“Professor McGonagall,” said Harry, “I've come to ask a favour of you. I wondered if I might borrow your office. I need to talk to someone.”
“Mr Potter,” said Professor McGonagall kindly, “you know that you may speak to Albus Dumbledore whenever you like, but he has many other portraits – and in rooms far more splendid than in the headteacher's office at Hogwarts. You could speak to Professor Dumbledore in his painting at the Aurors’ headquarters, surely.”
Harry shook his head. “It wasn’t Dumbledore I wanted to speak to, Professor. It was Professor Snape.”
Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows and looked at Harry, shrewdly. “I know that we were all very wrong when it came to our views on Severus Snape's allegiances eight years ago, Harry,” she said quietly. “And I know that you, of all people, have plenty for which to thank him. But I must warn you that he is no more fond of chitchat now than he was in life. His portrait is an excellent likeness – not just in terms of his appearance but also, perhaps rather regrettably, his temperament. May I ask what you need to say to him, all of a sudden? His portrait has been in my office with the other headteachers of years past ever since you revealed Professor Snape's part in Voldemort's defeat. Why only now do you want to speak to him?”
Harry turned his teacup around in his hands, scrutinising its contents as if he were back in one of Professor Trelawney's Divination lessons. Despite having long departed from Hogwarts, despite his fame both at Hogwarts and elsewhere – not to mention his position as a respected Auror – he was still a little in awe of his former Head of House.
“I've never thanked him, for a start,” he began. “But there are other things… my parents… and there's something I wanted to ask him. Hermione tells me that a Muggle psychiatrist would call it ‘closure’. It's been bothering me lately. Ginny thinks I should speak to him. She's thought so for years, actually, but I never really had the courage.”
Professor McGonagall laughed softly. “Mr Potter. You don't seriously mean to say that battling a basilisk, being a Triwizard champion at fourteen, duelling with Lord Voldemort and sacrificing yourself to save us all required less courage than a face-to-face conversation with Severus Snape?”
Harry laughed in spite of himself. “Professor,” he said, “there are former students of Hogwarts who would tell you in a heartbeat that confronting Voldemort would be a picnic compared to a chat with Professor Snape. You ask Professor Longbottom what his Boggart is. I'm willing to bet it hasn't changed.”
“Very well, Potter,” Professor McGonagall said kindly. “You are welcome to use my office tomorrow, if that would suit. Filch will escort you up the staircase; he knows the password. And if you don't mind, I won't warn Professor Snape in advance. He has another portrait you know, in the Department of Potions Research and Development at the Ministry of Magic.”
Harry nodded. “Hermione told me. She says all the junior researchers are terrified of it.”
“I don't doubt it, Mr Potter,” replied Professor McGonagall. “And Severus has an uncanny knack of disappearing to that portrait when he doesn't like the company at Hogwarts. I'm afraid that even after all this time, your company in particular might be enough to prompt him to find some pressing business to attend to at the Ministry. It’s best if you… surprise him.”
Not since the night that Voldemort had fallen eight years ago had Harry been taken by the moving spiral staircase to the office that, to him, would always be Albus Dumbledore's. The stone phoenix that guarded the stairs had been immaculately restored following the battle, and moved gracefully aside when Filch, making a great show of whispering and forcing Harry to put his hands over his ears so that he couldn’t hear, spoke the password that allowed them entry. It was with ill-disguised bitterness that Filch showed Harry into the room and then grudgingly left him, as Professor McGonagall had instructed, alone.
Dumbledore's own portrait was discreetly empty, Harry noticed. However, he was greeted by much whispering and nudging among the other headteachers, intrigued to see the Boy Who Lived here at Hogwarts once again – taller, older and looking rather tired, but still sporting the same untidy hair that wouldn't lie flat, small round glasses and of course, the famous scar on his forehead. Phineas Nigellus, ancestor of Harry's godfather, Slytherin headmaster and an unlikely ally to Harry, Ron and Hermione when they had been on the run before Voldemort's defeat, acknowledged Harry's arrival with a stiff bow and Armando Dippet waved cheerfully.
