Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
His immediate thought was to remember why he preferred to avoid mirrors. There confronting him was a thin, sour, waspish-looking individual as sallow as spoilt milk, slightly tidier than in life and with hair which somehow managed to look glossy rather than greasy (somebody, he thought, had given their artistic licence some quite vigorous exercise), but still dressed in his own habitual mourning-black. But now there was an unaccustomed glitter of silver pinned to the left breast of his crow's-wing robes, and his other self was frowning at him with an expression of tight-mouthed revulsion which he knew must mirror his own. Black eyes burned down at him like twin coals there before him was a scrawny, beaky figure in black with a green and silver scarf wrapped rather incongruously around its neck, gazing up at him from -
Severus stepped back with a jerk, feeling as if his eyeballs had just tried to turn themselves inside out, and his portrait self put one long, elegant hand up to cover those burning-black eyes, and winced visibly. Everything about the portrait, he noted abstractedly, was elegant, and again it spoke of money spent. His own image, a harsh composition in black and white, looked as austerely striking and inscrutable as a figure by Annigoni, and the setting was as solidly realized as a seventeenth century Dutch interior.
Behind him(self) he could recognizably make out part of his own quarters, fitfully lit by the green underwater light of windows against which the surface of the lake rose and fell with the Scottish rain. There, beside the figure, was part of his own shabby-but-comfortable sofa, and a corner of fireplace with the suggestion of flame dancing in the grate. There were his bookshelves, half-seen behind his own bony shoulders, and the small but well-stocked potions workspace in the corner of the room, with the Belfast sink and the stone bench. Among the shadows in the depths of the painted refuge, two doors stood slightly ajar, showing a few wisps of colour which hinted at the bedroom and bathroom beyond. Even the kettle in the corner had been faithfully copied, along with what looked like a biscuit tin.... Somebody, he realized with shock, had gone to a great deal of trouble to make sure his alternate self would be comfortable and content, or as contented as he was capable of being.
But it was frightening, to look at himself, to see himself moving, to be able to interact with himself - of course, he had seen himself in a Pensieve many times, it didn't disturb him to see his own image without the reversal imposed by a mirror, but viewing himself in a Pensieve was little different, emotionally, from watching a Muggle film. This, though.... He put his hand up self-consciously, touching his own impossibly large, ugly nose, the sour lines bitten in at the sides of his mouth, both clearly visible in his portrait, as the portrait's painted eyes glanced at his greasy, curtaining hair and its thin lips twisted in disgust. He wanted to hide behind that hair, to back away, to run - but the portrait's expression lifted suddenly into bitter mockery.
"Mums always said I was no oil-painting", said the painted self, "and I can quite see what she meant: but now, as you see, I've proved her wrong." The voice was slightly higher than he expected and embarrassingly more camp, but it still sounded like a rustle of silk, like rough honey - the only beautiful thing about him, although the idea of being seduced by your own voice was too disturbing for words.
His eyes were drawn, mesmerized, to the silver medal pinned to his portrait's chest, catching the light and shining like a star as the figure moved. "Is that...?" he started, putting his hand up as if to reach out to that glittering point, and the painted figure took a step backwards, even though he was nothing like near enough to really touch the surface of the picture.
"The Order of Merlin, First Class," portrait-Snape said quietly, with a little lift of his head. "The real medal was buried with m- h- us."
Behind him, Hermione's voice murmured "I'm sure the Minister would arrange to have a duplicate cast for you," and her husband's low growl added, almost on the edge of hearing, "...so he can cut a dash when he goes to meet his adoring fans...." There was a slight scuffling noise and a yelp which suggested that she had slapped him on the arm, but Severus had eyes only for his double.
"It really is true then, that they acknowledged... but they had to wait until I was dead." He felt childish for minding it: but the bleak years of isolation and scorn and the final misery of his exile hurt like toothache, and to be thanked for his dedication only after he was in his grave was black irony.
The portrait-self's mouth tightened bitterly. "It was easier that way - then they didn't have to actually mix with me at receptions." A sparkle of light glittered suddenly in his painted eyes. "But they will now, of course...."
"Was that why you - " Could the portrait, who was in a very real sense himself, really have dragged him back from death just to score a point over Kingsley Shacklebolt? Yes, of course I would, he thought with an edge of hysteria. "Was that why you told them it would be a good idea to bring me back - so I could rub the Ministry's noses in my - my rehabilitation, and gloat for you?"
"Are you telling me you don't think that that would be a good enough reason?" the portrait said waspishly. "But no, it wasn't - only that."
"What, then? Why did you tell them to bring me back? Could I not be - punished enough through you?" His heart felt as clenched and hard as an almond-shell, and part of him wished not to have an audience for this, and part of him didn't care, because nothing existed or mattered outside of this narrow focus between self and self.
The portrait sighed a tiny, painted sigh. "You sound like me twenty years ago."
"He is you twenty years ago" the portrait of Dumbledore said suddenly, and Severus whipped round to snarl as if he felt himself attacked.
