This story is the first in what will be a series of three. The second story (quite a lot longer than this one) and third story (somewhat shorter than the second one) will carry Severus and Harry through a much larger story arc, showing one possible route their lives might take if Severus is allowed to survive Nagini's attack.
Those stories, however, are for later. For now, this story is simply meant to right a few wrongs, and to suggest a new way to open a door to the future.
It is dedicated to S., who gave me a dose of encouragement that will last me the rest of my life. S., I hope you can keep the faith, and continue to believe in the very real magic of fanfic.
A Man Once More
by Cayce Morris
The love of a woman will keep a man warm,
while her respect will keep him strong.
If he is blessed with both,
he may overcome the most difficult of obstacles…even himself.
— Bartolmeu Edgar Dias, 19th century Brazilian poet,
freely translated from the prose poem "On Fire in the Darkness"
When he awakened, Severus Snape found himself lying on his back in a strange dark room with Lily Evans Potter leaning over him. Her eyes were as green and lovely as ever, and she was smiling at him. He was so startled that he jerked and flung out his arms as if to stop himself from falling, and choked out a sound that was almost her name.
She took his hands in hers, still smiling, and helped him to sit up. He stared at her, unable to believe that he was seeing her as if she were alive, healthy and whole and right in front of him. Though he was desperate to speak to her, he could not find any words fit for her ears. He could only look into her eyes and beg her, with his own, not to leave him again.
She lifted his hands and kissed his fingertips, her lips warm and soft. He tried to stretch out his fingers to touch her face, but she slipped away and stood up, and gently drew him to his feet next to her. They stood together with hands clasped until Severus could hold himself back no longer, and somehow she knew that, and went into his arms as if she'd always been there. He forgot about searching for words and held her close, his face buried in her hair and eyes shut tight, fingers trembling against her back.
It suddenly struck him that he must be dead. I should have let them kill me ages ago, he thought. He wrapped his arms around Lily more tightly, and tried to mold his body to hers.
After a few moments, she drew back just far enough to speak to him. "Severus," she whispered, and her voice was as he remembered it, young and sweet and full of life. "Severus," she repeated. "It's so good to see you."
"And…you," he said, his voice very soft, but he knew he sounded far too old, much older than the boy she would remember. "Lily," he said, breathing the name as though it was all he needed to sustain him. "Lily." It was the only word he ever wanted to feel on his lips again.
She lifted her eyes and looked around them, and he followed her gaze, and frowned in puzzlement. They were in a great untidy room made entirely, it seemed, of windows. "Where are we?" he asked.
"The crystal house," she said.
The words meant nothing to him. "What crystal house?"
"Where the boats are, of course."
"Yes. On the lake."
"On the…but I was…" He frowned harder. "How did I get here?"
"They moved you." She shrugged and gave a hint of a smile. "Someone decided it would be prettier this way, and that this is where you should die."
"Where I should…I am dead, then?"
"Well," she said slowly, "you're supposed to be. But I know a secret." The smile bloomed, and her expression grew playful.
"Tell me," he murmured, smiling back at her, not quite believing that she was teasing him as if the past twenty years had never happened, as if he hadn't just been killed by a great bloody…ah, yes, he thought, remembering, the snake.
But then she pressed her mouth against his ear in a whisper of a kiss, and he was suddenly overcome by a physical need for her. His aching, poisoned body came fully awake, and he tried to focus his attention again to hear what she was saying.
"The secret is this, Sev." She gave a little giggle, an unlikely, mischievous sound. "Everyone thinks you're going to die. But you're not." She looked up at him in delight. "Not now. Not in any of the ways that matter."
"Not in any…what does that mean?" he asked, looking at her in bewilderment. "Am I dead, or aren't I?"
"No, because you weren't supposed to die here. It's all wrong."
"Oh, yes. Your death was meant to happen a certain way, and they can't just go changing things, not important things like where you're to die, on a whim. Prophecies don't work like that. So in moving you here, they lost their power over you…do you see? And now you don't have to die, not really."
"Not really?" he asked, feeling lost. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, Severus, that you can leave the unpleasant parts of your life behind. All the sadness in your past, the part of you that was bound before…that will be gone."
"But…how?" She was making no sense at all, but she was still holding him, and that was all he really cared about.
"They've cut you free of it all, by changing your death. By allowing it to be changed, that is. Allowing a change like that, of something so important—it turns all the rules around. They've admitted that the prophecy isn't the last word. This is simply huge, Severus. It's as though they've given permission for your entire life to be rewritten."
"But what…rewritten, you say? My life?" He blinked and nearly choked at the bizarre, intrusive idea. "Who would…who could possibly want to do that?"
"Well, I would, for one. Now I can release you from your vow." She smiled at him, not quite innocently. "Then you can take control of your future, and make it into what you want."
She seemed perfectly sure and quite determined about what she was saying, but he was utterly perplexed. "I…I'm afraid I still don't understand," he said softly.
"You don't have to understand all of it just yet. For now just know that you're really free, for the first time in your life. You can leave all the sadness behind, right here, but the rest of you—the important parts of you—they get to go back."