The portrait of Severus Snape was immediately next to the frame that usually housed Albus Dumbledore. McGonagall had been right, Harry thought. It was indeed an excellent likeness, almost photographically so: the artist had apparently sacrificed flattery in the name of realism. Snape was depicted in his old study in the quarters he had occupied as Potions Master, surrounded by hundreds of bottles, vials and jars. Many of the jars contained slimy objects, the origins of which Harry tried not to contemplate, suspended half-obscured in murky liquids. At the back of the study was a heavy wooden door, a painted facsimile of the one Harry had observed as a reluctant visitor to Snape’s study during his ill-fated Occlumency lessons, and which he assumed must lead to the private rooms in which Snape had lived and slept during his years at Hogwarts. Not that it appeared that Severus Snape actually slept a great deal, as Harry had discovered to his cost on numerous nocturnal excursions into Hogwarts' forbidden corridors.
The painting showed the furniture arranged in a way that suggested that the artist had perhaps depicted Snape seated at his desk, but now he was standing, dressed in his customary black, and looking directly at Harry. Harry felt a slight shifting in his stomach at the sight of Snape's all-too-familiar form, dark, angular and scowling. His oily black hair fell on either side of his gaunt, sallow face with its long, prominent nose, sneering mouth and cold, piercing black eyes. The eyes met Harry's before narrowing, suspiciously.
“Mr Potter,” Snape murmured, softly. “Well, well. To what do we owe this… pleasure?” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
“Professor Snape. Sir. I – well, I came to see you,” said Harry, awkwardly. “I thought it was long overdue.”
Harry was acutely aware, suddenly, that every Hogwarts headmaster and headmistress past was now listening eagerly and unashamedly to his every word. Dilys Derwent was even holding an enormous ear trumpet to her head and screwing up her face in concentration. Harry blushed slightly, as if he were eleven years old again.
Snape observed his former pupil's discomfort with interest rather than sympathy, and glanced around. “Yes, thank you, all of you,” he said irritably, glaring at his fellow professors, and they rapidly dispersed into their frames and continued with their usual business. Severus Snape had never had the slightest difficulty in keeping order among his students, but Harry saw at once that he seemed to possess a similar power in the headteachers' office, not only speaking to this illustrious group of prominent wizarding academics, all of whom were three times his age, as if they were a class of unruly fourth-years but also getting away with it. Harry tried very hard, entirely without success, not to be impressed.
“Enjoying our… celebrity status, are we, Potter?” remarked Snape, coldly. “And an Auror, too, I hear. I must say, it almost disturbs me that some of my most mediocre pupils appear to be blundering their way into credible careers. You and Weasley, Aurors? The mind boggles.”
“Presumably you must see Neville Longbottom from time to time, sir,” said Harry. He wondered how Neville coped with this, Snape having tormented him both in the classroom and in Neville's nightmares throughout Neville's seven years at Hogwarts.
“He occasionally wanders in. From the greenhouses,” Snape said, with obvious disdain. “He often seems rather nervous.” He paused, before adding rather nastily, “I cannot imagine why.”
“Hermione, Hermione Granger, well, Hermione Weasley now of course – she asked me to send her regards,” Harry said. “She works in the Potions department at the Ministry. But of course, sir, you'd know that, because of your other portrait. I know she sees you there from time to time.”
Snape's cold eyes narrowed again. “Miss Granger was quite, quite brilliant,” he said, rather unexpectedly but without any trace of affection. “I might even have indicated as much when she was my pupil, had it not already been something of which she was so very obviously aware. Rarely have I taught such an insufferable know-it-all, as I believe I made clear once or twice.” Snape folded his arms stiffly, pulling his cloak around him like the wings of a roosting bat. “But you didn't come here, one would assume, to relay awkward pleasantries. What do you want, Potter?”
Harry swallowed. His mouth was suddenly and inexplicably dry.
“I came to say – well, I came to say a lot of things. I came to say thank you, and sorry, and well, just that, really. But it doesn't seem… enough.”
Snape jerked his head in a grudging nod, as if to flick away a mosquito. “I'm sure it will suffice.”
“Professor,” said Harry firmly, “I don't think it will.”
Snape rolled his eyes, bored, cynical and utterly unimpressed. In fact, he reacted much as he would have done if Harry had presented him with a sub-standard essay. He said nothing, but took off his cloak, sat down in his chair and gestured sarcastically for his former pupil to continue. Harry persevered.
“I came to say,” he began, “that I can’t imagine how awful it must have been in the last few years of-”
“My life?” Snape snapped. “Yes, Potter, I can't say I'd number them among my best. Do continue.”
“The fact that none of us guessed, none of us even dreamed, that you were on our side, all that time, makes me feel so guilty, but at the same time, it was… it was truly brilliant. Truly, truly brilliant. You deceived Voldemort. He never guessed a thing. Time and time again people told me that he was the greatest Legilimens the world had ever seen. But obviously not. You beat him.”
