This is a sequel to ’Spring Blues, Aftermath’, but can probably be read independently. Set in the summer and in the autumn following the end of the war, the sequel is not part of the spring fic fest, although there is an epilogue set at the one year anniversary of the battle of Hogwarts in May.
Unlike Spring Blues, this story is mostly told from Snape’s POV. A lot of Harry - although indirectly through others’ eyes - some Bill and Fleur Weasley and, eventually, some Albus Dumbledore. The build-up of the story is slow, but leads to a long emotional scene in chapter 6, so please read patiently… Unbeta:ed, unfortunately, because my friends seem so busy that I didn’t even dare ask them… but it will have to do for now. Here we go then.
1. Chapter 1 by Henna Hypsch
2. Chapter 2 by Henna Hypsch
3. Chapter 3 by Henna Hypsch
4. Chapter 4 by Henna Hypsch
5. Chapter 5 by Henna Hypsch
6. Chapter 6 by Henna Hypsch
7. Epilogue by Henna Hypsch
Severus Snape shut his book with a small snap, put it down on the side table and rose from his armchair in front of the fire. He felt strangely unsettled, as if unconsciously striving to brush off an undefined sense of foreboding. The effort obviously divided his energies enough to make him unable to concentrate on reading.
Snape smiled wryly and shook his head at himself. Half a year ago, in the wake of the extermination of Voldemort and his horcruxes, during the first few months after his own rebirth, Snape would have sworn that he would never again experience impatience, nor frustration for that matter. Snape sighed. He still remembered with crystal clarity that feeling of extreme serenity that followed the resurrection, which in turn had been brought about by the sacrificial ancient magic that Professor Dumbledore had successfully experimented on and which had permitted Severus Snape to come out on the living side of the war. That whole feeling of being cleansed, that drunken feeling of absolution, of euphoria, still lingered in Snape’s body. Snape shook his head again - he was overwhelmed by the favour that had been bestowed on him. He doubted that many wizards would ever experience the same.
Snape advanced towards one of the three windows in the living-room of his new apartment at Hogwarts. Moving quarters was one of a handful of measures Snape had taken when he decided to stay on and to continue to teach as a professor at Hogwarts. He had switched his private lodgings in the dungeons to a flat in the castle’s main body, at the top floor, as high up as you could come but for the attics. He had a view over the inner court and, if he looked over the tiles and between the tourets of the opposite building, he could usually see the blue mountains far off at the other side of the forest.
Tonight, however, the view was heavily impaired by a thick snowfall. Snape could barely distinguish the light in the farthest tower, where the headmaster was still working. It was only the end of November, but Winter had opened with a magnificent storm that had swept in over the whole country in the morning and that still showed no signs of abating in the evening.
The storm itself was part of the explanation for Snape’s present disquietude. He had sent off a letter the previous night and was hoping to receive an answer, but no owl would venture out delivering in this weather. And here lay the difference between the Snape of today and the newborn Snape of six months ago: hope and expectations had sneaked their way back into his life, and with them came the risk of being disappointed. The early beatitude after the resurrection, where just existing sufficed to make him happy, had somewhat subsided.
Hypnotised by the wildly whirling snowflakes out in the dark, Snape’s thoughts drifted off to one day at the end of summer, when his patience was still unlimited and his hopes and expectations of life only budding.
Snape had been standing in the Entrance Hall one late morning of August waiting for Harry to join him. Harry was going to London and had asked Snape to accompany him, which Snape had agreed to do. Harry, as in Harry Potter, had been living at Hogwarts since the close of the battle in late spring, recovering from a mysterious illness - a strange post-traumatic condition that had afflicted him after the war.
The resurrections of Albus Dumbledore and of Severus Snape had played no small part in the symptoms that Harry experienced and Harry had initially been unable to stay conscious in Snape’s presence. With the resilience that was so typical of Harry Potter, however, the young man had admirably found a way, through Art and painting, of approaching his difficult emotions and of dealing with the plaguing memories from the war. This was one of the first insights that the resurrected Snape gathered about his former student; namely that the famous surviving skills of the Boy-who-lived did not come easily, but involved a rather painful process of struggling.
Harry was late. They were supposed to have left a while ago, but Snape did not let the fact bother him. He did, after all, not have an appointment, only Harry did, and Snape was simply the travelling companion. Snape was perfectly contented with contemplating the improved stone ornaments of the ceiling in the Hall when he finally perceived soft footsteps coming down the stairs.
”I’m sorry I kept you waiting, Severus,” said Harry.
Snape only nodded in quiet recognition and gestured calmly at the exit to lose no more time and to motion Harry on. The young wizard hesitated briefly before he moved past Snape with jerky movements. Snape was familiar with Harry’s expressions and ways of carrying himself by now, and found that the tightly set jaws and the lack of smoothness in his movements betrayed Harry’s agitation. Snape did not comment on it, though, until they were well on their way on the path towards the gates of Hogwarts.
”Is something the matter?” he inquired then. Harry sighed deeply, then chuckled nervously.
”Well, only… It’s nothing new, really…” Harry hung with his head so that Snape couldn’t see his face properly. ”It’s the same misgivings, you know, as I told you about when I asked you to come with me to the vernissage. I’m nervous because there will be so many journalists… and so much people around… I’m not used to it after three months of confinement…” Harry looked up at Snape with a pale, taut face. ”I’m not sure I’ll be able to go through with it,” he finished rather dramatically.
Snape hummed noncommittally, not raising to the bait. They had been through these arguments already a few days ago when he visited Harry in the hospital wing at Hogwarts where the young wizard seemed to have taken up residency. It was with great ambiguity that Harry had told Snape about the invitation to the vernissage in London where, among other charmed pieces of art at display, the magical installation in homage to the victims of the war would be uncovered.
”I know it’s for a good cause.” Harry went on, forced to stay rational by Snape’s refusal to pity him. ”If I’m going to appear in the press again - and I know that we concluded the other day that I cannot avoid it at length - the inauguration of the memorial is as good an occasion as any. Moreover, after painting on my own all summer, I must admit that it’s tempting to visit an exposition and to be able to watch the works of real artists.”
Snape nodded in understanding. He had followed Harry’s progress with paint and wand with great interest and was impressed by the young wizard’s achievements.
”Also, there will be people I know at the opening. Not Ron and Hermione, of course, because they won’t be back from their trip to Australia until Christmas, but Neville promised to come… Several former members of the Order will be there, too… Not the Weasleys, though, because they’re still in mourning, but others will make an appearance…” Harry rambled on nervously, as if trying and, it seemed to Snape, failing to reassure himself. The young man finished his tirade with: ”And… And… I suppose I will be fine, because you’ll be there, too. I can’t say how grateful I am that you agreed to join me!”
The words gushed out of the young wizard with irresistible sincerity and Snape smiled briefly in response to Harry’s sudden confession. He was in reality baffled by how far the friendship with Harry had progressed from the day he first declared his intention to get to know Lily’s son. From falling unconscious at the sight of him, through wariness and reserve, to trust and embracing acceptance, it had only taken a few weeks time. Harry was a truly remarkable individual to be able to let go of the past like that.
But then, since the resurrection, Snape found himself constantly baffled by diverse things in life, to a point where he had given up wondering about them. Things that would have appeared awkward, or embarrassing to say the least, in his former life, he now accepted without a ghost of objection. This was the greatest gift of being reborn, thought Snape. The fact that it opened you up to things. No prejudices seemed to remain from before. Instead the experience was that of extreme clear-sightedness, leading to a chain of epiphanies, no less. So Snape did not fight it, he simply let things baffle him.
Like now, he accepted Harry’s gratefulness with a dry, but mild:
”I’m happy to be at your disposal. I’ll make sure to pick you up if you faint.”
At which Harry grinned back and seemed to relax a bit. After a while Snape added:
”You alluded the other day to having an additional, more personal, motive for going to the vernissage - what would that be?”
Harry cleared his throat.
”Yeah, well… I’ve told you about Helena, the artist who taught me to paint?” he said.
”The young restoratrice who worked last spring with the ruined portraits at Hogwarts,” stated Snape. ”I’ve heard about her, but I never met her in person while she was there.”
”She’s a real artist. Portrait restoration is only for earning a decent living, but her dream is to have her own gallery. Anyway, she has been chosen together with nine other contemporary artists to have a couple of pieces of her own art hung at the exposition,” said Harry, finishing the sentence in what seemed an abrupt fashion.
”Yes… So?” prompted Snape, for he could read between the lines that there was more to it. Harry coloured a little.
”So, she’s really proud and happy about getting this chance of displaying her art,” he replied.
Snape looked at him and Harry blushed more deeply.
”And… And she asked me specifically to come. She invited me personally,” he said defiantly. ”We… we’ve been writing to each others over the summer and spoke on the floo on a number of occasions.”
Snape raised his eyebrows.
”We needed to floo, because she was going to show me a blending technique and a new charm. It was… It was purely professional…” insisted Harry.
Snape could not tell why Harry behaved so defensive and betrayed such embarrassment. During the summer at Hogwarts, he had seen very little of Miss Ginny Weasley who he knew had a history with Harry, but he did not know Harry well enough to enquire into his romantic life so he had never asked about it. Snape must have looked a little confused, because Harry continued in a calmer tone.
”I mean that Helena and I are friends. And so I want to support her and help her if I can…”
Snape frowned, alarm bells and protective instincts setting off immediately.
”She hasn’t asked you to speak to the journalists on her behalf, has she?” he said a bit harshly.
”Merlin, no! She’s not like that. She’s not using my fame to promote her paintings, if that’s what you think,” answered Harry, now bright red in the face. ”In fact, she’s forbidden me to appear to favour her in any way,” he continued.
Snape still looked vaguely suspicious.
”Look, you’ll meet her at the vernissage and see for yourself,” Harry said hotly. Snape waved his hand defensively.
”No, no,” he mumbled. ”I have no business to question your friends. Just be careful, that’s all I want to say.”
Harry’s expression softened.
”I want to introduce you,” he said. ”She’s a fantastic person and… and when it comes to her area of expertise, when it comes to everything that has to do with Art, she’s really - competent.” Harry seemed to make an effort to find an adjective that would make an impression on Snape. ”She has invited me to visit her working studio in the afternoon. You might come as well, if you want,” Harry added.
Snape was caught somewhat off-guard by the offer, but answered evenly after a short pause for consideration.
”I don’t think so. I’ll attend the inauguration, but later I have a few things of my own that I’d like to do.”
”But you’ll come to the party in the evening, won’t you?” asked Harry anxiously.
Snape pulled a wry face. He had always loathed social events. But then he supposed that now if ever was the time to reconsider that feeling, riding on the benevolence and the fresh openness from the resurrection.
”I’ll come with you,” he growled. He was not convinced that it would prove a success. He was not an entirely new person after all. It would be strange if all his previous preferences and antipathies vanished completely. He would give it a try, though. Why Harry wanted to be accompanied by a former teacher, old enough to be his father, was beyond him, however. Of course part of the explanation would be that Harry’s best friends were absent. At any rate, since the young wizard was not entirely recovered from his disease and was apparently full of insecurities, Snape decided to comply with the young wizard’s wishes. Harry’s next question confirmed Snape’s concerns.
”Severus, are you sure… I mean, are you completely sure that the headmaster…?”
A shadow of sadness passed over Snape’s face as he cleared his throat.
”Albus had an engagement elsewhere,” he said.
”But what if he changes his mind and…” Harry said frightfully. The blatant inability to stay in Professor Dumbledore’s company was what remained of Harry’s post-traumatic condition, but that particular aversion was undiminished. The anticipatory anxiety connected to the old wizard seemed on the contrary to have increased. Harry went out of his way to avoid contact with the resurrected headmaster. Snape sighed heavily.
