Everything is set up and waiting for me. Magical globes light my path, bobbing on either side of me. I keep my eyes on my feet as I walk from the gate to the front door. I've got imagination enough without giving room to the strange shadows that accompany me. Courtesy of the lights I'm sure, but from what I've heard of this man, I can't be certain.
And, yet, when I reach the front step, I can't help myself. I have to look around.
The house is small compared to the one where I grew up. Likely no more than four bedrooms upstairs, and perhaps as few as three. However, from what little I can see in the circles cast by the lights, the gardens seem to be extensive and well-kept. Whatever else may be said about Severus Snape, my birth father, he clearly has a talent for growing things, or at least for hiring the right expert.
Oddly, considering that I grew up with gardeners and house-elves, I'd rather believe that he takes care of the plants himself. Maybe it's silly, but I find it reassuring that we share at least this one talent. We certainly don't seem to share much in the way of looks. This I know, having seen pictures of Snape in Hogwarts: A History and other books about the Voldemort wars. My hair is middling brown. My eyes are an odd gold-green shade. No black anywhere to be seen.
"Your name," the snake-headed doorknocker demands and touches a cold, metal tongue to my hand.
And suddenly it's real. After months of arguing with my parents — who are both oath- sworn to keep his privacy and reluctant to see me hurt — I'm standing on my father's front step, about to meet a man who has become legend.
It's no surprise, then, that I stutter on my first attempt. Finally, after I manage to say, "Caz," I can't help wondering if I ought to have given my full name, Castor Pollux — of all the stupid names. But which surname? Would the door expect me to use Snape?
"Enter," the knocker commands, disrupting my thoughts and sending them scattering to the winds as the door opens before me.
Then I'm inside, and I can't think for the pounding of my heart and the fear and excitement that thrums through me. I'm here, in his house.
I move further in. The globes of light vanish as the door closes behind me, startling me into swinging around just as a hook extends from the wall. It waggles briefly in front of me and plucks at my cloak. Obedient as ever to the niceties, I take my cloak off — after ensuring that my wand is in its holster. The hook makes an odd little bow and retracts, taking my cloak with it.
And with that I have no reason to linger in the foyer. The hallway is badly lit and longer than I'd expected from seeing the outside of the house; it's panelled in dark wood carved into elaborate patterns. There are four doors and a staircase, but only one door is open, spilling light into the dim hall. It's a little warmer than outside, but not by much.
I walk slowly, hands stuffed deep in my jacket pockets to hide their trembling, and pause before each of two portraits. For once, I'm more interested in their occupants — sleeping or, more likely, pretending to sleep — than in the brush strokes used to create the almost three-dimensional effects. The first is an old man. A drooping, star-spangled hat hides most of his face, but I'm sure it's Albus Dumbledore. The beard and the flashy clothes give him away. The other, an older woman with white-streaked black hair and deep lines in her face, doesn't look familiar at all. I can't help lingering, though, wondering if she might be a relative, but she doesn't wake up
Eventually, I can't delay any longer and I go through the door. The walls are bare — flat beige paint, no wallpaper and no paintings. There's a table in the centre and one chair in front of it. Shrugging off my jacket, I hang it on the back of the chair.
As soon as I sit down, a shallow stone basin engraved with the runes that declare it a Pensieve appears on the table. Five small crystal bottles form an arc in front of me; each one is engraved with a year in tiny, elaborate numbers. I reach for a bottle, and a scroll materialises.
It's a message from my father.
Closing my eyes, I stroke the parchment, revelling in the slight unevenness. I don't even know how I feel. Everything and nothing, excited and scared, eager to get started and ready to run out and pretend that I don't want to go through whatever test he has designed for me.
I take a deep breath and open my eyes. A quick swipe of my damp palms on my jeans, then I unroll the parchment, smoothing it flat.
For a moment, all I can do is stare at my father's handwriting. Green ink spiders across the page. The letters are jagged, decisive. I blink, once, twice, before they finally form into words, become legible.
Your parents insist that you are sincere in your wish to meet me, that it is neither mere sensationalism nor related to your budding career as an artist and photographer. I know your mother well enough, even after all these years, to trust her judgement. She also assures me that you are intelligent enough to understand why I am reluctant to allow you into my home and, potentially, my life.
I've no desire to enter into a relationship with you, no matter how distant, without apprising you of a few of the truths that are not in the history books. If you're reading this letter, you have before you a Pensieve and five memory bottles. View the memories from left to right.