Snape’s countenance remained unchanged.
“And I made sure he knew that,” said Harry.
“I imagine his joy was unconfined," Snape said drily, and Harry could tell from the raised eyebrow and the barely perceptible glitter in Snape's black eyes that this snippet of knowledge about Voldemort's last minutes had pleased him. “I gather from Professor McGonagall’s account,” Snape continued, “that it was the Expelliarmus curse that finished him. Your ‘signature move’, I understand,” he added with obvious distaste.
“That's right, sir,” Harry admitted, having forgotten at the start of the conversation that the need to call Severus Snape 'sir' was many years past. “But if it was my signature move, you might remember that you taught it to me.”
For the first time, Snape actually looked genuinely interested. He rested his elbows on his desk and interlocked his long fingers. “Oh?” he said.
“Yes,” said Harry. "Even though you didn’t get the Defence Against The Dark Arts job then-”
“Yes, thank you, Mr Potter, for reminding me.”
“-you demonstrated duelling for us, with Gilderoy Lockhart. During that time when the Chamber of Secrets was opened, sir, in my second year, when Lockhart started the Duelling Club. You and he had a duel and you beat him with Expelliarmus. You knocked him halfway across the Great Hall.”
“Yes, I remember,” Snape said coolly. “Lockhart was lucky that was the worst I could do to him in a hall full of students. Had the circumstances been different… I might have shown him my own… signature move.”
“Sectumsempra?” asked Harry. “Ever since I found out that old Potions textbook was yours, sir, the one where you’d written Sectumsempra down, I wondered if you’d invented it.” Harry shuddered involuntarily. Sectumsempra was not one of the nicer spells he had come across. He remembered all too well his own horror when he had used it in desperation on Draco Malfoy, not knowing what effect it would have, and seen the deep slash wounds open up on Malfoy’s chest.
“Yes,” said Snape, with obvious satisfaction. "I invented it.” His upper lip curled, and not pleasantly. “Oh, don't look at me like that, Potter,” he snapped, catching Harry’s eye. “George Weasley must have got used to having one ear by now. It can't have held him back in life any more than being ginger.”
“It's all right, sir,” Harry said quickly. “I know that wasn't deliberate. You were aiming for that Death Eater's hand. I don’t know which one it was.”
“It’s not easy to distinguish them, with the masks, but I strongly suspect it was Amycus Carrow. In retrospect,” Snape said, with rather too much relish for comfort, "I should have aimed for his sweaty little throat.”
“Err… right,” said Harry uncomfortably. “There was something else I wanted to say, Professor,” he began, glad to change the subject but at the same apprehensive about the one he was preparing to broach. “About what I saw in the Pensieve, during my Occlumency lessons, sir.”
Snape, who had been looking thoughtfully down at his desk, apparently contemplating in more detail the effects of the Sectumsempra spell on the human throat, jerked his head upwards sharply and glared at Harry, his eyes blazing with a cold fire.
“I believe I told you at the time, Potter,” he spat, “that I did not wish you ever to mention that to me again.”
“Yes, sir, but I wanted to apologise. I should never have looked.”
“No, Potter,” Snape said in a voice barely above a whisper, but no less threatening for it. “You should never have looked.”
Harry’s face was hot. His cheeks prickled and the words tumbled from his mouth before he could stop them. “Professor, I’m sorry. And that’s not all I wanted to apologise for. I’m sorry for my father, and for Sirius, and how they treated you. Even though I don’t love them any less for it, because they were my family, and they were young and silly and arrogant, I’m still sorry. They were wrong to behave like that. And I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that sort of treatment. I hated it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
“Even me,” said Snape sardonically.
“Well,” said Snape unhelpfully, “I hope you’re now satisfied to have made that rather ill-conceived speech, Potter.”
“If it’s any consolation, sir,” said Harry said tentatively, “you did see some pretty horrible memories of mine too.”
Snape nodded, slowly. “Yes,” he said. He paused. “Who was that repulsive boy? Fat, wheezy, stupid. Thick neck, face like a suet pudding. He appeared to be the victim of a particularly vicious Engorgement Charm.”
Harry laughed out loud, despite himself. “Oh,” he said, “yes. That was Dudley, Dudley Dursley. He was my cousin. Still is, of course. My Aunt Petunia’s son.”
Snape’s long nose wrinkled in disdain. “That would certainly make a great deal of sense,” he murmured.
Harry had forgotten that, many years ago, Snape and Aunt Petunia had met and, from what Harry had seen, disliked one another intensely. “I, err, did get the impression that you didn’t like her, sir,” he said.