”Harry,” he said firmly. ”Albus will not change his mind, because he knows you’ll be at the inauguration and he’s perfectly aware of your difficulties connected with his presence, believe me. It’s of great distress to him, but he accepts it and he will not force himself upon you until you are ready.”
Harry pressed his eyelids with his thumb and index fingers as if to force back tears.
”I’m sorry… I just… I’m sorry. I wish that I could… I wish…”
”It’s not your fault, Harry. This… intolerance… will no doubt give way… eventually.” Snape made a vague gesture. ”It did with me, didn’t it?”
Harry still looked miserable and not the least convinced, and Snape must admit that Harry’s phobia against Albus persisted far beyond what he would have thought possible. But it would do Harry no good if Snape went along with his lack of faith in his own recuperation capacity.
”Fortunately this new life of mine has given me oceans of patience,” Snape added dryly, in order to break the oppressive mood.
Harry gave a sudden laughter that sounded more like a choked sob.
”What would become of me if it weren’t for the resurrected Severus Snape?” he bantered bravely, but his eyes told Snape that there was an ounce of truth to what he said. Snape was surprised at the warmth in his chest in response to the trust that he read in those green eyes.
A sudden rustle in the fire place startled Snape where he was standing alone in front of the window in his apartment at Hogwarts, lost in thoughts and hypnotised by the violently tossing white flakes that were ripping the darkness outside. The fire seemed to crackle briefly with magic and Snape approached a few steps, frowning to himself. Was someone trying so get through the floo? It would be a dangerous business with an ongoing tempest that disrupted the magical structures in the atmosphere. Just as risky for a wizard to attempt as for an owl to fly in the storm.
The fire settled again, as if the possible attempt was interrupted, and Snape’s thoughts returned to Harry and to Albus. Even if Albus was resigned to Harry’s refusal to meet him, and rarely brought the subject up, Snape knew how much it grieved the old wizard not to be able to speak with his former protégé, especially now that Voldemort was vanquished. The headmaster felt guilty for the young man’s psychological difficulties, not only, Snape realised, because of what Albus had been forced to put the boy through during the war, but because of Harry’s upbringing in the Dursley family.
Somehow - probably through Mme Pomfrey, as she was the only other witness of the encounter except Snape - Albus had learnt about the visit of Harry’s Aunt Petunia to the castle shortly after the battle. The unreasonable accusations that Petunia had launched at her nephew had been shocking to listen to. The formidable row, with Harry’s brave attempts at defending himself, yet Petunia getting the upper hand by breaking the young man down with practiced cruelty, left an acrid taste of what Harry’s childhood must have been like.
Snape fully appreciated Albus’ guilt - it must feel horrible to make arrangements for the welfare of a child only to find out years later that you had in fact entrusted the child in the hands of abusers. It was nowhere near as horrible as the child’s fate, however, so Albus - other than feeling guilty for the actual events - felt sorry for feeling guilty and guilty for feeling sorry for himself. It surely was complicated, and Snape did not know whether to be angry at, or to pity the older wizard.
In many ways, since the resurrection, Snape felt closer to Albus than ever. Somehow they were on a more equal level now, sharing an experience that no one else could understand. Naturally, the resurrection had affected Albus just as strongly as it had affected Snape, but with a different result.
Whereas the absolution caused Snape to stand erect and determined to do well, to do right by this new chance, Albus was curved under the burden of survival guilt. Again the old wizard did not wallow in it - he was too dignified to abase himself - and he accepted his fate, without happiness, however. Snape could feel the weight of guilt on the old man’s shoulders whenever he found himself alone with him, and could hear the rustle of it in every breath, the silent hollow of it in every pause, every time Albus spoke to him.
Snape felt sorry for Albus. The old wizard held up admirably insomuch that he had resumed full responsibility for the school and took an active part in the rebuilding of the Ministry. No one but Snape probably suspected Albus’ inward ongoing conflict. The headmaster still had the old curse from the Gaunt’s ring contained in his right hand and he probably only had a short time left to live, yet never mentioned the fact. Snape suspected that this was the main reason for Albus Dumbledore’s regrets - he would have wished for someone unsullied and younger to be able to live on - Fred Weasley for example, or any of the other young victims of the battle. Albus did not feel worthy of a new life, it was as simple as that, and Snape could do nothing about it but be there and witness the internal battle.
Would that be the reason why Harry still couldn’t stand Albus’ presence? wondered Snape. Did Harry, too, consider him unworthy? Did he resent the fact that the old and already condemned wizard came back while several of his classmates and friends were gone forever? But in that case, why did he not resent Severus’ resurrection in the same way and for the same reasons? Snape shook his head. Sometimes he could not make the young man out.
And that was why he had written that letter to Harry, wasn’t it? That, and in order to be true to himself. Snape closed his eyes. What if he had made a mistake? It was one thing to write things down for one’s own benefit, clarifying things to oneself, but an entirely different one to share such intimate thoughts with another being.
Snape drew a shuddering breath, suddenly terrified.
What if he had ruined everything that he had built up with Harry during the past six months by sending him that letter? Maybe it had been better to speak in person to Harry? But the young wizard no longer resided at Hogwarts and Snape didn’t trust himself to bring up a subject as sensitive as this face to face. Writing it down had felt like the only sensible thing to do then, but right now Snape was having second thoughts.
To calm his anxiety, Snape forced his thoughts back to that night in London, when everything was still relatively uncomplicated.
That night in August, Snape was having a Fire-whiskey in his half-lit room at the Leaking Cauldron in London. One of the windows was ajar, letting the night air in. After a short torrential summer rain, the air contained a compound of deep earthly scents mixed with the scents of the city. Snape found himself unsurprised, but not disappointed, at being back from the inauguration party arranged by the Art Federation of Magical Britain, at an early hour.
It had been an interesting day, all-in-all, there was no denying it. A vernissage, a shopping round at Diagon Alley and a Party - those were all the kind of futile, inflicted social events that the former Severus Snape would have sulked and sneered his way through, or else would have avoided altogether. This day had passed differently, however.
It’s amazing what a cleared, neutral and slightly wondrous outlook on the world can do to improve the meeting with people, thought Snape.
At first, at the vernissage, Snape had been fully occupied with keeping an eye on Harry, scrutinising the boy’s reactions, his grasp on himself, his bearings and his handling of the journalists. Following the initial state of vigilance, growing confident that the young wizard managed rather well, Snape had been able to relax.
After successfully, although politely, brushing off a few journalists targeting his own person, he had found himself wandering around and commenting, sometimes to complete strangers, on the pieces of arts, on the past war and on the new state of the world, without finding making conversation remotely unpleasant.
Even if he could honestly say that he probably only came across one or two people of the understanding and the intelligence that he valued enough for a longer conversation, he had been able to notice and give credit to other kinds of personal merits in people that made him bear with them and even appreciate them. He was able to overlook the often superficial comments which formerly would have annoyed him and unremittingly caused him to loathe the person in question. In other words, he had put up admirably, and quite enjoyed himself.
Snape had been introduced to the artist named Helena Rayo Hermosa and had been surprised that Harry had omitted to mention her beauty when he talked about her earlier. Even if one got the impression that the young woman had slipped her dress on without much thought for effect, not wearing any jewellery and omitting to make up her long hair, wearing it loose, it made her look all the more stunning.
The young artist appeared a bit eccentric to Snape, which was not necessarily a drawback as it seemed to make her almost immune to the admirers that gathered around her. She seemed on the contrary slightly irritated by their attentions, and wanted solely to talk about forms, movement and colours.
Harry approached her timidly at first, but soon got sucked into a passionate conversation about the memorial monument that was the crown piece of the exposition. There was so much talk about technicalities and magical sculpture theory that Snape kept quiet by their side until invited to give his opinion on the work. He chose his words carefully, without compromising, however, with what he really thought about the piece, and it had earned him an appreciative look from Miss Rayo Hermosa, although he realised that his view was not concordant with hers. Then he left the young artists and wandered off on his own.
A faint knock on the door to Snape’s hotel room interrupted his recalling of the day. Frowning, the wizard cast an identifying spell, then hasted to rise in order to let his travel companion in when he realised that it was Harry who was standing outside.
”You’re back early, too,” he greeted Harry, surprised, scrutinising the young man’s face. He had left Harry at the party, in the middle of a group of young artists where Harry seemed to fit in perfectly. Now, there was a down-cast look about him which spoke of embarrassment, maybe shame and of dejection? guessed Snape.
”May I come in for a while?” mumbled Harry.
”Of course. I was having a drink, would you care for one?” said Snape, letting Harry past him. Harry hesitated.
”No thanks. I had a glass of champagne at the party, then one single drink, and found that I’m unused to even modest amounts of alcohol… Not surprising really, as it’s not as if there’s been a feast every week-end at Hogwarts over the summer. That’s one of the reasons I left, though, because I felt that I couldn’t keep up with the others…” Harry smiled wryly, but it turned into a grimace. ”I hate to feel so green and so unsophisticated,” he mumbled.
”You were doing fine as far as I observed,” said Snape carefully. ”It’s your first outing for a long time. It’s probably sensible of you not to overdo it.” Harry chuckled cheerlessly.
”It was my first time to a big party, ever, if you don’t count the Yule ball at Hogwarts in forth year, where I had no clue what-so-ever what it was about, or Bill Weasley’s and Fleur Delacour’s wedding, which was interrupted by Voldemort’s coup at the Ministry,” he replied dryly.
Snape nodded in understanding. They had settled down in the arm chairs and Snape picked up his glass again. As if making a conscious effort to pull himself out of the oppressive mood he had arrived in, Harry spoke lightly.
”So, what’s your excuse for leaving the feast after only one hour, Severus? You were the first to leave, I believe. I saw a couple of Ministry people raise their brows and roll their eyes knowingly at that premature departure of yours. For those who still doubt your spectacular change in personality after the Resurrection, your impoliteness was grist to their mill.”
The resurrections of Snape and Dumbledore had been the rage of the papers during the whole summer. Snape had magnanimously given one interview to The Daily Prophet, believing that it would satisfy the curiosity of the public and that he would thence be left in peace, but it had only fuelled the sensationalism and made it all the more interesting to let a long row of third parties with different views of his person be heard. Snape looked at Harry imperturbable.
”First, my personality has not changed, only my sentiment about being alive and my outlook on the world have. Second, I don’t give a damn what others think about my actions,” he replied calmly. Harry grinned.
”Your excuse?” he insisted. Snape made a grimace.
”I didn’t want to go in the first place,” he pointed out. ”I had already gotten my fair share of socialising during the day. As soon as I watched you join your company of young friends, I felt there was no reason for me to stay.” Harry acquiesced the argument a little sadly.
”I’m sorry I dragged you along,” he said. ”I thought that you might enjoy - because of your new outlook on the world as you put it…” Harry paused and smiled, ”…that you might enjoy meeting people, you know…Don’t you?”
”I did, surprisingly,” Snape answered readily. ”At the vernissage, I didn’t mind speaking with people at all. I even found it pleasant… Parties, however, seem to aim at things that I’m not interested in: Showing off, for once - I couldn’t care less about something as nonsensical as that…”
Harry looked as if he agreed.
”As for dancing, flirting, finding a partner…” Snape trailed off.
”You’re not interested in finding a partner?” Harry asked carefully. Snape considered the question.
