I put together the idea for this fic when I came across a piece of fanart (https://www.reddit.com/r/harrypotter/comments/mk9vju/i_feel_like_snape_would_be_childfree_but_this_is) that refused to leave my head until I started writing an "after story" for it.
1) I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to it. If you recognize it, it's not mine.
2) In addition to the fanart I linked above, I was also inspired by the old movie "The Family Man". If you haven't seen it, it's a great heartfelt movie.
3) OOC Warning: This is an AU fic that takes a canon Snape into the AU world so there's definitely some OOC going on given the new situation. That being said, I've always thought the Deathly Hallow's Snape to be OOC compared to the rest of the series, so hopefully it's not too much.
4) This story features a disabled Harry. His disability is important to the storyline, but won't be a major focus and it will not be cured or otherwise altered in this fic.
1. Chapter 1: Death by JewelBurns
2. Chapter 2: Vignettes - The Forgotten Prophecy by JewelBurns
3. Chapter 3: A Whole New World by JewelBurns
4. Chapter 4: Harry's Story by JewelBurns
5. Vignette - Sev and Lily Part 1 by JewelBurns
"Look at me," Severus Snape murmured, wanting - no needing - to see those emerald eyes one last time as his life slipped away. They were the same eyes that continuously haunted his dreams ever since the fateful night in October of 1981 when Lily died due to his actions. They haunted his days, too, once Potter arrived at Hogwarts less than a decade later. After all of the sins he committed throughout his life, Severus undoubtedly knew he did not deserve those eyes to be the last he saw as he died - an ending he welcomed with open arms, for he always knew he had no chance of walking away from the Dark Lord alive once the battle began. Nor did he deserve the young man kneeling beside him to oblige his seemingly odd request, and yet he did it without question.
Feeling himself slipping off into death, Severus thought about how horribly he failed. Why did Albus ever think he'd be able to gain Potter's trust enough to deliver the final piece to the Horcrux puzzle, especially after the young Gryffindor watched the Death Eater kill the man he looked up to as a mentor? And why didn't Severus try harder to argue this point to the meddling old man? Informing the seventeen-year-old he had to die at the hand of Voldemort in order to save the rest of the wizarding world should not have ever fallen on Severus's shoulders; surely Minerva would have been a more suitable choice.
Now, their only real hope - a term Severus rarely, if ever, used - of winning the war depended on the extra memories he managed to give to Potter to help bridge the enormous gap Severus spent the last six years digging between the student and teacher. The memories had to work, or Wizarding Britain would surely be lost. Of course, for all he knew Potter planned on smashing the glass phial onto the cold hard ground directly after leaving his dying, evil professor's side, thus never taking them to the Pensieve to learn of his fate. If that happened, those left behind would go on to battle the Dark Lord and, at best, kill the bastard only to end up back in the same position they were in at the end of 1981. Albus managed to somehow discover the soul fragment within Potter, so the odds were in their favour of another person, quite possibly even Potter himself, discovering it too. And if not, then eventually, once Potter died, hopefully… there's that word again… of natural causes, the Dark Lord would be mortal once again and could officially be defeated. Realistically, the likelihood of the evil bastard staying dormant until Potter's death was slim, meaning they'd be reliving this nightmare, all because he failed to put aside his animosity for his childhood nemesis.
As Severus's eyes came in and out of focus during his last breaths, they shifted over the rest of the young man's face. Silently, the professor took responsibility for his role in their turbulent relationship throughout the years. The plan had always been to protect Potter from the shadows. Thinking back on the tiny eleven year old's first Potion's class, never could Severus have surmised he'd need the boy to trust him so explicitly. And yet he knew, given another dozen chances to start that first class over again, he'd likely act no differently towards Potter each and every time; for Severus Snape was far from a good or fair man.
Severus felt no pain in his body, only contentment, when he closed his eyes for the final time, allowing the bright green of Lily's eyes to engulf his vision. He was ready to disappear; to be away from the constant reminders of his transgressions, away from those who thought he perished a traitor and a coward, to simply cease existing any longer. Except mere seconds after releasing his last breath, rather than the blank void he somehow expected to succumb to, he found himself strangely aware of the hard wooden floor beneath his back missing, and a soft, plush surface arose in its place. His previously chilled body - undoubtedly caused by his massive blood loss combined with Nagini's venom - was now warm and almost… soft?... and his head felt like it was laying upon a cloud. But the biggest proof to the professor of things not acting as they seemed was the soft sunlight he saw through his still closed eyes warming his face; an impossibility since he met the Dark Lord at the Shrieking Shack in the middle of the night. Logically, he had no chance of surviving until dawn, let alone to a time when the sun rose enough to create this level of shining rays.
Using his well-honed spy skills, the dark-haired wizard laid completely still to gather as much detail as possible about his new, unknown location. Birds sang exuberantly to his right, immediately ruling out this all being some sort of horrific nightmare. Back in the castle, much to his pleasure, his enchanted windows were charmed not to pick up the ambient sounds from the pictures they depicted outside of the castle, therefore making the odds of him waking up in his dungeon quarter almost none. Focusing a bit harder, a light floral fragrance, more subtle than perfume, drifted over to his nose from somewhere to his left, as if someone recently wore a flowery body soap or lotion beside him. The most bizarre of all, though, was the strong, distinct, unrecognizable yet equally familiar scent wafting over to him from his right - in the same direction as the window based on the sunlight and sounds of the birds. A sensation deep inside of his core felt unusually protective and attached to the source of the aroma, but he had no earthly idea as to what produced it or why he felt so drawn to it in the first place.
Suddenly, the impression of being watched by whoever produced the unknown scent caused Severus to abandon his reconnaissance in favour of carefully opening his eyes. Blinking three times against the blinding light pouring into the room, he turned towards the source of his discomfort, startled at the sight of a little girl kneeling on the side of the bed with her head resting on her folded arms upon the soft green bedspread. She looked no older than five - although Severus would be the first to admit his lack of knowledge on children's ages, primarily when they fell in the pre-Hogwarts era. Still dressed in an off-white, long-sleeved nightgown, she seemed completely content at staying there watching him sleep for however long it took to fully wake. Her eyes were as dark as his own, contrasted against her pale face framed by long shoulder-length red hair. Regardless of how much he wanted to, there was no denying her parentage. After all, how often during the past six years had he heard the reverse said about Potter? She looked exactly like her mother, except for her eyes… she had her father's eyes.
"Are you awake?" The little girl quietly asked, giving no hint of being fearful or curious of his supposedly new presence.
"Yes," he nodded, surprising himself with his honesty.
Endearingly, she turned her head to the side and with a smile responded, "Good, because Mummy said breakfast is almost ready."
Mummy. The single word he feared hearing from the child as soon as he saw her hurt just as much as he imagined it would. Closing his eyes again, not believing for a second he died only to wake up in this… potential utopia… he took a deep, cleansing breath fully predicting - and perhaps hoping - he'd open them to find himself back on the broken floor of the Shrieking Shack choking on his own aspirated blood.
"She also wanted me to tell you you're gonna be late again," the girl nonchalantly added before leaping up onto the foot of the bed, prompting Severus to let out an uncharacteristic oof at her added weight directly on top of his legs. The sudden movement on the bed scared a cat Severus hadn't previously noticed curled up the other side of the bed, who darted out of the bedroom. The feline didn't seem to bother her at all either. "But don't worry, I told her those other times weren't your fault!"
"Well, tell your…" he began with a growl, until the kind expression flickering on her innocent face, one he distinctly remembered being so much like Lily's, tore straight through his heart, quickly calming his increasing anxiety, "tell... her… tell her I'll be right there."
"Kay!" She happily exclaimed, apparently satisfied with his answer. Then without any warning, she rolled off of his legs, fluidly falling onto the floor, and bounced out of the bedroom door situated on the left-handed side of the wall directly across from the bed.
Severus cringed at the lack of privacy when the girl failed to close the door in her wake, but at the same time he strangely understood she'd been taught all of her young life to leave them cracked open; for what purpose, he hadn't the slightest clue. Now alone in his new bedroom, Severus slowly propped himself up onto his elbows, careful not to jostle any possible leftover wounds. When no pain arose, he presumed either the entire version of the Wizarding World he remembered never existed or he found himself in some kind of post-death purgatory. Regardless of the reason, learning about this new world he almost literally fell into quickly became his top priority.
Starting with his immediate surroundings, the spy sighed at how the soft buttery yellow painted walls, a shade he'd normally die before selecting himself, did not appear to offend him nearly as much as he would have expected. Frames filled with professional-looking paintings ranging from a sunset beach to a forest of animals, to a flower-filled meadow, hung in on the walls in a tidy, organized fashion throughout the moderately sized bedroom. The plush queen-size bed he currently laid on sat against the far wall opposite a chest of drawers with a large mirror resting on top of it. Hoisting himself further up until he fully leaned against the dark wooden headboard, the professor audibly gasped at the sight of his own reflection staring back at him. Not only did he appear healthier overall, the dark circles he constantly wore beneath his eyes were missing and though his pallid face was still pale, it didn't look nearly as sunken in. Cosmetic changes aside, the most shocking change was the absence of the obvious wounds caused by Nagini's fatal attack on his neckline. Unable to believe the reflection, Severus rapidly drew his shaking hands up to his neck, until a streak of gold in his peripheral vision made him detour them to the space directly in front of his face. Every bit of air in his lungs vanished as he stared at the plain gold wedding band perfectly indented on his left ring finger as if he seldom removed it. Swallowing back the bile threatening to rise into his throat, he frantically rubbed his head to alleviate the pounding headache he felt coming on.
This is insane, he told himself. It can't be real… Who would... How could it be feasible? What the bloody hell is going on here?
Those questions had no conceivable answers, and his face fell when the reality of the situation hit him hard: if that little girl - supposedly his daughter - didn't notice any difference in him, it was more likely than not, he was alone here. Unless he stealthily found another person who experienced the same phenomenon as he did, there wasn't a single soul he could confidently trust with this information to help him sort through the mess. Who would honestly believe he died at the hands of the Dark Lord's reptilian sidekick only to wake up in an evidently idealistic world?
You'll be in St Mungo's next to Lockhart before you get a second word out. Maybe it was all just a horrible dream? Yes… that's it… this must be where I've lived all along.
His head began to throb attempting to recall anything from this life. Coming up empty-handed, Severus admitted that as much as he wanted to convince himself he dreamt about the Wizarding War, he'd be lying. Outside of some intuitive feelings brewing inside of him, he couldn't remember how the wedding band ended up on his finger, the birth of the little girl he somehow knew was his, or even his profession here. Did he still teach at Hogwarts? If so, was he home for summer holiday? Or perhaps they lived in Hogsmeade and he walked to the castle daily? There were plenty of professors throughout the years with families who had similar arrangements made. And though he didn't necessarily want to taint the world around him, he also needed to find out the status of the Dark Lord and Potter? Did either exist in this alternate world? Could their absence have been the point of deviation from his original world?
It was yet another set of very important questions without any answers, none of which he would get laying around in bed. He needed a plan, and it started with getting off of his arse and doing what did best: blending in with his environment until he found out what happened and how to fix it.
But do I even want to fix it?
After all, he remembered dying. The prospect of returning to his impending death wasn't exactly the most enticing of reasons to leave behind this life he miraculously built with Lily.
A battle for another day, he decided. First things first, I need to find Lily and figure out what I do here and where I'm supposed to be.
Ready to face the day with some semblance of a plan in mind, Severus swung his legs off "his side" of the bed, right where the little girl - Daisy? No that doesn't sound right - previously waited for him to wake up. A soft white rug he most certainly would not have selected on his own met his bare feet. Standing, Severus began to inspect himself, mostly to be sure he wouldn't bleed out from being previously attacked. Gone were the black set of robes he vividly recalled dressing in on his last day as Headmaster - having no idea he was dressing in the clothing he would later die in - and in their place, he wore a set of long-sleeved, long-bottomed comfortable grey pyjamas. For the longest time, he stood staring at his left forearm, wondering what lay beneath the smooth, silky fabric. Feeling his heart attempting to break through his chest, Severus's right hand nervously fingered the sleeve at the bottom edge of his left wrist, debating if he should lift it to reveal if the ugly Mark remained. To be honest, the only way any of this made any modicum of sense to him was if he'd not gotten branded with the Dark Lord's signature after Hogwarts since Lily never would agree to marry him otherwise. Hand clenched tightly into a fist, Severus held his breath, then swiftly pulled back the sleeve to reveal the dark black skull and serpent ink still embedded into his skin. Though distraught to see the Mark's presence, and what it represented, he had larger problems to contend with: unlike the years when the Dark Lord had vanished, this Mark appeared no less faded than the day he received it or his last day in the other world - both instances where the Dark Lord had a very real, corporeal body. This gave him the one answer he wishes he didn't have, Voldemort remained very much alive in this world.
His calloused, trembling hand ran down the length of his face as Severus finally gained the courage to move around the room, specifically to the door directly in front of him, thankfully leading to a small lavatory. A short stop to peek out of the window he passed on his way gave him a second answer. They did not live in Hogsmeade. Their large front-facing window overlooked a very quiet muggle street out in the countryside, and based on the vantage point, he deduced the couple's bedroom was either located on the ground floor or they lived in a one-story bungalow; the latter of which was a rather unusual choice for a still young, thirty-something couple. When did Lily move out of Godric's Hollow? Or had she never been married to James Potter here?If that were the case, he fully understood why they'd choose not to raise their daughter in Cokeworth and could embrace living in the muggle countryside.
Tabling the comparatively benign conundrum for later, he finished the short walk into the lavatory. Besides the noticeable woman's touch on things such as the perfectly folded towels stacked on the shelves near the shower and the matching floor rugs, nothing in the room stood out to him. Without any context as to where he worked or how "late" he already was in getting there, Severus freshened up as efficiently as possible. Back in his room, he easily found most of his clothing in a magically expanded wardrobe on the wall to the left of the bed and was eternally grateful to discover little difference between his clothing here and those from his previous life. Still consisting of a muted rainbow of blacks, grey's, greens, and a touch of blue, he noted the only major deviation was how many more muggle clothes he now owned; which made sense given their home in the muggle community.
Dressed for the day in a more familiar outfit of all black wizarding robes instantly improved Severus's confidence as he made his way to the still cracked-opened door. Fully prepared to work towards gaining answers to his growing list of questions, he froze in his tracks right as his hand reached the brass knob. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something on the chest of drawers next to him and felt drawn to it. Ever so gently, using more care than anyone would ever guess Severus Snape possessed, he picked up a thin silver picture frame lined with elegant green jewels around it. Gazing at the moving image, an emotion he long ago buried deep within himself tried to push its ways out of his expertly constructed walls, threatening to crumble him.
The picture was taken on Severus and Lily's wedding day, confirming, for certain, what he presumed since meeting the little girl. The joyous couple stood under an archway of green, white, and yellow wildflowers, Severus in the finest set of black dress robes he'd ever owned and Lily in an exquisite form-fitting ivory dress. The moving picture looped a clip of his younger self placing a delicate gold band onto his bride's ring finger, his lips moving silently as he repeated the vows he currently couldn't remember to her, and his new wife staring up at him; her green eyes never once faltering or shying away. Whatever happened here to bring them together also brought with it a true and underlying love, for which Severus felt eternally grateful. More pictures lined Lily's dresser, but fueled by his first real experience of love in years - decades probably - he wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible. Peeling his eyes away, Severus steeled his nerves and, with a new flame of excitement burning inside of him, walked out of the door to find his new family.
Their bedroom was located at the end of a long, wide corridor with three white doors on the opposite side and one near the end on his side, tipping the scales in favour of a bungalow style home. Why else would they seemingly have all of the room on the ground floor if not for it being a single-story? The door directly across from his sat ajar, giving him a perfect view of the light pink painted walls plus the flower-patterned bedspread on the bed parallel to the door, both telling him it belonged to his recently found daughter. A sharp pain in his head started at the sight of a large wooden pink "R" on the front of the wooden door.
Rosalie. His brows furrowed at the sharp burst of recollection. Rosalie Maya Snape.
However, when Severus tried to pull up any memories surrounding Rosalie, nothing came to him. No matter how hard he pushed his mind, the only little piece of a memory he found could hardly even count as one: he somehow knew the little girl who looked identical to Lily with Severus's dark eyes carried a piece of their family within her name - although he hadn't the slightest clue as to what that technically meant. Nevertheless, the exercise wasn't a complete waste. He discovered the memories of this life did exist. They were there, just trapped deep beneath the surface of his subconscious desperately trying to swim up to him if only the paths to get there weren't blocked by some unknown force. The analogy reminded him too much of Potter submerged under the frozen lake in the Forest of Dean when Severus led him to the Sword of Gryffindor. Loathe as he was to admit it, sheer terror rippled through his body when Potter did not immediately emerge with the sword in his hand, celebrating his victory. Had Mr Weasley not gotten there when he did, Severus had been less than ten seconds away from jumping into the icy water himself to save the blasted teen. He shook his head to clear away the all too vivid scene; thinking of that version of his past was counterproductive to his current mission.
The next two doors after Rosalie's bedroom caused the spy to slow his journey of seeking out Lily. They both were closed - bothering him for reasons he couldn't fathom - and a light shined from underneath the middle door where he heard the sound of a shower running. Again, something appeared off with them, and the uneasy feeling grew as he quietly stalked out of the corridor, passed the last door he instinctively knew led into his private office, out into the main living space. With wide eyes, he took in the home he apparently lived in for some unknown number of years though had no recollection of any of it. More akin to the evolving American style, the rest of the dwelling had a more wide-open floor plan than a typical British home. Exiting the bedroom corridor through a doorless threshold, he could see into the kitchen situation directly in front of him. A woman with beautiful, long auburn hair was standing with her back turned to him, levitating goblets to a location out of his field of vision, presumably setting the table for breakfast. A wide opening to his left, almost exactly halfway between the bedrooms and the kitchen, led to a glass-enclosed conservatory containing a standard blonde wooden table with four tall backed, yellow fabric-covered chairs all neatly tucked into their respective places. Contradicting the otherwise tidy space, the table itself sat off-centre in the room leaving a clear path from its entrance to a door in the back of the room going out to a large garden.
Opposite the conservatory, the sitting room was located through what he thought used to be a doorway. A bright flash of his vision brought him a quick snippet of himself and Lily removing the door, then widening the doorway to the length of the room. A strong sense of accomplishment coursed through Severus at the memory. Lily had wanted the renovation done, but despite his confidence in her ability, she didn't want to be alone when she did it as a precaution. It had taken both of them most of the afternoon to get it, plus the other renovations Lily needed, completed. Just like when he remembered Rosalie's name, Severus tried to recall any actual details of the day, but just like with his daughter, nothing else came to him.
More discouraged than he should have been given pieces coming back, Severus carefully searched in the sitting room for more answers. On the wall opposite the bedroom corridor, framing the whitewashed brick fireplace, was a set of four rich dark wooden bookshelves - mismatched to the blonde wooden table in the conservatory - that nearly reached the floor. A sofa too large for the size of the room was pushed flush up against the wall across from the fireplace, missing any of the typical side or coffee tables surrounding it. In fact, it took him longer than he cared to admit, to notice the space was oddly sparse for a family to be actively living there. For a home containing a messy, unruly young child, not one thing in the room appeared out of place: all of the books were neatly stacked in the shelves, the toys were tucked into a set of baskets lining the wall closest to the foyer of the home, and not a single item littered the white tiled floor. It was impeccably clear and clean. Once again, the state of the room, combined with the unnatural distance between the furniture perturbed him; minor details nagging at the back of his mind demanded his attention to their importance in his new life. Obviously, the house had been meticulously laid out with a specific purpose in mind, he simply could not remember why.
"Severus?" A familiar voice beckoned to him from the kitchen. Lily's voice, to be exact. "Is that you hiding out there?"
For a split second, he didn't want to answer. What if two of him existed in this world and by acknowledging his presence he'd set off an existential crisis similar to viewing oneself while using a Time Turner?
Unfortunately, Lily's fiery impatience removed his ability to choose in the situation when she demanded, "Whatever you're doing, it's going to have to wait. You've already been late four times this month and I highly doubt Albus is going to let the fifth time go unnoticed."
