LOST PERSPECTIVE II
CHAPTER 7: THE POWER OF POTIONS
For a quarry-on-legs Braque could move with remarkable stealth. He had insinuated himself into the room and solidified at Snape's feet before Harry realised he was inside the building. Snape allowed his arm to hang down and the purple tongue snaked out, darting over his hand, licking around and in between his fingers.
"Never stroke him directly on the top of his head," he instructed. "It obstructs his third eye."
Harry thought that the chances of him getting fond enough to pet the reptile were about as likely as having a cosy canoodle with Dolores Umbridge.
"Why do you call him Braque, Sir. Is it a French name?"
Snape shot him a withering glance.
"After the painter," he said, as though that were self-explanatory.
Harry was none the wiser.
"What do they teach you in Muggle Studies, these days? Potter, do you know nothing about art?"
Harry gave an almost Gallic shrug. He wished he'd never asked. As names go, Braque was no sillier than Fluffy or Norbert, and he'd accepted those without question. Well, maybe not Fluffy…
"You must surely have heard of Picasso?" The old sneer was creeping back into Snape's voice. "Leger? Gris? Braque…?" He reeled off a list of names, meaningless to Harry. "No? Drawn a blank, have we? You have no idea what I'm talking about, have you, Potter?" He sighed. "I suppose it's not your fault. The syllabus is grossly slanted in favour of electrical, labour-saving gadgets."
"Art appreciation is N.E.W.T. level," said Harry in his own defence. "In our class we were still trying to get the hang of telephones and toasters. Ron still doesn't understand the point of having an electric fire."
Snape resisted the opportunity for gratuitous Weasley baiting.
"Well then, listen and learn, Potter. Georges Braque - along with Pablo Picasso - was one of the founders of the Cubist Movement in Muggle painting in France at the turn of the last century. I am making the rash assumption that you have, at least, heard the term Cubism? Yes? Very well. Conceptually, Cubism was the reduction of objects to their simplest components such as the basic geometric shapes - cones, cubes, cylinders - and the use of these to portray the subject from all angles simultaneously, thus producing a multi-dimensional image… Do you understand, Potter?"
"Um, not really, Sir." Harry was way out of his depth.
"Fine. Let's try again. Look at the wall - over there, above the fireplace."
Snape drew a series of weaving lines in the air with his wand and, concentrating hard, murmured,
The smooth, white plaster began to smudge and darken; lines and shadows appeared, sharp edges and angles, spliced with curves, in shades of grey and brown and black, a jumble of unrecognisable, disconnected forms.
"It is called 'Violon et palette'. From Braque's early 'grey' period. Observe closely, Potter. What do you see?"
Harry sensed that Snape was willing him to succeed. That, for some reason, it was important to him that his son should appreciate his enthusiasm for the painting, thinly disguised though it was beneath the educational veneer.
"It's a violin, sort of. But it's all in broken bits." Harry hazarded, personally thinking the picture a right mess.
"Look again. Let your mind accept the violin in its entirety, from all angles: see the sound holes, the strings, the swelling curve of the rim, the scroll, the palette… Do you see these things, Potter? Allow the images to expand into your consciousness; do not confine your senses with dimensional constraints. You do it in Occlumency - apply the same skills to what you are seeing now…"
Harry tried very hard. For a while he saw only the mix of grey-brown triangles, then a whole violin emerged out of the rubble and rotated before his eyes, as substantial as a Patronus.
"Hey! That's amazing!"
Snape leaned back in the chair, briefly closing his eyes as though the exertion of conjuring the image had sapped his strength. The picture faded from sight.
"Curiously gratifying, is it not? Think of the parallel with potions – the way in which diverse ingredients, each with their own individual properties, combine to form the finished product, to create a new substance. A form of alchemy."
"Oh, absolutely," Harry agreed, too readily.
"The fundamental difference being -?" Snape prompted, clearly expecting Harry to have reached an independent conclusion.
"- being, that, um… I don't know," Harry admitted, scouring the white wall for inspiration. Where was Hermione when you needed her?