"The…important parts?" She was leaning away from him, and it pained him to lose the touch of any part of her.
"Yes." She pulled him back tight against her, as if she knew. "Your body won't die. Your heart won't die." She kissed his cheek. "But you're free of your vow, free of the prophecy, free of…well, all of it."
She hugged him, and he clung to her. He wondered if perhaps he could stay here with her, in this strange place where he had found her again, and where at least some parts of him apparently still lived. He was desperate to understand, in order to know what she wanted him to do. "Lily," he asked, hating the tremulous hesitation in his voice, hoping she would not grow irritated with his confusion and questions, "what does the prophecy have to do with me, or my death? It never mentioned me, I'm quite sure."
"Oh, not that prophecy," she said, smiling indulgently at him, which he hoped meant that she was not yet irritated. "I mean the bigger prophecy, the really important one, the story that foretold all our lives. That's the one they changed. And that's the one you're free of, now."
"What prophecy are you speaking of?" he asked. "Whose prophecy foretold my life?"
Lily's face turned serious then. The look was very characteristic of her, and exactly as he remembered it, and she was every bit as devastatingly beautiful to him as she'd ever been. It took a great effort to pay attention to her words, when all he wanted to do was to fix his eyes on her and lose himself. But she was speaking low and urgently, and he listened as best he could.
"It was She Who Must Not Be Named," she said in a whisper. "It was Her story. I can see it all much better from this side of the Veil than you can, and I knew what was meant to happen. I watched your death, Severus, watched the snake attack you, and it was horrible." She shuddered in his arms. "I understood all along that you had to appear to die so that the Dark Lord would believe he was the owner of the Elder Wand. I knew, too, that She meant for you to truly die, but I couldn't let that happen. Not after all you did, not after I really understood."
She looked at him anxiously, and then squeezed him tighter than ever with her face pressed against his chest. He took a deep breath and clutched her, and told himself it didn't matter if he understood what she was talking about. What mattered was that now she was distressed and he had to comfort her, just as he would have gladly done a thousand times before, if she'd only let him.
He suddenly remembered, as if a fog had been lifted from his mind, all that he had not been able to forget for the past twenty years…that she must still blame him, surely, for everything, for her death and James', for all that had happened that he had neither intended nor anticipated. It struck him that he had, in the end, failed to keep alive a single one of the important people in his life. "Lily," he said carefully, trying not to break down as he carefully unwrapped all the old memories so as to atone for them. "I'm sorry. So sorry. For everything."
She looked up at him with surprise and instant understanding, but not anger. "You didn't know, love, and at the time you couldn't have changed what happened, even if you had."
"I…still. I would have done anything…to protect you." She had to understand; it was what he had built his life upon, that he would have done anything for her.
"I know you would have. And you did, don't you see? You did what no one else could do." She looked up into his eyes with a soft expression he knew he would never forget. "You did what James couldn't do. You took care of Harry for me." She smiled a brilliant smile, and he basked in it, and then he ached. She does not know, he thought, in misery, and I have to tell her.
"About Harry," he began. "I didn't know, but it was Dumbledore's plan all along, I never would have…Lily, he's going to die. I'm…I'm so sorry. I tried to protect him, I never wanted—"
And she was pulling him even closer, holding on tight to comfort him, as if his words were not reaching her heart or she did not comprehend them. "He's not going to die either. You kept him safe long enough, and gave him what he needed. He knows what to do now, and he'll be all right." She beamed at him. "The changes they made in the story were enough to set him free, too, free of the future She had planned for him. He has a chance now to find out for himself what he wants from life."
Severus stared at her in astonishment. "How do you know this?"
"I've seen him, Severus. I've spoken to him."
He supposed anything was possible, since she was, after all, speaking now. "You have?" he asked, fearing that he sounded like a fool to question her.
"Of course. I've always known I would, because the story said so. It's you I didn't think I'd be able to see again. Until now, that is." She smiled as if this should all be obvious.
"Until now…" He realized suddenly that of course she still looked twenty years old, while he looked far beyond the thirty-eight that they both should have been. "You're so beautiful, Lil," he said, because he had to tell her, "and still so young, and I miss you so much. I've grown old, missing you."
She laughed softly. "You're not old. You've just grown up into a man, a fine man." She leaned closer, so her nose brushed his neck. "A lovely man, Severus. A good man."
His face heated. "All I ever wanted was you."
"I know that, now," she said, very gently. "But when you go back, things will be different. Better. You'll see." She seemed very confident, and he didn't understand at all.
"I still want you. I'll always want you." He didn't want to go back.
"Perhaps." Her expression became serious. "But you won't be tied down by your vow anymore. You've done all you promised, and more. Now it's time for you to go live your life the way you want. Find some happiness. Find love. Be a whole man. You deserve that, Severus."
He could only look at her with longing, and wonder what she meant. All his happiness, such as it ever was, had died with her. There was nothing else.
