A frowning Pomona Sprout hurried down the castle hallway brushing dirt from her robes as she went. Why did Minerva suddenly need to call another staff meeting? Hadn't they discussed everything necessary yesterday? She needed this time to get the greenhouses in order. Obtaining the proper plants for her lessons had been much more difficult this year with all the current uncertainty, and she was much farther behind than usual with her preparations.
Her frown lessened as curiosity began to nibble away at her annoyance, and she considered the possible reasons for such a last minute meeting. Something new and important must have suddenly come up. Probably it was the appointment of a new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher.
Pomona nodded to herself. That must be it. She knew how concerned and annoyed Minerva had been over the lack of good candidates for the perennially difficult position. And then Charity's sudden departure had left a second vacancy. Perhaps this meeting was to introduce two new professors to the rest of the staff. That would make sense and be a relief to everyone. No one liked the idea of beginning the new school year without a full complement of staff in the castle.
Pomona was sure that she had the right of it. After all, what else could it be? The students would be arriving in just a few hours. If they didn't fill the positions now, they wouldn't be able to offer the classes, and everyone agreed that would never do. So introducing new professors it must be. She smiled to herself in satisfaction. A meeting of that nature shouldn't take long, and it was about time she took a short break anyway.
As she was wondering what sort of biscuits the house elves had filled the staff room tins with, and hoping it was chocolate, Pomona pushed open the staff room door and stepped inside. It appeared that she was the last to arrive. The rest of her colleagues were already seated around the room. Oddly though, no one was talking…or eating.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Minerva." Pomona smiled at the tall figure of her friend who was standing at the front of the room. "I was having the worst time trying to re-pot some creeping phlox. It kept escapi…"
Her voice trailed off as she took note of the Headmistress's pale, tense face and rigid stance, and her smile faltered even further as she noticed the piece of parchment clenched in Minerva's hand. It looked as if it had been crushed into a tight ball and then smoothed out again. But why?
"What's wrong?" she asked, coming to a full stop just inside the door.
"Take a seat, Pomona," Minerva said quietly but firmly. "I have some news to relay to the staff, and I'm afraid that none of you are going to like it."
As Pomona hurried to take a seat next to Flitwick, the Charms master cleared his throat and asked with a note of trepidation, "The Ministry isn't going to close us down, is it? Or dictate a new curriculum?"
The whole room filled with restless rustling and soft murmurs as everyone's greatest fear was spoken aloud. They all knew who was really running the Ministry now and, considering past history, no one in the room had expected to begin the year without some sort of interference.
Minerva shook her head. "No. We are to remain open. In fact, the Ministry has decreed that attendance at Hogwarts is now to be mandatory. I received an updated list of students just this morning, and the dormitories will need to be altered slightly to accommodate the larger enrollment."
As a spate of low conversation and muttering filled the room, Minerva glanced down at the parchment in her hand, which shook ever so slightly before she tightened her grip. If only that was the worst of the news she had to relate. Best to get it over with…
Raising a hand, she called for silence, and they all quieted and looked at her grimly. She opened her mouth to continue, but before she could get even one word out, the door to the staff room swung open and Severus Snape strode confidently into the room followed by a man and a woman with rather greedy, eager expressions on their faces.
The room fell silent for a long moment as the jaws of every person watching dropped in unison and every pair of eyes gaped at the new arrivals. Then, as if everyone was prodded in the back by the same long stick, the room erupted with the sound of voices raised in shock and astonishment.
Ignoring the outcry, Snape stopped at the front of the room and allowed his gaze to linger on the mass of his agitated fellow professors for a moment before turning to Minerva as the initial wave of sound receded.
"I expected you to make the announcement before I arrived," he stated flatly. "Obviously you haven't done so."
"I was just about to do it when you walked in the door," she responded through stiff lips.
He raised an eyebrow. "Then I shall save you the trouble."
Before she could respond, he turned to the mass of watching faces and held up a hand for silence. He got it.