"The difference, Potter, is that the Cubists remind us that the 'ingredients' continue to exist as separate entities, that their autonomy is not subsumed into the whole. It is a question of perception."
Snape viewed him with something like disappointment.
"To answer your original question, I named the Tuatara 'Braque' after the artist, as you will have gathered. The creature was lying in front of the fire and… You have noticed the spinal ridges and plates which extend the length of his tail?"
Harry couldn't pretend that he hadn't.
"In his very angularity and colouration - that greyish, earthy tone - he reminded me of that painting. A whimsical notion, I fear."
Never in a million years would Harry have dared to describe Snape as whimsical.
"No, Sir, it suits him. It's just that… can I ask you a question, Sir?" Harry knew he was juggling with jinxes, but he had to keep delving, trying to understand this other Snape.
"You may." Captious as ever.
"It's just that I always thought you disapproved of Muggle Studies, Sir? I mean, you always seemed so…"
"So what?" Snape raised an eyebrow.
Intolerant. Dismissive. Scathing. Negative. Downright prejudiced.
"Oh, nothing. I had the impression you hated everything about Muggles, that's all."
"There are exceptions." Snape's gaze rested on the white surface of the wall and from there seemed to reflect back onto and into himself. "Just because I abhor certain Muggle attributes, does not mean that I cannot admire other aspects of their culture - artistic creativity, for example."
"You make a good job of not showing it!"
"What would you have me do, Potter? Offer lessons in Art Appreciation? But I am no aficionado. One painting doesn't make a gallery. Some things are private, and should remain so. And besides, in the circles in which I have - until lately - been operating, it is politic to wave the party wand."
"But, Sir, all this French stuff is part of your heritage; it's part of who you are. You can't just pretend that it doesn't exist. The language, the paintings - they're important to you, aren't they? Your mother…"
"That is all in the past. And my mother is dead, Potter." Snape reminded him sharply.
"But what about the poetry…?"
"Poetry?" Snape fell on the word like a hawk.
"I found a book, Sir," Harry confessed, shame-faced.
"Dragon's blood! Is nothing sacred? What did you do, ransack the entire house the minute my back was turned? Have you had a good snoop in my bedroom? When you fail to qualify as an Auror, you can fall back on your evident vocation as a sleuth."
Harry was not going to let himself be brow-beaten.
"It was my mother's book! Why have you got my mother's book?" He raised his voice and confronted his father. Dropping the sarcasm, Snape answered simply.
"Because she gave it to me."
That was not the reply Harry had anticipated. If he were to believe everything Snape had told him so far, - and, surprisingly, he did - Lily and Snape had never been particularly friendly. So why had she given him her book?
"Why? When?" Harry spluttered. "You said you never had a relationship with her. You said you didn't fancy her. You don't mean she was chasing after you? Oh, Merlin! This is sick! It was all a pack of lies, wasn't it? You've been lying to me like all the rest?"
"Compose yourself, Potter!" Snape's voice snagged on the rebuke. He coughed and cleared his throat, swallowing hard. "I am not going to speak to you while you persist in making these incoherent, unfounded erroneous allegations. Let us get one thing straight: I am not lying to you now; I have never lied to you, and I do not intend to. Is that clear?"
Harry gave a truculent nod.
"Very well. Next, if you insist on absolute accuracy, I should say that I do not recall at any time telling you that I did not 'fancy' - as you so crudely put it - Lily Evans. That does not mean, however, that we were in any way romantically entangled."
"Yeah, right." Harry remained sullenly unconvinced.
From his sitting position, Snape looked up at the boy who stood so defiantly in front of him, hands in pockets, every atom of his body crying out disillusion and betrayal, and his voice softened.
"Harry, your mother was an extremely attractive woman: she was beautiful and intelligent and cultured and witty and kind… Everybody admired her. At school we all did. A man would have been blind or mad or unnatural not to. But she was involved with James Potter and, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of it."
"So why's she giving you presents then? A poetry book, for God's sake! Tell me that!"