”I think I’m not,” he said slowly. ”I feel no longing, no need for, or interest in that kind of pursuit. Apparently that’s not why I came back to this life. Right now, I feel too open to the world to concentrate on one single person, if you understand my meaning? It would monopolise my time and I feel that it would be selfish, somehow.”
”You’re as entitled to happiness as anyone else,” Harry objected quickly. ”And everybody needs someone close, even if it’s not, you know, love in its traditional meaning… or a sexual relationship…” Harry turned his head away and Snape cleared his throat.
”You’re probably right,” he acknowledged with a mixture of dryness and embarrassment. ”I’m just not ready for it - whatever that would be - yet.”
In response, Harry unexpectedly inhaled deeply, put his face in his hands and said something in muffled words. Snape didn’t know how to respond to the sudden display of distress in front of him and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
”Sorry, I didn’t catch that?” he said. Harry removed the hands from his face, but continued to stare down at the floor.
”I’m not ready, either…” repeated Harry in a low, better controlled voice than before. ”But I so wish… I long not to be alone… But I can’t… I’m such a coward…” The last words gushed out of him in an angry, defeated cry.
”That,” scoffed Snape reflexively, ”you most certainly are not!” As the young man in front of him was fervently shaking his head, Snape asked in a gentler tone: ”Is this about the stunning Miss Helena Rayo Hermosa?” Harry sighed again.
”She’s amazing,” he admitted. He linked his fingers together as if to steady them and thereby calm himself. ”I have admired her since I met her, but today… today was the first time that I… allowed myself to recognise… the attraction between us…” Harry’s face flushed fiercely. ”Apparently she feels the same,” he acknowledged in a low voice. ”It’s unbelievable, especially since she’s not the type to be attracted to fame, really she’s not.”
Harry looked insistently at Snape as if to convince him about the last statement, but since meeting with the eccentric lady, Snape understood what Harry meant, and had no problem believing him. So he just nodded, letting Harry hesitantly move on, when he met no opposition.
”I think that she’s driven by her emotions and that she’s extremely impulsive, so when something feels good, Helena just goes along with it, without considering any buts rationally,” explained Harry. ”I mean that’s the only explanation for her to fancy me, because if she stopped to think, or to look at me, or considered to what extent I must be damaged by everything that has happened to me, she would be much more cautious, wouldn’t she? Because, I mean, I’m perfectly conscious that no one can come out of what I lived remotely normal - how could you? Moreover, I’m younger than her and my looks are frightfully plain. I’m shy and awkward, and short and…”
Snape frowned at Harry’s blatant display of low self-esteem, but chose not to comment on it for the moment being.
”What happened?” he asked instead. Harry’s voice shifted from analytical to anxious again.
”We… We had some privacy when I visited her atelier in the afternoon… And… And… we ended up kissing… Uhum…” A brief smile lit Harry’s face as he glanced apologetically at Snape. ”Not for very long,” he muttered regretfully, ”because we were interrupted.” Another flush. ”And I had to return to the hotel to change for the party.”
That little episode would explain Harry’s extreme absent-mindedness earlier the same night, thought Snape. Harry hadn’t said anything at the time, but behaved more whimsical than usual. Snape had written it down on account of nervousness in view of the big party and, according to himself, been exceptionally patient with the young wizard, as Harry had darted back and fro to his hotel room no less than thrice to cast protective, or preserving spells over various items, before they could leave the hotel for the feast.
Snape wondered what could have happened to thwart such a promising setting, because Harry’s early return from the party naturally meant that Helena the Beautiful and he had gone no further with the budding relationship. Snape did not need to inquire, because Harry continued his plaguing confession on his own accord.
”The… the interlude at the art studio was so brief that I was unsure what it meant, and… and I was all wondering… I was expectant and scared at the same time - and disbelieving, really. I could not fathom that she might fancy me. I thought it was some kind of mistake and I was trying to figure out in what way. But then, at the party, when we were talking and dancing, Helena didn’t hide her interest and it was clear from her behaviour that she expected us to… That she wanted me to…”
Harry’s voice broke and his face was wrinkled up with regret and shame. Snape felt a surge of pity for his young friend.
”I… I panicked,” Harry confessed. ”I’m such a coward. I realised that I couldn’t go on… I thought of Ginny, because… because we haven’t spoken properly since the end of the war, and I was caught with a guilty conscience. I was so in love with Ginny, you see, in sixth year, and I suppose I expected us to start over again. But she has taken care of her mother, and I’ve been ill, and so we’ve not seen each other much over the summer. I don’t know what she expects of me.”
”What either Miss Hermosa or Miss Weasley expects of you is irrelevant, Harry,” he said. ”It’s noble of you to consider their feelings, but what is important here is your own heart and mind. What do you want? If you prefer to wait for Miss Weasley, then you should simply explain that to the other young lady, and then visit, or write to Miss Weasley and clarify things between you. I hope you didn’t just walk out on Miss Hermosa without talking to her, did you?”
”No, no, of course not, I’m not that much of a git. But I don’t really remember what I reeled off when I tried to explain to her why I backed out.” Harry’s anxiousness rose again as he made an effort to remember the difficult moment. ”I don’t think that I mentioned Ginny, and I mean… the fact that I’m afraid of betraying Ginny is not the full truth, either…”
”No?” asked Snape.
”No, it’s more than that…” Harry swallowed, continuing in a low voice with crude self-honesty. ”I’m not ready for it,” he said. ”I’m not ready for a relationship. Not in the same altruistic way that you meant, because contrary to you, I want it so much, that I could crawl out of my own skin to have it. To have closeness and love.” The young wizard closed his eyes.
There was so much longing in Harry’s sorrowful voice that Snape’s eyes stung.
”But I’m not sure that I could handle the closeness,” whispered Harry. ”I feel so damn frail. I’m afraid that I would lose myself. I’m afraid that I might go mad. Look at what a mess I am since the end of the war! Even my own body is unreliable.” Harry was referring to a range of strange neurological symptoms that had plagued him since the horcrux was blown off him, like intermittent muscle weakness, numbness of the skin and loss of hearing.
”I thought that you were recovering,” answered Snape, also in a low voice, because he was uncertain how to respond to Harry’s harsh self-condemnation.
”I’m bound to become a disappointment to my partner,” said Harry, ignoring Snape and staring defeatedly at his hands.
Harry’s words stirred a familiar feeling deep inside Snape, and for the first time in months he felt the prickling of irritation on his skin. He was about to snap at Harry that if he was going to let the fear of being a disappointment rule his life, then he was never going to experience romance or love, but the sudden reminiscence or his own youth stopped him.
In his teens and early twenties, when Snape realised that Lily Evans would not choose to be his partner, his desperation had prompted him to seek out relationships that had been downright destructive. Lily’s death had put an end to that behaviour, and for several years Snape had been depressed, without any internal incentive what-so-ever to seek closeness. Later in life, he had been prompted, mostly by others who were concerned for him, to make an effort at finding a partner and, half-heartedly, he had been through a series of unsatisfying relationships.
The mistake he had made then, Snape realised in his now clear-sighted state, had been to stubbornly disregard the ways in which his own background had affected him, and to mulishly ignore the importance of his inherited violence, his darkness and his flaws - because there just seemed to be so many of them that it was pointless to even try to improve! He had stupidly taken pride in being a git. Who-ever takes me, takes me as I am, he used to think, assuming no responsibility for making the relationship work. He had learned nothing from his short-comings and repeated his mistakes over and over again, until he had given up, embittered and without insight.
Drawing a deep breath, tempering his irritation, Snape said humbled, although with conviction:
”In my mind, you have too low an opinion of yourself, Harry. One day you’ll make an attentive, kind and passionate partner to the person who gains your heart. In the meantime, I’ll give you credit for realising, at your age, how the experiences from the past affects you and forms your character. It took me considerably longer to even get a hint at that.”
Harry glanced at Snape, a flash of curiosity and understanding in his sad eyes.
”But it’s not impossible to process the past, not hopeless to gain control over, and to mend those inner wounds,” continued Snape.
Harry’s eyes filled with tears and he shook his head fervently, disbelievingly.
”It’s not!” Snape reinforced sternly. ”You’re not damaged beyond repair, Harry. Don’t ever think that!”
Harry went all rigid, as if desperately trying to get rid of his emotions by tensing every single muscle in his body. The feelings seemed to refuse to be harnessed, and he gulped spasmodically, as if trying to swallow them back down the gullet they were erupting from, but was betrayed by letting out short hyperventilating gasps. Snape courteously waited until Harrys’ breathing calmed down before he went on.
”About the two ladies in question, here’s my opinion,” he said. ”If you’re not ready for it, then you’re not, and your instinct to back out of a possible relationship is probably right. Although certainly not because you’re unworthy, or some tripe like that!”
Snape glared fiercely at Harry who squirmed.
”On the contrary,” continued Snape, ”you simply need more time to get yourself together after your confrontation with Voldemort, and after finding yourself without.… without a true family.”
Why did Snape’s voice falter as if it were embarrassing to mention Harry’s lack of family support? As if the deaths of his uncle and cousin, and the rejection by his aunt were something shameful? As if the fact that Harry was eighteen meant that he shouldn’t need to depend on such support? Again, Snape felt a flare of irritation, not at Harry this time, but at himself. He shouldn’t find it embarrassing to mention Petunia’s betrayal, but he supposed it seemed so pitiful in comparison to what Harry had accomplished and suffered in the fight against Voldemort. Yet, Snape realised that the final blow coming from the family where Harry had grown up had had just as great impact on the young wizard as the war itself. And sure enough, Harry looked even more devastated at the mention of his former family. Snape forced himself to go on.
”You’re wise to wait before you get involved with someone. It’s not cowardice. It only shows that you’re a mature young man with great insight and… Heavens, Harry! You’ll do fine… You’ll do fine, I assure you.”
At the end, Snape softened, let go completely of the admonishing and surrendered in front of Harry’s shattered appearance. He leant over to grasp and press the young wizard’s taut wrist reassuringly, as if willing him to take in the message of hope that he was trying to convey.
Harry shut his eyes for a short time, allowing Snape’s comforting gesture.
”Thank you, Severus,” Harry finally murmured and Snape removed his hand. ”A part of me knows that what you’re saying is true, but there are so many contradicting thoughts inside my head that I think I’m going crazy sometimes. Just hearing you say these things aloud helps.” Harry drew a deep breath. ”I think I’ll retire to my own room now,” he said, rising from his chair.
”Need some sleep?” Snape inquired softly.
”I’ll do some painting first,” said Harry, avoiding Snape’s scrutinising gaze. ”I brought my things and there are a few techniques that I observed today at the exposition that I want to try out. I have a lot of magical energy bottled up. I need to get it out somehow.”
Snape realised with regret that the anxiety had only lessened its grip on Harry marginally, but that there was nothing more he could do, but to bid the young man goodnight.
Snape blinked and stared with unseeing eyes into the November snow storm that howled around Hogwarts. The faint light that was discernible earlier in the evening, in the tower most far away across the inner court, was extinguished. It was getting late and Albus had finally left his office, retiring, hopefully to get some rest, Snape thought. The old wizard had confided in him that he slept badly, waking up before the sun in the early morning hours. This was how Albus’ and Snape’s relationship had evolved during the autumn - a steady exchange of small confessions and naked reflections on their respective lives.
Snape grimaced to himself. There were two individuals who had insinuated themselves through his formidable armour of tranquility since the resurrection. Two persons that he felt anxious for. He found himself concerned for these persons’ well-being and afraid of what the caprices of life might cause them in terms of harm. Those persons were Albus and Harry.
