SECOND CHANCE

by Lady Memory

Severus meets Albus Severus. The past comes back in a very peculiar form.

Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling, who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.

This is my answer to the end of Deathly Hallows. Many thanks go to my fabulous betas, Karelia and DementedLeaf, and to those reading this story. Hope you will like it.

Dedication: To DUJ, whose friendship is a honour to me and whose stories are like stars shining in a dark night.

And to Severus Snape, whom we both love dearly.

--

Prelude

"Bye, Al," said Harry as his son hugged him. "Don't forget Hagrid's invited you to tea next Friday. Don't mess with Peeves. Don't duel anyone till you've learned how. And don't let James wind you up."

"What if I'm in Slytherin?"

The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was.

Harry crouched down so that Albus's face was slightly above his own. Alone of Harry's three children, Albus had inherited Lily's eyes.

"Albus Severus," Harry said quietly so that nobody but Ginny could hear, and she was tactful enough to pretend to be waving to Rose who was now on the train, "you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin, and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."

(Deathly Hallows, Epilogue)

Part I

Headmistress McGonagall looked up with an apologetic expression.

"Just for a couple of days, Severus," she said softly. "The house-elves need to paint the walls of my office. Don't worry, you'll be safely back at your place as soon as they have finished." Her voice became an insinuating whisper. "And, of course, it could be the right moment to move Albus' portrait far away from yours. You always complain that he talks too much…"

Severus Snape, late Hogwarts headmaster and now portrait in an ornamental frame, looked back at her with disgusted eyes.

"You know I can't oppose your decisions, Minerva. So, feel free to do what you think best, especially regarding Albus's position."

"Thank you very much, Severus." The old woman nodded graciously, an amused smile rising on her lips. "I knew you would be happy to collaborate…"

--

Opening his eyes in the new location, Snape felt like he had awoken after a long sleep. So many years he had been buried in seclusion! It was good to finally experience a change. He looked around in curiosity. The corridor in which he was now hung wasn't frequently used. He himself remembered crossing it only a few times when he was a student. He was still examining the place when two boys arrived hurriedly and stopped just under his frame, panting heavily. The wizard looked inquiringly at them, feeling his professional sixth sense tingle in alarm… a familiar, exciting sensation, very enjoyable after all that time in the office's boring limbo.

So! What were those two students up to in this deserted place? He inclined his head to watch them better. Although some of their physical traits were different, there was an evident resemblance between the children, and Snape deduced that they were relatives: cousins or, even more probably, brothers. Both were dark-haired, and the older one was visibly patronising the other. But looking at them, Severus also felt something else awaken in his chest, an indefinite sensation made of confused, unpleasant feelings. The wizard narrowed his eyes, trying to focus his perception.

Unaware of being observed, the older boy placed a hand on the other child's shoulder and let words come out in a rush.

"Now, you wait here. I'll go alone and let you know something when everything is finished. Okay…? Okay?" he insisted impatiently at the saddened silence of the other.

"But why can't I come?" the younger one asked pleadingly.

"Look, I have already explained this to you. First years are not allowed to participate in Quidditch selections," the older one replied. Then, with a meaningful expression, he asked, "Do you want them to tease you?" At the reluctant capitulation of the other, he commanded, "Now wait here! Don't move!" And, in a few seconds, he vanished. The little one sighed, looking around in uneasiness. And, at that moment, Snape felt the first, terrible pang.

Those eyes! Those green eyes and that black hair… the portrait shivered in anguish. Could that ever be possible? Could his old nemesis have reincarnated again in that little brat, nineteen years after?

He shook his head with a cynical smile. Of course! Why not? Out of the castle, life was going on, cycle after cycle. People got married and had children all the time, and this was probably just what had happened to the hateful individual he was thinking about. Snape sighed while he watched the boy shift nervously below him, and bitter considerations began to flow in his mind. Luckily, he was a portrait. Thankfully, he would soon return to his place in the Headmistress' office. Hopefully, he wouldn't be forced to see another insufferable pest infesting the corridors… Although the boy didn't look so awful… Such a serious, quiet, little thing… Finally, the wizard admitted his curiosity. This disconcerting matter deserved to be investigated.

"Well?" Snape asked with his best intimidating scowl.

"Sir?" Startled, the boy straightened and blushed violently while Severus smiled sarcastically. This new generation was much easier to scare!

The dark wizard intensified his frown. "What are you doing here?"

The boy blushed even more. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know it was prohibited. I'll leave immediately."

