Author Notes: Thank you to aigooism for the beta!
there is another sky
The first time Severus opens his eyes, he sees himself standing a few metres away. He's got his arms wrapped around another man, and at first, Severus doesn't realise who it is. Then the man moves his head, just a fraction, and Severus's eyes widen. He opens his mouth to yell at that impertinent brat Potter. How could he be standing there with his arms wrapped around Potter of all people?
But nothing comes out. Nothing at all.
His other self murmurs something to Potter who laughs. It's a low, rich chuckle. Severus watches helplessly as they leave together. With everything created, something needs to be destroyed. Severus supposes it was always too much to hope that he could get a happy ending. His throat closes up with the words that threaten to spill out.
The door closes; neither of them even spare a glance at the painting on the wall.
The next time Severus opens his eyes, he's almost glad to see Potter's face looming up in front of him. Potter's eyes are bright green and his forehead is shockingly clear. Without the scar, Potter almost looks like a different person. There's a burden lifted off those young shoulders, and the clear eyes belie the wrinkles around his eyes. He's too young for those, Severus thinks automatically. He opens his mouth to make a snide remark, but his throat is as dry as parchment.
"You look so much like him," Potter murmurs and then lifts a finger to trace the line of Severus's face. Severus shivers at the touch.
Severus wants to step away, wants to shout at Potter for being sentimental, wants to widen his eyes, wants to do anything, but he can't. The words bubble up behind his lips and simmer there, while Severus feels the world shatter around him.
Muggle paintings don't move.
Of course, Muggle paintings aren't sentient either. Severus almost wishes that he wasn't either. It would have been easier if he was just a Muggle painting. Instead, he suspects that he's something different. Something unexpected.
Irrationally, Severus seethes at the laws of the universe and what idiot Muggle decided that they would paint him on magical canvas.
Potter's staring at him again. Severus finds it almost unnerving the way Potter's eyes trace around his face. It's almost as though Potter knows he's in here.
Fix this! Severus orders silently. There's a thousand things that can go wrong with a painting, but there are a thousand remedies as well. There's nothing worse he can think of than to spend an eternity in silence. Except, perhaps, spending an eternity hanging on Potter's wall in silence.
"Do you think somewhere... a bit of you is in there?" Potter asks quietly.
His other self steps around Potter and surveys the painting. "If you wanted a magical painting, you should have ordered one," he said pointedly. "This thing is just paint and canvas."
Severus wants to scream. He wants to slam his fists up against the inside of the canvas and rip himself out into the real world. It just isn't fair that he's stuck in here watching himself live out a proper life when all he has is a pale imitation.
"I know," Potter says. "But sometimes, I don't know. There's just something special about the painting." He looks thoughtful. "I can't put my finger on it, but I know it's special."
"It was painted by some Muggle friend of Granger's. A remarkable likeness, I agree, but just a painting."
They move away, out of his view of the room. Severus wants to call out to them, to get them back, but the words are stuck in the back of his throat. It's as though the words themselves are struggling to get out, but there's nothing he can do, because he's just paint and canvas. He's not real.
Severus tries not to pay attention to Potter. He would have succeeded if the Muggle friend of Granger's had been any good at landscapes. When Severus tries to look around, all he sees is a small, rather cramped looking sofa and a footstool. The worst part is that he can't even go and sit down to rest his legs. Severus wishes that the person had painted the seaside or even some food, but then he suspects that would have been more of a torment. He can't move, not even within his own frame.
The only thing Severus can do is watch Potter. Fortunately, he's used to it. He's been watching Potter for so many years that it would have been odd if he had stopped. He finds it almost amusing that even now, even as a painting, he's watching Potter.
Every morning, Potter stumbles out of bed and into the bathroom. All traces of exhaustion are wiped from his face when he emerges – Severus suspects a glamour – and Potter always makes himself a milkshake before heading off to work. Severus has no idea what Potter does for a living, but he suspects that the Wonder Boy made it into the Auror Academy after all. There's no other explanation for the haunted look in Potter's eyes every night. At least, there's no other explanation that Severus wants to think about.
