A Merry Little Christmas
He stayed up until 1am, about the
time the rest of the castle was finally settling down for the night. It
had taken him until midnight to prepare the pewter vials. Then he'd
returned to his quarters to pack a rucksack with the few items he wished
to take with ... his silk dressing gown, Minerva's photo of the quidditch
team, the cards the Slytherins had made him over the years. He dropped
the lumpy canvas bag beside his writing desk and returned to his bedroom
for a nap.
At 4am he rose, picked up the
rucksack, and slipped quietly into the passageway. There was something
forlorn about strolling the hushed, dim-lit corridors of the school at
this hour, he realized. It did not feel like staying up late or getting
up early. Still, he moved steadily until he reached the front door of the
castle where he found a morose, silvery specter waiting for him. Gazing
at the Baron, Snape knew his only moment of regret.
"Goodbye, Severus," the spirit
He slipped out the front doors and
walked briskly across the lawn to disappear into the night.
It took all day to reach
Annabel's house, a few kilometers beyond Hogsmeade. He had no broom; he'd
never been able to afford one as a child and he hadn't cared to acquire
one as an adult. He might have apparated, but he preferred to walk,
reveling in the crisp fresh air, sunshine and blue skies. Freedom made it
all so sweet that his throat ached every time he raised his eyes to look
He avoided the town itself,
taking the long way round, slipping into invisibility whenever a fellow
traveler approached from the opposite direction. If there were two or
more, invariably they were discussing the previous day's events and
bubbling with anticipation about the future. Overhead, owls bearing glad
tidings soared across the sky.
The sun had just begun to set when he
raised a fist to knock on the door of Annabel's modest two-story abode.
When she opened it, he saw she was glowing with happiness, as were so many
of the people he had passed that day. "Severus!" she cried, throwing her
arms around him. She gave him a fierce hug and he slipped his arms around
her waist to squeeze her gently back, gazing over her shoulder at the
comfortable domesticity within. Something meaty and delicious was
roasting in the oven. A pile of notes, no doubt delivered by some of the
owls he'd seen flying all day, littered the fireplace mantle. Her table
was neatly set for one and a teapot was bubbling on the hearth.
"I made a pie with the last of the rhubarb," she told him. "Bit of a
celebration!" She beamed at him, then took him by the hand to lead him
into the house. "I'm so proud of you, Severus," she praised after closing
the door behind him and taking both of his hands in hers. "And I'm so
pleased to see you!"
"I need someplace to spend the night,"
Snape told her.
Annabel smiled. "Would you like a bath
before dinner?" Snape nodded and she led him upstairs to the lavatory.
She opened the taps for him, smiling
again as she added a generous quantity of sudsing syrup to the water
filling the tub, then left him to go down and set another place at the
table. When she returned, she found him reclining contentedly in a small
sea of bubbles, his eyes shut, his face serene.
"Shall I do your back?" she offered,
and he opened one eye to glance at her before sitting up to hug his knees.
She scrubbed his back and then filled her palm with soap to wash his hair,
as she'd done so many times before. But this time, when she pressed her
fingertips to his scalp, he flinched. Annabel frowned.
"All right, Severus?" she inquired
His jaw twitched but after a moment, he
She lathered his hair and rinsed it,
then hugged him around the neck and kissed him on the cheek before
departing. After a few more moments of luxurious soaking, he climbed out
of the tub, dried himself off, and slipped into his Slytherin-green
dressing gown. Then he stood before the steamy mirror, staring at
He could barely make out the shape of
his body in the watery film that covered the reflective surface. So he
reached out with one hand to wipe a space clean, staring at himself for a
long time. Then he took his wand in hand and, after a brief hesitation,
touched it gently to the tip of one black lock, drew a deep breath, and
whispered the incantation to dry his hair.
"I heard something funny today."
Violet looked down from the
high window ledge in the Slytherin common room where she'd been watching
the snow fall on the last Friday evening in November. Malfoy's
announcement came as something of a surprise; humor was rare in the stone
cold corridors of the castle these days.
In the four weeks since Snape had
disappeared, an unshakable malaise had gripped the school. The citizens
of Hogwarts were divided by his departure into three camps: those who
ached, those who resented, and those who thought they understood. The
resentful grumbled and occasionally lashed out with verbal potshots
intended to pre-empt any consideration of culpability. The heartsick,
loyal to the progress of recent months, refrained from developing new
grudges and responded instead with quick, brutal sucker punches that
cleared the air but did nothing to dispel the overall gloom.
In an effort to reduce the corridor
fisticuffs, Dumbledore cut short the week-long celebration of Voldemort's
defeat and ordered everybody back to class, canceling Potions and Defense
in favor of extra lessons in the subjects they'd been neglecting for so
many months. But the instructors were unable to generate much enthusiasm
for their lessons. McGonagall, especially, dragged about the castle as if
she were still battling her head cold.
The headmaster hid his reaction to
Snape's departure behind the stone gargoyles that guarded his spiral
staircase, retreating to his office to fill roll after roll of parchment
with appeals for more supplies. The school's population would double when
the absent children returned after Christmas and so far, he'd been unable
to arrange for more food.
"I thought things would ease up
after Voldemort's defeat," Warrington had observed of the continuing
shortages one Saturday morning in the common room.
"Granger says the people behind
the sanctions are mad about losing money," Malfoy had informed him. "They
had deals with Voldemort's people on one level or another."
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
Millicent had exploded. "Where does the fact that he was a thousand times
more villainous than we've ever been fit into their thinking?"
"It doesn't," Malfoy had
reminded her. "Remember what McGonagall said at choir practice last
month? They lie to themselves about us."
They weren't having choir
practice anymore. Neville Longbottom had suggested making the group a
capella but McGonagall had refused. For some reason, Hermione had
glared at the Slytherins for that.
No one was angrier with Snape for
leaving than Granger. The Slytherins found this particularly difficult to
stomach, seeing as how the Head Girl had benefited enormously from their
housemaster's departure. A search of Snape's desk had revealed a letter
to Hermione explaining that Snape had set up an account for her at
Gringotts. He'd been depositing and would continue to deposit one third
of the proceeds from Lupin's Remedy. Harry and Ron had peeked over her
shoulder at the note, which she had read at breakfast in the Great Hall,
and Ron had whistled at the account balance to date. "Who knew there were
so many werewolves in the world!" he'd breathed.
"I did," Hermione had replied.
"There are about 2,000 werewolves taking a dose of Lupin's Remedy each
month, and Snape earns half a galleon per dose. It's not enough to make a
person rich, but it will certainly keep each of us afloat, and I suppose
the number of werewolves will only increase."
Violet shifted on the window
ledge to draw her robe more tightly around her and sniffed at the memory
of Hermione's ingratitude. That Gryffindor cow! She hadn't even told
them about Peter Pettigrew; they'd had to hear about it from Ginny
"Executed," the red-head had
breathed, showing them the copy of the DAILY PROPHET she'd smuggled out of
Hermione's dormitory. "Someone tracked him down and destroyed him in his
There'd been a long silence,
after which Ginny had suggested softly, "Maybe Snape will come back now."
But Snape had not returned.
Now Malfoy stood up so they could all
see him. "Justin Finch-Fletchley was walking to the Great Hall with
Hannah Abbott," he recounted for his housemates. "You know how gloomy he
and most of the Hufflepuffs have been since Snape left."
The Slytherins nodded. They'd found it
endearing, actually, the number of times Malfoy had had to pull Justin off
petulant students making snide remarks about guilt-mongering instructors.
"He heaved a bit of a sigh," Malfoy
went on, "and said to Hannah, 'Well, at least we don't have to worry about
him flogging our entire house on Christmas Eve.'"
The blonde Slytherin had captured
Justin's somber, tragic style perfectly, but the Slytherins didn't even
smirk. Malfoy rolled his eyes, then put his hands on his hips and thrust
his pelvis to one side before assuming Hannah's earnest, feminine lilt.
"'Do you think we were next,
Justin?'" he quoted the Hufflepuff girl. Then he folded his arms across
his chest in an approximation of Justin's pretentious seriousness and
"'Oh, I'm sure of it.'"
He dropped his arms to his
sides with a grin and waited for his housemates' response. The Slytherins
stared. Then, silently, they bent their heads and returned to the
listless thumbing of their spellbooks or stared vacantly into space.
"Oh, come on!" Malfoy scolded.
"This has to stop." He climbed on top of the coffee table in front of the
fire and clapped his hands twice.
"You're out of line, you know,"
he lectured when all eyes had turned to him. "Instructors come and go all
Michael stuck his hand in the air and
Malfoy waved him off. "Yes, of course, except for Professor Binns," he
nodded. "But use your heads. There are seven years at Hogwarts. Only
one class can be first years when a teacher arrives, and only one class
can be seventh years when a teacher leaves." He folded his arms across
his chest. "No matter how much you like someone, it's not physically
possible for him to be here the entire time
for every class."
Violet reached inside her robe to
squeeze the pewter vial she wore on a chain around her neck. Easy for
you to talk, Malfoy, she thought as she clutched the little container.
Her housemaster had filled it with Instant External Pain Relief and
Healing Potion, a fact that made Violet smile every time she thought of
it. But now she gave the Head Boy what she hoped was a withering glare
before returning her attention to the window.
The sheets of snow coating the grounds
reminded her of her first Christmas Eve at Hogwarts. How long ago that
seemed! She clutched the vial tighter, enjoying the way it grew warm in
her hand. That's what we're all doing, she realized as she stroked
the smooth metal surface with her thumb. We're all clutching, hanging
Until what, Violet wondered. What were
they waiting for, the morose occupants of this castle? A Christmas
The child snorted. Yes, she
realized. That's precisely what they were waiting for. They were hanging
on until Christmas, hoping the holidays and their trips home would work
some sort of magic to dispel the gloomy cloud that hung over their lives.
No one wanted to acknowledge the truth brought home by Snape's departure:
Voldemort's death hadn't changed a thing. So long as the sins of the past
carried on, the darkness would continue.
Besides, Violet thought, giving the hem
of her robe a belligerent little kick, how would Christmas help the
Slytherins? We've got the largest percentage of orphans at
Hogwarts! We've got no homes and now no
housemaster! What's to become of us?
She ran the phrase through her mind a
few times. What's to become of us? It reminded her of Rachel's
letter, and that reminded her of Hermione Granger. She clutched her knees
to her chest and scowled ferociously at the falling snow.
"Isn't it awful?"
Hermione walked up to Harry
Potter who was sitting in a Gryffindor Tower window seat, staring out at
the snowy night. Probably wishing he could be out flying, the girl
realized. Harry did a lot of that these days. It was hard to pin him
down for a good talk.
In truth, Harry didn't want to talk to
people. He especially did not want to talk to Hermione. He didn't want
to fight with her about Snape.
The man had tricked him into committing
murder. But he'd also risked his life to save Harry's... again. And he'd
killed Peter Pettigrew. Harry was sure of it. But more than that...
'Thank you, Potter. For the rest of
my life. '
Harry had given those words a great
deal of thought. Eventually, he'd come to realize that, for Snape,
Hogwarts was a lot like the Dursleys'. He couldn't begrudge the man a
chance to finally get away.
But he didn't want to fight with his
friend. So he shrugged.
"I don't know, Hermione," he said
softly. He nodded at the dark, snowy night. "I rather like thinking of
him out there... free at last."
He turned calm green eyes to his
friend's troubled face. "Sometimes I imagine bumping into him," he
confided. "He's fine..." The boy hesitated, then turned to the window
again. "...and so am I," he finished quietly.
Hermione was not moved by the fantasy.
She squinted out the window as if trying to see the fictitious encounter
for herself and asked, "How's Professor McGonagall?"
Harry groaned and dropped his head
backwards against the cold stones. Rumor had it this would be
Dumbledore's last year at Hogwarts. The boy was sorry he and McGonagall
were in pain, that Dumbledore's last months at Hogwarts might be marred by
lingering regrets. But he couldn't blame Snape for leaving.
Still, he did not want to fight with
Hermione. So he climbed down from the window seat and headed for the
portrait of the Fat Lady.
Stubborn Hermione followed him out of
the common room so he headed straight for Slytherin. Even that did not
deter the Head Girl. She followed him right through the door that Michael
opened in response to Harry's knock, in spite of the glares from several
Slytherins. She even spoke first.
"Did you know?" she demanded, marching
right up to Malfoy, who was once again seated before the fire. "Did you
know he would do this?"
Malfoy did not stand or invite the
Gryffindors to sit down. "I'd forgotten," he said off-handedly. "But
yes. He told me the morning I learned about Lupin's Remedy."
The Slytherins sat up in surprise.
Hermione put her hands on her hips. "You didn't tell us," she accused.
"You didn't give us a chance to talk him out of it!"
"That would have been wrong," Malfoy
drawled with a slight lift of one eyebrow.
"Snape's leaving was wrong!" Hermione
shouted back. "He only did it to punish us, to punish Professor
Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall!"
Malfoy smiled coolly at the girl.
"What makes you think so?" he murmured. Hermione fell back a step, as if
Draco's question had caught her in some sort of trap, and the Head Boy
snapped his fingers imperiously, as if to summon a servant. "Violet!" he
called to his younger housemate. "Fetch Rachel's letter."
The third year did as she was told,
returning promptly with the parchment in hand. She climbed up to sit
cross-legged on a table near the fire and read the missive aloud. When
she'd finished, she turned to Malfoy and demanded, "Tell them about
Snape's 4th year."
Malfoy, who'd been listening with his
hands clasped behind his head, shook it at the girl. "That's not what she
was writing about, Violet," he insisted. "And Dumbledore and McGonagall
are not the reasons Snape left." He started to say more but Violet
interrupted, springing to her feet to jump up and down on the tabletop.
"Tell them!" she demanded, waving
clenched fists, "or I will!"
Malfoy rolled his eyes and nodded at
Crabbe, who hauled Violet down from the table. He invited the Gryffindors
to take a seat, stretching his own long legs before him and crossing them
comfortably at the ankles.
"After my dad and his friends left
Hogwarts," he began "life got pretty tough for Snape. It was four against
one, after all, and the marauders were popular, so a lot of other students
followed their example."
He unclasped his hands from
behind his head and rested them on the arms of his chair. "At the end of
his third year," he went on, "Snape got an idea. He borrowed a broom from
my dad and spent the summer developing the Severus Twist. His plan was to
join the house quidditch team and surprise James with the twist during
Slytherin's match against Gryffindor. If he could help the Slytherin
quidditch team beat the great James Potter, he thought, maybe the other
kids would leave him alone."
Hermione broke in. "Then how come
"I'm coming to that, Granger."
Malfoy waved away Hermione's interruption as if it were an irritating
insect. "In those days," he explained, "quidditch try-outs were public.
They were supervised by the flying instructor and everybody came to watch.
When Snape mounted his broom, James Potter..."
Harry winced. He seemed to
know what was coming.
"...hit it with a hex," Malfoy
confirmed. "The broom began to buck and heave and Snape..." The teenager
shook his head. "Snape didn't make the team," he finished simply.
It was clear from the looks on
the two Gryffindors' faces that they'd already guessed as much.
"The instructor told him..." Malfoy
assumed the gentle tone he imagined the teacher had used. "...that he
just didn't fly well enough to play quidditch safely."
Harry winced again. A few
Slytherins moaned but Malfoy ignored them, turning instead to look at
Potter. "No one suspected your father," he assured the Gryffindor, "not
even the other Slytherins, because Snape had never been a strong flyer.
You see..." He folded his arms across his chest. "He wasn't given
the ability..." Malfoy put a particularly strong accent on the word,
"...and he'd never owned a broom, so he couldn't practice."
"Once a week," Violet muttered
sadly. Marybeth jabbed her with an elbow to hush her.
"Snape decided not to tell,"
Malfoy continued. "Instead, he bided his time until the match between our
Malfoy paused for effect, then shrugged
and nodded at Harry.
"He knocked your father off his broom."
Hermione's mouth dropped open.
Malfoy, still watching Harry, saw the movement out of the corner of his
eye and smirked at her.
"Not from a great height, mind
you," he drawled. "That would have only added to James' reputation, had
he survived, and somebody..." His smirk disappeared as suddenly as if he
had swallowed it. "Somebody always seems to see to it that
Gryffindor students survive."
Hermione snapped her mouth
"He cursed him from a low
height," Malfoy explained, "so James would be thoroughly humiliated. And
he did it well. He was good at the dark arts, after all. Not even James
knew the fall wasn't his fault. He'd have gotten away with it, if it
Harry nodded. "McGonagall," he
whispered. It suddenly occurred to him to wonder just exactly when his
father had developed his much ballyhooed distaste for the dark arts.
"You could hear her shrieking all over
the pitch," Malfoy was saying. "'James Potter would never fall off his
broom! Never! Never!' She shouted it over and over. She insisted
Dumbledore perform a prior incantato on every wand in the school until he
found the culprit."
At this, Hermione leapt to her feet.
"Why didn't Snape?" she demanded, incensed. "Why didn't Snape insist on a
prior incantato after his try-out?"
Draco shook his head at such
foolishness. "Granger," he replied with an especially patronizing tone,
"don't you know what happens to kids like Snape who tattle on kids like
Hermione sat back down.
"Their punishment," Draco revealed,
"was to forbid Snape to ever play quidditch at Hogwarts. People thought
he got off easy, that he should have been expelled." The Slytherin broke
off for a moment, and when he continued, he spoke so softly his audience
had to strain to hear him. "The way Snape was treated after that," he
murmured, "he would have been better off."
There was a long silence. Then
Malfoy bounced his eyebrows at Harry, who was looking more than a little
nauseous. "Never mind, Potter," he drawled. "That's only one of a
hundred stories. And..." He turned emphatically to Violet. "It is NOT
what Rachel was writing about!"
"What, then?" Hermione
Malfoy hesitated. He sat up,
leaning slowly towards Hermione.
"You're a clever girl,
Granger," he reminded her, resting his elbows on his knees. "You're good
at speculation. That's why Snape chose you to help with Lupin's Remedy."
He narrowed his eyes and asked the Head Girl, "Why do you think Snape
joined the Death Eaters?"
Hermione blinked, surprised. Then she
frowned and turned away. "I have to admit," she replied softly, "it never
made sense to me."
Malfoy's eyebrows sprang up.
"Good for you!" he nodded in a rare display of approval. "Most people are
too thick to realize that individuals like Snape don't join the likes of
Harry frowned. "Then why did
he?" he asked, and Draco answered him as simply as Snape had answered
"To kill him."
Hermione gasped but Harry shook
"How do you know?" the Gryffindor
wondered. Malfoy told him briefly about the conversation in Snape's
parlor. Harry shook his head again.
"You have only Snape's word for
it," he pointed out.
"Wrong," Draco countered.
"I've got his conduct. So do you. So does Granger and everybody else.
And so did Dumbledore and McGonagall. Of course..." He leaned back in
his chair again. "You have to be honest about it."
The Gryffindors made no
response. Malfoy nodded.
"Now," he said softly, and
everybody leaned a little closer. "I want you to imagine something, all
of you. I want you to imagine... what it was like to be Snape. Imagine
that last year at Hogwarts, those years with the Death Eaters, and all
those years after he returned to this school."
The teenager stood up and
walked to the fireplace, standing with his back to his audience while he
stared into the flames.
"Imagine watching Dumbledore
and McGonagall grow to venerate James Potter," he whispered, "while they
and everyone considered decent holds you in ever-increasing contempt.
Imagine every harm he's ever inflicted disregarded... and all your hard
He paused to let them think
about that. An ember popped and several listeners jumped but Malfoy
didn't even flinch. "Now you're gone," he went on. "You're with the
Death Eaters, where every moment is lived in fear..."
Marybeth whimpered. Violet
jabbed her with an elbow to hush her.
"You live in constant terror,
tormented, tortured, never knowing a moment's peace, searching desperately
for an opportunity to destroy a butchering madman who would kill you in a
heartbeat. James, meanwhile, fights from a distance, surrounded by family
and friends and allies. He isn't alone. But he's the one they
herald. He's the one they call brave. And then..."
The teenager turned to stare at
them over his shoulder. "The realization comes," he told his audience.
"You can't defeat him. You can't prevail." He shook his head, his grey
eyes dimming as he tried to imagine living with the realization Snape had
finally reached. "You've made a fatal mistake."
He gazed at them without really
seeing them. Nobody moved. Eventually, Malfoy took a deep breath and
turned back to the fire.
"There's no escape," he went
on. "You're trapped. They..." His voice grew snide. "...will
never pay for their bad choices. Only their right choices will be
remembered. But you..." His voice dropped so low his listeners had to
hold their breath. "You're doomed," he finished tonelessly. He shook his
head and fell silent.
He stared at the flames for so
long that when he suddenly spoke again, his audience started. "Now you're
back at Hogwarts," he announced, "and it just goes on and on. You've
risked your life for the side of good, but no one credits you unless
forced to do so. You've sacrificed your future to make amends for your
past, but transgressions against you are minimalized or disregarded. Your
life is threatened again and again. Your good deeds are ignored again and
again. Your successes are villainized... again and again."
All eyes turned in surprise to
Hermione Granger at her use of her nemesis' Christian name.
"What about now?" she insisted.
"What about... lately?"
Malfoy shoved his hands in his
pockets and took a few steps in her direction.
"Did you know," he asked the
perpetually well-informed Head Girl, "that if you obliviate a person's
memory, his personality remains unchanged?"
Hermione, remembering Lockhart, nodded
"That's because you can't undo the past
and its effects," Malfoy explained. "You can only use tools like
forgiveness to try and survive the future." His glanced about the room,
including them all in the directive he was about to deliver.
"Every step Snape takes through the
corridors of this castle is agony," he insisted. "Let him go."
Nobody said anything for a long time.
Then Violet gave a loud sniff and Hermione leapt to her feet, scowling
"I just figured something out," she
announced with a toss of her bushy hair. "I just figured out why Snape
spanks you." She folded her arms across her chest and waited for a
Slytherin to ask why. When no one did, she let out an impatient breath.
"He's sending a message to McGonagall
and Dumbledore," she informed them. "Every time he spanks you, he's
telling them..." She drew herself up to her full height and spat, "'I am
not like you!'"
She waited for an outcry, but the
Slytherins made no response. They just sat there, mulling this over, and
eventually they began to nod.
"You may be right," Malfoy agreed,
causing Hermione to whirl around and march to the door in a huff.
"This isn't over!" she shouted as she
jerked the door open. "It's not over for Professor Dumbledore and
Professor McGonagall, and it's not over for me!" She shoved her annoying
hair out of her face and urged her housemate, "Come on, Harry."
Harry stood up, but he didn't leave.
He stared at Malfoy, a memory stirring in his head. It was something the
blonde boy had said to him on Christmas night a year ago. If Snape didn't
want to be like Dumbledore and McGonagall, did it follow that the
"Is that why we'll never be friends?"
he asked Malfoy. "Because you don't want to be like us?"
Draco's eyebrows sprang up in surprise.
Harry snorted. "Too bad, then," he pointed out, taking care to glance
around the entire room so that every Slytherin would appreciate the
repercussions of what he was about to say... "...that Snape's
He sauntered over to Hermione and held
the door for her before exiting himself, leaving the children of Salazar's
house thunderstruck. Several moments passed before Malfoy summed up their
reaction to the idea of being raised by Albus Dumbledore in a single
"What's that?" Minerva asked
upon entering the headmaster's office. Dumbledore was seated at his desk,
studying a somewhat decrepit piece of parchment.
"It's Severus' Defense OWL," he
told her after inviting her to sit down. He held the exam paper across
the desk for her to take.
"How did you get it?" she
breathed, eagerly scanning the contents.
Dumbledore twinkled. "He applied for the position."
Minerva readjusted her glasses
and squinted as she read the cramped, spidery writing. It was all
there... Snape's concern about Voldemort and his influence over the
children of Slytherin, a pledge to use the insights he'd gained from an
infatuation with the dark arts to develop new defense techniques, a
thorough demonstration of his knowledge of defense, some brilliant new
theories, and finally, a plea for the Ministry to interfere on behalf of
his friends, the children of prominent wizarding families who were falling
under Voldemort's spell.
By the time she reached the end
of the paper, the deputy headmistress had sagged visibly. She held up the
document and pointed silently to the mediocre grade. Dumbledore shrugged.
"He named names," the headmaster
reminded her. "You can't expect an examiner hired by the Ministry to give
high marks to a paper that names names."
Minerva snorted. She set the parchment
down on the desk, resting her hand on top of it as if to shield it from
further abuse. After a moment, she looked up and asked Dumbledore, "How
did he do on his NEWT?"
"He didn't take it."
The Transfigurations teacher sat up
sharply. "Severus didn't take a NEWT in Defense?" she repeated.
Dumbledore shrugged again. "I suppose,"
the old man observed coyly, "he didn't see the point."
"Oh, Albus." Minerva shook her head.
She clasped her hands in her lap, took a deep breath, and said what she'd
come to say.
"I do not want to follow in your
footsteps, Albus, without Severus by my side."
Dumbledore shook his head. "I'm sure
either Professor Flitwick or Professor Sprout..."
"I want Severus!" Minerva shouted,
slamming a palm down on his desk. Fawkes squawked in surprise and bolted
from his perch to fly around the room.
His eyes twinkling, Dumbledore rose and
crossed the office to soothe his pet. "Be practical, Minerva," he
beseeched as he coaxed Fawkes back onto his perch and stroked his flaming
red feathers. "This isn't about forgiveness, after all. It's about
He tilted his head to study the bird as
it preened its ruffled feathers. "At Hogwarts," he mused, "Severus
learned just how bad 'good' people can be. Once you show an idealistic
person how..." He searched for a delicate term. "...inconsistent... most
individuals are, you can never take that knowledge away."
He reached in his pocket and produced a
bit of biscuit which he offered Fawkes. The bird took it grudgingly,
crumbling it in his beak while he turned a disdainful eye upon McGonagall.
Dumbledore returned to his desk and sat down.
"I never quite understood," he murmured
as he picked up a quill and toyed with it, "how James Potter could pride
himself on opposing the Dark Arts without realizing that hexing people who
don't deserve it... is dark magic at its simplest."
Minerva snorted. "He outgrew that!"
she protested. But Dumbledore shook his head.
"Did he?" the old man wondered. "James
had so many gifts, Minerva, but he never used them for good unless there
was something in it for him... my esteem, Lily's affections, the
admiration of others..."
"Perhaps we should dig up his corpse,"
Minerva interrupted tartly, "and whip him naked through the corridors of
Dumbledore indulged himself in a brief
chuckle. "The point I am making," he continued mildly, "is that Severus
believes in altruism. He relishes nobility and will doubtless spend the
rest of his life serving those in need. But I can't think of anything
under the sun that would compel him to return to Hogwarts, because people
He leaned back in his chair and closed
his eyes. "People like Severus," he whispered, tenting his fingertips
above his long silver beard, "will never be happy unless they are allowed
to be ...apart."
