With a barely audible pop, a young couple appeared just outside the gates of Hogwarts, which were opened wide, inviting people inside. A thin trickle of people were walking up the long path towards the castle, and the young couple joined them, strolling along, looking contemplative. The red-haired woman glanced up at her boyfriend with a curious, slightly worried look on her face, but the young man didn't seem to notice. His eyes were directed towards the castle, though they seemed out of focus, as though he were lost in thoughts. The expression on his face suggested these thoughts were not entirely pleasant.
"Harry?" The red-haired girl asked softly, her concern colouring her tone. Harry started a little, and turned to look at her with a curious expression on his face. "Are you alright?"
Harry gave a wry little smile and shrugged his shoulders, his black dress robes shimmering green with the movement. "I'm not sure, Ginny." He replied honestly, turning his gaze back to the castle. "I wouldn't say that I'm feeling particularly bad at the moment, considering, but I've certainly felt better…" He trailed off, falling back into his thoughts, and Ginny decided not to interrupt him again. This ceremony wasn't going to be easy on either of them.
They walked on in silence for what felt like an age, but couldn't have been longer than ten or fifteen minutes, until finally they turned off the driveway and headed down the lawns towards the lake, where people were already congregating in front of the white marble tomb of Dumbledore. Now, however, the tomb did not stand alone. Beside it was a soft grey monolith, and as the couple drew closer, walking between rows and rows of chairs that were steadily filling up, Ginny saw that hundreds of names had been carved neatly into the rock.
Harry led her right up to it, where he stopped, gazing at the names. Ginny bit her lip to keep her tears in check when she spotted the name "Frederick Gideon Weasley" near the bottom of the stone, somewhere about her knees. Not far beneath that was "Remus John Lupin" and "Nymphadora 'Tonks' Lupin" which caused another spasm of grief to flow through Ginny. She had grown close to Tonks in the time they had spent at Grimmauld Place. With that thought in mind, Ginny scanned further up the stone and soon found "Sirius Orion Black" engraved there also.
"So many people…" Harry whispered, his voice cracking slightly under the strain of keeping his emotions in check. "Even though that bastard is dead, he's still causing people pain and grief." He said, a hint of anger eclipsing the tinge of sadness in his voice. "I wish I really understood. Why did all of this ever have to happen?"
Ginny sighed and squeezed Harry's arm, which had been linked with hers ever since they'd apperated to Hogwarts. "It's because you can't just take that sort of abuse lying down." She said softly, her voice shaking a bit as she tried to squash the grief looking at this memorial elicited in her.
Harry shook his head. "That's not what I meant." He said, and his voice was a little stronger and he continued. "I mean, why did Riddle seem to think that his desires were somehow more important than anyone else's? I can't believe he was just born without compassion!"
"Oh, Harry." The couple turned at this new voice, and Ginny smiled weakly at Hermione, who was the one who had spoken. "You remember the dates on the back of the diary?" Ginny's mood took an even more dramatic dip at that reminder. Harry had told her the truth about the Diary a few weeks ago, and the thought still made her feel physically ill. Hermione cast her an apologetic look before continuing. "They were from fifty years ago." Hermione finished, as if that explained everything.
"So?" Harry asked, frowning in confusion.
Hermione sighed impatiently, a gesture that was so endearingly familiar that both Ginny and Harry cracked small smiled. "Harry, don't you see?" Hermione asked softly. "Not only was Voldemort an orphan, but he was a child stuck in London in the middle of the Blitz! That trauma alone would have been enough to start him on the road to becoming the monster we knew."
Comprehension dawned on Harry's face, but before he could respond, Ron appeared at Hermione's elbow, looking solemn, and surprisingly smart in dark red dress robes. "Hey Harry, Ginny." He greeted, slipping an arm around Hermione's waist. "I was wondering when you two would get here." He commented. "This is quite a big turn out, considering." He added, glancing over his shoulder at the witches and wizards milling about. "I still can't believe you pushed for this." Ron added, gesturing behind Harry, who turned to look at the second tomb that had been placed beside the memorial. This tomb was pure black marble, a perfect contrast to the white of Dumbledore's, with veins of vibrant scarlet running through it. Engraved near the top of the marble tomb were the words:
AN UNSUNG HERO
Harry shook his head with a sigh and turned back to Ron. "It was thanks to him that we won this war, Ron. I know he wasn't pleasant, but he gave his life to save mine. He did more fighting this war than maybe anyone else, even me or Dumbledore."
Ron looked startled. "Come off it, mate!" He exclaimed. "I know he did a lot, I'm not saying he didn't, but more than you?"
Harry began to chuckle immoderately, and after a moment, he forced the mirth back in order to reply. "I mean it Ron. You remember the night you… came back?" He asked, and Ron and Hermione's faces darkened at this reminder, though Ron nodded curtly. "That doe patronus, that was-" He began.
Ron's eyebrows went up. "That was him?" After a moment of registering this surprise, Ron snorted. "His patronus was a doe?" He asked.
