Written for the 2009 Snarry Games, for the Gold Winning Team Snitch
Title: If Only
Genre(s): Time Travel
Prompt(s): Consequences, Seeking Knowledge
Warnings: EWE, Character Death(s) ... sort of ... but not really ... You'll see, just trust me. Brief, non-explicit, non-Snarry pairing.
Word Count: 13,500 (or so)
Author Notes/Disclaimers/Betas: In this tale you will find bits of dialogue from the books. Specifically (and in order of appearance), an excerpt from the chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix called Snape's Worst Memory and from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter Eight, called Flight of the Fat Lady. So I must credit J.K. Rowling with that, as well as Harry Potter's world in its entirety (I do not own Harry Potter, he owns me.). As this story is Snape's POV, only the actual dialogue was borrowed, and in both instances, not the entire thing, since the time lines are altered. Hopefully this will make sense after you've read it. Huge Thank Yous to: our esteemed Capitan, joanwilder for her SuperBeta skillz, and for once again taking the reins and being our fearless leader; to blamebrampton for Brit-picking and wordsmithing as well as her knowledge of 1970s London; to veridian_dair & torino10154 for early reading, inspiration (art! even), and general encouragement; and to Team Snitch for the sharp eyes and support. Biggest thanks of all go to DJ and the other Games Mods for inviting me to play! It's been awesome. Thank you!
Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
Dying was rather more painful than Severus had expected.
Of course, he'd had no illusions going into this about his chances of meeting his end, well into his dotage, peacefully in his sleep. But expecting a painful death and actually experiencing it were two entirely different matters.
And in his own defense, who would actually expect to have one's throat ripped open by an enormous, evil familiar of a snake?
The smell of blood reached his nostrils, overwhelming the very shallow breaths he was able to take. Such an ignoble end, exsanguinating on the floor of a filthy, rickety shack—he might've forgone the antivenom if he'd considered the snake would go directly for the jugular. He'd seen the thing kill before, on several occasions, and that particular maneuver had not been in its repertoire.
The only solace he could find in the situation was that serendipity had once again deigned to shine her light on Potter, who'd inexplicably been there precisely when his presence was vital. The boy seemed to have successfully collected the memories Severus had pushed out at him, thank Merlin for that much. It might have been disastrous if Severus had been unable to deliver the news to Potter that he was to be a sacrificial lamb.
Something about that entire situation did not sit right with Severus—grooming the boy to die—but it was hardly his problem now. He'd completed his mission to the best of his ability, and a large part of him was ready to succumb to his injuries.
Another part of him, the one containing his finely honed sense of self-preservation, was crying out for him to fight. If only he could open his eyes, move his arms, get to the supplies he always kept on his person, find his wand ...
With all his might, Severus focused mentally on the wound in his neck, hoping to channel his magic and possibly heal it, or at least slow down the bleeding.
The effort cost him dearly, but as the last of his life force seemed to seep out of him and into the dusty floorboards, the pain eased. Severus felt only cold and somewhat numb as the blackness of death folded over him, completely snuffing out the mental parade of things that he might've done differently if only he'd had the chance, ending it nearly as quickly and unexpectedly as it had begun.
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
The afterlife, Severus discovered, appeared to consist of a narrow, dimly lit room with plain wooden doors lining both of the long walls. And a very hard stone floor, upon which he reclined.
He felt fairly confident it was the afterlife because the pain in his neck, or more precisely, the wound itself, was gone, as if it had never existed.
If this was the hereafter, it was somewhat disappointing, truth be told, but not nearly so much as the fact that he was alone. Severus knew, of course, that he'd never forged the sort of friendships one might require for a welcoming committee in this instance, but he'd hoped that his mother, at least, would have been there to greet him, if not Albus.
Standing with ease, Severus began to examine the doors, none of which was conveniently labeled 'Exit' or 'This way to your next great adventure ...' Damn Albus anyway, along with his foolish notions.
The little bit of light in the room was emanating from an unknown overhead source, casting its stingy luminescence directly upon each of the many wooden doors. One in particular seemed to be glowing more intensely than the others, and Severus, though cautious, took that as his cue for a start.
Cool and smooth, the doorknob turned easily in his hand, allowing Severus to pull the door open.
Peering in hesitantly, Severus found himself on the Hogwarts Express, staring at his eleven-year-old self, sitting sullenly across from Lily Evans. Both of them were ignoring the odd blonde girl, whose compartment they'd invaded after being driven from their own by an immediately hostile Sirius Black and James Potter: the brand new nickname, Snivellus, still ringing in his ears.
This was not a moment he particularly cared to relive. In fact, Severus could think of no single event in his life he wished to experience again, so he turned to step back through the door, only to find it was gone.
Stuck there and forced to witness Lily trying her best to soothe his injured pride, Severus very naturally assumed the same sullen posture as his younger self.
"Don't worry, Sev, they're obviously idiots," Lily said with a smile.
Severus's heart ached to see her, to see them both, so fresh-faced and completely unaware of the horrors their futures held.
Albus's words came to him then, about assigning houses too early, in some cases, and Severus realized that this was the moment in which he had decided—though fairly certain of his placement in Slytherin—whatever house the Sorting Hat assigned him, it would absolutely not be the same as those two berks, Black and Potter.
Would it have all gone differently for him if only he hadn't argued with the Sorting Hat and had instead landed in the same house as Lily?
Suddenly, Severus was standing next his child self at the front of the Great Hall. Looking at the crowd of spectators, Severus could see young Lily smiling encouragingly at him. He could hear the Sorting Hat as if it were on his own head: "Interesting—ambitious, with a strong need to prove yourself, a thirst for knowledge and power, and more than your own fair share of pride and courage. Shall it be Slytherin for you, or Gryffindor? You would do well in either house, I think. And I would know."
The Hat cackled a bit madly in his ear, while Severus thought perhaps Albus was right and it should have been Gryffindor.
To Severus's utter astonishment, the Hat said, "All right, then ... GRYFFINDOR!"
He stood stock still, watching as young Severus, appearing equally as stunned, walked to take his place beside a beaming Lily Evans, to a respectable amount of applause from his other new housemates.
The scenery shifted and Severus landed in what he assumed was the Gryffindor dorm, judging by the atrocious color of the bed curtains.
"What's the matter, Snivellus? Afraid the Hat made a mistake?"
"About you, Black? Yes, I think it has," young Severus sneered over his shoulder as he moved toward one of the beds farthest away from the two that Black and Potter had claimed near the lone window.
"Just because you're a Gryffindor instead of a slimy Slytherin doesn't make you any less a greasy, sniveling snivellus, Snivellus."
Some things never changed, Severus thought, watching the scene unfold, though he was surprised by what happened next.
"So much for house loyalty," a quiet voice put in drolly. "You don't look particularly greasy to me." A hand was thrust toward young Severus. "I'm Remus Lupin. I'll have this bed if it suits you?" he added, indicating the bed next to Severus's.
"Severus Snape. It's fine with me." Narrow shoulders rose in a careless shrug.
At the start of what appeared to be the very next morning, Black received a Howler from his mother.
Lupin sniggered in the ringing silence that followed the shrieking missive and, turning, said, "Breakfast, Severus?"
"Absolutely, Remus," young Severus smirked.
And a wholly unexpected friendship was born.
Severus's presence in the Gryffindor dorm had a dramatic effect on the dynamic previously established in his memory. Black and Potter were still thick as thieves, of course, but, most astonishingly, Lupin and Snape, along with Lily Evans formed their own tight-knit trio, reminiscent of another Gryffindor trio yet to come.
Peter Pettigrew, the odd man out, was largely ignored by all and sundry.
Severus watched in amazement, jumping along this new Severus's progression, as the child thrived in the warmth of acceptance, trust and camaraderie.
This progression was mostly smooth from what Severus could see, despite a few bumps along the way—which were, in almost every case, related to pranks pulled by Black and Potter.
Relatively smooth, that was, until fifth year.
Then, during an exceptionally warm spring, Lupin and Snape seemed to develop a tension between them. A tension that Severus himself had never experienced, though it didn't take him long to decipher, with no small amount of shock, the meaning behind the furtive glances and uncomfortable silences that seemed to plague them.
Though if he'd had any trouble understanding, it would have been made perfectly clear when he landed in an unused classroom to find Lupin pressing young Severus against the wall as they shared obviously inexperienced but no less passionate kisses.
