Snape had never felt so miserable. Harry was alive and he knew that he should simply be grateful. He just realised that he had behaved like an utter git, once again, as if he had learnt nothing from his experience of taking on a new life. He knew that it was wrong of him to speak to Harry in such a waspish, snide way, and still he couldn’t help the awful anger that was wrenching inside and bubbling out of him in the form of cruel words.
At least the others were leaving now. Only Harry and him left in front of the fire. No one else to witness his making a fool of himself. Snape peered between the strands of hair that were hanging before his face at Bill and Fleur as they left the room, almost on tip-toe, it seemed to him. Bill’s wife cast him a long look of wonder. He saw no contempt in her blue eyes, however, which strangely unsettled Snape all the worse than had she shown the habitual disdain which his tantrums unremittingly used to engender in the past.
Misery! What was eating him from the inside like this? He needed to get into control over it before he humiliated himself further in front of Harry. Fury - fury was the final result of his emotions, the expression of the sum of them. He couldn’t sort it out, he didn’t understand himself. He who had been so calm, so raised above all kinds of excitements since his resurrection! Was he just now tumbling back to what he had always been? Was this the moment the magic after the resurrection ended? What if he proved incapable of changing, after all? Would he from now on lead the same pitiful existence as he had done between his miserable childhood and the Dark Lord’s final demise? An existence without friends, with only contempt for wizardkind?
No! No, he refused to relapse into the old prejudiced and bitter outlook on the world he had lived in for so long, and the self-hate it had always created. He had promised himself after the resurrection never to backslide into the darkness, had he not? He needed to fight to regain his new attitude of forbearance and understanding. What was he afraid of?
Oh, yes - that was dread eating him from the inside. An engulfing, pure dread - he was able to identify the emotion now. It was mixed with the feeling of disappointment, of staggering regret and sorrow. An overwhelming sadness gripped Snape and for a few seconds the air was too heavy to breathe.
No! No self-pity. Snape was quick to reprimand himself. Self-command. Stamina. Come on, Severus Snape. What did Harry just tell you? To hear him out? Hear him out then!
Snape lifted his gaze to meet that of Harry’s which seemed to have been riveted on him for some time. Snape had not noticed that Harry had drawn his own armchair closer to his so that they were sitting face-to-face. A new surge of emotion squeezed Snape’s chest. He closed his eyes briefly.
Merlin, he was so tired, so easy a victim of his own emotions. Maybe he should just leave? Get some rest - and then everything would be solved when he woke up? Snape glanced longingly at the floo-powder pot again. To escape all this…
A cold hand was placed lightly over his own. Snape tore his eyes away from the mantlepiece to stare at the hand, then at the owner of it. Harry had bent forward slightly.
”Don’t leave,” said Harry. ”Let me explain. It was an accident.”
Snape looked away, at nothing at all this time. He found himself staring at a painting on the opposite wall. A motive from France - something that Fleur would have brought with her, maybe a painting by her uncle, Snape thought vaguely. His anger was gone, but his throat felt thick.
”It was an accident,” insisted Harry. ”You need to believe me.”
Snape shook his head imperceptibly. It didn’t help that Harry repeated his statement. The fact that Harry was in denial only made it worse. He could call it an accident for all he was worth. Snape knew that it was only a euphemism for what it really was. Oh, Harry needed help, Snape suddenly realised that. He would speak to Bill so that it was seen to. A visit to St Mungo’s as soon as possible. Professional, psychiatric help to aid Harry control his destructive impulses. Snape would play no role in that. He would withdraw, leave Harry with better equipped people. It would be better for both Harry and himself. Because this only hurt. What he had been through this night hurt too much. The worry. The dread. It was more than a friend could take! It even turned him back into that monster of verbal aggression that he used to be. Snape wanted to shout at Harry, to shake him by the shoulders, but realised that it would be in vain, because Harry was in denial. And to think that the insidious attempts might repeat themselves at any time. Any deception, any misfortune of Harry’s might trigger a new reckless act. He couldn’t stand it, he didn’t want to be part of it the next time.
”Severus, have some faith in me!” Harry whispered hoarsely, clearly unsettled by Snape’s wordless despondency. Snape felt his cheeks flush and looked at Harry again, contritely, but steadily this time. Seeing that he had got the older wizard’s attention, Harry went on.
