The last chocolate Hobnob lay on the edge of the plate in the middle of the table. No one so much as twitched a finger in its direction, although at least three people eyed it thoughtfully. Minerva muttered something about 'a mark of respect' but Pomona knew that guilt, rather than respect, stayed their hands; a rather more astringent brew.
People often supposed that Pomona Sprout was not very bright. She was used to it. She might be plump and motherly, preferring to spend her days up to the elbows in compost, but Herbology was not for the gormless, particularly when your charges were inclined to snap your fingers off, strangle you or even kill you if you failed to pay attention. Besides, digging, potting on and weeding gave you time to think. Upon long reflection, she decided that Albus Dumbledore had his own agenda and there might be more to the new Potions Master than met the eye.
Severus Snape would never have the instinctive feel of a Herbologist, but he had impressed her as a student with his dedication to his chosen subjects. He was interested in plants for their uses rather than in their intrinsic natures, but for all his sulky demeanour and his endless wars against the Gryffindors, his work was sound. He was a scrawny, unprepossessing child, and his suspicion of adults had been learned too young. Pomona had been a Head of House for long enough to recognise the signs of neglect, and although she had no high hopes of earning his trust, she discovered that he was desperate for someone to acknowledge his intelligence.
Horace was too lazy to adequately challenge the child, despite Snape being one of his snakes. Minerva was blinkered by her loyalty to her troublesome Gryffindors and Filius found the boy too tetchy for his taste. Snape was inclined to take offence at Filius' witty little jokes, and regarded what was intended as constructive advice, as criticism. However, when Pomona entrusted Snape with some valuable cuttings, he rose to the responsibility as she hoped, and soon became one of her most reliable assistants. Their relationship was amicable, although he rarely confided in her. It was enough that she could offer him a safe space to work in the greenhouses, away from the Gryffindors who tormented him, not to mention the members of his own house whom she regarded as a bad influence. In the end he went his own way, as students did, and she thought that the flickering light of decency must have died in him. Then Albus astonished them all by bringing him back.
Pomona remembered the first time chocolate Hobnobs appeared beside the ginger newts, after Albus called for tea at the monthly staff meeting. Oaty, firm and not too sweet, with just enough chocolate to taste good without the need for self-reproach, they vanished rapidly amid faint murmurs of appreciation. The others assumed that the elves had supplied them, but Pomona was intrigued. Who had introduced the decidedly Muggle biscuits, and why? Pomona sometimes satisfied her curiosity by being too cuddly, woolly-headed and bumbling to be suspected of being sneaky. Like everyone else, Snape underestimated badgers. After a few weeks of watching, she caught the twitch of his wand under the edge of the table, Summoning the biscuits as the elves delivered the tea.
Why the secrecy? Sadly, she came to the conclusion that he liked the feeling of superiority that came from knowing something that no-one else did. He must have realised that almost all the staff distrusted and disliked him. While Slughorn openly supplied treats and ensured that everyone knew it, Snape preferred to hug his knowledge to himself, sneering down his nose at Sybill as she grabbed at the last biscuit on the plate, or watching with disdain as Slughorn brushed crumbs from his moustache.
It was because she was watching him so closely and clandestinely, that she saw something else that she was not intended to see. Snape stood glowering, alone by the window, until Albus clapped a hand upon the young man's shoulder and requested his lesson plans. She saw the infinitesimal flinch of a bony shoulder and a look of trepidation in narrowed black eyes. Then Snape turned to the Headmaster with a bland expression and murmur of acquiescence.
She was working in the humid warmth of Greenhouse eight when she next noticed him, a narrow dark shadow hunched by the wall of the castle. His hands were cupped around a cigarette, against the sleet-laden Scottish wind. He looked furtive, as if he had temporarily put aside his Professorial persona and reverted to sullen teenage. Pomona recalled Rolanda Hooch, leaning close to murmur 'I don't care what Dumbledore says, I'll never trust that Snape boy; he's got the eyes of a shithouse rat.' No, Pomona thought, he's just young, insecure and alone, and inexplicably afraid.
She popped her head out of the door and remarked, 'You can come in, Severus, if you like. I'm making tea.'
