Minerva, bless her heart, came
up with a brilliant way to make two hours a night fly by: Common Room
Show and Tell. They gathered in Slytherin most nights - it was far
larger than Gryffindor - and Snape and McGonagall helped the students
master whatever skills they wanted to work on.
"Control your breathing," Snape
was telling Malfoy one evening. "Everything you do must be calm and
steady, even your
Malfoy was levitating the
largest round table in the common room. Sitting cross-legged on top of it
were the Weasley twins, fifteen feet in the air.
"The higher it gets, the
heavier the souls weigh," Snape cautioned.
Malfoy frowned. "Why?" he wondered,
never taking his
eyes off the table.
"I suppose," Snape replied after
thinking it over, "because
it's not their time
Malfoy chuckled. High in the air, the table wobbled.
"Whoa!" yelled George.
Malfoy leveled the table off, eventually raising it to a height of
twenty feet. From their lofty perch, the twins waved at the students below, who clapped politely.
"Malfoy, that is outstanding," his housemaster praised.
Malfoy beamed, then began to
grin slyly. As he did, the table began to turn, very
slowly at first, rather like a
merry-go-round. Snape glanced at his student but said nothing.
In the pocket of his robe, he palmed his wand.
The table began to spin faster. The
twins slammed their palms down on its surface to hold themselves in place.
"Malfoy?" called George with growing consternation.
"What are you doing, Malfoy?" added his twin.
The table spun faster and the
sprawled on their bellies, grabbing hands and hooking their toes beneath
the table's edge to hold themselves on top of it. The on-lookers laughed
uproariously as the twins yelled for mercy. The Gryffindors, who'd been
the victims of their pranks for months if not years, laughed louder than
Snape walked over and stood beside
Minerva who was pressing her lips together to hold back her mirth. "Say when," he muttered. Minerva
nodded, but she didn't say a word. Several seconds passed. Snape gave his colleague a sidelong glance
but she remained absolutely silent.
"Minerva!" Snape scolded in a whisper.
sternly to Malfoy and added more loudly, "Enough!"
Malfoy put the table down and the twins
climbed off and immediately fell to the floor, holding their heads as the room spun around
them. The Gryffindors and Slytherins applauded enthusiastically.
do that again," Snape lecured Malfoy perfunctorily. The boy grinned once
"Once was enough, sir."
stepped up next and requested
Professor McGonagall's help with a Flipendo spell.
"I can produce the
ball of energy," she insisted. "I'm just not a very straight shot."
"Um, Minerva. . ." Snape murmured, but the head of Gryffindor
cut him off.
"Let her try, Severus," she admonished him privately.
"Minerva, I really think. . ."
She turned to
Marybeth's older brother. "Bring me that vase, please, Montague."
"My mother gave me that vase!" protested Snape.
"That vase was here when YOU were a
first year. And you broke it three times yourself!"
Snape was impressed. "How did you know that?"
he wondered, but before McGonagall could answer, Montague arrived with the
"Here you go, Professor."
"Take it to the far side of the room,
please," McGonagall instructed. "Have Crabbe and Goyle help you turn
that large rectangular table on its end and then set the vase on a chair
in front of it." To Snape, she added, "If she misses, the table will
absorb the shot."
Snape didn't say a word.
Professor McGonagall coached Marybeth
on her stance, her wand grip, and her diction. "All right,
dear," she announced when the child seemed ready. "Let her rip."
To her horror, Marybeth shut her eyes
when she cast. The spell zoomed straight into the air, ricocheted off the
ceiling and began to zing madly around the common room, bouncing off the
"Hit the deck!" yelled Ron, and every
witch and wizard in the room dropped to his or her belly on the cold stone
floor. The spell finally smacked into a set of green velvet curtains,
setting them aflame. Snape, lying beside Minerva, rolled onto his elbow to
regard her sourly as he reminded her,
"It's a stone common room,
McGonagall climbed stiffly to her feet, brushing the dust of the
common room floor from her robes. "How was I to know the child
can't hit the broad side of a barn?"
"She's no good at quidditch,
either," Snape sighed. He rose and mended the curtains while McGonagall
coaxed Marybeth out from under a table.
"Never mind, dear. We'll work on it
Next up were Hermione and Neville, who
placed Hermione's cauldron on a large table and began laying out potion
ingredients. Snape recognized the contents of an extremely difficult
illumination potion immediately.
