Disclaimer: I don't own anything of JKR's. She's the true headmistress of Hogwarts; I'm just a first year.
Note: I originally wrote this for the simple reason that I had thirteen stories posted and I couldn't handle having such an unlucky number on my profile page. However, now that's it's written, I realize that it's one of the stories I really wanted to tell in the first place. Snape became one of my favorite characters in the last book, and I can't wait to reread the others from that perspective. Please hit the review button at the bottom and let me know what you think! Just an oneshot, so don't expect an update.
Harry Potter walked into the Headmistress' office and dropped wearily in front of the desk before looking about himself in sudden contentment, completely ignoring the cheers of the old headmasters and headmistresses as they got a look at one of their favorite people. Had it truly been three years since he had defeated Voldemort? It had been the same amount of time since he had been in this office. He had never returned after speaking with Dumbledore, even though it had been hard to fight the temptation to come and speak with the old headmaster's portrait. Harry remembered Dumbledore's advice about living for the now, and knew that Albus would never approve of Harry mooning around a portrait. He had already grieved Dumbledore; it was time to move on.
He had been married to Ginny for nearly a year now, and was working with great satisfaction as an Auror for the Ministry. Kingsley Shacklebolt was doing a phenomenal job there, and the wizarding world was better off than it had been in many, many years. Harry was living in peace for the first time in his life, and was forever eager that it remain so. Even though his lightning shaped scar hadn't disappeared with the downfall of Voldemort, he practiced Mad-Eye Moody's advice in performing constant vigilance against the rise of another dark lord. There had been a few scares early after Voldemort's defeat, when a few of his escaped Death Eaters had tried to cause trouble. Thankfully, all of that lot had been stamped out now, and everyone was free from fear…just about everything, that is, except for Harry himself.
Even though he was happily married, contented with his job, and pleased with the way his world was going, Harry still had trouble relaxing. He had needed to be on his guard for so very long that he didn't even know how to not fear the future. Death didn't scare him any longer, especially after having already walked towards it and experiencing a piece of the afterlife. It wasn't his own death of which Harry was afraid, but the deaths of those he held dear. Dumbledore, Mad-Eye, Hedwig, Lupin, Tonks, Sirius…they were all gone, now. He couldn't bear the thought of losing one more loved one.
"My dear boy, how long are you going to sit there and wallow in your fears?" Harry's head snapped up at this voice, and saw Dumbledore's painted blue eyes looking compassionately down at him.
He gulped. "Hello, Professor. I'm terribly sorry, sir, I didn't mean to ignore you. I'm just waiting on Professor McGonagall. Auror business."
Dumbledore nodded. "I understand, Harry; don't fear, you weren't ignoring me. You just looked troubled. Is there anything you'd like to share? Get it off your chest, as you used to do when you were a boy? I can promise you that throwing around Minerva's belongings will get you in far more trouble with her than such behavior ever did with me."
Harry laughed. "Don't worry on that score, Professor. I'd sooner jump out a window than mess with McGonagall's things. She might pull a Moody and transfigure me into a bunny rabbit for the use of her second year pupils. No…it's nothing to do with my business that I'm worried about…" The young man stood up and began to pace, look very like the child that had done the same thing in the same office, only a few years before. Dumbledore waited patiently before Harry burst out, "Professor…how did you do it, sir, after the first war? How did you keep on living in a safe world, when most of your friends were dead?"
Looking ponderingly at his former student and protégé, Dumbledore replied briskly, "Firstly Harry, may I say that I wish you to call me Albus from now on. You're a man, and you are on the same pedestal as me now, with no need for such shows of deference. I know that you respect me, but I respect you in turn, so unless you want me to start calling you 'Auror Potter' or 'Mr. Potter', let us be finished with such titles." The painted professor put his hands together and peered through them, before replying slowly, "Harry, I cannot say that our positions are exactly alike. In the first place, my world wasn't safe to me after Voldemort's first downfall. I knew that he was still living, and that we had a long road ahead of us before he was truly defeated. But I will admit that it was difficult for me to remember those who were dead, especially James and Lily, such was my guilt towards them. My loneliness for my friends would hit at odd times, I could be here in my office, eating lemon drops and reading a book when I would remember sharing that particular sweet with an old friend in the Order. I could be out riding a broomstick and suddenly be hit with longing to see your father riding his own broom on the Quidditch pitch again. To say that such times were easy would be a shameful lie, Harry, and I vowed to myself that I would never lie to you again.
