Spring Forward.

       Marybeth sat up with a jolt, having opened one eye Christmas morning to find a dozen Slytherins crowded around her bed, peering intently into her face. Malfoy was standing nearby, gazing out the enchanted window onto the grounds where a night of savage winds had whipped the snow into steep drifts.
       "Happy Christmas, Marybeth!" called Violet from her warm perch atop her cot, her woolen blankets drawn snugly around her. Marybeth ignored the greeting and scowled instead at the housemates who'd given her such a start.
       "I've been through an ordeal, you know!"
       She was looking much better now, thanks to Madam Pomfrey's nourishment potion and a good long sleep. The rest of Hogwarts' students had awakened frequently throughout the night, roused by the winds howling outside the castle. Whenever a particularly loud gust had awakened them simultaneously, they had exchanged smiles in the candlelight and shivered beneath their bedclothes, scarcely able to contain their joy at being reunited under one roof. Now, as Christmas Day dawned clear and bright, they couldn't wait to get outside. But first the Slytherins had work to do.
       "Yes, yes, yes," Malfoy placated Marybeth, abandoning the window to hand her the Pepperup Potion Madam Pomfrey had left. "Drink up. We've got a job for you."
       Two hours later, the Slytherins were standing in their common room admiring their handiwork. They'd just finished coloring a mural Marybeth had sketched on the very same wall that had once depicted their quidditch victory over Gryffindor. Now the wall showed the Slytherins in all their misery at the Squire's... Malfoy beleaguered by rampaging youngsters, Crabbe and Goyle picking lice off each other, Pansy laboring petulantly over a washtub, and everywhere, like streaming ants, little Slytherins hauling wood to various fireplaces. Above it all, in huge silver and green letters, ran the title:

'Life without Professor Snape.'

       It's perfect, Malfoy nodded to himself. Just the right combination of flattery and...
       Beside him, Violet gave a belligerent snort. "What's your problem?" Malfoy asked the urchin who was frowning at one of his favorites parts of the mural... Violet pouting as she rubbed an apparently aching backside. The third year scowled.
       "I'm willing to admit that I could have been more cooperative at the Squire's. But let's face it." She pointed at her bum-rubbing doppelganger. "That's my life with Snape as well."
       Malfoy clapped his hands together and rubbed them briskly. "Let's get ready!" he ordered. "Crabbe, go get Snape."
       The Slytherins hurried into their queues as Crabbe made his way to the common room door. He thrust his head into the corridor to be sure the way was clear only to jump back.
       "He's coming!" the seventh year cried, racing back across the room to join his housemates in line. The common room door slammed opened and there stood Snape, fully dressed and wearing his cloak. With one hand he held open the stone door; the other he planted angrily on his hip as he searched the room for someone to thunder at. His eyes fell upon the already queued-up students and, frowning, he glanced this way and that as he searched the tops of the common room tables. Clearly, the Slytherins realized, he'd come looking for his cards. Malfoy raised a single arm to point at the mural and when Snape saw it, he fell back a step.
       He glanced briefly at the Slytherins, who stared straight ahead, and then crossed slowly to the mural, leaving the door open behind him. He examined the painting thoroughly, moving from one suffering figure to the next, his eyes narrowing in the process. Occasionally he tossed a suspicious glance over his shoulder. When he was finished examining the masterpiece, he whirled around and fixed the Slytherins with a piercing stare, holding them motionless for several seconds. Then he strolled slowly over to them.
       "Guilt!" He summed up their gift with a single word and a sly nod. "Wise choice."
       The Slytherins cackled with glee and Malfoy grinned. "Off to spend Christmas Day in Hogsmeade?" he drawled, nodding at his housemaster's cloak. Snape reached up to fasten the top clasp.
       "For your information, I've been invited to Christmas lunch at the convent."
       "The convent!" Millicent and Tracey exchanged smirks. "Hold out your hands, please!"
       Snape made to whirl on them, but before he could, Crabbe added his two sickles. "Bugger his fingernails. What about his hair?" He waved frantically at his housemaster. "Could you please tell the nuns and forest orphans, sir, that your hair isn't our fault? We don't need anybody else mad at us."
       The Slytherins chuckled again and Snape seemed on the verge of smiling himself when a strident voice called from the corridor,
       "Did you buy them geese, too?"
       All heads whirled in the direction of the still-open common room door where Hermione Granger stood flanked by Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Snape narrowed his eyes at the girl.
       "The convent is not short food," he reminded her. "I sent crackers."
       Harry took a few steps into the room. "Will the forest orphans be coming to Hogwarts at the start of term, sir?"
       "There's room in our house!" Malfoy added as the Slytherins turned curious faces towards Snape. Their teacher shook his head.
       "Hogwarts is short food," he pointed out. But Harry persisted.
       "We'll share. We owe them, after all. They helped us fight."
       His face, and all the faces surrounding the potions master, were so open and sincere! It had been immensely gratifying for Snape, the two months he'd lived beyond these walls, to discover how many people held Hogwarts in a contempt to rival his own... including the forest orphans. But these children, he decided as he took in their straightforward expressions, did not deserve contempt. So he told Harry quietly,
       "I do not believe they will be interested. But I will share your sentiments with them."
       Ron stepped into the room and walked around Harry to get to Snape. "We didn't know you'd be here," he explained as he held out a piece of parchment, "so the Slytherins haven't had a chance to sign it."
       Snape opened the document to discover a card from the school's non-orphan population thanking him for the Christmas Eve hidings; his punishment, it turned out, had diffused their own parents' anger over their misadventures in London. All three Gryffindors, in fact, were wearing new Weasley jumpers. Snape noticed the Slytherins eyeing them enviously.
       "Professor Dumbledore will send a team of house elves to the Squire's to retrieve your possessions," he told his students, not bothering to add that they would also be preparing one of the several geese he'd sent there for the Slytherins. The bounty of birds would feed the squire through the winter but what his students really needed, he realized, was clothes.
       The 'orphans' had been spending most of their time in uniform, having long since outgrown the last of their casual clothing after parting ways with their parents a year ago last April. Between the poverty and the shortfalls brought on by the war, the rest of Hogwarts' students weren't looking too spiffy, either. Snape didn't know what he could do about it. He'd spent the lion's share of his Remedy revenue on two months' general service to humanity.
       "Thank you for the geese, sir!" his students called after him as he glowered tattletale Hermione out of the way and swept out the door. The Slytherins broke ranks and gathered around the Gryffindors who'd made their way across the common room to admire the new mural.
       "Do you think Snape will stay?" Ron asked, scratching his head as he studied the depictions of Crabbe and Goyle .
       "I think he's off." Harry muttered in a tone Malfoy couldn't quite read. "He'll be gone as soon as school ends."
       It was a distinct possibility, Malfoy had to admit. But...
       "I don't think he'll leave again without telling us where he's going." Draco wondered, as he said it, if that would be enough. Would he and his classmates be content, after they left school, to know where Snape was? Or would they need for the potions master to be at Hogwarts to feel...
       Marybeth was frowning beside him. Harry reached out and gave her braid a tug.
       "Maybe Professor Lupin can convince Professor Snape to stay," he suggested, which brought a hopeful smile to the faces of the younger students. "Professor Dumbledore says the portrait will be ready in 10 days."
       Malfoy put an arm around Marybeth's shoulders and grinned that ferrety little smile that fit his features so well. "Today," he drawled with a bounce of his eyebrows, "let's make the most of Snape's absence. Fetch your cauldrons."
       He repeated the command in the Great Hall, where it was passed from one student to the next over cheery bowls of porridge ("The Boots sent wheat and preserves for Christmas," Dumbledore announced from the head table. "We'll have toast and jam for Boxing Day!"). Soon the students were spilling outside onto a sea of snowy slopes sparkling in the cold air and sunshine.
       Malfoy's idea, something he wouldn't have dared to suggest if Snape had been around, was to enlarge their cauldrons and slide down the slopes inside of them. It proved brilliant fun; the cauldrons never tipped but often spun and absolutely could not be steered, making each trip a thrill ride. The students slid far out onto the surface of the frozen lake before scrambling out of their cauldrons to shrink them, snatch them up, and leap back to shore and up another slope in two or three bounds. The staff members who paused to watch them out the windows found it a most comical sight.
       Shortly before noon the house elves returned with the Slytherins' possessions, and then it was time to gather in the Great Hall for a Christmas Feast featuring all the succulent roast goose they could eat. After that, the students returned to the lawn. All afternoon they slid, keeping a sharp eye on the front gate for any sign of Snape.
       They were still at it when darkness came, bringing increasing winds and plummeting temperatures. "I'm going in," Millicent announced, snatching up her cauldron. "It's time for a bath."
       The rest of the students followed her example, save for Violet and Marybeth, who plopped down the latter's cauldron on a particularly icy patch of snow at the foot of the castle's stoop. Millicent frowned at the two girls.
       "Aren't you coming?"
       Violet shook her head. "I want to wait until I'm so cold I can't stand it."
       After their wretched stay at the Squire's, there was nothing the Slytherins enjoyed more than a hot soak. Millicent grinned and called a last warning from the front door as Violet aimed another engorging charm at Marybeth's cauldron.
       "Don't get caught!"
       "We won't!"
       When everyone had gone inside, Marybeth climbed into her cauldron. Violet grabbed it by the rim and spun it as hard as she could. It whirled in dizzying circles on the icy patch, making Marybeth shriek with laughter.
       "Do you think we'll be in love with baths for the rest of our lives?" Violet asked her roommate when the cauldron finally stopped spinning. Marybeth, who was clinging to the rim and swaying slightly back and forth, nodded woozily. "Again!" she demanded.
       "Then it's my turn," Violet agreed as she spun the cauldron with all her might.
       When they were chilled to the bone and thoroughly nauseous, they gathered up their pots and headed inside. They chattered all the way down to the dungeon and into the common room where they drew up short at an odd sight. More than a dozen strange owls were warming themselves on the fireplace hearth. One flew over to Marybeth and held out its leg. The others had already been relieved of their messages.
       "Where did they come from?" Violet wondered as she held open the door for the birds and then closed it behind them. The house seemed oddly quiet. Only the crackling of the fire and the distant sound of water filling tubs in the lavatories broke the silence.
       Marybeth stood quietly reading her letter. It seemed to take her a long time, Violet thought, but finally she looked up. She whispered one word...
       ... before turning and walking silently to their cell.
       Violet hurried after her, her cauldron banging against her thigh. She found Marybeth putting away her cauldron and gathering up her bath things, a robe and towel, scrub-brush and bar of soap. She headed for the lavatory without a word to her roommate, the letter still in her hand. Violet watched her go.
       Should I tell Malfoy? she wondered as she stared after Marybeth. Or Millicent? No, that probably wasn't necessary. The owls had most likely been waiting outside the door to the common room when the Slytherins had returned from sliding. The older students probably knew all about it.
       Violet put her cauldron away, changed into her robe and hurried off to the lavatory. As she pushed open the door and stepped inside, she found Marybeth standing a few feet away, gazing at an odd tableau of Slytherin girls.
       The room was warm and steamy from so many baths being drawn at once. Pansy, her bathrobe cinched snugly around her waist, her freshly-washed hair clinging to her cheeks, was perched on a large stone ledge set into the wall. She hugged her knees, lost in thought; a letter dangled from her fingertips.
       The rest of the girls were submerged in tubs, their heads protruding above layers of bubbles. Several had letters which they were either reading or had let fall to the tile floor. Those with no letters were studying the faces of their housemates or staring thoughtfully into space. None of them, Violet noticed, had bothered to draw the privacy curtains that hung around each tub.
       Marybeth took a step towards the nearest empty bath and Violet grabbed her by the wrist. "What do they say?" she demanded, her eyes darting around the room. Her housemates looked silently in her direction and Millicent held out a letter. Marybeth, taking her cue from the older girl, offered Violet hers as well. The third year took them and scanned them quickly.

       Millicent's father was more forthcoming.

       When Violet handed the letters back, Millicent accepted hers without a word, her face a twist of conflicting emotions. Violet frowned, surveying the doleful expressions throughout the room. Then she spun around on her heel.
       Fine time for Professor Snape to be away, she fumed as she marched out of the lavatory and down the corridor, pausing long enough in her cell to retrieve a quill and parchment before proceeding out of the house and down the hall to Snape's quarters.
       She arrived to find someone had beaten her to the punch; a piece of parchment was tacked to Snape's door with two dark, jagged words scrawled on it:

       Violet jumped. She spun around and there stood Snape, a rucksack slung over his shoulder. "What do you mean appearing in a public passageway in that state of undress?"
       Violet felt her anger melt away. Snape had brought back his things! This was hardly unexpected, but it soothed her temper nevertheless. She pulled her robe more tightly around her and pointed to Malfoy's note, which Snape snatched from the door.
       "What trouble?"
       "I agree with Mr. Bulstrode," he announced after reading the letters. The Slytherins, clustered about him as he lounged in the most comfortable chair before their fire, set off a storm of protest. Snape held up a hand to silence them.
       "It has no bearing on how you should respond," he assured them, "or if you should respond. I simply cannot blame them for trying."
       "Speaking of trying..." Tracey made no effort to hide the contempt in her tone. "Don't you think that might be their real motivation?"
       "They want us to beg for leniency at their trials," Goyle agreed. When Snape pointed out that none of the letters had requested any such thing, he insisted, "Later, then. They're hoping we'll intercede later, to get their sentences reduced or something."
       The children turned expectantly to Snape, who hesitated. His reticence reminded Malfoy of that Christmas morning two years ago when Violet had quipped innocently about Snape's family. He wondered if she'd ever observed in that book of hers that her housemaster never discussed his family. Ever.
       "What you must remember about your parents," he finally replied, "is that few, if any of them, wanted Voldemort back." The Slytherins stiffened. "They never went looking for him," Snape reminded them. "They never lifted a finger to return him to power. Instead, they denounced him."
       He tented his fingers and pressed them to his lips. "I can count on one hand the number of Death Eaters who were truly loyal to Voldemort. The others were delighted when he disappeared, and why not? Who wishes to serve a leader who tortures and kills his own supporters?"
       The Slytherins made no response but several of them sneaked furtive peeks at Malfoy, Marybeth, Michael and others.
       "Ask yourselves this." Snape's voice grew stern and the Slytherins sat up a bit straighter. "Once Voldemort returned, what choice did your parents have?"
       "Death." Malfoy didn't miss a beat. "Defiance."
       Snape's eyes narrowed to slits. "I'll tell you something about defiance," he hissed so icily that his students drew back. "It comes easier to those who have the support of Albus Dumbledore."
       Violet thought of Harry Potter, sneering at Snape for 'hiding behind Dumbledore's robes.' Even though he'd turned spy for the old man, he'd been distrusted at Hogwarts for years. What support could other former Death Eaters have hoped for in the face of Tom Riddle's return?
       "Are you saying we should just forget everything they've done wrong?" Millicent was indignant. Snape shook his head.
       "There is no need to grant the shallow or morally weak any substantial part in your lives," he assured his listeners. "They are nothing but destructive. But you might toss family members the occasional crumb of attention... from a safe distance, if you wish... in case they prove to be among the very few who are capable of admitting guilt and improving their characters. The time may come..."
       He climbed to his feet and extricated himself from the crowd of children. "... when you'd like to have a parent in your lives."
       He waited for them to drop their heads in contemplation so he could spin around and sweep from the room. Instead, every eye held his gaze and every face broadcast the same message.
       You're the parent we want in our lives.
       Snape fled.
       "What were they thinking?" Minerva criticized the Azkaban officials after Snape had filled her in. "A Christmas treat?" The potions master paced back and forth before her parlor fireplace. "This is why you can't leave, Severus," she insisted as she poured him a cup of tea from her seat at a tidy round table. "Face facts. The easy part is over... straightforward battle against a clear-cut foe..."
       "Who came with specific instructions for his defeat," Snape observed wryly.
       "Now comes the hard part," Minerva insisted. "We've managed to produce the first generation to rise above the shallowness that has infected humanity for decades. They might actually make a difference in the world! But they're stunted by all they've endured. They need..."
       She stopped. Snape had turned his back and was staring into the flames. She wasn't sure if he was still listening to her.
       He whispered something. It sounded like, "I want my turn."
       "I beg your pardon?"
       Snape turned to face her, his countenance a mix of determination and desperation. "Two years ago," he recounted, "I told your students I could accept that my turn was over." He shook his head. "When I said that, I thought I had very little time to live. But I was wrong! I lived!" He took a step closer to her. "I lived, and now I want my turn!"
       Staring into Snape's dark eyes, Minerva wondered for the hundredth time what he'd been up to while he was away. But she refused to ask. Thinking of those two months made her heart ache. Instead, she observed tartly,
       "Some wizards consider teaching at Hogwarts to be the pinnacle of achievement."
       Snape smiled slyly. "I used to perpetuate that myth."
       McGonagall's eyes snapped and Snape took a precautionary step backwards. "Ah, ah, ah!" he scolded with a grin. "You promised! No more boxing my ears!" He gave his robes a well-practiced swish and took a seat across from her, picking up the cup of tea as he did. "How is Potter?" he asked as he brought the cup to his lips.
       Minerva shook her head. "No one knows," she lamented. "He's too excited about the prospect of seeing Lupin again. But Albus and I will be debriefing the students about their time in London at breakfast tomorrow. Maybe he'll let something slip."
       Snape set down his cup. An awkward silence filled the space between the soon-to-be headmistress and her reluctant lieutenant. Minerva busied herself with the sugar bowl. Then...
       "You don't need me," Snape assured his colleague. The dignified witch looked unconvinced. "You'll manage magnificently," Snape insisted. "Just eliminate the house cup competition, that's all."
       Minerva put down the sugar spoon, nodding. "Let teachers assign detentions if they wish," Snape continued, "but beyond that, leave discipline to the heads of house." He gave a bitter shake of his head. "I always thought pitting students against each other was asinine."
       Minerva smiled but said nothing.
       "And no more Sorting Hat!" Snape added, giving the delicate little table an emphatic thump with his fist. Minerva started, then grinned.
       "No more Sorting Hat," she agreed. "Would you like some more..."
       "Excuse me."
       The heads of house jumped. Per Slytherin custom, Snape had left the door to the living quarters of a member of the opposite sex open a crack. Now he and Minerva twisted their heads to discover Dumbledore standing in the doorway, quietly observing them.
       "Professor Dumbledore!" Minerva hurried to her feet. "Professor Snape has been telling me that several Slytherins just received letters from their parents in Azkaban."
       Dumbledore made no reply. Instead, he looked somberly back and forth between the two teachers. Then he said politely,
       "I was going to ask you to step into my office while I fetched Professor Snape, Minerva. But as he is already here, may I borrow him for a few minutes?"
       The two men made their way swiftly to Dumbledore's office, the headmaster neglecting to inform Snape of the purpose for their trip. When they arrived, the housemaster saw at once why the old man had wanted McGonagall standing by. Violet was seated on the right side of Dumbledore's desk looking frightened to death. Directly across from her sat a goblin.
