Summary: AU. Instead of dying, Severus' soul is sent to a place he thought impossible - into the body of himself in another world. It's a world free of Dark Lords and debts to Dumbledore, but it bears a catch: no magic. SSHP slash.
Pairing: SS/HP (main); mentions of past SS/LE, HP/GW, and JP/LE; mentions of unrequited HP/DM
Warnings: swearing, slash, non-magic, brief mention of past abuse
Disclaimer: I only wish this universe belonged to me.
Author's note: It's finally over. It ends kind of strangely -- sorry about that. But at least this way you get some closure. I kind of wanted to just end it last chapter, but this was good for me to do. I tried to make it work. We shall see! I should tell you that I have another Harry and Severus fic (a mentor-fic, though, no slash) that I am in the process of writing now. Keep your eyes open for it.
And heeeere we go!
A Lesson in Patience
The first time Severus saw Harry's room it was not a passing-glance-stumble-forward-tumble-onto-the-bed-in-the-throes-of-passion type "saw" as one might have expected. Harry took him gently by the hand and led him through the threshold and into his small -- but not too small -- bedroom. Harry flicked on the lights and took a good look around, musing about how different Harry's room was from the rest of the house.
For one thing, there were seven photographs in simple wooden frames sitting comfortably atop his dresser. Upon closer inspection Severus saw that there was only one of Lily and James together. Three of the other six were pictures of Lily with Harry when he was quite young: two of Lily holding him as a baby, looking so lovingly at her newly-born son, and one of Lily holding his hand in the middle of a park. Harry looked to be no older than seven (which certainly fit with the timeline) and had a very cross expression on his young, bespectacled face. He had probably been dragged there without his express consent, Severus thought amusedly.
The final two photographs were of Harry and his friends from Hogwarts, it appeared. The first was Harry and Ron Weasley: Weasley had his arm slung about Harry's shoulders and was smiling brightly at the camera; Harry, however, was staring off into space with a smile on his face as well, though the smile was significantly understated compared to Weasley's.
The final photo was of Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger. It was obviously a candid shot as neither one was looking at the camera in the slightest and it appeared as though Draco had picked Miss Granger up to twirl her around, and they'd surreptitiously been photographed mid-spin. Their upper bodies clad in heavy winter coats and colourful scarves, they were flushed and laughing and surrounded by snowflakes that Severus knew would be falling if it weren't a Muggle photograph.
It was quite lovely, really, once one got over the fact that Draco Malfoy did not belong with Hermione Granger.
"I thought he was in love with you?" Severus questioned, picking up the photograph and peering at Harry inquiringly.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know one way or the other," he said. "He tried to kiss me once at a drunken Christmas party at uni, but that was as far as it went. He had a girlfriend and they seemed legitimate and completely in love." The slightest of smiles crossed Harry's face. "I never questioned it; sexuality is such a fluid concept that pigeonholing him into 'straight' or 'queer' just didn't seem fair of me."
"And what of you?" Severus asked. "Do you have a label?"
Harry narrowed his eyes in thought. "You're the only man I've ever loved, so I don't think I'm actually a sausage jockey...not deep down, anyway. I dated women all my life and I was certainly attracted to them."
"Did you ever love them?" Severus asked, walking around the room to see what other hidden treasures it held.
"One of them," Harry said. He sat casually on the bed. "Ginny Weasley."
"Unsurprising," Severus muttered. "You two were joined at the hip in my world."
Harry smiled wryly. "Well, we were joined at the hip here too. It was meant to be perfect -- the storybook, fairy tale type love. But after a couple years of that...she found someone else. And now they're happily married."
"Do you hold any grudge towards her?"
"Not really, no," Harry replied. "It's not like she cheated. Had she been screwing around on me I would have resented her, but she was classier than that: she broke it off with us before it got to the point of infidelity with Dean. It was a nice clean break, and we're still friends to this day."