”Even if Ginny’s news about being in love and about getting together with another witch were surprising, they came as a relief to me more than anything else,” he explained.
Snape made a slight grimace signalling disbelief.
”No, really - listen! Ginny and I have been living in this strange limbo ever since the end of the war, neither of us convinced enough of our feelings to make a definitive proposal. So cautious and so evasive, both of us. I, for my part, wasn’t sure that I was capable of entering a relationship at all! During the brief times when my self-confidence was restored to a point of even thinking about the issue, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I should choose to take the risk and venture into an uncertain relationship with Helena, or preferred to have a safe life with Ginny. Helena is exotic, exiting, but unpredictable, and it would no doubt be a turbulent relationship, with no immediate perspective of forming a family, or anything like that. Still who knows in the future? With Ginny I felt sure of having that, however - of having stability, safety - and a family. And yet, there was something lacking. There were too many expectations of normalcy, and it was all too predictable. Ginny felt something similar and that is why she acted the way she did, going with her instincts. She explained it all to me in her letter, kindly and considerately. I think she knew that I would understand. Still, her news were unsettling, and naturally it caused a turmoil of emotions, but most and for all, I felt happy. Happy for her and for me, because we’re both free to do what we want now.”
Snape looked at Harry who was speaking with passion. He was starting to believe his young friend. But why then, had Harry ventured outside in the storm like that? As if Harry read his thoughts, he sighed.
”There were too many impressions crowding my brain. I needed to sort things out, so I went for a walk. There wasn’t so much wind when I left, therefore I didn’t realise the danger. I know it was incredibly stupid of me to leave my wand behind, but honestly, I only wanted to take a stroll around the house. I had brought the letters with me, and I stopped to reread them every now and then. There was so much to process, so much to consider, that time passed without my noticing. I don’t deny that I was agitated and that I became reckless, but there was never any despair involved, I promise.”
Snape shook his head. It didn’t add up.
”If Miss Weasley’s rejection made you that… relieved, surely it was a clear indication where your affections lie. Why didn’t you just stay inside and floo Miss Rayo Hermosa at once?” he said. Harry blushed.
”I’ve told you that I’m not quite ready for a relationship yet,” he murmured. ”I still need more time to heal, and you forget…” Harry looked reproachfully at Snape. ”You forget that I received a second letter that morning. Your letter,” he emphasised. Snape blinked.
”My letter? Did my letter upset you? Surely it was nothing in comparison to the news Miss Weasley brought you. My letter was just… it was just…” Snape made an embarrassed, vague gesture.
”It was the most honest, the most heart-felt letter I have ever received,” Harry said with emphasis. ”It moved me more than I can describe, and it gave me a lot to think about. I lost myself in reflections on your letter, just as I lost myself literally, in the forest, as I wandered about while trying to grasp the nuances and the meaning of that letter.”
”You did? It was… I was only…” Snape fell silent, recalling that night not so long ago when he came back to his quarters at Hogwarts, after a long discussion with Albus. He had sat down at his desk, with his quill and a piece of parchment, wishing to express and explain his situation to Harry, trying to put words to his accumulated impressions since the resurrection, and trying to convey the conclusion he had reached. He had spoken about it, tentatively, to Albus who had encouraged him to be open with Harry. He was aware that it was an extremely personal letter, and he had been afraid from the moment he sent the owl off, of how Harry would take it.
Uncertainly, cautiously, Snape scrutinised Harry. The young man looked serious, slightly wondrous, and the least little bit pleading.
”Tell me how it all came about?” asked Harry. ”You explained in your letter, but I’m still not sure. You mentioned your conversations with Dumble-dore - with Albus,” Harry swallowed, but he still managed to refer to the headmaster much more easily than he used to do when he was at his worst, ”…and you spoke of your colleagues…” continued Harry, ”… but I’m not sure I understood quite everything.”
Snape considered Harry’s question. He supposed that he had written that letter more in a flow of consciousness than as a coherent text. He had kept the letter for twenty-four hours, rereading it the next night before tying it to the owl’s leg, and hesitated whether to rewrite it in a more distinct and comprehensive way, but then he wanted it pure and honest, and in the end he had resolved to owl it as it was.
