The Slytherin's Choice: Horace Slughorn
October 26, 1997
The fire crackled as the logs slowly burned down. The glow from the embers was the only light in the room. Horace Slughorn was slumped down in a dark blue overstuffed chair; his green eyes studied the flames as they dwindled down. He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there, drink in hand. The ice in his whiskey had melted down long ago. This is how he spent most of his evenings these days.
It had been a long time since Horace had felt this lonely. He was extremely social by nature, even in his youth. When he was a professor, he hosted parties for the students and even entertained his fellow staff with an occasional drink or dinner. In retirement he found himself the guest of many a celebrity and politician. It wasn't until Tom Riddle had made his return and he had to go on the run, that he found himself lonely. Horace did not like to be lonely.
Although he had avoided Albus at first, Horace had been secretly incredibly happy to return to Hogwarts. Of course, he had known what the old man had wanted from him. But it did his heart good to return to the school. Everyone had been so welcoming, and he had forgotten the joy and wonder that the children approached life with. Although, he had to admit, joy was hard to find these days.
And Horace loved teaching. Although his students were more subdued this year, it didn't mean he shouldn't devote every ounce of his energy into teaching his classes. He had been at Hogwarts during difficult times before, even when Tom Riddle had opened the Chamber of Secrets. Horace had always thought that the best way to show his support for his students was to be the best teacher he could be. So, he encouraged, guided, and praised every child who stood in his classroom.
However, once the children had gone back to their dormitories, Horace found himself alone. There was no Slug Club this year or chats by the fireside in the Staff Room. The Death Eaters who roamed the hallways were doing their best to make everyone feel as isolated as possible; and to tell the truth, it was working. Of course, Alecto and Amycus had invited their old Head of House to join them for a night cap on occasion. The thought of spending the evening with those dark souls sent a chill down Horace's spine. He was smart enough to know though, that he did not want to make direct enemies of the Carrow siblings. As long as those two thought of him as a fellow Slytherin, he could keep the children safe.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Horace blinked and shifted in his chair. Glancing around the room, he looked for the source of the noise. Had he actually heard something? Or was it just his nerves and the whiskey? The clock on the mantle showed it was just past ten in the evening. Not so late that he should be sleeping, but too late for anyone to be out in the hallway.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
There it was again, although a little firmer this time. Horace rose from his chair as the realization dawned on him: someone was knocking on his door. The knock was so quiet though that he didn't know how anyone expected him to hear it. Nevertheless, he straightened his rumbled robes and went to answer it.
To his great surprise three first year girls were standing hand-in-hand in the hallway. The poor child in the middle had tear tracks on her cheeks. His brain automatically supplied their names: Lessie Nettle, Evangeline Evergreen, and Alberta Bitterwood. All three had been sorted into Slytherin this year. Horace wasn't very good at remembering names, but every year he took extra care to remember every first year in his house, just to make sure they felt at home.
"My goodness, girls, whatever is the matter?" he asked as he swept his arms open, welcoming them into his rooms. Alberta, the dark-haired girl with narrow eyes practically dragged the whimpering Lessie across the doorway. Evangeline followed quietly, her round blue eyes staring up at Horace.
Horace ushered them over to a plush couch and summoned his own chair to sit with them. Lessie's blonde hair draped over her face as her shoulders shook. Evangeline patted her softly on the back and held her hand. Three glasses of water appeared on a small end table for them.
"Now, Miss Bitterwood, would you like to tell me why Miss Nettle is so upset?"
Alberta and Evangeline exchanged a glance far more mature than their eleven years. Alberta tilted her chin up and replied, "She doesn't want to be a Slytherin anymore. We have decided that we would like to be sorted into a different house."
Horace had to sit back in his chair. Every head of house had experienced a student who did not believe they had been sorted into the correct house. Usually there were two reasons for this: one, the student did not believe they possessed the qualities required of them to be a good House member; or two, the student had come from a family that had primarily belonged to another house. Horace had counseled quite a few Slytherins on why they should be proud to be in his house and usually, all had left with a feeling of satisfaction and house pride.
Tonight, he had a sinking feeling that the conversation would be a little different. Producing a handkerchief from his pocket, he handed it to young Lessie. And as gently as possible, he asked, "Why don't you want to be a Slytherin?"
Lessie sniffled, seemingly unable to answer. But her two friends encouraged her and finally she squeaked, "Everyone hates us."
"Oh, my dear child, I don't believe that's true." Horace felt his heart breaking.
"I'm not mean, and I don't hate muggleborns, and I don't want to be a Death Eater!" Her words came out in a rush now. "I don't want to hate anyone!"