For several minutes, the feverish kisses were interrupted only briefly by loudly drawn breaths and quiet moans, until they pulled apart and pressed their foreheads together.
"Lily will be insufferably smug about this, you realize?"
Lupin smiled. "Still, we ought to thank her for locking us in here."
"Why on earth haven't we been doing this for years?"
Raising a hand to gently touch Severus's face, Lupin said with a smile, "I didn't know you'd be so easy to convince."
"Only because I was given to understand that you liked girls."
"Oh, I like girls just fine." Lupin grinned. "But I like you better."
Severus's shock was not so much to see himself with another boy, and not even that the boy was Lupin of all people, but rather that he possessed, in any reality, the emotional capacity required for such a thing. Even he understood that his nearly life-long obsession with Lily was born of loneliness at first, then of guilt and despair, rather than any sort of true desire for her.
The scene melted away as the boys' lips came together once more, with renewed vigor and somewhat more confidence.
Severus found himself in the Gryffindor dorm at dusk, looking out the window as Madam Pomfrey bundled Remus off toward the Whomping Willow. Young Severus remained at the window, well after dusk had turned to darkness, staring forlornly at the bright full moon as it climbed ever higher in the sky.
Movement below caught the eye of both Severuses, and together they watched as Peter Pettigrew darted in between shadows across the grounds, toward the willow. Using a long stick, Pettigrew, after only three attempts, successfully pressed the correct knot to cease the tree's thrashing, then headed down into the tunnel at its base.
"Oh no no no ..." Young Severus charged out of the room, and Severus joined him a moment later as the boy reached Pettigrew only seconds before he might've come face to face with a werewolf.
The scene changed again, and Severus was in the infirmary, at a sleeping Remus's bedside.
"But sir, Black should be expelled for what he's done. Potter too for that matter—I've no doubt they were in on this together." The declaration was a hissed whisper, but no less emphatic for it.
"I understand your desire for this action, Mr. Snape," the Headmaster began quietly, "but there are some mitigating factors we must consider before taking such a step. Mr. Pettigrew, thanks to your quick action, was not harmed in the incident, and has agreed to keep Mr. Lupin's secret, which is paramount to Mr. Lupin's continued presence here. As I'm certain you understand."
"It's not right," the youth condemned with disgust.
Dumbledore sighed and softened his tone. "I quite agree, Severus. Their harmless pranks took a rather dire turning this evening. But expelling one or both of them would lead to questions, and with each question, we risk revealing Remus's secret, we risk his future. And yours as well, if I'm any judge of things." The old man had the audacity to twinkle, while the boy developed a heated blush.
Clearly desperate to change the subject, young Severus said, "What was Pettigrew playing at, anyway? Why was he so anxious to listen to Black and go into the tunnel to begin with?"
"That is a very good question." Dumbledore continued softly, almost to himself, "I fear we may have lost Mr. Pettigrew."
"Lost him, sir?"
"You are aware of the company he's been keeping of late, no doubt?"
"Mulciber, Rosier ... the other Black—Slytherins mostly. Anyone he can hide behind. Honestly, I don't know how he was ever sorted into Gryffindor to begin with," the younger man scoffed.
"Now, Severus, it is not house assignment that decides who we are, but rather the choices we ourselves make." Dumbledore sighed wearily. "Dark times are approaching, my boy, and soon, lines will be drawn, alliances formed. I believe Mr. Pettigrew has sensed this as well, and made his choice."
"I've heard tell of a man," Severus began hesitantly, "a dark and powerful man, who hates Muggles ..."
"Yes, I am aware of this man," Dumbledore answered in a serious tone. "He calls himself Lord Voldemort, though he was once known as Tom Riddle—formerly a student right here at Hogwarts."
Young Severus appeared shocked by the knowledge.
"Oh yes, evil lurks in unexpected places. Tom Riddle has drawn his line in the sand, has made his choices. I wonder, Severus, if you possess the fortitude to do the same?"
"I know I have," Remus put in groggily from his bed. "The man who did this to me, made me what I am, is one of them."
"What say you, young lady?" Dumbledore asked, seemingly incongruously, until Lily stepped out from behind the curtain surrounding the infirmary bed.
"I'll stand against them any day! The horrid things they say and do, the Dark spells—it'll only get worse if no one stands up to them."
"How long have you been hiding there?" Severus asked.
"Long enough." She smirked. "So, are you with us?"
Severus looked to Remus and reached out his hand. "Of course I am—we're in this together."
Dumbledore's pleased countenance was all Severus saw as he was whisked away to yet another location.
"More children? Albus, are you mad?" Alastor Moody growled.
The gruff Auror was mostly still intact, and the three 'children' in question stood defiantly nearby, obviously ready to argue with the man if Dumbledore happened to agree with him.
"They are no longer children, Alastor, and not likely to sit idly by while we take care of this situation. We no longer have the luxury of thinking in this manner—Voldemort is becoming more aggressive with each passing day. Would you have them drawn into this, unprepared for what lies ahead? I dare say I couldn't stop them now if I wished it, in any case. All of them are of age and therefore able to decide for themselves."
Watching, Severus assumed they were at a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix, though it seemed to be many years before he had actually attended his first meeting. The home in which they gathered was as unfamiliar to him as many in the crowd.
Two broad-shouldered redheads, clearly brothers, laughed loudly at something a petite, dark-haired woman had said, and this seemed to break the tension between the senior members.
Moody shook his head. "It's a shame to have to ask this of them."
"It is indeed. But they are young and powerful and eager to aid the cause. Whether or not we approve is of little consequence at this point."
As Moody relented, the scene changed again, and Severus found himself in the center of a raging battle. Taking cover ceased to be an issue when he realized the spells were passing through him without harm.
He walked down the devastated street, unsure of where he was. The long stretches of stone and brick, marking where taller structures had once shaped London's skyline, were familiar, but not specific. He rounded a corner, and there, oddly untouched, was the Victorian Eleanor Cross that denoted Charing Cross in his small mental map of London.
The air was acrid with smoke, the ground littered with twisted metal, broken glass, smoldering fires, and bodies. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of bodies. Devastation, he realized, wasn't quite strong enough a word for the vast landscape of destruction before him, but even with his rather extensive vocabulary, he was at loss for something that might describe it more precisely.
Severus had only a moment to wonder how many people had been in the buildings, going about their normal Muggle routines, when they'd been brought down; he was once again whisked away, this time to what he recognized as the Atrium of the Ministry.
Dropped once more into the middle of a battle.
"Nooooooo!" a voice he recognized as his own cried out.
Following the horror-filled wail, Severus found his younger self, cradling a lifeless Remus Lupin. This, now, this grief he understood, and he could easily empathize with the desolate young man, even if he couldn't share specifically in the feelings for the boy in his arms.
Despite the loss, the battle raged around them.
"Let go of me you bastard!" Lily screamed. "Put me down!" She pounded on the back of her abductor. "Accio wand. Accio wand! Fuck! Sev, help me!"
Severus watched in impotent horror as Fenrir Greyback carried Lily away, thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, though, unlike a sack of potatoes, she continued her flailing and back-thumping all the way into the lift.
"I'm sorry," young Severus whispered mournfully to the boy in his arms.
Laying Remus down gently on the ground, Severus rose and gave chase to Lily and her loathsome captor as a terrified woman ran through the Atrium screaming, "They've taken the Ministry!"
She was quickly silenced, and the scenery changed just as abruptly. Severus was suddenly standing in what appeared to be the Minister's office, though he'd never actually been there, and behind the Minister's desk sat the Dark Lord.
Still largely human in appearance and in possession of the good looks and charm that had very much aided his rise to power, the Dark Lord seemed to be holding court, surrounded by his minions.
Lily, like several other Order members, was bound and gagged and fixed to the wall on display like a tapestry. Young Severus was bound as well, standing before the Dark Lord, struggling against the ropes binding him, face red with the effort.
"I'm not an unreasonable man—I offer you what I've offered your worthy comrades: join me, or die like the Mudbloods," the Dark Lord offered silkily. "Slowly, and painfully—though quite entertainingly for the rest of us, I assure you."
With a wave of his hand, the Dark Lord released the rope that had been wrapped firmly around Severus's head and across his mouth, freeing the young man to spit at him.
"Most unfortunate. And unwise."
"I would rather die than serve you," Severus hissed furiously.
