All That Matters
A/N: Please review, if you'd be so kind. This story follows canon till OOTP, then diverges, but goes through DH epilogue. This is AU, but probably the closest I will ever get to canon.
warnings: This does contain implied references of caning of a teenager
disclaimer: I own nothing save the plot. Some text quoted from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, US edition, Scholastic
April 4th, 1996
"Well, Mr. Potter? Would you care to explain your reasons for becoming so distracted that you failed to even start brewing your potion?" Professor Snape demanded, his voice ice-cold with displeasure.
I looked down at my sneakers, not able to meet his gaze. Or, I should say, not daring to, for fear he would see right through me. The truth was, I had no good excuse for not doing the potion, I had been distracted thinking of a certain redhead, and in my daydreaming I had lost track of time. I remained silent.
"Potter, do not ignore me."
Slowly, I raised my head. "I have no excuse, sir."
I saw his mouth tighten, his midnight eyes glitter with anger. I flinched. I had not seen that expression in his eyes since the day of the disastrous Occlumency lesson, when I had discovered his deepest regret by accident.
I had been exhausted that evening, plagued by dreams that left me drained in body and spirit, unable to sleep comfortably, so tired that I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I had arrived early for the lesson, startled him in the act of placing a certain memory into his Pensieve; he had turned to order me away, but I tripped over my loose shoelace and fell forward . . . right into the stone bowl.
My head went under and I saw it . . . Snape's worst memory . . . saw the truth, scalding and bitter, about my potions professor and my father, godfather, and best friends. I hadn't meant to, but it was done. All that mattered was that now I knew. Knew the ugly truth, and it created an odd sort of . . .understanding between us. For I, too, had been a victim of a bully and his gang, my fat cousin Dudley and his friends. I knew what it was like to be mocked and hated, to be hunted and beaten. I was sorry that my father and godfather had been such gits. I was also angry that he had spoken so to my mother . . . but I understood that too, after he had yanked me out of the water. For an instant, our eyes had met, and I had seen the regret that lived there. It had been a mistake. From then on, I saw him differently.
He was still the strict bloody perfectionist, but he was not only that. He could regret, could care, he was not, after all, a stone-hearted bastard. He was furious at first, and sent me away, but after two weeks, called me back and our lessons resumed. I had to learn to Occlude my mind, and he was the only one capable of teaching me with any degree of accuracy and speed. I apologized for my clumsiness and also my father. He told me it didn't matter. All that mattered was that I learned my lessons.
I tried. Mostly. Today had not been my best effort.
He stood glowering at me, nostrils flared, ready to roast me with his sharp tongue. I tensed, knowing I deserved the verbal thrashing I was about to receive.
"Mr. Potter. Are you aware of what will happen if I issue you a detention for your deplorable lack of concentration?"
I nodded. I had already gotten two detentions that week, and under the new policy Umbridge had put in place as High Inquisitor, three detentions in a week was cause for a special punishment. She had brought back the cane, and several students had already gotten it, including my best mate Ron, for being smart during Defense.
He breathed out sharply, exasperated. "It is vital that you do not antagonize that woman, boy. She has absolute power here in this school now that the Ministry has subverted Dumbledore's authority. There is little that can be done to checkmate her." Meaning he could do little to help me if I made her mad.
I winced. Snape's tone could have scoured stone. "I'm sorry, Professor."
He snorted. "Come back this evening and re-brew it."
"Are you going to . . .report me?"
He scowled, his familiar sneer in place. "You ought to know the answer to that. It is vital that you learn to brew this potion. I chose this for a reason, Potter. Panacea Perfectus may one day save your life. Or the life of one you care about. There is no time to waste in idle daydreams, boy!"
I rose. "What time?"
"Nine o'clock. Go, get out of my sight."
I left. That was not the usual time for detention, it was late, but I knew why. Less chance of getting caught.
I returned that evening, and under his sharp-eyed gaze, learned how to brew what was often referred to as "St. Mungos in a bottle", a very powerful healing draft which could cure almost any wound and poison, it was made with phoenix tears and a crushed bezoar stone, among other things. The recipe had been lost for centuries, but had been rediscovered by my teacher.
Little did we know that someday Snape's words would prove to be true.
A month and a half later:
I staggered from the hag's office, biting my lip hard. We had been found out by slippery sneaking Malfoy and his Inquisitorial Squad. Umbridge had been furious. She had rounded up me, Hermione, and Ron, promising a swift and vicious punishment. She had then driven Dumbledore from the castle. I cursed our stupidity at leaving that list of names on display in the Room of Requirement. Stupid, Harry! So stupid! As Snape would say, you were a classic dunderhead and now you're going to pay for it.