"They say that only the bad wizards are in Slytherin!" added Evangeline. Horace noticed that Alberta hadn't said anything. She was a pureblood. Not from a well-known family, but a pureblood all the same. Both Lessie and Evangeline had a muggle relative somewhere in their family tree. So, not quite half-bloods, but they couldn't claim a pureblood status.
Horace passed one of the glasses of water to Lessie as she tried to control her tears. "Do you think I'm a bad wizard? Or that I hate any of my students that aren't in Slytherin?"
The girls stared back at him. Both Lessie and Evangeline shook their heads side to side tentatively. Alberta crossed her arms and straightened up even taller. Or at least, taller for an eleven-year-old. "But you're a teacher. You're supposed to like everyone."
"Perhaps that's true. And it is also true that there have been several Slytherins who made choices in their lives to hate those not like them."
"Like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," whispered Evangeline.
"Yes. And many of his followers." There was no point in lying to them. Tom Riddle had been in his house. As had the Carrows and Severus Snape. His Slytherins were far too clever to be lied to. And Horace knew only honesty would gain their trust. "I have taught a few students who chose hatred and darkness over inclusion and joy. But I have taught so many more that did not. Although it does not seem like it now, those who shine brightly in Slytherin far outweigh those who chose a darker path."
"But the other Slytherins act like they're better than everyone else. They are saying that we need to get rid of the muggleborns and keep the magic pure. People in our house are supposed to be powerful and become Death Eaters." Lessie started crying again at Alberta's words.
Evangeline added, "So we don't want to be in Slytherin anymore."
"Unfortunately, many of the students hear those words at home. And some hear it from other adults in their lives. You are all too young to have true hate in your hearts. Often, it is hard to stand up to those who raised us, even if we know they are wrong. Many of your housemates may not believe what they are saying but are too scared to say anything about it." Horace knew something about this himself.
Leaning back in his chair, he continued. "The three of you have a lot of courage coming to me. It would make you excellent Gryffindors, in fact. And intelligent too, seeking out my counsel to discuss your fears and ask for help. Ravenclaws have those qualities. Your loyalty to each other and the desire to stand up for yourselves, why, you could even be Hufflepuffs."
"So, you can resort us?" asked Alberta. Oh, she would for sure be a member of his Slug Club in years to come. He liked her.
"But wouldn't you like to know why the sorting hat put you in Slytherin?" All three girls stared back at him, silent. "I will admit that often Slytherin's find their true traits often do not bloom until they have been in school for a few years. But the Sorting Hat can see the parts of you that you may not recognize yet. For example, it is a trait of Slytherins to form tight bonds with those in their house."
"Like the Death Eaters?"
"Yes, that is one example. Another is a very successful Quidditch team because they have bonded as a team in a way those of another house could not. Or perhaps a group of friends that trust each other implicitly that their friendship will last a lifetime. Much like your own. You did not know each other before being sorted into Slytherin, did you?"
"We met at the Welcoming Feast," answered Evangeline, clutching Lessie's hand.
"And you trusted each other enough to share your fears about being in Slytherin with each other. Not all students would have done that. Slytherins are also known for their daring. Which is a bit different than courage. You see, it took courage to come to a professor to ask to switch houses. But it took boldness to come to the Head of Slytherin."
He watched his words sink in slowly. Horace pressed on, saying, "I have seen intelligence in your work in my class. Miss Bitterwood, even as an eleven-year-old, you are very cunning, whether you know it now or not. And Miss Evergreen, I have heard you say you will be Minister of Magic before you are thirty. And with much authority for a young lady of your age. That is quite an ambition. And I believe you will be, because you think you will be."
Lessie wiped her tears from her face and gave a little sniffle. "What about me? I'm not cunning or ambitious."
"As a…em, well-seasoned, Slytherin, I can tell you that not all of us display such traits so outwardly or so early in life. But if I must say, I do believe you are cunning and loyal. I also believe that Slytherin house needs people just like you. A young woman with a pure heart and the strength to go her own way, even when faced with great opposition. I believe Slytherin House is good hands with the three of you."
The girls were all holding hands again. Alberta eased the other two off the couch. Horace's chest swelled with pride at the three young Slytherins. That is, if they still wanted to be Slytherins. Lessie cleared her throat and told him with no hesitation, "We will take this under advisement. When we reach a decision about if we want to stay in Slytherin, we will let you know."
May 2, 1998
"You see?" The echo of Tom Riddle's voice carried into the streets of Hogsmeade where Horace stood beside Charlie Weasley. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
Horace felt his heart drop. Harry Potter, dead? It couldn't be. He looked out in the darkness toward where the castle stood. A glow could be seen over the tallest towers. Hogwarts was burning and Harry Potter was dead. The feeling of dread was growing within him.