You are free to leave at any time. Neither your parents nor I will hold it against you if, after watching any one of these memories, you believe that your life would be better without meeting me. You may not, in fact, be wrong. Should you instead decide to stay, this letter will reappear between memories.
The first memory takes place in the aftermath of a seminal event in my childhood. It was my seventh birthday, and it defined my relationship with your paternal grandfather for the rest of his life.
The letter dissolves, and the Pensieve slides forward into its place.
I run a finger around the rim. The rough edges catch at the ridges in my fingertip, sending a shiver of magic through me, reassuring me. Still, being a cautious sort, I retrieve my wand from its holster before I pick up the first bottle, and examine it.
A silver-white memory swirls inside, glittering when I hold it up to the candlelight.
I empty its contents into the bowl and stir the memory with my wand. Faces rise up and then fade back into the liquid. They're unrecognisable and yet vaguely familiar. When they begin to repeat, I can't stand not knowing who they are, so I dive in.
I land in the corner of a small, curtained-off area. The one visible wall is an odd green colour, the narrow bed looks uncomfortable and lumpy, and the bedside table is metal and sharp-edged. A quick glance around tells me very little. It's reminiscent of St Mungo's, without the spell charts and ward monitors. For that reason, I'm sure that I'm in a Muggle hospital.
I'm contemplating whether to peek through the curtains to see what's on the other side, when the rasp of a released breath draws my attention back to the bed. The covers have been pushed back and a skinny boy has emerged from the depths. His black hair is lanky and in desperate need of a good wash. His nose curves in a way that has me reaching for my own.
Severus Snape at seven — I've been wrong all this time, thinking that I didn't look anything like my father. My hair and eyes are different colours, but I'm clearly related to the boy in this memory.
As I'm staring at him, a man stumbles through the curtains. "Severus," he slurs, and I know that if memories included scent, he'd reek of alcohol and smoke.
"C'mon, son. I know you're awake."
But Snape... Severus doesn't move. He barely seems to breathe through parted lips.
Severus's father — my grandfather, Tobias Snape — collapses into the chair next to the bed, making it creak alarmingly. He drags a grimy, calloused hand through hair that doesn't look any cleaner than his son's and whispers, "They're both dead. Avi and Cleo, the best of all of us, and they're gone. Just like that."
Something, a change in his breathing or a tightening in his jaw, tells me that Severus is awake and alert. His father, however, doesn't seem to notice.
"You didn't even try to save them, did you?" Tobias sounds bitter, angry. "Your own brother and sister, and you just let them die. Did you hear them scream as they burnt to death? Lying there, safe and sound, protected by your magic." He spits the last word, as if it's a curse.
"What good are all those ruddy spells if they couldn't save our Avi and Cleo, I ask you?"
There's more, a lot more. A torrent of bitter, vicious words that accuse a seven-year-old boy of things he couldn't possibly have done, with or without a wand, trained or untrained.
I can hardly bear to listen. I'm not stupid; I know that there are children who aren't lucky enough to have parents like mine, but this kind of abuse is beyond my comprehension. My hands curl into fists. I grip my wand tightly enough to leave bruises. If I could, I'd hex Tobias Snape into next year.
"Enough, Tobias." A younger version of the woman from the portrait stands in the parting of the curtains. There's a smear of something black on her cheekbone, her left sleeve is charred, and there's a bandage around her hand. She looks tired, beaten down, and unbearably sad.
"He let them die, Eileen. Am I just supposed to accept that?"
"Nobody let them die." Wrapping her arms around her waist, Eileen hugs herself. "Constable Martins said that it was John Partridge from next door. Came home drunk and fell asleep as usual. Except this time he had a fag in hand." A sob rips out of her. "Five houses burnt down, Tobias, and twelve others dead, not just our Cleo and Avi."
Eyes narrowed, Tobias clenches his hands into fists. "And Severus only saved himself."
"He's a child." Eileen perches on the edge of the bed, placing herself between her son and her husband. She doesn't take her eyes off Tobias, even as she strokes Severus's hair with her injured hand.
"He's got all that bloody magic."
"Which he can't control."
"It saved him, didn't it? Guess that's all that counts. Avi and Cleo, being Muggle Squibs, weren't worth bothering with."
Lurching to his feet, Tobias sends the chair skittering back to hit one of the poles that holds up the curtain rod. The curtains tremble on impact, and I reach out, uselessly, trying to steady them, but nothing falls down.
"I'm off," he says. "Going down to the Lion where they welcome my kind."
"You do that," Eileen snaps. "I'll just be here, taking care of our son."
