As the crushing sensation of Apparition ceased, Severus Snape found himself on the road, not far from the great, wrought-iron gates of Hogwarts School. A brief memory of his last passage through the gates, pursued by Hagrid’s hippogriff, Potter beside himself with hatred, and accusations of murder, returned to him.
They waited for him, full of that hatred and those accusations, inside the castle, he reflected darkly. Ruthlessly he shoved the thought aside and approached the entrance. He knew he needed them, and he would find, must find, a way to use them despite their hatred of him.
The tall pillars, topped by statues of winged boars, flanked the gates as they always had, and Snape saw that the chains, installed as security precautions in the previous year, still bound them shut. Drawing his wand, he tapped the padlock once, nonverbally casting the secret incantation the previous Headmaster had entrusted to him. In response to his spell, the chains snaked backwards and the gate swung slowly open.
There was no further need, now, for these precautions, Snape reflected. The enemy was about to enter the school, victorious, with the authority of the Ministry at its back. With a flick of his wand, he Vanished the chains, then muttered a series of incantations that lifted the remaining Anti-Intruder jinxes. It would’ve had to be done at some point, he rationalized. But he knew, also, that he could have delegated the task to anyone, and left it for later. The truth was that he dreaded what awaited him, and would gladly have found yet another reason to delay stepping through those gates and taking possession of his new authority.
He faced the now open gates, knowing that it was too late for hesitation and regrets. For a moment, his right hand sought the reassurance of the torn bit of paper he carried inside his robes, over his heart. Then, squaring his shoulders, he strode through the gate.
The grounds, brightly lit by the early morning sunshine, were deserted. It was one reason he had picked that time to arrive. Hagrid would still be safely in bed. Were he to encounter Hagrid before cooler heads had time to speak with him, Snape did not doubt he would find himself forced first to defend himself, and then, at the very least, to sack him. If he was to have any hope of keeping his commitment to Dumbledore, he needed all of the current teachers to stay, for as long as he could arrange to keep them there.
Indeed, no one stirred as he neared Hagrid’s hut. It had been repaired after the fire his fellow Death Eaters had set, back in June, Snape could see. The new timbers and slats had not yet weathered to match the portions of the cabin that had remained intact. He passed by it and soon approached the great wooden doors of the castle itself.
Snape opened the doors to find Argus Filch sweeping the wide marble staircase across the Entrance Hall. Filch looked up, and the broom he had been holding clattered down the stairs.
“Good morning, Mr. Filch,” Snape said calmly, crossing the Entrance Hall.
“P-professor Snape?” Filch stammered fearfully.
“It seems you have heard the tale some are passing around, that I murdered the previous Headmaster,” Snape said, stepping over the fallen broom and onto the first stair. “Rumors can be so unreliable, Mr. Filch.”
Filch peered at him suspiciously. Mrs. Norris, who had run to her owner after being startled by the clattering broom, twined herself around his legs, apparently infected by his doubts.
“Indeed, far from lending any credence to such stories, the Ministry and Board of Governors have appointed me Headmaster in Dumbledore’s place,” he added as he walked up to the caretaker, producing his letter of appointment, properly signed and sealed, for Filch’s inspection.
Filch straightened, and a fawning smile crossed his lips.
“I’m pleased to hear it, sir,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Filch,” Snape replied. “Could you oblige me with a small favor?”
“Certainly, Headmaster,” Filch replied.
“I would like to speak to Professor McGonagall. Could you ask her to stop by my office directly after breakfast?”
“Certainly, Professor, I will tell her,” Filch replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Filch,” Snape said. Filch headed down to get his broom and Snape headed up to the Headmaster’s office. His office now, he reminded himself.
The stone gargoyle stood as it always had, in front of the hidden entrance.
“Toffee éclairs,” he said to it, and it moved aside, revealing the spiral staircase that led to the office door. He would attend to the selection of a more suitable password, more palatable to his newest colleagues, after his talk with Minerva.
