Embrace: Chapter 7

Parallel World

I am sorry to those of you who may have been close to giving up on me! It has been an extremely busy semester what with writing my thesis, etc. This story has not been abandoned, however!

Here we may see gears beginning to turn in Harry-Lily-Sev's relationship. Let me know what you think!

a/n: I'm not sure when Draco's birthday is, but I'm just putting it in the summer about a month or so before Harry's...

Thanks for all your lovely support. Hope you enjoy it.

o O o O o

Over the next week, Severus became truly cognizant of the effects of the magical exhaustion Albus had warned him about. Not only did he find himself sleeping until 9:30 or 10 each morning-something unheard of for him and which left him as the last to rise of the three currently residing at Spinner's End-but he also found himself unable to concentrate sufficiently until mid-afternoon.

This, of course, put a major dent in his plans to follow through with his usual summer routine of working on delicate potions research, undisturbed, until lunchtime. After his third Longbottom-worthy mistake, however, he found himself reluctantly moving upstairs in search of Potions quarterlies. He was interested, after all, to see what other differences this world might hold in the realm of Potions research.

But much to his chagrin he found himself so distractible while reading that he worried whether the trip across dimensions hadn't tarnished his intelligence irreversibly.

Perhaps it was no great surprise, then, that he found himself relenting to the subtle hints the boy continued to throw at him to join him for his morning practice sessions. Four days after their first conversation in the music room, Severus found himself entering the high-windowed room (as indifferently as possible) and settling down (with the same Potions journal he had yet to make much progress reading) on a window-seat, listening in silence while pretending to be deeply involved in potions research.

Harry seemed to be more perceptive than he would ever have given him credit for, as the boy, after acknowledging his presence with a short nod, would make no further move to involve him forcibly. While Severus attributed this more to the brat's looking out for his own skin and perhaps sensing that any chattiness on his part would not be taken to warmly, he had to admit the boy's quiet companionship come mornings was not entirely unpleasant.

Lily had clearly been made aware of his new morning routine, though she made no overt mentions of it. He could see, though, in the small sly smiles she graced him with that she knew something was going on. Had it been anyone but Lily, such an expression would have put a sudden and complete stop to his show of interest in music whatsoever. As it was, though, Severus found himself willing to do almost anything to bring that little familiar smile to her face.

And besides, he was simply using the music as a way to relax him as he read his journals! It had nothing to do with the brat.

Regardless, each morning around 10 he would drift down the stairs towards the warmly lit room with a cup of tea left for him on the bedside table by Lily. By that time, she would already have long-since settled herself into the cozy alcove she had fashioned into her private study to work on research (as she had a publication deadline coming up with Charmed Findings Today). Not desiring to interrupt her, and not willing to stew about how useless he felt being unable to complete a basic potion until mid-afternoon, Severus would pass by the closed door and into the music room to observe Harry as he played.

Despite his misgivings, after a few days of following this routine with negligible commentary from any parties involved, he found himself consenting to take Harry's place on the piano bench when offered. He then proceeded to try mimicking the boy to the best of his ability. The first time, he hadn't realized Harry was still in the room with him until a score was deposited unceremoniously on the piano before him.

Severus scowled at his presumption, but Harry shrugged. "You're doing really well by ear, but it's just faster this way. And I know you like being precise."

Severus rolled his eyes but began again, this time eying the score.

By the fourth impromptu lesson-not that Snape thought of them as such-he would occasionally allow the boy to gently correct his hand placement before he snapped at him.

Several lessons later, Harry got up the courage to suggest he try something slightly shorter.

"What?" Severus growled.

Harry put up his hands. "I promise you, Severus, these are very difficult and very real pieces of music. It's just, it might help you get a better grasp of the range of music you can play to start with some etudes."

At Severus' sharp glare, Harry rolled his eyes.

"Etude doesn't mean easy."

"I know the meaning of etude, brat!"

Taking a deep breath and asking Merlin for patience, Harry smiled tightly. "Even if you do, I don't know if you believe me." When the only answer forthcoming was a withering glare, Harry sighed and said "Okay, then. Fine." And then, to make a point, he picked up his book of Chopin Etudes and opened a page to the 12th Etude and handed it to the man. "Here, I'll prove it to you. Read that. I'll play it."

And with that, he slid onto the bench beside Severus and began to play the very technically difficult etude by heart. Once finished, he looked at Severus with an eyebrow raised. The man looked like he wanted to snarl something about arrogant showoffs, but instead slammed the score on the music stand and began to play it himself, getting increasingly frustrated when he made errors.

"Severus, that isn't what I meant," Harry said, somewhat exasperated.

"Then what, pray tell, do you mean?" He spat.

"I was just trying to prove to you that etudes are worth learning! Here. Start with this…"

Harry left the room wiping his brow and collapsed on the sofa next to Lily, who was taking a break in the living room.

Lily laughed. "You okay? I thought I heard a slight disagreement."

"He's exhausting," Harry complained. "I mean…he's too proud, not to mention too stubborn, to start with anything other than the greats, and even then, he only wants to play what he thinks is most difficult! It's like everything he knows about potions has gone out the window! He should know that a slow piece can actually be more difficult. It's more subtle, but that's what makes it so beautiful!"