"Oh, I don't think so."
Neville flinched but Hermione waved her wand confidently, dimming the
candles in the common
room. She'd chosen Neville as her partner, she explained, because a key element of the
potion was precisely-snipped karo roots, and Neville had a keen eye for
which sections of a root were most productive.
"Have you seen them do this
before?" Snape whispered to McGonagall.
She shook her head.
"It's a paradox potion," he warned her.
A paradox potion
the simultaneous performance of two contrasting skills, in this case,
preparing the majority of the potion at rapid pace while adding the karo
roots slowly. The illumination potion could light up a huge section of
space with far more intensity than anything shot from a wand and was
usually attempted outside under stressful conditions involving bad weather
or a skirmish of some sort. The rapidness with which it was prepared made
it a good choice for urgent situations if the wizard preparing the potion
could discipline himself against the tendency to rush every aspect of the
Hermione and Neville worked well
together. Neville cut the roots with amazing accuracy and speed. But
the room remained dark.
Snape stood up and strolled casually to the
table, pretending to examine the contents of the cauldron. The darkness hid
his face as he whispered to Neville, "Slower." So Neville cut quickly but added slowly and suddenly the room
burst into brilliant light.
The Slytherins and Gryffindors clamped their hands over their eyes
to shield them from the brightness. Then they screwed their eyes tightly shut so they could applaud loudly.
Even Snape had to admit it was a very impressive bit of brewing.
"Who's next?" asked McGonagall. Violet, waving frantically,
jumped up and down so she could be seen among the taller students.
"All right, little snake," Snape
acknowledged her. "What's your trick?"
Violet nodded at Harry, who immediately
left the common room. Then she turned to Snape.
"Pick a number," she instructed.
"Twenty-six," Snape suggested.
Violet nodded to Marybeth, who opened
the door to let Harry back in. He walked up to Violet and she said very
distinctly, "Wah see tok."
"Twenty-six," Harry told Snape.
Minerva burst out laughing but Snape
regarded Violet doubtfully. "How is speaking parseltongue going to help
you, young lady?"
"It won't," Harry assured him. "She can only
Violet kicked him in the shin.
"All right," Snape announced, pulling the
little Slytherin out of kicking range. "That's enough joy for
one night. Take your cauldrons and go home."
The pleasant evenings in the common
room took everybody's mind off what was happening beyond the grounds of
Hogwarts, but the following Thursday, Professor Dumbledore called an
emergency meeting of his staff to discuss the violence and suffering
that were proliferating throughout the wizard world.
"For the past few
weeks," he began, "I've received at least five letters a day from
parents requesting that we keep the students here over the summer for
their own safety. Many of the letters are signed by groups of parents. There
seems to be a widespread consensus that Hogwarts is the safest place for
underaged wizards at this time."
"Severus, please." Dumbledore took a deep breath. "Nobody wants this, of
course," he continued. "It's
a fight for freedom should require locking children up in a castle, and if
the situation improves, we will of course send them home. But I am going
to announce tonight that, for now, the plan will be to keep our students at
Hogwarts through the summer."
Snape frowned, clearly distressed. But when Dumbledore made his
at supper that night, Violet immediately turned around to make eye contact
with Harry Potter. He nodded and winked at her. She grinned back at him
and then turned to share her delight with Malfoy. But he was staring in the
direction of the head table. Violet followed his gaze and saw Snape lost
in thought, a worried expression on his face.
The next morning at breakfast, dozens
of owls flew into the Great Hall and dropped letters in front of
Dumbledore. Violet had never seen anyone get so much mail at one
time. Everyone watched as Dumbledore gathered the letters together and set them on the floor under his chair. Then, to the
Slytherins' surprise, Snape rose and abruptly left the hall.
He was distant and quiet in class,
allowing his students to spend the time reading as he sat at his desk and stared out the window. He was
missing at lunch and again at supper.
That evening, he knocked on the door to
the headmaster's office. Dumbledore seemed to be expecting him; after inviting the potions master to sit
down, he picked up a handful of the letters delivered that morning and told Snape,
"They write the most disparaging things about you, Severus.
Snape ignored the
compliment. "How many, sir?" he asked.
Dumbledore looked down at the
letters in his hands. "Half," he replied as gently as possible.