He realised that the specific anxiety concerning Harry had augmented exponentially after the conversation that particular August night in the hotel room at the Leaking Cauldron in London. It had left him with such a dissatisfying feeling of helplessness, of not being able to do enough for his young friend.
It had multiplied a thousandfold the following morning when Harry had not shown up for breakfast and when Snape had eventually failed to keep his acquired serenity in place. His unlimited patience had crackled by the fear that Harry, in his strange mood of desperation, might have done something self-destructive. Unable to contain his anxiety as the time passed, Snape had ended up first shouting through the floo, then pounding, and finally blasting the door to Harry’s hotel room, when he got no answer.
It turned out that Harry had worked himself to exhaustion during the night, and eventually into a collapse. When Snape forced the wards of the room, he was met and arrested by the sight of three big canvasses in the middle of the room, thick with paint and vibrating with magic. They were certainly formidable and unusual art. But at what cost? Snape wondered as he bent over the pale, unconscious form of Harry Potter, prone on the floor.
Fortunately, after a couple of Enervate spells, Harry had come to rather quickly, embarrassed and repentant, urging Snape not to mention the event to Mme Pomfrey who was convinced that Harry was nearing his complete recovery. Snape had let himself be persuaded that Harry had got caught in the creative process of painting and not meant to harm himself on purpose. Snape could not circumvent the fact that what happened spoke of a recklessness on Harry’s part that was disquieting, and ever since that morning, it was as if part of Snape’s mind was on a constant guard to pick up signs about the state of Harry’s mental health.
The fire in the floo crackled again, more insistently this time, and a few green flames licked the inner walls of the fire place. Snape approached apprehensively with furrowed brows. The green light flickered uncertainly until it gained strength and started to glow more confidently. Snape raised his eyebrows as he waited for the floo to open up completely and let the person calling appear. It must be a powerful wizard, or witch, flooing who was able to stabilise the atmospheric disturbances, and desperate enough to make an attempt at this hour, in this tempestuous weather.
Finally, a head appeared in the fire, and when Snape realised who it was, he turned pale. In the middle of the green flames, Bill Weasley’s handsomely scarred and slightly wolfish features appeared.
Snape was not afraid of Bill Weasley, far from it. It was true that the two wizards were as different as chalk and cheese: the one silent, suspicious by nature, intelligent, but uncommunicative - heavy-minded and sombre; the other bright and healthy, jovial to most, but still sharp under the surface - a happy nature. Despite their differences, during the years in the Order, Snape learned to respect the oldest Weasley son for his unwavering dedication to Albus Dumbledore and his invaluable information from the Gringott’s world.
Villains and honest people alike, they all handled money, and it was surprising what you could deduce from the mere facts of money transfer and exchanges of property. A prerequisite to extracting such information were impeccable relations with the goblins, which Bill Weasley somehow admirably had managed to establish.
Snape and Bill Weasley used to receive their instructions from Dumbledore after the Order meetings in each other’s presence. The first time this occurred, it surprised Snape greatly, given that his own spying activities were so secret and of such sensitive nature that the less people who were aware of them the better. But Dumbledore explained to them that they were both key persons in the Order movement, and having them aware of each others missions was a matter of security. Eventually, Dumbledore expected Bill to take over the leadership of the Order which was better done if well informed from the start about Snape’s activities. This was especially true after Dumbledore was condemned by the Gaunt’s curse.
As a consequence, Snape felt that Bill Weasley was the only member of the Order beside Dumbledore who truly trusted and respected him. With the other members, suspicions always arose in one way or the other, often undermined by Mad-eye Moody’s paranoia, as to Snape’s loyalty. It was in a fashion deliberately set that way, because Dumbledore wanted Voldemort to believe that Snape was a double-spy. The uncertainty within the Order whether Snape truly belonged to them or not would make Snape more credible to Voldemort, and so he would receive more freedom from the Dark Lord to perform his double-spying, which, in turn, would facilitate his triple-spying. The constant suspicions and sometimes downright hostility from his fellow members at the time still wore on Snape’s patience, however.
It was a small relief for Snape to share with Bill Weasley the knowledge of Dumbledore’s impending death. The yoke of being the one to kill their leader was one that Snape had to bear alone, however. But it seemed that this fact only increased Bill Weasley’s respect for his person. That last, horrible year before the end of the war, when Dumbledore was dead to all and when Snape seemingly worked openly for Voldemort, Bill Weasley, after recovering from the ware-wolf attack, constituted Snape’s only, if sparse, contact with the Order.
So the fact that the sight of Bill Weasley’s head in his floo made chills travel down Snape’s spine did not mean that he feared the man. On the contrary, his intimate knowledge of Bill Weasley’s trustworthiness and sound judgement made Snape convinced that only something extraordinarily serious could have caused the wizard to take the risk of thwarting the storm to call him. And that something was what made Snape so apprehensive, because it was bound to do with - Harry Potter.
Snape had entrusted Bill Weasley with Harry when it became apparent - at an unnecessarily late stage before the start of term - that the young wizard was in fact not recovered enough from his post-traumatic condition to attend school as planned. Snape reckoned that both Mme Pomfrey and he had been blind to the signs, as they had become used to Harry’s symptoms and habits over the summer, and yet wished him recovered so much that they chose to see only the improvements and not what still lacked in the broad picture. If Snape was honest with himself, he supposed that he had hoped that Harry would be shocked out of his aversion for the headmaster by the start of term where it would be impossible to avoid contact with the school leader.
The insensitivity of this scheme dawned upon Snape one day, only a week before the start of term, when he visited the hospital ward where Harry had made himself at home during the summer and was only then preparing to leave in exchange for the Gryffindor dorm. Snape had entered the room just as Harry let out a loud exclamation. Snape found the young man in a terrible state, near tears, with shaking hands and a bunch of leaves of paper on the floor.
”Look at me,” Harry whispered hoarsely. ”Look at me, I can’t even abide his handwriting. I can’t read his letter.” Snape had only to cast one glance down at the exact hand that filled the space of the lines on the pieces of parchment scattered on the floor to know who Harry was talking about.
”I can’t… I can’t start school when I’m like this,” Harry croaked desperately. ”Dumble… D… the headmaster will preside every single meal in the Great Hall, won’t he? He will make speeches, he’ll be around in a different way from what it’s been during the summer, won’t he?”
Snape made a gesture as if to confirm and deplore at the same time. He swallowed hard when Harry’s pleading green eyes set on him.
”I so wanted to share this last year at Hogwarts with my friends,” said Harry, full of regret. ”I wanted to see more of Ginny at last, to be able to work out with her whether we should plan our lives together, or if we should go separate ways, because I still don’t know what to think… I wanted to relive those carefree days of school from before, and even more so now, since Voldemort is gone, but I can’t. It’s impossible. I have played along these past weeks, because everyone wants me to return to normal and everyone has high hopes, but I’ve had my doubts all this while, and this just confirms it. Even his handwriting triggers these horrible reactions.”
”Perhaps we can make something out, Harry. Make an agreement with Albus, or…” tried Snape.
”No,” the young wizard replied firmly. ”I can’t ask of the headmaster to hide for my sake, not during the school year. And it’s not only about him. I have imagined the castle filled with pupils - the busy corridors, the crammed dorms, the constant buzzing of voices during the meals - and I’m not ready for it. It will tire me out in half a day. I’ve just began to be able to read books, in the quiet of a deserted room. The constant distraction of other people around me will exhaust me senselessly. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like before. I need quiet. I need peace. And I need to paint.”
Snape had not argued with Harry, because he suddenly realised how right Harry was, and he had made an instant decision. Lily’s son needed quiet, and so he would provide that for him. That was why Snape turned to his closest collaborator during the war and asked of Bill Weasley if he and his wife would be willing to house Harry Potter during the year at Shell Cottage, far away from Hogwarts. Simultaneously, he obtained from Albus and all the teachers concerned that Harry be allowed to study from a distance and yet pass the NEWT exams at the end of the year.
As a result, since the middle of September, Harry Potter was removed from Hogwarts and lived by the sea, under the hospital roof of Bill and Fleur Weasley. This was why Bill Weasley’s head in his floo on a stormy night made Snape’s gut clench with anguish.
However, Bill Weasley’s features also triggered memories from the war, memories of intense watchfulness, ruthless determination and deliberate flaunting of dangers, at which time there was no room for personal feelings, and giving in to one’s inner fears were out of the question. Therefore, Snape did not move a single feature as he stepped forward, knelt in front of the fireplace and inquired:
Bill Weasley didn’t beat about the bush. He was very much aware of the precarious nature of his call which could be interrupted at any moment.
”Harry’s gone missing,” he said promptly. ”The storm’s just as bad in our part of the country,” he added.
”Missing in the snow storm?” Snape furrowed his brows. ”Why on earth would he…?”
”We don’t know yet, but it’s a fact,” interrupted Bill. ”My wife went down to Harry’s atelier when the storm was catching force this afternoon, and found the place empty.”
”Harry’s wand was left on the table. Apparently he left without his wand.”
The statement, naturally, underlined the seriousness of the situation. Until then Snape had subconsciously clung to some idea of a misunderstanding, of a notion of just-in-case over-precaution on Bill Weasley’s side, but this left no doubt.
”What has been done?” said Snape. ”What can I do?”
”I know it’s much to ask, but then I thought that you’d wanted to be asked,” said Bill. ”Would you come over and help in the magical tracking of Harry? We cannot do any physical search in this weather - tracking spells are all we can manage, and they are rather delicate as you know. We’ve been tracking for the last five hours, a couple of Aurors and I, but our resources are beginning to wane. We’ve called in reinforcement from the Auror department, but I know you’re just as competent and, if I interpret your interest in Harry’s welfare correctly, you’d be just as motivated, or more so. But it’s dangerous to step through the floo, you need to consider the risks…”
”I’m coming through!” Snape rose promptly from his kneeling position to grab the floo-powder on the shelf above.
”Bring a coat,” advised Bill quickly. ”Shell cottage is not as windproof as I’d want it to be, and Merlin knows for how long this storm is going on.”
Mutely, Snape swung around, summoned a thick fur coat, and the next moment he stepped into the floo, muttering spells that would strengthen the connection further.
The floo travel, even under normal conditions a whirling ride, was ten times worse than Snape had ever experienced. He was violently tossed against invisible walls. The fact that he had put his thick fur on before leaving would probably save him several bruises.
It did not spare him from being literally flung into the living-room at Shell Cottage with such force that he landed at the opposite end of the fire-place and slammed his skull into the edge of a bookshelf. Fleur Weasley, Bills’ french wife, cried out loud and ran up to him.
”Protection charms around the head,” Snape hurried to supply in a croak, in order to reassure the frightened young woman.
”You would have split your head in two, had you not put such in place!” exclaimed Fleur.
Her english was much improved from when she was an exchange student at Hogwarts, Snape noted giddily, and irrelevantly, because he had met her numerous times since she was his pupil. He felt more shaken than he wanted to acknowledge when he stood up promptly from his humiliating position on the floor. He rapidly realised that there were no broken bones, but he healed several deep scratches on his knuckles. Letting the residual dizziness form the floo pass, Snape was finally able to take his surroundings in.
He let his eyes sweep around the room that was all made of wooden tiles - floor, ceiling and walls alike. Snape had once visited a Muggle sauna at a swimming facility, and the room reminded him of that, although bigger, decorated and cosier. Snape’s gaze landed on three men standing on each side of the fireplace. Reflexively, he felt his guard tighten. He no longer had anything to fear from the Aurors, but he had spent most part of his life being wary of them, with the result that he would never be completely at ease in their presence. At this precise point of time, he was grateful that they were here, however. One of them stepped forward.
