Hogwarts stands tall and serene.
Friendships developed in it and were broken again, arguments erupted or ceased. Heads of Houses and School were assigned, retired, or also – occasionally – buried. People became ghosts and stayed to dwell in its rooms; creatures awoke and crept along inside its walls, and then became extinct. Time rushed by the castle, changing nothing in it but the arrangement of portraits.
If you would choose one February day in hard frost, and glimpse through the lit staffroom window, you would see the teachers inside, gathered for tea and biscuits.
Bits of school talk and laughter would trickle through the window panes. Witches and wizards, taking sips from cups, would have a friendly small talk. One of them, a young woman, would turn to the window to let an owl in, and she would open the parchment the bird had delivered:
Happy Birthday, Love! Hope you are doing fine today. Nothing special happens over here. We are desperately waiting for spring. Greetings to Edward and James, and of course also to the Headmistress and to Neville Longbottom! Mom
The young woman smiled and folded the parchment. She turned to speak to Edward Lupin, the current Transfiguration teacher. But his attention was directed at the entrance to the staff room. The Headmistress McGonagall was standing there and behind her, half in the shadows, a gentleman past his middle age. He was dressed in an unpretentious black coat, and his stance was slightly bent as he was leaning on a cane in his right hand.
The conversation in the room suffered a sudden, sharp break, as the man was ushered into the room by the Headmistress. Reluctantly, he entered. He was walking on a cane's aide. Conversations resumed, less loud now and apparently proceeding only out of diplomatic politeness,
"...awfully sorry, but I think it's a good opportunity to introduce you to someone you don't know yet," McGonagall could be heard telling the man as they crossed the room.
"Really, Minerva," the man said in a soft voice and an annoyance that was of no avail against McGonagall's rough joviality, "I am in hurry, and I–"
"There!" McGonagall interrupted him, "this is Miss Weasley, our new Charms teacher. Her birthday is the reason why everyone is crammed in here. Miss Weasley, Severus Snape came around for a visit. He was the Head of Slytherin when your mother was a student."
For a man, Severus Snape was small. His hair was long and grey with black streaks in it, his face was pale and gaunt, and his dark eyes were surrounded by deep lines. He looked old, even next to the ancient Headmistress, but his gaze was sharp. "Hello," he said, "Happy Birthday."
"Thank you, Professor. Pleased to meet you."
They exchanged short, meaningless smiles. She wondered if the introduction meant that she was going to have some school business with him in the future.
"No need to call me Professor," he said.
"You do make a point of being retired," remarked McGonagall. "Severus, I was very pleased when I received Miss Weasley's application, seeing that her mother was such an excellent student. You remember Hermione Granger, don't you?"
For a moment, he appeared startled. Rose felt she should say something. "My mother went to Germany after graduation. She's working with the embassy."
"Ah, yes, Granger…," he said slowly. Rather abruptly he averted his gaze and turned to McGonagall, "it is late, Minerva. I have to go."
"Well, Professor Lupin can see you to the gates, then."
He cast a hard stare at Rose. "Fräulein Weasley –" Then he nodded towards the Headmistress, and soon afterwards he had disappeared into the corridor, with Edward Lupin in his wake.
"Why must he always behave like a disgruntled raven? I thought he would like being reminded of a good student, for a change." McGonagall sighed. "But then again that goes along with less pleasant memories too, I suppose."
"Does he come here often?" asked Rose. "I never saw him before."
"Oh, no – Severus only comes here for business, he is living somewhere out on the Orkneys they say, but where exactly is not known to us."
"That man is well shielded!" James Potter tossed in. He had accepted the Potions teacher post just a year ago and had persuaded his cousin Rose to also apply for a year or two. "He is in Potions supply, and doing a lot of research as well."
"He visits Hogwarts only if he is in need of the very rare items," continued the Headmistress, "and usually we give in to his hard deals so that he won't go and utter threats to Professor Longbottom. After all, Neville is the best–equipped source of herbs."
"Snape, the old penny–pincher," James Potter said. "He knows how to pull us over the barrel."
From that day on, the knocking sound of Snape's cane was heard more often in the castle. He began to pay visits to McGonagall for no special reason. Sometimes, he would make inquiries about that charming Fräulein.
Occasionally, Rose would lead him up to the office of the Headmistress, as – in his words – the damn stairs were confusing him on purpose. On one of these occasions Rose and Snape were summoned to the staffroom. Edward Lupin was awaiting their arrival at its entrance.
"What is the matter, Lupin?" Snape asked.
