Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J. K. Rowling. This is for fun, no copyright infringement is intended.
No one knew why it started. When yes, obviously. Evidence was right there on the wall and not shy talking about how things had been much better in their time. But notwhy. Or how. Only that it had not been like that from the beginning. Salazar Slytherin, Godric Griffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw or Helga Hufflepuff as well as their direct successors as Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ... one searched in vain for them in the circular room at the top of the moving staircase. No, fact was, it had simply started one day, nearly giving newly appointed Headmaster Richard Drake a heart attack when he was greeted by a cheerful 'Hi, old chap' from his recently deceased predecessor on entering his office. Portrait after portrait of any rightfully appointed Headmaster or mistress had been silently added to the walls since then, had appeared right on his or her dying day, slowly but steadily forming an ever-growing army of brain and knowledge, honour-bound to serve the present occupant of their former office. That was ... of all except one.
Pausing halfway up the hill Harry Potter took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.
Maybe he should have listened to Hermione and used the Floo, given he had nearly splinched himself as he had Apparated into the quiet little street behind the Three Broomsticks. But on the other hand he desperately felt like needing this little exercise in the fresh mountain air to clear the cobwebs away. It had been a long day, after all. Two in fact he reminded himself as he touched his nose and grinned a bit ruefully. The midwife might have confiscated Ginny's wand first thing after she entered their house but the Bat-Bogey Hex had always been his lovely wife's trademark. Well, there were worse things than flapping ears considering what had happened to Ron. Being married to the cleverest witch of her age certainly had its disadvantages.
Snorting a little laugh Harry looked round then immediately sobered again as his gaze fell on the blur of colours that Hogsmeade was to his naked eyes. For long moments he just stood and took in the happy red of tiled roofs, the screaming green and yellow of walls and the steely twinkle of light on glass, all the time aware of the sharp contrast it presented to the dark silhouette of the Shrieking Shack crouching like a silent predator on top of the hill behind him. Harry shivered.
He did not like being up here in the North. Much as he loved - still loved - Hogwarts. Much as he still cherished the fond memories of his school years ... the jokes and pranks and hot Quidditch matches ... how it was to celebrate Christmas in the marvelously decorated Great Hall ... the feeling of BELONGING or simply spending an entertaining afternoon in Honeydukes. But after the last battle he had discovered that here the ghosts of the past were too alive, too close to let him find peace. Even after eight years.
Abruptly pushing his glasses back on his nose the man who was still mostly known as the Boy Who Lived turned and continued up the slope, and as he did a sudden gust of wind lifted the fringe off the lightening scar on his forehead. For a second a quiet, melancholy smile danced around the corner of his mouth.
If anything the wizarding world did nothing by halves and so the time after Voldemort's downfall could only be described as ... well, INTERESTING, maybe. Or downright crazy. But walking to meet your death on your own free will - mostly, anyway - definitely had a lasting effect on your personality. It certainly had on his. Oh, he still tended to get upset that his and his families every move was on display or that anything he said was commented on and not always kindly... But unlike the alternately shy, awkward or stubborn and hot-headed teenager he had been, he had come to realize that there was nothing to be gained from being impatient with or impolite to reporters and well-wishers however unwelcome their attentions might become. First, some things would simply never change and as long as people stared at the scar on his forehead they would overlook the scars within and that suited him just fine. Those who were important - his family and friends - knew better anyway. And second, you never knew what scars those pressing their attention on you or even abusing you verbally hid themselves. Like Snape.
Taking a deep breath Harry slowed down again as he reached the fence around the boarded-up building on the top of the hill and finally stopped to read the shining silver letters on a large, wooden sign. Involuntarily he made a face.
Since Professor or rather Headmistress McGonagall had flat out refused to allow a national memorial place on the school grounds - "This is a SCHOOL and no tourist attraction!" - Hogsmeade had been delighted to take up this task and responsibility. So much to Aberforth's horror the Hog's Head had become one of its most popular places, as well as the Three Broomsticks (Sit in the same chairs as Harry Potter and his friends), Honeydukes (Visit the cellar where the secret trapdoor of the tunnel to Hogwarts has been - only six sickles) and, naturally, since it had already been famous before...