I had. Merlin, I had! I quickly blinked back tears and made my slow way down the corridor. This was only the beginning, for I had volunteered to take Ron and Hermione's punishment as well, telling Umbridge I was behind all of the rebellion against her Educational Decrees. It was true, in a way. I had organized the students and taught them and it was only fair that I pay the price now.
I paused, it hurt to walk, my bum and thighs were striped raw by the hag's willow cane. I removed my glasses, rubbing them on the tail of my shirt.
"Potter. Are you well?"
I jammed my glasses back on and looked up.
Snape was there, looming like some shadowy dark angel. His face was expressionless, but I caught a brief flash of . . . something like sympathy in his gaze.
I shrugged. Hell no, I wasn't well, but there was nothing to be done about it now. I'd had worse, I wasn't about to go bawling to him like a blubbering baby over a sore behind.
A long fingered hand cupped my chin, forcing me to look up. "How many did she give you?"
He shook his head, his lip curling. I thought he was sneering at me. Only later would I learn the sneer was for himself.
"I had to do something!" I protested. "We needed to learn to defend ourselves and the bloody hag wasn't teaching us anything at all. If he returns . . ."
"Quiet!" he snapped. "Do you wish to have a repeat session?"
"I will tomorrow night. And the night after that."
"Better me than my friends."
"You noble idiot!" he hissed. He released my chin. "Come."
"To my office. Can you walk?"
I gritted my teeth. Ten stripes hurt, but I would manage.
Snape walked beside me, occasionally gripping my shoulder. I wished we could go to the Hospital Wing, but Umbridge had forbidden Madam Pomfrey to heal any student that had been caned. By the time we reached the office I was pale with sweat and struggling to keep from sobbing. Forbidden tears glistened in my eyes.
He closed and locked the door with a spell and cast another for Privacy. Then he unlocked a drawer in his desk and removed a familiar misty greenish gold potion. "Lie down on the couch."
I balked. "No. You shouldn't waste it."
"Do not presume to tell me my duty, boy. Do not be a martyr." He pointed to the couch, a small green divan set comfortably along the wall. "Lie down there, Mr. Potter. Or shall I carry you there?"
When he put it that way . . .I pressed my face into the cool leather, I knew I was blushing as red as my Gryffindor jersey. I didn't understand why he was so insistent upon using Panacea Perfecta. It was expensive as hell to make and difficult to brew, one reason why the recipe had become misplaced and fallen out of use. The potion was able to be swallowed for internal problems or poured directly upon wounds, it was very versatile, as Snape had told us in class.
I gasped as he gently swabbed. Tears trickled down my cheeks. I whimpered.
An instant later the pain vanished. My breath wooshed out of me in relief. "It works great!"
"Of course it does," he said, finishing up. "Did you doubt it would?"
"Not really." I cautiously sat up. I was completely healed. An instant later I realized my mistake. "She'll know . . .if I'm not . . . if I don't have marks . . ."
Severus waved his wand. "The marks will be there."
"An Illusion Charm."
"For what? I would do the same for any student subject to that bitch's hand." He spat, his obsidian eyes glowing with fiery wrath. "You will return here tomorrow night and the night after."
"All right." I agreed. Despite his assumption, I didn't enjoy suffering and pain. Besides, I had the uneasy feeling that if I didn't come, he would fetch me, and risk getting sacked for overriding Umbridge's decrees. The school couldn't afford that. Somebody had to supervise brewing the Panacea and show us other healing brews. Strange as it seemed, I knew now that we needed the snarky Potions professor more than ever.
He was waiting outside the office door the next night. She always performed the sessions after all the students were in bed, so no one could accuse her of brutality or something. The second time was worse—twelve stripes, and I swear she laid them on harder just to try and make me cry. I didn't, wouldn't give her the satisfaction. But the potion worked its magic again, and once more I was grateful for his assistance.
The final night was the worst. She left me there on the floor of the office, whimpering and sniveling, to my shame. I lay against the cool stone, where she had shoved me down after snarling, "Let this be a lesson to you, Mr. Potter. I do not tolerate disobedience of any sort."
I waited till I heard the tap-tapping of her heels fading before I started to cry.
I hated myself for giving into tears like a coward, but they kept dribbling down my chin. I don't remember how long I lay there before I heard soft footsteps and felt strong hands pick me up. "Damn her!"
I buried my face in his robe, shaking.
We started to move, then all at once we stopped and he set me down.
"Professor Snape, where are you going with Mr. Potter?" came her poisoned-honey voice.
I stared at the floor, I didn't want her to see what a mess I was, the bloody hag from hell.
"Professor Umbridge. Potter has detention with me tonight, scrubbing cauldrons without magic and writing lines," he answered smoothly, without a trace of pity.
"Ah. I see. Well, carry on then, Snape. Oh, and make sure the chair isn't cushioned."
"I assure you, madam, I will make certain Potter is appropriately disciplined."