       "The staff at Gringotts have been extremely busy," Dumbledore began, assuming his seat but failing to invite Snape to sit, too. "Apparently, violence and sudden death make for difficult accounting. Mr. Griphook tells me they've been working evenings and weekends for months, trying to sort it all out."
       The look on Griphook's face suggested he found it all burdensome busywork brought on by irresponsible humans.
       "The holiday afforded him his first chance to make a trip to Hogwarts on rather important business." He nodded at the goblin who rose and walked around the desk to Violet. The child whimpered but, thanks to a stern look from Snape, managed not to flinch.
       "The estate of Tom Riddle," Griphook announced, placing an envelope in Violet's lap. "Vault #216." The child looked curiously at Snape and Dumbledore before opening the envelope. Inside was a small gold key.
       "I don't understand," she insisted, giving Griphook a glance that clearly indicated she wished he would return to his side of the desk. "How could my father have money? He didn't work."
       Snape smiled in spite of himself. Griphook grinned, too, but his smirk was decidedly nasty. "We don't concern ourselves with where the money came from before it reaches us," he informed Violet. The child gulped.
       "I can assure you, Miss Guilford," Dumbledore spoke up, "that every attempt was made to return ill-gotten gains to the appropriate..." He broke off, then continued very gently. "...widows and orphans, as it were. But in those cases where Voldemort destroyed entire families..."
       Violet paled and Dumbledore fell tactfully silent. Snape took a step forward. "Stand up," he snapped, and Violet sprang to her feet. The key fell to the floor and she scrambled after it, refusing to meet Griphook's disgusted gaze as she snatched it up and returned to her spot before Snape.
       "I trust we can rely on you," her housemaster hissed, "to remember the origins of your fortune when deciding how to spend it."
       "Oh, yes, sir!" Violet nodded emphatically. Dumbledore smiled.
       "As Miss Guilford is legally a ward of the muggle state rather than the wizarding community," he began, "the staff at Gringotts have decided to leave it to my discretion to oversee her expenditures until she is of age, a situation made almost unnecessary by the on-going shortfalls."
       "Can I have a broom?" Violet turned eagerly to the headmaster. Snape curled his lip.
       "Certainly not!" he barked before Dumbledore could reply. "They are in short supply and exorbitantly overpriced. I can't think of anything more vulgar. However..."
       He turned to the headmaster himself. "If we could prevail upon Miss Guilford to pay her back tuition, it could be combined with contributions from yourself and the four heads of house to purchase new uniforms for the students. I'm sure we're all quite weary of gangly ankles and bony wrists sticking out of too-short jumpers and trousers."
       Violet took a quick peek at her robe sleeve Flitwick had repaired with potato sacking last summer. She looked up at her head of house with wide-eyed innocence and observed, "I thought robe fabric was in short supply and exorbitantly overpriced."
       Griphook uttered a guttural chuckle and Dumbledore lowered his head to hide a smile. But Snape merely nodded politely to the two of them, excused himself, and took Violet by the arm to lead her from the office.
       In the foyer outside the headmaster's door, he spun her around and gave her such a spank that Fawkes jumped on his perch. A moment later, he returned, still leading Violet by the arm.
       "I was thinking," he continued smoothly, "along the lines of a secondary uniform, something the children can wear beneath their robes and in place of their leisure clothing."
       Dumbledore twinkled at Violet who, rubbing her rear end, added petulantly, "Nice and thick, please."
       So on Boxing Day morning, as the children devoured toast and jam in the Great Hall, Madam Pomfrey took their measurements and called out the figures to her mediquill. Each student was to receive two black sweatshirts and two solid-colored button-down shirts in red, green, yellow or blue as befitted their house assignment. The boys were to receive flannel-lined black trousers and the girls black pleated skirts with warm acrylic tights to match their house shirts. Madam Malkin, suffering from slow robe sales, had gratefully agreed to produce the outfits, and at reasonable prices, too. There would be enough left over, if Flitwick and Sprout matched the contributions of Snape and McGonagall, for one pair of sturdy black lace-up shoes apiece
       "Do we have to wear our tacky old robes over the new clothes?" Pansy wondered as the nurse measured her from waist to knee.
       "In class on weekdays," McGonagall replied. "But you may go without them at school functions on evenings and weekends. Mr. Longbottom, you've stuck your elbow in my marmalade."
       "Sorry, Professor!"
       With most of the staff still on holiday, the head table and its platform had been removed after the Christmas feast and two house tables, all that were necessary to accommodate the current occupants of the castle, had been pushed close to the fireplace. Snape, McGonagall, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Filch ate their breakfast sitting among their charges.
       "Let's see." McGonagall perused a set of parchment notes beside her plate. "Who's next?"
       The debriefing process was well underway and while McGonagall and Snape grew ever more vexed at the mounting evidence of the 'hard part' still to come, the students, bolstered by their recent reunion, were enjoying each other's anecdotes enormously.
       "We didn't do so badly," Ron crowed after Michael and Eloise finished their story, "considering how much we don't know!" His exclamation reminded Harry of something. Since the charms instructor was still on holiday, he turned to the man sitting across from him and asked,
       "Professor Snape, do you remember how we lost our wands during the siege?"
       Snape glowered at the boy.
       "I was wondering," Harry went on, "if there's a charm to summon your wand."
       Dumbledore leaned forward but no one noticed because at that moment, Malfoy snorted pumpkin juice out his nose.
       "I know you can summon silently," he smirked as he wiped his chin on his handkerchief. "And I know you can summon without sticking your wand in the air." In his mind's eyes, he saw the potions master snatching his cane out of thin air on his way to Gryffindor Tower one Christmas Eve. "But don't you have to have your wand on your person?"
       "What about dissolving rope?" Ron put in eagerly. "Is there a way to dissolve rope if your hands are tied?"
       "Maybe we could develop a way," Tracey suggested, "as we did with stoning."
       Snape scowled at the 'we.' All around him, students broke into excited discussion. Neville suggested they'd be better off learning to apparate. "You don't need to dissolve rope," he pointed out, "if you know how to apparate."
       "Can you apparate without a wand?" Harry wondered, and Hermione added,
       "Are there places besides Hogwarts where you can't apparate?"
       Malfoy turned eagerly to Snape. If he could learn to apparate, he could visit his family home! "Could you teach us, sir?" he begged. "Please? We're of age and our parents... those of us who have them... are hardly in a position to teach us themselves."
       Snape curled his lip. "Apparation has never been taught at Hogwarts..." he began.
       "...because you can't apparate here, yes, sir." Malfoy cut him off with an impatient nod. "Couldn't you take us to Hogsmeade?"
       "Where Harry Potter was just kidnapped?" That was Violet, doing a rather annoying imitation of Hermione Granger.
       "He wasn't kidnapped in Hogsmeade," Malfoy scowled. "He was way outside of town." The teenager turned back to Snape. "Some of us are leaving school in six months. We need to learn how to cope with life beyond..."
       The words died on his lips as Snape focused the iciest of glares upon him. Probably shouldn't have interrupted him, the boy realized with a gulp. He bowed his head and fell deferentially silent.
       "As I was saying," Snape hissed when the room was appropriately quiet. "Apparation has never been taught at Hogwarts because it is extremely dangerous. Very few parents teach their children at seventeen and lessons are prohibitively expensive so that few wizards can afford them until they've worked for several years... acquiring, thereby, a bit more judgment."
       Malfoy thought of Queenie, rounding up carts at a muggle shopping center.
       "Apparation," Snap went on, "is the leading cause of death to wizards by malfeasance. Can anyone tell me why?"
       "Because people go popping into places without knowing they're safe!" Violet shouted, remembering the lesson Snape had taught them during the siege. "And that's why Floo Powder is so expensive, right? So kids won't have easy access to it?" Her head of house nodded and Violet beamed... until the glares from several seventh years withered her to a slouch.
       "The wisest of wizards," Snape finished, "use apparation sparingly, traveling only to secure locations or destinations where diverse forms of travel must be employed to avoid detection by muggles."
       Malfoy thought again of his childhood home. His parents had not been in the habit of using apparation to traverse the immense property.
       "You could get shot," Justin spoke up, referencing his own harrowing London adventure. "Muggles don't like being startled at all."
       "Muggles don't like a lot of things," Ron added with a quick glance at Harry. "Muggle defense. That's the class we need now."
       "Silence, please!" McGonagall rapped her goblet with her knife. "Let's remain focused on the task at hand. Now who's next?" She consulted her parchment list. "Ah, yes. Davis and Warrington."
       All faces turned expectantly to the two Slytherins.
       "Where have you been?"
       Marybeth looked up from her seat by the fire as Violet let herself into the common room that evening. All the sofas and chairs near the hearth were crammed full of Slytherins basking in the pleasure of a clean, warm sitting room. Violet picked her way through the crowd and plopped down on Crabbe's well-padded lap.
       "Looking for Tracey and Warrington," she explained as she stretched her legs on top of Crabbe's and crossed them at the ankles. The missing seventh years had disappeared right after breakfast, having endured ferocious glowering from Snape in response to their description of their exploits in London. Swept up by a crowd of spoiled, wealthy young thrill-seekers, they'd enjoyed two days of illicit reveling on the theory that Harry Potter may have chosen to flee Hogwarts and sew a few postwar wild oats. When Boxing Day lunch had come and gone with no sign of the reprobates, their head of house had put a bounty of 20 sickles on their heads.
       "Any luck?" Crabbe nudged Violet in the rump with one knee.
       "No," the little tracker confessed, "but I did overhear a fascinating conversation while I was hiding from Madam Bigshot behind a tapestry."
       At the end of the breakfast debriefings, Dumbledore, having decided not to refill the Head Boy spot, had announced the promotion of Hermione Granger to Head Student. While Violet couldn't be sure the newly empowered Gryffindor would interfere with Snape's orders, she didn't want to lose tracking time explaining why she was using magic in the corridors. Twenty sickles would make a nice supplement to the first of the modest weekly allowances Dumledore would be doling out to her.
       "Granger was telling Potter and Weasley how she'd gone to tell Dumbledore that he should write all the students and tell them they won't be allowed back without parental permission; otherwise they might run away like Marybeth."
       The Slytherins nodded. According to the Baron, the headmaster had been receiving letters all day from parents informing him that, in light of the melee at King's Cross, they would not be returning their children to Hogwarts until safe transport could be arranged.
       "It's more dangerous to travel now than it was for Marybeth," Millicent defended Hermione's behavior.
       "Why can't they just floo here?" wondered Violet.
       "A lot of people disconnected from the floo system after Voldemort returned," Malfoy told her. "Now they're poor and it's expensive to reconnect, to say nothing of the cost of powder and the trouble to get it."
       Pansy gave a snotty little sniff. "I think it's an excuse," the pretty girl insisted. "Too dangerous to go to Diagon Alley, too expensive to maintain floo service, too risky to be on the system, too hazardous to travel..."
       "Or..." Malfoy grew thoughtful. "It could be they're too poor to pay for Hogwarts anymore and don't want to admit it."
       "Anyway..." Violet was anxious to get back to her story. "Hermione said that when she walked into the office, she saw Dumbledore talking to Viktor Krum through the floo system."
       "Krum!" Malfoy sat up a little straighter.
       "He was saying, 'You can count on us. I vill make sure of it.'"
       "Who's 'us'?" Pansy wondered. "Is Krum married?"
       Malfoy shook his head. "He's still playing quidditch for Bulgaria."
       This gave Violet an idea that made her clap her hands with delight. "Maybe they're sending us brooms!" she speculated, and for the next hour, the Slytherins debated the strengths and weaknesses of various styles of foreign flying devices.
       The mystery was solved at breakfast Saturday morning when Dumbledore stood up and addressed the two tables. "In an attempt to ease the strained relations between British wizards and their counterparts throughout the world," he announced, "I have arranged for the formation of an interscholastic quidditch league!"
       "A what?"
       Hermione answered Neville a bit loudly in case anyone else needed to hear. "Schools compete with each other."
       "Muggles do it all the time!" Dumbledore beamed as the predictable chatter broke out among the students. "Durmstrang has accepted our invitation to compete, thanks in large part to the support of Viktor Krum, who has agreed to act as their coach."
       At that, Ron went nearly apoplectic. "Good thing you showed him such a nice time during the tri-wizard, Granger," Malfoy whispered to the girl beside him, who punched him in the arm hard enough to make his eyes water.
       "We will travel to their school for a Saturday afternoon match next month," Dumbledore finished, "and I am pleased to announce that I have secured the services of the Knight Bus for the designated weekend. With the beds removed, we should be able to transport almost the entire student body in our 'fan bus.'"
       Dumbledore resumed his seat amid thunderous applause. As she watched him smile and nod, Violet wondered if the elderly wizard was aware that in some countries, fans fought and killed each other. She turned to Snape to ask him about it and found him exchanging looks with McGonagall reminiscent of that dinner when Dumbledore had decided on the spur of the moment to allow the students to stay for the summer. News to them, the girl deduced.
       She decided not to raise the subject of fan violence.
       That evening, as she peeked through the open door to the deputy headmistress' office, Violet couldn't help but giggle. Leaning forward in their chairs on opposite sides of the desk, their elbows propped on the desktop, their fingertips pressed tightly to their throbbing temples, Snape and McGonagall looked like a pair of morose bookends. On a blackboard beside the desk, the very one upon which Violet had once asserted that 'Bastards do not bear their father's names,' was a list of current challenges facing the Hogwarts community. It included:

       ...and so on. It occurred to Violet as she read through the list that items 2 and 6 ought to cancel each other out. But she had no chance to ponder the idea further, for the school's most formidable teachers looked up at the sound of her giggle and Violet hurried to explain her presence.
       "Michael found Warrington and Tracey, sir," she reported to Snape. "They're waiting in your office."
       Snape dismissed her with a curt, "Thank you, Miss Guilford," and rose to leave. He had just reached the door when McGonagall called him back.
       "Why on earth didn't Albus mention the quidditch program?" she wondered.
       Snape frowned and shook his head.
       A few minutes later, he was sweeping into his office where he was greeted by a storm of protest from his two hedonistic seventh years.
       "It's not fair!" Tracey insisted as she shoved aside the non-orphans' thank you card to bend over Snape's desk beside Warrington. "Why should we receive more punishment than the others?"
       "Let's see." Snape's voice was infuriatingly silky. "Perhaps because of the gambling..."
       He drew back his switch and gave them each a stinging stroke.
       "...the public nudity..."
       SWISH! SWISH!
       "...the gluttony..."
       SWISH! SWISH!
       "the drunkenness..."
       SWISH! SWISH!
       After the fourth stroke, Snape hesitated, wondering, "What shall we call using your leaping technique to impress spoiled muggles by jumping in front of speeding cars?"
       Tracey and Warrington exchanged looks. "Derring-do?" the boy suggested.
       "Excellent! And worthy of two."
       Snape lashed his students twice more, soundly enough to leave no doubt as to his opinion of their two days of indulgence. Then he returned Whomping Willy to the corner as his seventh years departed, Warrington pausing in the door to inform him,
       "By the way. Tessie at the Thump and Bump sends her love."
       On his way out, he nearly banged into Hermione Granger, who marched right past him into the office. She stormed up to the desk where Snape had just taken a seat and slammed a piece of parchment down in front of him. Snape, regretting enormously that he no longer had switch in hand, raised an eyebrow at the girl, who merely folded her arms across her chest and began to tap her foot in a hostile and rapid rhythm. Intrigued, Snape dropped his gaze to the parchment, which turned out to be a letter written in a hand he found vaguely familiar.

       The room was quiet when Snape finished the letter. The tapping, he realized. Miss Granger had stopped tapping her foot. He sneaked a peek at her from behind the curtain of his greasy hair, then returned his attention to the letter. His potions homework was always intriguing, too, he thought as he reread the central paragraphs of the missive. When he was done, he held out it out to the head student and asked,
       "What are your plans for next year, Miss Granger?
       Hermione stomped her foot and Snape drew back in his chair. Why is this impossible child mad at me?
       "You have to let me cure you," the Gryffindor announced as she snatched the letter back. Snape studied her a moment. Then he nodded at the document in her hand.
       "Have you shown that to Potter?" he murmured. He took great pleasure in the way Hermione immediately dropped her eyes. But her answer took him by surprise.
       "He's facing enough disappointment."
       Snape stiffened. "You think Lupin won't come?"
       "I think it won't matter," the girl sighed before raising her head to stare beseechingly into his face.
       "Please, Professor Snape. Let me try."
       Snape rose and took a few steps away from his desk. "No," he insisted. "I don't want a cure for my hair."
       "Of course not," Hermione spat. "You'd rather display it forever as a tribute to the bastardy of James Potter."
       Snape whirled on the girl but Hermione was too quick for him. "Please, Professor," she begged again, taking a step closer to him. "For Harry's sake."
       Snape winced. He replied faster than he should have; his words came out peevish and wheedling. "It's part of me," he insisted. "I don't need normal hair."
       "Then don't wash it, Professor!" Hermione roared so loudly Snape fell back a step. The girl gasped, horrified by her conduct, and as the color returned to Snape's cheeks, she turned and raced for the door. But before fleeing, she paused and turned back.
       "I don't really need your permission, sir," she announced. She forced herself to march regally through the door and into the corridor. Only the sounds of her footfalls racing away the moment she was out of sight kept Snape from hurrying after her. Instead, he walked slowly over to the desk where he'd just spanked two of his seventh years and leaned against it.
       He reached up to toy with the strands of hair Hermione had snipped on Christmas Eve. Images of the girl paraded through his brain... Hermione confessing sheepishly to setting him on fire, Hermione smiling at his praise of her convalescious potion, Hermione scolding her classmates in potions class, Hermione patiently helping him convert rats to tumblers...
       Snape nodded at the empty doorway.
       He would miss her.
       "I will not!" Violet argued hotly in the common room before lunch the next day. "It's pointless! I can't beat Potter, and besides, I want to form a cheerleading squad!"
       Crabbe and Goyle groaned as did several other Slytherins. Malfoy took a menacing step closer to his third year housemate.
       "You will too try out!" he seethed as he grabbed her by the jumper and pulled her close. "They're going to spread the membership around all four houses. You can count on it. Every Slytherin rejected gives ME a better chance of making the team!"
       Try-outs for the school quidditch team, to be coached by Madam Hooch, were that afternoon and would be followed by a week of intensive training before classes resumed January 5. Violet jerked free from Malfoy's grasp and tugged at her worn-out jumper. "Ginny's a better chaser than Ron is keeper," she reminded the older boy. "But I see your point."
       So she tried out, and when the results were announced Sunday night, she found to her surprise that she did make the team... the reserve team. So did Crabbe, who hooted with glee.
       "We'll automatically get to go to the game!" he gloated, grabbing Violet around the waist to spin her triumphantly through the air. "We'll get to have all the fun without any of the work!"
       To the Slytherins' joy, three of their number made the school team. The entire house turned out Monday morning, along with most of the rest of the school, to watch Madam Hooch put Malfoy, Goyle, Warrington and the others through their paces. Potter was seeker, of course, and Ginny made chaser. The other two team members came from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. At the end of the first practice, the observers returned to the castle, but the team members gathered at one end of the pitch to choose a captain per Madam Hooch's instructions.
       "It should be Harry," Ginny insisted as they settled into a circle on the hard-packed snow. "He's the best player."