Snape stepped onto the bottom stair and it rose, taking him up to the familiar wooden door and bronze doorknocker. He placed his hand on the knob and turned it. As the door opened and he passed through it, a familiar voice greeted him.
“Severus!” it said, and he looked up at the newest, gold-framed portrait, which hung on the wall behind the massive desk.
Albus Dumbledore was beaming down at him.
“Dumbledore,” Snape said.
“I hear you are confirmed in your new post,” the portrait said. “Excellent work, Severus!”
Naturally, he would know immediately. Some of the office’s denizens had portraits at the Ministry.
“I am,” Snape confirmed curtly.
“So you played your part well, during the raid?” Dumbledore asked.
He was reminded of Dumbledore’s words at their previous meeting. If you are forced to take part in the raid, be sure to act your part convincingly…. Easy for Albus, to ask such things of him….
“I cut off the ear of George Weasley, I’m told,” Snape said. With a shrug of his shoulders, he added, “Apparently, that was sufficiently convincing.”
Dumbledore’s blue eyes regarded him intently. Snape looked back, his expression unreadable. He had given the old man what he wanted, if only by accident. If Dumbledore wanted a further explanation, he could ask for it.
“And the Carrows?” Dumbledore asked, returning to the matter at hand.
“As we expected,” Snape replied.
“What of the other teachers?” Dumbledore asked, a note of concern creeping into his voice.
“The Dark Lord agreed with me that wholesale replacement of the staff would needlessly disrupt the magical education of our students. He has accepted my assurances that I can keep any troublemakers in line,” Snape explained.
“Well done!” Dumbledore exclaimed. “But…can you? If I can help-”
“I expect Professor McGonagall here shortly,” Snape interrupted. “I believe that interview will proceed more smoothly if you are absent.”
“As you wish, Severus,” Dumbledore agreed. “Until later, then.”
“Good day,” Snape said, just as the figure of Dumbledore disappeared out of the side of his portrait.
Snape stepped around the massive desk, pulled out the chair, and sat down in it for the first time. The surface of the desk was empty, except for a silver ink pot and quill. Snape laid his wand down beside it and leaned back in the chair for a moment, his eyes closed. One last time, he ran over what he planned to say. It was quite simple, really. As to his fears – if he could stand to watch the naked desperation in Charity Burbage’s face in the moments before she died, doubtless the hate and contempt he was sure to see in Minerva’s would not prove too much. The stakes were too high for him to falter now.
Thus resolved, Snape summoned a House Elf and arranged delivery of some tea and toast. He was still drinking the tea when he head a firm knock on the office door.
Glancing at his watch, he realized it must be Professor McGonagall, punctual as always. After setting his teacup down on the tray, he rose and walked to the door. McGonagall stood beyond, her back ramrod-straight, her expression disapproving.
“Murderer!” she exclaimed, her voice heavy with disgust.
With a slightly mocking smile and courteous nod of his head, Severus swept his arm to indicate his guest should step inside.
“Minerva!” he said. “Do come in.”
She regarded him through her glasses for a moment, and her eyes flashed.
“Snape,” she finally forced out the greeting, and stepped inside.
Severus shut the door behind her and turned back to his guest. Her eyes, she saw, had been drawn to the empty portrait that hung over his desk.
“I’m afraid Albus will not be joining us today,” Snape commented, in response to her unspoken question. He swept around the massive desk, his black robe billowing behind him, and faced her from behind it. “Please, won’t you have a seat?”
He could see in her eyes that she considered refusing, and her lips parted, then snapped shut firmly. She sat down in the visitor’s chair, and Severus seated himself as well.
“You want my resignation, I’m sure,” McGonagall said in a clipped voice. “You have it. I have nothing further to say to you.”
“You have served the school long and ably as Deputy Headmistress and Head of Gryffindor,” Snape said. “I thought to offer you the possibility to continue.”
She glared back at him.
“Along with the Headship, the Da-… the Ministry has given me considerably leeway in staffing the school to meet its new objectives,” he stated. “I have the authority to retain you, if we reach an understanding.”
