The Portrait's Story

The headmistress's office was silent…silent except for the sound of her voice. And Minerva McGonagall's voice was cutting the silence like a knife. The visitors to the office stood quaking and sweating as the voice described their crime. All the eyes in the room; all the portraits' eyes, were aimed at them. The boys cowered.

Professor McGonagall gave a final stern warning which made the two boys in front of her wince. "Let's see if we can manage to concentrate on our STUDIES, shall we? Boys?"

They each nodded as they backed toward the door. Then realizing they were truly dismissed, they bolted, nearly simultaneously, and bashed into each other. It would have been rather comical if the subject of their interview with the headmistress had not been so serious.

Some of the portraits on the wall grumbled and others looked scandalized. Once the door banged shut, leaving McGonagall alone, they each began to upbraid her for not expelling the two-some. The portrait of the witch with the stout birch rod brandished it while she explained that in her time a good thrashing would have knocked it out of them. Armando Dippett was shouting for the use of the whip. Phineas Nigellus guffawed nastily.

McGonagall raised her hands for silence as she sunk down into the chair behind her polished wood desk. "They are only boys," she said, as much to herself as to the portraits. "They have a right to their own…desires," she said carefully. "They simply need to be more discreet." The finality of this statement seemed to quell the louder comments, but an undercurrent of muttering still continued.

Professor McGonagall leaned her head into her hands and then rubbed her tired eyes under her glasses. A slight cough came from behind her and she swiveled to see the portrait of Professor Dumbledore smiling down at her. She smiled too, in spite of herself. "Albus," she said. "I didn't know you were awake."

Dumbledore stretched. "Yes…" he replied serenely, "I enjoyed your speech to the young gentlemen. Quite appropriate. No unnecessary prejudices. Just the right tone."

The other portraits had all gone quiet, watching Dumbledore.

Professor McGonagall eyed Dumbledore's portrait beadily as though trying to decide if he really meant what he'd said or was having her on. Then her face softened. "I don't know," she mused. "I never know how to react to such things. They were caught in the act, as it were…right under the Venomous Tentacula! Professor Sprout was mortified. She got quite an eye-full when she discovered them," McGonagall grimaced. "You must have had to deal with these situations before, Albus. How did you handle them?"

"Ahh…Minerva….Boys, or girls who decide to experiment in this way are not such a problem, unless, as these two did, they choose their rendezvous location unwisely," Dumbledore chuckled.

"You can't say that you approve of students doing this sort of thing at school?" the headmistress retorted.

"I don't think that what we say, or think, will change the course of love," said Dumbledore.

"You always were a romantic, Albus," said McGonagall sniffily.

"The real problems are the cases where the individuals involved are NOT in synch," he said.

McGonagall had known Albus long enough to know he had something, possibly important, to impart. "Go on, Albus," she said settling in.

Dumbledore sighed and stared off across the office. "Severus Snape and…James Potter, for example," he said shaking his head.

McGonagall flushed. "You can't be serious, Albus. James…James married Lily. He hated Snape. You must be mistaken."

"I am not mistaken about Professor Snape's feelings. But I should begin at the beginning," said Dumbledore mildly.

"In their fifth year, Sirius Black gave Severus some information that put Severus in mortal danger. Severus was not innocent in the situation. He was somewhere he never should have been, and he was nearly killed. However, James Potter discovered what Severus had been told, and risked his own life to save Severus," said Dumbledore.

McGonagall opened her mouth to ask a question, with a furrowed brow.

Dumbledore continued without waiting to hear the obvious question, "The details are unimportant, except that in the course of the rescue, Severus fell and broke his arm in several places. James disliked Severus intensely but still felt badly for Snape and helped him up to the hospital wing and then waited while the matron fixed the arm. I think he felt guilty as it was his own friend who had put Severus in so much danger. I believe he even checked on Severus the next day."