“If my memory serves me correctly, and I can assure you, Potter, it invariably does, I was merely indifferent to her at the outset.” Snape paused. “Then it became abundantly plain that she was a dull, cowardly, petty-minded and in every way unexceptional creature, jealous of her own sister and scared of magic. And me. Although it was never quite plain whether she was scared of me because I was a wizard or because I came from Spinner’s End,” he added, drily. “So, yes, it didn’t take me particularly long to acquire the appropriate degree of contempt and loathing for her.”
“Yes,” said Harry, “I know. Ironic, really, though. The one thing you and Aunt Petunia had in common was a shared dislike of me. And for broadly similar reasons, except that she hated both my parents and you only hated one.”
At the oblique reference to Harry’s mother, Snape leaned forward so suddenly and forcefully that Harry thought for one truly horrid moment he might somehow step out of his portrait altogether, and perhaps attempt to throttle him, something he had often seemed on the verge of doing to Harry in life.
“That,” Snape hissed, in a voice that was low and heavy with menace, “is not to be spoken of to anyone. Do I make myself clear?”
Harry, of course, had already spoken of it, and in front of a large crowd, not to mention Lord Voldemort in the minutes before Voldemort’s defeat. He opened his mouth to speak, twice, but then quickly closed it again.
“Impersonating a beached guppy is a waste of both my time and yours, Potter,” said Snape viciously. “Spit it out.”
“I was just thinking, sir, of what Dumbledore said. About the fact that you wouldn’t let him reveal the best of you.”
Snape glowered at Harry. “We do not all wear our hearts on our sleeves, Potter,” he said. “We can’t all be emotionally reckless, melodramatic, attention-seeking, overly-altruistic Gryffindors. Conspicuously noble gestures are not something to which everyone attributes quite so much value as you appear to do.”
“It’s just that if I’d known about it before, sir,” said Harry, wearily, “I think things might have been… different. I might have understood y- err, things – a bit better. I might not have been- ”
“So arrogant, hotheaded, stubborn and full of yourself?”
Harry resisted the temptation to rise to the bait. “To a degree, Professor, yes. Perhaps.”
Snape looked directly at Harry for an uncomfortably long time. “If you really think,” he began, “that you would have been less James Potter’s boy if you’d-”
“You see, sir,” Harry interrupted, determined not to let Snape pick up his favourite conversational weapon, “that’s just the thing. Of course I’m James Potter’s boy, and I’m proud of it. He was my father, and he was a good, brave man and whatever he was like as a schoolboy, I’m proud of him. I’m not going to defend the way he behaved as a child, because it wouldn’t do any good, and in any case, as I’ve already said, some of the things he did were indefensible. But yes, I’m James Potter’s boy. The thing is though, Professor, and I’m not even sure whether this makes things better or worse, I’m also Lily Potter’s boy. Lily Evans’ boy. Dumbledore said it himself. He always thought I was more like my mother than my father, no matter how much my father was the one I might resemble on the outside.”
Snape got up from his chair and turned away. For a moment, Harry thought he was going to exit his portrait altogether, but instead, he took off his customary long black coat and hung it on a hook on the back of the door. It occurred to Harry that he had never seen Professor Snape in shirtsleeves, and the sight rather unnerved him, even though Snape’s shirt was much like everything else he’d ever been seen to wear – black, without ornament, and serving only to emphasise his sallow complexion. Snape sat down again, folded his arms twitchily and glowered. In his mind, Harry had a sudden flash of Snape-the-teenager, the scrawny, scruffy boy with the greasy hair, the sullen scowl and the ever-present adolescent temper seething under the surface.
“Dumbledore,” said Snape finally, in a measured voice, “was not, hard as you may find it to believe, always right.”
“No,” said Harry. “Not always. Not about all things. But he was right about people. Always. He was right about you,” he pointed out, rather petulantly.
Snape raised his eyebrows sarcastically. “There’s no need to sound quite so triumphant about that.”
“Well, sir,” said Harry, in a reasonable voice, “to be honest, I think that seeing past your exterior is quite an achievement for anybody.”
Snape gave a contemptuous snort.
“Oh, God, no, I didn’t mean – well, I sort of did mean that, but… oh, you know what I mean. I meant that the rest of us were wrong.”