"Pity." The Dark Lord turned to his right. "Bella, darling, do your worst."
Just as Bellatrix Black raised her wand, crowing wickedly, Severus was yanked away from the scene and thrown back into the room with the doors, dropping painfully on all fours, his knees digging into the stone floor.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Severus turned and sat down, thinking about all that he'd witnessed.
Perhaps being in Gryffindor would not have meant a better outcome after all.
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
Severus stood and began pacing, which had always aided his thinking process. He wasn't entirely certain what he was meant to do in this room, but he thought he'd been shown a 'what if' scenario based on his earlier thoughts. What purpose this served remained a mystery, though he noticed now that there were several fewer doors than when he'd arrived there the first time.
As horrifying as the experience had ended, seeing Lily smile at him again had made Severus long for that attention once more. Clearly, Severus Snape-as-Gryffindor was not an improvement over his actual history, but would his real life have been improved if only he'd been able to hold his sharp tongue and not alienate his oldest friend, perhaps even been strong enough to refuse to take the Mark to begin with?
Reluctantly, Severus acknowledged a door to his left, which was now glowing more intensely in the dim light of the room. He was not eager to repeat what he'd just been through, but he also understood that there was something at work here, and he wouldn't get through it unless he achieved whatever was required of him.
Sighing, he pulled open the door and stepped into one of his very worst memories.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" Lily shouted, pointing her wand at Potter and Black.
"Ah, Evans, don't make me hex you," Potter replied.
"Take the curse off him, then!"
Potter sighed, then muttered the counter-curse. "There you go. You're lucky Evans was here, Snivellus," he added.
Severus watched his younger self struggle to his feet and look at Lily Evans; he saw the hunger in his eyes and then the bitterness. He knew this was the moment, and silently pleaded with the boy to hold his tongue, to look to her for support rather than rejecting the assistance she was offering.
Just like that, young Severus's countenance became a silent plea, and he could see Lily's features soften in response.
Once he was fully upright, she grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the scene.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, Remus Lupin—you're supposed to be a Prefect!" Lily shouted across the lawn.
"Nancy-boy needs his girlfriend to rescue him," Black scoffed as they moved farther away.
"That immature, insufferable, arrogant ... toerag!" Lily growled as she dragged the boy along.
She dropped his hand as they approached the castle and turned. Severus could see that although she'd helped young Severus, her eyes lacked the warmth they'd once held, and he found himself feeling the loss of it all over again.
"Do you want to report this to Dumbledore?" she asked.
Severus scoffed, "What on earth would he do? He favors them!" His demeanor had regained some of the bitterness it had lost earlier. "Even if I'm the victim."
Lily sighed. "Why do you insist on putting yourself in their path?"
"So now it's my fault that they consistently harass me without provocation? I didn't even know they were there—I was reading just now," he gestured vaguely towards the scene of the incident, "minding my own business."
Lily sat on the steps leading up to the entrance they'd been headed towards, looking weary. "We've already had this conversation, Severus. I've no doubt it's because of your friends, Avery and that creepy Mulciber, the Dark Spells, the whole Death Eater-in-training thing. I don't like it either, as you know. It's becoming difficult to justify defending you to my friends, really."
Severus watched as the boy struggled, and willed him to take a chance, to confide in her.
He sat down heavily next to her on the step. "You don't know what it's like, how difficult it is being amongst them. Being a half-blood amongst them. And the Dark Lord, Lily, he's ..." he paused, and Severus could easily complete the sentence: charming, charismatic, compelling, handsome ... devastating. Young Severus chose to summarize it, "hard to resist."
She turned to him, genuine concern filling her eyes. "Oh, but you must! No good can come of this, of him and the evil he's promoting." She laid a gentle hand on his forearm. "I know you're a good person, Sev, please don't let him turn you. Come with me to Dumbledore—he wants to help you. I know he does."
Severus could see the decision in his eyes, and he relaxed somewhat, hearing the whispered, "All right," as the scenery changed around him.
Another Order meeting at another unknown locale, though this time, Lily sat next to Severus, with James Potter on her other side, the young men sneering at one another behind her back.
"If that is all, Alastor, I think we shall call an end to this meeting, so that the newlyweds can proceed with their holiday. With all due caution, of course." Dumbledore twinkled in their general direction and for one heart-stopping moment, Severus thought he might be one of the newlyweds in question. Surely an impossibility, on any plane of existence.
His theory was proven correct when Lily stood and slipped her hand into James Potter's, face aglow with happiness.
"Thank you again, you two, for putting off your departure for one day," Dumbledore said as he ushered the couple toward the door. "I expect you to be entirely self-indulgent while you are away."
Potter smirked. "Trust us, we'll be that and more." He shot a smug look at Severus before going out the door.
"A moment please, Severus," Dumbledore called out as younger Severus turned to take his own leave.
Dumbledore smiled. "Professor Slughorn tells me that your year as his assistant has been quite fruitful. He's ready to retire and hand the reins fully over to you. Are you ready, as well?"
"I believe so, Headmaster."
"Excellent. Very good indeed." Dumbledore smiled warmly. "I am very pleased with your progress, Severus. You've done me proud, and even better, made me look good with the naysayers on the Board of Governors who were certain you were too young, just coming out of school yourself. You've come a long way from that reluctant, unhappy boy Lily dragged into my office."
"Thank you, sir." Severus looked pleased with the assessment, though he added dryly, "Accomplishments aside, I don't believe I've come so far that anyone would dare assign the appellation 'happy' to me, however."
"True enough." Dumbledore chuckled.
The scene faded quietly, then became an unfamiliar lounge, where a child's wail echoed loudly off of the walls.
"Best give it up for a bad job, Padfoot—Snape's the only one who can calm Harry when he gets like this."
"Hand him over, Black," Severus demanded smugly.
Severus watched himself accept the crying infant—with nary a trace of the awkwardness he would have expected—and settle him in the crook of his arm.
In a modulated tone he spoke directly to the child, "Now, you must cease this racket at once."
The baby stilled and blinked wetly at him, then, with a hitching in-drawn breath, Harry sighed and snuggled against the arm holding him.
"Bah. He has to be using magic," Black accused. "Why else would Harry like him better?"
Still directing his words to the baby, Severus replied, "It is not magic—it is because I do not coo at the boy, and speak to him as if he were an imbecile."
Lupin sniggered, and watching the scene unfold, Severus experienced an inexplicable flash of emotion to see the man, slightly older than he'd been when Severus had seen his lifeless form on the Ministry floor.
"Well, I think it's Severus's magnificent voice," Lily said, then asked, "What?" when three pairs of skeptical eyes turned her way. "Oh, come on! You cannot tell me you've never noticed. It has a wonderful timbre and a lovely cadence when he speaks. Clearly, Harry likes it," she added with a smile.
The scene changed with Black and Potter grumbling and Severus looking smug.
He found himself in the same location; however, some time seemed to have passed, as the boy was now a toddler.
Walking unsteadily towards Severus, who appeared to have just arrived, the child said, "Sev. Up." Lifting chubby arms to facilitate the demand.
Bending to scoop up the boy, Severus said wryly, "Good evening to you too."
"Harry, at least let Severus take his cloak off first," Lily admonished with a smile.
Harry's response was to bounce excitedly and proclaim, "Book!"
"Impatient whelp," Severus said to the boy, then to his mother, "It's all right. I'll take him up."
"Thank you, Severus. I'll be up in a bit to tuck him in."
Turning toward the staircase, Severus asked, "Now, I wonder which book it is that you'd like to read, hmm?"
"How absolutely unexpected," Severus responded dryly as they moved up the stairs.
Harry offered a string of gibberish, dotted with the few words of English at his command.
"Yes, well, we certainly shall see about that," Severus replied.
Looking on, Severus was tempted to follow them up, being entirely wrong-footed and yet highly fascinated to see himself interacting with the child that way, but he felt compelled to stay, sensing his purpose was here in this room with Lily and Potter.
She touched a finger to Potter's chin and said, "Why the sulky face?"
"D'you think he really understood Harry?"
Lily laughed, a bright happy sound. "It wouldn't surprise me a bit if he had."
Potter sighed. "I suppose I ought to be grateful Harry said 'Da' before he said 'Sev'."
"Yes, darling," Lily said with a comforting pat. "You do have that."
"Four very important minutes before, but before, nonetheless." James nodded solemnly.