So I am still a professor here. The thought depressed him greatly.
"... not his fault," Severus heard Rosalie's tiny voice defend him. He couldn't hold back the slight upturn of his lips.
"I'll be right there," he eventually called out, cringing at how his voice lurched ever so slightly. Then, taking one last glimpse around the comfortable and airy home, he headed back to the kitchen to find his family.
If the condition of the previous rooms he saw weren't enough to make him curious about the unique condition of their home, the kitchen absolutely piqued his interest in the life they lived within these walls. Two empty doorways framed the wide L-shaped kitchen heading to the dining room on the other end, and as with the rest of the structures, it was intentionally designed to be more open in the middle than a British kitchen. A dozen or so small, yet obvious, modifications made to the space demanded his attention all at once, but the most significant of them was the missing cabinets beneath the sink under the garden-facing window, as well as under a large section of countertop to the side of a muggle oven and cooktop. Reminiscent of his Potions workbenches in his classroom, the open area usually allowed enough space for his students to sit on a stool to work - giving his or her knees a place to go - and when completed with their work, they would store the stool underneath. Here, though, no such stools were seen. Rounding out the muggle appliances, a small refrigerator sat in the far corner.
Severus crossed his arms over his chest, leaning awkwardly against the threshold, taking in the scene before him. His heart ached as he watched Lily use her wand to skillfully stir a pan of scrambled eggs on the cooktop while simultaneously bending down to the lower cabinet on her right to grab three plain white plates, which she placed on the counter, ready to serve the breakfast she made for her family. Wearing a soft green muggle sundress, she looked just as stunning as he remembered and he wanted nothing more than to approach her from behind and wrap his arms around her waist to pull her into a deep embrace.
Where the bloody hell did that come from?!
"There you are!" Lily jumped in surprise at the sight of him standing at the entrance to their kitchen. Using a metal serving spoon, she served two large and one small portion of eggs onto the three plates and casually held out two of them for him to carry. "Would you take these to the table for me? I know I say this every day, but you're seriously late this morning, so please hurry."
"I am so sorry, Lily, for everything..." the words left his mouth faster than his brain could stop them. Guilt over his role in her death - one which obviously did not occur wherever this was - washed over him like a bucket of ice-cold water. He didn't want to leave; not for work, not for the Dark Lord, not for anything.
"It's nothing to apologize over," she gave him a slight smile, one he'd never seen on her face as a friend, but it dropped a moment later. Putting the plates back onto the counter, she walked up to him. He all but stopped breathing while he gazed down into the same emerald eyes he looked into as he died. "Still a bit peaky." Her soft hand caressed his cheeks. "You looked a little off going to bed last night, are you sure you're feeling alright? If you can stay with Rosie for a bit I can always take-"
"No, I'm alright." He held his hands out and gently placed them on her shoulders. Her eyes narrowed at him, not believing the obvious lie. "Perhaps I may still be a little… off…" he amended, "as you put it, however, I'll get over it."
"Sev, you are allowed to accept help. If you need me-"
"I said I'm fine!" He sharply retorted, hating himself for so easily falling back into his former persona. Lily's nostrils flared and her jaw clenched tightly in response to his abnormal angry tone, silently revealing to him that this version of himself - one he had to assume to be better than his current self - did not usually speak to his wife in such a manner. Feeling her disappointment in him, Severus used his wand to levitate the three plates in front of him, he escorted them out of the other doorless threshold, into the informal dining room.
The final room of his unofficial tour of his home was, by far, the plainest of them all containing only a table - a little shorter than a typical one, he noted - with three plain brown chairs, one of which Rosie sat in colouring feverishly in a book. Naturally, Severus navigated the three plates to space in front of the three chairs pausing at his apparent oversight: only two of the chairs were set with a goblet and utensils. The last place setting was at the chairless space where a set of three potions phials - a common muscle relaxant, a high-dose pain reliever, and one he didn't recognize - labelled in what Severus recognized as his own distinct handwriting sat next to the empty goblet.
"Don't," Rosalie warned him when Severus began to move the third chair over to the chairless opening. Without so much as lifting her head from her colouring, she explained, "It doesn't go there... but the eggs do… he doesn't transfer for breakfast."
Confused, and half tempted to place it there regardless, Severus moved the plate as instructed, doing his best not to overthink the situation or his daughter's nonchalant attitude towards his error. She nodded her little head and gave him a satisfied smile.
"Rosie, did you happen to see Harry on your way back?" Lily asked, entering the dining room, a platter of sausages and toast with jam, a pitcher of white milk, and a kettle of steaming water to pair with the ceramic jar of tea bags already set on the table, floating alongside her. In her non-wand hand, she carried a massive stack of parchment, which she unceremoniously dropped in front of the chair where no breakfast was served. She then summoned a quill and inkwell and set them down next to the parchment.
Of course, the Potter child still exists here, Severus internally growled, grimacing as his last hope of entering a world without Potter Junior faded. When he saw his still very prominent dark Dark Mark, a part of him secretly wished the Potter child had perished in the October attack rather than becoming The-Boy-Who-Lived. Clearly, that hadn't happened and now Severus would be required to cohabitate with the saviour.
"I think he was in the toilet," Rosalie - or Rosie for short - offered with a minor lisp Severus found frustratingly endearing. Another sharp pain coursed its way through his head, followed by a bout of vertigo so severe he physically grasped the table to right himself. Luckily, as quickly as it started, it ended, nevertheless, he foresaw a strong headache draught sometime in his very near future.
"Are you sure sweetie? He really should have been done by now," tinged with a panicked undertone, Severus keenly watched Lily examine the thin gold watch on her wrist. In response, Rosalie shrugged her small shoulders and picked at her small serving of scrambled eggs in front of her. "I'm going to go check on him. Severus, Rosie still needs a cup of milk... would you please?"
Lily abruptly left, giving him no warning of the child-sized cup and straw she summoned to the table from the kitchen. Fortunately, the professor caught them right before they slammed into his increasingly aching head, though his juggling of the dishes, while he sat, pushed Rosalie into a fit of giggles in delight.
"I know you're not really my daddy, but I still love you anyways."
Completely stunned by the unexpected statement, said as if she were merely telling it was Tuesday, Severus spilt half of the milk out of the pitcher onto the otherwise pristinely cleaned table.
Trying, in vain, not to panic, he swiftly asked, "What did you say? How do you know?"
Did he really blow his cover already? And to a toddler no less? He didn't get to hear her explanation, though, because a loud commotion from the other side of the house pulled his attention away from the table and his own distressing situation.
"... said I'm fine, Mum!"
Severus scowled at the same, arrogant voice he recognized as Potter's drifting throughout the home. It was the last proof he needed to know that not only did the child still exist here, but he was also likely no different than the insolent, trouble-making one he remembered. However, the professor chose not to acknowledge just how much the proclamation spewing from Potter's mouth sounded so much like his own to Lily only moments ago. After all, thoughts like that served no purpose to him in the present.
"Harry James… don't you dare turn away from me…" Lily scolded. "... just trying to help..."
Unlike Lily's quieter mumbling as she spoke to her son, Potter's loud, pompous voice, Severus could hear just fine from the breakfast table, "I already said I didn't need your help!"
Just as self-centred as always.
"Stop right there," Lily yelled, her temper pushed to its limit. A quiet pause meant, against all odds, the young wizard actually obeyed. Then in an interesting, accusatory tone, Lily asked, "The charm didn't work, did it?"
Severus furrowed his brows trying to make some sense of the question. Peering down at the table out of the corner of his eyes, Rosalie didn't seem bothered by the row happening in their home. How often did the mother and son fight like this for her to think it was normal? Was he expected to get involved?
"Leave them alone," Rosalie answered his unspoken question. "He's gonna be mad and you'll only make it worse."
"Make what worse?" Severus snapped, resisting the urge to shake the girl when she lifted her eyebrows at his desperation. "What is going on here? And how do you-"
"You don't have to gloat about it, alright?! And all that matters is that I have it completely under control." Potter's irate response interrupted Severus, adding to his frustration with the young wizard.
"I'm not gloating," Lily defended. The small jump in her voice indicated they were back on the move, "I'm simply making sure you know what-"
"That's the thing you can't understand, Mum! I don't need some bloody spell to know what I'm doing! So for once just sod off and leave me the bloody hell alone!"
Now he's crossed the line!
More than ready to chastise the teen for his abhorrent behaviour towards his mother, Severus stood as soon the two figures entered the room; too focused on his own agenda to actually see Lily and Potter.
"How dare you speak to your mother like that!" His loud, booming voice vibrated satisfyingly off of the walls. At the noise, Rosalie jumped to cover her little ears, tipping over her cup of milk, but Severus hardly paid any attention to the long drops dripping onto the floor because the sight in front of him had caught him completely off-guard.
"P-potter?!" Severus uncharacteristically stuttered.
Something is wrong here… This cannot be right… What happened...
"What the hell did you just call me?" Potter demanded, more offended about the use of his surname - an oversight Severus hadn't considered when he planned on verbally attacking the teen - than being in any sort of trouble for his choice of words towards Lily.
"You… but you're in…" Severus held up his hand to his mouth to physically prevent himself from saying something in his utter shock that he shouldn't.
Slowly, his eyes shifted from their location on Potter back to the kitchen, feeling yet another set of pieces to the puzzle fall almost magically into place. It made so much more sense, now, he wondered how he hadn't made the connections earlier. The modifications he'd seen throughout their home - the wider doors, the lower countertops, the plates stored in the lower cupboards, and the breakfast setting at the table without a chair - were all made for the very irate teenager sitting in front of him.
Despite Potter Junior still looking every bit like the reincarnation of James Potter with his signature dark, raven-black messy hair and round wire-framed glasses, at the same time, he couldn't be any further from the one Severus left behind to deal with the Dark Lord. Avoiding the obvious, this version of Harry Potter had a slightly more fit build in his upper body, and held himself with more confidence, although not nearly the same arrogance, as the other boy. And while those two traits would help him in defeating the Dark Lord - assuming he continued to terrorize this world - the rest of him would make the task exceedingly difficult; most likely impossible. Later, Severus would find out just how wrong of an assumption it was to make, but from where he stood that morning he would've bet a lot of galleons that his young wizard wouldn't have been able to do any of the stupidly dangerous things the Harry Potter he loathed did… no protecting the Philosopher's Stone, killing a basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, duelling Death Eaters during the Battle at the Department of Mysteries, or hunting Horcruxes across the country.
The horcrux, he thought back to the moment of his death, I wonder...
Without Lily's sacrifice, Potter couldn't have defeated the Dark Lord as he did back wherever Severus came here from. Therefore, logically, the Gryffindor would never have become a Horcrux for the megalomaniac here. A quick flicker of his dark eyes up to the teen's forehead confirmed he actually got something correct: the lightning bolt scar he'd spent six years angrily staring at in classes was missing. Curiously, in its place, a much larger smooth scar ran horizontally across half the length of the young wizard's forehead. In a similar fashion to the other Potter, this one attempted to pull the fringe of his hair down to cover it when he saw Severus staring at it, but this scar was much too big to easily do so.
Licking his lips, concentrating so hard on the words forming on them he didn't pick up on Lily's skeptical gaze upon him, he tried again, "Y- you're… that's… what happened here?!"
As if on cue, as soon as the last word left his mouth, the pressure in Severus's head exponentially increased, making him feel like it imploded. Similar to his death at the start of all of this, black began to creep around his vision from the sides, and the last thing he saw before falling to the ground unconscious was the same set of emerald green eyes he stared into as he died on the Shrieking Shack floor; only this set was framed by soft red hair and calling out his name as if his death would physically cause her pain.
January 1980 - Hogshead Pub, Hogsmeade
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…"
It took until Severus's fourth painfully boring night on reconnaissance duty to finally overhear something of value he could bring back to the Dark Lord. Although at first he vehemently disagreed with the weak intelligence they received prompting his current mission - staking out Hogsmeade and Hogwarts with the end goal of bringing them one step closer to overthrowing The Order of the Phoenix -, sitting outside of the room where his former headmaster met with the loony Sybill Trelawney appeared to have its merits in the end.
And to think he almost missed it.
Having already spent the better part of an hour eavesdropping on two people he deemed unworthy of his attention, the monotony led to him to lower his guard just enough to shift out of active surveillance and into passive listening to the conversation; all the while wishing for it to end as quickly as possible. When he first heard those words said - in a distinctively altered voice - his menacingly dark eyes widened, knowing his patience had finally paid off. No, this would not get them any closer to the Order of the Phoenix, but perhaps providing information on the person prophesied to defeat the Dark Lord would earn him the honour of a better position in his ranks; something other than creeping around the shadows of dusty corners, watching for any sign of movement.
"born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…"
"What're think yo'r doing ov'r there?!"
Severus barely had time to turn to identify the gruff voice on his left-hand side when his wand flew out of his hand and into his mysterious assailant's. One mistake. He'd stepped one foot too far off the landing, seeking to get a better vantage point. Just like that, he messed up his one chance. The furious barman who'd been eyeing Severus curiously over the last four days, violently yanked the Death Eater up by his shoulder, and dragged him past the room where he caught sight of the seer in question, dressed in a mismatched tattered skirt and blouse - extremely inappropriate for an interview of this calibre - sitting across from Albus; the headmaster's blue eyes broadened as they briefly locked with Severus's. One mistake was all it took to completely shatter his mission, and now he'd be lucky if the Dark Lord didn't kill him for it in a matter of hours.
Severus fully expected to be thrown out of the pub, where he planned on disapparating to his Lord's side to relay the limited information he heard, so he felt more than a little off balance when he ended up being forcibly hurled into a suffocatingly tiny cupboard comprising a rickety wooden chair under a dangling dimly lit lantern. The obvious anti-apparition enchantment preventing him from instantly escaping - although it did not stop him from trying - made Severus more than a little curious why a shady pub in Hogsmeade needed such a level of protection. Racking his brain for any answers, he came up with only one logical explanation: somehow he discovered the headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. Suddenly, the humiliation of getting caught on his extremely elementary mission might end up working out in his favour, as long as he had two vital pieces of information to report at the end.
"Severus," Dumbledore's too gentle voice announced from the other side of the closed, heavy wooden door. Back in his Hogwarts days, when the elderly wizard held the highest position of power in the school, Severus never thought about how old and frail the headmaster seemed. Now, though, he knew without a doubt he'd be able to take down the other man in a muggle duel should the need arise. Unfortunately, he had the minor issue of Albus still having a wand - likely two if the barman had any sense and gave him Severus's - therefore the fight would end long before it started. "I have a proposition to offer you."
Severus scowled - an image completely wasted on the vacant space surrounding him - while he furiously paced the small cupboard. Three strides to his left… turn… three strides back… repeat, like a trapped animal ready to pounce the moment his captor opened his cage door. They wouldn't get a word of information out of him. As a possible dead man either way, his death by the great Albus Dumbledore would at least serve the purpose of showing how the precious light side was no better than the Dark Lord and his followers. When pushed into a corner, they all wanted their side to win, no matter the casualties or sacrifices standing in their way.
"I have no interest in whatever you have to say," Severus hissed back, meaning every single word. At that moment, he was so sure nothing could get him to change his mind; having no way of knowing how wrong he was.
"If you'll hear me out," Albus's voice never wavered, "I do believe you'll reconsider."
Without warning, the door to the cupboard slowly creaked open. Whether as a sign of a truce or his pure negligence - Severus assumed the latter - Dumbledore did not have his wand brandished. However, Severus did not dare consider him to be unarmed. After all, a wizard as powerful as Dumbledore had many other means of doing magic outside of his physical wand, the easiest of which would be to summon it from its hidden whereabouts.
"Might I ask what you heard back there?" The headmaster urged, cautiously approaching Severus on the other side of the tiny room.
"You may ask," the Death Eater sneered, "it does not mean I'll tell you."
Albus's eyebrows rose in his understanding. "Then I am to assume we are both in agreement of the power this message might have should it fall into the wrong hands."
Severus remained silent, learning early on in his pathetic life how speaking less often left one's opponent feeling vulnerable; how the need to break the stifling silence could become so strong they'd say almost anything to get out of it. Although he didn't expect the great, untouchable Dumbledore to fall into this category, he had nothing to lose by trying.
"You cannot take this to Tom, Severus," the Gryffindor chose the words of his warning carefully. "I'm afraid in doing so you will put others in grave danger."
"And that concerns me, how?" Severus narrowed his eyes at the man standing tall and proud across from him. This time it was Severus's turn to break the deafening silence. "From where I stand, more roads lead to my certain death than not and this may be the one bargaining chip I have to prevent it… and that's assuming you don't have me killed first to stop me. So enlighten me, why should I care about some future child's life? If anything, I'll be saving him or her from a much more painful demise."
Albus's eyes inappropriately twinkled when Severus finished his small tirade. "I will not have you killed," the leader of the Order calmly stated. "There has been enough bloodshed as of late, don't you agree?"
"So you'll release me, knowing I'll go straight to the Dark Lord's side to inform him of my discovery? Didn't you say-"
"If you wish to trade the life of another to save yourself, by all means, be my guest," Dumbledore interrupted him, contradicting himself and making Severus's blood boil. To emphasize his point, the old wizard stepped aside and pushed the door further open to release Severus from his makeshift prison.
"This is absolutely absurd," Severus muttered under his breath. Not caring if he injured the older man in the process, he aggressively shoved his way past the elderly wizard on his way to the door, "A complete waste of my time-"
"Lily Evans is pregnant," Albus casually mentioned when the Death Eater had barely crossed the threshold of the door. Inevitably, as he surely intended, Severus stopped dead in his tracks. "Or Lily Potter, I should say. You didn't know?"
Of course, he knows I didn't know!
Hastily swinging his black robes around him, Severus faced the headmaster, holding his head high, refusing to show how much that sentence terrified him.
"And if I remember correctly, she's due in July," Albus drew out his words, undoubtedly enjoying every single one of them. "James notified me of the exciting news after the last raid he fought in. It left him severely injured… and, much to her displeasure, I pulled her off of all missions for the Order until after the baby is born."
"It doesn't matter." The lie tingled like poison on his lips. The Potters had faced off against the Dark Lord frequently and learning of the news of their upcoming spawn, with the prophecy he'd just heard, did not go unnoticed.
Dumbledore clasped his hands behind his back and paced the same track Severus had previously. "I guess you might try to convince your master to spare Lily Potter's life. Dare I say, though, Tom is not the most rational of people, but as his loyal follower, I'm sure he'll have a much more… reasonable… reaction to your request. There is another option if you're willing to listen. One which will not leave you at the mercy of a selfish wizard for either your life or Lily's."
Albus waved his hand over the rickety chair, wandlessly and nonverbally repairing it. Regrettably, the options before him were bleak, leaving Severus to conclude it wouldn't hurt to hear the old man out. At worst, the exchange would delay him by only a half an hour, perhaps leading him to more intel on the Order - albeit not likely anything revolutionary - and at best, he may be able to save both himself and Lily; someone he actively tried to forget, to no avail. Not allowing himself time to change his mind, Severus sat down in the now stronger chair to listen to what the Order of the Phoenix could offer to him in exchange for Lily's life.
Satisfied, Albus conjured another chair, squeezing it into the area across from him, and randomly asked, "Did I mention Horace is retiring at the end of the year? I suspect with a little persuasion he'd consider taking his leave prematurely."
Looking back on that night, the details behind Albus's plan weren't entirely crystal clear and for years after their meeting Severus questioned if a Confundus Charm had been used to get him to agree to go along with it. In the end, he walked away that night with two life-changing positions: Hogwarts' newest, and youngest, Potions Master and a double agent for The Order of the Phoenix.
April 1983 - Snape Quarters, Hogwarts Dungeons
Reign of Terror Comes to an End:
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Successfully Apprehended!
Aurors Moody, Longbottom, Potter, and Black to receive the Order of Merlin: First Class for Their Heroic Mission!
Seven Marked Death Eaters Already Sent to Azkaban - Many More Still at Large!
Trials to Begin Immediately!