”I made a decision…” Snape started tentatively, ”…after my resurrection, to change. I wanted to take the opportunity of making myself a completely different life, with a completely different attitude towards my fellow beings. I was aware, already in my former life, of my… my rudeness toward people. Heaven knows how your mother put up with me, because I was the same as a child. Taciturn, difficult, moody and gloomy. Somehow she managed to see beyond that.”
Snape sighed heavily and smiled sadly at Harry.
”The world would have been a much better place had Lily Evans been allowed to stay on Earth a bit longer. I believe both you and I needed her close to us.”
Harry nodded in response, matter-of-factly, acceptingly. He had long ago reconciled with the fate of his parents.
”Coming back from the dead last May, I felt so strong, and in peace, that I wanted to make up for my past deplorable existence. Don’t misunderstand me - it did not spring from a feeling of guilt, no, not at all, it was a genuine wish to do good, and to live well. A kind of neutral, but still ardent wish of giving and participating - if you see what I mean? Originally, I had quite ambitious plans, of going abroad, of sharing my knowledge about Potions with other less developed countries, working as a volunteer in poor wizard communities.”
Harry raised his eye-brows, but nodded as if he understood.
”I still haven’t given up on those plans, but Albus persuaded me not to rush, but to stay in a familiar environment at first and stabilise after the resurrection magic. I’m grateful for his advice now, because it proved to be more complicated than I thought at first. I’ve become less and less confident about my own ability. Not as a Potions Master, because I’ve always been confident about my professional skills and about my magical powers, but as a social being.”
Snape shook his head at himself.
”This new life of mine that I pictured in my head, was not only about performing good and useful deeds, but also to participate, socially, in everyday life.” Another shake of the head. ”I have endeavoured to live up to the first part of my resolution by working on various charity projects. I’ve been producing potions, donating them to an organisation which distributes them all around the world where dark conflicts are going on and where they are needed.” This time, Snape nodded with satisfaction at himself before he continued. ”I also inflicted on myself another style of teaching, endeavouring to encourage the students more than punishing them, putting my energy and all my commitment as a teacher to bring out the best of each of them, and to make them surpass themselves.”
Harry smiled, as if he was thinking that he would not have minded to have had the new kind of professor that Snape described in class.
”Still, the good deeds, the conscious improvement of my professional character have not proven enough to fulfil what I had in mind about my new life. Oh, I’m proud over my achievements and I will continue with the same, but… It’s one thing to make oneself useful and quite another to participate, heart and soul, in life and enjoy it. I wanted… to reach out to people, to make friends and to be generous to people on a more personal level. Do you understand what I mean? I had a notion of learning to speak cordially to people, of sharing things and of being close to them.” Snape shook his head and Harry met his gaze, half pityingly, half amused.
Snape cringed inwardly. To Harry it must sound ridiculous to make a huge enterprise of what people normally managed by social instincts only. But not him. How to explain this to Harry?
”It may sound vane, but I worked really hard at this,” he said. ”I’ve made great efforts to be friendly to my colleagues. I make sure to always acknowledge them when crossing one of them in the corridor or in the common room. I bring up diverse subjects that I figure will interest them and I have invited people for tea in my apartment. I have accepted invitations to various get-togethers among my fellow teachers, but…” Snape interrupted himself and frowned deeply again.
”Before I continue, I want you to know that I took this task very seriously. Besides trying to improve my ways with my colleagues at Hogwarts, I also made an effort to contact old acquaintances - relatives who I used to meet as a child and as an adolescent, but who did not seem particularly exciting to me at the time, but that I decided to give a new chance, because I had always been the one to judge and reject others too hastily before in my life. I contacted former class mates from school - those of them who did not become Death Eaters - there were a few after all. And study friends from when I passed my Potions mastery.”
”You sure made a real effort,” said Harry. ”How did it turn out?” He seemed genuinely curious.
”Oh, well… Neither a flop, nor a success, if you ask me. I met most people only once, and they seemed happy to small-talk and to catch up. Some of them might have done it simply out of sensationalism - I’ve figured frequently in the papers since the end of the war, haven’t I? But I allowed for that when I planned it out. Only two or three persons contacted me for a second meeting, though, and one of those was a former class mate who, unfortunately, was a bit… misled. She interpreted my advance as romantic and got quite clingy before I realised what was going on and could explain to her that it was not my intention to woo her.” Snape pulled a wry face.
