The characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Yeah, okay. Let me state first that I am new to this fandom and do not possess the proper encyclopediac knowledge thereof. This story stems from my muse being a perverse nonentity. I have had the invaluable assistance of two editors, but I probably slipped up more than once.
Speaking of, Cincoflex - as always - is my rock and enthusiastic supporter, and helped me straighten this thing out repeatedly, and put up with my going crazy(er) for most of January. Trialia generously Britpicked the manuscript with consummate attention to detail. Occasionally I ignored their excellent advice, so don't blame them.
Finally - last warning - with a fandom this enormous, I must assume that everything has been done already. The only excuse I have is that I haven't read it. Any unoriginality is completely accidental.
It was the first time in his life he had possessed no purpose, but Severus could not bring himself to worry about it yet. Waking in the guest bedroom the next morning felt like a dream, still, or heaven; there was still sorrow at the bottom of his soul, but it seemed almost absurd. He was there; Lily, her house, her world had not vanished while he was sleeping.
And when he found her in the kitchen, making tea and burning toast, her hair still a sleepy tangle, the impulse to cross the floor and take her into his arms was so strong that his resistance lasted only until she looked up and smiled at him. The joy in her face closed his throat, and her hug felt like water in the midst of thirst.
"Good morning," she said happily, and he smiled over her head.
"Yes. It is," he said, and she laughed.
The days were full of light, both the summer sun and Lily's own radiance. Severus was content to fit himself into her routine, reading and talking, watching her work in the cellar laboratory, taking over the cooking out of sheer self-preservation. He had known the Lily of his past very well; learning this present Lily was a task that absorbed almost all his attention.
And she learned him as well, far more patiently than she might have once; drawing stories from him with gentle questions, asking about teaching and experimenting and the little details that didn't hurt.
They moved slowly, carefully, taking their time. Each day was a gift, Severus felt, showering down on his undeserving head; but every smile Lily gave him was a sliver of confidence.
It was when they were shoulder to shoulder in the greenhouse, harvesting daisies, that she bumped his hip with hers in the midst of teasing him about his taste for black - an old, old jest between them. Looking down at her, there was only one thing for him to do.
Kissing Lily was thirty years of imagination swept aside in one warm, simple touch; it was the blessing of her response and the feel of her earth-gritted fingers curving around the back of his neck; it was unbearable sweetness.
And he could do it again.
"Lily, are you certain?" He couldn't believe it, not really, not so soon, but here they were in her bedroom and it was she who'd brought them there -
Her eyes gleamed up at him, that irresistible smile playing havoc with his heart and his control. "I wouldn't have kissed you like that if I weren't. Aren't you?"
"Yes, but - " Her hands on his chest were fogging his thoughts; it was hard to form words around his objection.
"You weren't so hesitant the last first time, love."
He couldn't even resent the memory he didn't have. Truth was the only option. "I - this is the first time."
She blinked, and then to his horror tears welled up in her eyes. "…Ohhh. Sev - "
He touched her cheeks, wiping the shining trails away frantically. "Don't, please - don't cry, I - " I've spoiled it all somehow -
She shook her head, and took his face in her own hands, her lips on his a caress that drugged him like a well-concocted potion. "It's all right, it's…shhh. It's all right. Better than. Come here." She drew him closer, and he glanced over her shoulder at the golden-glowing lamp.
"Not the light…please."
Her brow wrinkled, and he wanted to kiss that too. "Why not? I want to see you."
He took a deep breath, conscious of the scars that marred his body, the way his ribs stuck out, but most of all of the hideous brand of the Dark Mark on his arm. "I…there are…Lily, you are so lovely, but I am not."
She raised her brows impatiently. "I'm an ageing woman who's birthed a baby. Sev, I don't care."
"I do. You should never have to seemph - " His words were cut off by her kiss, and he couldn't help the way his lips parted beneath hers, the wholehearted response of his body.
She let him go. "Stop it. I want all of you, the dark parts as well as the bright ones - "
He closed his eyes, not daring to believe her. After all, his other self had died clean, innocent… "It's so ugly. It's evil."
"Not any more. Sev…do it."
"What?" He couldn't think what she meant, nor how to argue with her -
"You told me you were good at it. Do it."
She was looking at him with such utter, perfect trust that his throat tightened and ached. It was a matter of a whisper. "Legilimens."