"Now, now, just wait a moment," Snape said, a bit disappointed. The boy looked so vulnerable and tiny! A very pathetic object for his sarcasm, but appearance had proven to be greatly misleading at other times, and the dark wizard curled his lips ironically.

"Please indulge me, young man," he asked with that silky, dangerous tone his former students had learned to fear. "What's your name?"

"Potter, sir," the boy answered with a worried expression, and Snape rejoiced inside. So, he had been right! With a nasty smile, the man in the picture dryly commented, "Oh! How incredible! Finally a Potter who has manners! But could I please ask you to be a little more specific? What's your given name, Mr. Potter? James, I suppose?"

"No, sir," the boy hurried to answer. "But James is my older brother's name…" Then he widened his green eyes in amazement. "How did you know it?"

Ha! So, his guess was right. Not that it was that difficult. He was sure that Harry Potter, predictable as he was, would definitely choose that name for one of his children. His sarcastic smile growing even more hateful, Snape replied with a velvety tone, "How did I know? Because I have had the joy of knowing your grandfather and father."

A little pause, then, as if forced to continue by a superior will, the wizard added haltingly, "And… and your… grandmother too."

Snape swallowed, realising what he had just said. He couldn't believe he had effectively voiced something so personal! But those green eyes had literally mesmerised him, and now his feelings were growing uncontrollably strong. How shocking to think of Lily as a grandmother! So many years had passed, yet she would be forever a girl in his heart… Snape lowered his eyes to hide his emotions, struggling against the aching memories that were suddenly assaulting him.

If only he had been more careful…

If only she had listened to his reasons…

If only the Dark Lord had never existed…

If only…

If.

Pain and regret burnt intolerably in his soul. Closing his eyes, he determinedly bottled up those excruciating sensations while the third generation of Potters looked at him with a wondering frown. Then the boy brightened in understanding.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Then you must be Professor Snape! I should have recognised you."

This time it was Snape's turn to be baffled.

"How do you know my name?" He asked slowly, even if he had already guessed the answer.

"Because Dad told me!" the child replied, exactly as he was supposed to, and again Severus Snape smiled nastily. He could imagine Harry Potter telling his sons the tale of the infamous professor, Death Eater, traitor, murderer and spy! How could a child desire a more fascinating story before going to bed?

Ready for a sarcastic remark, Snape took a deep breath inward, but before he could say a word, the boy candidly added, "Dad said that you are probably the bravest man he ever knew."

Snape stared agape. This was the last thing he expected to hear! But the final pang came with the boy's proud declaration, "I have been named after you!"

"You… you have what?… Say that again!" The man in the picture was feeling hazy. That couldn't be real. This couldn't be Potter's son.

"I have been named after you," the boy repeated hesitantly. Why was the great wizard looking so upset? "Perhaps you didn't know it?" he dared to ask timidly.

"Perhaps you forget that I am a busy man who can't remember all those irrelevant details, Mr. Potter!" Snape snapped nervously, unbalanced by the strange emotions that were tightening his heart. The boy's eyes suddenly wetted and Snape felt incongruously guilty at that sight. He hastened to change subject… and tone of voice.

"And in what House have you been sorted?" he asked more benignantly, waiting in curiosity. Had perhaps fate reserved him a pleasant surprise, assigning Potter's son to the House his father had cordially detested?

Even more saddened, the boy lowered his head and said slowly, "Well, the Sorting Hat decided Slytherin…"

Snape felt a joyful excitement that was immediately cooled down by the next statement.

"He said," and the boy imitated the bizarre voice of the magical device, "'at least one Potter should be in Slytherin, and you'd deserve it much more than your brother'."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "But?"

The boy gulped and whispered, "I asked him to put me in Gryffindor."

With a sigh, the child raised two trustful eyes in disarming sincerity. "I had to do it. Dad wouldn't be disappointed, I know it, because he said that you also were a Slytherin so there was nothing bad in my being a Slytherin too… But James would have teased me forever…"

"Your brother seems to be a remarkably brilliant young man!" Snape growled acidly.

Uncertain about the real meaning of such a comment, the boy smiled hesitantly. "Well, he is definitely brilliant!" He admitted, defending his brother with the pride of the younger for the older. Then he added in discomfort, "I wish I could be as good as he is!"

"Such a talented boy, James Potter?" Snape inquired, raising his eyebrows and pronouncing the name with a sneer.

"Everybody says that he is a genius in Potions!" The boy sighed.

Oh! This was surely another of Lily's characteristics that had been transmitted to her grandsons, although evidently not to young… young Severus? Again, Snape felt a strange pang while he associated his name with the tiny little thing before him.