"You stay out of this, I don't - don't want - " Grief and anger conspired to choke off his words as Dilys Derwent in her own frame tutted in disapproval. "And you," he added with a snarl at the ringletted witch, and his portrait added "Meddling old harpy...." under whatever portraits had for breath.
"Dilys, I must protest," Phineas's faux-reedy voice cut in. "Is this a proper respect to show towards the Headmaster Emeritus, the bravest - "
"I was sacked, Phineas, in case you hadn't noticed," the portrait-Severus snapped, "not honourably discharged," and his breathing twin felt his stomach lurch in misery at the memory of his final flight from the place which had been his home, driven out by the same colleagues who had taught him since he was eleven.
"Gentlemen - ladies - please," Quincy Dobson muttered, wringing his hands together nervously. "I'm sure Professor Snape has sufficient on his mind without additional commentary."
"Whatever you feel is right, Severus", portrait-Dumbledore said, with a slight inclination of the head towards his current successor. His tone was so ostentatiously wise and kindly that it made the hair on the back of Severus's neck prickle. He felt as breathless as if he had been running a race and was amazed to realise that the presence of Neville Longbottom at his left, of Hermione and Ronald Weasley somewhere behind his right shoulder, made him feel immeasurably better and more secure.
Luna, meanwhile, was sitting on one of the side-tables, swinging her heels and looking as though anything which might be taking place was nothing to do with her; but she felt him looking and looked back, with a wide, sunny smile which elevated his spirits remarkably.
"All right." He drew a deep breath. "Explain, please."
The portrait dropped his black gaze, awkwardly and yet somehow still graceful - he was painted to be always graceful, now. He turned in a swirl of robes, silently, and went to sit on the visible end of sofa, facing the fire, his back half-turned to the watchers and his hard eagle's face in profile.
"When I - died," he said thinly, "I was as you know: bitter, exiled, reviled."
The Severus who was reborn, in the body, shut his eyes for a moment in pain. "Yes." Even as he said it he remembered that he had, unexpectedly, four allies ranged around him, to keep out the cold.
"Over the years," the portrait said with a frown, his eyebrows drawing down in a sweep and twist of black brushstrokes, "I have reached an... accommodation with my former colleagues, and received a degree of acclaim which - which counterbalanced some of the causes of my bitterness. Yet, I do not know whether I am the real Severus Snape, or at least some fragment of him, or a mere simulacrum. Even if I am real, I do not know whether any part of what I have learned will be transferred to the... primary persona."
"I don't know whether I'm real either. How can one tell? Maybe we're both simulacra, and the real us is still dead - probably burning in bloody hell-fire." But that wasn't right, was it: the folded memories of between shuffled and opened just enough to show him that being dead had been, if not completely satisfying, at least fairly restful and not unpleasant.
"Is that a meaningful question?" Luna said, smiling brightly. "Maybe you're both really Severus, and there's another bit of you that's behind the Veil as well."
"Maybe," the portrait replied restlessly. "Perhaps. But even so, even if we're both fragments or extensions of a greater whole, this - person is an extension which is likely to die and to - become one with the original again sooner than I will. Assuming that this self, myself, will even have any sort of survival, if the paint and canvas are destroyed. I wanted my real self, my original, not to be left as bitter and isolated as I was when I died, and I wanted to share my experiences with some part of myself which might have immortality - not to spend twenty years or a thousand years in this form, learning, and then have that knowledge flake away in motes of dried-out pigments. And it isn't -"
He stood up again, suddenly, his fingers pressed to his lips as if to hold something in, and began to pace back and forth through the painted room, his robes a flurry of black smoke. Reflected firelight glinted fitfully from the medal at his breast as he swung round to face his more solid twin, his eyes suddenly glaring and wild.
"It isn't - fucking - fair that I lived all my life like that, scorned, isolated, with the bloody oh-so-clean Order turning up their noses at the blood on my hands and the guilt on my shoulders which I carried for them, for them, and then when I was finally vindicated I was fucking dead and couldn't go round and rub their bloody noses in it. I lived my whole - bloody - life under threat and never got to find out what peace would be like or what it would be like not to be so bloody scared all the time."
Flower-revenant Severus, Severus-in-the-body, shut his eyes and nodded, not trusting himself to speak in the face of his own blistering pain as the silk-and-honey voice continued remorselessly.
"I finally found a measure of acceptance, even of praise, when it was too late for me to do anything with them; they painted a medal on my chest and they buried it with me." A tap of footsteps - painted feet upon a painted floor, pacing, pausing. "Do not misunderstand me: my life, if that is the correct term, as a portrait is a comparatively pleasant and even relaxing one. But it is still limited, in both action and emotion, and I wanted a more vivid part of myself to know what it would feel like to be free even if - even if it came at the cost of re-opening old wounds. And I wanted to enjoy my vindication - I wanted to see all their faces when they found out that they had misjudged me."
"What - what do you want me to do about it?"
