Picture Perfect

by Phantom

7/23/2007

He was surrounded by blackness.  Velvet blackness… with a start, he realized he could reach out and *feel* it.  He cried out, but his exclamation was muffled.

            The darkness lifted, and he saw a figure in front of him.  Minerva.  He realized that his vision was slightly skewed.  With a thoughtful frown, the woman made an adjustment, and his world was righted.  She stepped back and gave another frown.

            Severus focused to his right.  There was a large desk with a cushioned chair.  In the background, various gadgets whizzed, whirled and spun quietly.  With a start, he realized that he was in the Headmistress’s office.

            He looked down and saw gilded metal.  A frame.  He was in a frame.

            A voice sounded from his right.  “Is it ready, Minerva?”

            The Headmistress sounded irritated.  “Yes, Albus.”

            “Splendid!”  Albus craned his neck.  “Why, Severus, you look simply dashing.  Your portrait is an excellent likeness.”

            Severus became very still.  “Minerva, what is my portrait doing on this wall?”

            She snorted.  “I should think that was obvious.  You were, after all, a headmaster of this school.”

            “But I never wanted to be!  Are you perhaps forgetting that I oversaw Death Eaters as teachers?  I allowed them into the school and approved their lesson plans!”

            “Poppycock!”  Her Scottish brogue was stronger, indicating her displeasure.  The woman would not heed his words.  “You prevented the Death Eaters from doing even more damage.  You gave fairly light punishments to the students who disobeyed their regime, and you did your utmost to help Harry Potter right under V—Voldemort’s nose.”  Snape and McGonagall both winced at the name, but Dumbledore beamed.  Now that the Dark Lord was dead, people were determined to overcome their fear by calling the evil being by its name.

            Severus shrank back in his frame.  “Take it down.”

            The maddening woman folded her arms.  “No.  It is a right that you have earned, so here you stay.”

            “Then put the cover back on.”

            She sighed in frustration.  “Very well, you infuriating man.”  Darkness descended once more.

            Time passed.  He wasn’t certain how much… perhaps a few hours, likely not much more than a day.  He noticed that the corner of the velvet drape was slipping.  Through the gap, he saw Minerva bustling around the office, adjusting things to her liking.  Her hip bumped a stone bowl.  She paused and looked at it thoughtfully.  It was filled with a silvery-grey substance.  Hesitating for only a second, she bent over and stuck her nose in.

            She sat motionless for an interminable time.  Just as Severus began to get impatient, she surfaced.  She gasped a few times, and to his absolute horror, clapped her hand to her mouth and began to sob loudly.  Her hand fumbled in her robes for a handkerchief, which did precious little to stem the tide of her tears.  The portraits on the wall moved restlessly in concern.

            When she had finally mastered herself, she noticed the slipping velvet drape and pulled it off entirely.  “Oh, Severus,” she hiccupped.  “I had no idea!  All this time….  If only we’d shown more faith in you!”

            Snape looked incredibly awkward.  “Minerva, don’t.”

            “But… but… in the end it was just you and the portraits!  I attacked you when you were doing your best to help!  If only I had known, things could have gone differently!”

            He scowled deeply, doing his best to ignore her tear-streaked face.  He was not used to people crying over him.  “If we had wanted you to know, we would have told you.  It’s not that we didn’t trust you, but secrecy was paramount.  One whisper in the wrong ear, and all my sacrifices would have been for nothing.”

            “We have proof of your loyalty.  I’ll see that the world knows the truth!”

            “Don’t you dare go parading that Pensieve around!  My private memories are not meant to entertain the masses!”

            “Of – of course not.”  With trembling hands, she grabbed a container and began scooping up the strands of memories with her wand.  Once the basin was empty, she hid the container in the back of a large cabinet.

            “Severus,” she said tremulously, fingering the gilded edge of his frame, “can you ever forgive me?”

            “There is nothing to forgive.”  The frame was now empty.  Severus had left.

            The next day, he returned and peeped cautiously around the edge of his frame.  The Headmistress was out of the office.  On her desk, carefully laid out and plain as day, was the day’s issue of the Daily Prophet.  The title proclaimed “Severus Snape Vindicated!  Dumbledore’s Man Through and Through.”  In smaller font, he could just make out “Harry Potter speaks of his former Potions master, calling him ‘the bravest man I’ve ever had the honor to know.’”  He harrumphed.  He never put much stock in that ridiculous rag – it was only the mouthpiece for the Ministry’s rhetoric du jour.  The name Lovegood was on the byline.  At least this tripe wasn’t written by that horrendous Skeeter woman.  He would never admit it, but it felt good to see the truth in print.  The Potter boy was a dreadful liar, but as usual, no one would realize it but him.