I caught her evil smile from the corner of my eye, then she turned and was gone.
"Come," Snape hissed.
I clutched his sleeve and managed to walk four steps.
As soon as she was out of sight, he picked me up and carried me down to the dungeons. It was past eleven.
He was silent as he applied the potion, but I could feel the rage coming off him in waves. It both frightened and made me feel safe at the same time. I did not know quite why he kept helping me, but somehow it didn't matter. All that mattered was that he was there for me, in a way that no one else could be.
That night I cried into the cushion, soaking the leather. He laid a hand on my shoulder and whispered, "Hush, child." That was all, but it was enough.
So I came to trust my dark protector. He was always lurking in the shadows, watching over me. He said little, but always he was there. He was there through the dark time after Sirius' death, and though the danger from Voldemort grew every day, I was reassured by his presence. Even when he was tearing strips off me for some stupid decision, I felt comforted. I didn't like it, but at least there was someone around to give me hell when I needed it.
Then, in the middle of sixth year, everything changed. He shut me out, withdrew from me, and then he did the unthinkable.
He betrayed me. That night atop the Astronomy Tower . . . he killed Albus Dumbledore.
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it.
But I did . . .I did . . .frozen helpless . . .I saw him cast the Unforgivable . . .
I felt torn and shredded inside. How could you? How COULD you? I wailed silently.
I stared up at him, and saw the revulsion and hatred upon his face.
I felt sick. I had trusted him and he had betrayed us all. Ron had been right. Nothing good ever came out of Slytherin.
My mind whirled as I tried to grasp that this coldblooded murderer was the same man who had tended me and helped me during fifth year. How was it possible? There had to be an explanation. But I couldn't find any. Dumbledore was dead and Snape was responsible. And I hated him.
That was all that mattered.
The Shrieking Shack
I stared down at the bleeding wizard, his black robes saturated with blood, gasping and gurgling for breath, and I felt, for the first time in a long time, a stirring of pity. I was no closer now than I had been a year ago to understanding why he had chosen to return to the dark path, but I could not deny that his discovery of the Panacea Perfectus had saved many lives, lives that we could ill afford to lose. Dobby, Fred Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, all still breathed because of that potion. I remembered what I had been taught that long ago night in his potions lab, though finding the ingredients during a time when most apothecaries were under surveillance by Death Eaters and I was hunted like an animal proved extremely difficult. But at last I managed to brew ten precious vials. Nine I had left with Pomfrey at Hogwarts for the final battle. One I carried.
I had come here expecting to find Voldemort, knowing full well that my only hope of ending the killing and suffering was to confront my old enemy. Instead I found the man who had once been my mentor, the man who had betrayed everything I ever believed one dark night, dying from a torn apart throat.
For one instant, I felt a rush of rage. "Bastard!" I hissed.
But then compassion stirred and eclipsed the anger, banishing it to a corner of my mind. Now was the chance I had been waiting for. Now I could finally have an answer to the question that had haunted me for so many sleepless nights.
"Why? Why did you do it, Severus Snape?"
He looked at me, and then his hand shot out, gripping mine hard. "Look . . .at . . . me . . ." Blood flecked his lips. I felt the soft tap of ebony wood against my temple.
I leaned over. "Why? Tell me?" I sobbed.
"See . . ." He rasped, and then I felt the last of his magic pull me into his mind.
I saw . . . a lonely child hovering at the edge of a park, watching two little girls with longing in his eyes . . .with a start I recognized them as my mother Lily and Aunt Petunia . . .I saw them meet Severus . . .saw how the lonely boy found a friend in my mother . . .she became the world to him . . . I saw and felt it all . . .how his affection turned to love, a deep abiding love . . . a love that outlasted even her death . . . Always I shall love you, Lily . . . even when she had married another, still he loved her . . .I saw his terrible grief when he found her among the ruins, cold and lifeless . . .he had vowed to protect me . . . Because of her . . . I saw how he had agreed to become a spy to atone for his other great mistake . . . how he hid his true self behind a mask of cold and unfeeling grimness . . . because to care at all was to risk a broken heart twice . . .then I saw the answer I had been seeking at last . . . he had killed Dumbledore upon the Headmaster's orders . . .Dumbledore had been dying, cursed by magic too powerful to heal, even with potions. . . When the time comes, you must do it, Severus . . . promise me . . . it will be a mercy killing . . . you're the only one I can trust . . . or else Draco will die . . . and you don't want that, now do you? . . .No, he would never want that . . . never wish that burden upon a student . . . The truth slammed into me like the Hogwarts Express . . .Dumbledore had gone to his death willingly . . . I had been wrong . . . so wrong . . . Severus was no coward . . .had never been that . . . he had chosen the road not taken . . . the road of shadows . . . and all that he had done had been to protect me and the other students . . . in the end he had sacrificed it all . . .