       Harry wouldn't hear of it. "Make Malfoy do it," he suggested instead. "Keepers stay in one small area. It makes a good command post."
       "No!" Malfoy snarled, and Warrington, who really should have been more help at the Squire's, snickered. The others turned to look at him. He, too, had been playing since second year. But Warrington had no desire to assume a position of leadership after what he'd seen Malfoy go through in December.
       "Sod off!" he barked.
       Ginny sighed. "Maybe we don't need a captain," she murmured. "We have a coach, after all."
       "That's right!" Harry jumped to his feet. "If there's no captain, we can all go ask Snape together!"
       The Slytherins exchanged looks. "Ask Snape what?" Malfoy wondered. Harry flushed and began to stammer.
       "I thought... I just thought... maybe we'd like to ask Snape to be our.. a sort of..."
       The potions master slammed the door to the cabinet he'd been inventorying.
       "Lots of athletics teams have them, sir," Harry insisted as his teammates bobbed their heads like a chorus of marionettes. "They have a coach and a trainer."
       Snape took a seat at his desk. "Certainly not," he snapped. "Consider Madam Hooch's feelings."
       "We asked her. She thinks it's brilliant."
       Snape scowled at the green-eyed Gryffindor. "No!"
       "But sir." Malfoy stepped up beside Harry. "Playing other schools could be a lot harder than playing each other."
       Harry nodded. "You've come up with some brilliant...."
       "He's off," Goyle muttered when the team gathered in the Great Hall after lunch a few days later to analyze Snape's refusal again. "I just know it."
       Ginny lifted the ginger head she'd been resting on her arms. "Maybe we could throw him a party or something," she suggested. "That might convince him to stay."
       "Too bad his birthday isn't in January," muttered Malfoy.
       They were still moping when Dumbledore wandered by a while later. He strolled casually over to the group and observed,
       "This is hardly the spirit we're looking for in our new quidditch team. Is something troubling you?"
       Harry, who'd dropped his head to his arms shortly after Ginny had lifted hers, didn't bother to raise it as he replied, "Professor Snape turned down our request to be quidditch team trainer."
       "Oh." Dumbledore looked taken aback. "Surely you don't need a trainer?"
       Harry made no reply. But Malfoy took great pleasure in explaining to the old man, "Potter wanted to get him involved in quidditch at Hogwarts again."
       He expected the elderly wizard to frown. Instead, Dumbledore took a seat beside Ginny. "Do you know," he murmured as he smoothed his robes over his knees, "progress is sometimes made one small step at a time. Durmstrang may be the only institution to respond favorably to our interscholastic initiative, but I am still pleased we made the offer."
       He placed a gentle hand on Ginny's arm. "You cannot force others to accept your kindness, but you can still be pleased you made the offer."
       The athletes nodded politely. Then, following Harry's lead, they rose and excused themselves for their afternoon practice.
       "I've got warm socks. I've got warm shoes. I've got new clothes, who could ask for anything more?" sang Violet as she pulled on her Slytherin green acrylic tights. Marybeth, combing her hair in the mirror, snorted.
       "Harry Potter," she suggested, giving her head a little shake to see her new hairstyle bounce. Pansy had cut it for her on New Year's Day and Marybeth thought she looked cute indeed. "I hate to think what will happen if Lupin's not there."
       School would not start again until tomorrow but the students were wearing their new clothes for the first time this Sunday evening in honor of the unveiling of Dumbledore's portrait of Lupin. Violet, who had no response for her roommate, crowded close beside her and admired her reflection in the mirror as she pulled the collar of her new shirt through the neck of her sweatshirt. "Have you ever seen a richer shade of green?" she sighed.
       Millicent stuck her head into the cell. "Let's go!" she commanded, and soon the younger girls were scooting up out of the dungeon and into the entryway where students and staff were gathering. Most of the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors were standing on the steps of the huge marble staircase, leaning over the railing. Filch, the girls noticed, stood rigidly beside the front doors.
       "You don't think Ministry officials are going to swoop down on the unveiling, do you?" Violet whispered as the two girls pushed their way to the front of a crowd of taller kids. Marybeth frowned.
       "What's poor Mr. Filch supposed to do about it if they do?"
       They found nice spots for themselves alongside Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and the Weasley siblings near an easel covered with an elegant purple cloth. Violet stared at it, fascinated. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but it seemed to her that the shimmery fabric swayed, as if Lupin were breathing beneath it.
       The crowd parted and Dumbledore made his way forward, followed closely by Snape and McGonagall who took up positions on either side of the easel. Dumbledore made no speech. Instead, he grabbed the purple cloth between the tips of his long, slender fingers and yanked it eloquently off the easel.
       Everyone gasped. The painting was nothing less than beautiful. Dumbledore had superimposed the figure from Marybeth's sketch onto the grounds on a lovely summer day, placing Lupin beneath the very tree where he now rested beneath the earth. He was leaning against it, his eyes closed, while the lake rippled behind him and a breeze stirred the leaves.
       The students held their breath. Ginny Weasley leaned forward, peering into Lupin's face, and that's when he opened one eye and observed,
       "Don't you all look nice!"
       There were shrieks of delight and then the crowd burst into applause. Filch backed quickly against the front doors as if to hold them shut. Snape, on the other hand, seemed to relax, almost slumping with relief. Ginny burst forward and threw her arms around the painting, hugging it tightly.
       "We missed you so much!" she cried as the applause died down. When the entryway was quiet, Ginny released the portrait and stepped back, allowing Lupin to turn to Harry and ask,
       "All right, Harry?"
       Harry Potter was grinning to split his silly face. He nodded, stammering, "Fine! Fine. Great! Good. Brilliant!"
       Several people laughed. But Hermione, Violet noticed, did not. She was studying the painting very seriously and when Lupin looked at her, she wiped her eyes with her sleeve and plastered a brave, sympathetic smile on her face.
       Lupin nodded ever so slightly.
       The laughter died away and an awkward silence descended over the hall. It dragged on until Filch cleared his throat, making everyone but Dumbledore jump. Violet thrust her hand into the air.
       "Will he still turn into a werewolf each month?" she asked Snape. But it was Dumbledore who took a step forward to reply.
       "Oh, no. He was captured in the best of health and that is how he shall remain."
       The students turned back to the portrait. Lupin pulled a leaf off one of the branches of his tree and frowned at it. "Lovely," he murmured, turning the leaf over to admire its back. "Really amazing work."
       He said nothing else and the silence returned. It went on longer this time, until Violet found herself looking around for someone who might have something to say. When Dumbledore clapped his hands, the sound rang out sharply.
       "Well!" he cried, as if the throng before him were still engaged in excited murmuring. "We face a monumental decision. Where shall we hang the portrait?"
       Lupin looked up. He hurried across his canvas to hear Snape's reply. But the head of Slytherin was staring into the crowd.
       "Potter," he called, and all eyes turned to the Gryffindor. "You may hang it in your dormitory if you wish."
       Lupin tossed his leaf aside. It fluttered to the grass along the bottom of his portrait. "Severus!" the former defense teacher protested. "I'm your portrait! I should hang in your office!"
       Snape winced and Lupin smiled a rather nasty smile. Dumbledore raised a hand as if to intercede.
       "How about some place a bit more public?" he suggested. "Perhaps the Defense classoom?"
       He nodded at the front doors, calling, "Thank you, Mr. Filch," and as the caretaker took his leave, the crowd, sensing the festivities were over, began to disperse. Dumbledore drew his wand and carefully levitated the portrait off the easel. He set off down the hall, inviting Harry to join him.
       Violet made her way towards the steps to the dungeon but stopped when she noticed Hermione Granger doing something odd. The girl was looking self-consciously about as she made her way not up the marble steps but over to the doors of the Great Hall. When it seemed no one was looking, she slipped inside. Violet grabbed a spot in the shadow of the great staircase and watched as Hermione peeked repeatedly into the entryway. Once it was deserted, the head student set off down the path Dumbledore and Harry had taken with the portrait. Violet wasted no time in following her.
       She watched from the nearest corner as Hermione pressed herself flat against the wall outside the open door to the defense classroom. Rumblings could be heard inside. Hermione frowned, listening with all her might. The voices stopped and Hermione hurried to hide as Dumbledore emerged from the classroom and set off for his office. When he'd gone, Hermione returned to her original spot.
       For nearly 10 minutes Violet watched Hermione eavesdrop on Harry and Lupin. Not once did the Head Student smile. Finally Harry emerged from the classroom and Violet noticed he wasn't smiling either. He stopped short at the sight of Hermione and Violet held her breath, expecting him to lash out. Instead, he nodded, as if glad to see her, and together they set off back the way they'd come. Violet spun around and took off running, anxious to get as far ahead of them as possible.
       She was skittering into the entryway and was just about to turn and race for the steps to the dungeon when a loud knock sounded on the front door. The third year stopped. She waited for several seconds but no one appeared. The knock came again and, not knowing what else to do, Violet walked over to the large doors and pulled one open.
       "Good evening," said one of two very proper-looking wizards. "We'd like to see Professor McGonagall."
       Violet gulped. These two have to be from the Ministry, she thought. They were stiff as boards and completely without humor. Did they apparate and walk up the carriage path? she wondered, because they carried no brooms. She couldn't imagine why they hadn't floo'd to McGonagall's office. Then, as she studied their pristine robes, neatly-trimmed mustaches and perfectly groomed hair, the answer came to her. Smudged wizards were far less intimidating. The youngster took a deep breath and inquired as loftily as possible,
       "Have you an appointment?"
       One of the wizards started forward, perhaps intending to box her ears, but a hand fell upon Violet's shoulder and then Harry Potter was pulling her away from the door so Hermione could address the men instead.
       "I'm Hermione Granger," she said coolly. "I am Head Student. If you will follow me, I will take you to Professor McGonagall." She spun smartly around and the two wizards hurried after her. Harry turned to Violet long enough to mouth, 'Save the portrait!' before trotting off to catch up to the visitors.
       As soon as the four of them were out of sight, Violet raced for the dungeon. In no time, the Slytherins were thundering across the castle, their feet pounding the stone floors as they raced to the Defense classroom to stand guard over Snape's portrait of Lupin. They took up their positions and drew their wands, tensed for battle.
       "If the ministry destroys the portrait," Violet hissed to Malfoy as the Slytherins waited for whomever might come, "does Snape still have to stay until the end of the year?"
       But no one came to destroy the portrait.
       As the two Gryffindors and the visitors approached the half-open door to McGonagall's office, they could see light spilling into the corridor and hear voices deep in conversation. Snape, Hermione realized, ...probably discussing the portrait. She lifted her chin and announced very loudly and completely unnecessarily, "Professor McGonagall's office is just up here."
       Inside the office, there was a sudden silence, followed by a quick rush of feet and a squeaking noise. By the time the foursome arrived, the two teachers were sitting calmly on either side of the desk and a blackboard next to Snape had been turned to the wall.
       "I see no value in debate," the first official said when introductions had been made and the students dismissed, "so we'll come straight to the point. We have a proposition for you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like some sort of list. "The Ministry will overlook all recent breaches of protocol involving experimental uses of new magic, Professor Snape's activities in November and December, underaged magic at a certain country estate in Ely..." He took a deep breath and continued his litany. "...your students' misconduct at King's Cross and throughout London, the death of Peter Pettigrew, and the portrait... if ..."
       Snape and McGonagall, noticeably pale, stood motionless.
       "... you will accept 200 additional students beginning July 1."
       The teachers exchanged looks. It couldn't be that easy! McGonagall cleared her throat and invited the men to sit down, which they did except for Snape, who took up a position beside the deputy's chair.
       "I appreciate your request," the deputy assured the visiting ministry representatives. "Professor Snape and I have already discussed the myriad magical children throughout Great Britian who require assistance at this time. But we anticipate the return of our own absent students next fall, assuming safe transit can be arranged..."
       Assistance. The word set off warning bells in Snape's mind. Before either ministry official could respond to McGonagall's mention of transportation, he leaned forward and inquired suspiciously, "Paying students?"
       The second ministry official cleared his throat. "No," he admitted as he took the parchment list from the first official and held it out to McGonagall. It contained row after row of names. "Orphans," the visitor explained. "Eight to ten years of age."
       Snape and McGonagall were struck dumb by the very idea. The first official took advantage of their silence to rise and bid them farewell. "You have until the end of June to decide," he announced as he headed for the door, the second official hurrying after him. "It will take us that long to try all the Death Eaters. After that..." He gave them a nasty little smile. "The trial dockets should be wide open." And with pretentious little bows, the Ministry officials were gone.
       Snape and McGonagall stared after them. Then Snape turned to McGonagall, who was still staring in horror at the open door, and insisted,
       "You don't have to say yes."
       Minerva buried her face in her hands.
       "Our initiatives for the war were completely justifiable," Snape continued. "The children acted in self-defense. And I..." He gathered his robes more tightly around him. "I can take care of myself."
       McGonagall folded her hands on top of the desk and shook her head. "If we don't take them," she pointed out, "what becomes of them?"
       Snape scowled at the 'we.' But instead of correcting Minerva's assumption, he reminded her, "You can't afford to feed or clothe them."
       "That's going to be true of most of the children," she countered, "for years."
       "You have no program for them."
       McGonagall shrugged. "Perhaps the ghosts could look after them during school hours," she mused, shuddering as she did at the thought of dozens of children running amok through the castle. Snape shook his head.
       "They need things," he warned the deputy.
       McGonagall looked up with a frown. "What things?"
       Fancying himself well out of it, Snape smiled and whispered, "Cuddling."
       McGonagall flinched.
       "Hugging. Paddling. Answers to innumerable questions..."
       Mineva was turning green. She pressed her fingers to her temples and asked weakly, "Do you think we could persuade Pomona to take them all?"
       The potions master grinned. "Maybe you could get Crabbe to stay for an extra year," he suggested as he headed for the door. "He's fairly tolerant of his younger housemates." He paused before leaving to ask,
       "Are you going to tell Albus?"
       Minerva shook her head. "It's my decision," she reminded him quietly. After he left, she put her head down wearily on her desk.
       "Four on a cauldron," Snape told the seventh years as they filed into potions class the next day. "And pay attention."
       Despite the additional class time that had been added to both ends of the school day and Hermione Granger's willingness to teach the younger students on Saturdays, the staff at Hogwarts were going to be hard-pressed to impart all the information they hoped to put across by the end of the year. But their students were eager and that helped, especially in coping with the on-going shortages in potion ingredients.
       "One student from each house on each cauldron," Snape instructed as they sorted themselves into groups of four. "The Gryffindors will prep, the Hufflepuffs will chop, the Ravenclaws will brew and the Slytherins will test. We'll rotate each day in alphabetical order and you will take extensive notes on the tasks you are not performing to hand in at the end of class." He placed a list of cheap, readily-available items similar in texture to the ingredients being used in class on the corner of his desk and informed them that, at the end of the lesson, they could pick up copies if they wished to practice chopping after hours. It pleased him more than a little to see every student pick up a copy on the way out the door.
       "Would you like us to wait, sir?" Potter asked as he walked up to the desk to hand in his notes. Snape shook his head. It was bad enough being made Defense instructor only after Voldemort had been defeated. He didn't need a passel of over-enthusiastic seventh years bombarding him with questions all the way to the Defense classroom.
       Dumbledore had forbade any use of the phrase 'muggle defense,' but that didn't stop Hogwarts' oldest students from bringing up the subject the moment Snape put his books down on the teacher's desk.
       "Why do we care what others think of us?" Ron Weasley wanted to know, and Snape wasn't sure whether his surliness reflected his experience in London or the fact that he hadn't made the school quidditch team. "Why don't we forget about everybody else and just look out for ourselves?"
       Justin agreed. "We can take on anybody, after all."
       Lupin, who'd been dozing beneath his tree, opened his eyes at that, and Snape glanced at him before pointing out, "But we can't take on everybody, can we?"
       His students looked confused. Hermione Granger thrust her hand in the air, then turned to Justin when Snape nodded at her.
       "If they all got together, they could defeat us," she explained. "We can take on any one group or maybe two or three. But if the whole world were to unite against us, we could be defeated, which is why we treat them far better than they treat us."
       Ron shook his head. "What would defeating us get them? We're more productive than all of them put together. My dad's told me about everything we do for the rest of the world. They'd get far more out of keeping us going than shutting us down."
       "Our strategist is correct," Snape nodded at the boy. "The petty never accomplish anything significant and would fare poorly left to their own devices. But their failure to discipline themselves extends to their thinking, so we cannot count on them to make wise or ethical choices. Therefore..." He fired up his wand and took up a position beside the blackboard. "Let us document our strengths."
       One by one the students raised their hands to call out items for Snape to list on the board, including:
       ...and so on. "Now," said Snape, when not even Lupin could think of any more items for the 'strenths' column. "Weaknesses?"
       "We can't apparate," Malfoy noted immediately. Snape ignored him and nodded at Hermione instead.
       "I've been wondering about electricity," the Head Student mused. "As we become more powerful, are we going to interfere with muggle devices and give our identities away?"
       Every muggle-born in the room turned to gape at her and Snape took a seat on the corner of his desk, fascinated by the question.
       "The hearse didn't stop until we got to Hogwarts," Ron remembered. He turned to Harry. "Could you use eckeltricity at the Dursleys'?"
       Harry struggled to remember. He'd never been allowed to turn on Dudley's computers or choose the channels on the telly. "I could work the lights in Dudley's second bedroom," he remembered, "and I could use the lawn mower."
       "That was when you were younger," Hermione argued. "I've always been able to use the appliances at home, but I haven't been there in quite a while." She turned to Snape. "Did you use muggle devices, Professor, while you were away?"
       Snape pressed his lips together and tried not to blush. He had no intention of sharing with these students his surreptitious experiments with electrical appliances. "Lupin!" he snarled to the portrait hanging opposite the desk. "Go find Professor Dumbledore and ask him to drop by. We'll soon find out whether or not power impacts muggle appliances."
       "It might be easier for mud... for muggle-borns," Malfoy speculated after Lupin had departed. "But why would we want to use them, anyway?"
       "They're convenient!" Justin told him.
       "They're expensive!" Draco countered. "You have to put in lines and pay for service and the devices all break in the end. None of that happens with magic."
       "But there are things muggles can do with their devices that wizards can't, things that would be useful in self-defense," Hermione insisted, leading Malfoy to reply hotly,
       "Name one!"
       "Excellent!" Snape climbed off his desk and resumed his place at the board. For the next hour, he and his students engaged in a rousing discussion of what magic could or couldn't do and how it applied to self-defense. Some of the skills they coveted he could teach them; others could be gleaned from Dumbledore and the staff.
       "Professor Lupin," Harry called to the man in the portrait who had returned a few minutes earlier with a promise that the headmaster would join them shortly. "Can you show us how to make writing disappear and reappear with a charm?" His classmates ooh'd and aah'd at the possibility. Lupin, who'd been staring out over the water in his portrait, turned absently to Harry and mumbled, "What? Oh, yes. I suppose so."