It wasn't gentle enough. Snape's jaw twitched. He
swallowed, hard, and when he spoke, his tone was uncharacteristically humble and beseeching. "Headmaster,
"Force them to
stay?" Dumbledore shook his head. "That would be pointless, Severus, and could even have serious
Snape thought it over. "I suppose," he finally admitted. Another
thought came to him and he looked up hopefully. "But will you allow them to chose?"
"Of course!" Dumbledore couldn't have been more emphatic. "And you may
tell them that those who choose freedom
will always find sanctuary here."
"We have over two months."
Snape rose, heartened by Dumbledore's declaration. "Perhaps we could..."
Dumbledore held up a hand. "I'm sorry, Severus,"
he interrupted sadly. "I blame myself. I shouldn't have made the announcement so
prematurely. Their parents want them sent home on the Hogwarts Express
"Tomorrow morning?" Snape collapsed back into his
chair. After a moment, Dumbledore rose and crossed
the room to sit beside him.
"It's rather like an OWL, isn't it?"
the headmaster murmured. "There's really no cramming at the last minute."
Snape made no reply. After
a few moments, Dumbledore returned to his desk. He made a tidy stack
of all the letters and held them out to Snape.
Silently, Snape rose, took the letters,
He carried the letters to his office
and made the list. Then he proceeded down the corridor to the stone door of
the Slytherin common room. He was just about to utter the password when
he stopped himself.
Perhaps he should wait. What impact would more time
have, he wondered? Would they talk themselves into the right thing... or
out of it?
He opened his mouth again but was stopped by the sound of voices coming down the corridor. A few
seconds later, all of Gryffindor paraded around the nearest corner,
chattering happily about the new feats they were prepared to display.
"Hello, Professor Snape!" called Lavendar Brown. "Professor
McGonagall is on her way, she had to. . ."
She stopped when she saw the look
on Snape's face. All of Gryffindor stopped with her, none of them able to speak. Finally, Hermione
"Sir... what's the matter?"
Their faces... how they tormented Snape.
So genial and appealing, these Gryffindors, simply because they were accepted and
appreciated by others. He ached with jealousy for his Slytherins.
"Go back to your common room," he told them quietly. "And I would appreciate it if you would
tell Professor McGonagall that I would prefer not to be disturbed
tonight... not even by the dearest of friends."
He let himself into Slytherin.
His students jumped promptly into their queues and smiled
expectantly at their housemaster, eager for the arrival of their guests and the commencement of the
For a long time, Snape could only study them. He thought
about the first
day of school, when he'd dragged the smallest Slytherin up and down the rows, extolling the
virtues of Slytherin solidarity. Finally, he spoke.
"The letters you saw delivered to
Professor Dumbledore this morning were from your parents. Many of them, but not all, have
written to express their
displeasure with his decision about summer. They demand that you be
returned home immediately. The Hogwarts Express will be at the station
tomorrow to take you to London."
Several Slytherins gasped. Snape kept his face calm and still
as he continued firmly, "You don't have to go. Professor Dumbledore has
promised that you may remain at Hogwarts as long as necessary. And I
would like you to know. . ."
He stopped. Young Violet, he noticed, had tears in her
eyes. She wasn't the only one. When he spoke again, it was with the most ardent tone his students
had ever heard.
"I would like you to know that,
if I had it to do over again, I would do things differently."
He unrolled the parchment
list. "When I've finished reading your names, I will return to my
office. Please come and see me if I can assist you in any way."
Spines stiffened. Side by side, the Slytherins stood
straight and tall and listened ... as denial came to an end.
"McNair. . . Crabbe. . . Goyle. . . Nott. . . Montague. . . "
Malfoy buckled as if he'd been punched
in the stomach. Beside him, Violet began to sob. He picked up her up and buried her face against
his neck to stifle the sound.
"Bulstrode. . . Davis
. . . Baddock. . . Bletchley. . ."
Snape read aloud until he'd called
half the names in Slytherin. Then he left without another word.
When he was gone, the Slytherins gathered into a circle,
staring silently at each other. Malfoy put Violet down. He looked at
and Millicent, Crabbe and Goyle, Tracey and Bletchley, every face that
matched a name on the list.
"Don't go," he beseeched them. "This isn't
about summer. You know it isn't. You know what this is about. If you
go. . ." He stopped, then forced himself to finish. "If you go, you'll
never come back."