”Could have been nice,” mumbled Harry.
”It was not what I’m after,” Snape replied curtly. ”As for my colleagues…” He frowned again in thought. ”I can honestly say that I only truly… er… appreciate…. a handful of them.”
Harry nodded with an ironic little smile on his lips, as if he had expected nothing else, which irritated Snape somewhat.
”Well, some of them are fools, you cannot deny it. Take Trelawny for example.” Snape raised his eye-brows challengingly, only to look pleadingly at Harry the next moment as if searching for back-up. ”Isn’t she a fool?”
”I guess she is,” replied Harry. ”Yet, people of a certain mind might enjoy her company, at least when she’s cured of her dipsomania.” Albus had taken Sibylla Trelawny in charge after the war, conditioning her continuous employment at Hogwarts to a strict temperance pledge, which had only improved her character marginally, according to Snape.
”I don’t belong to those people who appreciate her character,” concluded Snape drily. ”Still, I make a point of being polite toward her,” he emphasised. ”But I have not won her over. She’s still afraid of me, in a passively aggressive way, and so are a couple of the other teachers. There’s not much I can do about it. They are all marked by my former behaviour.” Snape sighed. No, he would have to accept that some people would never believe that he managed to change.
”What about those you do find interesting, those who you like, then?” asked Harry.
”How can I explain?” said Snape. ”With some people I feel that there is a… a potential, if you like… I respect them and enjoy their company. For example, I actually have a lot in common with Filius Flitwick.” Harry raised his eye-brows. ”You wouldn’t say so at a first glance, but it’s true, especially when it comes to discussing magical theory. He’s also very entertaining in an intelligent way, and he’s got a light and pleasant character that I admire.” Snape nodded to himself.
”That’s great. I always liked him, too,” said Harry. ”And he’s been very forthcoming with literature about art theory and magical painting methodology.”
”Also, I have the greatest respect for Minerva McGonagall,” continued Snape. ”Hagrid, too, has risen in my esteem, and I have taken to broom-flying with Madam Hooch, for exercise, but also for the good company. Finally, I feel most affectionate about your hosts, Bill and Fleur Weasley.”
”Well, that makes a handsome bunch of people that you like and who I’m sure respect and value you in return,” said Harry.
”But… but…” Snape felt frustrated. ”There’s this impediment… this… this invisible hindrance which I don’t know how to get rid of. I don’t truly reach these people. The friendship advances to a certain point, and then it stops. I know I’m doing something wrong. I know that they’re not completely comfortable around me, but I don’t know what it is.” Snape made an impatient gesture with his hands.
”I was confident and hopeful at the start of term, because I thought that my new attitude worked and that I made progress. I thought that I might be developing several valuable friendships. But it came to a halt somehow, despite my most sincere efforts. The problem is that social events put a strain on me. They tend to wear me out. It costs me a lot of energy to participate at all, and it seemed to me that you had to put up with such a large number of those events to belong socially. They repeat themselves endlessly and people seem to enjoy them, but I don’t. I just don’t.” Snape sighed heavily. Harry nodded sympathisingly.
”Finally, I came to the conclusion - and that is what I tried to explain in my letter to you - that my character is simply not made for a grand social life. I might not even be able to sustain a very limited number of friendships.” Snape shook his head.
”There were so many good intentions at the beginning of the term,” he said dejectedly. ”So much hope and longing for a change in life. Sadly, during the past months, all of it gradually became clouded with doubts, with disappointment and, finally, the necessary deduction and the acceptance of the fact that I’m not a social being.”
Harry lifted a hand.
”No, no, Harry, don’t protest, don’t even try to find extenuating circumstances, because I assure you that I’ve been through all of them, and still what remains is that I am socially incompetent. I know - you will say to me that I have proven that one can work on it to a certain degree. Particularly with the help of the resurrection magic, I had a surge of improvement. Yet, this is it - it stops here. I can no longer ride on the wave of elation the resurrection bestowed me with.”
Harry did indeed look as if he wanted to protest, and he looked desolate for Snape’s sake.