            He was drifting in a pleasant doze… apparently portraits didn’t do much more than this, and it was a very pleasant change of pace from teaching ungrateful brats and keeping his mind forcefully occluded against his “master”.  Perhaps he was dreaming, for he was almost certain that he felt movement.  He grumbled and slumped lower in his chair, trying to recapture the lazy relaxation.  The motion had finally stopped.  There were lots of murmurings around him, nothing he could make out, so he didn’t bother cracking an eye.  Just as he slipped back into slumber, a loud voice jerked him rudely into awakening.  “Ladies and gentlebeings, thank you for coming.  We are gathered here today to honor the memory of Severus Snape.”  Now that made him sit up and take notice!  He opened his eyes.  Looking down, he saw a very large stomach.  Good lord, Slughorn had taken it into his batty head to shrink his portrait and stick it in his pocket.  The current head of Slytherin house had been thoughtful enough to make the view out of the pocket transparent, so Snape could see as well as hear.  His funeral was being held outdoors, in the same location that Dumbledore’s had been.  Some Ministry official that he barely recognized was blathering on, welcoming the attendees, nothing of real value or interest.

            Behind the official, his body was laid out with full honors reserved solely for Hogwarts headmasters.  Beneath his prone form lay a swath of green and silver fabric.  He wore his usual black trousers and boots, white shirt, black greatcoat, and black teaching robes.  Atop this lay a braided gold mantle – the symbol of an accomplished Potions master.  A green Slytherin scarf was wound around his neck, cleverly disguising his mortal wound.  His wand was carefully placed in his hand, and his prized silver cauldron lay at his feet.      

He sat up and took notice when Minerva stepped up to the podium.  “It’s good to see you all here.  Severus would be touched that so many have turned out to honor his passing.”  Slughorn turned around to face the crowd, and Snape’s jaw dropped.  Minerva wasn’t kidding.  There weren’t nearly enough chairs, so people were sitting on the ground or had conjured their own seating.  Fully two-thirds of the attendees were wearing Slytherin ties in tribute.  Good lord, many of them were his former students!

            He felt a pang.  From the whisperings that had gone on in the Headmistress’s office, he gathered that Slytherin house had not had a strong showing in the battle for Hogwarts.  He was grateful that many of his students had not fought for the Death Eaters, since he had tried to very subtly turn them away from serving the Dark Lord, but he had hoped that some of them would stand up with Slughorn.  Perhaps if things had worked out differently… if he had been able to pass on Albus’ message to Potter an earlier time, he could have then revealed his true allegiance and fought next to his fellow professors, encouraging his Slytherins to rise up against their would-be master… but that was not how things had turned out, and he would not waste time with regrets.

            Harry Potter and the Weasley girl were there, holding hands and looking nauseatingly in love.  Granger and the Weasley boy wore equally soppy expressions.  In the back, he could just glimpse several blond heads.  Draco, Lucius and Narcissa seemed to draw themselves into their cloaks and hide.  They looked rather the worse for wear and had no doubt significantly come down in the world, but they were survivors.  Having had no children of his own (the very thought made him nauseous), he was pleased that his godson had survived.

            Minerva began her eulogy, and Severus was intrigued despite himself.  “Severus Snape was a remarkable man.  He embodied qualities of each house: Slytherin cunning, Ravenclaw intelligence, Gryffindor bravery, and Hufflepuff perseverance.  His one great passion was learning.  As a student, Severus was rarely seen without a book.  Madame Dewey frequently had fits when Severus would read library books while eating in the Great Hall.  He had an amazing talent for inventing spells and potions and distinguished himself with awards normally granted to those at the post-graduate level.

            “Unfortunately, Severus got an unpleasant start in life.  He faced abuse and neglect during his formative years at home and escalating bullying at school.  It’s little wonder that Severus sought appreciation for his skills and knowledge.  Unfortunately, he was lead astray by the illusion of power offered by Vol… Vol… Voldemort.”  The crowd winced as one.  “I tell you this, not to bring shame or discomfort to the deceased, but so that you can all understand how he came to choose the wrong path in the first place.