"It's nice to be so warmly welcomed back to Hogwarts by my…colleagues." He smiled coldly at their uniformly hostile faces.
For once fate had put him in the superior position, even if it had exacted a terrible price in payment. Still, no matter how he'd come to this point, he was here. He might as well get what enjoyment he could from it while he had the chance.
"Apparently Professor McGonagall didn't inform you of my imminent arrival or the reason for it, therefore I will do so myself. The Ministry of Magic and the Board of Governors for this school has jointly appointed me to be your new Headmaster."
There was a moment of stunned silence at that announcement followed by a resumption of voices now raised in outrage and argument. Pomona Sprout leaped to her feet and somehow managed to speak over the rest.
"Headmaster! You murdered our Headmaster! Is that the new and approved method of succession at the Ministry now? You move up in the ranks by killing your superior?"
Everyone's heads swiveled as one toward Snape to see his response.
If they expected anger, bluster, or attempted explanations, they were disappointed. Snape merely raised an eyebrow and stared ominously at Pomona who, having used up her initial surge of anger and indignation in that one rather uncharacteristic outburst, was beginning to look uncomfortable at finding herself the object of so much attention.
"Harry told us what happened the night Albus died, Severus. Did you really think you could hide something like that from us?" Minerva's sharp words cut into the awkward moment of silence.
Snape turned away from Pomona and focused on the Transfiguration mistress. "I have nothing to hide, Minerva. I have no doubt that Potter told you a wildly entertaining tale, but you should remember that he has his own agenda to further and no one to back up his version of what happened. In truth, Potter does not know everything, no matter what he thinks.
"I have given the Ministry a full account of what really happened that night on the Astronomy Tower, and I have been absolved of all blame in the matter. Whether you approve or not, they have appointed me to the position of Headmaster of this school. That should be good enough for you. If it is not…"
He raised a hand and pointed it toward the exit. "There is the door. Any of you should feel free to use it if you do not believe you can continue to teach under my administration. Of course your absence at this point would no doubt greatly inconvenience the students, who are already on their way. However, I'm sure that the Ministry will be able to find adequate candidates to replace you, even on such short notice."
Everyone's eyes flickered toward the door; some thought longingly of getting up and walking through it rather than submitting to Snape and his Ministry cronies, but as one the overriding thought in all their minds was the children.
One only had to look at the two grinning figures standing behind Snape to know exactly what sort of person would be brought in to replace them, and Snape was right. The children would be coming no matter what, and to leave them to the mercy of the Ministry of Magic, infested as it now was with evil and corruption would be totally irresponsible. The room fell into a discontented silence and Pomona Sprout sank back into her seat and twisted her hands together in her lap.
Once it was clear that however upset they might be at his appointment none of them was actually going to resign over it, Snape smiled triumphantly and continued to speak.
"Very well. My first order of business is to introduce you to your new colleagues." He gestured toward the arrogant looking couple standing next to the door.
"This is Alecto Carrow." The slope shouldered woman attempted to straighten up a bit and smirked at the staff sitting in front of her. "She will be replacing Charity Burbage as Muggle Studies teacher."
Without waiting for comment Snape moved on, and everyone shifted their attention to the lumpy looking man standing next to the woman. "Our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is her brother Amycus Carrow."
As Amycus sketched a faintly mocking bow, Snape smiled a tight smile at his staff. "I trust that you will make them both feel as welcome as you have me."
The introductions were greeted with faint, uneasy mutterings, but because no one actually made any outright comment, Snape nodded and moved on.
"I'm sure that you will all be relieved to know that I have no plans to make any large scale changes to the way the school is run. What has worked for all of us for many years will continue. Some relatively minor changes may be forthcoming sometime in the future, I imagine, but for now, we will continue as we always have.
"However, one change, of which I trust you are all aware, is that the student body will be increasing in size beginning with this year. The Ministry has decided to take a stronger line with the education of our youth, and to be sure that everyone receives the high level of instruction that is their right, education at Hogwarts is now mandatory for all students of school age.
