Many thanks to my friend Jaine who helped beta this during the It's Not Over Yet challenge where I couldn't turn to my typical editors.
"My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?" Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape's ferocious, anguished face. "If you insist…"
Harry had done his fair share of cleaning. As soon as Aunt Petunia trusted him not to break anything, he'd been dusting vacuuming, and doing dishes. He wondered, briefly, what his aunt would think of the masses chattering, joking, and singing while levitating, repairing, and banishing rubble from the "Battle of Hogwarts" as the reporters dubbed it.
The intense amount of noise jarred his train of thought. Quidditch World Cup, Gringotts breakout, Howlers: nothing compared. The people who had pledged their time to restore Hogwarts were loud. Extremely. Armored knights' dents were being worked out by gaggles of third years while Aurors and surviving Ministry officials were busy tackling the Great Hall ceiling
Harry was currently on his break from aerial inspection and restoration. Each tower had sustained damage. On his final pass before landing, he had lingered outside the window of the Headmaster's Tower. What he saw, or rather, did not see, had wormed its way into his head like one of Luna's mythical creatures. Which gave him an idea.
He'd asked a jumpy Ravenclaw, Orla Quirke, where Luna was. After mumbling about some statue called Quinlin the Querulous and rats, he'd decided to look at the Marauders' Map. That was how he found himself trotting down the third floor corridor, squinting at statues to see if one really had stone rats. He heard a familiar dreamy voice as he was about to consult the ragged parchment again.
"And so you shouldn't worry about the quest taking a different path than you planned," Luna's face was obscured by blonde hair as she addressed a painted knight, "because the journey truly is more important. Isn't that right, Harry?" She hadn't turned around. "Will you excuse me Sir Cadagon? Harry will be infested with Wrackspurts if I don't see to him straightaway."
The knight bowed before sallying off.
"What can I do for you, Harry Potter?" Her normal, well for her they were normal, tones could not make Harry forget that the witch in front of him-yellow robes, radishes, butterbeer corks, and all-had formidable willpower, skill and compassion. She may very well be the only one to understand his request after the past year.
Harry took a deep breath. "I need to ask you a favor. I'd like you to do something for me." He thought back to December and strengthened his resolve. "Something I don't think other people could do."
Luna turned around to face him, protuberant eyes scrutinizing. Tilting her head, she walked towards him. "Well?" she asked serenely, after a few minutes of silence. "Are you going to ask? I may be a Ravenclaw, but I don't read minds like the Headmaster could."
Harry nearly choked. "You knew?"
Luna nodded, cheerfully perching on a nearby overturned suit of armor. "Oh yes. Wasn't it obvious?"
Harry shook his head to clean out the cobwebs that he was sure were in there. "I actually want to talk about Snape. I've heard you're helping restore portraits."
"That's a funny way to ask a favor. Does everyone do it now? Start off on one topic and inquire about another? Should I?" Harry happened to miss Luna's slight grin as the unmistakable urge to bash his head against the wall grew. "Don't let the Wrackspurts in, Harry." She patted the helmet next to her. "Sit down, and try again."
"So you're asking me to paint a portrait of the Headmaster," a nod, "to hang with the other ones," another nod, "because the castle magic is incapable of doing it due to the damage," a third nod. Luna Lovegood's face was lined in concentration.
"Basically, yes," Harry nodded with finality. "I saw your room, er, sorry about the blown up bits..."
"Oh, don't worry about it. They're only things. My friends made it out safe." At this, another burst of affection wrapped itself around Harry's heart.
"So, will you, Luna?"
"Of course." There was no hesitation or doubt. "Though, I must admit, I'm not sure how to start."
"How did you start the ones on your ceiling?"
"Well, I got Daddy to place a timed Sticking Spell on me so I could stay up there," Luna began, "but that's not what you meant." Harry shook his head emphatically. "It was quite easy, actually. I thought of all of you, what you mean to me. How you helped me. What we did. I'm just not sure that approach would work with the Headmaster. He wasn't the easiest to get along with. Even the Blibbering Humdingers avoided him, and really, they're friendly creatures."
Harry's face fell. He was sure Luna could do this.
"And doing it that way wouldn't be right."
"You're joking. You did a fantastic job."
"That's very kind of you to say, but you're wrong Harry Potter. It'd only be my view. Hogwarts portraits, of Headmasters especially, need more perspectives. The castle sees us grow up, sees so much more of us than any one person ever could. With all the ghosts and portraits, it's a legacy of shared memory."