”It was good of you to join us,” he said and stretched out his hand to greet Snape. ”We have a long night ahead of us and need to get organised in the search for Mr Potter.”
Severus Snape was an intriguing wizard, thought Bill Weasley, as he observed the man pull himself together after the floo ride that must have been dreadful to the least. The professor proceeded effectively to greet the Aurors, and to start studying a map with great intensity. It lay spread out on the table in the middle of the room which right now looked more like a head quarter than the combined library and living room it was intended as.
Bill had, with Fleur’s help, constructed a map over the surroundings of Shell Cottage. He smiled briefly to himself. His wife, too, was full of surprises and had proven to possess an accuracy at three dimensional understanding that was equal to his own, and yet he had had several years of professional training in the matter, while she had not. Also, since she passed more time at home, as she studied and worked here, she had explored the grounds more thoroughly than he, and was able to provide more details of the geography. As tracking spells needed to be very finely aimed if they were to give any useful information, a map was invaluable to locate the magical person you were searching for, provided you got a magical response to the spell.
Bill had always admired Severus’ ability to focus on a task one hundred percent. It was as if once the peculiar wizard had decided which way to go, objections no longer existed in his mind, and he put his full attention on the matter at hand and focused all his power on solving it as neatly as possible. Most people Bill knew would somewhere, in a corner of their mind, continue to reevaluate the situation and question their choices in one way or the other. What if this or that happens? Did I make the right choice? If I do this now, how will it benefit me? If I do that, what will I lose? Severus, however Slytherin, seemed exempt of that kind of assailing doubts and calculations. He always went all in, and right on spot. During the war, he was the most reliable Order member Bill could think of, the one with the highest pre-probability to fulfil his task. And yet Dumbledore repeatedly charged him with the most difficult missions.
Of all the Order members, only Bill knew the extent of Severus’ sacrifice during the war. Unlike the others - who if they did not downright think that Severus Snape was double-crossing them, all without exception, to various degrees, questioned his motives for agreeing to join Voldemort’s Death Eaters again for spying, suspecting him of still harbouring a fascination and an affiliation for the Dark Arts - but unlike them, however, Bill was all the time convinced that Severus’ heart was in the cause. It was only to look at him receiving orders from Dumbledore - the way he hang upon Albus’ words, both analysis and orders, and the determination in his eyes.
Although Bill trusted Severus Snape at an early stage of the war, he did not, however, understand the often disagreeable, sullen, sour and to various degrees downright mean man. He couldn’t say that he fully comprehended the wizard until Harry revealed, during the duel with Voldemort - which Bill Weasley and hundreds of other wizards and witches witnessed - that Severus Snape had quitted the Death Eaters because of the faithfulness of love for his childhood friend, Lily Evans.
That particular piece of information hit Bill like lightning, and he instantly believed it. Lifelong commitment and consistency was exactly what you might expect from a man like Severus Snape, he thought. And only a powerful, painful conflict like the revelation that his Dark Lord was about to kill his childhood love could have decided a man like Severus to abandon a chosen vocation. What a dedicated follower of Voldemort’s Severus Snape would have made had it not been for Lily Evans, Bill thought with a shudder.
And now, since the resurrection - which Severus deserved without any doubt, according to Bill - Severus was a new person. The same intensity, but the impatience and the constant irritation at others gone. The new Severus was attentive, made an effort to provide verbal affirmation when he agreed with you and formulated his objections politely when he did not. It was so far from his fulgurant body language from before, far from his cutting remarks, discontented grunts and withering glances, that the journalists were almost right to speak of a new man, with a new personality. But not quite, thought Bill, because he recognised the same determination as before, only it had been given new aims since the resurrection.
Bill was for example pretty sure - and secretly amused at the fact - that Severus must have sworn to himself never to be impolite again. It did not mean that Severus compromised with his expressed opinions. He agreed and disagreed just as before, only in more patient expressions.
This was obvious, right now, as Bill watched Severus interact with the Aurors on agreeing on the best way to continue the research for Harry. Severus had some new ideas and explained them with forbearance to the Aurors who obviously were reluctant to deviate from their own principles. But Severus’ determination and precise argumentation were wearing them down, Bill noticed smugly. The Snape of the old days would have sarcasmed and threatened his way through with it, however. There laid the difference.
That Severus could keep his courteous countenance now was all the more admirable as Bill had not been fooled by Severus’ stone face earlier in the floo when he told him the news of Harry’s disappearance. He knew Severus’ physiognomy, and the brief reeling, the flicker of dread in the eyes and the slight tremor of the hands that gripped the fur coat were enough for Bill to realise that Severus was deeply shaken and afraid for Harry.
When Severus Snape asked Bill Weasley to invite Harry Potter to live at Shell cottage during the autumn, Bill never hesitated. Naturally, he too was affected by Fred’s death, but perhaps the least so in the Weasley family. Bill had a realistic outlook on life and was probably the most prepared for such a loss. He realised, however, that his parents were not prepared - how could they be? - and that the loss of a son had plunged them in a despair where they were no longer able to live up to their usual supporting and accommodating selves. How were they to be of any help to Harry Potter, like they used to be, in that state?
The Weasley siblings closed ranks after the battle and did everything for their parents. Everyone except Bill himself lived at home - even Charlie did, temporarily. It was true that Ron left with Hermione for Australia later on in the summer, and it gave him an aura of a traitor, at least in his sister’s disapproving eyes. Ron owled his mother and father every single day, however, and according to Bill those letters, which brought life into the Burrow, did his parents just as much good as the tender care and sacrificing attentions of his sister.
Bill’s heart ached most and for all for the remaining twin, and he channelled his own grief by taking care of the bereft twin brother to the best of his ability, inviting George over to Shell Cottage as often as he could, to give him a change of scenery and a rest from the heavy atmosphere at the Burrow - an atmosphere that was cherishing and choking at the same time.
Therefore, Bill had no second thoughts on his own account, about helping out Harry Potter. He even thought that his parents would be grateful that he did, later on when they recovered. He only felt that he needed to discuss the commitment with his wife first.
Bill married Fleur in the crescendo of war, contrary to the advice from his elders, allowing himself this one moonstruck passion and act of spontaneity, not to say defiance, in the middle of the square and tense existence that he led as an undercover agent at Gringott’s and as an active member of the Order. Fleur had endured the terror of risking to lose her husband every day since their marriage, and had supported him whole-heartedly in the resistance movement against Voldemort. But perhaps now that the war was over, she wanted peace and quiet, and to be alone with her husband?
Fleur proved to be just as generous in this matter as she had proven to be in all matters of importance, which were part of the reason why Bill loved his wife so much. She was a proud woman, on the verge of being haughty, and her beauty made her cocky - she was part vela after all, and french at that - but she had a good heart, and she had never forgotten what Harry Potter did for her little sister in the Triwizard Tournament. She was intensely loyal and stead-fast that way.
So housing Harry had turned out to be no problem at all. Arrangements had been made so that Harry could lead a largely independent life at Shell Cottage, because naturally the young wizard insisted on disrupting the household as little as possible. At the same time, since Fleur spent long days at home without her husband, when she studied, and did some translation work at home, it turned out to be a beneficiary arrangement for both parties as it assuaged Fleur’s loneliness and at the same time it guaranteed that Harry did not lose himself entirely in his creative activities of painting. To Bill’s relief, the two of them got on well and supported each other in a nonintrusive and respectful way, and life had progressed steadily and tranquilly, until now.
Bill observed his wife as she repeated her statement from before in front of the new Aurors and Severus. He read the small signs of worry in her face and in her gestures. Fleur was scared for Harry, and she was the last person to have seen him before he disappeared.
”We had lunch together,” she said. ”Afterwards, he left for his atelier to do a bit of painting. He was supposed to return a few hours later, because he needed to work on his Hogwarts assignments. But he never came back and that was why I went down to fetch him. He would easily lose track of time when he was painting, and even disregard his own remembral charms if he was in the middle of something. I usually let him take responsibility for his own schedule - I’m not his mother after all - but today with the storm gathering force, I thought that he should come back to the house.”
”So you only saw him at lunch?” replied the Auror. ”What was his state of…?”
”We always had lunch together,” explained Fleur, interrupting the Auror. ”We seldom saw each others for breakfast because I most often get up at the same time as my husband and we have breakfast together before he leaves for work, whereas Harry has very irregular habits, or no habits at all I should say…”
One of the Aurors raised an eyebrow.
”What do you want me to say?” said Fleur. ”He’s an artist.”
The Auror did not look convinced at the statement which, to Fleur, seemed to be self-explanatory.
”My uncle used to live at an artist community in Paris,” she continued. ”As a young girl I found it so different from our ordered family life. It held all the attractions and excitement of how I pictured the freedom of adult life.” She met the disapproving Auror’s gaze. ”But I know it had it’s drawbacks,” she stated soberly. ”Artists are sensitive creatures, and not necessarily… interested, you know…” Fleur sought the right words. ”… not interested in keeping order, or striving for cleanliness, if you know what I mean?”
The Auror had an air of listening to a huge understatement.
”Creativity comes before everything to them,” explained Fleur. ”And they are so easily disappointed. This dawned on me when my uncle left the place all of a sudden and moved in with us for a short while, because one of his best friends committed suicide. My uncle was really upset and claimed that the other artists at the community had driven his friend to such a desperate act, which must have been an exaggeration, because in the end, a suicide, you know, is always the result of that person’s own, deliberate decision.”
One of the other Aurors cleared his throat.
”There usually is, in the case of a suicide, various circumstances that might explain, or might have prompted the person to proceed to the act of killing himself,” he said cautiously. ”Personal tragedies, betrayals, arguments, lost love, mental or physical diseases, for example.”
Fleur nodded in agreement, but looked elsewhere unwary. The Auror cleared his throat again.
”Were there any such signs present in Mr Potter’s case?” he asked and Fleur started.
”What do you mean?” she said nonplussed. ”I didn’t think of Harry when I told you about my uncle’s friend. Harry would not… would never…” her voice rose in indignation and her cheeks flushed. Her demeanour suddenly lost the coquetry that she almost always applied subconsciously in the presence of other men and that Bill had learnt to regard as a natural way for her to behave. Now, however, she appeared more threatening than seducing, affronted by the Auror’s implication.
”I believe that maybe, subconsciously, you did think of Mr Potter. You must see that there might be a parallel. A deliberate act of disappearing in the storm is after all a real possibility. There were no signs of intrusion into the wards of the cottage, no signs of battle at the atelier, and he did leave his wand behind,” the Auror stated calmly. Fleur sneered.
”Harry was so absentminded. He would often leave his wand behind when going for a stroll,” she said.
Bill watched Severus shake his head, not in disbelief, but in knowing disapproval. Severus was acquainted with Harry’s oblivious habits. Bill, too, had been surprised at first by Harry’s blatant carelessness about security matters, but had come to understand, as he learnt to know the boy better during the autumn, that it was not a deliberate defiance of death that made the young wizard so disregarding of his own security, but the mere fact that terrible things had happened to Harry in a rather haphazard way over the years. Whether he had his wand or not would, in most cases, not be the determining factor as to solving the situation. Harry relayed more on instinct, circumstances and on the help from fellow wizards and witches, or on that of other magical creatures, than specifically on his own wand. Considering this tendency towards absent-mindedness, it was a good thing, however, thought Bill, that the young wizard no longer aspired to become an Auror.
”It is generally known that Mr Potter was ill for a considerable length of time after the battle,” insisted the Auror. ”We need to take the whole picture into consideration. Please tell us all you know. Was he completely recovered, or were there still symptoms present?”