Her last two words hang in the air between them, and I hold my breath, expecting Tobias to reject his son, to deny Severus's claim on him. I don't know who's more surprised when he simply makes a disgusted noise and stomps out.
A door slams beyond the curtains, leaving silence behind. When it's clear that he's not coming back, I look down again. Severus has opened his eyes, and his mother is comforting him. Severus's eyes are red-rimmed and painfully dry. Unlike my own, which itch with unshed tears.
I'm still watching them comfort each other and wondering why neither of them is crying when the memory ends.
The second bottle contains two memories from my eighteenth birthday. My gift to myself that day was freedom. Whether or not I enjoyed it is anybody's guess.
I remind you that you may leave at any time, during or after a memory. No one will think less of you for it; not me, and certainly not your parents.
This time I land in a bright, sunny day, next to a river. The bank is rimed with dirty snow and ice, and the water's a mucky brown. There's rubbish scattered all over the place, a load of odd items, some twisted beyond easy recognition.
As I walk towards the three teenagers standing just too far away for me to hear them, I recognise the boy immediately. His dark hair is badly cut and straggles over the collar of his worn black robes. He's got one arm wrapped around his torso, clutching himself, and he's gesturing angrily at the two girls with his other arm. They're vaguely familiar, even from the side. Maybe I've seen pictures of them somewhere? Maybe when I was reading up on my father? I shrug and push it aside. If they matter to him still, I'm sure I'll meet them some day.
One girl is tall and thin and has scraped her blonde hair back into the kind of bun that pulls her face into a sour expression.
The other is shorter and curvier, and her long dark red hair swings with her every gesture. Then she turns around, and I can see that she has green eyes, so much like my Dad's, and a face that's only a little younger than the one in the first ever painting I did for my Dad. Lily Evans Potter. My grandmother on Dad's side, which means — I turn, a sneer forming automatically on my face — the blonde must be Petunia Evans Dursley. Someone who, thankfully, I've never had to meet.
I move closer to Lily, wishing I could touch her and memorising the contours of her face, already planning the painting that I'll do for Dad's birthday.
My father's voice interrupts my thoughts, draws my attention back to him. He's scowling at Petunia, looking like he wants to hurt her, and snarling, "I can defend myself against the likes of you. Don't think I won't either."
"And get hauled in by the Aurors for breaking the code of secrecy?" Lily shakes her head. "You're not that stupid, Severus. You know full well what will happen when they get a look at that Mark of yours. The least of it will be the Veritaserum they shove down your throat."
Eighteen and already a Death Eater. The realisation blasts through me, sends me into a daze as I imagine what it would be like to have already given my life over to a madman. Merlin, it would destroy me.
I miss my father's response, and anything else that's said, until Petunia's shrill voice snaps me out of it.
"Freak," she screeches. "Disgusting, dirty freak. Didn't they teach you how to take baths in that school of yours? God knows your mother never did. Bet she was too busy—"
Lily pulls out her wand, holding it on Severus as she waves Petunia to silence. "Don't, Tuney. You know better than to speak ill of the dead. Mum would have your guts for garters if she knew."
"Only because she doesn't know the truth about that lot and what they do to proper people." Petunia stares down her nose at Severus, who has drawn his own wand. She gives a mighty sniff. "You should come home, Lily. Stop soiling yourself with the likes of that filth." Drawing her coat around her, she stalks off.
"And you wonder why some wizards hate Muggles?"
"Don't use her bigotry and hatred to excuse your own, Severus. I wouldn't abandon anyone to Tuney's tender mercies." She glares at him as he reaches for her, taking a jerky step in her direction. "Or to you and yours for that matter. So I'd keep my mouth shut, if I were you."
Lily marches away, wand still gripped tightly in her hand, and I'm tempted to follow her and find out if I can see more of my Dad's family before the memory ends. But then I turn around, and the sharp pain in my father's eyes sets my heart aching for him.
As he straightens up and a strange blankness slams down over his face, as if her rejection hadn't hurt him at all, the scene dissolves around me, and I'm left on a mostly deserted street in a rundown industrial area.
It's disorienting, the abrupt descent from bright sunlight to dark night. The change sparks an idea for a painting, and I add it to the small but growing hoard in one corner of my mind. I'm going to be in the studio for months after this night, I can tell.
Spell-light blazes overhead — red, green, purple. I duck instinctively, and then I laugh, because this is a memory and none of their spells can hurt me. Not even Avada Kedavra.
