Author's noteTEARS OF THE PHOENIX
I cannot claim credit for the Fawkes idea: that brilliant notion belongs to other writers of fanfiction. I am, however, always interested in exploring the emotional interactions between J.K. Rowling's characters.
This magical world and these characters are the property of J.K. Rowling: I am merely playing with them and make no profit from the exercise.
Late August, 1998
It was Professor McGonagall’s idea that Harry and Hermione should go to Spinner’s End.
Professor Snape’s memorial service would be the last to be held at Hogwarts that summer; it had been delayed not only because of all the investigations and trials that had taken place at the Ministry since June but also because of all the questions surrounding Snape’s death.
Harry had already attended the worst of the funerals: Fred’s, a private affair at The Burrow, and Remus and Tonks’s, at which Andromeda Tonks had silently placed baby Teddy in his arms. He was relieved that Snape’s would be the last, timed to take place just a week before the new school year began. It wouldn’t really be a proper funeral, because Snape’s body had never been found, but Harry and those planning it were determined that the memorial service should do the deceased man justice. With that goal in mind, Professor McGonagall suggested that he should visit Snape’s old house in Spinner’s End, accompanied by Hermione, to gather there anything they could about Snape’s life. Books, pictures, anything which would help them plan a fitting tribute to the man who had worked for so long to protect Harry, paying the ultimate price for his unsung heroism.
The two of them Apparated into Spinner’s End early one Friday afternoon. It was one of those warm, cloudy, rather humid days that often pepper a typical English summer.
The moors stretching away beyond the town displayed a bleak beauty but there was nothing else lovely about the dreary little industrial hamlet.
“Golly,” said Hermione soberly, “it doesn’t look as if this poor old town has benefited much from Gordon Brown’s urban regeneration schemes …”
“Who? Oh yeah … the Muggle Chancellor.”
“Honestly, Harry, for someone brought up by Muggles, you’re not very clued-up on Muggle current affairs …”
“Hermione, for the past year we’ve been on the run from Voldemort … forgive me if I don’t always keep track of who’s who in Tony Blair’s government.”
“If He Who Can Now Be Named had taken over the Muggle government, and not just magical Britain, you might have good cause to remember not only who the Chancellor is but the rest of the Cabinet,” said Hermione waspishly. “The Dark Lord might have eliminated them all …”
“Voldemort, at 10 Downing Street? Now, there’s a scary thought …”
Harry liked to joke about such things. It was his way of coping, Hermione knew. She herself was seeing a very good counsellor from St. Mungo’s about her traumatic experiences at Malfoy Manor and she suspected that Ron and Harry were bottling things up too much … But that was a conversation for another time. This afternoon she and Harry had a job to do.
As they ventured down the street called Spinner’s End, Hermione glanced around in dismay at the boarded up windows of the brick houses.
“What an awful place … did Snape never move from here? How depressing …”
“Well, he had a pretty depressing life all round, to be honest,” said Harry. “Poor sod.”
“There’s his house. The last one on the right, Professor McGonagall said -- oh!”
They both stopped dead in their tracks.
For a second, the last house on the right had looked completely different from the other more or less derelict houses in the street: both Harry and Hermione caught a glimpse of bright green curtains in the front window, a freshly painted front door, a polished door knocker and a window box full of scarlet geraniums …
Then, just as swiftly, the illusion had passed, as if someone had literally drawn a veil across the vision, and now the house looked just the same as the others — dirty, dark and sad, cringing beneath the shadow of the huge chimney of the long-disused mill, a grim leftover from the Industrial Revolution.
“I know, I know. I saw it too.”
“Then we’re not seeing things —”
“There’s an enchantment on that house,” said Harry, in his best would-be Auror voice.
“But who —? Harry, there can’t be, the place is deserted. Kingsley sent a bunch of people here earlier this summer, to check.”