Severus wasn't present on the night of the Dark Lord's successful capture. That had been the plan all along as a means to keep him out of Azkaban in exchange for his assistance over the past three years. Still, sitting tucked away in the relative safety of his quarters at Hogwarts, the spy had little faith in the Aurors to actually keep their side of the deal and he fully expected to hear them knocking on his door at any moment, ready to arrest him. He didn't read over any of the details of the mission or the plethora of arrogant quotes James Potter provided regarding his "heroic" role in the apprehension. Severus didn't care about any of that, nor did he care about his lack of mention in any of the published articles; he preferred it that way. He'd been a silent partner on the team, one of the select few who worked deep behind enemy lines to orchestrate the mission, and he didn't need the recognition for it.
Leave the press conferences to the likes of Potter, Severus thought while he watched the soon to be decorated auror stand at a podium to make yet another speech to the Wizarding World celebrating their newfound freedom.
"I see you've read the good news," Lucius's silky voice came from the floo to Severus's left.
Lifting the paper in confirmation, the professor grumbled, "Every single word of this trash."
Regardless of Severus's persistence in asking, Lucius never revealed to him how or why he ended up on the side of the light; despite the revelation almost costing Severus his own position as a spy a year into his subterfuge. The younger Slytherin suspected his reasoning had a lot to do with Draco - since the uncharacteristic shift occurred not too long after the Malfoy heir's birth - but Lucius held the official reason close to his chest. So close, in fact, Severus figured a Fidelius Charm had to be involved, with Narcissa most likely acting as the Secret Keeper. Nonetheless, whatever reason the aristocratic man had to switch alliances, it solidified an acquaintanceship between the two wizards, one which grew into an unexpected friendship over the last year while they feverishly worked side-by-side in making strategic progress for the aurors to finally put an end to their former Master once and for all.
June 1983 - Spinner's End
Severus sat at his half-broken kitchen table reading the latest news dropped off by owl less than an hour ago, wishing the press coverage regarding the Dark Lord and his followers would soon come to an end.
Death Eater Back in Court- Auror's Family Threatened!
The return to the Wizengamot yesterday ended with a startling revelation made by Igor Karkaroff. In an attempted plea to lower his sentence handed down at his own trial back in April - life in Azkaban for his support of You-Know-Who - Karkaroff offered the identities of other, supposedly missing Death Eaters. Unfortunately, sources in the courtroom stated those he named were of no interest to the Wizengamot and Department of Magical Law Enforcement but in a fit of rage, as he was escorted from the courtroom, he singled out Auror Potter from the crowd stating: "You better watch your back, Potter… you and your precious heir…"
When asked to comment on the undeniable threat, Auror Potter exuded an air of confidence in his reply, "The safety of myself and my family is always at the top of my mind during any mission, which is why we need to see these scumbags rot in Azkaban… As for Karkaroff? Trust me, they can't get anywhere near me or my family… they'll think twice the next time they try to intimidate me…"
July 1983 - Albus Dumbledore's Office, Hogwarts Castle
"We need your help, Severus," Albus sadly welcomed the former spy when he entered the office through the floo.
Severus knew the purpose of Albus's summons. Like everyone else in the wizarding world, he'd been following the news surrounding the missing toddler since last week and more than understood the seriousness of the situation smeared across the papers that morning. He didn't offer his help by filling in the awkward silence; mainly because he did not want to get involved in the personal matters of James Potter. Five days ago, their two-year-old son, Harry, went missing from their home in Godric's Hollow. According to the papers, the Potters idiotically left Sirius Black, the child's godfather, responsible for watching the brat while James and Lily attended the wedding of Lily's childhood muggle friend, someone Severus hardly remembered from their Cokeworth days. To Severus's chagrin, they found Black innocent early in the investigation, but not a word came out about the boy since his disappearance. No ransom. No demands. Nothing.
As if to bring Severus up to speed, Albus handed him a copy of the Daily Prophet. The moving picture on the front cover showed James and Lily seated at a large table speaking to a group of people - reporters, he speculated - in front of them. Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, and the Longbottoms stood directly behind the grieving couple with the rest of the auror department filling in to their right and left, offering their personal and professional support for one of their own. Severus ignored all of them and clenched his jaw tight, trying to keep his face steeled against the foreign emotion riding in his chest caused by seeing Lily crying over her lost child.
"Perhaps if Potter hadn't acted so arrogantly and shown a little humility for once in his life, rather than taunting a group of very dangerous wizards, he would have been able to protect his family." Severus tossed the paper onto the headmaster's desk, sending a stack of parchment to the floor. "It seems somehow your Golden Gryffindor learned from an early age that he is invulnerable. I cannot imagine who nurtured those erroneous ideals."
"Do you honestly believe now is an appropriate time to hold on to such a grudge?" asked Albus wistfully. "There is a child-"
"I do not care about their child," the younger professor hollered, his finger pointing so irately at the paper on the desk, he almost tore a hole straight through it. "Let this be a lesson to Potter that he's not infallible!"
Disappointment radiated off the other wizard. Against all odds, in the last three years, Albus became more to Severus than merely his employer. Somewhere along the way, the man went from the headmaster he hated in his youth to his employer he tolerated, and now approached the mentor he valued. Nothing else would explain why Severus did not promptly hand in his resignation when his life as a double agent ceased and his cover as a professor under Albus's nose was no longer needed.
"It's her son, Severus," Albus pleaded. "And they have nothing to go on… why he was taken, where he is, if he's even alive… so if you have anything to offer, I know Lily would appreciate your help."
"There's nothing I can do, Albus," Severus justified as much to himself as to the wizard sitting at the desk in front of him. Running his hand down his face, he continued, "They practically burned me in all the trials! No one will talk to me, not to mention I'm as good as dead if I begin to ask around about the whereabouts of the Potter kid. What do you want me to do?"
"The right thing, Severus," Albus softly answered. "Do the right thing."
A week later - ironically, the day before the Potter boy's third birthday - Severus ended up back in Albus's office victoriously holding the one piece of the puzzle they needed to rescue him. Twelve days the child had been missing and in a matter of hours, or however long it took to notify the aurors and put them in place, his nightmare would, hopefully, be over.
"He's alive," Severus announced, storming into the all too familiar office, "but how long that will last and his overall condition, I can only guess. He's being held in a warehouse in West Yorkshire, of all places."
"And the intel? Is it sound?" Albus's suspiciously questioning irritated Severus's last nerve. After all this time working for the headmaster, putting himself in danger while the rest of the Order waited for his valuable information, he now doubted his report? "There's no chance of us running into a trap?"
"Of course there's a chance!" The former Death Eater tossed his hands into the air. "What do you expect? They took the child out of his room while sleeping. Then, there's no word of ransom or demands made in the entire time he's gone, and seemingly out of nowhere, I'm able to locate him almost a fortnight later after weeks of the entire wizarding world searching? If I were you, I'd tell the aurors to go in expecting an ambush and spell to kill. The intel is sound. It's the intent you need to be suspicious of."
A conflicted expression crossed the headmaster's wrinkled face, seriously contemplating the situation they found themselves in. Far from ideal, they would be running in blind and off of the word of their controversial - to most of the aurors, at least - informant. But with so few other options available, it left them little choice. Deep down in Severus's core, his instincts screamed at him that if someone didn't get off their arse and rescue Harry Potter soon, he wouldn't make it until the morning, once the child's purpose ended.
"I'll firecall Moody right now."
"Potter can't go," Severus abruptly replied to Albus, who was already kneeling down in front of the fireplace. "As part of the lead team responsible for the Dark Lord's apprehension, he'd be playing right into their hands and I guarantee you it's what they want. I can't think of another reason to kidnap his child in this manner."
"Naturally," Albus's blue eyes dulled, understanding his spy's warning, "I'll see to it they wait at home or St Mungo's."
Severus wanted to demand they stayed home until the auror's confirmed Harry's safety, but knowing James Potter, waiting it out at the wizarding hospital would be better than the alternative - storming into the warehouse set on doing the one thing he didn't do at the start: protecting his son.
Severus stood in the shadows, a disillusionment charm set firmly in place, making certain no one saw him watching over the scene in the St Mungo's waiting room. James Potter paced around the wooden table in front of a starchy, uncomfortable-looking sofa, running his hands anxiously through his raven black, messy hair, while Lily sat crumbled over on the edge of the same sofa, practically alone. Looking at his former best friend's sorrow-filled expression, Severus finally realized he had made the right decision back in the Hogshead Pub to not bring the prophecy to the Dark Lord. Even if the evil bastard had given Lily the chance to live, she wouldn't have stood aside to let the dark wizard kill her son without a fight; never thinking twice about dying to save him. No… for Severus to truly protect the woman who had been his first real friend, Severus now understood he needed to protect her child.
It took another hour for Lupin to arrive. The werewolf spent most of his time bouncing between comforting Lily and listening to James's bellowing over his obvious guilt.
For once, he's not wrong, Severus scowled to himself.
Severus hated the lot of bloody Gryffindors. Their constant need to be courageous and righteous left them no room for a little humility or the capability to know when to keep their mouths shut. In Severus's opinion, James had absolutely no one to blame but himself. Gambling with the safety of his family - one Severus would never admit to being envious of - by boasting his own reputation was the worst sort of sins… outside of selling out one's best friend.
The former Death Eater turned spy stayed out of sight for what felt like hours. With no clue when the official rescue mission began, for reasons unbeknownst to him, Severus resolved to wait it out until he could confirm their success or failure, no matter how long it took. As the news of the impending mission filtered through the DMLE and the Potters' close friends, others arrived to show their support, including Arthur and Molly Weasley, introduced to the Potters by Molly's brother, Fabian Prewett, before his death in '81. Severus recently learned the families had grown quite close over the years, as the youngest Weasley son was Harry's age. The professor had the joy of meeting the red-headed pureblooded family during his first full year of teaching when their eldest son William started at Hogwarts and could see why Lily now gravitated to Molly Weasley in her time of need.
A sudden, loud commotion tore through the corridor directly outside of the door to the waiting room, drawing the group's attention to the action about to take place. Unable to open the door without giving away his hidden position, Severus peeked through the window on top. His body filled with dread as he watched a rush of bright green healer robes surround an unknown auror - identified by his signature red robes - carrying in a small, severely bleeding body wrapped in a blanket; obviously the Potter boy. One healer conjured a levitating stretcher for the rescuer to place Harry's body on top, then the sea of bright green and deep red urgently pushed their patient through the corridor towards an emergency examination room. Technically deeming the mission a success since they recovered the boy, Severus went to tuck himself further into an alcove to wait for someone to open the door, allowing him to leave unnoticed, until another round of red and green entering the building caught his eye. This group didn't have nearly the same panicked energy as the first batch, nevertheless, they appeared equally distraught and battered. Sirius Black led the way, belligerently refusing to sit on the stretcher his assigned Healer lectured him over and instead rapidly moved from exam room to exam room in search of his rescued Godson.
The pretentious fool, Severus grumbled to himself. In the Potter heir's condition, the healers wouldn't permit anyone to see him, let alone before the boy's parents. Of course, Black rarely followed the rules at Hogwarts, so why would he in any other aspect of his life? Clearly, the Marauders were in for a rude awakening as they learned to navigate in a world where life wasn't always fair and people didn't cater to their every desire.
Eventually, the healer took the irate auror into his own exam room, and the corridor quieted once again. The surrounding air thickened, tickling Severus's intuition and, rather than settling back into the shadows, he once again moved closer to the door. His patience paid off as he observed a third round of aurors arrived at the wizarding hospital, greeting the awaiting healers standing by. In this group, Severus recognised only Moody, who sullenly motioned to a set of floating bags between two battered wizards.
Later, he'd find out the warehouse partially collapsed from the fierce duelling between the Death Eaters and the aurors, killing five of the aurors throughout the battle. Among the "Fallen Five" - as they would later become known as - were Frank and Alice Longbottom. They, too, had a little boy the same age as the Potters and Weasleys - so close to Potter's, in fact, at one point Severus speculated if the prophecy he'd overheard might have pertained to Longbottom - and he heard somewhere that the three families had become good friends over the years… not that Severus cared.
His curiosity officially sated, Severus wrapped his black robes tightly around himself and crouched down on the floor with his back pressed against the wall for support. He knew he shouldn't be there, but as soon as Sirius Black came storming into the silence room - despite a heavy limp in his right leg and bandages covering all the places Severus had seen burnt upon the auror's arrival - he felt grateful he remained.
"I'm so sorry, Lily," Sirius broke down, although the persistent apologies coming from those around did little to ease the physical pain splattered across Lily's face. "I tried to get to him as fast as possible... did everything I could, but right when we breached the perimeter they ambushed us-"
Severus sneered, resisting the urge to audibly scoff. He'd specifically told Dumbledore to expect that very thing and, of course, he either didn't care to listen or Black chose not to heed the warning. In his mind, the deaths of those aurors - and the Potter child, should he perish from his injuries - fell directly onto their shoulders. If they so much as gave even a hint of trying to blame Severus's intel, he had very few qualms over sharing the memory of his conversation with the headmaster to the Daily Prophet. As a Slytherin, and especially when he became a double agent for two of the most powerful wizards of their time, he quickly learned the importance of protecting himself first and foremost because, at any given time, to any other person, he was fully dispensable. Therefore, Severus attentively listened as Black animatedly retold the pertinent details of the mission for any evidence of himself or Lucius being implicated in any form for the catastrophe.
"Did they find out who took him?" Potter's hoarse voice interrupted his best friend's story right as he was slowly reaching the point where the team breached the premises. "Or who was behind it all? What did they want?"
"They wanted to fucking kill us," Black shouted in their small corner of the room. "But we got a lot of 'em in custody, so it's only a matter of time before we work our way to the top. Mark my word, we'll find out who took Harry, I promise you that much. And when we do find 'im, he better hope I'm not the one in that room-"
Black's story was cut off by the arrival of a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair wearing the identifying green healer robes and a melancholy expression upon his face.
"Mr and Mrs Potter?" The man reached out to shake the couple's hands, then led them to a corner of the room for privacy. Naturally, Severus followed. "My name is Healer Silas Elmwood, the healer assigned to treat your son, Harry-"
"Can I see him?" James interjected, missing the betrayal in Lily's emerald eyes. "How is he?!"
"I'll take you to see him in a moment, but there are some details we need to discuss first."
James became so inflamed at this answer, Severus almost cancelled his disillusionment charm to hit the pompous prat for making his wife tend to his needs rather than learning about the condition of their son. Luckily, Healer Elmwood pulled a phial of Calming Draught out of his inside pocket and directed the belligerent parent to drink it first. Now calmer, the healer continued to explain the predicament surrounding the boy who had, merely a few hours ago, officially turned three. Severus didn't pay attention to the minute details, some of which corroborated Black's account, like the sections of the ceiling collapsing onto him from the massive amount of spell damage - a move Severus suspected was intentional on the Death Eater's part - and others unique to Harry's case, such as a trip to the spell damage ward to assess what spells might have hit him, nutrient potions being given to help overcome the two weeks of malnourishment, administering Skele-Gro and nerve regeneration potion to counteract his shatter bones and suspected Cruciatus damage, and a continuous blood replenishment potion because his cuts were so severe they refused to properly close. The last potion piqued Severus's interest the most and his blood ran cold, thinking about what it might suggest.
"Really, his biggest threat right now are these wounds throughout his body," Elmwood reiterated. "They're not reacting to the typical healing spells or counter-curses and all the blood replenishment potions will be pointless if we can't get them closed."
"What do you mean they refuse to close?" Potter growled. "You're a healer, isn't that your job?! Heal them!"
"James!" Lily finally spoke up, though her voice trembled through the words.
"It's likely either an extreme variant we've yet to come across or caused by heavy dark magic," Elmwood clinically explained, "either way, we're confident the healers in Spell Damage will be able to treat them accordingly or get the right wands in here to do it. I'll be honest with you, though, time isn't on his side. With the number of wounds and other injuries his body is working to heal, it's… a lot, to say the least."
It didn't take as keen of a mind as Severus's to realize the wounds were caused by Sectumsempra; a spell of his own sadistic creation he regrettably taught to a few key Death Eaters back when he was still striving to prove his worth to the Dark Lord and earn his Mark. The way he designed it, the slice of the cut went so deep it required the strongest of healing spells to close the wound. With the Spell Damage Ward's speciality focused on powerful, obscure healing spells, Severus had little doubt they would know the effective counter curse to close the child's lacerations. No, what concerned him the most was the unique characteristic built into the curse which prohibited any trauma caused by it - specifically, body parts removed or critically damaged - from being magically repaired. And they wouldn't find the extent of the damage until the rest of him was healed.
When a wave of pure exhaustion coursed through Severus's body, he knew it was time to go home. He'd done his job, more than he should have, actually. Satisfied nothing happened during the mission to immediately damn himself or Lucius in it, Severus took the opportunity of an unrelated couple entering the room to slip out completely unnoticed.
"-think it's an inside job, 'eh?" The gruff voice of Auror Moody caused Severus to pause in the shadows directly outside of the hospital's main doors. Similar to Black, the senior auror was obviously relaying the turn of events to Barty Crouch Senior, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, likely prior to him making his way to greet the Potters to 'offer his support during this difficult time'. But the words wouldn't ease Lily's intensely rooted worry or James's immense guilt. Severus suspected nothing healed wounds as deep as those.
"Yes, yes. I've heard from the recovery team that they found Peter Pettigrew's body in the rubble about half an hour ago," Crouch replied, nervously shuffling his signature black hat around in his hands. Lowering his voice, he leaned into Moody - causing Severus to have to do the same - and murmured, "He had the Mark on his arm and as one of James's best friends, he was keyed directly into the Potter home's wards, giving him easy access that night. We'll start putting the pieces together-"
Unable to listen any longer at the risk of his growing rage lashing out at an extremely wrong time, Severus stormed off into the night wishing he could forget what he had just heard: how James Potter and his misfit friends once again completely shattered Lily's life.
Chapter 3: A Whole New World
Severus's head ached fiercely as it violently throbbed against his skull in the same rhythm as his heartbeat. Why was he on the ground? And not the cold, dirty, splintered floor of the Shrieking Shack? This one felt smoother and warmer than where he remembered falling.
Did he hear someone calling his name? Impossible. He was slowly dying from Nagini's venom coursing through his veins. Dying as a traitor. No one would mourn his death; not a single soul. Except, something about that didn't sit right with him in much the same way as the floor feeling the wrong texture.
"Da… d... daddy!"
Severus's dark eyes shot wide open when the one word he would never in a million years use to describe himself made it through his muddled brain. The events of the morning - waking up in a room he didn't recognize, seeing Lily for the first time, Potter, learning about the prophecy - came racing back to him so fast, he physically grasped the sides of his head and grimaced in pain. It was all true. Whatever world he landed in, Voldemort was gone, he and Lily had a daughter, and he had somehow become the stepfather of Harry bloody Potter.
"Daddy," the small voice exclaimed to him, again. "You ok?"
He blinked several times until two black eyes, as dark as his own, surrounded by a curtain of red hair, came into focus.
"Daddy!" Severus hardly made it up onto his elbows when she flung herself into him. She wrapped tiny little hands around him and clung tightly to his sides, leaving him no choice except to wrap his right arm around her slight frame. The other he kept firmly planted on the floor to support them.
"I'm ok, Rosie," Severus tried to reassure the child. In response, she pulled herself tighter to his chest.
"Rosie," Lily, who Severus now noticed kneeling beside him, pulled at the young child, "give your dad a little breathing room."
Severus cringed as he heard the small sniffle directly on top of his ear, grateful to not feel any liquid leaking onto it. With a nod of her little head, Rosie shuffled to the other side of Severus, giving him a perfect view of Lily - his wife. His heart became heavy as he gazed into her concerned green eyes. How much he wished he could believe this reality truly existed. He'd give almost anything to stay right there forever, but as it always did, his logic prevailed. Something happened for him to end up wherever 'here' was, and unfortunately, it could be undone. Ultimately, he needed to figure out what, and why, it happened. Otherwise, even if he got to permanently live here, he'd always be watching over his shoulder… waiting for the other shoe to drop to be sent back to his deathbed as abruptly as when he woke up here.