The air hardly stirred, as if he had learned to slip through life without leaving any impression upon his surroundings. He had made himself almost invisible as a child, to escape the notice of those whom he had feared, and now Dumbledore had Snape under his thrall. Life wasn't fair, sometimes.
'Darjeeling,' she said, indicating the potting bench with an elbow, where the teapot steamed gently. He nodded in thanks, filled two of the mugs and wrapped his hands around one for warmth. Muggle-raised, she thought, and then, no, he doesn't feel that he deserves to be warm and comfortable, does he?
'Biscuit?' he asked, and she looked up to find a half-packet of chocolate Hobnobs suspended in the air before her face.
'I don't mind if I do,' she said, casting a cleaning charm upon one hand in order to extricate a biscuit from the wrapper. So she had been right, he had supplied the Hobnobs. How nice that he trusted her – no, that wasn't it. He knew that she knew. He was telling her that he knew that she knew. Snape was, after all, very, very bright, and she had respected his intelligence right from his first year.
'Cheers,' he said, saluting her with his tea. 'I'll need more Bubotubers next month.'
'They're coming along nicely, that shouldn't be a problem. Will you need the mandrakes too?'
'Not yet, I'll let you know.'
He looked up, as sleet pattered against the roof, and for a moment, she saw his face in repose, harsh and angular, and wondered if he had, within him, seeds of something greater than even Albus Dumbledore could suspect.
Horace had decided to retire, now that Snape was up to speed with teaching the entire syllabus, and when Albus suggested that Snape should take over as Head of Slytherin House, Minerva protested vociferously.
Horace said, 'He's very clever, you know, and loyal to his house.'
'He'll grow into the role,' Albus said, with twinkling satisfaction, playing omniscient old eccentric to the hilt. 'What do you others think?' That was a sop to their pride, Albus always did exactly as he pleased. Minerva sat back with a huff, aware that the Headmaster was playing them off against one another.
'He grows on you,' Filius said after due consideration, 'he's spiky but he has a dry wit and I agree with Horace, he's clever.'
'He's vicious,' Minerva cried, 'and intolerant! He takes points from Gryffindors for breathing too loudly, for Merlin's sake!'
'I wouldn't call that vicious,' Filius said, having had his own problems with those particular Gryffindors, 'just a little excessive. Besides, he's so young, he has to enforce discipline upon students only a few years younger than himself.'
'Essential in a potions lab,' Horace said, nodding pompously and helping himself to a liquorice wand out of the bowl on Dumbledore's desk.
Albus raised a bushy white eyebrow at Pomona.
'Yes,' she said, 'I think he'll do.'
Minerva's glare softened to a look of hurt betrayal.
'There, there, Minerva, we can always reconsider if he finds the position beyond him,' Albus said jovially, as Minerva's teeth grated. 'Anyone for tea?'
'We have a weekly meeting of the Heads of House,' Pomona said, delicately teasing apart the fanged geranium seedlings with the ease of long practice. 'Usually on a Monday evening. We take turns to host it, the host supplies light refreshments.'
Snape gave a little snort. 'Surely I'm not invited?'
'You're the Head of Slytherin, of course you are.'
'That's very kind of you, but I very much doubt whether Professor McGonagall agrees.' Pomona was aware that they still referred to each other as 'Professor Snape' (spoken with ironic emphasis upon the title) and 'Professor McGonagall' (with a cold, restrained formality.)
'There are three of us, Severus,' Pomona pointed out, and saw his dark eyes widen slightly. 'Yes, Filius and I both argued strenuously that you should attend.' Her voice softened. 'She isn't an ogre, she's just very protective of her students, as we all are.'
'The very same Gryffindors who think it amusing to sabotage the potions of Slytherin students, set off dung-bombs in the dungeons and disobey every rule I set?' he said bitterly, 'Of course. Poor darlings, how remiss of me to assign detentions and take points.'
'Yes, I know,' Pomona sighed, 'although your Slytherins are no angels. Hopefully you don't have too much trouble with my little badgers or Filius' chicks.'
