at his superiors. "Well," Dumbledore confessed with a twinkle in his eye. "This is awkward."
       Snape folded his arms across his chest and Dumbledore smiled. "I don't think I would be out of line," he insisted politely, "if I inquired how the two of you managed to travel here safely, as I have the only working floo system fireplace in the castle."
       "Invisibility cloak," Snape hissed, barely moving his lips. He jerked his head at Lupin who held up the crumpled garment, making his lower half disappear.
       "Neither of you has an invisibility cloak!" McGonagall pointed out, and Snape shot her a withering glare that made her flinch. 'Traitor!' the look clearly said.
       "I borrowed Potter's," he seethed through clenched teeth.
       Minerva decided not to ask if he'd asked.
       "Why don't I buy you gentlemen a drink," Dumbledore suggested, "and we'll see if we can't come to an understanding." He gestured to Rosmerta who was leaning over the railing with Madeline, watching the scene below with great amusement. "Another round, please," he called, and she hurried down to fetch fresh drinks. Snape glowered at her but she gave his greasy hair a fond caress anyway.
       In the end, the foursome agreed there would be absolutely no more trips to Hogsmeade for anyone. Dumbledore paid the tab, smiling, "Shall we?" as he gestured to the fireplace. He and Minerva floo'd first, followed closely by Snape and Lupin. Madeline and Rosmerta watched them go.
       "Please, God," Rosie prayed as her gentlemen callers disappeared in a burst of green flame. "Don't let anything happen to them."
       "Amen," added Madeline.
       "The front gate."
       "The Forbidden Forest."
       "Over the wall."
       The morning rain and Harry Potter's injury had faded to memory as the students of Hogwarts baked themselves in the afternoon sun, floating on the lake raft or reclining in the tall grass near the shore. Violet and Marybeth, along with several other younger students who had been shooed away from the raft by the sixth years, were sunning themselves on the moist, slippery tentacles the giant squid obligingly held aloft for them several yards above the surface of the cool water.
       Wait for it, Violet lectured herself sternly. Choose your moment. Beside her, Marybeth was perched precariously on the narrow end of her tentacle. Violet stole a peek at the bikini-clad Millicent and Pansy, lying on the raft alongside Malfoy, Ron Weasley, and Potter. All of them were slathered from head to toe in Snape's UV ray-repellent potion, glistening in the sun like bacon frying in a pan. Violet wondered if icy cold drops of lake water would bounce off their hot greasy skin or just lie there and sizzle.
       "The fireplace in Dumbledore's office," Harry was saying, and Ron nodded.
       "Check," the red-head replied.
       They were discussing possible points of entry for Voldemort's attack. Ron was proving a real asset to the afternoon theory class strategy sessions thanks to his expertise at wizard chess, but lately he'd become convinced they were overlooking a key access point.
       "Onto the grounds from the air," Malfoy drawled, rising onto his elbow to roll over, and Violet knew her moment had come. It was a shame the boys would suffer, but what the heck.
       "Check," said Ron.
       "The lake!" Violet screamed as she gave an unsuspecting Marybeth a mighty shove and then rolled off her own tentacle to cannon ball into the water. Marybeth's bellyflop also made a huge splash and the roasting sixth years were doused from head to toe with frigid lake water. Sweet, Violet thought as she resurfaced to find Marybeth coughing and Pansy swearing a blue streak. Sweet, sweet revenge.
       "Dammit, Violet!" Malfoy snarled as she swam up to the raft. He and Harry pounded on her fingers when she tried to grasp its edge so she was forced to retreat to the safety of the squid's squishy embrace. "Check!" Ron spat after her, but Marybeth accepted the dose of justice with a good-natured giggle and soon the two girls were climbing back aboard their tentacles to warm themselves in the sun.
       "We're can't think anymore because we're too close to the material," Millicent reassured Ron. "When the other kids come back, they'll spot what we're missing."
       "Not if it happens September 1," Pansy countered, and several students groaned. When Voldemort might attack was an oft-discussed topic that yielded troubling follow-up questions. Why wasn't he attacking right now, before they got any stronger? Was he developing some secret weapon or technique? Was he having too much success recruiting? Was he still hoping to take out a few key Hogwarts staff first?
       "Let's talk about something else," Harry suggested.
       Violet frowned. She loved "point of entry" discussions because they reflected afternoon defense classes that the students attended together. Now her older schoolmates would probably discuss some obscure topic like optimal spacing for stoned Death Eaters or how to make Voldemort blink.
       "His body!" Ron shouted. "Let's talk about what we'll do with his body... assuming he still has one after Harry's finished with him."
       Several students cheered. Harry didn't, but no one noticed.
       "Isn't there some forest creature Hagrid could feed it to?" called Neville as he treaded water a few feet away.
       "We could stuff it and mount it," Millicent suggested.
       "Or use it for quidditch practice as a dummy keeper," Malfoy added.
       Harry shook his head and grinned in spite of himself. "I think we should donate it to Snape," he insisted, "to be dissected for potion experiments."
       As the other student laughed and groaned, Violet slid noiselessly into the water and swam for shore. The older Slytherins watched her go and Millicent murmured, "I'd rather she not roam the grounds alone. Everybody will be going in for supper soon."
       Malfoy nodded. "Violet!" he shouted. "Are you going into the castle?"
       Violet nodded without turning around. Malfoy was just about to order her roommate to swim to shore and go in with her when the giant squid sneezed, blowing Marybeth several hundred feet across the lake. The older students roared with laughter, then dove off the raft to race out to the young Slytherin and escort her back to shallow water.
       Snape paused on his way down the stairs from Harry Potter's dormitory where he'd been returning the invisibility cloak to its trunk. The house had been empty when he'd entered but now he thought he heard someone climbing through the portrait hole. Sure enough, when he reached the common room, he found Hermione Granger, newly returned from a trip to the library, spreading out books on a table beneath a window overlooking the lake. Preparing for one of her study clubs, I suppose, Snape thought. She looked up as he approached, curious as to why he'd been visiting a Gryffindor dormitory.
       Snape stole a glance out the window to confirm that Potter and several other students were still relaxing on the raft. He checked Hermoine's face, then thrust his hands into his pockets and pursed his lips. After a few moments, he asked,
       "Will you be going home to visit your parents this summer, Miss Granger?"
       It was an odd question. No one who'd stayed at Hogwarts for the summer was going home before September 1, Hermione knew. Was he trying to avoid a discussion of his presence in the tower or perhaps leading up to something?
       "No, sir," she replied. Snape nodded, then glanced out the window again.
       "Your parents must be very selfless people," he observed.
       This thought had never crossed her mind. She'd always expected her mother and father to support her in her efforts to help her friends; that was the way she'd been raised. It had never occurred to her that they might miss her as much or more than she missed them. "I'm sure you write regularly," Snape suggested, and Hermione couldn't help smiling.
       "Yes, sir."
       Snape cleared his throat. He glanced out the window again, the color rising in his cheeks. Hermione couldn't wait to hear what was on his mind.
       "All right, then?" he asked.
       Hermione frowned and Snape jerked his head impatiently at the window. Hermione stood up and leaned over the desk to look out, then smiled at the sight of Ron and Harry pretending to duel on the raft until one of them obligingly toppled over into the water. She turned curiously back to Snape and suddenly it hit her.
       He wanted to know why she wasn't outside playing with the other children.
       "Everything's fine, sir," she assured him. She rested her fingertips on the open page of one of the books on the table. "It's just that..." She looked down at the book and smiled. "This is my strong suit," she insisted, giving the page a fond pat.
       "It's admirable," Snape observed, "and important. But playing with the other children is important, too. It yields..." He hesitated, and Hermione looked up at him as he searched for the words. " ability to perceive...unspoken cues."
       At that moment, Hermione suddenly understood why Professor Dumbledore had formed a choir.
       "You'll make an effort, won't you?" Snape asked her.
       "Yes, sir," Hermione nodded. Snape gave her a farewell tip of his head and turned to go, but Hermione couldn't resist calling him back. It was such a perfect opportunity...
       "I do miss my parents," she stalled, inviting Snape to join her as she sat down on one of the comfortable common room sofas. The potions master squinted curiously at her as he took a seat.
       "How, may I ask, did you become such good friends with Potter and Weasley, Miss Granger?"
       Hermione decided not to tell him about the troll. "I had a lot in common with Harry," she explained. "I was smart and muggle-born, and he was famous but completely unaware of this world, so we were both...."
       She hesitated.
       "Apart?" Snape chose the polite word.
       " Hogwarts," Hermione nodded.
       There was something about this revelation that Snape did not like. Hermione shrugged at his darkening visage. "Ron just part of the package, I guess," she finished lamely.
       Snape made no response. Instead, he gazed around the common room as if casting about for a less prickly topic. Not finding one, he rose to depart and suddenly Hermione blurted out,
       "Harry will win, won't he, sir?"
       Snape stared at the girl. There was no doubt in his mind what she was really asking.
       "When I think of what life will be if Potter loses," he murmured, "I have to believe that he will win. But how about this?" He sat down again. "If Potter loses, it will be over Professor Dumbledore's dead body and I will be forced to flee. Shall we meet somewhere and begin the resistance?"
       Hermione nodded, relief plain on her face.
       "Do you know the walled tower at Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel?"
       Hermione nodded again.
       "There is a secret passage just to the right of the entrance. You can open it with an 'alohomora.' Wait for me there." He started to leave, then turned back to her and added, "You may bring Weasley, if you must."
       Hermione folded her arms across her chest. "Bill?" she asked innocently, and she smiled at the scowl Snape tossed her before departing.
       He ran into the Bloody Baron in a dungeon corridor near his office. The house ghost said nothing. He merely stood in the housemaster's path, jerking his head in the direction of one of Violet's favorite alcoves.
       Snape frowned. It was not like the Baron to tattle on a Slytherin committing a spankable offense unless that child was in mortal or moral peril. He stepped quietly into the short hall that comprised the majority of the alcove and peeked around the far corner. There sat Violet, hugging her knees, silent tears coursing down her cheeks. Snape had to admit, she looked wretched indeed.
       "You'll forgive me, Miss Guilford," he began dryly, "if I consider myself something of an expert on what does or does not constitute harm, particularly with regard to pranks. I can assure you..."
       Violet didn't even look at him. She just shook her head, making Snape frown again. Slytherins did not contradict him when he was being accurate. "Oh!" he realized. "It's not about this morning?"
       Violet shook her head again.
       Though his bones and muscles ached from weeks of exercise, Snape decided it would be woefully tactless to ask her to stand. You've had a pleasant afternoon, he reminded himself before forcing his sore frame into a sitting position beside her on the floor. He rested his head against the wall, delighting in the stones' coolness against his sore muscles. "Proceed," he told the child.
       Still she would not look at him. She stared dully ahead, finally opening her mouth just wide enough to whisper, "I don't want him to die."
       "I beg your pardon?"
       Violet thrust out her chin defiantly. "I don't want Harry Potter to kill my father!" she insisted. Then her face crumpled and the tears began to flow. She waited for Snape to scold, to berate her nonsense, to remind her that she was breaking a rule. Instead, he spoke very softly.
       "I suppose, on a day like this," he murmured, "a girl should have a parent to put an arm around her and say..." He leaned over and whispered in her ear. "How wonderful, Violet. You're growing!"
       "Oh, Professor Snape!" Violet threw her arms around her housemaster's neck and hugged him tight. Snape, hoping the Baron was still in the corridor to warn him if anybody approached, gave the youngster a few comforting pats.
       "Every child," he told her quietly, "dreams about changing a parent."
       Violet gasped, then held her breath, listening closely.
       "Usually," Snape continued, "that fantasy involves some pathetic illness or catastrophic injury." He curled his lip. "Even children with good parents are foolish enough to wish them different."