"Therefore, much of today must be spent getting ready for a larger than usual influx of students. We must have adequate beds in all the Houses and sufficient seats in every classroom to accommodate them. This will be accomplished before the students arrive this evening. I trust I can leave this task in your capable hands." His eyes scanned each face that looked back at him seeking a confirming nod before moving on to the next person.
"The welcoming feast and the sorting ceremony will be held this evening as usual." He glanced toward the large grim-faced figure standing in the back of the room. "Hagrid, you will meet the Hogwarts Express and escort the first years up to the castle and into the hall just as you always have."
Hagrid nodded and muttered a subdued, "Right…sir."
"Very well. With your most excellent help I'm sure that this year will get off to a splendid start," Snape stated with only a hint of sarcasm in his tone. "Since there is much to do and little time in which to do it, I will let you get started. Dismissed."
As they all got to their feet and began to shuffle toward the door as quickly as possible, Snape addressed Filch, who looked remarkably cheery compared to everyone else.
"Mister Filch, would you please show our new professors to their classrooms and quarters, so that they might also begin to prepare for their new duties."
Filch stretched a seldom used smile across his bony face and nodded smartly at Snape.
"Of course, Headmaster." Then he hesitated briefly before plunging into further speech. "I've added a few things to the list of forbidden items. Since we're going to have all these new students, they're going to need to know what's expected of them right from the start; don't you think so, Headmaster? Can I bring the new list to your office for your approval, sir?"
Snape nodded. He did find it gratifying to be addressed as Headmaster. He was honest enough with himself to admit that he should enjoy it while he could, however. Filch was one of the few who was likely to use his new title with anything approaching respect in his tone. "Bring it by this afternoon, Filch. I'll see that the students are made aware of your restrictions when they arrive."
"Thank you, Headmaster." Pleased with Snape's response, Filch smiled happily before turning to the Carrows and gesturing politely toward the door. "After you, Professors."
As Filch and the Carrows headed into the hall, Snape cast one more glance at Minerva, who stood silent but obviously disapproving. When she didn't move or speak, he turned abruptly and followed the departing group out in a swirl of black robes.
Once the door closed behind Snape, Minerva took a deep breath and attempted to unclench the fingers of her hands which had tightened themselves into fists throughout the course of Snape's address to the staff. Something would have to be done about this. She simply could not allow Albus's murderer to usurp his place at the school. It was an affront to everything she believed in…everything they had been fighting for.
As she took a step toward the door, a determined expression on her face, she suddenly felt a restraining hand on her arm, and glancing down, she was surprised to see a somber Flitwick staring back at her.
"I know that you want to defy the Ministry and argue with Snape, Minerva. We all know that appointing him to the position of Headmaster is tantamount to handing the school over to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself, but I must beg you not to do anything rash. The children will need us more than ever now. If we aren't here to protect them, think of what could happen. This is where Albus would want you to be, you know. No one can defend this place and these students better than you."
She stared down into his serious face for a few moments without answering, then, with a comforting pat on his hand, she detached her arm from his grasp and silently left the room.
Unsure whether or not his message had been accepted, Flitwick sighed as the door closed behind her. "Gryffindors. Goodness knows we need them, but sometimes they're too stubborn for their own good…or ours."
As Snape strode alone down the corridor toward the gargoyle that would give him access to the Headmaster's office, he suddenly heard the staccato beat of footsteps trailing after him. Slowing his pace a bit, he allowed whoever was following him to catch up, though he had no doubt at all whose steps he was hearing.
Without even turning his head he spoke as soon as the person behind him drew near enough for conversation. "Was there something more you wanted to say, Minerva?"
"Don't get too comfortable in the Headmaster's chair, Severus. Remember Dolores Umbridge."
Snape stopped and whirled around. "Is that a threat?" he asked softly.
Minerva stopped as well squarely in front of him and raised an eyebrow. Flitwick's sensible, if unwelcome, words echoed through her mind. She certainly wanted it to be a threat, but did she dare to make it so under the circumstances?
"Merely an observation. What is it the Muggles say? Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it? Sensible advice it seems to me."