THE SHRIEKING SHACK
Once thought to be the most severely haunted building in Britain, it is now known to have been the hiding place for Remus Lupin, the werewolf, for the nights of full moon during his school years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Remus Lupin and his wife (members of the Order of the Phoenix and as such awarded the Order of Merlin, Second Class, posthumous) both died heroically in the Battle of Hogwarts 1998. In the same battle the Shrieking Shack was for a short time headquarters of the Death Eaters and it is here that Headmaster Severus Snape (also member of the Order of the Phoenix and for his special services awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, posthumous) met his end at the hands of the Dark Lord. Mortally wounded he still managed to pass on vital information to Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, information that - according to Mr Potter - "decided the war".
A sudden stab of - of pain, anger, helplessness shot through Harry's chest and he turned quickly away. He could not help it. The inscription just seemed so ... wrong and totally inadequate in comparison with his own memories of that night. The sharp, yet numb pain he had felt at discovering Remus und Tonks's lifeless bodies lying beside Fred in the Great Hall. The soft, scratching noise of a black boot trembling on a dirty floor. Fingers like claws digging into his robes, pulling him closer as a man he had hated with a passion used the last of his strength to help him understand his destiny.
When Hermione had first suggested the Potions master should find his last resting place in Godric's Hollow he had very much agreed with Ron's spontaneous outburst of 'You are mental!'. Old habits died hard, it seemed, and despite everything the man had done for him, despite or maybe because of everything he had seen in the Pensieve the thought of burying him there, almost side by side with his parents, had been too much to accept at that moment. However, after a spectacular row with his friend and time to think about it, he had realized it was really the only logical choice. And as he had knelt at the fresh grave, long after the ceremony was over, and watched the silvery substance he had poured from a small flask disappear in the rough earth he had felt a weight he had not even known to be there lift off his soul. Those memories had never belonged to him. They had been lent, for a certain purpose, to fulfil a special task, but never more. It was right to give them back.
With one last glance at the wooden sign Harry sighed deeply and started down the footpath on the other side of the hill.
No, the wizarding world really never did anything by halves. After Snape's true colours were revealed in his, Harry's, last duel with Voldemort it had needed some time to recover from its understandable shock. But when it did it let loose a storm of gratitude and admiration over the man who had once been hunted as a Death Eater and murderer of Albus Dumbledore. Kingsley Shacklebolt, as Minister for Magic, had insisted on the Order of Merlin, First Class, while potions masters from all over the country and even France and wherever not suddenly praised his expertise in his field. Having been one of his students became a mark of honour and Horace Slughorn announced to anyone who would listen that HE had been teaching HIM. They even considered putting him on the Chocolate Frog Cards. But of course ... that had all been before Rita Skeeter put her infamous Quick-Quotes Quill to work.
Even now Harry's lips turned white with fury when he thought of the article in the Daily Prophet. Literally beside himself he had Apparated directly to its main office in Diagon Alley and started storming up to the entrance; for once ready to throw in all his influence as the Boy Who Lived to force a public apology of the editor. Only to stop dead in his tracks on seeing who was descending from the top of the stairs towards him, regal as a queen and beautiful as an angel of wrath: Minerva McGonagall. His old transfiguration teacher's cheeks had been oddly flushed as she nodded at him in passing, studiously ignoring the state of stunned awe she had left the office behind her in. And Harry had to admit, after having a look himself, it had truly been a sight to remember.
Of course no one considered filing a lawsuit against Hogwarts famous Headmistress, leader of the defences during the last battle and honoured member of the Wizengamot. Not even Rita Skeeter after St Mungo's had finally managed to sort her out four weeks later. Although that might have been because she had had her hands full with something else by that time ... since not only one but actually two letters, arriving the very day her article came out, had alerted the Ministry of Magic to the fact that the reporter was an unregistered Animagus. Now, one of these letters had of course been sent by Hermione. The other, much to anyone's surprise, by Draco Malfoy.