'No,' he admitted, rather grudgingly. 'Just general carelessness, inability to concentrate and lack of interest in the subject.'
'They're children, Severus, what else do you expect?'
He shrugged, flicking his wand at the kettle to start it heating. 'Very well, I shall be polite to McGonagall if it kills me.'
'Try chocolate Hobnobs,' Pomona said, without looking up from her squabbling seedlings, 'she has a sweet tooth.'
Although it had been the Head of Slytherin's turn to host the next meeting, Filius and Pomona agreed that Minerva should officiate in her sitting room.
'Why me?' she demanded, still incensed at the necessity of including Snape at all. Pomona and Filius shared a glance of mutual exasperation.
'Because you're the one who needs to build bridges,' Filius said.
'Why am I expected to tease him out of his sulk?'
Behind her back, Pomona mouthed 'Pot, kettle' at Filius, who rolled his eyes and reached up to pat Minerva on the elbow. 'Because you're the deputy Headmistress, Min, and you're the adult. Yes, I know he's supposed to be adult too, but he's still terribly young and we need to set a good example, hm?'
'Oh very well,' Minerva huffed, disarmed as usual by Filius genial common sense. 'Don't blame me when it all goes pear-shaped.'
Snape arrived exactly on time, and slid into the vacant seat at the table, nodding in response to Filius' greeting. He politely declined tea or coffee, making Pomona wonder if he expected Minerva to spike his drink with something embarrassing.
'Any problems this week, apart from the usual?' Minerva asked, clearly in a snit because Snape had given her no opportunity to snipe at him for being late.
'Jugson,' Filius said resignedly, stirring sugar into his tea. Snape twitched then stilled again, waiting for someone else to respond.
Pomona obliged. 'We ought to do something, the situation isn't improving, is it?'
'What, exactly, do you intend to do to Reginald Jugson?' Snape asked. For all his stillness, he gave the impression of tightly coiled emotion, anger or perhaps spite.
'The boy clearly comes from a neglectful home, if not an outright abusive one,' Filius said. Snape blinked, surprised despite his carefully imposed self-control.
'His father's still in Azkaban,' Minerva stated, 'and his mother is associating with a wizard who mistreats the child and won't allow her to spend any money to support him. The boy has none of the textbooks he needs.'
'Jugson's father was a Death Eater,' Snape said carefully.
'Neither here nor there,' Filius said with a wave of a hand, 'he seemed to look after his family well enough, but t's the step-father we have to worry about. In point of fact, Jugson senior being let out on parole would solve the problem.'
'Death Eaters do not get let out on parole,' Snape said coldly.
'Sadly not, and Jugson junior is suffering the consequences. As Minerva said, he has no text-books, parchment, quills or ink, and he's outgrowing his robes and boots without any means of replacing them – cleaning and repairing charms can only do so much when the material is of poor quality to begin with.'
Snape laced his bony fingers together on the edge of the table and leaned slightly towards Filius, his black eyes intent.
'When has anything ever been done for a child under those circumstances?' he demanded, his voice laced with a delicate thread of contempt. 'When has the Headmaster ever permitted it?'
'You mustn't assume that we always agree with Albus Dumbledore's handling of our students,' Filius said with deceptive mildness. 'We look after our own.'
Snape snorted and slouched back into his armchair.
'Really? I hadn't noticed – oh, I apologise. I HAD noticed that certain Gryffindors appeared to have been given licence to do as they pleased.'
Minerva took in a deep, steady breath and Snape sneered, although his defensively clenched hands suggested that his air of confidence was fragile at best.
'Unfortunately,' Minerva said, staring into her teacup and choosing her words with obvious care, 'we were remiss in assuming that your own Head of House would support you, in the way that the rest of us support our own. That was Horace's responsibility and he clearly failed in his duty.'
Her admission completely took the wind out of Snape's sails; he stared at her in blank-faced astonishment.
'It has become apparent to us, for all his bonhomie and his encouragement of those students who excel at potions, that Horace has not been as strong an advocate for his own house as one would have wished.' Filius added, ever the diplomat.
'He was fuckin' awful at it,' Snape muttered, his northern accent making a rare re-emergence.
