Building Foundations by BlueWater5
Past Featured StorySummary: Seven months after the Battle of Hogwarts, the wards protecting the school still have not been restored to their former strength.
Categories: Snape Equal Status to Harry > Colleague Snape and Harry, Fic Fests > Tri-Writing Tournament 2019 > Round Three Main Characters: .Snape and Harry (required), Flitwick, McGonagall, Other
Snape Flavour: Canon Snape, Kind Snape
Genres: Action/Adventure
Tags: None
Takes Place: 8 - Post Hogwarts (young adult Harry)
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 7947 Read: 3086 Published: 17 Dec 2019 Updated: 20 Dec 2019
Story Notes:
* Entry into Round Three of the 2019 TriWizard Writing Challenge.
Building Foundations by BlueWater5

            Minerva McGonagall involuntarily clenched her wand tightly in frustration.  She had been sure that this time her spell would result in the Hogwarts wards becoming firmly anchored.  She had been wrong.  Although the wards continued to cover the school, until they became firmly anchored they could be overwhelmed by a determined force of those with a grudge from the recent war.  She sighed as she remembered her lost friends, colleagues, and students before heading down through the quiet castle to the staff room.

            “I’d hope to be able to report success” the Headmistress reported as she looked around the table. Warm flames cast a soft glow on the sprigs of fir decorating the room for the winter break.  “Filius, do you have any other suggestions?”

            The half-goblin Charms professor drummed his fingers.  “I was sure the addition of the downward flick at the end of the second circle would result in the melding of the wards with the magical ley lines under the castle.  Perhaps if you …”

            He was interrupted by an incoherent shout by Septima Vector as she bolted upright.  Whipping out her wand, she began drawing equations in the air.  The others were stunned for a moment.  “See here,” began the portly Potions professor, Horace Slughorn.  Minerva cut him off with a brief gesture, willing to wait to see what the Arithmancy professor came up with. 

            The others had waiting in silence for ten minutes and were just about to quietly leave the room when Septima poked her wand with emphasis resulting in one line of the glowing equations surrounding her to turn bright purple.  She leaned back with a tired smile.  “Filius, you’re brilliant.  You just led the unicorn to the glade.”

            While most of the others at the table tried without success to understand the significance of the calculations, Filius Flitwick got up to view them from different angles.  He finally smiled.  “Septima, you are a true credit to our House.”

            Pomona Sprout cleared her throat.  “Now that the Ravenclaw Mutual Admiration Society has concluded its meeting, could one of you tell the rest of us what you’ve come up with?  Will it solve the problem with the wards?”

            Septima beamed.  “Thanks to Filius’ suggestion.  As you can see in this second derivative, the …”

            Filius gently interrupted her by clearing his throat when he saw eyes already beginning to glaze over.  He, unlike Septima, taught First and Second Years.  “If I may.  To summarize Septima’s excellent reasoning, we have the right spell, but in this case the location where it’s cast is critical.  As you know, Hogwarts is located where it is because of and derives its strength from being situated at the intersection of three ley lines.  Where they intersect is the rumored location of the legendary Foundation Stone.  By casting the spell at the exact intersection, we will be able to replicate what the Founders did to protect this school.” 

            Filius held up his hand to quiet the insipient cheers and pushed one of the equations forward with his wand.  “However, the spell needs to be cast as darkness begins to give way to light, on the winter solstice.  Unfortunately, that is coming up in just over a week.  We have to find the Foundation Stone by then, or we will be forced to wait for another year.” 

            Minerva nodded in understanding.  “It’s still a major step forward.  Where exactly do the ley lines cross?”  She thought a moment.  “I would have thought either in the Headmaster’s office or in the middle of the castle.  Since it’s obviously not my office, or my last attempt would have worked, it must be the latter.  Should I try casting the spell in the central courtyard?”

            Filius and Septima shared a look.  Septima absentmindedly pushed one equation around.  “Actually, Headmistress, the lines cross well under ground level, somewhere in the dungeons.”    

            Minerva looked at Horace and Pomona.  “It can’t be that hard to find.  With the Hufflepuff and Slytherin dorms located there, you spend more time in the depths of the school than the other Heads of House.  Do you recall seeing anything that looks like a Foundation Stone?”

            “It most probably is located somewhere under the Headmistress’ office,” added Filius helpfully.

            Horace and Pomona shook their heads.  “I’m sure I would have recognized something of such significance,” said the Potions professor.

            Minerva gave a determined nod.  “I want you two to work with the other staff members.  Divide the dungeons.  I want every corner explored.  There has to be some way to get to the ground underneath my tower.  Report to me when you find it.”

            Though optimistic, the Headmistress was disappointed.  Exploring every corner of the dungeons led to finding stashes of student contraband, dusty classrooms that even the house elves had forgotten, and a storeroom of chains and manacles with suspicious red stains that were quickly vanished, but nothing that led to an area containing the Foundation Stone.

