A/N: Thanks for checking out my first story! This is an AU (time/reality travel) fic where Snape starts in an alternate reality and then travels to canon. I have the first 70K words written which should keep the updates regular. This is not beta-read, but I do multiple readings before I deem it ready to publish. I also did my best to keep the British true, but I'm American so there are definitely things I'm sure I missed.
This chapter is very heavy, but it's setting up the background. Warning: character death (temporary), death of a child discussed (not graphic).
Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Harry Potter universe. If you recognize it, it's not mine!
21st May, 1997
"Severus," was the only word Albus Dumbledore could say as he stepped out of the floo in the dungeon quarters of his Potion Master and was not at all surprised to see the disaster in front of him.
The modest sitting room was in shambles. The worn sofa, 2 armchairs, and coffee table were in place as they should be, but parchment, broken glass, and trinklets littered the floor. Picture frames broken across the room showed the story of the quarter's inhabitants - a raven-haired boy and the Potion Master. Amongst the destroyed room, on the coffee table were 2 things in pristine condition. The first was an official document with the Ministry of Magic Department of Children's Services seal and the other a hand written letter on some parchment. Wanting to respect Severus's privacy, Albus simply placed the phial of red liquid he was carrying next to these objects without a single glance at either of them.
He continued to the right down a short hallway where he knew without a doubt he would find Severus. The air was heavy with grief as he approached the cracked door.
"Severus," he repeated as he pushed the door ajar.
The room looked untouched and inviting with its light blue walls, Quidditch posters, and Gryffindor flags showing off the bright personality of the 16 year old boy who once lived here. A desk on the left wall sat next to a door leading to the private lavatory Albus had added when all this started almost exactly a year ago. There were signs of unfinished school work sitting on the desk that would need to be cleaned out. A waredrobe full of muggle clothes, school uniforms, and robes was on the wall flushed with the door.
The picture frames in this room were still upright and intact. Most of them showed three friends growing up from curious 11-year olds getting back on the Hogwarts Express after their first year, Christmas celebrations throughout the past 5 years at Hogwarts, the Burrow, and Spinners End, and rambunctious 5th-years celebrating Gryffindor winning the final Quidditch match against Slytherin last year. Ironically, that was the last match Harry would play before his life was turned upside down. Next to the pictures of friends sat the photo album Hagrid had given Harry at the end of his first year. The edges of the pages worn from use, Albus didn't need to open it to know what other family pictures had been added throughout the years.
Albus knew he would find Severus in here; on the bed in the far right corner of the room under the enchanted window showing the sun setting across the black lake.
Severus Snape was still in his black dress robes from earlier that day, his head cradled in his hands propped up on his elbows. Albus knew instantly that he'd made the right decision to be the one to check on the man in front of him. Poppy and Minerva both volunteered to be here, but in the end Albus knew he was the only one who should come.
"I failed him Albus," Severus said so quietly it was almost a unheard, not bothering to even look up. His voice cracking half way through making it hard to continue. "I was supposed to protect him but I failed."
Taking a deep breath, Severus looked up into the Headmaster's eyes hoping to find anything but pity. Severus had seen enough pity this past year instead he needed answers, he needed a way forward.
Albus took a steady breath. "Ah, but Severus, my boy, you did not fail him. You gave him the one thing no one else had ever given him... A choice."
"This should not have been his decision! I should have pushed harder for what I knew was right," Severus exclaimed slamming his fist onto the small nightstand beside the bed. "How did it get this far?"
"Hindsight has a way of looking crystal clear. You know it was not that simple. Asking a 15 year old boy to possibly give up the magic he's so recently discovered is not an easy request. We all thought we had a handle on it; that it was under control."
Albus automatically knew which crossroad Severus was thinking back upon. There were so many crossroads this year, but only one had the biggest impact leading them to this exact spot. He was telling the truth that no one could have guessed how quickly the end would come, how suddenly it went from manageable to out of control.
"Severus, you must not blame yourself. Harry would not want you to live with this guilt. We all knew this was a possibility, even Harry did," Albus explained knowing he was speaking to deaf ears. As the sun set lower through the enchanted window, the Potion Master's face became hidden by the shadows. Walking back towards the door Albus said over his shoulder, "Come, let us have some tea."