Abruptly I was back in my own head. My eyes focused again on the dying man before me . . . "Professor Snape . . . Severus . . ." I cried brokenly. "I'm sorry . . .!" Sorry for not realizing until now . . . sorry for wasting all that time hating you . . .Now when it was too late.
I placed a hand over his throat, trying to stem the flow of blood while I wept. Must I lose him too? Was it not enough that I had lost my parents, Sirius, Remus, and Dumbledore? "No . . . you can't die! I won't let you . . .!" I gasped, my breath coming in ragged pants.
It is vital that you learn to brew this potion. I chose this for a reason, Potter. Panacea Perfectus may one day save your life. Or the life of one you care about.
Those long ago words reverberated in my memory.
Only then did I recall the potion in my pocket.
I yanked it free and undid the stopper.
"I shall teach you to brew fame, bottle glory, and even put a stopper in death."
He had not lied. He had taught me all that and more. I quickly sprinkled several drops of the potion across the awful wounds, they began to close. Slowly.
But his breathing was erratic still and his color off, the waxen paleness of death.
"Why isn't it working?" I shouted, frantic. "Oh, God damn you, why?"
"Poison . . . Nagini . . ." the words emerged from his cracked lips in a faint whisper.
"Poison?" I babbled. "But that means . . ." I held the vial to his lips. "Swallow . . .please . . ." The precious potion slid down his throat, one endless drop at a time. "Good . . . come on . . . don't stop . . ."
All this time I was crying, and I didn't even care. All that mattered was saving him. This one I could snatch from death's cruel embrace. This was one victim Voldemort's sadistic power play would not take from me.
Finally the vial was empty. His head lolled to one side, and he whispered, "You have your mother's eyes . . ."
Then his eyes closed.
I howled. I had failed. Again and again. "Don't you dare die! Don't you dare!" I shook the black robed form hard, sobbing. "It was supposed to cure you!" I raged, nearly choking on my grief.
My vision blurred and I wiped away my tears with a corner of his robe. I stared down at him. Then I saw that his skin was flushed . . .and dead men don't have color in their cheeks. I bent my head down and heard, very faintly, breath coming in and out.
Severus was alive.
Suddenly his eyelids flickered and opened.
"I will. But then I'm coming back for you." I promised.
"Go . . . Harry. Finish it." He slumped back against the rough wooden boards.
I settled him back against the wall. Now I could go and face the old snake. I had a score to settle and one way or another, this would end tonight.
I left my mentor sleeping, very weak, but still very much among the living.
"Goodbye, Severus. See you on the other side."
Of course, I did not die that day. Or rather, I died but death could not hold me, who was master of the Deathly Hollows. Everyone knows how I defeated Voldemort, and revealed the truth of Snape's allegiance, which had always been to the Light and the memory of the woman he loved with all of his soul, tattered and damaged though it might be. I fulfilled at last Voldemort's prophecy, and destroyed him.
Later, I returned to the shack and took Severus to St. Mungos. He lay in a coma for a week. The potion had restored much of his health, but he had been so near death that it took his body a long time to recover. Even after he woke, he was weak and it took a month for him to heal. During that time, I visited him every day, bringing him papers and magazines, books, and custard tarts, which I recalled he had told me he was fond of.
He recovered gradually.
I wasn't the only one who came, either. Several of his students, including Malfoy, came and so did Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Luna. All of them knew the truth about what he was. The Weasleys came, one by one, and offered him their gratitude and wished him a speedy recovery.
All save one.
Percy was still in denial, unwilling to see or accept the truth. He had lost his girlfriend, Lydia Perkins, in the Battle of Hogwarts, and was bitter and angry. There were many like him, who had lost loved ones and needed someone to blame for it. There were some who still didn't trust Severus.
As I was coming in with some new books gathered from the library, I heard Percy talking, his voice low and filled with hatred. "You may have fooled Harry and my brother Ron, but I know the truth! You're nothing but a sneaking lying bastard and I'm going to see you in Azkaban, murderer! You deserve to die, Snape! To roast in hell alongside your Dark Lord! Slytherin scum!"
He pointed his wand at the professor.
Severus had not used his wand since that day in the Shrieking Shack. I didn't even know if he could use it. But I had placed it in the drawer in the nightstand. He went to reach for it . . .
Percy went to hex him.
"Get off him!" I cried, then I tackled Percy to the ground. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Saving the world from a traitor and a murderer!" he spat. "Let go, Potter!"
"No! He was never one of them! Don't you get it?"
"You're a fool, Potter! Once a dark wizard, always a dark wizard. He's biding his time, waiting for the chance to strike you down." He went to hit me.
I snarled and slammed his head against the floor. "You're a stupid arse, Percy! He was a spy! Not a dark wizard! That's the truth!"