Severus was musing over this when he noticed the painting near Harry's closet, and the painting just about took his breath away. "What...is that?" Severus breathed, entranced, even though he saw perfectly well what it was. It was a beautiful piece of art depicting two androgynous people kissing -- and what made it all the more breath-taking was the fact that it was done entirely in Technicolor and it looked very much like it was computer generated even though it wasn't. Each bit of paint resembled pixels on a computer screen, and to step close to it and see that no, in fact, the people were not the product of some sort of editing software made the work all the more impressive.
"That?" Harry said, standing fluidly and walking over to stand by Severus. "That is the painting Ron gave me when I told him I was in love with you. He initially freaked out, you see -- Ron's not the most open-minded of blokes, and so when I finally opened up and said that I had a massive crush on you, he said, 'You're a pouf? You're a bloody queen? Does that mean you watch me when I change?' It took forever to convince him that, no, I wasn't I pouf...I just liked one man. And really, even if I were a pouf there would be nothing wrong with it. And then I reassured him that, no, I didn't watch him when he changed because I wasn't attracted to him. Liking other blokes doesn't immediately make you attracted to every single bloke within a ten kilometre radius, I said, any more than liking women meant he wanted to get with every woman he saw.
"So he thought that over for a month or so and when he was finally done being a prat, he apologised by painting me that. It was his way of saying without words that love was love no matter whom it was with, and that he'd love me no matter who I played tonsil hockey with."
Severus looked at the painting, restraining the urge to touch it just to see if it was really real. "Ron Weasley painted this," he repeated dubiously.
Harry narrowed his eyes again. "Yes."
"But Weasley is just so -- " bumbling, Severus wanted to say. Bumbling and volatile and shallow, and much too impatient to dedicate the attention to detail that is necessary for something this incredible.
Harry frowned deeply. "Just so what, Severus?" he asked.
"Energetic," Severus said as diplomatically as he could. "I simply never pictured him as the sit down, paint-for-hours type of man."
"Well," Harry said briskly, "he is. I mean, he's reckless as arse when he isn't painting -- always rushing about trying to finish homework assignments that he'd had weeks to complete, being exceedingly dangerous when he plays rugby... But when he sits down to paint, things like that happen." Harry pondered the piece for a moment. "It's actually one of four paintings in a series. He called it the 'Touch Series.' One has two women, one has two men, one has a man and a woman, and then this one. Androgyny. This one is my favourite if only because he did it for me, but I really adore the one with two women as well, because the woman on top is touching her lover's lips in this aching sort of way. And their hair is covering their eyes but...you just know how they'd look if you could see them."
That was when Severus couldn't take it anymore, so he reached out and touched Harry's lips just so, with fingers as light as a soap bubble and lips just as achingly soft. That was when the tumbling, throes of passion type "seeing of Harry's room" came into play, but Severus was not really in a place to examine the room, seeing as he could scarcely take his eyes off of Harry.
Severus thought about Harry's talk of labels, sometimes, as he watched the thin man get up in the morning and walk casually around the room as if it were perfectly commonplace to parade about the house in the nude. It was times like those when Severus wondered, really, about his own labels -- those given to him by vicious peers and abusive parents over the years, and those he owned and took responsibility for without the coercion of others.
He's been so many things in his life: a Death Eater, a Spy, a halfblood, a Prince. Snivellus. Severus. A disappointment. Weak. Ugly. Cold. Cruel. Vicious. And perhaps the one that was hardest to let go of: That Boy Who Was in Love with Lily Evans.
The others he took in stride. Yes, he was a reformed Death Eater. Yes, he was Dumbledore's spy. His pure Prince veins were quite obviously coursing with Muggle-marred blood. And who could forget what Potter and Black christened him the moment he stepped on the Hogwarts Express thirty-one years ago? He was not so old yet that he did not recall the constant taunts he endured throughout his Hogwarts career. He was certain he'd be able to recall them even on his deathbed.
But Lily...Lily was The One, if Severus were to take stock in such foolishness. He'd never stopped loving her, craving her, needing her in a way that drove him mad to think on. He felt nothing for the countless, other women he had slept with over the years, for every time he had sex with someone he closed his eyes and imagined Lily. Lily's hands on his bare chest. Lily's lips on his rigid cock. Lily. Lily. Lily.