       Snape took his young Slytherin by the arms and held her a short distance away so he could look her sternly in the eye. "Good people sometimes change for the better, Miss Guilford, when they find a character flaw that is harmful to others. But not evil people." He shook his head. "Evil people seldom change or even acknowledge their flaws."
       Violet wasn't sure she agreed. Hadn't she gotten through to Lucius Malfoy? But Snape wasn't finished, so she held her tongue.
       "Let him go, Miss Guilford," her housemaster advised. "You are an orphan."
       Violet nodded, even as her eyes filled with more tears.
       "It's lonely without parents," she whispered.
       "I know," Snape commiserated. He handed her a handkerchief and ordered her to wipe her nose, then suggested a short nap before supper. They rose, Violet drying her eyes as she thanked him for his assistance. Snape followed her out of the alcove and watched her walk away down the corridor.
       "It's lonely with parents, too," he murmured when she was safely out of sight.
       She was feeling better after supper as she and Marybeth climbed onto the common room window ledge to watch the older students work with Bletch. It was such a peaceful time of day, Violet thought. The tangy night air streamed in through the window to cool their sun-warmed cheeks as their bodies relaxed, worn out by the day's activities, eagerly anticipating a snug night's sleep. The Slytherins were mellow and content; there was nothing to do but enjoy each other.
       "It's not your fault," Malfoy reassured Michael, who was trying to master the tracking lights the second and third years were using in their defense classes. "I think the wand just misses Cedric." Michael made no reply and Malfoy went on, "Maybe it's your pronunciation. Maybe it's too harsh."
       Crabbe grunted and pulled Goyle aside to whisper a suggestion that made the second boy snort. "Yeah, Bletch," he called. "Maybe you're saying it too hard. Try a 'D.'"
       "Dick," Michael whispered to his wand, and the older boys shouted with laughter. Violet rolled her eyes and hopped down from the ledge.
       "Let me try," she suggested.
       Malfoy shook his head. "Wand mastery is difficult, Violet," he insisted, sending Crabbe and Goyle into more howls of laughter. "Leave this to the older kids."
       Violet thrust her fists on her hips. "My wand is difficult!" she snapped, "and I'm coming along very nicely, thank you! Besides, with all the time we younger kids are spending on tracking these days, we're probably better at it than you, you stoners!"
       Crabbe and Goyle laughed harder than ever, but Malfoy just scowled at the youngster. "Violet," he shook his head, "I hate you for making me say this. Listen to Dumbledore."
       Violet wanted to kick him. But that would look childish. So she spun around and climbed back onto the ledge with as much dignity as she could muster. She turned her face to the window to hide the angry flush creeping up her cheeks and thought of Harry Potter, blushing violently in the hospital wing. Maybe I should tell Malfoy about my monthly! she fumed. That would show him! I'd like to see his reaction...
       She gasped aloud and Marybeth glanced curiously at her. The most brilliant idea had just popped into Violet's head. "Reaction," she whispered, her eyes growing wide, and without a word of explanation, she grabbed Marybeth's hand and pulled her down from the ledge, fleeing with her to their cell.
       "What is it?" her roommate cried when Violet had shoved her down onto a bunk and slammed their door shut. Violet made no reply but began pacing rapidly back and forth, her mind spinning. Finally she looked up with a triumphant grin and plopped down on the bunk beside Marybeth.
       "How would you like to get Bletchley's wand for Michael?" she asked.
       "Imagine if we brought Bletchley's wand to Hogwarts for Michael!" Violet repeated. "Can't you just see the looks on the older kids' faces?" We'll see who's too young to be useful around here, she added to herself.
       Marybeth's mouth popped open but nothing came out. After a few moments, however, she closed it again and looked away, her face growing thoughtful. Violet waited for objections. Instead, Marybeth seemed to be contemplating what Violet could only imagine were the larger implications of such an accomplishment. A message to her oppressors, Violet supposed. When Marybeth turned back to her roommate, her eyes were blazing with determination.
       "Let's do it!" she cried.
       "Whoo hoo!" Violet jumped off the bed and began bouncing around the room. When she'd come full circle, Marybeth grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back onto the bunk.
       "How?" she demanded to know.
       "I've got it all figured out," Violet grinned. "We'll do it tomorrow night. After supper, we'll drift out onto the lawn like everybody else. Then we'll hide in Hagrid's pumpkin patch just before 8pm." The sprouts were already a yard high; eventually they would yield pumpkins as large as the Slytherins' cells. "We'll stay there until dark," Violet explained, "when Hagrid puts Fang out for the night. Then we'll grab the dog and slip into the Forbidden Forest before the staff go on guard duty."
       Marybeth squeaked.
       "We have to go through the forest, Marybeth," Violet insisted. "We'll never get over the wall with the aurors patrolling. And we have to get into the forest before the guards start watching those portals in their hut."
       "Fang will smell us," Marybeth protested. "He'll find us in the pumpkin patch."
       Violet wasn't worried. "That's good!" she pointed out. "We can catch him without having to chase him or call his name!"
       The Slytherins knew, from Malfoy's story of tracking the unicorn, that they could pass through the Forbidden Forest unmolested in Fang's company. But Marybeth still shuddered.
       "How far into the forest do we have to go?" she wondered.
       "All the way to Hogsmeade."
       Violet nodded emphatically. "We can't just bring brooms and take off a few yards into the forest," she explained. "We'd be seen by the aurors AND the guards."
       Marybeth shook her head. "So we're walking all the way to Hogsmeade first? We'll barely have time to fly there and back as it is!"
       "We're not flying," Violet grinned. "We're flooing!"
       Marybeth frowned, trying to imagine what Violet had in mind as her roommate rushed to explain. "Everything closes early on Sunday night," she reminded Marybeth. "We can 'alohomora' our way into Honeydukes and use the fireplace to floo straight to Diagon Alley and back." The Slytherins had tons of floo powder to spare thanks to Snape outlawing Floo Tag.
       "But which fireplace will we use in Diagon Alley?" Marybeth wanted to know.
       Violet shrugged. "Do you know where the apprentice flats are?"
       "Yes," Marybeth nodded, "but they're not on the floo system."
       "What's nearby?"
       Marybeth thought for a moment. "Fortescue's Ice Cream," she decided.
       "That's perfect!" Violet cried, her face lighting up. "Even if we get caught... and we won't... but if we do, we can just say we were after sweets!" Sweets were hard to come by these days. Violet wasn't sure why.
       They'd forgotten one important thing, they realized as they made their way through the forest the next night. It got cold after the sun went down. Neither girl had thought to put on a cardigan before departing the castle. "It's just as well," Violet shivered when they were nearly through the woods. "We'd have looked suspicious, dressing for after dark when we're supposed to be inside by 8."
       Marybeth peered ahead of them. "I see a light," she announced. "Do you think it's the first street torch?"
       "None too bloody soon," Violet grumbled. "Now that we're almost there, I'll admit I wanted to turn back a few times. I probably would have, if it weren't for Mich... what's wrong?"
       Marybeth had taken hold of her arm to slow their progress. Fang gave a little whine as the girl squinted through the trees. "It's too low," she told Violet, her voice suddenly dropping to a whisper. "It's too low for a street torch."
       The trio stopped. They stared at the warm glow coloring the darkness ahead of them. Then Violet took a deep breath and leaned a little bit to her left, trying to secure a better view without actually stepping any closer to the light. She leaned further and further away from her friend, reaching, stretching... until her cheek brushed something warm and leathery and she jumped back with a blood-curdling scream.
       "What is it?" Marybeth cried, clutching her roommate and dropping the leash on Fang, who took off at a run back towards Hogwarts.
       "I don't know!" Violet screamed. "There's something here! There's something here!"
       The two girls tried to bolt down the path after Fang but whatever Violet had bumped into was now blocking their path. The girls crashed into it and fell to the ground, screaming in terror. They backed away frantically from the invisible threat before them, scrambling along the ground like crabs until they smacked into a pair of legs.
       "Mind the thestral," said an ominous voice behind them.
       Millicent, newly returned from Malfoy's cell, sat down beside the enchanted window in her room and gazed out at the tower's-eye view of the night, sighing with contentment. "Who do you think is the best kisser in the house?" she asked Pansy. Pansy pulled on her bathrobe and joined Millicent at the window.
       "Malfoy's gorgeous," she admitted. "But looks aren't everything."
       "Heavens, no!" Millicent agreed. "Look at Snape! He's downright homely and women just adore him!"
       "I like how Malfoy's... hard," Pansy went on. "It's like cuddling warm steel. He's demanding. He keeps you on your toes. But Warrington has..."
       "Intensity?" Millicent suggested.
       "Absolutely!" Pansy nodded. "And I just love the way Goyle holds you so tight in those brawny arms of his." She thought about it some more. "Crabbe is kind of shy, which is endearing..."
       "What's that?" Millicent interrupted. She leaned closer to the glass and Pansy peered over her shoulder. "Is that a light?" she asked, tapping on the glass. "On the far side of the forest?"
       "I don't see anything," Pansy shook her head.
       "It's a light!" Millicent insisted. I'm sure of it!" She took out her wand and tapped the glance once. "Elevate," she murmured, and the perspective changed to an even higher view revealing more of the countryside beyond the castle grounds. The light became less defined but larger, like a glow. "A campfire?" Millicent mused. "Why would there be a campfire in the Forbidden Forest?"
       Pansy shrugged and moved to her mirror where she picked up a brush and began grooming her beautiful hair. "I wouldn't worry about it," she counseled Millicent. "The aurors will see it if it's anything significant."
       "From the ground?"
       Pansy stopped brushing. "Oh," she muttered. She glanced at her watch. "It's after 10," she told Millicent. "The staff will be on guard duty. Can't they see into the forest with those portals in the hut?"
       Millicent made no reply but hurried from the room to fetch Crabbe and Goyle, who'd visited the hut last winter to scout out a path to the Hogsmeade train station. She returned with the boys on either side and hustled them over to the window where she pointed out the light. Goyle shook his head.
       "I don't know if they could see that far at night," he confessed.
       "Should we tell Snape?" Millicent wondered.
       Goyle shook his head again. "Let's just go straight to the hut so we can show the guards where the light is. Not all of us!" he added as Pansy and Crabbe started for the door. He escorted Millicent out of the room, pausing in the corridor to ask, "Who's on guard duty tonight?" Millicent shrugged and the two hurried away.
       Back in the cell, Pansy turned to Crabbe.
       "Wanna neck?"
       Rough hands pulled Violet and Marybeth to their feet as all around them, children, some younger, some older, emerged from the trees. There were at least two dozen of them, dressed in dirty, tattered jeans and cloaks. Furious with herself for forgetting what she'd learned just two days earlier about thestrals, Violet felt her fear slipping away as she studied the surly-faced youngsters around her. There was something familiar about their disheveled state and their malnourished faces.
       "Did you see her?" a young boy jeered as he pointed at Violet and elbowed the older boy, the one who'd been standing on the path. The older boy looked to be in his teens. "She banged right into Bones!" the younger boy snickered.
       Beside her, Violet could feel Marybeth trembling. She folded her arms across her chest and tried to call the boy's bluff. "You can't see him, either!" she snarled. The boy's mouth popped open but before he could protest, the teenager took a menacing step closer to Violet and Marybeth and murmured, "Rest assured, little princess. We can all see them."
       Marybeth, taking her cue from Violet, glanced nervously at the children surrounding them, then put her hands on her hips and declared, "You shouldn't be tying up thestrals!"
       The teenager's eyes flickered, reminding Violet of Malfoy. "Safe passage through the forest," he told Marybeth simply. Then he turned back to Violet. "Who are you?" he demanded.
       "I know who they are." A girl about the same age as Violet and Marybeth stepped forward. With a jolt, Violet realized she'd seen the child before. The girl had been walking with her mother in Diagon Alley the day Snape had taken Violet to replace her wand. "They're from Hogwarts," the girl declared. "I saw them on the grounds Friday night when Bones got away from me."