Snape nodded reflectively. “It was the small things that deceived you all,” he said. “You know, Potter… the Dark Mark, the consorting with Death Eaters, the talent for the Dark Arts, and, oh, let me think, what was that other small matter? It quite escapes me. Oh yes, it was murdering the Headmaster. In retrospect, that could conceivably have blotted my copybook.” He met Harry’s gaze with a defiant sneer.
Harry stifled an inappropriate laugh before it had fully surfaced. There had been a time, many years ago as a first-year at Hogwarts, when he would have staked his last Galleon on Severus Snape having no semblance of a sense of humour. When he had come to realise that this was not in fact the case, he had rather wished he had remained unenlightened. Snape’s sense of humour, such as it was, tended to be kicked into action only by the darkest of incidents, and inevitably at the expense of those around him.
Harry’s efforts to choke back his laughter might have gone unnoticed by most people, but not by Professor Snape, who had always possessed a sinister knack for weeding out students who were giggling in class, no matter how efficiently they concealed their mirth, regardless of whether they were actually making any noise and regardless of whether Snape was looking up from his desk. Or, on some horribly memorable occasions, regardless of whether he was even in the same room. Snape’s eyebrow crept upwards.
“Sorry, Professor, that was nervous laughter,” Harry spluttered.
“Nervous, Potter?” Snape murmured, silkily. “Well, well. Who would have thought it? If you can save the future of the wizarding world in such a showy and self-sacrificing fashion and in the convenient presence of a large crowd of onlookers, I would have expected you to be able to hold a simple conversation without an attack of hysteria.”
The conversation, of course, was anything but simple, because Snape was going out of his way to make it as difficult as he possibly could, but Harry decided that, on balance, he should refrain from pointing this out.
“That’s not unlike what Professor McGonagall said when I was arranging this meeting. But you know how it is, Professor,” he said lightly. “Sometimes people find themselves laughing at funerals, don’t they?”
“I believe so,” Snape said, lazily. He glanced upwards at what was presumably the stone ceiling of his dungeon study, but which was not visible to those looking at his painting from the outside. He rubbed the five o’clock shadow that, because of his black hair and pale skin, was almost always apparent on his jawline. “I certainly felt like laughing at my father’s funeral, for instance,” he remarked. “Although nerves didn’t have a great deal to do with it.”
“You, err, didn’t get on, Professor?” asked Harry politely. He remembered some of the images that he had seen in the recesses of Snape’s mind. A very young Snape, small, skinny and with large dark eyes, crying in a corner while a man with Snape’s hooked nose shouted at Snape’s cowering mother. Snape again, older this time, his displeasure undisguised at Lily Evans’ mention of his miserable home life.
“He was a stupid, tedious, boorish, small-minded, violent Muggle fool,” said Snape matter-of-factly. “You may already have gathered as much from your uninvited forays into my memory. I doubt a single soul at his funeral was even remotely sorry that he was dead. Certainly I wasn’t. And my mother was already dead herself,” he added, without a trace of regret. “Parents, Potter, can be terribly over-rated.”
“If I’d known mine,” said Harry quietly, “perhaps I could have formed an opinion on the subject first-hand.”
Snape gave an odd, humourless laugh. “Lack of knowledge never prevented you from forming an opinion on anything before, Potter.”
“Professor,” said Harry suddenly, unable to contain himself any further, and ignoring Snape’s underhanded insult, “I know you tried to stop Voldemort killing my parents.”
“I know you know, Potter,” said Snape, irritably. “Do you take me for an idiot? If so, I strongly recommend that you re-think, or you will sorely regret it. Why else would I have gone to the trouble of decanting my memories in my dying moments?”
“No. Of course. Sir?”
Snape waved away the remark with a flick of a hand and shrugged his shoulders awkwardly.
“Also… well, sir, about my mother…” ventured Harry.
Snape looked away, but not before Harry, even in the split second before Snape turned his head, was struck by the immediate and unsettlingly obvious change in his deep black eyes. In his head, Harry almost heard the awful, chilling cries of anguish that Snape had given when he heard of Lily Potter’s death, a horribly affecting mixture of crippling grief and ferocious anger. Somewhere in Snape’s damaged soul, Harry knew, it was a sound he had never really stopped making.
“I don’t think that anybody,” Harry said, “could wish for more than you gave her. What you did for her, for someone who was already dead, was… Professor, there are no words to describe it.”
Snape was still looking away, and remained silent.
“There’s something else, too, Professor. When she didn’t accept your apology, that time, all those years ago, when you were teenagers, she was… well, I think she was wrong.”
Snape turned his head around to face Harry again.
“What?” he said sharply.