Rain's drizzling down in a fine mist; there are oily puddles everywhere. And I'm standing at the edge of a battle.
A team of Aurors is fighting four figures in black robes and white masks. Death Eaters! I want to pause the memory and examine the villains who haunted my parents' childhood, but even as I watch, everything changes. A Death Eater goes down, another loses his mask, and the Aurors fall back towards a group of screaming, crying people in Muggle clothes. They all duck behind cars and trucks, the Aurors still firing off spells, as two of the remaining Death Eaters take cover.
In the middle of the road, a lone Dark wizard dances.
He's lost his mask, and his hood has fallen back. He moves with surprising grace, ducking and weaving, jumping and spinning. Spells flash past, but none of them quite manage to hit him. His wand flicks hexes and curses with dizzying speed and murderous intent.
He's amazing. And he's my father.
A muffled thud to my left draws my attention. One of the Aurors is on the ground, clutching his stomach. I swallow hard when I realise why.
My father did that. I swallow again, pressing my hand to my mouth. Around me, people are dying. Aurors and Muggles. Tears scald my eyes. Bile burns the back of my throat.
When it's over, three Death Eaters remain standing. One, a witch with straggly hair and crazy eyes, pulls off her mask and laughs. Then she starts to prowl, calling out, "Here, kiddie, kiddie. Here, kiddie."
"They're all dead," says Severus. "It's time to go."
"No, no, no," she chants. "There's Muggle spawn around here. I can smell it."
The other wizard bends over the fallen Death Eater, then snaps, "Bella! Enough. Rodolphus needs a healer."
"My love?" Bella spins around and runs to join them. She kneels in a puddle, resting her head on the injured man's chest and crooning nonsense words.
"Can you finish up here?" the wizard asks, and Severus gives him a crisp nod.
After they Disapparate, Severus casts Finite Incantatem at a darkened doorway that I hadn't noticed before. Squinting, I'm pretty sure I can see a shimmer of red and yellow in the depths... and then the memory ends.
The letter materialises in front of me again as I land back in the chair. I can't look at it, not yet. I want to believe that the doorway was occupied, that my father saved a child, maybe even more than one. Merlin knows how desperately I want to believe it.
But I don't know for sure. I'll never know for sure. Because I won't ask him, and he clearly won't tell me. If he'd wanted me to know, the memory would have lasted a few minutes longer.
I tap my wand on the edge of the Pensieve, and then stir the memories around. Fuck. I want to Banish them, make them disappear, but I don't. I can't. This is part of my father, too. Part of my legacy.
Unable to stop thinking about what I've just seen, I return the memory to its bottle and pick up the next one. From what I've read, from what my parents have told me, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to discover that I'm being treated to the worst of Severus Snape's undocumented memories.
When we discussed my visit, Mum told me that my father was wrong to insist that the man behind his hero image is a right bastard. Dad just laughed and said that there was no such thing as black and white in a time of war, and that my father had lived in the grey shadows.
But I'm not sure. Reading about what happened and seeing it are two completely different things.
My father killed people. Innocent people.
For a moment it's almost too much to contemplate, but then I remember that my father also spent years atoning for these sins.
Holding that thought close, I gather the tattered shreds of my determination and pick up the next memory.
You're still here. Perhaps your persistence is genetic. Your mother never did know when to give in gracefully, and I certainly have a tendency to stick things out long after the situation has exceeded the bounds of sanity.
Speaking of which, despite the patently ridiculous claims in some of those so-called history books, the next memory was not one of the highpoints of my life. In repayment for a small number of my sins, I was granted a "gift" on my twenty-second birthday: initiation into the Order of the Phoenix and an introduction to its best and brightest. At least those who remained alive after Voldemort's first fall.
My memory of this event is a trifle tangled up with other — unrelated — things. Therefore, you are being treated to a memory gifted by a dear friend, Minerva McGonagall.
The room in which I find myself is crowded and unfamiliar, and the people in it are far more fascinating than the tatty furniture and overloaded bookshelves. They're younger versions of names in my school history books: Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, Elphias Doge, Arabella Figg, Arthur Weasley, Molly Weasley, and several more whose names I can't remember. I stay in a corner, digging my teeth into my lower lip as I try to work out who they are and avoid thinking about how many of them died before I was born.
A few of them are close enough to be considered family. People I've known as long as I can remember. And I've seen pictures of the rest — talked with their portraits at Hogwarts many times after Dad took me around and introduced me.
