Chapter 3: Horace

It was nearly midnight when the fighting started, and he'd been asleep. He'd woken with a strong sense of dread, it was not so much that he could hear the sounds of the battle, but he could feel it, feel the surges of aggressive magic, and he knew what it meant – Death Eaters in the castle. He'd cursed Albus, how could he have been so stupid as to let Albus talk him into coming out of hiding, and then he'd thought, if He Who Must Not Be Named dares to attack Hogwarts, if He dares to challenge Albus himself – then nowhere is safe, it would only be a matter of time before they found me.

What does Phineas Nigellus say about Slytherins, we are brave but not foolish, given a choice we will always choose to save ourselves? He snorts a little, and thinks, I haven't got a choice! He Who Must Not Be Named thinks that all Slytherins belong to him, a Slytherin who doesn't support Him is a traitor, the other Houses have no idea of the pressure that we're under, if you're Slytherin, He won't let you alone – you're either one of His victims or one of His supporters. He thinks, with a spasm of anger, He Who Must Not Be Named has brought shame on Slytherin, before the first war against Him being Sorted into Slytherin meant nothing worse than a healthy ambition to prove yourself, and now all Slytherins are regarded with suspicion, the other Houses hate us. He remembers the way that Harry Potter had looked at him when he told Harry that he was a Slytherin, that had been upsetting, especially since Lily Potter had been one of his greatest favourites. Lily had everything he looked for in a student except distinguished family connections, she had talent, brains, charm, and beauty, and with assets like that, being Muggle-born wasn't an insuperable obstacle - a girl could always marry into a good family, as Lily had done. Oh yes, Lily Potter would have gone far if He Who Must Not Be Named hadn't killed her.

He thinks, He Who Must Not Be Named killed Lily and tonight He might kill me ... He shivers at the thought but braces himself and thinks, well, it's been a good life, I made a difference, so many of my students went on to achieve great things, and not just Slytherins, I always picked out the brightest and the best for the Slug Club, I've never been blinded by that ridiculous pureblood prejudice. The pay here at Hogwarts was never anything much, even when I got an allowance for being a Head of House, but there were other compensations, my students never forget the help I've given them, and if there's any little thing I want in return, I only have to send an owl, and at Christmas I'm showered with gifts and invitations ...

He was a Head of House for years, and he knows his duty, he knows what he has to do, what he would do even if Severus hadn't asked him to do it, if it ever came to this, and he hurries down to the dungeons, to the Slytherin common room, puffing, because he's not as young and slim as he used to be. The common room is empty, except for one of the sixth year prefects, Pansy Parkinson – Draco Malfoy's would-be girlfriend, poor girl, when will she realize that he's pleased by the attention but not really interested - curled up on a chair, half asleep, so he shouts to her, the castle is under attack by Death Eaters, she is to wake the other prefects and do bed checks immediately, hopefully no students are breaking curfew, hopefully they're all here, where there's a chance that he can keep them safe.

Pansy becomes hysterical, she's been waiting up for Draco to come back, she's babbling something about a job that Draco was given to do by the Dark Lord. This is chilling information, though no more than he had feared, young Malfoy is following in his father's footsteps. Lucius Malfoy, what a devilishly charming and handsome boy he had been … he thinks, these beautiful boys have been my downfall, look at Tom Riddle, he took me in completely – he took all the staff in, except Albus – and what a monster he turned out to be!

He steps outside the common room door, wards it with numerous powerful spells, Transfigures himself into a suit of armor, and settles down to wait and to hope, to wait until the fight comes to him, and to hope that it never does. He's a little puzzled – the wards haven't gone down, so perhaps He Who Must Not Be Named hasn't come Himself, but how have Death Eaters managed to get into Hogwarts? He thinks, I daresay Severus is in the thick of the fighting, well he is quite capable of taking care of himself, he always has been. He hasn't forgotten that unfortunate incident in the corridor outside Minerva's classroom in Severus' first week at Hogwarts, when Severus disarmed Sirius Black, and Sirius had lost his temper, tried to punch Severus, and Severus had smashed every bone in Sirius' right arm and hand - so badly that Poppy had needed to remove them and re-grow them with Skele-Gro – with a bone-breaking curse that was to be found only in the texts in the Restricted Section of the library.

He thinks, sometimes I used to wonder if those boys had been mis-Sorted, Sirius was a natural Slytherin – a scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, toujours pur – and Severus was as reckless as any Gryffindor when he was young, the rash way he feuded with the Marauders, one against four, he didn't learn to control his temper until after that awful business in the Shrieking Shack, I could never make him a prefect because of that temper. He and Albus had agonized over it for hours, he agreed with Albus that they couldn't let the truth come out, for young Lupin's sake – not that he had agreed with Albus' decision to let Lupin attend Hogwarts, for Merlin's sake he was a werewolf, he'd never amount to anything – and it would have been a pity to blight Sirius' career, certainly it was wrong what he did, very wrong, but he was such a high-spirited boy, such a good-looking, talented, personable boy, and boys will be boys ...