Snape narrowed his eyes as he watched her consideringly. "The Board of Governors lawfully appointed me to the position of Headmaster, and I have the full support of the Ministry."
Minerva snorted shortly at his mention of the Ministry but said nothing.
"You may not want me here, but there is nothing you can do about it," Snape said. "I am now the Headmaster of Hogwarts. If you do not believe that you can work with me, that you can fulfill your duties as Deputy Headmistress and Professor of Transfiguration, you can always resign."
"And leave the children unprotected?"
Snape scowled at the incredulity in her tone and, glancing around to be certain they were alone, he stepped closer and lowered his voice. "Give me a chance before you condemn me, Minerva. We have worked well together for many years, we can do so again. I know we can. You have my word that no harm will come to the students of this school while I am its Headmaster. I have their best interests at heart...as you do. I always have."
Minerva frowned and spoke coolly. "Can you promise that those two thugs you've installed as teachers also have the students' best interests at heart?"
Something indefinable flickered through Snape's dark eyes, but as he did not rush to answer, Minerva tightened her lips. "I thought not."
"They will answer to me," Snape said firmly.
"Perhaps, but we both know that the true problem is who you answer to, isn't it?"
Snape straightened up and they stared wordlessly at one another for a long moment. The new Headmaster broke eye contact first and began to turn away, but before he could manage it, Minerva grasped his arm and turned him back to her, unable to just allow him to walk away as she knew she probably should.
"Why did you do it, Severus?' she hissed sharply. "Why did you kill Albus?"
Pulling his arm from her grasp with a sharp jerk, his face as expressionless as glass, he turned abruptly and moved off down the corridor without acknowledging her questions.
"I expect your full co-operation, Minerva. If you do not think you can give it, I want your resignation on my desk by the end of the day so I can begin the process of replacing you."
As he continued on down the corridor alone, he heard her voice low and penetrating behind him. "Traitor…"
His steps faltered almost imperceptibly but he did not stop until he reached the waiting gargoyle. When he reached out and touched its surface, it leaped aside as if it, at least, had no doubt of his right to be there. Then, with his head held high, he stepped onto the moving staircase and was quickly drawn up and out of sight.
Snape stood before the door to the Headmaster's office and hesitated briefly before grasping the knob and swinging it open. Standing silently on the threshold, he looked around the room, taking in every detail. The large airy room looked exactly the same as it had the last time he'd been there to consult with Albus. It almost felt as if no time had passed at all.
Yet that last moment of conversation had happened months ago, and a lifetime of events had occurred since then. The passage of those months didn't seem to have had any obvious effect here though, with one very important exception.
This was now his office. Not Albus's, not Minerva's, his, and he had to admit to a twinge of satisfaction at that fact. But as he gazed around his new kingdom and truly felt the weight of his new position settle onto his shoulders, he realized that he wasn't at all certain how he actually felt about becoming Headmaster of Hogwarts.
There was no doubt he had earned the right to the job…to the title. Oh, yes. He had done more, seen more, endured more than any other in gaining this position, but it hadn't been something he sought. It hadn't even been his own idea.
He had the job, but he did not have the respect of his colleagues or the true confidence of the Board of Governors, and he was equally certain he would not be popular with the students. He held this position because of the whim and desires of a mad man and the maneuvering of that mad man's most cunning and ruthless adversary. And as always, he was left to walk a tightrope between them, seeking to retain his balance long enough to achieve his own goal. It was a goal he sometimes questioned the wisdom of, but could never, ever dismiss. He had given his own life over to its accomplishment, and he would see it through, no matter the cost.
Crossing the room with brisk steps, he drew back the drapes from the window and gazed down on lush grounds that sparkled in the light of a brilliant day. The grey smear of clouds on the distant horizon promised unsettled weather ahead, but for now, the sky was clear and the sun bright.
"Severus. It's good to see you. May I assume that your presence here indicates that you've been appointed Headmaster as we hoped?"
Ah, yes, there was a second change in the office as well…a very important change.