Smiling, Lily kissed Harry's messy hair, laughing when he made a face. "Explain that to him, honey. As many times as it takes."

"Yeah, I know…"

Taking a deep breath, Harry said, "Alright, I'm going back in."

Opening the door to the music room again, he found Severus hunched over the Revolutionary Etude, scowling.

Harry failed to bite back a laugh, which earned him a serious glare. Unable to help himself, he quoted softly, "There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class. As such, I do not expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is Potion-making. However, for those select few...I can teach you to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses…" [from PS]

Severus froze and snarled "Get out. If you think you can get away with mocking me-"

"Not at all," Harry quickly assured him. At the man's dubious expression, Harry sighed but then offered him a conciliatory smile. "I just wanted to remind you of your own teachings," he said calmly, arms crossed. "What I just said is exactly what you told me when I began to play."

Severus sneered at Harry. "I believe you have the wrong subject, boy."

Harry shook his head. "No. It's relevant. Really. Look, you understand better than anyone else I know the power in subtlety. The beauty may be hidden, but in the end, it holds the most potential, right?"

Severus' wrath seemed to have retreated to just below the surface, and the man was now just eying Harry as if he were an interesting potions ingredient, so the dark-haired boy continued, "Let's try something a little more subtle, shall we? Now trust me, this is still an absolutely fantastic piece, and is no less difficult even if it is slower, but I think it'll get the point across-the Schubert Piano Sonata no. 16 in A. Oh…if we have time, we should train up to play a Schumann Trio with Draco! He's been whining about wanting to do it for a while, you know. That'd be a good birthday present for him. Don't you think, Da-uh…"

Harry's rambling cut off on a dime when he realized how far away his excitement had taken him.

Though disturbed by the boy's near-slip, Severus could not honestly fault the boy…after all, he found himself having trouble reconciling this reality with his own. How much more difficult would it be for this boy when he, Severus, was the only thing different-the only evidence of there being other realities-particularly when Harry was so clearly consumed by discussion of a topic he was passionate about.

Not wanting to draw attention to the boy's mistake as it would only draw attention to his uncomfortable predicament, Severus shoved the boy over lightly on the bench and settled the music comfortably before him. As he began to work through it, Severus grudgingly had to accept, once again, that the boy perhaps knew what he was talking about-regarding music, that is.

2 Weeks Later

"Mum, Da-," Harry trailed off awkwardly, determinedly avoiding eye contact with Severus, not altogether wishing to see the disgust likely to be in the man's face at his second slip in as many weeks.

"Yes, sweetheart?" Lily asked without missing a beat.

"I still have to get Draco his birthday present. Could we go to Diagon Alley, do you think?"

"That's right," Lily smiled. "His party's this weekend, isn't it? I'm still busy trying to make that deadline for Charmed Findings right now, but I'm sure I could spare an hour or so. How about tomorrow?"

"Am I to presume we are expected to participate in the Malfoys' latest extravagance?"

Lily looked at Severus in slight exasperation. "Severus, I know you don't enjoy the pomp they put into their parties and whatnot, but things have been much more relaxed since the Weasleys started attending. And besides, Draco is family. Surely you wouldn't want to disappoint him?"

Severus sighed. Great. Lay on the guilt trip. It was as if Lily had taken lessons from the Headmaster…

"Very well. I suppose a trip to Diagon Alley would not go amiss. If I am to attend, I don't believe I should go empty-handed."

Lily and Harry smiled at him and it only then occurred to him that he had practically volunteered to go shopping with the brat. Clearly, the magical exhaustion was having profound and far-reaching effects indeed.

Lily looked as if she were trying to restrain a full-blown grin, and nodded quickly (likely trying to catch him before he could retract his inane offer). "Oh Severus, would you? I really am so busy trying to make that deadline-it would really help me out if you could go with Harry instead."

Harry looked as if he were about to open his mouth to object to his having to be babysat-he was nearly 16, for Merlin sakes!-but the fact that this would be a chance to get Severus out of the house did not go unnoticed by him, and he wisely held his tongue.

Though he looked as if he had just swallowed a sour lemon, at the hopeful and grateful look in Lily's green eyes, he found himself nodding. He spent the rest of the meal in silence, half-listening to Harry and Lily chat about trivial affairs. Observing them, he thought about just how domestic the scene was he found himself in. Both mother and child looked completely relaxed as they shared a laugh over the newest Weasley antics…

Severus began to gather dishes. Despite the ease with which he could complete the task with the help of magic, at the moment he simply desired something to do with his hands-some activity to distract him as he watched the family he could never have.

As much as the boy rarely failed to truly irritate him (as surprising as that was), a part of himself resented how obviously and naturally the boy could make Lily happy. He clearly held a place in her heart that he, Severus, could never hope to attain.