Around him, the gathering crowd whispered in fear. The shop owners of Hogsmeade had been hesitant to get involved in the battle brewing at the castle. Horace had been attempting to corral the young students who had evacuated. Luckily, there was an owlery in town, so the children had been sending messages to their family.
To Horace's surprise, many of the parents that arrived to gather their children sent them home to safety, but had remained, ready to take on the Death Eaters. Word had spread that Hogwarts was making a stand against Lord Voldemort and his followers and people were coming to help. Using owls, the floo network, and some magical coins, people were flooding into Hogsmeade to fight.
"We've got to get in there," said Charlie, more to himself than anyone else. Horace had not taught Charlie Weasley, having only taught two of the set of seven. He had of course, taught their parents. In Horace's opinion, Ronald's most redeeming quality was his choice of friends. But that Ginerva made an excellent addition to his collection. She was going to go far; or she would if she survived this.
"Didn't you hear him?!" shouted someone in their gathering group. "Harry Potter's dead!"
"We don't stand a chance!"
"Harry Potter is just one person…" Horace was surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. But his brain was working overtime. Did all the wizarding world really expect a boy to kill Tom Riddle? So many grown men tried and failed, what chance did a child have? Albus had never told Horace the role that Harry was supposed to play in this war and he had never asked. But was it possible that Harry's role was to die all along?
Charlie looked at him and nodded, although Horace was not sure what he was agreeing too. Charlie turned back to the crowd and shouted, "Our friends and family are in Hogwarts fighting for their lives! Harry Potter may be dead, but they are not! I would rather die fighting tonight than live under You-Know-Who's control for the rest of my life!"
His comments stirred up the crowd. Horace recalled that Charlie had been the quidditch captain during his years at Hogwarts. Inspirational speeches were probably something he was familiar with. He did have a point. Did Horace want to spend the rest of his life running away from Tom and his Death Eaters? Did he have the energy left? The answer came to him as quickly as the question had.
"Mr. Weasley is right." Horace had their attention without even trying. Everyone here was looking for a leader. There was a possibility he had taught most of the people here or at least a member of their family. He never was a leader, but tonight, they didn't need a leader. They just needed a push in the right direction and Horace had a knack for pushing students in the right direction. "I am going back to Hogwarts."
With those words, he straightened his shoulders and started walking. Horace drew his wand and thought of every friend he had back in the castle; of every student who had stayed behind to fight; of poor Harry, now dead; and of Tom Riddle. It was time to stop running.
Or maybe it was time to start running. Behind him Charlie let out a whooping call: "For Hogwarts!"
"For Hogwarts!" came the rallying cry.
Glancing over his shoulder, Horace watched as Charlie began to run towards him and Hogwarts. With a single thought that perhaps he was a bit too old to be running, Horace picked up his pace. He could hear the thundering footsteps of the crowds behind him. As they neared the walls, Charlie let out another cry that echoed through the swarm of witches and wizards running with them.
There was screaming and yelling ahead. He could see giants fighting over the tops of the walls. The light of spells rebounding off the stones told Horace that the battle was carrying on even in the wake of Harry Potter's death. Hogwarts and her occupants were still fighting back. Hope soared through his body as Charlie sprinted past him into the throng of fighters before them.
It was absolute chaos.
Between the giants, spiders, centaurs, threstrals, and house-elves, were the staff and students of Hogwarts alongside who he presumed was the Order of the Phoenix. Death Eaters were everywhere, and everyone had been pushed back into the Great Hall. Horace sent a curse at the nearest one and turned to duel another in the same breath. Weaving through the crowd, he tried to assist his students in any way he could. Just as he stunned the Death Eater dueling Neville Longbottom (who for some reason had a sword), he saw him.
He didn't look like Tom anymore. Horace wasn't sure what he expected, but the creature wreaking havoc on the room wasn't even human anymore. Horace pushed past a few of his students to reach the center of the room. Tom's attention had narrowed onto one particular fighter, so Horace was able to get close without notice.
Minerva McGonagall was attempting to duel one-on-one with him, but it was rather one sided. The woman looked exhausted and she was spending as much time dodging Tom's spells as she was shielding those around her. She couldn't do this for much longer; or at least she couldn't do this for much longer alone.
"Confringo!" cried Horace and Tom had to turn his attention away from the Transfiguration Mistress to deflect the fireball into wall.
The creature tilted his head in curiosity as he stared at his old mentor. "I didn't expect to see you, Professor. I thought you'd run away again."