But in this room, at this time, they're angry and confused. They're all talking at once, in hushed whispers, as if to speak aloud would be to invite something dread and drear into the room. I can make out phrases and sentences here and there, but can hardly identify who says what.
"You couldn't have known, Remus. Not even—"
"He always was a bad sort, even at Hogwarts. Do you remember—"
"Could have predicted he'd come to this. Blood will out, and his is—"
"Already in Azkaban, the poor man. Are we absolutely sure—"
And on and on until the whoosh of an impending Floo arrival shuts them up. They turn to the fireplace, schooling their expressions. Lupin continues staring at the floor, clearly wishing that it would swallow him up and take him away from the invading sympathy and curiosity. It's the same look Teddy had on his face after Victoire's wedding to that French git.
Albus Dumbledore emerges from the Floo, immediately stepping aside as he shakes off his painfully purple robes. Severus Snape — a little older and a little more deeply marked by pain and anger — follows immediately behind him.
The others start clamouring and yelling, and several of them have their wands out. Severus is standing in front of the fireplace, half-hidden behind Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore himself is hard to read, but something about the way the lines crinkle around his eyes convinces me that he's amused, that he orchestrated his arrival with Severus precisely for his own entertainment.
Suddenly I have another reason to dislike this so-called hero, beyond my dad's stories. Mum always calls Dad 'Dumbledore's fool', and now I understand why.
"Quiet!" Alastor Moody's voice thunders through the room. It's odd, seeing him with two normal eyes, far fewer scars, and wobbling a bit on his obviously new artificial leg as he stands up. I like the way he looks in his portrait much better, I decide, even as I turn and wait with the others for Dumbledore to speak.
"I expect you all know Severus Snape," Dumbledore finally says and steps aside.
"Death Eater," Moody spits the two words. "And you bring him here, after all that's happened, all that he's done."
His words spark another volley of insults. With each one, Severus straightens up further. He doesn't say a word, doesn't deny a single one of them, but acts as if they're his due.
And Dumbledore just stands there, looking amused.
I'm about ready to Silencio the whole lot of them when Dumbledore raises a hand and they shut up.
"Severus is a spy," he says, raising his voice when they begin whispering to each other. "Our spy amongst the Death Eaters, and he's the reason Harry Potter is still alive."
At my dad's name, a flash of grief sears across Severus's face, and the others begin babbling again. Honestly. I know they've had a shock or three, but you'd think they'd want to know what was happening. I certainly do.
Eventually they shut up again, and Dumbledore continues, "Severus will remain our eyes and ears within the Death Eater communities. As we all know, far too many of them escaped justice."
"Imperius." Moody snorts in disbelief. "Gormless bloody idiots."
"As may be, Alastor," Dumbledore says, "but we must give the Death Eaters who claimed coercion the benefit of the doubt, even as we maintain a watchful eye." He scans the room, gives each of them a meaningful glance, and then continues, "As we are all aware, the Dark Lord may be defeated, but he is not gone."
"Constant vigilance," roars Moody.
Grandma Molly responds with a muttered, "Amen."
"Arabella will be our eyes and ears on young Harry." Dumbledore's expression hardens as he indicates Arabella Figg, who's shaking her head and fiddling with one of her tartan slippers. Before she can respond, he adds, "No one else is to go near the Dursley residence. Far too many Death Eaters remain at large, and they're out for revenge. I will not go easy on any witch or wizard who draws magical attention to that house." A threatening edge develops in his voice as he adds, "Am I understood? "
"But Muggles, Albus," says Grandma Molly. "Are you absolutely sure? You know how Lily felt about that sister of hers."
"Spoil him rotten, they will, mark my words. Boy would be better off among his own kind. Teach him to fight as soon as he can hold a wand. He'd be as good as James in no time flat." Doge nods his head so violently that his purple top hat almost tumbles off his head.
"Just what the world needs, another Potter—" Severus makes a derisive noise "—to torment it."
A snarl escapes Moody, and he dives across the room with a speed that belies his earlier instability. Before anyone else can move, he's got Severus pinned against the mantel with a wand at his throat.
"Say it again," Moody hisses, "and I'll see you get what you deserve. That child is the only innocent among us. I'll not sit back and let anyone insult him or his parents, and certainly not murderous scum like you."
No one moves, either to back up Moody or to protect Severus. The corners of Dumbledore's mouth twitch up into a half-smile. Severus rests his head against the wall, his expression feral as he bares his neck.
Moody leans forward, digging his wand into the pale skin, and the memory dissolves.