Sighing, Harry shook his head at Ron's mockery. "You remember what I said to Riddle? That's why his patronus had that form. His patronus was my mother." All the laughter on Ron's face died, and Harry almost felt bad, but he pressed on. He had meant to explain all of these tit-bits back in Dumbledore's office, right after the end of the final battle, but sleep had been too inviting, and a lot of bits of information got skipped. "If he hadn't given us the sword, we'd never have destroyed the locket, and we wouldn't even have known about the cup."
It was in silence that the other three digested this news. After a good few minutes, Hermione pulled herself together. "Well, we'd better take our seats." She said, though her voice seemed weaker than usual. "The ceremony's about to start."
They did so, settling into the black and silver chairs in the front row, and watching as a middle-aged woman, who was tall and graceful despite her greying hair and the beginnings of wrinkles on her face, stepped up to the memorial stone and turned to face the assembled witches and wizards. The last stragglers hurried to their seats, and the witch began to speak in a soft warming tone.
Harry barely listened to her. He did not feel those crashing waves of grief he'd experienced at Dumbledore's funeral, nor the furious denial he'd felt after Sirius had died. No, instead, all he felt was a deep, aching, hollow sense of loss. Not for Snape as he was, but for everything he could have been. He wished that he had understood everything before Severus Snape had died. He wished he had had a chance to thank the cold, unpleasant man for everything he had done. Unbidden, an image rose in his mind, of a small scrawny Snape, no older than ten, clearly unloved, clearly abused, dressed in that appalling mix of old-fashioned muggle clothing. Close behind that image rose another, this time of another dark-haired, scrawny boy, with the same aura of abuse and neglect, though this one was wearing a mismatch of clothes that were far too big, with a pair of sellotaped glasses perched on his nose, and a faint lightning-bolt scar half hidden by his fringe.
It was this comparison, the realisation that Snape had experienced the same childhood Harry had, had been despised and abused for the simple reason that he possessed something his caretaker did not that brought tears to the emerald green eyes of Harry Potter. Only Ginny noticed, and the only recognition she gave was a gentle squeeze of his hand, which he gladly returned. Hermione and Ron wouldn't understand, he knew. Ron would be confused and incredulous. Hermione would be sympathetic, but impatient. Ginny, however, understood. He was not mourning the dark and unpleasant 'greasy bat of the dungeons', but the little boy he had been, who had been his mother's best friend, and all the potential gone to waste.
The Priestess finally stopped speaking, and there was a short silence in memory of the man who'd changed the course of the war. Before anyone could get up or begin chattering, Harry stood. He had never liked public speaking. He had learnt at a very early age that attention was bad, and it was better the blend in with the background than stand out, a belief that all the fame and positive attention he got in the wizarding world couldn't shake.
However, he felt that he needed to say something, here, now. So he stood, and walked over to the Priestess who, although she looked a little surprised, smiled and stepped aside for him. He took a moment to gather his thoughts before starting. "I know that when you hear the name Severus Snape, most of you will remember a snide, unpleasant and bitter man, and he was all of those things. He was cruel and vindictive, and took pleasure out of bullying those weaker than himself." A few people began muttering at this. "I won't deny it. It would be a disgrace to try and pretend that he was anything other than downright unpleasant even at the best of times. I confess; I hated him. I hated him from the moment we looked at each other over my first Start of Term Feast, and it was a perfectly mutual feeling.
"However, I can no longer bring myself to hate him. I've found that once you understand someone, however cruel, however petty, you cannot hate them. I have every right to loathe Severus Snape. He is the reason I grew up without parents. …But I don't hate him, though. I should, but I don't. When I look back on my memories, I can no longer see the cold, sneering Potions Master. Instead, I see a man crippled by guilt and grief. I see an abused child, lashing out because it's all he knows how to do. I see a human being in so much pain that it's slowly killing him."
Harry saw, to his faint surprise, that Hermione and Ginny had tears in their eyes. Looking further back, he saw McGonagal dabbing at her own moist eyes, and Molly Weasley with her hands over her mouth. He paused, wondering how best to continue.
"I wish I could have understood him before he died, that I could have had the chance to tell him how grateful I am for all the things he's done, not just for me, but for everyone who ever suffered at Voldemort's hands. I want him to have the recognition he deserves, even though it means nothing to him now. He is the man who fought the hardest in this war. He risked everything he had left to bring Voldemort down, and no one knew. He fought that madman with every fibre of his being, every second of his life, and never, not once, did someone say a simple 'thank you'
"He risked his life to save us, and our way of showing thanks was to doubt and despise him. Any other person would have given up. They would have crumbled under the hatred directed at them by their allies, and walked away from the fight. But he didn't. He simply hardened his heart to the pain and fought on. He gave his life for us, and we never realised what a true hero he was until it was too late."
