She did not smile in the portrait. She never did. But due to the reality that the painting was not magical, that was not surprising to him.
He had seen pictures of her, many of them. Some of them portrayed her as a young girl, laughing with her friends, while others showed her as a grown woman, smiling with rapture on her wedding day and the days of her children’s births. Many times he had seen her smile.
But when he thought of her, his mind always came back to that single portrait, hanging proudly in the front hall of the family home. Her sharp gaze stared directly out of the painting, challenging all who dared to enter the home she had reigned in as mistress for nearly a century.
The portrait had been painted late in her life, the last one she had permitted to be done of her. Her hair was no longer the bushy brown seen in some of the older paintings and pictures, but a silvery white that made her seem even more venerable, aided by the aura of secrecy that had surrounded her very soul.
She sat on a cushioned stool, her hands folded demurely in her lap. She was wearing black robes, a normal occurrence during that time period, after her beloved husband’s death. A small white brooch was the only adornment she wore. The wrinkles on her face did nothing to disrupt the handsomeness of her features, merely enhancing them.
He’d often stared at the portrait and wondered at the mysteries in her eyes, the untold sorrows that had perhaps plagued her dreams. He’d never known her, having been born only a month before her death. Stories of her abounded, of her ruling over the family as its matriarch, instilling in them the values and duties she had fought for so fiercely in her youth.
But the bedtime stories his parents had told to him as a child did not explain the knowing, almost bitter, look in her cinnamon eyes. Was that look from the days of fighting against the Dark Lord at the sides of Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley? Or from her later years, the ones filled with death and sorrow, the ones that contained the loss of her husband and her only son?
Many times he had entered into the study of the house to search through the private papers she had left behind. Surely there had been something that would unravel the puzzle that she dared all to solve. But all he found were official documents of business, of her tenure as Headmistress of Hogwarts, and even the death certificates of those she had lost before her own death. There was nothing that could explain her clearly and concisely to him.
In the study, he’d noted many times, he saw another facet of her. Above the mantel and the fireplace was another portrait of her, only in this one, she was much younger and standing within the embrace of her husband. The styles of the paintings were the same, having both been created by their youngest daughter. But as he gazed into her eyes in that painting, he saw very little of the venerable matriarch who guarded the front hall. Certainly, he saw the strength and wisdom that was so famously interlocked with her very name, but the animosity that radiated from her expression in the other portrait was conspicuously absent. It was indeed a paradox.
He’d also thought to ask his grandmother, the current head of the entire clan, of her, but she had merely smiled at him and had told him cheekily that the answer was there in front of him, he had only to see it. He had sighed, confounded and irritated at her blatant dissembling.
He feared he would never understand her or the obscurity that had hidden her true self away after her death. Even when he’d taken to visiting her resting place in the family cemetery, he had come no closer to the vague answers he sought. When he took stock of what he truly did know of her, it came down to a short, sparse list.
She had loved her husband, passionately and unendingly. She had loved her three children and her friends. She had fought valiantly in the war against the Dark Lord, never showing fear in the face of the enemy. She had sought to build a better world through the teaching of the magical youth, just as so many others had before her. She had mourned unceasingly when those she cared for were taken from her.
But these were but pieces of the puzzle she seemed to torment him with. He still could not make sense of it with so few parts before him. So her taunts would continue, perhaps for the rest of his days.
He was leaving soon. The fall term was to begin within a few days and he had several wards to add to his dungeon classroom. Hopefully they would help keep any of the little fools from harming themselves too badly.
But before he left the home of his childhood, he took the time to visit her grave, just as he did every year. She had been buried next to her husband in accordance with her own directions. Their marker was a relatively simple one, containing none of the extravagance that so many put into the rock that would indicate their burial place.
Severus Julius Snape
b. January 9, 1960 d. July 24, 2064
Hermione Jane Granger-Snape
b. September 19, 1979 d. October 12, 2100
Two as one. One cannot survive intact without the other. Separated by death, but reunited as well. Where there was only one for a time, now two can become as one again.