"Mister Potter appears to have a problem. He is in the staffroom, and I had to promise to let no one else in but you, Sir."
"Why would James hide in there?" asked Rose. She whipped out her wand, too fast for Lupin to prevent it. "Evanesco – "
The staffroom door vanished. Lupin, Rose and Snape peered into the staff room, where James Potter was sitting at the table. The Potions teacher's hair stood stiff and stilted in all directions, a magnificent strawberry blonde halo around a face that expressed pure accusation. "Mister Snape, Sir!" he exclaimed.
"I think this is not what he expected when you promised him a remedy for unruly hair," Lupin said.
"Yes, indeed," observed Snape, "I don't see any difference, either."
"It's not funny," said James.
Snape pulled a small vial from his pockets. "You didn't wait for the remedy's second component," he said. "I surmise that you hoped the remedy's first component would work well enough alone. You would only have to pay half the money if it did."
"You accuse me of buying on the cheap?"
"I know you, Potter."
James grabbed the vial. "Thank you, sir!" he huffed and then rushed out – sideways, for otherwise the glorious coiffure would not fit through the door.
Rose snorted as she tried very hard not to laugh. Snape helped himself to a cup of coffee, his amusement condensed in the tiny raising of an eyebrow. With a guarded grin Edward Lupin took up the Daily Prophet from the table and started to flip through it.
"Did you see, Edward?" Rose said, pointing at one of the headlines on the paper's front page, "there will be a solar eclipse tomorrow."
The other teacher nodded. "Marvellous, a total eclipse so far in the North, isn't it? And in the polar summer, too!" he replied wistfully. "Here it will be only partial, though. Ah, I'd like to watch a total eclipse again – someday."
"You could go there, you know — apparate."
"Impossible, I'm afraid. With a wife, two pre–schoolers and a baby expecting me to be dear daddy – if I went away just a minute for a lark, Gale would kill me – or, even worse, call for a divorce!" He laid the newspaper back down on the table. "Well, I got to be going. Have a nice day!"
Edward broke Rose's spell as he exited, and the door closed behind him.
"You want to go?" Snape asked.
"Go to see that arctic eclipse."
The tearing and squeezing trepidation of apparition came to an end on a narrow shore below a steep cliff. A zillion birds shrieked. The air was blazing and the sea was icy green; shells and gravel crackled and rustled under its breakers' frothy hem.
And there was something else. Rose spun around. In front of her towered a bear, a mountain of blotched, white fur and heavy muscles twitching underneath. Its eyes were like black pinheads. It showed its terrible teeth in a predatory roar. Rose was caught in stillness, petrified, could only watch, while next to her Snape aimed his wand with amazing, sparing litheness. By erecting a flashing wall of fire, he forced the bear to jog away towards the other side of the bay. The big animal caused pandemonium on the cliff as it ran. Booming clouds of flying birds drowned the sound of wind and waves. Rose took deep breaths in relief.
"Yes," Snape said calmly, as though nothing had happened, "the sea has the best air."
"This was as quick as it was effective, thank you!" she said, watching the animal for a few more moments. Then she turned to Snape. She suspected that the scene had never raised his pulse. "You are without your cane!" she said.
"I am?" Astounded, Snape stared at his hand and the empty air beneath. "Oh, yes – well, it won't matter. I mainly use it for effect."
They were early, for Snape had insisted in "capturing the scene". So they strolled along the waterline and picked up pebbles and shells until Rose remarked that something seemed to be different with the sand. Snape said this was due to anisotropy in the shadows of objects and that it indicated the eclipse was about to become noticeable. He pulled out two pairs of goggles. "Use them if you want to watch the sun."
"Are they safe?"
"I should hope so. George Weasley made them – even though the Weasley lot never grows up, one may still trust their products."
Rose found the comment to be outlandish and was not sure if it was intended to be derogatory. But it also didn't sound like he wanted to tease her. She realized that she knew very little about this man. Only now did she remember that her cousin Albus had the name Severus as his second. Why would the Potter family choose to give that name to one of their sons, seeing what an aloof, even deprecating man Snape was? She thought she should go and ask Edward about it. He was the eldest of her closer acquaintances at Hogwarts, maybe he knew more about that.
The colours faded as the temperature dropped notably, causing a mysterious mist over the sea, which now looked like liquid lead. The birds' cries were dying down, and all remaining sound intensified. Rose gazed at the orange horizon and at the deep blue zenith, knowing that the grand shadow of the eclipse was rushing towards the shore like a dark veil. Awe grasped her. She looked through the goggles.
