Samantha had almost said no when Headmistress McGonagall asked her to permanently fill the post of Potions Mistress and Head of Slytherin. Almost. She felt it very difficult to give up the kind of job she'd dreamt of having. She also felt she owed him. Well, she felt that everyone owed him. While Harry Potter may have been the one to do the deed, it was Snape who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Both in life and in death. But she also felt herself reluctant to leave the physical space they had shared, much as she felt an unbearable sadness every time she even glanced at the door to what had become their lab.
And so she relocated to his quarters in the dungeons. Although she had already cleared the space, she swore his presence remained. Samantha fervently wished that his scent would never leave, despite the fact that her throat tightened every time she became aware of it.
The Sorting Feast was somber. Many of the older students and the surviving professors noticed the faces that should have been there, but weren't – both at the head table and amongst the children. By that point, the collective wizarding world had been made aware of her relationship with Snape by way of an enterprising Daily Prophet photographer who had managed to snap a photo of her last moments with Snape. She couldn't tell what the students thought of her for it, especially the older ones who had dealt with Snape's particular teaching techniques for a number of years. The reaction of the Slytherins – her Slytherins, she reminded herself – was particularly hard to read. She had her answer in short order, however, when she finally returned her attention back to McGonagall's opening words.
"I would like to announce that Professor Rhodes has agreed to continue on as Potions Mistress as well as take up the position of," Samantha could have sworn she heard a hitch in the headmistress' throat, "Head of Slytherin House."
Samantha had no idea she was holding her breath as she raised herself out of her seat and gave a short nod before sitting back down. It came rushing out when she heard the meager applause begin to swell. Soon, all of those who were now her Slytherins, even the first years who had just been sorted, were standing and making well known their approval of their new head of house.
It was when Harry, whom Hermione had somehow coerced into coming back to finish his seventh year, stood to join his once sworn enemies in congratulating her that the rest of the hall's occupants felt obliged to do the same. She was, well, she didn't really know how to put it. Proud seemed to fit the bill. Not for herself, but for him. She knew the adulation had much less to do with her than the fact that they knew she would do her best to fill his shoes. They had all come to see the reasons for his actions and realized that it wasn't out of malice or contempt (well, he was contemptuous and could be malicious when he'd wanted to, but that was somehow forgotten in the immediate afterglow of victory), but for their protection.
And do her best, she did. Slowly, all those students who had known Severus Snape had graduated and, although his name still garnered immediate recognition, first-hand knowledge of the man himself had left the student body. He was never far from Samantha's mind, however. Even when she was at her most stressed by some students' lack of progress, she had a smile on her face as she muttered about what dunderheads they were. The sadness was still there; she knew that would never fade. But she found that bringing to mind even the most mundane of his habits, however much they had often irritated her while he lived, could bring a smile to her face, watery though it sometimes was.
It was twenty-one years to the day of that first Sorting Feast she had attended with Snape, when she had first caught a glimpse of the famous Boy Who Lived, that she had experienced the first public display of emotion since Snape's death on the battlefield all those years ago. Now serving as Deputy Headmistress in addition to her duties as the Head of Slytherin and Potions Mistress, she lined the first years along the steps leading up to the head table in order to have them sorted.
She flew through the list rather mindlessly, though did give acknowledgement to those sorted into her own house, until she stumbled over one name.
"Albus S –," she had barely hissed out the first letter before she lost her voice.
She hadn't realized the boy would name his son after him. She also hadn't realized how long it had been since she'd spoken his name aloud. It must have been over a decade, something she made sure she would later chide herself for. The boy had already taken a hesitant step forward, but stopped as soon as he realized the rest of his name had not been announced. He looked positively terrified. She gulped, took a deep breath, and continued, her voice and hands plainly shaking.
"Albus Severus Potter."
He sat on the stool, shaking just as much as she was as she placed the Sorting Hat on his head. She watched him intently, wondering just what was being said. A stricken look crossed the boy's face, but he seemed to have swiftly made up his mind on the matter and a look of determination settled on his thin, pale face. The hat had made its decision.