Back in the sitting room, sitting on the worn sofa the headmaster summoned a tea set and started pouring the tea for himself and Severus. A variety of biscuits were on plate next to the tea cups. On the table in front stood the phial of red potion and Albus wondered how to bring up this painful topic. With the wave of his wand, the torches came to life providing just enough light to see without making the atmosphere too happy and the room started to clean itself up. Picture frames were pieced back together, parchment placed back on the table in neat piles, blankets folded, and trinkets uprighted.
Severus slowly entered the room after stopping by his bedroom to change out of his dress robes and into his more casual attire of a white button down shirt and black trousers. His face immediately grimaced as he noticed his living room back to its neat and tidy self.
He sighed and sat down in the armchair across from Albus. "You needn't babysit me Albus nor are you mind healer," he finally said taking the tea cup that was handed to him and sipping carefully to give him something to do besides looking at Albus.
"I would never do such a thing, " Albus replied with a slight smile willing the man in front of him to open up just a little.
Finally, Severus looked up and met the Headmaster's blue eyes peering through his half-moon spectacels. A range of emotions passed for a split second over the pair of black eyes: grief, guilt, anger, and then the mask of indifference he always wore was back up.
Albus took a risk in saying, "It was a beautiful service today. Was Molly Weasley any help with the arrangements? I know she was adamant that you need not handle it on your own."
"Yes, well she refused to leave from my doorway until I let her help. I couldn't very well have her sitting outside my quarters, then anyone would know where to find me," Severus sarcastically replied. "It was helpful to have an extra set of hands," he finally conceded.
As an only child, he was solely responsible for both his parents' funeral arrangements many years ago, but he quickly realized how little regard he had for his parents in the end since those arrangements had not nearly upset him like planning his child's. Severus looked down at the coffee table glancing at the official Ministry of Magic document:
Certificate of Adoption
This document certifies that the minor child
Harry James Potter
born to James and Lily Potter on 31 July, 1980 has been formally adopted by
Mr. Severus Tobias Snape
on 5th of March, 1993 and is officially recognized by the Ministry of Magic Department of Children's Services
Only then did he notice the phial of red liquid sitting next to Harry's adoption certificate. Being one of the top Potions Masters in Europe gave him the advantage of recognizing most potions instantly which is why Severus was puzzled that he could not identify this one. Not wanting to give Albus the upper hand in whatever direction the conversation was headed, he decided to put that observation aside in his mind for later.
"Let's cut the pleasantries Albus, why are you here? It's been a very long day," said Severus just ready to end this visit so he could pour a healthy glass of firewhiskey.
"Why must you think I always have a reason?"
There was a pregnant pause where neither man wanted to give into their curiosity of the other.
"Have you made any decisions yet on your classes? I've offered you the remainder of the year off and I think you should reconsider taking it."
"I don't see the point," Severus replied with a touch of anger and sadness in his voice. "I see no reason why I can't take control of my regular class load again." Now that Harry is gone was left unsaid between them.
Once Harry was diagnosed, he had taken a lighter course load and in his last month when things turned bad he wasn't teaching at all; instead working around the clock to keep Harry as comfortable as possible. Now with neither of those situations, he could use the distraction teaching would give him.
"Simply let me know when you'll be back and what you feel comfortable taking on. It's ok to grieve Severus, the whole school has felt the loss, but losing a friend or student doesn't compare to that of a child," Albus tried not to lecture the man who was as close to him as a son.
The silence was deafening between the two men as neither knew where to go from here. Giving into the silence, Albus continued, "That's not the only reason for my visit, but I must admit I'm not sure how to proceed with what I came to tell you."
"Get it out Albus. No need for theatrics today," Severus felt a migraine coming on and briefly considered a headache draught instead of firewhiskey.
"What if you could redo your biggest decision in life? The catch is that you have the possibility of a whole different world around you and you can't come back," Albus said nervously looking down at the hand written parchment. "Would it be worth the risk?" Albus's eyes twinkled for the first time since he arrived to the dungeons.