When Severus isn't watching Potter, he's thinking.
Severus can't figure out why Potter is with his other self, his real self. From everything Severus sees, there's only one unmistakeable conclusion - that they're in love. But from everything that Severus knows about the world, that's impossible.
People like Harry Potter just don't fall in love with people like Severus Snape. It's against the laws of the universe, against all reason, but yet, when he sees Potter grin cheekily up at him, he knows that it's true. His other self just rolls his eyes when Potter stands up on his toes to kiss him. Inevitably, it ends up with them naked on the sofa.
Severus is careful not to watch. Not much, anyway.
One Christmas, Potter gets a stupid looking vase. It's in the shape of a duck with its beak open. Sometimes, Potter sticks flowers in the open beak. It takes Severus several days to realise that it was a gift and not just Potter's completely atrocious taste in decorating.
"Of course, I love it, Luna," Potter says earnestly into the fireplace. He runs his fingers through his tousled hair and smiles. "It's wonderful."
"It's a special duck." Luna's voice drifts over to him. "It'll protect against Nargles."
Potter coughs. "Thanks."
Severus's amused to notice that Potter's abilities at lying seem to have improved over the years. He can't help but feel a little sorry for the flowers though. They seem to be wilting at the mere notion of being in the beak of a chirpy-looking green-eyed duck wearing suspenders. Severus has to admit that there are no Nargles in sight though.
His other self takes one look at the vase and ignores it.
Severus is almost disappointed. He knows he would have done better.
It takes two years, but Potter finally throws away that duck vase.
Severus is ridiculously glad and celebrates by not watching Potter for as long as he can. He makes it four days.
Severus almost doesn't notice when Potter moves. The room doesn't look all that different from the other room. More importantly, it's got the same inhabitants: Potter and his other self. They've obviously moved in together. Potter's belongings are bunched up in a corner, while Severus recognises his own sense of decorating on the room. The curtains are a dark green that remind him of the Slytherin common room.
"C'mon," Potter urges with a wink.
Severus closes his eyes as he watches Potter drag his other self out of the room. They look so happy that Severus can't bring himself to watch any more. He should be out there, living life, brewing potions, even shagging Potter. Severus swallows the jealousy that threatens to well out of him. It isn't fair that even when Severus Snape finally manages to get happiness, it isn't the right Severus.
When Potter gets a promotion at work, Severus celebrates silently with him.
When Potter's crying over the death of a co-worker, Severus's heart goes out to him.
When Potter grins at the birthday cake and the yet another ridiculous vase from Luna – that mysteriously disappears five days later – Severus finds himself wanting to smile as well.
When Potter's laughing, Severus finds himself laughing with him. When Potter's angry, Severus finds himself wanting to take his side. He finds himself hating how he can't touch Potter, how he can't comfort him, how he can't drink the beer on the coffee table, how he can't feel Potter's hand on his back when they're curled up together.
Severus stares at his other self and wonders if he knows how lucky he is.
During the empty hours in the day, Severus stares off into the distance. Sometimes, he finds himself losing days or weeks at a time until he finally tunes back into the life and adventures of Harry Potter. It feels as though the world is happening at double or triple speed around him. He finally understands the confusion of some of the paintings at Hogwarts. To them, all students would have looked alike, all the years would have blended into one, every first year would have seemed like every other first year.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Severus watches as over the years, Potter's belongings slowly make their way across the room, until it looks just like the room that Severus first opened his eyes in. Severus sometimes thinks that it's only been a few months until he sees the calendar. It's always a shock to him when he realises that the Dark Lord has been dead for over two decades.