He had shrouded himself in that unrequited, impossible tongue-tied love Harry spoke of...he had cloaked himself in the assumption that he would love her forever. Until his dying day. No holds barred and no questions asked. That there was no one else, and to even considerloving another person would be insult to her memory. And so as he spent each night making love to Harry -- spent each day looking at him, longing for him, loving him as boundlessly as he'd loved Lily -- while it did not feel wrong that he was making love to her son (though that detail shook him up as well), it felt wrong that he was with another person with whom he no longer imagined Lily's face when they made love.
It was so peculiar -- making love to Harry and only wanting him. Not Lily. Not anymore.
He supposed it helped that the man was so impossibly thin and delicate looking -- that his eyes were so startlingly green and his expressions calm, and his manner grounded in a way that so effortlessly held a candle to his mother's. Severus convinced himself for weeks that he only loved Harry because he was some peculiar reincarnation of his mother...that this was not really breaking his sworn oath to love Lily Evans forever if her son was so much like her. But he was quickly realising that it wasn't like that at all. That Harry and Lily had key differences, and Severus loved Harry all the more for them. That, despite Harry's slight frame and almost effeminate looks, he was a Man, and Severus liked that Manhood. A great deal.
Harry's hard, lean body against his felt right in a way that no woman's ever had, and the patience and strength Harry maintained in every interaction was unlike anything Severus had ever had before...even with Lily. And that was the clincher.
So it was all this that caused Severus to wonder about labels, and which ones would persist and which ones would fall away.
Harry already knew about Severus' history as a Death Eater and a Spy, but it did not feel quite yet like Severus was allowed to divest himself of those. But the others...
He did not feel weak or ugly with Harry. Never a disappointment. Had no desire to be cruel. And though he was still cold at times, for that was his nature and old habits die hard, Harry could bring him out of it or give him some much-needed space if that was what Severus preferred. Harry knew what he needed. And though it took a long time, Severus slowly (week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute), agonisingly let his love for Lily fall away...slip from his shoulders and collect in a rumpled heap (-9.8 m/s-squared) on Harry's bedroom floor. He now stood before Harry an uncloaked, unclothed man, and that's when Harry enveloped him in those strong, toned arms and --
-- and Severus no longer felt naked, even when he wasn't wearing a stitch.
They sat at Severus' kitchen table one evening, Harry poring over a Physics text and Severus leafing through Muggle Severus' psychopharmacology notes.
"This is complete nonsense," Severus said grimly.
"Oh?" Harry said, not taking his glance from the text in front of him.
"Indeed. I think Dumbledore is better off keeping the Biology, Biochemistry, and Psychopharmacology teachers he currently has employed."
"Not Chemistry, then?" Harry asked, and Severus could see his lips curving into a smile.
"Not Chemistry," Severus said with conviction. "Chemistry I can do -- I've such a good grasp on it that I could practically rewrite the textbook into something more comprehensive and easily understood." He added after a moment, "I think I shall teach Chemistry. It is something I am good at."
"True," Harry said slyly, "but being nice to the students is not."
Severus wrinkled his nose. "I am no harsher than they deserve. Besides, they could use with a bit of harsh treatment -- it builds character. Helps them grow thicker skin."
Harry smiled and looked him straight in the eye. "You're holding out for that moment, aren't you," he said deviously.
"What moment?" Severus replied. "What are you going on about? Honestly, I can hardly understand you half the time -- "
"That moment," Harry cut in, effectively ending Severus' tirade, "when you watch a struggling student finally get it and you just feel incredible. You're waiting for your burst of magic."
Severus was thinking snidely about how he already had his magic, and he'd be putting it to good use, too -- like doing the dishes with a mere flick of his wand, for example -- if not for the fact that Harry did not let him. But then the more Severus thought about, the more he realised Harry was right: he had never felt that and he was so jealous that Harry had. And anything Harry could do, well, Severus could do as well. And better.
So he said at length, "I would not be averse to such an experience," and watched as Harry's face softened again and the smile became oh-so-sweet.
"It'll happen," Harry murmured, leaning in a couple centimetres. "You're a great teacher, Sev."