       "Good!" Snape put down his wand. "We'll start on that tomorrow. Tonight, the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs may begin interviewing staff members about the skills we've discussed, and the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws may conduct research in the library. Focus on historical texts that might indirectly reveal the use of some of the skills we're seeking, and take any questions to Professor Binns."
       And so life settled into a comfortable pattern of classes, quidditch practice and homework. Occasionally a parent or other supporter would send the means for a particularly delicious supper. Violet's favorite was the roasted pork soaked in kraut and brown sugar and served with a huge side of mash.
       On Friday nights they gathered in Slytherin or Gryffindor and told stories of their past together. Violet hung on every word. If Snape, who no longer needed to visit Hogsmeade on Friday nights given his other opportunities to absent himself from the school, joined them, they pleaded for a tale from his time away from Hogwarts. Often McGonagall sat in, too, whereupon the seventh years would outdo themselves with dramatic accounts of their heads' rigid discipline during their early years at school. Snape and McGonagall swelled with pride at the descriptions of their tyranny.
       Hermione spent much of her limited free time working on a cure for Snape's hair. She showed Bill's letter to Harry and whenever he wasn't busy with quidditch or homework, he carried books back and forth to the library for her. One evening she startled the potions master by marching into his office, giving her wand a swish and a flick, and announcing, "I love you, Professor Snape."
       At first Snape could only stare. Then he threw back his head and roared.
       "It's not that I thought no one's ever said it," Hermione blushed as Snape hooted with laughter. "I just thought perhaps it had to be a Gryffindor."
       Snape took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes, resisting the urge to point out that Loreli and Bedelia had both been Gryffindors. Instead, he assured her, "It was a lovely theory, Miss Granger. But if you send Harry Potter in here to try that, I will flog you pink."
       "Time for our sleeping potion!"
       On Tuesday, January 27th, four days before Hogwarts' match with Durmstrang, Violet pulled Marybeth off her cot and set off with her for the Great Hall. While chocolate remained in short supply, Justin Finch Fletchley's parents had sent a small herd of cows to the school, resulting in a tidy supply of milk. Each night the students could stop by the Great Hall before bedtime for a steaming cup of hot milk with carmelized sugar, a brew which satisfied the sweet tooth and made the drinker delightfully drowsy.
       Violet finished her cup while Marybeth was still drinking and, not wanting to waste the satisfied, sleepy feeling, hurried back to her cell alone to get ready for bed. She had just slipped into her nightgown and was drawing back the covers on her cot when Snape swept into the cell.
       "Let me see some of your writing," he demanded without preamble. Violet froze.
       "I... I didn't... it's not..."
       "Immediately!" Snape thundered. Violet hurried over to her desk and began rummaging in a drawer crammed with sheets of parchment.
       "What sort of... I mean, what did you want to... this year, or last month, or..." She fumbled with various pages, trying to guess what Snape might be looking for.
       "Anything!" he snarled, storming over to the desk to shove her aside and snatch up the topmost piece of parchment. Violet gulped and backed against the cell wall as he read.

       That was all that was written on that particular piece of parchment. Snape tossed it aside and picked up a few more pieces.

       Snape cleared his throat and shuffled the piece of parchment to the bottom of the stack. The next page contained a sort of poem or song; he couldn't tell if Violet had written it herself or transcribed it second-hand.

       Violet studied Snape's face, trying to guess what he might be perusing. He stared at the piece of parchment in his hands long after he should have finished reading it. When he looked up, Violet saw some sort of agony in his jet black eyes. But he shook it off and shoved the papers back at her. Before she could sneak a glimpse at what he'd been reading, he was snarling again.
       "Tomorrow night. My office. 7pm. Bring ink and parchment and quills and your cloak. Dress as warmly as possible. Borrow an extra layer of long underwear from Miss Montague."
       So the next night, with her cloak over her arm and her bookbag over her shoulder, Violet made her way to Snape's office. She raised her fist to knock on the door only to squeak with surprise when Snape yanked it open and pulled her inside.
       "Quiet!" he hissed, dragging her over to the fire. He was wearing his cloak and carrying the broom he'd used to bring Marybeth back to Hogwarts in his free hand. At the fireplace, he let go of Violet and reached for a tin box on the mantle. He gave her a handful of floo powder and took one for himself before tucking the box into his pocket.
       "Chateau Karkaroff," he ordered, shoving Violet into the fireplace. "Once you get there, don't move a muscle or make a sound." Violet nodded, then threw down her powder and spat out the designation.
       After a brief but terribly cold, dark trip, she found herself on her hands and knees in an unlit, empty room. Terrified, she scrambled to her feet and fired up her lumos light. She squinted to make out a long, low chamber, cold and dingy and forlorn, as if no one had been living there for months. Near the fireplace were fresh footprints in the dust; she didn't need a tracking shade to tell her they were Snape's. He must have visited to be sure the place was vacant, she nodded to herself.
       He slid into the room a moment later and Violet was so relieved to see him, she didn't even mind when he criticized her for lighting her wand. She noxed the light and pulled on her cloak, reveling in the three seconds of warmth. Snape grabbed her by the arm and hauled her to the door.
       Outside, the starry sky and bitter cold took her breath away. Snape wasted no time mounting his broom. He picked her up and plopped her down in front of him. Then he kicked the ground mightily and they were off, soaring straight at the stars through air so cold it made her sneeze.
       Violet's eyes stung with tears but she held them open as wide as she could, determined to see as much as possible. The house they'd floo'd to disappeared and soon there was nothing left in the world but dark forest below, starry black sky above, and the broom she sat on. When Violet looked down, the woods below made her shiver with terror. But Snape kept one arm firmly around her as she clung to the twitchy broom with both hands, helping to hold it steady as he steered.
       Soon the forest cleared and out of the darkness rose a castle, small, but with grounds so enormous, it looked like a country unto itself. There were lakes, and fields covered with snow, and groves of towering trees, and...
       "A pitch!" Violet squeaked, and Snape hissed a furious, "Ssh!" in her ear. But Violet shivered with joy and clapped her feet together beneath the broom, even as Snape dove steeply for a grove of trees, for she had finally figured out where they were and what they were doing.
       They were scouting the Durmstrang quidditch team.
       She kept her eyes glued to the pitch, which was awash in some sort of magical illumination that reminded her of nighttime lights at football matches she'd seen on television. Snape maneuvered the broom to the edge of the grove, hovering high in the air in the dark space between two tree trunks.
       "Any second now," he whispered, and sure enough, a few moments later, over the edge of the pitch and into their stadium flew the Durmstrang quidditch team and their coach. Violet yanked her bookbag off her back and pawed through it for her writing supplies.
       "Is this legal, sir?" she whispered with a grin as she pulled out parchment, a quill and ink. Snape pressed his mouth close to her ear and whispered back,
       "Muggles do it all the time."
       Violet grinned even harder, then sobered and squinted at the pitch, focusing on the practice session before her.
       "Look at their chasers!" she marveled, awed by their speed and dexterity. The seeker wasn't much to write home about, which surprised her, but the chasers were better than any she'd ever seen at Hogwarts. She dipped her quill into her ink bottle, started to scratch some adjectives to describe the Durmstrang flying patterns, and stopped, her brow puckered.
       "Professor Snape?"
       "The ink's frozen."
       So Snape transferred his floo powder to his pocket and lit a bluebell flame in the tin box, holding it patiently beneath the ink pot while Violet scratched and scratched.
       She was quiet on the trip back to Karkaroff's abandoned house. But as they dismounted and walked up to the door, she asked, "Professor Snape?"
       "If I could buy a broom, what would you say is the very best one in the whole wide world?"
       Snape thought it over as he let her inside. He closed the door and leaned against it, as if to hold it shut against intruders. Then he nodded at Violet to step closer before whispering,
       "The Americans make the very best brooms."
       "Really?" Violet was surprised. It seemed like an old area of expertise for such a young country.
       "It's their infrastructure," Snape explained. "They built direct paths across expansive landscapes to maximize the profit potential of their resources. These roads afford muggles great pleasure while driving... and wizards great pleasure while flying."
       He nodded at the door behind him and the great dark night that lay beyond. "For the British or European wizard, traveling by broom is a chore because the most direct path never matches the map provided by roadways. You must know the route, or travel with a guide, or be extremely good at disillusionment charms as you fumble along seeking landmarks. But American wizards..."
       He broke off for a moment and Violet could hear the envy in his tone. "American wizards have magnificent concrete roadmaps to guide their flights, and they build equally magnificent brooms to enjoy them."
       He stared into space for a moment and Violet wondered if he saw himself zooming across an American prairie on such a broom. Then he shook off his fantasy and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Don't tell Potter."
       With that, he jerked his head at the fireplace and Violet stepped obediently over to the hearth. "Some day," she told Snape as he handed her a measure of floo powder, "I'm going to buy one."
       She stepped into the fireplace, turned neatly around to face him, and added, "... for you." Then she raised her fist high, threw down her floo powder, and spoke loudly and clearly the words that would send her back home.
       Snape read her report the next morning before breakfast. "It's quite good," he praised. "You could be a quidditch reporter."
       Violet wrinkled her nose. "I don't want to be a hanger-on," she sniffed.
       "They're not all hangers-on," Snape smiled. "But I take your point."
       "What was that?"
       Violet sat bolt upright on her cot in the early hours of Friday morning, terrified.
       "What time is it?" Marybeth replied, wiping the sleep out of her eyes as she reached for her wand. The sound that had awakened them came again, a sort of roaring from the Forbidden Forest. Violet leapt out of her bed and raced for the door with Marybeth right behind.
       They ran for Millicent's and Pansy's room where they found the older girls peering out their enchanted window. The younger girls shoved their way in between their older housemates and craned their necks to see what was prowling the forest.
       "Can you see anything?" Violet asked.
       "Lights," Millicent told her. "Flashes of light. Nothing else." The roar came again as Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle burst into the room, making the girls shriek.
       "What the bloody hell is that?" Malfoy demanded, but the girls could only shrug. The Slytherins crowded around the window, jockeying for position as they stared out at the dark expanse of the Forbidden Forest. There was a flash of light and the roaring stopped. The night grew still. Then...
       The Slytherins jumped and Pansy shrieked again. But this time, the sound wasn't coming from the forest. Someone was pounding on their common room door. Crabbe and Goyle hurried away to answer it and soon returned with Potter and Weasley.
       "Does that thing work on Mrs. Norris?" Malfoy wondered, noting the invisibility cloak in Potter's hand.
       "No sign of her," the Gryffindor explained as he and Ron joined the Slytherins at the window. The nine children peered intently into the darkness. Suddenly, with several jerky flashes of light, the roaring started up again and grew steadily louder as it came crashing through the forest, heading straight for the grounds. The wizards at the window gripped their wands tightly and then gasped in amazement as a great hulking monstrosity with head beams for eyes broke through the trees and blazed across the grounds on its way to the frozen lake.
       "It's the Knight Bus!" Ron cried.
       It was indeed the Knight Bus, and as the students watched, the triple-decker vehicle bounded onto the lake. The Slytherins and Gryffindors abandoned their window and flew out of the room, down the hall, across the common room and down the boys' corridor to Crabbe and Goyle's room for a better view of the lake. They watched, flabbergasted, as someone expertly maneuvered the unwieldy bus from one ice flow to the next.
       "Who could be driving?" Harry wondered.
       Millicent nodded. "And why are they practicing on a frozen lake?"
       "I am pleased to inform you," Dumbledore announced at dinner, "that the number of students serving detention this weekend has eliminated the need for a lottery to determine who will receive seats on the Knight Bus to tomorrow's match against Durmstrang."
       The sorting hat gave a little sigh as Professor McGonagall removed the slips of parchment from its depths and folded it into her lap.
       "I am also pleased to note," Dumbledore went on, "that our driver, who is familiar with the area to which you will be traveling, has been training hard and is now fully prepared to transport you safely to Durmstrang."
       With a wave of his arm, he signaled their chauffeur to take a bow. A spattering of polite applause turned to swiftly concealed dismay as a staff member stepped forwarded and bowed deeply.
       It was Mr. Filch.
       The students changed their tune when the quidditch team led them out the front doors of the castle Saturday morning. Filch, immaculately dressed in a tailcoat the house elves had cleaned and pressed to look like new, stood proudly beside the triple-decker bus he'd painted red, green, blue and yellow to match the quidditch team uniforms.
       "Professor Dumbledore says he'll put it back to rights before we return it," the caretaker explained as the students ooh'd and aah'd over the shiny new paint job.
       He ushered the team into the vehicle and when the teenagers saw how clean the floors were, and how highly polished the seats that had replaced the usual beds, they smiled. Mr. Filch was clearly very proud to be transporting the Hogwarts quidditch team to its match. One by one the students climbed on board, praising the condition of the bus and nodding politely to Mrs. Norris, who sat perched on a bar behind the driver's seat. Last of all came the chaperone, Snape. He sat down stiffly on the front seat. The rest of the staff would be apparating to the match except for Hagrid, who was traveling by flying motorcycle.
       The bus roared to life, accompanied by a shout of excitement from the students. Filch stepped on the accelerator and steered gracefully down the carriage path and out the front gate. Then, to the students' surprise, he turned north.
       "Where are we going, do you reckon?" Ron asked Hermione. "Isn't Durmstrang in Bulgaria?"
       "Just because Viktor plays for Bulgaria doesn't mean that's where the school is," Hermione chided. "It's someplace cold, remember? So cold they wear fur as part of their uniforms? So cold that Hogwarts in winter seems warm enough for swimming?"
       They traveled north to an isolated tip of Scotland where Filch expertly jumped the bus onto a chunk of ice near the shore. They jumped from ice flow to ice flow across the ocean, the children screaming or groaning with delight as their stomachs heaved with each leap. Snape, on the other hand, turned a distinctly non-Slytherin shade of green and clutched the edge of his seat.
       Eventually the flows gave way to ice fields and Filch was able to drive the bus as smoothly and quickly "as if we were on an American highway," Violet giggled to Marybeth. It became difficult to tell whether they were on water or land, especially after the sun set so early in the afternoon.
       "Where ARE we?" Ron wondered again as the students took out their sack lunches. Filch smiled at him in the rearview mirror but said nothing. Snape's only reply was,
       "Hand check."
       He'd been saying that every half hour since they'd left Hogwarts. The students dutifully thrust both hands in the air to verify that their grubby little paws were exactly where they were supposed to be. Now that it was dark, Snape increased the frequency to every 15 minutes. He counted extremities on the bottom floor of the bus, then rose and ascended the spiral stairs to check the other two levels.
       Eventually the frozen white fields gave way to forest and Filch plunged the bus fearlessly inside, steering expertly through the trees. The inhabitants of the bus began to shiver, whether from the increased cold or pre-match jitters, they couldn't be sure.
       "There it is!" Ron shouted when the bus broke through the last stand of trees before the Durmstrang school rose before them. It looked considerably darker than Hogwarts, squatter and more formidable. But when the students had been ushered into the modest gathering hall, they were relieved to discover the 'no fires except for magical purposes' policy had been abandoned for the duration of their stay.
       "Allow me to remind you why we're here," Snape lectured as they piled their belongings against the far wall. "This is a diplomatic mission. Be as tidy and polite as possible."
       The Hogwarts staff arrived a short while later and Professor Dumbledore, after shaking hands with the Durmstrang headmaster, led them down to the pitch, pointing out the changing facilities to the team before leading the spectators to their seats. A few Durmstrang staff were there to greet them but beyond that, interaction between the two schools would be postponed until after the match.
       Ron shook his head at the sparsely-filled stands. "What a waste," he complained. But Hermione insisted that Professor Dumbledore had been right.
       "If things go well today, next time they can sell tickets to outsiders."
       "Nobody's going to come to Durmstrang in January to watch a quidditch match," Violet insisted, pulling her cloak more tightly around her as she huddled behind the taller students for protection from the wind. She may have been right. Shortly after the whistle sounded, a squall blew in, blinding spectators and athletes with fast-flying snow.
       The Hogwarts players had prepared as best they could for the Durmstrang chasers, but nothing could help them cope with the spontaneous blizzard. The wind drove he temperatures frighteningly low, and though a little flying defense might have warmed their gloves and broom handles, they couldn't break the rules and cast spells during a diplomatic mission.
       "Stupid homefield advantage," Ron muttered, accidentally banging Violet in the head when he reached up to tighten his hood.
       The Durmstrang chasers held the opposing team scoreless and racked up one goal after another until finally Malfoy screamed above the wind,
       "Forget the goals! Help me!"
       After that, the game grew more interesting. Malfoy and the three Hogwarts chasers put up a magnificent fight guarding their hoops from the Durmstrang chasers. Harry Potter flew circles around the opposing seeker, searching desperately for the snitch. He spotted it during a 5-second lull in the white-out and snatched it up to end the game 150 to 150. The crowd went wild, perhaps because the end of the match meant they would soon be back inside the castle.
       The citizens of the two schools mixed together as they hurried through the storm and were chatting politely in the gathering hall when the doors banged open and the opposing teams marched in, freshly bathed and dressed. The crowd applauded heartily and then everyone found seats at the tables, Hogwarts students mixing with Durmstrang students, Hogwarts staff mixing with Durmstrang staff.
       They feasted on delicious little pastries stuffed with meat and dipped in bowls of strong mustard beside each plate. The squall ended while they were eating and shortly after dinner, the Hogwarts staff took their leave. The Durmstrang staff retired as well, an elderly history professor offering to show Filch around the castle. That left just Snape, Krum, the students, and Durmstrang's headmaster, a steely wizard named Bozuku, in the hall.
       "May I interest you in a brandy, Professor Snape?" Bozuku inquired, and after shooting a fierce, "You're in charge!" look at Hermione, Snape followed him out of the hall.
       Krum offered to take Harry flying around the grounds, an opportunity the Gryffindor teenager couldn't pass up. He grabbed his firebolt and followed Viktor out of the hall. The moment the door slammed behind them, the students of Durmstrang turned to the students of Hogwarts and demanded,
       "Show us the skills you used to defeat the Death Eaters!"
       So the Hogwartians showed off their leaping, tracking and patroni. Malfoy levitated a dinner table high in the air with Marybeth on top for a demonstration of the freefall stop-technique. The room was too small for flying defense and they knew better than to demonstrate stoning or deflection, but the Durmstrang students were impressed nevertheless. The children broke into small groups as the evening wore on and several Durmstrang students crowded around Malfoy, leading him away from his schoolmates to a far corner of the hall.
       "It's impressive, vot you can do," they nodded. They traded shrewd glances, then asked, "Vould you like to see vot ve can do?"
       Malfoy felt his face flame. He was glad the corner was too dark for the Durmstrang students to see his consternation. He nodded and was treated to a fifteen-minute presentation of tricks no one learned at Hogwarts, a display that was spoiled only by the need to keep a sharp eye on Granger.
       "You could teach here next year," the students told him when they were finished. "You could teach us vot you know... and ve could teach you vot ve know."
       Malfoy made no reply. The oldest Durmstrangian in the group, a boy of about 14, glanced briefly at the Hogwarts students scattered throughout the hall, then took a step closer to Draco.
       "Don't you ever regret," he whispered, "not coming to Durmstrang?"