Furrowing his brows at the memory Harry sidestepped a fallen branch as he reached the foot of the hill. Then he allowed himself a dry little smile on turning from the small path into the lane leading up to Hogwarts front gate.
Oh yes, the Malfoys had once more managed to wriggle out of any tight spot in the aftermath of Voldemort's downfall. What was quite an achievement, considering. It had left several people fuming with indignation too but to be honest ... somehow Harry found he did not really mind. After all he did owe Narcissa for her actions in the forest and while Draco was and would always be an opportunistic little coward in his opinion he did stop Crabbe and Goyle killing him in the Room of Requirement. Sort of. Anyway, even if the Malfoys truly cared only about one thing, their family ... who knew? Maybe that was as good a reason to save the world as any other. It had worked well enough for Snape, after all.
Coming to a halt in the middle of the road Harry put his head back and stared up at the clear blue sky, his expression suddenly dark and solemn.
This was probably the worst thing about Skeeter's terrible article. Not the reaction of the people reading it, some even requesting the Order of Merlin should be taken away. Not to witness how many who had just claimed close acquaintance now hastily distanced themselves. No. The worst thing about it was ... that for once her weapon had been the truth.
Severus Snape had not been a lovable man. He had been cynical and sarcastic and nasty and had maliciously bullied generations of students placed in his so-called care. He had violently favoured his own house. He had been vengeful and unyielding in his dislikes or hatred, deeply obsessed with and uncommonly good at the Dark Arts. He had chosen to join the Dark Lord on his own free will. He had tormented Muggles and fellow wizards or at least watched their pain without lifting a finger. He had done murder.
He had also treated a line fine enough to drive any other man insane or to self-destruction. He had constantly placed himself into mortal danger and faced only distrust and disregard in return. If not open hatred. He had kept the students of Hogwarts as safe as was in his power after the world had gone mad and worked tirelessly to clear the path that would lead to his former master's fall from power. He had never ceased to punish himself for bringing about Lily Evans's death. But he had never truly cared about anything else either.
How had Professor Sprout put it at the funeral? In the speech she held as representative of the Hogwarts teachers ... who had come all, down to the last even Firenze, taken in Side-Along-Apparition by Flitwick? A man hard to forgive. And a hard man to ask forgiveness from. Many of the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix had bowed their heads in silence at this.
No. Professor Snape had not been a nice man. A brave one, yes. Exceptionally skilled too and one was left to wonder what he would have been capable of if the Elder Wand had ever come into his hand. He had counteracted not only the curse on Marvolo's ring but the one on the opal necklace too, saving Dumbledore's life as well as Katie Bell's - tough the former only temporarily. He had broken through the wards set up against him at Grimmauld Place and still been able - and fearless enough - to convince the Dark Lord that he had not. He had played a role, lived a lie ... but how many of his actions could be justified with the greater good?
Did he really have to terrify Neville Longbottom nearly out of his wits? Did he really have to slight Hermione's knowledge and abilities so viciously? Would there not have been a middle way? Or had this been his true character held only loosely in check by guilt and the untwinkling eye of Albus Dumbledore? He had called Lily Mudblood only once, when he was almost rendered incoherent with fury and humiliation ... and Harry knew how easily things happened in the heat of the moment, he had had his fair share of stupid remarks or actions too, did not anybody ... would things have been different had his mother held on to her best friend just a little longer?
Drawing a deep breath Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. He knew the memories the Potions master chose were meant to make him understand his motivations, to enable him to trust his reliability and not think Dumbledore's explanations of the shard of soul cleverly manipulated. Yet somehow they left as many painful questions as they answered. Exhaling he squared his shoulders and walked on.