More than a little stunned, I shake off the effects of leaving the Pensieve. Everything changed so fast. One minute, I was watching Lily Evans confront Severus, and the next she's not only had a child, but been murdered trying to protect him.
Wanting, needing to memorise all of the little details that make a painting possible, I reach for the second memory bottle. But it's gone, along with the bottle that held the first memory.
That bastard. Mum and Dad warned me what he could be like. The memories showed me what he was capable of doing. But I'm still shocked and frustrated. I hate it when people try to force me to do things their way without so much as an explanation.
I lift my hand, ready to sweep everything onto the floor, shattering glass and ripping parchment, but then the next section of his letter appears. As I start reading, my mouth twists into a lopsided smile that's wryer than my dad's, and I'm dragged into reluctant admiration for the way he's set everything up. The bastard is good, I'll give him that, even if he is more of a control freak than I am.
Have you stopped swearing at me yet?
Retracing your steps and rewatching the memories will do you no favours. Life provides no chances to repair our misperceptions until after they occur. We see what and who we expect to see, based on our past experiences and expectations. However, this does not and should not mean that we cannot learn from those experiences or bring our expectations into alignment with reality.
My expectations did not include surviving to my thirty-ninth birthday. That I did is a testament to your parents' determination. As with so many other experiences in my life, the reality of my survival does not match the drivel written by so-called historians.
This memory comes from your father. I expect you to honour his trust as well as my own.
The Shrieking Shack burnt to the ground before I was born, but I recognise the room immediately from pictures I've seen. The walls are battered and scarred, the windows boarded up. A broken table rests on top of a shattered chair. Crates have been shoved to one side.
In the middle of it all, Severus lies in a pool of blood with a dark-haired girl kneeling at his side — my mum, wearing her Slytherin school robes, her tie askew and her makeup smeared. She looks as if she's been crying. Her wand is aimed at a makeshift, red-stained bandage that's packing the wound in Severus's neck. A satchel is open next to her, its contents spilling out onto the floor.
She's the same age as me, and she's just been through a war. I want to comfort her, to curl up next to her and rub her back as she did for me when I was a kid, but I'm helpless to do anything. I want to believe that my parents wouldn't make me watch my mum get hurt, but I'm not completely sure. They're not in charge here, after all.
"Parkinson!" My dad looks ridiculously young. His jeans are torn and stained; his wand is trained on Mum. "Leave him alone."
"Potter, finally," Mum huffs. "I thought they were going to ignore my message and let him die. After all, I'm just a Slytherin. Obviously a supporter of the Dark Twat. Why pay any attention to me?"
"Slytherins aren't any easier to kill than you are." Mum glares at him before glancing beyond him. "Where's the Healer?"
"He's alive," repeats Dad. This time it's not a question. He falls to his knees on the other side of Severus and takes his hand.
"Bloody typical. You didn't bring anyone, did you?" Mum whacks Dad on the hand with her wand and forces him to look at her. "He needs a Healer," she says, enunciating each word carefully, "or he will die."
Dad stares at her; he's clearly beyond the end of his rope.
"You didn't get my message?"
He shakes his head.
"If I ever find out who did, they'll regret ignoring it for the rest of their miserable lives. He's not just a Death Eater. He protected me, protected all of the Slytherins who went to him for help. The others, too, even though it cost him dearly." She rummages around in the satchel and brings out a bezoar. Her voice gets higher and higher as she says, "I've given him one already, and all three of my blood-replenishing potions and the general healing potion, and I used the stasis charm he taught us, but I don't know what else to do."
Something in her panic seems to calm Dad and bring him out of his shock. He reaches out and clasps her hand. "We'll save him," he says. "The Healers will listen to me."
Then he releases her hand, flicks his wand, and says, "Expecto Patronum."
The stag is a little ragged around the edges, less solid than I'm used to, but it turns to Dad and bows its head with a familiar grace. "Go straight to Madam Pomfrey," he orders. "Tell her Snape is alive, barely, and to Apparate straight to the Shack with a stretcher. I don't care what she's doing. She's to come immediately. Snape's life depends on it."
The stag gallops away through the wall, and Dad's confidence falls away. He bites his lower lip and runs a hand through his hair, tugging at the ends before letting go. "She'll get here," he mutters, clearly trying to reassure himself as much as Mum.
"If she doesn't, and he dies," Mum says, in a rather terrifyingly conversational tone, "you're going to help me make sure she pays for it."