"Don't you dare do this Albus!" Severus yelled. "Of all the days and all the time to even say something so insane you choose now? Today?!" Serverus couldn't believe the person he every considered a father-figure, a mentor, would say this now.
"Just think about it Severus," Albus said as he tapped the phial with the red liquid sitting between them. He stood carefully knowing the path he has just set. "Think about it, my boy, and we can talk more tomorrow. Poppy asked me to give you this. She is aware that you likely have it but she wants to make sure it's in front of you tonight," he places another phial, this time of a purple potion, next to the red one which Severus immediately recognized as Dreamless Sleep. He couldn't deny that taking that one was a better idea than not.
As Severus watched the Headmaster floo, presumably back to his office, he picked up the red phial to examine it. Resisting the urge to throw the phial against the wall just to hear it shatter, he placed it back down on the table. This was going to be a thought for another day.
Instead, he summoned a glass of firewhiskey and picked up the parchment with the note written in Harry's handwriting, then settled into his armchair to read it for what must have been the hundredth time since Harry died the previous week.
May 1st, 1997
Not going to lie, this seems strange to write out a note that you won't read until after I'm gone. So this probably isn't going to be as eloquent as you normally like to see.
Severus took a deep breath feeling a wave of guilt come over him. Of all the things Harry would be thinking to write, he was first worried about letting Severus down.
I want you to know that I don't blame you for what's happening. You made it very clear last June that you thought I should take the muggle medication instead of the magical version. I just couldn't do it and I know you don't understand. What you need to know now is that it's not your fault. It's no one's really, it's just my sheer dumb luck ran out.
Now that's out of the way, I want to thank you. Coming to Hogwarts, I never would have expected things to go like they did. Thank you for being here for me through everything, for giving me a home. It may be small, but we're a family and it's more than I ever would have expected. Thank you for being here with me these last 11 months. It's been hard for you too, I can see that. Thank you for staying with me through it all, the nights I was too sick to sleep, the days I felt well enough to fight over the stupid little things (I seriously don't know why you put up with me sometimes), and especially now that there's nothing left we can do.
I know you never stopped fighting for me. I know you spend nights up researching new potions and trying to find something that would work. I want you to know that I never stopped fighting either. Even now, when I just know the end is coming I'm still fighting for us. I keep thinking, if I could go back and change that decision to go the muggle way, I think I would give it another thought. Does that make me weak? Well, I think it makes me human and that's all I can be.
Severus paused, feeling the tear roll down his cheek. He looked up at the table and stared at the phial of red liquid Albus brought. Could it? Could it really do what Albus alluded to?
You have zero reason to trust me on this but you'll be ok. You'll survive this when I'm gone. Yes it will be hard, but please don't sit away in our quarters. Go to the great Hall for meals, have tea with Professor McGonagall, or if you really need a pick-me-up invite Ron for some chess! Ok, I'm joking on that last one, but just get out that part I'm serious about. I know I don't say this enough, but I love you. I'm going to miss you Dad.
Love your son,
As he reached the end of the letter, Severus finished off his glass of firewhiskey, stood, and threw the glass at the wall. As it shattered, he looked down at the 2 phials on the table in front of him. Picking up the Dreamless Sleep Potion, he paced nervously in front of the fireplace knowing he could take the potion and fall blissfully into sleep.
He passed the phial between his hand. He looked up from it to see a photograph sitting on the fireplace mantle, back in one piece courtesy of Albus. The photograph was of him with 12 year old Harry, taken the day the adoption was finalized. Harry's smile couldn't be any bigger. Severus closes his eyes and thought back to that day. He instantly remembered how nervous he was as they went through the final interviews. It had been difficult several months to get to that point and he was sure he would say the exact thing to ruin it all. He remembered like it was yesterday, when they gave him the quill for his final signature and just like that, Harry was his son.
This was before... Before the diagnosis at the end of Harry's 5th year. Before Severus learned that these strong muggle medications can start to erase the magical signature of a young wizard. Before those words took over their life. Leukemia. Cancer.
Severus opened his eyes, looked down at the Dreamless Sleep and a split second later threw the phial against the same wall as his firewhiskey glass. He then stormed off to his bedroom hoping to dream of his son just to see him one more time.