            “Now, those of you who were his students will no doubt be surprised that he was once very friendly with a Gryffindor.  This special friendship began even before the two of them reached Hogwarts, and though it could not deter Severus from his path, it was ultimately what lead him to return to Dumbledore and offer his services as a spy.  Slytherin and Gryffindor House often find themselves at odds, but in this case, the bond between Severus Snape and Lily Evans-Potter transcended house conflict.  Never forget the power of inter-house cooperation and friendship.

            “I will be the first to admit that Severus was not easy to get along with.  I imagine he would be most angry with me if I made him out to be a saint.  He had a sarcastic and biting wit and was often quick to criticize.  His treatment of students outside his house often seemed unfair.  Perhaps teaching was not his first calling, but I do believe he did the best he could, under the circumstances.  Although his methods were not pleasant, I believe they served to strengthen the students for the hard times ahead.

            “Slytherin House has frequently stood apart with its own unique problems.  Although I did not always approve of Severus’ discipline methods and deduction of points from other houses, he always took good care of his charges.  He had an instinct for trouble and was able to resolve difficulties within his House that the rest of us could only guess at.  He was an excellent Head of House, and Slytherin keenly feels his loss.”  Slughorn bowed his head and wept into his handkerchief.  Severus felt a mixture of disgust and bewilderment.  Most of these people hated him.  Had they come to gawk and rejoice at his death, or were they genuinely mourning?

            “We are all grieved at the massive loss of life sustained during the Battle of Hogwarts.  But if it had not been for Severus, we may have not won either war against V—Voldemort.  I can only imagine what kind of mental fortitude it took for Severus to kneel at the feet of that filth and vow loyalty, to let that monster rummage through his thoughts and show him only lies.  Severus deserved nothing but our respect and admiration, but he was determined to keep the proof of his loyalty secret, and thus was greeted only with suspicion and hatred.”  Her voice turned husky, and she dabbed at her eyes.  “He was asked to do terrible things in the name of the Order, and he did them because he knew they needed to be done.  Albus Dumbledore was a clever man and he knew he had found one in a million in Severus.  No one else would be capable of such mental restraint, of balancing truth with lies, of setting aside personal feelings to accomplish what was asked of him.

            “There are many who feel that Severus does not deserve the honor we bestow upon him today.  If there are any such here, please leave now.”  A hush fell across the crowd.  Fabric rustled and chairs creaked, and a few curious gatecrashers wandered away, but the majority of the crowd remained.  “The murder of Albus Dumbledore was truly shocking, and it seemed that Severus was never loyal to us.  In reality, Severus was carrying out a dying friend’s final wish.  In the final months of his life, Severus was alone as he had ever been, surrounded by enemies on both sides with only the portraits in his office for support.”  Tears ran freely down her face.  Though it was difficult to see around Slughorn’s girth, those people that he could see around him were also crying.  Sentimental nonsense.  “Even in death, he gave our Harry Potter the information crucial to destroying Voldemort.  He truly was a fine, brave man, as well as a good friend, and I salute him.”

            “We all appreciate your kind words, Headmistress,” said the ministry official, taking over for McGonagall, who was weeping steadily.  “As you may already know, acting Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt has reviewed the evidence and dismissed any charges that had been filed against Severus Snape.  Additionally, the petition put forward by Harry Potter to honor the late Headmaster has been accepted.  Professor Severus Snape is hereby awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class.”

            A hush fell over the crowd; many heads turned to Harry, who grinned a bit feebly and waved.  The minister pinned the award to the prone body on the bier.  The silence was punctuated with a sudden burst of applause.

            The portrait watched in a daze as a very long line formed to pay their respects.  He suspected that some of them had just come out of curiosity, and others just wanted to gloat over his dead body… but he could not deny that many seemed genuinely grieved at his passing, even though he had shown them little outward kindness.

            Wonder of wonders, Neville Longbottom appeared and knelt respectfully, cradling the sword of Gryffindor used to execute the Horcrux snake that had slain him.  Who could have imagined?

            He was left with mixed feelings, and it was a relief when his body was levitated into its tomb, and the crowd dispersed.  Slughorn returned his portrait to its usual size and repositioned it on the wall.  Snape deliberately avoided looking at him.  The elderly head of Slytherin house blew his nose loudly as he walked away.