"That's not really what's bothering you though, is it?"
"Well, it is damned irritating, but no."
She nodded. "We have to tell him tonight. We can't just disappear with Harry without a word to him about it."
"I know. I'll let you handle that."
"Coward," Lily accused with a smirk. "Are you still set on asking Sirius to be the Secret Keeper?"
"He's like a brother to me, Lil, and I trust him with our lives. Beyond that, he's still irked with us for making Snape Harry's godfather."
"I just hate the idea of hiding. Harry will miss Severus terribly." She leant into her husband and laid her head on his shoulder, draping an arm across his chest. "D'you think it's true? That our little boy could be the one to somehow rid the world of that monster?"
"I don't know what to think, luv, but I reckon all that matters at the moment is what You-Know-Who thinks. And we have to do what we can to stay out of his sight." Potter sighed harshly. "Damn that Mungdungus Fletcher! I'd kill him myself for bringing this into our home, if he weren't already dead."
"Well, to be fair, he didn't know the prophecy he overheard had anything to do with us. Dumbledore said that he wasn't an evil man, just a greedy one—he certainly paid a high price for it."
"I hope I'm not supposed to feel bad about that."
"No, I guess not. Anyway, it's just a precaution—we don't even know for certain that You-Know-Who is targeting us. Hopefully, we'll only be hiding for a short time, then we can finally get on with our lives and raise Harry in a better world than it is now."
"Yes, hope is one thing we're not short of." Potter rubbed her arm reassuringly, and Severus was whisked away to yet another point in this altered reality.
"Oh, Albus! It was so awful and I didn't know who else to call."
"It's all right, Bathilda, you did the right thing."
"It was the screamin' that woke me, but it was only when it suddenly stopped that I knew something was wrong—made my skin crawl, it did. When I looked out the window, I could see the house had rematerialized, and since I hadn't noticed it'd disappeared to begin with, I knew that it'd been under a charm. Then I saw him. Gliding along the pavement like some sort of demon. When he'd gone, I looked in the window," a strangled sob escaped her, "and Merlin help me, that's when I saw them, just lying there ..."
Dumbledore looked stricken, but saw to the elderly woman who'd summoned him. Severus felt as if he'd taken a physical blow to the stomach, certain he was not ready for what he was about to see.
"There, there, Bathilda. Have some tea," Dumbledore offered, settling her into a chair at the small kitchen table. "I must go over there to see to things myself. Will you be all right?"
She blew her nose loudly into the handkerchief he'd offered her and nodded. "Thank you, Albus. You've always been a good boy."
He smiled sadly. "That is debatable."
Severus followed Albus as he made his way to the Potter family home in Godric's Hollow, feeling nauseous, knowing with a certain dread what would greet them when they arrived.
One could hardly tell the heinous crime that had occurred within just by looking at the exterior of the house.
As they walked through the front door, hanging irregularly on its hinges, Severus could see them. Lily and James Potter lay within feet of each other, unmoving, staring in blank horror into eternity.
"Severus?" Albus called out, and for a moment, Severus thought he was being addressed directly.
Then movement on the staircase caught his eye.
The Severus from this reality moved downstairs, cradling the boy.
"They're gone, Albus. All gone," he said in a voice full of anguish. He sat heavily on the step, rocking the lifeless child.
"The boy, too?" Albus breathed out wearily, looking every bit his age.
"How could this happen? I'm going to kill Black with my bare hands—this must be his fault."
"Oh, it is, but not for the reason you think," Black seethed from the doorway.
"You!" Severus leveled the wand in his free hand at Black.
Albus put a hand up. "Severus, please, let us get to the bottom of this before we start hurling accusations and curses." Turning to Black he asked, "Were you not the Secret Keeper, Sirius?"
"I was originally, yes, but we made a last minute change. That's why it's my fault. How could we have been so stupid? How could we not have seen it was him?"
"Who was it, then?"
"Peter Pettigrew," Black spat. "My brilliant idea. Who would expect anyone to trust him with a secret? Well, I'll find that rat and tear him apart with my bare hands, magic be damned."
"For once, Black, we are in complete agreement." Severus laid the child down on his mother's still form, taking a moment to gently close both sets of green eyes. "Let's go."
Just as they were about to leave, a wispy cat-shaped Patronus leapt into the room, speaking in Minerva McGonagall's voice: "Albus, you must return quickly—they're attacking the school. I don't know how long we can hold them off."
The cat was followed by other such animals, all requesting Albus's presence at a different location—the most disturbing being the one from Moody, at the Ministry.
"A coordinated assault? He must be feeling incredibly confident now. I must return at once ..."
As the others scattered to the wind, Severus was thrown back into the room with the doors, dry-heaving onto the hard stone floor.
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
Lying on the floor, curled into himself, Severus was quite certain he'd had enough.
How could the Boy Who Lived, not live? What of the blood protection Albus had always spoken of?
Lily's empty shell flashed through his mind. Severus imagined the Dark Lord entering the house and picking them off one by one with ease, likely without a single word.
There was something to that; what was it?
He meant to brush the thought aside, but then it hit him.
After Potter's experience with the Dementors during his third year, Albus had theorized that when the Dark Lord offered Lily a choice, he'd set in motion the possibility of the blood protection. Severus had given it little thought at the time, caring not a whit why Potter had survived the Killing Curse when no one else ever had, only that the boy's mother had not survived it.
It seemed Albus's theory held true, as in his most recent experience, Severus hadn't been there to plead with the Dark Lord to spare Lily's life, and so, the Dark Lord had killed her without hesitation, without offering her that very important choice.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, he stood resignedly, wondering if he could wait this thing out rather than traipsing into another dystopian scenario.
He noticed then that the number of doors had dwindled yet again, which meant to Severus that there was likely a purpose to this exercise, some knowledge to be gleaned and, quite possibly, an end to it. What that purpose was remained a mystery to Severus, though he wouldn't be very surprised to discover it was simply his fate to be tormented beyond the grave.
One thing was clear from his experience: Harry Potter, just as Albus had asserted, seemed to be key to the entire thing, which was rather galling. Nearly as galling as discovering that the boy had been an engaging child; though, perhaps that had been Severus's own influence on him.
He wondered now, if he hadn't been so prepared to hate him on sight, would he have found something worthwhile in the boy? He was, after all, Lily's child. Certainly, Severus couldn't possibly have been nice to him—it just wasn't in his nature—but surely some guidance from him wouldn't have gone amiss. Would it have made a difference, in the end, if only he'd been able to mentally separate the boy from his father?
He feared he was about to find out, as one of the few remaining doors began to glow softly.
Sighing, Severus pulled it open and stepped into the Great Hall, and this time, he was looking out at the length of the enormous room from behind the High Table. One of the great doors opened as Minerva led a procession of ragtag first years to the Sorting Hat.
He watched himself sneering at the children, and while he was wholly sympathetic, he turned to search out Potter, determined to see the boy without a jaundiced eye.
What Severus found was astonishing.
The child was small—smaller than he should have been—pale and perhaps not emaciated, but clearly not looked after as well as he ought to have been. Behind the glasses, his eyes were wide with wonder, gazing up at the impressive ceiling, while Granger no doubt nattered on in his ear with facts and trivia.
Thankfully, the Sorting proceeded without change, but while Severus recalled directing every bit of his loathing at the boy, this time, he watched himself simply nod once in acknowledgement, then look away.
And then he was in his classroom, standing amongst the students, watching himself deliver his standard opening speech. It was a good one, if Severus thought so himself—effective and impressive to their young minds, though seeing it from this perspective, perhaps a bit over the top.
Normally, this speech held the brats' rapt attention, but he could hear the scratch of quill on parchment and recalled that Potter had been rudely inattentive.
Standing next to him, Severus looked down only to see that he'd been in error: Potter wasn't doodling or daydreaming, he was noting every word his professor was saying.
That was unexpected.
This new perspective had Severus wondering what else he'd been wrong about, regarding the boy.
Class proceeded somewhat differently than Severus recalled: his counterpart still favored the Slytherins—that was just good common sense, considering who their parents were—but Potter made it through the class without being singled out and without losing any house points.
As the boy passed his desk at the end of class, making his way to the door with Weasley in tow, his professor stopped him.
"A word, Mr. Potter."
Potter looked surprised and more than a little apprehensive. He responded, "Yes, sir." Then, speaking to Weasley, he said, "You go on ahead, Ron—I'll meet you outside."