For a long time there was no sound but
the crunching of Fawkes' biscuit. When Dumbledore opened his eyes, he
found McGonagall staring out a darkened window.
"We can't win them all, Minerva," he
reminded her gently. "We defeated Voldemort. That's the important thing.
Severus..." He took a deep breath and turned once more to his bird.
"Severus," he concluded, his half-moon glasses reflecting Fawkes' gentle
gaze, "may simply have to go down in the loss column."
The deputy headmistress pressed her
lips together, hard. Easy for you to say, old man, she fumed.
Dumbledore was twice her age. He had more to look back on. He had not
been of an age to... He didn't see how... She gave herself a little
shake, wishing she could cast aside the pain that tugged mercilessly at
her heart. After the death of Lupin, Snape had been all that remained of
a generation that had seemed like...
"The children," she spoke up
sharply. She cleared her throat and pulled a handkerchief from her
pocket, blowing her nose loudly. "We're making no headway with them," she
insisted as she tucked the handkerchief away again, "and they've been away
from their families for so long. Perhaps we could send them home for
Christmas a bit early. Start fresh in the new year."
Dumbledore, relieved by the
change of subject, leaned forward to consider it.
"Right now," Minerva reviewed, "we're
scheduled to send them home on Wednesday, Christmas Eve. What if we
cancelled classes Monday and Tuesday and sent them home Saturday instead?"
The headmaster shook his head.
"Several parents have made plans to be away that weekend on shopping
expeditions," he told McGonagall. "Holiday gifts and food items are
proving difficult to come by."
"Surely they could arrange..."
Minerva began, but Dumbledore cut her off.
"With muggle-wizard relations
so..." He chose the word carefully. "...strained... these days, I'd
prefer not to send the children home to anyone but their parents.
However..." He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling again. "We could
certainly cancel classes on Monday and Tuesday and send the children home
"Thank you." McGonagall rose
and wished him a pleasant evening before heading for the door. As she
opened it, Dumbledore called,
The old man rose and crossed
once more to his phoenix. "With so many orphans remaining at Hogwarts
over Christmas," he began, offering Fawkes his arm. The large red bird
stepped carefully aboard and both creatures turned lively eyes to the
deputy headmistress. "I think it would be unwise, " Dumbledore nodded,
"for both of us to go looking for Severus at the same time."
The Transfigurations teacher
froze. Then she tossed her head, despite the blush creeping up her
cheeks. "Certainly," she agreed, hurrying out the door so she would not
have to endure one of the headmaster's twinkly smiles at her
She returned to her office to draw up
the notices and delivered copies to Sprout and Flitwick yet that evening.
The next morning, because the Slytherins had no head of house, she let
herself into their common room before breakfast to post a copy on their
The room was empty except for
the Baron, who sat on a sofa near the fire. He gazed morosely at
McGonagall, following her every move with those vacant, staring eyes. The
deputy headmistress found his behavior most annoying. After tacking up
the piece of parchment, she strode briskly over to him and announced,
"We're sending the children home early.
Until then, perhaps you would be good enough to meet with me each week, to
keep me apprised of how the Slytherins are managing."
The Baron just stared at her,
his eyes blank yet menacing. The silence in Slytherin House went on and
on, pressing in on McGonagall, who felt her face begin to flame. Too
close to the fire, she decided, and she took a step to the left.
Why do they build it up so in the morning? Of course, this was
Saturday. The Slytherins would not be going to class.
Then she noticed that the fire was not
really large. It just seemed that way because the popping timbers echoed
so loudly in the quiet room. To fill the silence, McGonagall told the
Baron sternly, "I am waiting for your answer!"
The Baron nodded. He glanced
at the archway to the girls' corridor and then at the entrance to the
boys' corridor. Then he told McGonagall,
"I don't think that will be
The deputy headmistress paled.
Oh, no, she thought, unconsciously clenching her fists. Not
now. Not after everything else!
She dashed across the room and
down the girls' corridor, flinging wide one cell door after another. Then
she hurried to the boys' corridor and did the same to their rooms, banging
each door against the stone wall as she rushed to the next cell. The
Baron counted the bangs; when the last door had been wrenched open, he
turned his vacant eyes to the boys' corridor entrance.
It was a long time before McGonagall
reentered the common room. When she did, her face was still and her gait
halting. She staggered uncertainly across the room and reached up with
one trembling hand to remove the parchment she'd just posted on the
Slytherins' message board. As she did, her eyes fell on something shiny
stuck in one corner.
It was Draco Malfoy's head boy
McGonagall clenched the
parchment notice, crumpling it into a ball as she slowly lowered her hand,
never taking her eyes off the badge. Her breath heaved in and out of her
chest and the color rose in her cheeks. She turned slowly back towards
the fireplace, her eyes darting uncertainly around the room, her head
bobbing slightly. When she spoke, it was in a whisper, and she stammered,
as if experimenting with a word she felt certain was appropriate but
didn't know how to pronounce.
The Baron rose and hovered just
above the sofa, unsure whether to approach the deputy headmistress or
When she spun around and suddenly wrenched the notice board from the wall,
he made up his mind. He flew for the door as fast as he could go and
sailed through it just as McGonagall flung the board across the room.
"Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!" she
Dammit, dammit, dammit,
Malfoy thought as he surveyed the mess surrounding him. Would you look
at this place?
He cataloged the dilapidation that
extended as far as the eye could see. Broken windows. Peeling stucco.
Cracks in the foundation. A front door hanging crooked on rusty hinges.
Overturned benches. Overgrown shrubs. Chipped statuary in the mossy
water fountain. Dead grass sticking up through the snow. He glanced at
the Slytherins who stood clumped behind him. They looked even more
appalled than he. This, the boy realized with a shake of his head,
may have been a huge mistake.
It had been cold flying, all
night through the snow. Even with the team equipment, there had not been
enough brooms to go around, so the Slytherins had had to double up. As a
result, they'd had to leave many of their possessions behind. "We'll go
back for the rest at Christmas," Malfoy had promised, "when fewer people
are around." Now he deeply regretted the cavalier way they had cast aside
their Dumbledorian long underwear. Even beneath a blanket of new snow,
the squire's house and surrounding grounds looked hopelessly decrepit, a
woeful disappointment to the cold, weary Slytherins.
"You didn't tell us it was this
bad," he whispered fiercely to Goyle.
"It wasn't this bad," his
housemate hissed back. "Maybe his house elf died."
The front door banged open and Pansy
"About time!" shouted a scruffy looking
wizard in tattered green robes. He shook a walking stick at them. "I've
been writing that agency for months!" he complained before turning around
to hobble grumpily back inside, his cane banging the floor with every
step. The Slytherins exchanged confused looks.
"Is it because half of us have matching
cloaks?" Millicent wondered, bewildered as to how the old man could
mistake a group of schoolchildren for employees from a cleaning agency.
"Whatever gets us in the door," he
replied, and he led his housemates inside.
Twelve hours later, the Slytherins sat
huddled in a ragged circle in the squire's parlor, cold and weary and now
hungry and dirty to boot. They'd slaved all day in this room, where they
planned to sleep until they could clean some bedrooms, but they'd barely
made a dent in the filth. They hadn't even begun on the kitchen and their
stomachs were gnawing in protest.
Malfoy pointed his wand at his sleeve
to scourgify his grimy cuff and wound up burning a hole in his shirt,
stinging his wrist. "Ow!" he snarled, and Millicent reminded him,
"You have to hold the wand farther
"I know that!" he snapped back.
Violet sighed. "Maybe the squire could
help us," she murmured. The old man had retreated to his room and showed
no signs of emerging. Given the current state of his residence, Malfoy
doubted the senile wizard would be of much help.
"We need an elf," Pansy insisted. "Can
we afford an elf?"
Malfoy scowled. "I don't even know how
to get one," he confessed. Thanks to Dumbledore and Granger, he wasn't
sure it was even possible anymore. Besides, his money had to last...
well, who knew how long it had to last?
He shook his head at their ignorance.
If only they hadn't been assigned yard work last summer! Now none of them
knew how to clean and manage a household using magic. The purebloods all
came from homes that had boasted house-elves and the half-bloods, every
last one of them, had grown up in homes where muggles had done the
housework, using electrical appliances unheard of in the wizarding world.
"I'm sure the nuns would help us,
pointed out, but the boy shook his head.
"Without magic," he reminded her,
"it'll take 12 hours a day or more to keep this place running. When are
we supposed to have time for a school?"
Crabbe and Goyle returned with bad news
from their exploratory trip to the kitchen. "The cupboards," Goyle
announced, "are bare." The Slytherins groaned.
Malfoy, fearing they would soon be
reduced to eating the pet owls that had flown so valiantly alongside them
through the night, glanced at the handful of children who had living,
non-Death Eater parents. "Maybe you should go home," he murmured.
His suggestion brought an immediately
storm of protest. Go home? What for? To be sent back to Hogwarts and
absorbed into other houses? No way! We're all in this together, his
That gave him an idea.
No one thought much of it when,
two and a half weeks later, Violet didn't queue up for a bath on Thursday
night. She certainly needed one. They all did. But after twelve hours
of hard labor, the Slytherin girls standing in a row outside the lavatory
door were just too tired to care.
Every day, the Slytherins had
to hunt down, levitate, and diffendo enough wood to fuel fireplaces in
their parlor, the kitchen stove, the squire's bedroom, and the four
bedrooms they'd managed to reclaim so far. They'd tried accioing wood
with horrendous results: windows had been broken, walls had been smashed,
and the Slytherins had run screaming through the snow to escape the
onslaught of flying wooden furniture. "Accio firewood" had proven even
more disastrous without a school nurse on hand to heal their burns.
Hauling the wood inside made
the floors filthy. Their scourgify spells only cleaned a few inches of
carpet at a time; they tracked up faster than they could clean. This,
along with cooking their meager meals and keeping themselves tidy, took a
solid twelve hours per day.
They'd considered writing to
the less affluent citizens of Hogsmeade for housekeeping instructions but
had decided against it. If word got back to the families of the few
Slytherins who still had parents that their children were living in
impoverished filth, this little experiment, they knew, would come to a
rapid halt. Correspondence between the non-orphans and their families had
revealed that the only reason the parents were putting up with this was
because they knew their children would simply run away again if dragged
home or, worse, sent back to Hogwarts.
They were still wearing their Hogwarts
uniforms. They'd discussed it just before leaving and had decided that,
Hogwarts or no Hogwarts, they were still Slytherins. Besides, the
uniforms were the warmest clothes they had. But keeping them clean was
their biggest chore of all.
The garments were suffering mightily
under current conditions, but scourgifying charms were too hard on the
clothes; they thinned and weakened the fabric. So the Slytherins were
forced to launder by hand, and while the squire had indoor plumbing, the
water came out of the taps icy cold. No one could figure out why.
Then one day, Violet had accidentally
dropped her illuminated wand into a cauldron of water she was using to
scrub the fireplace grate beneath the parlor chimney. She'd let out a
squeal of delight when, upon fishing it out, she'd discovered that the
light had warmed the cauldron water a few degrees. After that, they could
heat water without burning up precious fuel or monopolizing one of the few
bluebell flames they could find a home for among the squire's limited
glassware. But it was a time-consuming process. At night, with so many
people to bathe in just two tubs, baths had to be limited to a woefully
unsatisfying three minutes in two inches of tepid water.
That was why, on this
particular Thursday night, Violet was foregoing her turn in the lavatory
to conduct an experiment in the bedroom she shared with Marybeth,
Jennifer, Millicent, Pansy and Tracey. She placed her cauldron in the
center of the room between the two beds and the fainting couch, aimed her
wand, and cried "Engorgio!" taking care not to be heard by her housemates
down the hall. Malfoy had a rule about 'no underaged magic except for
chores.' Her cauldron increased in size and Violet repeated the charm
until it was large enough to meet her needs.
Next she slid open the window
and leaned out to levitate the buckets of snow waiting below. One by one,
she dumped them into her cauldron, fired up her lumos light, thrust it
into the cauldron, and hummed happily to herself as the snow melted and
When Millicent entered the room a short while later, wrapped up in
her Slytherin warming cloak after her lukewarm soak and chilly trip down
the corridor, she found Violet up to her shoulders in toasty warm water,
singing happily as she scrubbed. "I'd like to be... under the sea... in
an octopus's garden... in the shade..."
The youngster tossed the older
girl a cheeky grin, confident her brilliant idea would make a big splash
with her housemates. She lifted one foot to scrub between her toes,
singing at the top of her lungs, "Mr. Bubble in the tub'll... getcha
As she sang, a wave of water
washed up her nose and Violet sat up sharply, coughing and sputtering.
How had that happened? she wondered. She glanced down in confusion.
"Millicent," she called, unable to believe the evidence of her eyes. "Is
the water in this cauldron... rising?"
Even as she spoke, the water
inched up her neck and began spilling over the sides. Millicent flew
across the room and yanked her out of the bath just in time; the cauldron
shrank in violent spasms, sending gallons of soapy water sloshing across
the floor as it reverted to its original size.
Violet, goose-pimpled with
horror, fumbled for her Slytherin cloak hanging on a chair nearby.
"Millicent," she squeaked as she pulled the garment on. "Would it have
Millicent shook her head with a
snort. "Look at this mess!" she snarled. She pulled out her wand and was
just about to evanesco the nearest puddle when a strange sound made her
"What's that?" she asked,
listening hard. Violet pricked up her ears and the two girls stood very
still. There was a trickling noise from the water cascading down through
the floorboards to the kitchen below. But it was the strange sizzling
sound which came after that puzzled them.
Then Malfoy's voice rang out loud and
He stormed upstairs, cleaned up
the mess with a drought charm, ordered Millicent out of the room, and
hauled Violet across his knee to spank her soundly. Then he sent her to
bed and returned to the first floor to inform the Slytherins that her
impromptu flood had rained down on the stove, spoiling their supper.
As his housemates filed
miserably out of the kitchen, Malfoy sank into the nearest chair and
dropped his head onto his arms to contemplate this latest disaster. "I
didn't know the charm wouldn't hold!" Violet had protested as he'd
reddened her bottom. Well, that was the trouble, wasn't it? They didn't
seem to know much at all!
They worked so hard, all of them. But
they were so bloody ignorant, they had to slave all day just to keep body
and soul together. Still, they were never really clean, never really
warm, and never really full. When were they supposed to find time to
organize a school, much less run it?
Malfoy lifted his head to gaze
at the mess splattered all over the stove. It hadn't been much of a meal
Violet had ruined, just a large kettle of mash he'd made from the flakes
Adrian Pucey had provided. His former teammate had sent several boxes
after Malfoy had written for help his first night at the manor. Marcus
Flint had sent a few packages of dried vegetables, tea, and copies of the
They were lucky to have any food at
all, but the Slytherins still complained about the carefully-rationed
fare. And tomorrow, no doubt, Jennifer and Marybeth, who shared Violet's
bed, would grumble that she'd tossed and turned all night from her sore
rear end, and Violet would pout for two days because he'd spanked her, all
of which annoyed the hell out of him. But the quarrelling was even worse.
The last time he'd spanked Jennifer,
there'd been a terrible row between the third year girls and the seventh
years who shared their bedroom. The third years thought Millicent should
give up her fainting couch and sleep with Pansy and Tracey whenever
someone got spanked so the tossing and turning wouldn't keep the others
awake; the older girls had insisted they were too big to sleep three in a
bed. "If you little kids would stop messing about so much..." Millicent
had snarled, and Malfoy had had to rush in before the hexes flew.
They wouldn't accept his authority, he
fumed. That was the problem. The little kids were cheerful enough, more
tolerant of manor's squalor than their older counterparts. Malfoy had
hoped that putting them into bedrooms with the seventh years (the 4th, 5th
and 6th years shared the other two rooms) would keep them on their best
behavior. But they got up to mischief nevertheless, making messes,
breaking things, and worst of all, plaguing the poor, befuddled old
squire. "You'd have gotten far worse from Snape," Malfoy had reminded
them when they'd glowered at him for paddling them after they'd hidden
their pet snakes in the squire's bed. "Now behave yourselves, or I'll
turn those reptiles into a stew!"
The teenager climbed to his feet,
brushing splotches of mashed potato off his robe. He was so tired of
these grimy Hogwarts uniforms! As the outfits grew shabbier and smellier,
Draco found himself thinking constantly about his father's clothing, just
waiting for him in the armoires of the Malfoy estate. How he would love
to augment these weary rags with the occasional silk shirt or pair of
linen trousers. But the Slytherins wouldn't let him leave.
"You'd be gone too long," Millicent
protested every time he brought it up. "This house isn't on the floo
system, and it's not like you can apparate. We can't spare you for the
amount of time it would take you to fly there and back."
Malfoy had tried to persuade them with
promises of the luxuries he could gather up and bring back. But Tracey
had hooted, pointing out that the estate had probably been looted a dozen
times by now, which had only increased his desperation to visit.
The squire was no help whatsoever. He
blundered into their presence occasionally to rant and rave but never
backed Malfoy up. The teenager wasn't sure the old man even knew who they
Christmas is a week away, he
thought as he pulled out his wand to scourgify the stove, and it''ll
probably be the worst one of our lives. He wondered if he should send
the non-orphans home. He wondered how they were going to survive the
He wondered if anybody cared.
Madam Rosmerta shook her head at the
spectacle before her. Harry Potter sat alone in the otherwise empty pub,
staring vacantly at the empty goblets littering his table, drunk for the
first time in his life. I should have cut him off sooner, the
sensible tavern-mistress lamented, knowing full well she'd have had no
chance of that the way her eager customers had mobbed the boy all evening.
They'd fought for the privilege of
buying him one drink after another, never mind that 1) this was a Thursday
night, not a Hogsmeade Weekend, and 2) the boy was obviously distressed.
His unresponsiveness had been no deterrent; they'd filled the uneasy
pauses with more claps on the back and cries of "Thatta boy!" and "Drink
up, Potter, drink up!" Only when he'd grown tipsy and belligerent had
they backed off, slipping out the door into the snowy December evening or
creeping upstairs to bed.
"Feeling better, Mr. Potter?" Rosie
called to the miserable young man across the room as she wiped the last of
the glasses and put them away. "Drowned your sorrows, have you?"
Harry tried to lift his eyes and his
head swam. Don't scold, he begged the barmaid silently.
Rosmerta put down her towel and walked
over to Harry's table. There was no way, she realized, that she could
send him back to Hogwarts in this condition. She wrapped an arm around
his shoulders to help him to his feet.
"Let's find you a bed," she murmured as
she led him to the stairs. "You can creep back to Hogwarts at first
light. You don't want anyone seeing you like this!"
She helped him up the steps and through
the nearest door into a dark, sparsely furnished room, the last one she
had available. As she eased him onto the bed, he collapsed, falling
deeply asleep. The experienced barmaid tugged off his shoes and placed
them at the edge of the bed, then fished his wand out of his pocket and
removed his glasses so he wouldn't roll on them in his sleep. She placed
them in the top drawer of a bureau beneath the window opposite the bed
and, taking one last look to be sure his robe was covering him adequately,
slipped quietly from the room.
Harry woke several hours later with a
raging thirst and a mouth as dry as floo powder. The unfamiliar darkness
startled him; for a moment he thought he was drowning. He thrashed about
his bed, trying to figure out where he was. Then it came to him. He was
at the Three Broomsticks. He'd left Hogwarts in a temper and had come to
town to, well... to get drunk, he supposed.
It had seemed like a good idea at the
He'd marched right out the front door
of the castle and across the lawn, daring anyone to try and stop him.
"You found me sneaking out?" he'd wanted to snarl. "Why don't you try
finding the Slytherins?! It's been nearly 3 weeks!" But no one had
noticed his angry departure, so he'd proceeded into town... and apparently
had proceeded to get quite tipsy as well.
Someone must have put him to bed.
He groped in the murk for a nightstand
next to the bed but found none. Brilliant, he snarled to himself.
How was he supposed to find a candle, or his wand or glasses for that
matter? The first thing I'm going to do when I get back to Hogwarts, he
decided as he slid his legs over the edge of the bed, is ask Professor
Flitwick to teach me how to accio without a wand... so I can accio my damn
He sat quietly in the darkness for a
moment, overcome by thirst. "Water," he croaked. Would it be too
pathetic to call for help? He squinted at the faint light shining beneath
the door, then climbed off the bed and stumbled towards it, tripping over
his shoes in the process. The room lurched and his head swam. Why were
his legs so wobbly? He banged into the door and cursed his clumsiness.
His mouth was so dry he couldn't even "ssh" himself.
He patted the door with his palms until
he found the knob and opened it, stepping as quietly as possible into the
veranda-like hallway overlooking the drinking area. He squinted to make
out Madam Rosmerta sitting at a table below with her back to him. He was
just about to call for assistance when she moved a bit to her right and he
spied a child sitting across from her, silhouetted in the glow of the fire
burning in the fireplace behind him. Quickly Harry dropped to a crouch,
grabbing the banister to steady himself as he peeked through the spokes.
It would not do to have a Hogwarts student see him like this.
No. Wait. He shook his head
and tried to swallow as he struggled to make sense of the situation. Why
would a Hogwarts student be downstairs with Madam Rosmerta in the middle
of the night? He squeezed the banister with both hands, intending to
pulling himself up again, and that's when the street door opened and a man
There was power in his stride and his
dark cloak billowed around him as he shook the dampness from his black
hair. Harry shoved his face between two spokes. My God, he
thought as he struggled to make out the scene below. Could it be?
He squinted as hard as he could. No, it couldn't be. The hair wasn't
But then Madam Rosmerta climbed eagerly
to her feet and hurried over to the man, slipping her arms around his
waist. "Severus!" she beamed as she squeezed him.
The man did not hug her back. He
couldn't, because he carried two bundles, one a bit more carefully than
the other, it seemed to Harry. Rosmerta released him and he set both
bundles down on the table as he nodded at the boy.
"Have you flown before?" he asked the
child, and though the tone was not as curt as Harry was used to, he would
have known the voice anywhere. It was Snape.
"No, sir," the child replied.
"The broom's a bit twitchy,"
Snape told him. "You'll have to hold on tight."
Since when does Snape have a
broom? Harry wondered. Perhaps he'd been spending his Remedy money.
'Twitchy' sounds used, the boy speculated. He wondered if new
brooms were in short supply these days.
Madam Rosmerta brushed some debris from
Snape's cloak. "Loreli is bringing another youngster on Monday," she told
Snape turned to her, apparently
displeased by the news.
"Damn muggles!" he hissed.
"They're killing more of us than Voldemort ever did!"
Rosmerta fetched him a cup of
coffee, addressing Snape over her shoulder as she poured. "Don't
exaggerate, Severus," she protested, and Harry couldn't tell if she was
lecturing or pleading. "It's just the shallow ones who cause all the
She brought him the cup and he
accepted it with an appreciative sigh, savoring its aroma. "You don't
have to tell me," he continued more quietly. He nodded at the larger
bundle and Rosmerta turned to it, cutting off Harry's view. He leaned
sideways, trying to see what Snape had brought.
Rosmerta unwrapped the bundle and let
out a loud gasp. The boy on the opposite side of the table rose and
leaned over to look.
"Just don't ask me what they
did to the mother," was all Snape had to say.
For a few moments they just
stood there, gazing silently at the infant Snape had brought. Then Madam
Rosmerta murmured, "There are rumors..."
"Yes?" Snape prompted her.
Rosmerta shook her head.
"There are rumors," she began again, so softly Harry had to strain to
hear, "that muggles have located Hogsmeade, that they lurk in the woods
outside of town and..."
The baby whimpered and Madam Rosmerta
gave herself a little shake. "It needs a nappie," she said briskly,
removing the soiled newspaper Snape had made do with. "I'll fetch
something." She hurried away and Harry got a clear view of the naked baby
on the table. The infant continued to whimper, working up to a wail.
"Hush, child!" Snape scolded.
"People are sleeping!"
"She's cold, Severus," Rosmerta
called from the bar where she was dampening a soft cloth.
"Oh." Snape unbuttoned his cloak and
the shirt beneath it. He picked up the infant and tucked her inside his
shirt, pressing her against his skin. The baby quieted immediately.
Rosmerta returned with the damp rag and
a scrap of cloth to clean and diaper the baby. "You may open the other
bundle," she told the boy across the table as she tended to the infant,
once again obscuring Harry's view of the table. The boy opened the
smaller parcel and Rosmerta gasped again, this time with delight.
"Oh, Severus!" she cried as she cradled
the infant. "How wonderful!"
Snape finished his coffee and set down
the cup. "Send some of it to the castle, would you?" he requested, and
"Severus," she murmured, laying a hand
on his arm. "You know about the Slytherins, don't you?"
Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought
he saw Snape's back-lit profile smile.
"Yes," the man replied silkily. "I
know about the Slytherins."
His attitude perplexed the
barmaid. "What's so funny?" she demanded, but Snape shook his head.
"We need to leave," he said
instead. "It's best to arrive in the dark. Can you fashion some sort of
satchel? I'll take the infant on my back and the boy in front."
"Will the sisters take a child
so young?" Madam Rosmerta wondered, handing Snape the baby.
"This will be the youngest
yet," the man admitted. Then it was Madam Rosmerta's turn to chuckle, and
Snape's to ask, "What's so funny?" as if the sight of him holding an
infant weren't explanation enough.
The barmaid shook her head,
smiling a bit as she did. "I rather miss the little beggars," she
confessed. "How are they getting on?"
Harry nearly gasped out loud.
In that instant, he knew where Snape had gotten the broom.
Snape shrugged. "They're
hard-working, the sisters tell me. And bright. The older ones know
charms I've never seen."
"And the little ones?" Rosmerta
teased, patting the baby on the back. The dark-haired wizard frowned at
"What about them?"
"I'm told they cry whenever you
leave!" Madam Rosmerta giggled, and the boy across the table quickly
ducked his head. Snape gave Rosmerta's backside a sharp swat with his
Harry watched, his eyes
smarting, as Rosmerta fetched a shawl and strapped the baby to Snape's
back beneath his cloak. Then she accompanied the three travelers outside.
Harry imagined her fastening Snape's cloak more snuggly around the trio
after they mounted Snape's used broom. Eventually she came back inside,
extinguished the candles in the drinking area, and headed for the stairs.
Harry rose and slipped quickly
back into his room before she could spot him. He stood next to the door,
listening to her footsteps, which seemed to pause briefly outside his room
before continuing down the hall. A door opened and closed. Then...