When the familiar voice addressed him, Snape closed his eyes for a brief moment before gathering his thoughts to order and turning around to face the portrait of Albus Dumbledore as it smiled benignly down at him from the wall.
"Yes, Albus, you were correct…as usual. When have your plans ever gone seriously awry? My feet have been following a path of your making for years, and no matter what happens I never seem to be able to deviate from that path for long."
The portrait chuckled warmly. "My dear boy, do not make the mistake of thinking me infallible. You must know that isn't true. Far from it. If I was we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. I would be standing where you are, and you would be downstairs getting ready for another term as Potions master.
"No, we've been fortunate to twist events in a manner that, given a bit of luck, will still allow us to achieve our eventual goal, but there is no promise of success, you know. We simply have to do the best we can.
"I'm confident we shall manage however. With you installed here as Headmaster, we can continue to communicate privately which is of the utmost importance since my mobility is rather severely limited now."
"Indeed," Snape said blandly.
"Not to mention that having you placed in charge of Hogwarts means that, whatever Tom thinks, the school has not fallen into his hands and the students will be protected."
Snape frowned, remembering his most recent conversation. "Minerva would have protected them regardless."
"Of course she would, and she still will to the best of her ability, I have no doubt about that. But Minerva doesn't know everything we know, Severus. She is not in a position to do what needs to be done to ensure that they remain protected."
"Albus, are you sure that we couldn't tell her some of it? Just enough to gain her cooperation. Her loyalty…"
"Is without question! But that is hardly the point. You know that what she doesn't know cannot come back to harm her…or you." The portrait's tone was insistent.
A scowl flitted across Snape's face. "She wouldn't…"
"She wouldn't be able to stop it. She doesn't have the defenses. You know the harm one stray thought at the wrong time can cause."
"Yes," Snape said quietly as he glanced away from those shrewd blue eyes.
Dumbledore's portrait looked down at the discontented face of the new Headmaster of Hogwarts and smiled in sympathy. "I take it that Minerva did not take your appointment well."
Snape snorted shortly and sank into the chair behind the large desk, rubbing a hand across his face. "No, she didn't. None of my former colleagues were happy to see me show up here this morning. Did you expect otherwise? I certainly didn't. I don't think that any of them will offer up their resignations but I am by no means certain of that, and the day is far from over. The level of hostility was very high."
"Don't worry. None of them will resign. Certainly Minerva won't. They care too much for the welfare of the students to leave them vulnerable to what they perceive as a very real danger."
"Yes, I'm counting on that one fact to keep them all in line. It won't make for a very harmonious year, though. Particularly since the Dark Lord chose two of his most obsessive and thick witted followers to join me here as the new professors of Defence and Muggle Studies."
"The Carrows. Alecto will fill the students' heads full of absurd nonsense about the dangers and inferiority of Muggles, while her brother will attempt to intimidate the students in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Both subjects will be brought to a new low in competence of instruction, as hard as that might be to believe."
Dumbledore nodded resignedly. "This situation will only be a temporary one, I'm sure. Events are rapidly moving toward a conclusion, and it's vital that we do all we can to be certain that conclusion is the one we want."
Snape swiveled around and stared thoughtfully up at the portrait. "You don't think that Potter could possibly be stupid enough to attempt to return to Hogwarts for his final year, do you?"
"No, Severus. I am quite sure that Harry will not be returning to school this term. I do not believe that Mr. Weasley or Miss Granger will return either. They have other tasks to carry out, and they are tasks that must be done elsewhere…at least for now."
"Well that's something at least." Snape sighed and shifted in his chair. "I shall have quite enough to deal with as it is standing between the Dark Lord and the staff of the school without allowing either to realize where my true loyalties lie."
"I'm sorry, Severus. Under the circumstances, I am afraid that your tenure as Headmaster of Hogwarts School will not be an easy one."
Snape laughed, a short bitter sound. "Albus, nothing I've ever faced has been easy. Why should this be any different?"
To that question, the portrait could give no answer.