The words she’d insisted on leaving on the marker were rather sentimental, he thought, as had everyone else. But his great-grandmother was not one to be gainsaid in matters of what she wanted. According to what one of his uncles had told him, his grandmother had hesitantly mentioned that her father was not one for emotional statements. The resulting lecture, spoken in a surprisingly loud tone for one who had been dying at the time, had become yet another component in the mystery that perplexed him.
Pulled from his thoughts, he turned to see his mother standing but a few feet away. She leaned slightly on her cane — something forced upon her due to an old injury — but still managed to stand with pride in her posture. She eyed him speculatively, and he allowed her to do so, saying nothing. They’d played these games many times over the course in his life and he knew from experience that trying to deny it was useless.
After a moment, she dropped her gaze to the marker. “Out here again, I see,” she murmured quietly.
He did not answer her, merely turning back to follow her gaze. His trips out to visit the grave of the two ancestors he had never known were common knowledge within the family, and they’d ceased to gossip upon it long ago. No one even seemed to find it unusual anymore. And that suited him. He often preferred his solitude when he came here to visit.
“My son, I know what it is that you seek from her. You seek that which several members of this family have sought from her.”
He whirled, incredulous, to stare at her in shock. What was she talking about? None of his cousins had ever devoted themselves to her -
Why was she staring at him so gravely?
“Oh yes, my dear. You are not the first to feel her gaze upon you in such a way. There have been others before you, and they had one resource you do not: her. Even when she was alive, they felt the lure of her portrait and convinced themselves that she knew something absolutely priceless.”
His mother moved closer, her eyes having returned to the marker. She remained silent for a moment, reaching out to brush a lone dead leaf from it. After a moment, she continued.
“Your father saw it too, as did your grandmother. And I’m sure there were others. Each has felt the obsessive desire to possess whatever knowledge she taunted them with. But, in time, they let it go,” she said softly. “As must you.”
“How? Why?” He demanded, wincing at the hoarse quality of his voice. He sounded as though he was about to burst out crying, for Merlin’s sake!
She sighed, a sad note appearing in her voice. “You must understand, Odysseus. Hermione Granger-Snape loved her husband more than anything else in this world, even more than the three children she bore him. But despite his great adoration of his wife and family, Severus Snape was far from a pleasant or kind man. Anyone who knew him would agree to that. He was quite capable of being cruel and vindictive. When he died, however, a part of Hermione went with him, leaving behind a shell of the remarkable woman she had once been. The portrait in the front hall is a physical representation of what she became.”
He blinked and then stared at her. Shaking his head, he said, “Mother, I do not-”
“There is not a human in this world that is incapable of being callous or malicious, my son. Hermione Granger-Snape was no exception to that. As time passed, she grew angry and resentful of those who had snubbed and ridiculed Severus in life and in death. She felt a great deal of bitterness at the Ministry, for one, as they had denied him much of the recognition he should have received after the war against the Dark Lord for his services as a double agent. And those feelings dominated her for the rest of her life, growing to overshadow her very being, and it cost her more than one friendship she had cherished over the years. If one is blunt about it, then there would be no denying that Severus’ death caused Hermione to slowly descend into madness.”
She paused, staring at him intently. “His death might have, subconsciously, caused her to even take on some of his own characteristics, such as his penchant for cruelty,” she continued. “I think, in the end, that is the true purpose of that portrait, Odysseus. To leave behind one last shred of misguided revenge against the perceived wrongs done long ago. And that is why, my son, you must let go. Your father and grandmother did, but they refuse to assign any blame to Hermione’s portrait and it remains up to this day. And it will undoubtedly continue to haunt and torment those who walk that house, as long as it remains there.”