            By the end of the week of searching, Minerva had taken to wandering through the dungeons herself, examining the walls that seemed closest to the foundations of her tower.  It was there Harry Potter found her early one morning as he returned from the office of Professor Slughorn where he had been asking a point of clarification.  The Headmistress was strangely fixated on a section of wall bordered by two statues of wizards with warty noses. 

            Harry had returned to Hogwarts to complete his seventh year along with many of his original year group.  After his time on the run, he’d felt well behind his classmates and had therefore chosen to remain in the castle until Christmas Eve to study. Seeing the Headmistress, he stopped and looked between her and the wall with bemusement.  The wall looked undistinguished to him.  Even the diagonal crack running through it and a small mouse hole in the lower right corner didn’t make it stand out from other sections of the wall.

            Harry cleared his throat.  “Umm, Professor, are you all right?”

            Minerva gave a small start but then smiled at her student.  “Of course.”  She stared at the wall again and tiredly sighed.  “Don’t mind me.  I’m just trying to find a hidden passage in a magical castle by tomorrow.” 

            Harry tilted his head.  “I gather it’s pretty important if you’re here personally.”

            “It’s just the future protection of Hogwarts at stake,” the Headmistress dryly replied.

            “I might have something that can help,” Harry offered, silently thanking Peter Pettigrew for the first time in his life.

            “I’ll take any help you can give.”

            Harry rushed up to his dorm, grabbed the Marauder’s Map, and returned to the dungeons.  Just before reaching the Headmistress, he quietly whispered, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good” to activate the map. 

            The formerly blank parchment was quickly filled with a map of the school.  Focusing on the dungeons, he saw his name and that of McGonagall appear between two tiny drawings of wizards.  On the map, a cartoon bubble appeared from one of the drawings with the words, “Ostende mihi faciem fons.”

            Minerva looked carefully at the map and then raised an eyebrow.  “I won’t ask you at this time where you got such an artifact, or how long you’ve had it.”  She stared hard at Harry.  “I do expect that you use it responsibly, and not to spy on your classmates or instructors.”  She turned to the wizard statue.  “Ostende mihi faciem fons.”

            With a loud creak, the crack widened until it became wide enough for a person to pass through.  A musty smell wafted their way.  “Lumos.”  Minerva held her wand through the crack.  Beyond, the light was lost in the darkness.   

            Harry looked at the map again.  It showed that beyond the crack was a short passageway that ended in a small room which apparently had another statue guarding the far wall.

            “I want to have some of the others with me when I go exploring in case I need their expertise.  We may only have one chance to get this right this year.  Does your device tell you how to close this entrance?”

            From out of the drawing of the other wizard came a bubble with the words, “Fons abscondam.” 

            Harry showed the Headmistress the words.  When she had closed the wall, he turned to her.  “Ma’am, if you don’t mind, I’d like to be with you when you go into that passageway.  I might be able to help.  After all, the Chamber of Secrets needed a Parselmouth to open it.  This might be the same.”

            “That’s quite possible.  Come with me.”  As they headed back to her office, Minerva sent off a Patronus to Horace, Pomona, and Filius asking that they meet her there. 

            Once everyone was gathered in her office, Minerva told them what she had found with Harry’s help.  “I don’t know what’s down there, but it’s leading towards the right location.  I’d like to head down there as soon as we can.”

            Horace cleared his throat.  “Headmistress, I’d like to help, but as you know my knees give me problems when I use the steps too often.  I’m sure you don’t really need me.”

            “I think your knowledge of Slytherin secrets will be invaluable,” Minerva retorted.

            “I’m sure there are others who can help even more.  Why, the Hufflepuff dorms are even closer to the spot that you found than those for the Slytherins.”

            “True, but I would like a Slytherin perspective.  We don’t know what we’re facing.”

            “Very true.”  Horace patted his stomach.  “I know!  Severus would be the ideal person.  I’ve heard he’s mobile again after seven months.  I’m sure he’ll be delighted to return to his old stomping grounds and help out the cause.”

            The others exchanged looks.  “Delighted, probably not.  Able to come here, probably.  Willing to help the school, possibly.”  Minerva sighed.  “He has not accepted my apologies.  Not that I blame him.  I did try to kill him, after all.” 

            “I need to apologize to him as well,” Filius squeaked.  “He was just too good an actor.  I truly believed he worked for He-Who-  Voldemort."  

            “I ignored him for the entire year after being friends with him for over a decade,” Pomona admitted.

            Minerva took a deep breath.  “I’ll approach him.  The worst he can do is say no.”

            Filius chuckled.  “Oh, he can do far worse than that, though I doubt if he will.”

            “Thanks for the encouraging words,” Minerva retorted sharply.

            Harry cleared his throat.  They had almost forgotten he was present.  “As someone who was not here when he was Headmaster until the final battle, and who helped save his life after he was attacked by Nagini, perhaps I should go with you, Headmistress.”

            Minerva drummed her fingers as she thought over Harry’s offer.  “Very well.  Meet me at the front doors to the castle in ten minutes.”