The boy leaned against the
door, sighing without realizing it. He slid to the floor, landing on his
rump with a soft thud.
Snape was helping the forest orphans.
That's how he'd gotten a broom. He'd taken them to shelter, was visiting
them regularly, and continued to bring other children to them.
For some reason, this knowledge made
Harry's chest hurt. He reached up to massage it to no avail. Why had
Snape left Hogwarts, he wondered, just to be of service to other children?
He forgot what he knew about painful
places and yielded to the belligerent thoughts filling his mind.
Hogwarts has orphans, he nodded to himself. Hogwarts has
children damaged by war. What makes them more worthy? He
clenched his teeth against another stab of heartache. Snape didn't even
seem to be worried about the Slytherins!
As he seethed, a plan began to form in
his mind. He would return to Hogwarts immediately, he decided. He would
wake Professor McGonagall and tell her everything he'd heard. She could
apparate to wherever Snape was flying and confront him, maybe drag him
bodily back to Hogwarts and make him account for his behavior before the
entire school. Maybe she'd even box his ears! That would be
brilliant! Harry grinned to himself.
But where was Snape going? Where had
he taken the forest orphans? His plan was useless, Harry knew, unless he
could figure that out. He pressed his fingertips to his throbbing temples
and tried to think.
'Will the sisters take a child
so young?' Madam Rosmerta had asked. What had she meant by that? Nuns?
Did Harry know anything about Snape that connected him to cloistered
females in matching black outfits?
Pansy's pretty face flitted across his
mind, followed closely by images of Tracey Davis and Millicent Bulstrode.
Not them! he scolded his mind, pushing aside the thoughts of
Slytherin girls in matching black school robes. But Pansy persisted,
smiling, winking, pursing her silly lips...
Oh! Harry raised his head so
suddenly he banged it against the door. Furious with himself for making a
noise, he froze, listening for any sound of movement from the corridor.
No one came to investigate the thump. Greatly relieved, he reached up to
rub the sore spot as he grinned in the darkness. He had it.
Goyle had written Malfoy at the
Dursleys while Pansy had been visiting the summer before last. He and
Crabbe had been staying at a country estate in Ely bordering a convent
where Snape had stashed Millicent and Tracey. That must be where Snape
had taken the forest orphans! And if he wasn't too worried about the
Slytherins, it must be because he knew where they were... at the country
estate right next door!
Harry wondered if the Slytherins knew
about Snape. He would owl them, he decided, right after he talked to
Professor McGonagall. But first he had to get out of here, as
unobtrusively as possible. If Madam Rosmerta discovered he was leaving,
she would no doubt try to stop him. 'There are rumors,' she'd told
He climbed to his feet and took a few
eager steps to the right, stubbing his toe on a small table in the
process. "Dammit!" he hissed, even as he explored the table's top. It
held a pitcher of water and a tumbler. Harry poured himself one glassful
after another until his thirst was thoroughly quenched. Then he made his
way to the bed where he put on his shoes to avoid any more toe-stubbing.
He felt his way around the room in the dark until he discovered the
dresser by the window.
He jerked open the top drawer and
reached in with both hands, quickly finding a smooth shaft of wood to the
right and his glasses to the left. His fingers closed gratefully over the
slender rod, which he stowed in his pocket before reaching up to shove his
glasses onto his face. Then he hurried towards the light coming from
beneath the door.
The faint, warm glow of the fire below
was perfect for creeping downstairs. Harry paused just long enough to
retrieve his warm, dry cloak from the hook nearest the fire, then let
himself out the door into the cold December night.
He considered firing up his lumos light
and decided against it. Someone might be peeping out a window. He
hurried through the village and onto the path to Hogwarts, his mind on
nothing but a possible confrontation between McGonagall and Snape. What
would she say to him, he wondered. Then another thought occurred to him.
What if she decided not to go? What if
she thought the orphans needed him more than the students of Hogwarts did?
What about that package, the one that
had made Madam Rosmerta so happy? What was in it? Had Snape become some
sort of smuggler? Was he of more use to the wizarding world away from
Harry decided not to tell Professor
McGonagall about the package.
He looked up and discovered he was far
enough from town to ignite his lumos light, so he reached into his pocket
Snap! A sound from a nearby stand of
trees made him stop in his tracks. An animal, he wondered as he
squinted over his shoulder, stepping on a twig? He listened hard
but could hear nothing apart from his own breathing.
'There are rumors that muggles have
Harry looked quickly in every
direction. He was alone, approximately halfway between Hogsmeade and
Hogwarts. But it didn't matter, he realized. He was not afraid. He'd
grown up in the home of Dudley Dursley, after all, and he had defeated the
darkest wizard known to mankind! He was NOT afraid of some bullying
muggle gits. So he pulled out his wand, thrust it sharply in the
direction of the snapping sound, and barked, "Lumos!"
"What in blazes are you doing?"
Violet ignored the threatening
tone in Malfoy's voice and gave the 'garland' she was hanging in the
entryway a slight twist. "Another box of broccoli arrived from Marcus,"
she informed the former head boy, "so we're decorating for Christmas."
She climbed down from the chair
she'd been standing on and stood back with Jennifer, Michael and Marybeth
to admire her work. The strung broccoli was a bit limp but at least it
was green. She smiled at the effect as the front door opened and closed
behind her; the Slytherins, well-used to housemates bringing in wood all
day, ignored it.
Malfoy walked over to Violet
and shook his head, staring up at the garland. "I can't believe you'd
waste food the morning after you ruined dinner," he observed, and Violet
was just about to move her backside out of reach when a smooth voice
"Are you being difficult, Miss
The Slytherins spun around.
There stood Snape, leaning against the doorframe, a satisfied little smile
on his face. "Professor Snape!" Violet shrieked, and as she flew across
the room to leap into his arms, voices behind her shouted to the rest of
the house, "It's Professor Snape! Professor Snape is here!"
Footsteps thundered down corridors and
staircases as the Slytherins poured downstairs and surrounded their
housemaster. Violet, her legs wrapped in a death grip around his waist,
hugged his neck and covered his cheek with kisses. Then she pulled back
for a good look at him and frowned. She turned to her housemates who
could only stare in bewilderment. Turning back to Snape, she voiced the
question on all their minds.
"What's wrong with your hair, sir?"
Snape looked wonderful. He
really did. Gone were the billowing black robes of his teaching days.
Instead, he wore a dashing cloak over a white shirt and dark trousers.
His hair was soft, shiny, and as silky as his voice; it bounced whenever
he moved. There were blooms in his cheeks and a light in his eyes.
He looked ten years younger.
Suddenly, the Slytherins weren't so
sure they were glad to see him.
Violet took in her housemates' dimming
faces and released Snape's neck to fold her arms across her chest.
"You left us!" she accused.
"So I did," Snape nodded. "But I'm
here now..." He put Violet down and glanced about the room, his eyes
coming to rest on Malfoy's face, "...and I will help you. If you wish."
He stepped around Violet and made his
way to the parlor, taking in the filthy carpets, the piles of wood, and
the slovenly uniforms and pinched faces of the Slytherins who followed
close behind. "Having a bit of difficulty, Malfoy?" he asked the blonde
teenager. Malfoy scowled and Snape chuckled.
"Never mind, Draco," he said softly.
He gave the boy a shrewd nod and added, "Think what a mess the four
founders made of things."
That made Draco smile. The Slytherins
crowded around Snape and began bombarding him with questions. Where had
he been? What had he been doing? How long could he stay? Snape shook
his head and held up one hand. "Aren't you going to offer me a cup of
tea?" he wondered.
The children exchanged sheepish looks.
"Right," Snape nodded. "We'll begin in
Before anyone could move, the squire
wandered into the room. He thrust his hands on his hips at the sight of
Snape, nearly poking Crabbe in the eye with his walking stick, and
demanded, "Who in blazes are you?"
Snape gave the man a small bow. "I'm
Severus Snape, sir," he replied politely. "Do you remember me?"
At that moment, the Slytherins realized
who their senile host must be.
The squire looked Snape up and down.
"Show off!" he muttered. Then he turned on his heel and marched right
back out of the room. As Snape watched him go, Violet shoved her way to
the front of the crowd surrounding him and tugged on his sleeve.
"Did he ever cane you?" she asked
Snape raised an eyebrow. "I assure
you, Miss Guilford, my conduct was above reproach."
"Or at least your discretion," Malfoy
corrected, and as the Slytherins laughed, Snape jerked his head in the
direction of the kitchen and set off. His students followed eagerly.
Only Violet lagged behind, watching them go, her brow furrowed with a new
thought. She stood even as laughter and happy shouts began to ring from
the kitchen. Then she nodded to herself and hurried away to join her
Snape knew exactly how to make the most
of the meager ingredients in the pantry and soon a tummy-filling meal was
bubbling on the stove. While it cooked, he showed them how to organize
the cupboards, dishware and cooking supplies for the fastest meal
preparation and how to maintain sanitary conditions in a less than opulent
cooking environment. He enlarged their table so they could all sit around
it at once, then ordered the girls to bring him the withered remains of
the neglected window boxes so he could show them which dried leaves, when
ground up and added to batter or mash, would enhanced the flavor of their
"I'll write down a recipe for a vitamin
potion you can add to your drinking water," he promised as they sat down
to a savory repast of spicy broth and potato flake pancakes. "The
ingredients are fairly inexpensive."
"Malfoy has money," Millicent piped up,
"but we've been afraid to order anything for fear of giving away our
Snape smiled as he helped himself to a
single pancake and passed the chipped platter to Goyle. "A substantial
number of you are underaged wizards performing magic away from Hogwarts,"
he reminded them. "As soon as the Ministry finds the time, they'll be on
you like owls on a field mouse. Perhaps you should focus on security."
The mention of Dumbledore's school
brought an awkward pause to the conversation. Marybeth looked up timidly
from her bowl of soup and voiced the question that was on many of their
"Are you here to send us back, sir?"
Snape, who'd been raising a glass of
water to his lips, put it down again without drinking. He thought for a
few moments. Then he told his former students, "I want what is best for
you... for all of you." He nodded and added, "That may include returning
to Hogwarts. But I don't see how I can send you, Miss Montague, as
I...." He picked up the glass again. "...am not going back."
"Well, neither are we," Malfoy
declared, raising a glass to join Snape, "because we hate Hogwarts as much
as you do!" The Slytherins drank heartily to that, smacking their glasses
back down on the table with authoritative bangs that made several of the
younger kids giggle. Their giddiness reminded Malfoy of the half dozen
former first year Slytherins scheduled to return to Hogwarts after the
holidays. What would happen to them, he wondered. He was just about to
ask Snape when Violet piped up.
"He wasn't a very good one, was he?"
All conversation stopped as the
Slytherins turned curiously to her. Snape frowned. "Who wasn't a very
good what, Miss Guilford?" he demanded.
"The squire!" Violet reminded them.
"He wasn't a very good head of house, was he?"
The Slytherins stared at her, then
turned with one motion to Snape, who narrowed his eyes at Violet. "No,"
he finally admitted, a coolness creeping into his voice. "He wasn't."
He focused steely eyes upon the girl
who smiled sweetly back at him before bowing her head over her bowl.
"A good head of house is important,"
she told her soup.
Malfoy bit back a smile. He turned to
Snape, who glowered for several seconds at Violet's coyly-bowed head
before admitting with a curl of his lip,
He stayed for three days, teaching them
everything they needed to know to manage the house properly. "Your
heating charm needs to be renewed once a year," he explained after hunting
down the spot where the plumbing split into hot and cold pipes.
Most of the carpets, he pointed out,
were cheap or worthless. "You should keep the expensive ones," he
advised, "but evanesco the others. Hardwood is easier to scourgify."
He showed them how to construct and set
traps to catch small wildlife for stews and encouraged Malfoy to visit
neighboring farms posing as the squire's agent to contract for fuel. "It
shouldn't be hard to find someone who makes his living cutting wood,"
Snape assured them.
On Sunday afternoon, he went looking
for Malfoy among the upstairs bedrooms. The door was open to Violet's
room where he found the girl standing near a wall, staring at Marybeth's
drawings of himself and Lupin that she'd hung near the window.
"Who sleeps in the middle?" he asked,
nodding at the bed she shared with Jennifer and Marybeth.
"We take turns," Violet told him. She
glanced at him briefly before returning her attention to the drawings.
"It's the warmest spot but it's not easy if you have to get up in the
Snape came to stand beside the child
and joined her in studying the sketches. Lupin's showed the warm-hearted
young werewolf smiling with joy, his head tilted to one side, his hair
blowing in the breeze, as if Marybeth had caught him assisting with Jump
School or participating in calisthenics on the lawn. "It's a fine
likeness," Snape had to admit.
Violet followed his gaze to Lupin's
image. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that this was the perfect
moment to ask Snape if he'd killed Peter Pettigrew. She took a deep
breath... and chickened out.
"So's yours," she blurted instead, and
Snape, who was scowling sternly at the viewer in his drawing, turned a
sour face to the nitwit beside him and inquired icily,
"Have you any idea where I might find
Violet gasped. "The wood!" she
cried. She snatched up her cloak and hurried from the room without a
Snape found Malfoy on his hands and
knees in a dusty little room near the back of the house, casting reparo
charms at a burn hole in the floorboards. "Did someone leave a bluebell
flame unattended?" he inquired from the doorway.
Malfoy climbed to his feet with a
scowl. He'd ordered some younger kids to clean up in here so he could use
the room as a study. What they'd actually gotten up to, he couldn't
imagine. "If I keep a list," he asked Snape, "will you come back once a
week and cane everybody on it?"
Snape chuckled. He pulled out his wand
and scourgified a section of the floor for the two of them to sit on. "I
must tell you, Malfoy," he confessed as he eased himself to the floor, "I
suspect your chances of one day heading Slytherin House have all but
evaporated in light of recent events."
Malfoy threw back his head and raised
his hands to heaven. "Hallelujah!" he cried. Then he dropped to a
sitting position opposite his former teacher.
"Do you remember," he asked
Snape, "the time you told me certain honors weren't worth having anymore?"
"I learned from Voldemort," the
boy went on, "that power doesn't last without good leadership. Now I'm
starting to wonder..." He glanced out the window, where a handful of
younger kids he'd told to gather wood were actively engaged in a snowball
fight instead. "I'm starting to wonder," he repeated with a sigh, "if
power is worth having at all."
Snape climbed to his feet.
"You mustn't confuse power with notoriety," he told the boy. "A truly
powerful person can make enormous differences from the most obscure of
positions or locations." He opened the window and shouted at the
youngsters battling in the snow, "Get back to work this instant or I'll
flog the lot of you!"
The Slytherins dropped their snowballs
and ran for the woods as fast as they could go. Snape closed the window
and sat back down.
"The night I interviewed the
Gryffindors," he went on as he arranged his cloak more comfortably about
him, "Miss Granger asked me a question. Can you guess what it was?"
Malfoy snorted. "She requested
help with her NEWTs, no doubt."
Snape shook his head. "She
asked me how the Slytherins and I managed to avoid romantic
Malfoy's eyebrows flew up in
surprise. "Poor old Weasley! " he grinned. "What did you tell her?"
"I told her," Snape replied
archly, "not to make assumptions about 'poor old Weasley.' After all..."
He shooed away a spider that had descended from the ceiling to land on his
shoulder. "None of the older brothers has chosen marriage yet."
He glanced out the window where
the younger Slytherins were emerging from the woods levitating bundles of
fuel. "I think," he mused, "that your generation may be deciding there
are a number of things that aren't really..." He turned back to Malfoy.
"... worth it."
"Maybe we're like you," Malfoy
suggested. "Maybe we'd rather be free. Except..." He shook his head
with disgust. "I'm not like you," he confessed to his teacher. "Not
enough, anyway." He jerked his head at the formerly disobedient children
now trudging dutifully past the window. "That's the problem, I think. I
need to be more like you."
"Maybe the problem..." Snape
began gently. He paused, casting about for the right words. "Malfoy, are
you sure you know why you're here? Because when people do things for the
"We're here because of you!"
Malfoy interrupted. "We couldn't stay in that godawful school another
minute! Not if we want to turn out like you!" He turned away,
embarrassment staining his cheeks a blotchy red. Snape studied the boy a
moment, then lowered his gaze to stare at the spider who was now making
his way down Snape's dark trouser leg towards his shoe.
Malfoy climbed to his feet and opened
the window. He thrust his upper body outside to feel the cool air against
his burning cheeks. To his right, the last of the young Slytherins were
making their way around the corner of the house, heading for the front
door. He studied them for a moment, then leaned back inside and closed
"They know me too well," the
teenager murmured as he watched the last of the Slytherins disappear
around the corner. "That's why they don't want to mind me. They know all
the rotten stuff I've done and how I've only looked out for them to get
more power in the house. But you, on the other hand..."
He turned back to his
housemaster, folding his arms across his chest. "You told us not to be
jealous of Potter for being the Chosen One of the prophecy," he reminded
Snape, "because God often picks bums to do His bidding. Well, that may be
true for tasks, but it's not true for people." He nodded, a sour
certainty filling his face. "Only good people can make more good people,"
he informed his housemaster.
He unfolded his arms and thrust his
hands into his pockets to warm them. "You have to be better than other
people before you can judge or discipline them successfully," he went on.
"You have to have a cleaner slate. Only good people can turn bums...
"Excuse me." He broke off and smiled
broadly at Snape as he prepared to quote his teacher. "Only good people
can turn pleasant people into more good people... and there aren't
very many good people!"
Snape shook his head. You have no
idea, he thought as he pulled himself to his feet. "Malfoy," he said
firmly, dusting himself off as he sidestepped the spider that had just
fallen off his shoe, "...it is never too late to start cleaning your
The Slytherins crowded around him in
the vestibule that evening as he prepared to take his leave. "Will you
come back for Christmas Eve, sir?" they begged. "Please?"
Snape hesitated. "I have important
business," he told them, "but perhaps...." He looked around at the faces
staring up at him. "Perhaps I can finish up sooner," he nodded before
disapparating with a pop.
After he'd gone, the Slytherins
gathered in the squire's parlor. They made a rather dispirited bunch,
Malfoy thought, despite their full bellies and warm fire.
"I'll start visiting farms tomorrow
morning," he promised, "and find a supplier of wood."
"I'll go with you," called
Goyle, who was sitting near the fire with Violet at his feet.
Malfoy nodded his thanks. "I think,
tomorrow morning," he added carefully, "the non-orphans should head for
home. We can manage without you for a few days and your parents will
worry if you don't visit soon."
Millicent waved at him from across the
"We'll have barely half our brooms here
if they all go at once," she warned Malfoy. The boy shrugged.
"We'll be fine," he insisted. "We'll
just settle in for a quiet, cozy Christmas."
He surveyed the gloomy faces around
him. "We'll see Snape again," he reminded them. "If not Christmas Eve,
then after that, and often. It's almost as if he came with us!"
His housemates were not convinced.
Malfoy nodded at Jennifer Rosich, who slid over on the couch to make room
for him. "Violet," he called as he propped his feet up on an ottoman,
"why don't you tell us a story?"
The girl frowned. "What sort
"Tell us about that song we
sang in choir," Crabbe suggested. "What was the movie about?"
Violet grinned. "It takes
place in St. Louis," she began, "about a hundred years ago."
"Where's St. Louis?" Marybeth
asked, and Violet explained how it was roughly in the middle of America.
"It's autumn," she set the
scene, "and this family is very excited because the World Fair is coming
to their town."
"When do they sing the song?"
Pansy asked, rising and walking across the room to plop down in Malfoy's
lap. The boy put his arms around her waist.
"It's Christmastime," Violet
remembered, "and the family is getting ready to move to New York City."
"Cool!" Crabbe exclaimed.
Violet shook her head. "No,"
she corrected him. "That's what the father thought, too. But the kids
are upset, because they love their home. It really matters to them. They
feel like... like..." She hunted for the words. "They feel like they've
made something wonderful out of it, and they don't want to give it up."
A long silence followed this
bit of exposition. Marybeth, sitting next to Violet, raised one hand
surreptitiously to wipe away a tear. Her housemates noticed the gesture,
however, and Violet pointed to her in surprise as Goyle reached down to
draw the girl into his chair.
"That's what happens in the
movie!" Violet exclaimed. "The little girl cries, and her big sister
sings the song to her on Christmas Eve."
Almost unconsciously, Millicent
began to hum.
Uh oh, Malfoy thought.
Better put a stop to this. He gave Pansy a pat on the bottom to
shoo her out of his lap but the girl refused to take the hint. Instead,
she joined humming. Violet stood up, putting an arm around Marybeth's
shoulder as she added her wobbly treble to Crabbe's and Goyle's rumbling
Doo doo doo doo,
doo-doo-doo-doo doo doo...
"That's enough!" Malfoy stood
up, dumping Pansy unceremoniously to the floor. "Go to bed," he insisted.
"We have a big day tomorrow."
The Slytherins dispersed. But
a short while later, as Malfoy was crawling beneath his covers, he heard
low voices resonating throughout the house.
"Once again as in olden days,
happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
will be near to us once more.
Some day soon we all will be together
if the fates allow..."
A package arrived the next
morning as they were eating breakfast. Violet scurried past the brooms
lined up neatly in the vestibule for the non-orphans' trips home to open
the door and admit Malfoy's eagle owl and Spellwad carrying a wicker
basket between them. It was from Marcus Flint and contained dried figs,
for a change, and Saturday's issue of the Daily Prophet. Violet popped a
fig into her mouth and unfolded the paper as she walked back to the
kitchen. When she saw the headline, she stopped dead, spitting out the
fig to scream, "Malfoy!"
The Slytherins came running.
They took one look at Violet's face and gathered quickly around her,
reading over her shoulder.
Harry Potter Missing
Ministry officials announced last night that the heroic young
man who saved humanity from Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort) has disappeared.
Foul play is suspected and the boy's friends and teachers at Hogwarts are
deeply concerned as Mr. Potter was apparently unarmed at the time of his
Madam Rosmerta of the Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade, reports that the
teenager spent Thursday night at her establishment but apparently left
some time before dawn. Before departing Mr. Potter retrieved his glasses
from a guest room bureau along with a dowel rod Rosmerta keeps to prop
open a nearby window during summer months. Potter's wand was left behind
and has been turned over to Albus Dumbledore.
"What could have happened?"
Millicent cried when the Slytherins had finished the article.
"He's got money," Violet piped
up. "Maybe somebody kidnapped him."
Malfoy thought of the stories
they'd heard at Hogwarts about muggle and even wizard opposition to the
fight against Voldemort. He shook his head. "There are richer people,"
he insisted, "easier to kidnap. How could they have known he'd
accidentally leave his wand in a drawer?"
"Could he have run away?"
Tracey suggested, but again, Malfoy didn't think so.
"If he had his invisibility
cloak with him," the boy pointed out, "he'd have gone back for his wand,
and why would he run away without his cloak?"
"Why would he run away at all?"
Millicent agreed. "He's not a baby. He could just leave, like we did."
The Slytherins fell silent.
Then Malfoy nodded.
"We have to go back," he
decided. "This is Monday. The students go home Wednesday. They'll be
making plans to look for him. We have to help them." He nodded again.
"Get your cloaks," he ordered.
Before they could disperse,
Crabbe stuck his hand into the air. "Do we have to fly?" he wondered,
eyeing the row of brooms warily. "It's so cold!"
The Slytherins nodded,
remembering their miserable flight to the manor. Millicent glanced out
the nearest window and added, "It looks like it could snow."
"What else are we going to do?"
Malfoy snapped. "We're not on the floo system and we can't apparate!"
"We could fly to London,"
Jennifer suggested. Malfoy turned to her in disgust.
"That's the wrong direction!"
"Yes," Jennifer admitted, "but
it's much closer, and..." She gave him a sly little grin. "That's where
the Hogwarts Express is."
The former head boy froze.
"They'll be preparing it for
the trip," she reminded her housemates. She gave them all the patented
Malfoy eyebrow bounce and asserted, "I'm sure I can drive it."
"How cool would that be!"
Crabbe breathed, nudging Goyle in the ribs, "to arrive on the Hogwarts
It couldn't hurt to try,
Malfoy thought. If we have to, we can make our way to Diagon Alley and
floo from there. He didn't like the idea of splitting up through the
floo system, but it was so quick...
"I hate to burst your bubble,"
Millicent spoke up, "but we can't just fly to London in broad daylight.
There are rules, remember? How are we supposed to get to King's Cross
without being seen?"
She had a point, the Slytherins
realized. Malfoy looked out the window she'd checked a moment ago. "Can
anybody perform a disillusionment charm?" he asked. The Slytherins shook
their heads and Malfoy shrugged. "We can fly above the clouds," he
pointed out. "We'll wait a few hours so that it will be dark when we
arrive. That way it won't be so difficult to land without being seen."
Jennifer nodded happily.
"Better that way," she agreed. "There'll be fewer people at Platform 9
3/4 we'll have to stun to hijack the train."
Oy, Malfoy thought.
They landed one at a time in an
area rich with trees a few blocks east of King's Cross. "Hide your
brooms!" Malfoy hissed, and the Slytherins who were carrying them quickly
tucked them beneath their cloaks. Still, Malfoy feared, it would be
painfully obviously, in their cloaks and school robes, that they were
wizards. "Stick together," he ordered. "Hands on your wands."
They made their way to the
nearest large thoroughfare. "Where are we?" Crabbe wondered.
Tracey consulted the signs.
"Pentonville and Cumming," she reported. People on the street and in
passing cars stared at them. Many looked wary. Some looked hostile.
"All right." Malfoy squared
his shoulders and took a deep breath. "If we get separated, meet back..."
He stopped. No, that wouldn't do. If things between wizards and muggles
were really that bad, it would not be safe to have Slytherins wandering
London alone or in small groups. Should he tell them to return to the
manor? He shuddered at the thought of the younger ones on their own for
hours or even days. "Meet back at Hogwarts," he decided, and the
Slytherins nodded. Pansy stuck her wand in the air.
"What are you doing?" Malfoy
hissed. "Put that away before someone sees it!"
"I wanted to see if the Knight
Bus was back in business."
The Slytherins looked up and
down the street but no triple-decker bus appeared.
"Come on," Malfoy muttered. He
turned west towards the station. The Slytherins followed close behind.
As they passed Caledonia, he
paused and looked over his shoulder at the group. "Break up a bit," he
suggested. "Maybe it won't be so obvious what we are."
By the time they reached the
station, they were divided into about a dozen groups of 3 or 4 students.
It took a couple of minutes for all of them to make their way inside.
Malfoy, who was standing the farthest from the doors with Crabbe and
Goyle, waited until all 40 Slytherins were accounted for before turning to
head down the concrete walkway.