            Feeling restless, Severus finally decided to explore life as a portrait.  He knew that portraits could cross into one another’s frames, so he went for a little stroll.  The occupants were startled, to say the least, to see a man looking very much like a bat stalking through their portrait.

            Through habit, he found himself heading toward the staffroom.  There was some ridiculous portrait there – he didn’t even spare its occupants a glance.  As he passed through, he heard a noise.  Sobs and sniffles.  Great Merlin, hadn’t they had enough?

            Out of curiosity, he peeped out of the frame.  The remaining Hogwarts professors were gathered around the staffroom, drowning their sorrows in firewhiskey.  McGonagall downed her shot in one gulp, and Snape whistled softly in admiration.  “Poor lad,” Slughorn choked, wringing his handkerchief.  “Had so much promise.  He and young Lily.  Thought they were going to take the Potions world by storm.”

            Flitwick sat unsteadily on a large cushion, looking ready to topple at any moment.  “We all hated him as Headmaster.  We did our best to undermine him.  Even drove him out of the castle that night.  I feel so awful!”

            Minerva hiccupped.  “He told me there was nothing to forgive.  He knew how important secrecy was and that he could not reveal himself until the time was right.  He knew how we would react to him, and yet he played his part flawlessly.”

            “Still doesn’t change how things worked out.”  Sprout’s portly face was red and puffy.

            McGonagall sighed.  “Severus and I had tea together once a month.  At first it was just a necessity to keep things as calm as possible between both of our Houses.  But I soon came to look forward to it, and he was almost pleasant.  I got the feeling he was rather lonely.”

            “No one to turn to… no one to trust….” Flitwick nearly overbalanced himself with a mighty wail.

            Would the waterworks ever cease?  Snape told himself he was grumpy and disgusted by the outpouring of emotion.  Sentimental fools.  But he couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit touched.  They were only feeling guilty, but it did seem that they may have cared about him, if only just a little.

            Slughorn lifted his shotglass.  “To Severus.”

            “To Severus!” the others echoed, toasting him.

            Snape shook his head as he stepped out of the painting.  Ridiculous.  All of it.  He couldn’t help a tiny smile from curling his lips.

            The following week, the reading of his will occurred at the Ministry, along with a few personal notes to the recipients.  The joking and sarcastic barbs were just so Severus that the attendees became rather teary.  To Horace Slughorn he left his Potions research, ingredients, and books, as well as a lovely wall hanging of the Slytherin crest.  “If you can pull yourself away from schmoozing and recruiting for the Slug Club, see what you can do with this.  Please do not mention anything about my research to Jigger.  The greedy weasel will no doubt steal it for himself.”  Horace was amazed to see what Snape had been working on – preliminary research for a possible cure for lycanthropy, a potion to offset the damage of prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus curse (Snape had personal experience, since Voldemort was not very patient or forgiving), and so on.

To Minerva McGonagall he left his collection of fine brandy which she had tried to wheedle from him for years (it was the collateral in a number of Quidditch bets between them).  “The brandy may be yours, tabby, but I am certain that the Slytherin Quidditch team will trounce Gryffindor next year.”  Slughorn roared through his tears and vowed to pass that message on to his House.  They would be bound and determined to make his prophesy a reality.

To Harry Potter he left a small collection of letters and pictures of his mother, including a few silly notes that they had passed to each other in classes, and several award-winning papers she had written.  They had clearly been cherished and well-preserved.  Harry wept a bit as he received them.  Snape had included a short notation in his will – “If you have truly destroyed the Dark Lord, then I am the one who is in your debt.  But you are still an impudent boy who cannot follow the rules, so don’t get a swelled head.”

            To Remus Lupin he left his collection of Defense and Dark Arts books, as well as his house in Spinner’s End.  “Although I despise you, I can no longer bear your woebegone kicked-dog look.  At least now you have a home, pile of dung that it is.”  He later amended the will.  “As you are now happily(?) married, you likely no longer have need of my childhood home.  If it serves no purpose, please burn it to the ground.  In the event that you are dead and no longer baying at the moon, these effects may be passed on to Hermione Granger.  Miss Granger (or is it Mrs. Weasley now?), please do remember to eat.  It would not do to read so long that you faint from want of food.”  Hermione gratefully accepted the books.  She had no idea what to do with the house – though it was a very sad place to grow up in, she felt that it was not worth destroying. Teddy was an orphan, but his surviving relations and his godfather were not about to let him go penniless and homeless, so he also had no need of the house. She finally gave the house to her father-in-law, who converted it into a Muggle-Wizard liaison center.