”I’ve discussed it at lengths with Albus, and I don’t deny that a few weeks ago, I did feel very depressed about it,” continued Snape. ”But I’m starting to accept the fact that I can push myself no further. I was naive to believe at first that it was only a question of trying. I always thought that my former rude and antisocial self was a choice - a bad choice - that I made, but I never thought of it as an… ineptitude. Still, that’s exactly what it is. I’m not capable of extensive social interactions. I am in fact only capable of very limited such. I deplore it, but that’s how it is. As I wrote to you, however - as I tried to explain in my letter…” Snape was suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of feeling and the words got stuck in his throat. This was the difficult part, the part where he exposed himself, bared his throat and risked his heart. Instinctively his whole being protested against such imprudence.
Harry who must have an inkling about what was going on inside him - because he had read the letter after all - put a hand over Snape’s and squeezed it gently. His expression was gentle and his eyes shone of a kind of shy compassion, with a glimmer of a most tentative expectation. Snape cleared his throat and forced himself to continue.
”In the process of all these efforts, I realised that there are only two people in the world that I feel completely comfortable with,” he whispered hoarsely. ”Two people around who I can be myself, effortlessly.” After a short hesitation, Snape inhaled quickly and spoke on the next exhalation.
”Those two people are Albus and you.” There was a long pause because Snape was temporarily overwhelmed by self-consciousness and Harry seemed strangely tongue-tied as well.
”There used to be Lily.” Snape swallowed and smiled, trying to overcome his embarrassment. ”And no doubt she is part of the reason why I value your friendship so much. It’s natural after all that I should care about her son - now that I’ve let go of my jealousy of James Potter and now that the resistance and struggle against the dark forces of Voldemort are over.”
Harry, too, fought to get back to his bearings and cleared his throat.
”That struggle was so tearing and destructive!” he confirmed. ”I’m sorry that you needed to play such an awful role in the war, because it certainly postponed the moment when friendship between us was conceivable at all.” The young wizard sounded sincerely regretful, but avoided to meet Snape’s eyes in what seemed to be some kind of awkwardness of his own.
”Since the war ended, however, our friendship has progressed fine, has it not? It has certainly exceeded my expectations,” said Snape tentatively, experiencing that vague feeling of uncertainty and dread over the fact that the involvement he felt towards Harry might not be reciprocated. His young friend seemed unduly embarrassed after all. What if he had misjudged the situation? As if noticing Snape’s need for reassurance, Harry acknowledged:
”Indeed, it has.”
”I told myself,” continued Snape, encouraged, ”after the disappointing realisation about my anti-social character, that if I could bring myself to… to really get to know one or two persons and maintain a deeper relationship with them, my new life would not be in vain.” He nodded to himself. ”It has been very rewarding to help you recover and arrange so that you could pursue your studies. You’re intelligent, perceptive and pleasant to be around, and you’ve got experiences and a wisdom of life that are out of the ordinary for a wizard your age. And even if I disapprove of your recklessness, you’re most and for all a sensitive person with a natural, intuitive and delicate way of treating your fellow-beings. All very different from me, but those are traits I’ve come to appreciate in a friend. And I wanted, in my solitude and discouraging failings at human interaction, to confess to you that my dependency on you are just as great as, or greater than the dependency on me and Mme Pomfrey that the circumstances of life temporarily placed you in after the war. You’ll soon be recovered and fit for continuing with your life, exploring new possibilities and… I was afraid… that you might forget about me once you’ve set out into the world. This selfish thought embarrassed me, but Albus turned the tables around and said that I should indeed make sure to tell you this, to give it a chance and to be honest with myself as well as with you, and conceal nothing. And in that letter - I concealed nothing.” Snape caught his breath and went silent.
Harry had sat a very still and a little hunched on himself during the long explication. Shivers of cold travelled through him from time to time, but more infrequently now than before. When Snape finished, he straightened himself up and fixed his deep green eyes on Snape’s.
”Is it true what you wrote about me?” he whispered.
Snape was momentarily confused. Of course it was true, everything in that letter was true, he had just explained it, had he not? he thought. What, specifically, did Harry refer to? He furrowed his brows questioningly.
”Is it true…” Harry blushed slightly. ”…is it true when you wrote that had I been younger, you would have proposed to adopt me?”
”It’s true,” replied Snape without hesitation. ”Especially since I now know about the deplorable way the Dursleys treated you.” Snape let the surge of anger when he thought about Petunia Dursley sink away before he continued. ”I know that you’re an adult now and that an adoption would serve no purpose, but it was the best way to explain and to express what kind of feelings I have for you.”
