On Snape's Terms
Harry daydreamed his way through Charms, losing Gryffindor a
number of points, but being unable to think of anything except his mother, his
aunt, and Snape. He wasn’t sure which revelation shocked him more.
Neither seemed to make any sense, yet Harry believed Dumbledore when he said he knew them to be fact. So, the question was, what did he do about it?
By the time the lesson finished, Harry was resolved. He was going to find some answers, and to do that, he was going to have to talk to Snape directly.
“Harry, are you all right?” Hermione asked as they left the Charms classroom. “You’ve been very distracted. What did Dumbledore want?”
“I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out,” Harry promised, making her and Ron frown in confusion, and started towards the dungeons. “I’ll see you in the common room.”
Harry paused outside Snape’s office. What was he doing? Willingly coming to demand information of the Potions Master? Snape would eat him alive. He almost turned to go back to Gryffindor Tower, but the thought of his mother stopped him. People had told him so much about James; he knew next to nothing about Lily. He needed to do this.
Before he could change his mind again, Harry knocked on the door.
Snape was at his desk, looking as mean as ever, marking essays vigorously in red ink. Harry hovered in the doorway, wondering whether to start talking, or wait. He compromised by clearing his throat as politely as he could muster.
After scrawling a red T on the top of one roll of parchment, Snape looked up. “Potter.” Maybe it was Harry’s imagination, but his tone seemed less antagonistic than usual. “I suppose I should have seen this coming.” Snape put down his quill. “I take it you have spoken to the Headmaster.”
Harry nodded. Snape seemed to be waiting for him to say more, so he said, “Erm, he said you … were friends with—with my mum.”
Snape’s face was as impassive as ever, but for the tiniest moment, Harry was sure he saw something stir in those emotionless black eyes. “And you’re wondering what she was thinking, befriending a great slimy bat like myself?”
Harry froze, completely taken aback. Snape raised an eyebrow, and Harry saw a hint of a smile curl his mouth.
Snape had a sense of humour? Somehow this revelation was the most unbelievable of the lot.
“Er … not quite, sir. I was just hoping you might tell me something about her.”
There was a pause. “Close the door,” Snape instructed. When Harry had done so, he cast a silencing charm. Harry stared. Surely this was going a bit far? Why, was Snape afraid his reputation as the evilest git in Hogwarts would be ruined if he was seen talking with Harry?
“I apologise for the security measures,” Snape said once they were alone, causing Harry to raise his eyebrows in surprise. “But there are reasons why I would prefer my … association with your mother not be made common knowledge.”
“So it isn’t already, then?”
“No.” Snape sat back down, and motioned for Harry to sit down as well. Harry took the seat in front of the desk, very nervously. “A few people know that we were friends in our first couple of years at Hogwarts—the Headmaster, and a couple of James Potter’s friends.” For some reason, Harry couldn’t detect a hint of animosity at James’ name. Strange.
“Did you fall out or something?” Harry asked tentatively. Snape hesitated, and then slowly shook his head.
“That’s probably what it looked like to many. But the truth was, we just kept our friendship quiet—wouldn’t let ourselves be seen together.”
“Harry.” Harry started at the use of first name. “Do you know what a Death Eater is?”
“Er … no.”
“It’s the name given to a follower of the Dark Lord.” Harry gulped. “When I was at school, it was during the height of the war. Many Death Eaters had children in Slytherin House, and many of the older Slytherins were in line to take the Dark Mark.”
“His symbol—it is branded onto the arm during initiation.” Snape paused. “To be in Slytherin House at that time was a dangerous thing if one was not fully tilted in favour of joining the Dark Lord. I learned quickly to keep my head down and try and appear neutral. Unfortunately, to be seen to be friends with a Muggleborn …” he trailed off.
“Oh, I see.”