The Slytherins on the list looked at
each another. Montague spoke up forcefully on their behalf.
"You're wrong," he
insisted, doing his best to look Malfoy in the eye. "This isn't about Vol. . . " Like
Malfoy, he stopped, and like Malfoy, he forced himself to begin again. "This is about parents. You
haven't got parents. But we do. And
I'm not putting Severus Snape ahead of my parents!"
Violet, standing beside Malfoy, gave a small whimper. The older
boy ignored her. Instead, he waited until the right words came. Then he told Montague softly,
"I don't think you have parents anymore."
The two boys stared at each other across the circle for
a long time. Then, moving almost simultaneously, Millicent and Tracey crossed the room to stand
The circle was broken.
"Please!" cried Pansy Parkinson, who had not
been on the list. "Think. THINK! They
sent Snape a poisoned letter!"
Malfoy whirled on the girl, horrified. But it was too late. The
damage had been done. Several of the designated students pulled angrily
away from the group, including Crabbe and Goyle, who stormed to their
room. Malfoy raced after them.
When he arrived, they were pulling
their trunks out from under their beds. Malfoy watched as they began piling clothing on their cots.
"She didn't mean it!" he protested as his best friends
continued gathering their possessions. "Crabbe! Goyle! Pansy didn't mean what you thought!
In unison, the boys turned to face
him. "Our fathers did not. . ." Goyle sputtered, glaring at
Malfoy. "They did NOT . . ."
He broke off, and Malfoy stretched an imploring hand out
before him. "Greg," he whispered. "Vincent. Please."
To his horror, he saw their faces crumple, and without
another word, they shoved their way past him out the door. Malfoy followed them and watched as
they stormed from the common room.
Several Slytherins had already
retreated to their cells to pack. Others sat with their heads in their
hands as housemates spoke earnestly to them, gesturing beseechingly.
Violet sat on the
floor against a stone wall, her arms
around her knees, staring blankly ahead. Malfoy sat down beside her and for a while, they just
sat there, silently watching their housemates. Then Violet
"Do you want to hear something
Malfoy sighed. "You wanted your name
to be on the list," he predicted tonelessly, and when Violet nodded, he assured her, "That is
The child threw her arms around his neck.
"Do something!" she sobbed into his
chest. "Do something, do something, do something!"
Millicent joined them, her face smudged from crying. Malfoy
pried Violet loose, shoving her into Millicent's arms instead. He sat with them a while longer.
Then he rose and marched resolutely out of the common room.
"How about this?"
Crabbe and Goyle stood side by side in
the owlery, trying to compose a letter to their fathers.
"'If you tell us you killed Lucius,'" Crabbe dictated, "'we'll come
Goyle threw down his quill in disgust. "Crabbe, that wouldn't
fool a first year Hufflepuff," he scoffed.
"We need help," Crabbe agreed. "We
"We can't ask Malfoy, you moron!"
Crabbe flinched at his friend's
shout. Then he hollered right back.
"I just meant we need to ask
Malfoy found the door to Snape's office
wide open. He entered and sat down.
"Millicent's staying," he told
Snape. "So are Bletchley and Tracey Davis. Maybe it won't be so many who
"Which ones can we do without,
The question made Draco's eyes smart. "Couldn't you say
something, sir?" he begged his housemaster. "Please?"
"What more could I possibly
say? What more could I do?" Snape shook his head. "I've done my best."
Malfoy a firm nod. "So
have you, Draco. Never forget that.
Malfoy nodded gratefully. "I said
something," he confided to Snape. "The people on the list... I told them they didn't have parents
frowned. "Was that wrong, sir?" Draco
asked his head of house anxiously.
Snape assured him.
He reached into a drawer and withdrew a
piece of parchment
that he handed to Malfoy.
It had four words on it.
"Ah, my favorite Slytherins," said the
fat lady in the portrait. "The ones with a little meat on them."
"Potter," said Goyle simply when Fred
answered his knock.
"Are you people ever gonna visit
anybody besides Potter?"
The two boys just stared blankly at him. Fred turned and shouted into the
The youngest male Weasley fetched his
roommate and tried to follow Harry into the corridor but Crabbe shoved him
back through the portrait hole and slammed the fat lady shut with a
bang. Then he came to stand beside Goyle, who asked Harry,
"Our dads," Goyle explained. "The
night Cedric died."