He walked briskly towards Platform 9
3/4, stopping short about 20 yards from the barrier. The Slytherins
stopped with him, unconsciously clumping up again. Malfoy frowned at the
sight before him.
About fifty young men were loitering in
front of the barrier between platforms 9 and 10. They were
thuggish-looking, dressed in shades and accessories clearly intended to
intimidate. Some were leaning against the wall smoking, despite the signs
forbidding this activity. Some were talking together in low voices. Their
pockets bulged with blunt instruments which they occasionally squeezed or
stroked as if verifying their solidness.
"Who are they?" Malfoy whispered warily
to Goyle. Millicent slipped away from Violet and Marybeth to draw closer
to the three boys.
"They look like they're waiting to
thump someone," Goyle observed with an expert's eye. Crabbe nodded.
Malfoy took a quick look around the
area and leaned over to Millicent.
"Where are the muggle...?" He tried to
remember the word Rita Skeeter had used in her article about Moody and the
trash bins. Millicent seemed to know what he meant. She shook her head.
"What are they waiting for?" she
wondered as she eyed the thugs. "Even if they know about Platform 9 3/4,
this isn't the right day for the Hogwarts students to return."
Millicent's words made Malfoy's heart
beat faster. Was she right? Were these people waiting to attack Hogwarts
children returning home for the holiday?
"What do they do," he whispered to
Crabbe and Goyle, "wait here 24 hours a day hoping someone will walk
through?" He palmed his wand inside his pocket.
"Maybe they're coming home early,"
The Slytherins turned to him with a
jolt. That was so brilliant they couldn't believe Crabbe had suggested it
With the shortages and all that had happened, Dumbledore might very well
have sent the Hogwarts students home early! "The kids who still have
parents haven't seen them in nearly a year and a half," Crabbe reminded
Malfoy snapped his fingers. "Their
folks!" he realized, turning around to face his housemates. "They can't
be coming home today or we'd have seen their folks heading for the barrier
to pick them up!"
The Slytherins took a quick look around
the station. There was no sign of the Weasleys, the Boneses, the Browns,
or any other wizarding adults they knew. They had just breathed a
collective sigh of relief when...
The Slytherins whirled around to see
one of the thugs pointing a truncheon he'd pulled from his pocket at
Hannah Abbott. She was dressed in muggle clothes and seemed to be wearing
2 or 3 jumpers in place of her school cloak. Almost immediately, Hermione
Granger came through the barrier with Ron and Ginny Weasley. The
Weasleys, too, had on several layers of jumpers or sweatshirts, and
Granger was wearing a muggle coat. There was something else odd about
them, Malfoy thought. In an instant he realized what it was.
They had no luggage.
"Get them!" cried another thug. "Don't
let anyone back through!" And as the unsuspecting Hogwarts students
poured through the barrier, the well-armed thugs jumped them before they
could even draw their wands.
Malfoy hesitated just long enough to
notice that the spectators and innocent by-standers did nothing but move
out of the way. Then he drew his wand and charged the Slytherins,
It took less than 30 seconds to
discover that wands were useless in hand-to-hand combat; the spells hit
wizards as often as muggles. But they made great poking and whacking
sticks. Brooms were even better... until the thugs snatched them away and
started bludgeoning back or worse, snapped them in two.
"Should we stone?" cried Crabbe as all
around them, the melee grew more violent.
"No!" Hermione shrieked, genuine terror
in her voice, and Malfoy, imagining the consequences of such action, could
understand why. There was no telling what muggles, panicked by seeing
their fellows turned to stone, might do.
Muggles had ways of killing, too.
We'll win, Malfoy insisted to
himself as he threw a curved punch into the jaw of the thug who'd snatched
his broom and stomped on it, splitting it in half. At least seventy
Hogwarts students, all the kids who still had parents, had poured through
the barrier, and there were 40 Slytherins besides. They outnumbered their
assailants more than 2 to 1. He kicked the thug he'd knocked out in the
ribs before whirling on the man who was trying to throttle Violet while
Marybeth whacked him repeatedly with her broom.
A shrill whistle split the air and
everyone looked up to see a contingent of uniformed muggle... Oh, yeah!
Malfoy remembered, police! ... approaching fast, truncheons
held high over their heads, determination in their eyes.
Thank God, Malfoy breathed as
the man strangling Violet let her go. But when the thug folded his arms
across his chest and grinned confidently, Malfoy's heart sank.
"Scatter!" he screamed as the first
officer reached Ron Weasley and grabbed him by the arm, raising his
nightstick to club the young wizard into submission. Malfoy leapt across
the room in a single bound, landing on the officer's back and grabbing his
arm before he could bash Ron. Ron tore loose, Malfoy jumped down, and the
two long-legged teenagers raced for the doors as all across the station,
witches and wizards leapt and bound away from their tormentors and spilled
out into the cold, dark night.
Ron and Malfoy found Violet a short
distance from the station, huddled beside a parked car, glancing
frantically in every direction.
"Did you see where the others went?"
"Anybody!" Ron snapped, and Violet
shook her head.
"How are we going to get to Hogwarts?"
she asked Malfoy. "Marybeth's gone and she had the broom."
Ron turned curiously to Malfoy at this,
but the blonde teenager ignored him.
"We're not going to Hogwarts," he told
"But you said if we got separated..."
"We were going back to help the others
look for Potter," Malfoy reminded her. "Well, they're here now, and
they've come to look for Potter..." He turned to Ron. "...isn't that
right? That's why you're all wearing muggle clothes and you've got no
luggage. You left it on the platform so you could search for Potter."
Before Ron could reply, a shout rang
out from the other side of Euston Road. "There's some!" a rough voice
cried. The trio looked up to see a group of thugs sprinting towards them
from the opposite side of the street.
"Get ready to stone," Malfoy hissed,
reaching into his pocket for his wand.
"We can't!" Ron shot back. "It's
defense against the dark arts, not defense against muggles! We'll be up
before the Ministry!"
He grabbed Violet by the hand. The
thugs were gaining on them. "Run!" he shouted.
Malfoy took Violet's other hand and the
three of them raced around the east side of the station, heading north as
fast as they could go.
Marybeth fled south, running steadily
until she'd crossed St. Chad's and found herself on a sort of footpath
between two avenues of trees. Here she slowed, glancing constantly over
her shoulder as she wheezed to catch her breath. She was lucky, she
realized. She still had a broom. She could take flight from this park,
provided no one had followed her.
At that, she snorted. Why should she
care if anyone saw her take off, she thought. It was obvious a large
number of muggles now knew about wizards. Why should the Ministry punish
wizards for using magic in front of them anymore?
Of course, there was the question of
"And it's dark," she murmured to
herself as she pulled her cloak more tightly around her. She'd made the
trip from King's Cross to Hogwarts by broom before, even in bad weather.
But could she find the school flying through the dark? Maybe she should
find a spot to hunker down for the night and leave in the...
"What have we here?"
Marybeth jumped. A lanky boy had just
stepped in front of her, emerging from behind one of the trees further up
the path. Immediately, several more people did likewise, stepping out
from behind trees to surround Marybeth. They were teenagers, she saw,
around sixteen or seventeen, boys and girls, dressed in similar clothing.
Their outfits and the skin on their cheeks and the backs of their hands
were decorated with strange symbols, circles and stars and peering eyes.
The young Slytherin palmed her wand in the pocket of her robe.
"None of that, now!" the lanky boy
jeered, and he reached out to yank the cloak from Marybeth's shoulders so
his gang could see what she was doing.
"My cloak!" Marybeth shrieked as the
lanky boy tossed it to the girl nearest him. It was the young Slytherin's
most prized possession. Snape had given it to her. But before she could
make a move to retrieve it, another boy grabbed her from behind, pinning
her arms to her sides.
The girl who'd caught the cloak, a pale
creature with a sour face, gave a nasty snicker and pulled it on,
luxuriating in the feel of the material. She reached up to fasten the top
clasp and froze with a gasp.
"What is it?" the lanky boy demanded,
glancing briefly in the girl's direction before returning his ugly,
narrow-eyed gaze to Marybeth. He looked ready to destroy her if the
cloak had somehow harmed his friend. But the girl just laughed, rather
maniacally, Marybeth thought.
"Warm!" she cried, snuggling herself
deeper into the cloak's embrace. "It's warm!"
Marybeth jerked one arm free and held
out the broom she was still clutching to the crazy girl. "Here!" she
cried, hoping the girl wouldn't know brooms didn't fly for muggles. "You
can have this! But please, give me back my cloak."
The lanky boy chuckled and the rest of
the gang joined in. The cloaked girl fixed Marybeth with a stare that was
supposed to be penetrating and hissed dramatically, "The magic is strong
At that, Marybeth almost giggled. Who
were these twits, she wondered. But when the girl whirled around, making
the green cloak billow, her throat tightened painfully. My cloak!
she thought, fighting back tears. Professor Snape gave me that cloak!
"The wand!" the sour girl hissed to the
lanky boy, and he reached out carefully to retrieve the item from
Marybeth's pocket. He seemed afraid of it, holding it gingerly by the
handle as he carried it to the girl. The gang surrounding Marybeth backed
away a few feet. But the girl snatched the wand, giving it a vicious
swipe through the air as she glared at her cowardly comrades. Then she
thrust the wand into the air and threw back her head back to exhort the
"Hear me, great and powerful Dark Lord!
Show favor to your servant. Bless us, o master, our eternal Lord
Marybeth's knees buckled. The boy
holding her nearly dropped her as she went limp.
"You can make me worthy!" the girl in
the green cloak beseeched the night sky. "Hear me, Dark Lord! Change me
from this wretched state into what I would be for you!"
A wave of nausea broke over Marybeth
and she feared she might be sick. It can't be! she thought as she
struggled against the dizzying sense of unreality threatening to overwhelm
her. They're muggles! It can't be. It can't be!
The muggles waited, their faces turned
to the sky, their breath steaming out of their mouths as they watched for
a sign. None came. The girl in the green cloak lowered Marybeth's wand
and gazed contemptuously from the wooden rod to its rightful owner.
"It's contaminated," she spat. "It
must have been used to oppose our lord and master." She grasped the wand
by both ends and raised it above her head before bringing it down to snap
in two across her knee. Then she tossed the pieces aside and reached out
to snatch Marybeth's broom.
"Hold her steady," she ordered the
unseen boy still pinning Marybeth's arms to her sides. The cloaked girl
drew back the broom and swung it around full force to bash Marybeth across
the head. The Slytherin slumped to the ground, unconscious.
"Hide her," the girl ordered. "Over
The lanky boy scooped Marybeth up and
carried her to the far row of trees where he dumped her. The gang
regrouped around their green-cloaked leader who led them out of the park,
swinging her new broom like a club.
In the darkness beneath the far row of
trees, Marybeth lay motionless. The heavy clouds hanging low over the
darkened city opened at last and snow began to fall, enshrouding the park
and all within it beneath a gentle layer of white.
Millicent grinned at Crabbe's praise.
It was brilliant, she had to admit. They were standing, along with
Pansy and Goyle, in the Early Medieval Gallery on the upper level of the
British Museum, having alohamora'd their way in through a window near the
Montague entrance after hours, bypassing the motion detectors with their
"Are you sure nobody will notice?"
Goyle asked of the brooms they'd just stashed in one of the exhibits
displaying everyday items used by Brits of that period.
Millicent shrugged. "What if they do?
They'll probably just hold them while they make inquiries. We can
relocate them with a summoning charm on Christmas Eve if we have to." But
she was betting, with only one more day before the facility closed for the
hols, that its staff had better things to do than scrutinize the exhibits.
"Let's go!" she exhorted her housemates, turning back the way they'd come.
"Wait!" Goyle grabbed her by the arm,
his face puckered with another concern. "They can recognize us from what
we're wearing, too."
That was true enough. Millicent shook
her head. "I can't transfigure the cloaks into another type of outer
wear," she confessed, "but I could change the color."
"Not pink!" Crabbe insisted,
remembering what she'd done to their snakes last year. His housemates
chuckled but their amusement faded quickly as they remembered that cozy
Christmas Eve, so different from the situation in which they now found
themselves. Then Crabbe's eyes lit up.
"Let's go to Diagon Alley and floo to
Hogwarts on Wednesday!" he suggested. The four of them had come to the
conclusion that everybody would probably return to Hogwarts Christmas Eve
to check in. "Even if we get our brooms back, we can floo to save time
and make them let us spend the night in our house!"
"Yeah!" Goyle agreed, and the girls
smiled at the idea. But then Pansy sobered.
"Malfoy..." she murmured, and the group
fell silent. The former head boy would probably object. Goyle shrugged.
"I didn't bring any floo powder
"The Leaky Cauldron is within walking
distance," half-blood Millicent pointed out. "We could go to Diagon Alley
and buy some. Does anybody have any money?"
Goyle shook his head. "Not on me," he
informed her, "and not at Gringotts." The dejected faces of his
housemates confirmed that this was true all around.
"Come on," Millicent spoke again,
reaching up to unbutton her cloak. "Let's get ready to go look for
Crabbe tugged at the clasp of his
cloak. "I'm hungry!" the burly boy objected. "Can't we eat first?"
Goyle nodded. "There's a restaurant on
this floor," he said, pointing in the general direction of the eatery.
"Where there's a restaurant, there's a kitchen."
It had been a long time since breakfast
and they were all hungry. But Millicent shook her head.
"There could be muggles in there,
baking or something," she pointed out. "I don't think we better stay here
any longer than necessary. And I don't think we better break any muggle
laws while we're in London."
"We could stone them," Goyle insisted.
"They'd never know! We could stone them, get something to eat, put
everything back the way we found it, and unstone them!"
"Brilliant!" Crabbe cried. But
Millicent did not agree.
"What will happen to us," she wondered,
"if we break the decree about magic around muggles?"
"Millicent's right," Pansy nodded.
"We're not Hogwarts students anymore. We're of-age wizards."
Crabbe's stomach gave a loud rumble.
"Come on," Millicent said again.
"We'll find a way to get some food without using magic."
She drew her wand and quickly turned
their cloaks an unobtrusive shade of gray. Then she thought of something
else. "Take off your robes," she commanded. The Slytherins dropped them
to the floor and Millicent transfigured them into neat coils of rope.
"Remember how Potter mouthed off to
McGonagall in class that day..." Crabbe began, but Millicent, bending over
to grab a coil, cut him off with a terse, "Help me!"
They tugged the coils into the
neighboring medieval exhibit ("No way these go unnoticed,
Millicent!" Crabbe protested). Then Crabbe and Millicent threw away their
jumpers. "Give me your tie, Pansy," Millicent commanded. "You, too,
Goyle." She used them to fashion herself a pair of criss-crossing
suspenders. She turned Pansy's jumper and skirt a festive Slytherin
green. Then she queued up her housemates for inspection.
Crabbe was now wearing a white shirt,
tie and trousers. Goyle had on a grey jumper but no tie. Pansy looked
very Christmassy in her rich green ensemble while Millicent wore only a
skirt, shirt and suspenders. "We look different from each other," she
decided. "Nobody would think we're wearing matching school uniforms. Now
let's go find Potter."
The four of them pulled on their cloaks
and headed out into the chilly night. "Too bad Malfoy's not with us,"
Crabbe grumbled as they trudged along the sidewalk. "He's got plenty of
money at Gringotts. He's probably settling into a cozy room at the Leaky
Cauldron right now!"
"What happened?" Malfoy hissed in
response to the grunt, crash and curse that filtered out the window above
him. He and Ron stood below it, shivering in the snow.
He hoped this hadn't been yet another
mistake, boosting Violet through a window into St. Michael's Church in
Camden Town. He joined Ron in looking nervously around to see if anybody
on the street had heard the noise and debated whether or not he should
abandon his comrades and take off at a run if they were discovered. The
people they'd encountered so far, like the people outside King's Cross,
didn't seem too... friendly.
The trio had fled north to escape their
pursuers, doubling back down Camden Road after finally shaking off the
thugs. They'd argued furiously as they'd walked, Malfoy threatening to
take Violet and strike out on his own if Ron didn't abandon his 'no magic'
"So go!" Ron had growled. "You
wouldn't be much help anyway. Not the way you feel!"
Malfoy had grabbed Ron by the collar
and hauled him into the nearest alley to have it out, no small trick given
the redhead's height advantage. But before he could challenge Ron's
peevish insinuation, Violet had piped up.
"We were coming back, Ron," she'd
reminded the Gryffindor earnestly. "We were coming to help you look."
"Why?" Ron had responded with a
derogatory sneer. "Why leave and then come back?"
For a moment, Malfoy had looked
confused. Then a group of teenage muggles had wandered by, pausing to
stare suspiciously at Violet's and Malfoy's snow-covered cloaks. The trio
had tensed, but the muggles had moved on without a word.
"We need to get off the street for the
night," Ron had suggested when the muggles had moved out of earshot, and
Malfoy, still chilled from the several-hour flight from Ely, had agreed.
It had been Violet's idea to spend the
night in a church. Sanctuary, she had called it; it would be warm inside
and most likely deserted at this time of night. But the first one they'd
come to had been locked and Weasley had objected to using magic to break
in. Malfoy had pushed him aside and pointed his wand confidently at the
backdoor knob, but alas, his alohamora had done nothing to stop the alarm
that had blared forth to wake the dead the moment the door had sprung
open. They'd run for their lives and, after putting a safe distance
between them and the scene of their crime, had agreed to try a more
primitive approach at the next structure.
Now Violet stood frozen in the darkened
narthex of St. Michael's, her nerves jangling, too frightened to move. "I
knocked over the holy water!" she wailed just loudly enough for Ron and
Malfoy to hear. Her eyes darted this way and that as the candles burning
on alters in various nooks and crannies cast eerie shadows all around her.
"We're freezing!" Malfoy hissed through
the open window behind her. "Fire up your lumos light and get the damned
door open!" Violet hurried to obey, sloshing across the vestibule to pry
open a door for the boys.
When they were all safely inside,
Malfoy turned to Ron. "Where to?" he inquired.
"Up," Ron decided, "to whatever room
has that high window overlooking the road. We'll want a good view in the
Malfoy jerked his head at one of the
alters. "Grab some candles," he told Violet, picking up a couple of the
nearest little glass cups, and together, the three of them began to climb.
The air grew warmer as they rose and
when they finally settled on a secluded spot in which to spend the night,
Malfoy shed his cloak and spread it on the floor. He placed the two
candles in strategic spots a few feet away and settled down on top of his
cloak. Ron did the same with his many jumpers, leaving Violet standing
between the two boys.
"I have to go to the bathroom," she
"So go," Malfoy snapped at her. "And
bring me back a glass of water."
Violet put down her candles and turned
around with a sigh. She did not relish the idea of making her way through
a dimly lit church alone. "Lumos," she whispered to her wand, and,
climbing carefully over Ron's nest of jumpers, she slipped away into the
She tiptoed all the way to the lavatory
and, once inside, pawed eagerly at the light switch. "Electricity!" she
murmured appreciatively as illumination flooded the room. She made quick
use of the toilet but couldn't resist lingering a few moments in the
well-lit room to tidy up, relishing the soap, the warm water, the paper
towels... and that's when it hit her.
This place could have all kinds of
She tried the kitchen area first but
there was no food save for a jar of pickle slices in the icebox. She
filled a large glass with water for Malfoy, then made her way carefully
out of the kitchen and back towards the sanctuary to the sacristy where
she found several loaves of bread and large bottles of grape juice. She
hesitated just a moment. Then...
In for a penny, in for a pound,
she decided, remembering the spilled holy water. She helped herself
to all the Eucharist ingredients she could carry and headed back towards
the area where the three wizards had chosen to sleep.
On her way back to the boys, she
discovered a large cardboard box in the narthex full of used jackets.
'Coats for Kids!' read the collecting sign, and Violet immediately put
down the water, bread and juice and reached for the box. I'm a kid!
she thought as she pawed through the contents. The coats would make
perfect cover for her and Malfoy; they could shrink their cloaks and carry
them in their pockets, tuck in their robes, and walk around looking just
There were several in her size to
choose from and she settled on a puffy pink coat she was sure just matched
the roses in her cheeks. But all that was available for Malfoy was a
tattered brown polyester windcheater. Ron laughed his arse off when he
"Try it on, Malfoy!" he urged, tearing
a large hunk out of one of the loaves of bread as Violet took off her
cloak and spread it on the floor, bundling her borrowed coat for a pillow.
Draco pulled on the jacket with a scowl. But then an idea came to him and
he turned this way and that, showing off the coat from all sides.
"Look at me," he drawled as the modeled
the shabby garment. "I'm a Weasley."
That shut Ron up. "I wouldn't talk,"
the redhead shot back, sitting up on top of his jumpers to point to
Violet's bedraggled uniform. "Those rags you're wearing would make a
house-elf look good. I guess that'll teach you not to take Hogwarts for
Malfoy took off the jacket and flung it
down on top of his cloak. He was not about to take lessons in
appreciation from a moron who got jealous of his best friend at the drop
of a hat. "Look who's talking!" he jeered. "Potter would give anything
for the home you take for granted!"
"Yeah!" Violet chimed in, abandoning
her efforts to tug her tie into some semblance of order. "You have two
homes and we don't have any!"
"You left!" Ron shouted at the
Slytherins. "Nobody made you go!"
Malfoy shook his head. "Weasley," he
snarled across the secluded niche, "you have no idea what it's like to be
a Slytherin at Hogwarts."
Ron put down his bread and climbed to
his feet, missing completely the consternation filling Violet's features.
Something wasn't right, the girl thought as she watched the two boys
square off. There was something missing in Malfoy's accusation. He
didn't sound the same, arguing with Ron, as he had that last night in the
common room, confronting Hermione and Harry about Snape.
Ron shoved his hands into the pockets
of his jeans. "Okay," he challenged Malfoy, his voice cool and
controlled. "Tell me. What's so awful about being a Slytherin at
Hogwarts?" His eyes flickered in the candlelight. "I understand about
Snape," he nodded, "about why he left. Tell me why you
Malfoy made no response. Violet looked
up and found his eyes had narrowed to slits. When her older housemate
didn't speak, she began, "Our last night at Hogwarts, Potter said that
with Snape gone..."
Malfoy cut her off with a wave of his
hand. "He knows about that," he told the girl softly, never taking his
eyes off Ron. "Potter told him, or Granger." He stared at the redhead a
moment. Then he turned around abruptly, snatched up his glass of water,
drank it, and refilled it with juice. "Eat," he ordered Violet, setting
the juice and a loaf of bread down beside her. The girl nodded, picking
up the loaf to tear loose a small bite, never taking her eyes off the
boys. Malfoy straightened up and turned back to Ron, staring at him a few
more moments before whispering,
"It's not Potter's fault we left."
He thrust his pointed chin out and
added in a much cooler voice, "It's Dumbledore's."
Ron didn't protest. He didn't shake
his head or scowl in disgust or turn away. He just nodded and muttered,
"That's my point."
Then he settled down on top of his nest
of jumpers. He picked up his loaf of bread, broke it in two, and offered
half to Malfoy. The blonde boy took it, settling down on top of his
The three wizards ate in silence. Then
they curled up in tight balls and fell asleep.
Violet woke briefly in the night and,
just for a moment, thought she was safely in her small, candle-lit cell at
Hogwarts. Then she spied Malfoy sleeping a few feet away and remembered
all that had happened over the past few weeks. She sighed and felt her
eyes grow damp. Where is Snape right now? she wondered. She
thought about the kids from Hogwarts, scattered throughout the city. Had
any of them met up with Slytherins? Where were they sleeping? What had
become of Marybeth? Was she flying back to Hogwarts at this very moment?
She studied Malfoy's face in the
candlelight. He looked different asleep. Sweeter. She supposed it was
the soft, silky-lashed eyelids concealing his chilly gray eyes. "You have
the cool, clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth," she sang softly,
taking care not to wake either boy. "And there's that upturned chin and
that grin of impetuous youth.."
She sighed again and rolled over to
face the wall. "Fix this, Malfoy," she whispered to herself. She wasn't
quite sure what was wrong, but whatever it was, it was hurting her heart.
"I believe in you," she whispered more softly still before closing her
eyes and drifting off to sleep.
She woke the next morning to find
Malfoy sitting beside the window, staring down at the street below.
"Has anybody come in?" she asked in a
whisper. According to the sign they'd seen outside, there were no early
services on Tuesdays.
Malfoy shook his head, never taking his
eyes off the window. There was a grimness about him, as if he were
berating himself or thinking himself a...
Violet crawled across the floor to sit
beside the older Slytherin. "Malfoy," she whispered so as to not wake
Ron, "do you remember that day in choir when Ginny sang 'Wondrous Love?'"
Malfoy gave her the curtest of nods.
"Professor McGonagall was sitting on
the bench by Professor Snape, and I heard her whisper, 'Maybe we're not
such failures after all.' What did she mean by that?"
Malfoy turned to the girl, intrigued.
He thought for a long time. Then he said softly, "Every time a generation
repeats the mistakes of the four founders, it fails. Maybe she thinks she
and Snape have finally managed to produce a generation that rises above
the previous ones..."
Violet nodded. "How come..." She
hesitated, pulling unconsciously on her fingers. "How come the squire's
house never felt like a home?"
Malfoy turned away with a scowl and
Violet hurried to add, "It wasn't your fault. You did a really good job
Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"But it seems like, no matter what we
did..." She shook her head. "The night we found out about Bletchley,"
she went on, more softly than before, "Marybeth said Hogwarts would be the
only home she'd ever have. Why do you think..."
"I don't know!" Malfoy snapped, making
Violet jump. "Shut up or you'll wake Weasley!" But it was his snarling
that woke Ron. Almost immediately, the Gryffindor sat up and stretched.
"What time is it?" he asked the
Slytherins. Before Violet could answer him, Malfoy did a double take at
something he'd seen out the window.
"Michael!" he cried, craning his neck
as if trying to watch someone outside go around a corner. "I thought I
just saw Michael with Eloise Midgen!" He turned to Ron who nodded and
began pulling on his jumpers.
"That could be," the redhead admitted.
"The orphans took off on brooms a short while after we left for
Malfoy blinked at this news. "You mean
everybody's here?" he gaped. "None of the students are left at Hogwarts?"
Ron, pulling his head through the neck
of his third sweater, could only nod.
"McGonagall's going to be really mad,"
Malfoy breathed, nearly shuddering at the thought. He climbed to his feet
and performed the spells to shrink his and Violet's cloaks.
"Let's use the lavatories and get out
of here," he suggested, and in no time, the trio were out and about in
Camden Town, searching for the missing Harry Potter.