"What I want you to do," his other self said darkly and, God, he had never realized that you could hear the smirk, "is to share my memories, and then go out and live as I should have done, make the bastards swallow my vindication until they choke on it, and then come back and let me see it."
"If this is going to take a while, you really ought to sit down," Neville's voice said quietly at his elbow. For a moment Severus teetered on the point of snarling about the boy's disrespect in not addressing him as "sir", before memory caught up with knee-jerk hostility and reminded him that at this point Longbottom had been a teacher about as long as he had.
"Why?" he asked rather sulkily. "He isn't."
"He isn't still recovering from losing most of his blood-volume, and he's made of paint and brushwork: whereas you're flesh and blood. Sort of. And still a bit light on the 'blood' bit."
"And you would know, wouldn't you Longbottom?" he muttered as Quincy Dobson fussily drew up a chair for him (literally, by sketching it in the air with his wand). "I gather I have you to thank for the necessary - floral arrangements."
"'s right," Neville said cheerfully, and put out a steadying hand as Severus lost the battle with gravity and folded back and down into the chair in an undignified semi-collapse. He tilted his head back and let the circular room swim around him, until a muttered conversation between Hermione and Headmaster Dobson resulted in a cup of hot sweet tea which he clutched to him with both hands, and tried not to think about Dumbledore and sherbet lemons.
When he had regained his breath and the world felt a little less unstable, he held the cup out expectantly to be removed by the there-and-gone blur of a passing house-elf, and braced himself to face his double again. The painted self had advanced right to the front of the frame, as if it were a window, its edge cutting across him at the breast and his head and shoulders almost filling the canvas. For the first time the embodied Severus noticed, uneasily, that the swirl of carving which decorated the centre of the bottom bar of the frame was not just a swag of leaves, as he had vaguely assumed, but a spray of lilies, from behind which there emerged, on the right-hand side, the delicate head of a doe; on the left, that of a serpent.
"Very well." He moved his hand, restlessly, picking at the arm of the chair, and Hermione laid her fingertips lightly on his forearm, and he did not draw away.
"Are you quite sure you're - well, up to this?" she asked quietly.
"I've faced far worse in far worse condition."
"Yes, well - just because things have been bad, doesn't mean they have to go on being bad."
"Thank you for that piece of home-spun wisdom," he replied sourly. "I'd prefer to just get this over with." He glanced at the looming face of his duplicate and then away, not quite meeting his (own?) eyes. "How shall we do this?"
"Simple Legilimency, I think," the other replied.
"Is that... possible, with a portrait?" He had tried, once, to read Dumbledore's portrait, and had failed - but he had never been able to read the man either. But he himself was also peculiarly resistant to Legilimency.
"Since we are so alike... I think so."
"Very well." He raised his head, jerkily, with effort, to meet the black gaze of his other self.
Once again, there was a profoundly uncomfortable sensation as if his eyes were turning inside-out; he was looking at himself looking at himself in an endless recursive loop, his mind was still in what passed for his body but his point of view was somewhere up the wall and looking down on himself - but this time he forced himself to relax and accept the dizzying inversion, and not recoil from his own pallid unloveliness. If it had not been for the touch of Hermione's fingers, he would not have known which self he was: he looked down on the scene through his other eyes and was puzzled by the concern with which his four former students watched him when they thought he wasn't watching back.
It was not quite like Legilimency, or not like any Legilimency he had performed before. There was no sense of the Other, of a barrier to be breached, no resilience against him. It was more like remembering himself in some other phase - the cowed child, perhaps, or the still-scared but defiant schoolboy - except that this was a phase of himself, a set of memories of himself, which he had never previously seen. Had never previously been. Fumbling, half here and half there, he made his way to the painted sofa before the painted fire, shut both sets of eyes and let himself fall back into memory.
Pietro Annigoni was a well-known Italian portrait painter whose portraits included two very austere, dignified, sculpturally-draped images of the Queen.
I had originally had Severus refer to his mother as "Mums" in this chapter, because people from north Derbyshire, which is one of the possible locations for Spinner's End, call their parents "Mums and Dads". However, this story aims to be as canon-compatible as possible and initially the revelation on Pottermore that Spinner's End is in Cokeworth, the area which contains the dingy hotel where Harry and the Dursleys stay while fleeing the letters from Hogwarts, and which is either a city or (more probably) a suburb or satellite town of a city, combined with the presence of a Cocker River just south of Lancaster and of a Snape Wood Farm a few miles south of that, led me to see Spinner's End as probably being in a fictional satellite town at the southern end of the Lancaster/Morecambe/Heysham conurbation, just beyond Galgate. I therefore changed Snape's dialogue to have him say "Mum". But now Pottermore has stated that Cokeworth is in the Midlands so we're back with Derbyshire and "Mums".
"He's no oil painting" is a British expression meaning that somebody is decidedly plain.
Owing to added bone-conduction, your own voice always sounds deeper and less shrill to you than it does to other people.
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