Title: Solve et Coagula
Age-Range Category: Four
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape's Portrait, Draco Malfoy, Astoria Greengrass, Minerva McGonagall
Beta Reader(s): Mark W.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: Draco Malfoy needs to tell Severus Snape something, even if he can only speak to his former teacher's portrait. The portrait has something to tell Draco, as well.
Draco Malfoy looked out on the grounds of Hogwarts on his graduation day. Not for the first time, amazement filled him at how normal the grounds looked. And yet, past the ordinariness, he could remember and sometimes even still see faint signs of the battle that had taken place two years before—where scoring from dark spells had scratched into flagstones or brick or columns of the ancient school. He could remember the screams. Draco suppressed a shudder.
"You'd hardly know people died here, would you?" Astoria, his girlfriend, said, noticing the shudder. She usually noticed the things he tried to hide from everyone else. It was one of the reasons why he liked her, though he'd found it no end of irritating, at first.
Draco momentarily smiled at her because something about Astoria Greengrass always made him want to smile. But too soon, it faded. "Yes," he said. "I'm glad I came back to finish my seventh year, but I'm also glad to be leaving." He sighed. "There's just one thing I want to do before we head out to the train, and I've avoided it ever since the portrait was finally hung. Would you mind waiting for me?"
A look of realization came to Astoria's eyes as she understood which portrait Draco referred to. "Not a bit," Astoria said. "And if you need it, I'll make sure the train doesn't leave you."
Draco hugged her. "Thanks." Then he hurried across the grounds and entered the school.
He caught sight of Headmistress McGonagall leaving her office just as he was about to climb the spiral staircase leading up to it. "Headmistress McGonagall—" He wanted to say more, but the words stuck in his throat.
Minerva McGonagall paused and gave him a questioning look. "Yes, Mr. Malfoy?"
"Could I...?" Draco paused, squared his shoulders, and began again. "I'd like to speak to Headmaster Snape's portrait, if I may."
She leaned her head to one side. "You do realize, Mr. Malfoy, that the portrait is not the man himself."
"It's all that's left of him," Draco said in a sharper tone than he'd intended. "And it's the part that he wanted most to leave for others." He let out a breath to calm himself. "I'm sorry."
"So am I, young man. Well, come along, then." Professor McGonagall—Draco still thought of her as that—led him up the stairs and touched her wand to the door lock. The wooden door swung open, and she ushered him inside. "I'll leave you alone to chat," she said. "There's biscuits and tea if you want any." She closed the door before Draco could thank her.
Suddenly, Draco wanted a cup of tea more than anything and had to wrestle down the urge to pour himself a cup. The way my hands are shaking, I'd just drop it, anyway, he told himself and instead shoved his hands into his pockets and turned to the portrait.
This painting seemed more alive than most, Draco thought. The colors were more vivid, the contrast between Snape's complexion and his hair, eyes, and funereal garments was more stark. The artist had somehow captured Snape's aura of both calm and menace, even among the familiar beakers and potions ingredients forming the background behind him. More than he had ever felt it during his days as a student, Draco now felt powerfully the sense that Severus Snape was not a man to be trifled with or discounted. Even now, the portrait's black eyes followed him with keen attention as he moved about the office.
"Good afternoon, Headmaster Snape," Draco said.
"Mr. Malfoy," the portrait said. "It is good to see you again. Your studies are going well, I trust?"
"They went well," Draco said. "I earned an O for my Potions NEWT."
"I would expect nothing less of you," the portrait replied. "I congratulate you on your matriculation. So, why are you here?"
"I wanted to talk to you—"
"Obviously. You are not usually this timid, Mr. Malfoy. Pray speak your mind."
"I am timid," Draco shot back. "That's half the problem. I want to thank you for things, Professor, and I'm not even sure anymore that what I want to thank you for is...right! Not after what Potter said. Everything I thought I knew about you has been turned upside-down, and now you're not the person I thought you were. You're different—in some ways much better—and I—it goes against everything I was raised to believe. I've seen things! I've had to think about doing things..." He shuddered.
"Why don't you have a seat, Mr. Malfoy? There's a chair right next to you," Snape's portrait said. With a look of relief, Draco sank into it. "You came to thank me for something. What is it?"
"Thank you for k—" Draco gave the portrait of Albus Dumbledore a pained, stricken look and then jerked his gaze back to Snape's portrait. "Thank you for making it not necessary for me to kill Headmaster Dumbledore. But I hate that you had to."
"I hated that I had to, as well. Albus Dumbledore was a good man, even if I sometimes felt manipulated by him," Snape's portrait said. The portrait gave Draco a deeply penetrating look. "And I am very thankful that you did not have to kill him. Such a death would have weighed most heavily on your conscience."
Draco's mouth twitched. "I was weak! I was a coward! I let my family and the Dark Lord down! Although, honestly, I don't give a flip about the damned Dark Lord! Mum still can't bear to go into the formal dining room."
"You were under a great deal of pressure, Mr. Malfoy, to behave in ways that are not natural to decent human beings," the portrait said. "It is a credit to your strength of will and to your conscience that you were horrified at the idea of committing murder despite having been raised among Death-Eaters. Do not think I failed to observe you during your earlier days as a student here, Mr. Malfoy. You, Mr. Crabbe, and Mr. Goyle were not sterling representatives of the school. And yet, when the time came, you found it in your character to not wish to kill a person who had never harmed you and who had shown you nothing but kindness. The only reason you were willing to do it was to protect your family, to prove yourself a man worthy of your blood—and because you understood that openly opposing Voldemort when he lived under your family's roof would shorten your lifespan and theirs to mere moments—tortured moments." The portrait gave Draco a stern look. "Perhaps you might call it cowardice, but it was a cowardice born of harsh realism and justified fear."
"That doesn't make it any easier to bear," Draco retorted.
"Of course not," the portrait said. "Hard battles never are." The portrait studied him. "You have changed, Mr. Malfoy—matured considerably. I am pleased to see it."
"I'm not sure my parents are," Draco said with a wry look. "They're not happy about the girl I'm dating. She's not the cream of the pureblood crop that they would have for me."
"As you were previously the sort who agreed with your parents in all things, I cannot but see that as a step in the right direction," Snape's portrait told him. "You have still more to learn, and I should like to recommend a course of study for you. It is one I attempted to follow in life, but I fear I was not ready for it during the greater part of my days. It is my hope that you will have better success with it than I did."
Draco gave the portrait an uncertain look. "I don't see how I could exceed you, Headmaster, but I'm willing to learn. What do you suggest?"
The portrait thought a moment and then replied. "I suggest you dissolve and coagulate yourself, Mr. Malfoy. In Flourish and Blott's, you will find a treatise called De Alchimia by le Comte de Saint Germain. You should read that. I think you will find the study of spiritual alchemy most enlightening…"