Once the last student had filed out of the room, Severus looked on as his other self, who, appearing as if he were being coerced by some unseen force, said, "I knew your mother. We were ... friends, as children, even before we attended Hogwarts."
Looking wrong-footed, Potter smiled tentatively. "Really? I don't know anything about my mother." He hesitated before continuing, "My aunt won't talk about her."
Distaste plain on his face, Severus said, "Hmm, yes, Petunia. I knew her, as well."
The smile was no longer tentative, and watching, Severus drew in a sharp, astonished breath to see it aimed at him, to see them share in this thing, their mutual dislike for Lily's sister.
"Best not to keep Mr. Weasley waiting—if he's anything like his brothers, there's no telling the trouble he might find, left on his own."
"Yes, sir." Another smile was directed his way. As he headed for the door, Potter turned and asked, "Professor, d'you think ... I mean, could I talk to you about her, my mother, sometime?"
"Perhaps," was the reply heard as Severus was taken to yet another familiar location but unfamiliar scene.
The office assigned to the Defense professor had changed little over the years. It appeared Potter and Lupin were enjoying a cup of tea.
"Come in," Lupin called out in response to a knock on the door.
Severus watched himself walk into the room, carrying a faintly smoking goblet—Lupin's dose of Wolfsbane.
"Ah, Severus," said Lupin with a smile, "thanks very much. Could you leave it here on the desk for me?"
After a protracted silence, Lupin added, "I was just showing Harry my Grindylow."
"Fascinating. You should drink that directly, Lupin."
"Yes, yes I will."
Instead of taking his leave, as Severus remembered it, the other Severus remained standing by the desk. "Potter, Lupin was a friend of your father's, did you know?"
Lupin nearly spit out the potion, but Potter looked delighted. "You were? Professor Snape knew my mother—so you were all at school together, then?"
Casting a filthy look Severus's way, Lupin replied, "We were, yes, though we didn't all get along at the time. Did we, Severus?" he added, then took another swallow of the potion with a grimace. "It's a pity sugar makes this ineffective."
"You weren't friends?" Potter questioned, seemingly ready to burst with curiosity.
"Hardly," Severus snorted. "But your parents least of all."
Lupin chuckled. "No, it took quite some time for James to finally turn Lily's head."
"I believe toerag was her favored appellation for him, when she was feeling particularly kind."
Clearly confused now, Potter asked, "But how did they ever get married if they hated each other?"
"I believe the hate was all rather one-sided," Lupin replied with a delighted smile. "Someday, Harry, when you're a bit older, you might better appreciate the very fine line that exists between love and hate."
Potter did not appear at all enlightened.
Both Severuses grimaced. "And that revolting sentiment is my cue to leave." Turning on his heel in a dramatic fashion that the watching Severus found satisfying, the other Severus said as he opened the door, "I have a cauldron full of the potion, Lupin, if you've need of more."
"I believe I will need some tomorrow as well. Thank you, Severus."
As he felt compelled to stay, Severus remained on the spot rather than following himself. Clearly, there was something more for him to see here.
The door closed with a soft snick and Potter asked, "Are you all right, Professor?"
Lupin smiled wanly, "I am. Just a bit off color—I have a, uhm, chronic condition. Nothing fatal, just tiring. This potion might be foul, but it helps. It's incredibly complex though, and potions are not my forte; I'm lucky Professor Snape has agreed to brew it for me."
Potter smiled in return and nodded. "If Professor Snape is brewing it, you'll feel better in no time."
Severus felt a moment of shock to hear those words (and the implicit trust they carried) pass Potter's lips, then he was whisked away to yet another scene, this one in his dungeon office.
"I know what I saw!" Potter said, clearly angry.
Severus gritted out, "I will not discuss this with you if you are going to act like a child and not listen."
"Fine," Potter huffed, throwing himself into the chair across the desk from Severus. "Better?"
Severus narrowed his eyes and asked, "What were you doing looking at Professor Dumbledore's memories anyway?"
Potter blushed and looked away. "That's not the point."
"I highly doubt Professor Dumbledore would agree."
"He knows—he helped me out and explained about Pensieves and about what I saw. Did you know Crouch's son was one and Karkaroff too?"
Severus sighed. "Yes, of course I did. What do you want from me, Potter?"
"Some answers. Just ... why? How could you?" His voice was thick with disappointment, as the illusions he seemed to have developed about his professor over the last four years crumbled into dust.
Narrowing his eyes, Severus said grudgingly, "I do not owe you an accounting of my sordid past."
He held up a hand when Potter made to protest.
"However, I will tell you that I was young and discontented, and easily swayed by what the Dark Lord offered. Foolishly so."
"And my mother was still friends with you?"
"For a short time, until I spoke out of turn—she ended our association. Losing her regard is one of my greatest regrets."
Severus felt the words as they were spoken, and saw his own sincerity.
Potter seemed to find something worthy in the statement, as well; he nodded in understanding.
"You've seen the Headmaster's memories, so you know my loyalty is to him now." He rolled up his left sleeve. "Even while this Mark darkens, as the Dark Lord regains strength, my allegiance is to Professor Dumbledore, and my sworn duty to protect you."
Potter's eyes grew wide at the sight of the brand on Severus's arm. Watching, Severus lifted his own sleeve to find that the Mark was now a pale shadow, barely discernable against the white of his forearm. Perhaps he was to bear some part of the Mark into eternity—it seemed a small price to pay for his mistakes.
"Did it ..." Potter hesitated then forged on with his question, "did it hurt, when he did that to you?" There was a trace of sympathy in the question, much to Severus's surprise.
The boy reached across the desk and traced the snake and skull with a finger, and by the look on his face, Severus knew he was finding it surprisingly hot to the touch.
"Tremendously—the burn was nearly unbearable. The cost for the honor of bearing the Mark," he scoffed
"I'm sorry I burst in here acting like an idiot."
"Apology accepted, though you may wish to hold onto it for a moment—if we're going to air the dirty laundry, then there is more."
Green eyes looked out from the ridiculous glasses, still full of trust, even after all that had already transpired. Part of Severus wished he could stop his other self from revealing what was most assuredly the 'more', but he was also intensely curious now to see what Potter's reaction might be, knowing that these two shared a much different relationship, one that he'd never experienced with the boy.
Severus withdrew his arm and rolled the sleeve back down, hiding the garish evidence of his folly.
"I was ... lost after your mother withdrew from me, and I threw everything I had into serving the Dark Lord, hoping it would fill the void that only grew over the years without her. He required that I should go to Professor Dumbledore and seek a position at the school. Professor Dumbledore, however, knew exactly what I was, who I represented, and had no intention of taking me on as a house-elf, much less a professor. I followed him when he interviewed another candidate, thinking I might undermine her somehow. What I found instead was a Seer, delivering a prophecy—one foretelling the defeat of the Dark Lord." Stopping for a moment, clearly unsettled by his own candor, he took a breath and rubbed a hand over his face.
"I'd never put much stock in Divination, but I sought to please the Dark Lord and gain his favor, hoping to soothe his disappointment in my failure to secure a position at Hogwarts. I had no idea how he would interpret this prophecy. You must understand, even a genuine prophecy is difficult to decipher with any true accuracy, so I had no reason to suspect that he would come to the conclusion that your parents, or more specifically, you might bring about his downfall."
Understanding shone in the green eyes and the boy lifted a hand to his mouth, tugging anxiously at his bottom lip, obviously anticipating what was coming next.
"The moment I discovered he was targeting your family, I went to Professor Dumbledore and begged him to do something. And he did, but it wasn't enough, as you know. I didn't care for your father, this is true, but I cared very deeply for your mother, and I carry the weight of that failure on my shoulders, on my very soul, every waking moment of every day."
The boy rubbed his face, then dragged a hand through his hair in agitation. Potter's eyes closed, and Severus saw a muscle working in his cheek. It took far less time than Severus might have expected for him to reach some sort of internal decision. The eyes opened as he expelled a rough breath.
"So, you said he's growing stronger?" he asked his professor quietly.
Severus inexplicably experienced the same enormous sense of relief as his counterpart that the information hadn't turned the boy against him, each of them heaving an unexpected sigh.
"Yes, he is." Severus touched his sleeve. "With each passing day, the Mark darkens—I feel him growing stronger, and I believe it is only a matter of time before he determines a method to return fully."