       The children pressed closer, their faces turning ugly. Violet took hold of Marybeth's hand. 'We can all see them', the boy had said, so she took a deep breath and shouted, "We're orphans! Both of us!" The children stopped. "We're Salazar's orphans!" Violet added firmly, squeezing Marybeth's hand to prevent any contradiction.
       The announcement gave the forest children pause, just as Violet had hoped it would. "Salazar... Slytherin?" the teenager asked, and Violet and Marybeth nodded.
       The children seemed to relax at this news. They grinned and nudged each other, and the teenager, who appeared to be their leader, nodded. He jerked his head in the direction of their campfire and the forest urchins surrounded the two Hogwarts students and escorted them to the clearing. They took seats on the forest floor and studied the two girls with sly smiles on their faces.
       "Well, then, despised of Hogwarts," the teenager called magnanimously. "What brings you to our part of the forest?"
       The two girls looked at each other and Violet nodded. "We're on our way to Diagon Alley," she told the seated children. "We need to fetch a wand from the apprentice flat of Miles Bletchley. He was killed by Voldemort's forces."
       The smiles on the children's faces faded. Some of them turned away. The teenager checked each of them in turn before asking Violet, "What makes you think the wand is still there?"
       Marybeth plopped down on the ground, pulling Violet down with her. "We're pretty sure it fell down a doxy hole," she replied, and proceeded to tell these strange children the story of Michael Bletchley and her summer with the Death Eaters.
       "How old are you two?" the teenager asked when she'd finished.
       "Thirteen," Marybeth told him. She pointed to Violet. "She'll be thirteen in August."
       The boy shook his head. "Shouldn't you have brought some older kids with you?"
       Violet and Marybeth exchanged sheepish looks. "We didn't... care to," Violet muttered, suddenly feeling very small indeed. The boy smiled.
       "Your housemaster needs to whip you good," he decided, and Violet's cheeks flamed with mortification as all around her, unfortunate children frowned at her self-indulgence.
       Then a dog barked in the distance.
       "It's Fang!" Marybeth cried, leaping to her feet. The forest children jumped up, too, and one of them clambered onto Bones' back, pulling a pair of ancient-looking binoculars from beneath his shirt to peer into the forest.
       "He's not alone!" the youngster cried, and he pulled loose the rope tethering the thestral and rode off with him as the children scattered into the forest. Marybeth yanked Violet to her feet and the two of them scrambled behind the nearest tree.
       "Who is it?" Violet whispered as Marybeth peeked in the direction of Fang's ever-nearing barks. "Is it a troll? A vampire? A Death Eater?"
       "Worse," Marybeth informed her. "It's Professor Snape."
       He'd brought Lupin with him, of course, and had barked a furious "Silence!" that had precluded any immediate discussion of their startling presence in the forest. Not until the freshly whipped urchins were standing shame-faced before his desk did he entertain any explanation of their actions, after which he deeply regretted his decision to cane first and ask questions later. He was just about to rise from his desk chair and demand a do-over when the two girls rushed to either side of him.
       "There's something else," Violet breathed, tugging annoyingly on his sleeve.
       "In the forest!" Marybeth added, tugging on his other sleeve. Snape had just turned to look at her when Violet spoke again.
       "We saw children!" she told him. Snape turned back to her but it was Marybeth who explained,
       "Our age!"
       "Younger!" Violet added.
       "We talked to them."
       "They had a thestral," Violet tugged on his sleeve again. "The one that touched me. The one that came onto the grounds."
       "Bones," Marybeth nodded.
       Snape lost patience with the tennis match. He grabbed the two girls by the arms and jerked them side by side in front of him, giving their heads a satisfying knock together in the process.
       "Start over," he snarled, "and make sense, or I'll extract this story from you stroke by stroke!"
       Violet took a deep breath. "When we were almost all the way through the forest, near Hogsmeade," she said slowly, "we were attacked by a group of children."
       "They didn't hurt us," Marybeth interrupted, "because Violet told them..." She frowned as she tried to make sense of the effect Violet's words had had on the children. "... we were Salazar's orphans."
       Violet nodded. "They asked what we were doing in 'their' part of the forest and we told them all about Michael. Then Fang started to bark."
       The girls fell silent and Snape looked at each of them in turn. "Is that all?" he demanded.
       Violet shook her head. "They said they could all see thestrals," she murmured. She pressed closer to Snape and Marybeth drew nearer, too, laying a hand on his arm.
       "Professor Snape," she whispered, "who are they?"
       Snape didn't know what to think. He felt a sudden stab of tenderness as the two youngsters crowded against him for reassurance. But there was nothing he could do, for now.
       He rose abruptly, brushing the two girls back. "I assure you," he told them as he marched across the room, "there is no band of feral children living wild in the Forbidden Forest." He opened the door, signaling their dismissal, and the young Slytherins trotted obediently across the room. But they paused before leaving to lift hopeful faces to their housemaster, who promised, "I'll speak to Hagrid."
       By the time he had returned to his desk, however, he'd thought of a better idea. He sat down, removed a piece of parchment from a drawer, and wrote a note to Madam Rosmerta.
       "Wouldn't you think," Violet asked her roommate as they slid gingerly onto the Slytherin bench for breakfast the next morning, "that a person's backside would toughen up after two years of being a Slytherin?"
       "I just wish I had a sickle for every time you've gotten me whipped," Marybeth replied.
       "Count your blessings," came an acid voice from behind, and Snape reached between them to drop a letter next to their plates before heading back to the head table. Violet snatched it up and held it where Marybeth could see it, too.

       Violet shook her head. "You people really need orphanages," she told Marybeth, wrinkling her nose at the letter as she added, "Rather stiff for Madam Rosmerta, don't you think?"
       Marybeth shrugged. "I guess so." Their knowledge of the Hogsmeade barmaid was largely anecdotal. Violet leaned across the table and called down to someone who would know better. "Malfoy?"
       "What?" the older boy snapped. He was extremely annoyed with their stunt and, Violet guessed, by the fact that he'd played no part in their capture.
       "Didn't you say Madam Rosmerta sent Snape a pint last summer when he was in hospital after the siege?"
       Malfoy gave her a stiff nod of his head before biting into an apple. Violet frowned. "I'll be right back," she muttered to Marybeth. Then she climbed off the bench and hurried up the aisle to return the note to Snape.
       "Thank you, sir," she said politely as she handed the letter back to her housemaster. "May I ask you something, please?"
       Snape nodded from behind his cup of tea.
       "Did Madam Rosmerta attend Hogwarts?"
       "No," Snape told her.
       "And the other shopkeepers in Hogsmeade..."
       "The majority of Hogsmeade's merchants," Snape cut her off, "did not attend Hogwarts. Take your seat."
       "Thank you, sir," Violet said again before returning to her spot on the Slytherin bench. She ate in thoughtful silence until the front doors of the castle banged open and a strange clip-clopping noise echoed into the hall from the entryway. Several students gasped and Luna Lovegood called out, "Did someone clean its feet? This is a dining room."
       Violet followed her gaze to an odd sight. A bundle was floating down the aisle, about five feet in the air, bouncing along in time to the clip-clop, clip-clop of invisible hooves plodding along the stone floor.
       "Bones?" called Marybeth. The noise stopped, then started again as the parcel veered slightly off course and headed straight for Marybeth. She turned in confusion to Violet who couldn't take her eyes off the bobbing package. It came right at her and she flinched as the invisible head of Bones dropped the parcel on the table between her and her roommate. Then, with a soft whinny, he turned back the way he came, plodding down the hall and out the front doors of the castle with the same steady clip-clop, clip-clop.
       "Mercy!" cried Professor McGonagall.
       Violet picked up the oblong parcel. It was addressed, "To Salazar's Orphans." She tore the wrapping paper loose and let out a cry of joy when she saw what was inside.
       It was Miles Bletchley's wand.
       "Does the Great Hall count as a corridor?"
       Michael gave his new wand a triple spin, just like Harry Potter, as he waited for Violet's answer.
       "Always err on the side of caution when it comes to Filch's rules," Violet counseled her housemate. "We have to live with him, after all."
       The younger classes had McGonagall for theory that afternoon and were eagerly anticipating her walking tour of "The Hidden Passageways of Hogwarts," discovered in large part through her duties as head of house to the Weasley twins. But before she could queue them up and lead them out of the Great Hall, Violet thrust her hand into the air.
       "Professor McGonagall," she asked when called upon, "why are some people already fighting Voldemort? I mean, what are they fighting about?" She looked around the room at her fellow students and then nodded in the direction of the Defense classroom, where Dumbledore would be meeting with the older students. "Shouldn't he be focusing on Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter?"
       Professor McGonagall frowned. The appearance of Miles Bletchley's wand had not driven Madam Rosmerta's note from her mind; news of the forest children troubled her more than she could say. Why did so many muggles have to be self-centered and unreasonable? Didn't wizards have enough to cope with? It had taken an extra two weeks just to compose this year's admittance letters, thanks to the extra concerns she'd had to address.
       "A reasonable question, Miss Guilford," she nodded. She turned to the rest of them and asked tartly, "What have we identified as the Dark Lord's top priorities?"
       "Immortality and world domination," the class answered in unison.
       "It would be wise," McGonagall lectured, gesturing for them to sit down again, "to ask not only, 'What is my enemy doing?' but also 'What else is my enemy doing?' World domination requires a bit more than the subjugation of Albus Dumbledore and the occupants of this castle."
       She turned back to Violet, trying to smile lightly as she asked, "What projects would you undertake, Miss Guilford, if you wished to rule the world?"
       Violet thought for a moment, then nodded. "I'd wipe out all the other governments," she announced.
       McGonagall tried not to gulp. Surely not even Hermione Granger knew the full extent of what was happening beyond the grounds of Hogwarts, incompetence and corruption at the Daily Prophet being what it was.
       "Through assassination, most likely," McGonagall managed to agree without stammering. She turned to the rest of the class. "What else?"
       "Resources!" called Euan Abercrombie. "Food, fuel, transport, wizarding supplies..."
       "Precisely," McGonagall confirmed. "But can any of you identify the most valuable resource?"
       They thought hard and a few guesses were proffered... people, time, love. Violet stole a glance at Bletch, surreptitiously practicing his swish and flick over and over. He reminded her of Malfoy's story about Bill Weasley in the hospital wing, waving his wand over Michael's head right before his confrontation with Snape. "Oh!" Violet gasped, Bill's words rushing through her mind. 'Innocent people are being tortured every day.' She thrust her hand into the air.
       "Yes, Miss Guilford?"
       "Information?" Violet wondered.
       "Very good!" McGonagall nodded. "Knowledge and information are Voldemort's greatest weapons at this time." Violet snorted and Professor McGonagall turned curiously to the child.
       "Did you wish to add something, Miss Guilford?"
       "No, ma'am," Violet replied, keeping to herself the irony of Voldemort's assaults on people who had not been permitted to attend Hogwarts.
       "This is the stupidest thing I've ever had to do!" Snape protested as he struggled with his grip on the jar of mosquitoes. Lupin pulled himself alongside a neighboring vine and held tight with one hand while he wiped the sweat from his brow with the other. "Just be glad the Defense classroom isn't higher up," he panted, glancing at the window that was their goal.
       "Why couldn't we immobilize the miserable creatures and enervate them before the students arrive?" Snape growled. Wall-climbing was not his forte.
       "Because the children would see us coming or going!" Lupin insisted.
       "Then we should have put the insects in the room this morning!"
       Lupin shook his head, rattling the leaves on the vine he clung to. "Severus," he chided, "they'd be gone by afternoon! There's nothing to feed on in the Defense classroom. Besides..." He gave Snape a pointed look. "Would you rather be delivering the lecture?"
       "I'd rather be levitating!" Snape snarled, a reply that tickled Lupin so much he lost his grip on his vine as he burst out laughing at the thought of a strategically-placed muggle bumper sticker bearing that exact phrase. Snape let out a sharp breath and grabbed for him, dropping his jar in the process. Lupin caught it neatly in one hand, then climbed back up to return it to a scowling potions master.