Fleur hesitated and searched Bill’s eyes. Bill in his turn exchanged a gaze with Severus. How to answer the Auror’s question? Did they really know the answer, for once? It was Severus who spoke first into the taut silence after the Auror’s words.
”Mr Potter made a steady recovery over the summer,” he said. ”He did however show a few resilient symptoms and chose to lead a secluded life rather than attend school this term and, to my knowledge…” Severus’ voice wavered the least little bit as he looked back at Bill ”…he has shown no deterioration.” Severus’ tone rose slightly as if there were a question mark in his words and Bill hurried to fill in.
”Harry has lived under my roof for three months and even if he surely is a more vulnerable person now than in the midst of the war, he has not appeared depressed or mentally unstable in any way,” he said.
”Harry is a strong person,” said Fleur defensively.
”You know what I mean,” answered Bill mildly. ”You’ve seen his paintings.”
Fleur nodded reluctantly. The Auror who had seemed disapproving of artists in general knitted his eye-brows.
”Flash-backs from the war,” explained Severus. ”But it’s salutary that he channels them through his paintings. It helps him process the events.”
”And lately there has been more of the harmonious scenes, and less of the horrific ones,” supplied Fleur quickly.
”Yet, you acknowledge that there was an unsettling darkness in Mr Potter’s mind, as in remains of the war?” asked the Auror who had inquired into Harry’s frame of mind at the point of his disappearance.
”There is darkness in all of us,” said Severus, so tranquilly and with such conviction that all the Aurors were silenced for a short lapse of time.
”Harry behaved as usual at lunch,” supplied Fleur, and she now seemed near tears. ”But…” She looked as if she just thought of something. ”He received a couple of letters.”
The Aurors' heads snapped up as they looked at her intently. Fleur almost began to stutter.
”It was after we had eaten. Harry did the dishes - it was his turn - while I was having a cup of coffee. Two owls arrived at the same time. They were pretty ruffed up and rather exhausted, because the storm was already quite violent. We were surprised to see that both of them were Hogwarts owls. The two persons who had written must not have known of each other’s letters, or they would have coordinated their post, but then why would they? There are so many wizards and witches at Hogwarts.”
”Do you know who the letters were from?” asked one Auror. Fleur hesitated.
”Harry didn’t tell me,” she said. ”He only unfastened the paper rolls from the owls’ legs and said that he would read them later. I didn’t want to pry, but I think that I recognised your sister’s handwriting on one of the letters. I didn’t see the other.” Fleur sought Bill out apologisingly with the eyes. Bill couldn’t say why she would think that he had any objections to her disclosing that his sister was writing to Harry.
”My sister and Harry were in a relationship in sixth year at school,” explained Bill without any signs of contrariety to the Aurors. ”I believe that they wanted to pick it up, although they were hindered by my brother’s death, and by Harry’s disease during the summer. Ginny started to attend her last year at Hogwarts this autumn, however, and I believe it has at least improved her state of mind. She needed to get away from our mother’s grief. She got far too involved and took a huge responsibility at running the household at the Burrow during the summer. She needed space to get on with her life.”
Severus looked as if he wanted to say something, but was preceded by Fleur who spoke thoughtfully.
”Neither of them were sure whether to proceed with the relationship or not,” she said. ”There was so much ambiguity on both parts. So much have changed since they were together last time.”
”There’s a rumour I heard quite recently,” intervened Severus and Bill thought that the wizard looked pale. ”I haven’t thought about it until now, because there’s always rumours about at the school and some of them reach the teachers, but I make a rule to turn a deaf ear to them. I could not avoid noting, however…” Severus glanced at Bill. ”There was a rumour that Ginny Weasley had responded to a declaration of love from another… another witch,” he said. Bill raised his eye-brows.
”Responded… responded favourably?” he asked, incredulous because to his knowledge his little sister had never given any signs of being interested in women. Severus nodded.
”Not unheard of,” he said briskly. ”Nothing spectacular in itself, if you ask me - if it’s true that is. I thought not at first. It didn’t even struck me that Harry would take offence if the rumour reached him. I never thought of warning him since I thought him capable of handling all kinds of slander. But if your sister herself wrote to tell him that she had met someone she loved and got involved with, that would probably… I honestly cannot say how that would affect him.” Severus shook his head and looked at Fleur. ”Their past and… and potential future relationship was far too complicated, as you said before,” he finished a bit lamely, as if puzzled beyond his understanding.
So his little sister might be a lesbian, or at least bisexual. Bill felt amused on Ginny’s behalf, but slightly worried about what their mother might think about such a development. But then, now-a-days there were well-developed insemination charms if Mother wanted to watch her only daughter carry her grand-child. But that kind of wish might be too old-fashioned even for Molly Weasley, Bill sniggered to himself. Moreover, if he thought about it, Ginny might perfectly well be the type who would like to be the supportive non-biological mother. Or maybe not, Bill reconsidered, she would probably like to experience a regular pregnancy. It would ultimately depend on Ginny’s girlfriend and what they agreed upon, Bill thought, before he caught himself and blushed. Merlin, Ginny was only seventeen years old, she might want to wait a little before forming a family.
Bill and Fleur was trying to have a baby since the end of the war, but had not yet succeeded and Bill might just be getting a tiny bit obsessive about it. Bill sobered up and observed his wife who looked equally lost in thought, a deep furrow between her eye-brows.
Severus, on the other hand, looked so uneasy that Bill had the time to think that the former spy must not have extensive experience of long-term relationships to be so utterly confused by the romantic turnabouts, until he realised that the man was simply apprehensive for Harry. Was it possible, Bill asked himself, suddenly feeling his guts clutch, that Harry would deliberately walk out into a snow storm out of desperation from having lost Ginny?
”There still is the second letter,” said the third Auror who until now had been busy testing tracking spells in various directions, according to Severus’ scheme. ”Someone might have written to lure the young man out to a meeting and abducted him. That is a possibility.”
”In the middle of a storm?” Bill shook his head in disbelief. ”And in that case Harry would have brought his wand, wouldn’t he?”
”It’s of vital importance to keep tracking, in order to establish whether Mr Potter is still in the nearby reach of the area. What I want to point out is that if he has been abducted, then he might be far away from here and we had better involve other investigating channels. If possible we should contact Hogwarts and try to establish who sent that second letter,” replied the Auror. Severus cleared his throat.
”I think I might enlighten you, as that letter must have been mine,” he said. ”I sent an owl late yesterday night. Normally, it should have reached Shell Cottage early in the morning, but it was probably delayed due to the gathering storm so that it did not arrive until lunchtime.”
”You wrote to Harry?” asked Bill dumbfounded. ”Why, when you speak to him on the floo every week as you give him his assignments?” Severus blinked, but otherwise he kept that exasperatingly inscrutable expression which Bill knew from the Order days, when Severus didn’t want to betray anything more than precisely what he said.
”Some things are better told in written,” Severus contented himself to reply. The Auror scrutinised him.
”Was the content in that letter susceptible to upset Mr Potter?” he asked.
”No, not at all. There’s no reason to believe it did,” said Severus, and Bill thought that he sounded completely honest. Apparently the Auror thought so, too, because he dropped the subject and suggested that they concentrate on a systematic magical tracking.
”Most likely, Mr Potter walked out of that atelier on his own initiative and got caught in the storm - accident or not,” the Auror summarised their discussion.
At 4 am, Fleur went to bed. The five men, too, were planning on taking turns to get a few hours of sleep on the sofas in the living-room. The storm finally seemed to be on the decrease, and the plan was to set out on a physical research for Harry in the morning, as soon as the weather permitted it.
Had the young wizard managed to find shelter to the wind and to the snow? Even if he had, would he survive the cold? Were they going to find him alive?
Fleur shunned the questions that were forming in her head.
If only he had his wand, Fleur thought bitterly for the umpteenth time as she sat down, exhausted, on the king size bed which felt lonely without Bill on the other side.
Bill and her had grown into quite the stereotyped married couple, she thought, smiling indulgently to herself - getting up together, and going to bed at the same time, day after day. And wasn’t that the prime of happiness? After suffering all those lonely days and nights during the war when, strung by worry, she didn’t even know what kind of dangers Bill was subjecting himself to, the monotonous routines of every day life were precisely what she needed. Tonight, at least, her husband was within reach, in the safety of their own house, but the feeling now of sitting here alone still reminded her of the dark times of the war.
Fleur laid down fully clothed on the bed and drew a blanket over herself. She was only going to sleep for a short while - she would have time to tidy herself up later.
But rest would not come easily, as thoughts continued to whirl through her head. She had been apprehensive and nervy for more than twelve hours, since she noticed Harry’s disappearance and contacted Bill at work. Then came the Aurors, and Severus Snape, and she had not had time to process her own feelings.
The bedroom was located on the third floor of their narrow house, and the noises caused by the storm were more audible here than downstairs. The tiles on the roof rattled menacingly, and Fleur could not help wondering what damage to the house the morning would reveal. Tears began to gather at the corner of her eyes, run down her temples and wet the blond hair on either side of her head.
Somewhere out there, Harry was fighting for his life against the cold, she was convinced of it. The Auror’s speculations about a deliberate disappearance were preposterous - or were they? Fleur tossed restlessly on the bed. It seemed to her that the wind was taunting her with it’s hauling sounds.
The storm, besides maybe bereaving them of Harry - a thought which she right now fought hard to keep away from herself - reopened all kinds of barely healed sores from the war. The storm was, once again, a reminder that one was never safe, that dangers would always pop up in life, if it wasn’t dark lords, it was the fortuitousness of the weather.
A particularly strong gush of wind broke something on the roof, there was a loud slamming noise, the walls shook, and Fleur bolted upright.
Damn the others who thought they were being noble in sending her upstairs to sleep in a proper bed, but who did not consider that she risked her life under a roof that could fall down upon her any moment! Fleur scolded her husband angrily in her head as she dried her tears with a quick gesture of the arm, before she gripped the blanket in one hand and her wand on the nightstand in the other and started to climb back down the stairs.
When she reentered the living-room, two of the Aurors were asleep on the sofas and her husband lay snoring on a mattress on the floor. The third Auror and Severus were still casting tracking spells from the middle of the room, and carefully assessing the magical echoes coming back to them. Severus looked so sallow and worn out, that Fleur could not fathom how he was still able to make something out of the process, until she met his black eyes, where she read the same determination as at the beginning of the evening, now mixed with a streak of desperation, however.
”Anything?” she asked cautiously. Severus shook his head.
”The echoes are coming from the exact same positions as before,” he said.
The group had made a mental inventory of possible magical creatures in the area, susceptible to interfere with the spells and give false positive responses. There were hibernating garden gnomes in the immediate vicinity of the house, but they hardly posed a problem, since they were so close. An old Erkling lived in the forest a few miles southeast, which all the trackers were quite sure to have located and detected with their spells. Naturally they would need to verify in the morning anyway. There were no other wizards or witches in the neighbourhood.
Earlier in the evening, the tracking group had discovered a second indication of a magical presence due north, which had raised Bill’s and Fleur’s hopes, but Severus and the Auror who had the highest precision in his spells, both thought that they could distinguish a number of magical responses merging in one, as if coming from several different individuals, so that it would most probably correspond to a gang of nogtails that were known to be rife in the area.
Finally, Fleur and Severus both thought that they detected an indistinct magical something, even further north. They agreed on the exact same sector of location, but none of the other Aurors, nor Bill, were able to confirm their finding.
”You still get that far-off response?” asked Fleur.
”It’s faint, but reproducible,” confirmed Severus.