"However…I can promise you that the old adage that 'time heals all wounds' is very nearly correct. You ache for your friends and family, but I think that you will agree with me that the ache is less than it was three years ago, when you stood in this office mourning the lives of Fred, Lupin, and Tonks?" Harry nodded. "Just as your grief is less now, so it shall be in another three years. You will never forget your friends, Harry, but you will be able to live without them. You can live for them, and for the sacrifices that they gave."
"Sacrifices…" Harry muttered under his breath. "That's another thing that bothers me, Pro-I mean, Albus. Perhaps it's the greatest thing. It's Snape, sir. I cannot forget Professor Snape, and how horrible I was to him. Sure, he was rotten to me sometimes, and sometimes I jolly well deserved it. But now that I know about his love for my mother, I realize that I was the symbol of everything he hated and regretted. I only reminded him that my mum could never be his, and I was a constant reference to the fact that he betrayed them by giving Voldemort the prophecy. Yet, despite the fact that looking at me was probably drinking a poison to Snape, he still risked everything to save me, to keep me safe and well in memory of my mother. He sacrificed his time, his career, his reputation, and then his very life to stay a spy and help me." Harry stopped and looked at a corner of the office for a moment, not really seeing it. "I never even got to tell him thank you."
Harry didn't see it, but Dumbledore turned to look at the portrait beside him and gave a small nod. A bit of movement caught Harry's eye and he gasped when he saw Snape sidling into the frame next to Dumbledore's own, directly behind the office. "Well, Potter," he said in his own silky tones, "that was quite the touching display. I commend you for it."
By this time, Harry had long realized that Snape's insolent tone of voice was his protection against appearing sentimental. He was just trying to keep his soul intact. Knowing this, Harry went and stood before the portrait with tears in his emerald eyes. "Professor, I know that you hated the sight of me when I came to Hogwarts. I understand why now…and I also understand that without you, all would have been lost. I would be dead, probably, and this entire world that I love so well would have been destroyed. We owe you much, Professor. You went through great persecution in order to follow Dumbledore's orders, and it couldn't have been easy for you. Even though I know that you'll probably ignore this, even though I know that it doesn't mean much, I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you did for me. And I want to say how sorry I am for having made your life difficult, more difficult than it should have been. Can you forgive me?"
Snape gazed into Harry's eyes, and for the first time in Harry's life, he saw softness enter Severus' dark eyes. Softly, without his voice's usual dangerous tones, Snape replied, "I do forgive you, Potter, as long as you forgive me. I could never get over my guilt of having deprived you of your parents, and that made me treat you in a deplorable fashion. I baited you so that you would get into trouble, and I exulted whenever that trouble reached you. I wanted to make your life at Hogwarts just as miserable as your father made mine. It wasn't fair, and I….I'm sorry."
Harry smiled as he felt peace rush through him. "I forgive you, Professor. And I want you to know that throughout the wizarding world, you're remembered as a hero. I hope that gives you comfort, sir."
"It does…..Harry. It does." Harry smiled as Snape said his name for the first time, rather than the spiteful "Potter." At long last, the enmity between the two men ended. Snape, apparently embarrassed now by the sentimental display on his part, disappeared from view as McGonagall entered her office and greeted Harry before Dumbledore's twinkling eyes. For Harry, his errand with McGonagall no longer seemed important. His true errand to the Headmistress' office had been successfully completed.
A/N: If you hit the button, you get a visit from your favorite HP character. If you don't hit the button, Aragog would be delighted to pay you a free visit, complete with the bonus prize of some of his sons. Your choice. Please review!