Out of the corner of his vision, Severus saw Lily pull her wand. Instinctively, he flinched; a reaction she, regrettably, did not miss.
"Harry," Lily called to her son, never removing her eyes from Severus's, "please help Rosie get her breakfast so you two can eat. I need to make sure Severus is alright, and you're already late as it is."
Potter pushed himself closer to the trio still sitting on the floor, giving Severus his first proper look at the teen with his new, albeit extremely limited, memories fresh in mind. As the only person or thing he knew existed in both worlds, Severus set aside his rising frustration with his Potter to glean any clues into the new world he lived in.
The young wizard looked, well, younger - and significantly less gaunt and haunted, he noted - than the one he left behind. If forced to take a guess, he'd say that this Potter was around sixteen… or possibly fifteen, depending on the month. The next thing he noticed about Potter, he was dressed in a Gryffindor uniform, without the outer robe. So clearly, school was still in session and the two wizards were on their way to the castle. Why they didn't live there during the year, he did not recall. However, he could easily assume it had to do with Potter's condition. Bringing him to his last observation about the teen: the muggle-looking wheelchair he so confidently sat in. Severus furrowed his brows, fighting against his rising emotions while watching the boy move with the familiarity of someone who grew up with his disability and likely didn't remember life prior to his accident.
He was three, Severus sadly reminded himself. No, Harry wouldn't remember life on two feet.
Without warning, the memory of the toddler's rescue triggered a flood of intense sorrow he'd never experienced for anyone before, let alone this specific child. He recalled the panic filling up inside of him as he tried his damnedest to find Lily's son, leaving no stone unturned, and seeking every contact who dared to speak to himself or Lucius. But he'd been too late. Only when the Death Eaters, Pettigrew somehow leading the way, wanted the information discovered did he finally find him. By then, his injuries had permanently damaged his tiny body.
As swiftly as the memory of Potter's kidnapping whisked Severus away to the past, the teen's defiant voice in front of him shook him back into the present. Finally, a familiarity with the world he knew best.
"But mom, Severus passed out!" The young wizard argued, throwing his hands in the air. "That has to be a good enough reason to miss school."
Of course, he'd use my misfortune to get out of his own responsibilities.
Severus emitted a low growl through his clenched teeth, fighting against his intuition's warning that his assessment of the boy was completely wrong. Like a wild tornado running rampant inside of him, a clash of two feelings from his respective words overwhelmed him: the hatred for the child of James Potter and the… fondness… endearment… he held for his stepson.
Regardless of his confused feelings, he refused to be used for anyone's personal agenda. Severus pushed himself up into a full sitting position, a loud groan accidentally slipping from his lips in the process. "I'm fine, Pot-" catching his slip up this time, he quickly amended with a scowl, "Harry. Now, listen to your mother and go eat your breakfast because we are going to school."
To no surprise, Potter did not move as instructed. Rather, he continued to blink down at his family sprawled on the floor. Severus ignored the anxiety reflected back at him in those green eyes.
"Ok, fine," Lily eventually conceded. "If you want to help, please get Severus a glass of water."
Severus held back a laugh at the thought of how long it'd take Harry to go to the kitchen to fetch him water. Proving him wrong, the young wizard didn't hesitate to pull his wand out of a bag tucked under his chair, cleared his throat, then conjured an impressively smooth, clear, and stable glass goblet onto the table beside him. Harry shifted himself closer to the table until he could touch the tip of his wand to the edge of the glass. With a whispered aguamenti, he filled the glass to the brim with crystal clear water - a sign of the flawlessly performed sixth-year charm. Nonverbally, he levitated the glass into his mother's waiting hands. The entire process took less than ten seconds and left Severus literally speechless.
"Very good." Lily's praise snakes Severus out of his amazed stupor.
So not only do we permit him to use magic outside of school, he's encouraged to.
To his credit, the perfectly cooled water had a sharp, refreshing taste to it; another testament to Potter's skill in Charms. Midway through his second sip, he choked at the surprise tingle of a diagnostic charm running down the length of his body. Slightly panicked, he turned, relieved to see Lily's wand hovering over him. For a split second, given Harry's level of Charms, he worried Lily had allowed Potter to run the complicated charm on him.
Like hell I'll let him use his wand near my body!
"Well, nothing's broken." She peeked her green eyes over the top of the conjured report, a sly smirk on her face.
"Perfect, now if-"
"I didn't think you hit your head when you fell." Lily interrupted him. The further her eyes scanned through the report, the further her frown fell. "This is showing an inconclusive reading, but no other contusions are present. Maybe a slight concussion? How does your head feel?"
Severus resisted the urge to lie. His head had been throbbing since he'd awoken, after all. "I wouldn't turn down a headache potion."
"You know," Lily teased, "you are allowed to admit when you need help sometimes. No one will fault you for it." A small phial blew by his head to land directly into her outstretched hand from the direction of the kitchen in front of her. "Will you at least promise me you'll see Poppy today if, Merlin forbid, it gets worse? I'd tell you to come home early, but I already know you won't."
Severus obediently gulped down the potion, breathing a sigh of relief when it lessened the pounding of his skull enough to think clearly. "Yes." He nodded. "I'll go to the infirmary-".
"What's the date today?"
Severus scowled at Potter's interruption, except he realized that the question left Potter's mouth with no hint of anger or satisfaction at seeing Severus suffering. In fact, the more the professor looked at the otherwise silent boy, the more he saw the same worried creases lining his face as Lily.
"I don't have to answer y-"
"That's a good idea, Harry," Lily cut Severus off yet again. Severus's nostrils flared in his attempt to keep his increasing temper under control. "Do you know the date, Sev?"
Sev. The single word cooled his rising anger, just as he presumed Lily knew it would.
He had to think fast. If Potter appeared to be around fifteen or sixteen, he could narrow it down to either 1996 or 1997. Based on the sunlight he saw through his bedroom window, he took a confident guess. "1996."
"The month and day?" Potter challenged, without missing a beat.
Lily's stare practically burnt a hole straight into his heart while she awaited his response. He absolutely needed to get this right, if not to keep his true situation a secret, but to also calm his wife's visibly fraying nerves. Severus closed his eyes to bring up his memory of walking through their home in an attempt to locate anything to reveal the actual date; his bedroom, the sitting room, the dining room. Finally… a diary! There, hanging on the wall behind Lily in the kitchen while she finished preparing their family breakfast, was a scribbled on diary.
"June," he said. In his mind, he could see the word written along the top as clear as if he were currently holding the coveted object in his hands. His struggle, though, was to come up with the date. Despite the diary containing a series of events notated on it - Potter's O.W.L.s beginning on the tenth, three healer appointments all scheduled in the week after the last day of school, 'DD party' circled on the twenty-second, and every other weekend obscurely marked 'JP' - it did not have any days crossed off of it, making it impossible for him to make an educated guess.
"Ooh, I know! I know this one!" Rosie's excited voice startled his eyes open. The little girl wiggled next to him with her hand outstretched, waving high in the air.
"Rosie, no-" Potter tried to stop her, but he was too late.
"It's the third!" She proudly announced. "Mummy showed me it on the wall this morning!"
Severus silently thanked his daughter.
"The third," he repeated. Lily closely followed him when he stood, so he wrapped his arms around her to whisper in her ear, "I am fine, Lily, I promise."
Lily's lips pursed in a fiery display of her disagreement, but it was Potter's - Harry's, a voice inside of his head sternly corrected him - relief that almost broke him down. The only time he had ever seen such an expression made for him was as he died when a very different Harry granted him his last request.
"C'mon, Rosie," Harry carefully backed up, gesturing for his sister to follow him to the table, "do you want strawberry jam or butter on your toast?"
"Peanut butter!" The little girl excitedly jumped up from the ground into her chair - milk now cleaned and refilled - beside the space missing the chair.
A memory flashed across Severus's eyes of their unconventional family laughing during dinner in the conservatory. The young wizard routinely transferred over to the high-backed dining chair to enjoy their evening meal, yet for their short weekday breakfast, he stayed in his wheelchair; so they could efficiently leave, especially when they were so often late.
"I told you, you looked peaky this morning," Lily lectured. She sat down at the plate less seat to Severus's right, the one with the stack of parchment, which she began sorting through almost immediately. "I think you should reconsider staying home today. You rarely call in sick, and I'm sure Albus can find someone to cover your classes."
"I agree!" Harry chimed in before Severus had the chance to answer.
Lily paused her scratching quill. "Not you." She pointed the sharp end of her quill at him on the other side of the table. "If I remember correctly, you're revising in Charms today."
Harry snorted. "As if I need any extra help in Charms."
There's the arrogance I know so well.
"I'm not getting into this again with you, Harry," she warned. "I am the parent here. You only have one week until your exams-"
"But I don't really need my O.W.L.s. Fred and George-"
"Enough!" Lily slammed the quill onto the table so hard that the table shook, threatening to overturn Rosie's cup of milk for the second time. "First, they're in their N.E.W.T.s, so it's not even close to a proper comparison, and-" she harshly emphasized to prevent Harry's predictable interruption, "I know for a fact Molly will not allow either of them out of those exams. Now, you're going to school. I will take you there myself if I have to."
Severus half expected Harry to continue his tirade, therefore confused when the young wizard turned to him; his face secretly pleading for Severus's help. Besides the idea of Harry Potter asking Severus Snape for help, he hadn't the slightest clue of how the other him would respond in this situation - a power struggle between a mother and her son, or in the professor's case, between the woman he loved and the child he once hated. He paused his thinking to correct himself. Regardless of having no real context behind it yet, he knew he didn't loathe Potter… Harry… here. Yes, the anger and resentment he held for the other boy still existed, like a pool of lava bubbling up under his skin, only now it came accompanied with a side of guilt as he began to see how he and his stepson had more than just an amicable relationship in this strange world. Here, Harry depended on him to be the voice of reason in times like these. Severus felt equally intrigued at, and terrified to learn, how they evolved to this level in their relationship.
In the end, trusting his instincts had helped him survive far more dangerous situations in his life. This one was no different. "I'll take him, Lily," he said with an exasperated sigh. "There is some have… work… which honestly, I cannot put off today. I've already said I'd stop by the hospital wing if need be. Trust me, we'll be fine."
Harry's expression relaxed, and Severus almost fainted again when the Gryffindor whispered the words "thank you" to him.
The rest of breakfast continued in a strained atmosphere, far too reminiscent of those last meetings at Malfoy Manor for Severus's liking. Although he didn't learn any revolutionary information during the meal, he confirmed the Board of Governors indeed allowed Harry and Severus to permanently commute to school each day instead of boarding at the castle; much to the extreme displeasure of the young Gryffindor, yet another sensitive topic Lily did not seem pleased to discuss. The change in residency made him ineligible to be the Head of Slytherin, a small price to pay to see Lily every day. Rosalie lightened up the atmosphere near the end by animatedly chatting about the blue and purple butterfly she saw through her bedroom window when she woke up. She went on and on about how she'd like to be a butterfly animagus if she got to choose, which, of course, Harry quickly pointed out she can't. For Severus, the best part of the meal was how, despite Lily's initial insistence on being too busy that day, Rosalie convinced her to take her to the park that afternoon.
A future Slytherin, he thought. I guess the Gryffindors won't outnumber me, after all.
"We should get going," Harry promptly announced, putting an official end to their morning. Once again, the Gryffindor pulled his wand from under his chair, this time to vanish his plate to the sink. Unfortunately, unlike the water, right afterwards, they winced at the loud clunk coming from the kitchen, turning Harry's face a bright red.
"I think you're getting better," Lily patronizingly offered. Harry's mumbled response was completely incoherent. "You still need to work on making sure the picture of where you're vanishing the object to is as clear as possible in your mind before you begin the incantation. Something Professor McGonagall will help practice as you continue in school."
Harry rolled his eyes as he moved through the doorless threshold into the sitting room, his mother and Severus following behind him. "If I haven't seen the sink yet, how am I supposed to know if there are dishes in it? When I picture it without them there, my plate hits the top too hard. But if I assume the sink is filled with dishes, and it's empty, then it crashes down because I didn't vanish it directly to the bottom in the first place. Maybe I'll try the countertop from now on."
Harry stopped at a wooden desk next to the fireplace covered in so much parchment, quills, and school books not a single part of the surface was visible. As if following a choreographed dance, Severus curiously watched the young wizard pull the small school bag off the desk chair into his lap, then he proceeded to haphazardly shove more supplies into it than Severus knew could fit. Diligently, Harry checked inside the front pocket, moving his lips as he counted whatever it held inside, then slung the bag around the back of his chair - proving to Severus it had a featherweight charm on top of an extension charm, otherwise it would have surely altered the young wizard's centre of gravity enough to tip his chair backwards. What he didn't know was if Harry, who obviously prided himself in his Charms work, had done them himself or if someone had them professionally placed.
"Severus, you're not ready!" Lost in his observations, Severus completely missed Harry approaching. For a moment, falling into his previous life, a disgusted expression came across his face, ready to ream the child sitting in front of him. Severus had barely gotten his string of insults queued up when Harry's next words, accompanied by a sly smile, all but evaporated his steam. "Now look who's going to make us late? You'll get to deal with mum this time."
"Forgetting these, Sev?" Lily hurried up to him, holding two bags out for him. The larger messenger style letter bag was filled to the brim with parchment, no doubt end-of-year essays and pre-tests to mark. The smaller one was a solid square, and when he took the bag from her, he recognized the familiar cacophony of potion phials knocking against each other. By not living at the school, it could have been he brought home student potions practicals to mark, however, he'd need some place to test them and he hadn't seen a laboratory set up in their home yet.
"Thank you, Lily," he replied. Carefully, he placed his hands on her shoulders, half surprised when her entire body relaxed into his arm. He wrapped them tightly around her, afraid she'd vanish into thin air if he let go, then he kissed the top of her head, breathing in the fragrant scent of her floral shampoo. At that moment, standing in their sitting room, he could almost forget about everything - his old world, this strange new world, and his insecurities about how he'll successfully navigate through it -, never wanting to leave that spot. Unfortunately, Harry pushing past them broke up their tender moment.
"I still think you should stay home," Lily urged one final time.
Home. The word sounded simultaneously foreign and comforting to him. Yet as much as Severus wanted to push Potter off to school to stay there with his family, something brewing inside of him said he'd find more answers at Hogwarts than at home. And now, he needed answers more than ever.
"I'm alright now, Lily." After over a decade of missing her, he doubted he'd ever get used to saying her name again.
"Be careful." She smiled and rose onto her tiptoes to give him a soft, warm kiss on his unsuspecting lips. "I love you, Sev."
He didn't say it back. Those three words still did not come as naturally to him, and he'd later wonder if she found it strange that he didn't.
Turning, he took two whole steps towards the front door before he heard Harry in the opposite direction. Naturally, they wouldn't leave out the front door if they lived in a muggle village. Why did they live in a muggle village? Another question for another time. With both bags secured on his shoulder, Severus abruptly turned to follow the young wizard into the conservatory they used for family dinners. Harry never once slowed down as he pushed his way through the room - demonstrating how they kept the table off centre to allow Harry ample room for him to get to the garden - and up to the door, which automatically swung open when he approached, so he didn't have to slow down on his way out.
Severus's dark eyes blinked hard against the blinding morning sun as soon as he walked out of the conservatory onto the smooth stone walkway. The industrial landscape of his childhood home on Spinner's End, where his garden was as much trash as grass, had left him with no expectations for their family garden. But as soon as his eyes adjusted to the light, and he got his first view of the oasis tucked behind their home, he understood why they - or Lily since he wasn't sure when the move out of Godric's Hollow occurred - lived out in the countryside.
He smiled at the sight of an extensive potions greenhouse and garden, complete with a wide variety of magical plants, budding up against the wooden fence on the far left-hand side of the garden; hidden, he was sure, by strategically placed privacy enchantments. Although he couldn't see inside the small solid structure connected to the back of the greenhouse by a narrow walkway, he knew it contained his potions lab. Where else would he use all the magical plants he saw?
Directly in front of him, in the middle of the garden, sat a large shade tree with a wooden swing dangling from one of the sturdy branches. As he watched it swinging in the warm spring breeze, he could picture Rosie laughing while he pushed her high on the swing. The partial memory of his daughter brought him back to a different time and place where another redheaded little girl loved to jump off a similar swing to show her sister how she could safely float down from the highest arc. Like magic, Severus remembered thinking when he first saw Lily do it at the park in Cokeworth.
Closest to the house, and to Severus's immediate right, a large square flower box was filled with a rainbow of floral colours - all of the muggle variety, though a touch of magic kept them in the best of health. He chuckled when a memory flashed across his vision of building this specific area for Lily's birthday three years ago. She had just gone off on him about needing her own space because one of his more aggressive magical plants was continuously crossing their previously shared space to attack her begonias, killing them each spring. Magic meant he didn't need to wait for the ground to thaw to surprise her with it by the end of January. The plants had to wait a few months to test out their new home.
To complete their outdoor oasis, and the first time Severus suspected they used an extension charm or two, was a large glass building with an oval in-ground pool off around the right side of their house. A series of conversation snippets played in his ears at the sight of the pool. For weeks, they hotly debated the decision to add it after Harry's healer suggested swimming to help in his therapy. They'd been traveling for months to the local pool when Severus suggested adding one to their home. Lily was against it at first, having just found out she was pregnant with Rosie and feared a pool would be too dangerous with a baby and toddler. Eventually, Severus worked out the right protection charms and convinced her to allow him to go through with it. It had easily become one of their favourite family activities.
He was barely halfway down the pathway, right on course for a small sectioned off plot of stone tucked near the side of the greenhouse where Harry impatiently sat waiting on him - when Severus heard Rosalie's panicked voice call out behind him, "Daddy, wait!"
At first, he didn't respond. It took the sound of her little bare feet pounding on the walkway for him to turn around. The small child was running towards him at what he assumed to be her full speed, with Lily chasing behind her, trying to get her to stop and put on the pair of fuzzy purple slippers she held in her hand. Moving almost against his will, Severus knelt down on one knee and extended his arms out wide just in time to catch his daughter.
"You appa… a- ap-era-rate to Hogsmeade," she whispered into his ear under the guise of giving her beloved father a goodbye hug.
In the aftermath of his fainting spell and rushing through breakfast, he'd forgotten the odd references she made to him when he initially arrived at the table. Now, her instructions to him - someone who knew wouldn't know how to get Harry and his chair safely to school - practically guaranteed she somehow knew he didn't belong in their world. How did she figure it out? He didn't know, and regrettably, it would have to wait. He needed to get to the school and disapparating alongside Harry became his next challenge.
"How do I-"
"He uses a charm to stick him in his chair. He's only 'spose to use it when he travels, but I know he does it other times too," she quietly informed him. "Oh! And you come home for dinner!" She looked over her shoulder at Lily approaching, then leaned in to plant a quick kiss on his unshaven cheek before wiggling herself out of his arms. "Good luck!" She said to him and peering over his shoulder at her brother, she yelled, "Bye Harry!"
He had so many questions - too many questions - none of which he had answers for in the present moment. He needed to get to Hogwarts and push himself through his classes well enough so he could speak to Albus in the afternoon. Based on his few memories, it seemed like he had a similar relationship with the Headmaster as he did in his old world. It might have been those long nights planning with Albus's portrait during his final year, but he felt confident the man would have some explanation for what happened to him.
"Severus!" Harry called out to him. "Are we going, or what?! I have a Defense exam first period!"
Thankfully, just as Rosalie said, Harry knew exactly what to do. This meant outside of grudgingly having to hold the young wizard's hand for the sidealong disapparation, Severus's contribution merely consisted of transporting them to the gates of Hogwarts; finally, something he couldn't mess up between the two worlds. Or at least that's what he thought until they landed - rather expertly in Severus's opinion, considering the odd weight distribution to account for - to Harry frantically searching his body while Severus stood by curiously waiting for any sign of what he should be doing. It didn't take long for him to get his answer given to him by a peculiarly agitated Harry.
"Are you going to help me out?" The teen spat. "Or are you siding with mum now on what I have to know to move into the dorms? Because if so, I hope you tell her a diagnostic charm is pointless since we can't apparate in there. Hermione'll be more than happy to outline all the details for her if she needs them.."