The sun was darkening quickly, and at last, its light shone only like a bright diamond in a delicate ring. The shadow embraced Rose and Snape. They waited in silence for the gloom to pass over and away.
"A solar eclipse is like life itself," noted Snape, when the eclipse was over. "Actually, it's good if a life has an eclipse in it – it makes the rest of it brighter." He paused. "Funny, I never thought of it that way before."
Rose felt a refreshing, juvenile gratefulness for the sun that was shining again on her face. "I would not want my eclipse to last too long," she said.
Snape pulled his wand in order to apparate. "That's mainly a matter of fortune. Therefore, it's not upon us to decide."
He apparated away without farewell. Rose was left behind alone on the shore.
In the night after the eclipse, Snape was dreaming.
Dumbledore was ascending the stairs which always started to move just as Snape tried to follow the Headmaster into the corridors. It was like wading through deep water. He was tired, and the fighting silhouettes on the stairs distracted him. Umbridge was there, too, circling him as she jumped like a dwarfish devil and hissed, "Mudbloods, Halfbreeds, Blood Traitors!" He looked down and saw that he was holding a little girl's hand. She had something to do with Hermione Granger, but he could not recall what it was. Lucius and Bella were dancing near a gaping cleft where a staircase had vanished, and he told them to watch their steps, but they would not listen; instead, they whirled around and around, their feet sometimes diving into the empty air.
Then a strange dusk crept in, and suddenly the girl was missing. He looked around and tried to call for her, but no sound emerged from his mouth, and anyway he realised that he had forgotten her name. He searched in his pockets, not knowing what he was looking for, pulled out vials that were labelled with incomprehensible terms. Dumbledore, very far away, motioned and disappeared in a broom closet, leaving him behind as he struggled to move.
Suddenly Trelawney was there, staring at him with her wide eyes. She was very close as she held up a huge Chocolate–frog card with the Hanged Man on it. She laughed as though she would never stop, pushed him backwards and he fell, fell down into the gaping emptiness...
Snape jolted up. He had fallen out of bed, the blanket wrapped around him. He felt for a bruise at the back of his head. Awkwardly, he struggled out of the blanket, crawled up, and shuffled into the bathroom. Coming back again, he fumbled in drawers for fresh clothes. When he was back in bed again he knew he should go to Hogwarts. Lying still in his bed, he waited for the morning to break, and then travelled to the castle's gates.
McGonagall was rather surprised when Snape showed up in her office and voiced his request. "Yes, of course, you can use the Pensieve, Severus. But, why now?"
"Some experiences have been bothering me for too long already."
"As you wish…" She fetched the Pensieve and directed it carefully to a table at the far end of the room. "And what is this calling me Headmistress?" she asked, turning back to Snape, "Didn't we have an agreement on that already? I have a real name, Severus."
Snape was looking at the Pensieve. "I forgot."
"My Charms Teacher must have a bad influence on you. The Fräulein is too young for you, my dear."
"I appreciate that you didn't put it the other way round."
Snape left shortly after using the Pensieve, bewildered at the fact that he was forgetting more names. What was McGonagall's first name again?
He shook his head as he noticed that he had taken the path to Dumbledore's tomb. Why would he want to go there? He did not know but continued regardless.
Rose had slept well. She woke up early enough to have time for reminiscence of the day before. Being certain that Edward had not seen the total eclipse, she thought she might rave to him about it at breakfast.
When she arrived in the Great Hall, Edward and James were already standing at the High Table, speaking softly. Edward appeared a little tense, and James had an expression of helplessness in his eyes.
Rose greeted the two men. "You two look worried," she observed. "Is something wrong?"
"James just told me that last night they found Snape on the grounds, near the tomb," Edward told. "He was lucky that the gamekeeper's dog apparently went ballistic about him, or else he might have frozen to death."
Rose was shocked. "Where is he now?" she asked.
"They brought him to the infirmary. He seems to be quite foggy."
Rose turned on her feet and ran. She stumbled out of the Hall and up the stairs, not knowing why she had to run. But she ran none the less, pushed the doors of the infirmary open, only to encounter an unexpected face.
"Harry!" she exclaimed.
Behind her parents' old friend Harry Potter stood McGonagall. She was talking quietly to an apocalyptically disfigured man, who hosted an independent, blazing blue existence in one of his eye sockets. That man was, as Harry explained and introduced, Alastor Moody.
Snape was lying in a bed, thin and grey, eyes restlessly darting across the room, not paying attention to the visitors. The nurse came in, with the apprentice in her wake, a crisp Irish girl whose flaming torrent of hair constantly befuddled the male students.
