In honour of Snape's fifty-fifth birthday, but slightly late, an attempt at an explanation of one of the most annoying bits of Deathly Hallows
. Contains mild swearing.
It had been Griselda Fetyplace (Headmistress 1678-89) who had warned him. She had been head of Ravenclaw house before she became Headmistress, and a portrait of her still hung in their common room. On Snape's instructions, she spent most of her time there. That evening, a polite 'Er-hrm' from her portrait made him look up from the reports he was studying. Settling herself down, and arranging her voluminous robes carefully, she informed him that Filius Flitwick had just let Alecto Carrow into Ravenclaw Tower, telling her as he did so that she was wrong, for there was no intruder there.
He was immediately alert. Could this be, at last . . .? His sources had given him reports of Potter's whereabouts all year - in the Ministry in the autumn, roaming the country, apparently aimlessly, all winter, captured and escaped at Malfoy Manor at Easter - but recently, nothing. And he needed him to come, soon - it was getting harder and harder to hold the school together, to keep the Carrows' bloodlust in check, just to keep everyone alive
(never mind actually trying to teach
them anything). And all the while Albus Dumbledore's bloody portrait had twinkled merrily, and spoken cheerfully of Potter's Gryffindor courage and purity of soul, and shown not the least doubt that an inexperienced teenager could carry out the great task given to him. And when that task was nothing less than the finding and destruction of an unspecified number of horcruxes - oh, Snape had worked that one out easily enough, despite Dumbledore's refusal to actually tell him anything - well, that certainly argued a very special
level of Gryffindor recklessness on the part of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore, of course, had never told Potter that he himself was a horcrux, and must die. Indeed, he had withheld the information from Snape as long as possible - and when he told him, Snape had been shocked. He had not been without his suspicions, but he had always rejected the theory as too barbaric, and he was appalled to discover that he was actually right. Surely, with seventeen years to think about it, Dumbledore could have come up with some better solution? There were tests that could have been done when the boy was still a child, healers who could have been consulted, potions, charms, procedures that might have worked. Snape himself could think of several that could have been attempted. It would have been difficult, yes, dangerous, of course - but not impossible. To rely on nothing more than that the boy would be willing to sacrifice himself to kill the Dark Lord, and so unwittingly cast Integer Vitae - and Integer Vitae must always be cast unwittingly - well, Jesus wept! There were no words for such stupidity. What if he did not sacrifice himself? What if he panicked and ran away? Dumbledore, no doubt, would say that No True Gryffindor would ever refuse the grand gesture, the Great and Noble Sacrifice (not that he would put it like that, of course). But what if he were simply killed, in the commonplace, non-sacrificial way? Only too likely in the current climate - better wizards than Potter had been murdered over the last few years. But no, he would survive to kill himself, and Severus Snape would, as in so much else, do Albus Dumbledore's dirty work for him and tell him to do it. And the worst of it was, with the year he had had, he was almost glad to be doing it.
He slipped quietly along the corridor. He did not see Filius Flitwick - he must be back in his rooms by now - but Minerva McGonagall passed him, heading towards Ravenclaw Tower. What was she doing? It was not her night to patrol the corridors. But then, she was always watchful for the students' welfare these days, and Filius must have told her that he had let Carrow into Ravenclaw Tower. Snape sighed. He had, of course, counted on this reaction from his colleagues, and especially from Minerva - it had saved many lives, and for that he was grateful. But that not one of them had ever, apparently, thought for a moment that he might not be the loyal Death Eater that he seemed - that hurt. He had worked alongside these people for years - could none of them have had even a moment's doubt? Had he been so unlikeable? Pull yourself together, man, he thought - this is what you needed. How much worse would it be if you could not count on their hatred of you! He shook himself and followed Minerva, taking care to keep out of sight.
As they reached the foot of the tower, Snape could hear a man's voice shouting above - Amycus Carrow's, apparently in some distress. Minerva heard it too, and hurried up the stair. Unable to follow her, he slipped behind a statue in an alcove, and listened. Firstly he heard Minerva's voice, arguing with Carrow's, then a silence - both must have entered the Common Room. Then, faint crashes (the Common Room door must be closed), and what might have been the tinkling of broken glass - then, after a few minutes, he could hear people descending the stair. At least, that was what he thought he heard. But what emerged at the foot of the stair was Minerva alone, preceded by three patronuses.