"Tell me another one, Potter! You're mad. If it weren't for you and your misplaced idiocy, we'd be rid of him. He should have died that day! Get off me and let me finish what you couldn't."
I lost it then. "I'll finish you first!" I growled, then I bashed his head against the floor again. Bash! Bash! Bash! I had saved Snape from death and I would be damned if I'd let anyone try and reverse that decision. Severus deserved better than to die at the hands of a half-witted bigot like Percy.
A red mist covered my vision and I heard, distantly, people shouting.
"Harry! Stop! You'll kill him!"
"Harry, mate, I know he's a bleeding arsehole, but he's my brother, don't kill him."
Hands were pulling at me, I fought them. Did no one understand? I had to protect Snape the way he protected me.
That voice, silky sharp with command, penetrated my rage-filled brain. I loosened my hold. A hand tugged my shoulder, callused and long-fingered. I allowed it to draw me away, found myself pushed down on Snape's bed.
"Harry, the war is over. Let it go."
"I can't . . .I can't . . .until they stop . . .trying to hurt you. Why won't they accept the truth?"
"Because it is easier to hate than to forgive. To admit one's mistakes. It doesn't matter what they think." His voice was hoarse, the result of his torn vocal cords, when he spoke it was as if he whispered.
"Yes, it does! Without acceptance, where's the victory?" I cried.
"You know the truth. That is victory enough for me."
I shook my head. "No. It's not enough. They need to understand . . .to see the truth . . . after everything you sacrificed . . ." I argued.
"I don't need their recognition. All that matters is that you know what I was and am. Let the others come to the truth in their own time. Or not." One arm suddenly draped itself across my shoulders, hugging me.
"It matters to me," I insisted. "People should Goddamn acknowledge what you did for me. For us all. You wouldn't let me tell them about what you showed me before, Severus . . ."
"Because I feel that knowing details will not change a person's mind if they are set upon hating me and blaming me for their loss of a loved one, Harry. However, if it will make you feel better . . .you may write an article or a small biography."
"Yes. I'll tell the whole story, Severus . . ." I sniffled. I took the handkerchief he handed me and blotted my eyes. It was time to set the record straight.
I went back to Grimmauld Place and set to work. I wrote long into the night, the words flowing from my pen in an endless stream. Supposedly with the death of Voldemort it was a new world, or the beginning of one. If that were so, then let it begin here, with the truth about the man who saved me.
I wrote several articles entitled "The Truth About the Man in Black", and sent them off to various magazines and The Daily Prophet over the next few days. They were not published right away, apparently even the press had reservations about Snape. I spent much of my days cleaning up and helping to rebuild Hogwarts, being with Ginny, and trying to make a new life out of the ashes of the old.
When the articles finally did break, there was a sudden deluge of reporters coming to my door. "Mr. Potter, can you tell us more about Professor Snape?"
"I've told you all I know."
"But . . . where is he now? We went to St. Mungos, and were told he was released a few days ago. Do you know where he went? We'd like an exclusive."
"No," I lied. "He's gone away to rest. The war took its toll on him." I told them. That was true. They went away, disappointed. I knew where he had gone, of course. He had said goodbye before he left, telling me that if I needed him, to write. I understood. He needed time to heal, time for the scars both within and without to fade. I owed him that much.
Years passed and most of the distrust and ill-will faded, until by the time my son Jamie was school age, the Man in Black, as Severus was now known, had become a legend, the elusive dark protector who rumor had it was still alive somewhere and would return when the time came to protect those in need.
Many things had changed in our world in the nearly two decades that had passed since then. Hogwarts had been rebuilt, Flitwick was now Headmaster there, and Kingsley Shacklebolt was Minister of Magic. Neville was the Herbology professor and his wife Luna taught History of Magic. I had married Ginny and had three beautiful children, all of them strong in magic. My eldest, Jamie, had gone off to Hogwarts last year and been Sorted into Gryffindor. He, like his little sister Lily, was pure Weasley.
But it was my middle child, named for both Dumbledore and Snape, that had an uncanny knack for potions, inheriting the skill of his grandmother and me plus a brilliance all his own. He was a quiet boy, not into Quidditch and sports like his brother, but he devoured books. Ginny joked that he came out of the womb clutching one. He had my hair and eyes, but a brain that rivaled Hermione's. He was so smart it scared me.
The day after his tenth birthday, he told me that he didn't want to go to Hogwarts. "Why not?" I asked. We were in my office, it was a Saturday, and for once I had not been called in on a case for Magical Law Enforcement.
"Because . . . I just don't think I'll fit in, Dad. You know I hate crowds and stuff. And I'll be bored in potions."
"Your brother and cousins will all be there." I said, trying to offer him some advantages.
He rolled his eyes. "Dad, I don't want to be Jamie's shadow. Or have kids be friendly to me because I'm Jamie's little brother. I don't like the House system either. It's too restrictive."