It seemed then that she was hearing his thoughts, because next she did the one thing he most wanted but could not ask for. "Severus, my dear one," she whispered, "I owe you so much, for all you've done. That's why I've come here to see you, and I will try to help you again later, if I can, but right now…there is one more small thing I want to do, one thing I can give you. I always regretted not doing this, and now I've got the chance, I'm not going to let it slip away."
Then she kissed him, and he had just enough warning, as she moved closer and parted her lips and let her eyes drift shut, so that he was not stunned into immobility. He kept enough of his wits to meet her with his own lips open in welcome, and kissed her back with a deep-voiced moan, his mouth gently desperate, knowing this would be his only chance. Severus didn't think he'd ever been much good at kissing, but with her in his arms at last he let himself go, pouring out everything in his heart, and she let it go on and on, let him have all he wanted, this one precious time.
When finally their passionate, consummating kiss had ended, he stayed very near, and pressed his lips to her face in small, worshipful caresses between his words. "I would stay with you, if you'd only let me," he told her, almost pleading, in case she might yet relent and allow it. "I would die for you now, as I would have then."
"I know you would. But you don't need to. And you're not going to be lonely forever, Severus. Trust me?" she whispered. She stroked her fingers through his hair, just as he'd always dreamed of her doing.
"Yes," he whispered back, nodding solemnly and wondering what she meant, and what she knew that he did not. She would be leaving him soon, he could sense it. He tried to pull his last strength together inside, so as not to break down when she did. He did not want her to see him cry.
"Good." She kissed his cheek. "Harry's coming soon."
"He's coming to get you." She smiled. "He's rescuing you."
"Harry is rescuing me?"
"He's the only one who can. Let him. You can trust Harry, too, Severus, just as you would trust me, I promise. Will you?"
"I…I'll try. Yes. I will." He was gazing into her eyes, trying to keep her from leaving, when he was seized by an intense, ripping pain in his neck. He let go of her so he could press his hands against the wounds there, and hunched over with an agonized cry, suddenly unsure if he could keep his feet under him.
Blood began to flow through his fingers. He staggered, and Lily helped him to sit back down on the dirty wooden floor of the crystal house. Her arms went around him and he leaned against her. "What's…happening?" he asked her, between spasms of pain. "Don't leave me!"
"It's all right, Severus. Just rest. It's time for me to go, but Harry is on his way. It won't be long."
She hugged him tighter for a moment, and then she stood. He tried to reach out to hold onto her, but she slipped away from him. "Don't worry, love. This is how it's got to be, for now, but everything will be fine. I promise." She reached back for his hand and brought his fingertips to her lips one last time, and then she was gone, out of his grasp and walking away on graceful, silent feet.
"Lily!" he called after her.
"Trust Harry," she called back to him from across the strange glass room. "He understands now." She had crossed the room, as if by some undetectable magic, much too quickly.
"I will," he promised. "But—Lily…"
She turned back to face him with a smile.
"You know I love you," he said, his voice coming out in a hoarse whisper he feared she would never hear, now that she was so far away again.
But she whispered back, "I love you, too." Then, even more faintly, came, "I always have."
He looked around the room once more, and as he did the pain in his neck roared up, and he felt himself begin to dissolve into it. He wondered if this, now, was death, and everything before had been merely a dream. I could still die, he thought, not unhappy with the possibility, because even if it had all been a dream, it had reminded him that Lily was already there, beyond the Veil, and that perhaps…just perhaps…she might be waiting for closed his eyes and tried to see her again, and the crystal room disappeared entirely, though the pain did not.
He was trying to let go, wishing it all away, willing himself to go to her, when he heard a far-off voice. It was not Lily's voice, though it was young and strong as hers had been. "Professor?" it called. "Professor Snape?" He didn't open his eyes, distressed at the thought that whoever owned this voice was going to keep him from getting to her. Perhaps if he didn't look, they'd go away…but whoever it was kept coming, and calling to him, and soon Severus could hear quick running footsteps, much closer now. They raced right up to him, and then stopped short. "Snape! My God, she was right. But how the bloody hell did you get in here?"
The owner of the voice touched his arm with exquisite gentleness, as if afraid of hurting or angering him. All Severus felt, however, was amazement as he realized belatedly who it was. "It's all right, sir," the youthful voice continued, and then it said, very firmly, "Don't worry. I'll get you out of here."
It was Harry. He had come, just as Lily had said he would. Does that mean, Severus thought, feeling a nauseating blur of darkness and pain swirl around him, that it all actually happened? That she was really here with me, just a moment ago? He opened his eyes, hoping that in the boy he might see again just a little bit of Lily.
But it was only Harry who stared down at him, all singed and smudged and exhausted-looking, and bleeding heavily from one shoulder. It was only Harry Potter, The Boy Whose Mother Had Always Loved Severus, Too.
Severus took a long look at him, and then closed his eyes once more. The darkness swarmed in again and overwhelmed him, just as he could feel Harry's hands moving gently over his body, soothing him, supporting him, lifting him.
He gave up and relaxed into those hands as he fainted into oblivion, and let Harry Potter take him home.
Many thanks to betas Syrah and psi!