'Well, then,' Pomona said briskly, refilling her own teacup and pouring one for Snape, on the assumption that the ice had been well and truly broken. 'Isn't it a good job that the little snakelings have you to stand up for them?'
'Snakelings?' he scoffed, but he took the tea.
'Nest of vipers?' Minerva suggested sweetly. For a moment, Pomona awaited an explosion, but Snape merely smirked, still disarmed by their unexpected admission of support. When Pomona next glanced down at the tea table, a plate of chocolate Hobnobs lay beside the ginger newts.
Minerva was loyal and courageous, and sharply intelligent, but in the matter of subterfuge, she was no match for the Head of Ravenclaw. Filius challenged her to their regular game of chess on Sunday evening, and he lost. Pomona understood the game well enough to see where he deliberately needled his opponent so that she did not notice how he permitted her to corner his king. He unaccountably failed to turn her recklessness against her. Fired up by her unexpectedly early victory, Minerva turned to the room in general.
'Anyone else want a game?' she asked. Ah, clever Filius, he had chosen his moment well. Dumbledore was absent, and Aurora had already engaged Septima, Charity and Bathsheda in a game of cards, most probably 'Ditch the Witch'. The others shook their heads. 'Pomona?' Minerva wheedled.
'Only if you want an easy win,' Pomona said, 'you know I can't play for toffee.'
'You always say that but you're not half bad when you concentrate.'
Pomona pouted, having guessed Filius' objective. 'I've just got to an exciting bit,' she said, holding up her book.
There was a rustle of robes, and a figure emerged from the shadows at the back of the room. Snape sat down opposite Minerva and raised a black eyebrow in challenge. Minerva appeared startled, but instructed her chess pieces to set themselves up for another game. Filius levitated himself onto the sofa next to Pomona, in order to watch.
'Is he any good?' Pomona asked under her breath.
'House chess champion three years running,' he murmured. 'By all accounts, he was taught by Horace and Lucius Malfoy; two very different but equally slippery Slytherins.'
'A good grounding in creative cheating, by the sounds of it.'
'Perhaps not,' Filius acknowledged, 'the boy has his pride.'
Snape won, but he and Minerva were well-matched and it was by no means easy. Rather to her relief, Pomona detected no signs of duplicity.
'Well fought,' Minerva said, mock-grudgingly.
Snape waved a hand in an exaggeratedly magnanimous manner. 'You're welcome.'
Minerva snapped her fingers and a tray, loaded with ice, water jug, glasses and a bottle of whisky, floated across the room. 'Single malt?' she asked, holding up the bottle. Clearly Snape recognised the gesture for what it was. He nodded. 'A small one,' he said, 'neat. Thank you.'
She nodded and poured the drinks. Filius nudged Pomona and she nudged him back in approval. The following day, Pomona heard Minerva call Snape by his first name.
Harry Potter arrived at Hogwarts; a wide-eyed Muggle-raised little boy, clearly unfamiliar with the magical world. Snape not only treated the child as if he was a spoiled brat, but took every sign of ignorance or childish impetuosity as a personal affront. From the first month of term, it was clear that Snape not only despised Potter, but was deliberately setting himself up to be hated in return.
Minerva bristled like an offended cat and the relationship between the Heads of Gryffindor and Slytherin deteriorated almost to the armed truce of the first year of Snape's teaching career. Snape did not seem to care. Filius and Pomona attempted to mediate when they could, and pondered the situation.
'Albus knows,' Filius said decisively. He and Pomona were lingering by the staffroom fire, after the others had left to sleep, patrol or visit the kitchen. 'Ergo, he approves.'
'Severus is hardly being subtle,' Pomona agreed.
'Which is probably the point,' Filius murmured. 'If he wanted to undermine someone, they'd never realise until too late. He wants everyone to know.'
'Oh dear,' Pomona sighed, 'do you catch the scent of huge, unwieldy long-term machinations?'
'I'm afraid so. Poor boy.'
She nodded, then blinked.