A strange feeling of apprehension settled in the pit of his stomach as he followed the last bend of the lane to finally approach the great front gate, its wings once more wide open in invitation these days. To pass through it under the watchful eyes of the winged boars on their high pillars on either side, and see the school grounds laid out like a tapestry in front of him was like stepping back in time. Throat suddenly tight Harry blinked several times as he continued up the soft slope, turning his head left and right, seeing, recognizing, remembering. Oh, yes, remembering.
There, there was the Quidditch Pitch with its high stands and the three goal hoops at each end reaching skywards, and it was as if he could still hear an echo of the roaring crowd of students cheering on their teams. There was the thick green curtain of the edge of the Forbidden Forest, there the place where he had entered it on what he thought to be his last moments in life, there the roof of Hagrid's cabin just visible in the distance. From this angle the lake and bay for the first-year boats were mostly hidden from view but over there the glass of the greenhouses was flashing unmistakably behind the dark outline of the Whomping Willow, its branches waving lazily at a few curious birds. And there was, of course, settled tall and proud and magnificent in the middle of it all the castle itself, Hogwarts, with its many towers and turrets, twinkling windows and powerful walls. It was so easy to forget it was not invincible.
Harry's gaze dropped to the gravel crunching loudly under his feet as his thoughts wandered back into the past. Involuntarily he strode out faster.
After the battle, after there was finally time to THINK and LOOK and CONSIDER and not only react blindly, destruction had turned out far greater than anyone anticipated. A contingent of over a hundred wizards had needed almost two months to repair the damage castle and grounds had suffered in the Death Eater attacks. They had cleared away tons of rubble and debris, closed countless gaping holes, replaced virtually thousands of shattered windowpanes and painstakingly regrown the trampled vegetation. Special care had been given to restoring Dumbledore's grave for - while the man's methods sometimes might have been questionable - his scheming had in the end been the key to victory. Unspeakables and Aurors from the Ministry of Magic had worked day and night to reconstruct the many wards, spells and enchantments guarding the school. No one had known what to do about the Room of Requirement though. Or if there was indeed anything that could be done, not even the house elves or Filch ... who, by the way, had survived the battle because suits of armour kept jumping in front of him and blocking flying curses. In the end, however, it turned out the Come and Go Room needed no assistance at all to stomach the storm of Fiendfyre, as two bathroom-seeking wizards discovered in the final week of restoration. Only its manifestation as place for hiding things had been empty then, and smelling strongly of fresh paint.
A ghost of a smile still on his face Harry looked up and swallowed heavily on realizing that he had already reached the front steps. The knot in his guts gave another sharp twist as he climbed them slowly, watching the great oaken doors he had not passed for seven years swing open. But the moment he set foot over the threshold any anxious thoughts were driven from his mind as his gaze was drawn to the most prominent of the few changes made to the school after the war, and certainly the most discussed: A new fifth hourglass, reaching from floor to ceiling in the middle of the wide Entrance Hall, countingANY point given or taken from ANY house in white diamonds ... to remind everybody that this was stillONE school, borne of ONE dream even if dividend into the four houses of the founders. Sometimes it actually worked, or so they said.
Only reluctantly tearing his eyes away from the titanic construction for a brief glance at the closed doors of the Great Hall Harry felt again transported back in time as he moved on to the marble staircase. It seemed like yesterday that he had climbed up here as a scrawny first-year, sneaked down under his Invisibility Cloak to visit Hagrid, panted upwards after Cedric Diggory or pelted downwards in headlong pursuit of the man he had just seen kill Albus Dumbledore on top of Astronomy Tower. For a second his steps faltered.
The night he had rejected the Elder Wand in the Headmaster's office he had been too preoccupied and frankly too exhausted to notice that Snape's portrait had not been added to the collection in the circular room. Even if he had, he would probably have failed to understand its significance considering he had neglected to read Hogwarts: A History up to this very day, much to Hermione's annoyance.
They were the portraits of any rightfully appointed Headmaster or mistress of Hogwarts. Appearing right on his or her dying day. Of all except Snape.