“How would I know who? Former Death Eaters hiding out, maybe …”
“In that case, we must call for backup at once …”
“But then again, maybe not,” pondered Harry. “Because, on second thoughts, I don’t think Death Eaters would choose Snape’s old place. To them, he's a traitor …”
“Harry, you can’t afford to guess! If this is a trap, we need to get out now …”
“I just have a feeling, Hermione, an instinct … I don’t think this is an evil enchantment.”
“Honestly, Harry, if you’re going to train as an Auror, you can’t possibly just rely on your instincts! If you suspect anything dodgy happening at this house, we must alert Kingsley straight away!”
“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” said Harry, calmly. “You and I are going to Apparate into that house, right now.”
“Harry, no!” shrieked Hermione. “Stop for a minute, think —!”
But it was too late.
Harry had taken her arm, twirled them both on the spot, and: crack.
Half a second later, they found themselves in the tiny sitting room of the last house on the right.
“Harry!” shouted Hermione furiously. She whirled around, and so did Harry, both of them whipping out their wands as they did so.
Wall to wall was covered in books, all manner of books, books bound in black and brown leather and glossy coffee-table books and Penguin paperbacks. There was a black leather sofa, a huge and expensive Muggle TV set in the corner; light green curtains stirring in a slight breeze from the open window; and the room was filled with light because a chink in the clouds had allowed a finger of sun to point straight into the room …
In the doorway stood a thin, hook-nosed man in his late thirties dressed all in black.
Black denim jeans and a black pullover.
A glass of spilled wine lay at his feet. Newly washed black hair lay on his shoulders.
It was Severus Snape, and his face was white and contorted with rage.
Hermione’s piercing scream ricocheted off the walls.
As for Harry, the shock was so great that he could not move. Hermione was panting, clutching at her side. Harry simply stood frozen, pointing his wand at the black-clad, blazing-eyed apparition in the doorway.
Snape’s dark eyes seemed to swallow them both.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he rasped.
“Oh … oh, my God,” gasped Hermione, grabbing Harry’s arm. He could feel her trembling violently. Somehow he found his voice, although his throat felt very dry.
“Professor Snape …” he whispered, “you … er … you’re …”
“As articulate as ever, I see, Potter,” said Snape menacingly. “And lower your wand, for the love of Merlin! I don’t take kindly to being threatened in my own house.”
Harry did so at once.
“Of – of course,” he said. “Sir — er — you’re alive. Aren’t you?” he added as an afterthought, his profound shock obliterating any sense of embarrassment at how utterly idiotic this sounded. Which was just as well, because the anger and contempt on Snape’s face deepened by about ten degrees.
“Do I look like a ghost?” he sneered. His mouth twisted itself into a bitter shape. “May I remind you, Potter, that departed souls are always transparent?”
Hermione was still shaking with shock as she clutched at Harry’s arm. Harry felt considerably shaken up himself.
“Sir, you must forgive us, sir – we had no idea – we didn’t realise – we …” He attempted to rally himself and sound reasonable and calm. “I’m sorry, Professor Snape,” he said. “We believed you were dead.”
Snape’s eyes swept over them both. He seemed to be summing up the situation rapidly.
“Sit,” he snapped.
They looked wildly around them.
“On the sofa,” said Snape irritably. “For God’s sake!”
Harry and Hermione sank into the comfortable, glossy black leather sofa and stared at him numbly. Snape glared down at them.
“Actually, not wanting to be rude, but I think it’s you who needs to explain,” said Harry cautiously.
Snape regarded him with the grimmest of expressions.
“Sir, the Ministry think you’re dead. Everyone thinks you’re dead. Even though there was no body …We would never have barged into your home like this if we thought you weren’t, um, well, dead —”
Since he was descending further into fatuousness with every word he spoke, Harry decided at this point to shut up.
“P-Professor S-Snape … we s-saw you die … Nagini –” For once in her life, Hermione seemed incapable of speaking coherently. Harry pressed her hand reassuringly.
“Could you tell us, sir,” he appealed, “how – how you did survive?”
Snape’s face was still very white. He glared at Harry with dislike, and jerked his head sharply at the corner of the room.