It was more immediate than the Pensieve, alive in a way those memories never were; Lily, open to him without a hint of fear or holding back. He saw himself through her eyes, felt himself through her senses, and he was a too-thin scarred man who was her hungry heart's desire, so beautiful and desirable that no one else on Earth would do. The marks on his body were just part of him, part of the pain in him she longed to heal; even the stigma of the Dark Mark held no repulsion.
It was his eyes filling with tears now, her fingers blotting them away. "There, see?"
He was shuddering, still lost in the taste of her love for him. "Ah - Lily - "
"It can't hurt me, not now. It's just a scar now, love. And scars mean you've survived." She smiled, and he felt his last restraint eroding away, crumbling into nothing like rust.
He raised his hands, pressed her palms to his mouth so he could kiss them. "Lily…you are a miracle."
Her smile went wicked, and she tugged him towards the bed. "Of course I am. Now come here, and stop arguing."
Resistance was, quite clearly, useless. Not that he wanted to; the strange joy warming his blood wouldn't permit it. "Your servant, madam," he said, and obeyed.
The house wards had not reacted, but the footsteps coming in the door were not Lily's. Severus frowned, fingers finding his wand before he leaned out of the kitchen doorway.
Heather dropped her satchel on one of the parlour chairs and grinned at him shyly. "Um. Hi."
"…Good afternoon." Severus blinked. He had known that Heather would arrive eventually, but somehow he had neglected to form a plan for it. I have absolutely no idea what to say to her.
The young woman who was not quite his daughter slid past him easily. "Is there any tea?"
Tea, it seemed, was an inherited panacea. Severus watched as Heather pulled together the makings for it, and began assembling a plate of biscuits more out of the desire to prove he had a right than because he was actually hungry. But Heather seemed to notice nothing amiss. "Where's Mum?"
"Having lunch with Professor Sinistra. I expect her back soon."
"Or late," Heather said blithely, tapping the kettle with her wand to bring it to a boil. "Their arguments can take hours. D'you want lemon?"
She had her mother's self-assurance, at least; within minutes they were sitting at the kitchen table, much as he had the first day he'd arrived, regarding each other cautiously. Severus knew that Heather had been instrumental in winning permission for him to transfer between worlds, but how she felt about him suddenly becoming a part of her mother's life -
"You're staying?" she asked abruptly.
"I am planning on it," Severus replied. He was starting to believe that he could, at least.
Heather nodded and took a biscuit. "You know, I've never seen Mum happy before. Completely, I mean."
Her words formed a bubble of something light and effervescent in his chest, but her gaze was sharp. "I have every intention of keeping her so," he said. In truth, he couldn't imagine trying to do anything else.
Heather nodded again. "Good."
They sat in fairly peaceful silence for a few minutes, watching each other surreptitiously. Severus wrapped his fingers around his cup and felt the heat sinking into his joints before he spoke again. "I have no idea how to be a father."
Heather nudged the biscuit plate towards him. "I'm not sure I need one, at this point." Her tone was light.
Severus cocked his head. "Perhaps…we could try to be friends, at least." She would never know what a concession it was; it had been many years since he had attempted something as potentially dangerous as friendship.
Heather grinned again. "I'd like that. Severus."
He let himself smile, and raised his cup to her. "Friends, then. Heather."
He asked her, carefully, about what she did in the Auror office; as he suspected, it was much the same as Harry's responsibilities, a clever youngster struggling with fame and a decent amount of ambition in the aftermath of a war.
"What about you?" she asked at last, munching on a biscuit and then blushing. "Sorry, I don't mean to - "
" - Ask if I am sponging off your mother?" Severus asked with grim humour. "It's a fair question." And not one he'd considered before he'd made up his mind to go through the mirror, but he and Lily had discussed it since. "When term begins I will begin brewing potions in the lab here in the cellar. It will take a little time to establish a reputation, but my skills are great enough that I should amass a clientele fairly quickly."
It wasn't idle boasting; he was that good, but teaching and…other activities…had always absorbed the bulk of his time. Fortunately, the wizarding world was full of eccentric and reclusive personalities. His sudden appearance on the scene of high-end potion creation would cause a fuss only until he proved his talent.