Given Harry's extremely misguided attitude during his tirade, Severus figured there was clearly more to the story of Harry's living arrangements than Severus knew about. Therefore, he chose not to comment on the mishandled accusation in favour of running the diagnostic charm, as he assumed he normally did after each transport; something Rosie probably didn't know about. In hindsight, it made sense for this step to be completed if Harry couldn't feel specific portions of his body to be sure to check nothing got splinched during transport. However, not knowing the exact details of Harry's disability and being surprised by the Gryffindor's demeanor made Severus unable to pick up that piece of the puzzle laid out for him.
"You're fine," Severus hissed through his clenched teeth, secretly grateful the report came back clean because he did not know how this version of him would act if they found an issue. What did know was he wouldn't dare live in a world where the lookalike of James Potter spoke to him in such a manner, regardless of their supposed relationship here. "And you will never speak to me like that again, understood? I am the adult, you are the child, and you treat me with the respect I deserve."
To keep his composure, Severus turned towards the Hogwarts gates, not waiting for Harry's sure to be insolent reply. He held his breath during the entire waving of his wand across the school crest, relieved to see it open as it did in his old world. This fragile farce he was building could have come crumbling down at that simple oversight. Again, he paid Harry no attention when he stormed off up the familiar paved path leading up to the school entrance, never once turning around, but knowing the Gryffindor followed only by the sounds of crumbling earth roughly four steps behind him. And for him, that was fine.
"'m sorry, sir. I didn't mean to disrespect you back there."
The unexpected apology - one sounding quite genuine, with no malice found inside of it - when they almost reached the doors to the school made Severus stop abruptly. Turning around to face the teen, he glared down at Harry and accidentally slipped back into his old persona. "An apology from the Great Harry Potter." He bellowed, "Shall I feel honoured? Did it hurt you to say such words to someone like me?"
Harry's head jerked up so quickly at the reply that Severus feared he'd inadvertently tip backwards. Obviously, that wasn't something the young wizard's stepfather would have said to him. "What's going on with you today, Severus? First, you call me… y'know… Potter-
"-that is your name-"
"-then you faint-"
"I did not faint."
"Yeah, you did," Harry teasingly said. He approached Severus, who instinctively took a step back in response. The action did not go unnoticed by Harry. "So then, what's going on with you today? Is it mum? I know she's been a little crazy lately… ok, a lot crazy, actually. I don't know what's gotten into her. If she's said or done something-"
"She loves you," Severus uncharacteristically blurted out. Though he hated the mixed signals he'd been having to sort through in the short time since he woke up here, in this case, the statement was accurate no matter which version of Harry he spoke to. He studied the same face that had been the last he'd seen before dying, but this face - reddened by his embarrassment of being told his mother cared for him - didn't hold the same darkness within it. It hadn't seen or experienced the death and destruction the other did. Briefly, Severus's dark eyes flickered up to where the lightning bolt scar was missing. Voldemort's evil soul hadn't touched this version of the boy. This child would not have to die to save the rest of the wizarding world.
"And why do you keep staring at my forehead?" Harry's question, not said nearly as accusingly this time, brought Severus out of the Shrieking Shack and onto the sunny - not war-ridden - Hogwarts grounds.
"Your scar is missing."
He blamed the strange situation for the words leaving his mouth before his brain could stop them. But rather than reach for his forehead to touch the curse as Severus had seen Potter do frequently, the teenager touched his right cheek, feathering his finger down a deep line several shades lighter than the rest of his face.
He didn't come out unscathed. This reality hit Severus like a herd of erumpent. Just because the child didn't see the horrors of the old world didn't mean he didn't have his own demons to fight.
"I don't know what this is about," Harry scowled at him, the words barely audible through his clenched teeth, "but it's not funny."
The hurt on Harry's face made Severus ashamed of his actions for the first time in his adult life. He should have said something, that much was obvious, but a student exiting the castle doors in front of them stopped him.
"Late again, are you Potter? That's what? The fifth time in a month?"
Severus would have recognized Draco Malfoy's snide voice no matter what universe he landed in. What surprised him here was Harry's reaction to his long-time nemesis.
"It's only the fourth," Harry said with an unexpected chuckle, "and this time it was Severus's fault, so I don't think it really counts against me."
Unfazed, Harry pushed his way past Severus to the stairs leading into the school, where Draco leaned against the heavy door to hold it open. The Gryffindor paused several meters short of the steps. Curious, Severus moved closer to get a better view, something Harry didn't notice being too focused on whatever was about to happen. It took less than half a minute to answer the question lingering in the back of his mind since learning of Harry's disability: how would Hogwarts adjust to accommodate his needs? Severus's dark eyes widened when the four stone steps transformed and expanded into a smooth ramp, allowing Harry to meet Draco at the castle entrance. Severus waited to join them once the stairs returned to their usual formation, not wanting to get caught on it mid-transformation.
"Morning, Severus," Draco greeted him. "Rough start to the day?"
"I'll tell you later," Harry answered instead. "We have to get to class."
In a similar fashion to how Severus, Harry paid no attention to him trailing behind as the three wizards casually walked through the wonder then usual door frame.
"There you are," Ron Weasley declared, much more jokingly than concerned about being roughly a quarter-hour late for class. "Thought you weren't going to make it today, mate."
The disappointed shake of Harry's head couldn't hide the wide grin spread across his face. "You know you didn't have to wait for me, right?"
"Of course we knew," Ron cheerfully said, "but by the time we realized how late you were, figured we were already late. Plus, Professor Lupin likes you, so we have a better chance of getting out of it if we show up with you."
Already in a state of shock over Harry and Draco's friendly conversation - adding Weasley, of all people, into the mix - Severus fell into a coughing fit at the sound of Lupin's name being referred to as their professor.
"You alright there, Professor?" Ron asked. Severus glowered. Never had he wanted to wipe a smirk off another person's face - including Longbottom on his worst day - as he did Ron at that moment. Especially when, unlike the redhead in his old world, this one didn't appear nearly as intimidated by the gesture.
"Let's go… just because Remus allows me to be late, doesn't mean I should be." Harry motioned his head towards an empty corner of the wall opposite the towering stone staircase leading up to the classrooms or down towards the dungeons. By all appearances, it looked no different from any other part of the high stone structure. But after a second glance at it, Severus noticed a small symbol - an up and down arrow, midway up the wall. He got his second view of how Hogwarts adjusted to help his stepson when the wall melted to reveal a hidden lift as soon as Harry rolled up to it.
"Come on, Weasel." Draco slapped the other wizard hard on his shoulders. "You heard the man, get moving. I'm sure Hermione's having a right fit about now and we'll never hear the end of it otherwise."
The two friends must have picked up on the animosity between Harry and his supposed stepfather - a phrase wrong on so many levels - because neither of them bid farewell to their Potions Master. With a whispered, 'he's been acting really weird this morning,' Harry entered the lift first, and they took off to Defense Against the Dark Arts; leaving Severus to wander his way down to the Potions classroom.
How difficult can it be to teach here? He rhetorically asked himself. Potions hasn’t changed in centuries. I'll be perfectly fine. If only he foresaw the challenges awaiting him on the other side of the door, perhaps he might have been a little more prepared for the rest of his day.
In a fit of rage, Severus threw open the familiar door leading into his cramped Potion's office - the only available office space in the castle having no livable quarters here - unsurprised when it hit the back wall so hard that the glass phials on the shelves rattled and threatened to fall from their usual safe locations. Naturally, his typical well-placed enchantments on his ingredient kept them from falling, but they wouldn't be safe from his brute strength if he turned towards them to release his pent-up frustration; the exact end goal he desired.
"Dammit," he screamed at the top of his lungs, desperate for some sort of cathartic release away from his calamitous morning. And when that didn't work, he turned to his office desk and swiped his arm across it in one smooth motion, effectively sending the entire contents tumbling down to the stone floor with a much more satisfying shatter.
For a moment, he stood motionless, admiring his work along the ground as he tried to catch his breath. Everything appeared to be normal, as if this were his old Potions office back from two years ago. The broken quills, shattered inkwells, and face-down texts were all things he would have stored on his desk and would still be on the ground if he had acted the same way towards them. Everything, except for a single undamaged, upright phial on the floor, surrounded by shards of glass and soaked through parchment.
So why didn't this one break? What makes it so special?
Two questions he simultaneously didn't care to answer and needed to know.
Not putting any more thought into it, he picked up the phial - briefly appreciating the weight of its heavy glass in his hands - and threw it at the space on the wall to his left. Once again, rather than crash into the surface like any other phial would, it bounced backwards, landing upright at his feet. As he stared at the shimmering golden liquid sloshing along the sides, leaving trails of the thick potion in its wake, his frustration grew. He growled, bent down for the second time in as many minutes to pick it up, and he threw it onto the floor directly in front of him with all of his strength. For a split second, he thought he had finally used enough force to break through any enchantments his counterpart had cast onto the object, but, to his sheer shock, the phial bounced back up, this time all the way to his eye level and floated in front of him long enough to force him to reach out to catch it.
After all of that effort, he gave in to his curiosity. What could this phial possibly contain that would necessitate such potent enchantments laced into the glass? He turned the object over in his hand using extreme caution, as if it were an explosive, to reveal the yellowed label written in his familiar, scribbled handwriting:
His heart sank when the reality of the situation dawned on him. If his private potions nomenclature crossed over between both worlds, which it logically would, this one was simple for him to decipher. The first two lines informed him that the formula was his own experiment designed for Harry Potter - to help him with his nerve pain and muscle spasms, which are common side effects of spinal cord injuries. The last line specified where he'd find the formula for this specific trial in his many personal lab books, its version, and his numbered attempt at brewing it. Book ten, Page 124, and version number forty-seven, attempt number three - he used the alpha system to differentiate the sequential attempts. Given the level of protection he placed on this phial, the potion had either been successful or it contained some feature he intended to use as a stepping stone for version forty-eight. Forty-eight. He'd made almost fifty variations of only this single potion for his stepson - a wizard he currently despised.
Yes, I still despise him.
His mind flashed back to the potions he saw Harry take at their family breakfast three hours ago. How many more potions had Severus created or continued to create, for the child? At least nine, he assumed, based on this specific one coming from book number ten. It made reasonable sense for books one through nine to hold other varieties of potions the young wizard used to help his condition.
I cannot do this.
In a rare display of weakness, Severus placed his sweaty palms onto his desk and leaned against them until the solid piece of wood furniture supported nearly all of his weight. If only it could take away the weight pressing down on his chest from the task he faced ahead of him. He'd woken up in this world barely five hours ago, had presumably died in the Shrieking Shack no more than six, and he already felt like he was failing whatever purpose had brought him here.
How could he have thought he'd be able to waltz right into someone else's life, no less someone so fundamentally different from himself, and live it with no one noticing? If his first class - seventh years, no less - was any sign of his impending success, he needed to find answers… and fast. Walking into the classroom this morning made it far too easy for him to revert to his old self; back into his real self. And while it seemed none of the fourteen students in his N.E.W.T. class seemed to mind him arriving fifteen minutes late, it certainly set his day off on the wrong foot, and the pressure inside of him grew with each student's interruption or confused expression.
Fortunately, his extraordinarily large seventh-year class had been competent enough to avoid his seething rage. He could not say the same about his second-year class, the one he'd just come from, right before the lunch hour. In that class, he realized exactly how unprepared he was for this endeavour. Everything from him not knowing the assignment due today to meeting students who did not exist in his old world - one of whom would give Longbottom a run for his galleons as the least promising potioneer in Wizarding Britain - made every incorrect answer given and ill-prepared ingredient grind his nerves to the ground. In the end, despite how hard Severus tried to revise for their upcoming final exams with the same demeanour these students expected from their Potions Master, he hadn't the slightest idea of how to do so and ended the second year class early by storming out of the classroom to his office, planning to clear his head during the lunch hour.
Against all odds, his minor breakdown on his desk calmed him down more than the mess he made throughout the room. Each deep breath cleared the fog that had settled into his mind since waking up, allowing him to take in the surrounding space. An idea struck him, one he should have considered long before walking through its doors: this office was his best option for learning about his new self and avoiding any further missteps like the ones he made in class. Generally speaking, a professor's office became his or her personal space - a purgatory-like environment nestled between one's work and home life, especially if one did not have living quarters at the school, as this Severus Snape did not.
Nothing in the cramped room seemed out of place compared to his former potions office at first glance. The desk was identical, and was in the same location in the room - near the back wall, facing the door. A series of shelves magically affixed to the stone walls behind his desk were brimming with texts, journals, and loose parchment, just like in his old world. Two large bookcases lined the left and right walls between the door and his desk, where he kept his personal potion ingredients, and it was here that he noticed his first, albeit minor, change. While pursuing through the inventory of ingredients, he noticed how those he used for school projects were limited to the left side of the room, while the bookcases on the right side contained a variety of jars, phials, and bottles neatly sorted on the shelves by labels with codes he did not recognize. His intuition told him these were for personal or commissioned projects, however, the volume concerned him. How many experiments was he carrying out? And where were they?
The crunch of broken glass under his foot caught his attention right as he was about to consider the exploration of his new office another personal dead end. The previous contents of his desk were still covering the floor; everything his counterpart would have kept closest to him on the desk. When he looked again at the remnants of his tantrum, he discovered they weren't limited to phial glass and student essays, as he would have expected from his old desk. He waved his wand over the pile, revelling in the one familiar sensation to him in this strange new world, repairing every shard of glass until restored to its original, orderly state. Three blatantly obvious additions to the room froze him - three things he had missed seeing before shattering them on the ground. Three silver photo frames.
Although he did not know how his wobbly legs got there, Severus found himself sitting at his desk, clutching the first of the frames in his hands, as if it might realize he was an imposter and vanish on him. The moving picture was of himself standing next to Lily who was sitting propped up in a hospital bed holding a baby wrapped in a pink blanket in her arms. Rosalie Maya Snape. His flesh and blood daughter. Or, more precisely, his counterpart's daughter, yet this tiny person somehow knew the truth about him. But what stood out to him the most was the smile on the other man's face. It never once wavered during the picture loop, where he alternated between looking down at the child in his wife's arms and the camera for their first family portrait. The loop ended just as he bent down to kiss the top of Lily's head.
Still clutching the first photo, Severus examined the other two. The middle one was of Harry and Lily at what appeared to be the Gryffindor's birthday party; his fifth based on the number five candle on the cake. Harry sat behind the cake with his mother beside him, her lips moving in time to sing 'Happy Birthday'. Although he couldn't remember any specifics of the day, the picture obviously held some sort of significance to this Severus to be included in the three displayed at his workplace. Even if those memories hadn't been unlocked, his current state of mind emphasized the question, "Where is James?"
The last photograph struck him the hardest for reasons he could not fathom. He, Rosalie, and Harry were seated around a short wooden table with a chessboard prominently displayed between them. They appeared to be in a log cabin based on the walls behind them. Rain was pouring outside, through a large picture window in the background, making him almost feel the warmth emanating from the soft glow of the lit fire in the fireplace to his counterpart's left. The image looped a scene of Rosie crawling around Severus's right side while the professor appeared to be teaching Harry chess while sitting on the floor across from Severus, his wheelchair not far behind the young wizard. During the loop, picture Severus would touch a piece, then point out the places that piece might move. Harry dutifully nodded his head, and pointed to another spot on the board, his lips moving in a silent question. Whatever the child had said caused the picture Severus to shake his head in some odd mixture of laughter and defeat.
Guilt. The guilt Severus felt for practically stealing this other man's life practically tore him apart. With the wedding pictures he saw in the bedroom he awoke in, he could tell the man had been living a fulfilling life; one with far more potential than his had been. So what brought him here? Why, of all the possible versions of himself, did he replace a man who appeared to have it all? His current self should have died a bitter, lonely man on the dirty floor of a shack. He didn't deserve to live this life, no matter how badly he wanted it.
The professor jumped at the sound of his name echoing on the walls, dropping the picture of Rosalie's birth. Lost in his pitying thoughts, he missed the knock on his door and the loud creak when Poppy - now standing inside the threshold frustratedly staring at him - pushed it open.
"Poppy." He stood, straightening the picture frames along the edge of his desk. "Please accept my apologies. I didn't hear you knock."
"I most assuredly did knock." She pressed her fists firmly against her hips. "I've been attempting to contact you for the past hour. I sent three missives to your classroom at the end of your last class."
Severus thought quickly. "Ah, I dismissed my class early today," he explained to the medi-witch. "Unless one of my more idiotic students made the unwise decision to touch them, I suspect they're still sitting on my classroom desk.
"Let me guess-" he menacingly narrowed his eyes at his newest visitor, "Lily fire called you to check in on me."
In the short time she'd been there, Severus had sifted through every plausible reason she'd come to see him. He wasn't the Head of Slytherin here, so he doubted it'd be over any student illness and they had avoided any injuries in his second-year class, thanks to his efforts. Therefore, when he remembered Lily's remark about seeing Poppy, it clicked into place. Unfortunately, like everything else lately, he was wrong; or at least partially so.
"Well, yes," she began, a little taken aback by his presumption, "but I'm here because you didn't deliver Harry's weekly potions to the infirmary this morning. I had nothing to send down with his lunch."
Fuck. This wasn't something he could logically guess his way out of, he needed a concrete memory to answer appropriately. Severus closed his eyes to concentrate on finding some memory of these elusive potions - what they were or where he could find them. When he opened them back up, they landed on a bag hanging on the coat rack to Poppy's right. The bag Lily hurriedly handed him on his way out, which, at the time, he assumed contained student potion assignments he had reviewed over the weekend.
"Accio." Severus summoned the bag, hoping it had as many cushioning enchantments on it as Harry's experimental potion. He opened the pack, pleased to see twenty small phials, all organized and labelled for Harry to take throughout the school day - administered, of course, by the school mediwitch. He re-zipped the bag and held it out to Poppy. "Please accept my apologies once more. This morning, we were running later than usual."
"I suspected as much," Poppy curtly stated. She opened the bag and rummaged through the phials until she found three and placed them in the front pocket of her smock, vanishing the rest most likely to the infirmary. "While we're on the topic of you-" Severus sighed at the pathetic transition, "-when I spoke with Lily this morning, she sounded quite concerned. She said you took a horrid fall and the diagnostic report showed a head injury-"
"She's overreacting." Severus wiped his hand down his face. If he was going to involve anyone else in his mess, it would not be Poppy. Definitely Albus, possibly Minerva… people who could assist him in determining what the hell was going on. "I simply had a bit of a migraine this morning, took a potion, and I'm sure I'll be back to my old grumpy self after lunch."
"We both know you're not as grumpy as you portray yourself to be, Severus." She placed another migraine potion onto his desk. "In case you need it later. Also, if anything changes during the day, don't be afraid to drop by. My confidentiality vow extends to spouses, too. Use that information as you see fit."
"I'll remember that," Severus chuckled. Back in his days as a student, what he respected most about Poppy was how she embraced her need to be a confidant to the students, as well as the faculty if needed, in order to do her job well. He suspected that if it came down to it, she'd choose death over breaking the trust she'd built with the students by taking Veritaserum.
"Oh, Severus, one more thing," she added, right before leaving his office. "Remember, Harry and I have lessons this afternoon. I'll do my best to get him out on time today, but I feel like he's getting so close to mastering the spells that I'd hate to cut him short if he makes significant progress today."
Shocked - at the lessons or Harry's supposed progress, he couldn't tell - Severus stood there dumbfounded, unsure how to respond, other than stifling his fury at the mere thought of having to wait for Harry Potter. Poppy, thankfully, didn't pick up on his conflicted emotions and continued her rambling.
"I keep warning you and Lily that you need to monitor him closely." She waved her finger at him, reminiscent of his teenage years. "He's truly gifted in Charms and Transfiguration… better than Lily or James, I'm sure of it. I suppose it's a matter of necessity for him, right? In any case, I am thoroughly impressed by how quickly he picks up spells. It's as if the moment he comprehends what he needs to do, it happens! It's no surprise Filius wanted him in Ravenclaw so badly. Must have seen his potential from day one."