"Yesterday morning I went to Snape Manor."
It seemed to be a non-sequitur, but Harry understood Snape well enough by now to know that the eventual point would be relevant. He remembered how distracted he had been on his return.
"I was looking for a note that I received from Lily shortly before…"
"Notes too! What a surprise!"
"Potter. Sit down and stop interrupting! Either you shut up and listen, or you may leave. Perhaps…" Snape slumped back in his chair, suddenly drained. "…perhaps it would be better if you did leave. We have done nothing but argue from the moment you arrived. We'd both be better off if you went back to Hogwarts. Look, Potter… I'm tired, I've a splitting headache and my throat is raw from this damned cough - I can do without getting embroiled in a fresh slanging-match with you every five minutes. You know where the Floo powder is - use it."
Harry stubbornly stood his ground.
"Oh no, you're not fobbing me off that easily! I want to hear the note."
With a sigh, Snape unfolded a sheet of pearly blue parchment on which Harry could see a few short lines quilled in an elegant, flowing script. Snape cleared his throat painfully and began to read in a strained voice:
I am writing to implore you to abandon this senseless, futile feud with my husband. I am begging him to do the same. It has gone too far. Sooner or later one of you will end up killing the other.
I have a child now - as you may have heard - and I want him to grow up knowing his father, not visiting his grave.
I am sending you a book in which I have marked certain passages. Read them, Severus, and let the words enter your heart.
Snape stopped reading and folded the note with deliberate precision and a finality that Harry found infuriating.
"She knew you were my father - why didn't she say so? Did she want you to know or didn't she? Didn't this note give you a clue? Didn't it make you wonder? Didn't you think it was a bit weird getting a note like that from someone you'd…? And what about the book?"
"Of course I thought it was odd!" Snape snapped.
Harry should have realised that the methodical neatness and air of detachment was a defence mechanism.
"There had been rumours that after the Death Eater attack Lily had suffered some kind of a breakdown - that she was depressed. I thought the letter was a product of her unhappiness. That she hoped that if I behaved leniently towards James, it would somehow save their marriage. Potter, if she had wanted me to know, she would have told me!"
"And the poems?" Harry persisted.
But Snape was coughing again and couldn't speak. Harry waited and then repeated his question:
"The poems? Didn't they make you think?" He quoted the first line from Rimbaud which seemed to have lodged in his mind.
'Qu'est-ce pour nous, mon coeur, que les nappes de sang…'"
"You read them?" Snape asked, distinctly uncomfortable.
"All of them?"
"The ones that were marked with the 'Favourites' Charm, yes."
"Oh, Merlin!" Snape was mortified. "Yes, they made me think. They spoke to me in a way that other arguments did not; they made me reconsider. That was one of Lily's qualities - she knew how to 'reach' people. I did begin to wonder about things - about the child, about her feelings. There were times when I was close to death…" Dark memory beckoned his thoughts inwards, into shadow; his voice, low and very quiet now, faltered, "I knew it… I felt it…"
The black eyes suddenly flashed in alarm, as though Snape had found himself slipping off the edge of a cliff, and he grabbed at a handhold in the conversation.
"And in view of the poems she had high-lighted…"
"She chose them? I thought you had…" Harry exclaimed, another illusion shattered.
"No. Her choice. But, apart from the Rimbaud, whether they were of special significance to her own life or whether she chose them with me in mind, I do not know. I will never know."
"Didn't you want to find out? You could have asked her." Harry probed the open wound.
"They were both killed soon afterwards. I did not see her again."
"But, 'Si tu savais' - who was …?"
"Potter, I don't know! What does it matter any more? She is gone. Do you think I haven't read those poems a thousand times, trying to figure out her reasons for sending them? Don't you think I lie awake at night wondering what might have happened if things had been different?
"I don't know if James' letter to you implied that Lily was party to his quest for vengeance. I hardly think it likely, especially in the light of that note. I choose to believe that the poems were her way of saying that she was prepared to forgive me… her way of making me think about what my life had become… her way of encouraging me to forgive myself…"
His voice had dropped, weighted down with regret and self-recrimination.