And in the meantime…he'd brought enough with him in his pockets to keep him, and Lily if she wished it, quite comfortably for at least a year or two. One of the benefits of the life he'd led was a steady salary combined with almost nothing to spend the money on.
Heather asked him for stories about Harry, which was a nice compromise between his comfort and her curiosity about Severus' life. So he told her a little about young Potter, tempering his usual acidity, and not even finding it unsettling when she would nod at remembering the same incident.
"Tell me about growing up at Hogwarts," he requested in turn, eager to hear more of Lily, and they talked through another pot of students and ghosts and even Dumbledore. Most of the teachers Severus had known were gone, either killed in the battle or choosing to leave afterwards, but he was oddly pleased to hear that Hagrid had stayed.
"He was always - Hagrid had a simple faith," he mused. Dumbledore had said Severus was to be trusted, so Hagrid had trusted him. It was something he'd learned to value, even when he'd had to betray it.
Heather pointed at the last biscuit, and when Severus shook his head, took it herself. "How is your new identity working for you?"
"I've scarcely tested it," Severus said drily. "But no one seems to notice anything." The Auror office had arranged a new name and background for him, as a favour to Heather and Lily. He was supposedly a distant cousin of Lily's deceased husband, should anyone remember what the dead man had looked like; most pictures were in Lily's possession. Becoming Septimus Prince felt fitting.
"I bet the old ladies across the street have," Heather started, but the sound of the front door opening made her pause. "Hello Mum!"
Lily appeared in the kitchen doorway, grinning at them both, and the effervescent bubble in Severus' chest expanded to fill all of him. "Did you leave me any tea?" Lily asked, walking over to kiss him and circling the table to hug her daughter.
He expected to feel an outsider in that moment, excluded from the family that wasn't quite his, but…he didn't. The automatic flinch, the need to conceal his reaction - it simply wasn't necessary.
Smiling, Severus summoned a cup for Lily, and Heather poured the tea.
"You're sure, Sev?"
"No," he said frankly. "I've only been to Hogwarts once since - well. But I would like to see where you work."
"Only so you can covet my laboratory." Lily linked her arm through his and smirked at him.
He drew his elbow in so that she had to step closer. "If yours is as draughty as mine was, then absolutely not."
That won him a laugh, and she Disapparated them.
Despite his light words, Severus was not looking forward to the sight of the old stone pile where he'd spent so many years. There were happy memories associated with it - a few - but on the whole it was a place he had hoped never to visit again, unexpected flying visits to Minerva notwithstanding. But Lily taught there, and he would not be a coward about it.
So when the squeeze of Apparition spat them both out just outside the grounds, it was natural for him to say nothing for a moment.
But not for the reason he expected.
The grounds were the same; the Forbidden Forest aflame with autumn colours and the grass still a vivid green. But the castle reflected in the Black Lake was a dream of white stone and glistening spires, a spun-sugar fantasy accented with snapping pennons and glittering, stained-glass windows. The only thing that saved it from terminal beauty was the impregnable solidity of it, that spoke of endurance and protection beyond the hopes of mere mortals.
Severus blinked rapidly, trying to assimilate the differences. A cool hand on his cheek had him looking down. "All right?" Lily asked, concerned.
He smiled at her - really, he'd smiled more in the past weeks than he had since he was a child - and squeezed her arm gently. "It's not what I expected. Better, I think."
"Ah." They started down the path towards the castle. "You'll have to tell me about it later."
Severus made an assenting noise. Lily never pressed him for details about the more painful parts of his life, but she had all the curiosity she'd ever possessed, and he satisfied it when he could. Some things were still too raw to mention.
Hogwarts' interior was a dizzying mix of the familiar and the utterly strange. The staircases were the same, and many of the portraits, but the layout was entirely different and the Great Hall was a soaring arch of white stone with magic windows instead of a magic ceiling. Severus found it reassuring.
Flitwick was still there; Filch and Sinistra and Pomfrey as well, though Sprout had left and McGonagall - and many of the others he'd known in his own world - had perished in the battle. They passed various teachers and students in the corridors, all of them greeting Lily cordially and Severus with interest, but Lily stayed to talk to none of them, leading Severus down to the dungeon level. "If we start chatting, we'll never get there," she said under her breath as they passed Bill Weasley. "They're all desperately curious about you."