There was a flash of scarlet-and-gold, an explosion of fiery feathers … a crimson bird with a sweeping golden tail had appeared, perched on a bird stand.
“Indeed. He came to me,” said Snape coldly. “After you vacated the Shrieking Shack in the apparent belief that I was dead.”
Harry said slowly, “But of course. Fawkes came to me too, once, when I was going to die at Voldemort’s hands — he healed me with his tears, he healed the bites that Voldemort’s basilisk had made …”
Snape jerked his head again. “Just so,” he said.
“Professor Dumbledore said that I must have shown him real loyalty,” said Harry, “because nothing else but that could have called Fawkes to me, to save me …”
Suddenly, he felt rather sick. Who had been more loyal to the cause of defeating Voldemort, as Professor Dumbledore had intended, than Severus Snape?
There were tears in Hermione’s eyes.
“It makes perfect sense, Harry,” she whispered, staring at Snape.
“Yeah, I know it does,” said Harry in a low voice.
Snape said haughtily, “The tears of the phoenix give life to those near death. I was nearly dead, past the point of no return, when I heard Fawkes singing. He appeared beside me and dropped his tears on my fatal neck wound. Then we both Apparated here.”
Hermione covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, God, Harry! We left him there for dead!” she wailed.
“Indeed,” said Snape. “No doubt feeling immense grief for this former Death Eater. And even if I weren’t dead, what of it?”
Hermione lowered her hands and stared at him. Her eyes were wide and horrified.
“Professor,” she breathed, “you can’t believe — sir, you can’t possibly believe that we would have left you there if we hadn’t thought you were already dead …”
“Really?” said Snape, raising his eyebrows. “In your eyes I was a murderer in collusion with Lord Voldemort, his right-hand man, in fact. Is it so surprising that you would leave my body to rot in the Shrieking Shack?”
“We — we — sir, no,” said Hermione, almost hysterically, the colour in her face rising. “Harry, tell him! You — we — I don’t know what to say, I — "
“We honestly thought you were dead, Professor,” Harry cut in. He gazed at Snape steadily, somehow willing him to believe them. “You must believe us. The Order of the Phoenix went to recover your body from the Shack on the afternoon after the battle … and when they didn’t find it, we thought the Death Eaters had taken it. Like they did with Professor Moody.”
Snape considered him, eyes narrowed.
“I see,” he said coolly.
“You must have read about it in the papers,” said Hermione tremulously. “There’s been loads about you, Professor, in the Daily Prophet – Harry’s been at the Ministry, clearing your name and telling everybody the truth about how you were working for our side all along — and, um, you’ve been recommended for a — a posthumous Order of Merlin,” she finished, blushing.
“Posthumous, eh?” said Snape acidly. “Dear me. What a disappointment it must be, to find I am alive after all!”
“No, sir, of course it isn’t,” said Harry. “You’ve given us one hell of a shock though.”
“Nothing that the Boy Who Defeated Lord Voldemort can’t cope with, I’m sure.” Snape’s mouth twisted again. “In the front headlines for weeks, eh, Potter? That must feel very pleasant.”
Harry met his sneering gaze without a flinch.
“Hardly, Professor Snape,” he said. “I lost fifty friends and colleagues in that battle. I would do anything to have them back again. Unfortunately, no one is the master of death. Not you, not me, not Voldemort.”
There was a short, explosive silence. Snape’s expression was unreadable.
He took a deep breath, and seated himself opposite, on a polished ebony chair with a crimson backing.
“So,” he said, his eyes continuing to bore into them both. “Why have you barged into my house, in such a rude fashion?”
“Well, sir, we were actually planning your memorial service,” Hermione said weakly. “We were going to look for — well, suitable things to say about you — we thought we might find books or something — photos, pictures —” Her voice tailed off.
“Alas,” said Snape. “And now you find me not dead. What a pity, to scupper these well-laid plans.”