"All right. What do you want to do, then?" This was new territory for me. I had always assumed all my children would attend Hogwarts like I had. But there were alternatives now that there hadn't been twenty years ago.
"I want you to apprentice me to a Potions Master."
My eyebrows went up. That was the other alternative to attending Hogwarts. In the early years, while the school was being rebuilt, the Ministry realized that our children still needed to be educated, and so they brought back the old system of master and apprentice. A student signed Articles of Apprenticeship that were binding for seven years, agreeing to learn from the Master both his chosen magical field and a general course of study. He or she went to live with the Master and the Master in turn agreed to teach the student his or her specialty and provide for them as well. The apprentice's parents paid the Master an apprentice fee, enough to cover supplies and extra things the apprentice might need.
The system worked, and was cheaper than tuition at Hogwarts. "All right. I'll have to see who's available—"
"Dad, not just any Potions Master," he interrupted me, his small face serious. "I want to learn from the best there is. And he's not at Hogwarts. Not any more."
I knew instantly who he referred to. "You want to apprentice to Professor Snape?"
He nodded eagerly. "You know where he is, right?"
"Yes, I know. I haven't seen him since your baptism, but he's sent you a present every year for Christmas and your birthday. He was the one who sent you that expanding potions case this year with the unbreakable vials inside."
"Because he's my godfather. Dad, why didn't he ever come back and visit?"
I sighed. "It's complicated. Severus has always been a man who keeps to himself. He doesn't enjoy publicity and that's what he'd be getting if he ever showed his face around here. He doesn't like being famous. Then there's the fact that your Uncle Percy has never forgiven him for Lydia Perkins dying in the Battle of Hogwarts. A Death Eater killed her, and he blamed the professor for that, and he . . . tried to kill Professor Snape back when he was still recovering from being bitten by Nagini. He hasn't changed much since then, and Severus probably figures it's better if he stays away, rather than causing a family quarrel."
My son's eyes flashed. "Uncle Percy's a puffed up idiot! People always die in wars. That's why it's called a war. It's stupid to blame my godfather for somebody dying, unless he killed her himself."
I couldn't very well refute that, so I said quietly, "I've had several letters from him over the years, and he always asks about you. I've sent him pictures, and he has all your thank you notes."
"Do you think he'll take me as his apprentice?"
"Why don't you write him and find out?" I suggested.
"All right. Do you have a quill and some parchment I can borrow?"
"Right here," I said, and moved away from my desk so he could sit and write. I prayed that Professor Snape would agree, because though he didn't say so, I knew he desperately wanted to get to know his godfather and to learn from the best Potions Master this side of the Atlantic.
Two days later, my son burst into the kitchen, where I was cooking dinner, waving a letter about in his hand and grinning. "Dad! Dad, guess what? He wrote me back! And he says . . . he says he'll take me as his apprentice. He says we can go to his house on Saturday next." My son's green eyes were glowing with delight.
"That's wonderful!" I said, I was so relieved that Snape had agreed to mentor him. "Dinner will be done in a few minutes, why don't you sit down—"
"Can't, Dad. I'll eat later, I gotta go pack!"
"Pack? Albus Severus, you don't need to pack a week in advance!" I laughed.
"I do too. I'll need that long to figure out what books I'm going to take with me," he said, then he turned and raced out of the kitchen.
I shook my head and smiled. Had I ever been that eager to go off to school? I supposed I must have been, especially those first years, before Voldemort returned and made my life hell.
The following Saturday:
I shrank my son's trunk and tucked it in my pocket then we mounted our brooms and soared off into the sky, after hugging and kissing Ginny and Lily goodbye. Both of the Potter women had tears in their eyes. It made my son uncomfortable, and he kept telling them, "It's not forever, I'll be back for the holidays and maybe I'll bring the professor for a visit."
That would really be a miracle, I thought. But then, I believed in miracles, and my son could be very persuasive when he chose. As I climbed higher in the sky, I turned and watched my boy, making sure he was all right. Unlike Jamie, he didn't really enjoy flying, though he flew quite well.
"You all right, son?" I called.
"Fine, Dad." He gave me a quiet smile. Clearly nothing was going to dampen his enthusiasm. "Where are we going and how come we can't just Floo there?"
"Professor Snape isn't connected to the Floo Network. His house is an old Roman villa on the Isle of Wight."
"Really? That's way cool!"
I grinned back at him. "Isn't it? Come on, we have about two hours of flying ahead of us." I pointed my broomstick south and took off, careful to activate my Notice Me Not charms over the both of us.