            To Lucius Malfoy he left several prized grimoires, some Wizarding songspheres from the 70s, as well as a mysterious box.  Its contents were not named or displayed to the others.  Lucius took a quick peek inside and turned bright red.  “Just a few artifacts from our school days,” he muttered.  Snape’s note read, “Luc, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to have these back.  Blackmailing you was fun while it lasted.  By the way, I was quite pleased with that little gift from the red light district.”  Harry wished he had Mad-Eye’s magical orb to peer inside the box.  Must be something rather embarrassing and scandalous inside.

            To Draco Malfoy, he willed several confiscated items from the youth’s school days, as well as a few potions and Defense texts his godson had openly coveted.  He also passed on his mother Eileen’s cherished gobstones.  Draco realized how important they had been and handled the container carefully.  “Draco, survive – it’s what Slytherins do best.”

            There were a few other items that were doled out to tearful recipients – all unclaimed property was to be donated to the school – until at last the effects of Severus Snape had been dispersed.

            After that, things quieted down considerably for Severus.  He still got the occasional tearful and guilty glances, and he responded by scowling fiercely.  If someone got a bit too emotional or started asking probing questions about his past, he disappeared from his frame.  He settled into a comfortable routine of napping and occasionally chatting with Albus, Phineas and Minerva.  Life was about as peaceful and pleasant as he had ever known.

            He had no idea how he’d missed it – too many naps, perhaps? – but one day he opened his eyes to see Minerva shaking hands with Neville Longbottom, who was wearing brand-new teaching robes.  “Good god,” he exclaimed, leaning forward.  “Please don’t tell me they’re going to unleash you upon the students.”

            McGonagall looked at him reprovingly.  “Oh, stuff it, Severus.  Neville is very skilled at Herbology, plus he’s very patient.  He will make an excellent professor.”

            “Um, I don’t feel so good,” Neville groaned.  McGonagall handed him a trashcan just in time.  Once he was done, the headmistress cast a cleansing and freshening charm while Neville peeked at Snape’s portrait shamefacedly.

            “Oh, don’t let it bother you, son,” Albus said cheerfully.  “Severus did exactly the same thing on his first day of teaching.  Poor boy was scarcely older than the students.”  Snape took one of the infernal lemon drops Albus insisted on passing to him and lobbed it at his head.  It passed from one portrait to another and made contact directly between the eyes.  Dumbledore stuck the painted sweet in his mouth and closed his eyes in pleasure.

            “Pity you’re dead,” Snape grumbled, “or I’d kill you all over again.”  Neville looked shocked, but Albus laughed merrily, like it was the best joke he’d ever heard.

            Severus looked at the new professor seriously.  “Students are evil.  Do not turn your back or lower your guard for an instant.  And if the Slytherins give you any trouble, threaten to poison them.  It always worked for me.”

            “My lord, he’s joking.  He told a joke!  To me!”

            “Don’t tell anyone.”

            “It’ll be our secret.”

“I suppose I should thank you for killing the snake.”

            “I did that for Harry – it was his last request to me before he appeared to die.  But I was glad to avenge your death as well.  I also never got to thank you for that potion you were developing.  My parents never fully recovered, but at least they were able to recognize me from time to time.  They’re gone now – their systems finally gave up – but it was wonderful to really talk to them for a change.”

            It was good to know that his Potions skills had at least accomplished something.

            Years passed.  There were the usual scuffles and inter-house feuding, students casting illegal spells and jinxes, trying to couple in dark corners, wandering around after curfew and exploring the Forbidden Forest.  All things that Severus had done in his youth, though he would never admit it.

            One night, Minerva escorted a small, bewildered First Year into her office.  Severus hoped that she wasn’t coddling a homesick or ill firstie – that was the job of the prefects and Head of House.  As she lit the torches, he noted that it was a Slytherin.

            “May I present Albus Severus Potter.  He was eager to meet the Headmasters he has heard so much about.”

            That caused Snape to sit up and take notice.  Minerva had informed him of Potter’s ridiculous decision to pass on his name – what child wanted to be cursed with the name of Severus? – but he thought it was a joke.

            “Pleased to meet you, young Mister Potter.”  Albus was in full twinkle.  “It is a delight to finally acquaint myself with my namesake.”

            “You’re a Slytherin.”  Severus was gobsmacked.