BFBFBF

            A light snow was falling as they stepped out into the courtyard.  Harry tightened the red and gold scarf around his neck.  The Headmistress looked at him critically from behind her own green and blue scarf.  “I appreciate your House loyalty, but that may not be the best thing to wear when we’re asking Severus a favor,” she pointed out.

            Harry looked down at the end of the scarf still in his glove.  “Oh.  I hadn’t thought that.  I just grabbed it from the foot of my bed.”  He took out his wand and changed the colors to light and dark grays. 

            As soon as they passed under the gaze of the winged boars guarding the entrance gate, Minerva took his arm with a questioning look.  “May I?”

            Harry nodded, and felt iron bands around his chest squeeze tighten.  He felt like his eyes were going to pop out of their sockets.  Mercifully, the sensation quickly ended. 

            The snow was falling more thickly where they reappeared after Apparating.  They had arrived in an alleyway.  A scrawny tomcat ran from their sudden appearance.   Minerva transformed an old newspaper which was blowing around into a still warm dead mouse and left it by the side of a garbage can in an apology. 

            As they emerged from the alley, Harry looked around at the grimy, dilapidated brick homes lining the street.  A car sat on a piled of bricks where the tires should have been and papers fluttered around like leaves.  Tin cans rattled as they rolled down the street, making muffled bangs as they ran into each other and curbs. 

            Minerva made her way unhesitantly to the end house.  As they drew nearer, Harry could detect magic in the air.  He put his hand on the wand in his pocket, but Minerva shook her head slightly.  “The phoenix arises from the ashes,” she called out softly.

            Two forms appeared at the end of the short walk.  “Always on guard against the darkness,” came the response.  “Professor!  As always, a pleasure to see you, though you’ll not be welcomed, I imagine.”

            The Headmistress smiled.  “And good to see both of you here.  I imagine you’re putting those warming charms to good use on a day like this.”

            “Aye,” replied the taller man.  “But I supposed it’s too much to hope that ye brought a hot thermos of tea with ye.”

            “Nae, not too much to hope for.”  McGonagall reached inside her cloak for a tall container.  “I’d not want you to suffer more than needed.”

            The two nodded their appreciation and faded once again as they recast their notice-me-not charms.  Minerva took a deep breath as if preparing for battle.  “Well, time to beard the dragon.”

            Harry grimaced.  “I suppose it’s too late to back out,” he said, only half jokingly.

            “What, and miss the excitement?  Look sharp, now.”  She knocked at the door.

            Nothing happened.

            Minerva knocked again, more loudly.  “Severus Snape!  I know you’re at home.  Don’t leave an old woman out in the cold – I know your mother taught you better than that.”

            From inside they heard a dull thumping sound come nearer.  The door opened.  “You’d be surprised at what my mother taught me,” said the gravelly voice, surprisingly soft until Harry remembered that Nagini had tried to rip Snape’s throat apart, and then he was surprised there was any sound at all. 

            Snape looked displeased to see McGonagall, and even more so when he noticed Harry standing next to her.  Harry had the wild thought that it wouldn’t have made any difference if he’d left his scarf its original colors.  Snape tried to shut the door in their faces, but the Headmistress was too quick.  “Thank you for inviting us in,” she said imperiously as she crossed the threshold.

            Harry shut the door behind him.  Snape was using a cane, but unlike Malfoy’s, it was a practical one of wood without decorations except for the natural grain.  He was even skinnier than he had appeared at Hogwarts, though part of that may have been because he was missing the voluminous, billowing robes that Harry automatically associated with the Potions Master.  Instead, Harry was reminded of the scrawny cat that was hopefully eating the present the Headmistress had left behind.

            The room itself was dark, the shades drawn and only a dim, candle-lit lamp hanging from the ceiling providing light.  Dark bookcases lined the walls.  A threadbare couch and equally threadbare chair were located in front of a fireplace that was casting off heat too warm to be comfortable.  An end table that looked too rickety to be able to support the weight of books upon it sat between the chair and the couch.  A round table piled with stacks of parchments and a few open books with a single chair in front of it sat in one corner.

            “I’ve brought you some gifts from the house-elves.  When they found out I was visiting you today they insisted on loading me down.”  Minerva pulled out handkerchief and transformed it into a sturdy refectory table.  She then withdrew a bag from her cloak that she expanded.  She began to take box after box from it, setting them on the new table.  “Everything has a preservation charm on it, of course, though I recommend you eat the pot roast in the next day or two – for some reason the charm makes it gamey if you wait longer than that.”  She took off her scarf and cloak, tossing them across the back of the chair by the round table and sitting down on the couch. 

            Snape looked torn between biting her head off for her presumption and expressing his appreciation for the aromatic bounty that made his stomach rumble.  He settled on ignoring the gifts and limping over to the chair.  He looked sharply at Harry.  “Don’t just stand there like the idiot you are, Potter.  Sit.”  Harry bristled but remained silent as he took a seat next to the Headmistress.

            “I know you, Minerva.  This is not a social call.  What do you demand of me now?”  He gave Harry an appraising look.  “It must be something big if you insisted on dragging in Potter to remind me of my life debt.”