No one had understood it. The only other 'headmaster' who could not be found on the wall was a warlock who had seized possession of the title by imprisoning his predecessor, and he had never gained entrance to the Head's office. What probably excluded Umbridge as well for which Harry was very grateful. Snape, on the other hand, HAD been allowed inside, HAD been given the loyalty of the other portraits ... it was a mystery. It was unfair. It was inexplicable. But as it always does time eventually wore down indignation and anger at the obvious injustice, giving way to resigned acceptance. Until Professor McGonagall entered her office one evening to eerie silence and discovered that the positions of the paintings had shifted to make room for a new frame right beside Dumbledore. A new frame with nothing but an empty canvas.
Shock and disbelief had been great. Yet the questions and discussions had hardly started anew when it became apparent that things did not stop there.
Slowly, faintly, lines started appearing on the white canvas; one here, two there, like experimental sketches in coal a painter might throw down before beginning his work in earnest. And in the course of nine months the vague outline of a face took shape, of a man with a large hooked nose and long straight hair falling onto his shoulders. Only then it did not continue. Hope that had just started to stir dwindled again. The former Headmasters and Headmistresses steadfastly refused to offer any information whatsoever, only cast sad glanced at the rough sketch and sighed heavily. Dumbledore even took to disappearing from his frame for days on end if bothered with questions. For two long years not a dot was added to the unfinished portrait, as if whatever magic was behind it was gathering all its strength for one final effort ... to burst forth one night when an excited house elf shook McGonagall awake to show her a fully formed painting of the former Potions master now hanging beside Dumbledore. But it was no portrait like any of the others.
Leaving the stairs and walking down an overwhelmingly familiar seventh-floor corridor Harry ran his fingers through his unruly dark hair. Maybe Hermione was right. Maybe it was because the castle had been so damaged during the battle. Maybe it was because its magic had been so severely injured, its defences so violently breached. Or maybe it was simply all that was possible. No other Headmaster of Hogwarts had been entangled so deeply in the Dark Arts as Snape. No other had been bound by the Dark Mark. No other had ripped his soul so many times with the killing curse, no matter for what reasons. And no other had been killed by a Horcrux, containing a piece of Tom Riddles black soul.
The stone gargoyle in front of the hidden door to the Headmaster's office perked up as it saw him round the last corner and leaped aside; clearly it had already got instructions concerning his arrival. So his owl had reached Professor McGonagall all right. Determinedly setting his jaw Harry stepped past it and onto the spiral stone staircase which immediately started moving upwards.
He could not change the past. No one could - not without a time-turner anyway and then only at great risk. He might not be able to change the present. But, as he had said to Ginny when they had discussed this repeatedly over the last months, he could at least make amends.
Stepping off in front of the polished oak door Harry tapped the shining brass door-knocker twice and then pressed the handle after a crisp call of "Enter" from within.
"Professor," he said politely.
"Mr Potter." Minerva McGonagall put down her quill and rose out of the throne like chair behind the large claw-footed desk, smiling her rare smile. "Congratulations on the birth of your second son!"
"Thank you, Professor." Harry returned the smile briefly and shook the hand she extended. His former Head of House gave him one of those enquiring looks he remembered so vividly.
"I trust Ginevra is well?"
"Oh, yes, very well. It went much easier this time. She is resting now; her mother is with her."
"I see. No doubt Molly is ecstatic about the opportunity to mollycoddle her only daughter for a while," McGonagall noted dryly.
This described so exactly the state of affairs at his home that Harry's smile lasted a little longer this time.
Then his eyes wandered up over her shoulder to the rows and rows of portraits of witches and wizards watching him with undisguised yet silent attention ... and the one that didn't.
"He looks younger," said Harry finally after a long minute.
"No, he doesn't," McGonagall, who had half-turned to follow his gaze, replied softly. "It's just because you remember him with the eyes of a child and teenager. He was barely forty when he died."