"God. What am I going to do? He'll come after me."
Severus nodded. "He may already have a plan in action." He hesitated, looking uncomfortable, then added, "I will do everything in my power to protect you, to aid you in this. Even if it requires feigning loyalty once more to the Dark Lord."
The scene faded quietly, so Severus was startled when, immediately after his arrival at a new location, he heard, "Legilimens!"
Potter, true to form, failed to Occlude, eventually falling to his knees instead.
Severus rolled his eyes at the typical performance, while his other self sat on the edge of the desk, sighing in frustration, waiting for Potter to come back to himself.
"Unless you wish for the Dark Lord to know that you have more in common with Miss Chang than anyone ever suspected, I suggest you put more effort into this."
Potter blushed, then stammered, "It's not what you think. I was ... He—"
"Stop," Severus commanded with a raised hand. "I am not your confidant nor am I interested in discussing any prurient fantasies. I mentioned it only to illustrate the need for you to control your emotions."
Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Potter rose from his position on the floor, growling, "I can't do that—I'm not a robot!"
"No, you are something much worse: a teenager. A veritable cornucopia of hormones and very large feelings, which does not negate the urgency of your mastering this technique—it is imperative that you do so, in fact."
"Again, then?" Potter asked, looking equally resigned and determined.
With an arched eyebrow, Severus stood. "Legilimens!"
The word, uttered in his own voice, changed to another unfortunately familiar one as Severus stood in what appeared to be a dilapidated ballroom.
He watched himself kneeling before the Dark Lord, who sat upon a throne of sorts, truly holding court this time, and attempting to penetrate Severus's mind.
Unsatisfied with his efforts, the Dark Lord intoned, "I'm hearing very disturbing things, Severus, about you and the boy. I'm told he looks to you as a mentor—that you are, perhaps, even friendly with him. Rather an interesting tale, don't you think?"
"My Lord, I swear there is no truth in it—Potter despises me. Nearly as much as I despise him."
"I've always been disappointed that you couldn't get closer to him, that you failed to win his trust—a missed opportunity, or so I thought. But now, I must call into question everything you've said, Severus, and wonder where your true loyalties lie."
"With you, my Lord, as always."
"Hmmm. We shall see about that," the Dark Lord said skeptically. "A test is in order, don't you think?" he asked, before adding almost casually, "Crucio."
It lasted only a minute, perhaps two, but Severus experienced phantom pain, watching himself writhing under the curse's effects.
The Dark Lord glared down at him. "That was only a taste—we mustn't damage your mind just yet. I want you to appreciate what I'm doing. If you're lucky, I may consider allowing you to witness my final victory." His snake-like features twisted into a mockery of a smile. "Yes, I think I would enjoy sharing that with you."
With a wave of his wand, the Severus from this reality was encased in a golden cage; the domed shape and stinging magic kept him low to the ground.
"Ready for more? I do so wish to put on a good show for our young Harry." With a little more oomph this time, he said, "Crucio!"
An agonized cry filled the room. Severus knew it was as involuntary as the writhing in pain and harsh breathing, but the scene was horrifically difficult to watch, and it was impossible to remain unmoved. He sighed in relief when it came to an end once more.
"Relax, Severus, just a few more doses. We must allow Harry time to get past the delightful Miss Umbridge. Then we shall have our answer, I think."
The Dark Lord was correct, though it wasn't the answer that either Severus had hoped for. Damned Potter and his inability to learn Occlumency, along with his idiotic need to play the hero.
Potter had unwisely enlisted the aid of his friends, and the fools breached the conveniently open wards without pausing to wonder at the ease of it, then hurtled headlong into the trap.
Their extracurricular Defense training had not prepared them for an ambush on this scale; it was nearly over before it had begun.
Weasley was the first to die, when he stepped in front of Mulciber, taking a Killing Curse meant for Granger, whose scream was quickly cut short by a second curse from Mulciber's wand. Lovegood was slammed against a wall with a sickening thud, landing in a limp heap on the parquet floor.
Severus had never felt any particular affinity for Potter's friends, but watching them cut down, to a one, was a gruesome sight that he wouldn't soon forget. The Weasley girl fought the most viciously and managed to dodge the curses the longest, though it was Longbottom who surprised him most—he died a painful death, but he managed to take a Death Eater with him.
By design, the only invader left standing was Potter, disarmed and incapacitated, though it hardly seemed necessary: the fight had clearly left him. He stared, unmoving, with tear-stained cheeks and eyes as lifeless as his friends.
"Well, that was rather messier than expected, but I think we have our answer now, don't we, Severus?"
The man in the shimmering spell-work cage remained stone-faced and silent as the boy's clothing was transfigured into a simple leather loincloth, then a collar was added around his neck, complete with a chain attached.
"I've been thinking, Severus, about the prophecy. As I've clearly eliminated the threat, you will, no doubt, be happy to know that I have decided to keep your little protégé." The inhuman face twisted into a satisfied smile. "As a pet. I quite like Harry like this. Docile. Defeated. Broken. He'll have years to enjoy the knowledge that he led his little friends to their deaths. And you, Severus, will have a bit more time to enjoy the view."
Nagini, curled around the Dark Lord's throne, hissed a laugh as if she'd understood her master, while the Dark Lord reeled Potter in by the chain, and made him kneel at his feet.
"Now, as I've said, I will allow you to witness my victory, Severus—which is at hand, you can be sure, as the old fool is no doubt chasing his tail at this very moment, fruitlessly searching for his missing flock, while Lucius takes the Ministry—but I cannot let your transgression go unpunished. Crucio!"
Diabolical laughter followed Severus back to the room with the doors, where he was deposited once more on that cold, hard floor.
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
Angry now, Severus stood and marched to the single remaining door, finding it locked.
In frustration, he railed at whatever force was keeping him there, shouting at the ceiling for lack of a more appropriate target, "What do you want from me?" he demanded. "What more must I do to end this? Is it Potter? Fine then, I understand—Harry Potter was the key. Is that what you wish to hear? I do not even know if he managed to pull it off," Severus added quietly as he sagged against the wall, feeling defeated.
"He did indeed, Severus. Quite spectacularly."
"Albus?" Severus looked up, astonished to hear another voice in this place, to find the man standing before him. "So he sacrificed himself ... he's d—"
"Alive and well."
Shocked, Severus asked, "How on earth?"
"As I suspected, it was only the piece of Voldemort that perished."
Shaking his head, Severus responded, "You and your machinations. Why did you lead me to believe the boy would die?"
"I wasn't certain, of course. And Harry had to believe he would die, that he was giving up his life for those he loved, in order to protect them, as well."
"The Boy Who Lived. Twice." Severus couldn't and, quite honestly, wouldn't deny the overwhelming sense of relief he felt, though analyzing it was another thing entirely.
Apparently, he couldn't hide the relief either. He should have known the old bastard wouldn't let it go.
Albus smiled knowingly. "I've said it before, but your concern for Harry really is quite touching."
"My ... perceptions of the boy have been somewhat altered recently," Severus admitted, looking away.
"Wonderful! Good news indeed."
Becoming impatient, Severus asked, "Albus, what is this place? Am I being punished for anything in particular or just for my life in general?"
"This," Albus began, his gesture indicating the room at large, "is the Hall of Regrets. And you are not being punished for anything at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. You've been granted a gift, Severus, a look into what might have been, had you made different choices."
"To what end? It appears I was doomed to failure and misery from the start." He was absolutely not pouting, he decided.
With a kind, understanding smile, Albus responded, "Now, Severus, I know your path has not been an easy one. I'd hoped by showing you what might've been different, you'd understand how absolutely crucial your role was to the successful outcome."
At Severus's sour look of skepticism, the old man elaborated, "Yes, ultimately, it was down to Harry to do the right thing, but you, Severus, and the hard choices that you made, put everything in place for him. Sharing the prophecy with Voldemort, begging him to spare Lily's life, the many times you intervened on Harry's behalf, not to mention the role you played as a spy—it couldn't have been done without you."
"I am no hero," Severus scoffed.
"No," Albus agreed. "No hero, but vital, nonetheless." He paused before adding, "I know your life was not what you had hoped. Regret and disappointment are difficult bedfellows, I think. And I don't expect that knowing how important you were to our success will ease your conscience. But you should know, you are not alone," Albus hesitated, "I have a regret or two of my own, in fact. Are you familiar with the Peverell brothers?"