       Snape placed his long, thin fingers above his snifter to prevent Bozuku from filling it again. "Will you be remaining at Hogwarts, Professor Snape?" the Durmstrang head inquired as he returned the brandy bottle to its spot on a shelf in his sitting room.
       Snape found the question extremely impertinent and made no reply.
       "I should think," Bozuku continued smoothly, "that with the Dark Lord vanquished, you might wish to pursue other interests." He took a seat opposite Snape and fixed the younger man with a piercing stare.
       Snape remained silent. The only movement from the Hogwarts chaperone was the steady rising and falling of his chest.
       Bozuku smiled and leaned forward in his chair. "We're not Voldemort," he reminded Snape softly. "There would be nothing wrong with someone like you and someone like me pursuing immortality through the study of potions."
       He waited for a reply and, receiving none, reached out to place a careful hand on the arm of Snape's chair. "Together," he whispered, "we could do great things."
       Harry and Viktor returned shortly before midnight, just as Snape was sweeping into the gathering hall to inform the Durmstrang students it was time for the Hogwartians to retire. "Push the tables against the wall," he snapped at his charges, "and lay your bedrolls in proper queues." A couch had been provided for Filch, who slept on it before the fire. The children climbed into their sleeping bags and Snape dimmed the torches before beginning a ceaseless patrol of the rows.
       The students lay quietly on their bedrolls. No one dared whisper with Snape pacing back and forth. The castle grew still and soon the only sounds in the gathering hall were the crackling of the fire and Snape's steady footfalls, until...
       Several students started, then giggled. The weird sound came again, longer this time...
       It was followed by a strange croaking noise. There were more giggles, and Ron sat up in his sleeping bag to demand,
       "What the heck was that?"
       "Forest creatures," Snape informed him. "Go to sleep."
       The sounds came again, more varied and amazingly near.
       "I've never heard creatures like that!" Ron protested as he lay back down. The students of Hogwarts listened, fascinated, to the night sounds from the immense woods surrounding Durmstrang. Occasionally a nervous giggle was heard in response to a particularly loud call. But eventually, the students drifted off to sleep, all except...
       ... Violet. The third year Slytherin trembled with fear. For some reason, the night sounds from the forest terrified her. She pushed up against Crabbe, waking him from the early stages of sleep.
       "What?" he mumbled, scooting over to get away from her. Violet pushed right back up against him and sniffed. Crabbe rolled over with a small groan and frowned to discover tears streaming silently down Violet's face.
       "Why are you afraid?" he whispered as loudly as he dared. Violet shook her head.
       "I don't know!" she sobbed. Another howl sounded from the woods and Violet trembled all over.
       "Snape's here," Crabbe reminded her. "We're perfectly safe. Go to sleep." He rolled over and pulled his sleeping bag flap over his head.
       Violet lay alone in the dark, sobbing in silent terror.
       A few minutes later, a hand grabbed her by the back of her sweatshirt and hauled her right out of her sleeping bag. Without a word Snape carried her across the room and dropped her onto the couch where Filch was sleeping in front of the fire. The caretaker jumped awake.
       "Fix this!" Snape snarled before sweeping away to return to his rounds.
       Violet and Filch blinked at each other in the firelight.
       "What's wrong, then?" Filch finally asked. Violet wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
       "I don't know," the Slytherin confessed. "I'm scared of the noises. I don't know why." She wrapped her arms around her knees and shivered. "No one else is."
       Filch thought it over. "It's probably from when you were born," he decided before turning aside to toss another log on the fire. His casual observation jolted Violet right out of her terror.
       "I beg your pardon?"
       "Well, you were alone out there for quite a while." Filch nodded in the general direction of the forest. "The sounds probably put you off."
       Violet's mouth fell open. She glanced quickly at Snape, who was pacing the rows paying no attention to her whatsoever, then turned back to Filch.
       "How do you know that?" she whispered.
       Filch shrugged. "I came to get you."
       Violet almost fell off the sofa. Her heart began to pound as she recalled Dumbledore's words: "Our driver, who is familiar with the area to which you will be traveling... "
       Filch grinned at the gaping child. "You didn't think Voldemort was gong to hang about Hogsmeade waiting for you to be born, did you? Had to get your mum someplace a bit more private. A bit more.... to his liking."
       Violet scooted closer to Hogwarts' caretaker. "Tell me," she begged, and listened raptly as Filch gave her an account of the adventure, dwelling far too briefly on the dangerous parts. "Why didn't Professor Dumbledore come?" Violet asked after the caretaker had described delivering her mother to St. Mungo's. Filch scoffed at the very idea.
       "He was after Voldemort, wasn't he? Woulda been useful, if he could have obtained proof the dark lord was up to something back then."
       Violet glanced at Snape, who was peering suspiciously at Ron Weasley's sleeping bag. "Mr. Filch," she whispered with a shiver, "how did Professor Dumbledore know about me? Was it... was it Professor Snape?"
       Filch gave a derisive hoot. "Don't be foolish. Snape was at Hogwarts with the rest of us."
       It suddenly occurred to Violet what an idiot she'd been for never asking Filch about Slytherin. The man had lived in the dungeon for ages! "You and Professor Snape have been friends a long time, haven't you?" she whispered, glancing over her shoulder again to be sure the potions master was still safely out of earshot. "Were you there when Professor Snape became our housemaster?"
       Filch smiled and Violet got the impression he'd been waiting a long time to be asked such a question. "Trying times," he nodded, his head cocked, one eye squinting shrewdly at her. He pushed the end of his blanket at Violet, who snuggled gratefully beneath it. When she seemed good and settled, Filch began.
       "The night Severus Snape came back to Hogwarts, the house of Slytherin was in chaos..."
       He held her spellbound for an hour, telling her stories she'd never heard before, until a steely voice behind her murmured,
       "I trust you are prepared to return to your bed. Mr. Filch has a long drive tomorrow."
       Violet jumped. She nodded quickly at her head of house, whispering, "Thank you, Mr. Filch," before climbing off the couch and falling into step beside Snape, who walked her back to her sleeping bag. When they reached her resting space, Violet took hold of Snape's sleeve. "Please, sir," she whispered quickly, knowing Snape would have little patience for conversation at this time of night. "May I ask you one thing, please?"
       Snape's eyes narrowed.
       "How did Harry Potter get to the Dursleys'?"
       Snape frowned at the youngster. "I'm told," he whispered, "that Hagrid brought him. He delivered the boy to Professor Dumbledore, who was waiting to place him on the doorstep with a letter of explanation. I believe Professor McGonagall was there as well."
       "Thank you, sir," Violet nodded before slipping into her sleeping bag. As Snape walked away, she propped herself on one elbow to gaze at the dozing figure of Filch, silhouetted against the fire. She thought of Hagrid, an imposing, magical half-giant, delivering an infant into the arms of the most powerful wizard in the world on the fairly innocuous streets of an English suburb. Then she thought of another baby, rescued from a dark and distant forest by a powerless squib whose only companion was a furry friend with lamp-like eyes. She thought about that for a long time before settling comfortably down to sleep.
       It was a much quieter group that boarded the bus Sunday morning for the return trip to Hogwarts. Ron seemed cross with Harry Potter for not taking him along on the flying tour of Durmstrang. Malfoy was lost in thought and Snape just wanted to sleep. Violet decided to save her story for another time.
       When they pulled up in front of the castle, Malfoy dumped his things on Crabbe and headed straight for the Defense classroom, determined to beat Potter, who would surely be coming to tell Lupin about the match. He found the professor lounging on the far side of his painting, staring at the space beneath his tree as if someone were sitting there.
       "Professor Lupin?"
       The werewolf turned to face him and Malfoy thought he saw the man shake off a bit of irritation before smiling politely at him. He came straight to the point.
       "Do you think Potter could have defeated Voldemort without Professor Snape?"
       The question took Lupin by surprise. "I don't know," the former defense teacher confessed. "Not likely, I suppose. Why do you ask?"
       Malfoy hesitated. Then he told Lupin, "I saved his life once. Professor Snape's. It was May of my fifth year and I..." The boy stopped. The details weren't important, he decided. The point was...
       "I couldn't have done that if I hadn't come to Hogwarts."
       He shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded, bidding a bewildered Lupin a good night before turning on his heel to head back to Slytherin. Deeply satisfied with himself, he failed to notice that Harry Potter was not waiting outside the classroom to talk to Lupin, or that Lupin hadn't asked him about the match.
       "Wasn't that splendid?"
       Professor Dumbledore, who had just spent a satisfying hour in the Great Hall drinking carmelized hot milk and listening to students' stories of their trip to Durmstrang, failed to knock before sticking his hoary head into the deputy headmistress's office. Poor Minerva jumped half a foot.
       "I think there should be flying lessons three times a week next year," the old man continued, "to improve the students' abilities for interscholastic quidditch. What do you say?"
       The suggestion horrified Professor McGonagall. "They're so far behind!" she protested as Dumbledore let himself into the office. "And their classmates at home, if they're able to return next fall, will have so much catching up to do..."
       Dumbledore shook his head slightly. "Really, Minerva," he murmured in a gentle but nevertheless disapproving tone, "that's the sort of challenge you'll need to be able to deal with if you're going to be headmistress."
       "He actually said 'if'?"
       "And he emphasized it."
       McGonagall dropped wearily into a chair opposite Snape's desk. "Have you noticed all the intimate conversations he's been having with Filius? What could he be playing at?"
       Snape smiled and nodded to himself. "That might not be so bad," he soothed his simpatico colleague. "Think what you could get away with if Filius were in charge."
       Minerva scowled. "I'm deputy headmistress," she reminded the younger teacher. "If Albus doesn't recommend me for head, Severus, I'll have to leave."
       "Speaking of leaving..." Minerva's eyes flashed and Snape quickly altered what he'd planned to say. "Shouldn't he be searching for your replacement right about now? A new head for Gryffindor, I mean?"
       "Precisely!" Minerva leaned forward, bright-eyed. "He should have started right after the beginning of the term, but he won't so much as discuss it with me! He must realize what that implies." She sat back with a deeply troubled frown. "Why," she continued more softly, "can't he give his staff the courtesy of straightforward discourse?"
       "He certainly is the champion of style over substance," Snape agreed. "I hope you've been saving your money."
       "Of course I have! But lately..." She looked aside, coloring slightly, and Snape chuckled.
       "I know," he commiserated.
       "They never complain!" Minerva complained. "They just go steadfastly about their business, and then one day you look down and notice...
       "A hole in a shoe."
       Minerva nodded. "Drawers that need constant hitching up."
       "Parchment in pieces because they're sharing it among themselves."
       "Repeated spitting into the ink pots ..."
       "I hate that one!" Snape cried. "Don't they realize we have to mark that homework?"
       Minerva laughed her high tinkling laugh as Snape shook his head. He picked up a quill and toyed with it for a moment. "Maybe you should talk to Lupin," he murmured. "Lupin might be willing to speak to Albus." He thought the idea a brilliant one, but McGonagall shook her head at the mention of the man in the portrait.
       "Severus," she began tentatively. Then she thought better of it. "Never mind," she said rather sadly, taking her leave before Snape could press her on the topic.
       With quidditch behind them, the seventh years immersed themselves in NEWT preparations. Violet found this extremely vexing as every request she made for assistance or attention was rebuffed.
       "Millicent, will you check my potions homework?"
       "I have to study, Violet."
       "Goyle, will you come to the Defense classroom and help me persuade Professor Lupin to give me patronus lessons?"
       "I have to study, Violet."
       To the Slytherin third year, it felt like her housemates were robbing her of what little time she had left with them.
       Malfoy, in the meantime, was trying to work up the nerve to mention Durmstrang's dark magic in Defense class. It was mid February before he finally spoke up.
       "Most of what they showed me was silly," he told his classmates, "but one thing..." He turned uncertainly to Snape. "They can make people bleed. I'm sure of it. They only did it to each other, but..."
       "Describe it," Snape said coolly.
       Malfoy began to stammer. "That's just it!" he protested. "I can't! They've mastered a silent incantation!" He tried not to sound as panicky as he felt. "They could make anyone anywhere bleed as much as they wanted and no one would ever know!"
       Snape held up a hand. "Are you certain?" He narrowed his eyes at Draco. "Think, Malfoy. What did you see?"
       Draco thought back to that cold Saturday night. He remembered the giddy, almost manic looks on the faces of the Durmstrang students as they'd made each other's arms bleed. "Wasn't there contact?" Snape prompted. "Didn't they press the tip of a wand to the victim's flesh?"
       "Oh!" Malfoy dropped back into his seat with as sigh of relief. "I thought they were just pointing to the spot they'd chosen to make bleed."
       Hermione gave an indignant sniff. "I think it's horrible," she insisted. "But I suppose we could wear little vials of bloodstop potion around our necks..."
       "And what else?" Ron wanted to know. "Are we supposed to carry a vial for everything that might happen to us? We wouldn't be able to stand up straight!"
       "Mr. Weasley is right," Snape agreed. "It's ridiculous to think you need potions or counter-curses..." He gave Hermione a sidelong look. "... to survive whatever life might throw at you. Good health and attentiveness will serve you far better."
       "Not to mention solid strategy," Ron muttered, "like accioing a portkey if you're hopelessly outnumbered."
       "Also known as critical thinking, or problem-solving skills," Snape nodded. "Mr. Weasley, step up to the desk, please. Malfoy, Miss Granger, leave the room and wait in the corridor." When Draco and Hermione had left the room, Snape unbuttoned the top button of Ron's robe and pulled the left lapel of his red shirt out of his sweatshirt. "You may return," he called to the students in the hall, who glanced briefly at Snape and Ron on their way back to their desk. "Now, what..."
       "You unbuttoned his robe and messed up his collar," Hermione replied without waiting for the rest of the question. Malfoy gaped at her, then turned to Snape, who was pursing his lips in annoyance.
       "Excellent," he observed sourly, glowering at Hermione even as her classmates burst into applause. They played the game for another 45 minutes after which Snape assigned the most fascinating homework.
       "I want you to devise three dangerous or difficult scenarios. Do NOT share them with each other. At your next class, you will take turns reading them aloud and we will see how long it takes the rest of you to provide a solution... or point out a solution's flaws."
       "Why didn't you tell us?" Violet demanded furiously of Malfoy in the common room that evening after gossip about Durmstrang dark magic made the rounds at dinner. Malfoy, sitting cross-legged on the floor, glanced up from the Slytherin seventh year NEWT study group to assure her that if she didn't leave them alone, he'd paddle her all the way back to her cell. She responded by kicking him solidly in the small of the back, which earned her a stinging six strokes from Snape, who'd slipped unobserved into the common room to post a notice from Professor Dumbledore.
       The notice listed the dates various Slytherins would be called before the wizangamot to testify against their parents. "Strictly voluntary," Snape assured them, which led to several teary conversations in his office about whether to testify or not. When Violet was caught eavesdropping on the session between Snape and Millicent, she found herself bent over the housemaster's desk again.
       "What on earth is the matter with you, child?" Snape demanded, handing a handkerchief to the youngster who began crying piteously after climbing off his desk. He wondered what the house elves would make of all the wipes in his laundry.
       "Everybody's going to leave me," Violet sobbed. "I don't want to be all alone again."
       Curious thing to regret, Snape mused. He pointed to a basket where she could deposit the handkerchief and demanded, "Are you mathematically impaired? After the seventh years leave, you'll still boast nearly three dozen housemates, not to mention next fall's enrollees."
       Violet gave him a sour scowl, which Snape found rather endearing. "They are a remarkable year," he admitted of Malfoy and his classmates, "but only..." He raised a long, slender finger in front of her nose. "...because they were subjected to remarkable circumstances."
       "But it won't be the same after they go!" Violet protested. "There's nothing important left to do!"
       "Nothing left to do!?" If he hadn't just spanked her, Snape would have cuffed her. "Have you completely lost your senses? The hard part has just begun, Miss Guilford. Why do you think Professor McGonagall pales at the very thought of my departure?"
       "That's grown-up stuff, sir," Violet retorted. "What am I supposed to do now?"
       Snape nodded. "I see," he said not unkindly. "You need a new purpose." He put a hand on her shoulder and ushered her to the door. "I'm sure, Miss Guilford, if you give it some thought, you'll discover an endeavor worthy of your attention."
       He closed the door behind her and Violet stood for a moment, thinking. Then, instead of returning to the house, she set off for the Owlery where she retrieved Spellwad and headed for the straw bale room for a good sulk. She found Harry Potter already occupying the storage room; he was sitting on the nearest bale of straw with Hedwig on his knee, stroking her snowy feathers... and sulking.
       The duo exchanged startled looks. Then Violet grinned.
       "Pathetic," she announced.
       "You, too," Harry grinned back. He moved aside to make room for her on the bale and, after tucking the meanest owl at Hogwarts securely beneath her arm, Violet plopped down companionably beside him.
       "Well?" Harry asked when she was settled.
       "Professor Snape spanked me for pestering the seventh years. You?"
       "Professor Lupin wouldn't help me with my homework."
       Violet turned to the seventh year in surprise. "Me, too!" she cried, squeezing Spellwad so hard he squawked and flew off. "I asked him to review my patronus technique and he flat-out refused. Said it wasn't pressing like before. Like rock throwing is so important!"
       "Rock throwing?" Harry frowned. "You mean skipping stones across the lake?"
       Violet shook her head. "He throws them in the air, as high as he can."
       Harry seemed to find that interesting. He thought it over for several seconds, then cleared his throat and asked, "Violet, have you ever... overheard... any conversations between Professor Snape and Professor Lupin after class?"
       The third years had Defense after the seventh years, right before lunch. Violet chose to overlook Harry's characterization of her as an eavesdropper. "Professor Snape's always the first one out the door," she informed him. "If you have a question, you have to catch him in the corridor. It's like he's afraid to be in the room alone with Professor Lupin."
       She watched Harry mull that over for a while. Then she asked him, "Potter, what are you going to do next year?"
       "I'm not sure," Harry admitted. "Professor Dumbledore..." He broke off, scowling. "That's something else I wanted to talk to Professor Lupin about, but he .." He left the sentence unfinished and Violet clucked her tongue.
       "He's awfully distracted, isn't he?"
       Harry didn't seem to want to talk about Lupin anymore. He turned back to Violet and asked, "Why did you want to know?"
       "I was just thinking." The younger student gave Hedwig a gentle stroke with her finger. "You and Malfoy and I have something in common. We're all orphans with money."
       "So what's Malfoy going to do?" Harry wondered, making Violet grin.
       "All he can think about is seeing his place. If he nags Snape one more time about apparating, he's gonna get thrashed, I just know it."
       That made Harry smile. "What does Snape say about you?" he wondered.
       Violet sighed. "He says I need a purpose." She hopped off the straw bale, brushing stray stalks off her skirt preparatory to departing. "I suppose I should listen to him. He usually gives us good advice."
       She tossed a quick, "G'night, Harry," over her shoulder and skipped off, never noticing the distinctly jealous look on the Gryfindor's face as he watched her go.
       After that, Violet treasured every snowy winter evening in front of the common room fire and every windy spring night spent snuggled beneath her covers, gazing dreamily at the rich green glow of the Slytherin corridor torchlight flickering beneath her cell door. As April gave way to May, she spent hours quizzing the fourth and fifth years about their life away from school, making Marybeth wonder if she was trying to find alternate summer accommodations for herself.