"Food," Crabbe groaned as he,
Millicent, Goye and Pansy slogged down a slushy sidewalk . "Must have
"Must find Potter," Millicent reminded
"Crabbe's right, Millicent," Goyle
insisted, thrusting his elbows behind his back to stretch his aching
muscles. "We'll work better if we're fed."
They'd spent the night in a shed behind
a garden shop, slipping in one by one to hide behind sacks of soil as the
shopkeeper had traveled back and forth from the sidewalk in front of his
store, putting away the wheelbarrows he kept on display during the day.
"We need to be up and away through a window before he arrives in the
morning," Millicent had counseled her housemates as they'd climbed on top
the sacks to spend the night. But they'd overslept and the shopkeeper had
discovered them at first light.
"More of you damn kids!" he'd fumed.
"Get out, get out!" The Slytherins had scrambled up and out the door,
counting themselves lucky he hadn't hit them with the rake he'd been
"Who do you think he meant?" Millicent
wondered as they made their way along a row of shops.
"Can't think," Crabbe responded. "Need
"There's some!" cried Goyle, pointing
out a fruit barrow up the street. Its owner was bent beneath the wagon,
cutting open boxes with a sharp blade. The Slytherins drew back against
the nearest store, letting the traffic go by as they scoped out the food
stand. "We'll just slip up," Goyle suggested, "pilfer a few items as we
walk by, and keep on going. The key is not to break stride..."
The barrow owner gave a mighty cry and
lashed out suddenly with his knife, nearly cutting the limb off a scrawny,
filthy child who snatched back a hand clutching an apple and took off at a
run. He passed an alley a few feet up the street and three or four more
urchins emerged from it at a gallop, hurrying away with the little thief.
Immediately, all the shopkeepers and
barrow owners in the area straightened up or popped outside or looked
about, now on full alert.
"Bugger," Crabbe muttered.
The Slytherins moved on.
By noon, several inches of snow
had fallen. "Maybe we could earn some money shoveling," Goyle suggested.
"Too much competition," Pansy
replied, nodding at the several scrawny people already knocking on doors
or clearing walkways. She stopped abruptly upon seeing what she thought
was a swish and flick movement from a young man cleaning snow off a set of
steps. He spotted Pansy staring at him, scowled, pulled his right hand
out of his pocket, and added it to the left hand already gripping a
shovel. Must have imagined it, Pansy decided as she hurried to
catch up with Millicent, who was telling Goyle,
"We've got no shovels, anyway...unless
you've learned how to transfigure something I haven't."
They passed a couple of girls leaning
against a wall, a redhead and a blonde, neither of whom looked any older
than a Hogwarts fourth year. "Polish your wand, big boy?" one of them
called to Crabbe, and the wizard gasped.
"How did she know..." he started to ask
Goyle. His friend elbowed him in the ribs.
"Figure of speech," Goyle hissed.
The girls laughed as the Slytherins
made their way up the sidewalk and Crabbe, having finally figured out who,
or rather what, they were, turned around to grin at them. But the girls
had already found a customer and were leading him into the alley. Crabbe
gave a tug on Goyle's cloak.
"We'll be right back!" he told Pansy
and Millicent, and before they could protest, he pulled the other boy
quickly towards the alley.
They peeked around the corner only to
discover there was no sign of the two girls or their customer, only a
couple of enormous square trash bins halfway down the alley. With a wink
at Goyle, Crabbe began tiptoeing along a brick wall, pausing to wait for
his friend at the far side of the trash bin so they could peek around the
The girls were there, and so was their
customer. He was lying on the snow-covered ground, dead. The redhead had
a wand in her hand; the blonde was emptying the man's pockets. When she'd
finished, she stepped aside and the redhead levitated the man's lifeless
form into the trash bin.
Goyle put a hand on Crabbe's shoulder.
He pulled his friend silently back from the grisly scene. When they were
several steps up the alley, they turned tail and ran.
"What's this about?" Malfoy feigned
interest in a flyer taped to a light pole so he could lean against the
pole and rest for a moment. The white pieces of muggle paper had been
popping up all morning; they showed a pair of green eyes, the letters
'RPZ' and the number '22.00.'
"Probably a concert," Violet told him.
"Bands put up flyers to publicize their gigs. We used to talk about which
ones we'd like to go to at the orphanage." She shook her head at the
figure on the notice. "Imagine spending nearly 5 galleons just to listen
to some music."
Malfoy frowned at the flyer. "Where do
you see galleons?" he demanded, and Violet pointed to the number.
"Twenty-two pounds is about 5
Malfoy nodded and jerked his head at
the street. "Shall we?"
They'd been wandering up and down
Camden Road and the neighboring streets for hours, watching and listening
for any word or sign of Potter. What they'd seen, for the most part, were
modest muggles hurrying about their last minute Christmas shopping in the
snow, toting puddings and bottles and a small roast or goose apiece.
"Muggles must have small families," Ron had mused, and Malfoy had been
surprised the redhead had not recognized poverty when he'd seen it. This
was clearly not the ritzy part of muggle London.
Violet gave a happy little sigh as the
trio set off again. She didn't seem bothered by the meagerness that
surrounded them; instead, she feasted her eyes on the parents and families
hurrying in and out of their humble accommodations with their sparse
loads, no doubt imagining them to be like that Cratchit family Snape had
read about during her illness. Occasionally she grabbed Malfoy by the arm
to stop their progress down the sidewalk, pausing to watch through a
picture window as loved ones hugged each other or hung decorations or set
up the family cr
The bread and juice that had seemed so
providential last night began to sour in their stomachs and they turned
once more in the direction of a large supermarket near some flats and a
lock on the river. Delicious smells were emanating from the store's
bakery and deli. It seemed ludicrous to the three young students of
magic that they could be so hungry with so much food so near.
"Do you suppose..." Ron began, but
Malfoy grabbed him by the arm and Violet by the shoulder, stopping them
abruptly as he stared up the sidewalk. A girl about his age, bundled
against the cold in a shabby coat and thin wool cap, was gathering carts
left on the sidewalk by patrons. As they watched, a shifty-eyed little
boy scampered up to her, holding out a flyer like the one they'd seen on
the light pole. He seemed to be asking permission to attach the flyer to
a cement piling near the carts. The girl shook her head and pointed to a
red-faced muggle man just inside the store, but the boy didn't seem to
want to talk to him. He hurried away, and as soon as he was out of
earshot, Malfoy called out tentatively,
The girl spun around, a look of horror
on her features, as though the sound of her own name terrified her. But
when she spotted Malfoy, the horror gave way to a joyful smile.
"Draco!" she cried, abandoning her
carts to take several running steps towards him. She stopped awkwardly a
few feet away, apparently not sure it would be appropriate to embrace her
former housemate, and closed the remaining distance between herself and
the trio with shuffling steps, thrusting her gloveless hands into her
"Hello, Violet," she smiled. The
younger girl stood speechless at the sight of her. Queenie turned to Ron
and opened her mouth but nothing came out. She looked as if she'd
forgotten his name, but Malfoy suspected she was simply surprised by the
grouping. She turned back to Draco and smiled again, a little less
certainly than before.
"You look different!" she suggested.
Does he? Violet wondered. It
seemed to her that Queenie was the one who looked different. She was
pale and gaunt and there was a darkness to her eyes that made her look
much older. But of course, she hadn't seen Malfoy since the spring of
their fifth year, whereas Violet had been living with him night and day
"Gee," Violet muttered. The others
turned curiously to her but she didn't notice. It had been a long
time, she thought as she reflected on the experiences of Hogwarts'
students over the past several months. We've been living like family
An awkward silence dragged on as four
young wizards pondered the water under the bridge. Then...
"What are you doing here?" Queenie and
Malfoy asked at the same time. Queenie laughed and pointed at the carts.
"I've got a job!" she declared, and it
sounded to Violet like she was actually proud of wrangling shopping
"A... a muggle job?" Malfoy stammered.
"There are no wizarding jobs, Malfoy,"
she insisted. "Not in Great Britain, anyway. A girl has to eat!"
But not shop, I guess, Violet
noted, taking in Queenie's worn-out boots and tattered coat. Not too
many reparos left in those items! She nodded at the supermarket.
"Do they pay well, Queenie?" she asked, noticing again how thin her
former housemate was.
"Well, employees get a percentage off
if they shop here," the older girl nodded. "That helps."
Her smile dimmed as she took in the
concern on Ron's and Malfoy's faces. She turned away a bit, her eyes
growing bright... but perhaps it was just the snowflakes melting on her
"I can't leave," she whispered as she
watched the supermarket's customers pass to and fro. "Mum and Dad got
stoned at Hogwarts. They'll wind up in prison for sure. There'll be no
one to watch the house if I leave!"
Malfoy tried to think of something
helpful to say. It sickened him to imagine the other six missing
Slytherin girls in equally desperate straits. "Why don't you apparate?"
he demanded of his former housemate, praying Queenie wasn't foolish
enough to indulge some moronic loyalty to an economy that would treat her
like this. "Work in another country and apparate home at night!"
Queenie nodded, brushing dampness from
her cheeks with one hand. "I'm saving up," she told them, "for lessons."
She gave a half-hearted chuckle as she nodded at the store behind her.
"It might take a while."
Ron took a step closer to the one-time
Slytherin. "Listen, Queenie," he whispered, "we're looking for Harry
Potter. He's gone missing. Have you heard anything about him?"
Queenie blinked and that horrified
look came back into her eyes. "Don't tell!" she warned her former
schoolmates, grabbing Ron by the sleeve. "Don't tell anyone you're
wizards! There are people... gangs, I guess you'd call them... groups of
people, pockets of people..."
"We know," Malfoy assured her. "We
ran into some at King's Cross."
"Some of them dress alike," Queenie
warned them. "Some of them don't."
"Do you know any of these people?" Ron
demanded, squeezing Queenie's hand hard with his own. "Did they take
Harry? What would they do to him?"
Queenie shook her head. "I
don't know," she confessed. "I haven't heard anything. But it's not
safe. It's not safe to let anyone know you're magic."
That would explain why she's not
accioing the carts, Violet decided. She was just about to offer to
help her former housemate round them up when a voice shouted,
Queenie jumped and spun around. The
red-faced muggle man had stuck his head out the nearest store door.
"Get back to work!" he ordered, and
Queenie nodded, then turned back to her friends for a quick good-bye.
"I thought it would be a good idea to
change my name," she explained as she hugged them in turn, "in case Mum
and Dad wind up in the papers." She took one last longing look at them,
gave a hard sniff, and hurried away, pushing a trainload of carts towards
The trio set off again, more
morosely this time. No one wanted to discuss the interview with Queenie.
But after a while, Violet looked up and announced,
"We should go back to
"We can't go yet!" Ron
contradicted her, "we..."
"No," Violet explained. "I
mean, after we find Potter, we shouldn't just go back to meet up with the
others. We should go back to stay."
"Hell, no!" Malfoy protested.
"And we should ask Dumbledore
to bring Queenie and the other six girls back," Violet went on, ignoring
"He could at least look into
it," Ron agreed, and Malfoy gave a hearty snort.
"What makes you think they'd
want to come?" he jeered at Violet and Ron as if they were imbeciles.
"Why would they? They know how they'd be treated!"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Here we
go again," he muttered. But Violet preferred a more direct approach.
She shoved Malfoy in the stomach with both hands and shouted,
"You're an idiot! You're an idiot and
I don't want to search with you anymore! I want... I want....!"
She wasn't sure what she wanted. Her
lower lip wobbled, and her face colored, and before the boys knew what
she was about, she turned sharply to the right and leapt across the
street and up an alley.
"Violet!" Malfoy shrieked, Queenie's
warning clamoring in his head. "Don't jump! Don't jump!" But the child
had already disappeared. Malfoy and Ron had no choice but to take off
They were still searching for
her an hour later when Ron suddenly shouted,
A block and a half away,
Eloise and Michael were making their way happily up the street. Ron was
just about to call out their names when Malfoy grabbed his arm and
pointed at the picture window of a nearby house. There sat Violet, snug
inside, spooning something into her mouth from a white soup bowl while
she perched on a chair next to the window.
Malfoy reddened at the sight
of her, clearly incensed. "Come on!" he hissed to Ron. He bent over,
crouching low to the ground, and made a bee line across several front
lawns to some shrubs beside the window inside of which Violet sat. Ron
followed close behind. They grabbed the window ledge with numb
fingertips and slowly raised their heads to peek inside.
Violet appeared to be having
the time of her life. In between greedy bites of a hearty stew, she was
barraging a motherly-looking muggle woman with chatter. She would pick
up a piece of the woman's mail from the table, read the contents of a
Christmas card out loud, and then ask questions which the woman would
answer over her shoulder while she worked. Or Violet would toy with the
table decorations and point at others, asking questions about them. The
woman, clearly trying to finish her holiday chores, answered all queries
patiently, albeit with the occasional visible sigh. Every now and then,
something Violet said made her laugh and reach over to give the girl's
shoulder a little squeeze. Violet basked in the attention and the
"Wait 'til I get my hands on
that little git!" Malfoy fumed to Ron over a loud rumble from his
stomach. "She'd better not be..."
"What's this, then?"
A gruff voice barked at them
from behind as two pairs of powerful arms grabbed Malfoy and Ron and
yanked them out of the shrubs. The next thing they knew, they were being
hauled towards the house by two burly young men about Marcus Flint's age
who bore a strong resemblance to the motherly muggle inside. "You lot
should learn to pick on folks your own size!" the man holding Ron growled
as the wizards were dragged inside.
"We weren't laying for her!"
Ron protested. The boys holding him and Malfoy hustled them into the
parlor. When Violet came into view, Ron nodded at her. "We know her!"
he insisted to the burly youth pinning his arms behind his back. "She's
with us! She just ran off!"
The muggle woman looked up in
surprise as the boy holding Malfoy reported, "We found 'em in the bushes,
Mum." He turned to Violet and added, "Do these blokes know you?"
Malfoy struggled furiously to
free himself, oblivious to the arm that was tightening around his neck or
the precarious situation in which he now found himself. "Violet!" he
snarled, his gray eyes flashing, "I'm gonna paddle you 'til my PALMS
Violet winced but the muggle mother
burst out laughing. "Let them go," she counseled her sons as she smiled
sympathetically at Malfoy and Ron. "They know her."
She ushered the two wizards to seats
across the table from Violet and brought them large, steaming bowls of
stew. Ron commenced eating immediately but Malfoy was too angry to do
anything but glower at Violet. "Why don't you tuck in," the mother urged
him. "You look as though you could use it."
Malfoy just glared. The mother shook
her head, then turned to Violet and demanded, "What have you got to say
Violet, who'd been eyeing Malfoy
warily, looked up at her in surprise. The girl began to wobble her lower
lip in a bid for sympathy but the mother would have none of it.
"You said you were alone!" she
scolded. "What were you thinking, running off like that? You're not a
monkey in a zoo!"
Violet gulped and Malfoy smiled in
spite of himself. He picked up a spoon and tried a bite of the stew. It
"They... I...". Violet sputtered for
a moment or two, then gave up and dropped her head in shame. "I'm
sorry," she muttered.
The taller of the Flint-like brothers
shook his head at her. "We've got a woodshed," he offered Malfoy as he
tore hunks off a baguette and set one down beside each boy's bowl. His
brother shoved the butter across the table and added,
"Sorry about outside. But there's
been so many attacks on folks like you..."
Ron's spoon froze halfway to his
mouth. He and Malfoy exchanged looks and the mother, eager to change the
uncomfortable subject, picked up a glass which she filled with milk as
she asked the wizards,
"What were you quarreling about?"
Malfoy's eyebrows jumped. How did
she know... he wondered. But Ron just nodded and advised him,
"They always know."
"I want to go back to school!" Violet
piped up. "But Malfoy won't let us."
The muggle woman didn't have to be
told which one was Malfoy. "What's wrong with the school?" she asked
Draco quite sincerely, as if his were the point of view that mattered
most to her. Her attitude achieved the desired effect; Draco took a long
drink of milk, put down his glass, and told her,
"There's not a lot I can tell you
about it, ma'am, but... it's not a good place for all people."
"That's not true!" Ron interjected.
"Malfoy just doesn't want to admit ..."
The muggle mother put a hand on his
shoulder and he fell silent. She walked around the table to sit down
beside Violet. She folded her hands and nodded at Malfoy. "Who
decides," she asked him, "which people it's good for?"
A long silence followed her question.
The mother waited, intensely focused on Malfoy's face as she anticipated
his response. When none came, her taller son cleared his throat and
"I'll tell you what's not a good place
for all people these days. London. Or just about anywhere, for that
matter." He gave Violet another frown before informing Ron and Malfoy,
"We've been telling your lot all day. It's not safe for youngsters to be
out there, not even in groups."
"You can't tell who they are," the
mother added. "The ones who want to harm you, I mean. They live among
decent folk and lash out without warning or reason."
Malfoy frowned. "'Without
reason,'" he quoted under his breath. He thought back to what Snape had
said about people who do wrong in the world, often without admitting it.
"They indulge their feelings instead of subjecting them to rigorous
scrutiny," he murmured. The muggle mother was impressed.
"Did you learn that in
that school of yours?" she asked. But Ron spoke up before Malfoy could
"Who've you been telling?" he asked.
The muggles looked confused. "All day," Ron reminded them. "You've been
telling our lot all day..."
The taller son nodded and
grinned. "You're the sixth bunch we've had in here today. The first
group came knocking on the door, bold as brass. Diversion, it was. They
chatted us up in front while the others sneaked in the back and searched
for this Potteby..."
"Potter," Malfoy muttered absently.
He was glancing as unobtrusively as possible around the room, taking in
the modest furnishings, the well-worn muggle clothes his hosts were
wearing, the high proportion of potatoes in his stew. These people were
clearly putting themselves out feeding multiple groups of stray wizarding
children. He wondered if they were endangering themselves as well.
"After that," the other son finished,
"it became each group telling the next one where they could get a hot
meal on a cold day."
"Eloise and Michael just left
a while ago," Violet added, and Malfoy returned his attention to the
table, scowling at her.
"Why didn't you go with them?"
"I just got here!" Violet protested.
"Eloise has a broom, so I said I'd meet them tonight to fly back to
school if I can't find Marybeth."
"You'd best get a move on, if
you're... flying..." The muggle mother shook her head and chuckled over
the word. "...anywhere tonight. The wind's supposed to kick up to a
She helped Violet into her
cloak and then ordered her taller son to fetch one of her scarves.
"That's better," she murmured as she wrapped the scarf snuggly around the
neck of Violet's hood. "You'll be all right," she assured the three
wizards, "if you stick together."
They thanked her for her
hospitality and hurried out the door. Malfoy took Violet's hand when
they reached the sidewalk and nodded at Ron to take the other. They made
their way to a corner by a vacant lot and stopped to cross the street,
but when Malfoy stepped off the curb, Violet didn't move. He turned
around and was surprised to find tears streaming down her face.
"I'm sorry," she whispered so
softly he had to step back onto the curb and put his head near her face
to hear her. "I'm sorry, Malfoy," she said again, but there was no sound
at all this time, just lips forming silent words.
"Oh, God," Malfoy muttered.
"What?" Ron asked.
"I've seen this before,"
Malfoy told him, wrapping an arm around Violet's shoulders to lead her
beneath a large tree in the center of the vacant lot. "The night Snape
tried to kick her out of Slytherin... she's about to go on a crying jag."
He sat down with her beneath
the tree and sure enough, Violet threw her arms around his shoulders and
sobbed as if her heart would break. "I want to go home!" she wept,
violent sobs wracking her little body as ragged moans heaved in and out
of her chest. "I want to go home! I want to go home!"
Her hysterics horrified the
lanky redhead but Malfoy just held onto Violet and waited for the crisis
to pass. He glanced up at Ron, who was clearly distressed, and seeing
such concern on the Gryffindor's face filled Malfoy with a realization so
startling he blurted it out loud.
"So do I!"
Violet hiccuped against his
chest and Malfoy gave her a little shake. "How can that be?" he
demanded, as if it were her fault. "How can we feel differently about
Hogwarts than Snape?"
"Because you're not Snape?"
Ron offered, trying to be helpful. Malfoy scowled and was just about to
tell him to sod off when a voice in his head stopped him.
It was his voice. He was
talking to Snape, two days ago. He was telling Snape... 'I'm not like
"Why not?" Malfoy whispered to
himself, trying to puzzle it out. He let his mind wander and faces
popped into it... Ron's, peering worriedly down at him and Violet...
Justin's, scowling at one of Snape's critics... Granger's, berating
Montague for stealing Snape's letter... Mandy's, smiling up at him from a
sickbed cot. He'd had some mighty good times at Hogwarts, he realized,
especially since... since...
'Perhaps it is time to
invite the other houses to visit your obstacle course.'
Malfoy laughed, a snorting
derisive laugh. "What?" Ron demanded, unnerved by the Slytherin
theatrics. Malfoy shook his head.
"It's ironic," he explained. "Snape
hates Hogwarts because he suffered so much, but I had a great time
..." He laughed that snorting laugh again. "...because of Snape!"
Ron frowned. "Among others," he
reminded the Slytherin, and Malfoy nodded.
"Among others," he agreed
good-naturedly, "...from all four houses." He gave Violet a little
squeeze. "That's why the manor never seemed like a home," he told the
girl. "We miss the people from the other houses."
"But Snape's gone!" Violet reminded
"And Dumbledore's still there," Malfoy
nodded. "But why should that make a difference?" He thought of how bad
things had been under the policies and practices that had set the houses
against each other, and how much more satisfying they'd become once those
practices were set aside. "What were we thinking," he asked, "letting
that man undercut our house and drive us away?" He gave Violet a shake
and the girl nodded and wiped her face on her sleeve. Malfoy grinned at
her, then turned to grin at Ron as well.
"Slytherins don't hate Hogwarts!" he
announced. "We just hate Dumbledore! And who is that old man, anyway?
A headmaster!" He sniffed at the notion of running away from a mere
hired hand. "Headmasters serve at the pleasure of the board!" he
reminded the young Slytherin sheltering in his arms. "Headmasters come
"Onto the board?"
"Shut up, Violet!"
Ron laughed out loud and reached out
with both hands to help the Slytherins to their feet.
"I can't believe I'm admitting this,"
he told his fellow seventh year, "but we really missed you."
Malfoy held out a hand for Ron to
shake. Then his eyes lit up as an absolutely brilliant idea popped into
his head. "When we get back," he promised Ron, "I'm going to put in a
good word with Dumbledore to make you head boy for the rest of the year."
"Me?" Ron looked amazed by the offer.
"Don't mention it," Malfoy drawled as
he sauntered off, and Ron couldn't imagine why he was smirking so as he
nodded over his shoulder for Violet and the Gryffindor to catch up.
"Can you accio a person's wand if you
don't know her name?"
"Expelliarmus!" Goyle whacked his
forehead with the palm of his hand in response to Crabbe's suggestion.
"Why didn't I just expelliarmus her wand?"
Millicent folded her arms across her
chest and leaned against a streetlight. Pansy, her hands clasped around
the same pole, was swinging back and forth, first to the right, then to
the left. "Goyle," Millicent told the taller of the two wizards who sat
dejectedly on a curb outside a sweetshop, "let it go. There was nothing
you could do!"
Goyle and Crabbe looked thoroughly
unconvinced, so Millicent tried again.
"We're in London," she reminded
the boys. "There are muggles around every corner. You couldn't just
pull out your wand and start casting. We have no training for a
situation like this!"
The boys nodded. Goyle lifted his
head and asked Millicent, "How come the Ministry doesn't catch all these
under-aged street wizards?"
Street wizards. Pansy stopped
swinging as the group considered the term. Leftovers, these people were.
Disregarded by Hogwarts and any society that really counted, or so it
would seem. Millicent decided the term was a fitting one.
"Maybe they do," she countered.
"Maybe they've caught a bunch of them."
Pansy returned to her swinging.
"Maybe that's why they've been too busy to bother with us," she said as
she swooped from side to side, her head bobbing along with her body.
"Maybe that's why we never heard from them at the squire's."
Crabbe shook his head. "We should
have done something," he moaned, causing Goyle to bury his face in his
hands. "We should have talked to them. We should have tried to help
Millicent sighed at the two wizards.
She peeked around the pole at Pansy and nodded at the boys, demanding,
"What's wrong with this picture?"
"Maybe Snape could help them!" Goyle
looked up suddenly, his eyes bright. But Millicent snorted.
"She's a street witch, Goyle," the
girl reminded him, remembering Violet's description of such people after
her trip to Diagon Alley to replace her wand. "She's not going to take
help from a Hogwarts master."
"He's not a master anymore," Pansy
reminded them. Her housemates turned sullen faces in her direction and
she shrugged and swooped to the left.
"Maybe that's why he left," the pretty
girl suggested. "Maybe he went to help the people Hogwarts doesn't
want." She swung to the right as she added, "...people like him."
Millicent stared at her roommate. She
opened her mouth to protest her friend's characterization of Snape...
then shut it again. Pansy was right, of course. Snape had always been
an outsider, a misfit, a reject, even as the watchful little boy his
parents had sent away for a year to free themselves of his scrutiny. She
thought of the forest orphans, watching from the woods. "Maybe he just
doesn't think we need him anymore," she whispered.
Goyle snorted so hard he blew snot out
his nose and Millicent had to grin. It was hard to say which made them
feel less competent, their time at the squire's or this trip to London.
Ever since their encounter with the 'working girls' they'd noticed one
example after another of folks in trouble; violence, destitution, and
animosity were running rampant through the post-war streets of London.
Crabbe climbed to his feet and offered
a hand to Goyle. "Do you think it's always been this bad?" he asked as
he pulled the other wizard up, "or just since Voldemort?"
"I don't know," Millicent admitted,
"and I don't know what do do about it, except..." She shrugged at her
friends. "We need to know more."
Crabbe furrowed his brow. He seemed
to be devising a plan in his mind, and working right hard on it. "When
we get back to Hogwarts," he said slowly, "I think... we should find
Tracey and Warrington... and tell Malfoy all together that we're
His housemates thought it over.
"Me, too," Millicent nodded.
"And me," Pansy chimed in.
"Yo." Goyle stuck one hand in the air
briefly to signal his support. Millicent wrapped an approving arm around
"For right now," she suggested, "let's
forget about what we can't do. I want to find Potter, and I want to find
something to eat." Her stomach gave a loud rumble and she rubbed it
soothingly. "There's got to be something we can do to get some
"How do you imagine they learned to
kill?" Pansy let go of the pole and came to stand beside Goyle. "Those
girls were a good three years younger," she pointed out, "and we can't
"Not people, anyway," Crabbe nodded,
smiling to himself at the memory of how many insects he'd AK'd last
summer. Ummmmm. Grasshoppers.