            “Yes, sir,” young Albus said, straightening his tie nervously.  “My brother and sister are in Gryffindor, but Dad said that it was okay if I ended up in Slytherin.”

            Severus smirked.  “Indeed.  As long as you behave yourself better than your father, I have no doubt you will be a fine addition to Slytherin.”

            “Did Dad get into trouble a lot?”  Albus Severus looked intrigued.

            “Oh, yes.  Perhaps I will tell you sometime.”

            “Then I can come back and see you, Headmaster Snape?”

            Severus was hard-pressed to hide his smile.  “If you wish.  By the way, I believe the Malfoy boy was to be in your year.  Was he sorted into Slytherin as well?”

            “Oh, no, sir.  He was sorted into Gryffindor!  Looked a bit upset about it, but hopefully he’ll be okay.  I told him what Dad said about sorting.”

            Snape’s grin was feral.  “Lucius will be turning over in his grave!”  The Malfoy progenitor had passed away a few years ago from ill health – he had never fully recovered from his stay in Azkaban and Voldemort’s regime.

            Snape took a real liking to Potter’s youngest.  He gave him advice on Potion-making (the boy had inherited his grandmother’s talent), and gleefully shared tales of Harry’s rule-breaking.  Harry finally resorted in sending Snape’s portrait a Howler, which Snape merely laughed at.  And though Scorpius had committed the unpardonable sin of being a Gryffindor, Severus indulged the boy anyway and helped smooth Draco’s ruffled feathers.

            One night, Neville angrily dragged in a dark-haired Slytherin boy by the scruff of his neck.  “The Dark Mark is not something to be proud of!  It is not the emblem of an exclusive club!  It is a symbol of evil and destruction!”  The normally mild-mannered professor was seething as he yanked up the student’s arm, revealing an inked image of a snake emerging from a skull.  “You stay here while I fetch the headmistress.”

            The boy shrugged and stuck out his tongue at the retreating Herbology professor’s back.

            “You.  What is your name?”  Severus scowled from his frame.

            “What’s it to you?”

            “You are proud to wear the Mark?”

            “Yeah, why not?”  The boy set his jaw.

            “Then you wish to serve the Dark Lord.”

            “Serve?  I don’t serve anyone!”

            “Then you misunderstand the purpose of the Mark.  It inspires fear, but it also marks you as one of his followers, little better than servants.  Voldemort,” he was amazed he could get the name out without stuttering, “used it to summon his followers.  If the response was not immediate, the pain would become nearly unbearable.  The Mark was also cast in the air after some sort of heinous deed was carried out.  Often homes were destroyed and its occupants slaughtered.  Is this something that interests you?  Are you hoping to execute a few Muggles?”

            The boy looked green.  “N—No!”

            Snape’s eyes were cold and hard, sending frissons of fear through the young Slytherin.  “The Dark Lord was pure evil.  He cared for nothing, not even those that pledged their life and loyalty to him.  He killed me, and do you know why?  Not because I was disloyal to him – and believe me, I was – but because he thought he could gain control of a possible weapon.”  His gaze narrowed.  “You listen to me, and you listen well.  Voldemort may have been Slytherin’s heir, but he is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to our House.  I spent almost my entire adult life to bring him down.  I’m so glad to see that my sacrifice was not in vain.”

            The boy was practically in tears when Neville and Minerva entered the room.  “Please,” he choked, rubbing at his impromptu tattoo with his handkerchief, “take it off!”

            Snape was amazed at how quickly time passed, now that he was just an observer of current events rather than a participant.  Minerva celebrated her one-hundredth birthday in her office – she had the cheek to place a party hat on the corner of Snape’s frame.  He folded his arms and scowled darkly, but she was not fooled for one minute by his cross demeanor.  He was secretly pleased to be included in the festivities.

            After faithfully serving as headmistress for over thirty years, the portraits were used to her morning routine – without fail, she would arise with the crack of dawn and enjoy the Daily Prophet with a cup of tea, before heading down to the Great Hall for breakfast.  One morning she did not appear.  “Minerva?” called Severus nervously.

            The next day a new portrait hung on the wall.  “Albus!  Severus!  How simply splendid it is to see you both!  Goodness, it is certainly strange to be a portrait.”

            “Minerva.  Stop babbling and tell us what happened, for the love of Circe.”