“New objectives?” McGonagall asked, not entirely managing to conceal her indignation. “It shames me to know that you even considered making me such an offer,” she continued, her voice rising.
“You know what they say, everyone has her price,” Snape replied with a sneer.
“And this” she waved her arm about heatedly, indicating the room in which they sat, “this was yours! Albus took you in and gave you a new start in life, and you repaid his trust by killing him!”
Words truer than she knew, Snape reflected. And it was his duty to make sure that she remained in ignorance of the truth she had just spoken.
“I do hope that is not your final word,” Snape replied calmly, leaning back in his chair. “Madam Lestrange has expressed some interest in the position herself. While the … Ministry appreciates her enthusiasm, frankly I do not believe she has the temperament to make a good administrator.”
“Bellatrix Lestrange?! She can’t – you wouldn’t – she wasn’t even a Gryffindor!” McGonagall protested, shock and anger rendering her, for the moment, incoherent.
“True, I would have to bend the rules to put her in charge of Gryffindor House,” Snape said with a shrug. “But I am afraid you leave me no other choice. Perhaps it is better than way. She was certainly looking forward to a reunion with certain of your students…you are saving me the trouble of talking her out of it.”
The blood had drained from Minerva’s face as he spoke.
“Please … perhaps … I spoke too hastily,” she said haltingly. “I’ll do it, on one condition.”
Just as he had known – for her students, she would swallow her pride. Snape raised an eyebrow and looked at her mockingly.
“You’re in no position to dictate terms, Minerva,” he replied coldly.
“As Head of Gryffindor, I would retain the power to discipline the students in my House?” she asked.
“So long as you keep your Gryffindor brats out of my hair, assuredly,” he said. “That’s no condition, that’s my pleasure.”
“I’ll do it,” she said. He fixed her with a cold stare. “Headmaster,” she spat out.
“Thank you, Minerva. I’m glad to see we that understand one another. Well, as you have seen reason, I have a few organizational matters for you to attend to before the start of term.”
“Yes?” she asked.
“First, Muggle Studies. I regret to inform you that Professor Burbage has resigned.”
“Resigned?!” Minerva exclaimed. “Charity?”
“Quite irrevocably, I fear,” Snape said coldly. “You will arrange for her belongings to be returned to her next of kin-”
McGonagall gasped and covered her mouth with a hand.
“-so that the new Muggle Studies professor may occupy her quarters,” Snape finished.
“He Who Must Not be Named will permit Muggle Studies to be taught?” McGonagall asked, surprised.
“The Ministry has decided on a change of focus, naturally. I have retained Alecto Carrow to teach the class,” Snape explained.
Minerva shot daggers out of her eyes, but kept silent.
“We are also short an instructor for Dark Arts. Amycus Carrow will be taking over for me in that capacity,” Snape added. “I expect them both shortly before the Welcoming Feast on Sunday.”
“Will that be all?” she asked.
“If you would be so good as to let Professors Sprout, Slughorn, and Flitwick know that I’m extending them the same offer as I’ve extended to you, I would appreciate it,” Snape said.
“Not willing to face Filius, are you? A curse in the back is more your style!” Minerva spat out.
“I wouldn’t expect a Gryffindor to recognize good tactics when she sees them,” Snape replied calmly.
“Tactics? A pretty word for treason and cowardice!” she exclaimed.
“You’ve had enough time to get used to the new reality, I think, Professor,” Snape said flatly. “Our new teachers are likely to misunderstand a bit of sparring between old colleagues. It will cease, now.”
Minerva fell silent, and took a couple of deep breaths
“What will you be telling them?” she asked in a moment.
“The truth, naturally. I made a threat, and you caved in to it. Just a matter of knowing the right lever,” Snape replied sardonically.
“I see,” she said coldly, her eyes burning in the frozen mask that was her face. “Will that be all, then, Headmaster?”
“For now, Professor McGonagall,” he answered.
She rose and left without another word.
The interview had gone exactly as he had planned. It was a resounding success. He drew the torn photograph out and looked at it for a moment, a single tear running down his face, before tucking it away carefully in its place.