       "We're less conspicuous against the vines in our summer robes," he reminded Snape, only to suffer a withering glare.
       "How inconspicuous," the potions master wondered, "is your braying like a jack-ass? How inconspicuous would a string of profanity be, followed by a nice loud ACCIO?"
       "Ssh!" Lupin cautioned. "We're nearly there!"
       The men climbed the last few feet in silence. Lupin put his finger to his lips, warning Snape to be absolutely quiet, and whispered, "I'm going to open the window!" He peeked inside first, to be sure the room was empty and the door was closed. Then he held the window open just wide enough to accommodate the mouth of the jar. Snape unscrewed the lid, held the open jar up to the window, and smiled in spite of himself at the sound of thousands of mosquitoes taking flight, seeking out dark places in which to lurk as they waited for unsuspecting prey to wander in.
       Lupin let the window fall shut and the two wizards leapt to the ground, using their stop technique to land safely. Then Snape hid the jar beneath the folds of his robe in case they should encounter any stragglers on the grounds, and the two men set off for the front door to the castle.
       "I'm so glad we're not teaching this lesson," Lupin said again as they strolled. "What are you going to do with your free afternoon?"
       Snape was about to inform him that he, Snape, was headed for the dungeon and Lupin was not invited... when a better idea came to him. He gave Lupin what was supposed to be a sincere smile.
       "Would you like to play a game?" he wondered.
       WHACK! Hermione Granger swatted the mosquito on her arm, instantly squashing the life out of it, but not before it raised an angry red welt. "Ask Professor Snape," she advised Lavender Brown, who was having trouble moving her dormitory bed closer to the window on hot summer nights in Gryffindor Tower. "It's probably the same charm he used to hold the Slytherin furniture in place around his lake last September."
       "Or I could just spend hot nights in Slytherin," Lavender nodded. "Another one!" she cried, smacking the mosquito that had just landed on her cheek. "I hate mosquitoes!"
       WHACK WHACK WHACK! Slaps rang out from all over the room as the students defended themselves against a startling onslaught.
       "They're everywhere!" Millicent cried. "Where are they coming from?"
       "Leave the door open!" Crabbe yelled to Malfoy, who had just entered, but of course the mosquitoes would not leave a room where so many juicy victims were conveniently gathered.
       The students leapt to their feet, bumping their desks and one another as they whirled and flailed at the ferocious bloodsuckers.
       "Kill them!" Pansy cried. "There are millions of them! Kill them!"
       Suddenly Hermione drew her wand and shouted the same spell she'd used to freeze pixies in this room during her second year. Dozens of students promptly froze. The mosquitoes kept right on buzzing.
       "Oops!" Malfoy grinned as Hermione marched furiously over to the door for a better vantage point from which to free her unintended victims. "I guess they're too small!" Hermione raised her wand again and Malfoy grabbed the end of it before she could utter the finite incantatem. "Leave them!" he suggested. "Maybe the mosquitoes will concentrate on the easier prey!"
       Hermione scowled and performed the charm to release her schoolmates. Then she shouted, "Clump together!" and the students quickly gathered into a large bunch in the center of the room.
       "You're not prone to encephalitis, are you, Potter?" Malfoy wondered as he joined them. "Put Potter in the middle, just in case!"
       They were still slapping away when Dumbledore entered, a small smile on his face. "Impedimenta minutiae!" he cried, and the mosquitoes froze in midair. "Step this way, please," he instructed the students, who bent down to slip beneath the circle of insects now hanging in the middle of the room.
       Dumbledore approached the ring of immobilized bloodsuckers and plucked one from the air, holding it gently between his fingers. He set it upright on the teacher's desk and called Pansy to his side.
       "Kill it, please," he instructed the Slytherin. Pansy raised her palm high in the air, apparently intending to smash the insect to dust with a mighty blow. Dumbledore shook his head. "No, Miss Parkinson," he corrected. "With your wand."
       The students gasped. Pansy swallowed hard. "I...I..." she stammered, drawing her wand to aim uncertainly at the insect. "I'm not sure..."
       Dumbledore brushed the tip of his finger against her forearm, making her fresh mosquito bite itch fiercely. "Avada Kedavra!" Pansy snarled, and with a flash of green light, the moquito tipped over, dead. Several students gasped, including Pansy.
       Dumbledore summoned the mosquitoes into a jar and motioned the awestruck students to take their seats.
       "I wonder why mosquitoes make us so angry?" he mused. "Other insects sting harder. Other creatures steal our blood." He smiled at them just a bit. "Perhaps it's the buzzing," he suggested with a twinkle in his eye.
       If he expected giggles, he didn't get any. The elderly wizard took a seat behind the teacher's desk and leaned forward. "Shall I tell you how I learned to cast Avada Kedavra?" he asked, and the students immediately leaned forward, too. Only Harry Potter hung back.
       "I was visiting a muggle coffeehouse near a university where I struck up a conversation with a college drama teacher," Dumbledore told them. "He mentioned a technique where actors might generate an emotion onstage by remembering a time they'd felt it before." The old man shook his head. "'How,' I asked him, 'does that help the thespian who must portray a killer? Surely most actors have no memory of the emotions associated with ending a human life?'"
       Dumbledore paused to examine the sea of faces hanging on his every word. "I was sure I had him," the wizard nodded, but his eyes did not twinkle anymore. "I confess I was a bit disappointed he would not be able to help me. But then he said..." Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, folding his hands across his belly, and assumed a lofty, almost sneering expression. Imitating the college professor, Malfoy realized, but he reminded the Slytherin of Snape.
       "'If you want to know how it feels to be angry enough to execute,'" Dumbledore quoted, "'imagine killing a mosquito... and amplify it.'"
       A few eyebrows went up. Dumbledore nodded. "There is nothing half-hearted about our feelings towards mosquitoes," he acknowledged. After a few moments he rose and walked around the desk to stand beside it.
       "You have the power," he assured them. "Your efforts under Professors Lupin and Snape have developed it."
       Malfoy thought of all they had mastered in the last several months... flying defense, stoning, leaping, free-falling, tracking, patronus production, shield strengthening... Mastering specific skills, he knew, made a wizard stronger overall.
       "Now," Dumbledore concluded, "you have understanding, which must grow. Human beings, after all..." He reached beside him and held up the jar of immobilized insects. "...are not mosquitoes."
       Harry Potter raised his hand. "Yes, Harry?" Dumbledore called, and the students braced themselves.
       "Voldemort didn't seem angry when he had Cedric killed," Harry pointed out. "The Death Eaters hardly ever do. They seem..."
       He broke off. Malfoy thought of his father's cool, remote gaze.
       "Cold-blooded?" Dumbledore supplied, and Harry nodded. The old man shook his head. "With that, Harry," he told the boy simply, "I cannot help you."
       Then he lined them up to practice.
       Violet and Michael flew down the corridors of the forbidden North Tower at 10:30 that night, their orchid wand tips shining in the dim passageways. Michael's progress with his new wand was nothing short of dazzling. "You're toast, Marybeth!" Violet whispered as loudly as she dared as they tracked her roommate's footprints.
       Marybeth heard them coming and struggled to control her panting. She was trying to save enough breath to spring silently around the next corner and scurry up the spiral stairs to Trelawney's classroom landing. She took a last deep breath, jumped around the corner... and nearly shrieked with fright at the sight of someone hurrying silently down the staircase. She stood there, gaping, too horrified to move.
       "She's not moving!" Violet whispered to Bletch as they hurried along the trail. "Are you hiding?" she called gleefully. "I don't hear you!" They ran faster still, closing in on their prey, Violet convinced that Marybeth's trail would end around the next turn. "Gotcha!" she shouted as she and Bletch sprang around the corner. Then she let out a yelp.
       Snape was standing at the foot of the stairs, his arms folded across his chest, glowering at Marybeth. He turned his steely gaze upon Violet and Michael and Violet swallowed hard before creeping forward to stand beside her roommate. Bletch stayed quietly where he was.
       "What are you doing here?" Snape demanded in his iciest whisper.
       The girls winced. Three floggings in four days, Violet groaned to herself. That's gotta be a house record. She swallowed again and opened her mouth to answer him but stopped when she spied something odd.
       There was a smudge on Snape's nose.
       Violet frowned at the spot, tilting her head for a better view as a ludicrous possibility entered her mind. The notion nearly made her grin and she burned with a desire to throw her housemaster's question right back at him. Only a twitch from her backside imploring her, 'Please, don't!' compelled her to hold her tongue.
       Suddenly there was a whooshing noise above them, from Trelawney's classroom fireplace. A few seconds later, the trap door burst open and Lupin came charging down the ladder. He paused on the landing above the spiral staircase long enough to holler, "Gotcha, Severus!" before racing down the steps, covered in soot.
       "Gotcha!" he shouted again, only to freeze on the bottom step when he spied the children standing a few feet away. "Oh!" he muttered, stammering with embarrassment. "I... we..."
       Snape dropped his head and rubbed his temples.
       "Children," Lupin cleared his throat and began again, "the staff have very important business in this tower which..."
       Snape cut him off with a glare, then turned wearily back to his students. "As punishment for your infraction," he murmured, "I am confining you to your common room for the remainder of the evening."
       Confinement to quarters was the punishment of choice among the other heads of house this summer, and as their classmates languished in isolation on sunny days and lively evenings, the Slytherins thanked their lucky stars that Snape was a spanker. But tonight, Violet realized, her housemaster was simply avoiding hypocrisy. All students would be required to be in their houses in another 30 minutes anyway.
       "Thank you, sir," she nodded, and Marybeth added, "It won't happen again, sir."
       The two girls scurried away as fast as they could, grabbing Michael and pulling him along as they struggled to hold back their giggles until they'd put a safe distance between them and their teachers.
       "Shall we tell Malfoy they're playing floo tag?" Marybeth wondered.
       "What's floo tag?" asked Michael.
       Violet shook her head with a grin. "Let's save it in case we ever need to blackmail them," she suggested before launching into a full explanation of the rise and fall of Malfoy's game for Michael. "Do you know, Bletch," she added wondrously when she'd finished, "with the first years gone, you're the only Slytherin Snape's never caned!"
       They arrived back at the house to find Spellwad frozen in midair, a letter danging from his leg. "Goyle did it," Jennifer Rosich explained. "We tried to shut him up in your cell so he wouldn't chase you down while you were playing hide-and-go-track but he wouldn't stop squawking. So I let him into the common room and then he started biting everybody."
       Violet hurried over to her pet, released him from the immobilizing spell, and caught him neatly as he dropped into her arms. The owl hooted and twisted his head back and forth to shake off the effects of the charm as Violet tugged eagerly at the letter attached to his leg.
       "Yes, yes!" she cried. "She wrote back!"
       "Who?" Marybeth wondered.
       "Rachel Dockman!"
       The older students pricked up their ears at the name and everyone gathered around as Violet climbed onto the back of a sofa to read her letter out loud.

       The letter ended there, with no closing or signature. Violet read the last line once more to herself before folding the parchment and putting it in her pocket. Then she gazed at the sober-faced Slytherins surrounding her and announced, "I feel funny." The letter reminded her of standing in Mr. Borgin's shop listening to him unwittingly slander her house. "That's not my housemaster," she insisted.
       "She chose the number, Violet," Malfoy reminded her, assuming the child was referring to Megan's fate.
       "And Snape was younger then," Millicent added.
       Violet puckered her brow. "So?"
       Millicent rolled her eyes at Violet's scowl. "A young head of house is like a young parent," she explained. "They ease up with later kids."
       This observation intrigued Malfoy. "He was young, wasn't he?" the boy murmured. "I wonder why Dumbledore made such a young man a head of house?"
       The answer was obvious, but only Millicent would say it aloud. "For us," she insisted. Malfoy scowled and turned away a bit. Violet continued to frown.