The crack of an incoming Apparition accompanies my exit from the memory
Now that you know who I was and have a clearer idea of the reality and the consequences of being a Death Eater, I presume you are wondering why your parents chose me to father their only child. I certainly wouldn't have been my first choice.
And yet, as I discovered on my forty-fifth birthday, I was their only choice.
This time, I'm dropped into a library. Bookshelves line the walls; rolls of parchment and books are stacked on the tables and the desk. A sofa and a couple of chairs have pride of place in front of the fire. My parents are sitting on the sofa, and Severus is in what is clearly his chair.
"What on earth gives you the idea that I'd agree to something like this?" Severus scowls at them. "Surely you have better candidates. Men who don't have my... background."
Dad stands up, holding out his hand to my mum. "Come on, Pansy. We're wasting our time here."
She just gives him one of those looks, and he flops back down.
"So, you're not the least bit intrigued?" she asks, settling back and crossing her legs, giving all of her attention to Severus.
Mum arches a well-plucked eyebrow and smirks at him. "You expect me to believe that you aren't interested in joining the very small, select group of individuals who know why Harry Potter and his wife haven't given the Prophet editors a collective orgasm by procreating?"
"Perhaps the cost of that knowledge is more than I am willing to pay," Severus counters.
"It's a child, not a cost," Dad growls. "And we're not asking you to bear it or raise it."
"I would hope not."
"Why are we even bothering?" A pleading look on his face, Dad takes Mum's hand.
She whispers to him, too quietly for me to hear, and whatever she says is enough to settle him down again.
I don't even know how I feel about this, knowing that my parents are begging Severus Snape to let them have his child — me!
"Our child, Severus, mine and Harry's. Not yours. No one will know it's not ours except for the three of us and our Healer, who is bound by an Unbreakable Vow." Mum leans forward, her tension clear in the way she clutches at my dad's hand. "Who else can we ask? Tell me. Who else can we trust to keep this secret? To stay out of our child's life until we decide he or she's ready to know the truth?"
He's considering it, I can tell, and not coming up with an answer.
"It's too delicious, don't you think? Knowing that the ultimate cost of saving our world, of dying and coming back to life is the inability to create life."
Releasing her hand, Dad says, "I'm not going to beg, if that's what you're waiting for."
"Don't be stupid," Severus responds. "Think about what you're asking, about who you're asking."
"I am." Dad rakes a hand through his hair. "I'm thinking about you, about Severus Snape, being the father of the next generation of Potters."
A flicker of something passes over Severus's face, too rapidly for me to identify the emotion.
Dad notices it as well, and he presses on. "Your child, Severus, will be James Potter's grandchild. Your legacy will live on, and his will die with me. Isn't that the least bit tempting?"
"So, I'm to be the cuckoo, am I? Abandoning my egg in your nest?" Severus makes a gesture of dismissal. "I'm disappointed, Pansy. I thought better of you than that. You've clearly been around Gryffindors too long. You're picking up bad habits."
Mum contemplates her red-painted nails for a moment and then glares at him. "Don't even try, all right? I'm too old to be pushed into losing my temper and storming off. If you're going to say no, at least do me the courtesy of telling me why."
"I was a—"
"And don't give me the Death Eater boohoo, either. That's an excuse, not an explanation."
A muscle begins to tic in Severus's jaw, and he looks as if he's about to explode. He grits out, "My answer is no. I do not have to explain myself."
"I want a child," Mum says, her voice low enough that we all lean towards her, "and I can't have Harry's. You and my parents, you all had your part in that." She blinks a couple of times before continuing, "I'm asking you, Severus, because I want my child to have the best. If you refuse, then... well, that's it, because everyone else we could ask is an idiot, a wanker, a Gryffindor, or worse."
"I can't..." Severus trails off, running a hand up one side of his neck and tugging on the underside of his hair.
Dad speaks up, his voice soft. "None of us had brilliant childhoods. I like to believe that my mum and dad were good parents, but I don't have any memories to back that up. Pansy's father was almost as bad as what I've seen of yours."
"There was a child once," says Severus, in a seeming non sequitur. "I saved her life, right after I helped kill her parents. I've always wondered what happened to her."
My parents exchange a glance, clearly not understanding, but I remember that flash of colour in a darkened doorway, and I'm relieved.
After a moment or two of silence, Dad continues, "We'll raise your son or daughter with everything that you and I didn't have: money, loving parents, and an extended family between the Weasleys and—"
Severus sits up and glares at Dad when he mentions the Weasleys and, honestly, I can understand why he feels that way.
"Hell, the kid will probably be spoilt rotten."