Harry took a deep shuddering breath.
”It was the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me, and the most generous offer - although hypothetical - that I’ve ever got,” he exhaled. ”And this part of your letter in particular caused me to become agitated when I first read it, much more than what Ginny wrote to me, because it opened up so many possibilities.”
Snape lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
”I realised when reading your letter that this is exactly what I need.” Harry shook his head, but kept his gaze steadily at Snape, as if daring himself to respond to the older wizard’s confidence with just as much honesty. ”I’ve felt so damn frail after the end of the war, so off balance, so afraid of life. It’s starting to get better, but I think that this is just what I need, to have someone to rely on, to have an older friend that I can count on and who I know will welcome me when I visit.” Harry sighed, a little breathless. He still seemed tense. ”Take the big feasts of the year for example. Christmas is nearing and I’m so ambiguous about it. Of course I know that the Weasleys want me to celebrate with them, but still, they might want some privacy at least some of the time, won’t they? And I haven’t known what to do with myself. Because I don’t have anyone. I’m all alone.”
”I’d like to be that someone,” Snape replied with a hammering heart. ”I’d like to be that person you can come to when you don’t know what to do with yourself. I’d like to spend time at Christmas with you, and I’d like to invite you to my house and to go and visit you whatever part of the world you’ll end up in.”
Harry looked at Snape with a smile and a hopeful glimmer in his eyes.
”We can do this,” he whispered. ”We can choose it all by ourselves, without the need for official bonds. Thank you for being so honest, Severus. That’s one of the things I so appreciate about you. That and that you’re so reliable, so loyal. You’ll have to thank D… Albus for making you write that letter. It was the best thing you could have done - even if it caused me to get lost in a snow storm.”
Snape grimaced at the horrible irony of it all. It was his letter that had driven Harry out in the storm and caused him to get lost. For all its honesty, that letter could have ended in a disaster - but it did not. Snape started to laugh out of sheer relief. It was not until now he dared embrace the fact that Harry was safe. Harry joined him in the laughter and there was a moment of detention and sheer merriment.
Instead of a disaster there is hope of something better still, thought Snape. He would indeed make sure to remember to thank Albus.
Albus… Snape gradually grew serious again and looked thoughtfully at Harry. Why not? Why not take the opportunity to ask the question he’d wanted to ask for so long?
”Harry,” he said cautiously. ”Harry, what’s really the problem with Albus and you? Why can’t you meet him? Why do you have difficulties even pronouncing his name? Do you resent his coming back to the living? Do you blame him for the conditions of your childhood? What is it?”
Harry’s smile died away and he looked warily at Snape, but he did not seem to resent Snape for bringing the subject up. Instead he looked thoughtful and slightly unsettled.
”It has not been very clear even to myself,” he began. ”It has been an instinctual reaction, intimately linked to my disease, subsequent to the removal of the horcrux and the post-traumatic stress after the war. But you’re right in suggesting that there must be something else, too.” Harry paused and looked away. After a while he added in a mere whisper: ”I just now realised what it might be.”
Snape leant forward. Realised just now? What did Harry mean? Harry glanced guardedly at Snape.
”When I watched the strength of your reaction earlier, when we came back to the house, I understood you, because I recognised something similar in myself.
I understood that… even if you had written that letter and confessed to those… fatherly feelings for me, for a moment you actually considered leaving me to my fate, didn’t you?” asked Harry. Snape felt himself blush with shame for his earlier reaction, but answered honestly.
”This night, I thought that I had lost you, that you might be dead. The prospect of losing someone you love… is terrible. There is so much personal and existential pain involved that sometimes it appears unbearable. In a way, one is safer without anyone close to care about. That’s why I reacted the way I did. But it’s not the kind of life we want to lead, is it? I just explained to you - I want to embrace people and emotions, not flee them.”
”No, shunning people is not what we want, but after being through what you and I’ve been through in our lives - particularly with living a war - it’s natural for us to be cautious. I suppose…”
Harry’s voice crackled. He continued in a very low voice, forcing Snape to lend forward to be able to hear him.