Oddly enough, though, the level of bitterness and resentment he was so used to feeling when in close proximity to Harry Potter-a feeling he was becoming increasingly conscious of as being rooted in his feelings for James Potter-did not afflict him this time. Rather than the old sense of righteous anger, he could only feel a sense of resignation. He could not call up the sense that Potter was stealing something rightfully his. No. Looking at the two together, he could only see what was already right. Lily was more rightfully Potter's-Harry's-than his, just as she would always be his counterpart's rather than his. He had no place in their world, and he had no right to demand one.

"If you'll excuse me," he murmured before fleeing the kitchen for the sanctuary of his potions lab. He neglected to light the room, and simply collapsed against the wall once he reached the cold, stone floor. Sitting there in darkness, he allowed himself a moment of weakness and cowardice and self-pity.

Lily watched Severus leave with sad eyes. The man seemed to be on such shaky ground these days, and she felt so helpless to do anything. She knew his closed-off behavior was rooted in his understanding that their current situation was temporary, and that allowing himself to become attached was therefore dangerous. She understood this and yet, they had a year to spend together regardless. There had to be something they could do to make things less painful. Because she wasn't sure how much longer they could continue on this way.

She looked at Harry as he moved to the living room and settled down in a big, squishy armchair. At least he seemed to be dealing with things well. She shouldn't have been so surprised, though. Harry had a remarkable capacity to jump back after adversity…something which likely had aided his counterpart, if what she knew of his life was true.

A chill and a deep, hollow ache gripped her as she thought of the Harry in that other world. Severus hadn't told her much about him-and she hadn't pressed for more information-but as time had stretched these past weeks as they continued on in their tense, polite civility, she found her mind flitting almost constantly to the goings-on in the other world. Not only to her Sev-her husband whom she missed with her entire being-but to Harry.

She found herself increasingly concerned for his well-being and determined to know the full story. It wasn't that he hadn't been on her mind, sitting on her conscience, since the moment Severus had come to her world, but with all she had to worry about with her publication deadline and Severus (both of them), she had been so preoccupied (or so she had told herself) that she had pushed thoughts of the other Harry to the back of her mind. In truth, though, she felt incredibly guilty and somewhat sick with herself for avoiding the topic. Even if that boy were not her son in the way her Harry was, he was still the same boy, really. How could she not care for him? How could she not have demanded more information?

Severus had been very vague, mentioning (sneeringly) that he been christened "The boy-who-lived"for surviving the killing curse when his parents had not.

How horrible, to be famous for the event that left you parentless. In retrospect, Lily wished she'd pointed that out to Severus as he had regaled her with his story-but at the time, they had both been nearly delusional in the newness and surreality of the concept of his dimension travel and the bizarre and tragic nature of his story as a whole that it just simply hadn't occurred to her.

But so Harry had been parentless. Severus hadn't mentioned who he'd grown up with. He had only made passing references to the dangerous situations the boy had been involved in over his years at Hogwarts, most involving Voldemort in some capacity. He had mentioned Harry as being reckless. That was about it.

But she knew there was much more to the story. For one thing, if Harry had been so reckless and foolhardy, as Severus had suggested, the question was why? Her Harry had a mischievous streak, for sure, but he knew not to endanger his life. He understood what was at stake and how it would affect those around him were something to happen to him.

The fact that the other Harry had been involved in so many horrifically close-calls and survived made her think that someone, at least, was watching out for him. Her first instinct was Severus, and she was almost certain she was right. She couldn't imagine him sitting back and letting her son endanger himself, regardless of their relationship.

But who had allowed Harry to grow up to risk himself so easily? And why had Dumbledore allowed so much under his nose?

She had a bad feeling about it all.

Lily smiled as she looked up and saw that Harry had drifted off on his textbook. She shook him lightly. "Harry, love. I think it's time for bed," she said softly.

Blinking, he moved sluggishly before smiling sleepily up at her. "K, Mum. Night, then."


Just before he left the room, she ran to him and pulled him back into a tight embrace. He turned around and looked at her in curiosity and concern.

"Sorry, Harry. Just Mum being silly. Sleep well, now."

He nodded slightly, still eying her with suspicion, but must have realized he wouldn't get much out of her at the moment, and so he left up the stairs.

Sighing, Lily cleaned up a bit more but soon found her mind drifting, once again, to her worries about the other world. She needed to confront Severus soon. She was concerned, though. He seemed so delicate in a lot of ways (not that she would ever voice that opinion in front of him), but particularly with his constant exhaustion, she just wasn't sure how much he could take. Still, she knew this would weigh on her mind until she got some definite answers from Sev.

But when she got up to their room, he was already asleep.

Lily sighed as she looked at him. Even in sleep, he didn't look peaceful. He had had several nightmares since he'd come to this world, but he had quickly awakened and had been quite close-mouthed about them, so Lily hadn't pried, though she had offered him her Sev's own dreamless sleep from their stores most nights. She wished he would swallow his pride and take it each night without provocation, but his stubbornness, at least, was one thing that hadn't changed from the Sev she knew.

Well, peaceful sleep or not, she wasn't about to wake him to question him now. Hopefully he'd be ready to open up to her soon.

I know. Kind of short. But I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless! Next Parallel chapter should have more action-expect shopping, Malfoys and possibly nightmares and confrontations.

If there is anything you'd like to see in this story, let me know and I'll consider it.

Please review!