It had been a very awkward situation, and Severus had sulked dreadfully over it. Poor Severus, he was such an unprepossessing little creature for most of his school days - shabby, scrawny, hook-nosed and greasy-haired - but he had matured once he turned seventeen and came of age, of course he would never be handsome, not with that nose, but Severus had turned into a graceful, attractive young man, the kind of young man who so easily got himself into trouble with scheming trollops like that little Hufflepuff Florence … Florence, he can't remember her surname, not surprising, she was a complete nonentity, the only noteworthy thing she'd ever done was to seduce Severus behind the greenhouses.

Such a clever boy, and so gifted in his own field of Potions, Severus was a pleasure to teach, though he did get dreadfully bored in class. It was the most obvious thing in the world to rearrange the timetable in his NEWT year, put the Slytherins and Gryffindors together, team Severus with Lily, and let them work on their own projects. He hadn't been worried about having James Potter and Severus in the same class, though the other staff had rolled their eyes, James needed to scrape a pass mark in Potions to get into the Auror Corps, and he was hopeless at Potions, James couldn't afford to be disruptive in class in his NEWT year. Yes, young Harry might be the spitting image of James, but he gets his ability in Potions from Lily. Hmm, he's heard that Severus can be very harsh with Harry, the old rivalry with James will be at the bottom of that, but he would have thought that Severus would have been able to remember how close he'd been to Lily and not bear quite such a grudge against the boy, and Harry is such a dear boy, it's a joy to have him in the class and he's a real addition to the Slug Club, even if he hasn't been able to attend many gatherings ...

He'd known that Severus would work well with Lily once he got to know her, how could he not like her, everyone who ever met her liked her! Delightful girl! And Severus had only called Lily a Mudblood because he was so ashamed of his Muggle father. He thinks, Muggle-borns are unknown in Slytherin and half-bloods are rare, in all my time at Hogwarts there were only three, but all of them very talented boys indeed - Tom Riddle, Alastor Moody and Severus Snape.

He has to admit he was also playing at match-maker when he put Severus and Lily together, why not, he's engineered any number of successful marriages, very discreetly of course, and he smirks with satisfaction when he thinks of the number of Hogwarts students who wouldn't exist if he hadn't taken an interest in every aspect of his favourites' lives ... That hadn't worked quite to plan, Lily had started going out with James Potter at the beginning of the year - James had been a good match for her, a very nice-looking boy, excellent family, exceptionally talented in Transfiguration, he could have played Quidditch professionally if he hadn't wanted to be an Auror, and Head Boy, to boot - but Lily had become friends with Severus, she could see that really he was quite shy and insecure, and rather lonely, he didn't have close friends in his classes, and his cleverness was almost more of a burden than an advantage, it was just another thing that set him apart from the other Slytherins in his year, they had been a very disappointing lot, none of them showed any promise at all.

Yes, Lily really was a special person, she hadn't been put off by Severus' reputation for being interested in the Dark Arts, after all it was only to be expected that the boy would be interested in the Dark Arts, wizards of a certain calibre always are. He thinks, I know a great deal about the Dark Arts myself, purely theoretical of course, but my knowledge is extensive, and of course there are different opinions as to what are the Dark Arts, some people say Legilimency is a Dark Art, but Albus is an expert practitioner, and I know something of it myself, it's damnably useful when you're dealing with students, constantly lying to you about assignments they haven't handed in. I'm glad I taught Legilimency to Severus - I hardly had to teach him Occlumency, he was a natural - since he ended up a professor, though he's nowhere near as popular a Head of House as I was, of course.

He sighs when he remembers Severus telling him that he wanted to be a Gringotts curse breaker, and he'd realised – the poor boy doesn't know, he doesn't know his grandfather was sentenced to life imprisonment in Azkaban for breaking into Gringotts, and the goblins have long memories, not even I can help him, they'll never give a job to the grandson of the man who robbed them. Never mind, Severus has done all right for himself, Potions Master at Hogwarts, very well respected in the profession, he's one of only half a dozen wizards in the whole of Europe who can brew the Wolfsbane Potion, and if I'm not mistaken, he'll be Headmaster after Albus. One day when He Who Must Not Be Named is gone and Albus is ready to retire, Severus will be Headmaster, the first Slytherin Headmaster since Phineas Nigellus – if the Board of Governors and the Ministry can overlook his past, if they can overlook the Dark Mark branded on his arm.