"This is hardly the time to discuss fairy tales." As the words left his mouth, Severus's mind flashed on his final moments and the Dark Lord's obsession with the wand ...
Severus was incredulous and struck speechless for a moment.
"You bastard," he accused. "You set me up to die. When I reached the Astronomy Tower, you'd already lost your wand. You intentionally allowed Draco Malfoy to disarm you, then begged me to kill you, knowing the Dark Lord would assume that I was the wand's master."
It was outrageous, but shouldn't have been surprising, considering how ready the man had been to send Potter off to slaughter.
Albus nodded. "In a sense, though I had hoped Voldemort wouldn't go to that extreme. But however regrettable, it was entirely necessary."
"Oh, well I feel so much better, then," Severus said snidely.
Smiling, Albus offered, "Perhaps there is something more I can do to make it up to you."
With a wave of his hand, the remaining door opened partway.
"You have still another choice to make."
"A choice of what?"
"You are to be granted a gift—the option to move forward, or to return to your earthly life."
Clearly sensing the objection forming on Severus's tongue (choose to return to that dreary existence? Utter madness.), Albus raised a hand before he could speak.
"Hear me out, Severus. The magic of this room allows you to see not only what might have been, but also what might yet be. I urge you to make an informed decision. See what your life could become, before declining the opportunity."
Past experience had alarm bells ringing in his head, but Severus's curiosity got the better of him. "All right, Albus, have it your way. But so help me, if it is another horror story, I will not be held accountable for my actions."
"Agreed." Albus smiled, the first twinkling smile since he'd arrived, which had Severus wondering if he'd been hornswoggled yet again.
Warily, he walked through the doorway.
And fell into blackness.
When he woke, he was in a bed. A comfortable one. And unlike the other scenes he'd witnessed, Severus felt fairly certain he was fully involved this time. He could feel the bed linens on his ...
Good heavens, his very bare skin.
He sat up, taking the top sheet with him, and looked around the unfamiliar room.
The bed he occupied was clearly meant for two, and the other side of it appeared to have been vacated quite recently.
A nearly irresistible scent of bacon frying wafted toward him, prompting Severus to rise from the bed and search out some clothing. With any luck, it was his bed-partner who was cooking.
There were two wardrobes in the room, flanking a door that Severus dearly hoped was an en suite.
The right side wardrobe held robes and Muggle clothing, mingling haphazardly.
All appearing to belong to a wizard, not a witch.
Interesting, though not entirely unexpected.
Severus knew, without doubt, that the denims and t-shirts crammed in alongside a variety of colored-robes (including, he noted, crimson Auror's robes) could not possibly belong to him. And although there was nothing in sight to identify the wizard to whom they belonged, Severus experienced a tingle of unease.
The left side wardrobe held what were clearly his own everyday robes—some familiar, some new to him but very much what he would choose for himself—as well as three sets of dress robes. Beautiful dress robes. He let his fingers run over the velvet in dark green and black, tracing along the fine stitching and the shiny black buttons. They were exquisite, and even one set would have been beyond his means in his old life, let alone three.
After taking a moment or two for his morning ablutions, Severus slipped into a more practical but just as finely tailored set of black robes and followed his nose to the source of the bacon.
The cook was whistling slightly off tune as Severus stepped into the large but homey kitchen. And although his gut had been trying its damndest to tell Severus to expect this, he felt the air leave his lungs in a mad rush when he realized the whistler was none other than Harry Potter.
Somewhat in shock, Severus wanted nothing more than to flee the scene, and probably would have if only he hadn't been frozen to the spot.
Potter chose that moment to turn, spatula in hand, startling comically to find Severus standing there.
"Christ, Severus, you're like a cat—make a noise or something." Though he pressed a hand to his chest dramatically, Potter smiled. The sort of slow, intimate, affectionate smile that Severus had only ever witnessed directed at others. "Good morning, sleepy. Fry-up's almost ready."
Moving to the table already laid out for a meal, Severus chose a chair and took a seat. It must've been the correct one, because Potter didn't as much as blink when he carried the food to the table.
When he placed Severus's portion in front of him, however, he leaned in closer than Severus was comfortable with, and though Severus had never been on the receiving end of such an action, he knew what Potter intended. Before he could stop himself, he blurted, "What are you doing?"
Potter pulled back. "Oh, it's one of those mornings, is it?"
Still smiling affectionately, Potter took his seat and began shoveling his breakfast into his mouth, saying in between swallows, "Listen, I know you hate it when I go on these missions, but this one should be a piece of cake. No more than a week, I promise. Hermione's pissed too, though she's seven months along and will have to deal with Rose on her own. Or worse, she'll have to deal with Molly, while dealing with Rose while being hugely pregnant."
Severus merely grunted in response and picked at the food on his plate.
The rest of the meal passed similarly, with Potter making idle conversation and Severus grunting or hmmm-ing in response, which seemed to be perfectly natural to Potter. Though the food was surprisingly palatable, and Severus's picking became hearty consumption.
Looking at his watch, Potter said, "I've got to run—I'm supposed to meet Ron in ten minutes. Can you handle the washing up?"
Severus cocked an eyebrow at the question, then asked one of his own, "And what, pray tell, would happen, exactly, if I were to say no?"
Potter just smiled indulgently, then stood, walking around the table to stand next to Severus's chair. Leaning down, he breathed in Severus's ear. "I know you're going to miss me, even if you won't say it." Severus's earlobe was nibbled on, sending an unexpected tingling sensation coursing through him. "I love you, and I'll be home as soon as I can."
So stunned by the whispered sentiment, Severus was incapable of objecting when Potter kissed him on the cheek. And surely still in shock, he found himself saying, "Be careful."
Potter beamed at him and squeezed his arm before Disapparating, leaving a warm hand-shaped imprint on Severus's skin, even through his robes.
Severus sat, mystified by this life, for several moments. Then a strange sort of déjà vu came over him. Perhaps déjà vu wasn't precisely right. It was akin to ... an echo ... yes, an echo of a memory. A memory not yet his own, somewhat insubstantial but real, nonetheless.
In this very room, Potter had said playfully, "C'mon, you know you'll miss me."
"On the contrary, I shall revel in the peace and quiet, without you underfoot at every turn. Pestering me relentlessly."
"In that case, you won't need what I've left for you in the library."
"Be gone, brat. You'd better come back in one piece," Severus added.
Although he hadn't actually experienced it, Severus knew without doubt that a tradition had been born that day, the first time Potter had gone on a mission for any length of time, and he knew if he could find the library, there would be something waiting there for him now.
He didn't rush to it though. Instead, he pulled out his wand and set the kitchen to washing up, then decided to explore the house.
The reconnoitering garnered him the knowledge that he seemed to live a good life. The house itself was large but not obnoxiously so, comfortably furnished, situated on a plot of land with no neighbor in sight. The gardens were lush and thoughtfully maintained, and Severus had a feeling that he himself was the careful gardener. There were several bedrooms in the house, but only one was obviously in use with any regularity. Everything he discovered screamed 'comfortable' and 'contented'.
Photographs were scattered all over—on walls and tables and mantels and shelves—capturing Potter's friends and family along with many familiar but unfamiliar children. One photo in particular caught his eye: a child with blue hair, waving happily at him, standing with a woman who looked eerily like Bellatrix Lestrange, only softer and not insane. Though she was smiling at him as well, there was a sadness in her eyes.
It came to him that it was Andromeda Tonks and the boy was Teddy Lupin. The glaring lack of photos of the blue-haired boy's parents did not go unnoticed, and Severus felt a moment of unexpected sadness to realize Lupin clearly hadn't made it.
During his exploration, he'd discovered a conservatory and decided to take tea there later that day. The greenery in the large glassed-in room was thriving in stone boxes, hanging baskets and urns of all sizes, and the moderately sized water feature provided a soothing background noise.
Severus sat there for some time before finally admitting to himself that he was purposely, if unconsciously, avoiding the library, the door to which he'd discovered an hour and a half ago.
Rising, he left the tea service on the wrought iron and marble table, and made his way to the library.
It was yet another comfortable room: masculine in décor, with heavy furniture, abundant wood trim and built-in shelving. The books filling the shelves to overflowing were mostly his own. Both Muggle and wizard titles were crammed together in a riot of volumes that might have appeared a jumbled mess to anyone else's eyes.
