Description: An angsty one-shot following Snape's thoughts on his only Halloween as Headmaster of Hogwarts. SPOILERS for all seven books!!

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Yes, I know I should have written a Christmas fic for the season, but this one jumped into my head a few weeks ago and wouldn't leave me alone. Hope you enjoy it!

I've always loved Snape. This is for him: the bravest man I've ever known. :)

No Coward
by Lady Katie

Severus sat silently in the headmaster's chair in the Great Hall, overseeing the Halloween feast. The students were unusually quiet this year. But then, most had reason to be. They also had every reason to be throwing glares at the head table, as they were now. Snape had known before what it was to be the most hated teacher at the school, although Doloras Umbridge took that title from him briefly. The Carrows, the second most hated members of the faculty, were sitting further down the table laughing over some poor Hufflepuff they had in detention that afternoon. Without intending to, Snape let out a tired sigh. It caught Minerva's attention and he quickly plastered a convincing sneer on his face for her benefit. It worked. She turned her attention back to her students and let him be.

He never used to attend the feast. For years after he'd started teaching he would leave the castle quietly, the night and his dark cloak hiding him as he crossed the grounds. Dumbledore alone knew when he left. The old man probably had many notions about where he had gone, but kept them to himself. In truth, Snape went two places. The first was to Godric's Hollow. He slipped quietly into the cemetery and stood next to her grave. Every year on the anniversary of her death he did this. There had been times over the years when he was not the only person who picked that particular night to visit, but he didn't need a cloak to become invisible and so his secret was kept safe.

Before returning to the school though he would make one more stop. Just one. This stop was the reason he was even working at the school at all. The only reason he'd had to keep going. On any other night the cloak would have been out of place at Privet Drive, but that one night of the year he could go unnoticed and Severus took advantage of it. He would peak in the window, just to make sure. To make sure of what? Of course the boy was safe. Dumbledore had made sure of that. But maybe Snape just wanted to check for himself. It wasn't, he told himself, because the boy was his last connection to the only woman he'd ever loved. It wasn't because he couldn't help feeling somewhat nostalgic on the anniversary of her death.

He remembered Petunia, Lily's muggle sister and noticed with some disgust that she had married the most pathetic muggle she could find. He seemed to have a temper and reminded Snape of his own father. But then he saw Lily's son. Scrawny and apparently not the favorite of the family, he was only getting the candies that his cousin didn't like. But he didn't seem too put out by it. Maybe he wasn't completely happy, but he was alive, which meant that she had not died in vain. And that was all that mattered, wasn't it?

After Harry started Hogwarts the Halloween trips ended. Snape's sworn duty was to see that Lily's son grew up and he wouldn't abandon his post for anything. But he still thought of her each year, and this one was no different. He had not gone to the grave at all since Lord Voldemort had returned. It was too dangerous. They could never know how much he still cared for her. They could never have reason to doubt his loyalty. Wasn't it funny, he mused, that she was both the reason he hated Lord Voldemort and the reason he still served him? He stood unflinchingly next to the Dark Lord, every day proving his loyalty, every day lying to the most powerful Dark wizard in the world. And it was all for her.

Would she be proud of him now? But how could she be proud of what he had become? All he knew now were secrets and lies. He had hurt others in the name of the man who killed her. But it was still for her.

Severus let out another sigh, again drawing Minerva's gaze on himself.

"I am retiring for the evening."

She nodded stiffly. They had never been the best of friends, but had gotten along just fine before. When she looked at him these days her eyes showed pure hatred. There were some days when he could see the struggle to hold back all the things that no doubt she wanted to scream at him. He generally took it well and laughed about it later. Minerva had always been opinionated. But she had also been wise enough to keep her mouth shut when it was important. He had succeeded in angering her nearly beyond her breaking point and that, at least, was something to be proud of. But at times like these, he wished she knew. Wished that someone didn't hate him. He wished that he could let his guard down for just a few moments. But he couldn't. He hadn't in years. He stood and left the table. He saw the glares as he left the Great Hall, although he didn't respond to them. He knew the Weasley girl was watching him. And Longbottom.