       Professor Dumbledore had held a meeting in March for the school's underaged orphans, explaining how the staff were attemtping to securing lodgings for them so Hogwarts would not have to remain open year round. For some reason, McGonagall had winced, making Snape snicker. "If you have any suggestions of your own," Dumbledore had added, "we would be happy to consider them."
       That night, as they'd prepared for bed, Marybeth had asked Violet about returning to the orphanage. "Is there room for me?" she'd joked, but Violet had been hard-pressed to smile.
       "It feels like a million years since I've been there," she'd fretted. "I can't imagine what we'll have to talk about. But maybe it's time I..."
       "Time you what?" Marybeth had wondered when Violet had let the sentence die away. But her roommate had shaken her head and changed the subject.
       In Defense class, towards the end of May, Malfoy again raised the subject of apparating. "Will you teach us," he begged Snape, "if our NEWTS go well?"
       "That seems like a reasonable request," commented Lupin without being asked. Snape whirled on him, eyes blazing, then checked himself.
       "Very well," he smiled coolly. He turned back to the students. "Potter, after the NEWTS, you and your classmates may take this portrait to Hogsmeade where Professor Lupin will deliver a practical lecture on the fundamentals of apparating."
       The werewolf, who'd been lounging insolently beneath his tree, sprang forward, barking so furiously that spittle flew from his lips. "It's your job, not mine!" he snarled. "Would it kill you to do your job?"
       The bell rang but no one moved. Snape glared at the figure in the portrait. Lupin glowered right back, as if daring Snape to speak. As it turned out, he didn't have to.
       "Look who's talking," demanded a surly voice from the back of the room. All eyes turned in surprise to Harry Potter.
       "Harry." Lupin took a deep breath, struggling to control his temper. "I'm sorry you feel that way. I have always held you in the highest regard." His voice rose and he turned to Snape for a final, accusatory declaration. "My final words were about you."
       The children turned curiously to Snape as Violet and several third years arrived for their Defense lesson. Snape ignored them.
       "I'm here, aren't I?" he seethed, stalking towards the portrait. "I didn't have to come back to this god-forsaken pile of stones. But I agreed to six more months in Purgatory, just so Potter could have..."
       By now Lupin was flushed with anger. "I hope your hair stays greasy forever!" he roared. Snape fell back a step, then whirled in horror to Hermione Granger.
       "I didn't tell him!" the head student cried, shaking her head as she backed away. "I swear I didn't tell him!"
       "I told him."
       Harry again, and suddenly Snape regretted baiting Granger into sharing Bill Weasley's letter with her friend. The Gryffindor's voice was bitter with disappointment.
       "I told him," the teenager repeated, staring belligerently at the portrait. "Fat lot of good it did me."
       Lupin sighed and turned away. Snape decided it was time to retake control of the situation. "What are you gaping at?" he roared as he whirled on the collection of students. "Go! Sit!"
       The seventh years walked solemnly out of the room and the third years scrambled for their seats. Violet grabbed a spot near Lupin and was positive she heard the werewolf mutter, "Six months... sixteen years.... How about a lifetime, Severus? Try a lifetime in Purgatory!"
       "A friend for life," she asserted later as the Slytherins gathered in the common room before dinner. "That must be what Snape wanted Potter to have. But what did Professor Lupin mean by a lifetime in Purgatory?"
       "And what job does he think Professor Snape isn't doing?" added Malfoy.
       Millicent looked up from her Transfigurations textbook. "Could it have something to do with what we talked about on Christmas Eve? Maybe Professor Lupin didn't want to be called away from Heaven."
       "It should have been Dumbledore who died," snorted Malfoy. "The old man has outlived his usefulness. He'd have been better off perishing in the war."
       A few Slytherins gasped, by Violet was intrigued by the statement. "Sometimes," she told her housemates, "a writer kills off a character to keep the reader from discovering how worthless he really is."
       The Slytherins turned to stare at her. They studied her for so long that Violet grew flustered and demanded,
       After dinner, Dumbledore summoned Snape to his office.
       "I need your decision, Severus," the headmaster said brusquely after Snape had taken a seat. There was no twinkle in his eye tonight. "Will you be remaining with us or not?"
       Snape tented his long fingers and peered over them. "I assumed," came his silky reply, "that my decision would not be expected until after a new head had been secured for Gryffindor. I believe it is customary to extend such courtesies to more senior staff."
       Dumbledore was in no mood to be lectured about administrative protocol. "I've offered the headship to Bill Weasley," he told Snape testily.
       "Really?" Snape raised an eyebrow. "Odd. Minerva hasn't mentioned it."
       Dumbledore's eyes flashed. "Your decision, please, Severus. Immediately."
       "If you need a decision immediately, then my decision is to leave."
       Dumbledore didn't miss a beat. "If your decision is to leave..." He rose from his chair and stood towering behind his desk. "...then I believe I will destroy the portrait of Professor Lupin."
       Snape paled. Dumbledore smiled, but with none of his usual warmth.
       "In retrospect," the elderly wizard observed as he strolled to the nearest window, "it doesn't seem to have been a very effective idea. Clearly, Severus, you are not happy here and never will be. My gesture seems to have done little to repair the difficulty between us; it appears we will never be more than colleagues. Perhaps the time has come to let both of you go."
       "But... Potter!" Snape stammered. "Potter needs the portrait!" Dumbledore whirled on him. Snape was surprised to see the old man red-faced with fury.
       "Harry Potter does not need a portrait to fulfill a role that has always been... and will always be ... mine!"
       He slammed a hand down on his desk and Snape flinched. The old man's anger astounded him. It hung in the air between them and the office grew awkwardly silent. One by one, the figures in the portraits on the wall, embarrassed by Dumbledore's temper, slipped quietly out of the office. When they were gone, the headmaster sank back into his chair. He buried his hoary head in his hands. Snape sat quietly, watching him.
       Whatever is the matter? the younger wizard wondered. Why is he withholding information from Minerva? Why is he lashing out at me? He studied the headmaster for several more seconds before summoning the courage to ask,
       "Why are you threatened by me?"
       Dumbledore looked up.
       "Our values are so different," Snape continued, "and you have never been anything but dismissive of my point of view. Why now, when all your hopes have been realized, are you so desperate to denigrate mine?"
       The old man smiled wearily at Snape from behind his half-moon glasses. "Because you would undo me, Severus," he said. "You and Minerva would undo a great deal of what I have accomplished at this school. So before you make any more plans to counteract all my misguided efforts, let me remind you of something." He leaned forward and glared at Snape across the desk. "You did not always think it 'asinine' to 'pit the students against each other!'"
       The old man had eavesdropped! Snape felt a thrill crawl up his spine. Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard of his age, defeater of Grindewald, mastermind behind the destruction of Lord Voldemort... was jealous. Well, why shouldn't he be? Snape smiled to himself. After all...
       He and Minerva were better at things that mattered more.
       It must be vexing, the younger wizard thought, to sit in the headmaster's office and watch a life's work fade into insignificance while those younger and less powerful accomplished the only thing that really mattered, the one thing that might truly make a difference... the production of the first generation of genuinely noble witches and wizards Hogwarts had ever sent into the world.
       Dumbledore could not tolerate the smug look on Snape's face. "How dare you?" he demanded, rising to his feet again. "How dare you behave as if everything I did was wrong?"
       "How dare you behave," Snape replied coolly, "as if everything you did was right?"
       Dumbledore contemplated the young man for a moment. Then he sat back down. "If you're so certain you're right, Severus," he murmured archly, "are you not obligated to remain?"
       It was Snape's turn to shake his head. "I taught Minerva everything I know," he replied. "I'm entitled to leave." The old man frowned, as if reproving a shirker. "I'm running out of time!" Snape insisted, a sense of urgency creeping into his tone."
       "Time for what?"
       "There's so much to be done!" Snape leaned forward in his chair. "Big things. Hard things. Things that take skill... and strength." He shook his head again. "I'm not like you, Headmaster. I'm not going to defeat Grindewald at 100. I'm like Minerva. A good knock at 70 will land me in St. Mungo's."
       Dumbledore smiled as Snape finished earnestly, "If I'm going, I have to go now. My salad days are waning."
       He stood up, as did Dumbledore. "Will you make me a promise, Severus?" the older man asked. "Come back to Hogwarts in 10 years?"
       Snape hesitated. Dumbledore nodded shrewdly. "You won't," he murmured. "That would defeat your other purpose in leaving."
       Snape saw no point in being coy. "If I go," he insisted, "I teach everyone who hears my story that you cannot abuse idealism with impunity."
       "And if you stay?"
       Snape shrugged. "I empower shallowness, the root of all wrong-doing."
       Dumbledore sighed. "Nevertheless..." He walked around his desk to escort Snape to the door. "I revoke my insistence on a decision tonight and consider your future to be unresolved."
       "And the portrait?" Snape wondered if one concession might yield another.
       "The portrait will remain. But Severus..."
       The old man hesitated, offering a quick prayer that for once, Severus Snape might listen.
       "I may not be the only one misjudging its effectiveness."
       On a Thursday night in June, Malfoy shut his charms textbook with a satisfying slam. NEWTS were over! Draco was quite certain he'd passed Potions and Defense; he wasn't so sure about the others. The Ministry testers, sympathetic to all his year had endured, had reminded the students they could always take the exams again. But McGonagall had flinched at the idea of any seventh years staying on.
       "There are more needy constituencies than resources," Snape had explained when Crabbe had asked him about the deputy's attitude during the next common room gathering. "Surely you hadn't thought of staying?"
       The seventh years had exchanged looks. Most of them had no idea what they were going to do after leaving; they suspected they weren't really ready to leave at all. So they'd kept right on studying after the NEWTS, even Malfoy. But not this weekend!
       This weekend he was going to take a trip. He was going to sneak away from school and fly home to check the condition of the Malfoy property. Snape would no doubt find out and cane him soundly, but that didn't worry him. "I just hope the weather improves," he muttered to himself as he reached for his cloak. It was unseasonably cold for so late in the spring.
       He had nothing left but Astronomy homework, which he could finish in an hour's time if the crowd on the roof wasn't too noisy. He shoved parchment, quills, ink and his wand into his pockets before departing his cell and heading for the common room door where he met a red-faced Millicent letting herself back into the house.
       "It's freezing!" she announced as she shivered out of her cloak. "Its really windy up there!"
       Malfoy nodded. He hurried out of the dungeon and headed not for the Astronomy Tower but the west tower where he could make his observations leaning out the windows of the Owlery. Upon arriving, he discovered that Ron Weasley and Harry Potter had had the same idea.
       They worked in silence for several minutes, speaking only when it was necessary to swap windows. Then a sudden gust of wind blew the stench of rotten fish up Malfoy's nostrils. "Good grief, Weasley!" he protested, leaning back inside. "What did your mother put in your last care package?"
       Ron turned to glower at Malfoy and as he did, a large bird flew right through his window into the Owlery. It soared around and around the tower; the boys craned their necks to watch it, thunderstruck.
       "What is it?" Malfoy demanded. "It looks like a pterodactyl!"
       "It's a pelican," Harry told him. "They live near water and eat fish."
       The bird flew in for a slow, graceful landing whereupon Malfoy spied the note tied to its leg. "Grab him," he ordered the two Gryffindors, and while Ron and Harry secured the smelly bird and held it still, Malfoy removed the note from its leg, wincing at the bird's stench.
       The note was written on a scrap of cloth in dark brown ink. "Help me," it read. "Imprisoned. Near water. Broken floor. Queenie."
       Malfoy didn't know what to make of the terse missive. "Get Granger," he suggested, and in no time, Ron was back with the head student, who made short work of the note.
       "It's blood," she pronounced of the rust-colored ink, "written on a scrap of clothing."
       Malfoy fired up his lumos light and adjusted the color to confirm that Queenie had indeed written the message in blood, presumably her own. "Where could she be?"
       "Alcatraz," Hermione replied. "It's in San Francisco Bay."
       "Alcatraz?" Malfoy wrinkled his nose. He gave Hermione an insolent grin, wondering if she was feeding them false information to prevent a rescue attempt. "Is that made up? It sounds like Azkaban."
       "It was like Azkaban," Hermione nodded. "I studied it when Sirius escaped. It was an escape-proof island prison rumored to drive prisoners insane."
       "Was?" Harry took the scrap of cloth from Hermione and studied it more closely.
       "It's abandoned," Hermione told him. "The island's a park now. It happens to be the #1 tourist attraction in San Francisco."
       Harry frowned. "Then how..." he began, holding up the note.
       "It's also a bird sanctuary," Hermione went on. "It's closed half the year for nesting, during the spring and summer... making it the perfect place for criminals to hide-out."
       She took the note back and pointed to the phrase, 'Broken floors.' "In 1946, there was a break-out attempt that resulted in a three-day siege. Marines were brought in and tossed explosive devices at the entrance to a utility corridor where three convicts were holding out. That's how the floor got damaged."
       Ron let out a low whistle. "San Francisco," he muttered, shaking his head. "How far is that?"
       Hermione knew that, too. "About 5,000 miles," she announced with a satisfied toss of her bushy brown hair. She headed for the door but Malfoy called her back.
       "That's awfully far, Granger," he pointed out, nodding at the exotic bird. The creature had regurgitated the contents of its beak and was now enjoying a nice snack on the floor of the owlery. "Are you sure it's the right prison?"
       Hermione smiled loftily and pointed at the bird. "'Alcatraz,'" she told the boys, "means 'Island of the Pelicans.'" She left without another word and Ron scowled after her.
       "Why didn't she tell us not to go?" he wondered. "Why didn't she ask us what we're going to do?"
       Malfoy plopped down on a bale of straw. "She knows there's nothing we can do," he frowned. "We can't apparate and it's too far to fly."
       "Not really." Harry was already doing the math. "We're good flyers. We could easily get 250 miles per hour out of a Firebolt and a couple of Nimbus 2001s."
       Malfoy paled. "What about the ocean?" he demanded. "Wizards don't fly brooms across the ocean, Potter." The very thought made him shudder.
       "We're good flyers," Harry insisted again. "You've got 4 Slytherin team brooms left, right? If you loaned one to Ron..."
       "And if we left right after class tomorrow," Ron interjected, "we could be in San Francisco by Saturday night."
       Malfoy stood up. "Then what?" he demanded. "Do you think you're going to do 250 miles per hour on your Firebolt carrying an additional passenger?"
       Harry shrugged. "So we bring another Slytherin broom for Queenie. We have until class time Monday morning. And maybe she won't want to come all the way to Hogwarts. The thing is..."
       He couched his words carefully, not wanting to remind Malfoy of the last time they'd fought about rescuing Queenie. "There's no point telling Snape or the other adults because they've got too much to deal with now. They'd only use the information to prevent us going."
       That, Malfoy knew, was true. There were any number of wizarding children in distress throughout the country; Queenie had no more claim on Hogwarts resources than the rest of them. No one would know that better than Snape.
       "What about Granger?" he asked, his eyes narrowing as he studied the two Gryffindors. The pelican, finished with its snack, hopped onto the nearest windowsill and took off. Harry shrugged.
       "Hermione can't go," he said carefully. "She teaches the younger years on Saturdays and she..."
       He stopped and Ron finished his thought. "She's not a great flyer. Besides, she has her career to think about." Hermione was one of the few people who knew exactly what she wanted to do after school. "As far as she's concerned," Ron sniffed, "this is not the time to be getting in trouble."
       Malfoy jumped at the sound of the blast. That surprised him; he would have guessed he hadn't the energy. Never in his entire life had he been this tired. Not after the speral root adventure during the siege. Not after levitating Aunt Bellatrix to the lake. Never.
       The three boys were sitting in the dark among piles of ruins, having landed on a large, paved open space on one end of the island known as
Alcatraz. The moon was shining brightly and high above them, on the edge of a cliff, they could just make out a burned-out stone structure in the shape of a house. Behind it, in the elevated center of the island, sat the prison.
       Malfoy knew they shouldn't be sitting out in the open like this but he had to rest and he would be damned if they were going to go poking into any of the spooky, shadowy spots of this creepy place. Just looking around made him uncomfortable. Damn Potter! he cursed as he slumped against a pile of rubble. Why did I listen to him? He didn't even consider the need to eat or sleep!
       He had just closed his eyes when the blast sounded again. The Slytherin turned furiously to his comrades.
       "What the hell was that?"
       Harry shook his head. Ron, sandwiched between the two rivals, turned a sympathetic face to Malfoy.
       "Why does an abandoned prison seem so much scarier than an inhabited one?" he wondered. When Malfoy didn't respond, Ron added hopefully, "It's silly, when you think about it. Isn't it?"
       "No." Harry had been studying the paths that led around either side of the cliff. Now he glanced briefly at Ron and Malfoy over his shoulder and reminded them, "Abandoned places can have people lurking who are much more dangerous than..."
       "We take your point," Malfoy cut him off. He did not need Harry Potter pointing out the intimidating aspects of this place... the huge, crumbling outbuildings and piles of rubble, the rickety water tower, the cryptic Indian graffiti scrawled near the boat landing, the waves crashing against the rocky shore... and that infernal blasting noise! Over and over! "Now what?" he seethed.
       Harry climbed to his feet. "This way. No lumos lights." He led them across the open area to the right of the cliff and up a zig-zagging path that climbed steeply to the prison. The front doors of the long structure faced the same end of the island where they had landed. To their surprise, the doors were standing opening. "Wands up," Harry hissed, and armed and ready, the boys crept inside.
       The initial offices they passed through were dark but ahead they could see light. They followed it and found themselves standing at the end of a long corridor, a sort of walkway between two rows of cells three stories high. At the far end of the walkway was a clock above a door leading to some other part of the prison. The cells were dark but soft overhead lights illuminated the walkway. It seemed the obvious path to take, but...
       "Forget it!" Malfoy hissed, gazing up at the cells on the second and third floors. "Look at all those dark hiding places! It's a walkway to death."
       Harry agreed. "We shouldn't walk down a lit corridor when all the cells are dark. Let's go this way."
       He headed to his right with Ron and Malfoy close behind, looking constantly over their shoulders. They came to a corner and peeked carefully around it. There they found another row of cells, different from the cells that lined either side of the illuminated corridor. These cells had flat bars on the doors and...
       "Look!" Malfoy hissed, illuminating his wand to point at one of the cells. "They don't even lock!"
       "Queenie's not going to be here," Harry agreed. "Let's try..."
       He broke off at the sound of voices, too far away to make out clearly. The boys whirled around and listened hard.
       "That way!" Ron said, pointing back the way they'd come.
       "No, that way!" Malfoy pointed down the row of flat-barred cells. "That way and over!"
       They crept back the way they'd come, unconsciously hunching over until they reached the lit corridor. Then they straightened up, exchanged looks, and nodded. "You take the right cells," Harry told Ron. "Malfoy, the left. I'll do fore and aft."
       So, with all three wands lit, they set off down the corridor, Ron shining his lumos light into each cell on the right, Malfoy the left, Harry whipping his head back and forth to watch for anyone who might sneak up on them. They'd proceeded about halfway down the hall and were just coming to a cross corridor when Malfoy stopped.