“She should have accepted your apology,” said Harry, and he was unnerved by the intensity of Snape’s gaze, which could not be interpreted. “I thought so as soon as I saw you ask her. It was a sincere apology, for a single mistake-”
“Quite a substantial mistake,” cut in Snape, very unexpectedly.
“Yes. But only one.”
Snape looked suddenly very tired. He had been painted as he had appeared during his brief headship, directly before his death. He would have been thirty-eight, Harry knew, and it occurred to him that in his own first year at Hogwarts, Snape must have been just thirty-one – far, far younger than any of the other teachers and only a few years older than Harry was now. A cruel combination of grief, bitterness and - given his admirably long and eventful role as the Order of the Phoenix’s spy in Voldemort’s inner circle, stress - had given Snape the jaded demeanour of one somewhat older.
“There were others,” he said shortly. “I knew she didn’t like some of the company I kept. And she always thought I was far too interested in the Dark Arts.” He shrugged again, morosely.
“I think,” said Harry carefully, “that you could be excused the company you kept, under the circumstances. And, err, there is always an advantage to having a good knowledge of the Dark Arts. You know, I once told Ron and Hermione that you were too enthusiastic when you talked about the Dark Arts, when you taught us DADA in our sixth year. I thought you were just that little bit too… reverential about the subject.”
“Did you?” said Snape, making a short phrase last a very long and sarcastic time.
“Yes, sir. And then Hermione said something that really rather offended me. But it did made me think, and I’ve never forgotten it.”
“Enlighten me, Potter, if you must.”
“She said you sounded just like me.”
Snape gave him a look of withering contempt, but not before Harry had seen his upper lip twitch. Harry had rarely been able to guess what Severus Snape was thinking, but he had known him just long enough to observe the minute signs that Snape was, in his own peculiar way, amused.
“An assertion equally offensive, I would imagine, to both of us,” remarked Snape drily.
“Yes, I expect so,” admitted Harry, suppressing his own grin with some difficulty. “But you know Hermione. She’s never been one to let the risk of offending someone get in the way of a factual observation. But I’m getting away from my point. I think my mother should have accepted your apology. I know I can’t do it on her behalf, but if I could, Professor, I would.”
“Are you so stupid that it hasn’t occurred to you, Potter,” said Snape, “that if Lily had forgiven me, you wouldn’t be here today?”
“I know that, Professor,” said Harry. The thought had indeed occurred to him, and it made him uncomfortable. “Who can say what would or wouldn’t have happened? But the love and respect I have for my father isn’t reduced by the fact that I know you were truly sorry, and that you’ve never stopped being truly sorry, and that you deserved a second chance.”
Snape got up from his chair again and walked over to a small cupboard in the corner of the painted room. He took out a bottle and a glass, poured himself a measure of firewhisky and sat back down. “I think,” he said quietly, “that everything that happened after Lily’s death was perhaps my second chance.”
“That’s very true, sir. And nobody could say you didn’t live up to it.”
“You turn of phrase is rather tactless, Potter,” Snape said. “I may have lived up to it, in a metaphorical sense, but not in a literal one. Or rather, I lived up to it, but as is plainly apparent from the fact that I’m sitting here talking to you from a framed portrait, I didn’t quite manage to live through it.”
Harry winced. Snape’s death had not been easy to witness, even though Harry had still been unaware of Snape’s allegiance to Dumbledore.
“You might well flinch, Potter,” said Snape irritably. “It wasn’t especially pleasant for me, either. It wasn’t the quick demise I’d hoped for, and it was every bit as painful as it appeared.”
“I’m sorry,” said Harry simply. “There wasn’t really anything I could do.”
There was a long pause in which Snape swallowed his firewhisky in a single draught.
“Actually, Potter,” he said, “there was.”
“I – what? Was there?”
“Yes. But it’s all right,” Snape said, his voice barely audible. “You did it.”
And his black eyes found Harry’s green ones, and Harry knew what Snape meant.
“I should really be leaving,” said Harry eventually. “Ginny will be expecting me back home. She’s just – we’ve had another baby. Last week.”
Snape showed no interest whatsoever in this news, but merely nodded curtly. “Congratulations,” he said, in a tone loaded with irony. “I was told about the other one. Professor McGonagall, for some reason, greets the birth of a child to anyone with whom she has even the vaguest of acquaintance with an excitement and enthusiasm which is, to me or any other sane person, utterly inexplicable.”
“Yes, this is our second son,” Harry said. “Our oldest boy, James,” he explained, ignoring Snape’s obvious distaste, “is two now.”