"How can they kill?" Pansy demanded
again, and Millicent frowned at her, exasperation showing plainly on her
"I don't want to think about the
things we can't do!" she repeated. "I don't want to think about
transfiguring, charms, muggle defense..."
"Carocka," Pansy put in.
"Right," Millicent nodded, "or
"No!" Pansy stamped her foot. "They
can do carocka!" Her housemates gawked at her and she gestured to a sign
outside a pub across the street. "They can't spell it," she pointed out,
"but they can do it. How can they do carocka?"
Millicent squinted to make out the
sign and suddenly grinned from ear to ear. "Brilliant!" she cried,
giving Crabbe an excited hug. "That's not carocka!" She beamed at her
housemates, pulling them close so they could put their arms around each
other's shoulders. "That," she boasted, nodding at the sign, "is
something we... can DO!"
"All right, monkey." Ron hoisted
Violet into the air and handed her the muggle crayon she'd found near a
trash bin. "Here you go."
Violet took the crayon and used it to
add a pair of red eyes to the green ones already decorating another of
those RPZ flyers tacked to a light pole. When she was finished, Ron put
her down and she dusted off her hands triumphantly.
"Very festive!" she declared, grinning
at the now red and green flyer.
Malfoy rolled his eyes but Ron nodded.
"Slytherin and Gryffindor," he said approvingly. "Except in real life
"What?" Violet asked.
He pointed at the flyer on which she'd
impishly drawn her father's eyes. "Voldemort had the red ones," he
reminded the Slytherins. "Harry has the green eyes. So in real life,
the Slytherin and Gryffindor eye colors are switched."
"The irony never ends," Malfoy
drawled. He took Violet by the hand and turned to go... then spun back
around so forcefully he nearly flung her into the street. Ron did the
same thing and they gaped at each other, thrusting out their arms to
point at the flyer at the same time, the same startled look in their
"Potter's eyes!" Malfoy cried, and Ron
nodded, adding frantically,
"Regents Park Zoo!" He gestured
wildly at Violet the monkey girl. "'RPZ' is Regents Park Zoo!"
Malfoy groaned and shook his head at
their denseness. "Violet, you nitwit!" he snarled, giving her head a
cuff, "22.00 isn't a price. It's a time!"
Ron checked his watch. "Let's go!" he
cried, and the boys grabbed Violet's hands and took off, racing south
along Camden Road as fast as they could go.
"Thank you! Thank you very much!"
The sweaty, red-faced emcee stepped
onto the stage, shouting into his mike to be heard over the applause.
"That was Sherrie Bulloch singing 'Georgia on my Mind.' Let's give her
another big hand!"
Crabbe, Pansy and Goyle glanced
nervously around the hot, dark pub, crowded with flushed, enthusiastic
"What if they found out we're..."
Millicent looked up briefly from a
list she was scanning as quickly as possible. "They won't find out!" she
hissed before returning to her frantic perusal.
"There's a lot at stake tonight in our
weekly Big Money contest..." The emcee was talking again. "...so let's
give a warm welcome to our next entrants, the..."
He nodded at the four Slytherins who
were standing by the steps to the stage. "What do you call yourselves?"
he demanded, and Millicent, caught off-guard, gave a nervous squeak. But
Crabbe grinned confidently at the emcee and shouted,
and the next thing they knew, the
emcee was calling them onstage as he exhorted the audience,
"Put your hands together for Salazar's
"That one!" Millicent cried, pointing
frantically to a number on the list as she handed it back to a sound
machine operator before scrambling onstage behind her housemates.
The Slytherins clumped together in
front of two mikes. The lights dimmed, but not enough to hide the crowd
of expectant faces staring up at them. For an uncomfortably long moment,
there was no sound at all. Then...
dum.... dum, dum de dum!" came the repetitive baseline of three half
steps followed by three half steps and a jump over a catchy 4/4 rhythm.
"Dum, dum, dum... dum, dum de dum!"
chimed in Crabbe and Goyle without missing a beat. Their rich, deep
voices reassured Millicent, who took a deep breath and sang:
Five thousand light years from Birdland,
But I'm still preachin' the rhythm;
Long gone up-tight years from Birdland
And I'm still teachin' it with 'em.
Already, the crowd was loving
it. There were whoops and scattered claps and Pansy beamed as someone
focused a spotlight on them. She jumped in right on cue with the soprano
harmony, pressing her cheek close to Millicent's to share the
Years from the land of the bird,
And I'm still feeling the spirit;
Five thousand light years from Birdland
But I know people can hear it.
Goyle grabbed the mike he shared with
Crabbe to pull it closer to their faces as they joined in on the words,
then pushed it away again after, "It happened down in Birdland." He
struck up an aloof pose as he pointed at Millicent before her next solo,
inspiring someone in the audience to shout, "Stylin'!"
"In the middle of that hub..."
They tweaked the words where
appropriate ("I remember one jazz PUB..."), grinning with delight at the
audience's reaction. Their choir experience made the close harmonies a
piece of cake and Crabbe's thuggish delivery of "'N turn me on" nearly
reduced his housemates to stitches. This wasn't scary! This was fun!
They were good at this! They spun, one at a time, in four neat circles
and launched enthusiastically into the chorus.
Down them stairs
Lose them cares
Down in Birdland!
The audience loved pretty Pansy's
What can you lose?
Just your blues!
So lose them!
But it was their dancing that sewed up
the prize, those smooth Slytherin jazz steps, augmented by hours of speed
dueling, that let them bob and weave on every refrain, finishing with
four perfectly synchronized spins...
Pansy led them off the stage
at the end of their performance, improvising over repetitions of the
chorus. The crowd leapt to their feet, cheering, whistling, and stamping
as they applauded. The only thing that would have made it better,
Millicent thought, would have been if they could have revealed their
plight to these cheery people and asked them for assistance. But that
would have been too much to expect, that someone in this crowd might be
willing to help wizards. She settled for basking in the enthusiastic
response of the emcee.
"Let's hear it for Salazar's Orphans!"
he shouted, and the crowd roared again. "I think we have a winner!" He
called them back onstage and handed over the prize money.
"Any plans for all that loot?" he
asked the flushed, happy children. Crabbe's stomach gave a mighty rumble
and Millicent replied,
"Have you got a special?"
The audience laughed. The emcee
shouted to the fry cook to start on four all-you-can-eat fish and chips,
then he turned to the Slytherins and asked, "How about an encore while
you're waiting for your meal?"
"Yes, yes, encore!" shouted various
members of the crowd over still more applause. The Slytherins smiled and
nodded and the emcee made his way offstage. But when the machine
operator called out, "What's your pleasure?", Millicent shook her head at
him and pushed one of the mikes away. She gathered the Slytherins around
the single remaining microphone and as the machine operator dimmed the
lights to a soft glow, she began to sing.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles
Will be out of sight.
Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy began to hum
softly beneath the words. The audience listened, enthralled. Even the
sizzling of the grill seemed quieter than usual as the patrons basked in
the comforting lyrics of the song.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay
From now on our troubles
Will be miles away.
As they broke into harmony on the next
set of words, a man at the bar glanced at his watch. He rose, slipping
as quietly as possible across the room, and stuck his head out the back
He stepped down with one foot to stand
in the crack of the open door and looked up and down the alley. There
was a gentleman waiting for him, a man in a dashing cloak whose hands
were thrust inside the pockets of his dark trousers as he stood with his
back to the door, staring down the alley.
"Evening, mate," the pub patron
called, and the gentleman turned around and nodded at him. He sauntered
casually to the door, snowflakes falling on his shiny black hair as he
came. Inside, the quartet of voices swelled to a crescendo, drifting
through the partially opened door.
One day soon we all will be together
If the Fates allow
The man with the dashing cloak
paused. He frowned, his brow furrowing, and leaned a bit to one side as
if trying to see beyond the man into the pub.
"Anything wrong, mate?" the pub patron
asked. He stepped into the alley and let the door fall shut behind him,
silencing the four voices. The man with the shiny hair shook his head,
whether to clear it or answer no, the pub patron couldn't tell.
"Good of you," he replied instead, "to
come a day early."
"No worries," the patron assured him.
"Gives me an extra day to do some Christmas shopping, doesn't it?"
The cloaked man held out a sum of
money and the patron took it. Then he knocked on the backdoor of the pub
and someone inside opened it for him. As he stepped inside, the pub
patron looked back over his shoulder. The man in the cloak was still
there, staring at the crack of the partially open door, his head tilted
slightly as if listening for something. But the singing had stopped.
"Happy Christmas," the patron called,
and with a polite nod, the man in the cloak whirled around and swept
Back at the bar, the four Slytherins
had been served their meals and were tucking in gratefully. "There's
enough left over for one room for the night and four handfuls of floo
powder," Millicent reported. "We can have a lie-in in the morning before
we fetch our brooms. Maybe it'll warm up a bit before we have to make
the trek to the Leaky Cauldron."
"What if they haven't got a room with
two beds?" Crabbe wondered, pouring a generous supply of ketchup on his
"We'll have to sleep head to foot,"
Millicent shrugged. "Maybe they'll throw in a port-a-bed."
Pansy sighed. "I wish I could
conjure," she complained before remembering that Millicent didn't want to
hear anymore about what they couldn't do.
"I wish I'd invented Lupin's Remedy,"
Crabbe countered, helping himself to a second bottle of ketchup. "Then
we could all sleep in suites."
"We're closing up, hon," the waitress
told Hermione, giving the tabletop surrounding the witch's mug of tea a
perfunctory swipe with a rag that reeked of disinfectant.
The head girl pulled her cup
safely out of the way and tried not to frown. It didn't matter, she
supposed, that she was being shooed away; the kids she'd been
eavesdropping on had just departed the cafe.
Hermione had gone straight to
the Leaky Cauldron from King's Cross Monday evening and had spent a cozy
night in the very same room Harry had enjoyed the summer before his third
year. In the morning, the she'd made a trip to Gringotts to remove some
of the largess Snape had deposited for her. After returning to the Leaky
Cauldron to pay her tab, she'd ventured into London, spending the day at
various eating establishments listening for word of a kidnapped young
wizard. She'd finally hit paydirt just a few minutes earlier in this
rundown eatery south of the station.
A group of kids about her own
age had entered, arguing loudly about a cloak. Hermione had sneaked a
quick peek at them as they'd made their way down the aisle. "You could
have asked her where she got it!" a petulant, pink-haired girl had been
telling the boy beside her. "Nothing wrong in that!"
"I'm not havin' anything to do
with that lot I don't have to!" the boy had replied as the group had
dropped into the booth behind Hermione. The pink-haired girl had laughed
as the boy had ordered coffees all around.
"Whatchoo think, then? They've
got powers? Don't they wish!" She'd snorted derisively before ripping
open what sounded like 10 sugar packets at a time.
"They're more dangerous without
them, " another member of their group had insisted, a mousy-looking girl
with glasses who'd seemed strangely out of place among her more
outlandishly decorated circle of friends. The boy had agreed with her,
nodding at her to pass the cream as he'd declared,
"I'd still like to go, though,"
the pink-haired girl had mused. "I'd like to see a real one. When did
they say it was?"
"They didn't," the boy had
barked, "and you're not going anywhere!"
The pink-haired girl had risen
with a laugh. "I'm off to the park!" she'd called airily, bursting into a
fit of giggles when the boy had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back
"We've spent enough time in the
park today," he'd growled, and the group had quieted down to drink their
Hermione gathered up her
things, her mind racing. A real one with powers, they'd said. That had
to be Harry! Or maybe one of the searching Hogwarts students had been
"Excuse me," Hermione called to
the waitress, dropping a generous tip onto the table as she beckoned the
girl closer. "Where's the nearest park, please?"
In no time, she was back on the street,
hurrying along towards Argyle Square. A sense of urgency propelled her
along the snowy sidewalks; she had a terrible feeling time was running
"Malfoy, you're cutting off my
The ever-increasing crowd milling about
the zoo grounds was making Draco nervous; as a result, he was gripping
Ron's arm much tighter than necessary. The two of them, along with
Violet, were perched precariously on the back of a bench next to a tree.
It offered them a fine vantage point for watching the throng but required
Ron to cling to the tree with one arm to keep his balance. Malfoy held
onto Ron's other arm and Violet held onto Malfoy. The balancing act
helped conceal their identity as wizards; passers-by smiled at the way
they were clinging to each other for a better view, over-looking the hands
shoved into pockets and wrapped securely around wands.
It didn't help that Malfoy recognized
some of the people from King's Cross.
"Relax," Ron whispered, taking care not
to be overheard. "They don't recognize you. You were watching them and
they were watching the barrier. Besides, your cloak is gone."
The atmosphere inside the zoo was
cheery and festive as packs of openly-armed people roamed the grounds.
Staff and security were nowhere to be seen; the spectators congregating to
see a real live wizard had met no opposition breaking into the facility,
either. Malfoy shook his head. "It's like Wizard Bashing Night at a
theme park," he hissed, inspiring one of the 4 girls sitting on the bench
to smile up at him over her shoulder.
Ron surveyed the growing population of
hate-mongers tensely. There seemed to be several hundred people present,
with more arriving every minute. 'Plan?' Malfoy mouthed silently at the
strategist, who shook his head. The sheer number of people present
suggested that, if violence broke out, their only choices would be, watch
Potter die or die with him.
A cry went up from several nearby
groups and people began stepping off the snowy paths to make way for a
small procession. Others pushed closer to the wizarding trio's bench to
see what was happening.
A group of people were leading Harry
down the path. His hands were tied in front of him; an occasional breeze,
harbingers of the approaching blizzard, stirred his robe, making it flap
behind him. Two young men marched on either size of the Chosen One,
jerking him along the path by loops around his neck. These loops were
attached to long poles, devices were normally used to snare and lead
dangerous animals. Harry's face and hands were covered with nicks and
Murmuring and applause broke out as the
procession approached a wide area near the trio's bench and Malfoy took
advantage of the noise to whisper to Ron,
"Why are they herding him?"
"Maybe they can't touch him," Ron
whispered back. "Quirrell couldn't, first year."
Malfoy had intended to ask how Potter's
face and hands had become injured if no one could strike him. But even as
he spoke, a young boy in the crowd bent over and picked up a stone, which
he hurled at Harry. The sharp rock slammed into Harry's cheek, carving a
small hole that leaked blood down his face. Ron jerked the arm Malfoy was
holding, the one that ended in his hand clutching his wand, and Malfoy
squeezed it tight again. "Don't do anything!" he warned Ron in a whisper.
"My friends," cried the man on Harry's
right, a curly-haired individual with a scar on his nose. "Behold, the
green-eyed wizard of the north!"
A roar went up from the crowd. Several
people boo'd and jeered. The girls sitting on the bench rose and hurried
forward to join those pressing close to Harry and his captors. "Let's go
lower," Ron hissed to Malfoy and Violet. "We stand out too much this
way." They stepped carefully down from the bench's back to its seat where
they could still see easily over the crowd.
"You all know his crimes," the man was
continuing, "and those of his kind. They torture, murder, and exploit
those who do not have their power..."
A cry of agreement rose from the crowd.
"They steal our resources and pollute
our lands to produce the vile devices that perpetuate their power..."
Actually, Malfoy thought,
we're helping you put your noxious weeds to good use... But his
thoughts were drowned by the roar of the crowd.
"And this one!..." The curly-haired
man gave Harry a particularly vicious jerk with the pole. The Gryffindor
stumbled but kept his feet.
"We caught this one in the act of
bewitching and overpowering a defenseless woman!"
The crowd screamed in fury; Malfoy
thought he could actually feel the heat of their anger against this face.
He longed to thrust his wand in the air and cry out to Salazar to smite
"There must be justice!" the
curly-haired man bellowed. The crowd roared its agreement.
"There must be punishment!" Again, a
"We must make an example of this
green-eyed wizard who proclaims himself the mightiest of the mighty, king
of man and beast, defeater of..."
Malfoy sucked in a sharp breath. Had
they tortured Potter? How much had they found out?
".... THE LION!" the man screamed. He
grabbed the Gryffindor crest on the front of Harry's robe and jerked it
into the air, displaying it to the crowd that screamed for blood. Malfoy
relaxed just a bit. "They don't know!" he hissed to Ron and Violet,
pulling their heads close. "They don't know he's Harry Potter!"
"Of course not!" Violet sniffed, her
eyes shooting daggers at the curly-haired man. "Hate-mongers never really
know what they're talking about."
The trio straightened up again and
Malfoy could see Ron's mind racing to process this advantage.
"What more fitting death, therefore,"
the man continued, "than to feed him, wandless... TO THE LIONS!"
The crowd roared its approval, but
Malfoy thought he saw a few faces pale.
"Bloody lucifer!" Ron was panicking
beside him. "How many lions are there? Can we stun them? But then what?
If only we could transfigure into something that would distract them!"
His eyes darted frantically about the
grounds, searching for a solution. "We don't know enough!" he lamented to
the two Slytherins. "We don't know enough! We don't know enough."
Violet snatched her wand from her
jacket pocket and hid it just inside her front zipper, gazing desperately
down at Pseudo-Salazar as if he might hold the answer. Watching her,
Malfoy suddenly realized...
"Oh, yes we do!"
He pulled his fellow wizards into a
huddle and whispered urgently; when Ron straightened up again, he was
He jumped down from the bench and
hurried to a spot behind a gang of short boys. Then he waved both arms in
"What if he can communicate with
lions?" he shouted, and Harry jerked his head in the direction of Ron's
voice. The shock that filled his face was quickly replaced by terror,
though Malfoy couldn't tell if he was acting... or frightened for Ron.
Ron shouted again.
"What if he turns the lions on us?"
A worried murmuring broke out among the
crowd. Before the curly-haired man could respond, Malfoy shouted his
"Throw him to the snakes!" he cried,
pointing to the nearby reptile house. Immediately, the cry went up among
"Snake! Snake! Snake! Snake!" Malfoy
nearly grinned to see the people who had paled at the thought of lions
were shouting the loudest. Apparently, they preferred squeeze and swallow
to the bloody spectacle of seeing someone torn limb from limb.
Harry's captors led him quickly to the
reptile house, the crowd following close behind. Ron raced over to the
bench and sprang back up on it, grabbing Malfoy by the arm before he could
"We have to stay here," he insisted.
"It'll give us a clear shot inside and a head start when it's over."
The crowd was too big for the snake
facility; several people had to hold open the doors for the masses that
tiptoed and craned their necks behind them. They were cramming as close
as possible, confident in the safety afforded them by the glass windows.
Violet bounced on her toes in anticipation and Malfoy gave her a little
nudge. "Wands at the ready," he whispered.
He didn't know how the captors were
going to get Harry into the snake tanks. "Do you suppose..." he whispered
to Ron. Then he nearly jumped out of his skin as a crash rang out through
the night, louder than the wind that was beginning to howl, louder than
the thunder of the death eaters breaking through the ceiling of the Great
Hall. There was a silence... then screams, followed by a raging stampede.
Harry had broken every snake exhibit
window in the reptile house simultaneously.
As the crowd fled in terror, Malfoy and
Ron trained their wands on the humans still surrounding Harry, the captors
who refused to flee. "Stupefy!" they cried again and again while Violet
hurled hexes at anyone who so much as paused to look at what they were
doing. They had clear shots from their height and in a matter of moments,
Harry came barreling out of the reptile house.
"This way!" Ron shouted, leaping down
from the bench with Malfoy and Violet. They set off at a run, attempting
to lose themselves in the panicky, fleeing crowd. But several of their
first stupefy victims had recovered and were now following close behind.
"Get them!" they shouted, trying to
marshal the wild crowd that was thundering out of the zoo as the snow
swirled around them. "Stop them!" But the four wizards joined hands, Ron
grabbing Harry by the elbow, and, in a mighty leap, they cleared a body of
water bordering the zoo and landed safely on the far side of Prince Albert
"This way!" Ron shouted again, leading
them in the direction of Camden Lock Market. Their pursuers thundered
down the pavement behind them; they would not be able to leap anymore
unless they split up and Violet was too short to outrun the villains. "In
here!" Ron cried, breaking open a padlock on a rickety wooden garage's
sliding door with his wand, and the four of them rushed inside the
dilapidated building. "Silencio!" Ron hissed at the door before sliding
it shut. They crouched low and held their breath. Feet rushed past but
none slowed down. Then...
The four wizards collapsed to sitting
positions against the wooden door.
"Get him out of that robe," was the
first thing Ron said when he dared to speak again. He looked exhausted
beyond words, tired enough to cry. Malfoy pulled Harry to his feet and
diffendo'd the ropes binding Harry's hands, then took off his jacket and
handed it to him after Harry had removed his robe.
"What happened to your cloak?" he asked
the Gryffindor as he engorgio'd his own.
"It fell apart," was all Harry would
say, but the way he said it made Violet shudder. She climbed to her feet
and started to slip out of her pink coat.
"You stay in your jacket," Malfoy told
her as he pulled on his cloak. Violet wrinkled her nose and gave a nearby
tarp a petulant kick in reply. It slid to the floor with a loud shuffling
noise and Violet had to clamp a hand over her mouth to keep from
"Blimey!" Ron exclaimed, climbing to
"Wicked!" Harry grinned.
"It's a hearse!" Violet squeaked. She
rushed over to Malfoy and clutched his hand. Draco pulled loose and
demanded to know,
"What's a hearse?"
"It's just a car, Violet," Harry
chided, and Ron grinned and shook his head.
"It's more than that!" he exclaimed.
"It's our ride home!"
Violet backed away, her arms folded
across her chest. "Oh, no," she insisted. "I'm not riding anywhere in a
"Oh," Malfoy murmured, but Ron walked
over to Violet and put a hand on her shoulder.
"We've got no brooms," he reminded her.
"We can floo!" the girl pleaded.
"Let's just go to the Leaky Cauldron..."
Ron shook his head. "Do you really
want to ask Harry to go back out on those streets, with all those monsters
searching for him?"
"To say nothing of the rest of us,"
"We shouldn't even stay here very
long," Ron reminded the girl. "They could come back at any moment."
Violet glanced at the hearse, her face
puckering, then made a last attempt to talk Ron out of it. "You'll get in
trouble," she suggested. "You'll get in big trouble with the Ministry for
stealing a car."
Ron hesitated and Malfoy smirked.
"Come on, Weasley," he drawled. "If I can admit it's not a home without
all four houses..."
Harry looked confused at that but Ron
just grinned. "You know what?" the redhead decided, turning emphatically
to his friends. "WE defeated Voldemort. As far as I'm concerned... WE'RE
in charge now!"
"Whoo hoo!" Harry yelled, racing over
to the car to try the doors. They were locked of course. Ron alohamora'd
them open and Harry scrambled into the backseat, pulling Violet along with
"Is there a key?" Ron asked. Harry
shook his head. Ron and Malfoy made their way to the front of the car,
staring studiously at the hood. "The engine's under there," Ron told him.
"But how are we supposed to start it?"
Malfoy wondered why he was saying 'We.'
I'm not the son of the muggle artifacts expert, he snorted to
himself. He reached up to scratch a spot on his forehead that had itched
regularly ever since Snape had bashed him with a book fifth year... and
then grinned like a cheshire cat.
"Stand back," he ordered Ron.
He popped open the hood with an alohamora, pointed his wand at the engine,
and shouted, "Enervate!"
The engine roared to life.
"Brilliant!" praised Ron,
throwing open the door to the shed. The two wizards scrambled into the
"Where to?" Harry asked when
they'd slammed their doors. "The Burrow?"
Malfoy and Ron exchanged looks.
"I need to go to Hogwarts,"
Malfoy insisted. "I have to check on the Slytherins."
"You could floo from Ron's
house," Harry reminded him. Ron colored a bit.
"I'd rather go to Hogwarts
myself," he admitted. "Mum and Dad are gonna be awfully mad..."
Malfoy smirked. "And you
should check on Granger," he suggested in a most business-like way, and
Ron nodded, blushing harder still. Harry grinned.
"Home it is!" he cried, inspiring Ron
to step on the petrol pedal a little too hard. The car jerked violently
forward. When they were safely underway, he asked, "Can we stop at the
Leaky Cauldron? I need a new wand. There must be someplace in Diagon
Ron cut him off with a shake of
his head. "Dumbledore's got your wand," he told Harry. "Madam Rosmerta
gave it to him. Can you get us to King's Cross from here? I can get us
to Hogwarts if you can get us to King's Cross."
"Are you sure?" Malfoy asked
him. "You went by air last time, after all."
"And it's supposed to
blizzard," Violet added, dabbing spots of Instant External Pain Relief and
Healing potion on Harry's face from the vial around her neck.
"We'll manage," Ron assured
them as he eased the car down the snow-covered roads.
Hermione pulled her muggle coat
more snugly around her shoulders preparatory to sitting down on a
snow-covered log to think. It was getting quite late; she should probably
leave the park. She'd been here for hours and there'd been no sign of a
gang that included a girl with a cloak or the teenagers she'd overheard in
the cafe. The later it got, the more dangerous it would be to wander the
alone, she knew, and besides, the wind was picking up. She feared if she
tarried much longer, she might be ensconced in a full-scale blizzard.
"If only I could apparate," she
grumbled as she settled onto the nicely secluded log. "I could keep
looking for Harry and then pop back to the Leaky Cauldron any time."
The log gave way as she sat on
it and Hermione leapt to her feet, stifling a scream. It wasn't a log at
all, she realized with horror. It was a person, a snow-covered corpse...
most likely the victim of some park crime. She looked frantically in
every direction for a policeman, wondering as she did how she could report
the crime without getting involved in a lengthy interview; she had Harry
to think about, after all. Then the corpse groaned.
Hermione gasped and bent over
the snowy lump, pawing frantically at the snow covering the head. When
she saw Marybeth's face, she cried out in anguish.
There was a gash on Marybeth's
forehead, clotted with blood. Hermione brushed away the snow covering the
girl and squatted beside her, unbuttoning her coat. She pulled Marybeth
close and wrapped the folds of her coat around the young Slytherin. "What
happened?" she cried as she pressed Marybeth tightly against the warmth of
her own body.
Marybeth moaned. "My cloak!"
she finally managed to whimper. "They took my cloak!"
Hermione remembered the
pink-haired girl in the cafe, berating her friend for not inquiring about
a cloak. "Who, Marybeth?"
she asked, giving the Slytherin a little shake.
"Snape gave it to me!" Marybeth
was shivering uncontrollably. She began to cry, whimpering, "I want my
cloak! I want my cloak!"
Hermione eyed the ground where
Marybeth had been lying. Already, it was filling with blowing snow; the
wind was getting stronger every second. But it had been dry beneath the
girl's body, which meant the attack must have taken place Monday night,
before the snow had begun to fall. Hermione supposed the thick, white
blanket of snow that had fallen on top of Marybeth had saved her life,
insulating her against the cold and slowing the bleeding of her head
wound. Nevertheless, it was clear the girl was sick with chill.