When we finally touched down amid a stretch of green hills surrounded by farmland, as the island had some of the most fertile soil in all of Britain, I could tell my son was tired and sore, but he never complained. That wasn't his way. When Jamie was sick, or feeling out of sorts, the whole house knew it. Albus Severus, on the other hand, wouldn't complain of being sick until he was dropping dead. Like another wizard I could name. I walked over and performed a quick healing charm on him, reliving him of a stiff back and bottom.
"Thanks, Dad. How did you know?"
"Because I'm sore too," I admitted, wincing.
"Oh. Sorry I can't do magic like that yet."
I ruffled his hair. "It's all right. I just need to walk out the kinks and I'll be fine."
I put my hand on his shoulder, we were dressed in Muggle clothing, jeans and long sleeved shirts, since Snape's home was right in a Muggle area. Together we started up a long paved drive to a house upon a hill. The house was large and could have doubled as a set in some Roman historic documentary. There were white marble pillars flanking the double doors, which had horsehead brass knockers. Two large topiary bushes flanked the top of the drive, one was of a doe and the other a snake.
There were carefully tended flowerbeds to either side of the house, and the porch was tiled in a mosaic of blue and green with a wave and a swimming sea serpent. As I set foot upon the porch, I felt the tingle of wards, they made my skin crawl slightly. I reached up and banged the knocker down, once, twice.
As if on cue, the door swung open.
I entered, gently urging my son before me. We stepped into a large rectangular foyer with more marble and malachite pillars and the tiles here showed a witch brewing a potion, stirring a cauldron. Though she was dressed in the traditional black robes of a Mistress of Potions, she had red hair and green eyes and reminded me of my mother.
I took two steps into the hall, it was lit by several hanging globes of wizardlight, and called, "Professor Snape? Are you here?"
"Come down the hall and turn right at the first door," called the familiar silky voice.
We entered a cozy den, which had a fire crackling merrily in the grate, and was surrounded by plump green and silver couches and a lounge chair. The theme in this room was silver and green, it had a carpet that looked of Turkish design with several kinds of woodland animals and trees in it. The walls were a cool silver with a border of green ivy leaves. Upon the mantle was a clock and a statue of a silver doe, as well as a familiar looking stone bowl.
Severus was seated upon the center couch, he was wearing a pair of black trousers, boots, and a silver and green shirt, with his black over robes. I stared at him in astonishment. I had last seen him ten years ago, and had thought he looked extremely well for a man approaching his middle years. Looking at him now, I couldn't believe the difference. He did not look like a man of over fifty, but more like a man in his thirties. His hair was long and flowing, but not greasy, I could see blue-black highlights in it when the wizardlight fell on it. He was still trim and fit, and when he rose to greet us, he still towered over me. But the light in his black eyes was not forbidding, but welcoming.
"Welcome to the Ivy Manse, as the locals call this place. How are you, Harry?"
"I . . . I'm pretty good for a man approaching thirty-eight, Severus. But you . . . you look like you haven't aged a day since you woke up in St. Mungos after the battle. Have you been taking Youth Potion?"
"Hardly. I believe this is a side effect of the Panacea Perfectus. It appears to have slowed down my aging and restored some of my youth to me."
I noticed then that most of the lines that used to bracket his mouth and eyes had faded and it made him look even younger. Clearly his chosen exile to the Isle of Wight had been good for him. I opened my mouth to introduce my son.
But Severus came forward, his hand extended, and a quiet smile upon his lips, and said softly, "And you must be Albus Severus, my godson."
"Yes, sir. But I prefer to be called Sev." He clasped Snape's hand, his green eyes bright with awe. "All my family calls me that."
"Then so shall I. Do you know, that was your grandmother's name for me also?" the elder Severus told the younger.
"I know. Dad told me. I like Sev better than Al. Only Jamie calls me Al, when he wants to be an annoying prat. But then I ignore him."
"I see," said the Potions Master gravely, but I saw his lips twitch into a smirk.
"Um . . . what shall I call you, sir?"
Severus looked nonplussed for a moment. Clearly this hadn't occurred to him. At last he said, "When I am teaching you, you may refer to me as professor Snape or sir. But when your lessons are over, I am just your godfather and then you may call me Uncle Severus. Is that satisfactory?"
"Yes, sir. I mean . . . Uncle Severus," Sev corrected himself swiftly.
"Have a seat," he gestured to the two other couches. "I have the articles all ready, waiting for our signatures." He pointed to a long sheet of parchment sitting on the table carved of silver ash wood. There was a pot of ink and a quill beside it. "Would you care for some refreshments? I have lemonade and tea or coffee and some sandwiches." He pointed his wand and a tray appeared upon the table filled with a variety of finger sandwiches, shortbread biscuits, custard tarts, pots of tea and coffee and a pitcher of icy cold lemonade. There were small china plates and silverware also upon the tray, along with cream and sugar.
I took a sandwich and some shortbread and a cup of coffee. I really needed the caffeine after such a long flight.