“It was Lily’s idea. She was concerned that my peers were giving me a hard time for spending time with her, so we found ways of hiding our friendship.” Snape paused. “To this day, I am careful. Slytherin House would certainly not tolerate what they would call a blood traitor, as a Head of House. And if he were ever to return, well …”
“Point taken,” Harry muttered. “Can I ask something?”
“You’re being nice to me all of a sudden. All that picking on me in class … exactly how much of that is for show, for the Slytherins?”
Snape’s eyebrows raised, and Harry had a feeling he’d impressed him. After a pause, Snape said, “All of it.”
Harry’s mouth fell open. “Seriously? Are you saying you don’t hate me?”
“Yes, I am. Although that fact is strictly off the record and you cannot expect my behaviour to change in public,” Snape said firmly.
“Professor Dumbledore thinks you hate me, cause you hated my dad.”
Snape’s mouth twitched. “I’m a very good actor.”
“Yeah, you’ve had me fooled,” Harry muttered. He paused. “So … if your evil-git image is practically life or death necessary … why are you telling me all this?”
“Because you asked,” Snape said. “You have a right to know about your mother.”
“So … were you two very close?”
Snape hesitated. “Yes. Lily was the best friend I ever had.” It was obvious he was not going to elaborate further on that one. “She was … very kind; compassionate. She loved a little too easily, I think. She had a way of looking at you and knowing exactly what you were feeling, or wanted to say, when you didn’t know yourself.” Harry smiled.
“She was gentle, and generous, though she did have a bit of a temper and could be very stubborn. Rather like you, in fact.” Harry laughed. “She was very defensive of others—if she saw someone being bullied, she would charge straight in and try and sort it out. It didn’t always work, unfortunately. She had a bit of a wicked sense of humour … not cruel, mind you, not a bit; she knew where to draw the line—unlike some people I could mention,” Snape muttered as an afterthought.
Before Harry could enquire on that one, Snape continued, “She was gifted at Charms and Potions—yes, Potions,” he said, with a slightly teasing look in his eye. “Obviously those genes skipped a generation, goodness knows how. She was a good flier, though she preferred just flying to playing Quidditch—not too fond of balls, I think. Something to do with having been hit in the face with a Bludger in her first year. She was notoriously bad at Transfiguration, though somehow ended up one of Minerva McGonagall’s favourites anyway.”
“Professor McGonagall has favourites?” Harry raised his eyebrows. To him, that made about as much sense as Dumbledore wearing black or Hagrid winning Masterchef.
“Every teacher has favourites, Harry. Minerva is no exception; she is just unusually gifted in hiding it. And if you repeat a word of this conversation to her, you will be in detention until the end of the year.”
“I won’t say a word.”
A thought occurred to Harry. “Professor …”
“Er, that, um, thing you said earlier, when I came in—how can you make a joke like that, and still hate Professor Lupin for the Boggart?”
Snape’s lip curled, and he started to look more like his usual self. “It is different,” he said. “Contrary to popular belief, I do have a sense of humour. Sometimes it is all that keeps me sane in this school. I don’t mind jokes against myself, but on my own terms, not Lupin’s.”
Harry could understand that, but chose to change the subject back. “So … what else can you tell me about Mum?”
Snape paused. “Wait here a moment.”
Harry sat at the desk, his thoughts whirling, while Snape disappeared through a door Harry suspected led to his private quarters. After a few minutes, Snape was back, with a photograph album.
“I thought you might like to see these,” he said. “You can borrow them, if you want—just for Merlin’s sake, don’t let anybody—”
“See them,” Harry finished. “No, I won’t.”
His hands trembled as he took the album from Snape. It was old, and the pages looked worn at the edges, as if they had been thumbed through repeatedly for many years. A lump arose in Harry’s throat and he couldn’t quite work out why.
“Th-thank you, sir. Not just for this—for everything.”
Snape nodded slowly. For a moment it looked as if he wanted to say something else, but instead he removed the silencing charm and opened the door with his wand. Harry took that as his cue to leave.