“I see. No doubt if he shares his parents’ arrogant disregard for rules, he will be a regular visitor to this office in future. I will look out for him with interest,” Snape said, in a way that suggested to Harry that his interest would not be remotely benevolent.
“I’ll warn him, Professor, thank you,” said Harry, rather too fervently. “Actually, though, part of the reason I came was to ask you something. That was what prompted me to say all that, err, stuff.”
“Hurry up, Potter,” said Snape, impatiently. “Get on with it. I haven’t got all day.”
“We thought we’d name him Albus.”
Snape nodded. “Very fitting, Potter, but what does that have to do with-”
Snape looked at Harry.
“He’s got my mother’s eyes,” Harry said, simply. “I think it’s what she would have wanted. And it’s certainly what I want.”
Professor Snape looked away again, his nose as prominent as ever in his sharp profile. Eventually, and without turning back towards Harry, he spoke.
“I have no immediate objection,” he said.
“Ah, Severus,” Professor McGonagall said, as the lean, bat-like figure of a cloaked Snape sidled into view within his portrait’s frame. He had evidently been in his other portrait at the Ministry of Magic. “You’re back.”
“Minerva,” Snape said with a brief nod of acknowledgement.
“Severus, I hope you have no objection, but the portrait-restorer has been working at Hogwarts today. He came to remove the moustache that one of the Slytherins drew on the Fat Lady. I believe I mentioned it last week; Filch was most put out. Anyway, while he was here, the restorer patched your own canvas.”
“It didn’t need patching,” growled Snape, taking of his travelling cloak and opening the door at the back of his painting in order to retire to his bedroom.
“Oh, it wasn’t damaged, Severus,” said Professor McGonagall calmly. “It was just that last week, we received by owl a small piece of painted canvas. To be added to your portrait.”
“It’s a patch,” said Professor McGonagall. “It was sent by Harry Potter. He must have commissioned an artist.”
“Yes, Severus, from Potter,” said Professor McGonagall patiently. “The restorer fitted it just there,” she continued, pointing. “On your desk.”
Snape looked in the direction Minerva McGonagall had indicated and saw that an alteration had indeed been made to his desk. There was now a parchment envelope lying next to his ink-bottle and quill. He glanced up at Professor McGonagall, who smiled politely and returned to her work.
“Accio envelope,” Snape muttered, pointing his wand, and then tucked the letter into his breast pocket before stalking from his study via the painted door at the back.
Snape’s living quarters were small and candlelit, containing an implausible number of books, a wardrobe, a bed, an armchair and a table. Another door led to an equally small and exceptionally spartan bathroom.
He removed the envelope from his pocket, took off his black coat and sat down in his armchair. He stretched his long legs out in front of him, resting his feet, in their usual heavy black boots, on their heels. Then he examined the envelope. It was sealed with a blob of red wax, in which was imprinted the Gryffindor crest.
Snape rolled his eyes and swore under his breath. Then he tore open the envelope and took out a letter. He immediately recognised the untidy handwriting from many a D-rated Potions essay.
Dear Professor Snape,
I hope this works. The artist had to paint it layer by layer, so that the contents could be done one by one first, and then the envelope on top, so you could open it and take out the things inside. It took forever but hopefully it’s achieved the desired effect. Ginny says this rendition of my handwriting is all too accurate. As you can see, it hasn’t improved since I left school.
Albus Severus is doing very well; he is two now. He is a serious little thing, very quiet and not at all like his brother. We fear that your prediction about the amount of time James will spend in Professor McGonagall’s office will probably come true, but Albus Severus is, so far, not so much of a handful. Who knows, he might even be in Slytherin one day. I have enclosed a photograph, or at least, a painting of a photograph.
I have also enclosed copies of two other photographs I thought you might want. One of them was in an album that Hagrid made for me when I was a boy. The other one is a more recent discovery. Neville Longbottom, of all people, found it among some old pictures in his grandmother’s attic after she died. It was with a pile of photos his parents had kept from their school days. Apparently, Frank Longbottom was quite the photographer, and there were a lot of familiar faces in the pictures Neville found.
Harry Potter (and Ginny, James, and Albus Severus)
PS There is another Potter on the way. Ginny, on Hermione’s advice, went to a Muggle hospital for a scan, and it’s a girl this time. We’ve decided, of course, to call her Lily.
Snape put down the letter and looked inside the envelope. Sure enough, there were three photographs inside. He took one out and turned it face up.