Harry choked suddenly, trying to bite back a laugh. The situation was so surreal that he felt a desire to laugh maniacally and not stop.
Snape’s glare skewered him.
“Something amusing you, Potter?”
“No,” said Harry at once. “No, of course not. That was just, um, a nervous reaction. But, Professor — tell us — what have you been doing here? I mean — you can’t have been here all summer, all alone … can you? The whole wizarding world thinks you’re a hero, you know … so why — why hide away, up here? Why not let us know that you survived? There are people who would have come to help you …”
Once again, Snape’s expression was unreadable but Harry fancied he looked slightly less hostile than before. He raised his eyebrows ironically.
“What have I been doing here?” he said. “Getting on with my life. In peace and quiet. Undisturbed by the Ministry.”
“But all alone, Professor Snape?” enquired Hermione timidly. Snape could hardly fail not to notice the sympathy in her voice. His thin lips twitched.
“I have contacts about which you know nothing, Miss Granger. I have not been quite alone.”
“It’s all right, Professor,” said Harry. “You don’t have to tell us anything.”
“Thank you for making that gracious concession, Mr Potter,” said Snape cuttingly. “Believe me, I am under no illusion that I have to inform you of anything at all.”
Harry’s mouth twitched this time.
“Well, just not yet, anyway,” he said breezily, earning himself another icy glare. “But, you know, Hermione and I are quite thirsty. Perhaps you could offer us a cup of tea or something.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The thing is … we have things to say — no, it’s me, I have things to say — and so we’ll be here just for a short while.”
Harry glanced shrewdly at Hermione, and she gave a small nod.
“Oh, is that so?” said Snape. “And how about if I just kick you out, right now?”
“I honestly don’t think you want to do that, sir,” said Harry. “Actually, you really don’t want to do that, because I could send a message to Kingsley Shacklebolt at any second to inform him that you’re not, um, deceased. And there’s a time and a place for everything, and maybe having Ministry officials descend on you within the next fifteen minutes to check out my story isn’t … well, perhaps that wouldn’t be the best thing.”
The downright murderous expression on Snape’s face might have made Harry quail, once upon a time. However, just four months ago he’d gone to meet what he thought would be certain death at Voldemort’s hands in the Forbidden Forest. He could handle a not-dead Snape who looked as if he’d like nothing better than to throttle Harry on the spot. He pressed on regardless, “And anyway, we won’t presume on your hospitality for long. Will we, Hermione?”
“Absolutely not,” said Hermione.
“Good God, Potter,” said Snape softly. “It really has all gone to your head, hasn’t it? I do as the famous Harry Potter says or he alerts the Ministry? I have to jump to attention, because Kingsley Shacklebolt’s Golden Boy says I must? Your father would be proud of you.”
“I’m sure he would,” said Harry, “but not quite in the way you mean.”
It was his turn to skewer Snape with a hard stare. Snape’s eyes flickered.
Harry resumed, “I’ve no intention of calling the Ministry, sir. But refreshments really would be very nice. As I say, Hermione and I won’t be staying long.”
Another searching, prickly stare. Then Snape clapped his hands, causing Hermione to jump — she was still a little nervy, after the shock she’d received — and at once a house-elf appeared with a crack.
“Hebden,” said Snape brusquely. “Would you please bring us some of that excellent wine you made the other day? And have some yourself, of course.”
The elf, who had a wrinkled, ruddy face like an old apple, bowed. “Eh up, Mister Severus. I shall bring wine, tea and cake.” He spoke cheerfully with a broad Yorkshire accent. With a wink at Harry and Hermione, he disappeared again.
“Hermione,” said Harry quietly, “you wouldn’t, er, fancy giving Hebden a hand with all of that, would you?”
Hermione tried not to look too understanding. “Glad to,” she said, rising to her feet and looking with some trepidation at Snape. “I’ll, um, just find the kitchen then,” she said unnecessarily, and whisked out into the narrow entry hall, calling softly, “Hebden …”
Harry and Snape were left alone.
Harry summoned up his courage.