”I suppose that I loved D… Albus very much.” Harry drew a deep breath. ”He was the closest to a grand-father that I ever had. I know he was the headmaster of the school and that he needed to treat all his students equally and fairly, but it still felt like he did make the slightest little exceptions for me, and that he truly cared about me. During all my adolescence he was the one adult that I truly respected and looked up to. I was angry with him as well, for keeping me in the dark sometimes, but he withstood my anger. He even apologised to me - and very few adults have gone as far as that where I’ve been concerned, believe me. I was fiercely loyal to him all those years. I even resisted the Prime Minister when he wanted me to take the easy path of populism, and I told him that I was Dumbledore’s man through and through.”
Snape noticed that Harry didn’t even stumble on the name, caught in his passionate description of his loyalty to Albus Dumbledore.
”His death devastated me,” whispered Harry and closed his eyes. So did Snape briefly. ”It made the world so dark and dangerous all at once. It forced me to grow up. And later, I read about him in Rita Skeeter’s book. I read about his youth, about Grindlewelt, about his sister - and I understood that he was just a man. I would so much have liked to get to know that man, to hear him speak about those events in his life. He was a grand-father figure to me - and an idol, because he was the greatest wizard of all times, but I never really got to know him.”
”It’s not too late, Harry. He’s with us again,” said Snape softly.
”But for how long?” Harry replied hotly with a choked voice. ”It hurt so much when he died the first time. I mourned him so deeply. I cannot… I cannot endure the thought to be there again when he dies a second time, for good. I had better stay away. I cannot take it. You know how it feels. That’s why you wanted to leave, earlier.” Harry grew increasingly agitated while he spoke, as if he could barely stand his own thoughts and emotions.
Snape took a deep steadying breath. He did indeed know what Harry meant.
”I was very close to falling back into my old ways just now, but in the end, I didn’t flee, I stayed, didn’t I?” he said. ”If we succumb to our dread of death and the fear of separation from the ones we love that follows with it, we will only punish ourselves. The alternative is a solitary and numb life - one that I’ve led, but that I now desist. I choose - choose do you hear me? - not to live in dread of death this time. You can make that choice, too. This absurd way of avoiding Albus only prevents you from loving him the way you do, is not that so?”
”I… I…” said Harry in a muffled voice. He squirmed and rose to his feet in a fit of extreme discomfort and anxiety, as if he, too, wanted to escape physically from the difficult realities of life.
”Harry…” Snape rose as well, trying to simultaneously plead with and soothe the young man. ”You can count on me, now. I’ll be there. I’ll come with you when you visit Albus. Me too, I love him. I care for him and I dread the day he will disappear. He is old and he is cursed. Still, I think that the curse has lost some of its power from the resurrection and it wouldn’t surprise me if Albus dies from some other, quite natural cause before it takes its toll. There is still time. You shouldn’t waste the opportunity. And after he disappears, I will still be there for you.”
Harry had put his face in his hands, as if hiding from Snape’s words and hiding from his own shame at the same time. He removed them, met Snape’s eyes, wrinkled up his face and started to sob quietly, but heart-brokenly. Snape took one step forward and enclosed Harry in a hug, upon which Harry’s sobs increased in intensity. Snape cradled the back of Harry’s head briefly, then contented himself to just hold the broken young man, stroking his back slowly, soothingly and allowing himself the comfort of leaning his cheek against Harry’s hair.
It felt good to be comforting Harry, and Snape’s heart flared with protectiveness. But it felt good, too, to have bared his own feelings and to have confessed his own dependency on Harry. It put them on an equal footing which bode well for their future relationship.
As Harry calmed down, Snape grabbed him gently by the shoulders and held him at arms length, scrutinising him.
”Will you agree to give Albus a chance?” he asked. ”He hasn’t quite reached the peace of mind that I believe he deserves and I think that your reconciliation would remedy that.” Snape nodded to himself - he was quite sure of his own analysis of Albus’ lack of tranquility. ”We only need to persuade him to let you call him Albus, because you stumble too much over his last name - but I think that won’t be a problem.” Snape smiled. ”You’re both ready to take that step. What do you say?”
”I’m ready to give it a try,” replied Harry simply, and for the first time since the end of the war, Snape detected a glimmer in the young wizard’s eyes of true hope. Snape felt his own breast swell with determination and conviction that he would be able to help Harry reconcile with Albus Dumbledore.