       "Here!" he hissed, shining his light into the last cell on the left before the intersection.
       Ron and Harry turned, adding their lights to Malfoy's, and discovered two men, bound and gagged, huddling in the corner. Their eyes widened with terror at the sight of the wizards and their wands. Ron shook his head.
       "Muggles," he muttered, lowering his wand. "Do you think they're the people we're looking for?"
       "Could be," Harry nodded, "but how did they get all tied up?"
       Malfoy thought he knew. "Excuse me," he drawled to the frightened men, who flinched at being addressed. "Have you seen a girl about so high..." He held his hand roughly ear-level. "... with lots of bushy brown hair?"
       The question was barely out of his mouth when the sound of voices came again, further down the corridor and to the left. One of them had a distinctly strident tone.
       "We haven't tried mumble mumble mumble!"
       The trio grinned and set off again. The cross-corridor, they discovered, was a sort of cut-off so that people could get from one row of cells to the next without having to walk the entire length of a corridor. They headed left and had not gone far when Malfoy stopped again.
       He held his lumos light close to the floor. The cement was damaged in several places. "'Broken floor!'" he remembered. He looked up and sure enough, to his right at eye-level was an oval shaped opening, barely wide enough and tall enough for a man to step through. It served as the entrance to a utility corridor between the backs of two rows of cells on the second floor. Malfoy couldn't resist peeking inside.
       "Look at all the pipes and wires!" he marveled. "A person could barely move! Imagine dying in there!"
       The mumbling voices stopped. Harry continued along the cut-off and peeked around the next corner. Apparently, there was no one down that corridor, for he turned back to Ron and Malfoy and signaled them to join him. With one last look down the empty corridor, they streaked across it and into a large, dark empty room. There was an open door along the wall to the left; a light from whatever lay beyond was shining through it. They hurried over to the wall, crept along it, put their heads around the door frame, and...
       There were Hermione, Justin Finch-Fletchley and Queenie, staring back at them from the far end of yet another row of cells. Hermione had her arms folded across the handle of a broom she was hugging to her chest. She gave the trio a lofty little smile and called, "Welcome to Alcatraz!" But Justin didn't look amused and Queenie seemed more than a little relieved to see Malfoy's party.
       The trio set off down the hall to join their friends. Only one side of this corridor had cells, Malfoy noticed. The opposite wall was external with several high windows, one of them almost completely broken out. The first cells reminded Malfoy of Slytherin dorm rooms; they had normal walls and real doors. After that came the barred cells, but these were larger than the ones along the corridor where Hermione and Justin had imprisoned the muggles.
       As soon as Malfoy reached Queenie, she threw her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Behind her he could see the cell she'd occupied; its narrow cot was covered with a single woolen blanket. He grinned at her and drawled, "Nice of them to put you in the spacious wing with a view."
       "It most certainly was not!" Hermione huffed. "This is the punishment wing! The only reason the cells are so big is because the prisoners hardly ever got out of them! And those..."
       She shifted the broom beneath her right arm and used the left one to point down the hall at the cells with normal walls and doors. "Those are the 'holes,' the isolation cells. When the doors are shut, it's almost completely dark in there."
       "And it's cold," Queenie nodded. "The wind comes roaring in right through the windows, especially the broken one. It made Angela sicker than ever." As she spoke, a pelican swooped up to the broken window and peeked inside. Seeing a crowd, it flew off again.
       "Who's Angela?" Harry wondered. "Did you tame one of the pelicans?"
       "Angela's a little girl from my neighborhood who came to live with me," Queenie explained. "Her parents got stoned at Hogwarts, too." The current students exchanged looks but Queenie didn't seem to notice. "I didn't know she was on her own until after she got sick. But I don't think she was any better off at my place." She shook her head again, remembering. "She just got sicker and sicker, and when those two men broke in..."
       Queenie's eyes filled with tears. "I tried to convince them to leave her behind. I explained how she hadn't been to school yet, she couldn't do magic. But they brought her, and she got sicker and sicker, and eventually..." The girl shrugged, defeated. "They took her away. Hospital wing, they said. Like they'd brought a nurse along!"
       "Is that what they wanted?" Malfoy wondered. "To make you do magic for them?"
       "Or to make me teach them how," Queenie nodded.
       Hermione turned to Harry. "Did you see any sign of the little girl? What direction did you come from?" When Harry told her, she nodded. "That's the opposite side of the island where I landed, so we've covered nearly the whole place. But we can check the outbuildings before we leave."
       Justin gave a snort and Ron eyed him darkly.
       "How did you get here before us?" he wanted to know.
       "Yeah!" Harry took a step closer to the Head Student. "I thought you had stuff to do today."
       "I did!" Hermione replied airily. "We haven't been here very long."
       Harry seemed to be trying not to sound defensive as he asked, "How did you fly so far so fast on one broom?"
       Hermione let him stew a few more seconds and then smiled. "We didn't fly," she admitted. "We floo'd. To Ghirardelli Square. At least, I did."
       "The chocolate place?" Ron was still eyeing Justin darkly. "I didn't know they had a floo stop."
       "Dozens of them, actually. Why do you think there's so much red brick?" She turned back to Harry with a smile. "They even have a spot where you can tap the bricks and a dispensing machine appears. You can buy more floo powder!"
       At this, Justin gave a derisive hoot. Hermione winced but Ron didn't seem to notice. "How did YOU get here?" he asked the Hufflepuff rather snidely. Hermione spoke up quickly.
       "I walked down to the Maritime Museum on Fisherman's Wharf," she recounted, "and waited for dark. Then I flew to the island. I landed on the northwest tip and followed the route to the cellhouse that the Anglin brothers used to escape in 1962."
       "I thought nobody ever escaped," Malfoy spoke up. Hermione raised an eyebrow at him in a very Snape-like manner.
       "Their bodies were never found," she admitted. "The authorities liked to say they must have died because no one could swim to shore..."
       Queenie nodded. "That's what the muggles told me."
       "The truth is," Hermione went on, "people do it every year, even little kids. It's part of the 'Escape from Alcatraz' Triathlon."
       Malfoy let out a low whistle.
       "Anyway," Hermione gave her hair an impatient toss. "I stopped at the power plant long enough to make a bluebell flame for Justin to floo here..."
       "Bluebell flame!" Harry groaned. That was how Snape had sent him back to Gryffindor during the siege! Flooing would have been so much easier than flying 5,000 miles!
       "I don't see what you needed Justin for," Ron muttered. "Wasn't he gentleman enough to loan you a broom unless he could come, too?"
       "Now see here!" Justin advanced on Ron but Hermione grabbed him by the arm, letting the broom in her other hand slip.
       "Justin was my back-up, Ron!" she protested. "If anything had gone wrong, he'd have known where I was and what I was doing."
       "That was a good plan," Harry had to admit. He could see how much better things would have been with Hermione's help. But Justin shook his head.
       "Unfortunately," he announced, grabbing his broom back from Hermione, "nothing went wrong until AFTER I arrived." He held out the flying device to reveal a large seam across the middle of the handle. Harry traced the crack with his finger, a pained look on his face.
       "What happened?" he whispered hoarsely.
       "I fell in the water near the power plant smokestack," Hermione confessed. "The waves slammed me against the rocks. Our floo powder tin was smashed and Justin's broom broke."
       Justin and Harry winced.
       "I reparo'd it!" the head girl insisted, "but it won't fly!"
       Harry gave Justin a sympathetic look but Ron grinned. "So you were stuck here until we arrived!" he crowed.
       Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes," she admitted, "and now that you're here, we can fly back to San Francisco and return to Hogwarts as soon as possible. Floo powder's on me."
       Malfoy gave Queenie a little squeeze. "You can fly with me," he told her, "beneath the bewitching light of the..." He glanced out the nearest window to locate the moon and froze. "What's that?" he gasped. The light of the moon was completely obliterated by a mist that seemed to have enshrouded the island.
       "Fog," Hermione told him simply. "Didn't you hear the horn?"
       Malfoy blushed as his schoolmates grinned at this latest display of nerves. Stupid muggles and their stupid vulgar devices, the sooner we got off this God-forsaken rock...
       "Did you bring enough money for all of us?" he demanded of Hermione with a sneer, hoping against hope she'd say yes as he'd forgotten to bring any.
       "Wizard and muggle," she assured him. "I'll call the police from a pay phone when we get back to San Francisco. But first let's divide up to search for Angela and then..."
       "Quiet!" Malfoy grabbed her by the arm as beside him, Harry froze. "Did you hear something?"
       "I thought I heard a pop," Harry whispered back. Malfoy shook his head.
       "It sounded more like..."
       They held their breath. The noise came again and this time they all heard it.
       "Footsteps," Ron muttered. Someone was nearby, climbing an outside staircase at this end of the cellhouse.
       "This way!" cried Harry.
       He led the group back down the corridor into the large dark room beyond the 'holes.' There he signaled Malfoy, Justin and Queenie to keep watch at the door while he, Ron and Hermione hurried across the room to peek down the other corridor. Tense and silent, the group waited and watched. The footsteps stopped. They heard rumbling from a low voice and a door opened. The footsteps started again, slower, quieter, creeping, hunting...
       Queenie grabbed Malfoy's hand and squeezed it hard. As they watched, a head peeked slowly around the last cell on the opposite end of the punishment corridor.
       "I don't believe it!" Malfoy shouted, flinging away Queenie's hand in disgust. The girl flew down the corridor, crying, "Goyle!" over and over as that Slytherin seventh year stepped into full view carrying the last remaining house team broom. Crabbe was one step behind and in his arms he carried...
       "Angela!" Queenie shrieked for joy. She threw herself into Goyle's arms and hugged him tight as his relieved schoolmates paraded down the hall to join them.
       "No way," Malfoy insisted as he approached. "No WAY you two flew here as fast as we did on ONE broom!"
       Crabbe seemed to find the very idea of traveling long distance by broom moronic. "We flew to Edinburgh," he informed Malfoy, "to the airport. Then we followed two blokes with tickets to Toronto into the lavatory, thumped them, tied them up and left them."
       "They'll never even know it was wizards," Goyle boasted. "We did it again in Toronto to get to San Francisco." He seemed quite proud of their accomplishment but Hermione was horrified.
       "What if the men from Edinburgh had come around or been discovered before you landed in Toronto? You could have been arrested!"
       "Oh." Goyle's face darkened. "That wouldn't have been very good."
       Crabbe shrugged it off. "We flew from one of the piers to the top of the water tower, then used our stop technique to jump to the ground and our leaping technique to get into the exercise yard."
       Harry liked parts of their plan, too, especially landing on the water tower for a good view of the grounds.
       "How did you know where to come?" Malfoy wondered. Crabbe grinned.
       "We were on the Astronomy Tower roof Friday night, showing Violet all the rude words in the advanced potion-making book while we waited for it to get dark," he reported. "This strange bird landed near us, and it smelled so bad, we thought it must be sick."
       "We sent Violet to the library for a book on bird diseases," Goyle put in, "to keep her out of our hair while we tried to figure out where Queenie was." He gave the girl in his arms a smile before finishing, "She came back with a book on bird diseases by Robert Stroud."
       Even Hermione looked blank. "Who's Robert Stroud?"
       The voice that answered came from the darkness of the very last 'hole.'
       "The Birdman of Alcatraz."
       They screamed as they whirled around at the sound of the menacing, silky voice. A man in black trousers, a white shirt and a dashing cape stepped through the door of the last cell. In an instant, Malfoy knew why Potter had heard a pop a while ago.
       "Dammit, Queenie!" the blonde teenager snarled. "How many damn penguins did you send?"
       "Pelicans," Hermione corrected through wobbly lips as the potions master proceeded down the hall. In one hand, he carried a brightly-colored picture book. His students stood helplessly, watching him come, except for Queenie, who pulled loose from Goyle's grasp and stepped over to Crabbe to check on the child he held on his hip. She pushed a lock of hair back from Angela's face and...
       "Professor Snape?"
       The potions master had come to a stop in front of Hermione but now he turned to Queenie instead. His former student was frowning at the still face of the little girl in Crabbe's arms. Snape stepped over to the child and felt her cheek, bending his head to examine her lips. Then he raised a somewhat bewildered face and told Vincent,
       "Crabbe, this child is dead."
       Crabbe looked helplessly at Goyle "I couldn't..." he stammered.
       "We couldn't..." Goyle finished for him. "We couldn't just leave her there, staked to the bottom of the water tower."
       Hermione gasped and Queenie's eyes filled with tears. Snape took the child from Crabbe's arms. "Where are these muggles you were going to mention to the police?" he asked Hogwarts' head student. "We'll leave this child nearby as evidence."
       "I know where to put her." Malfoy took the girl from Snape and hurried down the corridor and through the darkened room. He placed her gently on the broken floor in the cut-off next to the cell that contained the bound muggles. By the time he got back, Snape had taken Queenie aside and was busy igniting a bluebell flame on the floor. The teacher gave Queenie a handful of floo powder and ordered her to his office. Then, with a lift of one eyebrow, he assured his students, "See you shortly," and disappeared in a burst of green flames. The remaining citizens of Hogwarts, bereft of floo powder, stared morosely at the little puddle of blue flame he left behind.
       "He left us!" Hermione sulked. "I can't believe he left us."
       "Why do I think," Ron theorized, "that the number of strokes we'll get will depend on how long it takes us to get back?"
       They flew back to Fischerman's Wharf where they discovered a street dance in full swing. The air was rich with the aroma of freshly caught, succulently fried fish and people milled happily about the dancing throng, feasting on savory seafood. Malfoy felt his stomach rumble and beside him, Crabbe whimpered. A young woman sashayed up to them, undulating back and forth until a boy gave a tug on her arm and she whirled away. Unable to stand it any longer, Malfoy jerked his sweatshirt off over his head.
       "Let's dance," he suggested as he tossed the sweatshirt aside and rolled up his brightly-colored sleeves.
       Hermione was horrified by the very idea. "We can't!" she gasped. "We have to go home. That awful place, and that poor little girl..."
       "Granger." Malfoy turned to her with both hands on his hips. "This may be the last time we take a chance knowing Snape is waiting home."
       They thought about that for a moment. Their adventure was almost over, and they next time duty called, they might be alone in the world. It hadn't crossed their minds, before leaving Hogwarts, that rescuing Queenie was made easier by the knowledge that, if anything went wrong, eventually Snape or McGonagall would come looking for them. But the knowledge had been there, lurking, reassuring. Even now it warmed them in the chilly bay breeze, filling them with a sense of freedom and well-being.
       "If he spanks us, he spanks us," Malfoy reckoned. "Let's dance."
       So they tossed aside their sweatshirts, rolled up the sleeves of their brightly colored shirts, and hurried into the throng of happy people. As the music blared and colored lights dappled the streets with warm dots of red and pink and orange, they threw their lanky limbs about and danced like teenagers. Occasionally they paused to gorge themselves on seafood and lemonade, only to return as soon as possible to the lively crowd jumping and whirling and swaying in the tangy ocean air.

       They floo'd to Slytherin so they could tidy up in the lavatories before reporting to Snape's office. As Hermione combed her hair and scrubbed her face, she was pestered mercilessly by a sleepy-eyed Violet and her questions.
       "Violet, please go back to bed!" the head student begged. "I need to think what I'm going to say to Professor Snape!"
       Queenie was still in his office, a miserable, teary-eyed contrast to the row of bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked revelers. Sniffing curiously at the odor of fried seafood and salt air that hung about them, Snape paraded up and down the queue of miscreants, eventually inquiring,
       "Would anyone like to claim chief culpability?"
       Hermione took a step forward. "We talked it over," she lied, "and we've decided it's your fault."
       Malfoy felt his backside twitch. Spoken like someone who's never received more than two, he thought. But the head student's strategy depended on a united front, so he held his tongue.
       "You know more than we do about these things," Hermione was telling Snape. "You know us and you know what we're capable of. You have should coordinated this whole thing."
       She stepped back as Snape's mouth dropped open. Everyone in line leaned forward to gape at Hermione, staggered by her brilliance. Of course! Of course that's how it should have been, and how it should be! As they left school to scatter to the four winds, they should be held together by Snape, who could coordinate their efforts whenever one of them discovered some sort of problem that required...
       "We'll need some sort of cover," Goyle mused to Crabbe, "like Professor Snape has working here."
       Snape snapped his mouth shut and whirled on the boy. "How dare you..." he began, but Hermione cut him off.
       "I've got mine. I'll be working with the Ministry, and so will Justin."
       "That'll be great!" Harry nodded. "You'd be able to find out all sorts of things plus arrange portkeys and floo connections..."
       "Harry!" Hermione scolded her friend. "I'm not starting out as Minister!"
       The children snapped back to attention. The housemaster glowered at them, stalking menacingly towards Crabbe and Goyle to seethe,
       "How dare you characterize my efforts at this school as nothing more than..."
       He stopped. Something had just occurred to him. He thought for several seconds, turning away to pace back and forth. The children exchanged looks. Suddenly Snape whirled back to Crabbe and Goyle and blurted out,
       "How about an orphanage?"
       "An orphanage," Snape repeated. "An orphanage at the Squire's for two hundred 8-to-10-year olds. You'd need to run it for about three years, until they're all at Hogwarts. The nuns would help you."
       Queenie leapt up from her seat beside Snape's desk and rushed forward. "So would I!"
       "And Millicent and Tracey," Goyle nodded, "and..."
       "And Miss Guilford could pay for it!" Snape was clearly thrilled with his brainstorm. Crabbe grinned and whispered to Goyle,
       "I know exactly what to call it!"
       "What about you, sir?"
       All eyes turned to Hermione, who was regarding Snape shrewdly. "What will your contribution be? Besides managing any...
       She turned curiously to Harry. "What shall we call it, working together to..."
       "Problem-solve?" suggested Snape coyly.
       Hermione nodded. She turned to Crabbe and asked, "Do you have a name for problem-solving?"
       Crabbe thought it over. "Chubb fuddling," he finally suggested. Snape laughed, and so did Hermione. The Slytherin shrugged. "That's what Violet called it when we... when we..." He paused, searching his brain for a properly veiled reference to past Slytherin exploits. "... when we improved the appearances of the Gryffindors and Bill Weasley last year."
       Snape pressed his fingertips to his temples and Hermione took advantage of the moment to press her cause. "Will you continue to teach us?" she asked the potions master. "We could arrange a time to gather each week at the orphanage..."
       "... or here at Hogwarts," Malfoy suggested. Snape ignored him.
       "I suppose," he nodded to Hermione, "that the challenges you face..."
       "We face," Hermione interjected. Snape ignored that, too.
       "... would make ongoing education beneficial indeed."
       "Hurray!" Justin shouted, and with an exaggerated roll of his eyes, Snape dismissed them.
       "I have to see the headmaster," he made excuse for not punishing them. "Miss Greinglass, you may move in with Miss Davis."
       The students filed into the corridor except Harry, who closed the door behind them and turned to face Snape.
       "What do you want, Potter?"