“Professor Snape, shall we — shall we go outside, just for a moment, into the garden?”
“Do you think, Potter, that you could restrain yourself, just for five minutes, from not ordering me around in my own home?” hissed Snape.
“I’m not trying to order you around, sir. But I wouldn’t be insisting if I didn’t think this was important.”
Snape bristled visibly, and then seemed to make a decision.
“Out, then,” he snapped, and rose to his feet.
“Through here,” he tossed over his shoulder coldly at Harry, leading him into the hall, then the kitchen, passing Hermione and Hebden busying themselves with tea things — Hermione gave them a quick glance as they passed — and out through the back door into a small yard.
A gate at the bottom of the garden led to some allotments: beyond that, another street of dingy brick houses, and beyond them, the moors.
The air was fresher: some of the clouds had broken up. Far above, the sound of a plane droned. In a nearby birch tree, a blackbird warbled of summer solitude.
Snape scowled at the view. Dressed in his Muggle attire of jeans and pullover (surely too warm for an August day), he looked thin and hunched and also slightly younger than Harry could remember, although his face was pale and pinched.
Harry cleared his throat and said, “I wanted to thank you, sir.”
“Thank me?” said Snape, in a bored voice, as if he had no idea what Harry could mean.
“Of course I do,” said Harry impatiently. Really, did Snape have to make this so very difficult? Oh well …he would hardly be Snape, otherwise …
“Professor Snape, you know how much I owe you. It was you who saved me — you gave me your memories so I could learn the whole truth — and then I knew what had to be done, what I had to do — without that, what you did, I think everything would have been lost. We couldn’t have beaten Voldemort. Not without you.”
Snape did not speak.
Harry continued to rush in where angels fear to tread.
“I loved Professor Dumbledore, as you know, and I still do … but in all honesty, I think you’re a braver man than he was.”
A muscle spasm rippled in Snape’s cheek.
“You think I am a braver man than Albus Dumbledore?” he said, slowly, as if testing and weighing the words.
“Yes,” said Harry. “What you did for us — for the Order of the Phoenix — I mean, God, spying on Voldemort for all those years without him rumbling you, that was unbelievable. It was brilliant!”
Snape’s face twitched again, as if something was crawling beneath his skin, fighting to get out.
“He rumbled me at the very end, though, didn’t he,” he said, flatly.
“Yes, but that wasn’t your fault,” said Harry. “There was — a flaw in the plan. Circumstances beyond your control. You did marvellously, really, sir.”
Snape gave him a withering look. “A flaw in the plan? You mean that business with the wand.”
“As I say, sir: circumstances beyond your control. You weren’t to blame for that.”
Snape glowered. He stared away from Harry, into the distance, at the line of hills which rolled beyond the factory chimneys. He looked bitter, withdrawn, shut in on himself.
“I let Voldemort know, by the way,” said Harry. “I made sure he knew you had never been on his side.”
Snape rallied himself.
“Oh, but you told him more than that, did you not?” he said, with a dangerous edge to his voice.
Harry suddenly realised the trap he had fallen into.
“Ah,” he said. “Er, well, yes. You won’t like this much, but it had to come out in the end. Yes, I told him the reason why you’d turned on him. I told him about — you loving my mother.”
“You did more than that!” said Snape, seething suddenly, like a cauldron. “You informed the entire god-damned school! As is clear from the newspaper reports of the final confrontation between yourself and Riddle, not to mention Rita Skeeter’s colourful interpretation of events!”
Harry made an effort to remain calm but he couldn’t help his voice rising slightly.
“Sir, please — try to see it in context — I was about to duel for my life! Voldemort was going to curse me any second and then it would all be over. I only said that about you and my mother because it was a way of proving to him who you were really working for!”
“Oh, but of course! Harry Potter, the boy who always thinks he knows best, sees fit to blurt out my inner secrets to the world!”
“Professor Snape, listen. I said all that because it proved your motives. Because it proved you were a hero, doing what you did because …” Harry took a deep breath, and plunged on, “because you had loved my mother.”