"At first, I thought he's had a stroke, but that is not it," said the nurse. And as though to demonstrate, the old man suddenly sat upright in his bed and pointed a quivering hand at the apprentice in happy disbelief. "L...Lily!?"
"I never wished to see this," said the Headmistress.
Rose noticed that Harry first blushed crimson with inexplicable rage and then paled.
Moody wheezed as he pulled the wand out of Snape's cloak and pocketed it. He moved with the same litheness that Rose had seen on Snape when they had encountered the bear on the shore. Rose thought that perhaps only the people with extraordinary reflexes had survived that strange war which had ended before she was born. To her, that war was like a scary thing behind dusty glass, a thing that no one had ever bothered to explain to her in detail, maybe because she had never cared to know.
When she asked Moody about why he had taken Snape's wand, he replied that Snape's current state of mind indicated that he posed a threat to himself and everyone around if he stayed in possession of his wand; that he, Moody, had known something was fishy ever since George Weasley had remarked on orderings to Snape having gone lost somewhere on their way to the islands; although he head not expected Snape being so far gone already.
"And who is this Lily that he mentioned? Does he mistake the apprentice for my little cousin?" asked Rose.
"Mum," croaked Uncle Harry. "He thinks she's my Mum."
Soon after they were sent away by the nurse. Only James would stay behind in the infirmary to confer with her.
Rose was seeing Harry off. But it was a silent and fairly tense walk to the gates as Moody was with them, and neither of the men would talk in her presence: She could see them speaking briefly when they were out of earshot, shortly before they apparated.
Restless for the whole day until evening, Rose eventually strolled across the grounds in the dark, by the Whomping Willow, down the path that led to the old derelict gamekeeper's hut, and further to the overgrown tomb, until she stopped by the lake and glared at the icy water's hard glistening until she heard footsteps.
It was Edward approaching her. He conjured up a bench big enough for both of them. "Don't you like to sit down?" he asked.
Rose sighed, and with a warming spell, she made a spacious bubble filled with warm air to engulf them. Then they sat down.
Edward cast a sideways glance at her. "You look sad," he observed.
Rose just shrugged, herself unsure what she was feeling, and why. She knew herself well enough, though, to determine that her curiosity had leaped at Snape and was now frustrated, in a way.
She heard a soft, grumbling sound next to her. As she looked at where Edward was sitting, she saw only a big, fluffy bear with pink fur that was glowing in the dark. She smiled weakly in recognition. "Last time you did that, I was about twelve."
The grumbling sound occurred once more, and then it was Edward again sitting next to her, only his hair was still pink. Satisfied to see that Rose was smiling a little, Edward was leaning back on the bench and stretching his long legs. He looked quietly at the lake, with his arms crossed.
"How much do you know about Snape?" Rose asked after a while.
"You care much about that old guy," Edward said. "Why?"
Rose shrugged again. "I don't know. He is just interesting."
"Well," Edward said, "I don't know much. What I do know is that he had been presumed dead at the end of the war, killed in the Shrieking Shack by Voldemort."
"I have never heard of a Shrieking Shack", Rose said.
"No? It's that ruin on the way to Hogsmeade. What do you call it, if not Shrieking Shack?"
"We call it a ruin," Rose replied bemused.
"Anyway, after a while Snape would show up again, accompanied by Alastor Moody. So, both of them had miraculously returned from the dead, so to speak." He snorted. "Apparently, Moody went berserk when he found out that Harry had found and buried his magical eye somewhere. It is purported that Harry spent weeks finding it again."
"And did Snape and Moody say where they had been?" Rose asked.
"I feel I am a little bit out of my depth on that topic. If you want to know more you rather ask your parents or Harry."
With this, Edward bid her a good night and retired to his chambers.
Snape's condition did not improve. Rose watched as they brought him away to the Closed Ward of St. Mungo's. Once she joined Neville Longbottom on his visits to his parents, in order to see Snape. She brought a bunch of yellow and orange ranunculus to cheer up the area. Snape was sitting by a window, stiff and upright like a statue carved from wood. He was wearing his cloak over the hospital clothes.
"He always does this on his clearer days," one of the nurses remarked.
Rose sat down next to him. He had been preoccupied with watching a fly as it crawled along the window sill, but now he looked at her. "Ah, the Charming Fräulein!"
For a while, they entertained some expert talk about Charms and Potions. They watched the nurse as she carried the bright ranunculus down the corridor when he suddenly said, "You grew up in Germany?"