Dumbledore gave a tired sigh, "Severus was a loner and a lonely boy. He had acquaintances rather than friends. Also, he longed for love…as do we all. In any case, it seems that he developed a sort of infatuation for James, even though he professed hatred for him. Severus was drawn to James…physically. I think he managed to convinced himself that James' rescue constituted an invitation to friendship."

"Soon afterward, Severus got James aside and suggested they pursue this…em…friendship. James was appalled because, of course, James was not interested in boys in that way and also Severus represented ideals he hated. He rebuffed Snape. Snape was embarrassed and devastated, for he had convinced himself James was interested in him."

"When Severus came over to the Order, I questioned him deeply about himself and his past. I confess I used Legilimancy, due to his Death Eater connections. I saw that he continued to harbor a lust, of sorts, for James Potter, while insisting that he hated James. I counseled him to turn his affections to someone who would reciprocate, and to abandon this obsession."

"When Harry came to school, I realized that his presence might tend to bring these long suppressed feelings back to the surface that Professor Snape claimed he had put aside."

"I watched as Severus berated the boy and treated him unfairly. I decided it was his way of keeping a firm distance. I should have been more diligent and watchful. It was not until Harry's fifth year that I knew Severus was still holding a grudge while lusting after the man he never had," explained Dumbledore, shaking his head slightly.

Professor McGonagall's brow was wrinkled in disbelief. "But really, Albus. Snape was so…so...cold."

Dumbledore nodded briefly and continued, "I had assigned Severus to teach Occlumency to Harry. It put Harry in Professor Snape's care, and alone with him for hours at a time. I should have known better. The past had escaped my memory I think," said Dumbledore pensively. "I knew it was not going well, having listened to Serverus' rants. I did not realize that the problem was Professor Snape's conflicted feelings for the boy. As we know, Harry looks so very like his father."

"Dumbledore," began McGonagall in confusion, "What does Harry have to do with the story?"

"I suppose I tend to ramble in my dotage," smiled Dumbledore. "I assure you I am arriving at the point of the story."

"I decided to look in on one of the lessons, un-observed. I had been avoiding Harry due to Voldemort's intrusion into his mind, therefore, I used Moody's invisibility cloak to visit Snape's dungeon. I stood in the corner and watched the two vie with each other. Finally, Harry was knocked to the floor, unconscious, having failed to keep Professor Snape out of his mind."

"It was then that Severus revealed his inner turmoil…his lingering conflict," said Dumbledore. The old headmaster fell silent, lost in thought. He mumbled to himself. Professor McGonagall made out a few bits of self- recrimination. "Should have known…Severus was so repressed…No amount of jinxing by James…"

"Dumbledore!" exclaimed McGonagall. "Go on with your story…please!"

The headmaster sighed and looked down over the top of his half-moon spectacles. "Yes…my story…" he continued. "When Harry collapsed, Severus knelt down beside him. I observed his face which seemed to me to be twisted as though in agony. His hands hovered over the boy who looked so much like the fifteen-year-old James. Professor Snape placed a hand on Harry's chest and with his other, he brushed the hair off the boy's forehead. I heard him take a deep breath. Then he bent as though he were going to kiss Harry. It was then I knew I had to stop him…reveal myself…before Severus did something he would later regret. However, at that moment, Harry began to revive and Severus sprang to his feet where he resumed his normal, usual manner toward the boy."

Professor McGonagall was looking at Dumbledore in amazement, "But, does he love Harry?"

"He lusts for the relationship he wanted with James," explained Dumbledore. "He is a very bitter and incomplete man. He can not give up the past and it is his fatal flaw. The memory of James is still exceptionally painful for Severus."

"But, Albus," said McGonagall in an annoyed voice, "The man is a murderer and a traitor. Although it's an interesting story, I don't se as how it relates to the question at hand?"

"Severus is not a murderer. That is another story entirely, Minerva. He is however, a man with passions like any other. He deserves our understanding and pity. The boys you just shooed out of here a few moments ago still have each other for comfort. Severus Snape is completely alone."