       "I thought Professor Snape liked Professor McGonagall," she protested to her older classmates.
       "He does!" Tracey piped up. "They have a lot in common!"
       "It's just that, back then..." Malfoy paused, letting his mind wander to a time he could only imagine. "Back then..."
       The Baron thrust his head through their common room door. "Cells!" he roared as the midnight bell sounded, "or I'll have Professor Snape in here so fast..."
       The Slytherins sprang to their feet and raced off to bed.
       Lupin had not been lying about the North Tower. The entire student body assembled in the Great Hall Tuesday afternoon to make a trip there during their theory lesson. But first Snape stood up to lecture them.
       "Once upon a time," he began, "there was a stupid, stupid child. This child craved attention, as all stupid children do."
       Lupin sighed.
       "What we are about to show you," Snape continued, "could ostensibly be used... or shall I say, misused... to create a stir, not unlike that created by the boy who cried wolf." He raised a single eyebrow at them and they all shuddered. "I wouldn't, if I were you," he whispered, and every student heard him loud and clear.
       Then Lupin ordered them to queue up and led a neat procession to the tower with Snape bringing up the rear. They marched past the spiral staircase to Professor Trelawney's classroom and down the corridor to a door that led up a flight of steep, narrow, rickety wooden steps. "Careful!" Lupin commanded as they climbed. He pushed open a trap door at the top of the stairs and led them into a large belfry where four huge, empty, oval-topped windows overlooked the grounds. In the center of the spire hung a shiny new bell, gleaming in the afternoon sun.
       "Let the younger ones in front, please," Lupin requested, and when the students had rearranged themselves so everyone could see, he grabbed the rope hanging next to the bell and pulled, setting the bell in motion. A loud gong peeled forth, making several students giggle. Lupin clanged the bell a few more times before releasing the rope. Eventually, the bell fell silent and Lupin turned a grave face to the students, who immediately sobered.
       "After today's lesson," he informed them, "this bell will be charmed by Professor Dumbledore to function as a call for help. When rung, it will notify the people of Hogsmeade, the Ministry's aurors, and Professor Dumbledore's allies... the only people beyond the grounds who will be able to hear it... that Hogwarts is under attack by Voldemort's forces."
       The skin along Violet's scalp prickled and, to her surprise, her eyes filled with tears. Whatever is the matter? she wondered as she brushed the tears away as unobtrusively as possible. They'd been discussing this topic all summer, after all.
       One by one, Lupin called the students forward to practice ringing the bell. The rope felt strangely warm in Violet's hand and she gave a mighty tug, determined not to be the softest ringer. I wonder if I'll be the one to ring it? she thought as the note chimed loud and clear. Then she wondered if everybody else was wondering the same thing.
       When they'd all had a turn, Lupin led everybody back to the Great Hall and gave them a homework assignment before dismissing them. "For several months," he began, "we've tried to impress upon you that defeating Lord Voldemort will require a team effort."
       Eleanor and Owen smiled at Snape who raised an eyebrow at them and was rewarded with even bigger grins. "Now," Lupin went on, "I want you to begin thinking about the other members of our team. It is important to understand your enemies AND your allies, so tonight I want you to write five paragraphs describing your impressions of five adult wizards you've met who are not relatives or Hogwarts staff. What were they like? How did they treat you? How did they treat others who were present? Can you remember anything they said? What made them angry, or happy, or sad? What did they care about?"
       Lupin excused them and out of the corner of his eye, Malfoy saw Violet counting on her fingers. She'll be hard-pressed to come up with five, he smirked. Then he realized with a jolt that his father would probably be one of them. He rose to join the throng milling out the door behind Snape, then paused in the doorway to wait for Violet, who was approaching Lupin beside the teacher's desk. If she was going to write about his father for that werewolf, Malfoy decided, she was bloody well going to run the parchment by him before turning it in. The other Slytherins, noticing Malfoy's loitering, gathered beside him.
       "Professor Lupin?" Violet asked, completely unaware of the housemates clustered by the door.
       "Yes, Violet?" Lupin smiled at the youngster.
       "How come so many adults from the other houses turned out to be cowards?" she asked. "You know, taking their children and going into hiding."
       Lupin frowned at the sweet little face looking up at him. "Oh, no!" he insisted, shaking his head vigorously. "No, no, no, no! Violet, going into hiding isn't necessarily a sign of cowardice. Remember that James and Lily Potter were in hiding when they were killed." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Often people in hiding are part of the resistance, Violet, which is very courageous work!"
       Violet scrunched her noise at the professor.
       "Sir, how come you call students by their first names?"
       The question surprised Lupin. In the doorway, Malfoy leaned against the frame and smiled, anticipating Lupin's response. "Not that I mind," Violet added quickly. "It's refreshing to hear it from an adult."
       The Defense teacher narrowed his eyes. "Doesn't Professor Snape call you by your first name when he's alone with you?" he wondered. Violet shook her head. "No," Lupin mused, "I suppose not."
       "Why not?" called Malfoy from the doorway, making Lupin and Violet start. "Sir," he added, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he sauntered into the room. The Slytherins followed close behind.
       "Because Professor Snape..." Lupin hesitated. "Professor Snape does not choose to try and draw people closer to him."
       Malfoy nodded. "As opposed to you," he drawled, and though the remark bordered on insolence, Lupin chose to take him at his word.
       "Yes," the teacher agreed. He gave it some more thought. "Yes," he said again. "I think it's safe to say I've always wanted more and more people in my life, and Professor Snape, since his days at Hogwarts, has wanted fewer and fewer." He smiled at the Slytherins. "Present company excepted, of course."
       "Why?" Malfoy demanded so earnestly that Lupin was surprised. It was not like a Slytherin to let his guard down before a marauder.
       Then the teacher realized something startling. He was alone with these children. The entire house of Slytherin was in this room with him. He might never have such an opportunity again.
       "All right," he nodded, inviting the children to sit before plopping down comfortably among them. "Quid pro quo!" he warned. Then he nodded again. "Ask a question."
       Malfoy opened his mouth but Millicent spoke faster.
       "How did it start?" she wondered. "With Snape and the marauders, I mean."
       Lupin took a deep breath. "You can't discount the history," he insisted, "the centuries-old enmity between the houses. But at its simplest, I'd say, we all came to Hogwarts wanting something. Unfortunately, the things we wanted were at cross purposes."
       "Like what?" several Slytherins asked.
       "Mine's easy," Lupin smiled. "I was lonely. I wanted the companionship of my peers. James and Sirius..." He paused, taking a moment to remember the friends of his youth. "They wanted notoriety ... to be stars, if you will. I don't know why. Sirius had something to prove to his family, I imagine, and James..." He shrugged. "Maybe it was because he was an only son. But that's what they wanted, and even more than wanting it, they wanted to get away with wanting it. They didn't want anyone to recognize how much they enjoyed attention. But Severus was in their year, and Severus..."
       He broke off and Violet grinned. "'Snape sees all,'" she quoted, remembering what Millicent had told her first year. Lupin nodded, grimacing as he did.
       "What did Professor Snape want?" Crabbe wondered.
       "That's harder to describe," Lupin admitted. "On the surface, with all his dark tricks, Severus seemed to want attention, too. But he wanted to be an example, not..." Lupin struggled to find the right words. "He didn't want fans. He wanted others to emulate him, to be ... hard-working, idealistic, goal-oriented. He..." The instructor thought some more, then snapped his fingers. "I've got it!" he announced. "James and Sirius wanted to be admired, while Severus wanted to be admirable. And he wanted everybody else to be admirable, too."
       Malfoy thought of his father's journal. 'He suffers such pain whenever a fellow human being chooses to behave less idealistically than he,' Lucius had written. 'He seems to find even his fellow Slytherins lacking.'
       "You'll find this a little hard to understand," Lupin went on, "but people who've suffered have an advantage they won't admit. Suffering makes them insightful, yet they expect others to be as wise and committed as they are."
       Malfoy scowled. "Are you saying," he demanded, "that it was wrong of Professor Snape to look down on James and Sirius for having shallow goals?"
       "Life is a journey," Lupin explained patiently, "and people progress at different..."
       "So you'd never suffered before coming to Hogwarts," Malfoy cut him off, "and neither had Black. That's why you were spineless and he was shallow."
       The Slytherins gasped. Lupin stared at Malfoy, a hard look coming into his eyes. Draco met his gaze with a defiant lift of his chin.
       "I don't buy that, sir," the boy went on. "Everybody suffers. Everybody has the opportunity to become wise. There's no justification..." He curled his lips around Lupin's words. "...for slow progress."
       All eyes turned to Lupin. He sat very still for a long while. Then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded at the boy.
       "What's your excuse?" he whispered.
       Marybeth squeaked and Violet hiccupped. The students turned with one uniform swiveling of their heads to Malfoy. But the question did not seem to anger the teenager. Instead, he felt a thrill run up his back. Lupin had listened. Lupin knew he was right.
       "I have none," he replied. "I was wrong." After a moment, he added, "I was trash."
       Flip. All heads turned back to Lupin. Eventually, the werewolf nodded. "So was I," he confessed. "And when human beings are trash, it's people like Severus who suffer."
       A long silence filled the hall as the occupants thought this over. Then Violet turned her mild gaze upon Lupin to ask, "Did James ever realize he was wrong about Professor Snape?"
       Malfoy jumped. Her question reminded him of the one he wanted to ask. He turned eagerly to Lupin, anticipating his answer. But when he saw the pain on Lupin's face...
       "Oh, Violet," the teacher shook his head, very nearly tearing up. "Violet, honey..."
       The Slytherins drew back a bit, surprised by Lupin's anguish, but Malfoy thought he understood. Dark days, he imagined of the last years of James' life. Dark, desperate days. He thought of the scene Snape had shown him from the basement of the Malfoy estate. I wonder if Harry's dad kept a journal? he mused.
       He reached out to give Violet a shove. "It's his turn to ask a question!" he chided before turning expectantly to Lupin.
       "Oh!" Lupin shook off his distress. "Right! Let's see." He thought for a moment, then asked, "What does Professor Snape say about the four of us?"
       A few students giggled. "He can't say the word 'marauder' without sneering," Goyle confessed, "but our parents were at school with Sn... Professor Snape, and most of what we know, we learned from them."
       "Or from older Slytherins," Warrington added. "We love to hand down house mythology."
       Lupin frowned and tilted his head to squint at them. "All those nights in the common room after Voldemort got his body back," he reminded them, "and Professor Snape never told you any stories?"
       "Oh, sure!" Crabbe nodded. "Like on Christmas Eve two years ago!" They told him of the events that had inspired Snape to flog his entire house and grinned at Lupin's barely-contained horror.
       "I guess it was rather short-sighted," Malfoy smirked, "pranking a Slytherin in the Shrieking Shack and nearly getting her killed."
       "Y...Yes," Lupin stammered between pale lips. "You... might have anticipated Professor Snape's response."
       "He doesn't talk about the prank. Really!" Millicent insisted. "The stories he told that night were quite cheerful, even the ones about James and Sirius tormenting other students."
       "And the thunderstorm a few weeks ago," Goyle added, "when he told about old quidditch matches. Those were cheerful, too."
       They ruminated on that for a moment. Then Violet cried, "Oh!"
       "What?" Marybeth asked.
       "I just realized something! About his stories!"
       Millicent smiled at Lupin. "Violet likes to write," she explained somewhat patronizingly. The younger girl ignored her.
       "He's not in them!" she pointed out. The students turned curiously to her and she elaborated "Professor Snape! He's not IN those cheery little stories he tells us!"
       Another long, thoughtful silence followed this revelation. It continued until Marybeth sighed and asked Professor Lupin,
       "Was Professor Snape ever happy?"
       Lupin did not answer her. Instead, he asked a question of his own.
       "Is he ever happy now?"