McGonagal was sobbing outright now, and Molly had hidden her face in Arthur's shoulder, her shoulders shuddering lightly. Hermione and Ginny were hugging each other, crying silently, while Ron gaped at Harry, probably not even aware that his own eyes were moist. Luna had silent tears coursing down her cheeks, and Neville was sniffling quietly. Scanning the crowd, Harry was surprised, but somewhat pleased, to see that almost everyone was crying, or looking stricken. Professor Sprout had her head bowed, as did several others including Kingsley and Andromeda, who had little Teddy in her arms. Harry saw Fleur, her stomach expanding slightly with the new life within her, sobbing hysterically into a handkerchief. Harry figured that was partially due to hormones, as he couldn't remember Fleur and Snape ever even speaking to one another.
Harry heard the trumpet like sound of Hagrid blowing his nose, could see Shamus and Dean looking shell-shocked and regretful. Near the back, he spotted Draco, sat next to his mother, with his head bowed. Narcissa had one hand pressed to her trembling lips, while the other rested on Draco's shuddering shoulder.
"I don't know if the dead can still watch the living, but if they can, then… Thank you, Professor Snape, for everything." Harry finished, eyes focused vaguely on the middle distance, and he vaguely registered Hogwarts, the first true home he'd ever known. The first, true home Severus Snape had ever known.
He sighed softly then returned to his seat. Before he could sit down, however, Ginny had flung herself at him and began to cry softly on his shoulder. Hermione turned to Ron and hid her tearstained face in his chest. Ron wrapped one arm around her, and used the other hand to wipe away the stray tears that had betrayed him and trickled down his cheeks. "Bloody hell, mate." He said in a voice thick with emotions barely held in check. Harry gave a weak smile while absently rubbing Ginny's back in what he hoped was a comforting way.
The Priestess stepped forwards, and with a wave of her wand conjured several long buffet tables, and after a few moments, the plates and platters filled with food, thanks to the Hogwarts house-elves. Slowly, people stood and got food, or drifted into groups to chat and comfort each other. Molly came over and enveloped Harry and Ginny, who refused to let go of him, in a bone crushing hug. McGonagal too, came over, though she merely patted Harry slightly clumsily on the shoulder, before dabbing at her eyes again and going to comfort Madame Pomfrey and Professor Sprout, both of whom were crying in earnest. Harry supposed they were remembering the slight, defensive boy that had attended Hogwarts nearly three decades ago.
It was quite a while later, after the four of them had collected some food and gone to sit on the banks of the lake, that Kingsley walked over to them, looking somehow weary. He gave Harry a slightly wry smile. "That was some speech, Harry." He complimented.
Harry gave a tired smile in return. "Thanks."
"I've been thinking about what you suggested." Kingsley continued, and Harry raised his eyebrows, hopeful. "That speech decided it, really. I'll ask the Prophet to print the article in tomorrow's edition."
The smile Harry gave this time was much stronger than his last one. "Thank you, Kingsley." Kinsley nodded his acceptance then strolled off. Harry turned and saw his girlfriend and two best friends staring at him with matching expressions of expectant curiosity on their faces. "I asked Kingsley to give Professor Snape an Order of Merlin, First Class."
Hermione smiled. "That was a brilliant idea, Harry." She said softly.
Harry gave another wry smile. "It's been known to happen." Hermione and Ginny laughed weakly, and Ron snorted with amusement. Harry gave a little grin. He pulled Ginny closer to him, so she was effectively sitting between his legs, and nuzzled his nose into her neck. Recently, he'd often find himself suddenly, unexpectedly feeling so relieved and grateful that Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and so many others had survived. Out of the blue, he'd experience the burning need to hold someone, usually Ginny, to reassure himself that she really was there, that she really was safe and unharmed and alive. He closed his eyes, savouring the feel of Ginny pressed against him, the sound of her soft breathing, that faint, flowery smell that was entirely her, and felt a sweeping sense of relief so powerful it brought tears to his eyes again. That one thought burned in his mind; gratitude that his friends and family were safe, that this infernal war was over.
Thank you, Severus.
A/N: I decided to save my author's note for the end this time, as I didn't want to make any comments that detracted from the story.
This here is my attempt at dealing with my grief for Severus, which still attacks me at random times and leaves me bawling my eyes out over my laptop. I wanted him to get the appreciation he deserved, and I wanted Harry to be the one to give it to him. After all, Severus spent the better part of his life protecting Harry, saving Harry, worrying about Harry, telling Harry off, and generally acting like very bad tempered parent.
It was a little difficult to write Harry's speech, because personally, I would want to extol all of Severus's virtues and yell at people for not appreciating him. But Harry's not like that. He did hate Sev. He still dislikes him in this. But he's grateful, and he knows just how much Severus did for him. From his unintentional saving Harry's life on Halloween 1981, all the way to giving Harry his memories before he died.
Also, I am not satisfied with JKR's statement that Severus didn't get a portrait. If Hogwarts is intelligent enough to know when a Headmaster deserts his post, Hogwarts is intelligent enough to know that Severus was just as good a Headmaster as Dumbledore ever was. (And I, personally, like to believe Hogwarts is sentient, so in my head-canon, Hogwarts is way more than intelligent enough.) In this; Severus has a portrait in the Headmaster's office - right behind the desk, in the place held by the previous Headmaster.
…To Severus Snape; an unsung hero, and the bravest man Hogwarts has ever seen.