They watched and they waited. At the end of the year, Albus Dumbledore set Harry Potter and Gryffindor against Snape and Slytherin by snatching the house cup from under the noses of the Slytherins. Pomona suspected then that Severus Snape's path would be a long and lonely one indeed.
Voldemort returned and it required no great stretch of the imagination, to understand what Snape was expected to do. Snape did not act like a man who had entirely renounced the Dark Lord yet Dumbledore did not sack him. His history, and Dumbledore's, made it clear to anyone with an ounce of common sense that he was to resume his role as a spy. Or at least, it was clear to those with the intelligence, experience and intuition of the Heads of Houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
'Albus has a hold over Severus,' Filius asserted, 'the boy's decidedly twitchy around him.'
Pomona nodded in agreement. 'Some sort of vow, I should think.'
'Probably something to do with Lily Potter,' Minerva said sagely.
'The Evans girl? Wasn't he sweet on her at one time?' Pomona asked, frowning as she recalled Snape as an angst-ridden teen.
'Even after she fell for James Potter. Albus won't tell me the whole story, but I believe that Snape was one of the first on the scene after the Potters died,' Minerva said. 'I just wish Snape would stop picking on Harry! Fighting James Potter was all very well, but Harry's just a child, and Snape was always a bully.'
Pomona remained silent and Filius tactfully changed the subject. As far as Pomona could recall, the bullying had come mostly from Potter and his cronies. It seemed that Snape was prepared to alienate his fellow staff in addition to the majority of Gryffindor house.
So the months marched past and to Pomona's increasing dismay, Dumbledore allowed Harry Potter to face Voldemort on an annual basis. Hogwarts lurched from crisis to fiasco, and then Cedric Diggory's death convinced her that the Headmaster was prepared to sacrifice anyone in his crusade against Voldemort. Perhaps even Harry himself, certainly Severus Snape, the surly Professor whom few people liked. Harry had Minerva and the Weasleys fighting in his corner, but was involved in plots too deep to be comprehended by someone on their periphery.
'I don't believe we can do much to assist Harry Potter,' Filius remarked, when Pomona confessed her fears to him in the safety of her own sitting room. 'It's all grown bigger than Hogwarts now, hasn't it? Dumbledore's mysterious clique and the Ministry… '
'What we CAN do,' Pomona said, 'is look out for Severus.'
'If he'll let us.'
'Then he needn't know.'
Solemnly they raised their teacups in a gesture of solidarity, and munched on the left-over chocolate Hobnobs from the last Heads of House meeting.
Albus Dumbledore swept into the first staff meeting of the new school year, as sparkly and chipper as ever. Pomona happened to be reaching towards the dish of peppermints upon the table, and she caught an appalled expression upon Filius' face. Glancing around, she saw Poppy Pomfrey frowning with concern and Severus Snape looking as blank as a wall. Then she saw that Dumbledore's right hand was so black and shrivelled that he might have held it in a fire.
'A curse?' she murmured to Filius, who nodded and whispered, 'Must be a very nasty one or he'd be able to Glamour it.' She did not query his conclusion; no-one knew more about Glamours and concealing charms than Filius Flitwick.
But Dumbledore made no mention of it, and no-one dared ask. He informed them that Horace Slughorn had agreed to return to teach Potions, and Severus Snape would take over Defence Against the Dark Arts. Far from looking smug, Snape's expression remained impassive. Pomona recalled rumours that he was skilled at mind magic, and she realised that she was seeing an Occlumens, masking all thoughts and feelings behind a wall, and that of late, he had hidden more and more of himself from his colleagues, distancing himself for a purpose that she could not perceive. When they broke for tea, and the chocolate Hobnobs failed to appear beside the butter-fingers and ginger newts, she feared the worst.
Dumbledore fell, and the Heads of House talked, secretly into the night, about whether they had been wrong about Snape all along.
'He faltered and fell back into his old ways,' Minerva said. 'He's a murderer, always has been.' As Albus' protégée and long-time assistant, Minerva was too distressed to give Snape the benefit of the doubt.