”It’s him,” said Fleur. Severus closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose.
”Perhaps,” he replied tiredly. ”We need to get out there to verify. The storm is beginning to abate at last.”
”No, it’s not!” Fleur snorted angrily. ”The roof was threatening to take off, only a moment ago!” Severus blinked at her sudden flare of irritation.
”I’m sorry,” he said stiffly. ”Your house most probably will suffer some damage, but there’s not much you can do about it before the storm’s over.”
”No, of course there isn’t,” answered Fleur moodily, a bit embarrassed for acting out her fright, and irritated with Severus for stating the obvious - as if he believed that it would soothe her. He thought that she was worried about her house and did not realise that she was… simply afraid. Scared like a little girl. Now, why would she expect a practical man like Severus Snape to understand something like that? And why was her husband snoring away on the floor instead of comforting her?
Fleur turned, unnerved and discontented with herself, muttering a spell to conjure a mattress beside Bill’s on the floor. When she turned back again, Severus was still looking at her uncertainly. Fleur bit down another sharp comment. Decidedly, she was tired.
”We’ll see in the morning,” she contented herself to say, at which Severus nodded mutely, hesitated and, stiffly, turned his back to her to continue with his casting.
As she laid down, anger fading, Fleur came to the realisation that she did in fact pity Severus Snape. A few years ago, when she first met him, she did not spare him her contempt. She had been a guest student at Hogwarts coming from the Beauxbatons school to participate in the Triwizard Tournament, and Professor Snape had become her teacher in Potions that year. In retrospect, she might concede that the fact that she had been chosen as her school’s champion might have overinflated her self-importance just a tiny bit, but even if that were true, she was still a guest at Hogwarts and deserved to be treated politely and with respect. True, Professor Snape was rude and scathing to all and everybody at the time, but he still insulted her, and she had promptly written him down as a mean, ugly and contemptible person. When the rumours began to circulate that Snape was a Death Eater, she had had no problem believing them, and had not changed her opinion until considerably later on, and only reluctantly because Bill told her the opposite.
She admitted that the wizard’s manners had gone through a radical change after the resurrection, which in itself was a remarkable event that prompted everybody to reconsider their opinion of the man. She had heard rumours that his approach to teaching, for once, was very different nowadays and that he made a point of never belittling or offending his students. She had noticed for herself that his manners had improved and the fact that he was so involved in Harry’s education and in his well-being commended him greatly to Fleur. She had started to call him Severus, like Bill did, during the autumn as he flooed weekly to check on Harry.
But there was something in his behaviour - and she couldn’t quite pinpoint down what it was - that despite all his efforts prevented her from feeling completely comfortable in his presence. Almost imperceptible things in the way he reacted to her words and the way he failed to mirror, or respond to her gestures. A conversation with Severus somehow never went completely smoothly. He was an intelligent man, no doubt about that, and he had shown a polite interest and been attentive to her, to the point of flattering and almost charming her, but in the end there was something which prevented her from taking that last step to true friendship, because she still didn’t understand him. She realised that social skills did not come naturally to Severus Snape and she was sorry, now that she was conscious he made such an effort, that he was not better requited for it.
When Fleur woke up the next morning she felt strange. She knew something was off already before she emerged out of the depths of sleep. It felt like an alarm charm gone awry, causing you to oversleep, because the heat on Fleur’s eyelids told her it was broad daylight, and still it was so strangely quiet.
It was quiet! Fleur snapped her eyes open and painful light blazed itself all the way into her brain. Fleur closed her eyes spasmodically as she curled on herself and struggled to get up on her knees simultaneously.
Sunlight! Sunlight was shining right through the three windows of the living room. And the quietness - the quietness meant that the storm was over!
Where was everyone? Why had no one waken her up? Fleur rose on her feet and vacillated to a window where she squinted out, almost blinded by the light, over a perfectly still, glistering scene of a snow-instilled landscape. The storm that had whipped the trees the past night, broken their branches and tore up their roots, had rewarded them by coating them minutely in ice crystals. As a result, fantastic snow formations were now hanging from the battered branches. Magic by nature. What an incredible transformation! thought Fleur.
She had barely time to accept and rejoice over the fact that the threat of the storm was gone, before she heard some noise and voices coming from the front door, on the other side of the house.
”Bill?” Fleur shouted and darted gracefully, as only she was able to, even in the absence of witnesses, through the room to approach the rustle. What was going on?
The first thing that met her in the hallway was a stream of cold air welling towards her from the wide open door. Five men were crowding in the entrance - Bill in front of the others, one of them still outside and two of them supporting a third who was nevertheless standing on his own feet. Fleur let out a small relieved yelp and looked at her husband.
”You found him!” she gasped, overwhelmed by gratefulness. ”Harry!” she exclaimed in the next breath and moved past Bill to embrace her young friend.
”Don’t thank me,” Bill said to her back, smiling broadly. ”It was yours and Severus’ indications from the tracking that proved right. Auror Snight and I only followed Severus’ lead when we set out this morning. The two others will still be searching out there, because we split up initially. We recovered Harry in record time, but still not a minute too late. He had found shelter, but you can see for yourself what state he’s in.”
”I’m fine Fleur - going to be just fine!” the young man croaked with a smile. He was trembling, and so icing cold to embrace that Fleur let go immediately.
”Mrs Weasley, if you please,” said Severus who was struggling to lead Harry through the narrow hallway which Fleur partially blocked. Fleur realised how strained the professor must be to use her title in his utmost efforts to remain polite. ”We must move into your living-room and in front of a fire. Harry needs to thaw!” Severus cast a reprobating eye at the younger wizard.
Fleur hurried to usher them inside. Bill had already revived the small fire that had been charmed not to extinguish during the night. Harry was placed in front of it, shoes and clothes frozen stiff were removed and blankets were provided, as well as a big cup of tea.
Fleur felt so light, fussing about her young friend. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t slept half of the hours she needed to, that she hadn’t got time to clean herself up and change clothes, nor that her living-room was a mess of mattresses, blankets, empty cups and plates. Happiness and jubilation was bubbling in her chest.
Harry was alive! The boy who once saved her little sister was still here. The man who killed Lord Voldemort had not perished in the most powerful storm of the century. How encouraging for wizardkind was not that! Harry, the likeable and compassionate young man that she had just begun to learn to know and who would speak to her so passionately about magic and art was sitting right there, in her armchair, stretching his cold hands towards the heat of the fire.
Fleur felt tears of gratitude mount in her eyes, and then she caught sight of Severus. He, on the contrary, did not look happy. There was a deep crease between his brows, his shoulders were slumped and out of the dark eyes which squinted in the sharp sunlight shone anger, Fleur realised disconcerted - anger, hurt and resentment.
Suddenly the scowling man sprung to life.
”Blasted sunlight!” he exclaimed loudly, making Fleur jump. In two strides, he reached the windows and pulled the heavy curtains brusquely, leaving only a narrow slit for the sunlight to penetrate the room and help up the flickering light from the fire. Harry turned his head at the exclamation.
”Severus, are you all right?” he solicited. ”Have you slept at all? I’m so sorry for causing you all this nuisance. You shouldn’t have stayed up all night for my sake. I…” He was interrupted by Severus’ irritated reply.
”I’m perfectly at peace with having done my duty, Potter. Would you have preferred us say to ourselves: Oh well, Potter will take care of himself, we’ll go looking for him in the morning. And then go to bed? If it were not for the careful tracking we performed last night, we would have no idea where to look for you. It’s the least you could do to show some appreciation for our work.”
”I…” Harry bent his head down, and Fleur made an uncomfortable gesture with her hands. Why was the professor in such a scathing, flying rage? Severus must have realised that they were all staring at him in confusion, because he straightened up and said stiffly:
”I had better return to my duties at Hogwarts, now that the Saviour is back safe and sound.” He avoided to look at Harry, moving towards the pot with floo-powder on the mantlepiece. Harry jumped up from his chair. He was still shivering from top to toe in the process of regaining his normal body temperature, and made quite a pitiful figure.
”Stay, please,” he said.
Severus ignored him and lifted the lid from the pot.
”You’re welcome to stay, Severus, and get some rest before you return,” intervened Bill. ”Surely, you won’t be able to teach your classes today anyway?”
Severus only shot him a dark glance, weighing the floopowder in his hand.
”I’m sure you’ll want to speak to Harry in the quiet when everything has calmed down,” continued Bill.
”What’s there to discuss?” Severus retorted vehemently. ”Harry leaves the house in a fit of desperation on finding out that the girl he wants has rejected him. It’s an act of impulse - I understand. That’s how some people react. With Harry, it happened before and it will probably happen again. How are you ever to protect someone - or to protect yourself for that matter - against unstable emotions of such dignity?”
Harry gripped the back of the chair to steady himself and looked from Severus to Bill and Fleur.
”Is that what you think?” he said. ”Do you think that I set out deliberately, on an impulse to kill myself?” Bill shifted uncomfortably.
”We needed to examine all the possible explanations for you walking out in such a weather without your wand,” he mumbled. ”We knew you had gotten a letter from Ginny, and Severus had heard a rumour at Hogwarts…”
”But I took shelter! I fought to stay awake all night and moved about in order not to freeze to death. That’s proof enough to you that I didn’t want to kill myself!” Harry burst out.
”It’s okay, Harry, I never thought…” answered Fleur, but Severus interrupted her.
”It’s commendable that you changed your mind and decided to stay alive,” he said caustically. ”We’re eternally grateful!” Fleur winced at the sarcasm in his words. ”I’m perfectly aware that you may not have consciously formulated the intent to commit suicide,” Severus went on, ”…even to yourself. It’s the impulse we’re talking about. The fact that you reacted with such desperation, that you felt so forsaken that you needed to leave without thinking about the consequences. You probably didn’t think of killing yourself, but more in the line of disappearing for ever - which, naturally, is the same thing. To let yourself go, almost as if in an accident, is the most cowardly way of doing it, because you don’t even take responsibility for your actions.”
Severus paused to gather his wits. His hands were trembling from outrage, and the floopowder had slipped between his fingers back into the pot. He turned and scrutinised Harry with a hurt and accusing gaze.
”Knowing your… your temperament of violent sensibility, I reckon that you felt that there was nothing else to live for when you read that letter. Yet, how could you do this to them?” he said, pointing at Bill and Fleur. ”Do you think that just because Ginny Weasley rejects you, no one else cares about you? Let… let me tell you that it’s absolutely loathsome and… and irresponsible to… to disappoint everyone who believes in you by letting one single emotion overwhelm you and to act out on it. It’s an affront to Bill and Fleur’s hospitality and the way they have cared about you these past months.”
”Not only us,” Bill added, looking as if he was starting to understand what Severus’ fury was about. ”There are so many people who care about you, Harry.”
Apparently something was dawning on Harry, too, because Fleur watched the shock and the indignation at Severus’ outburst fade from Harry’s face to be replaced by a compound of clemency and tenderness. He advanced cautiously towards the taut and angry wizard.
”It wasn’t like that. You need to let me explain,” Harry said softly. He tried to remove the pot with floo-powder from Severus’ hands, but the older wizard reflexively gripped it harder and clenched his teeth stubbornly. Harry let out a small chuckle.
”Severus,” he said, mildly reprobating. ”Look at you. Do you even realise that you’re behaving - and sounding…” Harry raised an eyebrow to emphasise his meaning, ”…exactly like… like before? You know?”