            “Oh, sorry, I had no idea you didn’t know.  Passed away in my sleep.  Very peaceful.  Now I simply must go and visit Albus.”  She brushed by him, then ambushed him with a massive hug.  He squawked in angry protest.  She smirked past him at Albus, who twinkled in full force.  She released him, and before he could launch into an angry diatribe, glided over to Dumbledore’s frame.  They embraced, and Albus offered her a lemon drop.  Snape turned his back on them pointedly.  “Drama queen,” she muttered.

            The portraits waited in eager anticipation to see who McGonagall’s successor would be.  Severus simply could not believe who crossed the threshold and gingerly stepped around the Headmaster’s desk.  “You!” he exclaimed.

            “Yeah, me,” Neville Longbottom said ruefully.  “I can hardly believe it either.  But I’ve come a long way from my days as a student.  You may think I’m not qualified, but I’ll certainly do the best that I can.”

            Snape snorted.  “Who am I to judge?  I didn’t even make a good teacher.”

            Neville grinned.  “I won’t tell anyone you said so, sir.  Personally, I thought you were a brilliant Potions master, but your, erm, motivating tactics did sometimes leave a bit to be desired.  I imagine you would have been a bit more patient with your NEWT-level students.  I was just awful at Potions.”

            “Nobody is good at everything, Neville,” said McGonagall’s portrait soothingly.  “Even Severus was pants at Transfiguration.”

            Severus skewered her with a lethal glare.  “If only I had some paint thinner.”

            “Part of the reason I did so badly was because I was scared stiff of you.  Some people do well under stress – me, I just fell apart.  Though it served me well in the long run.  Anytime I encounter a scary situation, I tell myself, ‘If I can survive Snape and his potions classes, I can do anything.’”

            “I was impressed despite myself to see that you grew a backbone in your seventh year.  You were able to handle punishment by our kindly Death Eater teachers without collapsing in paroxysms of angst.  But what about when you faced the Dark Lord?  Surely that was scarier than Double Potions.”

            The new headmaster laughed.  “No one is scarier than you, Severus.”

            Snape was inordinately pleased – he was even willing to overlook the blatant familiarization.

            Before the beginning of the following school year, a familiar face presented itself in the office.  “Hello, everyone!” he said cheerfully.

            “Al!” Dumbledore exclaimed.  “Wonderful to see you!  You’re all grown up!”

            Neville came in behind the young man.  “Jones has been forced to retire due to poor health.  To be honest, I don’t think he’s long for this world.”  Jones had replaced Slughorn after the elderly Slytherin’s passing twenty years ago.  Severus had scarcely noticed the man.  He was glad to hear the news, since Jones didn’t have the presence necessary to control the little snakes.  “Albus Severus has agreed to take his place as Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.”

            Severus eyed his namesake appreciatively.  “A Potter as Head of Slytherin House?  I never thought I’d see the day.”

            The young man beamed with excitement.  “I’m really honored to follow in your footsteps, sir.  The Slytherins will behave themselves when they hear I’m named after you.  They tell all kinds of crazy stories about you in the common room.”

            “They’re all true,” the portrait said gravely.

            Longbottom and Potter both occasionally asked him for advice with Slytherin House.  He pretended to be irritated and heavily insinuated they were not doing their jobs, but he was privately pleased to be held in such high regard.  He also encouraged the wild stories about his past life, so that any miscreants that visited the office trembled under his stern gaze.

            One upperclassman once challenged him after a meeting with Longbottom.  “What makes you so scary?  I don’t believe all the things I’ve heard about you.”

            Snape gestured to the portrait on his right.  “See him?”

            “Yeah, what about him?”

            “He was my predecessor.  I killed him.”

            Albus fought not to smile.  “He did always have a bit of a temper.”

            The uppity student turned pale, realized he was all alone in the Headmaster’s office with nightfall approaching, and ran for the exit as fast as his legs would carry him.

            One day Neville frowned over an article in the Daily Prophet.  “I don’t believe it,” he groaned.  “Some guy named Rosimoff is giving the same old pureblood rant in Russia.  Seems like he’s got a small group of fans.”

            “Not again!” Phineas groaned.

            “What do you think, Neville?” McGonagall asked.  “Is he a threat?”

            The headmaster shrugged.  “Hard to say.  Right now he’s just a small fish in a big pond.  But after Grindelwald and Voldemort, I’m not exactly in the mood to leave it up to chance.”

            “If there’s trouble, we’ll be ready,” Snape vowed.

THE END

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