Disclaimer: These characters are JK Rowling's and her publishers. I make no money.
In a Name
The first time, she asked him and he lied.
"Hey, Severus, what's your middle name?"
It was oppressively hot. They were at the park, sitting under the slide and holding their knees tightly to their chests inside the thin strip of shade. They imagined they were in a boat, riding across the Hogwarts lake, but eventually they ran out of words, as always. Severus sensed her boredom, but didn't want her to leave. He didn't care if they did nothing, said nothing. He scuffed one shoe along the sandy soil, tracing simple patterns with his toe and willing her not to get up. Her question took him by surprise.
"I don't have one," he said.
"Really?" She sat up straighter, seemingly revived at the prospect of new knowledge. "Why not?"
Severus dropped his eyes, glaring hard at the scuffed dirt. He wasn't angry at Lily's nosiness; their whole friendship was based on her shameless curiosity, and he had never withheld information. He told her everything he knew about magic – well, the kind of magic she'd like – and when he had no other way to hold her attention, he told her about himself. He told her more than he'd ever told anyone, but he didn't want to tell her this.
"It's a wizarding tradition," he mumbled, ashamed, and his body curved in on itself without his permission, twitching as he stared at the ground. She'll know I'm lying, she'll know, she'll know… he thought, his hunched shoulders tight against the back of his neck. But she didn't know. She trusted him, and there was no one else to ask.
"Wow," she said, sounding intrigued. "I wonder why wizards decided one name was enough?" Severus shrugged painfully, and Lily smiled. "Well, I guess I'll have to give up my middle name when I get to school. Not that I mind – it's dull as dishwater, really."
Lily went home soon after, and Severus spent the rest of the day and night berating himself. He'd told Lily a lie, and what was worse, an easily identifiable lie. The moment they got to school she'd meet dozens of wizards with long family names and realize that Severus was the aberration, not her. She'd probably decide he'd just been making things up all along. He turned sick at the thought.
The next day he walked to her house, early, and waited outside the gate to her backyard.
"Severus!" Lily called in surprise, poking her head out the door after Petunia had spotted him through the kitchen window and thrown a fit. She ran over and invited him to breakfast, but he shook his head, holding tight to the thin white pickets.
"I was wrong, yesterday," he said carefully. "Most wizards have middle names like yours. Some even have three or four." His breath hitched, and he couldn't look at her.
"Oh," she said blankly, confused by his obvious distress. "Well, Sev, that's great, but you didn't have to…"
It all came out in a rush. "The real wizarding tradition is to give boys their father's name, and girls their mother's. I don't have a middle name because my father wouldn't come to see me when I was born, and my mum wasn't feeling generous at the christening. They hated each other already."
He looked up at his friend, defiant in humiliation. Always defiant.
"He hated me already," he said.
Lily looked at him a long time, then opened the gate. "I love your name. Come in to breakfast."
The next time, she told him and he laughed.
"You need a middle name."
It was insanely late at night in the middle of exam week, and both of them were reaching the uninhibited stages of exhaustion. Fourth year had been brutal, in more ways than one, and their shared study time had grown more precious to both as they slowly drifted apart in daily life.
"Don't be ridiculous. They're perfectly useless."
"To you, maybe. But I can tell you from years of sibling experience that a middle name is absolutely essential to the process of bossing people around. And so, for my own convenience, I've got to saddle you with something appropriately awful and multi-syllabic. It'll work wonders for our joint projects."
Severus simply raised an eyebrow.
"You think I'm kidding? I've already got one picked out."
"I can just imagine."
"Mock me all you like, Mr. Snape. Your doom is nigh. I'll ambush you with it once I find the right moment; I want maximum effect."
"Go to sleep," Severus said, grinning. "You're out of your mind."
Two nights later he took a moment's break during another late-night study session, sinking to the floor and leaning his head back against the bottom shelf in Slughorn's private storeroom while Lily kept an eye on the experimental concoction bubbling away beside the fireplace – they'd had unlimited access to the Potions master's office since they were twelve.
Her voice erupted through the wall.
"Severus Aloysius Snape, get in here this instant with every ingredient I asked for! No dawdling, no excuses!"
He slammed the back of his head against the edge of the shelf at her unexpected shout, so his first reaction was limited to muffled cursing. Cradling his bruise with both hands, he struggled with his temper and, in surprisingly short order, rediscovered his cleansing inner stream of sarcasm.
"Lily Anne Evans, I can think of more heroic ways to get a concussion, so kindly use your inside voice. And I'm not answering to Aloysius, so you can save your breath. I'll be with you in a minute."
"Well I'm not calling you anything else, so learn to live with it. And make that thirty seconds."
He scooped up the rest of their supplies at a leisurely pace and reentered the office to see her bouncing on the balls of her feet, insufferably pleased with herself. His heart skipped with her.
"Where on earth did you come up with that name?" he forced out, blushing.
"I found it in a very depressing Muggle book," she said, and just as his inevitable scowl descended, she grinned like a maniac. "It's the name of a cuddly teddy bear. How could I not think of you?"
He stared at her, open-mouthed, trying to look outraged but feeling utterly surreal.
"Consider it a gift. Crummy childhood's out, cuddly childhood's in. A rose by any other name…"
"Spare me," Severus said, but he was laughing. No one else in the world could talk to him about such things, much less joke about them, but somehow she carried it off. All he felt from her was warmth.
He handed her the ingredients, a little more in love than he'd been five minutes before.
It was like walking down a long staircase, these moments of short, controlled falling.
The last time, they were long dead and her son was the one to decide.
He and Ginny had planned on Albus Harry Potter, right up to the birth. It was a wizarding tradition, after all; one they had forgone with their firstborn. Honoring the departed had its place, but Ginny urged her husband to celebrate the present as well as the past. "You have a legacy too, Boy-Who-Lived," she said, poking his shoulder. He squirmed a bit, but didn't protest.
Not until his son opened his eyes. Then Harry knew whose name was missing.
"Let's make it Albus Severus," he said quietly. Ginny looked up at him, somehow not surprised. She reached for his hand, frowning. "Are you sure?" Her voice was low. "I know how you feel, but…Harry, they killed each other – or got each other killed, anyway. It just doesn't seem right."
Harry's hand tightened around hers, almost convulsive. But his voice was calm when he answered. "He and my mum did, too. That's wasn't the end, though." He rubbed a hand across his face, and shrugged. "They saved me. They deserve this; so does our son. That's what matters."
Ginny curled over their baby, soft and perfect, cradling him close. She weighed her choice. Then, with a brisk nod, she handed Albus Severus to his father.
"You're right," she said. "Severus. It seems to fit."