Harry jumped up from his seat, crowing over the clatter of the helmet, "Luna, you're brilliant! What if I got you memories? Loads of them. From all sorts of people that have known him?"
Luna looked thoughtful.
Six months passed. Harry presented Luna with cases of memory-laden vials, labeled in a scrawl of names and dates. With it was a shallow bowl, courtesy of the Headmistress. He'd explained himself to her and a few others, but had kept his purpose as secret as possible. His yearmates wouldn't understand, hadn't understood after his revelation during his duel with Voldemort.
Going through everything he had gleaned had been interesting. Professors recalled the withdrawn teenager and Harry's own mother. A few Slytherins agreed to help and contributed memories in which he championed them against stereotypes. Ron and Hermione's memories of the surly Potions Master protecting them in third year were peculiar, as he revisited it from their eyes.
Selecting his own memories was the hardest task. But he had done it, even including a few memories of another's memory. He'd also taken upon himself the task of replicating a lost, exhausted Potions book.
It was the last time they spoke about the commission for several months.
The one-year anniversary was creeping around the corner when Luna and Harry finally exchanged words about the laborious favor. Truth be told, it was the last thing he expected to hear when the blonde witch waltzed into the office he shared with Neville and Ron.
"Neville's out on a sweep," Harry said absently, looking over a file.
"I know. You know how hard it is, keeping this from him?" Luna leaned on the desk her boyfriend worked from.
"Getting the right shades of black is a lot harder than you think," mused the witch. She settled unorthodox voluminous robes, deep blue underneath paint spatters, around herself. "So many nuances, which makes sense for the professor, but it can be quite challenging to mix a whole palette of subtly different blacks." Harry watched something in her face change, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "Neville's been letting me sample from his greenhouse for ingredients, but I know the curiosity is eating at him."
"It's not causing any problems, is it?" Harry asked warily.
"That's sweet of you to ask, but we're working together on my other project. Everything's fine." This expression, he could recognize. It was the same one Ginny had when she told him about mastering the Wronski Feint. Ron's during a round of chess with Professor McGonagall as the game fell into place. It was elation at a challenge. "This painting, the journey of it, is so alive. More than I expected." Luna added as an afterthought, "He wouldn't thank you for this, you know."
"Professor Snape. Wouldn't thank you. He likes, liked, his privacy. It all makes sense now, even if he wouldn't want it to. Thank you for this chance to understand."
"Most people would think you were loony for saying yes, you know," Harry leaned back in his chair. It was companionably silent for a while.
"It's only now that people are realizing that those who we love never truly leave us," was the soft reply. And she was right.
Harry loathed the phrase "The Final Battle." He loathed the pomp and the circumstance even more. Everyone seemed to make inordinately long speeches. Everyone. He didn't really listen to most of them, preferring to hold Ginny's hand and help Andromeda settle the squirming, wriggling baby that was his godson. He ignored the awards, as best as he could. His ribs would be bruised from Ginny getting his attention so he'd walk up onstage promptly. He didn't pay attention until a painting was revealed.
It hung on the wall where the Room of Requirement once opened its door. It received considerable attention, for it was the newest painting in half a century. Dean, Luna, and Dennis by extension, hadn't had to pay for drinks since its unveiling.
Harry agreed, it was marvelous. Full of smiling faces, though one scarred one was scowling, the beloved deceased from the Order and DA waved at passersby. He'd hugged Hermione harder, gripped Ron's hand more firmly, lingered while kissing Ginny, and spent more time with Teddy after seeing it.
The mural had received so much attention, that another new addition went unnoticed. Luna had completed his request despite N.E.W.T. preparation and the tribute to the fallen. Getting it hung next to Dumbledore's had taken his Cloak, Luna's prior experience at sneaking into the office, and outgoing Headmistress McGonagall's opportune absence.
People who noticed it saw the dim figure of a man hunched over a cauldron. The more perceptive looked harder and they saw deep colors-reds, blues, greens, even purples-in the liberally used black, giving it depth. The man attentively tended to an emerald potion with golden fumes rising from it. one hand stirred whilst the other annotated passages in the book by his side. Only the most observant saw white petals and the crimson ribbon peeking through pages, marking his place.
Most would refuse to acknowledge it, Harry knew. The truth of Severus Snape was too much for some to accept. His tenure at Hogwarts would always be associated with the darkest days of the Second War. But those who gave the portrait a chance-and the numbers grew every few years-would always see the dark eyes gleam with determination and bravery. Always.