It was, as Harry had explained, Albus Severus Potter. His dark hair was as untidy as Harry’s. He was looking shyly out of the photograph, unsure of whether to smile, but eventually he did, presumably after some off-camera encouragement. His eyes were indeed, Snape noticed immediately, Lily Evans’ eyes.
He put the picture to one side and turned over the second photo. Upon seeing the photograph, Snape caught his breath and his heart jumped so uncomfortably that he subconsciously put his hand to his chest.
It was a photograph of Lily Evans. It must been taken before she married James, because she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. She was laughing, pictured in what seemed to be a garden or an orchard, looking up and pointing at a butterfly that repeatedly fluttered in and out of shot. She looked young and happy and utterly carefree, and her green eyes were as gentle and intelligent as Snape remembered them.
He had had a photograph of Lily, course, but he had stolen it from a picture of her with James and the infant Harry. Although Snape had torn them from the picture, it was still obvious that they had been there and for that reason, he had never looked at the picture again. This picture, though, of Lily Evans, alone, exactly as he saw her in his memory and in the dreams that haunted him still, was perfect.
It was a very, very long time before Snape could bring himself to stop looking at it, but finally he tore his eyes away and turned over the third snapshot. Lily Evans appeared once again, but this time she was not alone. She was standing with a skinny, sallow-skinned youth, standing in a way that suggested he was rather ill-at-ease with his own height, with a sharp, aquiline profile, a thin face and thick, dirty-looking black hair so in need of cutting that it was falling into his eyes. Snape, who could not remember ever having seen a picture of himself as a boy, realised with surprise that it was a photograph of Lily Evans and himself. It must have been taken just before their OWLs, he thought, as Lily had an OWL-standard Charms textbook protruding from the satchel over her shoulder. His teenage self appeared to be saying something to Lily, at which she laughed uproariously and then gave him an affectionate little push in mock reproach. The young Severus Snape in the picture also briefly smiled - something the adult Snape found almost palpably jarring to watch, as it rendered his face barely recognisable. He and Lily were pictured standing in the courtyard at Hogwarts – he squinting slightly and looking immensely out of place in the sunlight. With his black hair, unhealthy pallor and general lack of interest in the outdoors, the courtyard on a hot summer’s day had never been his natural domain.
Looking at the picture, Snape realised that he and Lily must have been unaware that the picture was being taken. Like most teenage girls, had she known the camera was pointing at her she would have insisted on brushing her hair first, tucking behind her ears the loose strands of red hair that in this photo were falling around her face. And as for Snape, even at sixteen he would have instantly, albeit subconsciously, have altered his expression to an uneasy frown when confronted by a photographer. Frank Longbottom had captured them, without their knowledge, during what was probably one of the last happy moments of Severus Snape’s life. If he looked at the picture hard enough, he could almost hear Lily Evans laughing, almost smell the perfume she used to wear in her teens, bought from a shop in Hogsmeade because it had a picture of a lily on the bottle and which she insisted everyone, including him, buy her for Christmas each year in case she ran out.
There was some writing on the back of the photograph, a caption scribbled in pencil in an unfamiliar hand that presumably belonged to Frank Longbottom: “Nice to see Gryffindor and Slytherin getting on for a change. Lily laughing at one of Sev’s sarky remarks.”
Eventually, after he had stared at them for so long in his hands that the back of his neck started to ache, Snape got up from his chair and propped both the pictures up on the small table next to his bed. Then he picked up the letter from Harry and the photo of Albus Severus. He walked over to the fire to drop them into the flames, but his hand hovered for so long that the dark hairs on his wrist sizzled in the heat. Finally, he withdrew his hand, folded the letter around the photograph and put them both into the inside pocket of his coat, hanging on a hook on the wall. Just for the time being, he told himself. He could throw them away at any time. There was no pressing need to do it now.
It was usually Snape’s custom to sit up very late, even after he had gone to bed, reading by wand light. Tonight, however, he barely got through a couple of densely-printed pages before he rested his head on the pillow, and extinguished the light of the wand.
A few minutes later, a pale arm reached through the darkness, an arm scarred deeply and angrily with the Dark Mark, no longer burning black but still shockingly prominent. Snape’s hand scrabbled, crab-like, for his wand on the bedside table. “Lumos,” he muttered, and then positioned the glowing tip of the wand so that the two photographs of Lily Evans on the table were alone in being gently bathed in a tiny pool of silvery light.
And for the first time in more years than he could remember, Severus Snape fell easily into an untroubled, peaceful sleep.