An audible gasp swept throughout the hall, which was followed by absolute silence. Samantha stepped forward to pluck the hat from the boy's head. He slid off the stool and slowly turned around to face her. He looked apprehensive, as though searching for her approval. Curious reaction.
"Off you go, Mr. Potter," Samantha said, nodding toward the Slytherin table.
He nodded, looking slightly crestfallen, and turned to go.
"And Mr. Potter?"
The boy looked at her over his shoulder.
"Professor Snape would be very proud to have you in his house," she said quietly, a sad smile on her face.
Potter positively beamed before bounding down the steps to greet his cheering housemates.
Samantha felt a rush of air leave her lungs. The Sorting Feast continued relatively uneventfully, the Weasley girl was unsurprisingly sorted into Gryffindor, while Draco Malfoy's progeny was swiftly sent to Slytherin. Samantha, however, had stopped paying attention. The only thought running through her mind was that she was ready. Ready to speak to the portrait that she had avoided for nearly twenty years.
The moment dinner was over, she asked McGonagall if she could have a moment in her office. The woman nodded, a knowing and sympathetic smile on her face. They'd had this discussion more than once over the years and she knew as well as Samantha that it had been long enough. Too long, perhaps.
She slowly made her way up the innumerable staircases to the headmistress' office. Along the way, students quietly greeted her, some of the older ones likely having heard her story from past students and parents, or even books published on the events. She still couldn't believe her relationship with Snape had made it into print. Samantha was sure the melancholy showed on her face and, while somewhat unnerved by the students' sympathy, it was comforting in its way. It was something she would certainly be mentioning to Snape. She could picture his reaction clear as day.
Finally, after allowing the staircase to bring her to the office door, she placed a hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath before pushing it open. Stepping into the office, she quickly found Dumbledore's portrait watching her closely, seeming to know what she had come to do. She locked eyes with him and he nodded slowly.
Samantha felt as though she were moving in slow motion as she walked further into the office. Stepping around a column flanking the steps up to McGonagall's desk, she finally came face-to-face with a portrait she had not been able to bring herself to look at for two decades. He looked the same as he always had, she thought ruefully. For a moment, she almost didn't want him to see her as the aged woman that she was. It was silly, really, for she knew that he'd seen her over the years, even if she'd been incapable of setting eyes upon his portrait.
Looking up into the familiar black eyes, Samantha smiled. She could already feel the tears welling up and blinked rapidly to keep them at bay.
"Severus," she said in a whisper, her voice thick with emotion.
"Samantha," he answered, his voice just as she remembered it. It was enough to send the tears streaming down her cheeks.
He wasn't smiling, per se, but he really needn't have done. The look in his eyes, painted though they were, was all she needed to see. She knew that portraits didn't retain every aspect of their once-living counterparts, but the look in his eyes conveyed enough emotion to remind her of how he'd looked at her in life.
Samantha used her wand to levitate one of the armchairs from in front of the fireplace over to where she was standing in front of Snape's portrait. She slipped off her shoes as she sat down and curled her legs under her.
"I have so much to tell you."
Yes, yes, I know they don't include middle names in the sorting ceremony, but give me a little artistic license here.
Truth be told, I actually had these last two chapters written well before I'd even reached the half point of the story and, surprisingly given that I don't often stick to what I intend on writing, barely had to do any editing to match what was written after the fact. This epilogue is probably one of my favorite chapters. The moment I finished it, I knew it was exactly as I wanted it. I felt as though I left at the end just the right amount of a sense that life must and does go on. I must admit, though, I found myself at times a little weepy as I wrote the earlier chapters, knowing that I was building up to Snape's death (and I even used the manner of death which, I might add, I hated in the book). Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'm not sure what's next. I think I'll extend my SS/HG one-shot ("The Silver Doe") and I might even give Severus the happy ending he deserved.