Snape’s glare, full of pain and anger, could have pinned Harry to the ground like a dagger.
“I’m sorry, sir. But you gave me those memories. It was your decision. I thought I was going to die that night anyway, and so did you. If we’d both died, your secrets would have gone with me to the grave.”
“But they didn’t!” spat Snape.
“No. They didn’t. And I didn’t go to the grave either. And … neither did you.”
“You’re just like your father,” Snape said bitterly. “Arrogant – rash – blundering in where you should not presume to tread — ”
“Yes, sir, of course I’m like my father. But I’m not responsible for his mistakes. Or the way he treated you. And … quite honestly, I think it’s time you dealt with that.”
“How … dare … you,” snarled Snape, but Harry cut across him.
“Yes, I dare. I’m not my father. With all due respect to you and all that you did to defeat Voldemort, this is something you need to move on from. I am not my father.”
There was a tense, explosive silence.
“Are you sorry I survived?” demanded Harry.
Snape sighed then: a long and bitter sigh.
“What an idiotic question, Potter,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “Utterly asinine.”
“Not entirely,” said Harry quietly. “You hated me. As far as I know, you still do. Not that it matters now, I suppose — not now what we both fought for has been achieved —”
Snape seemed to be wrestling with a violent inner conflict. After a while he said, stiffly, “No … I don’t … I do not hate you …”
“Wow,” said Harry. “Can I have that in writing?”
“Sorry, sorry. It was a joke.”
“Do you think that all of this was entirely about you?”
Harry couldn’t help reflecting that being the son of James Potter and Lily Evans did indeed mean that much of the war had been about him — certainly Snape’s reasons for fighting in it, and the reason why Voldemort had wanted to hunt Harry down.
But he felt it politic to reply, “No … no, I don’t.”
“And may I remind you furthermore that the last time you and I had a conversation of sorts — I do not refer to the exceedingly unpleasant events in that bloody Shack, which I naturally prefer to forget — you wished me dead.”
“It’s water under the bridge, Professor Snape. Everything changed when I saw your memories. And, believe me, I wasn’t happy to see you die. It was horrible. I’m — I’m terribly sorry you went through all that.”
Snape stood still, folded in on himself. Despite the absence of his usual wizard robes, he reminded Harry of a great, brooding bat.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “I’m an idiot, shooting off my mouth. I — just wanted to thank you. That was all.”
“Understood,” said Snape curtly. “And now perhaps you’re done with interrogating me.”
Harry nodded silently.
“Thank Merlin for that. Here’s Hebden.”
Sure enough, Hebden had appeared, bearing a tray laden with teapot, cups, saucers and plates piled with all manner of cake. Hermione was at his side, carrying a bottle of Hebden’s best elf-wine, a rich damson-red.
They made a bizarre little tea party, like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, so Hermione thought, what with Snape dressed all in black and glowering at his guests, she and Harry in their robes and the wizened little house-elf, arrayed in a spotless white garment, serving them with movements as fast as light. They sat in Snape’s tiny back garden on wicker chairs magicked by Hebden out of thin air, eating their cake and sipping their wine and tea off a low coffee table.
“The charm you put on the house, sir —” Hermione ventured.
“Was exceedingly useful,” said Snape, in an offhand way. "It certainly fooled Kingsley’s contingent."
He kept casting dark glances at Harry.
“I suppose you WILL tell the Ministry,” he said viciously.
“I have to, Professor,” said Harry. “You know I do. But … perhaps I can give you some time.”
Snape smiled sneeringly.
“How very obliging! Well, in that case, Potter, perhaps you could leave it until Monday. I was planning to go away this weekend.”
Harry and Hermione both looked blank. The sneering smile became wider.
“Yes, Miss Granger and Mr Potter, I had plans this weekend, and I don’t intend to let either of you spoil them. I depart early tomorrow morning for a short break in Budapest.”
“Budapest?” exclaimed Harry, as if he’d never heard of the place.