"Marybeth!" Hermione lifted
the girl's head to look into her eyes, wincing at the way the girl's chin
shivered against her fingers. "We'll get you another cloak," she
promised, "the same kind Professor Snape got you."
Marybeth continued to whimper but
Hermione forged ahead, insisting, "Right now, it's very important that you
tell me. Who took your cloak?"
Marybeth grew still. Her eyes, focused
on Hermione's face, widened, and when she spoke, her voice was nearly
swallowed by the wind. "They worship Voldemort," she whispered, trembling
with horror. She buried her face in Hermione's neck and shuddered at her
own words. "The muggles," she finished simply. "They worship Voldemort."
Hermione's stomach did a flip-flop. It
couldn't be true. It couldn't be! But in her head, she heard a
pink-haired girl laughing derisively.
'They've got powers? Don't they
We're in danger, Hermione realized
as she climbed to her feet, pulling a wobbly Marybeth up with her, even
more than I thought. How are we supposed to know who to trust? She
hugged Marybeth tight, wrapping her coat more snuggly around them both.
The younger girl clung to her, shaking uncontrollably, and Hermione cursed
her ignorance. If only she could conjure a cloak, or transfigure one from
something in a trash bin! The wind whipped around them and Hermione felt
a wave of panic. Marybeth couldn't last long in this weather; if she
didn't get the young Slytherin to shelter, the girl would die. But the
sickly young witch couldn't possibly walk all the way to the Leaky
"Come on," Hermione urged, leading
Marybeth out of the park and towards the nearest block of shops. Could
she find a taxi in this weather? Maybe could they maybe shelter in the
Underground for the night. No, Hermione realized as Marybeth
trembled against her, that won't be warm enough. Marybeth needs to
rest someplace warm. If only it weren't so late! But the shops were
closed, and they had alarms. Even when silencio'd, the alarms would still
blink at police stations. Hermione frowned, remembering how the police at
King's Cross hadn't been too friendly to wizards.
She wondered if Marybeth could make it
to the nearest residential neighborhood. What would happen if they
knocked on a muggle's door? Would they encounter sympathy or hostility?
Perhaps if they threw away Marybeth's robe they could pass themselves off
as muggles. But could Marybeth survive without it? How would they
explain their situation to whomever answered the door?
They entered the first alley they came
to, which afforded them some shelter from the wind and snow. There were
shouts ahead of them and almost immediately, several people came barreling
around the corner where this alley intersected with another. Hermione
pulled Marybeth behind a large trash bin and huddled with her in the
corner it made against the wall, her hand on her wand. She would defend
the two of them as best she could, but she was certain she'd seen half a
dozen rampaging teenagers round the corner, if not more.
There was a grunt and a thud followed
by a cry of "Let go!" so near that Marybeth, snuggled tight against
Hermione beneath her coat, flinched. Hermione peeked through the crack
between the trash bin and the wall. Three people were slammed up against
the wall on the other side of the bin, two boys about her age and a girl
about Marybeth's. One boy had blonde hair, the other red. They were
being held in place by a gang of about 8 or 9 young men and women.
"Give it!" the boy holding the blonde
growled. "We know you've got one!"
"It's not worth dying over, now, it
is?" a second boy asked as he leered menacingly at the blonde. His crude
smile revealed a mouthful of scummy teeth. He pulled a knife from his
pocket and toyed with the tip of the blade. The redhead struggled to free
himself and the boy holding him cuffed him upside the head.
"We haven't got one!" the blonde boy
protested. "We haven't got any cloak! We're not wizards!"
"They are!" shouted one of the girls in
the attackers' party. "I saw them there tonight! It was their idea about
Hermione gripped her wand more tightly.
If she creeped around the bin, she could stun... how many?... before they
rushed her. Of course, it would mean leaving Marybeth uncovered, or
removing her coat... She began to wiggle out of it, keeping one hand
clenched around her wand as a series of metal clicks rang out, signaling
the opening of several more blades. There was a cry for help from a young
girl, presumably the one up against the wall, and then...
Several blasts of red light ricocheted
through the alley.
Hermione fell back against the wall
with a gasp, clutching Marybeth tightly. She peeked through the crack and
saw a man walking calmly up the alley, his cloak billowing behind him, a
wand in one hand.
It was Severus Snape.
The three children standing against the
wall slumped with relief. There was no sight or sound of their
"You're early," said the blonde boy,
trying to sound off-hand but clearly still a little shaky. Snape made no
reply. The trash bin vibrated as someone heaved open the lid and then
there was the crunchy thudding of heavy items being dumped inside, 8 or 9
of them. The lid was slammed shut and there was a splintery sound as
something wooden was broken in half and jammed into an opening too small
"That should hold them for a while,"
said Snape, and Hermione realized he'd dumped the bodies of the attackers
into the bin and jammed a stick into the latch to hold it temporarily
shut. Marybeth, her face buried in Hermione's chest, started at the sound
of Snape's voice and Hermione clamped a hand over her mouth.
"Be still!" she whispered to the
younger witch. "They haven't said his name." If Snape hadn't told these
young muggles who he was, it might be because he preferred they not know.
"Your money," said the wizard in that
smooth tone Hermione remembered so well, and when she peeked through the
crack again, she saw his pale hand holding out a large sum of Muggle cash
which the blonde quickly took.
"Good of you," the redhead muttered.
"You could have let them kill us. Then you'd have had your money AND your
"But what if I wanted more next year?"
Snape inquired silkily, and Hermione could just see his cool smile in her
mind's eyes. "Where else could I find such accommodating service?"
"He could have had the farm, for that
matter," the girl told the blonde, and Hermione guessed that the three
must be siblings.
"I have no interest," Snape assured
them, "in running a dead man's poultry business. Shall I see you to the
The blonde boy shook his head. "The
truck's a ways," he told Snape, and he and the other two young muggles
took off up the alley. Hermione listened to the crunch of their footsteps
on the snow. Had Voldemort killed their parents, she wondered? Was that
how Snape knew about them? How could three children run a business on
their own? The footsteps paused, and a boy's voice, she couldn't tell
which, called, "Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas," Snape replied, and
as the children set off again, he leaned against the wall where they'd
just been standing just a moment ago. Hermione, getting her first really
good look at him since he'd left Hogwarts, gasped.
"His hair!" she squeaked, making Snape
and Marybeth jump. Snape raced around the bin, wand drawn, and his mouth
fell open at the sight of the two young witches.
"What are you doing here?" he cried,
clearly horrified. Marybeth gave a sniff and Hermione looked down to see
that her eyes had filled with tears. She sprang from beneath Hermione's
coat and flung herself at Snape, collapsing against him from the effort.
"They took my cloak!" she sobbed through trembling lips. A spasm shook
her all over.
Hermione climbed awkwardly to her feet
and watched as Snape waved his wand to silently conjure a plain wool
cloak. He pulled Marybeth loose so he could fasten the garment around her
neck and that's when he discovered the gash on her forehead.
"She was attacked," Hermione explained
as Snape wrapped the cloak around Marybeth. "I think she's been
unconscious in the snow since last night."
Snape opened his own cloak and pulled
the shivering Slytherin against him, wrapping the folds around her to
envelope her in another layer of warmth. "What are you doing here?" he
demanded of Hermione, snarling the question this time. The wind rose with
a shriek and Hermione hugged her coat more tightly against her body.
"Don't you know?" she asked, forcing
herself to keep eye contact with Snape so she wouldn't stare at his silky,
snow-flecked hair. "Haven't you heard about Harry?"
Snape paled as told him about the
disappearance and the melee at King's Cross. She spoke quickly, glancing
frequently at the sickly Marybeth as she did.
"All of you?" Snape growled when she'd
finished. "All of you came to look?"
Hermione nodded. "The orphans flew and
the rest of us took the train."
Snape didn't seem to know what to make
of this information; he appeared to be having trouble making up his mind
what to do. Then Marybeth shuddered violently against him, deciding the
"Shelter," he declared. "Miss Montague
needs shelter, immediately."
"She's too weak to walk far," Hermione
told him. "Could we get a taxi..."
"Not in this storm," Snape insisted,
furrowing his brow. "Not fast enough, anyway," He seemed to be running
other options through his mind but he didn't share them with Hermione.
"If only we had a broom!" the girl
hinted, hoping Snape might have one stashed somewhere. He could apparate
and return with it in moments. "We could fly her to the Leaky Cauldron...
or St. Mungo's, or maybe a muggle hospital..."
Snape snorted. "Fly about London," he
informed the witch, "and you'll get shot. I keep my broom at the Leaky
Cauldron and take off from Diagon Alley. As for St. Mungo's..."
He hesitated and Hermione wondered if
the wizarding hospital had been breached. It didn't occur to her that
Snape was trying to solve two problems at once... how to save Marybeth and
how to keep Hermione Granger safely in his custody until he could turn her
over to Professor McGonagall or her parents. What could they have been
thinking, letting her roam the streets of London by herself these days...
He shook his head. "Shelter," he said
again, heaving Marybeth into his arms as he set off down the alley. "I
know of a house nearby. It has a shed. No alarm."
They hurried down a few streets,
Hermione keeping close to Snape as the wind and snow whirled about them.
She was relieved, upon reaching their destination, to see a tall hedge
running the length of the property, sheltering one side from the weather.
Snape led them to that side of the house, pausing by a window to peek
inside and find out what the muggles who lived here were doing. They were
apparently suitably preoccupied, because he hissed, "Stay here!" to
Hermione and Marybeth, whom he shoved into Hermione's arms, and took off
for the back of the house. Marybeth slumped against Hermione, who wrapped
her arms around the younger girl.
As she waited for Snape to return,
Hermione noticed silvery lights reflecting against the window. The
muggles inside were watching television, she realized. She risked a peek
in the window and saw a parlor full of people in warm pajamas and robes,
enjoying a Christmas film. The window sash was somewhat warped and
Hermione could just hear the movie through the glass; women in red outfits
and men in green tuxedos were singing to a woman in a white leotard about,
"Mandy, there's a minister handy." The woman in white was quite a dancer,
Snape returned and Marybeth immediately
clutched him as he told Hermione, "It's no good. There's a man in the
shed assembling a scooter."
Marybeth gave a whimper in response to
this news and Snape hushed her sharply, causing Hermione to bristle.
Snape caught her glare.
"You would do well, Miss Granger," he
hissed in a carefully controlled whisper, "to assume a more civil
"We're not at Hogwarts ...
Mister Snape," Hermione hissed right back.
"That's right!" Snape nodded. "That
means I can thrash you if I wish!"
At this, Marybeth peeked up at him from
beneath the hood of her cloak. She mustered all her strength and
"Hermione's been taking awfully good
care of me, sir."
Snape frowned and looked away, a sour
sort of chagrin on his face. Hermione followed his gaze to the parlor
In the movie, a man and a woman were
carrying a plate of sandwiches to an open-hearth fire in a
pleasant-looking country inn. They were talking earnestly together; they
seemed to be trying to help each other. Before long, the man began to
I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds.
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings.
From the looks on their faces,
it appeared the man and woman in the movie thought very highly of each
other. Eventually the woman reprised the song and when the the scene came
to an end, Snape turned to Hermione and positively shocked her by asking,
"How is Professor McGonagall?"
Hermione sputtered with fury. All the
resentment that had been simmering inside her for the past few weeks came
bubbling to the surface, urged on by her fury at how good Snape looked now
that he was away from Hogwarts. "I have NEVER," she shouted at the top of
her lungs, completely forgetting their precarious situation, "been so
angry with you IN MY LIFE!"
Inside the house, several startled
faces turned towards the window. Snape snatched up Marybeth, grabbed
Hermione's arm and took off at a run.
They ran for several minutes, down one
slushy alley after another. When they finally stopped to catch their
breath, Snape turned menacingly to Hermione, who braced herself for a
stinging criticism. But all he said was, "I know a place."
Without another word, he led her down
several more alleys to a ramshackle building with all broken windows. He
ushered her inside through a crooked door held shut with wire.
Once inside, Hermione saw that it was
some sort of abandoned warehouse or storage shed, filled with piles of
trash... broken glass, shattered crates, the remains of small fires. It
was clearly a hang-out for indigents, but none were present tonight.
Too cold, Hermione thought as the wind whipped through the cracks
in the plank walls. Snape handed Marybeth, now deteriorated to a state of
dumb suffering, to Hermione, who could barely make out her whimpers. If
they didn't warm her up soon...
"I don't know that we're any better off
here than outside," she told Snape somewhat peevishly. They couldn't even
start a fire... the wind would just blow it about and burn the building
Snape ignored her. He was busy in the
center of the room, clearing away a spot on the dirt floor. He pulled out
his wand and conjured a dozen large wool blankets which he spread on the
ground, one on top of the other. Then he beckoned to Hermione to bring
Marybeth. As they set off across the floor, Marybeth's cloak disappeared
with a pop. Snape scowled and conjured her another one.
"How long will the blankets last?"
Hermione asked as she fastened the new cloak around Marybeth's neck and
led her to the center of the nest Snape had made. The former potions
master made no reply and Hermione couldn't resist adding, "Professor
Dumbledore can conjure furniture," as Snape began conjuring more
blankets to spread on top of Marybeth. He paused after the first one to
raise an eyebrow at Hermione, then returned to his work when Marybeth
When he'd covered Marybeth with
blankets a foot high, he lay down and climbed beneath the covers on her
right. He signaled Hermione to do the same on her left. The three of
them pulled the blankets over their heads and huddled close together.
Marybeth shivered so hard her teeth
chattered. "I wish there were a faster way to warm her," Hermione
murmured, wrapping her arms protectively around Marybeth. The girl
burrowed close to her and, to Hermione's surprise, muttered,
"Professor Snape is a poo poo head."
"Wha...what?" Hermione gasped, while
Snape inquired more smoothly, "I beg your pardon?"
"Give me a hundred galleons," Marybeth
demanded weakly, "or I'll hold my breath until I turn blue."
Hermione propped herself on one elbow.
"Is she delirious?" she asked Snape, firing up her lumos light to examine
Marybeth's pale, still face. But Snape chuckled, completely unruffled.
"Give it up, Miss Montague," he
counseled. "A spanked bottom will not warm the rest of you sufficiently
to make it worth your trouble... or mine." Marybeth sighed and Hermione,
rolling her eyes, settled back down beside her.
"If we had containers," she murmured a
few moments later, "we could make bluebell flames. Couldn't we
transfigure some of this trash into tumblers..."
"It's garbage, Miss Granger," Snape
reminded her. "Transfigure a broken table leg or smashed crate and you'll
wind up with a cracked glass or a wobbly goblet."
Marybeth signed. "Rats," she muttered.
Snape and Hermione sat up abruptly,
spilling back the covers. The same idea had just occurred to them both.
Snape thrust his wand into the air first, and before Hermione could utter
a word of caution, he shouted confidently,
The hail of vermin that rained down
upon them made Marybeth scream.
"Brilliant idea, Professor," smirked
Hermione as the unexpected plethora of rodents raced this way and that.
She pulled out her wand and began stunning rats as quickly as possible.
In no time, they were surrounded by toasty ring of bluebell flames held
in tumblers made of transfigured vermin.
The storm and the bluebell flames were
still going strong when the blankets disappeared a few hours later. Snape
rose quickly to replace them, settling Marybeth, who seemed no better,
beside him when he was done. "You smell wrong," she observed as she
wrinkled the nose she had pressed against his chest.
"Is that so?" Snape wondered mildly.
"Not potiony," Marybeth complained.
Snape smiled as he closed his eyes.
"How unfortunate," he agreed, and Hermione was struck by his indulgence.
He was clearly fond of this child. He'd always seemed devoted to the
Slytherins. He'd made no end of sacrifices for the people of Hogwarts and
he'd just inquired after Professor McGonagall. How could he have walked
away from them? And what in heaven's name had happened to his hair?
"Why didn't you tell us?" she
whispered, more petulantly than she'd intended, and Snape opened one eye.
"What are you talking about, Miss
Granger?" he whispered above Marybeth's head, which was tucked beneath his
"How bad things have gotten," Hermione
replied. "You knew. You hinted in potions class."
Snape arched an eyebrow at her, which
looked a little funny from a reclining position. "You'll recall," he
murmured silkily, "that we had more pressing concerns. But..." He rolled
onto his back and placed his hands beneath his head. "You raise an
interesting point," he admitted as he stared at the ceiling.
"What's that?" Hermione inquired when
he said no more, and Snape shrugged.
"Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall
have apparently chosen not to address the situation since my departure,"
the dark-haired wizard began.
Hermione bit her tongue. If it killed
her, she would not admit to Snape how devastating his departure had
been, how thoroughly it had quashed all interest in learning.
"I would be concerned," Snape continued
carefully, "if they chose to go looking for Potter themselves, should they
not be fully aware of current... conditions."
Hermoine snorted. "They're far more
powerful wizards than you are," she snapped. It seemed important,
somehow, to cause Snape as much irritation as possible. So far, she felt,
she was failing miserably. All he said in reply was,
"It won't do them any good if they
don't know what they're up against."
Hermione thought of how poorly the
students' defense techniques had served them at King's Cross. "Why don't
you come back to Hogwarts," she demanded of Snape, "if you're so
concerned?" But Snape merely shook his head.
"I have a different calling," he
insisted. He gave her a brief sideways glance and added, "I told your
head of house that."
Hermione didn't miss a beat. "Did she
agree?" she shot back. To her delight, Snape drew his arms back beneath
the covers and scowled at the ceiling.
Marybeth sneezed in her sleep and
Hermione frowned. When she spoke again, her voice trembled despite her
best efforts to control it. "Marybeth says muggles have begun to worship
Voldemort," she told Snape. "That can't be true, can it?"
Snape did not seem surprised by the
news. He turned his head to consider Hermione, then rolled onto his side,
propped himself up on one elbow, and rested his head on his hand, taking
care to keep Marybeth well-covered.
"I think you and I have a great deal in
common, Miss Granger," he murmured. "Nothing pains us more than shallow
people who think they're honorable and the damage they do with their
"But what can be done about
them?" Hermione persisted. "How can we change them?" She shuddered at
the thought of a world full of Voldemort-worshippers.
By the dim light of the flickering
bluebell candles, Hermione saw Snape's face cool several degrees. "I've
given up on changing them," he said softly, and the menace in his tone
made Hermione shiver. Snape gave her the smallest of smiles.
"Take comfort, Miss Granger," he
counseled the head girl. "God is not mocked. Those whose self-proclaimed
morality merely veils self-interest suffer for their deception. Watch and
see." He settled back down beneath the covers, drawing Marybeth close.
Hermione wiggled closer as well. "But
the innocent," she protested, pushing some of Marybeth's hair out from
under her nose. "They suffer, too."
"The innocent get rescued," Snape
countered, "just as you rescued Miss Montague."
Hermione grinned. "I meant Harry," she
insisted, blushing nevertheless. Snape rolled his eyes.
"I never found Mr. Potter altogether
innocent," he observed, "but I assure you, he will be rescued."
"And Professor McGonagall?" Hermione
couldn't resist adding. Snape groaned and shut his eyes.
"Miss Granger," he grumbled, "I have
always found you extremely irksome." He opened one eye. "I thought you
should know," he added before rolling over and admonishing her, "Get some
They woke the next morning when
the blankets disappeared again. Marybeth was still quite weak and had to
be supported when she walked, but the weather had moderated enough to
permit Snape to hail a taxi just a block from the warehouse. He gave the
driver the address of the Leaky Cauldron on Charing Cross Road.
"Better get your business
done," the driver advised the three passengers in the backseat. "Storm's
supposed to kick back up tonight." For the moment, it was just snowing
again. Snape nodded his thanks but said nothing and Hermione, following
his lead, kept quiet as well.
He bought them all breakfast at
the Leaky Cauldron and watched anxiously as Marybeth attempted to eat.
"If she doesn't revive," he murmured to Hermione, "she won't be strong
enough to floo."
"Then what?" Hermione wondered.
"We'll have to fly her to
Hogwarts," Snape replied. He didn't seem to relish the idea; "Please,
Miss Montague, just a few bites," he urged. But it was no good. Marybeth
was too weak.
"Very well, " said Snape,
retrieving his broom from Tom the innkeeper. "We'll take turns. Would
you like to hold Miss Montague first, or fly?"
It was a difficult trip. It
snowed all day and, it seemed to Hermione, got steadily colder to boot.
The snow made the broom handle slippery, so it was vital to keep the broom
as steady as possible, which was difficult for Hermione, who was not a
strong flyer. But holding onto Marybeth and the broom at the same time
was difficult, too. They landed several times to rest their arms; by the
time they'd reached the mountains outside of Hogsmeade, it was already
dark. The closer they got to Hogwarts, Hermione noticed, the quieter Snape
Months later, it would occur to
Harry that having twice as many schoolmates in the car made the trip back
to Hogwarts 10 more fun than the flight before his second year. Violet
had warmed to the hearse, literally, when she'd discovered they could put
bluebell flames in the cut glass vases on the doors. Aso, Malfoy allowed
her to wear her cloak in the car; they had the roads virtually to
themselves since the blizzard kept other drivers inside.
A few times, they got lost.
But, just as they had during the tracking exercise in Defense class, they
put their heads together and found another route. When they got stuck in
the snow, Malfoy and Harry levitated the car over of the drift or
evanesco'd the offending ice crystals out of the way.
Food and petrol were no problem after
they stupefied a bell-ringer and robbed his collecting pot, leaving a note
promising double restitution. They had a great deal of fun browsing the
shelves of roadside stores for juice, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks.
Afterwards, as they snacked in the car, they talked about all that had
happened over the past few weeks.
"Why didn't you use your leaping
technique to get away when you realized your wand was a dowel rod?" Violet
asked Harry, and Malfoy bit back a snort. He wanted to reply, 'Because
Gryffindor courage is seldom accompanied by Ravenclaw intelligence.
That's why they don't know the value of a Slytherin retreat.'
But he didn't.
Instead, he said, "It's hard for Harry
Potter to run from a worthless pack of Dudleys, Violet."
They stopped for a kip in the
middle of the night and again just before noon. By the time they reached
the outskirts of Hogsmeade, the daylight was gone.
"We're fine on petrol," Ron
reported as he turned onto a road that would intersect with the carriage
route from the train station. "But we're going to miss supper." That was
a shame; the snacks had given out mid-morning and their stomachs were
crying out for a decent meal.
About a quarter of a mile from
the castle, the car ground to a halt. "I thought you said we had petrol!"
Malfoy complained, but Ron shook his head.
"It's the magic in the air,"
the redhead explained. "Hermione says electrical and mechanical things
don't work near Hogwarts. We're going to have to walk."
They buttoned up their coats
and cloaks before abandoning the car and setting off on foot. After
trudging several yards through the snow, they rounded a curve that
afforded a view of the castle in the distance.
"Look!" Violet cried, pointing
excitedly at the lovely spectacle. The fortress was, for the most part,
dark, save for the light blazing from the Great Hall. But in every window
of the mammoth structure burned a single candle... the traditional symbol
of welcome home.
"I wonder who did it?" Harry
"My money's on McGonagall,"
Malfoy declared, making Ron wince.
"She's going to kill us," the
redhead predicted. "She's going to skin us alive and then boil us in oil
for good measure."
Malfoy laughed and clapped him
on the back. "It's Christmas Eve, Weasley!" he reminded the Gryffindor as
they set off again. "What's the worst that could happen on Christmas
"Someone's just landed on the
Professors Dumbledore and
McGonagall sprang to their feet and hurried across the Great Hall in
response to the shout from Justin Finch Fletchley, who was peering out a
small section of window he kept defrosting. The headmaster and deputy
headmistress, along with the returning searchers who'd been filtering into
the castle all day, were among the only humans occupying the castle this
evening. Filch was rattling around the dungeon somewhere, Hagrid was
plucking geese in his hut, and Madam Pomfrey was standing by in the
hospital wing, but most of the staff had left to visit family.
"Stay here!" McGonagall shouted at the
returned children as she hurried out of the hall behind Dumbledore. The
students, who had visited their cold, dark houses just long enough to
clean up before returning to the warm Great Hall and its platefuls of
stale bread and cheese, bent quickly over their pieces of parchment,
letters of explanation and apology McGonagall was making them write to
their parents or heads of house. Justin, the first one to produce a
document contrite enough to suit McGonagall, had been ordered to keep
watch at the window and announce the arrival of all returnees.
No one dared display the slightest hint
of disobedience given the deputy headmistress's infuriated state. Adding
to her outrage over the students' dangerous escapades in London was the
fact that the orphans had waited until after Professors Sprout and
Flitwick had taken off for a well-deserved holiday Monday morning to flee
Hogwarts on their brooms. As a result, Dumbledore and McGonagall had been
forced to remain at the skeletally staffed castle instead of going looking
for Potter themselves. Dumbledore had owled his vacationing heads of
house the moment the orphans' absence had been discovered (at Monday
lunch) but had yet to receive a reply, perhaps due to the weather. So
when McGonagall said, "Stay!" the students stayed... until Justin cried
Parchment flew and quills rattled
across tables as the students scrambled off the benches and raced down the
aisles to join Justin, who had jumped down from his perch and was leading
the charge out of the hall.
Dumbledore and McGonagall had
the front door open and Justin and Hannah Abbott pushed into the doorway
on McGonagall's left as Crabbe, Tracey and Warrington led the contingent
of Slytherins crowding Dumbledore on the right. The karaoke quartet were
without their robes; museum personnel had indeed confiscated the coils of
rope, leaving the brooms untouched. "He's not got Malfoy with him,"
Crabbe called over his shoulder to Millicent and the rest of the students
spilling out of the Great Hall to fill the entryway.
Snape, newly arrived at the top
of the stoop with Marybeth in his arms and Hermione at his side, heard the
remark. He handed Marybeth to Warrington, ordering him, "Take her to
Madam Pomfrey." Then he turned a tight, worried face to Dumbledore.
The headmaster shook his head.
"Nor Weasley, nor Miss
Guilford." That wasn't Dumbledore but McGonagall, who reached out for
Hermione and pulled her close, brushing snow from her hair and jacket with
furious sweeps of her hand before grabbing the girl by both shoulders to
shake her. She stopped almost immediately and pulled Hermione to her,
holding her tightly as Snape spun around on his heel to sweep back down
"Severus!" Dumbledore cried as
the snow whirled into the entrance hall over the heads of those crowding
the doorway. The wind gave a howl, gathering strength as it prepared to
whip the snow into another all-night blizzard "Wait!"
Snape turned back.