       The Slytherins thought it over. "He smiles sometimes," Tracey admitted, "and even laughs occasionally. But that's not the same as being happy."
       They thought some more. "He wasn't happy when we beat Gryffindor at quidditch," Violet remembered. "I thought that was odd."
       "The first day of school," Malfoy reminded them, "last fall. I think he was happy, until..."
       The Slytherins turned to look at Marybeth. "What?" she snapped. Lupin chuckled, as did several others.
       "There are things we do that please him," Malfoy suggested.
       Lupin raised an eyebrow. "Like remaining at Hogwarts?" he wondered, turning to some of the Slytherins who had defied their parents. "Did you do that for Professor Snape?"
       No one answered right away. Malfoy thought of Rachel's letter. 'We didn't perceive the choices you see,' she had written. 'The world didn't need an anti-Voldemort!' He wondered how his housemates would respond.
       Millicent spoke up first. "Montague said," she told Lupin, "we were making a choice between Snape and our parents. But it was really a choice between.... between..." She broke off. She turned helplessly to Malfoy, who scowled and looked away. After a few moments, Tracey helped her out instead.
       "It's hard for a Slytherin," she said pointedly, "to speak well of Albus Dumbledore. Perhaps it should not be assumed that everyone who opposes Voldemort does so out of admiration for our current headmaster."
       Lupin smiled. "Professor Dumbledore would be the first to agree," he assured them.
       Malfoy realized his moment had come. Hoping Lupin wouldn't choke up again, he drawled, "Speaking of admiration..." All eyes turned to him. "When did our esteemed staff develop their high regard for James Potter?"
       Lupin frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked the teenager.
       Malfoy shrugged. "Did they always think he was so wonderful? Opinions change, after all." He narrowed his cool grey eyes to slits. "Sometimes people are... how did Professor Snape put it?..." The boy smiled at Lupin, rather cruelly, the teacher thought. "Inaccurate," he finished.
       Again, silence. Everybody, Lupin included, thought Malfoy was just restating Violet's question. After a long time, the teacher murmured gently, "Draco." He looked around the room at the rest of the Slytherins. "All of you," he went on. He paused for a moment to find just the right words. Then,
       Several students shrieked as Dobby popped into the midst of them. Malfoy, his heart pumping, clenched his fists to keep from shoving the unruly elf on his silly arse.
       "Not the best time to be startling people, Dobby," Lupin scolded, clutching his heaving chest while the students around him took deep breaths and shook off their fright.
       "Dobby is sorry, sir," the elf replied, "but it is time to be preparing the Great Hall for supper."
       "I'll help," Lupin offered, rising along with the students who began shuffling quietly towards the door. When the Slytherins had departed, he called Malfoy back.
       The teenager looked over his shoulder, then nodded to the Slytherins to go on without him. When they were out of sight, he turned and sauntered back into the hall.
       "Draco," Lupin repeated, stepping close to the boy. "I would do anything..." He broke off, staring intently at the teenager. Then he nodded once. "Anything at all," he insisted, "... for Professor Snape."
       Malfoy scrutinized Lupin's face closely. He believed the Gryffindor. And he was sure the man's words had nothing to do with Lupin's Remedy.
       So he held out his hand for the werewolf to shake.

       "Will you stop screeching at us!"
       McGonagall pounded on the podium with her baton, mercifully halting the choir's butchery of the high notes from 'Brightest and Best.' The choir members, all except Hermione, rolled their eyes or exchanged tight-lipped, sheepish smiles.
       "Can't you listen to one another?" McGonagall demanded of the hapless singers before her. "Can't you balance? Can't you count?"
       Those were rhetorical questions, of course, and the students held their tongues. They didn't want any ill-timed quips to interfere with their post-practice plans for the evening; the Slytherins were going to experiment with 10-pin bowling in the dungeon corridors.
       "Let's take it six measures after letter B," McGonagall suggested wearily, and Violet hurried to turn the page for Snape as the head of Gryffindor added tartly to her singers, "if you can find it!"
       "Think you can find it, Malfoy?" Harry whispered to his fellow tenor, who replied in a normal tone of voice,
       "I'm a Slytherin, Potter. We're very good at counting to six."
       The students exploded in giggles, including Violet, who clamped a hand over her mouth and rocked with mirth, nearly falling off the bench. Snape gave her a disdainful scowl followed by a helpful shove and she clattered to the floor, making the choir laugh even harder.
       "I'm sorry, Professor," Harry said sheepishly as McGonagall glowered at them. "But you have to admit, this seems like a waste of time!"
       They had, in fact, made little progress in the Transfigurations classroom, a stark contrast to their efforts at Defense lessons, where their stunning capacity for stoning and speed dueling had inspired Snape to murmur something that had become a litany among the defense teachers: "I'm starting to feel sorry for the dark bastard." Perhaps it was the students' awareness of each other's individual prowess that made choir practice seem all the more feeble.
       "If Professor Dumbledore requires it, Potter," McGonagall replied, "I sincerely doubt it is a waste of time."
       "It isn't!" Hermione affirmed, and all eyes turned to stare at her. "You'd see that," she told the students around her, "if you'd try a little harder."
       "Then what happened?" Marybeth asked as Violet recounted the story before lights out. The two girls had spent the majority of the evening in their cell after Snape had put an end to corridor 10-pin bowling by promising his students that if they didn't cease their mayhem immediately, he and his "trusty six-shooter" would extract howls to put their bowling racket to shame.
       "It cheesed them off," Violet admitted, "except for Ginny. I think she looks up to Hermione."
       "Lights out!" called the Baron from the common room, and Violet and Marybeth hurried to change into their nightgowns and extinguish their candles before climbing into their bunks.
       "So Ginny started trying harder," Violet whispered in the dark, "and McGonagall noticed and gave her a solo on the verses." The child stared at the flicking green torch glowing dimly in the corridor. The Slytherins were all leaving the cell doors open at night; it helped to circulate the cool air that flowed in through their enchanted windows. "I thought the boys would take the mickey," Violet admitted. "But they didn't. They just listened to her. And when it was their turn to sing, they started trying harder, not to impress her or anything, but to... I don't know. Support her, I guess."
       "I think they're too old to take the mickey out of girls," Marybeth suggested. Violet shook her head in the dark.
       "It wasn't just the boys, though," she argued. "Everyone seemed to be trying..."
       "Hush up down there!" shouted Pansy the prefect. Up and down the corridor, the Slytherin girls giggled as the youngest members of the hall fell into an embarrassed silence. Then, to Violet's delight, Millicent began to sing. She sang the chorus of 'Brightest and Best,' only she made up her own words.
       "Goodnight to Violet and goodnight to Marybeth," she sang sweetly, even as chuckles tugged at her voice. Several Slytherins laughed and clapped. Then, from the boy's corridor, came Malfoy's clear tenor.
       "Goodnight to Millicent, Pansy and Trace..."
       "Whoo hoo!" Violet cheered, adding enthusiastically to the applause. All the Slytherin choir members joined in the singing. "Goodnight to everyone who sleeps in the dungeon..."
       "I SAID LIGHTS OUT!" the Baron roared so furiously that the Slytherins dove beneath their covers and clamped their hands over their mouths to hold back their giggles.
       When everything was quiet, Violet re-emerged from beneath her bedclothes. She folded her hands on top of her blanket and finished the song in a whisper.
       "Please, God, bless everyone who dwells in this place."
August 20
       Three weeks later, she awoke on a Wednesday morning to find a package sitting on the foot of her bed. It was her 13th birthday, but the package confused Violet, because Snape did not observe birthdays. He'd only acknowledged hers the year before because of Katie, and because it had been his advice that she do something productive with her summer. She wasn't Harry Potter, after all.
       Harry had enjoyed a fine birthday, thanks in large part to a conversation that had taken place at the edge of the Forbidden Forest during a gentle rainstorm. The students had gathered behind Hagrid's hut in Harry's absence, hoping the forest orphans would turn up for a chat. When they hadn't, the students had huddled together beneath the nearest trees to discuss Harry instead, glancing up at the castle occasionally as the leaves dripped warm rain on them.
       "What do you think they're talking about?" Violet had wondered aloud. Everybody knew Harry was meeting regularly with Dumbledore, and that he was forbidden to discuss the sessions. Ron had insisted they were reviewing strategy while Hermione had suggested delicately that it might be some sort of counseling. This had led to a full-out discussion of the woes of being Harry Potter, to which Ron and Malfoy had contributed substantial information about life with the Dursleys.
       As a result, the students had decided to throw Harry a fine birthday party at the end of July. After consultation with their heads of house, they'd decided that anything too ostentatious would embarrass Potter. Snape had suggested the majority of the students make cards like those the Slytherins always gave him at Christmas; the celebration itself would take place at choir practice. McGonagall and Harry's closest friends had given him gifts while Snape, to his great relief, had been permitted to go in with the other heads of house on a book comparing quidditch programs at various wizarding institutions. 'Be glad you're not a Slytherin,' Violet's card had joked. 'Professor Snape gives killer birthday spankings.' Marybeth had added a delightful drawing of the older Gryffindors queued up in their common room on Christmas Eve, rubbing their backsides.
       Much of the party had been spent reflecting on old times, making them long for their absent schoolmates. How fun it would be, Amanda had observed, when they were all together again.
       "Can any of them sing?" Malfoy had wondered, setting several people to giggling until Hermione had replied,
       "I don't care. I just want them here."
       Violet had turned thoughtfully to Snape and whispered, "Do you think they're all right, sir?"
       "I'm sure they're fine..." Snape had replied, looking up at the others to add, "...except for wondering if you're all right."
       Now Violet climbed from beneath her covers to sit cross-legged on top of her cot and open her gift. It wasn't from Snape, she discovered when she read the card. It was from Marybeth. She turned eagerly to her supine roommate, who was grinning hard even though her eyes were screwed tightly shut.
       "Well, sit up and watch, then!" Violet called, and Marybeth scrambled out of her blankets. "You shouldn't have done this," her roommate scolded as she unwrapped the package. "We don't have money for gifts."
       "I made it," Marybeth assured her, so eager to see Violet's reaction that she began to bounce on her cot. The last of the tissue paper fell away and Violet gasped.
       "Oh, Marybeth!" she cried. "They're beautiful! They're BEAUTIFUL! THANK YOU!"
       She flew across the cell and hugged Marybeth as hard as she could. Then she grabbed the four pieces of parchment that constituted Marybeth's gift and raced into the corridor, shouting, "Millicent! Pansy! Tracey! Everybody! Come see! Come see what Marybeth made me!"
       They were sketches, of Snape, Lupin, Dumbledore and McGonagall, that Marybeth had drawn for Violet's book. The Slytherins were quite impressed with them, as were the rest of Hogwarts' citizens when Violet proudly displayed them at breakfast in the Great Hall. That proved to be the highlight of the meal, for when the Hufflepuffs began serving, the children discovered that once again, they were to feed on porridge. There was nothing to go with it, no toast or fruit, and only enough milk to dampen the hot cereal. Pitchers of drinking water stood in place of the pumpkin juice, which was only being served at lunch these days.
       "What's up with the food?" Violet complained. But before anyone could speculate, Dumbledore rose and announced plans for the next three days that were even less palatable.
       "Hair cuts!" McGonagall cried, beaming at the slip in her hand. "That's not so bad!"
       Sprout nodded sportingly before sticking her own chubby hand inside the inverted Sorting Hat to withdraw another of the four tasks Dumbledore had assigned his heads of house to prepare the students for the new school year. Snape watched the hat closely to be sure it wasn't trying to whisper any hints.
       Sprout withdrew her slip, read it, and grinned. "School supplies!" she announced, and the men groaned. She'd drawn the easiest assignment... order in bulk, bill the parents, and return the extras after September 1.