"Just someone else you have underestimated," Horace replied in a voice much braver sounding than he felt. Tom turned his wand and opened his mouth to curse him, but at the last second had to turn and cast a shield charm instead.
Minerva nodded at Horace with a sense of unity that made his heart swell. Her words came back to him for the hundredth time that night: The time has come for Slytherin House to decide upon its loyalties. For this first time in his life Horace did not hide behind anyone else. He was ready for this fight, even if it meant his death. He would rather be a hero who fell than the coward who bent the knee. Together, he and Minerva pushed forward on the offense throwing curse after curse at the creature who had become Lord Voldemort.
At one point he though his time had come but another spell shielded the whirling green energy that flew in his direction. To his left, a ruffled Kingsley Shacklebolt joined him at a jog, saying, "Need a wand?"
The three of them attacked, parried, and dodged for what seemed like ages. Horace knew there was other fighting going on around them, but all he could focus on was Tom, Minerva, and Kingsley. If the three of them could just take him down, the remainder of the Death Eaters would fall easily. Of course, there was a reason Lord Voldemort struck fear in the hearts of most: he was an incredible wizard of great power and an extraordinary dueler. Horace always knew he would do great things: terrible but great.
A woman's voice cried out above the rest of the noise, but Horace didn't have time to look back. He redirected flames that got a little too close for comfort. When he could see Tom again, it appeared that he was distracted. A roar flew through the fighters and Tom screamed a terrible shrill scream that made Horace's skin crawl.
A shock wave of magic blasted him off his feet and all Horace saw was darkness.
July 26, 1998
The halls of Hogwarts were empty today. Over the past two months, it felt as if there were always people in the school. Due to the destruction of the castle during the battle, there was much work to be done to prepare it for another school year. Of course, it had not been officially decided that there would be one. The horrors of that night still haunted so many. It was hard to think Hogwarts would be ready to open her doors once again come September. Horace wasn't sure he wanted to be there when it did. Perhaps retirement would be calmer this time around.
Horace took solace in the quiet and listened to his own shoes tap against the stone. He was headed to the Headmistress' office for a task the new Headmistress had set for him. After much debate, it had been decided that Severus Snape's portrait would hang in the Head Office alongside all the other Headmasters. It seemed Harry Potter was convinced that Severus deserved the honor and once he had gotten Minerva on board, the others hadn't had much say in the matter.
Minerva had sent him a note earlier that morning asking him to stop by her office to check on the portrait. Apparently, it had been sitting dormant ever since its creation. She thought that perhaps Horace would have some insight and he had told her he would investigate it at once.
To his knowledge, Severus Snape's portrait would not be as traditional as the other Headmasters. Usually, when a professor becomes Headmaster, a portrait was created right away so that over the years, that professor can instill the wisdom and advice that would be needed of it. The portraits could learn to behave exactly like themselves more so than other magical portraits. However, Severus never had a portrait done before his death. Instead, a rather ingenious artist had people who knew Severus during his life sit with him while he painted and fill him with knowledge about the Headmaster. Between that and the memories Severus had given Harry before he died, they had all hoped that the portrait would be an accurate portrayal of the man.
The spiral staircase leading up to the office was unguarded, but there was no need for passwords right now. The staff had decided that the Headmaster's, or in this case, Headmistress' office would be open to all who needed it, so that a student could always find help. Minerva's personal rooms would be guarded instead. Horace ascended the staircase to find the other portraits talking amiably to one another.
"Ah, Horace, how good to see you!" Albus called from where he hung beside the desk, a wide smile on his face. A few other faces greeted him by name as well, especially the few Slytherin Headmasters. Horace waved his hellos.
"Thank you, thank you. I'm doing well. But I do have a task to accomplish, so I must ask for some privacy." There was a bit of grumbling, but it seemed they all knew why he was there. So, one by one, they all left blank canvases behind them until only Albus and a still portrait of Severus remained. "Any advice for an old man, Albus?"
"Hmm?" Albus popped some sort of yellow sweet into his mouth and got up to leave. "Oh, I daresay you'll know what to do, old friend."
Horace sighed and summoned one of the straight back chairs closer to the wall on which Severus's portrait had been hung. Jet black hair and dark coal eyes stared at him, unmoving. He had been thirty-eight when he died. Much too young, he mused. Horace himself was nearing a hundred with every day that passed. Although he told his friends that he didn't feel a day over seventy-five, he was feeling his age more and more. Thirty-eight was too young to die. So was seventeen. And fourteen.
Another sigh escaped him. They had buried too many students after the battle. But he couldn't lose track of the task at hand. He had been doing his grieving all summer. Today was about Severus and the reflection of his life, not his death.