"It's called arrogant, not gifted!" Severus practically yelled, accidentally letting his shield down. "How am I the only one in this school capable of seeing our troubled Golden Boy for whom he really is?! He doesn't have a talented bone in his body! His magic is mediocre, at best, and he'd probably be dead if it weren't for Miss Granger-"
Severus cut himself off as soon as he realized his mistakes, which was at least thirty seconds too late according to Poppy's alarmed expression. The school medi-witch, who he had a feeling spent more time with this Harry in one year than the other in his entire six years at Hogwarts, appeared as if he had struck her in the face.
"Well, this is certainly a recent development," she huffed on Harry's behalf. "I was already struggling to understand Lily's contentions, but I thought… Well, I've always felt relieved that he had you there to support his magical abilities… at least until right now."
Severus's jaw tightened to hold back any passing insults. "Perhaps I hit my head more than I suspected," he offered the most logical explanation as his excuse. "Lily might have mentioned how I babbled a bit of nonsense this morning as well.
"Whatever time you can release him is fine," Severus finally agreed. "I need to stop by Albus's office before leaving tonight and I expect it to be a lengthy conversation, so no need to rush your… work."
"You didn't hear?" Poppy asked him. She nodded her head at the Prophet peeking out of the stack of papers on the top of his desk. "I figured you'd read about it this morning, give your interest in what's been going on."
"I was running late today," he reminded her, shifting the work on his desk to reveal the aforementioned object.
"Yes, well, Albus was called to the ministry early this morning." Poppy clutched her hands tightly against her chest. "When the paper arrived at breakfast, we all assumed his summons was regarding the Bones' situation… If anyone can help her, it's Albus… As of this morning, when Pomona came for the calming draught, she told me Susan's staying here for the time being, at least until they figured out the details of what happened. The poor girl has already lost so many in the war, we were all so hopeful for a better outcome than this..."
Severus heard little of what Poppy went on about - what started as something to do with Albus helping with Susan Bones' summer living arrangements, turned into the witch's upcoming O.W.L.s, and then her heading out for lunch. In his old world, no one would've thought twice of Severus ignoring them in place of something he found more interesting, but this time Severus didn't care about maintaining his cover. No, at that point he was only interested in the big, bold headline on the front of the Daily Prophet:
Has Prometheus Struck Again?
Bones Found At Last!
A fortnight after her disappearance, Aurors have officially uncovered the body of Amelia Bones. We expect the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to make an official statement on the cause of her disappearance and death in the upcoming days, however the circumstances appear to be consistent with the others…
Severus skimmed the article, having no recollection of the case's leading suspect, the elusive killer dubbed Prometheus because of the strange burn patterns found on his victims' arms, legs, and chest. Curious about these burns, Severus returned to the accompanying image of two aurors searching through a meadow of tall wispy grass. Despite being taken from a distance, Severus had no trouble identifying two key pieces of information: the aurors had disillusioned the body's arms and legs and those two aurors were Sirius Black and James Potter.
Since his first day at Hogwarts, Harry could leave whichever class he had directly before lunch fifteen minutes early. His mum and step-dad had negotiated it as part of his personalized educational plan - a term Harry was fairly confident did not exist before he started at the school - arranged for him by the Board of Governors to accommodate his needs to get the same education as the other able-bodied students, such as living off-site, access to the reactivated lifts, and the ability to leave class for his regimented, every four hours, lavatory schedule. Now, after five years of leaving classes a little early, his professors were all well aware of it, his classmates stopped questioning it - quickly learning that when they asked him why he left early, Harry gave them some obviously ridiculous reason like needing to feed the ghosts -, and his friends had got into the routine of always meeting him outside the lavatory near the Great Hall so they could go to lunch together. Most often, everything worked out fine and things felt completely normal.
Although it surprised almost everyone he met, for the most part, Harry James Potter never saw himself as being any different from any other almost sixteen-year-old wizard in Wizarding Britain. His parents still expected him to do his fair share of chores at home like any other kid, he took the same fifth-year courses as his classmates, he loved to fly on his custom-made broom whenever he could, and he loved to drink Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks during their Hogsmeade weekends. In fact, if anyone were ever brave enough to ask the young wizard what he thought made him metaphorically stand out from his peers - a question he absolutely never got - his first response would be his parents' very public, messy divorce rather than his inability to feel or move most of his body below his lower ribcage.
Sustaining his injury when he was only three meant Harry remembered nothing surrounding it; not the weeks he spent kidnapped, the rescue, his stay at St Mungo's, or his rehabilitation, which he was grateful for almost every single day. When he was younger, his mum had simply told him he severed his spinal cord in an accident, and oblivious to the extent of magical healing, the answer more than satisfied him so he asked no other questions. How it happened or what they tried to do to fix it never mattered too much to him in those early years. However, around the age of seven, he discovered through experience that his mother's magic or potions could cure nearly any injury in the human body, naturally, leading him to wonder why his healers chose to not fix his back. It took him another month or so to gain the courage to ask his mum and Severus, and that was when they first told him the actual details of "his accident" - as well as how he earned the nickname of "The-Boy-Who-Lived" courtesy of the Daily Prophet for surviving the fatal building collapse.
Harry's interest in his injury grew over time, and he wanted to know more about what happened in the aftermath. As the Hogwarts' Potions Master, Severus explained to Harry all the different spells, salves, and potions his healers used successfully to heal him. He described how they knitted his lacerations throughout his body - but couldn't remove the scars left by an unknown cutting curse - healed his organs, and repaired his broken bones, including his ninth, tenth, and eleventh thoracic vertebrae. His spinal cord, on the other hand, had resisted every nerve regeneration potion and spell they tried on it, implying that Dark Magic had damaged it, either intentionally by his captors or accidentally during his rescue. That was the day Harry learned injuries caused by Dark Magic could not be magically repaired.
As content as Harry felt with his life in general, he'd be foolish to sit there and say how great it was, especially considering he spent most his third year hating himself. No, it wasn't easy by any means, and he had his moments of frustration when the daily challenges became too much for him. Of course, there were the things everyone could see, like how the majority of the United Kingdom - magical and muggle, alike - was far from accessible, but then there were the parts no one really thought about: people looking at him differently, frequently speaking down to him or flat out ignoring him in favour of his friends, and how he always had to be consciously aware of the condition of his body - things like nerve pain, scheduling his bladder and bowel movements, or remembering to shift himself throughout the day and night to avoid pressure sores. And while mastering summoning and levitation charms helped him overcome many of his physical challenges, and the disc his step-dad charmed helped to warn him of any general discomfort in the parts of his body he couldn't feel, similar to healing, magic couldn't solve everything. Still, Harry tried his hardest to stay positive because at the end of the day it was better than the alternative, and based on the time he snuck into his father's office last year to look through the auror's kidnapping files, he was truly lucky he hadn't died in the warehouse. Remembering those images, or the names of aurors who died while rescuing him, was usually enough to change his perspective.
"Have I mentioned how much I hate Herbology?" Harry grumbled as he exited the lavatory to his waiting friends in the corridor. As a group, they made their way towards the double doors of the Great Hall for lunch, Ron walking beside Harry and Hermione and Draco chatting behind them. Harry hated to admit it, but the latter two seemed to get closer, in a not-so-platonic way, throughout the year and in fear of the changing dynamic of their friendship, he wasn't sure what he thought about it.
"Only every single Monday this year, mate," Ron chuckled. "I bet if you complained this much to McGonagall or Sprout, they'd have moved it by now."
Harry shrugged at the truth behind his friend's words. The sad part was that he really liked Herbology as a subject. He enjoyed working with the plants and often spent his weekends helping his mum in her flower garden or Severus in his Potions garden. What he didn't like about Herbology, was the long trek to and from the greenhouses. Only his short-lived attempt to take Divinations - which failed primarily because he grew tired of Trelawney's constant death predictions, though the wobbly makeshift lift didn't help convince him to stay - and Care of Magical Creatures were worse destinations for him. Despite the rocky trip down to the edge of the forest, he continued in Hagrid's course, but he doubted any of them would take it into N.E.W.T.s next year.
"Fine," Harry sighed, pushing himself over the small raised threshold into the Great Hall and towards the Gryffindor table.
They took their usual seats, Hermione to the left of the open gap in the table for Harry to roll up to, Draco on her other side, and Ron to Harry's right. Fred and George usually sat across from them, but they obviously hadn't arrived yet based on the empty seats.
"No afternoon potions today?" Hermione asked with a frown, drawing his attention to the lack of phials surrounding his still empty plate.
"This is a problem." Harry locked his wheels in place, but it still didn't trigger his daily three phials to automatically appear from the hospital wing. He scanned up and down the Gryffindor table to see if Madam Pomfrey had accidentally sent them to someone else by mistake. Fortunately, or not for him, they weren't anywhere to be seen among the plates, food, and goblets of pumpkin juice. He groaned, both in frustration and in anticipation of the pain he knew would soon radiate down his body if he didn't get his potions; the only sensation he ever felt in his lower half, which one of those missing potions helped to keep at bay.
"You guys were really late this morning," Hermione offered, her face filled with the sympathy of seeing her friend's worry. "More so than usual. Is it possible Professor Snape forgot them at home?"
"We had a… weird… morning." Harry rubbed his brow, wishing he could erase the start of his day. The distraction of his classes had almost made him forget about their morning: Severus calling him Potter, pointing out his hideous scar, acting as if he did not know how their meticulously planned life worked, and Harry being angry with the man. "I'm pretty sure he had the bag of them when we left, though."
"He seemed a bit… off… when you guys got to school this morning," Draco added. "Like he saw a ghost or something."
"Or bit into a sour Acid Pop," Ron joked. His mouth was already half full of a sandwich, making the 'Acid Pop' sound more like 'afrid hop'.
"A-are you talking about Professor Snape?" Dennis Creevy asked from the other side of the table, four or five seats down. The tinge of fear creeping in the second-year's voice made Harry extremely nervous.
"Erm, yeah," Harry hesitantly replied, unsure he wanted to know what his stepdad had done to warrant Creevy's reaction. "Why?"
"He… uh…" Dennis turned to face his brother Colin. The fourth-year nodded. "In class this morning… He seemed a little… I don't know how to say it. He was just…"
"Mean!" Fred finished for the younger Gryffindor, slamming himself down into the seat directly across from Harry and filling his plate with food. George followed less than a second later. "The word you're looking for, tiny Creevy, is mean." He turned to Harry. "Your stepfather was more than a bit of an arsehole today-"
"And not the 'I woke up on the wrong side of the bed' kind either," George added. "He wouldn't even talk to us about-"
Fred elbowed his brother in the ribcage.
George ignored him, leading over to Harry on his propped up elbows. "Perhaps there's trouble in paradise?" At the last word, his eyebrows rose quickly, then fell.
"Ew, what is wrong with you? That's not an image I want to have in my head! It's bad enough to think about Rosie being born." Harry swallowed back the bile threatening to creep up the back of his throat. "Like I said, we had a strange morning, but I don't think…" he raised his eyes at the spot where his missing potions should have been. "He sounded different this morning. Confused… and he fainted-"
"Fainted, you say?" George inquired, exchanging a mischievous look at Fred. "Was this like a princess fainting-" he held the back of his hand dramatically to his forehead, "-or more like a warrior type?"
Fred clapped his hands loudly to demonstrate their professor collapsing to the ground.
"It's not funny," Harry protested, though he did laugh at their antics. "When it happened, he hit his head or something."
The moment the words left his mouth, the perfect explanation for his stepdad's strange behaviour, he knew they were incorrect. If he remembered correctly, which given his fight with his mum might be a stretch, Severus called him "Potter'' before he fell to the floor. He had also held his head in pain right before he had passed out. But Harry said nothing about it because his friends already decided that their normally clear-headed professor suffered from a concussion - yet another unfixable ailment by magic - causing him to "fall off the deep end" according to Fred.
Their lunch conversation flowed fluidly from Potions class to Quidditch finals, to the last Hogsmeade weekend and their summer plans, until midway through the lunch hour when they saw Madam Pomfrey strutting in through the double door, heading directly toward their table. Harry couldn't hold back his relieved smile at the three very familiar potions she held in her hands; now he wouldn't have to make the trip up to the infirmary for them between the end of lunch and his double Charms class.
"I believe these are yours, Mister Potter," announced the Matron from behind Harry. She held the three phials out over his shoulder for him to inspect the handwritten labels, a habit Severus had instilled into him early on for his own safety. You need to verify you are taking the correct potion before putting the phial to your mouth, he had lectured, and then to further prove his point, in Harry's first year, he had swapped one of Harry's afternoon potions for a Laugh-Inducing Potion. Harry couldn't sit through the rest of the day's classes without disturbing the other students, but he had more than learned his lesson.
Elixir of the Peaceful Mind
Draught of Control
"All here," Harry confirmed, brightly. He immediately uncorked the second one - which he usually took on an empty stomach, but it'd have to do - and drank it down, ending with a grimace. Regardless of how many potions he took in a single day, he never got used to the taste of them. The other two he placed at the top of his plate, near his goblet of water, to take once he finished his lunch.
"Don't forget our lesson this afternoon." The medi-witch reminded him, sternly. She reached over his shoulder and plucked the empty phial from the table, placing it in her smock's front pocket. "I've already informed Severus that we may run a little late today."
"Yes, ma'am." Harry obediently replied.
Harry had a love-hate relationship with Madam Pomfrey's extra tutoring sessions. As the one who asked - or more accurately begged - Severus to arrange for this specific tutoring, he couldn't exactly say he hated the afternoons he spent in the hospital wing. He simply preferred to work with Professor Flitwick for the things he didn't already have a muggle method for, and therefore felt these as a bit of a waste of his afternoon. Except, every year when Harry tried to convince his mum to allow him to board at the school, she made up some ridiculous reason he couldn't. Earlier this year, she told him he could live at the school if he mastered the elimination spell, Amotium atterio, to magically handle his bladder and bowel programme, even though he'd been handling it the muggle way for as long as he could remember with very few problems. Internally, Harry had to admit her argument was practical because having to go up and down to the lavatory in the Tower sounded downright dreadful, but the idea of forcing a fifteen-year-old to master a spell that healers learned in their Healers' training left Harry furious with his mum. So for the last two months, he had spent most of his free periods with the Matron doing things he would want none of his classmates to know about.
"Wonderful. I'll see you at four." She turned on her heels and walked away, but Harry hardly noticed. His mind was stuck thinking of one of the few sentences she'd said to him: "I've already informed Severus that we may run a little late today."
His feelings surrounding his stepdad that day were certainly confusing to him. On the one hand, it enraged him about what Severus had said on their way up to the school. That, on the other hand, sat below his deep-rooted concern for the man. Why was acting so… unknown? Putting aside his annoyance, he'd have to face Severus later in the day and if Madam Pomfrey spoke to him earlier - presumably to get his forgotten potions - she might have some insight into what was going on.
"Harry," Hermione sharply scolded, drawing him out of his reverie. "We're supposed to be studying in the library this afternoon. Our O.W.L.s are next week, you know?"
"Merlin, they are?! You mean next week, next week?" Everyone around them laughed at Harry's loud, condescending exclamation. Everyone, except for Hermione. "Listen, Hermione, even you have to admit that my practicals are going to be brilliant. As for the theory portion, if I don't know the material already, I doubt I'm going to learn it in a week, so I might as well spend my afternoon working on things that will make a difference in my life."
"Your O.W.L.s will make a diff-"
"Can you hold off on the lecture for a second?" Harry interrupted her when he saw Madam Pomfrey leaving the Great Hall. "I'll be right back."
Harry didn't wait for Hermione's response to unlock his wheels and push himself as quickly as he could through the Hall after her. No matter how efficiently Harry had become in his chair, Madam Pomfrey always walked through the school like she was on a mission, so he didn't catch her until she was five steps up the stairs, heading back to the infirmary.
"Madam Pomfrey, wait!" He yelled up to her from the bottom of the stairs, grateful that she heard him and swiftly returned.
"Is there a problem, Harry?" She asked. Harry flushed her use of his given name when they were in private. Seeing as he saw her almost as much as his regular healers, and the reasons were typically more personal than the rest of the student body, it rarely bothered him when she called him 'Harry', but it caught him off guard occasionally.
"Yeah, erm… no," he hastily said. "I mean… said you talked to Severus today?"
She gave a nod. "Once it was clear he'd forgotten to send me your potions for the week, I dropped by his office at the start of lunch."
Her tone of voice as she said the first half of her statement almost confirmed she recognized the change in him too. "Did he- did he seem alright to you?"
Madam Pomfrey turned her head to the side. "Why do you ask?"
Harry slowly rolled his wheels back and forth, feeling scrutinized. How could he explain the situation without sounding completely mental? "He was… off… this morning. Kind of confused. I know we all have bad days, but this felt different. Like he didn't know me or my mum, or even himself."
"Your mother firecalled me this morning." Madam Pomfrey rested her hand on Harry's shoulder. Out of instinct, he pulled it away, leaving her standing in front of him with her hands clasped together. "She told me all about Severus's accident this morning and ifhe hit his head, it could have caused some of the confusion you saw."
"Like forgetting the potions he's brought every single Monday for five years?"
"It may." The hesitation in her voice did little to convince Harry. Picking up on his uneasiness, she added, "I'd bet stress likely played a larger role in your missing potions today. It's the end of the year and, well, you of all people know what he's been facing. He's not one to admit how much it's weighing on his mind."
Harry didn't need any further explanation. He'd heard the news about Amelia Bones' body being found and he knew it was only a matter of time before they reported on the burns and how she'd been stripped of her magic like the others. For reasons Harry hadn't figured out yet, Severus had taken the attacks personally. It made sense for his father, decorated Auror James Potter, to become engrossed in every disappearance over the last year - as he did with all of his cases, to Harry's detriment - but these somehow crossed the invisible boundary between his two homes. And Harry despised it.
"That must be it," Harry mumbled, recalling his stepdad's odd behaviour at dinner last night, including going to bed early. Had he somehow known about Madam Bones' body? "He probably read the Prophet and… yeah, it's not exactly the news we wanted to hear, even if we all kind of expected it at this point."
"You're a good son, Harry," Madam Pomfrey said. "He'll come around. He always does."
Harry stared, unseeing, at the ground, creating an awkward silence between them. He'd hoped for a better answer or some way for him to help the man who had done more for him than his biological father.
"I know that look, Harry Potter," the Matron lectured with a smirk. "Leave it to the adults to solve the issues of the wizarding world. You have more important things like O.W.L.s to worry about."
"Yeah, yeah." Harry gave a half-smile. "As if Hermione would ever let me forget it."
"Get back to lunch before Minerva comes searching for you." She gestured towards the Great Hall. "I'll see you this afternoon."
"Thanks, Madam Pomfrey."
Back at the Gryffindor table, Harry took a big bite of the lonely apple sitting on his plate, ready to ignore the lecture Hermione had been giving him before he left. True to her nature, she would not let it go, and her relentless stare burning into the side of his head forced him to address her.
"Look, I'm sorry, Hermione," Harry apologized, attempting to sound as genuine as possible through his agitation. "You know I can't spend every hour this week in the library. I only have a few left to prove to my mum so I can live here next year and I don't want to waste them on exams. I swear, I'm studying at home, so can we drop it?"
"Waste? You think it's a waste" She whispered, and Harry threw his arms up in defeat.
"Draco, try to talk some sense into her, will you?"
"You know, Harry," Draco began instead, "my father says the Board of Governors is eager to drop your boarding exemption. Something about setting a dangerous precedent for leaving the safety of the school grounds given the recent crimes. He claims the main reason they let you is because Severus is a professor here and chaperones your travelling. After all, who better to protect you from a potential dark wizard than him, right?"
Harry cringed at the word chaperone. He did not need a chaperone. What he needed was to learn to apparate, but the Ministry, as well as all three of his parents, refused to budge on the early apparition license despite his exemption to start every other area of his magical education early. He'd heard of other countries allowing early apparation, leading him to suspect the alterations required for him to apparate had more to do with it than his safety, and the longer they could delay it, the better.