       Flitwick wrinkled his nose and pushed his sleeve up, reaching gingerly into the hat as if he were sticking his hand in a kettle of bubotuber pus. He screwed his eyes shut, drew out a slip, and peeked at it through a one-eyed squint. "Eureka!" he cried, throwing his arms wide in triumph. "Alterations!"
       "Dammit!" Snape roared. His colleagues laughed and congratulated one another. "There is no doubt in my mind the three of you cheated!" he snarled as he reached dutifully into the hat to withdraw the final and most odious assignment: dental check-ups.
       "Here." Madam Pomfrey handed him a flamingo feather as he stood at the top of a queue of Hogwarts students outside the hospital wing. "I got you a medi-quill." Snape accepted the writing implement and the clipboard full of parchment paper she thrust at him. "It's really quite simple," she told him, "rather like that tracking thing you do. Just put your lumos light in their mouths..."
       Snape flinched at the thought of sticking his beautiful ebony wand in so many filthy orifices.
       "... and call out what you see to the quill. Then give the student the parchment and send him in." She held open a textbook and pointed out various charts and gruesome pictures of dental disease. "These are the numbers of the teeth, and these are the areas where you'll see cavities. You shouldn't see much gum disease or receding, and don't worry about missing anything. The pain will drive them in eventually."
       Several students whimpered. Madam Pomfrey frowned at their ingratitude, then marched into the hospital wing as Snape fired up his wand. "Ready or not," he murmured, and the students whimpered again.
       He had an insult for every mouth he examined. "Crabbe, I've seen fewer craters on the surface of the moon." "If I see you put one more sugar quill, Miss Guilford, into this swamp you call a mouth..." "Are you still sucking your thumb, Potter?"
       Then he came to Hermione Granger. Her fellow Slytherin and Gryffindor sixth years couldn't help leaning forward to watch as she stepped boldly up to him and opened her mouth with a confident, "Aah!" Snape drew back a bit and Malfoy could have sworn he saw the potions master gulp.
       The teacher grabbed Hermione by the chin and shined his lumos light in her mouth. "Lovely," he announced. Then he shoved her out of the queue. "Next!"
       Lupin appeared at breakfast Saturday morning, completely recovered from Monday's full moon. His recuperation periods were getting shorter and shorter, thanks to Lupin's Remedy, and Snape glowered at him throughout the meal, wondering if in fact he might have been well enough to assist with the odious tasks of the past three days. The smirk on Lupin's face as he listened to the heads' stories of petulant children protesting hand-me-down robes and bowl haircuts did nothing to ease Snape's suspicions.
       "I believe congratulations are in order!" Dumbledore announced when the morning's ration of hot cereal had been consumed. "You have made excellent progress this summer, and you have endured the ignominy of the past three days with as much good humor as could be expected."
       "Is that so?" Violet whispered to Marybeth. She nodded at Pansy who was glowering Snape. The potions master had whipped her good the night before for trying to wheedle money out of Malfoy to order a new robe from Madam Malkin's instead of making do with a hand-me-down from Millicent. It seemed to Violet that Millicent had gotten the shorter end of the stick; her robe, like that of all the tallest students, had a noticeable hem-line where Professor Flitwick had added a few inches of fabric from the students' most frayed garments. The charms professor had apparently never mastered housekeeping spells. Hermione Granger promised to find one to conceal the hems... once enough time had passed to spare Professor Flitwick's feelings.
       "But first," Dumbledore went on, "I'd like to request a round of applause for Dobby, Professor Sprout, and the Hufflepuffs. It cannot have escaped your notice that our meals have become more..." His eyes twinkled and Violet could have sworn he was looking directly at her. "...predictable... of late. This reflects a shortage of supplies affecting all aspects of the wizarding world."
       That would explain why the kids with parents weren't getting new robes from home, Violet realized. She'd assumed the extensive alterations reflected security precautions Dumbledore had set in place, perhaps hoping to avoid fabric-born bio terrorism. Across the table, Millicent shook her head at Crabbe before leaning against his shoulder to whisper, "So much for asking the other kids to bring back food."
       "Our summer kitchen staff have labored valiantly under increasingly difficult conditions," Dumbledore explained, "and I would appreciate a demonstration of our gratitude." It wasn't easy to clap for day after day of porridge, cheese sandwiches, and strange curries, but they did.
       "I wonder how the forest kids are doing?" Violet whispered to Marybeth over the applause. The morose children had taken to spying on the Hogwarts students from the edge of the trees, disappearing at the slightest acknowledgement of their presence. Perhaps the teachers would have invited the outcasts to join the training activities, had the children not proven so shy... or was it belligerent? Did they wonder why the Hogwarts students hadn't been outside much for the past three days? How they'd have laughed, Violet thought, if they could have watched the heads of house preparing their charges for the upcoming school year.
       Malfoy stuck his hand in the air and Dumbledore nodded at him. "I was wondering," the boy asked Professor McGonagall, "why it isn't possible to transfigure the food into something more...savory."
       McGonagall nodded and rose. "Victuals," she lectured, "cannot be transfigured up the food chain. I can show you how to turn your oatmeal into cream of wheat..." She smiled regretfully at Malfoy. "...but not, alas, into eggs and kippers."
       "Today," Dumbledore went on after she'd resumed her seat, "such magic will not be necessary. In celebration of your fine efforts this summer, we are going to have a picnic, featuring all the roasted game you can eat!"
       The students gave a mighty cheer and Dumbledore let them carry on a moment before holding up both hands to quiet them. "You have our gamekeeper to thank," he informed them. "Your heads of house are not the only ones who have been busy for the past three days."
       Violet wondered if Hagrid had seen anything of the forest orphans during his hunting trips.
       "I think I can safely promise all you can eat," Dumbledore went on, "and we shall gather for this all-day feast... on the quidditch pitch."
       The students cheered again. They had not been to their beloved stadium since Slytherin's match with Hufflepuff, and the lawns, though extensive, had proven a mediocre substitute, even for intramural games.
       "My thanks to the aurors for making this possible," Dumbledore concluded, "and would everybody please gather in the entryway in thirty minutes for the walk down to the pitch."
       It was a glorious day. The grass on the pitch, mowed only when Hagrid could find the time, was thick and summer sweet and the students spent great chunks of time lying on their backs, admiring the clouds. Occasionally, an owl flew overhead on its way to the castle.
       The odor of roasting game made their mouths water and they fed on it all day, supplementing it with a generous supply of cornbread. There was only water to drink but Professor McGonagall showed them how to transfigure a gobletful into pumpkin juice, which was then consumed as quickly as possible because the contents reverted to plain water in a matter of seconds. If the students got caught with a mouthful of plain H20, they spat it at each other.
       The older students put on an impressive speed-dueling display that brought Dumbledore to his feet, clapping enthusiastically. Not to be outdone, the younger students performed an impromptu synchronized light show with their tracking lights while Violet sang her own rendition of "Lollipop."
       At this, McGonagall laughed so hard she toppled over sideways. "I'll get you!" Snape hissed out of the corner of his mouth as he glowered at Violet. "Both!"

       The highlight came at the end of each chorus when the students spun around in a rainbow-colored arc to cue Michael, who could now fire up his lumos light without an oral incantation. He would stick his finger in his cheek to pluck it while holdling up his wand which would ignite in perfect synch with his 'Pop!' The spectators roared.
       The older kids played a round of Keep Away, their steeple stoning elimination game, which Harry won after a long and exhausting battle. "We let him," Malfoy assured the spectators when the combatants fell, huffing and puffing, to the grass. "We always do."
       Harry sat up and took aim but Snape stopped him with a casual "Hold your fire," and Harry dropped good-naturedly back onto the grass.
       "Don't feel bad, Malfoy," he smiled instead at the clouds. "When the other kids get back, you'll be able to beat them. For about a week."
       Because of Snape's proximity, Malfoy bit back a reference to his Floo Tag prowess and instead yielded to his schoolmates' eager chatter about everything they'd learned over the summer and how much fun it would be to teach it to their friends who would return to Hogwarts in nine days. Throughout it all, Dumbledore beamed. He could not have expressed his pleasure with the results of his decision to let the other students spend the summer with Harry Potter.
       They reclined on the grass for a while, watching a few more owls fly towards the castle. Then, when they were sufficiently rested, Millicent rolled onto her stomach and inquired, "Quidditch, anyone?" Several students sprang to their feet. Harry turned to speak to Snape, but before he could utter a single word, the potions master announced,
       "If you're taking to the air, I believe I'll assist the aurors in patrolling the perimeter."
       He rose and strode towards the nearest exit and Harry, watching him go, felt a twinge somewhere north of his stomach. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Professor McGonagall wilt with disappointment. The young Gryffindor shook his head.
       "Why doesn't he want to play?" he asked his head of house.
       It was Lupin who replied. "If you want him to play with you," the werewolf suggested, "pick a game that wasn't played when he was at Hogwarts."
       Harry thought about it all through the quidditch matches. A few hours later, when the sun was at its hottest, he sent Violet to take Snape a drink of water. "Will you come back inside now, sir?" she asked, handing him the cool goblet. "We need you to play Blind Man's Bluff." Without waiting for a reply, she took him by the sleeve and led him back into the stadium where the students and staff were gathered around Harry, listening to him explain the rules.
       "You're it," he told Snape, "but you don't wear a blindfold. We want you to chase us while you're invisible. " Snape smiled in spite of himself. "That way," Harry went on, "all we have to tell us where you are is the sight of your footfalls smashing the grass or the sound of your breathing and your robe rustling. We're allowed to leap and free-fall," Harry insisted, "and so are you. Go!" And before Snape could say a word, the students and staff scattered.
       Several of them raced into the stands, seeking out shady spots in which to hide or watch game progress. Snape proved most sporting, sneaking up behind nervous players who held their breath, listening desperately for any sign of him before splitting the air with their screams when he grabbed them around the neck.
       The 'leaping and free-falling' rule was brilliant because Snape had to reappear before he could do those things, giving the students precious seconds to escape. He caught Violet in the stands before she could jump, however, and dangled her upside down over the railing in front of the scorekeeper's seat. Then he reappeared and leapt to the ground still holding her by the ankles; she laughed and screamed so hard she cried. He set her carefully down on the grass where she crawled, wobbly-kneed, to the circle of ejected players before collapsing with giggles.
       "Be quiet, Violet!" Malfoy shouted from the Slytherin stands. There were only big kids and a few staff left now. Snape slipped up to each of them in turn, hissing, "Run!" before sprinting along behind the long-legged teenagers who leapt down from the stands to tear across the grass as fast as they could. Malfoy, racing as if the devil were after him, crossed the pitch and tried to jump up into the Hufflepuff stands, promptly splattering himself against the wall ten feet into the air. Snape roared with laugher, reappearing long enough to levitate him to the ground and hand him a handkerchief for his bloody nose before sending him to the losers' circle.
       But the funniest moment came when he caught McGonagall. The dignified teacher twitched violently and began to dance, the strangest leg-lifting, body-jerking, elbow-bending set of spasms the students had ever seen. "Stop it, Severus! Severus, stop it!" she commanded her invisible tormentor as the eliminated players roared at her bizarre contortions. Snape, they realized, was tickling her.
       When everybody had been caught, they queued up to eat once more. "We have to do this again sometime," Neville Longbottom sighed. "In conditioning class, or at Halloween, maybe." They spread out on the grass to eat, lying down when they were finished to watch the sky dim as the sun began to set.
       "There's another owl," Ron pointed out, and all heads turned to watch the lone creature fly towards the castle. It had barely disappeared beyond the edge of the stadium when another one appeared, and then another.
       Professor Dumbledore sat up.
       Within moments, two more owls appeared, flying a few feet apart, not together but obviously headed in the same direction. More and more of them came, some alone, some in groups of two or three or even four. Violet felt a chill and assumed it was the night air setting in. But Dumbledore shook his head.
       "I believe the picnic is over," he said quietly. He climbed to his feet and nodded, and the citizens of Hogwarts rose and followed him back to the castle.