He continued to stare at her for several moments, and then turned back to the innocent-looking marker. The obsession that he’d felt for a large portion of his life had been nothing but a futile attempt at revenge for what a few fools had done to her husband? Madness had been the fuel for all of this?
“Why will Father and Grandmother not accept what you’ve told me,” he asked carefully, his eyes still riveted on the headstone. “If they could extricate themselves from this clever little entrapment, then why will they not see the rest?”
His mother sighed. “Because… while they removed themselves from the temptations of the portrait, they were still trapped in another little web. A rather common one, actually. They have fallen prey to the assumption that great heroes can do no wrong, that they are perfect in every way. It is a situation that has occurred many times. It happened with Merlin, Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter, and many others. They do not wish to believe that someone so exalted could be so… petty, for lack of a better term. I see this for what it is because I married into this family, so I’m a little more objective.” She managed a weak smile. “I suppose it comes from that Zabini blood intermingled with that of the Longbottoms and the Lovegoods.”
He nodded absently. Her words did make sense. The story of Hermione Granger-Snape was a revered one. During his time as a student at Hogwarts, the teachers — none of which had actually taught her, of course — still went into raptures at her keen intelligence and eagerness to learn. They declared her the model student, setting her upon a pedestal that no one could ever possibly hope to reach. They also spoke of her bravery during the war against the Dark Lord, of how she had provided the distraction needed for Harry Potter to bring about his defeat. Who could hope to compare to such a distinguished image? And such nonsense was even worse when it came to the likes of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore and all the others who’d been directly involved in the battles against evil.
His mother spoke again, suddenly straightening up. “I believe I may have an idea for you, Odysseus,” she said with a bit of excitement. “Come back to the house with me.”
He walked beside her at her own pace, knowing better than to offer her any assistance. She distained anyone acknowledging the injury she’d sustained as an Unspeakable during his teen years. It had, he idly recalled as they made their way back towards the manor, been the cause of more than one argument between her, his father, and his grandmother.
When they entered the house, she led him towards the art gallery that took up several rooms in the East Wing of the manor. He followed her through the halls, confusion welling up in his mind.
The gallery had been set up when the youngest daughter of Severus and Hermione had revealed her talent as an artist, a talent she had, for many years, hidden from the world behind various nom de plumes. She had never married, so her talent was never passed down and none of her siblings’ descendents had shown any of the aptitude she’d had bestowed on her. Bianca Catherine Snape’s first love had been her paintings, and had remained so until her death in 2109, rather young for any witch, especially one of her blood.
When they entered the room, the room was dark. Automatically, he raised his wand and uttered a quick lighting spell. The room was then bathed in a bright golden glow. He glanced at the paintings. He’d been in the room many times, but had never particularly paid attention to any certain painting. From his understanding, Bianca Snape had done mainly landscapes, both real and fictional.
He turned his attention back to his mother and watched as she moved down along the long wall of the room. She paused briefly at one of the paintings, her eyes sweeping over it intensely as her lips twisted into a small smile. Shaking her head slightly, she continued until she came to the only bare alcove in the gallery. The display lights, designed specifically for the room, activated when she stopped in front of the alcove. He stepped up next to her when she motioned for him to join her.
She said nothing to him, merely raising her wand and muttering an incantation. Much to his surprise, the wall in the alcove vanished, revealing an entrance to another, smaller room off the main gallery.
His mother moved forward, her cane causing a lonely echo to permeate through the room as it hit the marble floor. Still stunned, he followed her inside.
As he’d noticed earlier, the room was nowhere nearly as large as the previous one. There were, however, several paintings adorning the walls of the place. He blinked curiously. He had always been told that all of Bianca’s original paintings had remained within the house; only copies had been sent to professional art galleries or were sold to private collectors. He assumed that these were more of her paintings, but why were they hidden away? Why hadn’t they displayed with the same pride as the landscapes?
Intrigued, he stepped away from his mother, who stayed near the doorway, and moved towards one of the closest paintings. As he moved to stand before the painting in question, his eyes raised up to take it in. He froze in astonishment.