            “You don’t owe me anything!” Harry was so surprised by Snape’s statement that he sat bolt upright.  “I didn’t come here to demand anything!”

            “Ach, Severus, can’t an old friend just come by to enjoy a cuppa?”

            Snape raised an eyebrow.  “Please, Minerva.  Use that inner Gryffindor and come to the point.  You’ve never been good at Slytherin games.  Or Hufflepuff loyalty,” he added bitingly. 

            Minerva looked stricken.  “Please, Severus.  I’ve apologized over and over, and will keep doing so until you’ve accepted it.   You were just too good an actor, and you and Albus kept things too close to the chest.”

            Snape snorted.  “And you wonder why I don’t accept your apologies.  You always have to justify your actions.”

            “Not justify!  I’m just trying to explain why I believed the worst of you.  I am sorry for that, deeply and wholly so.  Can’t we be friends again?  I’ve missed you.”

            “Do you think I want a friend who believes the worst of me?”  Snape’s tone was almost clinical rather than harsh. 

            Harry was feeling more and more uncomfortable.  He was beginning to regret coming along.  Between Snape believing he had done so to collect on a debt and the embarrassment of seeing two professors at figurative wandpoint, he wanted to disappear.  He sank as deep as he could into the far end of the couch, feeling a painful spring on his shoulder blade.

            The movement caught the eye of the other two.  Minerva sighed and returned to the purpose of her visit.  “You’re right about one thing, Severus.  I need your help.  Or rather, the school needs your help.  Even if you don’t like or trust me anymore, please help the school.”

            Snape nodded to himself, pleased that his deduction about the visit was correct.  He Summoned a pot of tea and, to Harry’s surprise, three cups, but not, Harry noticed, any cream, sugar, lemon, scones or biscuits.  Not to his surprise, the closest cup to him had a broken handle.

            Snape poured himself a cup but pointedly let the others take care of themselves.  He leaned back, took an appreciative sniff of the tea, then looked at McGonagall.  “Well?”

            Minerva busied herself for a moment pouring tea for both herself and Harry.  It looked for a moment that she was going to Reparo Harry’s cup and Summon cream or sugar from the kitchen, but stopped when she realized that would be presumptuous.  She finally looked back at Severus.  “I need your assistance to reset the wards.”

            Snape did not look surprised.  “I imagine they were fairly heavily damaged during the battle.”

            “Aye.  Although we were able to get some rudimentary wards up within days, it’s taken seven months of research to find out how the Founders developed and anchored them.  I feel confident that I know the spell now, but it’s the anchoring that’s the problem.  Right now the wards are acting like a giant bubble around the castle.  Theoretically, a determined opponent could lift them up and move them over.  Septima was finally able to calculate that I need to set the wards at the exact intersection of the three ley lines that lay under the school, the location of the Foundation Stone. That spot is somewhere under the Headmaster’s Office.  Thanks to Harry here, I think we’ve found a passage to that spot, but as the former Head of Slytherin, I’d like your help in exploring that corridor.”

            “I thought Horace was still at the school.”

            Minerva snorted.  “He comes up with one excuse after another as to why he can’t.  I think he’s afraid of what might be down there.”

            Severus tapped a forefinger against his cup.  “Do you think my status as Headmaster-in-Exile has any bearing on you being unable to anchor the wards?”

            “Headmaster-in- … Are you telling me the castle still recognizes you as Headmaster?”

            Severus shrugged.  “Perhaps.  I still feel the castle’s burdens.”

            “Severus Snape!  In all the times I’ve visited you, you never thought to mention this?”

            Snape smirked.  “You never asked, and until now I’ve never thought it could impact your ability to do your job.  I certainly don’t want it back.”

            “If it does, it’s even more important that you come back with me.  Please, Severus.  You’ve given so much to help the school and the students.  Help protect them one last time. After this, I won’t bother you again.”

            “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Minerva.  Besides even if I wanted to, there’s the not-so-small problem of the two aurors out there.”  Snape leaned back with his eyes half closed.

            McGonagall’s confusion was evident.  “How is that a problem?”

            “Though they’ve not stopped me from visiting the local stores, I seriously doubt they’ll want me to leave the confines of this scenic locale.”

            “Not stopped you … Severus, do you think they’re keeping you prisoner?”

            Snape shrugged.  “What else am I to think when they tail me like a crup chasing a niffler?”

            “You may be a very smart man, but sometimes you can be a fool,” Minerva said as she leaned forward.  Harry, in contrast, leaned back, waiting for the fireworks.  “Don’t you realize the two are there to protect you from those who threaten you?”

            Snape was perfectly still as he assimilated this new information.  Finally, he nodded.  “Very well, I’ll see if I can add anything.”  He glanced over at Harry.  “Wipe that grin off your face, Potter.  It’s not like I have a choice.”  He used his cane to help himself to stand.  “Give me a few minutes to get prepared.”

BFBFBF

            Snape stood quietly for a moment when they arrived outside the gates of the school, ignoring the falling snow as he stared up at the castle.  Harry began to stomp his boots to keep warm.