Severus gave an ostentatious shudder at the notion. He knew by Lily's memories that she had taken up with no one since her widowing, which no doubt spurred the interest, but he had no more desire than she to start explaining.
The potions classroom and lab were almost exactly like his own, but that was less disturbing than he expected; the familiarity in this, at least, was oddly reassuring. The professor's quarters beyond were mostly being used for storage. Severus drifted around the rooms, examining details, while Lily dealt with an urgent message that had come in that morning.
"You and Heather lived here while she was growing up?" he asked when she was finished.
"Yes, except for summers. It was easier - and safer, the last few years." Lily rubbed her forehead. "I'm afraid I became a bit of a recluse after - well, after."
Affection, for him, was still a conscious decision. Severus crossed the room and pulled her gently into his arms, feeling her return the embrace with a never-failing surge of pleasure. He had learned not to be jealous of this vanished other self, who sometimes seemed almost a memory rather than a story from others' lips. That alone had him occasionally wondering if he had gone mad after all, but if so he preferred madness to sanity.
"I would much rather you commute," he murmured into her hair, and felt her smile.
"The way you cook, I'd be an idiot not to come home for supper."
Severus snorted, but didn't let her go. "I cannot understand how so talented a brewer can be such a miserable failure with actual food - "
Lily poked him in the ribs. "It's gotten me out of doing the cooking for a lifetime. Why should I change?"
In that moment, the strange new configuration that had begun that last night atop Hogwarts snapped into place, easing a tension that had been part of him for so long that its absence was a foreign thing. Severus closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of Lily's hair and and struggling for balance.
She squirmed. "You're squashing me, love…"
"Sorry." Severus released her, trying to figure out what had just happened. Lily pressed a quick kiss to his chin.
"It's all right. Seen enough? We can have lunch in the Great Hall if you don't mind the speculative looks, or we can just go home."
"Home," Severus said firmly. "I will prepare whatever you wish for lunch if you will spare me that."
Lily laughed. "Home it is, then."
And it was home, Severus realised as they passed back through its door. More of a home, in fact, than any he had possessed for years. There was no way to go back - but he had absolutely no desire to do so.
They ate in the back garden, setting up a ward to keep off the wasps and enjoying the weather. Severus kept himself in the shade of the old cherry tree that arched over the table, but Lily sat in the sun, half-closing her eyes and basking in it, and he kept losing himself in the fire of her hair and the glow of her skin.
She always was a child of light.
And he of darkness, but even the night could be benign; he fancied it made them a better match, one to the other. She has removed all my curses.
Lily blinked lazily at him, setting aside her glass. "So, have you decided to stay?" she asked lightly.
Her tone was casual, but Severus saw her other hand clench where it lay on her thigh. They had made no formal decision, for all they shared her bed now; Lily had kept her word and given him room and time. Time to learn to believe, he realised; in himself, in her.
He'd kissed her, and the world hadn't ended; they'd even fought, and nothing had happened but that they'd made up. The sight of that nervous fist gave him almost all the confidence he needed.
Severus reached across the table and took her hand. "Are you certain you want me to? I'm an arrogant, sulky, greedy - "
" - Greedy, manipulative bastard, I know," Lily said, smile growing. "As you said when you asked me to marry you."
"The first time." What was this lunatic courage, so counter to his careful planning and reserve? Who was he becoming?
"I think perhaps we should formalise the relationship…again." He tugged her hand up to kiss it.
Her fingers curved around his cheek, a touch that fed his hungry heart. "Are you certain?" she mimicked, and he was wise enough now to know that the tears sparkling in the sunlight were a good thing. "I'm an overbearing, reckless, stubborn know-it-all…"
"Did you say that the last time?" It was so easy to slide close and gather her to him, sun-warmed fragrance and weight and life.
"I was too busy kissing you." Her mouth was salty with her tears, and so soft on his, and he almost forgot what he'd been saying.
"Are you certain?" she repeated when they parted for breath, and the uncertainty in her eyes made him ache in sympathy. "Sev, I walked out and left you to die alone."
"I betrayed you to Voldemort." He held her gaze. "As you absolved me, so I absolve you. Forgiven, Lily. We go on from here."
Her smile was the one he had always dreamed about. "Forever?"
He held her tightly. "Always."
And there was no more need for words.