"So you're saying if I get Severus fired, I'll be in the clear?" Harry sarcastically chuckled. "Based on my mum's reaction this morning, she's more likely to pull me out entirely… then raise the age of majority to eighteen so I'll be gone before I can choose my own accommodations… rather than letting me live here. No." He violently shook his head. "I want to win by her rules and I'm going to do it."
"At the expense of your O.W.L.s."
The end of lunch bell rang just as Harry was about to admonish Hermione. He hurriedly uncorked his remaining two potions to drink them down as fast as possible. He'd barely placed the second phial onto the table when all the contents on it vanished.
"Let's go," he said, unlocking his chair and turning around. "We have double Charms, and my mum also made a huge deal about Charms revision this morning."
Ron burst out laughing as he walked alongside Harry. "I don't know how you do it, Harry. I'd die if I had my mum on my case every single day. Isn't one benefit of living here not having her breathing down my neck?"
Fred roughly patted his younger brother on the back. "Maybe you'd be doing better at school for a change!"
"Like you're one to talk! How many O.W.L.s did you get? Not even a full set between the two of you?" Ron quipped. "Besides, it's not like Harry's doing fantastic with all the nagging he gets-"
"Not fair!" Harry blurted out, feigning insult as he pushed himself into the lift to take him upstairs to Charms. "My marks have been decent this year, and let's just say I won't be anywhere near the Burrow when your mum sees yours."
"Should any of you forget to leave a phial of your potion on my desk prior to leaving, you will automatically receive a zero for the day and will be required to submit a detailed essay on what you should have been doing instead of wasting space in my class," Severus announced to his fourth-year class, his final one of the day, as they packed up their supplies. The sound of shuffling increased tenfold at his impending warning. "You are dismissed."
To say Severus's day had been challenging would be the understatement of the century. After taking his lunch in his office to regroup, he trudged through the second half of the day with only a few minor mishaps; mercifully, none as serious as his morning sessions. Most importantly, he tried to keep his temper in check and focus solely on revisions for final exams. After all, a full year of fourth-year potions was, more or less, the same curriculum regardless of the universe he taught in.
Severus went up to the Headmaster's office, directly after his last student left his classroom, ready to demand some answers because if anyone knew what happened to him, it was Albus Dumbledore. In fact, as the afternoon progressed, Severus half-convinced himself that the Albus of this strange new world had somehow orchestrated the whole damn thing. Not that he should have minded. It wasn't as if he had much going on for him in his old world besides literally dying, but it was the principle of the matter. Regrettably, the trip ended up being a waste because it seemed Poppy was correct about Albus's absence, and no matter how many times Severus thought he guessed the Headmaster's password correctly, the gargoyle never moved.
Severus made the hospital wing his next stop during his newfound "downtime" between the end of classes and going home for the night - an odd phrase he still felt awkward saying- hoping to get some clarity on Harry's so-called "tutoring" with Poppy. He listened carefully for a minute outside the solid wooden doors, and when he couldn't make out a single noise from the corridor, he slowly opened the door. Peering inside the familiar room, a sense of relief filled his insides to see every bed empty; a welcomed change from his other universe, where Harry and some combination of his friends occupied space in the infirmary at the end of each year. Unfortunately, with the rest of the room being empty as well, if Harry had his tutoring in there, they were probably tucked away in Poppy's office. Another mystery to unravel in the new world of Harry Potter.
That's how Severus ended up sitting on the stone bench inside of the entrance hall, flipping through a Potions Journals he remembered reading in his old world over two years ago, waiting for Harry; growing increasingly irritated with each passing minute and student who stopped to speak to him. His grumbled responses did nothing to deter them from questioning him about their upcoming exams. As Poppy had predicted, Harry exited the same lift he had entered that morning, at what Severus assumed to be nearly twenty minutes late.
"Severus!" The professor physically cringed at the sound of his given name spoken in Harry's voice. Tucking his journal into his shoulder bag, he looked up just in time to see Harry exiting the lifts, no longer angry based on his excited expression as he rolled up to the professor. "I did it, Severus! I actually did it! I had to be sitting right next to the loo when I did, but even Poppy said apprentices have to start somewhere and that's after about half a year in training! I started, what, two months ago?! Plus, she said it's always more difficult to learn to cast spells like these on yourself. Something about the body repelling its own magic in the beginning… the details don't matter… I did it!"
"And-" Harry continued, not giving Severus a word in edgewise, "it wasn't nearly as hard as I made it out to be in the beginning. Mum was right, it's all about the mental image, and I guess that's a big deal for something you can't see… and in my case, can't feel… Just don't tell her so, alright?"
There's that pompous attitude, again, as if he can master anything he wants.
At his pause, Severus opened his mouth to ask what the bloody hell he was going on about, but Harry wasn't finished, "Think about all the freedom this will give me once I can do it anywhere?! Don't tell mum that either. I don't want her to give her any more time to come up with another bullock reason why I can't live here next year. You don't know if she has a list made, do you? Because it'd be really helpful if you did."
By this point, they had left the castle and were already halfway down the pathway leading to Hogsmeade so they could disapparate back home, a fear Severus purposely tried not to think about all day because he couldn't find any indication of where their home was physically located. He'd be lucky to get them there in one piece, let alone comfortably.
"I thought you were cross with me today?"
Harry stopped. Apparently, that was the wrong answer.
"I'm certainly working my way back there," Harry spat, propelling himself past Severus without looking back. "But I'll be damned if I let you waking up on the wrong side of the bed ruin this moment for me."
"More like the entirely wrong bed," Severus muttered under his breath.
"What'd you say?"
"Keep moving, we're already late."
They spent the rest of their journey down to the Hogwarts' gates in silence and the Fates were on Severus's side when he managed to disapparate them back home in one piece. He even remembered to cast the diagnostic charm on Harry as soon as they reappeared in the back garden.
Compared to his morning and afternoon, the rest of the evening went relatively smoothly. Lily didn't seem too alarmed at their late arrival, and she was almost finished preparing dinner when they came into the house. As he helped with the final touches of their meal, Harry and Rosalie went to set the table; Harry using magic at will and Rosalie bombarding him with questions about her trip to the park and library earlier that afternoon: How do swings move? Will the flower I picked from the garden keep growing? Why not? Do you think the library at your school has The Rainbow Fish? Although Harry sounded annoyed by the end of her inquisition, the young wizard answered every single one of his half-sister's questions.
Then, for the first time in his life, Severus sat down for a civilized family dinner in his own home. The last family dinner he remembered having was at the Evans' house before he ruined his friendship with Lily by calling her a mudblood. Not so surprisingly, since Hogwarts hardly counted, every decent memory he had around a dinner table was in the Evans' home. And just as he'd always imagined she would, Lily brought the same family dynamic to their Snape family dinner as her mother had for the Evans. This helped Severus to immerse himself into his newest role, making dinner an almost unremarkable affair. He said the right things and asked the right questions, and neither Harry nor Lily looked at him as the crazy man who had awoken somewhere completely new.
Severus was about to declare the entire night a success when Harry brought up the subject of Amelia Bones right after Lily finished explaining her latest project for the part-time art class she taught at the local muggle elementary school.
"Did you see they found Susan's aunt?" Severus should have taken the small wavering in Harry's voice as a warning to what was to come.
Lily dropped her fork onto her plate, clearly taken aback by the question. Severus remained silent, feeling something deep within him drawing his attention to this missing witch discovered deceased, like a primal instinct screaming its importance to him.
"Yes, Harry, I read the Prophet after you left this morning," Lily coldly stated a sharp contrast from her previously cheerful demeanour when speaking about her classes tomorrow.
Harry sipped from his goblet of water. "Do you think she's the same as all the others? The Prophet seems to think so."
Lily glared up at her son, almost begging him to drop the subject. But Harry waited, and while Severus felt as if his other self would have stepped in to mediate the latest mother and son disagreement, he wanted to know what Harry meant by "the others".
"I think it's best not to jump to conclusions about situations we are not involved in," Lily distinctly said. "There could be a half dozen other equally logical reasons for her disappearance and death, and we should wait for the aurors' final report."
Harry shook his head and whispered, "They're going to find out her magic is gone."
"Why do you do this, Harry?" Lily warned. "No one can know that yet and nothing good can come from speculation. Have you thought about Susan? Do you think she wants to hear those kinds of rumours being spread around the school? Don't you think she deserves a bit of privacy to mourn the death of her aunt rather than having her peers debate the circumstances of her death?
"Can you imagine, Harry, what it would have been like to have Voldemort murder your parents before you could even remember them? And then being sent to live with your only living relative, to have that aunt murdered by another, potentially dark wizard?"
Harry groaned in disgust, real or exaggerating, Severus could only guess. "I'm pretty sure I'd die if I had to go live with Aunt Petunia."
Severus coughed, choking on nothing but his shock at the unexpected, ironic remark. Petunia's bitterness appeared to be strong enough to span both worlds.
Lily rolled her eyes at his statement, but did not correct him. "What I'm trying to say, Harry," she continued, "is that being the centre of a case like this is difficult. Trust me, this isn't the kind of attention you'd want, and I'm certain Susan doesn't either. If they do prove Amelia was a victim of Prometheus, Susan's entire life will go up on display for all of Wizarding Britain to scrutinize, all the while knowing she has no family left. I expected better from you."
Harry's disappointment at his mother's lecture was visible on his face. Both versions of the boy seemed to wear their hearts on their sleeves, which Severus regretted both trying to change and not embracing enough in his old world. Back there, Harry's emotions were his greatest detriment and his greatest asset, and something told him it wouldn't be much different here.
"I'm sorry, Mum," the Gryffindor mumbled. "It's easy to get caught up in things like this when it's all around the school. Even the professors are worried about it." He briefly glanced over at Severus. "Professor Dumbledore was out all day today, and Professor McGonagall mentioned that they're thinking of cancelling the last Hogsmeade weekend before finals."
"All I ask from you is that you try to keep things in perspective during all of this," she advised. "Please don't make Susan's life any more difficult, ok?"
"Got it, Mum," Harry replied, his face sad and embarrassed. "So, since I promised Hermione I was studying at home, I should actually study something for these exams. I swear she got a monitoring charm on my books and she'll know if I don't open them."
Severus discreetly watched the teen transfer from the dining room chair to his wheelchair, then use his wand to vanish his empty plate and water goblet to the kitchen sink. Unlike in his previous attempt at breakfast, there was no crash in the kitchen after each dish's departure, earning Lily a smug look from the young wizard as he rolled out of the dining room.
He didn't see Harry for the rest of the night which appeared to be typical for the teen based on Lily's unconcerned reaction to him locking himself in his bedroom for hours. He reasoned it was likely for the best anyway, because his head already ached at trying to solve the enigma known as Harry Potter. Somehow Severus had straddled the line between a confidant and a parent to the teenager, and Severus did not know how to approach such a reality.
As the evening turned to night, Severus wanted nothing more than to enjoy his newfound freedom from after-dinner detentions and curfew checks in favour of marking on the sitting room sofa, but his mind wouldn't let. It kept brewing with questions left unanswered, possibilities for his purpose here, and the desire to q learn as much of his environment as possible.
His first opportunity to explore their home from a different perspective than he had when he first saw it, unbelievably confused, in the morning came when Lily went to bathe Rosalie. By then, the sun had dropped low in the sky, casting a lovely orange glow across the open sitting room. Carefully, he examined every book on the shelves, basket of children's toys neatly tucked away along the wall, scrap of paper on the desk, picture hanging on the walls, potions in the kitchen cabinets, and Lily's diary left sitting out on the breakfast table, but nothing provided him any more insight into the life he was suddenly expected to live.
He walked lightly through the kitchen and back into the now-clean dining room, trying to hide his footsteps. The room itself was sparse, with nothing more than their table, five chairs, and the door leading out to the back garden where the building outside - his potion's lab, he intuitively knew - drew his attention. It's where he spent hours brewing Harry's potions, tweaking the formula to make them more effective or longer lasting. How did he go from despising the Potter child to devoting a significant portion of his week to improving his life?
Probably around the time I decided it'd be a good idea to become the boy's stepfather.
Why did everything seem to lead back to Potter?
Because of Lily.
Yes. She had to be the reason for everything he had done in this world - how he ended up being the man she married and had a daughter with, despite his insistence throughout his life to never procreate. A better man. A man living the life Severus did not deserve to take over.
Severus forced himself out of his melancholy thoughts and made his way towards the bedroom corridor, ready to explore the other half of the house. Based on the loud music pouring out of the first door on the right and the sound of Lily reading a bedtime story to Rosalie coming through the last, he quickly deduced those as Harry's and Rosalie's, respectively. And from his short trip through the corridor that morning, he remembered his and Lily's room was across from Rosalie's, so the far door on the left had to be theirs, and the children shared a lavatory between their rooms, accounting for the middle door on the right. It left the first door on his left as his presumed office, a place he would keep his most intimate positions regardless of what universe he lived in.
His heartbeat quickly rose as he reached for the door, and his sweaty palm instantly cooled down when it touched the metal knob. Suddenly, a hand on his shoulder made him jump.
"Leave it alone, Sev," Lily said, her tone giving him a clear warning of her displeasure if he entered the office. To counteract out her initial harshness, she wrapped her arms around his waist, and he reciprocated by wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She reached up to plant a small kiss on his unsuspecting lips. "Give your mind another rest tonight. I promise it will all be waiting for you tomorrow."
"All of what?" He replied, solemnly.
"Whatever it is you do in there for hours every night," she teased, snaking her hand up his back.
Very Interesting, he thought to himself, looking into her bright green eyes. She doesn't know what's behind this door either.
"Now come to bed." Her small, delicate hand clasped his and pulled him deeper into the corridor. "There are more than a few things we can do with an early bedtime."
For the first time in his everlastingly long day, Severus didn't have to think twice about how he should react, and without hesitation he followed her into their bedroom. All of his problems would still be there in the morning, anyway.
July 1984 - Spinner's End
For months after the Potter boy's rescue, Severus did all he could to avoid reading the papers, listening to the wireless, or going out unnecessarily. Unbeknownst to him, something about the kidnapping, the death of the "Fallen Five", and seeing the broken young child being rushed into St Mungo's had sparked a change deep within the former Death Eater turned spy, and he found himself incapable of connecting with the outside world; more so than ever before. That single event, like a catalyst, altered his perspective on the world around him, and when he returned to Hogwarts for his next year of teaching, he found himself unwilling to venture too far away from this secluded world. He made exceptions, as needed, such as trips to Gringotts to deposit his commissioned salary, the occasional parent-teacher conferences when problems with his students arose, and the fateful day when Voldemort was supposed to receive the Dementor's kiss as a punishment for his crimes against Wizarding Britain. He had that day marked in his diary as soon as the Wizengamot announced it.
Severus, like the vast majority of the adults in the magical community, knew Voldemort's execution day would be one he would never forget; a day more significant than his capture or his ridiculously unnecessary trial. However, not even the most powerful seer could have predicted that their long-awaited retribution would never come, and instead sleeping peacefully that night, finally free from the vilest wizard of their time, they were left feeling hollow because the Dementor had failed to remove a soul for the first time in magical history. The DMLE attempted a second, third, and fourth kiss the following week, each with a fresh set of Dementors, but they all failed, no different from the first. It really didn't surprise Severus in the least. Deep down he knew, like a cockroach, the bastard would not go down so easily. Although he had to admit that he, too, was curious why it did not work.
It outraged the community for months. Everyone seemed to have a strong, public opinion about how the ministry should eventually proceed. Suggestions ranged from demanding Voldemort's immediate release, proposed mostly by those who believed Voldemort's inability to be kissed was a sign of the next Merlin, to performing a quick Avada Kedavra and then unceremoniously tossing his remains into the sea surrounding Azkaban. Naturally, the latter was the most popular, and Severus figured the austere method would be a fitting end for a wizard who sought to create a grandiose legacy. It took weeks of serious deliberation before the Minister for Magic, Millicent Bagnold, declared the killing curse illegal to use in an execution. The unfavourable decision sparked such an uproar that the rumours at the Malfoys' Summer Gala centred solely on her impending resignation, but the last Severus heard, the Wizengamot sentenced Voldemort to live out his remaining years in a secured bunker only a handful of highly qualified aurors were aware of. Severus assumed, based on his experience as a double agent spy, that his former Master was heavily guarded around the clock on some remote island off the coast of Norway, and no one would see him until the plethora of DMLE-hired curse-breakers solved the mystery behind his failed demise.
Severus didn't entirely care about what happened to Voldemort as long as he never saw the light of day again, and after the announcement of the sentence, Severus resumed living his life as detachedly as possible. His daily routine was straightforward: wake up, teach uninspired students for hours, supervise detentions, and go to bed. Get up. Repeat. The monotony was ideal for keeping the professor's demons at bay - at least until the school year ended. Now resigned to his run-down, overly muggle childhood home for the summer holiday, Severus found he had little to do to prevent his mind from replaying the events that haunted him daily; beginning with his recruitment as a Death Eater and ending with his memory of the small battered boy being carried through St Mungo's on his third birthday.
He tried everything outside of illicit potions to avoid thinking about the Potters, but on any given copy of the Prophet he saw James Potter's face plastered across the front page, applauding some major accomplishment his school year nemesis achieved in his latest case. If the papers were any sign, it seemed Potter and Black did the exact opposite of Severus - rather than taking the year for internal reflection and growth they were chasing their next case… most of which they solved in record time, much to Severus's annoyance.
Throughout his first few weeks back in Cokeworth, Severus often wondered how Lily managed with her husband constantly away on the job, especially given what little he knew about her son's condition. Lily had done her best to shield the three-year-old child away from the media, and aside from a few statements made by Crouch Senior early on to update the public on the boy's condition, the Potters thanking the wizarding community for their elaborate support shortly after the child's release, and a picture or two taken while the family shopped in Diagon Alley, she did her job well; giving them few opportunities to report on regarding Lily or Harry. Yet as the first anniversary of the "Fallen Five" approached, more people became eager to know how "Little Harry" - the Boy-Who-Lived - fared in the world around him, and wondered why she kept the child out of the public eye.
Severus was sitting in his favourite armchair by the fireplace in his sitting room, browsing an owl-order catalogue to replenish his home potions cupboard after having recently secured two separate commissions for over the summer holiday, when a solid knock on his door jolted him out of his reverie. Not one to answer his door on the first call, he tightened his grip on his quill and debated if the lace fly wings from last summer would still be fresh enough to reuse or if it would be worthwhile to replace them just in case. The pay from the two jobs would more than warrant replacing the ingredients - proving Lucius's persistent claims that Severus was squandering his Potions talent in the educational sector versus a position in a private laboratory - he despised the idea of purchasing new if he didn't have to. Another, more impatient knock alerted him that his unexpected visitor would not be deterred so easily, and likely knew Severus rarely answered right away. Even so, Severus waited. A third round, followed by an angry fourth round of knocking, had the professor dog-earring his page and heading to answer it.
If forced to place a bet on who would have been standing on his damaged stoop after he yanked open the door - most of whom would have been unwelcomed and forced to leave - none of them would have been the redheaded Gryffindor witch, dressed in a white sundress with yellow and red flowers scattered across it and wringing her hands together in front of her.
"Lily? What are you doing here?" he asked, almost breathlessly, and so quietly he doubted she had heard him.
She carefully tucked a strand of her long, red hair behind her ear, drawing attention to the slight blush creeping across her face. "I heard a rumour you still lived here," she responded as if that somehow explained everything.
"And what?" Severus leaned against the door frame with his arms clasped across his chest. "You needed to confirm the veracity of these rumours?"
"What?" Her eyebrows knitted together and her red face darkened further when she realized what she'd said. "No! That's not what I meant… I was… hoping… to talk to you about…" She shifted her weight between her feet in trepidation, then pointed over the professor's shoulder and asked, "Well, can-can I come in?"
Torn between his desires and his sense of logic, Severus paused for a moment to reflect on the situation. Lily had left her Godric's Hollow home that morning to travel back to her old stomping ground to see him, obviously for a very specific purpose. He found the action strange. When he worked as a spy for the Order, Dumbledore had made secure arrangements for Severus's and Lucius's reports to be made to as few members as possible, limiting the encounters either Death Eater had with the Potters. For this, Severus was eternally grateful. He had little faith in himself to hide his temper if he had to see the happy couple parading around him at every meeting. The disadvantage of his absence from the other members, the Potters in particular, was that one-on-one meetings, such as what Lily proposed, became extremely awkward.