He thinks, the Dark Mark, there's no getting past that, it's definitely a problem, Severus made a grave mistake there, but he's redeemed himself. Of course I heard all about it from Alastor Moody at the time, Alastor told me everything noteworthy that happened in the Auror Office in those days – but Albus vouched for Severus before a full hearing of the Wizengamot, told everyone that Severus was no more a Death Eater than he was. It's true that Alastor wasn't convinced that Severus was spying on He Who Must Not Be Named for Albus and he did say something about unpleasant things in Severus' Ministry file, but Alastor - well, he went a bit odd after he lost his leg and even odder after he lost his eye, started acting very strangely - regretfully, I'm not as close to Alastor as I used to be. And Albus trusts Severus, Minerva may be the Deputy Headmistress, but it's Severus that Albus relies on, you only have to sit in on a staff meeting to see that. Albus couldn't make it clearer who his favourite is, when he stands behind Severus' chair and puts his hand on his shoulder, and Severus is devoted to Albus, I can tell, I've known him since he was eleven years old, I taught him for seven years, I know him better than he knows himself. He thinks, it's slightly galling to see how devoted Severus is to Albus, far more devoted than he ever was to me, after all the effort that I made with that boy!

He hears a tremendous crash in the distance, it sounds as if it's coming from the direction of the Astronomy Tower and he thinks, this is it ... but the wards are still holding, and not long afterwards the sounds of battle die away, so after it has been quiet for a while he unTransfigures himself and opens the common room door. All the students are gathered in a terrified huddle, the prefects report that only Draco Malfoy is missing, but he notices that Draco's little gang are all looking nervous and guilty, Crabbe and Goyle most of all, and those two look quite lost without Draco to tell them what to do, but there's no time to investigate further, he needs to find out what's going on in the rest of the castle. The Bloody Baron appears and he leaves the Slytherin ghost in charge, wards the common room door again, and heads up the stairs away from the dungeons.

He finds the corridor at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower has collapsed, the hex marks show that the fighting was fierce here, but there's no one around, and the damage is far too extensive for him to repair on the spot, so he keeps going, following the trail of destruction. He comes across Pomona trying to round up a gaggle of her Hufflepuffs, they're babbling excitedly about Death Eaters and Harry Potter, Pomona tells him that only a handful of Death Eaters were involved in the attack and the Aurors are expected to arrive shortly, so he leaves her to it, and heads towards the Entrance Hall. Students are wandering around aimlessly, but he ignores them – they're the responsibility of their own Heads of House.

Then he hears Fawkes singing his lament and he doesn't need to be told what that means – Albus is dead. The only wizard that He Who Must Not Be Named ever feared is dead! This is dreadful, dreadful news – but how did it happen? Albus' hand was getting worse, not better, but even so ... how have He Who Must Not Be Named's servants managed to do what He could not do himself? And where is everybody? Students scattered everywhere, but where are Minerva and Severus?

He runs into Hagrid, who is in a terrible state, barely coherent, he seems utterly shattered by Albus' death, he tries to reassure Hagrid by telling him that the Ministry have been informed, and continues with his inspection of the castle. There seems to be relatively little structural damage apart from the mess at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower, the Gryffindor hour glass has been smashed and the oak doors to the Entrance Hall have been blasted open but that seems to be the extent of it – and the entrance doors were blasted out, not in ... it's very strange. Filius appears and together they start repairing the entrance doors, they've been smashed into splinters by a spell of terrific force, so it's quite a big job. They've only just finished when Hagrid reappears with Pomona, and asks them to come up to the Headmistress' office. It gives him a jolt to hear it said aloud – Minerva is Headmistress now. He thinks, I suppose Severus will be Deputy Headmaster, but he won't be happy about that, he won't be happy about playing second fiddle to Minerva.

He asks the others as they trudge up the stairs, "Where's Severus?" and they look at him, in pity and horror, and then they tell him, they tell him that Severus murdered Albus. He can't believe it, he simply can't believe it, but Filius tells him that Severus stunned him when he went to fetch him to join in the fight, and through his tears Hagrid tells him everything he know, tells him what Harry Potter has told him, tells him that he saw Severus and Draco Malfoy running down from the castle towards the gates, ahead of the Death Eaters, tells him that they found Albus' body at the foot of the Astronomy Tower. They walk through the door into the circular office at the top of the spiral staircase while he's still digesting the news, Minerva is waiting for them, one look at her face, one look in her eyes and he knows that it's true.

"Snape!" he ejaculates, pale and sweating. "Snape! I taught him! I thought I knew him!"