       "Will you take us to the Astronomy tower roof, sir?" Malfoy asked when Snape answered the knock on his door late that night. The housemaster smiled to himself at the sight of his sad young Slytherins, all clumped together in the corridor. He wondered if they had any idea how charming they looked when they did that. "The Baron says the Gryffindors are there," Malfoy explained. "Professor Lupin is keeping an eye on them."
       Snape checked his watch; it was five minutes after curfew. He nodded, then shut his door with a click and led the Slytherins out of the dungeon.
       They arrived on the highest roof to discover that the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had joined the Gryffindors, too, along with McGonagall, Sprout and Flitwick. Snape was not surprised. It was definitely an evening for fellowship. The Slytherins found spots for themselves and stretched out to gaze at the stars. Snape sat between Lupin and McGonagall, leaning against the warm stones of a chimney.
       Dumbledore had asked the heads of house to assist him with the dozens of letters waiting for him when he returned to the castle. They all bore the same message. None of Hogwarts' older students were returning on September 1, nor were any of the new students coming.
       "It's all right," Malfoy had assured the Slytherins after Snape had told them the news. "The first years weren't much help, and we probably weren't getting any new kids, anyway."
       Millicent had scowled and punched him in the arm, jerking her head at Michael, but the younger Bletchley had just nodded.
       Malfoy clasped his hands beneath his head, anger and resentment growing inside him. Until this evening, he and his fellow students hadn't realized how much they'd been counting on doubling their numbers again at summer's end. Even without the added training, their absent schoolmates had valuable skills, everything they'd learned from Snape and Lupin last year. Besides, there was strength in numbers.
       The fear on the roof was palpable.
       Hermione Granger tried to be positive. "It's an opportunity," she insisted. "Think of the extra attention we'll get from the staff." It had come as no surprise when Dumbledore had mentioned they would be living at the castle full-time beginning September 1.
       Malfoy tried to add to Granger's optimism with a joke. "Now my thought," he drawled, rolling over to smirk at Neville, "is that it's never a good idea to increase the ratio of disciplinarians to wrong-doers."
       Neville smiled but Harry didn't laugh. "I'll bet," the dark-haired teenager mused, "that we could have taught them everything we learned this summer in just a few weeks."
       "Hmph!" Snape snorted, but McGonagall silenced him with a jab of her elbow. Mandy Brocklehurst stuck her hand in the air and waved it, which looked rather funny from her reclining position.
       "Question, Miss Brocklehurst?" McGonagall called. Flitwick peeked around the chimney from his seat next to Sprout on the opposite side.
       "It's August," Amanda reminded everybody present. "If Potter dies, will Voldemort try to take over the school?"
       Flitwick squeaked and McGonagall blinked but Snape just curled his lip. "I doubt he wants to be a headmaster at this point in his career," he assured Amanda. "But Hogwarts would make an excellent residence and command post for a world dictator."
       "Or," Lupin added, "he may try to destroy the castle. In either case, if Harry dies, the battle is over." Harry, Ron and Malfoy all sat up sharply. "We'll discuss this next week," Lupin went on, "but for now, assume that if the worst happens, you should abandon the castle. We will not have children fight and die for a school."
       Malfoy sneaked at peek at Hermione Granger. There was no doubt in his mind that, if Voldemort took over Hogwarts, she would spend the rest of her life trying to drive him out. What was it she had sung in the Great Hall? 'Onward to vanquish our foe, onward for Hogwarts I go!'
       Ron Weasley clutched his red hair with both hands and let out a gutteral roar that made several people jump. "Whose fault?" he shouted at the stars. "Whose fault is it that we're in this ruddy, bloody MESS?!"
       Snape and McGonagall exchanged looks.
       Lupin opened his mouth but Snape passed along Minerva's jab, silencing him before he could speak. "Rhetorical question," he assured the werewolf. He shook his head at the distress surrounding him.
       "Shall I tell you what you're overlooking?" he asked loudly, and everyone, staff and students, sat up or leaned over or turned around to hear what this uniquely experienced man had to say.
       "The surprise is not that no one else is coming," he informed them. "The surprise is that all of you are still here."
       Everyone frowned, but Snape merely raised an eyebrow. "Anywhere else, under similar circumstances," he assured them, "a third of the ranks would have deserted by now."
       There was comfort in that, but not enough. Snape couldn't understand it, and neither, he realized when he glanced at her again, could McGonagall. Such skill they had, every single one of them, and such dedication.
       Why didn't they believe in themselves?
       They gathered in the Transfiguration Room for choir practice Thursday night and Violet thought they made a pretty dispirited bunch, despite Dumbledore's announcement at supper that classes would be cancelled Friday so they could enjoy a three-day weekend before the start of the regular school year. In the four days since they'd learned their schoolmates would not be returning, the students had grown increasingly gloomy; Snape's words on the Astronomy Tower roof had not been sufficient to restore their confidence.
       Of course, the rain hadn't helped, nor had the cooler weather they'd been enduring for several days which had led many students, including Violet, to don uniforms prematurely. Even now, the students who had ventured outside after supper to converse on the front stoop huddled miserably under their cloaks. But most youngsters had retired to their common rooms, propping the doors open in case friends from other houses dropped by to visit. No one did. It's so quiet! Violet fretted.
       She supposed she shouldn't find that surprising. Their last few classes had been depressing affairs where they'd speculated on the fastest, safest ways to abandon Hogwarts should the castle fall. Malfoy had inquired whether there wasn't a way to study apparating, only to be informed it would be too dangerous to leave the grounds for such lessons.
       Violet organized Snape's music, wondering as she did what the reaction would be if she showed up at the orphanage in her robe, bloodied and bedraggled. Maybe she could bring some forest orphans with her. No, maybe she could go live with them! Would the Slytherins still want to form their own school if Dumbledore died and Hogwarts was no more?
       "'Wondrous Love,'" called McGonagall half-heartedly as she rapped on her podium for silence. The students took deep breaths that sounded suspiciously like sighs and Snape played the initial notes on the harpsichord. McGonagall set a tempo and all eyes turned to Ginny, who had a solo on the first verse.
       Ginny seemed paler than usual, her face milky beneath her flaming hair despite the hundreds of hours she'd spent in the summer sun. But her eyes were not dim. They shone with a fierce light that startled everyone. Her schoolmates and teachers watched, dumbfounded, as she turned this fiery gaze on Harry Potter. She stared at him for so long that Snape's chord faded away; he was just about to play it again when she turned to regard him and Violet. She watched them for a while, then turned to gaze at Professor McGonagall and finally at the schoolmates who surrounded her. Then she began to sing.
       She trembled a bit at first. Then her lilting voice strengthened, strong and sure. A shiver ran down Violet's spine and Snape stopped playing. Ginny's voice soared.
       At first, her singing confused Malfoy. The power that was emanating from her... where was it coming from? Was she using magic? No, he realized as he listened. She wasn't using magic.
       She was creating magic.
       He glanced at Potter standing beside him. The Gryffindor was staring at Ginny, a mixture of awe and disbelief on his face. Malfoy shook his head.
       We'll ruin it, he thought. The breathtaking, exhilarating power Ginny was creating... there was no way the rest of them could match her beauty, her generosity. The second we come in, the Slytherin was sure, we'll ruin it.
       Her words filled his mind with images... Violet presenting him with a list of his good deeds last Christmas, McGonagall promising to talk to Snape, Potter handing Violet a pensieve, Crabbe and Goyle rushing from the trees to save him, Ginny keeping him company in the Weasleys' shed, and Snape... so many images of Snape. We mustn't ruin it! Malfoy begged silently as Ginny sang,
       Draco listened for his note, but Snape didn't play it. He played only one tone, the foundation, far below the vocal parts. They would have to get their notes from that foundation, and from Ginny's efforts, and from each other.
       ...sang the tenors and sopranos, haltingly at first, too softly, uneven in their volume. "Listen! LISTEN!" McGonagall begged, abandoning her conducting to clench her fists in hopeful balls. Malfoy closed his eyes and listened, to Luna and Pansy, to Mandy and Hannah, to Harry and Stewart on either side of him, to Neville and Terry and Owen beyond, to himself. Even as he tried to pick them out, their voices blended into something indistinguishably certain, purposeful and magnificent.
       Snape put a hand on Violet's shoulder and pulled her back from the harpsichord. Then he shut the lid over the keyboard, making Malfoy's heart skip a beat. What's he doing? the boy wondered as the potions master folded his arms across his chest, gathering his robe more tightly around him. How are Crabbe and Goyle supposed to find their notes? They're... Crabbe and Goyle!
       He needn't have worried. The altos and basses listened closely to the tenors and sopranos singing, ...then came in flawlessly without accompaniment on
       Their harmony was so balanced, so compelling, so potent, the hair stood up on the back of Violet's neck and her arms broke out in gooseflesh. In the front row, Hermione Granger's eyes lit up.
       We're doing it! the Gryffindor thought, the color rising in her cheeks. We're doing it! She stole a quick peek at the faces around her and discovered that the other singers were doing the same, their eyes bright with the thrill that was filling every soul. "Ye!" the baritones resonated, and the others followed suit, demanding,
       Their force surged through the room, and if Hermione hadn't known better, she would have sworn they were generating electricity. On the bench beside Snape, Violet sat rigid, her mouth hanging open. She wanted desperately to turn her head see if angels were bursting forth from the windows but she could not take her eyes of the faces of her schoolmates.
       Far away in the dungeon, Jennifer Rosich stuck out both hands to grab Michael's and Marybeth's wooden tumblers, halting their round of the cup game to ask, "What's that?" Her housemates pricked up their ears and other Slytherins stuck their heads out of their cells to listen to the voices carrying through the silent passageways.
       Dumbledore, sitting at his desk in his office, put down his quill and rested his cheek on his hand, a look of deep contentment on his face. "Whenever you're ready," he whispered to no one in the room.
       The students huddled on the stoop climbed to their feet as if physically drawn to the singing overhead. Kevin Whitby reached for the handle on the front door, opening it softly only to draw back as the voices swelled before him. He stepped inside, his fellow stoopmates close behind, and found Lupin and the rest of the Hufflepuffs gathered in the entryway, staring at the ceiling as they listened to the singing. The door to the dungeon stairs opened and the Slytherins slipped out one by one to join them.
       In their towers, the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors emerged from their common rooms to gather in the corridors. "Is that us?" Colin Creevey marveled at the magic flowing through the castle, and Lavender and Parvati could only nod in reply.

       They will, Violet thought, unconsciously nodding to herself. Sitting on Snape's bench this chilly evening in the Transfigurations classroom, she knew they were invincible. Her heart swelled with the certainty of it.

       Beside her, Snape was shaking his own head. So simple, he berated himself. How could he have missed it? He'd been the first to break down the enmity between the houses. He'd told two Hufflepuffs it would take all four houses to defeat Voldemort. So why, five nights earlier on the Astronomy Tower roof, had he been unable to convince these children they would prevail despite their limited numbers? He hadn't grasped the why. He hadn't fully understood how their unity would allow them to triumph. Now, through the simple singing of a song, they all saw how individual strength could be transformed into invincibility. Only the noble, working together, became more than the sum of the parts. Clever old goat, that Dumbledore, Snape had to admit.
       McGonagall, who'd been watching her choir motionlessly for some time now, put down her baton and climbed off the podium, crossing the room silently to sit beside Snape. She slipped her arm through his and held it tight as she watched her students sing, her chest rising and falling as they swore their enemies and all evil-doers:
       How she wished their parents could hear them! Maybe they can! she dared to hope. Maybe they're listening! Maybe they're rejoicing! Maybe...
       She pressed her lips together, and her eyes grew bright. Maybe their children won't repeat the mistakes of the past, she prayed. Maybe they'll stop the hatred. Maybe... Maybe...
       She squeezed Snape's arm and whispered, "Maybe we're not such failures after all."
Salazar's Orphans