       Harry hesitated. Then he took a few steps further into the office. "I've decided to ask Professor Dumbledore to destroy the portrait of Professor Lupin, if that's all right with you." He hurried to explain himself before Snape could object. "He's not happy here," the boy insisted, "and things aren't...it's not... it's not like I thought it would be, having him around."
       Snape did not look pleased. But there was no argument he could make. "As you wish," he muttered, turning his back to cross to his desk. When he turned round, the boy was still standing there, staring at him. "What do you want, Potter?" he asked again.
       Harry marched boldly up to the desk. "I want you to keep your promise," he announced and rather enjoyed the way Snape reddened at the words. For his part, Snape suddenly wished he could destroy the portrait himself. How DARE that manipulative werewolf tell this boy his dying words?
       "I never made any promise!"
       "Hermione's right!" Harry insisted. "You belong in our lives!" When Snape made no response, he lowered his voice and asked, "Why won't you admit it?"
       Still Snape said nothing. So Harry sat down in the seat Queenie had recently vacated and stared defiantly up at the potions master.
       "Sometimes," he began, as if daring Snape to find anything wrong with what he was about to say, "I pretend that Voldemort's death brought my parents back."
       Snape stared, speechless. He'd have bet a hundred galleons neither Granger nor Weasley had heard this.
       Harry gripped the arms of the chair tightly. "Always," he continued urgently, his eyes growing bright, "always, the first thing my father does is come here... to apologize to you."
       Snape closed his eyes. The boy's words sent a painful stab shooting through his heart. He sank into his chair and concentrated on taking deep, soothing breaths.
       When he could think again, he reminded himself that transgressors usually apologized only to get away with their crimes or to create the opportunity to repeat them. But that wasn't the point. It wasn't the idea of James Potter mouthing penitence that pierced his heart.
       "What do you want from me, Potter?" he asked again. Harry leaned forward on the desk.
       "I want someone to talk to for the rest of my life."
       "But that's why..."
       "No!" Harry shoved away some pieces of parchment in front of him. "Not Lupin! I'm not talking about a friend, or a girl, or someone like Professor Dumbledore. I want someone..."
       "Like Sirius?" Snape suggested. Harry shook his head.
       "No. Sirius was like a brother. I don't want a brother. I want a... I want someone will be straightforward with me, who will worry about more than how I feel. I want someone who will care how I turn out and what I make of myself." He looked up at Snape, his eyes blazing. "I want someone who will treat me the way you treat the Slytherins.... and the Hufflepuffs... and almost everyone here except me! Why won't you do that for me?!"
       If the boy was embarrassed, he didn't show it. His green eyes burned with righteous anger. Snape formulated his response very carefully.
       "If I care about anybody, Potter, it's the needy and the troubled. I've never meted out the same treatment to you because, from the day you arrived, I thought you were the healthiest student here... save perhaps for Granger." He shook his head. "You don't need what I give the others, Potter."
       "But I want it!" Harry refused to back down. He banged the top of Snape's desk with his fist. "I want it more than any of them! Why can't I have it?"
       Snape thought the question over for such a long time that Harry lost his temper.
       "Well?!" he shouted, leaping to his feet.
       "Patience, Potter!"
       He was thinking about Violet Guilford, the other orphan, the one sorted into his house. Desperate for a family, she had entered Slytherin fully prepared to embrace the lot of them. Would things have been better, he wondered, if Harry Potter had sorted into Slytherin? Perhaps not. Perhaps the boy would have longed for Gryffindor every waking moment. That would have only made things worse.
       Snape checked every corner of his heart, twice. There wasn't a shred of hatred left for this boy. A few spots even held glimmers of esteem.
       "Very well," he finally conceded. "I suppose I could try."
       Harry grinned to split his silly face. He stepped back, as if to turn to go, then stepped forward again, bringing his hand up as if he were about to hold it out for a shake. He thought better of it and shoved it into his pocket with a bashful duck of his head. When he looked up, he was still smiling, and Snape was just about to send him off to bed with a surly dismissal when...
       "What?" Snape leapt to his feet and whirled around, wand drawn. Harry's eyes had gone wide while looking at him, but the potions master found nothing menacing lurking behind his desk. He turned back to find the teenager grinning again.
       "What?" Snape repeated, and Harry immediately dropped his eyes to the tops of his shoes.
       "Nothing, sir!" he insisted. He sneaked another peek at Snape and started to laugh. "I'm just... um..." He had to look away before he could finish. "I'm just ...happy."
       Snape rolled his eyes. "Pull yourself together, Potter," he snapped, resuming his seat. "Sit down and give me an account of yourself. What do you plan to do next year?"
       Harry's face dimmed. "Professor Dumbledore wants to me stay on," he confessed as he sat down. "He wants me to help with Defense and interscholastic quidditch. But I don't think I want to do that. And I don't want to work for the Ministry or set up an orphanage, either. I think I want to be..."
       He hesitated to say it, as if he feared hurting someone's feelings. It suddenly occurred to Snape that Harry Potter might be the only person who needed to get away from Hogwarts more than he.
       "Apart?" the potions master finished the boy's sentence. "Alone?"
       Harry nodded. "At least for a while."
       Snape stood up and strolled to the nearest window. "Dumbledore is alone," he reminded Harry. "Professor McGonagall is alone. Solitary individuals frequently impact far more lives than those who insulate themselves with a family."
       He glanced over his shoulder to see what the boy would make of this. He found Harry nodding to himself.
       Snape returned to his desk. "I think you should play quidditch," he announced as he sat down. "Play for England for a year or two. Play for any team you want. Just don't let it go to your head." He narrowed his eyes as he warned the young hotshot, "I've had more than a little experience dealing with arrogant young wizards."
       Harry beamed. "Can I still come to those lessons you're going to give at the orphanage?" he asked. "And will you come to my matches? When will I see you?"
       Snape rolled his eyes again. "Any time you want!" he scolded. He offered to teach the boy how to send the silvery, ghostly little messengers the Order used to communicate. Harry nodded gratefully.
       "But will you be here?" he pressed. When Snape made no reply, he shrugged, climbing to his feet to add, "It would be easier for us to go out into the world if we knew you'd still be here."
       He made his way to the door where he paused for one last look at Snape; the backwards glance put that silly smile right back on his face.
       I hope he's not going to do that all the time, the potions master thought after the boy had departed. He reached for a stack of potions homework. It was really too late to see the headmaster, he decided; he would brief the old man and McGonagall on the Alcatraz affair in the morning. Perhaps they should spend these final few days teaching the seventh years how to apparate.
       He marked papers for a while; at that late hour, no one came to see him.
       So it wasn't until he retired to his quarters and was preparing for bed that he discovered his hair was no longer greasy.
       The final days of the year slipped by.
       Lupin vacated his portrait for good after persuading Marybeth to carry her sketch of Snape into the potions master's office so he could fly into the drawing, hug the image of the former death eater tightly around the neck, and give him a smacking goodbye kiss on the cheek. Poor Snape couldn't stop wiping his cheek for days.
       Dumbledore announced that the staff had been unable to secure sufficient summer lodgings for all the orphans currently attending Hogwarts and therefore anyone who needed could remain for the summer. Violet signed a document in his office relinquishing one half of her fortune for the running of an institution 'to be known hereafter as Salazar's Orphans.
       Snape and McGonagall took the seventh years on several field trips to Hogsmeade to learn apparation.
       "The key is visualization," Snape explained. "You have to be able to see the destination clearly in your mind."
       "Oh!" Malfoy nudged Potter and Granger. "That's why he had that picture book of Alcatraz!"
       "A handy trick," Snape confirmed as a witch stepped out of a nearby shop. "If you can't visualize your destination, apparate to an easily-visualized location nearby and conduct a little research."
       "Hello, Severus!"
       "Hello, Annabel."
       Malfoy made his first solo long distance trip to the family estate where he was devastated to find his property in ruins. The rambling home structure had been gutted by fire quite some time ago; plants and new underbrush were already taking root throughout the blackened, crumbling walkways.
       He wandered aimlessly from room to room, kicking the occasional pile of rubble in his search for mementos. Finding nothing salvagable, he made his way outside and dropped dejectedly onto a stone bench in the decimated garden.
       "Actions and consequences," observed a silky voice nearby. Malfoy looked up to see Snape walking towards him. The older wizard stopped when he reached the bench and looked about a bit. "Aren't we foolish," he surmised, "when we assume we'll suffer no ill effects from our misconduct?"
       Malfoy scowled up at his teacher. "My father may have offended some people..." He looked around, then finished angrily, "...but this punishes me."
       Snape nodded and sat down. "You could rebuild," he suggested. "The land is what counts." He studied the boy's bent head for a moment. "Did you really want to move back here, Draco?"
       The teenager thought it over; eventually, a naughty smile tugged at his lips. "It seemed like a good idea," he insisted with a glint in his eye. "Handsome, powerful young wizard living in the lap of luxury, coming and going as he pleases, Dobby looking after me..."
       Snape rolled his eyes and Malfoy chuckled. "Maybe I will rebuild," he decided, leaning back to prop his elbows on the backrest of the bench. "I'll turn it into a pleasure palace, a respite..." He grinned at Snape. "...for weary chubb fuddlers."
       "If there's any chance Harry Potter will show up," Snape replied, "Dobby will be happy to help you."
       To his surprise, the boy grew quiet at that, dropping his head again. After a bit, he lifted it just enough to ask Snape, "Do you prefer him now?"
       "I beg your pardon?"
       "Potter," Malfoy elaborated. "He's kinder, after all."
       Snape eyed the boy shrewdly. In the common room, shortly after Violet had signed away the funds for the orphanage, Malfoy had reminded her that he intended to have nothing to do with the institution.
       "That's fine," Violet had assured him as she'd climbed onto a sofa between him and Snape. "It's better, in fact."
       "Why?" Malfoy had demanded, only to have the girl smile sweetly at him and observe,
       "You're mean, Malfoy."
       Snape thought of all the qualities this boy possessed that he valued so highly. But he didn't mention them. Instead, he gazed at the patch of woods where he'd rested against a log one April night eighteen years ago and murmured,
       "I have never in my life considered it a coincidence that you were born moments after Voldemort stole my fertility."
       He closed his eyes and braced himself for the hug which surely would have come had not Dobby suddenly popped onto the scene.
       "It is high time Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy got themselves back home," the elf suggested tartly.
       So the magical brethren took their leave and the Malfoy estate was left silent save for the occasional rustling of wind along a deserted hall.
       On the last day of classes, the seventh years spent their potions lesson reminiscing, or as Snape called it oh so sternly, "Reviewing." His favorite moment came when Neville protested the lack of any reference to Lupin's Remedy on the potions NEWT.
       "It's too new," Hermione suggested, inspiring Neville to deliver a rare speech.
       "Why should that matter? It's far more important than stoning or deflecting. Those have limited applications, but Lupin's Remedy will help people forever!"
       After class, Snape called him to the teacher's desk. "Have you given any thought to a career in potions, Longbottom?" he asked smoothly. "You may have a knack for it, with your skill in herbology."
       Neville looked doubtful but Snape persisted. "I'm speaking of research, say in the area of remedies for..." Snape chose his words carefully. "...chronic, war-related illnesses?"
       Neville looked at Snape with a light growing in his eyes, very similar to the one Harry Potter had exhibited when Dumbledore had first mentioned the portrait of Lupin. "I could use an assistant," Snape said casually, and for the first time in his life, Neville beamed at the potions master.
       "Here at Hogwarts?" he wondered.
       Snape shrugged. "Perhaps. I haven't decided."
       Neville held out his hand, which Snape obligingly shook. "Together," he told the Gryffindor, "we could do great things."
       That evening, after the closing feast, Violet was ordered to the headmaster's office where she found Snape and Dumbledore waiting for her.
       "We've received a most interesting letter from a muggle agency concerning your status at Hogwarts," Dumbledore began. "A representative from Children's Services visited your orphanage last summer and was most distressed to find you absent. She considered the administrator's explanation that you had decided on short notice to remain over the summer at a distant, uncharted school less than satisfactory. Apparently, she has a responsibility to verify at regular intervals the well-being of children in licensed institutions."
       "Oh!" Violet nodded. "A crackdown." The two wizards frowned so she explained. "Every few years some kid dies in placement. The public gets outraged so the caseworkers scramble to fill all the cracks in the system."
       "Yes. I see." Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Well. We will not presume to judge the conscientiousness or motives of muggle civil servants. Suffice to say, Miss Wick of Children's Services is unwilling to give the staff at St. Charles a second chance to keep her informed of your whereabouts. She requires you to return to the orphanage immediately and reside there until you are of age or to agree to a complete cessation of the government's responsibility for you. The latter would entail shifting responsibility to a legal guardian here at Hogwarts. I believe your head of house would be the most appropriate person."
       Violet turned to Snape, wide-eyed. "You want to adopt me?"
       "I most certainly do not!" Snape couldn't tell the child fast enough.
       Dumbledore smiled. "Professor Snape... or whoever will be serving as the head of Slytherin... would no more be your parent than the orphanage was, Miss Guilford. He or she would merely assume the legal responsibilities that formerly rested with the administrators of St. Charles."
       "So..." Violet did the math in her head. "I'd be subject to the same legal system as the rest of you. The ministry, the wizangamot..."
       "That is correct," Dumbledore nodded.
       Violet nodded back. Then she startled the men completely with, "How long do I have to think it over?"
       Dumbledore blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
       "May I have overnight, at least? I don't see why I should have to decide until it's time to leave for the train."
       "Miss Guilford..." Dumbledore seemed at a loss for words. "Do you understand the implications of this situation? Unless you agree to these terms, you will have to leave Hogwarts immediately, presumably never to return."
       "I wouldn't be the first, sir."
       The old man gave her the closest thing to a scowl she'd ever seen on his kindly face. Then he turned expectantly to Snape. After several seconds, the head of Slytherin exclaimed, "Oh!" and gave Violet the obligatory cuff upside the head.
       Dumbledore shook his head. "Speak to her!" he demanded before marching out of the office, leaving Snape to talk some sense into his young Slytherin. He turned to Violet, raised a single eyebrow, and demanded,
       "Explain yourself."
       Violet hopped up on the headmaster's desk. "If you're not staying, sir, I don't see why I should," she began.
       "Miss Guilford, your decision should not be based solely..."
       "Oh, I've been giving this place a lot of thought!" Violet assured him. "You know what I've figured out, sir? The wizarding world stinks."
       The portraits on the wall gasped but Violet ignored them. "Never mind the power struggles or all the psychoses associated with this institution." She waved away the history of Hogwarts with a flick of her hand. "Just think about this. You spend your entire formal education learning to compensate for skills any muggle can perform by the age of five, thanks to electricity and technology!"
       She smiled triumphantly at Snape, who stared at her for several seconds. Then he took a deep breath.
       "Miss Guilford," he began evenly, "you were born with a specific talent. That talent requires a certain education to maximize its potential. The fact that a magical education replicates muggle technology is of no significance. Do muggles tell a child born with musical ability not to bother developing his talent because they already have a wealth of music on contract discs?"
       Violet frowned. Then she grinned from ear to ear. "Compact discs!" she realized.
       "My point stands," Snape insisted. "That which must precede innovation or advancement should hardly be dismissed as mere redundancy and any human being born with a specific ability... Miss Guilford! Will you kindly cease that infernal giggling!"
       Violet was clutching her sides and rocking back and forth over Snape's malapropism. She wiped her mirth-dampened eyes on her sleeve as she struggled to pull herself together. "Face it, sir," she confided with a rueful smile. "The only thing you people have going for you is flying, and I can do that all I want when I'm seventeen. I'll just drop by Diagon Alley and buy a broom. Maybe I'll pick up a few spellbooks and sign up for some apparation lessons while I'm at it."
       She hopped off the desk and bowed politely to Snape and Phineas Nigellus. "I'll give you my decision tomorrow morning," she promised her housemaster before marching out the door.
       She was surprisingly stoic at the good-bye queue until Crabbe grabbed her from behind and spun her around, just like on her first day at Hogwarts. Violet shrieked with laughter.
       "Will you be coming to see us this summer?" Crabbe asked as he set her down. Violet shrugged noncommittally.
       "Just like Snape," Crabbe shook his head. "I wish somebody would do something about him."
       He said nothing else on the topic as he made his way down the row. But when he'd shaken the last hand, he glanced back at Violet over his shoulder... and winked.
       After breakfast on the final day of the year, Snape made his way to the dungeon to hurry along the departing Slytherins who had not yet gathered outside the front door for the trip to Hogsmeade Station. He found Violet just down the corridor from Filch's office, pointing her wand at the stone floor.
       "Scourgify," the child commanded again, and one of the rocks turned bright and shiny, as if it had just been laid. Violet took a small step forward and pointed her wand at the next stone.
       "Pardon me."
       The child looked up to see Snape raising an eyebrow at her.
       "Mr. Filch said I could, sir," Violet assured him before he could criticize her for using magic in the corridors.
       "Could what, Miss Guilford?"
       "Polish the stones," she replied. "I'm going to polish every stone in the castle until it looks like a whole different place. Scourgify."
       Down the hall, the door to Filch's office opened a crack and he and the Baron peeked into the corridor. Snape didn't notice. He took a step backwards as Violet moved forward. "That could take every spare moment for years," he pointed out. "Does this mean you've decided to stay?"
       Violet nodded. "Professor McGonagall is moving everybody who's here for the summer into Hufflepuff or Slytherin. She says Mr. Filch can look after us for a while if you leave."
       "And the stones?"
       "Just a second." She finished with the patch she was currently cleaning, then looked up curiously at Snape. "Aren't you Catholic, sir?"
       "I beg your pardon?"
       Violet shrugged. "I was just wondering why you think you have a right to be happy."
       She studied him earnestly as she recalled the words of an older housemate. "Malfoy says every step you take in this castle makes you unhappy. But we're not put here to be happy, are we? We're put here to serve." She shook her head as she scolded gently, "I'm C of E and even I know that."
       Filch and the Baron popped briefly back into the caretaker's office to hide their snorts of laughter. Snape, staring coolly at Violet, pursed his lips. "The stones, Miss Guilford," he hissed. Violet nodded.
       "Do you remember making me polish all the stones in your office after I lost the obstacle course race? Well, now I'm going to polish every stone in this castle in case you decide to stay or maybe come back one day to give a lecture or something. You may never be happy here, sir..." She pointed her wand at the ground and cleaned another piece of the floor. "...but if I polish all the stones, maybe every step you take will remind you how much you're loved."
       With a satisfied nod, she tucked her wand into her pocket and clapped the dust off her hands. "I better go tell the head of the school I've decided to stay," she realized. "Is Professor Dumbledore still in charge or is it Professor McGonagall now?"
       "Professor McGonagall takes over tomorrow," Snape told the child.
       Violet nodded politely and Snape stepped aside to make room for her to proceed down the corridor. After a few steps, she looked back at him over her shoulder. She raised an eyebrow at her housemaster as she'd seen him do so many times and asked,
       "Care to join me?"
       In the caretaker's office, Filch and the Baron held their breath. The potions master, surrounded by a sea of highly-polished stones, studied the child in front of him for a long time. Then he nodded curtly, once, and set off up the corridor.
       "Let's get on with it," he grumbled.
       The End.
Salazar's Orphans