Sev took two kinds of sandwiches, a tart, and some lemonade.
Severus had some coffee and a sandwich also.
We ate hungrily, the food was tasty and filling, as good as anything Molly had ever served.
Sev ate neatly, but with the typical appetite of a growing boy, going back for seconds. When we had all eaten out fill, the professor turned to my son and said, "From your letter, I know that you and I share a passionate interest in potions, is that not so, Sev?"
"Yes, sir. I love potions more than anything."
"Do you?" Snape's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "What is the difference between wolfsbane and monkshood?"
Sev hesitated not an instant before answering, "There is none. They're names for the same plant. It's also called aconite."
"Correct. Where would you obtain a bezoar?"
"Bezoars are from the stomach of a goat. They can cure most poisons and are an active ingredient in the potion Panacea Perfectus."
"Good. Now for the last one. What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Sev blinked and remained quiet for a moment. I thought for an instant that he didn't know the answer. But then he said, "A Draught of Living Death. But you also need valerian and a sopophorous bean."
"Excellent! This one is a potion maker for certain," praised Snape.
Sev grinned proudly. "Does that mean I'll make a good apprentice?"
"If you practice and remember all your lessons, yes, you will do your family and me proud." The professor stated. "I asked your father those very same questions his first day in my class."
"You did?" He looked over at me. "How many did you get right, Dad?"
"Oh. Well, Dad's never been as good at potions as me," my son said candidly, smirking.
"Hey! Don't get all smart with me, brat!" I mock-scolded, playfully smacking him on the back of the head.
"What? It's the truth!" Sev protested, snickering.
"Your father grew more apt in brewing once he started paying attention in class," Snape told my son. "Eventually, he became extremely competent."
"But not a Master."
"No, but I have no doubt that had he wished so, he could have become one."
I was shocked. Snape had never said anything like that to me while I was a student.
"Really, Mr. Potter."
"Oh. Sorry, Dad."
I ruffled his hair affectionately. "You see what you have to put up with?"
Snape snorted. "His cheekiness is nothing compared to yours, Harry." He looked at Sev. "You do understand that I don't tolerate disrespect? Being insolent with me shall earn you a few hours of detention scrubbing cauldrons, by hand without magic, or cleaning my lab, or harvesting any number of potions ingredients, writing lines, and essays."
Sev's eyes widened at the list. Then he said, "I'll behave, sir."
"A wise decision. I shall endeavor to teach you all I know about potions and brewing and by the end of your apprenticeship you will be able to sit for your Mastery exams and hopefully pass them with flying colors."
"What, you're not going to give him your famous speech?" I teased.
"You needed it, to interest you in my subject. He doesn't," Snape replied.
I had to agree to that.
"When can we start, Uncle Severus?"
"As soon as we have signed your Articles of Apprenticeship, child." The Potions Master said, laughing slightly. "Shall we, Harry?"
I picked up the quill and signed my name with a flourish. Then Snape signed his and finally Sev did as well. There! It was done. Now my son was an official apprentice.
The Potions Master tapped the parchment and it copied itself. He gave a copy to me and tucked the original into a pocket.
Sev jumped to his feet. "Now can we brew a potion, Professor?"
"In a moment, Mr. Potter. First let me show you to your room and you can unpack your things. And do you not want to bid your father goodbye?"
I held out my arms and he ran into them, hugging me tight. "Bye, Dad. I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too, Sevvy. Be good and listen to Professor Snape."
"I will. I'll see you at Christmas. Tell Mum I'll write every week and Lily too."
I kissed the top of his forehead. I felt a lump in my throat as big as a mountain as I suddenly realized that the tiny dark-haired baby I had held in my arms was now old enough to leave home. I stared down at his dark head and found myself blinking back tears.
When I lifted my head, my eyes met knowing dark ones.
"I will take good care of him, Harry. As if he were my own."
Sev squirmed free of my embrace. "I'll be fine, Dad. I really like it here."
I rose to my feet. I didn't want to linger over this parting. So I removed his trunk from my pocket and enlarged it. "Goodbye, Sev." I reached into my other pocket and found a leather pouch. This I gave to Severus. "His apprentice fee."
"No, Harry. You do not need to pay for his upkeep."
"He is family." Snape pushed the pouch away. "Safe journey, Harry."
I knew then that my son would be all right. He had what he needed, both a teacher and a godfather. I waved once before I left the two Severus' alone, chattering about ways to dice and chop roots and distill liquids, walking quickly back out the front door and grabbing my broom. I would miss him something awful, but I knew he would be happy with my old Potions professor. I thought that Snape would be happy as well, for he had found a kindred spirit in Albus Severus Potter. In the end, that was all that mattered.
A/N: There are two one-shot companion pieces to this story that have recently been posted. One is called The Substitute, the other is called Birthday Treat. If you liked this story you may want to read those.