'Maybe Harry was mistaken in some way…' Filius said thoughtfully, but to Minerva, her heroic young Gryffindor was a far more reliable witness than the Slytherin whom she mistrusted. Snape must have fooled them all for years, but surely, in that case, he would have made a better job of it? But for all Pomona's doubts and confusion, there was no discernible purpose to Snape's actions, no reason behind his madness, and that concerned her most of all, because Severus Snape never did anything without good reason.
He came back, daring to step into the place of the man whom he had murdered. Minerva's dislike of him hardened into implacable hatred, Pomona doubted everyone including herself, and Filius Flitwick watched and waited and pondered, in his usual meticulous fashion. The school became a prison, and most of the staff remained in the hope of doing what they could to protect their students. Voldemort held Wizarding Britain in his iron grip, there was no escape for anyone who disagreed with his edicts, let alone defied them. The Carrow siblings rampaged through the castle, although it appeared that Snape retained enough humanity to rein in the worst of their excesses. He was forceful enough to frustrate them, certainly. Pomona heard them complaining and commiserating with each other often enough.
Pomona blundered around the castle, clucking and tutting, falling back into her reliable act as a foolish and motherly witch, except that she did it not to gather gossip, but in the deadly serious task of shielding her students from the Carrows. As she had hoped, she was beneath their notice. Then she overheard a conversation that explained a lot.
'Headmaster,' Filius called softly, and Pomona halted, wondering whether to go back the way she had come. Snape's footsteps stopped and he sighed theatrically.
'Yes, Professor Flitwick? I'm in a hurry.'
'I just wondered… was he dying?' Filius asked. There was silence, and Pomona held her breath. 'I didn't understand why he didn't hide that awful curse wound in his hand, and then I realised that he couldn't, and that meant that the curse was terribly powerful. I know a lot about Glamours, you see, they were my particular area of study. I couldn't see what your objective could possibly be, until you came back as Headmaster, and there it was, clear as day.'
'How could you possibly weave such a web of fantasy out of hard fact?' Snape's smooth voice dripped with distain. He had certainly perfected the art of repelling everyone who had once been close to him.
'Of course, I understand,' Filius said sadly. 'You've no choice but to deny it. I dread to think what those appalling Carrows would do if you weren't here, Severus. My poor chap, you must feel so alone.'
Then, so softly that Pomona barely made out the words, Snape murmured 'You would not believe how alone, Filius.' It was the old Snape, the one who muttered little comments in boring staff meetings that cracked them up, who brought Muggle biscuits to the Heads of House meetings and shared tea, whisky or mead over games of chess.
'Obliviate,' Snape whispered, and Pomona edged away, her heart hammering in her chest. When Snape rounded the corner, she bumbled towards him with her hands full of foliage.
'Oh, she said, looking disappointed, as she did when she saw Snape. Meeting him nowadays often resulted in some form of unpleasantness. 'Never mind. I was looking for Minerva, have you seen her?'
'No,' he sneered, 'fortunately not. What in Merlin's name are you doing?'
Pomona looked down at the armful of catnip that she had Summoned and shrugged.
'We were discussing varieties of Nepeta and what effect a tisane would have on a cat Animagus,' she told him. 'I wanted her to try this one, it's supposed to be a mild sedative but it can have a stimulant effect on a cat. Or is there some educational decree that says we can't attempt to sedate ourselves in order to get a good night's sleep?' She scowled and stomped past him. The skin prickled on the back of her neck, but he said nothing and she continued on her way, thanking the moment of inspiration that had caused her to recall an actual conversation that she and Minerva had had the previous day, in the staffroom, with witnesses. No doubt Snape, with his meticulous attention to detail, would check up on her. She redirected her steps towards Minerva's rooms, knowing that she dared not share the secret that she had overheard, not even with her best friends. Snape was indeed alone.
She was in the corner of Greenhouse eight, her own little refuge of tranquillity, when she noticed an angular shadow against the moonlit castle wall, the glow of a lit cigarette and drift of smoke. She watched, unnoticed among the undulating leaves of a tamed garrotting fig, as Snape stared up at the night sky and smoked – an old habit that he had resumed of late, she realised. She dared not call him in to join her in a late-night cup of tea; he would doubtless refuse the invitation anyway. Then her attention was drawn to movement down near his knees, and the faint voice of an elf. Snape glanced around, then crouched down on his haunches to speak to the elf. She could not make out Snape's words, only the rumble of his voice, and the high-pitched replies. Eventually he stood up, Banished his cigarette and strode away. The elf turned to watch him, and the moonlight illuminated its expression of fond concern before it vanished.