“Yes, Budapest, Potter; it is a city I know quite well, and I have contacts there and also in Transylvania.”
“Students have such a tedious mindset,” said Snape loftily. He was clearly enjoying himself. “You cannot possibly imagine any of your teachers having a life of their own outside Hogwarts!”
“I don’t want to be obtuse —” Harry began.
“Harry Potter, obtuse?” murmured Snape silkily. “Perish the thought!”
“I’m not meaning to be obtuse,” persisted Harry doggedly, “but being a double agent all those years, I mean, it must have been hard work, no time for a break …”
“A spy working in a school gets Christmas, Easter and summer holidays, Potter,” sneered Snape. “And not all of mine were spent here or at Malfoy Manor — or in Albania, for that matter. Or do you imagine that my professional career, committed to the unutterably tedious cause of protecting you, was one unending bleak desert with no relief in sight?”
Harry thought it prudent not to reply.
Thanking Hebden profusely for the tea, Harry and Hermione prepared to depart. It was five o’clock, and Professor McGonagall would be wondering where they were. They were due to eat dinner in the Great Hall with those teachers who had remained at Hogwarts during the summer holidays and then return by the Floo Network to The Burrow, where Ron’s parents and Hermione’s (who had been invited by the Weasleys to spend a few days there) awaited them. The Weasleys were Harry’s family now, and Ginny would also be waiting.
Snape watched them.
“Monday, then,” he said abruptly. “You will inform Kingsley, and then that will signal the end of my peaceful time here.”
“Well, I really hope it won’t be, sir,” said Harry. “I’m sure nobody wants to give you a hard time.“
Snape scoffed openly at this but Harry continued, “We’ll have to let Professor McGonagall know, when we return to Hogwarts. We, er, have a funeral to cancel. But I’m sure she can think of a diplomatic way of handling things.”
“I’m sure Minerva can,” said Snape, with a sour smile. “Better pour her a stiff firewhisky first.”
“She’ll be over the moon, Professor Snape,” said Hermione earnestly.
Snape sighed impatiently. “Really, Miss Granger. Curb yourself.”
“It’s true, though,” said Harry. “And … and I’ll tell Professor Dumbledore’s portrait. He’ll, um, be, pretty gobsmacked.”
“Well, well … that will be an interesting conversation. Albus and his beloved disciple,” drawled Snape in his silkiest voice. “Tell him from me that Fawkes carried out his duty admirably.”
“Yes, Professor Snape, I will,” said Harry soberly. He cleared his throat. “That will indeed be an interesting conversation, as you say.”
The green eyes met the black.
“I suppose I might drop in one day to talk to Albus,” said Snape indifferently. “If I have the inclination.”
Harry nodded. “Of course, sir.”
He took a deep breath and held out his hand.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “For everything that you did. For me. For us. For my mother.”
“Dear God, Potter …” Snape looked as if he were about to be ill.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Harry, unable to suppress a grin. “But you’ll be put out of your misery if you shake my hand.”
Snape grimaced so violently that for a moment Harry wondered whether his former Potions master was actually going to bare his teeth at him.
Instead, he tensed. Then, very slowly, he put out his hand and grasped Harry’s. He stared down at his fingers, coiled within Harry’s, as if his hand were an alien thing with a mind of its own. Harry shook hands enthusiastically. When he eventually let go, Snape regarded him with a good deal of suspicion. But there was something in his face that had not been there before. Harry was not sure he could name the expression, exactly … only that Snape’s face looked, perhaps, slightly less pale and pinched than before.
“Have a good weekend, sir,” he said. “Enjoy yourself.”
“Oh, I intend to, Potter,” said Snape smoothly. “Believe you me.”
“Budapest is such a fascinating city,” said Hermione. “I went there once with my parents, you know.”
“Of course you’ve been there, Miss Granger,” retorted Snape. “You’ve been just about everywhere, haven’t you?”
Hermione’s cheeks pinked, but she didn’t look put out. “Not quite, sir,” she said, demurely. “Good luck.”
