Severus and Harry
He was still weeping disconsolately by the time Harry came back into the room, not even bothering to hide it. Somehow everything seemed meaningless at that moment; the only thing his brain could register was that Lily was gone.
Harry, on the other hand, simply registered how uncomfortable the whole situation made him feel, and wondered how to get out of it as quickly as possible without appearing inconsiderate. Finally, after a moment or two of shuffling his feet indecisively, he gathered his courage and muttered something along the lines of not wanting to butt in on Snape and suggesting of leaving him alone and coming back another time. "And ... I hope you sorted it out with my mother," he added as an afterthought, before turning on his heel and making a swift retreat towards the door, as if another second spent in the room would suffocate him.
Harry froze with his hand on the door as Snape's silky voice cut through the air, sounding as imperious as ever. Somewhat gingerly, he turned around to look at its owner and saw Snape gazing at him in a curious manner, as if he did not quite know how to continue and expected Harry to help him. The fact that his eyes were still red from crying did nothing to detract from the surrealness of the situation, either.
"I wish ... to thank you," he said finally, sounding as though the words were choking him. "You need not have done this for me. If you were anything like your father, as I have always claimed you to be, you would never have even thought of it. It was your mother who was ever the kind one. In this respect – and several others, too – you take after her."
Harry could not believe his ears. What had his mother done to Snape to make him say such things to him all of a sudden? He supposed that continuing the conversation would mean pushing his luck beyond the boundaries of sanity, but he simply could not let this perfect opportunity slip by, and so before he had had the chance to think about it too much he asked, "What was she like, Professor? You might think it strange that I'm asking you, but it seems that of all the people I've ever met you knew her ... well ... best."
There were a number of reactions he expected Snape to produce, one more humiliating than the next, but the one that eventually came was the most unlikely of all. "Even if I were not dead, Potter," drawled Snape, "I would no longer be your teacher at this point, so I suggest you refrain from the 'Professors' and 'sirs' and use my given name instead."
By then Harry was beyond all doubt that his mother had a hand in this, for despite keeping his biting demeanour Snape was behaving most oddly indeed. And although he was evidently behaving oddly in his favour, Harry had to admit it made him feel a little ill-at-ease. The old Snape had been unpleasant, yes, but at least one knew what to expect of him. But how on earth was one to treat a Snape who was trying to be friendly? He supposed the best thing would be to just let him set the tone of the conversation and see where that led them. And since the tone had been set the way it had...
"In that case I suggest you stop calling me 'Potter'," he shot back. "I have a first name too, you know."
In the olden days he would have got at least a detention for such cheek, but now Snape actually looked as though he was trying hard not to smile. "So you do," he agreed. "But you were, I believe, interested in hearing about your mother."
Harry nodded eagerly, his heart speeding up in expectation of what Snape was going to say. Meanwhile the older man sighed, and when he finally spoke his voice sounded as if from far away, as if he was once again a schoolboy and Lily was right there at his side, his best friend.
"What I first noticed about Lily when I saw her was that she had a curious presence about her that made everybody flock around her like pigeons. After coming to school she gained instant popularity, not only among students but teachers as well. I do not believe you could have found many who disliked her. She only tried to see the good in people, to make excuses for them no matter what they did. She always had a kind word for those who needed it, she was quick to offer help. She was forgiving. She had an inimitable sense of humour. But above all, she was an exceptionally talented and clever witch. You would not have wanted to have her as your enemy. Even before she obtained her wand she was able to perform magic many third years would have been proud of."
"Still, it wasn't enough to fight off Voldemort," remarked Harry gravely. Now that Snape had painted a portrait of his mother in such vivid colours, he regretted not to have had the chance to really know her himself more than ever.
"No," agreed Snape quietly, his dark eyes suddenly full of pain. "No magic was good enough against the Dark Lord."
Silence followed this statement, as both men got lost in their gloomy thoughts for a while. Finally Harry asked, "Sir ... I mean, Severus," (the name felt decidedly strange on his tongue) "if you loved her so much, why did you never ask her out? Being as popular as she was, it was obvious someone else would take her sooner or later when you didn't."
It was a bold question, he was well aware of that, and he almost certainly expected Snape to tell him it was none of his business, which, of course, he would be perfectly entitled to, but Harry simply could not help himself. For the first time in his life he was given an unexpected chance to talk to Snape as if they were equals, and now that he had got over his initial shock he had to say he was rather enjoying the experience. After all, had he not, not even half an hour earlier, been reflecting on the similarities he believed they shared? And now here he was, asking Snape about exactly this – something he had been through himself, something he could identify with. Though not quite. There was something that just did not add up, and, being the curious boy that he was, he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Glancing at Snape in apprehension, he saw him press his lips tightly together, but the angry retort he thought would follow never came. Instead, after considering the question for a moment, Snape merely said, "And why, may I ask, would you want to know such a thing?"
"Well," said Harry slowly, doing his best to formulate his thoughts into words, "it just seems curious to me that you let her go without a fight. I can't think of a reason why you would. Me ... it took me almost two years to pluck up the courage to let Cho Chang know that I liked her. I just thought I'd make a complete fool of myself if I did. And then Ginny – I would've asked her out much sooner if I wasn't afraid of Ron's reaction. But you ... I just can't see you being afraid. How else would you have managed to risk your life for so long and not break down? How would you have lied to Voldemort? He would've sensed it if you were afraid. I know he was good at that sort of thing. So, the whole business with my mother, I just don't understand it. I don't understand why you never told her."