However, the boy's assertion opened many interesting possibilities: to start with, the problem he had been presented with was easily solvable. After all, Snape was a teacher: there was an immense knowledge uselessly stored in his mind. Secondly, Snape's efforts could result in unexpected satisfactions. How would Harry Potter react knowing that Severus Snape was mentoring his son? Thirdly, Snape was beginning to powerfully savour life again, and it was such an exciting feeling, compared to the boredom of being trapped in an office!

Lost in consideration, the wizard traced his lips with a pale finger. "I think we could make a deal," he said thoughtfully. "You probably know I taught your father when he was in Hogwarts."

The boy brightened again. "Aunt Hermione says that dad was a cheater, because in his last year he had found a book with a lot of suggestions inside and so he was getting better marks than she did…"

The boy had an adorable smile. "But Aunt Hermione has always been too fanatic about school and grades."

Snape had a sudden vision of an impatient little hand going constantly up and down in a crowded classroom, and a shiver ran through his body. So many years had passed, yet the memory of that insufferable know-it-all could still irritate him!

"Your aunt was a remarkably brilliant young lady too!" he commented, acidly again. "Now, what are your problems?"

The boy began a stumbling explanation about the use of proper tools while mixing the correct ingredients and keeping flames under cauldrons at the right temperature. Snape listened eagerly, feeling a strange nostalgia burn inside his chest. Paint, he was only paint on a canvas, but his heart was pulsing more and more vigorously with each one of the boy's words.

"Well, you are not so bad," he found himself saying to the boy in an unexpectedly encouraging tone. "You have understood the basics, which is the most important thing. Now you only need more practise – after all, you are just a beginner – and some good advice from somebody expert."

The boy looked anxiously up and Severus unexpectedly smiled, an oddly paternal smile. "Would you like me to tutor you?"

"Wow!" the boy whistled softly. "Sorry, sir!" he corrected himself immediately, smiling again charmingly. "I'd be very happy to have you as a tutor! … But what if James complains?"

James Potter! Even though reduced to a painting, Snape felt challenged, as if his old schoolmate was living again in the boy bearing that hateful name, whose existence Snape didn't even suspect just five minutes before. Was life offering the dark wizard a second chance? A grim pleasure spread its intoxicating fluid into his veins while he imagined a James Potter confronting a Severus again… and ignominiously losing.

Looking straight at the boy, Snape replied, "I have offered my help to you. This doesn't mean that you have to advertise the matter. Please try to be as Slytherin as the Hat wanted you to be."

But then Snape looked at the innocent eyes staring so trustfully at him and shook his head at himself. "It doesn't matter, Potter. Just don't talk about our accord to your brother. I will wait for you tomorrow afternoon, at five o'clock. Please be punctual. And remember, if you shouldn't be able to come, you are kindly asked to let me know because my time…"

He felt the absurdity of the statement he was going to pronounce, yet he went on impassively: the boy should respect his teacher, even if his teacher was only a picture.

"Because my time is limited," he therefore finished, a little bit awkwardly.

"Thank you very much, sir!" The boy was literally radiating happiness. Feeling strangely moved, Snape waved his hand nonchalantly.

Then they heard the sound of footsteps. Unexpectedly, the older boy was back in the corridor.

"Al!" the one that Snape now knew to be James Potter called loudly. His voice sounded extremely excited. "Al! I did it! I'm the new Keeper of the Gryffindor Team! Just wait till I write Daddy the news!"

Al?

Snape felt betrayed. Didn't the little one say that his name was Severus? But before he could investigate better, Al exclaimed happily, "It's James! See you soon, Professor!" and ran through the corridor to reach his brother.

Immediately after, another disconcerting surprise unpleasantly hit the wizard.

"Hi, Uncle Albus!" the boy greeted affectionately, waving his hand to another picture while passing by. Snape widened his eyes. On the wall opposite to him, just some steps farther, Albus Dumbledore was smiling mildly, his eyes as always merrily twinkling behind his half-moon spectacles.

The two wizards stared at each other in silence until the boys had left. Then Snape asked coldly, "Uncle Albus?"

The old wizard shrugged. "His full name is Albus Severus… And I have always wanted a nephew. Why not him?"

The younger wizard had an outraged expression, and Dumbledore couldn't help an amused chuckle. "Disappointed, Severus? You shouldn't be. After all, he has got your name too. And he too could have been a Slytherin, from what I've heard."

Understanding that Dumbledore had listened to his conversation, Snape felt immensely stupid. Then he felt oddly jealous. And finally he realised that he still didn't know why Harry Potter had chosen Severus as a second name for his son. At that point, he also felt extremely curious.