"Merde! I need a drink!" he muttered. Then, as Harry headed towards the tallboy. "No. Water. Just water."
Harry decided that it was time to leave. Snape was obviously sick of the sight of him and, as far as Harry's questions about Lily went, they appeared to have reached a dead end. There was still more he wanted to ask about James and Lily, but he'd have to wait until Snape had calmed down before he stood a chance of getting an answer. As for the 'reconciliation', they'd given it their best shot, but they were getting nowhere. It was disappointing, but they would have to accept that they were never going to 'connect'. Snape had fulfilled his promise to Dumbledore and imparted information, more perhaps than was strictly necessary. He had behaved honourably, but that was not, ultimately, what Harry wanted. Honour alone would not persuade Harry to stay.
Harry wanted Snape to care. He wanted some indication, however nebulous, that he meant more to Snape than a family obligation. That might induce him to stay; that would give him hope. But, as it was…
He wouldn't be needing his Emergency Antidote after all, thank you very much. He pulled the other two phials out of his pocket and approached Snape.
"I'll go now, Sir. Here - you might as well have these. I brewed them for you this morning. There's 'Nontussium' for your cough, and 'Dreamless Sleep #3' for your…" He felt guilty; it was like admitting to Snape that he had been eavesdropping, spying on him in his sleep. "…for the nightmares."
He challenged the Potions master to berate him.
"OK, so I went in your lab. What of it? It's all right, you don't have to say anything, I'm leaving anyway."
Snape was staring blindly at the little bottles in his hand.
"You brewed these, for me?"
So what? They're just potions. No big deal. Oh, for Merlin's sake!
"They should make you feel better, sir. All the ingredients were freshly picked this morning, and I followed the recipes really carefully…" Harry rambled on, trying to cover his embarrassment at the fact that his gesture had left Snape momentarily overwhelmed.
"You didn't make all this fuss about the blood!" Harry then declared, feeling that, on the scale of noble deeds, donating his blood had been a far, far better thing…
"When you were in the hospital wing, you had to have a transfusion, and I gave…" He broke off, alarmed by Snape's stricken expression.
"I didn't know. I didn't know… Harry..." Snape whispered his name brokenly. His left hand moved up to shield his eyes, though the room was in shadow; his other clenched into a fist. Behind the hand, his eyes were tightly closed. He turned his head away.
Harry didn't know what to do. Acting on instinct, he moved closer to Snape and awkwardly put a hand on his shoulder. He could feel him trembling with the effort of maintaining his self-control. Snape tensed at his touch then, gradually, relaxed. A minute, maybe more, went by in silence. Then the fist unclenched and, reaching up to where Harry's fingers still rested lightly on his shoulder, Snape clasped Harry's hand.
Another extended minute passed until Snape drew a long, shuddering sigh, exhaled deeply and gave a perfunctory cough.
"You take the Nontussium, Sir. I'm going to make some tea," Harry said, escaping, tactful for once in his life.
When Harry returned bearing mugs, Snape gave him a wan smile.
"Thank you," he murmured, indicating the empty phial.
Harry stepped cautiously past Braque, who had curled himself monolithically around his master's legs, and sat down.
"I thought you were leaving," Snape said. He had mentally assigned the embarrassment of the last ten minutes a priority place in the Pensieve, along with most of the events of the previous two days.
"Yes, I am. That is, I am if you want me to," Harry countered, quietly exultant, confident now that Snape would like him to stick around. Determined to press his advantage, he had parried Snape's dismissive move and expected him to come back with another thrust, but this time Snape did not retaliate. He met Harry's gaze squarely.
"This constant fencing has got to stop," he said. "If we are to acknowledge your true identity - and even that point is still open to debate - it is imperative that we establish a modus vivendi. This verbal sparring is counter-productive. If the two of us alone cannot adjust to our relationship, how do you expect to cope once the scandal - and, believe me, this will not be viewed in a favourable light - becomes public knowledge? The school will be a ferment of gossip. The media vultures at the Daily Prophet will be merciless. Our private lives will come under scrutiny - you may be accustomed to that, Potter, you may even thrive on it, but I do not. For the sake of appearances, at least, we must learn to present a united front.