            Finally Severus turned to Minerva.  “I had felt how weak the wards were while at my home, but I thought that was because of the distance.  I didn’t realize that they inadequately  protect the castle.”

            Minerva motioned him forward.  “Aye,” she replied grimly.  “And I fear for the school if we cannot fix the problem in time.”

            Because Snape could not walk at his previous quick gait, the walk from the gate up to the castle was slower than the walk down.  McGonagall used an umbrella charm to keep the snow away from their hats and cloaks.  As soon as they passed through the doors, they used drying charms on their boots. 

            Filius was waiting for them, having been alerted when they passed by the winged boars.  He gave a brief bow to Minerva before turning to Snape.  Uncharacteristically, his fingers clenched and unclenched with nervousness.  “Severus!” he squeaked.  “I’m so happy to see you and to offer you my deepest and abject apologies for my disbelief in your loyalties and for my action which caused you great trouble in the last year.”

            Snape merely looked at him coldly.  “I assume you include your attempts to kill me in that apology, Professor Flitwick?”

            “I … I … Of course, Professor Snape, and a further apology for my presumption of familiarity.”  The Charms Professor’s look reminded Harry of a hungry crup puppy he had once seen begging for a sausage.

            Snape nodded curtly.  “In the interest working together for the sake of current and future students, your apology is accepted, Professor.” 

            Filius bowed deeply.  “I shall endeavor to exhibit belief and behavior as such to regain your confidence, trust, and friendship.  I vow to continue to do so until I do.”

            As he finished, a cry of “Severus!” was heard from the top of the stairs.  A squat little witch with short, gray, wavy hair bustled towards him.  Alarmed, Snape held his cane in front of him.  Pomona merely stopped just shy of the cane.  She reached out with both arms.  “Oh, I am so happy to see you, Severus!  I’ve missed you!”

            “Yes, target practice is much more fun when it’s challenging due to the target fighting back.  With a handicap, mind you, of not wanting to injure you while you would be happy to obliterate the target.” 

            Tears began welling up in Pomona’s eyes.  “It was never fun.  I truly mean that.  I was devastated.”

            Snape sighed.  “And I missed having your support, Professor Sprout, but as Professors McGonagall and Flitwick pointed out, I suppose I am in some way responsible for being good at my job.”

            “Just so, Sever – Professor Snape.”  She brightened up.  “Perhaps we can begin by exploring this rediscovered room in the dungeons."

            The Headmistress nodded.  “Harry, lead the way.” 

            They did not come across anyone else on the way to the statues of the two wizards.  The portraits, however, became crowded as word got out that Headmaster Snape had returned.  Severus ignored the cheering and clapping as well as the occasional hissing.  However, when the ghosts began to congregate as well, preventing Harry and the others from moving forward unless they wanted to walk through them, he’d had enough.

            “There’s no need to for you to apologize,” he said irately.  “You never opposed me, and in fact did what you could to help me keep the students from the Carrows, and for that I thank you.”

            “We are merely happy to see you return, Headmaster.  We had heard the news of your survival, of course, but have not had the chance to offer our personal congratulations on your role in the defense of Hogwarts students,” declared the Bloody Baron.

             “I did what was necessary,” countered Severus.  “As I continue to do.  Perhaps you can help me once again.  Are you familiar with the Foundation Stone?”

            “An object lost to the ages,” whispered the Gray Lady.  “Even in my time it was but a legend.”

            “A legend which has a basis in fact,” countered Snape.  “After all, the ley lines do meet under the castle, and some stone had to be the first one laid.”

            “Adroitly argued,” agreed the Fat Friar.  “Alas, we cannot help.”

            “Then allow us to pass,” declared McGonagall, taking charge.  After looking at Snape for confirmation, they reluctantly drifted away.

            When they came to the statue of the wizards, Minerva did not hesitate to utter the words to expand the crack.  The others followed her example of casting Lumos and followed her into the long hidden hallway.  

            At the end of the passageway they came to a room which had obviously not been disturbed in ages.  Only a few pieces of rotted wood that were obviously the remains of long ago furnishings littered the floor.  Tattered spider webs, long abandoned due to a lack of prey, were in the corners.  In the light cast by the multiple Lumos spells, dust motes, disturbed by their entrance, could be seen drifting slowing back down to the ground.  Out of the gloom, against the far wall stood a statue of a witch who was holding a stone broom of a model so antiquated that it may have been one of the original ones ever spelled to fly.  Harry glanced down at the map.  It did not show any exits from the room other than the way they came in.  The room was so desolate he felt the urge to leave.      

            From the expressions on the other faces he saw, the rest agreed with Harry’s sense of disappointment, particularly acute after being sure the room would lead to someplace of significance to their quest.  The Headmistress looked discouraged.  There was no reason to remain any longer.  No one spoke.