"Please?" Mum's as close to begging as I've ever seen her.
Severus shakes his head. "I made a vow to myself many years ago that I wouldn't bring a child into this world."
"But we would—"
Dad stops when Mum lays a hand on his arm. She cocks her head and stares at Severus. Their eyes meet, and something passes between them. Legilimency, I wonder, although Mum's never said anything about knowing it.
"Should we make it impossible for you to refuse?" she asks. "I can make it a matter of your life debt to me."
This time it's Severus who looks at her, searchingly, frowning as he examines her.
Then, after a moment's silence, he gives her a crisp nod, and a rush of relief goes through me. I'm just coming to terms with the idea that my father didn't not want me, and that my parents did, very badly, when I'm swirled out of this memory and into another.
I'm in the same room. Severus is sitting in the same chair. My mum is perched on a footstool near him. He's holding a baby swaddled in blue blankets — me — and running a finger over my cheekbone.
"He has your eyebrows," Mum points out, taking one of my miniature hands in hers, "and a similar nose, although—" she smirks at him "—it's definitely going to be smaller."
"We've been talking about names, about whether to name him after you."
"No," Severus says. "Give him his own name. Let him make his own mistakes, unburdened by the ones made by your families or anyone else."
I assume that, as my child, you are intelligent enough to realise that I am not a nice man. Life did not permit me that luxury. I make no apologies for who I am or what I have done. Our world would be a very different place if my life had followed another path.
That being said, if you still wish to meet me, I'll be waiting in the library.
I gather together the sheets of parchment that make up my father's letter, fold them carefully, and place them into an inner pocket of my jacket. Then I return the last pair of memories to their bottle. Cradling the fine glass in my hands, I watch the silvery wisps swirl around.
The temptation to put the bottle away with the letter is almost irresistible. There's love in these memories, and I want to clutch it to me and never let it go. But they're not mine.
Placing the bottle onto the table, I watch as it and the Pensieve fade out of sight before pushing my chair back and standing up. This time, as I pace around the room, I notice the spots where the wall is a slightly different shade, where paintings have been removed. They'll be stacked somewhere, I know, waiting me to finish so they can be returned to their proper places and their not-quite-lives.
Severus Snape has given me nothing of himself except those few memories. If I want more, I have to go to him.
I want to do that. I do.
He killed people. That's what he wants me to know about him. He's given me little else. His one good deed, aside from helping my parents have me, is an act that I had to work out for myself. I'd be lying if I claimed he doesn't frighten me, worry me, and intrigue me.
As far as I know, he hasn't been involved in my life at all. He's only seen me that one time. My parents didn't even mention him until I asked them, and they made me work for this moment, prove to them that I really wanted to meet him, and now I understand why.
I could just walk away; leave this house and never come back. No harm, no foul, they've made that very clear.
Except... he's my father, and he's sixty-two today. I want to see how the last seventeen years have marked him. He's the perfect subject for a painting — a triptych, perhaps, each one using different techniques, different brushstrokes to delineate an era in his life. A set of images that puts all of his sins and the rare few of his blessings on display for the world to see.
Grabbing my jacket and flinging it over my shoulder, I've reached the door when the rustle of folded parchment slows me down. I reach up and place my hand on my jacket, over the inner pocket where Severus's letter is stored away.
Does he want to see me? I'd never considered that he wouldn't.
I walk out of the room, and the lights go out behind me. The other doors remain closed. Candles burn in sconces, along the hallway and up the stairs.
"Took you long enough."
The voice startles me. I look over, and Eileen Prince is watching me from her portrait. She has a lopsided smile on her face. "I've been wanting to meet my grandson."
"It's been far too quiet, for far too long around here. This place needs a young person to bring some life into it."
I swing around, and Albus Dumbledore is smiling at me from his portrait.
"Hullo," I say with my usual conversational brilliance.
"Don't listen to him," says Eileen. "He still thinks striped socks decorated with fanged Frisbees are the ultimate in high fashion."
"There's a lot of pleasure to be found in a pair of thick, woollen socks." The sparkle in Dumbledore's blue eyes belies the apparent grumpiness of his tone.
"If that's where you found your pleasure, it explains a lot."
I chuckle, and the sound echoes in the hallway, drawing their attention back to me.
"Oh go on, up the stairs with you." Eileen gestures towards the staircase. "He's been waiting a long time."
I give them a nod, and they wave goodbye and start bickering again. As I take the first step, I'm still not sure how I feel about Severus Snape, but I'm looking forward to meeting him.