Harry made a small, non-committal noise but silently had to admit that she was probably right. Involuntarily he leaned forward over the desk to have a better look.
The artist - if that was the right term here - had really captured Snape perfectly; from the greasiness of his dark hair to the thinness of his lips, the large hooked nose, the pallid complexion, and in any Muggle gallery the painting would have been admired for its realism. In the wizarding world, however, it stood out for a completely different reason: It did not move. Not at all. Painted as if asleep no gentle breathing moved the black-clad chest; no twitch of the lowered eyelids indicated the presence of dreams, fake or otherwise. Still and immobile the portrait of Hogwarts youngest Headmaster hung between its siblings; the man it showed as far removed from the people around him in death as he had been in life.
Harry's eyes lingered for long seconds on the exquisitely detailed Hogwarts crest that sat in the top right corner of the frame then slipped sideways to meet the piercing blue gaze of the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
"Harry," the likeness of the silver-haired wizard greeted quietly then smiled. "May I, too, express my best wishes to you and your family?"
"Thank you, Professor." Harry paused a moment to gather his thoughts before meeting Dumbledore's gaze more firmly. He was here for a reason, after all. "Sir, I came to see you today because... That is, I wanted to tell you that Ginny and I have chosen a name for our son."
"That is always a good thing to do," Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling.
Harry felt his lips twitch. "Yes, probably. Well, we named him Albus -" His voice caught and he swallowed, his gaze moving back to the impassive portrait of the hook-nosed man he owed so much, remembering the surge of emotion he had felt when holding his son for the first time and realizing how perfect their choice would be. "Albus Severus Potter."
And as he looked Snape's sallow eyelids suddenly fluttered once, fluttered twice and then finally lifted.
In a distant corner of his mind Harry was aware of the hush that had fallen over the round office. Of McGonagall standing with both hands clapped over her mouth, portraits craning their necks to get a better view, Dumbledore bending forward, watching them with intense concentration. The rest of it was blank, empty as he stood transfixed, green eyes locked with black, just as it had been in the Shrieking Shack. It was almost ridiculous, really. On and off in the past eight years he had pondered and brooded fruitlessly over millions of questions never asked, apologies never told, explanations never given yet, now that he had the opportunity he could not remember any of them. Snape silently held his gaze and there was no trace of his usual hostility and anger in those fathomless dark eyes, only something that might - just might - be detached curiosity. And one moment to the other Harry knew the right words to say. It really all came down to the last seconds in the Shrieking Shack. To one thing.
"I think he's inherited my mother's eyes."
The faintest of smiles flickered across Snape's harsh features, gone so fast one could have mistaken it for imagination. Then his eyelids started drooping again, as if the effort of keeping them open was becoming too much, blinked sleepily and finally closed; his chest soon rising and falling evenly.
Abruptly startled out of his daze by Phineas Nigellus's high, reedy voice Harry looked around at the suddenly cheering, clapping portraits; a reluctant grin spreading across his face on seeing the approving nods of several decidedly misty-eyed witches. Other paintings were loudly congratulating each other and exchanging handshakes through their frames or - in one case - what looked suspiciously like Galleons. Dexter Fortescue's knees had buckled under the force the witch with the thick wand put in pounding on his shoulder but never stopped waving his ear trumpet; Dumbledore was beaming proudly though surreptitiously brushing a tear out of the corner of his eye while McGonagall's face had disappeared completely behind a large checked handkerchief. His own heart feeling lighter than it had in a long time Harry turned back to the now peacefully sleeping portrait of his former Potions master then let out a little gasp.
Because for a split second he could have sworn that the four animals in the coat of arms in the top right corner of the frame - the Lion of Gryffindor, the Serpent of Slytherin, the Eagle of Ravenclaw and the Badger of Hufflepuff - had secretly winked at him in turn ... as if the castle itself wanted to tell him that Hogwarts always took care of its own.
Even if it sometimes needed a little while.