            As the others gathered by the exit back to the hallway, Harry noticed Snape wasn’t with them.  Looking around, he saw Snape approaching the statue of the witch.  Harry walked towards Snape to let him know that everyone was leaving.  Looking at the map one last time, he was not surprised when it did not show any words coming from the witch’s mouth.  “Umm, Professor?” he began hesitantly.  “I don’t think …”

            Snape ignored him.  After carefully studying the statue from multiple angles, he suddenly tapped the witch’s wand with his own.  To everyone’s shock, she began to sweep to her right.  As she did, the dust cloud that arose glittered strangely.  It seemed to melt away the rock wall behind her.  In the void they could see a narrow, curving stairwell leading into the gloomy depths below.

            McGonagall shook her head and came over to stand by Severus’ side.  “Amazing!” she gasped as she looked down.  “How did you know to do that?”  The others joined her.

            “I suspected the room was protected with a go-away charm, similar to the one that guards the castle as a whole and keeps it from being approached by muggles,” Snape said distractedly as he leaned over the stairs as well. 

            Filius was quivering with excitement.  “I could almost feel the charm lift when the hidden door opened!  Another castle secret uncovered!  But how were you not affected, Sev – Professor Snape?  What made you cast the spell you did to open this secret stairwell?”

            Snape shrugged.  “Perhaps because as an Occlumens I’m used to guarding my thoughts against intrusions, whether by wizards or castles.  Or perhaps the school remembers my position as Headmaster, cursed time though it was.”

            “I suspect the former, Severus.  I was getting the same impression as everyone else that there was nothing here and no reason to stay or explore,” Minerva stated abstractedly.  She stood upright.  “I don’t see anything obvious, but that means nothing.  Wands out, everyone.”  With that, she started down the stairs.  Harry found himself following Snape.  Behind him was Sprout, with Flitwick pulling up the rear.

            No handrail existed to steady the group as they made their way down on the rough stone staircase. Snape’s cane made an irregular tapping sound as he followed Minerva.  Progress was slow as caution was needed on the uneven steps.  The stairwell itself grew more narrow until the rough walls brushed against both sides of all except Filius.  McGonagall suddenly held up a hand.   “Do you hear that?” she whispered.

            As the echo of the footsteps died away, they could all the distant drip of water.  Snape pointed his wand upward and they could all see a dark patch of what looked to be moss growing just above head level.  Fluorescent specks of light glowed within it.  Flicking his light forward they could all see the strange moss covering more of the wall.

            Pomona stood on her toes to look.  “Don’t touch that!” she warned.  She performed a complicated swirl with her wand.  In response, the moss emitted a sickly chartreuse smoke.  The Herbology witch flicked the smoke away.  “That’s called Satan’s Revenge.  It’s toxic if it gets on your bare skin.  Be careful where you put your hands,” she informed them in a quiet voice.

            Snape looked at her.  “But safe to handle with gloves?”  At her nod, he carefully hooked his cane over one arm so he could use his wand to scrape off a patch and put it in a vial he produced from a hidden pocket.  McGonagall turned around and resumed heading down to hide a small smile.  Severus was recovering his spirit.

            Her smile disappeared as she made another rotation and found their way blocked.  Those in back could not see what was happening and jostled those in front forward.  She was pushed towards the wall.  She saw a patch of Satan’s Revenge just in time to avoid putting her hand on it. 

            “What’s happening?  Why have we stopped?” came Filius’ voice.

            “A wall’s in our way,” grumbled the Headmistress.  “Alohamora!  Alohamora maximus!”  Nothing happened.  “Bom –”

            “Stop!” hissed Severus.  “Gryffindors!  Let’s look around first before we try blasting our way through who knows what into who knows where.”

            “As long as You-Know-Who doesn’t greet us,” Harry couldn’t resist adding.

            Snape snorted, but Harry would have sworn he saw a hint of a smile on his face.

            Leaning around McGonagall, Snape tried to examine every inch of the wall.  “There!”  he exclaimed.  “Along the floor!  There’s a carving of a snake that starts on one side and continues all the way around to the other.  Potter – are you still a Parselmouth?”

            “It’s hopefully the only vestige of Voldemort I still have,” Harry replied.  He focused on the carving.  As he did, his field of vision narrowed and he began to be hypnotized by the intricate patterns made by the scales.  They began to twist in the light of the Lumos spells as the snake seemed to come to life.  Harry made a horrible strangled hissing noise.

            At his unearthly hiss, the others instinctively shuddered.  Snape stilled for a moment, the sound bringing back too many bad memories.  He shook them off as the wall in front of them was drawn up into the ceiling.

            They all had to close their eyes at the brightness which met them after the gloom of the steps down.  As their eyes adjusted, they slowly entered a classroom-sized area.  It was dazzlingly bright.  Harry tried to figure out how so much light could be found so deep underground.  When he noticed the walls, ceiling, and floor were so highly reflective that they were almost mirrors he had his answer.  A single flame suspended in mid-air plus the reflections of the five Lumos spells were all reflected in every direction.  The door behind them lowered back down, trapping them.  The inside of the door, like the rest of the room, was reflective.

            “Nox.”  The group quickly doused the lights from their wands, though they kept them at the ready.  With the habit of people long used to battle, they instinctively formed a circle facing outwards, looking for threats.