They didn't realize how much danger they were in while they were busy being typical Gryffindors. Every time they pulled another ridiculous Dumbledore's Army stunt they risked being caught by the Carrows. They were damned lucky he caught them last time. He had to punish them and make it look good, but it would have been far worse if Alecto had been there.

The halls were nearly empty as he climbed the stairs to the Headmaster's office. He hated that room. It didn't really belong to him and he hated being there. The dungeons had suited him just fine. But now Albus Dumbledore's old office was the one place where he could even think of relaxing. Behind those doors only the previous Headmasters could disrupt his quiet. And they were all there for the soul purpose of aiding him and the school. They were completely unable to turn against him. There he was safe.

"You never were one for the Halloween Feast, Severus."

He grunted in response to Dumbledore's portrait. Leave it to the old man to state the obvious.

"Although when you were a boy you didn't leave the Great Hall early so you could sit alone, I think."

"What's your point, Albus?" he growled. He didn't want to be reminded of the Halloweens with her.

"Just making conversation," came the light reply.

He stood at the window and Dumbledore must have been reading his thoughts.

"You are doing the right thing, Severus. She would thank you."

"I never told her..."

"She knows."

Did she though? How could she? She had only seen what he became when he chose his side. When he let Lucius tell him the greatness he would achieve and the power he would have beside the Dark Lord. How could a monster like that truly love someone? And could she have ever loved him in return? If he had just stopped when she first told him to would she have fallen in love with him instead of Potter?

Potter. If not for him none of this would be happening. Snape cringed whenever he thought of the boy he lived to protect being a Potter. The boy was so much like his father that it was sickening. No matter how much Dumbledore defended him, Snape saw it. The arrogance, the insolence. They were traits typical of Potters. And yet something must have changed in order for someone like Lily to fall for him. Perhaps Dumbledore was right.

But Severus couldn't let go. For too many years he had risked his life for the ungrateful brat. Only to be called a coward by him in the end. Logic argued that of course the Potter boy never knew the full story. He only knew the hatred that bubbled up inside Severus every time he saw James Potter's son. But he pushed logic out of the way in favor of nursing his own personal injury. He was no coward. On a daily basis he would clear his mind and enter the presence of the most feared wizard alive. One slip and the Dark Lord would read thoughts that would surely bring about a most painful death. He had mastered legilimency so completely that even the most skilled occlumens wouldn't be able to tell that there were any thoughts being hidden. And he did all this so the miserable little snot could live. He could handle the shampoo jokes or comments about his nose even. He'd heard them for too many years to let them bother him now. In fact, a part of him felt quite smug that perhaps the people harassing him would one day feel very ashamed of themselves if they ever found out what he had done for them all. But of any of the insults, he couldn't handle being called a coward.

Perhaps that is how he would be known though. He didn't really care about power or glory anymore. He'd lost that ambition when he first became disillusioned with the Dark Lord. Power, after all, couldn't save her, so why did it matter? No, Severus didn't risk his life so that he could be remembered well. He knew now that there was a very good chance that he would go down with the other Death Eaters at the end of the war. He would be imprisoned or, if he managed to escape, he would be hunted. The message Dumbledore had trusted him to deliver to Potter might be enough to save him, but he wasn't counting on it. And... all of it depended on his own survival.

He sighed heavily, still staring out over the dark school grounds. "What do you suppose it's like to be dead, Albus?"

"I would not know." The headmaster's portrait chuckled. "I have only memories from life."

"But surely you have studied the topic."

"Naturally. But what I've learned of death is this: the dead cannot come back to us. All we can do is live in a way that would honor their memory."

"But we will see them again."

"When we die," Dumbledore agreed.

"I will not survive this war, Albus."

"You seem certain of this. Have you suddenly discovered powers as a Seer?"

He turned his head enough to glare at the man and his pathetic attempt at humor. "No. But it is coming." He turned back to the window, frowning at the thoughts racing through his mind. "And, although we see the dead again, it won't be... She belongs to him. Even in the afterlife she belongs to him."

"A part of her will always be your best friend."

Severus nodded. That would have to be enough.