'You'll do no more murder at Hogwarts!' Filius squealed, and Pomona thought that her heart must break, yet it kept on beating as Snape fought them all off, then fled by smashing through a window.
'Coward!' Minerva bellowed. Pomona shook her head, knowing that if Snape had truly meant to kill, at least one of them would be dead. For all Minerva's skill, she was no spring chicken and even Filius, the champion duellist, was out of practise and past his prime. Snape had fought defensively, he had refrained from using the Dark spells that could have destroyed them. He was loyal to the end.
Then Potter shouted that HE was coming, Voldemort was coming to Hogwarts, and they must all do everything they could to defend the school and give the boy time. But before she rushed to rally her Hufflepuffs and collect Tentacula, Devil's Snare and Snargaluff pods, Pomona ducked into an alcove and called 'Tully?'
Her personal Hogwarts elf popped into being in front of her, his ears folded back in alarm.
'Yes, Professor Sprout called Tully?'
'I have a very special task for you,' she whispered, 'I want you to find Professor Snape, keep out of everyone's sight, but follow him.'
'Professor Headmaster?' the elf said doubtfully.
'Yes. He is a good man and he's in terrible danger.'
'We knows,' the elf said solemnly, and Pomona's remaining doubts drained away.
'It is your duty to do your very best to keep our Headmaster safe. Will you do that?'
Tully nodded and vanished with a pop. Then Pomona ran to gather her House.
'I should have known,' Filius lamented, after Harry had revealed Snape's true allegiance and it was all over.
'You did,' Pomona told him, 'but you made the mistake of telling him.' The little man stared at her, then winced and slapped a hand to his forehead.
'Did he Obliviate me?'
'I'm afraid so, although he must have appreciated knowing that someone still believed in him.'
'Did you always believe in him, Pomona?' Minerva asked.
'Mostly, yes.' Pomona folded her hands in her lap. 'We were idiots; we could have discovered his true allegiance easily enough, if we'd thought about it. Who knows everything that goes on at Hogwarts?'
Filius groaned. 'The elves, of course!'
Pomona beamed at him. 'Exactly. They not only obeyed him, they reported everything to him. That was how he was able to prevent the worst of the Carrows' carnage and support the students in hiding. They saved Severus' life because they adore him, and that's as good an indication of his true character that I can think of.'
'They saved his life because YOU suggested they follow him,' Filius pointed out.
Minerva waved her wand at the teapot, which trotted across the table to refill the cups.
'I don't know if I'll ever bring myself to forgive Albus.'
'His plan worked, didn't it?' Horace said, dropping sugar cubes into his tea and frowning at the plate of ginger newts.
'But the sacrifices…'
'My dear, remember the fact that we're alive, and free.' Horace patted Minerva's hand. 'However bad our losses, they were nothing to what we'd have lost if HE had won.' He reached for the biscuits and then paused. 'Does anyone know where we can get those chocolate Hob-nobby things that Severus used to bring?'
The last chocolate Hobnob lay upon the plate, until a thin, nicotine-stained hand seized it. Snape smirked and dunked the biscuit in his tea before eating it. Minerva pursed her lips, Filius snickered into his teacup and Pomona rolled her eyes.
Snape deliberately licked a smear of melted chocolate from his finger before turning to Irma Pince.
'If there's no other business, I declare the staff meeting closed,' he said. Irma nodded, wrote the date and time in the minutes and allowed her parchment to roll up. Snape's voice was still rather hoarse and he had not regained all the weight he had lost in that awful year, but they had their Headmaster back, and he seemed determined to make a success of it second time around.
Pomona smiled. Hogwarts was open again, rather battered but filled with the clamour of students. There were chocolate Hobnobs on the staffroom table. It would soon be Christmas. All was well.