"What happens when you return to Hogwarts will be your decision. If you insist on transferring to another school, then so be it. We can discuss that later, though you appear to have already made your choice. As for myself, however, I will say this, and I'll only say it once…"
He paused and then, speaking quietly and sincerely, he stated:
"I do not wish you to leave. Whether you like it or not, Harry, you are my son and you are welcome in my home."
"That makes four," Harry mumbled to himself.
"Four what?" Snape had no idea what he was talking about.
"Oh, nothing. It doesn't matter," Harry bridled. He hadn't meant Snape to overhear. He was not going to be caught out indulging in sentimentality. Only a Truth Charm would get him to admit that every time Snape used his Christian name it registered in his brain like the clang of a cash-till, ringing up a running total of his father's affection. Once in the cellar, and three times today - by Snape's standards that was positively effusive.
Harry hadn't been consciously counting, but any glimmer of genuine affection through the drab of Snape's emotional blackout was precious. He knew better than to expect Snape to be demonstrative. He wasn't going to have a complete change of character overnight. He was still an uptight, unpredictable bastard, still dangerous - old habits die hard. But that was only one side of Severus Snape.
"Why can't you just use my name, like everyone else?" Harry exclaimed in an aggrieved tone. The underlying note of hurt made Snape look at him sharply.
"It will be difficult to break the habit of six years, but I will try to remember, if it is important to you," he offered.
They were standing by the window, watching Braque gliding through the long grass like a grey, oiled, rocky reef.
"He's so strange, the way he moves - he doesn't seem to be moving at all, and then he's gone," Harry commented, retreating to the impersonal safety of small talk.
"Tuatara have an exceptionally slow metabolic rate," responded Snape in relief, seizing the chance to follow Harry out of the danger zone. "That is one of the reasons they live so long. It also affects their musculature - all their movements are superbly coordinated, slow and fluid, apart, of course, from the tongue!"
Harry glanced quickly over his shoulder and saw that Snape was almost smiling. He was intensely aware of his proximity. Wonder what he'd do if I leaned back against him? Probably jump like a scalded Crup, thought Harry, inwardly grinning. He had no idea how he would handle things once they were both back at school but here, for now, it felt safe to indulge in the fantasy that there might be some flimsy bond between them. It felt odd to be standing so close to him without getting that flutter of mingled fear and hatred in his stomach. Not detesting Professor Snape was going to take some getting used to.
Snape was certainly no ideal parent; not an exemplary role model. Paradoxically, it was his failings and how he dealt with them that had earned from Harry a new respect - the man was human after all. He could still be scary too, sometimes, but Harry was no longer frightened of him.
It was far too soon to say whether he would ever actually come to love his father; half the time Harry didn't even think he liked him very much; he was sure he'd never fully understand him. Yet, in a strange, indefinable way, Harry knew now that he needed him. It occurred to Harry that Professor Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey had been right after all.
As if to echo his thoughts, Snape said,
"This is not going to be easy - for either of us."
Too right! Apart from the fact that everybody would now be expecting him to excel at Potions, Harry had a nasty suspicion that Snape might require him secretly to learn French or take up some arty Muggle hobby like playing the violoncello. Zut alors!
"No," replied Harry, "Having you for a father has been absolute hell so far, and I don't expect it to get much better!"
"Indeed? Then we agree on something," said Snape. "Now, Potter, we need to address the vexed question of 'house rules'…"
END OF STORY
Author's note: The sequel to Snape's Confession is 'Lost Perspective 3: REPERCUSSIONS' . This is the story of how Harry's actions in LP/1 have a knock-on effect in the wizard world, and how his friends (and enemies) react when they discover what has been going on. In addition, Luna Lovegood tries to help Harry come to terms with his grief over Sirius, and there are flashbacks to and more revelations about Harry's week with Snape…