It took some time for Fleur to understand what Harry meant. She watched Severus develop red spots on the sallow cheeks and release his grip on the floo-powder pot, as if it was burning. Harry replaced it on the mantlepiece while Severus let out one long sigh and sat down defeatedly on a chair. He looked decidedly embarrassed, thought Fleur and realised that what Harry had pointed out to him was that he sounded exactly like he used to do before the resurrection. She could not but agree. What had flown into the Professor?
”Er, Harry, do you think you’ll be all right, or do we need to consult St Mungo’s?” asked Bill, breaking the strained silence.
”There’s not much more they can do, but cast the unfreezing charms that you’ve already done,” said Harry. ”It remains to see if I’ll keep all my toes and fingers, or not. I feel fine, though. I’ll remain in front of the fire for a while if you don’t mind.” Bill nodded.
”Then I think that Fleur and I had better retire to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast, before we all catch up on our sleep,” he said. ”And I suppose you’ll want to find your colleagues and tell them that the mission is completed?” he added to the Auror who confirmed. ”Come, Fleur,” entreated Bill softly.
Fleur followed Bill and the Auror out of the room, turning her head as her gaze lingered on Severus. The wizard looked so utterly vulnerable all of a sudden.
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.
When I die at last, irremediably, irreversibly the next time, I will remember this moment. I will remember all these people.
It’s exactly one year, on this very day, since I came back. A fine morning of May, but that’s all the two days have in common. When I compare the chaos - a victorious chaos, but still a chaos - of one year ago, with the serene dignity of today, I find myself moved to tears and overwhelmed by people’s capacity to heal, to recover and to move on in life. I feel proud of wizardkind and hopeful for humanity.
I watch the wizards and witches calmly exit the Great Hall after the memorial gathering, moving together like one body, and it is the picture of reconciliation. There’s no hostility, no resentment between houses and I see the determination in their faces: Never again! their expressions say. Be that so. Let them never forget the violence and the destruction that prejudices engender.
What an amazing voyage from war to peace we made this year - all these people, Harry and Severus, and me.
When I resurrected a year ago at the end of the war, I felt no joy, no joy at all. I felt disappointed and betrayed by my own magic, derided by the irony of fate that mocked my skills and punished me by prolonging my suffering path to death. What a waste, I told myself.
Still, it would have been a sacrilege to complain, and I resigned to my plight of living. No peace of mind would install itself, however, and I brooded and rummaged the events of the last half century over and over again. The turn of Tom Riddle into Lord Voldemort was probably not something that I could have prevented, but otherwise I saw the consequences of my flaws and the result of my mistakes everywhere… everywhere along the path of history, until the day I was cursed by my enemy, and then until the day I forced Severus to commit murder. In my mind it was a brutal, yet necessary course of events, that I submitted to freely, for the greater good. I had, truly, accepted to die that way.
My resurrection did not go into the equation, however. It had been conceived for the benefit of others. To end up being the target of my own sacrificial magic was yet a failing, yet another mistake. It was hard not to let my bitterness show outwardly, but I thought to myself that I had made so many people suffer already that I would not plague them with a dying man’s acrid regrets. Only Severus, my faithful young friend, perceived some of those musings, I believe.
The fact that I was still dying and that my still unrelenting death was the result of my dead enemy’s cursing, was all the more ironic. I was to be the last victim of Lord Voldemort. For the second time. It humiliated me. It’s easier to take a blow from your enemy in the heat of the war, but to suffer from it lengthily, to bear with the defeat and to surrender to his ultimate victory day after day is infuriating, belittling and exhausting.
Yet, somewhere along the way, I seem to have accepted that I could not dictate the course of my life, nor that of my death. I’m an ardent advocate of free will, but I realised that it was not possible for me to choose a dignified death. But then, maybe all deaths are pitiful, I told myself.
I was resigned to my fate, but what I regretted most and for all was that Harry, my dear, cursed child that my heart ached for, seemed to shun me. Whether it was due to his disease or not, the result was that no dialogue was possible. I was not allowed to explain myself, nor to beg his forgiveness, and therefore no reconciliation could take place.
I told myself that it was only right. That this was my punishment. Harry’s denial was the consequence of my inept way of bringing us through the novel rise of Voldemort and the final war.
Could I have acted differently, made other choices along the way? I probably could. I blamed myself for the presumptuousness that made me convinced of my brilliant calculations. I blamed myself for the numbness and the callousness that followed in the footsteps of my sister’s death. It made me push emotional issues aside in favour of rational arguments only, and that is how I made the mistake of leaving Harry with his aunt’s family. Harry has every reason to hate me.
Then, in the middle of my resignation and my mental preparation for death, the healers all of a sudden announced that the curse was no longer effective! That there was no longer an immediate threat. The curse somehow had strangled itself and extinguished.
I couldn’t believe it when they told me. Oh, they had hinted at the possibility before, but at the time I simply thought that it was a way to comfort me, to give me the slightest hope to cling to, and I paid it no deed. They must have thought my reaction to their wonderful news very strange indeed, because before I realised that some expression of joy was expected from me, I was completely nonplussed, completely neutral, or slightly disappointed, really. Bothered more than anything, and weary that I once again had to readjust to new conditions.
Followed the most difficult time since the resurrection. I was so depressed that I could barely take myself through a whole day without bristling and betraying myself. I told no one of the good news, and I brooded seriously, desperately, on the possibility of killing myself instead. I simply could not accept the respite. I had no wish to live - why did I have to?
Only Severus kept me from taking action. He had a difficult time, poor boy, struggling with adjusting to his new life. I had predicted his downfall to a certain extent. Severus was mightily struck by the resurrection magic and it left him so uncharacteristically optimistic and blissful, that I knew it could not last. It still did him good. Just look at the relationship he managed to establish with Harry during this time. But the landing back in reality was though on him, and I needed to be there for him.
Then, suddenly, Severus brought me Harry. Somehow, Harry had found it in him to overcome whatever made him shun me. I never asked what it was, I only embraced his return, so grateful, so afraid that it would not last.
Albus Dumbledore, who was on his way down the podium in the Great Hall to follow and to join his fellow wizards and witches outside the castle, shivered slightly and had to close his eyes briefly, so fresh was the memory of his reunion with Harry, and to such a degree did it still affect him emotionally.
That day, a few days before Christmas, he had conceded to Severus’ insistent pleading of giving Harry a chance at meeting him. Albus had no hopes whatsoever and suspected that Severus, in his desire to unite his friends, had pushed Harry into having yet another fruitless go at it, more or less against the young wizard’s will. Severus could be very insistent sometimes, and not always sensible to the feelings and needs of others when he had set his mind on something.
Harry had entered the office silently and cautiously, proceeding to the set of armchairs in front of the fire where Albus was waiting, advancing as if he were walking on thin ice and expected to plunge into cold water any moment. Albus remembered the empty feeling of sadness and hopelessness, pierced by pain while watching the young wizard coming towards him. He was acutely aware that the chance of Harry having a fit and falling unconscious was impending. He barely dared to glance at the young wizard who he had protected, and at the same time exploited to such a degree, during the course of the war.
It hurt, Harry’s inability to be near him hurt. It was such a rejection each time. Yet, it was, perhaps, only fair. He had played a part in his sister’s death, after all, and was tempted by power in his youth, fraternising with evil. He should bear his punishment without complaint.
Harry made it all the way from the door to the fireplace and sat down in an armchair next to his headmaster. Albus could have sworn he heard both Severus and Harry hold their breaths. Albus didn’t breathe himself. After a short time with his gaze fettered on the floor, Albus looked up to meet the shy, but steady and compassionate gaze of Harry’s. Albus felt his eyes widen, he cast a shocked glance at Severus and returned to meet Harry’s eyes. They looked back as steadily as an owl’s.
Then he heard a pitiful sound, a whining, followed by a series of short, hacked, guttural sounds. He felt his shoulders shake and tremble and for a short fleeting moment, he wondered if it was his turn to pass out, before he felt the touch of soothing hands on his shoulders, on both sides, and heard whispered words of comfort that he could not make out. Albus put his face in his hands and let go of his grief, while those friendly hands stroke his bent old back.
When Albus walked through the grand portal and reached outside the castle, he quickly descended the stairs to the left, brushing against the wall of the building, to avoid the main part of the crowd. He had rapidly scanned the open space filled with wizards and witches and spotted Severus and Harry standing together with a large part of the Weasley family a bit on the side.
When he met their eyes, they detached themselves from the group and took a few steps to meet him, Harry with a big smile on his lips and Severus with that neutral face of his, but nonetheless with a glow in his black eyes that Albus by now had learnt to know and to cherish.
It was a strange feeling, Albus thought, to experience such a strong sense of being surrounded by only two people. Moreover, it felt almost impossibly strange and spoilt, at his age, to be this coveted and loved. When, on top of it, the two wizards started to laud his speech earlier in the castle - Harry in lavishing terms and Severus with more restrained praise - Albus got a bit misty-eyed. He tried not to let on and cleared his throat.
”That was my second last formal speech as headmaster at Hogwarts,” he said mildly. ”It feels strange, but I’m perfectly happy and reconciled with my decision to step back and to retire.”
Severus and Harry scrutinised his face. Albus knew they were worried that his decision to pass the leadership of the school over to Minerva McGonagall, had been too hastily made and feared that he would regret it, or fare ill by the lack of purpose in life that a formal retirement might engender.
”I will make my last speech in a few weeks, when you and your fellow students graduate, dear Harry, and it will be my pleasure to wish you prosperity and happiness in your future lives. I’m so glad that you were able to return and spend the last trimester with us at Hogwarts.”
Albus was more than glad if the truth were to be told, because it still felt like a miracle that they were standing here, all three, together - the war a closed chapter. It had taken a sacrificial miracle to make the reunion physically possible, and a human one to finally enable Harry to face his fears and put himself together after the chain of shattering experiences his young life had contained. A miracle, unexpectedly assisted by Severus Snape.
”I never thought I would recover enough to go back to classes,” said Harry. ”A year ago, I basically thought that my life was over, or that I would be, at the very least, mentally crippled for the rest of my days. When you’re in the middle of misery you truly believe that it will never end. But it did.” For a moment Harry’s eyes were riveted far away, directed over the crowd toward the forest where Voldemort’s horcrux had been blown away from his soul exactly a year ago.
”You really deserve some peace and quiet, Sir,” he added, eyes redirected at Albus. ”I hope that you will enjoy your free time.”
”Well, I don’t intend to leave him in peace,” interfered Snape dryly and turned from Harry to Albus. ”I intend to pester you with frequent visits at you abode of retirement.” Snape’s deliberately drawling tone of voice could not hide the tenderness behind and Albus smiled in response.
”You’ll find yourself always to be welcome, Severus,” he said mildly. ”And I will expect you too, Harry, as soon as you return from abroad with your artist friend.”
”Definitely,” answered Harry. ”I’ve studied overseas apparitions, and I’m determined to make regular jumps back home during the eight weeks the summer camp of magical art lasts. I’ll be living at Severus’ place when I do so, and I will accompany him when he visits you. In september, Helena and I will be back, hopefully with a lot of inspiration, and we’ll find a place of our own in London where to live. We’ll meet really often, then. I do hope you’ll hang on for a long time yet, Sir, because I also plan to have yet another Christmas with you and Severus, just like last year, and maybe several others as well.” Harry looked eager, and just the least little bit contrite and worried.
”I’ll do my very best to hang on,” Albus mused reassuringly. ”We wizards are well known for our longevity, and now that I’ve recovered my spark of life, I prepare to join the line of centenarians and beyond. Now, let’s have a word with the Weasleys shall we?”
And all three turned around, prepared to plunge into the buzzing social life of the magical community that was surrounding them, to the very best of their respective abilities.