Rose nodded at this. "I did."
"So, you will perhaps know a Muggle composer named Bach."
Rose confirmed, and he went on, saying "One of those fugues he composed was left unfinished. Their composition has a lot to do with logic, and the one unfinished apparently did not resolve as he intended it. However, with patience and knowledge and a bit of luck–" his hand shot up and he caught the fly in his fist – "I believe one could still finish it!"
As they listened to the imprisoned fly, they looked at each other and smirked. "Open the window, please," he said.
He bent forward in his chair, and Rose watched the fly escape from his fist and buzz away into the sky. When she was seated again, he took her right hand into both of his. "A fine girl we've got here," he said, quietly. "You may tell this to your mother."
Hermione was amused when Rose communicated his greetings to her a week later when her mother was staying in London for a few days. "The last time I visited him all he was interested in was The Fräulein. He seemed to think that you are his daughter."
Rose grew stiff in her seat, not knowing how to tell what she felt without hurting her mother. At last, she decided that there was no polite way of saying it. "Excuse me, mom, but – that's gross."
"Yes, it's a rather disturbing thought, isn't it?"
Rose laughed, indecisive between embarrassment and relief. It was never pleasant to be confronted with parental sex life. She found it impossible to see her with the old man. Well, both of them had been younger then, but still...she didn't know whether it would have helped if she knew what Snape had looked like decades back.
"The two of you never had something going on?" she wanted to be assured.
"Of course not. It was his insanity talking."
"But, what made him even think that?"
"I don't know. All I can say is what I liked about him, which was that he was a highly logical man. Maybe he recognized the same in me at the time and remembered that when I visited him. Who can know what was really going on in his agonized mind?"
"And you let him believe it?"
"Does it hurt you that I did? He was happy with it."
Hermione leant back in her chair and looked out of the window, into the past. "Severus Snape would hold a grudge forever. He would also be loyal forever. He was just incapable of forgetting. That must be paralyzing, over time. He must have been holding a lot of horrible things in himself; many more bad things than good things, at any rate. I think this inability to let go has diminished him so much, in the end. After some time, he may have started to twist his memories in a way so that they became bearable. And so I decided to let him be happy with this weird idea about you, wherever he got it from."
Rose recognized that this was a moment of translucency, a moment in which her mother could tell her more about the war. "Mum? Did you ever kill anyone in the war?"
Hermione stirred her tea. "Snape did."
"Was he sentenced?"
"He nearly was! He had killed Headmaster Dumbledore! But there was an extenuating cause –" Hermione paused, and then she uttered a short laugh. "It wasn't easy with him, even if someone was to defend him. He told me once that I was wasting my time with building artificial constructs about faked or inefficient killing curses. He insisted that it was absurdly easy to kill a person, that it only needed the willingness to push a button or a trigger if you were a Muggle or, if you were a fully–fledged witch or wizard, to say two words. It was typical for him that he let this absurdity trouble him, rather than the fact that Dumbledore was no more. He said that he had, plain as it was, killed Dumbledore because of inevitable necessity, and that this was all to say about the deed itself. He was very angry with me..."
Hermione didn't like to recall the war. It made her ache. She decided that it was best to move on with the task ahead of them. "Now, Rose," she said, "what shall we do with his ashes?"
For Snape was dead. Rose recalled her last visit to St. Mungo's the day before. Snape's room had been all tidied up. No trace of him had been left in the room except for his cloak on the freshly made bed.
The nurse had told her about a banned formula for a suicide potion in his drawer, and that he had somehow managed to gather all the necessary ingredients unnoticed. Rose couldn't help feeling guilty that it had been her ranunculus that he had needed to complete it.
"I know a place for the funeral," she said to Hermione.
The shore was as Rose remembered it, and she was grateful that there was no bear to see this time. There was not much wind, and the sky was dull. James waded into the surf as far as he could. He held up the bundle comprising Snape's cloak, a wooden urn containing his ashes and a Lily that had been donated by Edward, and then he threw it out into the waves. Rose kept a constant watch on its position as though the bundle were a man gone overboard.
James was shaking with cold as he returned. Edward dried his clothes and put a blanket on his shoulders. Soon the bundle was visible as only a small black spot in the water. It was dancing up and down as it was pulled by the ebbing tide, away towards the horizon. When it had vanished from sight, they returned to Hogwarts.
And Hogwarts has taken up the memory of Snape into its huge, living body of history and has assigned it its proper place. It stands tall and serene.