            Nothing appeared.

            One by one they lowered their wands.  They hesitantly began to walk around the room. 

            Pomona was the one who stumbled against the transparent table.  Catching her balance, she used words Harry never suspected the mild-mannered witch as knowing while hopping on one leg, rubbing the other with her hand.

            The Headmistress rushed over.  “Do you need a healing spell?” she asked with concern.

            Pomona shook her head.  “No, I’m more embarrassed than anything else.  How could I not have seen the table?”

            “Because it blended into the room,” Filius reassured her.  He examined the table carefully.  “Look, everyone, there are runes engraved on the surface!”

            The group gathered around the table.  McGonagall squinted at them.  “I think they look like Younger Futhark, but they seem to be in a strange configuration.”

            Filius rubbed his hands together.  “Marvelous!  Don’t you see the dotted variant here?  And I believe this is the oldest appearance ever seen of …”

            Snape cleared his throat.  “Historical development aside, can you understand what it says?”

            “Let me see …” Filius walked around the table, hopped on top of the table at one point, and then crawled underneath it, looking at the runes from below while the others watched in silence, unwilling to risk destroying his concentration.  Finally he stood up beaming.  “This is worth several articles in Ars Amuletum.  Marvelous how the charm imbibes both the magic of the place and of the caster, notwithstanding the equilibrium of the transaxle motion!  And this addition …”

            McGonagall held up her hand.  “I’m sure we’ll all want to read those articles.  In the meantime, can you cast it?”

            “Why of course, Headmistress!”  With a complicated wand movement that no one could follow, Filius incanted a spell that sounded vaguely Nordic with Latin overtones.  When he was done, the flame overhead dimmed, and the mirror opposite of where they had entered suddenly extruded a handle.  Minerva took a deep breath and pulled.

            Nothing happened.

            Minerva leaned against the door to get a better grip on the handle, and then tumbled forward into the next room as it swung open. 

            Following her into the room, the others politely ignored her as she straightened her cloak with an embarrassed look.  One by one they recast Lumos.  After the brilliance of the mirror room their eyes took a minute to become adjusted to the much dimmer chamber.  It was undistinguished – a small bare room with more stone walls.  Severus began to walk around the perimeter of the room, the click of his cane marking his progress.  Suddenly, a brilliant flash of color came from where his cane had struck one of the large stones at the base of the wall.  “I think we may have found what we were looking for,” he announced.

            The others came over.  Dull but unmistakably, the Hogwarts crest could be seen, familiar yet strangely different than the one seen in the Hogwarts Great Hall.  The four animals were intertwined.  The snake had its head wrapped around one of the lion’s front legs and the eagle perched on its tail.  The badger’s head rested upon one of the lion’s back legs and one of the eagle’s wings lay on its back. 

            “What do you make of that?” asked Harry as he knelt down to get a closer look.

            “I believe it shows a closer tie among the houses,” Snape murmured.  “Isn’t that what the Talking Hat is always going on about?”

            McGonagall nodded absentmindedly.  “I don’t know when we became so divided.  Perhaps it’s time to resurrect this version of the crest.”

            Flitwick cleared his throat.  “A worthy suggestion, Headmistress, but perhaps we should see if Septima’s calculations were correct first.  We must be running out of time.  The solstice lasts but a short time.”

            Minerva shook the sleeves of her robe back.  She began the incantation she had memorized.

            A slight breeze came from nowhere as she continued.  Impelled by an unknown force, Minerva turned around in a circle as she continued, getting louder.  The others backed away, but she turned back to the stone as her voice dropped again.  Finally she knelt and touched her wand to the middle of the crest. 

            The breeze became a gale.  The others held onto each other to keep from being blown against the wall.  Minerva began to perspire with her effort, sweat rolling into her eyes.  She blinked but kept her wand steady.  Pomona and Filius tried to move forward to help her, but were swept back by a particularly strong gust.

            Severus fought his way forward, bending his head against the wind.  When he reached Minerva, he knelt down as well so he could brace himself with one hand, and pressed the tip of his wand against that of McGonagall’s.  The howling gale increased in strength as Minerva and Severus struggled to keep their position. 

            Seeing that the two were about to be lose their battle against the wind, Harry held one arm up to prevent his glasses from being torn off as he inched his way forward.  Reaching the pair, he protectively wrapped an arm around each one to buttress them against the swirling winds.  The three began to glow.

            Suddenly everyone in the room felt more than heard the echo of a weight being dropped on the grounds of the castle.  The gale abruptly ended and the three tumbled backwards.  Harry rubbed the back of his head and slowly staggered to his feet.  He reached down to help McGonagall to her feet as Pomona rushed over to assist Severus and Filius retrieved Snape’s cane.  Severus nodded his thanks to both. 

            “Thank you, Severus, and you too, Harry” Minerva panted.  “I don’t think I could have held on without your assistance.”