Sometimes, it gets too much for Severus. There's only so much of it that he can take before the edges of the painting seem to be squeezing in on him, crushing him under the weight of reality. The two dimensional world of the painting's easier to handle. It's not going to change. There's always going to be a sofa with a green ivy pattern and there's always going to be a timber footstool. He's always going to be paint stretched out on a magical canvas, painted by an idiot Muggle. He's always going to be stuck here on a wall, watching Potter from inside a metal frame.
At times, Severus watches the footstool and wills it to wobble. He's a wizard. He has powers of the mind that Muggles could only dream about. Surely if he stared for long enough, he could make it tip over and smash into splinters. He can almost visualise it happening, and on good days, Severus believes that if he hopes enough, it truly will happen.
Sometimes, he wonders what would happen if it did wobble. Would Potter come running? Would those green eyes widen with sudden realisation? Would then there be a flurry of action, a blinding spell cast and then blessed freedom? Severus knows that he's not getting out of the painting; it's his home, his prison. But is a little freedom too much to ask?
All he wants is to be able to move, to talk to Potter, to interact with another human being. He wants his voice back. Instead, all he can do is watch the world pass him by.
When Severus next looks out of the painting, he realises that Potter looks almost hollow. Severus doesn't think that he's seen the boy like that since Hogwarts. But, of course, Potter's not a boy any longer. In fact, as Severus studies him closely, he realises something. Potter's older than he is – older than he was when the painting was made, anyway. Potter looks like he's in his mid-sixties, but it's hard to tell. There's always been a haunted look in his eyes.
"I miss you, Severus," Potter whispers as he sits down. He cradles his head in his hands. His shoulders shake and his hands tremble.
Severus wants to reach out to him, but there's nothing he can do. He's trapped here in the painting, forever destined to be an observer. What happened?? Severus asks silently, but Potter doesn't respond. He's never responded.
A chill settles around Severus and he knows.
Severus realises that he's almost grown used to Potter and his other self. With Potter there alone, it's just not the same. Potter spends too much of his time staring off into emptiness, with the occasional glance over at Severus. It's with surprise that Severus realises that he wants to reach out to Potter, to comfort him, to tell him that he isn't alone. But he can't.
Potter's friends come over with sympathetic looks and boxes of chocolates. Potter greets them all graciously, but doesn't let any of them stay long. It's obvious that he wants to be alone. Potter's friends look worried.
Severus wants to reassure them. Potter isn't alone. He's always been here for Potter. He's always going to be here for Potter, watching over him, keeping him safe. They don't need to be here. They'll all leave Potter eventually, they'll move or die or just disappear, but Severus will always be here.
It's been such a slow progression that it's with shock when Severus realises one day that that Potter's old. Not just the kind of old that kids think of when they see adults in the prime of their life, but the kind of old that Albus was. Deep down, Severus thinks that Potter might just have got some of the wisdom Albus had as well. Potter's hair is almost all white and he looks almost comical in the way he hobbles around the living room.
It's all wrong.
It isn't supposed to be like this, Severus thinks. In his mind, Potter's still that insolent brat who answered back to him in Potions, still the teenager who defeated Voldemort with a defiant gleam in his eye, still the young man... Severus shakes his head. Potter isn't the person on the sofa in front of him. Potter isn't that old.
It just isn't right.
Severus can't bring himself to watch Potter much after that.
Severus wonders if he's also getting old. He can't move but his skin feels more crinkly nowadays and it seems as though he's losing blocks of time. It's with sudden clarity that Severus realises that everything succumbs to entropy and that paintings fade.
One day, Severus looks out of his frame to see an empty room. It hasn't been all that long by his calculations, but when he looks around, there's a thick layer of dust on everything. The entire room looks unused; it looks like it's always been that way, even though Severus remembers nights where Potter would curl up next to his other self and everything would be peaceful.
There's nothing left, but a sad room with a dusty settee that was obviously left behind when everything else was moved out. With a twist of his heart, Severus realises that he almost misses that ridiculous duck vase.
Time, people, everything moves on. Everything except Severus himself.
He's left alone with the sun and the dust and the elements, until he too will fade away into obscurity.