He ran a finger over the spines of a few books, experiencing again the sensation that this was all so very familiar and yet entirely unfamiliar.
When he noticed Albus's Pensieve glowing softly in the corner, he knew that this contained what Potter had left for him.
"Just a little something to remember me by ... I've even included some arguments, so you won't be lonely," the note had said that first time, Severus knew, thanks to the 'memory echo'.
This time, there was no note, but Severus knew what he was meant to do, and he contemplated the shimmering memories for a moment or two, before curiosity got the better of him.
He plunged his face into the mix.
"Oh, god yeah. Fuck, fuck, fuck! That's it. Right there!" Potter shouted.
Severus backed out immediately, and for good measure, escaped the room and then the house altogether, catching his breath in the garden on a bench he'd happened upon while stalking through.
Good god, that was ... that was ...
No, he thought reasonably, they were clearly consenting and not, in reality, putting on a show for anyone else, but for pity's sake, that had been ... rather shocking.
And he'd had no idea he was so flexible. Severus rubbed his lower back in sympathy, then decided to ignore the library entirely.
This strategy was aided by the discovery of an enormous and excellently equipped potions lab in one of the outbuildings.
He spent a restless night in that big, comfortable bed, then abandoned it before dawn. Throwing on his robes, he headed for the kitchen, where he prepared tea and a light breakfast, unerringly locating everything he needed and moving round the room as if he'd navigated it a thousand times before.
The plan was to spend the day in his potions lab, far away from the library, so he headed out there at first light.
At first glance (and even at second glance), he seemed to have a successful business. He found contracts not only for supplying Hogwarts with all of its potion needs, but St. Mungo's, too, augmenting what appeared to be a side-line of preparing custom potions for individuals, as well.
Pulling open the last drawer, Severus wondered what other surprises he was in for. It was nearly empty, however, containing only a rectangular, velvet-covered box. Lifting it out, he was assailed by another 'memory echo'.
"I do not want it."
"Listen, I understand," Potter said, standing in his lounge at Spinner's End. "I really do. It kind of loses its shine when you know how easily something like this can be bought. But it does mean something to a lot of people, and I really think you ought to be recognized for your contributions."
When the speech was met with stony silence, Potter added, "You don't have to attend the dinner, and you can shove it into a drawer and never think about it, but let them give it to you, Snape. You deserve for people to know the truth."
Obviously, Severus had relented, and he knew that Potter had taken that tiny victory as some sort of sign that Severus wished to have his continued company.
This was entirely too much thinking about Potter, he decided suddenly.
A spot of lunch was in order.
The trouble with lunch was that the food was kept in the house.
Where the library was.
He didn't have to go through or even near the library to get to the larder, but that wasn't the point.
He'd been right to worry.
As he made his way through the kitchen, then out the door and down the wide corridor to the library, he made excuses for himself.
Firstly, it was only right that he should be curious; he didn't know this side of himself, after all.
Secondly, he'd not leave this place without learning whatever it was he was supposed to learn. (Though, the thought of never leaving this place no longer seemed absurd or odious in any way, which was troubling all on its own.)
He was certain there was a 'thirdly', but he'd reached the library and was standing in front of the rune-covered basin once more, plunging his face into its contents.
The memory he fell into this time was clearly after another ... athletic session. The two of them were in the bed upstairs, Potter tucked up against Severus, who was chuckling.
Severus was fascinated to see himself this way: relaxed, content, sharing a tender moment with another human being. And not just any human being, but the boy hero himself. It was as astounding as it was perplexing.
This pattern continued for several days. Severus would rise, go to the potions lab, brew according to the schedule he'd found in his own handwriting, and manage to convince himself for a short time that he wanted no part of the Pensieve or its contents.
Only to find an excuse to return to the house, and then he would fall into the memories, until he was spending full hours immersed in them, rolling from one scene to the next at random.
By the end of the week, Severus was so wound up, he was ready to burst. Confusion was replaced by desire as his ruling emotion. He didn't understand what on earth in his past had allowed him to arrive at this place in his life, but he wanted it.
By the eighth evening, Severus was like a caged animal. He'd lit a fire in the library fireplace and, in an effort to ease some of the tension that was plaguing him, was deep into his second scotch.
So all things considered, it was only natural that when Potter finally made his return, Apparating directly into the room with him, Severus was out of his chair and across the room before Potter could utter a greeting, kissing him firmly on the lips.
Potter responded in kind, then pulled away with a smile. "Missed me, did you?"
"More than you will ever know."
Their lips met once more, then parted to deepen the kiss. Severus barely noticed that Potter had neatly maneuvered him backwards toward the sofa.
"Good—I missed you too. And the debriefing took forever," Potter said, while pulling off his shirt and undoing some of Severus's many buttons. He pushed Severus onto the sofa, then straddled his lap, rubbing his hard length against Severus's through the layers of clothing that still separated them.
It was by far the most exquisite sensation that Severus had ever experienced. Clearly, his body knew what it was doing, had done this before, but Severus himself had never known the pleasure of another person.
He'd convinced himself many years ago that sex was for the weak-minded and the hormone-driven, repressing his sexuality like some sort of monk on a mission—his own personal crusade of atonement.
Now ... now he knew what he'd actually been missing, and this was only a taste of what was to come, he was certain.
Potter threw off his glasses and smiled down at Severus before making short work of their clothing, banishing it Merlin knew where.
The skin on skin contact had Severus panting and nearly losing control. Potter kissed him again, roughly, then began working his way to Severus's ear, biting and nipping and licking all the way.
Severus pulled back and green eyes looked down into his own; the penetrating gaze took Severus's breath away.
"I can't wait long enough to do this by hand." Potter cast a spell silently, then rose up on his knees, spreading them just a touch further. "Help me line up, would you?"
Severus did as asked and Potter hummed his appreciation as Severus felt his cock head slip through the ring of muscle, into the smooth, welcoming heat of Potter's body, until he was fully seated.
"Missed you so fucking much, Severus. Missed this. Missed us."
He could do little more than grunt in response, but Severus took hold of Potter's hips to steady him, then began to meet him halfway on Potter's downward plunges.
"Yes!" Potter cried out in appreciation for the action.
In too short a time, Severus could no longer hold onto the edge he'd been riding; one more upward thrust finished him. He shouted his release with a sound that was part grunt, part growl, and all ecstasy.
After a brief moment of coming back to himself and sensing his partner might need some assistance, Severus brushed Potter's hand away and began stroking the man's hot flesh himself.
Potter cried out his own release, then sagged against Severus, breathing, "Missed you so so much," into Severus's ear, before falling into a light doze on his shoulder.
"The sentiment is entirely mutual," Severus said, though Potter didn't hear him.
Risking a bit of splinching, Severus Apparated them to the bed, and with Potter's groggy assistance, he managed to get them both under the covers.
Potter sighed and said as he drifted off once more, "S'good to be home."
"It is indeed," Severus responded, realizing as he felt himself begin to fall into the abyss of sleep, that that's precisely what he'd found.
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
Severus opened his eyes to find that he was once again in the Hall of Regrets.
"No!" he shouted forlornly, rising from the floor. "Send me back! I wish to go back!"
"Well done, Severus, well done." Albus smiled a knowing smile. "Excellent choice, I think. One you will most certainly not regret."
-:- -:- -:- -:- -:-
Severus heard the voices first. Poppy Pomfrey and Granger were conversing softly and Severus wondered if he were in the infirmary.
Then the pain returned, so intensely he moaned.
"He's coming round!" Potter shouted frantically to the room. "Snape? Can you hear me? Stay with us!"
"It seems you managed to staunch the flow of blood just in time, Severus," the medi-witch said with a smile, while she tended to his wounds.
He dutifully swallowed the potions she forced upon him—the pain eased tremendously, and warmth reached his extremities in a heated wave.
"We'll have to move him to a more sterile environment before I can heal this fully."
Severus felt the boy's warm hand latch onto his own, and another sort of warmth flooded his being.
Hope. Peace. Perhaps a touch of joy, as well as a fair amount of anticipation ...
Opening his eyes, he found Potter staring down at him, concern mixed oddly with the growing smile on Potter's lips. Severus gave Potter's hand a squeeze and nodded, despite the remaining pain in his neck, meeting the green eyes and very nearly smiling in return with the knowledge of what lay ahead for them.