"You're freezing," Dumbledore
pointed out gently. "You've been out in this storm all day and now it's
picking up again. Stay here." He gestured to the Great Hall and the
crowd of children behind him. "Warm yourself. Look after the children.
Minerva and I will go."
Snape shook his head. Those in
the doorway heard something like a wounded growl rise from McGonagall's
throat; the deputy headmistress pressed her fingers painfully into
Hermione's shoulders. Then...
The voice came from several yards down
the carriage path. Snape spun around and there were Violet, Ron, Harry
and Draco who, having spotted Snape at the top of the stoop, were running
for the castle as fast as they could go. Violet's little legs churned
until she actually outstripped the boys, charging up the steps to spring
into Snape's arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms
around his neck and squeezed as hard as she could, overjoyed to see him
back at Hogwarts.
"We're staying," Crabbe announced to
Malfoy as the three boys arrived, panting, at the top of the steps.
Malfoy stared pop-eyed at his housemate.
"How did you know?" he wondered. But
Crabbe had no chance to answer, for Pansy and Millicent pushed past him to
draw Malfoy close. Dumbledore reached out for Harry and Hermione, who
could not escape McGonagall's grasp, grabbed Ron and pulled him next to
Justin, squeezing both of his hands in hers.
Snape put Violet down. "Good," he
pronounced of the Slytherins' decision to stay, giving Violet a little
shove towards her housemates. He turned around again and again came that
strange, strangled growl from McGonagall. Violet, who'd been about to ask
Millicent where Marybeth was, turned to the Head of Gryffindor at the
painful sound, just in time to see...
A spell shot out of McGonagall's wand
and hit Snape full in the back. It must have been some form of petrificus
totalus, the onlookers realized, for Snape froze where he was, halfway
between the front door and the stoop's top step. McGonagall released
Hermione and marched out the door, walking around Snape and turning to
face him just as the effects of her spell were wearing off. The former
potions master found himself confronting a haughty deputy headmistress
with her arms folded indignantly across her chest. He glared at her, his
voice rising to a shout as he snarled accusingly,
"You shot me in the BACK?!?"
McGonagall didn't even flinch. She
unfolded her arms to place her hands on her hips. Then, with no warning,
she lashed out with both palms and boxed Snape's ears.
The students gasped and Hermione threw
a hand over her mouth. Violet could have sworn she heard Harry Potter
mutter, "Brilliant!" But it was drowned out by Dumbledore, who called
mournfully, "Minerva! You promised!"
Professor McGonagall ignored him. "How
could you?" she shrieked at Snape, her fists clenched in fury. "How COULD
you?" Snape stared at her, the snow melting in his hair, his cheeks
staining with color. Minerva's eyes filled with tears. "You were all we
had left!" she cried in anguish as Dumbledore stepped out of the doorway,
crossed the stoop, and took her by the arm to lead her gently back.
Snape stayed where he was, cupping his
hands to his ears and shaking his head in an attempt to clear the ringing.
As Dumbledore led Minerva back to the doorway, his eyes fell on the lonely
headstone of Remus Lupin, sticking up through the snow beneath the tree by
the lake. He turned around with Professor McGonagall just in time to see
Snape, his faculties recovered, set off down the steps. Violet clutched
Millicent with a whimper. Malfoy swallowed hard.
Dumbledore cleared his throat.
"Severus," he called lightly. There
was a calm authority in his tone and Snape stopped, though his black
shoulders twitched as he did. He did not turn around.
"If you will agree to stay," Dumbledore
continued smoothly, and all heads in the doorway and the entrance hall
turned to him or craned closer in a single motion, "... just for the
remainder of the year, mind you... give us a chance to sort things out
He paused and the students drew a
collective breath. McGonagall clutched Hermione again, tightly enough to
make her wince, and Malfoy narrowed his eyes.
What, he wondered as he
scrutinized Dumbledore's face. What could this old man possibly offer
Severus Snape that would compel him to return to Hogwarts?
Dumbledore, feeling the intensity of his gaze, gave the one-time head boy
a brief smile before announcing to Snape,
"I'll make you a portrait of Remus
Lupin from the sketch Miss Montague drew."
Later, it would occur to Malfoy the old
man was lucky he didn't give several people heart attacks on the spot. As
it was, McGonagall screamed, Crabbe blurted "Holy shit!" and Tracey Davis
fainted dead away. But Malfoy could only shake his head in wonder.
"That," he whispered to Millicent, his
eyes glued to Dumbledore's face, "is the single greatest act of atonement
I've ever seen."
Millicent nodded, stunned. Then she
frowned and shook off her shock long enough to remind him, "Except for
"Uh uh," Malfoy insisted, shaking his
head again. "That guy only went to hell for three days."
On the stoop several steps below them,
Severus Snape turned around.
"Albus," Minerva began timidly, but
Dumbledore held up his hand. "Leave this between us, please," he
murmured, his eyes on Snape's face.
"What's wrong?" Violet hissed to
Millicent. "What does it mean?" The older girl hushed her sharply, then
whispered briefly to Goyle to pick up Tracey before returning her
attention to the stoop.
Snape took a step up. Then he took
another. Then he climbed the rest of the stairs, one at a time, and
crossed the landing to stand eyeball to eyeball with Albus Dumbledore.
"Of course I can't guarantee,"
Dumbledore smiled, "that he'll inhabit it."
Snape's jaw twitched. His
black eyes glittered and his hair glowed in the light spilling out the
open door. He glanced at the Slytherins to Dumbledore's right, and at
McGonagall, tenaciously clutching Hermione Granger. But it was Harry
Potter upon whom his eyes came to rest. He stared at the Gryffindor for
so long that Malfoy leaned forward to regard Potter, too. The green-eyed
wizard was turning blue. Was he that cold, Malfoy wondered, despite his
coat? He certainly seemed frozen in place; Dumbledore's arm rested on his
shoulder as if on a statue. Then Malfoy recognized what accounted for
Potter's stillness and his dusky shade.
He was waiting so hopefully for Snape's
response, he had forgotten to breathe.
At long last, Snape turned to
Dumbledore and nodded, once.
"Hurray!" Crabbe cried,
shouting in Malfoy's ear and making the blonde teenager jump several
inches. Violet rushed to her newly-restored housemaster and Snape put a
hand on her shoulder to keep her from jumping into his arms.
"I don't see Marybeth," the
child fretted, and Snape reassured her,
"She took a chill. She'll be all
"Well!" Dumbledore clapped his hands
together and beamed all around. "What else do we need to sort out?"
At that, Malfoy remembered a question
that had been plaguing him since Monday night. He leaned forward again to
speak across Dumbledore and McGonagall to Ron. "How come your parents
weren't at the station to pick you up?"
Ron and Hermione exchanged guilty
looks. Professor McGonagall, who'd been watching the proceedings with
suspiciously bright eyes, suddenly cleared her throat and put both hands
on her hips. The students flinched in the face of her returning anger and
Justin had to swallow hard before he could speak up.
"It was my idea," he confessed. "After
Harry disappeared, the kids with parents wrote their folks that Professor
Dumbledore had changed his mind about sending them home early."
"And whose idea was it," Snape inquired
silkily, "for the orphans to take flight?"
McGonagall gave an angry snort, her
"That was me," said Hannah falteringly.
She winced at the glare Professor McGonagall shot her.
Snape shook his head before offering
the administrators a very phony smile of sympathy. "So half of them lied
to their parents," he observed, "and the other half..." He raised an
eyebrow at several students, including the Slytherins. "...took leave
without permission." He clicked his tongue several times before asking
Dumbledore and McGonagall, "What sort of place are you two running?"
By now, McGonagall was so angry the
color had risen in her cheeks, despite the cold wind swirling past her
into the castle. Hermione and Ron shuffled a bit to the left, crowding
Justin and Hannah in their effort to distance themselves from the
infuriated deputy headmistress. But Dumbledore just smiled.
"I have quite a few parents to owl," he
pointed out, "so I believe I'll refer that question to our soon-to-be
headmistress. I would remind her, however..." He twinkled briefly at his
assistant. "... that the common rooms and dormitories will be quite
chilly until tomorrow morning. We stopped heating them, you see..." He
returned his attention to Snape. "...when we discovered that the
children had...ahem... flown."
The pun only served to increase
McGonagall's ire; she shot a haughty glare at Dumbledore as he took his
leave. But Hannah gave a sigh of relief. "I'm glad he mentioned that,"
she whispered to Justin. "I'd hate to be grounded on Christmas Eve."
Justin, grinning, nodded in agreement,
as did several students nearby. He leaned forward, anxious to hear how
McGonagall intended to punish the entire student body. But the deputy
head-mistress was not looking at the guilty students surrounding her.
She was staring at Snape... in a very
Justin's smile disappeared.
"Uh oh," he muttered.
"Two apiece!" the deputy decreed. She
thought it over, and just as the students were beginning to think she
might change her mind, she added tartly, "Make 'em count!"
"Count on it," Snape promised with a
smirk and a bow. Justin turned to Hannah with a shrug.
"More than fair, really," he had to
admit, and Hannah agreed,
"Piece of cake."
"All right!" Snape called.
The students at the back of the crowd
turned towards the steps to the dungeon. But Crabbe headed the opposite
direction, crowding next to Malfoy in the doorway to ask urgently, "Can I
borrow your robe?" Immediately, Millicent, Pansy and Goyle chimed in,
"Downstairs!" Snape commanded again.
"Queue up outside my door."
"Oh!" Malfoy, who'd started to head
inside, nearly banged into McGonagall as he turned back towards the stoop.
"About your door, sir..." he muttered sheepishly. But Harry Potter, who
was still standing just beyond the threshold, cut him off as he waved his
hand in the air and said loudly,
"May I ask a question before I
McGonagall and the students
inside stopped and turned back towards the door. Snape raised an eyebrow
at Harry, who put down his hand and, smirking, demanded to know,
"What happened to your hair,
Several students, mostly girls,
gasped and giggled, and McGonagall took an eager step towards the door.
She stopped abruptly when she saw the Slytherins doing the same thing; the
two parties exchanged sheepish looks. On the stoop, Snape narrowed his
eyes to slits, raising his head to peer imperiously down his nose at the
impudent Harry Potter. Then, with no warning, he took two giants steps
through the doorway and into the castle.
The moment he crossed the threshold,
his hair returned to its usual greasy state.
McGonagall's eyes popped, Hermione and
Ginny and several Slytherins gasped, and Harry's mouth dropped open. But
Snape just smiled that icy little smile they knew so well and murmured,
"Whatever do you mean, Potter?" Then he swept across the entrance hall
and down the corridor towards the dungeon. After a startled moment, the
students hurried after him.
His office was still without a door,
and after raising an eyebrow at the bare frame, Snape nodded to the
students queuing up against the wall and decreed, "Good. We'll make quick
work of this."
He ushered Justin into his office
first. The Hufflepuff bent dutifully over Snape's desk as the newly
restored potions master retrieved his cane from the corner and drew it
back the appropriate distance. Then he hesitated. He lowered the switch
and Justin looked over his shoulder to see Snape frowning at his backside.
In the corridor, the next few children in line, surprised not to hear an
immediate swish and thud , peeked through the doorless entrance.
"Is something wrong, sir?" Justin asked
Snape. The teacher jerked his head in the general direction of Justin's
backside and inquired,
"What in blazes are you wearing, Finch
Justin glanced down at his trousers.
"Parachute pants, sir," he told Snape. "They're vintage!"
Snape rolled his eyes at the response.
"How thick are they?" he demanded, clearly restraining himself from
pointing out how thick Justin was for not realizing he was trying
to ascertain the protective level of the garment and the corresponding
firmness with which he should apply his hand. A month away from Hogwarts
had not been sufficient to acquaint him with every style of muggle
Justin turned his face quickly to the
desktop to hide his smile. Could he possibly get away, he wondered,
"Don't lie to Professor Snape!" called
a helpful Slytherin voice from the corridor.
"Thicker than cotton but thinner than
denim, sir," he confessed.
Two strokes later, he climbed off the
desk and stood quietly before the Head of Slytherin. "Go on, then,"
snapped Snape, nodding impatiently at the door, and from the corridor,
Terry Boot called, "Are you gonna be all night in there, Justin? Give
somebody else a chance!" Still, Justin hesitated.
"I feel... he began, his eyes on the
floor. He looked up at Snape and said earnestly, "I feel like I should
Snape nodded. "That would be
"I'm really sorry, Professor," Justin
began. "We shouldn't have...."
Snape cut him off with an exasperated
"Not me!" he told the boy. "Professor
He stopped. He had intended to say,
"... you halfwit!" But as he stared at the brave, dedicated young man
before him, he found himself saying instead, "...you remind me of
Bletchley... Finch Fletchley."
He rolled his eyes a bit at the
silliness of the juxtaposed names, but Justin beamed. "Thank you, sir!"
he exclaimed before marching out of the office to begin the parade of
students who would make their way to the deputy headmistress'' office to
express their regrets.
Aside from the occasional fabric
inquiry, the lickings went fairly quickly, the students chatting amongst
themselves as they progressed bit by bit up the corridor.
"Welcome to the club, Bletch!" Violet
grinned at the youngest Slytherin, who was standing a few places beyond
her. The boy just sighed and shook his head. Pansy put a sympathetic arm
around his shoulders.
"Michael," she assured him with a
little squeeze, "I know exactly how you feel."
There was a slight delay after
Hermione's turn when the witch climbed off Snape's desk, marched over to
his workbench, grabbed a pair of scissors, and lopped off a lock of his
hair before departing the office. Malfoy, the last in line, watched her
stride away down the corridor, the hair clutched tightly in her first,
before sauntering into Snape's office.
"This is a fine how do you do,"
he pretended to complain as he bent over the desk. "You were supposed to
buy me a drink!" The housemaster made no response to the boy's reminder
about the post-siege hospital bed promise, save to raise one eyebrow and
smile slightly. But after he'd given Malfoy his fair share of abuse and
the boy was once more standing nonchalantly before him, Snape reached
inside his cloak and withdrew...
"A shirt!" Malfoy snatched the
item Snape held up before him, running the white silk through his hands.
"One of my father's shirts!" he cried, carefully fingering the monogram.
He held the garment up to admire its sleek tailoring, its magnificent
condition. It was all he could do not to press the shimmering fabric to
his nose and breathe deeply his father's scent. "You went to my house!"
he exhorted Snape as he hugged the shirt to his tall, lean frame, already
imagining how well it would fit. "How was everything?"
His head of house made no reply
and when Malfoy looked up, he found Snape staring somberly at him.
"I didn't go to your house,
Malfoy," he whispered.
It was the closest he would
ever come to confessing to the murder of Peter Pettigrew.
"I can't believe you did it again."
Minerva looked up from her desk to find
Snape leaning against the doorframe of her office, his hands in his
pockets, one eyebrow nicely arched. She ducked her head quickly to hide a
"After the spellwad incident," she
confessed, "I promised Albus I wouldn't."
Snape sauntered into the room and took
up a position before her desk. "You could deafen a person, you know," he
informed her, to which she gave a derisive snort.
"I'm sure my hands were never more than
a foot apart."
She scratched 'Post reward notices for
information about the Slytherins' off her to-do list and wrote instead,
'Ascertain and compensate for recent Slytherin dietary insufficiencies.'
"Good idea," Snape agreed, leaning over
her desk to read the piece of parchment. Looking up at him, Minerva
wondered how long it would take for his bright eyes and rosy cheeks to
return to their customary dim and sallow state.
"Miss Granger told me about King's
Cross and what happened to Miss Montague," she said softly. She nodded at
Snape to sit. "Have you any idea, Severus, what... what Potter may have
Snape gave a jerk of his chin that
might have been a nod. "Some," he murmured.
Minerva put down her quill and rested
her head in her hands. "Lately," she told Snape, "I have come to the
conclusion that James..." She shook her at the burden they faced. "...
had the easier fight."
Snape smiled. "As did Albus," he
agreed, and McGonagall groaned.
"I had no idea," she confessed, burying
her face in her hands, "that someone like Voldemort could create such
lasting and complex damage." She looked up at Snape and told him, "We've
discussed you a great deal over the past year or so, Albus and I."
Snape looked surprised. Minerva
nodded. "There's an undeniable parallel," she insisted, "between your
efforts in uniting the houses and the work we now face." Her voice warmed
several degrees as she added, "You're very good, Severus, at promoting
ethical development, and that's the only thing that will save us now."
She leaned forward on her desk.
"Stay," she beseeched him. "Be my deputy. What could be more important?"
Snape made no reply. Instead, he
glanced down at the robe he'd thrown on over his shirt and trousers. A
splinter from his demolished door was sticking out of the dark fabric. He
pinched the offending item between his fingers and disposed of it with a
"I will need some time to visit the
forest orphans at the convent throughout the term," he told McGonagall.
The deputy headmistress was so
surprised by this news that she let the issue of his long-term plans drop.
"The Slytherins are going to be angry with you," she reminded Snape. The
potions master shook his head.
"The Slytherins are more honest than
the Gryffindors," he insisted. "They'll tell themselves the truth about
why I needed to leave."
McGonagall stiffened. She sat up
straight in her chair, her eyes snapping, and demanded in a tart voice,
"Tell me the truth, Severus.
Can I honestly be expected to separate how you feel about this place from
how you feel about me?"
Snape did not back down. Instead, his
eyes flashed as he leaned across the desk and seethed, "I separated how I
felt from what I had to do for eighteen years! "
"Not," McGonagall reminded him, leaning
forward herself so that their noses were mere inches apart, "altogether
Snape glowered at her a moment or two.
Then he suddenly leaned back in his chair. "Touche," he pronounced. He
took her quill and a piece of parchment, wrote something on it, and handed
it to her. McGonagall picked it up and saw a two-digit number.
"What's this?" she asked.
"A Christmas present," he told her.
"That's the number of hours I spent on my knees in the Room of Requirement
praying for you when you were sick."
He rose and took his leave without
another word except to murmur, "Nice door!" before shutting hers behind
him. When he'd gone, McGonagall folded the piece of parchment into a
small square and tucked it inside her robe, somewhere in the vicinity of
The common rooms, after two day with no
heat, were stone cold, so the students gathered in the Great Hall to hear
of one another's adventures in London. But first the Slytherins treated
themselves to long, luxurious baths, lounging afterwards in the steamy
lavatories in their Dumbledorian long underwear while the house elves
tidied up their clothes. It would be a hot day in the dungeon, Malfoy
thought as he slipped into his father's silk shirt, before he took the
skills and services of others for granted again.
In the Great Hall, the students pushed
the four house tables together before climbing on top of them to recline
or budging close on the benches. They'd been chatting for about half an
hour when Dobby appeared, followed by several elves bearing plates of
thick sandwiches stuffed with roast goose still warm from the oven. "A
preview of tomorrow''s feast!" Dobby boasted. "Somebody sent 40 geese to
Hermione smiled but said nothing.
There were cookies, too, platters full,
and pitchers of ice cold milk; whenever a student picked one up, a goblet
materialized in his hand. When he drained it, the goblet disappeared. As
the food was passed back and forth, Malfoy nodded at his former house elf
and said, "Happy Christmas, Dobby."
The tiny creature squeaked in surprise.
Then he grinned from ear to ear and made a little bow. "I think it will
be, Draco Malfoy," he enthused, his bat ears flapping joyously. "I think
it will be."
When the food had been consumed and the
elves had taken the platters and pitchers back to the kitchen, Justin
nodded at Malfoy.
"Tell us what's so shocking about
Dumbledore making a portrait."
The Slytherins grew very still.
Hermione scowled, clearly annoyed to be ignorant on the topic. "I'm sure
it's not worth screaming over," she insisted, remember McGonagall's
response, "and why do you..." She nodded at the Slytherins. "... know
more about it than the rest of us?"
The Slytherins exchanged looks. Then
they turned expectantly to Malfoy, who groaned inwardly at their silent
designation of himself as spokesperson. He decided to answer Hermione's
"Voldemort was extremely interest in
portraits," he told her.
Several students gasped. Then they
budged tighter together or leaned closer to Malfoy to better hear the rest
of his explanation. The blonde boy grimaced.
"I probably shouldn't say anything
else," he muttered. "I don't think... you're not..." He took a deep
breath and let it out again. "I don't think you're supposed to talk about
them," he told the children from the other houses, and the Slytherins
nodded. "Even people who know for sure won't tell the whole truth about
"Why not?" Hermione demanded
indignantly. Malfoy winced at her strident tone.
"Because," he hissed, his face growing
pinched. "Portraits are... well, some people think they're proof..."
The torches in the Great Hall suddenly
dimmed to half strength, plunging the room into shadows. Violet shrieked
and the Slytherins drew back from Malfoy, who had paled noticeably. But
Justin just chuckled.
"That happens every night," he told the
Slytherins. "Dumbledore's cutting back where he can to save up for when
more students arrive in January."
The Slytherins relaxed and Malfoy
rolled his eyes at his own display of nerves. Then he lifted his head and
told the others simply,
"Some people think portraits are proof
of the afterlife."
Several students gasped, but Hermione
snorted. "Ghosts are proof of the afterlife," she reminded everybody.
Malfoy shook his head. "Ghosts haven't
been anywhere," he pointed out. "They don't leave earth and come back
after they die. They stay right here the whole time."
Hermione frowned. "Are you telling
me..." She spoke slowly, thinking it through as she did. "Voldemort
wanted to find out from the portraits if there's a heaven?" She shook her
head so hard her bushy hair flew. "That doesn't make sense," she
insisted. "Voldemort wouldn't have been obsessed with immortality if he'd
confirmed from the portraits that there's a heaven."
Malfoy smiled at her just a bit. "No,"
he agreed. "He wouldn't." Behind his back, the Slytherins exchanged
looks and some of them gulped. Malfoy ignored their rustlings. He took a
deep breath before informing the others in a casual drawl,
"He would have been obsessed with
immortality if he'd confirmed from the portraits that there's a hell."
A long silence followed this
observation. It was broken when Neville let out a snort that made them
"The portraits babble their heads off,"
he reminded his schoolmates, reflecting sadly on his own experiences with
Sir Cadogan, "and there's thousands of them. How could they possibly keep
a thing like this secret? And why would any of them leave heaven in the
Malfoy turned towards the Gryffindor
before replying. "I think you'd keep a secret, Longbottom, if God told
you to." He bounced his eyebrows at the boy and added, "Some people
manage to do so without divine inspiration, after all."
He turned back towards the others
before continuing. "It's the same with inhabiting, I suppose," he
speculated. "Remember what Dumbledore told Snape on the stoop? 'I can't
guarantee he'll inhabit it.'" The blonde teenager shrugged. "It sounds
like fun to me, coming back to keep an eye on things on earth, flitting
from portrait to portrait or popping back up to heaven whenever you want.
But in the end..." He shrugged again. "I suppose, if God tells you to
go... you go."
"I think they want to," Millicent
interjected timidly. "I think, once you get to heaven..." She hesitated,
blushing a bit. "I think there's all this love, and joy, and ecstasy at
being in the presence of the Lord that makes angels want to do...any good
"Which brings us back to Dumbledore,"
Malfoy nodded. He turned to Justin again. "This is all Death Eater
gossip, mind you," he prefaced his next remarks. "But some people think
that wizards who make portraits are playing God, and people who play God
go to hell."
This pronouncement brought another long
silence. Then Harry Potter shook his head. "Albus Dumbledore is not
going to hell," he insisted. "No way. Never."
Malfoy hesitated. He was inclined to
agree with Potter. For all the old man's coyness, this was not, Malfoy
knew, another attempt by Dumbledore to publicize his righteousness. This
was an act of atonement, an attempt to do something truly loving for
people who deserved it. But Draco was loathe to say so. He considered
making a joke instead, about that Catholic place... what did they call
it?... Purge-atory? But then Hermione asked,
"Who makes portraits, if not wizards?"
Tracey gave her the one-word answer.
"Clergy?" Hermione's head jerked up in
surprise. "Any clergy? Muggle clergy?"
The Slytherins shrugged. "Any clergy
close enough to God, I suppose," Tracey replied. "Wizard clergy make them
for wizards, and muggle clergy make them for muggles."
"In fact," Malfoy interjected, "they
say muggle clergy are even better at it. Their portraits can be inhabited
by people other than the subject, and they can even put blessings on
portraits painted by other people and make them inhabitable." He shook
his head at the praise he'd just heaped on a group of non-wizards. As if
wishing Dobby a happy Christmas weren't enough...
Hermione shook her head. "If muggle
clergy make inhabitable portraits for muggle angels to dwell in," she
pointed out, "how come muggle portraits never move?" Several muggle-borns
nodded and Malfoy frowned at them.
"They do!" he insisted. "Can't you
tell? The eyes follow you wherever you go."
Several mouths dropped open and Malfoy
nodded. "The muggles even made a movie, my dad told me, about the
portraits punishing evil-doers. Dark Gallery... Black Gallery..." He
tried to remember the name.
"Night Gallery!" Violet shouted, making
several people jump. "It was a tv show!"
Malfoy nodded, then turned to Ginny,
who was announcing indignantly, "I'll bet Voldemort tried to make
portraits and fill them with demons to do his evil bidding."
Several students shuddered, but Malfoy
hooted. "I wouldn't put two knuts on his having succeeded," the Slytherin
grinned, and Pansy sat up with a jolt.
"Hey!" she shouted. "Do you want to
hear about how we won a carocka contest?"
"Karaoke!" Millicent corrected while
all around her, the children of Hogwarts' four houses crowded closer
together than ever and cried, "Yes! Yes! Tell us!"
As Millicent launched into the tale,
Violet leaned against her with a happy little sigh. The Great Hall
Christmas trees glowed in the semi-darkness and the young girl closed her
eyes, a wave of sleepiness washing over her. She should probably drag
herself down to the dungeon, she realized, and creep into her cell so as
not to wake Marybeth. Madam Pomfrey had put her to bed with a nourishment
potion, to be followed in the morning by a dose of pepper-up. What a
wonderful thing it was, Violet thought, to know she would sleep snug in
the dungeon of Hogwarts, surrounded by schoolmates, with Professor Snape
just down the hall and a warm green glow shining from the corridor torches
all night long. But she couldn't bring herself to leave this gathering of
houses, even as Millicent's voice grew dim in her ears.
Never mind, she decided as she
wrapped her arms around the older girl's waist. Goyle would surely carry
her downstairs if she fell asleep, and Millicent would put her to bed. It
would be rude, after all, to leave before hearing their story.
So, as the Slytherin quartet told of
their prize-winning performance, Ginny and the other choir members joined
their singing and Violet drifted off to the sound of Hogwarts voices
lifted in song:
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
Through the years
We all will be together
If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star
Upon the highest bough,
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now.