"Well, my boy, you've started to worry some people. Mr. Potter worked very hard to have this portrait commissioned and it's about time you start talking." Silence met him. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised. You never needed many words, not even as a student. Oh, you were bright. A marvel to have in my class, if I do say so myself. I like to remind people that I taught you everything you know."
Horace chuckled at his own joke, but then frowned. "But that is a bit of a lie, I guess. You always had a knack for figuring things out on your own. Which is why it was surprising that you took up with all of those boys to become a Death Eater. Some of the other professors said that I shouldn't be so shocked. You hung out with the wrong crowd, they said. Why wouldn't he be a killer like all the rest?
"But what crowd were you supposed to be with? Those boys were in your house and would marry girls in your house. Slytherins, all of them. Who were you supposed to be with? You always had your eye on precious Lily, but she had her own friends and you would have never been welcome there. As much as the other houses talk about interhouse unity, they push the Slytherins away as much as we isolate ourselves. Those Gryffindors were terrible to you, I know it. We all knew it. But nothing was ever done about it.
"I recall getting asked so many times: Why did you never join Lord Voldemort? Aren't you a Slytherin? I never had an answer for them, not really. It was as if I was an oddity, not signing up to murder Muggles and Muggleborns. I wasn't really, though. There were so many Slytherins who live normal lives and never stepped a toe out of line. And so many more who were wrapped up in such darkness from a young age that they feared their own lives and livelihoods if they refused to join. Like that Malfoy boy of yours."
Horace stopped talking as Draco entered his mind. No one had heard from the Malfoys since they had fled the castle during the battle. There were conflicting reports as to what Draco's role had been. He glanced back at the unmoving portrait and said, "I know you tried to save him. You saw the road he was on and tried to keep him from it. Maybe if I had done that there would be no Death Eaters and no Lord Voldemort. Are all those followers of his truly evil or could they have lived purer lives if Lord Voldemort had remained Tom Riddle? Would Slytherin have this stain upon it if I had tried to shape a young man's life in a different direction?"
The sound of the deep voice nearly toppled Horace out of his chair. Severus was looking directly at him now. Although he remained very still, the portrait had come to life, evident by the rise and fall of the man's chest and the occasional blink of his eyes.
Setting his startled nerves aside, Horace stared back at him, asking, "Do you think every Slytherin has to make the choice between good and evil?"
Standing, Horace harrumphed. "I refuse to believe that is true. What is it Albus used to say about the choice between what is right and what is easy? I will be the first to admit that I often have chosen the easier path in life. How can we expect children to make the hard choice, when grown men cannot? No, I will not give into your cynicism. Slytherins are just as inherently good as any other house, but their choices are not as simple."
"Is that so?"
"Perhaps I could have prevented Tom from becoming who he would, but there are people in this world who will never want to make the right choice. You cannot stop fate. But perhaps if students knew there was a way out and had someone to help them…" Horace trailed off. That was supposed to be their job, as professors. Not just to teach lessons, but to guide young souls through life as well. Horace had always tried to do best by his students, but perhaps he should have done more. They all should have done more.
But only a Slytherin could understand the choices faced by the members of his house. Those children facing years of pureblood ideologies and bigotry needed someone who knew the kind of lives they came from to help them. The Head of Slytherin had of course, always been a professor who had been in the same house. But other than that, there were very few Slytherins on the staff.
"Hello, Minerva," spoke the portrait, pulling Horace from his thoughts. Horace whirled around to see a very shocked Headmistress setting her pointed hat down on the desk.
"Severus," she murmured in reply. Her eyes caught Horace's. "Thank you, Horace, I can see I asked the right person for help."
"Yes, yes, very well." Horace said hastily, his mind still whirling. Portrait Severus raised an eyebrow, as if to prod him on. "There's just one thing, Minerva, dear. I know we had talked about the possibility of my retirement, but I will be staying on. Yes…I will be staying on. Hogwarts needs a Slytherin on the staff. You know, perhaps you should look into that."
"Look into what?" Minerva was staring at him as if he had finally lost his mind. Her eyes slipped past him to study the portrait, but Severus only blinked.
"Hiring a few Slytherins. We need more Slytherins…" Yes, this was the solution. The only way to turn the tide and keep the past from repeating itself. Horace had made up his mind. He would stay at Hogwarts until he felt that all of his students were reached or until his death. Whichever came first. In the future, they would be able to say they did everything they could to prevent the rise of another Dark Wizard and hopefully, there would be less souls to corrupt along the way.
The Slytherin had made his choice. Now it was time for Hogwarts to make hers.