Snape did not answer immediately. For some time he just stared at Harry in a puzzled manner, almost as if he were seeing him for the first time. It made Harry feel as though he was being analyzed, and whatever Snape said next would let him know whether he had passed his test or not.
And then, at last, the verdict came. "Perhaps you overestimate me," stated Snape with a hint of a smile. "I have noticed you have a strong tendency towards idealization, especially of older men. First your father, then Black, and now..."
He deliberately left the sentence unfinished, as if he thought the idea too absurd to put into words. Harry allowed himself an inner smile. Though Snape would probably deny it, it looked like he had unwittingly found another thing they had in common. If he had an inclination to idealize men, then he wondered what one should call Snape's obsession with his mother.
"However, regarding your question," continued Snape, "I fear you have missed an important difference. After your mother had gone I no longer had anything to lose. There were times when I would have welcomed death as almost a liberation. Understandably, then, I had nothing to fear." He paused, as if to mentally prepare himself for what he was about to say next, then went on. "With your mother, however, it was a different matter entirely. I believed that if I told her how I ... felt about her, our friendship would be over. I could not risk that, and so I remained silent. How ironic that in the end I lost her friendship anyway..."
Harry could hardly believe his ears. Not only was he shocked by Snape's openness, which he did not quite see how he had deserved, but to discover that Snape, too, had been afraid... Interestingly enough, however, it did nothing to lessen Harry's respect of him at all. Quite on the contrary, it only confirmed what Harry had already begun to see but what he still had not been to able to process fully – that Snape was not nearly as cold and unfeeling as he had tried to make everyone believe he was, that he was, in fact, a human being like any other, with all the emotions that went with it. And not only that – now more than ever did Harry feel the connection that he believed they shared, a kind of understanding of what Snape had been through, an understanding that could well enough be mutual if Snape only tried.
He chose his words carefully as he formulated his reply, and eventually said, "Thank you for the honest answer, Severus. I appreciate it, I really do. It kind of makes me sorry you never let me see this side of you while I was still at school. I think we would've got on much better if you had."
"Considering I took you to be like your father, it is only understandable that I did not care to give you an opportunity to reveal my weaknesses," said Snape bitterly. "Not to mention that you were my student – somebody I would hardly seek out to confide in."
"I suppose," conceded Harry. "Not that it really matters, anyway. You confided in me now, and I'm glad you did. I understand the difference you mentioned, and I think I have a similar experience. It may be paradoxical, but when I went to the forest to die, I wasn't nearly as afraid as when I had to invite Cho to the Yule Ball. So I can see how facing Voldemort would have been a piece of cake for you compared to asking my mother out."
"A rather simple way of putting it, but you are, in essence, right," said Snape, a small smile playing in the corner of his lips.
Harry smiled too. Snape would be Snape; friendly or not, there would always be a slightly biting undertone in his voice, but now that he was obviously using it out of habit rather than to hurt him, Harry no longer minded it. In fact, he found it rather refreshing. It was so very different from Ron's slightly primitive manner of speaking, or even from the know-it-all attitude Hermione so often took when she got carried away. Before he knew what he was saying he blurted out, "Severus, do you ... do you think I could come and visit you from time to time? Just for a bit of a chat?"
A shadow of disbelief crossed Snape's face, but he managed to regain his composure almost instantly. "To keep me up to date with your girlfriend troubles?" he smirked. "Are Mr Weasley and Miss Granger no longer sufficient?"
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Obviously Snape would rather eat a Flobberworm than make it easy for him. "If you are interested, then even that," he retorted. "Though now that I have Ginny, I don't really expect any."
"In that case why waste your time here? Surely there is nothing I can give you that Miss Weasley cannot? Or your other friends, for that matter?"
Harry frowned. What did Snape want to hear from him? Could this possibly be another test? Did Snape perhaps see Harry's request as a mere whim, and was therefore making Harry think it through more carefully, so that he would not come to regret it? Well, he guessed that whatever the case, honesty would be the best course to take.
"Surprisingly, I think there is," he said solemnly. "I've been through some things that my friends will most likely never understand. They just don't have a clue. You do. You've been down the same road. You'd understand. I think ... I really believe we could become ... well, friends, I suppose. After all, you were my mother's best friend, and you admitted that I was a lot like her. So I thought..."
His voice trailed off under the weight of the look that Snape was giving him. The intensity of it was almost unbearable. But then it was gone, and Snape said, "Once again your logic does not fail to astound me, Harry."
Harry gazed at him, puzzled. The content of the words was as sarcastic as always, and yet the tone in which they were uttered sounded genuine, as if to suggest they were to be taken literally. Not to mention that Snape had used Harry's given name, for the first time ever. So that could only mean-
"I take that as a 'yes', then," he ventured, hoping he had deciphered the underlying meaning correctly.
Snape's smile, the first real smile he had ever seen on his face, a smile that suddenly made him look twenty years younger, told him that he had.
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