So she was summoning the other heads of house. Something serious must have happened. His heart beat faster - was this what he had been waiting for? Was Potter with her? Now that he could only see one woman, he only heard one woman - but he did not forget that he had at first thought of two, even three, people coming down the stairs. And if he listened, he thought that he might, just, hear a faint echo of other footsteps. So was Potter with her, under that oh-so-effective invisibility cloak of his? And someone else with him - who? And what had happened to the Carrows? He decided to follow them.
One by one, the patronuses dashed off into the night. By now he was sure that Minerva was not alone. She looked about her, from time to time, as if to warn an invisible companion of a change of direction, and Snape was now sure that he could detect other footsteps. As she moved faster, so did he, and he was now less careful to let his own feet be silent. Somehow, he had to get Potter to reveal himself, then to get him alone. Best to confront them now, before Horace and Filius and Pomona further confused the matter. As Minerva looked around her and called 'Who's there?' he stepped out from behind a suit of armour.
'It is I.' That was a ridiculous thing to say, he told himself - like a third-rate actor, for God's sake. Concentrate, man. 'Where are the Carrows?' That's what she will expect you to ask, and she may just tell you.
She did not.
'Wherever you told them to be, I expect, Severus,' she said, her voice filled with loathing. She's more than usually antagonistic tonight, he thought - something has
happened. He thought he could perhaps just detect that slight thickening of the air that is the only sign of a really well-made invisibility cloak, slightly to Minerva's left.
'I was under the impression,' he said mildly, 'that Alecto had apprehended an intruder.' He flexed his left arm, suggesting that he might have sensed it through that. In fact, when one Death Eater summoned the Dark Lord, the others did not know - but if Minerva thought that Lord Voldemort and all his forces were hurtling towards Hogwarts at that very moment, she might give something away.
Still she parried - and all his legilimency could detect no thought of Potter. Finally he asked her outright, taking care to look directly into her eyes.
'Have you seen Harry Potter, Minerva? Because if you have, I must insist -'
Yes! Momentarily, her thoughts moved to her left. Potter was there, and someone else - the Lovegood girl? That would fit - she was a Ravenclaw, after all. But Minerva knew that he had seen - he only just managed to cast his shield charm in time to repell her full body-bind.
And then they were at it, duelling furiously. Minerva's ring of fire was absurdly showy, and just asking to be turned into a serpent - if she was showing off like a Gryffindor, he could remind her that he was a Slytherin, after all. But turning the serpent to daggers had style. They were both getting a lot of the frustration of the last year out of their systems, Snape thought, as he manoevred the suit of armour in front of him. And, if they kept this up long enough, surely Potter, that arch-Gryffindor, would be forced to join in, and then . . .
'Minerva!' Damn, here was Filius - just what he did not want. And Pomona and Horace were behind him. One opponent he could cope with, but four . . . Filius charmed the suit of armour to seize him - he managed to send it back towards his attackers, but all that could do was buy him time. He turned and fled for the nearest classroom.
Slam the door shut, charm it locked. That will take her precisely one second to undo. Damn, damn, damn! He had been so close to Potter. Now, there was nothing for it but to flee, find the Dark Lord (for if Carrow had informed him about Potter, he would ask why Snape did not also know) and hope against hope that when the castle was attacked, as now it surely would be, he would get another chance; and that the staff and students would be able to defend it, of course. A forlorn hope - but it was all that he had.
He cast Vitrifindo at the window, wordlessly, then, still exhilarated from the duel, added a small refinement of his own. Leaping at it, he spreadeagled his arms and legs, and felt the glass sever cleanly as he hit it. As he flew away he turned to see the effect he had wanted to create - the perfect outline of his body in the glass, just like the cartoons he had watched at Lily's house as a child. Filius would appreciate the artistry, Minerva might just get the reference. And perhaps, when he was just another dead Death Eater, perhaps she might - just - wonder.
Anyway, he had better land as soon as he could - the Dark Lord still thought he was the only one who could fly. Whatever happened now, however dreadfully wrong it all went, at least he had managed to get Hogwarts through the year more or less in one piece. He could have hoped for a better epitaph as Headmaster than that, but still . . . What did those Muggle cartoons say? Ah, yes. As he crossed the school wall and came down to land he gave Hogwarts a gesture that was half-wave, half-salute, and said, quietly, 'That's all, folks'.