"Am I?" Severus replied equally quietly, because to speak too loudly felt like a sin when Harry was so tantalisingly close.
Harry nodded. "Yes, you are."
"Then why has it not happened yet?"
"Because you were never trying for it before," Harry said simply, as though that explained everything.
"Ah, but Harry," Severus said shrewdly, "a watched cauldron never boils."
"Perhaps not," Harry said. "But all that means is you can't try too hard...you have to try the right amount. You stay attuned, aware that it may happen...and when it does you react accordingly. When you see it begin to bubble, you keep an eye on it. Watch it close. Adjust the flame up or down depending on what the 'potion' needs."
"In other words," Severus muttered with a frown, "I will have to make certain not to become too...ah...excited when I work with dunderheads who do not understand the first thing about chemistry."
"Just so," Harry replied softly. "And you should refrain from calling them dunderheads, too. In fact, refraining from all derogatory comments would be advised."
"Then how shall I address them?" Severus asked sarcastically. "By their first names?"
"If you can manage it," Harry said with a laugh.
"Don't get smart with me, Potter," Severus growled.
Harry licked his lips. Severus' eyes narrowed in on the movement. The air between them was charged with particles upon particles of raw need and sexual tension.
Harry whispered, "No, I'm not 'getting smart'. If I were 'getting smart' I'd do something like this -- "
And in that moment Severus was eternally grateful to have found such a smart boyfriend.
Some months later
"Miss Winters did not cry in our tutoring session today," Severus said, divesting himself of his shirt and trousers and slipping beneath the sheets.
"Good on her!" Harry said in mock congratulations, as if that were some huge accomplishment. Which, Severus supposed, Harry probably thought it was.
"I did not call her any names, either," Severus went on to say.
"Well, good on you," Harry said approvingly.
"I am beginning to think that moment of magic shall never come," Severus said grimly, pointedly ignoring how Harry mocked him in favour of sharing his insecurities. "I am simply not nice enough for it."
Harry rolled over on the bed, entangling his limbs with Severus' and placing his head on Severus' bare chest. "Not so," he said softly. "You're nice to me."
"You're not a snivelling third year," Severus pointed out snidely.
Harry ran his fingers down the length of Severus' chest, his broad shoulders, his left arm...traced the Dark Mark lightly and repositioned himself so he could kiss it. Reassure Severus that it was okay, in the past, and there was nothing to forgive. "No, I'm not," he agreed. "But it still takes effort to be nice to me sometimes. We just have to keep constantly working at it."
Severus looked at Harry seriously. "Harry," he asked, "Do you ever feel like this is too turbulent, that we are too volatile to make this work long-term?
"No," Harry said simply, "because we're getting better at it every day. It'll never be effortless or easy, but it'll always be exciting." He grinned. "Besides, it helps us increase out tolerance for what you would refer to as 'getting too excited.' This isn't impossible, Sev -- we just have to love each other and keep on being patient with one another. And really, the rest will just fall into place."
Severus kissed Harry's forehead gently and thought to himself that he'd finally acquired a new label -- Severus Snape: the man who had fallen in love with Harry Potter. And perhaps Harry Potter had acquired a new label as well: the only person to teach Severus a much-needed lesson in patience.
Severus brought his lips down to meet Harry's and --
-- like clockwork and electric wires, and broken fluorescent light bulbs -- flipping a switch, turning a key. Adrenaline rushes and coin-operated aeroplanes. Alcoholic orange peels thrown into a fire, or a sappy romance novel...a film with Hugh Grant and his charmingly befuddled smiles. Red balloons catching on the branch of a nearby tree. Stars. Millions and millions of stars. Quantum Mechanics and the sun's fusion, and rock candy sulphuric acid snowflakes colliding into black holes and unbalanced balance beams -- the force of attraction between two like masses -- a child holding a loaded gun --
Like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and every irrefutable Newtonian Law of Physics -- and everything elsethat was so simultaneously expected and unknown -- there was a spark and then an explosion.
And everything just clicked.
A/N: Thank you guys for staying with it and leaving all those encouraging (and constructive) reviews. It means so much to me. You are amazing.