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.