"Oh." Harry's face clouded over. He
shook it off and studied the Slytherins curiously.
"What's going on?"
"Just tell us!"
Crabbe demanded, advancing on Harry menacingly. Harry didn't even
flinch. "Please," Crabbe added, backing off immediately.
Harry hesitated. Then he
nodded. "Yeah. They were there."
"What did they do?" asked Goyle.
Harry thought back and
remembered. "They . . ." He stopped, wondering if he should tell them.
"Please," said Crabbe again.
"We need to know," Goyle added. So
Harry told them.
"They promised they'd do better this
The Slytherins shook his hand and left
without another word.
When they got back to their room, they
found Malfoy on his bunk, holding a piece of parchment. Silently, they
shoved their trunks back under their beds and then sat down on Goyle's
"Thank you," was all Malfoy said.
"I waited until
morning," Professor McGonagall told Snape when she came to his quarters
at six the following morning. He was up and dressed and McGonagall
wondered if he'd even been
to bed. "Is there anything I can do, Severus? Anything
To her surprise, he
The carriages arrived before
breakfast, and Violet, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle huddled together in the
cold spring breeze as the students climbed into them. Violet threw her
arms around Marybeth and the two girls clung to each other and
cried. Then Violet flung herself into Montague's arms and sobbed on his
shoulder. "Don't go," she begged him one last time. "I'm sorry I said I
would tell on you. Don't go! We beat Gryffindor for Snape!"
Montague took her chin in his
hand and looked her straight in the eye. "We'll be back, Violet," he
her firmly. "I promise."
At that, Malfoy reached out and
took Violet firmly away from Montague, setting her down beside him. The
two boys stared at each other, Malfoy's face a mask of
The Montagues climbed into the last
carriage and Marybeth
waved frantically as it pulled away. But Malfoy clutched both of Violet's
hands tightly in his so she couldn't wave back.
Finch-Fletchley and Ernie
MacMillan crowded onto a bench at the Gryffindor table in the Great
Hall. The Slytherins were not at breakfast.
"Mandy Brocklehurst says one
fourth," Hermione told him. "I think she sneaked outside to watch them
The response left Justin
"Didn't you see them go?"
Ernie in disbelief. "Your tower overlooks the carriage path!"
The Gryffindors shook their heads.
"McGonagall kicked us out,"
Ron replied. He was about to explain when Harry banged his elbow.
"What's the matter with you?
desperately. "I forgot my wand," he moaned.
Hermione started to scold
him but Ron came to his defense. "She gave us two minutes, Hermione," he
said of McGonagall's expulsion of the
Gryffindors from their tower. "We're lucky we're decent."
Harry rose. "I'll be careful!"
he promised before Hermione could protest a return to the house.
"If I have to, I'll just explain."
He hurried back to Gryffindor
tower but paused at the portrait to ask the fat lady who was in the common
"I'd keep out if I were you," was her
Harry opened the portrait as quietly as
possible and peeked through the hole. Unable to see anybody, he climbed into the common room. He'd taken just a few steps when he
spotted Snape, his back to Harry, staring out the window that overlooked
the carriage path.
Harry froze, uncertain whether to
proceed or go back. Snape sensed his presence and turned to regard him
with those piercing black eyes.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry
Snape watched him for a few
moments, a quizzical expression on his face. He seemed to be trying to
solve a dilemma in his head. Finally, he asked Harry a question.
"How shall we decide, Mr. Potter?"
Harry had no idea what he was
talking about. "Sir?"
Snape walked across the common
room and stopped in front of Harry. He looked a little disappointed.
"Who gets to kill him?" he added, as if
it should have been obvious. Then he
climbed through the portrait hole, leaving Harry Potter to stand alone in
the middle of the Gryffindor common room for a long time.
Dumbledore found him in his
darkened office late that night, sitting behind his desk, staring into the
flame of a single candle. Snape did not acknowledge his presence.
"If not for you,
Severus," Dumbledore insisted, placing a hand on his shoulder, "it would
have been one hundred percent of the
parents, and one hundred percent of the Slytherins."
Snape made no response.
"Don't stay up too
late," Dumbledore murmured before slipping quietly away.
But Snape was still sitting
there long after the candle burned out.
The Smallest Slytherin