After a lengthy internal debate, and against his better judgement, Severus stepped aside to invite his former friend into his home, softly responding, "Of course, Lily, come in."
She crossed the threshold and immediately gazed around the dilapidated structure, a sour test clear on her lips.
"I can't believe you moved back in here." She frowned, sadly, over her shoulder at him. "You always hated this house. I assumed you'd move far away as soon as you got the chance."
"That was certainly the original plan," he stated, motioning her to the sitting room where she sat perfectly straight and proper on his threadbare sofa and him back in the wingback chair beside it. "However, with ten months of the year spent at Hogwarts, I quickly recognized that it made little sense to invest in my own real estate. This would be the outcome of such a choice."
She bobbed her head listlessly, though Severus suspected she had no true understanding of his situation, having married someone with Potter's vault size directly after school. An uncomfortable silence engulfed the former best friends, exacerbated by Severus's refusal to offer her any of the comforts one would normally offer when having a guest in his home: tea, biscuits, scones; none of which actually existed in the house.
"There's going to be a memorial on the thirtieth for the Fallen Five. Will you be there?" The Gryffindor witch eventually spoke up. "It's the… the anniversary-"
Severus hissed at her, "I am well aware of the date! And, no, I will not be attending. My presence at these events is most certainly not welcome."
His words appeared to strike a nerve in Lily, causing her head to snap up, and suddenly sitting in front of him was not the timid woman who had knocked on his door, but the vivacious girl he used to know in this same neighbourhood. "I disagree!" she fired back. "You absolutely have the right to be there! I know you helped in finding Harry that night. I saw the reports James brought home, and the aurors… they had nothing to go on before you stepped in. If it hadn't been for you… and Lucius I know it would have been so much worse for Harry. H- he might not even be here right now."
"While you may see the turn of events in this light," he cautioned, "the other side of that same coin is how my information got five aurors killed. Two of whom orphaned their three-year-old son on his birthday. Believe me, to them, I am unwelcomed."
"You can't let them get to you, Severus," she lectured animatedly in her true, righteous, Gryffindor fashion. "It's not fair for them to dismiss you given everything you've done. You should be honoured right alongside James and Sirius! Not hiding away at the school, doing a job I know you have to hate."
Despite having a plethora of viable retorts at his disposal, he said nothing to her that would further engage this topic. Instead, he did what Slytherins did best: he changed the topic. "How is Harry?"
His question had the desired effect, and Lily physically recoiled back as if he had struck her.
"He's doing good. We're all still adjusting to the new normal, but things are going well. At least as well as one can expect under the circumstances." As she spoke - or, more accurately, lied - she nervously picked at the skin on the side of her thumbnail, a habit he recognized from her youth. "Thank you, by the way, for the-the salve to help with his scars. I know it was you who sent it-" Severus slowly inclined his head, "- and I really appreciate it. The Healers… they're hopeful the shallower scars will fade over the years, but some of the deeper ones… Well, he'll probably have those the rest of his life. The salve, though, I think will make them less noticeable."
A small price to pay for the child's life, not that Severus said so out loud.
"That's actually why I'm here. I found this a month or so ago." Lily pulled out a sheet of parchment from her purse and held it out between them. "His Healers said it won't hurt to try it, but they can't brew it. They didn't say why. They just gave me a list of private apothecaries to contact. The thing is… I don't want just anyone to prepare it. I need someone I can trust. With this being so unconventional, and after everything Harry has been through already, I don't want to put him through… I just… If we're going to try it, I need someone I can trust to do it."
"Yes, I picked up on the trust aspect," Severus stated unemotionally, pinching his eyes shut at the mere idea of her trusting him for something so important. Once composed, he took the offered parchment and barely scanned the first lines before understanding its purpose: a nerve regeneration potion, a borderline dark, experimental, and rather potent one to target Dark Magic, based on the ingredients list.
"Lily," he began with the utmost caution, "what exactly happened to your son?"
"The healers don't really know," her formally stoic voice trembled in a way that made Severus feel desperation over the request. The confident girl he once knew had vanished instantly, and in her place sat a mother filled with doubt and regret. Not unlike any of his commissioned patrons. "He had so much they needed to repair… and the healers… they kept reassuring me that once everything settled in his body, they'd be able to heal all of him, but… but then they said he had a gap. That he was missing the vertebrae and spinal cord as if some spell had dissolved it."
It wasn't Sectumsempra. Since the night he spent hidden away at the hospital, he had feared one captor had used his signature spell to permanently harm Lily's son. So hearing about this new, equally dark, spell provided immense relief throughout his body.
"Does that mean he's suffered a spinal cord injury?" Severus clarified, easily slipping into his potioneer persona. He'd be better off putting as much emotional distance as possible between himself and Lily's son - not Harry, definitely not Harry - while he asked the questions he needed to know to properly assess his ability to brew for her. No different from any other prospective client.
"Yes," she replied, but didn't offer any further information; information he'd need to know in order to brew it correctly.
Severus leaned back into his seat, reaching over for a blank sheet of parchment and a quill, ready to prompt her for the details. "Does he have any sensation or movement below his level of injury? Below the location of the gap?"
"No." Her auburn hair framing her face gradually covered it as she slowly shook her head. "He hasn't recovered any movement, but he's gained a little feeling back at random spots throughout the year, though," Lily sadly answered. "If it helps, there is no longer a physical gap. They grew back the bones and the cord itself in St Mungos. But it's the nerves. They weren't able to restore any of the signal in the gap region. The healers assumed he got hit with a dark curse at some point.
"Once he was as healed as they could get him, they told us they'd keep searching for answers, while we did everything we could to adjust and go on with our lives. I came across this potion while doing some research of my own. It sounds promising… to remove dark magic from the body and restore any damaged nerves. According to the description, it's intended for the Cruciatus Curse… specifically to repair nerves in the hands, but I have to try something. And I figured that if dark magic caused it and there's a potion out there to help, well… you're both the best potioneer I know and has the most experience with dark magic."
Severus nodded, acknowledging her need to act; to do anything within her power to help her child. Sadly, the wizarding world was far from equipped for a child - patient, Severus scolded himself, refusing any attachment to the child - with any level of spinal cord injury. If the boy could regain even a fraction of his function, he'd have a significantly better outlook on his future. Severus couldn't imagine what they'd have to do to get by, otherwise. How could one study magic without the ability to both move and hold a wand simultaneously?
"What about the location of the gap?" he asked, jotting down her last statement. "A general one is sufficient if you don't know exactly."
"Um… his T7 through T112 were all shattered in the accident, but his T9, T10, and T11 were the ones missing once they completely healed him." Lily leaned forward, grasping the edge of the flat sofa so tightly her knuckles turned white. "So does this mean you'll help us?"
Severus didn't respond right away. He wanted to pretend he had a say in the matter, even if her optimism and hope in her question left him little choice. Never did he foresee Lily ever speaking to him again, let alone coming to his home to ask for his assistance for her son. He'd be a fool to turn down this olive branch.
"I won't lie to you, Lily," he solemnly stated. "There are several very valid reasons they have not approved this potion. The most important of which is that it failed to repair any damage caused by the dark magic in the nerves, despite knowing the exact curse used and being targeted towards a small, specific set of nerves. Since you don't know the exact curse cast upon your son, on top of trying to use it on a more complicated set of nerves, in my professional opinion, I believe it will be highly unlikely to make much difference in him regaining any additional function." His heart lurched at her fallen face. "However, as long as you are aware of these challenges, and accept the high probability of failure, I don't see any harm in testing it out."
"Thank you so much, Severus!" she exclaimed as if he hadn't just told her that his efforts would be essentially worthless. In her excitement, she reached over and placed her hand on his knee.
"One more thing I need to know. Does your husband know you asked me to brew for you?" The question left his lips before he could think twice. Unwilling to show any vulnerabilities, he squared his shoulders and added, "I doubt he'd be agreeable to me providing anything for his heir to consume, and for a potion like this, I need to know I am not liable for any negative outcome."
Like a dementor entering his tiny abode, the surrounding air instantaneously cooled. Lily shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, regrettably pulling her hand away in the process.
"As a matter of fact, he does," she confidently replied, the fire in her green eyes returning. "And even if he didn't, he leaves most of the decisions regarding Harry's care to me."
"Most?" Severus challenged, skeptically, seeing through her flimsy facade. He had no doubt Potter left all of their son's care to his wife, allowing him to gallivant off and be the hero the papers so pretentiously praised each month, and her body language all but confirmed it.
"Yes," she attempted to lie to him, her voice betraying her true feelings, "most."
January 1985 - Diagon Alley, London
As Severus predicted back in July, the experimental Nerve Regeneration Potion had no effect on Lily's son and the request for him to cease brewing it came only two months after mailing out the first weekly dose. He told himself he didn't care what that meant for the young boy, much less for Lily, but he found himself awake at night, staring unseeingly at his dark ceiling, wondering how he could alter it for better results. For experimental purposes only, he'd claim whenever his subconscious warned him he was becoming too attached. Imagine the royalties for creating a dark magic reversal potion.
He didn't get much of a chance to start any of his alterations, though, because shortly after his release from the nerve potion, a series of requests came for suggestions about the boy's current potions - first how to reduce his three doses of the incontinence potion down to two, then a tweak to his morning pain potion to prevent him from vomiting it, and a faster-working muscle spasm salve. It took him a full week to accept the jobs by convincing himself that the extra money would help him if he ever came to his senses and quit teaching. Over the next month, he discovered that with each request he began to challenge himself to find new ways to further improve them until he was regularly mailing off two versions of each potion: the original request and his "tweaked" formula. By Christmas, based on the variety, volume, and regularity Severus sent them, he suspected most of the boy's potions were being brewed by him, rather than an apothecary.
Despite months of brewing potions for Lily, all of their communication occurred over mail. He hadn't seen her in person since the day she came to Spinner's End the previous July. On top of the potion's requests or payments, they exchanged letters at least once a month, filled with generic things like "thank you for the latest potion, Severus, it's nice to have one last more than a few hours" or "sorry, the last pain potion turned his tongue green", but neither of them ever mentioned visiting.
Severus initially blamed their lack of meeting on his having no need to see her. Until September, he'd been working on the experimental nerve regeneration potion. He knew exactly what he needed to do, giving them little reason for continued contact. Then as the scope expanded in the fall, his Hogwarts residence made it impossible for her to drop by, and the additional commissioned work, on top of his regular school work, kept him more than busy. Or at the very least, those were the excuses he made to himself whenever he internally argued how apparating to Godric's Hollow to deliver the next batch of potions would be just as easy as mailing them by owl, or how meeting the patient to assess his unique situation could take his potioneering to the next level. No. He refused to go out of his way for Potter - all three of them, at his point - so he'd have to make do with the current arrangement.
Christmas passed as uneventfully as any other year. Severus stayed at the castle to supervise the children who did not return home for the holiday, and he continued to work diligently on his latest version of a muscle relaxant; hopefully, one which wouldn't leave a blistering rash along the boy's stomach after every dose. It was a perfect, low-key way for Severus to spend his Christmas. All of that changed the day before the students returned to the castle from the Christmas hols. His best cauldron had cracked irreparably the day before, forcing him to head into Diagon Alley for a replacement, where he decided to pick up his usual owl-ordered supplies for the next round of potions.
"How can they possibly be out of Fluxweed?!" Severus stormed out of the Apothecary door and into the bustling Diagon Alley street, muttering irately to himself. "I have a standing order, for Merlin's sake! Coming in a week early should not make one dif-"
Lost in his not-so-quiet rant, Severus paid no attention to the surrounding people causing him to collide with someone walking just as fast in the opposite direction. His holding the new cauldron and incomplete list of supplies slipped from his hands, spilling the contents onto the wet stone ground.
"What the bloody hell?!" He came to a halt at the sight of Lily standing in front of him, stuttering her own hurried apologies.
"Severus?" She asked, her face in disbelief as they stood silently in the busy street.
"That would be me." He waved his wand over his strewn purchases to summon them back into the bag and into his waiting hands.
"Right," she nervously replied, making no move to hurry on her way or end their chance meeting as quickly as possible. "I didn't expect- I-I'm so sorry. I pay more attention to where I'm going."
The corners of Severus's mouth twitched into a half-smile, and staring into Lily's warm green eyes, framed by her wind-tousled auburn hair, he didn't mind the small outward sign of his happiness. "The fault is my own, really." His own admission surprised him. "I'm afraid I was… lost in my thoughts after my minor squabble with Samson in the Apothecary. Apparently, I could have missed a Manticore running rampant through the Alley."
"Are you calling a Manticore?"
The joke, and her feigned insult, instantly relieved the tension between them, even causing Severus to release a small chuckle. The action, and the accompanying feelings, felt foreign to him, but at the same time, they released a pressure inside his chest he hadn't realized he constantly carried.
Much later, he'd reflect on their interaction, looking for some logical reason to attribute his next words on; a stroke or the imperious curse perhaps, anything other than fate to explain his unusual behaviour.
"Would you like to go for tea? The students return from holiday tomorrow, and I am in no rush to give up my last moments of freedom before the castle is once again inundated by swarms of sugar-laden teenagers." As soon as the offer left his lips, Severus mentally berated himself for not noticing the lack of either male Potters in her presence, and quickly added, "Unless, you have somewhere else to be-"
"No!" She was quick to respond, almost yelling the words at him. "I mean… yes to tea and no, I don't have to be anywhere else to be at the moment. The meeting with my solicitor turned out to be a complete waste of a trip here, but Molly Weasley… you remember her, right?"
"The first two of her brood of children are in my class," Severus grumbled. While the first two Weasley wizards weren't much trouble in his class, statistically speaking, the odds for the next four following suit were not in his favour. The last one, a witch, would be a toss-up as to whom she followed.
"Right." Lily patted her hand tensely against the side of her cloak-covered leg. "Well… she's watching Harry for me this afternoon and isn't expecting me for another couple of hours. I'm sure she won't mind…"
"Ok," Severus simply said, noting how she omitted any mention of James Potter. Perhaps the answer was straightforward - he was at work and unable to supervise their child so Lily could run an errand alone - but the slightest strain in her voice as she told him about Molly's arrangement made him doubt it.
To avoid any further awkwardness, Severus said nothing as he led them in the opposite direction to the Fragrant Kettle - a small tea room of only ten tables off the beaten path of the main Alley. Far from the type of establishment Severus usually visited, he thought the quieter atmosphere would help to calm whatever was fraying Lily's nerves.
While they waited for their tea and orange scones, Lily asked all about Severus's classes this year, sounding both equally proud and astonished at his recent appointment as the Head of Slytherin. The latter he secretly shared with her, though he would never admit to it out loud. It wasn't easy being the Head of House for students who had been his housemates only four years ago, and he was looking forward to next year when those first-year Slytherins from his final year would be gone. Naturally, the conversation made its way to the last batch of potions he sent right before Christmas and he inquired if she foresaw any changes needed in the next one - scheduled for the end of January. She may have said no, but Severus took the two spots of pink on her cheeks as a sign of her appreciation for the improvements he had made to it on his own.
Mutually avoided at all cost was anything directly related to the Potter wizards, including the latest case the Prophet had praised Potter senior for "solving in record time", and any of Potter junior's non-potions-related updates. The closest Lily got to talking about either wizard was voluntarily telling him about their move out of Godric's Hollow three months ago and into a bungalow out in the muggle countryside. She went on and on about how the new location provided them with privacy from the wandering wizarding world's constant eye, as well as more space in their home for Harry to live comfortably. The topic, though seemingly innocuous, took their conversation in a wildly different direction when Severus asked what he thought was an innocent question, one meant to show his interest in her life.
"You mentioned earlier something about meeting with a solicitor?" Severus inquired, setting down his cup of peppermint tea on the chipped flower patterned saucer. "Was it related to the purchase of the new home?"
"Uh… no… not quite," she said behind her teacup. Her face blanched once more, but this time in a more embarrassing way.
"Please accept my apologies, I did not mean to pry into personal matters," Severus offered, not wanting to push her if she felt uncomfortable discussing the situation.
"It's fine… really." An obvious lie if he's ever heard one. "You'll find out, eventually. What am I saying? Everyone will find out eventually." She let out a desperate, humourless laugh, then took another sip of her tea and exhaled loudly. "It's… erm… James and I are separating… divorcing… whatever you want to call it. I was supposed to be meeting with my solicitor to discuss his response to the proposed custody agreement. That's why I have some extra time this afternoon… he missed the deadline to submit them, no surprise there, so there was nothing for us to discuss."
"I'm sorry." Severus doubted he could have delivered those words with the same sincerity if it hadn't been for his three years as a double agent. He wouldn't go so far as to say he was happy about their failed marriage, but the best he could do was feel bad for Lily as she dealt with Potter's juvenile antics. If Potter truly loved her, he wouldn't put her through this extra pain. He would walk away quietly, just as Severus did when Lily officially ended their friendship in their fifth year.
"I'm all right." She concentrated on her hands, gently turning her teacup as she spoke, unable to look him in the eyes knowing he'd see the truth inside of them with no Legilimency needed. "To be honest, he should have expected it. We've hardly seen each other in the last fifteen months! He didn't even want to go look for houses with me. Simply told me he trusted me and he'd see it when we moved in, as if where we lived… where we were supposed to be rebuilding our life as a family together… meant nothing to him." Her gaze darted up to his before returning to her cup. "I know he feels guilty… about what happened to Harry. He blames himself for the kidnapping. Of course, he won't admit to it, but I can see it in his eyes, clear as day, whenever he looks at Harry. For the longest time, he couldn't even sit in the same room alone with his own son.
"I told him I didn't blame him and he's being too hard on himself. I must have said it at least a thousand different ways over the last year. I said Peter-" she exhaled shakily, "- that Peter would've done it regardless of who said what and when. But I might as well have been talking to a wall for all the good it did. Then I suggested he see a mind healer… I've been seeing one since Harry came home from the rehabilitation centre and it's helped me tremendously… and you'd think I demanded he give up his magic."
This did not surprise Severus. Prideful Potter wouldn't dare admit to needing such a service, though he would never say as much to Lily.
"Instead," Lily continued, her tense body relaxing the longer she spoke, "he poured himself into his work. And what kind of person would I be to argue against something so admirable? I mean… I want the aurors to find every single bad guy out there, particularly when the case involves children, but I needed my husband and there are other equally competent aurors to do the work.
"He claimed I was being unreasonable and unsupportive and then he moved out. I filed about a week later and now he's been fighting every single step of this process. Or at least his solicitor is. I can't get a proper answer out of him either way. I think he thinks that if he continues to delay the papers, I'll change my mind."
Severus looked out the window to his right, unable to see her reaction as he asked gently, "Will you change your mind?"
When she didn't respond right away, he turned to face her.
"No," she whispered confidently. "At this point, it's too much for me. Too much fighting. Too much waiting. Too many excuses I had to make Harry asked why his father wasn't home again. I can't do it anymore. All I want is to be happy again. I deserve to be happy."
"Everyone deserves the opportunity to find happiness. Especially you."
Lily dryly laughed and attempted to divert the conversation away from her relationship by inquiring about any of Severus's potential suitresses. Once again, Severus took pride in maintaining a straight face rather than choking or spitting out his tea, and allowed the spotlight to shift away from her failing marriage and onto his non-existent romances, simply citing how living at a boarding school helped to support his desired bachelorhood.
When the teapot was empty, they parted ways, making overtly false promises to stay in touch outside of Harry's potions. Regardless of his feelings toward his former best friend, Severus knew her well enough to give her the space she needed and to allow her to be the one to reach out to him when the time was right. Lily had always been self-sufficient. She never wanted to play the damsel in distress, requiring someone to rescue her, and she never backed down from a challenge. In the end, if he tried to sweep in during this turbulent time in her life, he'd end up doing more harm than good. So, he resigned himself to waiting and hoping that one day she'd reach out to him ready to repair the friendship he'd cost them as a foolish adolescent, never once expecting what the next few months would bring.