It was a portrait. He glanced at the paintings next to it. They were all portraits.
Many assumed that Bianca Snape did few portraits, outside of the ones that hung in the front hall and the study. Most people presumed that she preferred to do landscape paintings, only doing the portraits at the request of her parents. But now, as he began to move rapidly along the walls, he knew otherwise. The entire room was full of portraits, all bearing Bianca’s signature.
Most of the portraits were of Bianca’s immediate family, her parents and siblings, though a few were of close family friends. All of her paintings had the look of being painted with care, but these were even more so. The painstaking attention to detail spoke to that.
He continued his circuit of the room, but suddenly stopped at one in particular. It was she. Hermione Granger-Snape stared back at him. She was in much the same position as the portrait that stood in the front hall, but the expression was remarkably different. It was similar to the one in the library, and yet completely unlike it as well. Although it was not a magical painting, her lips seemed to twitch all the same, as though she were fighting to keep the smirk already present from becoming a fully developed grin. Her cinnamon eyes sparkled in a seemingly wicked manner as she stared off at something she had obviously seen at the time she sat for the portrait.
“Your grandmother told me about how this portrait was painted. It was one of the first Bianca did, and this one in particular was done at her father’s request. According to her, he wanted a portrait that did not have her looking like a stiff and prudish Gryffindor when he knew with absolute certainty that she was anything but stiff and prudish,” he heard his mother say from behind him. He did not turn, just continued to stare at the woman in the portrait.
“Cleopatra told me, who had heard it from Bianca herself, that Severus would come in during the sittings and stand behind Bianca, just watching. And in the end, this was the result. A sparkle that did not come out unless he was nearby. And Bianca did all she was able to capture that change.”
He nodded. This was his great-grandmother, he realized. A hero, yes, a teacher, yes, a leader, yes. But she was more, far more. In this portrait that her daughter had managed to paint so vividly, she was a woman in the throes of a love that she clung to for all her life, even after he was gone. Slowly, he reached out to touch the canvas, but stopped and allowed his hand to drop. It seemed wrong to touch it, to add anything from another time that had no part of her life.
When he felt a gentle hand rest on his shoulder, he turned to look into his mother’s brown eyes. Squeezing him comfortingly, she nodded towards the portrait. “Odysseus, I want you to take this portrait back to Hogwarts. Put it above the fireplace in those dank and depressing rooms of yours. Perhaps her presence will brighten things up in there.”
He blinked in surprise, but did not argue with her. Such a thing was futile, arguing with just about any witch. Pulling out his wand, he directed it towards the portrait and quickly shrank it. Wrapping it in a piece of silk that she handed to him, he stuck it carefully into the pocket of his robe. He glanced about at the other portraits and saw the faces of his ancestors staring back at him. Severus Snape stared out of his portrait, an impatient, almost sulky, scowl on his face. Julius William Snape sat on a stool with a solemn, grave expression, almost seemingly aware that he was destined to die only a few years after his father and leave his mother even further burdened with grief. His grandmother, Cleopatra Eugenia Snape-Thomas, grinned cheerily from a face that had never truly lost its beauty. There was even a single self-portrait of Bianca Catherine Snape, a pale-faced woman as solemn as her older brother and yet with a heart of gold. And Hermione Jane Granger-Snape was tucked away safely with him.
Two people had created a family out of a love that had lasted beyond death, a love that even brought about madness to one of them by the end of her life. But their family still flourished, even generations later. Perhaps, he thought, this was knowledge she should have imbued in that portrait in the front hall.
Love does not end with death, but lives on those who result from it, even after the originators are gone from the world.
Author's Note: Well, this is a little something that has been sitting on my computer since last fall, alternately collecting dust and being worked on at small intervals. I was hit with a bit of inspiration recently that led to its conclusion. I hope you enjoyed it! :)