            Filius looked up from where he’d been examining the now vibrantly colored school crest.  “I certainly hope that was the wards being anchored as I never want to go through that again.  May I suggest that our next order of business is to find our way out of here.  As you remember, the door we took into the mirror room closed behind us. Any suggestions?”

            Minerva looked around.  “Yes, we definitely need to find another doorway.”  At her words, a section of the wall rumbled open, showing a stairway leading upwards. 

            Pomona shone her wand up the stairwell.  “If we’re lucky this will take us right to your office, Headmistress.” 

            Harry smiled.  “I love magic!”

BFBFBF

            Sprout was right.  After a steep climb up, the group found themselves at a door.  When they opened it, they found themselves looking into the back of a bookcase in the Headmistress’ office, which Minerva moved out of the way impatiently.

            “Interesting place for a bookcase, Minerva,” Snape declared.

            “Oh, hush you.  That was there when I moved in.  In fact, I don’t think you’d moved it – I think it was there when – well, that it’s been there for decades, if not centuries.”

            Snape nodded.  “You’re probably right.  I’d have to check Hogwarts: A History to find out the last time the wards were re-anchored.”

            “Probably in the time of Antonia Creaseworthy,” announced Everard’s portrait with a slight yawn, though Harry thought it was for show.  “That’s how she became a Dame, you know.”

            A small portrait of a witch wearing a blue dress, a green robe, and a feathered headdress waved regally.    

            “You mean I could have just asked you and gone down the stairs here?” Minerva sputtered.

            “Oh no, my dear,” replied the brown haired witch.  “You must prove yourself worthy.”

            Minerva snorted.  She felt for the wards, and when she determined that they were in fact fully anchored, Summoned a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky and five glasses.  “I think we deserve to reward ourselves.”  She poured out five glasses and arranged chairs around the fireplace which was decorated with a garland of evergreen branches woven together.  As Minerva was about to hand a glass to Harry she stopped herself and transformed it into a cup of steaming hot chocolate.  At Harry’s downcast expression she added whipped cream and marshmallows.   

            Snape took his glass and limped over to the windows.  He looked at the snow now falling heavily in the final light of the shortest day of the year. 

            Feeling a bit awkward in joining his professors at the table, Harry walked over to the window as well, though carefully keeping a distance from Snape.  He set his cup on the ledge. 

            “The snow is covering the remaining vestiges of damage due to the battle,” Harry said quietly.

            Snape spun his glass in his hand.  “It’s giving the grounds a new beginning,” he replied.  He paused.  “You did well.”  Harry wasn’t sure whether Snape was referring to the events of the day or the war.

            “So did you, sir.”  Severus accepted his words without comment but lifted his glass in a silent toast between soldiers.

            Minerva was still contemplating Antonia’s remarks.  “I would have thought just being Headmistress would be enough to prove my worth.  After all, the doors of the office only open to those Hogwarts considers true Masters of the school.”

            Pomona coughed, and Harry swore he heart a muttered “Umbridge” under her breath.

            “That was the hardest spell I ever cast,” continued a weary Minerva as she leaned back.

             “That is because the spell needed the strength of all living Headmasters to succeed,” Creaseworthy explained.    

            Snape winced at the memory of his predecessor’s death.  Dumbledore’s portrait cleared his throat.  “Severus, you know you but aided me and did what I asked,” he said quietly. 

            After waiting until he saw Snape’s small nod of acknowledgement, Dumbledore’s portrait then unwrapped a sherbet lemon candy as he turned to the rest of the group.  “But more than just Headmasters are needed.  After all, what is a school without students?  The spell also needed the participation of a representative student.  That would ensure it was not misused.”

            Minerva looked over to the window where Severus and Harry were standing.  “Once again, Hogwarts in indebted to the both of you.” 

            Severus limped back to the group followed by Harry.  Snape looked disdainfully at the unoccupied chair in front of the fire.  He casually froze its pattern, which had been showing flower petals ever blooming before falling off and regrowing.  He then carefully sat down.  Harry took the remaining chair furthest away from the blaze.

            “I think there’s more to Antonia’s point, Minerva,” Snape said quietly.  “When she said you had to prove yourself, I don’t think she meant you personally.”

            Creaseworthy smiled enigmatically. 

            “What do you mean Sev- Professor Snape?” asked Filius as Minerva looked on questioningly. 

            “Severus is fine, Filius,” Snape sighed. 

            Filius beamed.  At Sprout’s hopeful look, he added, “For you too, Pomona.”  Her face radiated joy.

            “Consider the crest,” Severus explained.  “It showed the four Houses more tightly bound than the one we use today.  Consider too the path we took today.  It required skills from people from all the Houses.  I think Hogwarts wants to make sure the people anchoring the wards know that outer strength must be complemented by inner unity among Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw.”

            “Hear, hear,” applauded the Talking Hat.  “Isn’t that what I try to get across every year?”

            Minerva raised her glass.  “Restoring this unity will be my priority during the rest of my tenure.  Students must think of themselves as part of Hogwarts, not just as a member of their house.”

            The group raised their drinks in a pledge of their support.

 

 

The End.


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