As he and Hermione Apparated away into the darkness, Harry was aware of Snape’s eyes burning into both of them. That was the memory he took with him: those dark, restless, fiercely intelligent eyes, filled not with anger or hostility but something almost like vulnerability.
They Apparated back into the Hogwarts grounds at half past five precisely. It had obviously been a fine summer’s day up in Scotland, with a heavenly blue sky full of lacy clouds; the light was still full and rich, the sun slightly lower in the sky, as Harry and Hermione walked past the lake up to the castle.
They could hear sheep bleating in distant fields. A curlew’s song cried over the lake. Harry fancied he could hear another sound too, the far-off suggestion of singing. The Merpeople, perhaps ... He glanced over at Dumbledore’s white marble tomb on the far shore, smiling sadly at the memory of the Merpeople’s singing at Dumbledore’s funeral, and the achingly beautiful lament of the phoenix. Ah, dear Fawkes. Magnificent, life-giving Fawkes, now residing in a street called Spinner’s End in the north-west of England.
Fawkes, who had once come to Harry when Harry had desperately needed him. Fawkes, who had flown to Snape in his greatest hour of need, knowing where Snape’s true loyalties lay.
“Goodness me, Harry,” Hermione said, her voice soft with wonder.
“I know,” said Harry. “And he’s still a snide git, after all that!”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “Although — I don’t know — ” Her mouth quirked. “I can’t help wondering if he could ever bring himself to call you Harry.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure,” said Harry. “Oh yeah, I can see that happening. When hell freezes over and the Chudley Cannons win the first league Quidditch championships.”
Their combined laughter rang in the evening air. Hermione put her arm through Harry’s and he hugged her close, like the sister she was.
Oh, it was so good to laugh. It had been a bitter summer, full of death and remembering the fallen.
It was good to laugh. And now they had one less death to report.
Snape and Hebden sat outside in the evening sunshine and finished what was left of the wine. Harry and Hermione had only sipped a little, being responsible young wizards who had come of age a year earlier.
Snape had draped his black robe around his shoulders, as the air had grown quite chilly, and he was smoking.
“That Miss Hermione,” said Hebden, in his reedy little voice. “Right concerned about the rights of house-elves, she is.” He gave an appreciative chuckle.
“Tell me about it,” yawned Snape. “The girl’s obsessed.”
He was holding a piece of paper in his non-smoking hand.
“What be that, sir?” enquired Hebden. “And if you don’t mind my saying so, you should give that filthy habit up. It kills Muggles and poisons their lungs.”
“I know it does,” said Snape indifferently. “As for the note, your Miss Hermione left it for me in the kitchen.”
“Read it out loud then, sir,” suggested Hebden, leaning back in his chair and folding his skinny arms comfortably behind his head.
Snape pursed his lips, then did so.
Dear Professor Snape,
The legends say that the tears of the phoenix give life to the dying. We know the legends are true. You did it, sir, you became the master of death, because of the tears of the phoenix.
May Merlin bless you.
Hermione J. Granger
“Eh now, en’t that touching,” said Hebden fondly. “She be a good lass.”
“Very touching, yes,” said Snape, in a voice that indicated the exact opposite. But he folded Hermione’s note back into the pocket of his robes, where it lay in safety next to his precious photograph of Lily Potter.
“Don’t stay out in the evening air too long, sir,” cautioned Hebden. “I’ll go and finish your packing. Won’t take me a nano-second.”
“Thank you, Hebden,” said Snape.
He continued to sit for a while, drawing deeply on his cigarette and staring at the distant hills beyond the factory chimneys.
There was a low musical cry. Fawkes flew through the open kitchen window and alighted on Snape’s shoulder. His crimson wings brushed Snape’s face and his golden tail brushed the damp grass.
“Master of death, eh, Fawkes?” murmured Snape softly, caressing the bird’s sleek neck. “What nonsense.”
But there was the shadow of a smile on his face.